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Announcing Guerrand-Hermes Forum of Interreligious Study of the Mystical and Spiritual Life

Mysticism-Elijah.org comes out of the Hermes Forum of the Mystical and Spiritual Life for Interreligious education as a project of the Elijah Interfaith Institute based in Jerusalem.

The Elijah Interfaith Institute presents the Guerrand-Hermès Forum of Interreligious Study of the Mystical and Spiritual Life. Mysticism-Elijah.Org connects scholars and seekers to a wide-range of courses, to peruse a multilingual bank of texts, essays, and probe discussion on the mystic dimensions of six major faith traditions.

Reflecting on the project,  CPWR Board Trustee Anantanand Rambachan, who serves on the Elijah Institute’s team of scholars, says, “The Elijah website on the mystical traditions of the world’s religions is a rich resource for individual study and class-room instruction. While offering insights into these traditions, it does so in the context of interreligious dialogue, fostering mutual inquiry and learning. I found it enriching to be a part of these conversations. ”

The website offers a tutorial video to learn the search features available, as well as a telling statement by the project’s benefactor, Guerrand-Hermès,

“I was inspired to be looking to the mystical and the spiritual because I know for myself,… I knew I was in the presence of some powers that was so strong that it made me not only to transform, but to look at life from a totally different point of view.  It wasn’t what I had that was interesting, it was what I could do, how I could help, how I could bring something different that was important.”

California Declares October “Hindu Appreciation Month”

Photo: Hindu American Foundation

The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions congratulates the Hindu American Foundation on their successful campaign to make October the Hindu-American Awareness and Appreciation Month in the state of California. In a release from HAF Press, State Senate Majority Leader, Ellen Corbett, was interviewed about her recent work to bring Resolution SCR 32 to a vote. “As the Senator representing the 10th State Senate District, I am honored to represent constituents from many diverse backgrounds, including a significant number of Hindu Americans,” said Majority Leader Corbett. “California is home to a thriving community of over 370,000 Hindu Americans that enrich our state’s diversity and professional assets in fields as diverse as academia, science, technology, business, arts and literature. I thank my colleagues for supporting SCR 32 today that recognizes Hindu American contributions in California, as well as designates October 2013 in their honor.” The resolution was passed unanimously.

This passage marks a great interfaith triumph as, according to the release,  “the resolution also received the support of 55 non-governmental organizations, interfaith leaders, civil rights activists, and community leaders from across the country, who previously wrote to all State Senators urging them to pass SCR 32.” As for this October, many are looking forward to the various events and opportunities for discussion as the month becomes a platform for Hindu dialogue.

For more information, please connect to The Hindu American Foundation.

 

Save the Date for Parliament of the World’s Religions Anniversary Benefit


Come celebrate with the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions!

We are gathering to commemorate the birth of Interfaith in Chicago, the 1893 and 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions, and to honor the passion and work of new interfaith leaders today. Join us as we honor old friendships and build new ones for a bright and peaceful future!

Questions? Please contact Molly Horan, molly@parliamentofreligions.org

Celebrated British Author Karen Armstrong Wins Inaugural Prize For Her Contribution To Global Interfaith Understanding

Karen Armstrong honored the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions in 2010 with a talk on Compassion in Palo Alto, California.

I am so honoured to receive this prize. I am also most grateful to Dr Nayef Al-Rodhan and the British Academy for drawing attention in this way to the need for transcultural understanding. One of the chief tasks of our time must surely be to build a global community where people of all ethnicities and ideologies can live together in harmony and mutual respect: if we do not achieve this, it is unlikely that we will have a viable world to hand on to the next generation. Religion should be making a contribution to this endeavour but, sadly, for obvious reasons, it is often seen as part of the problem. Yet I have been enriched and enlightened by my study of other faith traditions because I am convinced that they have much of value to teach us about our predicament in our tragically polarized world.

The Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Transcultural Understanding, which is open to nominations from around the world, is a new award from the British Academy. It is named after International Relations scholar, Dr Nayef Al-Rodhan, who is the author of numerous works, including The Role of the Arab-Islamic World in the Rise of the West: Implications for Contemporary Trans-Cultural Relations (2012). This new prize – worth £25,000 and to be awarded annually for five years – is designed to honour outstanding work illustrating the interconnected nature of cultures and civilizations. Dr Nayef Al-Rodhan has said of this prize:

“Positive transcultural understanding and synergy is not only morally appropriate but also necessary for the sustainable future of our globalized world. The multi-sum security nature of our connected and interdependent world makes such positive interactions an important pre-requisite for transcultural security, national security of all states, and the security and stability of the whole global system.”

