Sat-TV obit channel to go live soon

Tomb in a cemetery in BudapestObituaries on TV? Satellite broadcasts of cemetery visits? It may sound morbid, but a German television producer plans to launch a satellite TV channel dedicated to obituary videocasts, features on famous graveyards and practical advice for those nearing death. And he thinks he’s got a huge target audience that can only get bigger in coming years.

Etos TV had planned a launch this year but put it back to early 2008 because of all the interest shown in the project in Germany and abroad, its founder Wolf Tilmann Schneider told the German media magazine That will give it time to integrate suggestions from new business partners, he said. “Every country has a different (funeral) culture, but all have the same problem — the decline of this culture,” he said.

There are 485,000 obituaries published in (German) newspapers every year, but there’s nothing about the people in them,” Schneider told the Financial Times Deutschland. “With our service, people will be able to contribute obituaries for anyone who dies, with pictures and texts that are professionally produced.”

Schneider says the channel, which is backed by the German Funeral Trade Publishing House, won’t show actual burials. It plans three main features — obituary videocasts, reports on cemeteries and advice services. “People are interested in cemeteries, they go strolling Hamburg’s Jewish cemetery, open to visitors since 29 Nov, 2007there on Sundays or go visit them on vacation,” he explained. “Just think about famous graveyards like Montmartre in Paris or the one in Hamburg-Ohlsdorf.”

The website of Etos TV — etos means “year” in Greek — has three “demo obits” to show just how these videocasts could look. Backed by tastefully melancholy piano music, one commemorates “the best grandma children could ever want,” another tells a friend “you had to leave us too early” and a third pays tribute to a respected colleague (“your company was your second home”). Pictures of the deceased and loved ones blend into shots of sunsets, mountains and clouds. God is mentioned only in one, but users would be free to express religious views as they wish.

Science helps religion in stem cell debates

A microscopic view of undifferentiated human embryonic stem cells.Science and religion are sometimes portrayed as adversaries, especially by the “new atheists“, but the real picture has always been more complex. The latest breakthrough in stem cell research shows how quickly opposing sides can become allies. On Nov. 20, two research teams announced they had transformed ordinary skin cells into stem cells without destroying human embryos in the process. That meant that scientists could solve an ethical dilemma they had effectively created when they began using human embryos to produce stem cells.

Religious groups critical of embryonic stem cell research immediately hailed the breakthrough as an advance that opened the door to ethnical use of these potential wonder cells. They have now begun to use it as a welcome argument to bolster their positions in disputes on the issue. This must be happening in quite a few places, but here are two examples that show how science is helping religion in this case.

In Germany, the Roman Catholic Church has severely criticised the governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party for agreeing to loosen tight restrictions on embryonic stem cell research there. The law bars German scientists from working on stem cell lines developed after January 1, 2002. Researchers say this is hampering their work and want the cut-off date to be moved up to 2007.

Merkel muddles mosques and minarets

from Madeline Chambers in Hanover, GermanyGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel at CDU party conference, 3 Dec. 2007

Chancellor Angela Merkel suffered a slightly bumpy landing at the annual conference of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in Hanover this week when she jumped on a popular bandwagon by saying that mosques shouldn’t stand higher than churches in Germany.

Mosque-building is a sensitive subject in Germany. Her fellow conservatives in Bavaria have been saying for some time that minarets should not dwarf church steeples. Local residents are up in arms about plans to build several mosques across Germany – in Berlin, Munich and Cologne.

However, Merkel — a Lutheran pastor’s daughter who grew up in communist East Germany — seems to have got mixed up with her terminology for sacred architecture.

Thumbs down for giant Jesus statue in the Bavarian Alps

Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking Rio de JaneiroA German businessman has plans to erect the world’s largest statue of Jesus Christ on a mountaintop in the Bavarian Alps. Neither the Catholic nor the Protestant churches there want it. A poll for the television channel Bayerischer Rundfunk showed 77.54 percent of those responding are also against it. The planners are not giving up, however. In a press release this week, they urged their critics to use the coming Christmas season to reconsider and open their hearts to “more tolerance and positive participation.” That includes a fund drive to raise the two million euros the project will cost.

