International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples: Raising awareness, voices

“The interests of the indigenous peoples must be part of the new development agenda in order for it to succeed. … Let us work even harder to empower them and support their aspirations.”
Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon

Large group of indigenous adults dressed in traditional costume gather around woman speaking

Photo by International Rivers, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, AUGUST 9: This year, headlines are bursting with news for the United Nations’ International Day of the World’s Indigenous People: Pope Francis is issuing apologies, Aztec teens are taking hip-hop by storm and recently, IP Day was officially adopted in the Philippines.

Born of the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, the UN declared in 1994 that each August 9 would be the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People. This year, efforts will focus on the theme “Ensuring indigenous people’s health and well-being.” (Learn more here.) Events at UN Headquarters and around the world will draw particular attention to healthcare access for indigenous groups.

Interested in viewing the observance at UN Headquarters? Events will take place Monday, Aug. 10, from 3-6 p.m. View the live webcast here.

In December 1994, the General Assembly of the United Nations first announced the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. In 1995, the first International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People launched, ending in 2004; the next year, the second International Decade began, which lasts through 2015. The Decade and the International Day is observed to advance and defend the rights of the world’s indigenous populations, while also recognizing the contributions and achievements of indigenous individuals.


Pope Francis apologizes: Last month, Pope Francis delivered an hour-long speech to indigenous peoples in Bolivia, asking forgiveness for the Church’s sins against Latin America’s indigenous communities and encouraging the crowd to promote environmental change. (CBS News reported.) Human greed has been primary factor in the planet’s destruction, the Pope said, adding that protecting Mother Earth may be “perhaps the most important task facing us today.” In anticipation of the Pontiff’s visit and speech, the Bolivian government declared the day a national holiday, so that everyone could attend.

Aztec teens, Earth Guardians: A 14-year-old Colorado resident and his younger brother have been catching news headlines with Earth Guardians, an environmental nonprofit, and their hip-hop music that inspires youth to tackle climate change. Having been raised with an Aztec understanding of connection with natural surroundings, the 14-year-old urges all young persons to explore their talents and realize awareness of every action—and its impact on the environment.

Senate approves bill: In the Philippines, a bill was recently approved that declared Aug. 9 as National Indigenous Peoples Day. (Read more here.) UN experts advise the government of the Philippines to follow through with its commitments as internally displaced persons still require “more durable solutions” within the country.

In Bangladesh, more than 200 indigenous people recently lined up to appeal to the government that their constitutional rights be recognized. (UCA News has the story.) Persecution and a lack of protection within the legal system were cited issues, and the people also demanded the government to recognize International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

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Categories: International Observances

70 years since VJ-Day, end of WWII and that famous “Kiss”

UNITED STATES - AUGUST 14:  Happy sailor kissing nurse in Times Square during impromptu VJ Day celebration following announcement of the Japanese surrender and the end of WWII.  (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

AUGUST 14, 1945, V-J Day in Times Square, a photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt, was published in Life in 1945 with the caption: “In New York’s Times Square a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers”

FRIDAY, AUGUST 14—For most American families—especially those with relatives who recall the Second World War—August 14 is a celebration of the end of a global conflict that cost more than 50 million lives.

The memory of that war varies widely, now, depending on a family’s perspective. It may be a proud if solemn moment to mark with the dwindling number of American veterans of that conflict. Earlier, we reported on this vanishing wave—500 WWII veterans now die each day—and on efforts to connect with those men and women still among us.

Or, this milestone may be a reminder of the Holocaust. Among the final death camps to be freed were Dachau by the Americans on 29 April, 1945; Ravensbrück by the Soviets on the same day; Mauthausen by the Americans on 5 May; and Theresienstadt by the Soviets on 8 May. The summer of 1945 was another heart-breaking chapter in that tragedy as thousands of the men and women “liberated” from the Nazi camps died of the typhus and malnutrition that were widespread at war’s end.

For many, the war’s end also brings memories of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the effects of nuclear weapons. This week, we report on the Hiroshima anniversary here; and global peacemaker Daniel Buttry writes about lives transformed by Hiroshima in this OurValues series—plus Buttry adds some musical reflections in InterfaithPeacemakers.


New York Times front page reporting VJ Day August 1945 (2)

As word of Japan’s decision to surrender spread on August 14, 1945, the news became banner headlines on August 15.

Americans traditionally recalled the end of World War II over a two week period, each year, including the anniversary of the initial announcement of Japan’s surrender on August 14.