Sir Adam Roberts, President of the British Academy, will say at the award ceremony on 4 July:

“This is the British Academy’s newest and biggest prize, and we are deeply grateful to Nayef Al-Rodhan for having initiated it. Much of the Academy’s work – in a huge range of subjects from classical antiquity to modern politics and international relations – draws attention to the elements of sharing, borrowing and even theft of ideas between different civilizations. The British Academy is delighted to inaugurate this very special prize. A distinguished jury, chaired by Dame Helen Wallace, Foreign Secretary of the Academy, selected the winner. From a large and impressive field they have made a brilliant choice.”

A former Roman Catholic nun, Karen Armstrong is well known for her work on comparative religion. She has drawn attention to the commonalities of the major religions, such as their emphasis on compassion. She rose to prominence in 1993 with her book A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Her substantial body of work (translated into 45 languages) also includes:

•           Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths (1996).

•           Islam: A Short History (2000)

•           Buddha (2000)

•           The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam (2000)

•           The Spiral Staircase: A Memoir (2004)

•           A Short History of Myth (2005)

•           The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions (2006)

•           Muhammad: A Prophet For Our Time (2006)

•           The Bible: The Biography (2007)

•           The Case for God: What Religion Really Means (2009)

She has been notably active in bringing together different faith communities to encourage mutual understanding of shared traditions. In 2005, at the inauguration of Alliance of Civilizations, a UN initiative sponsored by the Prime Ministers of Spain and Turkey, she was appointed a member of the international High-Level Group that was asked by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to diagnose the causes of extremism and to propose measures to counter it. She is a Trustee of the British Museum and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

She has received many awards and prizes. In 2008, on receiving the TED Prize, she called for the creation of a Charter for Compassion, which was unveiled the following year (www.charterforcompassion.org). The Charter was written by leading activists and thinkers representing six of the major world faiths: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. The Charter has now become a global movement, and is particularly active in Pakistan, the Netherlands, the Middle East and the United States. Armstrong and other activists are now creating a network of “Cities of Compassion”. She has said: “My hope is to ‘twin’ some of these cities, so that a city in the Middle East can twin with one in the USA to exchange news, and encourage email friendships and visits. In Pakistan, we are creating a network of Compassionate Schools to train the leaders of tomorrow, and in September 2012, the Islamic Society of North America endorsed the Charter, making its schools ‘Schools of Compassion’ and urging its mosques to become ‘Compassionate Mosques’.”

 

July 3rd, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Independence Day Celebrates Leap Of Interfaith

Special distinguished contributor to the Parliament newsletter, Martin E. Marty is a Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity in the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. A prolific author, Marty is kmown as “The Dean of Religious History” in the United States. A prolific author, Marty continues to lead conversations on pressing socio-religious issues in contemporary historical contexts. He is the writer of the popular “Sightings” column.

by Martin E. Marty

On July 4, 1776, thirteen colonies on the East Coast of what became the United States declared independence from mother England, thus giving citizens ever since a great occasion. Their act represented only a beginning of an experiment with which citizens have been tampering and venturing ever since. Those who celebrate religious diversity and pluralism especially have good reasons to join the celebration, but they are not helped by those who see both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as finished products, faultless documents written by titans who knew exactly what to do about the religion of Others. (Let me henceforth capitalize that as a kind of technical term).

Thus debates over whether America was founded as a “Christian Nation,” whether it is one today, whether it must be one tomorrow, and whether “secularists” are taking over or have taken over, color much argument in these times of intense political polarization. Such debates, though in differing forms and waged by diverse casts of characters, tend to start on the foundation of a notion held by many, that we have simply fallen from and lost the perfect solutions of the Founders. (Let me capitalize that word, too.) More fruitful are debates which reflect an observation that the Founders “solved the religious problem by not solving the religious problem.”

They could not have “solved” it, and we cannot either. But they could creatively address it, and many of them did in ways that we can celebrate on Independence Day.

Their problem, as old as human history, was how to live with and deal with the Other, the individual or group that was different from their own. The drafters of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution wrestled with the problem all through their subsequent lives. Some did try to evade it by pretending it away, chiefly by celebrating their own belief-system or religious community as being superior, if not perfect, and then excluding and opposing the Other. Most colonists who came from the British Isles or places like the Netherlands, dominated, and therefore in nine of the thirteen colonies “established” religion by law, and maintained it with coercive force.

