Category Archives: Religion

Religion news

Bill Donohue

Pope Francis Challenges Europeans – OpEd

Today Pope Francis addressed the European Parliament.

This was one of Pope Francis’ signature statements. He beckoned his audience to recover their religious moorings, focusing on the positive link between Christianity and Europe. This means an appreciation of what he called the “transcendent dignity” of the human person. Dignity is given recognition in the respect for inalienable human rights, and this, he stressed, extends to the right to profess one’s faith.

The communal aspects of Catholic thought were evident in the way Pope Francis addressed liberty. We are not “monads,” or disconnected atoms, nor are we “absolutes”; rather, we are “beings in relation.” Sounding very much like his two predecessors, he said, “unless the rights of each individual are harmoniously ordered to the greater good, those rights will end up being considered limitless and consequently will become a source of conf licts and violence.”

Speaking of violence, the Holy Father spoke out against Christian persecution. In an obvious reference to Muslims, he said, “Communities and individuals today find themselves subjected to barbaric acts of violence: they are evicted from their homes and native lands, sold as slaves, killed, beheaded, crucified or burned alive, under the shameful and complicit silence of so many.”

Pope Francis also condemned “selfish lifestyles” and the Western “throwaway culture.” But he did not lash out against a market economy. Instead, he called for a balance between the pursuit of profit and the needs of workers. We need to find “new ways of joining market flexibility with the need for stability and security on the part of workers.”

Furthermore, we should embrace the Christian contribution to the “social and cultural formation” of Europe, he said, and not see it as a “threat to the secularity” of nations or the independence of its institutions.

Pope Francis has given many significant statements. This one is my favorite, thus far.

China

Despite Reports China-Vatican Deal Not On Horizon Soon

By Dan Long

On the surface, Chinese news reports at the end of last week on a possible breakthrough in Vatican-Beijing ties looked very positive. After written contact between Pope Francis and President Xi Jinping over the past 18 months and the first papal flight over China in August, Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing Wenweipo newspaper reported last week that a deal is close on bishop appointments, the main stumbling block in establishing diplomatic ties.

But from what we know about the secret negotiations between both sides, this news represents little more than classic Communist double-think: although there is discussion and compromise, an agreement remains far from being a certainty.

What this surprising report really represents is a deliberate leak by the Communist party in a bid to increase pressure on the Vatican to accept its proposal while generating sympathy for its position so that when talks inevitably fail, Beijing can say that the Vatican is to blame.

That an unnamed Communist Party official leaked details of the secret talks to a pro-Beijing newspaper and that this was then reported on the mainland by the state-run Global Times indicates it is little more than a familiar Chinese gambit.

The actual substance of the Chinese compromise with the Vatican equates to exactly the same model that Beijing has proposed for “democracy” in Hong Kong. That is, a narrow choice of candidates pre-selected by the Chinese government. While this appears to be progress, it really represents little more than a new system with a veneer of choice designed to continue to sideline individuals seen as against the Communist Party, thereby maintaining its over-arching control.

With its appalling record on religious freedom and the fact it is one of only six countries that has failed to establish diplomatic ties with the Holy See — along with North Korea, Myanmar, Laos, Brunei and Vietnam — the onus is on China to compromise, of course. But these reports suggest it is ready to change very little.

Friday’s article in the Global Times dismisses any possibility that the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) might be abolished, a key concern of the Holy See which rightly views the CCPA’s appointment of bishops as illegitimate.

By lining up two experts to defend the role of the CCPA, the state-run Global Times has again reverted to the classic trick of painting Communist Party beliefs and desires as independently universal within China. The report even strays into outright fabrication in describing the CCPA as an “independent group” when it is clearly a state organ designed to oversee and control the Catholic Church in China.

Many Church observers will no doubt be eagerly awaiting a response from the Vatican. This is not only unlikely but hardly necessary given that the Pope himself has already indicated where the Church stands on this issue, which in turn points to the unlikelihood of a breakthrough anytime soon.

In August, on the papal flight back from South Korea while over Chinese airspace, Francis could not have been clearer: “We respect the Chinese people. The Church only asks for liberty for its task, for its work. There’s no other condition,” he said. “Then we should not forget that fundamental letter for the Chinese problems which was the one sent to the Chinese by Pope Benedict XVI. This letter is actual (relevant) today. It is actual. It’s good to re-read it.”

What Benedict’s remarkable open letter to China in May, 2007 essentially did was to remind everyone — particularly China and its government — of the Vatican’s position on the state of relations and of the Church’s role in any society. That is, that the Church should keep out of politics and instead concern itself with the well-being of ordinary people for the “common good”.

“In the light of these unrenounceable principles, the solution to existing problems cannot be pursued via an ongoing conflict with the legitimate civil authorities; at the same time, though, compliance with those authorities is not acceptable when they interfere unduly in matters regarding the faith and discipline of the Church,” said Benedict.

In citing Benedict’s letter, Francis was saying that the Vatican’s position remains straightforward and unchanged, so it would seem highly unlikely that this situation would have altered in the past three months. Remember that Francis consults the Pope Emeritus before every foreign trip, and would no doubt have done so before leaving Rome for Seoul in August.

The pope’s consistency on this matter correlates with what Church representatives in the region continue to say in private regarding the situation with China.

