Nov 192011

Anura Guruge, laughing, picture November 16, 2011.

From MY BBC -- click image to read insightful article of Voodooism in Benin.

by Anura Guruge

Yesterday, Friday, November 18, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI (#266) arrived in Benin, at Cotonou, Benin’s largest city, after a 6 hour flight from Rome. He was greeted by the President, a 21-gun salute and tumultuous crowds — Friday having been declared a public holiday in honor of the pope — in this country which is about 44% Christian, with ~34% supposedly Catholic, and ~23% Islam. Officially, with about 20%, the next largest religion is Vodun (Voodoo).

Benin is actually considered to be the Home of Voodoo — with what is famously practiced today in the Caribbean having its roots with the slaves transported to the New World from West Africa’s Slave Coast, Benin smack-dab in the epicenter of that. In reality, Vodoo in Benin isn’t so much a religion as an innate way of life, with its own cultural substrata. Coming from Ceylon I can fully appreciate that. Though everyone in Ceylon, in my day, without fail, and sans hesitation, claimed to be a Buddhist, a Baptist, a Catholic, a Hindu, a Methodist, a Muslim most believed in and practiced other other superstitions, ‘devil worship’ and ‘witchcraft’. Some of these superstitions even got interwoven into the other religions. If you see any Sri Lankan’s, especially if they have just returned from Ceylon, you should not be surprised to see them wearing white string ‘bracelets’ around their right wrist (‘white’ rather an unfortunate color in that it really highlights the sweat and dirt). That white string is Sri Lankan voodoo — though the person wearing it will probably knock your teeth out for saying as such, because they will maintain that it is to ‘bring them luck’, ‘ward off evil spirits’ and ‘enhance their sex appeal’.

Voodoo in Benin

Click image for an uplifting YouTube video on Voodoo in Benin.

The belief is that about 40% of those in Benin practice Voodoo — though they are also classified as being Christians or Muslims. As with my brethren in Sri Lanka they do not, in any way, see this as incongruous or a contradiction.

Though the Vatican has not highlighted this aspect of the pope’s trip, it appears that he will indeed be meeting with some Voodoo leaders during his time in Benin. One of those that he is meeting is Dah Aligbonon. He has already told the media that he is going to be asking the pope to tell the real hardcore Catholics in Benin to be more tolerant of the native religions of Africa. Good for him. Good for the pope. This meeting, in many ways, could be good for the pope, who in his old age, appears to be even less tolerant of other religions that he used to be — and I present, Q.E.D., the recent day in Assisi. Who knows, maybe a bit of Voodoo might help the pope’s arthrosis and help with his looming legal troubles. If we see the pope running up the flight of stairs to his plane, when he leaves Benin on Sunday, I for one, will start wondering: ‘was that Voodoo‘?

Click image for YouTube video of Pope's arrival in Benin

Nov 182011

by Anura Guruge

The pope, this morning, despite his arthrosis, did a gallant job mounting the steps to the huge, chartered Alitalia Airbus that whisked him to Benin.

The Pope departed from Italy’s main airport, the Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport, in Rome, at 9 am (local time), landing at the Cardinal Bernardin Gantin airport in Cotonou at 3 pm (local time). Benin and Rome are in the same time zone; i.e., London GMT+1. So the trip took 6 hours. Hhmmmm. It is possible that 3pm was an ‘good’ time and they took their time getting there. When I eyeballed the map, I thought it looked like a 4-5 hour trip. [When the pope flew to Germany in September, he, as is usually the norm, flew out of Rome's auxiliary Ciampino airport, as is the norm for chartered flights.]

On arrival he was greeted by Thomas Yayi Boni, President of Benin, Archbishop Antoine Ganye of Cotonou, and other civil and religious authorities.

