TIME Malaysia

A Guy Held a Dog-Petting Event and Got Death Threats From Muslim Hard-Liners

TO GO WITH AFP STORY: Malaysia-energy-da
A boy plays with dogs outside his long house in Nahajale, Malaysia's Sarawak region, on Sept. 25, 2011 Mohd Rasfan—AFP/Getty Images

Hard-liners in Malaysia insist he “should be stoned to death” because dogs are considered unclean

A Malaysian social activist has received death threats and torrents of online abuse for organizing a dog-familiarization event that religious conservatives claim insults Islam.

More than 1,000 people attended the “I Want to Touch a Dog” event in the affluent Bandar Utama neighborhood on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur on Sunday to learn about Islam’s views on canines and become familiar with the animals, which are a source of fear for many Malaysians.

But the event’s planner, Syed Azmi Alhabshi, has now been forced into hiding after hard-liners insisted he “should be stoned to death.”

Traditionally, dogs are considered haram, or forbidden, in Islam as they are thought of as dirty. But while conservatives advocate complete avoidance, moderates simply say Muslims should not touch the animal’s mucous membranes — such as the nose or mouth — which are considered especially impure. Even if that happens, they say, there is a special cleansing ritual that can be followed.

How to touch dogs in an Islamic way was the point of the “I Want to Touch a Dog” event. Although officially haram, many Malaysians own dogs for security, partly because of a worsening national crime wave. (Malaysia’s Selangor Islamic Religious Department, an influential clerical body, says that Muslims can own dogs as working animals, for security, hunting and other functions.)

Siti Sakinah, an NGO worker, attended the event with her children in order to “overcome their fear and to learn that dogs are also creatures created by Allah that need love and care,” she told the Malaysian Insider.

On Thursday, respected Malaysian human-rights campaigner Marina Mahathir wrote an op-ed in the Star newspaper defending Syed Azmi and slamming the “ignorance” of those orchestrating the hate campaign.

“I didn’t realize that kindness is now considered despicable but then the world has turned upside down,” she wrote. “Never mind that the intention of those who attended was to learn about one of God’s own creatures and how to treat them kindly.”

The dog debate in Malaysia is in fact nothing new. In colonial times, local people were forced to deal with an alien influx of dogs brought by British planters and officials, which in turn made the pets fashionable among many prominent Malays, including royals.

At this time, a vibrant and largely cordial discourse thrived between the kaum tua (old conservatives) and kaum muda (young moderates) about how to handle dogs. The issue was even documented in a book by celebrated American historian William R. Roff.

Today, however, this polarity is hugely politicized. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government has brazenly fostered religious conservatism to win the ethnic Malay vote, and some of those attacking Syed Azmi say that he is part of a Zionist plot.

One Facebook user’s comment — as reported by the Malaysian Insider — illustrates the level of paranoia in the hard-line camp. The user said the dog-familiarization event was part of “a Jewish agenda to Christianise Muslim-Malaysians through subtle measures.”

Bridget Welsh, a Southeast Asia expert based in Kuala Lumpur for the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies, tells TIME that the conservatives “have been dominating the discourse and want to continue imposing their perspective.”

Marina argues that the storm has been cooked up by authorities attempting to maintain control. After all, she asks, “how does hating anything and everything make us happy and better Muslims?”

TIME Religion

Pope Beatifies Paul VI at Remarkable Synod’s End

Pope Francis waves as he leaves after he celebrated the beatification ceremony of Pope Paul VI, and a mass for the closing of of a two-week synod on family issues, in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican on Oct. 19, 2014.
Pope Francis waves as he leaves after he celebrated the beatification ceremony of Pope Paul VI, and a mass for the closing of of a two-week synod on family issues, in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican on Oct. 19, 2014. Andrew Medichini—AP

(VATICAN CITY) — Pope Francis on Sunday beatified Pope Paul VI, concluding the remarkable meeting of bishops debating family issues that drew parallels to the tumultuous reforms of the Second Vatican Council which Paul oversaw and implemented.

Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI was on hand for the Mass, which took place just hours after Catholic bishops approved a document charting a more pastoral approach to ministering to Catholic families.

