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Pope Pledges Better World in Message for Migrants and Refugees Day

On Friday, January 17 falls the 2014 observance of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees in the Roman Catholic Church. His Holiness Pope Francis sets the themeTowards a Better World for this year’s observance with the following statement. World Refugee Day as proclaimed in 2000 by the United Nations is June 20. 

Via The Vatican:

MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
FOR THE WORLD DAY OF MIGRANTS AND REFUGEES (2014)

Migrants and Refugees: Towards a Better World

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our societies are experiencing, in an unprecedented way, processes of mutual interdependence and interaction on the global level. While not lacking problematic or negative elements, these processes are aimed at improving the living conditions of the human family, not only economically, but politically and culturally as well. Each individual is a part of humanity and, with the entire family of peoples, shares the hope of a better future. This consideration inspired the theme I have chosen for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees this year: Migrants and Refugees: Towards a Better World.

In our changing world, the growing phenomenon of human mobility emerges, to use the words of Pope Benedict XVI, as a “sign of the times” (cf. Message for the 2006 World Day of Migrants and Refugees). While it is true that migrations often reveal failures and shortcomings on the part of States and the international community, they also point to the aspiration of humanity to enjoy a unity marked by respect for differences, by attitudes of acceptance and hospitality which enable an equitable sharing of the world’s goods, and by the protection and the advancement of the dignity and centrality of each human being.

From the Christian standpoint, the reality of migration, like other human realities, points to the tension between the beauty of creation, marked by Grace and the Redemption, and the mystery of sin. Solidarity, acceptance, and signs of fraternity and understanding exist side by side with rejection, discrimination, trafficking and exploitation, suffering and death. Particularly disturbing are those situations where migration is not only involuntary, but actually set in motion by various forms of human trafficking and enslavement. Nowadays, “slave labour” is common coin! Yet despite the problems, risks and difficulties to be faced, great numbers of migrants and refugees continue to be inspired by confidence and hope; in their hearts they long for a better future, not only for themselves but for their families and those closest to them.

What is involved in the creation of “a better world”? The expression does not allude naively to abstract notions or unattainable ideals; rather, it aims at an authentic and integral development, at efforts to provide dignified living conditions for everyone, at finding just responses to the needs of individuals and families, and at ensuring that God’s gift of creation is respected, safeguarded and cultivated. The Venerable Paul VI described the aspirations of people today in this way: “to secure a sure food supply, cures for diseases and steady employment… to exercise greater personal responsibility; to do more, to learn more, and have more, in order to be more” (Populorum Progressio, 6).

Our hearts do desire something “more”. Beyond greater knowledge or possessions, they want to “be” more. Development cannot be reduced to economic growth alone, often attained without a thought for the poor and the vulnerable. A better world will come about only if attention is first paid to individuals; if human promotion is integral, taking account of every dimension of the person, including the spiritual; if no one is neglected, including the poor, the sick, prisoners, the needy and the stranger (cf. Mt 25:31-46); if we can prove capable of leaving behind a throwaway culture and embracing one of encounter and acceptance.

Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more. The sheer number of people migrating from one continent to another, or shifting places within their own countries and geographical areas, is striking. Contemporary movements of migration represent the largest movement of individuals, if not of peoples, in history. As the Church accompanies migrants and refugees on their journey, she seeks to understand the causes of migration, but she also works to overcome its negative effects, and to maximize its positive influence on the communities of origin, transit and destination.

While encouraging the development of a better world, we cannot remain silent about the scandal of poverty in its various forms. Violence, exploitation, discrimination, marginalization, restrictive approaches to fundamental freedoms, whether of individuals or of groups: these are some of the chief elements of poverty which need to be overcome. Often these are precisely the elements which mark migratory movements, thus linking migration to poverty. Fleeing from situations of extreme poverty or persecution in the hope of a better future, or simply to save their own lives, millions of persons choose to migrate. Despite their hopes and expectations, they often encounter mistrust, rejection and exclusion, to say nothing of tragedies and disasters which offend their human dignity.

