FaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

In the spirit of a Franciscan Pope

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Ricardo Moraes

It was Palm Sunday in Rio’s cathedral when I found them in a small group wearing their simple, traditional robes, with short hair and beards, praying, concentrating, amidst hundreds of other Catholics.  I’m talking about the Franciscans, young followers of Saint Francis of Assisi who on some occasions I had seen roaming the city, almost invisible, helping Rio’s poor.

I knew nothing about them, but with the election of a Latin American Pope and his chosen name of Francis, I began to do some research. Apart from what I learned from the Internet and through phone calls to a monastery, there wasn’t a lot more information available. The Franciscan orders have existed for centuries around the world, but I wanted to know more about those youths who one monk had told me are the “Church’s rebels.”

I stood observing them during an important moment in the mass, with their eyes tightly shut and very serious faces. I really wanted to photograph them, but with so many people around me I didn’t want to disturb the mass. I waited, and when the mass finished I was finally able to talk to them and introduce myself. Their serious looks disappeared and with smiles they told me that I would be very welcome to visit them in their home.

It was a short conversation in which I barely explained that I wanted to do a photo essay about their lives motivated by the election of Pope Francis, and asked them how they felt about the papal choice. One of the brothers told me, “It’s a confirmation of all that we believe.”

The following week I was finally able to meet the fraternity named “O Caminho,” or “The Way,” divided into two houses, one for the sisters and one for the brothers, in Campo Grande about 50 kms (31 miles) from the center of Rio. I arrived in the early morning as they performing the first daily prayer. I was well received and allowed to photograph as they prayed. They weren’t at all bothered by me working, and never lost concentration.

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Ashes to ashes; dust to dust

Gainesville, Florida

By Steve Johnson

“Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.”

Its origins come from Genesis 3:19 (King James Verison): “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

We celebrate death in so many different ways. From sky burials in Tibet, to hanging coffins in ancient China, how we honor the dead is varied and changing.

In the United States and Canada, vault burials have grown in popularity since the early 1900s. With more than 19,000 funeral homes and 8,000 embalmers in the U.S. alone according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

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Voodoo alive and well

Souvenance, Haiti

By Marie Arago

There is much beauty in Haiti. There are mountains, the countryside, the sea and beaches, but what I find most beautiful is the culture of this country. There are many elements that contribute to Haiti's rich culture and Voodoo (also spelled Vodou and Voudou) is definitely one of them.

This past week I spent three days documenting the annual Voodoo festival at Souvenance, a small village outside of Gonaives. Souvenance was formed by escaped and freed slaves from Dahomey (present day Benin) about two hundred years ago. During this week at Souvenance all of the Rada Iwa, or Voodoo spirits of Dahomey origin, are honored through different ceremonies, song and dance.

The first day begins with a ceremony that leads into a dance for the lwa, or spirit, named Legba. The dancing is led by three drums and the song lyrics are a mix of the Kreyol and Dahomey languages. These songs and dances have been passed on for generations and, judging by all of the children who were singing along, the traditions are not in danger of being lost.

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New Mexico’s Holy Week

New Mexico

By Brian Snyder

The high desert of northern New Mexico, with Taos as its unofficial capital, is a confluence of cultures and eras.  Native American, Spanish, Mexican and American cultures co-exist and show themselves in both modern and old ways. Holy Week in this area is celebrated in a very public manner within the safety of the region, beyond the notice of much of the rest of the United States. The rites and customs are very much of the place and cultures found there.

On Holy Thursday a youth group re-enacted the Stations of the Cross at the Sanctuario de Chimayo. The Sanctuary is a church built over a source of sacred dirt that is believed to have healing powers. It is also the destination for thousands of pilgrims from all over during Holy Week. The youth group from Our Lady of Sorrows church in nearby Bernalillo has been doing the performance for years, with new teenagers replacing the previous year’s every year or two. The whips hitting the man playing the role of Jesus are real (though the blood is make-up) and the teens are convincing in their roles as Mary, the women of Jerusalem, Veronica and Roman soldiers.

If the pilgrimage at Chimayo is well-known and better publicized, the pilgrimage in Ranchos de Taos and Talpa on Good Friday is a very local, traditional and communal activity. The several mile walk begins at the famous San Francisco de Asis church in Ranchos and from there the Stations of the Cross are marked in various fields, front yards, moradas, and capillas along the route. Four men carry a large cross and lead the procession, with several hundred believers following behind. In many ways Good Friday is the apex of Holy Week. Worshipers, including many young people, pray out loud, sing, and even chat and laugh with one another as they make their way through the countryside.

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Recharging the mystical powers

Wat Bang Phra, Thailand

By Damir Sagolj

A devotee with a small zoo of animals tattooed on his body speeds toward the large statue of the Big Master, jumping over others and making unusual sounds and gestures. A volunteer standing in his way is big but fortunately very quick to stop the frantic run before a man crashes into the stage. A tattooed man bounces off the volunteer’s huge body, wakes-up from the trance and calmly goes back into the crowd. The air-bag volunteer turns to his colleagues and, as if nothing special is happening, comments in the ultra-cool manner of Bud Spencer (remember the Banana Joe movie?) “It is hot today. Very hot.”

And it’s hot indeed. It's the beginning of the Thai summer. Only a few hours after the sunrise, the temperature is over 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit). It is also abnormally humid. However, people who came to Wat Bang Phra today don’t really care for such banal things as heat and humidity – they are here for a higher cause.

