May 2013


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


Obama Addresses Interfaith Service in Boston
Remarks by the President at Interfaith Service in Boston, MA
President Barack Obama, April 24, 2013, Cathedral of The Holy Cross

 Hello, Boston! 

President Obama at Cathedral of The Holy Cross
Photo: White House, Lawrence Jackson
Scripture tells us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Run with endurance the race that is set before us. 

On Monday morning, the sun rose over Boston. The sunlight glistened off the Statehouse dome. In the Common and the Public Garden, spring was in bloom. On this Patriot’s Day, like so many before, fans jumped onto the T to see the Sox at Fenway. In Hopkinton, runners laced up their shoes and set out on a 26.2-mile test of dedication and grit and the human spirit. And across this city, hundreds of thousands of Bostonians lined the streets – to hand the runners cups of water and to cheer them on …

Over successive generations, you’ve welcomed again and again new arrivals to our shores – immigrants who constantly reinvigorated this city and this commonwealth and our nation. Every fall, you welcome students from all across America and all across the globe, and every spring you graduate them back into the world – a Boston diaspora that excels in every field of human endeavor. Year after year, you welcome the greatest talents in the arts and science, research – you welcome them to your concert halls and your hospitals and your laboratories to exchange ideas and insights that draw this world together. 

And every third Monday in April, you welcome people from all around the world to the Hub for friendship and fellowship and healthy competition – a gathering of men and women of every race and every religion, every shape and every size; a multitude represented by all those flags that flew over the finish line …

[For the complete speech…]


Reaffirming the Interfaith Movement
3 Reasons Interfaith Efforts Matter More Than Ever
Eboo Patel, April 23, 2013, Huffington Post

In the wake of the Boston attack and manhunt, I've been getting a lot of messages about how interfaith efforts matter more than ever, and I've sent out a volley of tweets expressing the same sentiment myself. So, does this view hold up to analysis, or is it just a surface salve for a really deep wound?

At the risk of promoting a cause in which I'm deeply involved, I think that there are several good reasons to strengthen and expand interfaith efforts. These are true even during normal times; what the events in Boston have done is highlight their importance. Before launching in, let me state the obvious: Interfaith programs are not a miracle solution. Their primary purpose is neither to root out potential terrorists nor solve every social problem. But they do matter. Here are three reasons why …

[Read More…]


Kidnapped Syrian Bishops Still Missing
Religious Leaders Push for Kidnapped Bishops’ Release
Michele Chabin, Religion News Service, April 30, 2013

Metropolitan Boulos YazigiReligious leaders from around the world have stepped up their pleas for the safe return of two Syrian bishops who were kidnapped April 22 by armed men as they were driving near the war-torn city of Aleppo.

Metropolitan Youhanna IbrahimThe kidnappers, who have not been identified, abducted Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Youhanna Ibrahim, both of Aleppo, while they were undertaking a “humanitarian mission” to help Syria’s Christian minority, according to Syrian Christian expatriates in the U.S.

The bishops’ Syrian Orthodox driver was killed in the attack … 


[Read More…]

Update: Orthodox Easter postponed in Syria and Lebanon to pray for kidnapped bishops.

Response: from William Vendley, Secretary General, Religions for Peace.


Religious Leaders in Syria Commit to Peace
Syrian Religious Leaders Commit to Establish the Inter-religious Council of Syria
Religions for Peace, April 20, 2013

A wide range of Syrian religious leaders convened in Istanbul to advance multi-religious cooperation for peace in Syria during a meeting, Syria for all Syrians. They committed themselves to the establishment of a Syrian Religions for Peace Council (RFP-Syria).

The Istanbul conference followed a series of earlier consultations of Syrian religious leaders that also called for peace and laid important groundwork for the establishment of RfP-Syria (Marrakesh 16-19 November 2011; Oslo 7-9 January 2012; Larnaca 22-23 February 2012; and Cairo 28-29 August 2012).

These meetings were convened by Religions for Peace (RFP), the world’s largest multi-religious organization, with the assistance of many partners, including notably the Islamic Society of North America. 

In Istanbul, the religious leaders forcefully reiterated their condemnation of the widespread use of violence and the wholesale destruction of Syrian cities and towns. They decried and rejected all attempts to incite sectarian conflict. They stated that cooperation based on shared religious values must be an essential key to unity among all Syrians.

In their call for the formation of a Syrian-led national Inter-religious council, they stressed that it should be a strictly non-political body, inclusive and representative of all religious communities across Syria, and be action-oriented …

[Read More…]


Threats to Religious Freedom Escalating
15 Countries Cited for Religious Freedom Violations
Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service, April 30, 2013

USCIRF Logo Graphic: WikimediaIt can be hard to come up with a list of countries with the most egregious records on religious freedom when some of the world’s worst offenders aren’t even nation states.

For its annual report of violators, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom counts 15 nations where abuse of religious liberty is “systemic, egregious, and ongoing.”

But the commission, which was created by Congress in 1998 as an independent watchdog panel, also wants to highlight the crimes of non-nations. 

“USCIRF added a special emphasis on non-state actors, as their violent actions are a growing threat to religious freedom,” said Knox Thames, the commission’s director of policy and research.

