Global Issues

Lynne Hybels 07-01-2013

Ronit Avni, photo courtesy of Changemakers

We need to hear more about the people committed to peace.

Eric Lyman 06-11-2013
Religion News Service photo by Jin Lee/Staten Island Advance.

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Religion News Service photo by Jin Lee/Staten Island Advance

VATICAN CITY — Just months after becoming the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign, reports are surfacing that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is in poor health with diminished stature and energy.

After a brief hiatus at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, Benedict returned to live in a converted monastery on the edge of the Vatican gardens last month. Already, some of his visitors have commented on the former pope’s physical deterioration.

“Benedict is in a very bad way,” said Paloma Gomez Borrero, a veteran Vatican correspondent for Spain’s Telecinco television network who visited the former pope in late May. “We won’t have him with us much longer.”

Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the archbishop of Cologne, Germany, and a personal friend of Benedict’s, visited the former pope in April.

“I was shocked at how thin he had become,” Meisner said at the time. “Mentally, he is quite fit, his old self. But he had halved in size.”

Mary Theresa Webb 06-05-2013

An interview with Sen. Ehab El Kharrat, a Christian member of Egypt's Parliament, on why he sees the country as a "work in progress."

Gregg Brekke 06-05-2013

Arab Christians are vital to a thriving Middle East - and their numbers are dwindling.

Cathleen Falsani 05-29-2013
RNS photo by Cathleen Falsani/Orange County Register

Cathleen Falsani’s son, Vasco, left, and his half-brother, Juma, in Malawi. RNS photo by Cathleen Falsani/Orange County Register

Look for a billboard on the right and a sign on your left. There’s a dirt road. Turn there.

In this part of the world, most of the streets have no names. So the directions we were given to find the new compound where my son’s Malawian relatives relocated a few months earlier were pretty specific given the circumstances.

We had hoped to be able to visit with Vasco’s 16-year-old half-brother, Juma, his Aunt Esme, and a handful of cousins and other relations for a couple of hours. By the time we found the family’s new compound, we had less than an hour before we had to get back on the road, meet the rest of our traveling companions, and head north before the sun fell.

I was heartbroken. But when we pulled up in our van, Vasco’s relatives were so happy to see us (and vice versa) that even the woefully short visit felt richly blessed. It had been three years since we’d seen each other. The last time was in May 2010 when Vasco, my husband, and I traveled from California to Blantyre for our adoption hearing. We spent a month in Blantyre and were able to get to know Vasco’s extended family (or, sadly, what remains of it) and begin piecing together our son’s complicated biography.

Since our last visit, Vasco, now 13, has grown about a foot and then some. He’s also traded his close-cropped “Obama cut” for Bob Marley-esque locks. Vasco wasn’t the only one who’d changed – visibly and otherwise.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries on the planet, with more than 9 million people living on about $1.25 a day. HIV/AIDS, which we believe claimed the lives of Vasco’s birth parents before he would have entered kindergarten, remains a critical health issue. Among 15- to 49-year-olds, the HIV/AIDS rate hovers above 10 percent despite widespread efforts to combat the fully preventable disease.

Malaria, tuberculosis, and diarrhea-related fatalities remain high in Malawi. So does unemployment, particularly among younger workers in urban areas such as Blantyre, where it is approximately 70 percent.

Janelle Tupper 05-17-2013
Refugees carry USAID packages, Northfoto /

Refugees carry USAID packages, Northfoto /

There might be big changes coming to the United States food aid program this year, and it could save millions of lives.

U.S. food aid, which began in the 1950s, spends an average of $2 billion a year* and has done much to prevent hunger and starvation across the globe. However, it has also been criticized for being inefficient, wasteful, and even self-serving.

Currently, up to 75 percent of the money we spend on food aid has to be used to pay for purchasing food from American farmers and shipping them overseas. This food saves lives, yes, but up to 16 percent of the money is spent on shipping. To make matters worse, American commodity crops are often significantly more expensive than food bought elsewhere.

