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Destroying the heart of the village

Geste, France

By Stephane Mahe

The villages of rural France are faced with decreasing numbers of residents. In addition to the closure of bakeries and shops, they are seeing rising costs to maintain the religious and social heart of these communities, the local church. The village of Gesté and its church, Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens, has witnessed this first-hand.

Local media reported the final phase of the “deconstruction” of a neo-Gothic church in the village of Gesté, and its 2,600 residents. The municipal council was unable to allocate the funds, some 3 million euros ($4.05 million) in 2007, needed for repairs and upkeep. With some research I discovered that since 2000, more than twenty village churches had faced the demolition ball. Apparently 250 churches in France are threatened with the same fate as municipalities are faced with extremely high costs to repair and maintain them, costs that are higher than the cost of tearing them down.

I appeared on site to discover the Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens church, built between 1854 and 1864, with workmen and cranes tearing down the walls of the church, leaving the bell tower and the crypt intact. People stopped to gather behind barriers to watch as heavy machines partially brought down the church.

Speaking with the crowd I learned that they come often to watch, to photograph the destruction day-by-day of their village’s heritage, this massive church, a symbol at the center of their village. I look at their faces as they watch the gutting of their church. As stones crash to the ground, the crowd watches in silence.

I was taken to a warehouse by the current mayor who showed me where statues of the Virgin Mary and Christ were stored. Stacked one on top of another, they await a new church to be built on the site of the partially destroyed Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens. I learned about the division this has brought about in the village with those behind the project, and those who are bitter about the “deconstruction”.

from Tales from the Trail:

U.S. religious leaders urge moral solution to debt talks

Don’t balance the U.S. budget on the backs of the poor and sick, religious leaders said, suggesting that their churches’ charity work is already overstretched and social havoc could result if the government’s social safety net is abandoned.

Representatives from Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and interfaith groups and churches expressed their collective disappointment with the tone of blame in the debt debate between President Obama and congressional negotiators.

The faith groups have organized a vigil alongside the U.S. Capitol and released a letter appealing to the president and Congress to consider the poor and vulnerable in their negotiations.

International investors fear anti-market regime in Egypt

cairo bank

(People queue to make withdrawals outside Cairo Bank in downtown Cairo February 6, 2011/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

International investors fear protests against Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak could spill over to other Arab countries, leading to regimes more hostile to western investment practices in the region and the introduction of more Islamic economic rules. They also express concern about the future role of businesses run by Coptic Christians in Egypt.

“Egypt has long been one of the most tolerant countries toward multiple faiths (in the Muslim world),” said Donald Elefson, co-lead portfolio manager at Harding Loevner Funds, with $210 million under management. “The Coptic Christians are still very powerful, though they are a minority, and there are many large-scale businesses that are owned by Coptic families. The only risk for the business environment would be if Egypt becomes a sharia state.”

Analysis – Anti-immigrant wave spreads across Europe

immigration (Photo: Women in headscarves shop in Berlin’s Neukoelln district September 6, 2010/Tobias Schwarz)

A little-known Berlin politician named Rene Stadtkewitz, who wants headscarves banned, mosques shuttered and state welfare payments to Muslims cut, is the newest face of a powerful anti-immigrant strain in European politics that is winning over voters and throwing mainstream politicians onto the defensive.

Experts say public concerns about immigration have grown in the wake of the economic crisis and politicians across Europe are scrambling like never before to exploit these fears, breaking unwritten post-war taboos along the way.

“What we are witnessing is not a new trend, but a deepening and acceleration of something that was in place,” said Dominique Moisi of the French Institute for International Relations (Ifri) in Paris. “These politicians are playing with fire, because feelings on this issue run very deep and may not disappear when the economy recovers.”

Indonesian Islamist PKS party aims for broader support

pksIndonesia’s Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) is holding its second national congress in Jakarta this week where it will discuss key policies.  The Islamist party is the third-biggest in President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s coalition, and lifted its share of the vote in the 2009 elections when most Islam-based parties lost support.

The PKS believes religious values should be reflected in social policy to address what it sees as Indonesia’s moral crisis. Its former president, Communications and Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring, has campaigned hard for tighter Internet controls to ban what he describes as “negative” content on the web, and last year said natural disasters such as earthquakes were linked to immoral television shows.

(Photo: PKS supporters hold pro-Palestinian rally in Jakarta on 20 March 2010/Supri)

Greek Orthodox bishop denounces new taxes on church as hostile

greek priests

Greek Orthodox priests in Athens 31 Jan 2008/Yiorgos Karahalis

By Renee Maltezou

ATHENS – A senior cleric has accused Greece’s socialist government of being hostile to the Orthodox Church  for imposing taxes on it as part of a drive to tame a budget crisis that has shaken global markets.

Greece, where about 90 percent of the 11 million-strong population are Christian Orthodox, will tax bequests and revenues from church property as it seeks to tackle a 300 billion euro ($409.9 billion) debt pile.

