Research Shows Divisions in the United States on the Role of Religion in Politics

(ZENIT News) A recent Pew Research Center Report reveals profound divisions between Joe Biden’s voters and Donald Trump’s regarding the role that religion should play in the government and politics of the United States. These differences reflect a significant fracture in the perception of the relationship between faith and politics in the country. Contrasting Views on Church-State Separation The Report shows that an overwhelming 86% of Biden voters believe that religion must be kept separate from governmental policy, whereas only 56% of Trump voters share this opinion. In contrast, 43% of Trump supporters opine that governmental policies should support religious values, compared with a mere 13% of Biden followers that agree with this idea.

At the general level, the majority of voters (71%) prefer that religion be kept separate from the government, with only 28% supporting the incorporation of religious values and beliefs in public policies. These numbers have change little in the last years, reflecting a stability in opinions on this topic. Bible ‘s Influence on Laws Opinions also differ considerably regarding the influence the Bible should have on American laws. The majority of Trump’s supporters (69%) believe the Bible should influence legislation, with 36% affirming that it should have “much” influence. On the other hand, 69% of Biden’s followers believe that the Bible should have little or no influence on laws, including 53% that hold it should have no influence at all. Diversity of Opinions According to Religious Affiliation The opinions also vary significantly according to religious affiliation and race. Among Trump voters, 61% of white Evangelicals believe that government policies should support religious values, compared with less than half non-Evangelical white Protestants and Catholics. In contrast, only 16% of Trump followers without religious affiliation agree with this governmental support to religion. Among Biden supporters, black Protestants are the most prone to believe that governmental policies should support religious values (39%), whereas only 7% of non-Evangelical white Protestants and a similar percentage of the non-affiliated religiously are in agreement.

Morality and Belief in God A related question is if it’s necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values. In general, 67% of voters believe it isn’t necessary, whereas 33% think otherwise. However, among Trump voters, this opinion is more divided, with 45% believing in the necessity of faith for morality. In contrast, only 20% of Biden voters think that belief in God is essential to be moral. Impact of the 2024 Elections These divisions over religion and politics could play a crucial role in the forthcoming presidential election of 2024. The relationship between faith and government not only reflects profound ideological differences, but also how voters perceive the role of the government in the promotion of moral and religious values in American society. The Pew Research Center Report stresses the importance of understanding how religious beliefs influence public policies and how the latter can affect the electoral panorama in the United States. Thank you for reading our content. If you would like to receive ZENIT’s daily e-mail news, you can subscribe for free through this link.

(Research Shows Divisions in the United States on the Role of Religion in Politics | ZENIT – English)

Archaeologists Unearth 1,500-Year-Old Ivory Box with Christian Motifs in Southern Austria

A team of archaeologists from the University of Innsbruck made a remarkable find while excavating a church site in southern Austria. They uncovered a marble shrine containing a 1,500-year-old ivory box decorated with Christian motifs. This relic, believed to be linked to Moses receiving the Ten Commandments, is considered highly significant due to the rarity of early Christian sacred objects.

“We know of around 40 ivory boxes of this kind worldwide and, as far as I know, the last time one of these was found during excavations was around 100 years ago—the few pyxes that exist are either preserved in cathedral treasures or exhibited in museums,” explains the finder, archaeologist Gerald Grabherr.

“The pyx was presumably also seen as sacred and was treated as such because it was in contact with a relic. The archaeological and art-historical significance of the pyx cannot be denied,” emphasises Gerald Grabherr.

The intricately carved box was discovered under an altar inside a chapel located at the summit of Burgbichl, a small hill in the municipality of Irschen. The University of Innsbruck has been conducting excavations in this area, part of the Carinthian Drava Valley, since 2016.

“This is the typical depiction of the handing over of the laws to Moses on Mount Sinai, the beginning of the covenant between God and man from the Old Testament,” says Gerald Grabherr.

Towards the end of the Roman Empire, times became more uncertain, especially in the peripheral provinces of the empire, including the area that is now Austria. For this reason, from around the 4th century, the inhabitants increasingly founded settlements on hilltops that were easier to defend and left the valley floor.

Challenges and Controversies: Pope Francis Faces Schisms, Trials, and Social Issues Amidst Papal Duties

It has been thirty-six years since Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre ordained four Bishops without papal mandate, an act that led to their excommunication, lifted by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 out of mercy. During those years, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, was pursuing studies in Germany and later served in Buenos Aires before becoming Auxiliary Bishop of the Argentine capital. Today, as the 266th Successor of Peter, Pope Francis faces decisions regarding the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X, particularly an announcement from its Superior, Father Benoît de Jorna.

On June 30, 1988, Monsignor Lefebvre justified the ordination of four Auxiliary Bishops as crucial for preserving Catholic Tradition, a move Father de Jorna now seeks to expand by preparing successors. This decision anticipates backlash, with media likely to paint them as “fundamentalists,” “rebels,” or “schismatics.” According to canon law, any ordination without papal approval, similar to Monsignor Lefebvre’s, incurs automatic excommunication not just for the ordainer but also the ordained and co-consecrators.

Another challenge facing Pope Francis involves accusations from former Nuncio Carlo Maria Vigano, who faces a canonical trial for alleged schism due to his criticisms of Pope Francis and Vatican II. Vigano, dismissing the trial, views the accusations as affirming his stance against what he terms the ideological and theological issues within the Church.

Meanwhile, in Spain, the Poor Clare nuns of Belorado have declared a schism, rejecting Vatican II and Francis as Pope. They have refused to appear before the Ecclesiastical Court of Burgos, opting instead for negotiation to resolve the dispute over their convent’s ownership.

In India, the Syro-Malabar Rite has seen a significant schism over liturgical practices, despite attempts by Pope Francis to intervene and restore unity. Failure to comply with the Pope’s directives could lead to excommunication for a large segment of the Syro-Malabar Catholics.

Adding to the Pope’s challenges, businessman Raffaele Mincione’s legal dispute with the Vatican has escalated to the United Nations, potentially tarnishing the Holy See’s reputation in legal matters. Moreover, Pope Francis faced criticism for his remarks on homosexuality during a virtual event, where a Filipino student challenged him to support LGBTQIA+ rights and cease using offensive language.

Amid these trials, Pope Francis also mourns the loss of his Confessor, underscoring the personal toll amidst his papal duties. Despite these difficulties, the Pope continues to address critical issues such as the role of women in the Church, Canon Law reforms, and the global economy, as discussed in recent meetings with his advisors.

Renowned Spiritual Master, Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj, Returns to Toronto Spreading a Wave of Inspiration and Hope

Toronto, ON – After nearly a decade-long wait, world-renowned Spiritual Master, best-selling author and global humanitarian, Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj returns to Toronto, spreading joy, spiritual wisdom, and building bridges among communities. This highly anticipated event promises to be an extraordinary opportunity for residents of Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) to experience his transformative teachings firsthand.

In a world marked by divisions, stress, and daily challenges, the pursuit for inner peace and contentment has become even more compelling. Sant Rajinder Singh Ji teaches a scientifically backed method of connecting with our inner space of peace, love, and bliss through the practice of meditation.

The bliss and happiness we experience in meditation stays with us even after we come out of meditation. The experience is so powerful and deeply fulfilling that it helps us to transcend the pains and sorrows of life. No matter what happens to us in life, we have a fountain of nectar within us from which we can drink at any time.

~Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj

Event Details:

Saturday, June 29th, 4:00 PM – English Public Talk: “Meditate to Experience Spiritual Love”

Sunday, June 30th, 3:00 PM – Hindi Public Talk (with English translation)

followed by In-depth instructions for meditation

Event Location:

Delta Hotels Toronto Airport

655 Dixon Rd,

Toronto, ON M9W 1J3

Join us for an evening of spiritual upliftment and uncover a simple yet powerful meditation technique that can be practiced by individuals from all walks of life, regardless of age, cultural tradition, or gender. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to connect with a spiritual luminary and embark on a path towards self-discovery and transformation.

About Science of Spirituality:

Science of Spirituality is a global, non-profit, nondenominational organization dedicated to transforming lives through meditation. With over 3,200 centers in 50 countries, Science of Spirituality has helped millions of people worldwide find peace within themselves.

About Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj:

As head of Science of Spirituality, Sant Rajinder Singh Ji travels the globe, teaching people how they can uncover the treasures of spirituality within themselves with a practical technique of meditation for serenity and joy. He emphasizes that building a peaceful world begins with the first foundation stone—ourselves. We must find peace within ourselves before contributing to outer peace.

His tireless efforts have been recognized at the state, national, and global levels. He has received numerous awards and accolades in the spheres of spirituality, peace, and education. These include Honorary Doctorate Degrees from five prestigious universities. He is a bestselling author whose many books and publications have been translated into fifty-six languages. Some of the notable books include:

For more information about Sant Rajinder Singh Ji, his Toronto Tour, or Science of Spirituality:[email protected], or call, +1 (647) 430 3335

Extreme Heat Claims Hundreds of Lives During Hajj Pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia

Hundreds of people have died during the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, mainly due to extreme heat as temperatures soared above 51°C (123°F).

According to AFP news agency, an Arab diplomat stated that 658 Egyptians had died. Indonesia reported over 200 deaths among its nationals, while India confirmed 98 deaths. Pakistan, Malaysia, Jordan, Iran, Senegal, Sudan, and Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region also reported fatalities. The US believes some Americans were among the dead, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. Friends and relatives have been frantically searching for missing persons in hospitals and posting messages online.

The number of deaths has caused significant fallout. On Saturday, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly revoked the licenses of 16 tourism companies and referred their managers to prosecutors for facilitating illegal pilgrimages to Mecca. Jordan detained several travel agents on Friday for enabling unofficial travel to Mecca. Tunisian President Kais Saied dismissed the minister of religious affairs after local media reported the deaths of 49 Tunisians, many of whom were unregistered pilgrims.

Hajj is the annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca that Muslims are required to undertake at least once in their lifetime if they are financially and physically able. This year, approximately 1.8 million people participated, according to Saudi Arabia. Over half of the deceased were unregistered pilgrims who joined the Hajj through irregular channels, leaving them without access to cooling facilities like air-conditioned tents and buses, AFP reports.

Despite increased safety measures by Saudi Arabia in recent years, the country faces criticism for not doing enough, particularly for unregistered pilgrims. It has not yet publicly commented on the deaths. However, AFP quoted a senior Saudi official saying that 577 people had died on the two busiest days of Hajj alone – Saturday, when pilgrims prayed in the sun on Mount Arafat, and Sunday during the “stoning of the devil” ritual in Mina. “This happened amid difficult weather conditions and a very harsh temperature,” the official said.

Here are some factors contributing to the deaths:

Extreme Heat

Unprecedented heatwaves in Saudi Arabia are believed to be a major factor behind the high death toll. Despite warnings from the Saudi Health Ministry to avoid heat exposure and stay hydrated, many pilgrims succumbed to heat stress and heatstroke. A Nigerian pilgrim, Aisha Idris, told BBC World Service’s Newsday, “It’s only by God’s mercy that I survived, because it was incredibly hot. I had to use an umbrella and constantly douse myself with Zamzam water (holy water).” Another pilgrim, Naim, reportedly died from heatstroke, leaving her family searching for answers. “Communication with my mother was suddenly cut off. We spent days searching, only to learn she had passed away during Hajj,” her son told BBC News Arabic, adding they would honor her wish to be buried in Mecca.

Pilgrims face risks due to the unfamiliar heat, strenuous physical activity, and vast open spaces. Many are also elderly or unwell. Heat-related deaths during Hajj have been recorded since the 1400s. Scientists warn that global warming could make conditions worse. “The Hajj has operated in a hot climate for over a millennium, but the climate crisis is exacerbating these conditions,” Carl-Friedrich Schleussner of Climate Analytics told Reuters news agency. His research suggests that with a 1.5°C rise in global temperatures above pre-industrial levels, the risk of heatstroke during Hajj could increase up to five times.

Overcrowding and Sanitation Issues

According to several accounts, mismanagement by Saudi authorities exacerbated the extreme conditions, leading to a crisis in many areas designated for pilgrims. They report poorly managed accommodation and facilities, with overcrowded tents lacking adequate cooling and sanitation. Amina (not her real name), a 38-year-old from Islamabad, said, “There were no air conditioners in our tents in the heat of Mecca. The coolers that were installed did not have water most of the time. There was so much suffocation in these tents that we were dripping with sweat and it was a dreadful experience.” Fauziah, a pilgrim from Jakarta, agreed, saying, “Many fainted due to overcrowding and overheating in the tents.” She acknowledged the need for improvements but believed, “this is the best organization of the Hajj so far.”

However, the Saudi Health Minister highlighted the resources allocated to ensure pilgrim well-being. A government statement said these included 189 hospitals, health centers, and mobile clinics with a combined capacity of more than 6,500 beds, and over 40,000 medical, technical, administrative staff, and volunteers.


Pilgrims were often required to walk long distances in the intense heat, with some blaming roadblocks and poor management. Muhammad Acha, a Hajj organizer for a private group, noted that during the summer, a typical pilgrim might have to walk at least 15 kilometers per day, exposing them to heatstroke, fatigue, and a lack of available water. “This is my 18th Hajj, and in my experience, the Saudi controllers are not facilitators. They control, but they don’t help,” he said. “In earlier years, the U-turns to access the tents were open, but now all those routes have been closed. As a result, an ordinary pilgrim, even if staying in a Category A tent in Zone I, has to walk 2.5 kilometers in the summer heat to reach their tent,” he explained. “If there is an emergency on this route, no one will reach you for 30 minutes. There are no arrangements to save lives, nor are there water points along these paths,” Acha added.

Undocumented Pilgrims

To perform Hajj, a pilgrim must apply for a special Hajj visa. However, some individuals try to go on the five-day pilgrimage without the proper documentation, despite Saudi officials’ attempts to crack down. Pilgrims without proper documentation often avoid authorities, even when they need help. This issue of “unofficial Hajj” is believed to contribute to the excess deaths, and authorities have blamed them for some of the overcrowding in tents. “We suspect those using non-Hajj visas have infiltrated the Hajj areas,” said Mustolih Siradj, chairman of Indonesia’s National Hajj and Umrah Commission (Komnas Haji). Saad Al-Qurashi, an adviser to the National Committee for Hajj and Umrah, told the BBC, “Anyone who does not have a Hajj visa will not be tolerated and must return to [their] country.” He noted that irregular pilgrims are identified using Nusuk cards, which are given to official pilgrims and contain a barcode for entry to holy sites.

Elderly, Infirm, or Sick Pilgrims

Many pilgrims go towards the end of their life after saving for a lifetime. Some Muslims hope to die and be buried in the holy city, considering it a blessing. When a pilgrim dies during Hajj, the death is reported to the Hajj Mission. Wristbands or neck IDs confirm the identity. A doctor’s certificate and a death certificate from Saudi Arabia are then issued. Funeral prayers are held at important mosques like Masjid al-Haram in Mecca or the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina. The body is washed, wrapped, and moved in freezers provided by the Saudi government, which covers all costs. Burials are simple, without markers, and sometimes include multiple bodies in one place. The cemetery book lists who is buried where, allowing families to visit graves if they wish. The Saudi government, with help from various groups and the Red Crescent, ensures “dignified and respectful burial processes.”

Record Heat Challenges Hajj Pilgrims: Over 500 Deaths Reported Amidst Unprecedented Temperatures

The Hajj, an obligatory pilgrimage for able Muslims, demands significant physical and spiritual commitment. This year’s pilgrimage saw temperatures in Mecca exceeding 115 degrees Fahrenheit, causing many to collapse and resulting in numerous deaths due to heat exhaustion.

The Hajj follows the lunar calendar, which means its timing varies each year. Despite this, a study indicates that Saudi Arabia is warming faster than other regions in the Northern Hemisphere. Ather Hussain, a British imam and Hajj guide with Bilal Tours, noted the unprecedented struggle among pilgrims due to the extreme heat. “It’s just really, really hard. I’ve never seen so many people struggle collectively at the same time, but at the same time, I saw people doing whatever they could to help,” Hussain told NPR from Saudi Arabia this week.

This year, over 1.8 million Muslims from around the globe participated in the Hajj, which concluded on Wednesday. The pilgrimage spans about five days but often involves weeks of travel, significant walking, physical exertion, and intense prayer.

Saudi Hajj authorities advised pilgrims to stay hydrated and avoid outdoor activities during peak heat hours. They also emphasized that walking to Mecca’s Grand Mosque, which houses Islam’s holiest site, the Kaaba, was not necessary for every prayer.

While the exact death toll remains unclear, a leaked hospital list revealed 550 deceased pilgrims, suggesting a severe impact of the scorching temperatures. Saudi Arabia, which offers free healthcare to pilgrims, reported nearly 3,000 heat-related treatments during the Hajj.

Among those affected was Taha Assayid, a 40-year-old Egyptian. He was hospitalized after spending hours in the sun trying to enter the mosque where Prophet Muhammad is believed to have delivered his final sermon. “I am a young man and was hospitalized, so just imagine what it was like for people in their 60s and over 70-years-old,” Assayid remarked.

Pilgrims often push themselves beyond necessary limits, having saved up their entire lives for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. However, moderation is a key aspect of faith and the Hajj. Hussain, who led a group of about 140 pilgrims this year, advised older participants to delegate some rituals to others. “That education … is definitely something we need to do more. We need to explain to our people that, ‘look, you don’t need to go to extreme circumstances,'” he said. Yet, the extreme heat affected everyone. “Even the locals, you know, it hit them as well. And if the locals are telling you that the Mecca is hot, then you know it’s hot,” Hussain added.

Despite the heat, moments of reflection and inner peace were found in prayers at the Kaaba and on the Day of Arafat. Hosting the Hajj is a prestigious duty for Saudi Arabia, which has faced criticism for past mishaps but has taken measures to prevent such accidents since a deadly stampede in 2015.

The increasing temperatures present ongoing challenges. A study published in the Journal of Travel Medicine by the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre noted that during a hot summer in 1987, around 1,000 pilgrims died. Since then, Mecca’s temperatures have risen faster than other parts of the world.

To combat the heat, the Saudi government has planted more trees around Hajj sites, used heat-reflective pavement, and provided volunteers to distribute water, juice, and umbrellas. Pilgrims also walk under misting systems to stay cool. Egyptian pilgrim Ibrahim Omran, who has visited Mecca over 20 times, stated this was the hottest year he had experienced. He noted that many Egyptians walked everywhere and lacked hotel accommodations because they were on tourist visas instead of proper Hajj visas, a result of Egypt’s economic difficulties and inflated Hajj prices.

Omran emphasized the spiritual pull of Mecca but recognized the importance of safety. “I am not going to take risks and kill myself to perform the Hajj. I will do it legally and find the best official way to reach Saudi Arabia so I can find health care, and not expose myself to misery and suffering,” he said.

The Hajj is an expensive, physically taxing, and exhausting endeavor. However, for many, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with people from around the world, dressed in simple white robes, and engaging in prayer and repentance is an unparalleled experience. “I saw adversity, but I also saw the best of humanity,” Hussain reflected. “And I think that is the message of the Hajj: Help one another.”

New York United Church of Christ Condemns Religious Violence in India, Urges Sanctions and Global Solidarity

At its meeting on June 1, 2024, in Binghampton, NY, the New York Conference of the United Church of Christ (UCCNY) unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the violence against religious minorities in India, including Christians and Muslims. This marks the first such resolution by any UCC denomination, coming soon after a similar resolution by the United Methodist General Conference in April 2024.

The resolution begins by highlighting the dire situation in Manipur, where over 40,000 people have been displaced, 250 churches and 1,700 homes destroyed, and 120 people killed due to Hindu nationalist policies endorsed by India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Rev. Dr. Marsha Williams, Conference Minister and Ecumenical Officer, emphasized the importance of addressing the root causes of this suffering, stating, “We want to publicly care for Christians and not only Christians, but other religious minorities who are suffering, and look at the root causes of that suffering in the Indian subcontinent. That should matter to every congregation in New York and around the nation.”

In a show of solidarity, the UCCNY resolved to support organizations like the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC), Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America (FIACONA), Religions for Peace USA, Ecumenical Partners in Outreach, and the United Methodist General Conference. Williams further explained, “This is a call to draw the circle wide. It is our business to care about what happens around the globe and not just close to home. We need to take God out of the box. God is doing far more than what we’re imagining.”

The resolution specifically distinguishes between mainstream Hinduism and Hindutva, the latter being a form of Hindu nationalism which it addresses. It calls for India to be designated as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) due to its systematic, ongoing, and severe violations of religious freedom, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). Additionally, it condemns the continuous violations of religious freedoms and advocates for the human rights of all religious communities in India.

Further actions outlined in the resolution include urging U.S. representatives and the Biden administration to impose targeted sanctions on Indian government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom, including freezing their assets. The resolution also encourages UCCNY church members to contact their Congressional representatives to bring these violations to the attention of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Department of State, and the wider society.

Rev. Martha Koenig Stone, speaking on behalf of the UCC’s Commission On Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, emphasized the necessity of international pressure to effect policy changes that harm vulnerable populations in India. She stated, “It is time to apply international pressure to demand a change in policies that demonize and target vulnerable people in India because we are in relationship with them. Just as we cannot stand for continued violence against Palestinians and reject any form of violence against Jews and Muslims, we must speak alongside others who are speaking for those who are oppressed. That conviction to address unjust policies is at the heart of our Christian faith because we care for the whole planet.”

Rev. Neal Christie, Executive Director of FIACONA, praised the UCC for its stance. “The UCC has taken a courageous step in raising awareness about the harm done by Hindu nationalist ideologies and policies in the U.S. and in India. The UCC has said that religion should not be weaponized. We stand with them in holding members of the U.S. Congress and the Biden Administration accountable for their role in allowing systemic harm to people simply because of the God they worship and the communities they belong to,” Christie said.

Rev. Prabhu Sigamani of the Farmingville UCC and director for the NY Conference, commented on the broader implications of the resolution. “The prosperity of a nation is determined by the well-being of all people, irrespective of religion, caste, creed, gender, and socio-economic status,” Sigamani stated. He added, “A nation can pride itself when its weakest community members are safe and secure, thereby experiencing liberty to the fullest extent without the fear of persecution. The fundamentals of all religions teach us love and forgiveness. Now can be the time for healing. I am urging the leaders to take action to stop the violence. As our prayers are ascending for your safety and peace, we believe that the blessings of Jesus Christ will descend so that there is peace and harmony.”

This resolution from the UCCNY highlights the critical need for global attention to religious freedom violations and the necessity of concerted international efforts to support oppressed religious minorities in India. Through its solidarity with various organizations and its call for political action, the UCCNY aims to foster a more just and peaceful world, reflecting the core values of their faith.

Modi’s Meeting with Pope Francis Sparks Hope and Controversy in India: Calls for Official Papal Invitation Amidst Religious Tensions

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, newly re-elected for a third consecutive term, shared through his official channels that he had met Pope Francis on the sidelines of the G7 Summit. Modi expressed his admiration for the Pope’s dedication to serving people and improving the world. Modi also extended an invitation to the Pope to visit India. This renewed meeting, following their initial encounter at the Vatican in 2021, has been widely covered by Indian media, resonating strongly with public opinion in India.

Indian news outlets extensively reported on Pope Francis’ speech at the G7 Summit, where he urged democratic and developed nations to prioritize human dignity in the development and application of artificial intelligence. This issue is particularly relevant for India as it navigates the challenges of technological advancement.

The renewed meeting between Pope Francis and Modi elicited mixed reactions. India’s Catholic community expressed optimism, hoping that the encounter would increase the likelihood of a papal visit to India and positively impact relations between India and the Holy See.

Conversely, some Hindu politicians from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Modi’s party, were displeased with the meeting, criticizing Modi for shaking hands and even embracing the head of the Catholic Church. Eleven Indian states, predominantly governed by the BJP, have implemented “anti-conversion laws.” These laws require judicial scrutiny for religious conversions and restrict freedom of conscience, primarily targeting Christian proselytism activities.

Opposition politicians also questioned Modi’s sincerity in meeting the Pope, pointing out his recent use of religious rhetoric to appeal to voters by portraying himself as a “messenger of God.” They expressed skepticism about Modi’s genuine intentions.

Father Cedric Prakash, an Indian Jesuit, commented on the situation, urging people to look beyond appearances and assess Modi’s actions. “We must understand and prove with facts that this is not the embrace of a hypocrite. Modi and his party have made the Muslim-Christian minorities in India suffer during these years of government. It must be proven with concrete political actions that the government respects the Constitution and the principles of citizenship for citizens of all religious beliefs,” said Prakash.

Father Prakash further emphasized the importance of a formal invitation to the Pope. He noted that while Modi’s verbal invitation is appreciated, it must be transformed into an official invitation from the Indian government to the Holy See. He recalled that an official invitation was expected in 2021 but was not formalized. Prakash highlighted the potential benefits of a papal visit, stating, “If the Pope comes to India, he will surely be able to highlight the plight of the poor, the weakest and suffering, the fishermen and farmers, the indigenous peoples: his presence among us would be a blessing. We therefore urge Prime Minister Modi to take concrete and real steps now to invite Pope Francis.”

Modi’s recent meeting with Pope Francis has sparked significant discussion and debate in India. The Pope’s message at the G7 Summit, emphasizing the importance of human dignity in the realm of artificial intelligence, has been well-received in Indian media. The Pope’s advocacy for ethical considerations in technological development aligns with global concerns, including those in India, about the implications of artificial intelligence on society.

The encounter has generated hope within India’s Catholic community, who view it as a step towards strengthening ties between India and the Vatican. They are hopeful that a papal visit could become a reality, enhancing the relationship and fostering a spirit of inclusivity and respect for all religious communities in India.

However, the meeting has also highlighted the ongoing tensions within India’s political landscape. The criticism from some BJP politicians reflects the broader issues surrounding religious freedom and the treatment of minority communities in India. The “anti-conversion laws” in several BJP-governed states are a point of contention, seen by many as measures that infringe on religious freedom and target Christian communities.

The skepticism from opposition politicians regarding Modi’s intentions underscores the complexities of Indian politics, where religion and political strategy often intersect. Modi’s portrayal of himself as a religious figure during elections raises questions about the authenticity of his outreach to religious leaders like Pope Francis.

Father Cedric Prakash’s call for concrete actions and a formal invitation to the Pope underscores the need for genuine efforts to improve interfaith relations and uphold constitutional values. His emphasis on the potential positive impact of a papal visit highlights the broader significance of such an event for India’s diverse population.

The meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pope Francis has brought to the forefront various issues related to religious freedom, political strategy, and interfaith relations in India. While it has generated hope within the Catholic community, it has also exposed the underlying tensions and skepticism within the broader political and religious landscape. The call for a formal invitation to the Pope and concrete actions to support minority communities reflects the ongoing challenges and opportunities for fostering a more inclusive and respectful society in India.

Pope Francis to Hold Key Meetings with Global Leaders at G-7 Summit

Pope Francis is scheduled to meet with leaders from the United States, Ukraine, France, and India during the Group of 7 (G-7) summit in Italy’s Borgo Egnazia, as confirmed by the Vatican on Thursday. This marks the first time a Pope will participate in G-7 discussions, reflecting his engagement with global issues including the implications of artificial intelligence, which he has previously cautioned against.

In a statement outlining his agenda for the summit, the Vatican disclosed that Pope Francis will engage in individual discussions with several world leaders and key figures. According to the Vatican’s announcement, “Francis will have a bilateral meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden, a fellow Catholic,” underscoring the significance of their shared faith and their potentially influential dialogue. Additionally, he is scheduled to meet privately with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Vatican’s statement further outlined Pope Francis’s extensive schedule, which includes meetings with a diverse array of global leaders. Among those scheduled are Brazilian former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, and Kristalina Georgieva, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

This initiative highlights Pope Francis’s proactive approach in engaging with international leaders to discuss pressing global issues, particularly focusing on the impact of technological advancements such as artificial intelligence. His participation in the G-7 summit underscores the Vatican’s commitment to contributing to discussions on matters crucial to global governance and societal well-being.

“Transforming Lives” Tour of Salt and Light of the World Reaches Chicago, IL

The Transforming Lives Tour, organized by Salt and Light of the World, made its impactful journey to Chicago following a highly successful program in New York. This inspiring event, held in association with Wheatland Salem Gujarati Service and Emmanuel United Methodist Church Evanston (EUMC), brought together diverse communities for an evening of spiritual rejuvenation and praise.

Dr. Sam George, the Director of the Global Diaspora Institute at Wheaton College, served as the key speaker for the event. His sermon was both encouraging and uplifting, leaving attendees spiritually enriched and motivated.

Rev. Zaki L. Zaki, pastor of the host churches Wheatland Salem Church and Wheatland Salem Gujarati Church, along with Rev. Scott Christy from EUMC, collaborated closely with the Salt and Light of the World organization to ensure the event’s success. Their leadership and dedication were instrumental in bringing this transformative experience to Chicago.

The program was expertly hosted by Irene Christian, who served as the master of ceremonies, guiding the audience through a memorable evening of faith and fellowship.

The evening featured soul-stirring musical performances by choirs from various churches, including the Gujarati Christian Church of Chicago, Calvary Indian Church Youth Choir of Chicago, Jai Masihi Ki Pakistani Church of Algonquin, EUMC, and Community Presbyterian Church of Mount Prospect. Each choir’s harmonious renditions added a profound dimension to the worship experience.

Salt and Light of the World, an organization committed to spreading the teachings of Christ and uplifting communities, clearly articulates its vision and mission on its website: “We aim to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, enriching lives with the message of Christ and illuminating paths with hope and love.”

Willy Robinson, Founder and Director of Salt and Light of the World, shared a powerful vision and emphasized the organization’s mission. He encouraged everyone to be the salt that adds flavor to the world and the light that dispels darkness, fostering a community rooted in faith and compassion.

In a particularly moving moment, Mr. Robinson highlighted the inspiring story of Brother Arpan Emmanuel, a keyboard player from India, whose life was profoundly influenced by listening to the songs of renowned gospel singer Thomas Puthoor. Mr. Puthoor, known for his ministry through music for over 33 years, has performed globally in multiple languages, bringing God’s message to diverse audiences.

As the evening drew to a close, attendees left with a renewed sense of purpose and spiritual vitality. The success of this event in Chicago is a testament to the power of faith, community, and the unwavering commitment of Salt and Light of the World to transform lives.

Salt and Light of the World extends heartfelt thanks to everyone who worked, prayed, and participated in this event. The organization looks forward to continuing its mission and sharing the light of Christ through future programs.

The Transforming Lives Tour has been a testament to the power of community and faith, with each stop bringing people closer to their spiritual goals. The tour will continue its journey, with the next stops scheduled in Brampton, Canada; Kathmandu, Nepal; and Ahmedabad, India.

Spiritual Leader Rajinder Singh To Host Community Event In New Jersey, Canada

Internationally recognized spiritual leader and best-selling author, Rajinder Singh will host an event in New Brunswick, New Jersey on July.5 and July.6.

On July.5 at 7 pm, he will present a talk in English entitled “Peace and Joy Await You Within” with Spanish translation. On July.6, at 3 pm, Singh will give a spiritual discourse in Hindi with English and Spanish translations. The program will take place at the Hyatt Regency New Brunswick Hotel. His talks will include detailed meditation instructions. Both programs are free and open to the public.

The spiritual leader will offer key insights and techniques as highlighted in his books: the Amazon bestsellers Detox the Mind, Inner and Outer Peace through Meditation, and Empowering Your Soul through Meditation, among others. He will demonstrate how this practice of inner awakening can enrich our lives physically, emotionally, and spiritually, providing a framework for peace and happiness to impact not only our own lives but also those of our families, colleagues, communities, and beyond.

As the head of Science of Spirituality, a global spiritual organization dedicated to transforming lives through meditation, Singh travels the globe, teaching people how they can uncover the treasures of spirituality within themselves with a practical method of meditation. He emphasizes that building a peaceful world begins with the first foundation stone — ourselves.

Singh’s contributions to world peace span decades, and he has been honored by many institutions for his efforts to bring people of all nations, cultures, and traditions together.

He has been a featured speaker on many occasions, including the Millennium World Peace Summit and the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations, where he led an audience of thousands in meditation at the Cathedral of St John the Divine. Additionally, he has served as a keynote speaker at the United Nations, delivering a talk on “Building Bridges through Meditation”.

He will offer key insights and techniques on finding peace and joy as highlighted in his books. Singh’s Global Meditation in Place programs, simulcast weekly throughout the world, started during the pandemic and continue to enhance the lives of tens of thousands.

Varanasi: Back to the Future of India

If the people of India were asked about their preferred tryst with destiny, what would they say? Hoping to find an uninterrupted connection with ancient India, I arrived in Varanasi last spring and discovered so much more. In the 2nd century BCE Varanasi (and neighboring Sarnath), the capital city of the ancient kingdom of Kashi, attracted and cultivated faith pluralism, multi-disciplinary and open discourse, commerce, and trade rivaling that of a modern metropolis anywhere in the world today. Three hundred years before Pericles and Athenian democracy, ancient Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges, surrounded by quiet woodland where deer and peacocks roamed wild, served as the beacon of enlightenment.

Sarnath was embraced by Siddhartha Gautama, and it is where he delivered his first sermon in 6th century BCE. Though weathered by time and disrepair, the Varanasi I witnessed was still scintillating as a microcosm of today’s India and breathtaking in divine inspiration.

A city of temples, enchanted ghats, brightly painted wooden boats plying the sacred Ganges, seven priests lifting in unison fairy lights to Ganga Aarti every day at dawn and at dusk. Yet, all coexisting seamlessly with numerous mosques, churches, and Buddhist temples built by Japan, Thailand, Tibet, and other Buddhist nations. A people living a heightened spirituality among mundane domesticity, the city offers a temple for Mother India that was commissioned by Mahatma Gandhi.

Varanasi’s distinct neighborhoods are mapped according to the diverse heritage of congregants from each Indian State from Bengal to Gujarat to Telangana to Punjab.

Varanasi symbolizes a multi-faith nation thriving in unison and a Hindu way of life that is unadulterated and yet perfectly adept at modernizing. Not included among India’s economic hub cities, Varanasi, the de facto heartland, remains untouched by the hyper-paced modernization that is underway in other parts of India. Unknown to Varanasi is the identity crisis afflicting India’s large cities and their conflict with Westernization.

During my visit to Varanasi, I indulged in conversations that stoked my imagination of what is possible in India’s future. Heartened by the sophisticated and global perspective of those that I met, I came away with an understanding of the average Varanasi resident’s aspirations, which is gainful employment and a modest standard of living in their hometown. This should be the nominal expectation of a free people, but it stands in stark contrast with the heightened expectations of the globetrotting Indian diaspora.

Disconnected from the day-to-day travails of India’s multitude, the diaspora’s shared discourse is India’s preeminence as a global power, while overlooking the investments and market reforms necessary to achieve that. What then, does a road map to prosperity look like that matches the expectations of the people I interacted with in Varanasi?

First, simulating the export-driven Chinese growth narrative of the last thirty years that plowed its profits into domestic mega infrastructure projects and mercantilism abroad is not the best fit for India. Inspired by their tradition, but modern in execution, the average Indian appears to prefer economic growth that is local rather than a nationwide scale up.

Indeed, some Varanasi residents were vexed by the clean-up campaign and the construction of an expressway connecting their airport to the city’s hotel district, which showcased the city to the recent G20 summiteer. Creating few local jobs, the project primarily benefited politically connected out-of-state contractors.

Second, despite the strides made in lifting 500 million poor into a burgeoning middle class and some in the middle class into stratospheric wealth, prosperity remains inaccessible to the vast swath of Indians. This was palpable in Varanasi during my visit. Additionally, key economic indicators reported in 2023, both by the Indian government and by the World Bank, point to the disparities as well as the challenges that lie ahead. The country simply has not produced enough jobs in order for a large cross section of its population to be gainfully employed.

On the other hand, India’s economy has the potential to benefit from a significant “demographic dividend” – the average age of the population being only 25 years. Thus, government policies that impede private sector job growth may stand in the way of realizing this benefit.

Currently only about half of India’s population is employed, which is at a lower percentage than the global labor force participation rate at 65% and a Chinese rate of 76%. Additionally, India’s 10% unemployment rate accounting for those that are in the workforce is significantly higher than most developing countries. To wit, India’s 2023 GDP at $3.7 trillion, the fifth largest in the world, is no reason for celebration, as India also has a population of 1.4 billion, the world’s largest.

Third, propelling the economy at the 9-11% rate experienced by China for three decades will require bolder market reform. Perhaps what is needed is a second phase of the ambitious reforms undertaken by the Indian government in the 1990s and early 2000s, which dramatically expanded the private markets and made modern India possible. Today, there is an uptick in foreign investments into India as global investors flee China’s geopolitical risk; however, the same investors have diversified their relocation to multiple smaller countries instead of just choosing India.

India is unable to prevail in this competition despite its significant domestic market, a growing skilled workforce, and the largest working age population. Nevertheless, the current flux in the global supply chain is an opportunity for India, provided that priority is given to local economies such as Varanasi (not just a few big cities) and small business growth (rather than a few large monopolies), both of which are the economic lifeline for a majority of Indians.

Visiting Varanasi, I have two takeaways. The infectious hopefulness of the people despite the day-to-day difficulties they face and the entrepreneurial spirit of the youth who are not willing to limit their dreams to the legacy of the previous generation. This, in and of itself, builds a nation that has long envisioned.

Its tryst with destiny. Yet, despite the gift of a magnificent heritage, India’s potential has failed to materialize in parity with the enlightenment of its past. But then again, the India of tomorrow is still unfolding and that is something to look forward to.

(Sue (Sutapa) Ghosh Stricklett is an Indian American attorney. She practices national security law and defense technology trade at her Washington, DC law practice. She was appointed by President Donald Trump to serve as USAID Assistant Administrator, Asia. Her family has deep roots in Kolkata and in Murshidabad, West Bengal, which she has traced to the sixteenth century.)

Key Voters in 2024: How American Catholics Could Decide the Presidential Election

As the 2024 presidential election looms, predictions suggest a tight race, positioning American Catholics as potential key voters. Catholics represent a significant voting bloc, almost evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, with white Catholics leaning Republican and Hispanic Catholics favoring Democrats. Their substantial presence in pivotal battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nevada amplifies their influence on the election outcome.

This demographic makeup renders Catholics a reliable barometer for electoral success, as they historically tend to vote for the winning candidate. Capturing the Catholic vote is often synonymous with securing the presidency.

Historically, Catholics were steadfast members of the Democratic coalition. This trend began in 1928 when New York Governor Al Smith, the first Catholic presidential candidate, was smeared with anti-Catholic propaganda by Protestant and Republican operatives, pushing Catholics towards the Democratic Party. Catholics subsequently supported Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal policies, deviating only to reelect Dwight Eisenhower for his second term in 1956. They resumed their Democratic allegiance by voting for John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson in 1960 and 1964, respectively.

Richard Nixon was the first to recognize an opportunity for Republicans to court Catholic voters. By 1968, many white Catholics had ascended to the middle class and moved to the suburbs, facing higher taxes and expressing opposition to affirmative action and school busing for integration. Ronald Reagan solidified this bond by adopting a pro-life stance in 1980, appealing to both Catholics and evangelical Christians.

In contemporary politics, Donald Trump taps into the same nativist sentiments that once targeted Catholic immigrants in the early 20th century. This appeal to many white Catholics reflects a disconnect from the discrimination faced by their forebears. Many working-class white Catholics in the Rust Belt, disillusioned by factory closures, feel abandoned by the Democrats.

Catholic bishops have largely aligned with the Republican Party, prioritizing the abortion issue. Despite Trump’s inconsistent stance on abortion, he appointed Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade, a significant move for pro-life advocates. However, on issues like healthcare, immigration, environmental protection, and aid for the poor, bishops have criticized Republican policies and endorsed Democratic initiatives.

The bishops’ election-year document, “Faithful Citizenship,” underscores this dichotomy. It strongly emphasizes pro-life values while also advocating for the poor, though it has not been updated to reflect Pope Francis’ focus on global warming and environmental issues.

Unlike some prominent evangelical leaders, Catholic bishops refrain from endorsing candidates or parties. “You would never see a group of Catholic bishops praying over the president in the Oval Office.” According to the Pew Research Center, Catholics are less likely than other denominations to hear political messages from the pulpit. While some rogue bishops and priests garner media attention, most prefer to steer clear of political entanglements.

The reality is that few Catholics are swayed by the bishops’ pronouncements, even on abortion. Most laypeople have already formed their opinions. Political parties now bypass the bishops, targeting Catholics directly through political action groups supporting their candidates.

With the election expected to be as close as predicted, Catholics in swing states could be the decisive factor. Neither party can claim dominance over these voters, and a small shift in their support could determine the election’s outcome.

Several critical questions arise: Will anger and frustration push Catholics towards Trump, or will his authoritarian tendencies deter them? Will concerns about inflation and the economy drive their votes, or will they prefer stability with ongoing progress? Will they attribute current problems to the president or the “do nothing” Congress?

As the election approaches, the potential influence of Catholic voters remains a pivotal factor. Their historical voting patterns and evolving political alignments underscore their significance in a closely contested race. Both parties will need to carefully consider their appeals to this crucial demographic, recognizing the complex and varied concerns that drive Catholic voters.

For most of India’s Hindus, religious and national identities are closely linked

A bar chart showing that Hindus in India say being Hindu, speaking Hindi very important to being ‘truly’ Indian

At least since the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) electoral victories in 2014, the term “Hindu nationalism” has been frequently invoked in both Indian and Western media, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling party often described as promoting a Hindu nationalist agenda. But there is no widely accepted definition of what the term means, and little data exists on how common Hindu nationalist attitudes are in India and how they vary across the country.

new Pew Research Center survey of nearly 30,000 Indian adults sought to measure multiple dimensions of Hindu nationalism by asking people how important certain attributes or behaviors are to “true” Indian identity. This survey was conducted several months after the BJP’s victory in the 2019 parliamentary elections and before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hindus are far more likely than members of other religious groups to link Indian and Hindu identities: Nearly two-thirds of Hindus (64%) say it is very important to be Hindu to be truly Indian. Far fewer respondents among other religious communities in the country answer the same way, including 27% of Muslims who say being Hindu is very important to being truly Indian.

For most of India’s Hindus, religious and national identities are closely linked 2Hindu nationalism in India also has a linguistic dimension. Hindus are more likely than other Indians to associate national identity with the Hindi language. While India has dozens of major languages, a majority of Hindus (59%) feel that being able to speak Hindi is very important to being truly Indian. Hindus who link their religion with national identity tend also to link the Hindi language with being authentically Indian.

Altogether, about half of Hindus (51%) say being Hindu and speaking Hindi are both very important to being truly Indian. A substantial share of Jains (36%) also express both these sentiments, but Buddhists (25%), Muslims (23%), Sikhs (18%) and Christians (15%) are less inclined to offer these definitions of national identity. By contrast, large majorities of Indians across all major religions generally agree that respecting elders, respecting all religions, and respecting the country’s institutions and laws are each paramount to being truly Indian.

Among Hindus, opinion varies widely in different parts of the country on the importance of Hindu identity and speaking Hindi in relation to national identity. Hindus in the Northern (69%) and Central (83%) regions are the most likely to say being a Hindu is very important to be truly Indian, while Hindus in the South (42%) and Northeast (39%) express the weakest association between national and religious identities. Similarly, Hindus in the Northern (71%) and Central (87%) regions – which include the country’s “Hindi belt,” where Hindi is most prevalent – are the most likely to say it is very important to be able to speak Hindi to be truly Indian.

Hindus with a college degree are less likely to connect language and religion with national identity. Roughly half of Hindu college graduates (53%) tie being Hindu with being truly Indian, compared with nearly two-thirds of other Hindus (65%). Religious observance plays a role as well: Among Hindus who say religion is very important in their lives, 70% say being Hindu is very important to being truly Indian, compared with 34% among less religiously committed Hindus.

A bar chart showing that beliefs about Indian identity are tied to voting patterns

These beliefs about Hindu nationalism are strongly reflected in political behavior. Roughly half of Hindus who say they voted in the 2019 election say they voted for the ruling BJP (49%), but support for the BJP is considerably higher among those who say both being Hindu and speaking Hindi are very important to be truly Indian. Six-in-ten Hindu voters who place great importance on both of these attributes say they voted for the BJP in the 2019 parliamentary election. By comparison, 33% of those who say neither being Hindu nor being able to speak Hindi is very important to national identity reported voting for the party.

Although this group of Hindu BJP voters may see a special place for Hindus in India, they are just as likely as other Hindus to say respecting other religions is crucial to being truly Indian. And they are even more likely to say that religious diversity benefits India. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of this group – Hindus who say that being a Hindu and speaking Hindi are very important to be truly Indian and who voted for the BJP in 2019 – say religious diversity is a good thing for the country, compared with about half (47%) of other Hindu voters who say the same.