Without such high requirements for American commodities, more money could go to buying food and saving lives. In fact, the United States is the only donor country to mandate by law that a certain amount of its donations must support its own economy.

Photo courtesy Brian McConkey Photography

Notre Dame theologian Candida Moss, who wrote a book on Christianity and persecution. Photo courtesy Brian McConkey Photography

Growing up Catholic in England, Candida Moss felt secure in life, yet was told in church that Christians have been persecuted since the dawn of Christianity. Now, as an adult and a theologian, she wants to set the record straight.

Too many modern Christians invoke, to lamentable effect, an ancient history of persecution that didn’t exist, Moss argues in her newly published book, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented A Story of Martyrdom.

Although anti-Christian prejudice was fairly widespread in the church’s first 300 years, she writes, “the prosecution of Christians was rare, and the persecution of Christians was limited to no more than a handful of years.”

We asked Moss, professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, to talk about the travails of early Christians, and how they are misappropriated in the public sphere today. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Alessandro Speciale 05-13-2013


VATICAN CITY — Gains in Asia and Africa are making up for losses in Europe among the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, according to Vatican statistics released Monday, signaling a shift of the church’s center of gravity toward the Global South that was heralded by the election of the first Latin American pope.

Data published in the 2013 Statistical Yearbook of the Church also show that while the number of priests in the Americas and in Europe is declining compared to the overall Catholic population, those losses were offset by increasing ranks of permanent deacons.

There are now about 41,000 permanent deacons worldwide, a 40 percent increase over the past decade. The vast majority of them — 97.4 percent — live in the Americas or in Europe.

Lynne Hybels 05-11-2013

In the weeks and months to come, thousands of refugees will walk quietly down jetways into worlds they've never imagined.

How small my world gets when I'm not paying attention.

Alessandro Speciale 05-10-2013

Copts make up ten percent of Egypt's population. Photo courtesy George Nazmi Bebawi/

Pope Francis on Friday met with Pope Tawadros II, head of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, an encounter that brought the number of popes within the Vatican walls to three this week.

Benedict XVI, the emeritus pope, returned to the Vatican on May 2, two months after his resignation, while Tawadros is only the second Coptic pope to visit the Vatican, after the historic visit of Pope Shenouda III to Pope Paul VI in 1973.

Tawadros — on his first foreign trip since he was elected in November — is staying at the Vatican’s guesthouse where Pope Francis is also living. Benedict is now living in a revamped convent a 5-minute walk away, but there were no plans for the two men to meet.

JERUSALEM — Religious leaders from around the world have stepped up their pleas for the safe return of two Syrian bishops who were kidnapped April 22 by armed men as they were driving near the war-torn city of Aleppo.

The kidnappers, who have not been identified, abducted Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Youhanna Ibrahim, both of Aleppo, while they were undertaking a “humanitarian mission” to help Syria’s Christian minority, according to Syrian Christian expatriates in the U.S.

The bishops’ Syrian Orthodox driver was killed in the attack.

Since 2011, more than 70,000 Syrians have died in fighting in the bloody civil war between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebels seeking to oust Assad’s strong-arm regime.

Embassy of Bangladesh in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy RNS.

Several atheist protests planned for Thursday outside Bangladeshi embassies and consulates were postponed in the wake of Wednesday’s building collapse that killed at least 244 people in that country’s capital, Dhaka.

A coalition of secularist advocacy groups originally planned to rally in London and several cities in the U.S. and Canada over the arrests of four atheist bloggers who were charged with blasphemy in the officially Muslim nation.

Many members and supporters of Women of the Wall pray with prayer shawls. RNS file photo by Michele Chabin

JERUSALEM — Women who want to wear prayer shawls while praying in the women’s section of the Western Wall are not breaking the law, according to a landmark decision handed down Thursday by the Jerusalem District Court.

Israeli police arrested five women on April 11 who were dressed in prayer shawls while praying with Women of the Wall, an activist group that prays at Judaism’s most sacred site once a month.

