FaithWorld

Italian invents an anti-swine flu holy water dispenser

holy-water-1 (Photos: Anti-swine flu holy water dispenser, 10 Nov 2009/Stefano Rellandini)

An Italian inventor has combined faith and ingenuity to come up with a way to keep church traditions alive for the faithful without the fear of contracting swine flu — an electronic holy water dispenser. The terracotta dispenser, used in the northern town of Fornaci di Briosco, functions like an automatic soap dispenser in public washrooms — a churchgoer waves his or her hand under a sensor and the machine spurts out holy water.

“It has been a bit of a novelty. People initially were a bit shocked by this technological innovation but then they welcomed it with great enthusiasm and joy. The members of this parish have got used to it,” said Father Pierangelo Motta.

Catholics entering and leaving churches usually dip their hands into fonts full of holy water — which has been blessed by a priest — and make the sign of the cross. But fear of contracting the H1N1 virus has led many in Italy — where some 15 people have died of swine flu — not to dip their hands in the communal water font.

Read the whole story here.

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UPDATE: Uproar after court says no crucifixes in Italian schools

crucifix-italy (Photo: A crucifix in a Rome classroom, 3 Nov 2009/Tony Gentile)

Here’s an update from Phil Pullella in Rome:

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that crucifixes should be removed from Italian classrooms, prompting Vatican anger and sparking uproar in Italy, where such icons are embedded in the national psyche.

“The ruling of the European court was received in the Vatican with shock and sadness,” said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, adding that it was “wrong and myopic” to try to exclude a symbol of charity from education.

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…

Berlusconi allies seek to ban burqas in Italy

niqabItaly’s anti-immigration Northern League party is pushing for legislation to prosecute women who cover their faces with burqas and veils, prompting a new debate on Muslims’ religious freedom in the Catholic country.

The Northern League, allies of conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, want to amend a 1975 law, introduced amid worries over homegrown guerrilla groups, which punishes with hefty fines and up to two years in jail people covering their faces with anything preventing their identification by police.

It would extend an existing partial ban on face-covering clothing to include “garments worn for reasons of religious affiliation,” and removes the expression “justified cause” which has prompted some courts to allow them on religious grounds.

A new taint on the Shroud of Turin?

shroud-faces (Photo: An archive negative image of the Shroud of Turin (L) next to one created by Luigi Garlaschelli and released in Pavia, Italy, on 5 Oct 2009/Turin Diocese (L) and Luigi Garlaschelli (R)/Turin Diocese (L) and Luigi Garlaschelli)

Italian scientist Luigi Garlaschelli tells me he has been getting lots of hate mail as well as emails of support since our Oct 5 story that he had reproduced the Shroud of Turin with material available in the Middle Ages, a feat that he says proves definitively that the linen some Christians revere as Jesus Christ’s burial cloth is a medieval fake.

Given the controversy that has surrounded the Shroud, particularly since the 1988 carbon dating tests, this was hardly a surprise. One of Christianity’s most disputed relics, it is locked away at Turin Cathedral in Italy and rarely exhibited. It was last on display in 2000 and is due to be shown again next year. The Catholic Church does not claim the Shroud is authentic nor that it is a matter of faith, but says it should be a powerful reminder of Christ’s passion.

Until now, scientists have been at a loss to explain how the eery image like a photographic negative of a crucified man was left on the cloth.  Garlaschelli, a professor of organic chemistry at the University of Pavia, will present his findings at a conference in northern Italy this weekend.

Britain muddles through with assisted suicide guidelines

purdyPressure is growing in Europe for some form of legalised euthanasia but few governments have gone as far as the Benelux countries in allowing assisted suicide in clearly defined cases. The mix of growing public support for ending lives of the terminally ill or brain dead but continued prohibitions on it in the law has led to some long and hard-fought legal battles in Italy (Eluana Englaro) and in France (Vincent Humbert). (Photo: Multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy, whose case prompted Britain’s new guidelines, 2 June 2009/Stephen Hird)

It has also created a legal and ethical twilight zone where for compassionate reasons the law did not really punish the doctors, nurses or relatives who helped someone die. In France, this became clear in a number of court cases where the person accused of assisted suicide were convicted but got only a short suspended sentence. In Britain, a frequently used way to get around the law has been the so-called “suicide tourism” route to the Dignitas suicide group in Zurich.

Pressed by the Law Lords to clarify British policy, the Director of Public Prosecutions in London has issued guidelines indicating when someone who helps another person to commit suicide might face legal action. At first glace, this may seem like a clarification. But it still leaves enough questions out there to leave the issue shrouded in uncertainty. The reception in London has been mixed. Some commentators say this strikes a sensible balance but others think it’s not enough and parliament has to debate and legislate on it.

