Entries in Religion (9)


State Department's Religious Freedom Report Indicates Back Sliding

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Declaring that religious freedom is an essential component of democracy, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared on Monday that the world seems to be regressing in allowing people to worship as they choose.

Unveiling the 2011 State Department International Religious Freedom Report, Clinton said, "Members of faith communities that have long been under pressure report that pressure is rising.  When it comes to this human right...the world is sliding backwards."

Among the worst offenders is China, cited by the State Department for slapping more restrictions on Tibetan Buddhist monks, Muslims and other religious groups not affiliated with Beijing's official state-sanctioned "patriotic religious associations."

The report also called out North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Burma, also known as Myanmar, which has just begun to reestablish relations with the U.S. after more than half-a-century.

In countries that have undergone democratic revolutions over the past year, Clinton pointed out that religious freedom remains tenuous in Egypt as sectarian violence has increased against Coptic Christians although the secretary said she received assurances from Egypt's new Muslim president that his administration would be inclusive of all faiths.

There has been some progress as well in Libya as its new leaders said they would no longer abide by laws enforced by the late Col. Moammar Gadhafi, who restricted religious freedom, choosing instead to allow freedom of religion.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Egypt’s Most Popular Comedian Guilty of Insulting Islam

AFP/Getty Images(CAIRO) -- The verdict of a popular Egyptian comedian convicted of offending Islam has been upheld by a Cairo court, raising fears among Egyptian liberals and secularists about the Islamic tide rising since the downfall of former President Hosni Mubarak last year.

Adel Imam, one of the Arab world’s most famous actors, was first convicted in February of “contempt of religion” – illegal under Egypt’s penal code – and appealed. The case was brought against him by an ultra-conservative Islamist lawyer named Asran Mansour for three films Imam made in the early- to mid-1990s. The titles are The Terrorist, Morgan Ahmed Morgan and Terrorism and Kebab.

Imam, 71, played a fundamentalist terrorist in the first and a corrupt businessman in the third. Mansour accused Imam of blasphemous mocking of Muslim symbols like beards and the jilbab, a loose-fitting robe worn by some Muslims.

The sentence was three months in jail and 1000 Egyptian pounds, around $170. Imam’s lawyers have said they will appeal the verdict that was “given on the wrong legal basis.”

Condemnations poured in from Egypt’s art world and beyond. The Egyptian Creativity Front said the ruling would limit the freedom of expression and lead to restriction on art. Author of The Yacoubian Building Alaa al-Aswany said on Twitter that he disagrees with Imam politically, but the ruling sends Egypt “back to the darkness of the Middle Ages.”

“This is an unimaginable crime of principle in developed nations,” Aswany wrote.

“[Imam's case] will make any writer, director or actor think before considering the role of a Muslim figure,” Egyptian entertainment reporter Tarek el-Shinnawi told Al Ahram newspaper.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Church of England Looks to Twitter for Leader

KIMIHIRO HOSHINO/AFP/Getty Images(LONDON) -- The Church of England has been around since the 1530s, but leaders are turning to a modern means of communication to choose its new leader.

The UK Telegraph reports the church is using the social networking site Twitter to reach out to people all over the world to get feedback on who would be best to lead the church into the future. The Crown Nominations Commission will take names until May and eventually winnow down a list of possible successors to Dr. Rowan Williams as the Archbishop of Canterbury.  

Williams announced earlier this month that he'll step down in December.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pope Benedict Has Custom Designed Cologne

TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images(ROME) -- Italian celebrity perfume-maker Silvana Casoli has created her most heavenly scent yet for a very special client, Pope Benedict XVI.

Speaking to Rome's daily paper, Il Messaggero, the aroma designer known as "the Nose" said that the name of the pope's specially-commissioned scent is top secret and she is not allowed to divulge all of its ingredients. She did, however, reveal that she was inspired by the pope's love of "nature" and used a blend of fragrances from lime-wood, verbena and grass.

"I love speaking of my work," said Casoli, "but this time I can't. I am very devoted to the Holy Father." She promises his special cologne will never be reproduced for anyone else.

