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Reporting and analysis of the religious forces that drive and influence global news. 

The international community must not consent to 'new Burmese apartheid'

Opinion: Muslims are suffering at the hands of Myanmar's government, which is now planning an awful new program.
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US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks alongside Wunna Maung Lwin, Minister for Foreign Affairs for Myanmar, prior to meetings at the US State Department in Washington, DC on Sept. 30. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

YANGON, Myanmar  Myanmar's foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin took to the podium at the United Nations building in New York late last month and told the international community that “all major concerns related to human rights” in the former police state had “been addressed to a larger extent.” Given the government's efforts in this field, he asserted, his country “had now reached the middle tier of the human rights ladder” and should no longer be subjected to the scrutiny of the UN Human Rights Council.

While the minister's speech drew polite applause, his claims could hardly have been taken seriously. 

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The influential Iraqi cleric rallying Muslims against the Islamic State

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has emerged as an important voice of moderation at a critical time.
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Iraqi volunteers, loyal to Shia Muslim spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, attend a combat training session at a military camp in the mainly Shia southern city of Basra on Sept. 27, 2014. (Haidar Mohammed Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

As the new Iraqi government grows more dependent on US air strikes and military aid to defeat Islamic State (IS) jihadists, the country’s most revered Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has emerged as an important voice of moderation. 

Sistani called on the Shia-led government to keep Iraq united and reconcile with Sunnis. But he has also forcefully declared that foreign powers should not interfere in Iraq’s political affairs. 

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Synod in Rome: Pope Francis and the antinomians

Frank talk is making this year's synod far less boring than in years past and revealing some truth about the Catholic Church.
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Pope Francis holds his skullcap in front of a Swiss guard as he leaves at the end of the morning session of the Synod on the Family, at the Vatican, on October 6, 2014. The meeting of nearly 200 bishops from around the world is addressing the huge gulf between church teachings on moral issues and what believers actually do. (Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images)

In 2002, on a sunny fall day in Rome, I asked a canon lawyer why the Vatican derailed a 1989 request by American bishops for a free hand to defrock sex abusers. Only the pope held that power — if bishops had more flexibility to dismiss abusers it might have preempted scandals to come.

The priest told me that US diocesan tribunals “violated grandly – terribly – the annulments of marriage.” What, I asked, did marriage annulments have to do with pedophilia?

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To move forward, Jerusalem must steer its own fate

Analysis: Unless citizens of all faiths find a way to work together, weak leadership and old hatreds will keep the city from a potentially bright future.
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A Ferrari Formula One racing car in action during the 2014 edition of the Formula 1 Peace Road Show on Oct. 6 in Jerusalem, Israel. The two-day event returns for its second year, showcasing stunt performers and exotic vehicles, racing past historic monuments on the ancient city's streets. (Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)

JERUSALEM – Behold the new Jerusalem.

Here I was, stuck in ungodly traffic on the outskirts of the ancient walls of the Old City, that sacred quarry of stone that holds traditions dear to all three Abrahamic faiths. And through a crowd lined up along the ramparts and the sidewalks nearby, I suddenly heard the thunder of powerful engines and the screeching of tires.

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On 'Eid Kippur' in Jerusalem, no news was good news

The rare convergence of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur and Muslim holiday Eid el-Adha was refreshingly quiet.
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Ultra-Orthodox Jews returning from Yom Kippur prayers near the Western Wall walk past Palestinian Muslims (back-L) celebrating Eid al-Adha on October 4, 2014 in Jerusalem's old city. The concurrence of the holy days has not occurred for 33 years because the two faiths use different lunar calendars. (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

JERUSALEM — Once every 33 years the stars align and Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, and Eid el-Adha, the Muslim and Druze Feast of the Sacrifice, occur on the same day.

This was the case on Saturday, and initial reports of the unusual confluence were ominous: Al-Monitor, the Middle East news site, announced "Israel braces for conflict as Yom Kippur, Eid al-Adha coincide." 

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In British town, influx of migrants creates conflict

Analysis: The arrival of Eastern Europeans in a traditionally Pakistani area strains neighborly relations.
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HENDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 13, 2013: Makeshift shelters constructed by homeless Romanians on the former site of Hendon Football Club. Britain is home to more than 190,000 Romanian migrants, one of the largest Roma populations in western Europe. (Oli Scarff /Getty Images)

SHEFFIELD, England — I take a stroll down Page Hall Road in Sheffield, a typical working class area of the industrial north. The houses are narrow, cramped, identically structured, all rusty red brick and battered front doors.

Children play in the streets, tagging each other and running to the shops to buy sweets and soda. It’s an unremarkable scene except that this one small area has lately become a major focus of immigration conflict in the United Kingdom.

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Remembering why Sinead O'Connor tore up the pope's picture on national TV

Her tactics made her a target and a pariah. Today we know she was right.
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Irish singer Sinead O'Connor sings at a concert in aid of the Chernobyl Children's Project in The Tivoli Theatre on March 6, 2003 in Dublin, Ireland. (AFP/Getty Images)

Sinead O'Connor performed an a cappella cover of Bob Marley's "War" on Saturday Night Live on October 3, 1992, rewriting a few of the lyrics to address child abuse, in addition to the song's initial topics of racism and the horrors of war.

As she finished the song, she produced and tore to shreds a photograph of Pope John Paul II, shouting, "Fight the real enemy!"

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Female artisans defy tradition to create Hindu goddesses

One of India's most joyful festivals, Durga Puja, is now in full swing.
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Mala Pal tries to reach out to a money lender over the phone, from her working shed in Kumortuli, Kolkata, India. The idol made for a German client stands to her right. (Priyanka Borpujari/GlobalPost)

KOLKATA, India — Fall in India brings with it the festivity of the goddess Durga among Hindus, who observe the triumph of goodness over evil. Several states in eastern India surrender to a 10-day frenzy, whereby large idols of the goddess are put up in mammoth tents. 

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Sending Bishop Cupich to Chicago, Pope Francis brings new agenda to town

The Chicago archdiocese — with 2 million Catholics and a billion-dollar budget — is an image of the American church writ large and a national media platform.
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Archbishop-Elect Blase Cupich (R) helps Francis Cardinal George from the lectern during a press conference on September 20, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. (Scott Olson/AFP/Getty Images)

When Pope Francis named Spokane Bishop Blase J. Cupich, 64, as Chicago’s new archbishop, Cupich flew to Chicago for a press conference and praised 77-year-old Cardinal Francis George, who is battling cancer and will retire Nov. 17.

Bishops pay tribute to each other in such transitions, but differences between the two men are striking.

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Kurdish forces take on Islamic State in small, relentless battles for Iraq's villages

Even with US-led airstrikes, the situation on the ground could take months — if not years — to resolve. How did IS get so strong?
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Peshmerga field commander Mahmud Sangawy speaks from the IS/Peshmerga frontline on the outskirts of Kubashi. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)

KUBASHI, Iraq – Mortar rounds thundered over a barren landscape as Kurdish forces confronted fighters from the militant group Islamic State (IS) in a skirmish along the front line here Monday.

It was a small battle in a small war – a classic example of the kind of fighting that, even with US military air support, will take months if not longer to root out the Islamic militants.

The peshmerga, as the Kurdish forces allied with the US are called, explained that they are filling a void left by the Iraqi army when it collapsed over the summer, allowing the Islamic militants to sweep into and take control of a swath of land from Southern Syria to Northern Iraq.

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