Most of the signers of the Declaration were unfamiliar with, uneasy with, or simply “anti-“ those who were the Other. Benjamin Franklin, who has the reputation of being most tolerant, according to his biographer David Freeman Hawke “welcomed neither felons, Negroes, Catholics, nor Germans flooding into Pennsylvania.”

Why should Pennsylvania,” he asked, “founded by the English, become a colony of aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them?” Needless to say, he later moderated those views. Thomas Jefferson, the other signer equally admired by pro-tolerance, interfaith-favoring citizens, in public voiced disturbing views of Native American religion and, in private, unsettling views of the Other, including those held by orthodox Christians. Yet he left a legacy worthily celebrated each July 4 and the 364 other days of our years.

What happened to bring about change? To answer that question is to begin to publicize the need for and the value of inter-faith relations in a time when Muslims and “immigrants” and others often play the role of the Other. The first fact about the majority of the colonial Founders, being English and Protestant, was that in the colonies they had never met the Other. For one example out of many; outside Maryland and Pennsylvania they would never meet Catholics. How did change come about? They began to know those whose religions were strange to them, beginning in colonies like Pennsylvania. They had to make common causes with the Other to win the War of Independence. They began to read texts by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and others whose views of the Other later turned out to be more helpful and even world-changing. Through two centuries they fashioned movements and organizations to advance what came to be called “interfaith dialogue.” They changed because of interfaith marriages, mass media imates—let it be said—and their mobility from isolated existence to pluralist communities, etc. etc.

Every Independence Day more of the Others bump into each other and face common problems. They, we, have begun to learn that religion factors into most inter-group and many inter-personal encounters, and find new reasons to converse with and seek to understand the Other who, today, maybe one’s daughter-in-law, college room mate, fellow Democrat or Republican, and neighbor, all of whom get to address religion in a republic whose founders did not solve “the religious problem” but who came to face it often in ways that are rich in promise to us who celebrate July 4 once more.

 

 

Global Trends Improving On Religious Freedom (DATA)

Religious freedom initiatives are booming in recent global surveys.

Leveling the playing field for social cohesion, these advances propel Interfaith to a global tidal wave now crossing the borders of more than half of the world’s nations. If the following data is promising, it may reach almost three quarters of the world’s nations if trends in religious freedom continue. Unexpected improvements are stacking up fast toward more liberating political movements, and the station of women is appraising with higher worth in more areas as well. 

While the European Union cements its democratic view of religious life and liberty,

  • For even more information, the United States Department of State recently released a comprehensive, year-long 2012 report on International Religious FreedomThe online data can be customized toward research results filtered into specific nations, regions, and categories. Violations aren’t the only tracked data, and there is good news to be discovered in 15  nations improving their effort to advance religious freedom. Political, social, and anecdotal evidence is provided concerning attitudes and unprecedented legal amendments. 

Join Parliament Women’s Task Force In Standing With Malala

WOMEN’S TASK FORCE IS STANDING WITH MALALA. WILL YOU?

Via WalkFree.Org and A World At School

Every young person should have the opportunity to learn, but that’s not currently the reality for over 57 million out-of-school children around the world. We know that when children do not have the chance to get an education, conditions are ripe for modern slavery. Instead of going to school, they are forced to work in the streets, fields or mines.

Last October, people across the globe united to send thoughts of hope and love to a brave young girl fighting for her life in Pakistan.

The Pakistani Taliban tried to assassinate Malala Yousafzai because of her strong voice in the fight for women’s rights and youth education. Their gunmen boarded her school bus and shot her in front of her peers — but Malala survived and she hasn’t stopped fighting.

Over the past two weeks, the basic right to education has been under attack around the world – from the school shootings in Nigeria to Pakistan, where 14 young female students were massacred as their bus taking them home from university was blown up by extremist militants. We were once again reminded of the continued need to stand behind Malala and her cause.

On July 12 – less than a year after she was attacked – Malala will mark her 16th birthday by speaking at the UN. She’ll be delivering, to the highest leadership of the UN, a set of education demands written for youth, by youth.

Join us in uniting for Malala – and for girls’ education — once again. 

Sign the letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledging your support to her cause.