Casoli said she nearly fainted when she received the phone call from the Vatican and took months working on the commission in her small laboratory in northern Italy. At times she thought she would abandon it, but then she said she got inspired.

"I realized that an essence like this had to have at its core something pure and clean, recalling the idea of peace," she said. "I thought of the smells the pope would smell when praying at the Grotto of Lourdes" and about "his love for music, animals, green Bavarian forests."

Pope Benedict XVI, who is 85 and was once the archbishop of Cologne, Germany, is known for his elegance in both speech and attire. His attention to detail and color in his papal clothing has often been commented on and he has reintroduced a number of items to papal attire during his papacy, like his fur-lined, short, deep-red cape. Shortly after his election it was said that he wore Prada shoes and Gucci sunglasses, all quietly denied by the pope's entourage.

The Vatican does not comment on products used by the pope and the pope's image is carefully protected from inappropriate commercial exploitation.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pope Prays for Peace, End to Bloodshed in Christmas Message

TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images(VATICAN CITY) -- Pope Benedict XVI prayed for peace in the Middle East in his traditional Christmas message, calling for an end to the bloodshed in Syria, where thousands have reportedly been killed in an anti-government uprising. The pope also urged Israeli and Palestinian officials to come together and resume talks for peace.

“May the Prince of Peace grant peace and stability to that Land where he chose to come into the world, and encourage the resumption of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians,” the leader of the Catholic Church said in his "Urbi et Orbi" Christmas Day message. “May he bring an end to the violence in Syria, where so much blood has already been shed. May he foster full reconciliation and stability in Iraq and Afghanistan. May he grant renewed vigour to all elements of society in the countries of North Africa and the Middle East as they strive to advance the common good.”

Thousands of Roman Catholics gathered in St. Peter's Square to hear the pope’s message, which was delivered in dozens of languages. The 84-year-old religious leader also prayed for an end to hardships suffered by refugees around the world.

“May the Lord grant comfort to the peoples of South-East Asia, particularly Thailand and the Philippines, who are still enduring grave hardships as a result of the recent floods,” the pope said from his balcony above Saint Peter's Square.

The pope earlier presided over Christmas Eve Mass in Saint Peter's Basilica, where he decried the commercialization of Christmas.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Harold Camping Predicts End of the World, Again

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images(OAKLAND, Calif.) -- Harold Camping, the Christian broadcaster who predicted the end of the world would come last May, says the true end is now near. He was off by five months, he says; the real day is Oct. 21.

“What really happened this past May 21? What really happened is that God accomplished exactly what He wanted to happen,” says a post on Camping’s website, “That was to warn the whole world that on May 21 God’s salvation program would be finished on that day. For the next five months, except for the elect (the true believers), the whole world is under God’s final judgment. To accomplish this goal God withheld from the true believers the way in which two phrases were to be understood. Had He not done so, the world would never have been shaken in fear as it was.”

Camping drew national attention in May with his prediction, and was said to be “a little bewildered” when it didn’t go as he’d said. Now 90, he suffered a stroke in June and has been recovering at home in Oakland, Calif.

The Family Radio website has the full text of his latest prediction where he states, “Thus we can be sure that the whole world, with the exception of those who are presently saved (the elect), are under the judgment of God, and will be annihilated together with the whole physical world on October 21, 2011, on the last day of the present five months period,” it says. “On that day the true believers (the elect) will be raptured. We must remember that only God knows who His elect are that He saved prior to May 21.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Reaffirms Commitment to Israel in Holiday Message

The White House(WASHINGTON) -- Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins at sunset on Wednesday. President Obama is marking the occasion – what he calls “a time for repentance and reflection” – by reaffirming the United States’ commitment to the people of Israel.

“[T]his last year was also one of hardship for people around the world,” the president said in a statement on Tuesday. “Too many of our friends and neighbors continue to struggle in the wake of a terrible economic recession.  And beyond our borders, many of our closest allies – including the State of Israel – face the uncertainties of an unpredictable age.

