December 2013

This past month’s interfaith stories range from truly distressing, tragic news to a handful of ‘good news’ stories. December’s big religion story, of course, was Pope Francis being named man-of-the-year by Time magazine, news you’ve probably heard about. TIO tries to find stories you may not have seen yet. For instance, most interfaith activists are ‘green’ and may not have heard that Pope Francis promoted an anti-fracking movie recently; you’ll find the story and a link below.

At the end you’ll find three stories to provoke the head and the heart: a retired Anglican archbishop bemoans the absence of young people in the Church of England, a new report focuses on what young people crave spiritually, and a new ‘Bible’ is sure to upset and educate you! Ed.

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Catholic Church Besieged by Drug Lords
Mexican Cartel Threatened Catholic Seminary
Rafael Romo and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN, December 3, 2013

Cardinal Norbertto Rivera – Photo: CNNThe threatening calls reportedly came one after the other to Mexico’s main Catholic seminary.

Callers, claiming to be from one of the country’s feared drug cartels, offered an ominous warning: Pay up if you value the safety of your priests.

“They called several times. They identified themselves as the Familia Michoacana, but who knows?” Cardinal Norberto Rivera, archbishop of Mexico City, revealed at a Mass this week. “I spoke with the authorities. We made the appropriate report. Because they wanted us to pay. Because if not, they would kill one of us. They wanted to extort 60,000 pesos ($4,600).”

Reports of extortion have become increasingly common as drug cartels expand their reach in Mexico. But public denouncements of such attempts are rare.

Mexico’s archbishop, Norberto Rivera Carrera, has called on parishioners to report extortion to authorities after a cartel threatened the city’s main seminary…

[Read More…]


A Balinese woman carries an offering as she celebrates the religious festival of Galungan at a temple in Denpasar, on Indonesia’s tourist island of Bali on October 23, 2013. – Photo: AFP

Harsh Indonesian Judgment for Religious Insult
Christian Woman Jailed in Bali for Insulting Hindu Offerings
Camelia Pasandaran, Jakarta Globe, November 22, 2013

A Christian woman residing in the Hindu-majority island of Bali was sentenced to 14-months in prison for calling Hindu offerings “dirty and disgusting,” the Supreme Court recently announced.

“The defendant Rusgiani, who is also known as Yohana, has been proven validly and convincingly guilty of purposefully and publicly expressing herself in a way to ignite conflict and defame a certain religion in Indonesia,” A.A. Ketut Anom Wirakanta said during the trial at the Denpasar District Court as written in the court ruling. “[The judges] have sentenced the defendant to one year and two months in prison.” …

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No Relief for Muslims in Myanmar
Myanmar Rejects U.N. Resolution on Rohingya Muslims
Reuters, November 21, 2013

A girl from the Pauktaw township stands in front of her family’s shelter in a Rohingya internally displaced persons (IDP) camp outside Sittwe. – Photo: Soe Zeya Tun, ReutersYangon – Myanmar rejected on Thursday a U.N. resolution urging it to grant citizenship to the Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority group, and accused the United Nations of impinging on its sovereignty.

The U.N. General Assembly’s human rights committee resolution, which passed on Tuesday, also called on Buddhist-majority Myanmar to curb an increase in violence against Muslims since military rule ended in March 2011.

“Citizenship will not be granted to those who are not entitled to it under this law no matter whoever applies pressure on us,” government spokesman Ye Htut said in a statement. “It is our sovereign right.”

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Sectarian Violence Plaguing Central African Republic
Religious Conflict Rips through Central African Republic
Fredrick Nzwili, December 2, 2013, Religion News Service

Central African Republic, Africa – Graphic: WikipediaA cycle of violence in the Central African Republic is quickly degenerating into a religious conflict between Christians and Muslims, amid a deteriorating humanitarian crisis, church leaders and U.N. officials warn.

The landlocked nation of 4.6 million people has experienced chaos since March, when an Islamist rebel alliance known as “Seleka” overthrew President Francois Bozize, a Christian, and installed rebel commander Michel Djotodia as president.

Seleka was formed in December 2012, when Islamists and other rebel groups from Chad and Sudan joined forces. The militants had crossed into the country, attacking government installations and destroying churches and church missions, businesses and homes, Christian agencies report.

