FaithWorld

TIME magazine lists its 10 top religion stories of 2008

TIME magazine has come out with its list of the 10 top religion stories of 2008. The winner is a story about how religion did not tip the balance in the U.S. presidential election. U.S. media often publish this kind of list at the end of the year. Are there similar lists out there from other countries? Please let us know if you see them elsewhere.

Here are TIME’s top 10:

1. The Economy Trumps Religion 2. Never Count the Mormons Out

3. The Pope Wows the States 4. The Canterbury non-Tale

5. America’s Unfaithful Faith

6. Tibet’s Monks Rebel

7. The Birth of the New Evangelicalism

8. The Challenge of Recession

9. When Kosher Wasn’t Kosher

10. Extraterrestrials May Already be Saved

from Environment Forum:

Vatican gets solar power; should White House follow?

 The Vatican (left) is going green from today with a new solar energy system on some roofs to help boost renewable use.

If Pope Benedict can have solar panels, are they something for the White House (right), after Barack Obama takes over as President on Jan. 20?

Former President Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House during the oil crisis of the 1970s -- his successor Ronald Reagan took them down when the roof was being repaired in 1986 (...a year when oil prices tumbled to below $10 a barrel).

Confusion over pope’s letter saying interfaith talks impossible

“Pope questions interfaith dialogue,” read a headline on a New York Times report this morning. “In comments on Sunday that could have broad implications in a period of intense religious conflict,”, it wrote, Pope Benedict said that dialogue between religions was impossible. Before noon, a New York rabbi was urgently appealing to Benedict XVI not to “abandon dialogue between faith communities.”

Readers following the recent upswing in interfaith contacts will recall the last time Benedict’s relations with other faiths were in the news was when he warmly received Islamic scholars on Nov. 6 in Rome and spoke of Christians and Muslims as “members of one family: the family that God has loved and gathered together from the creation of the world to the end of human history.” How could he now suggest that talks across faith lines are useless? (Photo: Pope Benedict greets Bosnian Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric at the Vatican, 6 Nov 2008/Osservatore Romano)

If these readers wonder what’s going on, they’re not alone. We’ve been getting queries from contacts asking how to read a letter written by Benedict that was published in the Milan daily Corriere della Sera on Sunday and got almost no coverage other than in the New York Times. What’s going on is that the Gray Lady has confused the philosophical precision of a German theologian and the real-world pragmatism of the Roman Catholic Church. That theologian, better known as Pope Benedict, restated his definition of interreligious dialogue in the letter to Italian politician and philosopher Marcello Pena. As the NYT reported, he said that “an interreligious dialogue in the strict sense of the word is not possible.” In theological terms, added the pope, “a true dialogue is not possible without putting one’s faith in parentheses.”

Cardinal sees possible “favoured channel” in dialogue with Islam

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, has made statements in the past that made him sound quite sceptical about the value of a theological dialogue with Muslims. (Photo: Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran)

That wasn’t what I found when I interviewed him last Saturday at his office on Via della Conciliazione, just down the road from St. Peter’s Basilica. The subject was the Catholic-Muslim Forum he had just hosted on Nov 4-6 between a Muslim delegation from the Common Word group and Catholic delegation of Vatican officials, Catholic Islam scholars and bishops from western and Muslim countries.

The Common Word group, he said, could become a “favoured channel” for Vatican contacts with Muslims, even while it retains other channels of dialogue. While he still had some reservations about the group’s approach because of differences he sees in ways of reading scriptures, he was quite positive about the actual dialogue itself. “In discussing the love of God, we were doing theology unintentionally,” he said. That jibed with a point that Muslim delegates made during the session itself. “I thought they didn’t want to discuss theology but we’ve been doing that from the start,” University of Cambridge Islamic studies lecturer Tim Winter remarked halfway though the conference.

Holocaust survivors to lobby Pope Benedict over Pius XII

The controversy over Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust just doesn’t seem to end. The latest twist came on Friday when our Vatican correspondent Philip Pullella got the scoop that Holocaust survivors and their descendants plan to lobby Pope Benedict to stop the process of making his wartime predecessor Pius XII a saint. They plan to submit their protests to papal nuncios (ambassadors) around the world, something apparently being done for the first time. The American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and their Descendantsdecided this on Thursday in New York. Earlier that day in Rome, Pope Benedict’s deputy, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said Jewish accusations were “outrageous” and no one could tell the Vatican whether Pius should be made a saint. But this does not seem to have prompted the decision.