At the same time, Hindus who express this combination of Hindu nationalist positions also are more inclined to support a religiously segregated India – by opposing interreligious marriage, for instance. More than eight-in-ten in this group (83%) say it is very important to stop Hindu women from marrying into another religion, compared with roughly six-in-ten (61%) among other Hindu voters.

Pope Francis Apologizes for Reported Use of Derogatory Term Regarding Gay Men, Highlighting Tensions Within Catholic Church on LGBTQ+ Inclusion

Pope Francis issued an apology on Tuesday following a media storm sparked by his reported use of a vulgar term to describe gay men while reaffirming the Catholic Church’s prohibition on gay priests. The incident highlighted the tension between the church’s official stance on homosexuality and the presence of gay men within its ranks, as well as the desire of LGBTQ+ Catholics for full inclusion in the church.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni acknowledged the controversy surrounding Francis’ remarks, delivered during a closed-door meeting with Italian bishops on May 20. According to reports in the Italian media, Francis used the term “faggotness” in Italian while restating the Vatican’s ban on admitting gay men to seminaries and ordaining them as priests.

Bruni emphasized that Francis never intended to offend or express homophobic sentiments, expressing apologies to those who were offended by the reported use of the term. However, Bruni neither confirmed nor denied the pope’s use of the word, adhering to the Vatican’s tradition of confidentiality regarding discussions behind closed doors.

For advocates of LGBTQ+ rights within the Catholic Church, the issue extended beyond the specific term used by the pope. Natalia Imperatori-Lee, chair of the religious studies department at Manhattan College, emphasized the damage caused by the church’s continued prohibition on gay men entering the priesthood.

“The LGBTQ community seems to be a constant target of offhand, off-the-cuff ‘mistakes’ from people in the Vatican, including the pope, who should know better,” she remarked.

The context of Francis’ remarks was a meeting with the Italian bishops conference, during which a new document outlining training for Italian seminarians was discussed. The document reportedly aimed to introduce celibacy as the primary criterion for priests, regardless of sexual orientation, thereby suggesting a potential modification to the Vatican’s absolute ban on gay priests.

The Vatican’s prohibition on gay priests dates back to a 2005 document from the Congregation for Catholic Education, reiterated in a subsequent document in 2016. Critics have long condemned this position as homophobic, particularly given the presence of gay priests within the clergy.

The late Richard Sipe, a psychotherapist and former Benedictine monk, estimated that up to 30% of the U.S. clergy was homosexually oriented. Similarly, the late Rev. Donald Cozzens argued that the priesthood in the U.S. was increasingly becoming dominated by gay men.

While Church teaching emphasizes the dignity and respect owed to gay individuals, it also categorizes homosexual activity as “intrinsically disordered.” Francis, known for his outreach to LGBTQ+ Catholics, has made efforts to engage with the community, but his comments have sometimes caused offense.

Francis’ use of colloquial language and informal style has occasionally led to controversy, as seen in his past remarks about homosexuality. Despite his efforts to promote inclusivity, he has faced criticism from LGBTQ+ advocates for maintaining certain traditional positions, such as opposing gender-affirming surgery.

New Ways Ministry, an organization advocating for LGBTQ+ Catholics, welcomed Francis’ apology but raised concerns about the underlying attitudes reflected in his comments and the broader ban on gay priests. Similarly, Andrea Rubera of Paths of Hope, an Italian association of LGBTQ+ Christians, expressed disappointment at the lack of a clear denial from the Vatican and called for a more inclusive dialogue within the Church.

Pope Francis’ apology for his reported use of a derogatory term underscored ongoing tensions within the Catholic Church regarding homosexuality and the inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals. While the incident prompted reflection on the language used by church leaders, it also highlighted the need for a deeper dialogue and reconsideration of existing policies regarding gay priests.

India’s Christian Community Faces Crucial Crossroads Amidst 2024 Elections: Persecution, Representation, and Political Stakes

As India prepares for the largest national elections ever conducted globally, the Christian community, though a minority, faces unique challenges highlighting the importance of their political representation.

The issues range from religious persecution to anti-conversion laws, with recent unrest in the Christian-majority state of Manipur underscoring the urgent need for Christian voices to be heard.

Comprising about 2.3 percent of India’s population, the Christian community is a significant part of this pluralistic society. However, this community often navigates a complex landscape of religious freedom and cultural integration. Despite constitutional protections, incidents of persecution persist, making political empowerment essential for safeguarding their rights.

A recent report by the United Christian Forum (UCF), a civil society organization based in Delhi dedicated to Christian concerns, revealed a significant decline in the fundamental rights and protections of Indian Christians in the first three months of this year.

The 2024 Indian election, which began on April 19 and concludes on June 1, has been a lengthy process.

The UCF reported 70 violent incidents against Christians in January, 62 in February, and 29 in the first half of March, totaling 161 incidents over two and a half months. These incidents included violence, assaults on churches or prayer meetings, harassment of individuals practicing their faith, social ostracism, restricted access to communal resources, and unfounded accusations, notably concerning “forced conversions.”

A.C. Michael, a former member of the Delhi state minority commission, told Religion Unplugged that he wants the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to lose the upcoming elections.

“The Christian community is in deep prayers these days,” he said. “They want this government to go. There is a fear among the Christian community that if this government comes to power the attacks on Christians will increase.”

He added that under BJP rule, Christians have faced both physical and legal violence, referring to the anti-conversion laws existing in 12 Indian states.

Persecution and representation

One of the most pressing issues for the Christian community in India is the prevalence of anti-conversion laws enacted by various states. These laws, justified as measures to prevent coerced conversions, have been criticized for their potential misuse against minorities. They create an atmosphere of suspicion and hostility, deterring individuals from freely choosing or changing their faith.

Christians and other minorities see these laws as impediments to their religious autonomy, emphasizing the need for sensitive and secular governance that Lok Sabha representatives can influence. Historically, the BJP has provided minimal representation to Christians. In the previous Lok Sabha, John Barla from Bengal was the only Christian BJP member of Parliament, serving as a deputy minister for minority affairs. During the last Parliament’s five-year term under Modi’s leadership, there were no Christian or Muslim cabinet ministers.

Modi and his party have been making efforts to establish a presence in Kerala, a state traditionally oscillating between the Marxist alliance and Congress-led governments. Currently, the Marxists govern the state, while Congress controls 19 out of 20 parliamentary seats.

The BJP has attempted to deepen divisions between Central Kerala’s Christian communities and the Muslims in the neighboring northern regions. In a bid to expand its reach in Kerala, the BJP succeeded in winning over Anil Antony, son of the renowned Congress leader and former defense minister A.K. Antony.

Christians running for office

This development represents a significant setback for Congress, a party deeply entrenched in the state and representative of diverse groups ranging from fishermen and boatmen to affluent stakeholders in the spices, tea, coffee, and rubber industries and business segments held by Christians. With a scant industrial presence, Kerala lacks a substantial corporate and industrial elite.

Despite these efforts, the BJP has not nominated additional Christian candidates in Kerala. The Congress-led United Democratic Front has five Christians in the race: Dean Kuriakose, Hibi Eaden, Benny Behanan, Anto Antony, and Francis George.

The Left Democratic Front (LDF) has nominated P.C. George. In Goa, Viriato Fernandes is contesting for a seat, and while the number of Christians running for the DMK in Tamil Nadu remains unclear, the state typically sends at least two Christians to Parliament.

Meanwhile, the count of Christian candidates in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana is complicated by several Dalit candidates possibly registering as Hindus. The Congress has nominated at least one known and one Dalit candidate from Telangana.

The northeast, often perceived as predominantly Christian, presents a stark contrast. Arunachal Pradesh features a Christian candidate from the Congress, and Assam has just one, RoslinaTirky. Jones IngtyKathar, a former bureaucrat, has support from the Autonomous Hills People Party. Except for Orissa and Jharkhand, which may collectively have about four Christian candidates representing Congress and its allies in Jharkhand and the Biju Janata Dal in Orissa, other states are unlikely to see Christian candidates from major parties.

Additionally, several individuals are running as independents or with support from lesser-known parties, such as Anson Thomas of the PPI Secular, a former official and activist, and Samuel Soni, a candidate in Punjab supported by a group of independent churches.

As India moves closer to another election, the Christian community, like many other minorities, stands at a crossroads. The choice of representatives could very well determine the course of their rights, security, and place within the Indian tapestry for the next several years.

USCIRF Report Identifies Top 17 Nations with Worst Religious Persecution: Afghanistan, China, India Among Key Offenders

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) published its latest report on Wednesday, spotlighting the countries with the most severe religious persecution globally.

This annual report serves as a guide for the State Department to advocate for religious freedom, often leading to sanctions against countries that violate these rights, with the aim of pressuring them to enhance their religious tolerance.

The report identifies Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, India, Iran, Nicaragua, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam as the worst offenders this year. USCIRF recommends that these nations be labeled as “countries of particular concern” (CPCs), a designation considered the U.S.’s “most powerful tool” for promoting religious freedom.


Under Taliban rule, religious freedom in Afghanistan has deteriorated significantly. The report indicates that the Taliban enforces a strict apostasy law prohibiting conversions from Islam and has imposed numerous restrictions on women’s dress, movement, education, and employment. Despite these concerns, Afghanistan is not currently a CPC, although the Taliban is classified as an “entity of particular concern” (EPC).


Azerbaijan, a predominantly Muslim country, appears on USCIRF’s CPC list for the first time this year due to increasing violations of religious rights affecting both Azerbaijani Muslims and ethnic minorities, particularly Armenian Christians. The report states that Azerbaijani citizens are “routinely” harassed, fined, and imprisoned for their religious activities. In 2023, 183 “peaceful believers” were unjustly imprisoned. Following Azerbaijan’s violent takeover of Nagorno-Karabakh and the resulting mass exodus of Armenian Christians, several historic Christian sites were damaged. Concerns also remain about further threats to ancient religious sites, and Armenian Apostolic priests were evicted from the Dadivank Monastery.


China remains a regular feature on USCIRF’s CPC list due to its continued “sinicization” program, which enforces the Chinese Communist Party’s ideology on all citizens and religions. The Chinese government strictly controls all religious activities and punishes unauthorized religious practices severely. In 2023, Chinese authorities “forcibly disappeared” and convicted underground Catholic priests, including two bishops. The government continues its persecution of Muslim Uyghurs through forced labor and indoctrination camps, and thousands of Falun Gong practitioners are also imprisoned.


India, the world’s second-most populous country, is led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu Nationalist government, under which religious freedom has worsened. Despite constitutional protections, many regions enforce anti-conversion laws. In 2023, thousands of Christians and Muslims faced attacks and intimidation, and hundreds of churches and mosques were destroyed.


In Iran, religious freedom remains “extremely poor.” In 2023, the government systematically harassed, arrested, raped, tortured, and executed protesters against mandatory hijab laws and other religious restrictions. Religious minorities, including Sunni Muslims, faced severe punishments, sometimes execution, for violating strict Islamic laws.


In Nicaragua, dictators Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo intensified their persecution of the Catholic Church and other religious groups in 2023. The government seized assets and properties of Catholic institutions and imprisoned and exiled hundreds of Catholics and political dissidents. Bishop Rolando Alvarez, a vocal critic of the regime, was sentenced to 26 years in prison and spent all of 2023 with little to no contact with the outside world before being exiled to the Vatican.


Nigeria saw over 8,000 Christians killed in 2023, with attacks peaking during Christmas weekend, resulting in 190 deaths in Plateau state. Nigerian Christians, who constitute 46% of the population, suffered widespread violence, kidnappings, and intimidation largely ignored by the government. Despite recommendations from USCIRF, Nigeria has not been designated a CPC by the State Department since 2021.


Pakistan experienced a significant increase in terrorist attacks against religious minorities and places of worship in 2023. The government further strengthened prohibitions against “blasphemy,” often used to target religious minorities. In August, a mob attacked a Christian community in Jaranwala over a blasphemy accusation, resulting in the destruction of homes and damage to at least 24 churches.

Other Concerning Trends

Transnational Persecution: USCIRF reported an increase in transnational repression by governments like China and India, which targeted religious minorities abroad. Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan were also noted for such activities.

Blasphemy Laws: Blasphemy laws, active in 96 countries, pose a significant challenge to global religious freedom by punishing actions deemed offensive to the prevailing religion or ideology. These laws often incite violence against religious minorities.

Europe:The report mentioned concerning trends in Europe, citing the arrest of U.K. citizen Isabel Vaughan-Spruce for silently praying outside an abortion clinic in Birmingham, and Finnish MP Päivi Räsänen facing human rights violation charges for expressing her religious views on sexuality and marriage.

The USCIRF report underscores the persistent and worsening state of religious persecution worldwide, urging the U.S. to use its influence to advocate for greater religious tolerance and freedom through diplomatic and economic pressure.

Discover the Path to Self-Realization Through Om Kriya Yoga: Insights from Shomik Chaudhuri’s ‘Some Whispers From Eternity

“Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to reveal the divinity within,” proclaimed Vivekananda. The Bhagavad Gita offers various paths to achieve this, including jnana yoga, karma yoga, and bhakti yoga. Shomik Chaudhuri’s book, “Some Whispers From Eternity” (hereafter “Whispers”), explores achieving self-realization through Om Kriya Yoga.

For those seeking simple guides to Vedic practices, “Whispers” might not meet expectations. This book demands serious engagement, with an in-depth approach that discourages superficial reading or selective skimming.

In the introduction, Chaudhuri emphasizes the neglected importance of the spiritual level, which he describes as “the foundation of our very existence.” He posits that reconnecting with our spiritual selves could address many contemporary life issues. He encourages readers to practice the Kriyas described in “Whispers” methodically, step by step.

Kriya, a Sanskrit term meaning ‘action’, forms the essence of Kriya Yoga—a path of spiritual progress through action. Chaudhuri explains Kriya Yoga as a disciplined system for spiritual development.

In an exclusive interview with News India Times, Chaudhuri shared his lifelong fascination with yoga and meditation. As a child, he mimicked meditation, and in college, a professor initiated him into Kriya Yoga, a practice he has continued ever since. Moving to the U.S. highlighted for him the necessity of a guru’s guidance. Chaudhuri’s spiritual journey advanced significantly when he met Jagatguru Ramanandacharya Rajivlochanacharya, who was initiated by Mahavatar Kriya Babaji, the reviver of Kriya Yoga.

Recalling his first encounter with Jagatguru Ramanandacharya, Chaudhuri described him as possessing a “glorious face and a personality vibrating with energy,” adding that his eyes were “like the sun.” This meeting, followed by his initiation, profoundly transformed Chaudhuri’s understanding of the universe.

In Vedic tradition, an enlightened Guru alone can impart the esoteric knowledge and guidance required for Kriya Yoga. This aspect of the Vedic yoga systems demands earnest attention and respect. Inspired by his guru’s wish to disseminate this wisdom, Chaudhuri authored “Whispers.” Although writing the book faced numerous delays, Chaudhuri credits divine assistance for its completion. He emphasized that “Whispers” offers comprehensive information to facilitate sincere practice.

“Whispers,” aimed at readers over 12 years old, aims to alleviate sadness, anxiety, and depression, promoting spiritual upliftment through OM Kriya Yoga. Chaudhuri believes that this practice can foster an awareness of the interconnectedness of all beings and ultimately lead to world peace, asserting, “Peace cannot be created outwardly. Everything comes from within us.”

Chaudhuri warns against simplistic online tutorials for awakening the Kundalini. “Rousing Kundalini requires sincerely following a few processes,” he explains, cautioning that it demands thorough preparation and cannot be rushed. Improperly arousing the Kundalini can be harmful, whereas a natural approach ensures manageable experiences.

Despite the dense content, Chaudhuri makes “Whispers” accessible through conversational narratives with a friend. However, he notes that diagrams could have further clarified his explanations.

A distinctive feature of “Whispers” is the historical and architectural descriptions of renowned Indian temples at the end of each chapter. The book justifies this by noting, “In Vedic times, the temple was seen as a link between man and god, and between the actual and the ultimate.” Chaudhuri asserts that ancient temples are energy powerhouses, with their architecture following Vastu Shastra principles. For example, Chapter 1 elaborates on the Tirupati temple in Andhra Pradesh, highlighting its symbolic representation of elemental principles.

“Whispers” also guides readers in identifying Chakras before performing Kriyas to awaken the Kundalini Chakra. Chakras, explained as energy wheels from the spine’s base to the head’s crown, store the energy of thoughts, emotions, memories, and actions. These energy centers influence our attitudes, behaviors, emotional health, and actions. The book then explores Patanjali’s eightfold Yoga Sutras, which prepare the body and mind for enlightenment and self-realization.

Chaudhuri introduces OM Kriya Yoga later in the book, likening it to entering a temple’s innermost sanctum. The first step involves chanting OM, where ‘O’ is chanted 25% of the time and ‘M’ 75%. “It is actually AUM, but the ‘A’ and ‘U’ combine to become ‘O’,” the book clarifies. Subsequent chapters detail Kriyas involving movements like raising hands or closing ears while chanting OM to harness its power.

The book dedicates an entire chapter to Chaudhuri’s gurus, Mahavatar Kriya Babaji and Jagadguru Ramanandacharya Rajivlochanacharya, detailing their lives and teachings.

Chapter 12 addresses achieving balance in daily life, outlining the four Purusharthas (goals): Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. It delves into Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra methods for balancing physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, environmental, work-related, and financial health.

“Whispers” concludes with guidance on realizing the oneness of all creation. Chaudhuri, with a strong interest in quantum physics, is convinced of the unity of existence, stating, “The whole creation is one, in various forms.” The book aims to illuminate this truth.

“Whispers” is a profound and comprehensive guide for those earnestly seeking spiritual advancement through Om Kriya Yoga, blending ancient wisdom with practical instructions for modern spiritual seekers.

Militant Hindutva and Gender: The Rise of Aggressive Female Mobilization in India’s Right-Wing Politics

Savarkar’s call for the “militarisation” of the “Hindu race” is deeply intertwined with the promotion of masculinity as a fundamental aspect of Hindutva. This vision encompasses the creation of a macho warrior figure whose existence relies on aggression against perceived enemies. Such a warrior is driven by the desire to avenge “historical wrongs” and views every non-Hindu as a potential adversary unless they atone for the alleged crimes of their ancestors by accepting punishment. This ideology fosters the belief that no Hindu, particularly if a Brahmin, can ever be a “terrorist,” and must always be seen as virtuous.

In his essay “Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History,” Savarkar criticizes Buddhism for its teachings of non-violence and universal brotherhood. He underscores the “necessity of creating a bitter sense of wrong” and promoting “political and masculine virility” to combat what he saw as India’s passive acceptance of aggression under the influence of Universalism and nonviolence. This idea of instilling a perpetual sense of grievance is evident in current efforts to rewrite Indian history as a continuous conflict between Hindus and Muslims.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, in an interview with the Organiser, remarked, “Hindu society has been at war for over 1,000 years… [I]t is but natural for those at war to be aggressive… [T]his war is not against an outside enemy, but against an enemy within. So there is a war to defend Hindu society, Hindu Dharma and Hindu culture…” This perspective implies that women from the “other” community become easy targets to demonstrate “masculine virility.” The masculinisation of Hindutva, inherently violent, impacts how the movement mobilizes women.

In the drive towards a majoritarian India, women’s mobilisation serves two key purposes. Firstly, it involves women’s direct participation in aggressive Hindutva activities. Secondly, it reinforces the traditional role of the family, with women as ideal wives and mothers within Hindutva’s cultural-nationalist narrative. The Rashtra Sevika Samiti, established in 1936, aims to fulfill both roles.

Across the globe, right-wing politics often associates with the stereotype of passive women. However, women’s movements for social change have influenced right-wing structures, leading to the emergence of women leaders in these movements. Such leaders, in various contexts, propagate hate, defend traditional roles, and participate in aggressive mobilizations. In the US, women in white supremacist movements, and in Europe, those involved in anti-immigrant campaigns, mirror this trend. In Islamist societies, women leaders committed to fundamentalist ideologies defend the subordinate role of women as per patriarchal religious interpretations. In India, anti-minority hate speeches and lynching mobs often see leadership from right-wing women, backed by powerful patrons.

During the 1990s, around the Babri Masjid demolition, women like Sadhvi Rithambara and Uma Bharti spearheaded anti-Muslim campaigns with vehement abuse. Since then, other women leaders have followed suit. Their rhetoric combines hate against targeted communities, a sectarian nationalism, and the glorification of traditional female roles through male-centric rituals. Recently, young women have been trained in using weapons, showcased during religious festivals like Ram Navami in Bengal, where young girls wielded swords and chanted provocative slogans.

In Dharma Sansads, women deliver inflammatory speeches. Pragya Thakur, accused in the 2008 Malegaon bomb blast, praised Gandhi’s assassin Godse and encouraged Hindus to keep weapons at home for self-defense. Despite her controversial statements, Thakur was elected on a BJP ticket and enjoys support from top party leaders. This emboldens other women in the Hindutva movement to seek prominence through similar hate crimes and speeches. A BJP Mahila Morcha office bearer in Uttar Pradesh, Sunita Singh Gaur, called for the gang-rape of Muslim women in a Facebook post. Though she was removed from her position after protests, she faced no prosecution for hate speech.

In a Dharma Sansad in Raipur in December 2021, Vibhanand Giri urged men to “rape and impregnate Muslim women” if Muslim men even glance at Hindu girls. Nupur Sharma, whose derogatory comments about Prophet Mohammed drew international attention, was eventually sacked by the BJP but received strong support from the Hindutva ecosystem and protection from legal action.

Women who align with militant Hindutva and advocate violence are far from empowered; they follow the directives of the Hindutva family. This holds true for prominent BJP women leaders in the Modi government who have never condemned such statements. They uphold the ideology, reinforcing the belief that aggression against minorities is justified and necessary.

In light of this aggressive mobilization of women, the RSS, under Mohan Bhagwat’s leadership, is considering direct membership for women in its centenary year. Bhagwat noted that although the Rashtra Sevika Samiti exists, many women are more inspired by the RSS and seek direct membership. This move does not aim to break the male bastion or address issues like patriarchy, dowry deaths, sexual assault, or domestic violence. Instead, it is intended to cultivate more women who will propagate hate within the Hindutva framework, aligning with the organization’s militant agenda.

Pope Francis Inspires Loyola University Delegation with a Call to Embrace Roots, Justice, and Hope

On the morning of Monday, April 20th, Pope Francis welcomed a delegation from Loyola University, Chicago, in the Hall of the Popes at Vatican City. Below is a translated summary of his address delivered in Italian:

Pope Francis began by greeting the President and members of the Board of Trustees of Loyola University in Chicago, who were on a pilgrimage to the birthplace and formative grounds of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. He emphasized the significance of journeys in the human quest for life’s meaning, urging the delegation to maintain a continuous desire for pilgrimage. This visit to the origins of Saint Ignatius’ life and spirituality, he noted, should enrich and inspire their academic and personal growth. The Pope stressed the importance of returning to one’s roots to draw strength and progress, reiterating that the roots of Loyola University lie in the experiences of Saint Ignatius, who prioritized God and sought His will, thereby striving for service. He encouraged the delegation to let Ignatius’ path of discernment and commitment to justice guide their lives and activities, as Loyola University is deeply rooted in the Jesuit tradition of discernment and action.

Pope Francis called on the university to seek truth through deep reflection, attentive listening, and courageous action, urging them to persevere in being witnesses of hope in a world rife with division and conflict. He noted that conflicts, while inevitable, should be resolved from a higher level, fostering cooperation rather than confusion. The Pope highlighted the need for cultivating critical thinking, discernment, and sensitivity to global challenges, constantly questioning how the university can contribute to making the world a better place.

In an era of rapid changes and complex challenges, the Pope underscored the essential role of academic institutions. He stated that their task extends beyond forming fine minds to developing generous hearts and consciences that respect the dignity of every person. Education, he explained, involves the head, heart, and hands, emphasizing harmony between thought, feeling, and action. Education is not merely about knowledge transmission but about forming individuals who embody reconciliation and justice in every aspect of their lives. He encouraged forming “hard-working dreamers,” as dreams are vital for creativity and life’s poetry.

The Pope urged the delegation to nurture intellectual curiosity, cooperation, and sensitivity to contemporary challenges, carrying forward Saint Ignatius’ legacy. He stressed the need for people ready to serve others, work towards a future where everyone can achieve their potential, live with dignity, and find peace. Reflecting on the current global crises, Pope Francis highlighted the importance of hope as an anchor, without which we cannot live. “Hope never disappoints!” he remarked.

He particularly commended intercultural and interreligious dialogue for fostering mutual understanding, cooperation, and building bridges between different traditions, cultures, and worldviews. Concluding his address, Pope Francis blessed the delegation and their journey of knowledge and service, asking them to pray for him due to the challenges of his role. He assured them of his prayers and requested theirs in return. “Thank you!” he said, closing his heartfelt message.

Lord Ram’s “Road Trips” Through The United States

(RNS) — For the past month, four road-trippers have been making their way across the United States, snacking on vegetarian treats and playing Hindu devotional music called bhajans on the car radio.

For the first time in North America, an image of Lord Ram is being paraded from temple to temple on a two-month-long road trip, just in time for the deity’s birthday, Ram Navami.

With them, a very important passenger: the idol of baby Ram, or Ram Lalla. For the first time in North America, Ram Lalla is being paraded from temple to temple on a two-month-long, 16,000-mile road trip, just in time for Ram Navami — the birthday of Lord Ram.

“I bought the van and I said, ‘I’m going to go, anybody wants to join?’” said Amitabh Mittal, joint general secretary of the World Hindu Council of America-VHPA, the group behind the Ram Rath Yatra, or Ram chariot procession. “‘Just be part of it,’ I said. ‘Don’t regret it later.’”

Rather than a chariot, Ram’s normal conveyance in Indian versions of Mittal’s trek, the baby Ram is seated in the back of a decked-out Honda Odyssey, visiting about 14 mandirs, or temples, per day for about 30 minutes at each. From makeshift temples in strip malls to grand architectural feats like the massive new BAPS Robbinsville Mandir in northern New Jersey, Ram and his companions are making history.

“I would say I had a blessing from Shri Ram,” said Manan Raval, one of the four road-trippers. “If he wishes something, he will make it done, and he has willed that Amitabh Mittal called me. It’s all about Shri Ram. I am blessed that he chose me.”

Rath Yatras occur during Hindu festivals throughout India, where deities are charioted through the streets so that the general public can experience a darshan — a mutual look between worshipper and the image of a precious god.

The VHPA, or Vishwa Hindu Parashad of America, is the American arm of one of India’s most powerful religious organizations closely knit with the Hindu nationalist group RSS and its political arm, the Bharatiya Janata Party. These groups frequently support yatras, especially for Lord Ram, who has become one of the most prominent religious figures of the Hindu nationalist movement.

The best known Ram Rath Yatra occurred in 1990, when a political and religious rally was organized by the BJP and VHP to gain support for a temple dedicated to Lord Ram at the site of the 15th-century Babri mosque.

More than 30 years later, the long-awaited mandir has finally been built, dedicated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in January, in a promise kept by the popular BJP and Modi, who has touted the mandir’s opening in his reelection campaign.

“At that time, we never dreamed that this was going to happen,” said Raval, who is the head of Bharat TV, an independent media organization covering the Yatra, whose family participated in the 1990 rally. “Even I was like in that opinion, that ‘they’re saying they will but they aren’t able to do it.’ They have proved themselves. “

But this North American journey, VHPA officials say, is less about nationalist politics, and more about unity.

The Ram Rath Yatra in India comprised of visits to more than 500,000 temples, but Mittal is pleased that more than 850 temples on this U.S. tour have made themselves available for a short and sweet darshan. “People say, ‘What? There are that many temples in the U.S.?’” he said. “Thirty years ago, we were struggling to make one temple.”

On Tuesday (April 16), the travelers passed through the Shree Raam Mandir in Tampa, Florida, where devotees wore their festive best and a small child could be seen dressed up as Lord Hanuman, the monkey god who is known to be Ram’s most devoted follower. “It was full of buzz and excitement,” said Premnath Ramsawak, the mandir’s spiritual head.

Ramsawak says he heard of the yatra’s passing through his city only on Sunday. But “when God wants to be somewhere, he sends his messengers to make it happen.”

“He came back on his own birthday,” said Ramsawak, a Trinidadian immigrant who visited Ayodhya for the opening of the Ram temple there. “He came back to see me. Even though he lives in Bharat desh (an alternative name for India), his presence can be felt all the way here.”

Waking up at 6 in the morning and ending the day at midnight is not for everyone, said Mittal; otherwise, he thinks their chariot would be carrying more than four.

“Seriously, people don’t know how strong the Hindu community is here,” he said, pointing to the burgeoning South Asian and Indo-Caribbean Hindu population. “We just don’t show strength, and some people don’t know we exist. There are Hindus in every nook and cranny of the U.S.”

Raval, who founded Bharat TV, an online news service dedicated to “the new India,” started the company to get all Indians united through one thing many are famous for loving: entertainment. His channel runs programming in almost 10 Indian languages and has been live- broadcasting each temple visit and puja, or ritual, along the way. “To be very frank,” he said, “I have never gotten up at 6:30 in my life. But now, I’m always fresh and good to go.”

The group still has about half of the journey to go. But signs and miracles, they say, let the four know they are in the right place. Raval, one of the car’s drivers, narrowly avoided a collision with a loose tire that spun off a truck on the highway, a near miss he credits to God. And Mittal, who felt the urge to go to the bathroom and ended up in a gas station with two young Indian workers, said the girls had “teary eyes” when Mittal brought them out to get a look at the deity in the trunk.

“We were pulled over because Ram wanted to see them, more than they wanted to see Ram,” he said.

For Catherine Vander Vliet, another passenger who works for Bharat TV, the journey has already made her a “different person,” meeting people she would have never met otherwise, whom she credits with introducing her to the “patience, warmth, and perseverance” of the Hindu faithful. Americans like her, she says, “don’t know the real Bharat.”

“At the end of the day, we’re all one no matter who we say our prayers to,” she said. “They’re doing the same thing that we’re doing, they’re putting their heart and their soul into their God. That’s the same thing I do when I go to church.

“Maybe all the things I’ve done in my life have led to this.”

Jain Leaders Convene in Chicago to Shape Future of Community in North America

Jain leaders from various corners of the United States converged in Chicago this month to deliberate on the multifaceted challenges confronting their community. Spearheaded by Dipak Jain, the former Dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, this three-day assembly, held from April 5th to 7th, drew over 125 Jain leaders. Among them were representatives from prominent organizations such as the Jain Association of North America (JAINA), Young Jains of America (YJA), Young Jain Professionals (YJP), and Jain International Trade Organization (JITO), along with other Jain centers across the continent.

The primary objective of this gathering, orchestrated by JAINA’s Long Range Planning Committee, was to chart the course for the future of Jainism. In his keynote address, Dipak Jain, the first Jain dean at a North American academic institution, underscored how fundamental Jain principles like ahimsa (non-violence), anekantvad (multiplicity of viewpoints), and aparigraha (simplicity/non-possessiveness) had steered him through a successful career and numerous life hurdles.

“Excellence has no bounds, you can reach any height but there is always more to do. No challenge ahead of you is greater than the force behind you,” he remarked.

Reflecting on the event, Dr. Manoj Jain, chair of JAINA’s Long Range Planning Committee, remarked, “It was an amazing gathering to get leaders, young as well as seasoned, to gather and share as well as debate how to move forward in developing a vision, mission, and strategy for a community of 200,000 Jains in North America.”

Throughout the event’s eight round tables, participants exchanged insights and experiences on a range of topics, including enhancing Jain Center engagement and raising awareness of Jainism among the broader North American populace.

Prem Jain, a former president of JAINA and member of the Long Range Planning Committee, emphasized the importance of translating vision, mission, and strategy into tangible projects on the ground. He stated, “However, having a vision, mission, and strategy is insufficient for a meaningful change. Hence we need projects on the ground.”

The palpable energy and enthusiasm among attendees were evident as they eagerly sought opportunities to put their learnings into action. At the Jain Leadership Forum 2024, participants were treated to fully vegan meals throughout the weekend and had the chance to hear from over 25 Jain Project Champions.

Yogendra Jain, the team lead from Boston, highlighted the significance of the event in providing a solid foundation for new initiatives, fostering synergies, expanding networking opportunities, and delineating a clear roadmap for shaping the future of Jainism in North America. He shared, “For the attendees, Jain Leadership Forum 2024 provided a solid foundation from which to build new initiatives, create synergies, expand on networking opportunities, and define a clear picture of how to shape Jainism’s future in North America.”

Mayur Shah, the team lead from Philadelphia, emphasized the lasting impact of the forum, noting that each participant left equipped with an enhanced toolkit to inspire their local Jain communities to plan for the future and a broader network of Jain leaders to fortify the foundations of the expansive North American Jain community for future generations.

Rare Early Christian Manuscript Set to Fetch Millions at Auction

One of the earliest surviving manuscripts, anticipated to fetch over $2.6 million at auction later this year, is generating substantial interest. The Crosby-Schøyen Codex, written in Coptic on papyrus in Egypt, stands as the earliest Christian liturgical book, according to Christie’s, the international auction house hosting the sale in London on June 11.

Attributed to a solitary scribe, the codex comprises 52 leaves, or 104 pages, meticulously crafted over four decades at a monastery in upper Egypt. Carbon dating places its origins between the 3rd and 4th centuries. Notable for its historical significance, it includes the first epistle of Peter and the Book of Jonah, serving as an early testament to the spread of Christianity.

Protected behind plexiglass and housed in two lockable wooden boxes, the codex is valued by Christie’s between $2.6 million and $3.8 million. Part of the Bodmer Papyri, discovered in the 1950s and encompassing biblical, Christian, and pagan literary texts, it was initially acquired by the University of Mississippi, later passing through various hands in the 1980s before being acquired by Norwegian collector Martin Schøyen in 1988. As such, it holds the distinction of being the oldest known book in private ownership.

Eugenio Donadoni, senior specialist for books and manuscripts at Christie’s in London, emphasized the broad appeal of the codex, stating, “The Crosby-Schøyen is one of the earliest witnesses to a development in cultural and textual transmission and in the history of the book that would not be rivalled in significance until Gutenberg’s printing press and the 20th-century revolution in electronic publishing and communication.” Donadoni further highlighted its role in early Christian practices, noting, “It contains the two earliest complete texts of two books of the Bible, 1 Peter and Jonah, both used in those Easter services.”

The remarkable preservation of the codex owes much to the favorable climactic conditions in Egypt, where it was unearthed. It is featured among a collection of “manuscript masterpieces” from The Schøyen Collection, described by Christie’s as “one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of manuscripts ever assembled.” This collection spans 1,300 years of cultural history and includes significant works such as the Holkham Hebrew Bible and the Geraardsbergen Bible, alongside Greek literature, humanist masterpieces, and historically significant texts from various regions.

Currently on display at Christie’s New York until April 9, the Crosby-Schøyen Codex stands as a tangible link to early Christianity and the evolution of the written word, inviting both scholarly and private interest alike.

Pope Francis Reveals Papal Election Maneuvers and Vatican Tensions in Book Interview

Pope Francis has brought to light the political tactics employed to influence votes during recent papal elections while refuting claims of intending to reform the conclave process in the future, as revealed in a book-length interview released on Tuesday.

The revelations, disclosed in “The Successor: My Memories of Benedict XVI,” offer insights into the Argentine pope’s relationship with the late German pope and address certain conflicts with Benedict’s long-serving aide.

Authored as a dialogue with Javier Martínez-Brocal, correspondent for Spain’s ABC daily, the publication coincides with a sensitive period for the 87-year-old Francis. Concerns regarding his health, the potential for his resignation akin to Benedict, and the eventual succession have been raised.

In the book, Francis divulged previously confidential information concerning the 2005 and 2013 conclaves. He noted being “used” in 2005 by cardinals aiming to prevent Benedict’s election, ultimately leading to Ratzinger’s victory. Similarly, in 2013, he recounted realizing the support behind him only at a late stage.

Francis denied rumors of planning conclave rule reforms, particularly concerning discussions before papal elections. He did, however, mention revising protocols for papal funerals, intending to ensure dignified but not extravagant ceremonies.

The pope also addressed tensions with Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, Benedict’s longtime secretary, citing imprudent decisions leading to difficulties. Gaenswein’s perceived role in conservative opposition during Francis’s tenure is highlighted, including incidents like Cardinal Robert Sarah’s book publication alongside Benedict.

Blaming Gaenswein for the affair, Francis acknowledged sidelining him following the incident. Gaenswein’s posthumous memoir, released after Benedict’s death, further strained their relationship.

Francis emphasized Benedict’s support and denied any conservative maneuvers against him. He clarified that his homily at Benedict’s funeral adhered to liturgical protocol, contrary to conservative criticism.

In essence, Pope Francis’s revelations shed light on the intricate politics surrounding papal elections and internal tensions within the Vatican, while reaffirming his commitment to the papal office and the Church’s traditions.

Indian American Lawmakers Urge DOJ To Address ‘Alarming’ Rise Of Hindu Temple Vandalism

In a letter sent to the U.S. Department of Justice on Friday (March 29), five members of Congress of Indian and Hindu heritage requested a briefing on the status of investigations into recent vandalism incidents at Hindu temples across the country.

Members of the “Samosa Caucus” — an informal term for the group, coined by one of its founders, U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois — also urged Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke to outline the the DOJ Civil Rights Division’s “broader strategy against hate crimes targeting Hindus in the United States.”

Attacks from New York to California have “increased collective anxiety among Hindu Americans,” the letter indicated, adding that “It takes relatively few coordinated acts of hate to create fear within a community that has often been marginalized or neglected.”

The letter was signed by Krishnamoorthi and U.S. Reps. Ro Khanna and Ami Bera of California, Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Shri Thanedar of Michigan.

The lawmakers requested that the department provide the briefing no later than April 18. The DOJ said it has acknowledged receipt of the letter, but declined a request for comment.

According to the FBI’s most recently published hate-crime report, there were 37 instances of anti-Hindu hate crimes in 2021 and 2022, with at least three known attacks on Hindu mandirs, or temples, in California since December of 2023. The temples were defaced with graffitied slogans protesting India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and supporting the Khalistan movement, a Sikh-led separatist demand for a sovereign state in India’s Punjab region.

In March of 2023, the Indian Consulate of San Francisco was attacked by a group of protesters who stormed the building and installed small Khalistani flags inside. Another mob attempted to set the consulate building afire in July of that year.

These instances followed the vandalism and destruction of a Mahatma Gandhi statue in front of a mandir in New York’s Queens borough in 2021, also defaced with anti-Modi and pro-Khalistan sentiments.

“Such acts of hate shake the foundation of our collective values of tolerance, respect, and freedom of religion,” said Thanedar in a statement to RNS. “I urge a swift and thorough response from the Department of Justice to not only address these specific incidents but also to reinforce our nation’s commitment to safeguarding the rights and security of every religious group.”

Hindu advocates say the trend points to a lack of an adequate response from law enforcement, which they blame on anti-Hindu bias. Though the FBI in all instances indicated it would investigate the vandalism as hate crimes, the agency has not commented publicly on the status of these efforts.

The letter from the members of Congress said Hindu communities “remain concerned about law enforcement coordination regarding these bias-motivated crimes, and they are left wondering if there is appropriate federal oversight to ensure equal protection under the law.”

Others in the Indian American community took issue with the letter’s message. Sangay Mishra, a prominent scholar of the Indian American diaspora, took to X to explain his view that the instances of vandalism and the “alleged involvement of Khalistan supporters” reflect more complex political dynamics than the umbrella term of “hate crime” covers.

“It is hard for me to ignore the fact that diaspora is going through a moment of extreme polarization,” tweeted Mishra. “It is unfortunate that these members of Congress are treating these incidents only as a law and order issue and framing them as incidents of hate crime.

“As elected leaders from the community, you can play an important role in building bridges and starting constructive conversations,” he said in a message directed toward Jayapal and Khanna.

Khanna has himself previously criticized Hindus who “cry Hinduphobia,” arguing that he had never felt Hinduphobia “at any single point” in his “97 percent white and Christian” hometown.

Yet some Hindu leaders, such as Pushpita Prasad of the Coalition of Hindus of North America, consider Hinduphobia to be the “root cause” of pro-Khalistani vandalism and have made the attacks part of their yearslong effort to have Hinduphobia recognized at the federal level. They point to a 2022 study published by Rutgers University’s Network Contagion Lab detailing a “widespread, insidious yet underreported” phenomenon of Hinduphobia both online and in person.

“Freedom of religion means little when sacred spaces that are meant to be an oasis of peace and calm are vandalized with no consequences,” said Prasad, whose organization has campaigned in the California area to ensure lawmakers understand the gravity of the “ongoing Khalistani violence.”

“We are glad to see some much overdue attention to the issue of repeated and frighteningly frequent attacks on Hindu temples,” said Prasad. ”It’s been shocking to see how many had no idea what’s going on.”

The Hindu American Foundation, the nation’s largest advocacy organization for Hindu Americans, has similarly lobbied local law enforcement, the FBI and the DOJ, according to community outreach director Ramya Ramakrishnan, urging more awareness of “Khalistan extremism and lawlessness that, over the past couple of years, has grown increasingly violent.”

“We’ve been frustrated by the lack of response — at best, diminishing the anti-Hindu nature of these attacks, and at worst, giving space to outright gaslighting by Khalistani groups who have falsely blamed the victims,” said Ramakrishnan. (

Shri Ram Rath Yatra Unites Hindu Communities Across North America on 16,000-Mile Spiritual Journey

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) and its Canadian counterpart have launched the Shri Ram Rath Yatra, a 60-day expedition spanning over 16,000 miles across North America, connecting Hindu temples in the United States and Canada. Commencing its journey on Mar. 23, 2024, coinciding with the festival of Holi, the Yatra began its US leg from the VHPA headquarters in Sugar Grove, Illinois. The inaugural day witnessed a traverse of over 500 miles and visits to nine temples.

The primary objective, as articulated by the organizing committee, is to foster unity among Hindu communities and traditions across the continent. This Yatra serves as a means to convey the spiritual significance of the Shri Ram Lalla Pran Pratishtha ceremony held in India on Jan. 22, 2024.

The Yatra is facilitated by three specially designed Raths (chariots), each adorned with imagery of Shri Ram Lalla, traversing North America.

In Canada, the Yatra commenced on Mar. 25 with ceremonies at the Vishnu Temple in Richmond Hill, Ontario. The Canadian inauguration included the Pran Pratishtha ceremony, followed by a puja dedicated to the Rath.

As of Mar. 31, 2024, the US leg of the Yatra had covered nearly 100 temples across various states, spanning approximately 4,000 miles. Each temple visit adhered to a meticulous protocol, with the revered idol of Shri Ram Lalla being ceremoniously installed and rituals observed.

Simultaneously, the Canadian contingent focused its journey within the Greater Toronto area, making stops at around twelve temples and traveling approximately 900 miles. Notable among these visits was Parliament Hill in Ottawa, where Shri Ram Lalla received homage, signifying a significant cultural and spiritual gesture.

Looking ahead, the US team plans to traverse Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey, while the Canadian team will divide its attention among provinces, culminating their journey with visits to numerous temples in the Greater Toronto Area.

Pope Francis Leads Easter Celebrations, Calls for Peace Amidst Global Crises

Pope Francis, despite enduring respiratory issues throughout the winter, led approximately 60,000 individuals in Easter celebrations, emphasizing a call for peace in Gaza and advocating for a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine. He conducted Easter Sunday Mass at St. Peter’s Square and offered a poignant prayer for global peace, particularly highlighting concerns for Gaza’s residents amidst ongoing conflict. Francis, speaking from the loggia, stressed the importance of peace achieved through dialogue rather than weapons. Despite his recent health struggles, the Pontiff’s active participation in Easter services, including the nighttime Easter Vigil, demonstrated his resilience.

In a gesture of goodwill, Pope Francis circulated in his popemobile, interacting with well-wishers after Mass, signaling his well-being despite uncertainties surrounding his health. His address, attended by approximately 60,000 individuals, underscored his commitment to global peace amid challenging times. A brief disruption during the service, when a religious icon fell due to a gust of wind, was swiftly rectified by ushers.

Easter Mass holds significant importance in the liturgical calendar, commemorating Jesus’ resurrection, preceding the “Urbi et Orbi” blessing, where the Pope traditionally addresses global crises. This year, Pope Francis directed his thoughts towards the conflict zones in Ukraine and Gaza, particularly expressing concerns for affected children. He made a fervent appeal for a ceasefire in Gaza and urged for humanitarian access to assist Palestinians, emphasizing the importance of international law.

The Pontiff’s recent health concerns prompted a cautious approach, with Francis refraining from lengthy speeches to preserve his well-being. Despite missing the Palm Sunday homily and reconsidering his participation in the Good Friday procession, his decision to conserve his health proved beneficial, enabling him to fully engage in Easter services.

