At a solemn ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica, to elevate 17 new cardinals, Pope Francis, on Nov. 19, delivered a ringing plea to the world, and his own Catholic Church, to reject “the virus of polarization and animosity," and the growing temptation to “demonize” those who are different.
The pontiff’s address came across as a powerful, gospel-based indictment of the populist and nationalist anger roiling countries around the world, displayed most recently by the stunning election of Donald Trump as president of the U.S.
These new cardinals include prelates from 11 dioceses and six countries that have never before had a cardinal, and from places far outside the traditional European orbit of ecclesiastical influence: Albania, for example, plus the Central African Republic, Lesotho, Mauritius, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea.
But the real surprise in these picks, as in past appointments, is that they came as a complete surprise to many of the new cardinals themselves, and to the pope’s closest collaborators.
Recently, several human rights groups noted that the U.S. State Department has upgraded the status of some countries, notably Malaysia and Cuba, regarding human trafficking in order to improve diplomatic relations with those countries. Human trafficking, which is modern day slavery, is the illegal buying and selling of people, typically for forced labor or forced prostitution.
As a human rights worker, I know it is vitally important to tell the truth about human rights and to not falsify official reports about human rights in order to achieve diplomatic goals.
Human rights workers are rarely “purists.” They fight a lonely battle, often knowing there is little they can do in the offending country and knowing that “good” countries such as the US often will choose to elevate diplomatic goals over human rights goals. That is a fact of life. But when we make such choices, we must do so knowingly, with our eyes open, and not falsify reports or documents in order to sanitize our decisions.
Our official reports must have credibility. The whole point of preparing Trafficking In Persons (TIP) reports — or, for that matter, any human rights reports — is to provide a solid basis for analyzing the problem and identifying the countries involved. Once the U.S. is known to “cook the books” on the TIP reports, it loses its moral authority.
Yesterday, Reuters reported that top bureaucrats in the U.S. State Department overruled experts and analysts by successfully urging that 14 countries be upgraded in the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) due to their strategic importance to the U.S. This report, released last week, evaluates how well 188 countries are fighting human trafficking by ranking countries in three tiers. These rankings are taken seriously in the U.S. government and around the world, with related impact on trade, public perception, and diplomatic relations.
Upgraded countries include those that the United States wants to be friendly with for diplomatic reasons (such as Cuba or China) but also countries such as Malaysia, which could not be included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major trade treaty, if it was ranked poorly in the TIP report.
Despite much gloom and doom, there were a few silver linings in the report. Religious freedom and harmony have improved in Cyprus, resulting in greater access to houses of worship across the Green Line separating north from south. Nigeria witnessed its first peaceful democratic transfer of power earlier this year when Muslim northerner Muhammadu Buhari ousted Christian southerner Jonathan Goodluck at the polls. And Sri Lanka’s new government has taken positive steps to promote religious freedom and unity in the face of violent Buddhist nationalism.
Many Malaysians are invoking the power of prayer to aid the massive multinational search operation for the Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared without a trace early Saturday.
On Sunday, a former Malaysian prime minister joined multifaith groups for prayers at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, where Flight 370 took off for Beijing. Prayers have continued across Malaysia, where Muslims make up the majority of the population, and significant numbers of ethnic minorities, including Chinese and Indians, follow other religions.
At the end of a three-day tour, the Saudi-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation told Buddhist-majority Myanmar to repeal “laws restricting fundamental freedoms” after more than 240 Muslims were killed by Buddhist mobs during the past year.
Before the OIC delegates left Myanmar on Saturday, they visited minority ethnic Rohingya Muslims who fled the violence and are now living in squalid camps along the border with Bangladesh in Myanmar’s Arakan state, also known as Rakhine.
Headed by Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the OIC delegation called on the government to continue legal reforms, The New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.
The government of Malaysia expelled a group of Singaporean tourists for chanting Buddhist prayers inside an Islamic prayer room where they erected a large Buddhist painting on the wall facing Mecca.
The government also revoked the permanent resident visa of the businessman who allowed the Buddhists to pray at his beach resort in Johor state, about 185 miles south of Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Muslim-majority Malaysia.
The government’s response is the latest in a series of crackdowns on behavior deemed disrespectful of Islamic traditions and beliefs.
The "sermon" consisted of reflections by five participants from different regions and traditions who were attending the Global Christian Forum for the first time. They each spoke of the joy, and often the surprise, in what they discovered here -- some of them interacting with delegates from Christian traditions they barely knew even existed.
The unity of heart and Spirit they experienced at the forum had a profound effect, they said. Emily Obwaka of Kenya, a staff member from the Association of Evangelicals in Africa, whom I met on the bus the first day of the forum, was one of those who shared. She said the forum felt like "a preamble to heaven." Such sentiments might seem excessive but they were not uncommon among the 287 forum participants from 65 countries. Joy and affirmation were among the greatest takeaways from the five-day gathering.