In the internet age, the traditional way Thailand’s monks reach out to young followers is under threat. With nearly three quarters of Thailand’s population on Facebook, a move by two monks to broadcast their teachings live has created controversy, and exposed a growing schism within the religion. It ultimately leads one of the men to turn his back on the temple.
Thai reporter Chaiyot Yongcharoenchai hears from 30-year-old monk Phra Maha Paivan Worawono, from Bangkok who landed himself in trouble after he appeared in his sermons to laugh and joke, as he poked fun at current affairs and politics.
The Buddhist authorities did not find the sessions amusing after more than 200,000 people had logged on to watch and lead to an investigation by the National Office for Buddhism.
As more monks turn to social media in a bid to revolutionise how the Dharrma is taught, is the resignation of Thailand’s most popular internet monk a sign that traditional Buddhism must modernise, or face becoming irrelevant to the country’s young population?
(Photo: Thai monk Sompong. Credit: Thai News Pics)
MH17: Faith after disaster
In the summer of 2014, a passenger jet was shot out of the sky over a rural area of Ukraine. Images of suitcases and children’s toys strewn around the burning wreckage were beamed and streamed around the world. All 298 people on board were killed. Two thirds of the victims were Dutch and this air disaster is often referred to as the Netherlands 9/11 - likening the impact of the downing of flight MH17 to that of the terror attacks in New York, in terms of the way these unfathomable events ignited a collective grief and national mourning.
Four men are on trial for their alleged role in the mass murder. In the most recent hearings, relatives were given an opportunity to share their stories, the ‘victim impact’ testimonies, as they were called in court, revealed how this single event had affected so many lives in so many ways and gave a glimpse into how faith has been tested, lost and rediscovered.
Anna Holligan has been reporting on this story for the BBC since the day flight MH17 was brought down. She has got to know many of the surviving relatives, some of whom are still struggling to comprehend what happened to their loved ones. To what extent did faith has play a role in their ability to go on after they lost everything? And she speaks to experts about how the public mourning, and global attention has shaped the way in which families sought solace in their faith and found hope in the darkness.
(Photo: A religious cross marks the entrance of the village Grabovo, on the site of the flight MH17 disaster, in Grabovo, Ukraine. Credit: Pierre Crom/Getty Images)
Poland is often seen as a stronghold of the Catholic faith. Yet today, many Poles are now protesting against the Church’s political over-reach - by simply leaving.
With more secular, more ‘western’ ideas and movements penetrating what was once a bastion of Roman Catholicism in Eastern Europe, more and more people are deciding to part ways with the Church. While around 90% of Poles identify themselves as Catholics, only 40% go to church regularly: and that number is falling as the Church loosens its grip on society – as the country becomes what Poles themselves call ‘more European’.
The decision to leave is not an easy one. So just what is the practical side of apostasy? How does one formally ‘separate’ from the church? What does it mean for the individual as well as society? Once you are out, how does life change afterwards? And why is the phenomenon surging right now?
Presenter John Beauchamp follows the journey of a number of individuals who have either parted with the church or are in the process of doing so. We explore the struggles they have to embark on to tear themselves away from the Catholic church in Poland, which still tries to hold a firm moral grip on Polish society – and which often overreaches its permissible mandate by swaying voting habits and directly telling people how to lead their lives.
(Photo: A Pro-LGBT activist holds a portrait of the Virgin Mary that reads 'Jesus also had two fathers' during the annual Krakow Equality March 2020. Credit: Artur Widak/NurPhoto/Getty Images)
Producers: Bartosz Panek and Jarosław Kociszewski
A Free Range and Overcoat Media Production for BBC World Service
Andrea Bocelli: Faith and music
Andrea Bocelli is a multi-award winning Italian tenor who has sold over 75 million records worldwide. Blind from the age of 12, singing was always his passion but he never could have dreamt his life would turn out as it has. When asked what he puts his sucsess down to, he lists his talents, hard work, and overall his belief and faith in God. A strong Catholic, Bocelli has even performed for three popes at the Vatican, and his faith lead him to establish the Andrea Bocelli Foundation where he helps people in impoverished and disaster-stricken parts of the world. Much of his music has a spiritual air to it, and has sustained Bocelli through the ups and downs of life. This Christmas, Heart & Soul on the BBC World Service will present a special one-on-one interview with Andreea Bocelli, presented by Rome based journalist Colm Flynn. The programme will be recorded in the historic Italian city of Florence and will feature some of Bocelli's much-loved music, as well as the story of his life and faith.
(Photo: Andrea Bocelli. Credit: Colm Flynn/BBC)
Black, Jewish and proud
Journalist Nadine Batchelor-Hunt is a black, Jewish woman. She is is fiercely proud of her dual identity - even as recent political discourse around race has meant that she has been forced to defend her identity in ways she's never had to before. She is on a journey to meet one of the oldest, largest and most resilient communities of black Jews in the world: Israel’s Ethiopian Jewish minority.
Around 140,000 black Ethiopian Jews live in Israel today following several waves of emigration in the 1980s and 1990s. They left everything they knew behind to flee antisemitic persecution in Ethiopia to go the spiritual homeland they had dreamt of for millennia. But for many, that did not mean they felt welcome - with complaints of discrimination, alienation, and even police brutality.
Nadine joins the community as they celebrate a Jewish holy day unique to their community - Sigd - a festival where Ethiopian Jews remember the acceptance of the Torah, express their yearning for Jerusalem, as well as celebrate their unique culture and identity in modern Israel.
Sitting down in conversation with religious leaders, activists and other members of the community, Nadine explores if she can learn anything about her own sense of self as a Black Jewish woman. And importantly, what can they teach her about accepting her own dual identity in a world that frequently questions it?
Photo: Presenter Nadine Batchelor-Hunt in Israel Credit: Candace Wilson/BBC