For three decades since the late 1940s, “Victory Day” (or “Victory Over Japan Day”) also was linked to the September 2 signing of surrender documents by Japanese and American officials. Because Germany had surrendered earlier, this also marked the end of World War II. In 1975, the federal observance of Victory Day ended as relations with Japan improved and the original holiday was widely regarded as encouraging hostile feelings toward Japanese.

Surrender of Japan signing documents in September 1945 (2)

Weeks passed before the official surrender was signed.

Only Rhode Island maintains the original holiday, which it marks on the second Monday of August. In 1990, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed a resolution explaining that the holiday is intended to celebrate the end of the long and tragic war, still marked as an official holiday because Rhode Island sent a disproportionately large number of servicemen to the Pacific in WWII.


The famous photograph, The Kiss, has prompted years of conflicting claims about the identities of people captured in this image that defines the vast celebration of war’s end. In his own words, photographer Alfred Eisenstadt wrote:

In Times Square on V.J. Day I saw a sailor running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight. Whether she was a grandmother, stout, thin, old, didn’t make a difference. I was running ahead of him with my Leica looking back over my shoulder but none of the pictures that were possible pleased me. Then suddenly, in a flash, I saw something white being grabbed. I turned around and clicked the moment the sailor kissed the nurse. If she had been dressed in a dark dress I would never have taken the picture. If the sailor had worn a white uniform, the same. I took exactly four pictures. It was done within a few seconds. Only one is right, on account of the balance. In the others the emphasis is wrong — the sailor on the left side is either too small or too tall. People tell me that when I am in heaven they will remember this picture.


That day, millions kissed. Countless men and women also wept—as is evidenced in other photographs captured that day around the world.

One reason The Kiss is so iconic is the universal nature of the emotional moment—so universal, in fact, that many women and men have claimed they were in Eisenstadt’s frame that day. Wikipedia has a long overview of all these claimsGodSigns columnist Suzy Farbman wrote about the life and death of the man who most likely was the sailor in The Kiss.


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Categories: Uncategorized

70 years since the bombing of Hiroshima


THURSDAY, AUGUST 6—In a related story, we are reporting on the many emotions summoned by the end of World War II in the summer of 1945 as we pass through 70th-anniversary milestones of the end of the Holocaust, the first use of nuclear weapons in conflict and the end of the war. ReadTheSpirit magazine also is publishing stories on:

We also are recalling AUGUST 9, 1945, when a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.

These two bombings remain the only uses of nuclear weapons in the history of warfare.

Estimates of the death tolls vary widely. At least 80,000 people were killed in the Hiroshima blast and another 70,000 were injured and many of those died later, historians agree. Nagasaki casualty estimates range from 30,000 to 80,000 people in the initial blast. The vast majority of the people killed were not serving in the military. That includes nearly 8,000 children who were clearing fire breaks in the center of Hiroshima when the bomb hit; they were vaporized without a trace.

Paul Ham Hiroshima Nagasaki

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Historian Paul Ham’s widely praised new book, Hiroshima Nagasaki: The Real Story of the Atomic Bombings and their Aftermath, which arrives in paperback on August 4, says the numbers were higher if victims who died later are added:

A total of more than 100,000 people were killed instantly by the atomic bombs, mostly women, children and the elderly. Many hundreds of thousands more succumbed to their horrific injuries later, or slowly perished of radiation-related sickness.

A third American atomic bomb was ready for an attack later in August, if Japanese leaders had not surrendered. A fourth bomb was being prepared, as well.

One historical study after another of American attitudes and popular media from that era remind us, today, that Americans fully supported all-out war against all Japanese.

In 1945, Americans widely regarded the attacks as justified and a major relief. Families across the U.S. knew service men and women who likely would have been involved in an invasion of Japan, which was expected to cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Five years of war, touched off by the Japanese bombings of Pearl Harbor, also had fueled American fury against the Japanese and depictions of Japanese as evil creatures. As Paul Ham points out in his new book:

Revilement of Japan was rife in Allied countries. By 1945, U.S. authorities and the public knew of the brutal treatment by the Japanese of local populations (including in Japan’s Chinese invasion) as well as POWs and Japan’s biological warfare plans. The apparently demented fighting by Japanese troops, typified by the kamikaze suicide raids, signified to Allied soldiers they were fighting a different kind of enemy, who glorified death, while the attack on Pearl Harbor and news of the Bataan Death March left the US public extremely vengeful.

hiroshima photograph released for AmericansFor years after the atomic bombings, strong American support for using nuclear weapons was fostered by U.S. officials’ decisions to censor photographic images or films of the actual devastation, especially human victims. American officials preferred to focus on imagery of the mushroom clouds. During the American occupation, many records of the devastation were confiscated. Strict U.S. censorship on media covering victims of the atomic bombs continued for seven years until the signing of the post-war Treaty of San Francisco in which Japan took further responsibility for its role in the war. After that, early gruesome accounts of the bombs’ effects finally began appearing in American media.