The reality of migration, given its new dimensions in our age of globalization, needs to be approached and managed in a new, equitable and effective manner; more than anything, this calls for international cooperation and a spirit of profound solidarity and compassion. Cooperation at different levels is critical, including the broad adoption of policies and rules aimed at protecting and promoting the human person. Pope Benedict XVI sketched the parameters of such policies, stating that they “should set out from close collaboration between the migrants’ countries of origin and their countries of destination; they should be accompanied by adequate international norms able to coordinate different legislative systems with a view to safeguarding the needs and rights of individual migrants and their families, and at the same time, those of the host countries” (Caritas in Veritate, 62). Working together for a better world requires that countries help one another, in a spirit of willingness and trust, without raising insurmountable barriers. A good synergy can be a source of encouragement to government leaders as they confront socioeconomic imbalances and an unregulated globalization, which are among some of the causes of migration movements in which individuals are more victims than protagonists. No country can singlehandedly face the difficulties associated with this phenomenon, which is now so widespread that it affects every continent in the twofold movement of immigration and emigration.

It must also be emphasized that such cooperation begins with the efforts of each country to create better economic and social conditions at home, so that emigration will not be the only option left for those who seek peace, justice, security and full respect of their human dignity. The creation of opportunities for employment in the local economies will also avoid the separation of families and ensure that individuals and groups enjoy conditions of stability and serenity.

Finally, in considering the situation of migrants and refugees, I would point to yet another element in building a better world, namely, the elimination of prejudices and presuppositions in the approach to migration. Not infrequently, the arrival of migrants, displaced persons, asylum-seekers and refugees gives rise to suspicion and hostility. There is a fear that society will become less secure, that identity and culture will be lost, that competition for jobs will become stiffer and even that criminal activity will increase. The communications media have a role of great responsibility in this regard: it is up to them, in fact, to break down stereotypes and to offer correct information in reporting the errors of a few as well as the honesty, rectitude and goodness of the majority. A change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization – all typical of a throwaway culture – towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world. The communications media are themselves called to embrace this “conversion of attitudes” and to promote this change in the way migrants and refugees are treated.

I think of how even the Holy Family of Nazareth experienced initial rejection: Mary “gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Lk 2:7). Jesus, Mary and Joseph knew what it meant to leave their own country and become migrants: threatened by Herod’s lust for power, they were forced to take flight and seek refuge in Egypt (cf. Mt 2:13-14). But the maternal heart of Mary and the compassionate heart of Joseph, the Protector of the Holy Family, never doubted that God would always be with them. Through their intercession, may that same firm certainty dwell in the heart of every migrant and refugee.

The Church, responding to Christ’s command to “go and make disciples of all nations”, is called to be the People of God which embraces all peoples and brings to them the proclamation of the Gospel, for the face of each person bears the mark of the face of Christ! Here we find the deepest foundation of the dignity of the human person, which must always be respected and safeguarded. It is less the criteria of efficiency, productivity, social class, or ethnic or religious belonging which ground that personal dignity, so much as the fact of being created in God’s own image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26-27) and, even more so, being children of God. 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. They are an occasion that Providence gives us to help build a more just society, a more perfect democracy, a more united country, a more fraternal world and a more open and evangelical Christian community. Migration can offer possibilities for a new evangelization, open vistas for the growth of a new humanity foreshadowed in the paschal mystery: a humanity for which every foreign country is a homeland and every homeland is a foreign country.

Dear migrants and refugees! Never lose the hope that you too are facing a more secure future, that on your journey you will encounter an outstretched hand, and that you can experience fraternal solidarity and the warmth of friendship! To all of you, and to those who have devoted their lives and their efforts to helping you, I give the assurance of my prayers and I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 5 August 2013

FRANCIS

January 16th, 2014 at 1:01 pm

“Sacred Solidarity” in Chicago

Sacred Solidarity in Chicago

Sunday, June 10, 2-4pm

Federal Plaza, on the southwest corner of Adams and Dearborn

Eight Chicago Religious and Spiritual Communities to Pledge Interfaith Cooperation on June 10 

Sharing Sacred Spaces

The sacred spaces of the eight participating religious and spiritual communities

Sacred Solidarity” is a public event that is the culmination of an eight-month project called “Sharing Sacred Spaces” sponsored by the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (CPWR).

