Global Issues

Meriam Ibrahim, Finally Freed from Sudan, Meets with Pope Francis

Meriam Ibrahim and her daughter, Maya, meet Pope Francis at the Vatican. Photo courtesy L'Osservatore Romano/RNS

Pope Francis met Meriam Ibrahim, the Christian woman spared a death sentence for apostasy in Sudan, at the Vatican on Thursday after she was flown to Rome by the Italian government following a vigorous international campaign to free her.

Ibrahim, 27, was accompanied by her husband Daniel Wani and two young children when she met Francis for nearly half an hour at his Santa Marta residence.

The audience was arranged only hours after she disembarked at Rome’s Ciampino Airport with her family on an official Italian aircraft. She was smiling as she carried baby Maya, who was born just two months ago as Ibrahim was shackled in prison.

The pope thanked her for her courage and loyalty to her Christian faith despite facing threats of execution in an ordeal that lasted nearly a year.

The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Francis wanted Thursday’s meeting to be a “gesture of support for all those who suffer for their faith, or living in situations of difficulty or restraint.”

Doctor from Samaritan's Purse Catches Lethal Ebola Virus

String-like Ebola virus particles are shedding from an infected cell in this electron micrograph. Creative Commons image: NIAID

An Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 670 people in Africa is now taking a toll on doctors and health care workers battling the deadly disease, including two Americans.

Kent Brantly, 33, an American doctor who has been working in Liberia since October for the North Carolina-based aid organization Samaritan’s Purse, is receiving intensive medical treatment after he was infected with Ebola, according to a spokeswoman for the group.

Melissa Strickland said Brantly, who is married and has two children, was talking with his doctors and working on his computer while being treated.

A second U.S. citizen, Nancy Writebol, also has tested positive for Ebola, Samaritan’s Purse said. Writebol is employed by mission group SIM in Liberia and was helping a joint SIM/Samaritan’s Purse team treating Ebola patients in Monrovia. Writebol is married with two children, the organization said.

“Both of them tonight are in stable condition,” Ken Isaacs, Samaritan Purse’s vice president of programs and government relations, said Sunday. “But they are not out of the woods yet.”

Pope Francis Raises Eyebrows by Saying Pedophile Priests Include 'Bishops and Cardinals'

Vatican's media spokesman disputes accuracy of a statement attributed to Pope Francis. Image: Stefano Rellandini/CreativeCommons

Pope Francis has provoked a debate within the Catholic Church after being quoted as saying that one in 50 Catholic clerics is a pedophile.

In the latest example of his get-tough stance against sex abuse — and his signature style of frank answers to tough questions — the pope told the Italian daily La Repubblica that the sexual abuse of children was like “leprosy” in the church and he pledged to “confront it with the severity it requires.”

But the exclusive interview with 90-year-old veteran journalist Eugenio Scalfari published Sunday drew an immediate reaction from the Vatican that disputed the accuracy of the pontiff’s quotes.

De-escalating Violence and the Human Story in Israel/Palestine

Image courtesy Jon Huckins.

Image courtesy Jon Huckins.

I was sitting in the airport the other day listening to yet another account of the current events unfolding in Israel and Palestine. Almost mechanically, the lips of the news anchor spilled out words like terrorists, extremist, escalating violence, detention, kidnapping, hatred, protest, etc. It was as though they were telling a story of some otherworldly reality that had virtually no human implications. It was all the stuff we are supposed to hear about the Middle East, so it successfully affirmed stereotypes, assumptions and prejudice.

Vatican Bank Profits Tumble as Pope Francis Orders an Overhaul

The Vatican bank is housed in the Bastion of Nicholas V in Vatican City. Photo courtesy IOR.

Profits plunged by more than $100 million at the Vatican bank last year after thousands of accounts were shut down in a radical overhaul of the scandal-scarred institution.

In its 2013 annual report released Tuesday, the bank, officially known as the Institute for Religious Works, said its net profit totaled 2.9 million euros ($3.9 million) last year, a dramatic drop from the 86.6 million euros ($117.8 million) it reported in 2012.

The bank said the slump was due to extraordinary expenses, losses related to externally managed investment funds and fluctuations in the price of gold.

