Sunday, January 31, 2010

Russia to Donate $2 Million to Restore Four Orthodox Monasteries in Kosovo and Metochia

Russia will donate $2 million to restore four Orthodox Monasteries in the Serbian district of Kosovo and Metochia, Serbian Minister of Culture Nebojsa Bradic told Serbian RTS TV this week.

The funds will be forwarded to renovate and secure protection of monasteries Visoki Decani, Gracanica, Mother of God of Levis, and the Patriarchal See of Pec.

It is planned to allocate $400 thousand out of $2 million donated by Russia to restore paintings in the Monastery of God of Levis.

"Other monasteries will receive money not only to renew paintings, but to restore and secure protection of monastery complexes," the Serbian Minister of Culture said.

COMMENTARY: Jesus' Parable of the Prodigal Son Still Relates to Society Today

Since today is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, I thought it would be appropriate to think about this Parable of Jesus -- and relate it to our society today.

The Prodigal Son -- the younger of two brothers -- told his father to give him his share of the inheritance money now, rather than after the father died. The father agreed and gave his younger son his share of the inheritance.

The younger son then left the area of his home, and for a time, lived a worldly life, wasting his money on alcoholic drinks and prostitutes, among other things. Shortly thereafter, he ran out of money, and needed a job to feed himself. So he worked on a farm, in which his primary job was taking care of pigs.

After thinking about his miserable plight, the Prodigal Son decided to return home and ask his father to forgive him. When the father saw his younger son approaching his house, he ran to his son and embraced him and kissed him, for the father had thought he had lost this son forever. Mesmerized by his son's return home, the father celebrated his return by providing him with new clothing and having a beautiful feast.

We can see how this Parable of Jesus -- nearly 2,000 years old -- still relates to our society today. The fact is that most human beings continue to be selfish, materialistic, and greedy today, and will do almost anything to achieve wealth, even if it means hurting their fellowman. The recent Madoff case is a good example of this, because Madoff was able to illegally amass over 50 billion dollars without any feelings about how this would hurt his fellowman. Of course, Madoff was punished for his selfish illegal mega-greed by being sentenced to life in prison without any possible parole.

On the other hand, Jesus' Parable of the Prodigal Son has a positive impact on our society today, because it clearly illustrates the joyful forgiveness of the father for his repentant son. Indeed, we can also relate this forgiveness to God forgiving man for his sins, provided that man is truly sorry for his sins, and genuinely asks God to forgive him.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Anti-Religion Group Criticizes USPS for Honoring Mother Teresa with Stamp

The Christian Post website reports today (January 30, 2010) that a group of atheists and agnostic "free thinkers" opposed to religion has criticized the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) for honoring Mother Teresa with a stamp that it says goes against postal regulations.

Last month -- when it announced the Mother Teresa commemorative stamp -- the USPS praised the internationally-famed Catholic nun for her 50 years of services to "the sick and destitute of India and the world."

The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) pointed out the decision violates the postal service's ninth regulation, which states that "stamps or stationery items shall not be issued to honor religious institutions or individuals whose principal achievements are associated with religious undertakings or beliefs."

The Mother Teresa commemorative stamp is expected to be issued on August 26, 2010 -- the 100th anniversary of Mother Teresa's birth.

Archbishop of Canterbury Delivers Schmemann Lecture at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary

Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, today (January 30, 2010) delivered the 27th annual Father Alexander Schmemann Memorial Lecture -- this year titled "Theology and the Contemplative Calling: The Image of Humanity in the Philokalia" -- and received an honorary doctoral degree at St. Vladimir's Seminary in Yonkers, New York.

Dr. Williams' lecture on the "Philokalia," a collection of monastic writings ranging from the fourth through the fifteenth centuries, reflected his massive knowledge on the subject. His discourse emphasized the spiritual battle that human beings must wage in journeying from a self-centered life to a life in Christ, according to the writings of the Christian ascetics.

Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary (SVOTS) website reports that during his visit, Dr. Williams also attended Divine Liturgy for the Feast of the Three Hierarchs in the seminary chapel.

After the Divine Liturgy, Metropolitan Jonah, primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), and Dr. Williams both expressed their desire for a deeper personal friendship and their hope for deeper understanding and cooperation between their respective communions. Some 400 people attended the lecture and ceremony.

Armenians Celebrate Youth and Lovers' Blessing Day on January 30

Armenians are celebrating Youth and Lovers' Blessing Day -- their own version of St. Valentine's Day -- today, January 30, the Radio Free Europe website reports.

According to the holiday's tradition, young people are supposed to eat salty bread before going to bed in order to see their future lover in their dreams offering them a drink of water.

The salty bread is available in shops and stores in Armenia for a special low price of about 35 cents.

The Armenian Orthodox Church supports the tradition and urges young people to pray to St. Sarkis, the protector of young lovers, before going to bed on this special day.

Hindu Leader in India Declares Way to End Attacks on Churches: "Chop Off Hands" of Attackers

An Indian church leader has criticized the chief minister of India's southern Karnataka state for saying that those responsible for a continuing series of attacks on churches should have their hands cut off.

In an apparent exasperation about criticisms of government action following the attacks in Karnataka, its chief minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa, declared at a public meeting this week, "I am telling you, chop off the hands of these people if you catch them."

Yeddyurappa belongs to the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), which controls the state government. Opponents say the BJP has a Hindu nationalist agenda.

"We do not want hands to be chopped off; we want the government to arrest the culprits and bring them to justice," Methodist Bishop Taranath Sagar, president of the National Council of Churches in India, told Ecumenical News International on January 28, 2010. He added that the "virtual immunity" that existed following attacks on churches was at the root of the continued violence.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Police in Crete Prepare for Trial of Men Charged with Lighting Two Fires at Synagogue

Kathimerini website in Greece reports today that a 24-year-old Greek-American was released yesterday (January 28, 2010) on conditional bail, after defending himself before a Cretan prosecutor on charges related to two arson attacks on the Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Hania, Crete.

On January 25, a 33-year-old Briton was remanded in custody in connection with the attack. Two other suspects -- a 24-year-old local man and a 23-year-old Briton -- were released on bail pending trial.

A fifth man -- also an American -- is being sought, but is believed to have fled to Italy.

The synagogue -- the only one on the entire island of Crete -- was severely damaged in the January 5 and 16 fires.

Gospel Music Artist Kirk Franklin Releases Single to Provide Relief to Devastated Haiti

Gospel music recording artist Kirk Franklin has released a new single in an effort to provide relief to the devastated island nation of Haiti, the Christian Broadcast Network website reports today (January 29,2010).

The song -- written by Franklin -- is titled "Are You Listening: A Love Song for Haiti."

More than 150 other singers and musicians joined Franklin to sing on the single.

"As I watched what was going on in Haiti, the Lord brought it to my attention that it would be perfect," Franklin said. Proceeds from the sale of the single will go to earthquake relief efforts in Haiti.

Sacramento Area Mall Prevents Adult Patrons from Talking about Religion, Politics

The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) is reporting that the California Court of Appeal is considering the constitutionality of a Sacramento-area shopping mall's attempt to prevent adult patrons from talking to each other about controversial topics, such as religion and politics.

The case arose after a youth pastor, Matthew Snatchko, was arrested at the Roseville Galleria Mall in 2007 for striking up a casual conversation with two other shoppers about faith, according to the Examiner website.

Although Snatchko had first obtained the shoppers' permission to broach the subject, a nearby store employee disapproved and called mall security guards, who arrested Snatchko. Criminal charges were later dropped, but attorneys with PJI filed suit to challenge the mall's tight restrictions on speech.

Under the mall's rules, shoppers are not allowed to engage in conversations about potentially controversial topics -- like religion or politics -- unless they already know the person to whom they are talking.