In a parallel event, King Charles III of Britain’s public appearance at an Easter service in Windsor Castle served as a reassuring symbol of stability, amidst his recent cancer diagnosis. The monarch’s interaction with well-wishers highlighted a sense of continuity and hope during uncertain times.

However, in Jerusalem, Easter Mass attendance was notably subdued at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, reflecting the somber atmosphere amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict. The conflict has significantly impacted tourism and pilgrimage to the historic site, with Palestinian Christians facing restrictions in accessing Jerusalem.

In Gaza, Easter celebrations were marred by the grim reality of the conflict, with only a few Palestinian Christians gathering for Mass amidst the backdrop of displacement and destruction. Similarly, in Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, the festive spirit was subdued, with residents expressing sorrow over the lack of joy and normalcy due to the ongoing occupation.

Elsewhere, in Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, a region historically significant for its Christian population, Easter celebrations marked a symbol of resilience amidst past persecution by the Islamic State group. Despite dwindling numbers, Iraqi Christians gathered in large numbers to reaffirm their commitment to their homeland.

Overall, amidst global crises and conflicts, Easter served as a moment of reflection and resilience, with religious leaders and communities worldwide reaffirming their commitment to peace and solidarity.

Islamist Extremists Issue Chilling Call for Ramadan Attacks on Christians and Jews Worldwide

ISIS, the notorious Islamist militant group, has issued a chilling call to arms, urging lone individuals to carry out violent attacks against Christians and Jews in the US, Europe, and Israel during the holy month of Ramadan.

In a disturbing message delivered via the encrypted messaging app Telegram, Abu Hudhaifa al-Ansari, a spokesperson for ISIS, praised the recent horrific terror attack in Moscow, which claimed the lives of 140 people.

The spokesperson emphasized the significance of Ramadan as a time for jihad and called on supporters to target individuals of specific religious affiliations. Additionally, al-Ansari warned of increased attacks due to the presence of American troops in Iraq, commemorating the 10-year anniversary of ISIS’s declaration of a caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

This call to violence extends beyond the mentioned regions, with mentions of escalating attacks in Mozambique and the relocation of operations to major cities in the Philippines.

The spokesperson urged followers to heed the directives of their leaders and spread the message of ISIS through various media channels, expressing confidence that their agenda would be achieved.

Global Easter Feasts: A Celebration of Culinary Diversity

While honey-glazed ham, garlic mashed potatoes, and fluffy dinner rolls may dominate American Easter tables, diverse traditions around the world offer a plethora of culinary delights to mark the occasion. Judy Witts Francini, the mind behind the Italian food blog Divina Cucina, shares insights into the rich Easter feasting traditions in Italy, where the celebration is a feast for the senses.

“Italians go all out,” says Francini, highlighting the elaborate spread that graces her Easter lunch table. Starting with an array of antipasti, she then presents a savory tart named torta pasqualina for the first course, symbolizing the 33 years of Christ’s life with its 33 layers of phyllo dough. The main course includes roast lamb, fried artichokes, peas with pancetta, and roasted potatoes, followed by chocolate eggs filled with surprises and a dove-shaped cake called colomba for dessert.

While Italy’s Easter feast is a grand affair, other countries also embrace the “more is more” philosophy when it comes to Easter meals, with distinct dishes that capture the essence of their culinary heritage. Here are five standout Easter dishes from around the globe:

Italy: Pizza rustica

Italy’s pizza rustica, or pizzagaina, offers a savory twist on the beloved circular classic. Stuffed with a delectable mixture of meat and cheese, encased in a flaky crust, and originating from Naples, pizza rustica reflects the diverse regional variations of Italian cuisine. Rossella Rago, author and host of “Cooking with Nonna,” emphasizes the importance of using lard in the pastry dough for an authentic taste experience. The filling, which can vary widely, typically includes ricotta, provolone, mozzarella, soppressata, prosciutto, and eggs, each cook adding their unique touch to the recipe.

Mexico: Capirotada

In Mexico, Easter brings the delightful indulgence of capirotada, a dessert reminiscent of bread pudding. Mely Martinez, creator of Mexico in My Kitchen, describes capirotada as a fusion of salty, sweet, soft, crunchy, and spicy flavors, creating an explosion of taste. Typically made with bread soaked in syrup made from piloncillo, cinnamon, and cloves, layered with cotija cheese, roasted peanuts, and raisins, and topped with bananas and sprinkles, capirotada is a beloved Easter treat with a rich history.

Poland: Żurek

In Poland, Easter celebrations feature żurek, a creamy and smoky fermented soup made from rye flour starter. Anna Hurning, creator of Polish Your Kitchen, explains that żurek’s tangy flavor is achieved through the fermentation process, which infuses the soup with its distinctive character. Served with boiled egg and sausage, and garnished with spicy horseradish, żurek holds a special place as a national treasure in Polish cuisine.

Singapore: Beef murtabak

Singapore’s culinary landscape, a melting pot of diverse cultures, is exemplified by dishes like beef murtabak. Chef Damian D’Silva, of Rempapa in Singapore, underscores the importance of preserving heritage cuisine in the face of cultural evolution. Beef murtabak, an egg crepe enfolding seasoned ground beef, reflects Singapore’s multicultural heritage through its aromatic spices and flavors.

Nigeria: Jollof rice

In Nigeria, Easter celebrations are synonymous with the aromatic and flavorful jollof rice. Lola Osinkolu, from Chef Lola’s Kitchen, describes jollof rice as a spicy and delicious dish, akin to the West African staple jambalaya. Her recipe, passed down from her mother, incorporates a secret step of roasting bell peppers, tomatoes, onion, and garlic, imparting a smoky taste that elevates the dish to new heights.

These Easter dishes from around the world offer a glimpse into the diverse culinary traditions that enrich the celebration of this joyous occasion. Whether it’s the savory delights of Italy, the sweet indulgence of Mexico, the tangy flavors of Poland, the aromatic spices of Singapore, or the flavorful abundance of Nigeria, Easter feasts unite communities in a celebration of culture, heritage, and gastronomy.

Indian Archbishop Urges Prayer and Vigilance Amidst Concerns Over Democracy and Religious Freedom

Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore has expressed deep concerns about the state of affairs in India, highlighting issues of poverty, economic inequality, unemployment, and erosion of democratic values. These concerns come ahead of the Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace and Harmony in India, organized by the country’s bishops on March 22. Additionally, the timing of these prayers coincides with the upcoming general elections for the lower house of India’s parliament, scheduled between April 19 and June 1.

The political landscape of India is marked by a fierce contest between the Congress party and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Congress party has accused the BJP-led government, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, of resorting to tactics such as freezing the party’s bank accounts and issuing tax notices dating back several years, which they perceive as attempts to undermine democracy. Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi condemned these actions, alleging them to be a deliberate assault on democratic principles.

Archbishop Machado underscores the challenging circumstances prevailing in India despite its advancements in various sectors. He points to growing economic disparity, monopolization by select capitalists, escalating unemployment among educated youth, and large-scale migration of rural poor as alarming trends. He also highlights the proliferation of hate speech, systematic attempts to deprive citizens of their rights, and erosion of pluralistic and secular values enshrined in the constitution. According to him, India’s political sphere is plagued by populism, polarization, and the cult of personality, rendering democracy hollow.

Minority communities in India, particularly non-Hindu faiths, have voiced concerns over increased oppression since the BJP came to power. Archbishop Machado, who serves as the President of the Karnataka Regional Bishops’ Conference and Chairman of the All-Karnataka United Christian Forum for Human Rights, emphasizes the significance of prayer and fasting in combating falsehood, violence, and division while advocating for truth, non-violence, and justice.

Archbishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto of Delhi, the Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, echoes similar sentiments, urging parishioners to pray continuously for 12 hours to intercede for the nation, especially during the upcoming elections. He expresses apprehensions about religious polarization and fundamentalist movements, which pose a threat to India’s pluralistic ethos and constitutional rights.

In an interview with Crux, Archbishop Machado emphasizes the bishops’ call for prayer and fasting during the Lenten season to promote peace and harmony, particularly amidst the fervor of the upcoming elections. He urges citizens to exercise their voting rights judiciously, emphasizing the importance of selecting leaders who uphold secular values and respect the constitution. According to him, it is imperative for every citizen to participate in the electoral process responsibly, ensuring the choice of candidates who embody moral values and principles.

Embracing Shakti: Hindu Women’s Journey to Empowerment and Unity

Preity Upala has lived a diverse life, transitioning from an investment banker in Australia to pursuing her passion for film in the United States, where she starred in both Bollywood and Hollywood productions, before settling as a film producer and podcast host in Los Angeles. Alongside her entertainment career, she is sought after as a global strategist for her insights into international diplomacy and foreign policy. Upala, a Hindu, sees her various endeavors as harmonious, drawing inspiration from the multifaceted aspects of the divine feminine within her tradition.

In her words, “The goddess worship is so prevalent in our culture, but the goddess has many faces. There are many goddesses. It’s not just the devout wife or devotee, it is the fierce Kali or the Saraswati, who is all about knowledge.”

She emphasizes the concept of Shakti, the primordial cosmic energy embodying the divine feminine, which flows through all beings, manifesting in diverse forms. “That Shakti, the life force, moves through us and it shows itself in different forms,” Upala explains, reflecting on her own experiences.

Hindu women, like Upala, often seek guidance on modern feminism from ancient scriptures. “The beauty with Shakti is, she doesn’t need to give herself up in order to fight for space,” she says. “She holds her own, she knows her place, and no one’s gonna take that away from her. Her job is just to shine and be glorious.”

The concept of feminine power has deep roots in Hindu philosophy, with Shakti regarded as the force from which the universe emanates, akin to a nurturing mother birthing her children. Hindu theologian Rita Sherma elaborates on the dynamic nature of the feminine divine, which transcends gender binaries, encompassing attributes ranging from aggression to nurturing.

Sherma underscores the complementary relationship between masculine and feminine energies, emphasizing the importance of both. “The two are complementary binaries,” she explains. “The feminine divine is certainly dynamic and creative, even in gentle-appearing feminine divine like Radha.”

Like Upala, Sherma experienced a career shift, attributing her transformation to the guiding force of Shakti. She advocates for the reclamation of scriptures such as the Devi Mahatmya, highlighting their empowerment of women throughout history.

Shakti Redding, a yogi and mystic psychologist, recounts her journey of embracing the feminine divine after encountering the Devi Mahatmya and Tantra philosophy. Renaming herself Shakti, she found solace and empowerment in reconnecting with nature and the divine feminine.

Reflecting on her personal struggles, including a terminated pregnancy, Redding emphasizes the healing power of Shakti, which enabled her to overcome grief and shame. She stresses the importance of acknowledging women’s collective experiences and potential for forgiveness and reconciliation.

Redding elucidates the significance of the Tandava, the traditional dance of Shiva and Shakti, symbolizing the balance of feminine and masculine energies in life. She believes that understanding this balance is crucial for healing societal divides and fostering unity.

Upala echoes Redding’s sentiments, advocating for a return to authentic expressions of masculinity and femininity rooted in Hindu principles. She emphasizes the need for men to embrace the divine feminine and support women’s empowerment.

She envisions a future where Hindu women assert their voices and contribute positively to society. “We don’t have to learn or relearn anything,” Upala asserts. “The knowledge is actually in us. And it is for us to enjoy, celebrate and actually share that to the world.”

Veteran Journalist Nirmala Carvalho Honored with Golden Pen Award for Excellence in Journalism by The Examiner

Nirmala Carvalho, a seasoned journalist renowned for her contributions to Church publications in India and abroad, has been honored with the esteemed Golden Pen Award for her outstanding achievements in journalism. The award, bestowed by The Examiner, a venerable weekly publication with a 175-year history based in Mumbai, was presented to her by Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, during a ceremony in the western Indian city commemorating the weekly’s milestone anniversary.

Reflecting on the significance of The Examiner, Cardinal Gracias described it as a stalwart beacon of truth, reason, and inspiration for countless individuals both in India and beyond its borders. Alongside Carvalho, Christopher Mendonca was awarded the Silver Pen, while Firuza Pathan was presented with the newly introduced Bronze Pen, aimed at recognizing the contributions of youth in journalism.

Carvalho expressed her surprise and gratitude upon receiving the award, stating, “I’m giving thanks to God, but feeling humble.” With a career spanning four decades, the 62-year-old journalist has made significant contributions to various publications, including AsiaNews,, and Matters India.

Acknowledged for her comprehensive coverage of topics concerning the Catholic Church, such as religious freedom, social issues, and political developments, Carvalho’s work has garnered international recognition and has been translated into multiple languages. The award committee lauded her focus on the intricate intersections between government, politics, culture, and society, particularly emphasizing her insightful reporting on Indian bishops, religious persecution, Catholicism in India, and the relationship between Indian politics and the Church in Asia.

This accolade marks the third major award for Carvalho, following her receipt of an AsiaNews Journalism Scholarship in Rome in 2010 and the CBCI Commission for Social Communications Award for Church and Minority Sensitive Reporting six years later. Additionally, in 2009, she was honored with the Steins International Award for Religious Harmony in the Field of Human Rights.

Carvalho attributes her calling as a Christian journalist to her high school days when she began by writing letters to the editor, thus commencing a fulfilling and challenging career. Based in Mumbai, she has brought attention to stories of human rights abuses, persecution, and oppression, offering hope and assistance to marginalized communities. Moreover, she highlights the significant contributions of Christian missionaries to human dignity and development.

The award, established by the Mascarenhas family of Mumbai in memory of their parents, underscores Carvalho’s dedication and achievements in journalism. The Examiner, founded on July 10, 1849, by the Jesuits, holds the distinction of being the oldest English-language Catholic newspaper in India.

Cardinal Gracias reflected on the momentous occasion, emphasizing the rich legacy of excellence embodied by The Examiner throughout its long history. Since its inception, the publication has steadfastly upheld the values of the Church, fostering dialogue, and catalyzing positive change within the Catholic community and society at large.

Father Anthony Charanghat, who has been associated with The Examiner for over five decades and served as its editor for more than 25 years, expressed gratitude for the publication’s uninterrupted 175-year journey. He highlighted The Examiner’s role as a religious magazine, emphasizing its commitment to reflecting God’s love through its interpretation of His Word in accessible language for all readers.

Millions Bathe In Sangam On Maghi Purnima

Millions of devotees prayed and took a dip at the Sangam, the confluence of three rivers — the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati — on Maghi Purnima, or full moon day, at the annual traditional fair in Prayagraj, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, India, Saturday, Feb.24, 2024. Hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims take dips here hoping to wash away sins during a month-long festival called Magh Mela. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh).

Hindu devotees take a dip at the Sangam, the confluence of three rivers — the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati — on Maghi Purnima, or full moon day at the annual traditional fair in Prayagraj, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, India, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. Hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims take dips here hoping to wash away sins during a month-long festival called Magh Mela. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh).

Millions Bathe In Sangam On Maghi Purnima
Devotees gather at Sangam, the confluence of the rivers Ganges and Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, on Paush Purnima during the Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad on January 27, 2013

Magha Purnima carries profound religious and spiritual importance within Hinduism. This year, it will be observed on Saturday, February 24, 2024. It is a day devoted to honouring Lord Vishnu and the Moon God, occurring monthly as the Full Moon Day. It is revered as a highly auspicious occasion for conducting various puja ceremonies.

Hindus consider the Magha month to be the most significant of all the months in the Hindu calendar. While celebrating Maghi Purnima, devotees fast, take a dip in holy waters, make donations to charitable causes, and offer prayers to gods like Vishnu and Hanuman. Hindus believe this holy bath, taken in certain rivers like the Ganges (Ganga), Yamuna, Kaveri, and so on, is very providential. Hindu mythology also states that Lord Vishnu resides in the river Ganga on this day, and even touching the waters can be very beneficial to people. That plus the prayers being offered up on this day make their wishes almost certain to come true, believe most devotees.

People across India have varied customs across regions. The southern state of Tamil Nadu hosts a special ‘float’ festival each year. Decorated idols of their gods, Meenakshi and Lord Sundeshwara, are mounted on floats. North India (cities like Allahabad and Prayag) holds a Magha Mela (a large religious fair) annually at the confluence of three major rivers — Ganges (Ganga), Yamuna, and the mythical Sarasvati River.

Apart from the religious significance, this day is also important in regard to astrology. As the sun moves to the Capricorn sign, the moon moves into the Cancer constellation. The holy dip is said to negate all problems arising with the sun and the moon, and the month itself helps people adjust to changing seasons. People find strength and power to face the next season.

Another reason Maghi Purnima is so important — followers of Buddhism believe Lord Buddha announced his impending death on this day. Legend says there was an earthquake as soon as he said the words, as though the Earth itself was shaken up by this news. His followers believe the Earth shook just this way when Buddha was born, when he received enlightenment (became the religious leader the world knows), and when he passed away. On this day, Buddhists conduct religious ceremonies, prayers are made to Buddha, and offerings are given to the unfortunate. Multiple Buddhist villages across India organize fairs and events to celebrate Buddha.

Hindu women look to ancient goddesses for guidance on modern feminism

Many point to Shakti, the divine feminine energy, as an antidote to toxic masculinity.

(RNS) — Preity Upala has lived more than a few lives. After a career as an investment banker in Australia, Upala moved to the U.S. to pursue her dream of attending film school, eventually landing roles in major Bollywood films like “Bahubali” and in the Hollywood production “Sex and the City 2.” Now, in Los Angeles, Upala is a film producer and podcast host. And if her resume is not varied enough, Upala is also considered a global strategist, called upon by news organizations worldwide for her expertise in international diplomacy and foreign policy.

But Upala, who is Hindu, sees these multiple pursuits as compatible, inspired by the many facets of the divine feminine in her tradition.

“The goddess worship is so prevalent in our culture,” said the Dubai-born Upala, “but the goddess has many faces. There are many goddesses. It’s not just the devout wife or devotee, it is the fierce Kali or the Saraswati, who is all about knowledge.”

In common, she says, all goddesses and women hold a part of Shakti, the “primordial cosmic energy” who is the personification of the divine feminine. Shakti is also the female counterpart to Lord Shiva, both of whom together represent the balanced feminine and masculine energy in each being.

Preity Upala. (Courtesy photo)
Preity Upala. (Courtesy photo)

“That Shakti, the life force, moves through us and it shows itself in different forms,” said Upala. “In my own life, I’ve seen different facets of the Shakti energy work through me.”

Many Hindu women, like Upala, look to the ancient scriptures for guidance on modern feminism.

“The beauty with Shakti is, she doesn’t need to give herself up in order to fight for space,” said Upala. “She holds her own, she knows her place, and no one’s gonna take that away from her. Her job is just to shine and be glorious.”

The power of femininity has been prevalent in Hindu philosophy since the emergence of what is said to be the very first scripture, the Rig Veda. Many Hindus see Shakti as the force from which the universe came, like a mother who births her children.

Lithograph of Hindu goddess Kali, draped with a necklace of skulls, standing on Shiva, circa 1895. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia/Creative Commons)
Lithograph of Hindu goddess Kali, draped with a necklace of skulls, standing on Shiva, circa 1895. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia/Creative Commons)

Divine feminine energy as Shakti flows through all of the female goddesses, explains Hindu theologian Rita Sherma. From Kali, the force destroying evil, or Durga, the warrior who maintains balance, to Annapurna, the divinity of food and nourishment, the goddesses in Hinduism are just as dynamic and multifaceted as women themselves, says Sherma.

“The fact is, the feminine divine in Hinduism explodes every single gender binary trope people can think of,” said Sherma, who teaches women’s studies and religion at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. “It is the aggressive, assertive, explosive principle of becoming. All manifestation, all actualization of divine potential explodes through the feminine divine.

“So she’s, you know, not your Stepford wife,” adds Sherma.

And what’s more, Sherma says, most commonly known gods, such as Lord Ram and Lord Krishna, are worshipped alongside their respective female consorts, Sita and Radha. Without the feminine, she says, masculine energies would be in “chaos.”

“The masculine and the feminine are both within us,” she said. “The two are complementary binaries.

“The feminine divine is certainly dynamic and creative, even in gentle-appearing feminine divine like Radha,” added Sherma. “It’s her that the world emanates from, it’s through her the world is redeemed. Through her, Krishna experiences joy and bliss.”

Like Upala, Sherma felt unsatisfied in her previous career in business and made a shift later in her life, with two children, crediting Shakti as the guiding force who led her through her new path.

“It was feminine power all the way,” she said.

Rita Sherma. (Courtesy photo)
Rita Sherma. (Courtesy photo)

Sherma became fascinated with Mahadevi: the all-encompassing female deity who is the counterpart to the god Deva and is the subject of the “submerged” and “forgotten” scripture, the Devi Mahatmya. The scripture, which tells various myths centered on the goddess and other goddesses, is often buried under the rest of the vast library of Hindu texts, she says, and should be reclaimed as a resource for women today, especially after the “400,000 years” that women have spent “apologizing for their empowerment.”

“Many women in villages, especially elderly women, who may not even be literate, became respected reciters of the text,” said Sherma. “They had a great deal of power, and both women and men would come to them for their blessing. And sometimes they would experience the presence of the divine feminine within them. And they would then be worshipped as Shakti.”

Shakti Redding, a yogi and mystic psychologist at the Soul Artist Academy in Vail, Colorado, said she found her true calling after being introduced to the Devi Mahatmya and Tantra, the esoteric Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. Born as Rachel to a Christian family, Redding felt a shift when she moved to the nature-abundant Colorado. “I felt just a charge of energy, almost like, ‘Where have you been all my life?,’” she said, attributing that charge to Shakti.

“I really had been drawn this detailed picture of a masculine father God, and so archetypically when I felt God or thought about God, it was as this father spirit,” she said. “But when I was in nature, there was something more, something more feminine, something more kindred in that sense of femininity, and the wildness of it.”

After a childhood of practicing yoga in church basements with her mother, Redding never expected she would found her own yoga academy, or change her name to Shakti, the one first given to her by yogis at the Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.

But her understanding of the dharmic feminine divine, the mother-goddess of nature, has helped her through the most difficult moments in her life, including a terminated pregnancy at a young age. Worshipping Shakti helped her come out of her grief, and her shame, she said.

“As women, we carry a lot of wounding and a lot of scars and a lot of tender suffering,” she said. “And we also hold the potential for immense forgiveness and reconciliation.”

“How important it is to remember we are all part of the whole,” she added. “We are the daughters, the sisters, the mothers, the lovers. May our stories equip us with the courage, compassion to lead the world awake to a love beyond all opposites.”

The traditional dance of Shiva and Shakti together, called Tandava, said Redding, represents the delicate balance of feminine and masculine in life itself. The root of many of the world’s issues, she said, is a lack of understanding between different or opposing energies. “In the end,” she said, “Shiva and Shakti, the infinite potential and the creative power, are aspects of the same reality.

Women dance in front of an idol of Hindu goddess Durga before it is immersed in the Hooghly River in Kolkata, India, Oct. 24, 2023. The immersion of idols marks the end of the festival that commemorates the slaying of a demon king by lion-riding, 10-armed goddess Durga, marking the triumph of good over evil. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)
Women dance in front of an idol of Hindu goddess Durga before it is immersed in the Hooghly River in Kolkata, India, Oct. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)

“Once you understand this in depth, this balance becomes applicable to the healing of cultures,” she said. “Healing the wounds, the political divide, the gender divide.”

Upala agrees and insists it is time for everyone, including men, to fall back to their roots, rather than “toxic” versions of masculinity and femininity she says are common in Western frameworks. And respect for Hindu goddesses, she said, doesn’t always translate to respect for all women.

“Although we have this beautiful, completely comprehensive tradition and principle of Shiva/Shakti, this amazing dance of real femininity and real masculine power, for some reason, I don’t always see Indian men or Hindu men really kind of holding space for that.”

Upala believes the world’s Hindu women are on the precipice of an awakening. “I think we’re only just beginning to find our dharmic voice,” she said. “It is coming at a time when the world needs it the most.”

“We have to really hold our own in a time and a space where the world is throwing back at you what they think feminism, beauty and power should be,” she said. “We don’t have to learn or relearn anything. The knowledge is actually in us. And it is for us to enjoy, celebrate and actually share that to the world.”

Pope Francis Addresses Armenian Bishops on Pastoral Responsibility and Prayer

On the morning of Wednesday, February 28th, Pope Francis met with the members of the Synod of Bishops of the Patriarchal Church of Cilicia of the Armenians in a private audience. Due to health reasons, Monsignor Filippo Ciampanelli delivered the Pope’s speech, which centered on three key themes: the pitfalls of pastoral adultery among bishops, the significance of prayer, and the importance of vocational pastoral care.

Addressing the gathered bishops, Pope Francis expressed joy in welcoming them to Rome on the feast day of Saint Gregory of Narek, a Doctor of the Church. He reminded them of their role as successors of the Apostles, entrusted with guiding the people of God towards Jesus Christ. Emphasizing the responsibility of the Synod in selecting future bishops, he urged careful consideration to ensure they prioritize pastoral devotion over personal ambition, cautioning against those motivated by self-interest or career advancement.

The Pope warned against the dangers of “pastoral adultery,” likening it to a bishop viewing their episcopal position as a mere stepping stone to higher status. He stressed that bishops are chosen by Christ to shepherd His flock, emphasizing the need for closeness and pastoral care, particularly for those in diaspora and remote areas. He underscored the importance of fraternity and cooperation with the Armenian Apostolic Church, highlighting pastoral charity as paramount.

In the spirit of Lent, Pope Francis called for contemplation of the cross and urged intercession for all, quoting Saint Gregory of Narek’s prayer for forgiveness and mercy towards enemies. He urged the bishops to emulate Saint Gregory the Illuminator’s example of bringing Christ’s light to the Armenian people, emphasizing their role as witnesses to Christian prophecy in a world marked by darkness and division.

The Pope stressed the significance of prayer in discerning the Gospel’s priorities and maintaining harmony within the Church. He urged thorough preparation for Synods, prudent decision-making for the good of souls, and transparent financial management. Additionally, he emphasized the importance of fostering vocations grounded in authentic Christian life and supporting priests, especially amidst challenges, with fraternal communion and joyful service.

Expressing concern for Armenia amidst conflicts and displacement, Pope Francis called for prayers for peace and solidarity with those affected. He lamented the continuation of wars despite past efforts for peace, urging collective action and prayer for reconciliation. Before concluding, he led the gathering in a prayer of mercy and forgiveness, expressing gratitude for their ministry and requesting prayers for himself.

Pope Francis reiterated his call for prayer, expressing hope for future unity with the Armenian Apostolic Church. He imparted his blessing and recited a prayer of Saint Nerses the Gracious, inviting all present to join him in seeking mercy and forgiveness for all.

Former Supreme Court Justice Urges Removal of Dharmic Motto from Constitution

Former Supreme Court Justice Kurian Joseph has recently voiced his opinion that the Supreme Court’s motto, “यतो धर्मस्ततो जयः” (Where there is Dharma, there is victory), should be discarded. Justice Joseph argues that the concept of Dharma, as defined within Hinduism, does not always align with truth and therefore, isn’t suitable to be the motto of the Indian Constitution. He emphasized, “The truth is the Constitution, Dharma – not always.” This divergence becomes more apparent when compared to the motto “Satyameva Jayate” (Truth alone triumphs), adopted by all High Courts across the nation.

Speaking at an event organized by activists and the controversial website “The Wire,” Justice Joseph highlighted his objections to the inclusion of the shloka from the Hindu epic Mahabharata in the Supreme Court’s motto. His previous comparison of the Catholic Church with the Preamble adds weight to his stance. Advocating for the motto’s removal, the retired judge, who left the apex court in 2018, urged the Chief Justice of India to seriously consider this proposal. He believes that embracing a Hindu shloka like this significantly influences the Supreme Court’s approach to dispensing justice.

Although Justice Joseph was addressing the topic “Supreme Court administration and management- Issues and concerns,” he didn’t shy away from criticizing the media’s role, accusing it of neglecting its duty and contributing to the nation’s bleak outlook.

Kailash Temple, Dedicated to Lord Shiva

Formed from a single block of excavated stone, Kailasa Temple is considered one of the most impressive cave temples in India. Known around the world as a remarkable architectural fulfillment, it is one of the 34 cave temples and monasteries that are collectively known as the Ellora Caves. A shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva, Kailash Temple is regarded as one of the most amazing rock-cut temples in the world.

History and architecture

Located in the western region of Maharashtra state in India, the caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and include monuments dating between 600 and 1000 CE.

kailasa temple ellora caves 1The Temple was said to have been built during the Rashtrakuta dynasty by King Krishna I and his successor King Dantidurga in the eighth century. It appears to have been built over several decades, arguably over an entire century, with contributions from numerous kings and craftsmen of the era. The temple is a tribute to the excellent mechanical and artistic abilities of the ancient Indian craftsmen and is considered one of the greatest examples of Indian rock-cut buildings.

Though this is a legend and not fact, the truth is that Kailasa was built from the top. This unusual decision called for 200,000 tons of volcanic rock to be excavated from the rock. Standing at about three stories tall, a horseshoe-shaped courtyard has a gopuram—tower—at its entrance. Given the vast space and the ornate decorations of the temple, it’s believed that the work may have started with Krishna I, but could have carried on for centuries, with different rulers adding their own flair.

The Temple is made of a single monolithic rock that was vertically excavated downhill as opposed to other rock-cut constructions standing about 60 feet tall, 164 feet long, and 109 feet wide, typically horizontally excavated. It imitates Mount Kailash, the legendary home of Lord Shiva. The entire building is intended to represent Lord Shiva’s eternal residence. The Temple is furnished with artistic sculptures, carvings, and reliefs that portray a variety of Hindu deities, mythological characters, and scenes from Hindu epics such as the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.


The demon king of Lanka, known in Hindu mythology as Ravana, was a devoted follower of Lord Shiva. It is claimed that to demonstrate his power and dedication to Shiva, Ravana once tried to raise Mount Kailash. But Ravana’s arrogance angered Shiva, who used his toe to press down on the mountain and trap Ravana beneath it. Ravana is supposed to have imprinted his handprint on the Ellora rocks due to this event. This mythology is sometimes connected to the Kailash Temple, which symbolizes Shiva’s holy residence that is impenetrable by even the most formidable creatures.

The interesting story concerns an enigmatic pillar inside the Kailash Temple compound. This pillar is claimed to hang in midair with no discernible support. It is said that wishes will come true if someone can cross the space between the pillar and the ground without touching either. Many pilgrims come to the temple hoping to view this act of miracles and receive blessings for their wishes.

Things to Do AT Kailash

  • Explore the Kailash temple and visit the Ellora Caves, followed by attending the rituals and pujas.
  • Take into consideration visiting some of the other neighboring Aurangabad area sites, which include the Ajanta Caves, known as the “Taj Mahal of the Deccan,” Bibi Ka Maqbara, Daulatabad Fort, and other UNESCO World Heritage sites

Catholic Bishops in India Stand Firm Amidst Rising Attacks, Affirm Commitment to Serving the Marginalized

Christian institutions and individuals in India are facing an escalation of attacks and harassment, yet the Catholic bishops affirm their unwavering commitment to serving the marginalized. The 36th biennial meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), attended by over 170 bishops from the country’s 174 dioceses, concluded with a resolute statement emphasizing their dedication to the nation despite adversities.

In their final statement, the bishops affirmed, “As loyal citizens of India, we will continue serving our country whatever be the cost, walking in the footsteps of Jesus our Master.” The conference, held from January 31 to February 7 at Bengaluru’s St John’s National Academy of Health Sciences, deliberated on pertinent themes including the Church’s role in the current socio-political landscape and the implications of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Acknowledging India’s strides in various domains, the bishops expressed pride in the nation’s achievements while highlighting persistent socio-economic disparities. They lamented that the benefits of development have disproportionately reached a small segment of society, leaving many grappling with unemployment and rural-urban migration, exacerbating the digital divide.

The bishops voiced concern over rising divisive tendencies, hate speech, and fundamentalist movements eroding the secular fabric enshrined in India’s Constitution. They deplored attacks on Christians and their institutions, citing incidents of violence, property destruction, and harassment under the pretext of allegations related to conversions.

During the bishops’ gathering, several arrests occurred in Uttar Pradesh, where a Catholic priest, five Protestant pastors, and a layperson were detained over accusations of engaging in conversion activities. Despite a denial of bail by a lower court on February 7, efforts are underway to secure their release through legal avenues.

The meeting also addressed the protracted violence in Manipur, condemning clashes between the Meitei and Kuki ethnic communities, with a significant Christian population among the latter. Expressing dismay at the loss of lives and livelihoods, the bishops urged for lasting peace and reconciliation in the region.

Highlighting concerns about democratic institutions’ integrity and media responsibility, the bishops emphasized the need to uphold constitutional principles and combat religious polarization. They called upon political leaders to safeguard India’s secular and democratic ethos, urging citizens to actively participate in the upcoming elections.

Reiterating longstanding demands, the bishops urged the government to grant Scheduled Caste status to Dalit Christians and other marginalized minorities while safeguarding the Scheduled Tribe status of Christian tribal communities. Additionally, they reaffirmed their commitment to fostering interreligious dialogue and community solidarity.

Despite facing challenges and setbacks, the Catholic bishops in India remain steadfast in their mission to uphold democratic values, promote social justice, and advocate for the rights of the marginalized, demonstrating resilience and determination in the face of adversity.

Georgia’s Commissioner CB Yadav Announces Plans for Ramayana Museum and Lord Ram Temple; Extends Invitation to UP CM Yogi Adityanath

CB Yadav, the Commissioner of Georgia state in the United States, has announced plans to construct a Ramayana Museum and a temple dedicated to Lord Ram in Georgia. Currently on a tour in India, CB Yadav extended an invitation to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath of Uttar Pradesh for the groundbreaking ceremony of these projects in Georgia next year, which CM Yogi graciously accepted. During his visit to Lucknow, CB Yadav also met with Samajwadi Party national president and former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav along with his wife Dimple Yadav at their residence, where CM Yogi was welcomed with mementos.

Chandrabhushan Yadav, also known as CB Yadav, hails from Badlapur in Jaunpur district, Uttar Pradesh, and currently serves as the first commissioner of Georgia state in the US. He arrived in India on January 28, visiting various places including the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi before heading to his ancestral village of Nevada Mukhlispur in Badlapur area to meet with family members, followed by his visit to Lucknow.

CB Yadav expressed his intention to build the Ramayana Museum and the grand temple of Lord Ram in Georgia following the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. He mentioned that construction work on these projects will commence soon and extended an official invitation to CM Yogi Adityanath for the Bhoomi Pujan scheduled for 2025.

Furthermore, CB Yadav emphasized the need to revitalize old temples and religious sites in India, mentioning plans to develop a guest house and basic amenities at the renowned Mata Shitala Chowkia Dham in Jaunpur.

Regarding his journey from Jaunpur to America, CB Yadav completed his education in Badlapur and Allahabad before obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from an engineering college in Maharashtra. He then migrated to Georgia in 2003, where he established a business with his wife and two sons. Over the years, CB Yadav has achieved success in business, notably with the support of Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, who helped him secure the position of the first commissioner of Georgia state. Recognized as a significant supporter of India in America, Governor Brian Kemp established the Georgian First Commission, on which CB Yadav serves, to facilitate small business growth by streamlining government regulations.

CB Yadav is not only active in politics but also manages several hotels and motels in Kingsland, Camden County, South Georgia. His journey from starting a small business in Camden city to owning multiple grocery stores and a motor business reflects his determination and entrepreneurial spirit.

These Are 10 Of The Great Hindu Temples To Visit In The USA

  • The Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in New Jersey is the largest Hindu temple in America, made with hand-carved Italian Carrara marble.
  • The Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Utah is known for hosting seasonal festivals, including the Holi Festival of Colors.
  • The Ganesh Temple in New York is the oldest Hindu temple in the United States, built in 1977, and is now one of the most famous Hindu temples in the US.

There are now hundreds of Hindu temples found scattered across the United States (and Canada). In fact, the United States is now home to the largest Hindu temple outside of Asia. The largest Hindu temple in the world has historically been the famous Angkor Wat in Cambodia (although it was later converted into a Buddhist temple).

These Are 10 Of The Great Hindu Temples To Visit In The USA (TAAJoo)
Picture: TAJoo

The new largest Hindu temple in the world is the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium, currently under construction in India. From New York to California, here are ten great Hindu temples in the USA worth visiting.

Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, New Jersey

The massive Hindu temple Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in New Jersey has just been expanded and re-inaugurated and is the largest Hindu temple in America.

It was first completed in 2017 and then re-inaugurated in 2023 and built with hand-carved Italian Carrara marble, Indian pink stone, and limestone. It is located in Robbinsville in Central New Jersey.

  • Remarks: Largest Hindu Temple In USA

Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple, Utah

The Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Utah is famous for its large Hindu festivals and celebrations. The temple has a large natural amphitheater that has the capacity for thousands of visitors.

One of the best times to visit is for the Holi Festival (or Festival of Colors), which offers a true Indian experience.

  • Remarks:Noted For Hosting Many Seasonal Festivals

Hindu Temple Of Central Indiana, Indiana

Located in Indianapolis, the Hindu Temple of Central Indiana is something of a breathtaking monument to Hindu architecture.

It first opened in 2006 and is one of the top places to visit to learn about the Hindu community in Indiana.

  • Remarks: Oldest Hindu Temple In Indiana

Malibu Hindu Temple, California

The Malibu Hindu Temple is located in Calabasas near Malibu in California and is dedicated to the worship of the Hindu god Venkateswara. It is made up of two complexes.

The lower complex has Lord Shiva as the presiding deity, while the upper complex has Lord Venkateswara as the presiding deity.

  • Remarks: Dedicated To Lord Venkateswara

Shri Swaminarayan Sanstha, Illinois

One of the top Hindu temples to explore in Chicago is the Shri Swaminarayan Sanstha Hindu temple, which covers 27 acres.

It opened in 2004 and was constructed with Turkish limestone and hand-carved Italian marble.

  • Remarks: Group Tours are Offered from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday to Sunday & Mornings On Sunday

Ganesh Temple, New York

The Ganesh Temple in Flushing, New York (in Queens, NYC) is the oldest Hindu temple in the United States. It wasThese Are 10 Of The Great Hindu Temples To Visit In The USA (Travel) built in 1977 and is now considered among the most famous Hindu temples in the country (it is amazing how many Hindu temples have been built in the last 50 years).

The temple is open to visitors on weekdays from 8:00 am to 8:30 pm and on weekends from 7:30 am to 8:30 pm.

  • Remarks: Oldest Hindu Temple In USA

Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Georgia

The Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is a traditional Hindu place of worship in Atlanta, inaugurated in 2007. It was the largest mandir (or Hindu place of worship) outside India when it was built.

The complex has a large assembly hall, classrooms, an exhibition about the key tenets of Hinduism, and more.

  • Remarks: Constructed With 34,450 pieces of Marble and limestone

Sri Siva Vishnu Temple, Maryland

Sri Siva Vishnu Temple in Maryland is among the largest temples in the United States and was built between 1988 and 2002. It is located only 12 kilometers or 8 miles from Washington, DC, in the Maryland city of Lanham.

Learn more about visiting on the temple’s official website.

  • Remarks: Main Deities Shiva and Vishnu

New Vrindaban Temple, West Virginia

The New Vrindaban Temple (also called The Palace of God) is named after the town of Vrindaban in India. Vrindaban is of religious significance to Hinduism, as Krishna is said to have spent most of his childhood in the city.

Today, the city is home to some 5,500 temples dedicated to Krishna and Radha (his chief consort). The New Vrindaban Temple can be visited while hiking sections of the famous Appalachian Trail.

  • Remarks:Stunning Complex on 500 acres of land

Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Texas

The Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Houston is one of the top Hindu attractions in Texas, built from over 33,000 pieces of hand-carved marble and limestone. The temple has a Hindu exhibit that explains the fundamental tenets of Hinduism for visitors, and it is open every day for visitors and for worshipers.

The Shri Swaminarayan Mandir should be considered as one of the things to see and do while in Houston.

Catholic Bishops of India Launch Innovative Mobile App to Revolutionize Digital Engagement

The Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI, Latin Rite) has introduced a mobile application aimed at offering a comprehensive range of services and resources to the Catholic community across the nation. Unveiled on January 30 during the plenary assembly at St John’s National Academy of Health Sciences in Bengaluru by CCBI president Cardinal Filipe Neri Ferrão, the Catholic Connect App seeks to revolutionize the digital landscape within the global Catholic community, with a specific focus on India, as stated by Father Stephen Alathara, CCBI deputy secretary general.

Described as a tool poised to seamlessly blend technology with faith, the app is anticipated to instigate positive changes within the Catholic sphere, promoting a sense of unity, communication, and enhanced user experience both locally and internationally. It is projected to cater to diverse needs by providing access to Church services such as health insurance, education, employment opportunities, and emergency aid, in addition to aiding users in locating nearby churches and accessing various Church services within India.

The app’s innovative approach is expected to mark the dawn of a new era, facilitating efficient communication, resource allocation, and community management. By acting as a hub for information regarding Catholic institutions, entities, and associations, alongside delivering timely news updates from the conference’s 14 regions, the app underscores its commitment to keeping users abreast of local developments, thus fostering a deeper sense of community and connection among users, irrespective of their geographical location.

Moreover, the app is anticipated to serve as a vital link for Catholics to connect with their parishes and dioceses, offering dedicated sections for “My Parish” and “My Diocese,” which encompass information, event updates, notice boards, announcements, and obituaries. During the registration process, users can select their respective parishes and dioceses, further enhancing their engagement with their local Catholic communities.

Additionally, the app features a designated space for CCBI Commissions, where their activities, training sessions, and programs are showcased. This interactive platform empowers commission secretaries to directly showcase their initiatives, thereby amplifying the reach and impact of CCBI’s diverse programs.

The inception of the app traces back to the decision made by CCBI’s 88th executive committee in May 2022 to develop a database application to foster connectivity within the Catholic community in India. Following this decision, the trial version of the app was launched on September 21, 2023, during the CCBI 92nd executive committee meeting.

Madras High Court Orders Signage Restricting Non-Hindus in Temples to Uphold Hindu Rights

The Madras High Court has issued a directive to the Tamil Nadu HR&CE department, instructing them to place signage in all Hindu temples, clearly stating that non-Hindus are restricted beyond the ‘Kodimaram’ area within the premises. Justice S Srimathy of the Madurai Bench emphasized the fundamental right of Hindus to practice and profess their religion. This ruling came in response to a petition from D Senthilkumar, seeking exclusive access for Hindus to the Arulmigu Palani Dhandayuthapani Swamy temple and its sub-temples, along with the installation of display boards to enforce this regulation at all entrances.

The notable Palani Murugan temple, situated in Dindigul district, was specifically mentioned in this context.

The respondents in the case included the Tamil Nadu government, represented by the Principal Secretary of the Department of Tourism, Culture and Religious Endowments, The Commissioner of the HR&CE Department, and the Executive Officer of the Palani temple. The HR&CE department oversees the administration of Hindu temples across Tamil Nadu.

In response to the petition, the court ordered the installation of boards stating “non-Hindus are not allowed inside the temple after Kodimaram” at the temple entrances, near the flagpole, and at prominent locations within the shrine. The court also mandated that non-Hindus seeking access to specific deities within the temple must provide an undertaking affirming their faith in the deity and willingness to adhere to Hindu customs and practices. Entries for such visits would be maintained in a register by the temple authorities.

Furthermore, the court stressed the importance of maintaining temple premises in accordance with temple rules, customs, and practices outlined in the agamas.

Although the respondents suggested confining the order to the Palani temple alone, the court dismissed this plea, asserting that the issue raised was of broader significance. The court highlighted that these restrictions aim to promote communal harmony among different religions and maintain peace in society. Therefore, the court directed the State Government, HR&CE department, and all involved in temple administration to adhere to these directives in all Hindu temples.

The court reiterated the fundamental rights of Hindus to practice and profess their faith, emphasizing that while individuals of other religions also have these rights, they should not interfere with Hindu customs and practices. Temples are not intended as tourist or picnic spots, and must be respected accordingly.

The court referenced specific incidents of non-Hindus allegedly misusing temple premises, such as consuming non-vegetarian food within temple grounds or attempting to conduct prayers with their sacred texts near sanctums. Such incidents, the court asserted, infringe upon the fundamental rights of Hindus as guaranteed by the Constitution.

Consequently, the court held that it is the duty of the HR&CE department to safeguard temples from such unwanted occurrences and ensure the protection of Hindu fundamental rights. Failure to do so, as evidenced by past incidents, is a neglect of constitutional duty.

The Madras High Court’s ruling underscores the importance of respecting Hindu customs and practices within temple premises, ensuring the fundamental rights of Hindus are upheld, and maintaining the sanctity of these religious spaces.

Emergence of Assertive Hindu American Politics: Candidates Proudly Represent Faith in U.S. Political Arena

Vivek Ramaswamy expressed his pride in his Hindu identity while campaigning in New Hampshire, stating, “I’m Hindu, and I’m proud of that.” He emphasized his commitment to defending religious liberty without apology. Although his presidential bid faltered in Iowa, his presence underscored a significant emergence: the visibility of assertive Hinduism in American politics.

