FaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

How I became a pilgrim

I grew up in a country with deep Catholic traditions. I was just a year old in 1978 when Polish cardinal Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II. It was a huge surprise in the then‐communist country, a satellite of the Soviet Union, that a son of Polish soil could become the head of the Catholic Church - which was painfully divided by the Iron Curtain.

Over the years, it became a natural feeling that the pope was Polish. The words ‘pope’ and ‘Pole’ becoming synonyms in my mind. John Paul II visited Poland eight times as the pontiff but I only had one chance to see him live when his papa‐mobile passed my home in 1991. I was 14 years old and took a picture of the event.

Unfortunately, during my professional career I never took a picture of Pope John Paul II. My first such assignment came only after the late pope passed away and I was sent to Rome for his funeral. It was a really hard time with no sleep, no time for eating or bathing. I just wandered about taking pictures of thousands of pilgrims sleeping along the Vatican streets and waiting for several days to attend the funeral ceremony. The air was full of grief. I also queued for hours to get to the St.Peter’s Basilica following an endless stream of people who wanted to honor John Paul II and to take a picture of his body exhibited to the public.

Six years later, it was clear to me that I had to capture pictures from the historic moment of John Paul II's beatification. I wanted to show the emotions of people traveling from Poland to Rome for the ceremony that was bringing their countryman closer to sainthood. So, I decided to travel together with pilgrims by train from Warsaw to the Vatican. A dedicated train with some 800 pilgrims ‐ including six priests, nuns, families, youths and the elderly ‐ left a Warsaw station on Friday evening and headed for a 27 hour journey to the Vatican.

The trip was not a luxurious one with seating for eight people in each compartment, but a deep religious experience was more important for these people who were well prepared for the inconveniences of the ride. They prayed together and sang religious songs until they slept on mats covering the train’s floors.

Rare rally tests Vietnam’s religious tolerance

(Catholic seminarians attend Easter Sunday Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral in Hanoi April 24, 2011/Kham)

Vietnam has deployed troops to contain a rare mass protest by ethnic Hmong people that is testing the government’s tolerance of minority Christians, just weeks after human rights activists accused leaders of persecuting another hill tribe. As many as 7,000 Hmong people began to gather several days ago in the far-flung mountains of Dien Bien Province, near the northwestern border with Laos and China, apparently for religious reasons although some were advocating an independent kingdom, according to diplomatic, government and other sources.

The unrest was unlikely to pose a threat to the government but the demonstration is the biggest involving ethnic minorities since unrest in the Central Highlands region in 2001 and 2004. Details were scant from the hard-to-access region but a Catholic priest close to the area cited followers as saying troops had been deployed and the protesters had detained at least one government official sent to negotiate.

Indonesian Islamists shift targets, religious intolerance rises

(A woman comforts her injured husband at Pelabuhan hospital in Cirebon April 15, 2011. A suicide bomber blew himself up in a mosque inside a police compound in Indonesia on Friday, wounding people, police said, in the most serious incident in a recent spate of attacks by Islamist militants. REUTERS/Shan Shan)

(A victim of a suicide bomb attack at a mosque inside a police compound in Indonesia in the most serious incident in a recent spate of attacks by Islamist militants, April 15, 2011/Shan Shan)

A suicide bombing in Indonesia last week highlighted a trend of militants acting alone or in small groups to attack Indonesians rather than foreigners to push an Islamist agenda, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report. This has raised concern about more low-level attacks in the world’s most populous Muslim country, which has been seen as having successfully combated militancy but is now seeing a spike in religious intolerance.

“Ideological shifts originating in the Middle East have combined with local circumstances to produce a trend that favours targeted killings over indiscriminate bombings, local over foreign targets and individual or small group action over operations by more hierarchical organisations,” the ICG said on Tuesday.

Turkish PM raps France for face veil ban, militants online urge punishment for Paris

(Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, April 13, 2011. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler)

(Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, April 13, 2011/Vincent Kessler)

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan accused France of violating the freedom of religion on Wednesday after Paris began enforcing a law barring Muslim women from wearing full face veils in public. He told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that Turkey was the only Muslim country that had copied the French law on secularism, or separating church and state.

“It’s quite ironic to see that secularism is today under debate in Europe and is undermining certain freedoms,” he said. “Today in France, there is no respect for individual religious freedom,” he said. The Strasbourg-based Council of Europe monitors human rights across the continent. Read the full story here.