The Church has been flexible with some countries known for persecuting Christians, most recently China’s neighbor Vietnam. After the Vietnamese government and the Vatican established a working group dialogue in 2009, two years later Archbishop Girelli was appointed as a non-residential special envoy who visits the country regularly. But this does not mean the Vatican is likely to enter a similar deal with China, quite the reverse in fact.

Critics of the process say the Vatican was too swift to build bridges with Hanoi and that religious freedom has not improved despite the agreement. It has no doubt learned from its experience with Vietnam, the key lesson being that principles should not be compromised for the end goal of diplomatic ties.

The Vatican will be expected to be much more cautious in the case of China which has shown far less flexibility and signs of improvement on rights and democracy-related issues compared to Vietnam. There’s also a lot more at stake: The Vatican will be keenly aware that a false move on China, the most populous country in the world, will open itself up to far greater criticism.

While the Vatican shows no sign of deviating from its position that it alone should be free to choose its own representatives on the ground in China, the government does not appear ready to relinquish control of the process, just as it has shown no sign of giving up control of any organ of influence or power — be it the judiciary, legislative branch or key sectors of the economy.

In August during his landmark first trip to Asia, Francis made a thinly veiled appeal to China when he assured that Christians were not “conquerors” threatening national identities.

But, within a paranoid government which has stepped up persecution against a vibrant and growing Church, the pope’s words are unlikely to gain much traction.

Although talks between Beijing and the Vatican, and Chinese compromise on the system of bishop appointments — however superficial — do represent positive steps in a difficult relationship, the prospect of a tangible breakthrough remains elusive. Don’t be fooled by the recent reports.

Dan Long is the pseudonym of a journalist based in Beijing who has reported on the region for more than a decade.

A parish destroyed by Boko Haram during its Oct. 29 seizure of Mubi, in Nigeria's Adamawa state. Credit: Diocese of Maiduguri.

Facing Boko Haram: Nigerians ‘Storm The Heavens With Prayers’

Boko Haram’s expansion has meant murders, forced conversion, and forcible expulsion from homes, causing Catholics in Nigeria to pray and to reach out to help and console the militant Islamist group’s victims.

“Brothers and sisters, there is no better time to storm the heavens with prayers and petitions than now,” Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos said during a national prayer pilgrimage Nov. 13-14.

Thousands of people have recently lost their homes and their loved ones due to Boko Haram, he said.

“Our darling innocent school girls from Chibok are still being held over six months since their abduction. Only God knows the psychological and physical trauma they are going through,” the archbishop said, referring to the more than two hundred schoolgirls who were taken by Boko Haram from their school in the northeastern Nigerian town in April.

The radical Islamist group Boko Haram began its deadly insurgency in 2009, killing over 4,000 people in 2014 alone, according to Human Rights Watch.

“There are still ongoing terrorist activities that are not only causing the loss of lives and so much havoc but are enjoying territorial expansion,” the archbishop continued. “Bombings and slaughter of innocent Nigerians, especially in the northeast, have become regular.”

He said active security solutions have not been found. He questioned whether leading Nigerians were serious about bringing “sanity and order” to the country, rather than “using the unfortunate situation as a political weapon.”

Boko Haram has been threatening to cross into Cameroon, which shares a 300-mile border with Nigeria. The Nigerian government’s inability to contain the group has drawn heavy criticism.

The emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi, an influential Muslim leader, has called on Nigerians to arm themselves for protection against Boko Haram.

“These terrorists slaughter our boys and abduct our girls to force them into slavery,” he said, according to BBC News.

Boko Haram took the town of Chibok on Nov. 13, and the Nigerian army retook the town three days later.

Archbishop Kaigama said parishes in the Maiduguri diocese have been closed, with the people “scattered and killed.” Thousands have been displaced from their homes in the Diocese of Yola.

“They have sought refuge and turned to the Church for consolation and support.”

Father Gideon Obasogie, communications director of the Diocese of Maiduguri, said that Boko Haram’s expansion in Nigeria has resulted in the forcible conversion of many Catholics, while thousands more fled their homes.

“A good number of our youth are forcefully conscripted, while the aged, women and children are converted to Islam. A lot of Nigerians are trapped and are forced to practice strict sharia law,” the priest said in a Nov. 19 report made available to Aid to the Church in Need.

Fr. Obasogie said this is the case in at least six communities along the federal road that links Maiduguri and Yola, in the state of Adamawa.

“All of these captured towns by our estimation are no longer part of the Nigerian entity because no one can go in, but those who would luckily escape have got stories to tell,” Fr. Obasogie said.

“The terrorists have declared all the captured towns as Islamic Caliphate. The people trapped are forced to accept and practice the strict doctrines the militants are out to propagate.”

Boko Haram overran the predominantly Christian community of Mubi Oct. 29, forcing over 50,000 people to flee. The Nigerian army said it recaptured Mubi last week, but the damage has been done.

According to Fr. Obasogie, over 2,500 Catholics have been killed in the diocese, and another 100,000 Catholics forced to flee. The diocese is now working to care for all internally displaced people regardless of their religious beliefs.

He said 50 churches and parish rectories have been razed. Dozens of churches and schools have been deserted, as have two convents.

Despite all the horrors of war, Archbishop Kaigama thanked God for his mercy and faithfulness.

