FaithWorld

U.S. ambassador Diaz: theologian envoy to theologian pope

diaz-1Miguel Humberto Diaz might sound like the name of an ambassador from Spain or any Latin American country, but in fact it belongs to the new American ambassador to the Vatican.

And if any further proof  were needed that things are changing in Obama’s America, consider this: The surnames of the previous ambassadors to the Vatican were: Wilson, Shakespeare, Melady, Glendon, Flynn, Boggs,  Nicholson, Rooney, and Glendon.

In my coverage of the Vatican, I knew most of them well, a few of them very well,  and at least three — Melady, Flynn and Nicholson (two Republicans and a Democrat) — became friends who still keep in touch. Their kindness then and now will always be appreciated.

Still, there is a certain buzz in the air in Rome over the arrival of Diaz, who presented his credentials to Pope Benedict on Friday. The first Latino to get the post, he is Cuban-American (born in Havanna and raised in Miami).  Apart from the last ambassador, Harvard Prof. Mary Ann Glendon, Diaz perhaps knows more about Roman Catholicism and the workings of the Church than any of his predecessors.

But perhaps most significantly, Diaz is a theologian. He was professor of theology at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, both in Collegeville, Minnesota. He is also  a former president of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians fo the United States and board member of the Catholic Theological Society of America.

from Jeffrey Jones:

Dalai Lama: Afghan war a failure

    The Dalai Lama believes the war in Afghanistan has so far been a failure, saying military intervention creates additional complications for the country.
    The exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, making his first visit to the Western Canadian city of Calgary in 30 years, said foreign military intervention against Taliban insurgents has only served to make the fundamentalist group more determined.  
    The war has been "so far, I think, a failure," he told reporters, adding that he could not yet judge its outcome. "Using military forces, the other hard-liners become even more hard ... and due to civilian casualties the other side also sometimes is getting more sympathy from local people." 
    U.S. President Barack Obama is weighing calls to boost troop levels and alter strategy to reverse what officials have said is a deteriorating military situation. But the Dalai Lama said it would all have been unnecessary had the United States and the European Union spent more on aid to the region.
    "Instead of spending billions and billions of dollars for killing they should have spent billions .... on education and health in rural areas and underdeveloped areas. (If they had) I think the picture would be different."

-- Written by Scott Haggett

(Photo: The Dalai Lama speaks at a conference in Calgary, Alberta, on October 1, 2009. REUTERS/Todd Korol)

Vatican editor defends himself against U.S. conservatives

oss-romWhen Gian Maria Vian took over as editor of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano in late 2007, most observers yawned. No-one really expected much change at the staid newspaper. But within a few months, the paper started to rock and roll — at least as much as a paper like that can.

Slowly but surely, change has come to the 148-year-old mouthpiece of the Vatican, considered by many in the past a bland broadsheet at best and once called the “Catholic Pravda”, a reference to the communist party organ in the former Soviet Union.

It started publishing color pictures and more articles by and about women — not bad for an institution that is still a male bastion. It also began including more international cover, war cover and economic cover.
Some of its unorthodox commentaries have also been lighthearted and provocative. To wit: it ran an editorial saying that perhaps the washing machine had done more to liberate women than the pill or the right to work. It post-humusly forgave John Lennon for once boasting that the Beatles were more famous than Christ. And, it finally set the record straight that no, the pope does not wear Prada.

GUESTVIEW: Obama speech not historic, but could become so

obama-speaks1 (Photo: President Obama speaks at Cairo University, 4 June 2009/Larry Downing)

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Miroslav Volf is director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and a theology professor at Yale Divinity School, where he co-teaches a course on faith and globalization with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. A native of Croatia and member of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A., he has been involved in international ecumenical and interfaith dialogues, most recently in Christian-Muslim dialogue.

