FaithWorld

World Council of Churches says Pakistani Christians “live in fear”

pakistani-christians-1Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan live in fear of persecution and even execution or murder on false charges of blasphemy against Islam, the World Council of Churches (WCC) has said. The Council, the Geneva- based global body linking Protestant and Orthodox churches in 110 countries, has called on the Pakistani government to change a law promulgated by military ruler General Zia-ul-Haq that allows for the death penalty for blaspheming Islam. (Photo: Christians in destroyed home in Gojra, 2 Aug 2009/Mohsin Raza)

Since the law was adopted in 1986 religious minorities in the country have been “living in a state of fear and terror … and many innocent people have lost their lives,” the WCC said in a statement.

Pakistan is an overwhelmingly Muslim country where religious minorities account for roughly 4 percent — three quarters of whom are Christians — of its 170 million people.

In early August, the WCC head, Kenyan Methodist Samuel Kobia, protested to the Pakistani government over violence in Punjab province when Muslims torched Christian homes and 8 people were killed, seven of them burned to death. Reports at the time said the attacks in Gojra town were sparked by allegations, denied by church leaders as well as Pakistani government officials, that Christians had desecrated the Koran.

pakistani-christians-2Pakistani government officials said the violence, which also brought protests from Pope Benedict, was the work of Islamist groups linked to al Qaeda and the country’s Taliban movement.

Cardinal Martino does it again

Cardinal Renato Martino, the papal aide who angered Israel and Jews by comparing Gaza to a “big concentration camp” is no novice at being outspoken or controversial. The southern Italian cardinal speaks his mind, loves to talk and sometimes has had to pay the price. Martino, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (effectively its justice minister), has a laundry list of people and governments with whom he has clashed. But that hasn’t stopped him. (Photo: Cardinal Martino at the Vatican, 12 April 2005/Tony Gentile)

Perhaps his most famous remark came in December, 2003 when, shortly after U.S. troops captured former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Martino told a news conference at the Vatican that U.S. military were wrong to show video footage of Saddam. “I felt pity to see this man destroyed, (the military) looking at his teeth as if he were a cow. They could have spared us these pictures,” he said at the time.

The “treated like a cow” remark was heard around the world and, needless to say, was not very appreciated in the White House. The Vatican had opposed the U.S.-invasion of Iraq in March of that year. In fact, a certain chill developed between Martino and then U.S. ambassador to the Vatican Jim Nicholson, a Vietnam veteran who later went on to become Bush’s Secretary for Veteran Affairs.

Can policymakers use Darwin’s insights? New twist on old debate

The latest issue of The Economist has a provocative essay on Darwinism asking if Charles Darwin’s insights can be used profitably by policymakers. You can read it online here.

America … executes around 40 people a year for murder. Yet it still has a high murder rate. Why do people murder each other when they are almost always caught and may, in America at least, be killed themselves as a result?” it asks.

It goes on to ask why men still earn more than women 40 years after the feminist revolution and why racism persists.

Exercised over yoga in Malaysia

Of all the things to get exercised about, yoga would seem to be an unlikely candidate for controversy. But such has been the case in Malaysia this week.

Malaysia’s prime minister declared on Wednesday that Muslims can after all practice the Indian exercise regime, so long as they avoid the meditation and chantings that reflect Hindu philosophy. This came after Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council told Muslims to roll up their exercise mats and stop contorting their limbs because yoga could destroy the faith of Muslims.

It has been a tough month for the fatwa council chairman, Abdul Shukor Husin, who in late October issued an edict against young women wearing trousers, saying that was a slippery path to
lesbianism. Gay sex is outlawed in Malaysia.

Look who’s celebrating Reformation Day today

Today is Reformation Day, the anniversary of the day in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg in eastern Germany and set off the Protestant Reformation. It is a public holiday in the five eastern German states, in Slovenia and — this year for the first time — in Chile.

Chile? Isn’t that traditionally a Catholic country? Even the Catholic parts of Germany don’t celebrate Reformation Day.

Yes, Chile is traditionally Catholic, but now only about 70% so. Like elsewhere in Latin America, Protestant churches — especially evangelicals and Pentecostals — have spread rapidly in recent decades. They now make up just over 15% of the Chilean population, up from 7% in 1970. It’s not a new story, but creating a holiday especially for Protestants is a symbolic step towards recognising the changes in the religious landscape in Latin America.