“That is why my Administration is doing everything we can to promote prosperity here at home and security and peace throughout the world – and that includes reaffirming our commitment to the State of Israel.  While we cannot know all that the New Year will bring, we do know this: the United States will continue to stand with Israel, because the bond between our two nations is unshakable.”

The president’s full statement is below:

Hello, everybody.  Shana Tova.

The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a time for repentance and reflection.  An opportunity to reaffirm our friendships, renew our commitments, and reflect on the values we cherish.

As the High Holidays begin, we look back on all the moments during the past year that give us reason to hope.  Around the world, a new generation is reaching for their universal rights.  Here in the United States, we’ve responded to our challenges by focusing on the things that really matter – friendship, family, and community.

But this last year was also one of hardship for people around the world.  Too many of our friends and neighbors continue to struggle in the wake of a terrible economic recession.  And beyond our borders, many of our closest allies – including the State of Israel – face the uncertainties of an unpredictable age.

That is why my Administration is doing everything we can to promote prosperity here at home and security and peace throughout the world – and that includes reaffirming our commitment to the State of Israel.  While we cannot know all that the New Year will bring, we do know this: the United States will continue to stand with Israel, because the bond between our two nations is unshakable.

As Jewish tradition teaches us, we may not complete the work, but that must never keep us from trying.  In that spirit, Michelle and I wish you and your families and all who celebrate Rosh Hashanah a sweet year full of health, happiness, and peace.

Thank you.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


French Burqa Ban Takes Effect

Abid Katib/Getty Images(PARIS) -- They are an unusual sight on the fashion forward streets of Paris. Muslim women covered head to toe, even much of their faces concealed. And starting Monday,  the French government plans to make this religious garb even rarer.

“It shocks the French culture deeply,” said Jacques Myard, a conservative member of French Parliament. “Because never in our history, any person, male or female, has got a cloth on her face.’’

The French Parliament passed a new and controversial law forbidding women to cover their faces in public. Women wearing the burqa will be warned, then fined about $200. There's a $43,000 fine for any man caught forcing a woman to wear the burqa or cover her face.

The French government argues that the clothing violates the principles of equality for its citizens and poses a threat to public safety. Criminals in the past have used the burqa for cover.

What’s happening in France might be a model for countries trying to push back against the influx of Islamic culture.  Sarkozy says the clothing is “not a religious symbol. It is a sign of enslavement .”

But many Muslim women disagree, saying that the burqa is a sign of modesty and symbolizes their respect for God.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Pope Hears From Bishops About Christians Leaving The Middle East

File photo. Palestinian Christians and visiting pilgrims pray during mass in St. Catherine's Church, which adjoins the Church of the Nativity in the biblical town of Bethlehem in the West Bank. Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(RAMALLAH, West Bank) -- Christian leaders from all over the Middle East have gathered in Rome. They represent different religious sects and denominations from a variety of mainly Arab states, but they are all facing the same crisis: Their Christian flocks are fleeing the land where the faith was born.

Pope Benedict convened the special meeting of bishops, or Synod, to try and stem the tide. But the statistics of recent years tell their own depressing story.

Since 2003 in Iraq over 500,000 Christians have fled the effects of war and Islamic extremism.  In Lebanon, thousands have left the country after decades of civil war.  And in the Palestinian Territories, the Pope heard of a steady exodus of the faithful fleeing the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  In the last 40 years, in the Palestinian Territories alone, the Christian population has plummeted from almost 20 percent to less than 2 percent of the total population. And this in the land where Jesus was born, preached and died.

In Rome, the bishops heard that a combination of deteriorating security, increased religious extremism, Christians having smaller families and dire economic prospects were all forcing Christians to emigrate. They heard fears that with that departure might come a vacuum which might be filled by yet more extremism.

So far the bishops have urged greater dialogue with both Muslims and Jews, an end to the Israeli Palestinian conflict with the creation of a Palestinian state and a greater determination from Christians despite all their problems.

They are desperately hoping to stem the hemorrhage of Christianity from the Holy Land before Christians face final extinction.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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