The burgeoning influence of Hindu American politics was vividly demonstrated in 2019 during the “Howdy, Modi!” event in Houston’s NRG Stadium, where around 50,000 people gathered to witness then-President Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi share the stage.Emergence of Assertive Hindu American Politics Candidates Proudly Represent Faith in U S Political Arena

In late 2019, a dispute over an anti-caste discrimination bill in California showcased the increasing political acumen of Hindus in pursuing their interests. With representatives from across the country on opposing sides, proponents and opponents of the bill showcased their ability to mobilize support and shape public opinion. Governor Gavin Newsom’s subsequent veto of the bill marked a victory for those who argued it would unfairly stereotype Hindus.

Rishi Bhutada, treasurer of the 12-year-old Hindu American PAC, noted that Hindus, traditionally leaning towards the Democratic Party, are now more focused on supporting candidates who understand their specific concerns, from addressing Hinduphobia to advocating for immigration policies aligned with their interests.

Reflecting on this evolution, Bhutada remarked, “The community is getting way more discerning about candidates now.” Over the past decade, Hindu Americans have seen an increasing array of candidates from their community vying for positions at various levels of government, including the U.S. Congress.

Tulsi Gabbard’s historic election as the first Hindu congressperson in 2013 marked a turning point, signaling to the community that electoral success was achievable. Subsequently, Democrats like Raja Krishnamoorthi from Illinois and Ro Khanna from California were elected to Congress, further validating the potential for Hindu candidates to succeed nationwide.

Looking ahead, three more Hindu Americans, all Democrats, are currently running for Congress, each with unique backgrounds and platforms:

Emergence of Assertive Hindu American Politics Candidates Proudly Represent Faith in U S Political Arena

Rishi Kumar, a Silicon Valley tech executive and former mechanical engineer, emphasizes his “fiscally moderate” Democratic stance. His successful tenure on Saratoga’s city council, where he received the highest number of votes in history, propelled him into the political arena. Kumar has been vocal in opposing misrepresentations of Hinduism and advocating against anti-Hindu prejudice.

Emergence of Assertive Hindu American Politics Candidates Proudly Represent Faith in U S Political Arena

Bhavini Patel, raised by a single mother in Pennsylvania, draws upon her upbringing working on an Indian food truck to connect with working-class families. She attributes her values of kindness and authenticity to her Hindu upbringing, aiming to represent her faith proudly while addressing issues such as education, small business support, and public safety.

Suhas Subramanyam, currently serving as a delegate in the Virginia Legislature, made history as the first Hindu and Indian American elected in Virginia. Inspired by his Hindu faith, Subramanyam seeks to address issues such as gun violence, clean energy, and immigration reform while ensuring that his community’s concerns are heard and acted upon.

The rise of Hindu American politicians reflects a growing engagement and sophistication within the community, as they navigate political landscapes while staying true to their religious and cultural identities.

India’s Population Dynamics: Religious Growth, Caste Challenges, and Demographic Projections

India has experienced a significant population surge since Partition, with numbers skyrocketing from 361 million in 1951 to over 1.2 billion in 2011. The United Nations Population Division predicts that India’s monthly population growth of about 1 million individuals could lead it to surpass China as the world’s most populous nation by 2030.India's Population Dynamics Religious Growth Caste Challenges and Demographic Projections

During the period from 1951 to 2011, all major religious groups in India witnessed growth. Hindus increased from 304 million to 966 million, Muslims from 35 million to 172 million, and Christians from 8 million to 28 million. However, there are indications that Christians might be undercounted in census data. This discrepancy arises from individuals identifying as Hindu to access government benefits meant for Scheduled Castes, which Christians are not typically eligible for. The 2015 National Family Health Survey showed that 21% of Christians interviewed identified as Scheduled Castes.

India’s caste system, a hierarchical social structure, has historically influenced societal roles and opportunities. Affirmative action programs, known as “reservations,” aim to mitigate caste-based disparities by allocating government jobs and educational seats for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes. However, these reservations are not extended to Muslims and Christians, prompting debate over their exclusion from poverty-alleviation programs.

India's Population Dynamics Religious Growth Caste Challenges and Demographic Projections

India has implemented various measures to control population growth, including contraceptive promotion and penalties for large families. These efforts have led to a slowdown in population expansion since the 1990s, with growth rates declining for all religious groups. While Hindus remain the majority, the growth rate of religious minorities has tapered off, particularly among Muslims and Christians.

India's Population Dynamics Religious Growth Caste Challenges and Demographic Projections


Despite slower growth rates, India’s major religious groups continue to gain millions of followers. Hindus added 138 million people between 2001 and 2011, while Muslims increased by 34 million. Christians, however, experienced the slowest growth rate among the three largest groups.


India’s religious composition has remained relatively stable since Partition, with Muslims experiencing a modest increase in percentage share while Hindus declined slightly. Christians have consistently comprised 2-3% of the population since 1951.

India's Population Dynamics Religious Growth Caste Challenges and Demographic Projections

Minor religious groups, including Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains, have seen their numbers double or triple over the decades. Geographically, Christians are concentrated in Southern states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, while Sikhs are prevalent in Punjab.


The 2011 census revealed about 8 million people identifying with smaller religious groups, with over 80 lakh claiming no affiliation with the six largest religions. The census allows for an open-ended response to religion, with over 83 smaller religious groups represented.

India's Population Dynamics Religious Growth Caste Challenges and Demographic Projections

Looking ahead to 2050, demographic projections suggest continued growth for Muslims and Hindus, with Muslims expected to comprise around 18% of the population. Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains, however, are projected to decline as a share of the population due to lower fertility rates.

India's Population Dynamics Religious Growth Caste Challenges and Demographic Projections

India’s population dynamics, influenced by religious demographics, continue to shape its societal landscape, with implications for policies and societal inclusion.


Pope Francis’ Unyielding Commitment to Social Justice and Global Issues

Pope Francis is known for his outspoken stance on critical global issues, ranging from war and migration to climate change. According to Cardinal Michael Czerny, who leads a Vatican department focused on social justice, the Pope’s motive is to caution world leaders against making “suicidal” decisions. Czerny emphasized the moral obligation Pope Francis feels to speak on behalf of Catholics, acknowledging potential criticism but asserting that the Pope is driven by the commitment of the faithful.

Cardinal Czerny explained, “I speak out because there are millions of Catholics and other Christians and other believers and other people of goodwill for whom or in whose voice I’m speaking. And we’re trying to say to the world’s decision-makers that their decisions are anti-human, short-sighted, suicidal” (original quote).

The Pope’s dedication to responsible journalism was underscored during a meeting with reporters at the Vatican on January 22. Pope Francis likened journalism to a vocation, akin to that of a doctor choosing to heal humanity. He expressed the journalist’s role in addressing societal wounds and the importance of their work in today’s world.

Since his election almost 11 years ago, Pope Francis has been a prominent figure, gaining attention not only for his modest lifestyle in the Vatican but also for addressing pressing global issues. His willingness to discuss topics ranging from the death penalty to Artificial Intelligence has solidified his position as a Pope with a significant voice on the international stage.

In an interview on Nove, owned by CNN’s parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery, Pope Francis addressed concerns about his health. Despite recent health challenges, he asserted his commitment to remaining in office “as long as (he has) the ability to serve.”

Pope Francis’ impactful communication extends to the core of his papacy, notably his consistent support for migrants. His first visit outside of Rome was to the Italian island of Lampedusa, where he decried “global indifference” to refugees. Cardinal Czerny, working closely with the Pope, emphasized their efforts to galvanize Catholics to welcome and support migrants in their communities.

Cardinal Czerny, echoing Pope Francis’ perspective, emphasized that migration is about individuals, not just numbers. He shared his personal connection to the issue, recounting his family’s migration from Czechoslovakia to Canada when he was four years old. Highlighting the importance of sponsorship, he noted, “I wouldn’t be here talking to you if a family in Canada had not sponsored us.”

The migrant crisis is a crucial test of humanity, according to Pope Francis, and he views the developed world as largely failing in this regard. Cardinal Czerny urged the Church in the United States to address the issue, evaluate the validity of anti-immigration rhetoric, and guide their community in making informed decisions.

Another significant concern for Pope Francis and Cardinal Czerny is the rapid evolution of Artificial Intelligence. Pope Francis has called for a treaty to regulate its use, emphasizing the need for global collaboration to prevent it from becoming a new risk for human life.

Despite the Pope’s commitment to addressing pressing issues, he faces criticism, especially regarding his critiques of capitalism and his stance on climate change. Cardinal Czerny acknowledged this resistance, attributing it to the Pope challenging the interests of both financial and political elites. He drew a parallel to Jesus, noting that criticism is inevitable when the core message goes against prevailing interests.

The Pope’s recent move to authorize the blessings of same-sex couples intensified internal opposition, particularly in Africa. Despite potential criticisms, Cardinal Czerny highlighted Pope Francis’ priority to include, console, bless, and reconcile those who are suffering.

Pope Francis, despite his age and recent health challenges, remains resolute in his commitment to addressing global issues and advocating for social justice. His dedication to speaking on behalf of the faithful and challenging powerful interests continues to shape his papacy.

Divine Artistry Unveiled: Arun Yogiraj’s Masterpiece Brings Lord Ram’s Smile to Life in Ayodhya

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spearheaded the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ ceremony marking Lord Ram’s long-awaited return to Ayodhya after a span of 500 years. The unveiling of Ram Lalla’s visage, sculpted by Arun Yogiraj from Mysuru, left onlookers captivated, particularly by the innocence reflected in the eyes and the smile of the infant Lord Ram.

The smile on Ram Lalla’s face evoked varied descriptions, ranging from expressions of beauty and divinity to terms like ‘mandahasa’ and enchanting.

The inauguration of the Ram Mandir was a momentous occasion, accompanied by jubilant festivities. Yogiraj expressed profound gratitude, attributing the opportunity to divine selection by Lord Ram himself.

Crafting the Idol:

Vijetha outlined the criteria provided by the temple trust for Arun Yogiraj and two other contestants, GL Bhat and Satyanarayana Panday, which included a smiling face, a divine countenance, a depiction resembling a five-year-old, and a princely appearance.

She explained the initial step involved in sculpting, which entails sketching the design on paper.

Designing Facial Features:

Vijetha elaborated that the proportions of facial features were meticulously crafted in accordance with the Shilpa Shastra, an ancient Indian scripture governing traditional arts and architecture.

Yogiraj extensively studied human anatomy to ensure realism, consulting both Shilpa Shastra and anatomy books. He even observed children to capture the innocence and naturalness of their smiles.

The Captivating Smile:

Experts noted the roundish shape of the idol’s face, a characteristic common in South Indian sculptures, contrasting with sharper features prevalent in northern sculptures.

Historian and author Vikram Sampath lauded the beauty of Ram Lalla, praising the curls, rosy cheeks, mystic smile, and divine aura, attributing the accomplishment to the skilled craftsmanship of Arun Yogiraj.

Emotional Journey:

Reflecting on the arduous seven-month journey, Yogiraj revealed the emotional investment he had made, seeking feedback even from his own daughter, who likened the idol’s appearance to that of a child.

Significance of Idol’s Dimensions:

Vijetha elucidated that the height of 51 inches for the Ram Lalla idol was chosen for its scientific significance. This height ensures that the Sun’s rays fall precisely on Ramlalla’s forehead every year at noon on Ram Navami day, lending a unique feature to the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.

Choice of Krishnashila Stone:

Krishnashila stone was selected for its chemical composition, which renders it inert to acid, heat, and adverse weather conditions. This feature allows for the safe consumption of milk used during Abhishekam as ‘prasad’ without any detrimental effects on health.

Furthermore, the durability of Krishnashila stone ensures the idol’s longevity, capable of withstanding over a thousand years without deterioration. This high-quality stone is found predominantly in regions like HD Kote near Mysuru and Karkala in Uttar Kannada district, thereby establishing Mysuru as a hub for sculpting.

Traditional Craftsmanship:

Despite utilizing modern software for visualization, Yogiraj relied on traditional methods, employing manual sculpting techniques involving hammers and chisels to bring the idol to life.

Hindu American Community Holds Grand Car Rally in Greater Boston to Celebrate Ram Mandir Inauguration

Over the weekend, Greater Boston witnessed a spectacular display of unity and celebration as the Hindu American Community organized one of the largest car rallies in the region. With an impressive turnout of over 250 cars and more than 500 attendees, the rally covered a total distance of 70+ miles, making stops at five prominent temples along the route. This event, which took place in frigid temperatures of 16 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 10 Celsius), stands out as one of the longest car rallies in the United States, as affirmed by the organizers.

The participants, undeterred by the chilly weather and biting winds, embarked on the rally to mark the inauguration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Rama. The rally commenced at 7:30 AM following a Puja ceremony at the Sri Chinmaya Maruti Mandir in Andover, Massachusetts, and continued on to include stops at the ISSO Swaminarayan Mandir in Lowell, Shri Radha Damodar Mandir in Shrewsbury, Sri Radha Krishna Mandir in Northborough, and concluded at the Sri Lakshmi Temple in Ashland.

Devotees from various other mandirs, including BAPS in Lowell, Satsang in Woburn, Dwarkamai Temple in Billerica, Sarv Dev Mandir in Oxford, and Sri Raghavendra Swami Matha, Shri Gita Mandir in Shrewsbury, joined the main rally at different stopping points, contributing to the overall enthusiasm of the participants.

During each stop, young representatives from the rally extended invitations to the temples to partake in the festivities related to the inauguration of the Ram Mandir. Temples and Hindu Americans were encouraged to perform puja-archana to the temple deity, light five diyas in celebration of Diwali, engage in kirtan-bhajan, recite the Hanuman Chalisa, ring bells, and watch the online broadcast of the Pran Pratishta (consecration) at the newly constructed Ram Mandir in Ayodhya at 12:30 PM IST on January 22nd, 2024.

The youths also shared brief statements about the divine qualities of Bhagwan Ram, emphasizing virtues such as courage, sacrifice, justice, compassion, ideal behavior, and good governance (Ram Rajya). They highlighted how the exemplary life of Lord Rama has influenced the culture in numerous Southeast Asian countries. As a gesture of goodwill, the participants carried small gift packages containing Jap Malas, the Hanuman Chalisa, and a token cash offering. The temples warmly received them, extending welcomes with kirtan, tilak, and Prasad.

The participating temples reciprocated the rally participants’ warmth with open hearts and lively festivities. At ISSO, Vivek Swami, the resident, blessed the participants and spoke about the importance of incorporating the core qualities of Shree Ram into one’s life. The India Heritage Foundation in Shrewsbury presented all rally participants with a copy of the Gita and other relevant books. Additionally, at the Sri Lakshmi Temple, everyone received a Jap Mala to take home for their Japa of “Shri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram.”

The cars that formed the caravan were adorned with vibrant orange flags and signs, proudly displaying the message “Jai Shri Ram,” which translates to “victory to the virtues” as Lord Ram is considered a symbol of virtues. The cooperation and warm welcome from the police departments in the four towns through which the rally passed reflected the excellent reputation the Indian community holds with law enforcement authorities.

This grand rally, a celebration of unity and devotion, was made possible through the collaborative efforts of volunteers from various dharmic organizations, including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA), Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), and numerous Hindu temples.

Shades of Divinity: Debating the Complexion of Lord Ram in Contemporary Politics

“He possesses a voice reminiscent of the resonating tones of a dundubhi (kettledrum). His skin exudes a radiant glow, brimming with splendor. His physique is robust and square-built, with symmetrically proportioned limbs. He is adorned with a dark complexion.”

In the Sundara Kanda of Valmiki Ramayan, when Sita challenges Hanuman to demonstrate his knowledge of Ram and Lakshman, this is his eloquent reply. The repetitive emphasis on Ram’s dark skin appears consistently in various versions of the Ramayana. However, scriptures don’t always mirror the lived reality. In a world marked by diversities, where the struggle between great and little traditions persists, Ram is at times portrayed in blue, black, and occasionally even in white or green.

The question of Ram’s skin color becomes pertinent in a country predominantly inhabited by people labeled as ‘brown’ by the West. In the case of the most politically active deity of the century, who himself engaged in a legal battle to secure rights over his birthplace, the debate over his depiction takes on broader political implications.

The controversy emerged when three renowned sculptors from different regions were commissioned to create a 51-inch idol of five-year-old Ram lalla for the sanctum sanctorum of the Ram Mandir. Ganesh Bhatt and Arun Yogiraj sculpted the idol from bluish-grey stone known as Shyam-Shila, sourced from Karnataka. On the other hand, Satyanarayan Pandey fashioned a white idol from the makrana marble of Rajasthan.

Union Minister Prahlad Joshi announced on January 1, through a tweet, that Yogiraj’s idol would be installed in the consecration ceremony. However, reports suggested that during a meeting on December 22, a few senior trust members favored Pandey’s ‘Shweta’ version, despite 11 members supporting Yogiraj’s idol. Does the color of the idol hold significance in contemporary politics? Hindu saints and scholars argue that diverse interpretations lead to varied perceptions and, consequently, multiple depictions.

This isn’t the first instance of Ram being portrayed as white. Various television adaptations, including the widely popular one by Ramanand Sagar, depict Ram as anything but dark. Even when depicted differently, he is often shown in blue. Mythologist and author Devdutt Pattanaik points out the preference for blue over black, stating, “We had gods who were always pink, demons who were always brown, and dark gods who were always blue. Indra, Brahma, and Durga were pink, Asuras and Rakshasas were brown. Vishnu, Ram, and Krishna were blue.” He attributes this preference to the symbolism of blue representing the sky, ether, and divinity.

Discussing the blue depiction of Ram, Deepam Chatterjee, author of The Millennial Yogi, notes, “Blue depicts the infinite. It is the color of the clear day sky and of the deep sea. Divinity is often depicted as infinity. Hence, depictions of Lord Rama as blue are symbolic of his divine nature.” Referring to the Bhakti literature tradition, Chatterjee adds that Ram is called “Nīlameghashyama”—the one with the complexion.

Vatican’s Tech Ethicist, Friar Paolo Benanti, Advocates for Ethical AI Governance

In his humble brown robes, Friar Paolo Benanti, a member of the Franciscan order, takes on the profound challenge of our times – navigating the ethical governance of artificial intelligence (AI). Serving as the Vatican’s technology advisor, Benanti, with a background in engineering and a doctorate in moral theology, is on a mission to ensure AI enriches lives without exploitation. His urgency aligns with Pope Francis’s call for an international treaty addressing the ethical use of AI, as highlighted in his 2024 peace message.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Benanti pondered, “What is the difference between a man who exists and a machine that functions?” Expressing the gravity of the issue, he emphasized the growing complexity of a machine that seems to be increasingly humanizing. His expertise extends beyond the Vatican, making him a crucial figure in international AI discussions.

Benanti, at 50, wears multiple hats. He serves on the United Nations’ Advisory Body on Artificial Intelligence, heads an Italian government commission safeguarding journalism from disinformation, and consults for the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life. His role involves translating technical terms for the Holy Father, a duty that proved invaluable during a 2023 meeting between Pope Francis and Microsoft President Brad Smith, focused on the ethical dimensions of AI.

Pope Francis, with a commitment to those on society’s margins, fears AI’s potential to infringe on human rights. The concern centers around discriminatory impacts on issues like mortgage applications, asylum bids, or assessing an offender’s likelihood to reoffend. Benanti concurs, warning about the dangers of insufficiently inclusive data leading to non-inclusive choices.

Microsoft, recognizing the friar’s unique expertise, sought Benanti’s insights several years ago. In 2023, Smith and Benanti collaborated on a podcast in Rome, where Smith lauded the friar for his extraordinary blend of engineering, ethics, and technology, making him a vital contributor to the AI debate.

One year away from completing his engineering degree at Rome’s Sapienza University, Benanti chose a different path, forsaking both his degree and his girlfriend to join the Franciscans in his 20s. He envisions AI as a potent tool, capable of reducing medical costs and empowering doctors to serve more people. However, he stresses the ethical quandaries posed by AI, which, with human-like capabilities, demand meticulous governance.

Benanti acknowledges that much of AI’s data is sourced from low-wage workers, often in developing countries marked by a history of colonialism and exploitation. Concerned about extracting cognitive resources from the global South, he states, “I don’t want this to be remembered as the season in which we extract from the global South cognitive resources.” He sheds light on the irony that the best AI tools in the West are trained using underpaid workers from English-speaking former colonies.

In addressing the ethical dilemma, the friar emphasizes, “It is a problem not of using (AI) but it is a problem of governance, and here is where ethics come in — finding the right level of use inside a social context.” Benanti’s advocacy resonates with those striving to strike a delicate balance between harnessing AI’s potential and ensuring it serves the collective good, embodying the timeless values of his Franciscan order founded by St. Francis of Assisi.

In new temple to Lord Ram, the Indian city of Ayodhya hopes to shed a disturbing history

AYODHYA, India (RNS) — Once a quaint, if historically and religiously significant, village, this 2,500-year-old city in northern India has been transformed into a global pilgrimage site befitting the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram.

Cobbled streets are being widened to hold tourist buses and VIP vehicles. Storefronts are uniformly being painted with the saffron emblem of Lord Ram. At worksites blaring Hindu-nationalist-themed pop music, laborers from across the country are building throughout the night. At the center of the face-lift is a long-anticipated temple honoring Ram, one of Hinduism’s most treasured deities, said in the Sanskrit epic the Ramayama to have been born here.

“This is a gift for Hindus of this nation and all around the world,” said Manmeet Gupta, a local TV news reporter. “Because after 500 years of struggle, they can finally see Ram lalla (infant) installed in his rightful birthplace.”

But the new temple, which will be the third-largest Hindu place of worship in the world, is a triumph too for the Hindu nationalist movement that in many ways was born in Ayodhya 30 years ago, when a Hindu mob tore down a mosque that occupied the site.

Hindutva, a Hindu-Sanskrit compound that translates to Hindu-ness, has existed for a century, but tensions in Ayodhya began in the 1980s, when Hindus belonging to Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which the CIA identified as a “religious militant organization,” began a campaign to replace the Babri Masjid, or Babri mosque, with a temple to Ram. Pointing to a finding by the government’s Indian Archaeological Survey that remnants of a “non-Islamic structure” and objects with ancient Hindu imagery were discernible beneath the mosque, the group argued that the land rightfully belonged to the god.

Rallies calling for a temple on the site were organized by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, contributing to its rising political power, which in turn emboldened Hindus with a strong nationalist tilt and a distaste for Muslim imperialism. It was a BJP rally in December 1992 that turned violent and resulted in the destruction of the masjid. The demolition sparked riots across India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, where more than 2,000 were killed in retaliatory violence.

Murari Kumar Pandey, a Hindu who grew up “500 meters from Ram’s birthplace,” recalls playing in Shaheed Galli, or Martyr’s Alley, where dozens of Hindu volunteers, known as kar sevaks, died at the hands of police. “Our parents and grandparents couldn’t see it. All they saw was the Babri Masjid.”

Apart from the riots, the mosque’s destruction spawned a legal case that raged on through all levels of the Indian justice system for two decades, ending only in 2019. At one point the infant Ram made an appearance as a litigant. Construction on the temple began in 2020, when the land was blessed with water from India’s sacred rivers. Since then, Hindus from Ayodhya’s Uttar Pradesh and neighboring states have come to work on the temple to be part of history.

In the meantime, in 2014, the BJP, running on the promise of restoring the temple site, took power in Congress, led by now Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Modi and BJP have a comfortable lead in elections that will be held this spring, thanks to Hindus such as Pandey, who takes great pride in the new temple and credits Modi and Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu monk and chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, for making it happen.

Many local residents, such as Chandramal Mishra, a 38-year-old supervisor on the project, have come to work on the temple and other new buildings. Some had never worked in construction before. A native of a village less than 10 miles from Ayodhya, he had juggled several jobs before landing a role as the head of an electrical team at the temple site. For the last eight months, he has slept in a makeshift dorm with 500 beds and 35 bathrooms. “There are times when I’m needed even at 2 a.m. for work on site,” he said.

Far from complaining, Mishra said that the camaraderie among the volunteers is enough to sustain him. “I’m a Brahmin” — considered the highest of India’s social castes — “but no one asks me why I am working on a construction site. To use a shovel on the land of Ram Mandir is a matter of pride for me.”

Many workers, such as Sapna Sahu, tirelessly polish blocks of intricate marble with sandpaper, chanting “Jai Shri Ram” as they work, which they consider seva, or service, to their beloved Lord. Though each block takes two weeks to polish, she said, “I haven’t counted the stones I polished so far in two years.”

In the past year, luxury hotels, an international airport and major clothing brands have established outposts in Ayodhya, offering not only employment opportunities but shiny attractions for outsiders. But as part of the massive revamp to host millions of expected tourists, some residents have been dispossessed of their homes and land and claim that they were compensated poorly. These residents are now questioning the price of the Ram temple.

webRNS Ayodhya Opening16 011124 807x538
Construction crews work on Ram Mandir, a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Ram, being built at the site of the demolished Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya, India, Friday, Dec. 29, 2023. The 16th century mosque was destroyed by Hindu radicals in December 1992, sparking massive Hindu-Muslim violence that left some 2,000 people dead. The Supreme Court’s verdict allowed a temple to be built in place of the demolished mosque. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

Sahu’s friend and fellow stone polisher Snehlata watched as her in-laws’ house was demolished by district authorities. “Ayodhya is our home,” said the 28-year-old. “That’s why we are sad. It is a very sad feeling to lose our home. But if they are well compensated for this, then it is better for all.”

An economic boom, it is hoped, will erase Ayodhya’s political notoriety. The inauguration of the temple “is the day we all have waited for,” Snehlata said. “Until the Mandir exists, this stone will be etched in there. … Our kids will remember that I worked on this.

“A person can earn a living anywhere, but this is beyond belief. An opportunity of a lifetime.”

The area’s Muslims are taking less satisfaction from the city’s growth. In 2019, the Indian government, having awarded the disputed site to the temple, allocated 5 acres in a nearby village for a new mosque, barely 150 meters from the highway to the state’s capital, Lucknow. The trust responsible for the mosque construction, the Indo-Islamic Cultural Foundation, still awaits funds, an official said.

Mohsin Khan, who grew up near the mosque site, was elated to hear that a “grand mosque” would be built in his neighborhood. “But it has been a long time since then and there has been no work,” he said. “It is saddening and cruel.”

As the sun went down and children finished their prayers at the existing mosque and ran toward the open field where the Ayodhya Mosque is to be built, local women looked after their grazing buffaloes in the field. “Children play here. Sometimes we even join them for a bit. That’s all that happens here,” said Khan. “What’s the point of keeping looking at this land otherwise?”

With little time left until the inauguration date for the temple, roads remain unpaved, stones remain uncarved and the temple is still unfinished. The murti, or idol, of Ram Lalla will be consecrated on Jan. 22, but Mishra suggested that the temple complex will not be fully ready until 2028.

The rush to meet deadlines has triggered political divisions, with opposition leaders declining an invitation to the ceremony. “The inauguration of the incomplete temple by the leaders of the BJP and the RSS has been obviously brought forward for electoral gain,” the Congress Party said in a statement on Jan. 10, referring to both their political opponents and the RSS, the religious and social organization that fostered the BJP.

webRNS Ayodhya Opening08 011124 807x605
Construction crews work on the entrance to the new Ram Mandir, a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Ram, in Ayodhya, India. (RNS photo/Richa Karmarkar)

Still, tourists are already beginning to arrive, some sneaking construction debris into their pockets to bring home. Others stack rocks to make little “homes” in a spiritual tradition similar to tossing coins in a wishing well.

Nitish Yadav, a 30-year-old pilgrim from central India, traveled with his family for 48 hours to reach Ayodhya. “No one can stop it now,” he said regarding the construction site, as tears welled in his eyes. “Ram has returned home.”

“We have also made a home for Ram lalla on this land,” added Yadav’s wife, Rajni, as she watched her son stack up rocks near the fence. “We couldn’t wait till the opening to see this.”

Yadav has an added sense of pride from having a hand in the event. “After waiting for 500 years, a Hindu of Modi’s stature has come to realize this dream,” he said. “I voted for the BJP in 2014 so that this day can come.”

webRNS Ayodhya Opening03 011124 807x605
A pedestrian avenue will connect an established Hanuman temple to the new Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, India. (RNS photo/Richa Karmarkar)

Grand Celebrations and Global Enthusiasm Surrounding Ayodhya’s Ram Temple Inauguration

As anticipation grows in India for the opening of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya later this month, Indians residing in the United States have displayed their enthusiasm through a grand car rally organized in Edison, New Jersey. More than 350 cars, adorned with flags depicting images of Lord Ram, participated in the event, as captured in visuals accessed by ANI.

Simultaneously, preparations for the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ ceremony at the Ram Temple on January 22 have taken on a global scale. Giant billboards featuring Lord Ram and the majestic shrine have been erected in over 10 states in the United States, thousands of miles away from Ayodhya. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), US chapter, in collaboration with Hindus from across the country, has installed over 40 billboards, conveying the significance of the grand ceremony at the birthplace of Shri Ram Lalla.

These billboards are prominently displayed in states such as Texas, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, and Georgia. Additionally, Arizona and the State of Missouri are scheduled to join this visual celebration from January 15 onwards, according to the VHP, American chapter.

Amitabh VW Mittal, the general secretary of the Hindu Parishad of America, emphasized the joy and excitement of Hindu Americans, stating, “The resounding message conveyed by these billboards is that Hindu Americans are elated and joyously participating in this once-in-a-lifetime event. Their emotions overflow as they eagerly await the auspicious day of the consecration ceremony.”

Teja A Shah, joint general secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, America chapter, echoed this sentiment, expressing the palpable enthusiasm within the Hindu community in New Jersey. He mentioned the various events leading up to the ceremony, including a car rally, exhibition, curtain raiser, and billboards across New York and New Jersey, culminating in a grand celebration on the 21st night.

To mark the inauguration of the Ram Temple, the Hindu American community in the US has organized several car rallies, with more events planned in the lead-up to the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ in Ayodhya.

Meanwhile, President Bhojraj Ghoorbin of the Mauritius Sanatan Dharm Temples Federation shared the preparations in Mauritius. Temples across the country will organize Ramayan Chanting and celebrations on January 22, commemorating the Pran Pratishtha of Lord Ram in Ayodhya. Ghoorbin highlighted the festive atmosphere, revealing that all Hindu brothers and sisters in Mauritius are actively participating in the celebrations, with special events planned, resembling the fervor of Diwali.

“In Mauritius, we are celebrating two Diwalis. The first Diwali is on January 22, and the second Diwali is on October 31. We will do it the same as we all know: after 14 years of Vanwas (exile), Prabhu Shri Ram is coming to Ayodhya. So this time, not after 14 years, Prabhu Ram is coming after 500 years,” added President Ghoorbin. He also announced a cultural program a day before the inauguration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, with Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth attending as the chief guest.

On the Indian front, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to attend the ceremonial installation of the idol of Shri Ram Lalla inside the sanctum sanctorum of the grand temple on January 22. Leaders and dignitaries from various fields have been invited to the grand temple opening, which will span seven days starting January 16. The Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust has set the date for the enthronement of Ram Lalla at noon on January 22, with Vedic rituals for the Pran-Pratishtha ceremony beginning on January 16, a week prior to the main event.

Reflecting on the cultural significance of the Ramayan, the Indian envoy to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, highlighted its universal appeal and timeless lessons. Speaking at an event titled ‘Ramayana across Asia and Beyond’ at the US Capitol Hill, Sandhu stated, “The epic gives insights into the complexities of human relationships, governance and spirituality, dharma or duty, justice, sacrifice, loyalty, and the eternal struggle between good and evil.

He emphasized the global reach of the Ramayan, serving as a bridge across geographies and influencing diverse cultures in the Indo-Pacific region. Ambassador Sandhu shared his personal observations of the epic’s impact across boundaries, showcasing its adaptability in various artistic, literary, and religious traditions.

The fervor surrounding the inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya is not confined to the borders of India. The global Hindu community, especially in the United States and Mauritius, is actively participating in and celebrating this historic event, showcasing the universal appeal and cultural significance of the Ramayan.

Hindu Americans Celebrate Ayodhya’s Grand ‘Pran Pratishtha’ Across the US with Billboards and Rallies

Amidst the ongoing global events and celebrations leading up to the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ ceremony at the Ram Temple in Ayodhya on January 22, massive billboards featuring Lord Ram and the majestic shrine in the temple town of Uttar Pradesh have been erected in more than 10 states, extending thousands of miles away in the United States.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) US chapter, in collaboration with Hindus from various parts of the US, has installed over 40 billboards across 10 states, showcasing the message surrounding the grand ‘Pran Pratishtha’ ceremony at the birthplace of Shri Ram Lalla in Ayodhya on January 22. The billboards adorn prominent locations in states such as Texas, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, and Georgia, with Arizona and the State of Missouri joining this visual celebration from Monday, January 15, as per the VHP American chapter.

Amitabh VW Mittal, the general secretary of Hindu Parishad of America, emphasized the sentiment conveyed by these billboards, stating, “The resounding message conveyed by these billboards is that Hindu Americans are elated and joyously participating in this once-in-a-lifetime event. Their emotions overflow as they eagerly await the auspicious day of the consecration ceremony,” as reported by ANI.

In commemoration of the inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, the Hindu American community across the US has arranged numerous car rallies and has scheduled additional events leading up to the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ in Ayodhya.

The ceremonial installation of the idol of Shri Ram Lalla inside the sanctum sanctorum of the grand temple on January 22 will be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A multitude of leaders and dignitaries from various walks of life have been invited to witness the grand opening of the temple in Ayodhya.

According to temple officials, the ceremony is planned over a seven-day span, commencing on January 16. The Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust has finalized the enthronement of Ram Lalla at the sanctum-sanctorum of the Ram Temple at noon on January 22.

To mark the Pran-Pratishtha ceremony of Ram Lalla in Ayodhya, Vedic rituals will commence on January 16, a week before the main ceremony.

The Indian envoy to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, highlighted the cultural significance of the Ramayan during an event at the US Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, titled ‘Ramayana across Asia and Beyond’. He expressed, “Ramayan is a bridge across geographies and teaches people about the complexities of human relationships and the eternal struggle between good and evil.”

Sandhu further emphasized the widespread influence of Ramayan across the Indo-Pacific region, stating, “The lessons and tales from Ramayan are passed down from generations, and it is hard to say exactly when one learns them. The epic gives insights into the complexities of human relationships, governance and spirituality, dharma or duty, justice, sacrifice, loyalty, and the eternal struggle between good and evil.”

In response to the growing anticipation in India regarding the opening of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, the Mauritian government announced a special break for Hindu public officers on January 22. The Mauritian Cabinet, led by Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth, granted a two-hour special leave for Hindu public officers to participate in local events marking the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ of Shri Ram Lalla in the Indian temple town.

The official statement from the Mauritian Cabinet read, “(The) Cabinet has agreed to the grant of a one-off special leave of two hours on Monday, 22 January 2024, as from 1400 hours to public officers of Hindu faith, subject to exigencies of service, in the context of the inauguration of the Ayodhya Ram Mandir in India, which is a landmark event as it symbolizes the return of Lord Ram in Ayodhya.”

In Iowa and beyond, evangelical Christian voters follow their party more than their faith

(RNS) — The drive between Eastern Illinois University, where Ryan Burge teaches political science, and Mt. Vernon, Illinois, where he is pastor of a small Baptist church, takes a little more than an hour and a half. Given his two professions, Burge spends a lot of time while commuting across downstate Illinois’ flat, green expanse thinking about religion and elections.

Among the things Burge says he has learned: Faith for most people matters in the pews and, for some, in day-to-day life. But in the voting booth, politics is king.

“Partisanship is the strongest predictor of vote choice,” said Burge. “It was that way in the 1950s, and it’s that way today. Religion does not matter nearly as much as people think it does.”

As an example, Burge pointed out that when the 2024 presidential campaign season begins in earnest with the Iowa caucuses on Monday (Jan. 15), evangelical Christians are likely to be as faithful to the Republican Party as they have for the past few decades. But with evangelical leaders wielding less influence than they have in the past, their choices are going to be driven primarily by their identification as Republicans, not their faith connections.

Evangelical support in Iowa has played a key role in boosting past candidates, notably George W. Bush in 2000. But Bush was the last Republican launched by Iowa Republicans all the way to the White House. Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and Southern Baptist preacher, won in 2008. Rick Santorum, a conservative Catholic favored by evangelicals, won in 2012, as did Ted Cruz, son of an evangelical pastor. But Ron DeSantis, the candidate backed this year by the leader of a prominent evangelical group, is trailing badly in the polls.

Michael Wear, a former official in the Obama faith-based office and author of the forthcoming “The Spirit of Our Politics,” while past Republican presidential candidates would come to events seeking the approval of evangelical leaders, evangelicals are now seeking the approval of conservatives.

Wear pointed to a 2023 candidate forum hosted by The Family Leader, a prominent Christian group in the state. Rather than have an evangelical leader or pastor interview candidates at its Family Leadership Summit, organizers invited former Fox News host Tucker Carlson to play that role. “It shows evangelicals playing for conservative acceptance, as opposed to Republicans playing for evangelical acceptance,” Wear said.

Bob Vander Plaats, president of The Family Leader, long described as Iowa’s evangelical kingmaker for his role in backing Huckabee, Santorum and Cruz, is backing Ron DeSantis this year. The Florida governor trails Trump by more than 35 percentage points, according to FiveThirtyEight.

In a recent op-ed for the Des Moines Register, Vander Plaats argued that while Trump is a friend, his candidacy is doomed. “While Trump could very well win the primary, the system and the sheer number of Trump haters will never allow him to win the presidency,” he wrote. Iowans, evangelical or not, don’t seem to be convinced.

Evangelicals in Iowa and beyond may simply be seeing the downside of their alliance with the Republican Party. In the late 1990s, legendary religious right leaders Paul Weyrich, a co-founder of the Council for National Policy, Gary Bauer, then president of the Family Research Council, and Southern Baptist ethicist and activist Richard Land pushed Republican leaders to deliver on promises made to evangelicals when they came on board as the moral majority in the late 1970s.

These ’90s leaders were angry that their support for Republicans hadn’t led to many results on issues like abortion. “The go-along, get-along strategy is dead,” Land, then president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, told The New York Times in 1998. “No more engagement. We want a wedding ring, we want a ceremony, we want a consummation of the marriage.”

Those promises would eventually be cinched by Trump, who as president delivered the Supreme Court conservative majority that spelled the end of Roe v. Wade, long an evangelical goal. Some evangelicals thought the cost was too high. Trump, a twice-divorced reality TV star, shared few of their beliefs, and they bridled at his caustic rhetoric.

Bob Vander Plaats speaks at the 2015 Presidential Family Forum, hosted by the Family Leader, at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Bob Vander Plaats speaks at the 2015 Presidential Family Forum, hosted by The Family Leader, at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr/Creative Commons)

But by 2023, faith-based politicos like Vander Plaats are finding the wished-for marriage didn’t put them in charge. Christian leaders who oppose Trump on ethical grounds now often find themselves exiled from fellow believers who more than ever want to vote for their man, not their spirituality.

Burge speculated that many evangelical leaders treat Trump as some mainstream Republicans in Congress do: back him in public, afraid of the consequences of opposing him, while griping about him behind the scenes.

“A lot of pastors are publicly saying nothing or giving tacit approval of Trump, and then going home to their wives and saying, ‘This is stupid. I don’t want this,’” said Burge. “They are in a terrible spot.”

Ryan Burge. (Courtesy photo)

Ryan Burge. (Courtesy photo)

Evangelicals, however, may determine the race for second place. Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who served as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, “needs to get DeSantis out of this race,” said Wear. “If she comes second in Iowa, I think that will do it, and if she’s going to do that, she needs to at least hold her own among evangelicals.”

Complicating the picture further is the statistical difficulty in separating voters’ religion from their political allegiance. Some white evangelicals, especially those who aren’t churchgoers, appear to be less motivated by faith than fear about their declining influence in America, driven by demographics and cultural change, said Burge.

“In some ways what you’re seeing is the death throes of a majority religion in its final days,” he said. “And it’s not pretty.”

Brent Leatherwood, president of the ERLC, the public policy entity of the Southern Baptist Convention, suspects that Trump will win the Iowa caucuses and go on to win the Republican nomination, setting up “a replay” of the 2020 election.

“What’s ironic,” he said, “is that it seems no one really wants that.”

Leatherwood, a former executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party, said that when he became ERLC president, he pledged not to try to tell people who to vote for. Instead, he’s focused on the ethical principles that should guide Christians in politics.

He believes that voters are tired of the political, social and economic chaos and polarization of recent years and would like to see some stability in the nation’s leadership.

“They want some peace and quiet on the political arena,” he said. “Think about all the political, social, and cultural upheavals that we’ve seen over the last 15 years. The Great Recession. Obergefell. The drama of the 2016 election. COVID. Jan. 6. The end of Roe. Historic levels of inflation. That’s not even accounting for what we are seeing on the international stage.”

Brent Leatherwood speaks during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Anaheim, California, on Wednesday, June 15, 2022. RNS photo by Justin L. Stewart
Brent Leatherwood speaks during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Anaheim, California, on Wednesday, June 15, 2022. RNS photo by Justin L. Stewart

It’s unlikely, he added, that any candidate will be able to deliver that, no matter their party. “I’m not sure that it is reasonable to expect calm, and no candidate has a magic wand or a set of principles or a group of advisers that he or she can call upon, to set the world at ease.”

Leatherwood said Christians ought to be wary of being closely tied to political parties or the temptation to ignore principles in favor of political gains. Instead, he said, candidates should be evaluated on their ethics and their policies.

If no candidate is fit for office, he added, evangelicals and other Christians should consider withholding their vote. “A principled abstention by a sizable enough group of voters,” he said, “would send an important message.”

Grand Celebrations and Global Enthusiasm Surrounding Ayodhya’s Ram Temple Inauguration

As anticipation grows in India for the opening of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya later this month, Indians residing in the United States have displayed their enthusiasm through a grand car rally organized in Edison, New Jersey. More than 350 cars, adorned with flags depicting images of Lord Ram, participated in the event, as captured in visuals accessed by ANI.

Simultaneously, preparations for the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ ceremony at the Ram Temple on January 22 have taken on a global scale. Giant billboards featuring Lord Ram and the majestic shrine have been erected in over 10 states in the United States, thousands of miles away from Ayodhya. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), US chapter, in collaboration with Hindus from across the country, has installed over 40 billboards, conveying the significance of the grand ceremony at the birthplace of Shri Ram Lalla.

These billboards are prominently displayed in states such as Texas, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, and Georgia. Additionally, Arizona and the State of Missouri are scheduled to join this visual celebration from January 15 onwards, according to the VHP, American chapter.

Amitabh VW Mittal, the general secretary of the Hindu Parishad of America, emphasized the joy and excitement of Hindu Americans, stating, “The resounding message conveyed by these billboards is that Hindu Americans are elated and joyously participating in this once-in-a-lifetime event. Their emotions overflow as they eagerly await the auspicious day of the consecration ceremony.”

Teja A Shah, joint general secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, America chapter, echoed this sentiment, expressing the palpable enthusiasm within the Hindu community in New Jersey. He mentioned the various events leading up to the ceremony, including a car rally, exhibition, curtain raiser, and billboards across New York and New Jersey, culminating in a grand celebration on the 21st night.

To mark the inauguration of the Ram Temple, the Hindu American community in the US has organized several car rallies, with more events planned in the lead-up to the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ in Ayodhya.

Meanwhile, President Bhojraj Ghoorbin of the Mauritius Sanatan Dharm Temples Federation shared the preparations in Mauritius. Temples across the country will organize Ramayan Chanting and celebrations on January 22, commemorating the Pran Pratishtha of Lord Ram in Ayodhya. Ghoorbin highlighted the festive atmosphere, revealing that all Hindu brothers and sisters in Mauritius are actively participating in the celebrations, with special events planned, resembling the fervor of Diwali.

“In Mauritius, we are celebrating two Diwalis. The first Diwali is on January 22, and the second Diwali is on October 31. We will do it the same as we all know: after 14 years of Vanwas (exile), Prabhu Shri Ram is coming to Ayodhya. So this time, not after 14 years, Prabhu Ram is coming after 500 years,” added President Ghoorbin. He also announced a cultural program a day before the inauguration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, with Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth attending as the chief guest.

On the Indian front, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to attend the ceremonial installation of the idol of Shri Ram Lalla inside the sanctum sanctorum of the grand temple on January 22. Leaders and dignitaries from various fields have been invited to the grand temple opening, which will span seven days starting January 16. The Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust has set the date for the enthronement of Ram Lalla at noon on January 22, with Vedic rituals for the Pran-Pratishtha ceremony beginning on January 16, a week prior to the main event.

