Monday, January 29, 2007

Secularists of Islamic Societies Gather for Unprecedented Summit- Monday, March 5, 2007
Monday January 29 2007 16:42:14 PM BDT

Contact: Austin DaceyPhone: (212) 265-2877, ext. 11; (917) 664-3855E-mail:


Secularists of Islamic Societies Gather for Unprecedented Summit
Leading Dissidents to Launch Movement for Reason, Pluralism, and Freedom of Conscience
New York, N.Y.(January 26, 2007)—

From Pope Benedict XVI to the Harvard historian Bernard Lewis, people are asking, What went wrong? How did Middle Eastern cultures transform from the openness and intellectual ferment of the medieval period to the closed theocrat societies of today? Where are the secular voices of the Muslim world?

Until now, they have been largely stifled and silenced. Now, bold critics of orthodoxy are calling for sweeping reforms from inside Muslim societies. With the intent of catalyzing a global movement for reason, humanist values, and freedom of conscience, delegates from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Bangladesh will assemble March 4-5 in St. Petersburg, Florida for an unprecedented Secular Islam Summit.

According the chair of the meeting, the rationalist critic of Islam and acclaimed author Ibn Warraq, “What we need now is an Age of Enlightenment in the Islamic world, of the Islamic mind-set or worldview. Without critical examination of Islam, it will remain unassailed in its dogmatic, fanatical, medieval fortress; ossified, totalitarian and intolerant. It will continue to stifle thought, human rights, individuality; originality and truth.”

Said one summit delegate, Irshad Manji, author of The Trouble with Islam Today, “This summit is proof positive that reform-minded Muslims are creating a movement. We no longer exist in isolation. Those who hate our message of free thought in Islam will keep trying to pick us off individually, but collectively we're not going anywhere except forward.”

The historic Summit, to be held at the Hilton St. Petersburg, will set in motion the generation of new practical strategies from the world’s leading thinkers and activists in an ongoing cross-cultural forum. At issue will be secularist interpretations of Islam, the importance of expanding Koranic criticism, the state of freedom of expression in Muslim societies, educational reform and the urgent need for a paradigm shift in Islamic philosophy.

Speakers include Mona Abousenna, Magdi Allam, Shaker al-Nabulsi, Nonie Darwish, Afshin Ellian, Fatemolla, Tawfik Hamid, Shahriar Kabir, Nibras Kazimi, Irshad Manji, Walid Phares, Amir Taheri, Mourad Wahba, Ibn Warraq, and others.

To promote emerging solutions, the delegates will craft a statement of values and principles expressing the call for a new Enlightenment in Islamic culture. The statement will be released in English, Arabic, Farsi and Bengali to the world media at a press conference at 2 p.m. Monday, March 5, 2007 at the Summit, after which participants will take questions.“

The Secular Islam Summit hopes to encourage a new global movement for reason, science, and secular values within Islamic societies,” said Summit organizer Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, an Iranian-American activist.

The Summit is sponsored by the Center for Inquiry-Transnational, a secularist think tank.
For more information, call Austin Dacey at (212) 265-2877, ext. 11; (917) 664-3855; or e-mail
Peace between faith and reason, in Lebanon and Gaza, says Pope

Once more Benedict XVI calls for a dialogue between faith and reason to avoid today’s cultural “schizophrenia” and conflict with non Western cultures. He makes a special appeal for an end to violence in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. He releases two white doves, symbol of peace, with Azione Cattolica youth, telling them: “You are the true messengers of peace.” He mentions World Day of Leprosy.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The Pope made an appeal today against violence in Lebanon and Gaza, for leprosy patients on World Day of Leprosy, but above all to scientists and men and women of culture “not to be afraid” of the dialogue between faith and reason so that we can avoid the risk of “schizophrenia”, irrationality, and the conflict with cultures in the south of the world.

To talk again about the issue of “faith and reason”, which he so skilfully addressed in Regensburg, the Holy Father used as his starting point today’s saint, the philosopher and theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas, “a compelling model of harmony between reason and faith, dimensions of the human spirit, that are fully realised in their meeting and dialogue.”