Praying for Justice at Parliament’s Interfaith Anniversary Kickoff

Associate Pastor of Congressional Life Joyce Shin of Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church delivers a prayer at the 20th Anniversary Celebration Kickoff of CPWR, May 11, 2013 at the Sikh Religious Society of Chicago

Taking time to mark twenty years of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, on May 11, the Sikh Religious Society of Chicago opened doors to the interfaith community of Chicagoland to kickoff the anniversary year’s celebrations. Speaking from a Christian community, Joyce Shin of Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church offered reverence to a God whose world is failing to live up to his image, asking for strength to be stronger and to cultivate peace. Praying for justice, Shin’s words mirror the mission the Parliament follows moving forward in Presbyterian-religious terms.

Great is your Word, O God, and great are your works.  Each day we breathe in what you breathed out.

We take in the goodness and beauty of your creation, the love you have for it, and your command to care for it.

With heads bowed down and hearts broken, we confess to you, O God, the sorrow we feel for the great mistakes your world has made.

Together we bear the consequences of a creation marred by sin.  Your truth has been twisted and your providence perverted.

Anger has been sown and violence spread.  And when violence is committed in your name, we shudder with shame.

For the way things are, we are sorry, for we know your world has fallen short of your creation.  We see the scars on both friend and stranger.

We have condoned ignorance and allowed injustice, and we have made others to suffer for our mistakes.

We do not take lightly, great God, the damage done, the lives lost, and the grief immeasurable.

When we fear that the world is beyond repair, remind us that you have created us to be in your image.  We are not sure what that means.

 Compared to you we are fallen, frail in strength, and fickle in conviction.

At most, God, we hope that, if we imitate you all the days of our lives, we will come to embody what you have in mind for us:

that our bodies will bear the grooves of daily service and that our faces will reveal lines of compassion;

that our souls will be strengthened to speak out for those whose voices are ignored and to stand up against forces that keep people down.

Then when you look upon us and the world you have created, most merciful God, we pray that you will see some semblance of your image:

a world in which just priorities are pursued; the young are educated; the elderly cared for; the vulnerable protected; the hungry filled; the homeless safe.

Do not let the needs of your creation overwhelm us, Lord.  Though the world’s needs are great, your power is greater.  Amen.

 

Solidarity Pledge One Year Later, Sharing Sacred Spaces Wraps Year Two

June 10 is the first anniversary of the signing of a powerful solidarity pledge on the Federal Plaza in Chicago by the eight Sharing Sacred Spaces: Downtown Chicago religious communities who participated in a pilot program of interreligious community building. The project was created in partnership between the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions and Suzanne Morgan of Sacred Space International. This weekend also the completion of the second year of the work of these eight congregations building solidarity for mutual support and neighborhood service.

How Did The Sacred Spaces Solidarity Pledge Come About?

Morgan says the idea of the solidarity pledge was ignored when it was first put on the table. “I would say they were challenged to do something they had not done before; even though they may have said they wanted to stand together, they had not yet thought of actually making a public declaration and signing a pledge that committed them to that action. ”  Six months into the project, a template was finally considered. “It was one person from the Seventeenth Church of Christ Scientist who woke up in the night and put together an entire pledge, which was then unanimously accepted by all eight representatives.”
The following steps required each congregation seek formal approval by their individual congregational governance structures, then declare their commitments to state their tradition’s ability to work with other religions for peace, which was a brand new process for many of the involved congregations.  “For [my Sacred Space], this was a complex process and took a couple of months,” Morgan says.

How Suzanne Morgan Measures The Impact Of The Solidarity Pledge

The fact that all eight congregations got up at the podium, read their tradition’s declaration and signed the pledge on behalf of that tradition, along with Vance Henry of the Mayor’s office, and the CPWR, was amazing and touching.  The proof of its effect, for me, was when a man working on the stage and sound setup came up to me afterward. He said to me, ‘My wife and I are having problems; Monday we are going to a marriage counselor. Well, after what I have witnessed here today, people of these different faiths, known by their fighting around the world, agreeing to work together in the face of any defamation or threat to their religions, certainly, I can work things out with my wife!’
That did it for me!

Deep Connections Over Year Two Programs

Congregation Sinai invited each of the communities to view thought provoking documentaries with a presentation by a panel of speakers and Muslim-led open dialogue. Chicago Sinai also invited each of the communities to an educational Seder dinner fostering love of neighbor and interfaith understanding.

