FaithWorld

Pope seeks Mideast religious liberty, bishops criticise Israel

synod 1 (Photo: Bishops at Mass marking the end of the synod of bishops from the Middle East in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican October 24, 2010/Alessia Pierdomenico)

Pope Benedict called on Islamic countries in the Middle East on Sunday to guarantee freedom of worship to non-Muslims and said peace in the region was the best remedy for a worrying exodus of Christians.

He made his a appeal at a solemn mass in St Peter’s Basilica ending a two week Vatican summit of bishops from the Middle East, whose final document criticized Israel and urged the Jewish state to end its occupation of Palestinian territories.

In his sermon at the gathering’s ceremonial end, the pope said freedom of religion was “one of the fundamental human rights that each state should always respect.” While some states in the Middle East allowed freedom of belief, he added, “the space given to the freedom to practice religion is often quite limited.”

At least 3.5 million Christians of all denominations live in the Gulf Arab region, the birthplace of Islam and home to some of the most conservative Arab Muslim societies in the world.

In their concluding message after two weeks of meetings at the Vatican, bishops from the Middle East said on Saturday they hoped a two-state solution for peace between Israel and the Palestinians could be made a reality and called for peaceful conditions that would stop a Christian exodus from the region.

Guestview: Catholics, Jews and petri dishes

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Rabbi Elliot Dorff is rector of the American Jewish University in California and chairs the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.This article first appeared in the Forward, a Jewish weekly published in New York, and is reprinted with their permission.

By Rabbi Elliot Dorff

edwardsThis month, Robert Edwards, a professor emeritus at the University of Cambridge, won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for developing (along with Dr. Patrick Steptoe, who died in 1988), in vitro fertilization. The technique whereby eggs are removed from a woman, fertilized in a petri dish (hence the name “in vitro,” or “in a glass”), and then implanted into the womb, has enabled people to procreate who would otherwise not be able to have children. (Photo: Professor Robert Edwards, July 26, 2003)

Indeed, since Louise Brown, the first baby conceived through IVF, was born in 1978, some four million children have been conceived using this technique. Today between 1% and 2% of all babies born in the United States and other developed countries each year are conceived through IVF.

Polish bishops call IVF “younger sister of eugenics”

cloneBishops of Poland’s influential Roman Catholic Church have branded in vitro fertilization (IVF) “the younger sister of eugenics” in a letter aimed at swaying lawmakers ahead of a parliamentary debate.

Their intervention, two weeks after the Vatican condemned the awarding of the 2010 Nobel Prize for medicine to IVF pioneer Robert Edwards, triggered an unusually sharp response from lawmakers who say the clergy should not meddle in politics. (Photo: A cloned human embryo, created at the Centre for Life in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, 19 May 2005/handout)

“The in vitro method comes at great human cost. To give birth to one child … many humans suffer death at different stages of the medical process,” said the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters on Tuesday.

Turkey’s dwindling Christians fear end is approaching

turkey christian (Photo: Andreas Zografos at St Nicholas Church in Heybeliada island near Istanbul October 10, 2010/Osman Orsal)

Andreas Zografos left Turkey in 1974 amid economic and political turmoil to find work in Europe, but he always knew he would return home. “The ties of this land are strong. I was drawn back by the blue of the sea, the colour of the sky,” he says.

A Greek Orthodox Christian, Zografos, 63, and his wife today tend to the 19th-century St Nicholas Church, where his grandfather painted vibrant icons, on Heybeliada, or Halki in Greek, an island off the Istanbul coast.

Heybeliada was home to a few thousand ethnic Greeks when he left, Zografos says. About 25 remain, part of a dwindling community of 2,500 Greeks in Istanbul, capital of the Greek Orthodox Byzantine Empire until the Ottoman conquest of 1453.

Christian exodus hurts Middle East: Muslim official

muslims at synodChristian emigration from the Middle East is impoverishing Arab culture and Muslims have a duty to encourage the presence of Christian minorities, a Lebanese government adviser has told a Vatican summit. (Photo: Muhammad Al-Sammak (R) at the synod for the Middle East bishops, October 14, 2010/Osservatore Romano)

Mohammad Sammak, a Sunni Muslim who is secretary general of Lebanon’s Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue, told a synod of bishops on Thursday the declining number of Christians in the region was a concern for all Muslims.

“The emigration of Christians is an impoverishment of the Arabic identity, of its culture and authenticity,” said Sammak, who is an adviser to Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. He added that maintaining the Christian presence in the Middle East was a “common Islamic duty.”

