On track to become the first Central American named as a Roman Catholic saint, Pedro Betancur was born in Vilaflor, the Canary Islands, on September 18, 1626.  As a young man he worked as a shepherd, but he decided to migrate to Guatemala to make a new life for himself with the help of a relative in government service there.  He moved to Cuba, but he stayed only long enough to replenish his depleted purse to cover his travel on to Central America.  He had decided to become a priest and associated with the Jesuits, but he found himself unable to fulfill the educational requirements.  thus, in 1655, he joined the Franciscan order.

During his first three years as a Franciscan, Betancur organized a hospital, a homeless shelter, and a school, all aimed to serve the poor.  Understanding that faith is for everyone, he became concerned for the wealthier elements of society and initiated walking tours through their neighborhood, during which time he would ring a bell and call for repentance.  In the end, he organized a new order just to care for the several benevolent services he founded, the Order of Belen.

Besides his social service, Betancur became known for his severe acts of penance.  He was known for self-flagellation, sleep deprivation, and lying with his hands outstretched on a full-size cross.  These actions contributed greatly to his reputation for saintliness.  He is also said to have thought up the idea of a procession on Christmas Eve in which participants assume the roles of Mary and Joseph and seek a night’s lodging from their neighbors.  Over the years, the practice spread throughout Central America and Mexico.

Betancur lived most of his life in Antigua, and he was buried there in the Church of San Francisco.  There are now a set of related sites in Antigua that have become the focus of pilgrimage.  First is the tree he is said to have planted.  The sacristy of the Church of San Francisco houses many relics of the saint, including pieces of his clothing and a skull he used for meditating upon death.  The original tomb inside the church still exists, though his body was put in a new tomb in 1990.  There is also a display of crutches, canes, and other mementos left by people who were healed as a result of their visit to the church.  Prayers to Saint Pedro are often made with candles that are rubbed on the tombs and then on the bodies of the afflicted.  Those healed may leave messages of thanks, while those not immediately healed may leave behind their requests for Saint Pedro’s intercession on their behalf.

Brother Pedro was nominated for sainthood as early as 1729, but his cause languished from more than two centuries.  Meanwhile, in the mid-twentieth century, the church was heavily damaged in an earthquake.  In the 1960s, the local Franciscans began to promote devotion to Pedro and began cataloguing the miracles claimed by pilgrims to Antigua.  They also began to lobby for the reconstruction of the damaged church.  Over the following decades, both concerns were answered.  Betancur was beatified in 1980 and canonized by Pope John Paul II during a trip to Guatemala on July 31, 2002.  The new church has become a leading pilgrimage site for Central American Catholics.

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A semi-secret element of the life of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is centered on their temples.  The basic structure of the church is the ward, which is comparable to a protestant congregation or Catholic parish.  Each ward has a meetinghouse where members gather for weekly worship and other educational, social, recreational, and cultural activities.

In contrast to the ward, the temple serves a widespread constituency and is used for a limited number of rites, all involving fully accredited and credentialed members.  Those attending any event at the temple must be baptized and confirmed members, with males ordained into the lower level of the priesthood (termed the Melchizedek priesthood).  They must also have a meeting with the bishop, who determines whether they are living by the precepts of the church, including the law of tithing.  Being assured of a member’s worthiness, the bishop issues a temple recommend, a document that allows the person to enter the temple.  The interview also prepares the person to participate in the temple ordinances.

Several basic ordinances are enacted within the temple.  Some are based upon the Latter-day Saints’ understanding of heaven.  According to them, the afterlife will find people in one of three levels of glory according to the laws they obeyed on earth.  The great majority of people will go the Terrestrial Kingdom.  This is for good people who did not come to the truth of God and Jesus during their earthly lives.  The highest, or Celestial Kingdom, is for those who believe the Gospel and follow its basic ordinances of baptism by immersion and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands (that is, they have become members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).  Within the Celestial Kingdom, there are also levels.  The highest level is for those who fully participated in the temple ceremonies.

the basic ordinance performed in the temples is termed the receiving of one’s endowments.  In specific rooms in the temple there are decorated with pictures depicting the Latter-day Saints’ understanding of the cosmos and creation, members participate in a ritual that includes an explanation of the requirements for living in God’s presence in the celestial world.  Integral to the ritual is the making and receiving of a set of promises.  The reception of one’s endowment is believed to empower the Christian to overcome all circumstances in life.