They failed to reach consensus on the two most divisive issues at the synod: on welcoming gays and divorced and civilly remarried couples. But the issues remain up for discussion ahead of another meeting of bishops next year.

While the synod scrapped its ground-breaking welcome and showed deep divisions on hot-button issues, the fact that the questions are on the table is significant given that they had been taboo until Francis’ papacy.

“God is not afraid of new things!” Francis exclaimed in his homily Sunday. “That is why he is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways.”

He quoted Paul himself as saying the church, particularly the synod of bishops which Paul established, must survey the signs of the times to make sure the church adapts methods to respond to the “growing needs of our time and the changing conditions of society.”

Paul was elected in 1963 to succeed the popular Pope John XXIII, and during his 15-year reign was responsible for implementing the reforms of Vatican II and charting the church through the tumultuous years of the 1960s sexual revolution.

Vatican II opened the way for Mass to be said in local languages instead of in Latin, called for greater involvement of the laity in the life of the church and revolutionized the church’s relations with people of other faiths.

He is perhaps best known, though, for the divisive 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which enshrined the church’s opposition to artificial contraception.

More than 50 years later, Humanae Vitae still elicits criticism for being unrealistic given the vast majority of Catholics ignore its teaching on birth control. In their final synod document, bishops restated doctrine, but they also said the church must respect couples in their moral evaluation of contraception methods.

The bishops also signaled a muted opening toward gays, saying they should be “welcomed with respect and sensitivity.” That language was far less welcoming than initially proposed, and it failed to get the necessary two-thirds majority vote to pass.

“I have the impression many would have preferred a more open, positive language,” Canadian Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher wrote on his blog in explaining the apparent protest vote on the gay paragraph. “Not finding it in this paragraph, they might have chosen to indicate their disapproval of it. However, it has also been published, and the reflection will have to continue.”

The beatification marked the third 20th century pope Francis has elevated this year: In April, he canonized Sts. John Paul II and John XXIII. That historic event marked the first time a reigning and retired pope — Francis and Benedict — had celebrated Mass together in public in the 2,000-year history of the church.

Benedict returned to the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica for Paul’s outdoor beatification Mass in a potent symbol of the continuity of the church, despite differences in style and priorities that were so evident in the synod meetings this week.

Paul was beatified, the first step toward possible sainthood, after the Vatican certified a miracle attributed to his intercession concerning a California boy whom doctors had said would be born with serious birth defects. The boy, whose identity has been kept secret at his parents’ request, is now a healthy teen.

A second miracle needs to be certified by the Vatican for him to be canonized.

The Vatican said 70,000 people attended Sunday’s Mass, held under sunny Roman skies, far fewer than the 800,000 people who attended the dual canonization earlier this year. Paul is often called the “forgotten” or “misunderstood” pope, caught between the “good pope” John XXIII and the crowd-pleasing, globe-trotting John Paul.

TIME LGBT

Houston’s Pastors Outraged After City Subpoenas Sermons Over Transgender Bill

Ted Cruz
Sen. Ted Cruz is surrounded by preachers as he addresses a crowd at a Houston church Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014 about a legal dispute involving several pastors fighting subpoenas from Houston city attorneys. Pat Sullivan—AP

City officials have subpoenaed the sermons of five pastors who oppose the Houston's new equal rights ordinance

Houston, with its left-leaning, openly gay mayor governing an influential conservative and evangelical base, is a city politically divided. That division has been made clear in recent days after the city subpoenaed sermons of several pastors who oppose a recently passed equal rights ordinance for gay and transgender residents. The subpoenas are an attempt by city officials to determine how the preachers instructed their congregants in their push to get the law repealed.

The city’s subpoenas targeted sermons and speeches by five Houston pastors with ties to religious leaders attempting to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which bars businesses from discriminating against gay and transgender residents. The law, passed into law by Mayor Annise Parker in May, is often derided as a “bathroom bill,” because it allows transgender individuals to choose whether to use a male or female restroom.