“Religious and spiritual communities standing with each other in the face of religiously-motivated defamation, hatred and violence is the meaning of solidarity,” says Dirk Ficca, Executive Director of CPWR.  “Grounding a pledge of solidarity from within their religious and spiritual traditions makes it sacred. That religious and spiritual communities in downtown Chicago have made such a pledge brings a sacred dimension to the civil space they share.”

In the past eight months, people from different Chicago religious and spiritual communities have forged bonds of friendship and trust through the “Sacred Spaces” series of events. The pledge they sign will symbolize their ongoing effort to honor and respect their different traditions, as well as committing to spread this effort to the surrounding community.

Representatives from the eight participating communities will gather to sign a pledge committing to work together to reduce social tension and build bridges of trust and hope in the city of Chicago.  These bonds were built as each of the eight communities invited others into their sacred space, engaged the visitors around matters of their tradition or practice and provided hospitality and conversation. Welcoming each other into their sacred spaces created appreciation of the various religious and spiritual traditions and a sense of community between the participants.

The public is encouraged to join in the pledge-signing event on Sunday, June 10th, 2-4pm, at Federal Plaza, on the southwest corner of Adams and Dearborn.

The solidarity pledge speaks to the many levels of understanding and respect that were built over the eight-month period among eight different religious communities in Chicago. The eight communities are the Midwest Buddhist Temple, Fourth Presbyterian Church, St. James Episcopal Cathedral, Chicago Sinai Congregation, First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist, Old St. Patrick’s Catholic church and the Downtown Islamic  Center. The pledge is as follows:

“Sharing Sacred Spaces” Solidarity Pledge

We, communities of faith and spirit serving in the Chicago metropolitan area, acknowledge and commit to these ideals:

  • that the work of cultivating the religious and spiritual life of human beings is an essential part of the strength and progress of our wider community
  • that supporting those who are committed to cultivating religious and spiritual life strengthens the entire fabric of our community
  • that we honor the wider traditions of those affiliated with and worshipping or practicing with the communities listed here
  • that we actively look for ways to stand in solidarity with each other and to serve our wider community
  • that we stand together against any public attempt to disrespect or harm the well-being of any community of faith or practice or its sacred space
  • and we celebrate our shared values of compassion, justice, peacemaking, and harmony in diversity.

The eight participating communities:

  • The Midwest Buddhist Temple, 435 W. Menomonee, 312-943-7801
  • The Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut, 312-787-4570
  • St James Episcopal Cathedral, 64 E. Huron, 312-787-7360
  • The Chicago Sinai Congregation, 15 W. Delaware, 312-867-7000
  • The First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington,312-236-4548
  • The Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist, 44 E. Wacker,312-236-4671
  • Old St. Patrick’s Church, 700 W. Adams St, 312-648-1021
  • The Downtown Islamic Center, 231 S. State, 312-939-9095 

Rev. Dirk Ficca, executive director of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, says the “Sharing Sacred Spaces” model of community building will be offered to other neighborhoods and suburbs of Chicago as well as to over 70 international Partner Cities. “Chicago is just the beginning,” says Ficca. “Together, we hope to chart a course that will strengthen bonds between diverse religious and cultural communities throughout the world.”

“Sharing Sacred Spaces” Leads to Interreligious Solidarity in Chicago

Sacred Solidarity in Chicago

"Sacred Solidarity," the culminating event of the Sharing Sacred Spaces program, takes place in downtown Chicago on June 10

by Sarah Fentem

For the past eight months, Chicago has served as the site of a pilot interreligious program designed to foster religious dialogue and understanding, using a resource most religious and spiritual communities already have at their fingertips—spaces to gather.

The last of eight hosted events of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions’ (CPWR) “Sharing Sacred Spaces” series took place May 12, wrapping up a program that intended to “deepen appreciation for the diverse religious and spiritual traditions by focusing on the spaces that are sacred to these communities.”

A final, culminating event, “Sacred Solidarity” will take place on June 10th in downtown Chicago, at which representatives from the eight participating communities with gather to sign a pledge committing to work to maintain the ties of trust and friendship built during the last eight months.

