May 2012

Each month TIO shares a few of the more interesting interfaith stories from recent news.

Global Nutrition In Trouble

Report: Global Targets for Better Nutrition Are Not Only Stalled, but Worsening

by Chris Herlinger, Church World Service, April 23, 2012

New York –A new report says that progress toward better nutrition and food security is stalled – and getting worse… Jos Verbeek, the lead economist at the World Bank and chief author of the Global Monitoring Report 2012, said Monday (April 23) that rising food prices are a key culprit and that the increases come at a time of progress on other United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

“According to our projections, an estimated 1.02 billion people will still be living in extreme poverty in 2015. Clearly, assistance must be leveraged in new ways if we are to improve food security and nutrition, particularly for the poor and vulnerable,” Verbeek said.


Tanzania’s Succeeds with Religious Peacemaking

Country’s Remarkable Religious Coexistence Impresses Neighbours

by Lawi Joel, Tanzania Daily News, April 22, 2012

Tanzania’s peaceful coexistence, particularly that of its two major religious groups of Christians and Muslims, has impressed its neighbours as exemplary in comparison to what transpires between the two major Afirica’s faithful groups in other countries on the continent.

“The coexistence is relatively more peaceful compared to what is happening in Nigeria,” Ambassador Prof. Badru Kateregga, Chancellor at Kampala University, told Sundays News last Friday at White Sands Hotel in Dar es Salaam. Prof Kateregga does not deny that there are fractious issues or believers of both sides with an abrasive manner. Overall, there is peace and those who have rocked the boat, threatening that tranquility, are mere zealots.

“Extremism is the problem.” The professor says any religious friction is mode caused by ignorance of what the other religion is all about than by deliberate determination to provoke the other community. Tanzania has many religious communities and tolerance among them has satisfactorily been upheld.


Calls for Peace in the Midst of War

Syrian Religious Leaders Unite to Reject Violence and Call for National Reconciliation

Larnaca, Cyprus, February 23, 2012

Religious leaders from Syria urgently called for a peaceful solution and the rejection of all forms of violence regardless of its sources, as the nation undergoes widespread suffering.

United in their call for the rejection of military and security measures and for the immediate release of prisoners of opinion, the religious leaders acknowledged the urgent need to preserve religious diversity and respect for human dignity in Syria and committed to working together to advance national reconciliation.

More than 20 senior Muslim and Christian leaders, representing Syria’s major communities, were joined by regional leaders and other concerned persons at the meeting, convened by Religions for Peace Middle East-North Africa (RfP MENA) Council.


Jewish Trained Muslim Woman Staffs Christian Coalition

Muslim Woman Bridges Faiths to Advance Progressive Goals

by Samuel G. Freedman, New York Times, May 4, 2012

A Muslim trained by a Jewish agency to work with a coalition largely composed of Christian churches, Ms. Ali is not just the poster child for monotheism. She forms part of a vanguard of faith-based community organizers who have been selected in part for their religious devotion and then trained to cross denominational lines in pursuit of common cause.

“There’s a healthy tension,” as Ms. Ali, 27, put it, “when I want to talk about an issue campaign and the first line of questioning I get is, ‘What’s that thing you’re wearing and where are you from?’ I kind of anticipated those questions. It was a reminder of how few people have met Muslims. I can answer their questions and address the stereotypes head on and then do the work together. It’s created a different sense of community for me.”

The Rev. Michael Perry, the pastor of Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church in Brooklyn, has watched and listened as Ms. Ali has interacted with congregants who are primarily Haitian and Mexican immigrants. Just the other night, she taught a lesson on advocacy to half a dozen women from the church.


Clerics Stand Against Arizona’s Harsh Anti-Immigrant Law

Faith Leaders Announce 48 Hour Vigil for Immigration Law Supreme Court Case

by Nick Sementelli, Faith in Public Life, April 23, 2012

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in United States v. Arizona, the court case challenging The Grand Canyon State’s harsh anti-immigrant law SB 1070… In preparation for the arguments, more than 100 national faith leaders and local DC clergy kicked off a 48 hour vigil at a press conference this morning to highlight the law’s immoral motivations and dangerous consequences.