Reflecting on the cultural significance of the Ramayan, the Indian envoy to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, highlighted its universal appeal and timeless lessons. Speaking at an event titled ‘Ramayana across Asia and Beyond’ at the US Capitol Hill, Sandhu stated, “The epic gives insights into the complexities of human relationships, governance and spirituality, dharma or duty, justice, sacrifice, loyalty, and the eternal struggle between good and evil.”

He emphasized the global reach of the Ramayan, serving as a bridge across geographies and influencing diverse cultures in the Indo-Pacific region. Ambassador Sandhu shared his personal observations of the epic’s impact across boundaries, showcasing its adaptability in various artistic, literary, and religious traditions.

Puri Shankaracharya Addresses Concerns on Political Interference in Religious Affairs

Reaffirming his stance against participating in the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya on January 22, Puri Shankaracharya Swami Nischalananda Saraswati emphasized the undesirability of political interference in religious and spiritual matters. He asserted that even the Constitution does not permit such intrusion. The Shankaracharya spoke out against the encroachment of politicians into realms governed by religious and spiritual regulations, labeling it as both irrational and a violation of constitutional principles.

In a statement made at the Ganga Sagar Mela in West Bengal, where he attended the annual ritualistic bath for Makar Sankranti, Swami Nischalananda Saraswati elaborated on the need for politicians to respect their constitutional limits. He stressed, “Politicians have their limits and they have responsibility under the Constitution. There are rules and restrictions in religious and spiritual domain and these rules should be followed. Interfering in every area by politicians is insanity. This is also a heinous crime according to the Constitution.”

Acknowledging his own limitations as a Shankaracharya, he explained the boundaries that dictate where he can go, what he can involve himself in, and even what he can eat. He specifically addressed the ‘murti pratishtha’ (consecration of idols) and underscored that established rules based on scriptures should be adhered to, especially by the head of state or the Prime Minister.

“Overstepping these rules for propagating one’s name is an act of rebellion against God… and going down the path of destruction,” Puri Shankaracharya warned. Despite clarifying that he harbors no resentment towards Ayodhya and occasionally visits, he firmly stated his decision not to partake in the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ of the Ram Mandir on January 22.

Swami Nischalananda Saraswati emphasized that there exists unanimity among the four Shankaracharyas regarding attending the inauguration ceremony of the Ram Mandir on August 22. He clarified that he does not dissuade anyone from participating in the event.

While expressing his lack of displeasure with the central government, the religious leader did express regret over the invitation to the inauguration ceremony of the Ram Temple. He revealed that he was asked to attend with a colleague, a condition he found disagreeable. The Shankaracharya lamented the fact that despite the religious and spiritual eminence of the Shankaracharyas, they were not granted access to the ‘garbhgriha sanctum sanctorum’ of the temple but were instructed to stay outside. “This is not acceptable to me. I do not like the prospect of watching the inauguration of the Ram Temple by sitting at the event and clapping,” he asserted.

Swami Nischalananda Saraswati also drew attention to certain irregularities within the country’s political system, highlighting how politicians often seek votes by capitalizing on the distress of the population.

When asked about the Ganga Sagar Mela potentially receiving the status of a ‘National Mela,’ the religious leader responded humorously, suggesting that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s habit of gifting kurtas to the Prime Minister might influence such a decision. He remarked, “If she makes the requests while offering these gifts, the Prime Minister might agree and declare the Ganga Sagar Mela a National Mela.”

Holy See’s Global Diplomatic Network Flourishes: Establishes New Ties, Ratifies Agreements, and Navigates a Robust International Landscape

In the context of the customary audience extended by the Pope to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, the Secretary of State of the Vatican has disseminated updated information regarding the countries maintaining diplomatic ties with the Holy See.

As of the commencement of the year 2024, the Holy See boasts diplomatic relations with 184 countries. This tally includes not only individual nations but also encompasses the European Union and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. The collective presence of embassies headquartered in Rome, inclusive of those representing the European Union and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, amounts to a total of 91. Additionally, Rome serves as the base for the offices of significant international entities such as the League of Arab States, the International Organization for Migration, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

In a significant diplomatic development during the course of 2023, the Holy See officially established full-fledged diplomatic relations with the Sultanate of Oman on February 23. Subsequently, on July 19, the “Supplementary Agreement to the Agreement between the Holy See and the Republic of Kazakhstan on Mutual Relations of September 24, 1998,” pertaining to the issuance of visas and residence permits to ecclesiastical and religious personnel from abroad, was ratified. This agreement, initially signed on September 14, 2022, underscores the evolving nature of the Holy See’s diplomatic engagements. Furthermore, on July 27, the Holy See concluded the “Agreement on the Status of the Pontifical Representative Resident and the Office of the Pontifical Representative Resident in Vietnam” with Vietnam. The culmination of this agreement was marked by the subsequent appointment of a Pontifical Representative Resident on December 23.

As of the conclusion of 2023, the United Nations officially recognizes a total of 195 countries.In light of this, it is noteworthy that the Holy See maintains diplomatic relations with 184 countries, leaving 11 nations with which it does not have established diplomatic ties. This positioning underscores the Holy See’s standing as one of the nations boasting one of the most extensive networks of diplomatic relations globally. The historical trajectory of the Holy See’s diplomatic engagements is marked by Spain being the first country ever with which the Holy See established diplomatic relations, while the Sultanate of Oman represents the latest addition to this distinguished list.

It is important to underscore the significance of the Holy See’s diplomatic reach, encompassing a broad spectrum of nations and international entities. The European Union and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta are emblematic of the diverse range of entities with which the Holy See cultivates diplomatic ties. Additionally, the concentration of embassies in Rome, including those representing the European Union and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, highlights the city’s pivotal role as a hub for diplomatic activities.

The diplomatic developments of 2023, particularly the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Sultanate of Oman, exemplify the Holy See’s ongoing commitment to fostering international dialogue and cooperation. The ratification of the “Supplementary Agreement” with the Republic of Kazakhstan reflects the Holy See’s proactive approach in addressing specific aspects of diplomatic relations. Similarly, the conclusion of the “Agreement on the Status of the Pontifical Representative Resident and the Office of the Pontifical Representative Resident in Vietnam” signifies the Holy See’s concerted efforts to formalize and structure its diplomatic engagements with individual nations.

The Holy See’s expansive diplomatic network is particularly noteworthy in the context of the United Nations’ recognition of 195 countries. With diplomatic relations established with 184 nations, the Holy See has positioned itself as a key player in international diplomacy. The absence of diplomatic ties with only 11 countries further underscores the comprehensiveness of the Holy See’s diplomatic outreach.

The historical perspective of the Holy See’s diplomatic relations adds depth to its contemporary engagements. Spain holds a special place in the Holy See’s diplomatic history as the first nation with which it established diplomatic relations. This historical connection serves as a testament to the enduring nature of diplomatic ties between the Holy See and individual countries. The recent addition of the Sultanate of Oman to the list of nations with diplomatic relations further underscores the Holy See’s commitment to expanding its global diplomatic footprint.

Pope Francis Urges Unity Amidst Church Discontent and Emphasizes Compassion for the Marginalized

In the face of opposition from conservative factions within the Catholic Church, Pope Francis delivered a message of unity, cautioning against the fragmentation of the faithful based on personal ideologies. The pontiff issued this plea during his homily at St. Peter’s Basilica on Epiphany Day, the final significant celebration of the Christmas season.

In his address, Pope Francis specifically discouraged the adoption of “ecclesiastical ideologies” and urged believers to transcend such divisions. He emphasized the need to avoid forming groups rooted in individual ideas, urging unity and a focus on shared faith. The Pope’s words served as a response to internal resistance within the Church, particularly regarding recent policy decisions.

Last month, Pope Francis granted permission for priests to bless couples outside of traditional marriages, including same-sex relationships. However, this move was met with opposition from some conservative bishops who labeled the Pope’s stance as dangerously progressive. In response to the pushback, the Vatican issued a statement earlier this week, clarifying that the blessings did not constitute heresy, and there were no doctrinal grounds to reject the practice.

While Pope Francis did not explicitly reference the controversy surrounding same-sex blessings in his Epiphany homily, he did deviate from the prepared text to emphasize the broader need to abandon ecclesiastical ideologies. The pontiff underscored the importance of ensuring that faith does not become a mere collection of religious devotions or outward appearances.

“We find the God who comes down to visit us, not by basking in some elegant religious theory, but by setting out on a journey, seeking the signs of his presence in everyday life,” Pope Francis remarked. He specifically highlighted the significance of recognizing God in the faces of the poor, urging the Church to focus on compassion and genuine connection rather than theoretical discussions.

Despite turning 87 last month and facing health challenges in the previous year, Pope Francis displayed resilience during the Epiphany ceremony, which included the singing of Christmas hymns. At the conclusion of the 90-minute service, an aide assisted the Pope, who has a chronic knee problem, in navigating the basilica’s center aisle using a wheelchair.

Throughout his almost 11-year papacy, Pope Francis has dedicated significant attention to advocating for marginalized groups, particularly the poor. Despite the Church’s teachings that deem homosexual acts as sinful, the Pope has actively sought to create an inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ Catholics. His recent approval of blessings for same-sex couples outside traditional marriages aligns with his broader efforts to promote acceptance and compassion within the Church.

Italian Priest Excommunicated for Denying Pope Francis’ Papacy

In a recent development, an Italian priest, Father Ramon Guidetti, has faced excommunication from his local bishop for expressing controversial views about Pope Francis during a homily. The Diocese of Livorno, located in Tuscany, issued a decree on January 1, alerting Catholics to Father Guidetti’s actions, asserting that he “publicly committed a schismatic act” during Mass, leading to an automatic excommunication under Canon law.

Bishop Simone Giusti, the local bishop, explicitly directed Catholics not to attend any Masses conducted by Father Guidetti, cautioning that doing so would result in the serious penalty of excommunication. The bishop invoked Canon 751, which defines schism as “the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

A video posted on YouTube captured the contentious homily delivered by Father Guidetti on December 31, 2023, marking the one-year anniversary of Benedict XVI’s death. In the video, the priest referred to Pope Francis as a “usurper” and a “freemason,” questioning the legitimacy of his papacy. Moreover, Guidetti outright denied that Pope Francis had been the pope for the past decade.

The 48-year-old priest had been serving as the parish priest of the Church of San Ranieri since 2017, situated outside the coastal city of Livorno, approximately 150 miles north of Rome. This move by the local bishop to excommunicate Father Guidetti comes after a meeting held before Christmas, where the bishop addressed the priest’s dissent and subsequently issued the official excommunication decree following Guidetti’s public act of schism on December 31.

Bishop Giusti emphasized the seriousness of the situation, highlighting the implications of excommunication for those who defy the directive: “Catholics are not to attend any Masses offered by the excommunicated priest or they would also incur the very serious penalty of excommunication.”

The use of canonical law to address cases of dissent or schism within the Catholic Church is not uncommon. Canon law provides a framework for maintaining order and discipline within the Church, and excommunication is considered one of the most severe penalties. The decision to excommunicate Father Guidetti stems from his public declarations challenging the legitimacy of Pope Francis’ papacy, constituting a direct violation of Canon 751.

Father Guidetti’s controversial statements, as captured in the video, play a central role in the bishop’s decision to issue the excommunication decree. In the homily, the priest not only referred to Pope Francis as a “usurper” and a “freemason” but also asserted that the current pope had not held the position for the past decade. These statements directly challenge the authority and legitimacy of the Supreme Pontiff, a grave offense within the context of the Catholic Church.

The decree issued by the Diocese of Livorno reflects the seriousness with which the Church addresses matters of schism and dissent. The term “latae sententiae excommunication” used in the decree indicates that Father Guidetti incurred automatic excommunication as a result of his actions during the Mass. This means that the penalty is applied automatically by virtue of the actions committed, without the need for a formal declaration from Church authorities.

The bishop’s adherence to canonical law and the use of excommunication as a disciplinary measure underscores the importance of maintaining doctrinal unity within the Catholic Church. While the Church encourages theological discussions and diverse perspectives, actions that directly challenge the authority of the Pope and the core tenets of Catholicism can lead to severe consequences, as witnessed in the case of Father Guidetti.

The decision to excommunicate Father Guidetti also serves as a reminder of the delicate balance between freedom of expression and the need for adherence to the doctrines of the Church. While individuals within the Church are encouraged to engage in open dialogue, the public expression of views that undermine the fundamental beliefs and authority structures of the Catholic Church can result in serious repercussions.

The local paper in Livorno reported that Bishop Giusti had met with Father Guidetti before Christmas to address his dissent. The subsequent excommunication decree indicates that the bishop deemed the priest’s public act of schism on December 31 as a clear and unacceptable breach of canonical norms. The bishop’s decision to proceed with the excommunication highlights the significance of upholding the unity and integrity of the Catholic faith.

The excommunication of Father Ramon Guidetti by the Diocese of Livorno for challenging the legitimacy of Pope Francis’ papacy during a homily underscores the seriousness with which the Catholic Church addresses matters of dissent and schism. The use of canonical law, specifically invoking Canon 751, reflects the Church’s commitment to maintaining doctrinal unity and discipline. This case serves as a poignant reminder of the boundaries set by the Church to safeguard its core tenets and authority structures.

Ayodhya Ram Mandir: Prime Minister Modi to Inaugurate Majestic Temple Amidst Green Oasis

The grand opening of the Ayodhya Ram Mandir is scheduled for January 24, 2024, and will be marked by the inauguration led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The construction, set in motion following a landmark 2019 Supreme Court judgment, is on the verge of completion, covering a vast 70-acre area. The temple itself spans 2.7 acres and has incurred a cost of US$216 million.

In accordance with the vision of the Ram temple trust, the temple stands not only as a religious symbol but also as an embodiment of self-reliance and environmental sustainability. Remarkably, the temple complex boasts a 70 percent green cover, incorporating dense sections adorned with preserved existing trees. The infrastructure further includes sewage and water treatment plants, a dedicated power line, and a strategically positioned fire brigade post.

Designed in the traditional Nagara style, the temple complex is a marvel with three stories, 392 pillars, and an impressive 44 gates on each floor. For the convenience of pilgrims, a facilitation complex has been incorporated, featuring healthcare facilities, a toilet block, and storage provisions for personal items before embarking on the revered ‘darshan.’

Anticipating the momentous occasion, Prime Minister Modi is scheduled to visit Ayodhya on December 30. During this visit, he will inaugurate the redeveloped railway station and unveil a new airport. In a significant move, Air India Express is set to initiate its inaugural flight from Delhi to Ayodhya on December 30, with daily services commencing from January 16. Additionally, IndiGo is following suit with its inaugural flight on December 30, commencing commercial services from January 6.

The celebration of this auspicious event extends beyond national borders, as the Ram Temple Trust has extended invitations to political leaders, actors, industrialists, and sports icons. The trust is also gearing up to host representatives from 50 foreign countries, adding a global touch to the grand inauguration ceremony, which is expected to be attended by a gathering of 7,000 people.

In the words of the Ram Temple Trust, “The temple is not just a place of worship; it symbolizes a harmonious blend of spirituality and sustainability. We invite the world to witness this historic moment in Ayodhya, as we open the doors to the monumental Ram Mandir, a testament to our rich cultural heritage and architectural prowess.”

India’s Modi hosts Christian leaders for Christmas amid rising persecution

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), hosted over 100 Christian leaders from all denominations at his official residence on Christmas morning amid criticism for the continued persecution of Christians in India.

Several Catholic leaders, including Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai and Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto, who were seated on either side of Modi during the event, were in attendance.

The archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, Kuriakose Bharanikulangara, and Bishop Thomas mar Anthonios of the Syro-Malankara Church also joined bishops of different denominations and Christian leaders from different walks of life at the gathering.

Asked to comment on the meeting with the prime minister, considering the uptick in attacks on Christians in the country, Bharanikulangara told CNA: “Everybody knows what is happening … But when the prime minister invites [us], how can we decline?”

“It is for the prime minister to show that he is really concerned about the Christians,” said Bharanikulangara, a former Vatican diplomat.

“Christmas is an occasion to remember Jesus Christ’s life’s message and values,” Modi said, addressing the gathering of Christian leaders that included academicians and Christian businessmen from across the country. The prime minister went on to hail the service of the Christians, saying: “The nation proudly acknowledges the contribution of the Christian community.”

“Our government is ensuring that the benefits of development reach everyone and no one is left untouched,” Modi said, adding that many people of the Christian faith, especially poor segments, are benefitting from his government’s welfare programs.

Among several Christians who spoke during the two-hour program was Cardinal Gracias, who thanked Modi for his “efforts” on behalf of the country, the Christian community, and the world.

“Our country could be the leading country in the world,” Gracias said, according to an ANI report.

However, several Christians said they were skeptical about the motivation behind Modi’s Christmas meeting and his failure to address the steadily worsening persecution that has taken place in nearly a decade of Modi rule.

“This [Christmas celebration] is a political gimmick and image-making by Prime Minister Modi ahead of the next elections,” A C Michael, an outspoken Catholic activist, told CNA.

“We are concerned over the silence of Prime Minister Modi, who praises Christian service publicly but does nothing to stop the increasing violence and persecution of Christians,” pointed out Michael, coordinator of the United Christian Forum (UCF), which monitors atrocities and incidents of persecution against Christians.

UCF published a report Dec. 8 recording 687 incidents of violence against Christians in 334 days of 2023 (from the start of the year to the end of November). The report further said that while only 147 incidents of violence against Christians were reported in 2014 (when the BJP regime under Modi came to power), the incidents steadily spiraled to reach 687 by November’s end.

Armed with this data, Michael along with Catholic activist John Dayal and Supreme Court lawyer Sister Mary Scaria addressed a news conference with secular activists on Dec. 28 in New Delhi on the Modi government’s “Lunch Diplomacy and Christian Persecution.”

“The prime minister is not only free but duty-bound to embrace the nation’s religious minorities and invite their leaders to functions at his house on Christmas. … But the Christmas spirit must not let us forget the condition and tribulations of our brothers and sisters who suffer because of government impunity and the brazen political elements who have no respect for the constitution of India and its guarantees of freedoms to the citizens,” the Catholic leaders lamented in their press statement.

“The persecution of the community is rampant, hate towards it from the highest quarters of nationalist religious leadership as deep as it can be,” they decried.

“The government seems keen to starve it [Christianity] out of existence by withdrawing the FCRAs [license to receive foreign donations] of a vast number of churches and its NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], and using the investigating agencies against cardinals and bishops, pastors and laypeople. In UP [Uttar Pradesh], for instance, over 100 pastors and even ordinary men and women are in jail under charges of illegal conversions when celebrating birthdays or conducting Sunday prayers,” the statement said.

Dayal, former president of All India Catholic Union, dubbed Modi’s Christmas hosting of Christian leadership as “just an eyewash to impress the Christians.”

“The prime minister has made a mockery of the pains of the Christian community by remaining silent and [was] not bothered to even visit bleeding Manipur,” Dayal told CNA Dec. 29.

“If he was concerned about peace and safety of the hounded Christians, he could have taken stern preemptive action to curb and stop the Manipur violence,” Dayal added.

Beginning in May, Manipur state in northeast India, which borders Myanmar, has witnessed a protracted violent ethnic clash between the majority Meiteis, most of them Hindus, and the minority Kuki tribals (almost all of them Christians).

St Paul's Church in Imphal capital of Manipur state after the church was set on fire in 2023 Credit Anto Akkara
St. Paul’s Church, in Imphal, capital of Manipur state, after the church was set on fire in 2023. Credit: Anto Akkara

Among the nearly 200 killed and over 60,000 displaced in Manipur, the overwhelming majority are Kukis who have been chased out from Meitei strongholds, such as the Imphal Valley, in the simmering violence.

Media and independent investigators have blamed the BJP-led state government’s condoning of the violence by Meitei groups that have also destroyed or damaged more than 600 churches.

Pope Francis Urges Global Peace and Criticizes Weapons Industry in Christmas Day Address

Pope Francis delivered a powerful Christmas Day message from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica, denouncing the weapons industry and its role in perpetuating conflicts worldwide. He specifically addressed the ongoing tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, lamenting the recent attack by Hamas in southern Israel and calling for the release of hostages. The pontiff urged an end to Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and appealed for humanitarian aid to reach those in need.

In his annual “Urbi et Orbi” speech, which translates to “To the City and the World,” Pope Francis dedicated his blessings to a plea for peace globally. Reflecting on the biblical story of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem, he acknowledged the current state of sorrow and silence in the region. The Pope’s message extended beyond the Middle East, touching on various global conflicts, from Armenia and Azerbaijan to Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, South Sudan, Congo, and the Korean peninsula. He called for humanitarian initiatives, dialogue, and enhanced security to prevail over violence and death.

Pope Francis emphasized the need for governments and people of goodwill, especially in the Americas, to address the concerning issue of migration. He condemned the actions of “unscrupulous traffickers” who exploit individuals seeking a better life and called for collective efforts to tackle this troubling phenomenon.

A significant portion of the Pope’s address was dedicated to criticizing the weapons industry, which he accused of fueling conflicts worldwide with insufficient public attention. He urged greater discourse and scrutiny on the subject to expose the interests and profits behind the scenes of war. Pope Francis questioned the possibility of achieving peace when arms production, sales, and trade continue to escalate.

“It should be talked about and written about, so as to bring to light the interests and the profits that move the puppet strings of war,” he said. “And how can we even speak of peace when arms production, sales, and trade are on the rise?”

This isn’t the first time Pope Francis has denounced the weapons industry, labeling its participants as “merchants of death.” He has previously asserted that contemporary wars, such as the one in Ukraine, serve as testing grounds for new weapons or a means to deplete existing stockpiles.

Turning his attention to the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Pope called for a resolution through “sincere and persevering dialogue between the parties, sustained by strong political will and the support of the international community.” Vatican officials estimated that approximately 70,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square to witness Francis’ noonday speech and blessing, with some attendees displaying Palestinian and Ukrainian flags.

While Pope Francis, at 87 years old, appeared in good spirits during the Christmas Day address, his recent bout of bronchitis was evident as he occasionally coughed and seemed out of breath. Despite this, he is expected to deliver a blessing on the feast of St. Stephen and preside over a New Year’s Eve vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica, followed by Mass the next day, rounding out the holiday season.

Catholic Bishops Worldwide Resist Vatican’s Approval of Same-Sex Blessings, Revealing Deep Divisions Within the Church

In a remarkable display of resistance against Pope Francis, certain Catholic bishops in Africa, Poland, and other regions assert their refusal to implement the new Vatican policy endorsing blessings for same-sex couples. The reactions underscore the continued polarization of the issue and the persistent resistance from traditionalist and conservative Catholic leaders to Francis’ decade-long endeavor to foster a more inclusive environment for the LGBTQ+ community.

Bishops in Africa, home to 265 million Catholics, a quarter of the global Catholic population, voiced some of the most robust opposition. Many Catholics in these regions live in societies where homosexuality is condemned and illegal. Out of the 54 countries in Africa, 31 criminalize homosexuality, the highest of any continent, according to the Human Dignity Trust, an organization advocating for LGBTQ+ rights.

Zambia’s bishops conference categorically stated that same-sex couple blessings would not be implemented in Zambia. Malawi’s bishops conference echoed a similar sentiment, emphasizing that blessings for same-sex unions would not be allowed. Both countries have stringent anti-gay laws, with severe punishments, including long prison sentences.

Zambian bishops called for “further reflection” on the blessings, citing the country’s anti-homosexuality laws and cultural heritage that rejects same-sex relationships as reasons for their decision. In Poland, known for its conservative stance, the bishops conference, one of the most conservative in Europe, announced it had no intentions of providing blessings to same-sex couples. They reiterated that marriage is exclusively the union between a man and a woman, condemning sexual acts outside of this union as “always an offense against God’s will.”

The Vatican’s doctrinal office issued a document titled “Fiducia Supplicans,” asserting that blessings could be extended to people in same-sex relationships without being confused with the marriage ritual. However, the document reaffirmed that marriage remains a lifelong union solely between a man and a woman. This announcement marked a reversal of the 2021 statement that ruled out blessings for same-sex couples, stating that God “cannot bless sin.”

The U.S. bishops conference sought to downplay any shift, emphasizing that the church’s teachings on marriage remained unchanged. They clarified that the announcement articulated a distinction between liturgical (sacramental) blessings and pastoral blessings, the latter being for individuals seeking God’s grace in their lives.

Notably, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, a German cardinal and former head of the Vatican doctrinal office, criticized the declaration as “self-contradictory.” He argued that the church cannot celebrate one thing and teach another, highlighting the tension within the Catholic leadership regarding the acceptance of same-sex relationships.

Bishops from Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, and South Africa issued public statements clarifying that the new policy did not signify official recognition or acceptance of same-sex relationships. The prevailing sentiment among many was a fear that this move signaled a step toward the Catholic church embracing homosexuality.

Nigeria’s bishops reassured the faithful that the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage remained unchanged, explicitly stating that there was no possibility of blessing same-sex unions and activities. In Mali, a priest expressed disagreement with the Vatican’s decision, emphasizing that it pertained solely to the Vatican, not to the local church.

In the United Kingdom, an organization representing 500 Catholic priests released a signed letter reaffirming the Church’s teachings on marriage and same-sex unions to address widespread confusion. In Zimbabwe, where anti-gay laws are in place, LGBTQ+ rights activist Chesterfield Samba anticipated resistance from some church branches and believed the declaration would not alter the stance of Zimbabwean same-sex couples ostracized by the church.

The Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, based in South Africa, where same-sex marriages are permitted, appeared to welcome the possibility of blessings for gay couples. However, they clarified that their interpretation was that the blessing was done with the hope of conversion, reflecting the complex perspectives within the Catholic hierarchy on LGBTQ+ issues.

Legacy of London Missionary Society in Kerala: Pioneering Educational, Social, and Developmental Initiatives Over 211 Years

Macaulay gained recognition from the Travancore Government for the missionary endeavors of the London Mission, initially established in Travancore with the assistance of Col. Munroe, Macaulay’s successor. In 1817, Charles Meed, an LMS missionary, commenced operations from Munroe’s circuit bungalow in Nagercoil, and Rani Lekshmi Bai contributed Rs. 5,000 to the mission in 1818. Notably, a seminary was established in Nagercoil, and churches were constructed in Thanjavur, Thiruvananthapuram, and Kochi. The first girls’ school in Travancore was established by Mrs. Charles Meed.

The Maharaja of Travancore visited the Nagercoil seminary in 1831, inviting John Robert to establish a school in Thiruvananthapuram, which later evolved into the University College. Responding to the Maharaja’s request, a press in Nagercoil was relocated to Thiruvananthapuram, ultimately becoming the Government Press. Additionally, a Kunnil Mission Centre was founded on the northern side of the Fort in 1838.

Samuel Matteer, a Methodist Church member born in Ireland in 1835, played a crucial role in the growth of the Thiruvananthapuram Mission for 33 years. Upon returning to England in 1890 due to old age and ill-health, the Thiruvananthapuram Mission boasted 10,060 members. He passed away in 1893, and a church was constructed in Thiruvananthapuram in 1906 in his memory.

Matteer documented his Kerala experiences in two books, “The Land of Charity” and “Nature Life in Travancore,” with the latter translated into Malayalam as “Njan Kanda Keralam” in 2010. He also authored “The Gospel in South India.” The LMS has been operational in Kerala for 211 years, with Keralites assuming administrative control in 1921.

In 1939, the LMS underwent reorganization into southern, central, and northern regions, witnessing the ordination of 15 Archbishops. Concurrently, the Church Mission Society functioned in Central Kerala, aiding Syrian Christians in religious activities. In 1806, Claudius Buchanan’s arrival in Travancore led to the writing of “Asiayile Christava Geveshanam,” and missionaries collaborated with Syrian Christians. The CMS Press in Kottayam, established by Benjamin Bailey in 1821, printed the Malayalam translation of the Bible and an English-Malayalam Dictionary. CMS College, founded by Henry Baker in 1839, and Joseph Fen’s encouragement of Christian studies in seminaries marked pivotal contributions.

Protestant missionaries, facilitated by the Church Missionary Society, initiated educational activities in Travancore, sparking an intellectual renaissance. Discussion forums, clubs, and literary associations emerged, fostering interaction among educated youth. A series of lectures in Thiruvananthapuram from 1863 to 1867 covered literature, science, social issues, and ethics, leading to the formation of various student societies and clubs.

The efforts of CMS workers such as Charles Meed, James T., Ringeltaube, John Cox, Bailey, Charles Molt, Dr. J. C. Thomson, Dr. John Lowe, White House, Mrs. Dathy, Vedamanickam, and Maharajan resulted in the establishment of schools, seminaries, boarding schools, theatres, mission press, hospitals, dispensaries, and libraries in Travancore.

European involvement in plantation development for tea, coffee, cocoa, spices, and rubber, accompanied by the clearing of forests and infrastructure development, was attributed to missionary initiatives. The developmental activities spearheaded by missionaries significantly contributed to the State’s progress.

The Malpan residences in various locations were dissolved with the inception of seminaries. Fr. Carneiro’s account in 1557 mentioned a university in Angamaly for theology students, and seminaries for Syrian Christians were established at Varappuzha in 1682 and Alangad in 1766 under the guidance of Carmelite priests.

US Religious Freedom Watchdog Urges Biden Administration to Designate India as ‘Country of Particular Concern’ Over Alleged Violations

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent federal government commission, has once again urged the Biden administration to categorize India as a “country of particular concern” under the US Religious Freedom Act. This call is based on allegations of India targeting religious minorities beyond its borders. The USCIRF expressed concern over the Indian government’s recent actions, stating that attempts to silence activists, journalists, and lawyers abroad pose a significant threat to religious freedom.

In an official statement, the USCIRF implored the US Department of State to designate India as a Country of Particular Concern, citing India’s systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief. The commission emphasized the seriousness of the situation and urged decisive action.

USCIRF Commissioner Stephen Schneck raised concerns about the alleged involvement of the Indian government in the killing of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada. Additionally, Schneck highlighted a reported plot to assassinate another Sikh activist, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, in the United States, deeming these developments “deeply troubling.” Notably, the Indian embassy in Washington did not provide an immediate response to these allegations, and the Indian government consistently denies any discrimination in the Hindu-majority nation.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan recently disclosed that an Indian national collaborated with an unnamed Indian government employee in a plot to assassinate a New York City resident advocating for a sovereign Sikh state in northern India. However, India’s government has vehemently denied any involvement in this alleged plot. This development adds a layer of complexity to the situation, as it involves sensitive diplomatic considerations between India and the Biden administration, both seeking closer ties in the face of a perceived threat from an ascendant China.

The USCIRF revealed that it has recommended, annually since 2020, that the State Department designate India as a country of particular concern, leveraging the authority granted by the 1998 US Religious Freedom Act. While the act allows for a range of policy responses, including sanctions or waivers, these measures are not automatic and require a deliberate decision-making process.

Commissioner David Curry of the USCIRF emphasized the gravity of India extending domestic repression to target religious minorities residing abroad, deeming it “especially dangerous” and underscoring the need for attention to this issue. The delicate nature of the matter is evident as both India and the Biden administration work to strengthen their ties amid shared concerns about an increasingly influential China perceived as a threat to democratic nations.

In response to the USCIRF’s previous recommendation in 2020, India’s foreign ministry had dismissed it, criticizing the remarks as “biased and tendentious.” This indicates a longstanding divergence in perspectives on the issue, further complicating efforts to address concerns related to religious freedom and human rights.

Pope Francis Takes Strong Measures Against Dissent Within the Church

In one corner stands Pope Francis, championing a merciful and inclusive Catholic Church, often likened to a “field hospital” tending to the wounds of a suffering humanity. In the opposing corner, a vocal minority, led by US Cardinal Raymond Burke, challenges the Pope’s reforms, setting the stage for a significant showdown.

Pope Francis, committed to upholding the doctrine and principles of the church, aims to propel it forward by shedding certain customs he deems hindering to its mission. The clash arises from differing stances on issues such as communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, pastoral acceptance of LGBTQ individuals, and the Pope’s emphasis on migrants and the climate crisis. Critics desire a Pope who delivers doctrine in unequivocal terms, while Francis advocates for a humbler, service-oriented church focused on bringing the Christian message to the world.

Despite enduring criticisms, Pope Francis has demonstrated resilience, often turning the other cheek and appointing leaders with opposing views to Vatican departments. However, as he enters the 11th year of his papacy and faces health challenges, he has decided to take more assertive measures to address opposition, particularly concentrated in the US and certain Roman circles.

In a significant move, Pope Francis has curtailed privileges for Cardinal Burke, a longstanding opponent. This includes withdrawing a subsidy for Burke’s sizable apartment and monthly stipend. This decision follows the Pope’s recent removal of Texan Bishop Joseph Strickland, who accused Francis of undermining key church teachings. The move has sparked debates, with supporters of Burke and Strickland characterizing Francis as a “dictator” pope, suppressing dissent, while others argue that the Pope is merely addressing critics.

Austen Ivereigh, a papal biographer, shed light on the Pope’s rationale, stating, “Francis told me that he was taking away the apartment and salary of Cardinal Burke because he was using these privileges ‘against the church.’” Ivereigh highlighted the significance of Burke’s prolonged questioning of Francis’ authority and teaching, emphasizing the unusual nature of such dissent within the Catholic Church.

The roots of opposition to Pope Francis extend beyond theological disagreements and delve into the realm of secular politics. Cardinal Burke, aligned with conservative views, expressed satisfaction with President Donald Trump’s election and, along with other bishops, called for denying communion to President Joe Biden due to his support for abortion laws. The intersection of church and politics, particularly amid the polarizing landscape of US politics, is a key element in the resistance to Francis.

Dawn Eden Goldstein, a theologian and canon lawyer, noted that there are forces wishing to see Burke’s vision dominate the church for political purposes. Burke’s alignment with a group critical of Catholic teachings on issues such as care for the poor and the environment further underscores the ideological divide within the church.

The Pope’s decision to strip Burke of privileges may carry unintended consequences, potentially turning him into a “martyr” for the cause, as suggested by church historian Massimo Faggioli. Burke’s support base in the US and the reported financial backing could enable him to maintain a prominent role, akin to the “crown cardinals” of the early modern era.

Critics warn that the Pope’s actions could influence future papal elections by alienating cardinal electors who may seek a candidate governing differently from Francis. However, Pope Francis, seemingly aware of the risks, remains committed to his mission of pivoting the church towards what he deems essential to the Christian faith.

As the Pope navigates this turbulent terrain, it is evident that the clash between traditionalist views and Francis’ vision for a more inclusive and service-oriented church will continue to shape the narrative within the Catholic Church. The tension underscores the broader societal and political challenges that intersect with the ecclesiastical landscape, reflecting the complexities of leading a global religious institution in the modern era.

Government Cracks Down on NGOs: Church of North India’s FCRA License Revoked Amidst Broader Regulatory Sweep

The Church of North India (CNI), a significant evangelical organization with a history dating back to 1970, is facing a setback as the Union Home Ministry has recently revoked its Foreign Contribution Registration Act (FCRA) license. This move comes in the wake of alleged violations of regulations, preventing the trust from receiving or utilizing foreign contributions until the license is renewed. According to reports from the Economic Times, the ministry’s decision is part of a broader government crackdown on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) found to be in violation of FCRA rules.

The CNI, a product of the amalgamation of six different churches, including the Church of India, has been actively involved in various social service programs through its Synodical Board of Social Services. Despite its commendable work, the ministry’s action signals a stringent approach towards compliance with FCRA regulations.

The officials, while revoking the FCRA license, pointed out the alleged violations as the primary reason behind their decision. This implies that the CNI, like many other NGOs, failed to adhere to the rules governing foreign contributions, leading to this enforcement action. The trust’s inability to receive or utilize foreign funds until the license renewal further underscores the severity of the allegations.

The CNI has a history of receiving donations from various countries, including the United States, Europe, and Canada. However, the recent decision by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) disrupts this financial support, potentially impacting the organization’s ongoing social service initiatives.

The government’s crackdown on NGOs violating FCRA regulations is not limited to the CNI but extends to a multitude of organizations. The FCRA mandates that NGOs with licenses must apply for renewal, and the deadline, initially set for September 2020, has been extended until March 31, 2024. Despite this extension, the ministry is actively reviewing and taking action against organizations found in violation, as seen in the case of the CNI.

The MHA grants FCRA licenses for a duration of five years, subject to annual reviews based on returns and the specific utilization of foreign grants for designated purposes. The core objective is to ensure transparency and accountability in the use of foreign funds, with any misuse or diversion considered a violation of the FCRA.

Over the past year, numerous NGOs, including well-known entities such as the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust, Oxfam India, Centre for Policy Research (CPR), and Care India, have faced cancellations, suspensions, denial of renewal, or deemed expiration of their FCRA licenses. This indicates a sweeping regulatory action by the government, emphasizing its commitment to enforcing FCRA compliance across the spectrum of non-governmental organizations.

The revocation of the FCRA license for the Church of North India highlights the government’s rigorous stance on enforcing regulations governing foreign contributions. This action is part of a broader crackdown on NGOs, signaling a commitment to upholding transparency and accountability in the utilization of foreign funds. The impact of such decisions extends beyond individual organizations, affecting the landscape of social service initiatives carried out by these entities. As the government continues its scrutiny, NGOs across the country are compelled to reassess and ensure strict adherence to FCRA regulations to avoid adverse consequences.

KK Muhammed, An Archaeologist Sheds Light On Ram Temple Excavation

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) held the first webinar of the five-part series focused on the Ayodhya Ram Mandir in association with the Hindu University of America (HUA) on December 9th, 2023.

Padma Shri K.K. Muhammed, a distinguished speaker, provided an informative talk about the excavation history of numerous sites, including the old Babri Masjid, where Islamic structures were constructed atop the foundations of Hindu temples.

KK Muhammed, former Director (North), Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was part of the first excavation that was conducted in the year 1976-77 under BB Lal, former director-general of ASI. Muhammed, who was the only Muslim in the team, claims that there is clear evidence that a grand temple stood at the site.

Subsequently, a second excavation was conducted in 2003 as per the directions of the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court. By this time, the mosque had been destroyed and so a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey could be conducted. All the archaeological discoveries were also videographed and corroborated to the previous findings that indicated a temple. Muhammed maintains that there is enough archaeological proof of a grand temple below the Babri Mosque.

Muhammed briefed the audience on the artifacts found by his team during his excavation. The audience greatly admired his principled stance in standing by Dr. B. Lal’s work and the excavation team he was a part of in the face of vicious attacks from special interests like Irfan Habib and his colleagues.

(Leader Bio)The community memebrs in the audience was pleasantly surprised by the amount of knowledge Muhammed displayed about Hindu traditions, including his flawless recitation of many Sanskrit shlokas from the scriptures.

K K Muhammed had for the first time acknowledged in 1990 through a newspaper article that he had witnessed the remains of a Ram temple under the mosqu. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 2019 after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) returned to power at the Centre for a second consecutive term.

The excavation of the Kesariya stupa in Bihar, the Ibadat khana and Christian Chapel in Fatehpur Sikri, and St. Augustin Church in Goa were all undertaken by Muhammed, who retired as regional director from the Archaeological Survey of India. During his career, he has faced many difficult conversations across the nation, frequently enlisting the aid of dacoits in the Chambal valley and the Naxal groups of Chhattisgarh. Several international, national, and state awards have been bestowed upon him in recognition of his exceptional contributions to conservation.

In an earlier posting, KK Muhammed had referred to the following as the proof that he had presented about the existence of not just a temple but one that was dedicated to Lord Vishnu:

Pillars, Base and Kalash

“When we went inside, I saw 12 pillars of the mosque which were made from temple remains. In almost all the temples of the 12th and 13th centuries, you get ‘Purna Kalasha’ at the base. It is the structure of a ‘ghada‘ (water pitcher) from which foliage would be coming out. It is the symbol of prosperity in Hinduism and is known as ‘Asht-Mangala Chinha‘ – one of the eight auspicious symbols.”

“When you go inside, you can see a number of ‘Purna Kalash As‘ and a number of gods and goddesses. Similar things were there in Babri mosque also. There were no gods and goddesses but ‘Ashtamangala Chinha‘ were there. So, on the basis of these, any archaeologist would say that these are temple remains. Subsequently, BB Lal undertook excavations on the western side of the mosque. The pillar bases were also excavated.”

Terracotta Sculptures

“A number of terracotta sculptures were found. If it is a mosque, you will never get the depiction of human beings or animals because it is ‘haraam’ (forbidden or proscribed) in Islam. This means there was a temple. But these findings were not highlighted by BB Lal because our excavation purpose was not to establish whether there was a temple or not. We just wanted to see the cultural sequence of the place.”

Second Excavation

More Pillars Discovered

“In the second excavation, more than 50 pillar bases in 17 rows were exposed. It means that the structure was imposing and large. The structure discovered was a temple below the Babri Mosque and dated back to the 12th century AD.”

Temple ‘Pranala’

“They also got the temple ‘pranali‘. We have to bathe the deity and the ‘abhishek jal‘ flows through ‘pranali‘. The pranali is mostly ‘makara pranali‘, having a crocodile face. Crocodile is a symbol of river Ganga. In some of the temples, before reaching the ‘garbha griha‘ (sanctum sanctorum), on the one side, there would be a lady standing on crocodile and on the other side there would be a lady standing on a tortoise. This means that you are taking a symbolic bath in rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the underground Saraswati. After cleansing yourself of all the previous sins, you are going to the main God. This ‘makara pranali‘ was excavated.”

Temple ‘Kalasha’, Amalkam Grivaha and Shikhara

“Also, on top of the temple just below the ‘kalasha‘, there is another architectural member known as ‘amalka‘. It was also excavated. Below the ‘amalka‘ there is the ‘grivah‘ and also the ‘shikhara’ portion of the temple in North India. Many architectural members of the ‘shikhara‘ were also excavated from there by the team.”

More Terracotta Objects

“Besides, 263 pieces of terracotta objects of various gods and goddesses, human figures and female figures were excavated from there. Had it been a mosque, how could you get these terracotta objects of various living beings? Depiction of any living being is prohibited in Islam. Then how could you get sculptures of living beings had it been a mosque? So, it was not a mosque.”

‘Vishnu Hari Sheela Phalak’ inscription

“Apart from all these things, a ‘Vishnu Hari Sheela Phalak’ inscription was also found in two pieces from the site. Of course, they were not part of the excavations but were found after the demolition of the mosque. But they form a piece of important circumstantial evidence which clearly says the temple has been dedicated to that incarnation of Lord Vishnu who had killed Bali and a 10-headed person.”

In an upcoming webinar, Dr. Sudhanshu Trivedi, an Indian lawmaker, will provide a historical perspective, beginning with Babur’s 16th-century destruction of the Ram Mandir and continuing up to the current day.

Pope Francis Accepts Resignation Of Leader Of Syro-Malabar Catholics In India

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation from the pastoral governance of the Syro-Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Church presented by His Beatitude Cardinal Mar George Alencherry, the Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly, of the Syro-Malabars in India. This is one of the two numerically largest Catholic communities in the country and also one of the largest Eastern Catholic Churches.

For some time now, this church has been experiencing a crisis stemming from a change in the way Mass is celebrated, affecting unity. The largest diocese of the Syro-Malabars is on the verge of schism.

According to canon law, the Administrator of the Syro-Malabar Church until the election of the new Major Archbishop is Bishop Sebastian Vaniyapurackal, Titular Bishop of Troina.

The Holy Father addressed an ongoing bitter dispute in the archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly, directing the faithful there to accept the decision of Church leaders to institute a uniform liturgy.

Canon law dictates that bishops must submit their resignations to the pope at age 75. Cardinal Alencherry turned 78 this year. In his letter on Thursday, Francis told Cardinal Alencherry he “decided to accept your resignation as a sign of your openness and docility to the Holy Spirit.”

Last year, Francis noted, was Cardinal Alencherry’s “50th anniversary of priestly ordination and 25th anniversary as a bishop. “Now that you have reached two significant jubilees and accomplished the pastoral objectives set for the flock entrusted to your care, I consider your resignation not as the conclusion but the fulfillment of your service,” the Holy Father told the prelate.

The Vatican said Curia Bishop H.E. Sebastian Vaniyapurackal, titular bishop of Troina, would serve as the interim administrator of the Syro-Malabar Church until the election of the new major archbishop.

Pope Francis Accepts Resignation Of Leader Of Syro Malabar Catholics In India (Crux Now)
Picture: Crux Now

The Vatican on Thursday said Francis had also accepted the resignation of Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, apostolic administrator of the archeparchy since July of last year. Archbishop Thazhath remains metropolitan archbishop of Trichur of the Syro-Malabars.

Bosco Puthur, bishop emeritus of the Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Melbourne of the Syro-Malabars (Australia), will serve in that role “sede vacante et ad nutum Sanctae Sedis,” the Holy See said.