This summer, a group of local pastors and religious leaders began gathering signatures in an attempt to get a referendum to repeal the law on this November’s ballot. But City Attorney David Feldman blocked that attempt by throwing out thousands of signatures he said didn’t meet the criteria to qualify, incensing groups opposed to the rule.

Local religious leaders claim Feldman illegally disqualified the referendum and have filed a suit against the city. Mayor Parker, meanwhile, has pledged not to enforce the ordinance until there’s a court decision. But the move by the city to subpoena Houston’s pastors, who have been vocal on the issue and have urged their congregants to support a repeal referendum, has drawn national attention. Republican Senator Ted Cruz said in a statement that the subpoenas were “shocking and shameful,” and Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins has called for the city to drop them as well.

“The chilling effect of government scrutiny of our pastors is unconstitutional, and unconscionable,” Perkins said in a statement. “Mayor Parker’s use of her bully pulpit to silence pulpit freedom must be stopped in its tracks.”

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott also issued a letter saying the city impinged on the pastors’ First Amendment rights and called for the subpoenas’ immediate reversal. “Whether you intend it to be so or not, your action is a direct assault on the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment,” Abbott wrote to Feldman. “The people of Houston and their religious leaders must be absolutely secure in their knowledge that their religious affairs are beyond the reach of the government.”

University of Houston law professor Peter Linzer says the city reached too far in issuing the subpoenas. One subpoena sent to Pastor Steve Riggle, for example, asks for “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to [the equal rights ordinance], the petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity.” However, Linzer says it wouldn’t impinge on the pastors’ First Amendment rights if the city only asked only for sermons or speeches related to the signature drive. “Let’s assume they gave instructions to cheat,” Linzer says. “That would be relevant speech and I don’t see how they would have any First Amendment protection for that.”

Among those fighting the city’s move is the Alliance for Defending Freedom, a religious freedom advocacy non-profit whose lawyers have filed a motion trying to quash the subpoenas. “I haven’t seen any indication that the city is backing down,” says Erik Stanley, the group’s senior legal counsel. “But we’re hopeful that they will. The only thing we can figure is they were subpoenaed because they spoke out against the ordinance. And they urged people to sign the petition. They exercised their constitutional rights to speak out.”

Still, Mayor Parker and City Attorney David Feldman appeared to backtrack on the subpoenas Wednesday, saying they had only recently learned of them and that outside lawyers handled the lawsuit. They argued the city is merely looking for communications from those pastors regarding the petition drive, but that the subpoenas’ language was inappropriate.

“There’s no question the wording was overly broad,” Parker said in a news conference Wednesday. “But I also think there was some deliberate misinterpretation.” Feldman, the city attorney, called the uproar over the wording “ridiculous,” but also has argued that if a pastor is speaking about political issues from the pulpit, it’s not protected. The mayor’s office declined to comment further for this story.

On Friday, The Houston Chronicle reported that the city would remove the term “sermon” from the subpoenas. Mayor Parker, however, said that relevant sermons regarding the petition drive could still be gathered.

TIME Religion

Pastor Accused of Affairs Temporarily Banned

Pastor-Adultery Accusations,  pastor Juan D. McFarland, Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church
Rev. Juan McFarland walks into the courthouse for a hearing on Oct. 16, 2014, in Montgomery, Ala. Brynn Anderson—AP

(MONTGOMERY, Ala.) — A minister who confessed to having sex with church members and neglecting to tell them he had AIDS was temporarily banned from acting as pastor on Thursday.

Montgomery County Circuit Judge Charles Price issued a preliminary injunction, as sought by deacons and trustees of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church. Price ruled that the Rev. Juan McFarland, 47, must turn in his church keys and his church Mercedes vehicle and then stay away from the church he led for 24 years.

Church members hugged and prayed after the ruling. “Now we’ve got the church back, and the healing can begin,” said Lois Caffey, a member for 21 years.

The judge scheduled a hearing Dec. 1 to decide whether to issue a permanent injunction.

Lee Sanford, chairman of the board of trustees, said the challenge now is to reunite the 170 active members of the congregation. “I’m confident with God’s help we will be able to do that,” he said.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit said that the congregation voted to fire McFarland after his confessions but that he refused to leave and changed the church’s locks and control of church bank accounts.