Pope to Academy Members: "You Can Help Church Respond to New Questions in Society"

Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the importance of offering authentic Catholic responses to contemporary cultural problems, during a private audience on January 28, 2010 with 300 people taking part in a special joint session of the pontifical academies, according to the Catholic Culture website.

The Pope observed that the academies were established to provide the Holy See with expert guidance in various fields.

With that help, he said, the Church can respond to new questions that arise in society.

Pope Benedict told the pontificial academy members, "You are called to make your qualified, competent, and enthusiastic contribution to ensure that all the Church, and particularly the Holy See, is able to exploit the appropriate opportunities, languages, and mass means necessary to enter into dialogue with modern cultures."

Orthodox Church Backs Serbia's Bid to Join EU, Opposes Kosovo's Independence

The Serbian Orthodox Church will back the country's bid to join the European Union, but remains opposed to the independence of Kosovo, the new Serbian patriarch said yesterday (January 28,2010).

Patriarch Irinej, 80, was elected last week as head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which has an estimated 11 million people of Orthodox background living in Serbia and in other countries, according to the Reuters website.

"We hope that Europe will respect our identity, our cultural heritage, our Orthodox faith and if that's the case, there's no reason for skepticism about the European community," Irinej told a news conference.

Irinej also said the Serbian Orthodox Church would remain opposed to the independence of Kosovo, which seceded from Serbia two years ago. In addition to the European Union, the United Nations, and most nations of the world do not recognize Kosovo as an independent country.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Christian Girl Working as Servant in Pakistan Dies from Torture of Muslim Employers

A 12-year-old Christian domestic servant in Pakistan is believed to have died as a result of mistreatment at the hands of her Muslim employers, the Christian Today website reports.

The family of Shazia Masih say she was mentally and physically abused in the Lahore home of Muslim lawyer Chaudhry Mohammad Naeem, where she had worked for the last eight months to support her poor parents.

Shazia was taken to a hospital for treatment, but did not recover and passed away January 22, 2010. A post mortem exam confirmed the cause of death as torture.

Mr. Naeem fled before being arrested by police two days after Shazia's death. He told police he punished Shazia for misbehaving and helping herself to food.

New Serbian Patriarch Urges Orthodox-Catholic Meeting in Effort to Promote Christian Unity

The new head of the Serbian Orthodox Church today (January 28, 2010) urged dialogue to overcome longstanding divisions with Roman Catholics, the Washington Post reports.

Patriarch Irinej said that a 2013 anniversary important to Christians would be a "good opportunity to meet and talk." The year 2013 marks 1700 years since Roman Emperor Constantine the Great signed the Edict of Milan to establish religious tolerance for Christians.

Serbia's patriarch has suggested that the ceremony to mark the anniversary could be held in the Serbian city of Nis, Emperor Constantine's birthplace, and include Pope Benedict XVI, as well as key Orthodox Christian leaders.

That would be the first ever visit by a pope to Serbia -- a rare European country not visited by the Roman Catholic Pope.

Editorial Calls for Bulgaria to Clear Its Name by Suing Turkish Gunman Ali Agca

In an editorial yesterday, the Sofia Morning News in Bulgaria called for taking Turkish gunman and recently-released prisoner Mehmet Ali Agca to court, in order to dismiss any suspicion of Bulgaria's involvement in the attempt to assassinate the Pope.

Agca, who shot Pope John Paul in St. Peter's Square on May 13, 1981, alleged he had been commissioned to do so by the Bulgarian secret service acting on the orders of the Soviet KGB, which feared the pontiff would encourage an anti-communist revolt. (Pope John Paul, it should be noted, was a native of Poland, a turbulent Communist nation under Soviet control in 1981.)

Three Turks and three Bulgarians, charged with conspiracy with Agca, were acquitted by an Italian court for lack of evidence.

The alleged Bulgarian link was never conclusively put to rest and still attracts conspiracy theorists.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

U.S. Religious Group Criticizes Evangelicals for Ignoring Religious Persecution in China

The Ecumenical News International (ENI) website reports today that a U.S. religious advocacy group -- which often opposes "liberal theology" -- has criticized the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) for ignoring religious persecution in China during a recent visit by alliance officials.