Harry Vossberg, a construction magnate from Dresden, has launched an association called Christian Initiative Predigtstuhl to collect money for the over 50-meter-high statue. That would make it at least 10 metres higer than the famous Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. In its PR, the association calls the statue “the eighth wonder of the world.”

The giant statue, constructed to the highest artistic standards, will be built with the help of prestigious experts, engineers and statue artists out of permanently weather-proof and environmentally friendly materials,” said the press release announcing the project last month. “The exact height is secret. Completely new composite materials, such as ‘liquid wood,’ will be used. The base of the statue will include a room for pilgrims to pray and meet.”

Catholic culture slips a bit in Benedict’s backyard

Bavarian children greet Pope Benedict in Munich, Sept. 9. 2006The southern German state of Bavaria is one of those areas, like southern Poland, that are known for their fervent folk Catholicism. It was on full display last year when Bavaria’s favourite son, Pope Benedict, visited his native state. But Catholicism is changing even in Bavaria, as his successor as archbishop of Munich and Freising has admitted. Cardinal Friedrich Wetter told fellow Bavarian bishops on Thursday that so many candidates for the priesthood have such insufficient knowledge of Catholic teaching that seminaries will have to introduce remedial courses to bring them up to standard.

Candidates for the priesthood increasingly come from various backgrounds and apply for the admission to the seminary with sometimes quite different prior experiences of faith and the Church,” he said in a statement (here in German). “With a propaedeutic course inserted before normal theology studies in the seminary, the Bavarian bishops want to add an educational phase that fosters the seminarians’ spiritual growth and personal discernment, … transmits basic theological knowledge and allows insight into the real situation of the Church through participation in social and pastoral work.”

A further translation of that translation would be: “we need a remedial course because the incoming seminarians don’t know enough about the Catholic Church.”

Bioethical dilemmas know no boundaries

Bioethical dilemmas know no boundaries. France found that out this weekend when the daily Libération revealed that a French couple that had used a surrogate mother in the United States had won a long legal battle to be recognised as the parents of the twin girls who resulted from the arrangement. Surrogacy is illegal in France. French officials refused to register the twins as the couple’s daughters, leaving them in a legal limbo for seven years. But an appeals court finally granted their wish, arguing it was in the children’s best interests to recognise the U.S. birth certificates that listed Dominique and Sylvie (their surname was not published) as the parents.

an expectant mother France banned surrogacy in 1994 in the hope of preventing a “rent-a-womb” market from developing. But this option is expressly banned by law only in France, Germany and Italy, according to the association CLARA which campaigns to change the French law. It is legal in other places, including Britain, Canada, Greece, New Zealand and some U.S. states. According to the twins’ father Dominique, between 20 to 40 French couples cross the Atlantic every year to have a child with a surrogate American mother.

Since Sylvie and Dominique were recognised as the twins’ parents in a state where surrogacy is legal, they could not be brought to court for breaking the law there. French courts tried to try them for aiding and abetting a case of surrogacy or violating the civil status of the children, but neither charge led to a conviction, Le Monde reported.

Friedländer’s eloquent Holocaust non-speech in Frankfurt

Imagine you are a Jewish historian of the Holocaust. You are being awarded one of Germany’s most prestigious prizes. The ceremony is solemn, the audience filled with the great and the good. The three Germans speaking before you give lofty speeches praising you and your life’s work for recording and explaining what they must never forget. What kind of speech should you deliver?

saul-friedlaender.jpgSaul Friedländer found just the right tone on Sunday when he accepted the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in Frankfurt. He gave a non-speech. To be more precise, he broke with the tradition of long-winded oration at such ceremonies and simply read Holocaust- related documents from the early 1940s. But these were not just any documents. Friedländer, whose German- speaking Jewish family fled from their hometown of Prague to France in 1939, read letters telling how his parents tried and failed to escape the Nazis, but managed to save him.

One was a letter in 1942 from his mother to a French neighbour who helped hide her son from the Nazis by having him baptised and enrolled in a rural Catholic school . “If we perish, then we will have that one great joy to know our beloved child has been saved.” she wrote. His father wrote her a final letter after he and his wife were arrested following a failed attempt to escape to Switzerland. “I am writing this to you from the train taking us to Germany,” he wrote, “please accept for the last time our never-ending thanks.” He handed it to a Quaker group that waited in train stations to help deported Jews and they mailed it.