During UN designated World Interfaith Harmony Week, The Downtown Islamic Center demonstrated the hospitality of Abraham by hosting a meal and dialogue workshop: Beyond Separation, Seeds of Change, Dialogue Skills for Cultivating Interreligious Cooperation. A Program of Dialogue for the Common Good, LLC. In addition, Islamic prayers were explained, followed by open dialogue to respond to curious participants.

Also during World Interfaith Harmony Week, the Midwest Buddhist Temple and Sacred Spaces jointly hosted a New Year celebration programmed to release the hardships and limitations of the past and to plant seeds of hope and peace. All the religious communities were invited to share and present at this experiential interreligious New Year’s ceremony, dining on symbolic Japanese cuisine and refreshments.

Fourth Presbyterian Church invited the Sacred Space communities to the Community Grand Opening of their newly constructed Gratz Center followed by an Open House. Guests enjoyed lively conversations together, appetizers, and live music. Fourth Presbyterian Church also hosted an event with world-renowned speaker Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Chairman of the Cordoba Institute and member of the Interfaith Center of New York.

Old St. Pat’s Catholic Church invited the Sacred Spaces religious communities to their annual Memorial Service for the homeless attracting so much attendance it became a standing room only event.

Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist invited the religious communities to participate an intimate experiential Mid-Week Prayer Meeting focused on “How Can We Feel Safe in the Face of Danger.” The evening began with sacred readings from Holy Scripture and Mary Baker Eddy’s works, and progressed into quiet time in between open dialogue, as participants felt compelled to share.

Saint James Episcopal Cathedral ended the second year of events with a Concert & Photographic Display, “Portraits and Voices” by Michael Nye on Mental Health Disorders in the United States.

Sharing Sacred Spaces in Hyde Park, Chicago Launched, Too

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religion’s Sharing Sacred Spaces program has two objectives for interreligious community building in a neighborhood or city: (1) to facilitate a collection of diverse congregations to become comfortable with each other and enthusiastic about signing a pledge of solidarity agreeing to stand with each other in the face of antireligious defamation or threat and then (2) to see that newly bonded group select a humanitarian issue in their neighborhood/city to address, and articulate a way to implement a solution together.

A May 5 event at First Unitarian Church completed a yearlong program from the Sharing Sacred Spaces project in Hyde Park. Six South-Side Chicago congregations agreed to each hold an event at their sacred space for the purpose of interreligious engagement for those attending,  including KAMII congregation, Ellis Avenue Church, Chicago Theological Seminary, Augustana Lutheran Church, St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church

The Sunday afternoon events began in October of 2012 and were completed this May. A second year of events is being planned to continue the engagement. The Hyde Park and Kenwood Interfaith Council has been in existence for over 100 years, mainly consisting of Christian denominations in the Hyde Park area. With the SSS program, they plan to widen their vision to include additional traditions in new ways.

15 Countries Improving Religious Freedom

“Religious Freedom Under Attack” headed a recent L.A. Times editorial. With tunnel vision squarely focusing on the status of turbulent nations, the column exposed merely the harshest facts in a new government report which also shines a little light on world interfaith development.

Of course, it would be neglectful of the media to ignore the current religious climate. One ongoing crisis in this camp is the  Bahai’s worldwide protest efforts amping up against Iranian courts for jailing seven leaders for more than five years now, simply for being Baha’i and not sharing the faith sponsored by the state.  Therefore, headlining any story about religion and governments because of cases like the Baha’is sets the stage for most reports to seem like totally bad news.

The U.S. Department of State report breaking down the state of religious freedom around the world in 2012 does describe a world beleaguered with turmoil. However, it also clues religious-government watchdogs in on how the American government applies its 15-year-old International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, even when not promising to diffuse some of the worst trouble spots.

It also points to some yet-to-be-really-covered-by-the-media good news:

Mentioning some positive action by governments where promoting religious liberty has proved tricky, 2012 demonstrates some indication that interfaith action by governments on the rise.

15 Countries Improving Religious Freedom

mollyparliamentofreligions's 15 Countries Trying To Improve Religious Freedom album on Photobucket

Source: U.S. Department of State International Religious Freedom Report 2012  Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Citations: Section II: Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom. Consult report for more national information, religious demography, identifications and definitions.

