September 2013

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





This photo of Muslim men protecting a Catholic Church in Egypt during mass was Tweeted by James Martin, SJ. He gave the photocredit to Will McHoebag, who doesn’t know where it came from. That ambiguity adds an appropriate layer of confusion to the news coming from Egypt – good and bad – about religious minorities. See the first two stories below.




Anti-Christian Violence Run Rampant
Egypt’s Churches Targeted in Attacks
Associated Press, August 22, 2013

CAIRO — An international human rights group has chronicled attacks on 42 churches, dozens of Christian institutions and schools as well as homes and business owned by Christians amid an intimidation campaign believed to be waged by supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.

In a new report, New York-based Human Rights Watch said Thursday that authorities are “largely absent or failed to intervene” when churches or properties come under attack…

[Read More…]


Interfaith Art Becomes a Peacemaking Resource
From Cairo to London, Interfaith Art Brings Message of Peace
Matthew Davies, Episcopal News Service, September 4, 2013

The arts may be one of the most effective mediums for building bridges, says the Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler, the Episcopal priest responsible for the journey of 25 life-size painted fiberglass donkeys from Cairo to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, where they will be on display in the south nave aisle until Sept. 23.

Now in its fifth year, the Caravan arts exhibition brings together Western and Egyptian artists, both Christian and Muslim, to promote a message of peace.

Chandler, an Episcopal Church mission partner who has served as a priest in Cairo for the past 10 years, sees the exhibition as an opportunity to deepen understanding across cultures and religions.

“We’re passionate about interfaith friendships and we’ve found that the arts, in many ways, is a catalyst for that,” Chandler told ENS on Aug. 30 during an interview at the launch of the exhibition, which is titled In Peace and With Compassion…

[Read More…]


Pope Francis Appeals to G20 on Syria
Abandon ‘Futile Pursuit’ of Military Solution
by Nicole Winfield, Huffington Post, September 5, 2013

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis urged the Group of 20 leaders on Thursday to abandon the “futile pursuit” of a military solution in Syria as the Vatican laid out its case for a negotiated settlement that guarantees rights for all Syrians, including minority Christians.

In a letter to the G-20 host, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Francis lamented that “one-sided interests” had prevailed in Syria, preventing a diplomatic end to the conflict and allowing the continued “senseless massacre” of innocents.

“To the leaders present, to each and every one, I make a heartfelt appeal for them to help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions and to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution,” Francis wrote as the G-20 meeting got under way in St. Petersburg...

[Read More…]


St. George’s Orthodox Cathedral in Addis Ababa. – Photo: WikipediaPromoting Interfaith High on Ethiopia’s Agenda
Conference on Religious Tolerance Kicks Off in Ethiopian Capital
Sudan Tribune, August 27, 2013

ADDIS ABABA - A national conference aimed at promoting peaceful co-existence and tolerance among religious groups in Ethiopia kicked off on Tuesday in the capital, Addis Ababa.

The conference, organized by the ministry of federal affairs and the Ethiopian Inter-Religious Council is being attended by some 2,500 participants from across the country.

The three-day conference is being held under the theme: “We shall strive to realize Ethiopia’s renaissance through strengthening the value of religious co-existence and respecting constitutional provisions.”

In his opening speech, Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn called on the public to remain tolerant and to join hands in battling what he called acts of extremists…

[Read More…]


Pioneering Peacemaker Disappears
Jesuit Priest Likely Kidnapped in Syria
Allesandro Speciale, Religious News Service, July 31, 2013

Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio – Photo: RNSVATICAN CITY – A prominent Italian Jesuit who is an outspoken supporter of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad went missing in Syria Monday (July 29), fueling speculation that he has been kidnapped by an Islamist group.

The Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio, 58, lived for three decades in Syria, where he established an ecumenical community at Mar Musa on the site of an early Christian monastery, engaging in interfaith dialogue with Muslims and forging close ties with the local population.

He was expelled in 2012 by the Assad government for his support of the rebels.