“Violence perpetrated by non-state actors against religious minorities and others who conflict with their world view is increasingly common, with incidents occurring in places as diverse as Pakistan and Nigeria.” …

[Read More…]


Christians and Muslims Get Acquainted in Kansas 
Common Ground: A Baptist-Muslim Conversation
American Baptist News Service, April 23, 2013

Muslims and Christians at Central Baptist Theological Seminary
Photo: CBTS
Central Baptist Theological Seminary hosted a conversation between Baptists and Muslims at Prairie Baptist Church, Prairie Village, Kansas, on Saturday, April 20. The Committee on Christian Unity and Interfaith Relations of ABCUSA partnered with Central for the event, which was part of a national dialogue between the Muslim and Christian communities on “The Love of God and Pathways to Peace.” The initiative comes as a response to A Common Word Between Us and You, an open letter from Muslim religious leaders and scholars to world Christian leaders calling for peace and justice between the two religious communities. 

Rev. Dr. Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA, said, “In the midst of the fears, anger and mistrust accompanying the attack on the Boston marathon, it ought to be heartening to all to know that we are actively involved in peacemaking. Peacemaking is an essential element of our Christian vocation and the biblical motivation for our many efforts to work for peace with our Muslim neighbors. We are grateful for the partnership with Central and our other ABC seminaries in this effort. Let us all rededicate ourselves to the often difficult but always essential efforts in local, national and international arenas to wage peace.” …

[Read More…]


Muslims Leaders Decry Violence and Terrorism
Muslim Leaders: We Stand Against Terrorism
Kevin Eckstrom, Religion News Service, April 23, 2013

American Muslim leaders said they stand against terrorism committed in the name of Islam, trying to distance themselves from the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings who were identified as Muslims with ties to Chechnya.

“We will never allow ourselves to be hijacked by this attempt, and we will not allow the perception to be that there is any religion in the world that condones the taking of innocent life,” said Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Muslim leaders convened a press conference Friday (April 19) to denounce the attacks and to urge the media not to link their faith with violent extremism …

[Read More…]


Muslim Roots in Iowa Town Celebrated
Iowa Town Named for Muslim Hero Extols Tolerance
Samuel Freedman, New York Times, May 3, 2013

Elkader, Iowa
Photo: Elkader Chamber of Commerce

Amid an expanse of undulating farmland, deep in the steep valley carved by the Turkey River, the town of Elkader sits most of the year in remote obscurity. Population 1,200 and gradually shrinking, it is the seat of a county without a single traffic light.

Improbably enough, this community settled by Germans and Scandinavians, its religious life built around Catholic and Lutheran churches, bears the name of a Muslim hero. Abd el-Kader was renowned in the 19th century for leading Algeria’s fight for independence and protecting non-Muslims from persecution. Even Abraham Lincoln extolled him.

This weekend, for the fifth year in a row, Elkader will welcome a delegation of Arab dignitaries to celebrate this rare lifeline of tolerance, spanning continents and centuries. Coming less than three weeks after the Boston Marathon bombings, which the authorities say were committed by two Muslim brothers, the Abdelkader Education Project’s forum stands more than ever for an affirming encounter between the United States and Islam …

[Read More…]


Ukrainian Interfaith Conference Draws Protests
Protesting Interfaith? The Importance of Advancing Our Dialogues
Simran Jeet Singh, Huffington Post, April 26, 2013 

Ukrainian Parliament Building
Photo: Wikipedia
I had never before seen anyone protest an interfaith gathering. But yesterday as we walked out of our hotel in Kiev, Ukraine, a small group of protestors stepped forward to verbally and physically harass our group consisting of religious leaders and foreign dignitaries. The protestors belonged to the Ukranian Orthodox Church and were angered that representatives of their Christian denomination, including Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III, were mixing with followers of other religious traditions.

We hurried onto our bus and traveled to our session, and upon arrival we discovered that more protestors were awaiting our arrival outside the Parliament of Ukraine. I was fortuitously seated next to Anne-Marie Lizing, who currently serves as the Honorary President of the Senate of Belgium, and we discussed at length the profound challenges to social progress that exist in our modern world. Among other insights, she remarked that such experiences are valuable benchmarks that reinforce the importance of programs like the assembly in which we were taking part – the Kiev Interfaith Forum. She advised that there is much work to be done in nurturing a pluralistic and ecumenical global society and that we cannot take this task too lightly, especially in the context of our modern world…

[Read More…]


American Indians Discerned in 1494 Vatican Painting
How Native Americans Hid in the Vatican for More than 500 Years
Nick Squires, Christian Science Monitor, May 2, 2013

A detail from “Resurrection” by Pinturicchio, showing the group of figures whom the Vatican believes represent native Americans encountered by Columbus.
Photo: Vatican Museums
While cleaning a Vatican fresco, restoration experts found what may be the first ever depiction of the native Americans Columbus encountered in the New World.

More than 500 years after Christopher Columbus set foot on the shores of the New World, what may be the first ever depiction of the native Americans he encountered has been discovered hidden in a Vatican painting.

The discovery was made by restoration experts who were cleaning a large fresco painted by the Renaissance master Pinturicchio. Once they had removed layers of dirt, they noticed a group of tiny figures, almost in the middle of the painting.

The figures are men who seem to be dancing and are naked except for exotic-looking feather head dresses. One appears to have a Mohican-style haircut …

[Read More…]