Every year, on a special day in March thousands of devotees from all around Thailand (some from abroad, too) travel for the Magic Tattoo festival to Nakhon Prathom province, just over an hour drive from Bangkok. The festival takes place at a temple well known for "magically charged" tattoos.

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Our hometown Pope

Buenos Aires, Argentina

By Enrique Marcarian

Used to covering news with headlines like hyper-inflation, devaluation, coup d'etat, protest, bond default, election, poverty, earthquake, and even papal visit, I never imagined what it would be like to cover the papal conclave in the new Pope's country of origin. What made it even more baffling was the fact that the winner was someone we never dreamed it would be.

The day the conclave began was one when all the elements around me seemed to confirm that there was no chance of an Argentine Pope. I went to the Metropolitan Cathedral to take pictures of the optimistic worshippers, and found just one nun praying in a nearly empty church.

The next day, a phone call from a colleague shook me up. He told me that a journalist, who is notorious for always being wrong in his predictions, had said, "Bergoglio won't be elected for many reasons." That was when we decided we should go to the Cathedral.

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Falkland Islanders take on an Argentine Pope

By Marcos Brindicci

Port Stanley, Falkland Islands

Czech journalist Jeri Hasek appeared in the hotel lobby saying to some of us Argentines, "You have a Pope! An Argentine Pope!"

The truth is, here in the Falkland Islands some swearing was heard after the news. I have to admit that, no matter what your opinion on the church and religious matters are, it is kind of exciting to learn that someone from your country gets to be Pope. But as an Argentine, I know this will boost our ego, and that can't be good.

I left the hotel to find my co-workers from Reuters TV to tell them the news and I ran into Patrick Watts, a Falkland Islands journalist. Patrick told me, "Well, you can't have the Falklands, but at least you got yourselves a Pope."

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Church, faith and rock’n'roll

Saltillo, Mexico

By Daniel Becerril

When I first heard of Adolfo Huerta, or Father Gofo as everybody calls him, I thought it was a joke. I thought he just liked to drive a motorcycle and to wear his hear long and that he wasn't even a priest, just a guy who liked to pretend to be one.

He was packing his things the day I met him as he was moving to another parish. They were sending him off to a neighborhood with social problems, or a “hot” area as it’s generally called. I looked around Adolfo’s room while chatting with him - it looked more like the room of a teenager. I saw heavy metal and alternative rock CDs, books piled high on different topics, all had his nickname “Gofo” written on them. A poster of Che Guevara adorned the wall, another of the latest Batman movie and a double-spread picture of a lovely young lady showing her assets "au naturel".

FULL FOCUS GALLERY: ROCK'N'ROLL PRIEST

Adolfo discovered God and the priesthood while studying philosophy at the Pontifical University of Mexico City, and working with HIV-positive patients and sex workers as an activist for social causes. But he seems to break the mold of a Catholic priest, he likes rock music, dyes the ends of his hair red, dresses in black, and likes to ride his motorcycle. He is a member of a motorcycle club called the “Black Wings”, he goes to bars, drinks beer, smokes, swears and tells jokes while officiating mass. He likes pictures of naked women. Although his female friends complain about the posters, he says he is an admirer of the female body, its beauty and its ability to give birth. No filthy or profane thoughts behind it, he said, in order to live a chaste life.

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“I will show you the Pope”

Rome, Italy

By Alessandro Bianchi

After what seemed like a lifetime of standing in the rain, "Habemus Papam" (We have a Pope!).

I woke up after basically not sleeping at all. Another day and now what? We had no idea what Pope Francis would do. Nobody knew. Only that he was due to attend a small prayer at the Santa Maria Maggiore - a basilica in central Rome. So, fellow photographer Stefano Rellandini and I got on our scooters and went to take a look. When we got there, there was a lot of people - media, tourists (the basilica is right next to the main train station), curious bystanders, and a big wall which surrounds the basilica. Stefano stayed with the pack outside the main entrance and I went for a little wander. How could I see above this wall? The only way was to go into a local school. I walked in, looked for the principle and said "Come with me I have something to show you. I will show you the Pope." He smiled and said "Okay let's see." I said, "I have to have this picture, or my boss will be very unhappy..."

We entered into a class of school kids, around 15 years old (to tell the truth I wasn't really paying attention to them). Then came one of the longest moments of my life as I walked through the class and saw that from their window I could see into the courtyard of the basilica. I saw cars, police and a couple of priests. This was it. Seconds later he appeared at the doorway and I started taking pictures. I said to the kids "It's the Pope, it's the pope. He's here, say something," but they were a little star-struck and I had to say "Yes, it really is him - say something." So the kids all shouted "Viva il Papa, viva papa." Then one of his close cardinals tapped him on the shoulder and pointed at the kids (or more importantly me). Then the Pope waved and smiled and finally I could relax.

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An endangered priesthood

Tagaytay city, Philippines

By Erik de Castro

I woke at dawn to the sound of a bell ringing and Gregorian Chant music at the Saint Augustine Minor Seminary compound on Mindoro island in the central Philippines. It was still dark as dozens of seminarians in the first phase of a 12-year journey to priesthood walked towards a chapel for their morning prayers and a mass.

I walked to the same chapel 41 years ago and left after more than two years in the seminary.

As I walked with them in the chilly air, I felt the seminary's sprawling compound was so big now compared to the time I was there. Since 1962 when the seminary opened, there have been 1200 seminarians who have passed through, according to Father Andy Lubi. So far it has produced 72 priests, some who have already left for a variety of reasons. From the 100 recruited during an annual vocation campaign, 12 is the average number of candidates that enter the seminary per year.