1. Tanzania

In October President Kikwete visited several churches in the Mbagala suburb of Dar es Salaam which were burned or damaged following religious unrest. He urged self-restraint and emphasized that citizens should not take the law into their own hands.In November the prime minister publicly pledged to initiate a national dialogue between religious leaders to promote religious tolerance; this had not occurred by year’s end. Also in November, the Interfaith Council asked to meet with the president to discuss intolerance among factions within the Muslim community and Christian groups. This meeting did not take place by year’s end.In November the prime minister took a strong stand against the October religious violence, calling for political and religious tolerance.On December 31, President Kikwete stated that the country faced, for the first time in its history, the possibility of civil strife and division along religious lines. He encouraged religious and political leaders to take seriously their responsibility to ensure that citizens continue to live peacefully regardless of their religion, ethnicity, color, or place of origin.

2. Laos

Some positive steps were taken during the year to address specific religious freedom concerns. The LFNC, joined during the year by the Ministry of Home Affairs, instructed local officials on religious tolerance and in some situations intervened in cases where members of minority religious groups, particularly Christians, had been harassed or mistreated.

In an effort to promote consultation among all stakeholders concerning revisions to Decree 92, the LFNC and Ministry of Home Affairs organized meetings for religious group representatives in Vientiane, Champasak, Bokeo, and Bolikhamxay Provinces, and the city of Vientiane. The meetings allowed for open discussion about the government’s plan to amend the decree, and provided an opportunity for religious groups to offer suggestions for its improvement.

In collaboration with the LFNC, the Institute for Global Engagement, a U.S.-based religious freedom organization, conducted training for provincial and district officials and local religious leaders to help both sides better understand each other and the scope of Decree 92.

The government eased its control over the Catholic community in the north. At year’s end, a Catholic bishop in Luang Prabang was in the process of establishing residency and identifying land for the construction of a church building with the support of local authorities. A Vientiane church delegation, accompanied by LFNC officials, traveled to Bokeo Province to visit Catholic communities in Houayxay, Meuang, and Tonpheung. The church was able to expand charitable activities and provided assistance to a school for the deaf in Luang Prabang.

3. Malaysia

On February 21, Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin participated in World Interfaith Harmony Week. Activities held during the week included community activities and religious forums.

On December 26, church leaders announced the government had rescinded quotas, age limits and other travel restrictions previously imposed on Christian Malaysians who wished to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

On November 3, the Perlis Al Islah Association in collaboration with the Islamic Council of Perlis, a government entity, and the Perlis Malay Customs Council (an NGO) organized an interfaith forum “Gateway to Interfaith Goodwill (Gema) 2012.” The crown prince of Perlis chaired the forum, which was designed as a platform for interaction among different religions with the hope of creating a better understanding between them. Seventeen religious groups, including representatives of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Taoism, attended the forum.

In a statement to Christian leaders in January, the prime minister promised full consultation when assigning mission school heads. He also agreed to after-school Bible classes, as well as implementation of a regulation that allowed non-Muslim places of worship to apply for tax exempt status for donations received from individuals. This was the first time the prime minister had addressed these issues in a public statement. The tax regulation went into effect shortly thereafter.

4. Taiwan

On June 8, in a change of visa policy, the government started granting missionary visas to other orders of religious workers besides priests and nuns. This change granted all male religious orders (priests, brothers, monks) and female religious orders (sisters and nuns) eligibility for visas to conduct religious work. Religious organizations previously complained that only priests and nuns could obtain missionary visas. The immigration law does not have a formal provision for missionary visas for individuals who do not have the rank of priest or nun within their respective religious orders, which includes Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist workers. In the past, the government regularly granted visas to religious workers of some religious groups who were not priests or nuns and uniformly applied the eligibility to all religious groups by year’s end.

5. Vietnam

In May the government for the first time granted 20 members of the Baha’i Faith permission to participate in an annual religious pilgrimage to the Baha’i World Center in Haifa, Israel. The nine-day pilgrimage allowed Bahais to visit religious shrines and meet with fellow believers. In August the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of Hanoi celebrated the twentieth anniversary of its establishment in Hanoi. The day-long public celebration was attended by nearly 100 followers from the northern area of the country, 20 foreign Bahais representing countries in the region, and government officials.

In July and August the CRA registered 20 new churches in the Northwest Highlands. These included both Protestant and Catholic congregations.

During his appointment that began in January 2011, Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, the non-resident papal representative to Vietnam, made eight visits to the country. The government and the Vatican continued discussions toward normalizing relations. In September Archbishop Girelli made his first visit to the Northwest Highlands to meet with fellow believers. During his visit, the archbishop led mass for congregants of newly recognized churches.