Kate Middleton confirmed ahead of royal wedding

(Kate Middleton, fiancee of Britain's Prince William, reacts to the crowd during a visit Witton Country Park in Darwen, northern England April 11, 2011. A large crowd of well-wishers braved a downpour in northern England on Monday to cheer Prince William and Kate Middleton as they took part in their final official engagement before their wedding. REUTERS/Alastair Grant/Poo)

(Kate Middleton, fiancee of Britain's Prince William, during a visit Witton Country Park in Darwen, northern England April 11, 2011/Alastair Grant)

Royal bride-to-be Kate Middleton has been confirmed into the Church of England ahead of her wedding to Prince William this month, his office said on Wednesday. The ceremony, carried out by the Bishop of London Richard Chartres who will give the address at the April 29th wedding, took place on March 10 with Middleton, 29, accompanied by her future husband, a spokeswoman for St James’s Palace said.

“Catherine Middleton was confirmed by the Bishop of London at a private service at St James’s Palace attended by her family and Prince William,” the spokeswoman said. “Miss Middleton, who was already baptised, decided to be confirmed as part of her marriage preparations.”

from Photographers' Blog:

Utah gets Holi, Photographer gets dirty

People throw colored powder during Holi, the festival of colors, at the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah March 26, 2011.   REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

By Jim Urquhart

The Holi Color Festival is a yearly event in Utah that for years I have known of but never attended myself. I would be reminded of it after the fact when seeing it in images by other photojournalist friends. It is rooted in a Hindu tradition of celebrating the end of winter and beginning of Spring and takes place at the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah.

What makes this festival so amazing is not just the crowds of people and the color but also that it is taking place in Utah County. The same county as the LDS Church's Brigham Young University. In my mind, Utah County is not known as a mecca of culture and was really only a melting pot of white bread, sugar and milk. I was about to have my stereotype blown away.

Revellers cover their faces as they stand in a midst of coloured powders during Holi, the festival of colors, at Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah March 26, 2011.   REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

It has always puzzled me and in the days before the event I was asked to speak to communication students at BYU. I asked the professor of the class, who is also a good friend, why it is that so many Mormon youth and young adults attend the event. It is not part of my picture of white Utah county. He explained that the event draws the students and families from the area because not only is it an experience in another culture's traditions but it also a safe fun outlet for them.

UK astrophysicist Sir Martin Rees wins 2011 Templeton Prize

(     (A supernova within the galaxy M100 that may contain the youngest known black hole in our cosmic neighborhood, in a composite image released to Reuters November 15, 2010/Chandra X-ray Observatory Center)

((A supernova within the galaxy M100 that may contain the youngest known black hole in our cosmic neighborhood, in a composite image released to Reuters November 15, 2010/Chandra X-ray Observatory Center)

British astrophysicist Sir Martin Rees, whose research delves deep into the mysteries of the cosmos, has won the 2011 Templeton Prize for career achievements affirming life’s spiritual dimension. The one million sterling ($1.6 million) award, the world’s largest to an individual, was announced on Wednesday in London. Rees, master of Trinity College at Cambridge University, is former head of the Royal Society and a life peer.

Announcing the award, the United States-based Templeton Foundation said Rees’s insights into the mysteries of the Big Bang and so-called black holes in space have “provoked vital questions that address mankind’s deepest hopes and fears… Lord Rees has widened the boundaries of understanding about the physical processes that define the cosmos, including speculations on the concept of ‘multiverses’ or infinite universes… The ‘big questions’ Lord Rees raises — such as ‘how large is physical reality?’ — are reshaping the philosophical and theological considerations that strike at the core of life.”

iPad 2 sold out in the afterlife as Chinese pray for the dead

()

(Fake money -- "Hell Bank Notes" -- on sale for the Qingming festival, or Grave-Sweeping Day, at a shop in Kuala Lumpur March 31, 2009/Zainal Abd Halim)

Apple’s iPad 2 shortage has spread to the afterlife as Chinese families in Malaysia rush to buy paper replicas of the popular new gadget to burn for their dead as part of a centuries-old rite. During the Qingming festival, also known as the tomb sweeping festival, Chinese communities in Asia honour their ancestors by burning fake money or replicas of luxury items such as flashy cars and designer bags.

The festival, which stems from Confucian teachings of loyalty to family and tradition, is also celebrated widely among the Chinese in Malaysia, who make up a quarter of the 28 million people in the mostly Muslim but multicultural country.

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.

French religious leaders warn against divisive Islam debate

green star 1

(Abderrahmane Dahmane displays green star to protest against France's Islam debate, March 29, 2011/Gonzalo Fuentes)

The leaders of France’s six main religions warned the government on Wednesday against a planned debate on Islam they say could stigmatise Muslims and fuel prejudice as the country nears national elections next year. Weighing in on an issue that is tearing apart President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party, the Conference of French Religious Leaders said the discussion about respect for France’s secular system could only spread confusion at a turbulent time.

The UMP plans to hold a public forum on secularism next week that critics decry as veiled Muslim-bashing to win back voters who defected to the far-right National Front at local polls last week and could thwart Sarkozy’s reelection hopes in 2012.