McFarland said nothing inside or outside the courtroom Thursday during two hearings. He attended without an attorney.

The boards of deacons and trustees sued both McFarland and church parliamentarian Marc Anthoni Peacock, who was involved in changing the locks and bank accounts. Peacock resigned from the church after testifying in court Thursday and was dropped from the suit.

One of the plaintiffs, Deacon Nathan Williams Jr., said church leaders had no suspicions about McFarland until he delivered sermons in in August and September, during which he confessed to having sex with church members in the church building, but not in the sanctuary; having AIDS but not telling sex partners; and using illegal drugs. Williams and Sanford said McFarland told the congregation that God directed him to make a public confession.

Williams testified that the congregation first tried to help the pastor but that when it didn’t work, members took a vote during a service Oct. 5 to fire him.

Parliamentarian Marc Anthoni Peacock testified that the meeting wasn’t officially called as part of the Sunday service and described it as “holy hell.” Peacock was originally a defendant in the lawsuit but resigned from the church Thursday and was dropped from the litigation.

Price said the courts have no role in religious matters, but they sometimes have to step in when congregations can’t settle their differences over control of buildings and money. “If it could be resolved in the church, it would have been already,” the judge told the courtroom packed, with more than 100 people.

Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church is more than 90 years old and is part of the National Baptist Convention. Church members on both sides of the pastoral dispute said the convention gives churches autonomy in personnel decisions.

TIME Religion

What I Learned About God After My Son Died

Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love
Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love Courtesy Penguin Random House

A new memoir, Rare Bird, chronicles the loss of a child, and the emotional and spiritual aftermath of tragedy

When Anna Whiston-Donaldson’s 12-year-old son, Jack Donaldson, drowned in a creek behind her family’s suburban Virginia home three years ago, she turned to her blog, An Inch of Gray, which she had previously used to post about her kids and daily life. There, she chronicled her emotions, grief and spirituality. Eventually, she realized she wanted to write a book, which became the recently published Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love, from which this is excerpted.

We begin visiting a different church. We don’t feel Jack’s absence as keenly here, even though it meets in a local elementary school in the same room where he attended Cub Scout pack meetings for five years.

We go at first to support the young pastor who showed up for us the night of Jack’s death, but then we keep coming. I have yet to tell him about a conversation I had with my pastor Linda three hours before the accident.

“Did you know there’s a new church coming to Vienna this fall?” I asked. She didn’t. I continued, “Well, I was reading their website during lunch, and I have a feeling we’ll be connected to them somehow.”

Strange. I guess I thought we could lend the church space in our building or maybe I would help them order materials for their Sunday school classes. Looking around the elementary school cafeteria now, months later, I know I got it wrong. I see two friends who recommitted their lives to God after Jack’s accident and started bringing their families here. I see the family we went to the beach with summer after summer when the kids were small, who understand what a precious person we lost in losing Jack. I see his math teacher, who got to teach him for only the first two days of seventh grade, but who is helping shepherd his classmates through their grief.

I see men who put on raincoats and traipsed through the mud, thinking surely they would find Jack injured but alive. And there are the couples who formed small groups in our neighborhood initially to talk about God and the death of a young boy, but who continue to meet and support one another week after week as more deaths and cancer diagnoses rock our small community. We are connected to this new church, just not in the way I had expected.

I don’t know if this is where we belong, but I’m open to it, even though I have worshiped in the same church my entire life. I’m not worried. What would have once seemed like a sea change feels more like a blip in comparison to losing Jack.

And whether I’m here or across town, I need church. I am not one who regularly sees God at the ocean, in the mountains, or in a sunrise, although since Jack died, I am increasingly finding Him there. God and I tend to meet in community, and even though I dread the exposed and vulnerable feeling I get walking into His house now, I can’t stay away.

It has nothing to do with obligation or religion. I need to show up, sit on the hard plastic chair, and say, “Here I am, Lord.” For me. I sing when I can, but I don’t push it if I don’t feel up to it. Margaret sometimes moves up to the front rows where the tweens sit, and I feel more freedom to cry than I do from our exposed perch in the balcony of our home church where my emotions continue to embarrass her.