Here is a good video from YouTube. The pope did well climbing the stairs, though halfway up there is a heart-stopping grab for the rail. They should have had a cardinal close by. Talking of which, my #2 papabile, is shown in all his glory with the pope. He sure looks youthful, energetic and presidential. But, I do not, alas and alack, see him becoming the next pope. I estimate that Benedict XVI (#266) will be around till he hits 96. I just have a feeling that we are currently watching THE POPE destined to be OLDEST documented pope — handily surpassing Leo ‘the eternal pope’ XIII (#257) who lived to see 93. My #2 will be 89 by then. I will be long gone so will not be around to document this.

Click to watch YouTube video. Enjoy.

Nov 182011

by Anura Guruge

Details of Father Anthony’s latest trip to Rome was posted here on October 26. His 9-day trip started on November 4, 2011.

As promised he sent me 13 pictures this morning. He included this short message: “I thought that you might like to see a few of the photos I took in Rome last week. I was especially pleased to be able to get some real close-up shots of the Holy Father at the audience on Wednesday. As you can see we were blessed with wonderful weather for November.” [I think that this was Wednesday, November 9, 2011.]

Here are five pictures of the pope. The copyright of these pictures do belong to Father Anthony though he is usually more than happy to let others use them — but, if you do, PLEASE attribute them to him, at least as ‘Father Anthony, U.K.[I cropped the first picture slightly to take out the shoulder of a person blocking the image. Father Anthony's identity is not a secret, and his name appears thrice in 'The Next Pope 2011' book since the cover photo is also by him. Also compare the closeup of the pope with the image used by Benetton re. my remarks that the skin on the Benetton model was nowhere close to that of the pope.]

Thank you.

Nov 172011

Map on Benin. Click for Wikipedia on Benin.

by Anura Guruge

Tomorrow, the 84-year old Benedict XVI (#266) sets off for his long scheduled, 3-day visit to Benin. This will be his 23rd papal visit outside of Italy.

It is his 2nd trip to Africa, the region experiencing the fastest growth in Catholicism (and surfeit of priests), following his 7-day visit to Cameroon & Angola in March 2009. The 3-day trip will conclude on Sunday, November 20, the Solemnity of Christ the King — the one year anniversary of last year’s cardinal creating consistory.

The Vatican, on Tuesday, outlined three of the key goals and justification for this trip. The first is to promulgate the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops — which was held in 2009 and proposed 57 recommendations. The signing ceremony is said to take place at a seminary. The ceremony will be attended by is due to take place in 35 presidents of national episcopal conferences, and the seven heads of the continent’s regional conferences.

It is also believed that the pope will unveil a sacrament of reconciliation — to atone for both recent and past atrocities, Benin being at the heart of what was West Africa’s Slave Coast.

The third intent is for the pope to visit the tomb of his predecessor as the Dean, Benin’s one-and-only cardinal, Bernardin Gantin, who died in 2008.

On Friday evening, the pope will attend, in the coastal city Cotonou, a concert, on the theme of peace, justice and reconciliation featuring three prominent African singers: Papa Wemba, Bonga and Fifito.

Benin’s estimated adult HIV prevalence rate (aged 15-49), in 2009 was 1.2%. So the pope may be able to get by without broaching the subject of condoms.

Nov 172011

From Tweak image for more.

by Anura Guruge

Yesterday, shortly after I caught it, serendipitously, on CNN TV news at 5:59pm, I posted the image of Benetton’s fake pope ad — to further Benetton’s latest unhate campaign. Already by then, Benetton had agreed to withdraw the controversial ad — though some were even then arguing in the media that ‘kiss of peace‘ is an established Christian tradition emanating from St. Paul’s (#0) exhortation in Romans 16:16 that ‘Christians greet each other with a holy kiss‘, and that this ad was per that motif.

This morning the Vatican let it be known that they are seeking a legal injunction against Benetton’s — who has an impressive track record of gaining enormous amounts of FREE worldwide publicity by using SHOCK ADs that they then agree to withdraw. To be fair it is very clever and part of a neat marketing strategy.

