Annalisa Musarra

Annalisa Musarra writes for Religion News Service.

Posts By This Author

Little-Known Swedenborg Gets Fresh Look in New Book

by Annalisa Musarra 04-20-2012

William Blake, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Martin Luther King Jr. and even Helen Keller all found something to like in Emanuel Swedenborg.

Emanuel who?

A new book, “Swedenborg,” by author and former Blondie bassist Gary Lachman attempts to uncover the little-known Swedish scientist, philosopher and theologian.

After Pope’s Trip, Catholic Bishops Seek End to Cuba Embargo

by Annalisa Musarra 04-20-2012
L'Osservatore Romano Vatican-Pool/Getty Images

Pope Benedict XVI meets with former Cuban President Fidel Castro llast month. L'Osservatore Romano Vatican-Pool/Getty Images

Following Pope Benedict XVI's recent trip to Cuba, U.S. Catholic bishops are pushing the State Department to lift the 50-year Cuban embargo in order to improve religious liberty and human rights for the Cuban people. 

In a Tuesday (April 17) letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, the chairman of the bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, pressed the Obama administration to pursue “purposeful engagement rather than ineffective isolation” with Havana.

Religious Belief Highest in Developing and Catholic Countries

by Annalisa Musarra 04-18-2012
Tony Magdaraog/

Devotees celebrate the feast of The Black Nazarene in Manila, Philippines. Tony Magdaraog/

Belief in God is slowly declining in most countries around the world, according to a new poll, but the truest of the true believers can still be found in developing countries and Catholic societies.

The “Beliefs about God Across Time and Countries” report, released Wednesday (April 18) by researchers at the University of Chicago, found the Philippines to be the country with the highest belief, where 94 percent of Filipinos said they were strong believers who had always believed.

At the opposite end, at just 13 percent, was the former East Germany.

Poll Shows Christianity Good for the Poor, Bad for Sex

by Annalisa Musarra 04-12-2012

WASHINGTON -- Americans feel the "Christian faith" has a positive impact on help for the poor and raising children with good morals, according to a new poll, but it gets a bad rap on its impact on sexuality in society.

In a new study conducted by Grey Matter Research, more than 1,000 American adults were asked if the Christian faith had a positive, negative, or no real impact on 16 different areas of society, such as crime, poverty and the role of women in society.

Religious Leaders Press Village Voice on Sex Ads

by Annalisa Musarra 03-30-2012
Stan Wiechers, Flickr

Stan Wiechers, Flickr

Religious leaders on Thursday (March 29) delivered more than 230,000 signatures to the office of Village Voice Media, demanding the company shut down the adult advertising section on its website,, where advertisements for sex with underage minors have appeared.

"As a mother and as a member of the clergy, I am outraged by Village Voice Media's continued refusal to shut down's adult section, even after being confronted with evidence that girls and teens have been advertised for sex on the site," said the Rev. Katharine Henderson, president of Auburn Seminary and a leader of the petition.

Report Says Church Giving on the Rebound

by Annalisa Musarra 03-27-2012
Giving basket, Suzanne Tucker,

Giving basket, Suzanne Tucker,

The recession and a sluggish recovery have made for a lighter collection plate in recent years, but a new study shows that giving to U.S. congregations bounced back in 2011 as the economy improved.

According to the fourth annual "State of the Plate" survey released on Tuesday, 51 percent of churches last year saw an increase in giving, up from 43 percent in 2010 and 36 percent in 2009.

The national survey, sponsored by MAXIMUM Generosity, Christianity Today and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), asked more than 1,360 congregations of different sizes to report on their donations and budgets.

Churches Lost $1.2 Billion in Recession

by Annalisa Musarra 03-22-2012
Collection plate and bible, Wellford Tiller,

Collection plate and bible, Wellford Tiller,

WASHINGTON--Even as membership remains relatively stable in U.S. churches, the effects of the recession have caused contributions to drop by $1.2 billion.

According to the 2012 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, the almost $29 billion contributed by church members represented a 2.2 percent decrease in terms of per capita giving.

The $1.2 billion decline in 2010 was nearly three times as large as the $431 million in losses reported in 2009, and "provides clear evidence of the impact of the deepening crises in the reporting period," the Yearbook's editor, the Rev. Eileen Lindner, wrote.

The Yearbook is produced annually by the National Council of Churches and is considered one of the most authoritative sources of church membership. The 2010 figures, released Tuesday (March 20), were collected from 228 U.S. denominations in 2011.

Film Traces Real-Life Story of Abortion ‘Survivor’

by Annalisa Musarra 03-22-2012

A new movie confronts a controversial topic by highlighting two words that don't typically go together: "abortion" and "survivor."

"We didn't know there was such a thing," said Jon Erwin, who wrote and co-directed "October Baby" with his brother, Andrew.

The film, the latest in a recent string of Christian-themed movies, opens Friday (March 23) and has broken into Hollywood despite rejection at first by many studios.

The movie tells the story of Hannah, a 19-year-old college student who finds out that she not only is adopted, but she is a survivor of a failed abortion attempt, which explains why she has been suffering from health problems all her life.

Religious Groups Blast GOP Budget Proposal

by Annalisa Musarra 03-22-2012
Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

Rep. Paul Ryan and members of the House Budget Committee introduce House FY2013 budget. Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

Faith leaders and poverty experts Wednesday called the new House GOP budget proposal "immoral" and "irresponsible."

The budget released the previous day by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., included deep cuts to programs that would unfairly burden the poor, middle-income families and senior citizens, said the Rev. Thomas Kelly, who participated in a phone conference with the media.

"Using the deficit as an excuse to pursue a radical agenda that punishes the poor is simply dishonest and immoral," said Kelly, a Catholic priest and Ryan's constituent, on the call hosted by the Center for American Progress.

The Republican blueprint calls for cuts to Medicaid and other programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- also known as SNAP, or food stamps -- and would turn them into block grant programs, putting states in charge of tailoring them to local needs.

The cuts also aim to reduce the nation's deficit by $4.4 trillion during the next 10 years.

Saints Compete for Top Ranking in 'Lent Madness'

by Annalisa Musarra 03-09-2012
Assorted Christian saints images, Wiki Commons; illustration by Cathleen Falsani

Assorted Christian saints images via Wiki Commons; illustration by Cathleen Falsani

As college basketball fans prepare for March Madness, a holier tournament already has Christians rooting and cheering this Lenten season.

For three years running, "Lent Madness" has taken to the Internet as a competition between Episcopal saints in a single-elimination bracket tournament resembling the one followed by March Madness fans.

This Lenten devotional, first created by the Rev. Tim Schenck on his blog, "Clergy Family Confidential," allows readers to learn about and vote for the saints presented daily on the website, with the winning saints moving closer to the coveted prize of the Golden Halo.

"I was looking for a fun way to embrace the Lenten season," said Schenck, rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Hingham, Mass.

"Lent doesn't have to be all doom and gloom," said Schenck. His goal, he says, is to help people "connect with the risen Christ during this season" and to "have a bit of fun in the process."