International Religious News Updates (4th Week of August)

 In Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam

International Religious News Updates (4th Week of August)

Vatican : Pope visits two Mothers on his return to Rome

Pope Francis visits both the Basilica of St Mary Major and the Church of St Augustine on Monday morning, after returning from his 24th Apostolic Journey to Ireland. Pope Francis returned to Rome after his two-day Apostolic Journey to Ireland to participate in the IX World Meeting of Families.

On Monday morning, as is his custom, the Pope went to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. There he prayed before the icon of Our Lady Salus Populi Romani, or Help of the Roman People, and left a bouquet of flowers.

Before returning to the Vatican, however, he paid a surprise visit to the Church of St Augustine, located just off of Piazza Navona. In a side chapel located to the left of the main altar, the body of St Monica is buried. Pope Francis paused there for several moments of personal prayer. Today the Roman Church celebrates the Memorial of St Monica, the mother of St Augustine.

USA : Onam celebrations scaled down to support Kerala relief

Malayali associations, temples, and churches across the United States and Canada have either cancelled or scaled down Onam celebrations planned for this weekend to support relief and rebuilding efforts in Kerala.

The Onam feast for nearly 2,000 people at the Siva Vishnu Temple in the suburbs of the American capital on August 26 will be served in banana leaves, in traditional style. But the stripped down version of the sadya, the feast will have only sambar, thoran and pappadam followed by one variety of payasam. “The leaves have already arrived from Chennai, and but for that, there is no celebration. There will be a mass prayer for Kerala before the meal. All the money saved will go for rebuilding Kerala,” said Sasi Menon, a former chairman of the temple committee and the lead for the Onam event.

Many other linguistic groups that are usually enthusiastic participants in the Onam celebrations of Malayalees are generously contributing to the kitty. “We have collected $50,000 already. We are hoping to collect $20,000 from the Gujarati community over the weekend,” said Sam Anto of the Kerala Association of Nashville, Tennessee.

“There will be light snacks to be followed by a video message from IAS officer Prasanth Nair who has been mobilising volunteers and support for rescue and relief through social media,” said Vishakh Cherian, an IT professional based in Indiana, one of the organisers of the Chicago event. Starting this weekend, Onam events were planned for all weekends through September. “A few have decided to go ahead with the plans, as the Onam event was the only source of income for them. Those who are going ahead with events have rebranded them as fundraising for Kerala,” said Vinod John, a graphic artist and photographer in Mississauga, near Toronto. Mississauga Kerala Association is contributing 10% of the ticket sales to Kerala Chief Minister’s relief fund, said president Prasad Nair, besides separate fund raising, he said.

Politicians in both Canada and the U.S. are supporting the community’s efforts. Indian-American Congressman from Illinois, Raja Krishnamoorthi, will attend the Chicago event on August 26. In Canada, Prime Minister Justice Trudeau has tweeted on the Kerala floods. Opposition leader Andrew Scheer attended an event organised by Brampton Malayalee Samajam.

China : A rare protest by Hui Muslims to save Grand Mosque

The huge crowd gathered last week in the square outside the Weizhou Grand Mosque, an imposing white structure topped with nine onion-shaped domes, crescent moons and four towering minarets, according to images seen online.

The local county head went to the mosque about midnight and urged everyone to go home. He promised that the government would not touch the mosque until a reconstruction plan had been agreed upon by the townsmen, according to local sources.

The stand-off in the town of Weizhou in Tongxin county, in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, is the latest, and possibly largest, conflict in a recent campaign to rid the region of what Beijing regards as a worrying trend of Islamisation and Arabisation, as the ruling Communist Party doubles down to “Sinicise religion”.

According to a notice said to have been issued by the Weizhou government on August 3 and shared online, the mosque’s management committee had been given a deadline of Friday to demolish the building on the grounds it had not been granted the necessary planning and construction permits.