From Click to read.

The Secretariat of State, led by my #2 papabile Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., has been tasked with trying to pursue this legal challenge. The official statement is as follows:  The Secretariat of State has authorised its lawyers to initiate actions, in Italy and elsewhere, to prevent the circulation, via the mass media and in other ways, of a photomontage used in a Benetton advertising campaign in which the Holy Father appears in a way considered to be harmful, not only to the dignity of the Pope and the Catholic Church, but also to the sensibility of believers. In addition, it appears that the Vatican is also investigating: The Secretariat of State is examining the steps that may be taken with the competent authorities in order to guarantee adequate protection for the figure of the Holy Father. [My emphasis.]

Let me start with that last statement. That bothers me because of the ambiguous use of the Papal ‘we’ so to speak. ‘The Holy Father’ — current pope, all popes or even the notion of the pope? Does this mean that I will no longer be allowed to use Caravaggio’s depiction of St. Peter (#1) being manhandled?

I do not know what the laws are about this type of thing in Italy. For a start, it is very clear that the white-haired person in the picture is NOT Benedict XVI (#266). His skin is that of a younger man, devoid of as many liver spots. The ears are different (and as anybody who has applied for a U.S. Green Card or citizenship will tell you, the U.S. attests that one’s right ear is as unique as one’s fingerprints, which is why they take a picture of it) and the hair is not the same. Plus, nowhere in the ad does it mention ‘Benedict XVI’ or ‘pope’. So the Vatican really is objecting to the IMAGE of the pope being used.

So does this mean that we will no longer be able to have movies or documentaries in which actors depict the pope? No more pope cartoons or pope jokes? [Did you know that there is a Web site:]

Wasn’t this the same Vatican that just a week ago criticized Britain for its censure of Tintin?

I could be wrong, given that I still have problems with its full scope, but I have to think that this is probably protected in the U.S.A. by the First Amendment. I know we have some practicing lawyers, from some large, prestigious international law firms, that visit us on a regular basis. Maybe one of them could enlighten me and I can pass it on.

I checked to see whether my President, the most esteemed Mr. Obama, had instructed the White House lawyer to take Benetton to task. I have yet to find that, and again I think that the laws and customs in the US are different — and the satires on Saturday Night Live (SNL) come to mind. To be honest, when I first saw an image of my President kissing the Chinese leaders it didn’t cross my mind that it was a PhotoShop! I just assumed that it had happened during this week’s Asian Summit in Hawaii. I also thought that the kiss involving the blessed Mrs. Angela Merkel was enviably sexy. But, that is me.

I would have to assume Benetton knew what they were doing. They are a very savvy bunch. Plus, they have already agreed to take down the pope-related images. So lets wait and see. But, IF they stop me using

Nov 162011

Slave Coast, with Benin in the middle, where Jesuits were instrumental. From

by Anura Guruge

The pope’s 3-day trip to Benin, Africa, November 18 to 20, 2011, the birthplace of the ex-Dean, Cardinal Bishop Bernardin Gantin (1922 – 2008), had been announced at the start of the year.

It was because of this trip that I had, from the start, been skeptical about a cardinal creating consistory during the later part of this month. My druthers, obviously, proved to be the case.

Over the last few weeks I had been getting increasingly concerned that the Vatican was not talking about this rapidly approaching trip. There was a hint, at least to the cynics, that the Vatican was waiting till the last minute to talk about this trip, just in case the pope had to cancel it for health reasons. The good news is that the trip is on and yesterday, just three days ahead of the 3-day trip, the Vatican finally got around to making the requisite announcements.

Benin Christians at a church founded by them.

Prior to the pope’s trip to Germany on September 22, 2011, the Vatican released their Catholic data for Germany on September 6, 2011 — 16 days ahead of ‘wheels up’ on the papal plane.