“At a time when hatred and violence erupts over religious differences internationally, [this] quiet collaborative effort in Chicago has forged alliances and fostered new friendships across religious lines”, said Rev. Dirk Ficca, executive director of the CPWR.

Chicago architect Suzanne Morgan, inspired by her work with liturgical architecture, served as the impetus of the program. Since mosques, churches, synagogues, and temples are in a sense a spiritual group’s “home,” sharing them would lend a sense of kinship and community not unlike when neighbors visit each other.

“Spaces become sacred through the meaning they have for their communities,” said Morgan. “Sharing that meaning can build bridges of trust and reduce social tension and cultural misunderstanding.”

Chicago served as the inaugural city for the event, with one of eight participating communities opening its doors every month to give a tour of their community’s “home,” explain their traditions, and answer questions for visitors.  The program kicked off in October at the Midwest Buddhist Temple, an experience Sacred Spaces visitor Gale Kryzak said was “bridge-building at its best.”

The interreligious fellowship carried on through the fall, where visitors were touched by the Fourth Presbyterian Church’s spirit of reform and reinvention and St. James Episcopal Cathedral’s blend of history, music, and tradition.

In January, visitors were impressed by the Chicago Sinai Congregation’s intricate blending of architecture and faith. The First United Methodist Church and Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral both showcased how intricately a congregation’s history can be combined with the City’s past and present. The Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist and the Downtown Islamic Center offered clarity to traditions that are sometimes underrepresented or misunderstood.

While each venue was vastly different, visitors saw common threads running through each community. “Each time, I was struck by just how different the spaces, rituals and practices are from what I am accustomed,” said Peter Rubnitz, a member of Chicago Sinai who attended most of the events. “At the same time, I was equally struck by how similar the commitment to faith, values and community is to what I see at Chicago Sinai.”

“Whenever you see people who are earnestly striving for truth and living truth, there’s a heart bond here regardless what the theology or doctrine is,” said Lois Carlson, a member of the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist.

Carlson mentioned how learning about other traditions helped her grow in her own faith.

“Theologically, I learned something that contributed to my prayer life from every one of the events”, she said. “I didn’t expect that. I expected to be educated, but I didn’t expect it to touch my heart in the way that it did.”

“I was very touched when the Muslims explained the proportion of their ten-minute prayer period was nine minute praise for 1 minute of petition. I saw myself checking my conversation with God to make sure it’s weighted on the side of praise.”

Sacred Solidarity,” the culminating event of the “Sharing Sacred Spaces” program, will take place on Sunday, June 10th at Federal Plaza at the intersection of Adams and Dearborn in the Loop from 2-4 PM.  The event, which is open to the public, will feature the signing of a pledge of solidarity that the communities composed together as a result of their experiences of sharing their sacred spaces over the last eight months.

Said Ficca: “Chicago is just the beginning. Together, we hope to chart a course that will strengthen bonds between diverse religious and cultural communities throughout the world.”

 

 

Finding Common Ground Across Special Needs: Ritual, Autism, and My Faith

by Dilshad D. Ali

I’ve recently taken up saying prayers on my tasbih – much more so than I ever did in my life before. I sit in the rocking chair in the corner of my son’s room fingering my tasbih (something akin to a rosary), doing dhikr while he burrows under the covers on his bed, pulling the weighted blanket over his face as he retreats from the world and takes comfort in the dark, close, muffled space where nothing assaults his senses.

My goal is that he should finger the tasbih while I say the prayers, especially when he shows signs that a meltdown is coming, or is in the throes of a meltdown. He likes to play with beads, stim on them. So I’m hoping he’ll grow to play with the tasbih and learn to use the tasbih as a method of grounding routine and ritual – something recently pointed out to me by a very astute Catholic autistic adult who read a recent blog post I wrote about my son’s struggles.

We’re not there yet, but for now, me just doing dhikr while fingering the tasbih seems to help calm my autistic son. Maybe it’s the prayers, maybe it’s not. But it gives me comfort; it’s something to do, a way to throw my line back to God and put some previously lacking trust back in His will.