New-Yorker-cover-1946 (1)

The original 1946 edition of The New Yorker’s report on Hiroshima by John Hersey startled readers who flipped past this cheery cover.

Of course, some films, photos and journalists’ reports did circulate around the world in the first couple of years after the bombings. According to the Wikipedia history of the work of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Hersey, one landmark was Hersey’s nonfiction account Hiroshima, which covers the lives of six bomb survivors before and in the months after the explosion.

Hersey already was famous as a war correspondent, having reported on Allied invasions of Italy and Sicily. He also reported from the Pacific, including stories about John F. Kennedy in the Solomon Islands. Then, he was among the first journalists to reach Hiroshima, where he began interviewing survivors. Originally commissioned by The New Yorker, Hersey’s shocking story took up the entire August 31, 1946 edition of the magazine. In a jarring juxtaposition, the issue arrived with a cheery scene on the cover of Americans enjoying themselves in a park.

Hiroshima Book cover John Hersey

Hiroshima first edition. (Click the cover to visit the book’s current Amazon page.)

Within months, the story appeared as a book, remains a classic of journalism and has sold more than 3 million copies. It was one of the first books available in Japan about the bombings, reaching Japan by January 1947. However, U.S. occupation forces did not allow free distribution of the book.

In the August 2, 2015, New York Times Book Review section, historian Ian Buruma writes about that American censorship, which also slowed Japanese doctors in their ability to treat victims:

What made things worse for Japanese doctors who tried to ease the suffering of atom-bomb victims is that information about the bomb and its effects was censored by the American administration occupying Japan until the early 1950s. Even as readers here were shocked in 1946 by John Hersey’s description of the Hiroshima bomb in The New Yorker, the ensuing book was banned in Japan. Films and photographs of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as medical data, were confiscated by American authorities.

Hersey’s book famously opens with a minute-by-minute account. It’s first sentence:

At exactly 15 minutes past eight in the morning, on August 6, 1945, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk.

For the 70th anniversary, Britain’s The Mail published this minute-by-minute overview of what happened on August 6, 1945.


CHECK LOCALLY for anniversary events in your region. Many universities and peace groups are hosting special observances. Here is just a sample of events to give you an idea of the range you may find …


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Categories: Uncategorized

Obon: Buddhist, Japanese festival reaches peak numbers

Asian girl in kimono and straw hat smiling, lit lanterns and others dancing in background

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

AUGUST 2015: A sweeping festival of ancient dances, intricate costumes, and a celebration of Japanese culture that began last month reaches peak numbers in August, as the spirit of Obon circles the globe. Born of Buddhist tradition and the Japanese custom of honoring the spirits of ancestors, Obon is a time for homecomings, visiting family gravesites, dances, storytelling and decorating household altars. Light cotton kimonos, carnival rides and games and festival foods are common during this season. Obon has been a Japanese tradition for more than 500 years.

“Obon,” from Sanskrit’s “Ullambana,” suggests great suffering, as the full term translates into “hanging upside down.” The purpose of Obon is to ease the suffering of deceased loved ones while expressing joy for the sacrifices loved ones have made. The sacred Bon Odori dance is at the center of Obon festivities, with teachers performing difficult steps on yagura, elevated stages, and attendees circling the stage as they imitate the dance. Though there is a basic pattern to the dance, specifics vary by region and culture.

Outside of Japan, the festivities of Obon resonate through Brazil—home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan—as well as in Argentina, Korea, the United States and Canada.

Read the full ReadTheSpirit story on Obon here.


Though some international Obon celebrations took place as early as July 1, events are spread over the course of two months—and, in Japan, experts estimate peak travel to be between August 8 and August 16.

Bringing 1.3 million to Shikoku Island: Japan’s largest Bon Odori dance festival takes place on Shikoku Island, where more than 1 million attendees gather in the heat of August for the four-day celebrations. (Read more here.) Each year, this festival takes place Aug. 12-15, offering a myriad of dancers, exhibitions, beating Taiko drums and refreshments ranging from sugared shaved ice to grilled octopus.