In the latest development, the U.N. said Nov. 20 that some 2,000 people were seeking shelter at a Catholic mission in the city of Bouca, in the northwest of the country…

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Unprecedented Christian Persecution in India
Seven-Year-Old Boy in India Tortured, Murdered for Christian Faith
Religion News Service, November 26, 2013

Anmol was kidnapped, tortured, and killed. – Photo: RNSThe body of a seven-year-old boy in India retrieved from a pond last week revealed horrific details of torture before he was brutally murdered because of his Christian beliefs.

The son of a believer, Anmol went missing after attending Sunday School at a Believers Church on Nov. 17 in northern India. His body was found the following day. Previous threats and persecution of his family indicate he was targeted because of his family’s faith.

“The unprecedented torture and death of this innocent child sadden our hearts incredibly,” said Dr. K. P. Yohannan, Gospel for Asia founder and international director. “Persecution of Christians is a weekly occurrence, but this intensity of brutality against a child is unthinkable. In this horrible tragedy, we find strength and hope in Jesus.”

According to Yohannan, persecution of Christians has increased by over 400 percent in the past few years.

Anmol’s parents last saw him when he left their home for Sunday School. When he did not return, they filed a missing persons report with local authorities. By Monday evening, they identified their child’s body at the hospital…

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Time’s 2013 Man-of-the-Year Opposes Fracking
Meet the Newest Anti-fracking Activist: Pope Francis
Katelyn Fossett, The Cap Times, November 18, 2013

Pope Francis poses with Fernando “Pino” Solanas and Juan Pablo Olsson, environmental activists filmmakers, holding a ‘ban fracking’ T-shirt. – Photo: TwitterPope Francis has already become a favorite of progressives with his fairly open-minded statements on homosexuality and birth control. But that adoration may go into overdrive, now that the pope has adopted a new role as an environmental crusader, too. On Monday, the pope was photographed with environmental activists holding T-shirts with anti-fracking slogans.

The photographs were taken after a meeting in the Vatican in which the pope spoke with a group of Argentine environmental activists to discuss fracking and water contamination. He reportedly told the group he is preparing an encyclical — a letter addressing a part of Catholic doctrine — about nature, humans and environmental pollution…

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How to Get Food to the Hungry
New Report Offers Menu of Solutions to Close the Global Food Gap
World Resources Institute, December 3, 2013

Johannesburg/WashingtonNew research presents solutions to meet the world’s growing food needs, while advancing economic development and environmental sustainability. The analysis finds that the world will need 70 percent more food, as measured by calories, in order to feed a global population of 9.6 billion people in 2050. It is possible to close the food gap, while creating a more productive and healthy environment through improvements in the way people produce and consume food.

The findings are being unveiled in the new interim report of the World Resources Report: Creating a Sustainable Food Future, produced by the World Resources Institute (WRI), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the World Bank…

[Read More…]


Christian Monastery Inspires Muslim Generosity
Armenian Monastery Finds Unlikely Savior in Arab Sheikh
AFP, November 25, 2013

Haghartsin Monastery, Armenia, in 2006 – Photo: WikipediaStanding next to a newly refurbished bell tower, priest Aristakes Aivazyan says it needed divine intervention to save Armenia’s medieval Haghartsin monastery.

But it also took a lot of money from a very unlikely benefactor – the Muslim ruler of the resource-rich Arab emirate of Sharjah, Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed al-Qasimi.

“I cannot recall anything similar to this happening in our history that some Arab sheikh, a Muslim, helped to restore and rescue an Armenian Christian church,” Aivazyan told AFP.

“Without doubt it was God who brought the sheikh to Haghartsin,” the priest, dressed in long black robes, said.

Perched spectacularly amid thickly forested mountains about 100 kilometres northeast of Yerevan, Haghartsin monastery is a masterpiece of medieval Armenian ecclesiastical architecture…

[Read More…]


Chinese Communist Party Friendlier to Religion
China Aims to Harness Religious Beliefs to Promote Harmony
Ben Blanchard, November 26, 2013, Reuters

A statue of Confucius at a temple in Shanghai – Photo: WikipediaChina should harness the positive influence of moderate religious believers, including their traditions of benevolence and tolerance, and recognize their contributions to society, the country’s top religious affairs official wrote on Tuesday.