“We may not have received everything we prayed for, but by his grace most of us are still alive and we have remained one people and one nation. Today, gauging the general despair and disillusionment in the land, we converge here again to cry on to the Lord for enduring peace and for God to stir strongly in the hearts of Nigerians the spirit to transcend narrow ethnic, religious, and political boundaries so as to always pursue the common good.”

He also reminded Nigerians to do good and avoid “religious externalism devoid of godliness,” as when people wish harm to their neighbor or “engage in bitter, hostile, antagonistic political, religious or ethnic struggles that lead to loss of lives and the destruction of property.”

US Cardinal To Undocumented: You Can ‘Come Out Of The Shadows’

By Elise Harris

The vice president of the U.S. bishops’ conference has said that charitable immigration reform must address the needs of both legal and illegal immigrants, encouraging the latter to come forward and receive help.

“Immigration (reform) should be more comprehensive, that is, we cover all immigrants, even the undocumented. We give people a chance to get their green card, a chance to come out of the shadows, so that when they work the money they get for themselves helps the culture too,” Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo told CNA on Nov. 19.

“From my point of view, it’s important that immigrants come out of the shadows, particularly the undocumented ones. In my mind it’s one of the most important things we could do.”

Present in Rome for a Nov. 17-21 congress on the Pastoral Care for Migrants, Cardinal DiNardo, who is Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas, offered his comments just one day before U.S. President Barack Obama revealed a major immigration reform package, issued by executive order.

In what is seen as a highly-contentious move, the president announced that he would stay the deportation of certain undocumented immigrant parents for up to three years, allowing them to work legally. Eligibility requirements include having lived in the U.S. for at least five years, having children who are U.S. citizens or legal residents, passing a criminal background check and agreeing to pay taxes.

Roughly 4 million people will likely qualify for this measure, while thousands of others will benefit from other changes. The president extended benefits of temporary residence to more children of undocumented immigrants, expanding the eligibility for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and extending their temporary stay from two to three years.

In addition, the president said he would increase border security resources and deport those who had illegally crossed the border recently. He said he would focus government enforcement resources on criminals and those who threaten security.

The executive order will mark the biggest change in immigration policy in three decades.

In his televised address, President Obama echoed Cardinal DiNardo’s sentiments in telling immigrants to “Come out of the shadows and get right with the law.”

The president insisted that his proposals did not amount to amnesty or straight-shot path to citizenship, although it will offer Social Security cards to those who qualify for the deferred deportation.

“What I’m describing is accountability – a common-sense, middle ground approach,” the president said.

“Mass amnesty would be unfair,” he stated. “Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character.”

Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, issued a Nov. 20 statement welcoming the announcement of deferred deportations, saying that the United States has “a long history of welcoming and aiding the poor, the outcast, the immigrant and the disadvantaged.”

Each day in the Church’s social service projects, hospitals, schools and parishes, the devastating consequences of the separation of families due to the deportation of parents or spouses can be seen, he said.

The bishop noted that the episcopal conference had asked the Obama administration to “do everything within its legitimate authority to bring relief and justice to our immigrant brothers and sisters,” adding that as pastors, “we welcome any efforts within these limits that protect individuals and protect and reunite families and vulnerable children.”

He urged President Obama and members of Congress to work together in pursuing permanent reforms to the U.S. immigration system that seek the best interests of both the nation and the persons who migrate to the country in search of refuge.

“We will continue to work with both parties to enact legislation that welcomes and protects immigrants and promotes a just and fair immigration policy,” the bishop said.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, issued a Nov. 20 statement, saying, “There is an urgent pastoral need for a more humane view of immigrants and a legal process that respects each person’s dignity, protects human rights, and upholds the rule of law.”

“As our Holy Father, Pope Francis, said so eloquently: ‘Every human being is a child of God! He or she bears the image of Christ! We ourselves need to see, and then to enable others to see, that migrants and refugees do not only represent a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected, and loved,’” the archbishop said.

On the topic of improving the pastoral care of immigrants, Cardinal DiNardo explained that the Church already offers a lot of help. However, he said that a legal reform would help “lighten-up” the Church’s burden and allow greater focus on pastoral assistance.

“The Church always emphasizes the human person, so when we talk about the human person, we don’t ask if you’re an immigrant or whether you were born in the country,” the cardinal observed.

“You are a human person that has aptitudes, has a singularity, has an excellence and a dignity that we want to draw on,” he said, stressing that this vision is important to keep in mind when welcoming immigrants and helping them integrate into society.

Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Why Does Turkey’s President Think Muslims Discovered America?

By Coilin O’Connor

(RFE/RL) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is no stranger to controversy but even many seasoned Turkey watchers were taken aback when he boldly claimed that “Muslims discovered America in 1178, not Christopher Columbus.”

Speaking at an Istanbul summit with Latin American Muslim leaders on November 15, the conservative president attempted to bolster his claim by saying that when the Italian-born explorer Columbus arrived 300 years later he “mentioned the existence of a mosque on a hill on the Cuban coast.” Erdogan then added that his government would be happy to build a new mosque at the site in Cuba.

Critics were quick to point out that Erdogan’s remarks about the discovery of America were based on a 1996 article by Youssef Mroueh, a historian with somewhat dubious academic credentials who “The Washington Post” notes is “not listed as a historian at any institution of higher learning.”

