December 11th, 2013
05:58 PM ET
By Ben Wedeman, CNN
ROME (CNN) – When the black smoke gushed from the chimney in the Sistine Chapel, we ran, along with thousands of others, up the Via della Conciliazione to Saint Peter’s Square to hear the announcement. We waited around 45 minutes, then heard the name “Bergoglio”
“Who?” was my first reaction. I looked around in confusion. CNN Rome cameraman Alessandro Gentile shrugged his shoulders, as did producer Livia Borghese. Others around us, with the exception of an older English woman, who must have been an amateur Vaticanista, were equally mystified.
In the nine months since that night in March, we’ve come to know Jorge Bergoglio, otherwise known as Pope Francis. He keeps us busy almost every day, with his latest pronouncement, his latest gestures, large and small. I have a pile of books about Francis on my desk. The Google news alert I set up months ago for “Pope Francis” now fills up my e-mail box, exceeding other alerts for Italy, Rome, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Israel, Iran, etc. I regularly listen to podcasts about Francis on my phone.
For foreign journalists based in Rome, Pope Francis has in fact been our “person of the year” long before Time magazine settled on him. He quickly eclipsed the noisy, chaotic game of musical chairs called Italian politics. And Francis has turned out to be a balm for those who for year after year had to cover flamboyant scandal-drenched former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as their like-it-or-not Italian “person of the year.”
At home, my lapsed Catholic Italian wife has put Francis’ picture on the wall. Italians are notoriously cynical when it comes to public figures, but ask them about “Papa Francesco” and their reaction is almost invariably positive and effusive.
“He has a humble heart, he’s great, he’s beautiful,” gushed a giddy middle-aged woman from the Naples area when we asked her Wednesday what she thought of Francis becoming Time’s Person of the Year.
And regardless of who wins the title next year, at this rate we can assume, at least here in Rome, Francis will be person of the year for several years to come.
December 7th, 2013
09:16 AM ET
Opinion by Mark Schacter, special to CNN
(CNN) – I don’t believe in a divine presence, nor do I subscribe to any organized religion.
And that, perhaps oddly, is why I am drawn to the mystery of faith.
With the wonderment of an outsider, I try to understand the seemingly incomprehensible (to me, at least) pull that faith exerts over so many people's lives.
As a photographer approaching this mystery, I am confronted by what might seem like a contradiction: Photographs capture what can be seen, and yet faith is often invisible.
December 5th, 2013
01:33 PM ET
By Hada Messia, CNN
Rome (CNN)–Pope Francis is creating a commission to prevent the abuse of minors and to support victims of abuse, Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley announced Thursday in Rome.
The new commission is expected to tell church officials to collaborate with civil authorities and report cases of abuse, O'Malley said.
But he also said that the church has focused on the judicial aspect of sexual abuse in the past, and that Pope Francis now wants to focus on the pastoral side, and caring for victims.FULL STORY
December 4th, 2013
11:56 AM ET
By Rafael Romo and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
(CNN) – The threatening calls reportedly came one after the other to Mexico's main Catholic seminary.
Callers, claiming to be from one of the country's feared drug cartels, offered an ominous warning: Pay up if you value the safety of your priests.
"They called several times. They identified themselves as the Familia Michoacana, but who knows?" Cardinal Norberto Rivera, archbishop of Mexico City, revealed at a Mass this week. "I spoke with the authorities. We made the appropriate report. Because they wanted us to pay. Because if not, they would kill one of us. They wanted to extort 60,000 pesos ($4,600)."
Reports of extortion have become increasingly common as drug cartels expand their reach in Mexico. But public denouncements of such attempts are rare.FULL STORY
December 1st, 2013
09:37 AM ET
Opinion by Kerry Egan, special to CNN
(CNN)– I got pulled over on my way to work recently. I was late and I was speeding, but when the officer saw the hospice ID around my neck, with the word "chaplain" all in capital letters, she gave me just a warning.
"You're an angel," she said. "Anybody who takes care of the dying must be an angel."
Because I'm a hospice chaplain, I hear that pretty frequently. I can guarantee you I'm not an angel. I'm a flawed and struggling human, and I deserved that ticket. I also don't take care of the dying, not really.
Because I have many patients, I usually only get to visit each patient twice a month, maybe once a week. In rare cases, I'll visit daily, but only for an hour or so. It's the dying person's family that truly takes care of him or her.
While hospice aides, nurses, social workers, and chaplains go into the homes of patients to offer support, education, and help, they cannot be there 24 hours a day, and they don't do the bulk of the caregiving.
November 30th, 2013
09:59 AM ET
Opinion by Rachel Held Evans, special to CNN
(CNN)– Dave Ramsey is rich. And he makes his living telling other evangelical Christians how they can get rich, too.
Host of a nationally syndicated radio program and author of multiple best-selling books, Ramsey targets evangelical Christians with what he calls a “biblical” approach to financial planning, one that focuses primarily on the elimination of consumer debt. His for-profit Financial Peace University is billed as “a biblically based curriculum that teaches people how to handle money God's ways."
Much of what Ramsey teaches is sound, helpful advice, particularly for middle-class Americans struggling with mounting credit card bills. I have celebrated with friends as they’ve marked their first day of debt-free living, thanks in part to Dave Ramsey’s teachings and all those white envelopes of cash he urges his students to use instead of credit cards.
But while Ramsey may be a fine source of information on how to eliminate debt, his views on poverty are neither informed nor biblical.
November 20th, 2013
12:11 PM ET
Editor's note: This story is part of CNN's American Journey series to show how old buildings around the United States have found new purposes and helped to build communities. Are there repurposed buildings in your community? Share the stories with CNN iReport and they could be featured in a CNN story.
Sandy Springs, Georgia (CNN) - The old Chevrolet paint and body shop was vacant - 24,000 square feet of metal and concrete surrounded by a sea of asphalt.
But when some members of Congregation Or Hadash saw it, they saw a home.
Since it was founded in 2003, the conservative Jewish congregation had bounced from location to location outside Atlanta - a Methodist church, a windowless space in a school, any place they could rent or borrow as they grew.
"Sometimes, from week to week, we didn't know exactly where we were going to be," said Fred Wachter, president of the congregation and a member since its early years.
"All the while ... we probably walked every piece of available property and real estate in Sandy Springs, trying to find something, anything, that would look like it."FULL STORY
November 18th, 2013
08:18 AM ET
Tacloban City, The Philippines (CNN) - The day after the typhoon, the Rev. Edwin Bacaltos stepped out of the compound of the Church of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in central Tacloban and began his work.
The scene was one of unspeakable horror. Dead bodies were strewn all over the place. The debris of shattered buildings and their contents filled the street.
Bacaltos' self-appointed task that day was to bless the bodies that lay scattered around his parish.
"It was difficult for me," he said. "It was a really emotional experience."
The next day, he said, "When I celebrated the Eucharist, I broke down because of all the suffering I had seen."
Hundreds of survivors were taking refuge in the church compound, much of which withstood Super Typhoon Haiyan's ferocious winds and destructive storm surge.
Many of them asked the pastor how God could let such a calamity befall this predominantly Catholic city.
His response, he said, was to tell them that "God is not the cause of the suffering. God cannot prevent this. This is the work of nature."
But why it had to happen to Tacloban and its more than 200,000 residents, Father Bacaltos acknowledged, is "difficult to explain."
As the people who remain in this broken city attempt to come to terms with the catastrophe that engulfed them a week ago, religion is offering a degree of solace for some of those who have suffered incalculable losses.
It's also providing basic elements of community and support to residents of an area where local government ceased to fully function for several days and is still only slowly sputtering back into action.
November 13th, 2013
09:31 AM ET
(CNN) – A giant statue of Jesus apparently survived Typhoon Haiyan unscathed, even as the massive storm flattened many parts of Tanauan, a coastal town in the central Philippines.
It's not the first time religious statues have survived natural disasters in the heavily Catholic Philippines, according to local reports. Two statues of the Virgin Mary withstood a devastating earthquake last month.
Meanwhile, Haiyan has wiped entire towns off the map, and thousands are searching for family members, food and water.
So, what do you think, readers: Is the unscathed Jesus statue a miraculous sign of hope amid the ruins or just a random coincidence?
November 9th, 2013
08:00 AM ET
Opinion by Molly Worthen, special to CNN
(CNN) – Under ordinary circumstances, Donald Trump and Rupert Murdoch are probably not in the habit of attending the birthday parties of elderly Christian preachers in the North Carolina mountains.
But they were both among the hundreds of well-wishers at the party on Thursday marking Billy Graham’s 95th birthday.
Graham spent his career leading revivals around the globe, following a long tradition of evangelists who have traveled far and wide to urge sinners to accept Christ. But his birthday guest list shows that he is no ordinary preacher. He is a cultural icon, the most famous face of traditional Protestant Christianity.
“We need Billy Graham's message to be heard, I think, today more than ever," former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin told the crowd.
What, exactly, is that message—and what accounts for its mass appeal? Now that Billy is 95, I wonder: is there anyone who can fill his shoes?
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.