Arab Christians face political Islam threat-official says

synod bishops 1 (Photo: Bishops at a Mass opening of the synod of bishops from the Middle Eastern at the Vatican, 10  Oct 2010/Tony Gentile)

The rise of political Islam in the Middle East poses a threat to Christians in the Arab world and must be faced together, a senior cleric told a synod of Catholic bishops on Monday.

At the two week meeting to debate how to protect minority communities in the region and encourage harmony with Muslims, the Catholic Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria, Antonios Naguib, also said that attacks against Christians were on the rise due to growing fundamentalism in the region.

“Since 1970, we have witnessed the rise of political Islam in the region, consisting of many different religious currents, which has affected Christians, especially in the Arab world,” said Naguib. “This phenomenon seeks to impose the Islamic way of life on all citizens, at times using violent methods, thus becoming a threat which we must face together.”

Christians in Arab Gulf face hurdles to worship

doha church (Photo: Worshippers pack the first Mass at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Doha, March 15, 2008/Fadi Al-Assaad)

Every Friday in the Muslim Gulf Arab state of Kuwait, 2,000 worshippers cram into a 600-seat church or listen outside to the mass relayed on loudspeakers, prompting their Roman Catholic bishop to worry about a stampede. “If a panic happens, it will be a catastrophe … it is a miracle that nothing has happened,” said Bishop Camillo Ballin.

These churchgoers represent only the tip of the iceberg. Ballin reckons his flock in Kuwait numbers around 350,000 out of a total of half a million Christians in the country.

At least 3.5 million Christians of all denominations live in the Gulf Arab region, the birthplace of Islam and home to some of the most conservative Arab Muslim societies in the world. The freedom to practice Christianity — or any religion other than Islam — is not always a given in the Gulf and varies from country to country. Saudi Arabia, which applies an austere form of Sunni Islam, has by far the tightest restrictions.

Guestview: Will traditionalist Anglicans please make up their minds?

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Abigail Frymann is Online Editor of The Tablet, where this comment first appeared.

canterburyBy Abigail Frymann

A few hundred traditionalist Anglicans gathered in a charismatic church in London recently, a curious collection of dour-looking fellows who describe themselves with words like “pioneer” and “risk” – and heard that a breakaway group within the Church of England for clergy who don’t like the thought of women bishops was to be established. Somehow this is different from Forward in Faith, which already exists, and different again from the Ordinariate offered them by Pope Benedict XVI last autumn, which would require a leap into the Catholic Church. At first this seemed like a warm-up room for would-be leap-ers. Yet as soon as the new group, the Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda, was announced, some senior traditionalists were nay-saying on their blogs that it wouldn’t and couldn’t work. (Photo: Canterbury Cathedral, December 23, 2009/Suzanne Plunkett)

Let me confess that I am an Anglican, though not a terribly high one. Traditionalist clergy say their communion with the rest of the Church of England is impaired because most Church of England bishops are prepared to ordain women. Women’s ordination has become a central issue. But among the ranks of those who oppose women’s ordination are those who would turn a blind eye to issues other parts of the Church would rightly or wrongly say are deal-breakers – gay civil partnerships for priests, for example. Devout women clergy argue that gay activity is prohibited in Scripture, whereas the case isn’t as clear regards women leaders. Traditionalist priests argue that female leadership is outlawed in scripture but these days the case isn’t clear as regards consenting long-term gay relationships. Either it’s not the end of the world (or the Church), or not everyone is one hundred per cent right, or God’s graciously holding it all together anyway.

Waiting to know what’s in the next pope interview book

seewaldBy Josie Cox

What’s a journalist supposed to do with a successful author who declares that his next book about Pope Benedict will “go down in history” — but refuses to give any details of what’s in it?

When he says it will “shed new light” on the sexual abuse rocking the Roman Catholic Church — but says none of that will illuminate issues that abuse victims want to know about? (Photo: Peter Seewald at the Frankfurt Book Fair, 6 Oct 2010/Josie Cox)

When the most he will say about the revelations in his sure-fire bestseller is that it will reveal “the secret behind the famous episcopal miter”?

Vatican synod to mull Middle East Christian exodus

baghdad churchWith Christianity dwindling in its Middle Eastern birthplace, Pope Benedict has convened Catholic bishops from the region to debate how to save its minority communities and promote harmony with their Muslim neighbours.

For two weeks starting on Sunday, the bishops will discuss problems for the faithful ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and strife in Iraq to radical Islamism, economic crisis and the divisions among the region’s many Christian churches. (Photo: Worshippers light candles after Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Baghdad October 3, 2010/Mohammed Ameen)

They come from local churches affiliated with the Vatican, but the relentless exodus of all Christians — Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants — has prompted them to take a broad look at the challenges facing all followers of Jesus there.