“The relationship between faith and reason,” the Pope stressed, “represents a great challenge to the Western world’s prevailing culture and for this reason, the beloved John Paul II devoted an encyclical to the issue titled just that: Fides et ratio – Faith and Reason. I, too, recently took up the issue in my address at Regensburg University.”

The problem is that today man often reduces himself “to think only about material and experimental objects and shuts himself off from the main questions about life, himself and God” and therefore “becomes poorer”. Benedict XVI calls this situation, “schizophrenia”.

“In reality,” he said,” modern scientific development brings innumerable positive effects and this must be acknowledged. At the same time however, we must admit that the tendency to consider true only what can be demonstrated experimentally represents a limitation of human reason and causes a terrible schizophrenia in which rationalism, materialism, hyper-technology and unrestrained instinctiveness” live side by side.

From this comes the Pope’s appeal to “rediscover in new ways human rationality that is open to the light of the divine Logos and its perfect revelation Jesus Christ, Son of God made man. When the Christian faith is true it does not mortify freedom and human reason. If so, why then should faith and reason fear each other when meeting and engaging in dialogue can enable them to express what is best in each other? Faith supposes reason and perfects it, and reason, enlightened by faith finds the strength to rise to the knowledge of God and spiritual reality. Human reason loses nothing by opening up to the contents of faith; on the contrary, the latter need its free and conscious adherence.”

Referring to Saint Thomas Aquinas, who in the 13th century was able to achieve a synthesis of Christian, Islamic and Jewish cultures, Benedict XVI noted that by rediscovering reason open to faith it is possible to engage in dialogue with non European cultures which view with concern and fear the atheistic culture of the West.

“With far-sighted wisdom,” the Pontiff explained, “Saint Thomas Aquinas was able to fruitfully relate to the Arab and Jewish ideas of his time so much so that he can always be considered a relevant teacher of dialogue between cultures and religions. He was able to achieve that admirable Christian synthesis between reason and faith which represents a precious heritage upon which Western civilization can draw and which can be used effectively to engage in dialogue the other great cultural and religious traditions of the East and the South of the world.”

The Pope ended saying: “Let us pray that Christians, especially those that operate in the world of academe and culture, can express the reasonableness of their faith and bear witness to it in a dialogue inspired by love. Let us ask the Lord for this gift by the intercession of Saint Thomas Aquinas and especially of Mary, Seat of Wisdom.”

Following the Angelus prayer Benedict XVI made an appeal for peace in Lebanon and an end to violence on the Gaza Strip.

“In the last few days,” the Pope said, “violence has caused blood to be shed in Lebanon. It is unacceptable to go down that path to back one’s own political goals. I feel a profound sorrow for that dear people. I know the Lebanese may be tempted to give up hope feeling disoriented by what is happening. I agree with what His Beatitude Card Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir said about the fratricidal clashes. I join him and other religious leaders, calling for God’s help so that all the Lebanese without distinction may work together to make their homeland a truly common home, overcoming the selfish attitudes that prevent them from really taking care of their country (cf Apostolic Exhortation A New Hope for Lebanon, n. 94). To the Christians of Lebanon, I repeat the exhortation that they promote a real dialogue between the various communities and call upon Our Lady of Lebanon to protect one and all.”

“Furthermore, I hope that violence in the Gaza Strip ends soon. To its entire population I wish to express my spiritual closeness and assure them of my prayers so that the will to work together for the common good may prevail upon everyone, that they may choose peaceful ways to settle differences and reduce tensions”.

The Pope also made another appeal, one for the World Day of Leprosy which is observed today.
“I would like to greet assuring a special mention in the prayer to all those who suffer from this disease,” Benedict XVI said. “I wish them recovery or, in any case, proper treatment in conditions of dignity. I encourage health care workers and volunteers who help them to continue [in their work] as well as all those who in different ways have joined the struggle to overcome what is not only an illness but also a social evil. In the footsteps of Christ many men and women have done all in their power in this noble cause, people like Raoul Follereau and the Blessed Damien de Veuster, the apostle of lepers in Molokai”.