WWII veterans return war heirlooms to Japanese families: Seven decades after the end of WWII, seven veterans of WWII visited Japan to return silk flags carried by Japanese soldiers to the owners and their families. Carried as a type of talisman by Japanese servicemen in WWII, the flags were covered with personal messages and wishes from family and friends; American soldiers who took the flags from battlefields have been working with Japanese scholars through OBON 15, a nonprofit organization, to identify the owners of the flags.

San Jose Japantown’s 80th Obon: The Obon festival in San Jose celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, in what is one of the few Japantowns left in the United States. (San Jose Mercury News has the story.) The street festival has remained true to its roots despite growth and popularity, and taiko drumming, kimonos and traditional foods add to the air of reverence surrounding the sacred Bon Odori dance.

A sustainable Obon in California: This year, the Obon at Higashi Honganji offered guests no Styrofoam food containers or plastic bags, reusable water bottles and incentives to bring reusable bags and utensils, in part of a mission to produce zero waste. (Get details here.) Organizers say the efforts remind festival-goers of the mottainai concept: to reduce, reuse, recycle and respect the earth. In addition, wood from old Manto-e lanterns will be recycled and made into naruko, Japanese wooden clappers used during Bon dancing.

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Categories: BuddhistFaiths of East Asia

Lammas, Lughnasadh: Christians, Pagans observe ancient grain harvest festival

Wheat in field with blue sky in background

Lammas has historically been a festival of the wheat harvest, accompanied by athletic games, feasting and blessings. Photo by Chaitanya K., courtesy of Pixabay

SATURDAY, AUGUST 1: As the heat of July breaks into August—Christians, Pagans and many others from areas of England, Ireland and Scotland mark the feast of Lammas.

An ancient festival of the wheat harvest, Lammas—or Lughnasadh—has long been called “the feast of first fruits.” In England and some English-speaking countries, August 1 is “Lammas Day;” historically, it was customary to bring a loaf of bread made from the new wheat crop to church for a blessing. For many, Lammas was a time of gratitude, as the hard work of planting gave way to the bounty of the harvest.

Interested in the bread traditions of world faiths? Check out Lynne Meredith Golodner’s “The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads,” which includes recipes, photos and engaging stories of the place where bread and faith intersect.


Loaf of wheat bread cut into slices on wooden cutting board

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In the Neopagan and Wiccan Wheels of the Year, Lughnasadh is one of eight sabbats and the first of three harvest festivals (the other harvest festivals being Mabon, or autumn equinox, and Samhain). In Wicca and ancient pagan tradition, Lughnassadh is the time for the funeral games of Lugh, the sun god. In a manner similar to ancient Olympic games, the games of Lugh were in honor of his foster mother and included athletic games, feasting, matchmaking and ritual visits to holy wells. Today, common foods on the table at Lughnasadh are apples, grains, breads and berries. (Learn more from Some mark this festival on July 31, though it is most widely observed on the first day of August.

For Christians, Lammas has been a time for blessing loaves made of fresh wheat. In time, Christians also created a version of the Scottish Highland Quarter Cake for Lammas, which bore Christian symbols on the top. (Catholic Culture has a recipe.)


Lughnasadh customs were commonplace until the 20th century, though evidence of ongoing tradition is seen in the popular Puck Fair of County Kerry and Christian pilgrimages. (Wikipedia has details on Lammas and Lughnassadh.) Throughout Ireland’s history, significant mountains and hills were climbed at Lughnasadh; the custom was brought into Christianity when Christian pilgrimages were undertaken near August 1. The most well-known pilgrimage of this type is Reek Sunday, a trek to the top of Croagh Patrick in County Mayo in late July that continues to draw tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims each year.

Family reunions are still common among the Irish diaspora near August 1, and in Ireland, several towns have recently created Lughnasadh festivals and fairs to parallel Puck Fair. (In Eastbourne, England, a Lammas festival took place July 25-26.) For centuries, Lammas has been a time to gather wild berries—bilberries, in particular, but also blackberries and blueberries–for eating, baking and making wine.

Hungry for a few good wheat bread recipes? Check out the fresh-from-the-oven suggestions of AllRecipes, Betty Crocker, Food Network and New York Times.

