Pope


He’s had a busy summer. As God only knows, he was summoned to slaughter in the Holy Land, asked to end the killings of Muslims by Buddhist monks in Myanmar, and played both sides again in the 1,400-year-old dispute over the rightful successor to the Prophet Muhammad.

In between, not much down time. Yes, the World Cup was fun, and God chose to mess with His Holinesses, pitting the team from Pope Francis’s Argentina against Germany, home of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Well played, even if the better pope lost.

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At least Rick Perry was not his usual time-suck. The governor proclaimed three days of prayer to end the Texas drought in 2011, saying, “I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to God, and say, ‘God: You’re going to have to fix this.’ ” The drought got worse. Two years ago, Perry said that God had not “changed his mind” about same-sex marriage. But the states have. Since Perry became a spokesman for the deity, the map of legalized gay marriage in America has expanded by 50 percent.

Still, these are pillow feathers in a world weighted down with misery. God is on a rampage in 2014, a bit like the Old Testament scourge who gave direct instructions to people to kill one another.

It’s not true that all wars are fought in the name of religion, as some atheists assert. Of 1,723 armed conflicts documented in the three-volume “Encyclopedia of Wars,” only 123, or less than 7 percent, involved a religious cause. Hitler’s genocide, Stalin’s bloody purges and Pol Pot’s mass murders certainly make the case that state-sanctioned killings do not need the invocation of a higher power to succeed.

But this year, the ancient struggle of My God versus Your God is at the root of dozens of atrocities, giving pause to the optimists among us (myself included) who believe that while the arc of enlightenment is long, it still bends toward the better.

In the name of God and hate, Sunnis are killing Shiites in Iraq, and vice versa. A jihadist militia, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, boasts of beheading other Muslims while ordering women to essentially live in caves, faces covered, minds closed. The two sides of a single faith have been sorting it out in that blood-caked land, with long periods of peace, since the year 632. Don’t expect it to end soon. A majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are peaceful, but a Pew Survey found that 40 percent of Sunnis do not think Shiites are proper Muslims.

Elsewhere, a handful of failed states are seeing carnage over some variant of the seventh-century dispute. And the rage that moved Hamas to lob rockets on birthday parties in Tel Aviv, and Israelis to kill children playing soccer on the beach in Gaza, has its roots in the spiritual superiority of extremists on both sides.

The most horrific of the religion-inspired zealots may be Boko Haram in Nigeria. As is well known thanks to a feel-good and largely useless Twitter campaign, 250 girls were kidnapped by these gangsters for the crime of attending school. Boko Haram’s God tells them to sell the girls into slavery.

The current intra-religious fights are not to be confused with people who fly airplanes into buildings, or shoot up innocents while shouting “God is great.” But those killers most assuredly believed that their reward for murder is heaven.

“It’s not true that all wars are fought in the name of religion, as some atheists assert.”Which atheists assert that? I’ve certainly never…

Of late, God has taken a long break from Ireland, such a small country for such a big fight between worshipers under the same cross. There, the animus is not so much theological as it is historical. If the curious Muslim is wondering why Protestants and Catholics can’t just get along on that lovely island, take a look at the Thirty Years’ War of the 17th century, when about 20 percent of the population of present-day Germany fell to clashes between the two branches of Christianity.
Violent Buddhist mobs (yes, it sounds oxymoronic) are responsible for a spate of recent attacks against Muslims in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, leaving more than 200 dead and close to 150,000 homeless. The clashes prompted the Dalai Lama to make an urgent appeal to end the bloodshed. “Buddha preaches love and compassion,” he said.

And so do Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The problem is that people of faith often become fanatics of faith. Reason and force are useless against aspiring martyrs.

In the United States, God is on the currency. By brilliant design, though, he is not mentioned in the Constitution. The founders were explicit: This country would never formally align God with one political party, or allow someone to use religion to ignore civil laws. At least that was the intent. In this summer of the violent God, five justices on the Supreme Court seem to feel otherwise.