Mroueh’s claims — described by one investigative researcher as a “particularly fanciful” piece of “slipshod scholarship and fabricated quotations” — relies heavily on a diary entry by Columbus mentioning a mosque in Cuba as proof that “the religion of Islam was widespread” in the New World.

Although most scholars believe Columbus was simply making a poetic allusion to the shape of the Cuban landscape, a small number of Islamist researchers like Mroueh have taken his words literally even though there is no archaeological evidence of Islamic structures or settlements in the Americas pre-dating the Genoan mariner’s arrival.

While many Western observers have quickly dismissed Erdogan’s comments as just another quirky outburst in a long list of whacky sound bites, some see the Turkish president’s remarks as a further indication of his long-standing desire to reshape modern Turkey into a society based on traditionalist Islamic values.

Halil Karaveli, editor of “The Turkey Analyst,” maintains that Erdogan’s claims “reflect a certain rationality” in the conservative leader and pious Muslim who ruled the country as prime minister from 2003 before moving to his new post in August this year.

“Even though they may seem bizarre, almost insane, they are actually grounded in an ideological reality,” he says. “And that reality is that Erdogan is very purposefully remaking Turkey in his own image into a more religiously dominated country, more Sunni Islamic, and he’s more and more putting the emphasis on Islam. And, so in this endeavor to change Turkey — to create what they call ‘new Turkey’ — using the ideological instrument of Islam makes perfect sense.”

For good measure, the Turkish president also used his speech to take a swipe at the Christian colonization of the New World in the centuries after Columbus’s voyage there in 1492. “Converting people by force, by the sword, has never been a part of Islam. Our religion has never been a tool of exploitation,” Erdogan said, adding that European Christians “colonialized America for its gold and Africa for its diamonds, [and] now do it in the Middle East for its oil with the same dirty plot.”

While pro-government media in Turkey have backed the president to the hilt, saying Western sources on the discovery of America are wrong, many Erdogan critics at home were quick to pour scorn on the president’s claims. In a sarcastic piece for the “Hurriyet” daily, one columnist even suggested that the Turkish leader would soon go on to “correct other assumptions misunderstood by the world,” such as the fact that a Muslim, and not Isaac Newton, had discovered gravity.

Despite the criticism, Erdogan has stuck to his guns. On November 18, he insisted that “very respected scientists in Turkey and in the world” supported his claim.

He has since upped the ante and said that the supposed Muslim discovery of the Americas should be included in school curricula. “A big responsibility falls on the shoulders of the national education ministry and YOK [higher education board] on this issue,” he said in televised comments. “If the history of science is written objectively, it will be seen that Islamic geography’s contribution to science is much more than what’s known.”

According to Turkey-watcher Karaveli, Erdogan’s defiant stance is consistent with the Islamist roots of his socially conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) and reflect the president’s view of himself as a paternalistic leader and his desire to change society.

“Basically, he is creating a new ideological, historical narrative, which is changing the history of Turkey retroactively itself and at the same time — together with the new narrative of Turkish history — he is also fitting this into the broader historical ideological narrative of Islam. So in that sense it is a reflection of the very ideological nature of the Erdogan regime.”

The danger in pushing a conservative, Islamic agenda, Karaveli warns, is that it could deepen divisions in a country that also has strong secular traditions dating back to the days of Kemal Ataturk.

Far from seeing it as an attempt to push an Islamist agenda, however, some of Erdogan’s political opponents believe there are far more mundane reasons for the president’s comments.

Devlet Bahceli, leader of the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), said on November 18 that the controversy was a political maneuver devised by Erdogan to “cover up his faults,” and to distract the public from damaging corruption allegations that have been dogging his presidency in recent months.

John Kevin Wood, and his wife Melissa

Marine Dad Banned From School Property; Daughter Gets Failing Grade For Refusing ‘Islamic Indoctrination’

The Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) announced Thursday its representation of John Kevin Wood, and his wife Melissa, in their battle with La Plata High School in Maryland over the Islamic indoctrination of their 11th grade daughter in her World History class. Their daughter was required to complete assignments where she had to affirm that “There is no god but Allah” and the other Five Pillars of Islam.

The case gained national attention when the school banned John Wood from entering school property after he objected to the religion of Islam being taught in his daughter’s history class and demanded that she be given an alternative assignment. The school refused. Wood, a former Marine who served in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm and lost friends in that action, “saw firsthand the destruction caused in the name of Allah and that Islam is not “a religion of peace;” and he would not budge from his position,” according to a press release.

The Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) is a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. TMLC Senior Trial Counsel, Erin Mersino, and Maryland attorney, Michael F. Smith of The Smith Appellate Law Firm, represent the Wood family. Yesterday they filed a request for records relating to the case under Maryland’s Public Information Act.

On October 22, 2014, John Wood discovered that his daughter was being forced to repeat religious tenets of Islam as a part of her World History class assignment. She was required to write how the prophet Muhammad was visited by the Angel Gabriel and preached that there is only one true god, who is Allah. The assignment made her write that Mohammad is the messenger of Allah and that the Qur’an is holy text. The assignment required her to affirm that “Allah is the same god that is worshipped in Christianity and Judaism” and that the “Qur’an is the word of Allah revealed to Mohammad in the same way that Jews and Christians believe the Torah and the Gospels were revealed to Moses and the New Testament writers.” The assignment also forced young women such as the Woods’ daughter, to fill in the following sentences: “Men are the managers of the affairs of women” and “Righteous women are therefore obedient.”