In June the government restored five acres of land to St. Peter’s Catholic chapel in Hanoi. Congregants had formally petitioned the government ten years earlier.

According to contacts from multiple faiths, the government facilitated the construction of new places of worship, including Christian churches, Buddhist temples, monasteries and pagodas. The government’s assistance included transferring land to religious groups, granting building permits, or granting small construction grants through the CRA.

6. Belarus

Authorities allowed Jehovah’s Witnesses to hold a three-day convention in Minsk in July. Over 7,500 members from across the country reportedly attended the convention without official interference.

7. Georgia

On March 27, the parliament amended the criminal code to make religious motives an aggravating factor for all crimes. Although authorities prosecuted no crimes under the new amendment during the year, the Georgian Young Lawyers Association stated that passage of the amendment could discourage such crimes.

8. Kosovo

In April parliament passed legislation establishing SPZs in the historic center of Prizren and the village of Velika Hoca/Hoce e Madhe, both of which contained numerous religious and cultural sites dating to the thirteenth century. In July the Constitutional Court upheld the legislation and rejected appeals claiming the law would unconstitutionally give special rights to Serbs over the rights of other citizens.

9. Norway

In a January Holocaust Memorial Day speech, the prime minister apologized for the participation of the country’s officials in the expulsion of Jews during World War II when the country was under Nazi occupation. The speech was the first formal direct apology from the government and was commended by religious figures. In November the head of the police department also apologized for police participation in expelling Jews during the war years. Some social commentators and religious leaders stated this was even more significant than the prime minister’s Holocaust Memorial Day speech.

The government made a number of monetary grants to increase security for the Jewish community and to combat anti-Semitism in schools. The government allocated 7.2 million kroner ($1.25 million) for security at the Jewish Religious Community’s (DMT) facility and synagogue in Oslo. In addition to the funding, the Ministry of Justice and Public Security announced it would maintain a dialogue with the DMT, the Police Security Services, and the Police Directorate to ensure that the DMT’s facilities were properly safeguarded. The Ministry of Education granted 6 million kroner ($1.05 million) for programs that included training about anti-Semitism in schools throughout the next three years. The Ministry of Government Administration and Church Affairs will finance the DMT’s new online anti-Semitism reporting mechanism.

10. Turkey

In a February session held behind closed doors, the Ecumenical Patriarch addressed the parliament’s Constitutional Reconciliation Sub-Committee, which was responsible for drafting a new constitution. This was the first time in the history of the republic that a leader of a religious minority group addressed the parliament. Subsequently, representatives of the Syrian Orthodox community also testified before the sub-committee.

The government continued to implement a 2011 decree allowing a one-year period for religious minority foundations to apply for the return of, or compensation for, properties seized by the government in previous decades. Between 1936 and 2011, the government seized thousands of properties belonging to Christian and Jewish religious foundations. A 1936 law required that religious foundations compile and officially register lists of all properties owned. Although it was widely recognized at the time that these lists were not comprehensive, the government then began seizing unlisted properties from religious foundations. A 1974 High Court of Appeals ruling interpreting the 1936 law stated it had been illegal for religious foundations to acquire any new property after 1936, enabling the government to seize without compensation religious foundation properties acquired between 1936 and 1974.

By August, the GDF had received approximately 1,560 applications for the return of seized properties from the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Jewish, Syrian Orthodox, Bulgarian Orthodox, Georgian Orthodox, Chaldean, and Armenian Protestant communities. By year’s end, the GDF had reviewed approximately 200 of the applications and returned 71 properties to religious community foundations, made offers of compensation for 15 properties, declined 19 applications for lack of evidence, and returned the remaining applications for the correction of technical problems. The government established an arbitration system for foundations that believed the amount of compensation received for a property was inadequate. If the arbitration process is unsuccessful, foundations will have access to the courts for redress.

The decree did not alter the law that made it possible to seize property acquired after 1936, nor did it change the complicated procedure for administering foundation properties that contributed to the seizure of many properties. Additionally, the decree did not cover properties taken from religious institutions or communities that do not have legally recognized foundations, including the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches.

The 2011 decree also permitted the formation of new religious community foundations as well as the reopening of foundations that had previously been closed and whose assets the GDF had confiscated. The GDF approved new or reactivated foundations for the Jewish community in Izmir, the Armenian Orthodox community in Istanbul, and the Greek Orthodox community in Istanbul. Prior to the 2011 decree, the government had approved only one new religious community foundation since the founding of the republic—the Istanbul Protestant Church Foundation in 2003.