Immediately following those arrests, a lower court judge ruled that the women had not violated “local custom,” a legal concept intended to keep the fragile peace at holy sites. The Western Wall is a remnant of the Second Temple that was destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago.

Jim Wallis 04-25-2013
Still from video on Fundsazurza in the Dominican Republic

Still from video on Fundsazurza in the Dominican Republic

Stories are what change the world, more than just ideas. And that’s what I am seeing and hearing on the road — stories that will change people for the common good. Nobody outside of Washington trusts Washington because there are no more human stories — just money and the calculations of power.

But even Washington can be affected by the stories outside of Washington — take immigration reform for example, which will happen despite the political paralysis. People of faith are telling their stories of conversion to what their Bibles say about “the stranger.” They are telling stories of new relationships with their “undocumented” brothers and sisters. And their stories are changing Washington.

So rather than just offer you more “ideas” about the common good, we are going to offer you some stories about how ordinary people are creating it. 

Some talented young filmmakers have created stories to inspire you. This first video tells in beautiful scenes, the story of how a group in the Dominican Republic is using a recycling program to fund senior services. It’s about community and about serving our neighbors. It is a real inspiration for working within our own spheres of influence for the good of all.

Watch. Listen. And then create your own story for the common good.

Cathleen Falsani 04-24-2013
By Cathleen Falsani

Girl at a U.S.-funded project Empowering New Generations to Improve Nutrition and Economic Opportunities. By Cathleen Falsani

Many of today’s evangelical Christians seem to be taking to heart the words traditionally attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”

Or at least they were at the recent Q Conference here, a gathering of more than a few of the most influential and innovative mover-shakers of the evangelical world.

Over the course of two days in a format similar to the popular TED talks, the speakers spoke passionately more about what they were doing to make the world a better place than they did about getting more butts into pews on any given Sunday.


An international consortium of nonbelievers is planning rallies Thursday outside Bangladeshi embassies and consulates to demand the release of several Bangladeshi bloggers who were arrested on charges of blasphemy.

The rallies are in support of four Bangladeshi men arrested earlier this month for “hurting religious sentiments,” a crime tied to an 1860 law that can carry up to 10 years in jail.

The four men — all bloggers — staged a sit-in at a public square demanding a ban on the country’s largest Islamic political party; Islam is the official state religion in Bangladesh.

Omar Sacirbey 04-15-2013

The Islamic political party known as the Muslim Brotherhood has soured American attitudes towards Egypt, arguably America’s most important Arab ally, since its candidate Mohamed Morsi won presidential elections there in June 2012.

That’s according to a poll released Friday by the Arab American Institute in Washington, D.C.

Morsi’s term has been dogged by charges that he opts for authoritarian measures such as martial law. Muslim-Christian clashes have also shadowed his term; there were clashes on April 5 in the town of Khosus that killed four Coptic Christians and one Muslim, and violence also marred the April 7 funeral for the Copts who were killed in that conflict.

According to the Institute’s poll of 2,300 likely voters, only 36 percent of Americans had favorable views of Egypt, down from 66 percent in 1997. At least some of the decline has been attributed to the Muslim Brotherhood, which won Egypt’s parliamentary elections in January 2012, and to Morsi himself, who won the presidency last June by a 52-48 percent margin.

Carolyn C. Peterson 04-05-2013

Freedom has always been important to Americans, but a short-sighted definition of freedom has played havoc with the common good recently. Communities, essential to our survival and well-being, are suffering.

All communities have rules. In my faith community, there are two great commandments:  Love God and neighbor (even enemies). It’s a difficult balance, but when I manage it, I experience freedom from fear, a major reason that I joined the church in the first place. Those two basic rules have held up well, especially as my neighborhood has expanded to include the whole world.

Dawn Cherie Araujo 04-04-2013

Sophoan Rath. Photo by Dawn Araujo.

Sophoan Rath, survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime

Shane Claiborne 04-03-2013

Can getting to know people on the "other side" help tear down the walls between us? It already has.