Losses included a controversial $20.5 million loan granted to a production company owned by a friend of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the former Vatican secretary of state who has faced criticism for mismanagement as the church’s No. 2 official under retired Pope Benedict XVI.

From the Dust of the Ground

A butterfly settles on the dust. Image courtesy Romas_Photo/shutterstock.com.

A butterfly settles on the dust. Image courtesy Romas_Photo/shutterstock.com.

The ground on our mountain is rocky ground and the land seems to have more stones on it than soil. I think it is a miracle that things grow here, that things grow so well here. But they do. We are planting, as all farmers do, in the hope that good rains will come and help the seeds grow into whole, full stalks of millet. I am enjoying learning the life of a Malinke farmer. Bala is my teacher. This is his field.

Left Behind, Failed Peace, and the Human Implications of (Bad) Theology

kak2s and ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock.com

We often fail to look at the Middle East's inhabitants as humans loved by Jesus. kak2s and ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock.com

Through my work with The Global Immersion Project, I have spent a significant amount of time over the years cultivating relationships among both Israelis and Palestinians as we partner together in cultivating a narrative of reconciliation. As is often the case when we approach a people or place with the hopes of being/bringing the needed change, I have been the one most changed by my friends and colleagues who reside in the Middle East. Behind so many of the subconscious stereotypes and prejudices I had acquired earlier in my life I began to experience the richness of friendship and brotherhood among people I had previously “known” only through the latest sound bite.

Something I have learned in the classroom of real life relationships with Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the Holy Land is that our theology in the West has direct implications for the everyday lives of those in the Middle East. Often ignoring the remarkable movements of peacemaking, reconciliation, and collaboration that are sprouting like mustard seeds of hope across the Holy Land, we often choose only to amplify of the violence, discord, and disintegration of the region.

New York's The King's College Becomes First in U.S. to Accept Bitcoin for Tuition

Bitcoin, a digital currency system. Creative Commons image by Francis Storr.

The King’s College, a Christian liberal arts school in New York City, announced on Friday that it has entered into an agreement with Coin.co, making it the first accredited college in the United States to accept Bitcoin for tuition, other expenses, and donations.

The college’s president, Gregory Alan Thornbury, said in a statement, “Allowing Bitcoin to be used to pay for a King’s education decreases our costs while simultaneously allowing our students to be a part of this exciting new technology.”

Coin.co, unlike most credit card companies, does not charge a transaction fee, so using the emerging payment technology could be a money saver. The college’s website lists a cost of $15,950 for 12-18 credit hours.

Ahead of the World Cup, Brazil's Churches Work to Protect Children from Sex Abuse

Evangelical Christians protest against child sex exploitation in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Religion News Service photo: Robson Coelho

As Brazil counts down to the opening of the World Cup on June 12, churches in cities hosting the international soccer tournament are not content to sit on the sidelines and cheer.

They’ve launched a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of the hundreds of vulnerable children at risk of sexual exploitation during the month-long competition.

With an estimated 600,000 soccer fans expected to arrive in Brazil within a matter of days, the South American nation is under pressure to combat its international reputation as a destination for child sex tourism.

Church leaders fear the heavy flow of tourists during the games could fuel an explosion of sexual trafficking of children and teens at fan fest locations around the World Cup arenas.

Gallup: Gay Sex, Divorce, Extramarital Sex Reach New Highs of 'Moral Acceptability'

Moral Acceptability graphic. Photo courtesy Gallup.

Americans are showing more tolerance for a range of behaviors, with sex between unmarried adults, medical research on stem cells from human embryos, and doctor-assisted suicide all showing record highs and increases in “moral acceptability” from last year .

The Gallup poll’s annual “moral acceptability” scale has been conducted since 2001 and charts shifting cultural attitudes on a number of hot-button social issues. In the 2014 list released Friday, Gallup researchers said 12 of the 19 categories reflected “levels of moral acceptance that are as high or higher than in the past.”

“Americans largely agree about the morality of several issues,” Gallup researchers said. “Most say birth control is acceptable but that extramarital affairs are wrong. However, other issues show clear, substantial divides. These differences are largely explained by party identification, but previous research has shown that age also plays a factor.”

Three issues — sex between an unmarried man and woman, medical research on embryonic stem cells, and doctor-assisted suicide — showed a slight increase in acceptability from 2013. Most of the other issues were mostly unchanged.

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