In addition to the letter, on Thursday the Holy Father sent a video message addressed to “brothers and sisters of the Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly” in which the Pope confronted a long-standing liturgical dispute in the Syro-Malabar Church in India.

The Syro-Malabar Church is one of the 23 autonomous Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome. The Eucharistic liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Church, known as the Holy Qurbana, has been the subject of a long, complex dispute over which direction the priest should face when celebrating the liturgy.

Protests against the adoption of a uniform liturgy have included a hunger strike by priests and the burning of effigies of cardinals.

Francis has intervened in the dispute several times, including last year when he asked opponents of the uniform liturgy to take the “difficult and painful step” of accepting the change. In August he appointed Slovak Archbishop-Bishop Cyril Vasil’ to help resolve the ongoing disagreement.

Below is the Pope’s letter translated into English.


To My Venerable Brother
His Beatitude Mar George Cardinal Alencherry
Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly
of the Syro-Malabar Church

As you celebrated last year your fiftieth anniversary of priestly ordination and twenty-fifth anniversary as a Bishop, I was pleased to join you in giving thanks to the Lord, expressing as well my gratitude for the dedication shown over the course of those years by your many pastoral and educational efforts and initiatives. In particular, since 2011, the year of your election as Father and Head of the Major Archepiscopal Church of Ernakulam-Angamaly, the signs of your zeal and generosity were numerous, as you laboured unceasingly for the achievement of various important milestones in the life of this Particular Church.

Pope Francis Accepts Resignation Of Leader Of Syro Malabar Catholics In India (Indian Express)
Picture: Indian Express

In this regard, I think of the recognition of the All-India jurisdiction, the establishment of the offices of the Procurator in Rome and the erection of Eparchies in Australia, Canada and Great Britain. It is also encouraging that various provisions for the pastoral care of the faithful in the Arabian Peninsula are under serious consideration. You have attended to all this without neglecting the ordinary path of the Church, in considering, together with the Synod, pastoral care in catechesis and the liturgy, formation of the clergy and accompaniment of young people, especially in the diaspora, while not forgetting to give attention and service to the poor and those most in need.

The year 2022 witnessed another important event in the life of the Saint Thomas Christians as well as in the universal Church: the 1,950th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Apostle who, according to tradition, brought the proclamation of the Gospel to India. There, as a martyr, he conformed himself totally to his Lord and God (cf. Jn 20:28) through the supreme sacrifice of his life. Guided by this example of Saint Thomas, and out of love for the risen Lord and his Church, in 2019 you offered to step away from the pastoral governance of the beloved Syro-Malabar Church when faced with divisions and protests. Yet at that time, the Apostolic See accepted the judgment of the Syro-Malabar Synod of Bishops, which did not consider it the suitable moment. The Synod, however, could not fail to recognize in your request the heart of a Pastor who set the unity and mission of the Church above everything else.

Now that you have reached two significant jubilees and accomplished the pastoral objectives set for the flock entrusted to your care, I consider your resignation not as the conclusion, but the fulfilment of your service. Indeed, this step represents a further witness of fidelity to the Gospel and a new way of serving the Church, above all through contemplative and intercessory prayer, as well as by continuing to offer your counsel to the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia of which you are a member.

In light of these considerations, together with the occurrence of the centenary of the Syro-Malabar hierarchy, and always mindful of the good and unity of the People of God, I have decided to accept your resignation as a sign of your openness and docility to the Holy Spirit. Invoking the intercession of Saint Thomas the Apostle and assuring you of my prayers, I impart my blessing to you and to the whole Major Archepiscopal Church of Ernakulam-Angamaly.

Pope Francis Announces First World Children’s Day 2024 At The Vatican

At the end of the Angelus on Friday, December 8, Pope Francis announced to the entire Church from his apartment window: “I am pleased to announce that on May 25 and 26 next year, we will celebrate in Rome the first World Day of Children. The initiative, sponsored by the Dicastery for Culture and Education, addresses the question: What kind of world do we want to pass on to the children who are growing up? Like Jesus, we want to put children at the center and take care of them.”

The First World Day of Children (WDC) is an unprecedented event. It arises from Pope Francis’s desire to focus on the future of the youngest, asking everyone to care for them, guide them towards good growth, and listen to them.

“On May 25 and 26, we want to imagine with the children – based on their dreams and desires – a different world, where there is peace, care for the environment, and a choice for fraternity. This day is also a message to the adult world to stop and listen to the simple and direct questions of the little ones, who ask for peace and respect,” declared Father Enzo Fortunato, Marco Impagliazzo, and Angelo Chiorazzo, coordinators of the Organizing Committee of the First World Day of Children.

Spirituality Among Americans

7 In 10 U.S. Adults Describe Themselves As Spiritual In Some Way, Including 22% Who Are Spiritual But Not Religious

In recent decades, Americans have become less likely to identify with an organized religion. Yet a new Pew Research Center survey shows that belief in spirits or a spiritual realm beyond this world is widespread, even among those who don’t consider themselves religious. The survey finds that:

17 In 10 U S Adults Describe Themselves As Spiritual In Some Way Including 22% Who Are Spiritual But Not Religious183% of all U.S. adults believe people have a soul or spirit in addition to their physical body.

81% say there is something spiritual beyond the natural world, even if we cannot see it.

74% say there are some things that science cannot possibly explain.

45% say they have had a sudden feeling of connection with something from beyond this world.

38% say they have had a strong feeling that someone who has passed away was communicating with them from beyond this world.

30% say they have personally encountered a spirit or unseen spiritual force.

Overall, 70% of U.S. adults can be considered “spiritual” in some way, because they think of themselves as spiritual people or say spirituality is very important in their lives.

These are among the key findings of a new Pew Research Center survey of American spirituality, conducted July 31-Aug. 6, 2023, among a nationally representative sample of 11,201 members of our American Trends Panel.

This report covers the following topics:

Measuring spirituality

Spiritual beliefs

Spiritual practices

Spiritual experiences

Who are ‘spiritual but not religious’ Americans?

Is spirituality increasing?

Because this is the first time Pew Research Center has asked many of these questions about beliefs, practices and experiences that may be viewed as spiritual, we do not know whether they are more – or less – common today than they were in the past.

Previous research has found a decline in traditional religious beliefs and practices. That includes a drop in the shares of U.S. adults who say they believe in God with absolute certainty, attend religious services regularly, pray daily and consider religion to be very important in their lives.

Some news articles have speculated that young Americans may be turning away from organized religion and replacing it with their own mix of spiritual elements drawn from many sources, including Asian religions and Native American traditions, as well as New Age beliefs about crystals, tarot cards and the like. Media coverage has often focused, in particular, on people who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”

While Pew Research Center surveys have documented a decline since 2007 in the percentage of Americans who identify as Christian, the evidence that “religion” is being replaced by “spirituality” is much weaker, partly because of7 In 10 U S Adults Describe Themselves As Spiritual In Some Way Including 22% Who Are Spiritual But Not Religious 2 the difficulty of defining and separating those concepts.

This survey is intended to help fill the gap. We plan to use our new questions about spiritual beliefs, practices and experiences as a baseline, re-asking them periodically to see which measures are rising, which are falling and which are stable. And rather than imposing a definition of spirituality, we will let survey respondents tell us what it means to them and how they practice it.

What is spirituality?

Americans’ beliefs about spirits and the afterlife

An overwhelming majority of U.S. adults (83%) say they believe that people have a soul or spirit in addition to their physical body. A smaller majority (57%) believes that animals other than humans can have their own spirits or spiritual energies.

Half of Americans believe that spirits can inhabit burial places, such as graveyards, cemeteries or other memorial sites. And a similar share (48%) says that parts of the natural landscape – such as mountains, rivers or trees – can have spirits or spiritual energies.

7 In 10 U S Adults Describe Themselves As Spiritual In Some Way Including 22% Who Are Spiritual But Not Religious 3About a quarter of U.S. adults believe that spirits or spiritual energy can reside in certain objects, such as crystals, jewels or stones (26%).

What do Americans believe about life after death?

The survey finds that 71% of Americans believe in heaven, while somewhat fewer – 61% – believe in hell and 60% believe in both. These numbers have held steady in recent years.1 But there is less consensus about whether the dead have various powers, such as the ability to follow what is happening in this world and to watch out for loved ones who are alive.

We explored these beliefs for the first time by asking whether it is “definitely true,” “probably true,” “probably not true” or “definitely not true” that people who have already died can do a variety of things. (Respondents also were able to say they were “not sure.”)

More than half of U.S. adults (57%) believe that in the afterlife, people definitely or probably can reunite with loved ones who also have died.

About four-in-ten or more Americans say that dead people definitely or probably can assist, protect or guide the living (46%), be aware of what’s going on among the living (44%) or communicate with people who are still living (42%). Overall, U.S. adults are more than twice as likely to say that the dead can help the living (46%) as they are to say that the dead can harm the living (18%).

About a quarter of U.S. adults believe it is definitely or probably true that the dead can be reincarnated (27%), defined in the survey as being “reborn again and again in this world.”2

Spiritual experiences and practices

Some kinds of spiritual experiences seem to be relatively common. For example, 46% of U.S. adults say that at least7 In 10 U S Adults Describe Themselves As Spiritual In Some Way Including 22% Who Are Spiritual But Not Religious 4 once or twice a month they feel a deep sense of wonder about the universe. A similar share (44%) say they feel a deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being that often.

Feeling a deep sense of connection with humanity and feeling “the presence of something from beyond this world” are less common. Still, about one-fifth of Americans or more say they have such feelings at least once or twice a month.

To gauge experiences that may be relatively rare, we asked respondents whether they have ever had specific otherworldly experiences.

7 In 10 U S Adults Describe Themselves As Spiritual In Some Way Including 22% Who Are Spiritual But Not Religious 5Fully 45% say they have had a sudden feeling of connection with something from beyond this world, and 38% say they’ve had a strong feeling that someone who previously passed away was communicating with them from beyond this world. Three-in-ten say they believe in spirits or unseen spiritual forces and also say they have personally encountered one.

How do Americans practice spirituality?

To measure some common spiritual practices, we asked survey respondents how often they pursue five activities: looking inward or centering themselves, meditating, doing yoga, exercising and spending time in nature.

Whether these activities are spiritual depends, of course, on one’s definition of spirituality. As previously noted, many Americans explain the meaning of “spiritual” by talking about various kinds of connections – such as with God or something bigger than themselves, with their innermost selves, with loved ones who have died or with all humanity.

With that understanding of spirituality in mind, we asked survey respondents to select the most7 In 10 U S Adults Describe Themselves As Spiritual In Some Way Including 22% Who Are Spiritual But Not Religious 6 important reason why they engage in each of these activities: Is it to “feel connected” with something bigger than themselves, with their “true self” or with other people? Is it to get health benefits, including relaxation? To have fun and enjoy the experience? Or for other reasons?

A total of 77% of U.S. adults say they spend time in nature at least a few times a month, and 26% say they do so mainly to feel connected, such as with something bigger than themselves (18%) or with their “true self” (6%). Half of Americans say they spend time in nature mainly for health benefits, to enjoy themselves or for other reasons.

By comparison, fewer Americans (64%) say they look inward or center themselves at least a few times each month. But a relatively large share – 44% of all U.S. adults – say they look inward or center themselves mainly to feel connected, including 27% who do it mainly to feel connected with their “true self.”

7 In 10 U S Adults Describe Themselves As Spiritual In Some Way Including 22% Who Are Spiritual But Not Religious 7Roughly four-in-ten Americans meditate at least a few times a month (38%), including 22% of U.S. adults who meditate mainly to connect with their “true self” (11%) or with something bigger than themselves (10%).

How many Americans gather in spiritual communities?

Americans are more likely to report gathering in religious communities than meeting in spiritual groups. Fully 39% of U.S. adults say they are involved in a religious community, such as a church or religious congregation, while 14% say they are involved in “a spiritual community, such as a group that helps [them] find a connection with something bigger than [themselves], nature or other people.”

Moreover, most people who are involved in a spiritual community are also involved in a religious one: 10% of U.S. adults say they are involved in both kinds of groups, while just 4% of all U.S. adults say they are involved in a spiritual community and not a religious one.

7 In 10 U S Adults Describe Themselves As Spiritual In Some Way Including 22% Who Are Spiritual But Not Religious 7What kinds of things do Americans have for spiritual reasons?

More than one-third of U.S. adults say they have a cross for spiritual purposes, and 19% say they have some jewelry (which could also be a cross) that serves a spiritual purpose.

Also, 15% of Americans say they maintain a shrine, altar or icon in their home; 12% possess crystals for spiritual purposes; and 9% have a tattoo or piercing for a spiritual purpose.

How many Americans are spiritual?

Seven-in-ten U.S. adults think of themselves as spiritual or say that spirituality is very important in their lives. To be sure, most of these people also consider themselves religious or say that religion is very important in their lives. There is enough overlap between what people mean by “spirituality” and what they have in mind by “religion” that nearly half of U.S. adults indicate they are both religious and spiritual.

Still, 22% of U.S. adults fall into the category of spiritual but not religious. The new survey offers a rich portrait of this group, showing what beliefs they hold, how they practice their spirituality, and how they tend to differ from U.S. adults who embrace the “religious” label.

What do ‘spiritual but not religious’ people believe?

The survey finds that on many questions, “spiritual but not religious” Americans – SBNRs, for short – are7 In 10 U S Adults Describe Themselves As Spiritual In Some Way Including 22% Who Are Spiritual But Not Religious 8 no more spiritual, on average, than U.S. adults who are both religious and spiritual. For example, large majorities in both groups say they believe “people have a soul or spirit in addition to their physical body.” Smaller majoritie“Women suffer a lot of discrimination generally, and so they’re less likely to be willing to stake out a position that could subject them to more discrimination, so they say, ‘I may not be religious but I’m spiritual,’” Cragun said. “And that softens the blow very quickly.”

Politically, the spiritual but not religious identify as Democrats rather than Republicans by a ratio of 2-to-1: — 60% say they identify or lean Democratic; 34% identify or lean Republican. (Among religious Americans only 39% identify or lean Democratic.)

The study, the first of its kind, was fielded in early August. Pew has not previously asked specific questions about spiritual beliefs and practices so the study cannot address decline or growth in spiritual attitudes.

The margin of error for the full sample of 11,201 respondents was plus or minus 1.4 percentage points.

s of both groups believe in the existence of “spirits or unseen spiritual forces.”

Exploring the Depths of Spirituality: Insights from Pew Research

The terms “spiritual” and “spirituality” have posed a challenge for researchers and scholars in the realm of religion, defying easy definition. What constitutes being spiritual? Does it entail a sense of wonder, well-being, or peace? Is belief in God or a higher power a prerequisite? These terms appear so elastic that they encompass a myriad of disparate ideas and experiences.

A recent study conducted by Pew Research delves into the meaning of “spiritual” for those who identify with the term, shedding light on the beliefs and practices of individuals who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.” In their report titled “Spirituality Among Americans,” Pew surveyed over 11,000 people earlier this year, revealing that 7 in 10 U.S. adults describe themselves as spiritual in some way.

The study finds that almost half of respondents identify as both religious and spiritual. This suggests a dual engagement, where individuals participate in religious institutions while also maintaining personal spiritual practices or perspectives outside formal religious traditions. Meanwhile, 22% of U.S. adults identify as “spiritual but not religious,” 21% claim neither spiritual nor religious affiliation, and 10% identify as religious but not spiritual.

The shifting landscape of religious affiliation in the United States has witnessed increased diversity in recent years. While Christianity remains the predominant faith, there has been a rise in the numbers of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and other religious groups. However, there is an overarching trend of declining religious affiliation, indicating a reduced identification with specific religious groups.

Lead Pew researcher Becka Alper notes the ongoing attempt to make sense of this shift, asking, “Is the U.S. public becoming more secular? Are they becoming more spiritual?” The study aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of spiritual beliefs, practices, and experiences.

Key findings from the survey include:

– 83% of all U.S. adults believe in the existence of a soul or spirit alongside the physical body.

– 81% acknowledge the presence of something spiritual beyond the natural world, even if it is imperceptible.

– 74% assert that there are aspects science cannot explain.

– 45% report experiencing a sudden connection with something beyond this world.

– 38% claim to have felt a strong connection with a departed person communicating from beyond.

Regarding the meaning of “spiritual,” the majority (74%) associate it with “being connected to something bigger than myself.” A substantial 70% specify that it means “being connected with God,” while 64% interpret it as “being connected with my true self.” Only 40% equate spirituality with adherence to a specific religious faith. The term also encompasses various other interpretations, such as a connection with nature, other people, deceased loved ones, open-mindedness, or the continuation of family traditions.

A recurring theme across these interpretations is the idea of being “connected.”

Notably, evangelical Christians, predominantly white, and members of historically Black Protestant churches share similar experiences. Both groups overwhelmingly report a deep sense of well-being at least once a month due to their spiritual beliefs and practices, a sentiment less prevalent among other religious groups like Catholics or Mainline Protestants.

In allowing respondents to describe in their own words what being spiritual means, Pew received a diverse range of anonymous responses, including:

– “Being one with your soul, emotions, feelings, actions.”

– “Believing in something larger and more creative than science.”

– “One with the universe!”

– “The belief that a supreme being is the creator of the universe, and that humans’ existence in this realm is transient.”

– “It means having a relationship with God and a belief system that includes a responsibility to do what is right.”

Given that this survey marked the first time Pew posed many of these questions specifically about spirituality, it serves as a baseline rather than establishing trends. Pew plans to continue exploring these themes in subsequent years, offering a deeper understanding of the evolving landscape of religion and spirituality among Americans.

Indian-American Doctor Pledges $4M for Hindu Advocacy in the US

Hinduism is not just a religion, it’s a way of life, a prominent Indian-American physician, who has committed $4 million to advocate Hindu advocacy and awareness causes in the United States, has said.

Emergency care physician Mihir Meghani, who founded the Hindu America Foundation along with his friends two decades ago, has pledged to donate $1.5 million more to the Hindu cause over the next eight years.This contribution will raise his total donations for the cause to $4 million in two decades. He ecognize the pledge early this month at the Hindu America Foundation Gala at the annual Silicon Valley.

Stressing that Hinduism is more than a religion, he aimed to increase understanding and appreciation of Hindu identity among Americans, especially those with a Christian background.

Indian American Doctor Pledges $4M for Hindu Advocacy in the USMeghani emphasized the importance of Hindu Americans being proud of their heritage while actively engaging with others to foster better understanding. The Hindu American Foundation, initially volunteer-driven, has now expanded significantly, with plans for further growth to continue advocating for Hindu causes and enhancing awareness of Hinduism in American society.

The announcement by Dr Meghani pos”Ibly’gives him the distinction of being the biggest Indian American donor for the Hindu cause in the United States.

“My wife, Tanvi and I, have contributed $1.5 million to the Hindu American Foundation thus far. We’ve also contributed a million dollars more over the last 15 years to other Hindu and Indian organisations and causes. Over the next eight years, we’re making a pledge of $1.5 million to pro-India and Hindu organisations,” Dr Meghani told PTI in a recent interview.

“I say this to all of you who are viewing this to realise that I don’t have a startup company. I don’t have any side businesses. I’m an emergency doctor on a salary. My wife is a fitness instructor and a jewellery designer. We’re not making millions of dollars a year. We don’t have stock options. We’re doing this because it’s our Dharma, it’s our duty,” he said.

Just out of university, Dr Meghani and three of his friends Aseem Shukla, an associate professor in urologic surgery; Suhag Shukla, an attorney and Nikhil Joshi, a labour law attorney co-founded the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) in September 2003, the first of its kind Hindu advocacy group in the US.

Responding to a question, Dr Meghani said Hinduism is not as easily understood by most Americans because most Americans are Christian. “They come from an Abrahamic background. When they look at different religions, they can’t understand that Hinduism is not just a religion, it’s a way of life. It’s a way of thinking about life,” he said.

Hindus who are coming from India don’t quite understand that they have a Hindu identity and an Indian national identity, he said, adding: “We need to talk about that”.

“What we need are Hindus to be strong in the Bharatiya or Indian identity, which is the political identity for our ecognizedn, but also they should be very proud and open about their Hindu identity. And when they have that, their coworkers, their friends, and neighbours will understand us better,” he said.

One of the early successes of HAF in Washington DC, he said, was to get Diwali ecognized in the US.

“Now you can see that Diwali is celebrated at the White House, with the Vice President, in the US Congress and all across different state and local governments across the country. But it took time to get there,” he said about the three-year effort by them.

The Hindu American Foundation, which in its initial years was all based on volunteerism, now has an annual budget of $2.5 million and has several full-time staffers. Its goal is to increase its budget to $5 million next year and $20 million by the end of the decade, he said.

Losing Their Religion, These 13 Countries Are The World’s Most Atheistic

Many countries turned to the scientific method and embraced atheism, nontheism, and apatheism. As you will notice, there is no clear pattern, though European studies suggest that countries with economic growth are losing their religion more rapidly. The situation in the East is just as interesting, so with that in mind, take a look at some of the most atheistic countries in the world.

People’s Republic of China

The country that gave the world Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism is mostly unreligious. Partly, that is due to China’s unitary one-party ruled by the Chinese Communist Party. This does not mean that the people of China do not cherish their spirituality, though in much less obvious ways than people in other countries.

Losing Their Religion These 13 Countries Are The World’s Most Atheistic 2Japan

The third largest economy’s population is primarily irreligious. Many Japanese people hold onto their traditional philosophies, but the majority are not religious in the Western sense of the word.

Republic of Estonia

The Baltic country is consistent with its no religious affiliation. Around 60 percent of people do not practice religion, and those who do are primarily Christians. The country is doing reasonably well despite being one of the smallest economies in the world.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Around 70 percent of North Koreans are not religious. The rest are divided between Chondoism, Shamanism, and a small percentage of Buddhism. According to one of the State Department reports, Christians were considered the “most dangerous political class of people, and the persecution is violent and intense.”

Czech Republic

This Central European country enjoys a relatively high per capita income due to the car industry and nuclear power plants. In the first half of the XX century, around 90 percent of the population were Christians. As of 2021, less than 12% of the population identified with Christianity, mainly Catholicism, while another 10 percent belonged to other religions. Around seven in ten Czechs are religiously unaffiliated.

South Korea

This highly developed country has seen a rise in Christianity and a revival of Buddhism. However, 60% of its citizens identify with no religion. Like many countries in this region, spirituality is present in everyday life, but it is more about upholding traditions than believing in one religion.


Several of the happiest nations in the world are also mostly atheists or hold little regard for religion. The Netherlands is one of them, with 58% of its people labeling themselves as irreligious. The Dutch, however, believe in ecology, work-life balance, strong family ties, and acceptance of diversity.


One of the largest economies and the most developed countries, France has a rich history, but when it comes to religion, things are only going downhill. Projections show that the irreligious population will continue its growth in the upcoming decades.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is also a European country with a rich history and powerful impact worldwide. Over 31 percent of its people are religiously unaffiliated, and that comes as no surprise if you look at the country’s history and relationship with the Catholic church. The British royals are the head of the Church of England, a Protestant Anglican church, and they’ve been a part of this religion since the XVI century.


The country embraces diversity, so it comes as no surprise that Australians are not that invested in religion. The believers are primarily members of Anglican and Catholic churches, though the country recognizes over 100 religions.


Around 42 percent of Germans are non-religious, and among them, 12 percent are atheists. Most Germans say religion has no significance in their lives, with only 33 percent believing that higher powers have an effect on their lives.


Irreligion is common in Sweden, and a 2023 Gallup International Survey 2023 confirmed the nation has the highest percentage of citizens who do not believe in God. For most citizens, religion is not important, so much so that in 2016, Sweden became the first country to open neutral cemeteries.


Around 50 percent of Danish people are not religious, with only 30 percent stating they believe in God or a higher power. Approximately 20 percent are undecided, though over 70 percent are registered at the Church of Denmark. Denmark is open to all religions, and like other Scandinavian countries, it prides itself on being open-minded and accepting.

Pope Francis Urges World Religions To Unite Against Environmental Devastation

(Reuters) – Pope Francis said on Sunday that it was essential for all world religions to unite in opposing the “rapacious” devastation of the environment.

The 86-year-old pope had planned to preside at the opening of the Faith Pavilion at the C0P28 climate conference in Dubai but a lung inflammation forced him to remain in the Vatican.

Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin read the pope’s message in his place, as he did with Francis’ main address to the conference on Saturday.

“Religions, as voices of conscience for humanity, remind us that we are finite creatures, possessed of a need for the infinite,” the pope said, noting that a Faith Pavilion was a first at a COP conference.

“For we are indeed mortal, we have our limits, and protecting life also entails opposing the rapacious illusion of omnipotence that is devastating our planet,” he said.

Pope Francis Urges World Religions To Unite Against Environmental Devastation (NCR)
Picture: NCR

Religions, he said, “need, urgently, to act for the sake of the environment”, educate their members to “sober and fraternal lifestyles” instead of wasteful ones and work for a return to the individual contemplation of nature’s grandeur.

“This is an essential obligation for religions, which are called to teach contemplation, since creation is not only an ecosystem to preserve, but also a gift to embrace,” Francis said.

“A world poor in contemplation will be a world polluted in soul, a world that will continue to discard people and produce waste,” he said.

In his main address to the conference on Saturday, Francis repeated his call for the elimination of fossil fuels.

Hundreds of Catholic institutions around the globe have announced plans to divest from them.

But a Reuters investigation found that in the United States, the world’s top oil and gas producer and where about a quarter of the population is Catholic, not a single diocese has announced it has let go of its fossil fuel assets.

In his address to faith leaders, Francis also said peace and stewardship of the planet were interdependent.

“Before our very eyes, we can see how wars and conflicts are harming the environment and dividing nations, hindering a common commitment to addressing shared problems like the protection of the planet,” he said

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Seven Baskets Full: The All-Embracing Lord’s Supper

Introduction By Rev. Pankiras Aruplappan:

As a little boy preparing for the first Communion, I was taught that the Holy Orders give one the freedom to celebrate the Eucharist and administer the sacraments. As I grew in age, I was told that it was at the Lord’s Supper Jesus instituted the Eucharist and priesthood. And both these intrigued me all along and was on search as to the real meaning of these two, especially the Eucharist, said to be the ‘core mystery of Christian faith’.

Yesterday, on my friendly visit to Fr. Jose Kaleekkal, at his residence at Ades Veedu, Anthamon, near Kottarakkara, while sharing our common concerns, the topic of Eucharist came in and in that context he presented me with a lovely book addressing my above search, the ‘Seven Baskets Full – The All-Embracing Lord’s Supper’ by Subhash Anand, on Eucharist.

I could not wait to read it. So, started from the cover page with the opinions on the book… Not skipping any page came to the Preface which enthused me like anything, I am sharing that with you all verbatim as I felt rather compelled to, of course typing it from the book… (Reverend Father Panky Arulappan.)

The Preface By Subhash Anand

Seven Baskets Full The All Embracing Lord’s Supper‘It was September 1967. Some of us were making our ordination retreat. Our most respected professor of systematic theology, Fr. Josef Neuner, SJ, was with us as our guide. We were fortunate to have him: a man deeply in love with Jesus and his Church. During a conversation with him, I asked him: “Could the historical Jesus institute the Eucharist as we understand it today?” He smiled and remained silent. His silence spoke to me. Since then that question kept on popping up in my mind. The years that followed kept me busy with some other studies, followed by years of teaching and accompaniment. My work at Jnana Deep Vidyapeeth, Pune, required that I focus my attention on Indian Philosophy and Religions. After I retired from Jnana Deep Vidyapeeth, and returned to Udaipur in 2009, I got immersed in the work of a Hindi commentary on the Bible. That kept me occupied for the next nine years.

Sometimes I managed to find some time to get back to my question. Once the work on the commentary was over, I could return to that question with greater leisure.

It(n) the meanwhile I read Jose Antonio Pagola’s bestseller Jesus: An Historical Approximation (Bangalore, Theological Publications in India, 2013). The book made me see better the importance of the question that kept on haunting me all these years. Pagola tells us” “I am convinced that Jesus is the best we have in the Church and the best we can offer to modern society. Even more: I believe, as many other thinkers do, that Jesus is the best that humanity has ever produced” (p.15). At first, I was wondering why Pagola needs to tell his Christian readers that Jesus is the best we have in the Church. I thought every Christian shared Pagola’s conviction. As I continued reading, I began to see the deep anguish the writer experiences at the fact that many Christians, “good women and men, live on the ‘epidermis of faith’, nourished by a conventional Christianity. They find religious security in the beliefs and practices that are within their reach, but do not live in joyful relationship with Jesus Christ” (p.27). In their lives, Jesus has been displaced by Mary and all their patron saints, and by all the dogmas, rituals and rules of the Church. The Church’s claim that devotion to Mary and the saints, that all her dogmas and laws, that all her rituals and rubrics, are meant to lead people to Jesus is just not borne out by empirical data. Coming to Jesus is not a passing sentimental experience; it is an abiding soul-stirring challenge. We cannot really come to Jesus without (effectively and) effectively reaching out to our sisters and brothers, particularly those who are in need and who are neglected by the society at large (Mt 25.31-46).

There are different reasons why we are satisfied with so little. First, unlike the first disciples, the vast majority of Christians today were baptized when they had not yet reached the age of reason. We did not make a mature choice to become Christians. It is time that we seriously reflect on the practice of infant-baptism. One African theologian has lamented that in Africa, there are many baptized people, but very few Christians. Second, most of the churches have fallen into the trap of organized religion, which domesticates the prophetical vision of the founder, and offers an easy way of being ‘religious’. Pagola laments: “I know how tempting it is to live correctly within the Church, without worrying about the one thing Jesus taught: the kingdom of God and its justice (p.27). The leaders of organized religions know quite well that were they to make really difficult demands, they might lose a good part of their clientele and their livelihood.

The domestication of the prophetical vision of Jesus has also left its devastating impact on the Lord’s Supper: it was reinterpreted to serve the agenda of the priestly community; it satisfies our emotional needs but does not challenge us. For instance, in the Roman Catholic Church, the vast majority of bishops and priests celebrate the Eucharist almost daily; yet empirical studies indicate that our life-style is not a challenge to the laity. Sad to say, very often many of us are even lacking in the basic qualities that are expected of a decent human being. So often, Pope Francis has lamented the pervasive presence of clericalism within the Church. Clericalism reveals itself in arrogance, abuse of authority, abuse of the church funds, abuse of helpless people, refusal to consult people, refuse to be accountable, giving more importance to our comforts and conveniences, etc. In short, we can misbehave with impunity.

So too, members of non-clerical religious congregations participate in the Eucharist more or less every day; but many lay people wonder: “Do we still need religious in the Church?” The reason for this question is simple: most religious do not fulfil their primary responsibility: to be a countercultural presence in the world at large. I am not saying that we priests, bishops and religious are all bad people. Most of us are not adequately Christian. We have succumbed to the seductive charm of the consumer culture; we feel carried away by the spirit of competition that characterizes the modern professional world. We believe that assertive action rather than transformative presence is what the society most appreciates today. As a result, even the most powerful symbol of Jesus – the shared meal – has been hijacked by the brokers of organized religion. It has been reduced to a convenient ritual that only serves to reinforce mediocrity.

Jesus was a contemplative. We see him often at prayer all alone in some lonely place. He experienced God as a very loving parent, who is always and everywhere accessible to all his children. Jesus wanted to share this experience with others. Hence, he shared meals with all kinds of people. This was an invitation to the unbrokered experience of the Kingdom of God that shatters all boundaries we lay down and negates all the hierarchies we set up. The Father wants us to approach him directly. The moment we sincerely wish to do so, he runs to meet us and gathers us into his loving embrace. He does not wait for us to go through some atonement ritual. He does not wait for us to be escorted into his holy presence by some professional brokers. To reveal to us his love and compassion he sent his son as our brother. Somehow we find it difficult to believe that God could be so humane and humble so as to bypass all formalities. We prefer to think him as a king who is surrounded with many courtiers and these have been instructed to enforce proper protocol. We are comfortable with brokers not only on earth, but we also seek brokers in heaven. The brokers on earth are busy multiplying brokers in heaven. That brings them additional importance and brokerage.

This was the religion of the Old Testament. It was a thoroughly organized religion, with a highly institutionalized liturgy, controlled by a three-tiered clergy: Levite, priest and high priest. This hierarchy was taken care of by the offerings the people brought to the temple of Jerusalem. Hence, the clergy had to multiply occasions for people to visit the temple. They multiplied rituals for different occasions. It was a veritable religious consumer market. All the adult males had to visit the temple in Jerusalem at least three times a year. The Jews were told that they could not come before the Lord empty-handed (Ex 23:15, 34:20; Deut 16:16). This organized religion, with its institutionalized liturgy, found its expression in a host of cult-related laws. Even the priests could approach the sanctuary only when they were dressed in protective vestments. They generated sacred texts that legitimized their claims, perpetuated their position and ensured their prestige.

The demands of a highly organized religion was the burden (zugos) some early disciples of Jesus wanted to impose on the Gentile followers (Acts 15:28). This was the burden that Jesus had in mind when he invited people to come to him: “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden (zugos) is light” (Mt 11:28-30). When the Son of Man comes to judge us, the norm will not be the requirements of any organized religion, but the simple demands our humanity makes of all of us (Mt 25:31-46).

To understand the call to be disciples of Jesus, we need to take very seriously the mystery of Incarnation. The way Roman Catholic theologians make claims about Jesus, makes me feel that they are actually operating within a Docetic frame: the pre-Easter Jesus knew everything: he even knew that he was God! Most of our Eucharistic Theology reveals a Docetic presupposition. The Eucharist of Jesus is an invitation to share a real meal with others, especially with the needy. It is an invitation to break ourselves for others. This is the deeper meaning of Incarnation: God emptying himself for us. He does this not to save us from sin, but to reveal to us his unbounded love. God becomes man to teach us that just by being decent women and men we can come to him. God comes to us, so that we may go out to the others, crossing all boundaries and ignoring all hierarchies. The shared meal of Jesus was meant to symbolize this call to be human and humane.

While working on this book I had some very happy experiences. My deepest convictions were confirmed. A careful reading of the New Testament and the early Church Fathers was a very refreshing and reassuring experience. The foundational texts and the earliest Christian writers speak a lot about worship, but very little about cult – if at all. For them the discipleship of Jesus is the best worship we can render to his Father. They give great importance to love of neighbour and prayer, but speak very little about the Eucharist. One reason could be that already within the life-time of Paul, the Eucharist had been distorted (1 Cor 11:16-34). It became a ritual that did not demand an adequate ethical commitment. John had foreseen this possibility; he does not give us the institution of the Eucharist in his Gospel. During the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, and explained his action as an invitation to love one another through humble service, telling them to do this in remembrance of him.

The discipleship of Jesus, the poor prophet from Nazareth, is anything but easy. It calls us to carry our cross and walk with him. This is the best sacrifice we can and ought to offer God. Jesus wants us to remember him by breaking ourselves for others. An actual meal, shared with others, particularly with the needy, expresses our willingness to become the bread broken for others, the cup poured out for others. As his disciples, we are called to give away our most precious belonging to empower others. God calls us as he called Abraham: to sacrifice our only son. God gives the lead. By doing this we will live the mystery of Incarnation: God breaking and pouring out himself for us. This will demand that we go much beyond the rituals and devotions we are so habituated to, that we set out on a journey of contemplation, not knowing where we are going (Heb 11:8), but confident that the Risen Lord is journeying with us.

Cult tends to keep us infantile all our life. True, as humans we need some signs and symbols; but these cannot be mandatory always and everywhere. Very few symbols have an evocative value for all humans; these emerge from our shared humanity and from the awareness of what his humanity really means. True, sometimes we need to come together to pray. But shared silence too can be deep community prayer. Through contemplative prayer we will attain human maturity, and the full stature of Jesus Christ (Eph 4:13). Then we will understand that we are all guests of God. We are trustees not owners. Even the wealth we have acquired through hard and honest labour is not ours. It is meant to be shared with others. Contemplative prayer will shape our vision and our life. We will not be carried away by the pomp and glamour of our consumer markets. We will not allow our need for comfort, convenience and pleasure to dominate us. Our life will be simple: we will use for ourselves as much resources as we really need so that the other sisters and brothers of Jesus will also have what they really need. Our life itself will become our Eucharist. Then, and only then, will we discover the real meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Then, and only then, will our celebration of the Eucharist have some meaning.

Diwali Celebrations Held At BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham

Diwali was celebrated with grandeur at BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham, featuring an Annakut with hundreds of food items, intricate rangoli designs, 2,700 diyas, and festive lights on Sunday, November 12, 2023.

The largest Hindu mandir in the USA, Akshardham is an iconic testament to Hindu art, architecture, and spirituality, offering profound insights into Hindu traditions and teachings.

Diwali Celebrations Held At BAPS Swaminarayan AkshardhamThe BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham drew thousands of worshippers throughout the day. There was a long line to take part in the Ceremony of Light, a practice of waving a lighted wick before the sacred image of God. The food symbolizes devotion.

“Families will come together to bake what they like. You’ll see cookies and traditional Indian sweets and delicacies. Because we celebrate the mountain of food, you’ll see many items stacked like a mountain,” said Viren Shah, who is among the many celebrating the festival.

Billions of people around the world are celebrating Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. The holiday is bringing people together across Central Illinois, too. The Hindu, Jain and Sikh faiths are the primary faiths that celebrate Diwali. The festivities span multiple days before and after the official date.

The holiday marks new beginnings for Hindus and a chance to enter their Lunar New Year with fortuitous blessings from the goddess of wealth. It’s their biggest celebration, and is akin to a mix of winter holidays and New Years.

As Indian immigrants have crossed oceans and borders for new countries, the holidays and traditions they brought with them have both endured and evolved with the next generation. Diwali – a festival with various meanings, histories and names depending on the region and religion observing it – is no exception.

Every corner of Akshardham invites everyone to embark on a transformative journey that guides them toward the radiant joy of the Divine. BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham is a spiritual campus created by the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha.

Over 12,500 people volunteered in the creation of BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham. Students, parents,Diwali Celebrations Held At BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham 3 professionals, and more, dedicated their time and effort—for two weeks, six months, two years, or even more than a decade—to make Akshardham a reality.

The volunteers came to help build the mandir but discovered transformative experiences. Following are a few stories highlighting the devotion and sacrifice of the volunteers excerpted from the book, People of Akshardham: Stories Beyond the Stones.

Akash Patel, a 39-year-old from Charlotte, North Carolina, reflects on his upbringing and the importance of leaving a meaningful legacy for his daughter. Despite facing financial challenges, Akash worked his way up the corporate ladder, eventually joining Ernst & Young. He decided to volunteer at Akshardham, a spiritual place, during a two-week vacation. This experience led him to realize that material wealth alone wasn’t enough to provide purpose and meaning. Inspired by the spiritual atmosphere, he and his wife, Vandana, made a life-changing decision to move to NJ and volunteer at Akshardham while raising their daughter, Prapti. Akash’s journey highlights the importance of imparting moral and spiritual values to the next generation, valuing inner peace, and leaving a lasting legacy beyond material wealth.

Harmiksha Patel, a 24-year-old registered nurse from Brampton, Ontario, lost her father, Snehal, to cancer in 2020. When presented with an opportunity to serve in the Akshardham construction project, she initially hesitated but ultimately chose to volunteer, as she felt that her dad would be so happy if he knew I was volunteering at Akshardham. For nearly a year, she served in the Akshardham’s inner sanctum, cleaning, treating, repairing, and grouting stones. Harmiksha worked with a sense of reverence that expanded over time. “Every stone, every part of this mandir is touched by God, and so are the people building it: these volunteers have done so much for my guru, and we are all connected because of him. Volunteering in Akshardham has lessened the gap between me and the people around me.” She wishes to bring this attitude home and learn to recognize the beauty in all people.

Yesha Shah, 27, of Skokie, Illinois, volunteered for three days in 2019 but when she returned to pharmacy school, she missed the fulfillment she had felt while volunteering. She took a 1.5-year leave to continue volunteering to be part of this once-in-alifetime opportunity. She served as co-lead of the rebar team. Inspired by the virtues of her teammates, Yesha strove to serve humbly, accept criticism positively, and develop patience. Reflecting on the impact of her time volunteering, Yesha said, “I used to get very easily hurt if someone pointed out my mistakes. Over the last year, I stopped dwelling so much on the external factors I can’t change and chose to focus on things that I can change in myself. This has helped me feel more at peace with myself.”

As a 10-year-old,Nilkanth Rao, 40, accompanied his father, Ramesh, to Kandla, Gujarat, where artisans carved stones for the BAPS mandir in London. Pramukh Swami Maharaj was visiting, and he addressed the artisans, which Nilkanth remembers vividly. Inspired by his father’s years of volunteering in mandir construction, Nilkanth began serving on the Akshardham site in 2012 and joined full-time in January 2022, taking a year’s sabbatical from his work as a manager at Accenture Federal Service. He weatherproofed, cut, clamped, placed, and repaired stones throughout the Akshardham campus. Nilkanthʼs volunteering has taught him to imbue all his actions with spirituality. “With the right sentiments, there is no real difference between physical service on site and devotion we offer in the mandir. Every stone we place, every stone we dip, is an offering to God.” (Courtesy: News India Times)

CIA Labels Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal as ‘Religious Militant Organizations’ in Latest World Factbook, Sparks Strong Rejection and Legal Threats from Indian Officials

The latest edition of the ‘World Factbook’ by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has labeled the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal as “religious militant organizations.” In the report, the CIA, the intelligence arm of the US government, classifies them as “political pressure groups,” denoting organizations involved in politics or exerting political influence without leaders standing for legislative election.

The RSS, Hurriyat Conference, and Jamiat Ulema-e Hind are also included in India’s list of political pressure groups by the CIA. The RSS is described as a “nationalist organization,” the Hurriyat Conference as a “separatist group,” and the Jamiat Ulema-e Hind as a “religious organization.”

The CIA’s ‘World Factbook’ is an annual publication providing intelligence and factual reference material on countries or issues to the US government. Covering aspects such as history, people, government, economy, energy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues, this resource has been available since 1962, with public access granted in 1975. It serves as essential information for US policymakers and is coordinated across the US intelligence community, alongside ‘The President’s Daily Brief’ and ‘National Intelligence Estimates.’

Reacting to the CIA’s characterization, Khemchand Sharma, former national convenor of the BJP’s Samvad cell, dismissed the assertions as “fake news.” He vehemently rejected the classification of VHP and Bajrang Dal as religious militant organizations, stating that they are recognized nationalist groups. Sharma announced the initiation of legal proceedings against the CIA’s reference.

In its ‘World Factbook,’ the CIA designates the VHP and Bajrang Dal as “religious militant organizations,” classifying them as “political pressure groups” engaged in political activities without contesting legislative elections.

The RSS, Hurriyat Conference, and Jamiat Ulema-e Hind are also listed as political pressure groups in India. The CIA describes the RSS as a “nationalist organization,” the Hurriyat Conference as a “separatist group,” and the Jamiat Ulema-e Hind as a “religious organization.”

The ‘World Factbook’ is an annual publication by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that offers intelligence and factual reference material on various aspects of countries or issues to the US government. Covering a wide range of topics, including history, government, economy, energy, and military, it serves as a crucial resource for US policymakers. The CIA has been publishing this material since 1962, with public access granted in 1975.

Khemchand Sharma, former national convenor of the BJP’s Samvad cell, strongly rejected the CIA’s classification of VHP and Bajrang Dal as “religious militant organizations,” labeling it as “fake news.” Sharma emphasized that these groups are recognized as nationalist organizations and announced plans to initiate legal proceedings against the CIA’s reference.

“We completely reject CIA reference to VHP and Bajrang dal as religious militant organizations.. these r the nationalist organizations, all knows it. Legal proceeding will be initiated against this reference soon,” Sharma tweeted.

The CIA’s ‘World Factbook’ designates the VHP and Bajrang Dal as “religious militant organizations,” categorizing them as “political pressure groups” involved in political activities without participating in legislative elections.

In addition to these groups, the RSS, Hurriyat Conference, and Jamiat Ulema-e Hind are listed as political pressure groups in India. The RSS is identified as a “nationalist organization,” the Hurriyat Conference as a “separatist group,” and the Jamiat Ulema-e Hind as a “religious organization.”

The ‘World Factbook’ is an annual publication by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that provides intelligence and factual reference material on various aspects of countries or issues to the US government. Covering topics such as history, government, economy, and military, it is a vital resource for US policymakers. The CIA has been publishing this material since 1962, making it publicly accessible in 1975.

Reacting to the CIA’s classification, Khemchand Sharma, former national convenor of the BJP’s Samvad cell, dismissed the assertions as “fake news.” He strongly rejected the characterization of VHP and Bajrang Dal as “religious militant organizations,” asserting that these groups are recognized as nationalist organizations. Sharma announced plans to initiate legal proceedings against the CIA’s reference.