The pastor, Johnny, jokes with Tim that he knows when we’ll visit because when we do, they always seem to have Jack and Margaret’s favorite hymn, “In Christ Alone,” on the schedule. They’ll start the music, he’ll scan the congregation, and bingo, there we are, wiping dripping eyes and noses with the back of our sleeves, because even though crying is inevitable, I don’t always remember tissues.

It feels a bit weird to be at a different church, even just part-time, but if we’re learning anything, it’s that life is weird. I take communion, but I don’t serve it anymore. I am not here as a leader or a giver. I don’t go out of my way to meet new people and make them feel welcome and comfortable, as would be my instinct. Instead, I am here to partake and absorb and let God’s words fall down on my head. I soak up the truth of who He is. I tell Him I am open to receive grace and comfort. I remind Him I trust Him, even though His ways are not mine and I am still sad and hurt.

I don’t know if I’ll speak at women’s retreats again or lead Bible studies. I don’t know how long I’ll work in a church. The look of my faith may be changing in light of Jack’s death, as I step back from what I saw as my work and my effort of growing closer to God and being a good Christian, but God hasn’t changed. It seems like this is a season for me to rest in love and just keep showing up.

Excerpted from Rare Bird by Anna Whiston-Donaldson Copyright © 2014 by Anna Whiston-Donaldson. Excerpted by permission of Convergent Books, a division of Penguin Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Religion

What the Vatican Really Said About Homosexuality

Pope Francis leads a mass honouring the canonisation of two Canadian saints in St. Peter's basilica at the Vatican on Oct. 12, 2014.
Pope Francis leads a mass honouring the canonisation of two Canadian saints in St. Peter's basilica at the Vatican on Oct. 12, 2014. Vincenzo Pinto—AFP/Getty Images

It's not the big shift people think it is

The Catholic world and the media were riled Monday by a Vatican document interpreted by many as signaling a softer church stance toward homosexuality, but the inclusive tone of the document is a long way from actual policy change.

At issue are three words most people have never heard of: Relatio post disceptationem. That’s the name of the document the Catholic Church’s Extraordinary Synod of the Bishops released Monday, one week into the Synod’s gathering to discuss the state of the family in the modern world. It translates, “Report After Debate,” and it was read aloud in the Synod hall to kick off the Synod’s second week. One of the report’s 58 sections—the one causing the biggest stir—is titled, “Welcoming homosexual persons.”

“Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,” the passage begins. “Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”

For a Church that has historically linked the word “homosexual” with the word “sin,” the idea of welcoming gays in any capacity can appear to be a significant move. Headlines immediately spoke of a “dramatic shift” and a “more tolerant” stance from the church.

But before rushing to conclusions, everyone, on all sides, should calm down.

First, here’s what the document actually is:

The relatio is a mid-Synod snapshot of 200+ Catholic leaders’ conversations that happened in the Synod hall last week. It is a starting point for conversations as the Synod fathers start small group discussions this week. It is a working text that identifies where bishops need to “deepen or clarify our understanding,” as Cardinal Luis Antonia Tagle put it in Monday’s press briefing. That means that the topic of gays and Catholic life came up in the Synod conversations so far and that it is a topic for continued reflection.

Second, here’s what the document is not:

The relatio is not a proscriptive text. It is not a decree. It is not doctrine, and certainly not a doctrinal shift. It is also not final. “These are not decisions that have been made nor simply points of view,” the document concludes. “The reflections put forward, the fruit of the Synodal dialogue that took place in great freedom and a spirit of reciprocal listening, are intended to raise questions and indicate perspectives that will have to be matured and made clearer by the reflection of the local Churches in the year that separates us from the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of bishops planned for October 2015.”

So, what does all of that mean? Cardinal Tagle perhaps said it best when he said at Monday’s press briefing, with a smile, “The drama continues.”

The relatio reaffirms at several points that marriage is between a man and a woman. Substance on that point is not changing. The Vatican has been repeatedly clear that this Synod will bring no changes to doctrine, or even a final document with new rites. To “welcome gays” does not mean the Church is no longer equating “gay” with “sin.”

