healing

Pilgrimage: Normandy and Lourdes defy the stereotypes of France's ardent secularism

Pilgrimage: Normandy and Lourdes defy the stereotypes of France's ardent secularism

For such a secular country, there are certainly lots of religious symbols to be found in France and religious institutions and activities continue to make news.

The country and many of its citizens do pride themselves on the principle of laicite — French for secularism — but is there really an absence of religion in public life?

Not really. It’s true that Notre Dame, one of the biggest symbols of European Christianity for centuries, has been cordoned off for the past two months after a tragic fire, deemed accidental, destroyed the roof. The cathedral, which will undergo a major renovation, is off limits to tourists. Nonetheless, the towering house of worship remains a symbol of Paris and part of this beautiful city’s skyline. The city’s other churches worth a visit include the Church of Saint Sulpice and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, known as Sacre-Coeur.

Outside Paris, God’s visibility is even more pronounced. Two very different sites — Lourdes, one of the holiest in the world for Roman Catholics, and the U.S. cemetery at Normandy — have the ability to bring visitors closer to God in very different ways. There are reminders everywhere of the country’s religious past and how that symbolism continues to play a part in the lives of millions, both visitors and residents, who visit them. As a result, it’s not so unusual for tour operators to include packages to visit both sites.

It is worth noting that this notion of secularism, as it pertains to French government policies, was the result of a law passed in 1905 calling for this strict separation of church and state. While true that religious symbols have been removed from French public life (a possible reason why so many Muslims have found integration so difficult), Lourdes and Normandy may be the two places where this very human law seems to not apply.

First stop on this countrywide pilgrimage is Lourdes. A six-hour train ride (fares range from $134 to $193 roundtrip) from Paris gets you to Lourdes, a southern trip through the French countryside until finally pulling into the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains. While many take trains into Lourdes to embark on their pilgrimage, many from across Europe (particularly those from neighboring Italy and Spain) board coach buses to get there.

Lourdes became a major pilgrimage site after a 14-year-old girl named Bernadette Soubirous claimed to see the Blessed Virgin Mary on Feb. 11, 1858 through a vision. Soubirous would see Mary another 17 times near a grotto over the course of five months. Unaware she was having a vision, Mary told the girl: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”  

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This is a viral news story, obviously: What religion groups oppose vaccinations and why?

This is a viral news story, obviously: What religion groups oppose vaccinations and why?

THE QUESTION:

In light of the recent measles outbreak spreading from certain enclaves of U.S. Orthodox Jews, does their religion, or any other, oppose vaccination?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

The current epidemic of highly contagious measles is America’s worst since 2000 when the federal Centers for Disease Control proclaimed the disease eradicated. At this writing there are 704 known cases of the disease, three-fourths of them in New York State, but no deaths yet. The epidemic apparently originated with travelers returning from Israel and then spread out from close-knit neighborhoods of strict Orthodox Jews (often labeled “ultra-Orthodox”) in New York City’s Brooklyn borough and suburban Rockland County, where some residents have not been vaccinated.

New York City has undertaken unusually sharp measures, leveling fines for those lacking vaccination and shutting down some Jewish schools. Significantly, vaccination is being urged by such “Torah true” Jewish organizations as Agudath Israel, United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, the Orthodox Jewish Nurses Association, the Yiddish-language newspaper Der Yid and by rabbinic authorities in Israel.

Medical science is all but universal in refuting claims that have been made about some unexplained link between the increase in autism and the customary MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) or other inoculations of children. Though individual rabbis may hold anti-vaxx ideas, avoidance is not a matter of religious edicts but a secular counterculture, including a since-discredited medical journal article, Internet propaganda and publications from groups like Parents Educating and Advocating for Children’s Health (PEACH) and Robert Kennedy Jr.’s Children’s Health Defense, certain entertainment celebrities, and an offhand remark by candidate Donald Trump.

The journal Vaccine observed in 2013 that outbreaks within religious groups result from “a social network of people organized around a faith community, rather than theologically based objections.”

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Buzzfeed takes the time to dig into Bethel Church and gets this complex story right

Buzzfeed takes the time to dig into Bethel Church and gets this complex story right

One of the most intriguing churches in the country is Bethel Church in northern California. If there is a Jesus movement among today’s millennials, Bethel is its epicenter.

Despite the thousands of visitors this place receives from around the world, its influence has gone almost unnoticed by the media, which tends to be clueless about current trends among Pentecostals and charismatics.