Rocking in Pennsylvania at “Christian Woodstock”

creation1.jpgMOUNT UNION, Pa. – It was muddy, it was loud and there were a lot of smiling, happy people offering free hugs and praising Jesus.

The Creation Festival drew around 70,000 people to rural Pennsylvania last month to listen to Christian music, ranging from hard rock to R&B, hip-hop and punk.

Check out the Reuters story on the festival along with an audio slideshow of pictures by Mike Segar, who got his feet wet to catch the moment when nearly 200 people were baptized in a pond. 

Communion politics issue boils up after U.S. papal visit

Papal Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, 19 April 2008/Shannon StapletonA papal visit, with its weeks of build-up and intense media coverage, often seems to end with an afterglow — but very little news — once the pope and his party fly back to the Eternal City. Not so with Pope Benedict’s recent U.S. visit where, more than a week after it ended, the volatile issue of public figures, the abortion & Communion issue is making headlines.

While journalists reported that prominent Catholic politicians who support abortion rights stepped up to receive the Eucharist during Masses in Washington and New York (here’s our story and blog post), the development was little more than a footnote in the wave of coverage that washed over the visit. It was notable, however, in view of a controversy that began in 2004 when some U.S. bishops said they would deny Communion to John Kerry, then the Democratic presidential nominee, because he supported abortion rights

But during the U.S. papal Masses, not only did Kerry receive Communion but so did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani and Senators Edward Kennedy and Christopher Dodd. The conservative columnist Robert Novak wrote in the Washington Post on Monday that this “reflected disobedience to Benedict by the archbishops of New York and Washington” and did not indicate any softening of the pope’s anti-abortion position.

Saudi Arabian churches: a Vatican pipe dream?

Prophet Mohammad’s Mosque in Medina, 3 January 2007/Ali JarekjiMuch has been made of reports that the Vatican is holding talks with Saudi Arabia on building churches in the Gulf monarchy, the birthplace of Islam and stronghold of the conservative Wahhabi school of thought.

But it’s hard to imagine imminent breakthroughs, given broad-based scholarly opposition anchored in prophetic traditions and centuries of jurisprudence and commentary.

The IslamOnline (IOL) web site posted an article in Arabic polling prominent clerics on the issue, and offers some insight into the magnitude of clerical opposition such a prospect would generate.

Vienna museum reels from Last Supper uproar, blames outsiders

Vienna Catherdal Museum director Bernhard Böhler, 9 April 2008/Heinz-Peter BaderThe mainstream Austrian press has now got hold of the debate over a controversial exhibition in Vienna’s Cathedral Museum and the director is wading right in. Austrian papers have not given the Alfred Hrdlicka exhibition too much attention until recently. The celebrated 80-year-old Austrian artist’s outspokenness and bold paintings are nothing new to country with a tradition for daring art.

Now the museum’s director Bernhard Böhler has told Die Presse newspaper he is amazed by the fierce criticism the museum has received for exhibiting a homoerotic version of the Last Supper, which had to be taken down on the request of Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn. The exhibition provoked some complaints from visitors but it was the uproar on religious blogs in German and in the United States that really hit both the museum and the cardinal hard.

Boehler put this “massive verbal hostility” down to the fact that most of the critics don’t know Hrdlicka’s art well enough. He said he was “astounded by the heatedness of the debate.”

Vienna cardinal explains stand on erotic Last Supper painting

Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, 7 March 2008/Heinz-Peter BaderWe recently wrote about an exhibition in Vienna’s Roman Catholic Cathedral which has caused quite a stir — it included a homoerotic version of Christ’s Last Supper by Austrian artist Alfred Hrdlicka. The picture was quickly taken down at the request of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna.

The cardinal has now made a statement about the exhibition regretting the work was ever shown but describing Hrdlicka as one of Austria’s most notable artists. He also says art inspired by biblical subjects is something to be welcomed, even if the artists themselves are atheists. The full statement, sent to Reuters in English, is copied below.

There’s been a lot of criticism of Cardinal Schönborn on religion blogs connected to this exhibition. What do you think of his statement?