Prior to the pope’s trip to Spain on August 18, 2011, the Vatican released their Catholic data for Spain on July 24, 2011 — 25 days ahead of the pope departing Rome.

Prior to the pope’s trip to Croatia on June 4, 2011, the Vatican released their Catholic data for Croatia on May 17, 2011 — 18 days ahead of the pope set foot on the chartered Alitalia plane.

Prior to the pope’s trip to Benin on November 18, 2011, the Vatican released their Catholic data for Croatia on November 15, 2011 — 3 days ahead of the pope hopefully making it up the steps to the plane.

You have to admit that it looks incongruous.

This statistical information about Benin provided by the Vatican is as of year-end 2010, and has been compiled by the Central Statistical Office of the Church.

Benin, whose capital is Porto Novo, has a surface area of 43,484 square miles with a population of 8,779,000 of whom 2,984,000 (34%) are Catholic. [For comparison, New York State is 54,556 sq. miles in area and has 7,751,241 Catholics.]

There are 10 ecclesiastical circumscriptions, 338 parishes and 801 parish centres.

At present there are 0 cardinals, 11 bishops, 811 priests, 1,386 religious, 30 lay members of secular institutes and 11,251 catechists. Minor seminarians number 308 and major seminarians 497. They have only ever had one cardinal, viz. Gantin.

A total of 57,771 students attend 234 centers of Catholic education, from kindergartens to universities.

Other institutions belonging to the Church or run by priests or religious in Benin include 12 hospitals, 64 clinics, 3 leper colonies, 7 homes for the elderly or disabled, 41 orphanages and nurseries, 3 family counseling centers and other pro-life centers, and 3 institutions of other kinds

Nov 152011

The Gubbio electronic Christmas tree, with thanks from

by Anura Guruge

On the evening of Wednesday, December 7, 2011, the eve of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Benedict XVI (#266), from the comfort of his Papal Apartment, using a specially developed Apple iPad 2 App., will light up the world’s largest electronic Christmas tree, which is laid-out on the slopes of Monte Ingino, in Italy’s Umbria region, close to the historic town of Gubbio (~99 miles, northeast of Rome).

It is made up of over 500 large lights connected by around 7.5 miles of wire. Up near the top of the hill is the Basilica Santuario di Sant’Ubaldo, honoring the patron saint of Gubbio. The star at the top of the tree, is at that Basilica. The bottom of the tree starts at the very edge of the town of Gubbio. The tree is lit up every year, on December 7, on the eve of the Immaculate Conception.

The pope will address the good folks of Gubbio via a video link prior to lightning the tree from his iPad 2. The Vatican has not indicated whether the pope would be using the built-in cameras on the iPad 2 for this video link.

There is nothing at all special about the technology being used for this remote tree lightning. Today you can get cell phone or tablet apps that allow you to fully control home automation/security remotely, from anywhere in the world, as long as you can get a connection. Thirty years ago, while working for ITT, I was involved in a publicity event (for the Mayor of London, methinks), where the Tower Bridge was lifted and lowered, remotely, using codes punched into a handheld ‘Tone Generator‘ (a early precursor to today’s numeric keypads). The key technology that we were trying to showcase that day, in addition to the then ‘Tone Generator’, was Audio-Coupler modems — a very early version of modems where you inserted the handset of a phone into two rubber-suction cups to provide a data device with a connection with a telephone line. We use to carry these things around to get data connections.

This is the third high-profile of endorsement of Apple by the Vatican this year.

In June of this year, the pope celebrating his 60th year of ordination, and the creation of the new Vatican Web site, sent out his first Tweet using an iPad.

Click to watch YouTube video of the pope's first Tweet.

Then in July we had the Apple-only App for the World Youth Day, 2011, in Madrid, Spain.

So this is the third plug for Apple — even though we know that the Vatican uses Windows since they use pirated copies of Avast! anti-virus software to protect these PCs.

As I had recently noted, Apple appears to have returned the complement by naming its much vaunted Voice AssistantSiri.