Instead, tone—as it has always been with the Francis papacy—is what is on the table. The style that Pope Francis lives is one that starts with a spirit of embrace, of mercy, and not with sin. It begins with figuring out at what points embrace is possible before determining the points at which it is not. That may be one reason why people like top Vatican watcher John Thavis are calling this mid-synod report “an earthquake.”

But it is also important to remember that the Synod on the Family is almost a two-year-long process, and this snapshot is just that, a snapshot of one week in that process. There will be more such snapshot documents in the coming months. The conversation started earlier this year when bishops around the world surveyed their congregations about family life, it kicked off more formally last week with the gathering in Rome, next the bishops will take the conversations back to their communities, next summer there’s the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia (a traditionally conservative American diocese), and then finally next fall there will be the second Synod with even more bishops from around the world with even more discussion.

Looking for revolution can be misleading. It can mar the actual story of what is and what is not happening. Casual Vatican observers—especially those in the United States, where conversations about sexuality have a different trajectory than in the Vatican or in many developing countries—should be careful to not read into the conversation what they want to hear. The interest in a relatio, a relatively obscure document, does however point to another shift: people actually care about what a group of bishops is doing.

That itself, for many, may be a revolution.

Read next: Pope Francis Wouldn’t Have Wanted the Nobel Peace Prize

TIME Religion

Pope Francis Wouldn’t Have Wanted the Nobel Peace Prize

Pope Francis Attends His Weekly Audience at St Peters Square
Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he holds his weekly audience in St. Peter's Square on March 19, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican. Franco Origlia—Getty Images

Accepting the honor would've been out of character for the Holy Father

Malala Yousafazi and Kailash Satyarthi were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize Friday morning. Pope Francis, a hotly-rumored choice for the honor, did not. And that’s almost certainly just how Pope Francis would want it to be.

Popes do not win the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s just not done. Not even Pope John Paul II was awarded the prize, even when it was widely rumored that he would be its recipient in 2003 for his opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

MORE: Pope Francis, 2013 TIME Person of the Year

Part of the current Holy Father’s global appeal is that he shies away from accolades. They do not fit with his mission, or the ethos of humility that he is trying to infuse into Holy See culture. This is a man who pays his own hotel bill the morning after being named the heir of Saint Peter, even though the Vatican owns his hotel anyway. He is a man who wears old shoes and simple robes, and who refuses to live in the Vatican’s apostolic palace. He has his eyes on a bigger prize, to quote words of the Apostle Paul, toward the upward call of God.

Friday, he again showed that characteristic humility. The announcement of Malala’s win came at 11 a.m. Rome time. Typically, every day this week at 11 a.m., Pope Francis has been finishing a coffee break with the bishops from around the world gathered for the Extraordinary Synod of the Bishops on the Family. (The gathering is the first major policy event of his papacy, and one he specifically called so that church leaders could discuss practical issues facing modern marriages and families.) But this morning, he quietly snuck out of the Synod hall a few minutes before the Nobel Prize committee announced the honoree. Whether it was his intent or not, that move made sure that he would not be in front of any cameras or an audience that might have applauded him if he had won.

Malala’s win also means that Mother Teresa, who won the prize in 1979, remains the most prominent Catholic in history to have received the honor. It is fitting for Pope Francis, by his absence, to continue the legacy of honoring women’s role in society—not only has he been working to bring attention to challenges of family life in the Middle East, but he also has shown sensitivity to women and to their leadership in Church life.

Plus, in what is one of history’s ironic twists—or some might say, providentially recurring themes—Mother Teresa opened her acceptance speech with a prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, the saint for whom Pope Francis chose to be named.

“Lord, make a channel of Thy peace,” the prayer begins, “that where there is hatred, I may bring love; that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness; that, where there is discord, I may bring harmony; that, where there is error, I may bring truth; that, where there is doubt, I may bring faith; that, where there is despair, I may bring hope; that, where there are shadows, I may bring light; that, where there is sadness, I may bring joy.”