Jewish groups would probably not have upped the ante like this if Pius’s supporters had not stepped up their campaign for his beatification in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of his death. For its part, the Vatican has blown hot and cold on the issue, with Pope Benedict praising Pius at one point and then saying later that he might freeze the beatification process.

Do you think the Vatican has mishandled this? What should it have done to avoid all this?

Is Pope Benedict’s Regensburg speech now history for Muslims?

Pope Benedict’s famous Regensburg speech has haunted Catholic-Muslim relations since it was delivered in September 2006. Muslims were insulted by his quoting of a Byzantine emperor saying Islam was violent and irrational and have complained about the speech ever since. The “Common Word” group of Islamic scholars that met Benedict and Catholic officials at the Vatican this week grew out of an initial response by Muslims to that speech. So what role did the Regensburg speech play at those unprecedented talks?

None, according to the Catholic delegation head, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran (left). It was not mentioned a single time in the talks, he told our colleagues at I.Media, a French agency reporting on the Vatican. “Nobody ever spoke about Regensburg,” he said. “It’s a closed affair and the pope has already explained that issue very well.” The pope has expressed regret at any misunderstanding of his speech but not apologised for it as some Muslims urged him to do at the time.

Bosnian Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric (right), head of the Muslim delegation, was also asked whether Regensburg was now a closed chapter. “There are certain things you should remember but also put into historical context,” he told journalists after the delegations attended an audience with the pope. “Some people say from conflict and misunderstanding comes understanding.”

Catholic-Muslim Forum ends on upbeat note

The Catholic-Muslim Forum ended on Thursday evening on an upbeat note. After two days of closed-door talks and an audience with Pope Benedict, the delegations held their only public session of the conference (right) to present a joint communique and answer some questions.The final declaration (full text here) had a series of interesting points that show progress in the dialogue among the experts involved. They will need some unpacking in the real world before we know how much real progress has been made. Here are some of the points with some quick observations in italics:

    2. Human life is a most precious gift of God to each person. It should therefore be preserved and honoured in all its stages. (interesting common pro-life slant here. Any joint initiatives coming up here?) 3. Human dignity is derived from the fact that every human person is created by a loving God out of love … he or she is entitled to full recognition of his or her identity and freedom by individuals, communities and governments, supported by civil legislation that assures equal rights and full citizenship. (this means support for minorities, whether they’re Christians in Muslim countries or Muslim minorities in the West, on the basis of both faiths and not just secular notions that can be contested as foreign to a certain culture) 4. We affirm that God’s creation of humanity has two great aspects: the male and the female human person, and we commit ourselves jointly to ensuring that human dignity and respect are extended on an equal basis to both men and women. (that’s pretty clear) 5. Genuine love of neighbour implies respect of the person and her or his choices in matters of conscience and religion. It includes the right of individuals and communities to practice their religion in private and public. (no mention here of conversion in Muslim countries) 6. Religious minorities are entitled to be respected in their own religious convictions and practices. They are also entitled to their own places of worship, and their founding figures and symbols they consider sacred should not be subject to any form of mockery or ridicule. (this refers in the same sentence to the Catholic concern for churches in Muslim countries and the Muslim concern about caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad. Any linkage there? ) 8. We affirm that no religion and its followers should be excluded from society. Each should be able to make its indispensable contribution to the good of society, especially in service to the most needy. (this one also cuts both ways, like item 3) 10. We are convinced that Catholics and Muslims have the duty to provide a sound education in human, civic, religious and moral values for their respective members and to promote accurate information about each other’s religions. (that education aspect will be important) 11. We profess that Catholics and Muslims are called to be instruments of love and harmony among believers, and for humanity as a whole, renouncing any oppression, aggressive violence and terrorism, especially that committed in the name of religion, and upholding the principle of justice for all. (Western critics often say Muslims don’t denounce terrorism enough, even though many do that they don’t notice. Could this boost that visibility?) 14. We have agreed to explore the possibility of establishing a permanent Catholic-Muslim committee to coordinate responses to conflicts and other emergency situations and of organizing a second seminar in a Muslim-majority country yet to be determined. (this is the crisis management option I mentioned a few days ago)