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Categories: ChristianWiccan / Pagan

Dormition Fast: Orthodox Christians fast for Mary, Mother of God (Theotokos)

Gold background foreground painting of icon of Virgin Mary holding child, halos around their heads

Painting of an Orthodox Christian icon of the Virgin Mary, or Theotokos. Photo by Duckmarx, courtesy of Flickr

SATURDAY, AUGUST 1: As Orthodox Christians look to the Feast of the Dormition, millions enter a fasting period stricter even than that before the Nativity (Christmas).

For Eastern Christians, including many families in the U.S., the two weeks prior to the feast recalling the “falling asleep” of the Virgin Mary are focused on prayers to the Theotokos (“God-bearer”). In this fast, the observant abstain from red meat, poultry, dairy products, fish, oil and wine. The Dormition Fast continues until the Feast of the Dormition, on August 15. (Note: Certain restrictions of the fast are lifted on the Feast of the Transfiguration, on August 6).

The first day of the Dormition Fast hosts the Procession of the Cross, during which an outdoor procession complements the Lesser Blessing of Water.


The first four centuries of Christianity lack notable reference to the end of Mary’s life, and in most manuscripts, it wasn’t until the 5th century that Dormition traditions begin getting mention. (Wikipedia has details.) Orthodox Christians believe that Mary died a natural death and that her soul was received by Christ upon her death; that her body alone was taken into heaven by Christ on the third day after her death. While some Roman Catholics agree with this belief—as was confirmed by Pope John Paul II, during a General Audience in June 1997—others hold that the Virgin Mary did not experience death and was, instead, assumed into heaven in bodily form.

Did you know? Jerusalem houses Mary’s Tomb and the Basilica of the Dormition.

Christian tradition holds that after Mary spent years serving and raising awareness of the new Church, she received a visit from the Archangel Gabriel, who told her that her death would occur in three days. It is believed that the apostles—many who were not in Jerusalem at the time, but preaching abroad—were miraculously transported to Mary near the time of her death. (Learn more from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.) Three days after her death, her body was gone and a sweet fragrance was emitted from the tomb. In many regions, it is still custom to bless fragrant herbs on the Feast of the Dormition.


Claims for miracles associated with Mary surface in news publications frequently, and recently, churchgoers in Sydney, Australia have been posting videos and talking about a painted portrait whose lips moved with the congregation’s recited prayers. (ChristianToday has the story.) The painting, depicting the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus in her arms, is reported as having moved under various lighting; the Catholic Church has reaffirmed that only the bishop of a diocese can officially declare it a miracle.

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Categories: Christian

Tisha B’Av: As Three Weeks ends Jews mourn Temples, other tragedies

The Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem, sunny day, pilgrims at wall

The Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET SATURDAY, JULY 25: On the annual Jewish milestone of Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av), men and women traditionally fast for 25 hours, refrain from bathing, set aside pleasurable activities and focus on communal lament.

But the observance gets mixed response as modern-day Jewish families balance the demands of contemporary life with this call from the past.

Author Debra Darvick wrote in an earlier column: “Tisha B’Av, a Jewish day of mourning that falls during the summer, marks the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. … I have attended services sporadically, more out of a sense of responsibility than any feeling of true mourning. How do I mourn something absent from Jewish experience for nearly two millennia?” In Debra’s column, she does find a way to reconnect, but this clearly is a struggle around the worldwide Jewish community.

In Israel, restaurants and places of entertainment are closed by law on Tisha B’Av, but recent polls have revealed that many Jews question ancient mourning after the modern re-establishment of the Jewish state in the Holy Land. In a poll, just 22 percent of Israeli Jews reported fasting on Tisha B’Av; 18 percent answered that if recreational spots were open on Tisha B’Av, they would go out on the eve of the fast day.


Historically, the First Temple was destroyed on 9 Av 586 BCE; the Second, on 9 Av 70 CE. (Some debate exists on the year of the destruction of the Second Temple, though most experts agree on 70 CE. Wikipedia has details). The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians; the Second Temple, by the Romans.

Also on 9 Av, the Romans quashed Bar Kokhba’s revolt and destroyed the city of Betar, killing more than 500,000 Jewish civilians; Jews were expelled from England in 1290 CE; Germany entered World War I, the aftermath of which led to the Holocaust; and SS commander Himmler formally received approval from the Nazi Party for “The Final Solution.”


Take a Tisha B’Av quiz, read the poems of the Kinot and even find a recipe fit for the breaking of fast, at My Jewish Learning.

Find related stories of mourning and grief at

Learn the hope in this tragic day, as well as the Order of the Day, at

A Webcast by the Orthodox Union, transmitted annually on Tisha B’Av, can be accessed for 2015 here.

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Categories: Jewish