In a country where a bishop sits on the board of the biggest bank and the top cleric swears in the government, many on the streets of Athens felt the church should do its bit given the sacrifices they are making.

Ethics angle missing in financial crisis debate

traders

Worried Wall Street traders watch stocks fall on September 29, 2008/Brendan McDermid

In the ongoing financial crisis debate, many people think that unrestricted subprime loans, credit default swaps, astronomical bonuses, huge bank bailouts and other aspects of today’s economy are somehow unfair or wrong. This issue is not only economic or political, it’s also about ethics and morality, these people think. But that view doesn’t get traction in our political discourse. Asking the big question about what is right/fair or wrong/unfair is not really debated. Sure, there are contrary views on this and any debate would be long and lively. But it doesn’t really happen.

Some moral issues do get traction in politics. Look at abortion or same-sex marriage. The forces on both sides of this argument have considerable clout (at varying levels, depending on the country). They hold heated debates over ethical  principles such as the sanctity of human life, the freedom of individual choice or the principle of equality. But those are questions that are not primarily about the economy. When money gets thrown into the equation, there is much more of a tendency to let the market decide. What’s not illegal can’t be unethical, this view seems to argue.

Italian Muslims approve pope’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate

caritas-in-veritate1When Pope Benedict issued his encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth) in July, he addressed it to “the bishops, priests and deacons, men and women religious, the lay faithful and all people of good will”. That list puts Catholics first, but it gets around to a wider audience by the end. Maybe because of that sequence, most of the discussion about the document has been in Catholic circles.

But in the pope’s back yard, i.e. in Italy, the message has attracted a wider audience. In a rare reaction from a non-Christian organisation, the Italian Muslim association Comunità Religiosa Islamica (CO.RE.IS.) Italiana has welcomed the encyclical and drawn parallels between its outlook and that of Islamic economic and social thinking. CO.RE.IS presented its reaction on the occasion of the Ecumenical Day of Christian-Islamic Dialogue in Italy on Tuesday. Following are some excerpts:

“The recent financial crisis, that witnessed an almost worldwide economic crash, should constitute a further confirmation of the impossibility of establishing a presumed society of wellbeing only upon market rules, excluding any transcendence, any metaphysical and religious perspective, as the pontiff has well expressed it … Just like the market cannot find in itself the meta-principles that would discipline it according to nature and to the function that God has entrusted to man on earth, money and capital cannot constitute a value in themselves, regardless of the finality of actions and of the realities that underlie their use…

Pope pleased by business ethics debate since his encyclical

pope-on-planePope Benedict has pronounced himself pleased with the discussion about business ethics sparked by his encyclical “Charity in Truth” published in July. In a short question-and-answer session (here in the original Italian) with journalists en route to the Czech Republic over the weekend, he commented on reactions to the document:

“I’m very pleased by the broad discussion. That was my goal, to promote and motivate a discussion about these problems and not to allow things to go along as they are but to find new models for a responsible economy both in individual countries and for all of humanity. (Photo: Pope Benedict speaking on the plane, 26 Sept 2009/Max Rossi)

“Today it really seems visible to me that ethics is not something exterior to the economy, a technical issue that  could function on its own, but it’s an interior prinicple of the economy itself which cannot function if it does not take account of the human values of solidarity and reciprocal responsibility. Integrating ethics into the construction of the economy itself is the great challenge of this moment, and I hope to have made a contribution to this challenge with the encyclical.

Pope urges bold world economic reform before G8 summit

popePope Benedict issued an ambitious call to reform the way the world works on Tuesday shortly before its most powerful leaders meet at the G8 summit in Italy. His latest encyclical, entitled “Charity in Truth,” presents a long list of steps he thinks are needed to overcome the financial crisis and shift economic activity from the profit motive to a goal of solidarity of all people.

Following are some of his proposals. The italics are from the original text. Do you think they are realistic food for thought or idealistic notions with no hope of being put into practice?

    “There is urgent need of a true world political authority. .. to manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration… such an authority would need to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights.” The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly – not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred…” “Financiers must rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity, so as not to abuse the sophisticated instruments which can serve to betray the interests of savers. Right intention, transparency, and the search for positive results are mutually compatible and must never be detached from one another.” “Without doubt, one of the greatest risks for businesses is that they are almost exclusively answerable to their investors, thereby limiting their social value… there is nevertheless a growing conviction that business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the suppliers of various elements of production, the community of reference… What should be avoided is a speculative use of financial resources that yields to the temptation of seeking only short-term profit, without regard for the long-term sustainability of the enterprise, its benefit to the real economy and attention to the advancement, in suitable and appropriate ways, of further economic initiatives in countries in need of development.” “One possible approach to development aid would be to apply effectively what is known as fiscal subsidiarity, allowing citizens to decide how to allocate a portion of the taxes they pay to the State.”
(Photo: Pope Bendict, 1 July 2009/Tony Gentile)

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