Rabbi Noam Marans, Director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations for the American Jewish Committee, explained the coalition’s goal: “The diverse religious leadership of America joins together as the conscience of this great nation, to urge our judges to strike down Arizona’s SB 1070 and fulfill the American promise of opportunity and fairness for our immigrant community, reflected in the Biblical proposition that we are all created in God’s image.”


Middle Eastern Christians Threatened

Religious Freedom – A Human Right for All in Middle East and Africa

Religion News Service April 23, 2012

Open Doors USA and Simon Wiesenthal Center to Address

Unprecedented Increase in Persecution at DC Press Conference May 3.

The purge of centuries-old Christian communities in Middle East countries like Iraq and Iran and the dramatic increase of persecution in African countries like Egypt and Nigeria is putting Christians under unprecedented siege… Last month the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) included Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan among 16 countries on its “Countries of Particular Concern” list. The report said that “across the global landscape, the pivotal human right of religious freedom was under escalating attack.”

“We cannot idly stand by while there are major human rights violations in places such as Egypt and Nigeria,” says Open Doors USA President/CEO Dr. Carl Moeller. “Already thousands have fled Islamic terrorism in those countries. We need to speak out now with a renewed urgency. We must fight for freedom of religion for all imperiled faith groups.”


Florida Amendment Proposes State Funding for Religion

‘Religious Freedom’ Amendment Combustible Mix of Religion, Politics

St. Augustine Record, April 30, 2012

Publicfunding of religious schools, centers suggested and it sounds as appealing as apple pie: ensuring religious freedom.

In reality, a proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution facing the state’s voters is a much more complicated, and combustible, combination of religion and politics.

Already, activists across the political spectrum are forming political action committees, holding news conferences and setting up websites as they mobilize for battle between now and November.

The focus of their attention is proposed Amendment 8, which would rewrite the “religious freedom” section of the state Constitution. It would remove the long-standing ban on taxpayer funding of churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious institutions and replace it with completely opposite language prohibiting state or local governments from withholding money based on religious belief.


Tibetan Temple In Texas

Temple Makes Austin the Place to Find Peace and Joy

by Michael Hoinski, New York Times, April 28, 2012

Each morning Lama Lobtsul, the lama in residence at the Buddhist center Palri Pema Od Ling in Austin, enters the temple and performs the important task of arranging offerings of water, candles and incense in front of the rare statue of Guru Rinpoche.

This 13-foot-tall, 2,500-pound brass representation of the India Buddhist master who brought Buddhism to Tibet in the eighth century radiates like a beacon from behind picture windows overlooking busy 45th Street, across from the Hyde Park Christian Church, in a mostly residential area.

“If you make aspirations in front of the statue,” said Lama Lobtsul via Ila Reitz, his translator, “then it will be of great benefit to you in this life and future lives — just as if you were in front of Guru Rinpoche.”


Student Prize-winning Interfaith Comic Book

Alief Students Win Prize For Interfaith Comic Book

by Kate Shellnut,, May 3, 2012

Students at a Houston elementary school were honored Wednesday for their creativity and interfaith message in a comic book they created to discourage religious bullying.

Their entry won a contest sponsored by Rice University’s Boniuk Center for Religious Tolerance and EZ Comics. The students– second and fourth-graders at Youens Elementary– got iPads as a part of their prize.

In their winning comic, a kid jokes about his classmates’ faiths, calling a Buddhist girl “Buddha belly,” ostracizing a Christian boy and joking about a Hindu girl’s polytheism. The kid then visits each of their houses of worship, learns about different religions and collects a charm from each. In the end, he apologizes and pledges to be more tolerant. The full book, Full Charms of Tolerance, can be read on the EZ Comics site.


Catholic-Sikh Relations Affirmed

Sikh Awarded Papal Knighthood

The Tablet, April 25, 2012

A leader of Birmingham’s Sikh community has been awarded a papal knighthood for his interfaith work.