I am not sure what the deal is between Apple and the Vatican. Today we got a 2.25% uptick in AAPL, but that, for sure, had nothing to do with the pope. AAPL over the last two days was overly oversold and there is a rumor, yet again, that they will declare a dividend. [I for one, would be happier, if they did a 4-for-1 stock split. Full disclosure: I own AAPL and have so for many, many years. I was also a big fan of PIXR. I trade AAPL options on a regular basis too. But, I am sure that the pope does not move AAPL.]

Not sure what dear Steve Jobs thought of the pope plugging the iPad. Did any of you read his biological sister’s account of Steve’s last words? It was spooky, to say the least. According to her, his last words, while looking into the distance, over her shoulder were: ‘Oh, Wow, Wow, Wow‘. He then died. Steve, as far as I know, has been variously described as a Buddhist and an atheist — the two not mutually exclusive since Buddha was not a god and Buddhist do not believe in a supreme, God, the creator. What we do know is that when he did finally get married in 1991, the wedding ceremony was presided by a Zen Buddhist monk. So, I think, it is safe to say that Steve (whose father was a Syrian Arab) was definitely not a Catholic. Thus, we have the question. What did he see that elicited the 3 Wows? If he was a Buddhist he is unlikely to have seen anything — such as bright, white lights or angels. So, I am puzzled as to what he might have seen. Maybe, right at the end, as with Constantine, he might have had a deathbed conversion and got to see St. Peter standing in front of the Pearly Gates holding an iPad 5 ready to check Steve into heaven.

The pope using an iPad definitely makes him hip and cool. Good for him. But, I am not sure that using iPad provides us with any insights into his mental acuity — now that there are questions as to his health and bouts of confusion. An 84-year old should have no problem using a standard Windows PC to do e-mail, Tweets, surf the Web, balance his checkbook and write his speeches in Word. My father is one year younger and uses a Windows laptop daily, for many hours a day. If the pope is REDUCED to just being able to use a touch-screen, iPad with large icons, that is probably not that good. The Vatican should have thought about it. Rather than having another episode, as with the first Tweet, of the pope painstakingly navigating a touch-screen iPad, it would have been much more convincing to see the pope sit down, open a laptop, fire up a browser and then press a button on a screen to light up the tree. But, that is just my opinion.

Nov 142011

by Anura Guruge

If you do not know who Tintin is, then I genuinely feel bad for you, especially now that the L’Osservatore Romano refers to him as a ‘Catholic Hero‘, which given that he is but a 3rd-tier comic character (at that), would put him on par with a Catholic homosapienServant of God‘. So if you haven’t heard of Tintin, you will have to bring it up at your next confession.

Tintin and I go back at least 48 years, and I am currently on my 4th discrete round of Tintin following — though my all time favorite comic books, that I adore and treasure even today, are those of Asterix. Tintin, maybe a Catholic hero, but he does not hold a candle to Asterix.

Asterix would never be endorsed, thank God, by the Vatican, since he is a committed pagan who predates the first pope.

My father introduced me to Tintin, in the early 1960s, while we were still in Ceylon. That much I will give to Tintin. I found Asterix on my own. Then, when I was in my early 20s, in the UK, I built up my Tintin book collection to counterpoint my impressive stash of Asterix books. Then in the late 1990s, I introduced my son, then around 10, to Tintin. He was hooked. Just this year, I introduced my 10 year old daughter to Tin and she too was hooked. I write this post, with 11 (of the 25 published, in English) Tintin books at my shoulder. [But, true to form, I have 26 Asterix books.] My daughter read all 11 books, basically back-to-back, one day per book.

By sheer coincidence, just last Sunday we happen to see the trailer for the forthcoming Tintin Spielberg movie, in 3D IMAX. It was quite a trailer. So much so that we are using it as a template for a Destination Imagination (DI) challenge we are working on. That the movie will be showing in 3D IMAX is already noted in the December calendar.