At the end of his appeals and multilingual greetings, the Pope spoke to the 5,000 youth from Rome’s Azione Cattolica (Catholic Action) who, along with Card Camillo Ruini, ended their “Peace Caravan” in St Peter’s Square. Traditionally, they dedicate the month of January to the theme of peace. With two youths each on his side the Pope released to white doves, symbol of peace.

“You are the true messengers of peace,” the Pontiff said. “With the wings of goodness and faith, you bring everywhere the joy that comes from being the children of the same Father who is in Heaven and of living together like brothers.”

He added then: “We want to be like the doves of peace for all, for Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, everywhere.”
Copyright © AsiaNews

Friday, January 26, 2007

Pope calls for honest Christian dialogue
Associated Press Writer, Thu Jan 25

Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday called for honest dialogue among Christians as he expressed sadness over tensions between churches following centuries of divisions.

Benedict presided at a prayer service in St. Paul Outside the Walls Basilica in Rome to mark the end of a week of prayer dedicated in churches around the world to efforts aimed at uniting Christians.

"Honest and loyal dialogue constitutes the typical and indispensable instrument in the search for unity," Benedict said.

Christians were praying "so that all the disciples of Christ be one, and so ... they can give harmonious testimony to the men and women of our times," said Benedict, who is devoting much of his papacy to achieving Christian unity.

In his homily, Benedict said through such encounters as Thursday's service it has been possible to perceive the joy of brotherhood, together with sadness for the tensions that remain.
The Vatican is eager for Christian churches to work together on positions they can share, such as opposition to abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriages.

Benedict reached a milestone on the path toward possible Christian unity two months ago when he met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, in Istanbul.

Tensions with the Orthodox Church in Russia kept the late John Paul II from making his hoped-for pilgrimage there. Vatican officials said this week they are hoping Benedict can go to Moscow but that there are no concrete plans despite improving relations with Russian Orthodox.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

This small article was especially meaningful to me because my son went on a mission to the city of Vladivostok for a two week period three years ago. During that time they were not allowed to mention the word God and could not say they were missionaries. In the end, except for any direct questions, they found that they could only teach by example. It was an entirely unique experience living, even for a short period of time, in a society that is largely absent of God.

Pope won't meet Russian Orthodox leader, but ties warming
Tue Jan 23, 2:16 PM ET
A meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Alexis II, spiritual leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, is not on the horizon despite warming bilateral ties, Cardinal Walter Kasper said.

"We hope things will ripen for such a meeting, but for the moment there is nothing concrete in this area," Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told a press briefing.

But he hailed "ever closer collaboration" between the Vatican and the patriarchate of Moscow.
He noted the work of a joint commission that is currently looking into accusations that the Roman Catholic Church is proselytizing in Russia.

"This has helped to create a new climate," Kasper said.

Rapprochement between the Vatican and the Orthodox churches of the world is "on the right track," he added, even though "extraordinary results cannot be expected right away."

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Something of Interest a Bit Closer to Home

Is the pope signaling a new age of openness?
Some say new bishop is the latest appointment to favor competent men over those on a crusade

PEGGY FLETCHER STACK - The Salt Lake Tribune

By all accounts, Bishop John C. Wester, the newly appointed leader of Utah's 200,000 Catholics, is fair-minded, pragmatic, nurturing and - here's the key fact - not overly ideological.

Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco, Wester's boss, called him "one of the kindest-hearted persons I have ever met. He's solicitous of people's welfare. He has a good sense of humor and sees the inherent silliness in things."

"Oh, and I think he likes fishing," says Niederauer, well-known to Utahns as the head of the Diocese of Salt Lake City from 1995 to 2006. Observers say Wester, who assumes his new position March 14 after serving as an auxiliary bishop in San Francisco, will not likely threaten to excommunicate Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, or attack gay activists or academics who challenge doctrinal interpretations. They do not think he will be rigid or authoritarian, and certainly not impervious to the needs of abuse victims.

"Some bishops come with their own or someone else's agenda," says Monsignor Francis Mannion, pastor at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Millcreek. "I don't think [Wester] is coming with any heavy agenda."