For the past nearly 12 years of raising my son (and other two children), ten of which have been dictated by his severe autism, my faith as a Muslim has waxed and waned. I have searched for the words, the examples, the feelings that would help me believe, help me have complete trust that Allah knows best, that He will answer my prayers. I’ve sought guidance through my family, through friends and halaqas (religious study groups), through YouTube videos of inspirational sermons and lectures, through the words of Qur’an and hadith.

But, when you’re in the throes of helping your severely autistic son live his life, when your prayers turn from hopes of recovery and independence to just wanting him to be happy and at peace, when you beseech God time after time and still see your son suffering, when you see your entire family affected by one child’s disability, faith and trust can grow tenuous. And so I found my daily prayers growing one dimensional. I found myself continuously frustrated.

Common Grounds across Special Needs

Last fall, purely with intentions of self-therapy and autism awareness, I turned to one of the things I do best: writing. I launched my own blog at Patheos, a multi-faith news and blog website where I’m a managing editor, and began writing about Islamic issues, autism and my son.

The response was overwhelming, and the connections that came from Muslims the world over as well as from people of other faith traditions lifted my spirits. I’ve always felt divided between my faith and autism communities of friends, that neither group understood what it was like to live our life. In sharing our story, Muslims with autistic children reached out to me from around the world, sympathizing, asking me questions, offering advice and prayers.

But another profound thing to emerge from this journey has been the bolstering of my Muslim faith from connections I’ve made with people of other religions. I shouldn’t be surprised, really. As a journalist and editor, I’ve sought to cover Islam in America in both horizontal (to reach out to other religious groups) and vertical (to deepen the conversations in the American Muslim community) ways.

Whereas I knew that the heartfelt thoughts shared by Muslims would help bolster my faith in Allah, what resonated even further at times was how people of other faiths ignited a kindred spirit in my struggles. Reading and speaking with them about their struggles and lessons learned gave me fuel to think of Islam, Allah’s will and innocent children in different ways. Soon after beginning my blog, I was blessed to become friends with Amy Julia Truesdell Becker, a writer who blogs at “Thin Places—Faith, Family and Disability” at Patheos and is the author of A Good and Perfect Gift.

Becker has three children, one of whom – Penny – has Down’s syndrome. She writes about accepting Penny and loving her as she is and growing stronger in her Christian faith, about finding strength and acceptance in God’s will and how He does or doesn’t answer her prayers – things I’ve struggled with for years with my children.

“So many people I know [with their own special needs children], whether or not they’re of my faith tradition, understand the traditions and value of my daughter in an intuitive way – it’s a special bond that goes beyond theology,” Becker said to me in one of our conversations.

“I think that most parents of children with special needs, regardless of their faith background or lack thereof, have some sort of innate understanding of humanity, of life in all its diverse form. I then understand that or make of that experience through a theological lens. There’s a point of difference between our faiths, but [this understanding of diverse humanity] is a powerful commonality,” Becker said.

It’s this common respect for all of God’s children, this idea that life is diverse, imperfect, difficult, beautiful, and a gift that helps me to accept that although I may not understand His purpose or plan, Allah indeed has one for my son.

Tradition, Routine and Self-Control

Now, I’m not a strong woman. I falter a lot in this thinking. I backtrack, and have to find that trust in Allah time and time again. Two weeks ago I wrote about the Jekyll and Hyde of autism, how Mr. Hyde’s awful persona has taken over my son for months now, how we are desperately trying to figure out what has changed, what may have triggered it.

An amazing thing came from this post of despair. A person, who self-identified as a Catholic autistic, told me that when I am despairing of how to rid my son of Mr. Hyde, I should teach him to pray:

Give him a prayer rug or a kneeler or whatever fits your family traditions. Maybe two so he won’t be scared the first few times if you can be with him. Then, when you hear the perservating, when you can tell a meltdown is about to happen- that’s the time to pray. The routine of the prayers is calming.”

“I may not be able to meet you on theology—but when it comes to tradition, routine, and self-control, Islam is equal to or better than Christianity on all three. And it’s those three things that the Autistic needs to survive in the modern world.”

