FaithWorld

Italy’s Muslims divided over Gaza prayer protests at cathedrals

Many Italians were shocked to find pictures in their daily newspapers recently of Muslims kneeling in prayer on the piazzas in front of the cathedrals in Milan and Bologna during demonstrations in support of Palestinians in Gaza.
Predictably, politicians in the centre-right government criticised the protests with some, including the ministers for defence and European affairs, calling them a blasphemous provocation. (Photo: Il Giornale says Milan square “transformed into a mosque”)

The government ministers noted that it would be impossible for Christians to pray in Mecca and one called on the Roman Catholic Church to take a harder stand and be less tolerant.

Critics of the demonstrations have found an unlikely ally in Yahya Pallavicini, the vice-president of CO.RE.IS, Italy’s Islamic Religiuos Community. The demonstrations were organised by another Islamic group, the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy (UCOII) and Pallavicini thinks they went over the top.

“We pray in our mosques and in our in mosques and our homes but using prayer during demonstrations in such a theatrical way after burning U.S. and Israeli flags creates disorder and leads to the stereotyping of Islam in Italy,” he told me in a phone conversation. “This is a manouevre to try to help fundamentalist positions.”

“This is a very misleading use of religion, this is the strategy of Hamas,” he said.

Italy’s atheists to launch their own “no God” bus ads

The members of Italy’s atheist association probably would not fill one of the side chapels of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. But that’s not stopping the group from launching an unprecedented ad campaign on buses in Italian cities, much like the one recently started in Britain. (Photo: Planned Italian bus ads/UAAR)

The Italian Union of Atheists and Rationalist Agnostics (UAAR) will run the ads on four buses in the northern city of Genoa next month. The ads, which will cover the entire bus painted a soothing sky blue, read: “The bad news is that God doesn’t exist. The good news is that you don’t need him.”

The Padua-based group is launching the campaign in Genoa because advertising is much more expensive in other large cities such as Milan and Rome. But Genoa is also home to Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the president of  the Italian Bishops Conference. According to some Italian reports, one of the buses will pass near his residence.

Cardinal Martino does it again

Cardinal Renato Martino, the papal aide who angered Israel and Jews by comparing Gaza to a “big concentration camp” is no novice at being outspoken or controversial. The southern Italian cardinal speaks his mind, loves to talk and sometimes has had to pay the price. Martino, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (effectively its justice minister), has a laundry list of people and governments with whom he has clashed. But that hasn’t stopped him. (Photo: Cardinal Martino at the Vatican, 12 April 2005/Tony Gentile)

Perhaps his most famous remark came in December, 2003 when, shortly after U.S. troops captured former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Martino told a news conference at the Vatican that U.S. military were wrong to show video footage of Saddam. “I felt pity to see this man destroyed, (the military) looking at his teeth as if he were a cow. They could have spared us these pictures,” he said at the time.

The “treated like a cow” remark was heard around the world and, needless to say, was not very appreciated in the White House. The Vatican had opposed the U.S.-invasion of Iraq in March of that year. In fact, a certain chill developed between Martino and then U.S. ambassador to the Vatican Jim Nicholson, a Vietnam veteran who later went on to become Bush’s Secretary for Veteran Affairs.

Lourdes-based “Catholic Google” may be rebaptised

Catholic Google has a catchy name, a funny logo and a location near one of the most Catholic places on Earth, the pilgrimage town of Lourdes in southwestern France. After only three weeks on the web, it has seen its user stats grow to about 16,000 visits a day. But the site that describes itself as“the best way for good Catholics to surf the web” may be in for a rebaptism. Its webmaster has asked Google if it has any objections to the name and is waiting for a reply.

While doing research for my blog post on Catholic Google on Sunday, I found it was based in a village outside of Lourdes. In a phone call today, webmaster Paul Mulhern told me he set up the website with standard Google filters last month as a service for Catholics who want to surf the web without all the objectionable material they usually come across there. The idea came from his wife, who runs a religious goods shop in Lourdes. They’re originally from Leeds in the UK.

He said most reaction to the site had been positive, although some comments accused him of trying to create a segregated corner of the web just for Catholics. “I can see where they’re coming from but I think they have the wrong point of view,” he said.

