What’s the Spiritual Season this week? From Dyngus and Passover’s end to recalling Rwanda, AIDS & Holocaust

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HERE IS …

What’s the Spiritual Season?
(April 5 to 11, 2010)
By Stephanie Fenton

CHRISTIAN FAMILIES AROUND THE WORLD extend their Easter joy into this week, particularly in areas celebrating Easter Monday! Jews of the Diaspora wrap up their Passover holiday, too, on Monday
evening. Mormons mark the anniversary of their church’s founding on
Tuesday. Wednesday begins a string of solemn
observances, including remembrances of the
Rwandan Genocide, the death of Ryan White—and the Holocaust. Read all about these
events and observances below …

Dyngus MONDAY, don’t put
away those Easter decorations just yet—in many Christian cultures, today is
Easter Monday. (Get more details from
Wikipedia
.) What began, centuries ago, as a week-long
celebration of Easter’s joy was cut down to one day during the 19th
century. Still, many use this day to continue Easter-related festivities. One example: The White
House holds its annual egg-rolling competition today.

   
In Poland and parts of the United States—particularly Chicago and
Buffalo, New York, where there are large Polish populations—today is
also known as Dyngus Day, which translates into “Wet Monday.” The largest Dyngus Day
party in the world is held each year in Buffalo
.
    Centuries
ago, many pagans spent this time of year honoring the goddess Eostre and
spring’s fertility. As part of the pagan festivities, some young men
would tap young women with long poles as a fertility blessing. In response, young women would playfully dump water on
their male counterparts. This “wet” tradition was adapted by the
Christian Church and many people choose to douse one another in blessed
holy water that is left over from Easter. (Catholic.org
offers prayer suggestions for Easter Monday
.)
    Today, there aren’t as many young women tossing traditional buckets of water—but water-gun fights sure are popular! Also,
this year, organizers of Buffalo’s Dyngus Day party dedicated Pussy
Willow Garden, a plot that will grow bushes of pussy willows, so that
future generations will have plenty of pussy willow branches to use to
“tap” members of the opposite sex! (Read
more in a Buffalo News blog
.)
    In the Eastern Orthodox
Church, devotees will be taking a break from the day’s events to
recognize this as Bright Monday. It is during this one week of the year
that the Holy (or Royal) Doors of the Iconostasis are kept open. The Iconostasis is the wall of icons that separate the main part of an Orthodox church from the altar area. The open doors symbolizes the stone that was rolled
away from Jesus’ tomb.
    More than 100 countries
declare Easter Monday a national holiday, and this year, the Federal
Government of Nigeria added its country to the list.

Red sea MONDAY at SUNDOWN,
Jews of the Diaspora honor the eighth and final night of Passover (Pesach). Jews in Israel honored the seventh and final night of Passover on
Sunday. Last night, today and until sundown tomorrow, Jews outside of
Israel commemorate the day the Israelites safely crossed the Red Sea. (Find
out more at Chabad.org.
)
    According to scripture, Moses “split
the sea,” revealing dry land, and while the Hebrews were able to safely
cross, Egyptian soldiers, horses and chariots all drowned or were lost
when the water came flooding back into the sea. Only Pharaoh is
believed to have been spared from death—so that he could tell of the
miracle he witnessed. (Here
is Wikipedia’s overview
.)
   
Jewish custom pertaining to the observance of Passover’s final day(s) is
specific: While Jews can, and do, thank G-d for their salvation,
they don’t celebrate the demise of their enemies. So, while Jews are
permitted to thank G-d today, they should not take glee in the watery fate of their pursuers. (Details
are at Torah.org.
)
    ReadTheSpirit also helps celebrate Passover this year with holiday articles by author Debra Darvick—and news about graphic novels by historian Steve Sheinkin about the fictional “Rabbi Harvey of the Wild West.

Joseph Smith Memorial at Salt Lake City TUESDAY, Mormons
mark the anniversary of the founding of their Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known simply as the LDS Church. (The photo at left is of a
Joseph Smith Memorial building in Salt Lake City.
) On this date 180
years ago, founder Joseph Smith and six incorporators organized the
Church at a home in New York. (The
full account is on the LDS site
.) According to the 2010
LDS Almanac, the Church currently has more than 13.5 million members
worldwide.
    Smith grew up on a farm in
upstate New York, a hotbed of religious revivalism in that era. Smith reported a vision that came to him when he was 14, revealing God and Jesus—such a powerful experience that it moved him to “restore Christianity” and eventually to begin a new church. (An
article in the LA Times has more on his life.
Get a full
story on the Mormon History Association site
.) This founding day is
one of only three “special days” marked specifically by Mormons in their
calendar year.
    Another note of interest: As the Boy Scouts of
America marks its 100th anniversary this year, so does the LDS Church.
The LDS Church was the organization’s first institutional sponsor. (An
article on this was recently published in the LDS news section.
)

City health WEDNESDAY, do your
part to make your community a healthier place on UN World Health Day 2010.
Each year on April 7, thousands of events are held worldwide to promote
healthier living. This year, World Health Day focuses on urbanization
and health, in “1000
cities—1000 lives
.” The UN and World Health Organization ask city
officials to open up their streets to healthy activities, from biking to
eating lunch outside—and everything in between. (Click here to access an interactive
map that highlights participating areas around the world
.)
   