Fortunately, reporters are beginning to discover Bethel via a book by two scholars affiliated with the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture. The authors of "The Rise of Network Christianity" have been planting guest editorials in several places warning readers of the evils of this movement, plus why people need to educate themselves about it -- and read their book, of course.

There’s also been articles about the movement associated with Bethel, such Bob Smietana’s recent piece in Christianity Today and a piece yours truly wrote for Religion News Service last year. 

But there hasn’t been a whole lot else. It’s a tough movement to pin down, much less write about. The latest effort at explaining Bethel -- in the form of a first-person feature story -- comes from Buzzfeed. It begins:

It’s the first day of Prophecy Week at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. Or, as students here like to call the place, Christian Hogwarts.
The auditorium of the civic center in Redding, California, where first-year students have class, is so full of eager, neatly dressed young people that it’s initially impossible to find a seat. The roomful of some 1,200 students hums with expectant energy…

The piece goes on to describe Bethel Church and Kris Vallotton, one of its main preachers.

The Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry is at the forefront of a burgeoning -- and decidedly youthful -- evangelical Christian revival. Some have called its movement the fastest-growing religious group in America -- a loose network of churches, led by so-called apostles, who see supernatural gifts like prophecy and faith healing as the key to global conversion. While other religious movements struggle to retain members and draw in young people, Bethel attracts millennials in droves.

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Note to The Independent: There's no way this MP candidate thinks that she healed a man

Note to The Independent: There's no way this MP candidate thinks that she healed a man

I've never been sure why, but the subject of prayer causes problems for many mainstream news reporters. I think part of the problem is that some reporters think they have to believe that prayer "works" in order to take prayer seriously.

Thus, I have heard mainstream journalists say that it's a "fact" that prayer does not work and that real journalists must strive to present solid facts and nothing more. After all, academic studies of the effectiveness of prayer -- linked to medical issues -- have been mixed.

Yes, from the viewpoint of a skeptical editor it's hard to prove -- as a fact -- that prayer "works" (although some academic studies of miracles are fascinating). Nevertheless, journalists need to remember that it is a fact that millions of people in many faiths around the world believe in the power of prayer and that their actions in real life, based on those beliefs, frequently affect real events and trends in the news.

I bring this up because of a revealing error in a story, and headline, that ran in The Independent about a British woman named Kristy Adams who is running for Parliament. The problem is clearly seen in the double-decker headline:

Tory MP candidate 'claims she healed deaf man through prayer '
'I don't know if he was more surprised than me,' says Kristy Adams

That's right. The journalists behind this story seem to think that Adams thinks that SHE healed someone. Here is the overture in this report:

A Conservative party candidate has reportedly claimed she healed a deaf man with her bare hands by channelling the power of prayer.

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Toughest church-states battles: When faith-healing doctrines lead to children dying

Toughest church-states battles: When faith-healing doctrines lead to children dying

Anyone who has studied the separation of church and state knows that there are all kinds of issues in this field that cry out for compromise -- but compromises acceptable to both sides are often next to impossible to find.

No, I am not talking about LGBTQ issues that pit religious liberty against emerging concepts of sexual liberty.

I'm talking about cases in which the religious convictions of parents -- specifically the belief that all medical issues should be handled through prayer and "natural" remedies -- lead to the death of children. Basically, courts are being asked to draw a line limiting parental rights, when it comes to a contest between faith and modern medicine.

As a rule, state officials are supposed to avoid becoming entangled in matters of faith and doctrine. However, there are limits. Here at GetReligion, I have repeatedly noted that state officials have the right to intervene when cases involve fraud, profit and clear threat to life and health. "Faith healing" cases pivot on whether a religious group's teachings represent a "clear threat" to believers, especially children.

A reader recently pointed me to a massive PennLive.com (Gannett newspapers in Central Pennsylvania) report that ran under the headline: "God's will vs. medicine: Does Faith Tabernacle beliefs put children at risk?"

I want to stress that there is much to recommend in this piece, including the fact that it places debates about Pennsylvania law affecting "faith healing" in the context of ongoing national debates about Christian Science, the teachings of the Jehovah's Witnesses, the traditions of the Amish and others. There are places where I would question the wording used by the PennLive.com team, but I still want to salute the research done here.

This piece is way better than the norm on this difficult topic. Here is a long, but crucial passage:

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There he goes again: The media's ongoing struggle to cover Tim Tebow's faith

There he goes again: The media's ongoing struggle to cover Tim Tebow's faith

That Tim Tebow guy, he sure does present some challenges to mainstream sports reporters who may or may not be all that comfortable with religious faith.