Mormons take marriage very seriously and believe that marital relationships will continue in the life to come.  One is initially married for this life, but in the temple couples are sealed together for all eternity.  In the nineteenth century, sealing was intimately tied to teachings about polygamy, but under pressure from the outside world these teachings have been dropped.  The Mormon Church, however, does continue to teach that a couple’s sealing in the temple is a necessary requirement for entrance into the highest levels of the Celestial Kingdom.  Finally, the Church also believes in the baptism for the dead.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was formed in 1830 as a recovery of the apostolic church.  Over the centuries the essence of the true church was lost, and people who lived at that time would not be eligible for the higher levels of heavenly glory.  In each temple is a large baptismal fount at which such baptisms may be conducted by proxy.  Periodically, the Church has been cited in the news for the baptism of some famous historical character or had to deal with controversies such as when the Jewish community decried the baptism of the Jewish dead.

The first Latter-day Saint temple was constructed in the mid 1830s in Kirkland, Ohio.  Even before this temple was begun, church founder Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805-1844) laid a cornerstone for a future temple in Independence Missouri.  Both the Kirkland temple and the Temple Lot in Independence passed from the church’s hands, however.  A third temple was constructed in Nauvoo, Illinois, in the mid 1840s, but had to be abandoned following Joseph Smith’s assassination and the relocation of the Church to Utah.  In Salt Lake City a permanent temple was constructed.  Additional temples were also constructed in St. George, Mani, and Logan, Utah.

Early in the twentieth century, as the Mormon movement expanded beyond Utah, the first temples were constructed in neighboring states such as Arizona, California, and Idaho.  the first temple outside of the United States was completed in Bern, Switzerland, in 1955.  The Swiss temple signaled a new emphasis in temple construction responding to the global mission program of the Church and its worldwide growth.  By 2004, there were 117 temples in operation and a dozen more under construction.  they were by then established around the world on every continent.

After construction, temples go through an elaborate consecration ceremony.  It has been the Church’s practice to delay the consecration ceremony and allow people who are not Church members to visit and see the inside of a Latter-day Saint temple.  This practice has done much to reduce the level of secrecy surrounding Mormon temples.  the level of secrecy has been further reduced by the revelations of former Church members who have chosen to explain the meaning (including the ritual texts) behind the temple ceremonies.  the discussion of temple rituals has centered upon their relationship to those of traditional Freemasonry.  the Mormon Church, though, has been adamantly opposed to any revelations concerning temple ritual secrets.

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Feng Shui (literally wind/water) is a form of geomancy (the art of divination utilizing geological and environmental features) developed in China.  It studies both the natural and humanly constructed elements of any environment.  A specialist in feng shui observes any given environment — for example, an office space in a high-rise building, the landscape of a mountain valley, a building as a whole — and the manner in which the people inhabiting that environment interact with it.  Based upon that observation, the specialist makes recommendations on improving the relationship of the people with their surroundings.

Feng shui developed as an art and science in ancient China.  The accumulated knowledge was passed through a set of elite lineage holders into the modern world, but like many ancient secrets, in the twentieth century it became the subject of numerous books and papers.  While the basic principles of eng shui may be learned from a book, proficiency requires practice and the development of a certain level of intuition in applying the principles.  Thus a role remains for master practitioners to ply their trade.

Basic to understanding feng shui is the foundational principle of yin and yang.  This desire to balance opposites and thus bring harmony is a foundation of Chinese thought.  Yin/yang calls to mind a variety of polarities:  male/female, light/dark, cold/hot, etc.  Each opposite implies the other, and each half of a polarity always contains the seed of the other half.

Feng shui also draws on an understanding of the five elemental energies — earth, metal, fire, water, and wood — each of which would be an interaction in any given environment.  Feng shui assumes that a variety of energies not visible to the average pe5rson are operating in the environment, and the harmonious flow of these subtle energies affect the happiness, well-being, creativity, and even the health of the inhabitants of the environment.

Long the exclusive practice of the Chinese, in the twentieth century feng shui has become popular around the world.  In Chinese society, buildings would be erected and internal space shaped with reference to providing the most harmonious situation.  Architects and others responsible for putting up structures in the increasingly secularized societies dominated by Chinese in Asia will have their buildings and other structures criticized if deemed to ignoring the analysis of feng shui.  Furthermore, any veil that descends upon those who inhabit structures with "bad" feng shui will be blamed on the builders ignoring traditional wisdom.

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