Dr Mohinder Singh was yesterday made a Knight of the Pontifical Order of Pope St Gregory the Great for his work on Catholic-Sikh relations. He is thought to be the first Sikh to receive the award.

More than 120 Sikhs, from Birmingham, London, Leeds, Kenya and India were present in St Chad’s Cathedral for Sunday’s Mass and Investiture conducted by Archbishop Bernard Longley.

A Catholic interfaith dialogue expert, William Ozanne, also received the same honour. In his homily the archbishop praised the pair for their work and their friendship.

He said: “They have discovered not only within each other, but also within the faith traditions that they represent, an openness to dialogue and a desire to deepen understanding and co-operation for the common good.”


Houston Interfaith Gala Raises Over $1 Million

Gala Shows Off the Rich International Tapestry of Interfaith Cooperation

by Jawahar Malhotra, Indo American News, May 10, 2012

Houston – The elegant setting of the main ballroom at the Hilton of the Americas for the Interfaith Ministries Fourth Annual Tapestry Gala was punctuated by the mix of languages, deference to etiquette and variety of dresses among the 700 multi-cultured guests who strode in to take their seats. They reflected the cross-pollination of faiths and their inherent perspectives that make up the essence of the organization now.

The Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston has evolved through the decades from when it first started in 1955 as the Church Welfare Bureau to the Protestant Charities in 1964 when it joined with the Jewish community to 1969 when it was officially chartered as IM. Since 1992 it has received support from the diverse base of faiths – Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Muslim, Sikh, Unitarian Universalist and Zoroastrian – that have settled in Houston. By the end of the evening, the gala had raised over $1 million …


A Neuropsychological Basis For Spirituality?

No ‘God Spot’ In Brain, Spirituality Linked to Right Parietal Lobe

Huffington Post, April 4, 2012

Scientists have speculated that the human brain features a “God spot,” one distinct area of the brain responsible for spirituality. Now, University of Missouri researchers have completed research that indicates spirituality is a complex phenomenon, and multiple areas of the brain are responsible for the many aspects of spiritual experiences.

“We have found a neuropsychological basis for spirituality, but it’s not isolated to one specific area of the brain,” said Brick Johnstone, professor of health psychology in the School of Health Professions. “Spirituality is a much more dynamic concept that uses many parts of the brain. Certain parts of the brain play more predominant roles, but they all work together to facilitate individuals’ spiritual experiences.”

In the most recent study, Johnstone studied 20 people with traumatic brain injuries affecting the right parietal lobe, the area of the brain situated a few inches above the right ear. He surveyed participants on characteristics of spirituality, such as how close they felt to a higher power and if they felt their lives were part of a divine plan.


Remembering Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati

Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati Dies at Kashi Ashram

The Parliament Blog, April 24, 2012

Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, a former Brooklyn Jewish housewife turned Guru, lost her battle with pancreatic cancer last week at her home, Kashi Ashram, an interfaith spiritual community, which she founded 35 years ago in the central Florida town of Sebastian. A memorial service will be held at Kashi Ashram on Ma’s birthday, May 26, and will be open to the public.

Thousands followed Ma’s teachings and way of life through a network of affiliated communities and charities throughout the globe… Kashi Ashram was created out of her devotion to all who sought her wisdom and ideas.

Founded by Ma in 1976, Kashi Ashram blends Eastern and Western philosophies. The Ashram sits on 80 acres at the banks of the St. Sebastian River and has dozens of temples and shrines to many diverse religions and spiritual paths. …

Ma was the founder of Kashi Church Foundation, The River School, The River Fund, Kashi School of Yoga, the Village of Kashi, and By the River affordable senior housing. Her present and past affiliations include Trustee Emeritus of the Council for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Advisory Board Member of Equal Partners in Faith, Advisory Board Member of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, Advisory Board Member of the Gardner’s Syndrome Association, Delegate to the United Religions Initiative, Member of the Board of Directors of the AIDS care organization Project Response, and member of the Parliament’s General Assembly. Ma also founded orphan centers in Uganda and India. …