The Reuters news agency reported late on Monday that Dall’Oglio was abducted in the eastern city of Raqqa by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an Islamist group with ties to al-Qaida…

[Read More…]

Two weeks after the story above, Reuters reported that Father Dall’Oglio was killed by Al-Qaeda-linked rebels in Syria.

TIO profiled Father Dall’Oglio’s interfaith ministry in Syria in a February 2012 story.


Multifaith Use of Sacred Space Sparks Malaysian Crisis
Buddhists Expelled from Malaysia for Praying in Muslim Hall
Richard S. Ehrlich, Religion News Service, August 21, 2013

Kampung Laut Mosque is one of the oldest mosques in Malaysia, where more than 60% of the population is Muslim. – Photo: WikipediaThe government of Malaysia expelled a group of Singaporean tourists for chanting Buddhist prayers inside an Islamic prayer room where they erected a large Buddhist painting on the wall facing Mecca.

The government also revoked the permanent resident visa of the businessman who allowed the Buddhists to pray at his beach resort in Johor state, about 185 miles south of Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Muslim-majority Malaysia.

The government’s response is the latest in a series of crackdowns on behavior deemed disrespectful of Islamic traditions and beliefs.

A Malaysian human rights group, Lawyers for Liberty, protested the action…

[Read More…]

Update – The building where the Buddhists mediated may be demolished.


King Abdullah – Photo: Wikipedia

Saudi Support for Interfaith Grows
Interfaith Dialogue, a Key to Ending Extremism
Samar Fatany, Al Aribiya, July 28, 2013

The importance of the interfaith dialogue initiated by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah to build bridges of understanding between Islam and the West was emphasized by two prominent ambassadors to Saudi Arabia at the annual Iftar party of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) in Riyadh this week.

Turkish Ambassador to the Kingdom Ahmet Muhtar Gun said: “The increasing intolerance and xenophobia on the basis of racial, ethnic, and religious differences continue to be the main concern for us, because they are the diseases of modern times.” He stressed the importance of the two noble initiatives to promote global coexistence: “the alliance of civilizations” and the interfaith dialogue initiated by King Abdullah….

[Read More…]



Interfaith Organizational Structures Evolving
Interfaith Movement Struggles to Adapt to Changing Religious Landscape
Michelle Boorstein, Washington Post, August 16, 2013 

The Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington is known as one of the country’s early multi-faith groups, and its executive director’s nickname is the “dean of American interfaith.” Yet as it approaches its 35th anniversary in November, the group is fighting for survival, down to two full-time staff members and facing more than $100,000 in debt.

The Conference, which has a major fundraiser planned this fall and aims to restructure the organization and sharpen its mission, is hardly alone. Some of the oldest and best-known names in interfaith, including the National Council of Churches and the Chicago-based Council for a Parliament of the World Religions, have slashed staff as their revenue shriveled.

The Interfaith Conference is struggling, experts and some group leaders say, in part because it relies too much on clergy and religious denominations for participation and money at a time when many traditional faith groups are losing members and status as more Americans drop or switch spiritual affiliations and are less committed…

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An Interfaith-friendlier U.S. State Department
New State Department Religion Office Provokes Concerns
Jerome Socolovsky, Voice of America News, August 16, 2013

After getting a scholarship to attend a women’s leadership conference in the United States, Dewirini Anggraeni decided to create an interfaith youth council in Jakarta. The veiled Indonesian says she used to hate America because of its foreign policy, but what she experienced in New York changed her mind.

“I saw so many women using the hijab and they can also walk freely and pray, and even so many mosques I saw,” she said, “and I feel like they really appreciate and respect each other among [different faiths].”

The State Department hopes to reach more people like Anggraeni with the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives, launched earlier this month by Secretary of State John Kerry.

The office, which will coordinate diplomacy with religious groups, is a response to criticism that U.S. foreign policy in the past has failed to take account of the religiosity of foreign people…

[Read More…]


An Alternative to Westboro Baptist Exposure
Interfaith Activists in Rhode Island Ask Media Focus on Love
Anthony Moujaes, United Church of Christ News, August 2, 2013

An interfaith group of churches in Rhode Island asked the media to focus on love, not hate on the first day same-gender couples could file for marriage licenses, August 1. As a result, most local news coverage focused attention on the couples who were marrying and not picketers from Westboro Baptist Church.