This advice has been a turning point. As I wrote in a following post, “My son thrives on routine. And, when he is in the throes of a meltdown, his therapists and I often instruct him through short commands to help ground him and occupy his mind and hands (clap your hands, stomp your feet, touch your nose, do the puzzle, do this, do this, do this) until hopefully he comes out of it. Why not add the tasbih or rituals of salat (prayer) to his arsenal of meltdown-breaking weapons?”

You never know where religious strength will come from: divine inspiration, self-reflection on faith, immersion in sermons and scripture, or from a simple piece of advice given by a Catholic who understands how the rituals of Islam may help an autistic child.

Becker said to me, “Sometimes prayer’s purpose is to change us, not to change our circumstances.”  It is with this thought, and with the words of the Catholic commenter, that now, for the past week, I sit in my son’s room, perform my Maghreb salat and then take a tasbih and whisper so he can hear, Subhanallah, Alhamdulillah, Astaghfirullah, Allahu Akbar.*

 

*Glory be to God, All praise is due to God, I seek forgiveness from God, God is Greater

 

Dilshad D. Ali is the managing editor of the Muslim Portal at Patheos, editor-in-chief of Altmuslim at Patheos, and she blogs at www.patheos.com/blogs/muslimahnextdoor. She is the mother of three children, the eldest of whom is severely autistic.

 

 

 

German Muslims Show Solidarity with Threatened Catholic Churches

by Ruby Russell
from ENI News

Three Catholic churches in the west German region of North-Rhine Westphalia that may have to close this month have received a show of solidarity from the local Muslim community.

Muhammed Al, chairman of the Merkez Mosque Association, wrote to Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck, head of the Essen diocese, on behalf of local Muslims last fall about the three Catholic churches in the town of Duisberg.

“We emphasized our long years of cooperation with the parishes and the importance of the churches in the area. We said this should be seen not just from a financial perspective, but also a cultural and social perspective [including] for the sake of interfaith and cultural dialogue,” Al said in an interview.

Click here to read the full article

Religion Stories Of 2011: The Top 11

by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush
from Huffington Post

In the final days of 2011 we pause to reflect on the year that has past — the good, the bad and the ugly. Here are the HuffPost Religion Top Stories of 2011.

The Muslim Spring
It started with a simple vegetable seller in Tunisia who, humiliated by the police and autocracy, set himself on fire at the end of 2010. One year later, the seemingly eternal regimes of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have fallen to popular uprisings and several others, including Syria, appear to be teetering. Once called the Arab Spring, Islam is increasingly being recognized as the fuel that fed the fire of these revolutions — a fire that that may both warm and burn in 2012.

The Dalai Lama Steps Down
The Dalai Lama made history when he relieved himself from his responsibility as political head of the Tibetan people to concentrate solely on his role as spiritual leader; ending one of the most enduring, if benevolent, theocracies in the world. Lobsang Sangay, the Harvard-trained legal scholar, is the the new Tibetan Prime Minister in a time when frustrations with Chinese policy is leading to a fiery form of radical protests by nuns and monks.

Mormons in Politics
The potential success of the Romney presidential campaign has fed a frenzy of discussion of what it means that a Mormon is in politics. The fact that Romney is not the only Mormon candidate (Huntsman) and that the Senate Majority Leader (Reid) is also Mormon doesn’t seem to stop the endless punditry and speculation. Will religious suspicion on the part of evangelicals in the primary and secularists in the general election doom this Mormon moment?

The Muslims Are Coming, The Muslims Are Coming
Fear of the “Muslim menace,” fueled by cynical politicians and well funded think tanks, has led to anti-sharia laws proposed and passed in states around the country. The fact that these states hadno pending pro-sharia laws is apparently beside the point. Creating bulwarks instead of bridges, the anti-sharia (read Muslim) movements seem to ebb and flow according to the political tides (think Park 51 in 2010). Get ready for a flood in 2012.

The End of the World
In order to give people time to repent, people with May 21 Judgment Day signs started popping up well before the announced date of the end of the world. The “prophet” of this apocalypse was Harold Camping, an elderly man with a drawling voice heard most prominently on his Family Radio empire. People left jobs, families prepared to be raptured and as the clock ticked down, the entire world held its collective unbelieving breath. And then time went on, and oddly a little disappointed, so did we.

