FaithWorld

Greek Orthodox Church gears up to provide relief for crisis victims

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Trade union members march in Athens during a nationwide strike in Greece, May 5, 2010Yiorgos Karahalis

The Greek Orthodox Church is gearing up to provide relief supplies and psychological help when the country’s financial crisis really hits ordinary people after the summer, a senior churchman has said.

Greece plans draconian budget cuts to tackle a debt crisis threatening to spread across Europe. Some 50,000 Greeks marched against the austerity programme in Athens on Wednesday in a protest that saw three people killed in a fire-bombed bank.

“We know that the consequences of the measures will be more strongly felt after the summer, so we are getting ready (and) training parish priests to deal with the crisis,” Rev. Gabriel Papanicolaou told the World Council of Churches news service on Thursday.

Papanicolaou, who spoke in Geneva while attending a WCC meeting, said churches had to bring hope to their followers.

Can saffron be red in Thailand?

THAILAND

(A monk walks along a red shirt barricade in Bangkok's business district on April 25/Sukree Sukplang)

At the sprawling red shirt encampment in central bank, Buddhist monks clad in their distinctive saffron robes mingle with men wearing helmets walking around with sharpened bamboo sticks.

Just about every night, rumours sweep the the sprawling encampment of tents, sounds trucks and makeshift stalls that a long anticipated crackdown is imminent. The men stare at the three-metre barricades made of tyres, bamboo poles and rubble that surround much of the encampment, about the size of a large city park, waiting to pelt soldiers armed with  assault rifles with pellets from their sling shots and thrusts of their bamboo spears.

Q+A-Religious violence risks reputation of India’s Hyderabad

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Indian police patrol the southern Indian city of Hyderabad March 30, 2010/Krishnendu Halder

Indian police extended a curfew to several areas of the IT city of Hyderabad on Wednesday after four days of religious clashes between Hindus and Muslims left two dead and scores injured.  The religious strife has heightened tension and worried authorities in the southern city of Andhra Pradesh state, which houses major operations of such companies as Microsoft, Google and Mahindra Satyam.

Here are some questions and answers about the latest crisis:

WHAT ARE THE CLASHES ABOUT IN HYDERABAD?

Clashes started after a Hindu group replaced Muslim flags with Hindu ones on streets during a festival, triggering clashes with Muslims. Nearly 125 people have been arrested so far.  The once princely dominion in Hyderabad has a history of religious tension with Hindu groups taking on Muslims over festivals and respective customs to gain supremacy.

French mosque reopens after protest disruptions

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Drancy on a map of greater Paris

A French mosque, whose imam says he has received death threats over his promotion of dialogue with Jews, reopened for Friday prayers after it was forced to close down this week due to disruptive protests.  The mosque in Drancy, a suburb to the north of Paris, has been the focus of tension for weeks with a small group of protesters keeping up a noisy barrage of criticism against the imam Hassen Chalghoumi.

“We’ve been facing really enormous pressure for five or six weeks now,” Chalghoumi told reporters before Friday prayers. “We want peace, we want calm. These people aren’t welcome here.”

As Chalghoumi spoke, a group of around 30 protesters from a group named after Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder of  the Palestinian Hamas movement, gathered outside the fence of the mosque, facing off with fluorescent-vested security staff preventing them from entering.

Were they “French” or “Muslims” torching cars on New Year’s Eve?

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Cars burned on New Year's Eve piled up in Strasbourg car pound, 1 Jan 2010/Jean-Marc Loos

Another New Year’s Eve, another round of car torchings in France. And another wave of reader complaints that we don’t brand these arsonists as Muslims.  Robert Basler, who handles reader feedback, got so many emails in reaction to a Paris story on the New Year’s torchings that he did a post on his blog Good, Bad and Ugly: Reader reaction to Reuters news.

These readers are convinced the people torching the cars were Muslims and this was an important fact we were hiding from them.  “Just who do you think you are protecting, let alone informing, by leaving on that tiny little detail?” asks a reader named Hoss. Reader K.K.S. writes: “How many of the “youths” were Muslim? My guess is most… What side is Reuters on? My guess is… It isn’t the right one, the French one or the American one!!! Reuters starts sounding more like Al Jereeza (sic) everyday!” A comment signed Dean asks: “Were the youths who burned those cars in France Muslims? Isn’t that relevent (sic) to the story?”