 

* Timothy Egan, NYT, July 18, 2014

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In his initial hours as Pope Francis, the Argentine known as “Father Jorge” defined his tenure in a way that seems to confirm his reputation as a humble pastor.

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Traveling to his first dinner after his elevation, the new pope eschewed the traditional papal car and rode in a bus with fellow cardinals, according to accounts given by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi. On Wednesday night, he sped up the postelection rituals so the tens of thousands of people waiting in St. Peter’s Square for the new Holy Father to emerge onto the balcony didn’t have to stand too long in the cold rain.

The latest papacy informally began with 114 cardinals applauding when Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio received the needed votes in the fifth round of ballots being cast in the conclave. Once the results were certified by three cardinals designated to double check ballots, Cardinal Bergoglio accepted the assignment as 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.

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The newly elected Pope Francis and his supporters were out and about in Vatican City on Thursday.

During the official naming ceremony that followed, Cardinal Bergoglio announced his desire to be called Francis, “in honor of St. Francis of Assisi.” The name indicates he will be close to the poor and committed to the good of the church.

This rite was accompanied by a reading of Matthew 16, which is the passage where Jesus changes the name of his disciple Simon to Peter and hands him the keys to heaven.

Cardinals traditionally pay homage to the new pope in the Sistine Chapel by promising obedience and kissing his hand. Rather than sitting, as is customary, Pope Francis stood. As others stood waiting to greet the Catholic Church’s new leader, the pope, knowing that crowds were waiting outside in the rain on St. Peter’s Square to catch their first glimpse of a new pontiff, suggested saving those formalities.

“Is it okay if I see you afterwards?” he asked, according to Cardinal Dolan. “Maybe we should go to the balcony first because I don’t want to keep the people waiting.”

He then walked out on St. Peter’s central balcony to the roars of the crowds far below. To observers standing near the base of the stairs that lead to the basilica, Pope Francis seemed to be overwhelmed by the moment. He led the congregation in two beloved prayers—the Our Father and the Hail Mary—took a moment of silence and struck a meek tone.

His comments were given in Italian. Pope Francis also speaks German, Spanish, English and French.

Later in the evening, cardinals were driven away from the basilica in a collection of small buses. Pope Francis also took the bus, ditching the personal papal car service, according to Cardinal Dolan. They all had dinner, and, in the prelude of a toast, the new pontiff joked with his brethren, saying: “May God forgive you for what you’ve done,” according the U.S. cardinal.

On a more serious note, Pope Francis acknowledged the fact that the conclave voting period had been stressful, even though the official voting period lasted just over 24 hours. Many cardinals have been in Rome since February, before Pope Benedict XVI officially retired at the end of the month. “I’m going to sleep well and something tells me you will too,” the new pope told the cardinals.

Although there was speculation Pope Francis would meet in person Thursday with his predecessor, known now as pope emeritus, the two have talked only by phone thus far.

At 8 a.m. Thursday, Pope Francis, a Jesuit, prayed at St. Mary Major altar, where St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, celebrated his first Mass. He left a bouquet of flowers at the altar. He was driven to the site in a basic car, rather than commandeering his official motorcade, Father Lombardi said.

On the way back, he went to the priest residence where he stayed in recent weeks, the Domus Internationalis, to collect his luggage and pay his bill. He did it to set a good example, said Father Lombardi.

Later on his first full day in the new job, Pope Francis was due to celebrate Mass with cardinals, reading portions of the books of Isaiah, Matthew and Peter. These passages will touch on a variety of themes, from judgment of nations, to the foundation of the church to trials of faith.

Following Mass, Francis will remove seals on papal apartments so that crews can do small retouches before the new pope moves in.

 

 

 

 

By JOHN D. STOLL And STACY MEICHTRY  (WSJ-Vatican City, March 14, 2013)