FaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

The trouble with Northern Ireland

Tradition is something that is celebrated, enjoyed and handed down to the next generation, but in the small corner of western Europe where I was born, it has led to shootings and bombings and the loss of thousands of lives.

For 16 years I’ve worked as a photographer covering ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland and in this time I’ve come to realize that what one side of the political and religious divide sees as celebration, the other sees as triumphalism.

The Twelfth of July parades are one such tradition that sparked disturbances on the streets of Belfast this week with rioters throwing petrol bombs and police responding with plastic bullets as Catholics and Protestants once again clashed.

In the last couple of years the rules of engagement as a photographer working within Northern Ireland have changed. Once we were able to cover most situations relatively safely, now the press is increasingly being seen as the enemy and the focus of anger.

During the recent disturbances in Belfast my colleagues and I have been the target of rioters with a friend shot through the thigh and another injured by a plastic bullet.

Catholic area riots after Protestant marches in Northern Ireland

(Nationalist youths and police in riot gear clash in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast July 12, 2011/Cathal McNaughton)

Police fired plastic bullets and water cannon at Catholic youths in Northern Ireland’s provincial capital Belfast on Tuesday after rioting erupted when a Protestant parade passed their estate. Sporadic violence erupted across the British-ruled province on the culmination of a season of parades by pro-British Protestants to mark a 17th-century military victory, a tradition many Catholics say is provocative.

Around 200 people threw bottles, slates and petrol bombs in the mainly Catholic Ardoyne area of Belfast after police moved in to prevent them confronting the passing Orange Order parade. Two cars were set on fire and dozens of rounds of plastic bullets were fired. Police said a number of officers were injured.

Christians issue code of conduct for spreading faith without fanning tensions

(Evangelical pastor Marcos Pereira da Silva embraces a prisoner as his missionaries stand by at the 52nd Police Station jail in Nova Iguacu, near Rio de Janeiro, which they visited on October 29, 2009 to evangelize prisoners/Ricardo Moraes )

A coalition representing most Christian churches around the world launched a rule book on Tuesday for spreading their faith that aims to reduce tensions among themselves and with followers of other faiths. The pioneering code of conduct, under negotiation for five years, was unveiled by the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Vatican and the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), which together claim to represent over 90 percent of Christianity.

It reaffirms their right to seek converts but also urges them to abandon “inappropriate methods of exercising mission by resorting to deception and coercive means”, saying that such behaviour “betrays the Gospel and may cause suffering to others”. Click here for the PDF text of the guidelines.

South Korea’s religious harmony put to the test by Christian president

(South Korean President Lee Myung-bak at the presidential Blue House in Seoul June 9, 2011. Credit: Reuters/Jo Yong-Hak)

Many South Koreans concerned about the country’s increasing religious polarisation are haunted by a single image – their president on his knees. While attending a national prayer breakfast in March, President ??Lee Myung-bak knelt to pray at the urging of Christian leaders.

Footage of the event shocked many in this pluralist country, where about half the population professes no particular faith and the remainder is split between Buddhists, Christians and homegrown creeds. The main Buddhist Jogye Order called the scene “unforgiveable,” and even right-leaning media outlets generally supportive of the conservative leader expressed reservations.

17 Chinese churches petition parliament for religious freedom

(Chinese police usher people onto a bus at the site of a planned outdoor service by the Shouwang Church at the Zhongguancun commercial district in Beijing in this still image from April 10, 2011 video/Reuters TV)

Seventeen churches in China have appealed to China’s lawmakers to provide legal protection of religious freedom after police detained dozens of Christians from a Beijing church that has been trying to hold outdoor services. The petition, delivered on Wednesday by hand to the National People’s Congress — China’s rubber-stamp parliament — was the first of its kind and the boldest statement by the nation’s “house churches” to the central government.

It comes as the United States has sharply criticised China for its crackdown on dissent. China has jailed, detained or placed in secretive informal custody dozens of dissidents, human rights lawyers and protesters it fears will challenge Communist Party rule.

