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A view of Qumran, Israel. Photo courtesy of Berthold Werner (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sifting through religious debris in ‘Dig,’ what’s fact and what’s fiction?

Kimberly Winston Apr 24, 2015

Trapdoors, secret chambers and mysterious torch-lit beach rituals. The eighth episode of “Dig,” the Holy Land conspiracy thriller that aired Thursday (April 23) on the USA Network, serves up all these classic elements of suspense.

But that heady cocktail comes with a shot of religious history and biblical references that add context to what is already a complex plot involving cloned high priests, murderous rabbis and the cutest little red heifer ever genetically engineered on a Danish farm. Can you hear religion and popular culture go CRASH?

“It can’t all be crazy, though, can it?” Emma Wilson (Alison Sudol) asks the hot FBI agent on “Dig,” Peter Connelly (Jason Isaacs), as they look at end-of-the-world messages left behind by a crazed — and dead — archaeologist.

“The messenger, maybe,” Peter replies. “But not the message.”

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim takes his seat as he arrives to brief the press at the opening of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank’s 2015 annual spring meetings, in Washington, on April 16, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Mike Theiler

World Bank launches interfaith push to eliminate extreme poverty

Heather Adams Apr 23, 2015

The World Bank is teaming up with global religious leaders in a 15-year effort to end extreme poverty by 2030.

About 35 religious groups worldwide, including Bread for the World, Islamic Relief International, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Sojourners, endorsed the call to action. Supporters include Christians, Jews, Muslims, Baha’is and others.

“Our approach to this staggering need must be holistic, rooted in the spiritual visions of our respective faiths, and built on a shared recognition of the intrinsic dignity and value of every life on Earth,” the call said.

Observers say it’s the first time the World Bank has tapped the reach and resources of religious groups in combating extreme poverty — partly out of a realization that the work is too big for any one institution, and also in hopes of limiting unnecessary duplication between the World Bank’s ideas and those of various religious groups.

“There’s a real convergence between these dual goals of the bank and many of the commitments and convictions of religious institutions and organizations,” said the Rev. Adam Taylor, a Sojourners and World Vision alum who now oversees faith-based initiatives at the World Bank.

During an April 9 teleconference, Wold Bank President Jim Yong Kim said the number of people living in extreme poverty — living on less than $1.25 per day — has fallen from 2 billion in 1990 to 1 billion today. And he strongly believes that with enough support, that figure could be eliminated in another 15 years.

But Kim said that in order to reach the goal, there will be two important aspects to the fight to end poverty: gathering evidence on what works and what doesn’t work in combating poverty, and enlisting the aid of religious communities.

Robert Schuller, founder of the Crystal Cathedral. Photo courtesy of Hour of Power ministries.

Crystal Cathedral founder’s memorial covered by crowdfunding campaign

Kimberly Winston Apr 22, 2015

The Rev. Robert H. Schuller, the “Hour of Power” religious broadcaster, once raised $18 million to build his landmark Crystal Cathedral in Southern California’s Orange County.

Yet when he was laid to rest Monday (April 20) on the grounds of the cathedral he no longer controlled, his fractured family resorted to crowdfunding to cover the costs.

“Dr. and Mrs. Schuller were left financially crippled by the loss of their retirement income previously promised by the organization,” Carol Schuller Milner, Schuller’s daughter, wrote on the site GoFundMe. “Living on social security for the past years, they were not able to preserve a fund that would cover arrangements for funeral and memorial tributes.”

Christ Cathedral — the name the Catholic Diocese of Orange, Calif., gave the building after purchasing it in 2012 — and a private benefactor covered the funeral’s basic costs, Milner wrote.

The GoFundMe appeal seeks $30,000 to establish a website, an archive of Robert Schuller’s work and a broadcast of the funeral.

“The funds we seek will help to give Dr. Schuller a lovely, albeit modest, goodbye,” the appeal said.

To date, a little over $6,100 has been raised from 44 donors. Individual donations have ranged from $25 to $1,000 since the campaign’s start April 11. Schuller died April 2 of esophageal cancer at the age of 88.

Donors have left many comments on the site, many of them typical of the upbeat, positive spirituality Schuller embraced.

A general view of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is seen from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art looking towards City Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Tom Mihalek

Philadelphia prepares for mega event: hosting Pope Francis

Greg Perreault Apr 21, 2015

Advance preparations for the wildly popular Pope Francis, due in Philadelphia five months from now, might rival the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000.