"We are glad that the WEA was able to minister to and encourage China's officially registered church," said Faith McDonnell, the Institute of Religion and Democracy's religious liberty program director. "But we cannot do service to one part of the Body of Christ at the cost of doing disservice to another," McDonnell added.

"We find it staggering that there was no acknowledgment of the 80 million or more Chinese house church Christians or what they face from the Chinese government," McDonnell said in a January 14, 2010 statement concerning the churches not officially registered with the Chinese government.

The WEA is a network of churches in 128 nations that represents some 420 million evangelical Christians.

Patriarch Kirill Says Independent Palestinian State Would Be a "Guarantor of Peace" in Mideast

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia stated today (January 27, 2010) that an independent Palestinian state would be "one of the guarantors of peace" in the Middle East, the Interfax-Religion website reports.

At a meeting at his Moscow residence with Palestinian President Mahmored Abbas, the Patriarch said the Russian Orthodox Church "has always consistently stood for peace and stability in the Middle East."

"We respect the right of the Palestinian people to their own statehood, which is in line with UN decisions," he added.

"It is in the interest of all the religious communities in the Holy Land that there should always be access to holy sites," the Patriarch concluded.

Israeli Foreign Minister Calls on Hungary to Ban "Hate Speech" in Effort to Counter Anti-Semitism

Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, today called on Hungary to bring in laws banning "hate speech" during a visit to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27.

"We must stop the spread of anti-Semitism in this way because extremist movements are ever more boldly raising their heads in Hungary," Lieberman said, according to the Hungarian News Agency website.

Earlier in the day, the prime ministerial candidate of the governing Hungarian Socialist Party, Attila Mesterhazy, tabled a motion to ban "hate speech" in the Hungarian parliament.

Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is home to Central and Eastern Europe's largest Jewish population -- with some estimates as high as 100,000 -- as well as Europe's largest synagogue. Some 600,000 Hungarian Jews are believed to have perished during the Holocaust.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Vatican Decries Leak of Catholic-Orthodox Draft on Role of Pope in United Church

The Pontificial Council for Christian Unity today (January 26, 2010) released a statement decrying the appearance of a leaked document from a joint Catholic-Orthodox theological commission discussing different perceptions of the Petrine ministry, according to the Catholic Culture website.

The draft document -- which has been made public on Italian websites -- is only a draft, and "has been only minimally discussed," the Pontificial Council emphasized. The participants in the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue had promised to keep the talks confidential, the Vatican statement notes, expressing dismay that the draft has become public.

At a meeting in Cyprus in October, 2009, the joint theological commission discussed the role of the Bishop of Rome in the universal Church.

The draft document observes that the Western Church soon established a tradition of looking at the Bishop of Rome for leadership, while in the East -- although the primacy of Rome was accepted -- there was greater emphasis on the authority of each individual bishop with his diocese.

Russian Rabbi Blasts Ukraine for Honoring WWII Nationalist Allied with Nazi Germany

Ukraine's honoring of a World War II nationalist who was allied with Nazi Germany promotes distorted views, Russia's chief rabbi said today (January 26, 2010).

Rabbi Berl Lazar told Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin a decision by outgoing Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko to award the honorary title of national hero to World War II and anti-Soviet partisan Stepan Bandera promotes a "false and distorted" view of the activities of his Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, RIA Novosti website reports.

Russia views the group as terrorists who took up common cause with German Nazis in its quest to gain independence for Ukraine from the Soviet Union.

Lazar told Putin, "Unfortunately, what we see in Ukraine is terrifying. This is unacceptable for us. We Jews will never forget what the Red Army did for us in World War II."

Nigerian Anglican Bishop Is Kidnapped and Held for Ransom of $100,000

An Anglican bishop in Nigeria's southern state of Edo was kidnapped Sunday (January 24, 2010) after mass, today's Christian Post website reports.