The ruling and officially atheist Communist Party, which values stability above all else, has tried to co-opt religion in recent years as a force for social harmony in a country where few believe in communism any more.

Wang Zuoan, head of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, wrote in the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily that even though most people in China have no religion, those who do have an important role to play in promoting harmony.

“We should pay great attention to the eagerness of religious believers,” Wang wrote. “Foster the positive contents of religion, expound upon religious doctrines which accord with the development needs of society.” …

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Standing Up in Sweden for Religious Freedom
Swedish Jewish Woman is Applying for Asylum in Her Own Country
Nathalie Rothschild, The Jewish Chronicle Online, November 21, 2013

Hernroth-Rothstein is protesting against “religious persecution”Annika Hernroth-Rothstein, a member of Sweden’s Jewish community and an adviser to Sweden’s Liberal Party, plans to submit an asylum application to the Swedish Migration Board this week.

She said she wants authorities to extend to Jews the kind of protection afforded to others who have well-founded reasons to fear persecution due to their religious beliefs.

“People from all over the world in my country seek refuge in order to be who they are and to live freely. I want this for them, and I want this for us,” said Ms Hernroth-Rothstein.

“In my work I read bills to ban circumcision and bills to forbid the importation and serving of kosher meat. Kosher slaughter has been outlawed in Sweden since 1937. I also follow the asylum debate closely and realised that Swedish Jews live up to the criteria for seeking asylum in this country — because we’re being persecuted.

[Read More…]


George Carey, former archbishop of Canterbury, celebrates Communion during a meeting of the Anglican primates in North Carolina in 2001. – Photo: James Rosenthal, Anglican Communion News Service

Without Rebirth, Church of England Under Threat
Church of England ‘One Generation from Extinction’ Says Former Archbishop
Trevor Grundy, November 19, 2013, Religion News Service

Canterbury, England – A former archbishop of Canterbury has warned that the Church of England faces extinction in less than 25 years unless it can attract more young people now.

Talking to 300 churchgoers in Shropshire, West England (Nov. 18) on the eve of a church agreement to start a campaign to evangelize England, Lord George Carey said: “We ought to be ashamed of ourselves. We are one generation away from extinction and if we do not invest in young people there is going to be no one in the future.”

Carey was Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the world’s estimated 85 million Anglicans from 1991 until 2002 when he joined the House of Lords (Britain’s Upper Chamber of Parliament).

He said that every one of the church’s 43 dioceses (territorial units governed by bishops) could disappear within 25 years if an urgent campaign to attract the young was delayed.

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Victor Frankl – Photo: Wikipedia

Millennials Seeking Meaningful Lives
Millennial Searchers
Emily Esfahani Smith and Jennifer L. Aaker, New York Times, November 30, 2013

For Viktor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor who wrote the best-selling book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” the call to answer life’s ultimate question came early. When he was a high school student, one of his science teachers declared to the class, “Life is nothing more than a combustion process, a process of oxidation.” But Frankl would have none of it. “Sir, if this is so,” he cried, jumping out of his chair, “then what can be the meaning of life?”

The teenage Frankl made this statement nearly a hundred years ago – but he had more in common with today’s young people than we might assume…

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Getting Clear About the Bible
New Bible Book Is ‘Awkward’ on Purpose; Illustrations Meant To Stir Critical Thinking
Morgan Lee, Christian Post, November 13, 2013

Photo: Awkward Moments Children’s BibleDespite its title and seemingly playful illustrations, the intended audience of The Awkward Moments Children’s Bible is not simply boys and girls. Rather than offering familiar Old and New Testament stories alongside colorful depictions of Jesus, Moses, Noah, and David, the book contrasts some of Bible’s most controversial, strange, and violent verses alongside cheerfully jarring and dramatic pictures.

According to author Horus Gilgamesh, one of the goals behind these provocative juxtapositions is to encourage more Christians to critically think about the Bible.

“Frankly what it comes down to is we want people to think about the Bible for themselves, not just going to church once a month or once a week and nodding their head and cherry-picking and taking things out of context,” Gilgamesh told The Christian Post.

According to Gilgamesh, many Christians know little about their own faith, pointing to a 2010 Pew study that showed that 55 percent of American Christians could not name the writers of the four Gospels as evidence. Instead, the author claimed, many over-rely on churches and sermons to explain the Bible to them, without doing their own spiritual homework …

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