Urbanization has long been a hurdle for public health, since city living
is often associated with water and air pollution, increased violence,
unhealthy diets, decreased physical activity, substance abuse and more. Special observances like this one are dedicated to raising awareness—and activism on these issues.
    An important new author in this field is the Rev. Mae Cannon, an evangelical pastor who works with John Perkins—one of the prophetic figures in transformative urban ministries. To help mark New Year’s 2010 at ReadTheSpirit, we featured an interview with Cannon about her work and her recommendations for getting religious folks out of their pews and into the streets.
    If you’re part of such an effort, Email us about it at [email protected].

Rwanda Also on WEDNESDAY,
it’s the first solemn observance of the week: On April 7, 1994, the
100-day Rwandan Genocide began. In just 100 days, almost 1 million
civilians were killed—nearly 20 percent of the country’s population. In
the same conflict, between 250,000 and 500,000 women and girls were
raped, all as the result of conflicts between Hutu and Tutsi groups. To this day, the people of
Rwanda are struggling to restore civility and grapple with the legacy of this conflict.
    The
BBC has a great online overview: “How the Genocide Happened.”
To find out even more, the London-based Peace Pledge Union also offers a multi-part chronology that details steps before, during and after the genocide.
    Why remember these horrifying events? At the time, international media—and world leaders—ignored
what was taking place in Rwanda. For example, the U.S. Secretary of State delayed for many weeks in authorizing officials to use the term “genocide.” Now, years later, one way to respond to the lingering scars is to find out about the Rwandan genocide, remember what unfolded—and pledge to act more decisively in the future when such dire threats to life are emerging.
    Want some inspiration? A fascinating set of
interviews—with both a Rwandan victim and the man who nearly killed her—was recently
published in The Walrus, a Canadian magazine. Read
the article here
.

Aids THURSDAY, it’s
been just 20 years since the death of an admirable young man whose
courage brought attention to one of the world’s most prevalent diseases:
In 1990, Ryan White lost his life to AIDS. (Learn more at the official site,
RyanWhite.com.
) Just six days after his birth, White required a
transfusion of blood product, and since HIV and AIDS were rarely
researched 20 years ago, blood donors could donate without even knowing
they had the disease. A lack of information led to Ryan White receiving
the HIV virus. (Further details are at
Wikipedia.
)
    White first became severely sick in 1984,
and when he wanted to return to school in 1985, school officials
discouraged the idea. The legal battle that ensued brought national
attention to White, the disease and the public’s perception of HIV and
AIDS. (The
New York Times provided lots of information in White’s obituary
.)
Although White faced discrimination, death threats and more, he
continued his attempts to live a “normal life.” Throughout his short
life, White became a national celebrity who educated the public on AIDS
and fueled AIDS research. (Read more about White and
AIDS from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
)
   
Just after White’s death, U.S. Congress passed the Ryan White Care Act. The Act has been reauthorized since its inception (most recently by
President Obama in 2009, as
was posted on the White House’s site
). Today, it is the largest
provider of services for people living with HIV and AIDS in the U.S.
(Also in 2009, President Obama announced the elimination of the HIV
entry ban, which required HIV-positive travelers to carry a special
waiver when they traveled).
    Last month, representatives from
approximately 40 religious groups—including Christianity, Judaism, Islam,
Hinduism and Buddhism—gathered to discuss how people of faith can help
in the fight against HIV and AIDS. (Read an article on the
gathering at The Body, a resource for people with HIV and AIDS.
)
The leaders vowed to speak about people with HIV and AIDS without
discrimination.
    According to UN Population Fund Executive Director
Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, “There is no talk about sinning or repentance. It
is more about acceptance of people living with HIV.”

March of the Living SATURDAY at SUNDOWN,
Jews solemnly observe Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance
Day. Although marked by Jews around the world, Yom HaShoah is
officially Israel’s day of commemoration for the 6 million Jews who lost
their lives in the Holocaust as a result of the Nazi Regime. (Wikipedia has
more
.) In Israel, Yom HaShoah is a public holiday, made into law in
1959, and each year sirens blare at 10 a.m. to call for a short, nationwide period of
silence. In the Diaspora, many Jewish communities hold commemorative
ceremonies, light memorial candles and pray for the dead. Many Jews mark
Yom HaShoah with a visit to the synagogue.
    And, here’s an important tip: If you’re looking for local Holocaust commemorations, check with Jewish groups in your part of the world—because sometimes these observances are scheduled on different dates to accommodate community schedules.
    Because good educational materials on the Holocaust often are hard to find, ReadTheSpirit this year has established a “Resource Page for Holocaust Remembrance in Media.” Check out the latest news we share on that page and, if you’re aware of something we should share with readers—email us at [email protected].
    In Israel, memorial events
extend beyond lit candles and prayer: A state ceremony is held at the
Warsaw Ghetto Plaza, places of entertainment are closed and television
stations run Holocaust-related programs.
    In a public display of hope and commitment to a more peaceful future, thousands of Jewish high-school students, along
with non-Jewish supporters, participate in “The March of the Living” from
Auschwitz to Berkenau. This symbolic opposition to Auschwitz’s infamous history of death marches is an annual living memorial—with an educational legacy. (The photo, above, shows some of the teen-agers in an earlier March of the Living outside Auschwitz.)
    This year, the United States
Holocaust Memorial Museum will be hosting a Days of Remembrance ceremony
on Thursday that will be Webcast live from the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. (Access the
Webcast, plus get more information, at the Museum’s site
.)
    As pointed out in a Museum
blog
by David G. Marwell, director of the Museum of Jewish
Heritage, observances such as Yom HaShoah hold a mysterious yet
unmistakable irony: While we gather together to observe, true reflection
is a private act. “We gather together so we can be intensely alone,” he
wrote. “Alone with our thoughts, our prayers, our memories.”

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