Pope Francis At First ‘Faith Pavilion’ During Climate Summit

(RNS) — Pope Francis is set to speak at the inauguration of the first-ever “Faith Pavilion” during the upcoming 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference in the United Arab Emirates.

As political leaders from across the globe gather from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12 to assess how well they are addressing climate change, religious officials — including Francis, who is both a head of state and the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church — will have a new place of prominence.

Vatican News reported Thursday (Nov. 9) that the pope will also deliver a speech at the summit and hold bilateral meetings while in Dubai from Dec. 1-3.

The Faith Pavilion will be hosted by the U.N. Environmental Program, the Muslim Council of Elders, the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, the Episcopal Diocese of California and dozens of other faith-based groups.

“There’s been a long-term effort among some of us who’ve been attending the COP from faith bodies to have a physical presence and to be more at the table,” Bishop Marc Andrus, leader of the Bay Area-based diocese, told Religion News Service in an interview.

“We believe that we have to have stronger voices together in order to meet the urgent need to combat climate change effects. The pavilion is really a physical embodiment of our commitment to really be an active sector in climate change work.”

Pope Francis At First ‘Faith Pavilion’ During Climate Summit (NCR)
Picture: NCR

Rabbi Yonatan Neril, executive director of the Jerusalem-based Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, expressed the leaders’ excitement about Francis’ participation in the inauguration of the pavilion, whose cost organizers declined to disclose.

He said the facility can accommodate as many as 100 people and will host 65 sessions about how major religious groups are working to reduce climate change. The religions represented are Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Baha’i, Buddhism, Indigenous religions and Zoroastrianism.

“The Faith Pavilion will be right at the heart of COP28, located near the World Climate Action Summit and the area where the negotiations take place,” Neril said via email. “This demonstrates the significance of the interfaith movement in helping to tackle the climate emergency and provides a unique opportunity for faith-based engagement with key stakeholders, including political decision makers and negotiators.”

A number of high-level faith leaders will be speaking at the pavilion. Those leaders include Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of the United Kingdom; Bishop Thomas Schirrmacher, secretary general of the New York-based World Evangelical Alliance; and Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, president of the India-based Divine Shakti Foundation.

Most of those speakers were signatories on a statement also signed by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and representatives of Francis, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar. That statement was released on Monday at the conclusion of a pre-COP28 gathering of global faith leaders in Abu Dhabi.

“We ardently implore all decision-makers assembled at COP28 to seize this decisive moment and to act with urgency, weaving a tapestry of shared action and profound responsibility,” the statement reads. “The urgency of the hour demands that we act swiftly, collaboratively, and resolutely to heal our wounded worlds and preserve the splendor of our common home.”

The California diocese has pioneered the use of a “carbon tracker” app, which helps users reduce their carbon footprint by reviewing how much they fly and drive, the source of heat in their homes and the kinds of food they choose to eat.

Andrus said his church presented the model during Climate Week in September in New York City as Muslims, Hindus, Roman Catholics and others discussed how they can make tangible differences to respond to climate change.

At the Faith Pavilion, he said, representatives of different faiths will be able to speak and present examples of ways they are trying to replenish the Earth or reduce the negative effects they have on it — from Sikhs who have created “small sacred forests” in the Punjab region of India to Ethiopian Orthodox Christians who are “ringing their churches with forest” in the midst of a desert.

Andrus and Neril, like signatories on the statement, hope future U.N. climate summits will also include a pavilion focused on faith, as well as the continued presence of prominent religious leaders.

“Most of the world’s population, and many of the political negotiators at the COPs, affiliate with a religion,” stated Neril. “Yet for the first 27 UN climate conferences, senior religious figures have seldom shown up. At COP28 in Dubai, we have worked to significantly increase the presence of high-level religious leaders, and seek to do so at future COPs.”

In the statement, they committed to guiding members of their organizations on environmental issues and changing consumption patterns to achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement seeking net-zero carbon emissions.

Pope Francis Encourages Theologians to Engage with Real-World Challenges

Pope Francis is urging Catholic theologians to align their work with the everyday struggles of ordinary people and to foster dialogues not only among believers but also with non-believers and those of different faiths.

In a document signed on November 1 and released by the Vatican, Pope Francis addressed the need to update the statutes governing the Pontifical Academy of Theology. The last revision was made almost 25 years ago during the papacy of his predecessor, John Paul II.

The Pope emphasized the necessity for theologians to grapple with “profound cultural transformations” without specifying particular issues. Instead, he encouraged them to embrace “openness to the world, to humanity in its concrete existential conditions, with all its complexities, wounds, challenges, and potentialities.”

This, Pope Francis asserted, represents a “paradigm shift” for theological reflection, enabling it to “interpret the Gospel within the contexts of people’s daily lives in diverse geographical, social, and cultural settings.” He stressed the importance of theologians immersing themselves in the cultures, worldviews, and religious traditions of different communities.

Theology, according to Pope Francis, must evolve within a culture of dialogue that encompasses “various Christian confessions and different religions” and engages openly with both believers and non-believers. He cautioned against theologians isolating themselves and becoming insignificant by turning inward.

Pope Francis also called for theology to be “attentive to the voices of the people,” promoting a “popular” theology that addresses the wounds of humanity, creation, and human history. This approach should prioritize knowledge derived from the “common sense of people.”

Four months ago, when selecting a theological advisor from his native Argentina to lead the Vatican’s doctrinal orthodoxy watchdog office, Pope Francis emphasized the department’s central purpose: safeguarding church teachings to provide hope and understanding, rather than condemning or pointing fingers. The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith has the authority to discipline theologians whose work deviates from Catholic doctrine.

Throughout his ten-year papacy, Pope Francis has consistently advocated for the Catholic Church to exhibit greater compassion, especially toward those living on the fringes of society, and to adopt a more merciful perspective.

The Pontifical Academy of Theology, established in the early 18th century, serves as an advisory body that occasionally hosts conferences and other events.

Ayodhya Prepares for Spectacular Deepotsava

In an extraordinary display of cultural and spiritual celebration, Ayodhya is gearing up for an unprecedented Deepotsava, aiming to set a world record by lighting an astonishing 24 lakh earthen lamps at 51 ghats along the serene Saryu River. With 25,000 dedicated volunteers, this three-day event, commencing from November 10 to 12, will illuminate the city and captivate the world, paving the way for a grand opening of the Ram temple in January.

The scale of this year’s Deepotsava is nothing short of historic, with a light and sound show scheduled to grace Ram Ki Pauri for the next five years. Furthermore, a monumental digital screen, purported to be the largest in the country, will be deployed to narrate the illustrious history of Ayodhya and the state of Uttar Pradesh.

During a recent review meeting in Ayodhya, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath affirmed the significance of this event, stating, “Ek nav Ayodhya, ek bhavya Ayodhya ka darshan desh aur duniya ko dekhne ko milega. Iska pehla rehearsal deepotsava mein dekhne ko milega.” (Soon, the entire country and the world would see a new and grand Ayodhya, and Deepotsava in Ayodhya this year would be the first rehearsal for the same).

Ayodhya’s District Magistrate, Nitish Kumar, expressed, “Deepotsava this year will certainly be a grand event compared to the past. Apart from aiming to set a world record by lighting 24 lakh diyas, we are aiming to make other records like putting up the country’s biggest digital screen to display the history of Ayodhya as well as Uttar Pradesh.”

The festivities are set to commence on November 11 and extend for a week, encompassing not only the breathtaking illumination of lamps but also a series of cultural events. The awe-inspiring light and sound show at Ram Ki Pauri, making its debut this Deepotsava, will become a regular feature for tourists and pilgrims.

Deepotsav was initiated in Ayodhya six years ago during Chief Minister Adityanath’s first term. Notably, last year’s event saw 15 lakh diyas illuminate various ghats in Ayodhya.

Preparations have been thorough, with volunteers from different organizations, including 27 colleges and 19 intermediate colleges in Ayodhya and nearby areas affiliated with Ram Manohar Lohia Awadh University, receiving training in lighting diyas. The logistics are impressive, with approximately 65,000 diyas planned to be illuminated at Ram Ki Pauri alone.

Beyond the 50 ghats, diyas will adorn significant religious and historical locations throughout Ayodhya. Given the magnitude of this endeavor, volunteers will commence placing diyas from November 8 at various ghats. To streamline the process and facilitate an accurate count, these diyas will be arranged in approximately 12,500 blocks, each containing around 196 lamps.

As Ayodhya readies itself for this grand spectacle, the world awaits the illumination of millions of diyas, symbolizing the spirit of unity and celebration that lies at the heart of this historic Deepotsava.

Pope’s Vatican Summit Concludes: No Decision on Women Deacons, LGBTQ Catholics Not Mentioned

Pope Francis’ significant summit addressing the future of the Catholic Church concluded on October 28, but it deferred a decision on the potential ordination of women as deacons and did not openly acknowledge the profound tensions that arose during a month of discussions regarding the Church’s approach to LGBTQ members.

A comprehensive 41-page report, ratified and unveiled that evening, recommended that the findings from prior papal and theological commissions on women’s ordination as deacons should be presented for further evaluation at the forthcoming Synod of Bishops, scheduled for October 2024. The report, titled “A synodal church in mission,” came after an intense month of deliberations at the Vatican among approximately 450 participants, focusing on significant issues, including the involvement of women in church ministries, clerical sexual abuse, and improved inclusivity for LGBTQ Catholics.

In contrast to previous documents leading up to this closely-watched assembly, the synthesis report adopts a much more cautious tone. Although it proposes 81 ideas, they often remain quite open-ended or general, and the text calls for further theological or canonical exploration, evaluation, or deliberation on numerous occasions.

Pope Francis officially launched his “synod on synodality” in 2021, a multiyear, multi-phase process aimed at exploring how the Church’s ministries and structures can become more inclusive. The newly released report outlines areas of agreement, topics for consideration, and ideas discussed during this month’s assembly, expected to set the stage for ongoing debates in the year leading up to next year’s assembly.

The participants voted on each paragraph of the final text through the early evening of October 28, requiring a two-thirds majority of the voting members for passage. The paragraphs primarily concerning the possibility of women becoming deacons faced substantial opposition. One was approved by a vote of 277-69, while the other received approval with a vote of 279-67. A paragraph addressing clerical celibacy also faced significant opposition but was passed with a vote of 291-55.

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, one of the leading organizers of the synod, expressed his amazement that many people had voted in favor of the paragraphs discussing women’s leadership in the Church, suggesting that resistance might not be as significant as previously thought.

Regarding LGBTQ Catholics, Cardinal Mario Grech, who heads the Vatican’s synod office, emphasized the need to “respect everyone’s pace” and clarified that having a stronger voice does not guarantee success.

Jesuit Fr. James Martin, a popular spiritual author and editor of the LGBTQ Catholic publication Outreach, who participated in the synod as a voting member, expressed disappointment but not surprise regarding the outcome for LGBTQ Catholics. He wished that some of the open and candid discussions had been included in the final synthesis.

For the first time in the history of the Synod of Bishops, about 50 women were granted voting rights by Pope Francis at this assembly. While the final report they contributed to did not immediately call for the ordination of women as deacons or even mention the ordination of women as priests, it contained explicit language about the role of women in church leadership.

The text acknowledged that women in the assembly spoke of a Church harmed by clericalism, a chauvinistic mentality, and inappropriate expressions of authority. The assembly also made a “clear request” for the recognition and appreciation of women’s contributions and an increase in their pastoral leadership.

The report also asked how the Church can incorporate more women into existing ministries and raised the question of discerning new ministries and the process for doing so.

On the topic of ordaining women as deacons, the report took a balanced approach, acknowledging that some found it “unacceptable” due to a perceived break with tradition, while others viewed it as a way to respond to the signs of the times and revitalize the Church. Pope Francis had previously formed two special commissions to examine the historical aspects of ordaining women as deacons, although the results of these commissions have not been made public.

The report emphasizes the need to continue theological and pastoral research on women’s access to the diaconate, drawing on the results of the special commissions established by Pope Francis. It suggests that the outcomes of this research should be presented at the next session of the assembly.

The report also underscores the necessity for addressing employment injustices and unfair compensation for women in the Church, particularly those in consecrated life, who are often treated as inexpensive labor. Additionally, it proposes a review of liturgical texts and church documents to ensure gender-inclusive language and narratives that reflect women’s experiences.

The synod brought to the forefront emotional discussions on the Church’s response to LGBTQ Catholics, including the tragic testimonial of a bisexual woman who took her own life after feeling rejected by the Church. However, the final report mostly glosses over the tensions that arose on this matter.

Addressing issues related to sexuality and identity, the report acknowledges that these issues raise “new questions.” It emphasizes the importance of “listening and accompanying” such individuals or couples and cautions against using language or making “simplistic judgments” that could harm individuals and the Church.

The report reflects the deep sense of love, mercy, and compassion expressed during the assembly for those who have felt hurt or neglected by the Church. It highlights the need for a safe and welcoming place where individuals can be heard and respected without fear of judgment.

Despite this, the final report notably does not use the acronym “LGBT” or the word “gay.” This decision follows active debate during the synod discussions over the appropriateness of such language. While Vatican documents have used the term “LGBT” for at least five years, the report refrains from doing so.

Regarding the ongoing crisis of clergy sexual abuse, the report suggests creating additional structures to prevent abuse, including the possibility of establishing a new body to review abuse cases, separate from the bishops.

The report recognizes the challenge faced by many bishops in handling abuse cases and proposes exploring the appropriateness of assigning the judicial task to another body. It also recommends providing women with the necessary training to serve as judges in all canonical processes.

The report emphasizes the role of lay people in advising church leaders and makes recommendations for Vatican officials. It briefly touches on the issue of clerical celibacy.

In the section addressing the role of bishops, the report stresses that a bishop’s ministry is truly synodal when it includes co-responsibility, listening to the faithful People of God, and humility and conversion in liturgical celebrations. It proposes making episcopal councils, lay-led groups advising bishops, mandatory, instead of optional as it is now.

The report also suggests reviewing the criteria for selecting priests to become bishops and expanding consultation with the faithful People of God, including lay individuals and consecrated persons.

In terms of the pope and the Vatican’s role in governing the global church, the report recommends enhanced consultation with local bishops. It raises the question of whether curial officials, typically appointed as cardinals by the pope, need to be bishops.

The text addresses various social issues, including climate change and Laudate Deum, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on environmental matters. It also discusses the Church’s relationships with Indigenous peoples, migrants, refugees, and those living in poverty. The report addresses the persistent issue of racism and calls for dialogue and discernment on racial justice.

Among other proposals in the final report:

– Creating new approaches to pastoral engagement with Indigenous peoples, focusing on collaboration rather than actions done to or for them.

– Establishing a permanent council of leaders of Eastern Rite Catholic Churches to advise the pope.

– Inviting more delegates from other Christian denominations to the October 2024 assembly.

– Expressing a desire for a common date to celebrate Easter in Catholic and other Christian churches.

The report briefly touches on clerical celibacy, acknowledging that different opinions exist on the topic. It recognizes the value of celibacy as a profound witness to Christ but also suggests further consideration of its theological appropriateness for priestly ministry in the Latin Church.

Vatican statistics: Africa had biggest increase in Catholics, while numbers fell in Europe

New data from the Vatican reveals significant trends in the global Catholic population. The Vatican’s annual report, released on World Mission Sunday, covers the period from December 31, 2020, to December 31, 2021. The report indicates that Africa experienced the largest increase in the number of Catholics in 2021, while Europe continued to see a decline in Catholic numbers.

The global Catholic population reached 1,375,852,000 by the end of 2021, marking an overall increase of 16.2 million compared to the previous year. The African continent saw substantial growth during this period, with 40 million people added, including 8.3 million new Catholics.

Pope Francis demonstrated a particular focus on Africa by visiting the heavily Catholic regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan in early 2023. Despite this growth, the percentage of Catholics worldwide decreased slightly, standing at 17.67% in 2021 compared to 17.7% in the previous year.

The data also indicates changes in the number of Catholic priests globally. The total number of priests decreased by 2,347 to approximately 408,000. Europe experienced the most significant decline, with 3,632 fewer priests than the previous year. However, Africa and Asia recorded a net gain of more than 1,500 priests and half that many, respectively. The Americas saw a decrease of nearly a thousand priests, while Oceania had a minor gain of fewer than a dozen.

It’s worth noting that the decline in the number of priests in 2021 was less dramatic than in the previous year when there was a decrease of 4,117 compared to 2019.

The data also highlights variations in Mass attendance rates among Catholic populations. Some African countries, such as Nigeria, Kenya, and Lebanon, have high proportions of Catholics attending Mass weekly or more, with Nigeria leading at 94%. In contrast, countries like Germany, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands have less than 15% of Catholics attending Mass weekly.

The number of permanent deacons saw little change, with a gain of 541 worldwide, totaling 49,176. Europe and the Americas recorded the most substantial gains, with 150 and 139 additional permanent deacons, respectively.

In contrast, the number of male religious decreased by nearly 800 globally, primarily due to losses in Europe, the Americas, and Oceania, partially offset by a gain of 205 religious men in Africa.

The situation for women religious was more challenging, with a decline of 10,588 during the study period. Europe experienced a significant loss of over 7,800 religious women, while the Americas also saw a reduction of more than 5,000. In contrast, Africa gained over 2,000 religious women.

The data indicates variations in the number of lay missionaries and catechists across continents. The Americas experienced a significant drop of almost 4,000, while Africa and Europe saw modest gains, and Asia recorded a more substantial gain of nearly 670.

When it comes to major seminarians, Africa was the only continent that registered an increase, with a net gain of 187. Africa also had the highest number of major seminarians overall, totaling nearly 34,000. In contrast, Asia, Europe, and the Americas experienced triple-digit losses, while Oceania’s numbers remained relatively stable. Overall, the number of major seminarians worldwide decreased by nearly 2,000 to around 110,000.

However, the total number of minor seminarians saw a global increase, with a gain of over 300, reaching 95,714. Africa led with a gain of more than 2,000, while Asia experienced the most substantial loss, with 1,216 fewer minor seminarians.

The Catholic Church operates a significant number of educational institutions and healthcare facilities worldwide. There are over 74,000 kindergartens, nearly 101,000 Catholic primary schools, and 50,000 secondary schools. The Church serves around 2.5 million Catholic high school students and 4 million university students.

Africa holds the highest number of infant pupils, Catholic primary schools, primary school students, and Catholic secondary schools. It ranks third in terms of secondary school students, following Europe and Asia. The Americas have the largest number of university students in Catholic schools, representing over half of all Catholic university students worldwide. Asia leads in the number of Catholic high school students, with 1.3 million.

Additionally, the Catholic Church operates 5,405 hospitals worldwide, along with 15,276 homes for the elderly and needy, and 9,703 orphanages, with Asia hosting the largest share of orphanages.

Sikh Coalition Joins Interfaith Education Panel on Capitol Hill

The Interfaith Education Panel, hosted by Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-MD) on Wednesday, October 18, focused on interfaith approaches to preserving academic freedom and inclusivity in
our nation’s public school classrooms and libraries. The Sikh Coalition joined allies including the American Library Association, Students Engaged in Advancing Texas, and the Interfaith
Alliance for the conversation.

In the course of the conversation, panelists discussed how our communities can fight back against efforts to ban books that are inclusive of different communities, as well as the wider nationwide campaign to constrain public schools and libraries in the service of extreme political and religious views. The Sikh Coalition understands these issues to be closely linked to highly politicized conversations about “Critical Race Theory” in our nation’s recent political dialogue; to understand how fear-mongering around inclusive education harms our efforts to ensure Sikhi is represented and respected in classrooms, read our community FAQ on this issue.

We continue to believe that all children deserve to feel safe and included in school, which means seeing themselves and their experiences reflected in both instruction and reading materials. As Sikhs, we know what it is like to have inaccurate information about our community taught in schools, and to be left out of classroom conversations entirely—which is why we choose to fight
alongside other communities against this latest wave of marginalization.

Earlier this week, the Sikh Coalition was proud to join a panel discussion titled Banned Beliefs: How People of Diverse Faiths are Fighting to Protect Our Public Schools and Libraries.

The Sikh Coalition continues our comprehensive work to ensure Sikh representation and inclusion in educational materials and classrooms across the nation so that our children feel both
safe and seen by the education system. Earlier this month, we celebrated as Connecticut joined 17 other states and Washington, DC, in adding Sikhi to their state social studies standards as a
result of advocacy by our organization and the local sangat. And in September, the Sikh Coalition was also proud to launch our new Education Advisory Committee, welcoming six Sikh educators, DEI experts, community activists, and parents who bring a wealth of experience and expertise to our ongoing campaigns.

Finally, as a reminder, our ‘Back to School Toolkit’ includes a wide range of content—including our Educator’s Guide to Sikhism; lesson plans and classroom content for both elementary and
middle/high school-aged students; anti-bullying content for parents and administrators; content for librarians; accommodation letters (scroll down after clicking link) for students who maintain
articles of faith; and more—all available for free on our website.

Pope Francis May Attend COP28 Climate Conference to Amplify His Climate Message

Vatican insiders reveal that Pope Francis is considering attending the upcoming COP28 climate conference in Dubai, set to commence next month. This historic move would mark the first time a Pope has participated in a United Nations climate change conference since their inception in 1995.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, expressed Pope Francis’ desire to travel to Dubai during a recent Catholic-Jewish event in Rome, stating that a final decision had yet to be made. According to other Vatican sources, the likelihood of the Pope’s attendance at the event, scheduled from November 30 to December 12, stands at a substantial 90 percent.

Typically, heads of state attend the opening sessions of such conferences, delivering keynote speeches. For instance, U.S. President Joe Biden addressed the commencement of the previous two conferences held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in the previous year and Glasgow, Scotland, in 2021. These conferences also provide opportunities for bilateral meetings between world leaders.

Pope Francis, at 86 years old, has prioritized environmental protection throughout his papacy. Recently, he held a meeting with Sultan al-Jaber, the President of COP28. In a significant statement on October 4, Pope Francis appealed to climate change skeptics and hesitant politicians, urging them to recognize the human impact on climate change and the importance of scientific evidence. He emphasized that the planet may be on the brink of a crisis. This document, referred to as an Apostolic Exhortation and titled “Laudate Deum” (Praise God), serves as a follow-up to Pope Francis’ 2015 environmental encyclical, “Laudato Si” (Praise Be). It was spurred by the occurrence of recent extreme weather events and mentioned the challenges that COP28 faces on multiple occasions.

The document also warns that failure at the Dubai conference would be a grave disappointment and would jeopardize the progress made thus far. Despite mobility challenges due to a knee ailment, Pope Francis has maintained an active schedule. In September, he undertook trips to Mongolia and the French city of Marseilles.
There is a strong possibility that Pope Francis will attend the COP28 climate conference in Dubai next month, signaling a significant moment in the history of United Nations climate change conferences. The Pope’s commitment to addressing climate change and his willingness to participate in this event underscore the urgency of the global environmental crisis.

The Impact of Religion on Well-Being: A Global Perspective

A recent Gallup report reveals that religious individuals worldwide tend to exhibit more positivity, higher social support, and greater community involvement when compared to their non-religious counterparts. This comprehensive study, spanning a decade of data, highlights the complexity of measuring the well-being of religious people, and it emphasizes that the benefits of religion can vary significantly from one country to another. However, it’s essential to acknowledge that not everyone is equally interested in or receptive to the potential advantages of religious engagement.

The report, released on October 10, states, “Gallup World Poll data from 2012-2022 find, on a number of wellbeing measures, that people who are religious have better wellbeing than people who are not.”

To assess these differences, the study evaluated nine aspects of individuals’ lives, covering positive interactions, social lives, civic engagement, physical health, community basics, optimism, and more. Each of these nine indexes was scored on a scale from 0 to 100, based on responses to a series of questions.

For instance, the positive experience index included questions like “Did you smile or laugh today?” and “Were you treated with respect?” The civic engagement index inquired about charitable donations and assisting strangers, while the physical health index asked about limitations in performing typical age-related activities and the presence of physical pain. The community basics index explored housing and infrastructure.

Religious individuals scored higher than their non-religious counterparts on five of Gallup’s indexes: social life (77.6 compared to 73.7 for non-religious individuals), positive experience (69 to 65), community basics (59.7 to 55.6), optimism (49.4 to 48.4), and civic engagement (35.8 to 31).

In two indexes, religious and non-religious individuals showed similar scores: the “life evaluation” index, which assesses whether individuals are thriving or suffering, and their local economic confidence.

However, religious individuals scored lower on two other indexes: negative experience and physical health.

Notably, these differences between religious and non-religious individuals were most pronounced in highly religious countries. Even small variations can have significant global implications. The report states, “Each one-point difference in index scores between religious and nonreligious people represents an effect for an estimated 40 million adults worldwide.”

For example, the four-point difference in the Positive Experience Index means that approximately 160 million more adults globally have positive experiences due to their religious affiliation.

The report suggests that religion and spirituality might serve as valuable resources for addressing the mental health crisis prevalent in many countries. However, the report also highlights the declining interest in and engagement with religion.

Gallup partnered with the Radiant Foundation for this report. The Radiant Foundation is associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and promotes a positive view of religion and spirituality.

Jeff Jones, Gallup’s senior editor, commented on the complexity of quantifying the impact of religion and spirituality on well-being, especially as religious landscapes change and spiritual practices evolve. He noted, “With the changing nature of religious landscapes and spiritual practice, it can make quantitative measurement amid the changes challenging, as the traditional forms of spirituality — namely, attending formal religious services, are becoming less common, and people are seeking other ways to fulfill their spiritual needs.”

The report also cites several factors contributing to the decline of religious engagement around the world. These include growing polarization, which pits religious and non-religious individuals against each other, with the latter sometimes viewing the former as a threat. Religious groups, particularly from larger faith traditions, may wield their power in ways that others perceive as harmful.

The report suggests that “religious groups and individuals — particularly from the dominant religious group in a society — who are hostile to other religious groups may promote a cultural context that is harmful to the wellbeing of those outside the group. Resentment toward the dominant group may also tune people out to their messages, both those that are harmful (out-group animosity) but also that are helpful (serving others).”

The Gallup report provides valuable insights into the impact of religion on individuals’ well-being and the intricate dynamics at play in various countries. It underscores the potential benefits of religious engagement while acknowledging the challenges posed by the evolving landscape of spirituality and the declining interest in religion worldwide.

Pope Francis Suggests Possibility Of Blessing Same-Sex Unions

Pope Francis has responded to a challenge posed by five conservative cardinals regarding church teachings on homosexuality, indicating the potential for blessings of same-sex unions under certain conditions. The Vatican recently released a letter, dated July 11, written by Pope Francis in response to a set of five questions, or “dubia,” raised by the cardinals a day earlier. In the letter, Pope Francis suggests that the possibility of blessing same-sex unions could be explored, provided it does not confuse such blessings with sacramental marriages.

New Ways Ministry, an organization advocating for LGBTQ+ Catholics, considers this letter a significant step forward in making LGBTQ+ Catholics feel more welcome in the church and a step away from their marginalization.

While the Vatican maintains that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman, it has traditionally opposed same-sex marriage. However, Pope Francis has previously expressed support for civil laws granting legal benefits to same-sex couples. In certain parts of Europe, Catholic priests have been blessing same-sex unions without facing reprimand from the Vatican.

The Pope’s response to the cardinals represents a shift from the Vatican’s official stance. In a 2021 explanatory note, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that the church could not bless gay unions because “God cannot bless sin.”

In his recent letter, Pope Francis restated that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. However, in response to the cardinals’ inquiry about homosexual unions and blessings, he emphasized the importance of “pastoral charity,” which requires patience and understanding. He noted that priests should not merely reject or exclude but should consider forms of blessing requested by individuals that do not convey a mistaken view of marriage.

Pope Francis explained that when a blessing is requested, it is a plea for God’s assistance, a desire to live a better life, and trust in a benevolent higher power. While there are situations that are objectively “not morally acceptable,” he stressed that “pastoral charity” requires treating people as sinners who may not bear full responsibility for their circumstances.

He further advised that dioceses and bishops’ conferences need not establish fixed norms or protocols regarding this issue. Instead, it can be addressed on a case-by-case basis, recognizing that the life of the church operates beyond mere regulations.

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, welcomed the Pope’s stance, stating that allowing pastoral ministers to bless same-gender couples implies recognition within the church that holy love can exist between same-gender couples. He viewed this as a significant step towards greater equality for LGBTQ+ Catholics.

The five cardinals, all of whom are conservative prelates from various parts of the world, had posed several challenges to Pope Francis regarding church teachings on homosexuality, women’s ordination, papal authority, and other matters in their letter. They made this material public just two days before the commencement of a major three-week synod at the Vatican, where LGBTQ+ Catholics and their role in the church were among the discussion topics.

Picture: ABC

These cardinals, who are among Pope Francis’ most vocal critics, are all retired and belong to the doctrinaire generation of cardinals appointed by St. John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI. The signatories included Cardinals Walter Brandmueller of Germany, a former Vatican historian; Raymond Burke of the United States, who was removed by Pope Francis from his position as head of the Vatican supreme court; Juan Sandoval of Mexico, the retired archbishop of Guadalajara; Robert Sarah of Guinea, the retired head of the Vatican’s liturgy office; and Joseph Zen, the retired archbishop of Hong Kong.

Some of these cardinals had previously signed a set of “dubia” in 2016 challenging Pope Francis’ position on allowing divorced and civilly remarried couples to receive Communion. At that time, they were concerned that his stance contradicted the church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. Pope Francis did not respond to their questions, and two of their co-signatories subsequently passed away.

In response to their latest questions, Pope Francis did reply, although the cardinals found his response unsatisfactory. They revised their five questions, resubmitted them to the Pope, and requested a simple “yes” or “no” response. When they did not receive such a response, they decided to make the texts public and issue a “notification” to the faithful.

The Vatican’s doctrinal office later published the Pope’s reply to them, although it omitted his introductory remarks encouraging the cardinals not to fear the synod.

Largest Hindu Temple Outside India Inaugurated In New Jersey

BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham, the largest Hindu temple in the United States, opened its doors on Sunday, October 8th, in New Jersey. Situated in the city of Robbinsville, New Jersey, this temple is heralded as the largest Hindu temple outside of India in the modern era.

In a letter to BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham, Prime Minister Narendra Modi conveyed the profound spiritual significance of this occasion for devotees worldwide, stating, “It is an occasion of profound spiritual significance for the vast legion of devotees worldwide.” The temple will be accessible to the public starting from October 18th.

Architectural Marvel

This magnificent temple is a testament to unparalleled craftsmanship. Its construction involved four distinct varieties of marble from Italy and limestone from Bulgaria. These precious materials embarked on an extraordinary journey, spanning thousands of miles from their origins to India and ultimately reaching their final destination in New Jersey, as reported by the Associated Press. On-site, skilled artisans meticulously assembled these intricately carved pieces, akin to assembling a colossal jigsaw puzzle, resulting in the creation of this monumental Hindu temple.

Covering an expansive 126-acre area, this architectural masterpiece owes its existence to the unwavering dedication of artisans and volunteers who devoted approximately 4.7 million hours to painstakingly hand-carve around two million cubic feet of stone, according to the report.

The temple’s walls are adorned with carvings of historical figures, including prominent figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln, as highlighted by Yogi Trivedi, a temple volunteer and a scholar of religion at Columbia University, in a statement to NBC News. He marveled at the temple’s beauty, saying, “I wake up every morning and scratch my eyes thinking, ‘Am I still in central New Jersey?’ It’s like being transported to another world, specifically to India.”

Construction Efforts

The construction of the Akshardham temple, a collaborative effort involving 12,500 volunteers from around the world, commenced in 2011, according to PTI.

This monumental achievement marks a significant milestone for the Hindu community in the United States and stands as a symbol of the dedication, craftsmanship, and unity of its creators. As it opens its doors to the public, it is poised to become a source of inspiration and a place of spiritual significance for devotees and visitors alike.

Catholic Church to Hold Synod on Synodality: A Global Gathering of Bishops and Laypeople for Dialogue

The Vatican is set to host a significant ecclesiastical event from October 4th to 29th, bringing together Catholic clergy and laypeople from around the world. This assembly, known as a synod, serves as a platform for discussions on the concept of synodality, with a particular focus on the themes of communion, participation, and mission within the Church.

While some might perceive this event as merely a gathering to discuss gatherings, the term “synodality” has taken on a broader meaning under the leadership of Pope Francis, reflecting his vision for dialogue and decision-making within the Catholic Church.

Addressing concerns about the perceived complexity and insularity of the event, Pope Francis acknowledged, “I am well aware that speaking of a ‘Synod on Synodality’ may seem something abstruse, self-referential, excessively technical, and of little interest to the general public.”

This synod will bring together a diverse group of 464 participants, including Catholic clergy, laypeople, and women, to engage in discussions on pressing issues confronting the Church, ranging from sexual abuse and LGBTQ inclusion to the ordination of women. Pope Francis emphasized the significance of this gathering, stating, “It is something truly important for the church.”

Understanding the Synod on Synodality

The Synod on Synodality is the culmination of a two-year process that commenced in September 2021 when the Vatican released a preparatory document and guidelines for preparing for the synod. Catholic communities worldwide then convened in their parishes to deliberate on the questions posed by the synod. The outcomes of these local conversations were subsequently relayed to their respective bishops’ conferences.

After thorough discussions and debates among bishops, their conclusions were forwarded to the Vatican. In September 2022, a group of approximately 30 experts, theologians, and pastoral workers convened in Frascati, near Rome, to craft a guiding document for the next phase, titled “Enlarge the Space of your Tent.” This document was dispatched to Continental Assemblies, comprising groups of bishops divided by continents. Additionally, Eastern churches and Catholic advocacy groups offered their perspectives on the synodal topics.

The outcomes of these continental discussions were once again communicated to the Vatican. The synod office then produced another document, “Instrumentum Laboris 2,” which will shape the discussions at the forthcoming synod.

Key Dates and Events

The synod’s official activities will commence with a consistory on September 30th, during which 21 new cardinals will be appointed. This will be followed by an ecumenical vigil in St. Peter’s Square. Subsequently, synod participants will embark on a spiritual retreat in the town of Sacrofano, where they will have the opportunity to interact and converse with one another until the eve of the synod on October 3rd.

Picture: Catholic Review

On October 4th, Pope Francis will preside over the inauguration Mass for the synod. In an announcement made in April, the Vatican revealed that the synod will be extended, with participants reconvening for a second session in the fall of 2024.

Throughout the month-long synod, various significant gatherings and events are scheduled, including Masses, pilgrimages, retreats, and a prayer session for migrants and refugees on October 19th. On October 25th, attendees will gather in the Vatican gardens to recite the rosary.

Location of the Synod

In a departure from tradition, the synod will be hosted at the larger Pope Paul VI Hall, which can accommodate over 6,000 individuals. This choice reflects the growing number of participants attending the synod.

Notably, representatives from Eastern churches and high-ranking members of the Roman Curia will also be in attendance. Pope Francis personally selected 120 delegates. To foster a synodal atmosphere and encourage what the “Instrumentum Laboris” describes as “conversations in the spirit,” there will be spiritual assistants, 28 theologians, and 34 facilitators. While the spiritual assistants will participate in the retreat alongside synod attendees, the facilitators and theologians will remain in Rome to prepare for the summit. These theologians and facilitators will be encouraged to document their reflections and observations during the synod proceedings.

Remarkably, two bishops from China will participate, having received approval from Beijing authorities and the Vatican’s endorsement. This marks the second time that Chinese bishops have been permitted to attend a synod, with the first instance occurring during the synod on young people in 2018. It’s worth noting that the Vatican and China lack formal diplomatic relations, although they recently renewed an agreement regarding the appointment of bishops.

Participants in the synod were selected by their respective bishops’ conferences, with guidance from the Vatican, which recommended the inclusion of laypeople and, notably, women. However, it’s important to note that there are participants, such as U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, who dissent from the synod itself, with Burke having referred to it as a “Pandora’s box.” Additionally, the synod will host several German attendees who support the Synodal Way, a consultative process involving bishops and lay Catholics in Germany that unfolded between 2019 and 2023 and proposed progressive positions on issues related to sexuality and the inclusion of women.

The upcoming synod, a significant event in the Catholic Church’s calendar, aims to revolutionize the way synodality is put into practice. Traditionally, synods involved lengthy speeches by a panel of speakers, often criticized for their predetermined outcomes. Pope Francis has hinted at this issue in past synods led by his predecessors.

In this unique synod, participants will present their views briefly, followed by a moment of silent reflection and prayer. The event is structured into five modules: Synodality, Communion, Participation, Mission, and a final assembly for voting. Following the general assembly’s public speeches and testimonies, attendees will be divided into language groups such as English, Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

These working groups, known as “circoli minori,” will delve into the topics in detail, commencing their discussions with a prayer for guidance from the Holy Spirit. Theologians and facilitators will only participate in plenary sessions, not within the working groups. Summaries of the discussions generated by the smaller groups will be forwarded to the Secretariat of the Synod office, led by Cardinal Mario Grech. This office will compile all the information and provide a digital copy to the theologians who attended the synod. These theologians will be responsible for crafting a final synthesis, which will be submitted for a vote during the plenary assembly.

Rev. Orm Rush, a professor at Australian Catholic University and a member of the theological commission on the synod, likened the process to the unfolding of a mystery novel. Interestingly, the Vatican has opted to keep the conversations at the synod confidential. While the opening session will be livestreamed to the public, the subsequent plenary sessions and discussions within the circoli minori will be conducted behind closed doors. Journalists covering the synod will rely on occasional briefings from the Vatican’s communication department.

This decision, according to Rush, is not intended to exclude journalists but rather to create an environment where participants can engage without the distractions of external influences and animosity. The aim is to foster a spirit of constructive dialogue.

The Significance of the Synod

The organizers of the synod acknowledge that predicting the outcomes of the discussions is impossible, as they assert that the process will be guided by the Holy Spirit. However, the path leading to the event offers insights into the expectations of participants and observers.

At the parish level, synodal discussions highlighted the need for reflection on the role of women in the church, the inclusion of gay and lesbian Catholics, and the possibility of a married priesthood. These concerns resonate not only in Western churches but also among faithful in parishes worldwide, who grapple with aligning these issues with their beliefs.

Synod organizers have affirmed that these concerns will be central to the discussions, with the “Instrumentum Laboris” containing questions addressing them. The synod also provides an opportunity to reconsider decision-making processes within the church’s hierarchy, emphasizing the importance of bishops collaborating with parish councils, assuming responsibility for their dioceses, and ensuring accountability in cases of sexual abuse.

Although the Vatican has yet to confirm the production of an official synod document, it is likely that participants will vote on such a document emerging from their conversations. This document will probably be sent back to the local church level for further discussion and potential amendments before the 2024 summit.

It’s important to note that changes in doctrine and morality are not on the table, according to Vatican officials. However, reshaping decision-making processes and power structures within the historically hierarchical institution could pave the way for future changes in these areas.

In Hindu Heritage Month, Hindu Americans Seek To Educate The Public — And Themselves

(RNS) For Hindu Heritage Month this year, Hindus want to highlight their faith for external audiences, but also grow broader awareness amongst Hindus themselves.

When Hindu Heritage Month was held for the first time two years ago, its organizers hoped to educate their fellow Americans about the contributions Hindus have made in the world. Most could name yoga as a Hindu influence; some might bring up the holistic health practices of ayurveda. But since ancient times, Hindus have been pioneers in astronomy, architecture, mathematics and numerous other fields.

“We have so much to be proud about, and we’ve been very modest in keeping it to ourselves,” said Ramya Ramakrishnan, community outreach director for the Hindu American Foundation, one of the sponsors of the month’s activities. “This is the way to tell people: ‘Look at what our faith has accomplished.’”

Now, the organizers of this third Hindu Heritage Month hope their movement will educate not only the wider public, but Hindu Americans themselves, about their faith’s growing profile in the United States.

“Thirty-five years ago, we didn’t have these organizations and institutions,” said author Rajiv Malhotra at the kickoff event for this year’s program, held in Monroe Township, New Jersey. The leaders of those that existed “were scared,” he said, “and stayed within the temples, but not out there the way we are today.”

Vijay Satnarine, the director of education strategy for the Hindu American Foundation, said that there is work to be done within the Hindu community. Even today, many Hindus’ knowledge of their faith remains at a “high-school level,” he said, adding that Hindus in positions of power do not always bring the fullness of their culture or heritage to their professions.

For decades, some Hindu Americans have blamed the U.S. education system, which has given short shrift to Hinduism’s legacy in world thought. At the same time, critics say, American educators restrict their discussions of Hinduism and Hindu culture to polytheism, caste hierarchy and arranged marriages, misleading not only outsiders but practitioners themselves.

“This very constricted education has left us unable to talk about our own diversity,” said Satnarine.

But the emergence of India, the birthplace of Hinduism, as a nascent superpower has begun to change how the world thinks about the country and the faith. The inaugural event included the reading of a written statement from Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India. “The rise of Indians and Indian diaspora in diverse fields, from space to sports, trade to technology, has created an immense interest in India, its people and its culture,” it said.

The month’s organizers want people to know that Hindus and Indians are not synonymous. Instead, the month is meant to highlight the global Hindu community, which extends from Indonesia to Kenya to the Caribbean and is rooted in a shared value of universal oneness.

The Hindu American Foundation has been marking  Hindu American Awareness Appreciation Month since 2013 to recognize the specific contributions of the Hindu American diaspora, such as temples built on American land or the first Hindu members of Congress.

But the increasing attention to Hinduism in the past few years prompted a small group of Hindus to found the current initiative two years ago, aiming to rewrite a narrative centered on the caste system, Hindu nationalism and idol worship.

“We need to bring our cultural values, our mantras, or beautiful bindis and tilaks and colors to the world and be known for all of the good things that Hinduism has to offer,” said Richa Gautam, a member of the HHM core committee.

Despite its beginnings in the depths of the pandemic, the effort has taken off. Last year, about 100 proclamations in cities and school boards across the nation were issued. Virginia became the first and only state to sign a bill making October Hindu Heritage Month in perpetuity. And in 2023, the states of Georgia, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey proclaimed the month Hindu Heritage Month.

This year, the organizers are emphasizing Hindus’ involvement in American life, hoping to dispel the view of Hinduism as a mystical, inward-looking faith.

“Hindu Americans have been very good citizens, enriching the tapestry through our cultural heritage and our universal Sanatan values,” said Gautam. “If we build awareness, there won’t be that exotic element that exists for us.”

Part of that task is to counter academics, even those in departments of religious studies, who have approached the faith from a Western, often Protestant Christian, paradigm of what “religion” means, advocates say.

Educational efforts like the Hindu American Foundation’s “Dharma Ambassadors” training program, which allows for Hindus to promote a streamlined narrative of the faith, or the accredited Hindu University of America, which offers courses on everything from Hindu feminism to advanced Sanskrit, strive to combat just that.

“A lot of our students, even though they were born and brought up as Hindus, they still have a very basic, partial, even sometimes erroneous knowledge about Hindu traditions,” said Aravind Swami, the vice president of operations for HUA. “When our students have discussions with anyone in the Hindu community, they’re able to speak with a greater sense of confidence and purpose.”

Jai Bansal, vice president of education for the World Hindu Council of America and one of the main organizers of Hindu Heritage Month, said the most valuable aspect of the initiative is to make all Americans recognize the Hindu values, from nonviolence to karma, as part of their history and their everyday lives. That, he said, is a job for all Hindus.

“One of the fundamental beliefs in our dharma is that ignorance is the root cause of all problems,” said Bansal. “It’s up to community leaders to try and distill our dharma in a form that modern society can easily digest.”

Bansal believes Hindu Heritage Month is a way to rally the global Hindu community, diverse as it is, to that task.

“If we continue with it, just think of someday 1 billion Hindus around the world celebrating their common heritage together — what kind of a message that will send to the world at large,” he said. “I’m just hoping for that day, whether I see it myself, or the next generation sees it.”

The Largest Hindu Temple On American Opens Its Doors

After a lengthy period of planning and construction spanning 12 years, the grandest Hindu temple outside of India is poised to open its doors to the public in October. The BAPS Akshardham, located in Robbinsville, New Jersey, will be the third of its kind, following the temples in Gujarat and New Delhi, with the latter being recognized as the largest Hindu temple complex globally.

This architectural marvel, known as Akshardham, which translates to the “abode of the Divine,” is a testament to the harmonious blend of ancient scriptural principles and the intricacies of New Jersey zoning regulations. Sprawling across a vast 183-acre expanse, the New Jersey Akshardham includes a Maha Mandir (main temple), a traditional temple, a welcome center, a museum, and an event space.

Chaitali Inamdar, a devoted member of the Hindu community, expressed the significance of this achievement: “Having this Akshardham here on American soil is not just the triumph of a community or the triumph of the diaspora — it is the triumph of the nation.”

The construction of the New Jersey Akshardham has garnered significant attention from the Hindu American community over the past decade. However, it has also been marred by legal matters, specifically a lawsuit alleging forced labor within the BAPS organization, which arose in 2021. Although the lawsuit is currently on hold, it has raised important questions about distinguishing between unpaid work and selfless service in the name of the Divine.

