FaithWorld

Jewish Lag BaOmer pilgrimage in Tunisia goes ahead, but muted

(People attend a Lag Ba-Omer celebration at El Ghiba synagogue in Djerba island May 21, 2011S/Anis Mili)

A small group of Jewish pilgrims gathered on an Tunisian island to visit one of Africa’s oldest synagogues but worries over continued unrest kept many away from the annual event. About 5,000 pilgrims from Tunisia and abroad usually travel each May to the El Ghriba synagogue on Djerba island in the south to mark Lag BaOmer, a holiday which follows Passover.

But this year less than 100 took part and organizers cancelled traditional celebrations because of security concerns and lack of participants  as the country struggles to restore order following the overthrow of Tunisia’s authoritarian ruler Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January.

“This year was an exception, the atmosphere is different because of security in the country. It is a real shame,” Perez Trabesli, the head of the Jewish community in Djerba said late on Friday, the day that usually draws the most pilgrims. “It is understandable that they do not come because they see attacks and unrest every day on the television,” he said.

The pilgrimage has been taking place for 20 years and in the past has attracted visitors from Israel, France and the United States. This year only a handful of foreigners came. Mainly Muslim Tunisia has one of the largest Jewish communities in North Africa – about 2,000 people – and half of them live in Djerba, close to the Libyan border.

Vatican invites all to John Paul beatification, cites “ethical” Rome hotel prices

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(Catholic pilgrims hold up photos of the late Pope John Paul in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican January 16, 2011/Giampiero Sposito)

The Vatican has urged the faithful not to let reports of huge crowds or unscrupulous hoteliers deter them from coming to Rome for the beatification of the late Pope John Paul on May 1. “I invite everyone to come. Rome is ready. Don’t be afraid of coming or of inviting people,” said Father Caesar Atuire on Tuesday.

The Vatican has begun the countdown to what will be the biggest event in the Italian capital since the death of the charismatic and highly popular pope in 2005, when millions of people came to view his body or attend his funeral. Vatican officials expect at least 300,000 people — including tens of thousands from his native Poland — to come to Rome for the three days of events during which he will be declared a “blessed,” the last step before sainthood.

Indian court sentences 11 to death for fiery attack on Hindu pilgrims

godhra

(Smoke pours from the burning train in Godhra, February 27, 2002/Stringer)

A special Indian court on Tuesday sentenced to death 11 people for setting fire to a train in Godhra in the western state of Gujarat in 2002, killing 59 people in an act that led to some of the worst religious riots in the country since independence in 1947. The Sabarmati Express was carrying Hindu devotees returning from the site of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya.

More than 2,500 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the subsequent riots in Gujarat. Critics say the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which rules Gujarat, did little to stop the violence and many believe the riots led to the defeat of the BJP in the 2004 general elections.

The court last week found the 31 defendants on trial guilty of conspiracy to torch the train, a judgment that seemed to back the BJP’s stand that the train was deliberately set on fire to provoke the riots. Opponents say the fire was accidental and was used as an excuse for the violence. The death sentences must be confirmed by a higher court.