For many, Pope Francis is doing just that, Nobel or not.

Dias reported from Vatican City

MONEY Charity

The Surprising Reason People Are Mobbing Church Pews

This Jan. 12, 2014 photo shows people gathered for mass inside Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Buffalo, N.Y., during a “Mass Mob.”
A "Mass Mob" in January packed the pews of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Buffalo, N.Y. Carolyn Thompson—AP

So-called "Mass Mobs" are flooding beautiful old Catholic churches in Cleveland, Detroit, Buffalo, and other cities to raise money and boost enthusiasm among the faithful.

The term “flash mob” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2004, defined as a group of people meeting in a public place to perform an “unusual or seemingly random act,” before heading off again on their merry way, in also random fashion. While the original inventor of the flash mob came up with the idea as a way to mock hipster conformity, the concept was nonetheless broadly adopted (of course!) by the trend-following masses. Within weeks of the first flash mob, there were copycat events all over the world.

Mobs have since popped up everywhere from Target stores to Manhattan’s Katz’s Deli (the latter for a group re-creation of the fake orgasm scene in “When Harry Met Sally”). The movement has also been coopted by Russian political operatives, who reportedly paid people to form a flash mob in support of Vladimir Putin; by corporate brands like Oscar Mayer, BMW, Arby’s, and IKEA, which are known to hire “random” flash mobs for marketing events; and even by hoodlums who conduct “flash robs,” in which a group of young people floods a store and grabs as much stuff as possible before running off without paying.

In the next evolution of the flash mob, the masses have turned their attention to, well, mass. Credit for the rise of the Mass Mob goes to a group in Buffalo, which organized its first event at Saint Adalbert Basilica last November and followed that up with a handful of flash mass (in both senses of the word) attendances at other churches in the city. At a Mass Mob in January, for instance, Buffalo’s Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church received a helping hand in the form of 300 parishioners, when a typical Sunday mass sees fewer than 100 churchgoers.

“Maybe it will inspire people to come a few times a year,” Christopher Byrd, one of Buffalo’s Mass Mob organizers, said of the group’s efforts. “And it gives the church a little one-day boost, attendance-wise and in the collection basket.”

The idea has proven inspirational in another way, with similar Mass Mob groups and events popping up in cities such as Cleveland, Detroit, and Pittsburgh. A recent Mass Mob at Detroit’s St. Florian church, for instance, resulted in a crowd of 2,000 people for a mass that’s usually attended by about 200, and the collection basket topped $19,000, also roughly 10 times the norm.

TIME Religion

The Pope’s New American Archbishop Might Address Income Inequality

Pope Names Blase Cupich As New Archbishop Of Chicago
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 20: Archbishop-Elect Blase Cupich helps Francis Cardinal George from the lecturn during a press conference on September 20, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. This is the first time in the history of the Chicago Archdiocese that a new leader has been appointed while the former is still alive. Scott Olson—Getty Images

Blase Cupich is opposed to the lavish lifestyle that some of his peers embrace and has what is referred to as “a heart for the poor.” His elevation signals where Pope Francis intends to take the American church

The rap on Blase Cupich is that he’s a Pope Francis kind of guy. Which is to say that he’s politically moderate, opposed to the lavish lifestyle that some of his peers have formerly embraced (in Spokane, his post since 2010, he lived on a seminary campus and owned no furniture), and has what is often referred to as “a heart for the poor.” In his few public remarks since the Holy Father tapped Cupich to be the new Archbishop of Chicago beginning in November, he has been understandably muted about the task before him. He was chosen “to serve the needs of the people,” Cupich said at a press conference, characterizing his role more as “pastor” than as “messenger.”

But Cupich’s role encompasses far more than that. He will lead 2 million Catholics in the third-largest diocese in America. And Cupich is the Pope’s first leadership choice among the four most important posts in the American church – the archbishops of Boston, New York, Washington, and Chicago. His elevation signals where Pope Francis intends to take the American church.