The Rev. Peter Imasuen, who is bishop of Edo's state capital, Benin City, was reportedly ambushed and seized as he arrived home from church on Sunday.

"We were told he was kidnapped yesterday," Samuel Salifu, secretary general of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) said. He added, "We are trying to establish what exactly happened but we understand the kidnappers are asking for 15 million naira (about 100,000 dollars)."

Imasuen's abduction comes just one week after clashes between Christians and Muslims left nearly 500 people dead in and around Nigeria's central city of Jos.

Monday, January 25, 2010

More Than 100 Russian Orthodox Worshipers Hospitalized After Drinking Holy Water

Authorities in Siberia say more than 100 Russian Orthodox believers have been hospitalized after drinking holy water during Epiphany celebrations in the eastern city of Irkutsk.

A spokesman for the local investigation told the Associated Press today (January 25, 2010) that 117 people -- including 48 children -- are in the hospital complaining of acute intestinal pain, after drinking water from wells around a local church last week.

Vladimir Salovarov says a total of 204 people required some medical treatment. He said it is too early to say what caused the illness.

Many Russians consider any water obtained on Epiphany -- which they celebrate on January 19 -- to be holy. The water is usually bottled for consumption later.

Pope Urges Christians to Unite and Convey Christ's Message of Reconciliation

Divided Christians can and must be united in meeting the modern challenges of secularization, threats to human life, environmental destruction, war and injustice, Pope Benedict XVI said today.

"It is precisely the desire to proclaim Christ to others and bring the world His message of reconciliation that makes one experience the contradiction of Christian divisions," the pope said January 25, 2010, as he closed the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Leaders of the Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant communities in Rome joined the pope for the annual prayer service at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, according to the Catholic News website.

The Week of Prayer 2010 focused on the common Christian vocation to witness to Christ in the world.

More Anti-Semitic Incidents Recorded in First Quarter of 2009 Than All of 2008

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) website reports today that Anti-Semitic incidents increased dramatically around the world -- especially in Western Europe -- during 2009, according to an annual report.

In response to the report by the Coordination Forum for Countering Anti-Semitism that was unveiled yesterday (January 24, 2010), the Israeli Cabinet decided to establish a team to recommend ways to step up the struggle against anti-Semitism.

The report found that more Anti-Semitic incidents were recorded during the first three months of 2009 than during the entire previous year. Israel's Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip was cited as the cause for the dramatic rise.

France recorded the largest increase, with 631 anti-Semitic incidents in the first half of 2009, compared with 474 in all of 2008. Britain was next with more than 600 incidents in 2009, compared to 541 incidents in 2008.

The incidents were also notable for being more serious, with hundreds being considered extremely violent. Eight murders were attributed to anti-Semitism in 2009.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Survey Indicates Americans' Religious Prejudice Against Muslims Is Highest of All Religions

A new public opinion poll by the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies indicates that Americans are more than twice as likely to hold negative feelings toward Muslims as they are toward Christians, Jews, or Buddhists, the Voice of America website reports today.

The survey found that more than 40 percent of Americans say they are at least "a little" prejudice toward Muslims, with fewer than 20 percent reporting the same feelings toward the other three faiths.

People who reported attending a religious service of any type more than once a week were twice as likely to express no prejudice toward Muslims.

New Serbian Patriarch in Backing Serbia's Claims: "Kosovo Is Our Holy Land, Our Jerusalem"

The new patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church has been enthroned at a ceremony in Belgrade, and has pledged to back Serbia's claims to Kosovo, the BBC website reports.

Patriarch Irinej said the Church's first duty is to help recover the breakaway province. The 80-year-old is a moderate, who is open to modernization.

The service in Belgrade was the first part of a two-stage induction process, with a second ceremony due at Pec in western Kosovo.

"Kosovo is our holy land, our Jerusalem," Patriarch Irinej said. "We must go to Pec to complete this ceremony, but can we visit our relics? Without them, Serbia is not Serbia, without Kosovo it is deprived of its heart and soul," he added.

