No day is complete without Pope Francis: In message for the Roman Catholic Church’s World Day of Peace, the pontiff said mega salaries and bonuses are symptoms of an economy based on greed and inequality. And this is too good to pass up: Argentine sports network TyC cleverly turned a speech by Pope Francis into a commercial for next summer’s FIFA World Cup coverage. Let’s hope the Vatican doesn’t sue.

 On the religious freedom front: An attorney representing several Native American inmates says he will challenge a lower court’s decision that allows prison barbers to cut inmates’ hair.  Some Native Americans say long hair is a cornerstone of their religion.  And, a few days ago a group of Satanists announced plans to donate a memorial on the grounds of the Oklahoma Capitol. Now, a Hindu organization said it would apply for permission to erect a statue of Hanuman, the monkey god. Finally: Want to get married in a Scientology chapel in England? Go right ahead. Britain will now recognize your marriage.

More Mandela: At a star-studded memorial service for Nelson Mandela at the National Cathedral, Joe Biden said the anti-apartheid leader was “the most impressive man or woman I have ever met in my life.” And Roger Cohen at the New York Times reflects on the similarities between Mandela and Gandhi. Both men, he says, “reached their convictions through deep inward journeys, undertaken in circumstances of humiliation or imprisonment, journeys that took them beyond instincts of violent reprisal, and ushered them to the inner stillness that is the very thing an agitated world finds most riveting. In both Gandhi and Mandela a light shines that is the fruit of inward-focused constancy of a kind that is a stranger to hyper-connected status anxiety. Through this they live.”

Another memorial: The National Cathedral will host another memorial today, this time on the anniversary of the Newtown massacre. And PRRI has this: Of the 109 state gun laws passed since the Sandy Hook shootings, nearly 70 loosen restrictions while just 39 tighten them. Seems gun control activists have a long way to go.

Not what it seems: The violence that has overtaken the Central African Republic is mostly described as Muslim vs. Christian. But the Roman Catholic archbishop of Bossangoa said religion is not at the heart of this conflict. As in many other trouble spots across the world, it’s about politics and power.

In the Middle East: Egyptian riot police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse hundreds of pro-Islamist protesters demonstrating near the headquarters of the ministry of defense in Cairo on Thursday.  And in Saudi Arabia, the Grand Mufti, the highest religious authority in the birthplace of Islam, condemned suicide bombings as grave crimes.

Focus on the ACA: James Dobson is suing the federal government over a requirement in the Affordable Care Act that his ministry must include the morning-after pill and other emergency contraception in its health insurance.

On the atheism front: In protest of a nativity scene at the Florida Capitol, Chaz Stevens has put up a Festivus pole with beer cans around it. A Festivus pole is also on display at the Wisconsin Capitol. Fortunately, for the Festivus revelers, they don’t live in one of 13 countries recently where people who openly espouse atheism or reject the official state religion face execution under the law.

A Native American mask

A Native American mask courtesy Shutterstock

Gay rights setbacks: India’s law minister said Thursday that the government has not abandoned efforts to make homosexuality legal, after its Supreme Court banned same-sex relations. And Australia’s highest court struck down a landmark law on Thursday that had begun allowing the country’s first gay marriages.

Finally, the good news: The director of the L.A.-based Annenberg Foundation said Wednesday his foundation won a $530,000 bid for 24 Native American masks in a Paris auction. It plans to return the masks, which represent ancestral spirits, to the Hopi Nation in Arizona and the San Carlos Apache tribe. And in Bethlehem, the Church of the Nativity, the traditional site of Jesus’ birth, is undergoing a much-needed facelift after 600 years. Merry Christmas!


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