Read the full article here.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME faith

There’s Nothing Wrong With Medical Missionaries Talking About Faith With Patients

Emory Hospital Releases American Aid Workers Treated For Ebola
Dr. Kent Brantly speaks during a press conference announcing his release from Emory Hospital on August 21, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Brantly and another patient, Nancy Writebol, were released from Emory Hospital after receiving treatment for Ebola that they both contracted while working as medical missionaries in Liberia. Jessica McGowan—Getty Images

Domestically and abroad, people of faith are far more likely to give time and money to charitable causes than are secular people

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“It’s great that these people are doing God’s work, but do they have to talk about Him so much?” So muses Brian Palmer at Slate about the work of medical missionaries like Dr. Kent Brantly, who contracted Ebola in Liberia. I’m almost embarrassed to write about this piece, because it is such an easy target. But the Brantly case has put new focus on the work of medical missionaries, who are generating surprisingly negative comments from certain observers. These critiques have fallen into several categories: those who say that the missionaries are stupid for putting themselves in harm’s way, those who say that the missionaries should get no special treatment when they contract a disease that has affected so many others in Africa, and those like Palmer who insist that medical missionaries are wrong to speak about their faith to patients. Here’s three observations about this debate:

1) Palmer and other critics have a deluded sense of “neutral” medicine. Doctors who deal with suffering and dying patients will inevitably send messages, explicit or implicit, to their patients and patients’ families, about the meaning of dying and death. Doctors who think that death is a purely natural event, and that there is no afterlife, or who are agnostic on such questions, will tend to communicate that sentiment to clients. This partly explains why so many Christian doctors do volunteer for the mission field – they believe that there is transcendent meaning in both life and death, and that every person has an eternal destiny. They are uniquely positioned to help people who are struggling with such questions. All doctors can and should be sensitive to issues of politeness and propriety, and the religious convictions (or lack thereof) of patients. But no doctor – no person – is “neutral” on topics like suffering, death, and the afterlife.

2) Making volunteer medical service contingent upon silence about one’s faith would be devastating to impoverished regions internationally. As Palmer himself notes, disproportionate numbers of doctors and nurses serving in under-serviced areas of the world (like Liberia) are people of faith. Devout Protestant and Catholic Christians are among the most common volunteers. They serve to honor God, and they do not believe that they can honor God fully if they do not speak about Jesus Christ to clients, when appropriate. Palmer seems unable to identify with the vast majority of people in the world who do not believe that death is the end of life, nor does he fathom that serious believers cannot be silent about their faith in their vocations.

Domestically and abroad, people of faith are far more likely to give time and money to charitable causes than are secular people. (Just this week another survey appeared demonstrating that the most charitable states are those with the highest rates of churchgoing.) You can accuse these believing folks of having ulterior motives, but where are the legions of atheist volunteers to take their place? Palmer’s innuendos about how the missionaries might be doing more medical harm than good are vicious and slanderous.

3) Christians must not object to other medical volunteers who speak of their own faith (or lack thereof) to clients. Of course, there are secular medical agencies such as Doctors without Borders (though presumably many of their individual volunteers are people of faith as well), Muslim medical missionaries, and those of other faiths. While Christians will not agree with the implicit or explicit messages these doctors may share with clients, the principles of religious liberty and charity would affirm that all medical “missionaries” are free to serve and speak (or not) in the name of their faith, and that their healing work does great worldly and humanitarian good. If we expect others to honor Christians’ right to freely witness about Christ, then workers of other traditions, or no faith at all, should have that freedom as well. Of course, this point may be moot: I don’t recall hearing of many Christians echoing the kinds of complaints made by secularists like Brian Palmer…

See also Ross Douthat’s take on the piece, in which he concludes that he thinks Palmer’s real complaint is “not that the missionaries are necessarily doing something wrong (he won’t actually come out and say that), but that they’re doing something right in a way that makes his team, Team Secularism, look somewhat less impressive by comparison. Which isn’t really a reaction that Christians should be offended by. It’s one that should be welcomed, worn as a badge of honor, and joyfully provoked.” Agreed.

Thomas Kidd is Professor of History at Baylor University and is Senior Fellow at Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion. His books include George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (Yale University Press, 2014), Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots, and God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Notre Dame.

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