The Weizhou protest came as faith groups have seen their freedoms shrink as the government seeks to “Sinicize” religions by making the faithful prioritize allegiance to the officially atheist Communist Party. Mosques and churches have been stripped of religious imagery and Tibetan children moved from Buddhist temples to schools.

The governor of Ningxia had been out of the province when the protests erupted, Bai said, delaying an official response. After she returned, officials held an emergency meeting, ordered the local government to review its actions, and spoke with the Weizhou community.

England : Gurudwara severely damaged in Arson attack

A gurdwara in the British city of Leith has been severely damaged in a suspected arson attack following which the police today arrested a 49-year-old man for the “deliberate” act probed as a hate crime. The Guru Nanak Gurdwara Sahib in Leith city, Scotland, was set on fire at around 5am yesterday.

More than 20 firefighters rushed to battle the blaze after the gurdwara’s door was set alight. Reports indicate that a petrol bomb may have been hurled at the building in Sheriff Brae area of the city.

“Fortunately, the fire was extinguished relatively quickly and no one was injured, but nevertheless we are treating this incident with the utmost seriousness,” said Police Scotland’s Detective Inspector Clark Martin, from Gayfield CID. Police in Edinburgh are investigating the suspected arson attack as a hate crime, BBC reported. A 49-year-old man has been arrested following a probe, the police said, The Guardian reported.

The front door sustained fire damage, while part of the interior was damaged by the smoke. Inquiries into the full circumstances surrounding the incident are ongoing as the fire is being treated as deliberate, they said.

Inspector Andy Johnson of Leith Police Station said: “At this time we do not know if this has been a random and reckless act, or a targeted attack on the temple.” The gurdwara, situated in a former church, is Edinburgh’s main Sikh hub, serving a community of over 500 people.

USA : Trump host dinner to Evangelicals

The White House hosted a dinner recently for about 100 evangelical Christian leaders and senior-level officials, honoring evangelicals, as one participant explained, “for all the good work they do.”

Calling America “a nation of believers,” President Trump said at the event that they had gathered to “celebrate America’s heritage of faith, family and freedom.” “As you know, in recent years the government tried to undermine religious freedom, but the attacks on communities of faith are over,” the president said. “We’ve ended it. We’ve ended it. Unlike some before us, we are protecting your religious liberty.”

Trump also took the opportunity to press evangelicals to turn out their supporters on Election Day later this year, according to an audio recording of the event leaked to The New York Times. “I just ask you to go out and make sure all of your people vote,” Trump told the crowd, according to the Times. “Because if they don’t — it’s Nov. 6 — if they don’t vote we’re going to have a miserable two years and we’re going to have, frankly, a very hard period of time because then it just gets to be one election — you’re one election away from losing everything you’ve got.” Trump then appeared to claim that if Democrats win, they “will overturn everything that we’ve done and they’ll do it quickly and violently.”

Attendees such as Paula White, a Florida pastor who serves as one of Trump’s closest spiritual advisers, said the event followed an afternoon of meetings between the evangelical leaders and White House officials. Others said the agenda of those meetings included issues important to both the administration and conservative evangelicals, such as religious freedom, immigration reform, criminal justice and prison reform and judicial nominations.

Indonesia : President Joko invokes ‘Pancasila’

Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, a moderate Muslim who enjoys widespread support from the country’s minority religious communities, is resurrecting the country’s founding secular ideology, known as “Pancasila,” as he aims to counter the growing forces of Islamism in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.

Pancasila, a term from old Javanese that roughly translates as “five precepts,” is a set of principles including “belief in the the One and Only God” and has historically been thought to demand respect for the country’s formally recognized religions – Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism. Promising a unified Indonesia and social justice for all citizens, it has been considered a key to Indonesia’s relative stability since it gained independence from the Netherlands 73 years ago. It’s also why, many say, Indonesia has never had an expressly Islamic government.

Indonesia’s founding president, Sukarno, was Muslim, but his Balinese mother was Hindu, and he led one of the most geographically and ethnically diverse countries in the world. Even before declaring independence, he established the ideology of Pancasila and later integrated its principles into the country’s constitution.

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