That's apparently what Pope Benedict XVI wants. Since becoming pope in April 2005, Benedict has appointed about 30 U.S. bishops, and some see a pattern emerging that is distinctively different from John Paul II's, particularly in his later years.

Benedict is more involved in the process, poring over dossiers and case files. He also has Cardinal William Levada, former archbishop of San Francisco and Wester's mentor, pushing him in this direction.

Benedict's bishops tend to be "unflinchingly positive [men] who avoid conflict at all costs," says Rocco Palmo, a Philadelphia-based Vatican watcher who writes for The Tablet in London. Such leaders show by example that the essence of the church is to uplift, not condemn. They are "open not only within the church but in public," Palmo says. "They are working for the good of all, Catholics and non."

It is clear that Pope Benedict doesn't want "showboats as much as good, convincing men of integrity," adds David Gibson, author of The Rule of Benedict: Pope Benedict XVI and His Battle With the Modern Mind. "It is part of a campaign for competency, especially after the sexual abuse crisis . . . [to find men] who can preach the Gospel and mind the store."

Benedict has "actually disappointed people on the right who wanted a purge and eased fears on the left," Gibson says. "He has not appointed crusaders, just good, strong orthodox bishops who can engage the culture without being flamboyant, without stirring divisions."

Niederauer is one such man. He is gregarious, urbane, warm and witty. While he supports the church's positions, he is open-minded on such issues as gays in the seminary. Everyone, he argues, takes a vow of celibacy whatever his attractions.

Niederauer "has been a hit," says the Rev. Thomas Reese, senior fellow at Georgetown's Woodstock Theological Center. "That was a great appointment."

He is "comfortable in his own skin," adds Palmo.

Others see further evidence of Benedict's priorities in the choice of Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, who took his place in June, for the Washington, D.C., diocese. The Washington Post described the 65-year-old Wuerl as a "poised, teacherly Pittsburgher . . . known as a behind-the-scenes bridge-builder, someone who preferred pressing quietly in private to making demands in public."

Wuerl is "thoughtful and well-educated," says Gibson, who lives in Brooklyn. The rising influence of Levada in the Vatican and Niederauer in San Francisco suggests a shift away from traditional Catholic centers in the Northeast to the West Coast, Mountain West and South, he says. "Here it's all closing churches, there it's how do you deal with growth?"

What does that say about where the pope will find his future bishops? After all, up to 25 U.S. bishops, including five cardinals, could retire because of age this year, according to Catholic News Service. There are 14 still-active U.S. bishops, including three cardinals, who have already turned 75, the age bishops are expected to submit their resignations. Eleven more, including two cardinals, will observe their 75th birthday in 2007.

For his part, Mannion doesn't yet see a trend under this pope. "There doesn't strike me as a Benedict-type bishop," he says. "The church is too large for any such thing to exist." Besides, he says, choosing men for their ideological leanings doesn't work in the long run. Men often change when they get into a particular diocese with its unique challenges. "Liberals become conservatives, while conservatives become liberals," Mannion says. "Those with one agenda take on another agenda born of the circumstances."

In a fast-moving world and church, the task of being bishop is tough enough. "Just keeping their heads above water," he says, "is the first thing they've got to do."

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Pope names soup kitchen for John Paul II
Thu Jan 4th. Yahoo News

Pope Benedict XVI visited a soup kitchen Thursday to bless it and dedicate it to his predecessor, 14 years after Pope John Paul II went there to meet with the poor.

Benedict then addressed a few hundred people gathered in a nearby courtyard on a chilly day, saying love and charity bring great joy.

The pontiff also blessed a plaque dedicating the soup kitchen near the Colosseum to John Paul, who visited in 1992 and shared tea with several people, including a Somali man who had been attacked and set ablaze by skinhead youths.
The plaque carried a quote from the speech John Paul gave during his visit: "The suffering man belongs to us all." At the time, John Paul urged people to repudiate racism and xenophobia.

The pontiff brought a large quantity of blankets and warm coats to be distributed by the Catholic charity that runs the soup kitchen, Monsignor Guerino Di Tora, director of the Caritas organization in Rome, told SKY TG24 TV.