FaithWorld

Cuba’s Catholic Church to open first new seminary in decades

havana cathedral (Photo: Havana’s Catholic cathedral, June 14, 2010/Desmond Boylan)

The Roman Catholic Church will open on Wednesday its first new seminary in Cuba in more than half a century in a further sign of its improving relations with the island’s communist-led government.

The seminary replaces a similar school for future priests that was  expropriated by Cuba’s communist authorities in 1966 and transformed first into a military barracks, then a police academy.

Catholic officials said Cuban President Raul Castro was expected to attend the inauguration — reflecting the more cordial relations between the Church and the government. Castro turned to the Church this year to serve as an internal interlocutor as he faced growing international pressure over political prisoners and human rights.

Cuban Church leader Cardinal Jaime Ortega negotiated with him the ongoing release of more than 50 political prisoners and, according to Western diplomats, opened an unofficial line of communication between Cuba and the United States, which do not have full formal diplomatic relations.

Read the full story by Esteban Israel here.

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Bus tours journey into U.S. polygamist town run by breakaway Mormon group

colorado cityA peek inside a polygamist community and their isolated way of life is now just a bus ride away for sightseers from around the world.

Billed as the “Polygamy Experience,” the four-hour, $70 tour takes visitors through the middle of the polygamist enclave Colorado City on the Utah-Arizona border. Children play in yards, families picnic in parks and teenage boys gallop their horses away from the guests. Women with old-fashioned braided hair and pioneer dresses usher the little ones out of eyesight. (Photo: Colorado City, 9 Aug 2006/Ricardo630)

Holm says tourists have come from France, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Norway and throughout the United States. He added that the tour idea is growing slowly as local people start opening up.

Fears rise over growing anti-Muslim feeling in U.S.

wtc 1 (Photo: An honor guard trumpeter plays during the ceremony on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York September 11, 2010/Chris Hondros)

Amid threats of Koran burning and a heated dispute over a planned Muslim cultural center in New York, Muslim leaders and rights activists warn of growing anti-Muslim feeling in America partly provoked for political reasons.  “Many people now treat Muslims as ‘the other’ — as something to vilify and to discriminate against,” said Daniel Mach of the American Civil Liberties Union. And, he said, some people have exploited that fear in the media, “for political gain or cheap notoriety.”

The imam leading the project to build the cultural center, including a prayer room, near the site of the September 11, 2001 attacks said there was a rise of what he called “Islamophobia” and the debate had been radicalized by extremists. “The radicals in the United States and the radicals in the Muslim world feed off each other. And to a certain extent, the attention that they’ve been able to get by the media has even aggravated the problem,” Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in an interview with ABC news aired on Sunday.

Mistrust of Muslims has grown in recent years. A Pew poll released in August found the number of Americans with a favorable view of Islam was 30 percent, down from 41 percent in 2005. American feelings about Islam are partisan — 54 percent of Republicans have an unfavorable view of Islam compared to 27 percent of Democrats. In November 2001 there was not the same partisan divide of opinions on Islam.

Religious tension marks Sept. 11 anniversary

tension 1Religious tensions are overshadowing the anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States where President Barack Obama urged a Christian preacher to abandon a plan to burn copies of the Koran.

And a day ahead of Saturday’s ninth anniversary, a report warned that the United States faced a growing threat from home-grown insurgents and an “Americanization” of the al Qaeda leadership. (Photo: Outside the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida September 10, 2010/Scott Audette)

On Friday, Obama appealed to Americans to respect the “inalienable” right of religious freedom and said he hoped the preacher would abandon his plan to burn the Muslim holy book, saying it could deeply hurt the United States abroad.

New rabbi for Mumbai Jewish centre attacked in 2008

narimanIt was almost two years ago that Islamist militants attacked Mumbai and killed at least 166 people. Among them were six Jews, including Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka. Most non-Jewish readers probably had no idea what a Brooklyn-based Jewish couple was doing there. Many Jews would have known right away — they were running the Chabad House, one of a worldwide network of Jewish centres run by Chabad-Lubavitch, a Hasidic movement devoted to supporting Jewish life wherever it may be found. (Photo: Indian commandos atop Chabad centre after explosion during militant siege, 28 Nov 2008/Punit Paranjpe)

The news angle to this story is that the Mumbai centre has a new rabbi, just in time for the High Holidays, as reported in my feature here. Rabbi Chanoch Gechtman arrived there recently with his wife Leiky to take up the challenge of filling Holtzberg’s shoes. “I still can’t quite fathom that they are not here, they were such extraordinary people,” he said in an email from Mumbai. After all the damage to the original building, they’ve moved to another building not far away, but the address is not advertised on their website for understandable reasons.