Kosovo -- which broke away from Serbia and declared its independence in February, 2008 -- is not recognized as an independent nation by the United Nations and by most countries.

Vietnam Holds Ceremony to Celebrate Building World's Biggest Buddha Statue

A Vietnamese jewelry firm has started work on the biggest Buddha statue to date from a 35-ton block of jade, the Vietnam News Agency said.

President Nguyen Minh Triet attended a ceremony to kick off the project on January 18, 2010, along with Vietnam Buddhist patriarch, Thich Pho Tue, and several hundred monks.

Triet said the giant statue would be built as a religious symbol and would be a contribution to culture that would last for generations. The statue -- which will be over nine feet high -- is expected to be completed in 2011.

Buddhism is the predominant religion in Vietnam, and in several other southeast Asian nations.

January 27 Is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Marks Auschwitz Liberation

A ceremony of lighting candles for Holocaust victims will take place in the Moscow Jewish Community Center on January 27, 2010, according to the Interfax-Religion website.

Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar, President of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia (FJCR) Alexander Boroda, representatives of foreign embassies, and international organizations working in the country are expected to attend the ceremony.

"Annual Holocaust victims commemoration appeals to preserve historical memory of millions of human lives perished in World War II and to condemn Nazism in all its aspects, so that the tragedy of genocide can never be repeated," the FJCR said.

According to the UN General Assembly Resolution of November 1, 2005, the whole world commemorates January 27 as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, since it was the day in 1945 when the Russian Army liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp where millions of Jews were killed.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Archbishop of Canterbury to Deliver Schmemann Lecture at St. Vladimir's Seminary January 30, 2010

Next Saturday afternoon (January 30, 2010), the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and senior bishop of the worldwide Anglican communion, will deliver the annual Father Alexander Schmemann Memorial Lecture at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, New York. The Archbishop will speak on the topic "Theology and the Contemplative Calling: The Image of Humility in the Philokalia," according to St. Vladimir's website.

St. Vladimir's Seminary will also confer upon the Archbishop an honorary Doctorate of Divinity, in recognition of his contribution to the academic study of Eastern Orthodox theology and spirituality.

The Very Rev. Dr. John Behr, dean of St. Vladimir's, said the Archbishop was a pioneer in the field of Orthodox Theology, with outstanding breadth and depth. He added, "The subject of the Archbishop's doctoral thesis was the work of the great Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky, the first academic study of the emigre theologians."

Archbishop Williams is scheduled to begin the lecture -- which is free and open to the public -- at 12:30 p.m.

Thousands Take Part in Annual "March for Life" in D.C.; Oppose Federal Funding for Abortions

Tens of thousands of abortion opponents marched through the cold in Washington, D.C. yesterday (January 22, 2010) in the annual "March for Life," marking the 37th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

Those at the event heard a message that centered on fighting the now-stalled federal health-care package and ensuring that any future health-care plans would prohibit the use of federal funding for abortions, the Washington Post website reports today.

Many at the rally cited the election of Republican Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts as a sign of shifting momentum to conservative causes such as theirs.

Brown was elected to the U.S. Senate this week to complete the term of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), a liberal who supported federal funding for abortions. Brown's Senate victory stunned many people, since Massachusetts -- the most liberal state in the nation -- had elected only Democrats to Congress for the past several decades.

Bishop Irinej of Nis Elected Serbian Patriarch at Assembly of Bishops Meeting

Bishop Irinej of Nis, 79, has been elected the new Patriarch of Serbia, according to the Interfax-Religion website.

The Patriarch was elected by lot out of three candidates. The other two were patriarchal Locum Tenants Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro and Bishop Irinej of Backa.

The election took place yesterday(January 22, 2010) at a session of the Assembly of Bishops in Belgrade.