Presbyterians Acknowledge Gays and Lesbians Can Be Ministers
Ho hum, gays can be ministers, too. Yet, for the Presbyterian Church, one of America’s most famously and proudly plodding religious traditions, to change its laws to allow openly gay men and women in same-sex relationships to be ordained as clergy was a major step forward for LGBT rights and for the Church as a whole.

Click here to read the full article

A Path of Interreligious Friendship

by Leo D. Lefebure

When I was a graduate student at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago in the 1980s, there were intense discussions of religious pluralism and theological understandings of religious diversity. My doctoral dissertation focused on the importance of the biblical wisdom tradition for contemporary Christian theology, concluding with suggestions that this trajectory could be a fruitful starting point for inter-religious reflection.

During this period, a couple that I knew moved from Casper, Wyoming, to Bangkok and invited me to visit them. This led to my first trip to East and Southeast Asia. I visited Kyoto, Bangkok, Myanmar/Burma, and Bali, and was deeply moved by the beauty of the Buddhist and Hindu art in these sites. I also stayed in the Buddhist monastery of Wat Rempoeng near Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I was introduced to the practice of Theravada Buddhist meditation.

Shortly thereafter, I came to know the noted Japanese Zen Buddhist philosopher, Masao Abe, who was then a visiting professor at the University of Chicago. He agreed to be the mentor to me for a post-doctoral research project funded by the Association of Theological Schools of the United States and Canada, which allowed me to go to Kyoto, where Abe introduced me to a circle of Japanese scholars, both Buddhist and Christian. These encounters led to my book, The Buddha and the Christ (Orbis Books 1993). My most recent book, The Path of Wisdom: A Christian Commentary on the Dhammapada (Peeters and Eerdmans 2011), continues this trajectory of reflection, responding to the wisdom sayings of Shakyamuni Buddha in light of both biblical and later Christian wisdom traditions. I continue to appreciate the deep wisdom of the Buddhist tradition and find it enriching on many levels.

In 1987, as I was beginning to teach at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary near Chicago, I was invited to participate in a retreat of Catholic priests and rabbis at the University’s Center for Development in Ministry, where we not only talked to one another but also prayed together. This began my decades-long engagement in Jewish-Christian dialogue, which continues today. In the spring of 2009, I participated in a very moving Jewish-Christian study trip to Poland, co-sponsored by Georgetown University and the Polish Foreign Ministry, exploring various aspects of Jewish-Polish relations past and present.

In the 1990s, I was invited to join the Midwest Dialogue of Catholics and Muslims, where I contributed to the drafting of a booklet on Revelation in Catholic and Muslim Perspectives. I was teaching at Fordham University in New York City on September 11, 2001. Afterward, I was involved in discussions of religion and violence at a number of venues, including Siena College near Albany, NY, the Islamic Center of Passaic County, New Jersey and in the Mid-Atlantic Dialogue of Catholics and Muslims in Queens.

I became involved with the work of CPWR when I went to a theology meeting at DePaul University and happened to come upon a group of colleagues who were on the CPWR research committee helping to plan the 1993 Parliament in Chicago. They invited me to attend their next meeting and join the research committee. I also covered the 1993 Parliament for The Christian Century. Later, when I was teaching at Fordham University, I participated in the Consultation on Interfaith Education’s planning for their symposium at the 2004 Parliament in Barcelona, where I offered reflections on the Dalai Lama’s contribution to interfaith education.

The most powerful defining moment of the interreligious movement for me was the 1996 Gethsemani Encounter at Gethsemani Abbey, Kentucky, which included the Dalai Lama, Maha Ghosananda (the Patriarch of Cambodian Buddhism), and many other Buddhist and Catholic monastic leaders. The context of a Catholic Trappist monastery with its rhythms of silence, meditation, and prayer, provided a welcoming atmosphere for the week-long monastic inter-religious reflection. The spirit of Thomas Merton hovered around us as we continued his practice of inter-religious friendship. As an advisor to Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, I enjoyed many moving exchanges with Buddhist and Catholic monastics. Other powerful experiences have come on Buddhist-Christian retreats that draw upon the resources of both traditions.