Vatican daily says pill pollutes, causes male infertility

The Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano published an article over the weekend claiming that the contraceptive pill pollutes the environment massively, contributes to male infertility and causes abortions. Those claims, if true, hit lots of hot buttons about science, ethics, faith and government policy. They should make headlines around the world. But apart from the Italian press, for which this is a home game, they haven’t. Why not? (Photo: Japanese contraceptive pills, 26 Aug 1999/Kimimasa Mayama)

It’s probably because the article also sets off lots of red lights for anyone trying to assess the validity of its claims. Its author Pedro José Maria Simón Castellví, head of the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, makes several scientific-sounding claims but basically asks the reader to accept them on faith. Castellví says his article is based on a 100-page report by a Swiss doctor, Rudolf Ehmann, but doesn’t quote directly from it or say where it can be found.  This can’t be for lack of space, because he fills several lines with florid praise for the report with comments such as: “The original German text is beautifully written … it is written with all the scientific requirements, without any inferiority complex toward any discussion of obstetrics and gynaecology…”

The article’s headline — “Humanae Vitae – A Scientific Prophesy” — also hints its purpose is probably more religious than scientific. Humanae Vitae is the 1968 encyclical that reaffirmed the Church ban on artificial birth control. Its 40th anniversary last July prompted a series of Catholic statements, articles and conferences defending what was probably the most controversial encyclical of the 20th century. The major bioethics paper put out by the Vatican last month made several references to Humanae Vitae to bolster its argument.

A Catholic Google? Are Muslim, Jewish or other Googles coming?

So now there’s Catholic Google*, a search engine that calls itself  “the best way for good Catholics to surf the web”, It claims that “it produces results from all over the internet with more weighting  given to Catholic websites and eliminates the vast majority of unsavoury content, such as pornography”.

When I heard this today, my first question was whether Google was getting into the religion business. Were there Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist or other versions of the search engine out there as well? If not, would Google come up with them soon? Would it design filters that screen out cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, pro-Palestinian websites or other items that followers of certain faiths might not want to see?

It turns out the answer is “No” to all above. Catholic Google has no connection to Google itself (here’s its disclaimer).  Somebody has reserved a URL for a Muslim Google but it has no content. There’s a Jewgle out there, but it’s more about jokes than real searches.

Have you thought about the next papal election yet?

You and I may not have, but Anura Gurugé has. He’s even set up two websites on the papacy — one on papal elections — Papam – All About Papal Elections — and another called Popes and the Papcy with his latest list of the next papabili.

This all seems quite early. Pope Benedict seems in good shape despite his years. It’s never too early to speculate, though. Gurugé’s top three for the next head of the Roman Catholic Church are Brazilian Odilo Pedro Scherer of Sao Paulo, Italy’s Ennio Antonelli, President of the Council for the Family (Roman Curia) and Canadian Marc Ouellet of  Quebec.

After Gurugé flagged his website to me, I went to the main  “let’s get in on the speculation early” site, that of the Dublin bookmaker Paddy Power. They don’t agree — their top three are Venice’s Cardinal Angelo Scola, Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras and Christoph Schönborn of Vienna.

Pope says saving heterosexuality like saving the rainforest

Pope Benedict took an unconventional approach today to stand up to what he sees as gender-bending, saying protecting heterosexuality was as important as saving the rainforest. (Photo: Pope Benedict addresses the Curia, 22 Dec 2008/Max Rossi)

(The Church) should also protect man from the destruction of himself. A sort of ecology of man is needed,” the pontiff said in a holiday address to the Curia, the Vatican’s central administration.“The tropical forests do deserve our protection. But man, as a creature, does not deserve any less.”

The Pope stressed that the Church would defend the traditional roles of “a man and woman, and to ask that this order of creation be respected”.

Is the pope’s fan club thinning?

Is the pope’s fan club thinning? The number of faithful at his weekly general audience, held on Wednesdays, is certainly trending downward.

Data out this week shows that 534,500 people attended his 42 general audiences in 2008 — or about 12,726 people each audience. That compares to 729,100 people at his 44 audiences in 2007 – or about 16,570 people per audience.

More than a million people attended his general audiences in 2006, his first full year as pope.

“In retrospect, I wish Pius XII hadn’t been so diplomatic”

The role of Pope Pius XII during World War Two is a subject of endless dispute, part of which we’ve tracked on FaithWorld over the past year. This has gained in interest because of Vatican plans to put him on the path to sainthood, which may be held up now because of protests from Jewish groups. We’re all waiting for the secret archives of his papacy (1939-1958) to be opened to finally see what the documents say about his relations with Nazi Germany. While we’re waiting, one of the key questions that could be assessed on the basis of files already available is what Pius thought about dealing with the Nazis before he became pope. There is a long paper trail there, because Pius was the Vatican Secretary of State — effectively, the prime minister of the Vatican — from 1930 until his election as pope. But a lot of people argue for or against Pius without having read this material. (Photo: Pope Pius XII/Vatican photo)

Gerard Fogarty S.J., a University of Virginia historian and Jesuit priest, has worked through much of this material and come up with a fascinating article in the U.S. Jesuit magazine America. He’s examined much of the paper trail the future pope left in the 1930s but many of the documents are in a language that the leading commentators on Pius don’t speak. We’re not talking about that dead language Latin, but Italian — a lively regional tongue in Europe that happens to be an international language within the world’s largest church, Roman Catholicism.

“This is one of the problems even now,” Fogarty recounted in an informative podcast for America. “Scholars come to me and ask, do you use a translator? No scholar is going to do that. You’ve got to learn the language yourself. So people have not looked at what was published.”