According to the press release, when John Wood discovered the Islamic propaganda and indoctrination, he was rightfully outraged, and that evening unsuccessfully tried to contact the school by phone to voice his objections. Wood witnessed firsthand the destruction caused in the name of Allah and knows Islam is not “a religion of peace.” He served in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, and lost friends in that action. On 9-11, Wood responded as a firefighter to the smoldering Pentagon. He refused to allow La Plata High School to subject his daughter to Islamic indoctrination despite the threatened academic consequences.

The next day, October 23rd, Wood had a phone conversation with a La Plata vice principal where he again reiterated his objections to his daughter being indoctrinated into the religion of Islam. The vice principal indicated that his daughter, a high school junior with college hopes, would receive zeros on her assignments on Islam if she did not complete them. He asked how the religion of Islam could be taught when schools are prohibited from teaching the religion of Christianity.

The following day, October 24th, John Wood again spoke with the vice principal. She again refused to allow an alternative assignment.

Commenting on the case, Richard Thompson, TMLC’s President and Chief Counsel stated: “Adding insult to injury, in an arrogant and unnecessary display of power, La Plata’s principal issued a written “No Trespass” notice, which denied this former Marine who stood in harm’s way defending our country including the principal and her staff, any access to school grounds. The school’s actions not only dishonored John Wood’s service, but the service of all men and women in our Armed Forces who defended our nation from Islamic violence. True to his Marine training, John Wood stood his ground. He did not retreat. Yes, his daughter has received a failing grade in her World History Class. But the story is not yet over.”

Pakistan

Pakistan: Why Are Christians Being Persecuted? – Analysis

By Roomana Hukil

On 4 November 2014, a young Christian couple was publically set on fire in Punjab, Pakistan. It was alleged by a mob of 1200 persons that the couple had desecrated verses from the Quran. According to source, the mob had apparently offered a waiving of severe retribution if the couple converted to Islam, but when the couple refused, locked them in a brick kiln, and set on fire.

Harassment and instances of violence against Pakistan’s minority Christian community has increased suddenly in the past few years. Last year, anti-Christian riots erupted in Gojra and Lahore, causing 170 families to flee their homes.

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, in 2013, 501 people were victimised on blasphemy charges that entailed incidents categorised under “attacks on places of worship, stating derogatory remarks, disgracing in any form, unclear happenings and other cases.” While most outbreaks are instigated out of socio-economic reasons, they are constantly also backed by religious dogmas and false accusations of blasphemy. In the recent years, this trend has become increasingly pronounced. Assassinations of high-profile political leaders, attacks on the impoverished populations, and expulsions of minority students for misspelling/ misquoting the Quran point towards the intensification of radicalism and resultant attitudes among hard-line Islamists in Pakistan.

Why are Christians being targeted in Pakistan? Why is the Pakistani State reluctant to re-evaluate or repeal the biased blasphemy laws?

Vulnerability

Christians are the second-largest religious minority in Pakistan after the Hindus, representing 1.8 per cent of the country’s total population. A large number of Christians reside in south Karachi, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. While a section resides in the poorest sectors of Pakistan involved menial jobs, there is a significant section that is flourishing in the corporate sector, in Karachi. In Pakistan, any sense of economic progression or identity-assertion by a minority group results in a sense of paranoia among the radicals in the majority groups. Consequently, both sides, irrespective of their economic contribution to the country are vulnerable to the wrath of Islamist extremism in Pakistan.

Additionally, there has been a gradual change shift in the Christian community vis-à-vis their socio-economic and political demands. Since 1992, the Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC) has been demanding a separate Christian province in Punjab. Furthermore, Christians have been extremely vocal in expressing equal rights, demanding state benefits, exhibiting intolerance towards the blasphemy laws and refuting the majoritarian attitude towards the minority groups. Asserting for greater autonomy and representation in society is largely dismissed in Pakistan. Minority communities that remain submissive and camouflage within the rest of the society are accepted by the radicals. Those who resist are assaulted.

For instance, the Pakistani Federal Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated on the grounds of supporting the cause of Pakistani Christians, condemning the 2009 Gojra riots and demanding for justice.

Role of Blasphemy Laws

Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code was introduced during the 1980s. It reinstated the position of religious zealots to act according to their whims and fancies. Pakistan has some of the strictest anti-blasphemy laws in the world, and they prescribe punitive punishment to those who ‘deliberately intend to wound the religious sentiments of others in their sight, hearing, and presence through imprisonment, fine or both’.

The law has been been heavily criticised for extending protection towards the embodiments of the Islamic faith alone while excluding that of other religious faiths. While the law is applicable to all, in a multi-faith society such as Pakistan, it is seen as highly discriminatory, as even the slightest rumours about instances of defaming the Prophet and/or the Quran continues to spark hysteria amongst the radicalised Muslims.