Given the often problematic role of religion in the world’s conflicts past and present, I believe my involvement in inter-religious reflection is important in building bridges and shaping a healthy community of the world’s religions. I find much hope and encouragement in the wonderful women and men whom I have met in inter-religious encounters.

Catholics and Muslims Pursue Dialogue Amid Mideast Tension

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor
From Reuters

BETHANY BEYOND THE JORDAN, Jordan (Reuters) – Only five years ago, critical remarks by Pope Benedict about Islam sparked off violent protests in several Muslim countries.

Never very good, relations between the world’s two largest religions sank to new lows in modern times.

This week, while protesters in the Arab world were demanding democracy and civil rights, Catholics and Muslims met along the Jordan River for frank and friendly talks about their differences and how to get beyond their misunderstandings.

The Catholic-Muslim Forum, which grew out of the tensions following Benedict’s speech in the German city of Regensburg, was overshadowed by events in Egypt, Yemen and Syria. The lack of any dramatic news here reflected the progress the two sides have made since 2006.

“We have passed from formal dialogue to a dialogue between friends,” Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Vatican’s department for interfaith dialogue, said at the conference held near the Jordan River site believed to be where Jesus was baptised. “We realised that we have a common heritage,”

Recalling the strains that prompted Muslims to suggest a dialogue in 2007, Jordan’s Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal said: “Since then, despite some misunderstandings, I dare say the general Muslim-Catholic ambiance has ameliorated considerably.”

The 24 Catholic and 24 Muslim religious leaders, scholars and educators meeting here debated how each religion uses reason to strengthen insight into its beliefs. Roman Catholicism has long argued that faith without reason can breed superstition while nihilism can emerge from reason without faith.

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Buddha, Christ and Interreligious Peace

Dr. Leo D. Lefebure

Dr. Leo D. Lefebure

from Godspeed Institute for Spiritual Learning

In this program Carole Hallundbaek speaks with Dr. Leo D. Lefebure, Matteo Ricci, S.J. Professor of Theology at Georgetown University. A prolific writer and traveler of where religious paths cross, merge and support each other, he is the author of The Buddha and the Christ: Explorations in Buddhist-Christian Dialogue; Life Transformed: Meditations on the Christian Scriptures in Light of Buddhist Perspectives; The Path of Wisdom: A Christian Commentary on the Dhammapada; and Revelation, the Religions, and Violence, recipient of the Pax Christi U.S.A. 2001 Book Award. He has also served on the board of directors of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies; was a participant in the New York Buddhist-Catholic dialogue; an adviser to the Board of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue; and is currently on the Board of Trustees of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.

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Sisters of St. Francis, the Quiet Shareholder Activists

By Kevin Roose
From The New York Times

Not long ago, an unusual visitor arrived at the sleek headquarters of Goldman Sachs in Lower Manhattan.

It wasn’t some C.E.O., or a pol from Athens or Washington, or even a sign-waving occupier from Zuccotti Park.

It was Sister Nora Nash of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. And the slight, soft-spoken nun had a few not-so-humble suggestions for the world’s most powerful investment bank.

Way up on the 41st floor, in a conference room overlooking the World Trade Center site, Sister Nora and her team from the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility laid out their advice for three Goldman executives. The Wall Street bank, they said, should protect consumers, rein in executive pay, increase its transparency and remember the poor.

In short, Goldman should do God’s work— something that its chairman and chief executive, Lloyd C. Blankfein, once remarked that he did. (The joke bombed.)

Long before Occupy Wall Street, the Sisters of St. Francis were quietly staging an occupation of their own. In recent years, this Roman Catholic order of 540 or so nuns has become one of the most surprising groups of corporate activists around.

The nuns have gone toe-to-toe with Kroger, the grocery store chain, over farm worker rights; with McDonald’s, over childhood obesity; and with Wells Fargo, over lending practices. They have tried, with mixed success, to exert some moral suasion over Fortune 500 executives, a group not always known for its piety.

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