Security stakes are high, both for the pontiff and the estimated 1.5 to 2 million fans from at least 150 countries, who will be sharing Mass with him on the city’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway. But in addition, the pilgrims will need to be fed, housed, protected and understood in their native languages — not to mention shuttled into town from lodgings as far away as the Jersey shore — 60 miles to the east.

Design schematics need to be OK’d by the Secret Service, places found for charter buses, and all manner of websites designed to incorporate the latest directions, suggestions, announcements and forms.

At the 135,000 square-foot media hub designated for the visit, some 5,000 to 7,000 journalists will need cable feeds, workstations, translators and coffee.

Ground zero for the events is the World Meeting of Families, organizer of the congress, which will take place Sept. 22-27. Its staff of 30-plus works out of three stories of office space rented from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and overlooking the parkway where the papal Mass will take place.

Experts in large-event staging have been brought in to head the major operational components such as security and transportation, said Ken Gavin, director of communications for the archdiocese.

Virtually all participating organizations — from tourism to media to the events themselves — will call on volunteers. Gavin reported that 2,000 prospective volunteers have already come forward, though a request has not yet been issued. About 10,000 total will be recruited and trained for the papal events alone, he said.

Gavin said $30 million of the estimated $45 million WMOF budget has already been raised, and he is confident the rest will be forthcoming. No money will come from the coffers of the financially strapped host, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Desiree Peterkin Bell, director of communications and strategy for Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, could offer no estimate of the visit’s cost to the city, but said that its federal designation as an international event qualified it for assistance on the security side.

A large procession brought the Torah scroll to the new synagogue. With music and dance, the Cottbus Jewish Community celebrated the official opening. The city's orignal synagogue was burned to the ground during Kristallnacht in 1938. Photo by Michael Helbig.

Inside a dying German church, a new synagogue rises

Sumi Somaskanda Apr 20, 2015

COTTBUS, Germany (RNS) For years, the Schlosskirche, or castle church, at the heart of Cottbus’ historic old city stood mostly empty.

Like many other parishes in Germany, the Schlosskirche no longer had a congregation of its own. And recent efforts to breathe life back into the 300-year-old structure had come up short.

There were environmental seminars, educational workshops and, for a long time, food and shelter for the homeless. Then word got out that the local Jewish community was looking for a synagogue to replace their cramped quarters around the corner. Church officials jumped at the chance.

“For me, it was the only possibility to keep the church as a house of God in the long run,” said Ulrike Menzel, the regional superintendent of the Evangelical Church in Germany, the nation’s main Protestant body.

With the city’s backing and unanimous support among church leaders, state officials offered to buy the building for the Jewish community and turn it into a synagogue — the first in the eastern State of Brandenburg since 1938.

Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago, at news conference at the North American College in Rome March 4, 2013. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi.

Chicago Cardinal Francis George dies at 78, an icon of a conservatism suddenly out of favor

David Gibson Apr 17, 2015

The death of Cardinal Francis George at age 78 on Friday (April 17) was not unexpected. The powerful archbishop of Chicago had been battling cancer for years, and when it returned, the toll contributed to his decision to give up the reins of one of the nation’s premiere dioceses — the first man to retire rather than die in that office.

What is much less certain, however, is the fate of George’s legacy as the intellectual lodestar for conservative U.S. Catholics, and how, or whether, that patrimony will endure in the era of Pope Francis.

George was a Chicago native, born Jan. 16, 1937 in the city’s Portage Park neighborhood, an altar boy who thought of becoming a priest from the time of his First Communion at age 7.

In many ways, George ran counter to Chicago’s reputation as an incubator of church innovation, a sprawling, diverse diocese of outspoken lay people and doughty clergy who were unafraid to speak their minds and to champion the demands of their flock.


Book Review: “Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor”

Ariel Morrison Apr 16, 2015

In her 2011 memoir of a year spent practicing a different spiritual practice each month, “Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor,” Jana Riess can make readers laugh, cry, and pause for reflection. From a month of fasting regularly, to one spent on conscious consumerism, and another on being consistently grateful, Riess takes readers along for the ride through a year of challenges and insights. While the practices Riess took on in writing her memoir may not seem fun or invigorating initially, her refreshingly honest writing makes all the difference. Riess presents a very real and tangible voice to the struggles of fasting, not buying anything other than essential needs, and regularly practicing centering prayer.