In the latest episode of this long-running drama, Tebow -- who has been taking a shot at professional baseball -- played his first game in an Arizona Fall League, along with other major- and minor-league prospects. He made contact in his at bats, but went without a hit. Tebow was his normal humble, practical self in this ESPN story about the game:

"Obviously, I wish I could have done a little bit more at the plate and got a couple of hits," Tebow said after his AFL debut. "But it was fun. You've got to knock a little rust off. ... Each day is not just about the result. It's about: What are you learning? How are you improving? How are you going to be able to take that over into spring training?"

However, the real story on this day had nothing to do with baseball. Afterwards, Tebow lingered along the third-base line to sign autographs and talk with fans, from a much larger than normal fall-game crowd. That's when there was a medical emergency.

Let's walk through this scene a bit, as described down in the body of this ESPN report:

When one fan had a seizure, Tebow opted to stay with him until paramedics arrived.
"I just remember just being very disoriented,'' Brandon Berry told The Associated Press by phone. "Then I saw Tim."

Now here is the question asked by some readers: Did Tebow -- the son of medical missionaries -- stay with the man or did he pray with the man?

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Wait a minute, NPR: Catholics are the only Christians who seek the help of the saints?

Wait a minute, NPR: Catholics are the only Christians who seek the help of the saints?

The other day I received a note from a GetReligion reader who clearly knows some theology.

The email concerned a passage in a National Public Radio story about St. Teresa of Kolkata that our reader knew, since I am an Eastern Orthodox layman, would punch my buttons. The reader was right. There is a good chance that NPR producers know little or nothing about Orthodox Christianity. Hold that thought.

The key to this case study is a very, very fine point of theology that is going to be hard to explain. It's possible that the story may have just barely missed the mark. However, it's more likely that it contains a spew-your-caffeinated beverage error that needs to be corrected.

Let's carefully tip-toe into this minefield. The passage in question focuses on the miracles, documented by church officials, that led to the canonization of the famous Albanian nun known as Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

A key quote comes from Bishop Robert Barron, the auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Read carefully and, well, pay attention to details about theology and church history:

Humanitarian work alone, however, is not sufficient for canonization in the Catholic Church. Normally, a candidate must be associated with at least two miracles. The idea is that a person worthy of sainthood must demonstrably be in heaven, actually interceding with God on behalf of those in need of healing.

Let me pause and note the presence of the word "interceding."

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NYTimes magazine lands graceful piece on Pentecostal child preachers in Brazil

NYTimes magazine lands graceful piece on Pentecostal child preachers in Brazil

Every once in awhile, there’s a story that just sings. And this New York Times Magazine feature on the child pentecostal preachers of Brazil is such a piece.

Some background: Although Pentecostalism began in the United States in the early 1900s, it has really taken off in Latin America (see the massive Pew Forum studies of this), especially Brazil even more than in the U.S.  This growth, especially in the closing decades of the 20th century, was enough to alarm the Catholic authorities that held sway over much of Latin America for four centuries. Some say one reason for the election of Pope Francis, from neighboring Argentina, was part of a Catholic effort to regain lost ground on this continent.

But child preachers? Pentecostalism in the U.S. has such a tradition but Brazil? And female ones at that? The article starts thus:

It was fall in Brazil, and rain drizzled under a gray moon. The faithful were beginning to arrive at the International Mission of Miracles, a Pentecostal church in the poor and working-class city of São Gonçalo, 10 miles from Rio de Janeiro. In front of the church, which was located between a supermarket and an abandoned lot, a banner staked in the muddy ground advertised a young girl named Alani Santos, whose touch could heal …

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Strangest Ebola religion story yet? What, pray tell, is a 'non-religious' church?

Strangest Ebola religion story yet? What, pray tell, is a 'non-religious' church?

Talk about a tough call. Is this the strangest religion-angle Ebola story yet?

There are so many strange things to note in the following report from way down under, care of The New Zealand Herald. First of all there is the deceptively simple double-decker headline:

Warning over 'miracle' Ebola cure
Warning ahead of NZ seminar to push church’s ‘miracle’ potion

OK, so you have the word "miracle" in the same headline with the word "church." That's a somewhat logical connection, I know, but what kind of church are we talking about that says it has a cure for miraculous Ebola? 

Read the top of this story very carefully:

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