11. Iraq

In September the Basrah Provincial Council Committee for Religious Minorities called on the central government to provide support for Iraqi Christians who wanted to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, equating these trips with the Muslim Hajj.

Throughout the year, Iraqi Security Forces deployed police and army personnel to protect religious pilgrimage routes and sites, as well as places of worship during religious holidays. In late September, the Iraqi Security Forces deployed 20,000 police and army personnel to Karbala to protect land routes pilgrims take to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj; and in late October, the Iraqi Security forces deployed 12,000 police and army personnel to the holy city of Karbala to protect hundreds of thousands of religious pilgrims to the city for Eid al-Adha.

The Ministry of Human Rights reported that it took several steps to protect members of minority religious groups and address their concerns. They conducted an investigation into the phenomenon of suicides of Yezidi young people; provided humanitarian assistance to internally displaced minority groups, including Christians; and held over 200 workshops throughout the country on minority rights.

The Ministry of Human Rights reported that during the year Iraqi Security Forces escorted 1,300 Christian students from al-Hamdaniya to Mosul to attend school each day, and increased the number of night patrols in Christian neighborhoods in Mosul.

The KRG continued to welcome Christians from outside the IKR who moved to the region due to perceived discrimination and threats to their safety elsewhere. Armenian Church of America archbishop Vicken Aykazian said in December that the IKR “has become a safehaven for Christians, [and] the [regional] government is building churches, schools, and community centers for them,” adding that “Christians today feel very comfortable [in the the IKR].”

12. Israel and The Occupied Territories

There were no violent attacks against Messianic Jews and notably fewer physical assaults against Jehovah’s Witnesses during the year. The police investigated all known instances of religiously motivated attacks and made arrests when possible, including in August when the police arrested seven suspects for assault, harassment, and arson in connection with Haredi protests against the opening of an Orthodox all-girls school in Beit Shemesh.

The state formally recognized non-Orthodox rabbis for the first time on May 30 and agreed to fund Reform and Conservative rabbis appointed by rural communities.

The MOI did not arrest, detain, require bail for entry or a written pledge to abstain from missionary activity, or refuse entry to anyone due to their religious beliefs. There was no indication that the MOI collected data on alleged missionaries from antimissionary groups and used it to deny entry to the country to foreign individuals. There was no official statement that the policy had changed, but no incidents were reported since the July 2011 action of a Jerusalem district court judge who reprimanded the MOI for the illegal procedure.

On August 2, the Knesset amended legislation from 2010 to apply tax exemptions to all places of religious instruction equally.

13. Israel and The Occupied Territories – Israel and The Occupied Territories – The Occupied Territories

PA-Israeli security cooperation at Joseph’s Tomb improved during the year following an agreement reached in 2011 between the PA, the IDF, and the Ministry of Defense’s civil administration to station 10 permanent PA police officers at the tomb. On February 9, PA forces accompanied 15 rabbis from the West Bank’s Huwwara checkpoint to the tomb in the first such security coordination with Israeli forces. The PA coordinated all visits with Israel.

Israel issued slightly more than 100,000 permits to allow Palestinian West Bank residents to enter Jerusalem during the month of Ramadan, representing a seven-fold increase from the 16,700 permits it granted in 2011. It expanded the categories of people exempted from the permit requirement for men and women above age 40 and allowed persons between the ages of 35 and 40 to receive permits.

14. Morocco

In March the government permitted the funeral of Shia cleric Abdallah Dadou, killed in a fire in Belgium, to take place in Tangier. The funeral was the first public Shia ceremony in the country in many years.

15. Cuba

Religious groups reported improved ability to attract new members without government interference. The majority of religious groups reported reduced interference from the government in conducting their services, and improvement in their ability to import religious materials, receive donations from overseas, and travel abroad to attend conferences and religious events. Many religious groups found it easier to bring in foreign religious workers and visitors and restore houses of worship.

The government requested Pope Benedict XVI’s visit and provided extensive logistical support during his March 26-29 trip, including allowing the Pope to say mass in the central squares of the two largest cities, and declaring the three days of the visit a national holiday to facilitate citizen participation in the open-air religious ceremonies. Footage of the visit was broadcast on state-run television stations, and the visit was reported in print and radio. A few Protestant churches reported that they were also permitted to hold religious ceremonies in public spaces.