“Flunking Sainthood” is as informative as it is entertaining, as Riess maintains motivation to meet the challenges of each month’s spiritual practice, while providing refreshingly realistic commentary. While she did not identify as religious in childhood, but came to adopt Christian faith as an adult, Riess describes her longtime fascination with religion and spiritual life as inexplicable. In a year of reading spiritual classics, from Therese of Lisieux’s memoir “The Story of a Soul,” to the texts of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, Riess embarks on a journey to reignite the spark in her faith life. While the year’s task of adopting a different spiritual practice each month might seem lofty or complicated, Riess makes the challenge digestible, relating each text she reads and each practice she follows to her own life, usually with a good dose of frankness and humor.

Model Firman Nazirulhasif wears Boston-based Munir Hassan’s clothing line. Hassan has created an entire line of stereotype-shattering clothing for American Muslims. Photo courtesy of Mohammad Izzraimy,

‘Radical Muslims’ clothing line attempts to shatter stereotypes

Ken Chitwood Apr 14, 2015

Radical Muslims. The phrase elicits images of ISIS militants and terror in the desert, perhaps grainy YouTube videos, Kalashnikovs and raised fists.

What about a man in an ankle-length garment and cotton headscarf carving the air with his skateboard?

Is that a radical Muslim?

Along with shirts bearing the “Radical Muslims” image and a Nike-like swoosh saying “Just Dua It” (dua being nonobligatory Muslim prayer, or supplications), Boston-based Munir Hassan has created an entire line of stereotype-shattering clothing for American Muslims.

In an explicit attempt to flip the script on popular images of Muslims and Islamic symbols, Hassan’s own Sidikii Clothing Co. merges cultures in fashion-forward, Muslim inspired designs.

“I’m Muslim, I’m American. I was born both,” said Hassan. “I wanted to design clothing that showcased different pieces of my culture inclusively.”

Marco Rubio speaking at CPAC 2015 in Washington, DC. Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia Commons

Five faith facts about Marco Rubio: ‘Once a Catholic always a Catholic’

Lauren Markoe Apr 13, 2015

(RNS) Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla,), who is expected to launch his presidential campaign Monday (April 13),often talks about faith and wrote about his religious convictions in his 2012 book, “An American Son: A Memoir.”

Here are five faith facts about this Catholic son of Cuban immigrants who has also found comfort in Mormonism and a Southern Baptist church:
1. He was once a serious, young Mormon

Rubio’s parents baptized him Catholic and he is now a practicing Catholic, but when he was 8, his family moved from South Florida to Las Vegas, where his mother attributed the wholesomeness of the neighborhood to the influence of the Mormon Church. Young Rubio was baptized again, this time in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He spent three years as a Mormon, upheld its teachings more enthusiastically than his parents, and chided his father for working as a bartender, a no-no for Mormons who abstain from alcohol.
2. He frequents a Southern Baptist megachurch

Rubio and his wife Jeannette often visit Miami’s Christ Fellowship, a Southern Baptist congregation the couple appreciates for its strong preaching and children’s programs. Rubio has donated at least $50,000 to the church, which he attended almost exclusively from 2000 to 2004. But he now finds his religious home in Catholic churches in Washington, D.C. and Florida. In his memoir, Rubio writes that he will go with his family to Christ Fellowship on Saturday nights, and Mass on Sundays at St. Louis Catholic Church. His children have received First Holy Communion.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and conference goers sing at the first session of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ 185th Annual General Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah April 4, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/George Frey

The truest GOP believers? Mormons

Greg Perreault Apr 10, 2015

Mormons lean more heavily toward the Republican Party than any other major demographic group — whether clustered by race, age, gender, educational attainment or religion.

So says a study released Tuesday (April 7) by the Pew Research Center, based on more than 25,000 survey interviews conducted nationwide in 2014.

The survey shows that 70 percent of Mormons lean Republican, compared with just 22 percent who tilt Democratic. That 48-point gap is greater for the GOP than margins provided by any other single group.

Behind Mormons in GOP support are white evangelical Protestants, who give the party a 46-point edge; white Southerners, a 21-point GOP advantage; white men with some college education or less, also 21 points; whites, 9 points; and the “silent generation,” ages 69 to 86, 4 points.