So, I am quite qualified to write, with conviction, about Tintin, his apparent racism and his quite disturbing disinterest in all things feminine [not that I lack conviction about anything I write, that just being what and who I am].

Click to learn about Tintin. Watch the trailer. Note the absence of any females. This partial header image from

Notice the 'offending' golliwog in the rail carriage.

So what is this all about?

Britain has deemed that the comic book ‘Tintin in the Congo‘ appears to be racist and presents Africans, typically portrayed as coal-black, extremely simplistic, with thick lips and not too much clothing, in an unfavorable light. So the book now has to be sold in the UK with a protective cellophane band around it — with a warning that the subject could offend some.

That is it. Now to be fair, Britain has done this type of thing before, even with British writers, most notably Enid Blyton. I grew up on Enid Blyton. My mother, who liked her divinity in all shapes, forms and color, thought that Enid Blyton was divine. I still remember the look on her face, when a British visitor, to Ceylon, told her that people in Britain thought that Enid was a racist. My mother nearly dropped a tea cup and saucer. My mother, even MORE tanned than the cardinal from Sri Lanka had never considered Enid anything other than ‘magic’. I was taught English through Noddy books. My mother, whose cooking talents only covered elaborate cakes and extremely rich desserts, made me a complete Noddy village, in 3D, as a birthday cake. In Ceylon, I owned every book written by Enid. But, Enid was deemed a racist, mainly because of the golliwog character. I liked the golly. Ironically, when I first went to Britain in 1969, I used to be called a ‘wog’. The kids were using ‘wog’ incorrectly. It primarily referred to folks from the Middle East. So, when I was called a ‘wog’, my retort would be, ‘so what. Jesus was a wog too‘. Many a Brit schoolboy would then walk off scratching their head.

From ''

I don’t currently own ‘Tintin in the Congo‘. So if you have a copy, or want to send me US ~$26 to buy a copy on eBay, please feel free to do so. I, and my daughter, will be very grateful. But, I do remember reading it. Yes, it was typical, c. 1930, portrayal of us wogs. I just looked through, for the heck of it, ‘Tintin and the Cigars of the Pharaohs’. Yep, blacks and browns are portrayed unflatteringly.

I have quite a few questions and issues as to why the L’Osservatore Romano feels obliged to get into this fray with the British, and why the heck they feel compelled to call a rather strange young man (to say the least) a ‘Catholic Hero’. I for one would not want my very Catholic 19-year old son to be anything like Tintin. For a start, if my son’s BEST FRIEND was a alcoholic, foul-mouthed, 50-year old, unmarried sea captain, I would be calling the police. Get the point? Remember Penn State? Remember Boston? Remember Ireland?

1/ Why is the Vatican devoting two pages to talk about this? Don’t they have more pressing issues to deal with such as the pope being asked to sack a rogue cardinal?

2/ What right does the Vatican have to comment on the censorship standards of any other country, when they are FAMOUS for their Index Librorum Prohibitorum. Talk about being shameless.

3/ This is laughable coming from the Vatican, when child abuse, primarily of boys, is such a burning issue. L’Osservatore Romano refers to Robert Baden-Powell, and talks about the possibility that he was a racist. Well, possibly being a racist was the least of Baden’s problems, and the L’Osservatore Romano should be ashamed to have brought him up right now — especially in the context of Tintin, who at a minimum appears to be misogynistic.

4/ Why is the L’Osservatore Romano going out of its way to call Tintin a Catholic hero? Here, per Wikipedia, is the cast of Tintin. Notice anything incongruous. I would not call this the best role model Catholic boys in today’s world. When the Vatican pulls this kind of stunt, I really do feel that they are doing it to make fun of us. We have a crisis in terms of child sex abuse and the L’Osservatore Romano devotes two pages to endorse Tintin, a comic character, as a Catholic hero. Give me a break.

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