gechtmanThis could be a daunting assignment, but Gechtman, 25, seemed eager to get to work. “People really believe in this city. It’s a place with a lot of energy; it’s full of life,” he said. “There is really an endless amount of work to be accomplished. And the Holtzbergs set the bar very high.” The work is literally endless — a couple that goes out on an assignment like this is expected to stay permanently. The commitment for the “shluchim,” as these emissaries are called, is supposed to be for life. And it’s a job for both the rabbi and his wife.  Running a Chabad House means offering services such as kosher Sabbath dinners, Torah classes, youth programmes, day care facilities, summer camps and women’s ritual baths. It’s an open house for any Jew who wants to participate — locals, expatriates or tourists passing through the city.

U.S. Afghanistan commanders condemn Florida church’s Koran-burning plan

kabul koran (Photo: Afghans in Kabul protest against Koran burning plan, September 6, 2010/Mohammad Ishaq)

U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan have warned that a small Florida church’s plan to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks could endanger the lives of American troops.

The warnings followed an angry protest on Monday by several hundred people in the Afghan capital, Kabul, who chanted “Death to America” as they denounced the planned burning event by the Gainesville, Florida-based Dove World Outreach Center church.

The center, calling itself a “New Testament, Charismatic, Non-Denominational Church,” says it will go ahead with the torching of the Koran on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of the 2001 attacks against the United States.

FACTBOX – Lashkar-e-Taiba charity wing in Pakistan flood relief work

dawaThe Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the humanitarian wing of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, has been providing relief to those hit by Pakistan’s floods.

It is operating in flood-hit areas under a different name, the Falah-e-Insaniyat, after the JuD was blacklisted by the United Nations following the November 2008 attack on Mumbai, which was blamed on the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Pakistan has said  it will clamp down on charities linked to Islamist militants amid fears their involvement in flood relief could exploit anger against the government and undermine the fight against groups like the Taliban.

United States Agency for International Development head Rajiv Shah toured a camp run by the Falah-e-Insaniyat on Wednesday.

Chrystia Freeland: Mosque madness and midterms

mosque screengrab

On “This Week” with Christiane Amanpour, Reuters global editor at large Chrystia Freeland says President Barack Obama’s speech in support of the Cordoba House cultural centre and mosque that would occupy a building two blocks from Ground Zero in downtown Manhattan displays leadership and conviction. (Photo: videograb/This Week/ABC)

Here is an excerpt from the broadcast on Sunday August 15:

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U.S. church-run hospitals provide higher quality care — Thomson Reuters study

research briefCatholic and other church-owned systems are significantly more likely to provide higher quality performance and efficiency to the communities served than investor-owned systems, according to a Thomson Reuters analysis of the quality performance of 255 health systems in the United States.

Catholic health systems are also significantly more likely to provide higher quality performance to the communities served than secular not-for-profit health systems, it said. By contrast, investor-owned systems have significantly lower performance than all other groups.

“The findings of the study suggest a changing role for health system governance and leadership,” said Jean Chenoweth, senior vice president for performance improvement and 100 Top Hospitals programs at Thomson Reuters. “Our data suggest that the leadership of health systems owned by churches may be the most active in aligning quality goals and monitoring achievement of mission across the system.”

Did Bloomberg inspire Obama’s speech about NYC Muslim cultural centre?

obama mosque 1There was an interesting echo at the White House when President Barack Obama came out in favour of the proposed Cordoba House Muslim cultural centre near the site of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York (see our news report here).  Controversy about the project, which opponents call the “Ground Zero mosque,” has been swirling in New York for weeks and went national recently when Republicans Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich joined the critics’ campaign. But until the annual Iftar dinner he hosted on Friday evening, the president had kept out of what his spokesman called “a matter for New York City and the local community to decide.” (Photo: President Obama addresses White House Iftar meal, 13 August 2010/Jason Reed)

Reading his comments, it looks like Obama not only let NYC authorities decide the issue — favourably for the project, as it turned out, as both the local community board and the landmarks commission voted overwhelmingly to let it go ahead. He may also have taken pointers for his speech from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has stood solidly behind the project despite all the emotion it has stirred up.

obama mosque 2After the Landmarks Preservation Commission cleared the last administrative hurdle to the plan — rejecting the opponents’ bid to protect the 1857 building standing on the proposed Cordoba House site from being torn down — Bloomberg delivered a forceful speech on August 3 defending two long-standing American traditions.