Swiss politician apologises over cemetery ban call

darbellayThe leader of Switzerland’s centrist Christian Democrats (CVP) has apologised  for calling for a ban on new Muslim and Jewish cemeteries, just days after Swiss voters approved a halt to building minarets.

“I am sorry. I didn’t mean it like that,” CVP leader Christophe Darbellay told the tabloid Blick daily on Friday, adding:  “It was about the principle that we all belong to the same Swiss society … but you can’t explain that in 15 seconds.” (Photo: Christophe Darbellay, 22 Aug 2009/Denis Balibouse)

Darbellay provoked protests when he told local television earlier in the week that Switzerland should not allow the building of separate cemeteries for Jews or Muslims in future.

Indian report raps politicians over Ayodhya mosque destruction

babri1A government-backed inquiry has accused several of India’s top opposition politicians of having a role in the destruction of an ancient mosque in 1992 that triggered some of the country’s worst religious riots. (Photo: Muslim at New Delhi protest, 6 Dec 2005/B Mathur)

The report has sparked political protests from opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which finds itself in even more trouble as it struggles to emerge from internal feuding after an election defeat in May.

Hindu mobs demolished the 16-century Babri Mosque in the north Indian town of Ayodhya, claiming it stood on the birthplace of their god-king Rama. Riots between Hindus and Muslims left hundreds dead across India.

Some east German Protestants feel overlooked as Wall recalled

thomaskircheAs Germany celebrates the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, some Protestants feel the crucial role their church played in shepharding the democracy movement to success is quietly being overlooked. This seems strange to someone like myself who reported on those events back then. Any reporter in Berlin in the tense weeks before Nov. 9, 1989 knew the Protestant (mostly Lutheran) churches sheltered dissidents and was working for reform. But the idea that this was fading from public view came up during my recent visit to Leipzig when, at an organ recital in Johann Sebastian Bach‘s St. Thomas Church (Thomaskirche), the pastor mentioned the point in a sermon. (Photo: St. Thomas Church in Leipzig with Bach statue, 17 Oct 2009/Tom Heneghan)

When I later went up to Berlin, I ran the idea past a leading east German Protestant theologian and a pastor and two parish council members from the Gethsemane Church (Gethsemanekirche). That church in eastern Berlin was one of the most active centres of protest in the tense months before demonstrators forced open the Wall on Nov. 9, 1989. They all agreed.

The many anniversary celebrations, documentaries and discussions now underway across Germany seem to focus mostly on how fearless street protesters and astute politicians pulled off the “peaceful revolution” that ended communism. Films and photos of dissidents packed into the Gethsemane Church in East Berlin or Leipzig’s St. Nicholas Church (Nikolaikirche), the leading houses of worship that sheltered them until the Wall opened , are among the trademark images.  But those crowded “peace prayer” evenings were only the tip of the iceberg of behind-the-scenes work by pastors and lay people who considered it their Christian duty to promote civil rights and human dignity in a rigid communist society.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Collective Punishment in Religious Jerusalem Neighborhoods?

ISRAEL-RELIGION/RIOTMuch ink has been spilled about the riots of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews in Jerusalem over the past several weeks (See our article on that here). Among some sources, there's a note of disdain for this sector of Jewish population, seen as being contemptuous of the state of Israel while making up the largest portion of the country's welfare recipients.

So I was a bit surprised to see one group rise to defend the Haredim this week --left-leaning bloggers. A few critiques were posted about Israel's Jerusalem municipality's reaction to Haredi riots. Philip Weiss, in his blog Mondoweiss, calls the police treatment of Haredim "bigotry." And Jerry Haber, of the Magnes Zionist blog, began his latest entry saying, "I tend to distrust news reports about Haredim the same way I distrust news reports about Palestinians; both are hated sectors in Israeli society (though the haredim that participate in the state are much more privileged.)"

Not only bloggers took issue with police treatment of Haredi communities. Haaretz, Israel's left-leaning daily, had an editorial condemning Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat's "collective punishment against Haredim".  They criticised his decision to halt municipal services to two ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, Mea She'arim and Geula in response to the street violence.  Barkat said this was done for safety reasons, to prevent attacks on municipal workers.