FaithWorld

Desecrations of Divine Shepherdess images stir polarized Venezuela

(President Hugo Chavez attends a Catholic mass in Caracas February 27, 2009/Miraflores Palace)

A wave of vandalism against sacred images has shocked Venezuelans and sparked finger-pointing between the two sides of the bitter political divide characterizing President Hugo Chavez’s rule. Most of the vandalism has been directed against statues and images of the “Divine Shepherdess” — a local patron saint whose annual festival is one of Latin America’s biggest.

Most shockingly, what seems to be a bullet-hole has pierced the cheek of one statue of the Shepherdess in the western state of Lara, while her attending sheep have been smashed. Among dozens of such desecrations in the last few weeks, the statue of a saintly doctor, Jose Gregorio Hernandez, was decapitated in Yaracuy state, while another sculpture of the “Coromoto Virgin” had her hands chopped off.

Red paint has been sprayed over various images.

“These are utterly horrible events that offend the Catholic sentiment of the Venezuelan people,” senior Catholic leader Monsignor Jesus Gonzalez de Zarate told local TV. No suspects have been caught and some think a “satanic” cult may be responsible — but many Venezuelans suspect politics may be to blame for the mystery vandalism.

Though often proclaiming his Catholicism and using religious language in speeches, the socialist Chavez has lambasted the church’s hierarchy throughout his 12 years in power as being aligned with Venezuela’s rich and elite. He has never forgiven Catholic leaders for their perceived blessing of a 2002 coup that briefly toppled him.

GUESTVIEW: The Qur’an cannot be burned!

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Aref Ali Nayed is Director, Kalam Research & Media, Dubai.

koran

By Aref Ali Nayed

Years ago, in Toronto, I read on the concrete walls of a highway bridge the following bold and sacrilegious message: “God is dead! Signed: Nietzsche,” and under it “Nietzsche is dead! Signed: God!” (Photo: A woman reads the Koran in Srinagar , India, September 11, 2009/Fayaz Kabli)

Silly as the street message may be, it brings home a simple fact: God cannot be killed! Even as all else, including Nietzsche, dies, God remains. This is because for all theists, to put it starkly: God is God. God lives. Man dies.

Shots fired to disperse Afghan Koran protest in Kabul

afghan-koran-protest (Photo: Afghans protest at parliament building in Kabul, 25 Oct 2009/Ahmad Masood)

Afghan police fired into the air on Sunday to break up a protest by thousands of people who had gathered in the capital, Kabul, to protest against what they said was the desecration of a copy of the Koran by foreign troops.

Protesters, claiming foreign forces had burned a copy of Islam’s holiest book during a raid in Maidan Wardak province last week, blocked traffic in Kabul for more than an hour. A spokeswoman for U.S. and NATO-led forces in Afghanistan said none of their troops were involved in the incident and blamed the Taliban for spreading a false rumor that a copy of the Koran had been burned.

Thick plumes of smoke rose above the crowd as protesters set fire to a large effigy of what they said was U.S. President Barack Obama. “Death to America. Down with Israel,” chanted one man at the rally, which was organized mainly by university students. Others threw stones and clashed with police but no casualties were reported.

Graves desecrated often in France, mostly Christian

If you go by what’s reported in the media (including by us), you’d think cemetery desecrations in France like the big one last weekend happen occasionally and target mostly Jewish and Muslim graves. Those are the cases the police report and we write about. A report by two parliamentary deputies, however, has taken an overall look at the problem nationwide and come up with some unexpected conclusions.

First, there are far more cemetery desecrations than we knew about. They happen on an average of every two to three days!  There were 144 last year and 110 up until Sept. 1 this year. And most of them target Christian — which in France would mean overwhelmingly Catholic — graves. Most desecrations are vandalism by teenagers, with only a small minority prompted by the racism, anti-Semitism or satanic cult practices normally highlighted in the media, the report said. The news story on this by our parliamentary correspondent Emile Picy is here. (Photo: Police inspect desecrated graves in France, 8 Dec 2008/Pascal Rossignol)

The report is not aimed at playing down the gravity of attacks on Muslim and Jewish graves, but rather to get an overall idea of the problem in order to suggest possible remedies. It lists some obvious ideas like better surveillance of cemeteries and better use of existing punishment. What I found the most interesting was their discussion of the waning respect for the dead. The title of the report highlights this — “Du respect des morts à la mort du respect?” (“From respect for the dead to the death of respect?”)