Chinese police break up planned service by evicted Protestant church

()

(Uniformed and plainclothes police surround a man at the site of a proposed church gathering at a shopping area in Beijing April 10, 2011/David Gray)

Hundreds of Chinese police scrambled to prevent a planned outdoor service by a “homeless” church on Sunday, shoving people into vans and buses in the latest show of the Communist Party’s determination to smother dissent and protests. The Shouwang Church, a Protestant group with about 1,000 members, had urged members to gather for the outdoor service after they said official pressure forced the church out of a place of worship it had been renting.

But hundreds of police officers covered the area in the Zhongguancun commercial district, where the Shouwang Church had planned to worship, deterring any effort by church members and supporters to gather for the morning service.

Beijing “house church” faces eviction in tense times in China

(Christians attend Sunday service at Shouwang Church in Beijing's Haidian district October 3, 2010. Shouwang is a "house church", a church that is not officially sanctioned by the government and houses smaller congregations. These churches are reported to be getting increasingly popular in the Chinese capital. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic)

(Christians attend Sunday service at Shouwang Church in Beijing in this file photo from October 3, 2010/Petar Kujundzic)

Tears flowed at one of Beijing’s biggest “house” churches when some 300 Chinese Christians prayed on the last Sunday before they face eviction from their makeshift place of worship, pressed by officials wary about religion outside of their grip. The Shouwang Church, with about 1,000 members, is one of the biggest Protestant congregations in Beijing that has expanded beyond the confines of churches registered and overseen by the ruling Communist Party’s religious affairs authorities.

But the Party is wary about any potential unrest, and this gathering of neat middle-class and student Christians has been told by its landlord that it can no longer worship at the “Old Story Restaurant,” with its walls lined with pictures of Chinese Party leaders shaking hands with former U.S. presidents.

Ethiopia’s religious divides flare up in Muslim attacks on Christians

ethiopia

(A destroyed Protestant church in Asendabo, 300 km (200 miles) west of the capital Addis Ababa, March 16, 2011/stringer)

The hollow chants of “Allahu Akbar!” reverberating from a distance seemed innocuous at first for Abera Gutema, who ventured home quietly from his shop just a short distance away. Moments later, a large, angry mob of machete-wielding Muslim youths descended on his family’s dwelling and chased him out, before burning and looting his property.

Abera, a Christian, escaped through a back door, clutching his infant son Eyoel in one hand. By the time the smoke cleared, all that remained of his hard-earned belongings had been reduced to rubble, not to mention the theft of 100,000 birr — his lifetime savings.

Ecumenical news agency ENInews suspended, editors removed

genevaEcumenical News International, an award-winning agency reporting on religion and based at the World Council of Churches (WCC), has been temporarily closed and had its two top editors removed, one of them said on Monday. The decision, taken at a meeting of its executive committee last week, comes after the Geneva-based WCC cut the agency’s funding and its former head criticised its coverage.

The suspension and leadership changes led to the resignation of the ENInews president and its treasurer, both senior figures in Scandinavian Protestant churches, a report by the agency said. WCC officials said the agency was not being closed but would resume some time in 2011 with one part-time editor. (Photo: Geneva, April 29, 2008/Valentin Flauraud)

Earlier this year the WCC, which has been ENInews’s main funder and in whose headquarters the agency was based, said it was reducing its financial support for 2011 by over 50 percent.

Algeria hails its religious freedom, critics not so sure

algiers (Photo: An Algerian stands near the newly restored Notre Dame D’Afrique Basilica in Algiers December 13, 2010/Zohra Bensemra)

A Catholic church that has been a landmark in Algeria’s capital for over a century has officially re-opened after restoration work, providing a symbol of religious tolerance in the mainly Muslim country. Algeria is emerging from a nearly two-decade-long Islamist insurgency, but the Catholic community has maintained a presence, even though several Christian clergymen have been among hundreds of thousands killed in the violence.

The Notre Dame d’Afrique basilica was built by French settlers in the late nineteenth century.  An inscription running around the inside of the dome reads: “Our Lady of Africa, pray for us, and for the Muslims.”

“Religious freedom in Algeria is a reality,” Religious Affairs Minister Bouabdellah Ghlamallah told reporters after a ceremony to mark the completion of repair work on Monday. “Everybody has the right to practice their religion provided that the law is fully respected,” he said.