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July 2nd, 2014
08:50 AM ET

The new American dream: Searching for spirituality

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

(CNN) - To discover one’s self. To find enlightenment. To take a spiritual journey.

What does this language mean? Are these pursuits, these aspirations, really possible? And if they are, what do the results look like?

I can’t pretend to have the answers. What I do know is that I went to India this year on a journalism fellowship to write about religion and spirituality. I landed in a place called Rishikesh, a holy spot for Hindus and magnet for Westerners seeking inner peace.

For two weeks, I set judgment aside and dove in to see what this place was all about. What I found touched me more than I anticipated and left me feeling somewhat transformed. I chronicled all of this in "Indian Awakenings" last month.

Since then, I've had a different sort of awakening. FULL POST

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Faith • India • Spirituality

Pope Francis
June 18th, 2014
12:37 PM ET

Vatican denies reports that Pope Francis is ill

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor

(CNN) A Vatican spokesman denied reports on Wednesday that Pope Francis is ill, saying that the curtailment of his public summer schedule is common for popes.

"There is no sickness whatsoever," said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a consultant to the Vatican press office. "If there was, we would be open about that and asking people to pray for him."

Francis made his usual public appearance in St. Peter's Square on Wednesday morning and is planning a trip to South Korea from August 13 to 18.

But the Pope will curtail public appearances in St. Peter's Square during July, as he did last year, and will scale back his daily celebration of Masses at Casa Santa Marta for the summer.

It is customary for popes to vacation during the summers months. Francis, 77, will continue working, Rosica said, while limiting public appearances.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog Editor

Filed under: Asia • Catholic Church • Pope Francis • South Korea

June 7th, 2014
07:31 AM ET

Finding wholeness in a holy place

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

(CNN) - Earlier this year, thanks to a global religion reporting fellowship, I had the opportunity to explore the spiritual landscape that is Rishikesh, India.

It’s a magical little city nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas that’s holy to Hindus and a mystical playground for Westerners.

The journey was something I lightly anticipated as “Eat, Pray, Love … minus the pizza and sex.” It turned out to be so much more.

Maybe you followed the two-week experience, as it unfolded, at #RoamingRavitz. Or perhaps you’re hearing about this adventure for the first time. Either way, I hope you’ll be curious to learn more.

My time in Rishikesh was full. What I learned from the swamis, gurus, astrologers, yogis, healers and seekers I met there left my head and heart spinning.

Months later, I have finally made sense of it all. I invite you to check out the full story of my odyssey at "Indian Awakenings."

Also be sure to read "Lost and found: Missing in Rishikesh, India, the 'Land of Gods,'" where I delve into the mysteries surrounding the disappearance in Rishikesh of two Western men. Some have theorized that they fell victim to "India Syndrome," an unusual condition in which young Western travelers become delusional and, in extreme cases, disappear - often during quests for enlightenment.

I went into both reporting ventures not knowing what to expect. They brought me places I never saw coming.

If a spiritual destination left you transformed, I'd love to know where you went and what you learned. Please feel free to share in the comments section.

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Hinduism • India • Journeys

June 2nd, 2014
11:25 AM ET

China's latest crackdown target: religion

Opinion by William McKenzie, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Early on the morning of November 28, 2007, Jia Weihan was forced to think the unthinkable: Was her father really a bad man?

At the time, she was an 11-year-old attending a school in Beijing that taught her to respect the communist authorities. When 30 or so police officers arrived to arrest her father, she did not know what to think.

As it turned out, her father, Shi Weihan, the pastor of a house church, was simply trying to live out his religious beliefs. That should be a fundamental right, but in China - even the more economically liberalized China – it’s not.

Twenty-five years after Tiananmen Square - where on June 4, 1989, Chinese soldiers turned their guns on protesting students and activists - freedom remains elusive.

In China, Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims face worse conditions than at any time over the past decade, according to a report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The report warns that independent Protestants and Catholics face arrests, fines and the closing of their churches. The government recently bulldozed one large church in the city of Wenzhou.

The report also highlights other restrictions, including these problems:

"Practitioners of Falun Gong, as well as other Buddhist, folk religionist, and Protestant groups deemed 'superstitious' or 'evil cults' face long jail terms, forced denunciations of faith and torture in detention, and the government has not sufficiently answered accusations of psychiatric experimentation and organ harvesting."

In Shi's case, he had decided not to tell Jia and her 7-year-old sister, Enmei, that he was printing Bibles and Christian literature. That was against Chinese law, so he did not want to put his children in jeopardy by letting them in on the secret.

Their children soon came to understand the secret, in a life-altering way.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog Editor

Filed under: Asia • Belief • China • Christianity • Church and state • Discrimination • Foreign policy • Opinion • Persecution

The worst places in the world to be religious
Rohingya Muslim children at a refugee camp in Burma, where authorities have incited violence against them, according to the State Department.
May 15th, 2014
10:56 AM ET

The worst places in the world to be religious

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor

(CNN) - Since 1999, the U.S. State Department has tracked the world's worst abusers of religious rights. 

As the most recent report notes, it has never lacked for material. Persecutions of people of faith are rising across the globe.

Among the most worrying trends, according to the State Department, are "authoritarian governments that restrict their citizens’ ability to practice their religion."

In typically bland bureaucratic language, the State Department calls these "countries of particular concern." But the designation can come with some teeth.

Sudan, for example, where a Christian woman was sentenced to death this week for leaving Islam, is ineligible for some types of foreign aid.

In addition to Sudan, here are the State Department's "countries of particular concern." You might call them "The Worst Places in the World to Be Religious."

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog Editor

Filed under: Africa • Baha'i • China • Christianity • Church and state • Discrimination • Foreign policy • Interfaith issues • Iran • Islam • Islamic law • Middle East • Muslim • North Korea • Persecution • Prejudice • Religious violence • Saudi Arabia • Tibet • Tibet • Violence

9 myths about Hinduism — debunked
An Indian artist dresses as Kali, the goddess of destruction, at a festival in Allahabad earlier this month.
April 25th, 2014
09:00 AM ET

9 myths about Hinduism — debunked

By Moni Basu, CNN

(CNN) - Caste. Cows. Karma.

Suhag Shukla knows that’s how some people outside Hinduism see her religion. As the head of the Hindu American Foundation, Shukla, 42, clarifies misconceptions all the time.

Hinduism is ancient, though there is no specific date for when it was formed. The name is a Sanskrit word; Hinduism and Hindu were coined by invaders who used the terms to refer to the people they encountered when they crossed the Hindu Kush mountains and arrived at the Indus River.

Hotel Death: It's a place of celebration and salvation for souls

In America, Hinduism’s profile was elevated by Indian immigrants who brought their customs and rituals with them and perhaps most recently, by the growing popularity of Hindu teachings like yoga and meditation. FULL POST

- Moni Basu

Filed under: Asia • Hinduism • India

'Eat, Pray, Love' ... minus the pizza and sex
We're heading to Rishikesh in India, which is considered the yoga capital of the world.
January 7th, 2014
12:37 PM ET

'Eat, Pray, Love' ... minus the pizza and sex

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

(CNN) Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, sits a magical place ripe for exploration. It’s called Rishikesh, and for the next two weeks it will be our spiritual playground.

I am going there thanks to a religion reporting fellowship, and I’d like to take you with me.

A holy spot for Hindus, Rishikesh is also a destination for Westerners hungering for a different and deeper kind of sustenance. Among the most renowned Rishikesh searchers: The Beatles, who came here in 1968 to study Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

It’s dotted with ashrams. Painted holy men roam the streets and sit in nearby caves. There are sunset ceremonies along the sacred Ganges River, and yoga classes flow as consistently as the hallowed waters. Pilgrims flock to temples. Visitors can surrender to ancient forms of medicine, find healing and be cleansed. Some are said to arrive in Rishikesh and never leave, losing themselves forever in the quest for enlightenment.
FULL POST

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Hinduism • India • Journeys • Meditation • Yoga

November 18th, 2013
08:18 AM ET

Religion as solace in the Philippines

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.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Catholic Church • Christianity • Death • Faith • Foreign policy • Philippines

Jesus statue unscathed by Typhoon Haiyan
A giant statue of Jesus Christ on Calvary Hill in the coastal town of Tanauan in the Philippines.
November 13th, 2013
09:31 AM ET

Jesus statue unscathed by Typhoon Haiyan

(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.

MORE ON CNN: Philippines aid pours in but survivors still going hungry

So, what do you think, readers: Is the unscathed Jesus statue a miraculous sign of hope amid the ruins or just a random coincidence?

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Faith • Jesus • natural disasters • Philippines

Where was God in the Philippines?
A flood survivor is surrounded by debris on the Philippine island of Leyte.
November 11th, 2013
11:16 AM ET

Where was God in the Philippines?

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-editor

(CNN) – The disasters are always different and often devastating. But the questions they raise are hauntingly familiar.

In the days since Super Typhoon Haiyan swept through the Philippines on Thursday, survivors are frantically searching for lost family members and international aid groups are springing into action.

Officials say the death toll may rise to 10,000 in the heavily Catholic country. Meanwhile, many people are asking: How should we make sense of such senseless death and destruction? Was God in the whirlwind itself, as the Bible hints, or present only in the aftermath, as people mobilize to provide food, water and shelter?

These questions may not be new, but we keep asking them, perhaps because the answers remain so elusive.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog Editor

Filed under: Asia • Atheism • Belief • Bible • Buddhism • Christianity • Death • Ethics • Faith • God • Islam • Judaism • natural disasters • Philippines • Prayer

   older posts »
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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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.

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