Stagnant Status Quo

The state has condemned violent attacks against the Christian community, but its tight-lipped stance on the issue of amendment or repealing of the biased laws questions the government’s credibility and intents on the issue. Given the identity of the country as an Islamic Republic, the government feels that any move towards altering the blasphemy laws will infuriate religious extremists who might reciprocate in unfavourable ways. In 2011, the former Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was assassinated for criticising the blasphemy law while advocating for justice for Asia Bibi – a Christian woman who was sentenced to death over allegations of defaming the Prophet. The then government that had initially announced its intention to amend the law fell silent on the subject after Taseer’s assassination.

Repealing the law doesn’t alone or automatically mean the end of the woes of the Christian community. While it may bring about a change in the relationship politics between the majority and minority groups, this will be short-lived. Instead of promising to alter or remove the blasphemy law, one solution would be to create a national consensus on the need to reform the law by highlighting the death tolls and cases of abuse this law has invoked on minority groups.

However, the current trajectory of affairs indicates that the government will remain cautious on the issue as radical elements continue to grow in Pakistan. In the process, it will continue to disregard international humanitarian laws and continue to commit human rights violations by backing the interests of one section of the society whilst excluding the aspirations of the other.

Roomana Hukil
Research Officer, (IReS), ACSA, IPCS
Roomana@ipcs.org

Pope Francis. Photo Casa Rosada, Argentine Government.

Pope Francis Blasts Abortion, Euthanasia As ‘Sins Against God’

By Elise Harris

Pope Francis has told a group of Catholic doctors that “playing with life” in ways like abortion and euthanasia is sinful, and he stressed that each human life, no matter the condition, is sacred.

“We’re are living in a time of experimentation with life. But a bad experiment… (we’re) playing with life,” the Pope told an audience of 4,000 Catholic doctors gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall on Nov. 15.

“Be careful, because this is a sin against the Creator: against God the Creator.”

Pope Francis offered his words in an address given to members of the Italian Catholic Doctors Association in celebration of their 70th anniversary.

He recalled that many times in his years as a priest he heard people object to the Church’s position on life issues, specifically asking why the Church is against abortion.

After explaining to the inquirer that the Church is not against abortion because it is simply a religious or philosophical issue, he said it’s also because abortion “is a scientific problem, because there is a human life and it’s not lawful to take a human life to solve a problem.”

Regardless of the many objections he has heard saying that modern thought has evolved on the issue, the Pope stressed that “in ancient thought and in modern thought, the word ‘kill’ means the same!”

“(And) the same goes for euthanasia,” he explained, observing that as a result of “this culture of waste, a hidden euthanasia is practiced on the elderly.”

This, he said, is like telling God: “’at the end of life I do it, like I want.’ It’s a sin against God. Think well about this.”

The belief that abortion is helpful for women, that euthanasia is “an act of dignity,” or that it’s “a scientific breakthrough to ‘produce’ a child (who is) considered a right instead of accepted as a gift” are all part of conventional wisdom that offers a false sense of compassion, he said.

And this includes “(the) use of human life as laboratory mice supposedly to save others,” the Pope continued, saying that on the contrary, the Gospel provides a true image of compassion in the figure of the Good Samaritan, who sees a man suffering, has mercy on him, goes close and offers concrete help.

With today’s rapid scientific and technological advancements the possibility of physical healing has drastically increased, the Pope observed. However, the ability to truly care for the person has almost gone in the opposite direction.

Some aspects of medical science “seem to diminish the ability to ‘take care’ of the person, especially when they are suffering, fragile and defenseless,” he said, explaining that advancements in science and medicine can only enhance human life if they maintain their ethical roots.

“Attention to human life, particularly to those in the greatest difficulty, that is, the sick, the elderly, children, deeply affects the mission of the Church,” the Bishop of Rome continued, saying that often times modern society tends to attach one’s quality of life to economic possibilities.

Frequently the quality of a person’s life is measured by their physical beauty and well-being, he observed, noting how the more important interpersonal, spiritual and religious dimensions of human life are often forgotten.

“In reality, in the light of faith and of right reason, human life is always sacred and always ‘of quality’,” he said.

“No human life exists that is more sacred that the other, just like there is no human life qualitatively more significant than another solely in virtue of resources, rights, economic opportunities and higher social status.”

Pope Francis told the group that as Catholic doctors, it is their mission to affirm the sacredness and inviolability of human life, which “must be loved, defended and cared for,” through word and example, each in their own personal style.

He encouraged them to collaborate with others, including those with different religions, in seeking to promote the dignity of the human being as a basic criterion of their work, and to follow the Gospel’s instruction to love at all times, especially when there is a special need.

“Your mission as doctors puts you in daily contact with so many forms of suffering,” he said, and he encouraged them to imitate the Good Samaritan in caring for the elderly, the sick and the disabled.

By remaining faithful to the Gospel of Life and respecting life as a gift, difficult decisions will come up that at times require courageous choices that go against the popular current, the pontiff noted, saying that this faithfulness can also lead “to conscientious objection.”

“This is what the members of your association have done in the course of 70 years of meritorious work,” the Pope observed, urging the doctors to continue implementing the teachings of the Magisterium into their work with trust and humility.

Rajan Zed

Hindus Ask Apology From TV’s Conan For Mocking Goddess Kali

Hindus are disturbed over “inappropriate” portrayal of Hindu goddess Kali in a sexual joke on TBS late night Emmy winning television talk show “Conan” and want apologies from all those responsible for it, including host Conan O’Brien, TBS, Turner Broadcasting System and its parent company Time Warner Inc.

Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada today, said that goddess Kali was highly revered in Hinduism and was meant to worshipped in temples or home shrines and not to be thrown around loosely in reimagined versions for dramatic effects in TV shows for mercantile greed. Such absurd depiction of goddess Kali with no scriptural backing was hurtful to the devotees.

The script of Conan Weeknights episode of October 28 titled “Nazi U Boat Discovered Off The North Carolina Coast”, goes something like: “Are you sick of hooking up with people from your own century? Time Bone gives you access to every hottie who ever lived.” Then it shows images of some well known historical women and goddess Kali, indicating that one can have sex with them using Time Bone machine.

Such trivialization of goddess Kali was disturbing and offensive to the one billion Hindus world over, Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, said and urged TBS to immediately remove it from all its websites and other links.

Rajan Zed also asked Emmy winner O’Brien, Conan executive producer Jeff Ross, TBS president Kevin Reilly, Turner Broadcasting System CEO John Martin and Time Warner Inc. chairman Jeff Bewkes to tender a public apology for it and urged them not to inappropriately drag Hindu deities to advance the commercial or other agenda in the future.

Zed stated that Hindus were for free speech as much as anybody else if not more. But faith was something sacred and attempts at belittling it hurt the devotees. Television should be more sensitive while handling faith related subjects, Zed added.

Hindus welcomed Hollywood and other entertainment industries to immerse in Hinduism but taking it seriously and respectfully and not just for indecorous showing of Hindu symbols and concepts to advance their selfish agenda. Casual flirting sometimes resulted in pillaging serious spiritual doctrines and revered symbols and hurting the devotees, Rajan Zed pointed out.

Zed noted that Hinduism was the oldest and third largest religion of the world with about one billion adherents and a rich philosophical thought and it should not be taken lightly. No faith, larger or smaller, should be ridiculed at; Zed said and added if Hollywood or other entertainment executives needed any assistance about Hinduism, he or other Hindu scholars would be glad to help.

Goddess Kali, who personifies Shakti or divine energy and considered the goddess of time and change, is widely worshipped in Hinduism. Moksh (liberation) is the ultimate goal of Hinduism. There are about three million Hindus in USA.

Conan reportedly averages 862,000 viewers with a social media following of over 18 million fans. TBS, said to be available to 101 million households, is part of Turner Broadcasting System, a Time Warner Inc. company headquartered in New York, which claims to be “a global leader in media and entertainment”.

Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkey’s Erdogan Says Muslims ‘Discovered America’ Before Columbus

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan says the Muslim faith was “widespread” in America before the arrival of Columbus in the 15th century, and insists that a massive mosque should be erected in Havana, despite the city’s refusal to grant a building permit.

“The religion of Islam was widespread before Columbus,” the longtime Turkish leader told the audience at the first ever Latin American Muslim leaders summit in Istanbul, as cited by Hurriyet Daily News.

“Muslim sailors had arrived in the shores of America in 1178. In his diaries, Christopher Columbus referred to the presence of a mosque on top of a mountain in Cuba.”

The claim comes from a 1996 paper from Youssef Mroueh of the As-Sunnah Foundation of America.

“Columbus admitted in his papers that on Monday, October 21, 1492 CE while his ship was sailing near Gibara on the north-east coast of Cuba, he saw a mosque on top of a beautiful mountain,” it alleges.

The veracity of this statement has been comprehensively disproved in the past.

The actual quote comes from a log of Columbus’ first journey in 1492, as recorded decades later by colonization historian Bartholome de Casas, but it was made on October 29 – likely near a different part of Cuba than claimed by Mroueh. Most importantly, it explicitly does not imply that Christopher Columbus saw an actual mosque – only a hill that looked like a minaret.

“Remarking on the position of the river and port, to which he gave the name of San Salvador, he describes its mountains as lofty and beautiful, like the Pena de las Enamoradas, and one of them has another little hill on its summit, like a graceful mosque,” reads the entry from the de Casas chronicle.

Even if this claim is easily debunked, it is part of a growing volume of Muslim scholarship that seeks to prove that Islam pre-dated Christianity in the New World, using circumstantial evidence. This idea itself has gained traction in swathes of the Islamic world.

Among the usual pieces of proof that form the backbone of the argument is a 1980 paper by Harvard academic Barry Fell, who claimed that some of the ancient engravings in the Americas resembled Muslim fonts.

There are also references to various trans-Atlantic journeys by Muslims made as far back as the 11th century, of explorers bringing back hoards of gold, using the relatively sophisticated navigational equipment possessed by the Islamic world at the time.

Alternative theories additionally propose that common Indian proper names were bastardizations of Islamic terms. For example, they claim that ‘Seminole’ is actually the Turkish ‘Sami nal’ or ‘Semites who ran away,’ while ‘Shawnee,’ another tribe name, is derivative of ‘sah ne’ which means the ‘Great Shah.’

No actual archaeological links – be it buildings or artifacts – suggesting contact between the Muslim world and that of pre-Colombian Indians have been unearthed.

But Erdogan believes the “re-popularization” of Islamic culture can begin anew, starting with a new mosque back in Cuba.