The final session was actually quite strained, with testy questions and answers, which led some journalists to ask whether the positive signals we’d been getting did not really reflect the mood in the private talks. Several participants, including senior Muslim delegate Seyyed Hossein Nasr who was in the middle of it all, denied that was the case. As all present could see, the strains emerged when Monsignor Khaled Akasheh, the desk officer for Islam in the Vatican’s interfaith department who was moderating the session, tried to stop Nasr from answering questions put to him. Another curious decision was to let a relatively low-ranking delegate, a lay professor from Paris named Joseph Maila, answer questions for the Catholic delegation rather than delegation head Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran or another senior Vatican official.More on this later…

No news is good news at Catholic-Muslim Forum

The news at the Catholic-Muslim Forum today is that there is no news.  No news in the MSM (mainstream media) sense. Nobody’s walked out of the talks, there have been no enormous blow-ups, outrageous charges, etc. It would take something like that for a story about interfaith dialogue to have any luck in the MSM on the day after Barack Obama was elected U.S. president. In fact, several Catholic-Muslim Forum delegates I spoke to today first mentioned how pleased they were at Obama’s victory across the ocean before they got around to talking about their meeting here.

The other reason the Forum has “no news” is that what’s happening seems like mostly good news, which by the usual MSM definition (see above…) is no news. These pioneering talks between Muslim signatories of the Common Word manifesto and Vatican officials and Catholic Islam experts moved ahead on their second day with what participants said were open and useful discussions. “The discussion is not getting derailed where it could get derailed, if someone wanted to do that,” one delegate said.

That’s interesting, because today’s topic — human dignity and mutual respect — was the natural place for a strong stand by those Catholics who want this dialogue to focus on reciprocity, or giving minority Christians in Muslim countries the same rights as Muslim minorities in western countries. Actually, the talks got around to that topic late in the first day of talks yesterday and the debate apparently got quite spirited. Both Catholics and Muslims told me it was lively but respectful, a useful face-to-face exchange of what is usually only said about the other. Let’s see what the final communique on Thursday says about this.

Catholic-Muslim Forum opens with frank talk at Vatican

(Photo: delegation heads Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran (l) and Bosnian Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric (r) chat at the start of the Catholic- Muslim Forum on 4 Nov 2008 at the Vatican/ pool photo provided by Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano)

Any thoughts that the first Catholic-Muslim Forum here in Rome might blur fundamental differences in the interests of harmony dissolved on Tuesday when the Vatican side opened the discussion with a clear presentation of the Christian teaching that people can only approach God through Jesus Christ. There was hardly a better way to show the gap that separates the Christians and Muslims who have embarked on the “Common Word” dialogue process. The Muslim side naturally disagreed and said this radical focus on Christ closed off all options for salvation to Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and any other non-Christians. What followed, delegates to the closed-door conference reported, was not a clash but a discussion described as cordial, respectful and aimed at a better understanding of how each side understands the concept of God’s love for humanity. “There were some sceptical Catholic comments before this meeting, and the opening presentation was classic Christian doctrine, but there were nuances in what different Catholic delegates said in the discussion,” one Muslim delegate said. “The best part is the openness,” another said. “There is an aspect of mutual respect, which is what we need.”

Read our news story on the meeting here.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the top Vatican official for relations with Islam and source of several sceptical Catholic comments since the Common Word was launched just over a year ago, reiterated the Vatican’s commitment to dialogue with the Muslims.

Look who’s celebrating Reformation Day today

Today is Reformation Day, the anniversary of the day in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg in eastern Germany and set off the Protestant Reformation. It is a public holiday in the five eastern German states, in Slovenia and — this year for the first time — in Chile.

Chile? Isn’t that traditionally a Catholic country? Even the Catholic parts of Germany don’t celebrate Reformation Day.

Yes, Chile is traditionally Catholic, but now only about 70% so. Like elsewhere in Latin America, Protestant churches — especially evangelicals and Pentecostals — have spread rapidly in recent decades. They now make up just over 15% of the Chilean population, up from 7% in 1970. It’s not a new story, but creating a holiday especially for Protestants is a symbolic step towards recognising the changes in the religious landscape in Latin America.