Members of the BAPS community are renowned for their commitment to selfless service, known as “seva,” which they consider an act of devotion to God. Through their seva, BAPS has established an impressive network of 100 temples across the United States. Furthermore, the sampradaya, or Hindu sect, is poised to celebrate its 50th anniversary in North America next year.

Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, commonly referred to as BAPS, is a Hindu tradition that follows the teachings of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. According to their beliefs, Bhagwan Swaminarayan is present on Earth through six spiritual leaders, with Mahant Swami Maharaj currently holding this role.

Devotees explain that Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the fifth spiritual successor, envisioned the creation of a magnificent spiritual campus in the United States when he assumed leadership of BAPS in 1971. Inamdar, a chemical engineer and BAPS member, stated, “Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s ultimate singular vision [was] that, no matter which belief, which background you come from, this place is here to enrich everybody and allow everybody to feel peace and inspiration. The Akshardham is truly allowing the world to be one family.”

Visitors to the New Jersey Akshardham will enter through the Nilkanth Plaza, named after Swaminarayan’s teenage form, Nilkanth Varni, who is said to have traveled across India to revive the principles of Sanātana Dharma, or Hinduism. Dominating the entrance is a towering 49-foot statue of Nilkanth Varni, representing his 49 years on Earth.

Picture :WP

The Welcome Center, which connects to the vegetarian Shayona Cafe, immerses visitors in Indian celebrations and artistry. Thousands of “diyas” (lights) adorn the walls, creating a vibrant atmosphere. The scent of incense and the resonance of Sanskrit chants fill the air around the Brahm Kund pond, paying homage to the sacred waters of India. Remarkably, waters from rivers spanning all 50 states have been brought to New Jersey by dedicated volunteers.

Over 12,500 volunteers from diverse cultural backgrounds and faiths came together from across North America and the world to construct the Maha Mandir. This remarkable structure was meticulously crafted from white sandstone, limestone, marble, and granite by temple artisans in India. Adorning the four characteristic domes of the Mandir are nine shikharas or spires, each themed to represent different aspects of Hindu scriptures, including Vedic astrology.

Within the Mandir entrance, statues of dancers, musicians, and musical instruments serve as reminders of the importance of song and dance in Hindu traditions. Notably, this will be the first structure to showcase all 108 poses of the ancient Hindu dance form Bharatanatyam.

Some volunteers dedicated up to two weeks to this monumental project, while others, like 27-year-old Arjun Pandya, felt compelled to stay for two years. Pandya temporarily paused his career in corporate finance at Amazon to undertake seva in Robbinsville. Reflecting on his experience, Pandya said, “To have an opportunity to build something not only for my family and my community, but for the world, and to make something greater than myself, was very attractive.” He acknowledged that the conclusion of this journey is bittersweet, but the invaluable lessons and friendships he’s gained will remain with him forever.

Pandya eloquently summarized his experience: “I thought I’d be giving time, but I’m now realizing how much I’ve gained, not only in the friendships that I’ve built, but the values that are foundational to me that I’ll take with me forever.”

Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s teachings, according to devotees, emphasize values such as humility, compassion, and harmony. Akshardham will serve as not only a residence for the Swamis of the BAPS faith but also a sanctuary for the deities venerated across the broader Hindu spectrum.

Yagnesh Patel, a devotee originally from Kenya, where the BAPS community grew due to Indian migration patterns during British colonial rule, expressed his thoughts. “Any practicing Hindu, anyone who wants to know more about Hinduism, or even just a friend in my community, I have a place to bring them,” he stated. Patel, who was present with his children 12 years ago when BAPS initiated construction in Robbinsville, participated in the Bhumi Pujan ceremony, a tradition involving offering prayers to Mother Earth and God before commencing construction work. His son and daughter, now in their early twenties, have dedicated their time to Akshardham’s construction. “Both my kids are ideal American citizens, born in America, but they can raise their heads and say, ‘I am an American Hindu, and I am so proud that I was part of a place that many can visit as they come to this country,'” Patel proudly declared. “That has been my proudest moment.”

The construction of Akshardham was a challenging 12-year journey for the thousands of volunteers involved, some of whom arrived in the country on R-1 religious visas. They lived and worked on the mandir campus tirelessly. “It’s nonstop seva,” one worker remarked to another in mid-September, just weeks before the opening.

In 2017 and 2022, two devotees lost their lives while working on the construction, reasons the organization attributed to factors unrelated to safety conditions. As recently as March 2023, the Robbinsville Township police department responded to an offsite BAPS housing unit due to elevated levels of carbon monoxide.

In a headline-making event in May 2021, several volunteers originally from India initiated a class-action lawsuit against BAPS, citing wage theft, unsafe working conditions, and mistreatment of workers. However, the laborers withdrew the lawsuit earlier this year.

“The parties agreed to put the lawsuit on hold pending an investigation with which BAPS continues to cooperate fully,” said Ronak Patel, spokesperson for BAPS Temple Organization. “When the facts emerge, BAPS believes that they will reflect BAPS’ principles of kindness, equity, and respect for all human beings. BAPS continues to pray for all involved.”

Regarding the allegations of unpaid labor, BAPS stressed that worship through seva (selfless service) is at the core of the BAPS community, and the workers came to the U.S. as volunteers, not as employees.

“Because BAPS traditions emphasize serving those who serve, we took care of the artisans’ needs in the U.S., including travel, lodging, food, medical care, and internet and pre-paid phone cards so they could stay in touch with their families in India,” Patel added. “BAPS India also supported the artisans’ families in India, so they did not suffer financial hardship as a result of the artisans’ seva in the U.S.”

For many within the BAPS community, the opening in October represents an opportunity to showcase what can happen when devotees from around the world unite through the common thread of devotion.

“The ability to come together in volunteership, in selfless service, it created a sense of comfort and commonality,” expressed Ashini Parikh, a devotee from Atlanta. She reflected on the exponential increase in American awareness of Hinduism since her childhood as a first-generation kid. Playing a role in Hindu American history, for her, is an incredibly humbling experience.

“I am so proud that we as a community can come together from all walks of life, and we’ve all been able to be a part of this one thing that is going to have ripple effects for so many generations to come,” she remarked. “We all want to leave the planet a better place, and my contributions towards Akshardham allows me to leave the planet a better place well beyond my time.”

Pope Francis Elevates 21 Men To Be Cardinals

Pope Francis created 21 new cardinals at a ritual-filled ceremony Saturday, September 30, 2023, including key figures at the Vatican and in the field who will help enact his reforms and cement his legacy as he enters a crucial new phase in running the Catholic Church.

On a crisp sunny morning filled with cheers from St. Peter’s Square, Francis further expanded his influence on the College of Cardinals who will help him govern and one day elect his successor: With Saturday’s additions, nearly three-quarters of the voting-age “princes of the church” owe their red hats to the Argentine Jesuit.

In his instructions to the new cardinals at the start of the service, Francis said their variety and geographic diversity would serve the church like musicians in an orchestra, where sometimes they play solos, sometimes as an ensemble.

The 86-year-old pope welcomed the new, so-called “Princes of the Church” with mnessage stating, “The College of Cardinals is called to resemble a symphony orchestra, representing the harmony… of the Church,” said Francis, seated under a canopy before the gathered cardinals on the steps of St Peter’s Basilica.

“Diversity is necessary; it is indispensable. However, each sound must contribute to the common design,” said the Argentine Jesuit.

The choice of the new cardinals, who include diplomats, close advisers and administrators, is keenly watched as an indication of the priorities and position of the Church.

One of them could also one day be elected by his peers to succeed Francis, who has left the door open to stepping down in the future should his health warrant it.

Saturday’s ceremony, known as a consistory, is the ninth since Francis in 2013 was named head of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics.

One by one, the scarlet-clad cardinals knelt before the pope, who bestowed on them the two symbols of their high office: a scarlet four-cornered cap known as a biretta, and a cardinal’s ring. To some, a grinning Francis uttered an encouraging “Bravo!” or “Courage!” as he shook their hand.

Picture : NPR

Eighteen of the 21 newly made cardinals are under the age of 80 and thus currently eligible to vote as “cardinal electors” in the next conclave, when Francis’ successor will be decided. They are among 99 cardinal-electors created by Francis, representing about three-quarters of the total.

That has given rise to speculation that the Church’s future spiritual leader will be cast in the same mould as Francis, preaching a more tolerant Church with a greater focus on the poor and marginalised.

Throughout his papacy, Francis has sought to create a more inclusive, universal Church, looking past Europe to clergy in Africa, Asia and Latin America to fill the Church’s highest ranks.

With his latest roster of cardinals, Francis has again looked to the world’s “peripheries” — where Catholicism is growing — while breaking with the practice of promoting archbishops of large, powerful dioceses.

“He is looking for cardinals who correspond to the times,” an informed observer of the Holy See who asked to remain anonymous told AFP ahead of the ceremony. “These are people who have all taken a step away from the Church of the past, who positively ensure a break,” he added.

“This is the richness of the Church, to bring people together, different cultures, different backgrounds, languages,” the Archbishop of Cape Town, Stephen Brislin, told AFP Thursday before his elevation to cardinal.

The variety of cardinals represent “a richness and a variety of experience, and that’s what the Church is all about,” he added. “The Church encompasses all people, not just a certain group of people.”

There are three new cardinals from South America, including two Argentinians, and three from Africa, with the promotion of the archbishops of Juba in South Sudan, Tabora in Tanzania, and Cape Town’s Brislin.

Asia is represented by the Bishop of Penang in Malaysia and the Bishop of Hong Kong, Stephen Chow, who is seen as playing a key role in seeking to improve tense relations between the Vatican and Beijing.

Some of the new cardinals, such as Chow, have experience in sensitive zones of the world where the Holy See hopes to play an important diplomatic role. The list also includes the Holy Land’s top Catholic authority, Italian Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the first sitting Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem to be made cardinal.

“Jerusalem is a small laboratory, interreligious and intercultural, and that’s a challenge that the whole world is facing at this point,” Pizzaballa told AFP.

Also promoted was the apostolic nuncio, or ambassador, to the United States, France’s Christophe Pierre, whose decades-long diplomatic career includes posts in countries including Haiti, Uganda and Mexico.

Francis also tapped top administrators in the Curia, the Holy See’s government. His new choices include Claudio Gugerotti, the Italian prefect of the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches; Argentina’s Victor Manuel Fernandez, whom Francis recently named head of the powerful Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith; and Chicago-born Robert Prevost, a former missionary in Peru who leads the Dicastery for Bishops. Following the ceremony, the new cardinals were congratulated by members of the public at the Vatican’s sumptuous Apostolic Palace.

Pope Francis And Bill Clinton Discuss ‘Wind Of War That Blows Throughout The World’

(RNS) — In an online conversation with former U.S. President Bill Clinton on Monday (Sept. 18), Pope Francis stressed the importance of people and nations coming together to care for the environment and to put an end to global conflicts.

“It’s time to shift toward peace and brotherhood. It’s time to put down the weapons and return to dialogue, to diplomacy. Let us cease the pursuit of conquest and military aggression. That’s why I repeat: no to war!” the pope said, answering a question by the former U.S. president.

The conversation between the political and spiritual leaders was livestreamed at the 2023 meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, taking place in New York City Sept. 18-19. The event seeks to address urgent global issues, such as climate change and the flow of refugees.

To these challenges, Francis added another: “the wind of war that blows throughout the world,” fueling what he described as “the Third World War, fought piecemeal.”

The pope urged all nations to take responsibility and stressed that “no challenge can be faced alone — only together, sisters and brothers, children of God,” he said.

Pope Francis has been a vocal advocate for peace following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and has sought a diplomatic resolution to the conflict. He appointed Cardinal Matteo Zuppi as a peace envoy to meet with the main stakeholders in the war, including President Joe Biden in July.

In his message, the pope also stated that “it is time to work together to stop the ecological catastrophe, before it is too late,” and repeated his intention to publish a new version of his “green” encyclical, “Laudato Si,” for the care and protection of the environment.

Clinton said he had a “wonderful meeting” with the pope at the Vatican in early July.

“You make us all feel empowered and that is perhaps your greatest power as the pope,” Clinton said during the conference. “You make everybody, even those who aren’t members of the Catholic Church, feel like they have power and share in the responsibility.”

The Clinton Global Initiative was created by Bill Clinton in 2005 and collaborates with over 10,000 organizations aiming to provide actionable solutions to global challenges.

Among the main reasons for the online meeting was raising awareness for the Pediatric Hospital Bambino Gesù, commonly referred to as the “pope’s hospital.” The pope spoke of the care that the hospital provides despite its small size, including helping Ukrainian children fleeing the conflict.

“There are illnesses that cannot be cured, but there are no children that cannot be cared for,” he said.

Mahant Swami Maharaj’s 90th Birth Anniversary Celebrated At BAPS New Jersey

His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj honored with a garland on his 90th birthday celebration at BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham in Robbinsville, NJ. / BAPS

Hundreds of devotees recently gathered at BAPS Robbinsville, New Jersey to celebrate their spiritual leader Mahant Swami Maharaj’s 90th birthday. The celebration coincided with the Festival of Inspirations, a three-month extravaganza commemorating the opening of BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham in Robbinsville. 

Speaking at the event, Yogananddas Swami emphasized Mahant Swami’s empowering words, which have catalyzed the spiritual and personal development of countless souls. The attendees, shared how personal letters written to them by Swami Maharaj shaped their lives, offering guidance and support.

World leaders and spiritual luminaries also shared their unique experiences with Mahant Swami Maharaj through video messages. Anandswarupdas Swami highlighted Mahant Swami Maharaj’s consistent humility by describing his role as a servant, even when held in high esteem as a divine being. Mahant Swami Maharaj showed why he is so beloved by shifting attention away from himself and onto the more senior swamis on the day that was meant to be a celebration of his life. 

The senior swamis returned the favor by praying earnestly for him and presenting him with individual garlands to mark the occasion. In his concluding remarks, Mahant Swami Maharaj said, “The grandeur, divinity, and tranquility that visitors experience here are the fruition of Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s divine vision. Taking a  mere fifteen minutes daily for introspection encapsulates all the spiritual wisdom we attain.” “This 90th birthday celebration served not only as a tribute to a revered soul but also as an inspiration for countless others to lead a life of humility, love, and service,” the release maintained.

On Janmashtami, Krishna Devotees Feed The Lord And The Poor

(RNS) — It is said in the Hindu scriptures that the blue-skinned Lord Krishna was a sweet yet mischievous child who would steal handfuls of fresh, sweetened butter from his cow-herding neighbors.

It follows, then, that celebrations of Krishna’s birth, or Janmashtami, include an abundance of food. At midnight Wednesday (Sept. 6), Bhakti yogis, or devotees of Krishna, broke their daylong fast together by welcoming Bal Gopal, or baby Krishna, to the world with his 56 favorite foods. This ritual of Chhappan Bhog, an originally North Indian ritual, includes a specially arranged platter of mouthwatering vegetarian dishes, many of them milk-based. 56 meals represent Krishna’s eight meals a day multiplied by the seven days he is said to have lifted the Govardhan mountain.In addition to feeding the incarnate of Vishnu, International Society for Krishna Consciousness temples around the world doubled up their Chhappan Bhog practice with a community food offering. Home-cooked meals from devotees will be offered to the Krishna and his consort, Radha, before donation — so long as they do not contain mushrooms, canned or frozen vegetables or fruits or store-bought preparations.

These offerings must be satvik: strictly vegetarian, and without any onions or garlic.  While individual Hindus may differ on their definitions of vegetarianism, such as whether or not sulfur-rich bulbs or root vegetables are permissible, pure vegetarian food is considered the most sacred by many, and is thus commonly used in the ritual of naivedyam, or food offering.

Not all Hindus are vegetarians. Even still, animals are revered by many Hindus for their loyal hearts — especially the cow, who offers nourishment in the form of milk, butter and ghee.

“The food we eat can have an impact on our spiritual development,” said Anuttama Dasa, the director of international communications for ISKCON. “If I cause pain to another living entity for my own selfish needs, then I will accrue bad karma.”

ISKCON, which was started under a tree in New York City’s Tompkins Square Park in 1965, is considered a sect under the vast umbrella of Vaishnavism, the Hindu denomination dedicated to Vishnu and his avatars. Often recognized for adherents’ street-side chanting and singing, ISKCON now boasts more than a million followers worldwide, upward of 600 temples with free Sunday dinners and one of the world’s largest vegetarian relief programs.

Tulasi Srinivas, an anthropology professor at Emerson College and the daughter of Rukmini Srinivas, a famous chef and cookbook author, points to the highly aesthetic and complex meals prepared daily by Vaishnavites around India — including the tradition in Udupi of cooking 108 dishes daily for Krishna — as examples of the intricate web of food-based rituals within Hinduism.

“The myths around Krishna are of luxury,” said Srinivas. “If you offer 56 dishes, it’s a return of blessings a thousandfold.” For Hindus worldwide, cooking healthy and seasonal food is often seen as an act of bhakti, or devotion, in itself. Practitioners show daily reverence to God by first offering their food to deities, then only consuming it after it has been sanctified and turned into prasadam.

“The (Hindu) relationship to food is a relationship of abundance,” said Srinivas. “The more you offer, the more you get back.”

For Janmashtami at ISKCON, practitioners who cook and bring offerings to the temples must follow the sect’s four regulative principles: truthfulness, cleanliness, compassion and austerity.

Picture :RNS

Dasa says the sect is rooted in the belief that the ultimate goal for human beings is to reawaken their original, eternal connections with God — whom they believe has sent messengers and prophets to earth over time and across cultures, including Krishna, Jesus Christ and Buddha.

“No matter how much money we get, or how beautiful we are, or how famous we become, we will never be satisfied,” said Dasa, whose name was given to him from the founder of ISKCON, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. “We are spiritual beings in the material world.”

Dasa says that fasting, a tenet of many religions, allows for the mind to be pacified and the body to be centered during auspicious days like Janmashtami. Coupled with the repetitive mantra meditation of “Hare Krishna,” many ISKCON devotees say this practice can deliver the mind from materialistic thinking and closer to a direct line of communication with God.

“It’s not the easiest thing in the world to do,” said Dasa about fasting. “But it’s nice to be able to say, this is a special day for slowing down and thinking about what’s important — our relationship with God.”

Whether Hindus are fasting or enjoying an abundance of food, many Hindu food rituals tie back to the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda—a philosophy that dictates that the food we eat influences the way we feel.

India has the highest percentage of vegetarians in the world, largely due to its majority Hindu population. And according to a recent Pew Research study, 51% of Hindus in India and an even larger percentage of Jains said they would never eat food in the home of someone whose religion has different rules about food than theirs.

However, Srinivas says the plurality of Indian food transcends the borders of Hindu dietary restrictions. “Every 100 miles is a different taste, different culture, different tribe, different set of dishes,” said Srinivas. “In the best, all-inclusive plurality of Hinduism, we get these variations. That is part of the beauty of India. And that comes through in the cuisine.”

As Janmashtami is known as the most joyous occasion of the year to followers of ISKCON, devotees were sure to celebrate with singing, dancing and region-specific birthday practices.Also on the menu for Krishna was a large birthday cake — something Dasa says is not necessarily an authentic religious practice, but one that is made with true devotion.

“Spiritual awakening doesn’t have to be difficult,” he said. “It’s actually very pleasurable. We just adjust our lives a little bit to bring Krishna into the picture.”

Acharya Lokesh Highlights Religious Tolerance At G20 Interfaith Summit

Jain Spiritual leader and founder of Ahimsa Vishwa Bharti (AVB) Acharya Lokesh and prominent representatives of various religions from around the world attended the inaugural session of the three-day G20 Interfaith Summit recently held at MIT World Peace University, Pune.

In his opening remarks, Acharya Lokesh emphasized the importance of religious tolerance for a prosperous and peaceful world. According to him, religious leaders can help in the fight against both environmental and ideological pollution. He maintained that religion has a deep connection with development, peace, and goodwill.

Pandit Vasant Gadgil stated that efforts should be made to spread religious texts, promote religious literacy, and foster social cohesion. Only when all faiths and denominations cooperate in this way will India’s message of “Vasudhev Kutumbakam” have any impact, he highlighted.

Picture : TheUNN

Archbishop Felix Machado encouraged the audience to incorporate meditation and yoga into their daily lives. He emphasized the significance of this by saying that it leads to personal contentment, family harmony, and community peace and at the same time, many diseases can be cured.

According to  Dr. Lesan Azadi, Director, Baha’i Academy Panchgani, it is everyone’s responsibility to spread the message of peace and harmony across the country and the world, so that people everywhere can put aside their differences in religion, caste, and society to stand together in times of need.

Saint Baba Balwinder Singh asserted that religion teaches us to unite rather than divide, and that only by embracing this teaching will we be able to achieve world peace and harmony through India’s pluralistic culture and the principle of Vasudev Kutumbakam.

All religions and all sects have something to teach humanity, Hazrat Rifiya Sahib said. Providing today’s youth with positive role models is crucial he said adding that it is important to inspire them to serve the national interest.

Parliament of World’s Religions A Must Attend Convention for Everyone

Growing up in 1960s and 70s in India, I learned that Swami Vivekananda’s speech in the first Parliament of World’s Religions on September 11, 1893, in Chicago was an instant success. He was given just five minutes to talk about his religion, Hinduism. But his greetings “Sisters and Brothers of America” made the audience burst into an emotional applause. Ultimately, he spoke for several minutes and delivered a very impactful speech, that resulted in invitations for a series of lectures in the West.  In my school and college days, I never thought that one day I will attend the Parliament of World’s Religions. But I did it in 2015, when the Parliament of World’s Religion was held in my hometown, Salt Lake City, Utah, United States. I would like to share my life-changing experiences with the readers.

Parliament of World’s Religions (PWR) is the world’s premier interfaith convention of civic and spiritual nature, organized by a 501 (C) 3 non-profit organization with its headquarters in Chicago, Illinois, where the first convention was held in 1893. The PWR is held periodically, with no defined intervals. For instance, after 100 years, it was held again in Chicago in 1993, then in Cape Town (1999), Barcelona (2004), Melbourne (2009), Salt Lake City (2015), Toronto (2018), virtually in 2021, and the most recent one was again held in Chicago from August 14 to 18, 2023.

SAI Kuteer, our stall or booth at the PWR

For the PWR convention in Salt Lake City held from October 15th to 19th, 2015, the theme was Reclaiming the Heart of Our Humanity: Working Together for a World of Compassion, Peace, Justice, and Sustainability. Over 10,000 delegates from all over the world, belonging to different religions and faiths attended the convention. They represented over 50 faiths from 75 nations. There were over 200 stalls or booths representing different faiths. Over 800 programs with eight major plenary sessions were held, where systemic and human-caused challenges of our time were discussed. Specifically, the delegates discussed climate change, bigotry and hatred, rampant violence, preventable wars, abuse of human rights, and unchecked income equality. Emerging issues, such as preservation of the rights, hopes, and beliefs or diverse indigenous people also received equal attention. Women representative spoke about gender equality. Overall, it was a convention that focused not only on religion and faith, but also on human values as they relate to our belief in the Almighty as the caretaker of the world.

Picture : TheUNN

From the point of an ordinary attendee like me, one could experience the beautiful things religion and faith can offer to humanity. The world does not need new religions or faith. The existing ones are adequate if they are properly understood and followed in the right sense. What is needed is proper understanding and mutual respect among different religions or faiths, with love and compassion in the heart for all with no barriers. Then tolerance and acceptance will come automatically. This was clear to anyone who attended the convention. When I spoke to people of some unknown faiths from remote parts of the world we had never heard of, I found that they also shared our aspirations for a better world. Then where is the problem? It seems only a few people in each religion stir the issues that divide us. If we can develop the understanding to live with mutual respect and love and compassion, the world will change and become heaven in no time. The question is can this message be carried across the globe? May be if this type of interfaith conventions is held more frequently in different parts of the world, it is possible to bring the badly needed transformation at the individual level. That only can assure welfare of humanity. As Swami Vivekananda said in his first speech in PWR in Chicago, “Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendent, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often with human blood, destroyed civilizations and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.” Those words were uttered 130 years ago by Swami Vivekananda. Now, the time has come to get rid of those evils and move into a promising future for our children and grandchildren. We cannot afford to have these age-old evils in our backyards with Artificial Intelligence in our homes and offices.

Apart from attending the convention in Salt Lake City, we also hosted a booth about our newly launched SAI Kuteer, a faith-based charity. The world needs charity as much as it needs faith. Faith cannot be nurtured without selfless work for the community. Although so many religions and faiths were represented at the PWR convention in Salt Lake City, the highlight was Langar organized by the International Sikh Confederation. While we rented 10 feet x 5 feet stalls in units of one or more, the Sikh organizers rented the space equivalent to a football field. They cooked food on the spot and served delicious lunch for about 10,000 delegates on every day of the convention. It was an amazing feat or service for most Americans, who never saw such mass scale cooking of fresh food and serving. Many Americans were motivated and volunteered serving the food, cleaning the place etc. Some even wore turbans as a token of solidarity with the Sikh community. Sitting on the floor and eating delicious food with many varieties and a glass of mango lassi, I was transposed momentarily to the days I spent in Prasanthi Nilayam, the abode of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, my favorite place on earth. Without my notice, tears rolled down my cheeks. That happens when Divinity manifests in a place where there is absolute selfless service.

Finally, on the last day of the convention, while dismantling our booth, I realized that God could manifest anywhere, provided we have the love and compassion in our heart and realize this world is His place and we should behave like His children and stop fighting among ourselves thinking that our path is the right one or the best one or superior one. It is all a myth. There is no such thing as the best or superior ones. All paths lead to Him. When more and more people among us start realizing this fact, the world becomes a pleasant place to live and grow. So, next time the PWR convention is held near your place or anywhere in your country, please attend it. It is equivalent to going on a pilgrimage. You will come home with lots of pleasant memories, peace of mind and reassurance that despite all its problems, the world is still a good place to live, and we can make it even better, like Vasudevakutambakam

 (Prof. Bellamkonda K. Kishore, M.D., Ph.D., MBA is an Academician, Innovator, and entrepreneur. Visit: 

Young Professionals Get A Crash Course In Keeping The Faith

“Temples are constructed with the youth in mind,” stated Uma Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America (HTSNA), addressing a gathering of young Hindus at New York’s expansive Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devasthanam temple, which spans an entire block in Queens borough.

A diverse assembly of college students and young professionals had congregated for Akshayam, an initiative supported by HTSNA aimed at keeping the teachings of the Hindu faith alive among the upcoming generation of Hindu leaders in the United States. Beyond this, through community engagement and educational collaborations, the organizers of Akshayam seek to regain control over a religion that is being tugged in multiple directions by India’s nationalist politics on one side and Western influence on the other.

Seated in the Parvati Hall of the temple, named in honor of Hinduism’s quintessential mother goddess, attendees immersed themselves in discussions revolving around the Ramayana, an epic narrative chronicling the incarnations of God and their interactions with humanity.

Vishwa Adluri, a philosophy professor at Hunter College in New York and one of the panelists for the day, emphasized, “To be Hindu is to read.” He noted that children of other faiths have long had access to Sunday school classes, Bible studies, and other avenues for engaging in profound theological conversations from a young age. According to him, it’s now time for young Hindus to integrate the study of their faith into their identities.

The young audience exhibited enthusiasm and curiosity as religious scholars expounded on the significance of the unwavering relationships between Ram, Lakshman, and Sita—the Lord, his brother, and his wife. They delved into Ram’s epic quest to rescue Sita from the clutches of Ravana, a half-man, half-demon figure, raising questions about passages that have often posed challenges. One pressing query was why Lord Rama banished his pregnant wife Sita to the forest, ultimately leading to her abduction by Ravana and her subsequent rescue.

Picture: RNS

The responses provided frequently linked these ancient texts to contemporary moral dilemmas. Adluri drew a parallel to Ram’s kingdom, where villagers began to malign Sita’s chastity, which prompted her banishment. This decision was made to safeguard his own honor and the dignity of his kingdom. Adluri highlighted how this same impulse can be observed in today’s social media landscape, where gossip and slander about individuals can spread rapidly, often leading to the acceptance of misinformation.

Adluri aptly pointed out that this is how ordinary people can metamorphose into “asuras,” or demons, in the modern context.

In her address, Uma Mysorekar emphasized the importance of temples in the lives of young Hindus. She stated, “Temples are built for young people.” Her words resonated within the expansive Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devasthanam temple in Queens, New York, where a diverse group of young Hindus had gathered.

This assembly of college students and young professionals had convened for Akshayam, an initiative sponsored by the Hindu Temple Society of North America (HTSNA). Akshayam aimed not only to keep the teachings of the Hindu faith alive but also to nurture the next generation of Hindu leaders in the United States. Recognizing the challenges posed by India’s nationalist politics and the influence of the Western world, the organizers of Akshayam sought to provide a firm foundation for the faith through community engagement and educational endeavors.

Seated within the Parvati Hall of the temple, named after the archetypal mother goddess in Hinduism, attendees immersed themselves in discussions centered around the Ramayana. This epic narrative recounts the incarnations of God and their interactions with humanity.

Vishwa Adluri, a philosophy professor at Hunter College in New York and one of the panelists for the day, emphasized the importance of reading in Hinduism. He noted that children of other faiths have long had access to structured religious education, such as Sunday school classes and Bible studies, allowing them to engage in deep theological discussions from a young age. Adluri asserted that it was now time for young Hindus to similarly incorporate the study of their faith into their identities.

The young audience displayed a keen interest in the discussions. As religious scholars expounded on the significance of the relationships between Ram, Lakshman, and Sita—representing the Lord, his brother, and his wife—questions arose about passages in the Ramayana that had long raised eyebrows. One such question pertained to Lord Rama’s decision to banish his pregnant wife Sita to the forest, ultimately leading to her abduction by Ravana and her subsequent rescue.

The answers provided by the panel often drew connections between these ancient texts and contemporary moral dilemmas. Adluri explained that in Ram’s kingdom, villagers had begun to question Sita’s chastity, leading to her banishment—a decision made to preserve both Ram’s honor and the dignity of his kingdom. Adluri astutely pointed out how this impulse manifests in today’s digital age, where gossip and slander about individuals can quickly proliferate, often resulting in the acceptance of false information.

Adluri aptly noted that this phenomenon is akin to how ordinary people can transform into “asuras,” or demons, in the context of modern society.

In conclusion, Uma Mysorekar’s assertion that “Temples are built for young people” resonated deeply within the grand Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devasthanam temple in Queens, New York, where a diverse assembly of young Hindus had gathered.

These college students and young professionals had converged for Akshayam, an initiative sponsored by the Hindu Temple Society of North America (HTSNA) with the dual purpose of preserving the teachings of the Hindu faith and nurturing the future leaders of Hinduism in the United States. Acknowledging the complex challenges posed by India’s nationalist politics and the pervasive influence of Western culture, the organizers of Akshayam were committed to fortifying the faith through community engagement and educational collaborations.

Seated within the Parvati Hall of the temple, an homage to the quintessential mother goddess of Hinduism, attendees engaged in profound discussions centered around the Ramayana. This timeless epic recounted the divine incarnations and their interactions with humanity.

Vishwa Adluri, a philosophy professor at Hunter College in New York and one of the day’s panelists, underscored the significance of reading in the practice of Hinduism. He observed that children of other faiths had long benefited from structured religious education, including Sunday school classes and Bible studies, which facilitated their engagement in deep theological discussions from a young age. Adluri asserted that it was now imperative for young Hindus to integrate the study of their faith into their identities.

The young audience exhibited a palpable eagerness for these discussions. As religious scholars expounded on the profound relationships between Ram, Lakshman, and Sita—representing the Lord, his brother, and his wife—questions arose about passages in the Ramayana that had long posed ethical quandaries. One such question revolved around Lord Rama’s decision to exile his pregnant wife Sita to the forest, ultimately leading to her abduction by Ravana and her eventual rescue.

The panel’s responses often drew parallels between these ancient texts and contemporary moral dilemmas. Adluri elucidated that in Ram’s kingdom, villagers had begun to question Sita’s chastity, leading to her banishment—a decision driven by the necessity.

Interfaith Actions Stressed at Parliament of World Religions

The message resonates with clarity and conviction: We must join hands, unite, and safeguard the religious rights of all faiths. The Parliament of World Religions (PoWR) has traversed a remarkable journey since 1893. The 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions brought together 400 men and women, representing 41 diverse religious traditions. It was during this momentous gathering that Catholicism and Judaism gained recognition as significant American religions, and the luminous traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism were unveiled to the Western world.

 In the contemporary landscape, where the specters of religious fanaticism and state-sanctioned alienation loom large, the initial tableau of the plenary challenges our reality. The camaraderie among individuals from Mexico, China, and India on the dais extends a warm invitation to stakeholders of faith, beckoning them towards a realm of peace, harmony, and genuine discourse on pressing matters. Chicago’s atmosphere was electric, and Mayor Brandon Johnson astutely proclaimed, “In this moment, seeking refuge solely within scriptures and holy texts falls short; it is essential to exhibit the most magnificent creation and power of humanity – the act of love.”

 PoWR 2023 resounded as a summons to conscience. The central theme was the defense of freedom and Human Rights. A sojourn through the exhibition hall became a journey into one’s moral compass. Here, spiritual traditions, religious collectives, faith-based seminaries, modern mantras for bonding, ancient sutras for equilibrium, poignant reflections on religious animosity, organizations dedicated to social progress, and revitalizing yoga meditations converged. 

One stall orchestrated interfaith harmonies through melodious songs, while another presented sobering data on minorities targeted by right-wing regimes. Tokens of memory took the form of pens, badges, shirts, chocolates, pins, and meticulously annotated leaflets and brochures. The Boston School of Theology extended courses to fathom the nuances of various religions, while the Divine Life Society resonated with masses, nurturing understanding through the prism of yoga. The panorama was a tapestry woven with the threads of diversity.

 The PoWR embodies an idea. Over 250 breakout sessions grappled with diverse subjects. The inner dialogues, cast as a broad mandate, often witnessed some gems eclipsed in the shadows. The spectrum of topics, spanning the gamut from deconstructing religious patriarchy to the serendipitous revelations in the realm of anti-nuclear activism, enticed discerning minds. Yet, amidst the symphony of simultaneous sessions, flowing with the current was akin to chasing ephemeral wisps. The plenary sessions, a harmonious ensemble of thought, struck deep chords. The Women’s Assembly held profound significance, addressing the very core of female participation within faith-infused societies. Amidst this resplendence, the assembly advocating climate action, the council amplifying indigenous voices, and the solemn rite of climate repentance shone a luminous light on faith’s role.

 Within the tapestry of aspirations, it was religious fanaticism that garnered the earnest ears of all. Rev. Jen Butler, the visionary founder of Faith in Public Life, lamented, “Religion, once the sanctuary of moral teachings, now stands manipulated, its moral fabric corroded by heinous acts of violence. Autocratic forces wield religion as an instrument for amassing power and maintaining control, from the prism of Russian Orthodox nationalism to the fervor of Catholic nationalism in Hungary and Poland, from India’s Hindutva to Israel’s nascent ruling coalition’s Jewish nationalism, and further to the evangelical and Pentecostal strains of religious nationalism in the U.S. and Brazil.” The expo center echoed this sentiment with a clamor of urgency.

 The Langar, an enchanting ritual embedded in past PoWR gatherings, enchanted thousands. Orchestrated by the Birmingham-based Nishkam Seva Jatha, this Sikh tradition was brought to life under the guidance of Bhai Sahab Mohinder Singh, who joyously proclaimed adherence to Sikh guru teachings through service to the world, transcending all biases. Faith leaders, adorned with white scarves, formed orderly queues, savoring Indian delicacies with hearts full of contentment. Within the tent, a grand theater of interfaith harmony and service unfolded. Nishkam Seva Jatha’s legacy of offering free langar since the 2004 PoWR was radiant.

 A poignant tribute unfolded for the 30,000 children lost to gun violence. Scraps of orange fabric coalesced into labyrinthine patterns or transformed into raw tools by the skilled hands of Shane Claiborne’s blacksmith forge. His declaration reverberated, “When we mold that metal, it resounds with the proclamation that the world can be reshaped.”

 The Parliament of World Religions 2023 encapsulates the elements required for reimagining our perceptions of faith. It beckoned forth distinguished faith leaders, entwining them in conversations that bear rich fruit. Concealed within closed chambers, the International Religious Freedom Roundtable murmured profound secrets, reminiscent of the hallowed halls of Washington. The Indian delegation of interfaith leaders radiated with fervor. The quest for a better world necessitates the exchange of ideas. PoWR has evolved into a pertinent platform for intricate discussions, where faith assumes a fresh and actionable agenda.

Vatican Appoints Pontifical Delegate to Address Liturgical Dispute in India

Controversy and division have persisted within an Indian archdiocese over the orientation of the celebrating priest during liturgical events. To address this ongoing issue, Pope Francis has designated Slovak Archbishop Cyril Vasil of Košice as his pontifical delegate. The Vatican disclosed that Archbishop Vasil arrived in Kochi, the hub of the Syro-Malabar Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, on August 4.

A recent report from UCA News, an Asian ecclesiastical news agency, dated August 8, has brought to light that a substantial coalition of priests and laypeople, who are opposed to adopting the standardized liturgical directives ratified by the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in 1999, has contested the legitimacy of Archbishop Vasil’s appointment.

Prior to the Synod’s resolution, there existed variance among priests in terms of their positioning relative to the altar during the celebration of the eucharistic liturgy, referred to as the Holy Qurbana in the Eastern-rite tradition. While some clergy faced the altar throughout the liturgy, others chose to face the congregation. The Synod ultimately ruled in favor of priests facing the altar during the eucharistic prayer, but directing their gaze toward the congregation during the Liturgy of the Word and again after the Communion.

In the majority of Syro-Malabar dioceses, priests promptly adhered to the Synod’s verdict. However, exceptions were made for the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly and a select few other regions. These exemptions were rescinded by the bishops in November 2021.

The Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency, an assembly encompassing priests, religious individuals, and laity within Ernakulam-Angamaly, has expressed dissent regarding the manner in which the dispensation was revoked. The group has consistently advocated for the continuation of the established practice since 1970, wherein the priest engages with the congregation throughout the entire liturgy.

Upon the arrival of Archbishop Vasil, who previously served as the secretary of the Dicastery for Eastern Churches, the dissenting group sought evidence of his papal appointment. They sought clarification since neither Archbishop Vasil nor the apostolic nunciature had presented an official letter of designation.

The Vatican’s move to appoint Archbishop Vasil as a pontifical delegate showcases the importance it places on reconciling the deep-seated divisions within the Syro-Malabar Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly. The archbishop’s presence in Kochi, the heart of the conflict, is indicative of the Vatican’s intention to mediate and resolve this ongoing liturgical dispute.

Nonetheless, the controversy remains far from resolved. The UCA News report underscores the skepticism held by a significant group of priests and laypeople who challenge the legitimacy of Archbishop Vasil’s appointment. This skepticism is rooted in the differing perspectives on liturgical practices, with a strong adherence to the prior tradition of the priest facing the congregation throughout the liturgy.

The Synod’s ruling in 1999 aimed to standardize liturgical practices across the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. The decision to have priests face the altar during specific moments and the congregation during others was seen as a compromise to bridge the gaps between varying practices that had emerged over time.

While many dioceses fell in line with the Synod’s guidelines, the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly chose to retain its long-standing practice of the priest facing the congregation. The subsequent decision to retract the dispensation led to substantial discontent among certain clergy and laity, giving rise to the Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency.

This movement’s persistence in adhering to the practice established in 1970, wherein the priest remains oriented towards the congregation, reflects the deep-seated attachment to tradition and resistance to change. The liturgical orientation, for them, is not merely a matter of practice but a symbol of identity and continuity.

The doubts raised by the dissenting group regarding Archbishop Vasil’s appointment reveal a broader skepticism towards the Vatican’s involvement and its proposed solution. The absence of an official letter of designation has fueled suspicions and concerns about the transparency and authenticity of the process.

Riju Kanjookaran, the spokesperson of the Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency, told UCA News Aug.7, “Our delegates met Archbishop Vasil. He is not ready to listen to us, instead, he wants us to simply comply with the uniform Mass adopted by the synod. It leaves no scope for any further discussion or dialogue.”

The liturgical dispute within the Syro-Malabar Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly continues to stir controversy and division. The Vatican’s appointment of Archbishop Vasil as a pontifical delegate to mediate the situation demonstrates its commitment to resolving the issue. However, challenges persist, as a substantial group remains skeptical about the legitimacy of the appointment and steadfastly clings to the traditional liturgical practice. As Archbishop Vasil’s involvement unfolds, the archdiocese and the broader Catholic community keenly await the resolution of this intricate and deeply rooted liturgical conflict.

The Magnificent Belur Temple: A Timeless Legacy of Karnataka’s Hoysala Dynasty

The renowned Belur Temple, also referred to as the Chennakesava Temple, stands as a testament to Karnataka’s rich heritage, located in the district of Hassan. Constructed in the early 12th century by Hoysala ruler Vishnuvardhana, under the architectural guidance of the Hoysala dynasty, the temple remains a magnificent relic of bygone grandeur. Nestled in the historic town of Belur, which once served as the Hoysala kingdom’s capital, the temple continues to attract enthusiasts from across the nation, offering them a chance to marvel at intricate sculptures and artistic brilliance while experiencing a spiritual elevation.

Historical Splendor of Chennakesava Temple, Belur

The temple’s historical significance is intricately linked to the military triumphs of King Vishnuvardhana, who commissioned its construction in 1117 AD. During this era, the king engaged in numerous battles against the Western Chalukyas and successfully vanquished the Cholas. Architects and artisans involved in the temple’s creation showcased unparalleled skill, introducing innovative designs that would later become emblematic of the temple complex.

Architectural Marvels within the Chennakesava Temple Complex

Among the iconic landmarks of Hassan, the Belur Temple was conceived to embody architectural excellence emblematic of the Hoysala kingdom. As one enters the premises, the gaze is met by the grand Rajagopura, a monumental gateway arching overhead. The central masterpiece of the temple, oriented towards the east, is a sight to behold, encapsulating divine architectural forms.

To the right of the main temple stands the Kappe Channigraya temple, accompanied by a smaller structure dedicated to Goddess Sowmyanayaki, an incarnation of Lakshmi. Slightly behind these stands the Chennakesava Temple, while the Ranganayaki Temple graces its right-hand side. Within the temple complex, two ornate pillars draw attention, one featuring a Garuda (constructed during the Vijayanagara period) and the other adorned with a lamp (hailing from the Hoysala era).

Astonishing Architecture of Chennakesava Temple, Belur

Rising to a towering height of 37 meters, the temple’s exterior walls are adorned with meticulously crafted depictions of dancing women, reflecting unparalleled finesse. Crafted from soapstone according to Hoysala architectural blueprints, the temple boasts intricate detailing. Its early construction within the Hoysala dynasty sets it apart from contemporaneous structures, showcasing an unmatched scale.

Artistry Within Chennakesava Temple, Belur

Within the temple, the stunning pillars serve as a canvas for exquisite sculptures and artwork, captivating visitors with their finesse. The Narasimha pillar is a celebrated centerpiece, among a total of 48 pillars, each uniquely carved and adorned with artistic marvels. Four pillars at the center feature hand-chiseled celestial damsels, or madanikas, capturing diverse poses that enthrall tourists, visitors, and art enthusiasts who grace the temple.

As visitors explore the temple, they encounter depictions and references to significant events from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, enhancing their understanding of the sculptures’ narratives. The temple walls also exhibit depictions of animals such as elephants, lions, and horses.

Intricate Sculptures and Historical Narratives

The main entrance of the mantapa showcases a Hoysala king triumphing over a tiger or lion, symbolizing the victory over the Cholas, with the tiger representing their royal emblem. The temple complex boasts an array of intriguing sculptures, including Gajasurasamhara depicting Lord Shiva, Goddess Durga slaying Mahishasura, and depictions of Ravana, among others. Mini shrines positioned at the entrance add to the allure, while the signatures of various artists offer glimpses into life during the Hoysala era.

Belur Temple: A 900-Year-Old Marvel

The Chennakesava Temple at Belur stands as a remarkable testament to architectural prowess and cultural innovation, an embodiment of Karnataka’s history under the Hoysala dynasty. Recently, this ancient marvel, now 900 years old, celebrated its enduring presence, marking a momentous occasion in the annals of Karnataka’s history. Nestled along the banks of the River Yagachi, the temple’s majestic presence continues to remind visitors of the indomitable legacy of South India’s mighty kingdom.

In conclusion, the Belur Temple, or Chennakesava Temple, remains an awe-inspiring embodiment of Karnataka’s rich history and the architectural brilliance of the Hoysala dynasty. With its intricate sculptures, historical narratives, and timeless charm, this temple complex stands as a testament to the region’s cultural legacy and enduring allure.