“Now I will speak to my Cuban brother [the country’s delegate at the forum]. A mosque will suit well on top of that mountain today, too. Their permission is enough,” said Erdogan.

The newly-elected Turkish president has contrasted the impact of Islam and Christianity on newly-converted territories.

“Converting people by force, by the sword, has never been a part of Islam. Our religion has never been a tool of exploitation,” said 60-year-old Erdogan, who was prime minister from 2003, until moving into his new post in August. In contrast, Erdogan said that European Christians “colonialized America for its gold and Africa for its diamonds, now do it in the Middle East for its oil with the same dirty plot.”

Islamic leaders used ‘futuhad’ – religiously-motivated military campaigns – to rapidly spread the religion through the Middle East and North Africa within a century of the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 AD. Muslim rulers also forcibly converted millions of locals in Spain and Eastern Europe, in the centuries after. Currently, ISIS, Boko Haram, and other militias around the world, say they are following the teachings of the Koran, by establishing new Muslim territories with jihad.

Problematically, a plan by a Turkish company to construct a 3,500-place mosque for Cuba’s estimated Muslim converts – who number up to 9,000 according to five-year-old Pew Research data – has stalled, in what is officially an atheist state.

The project, modeled on the Ortaköy Mosque in Istanbul, was touted in April, following an official visit by Turkish officials – with a sign in Arabic appearing on the proposed site in Havana.

But in October, Lazo Torres, head of the local Muslim community, said that no permit has been given for the building, prompting reports that the project was rejected by the authorities, which have themselves not commented. Recently, Torres has clarified his statements, saying that the future of the project – which he says will serve the entire community, not just Muslims – remains undecided.

Pro-Life? Then Keep Immigrant Families Together, Bishops Implore

By Matt Hadro

In the wake of the mid-term elections last week, the U.S. Bishops urged Congress and President Obama to work together on timely immigration reform that respects families and human dignity.

“We urge both parties to work together to finally reform this broken and immoral system,” said Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, addressing his brother bishops at their annual fall meeting in Baltimore on Nov 11.

He spoke about the need to address the “human tragedies” caused by the current immigration system. The bishops are not trying to “pick political sides,” he explained, but they have long worked in support of “humane immigration reform.”

The emergence of a Republican Senate after last week’s elections has raised serious doubts about any passage of comprehensive immigration reform in the next Congressional term, with many Republicans saying they want the border secured first before other actions are taken, such as a potential path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S.

President Obama, for his part, is “looking forward to taking executive action on his own” on immigration, according to White House press secretary Josh Earnest. Republicans in Congress have warned against him doing so, saying it would damage his relationship with incoming GOP lawmakers.

Bishop Elizondo, who heads the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Migration, acknowledged his approval of potential executive action “to protect certain individuals from deportation, especially to stop the separation of immigrant families.” However, he emphasized that ultimately the “broken and immoral” immigration system can only be reformed by the joint action of Congress and the President.

“Only Congress working with the executive branch can achieve that,” he insisted, and pledged the support of the bishops “to help facilitate that process in the months ahead.”

“I think it is an urgent matter for the country so I hope that they take it soon, the sooner the better,” Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles told CNA.

Archbishop Gomez made it clear that any pro-life platform must include respect for the dignity of the immigrant.

Asked whether immigration is connected to the pro-life position, he explained, “Obviously the Church is very concerned about the culture of life. But life from conception until natural death. So all those issues are part of the dignity of the human person. So I think that’s obviously a connection, in the sense that we care about every single person.”

Overall, the two bishops made clear that their main objectives are keeping families united and protecting the dignity of all immigrants.

“I think the basic principles we would like to see are a path to citizenship, unity of families, and also ending deportation,” stated Archbishop Gomez. He also noted the need to better understand “the movements of people in a global world.”

“Families are torn apart by enforcement actions,” Bishop Elizondo said. He stressed the goals of working to “promote family unity” and “provide immigrants and their families legal protection.”

Washington National Cathedral. Photo by Noclip, WIkipedia Commons.

Washington National Cathedral To Hold Friday Muslim Prayers

By Jerome Socolovsky

Prayer carpets have been laid out under the soaring arches of the Washington National Cathedral for an unprecedented Muslim worship service in one of America’s best-known churches.

Church leaders and their Muslim partners say they hope the Friday Jumaa prayers will send a message of interfaith brotherhood that counters extremists’ use of religion to justify hatred and strife.

The idea came to the cathedral’s director of religious liturgy, Rev. Gina Campbell, and South African Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool, who is a Muslim, when they organized an interfaith memorial service for Nelson Mandela last year.

The carpets have been arrayed diagonally in the transept, to the side of the sanctuary, so that worshipers can face in the direction of Mecca without seeing crosses or Christian icons. Muslims are not supposed to pray in view of sacred symbols alien to their faith.

Ambassador Rasool said the service is meant to be both a symbol for America’s three million Muslims to feel welcomed in its predominantly Christian society, as well as for Muslims in countries where they are the majority, to show hospitality to people of minority faiths.

Despite its name, the Washington National Cathedral is not an official U.S. government church, which is prohibited by the Constitution. However, the Episcopal church, which is funded by private donations, does possess important symbolic value and regularly hosts official events, such as presidential inaugurations and funerals.