Italy’s Catholic Church vs. Berlusconi drama, Act II

famcriA running crisis in relations between Silvio Berlusconi’s government and the Church deepened when Italy’s top Catholic weekly accused him of acting like a “prince” while many Italians were struggling financially.  A scathing editorial in Famiglia Cristiana, Italy’s largest circulation weekly news magazine, also indirectly criticised the media mogul’s private life and attacked the type of women politicians he has promoted in his centre-right party. And it did so without naming him once. The clever editorial in its online edition on September 16, here in Italian, was unsigned, meaning it was written by the magazine’s editor, Father Antonio Sciortino.

The editorial came several weeks after relations between the government and the influential Church nose-dived when a newspaper owned by the Berlusconi family launched a personal attack against a top Catholic editor, forcing him to resign. Read our previous blogs on that episode here and here.

In the latest episode of a duel between the Church and the prime minister, the Famiglia Cristiana editorial made a number of clear references to Berlusconi and scandals or controversies that have surrounded him recently. In a laundry list of what it said were examples of the country’s moral degradation, it spoke of “escorts” and “high-class prostitutes.” Berlusconi has been at the centre of media attention in Italy and abroad over patriziaallegations that he spent a night with a call-girl in his Rome residence. The woman, Patrizia D’Addario, taped their private conversations and says she and other escorts were paid to attend his parties.

H1N1 flu stops Italians kissing saint’s blood

san-gennaroFear of H1N1 flu will stop devout Neapolitan Catholics from performing the time-honoured ritual of kissing the blood of their patron Saint Gennaro when the city’s annual festival begins later this month.

The decision to forbid kissing of the glass phial containing the saint’s blood was taken reluctantly by ecclesiastical and city authorities on Monday, and has brought protests from local politicians. In one of Italy’s best-known festivals, Saint Gennaro’s dried blood is said to liquefy twice a year, 17 centuries after his death. Some Neapolitans fear disaster may strike the city if the “miracle” does not occur.

The phial will be put on display in the city’s cathedral for a week from Sept. 19 and the faithful will be allowed to touch it only with their foreheads. Last week, a 51-year-old man became Italy’s first fatal victim of the H1N1 flu virus, popularly known as swine flu, when he died in a Naples hospital.

Catholic editor who rapped Berlusconi resigns, but Church may have last laugh

giornaleIn the latest — but most likely not final — round in an incredible case of Italian journalistic pugilism, the editor of a Catholic newspaper sparring publicly for a week with the daily owned by the family of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has resigned.  Dino Boffo’s resignation as head of Avvenire, the daily of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, ended an Italian telenovela that had riveted the media for seven consecutive days and even saw indirect involvement by Pope Benedict. (Photo: Il Giornale fronts charges against Boffo, 3 Sept 2009/Stefano Rellandini)

In his three-and-a half page letter of resignation (here in Italian), which he said was irrevocable, Boffo  said the tussle with the editor Vittorio Feltri of the Milan daily Il Giornale had made his life unbearable. For his good, that of his family and that of the Church, he could not longer stay “at the centre of a storm of gigantic proportions that has invaded newspapers, television, radio, the internet and shows no signs of ending.”

Boffo said his only mistake was not taking his initial judicial problem seriously enough. As noted in my blog post here last Tuesday, Il Giornale editor Vittorio Feltri wrote last week that Boffo accepted a plea bargain in 2002 over a case in which a woman accused him of harassment. Il Giornale claimed that Boffo was having a homosexual relationship with her husband. It said Boffo should not have written editorials criticising Berlusconi’s sexual escapades when he was not exactly an an innocent altar boy himself.

Journalism Italian-style and church-state relations

giornale-aug-28-croppedCall it a case of duelling headlines.

For the past few days, a highly personal and often below-the-sash battle has been waged in Italy between two newspapers — Il Giornale, owned by the family of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and Avvenire, the daily of the Italian Bishops Conference.  The generals in the battle, which has riveted Italy and has resulted in one of the worst periods for years in relations between church and state here, are the editors-in-chief Vittorio Feltri of Il Giornale and Dino Boffo of Avvenire.

It all started on Friday, Aug. 28 when Il Giornale published a front-page, banner headline story purportedly revealing that that Boffo had accepted a plea bargain in court in 2002 after being accused of harrasing a woman. The paper said Boffo had a homosexual relationship with her husband. The headline read “The Super-Moralist Was Condemned for Molestation” (see image above). Feltri, one of Italy’s more unorthodox journalists, attacked Boffo because he had written a spate of editorials criticising Berlusconi over the prime minister’s private life. The fact that ultimately Berlusconi’s family is Feltri’s boss was not lost on Italian readers.

Another element in the background was the fact that Berlusconi has been under the spotlight for anything but government recently, including accusations of cavorting with teenagers and prostitutes. For the record, Berlusconi says there was nothing “spicy” in his relationship with an 18-year-old aspriring model and that even if  a call girl spent a night in his house, he never paid for sex in his life. What’s more, Berlusconi is also going through a messy divorce. His wife Veronica says she wanted out because she couldn’t take any more of his “lies”.