By Miroslav Volf

I am tempted to say that in Cairo President Obama delivered an historic speech on relations between “the United States and Muslims around the world.” Speeches aren’t historic when they are delivered, however; they become historic after they’ve shaped history. What is certain even now, mere few hours after the speech, is that it was brilliant — visionary and practical, deeply human and political, moral and pragmatic, all at the same time. These wise words, beautifully crafted and compellingly delivered, have the potential of becoming seeds from which a new future will sprout and flourish.

The perspective that pervades the whole speech was signaled when the President recognized his own Christian faith, while at the same time noting that his father came from a family that includes generations of Muslims. Thus, in his own biography, the President embodies what his speech was ultimately about: relations between the United States and Muslims around the world should not be defined simply by “our differences” but by “overlaps” and “common principles” as well. This point is crucial. In encounter with others, if we see only differences, the result is exclusion; if we see only commonalities, the result is distortion. Only when we see both-undeniable differences that give others a peculiar character and commonalities that bind us together-are we able to honor both others and ourselves.

Al-Azhar plans satellite television channel about Islam

azhar-sheikhDressed in his robe and turban, Sheikh Khaled Al-Guindy sits in the plush offices of the main benefactor of his new satellite television channel and speaks about how modern technology can be turned to service for Islam. The al-Azhar scholar, who in 2000 launched a phone-in service for Muslims seeking religious guidance, is one of the founders of Azhari, a 24-hour channel due to launch on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which this year will start in mid-August. Read my interview with him here. (Photo:Sheikh Khaled Al-Guindy, 31 May 2009/Tarek Mostafa)

The channel will be broadcast on both main satellite channels operating in Egypt and will be accessible worldwide. It will initially transmit in Arabic with some English and French programming and there are plans to add content later in Urdu and Turkish. Azhari received its initial 15 million Egyptian pounds funding from a Libyan businessman and philathropist, Hassan Tatanaki.

Guindy told Reuters the plan really got going about a month ago, when he officiated at the wedding of Tatanaki’s daughter. “The father of the bride and I forgot completely about that wedding and started to talk about a new wedding, about how to introduce this new channel to the rest of the world,” he said.

A selection of religion reports: week of March 8

manila-moonReuters publishes many more reports on religion, faith and ethics than we can mention on the FaithWorld blog. We sometimes highlight a story here, but often leave an issue unmentioned because it was already covered on the wire, or we have neither the time nor any extra information for a blog post. Here’s a sample of some of the stories we’ve published over the past week:

Philippines says open to amending Muslim autonomy law 13 Mar 2009

China says willing to meet Dalai Lama’s envoys 13 Mar 2009

Jews ask pope for Holocaust studies in schools 12 Mar 2009tibet

Turkey denies firing editor over Darwin article 12 Mar 2009

Pope says pained over “hate, hostility” against him 12 Mar 12 2009

China says it must approve Dalai Lama reincarnation 12 Mar 2009

U.S. says some states curb free speech in name of religion 12 Mar 2009

Australia says may quit UN racism conference 12 Mar 2009

Pope admits Holocaust denier affair was mishandled 12 Mar 2009

Pope to visit Rome synagogue in autumn 12 Mar 2009pope-rabbi

Malaysia Christians battle with Muslims over Allah 11 Mar 2009

“Big Love” network apologizes to Mormons 11 Mar 2009

Catholics protest Connecticut church finance bill 11 Mar 2009

Russia church offers to help Kremlin weather crisis 11 Mar 2009

Pope admits Holocaust denier affair was mishandled 11 Mar 2009

Cardinal says bad bankers must ask God’s pardon 11 Mar 2009

US fertility patients want final say on embryos 11 Mar 2009

Dalai Lama slams China over Tibet “suffering” 10 Mar 2009obama

Cameroon demolishes street stalls for Pope’s visit 10 Mar 2009

Stem cell go-ahead puts Obama at odds with pope 10 Mar 2009

Somali cabinet votes to implement sharia law 10 Mar 2009

FACTBOX: Embryonic stem cells, the ultimate master cell 10 Mar 2009

Stem cell advocates finally get their Obama moment 09 Mar 2009

French filmmaker slammed for likening illegals to WWII Jews 09 Mar 2009

jp2-yad-vashem1Vatican paper: Washing machine liberated women most 09 Mar 2009

Chechnya wants newborns to be named after Mohammad 09 Mar 2009

Obama to let health institute decide on stem cells 08 Mar 2009

US stem cell announcement only a first step 08 Mar 2009

Pope to visit Holocaust memorial during Israel trip 08 Mar 2009

Turkish Mosque Holds First Official Kurdish Sermon 08 Mar 2009

(Photo credits from top: Romeo Ranoco, Philippe Wojazer, Alessia Pierdomenico, Larry Downing, stringer)

GUESTVIEW: From “security” to compassion – a needed shift for Obama gov’t

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Libyan theologian Aref Ali Nayed is a senior advisor to the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme and a leading signatory of A Common Word.

By Aref Ali Nayed

Being held in the early days of the Obama presidency, this year’s U.S.-Muslim World Forum in Doha last weekend was particularly luminescent with rays of hope. One was the very fact that its host, the influential Brookings Institution think-tank, invited faith leaders to discuss how to improve the dreadful state of relations between Washington and the Muslim world. The basis for discussion was A Common Word, an appeal by 138 Muslim scholars to Christian leaders to join in a dialogue based on the shared commandments to love God and love one’s neighbor.

That a theological and spiritual initiative is of keen interest to policy planners is indeed a fresh ray of light.  Basking in that hopeful light, moreover, I had the rare privilege for a Muslim theologian of listening to the U.S. CentCom Commander General David Petraeus expound there on a “network of networks” that constituted a “security architecture” for our Middle East region.

from Tales from the Trail:

Rhyming reverend gets last word at Obama inaugural

WASHINGTON - Rev. Joseph Lowery was back on stage with a president, but on Tuesday the civil-rights pioneer used his wry rhymes to welcome the U.S. leader, not skewer him as he did three years ago.  OBAMA

Lowery, who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King Jr., delivered the benediction at Barack Obama's inauguration as first black U.S. president.

Lowery prayed for healing from a era of "greed and corruption," and asked, in verse, for divine help toward a new beginning of racial harmony:

U.S. Muslim leader on schedule to pray at Obama event

Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), is on schedule to say the Muslim prayer at an inaugural prayer service at Washington’s National Cathedral on Wednesday. There has been no change of plan. The Obama inauguration team has not withdrawn its invitation. (Photo: Ingrid Mattson, 16 Oct 2008/Sohail Nakhooda)

That might come as a surprise to readers who read several news items and blogs in recent days with headlines like “Obama prayer leader from group US linked to Hamas.” orQuestionable Connections for Speaker at High-Profile Inaugural Event?” The report started on a blog called American Thinker on Saturday and has been picked up repeatedly since then.

Charges of supporting Hamas, which the U.S. government has listed as a terrorist organisation, would seem like just the thing to get anyone disinvited from the prayer service pronto. But they would have to be proven. These articles only mentioned alleged “links” that seem flimsier the more they’re examined.

A list of Top 10 lists – “it was the election, stupid”

“Top 10 Stories” lists are a perennial feature,  especially in the United States (which explains a lot of the picks below). Now that they’re all out there, I took a quick look at the “Top 10 Religion Stories 2008″ lists to see if any pattern emerged. Of course one did: “It was the election, stupid.” Even a website dedicated to pagan news found a “pagans and politics” angle to top its list.

The Religion Newswriters Association, which polls member religion reporters, has been drawing up such lists for about 30 years. Election-related stories swept the top three slots last year. They did the same in 2004 as well, but the election shared the top spot back then with Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ movie. The election-dominated lists show some divergences, but the most interesting compilations were the more specialised ones down in the second list below.

Here’s a quick list of the Top 10 lists, first those dominated by the U.S. election and then others I actually found more interesting: