April 17th, 2014
03:23 PM ET
(CNN) – U.S. officials Thursday denounced what one called a "grotesque" leaflet ordering Jews in one eastern Ukrainian city to register with a government office, but the Jewish community there dismissed it as a "provocation."
The fliers were handed out by masked men in front the main synagogue in Donetsk, where pro-Russian protesters have declared a "People's Republic," Jewish leaders there said. The document warned the city's Jews to register and document their property or face deportation, according to a CNN translation of one of the leaflets.
Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper" that a respected Jewish leader in Ukraine showed him a photograph of one of the leaflets. He called the document "chilling."
And in Geneva, where diplomats held emergency talks on the Ukrainian crisis, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the leaflets "grotesque" and "beyond unacceptable."
But the Jewish community statement said relations between the Jews of Donetsk and their neighbors were amicable, and the self-proclaimed head of the "People's Republic," Denis Pushilin, denied any connection to the fliers.
Pushilin told CNN the handwriting on the flier wasn't his, and the title attached to his name was not one he uses. It wasn't clear who had distributed the leaflets, but the chief rabbi of nearby Dnipropetrovsk said, "Everything must be done to catch them."
"It's important for everyone to know its not true," said the rabbi, Shmuel Kaminezki. "The Jews of Donetsk will not do what the letter says."
The reports come as Ukraine's Western-backed interim government has been struggling to contain uprisings by pro-Russian political movements in several eastern cities, with both sides invoking the historical horror of Nazism in their disputes. Pyatt told CNN that radical groups may be trying to stir up historic fears or create a provocation to justify further violence.
"It's chilling. I was disgusted by these leaflets," Pyatt said. "Especially in Ukraine, a country that suffered so terribly under the Nazis, that was one of the sites of the worst violence of the Holocaust. To drag up this kind of rhetoric is almost beyond belief."FULL STORY
March 25th, 2014
11:53 PM ET
Programing Note: Don't miss Wolf Blitzer Reports: Popes and Presidents on Easter Sunday, April 20 at 2 p.m. ET. The 30-minute special explores the long and sometimes troubled history between the White House and the Vatican.
(CNN) - President Barack Obama will meet with Pope Francis on Thursday at the Vatican, opening a new chapter in the centuries-long relationships between the United States and the Holy See.
While Obama has praised Francis’ focus on the poor, popes and American presidents haven’t always seen eye to eye.
With that in mind, here are five surprising encounters between the Commander in Chief and the Successor to St. Peter.
1. George Washington banned the burning of papal effigies
On the anniversary of Guy Fawkes’ Day, when a Catholic plot to assassinate the Protestant King of England was disrupted, American soldiers would often mark the day by torching a straw pope.
But just five months after George Washington took command of the Continental Congress’ army in 1775, he issued an order prohibiting the violent expression of anti-Catholic bigotry.
March 18th, 2014
10:03 AM ET
Washington (CNN) - Flanked by Jewish politicians in front of the United Nations on a July day, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton made a forceful appeal for the United States to back Israel as the Jewish nation's forces squared off against Hezbollah during the 2006 Lebanon War.
"We will stand with Israel because Israel is standing for American values as well as Israeli ones," said Clinton, who was an outspoken defender of Israel and representative for American Jews for eight years in the Senate.
But it wasn't always that way. She had to work hard for Jewish support in 2000 as the New York Jewish community was skeptical of her support for Israel and publicly wondered whether the former first lady was too sympathetic with the Palestinians.
But by the time she ran for president in 2008, a number of Jewish Democrats said her record with the community was unprecedented. Touting her foreign policy credentials and defense of Israel, Jewish leaders flocked to Clinton as she ran against Barack Obama in the Democratic primaries.FULL STORY
February 6th, 2014
10:56 AM ET
Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama says that "around the world, freedom of religion is under threat."
And at the annual National Prayer Breakfast Thursday, the President also said he's looking forward to meeting Pope Francis.
"I'm especially looking forward to returning to the Vatican next month to meet his holiness, Pope Francis, whose message about caring for the least of these I hope all of us heed. Like (the Apostle) Matthew he has answered the call of Jesus, who said 'follow me' and he inspires us with his words and deeds, his humility and his mercy and his missionary impulses to serve the cause of social justice," Obama said.
The President touted the Pope's stance on inequality as he and congressional Democrats highlight the issue of income inequality. Obama met Francis' predecessor, Benedict XVI, in 2009. That meeting, which took place at the Vatican, was Obama's only meeting with a Pope.
Much of Obama's remarks focused on threats to religious freedom abroad, from China to Egypt to Sudan and Burma.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.
October 28th, 2013
03:56 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog co-editorFollow @BurkeCNN
Washington (CNN) – As terrorism increasingly becomes a tactic of warfare, the number of attacks and fatalities soared to a record high in 2012, according to a new report obtained exclusively by CNN.
More than 8,500 terrorist attacks killed nearly 15,500 people last year as violence tore through Africa, Asia and the Middle East, according to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism.
That’s a 69% rise in attacks and an 89% jump in fatalities from 2011, said START, one of the world’s leading terrorism-trackers.
Six of the seven most deadly groups are affiliated with al Qaeda, according to START, and most of the violence was committed in Muslim-majority countries.
The previous record for attacks was set in 2011 with more than 5,000 incidents; for fatalities the previous high was 2007 with more than 12,800 deaths.
October 11th, 2013
02:33 PM ET
Washington (CNN) – Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky devoted his speech to the socially conservative Values Voter Summit to “a war on Christianity” that is being waged by “fanatics of Islam.”
Much of Paul’s speech was a list of violence against Christians across the Muslim world, highlighting what he said was “not a little problem” and something that is “not going away quickly.”
“Across the globe, Christians are under attack almost as if we lived in the Middle Ages or we lived under early pagan Roman rule,” Paul said. “This administration does nothing to stop it and it can be argued that it is giving aid and comfort to those who tolerate these crimes.”FULL STORY
September 5th, 2013
12:04 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) - Pope Francis on Thursday wrote to the G-20 leaders, saying that military intervention in Syria would be "futile" and urging them to seek a diplomatic solution instead.
"To the leaders present, to each and every one," Francis wrote in a public letter, "I make a heartfelt appeal for them to help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions and to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution."
The pope's letter was addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is hosting the G-20 meeting, where the Syrian conflict is expected to take center stage.
September 4th, 2013
04:47 PM ET
By Daniel Burke and Mitra Mobasherat, CNN
(CNN) - Marking a sharp shift from his Holocaust-denying predecessor, new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday appeared to wish "all Jews" a "blessed Rosh Hashanah" on his English-language Twitter account.
Rosh Hashanah, of course, is the Jewish celebration of the new year. As Rouhani mentions, it began Wednesday at sundown. The image in the tweet is reportedly taken from a synagogue in Tehran.
September 4th, 2013
01:10 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) - How did Syria go from an internal uprising to a wider clash drawing funding and fighters from across the region?
In a word, Middle East experts say, religion.
Shiite Muslims from Lebanon, Iraq and Iran have flooded into Syria to defend sacred sites and President Bashar al-Assad's embattled regime. Sunni Muslims, some affiliated with al Qaeda, have rushed in to join rebels, most of whom are Sunni.
Both sides use religious rhetoric as a rallying cry, calling each other "infidels" and "Satan's army."
"That is why it has become so muddy," said professor Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. "The theological question has returned to the center."
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.