“We had a week of discussion among our colleagues about whether – or not – to be at the various city [and] town halls in solidarity with those seeking marriage licenses [Thursday] morning and decided, instead, not to dignify Westboro’s hate by our showing up,” said the Rev. Betsy Garland, a UCC minister and president of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches.

In the spirit of this story, instead of another photo of Westboro Baptist’s outrageous protests, here is a photo of a 2007 same-sex wedding in South Africa. – Photo: WikipediaA group of United Church of Christ leaders took part in the effort, joining interfaith partners from the RISCC asking folks to ignore hate-group protests, and in a letter to local media, called on news outlets to keep the attention on the couples who were marrying and not picketers from Westboro Baptist Church.

Westboro Baptist Church is recognized as an anti-Semitic and anti-LGBT group. It is located in Kansas, to which the RISCC said they had no business coming to Rhode Island to protest the issuing of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Aug. 1 was the first day same-sex couples could legally marry in Rhode Island after a law was passed in late April.

“Perhaps in response to our request, there was very little coverage of the Westboro appearance,” Garland said, adding that they had scattered by late morning…

[Read More…]


Progressive Religion Gaining
New Survey: 1-in-5 Americans are “Religious Progressives”
Religious News Service, July 18, 2013

WASHINGTON — One-in-five Americans (19 percent) are religious progressives, while 38 percent are religious moderates, 28 percent are religious conservatives, and 15 percent are nonreligious, a new survey finds.

The new Economic Values Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with the Brookings Institution, was used to develop a new religious orientation scale that combines theological, economic and social outlooks in order to paint a new portrait of the American religious landscape.

“Our new research shows a complex religious landscape, with religious conservatives holding an advantage over religious progressives in terms of size and homogeneity,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute. “However, the percentage of religious conservatives shrinks in each successive generation, with religious progressives outnumbering religious conservatives in the Millennial generation.”

[Read More…]


Interfaith Members of Congress Challenge the White House
Lawmakers Ask Obama for Religious Diversity Summit
Omar Sacirbey, Religion News Service, July 17, 2013

Graphic: WikimediaNearly 40 members of the U.S. House, among them Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Muslims, sent a letter to President Obama on Wednesday (July 17) urging him to convene a “Religious Diversity Summit” and do more to fight discrimination against religious minorities.

“The targeting of religious minorities in America is reaching a crisis point and we believe your leadership is crucial to stemming this rising tide of violence,” the letter writers said.

The letter comes just ahead of the first anniversary of the Aug. 5 attack by a white supremacist on a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., that killed six worshippers. Muslim advocacy groups say there has been an increase in attacks against mosques and Muslims since the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15.

[Read More…]


Best Ever Catholic-Jewish Relations
Pope Francis Rosh Hashanah Greetings Wishes Jews Worldwide a Sweet New Year
Huffington Post, September 9, 2013

At a meeting with Pope Francis, Ronald Lauder (sitting to the Pope's left) said “Never in the past 2,000 years have relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people been so good.” – Photo: Huffington PostPope Francis wished Jews around the world a “sweet and peaceful” new year, and used the traditional Jewish greeting of “Shana Tova,” according to a statement from the World Jewish Congress (WJC).

The pope’s first private audience with an international Jewish leader took place on Monday at the Vatican, with Ronald S. Lauder, the President of the WJC. Pope Francis asked him to “convey his New Year message to Jewish communities world-wide and said he also needed a sweet year because of the important decisions lying ahead.”  

Lauder presented Pope Francis with a Kiddush cup and a honey cake, traditionally eaten by Jews on this occasion to symbolize a sweet new year.

The two religous leaders also addressed the Syria situation and agreed to speak out against attacks on religious minorities, including Coptic Christians in Egypt, as well as trends that threaten to restrict ancient religious practices like circumcision…

[Read more…]

In related news, Pope Francis met with the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, where he declared that Christianity is incompatible with anti-Semitism.