Previous Patriarch of Serbia Pavle died at the age of 96 on November 15, 2009 in Belgrade, following a two-year bout with intensive heart and lung problems.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Muslim Police in England Claim Government's Anti-Terrorism Policies Increase "Islamophobia"

The Ethics Daily website reports today that a 2,000-member organization of Muslim police officers in England claims the government's anti-terrorism policies are an "affront to British values," and are contributing to an upsurge in "Islamophobia."

The National Association of Muslim Police said in a seven-page statement to a parliamentary committee that Prime Minister Gordon Brown's "Prevent" strategy -- aimed at halting the spread of violent extremism -- actually is "stigmatizing" Muslims by targeting so-called "Islamic extremism."

The British government has insisted the "Prevent" anti-terrorism measures -- which cost about $227 million per year -- are a "real success" that have put more than 200 people in prison for terrorist offenses in the past eight years.

Prayer Items of Jewish Man Trigger Bomb Scare and Diversion of Flight

A U.S. Airways flight was diverted to Philadelphia yesterday, after a young Jewish man's prayer items triggered a bomb scare, the BBC website reports.

The incident occurred when the man used a phylactery -- a small black box Orthodox Jews strap to their head as part of their prayer rituals -- police said.

The episode took place on a 50-seat regional jet originally bound for Louisville, Kentucky from New York's La Guardia airport.

Phylacteries -- called tefillin in Hebrew -- are two small boxes of black leather, with straps attached to them. Observant Jewish men are required to place one box on their head and tie the other one on their arm as part of their morning prayers.

Hate-Crimes Law Named Number One Anti-Christian Act of 2009 by Christian Group

The new federal hate-crimes law -- designed to eradicate the belief that homosexuality or transgenderism is abnormal or sinful -- was chosen as the number one anti-Christian act of 2009 by the Christian Anti-Defamation League, the CNS News website reports today.

Attorneys who defend religious rights agree: The recently enacted hate-crimes law is a threat to religious liberty.

"The very fact that this law elevates 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity' to the same protected status as race -- that in and of itself is a cataclysmic shift in policy," said Matthew Staver, president of the religious liberty law firm Liberty Counsel and dean of the Liberty University Law School.

That is contrary to our Judeo-Christian heritage and beliefs, far beyond any particular disclaimer that is not going to affect speech," he added. The hate-crimes law was sponsored by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

Group That Broke News of Biblical Markings on Rifles Calls on Congress to Investigate

Trijicon's "outrageous practice" of stamping Christian references on rifle scopes used by the U.S. military "was an unconstitutional disgrace of the highest magnitude to our military, and an action that clearly gave additional incentive and emboldenment to recruiters for our nation's enemies," Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) head Mikey Weinstein said, after Trijicon Inc. said it would stop the practice.

"It is nothing short of a vile national security threat that, despite our nation's efforts to convince the Muslim world we are not pursuing a holy war against them, our military and its contractors time and again resort to unlawful fundamentalist evangelical Christian practices, even on the battlefield," Weinstein posted on the MRFF website.

MRFF -- a watchdog group of "the free exercise of religious freedom in the military" -- is taking credit for breaking the story earlier this week, and is now calling for a congressional investigation.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Patriarch Kirill Blames Haitians for Earthquake: "They Had Turned Away from God"

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill said crime, drugs, and corruption caused last week's massive earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people in Haiti.

Kirill said the Haitian people bore responsibility for the calamity because "they had turned away from God," the Ferghana Russian news website reported on January 18, 2010.

"Haiti is a country of poverty and crime, famine, drugs, and corruption, where people have lost their moral face," the Russian Patriarch said.

He compared Haiti with the Dominican Republic, both of which are located on the same Caribbean Island. The Dominican Republic is developing, while Haiti is affected by crimes, economic recession, and political unrest. "That part of the island was shattered by the earthquake," he said.

Moscow Court Upholds City Office's Decision Refusing to Register Lesbian Marriage

The Moscow City Court has upheld the refusal of the city civil registration office to register a marriage of two Russian women, who legalized their relationship in Canada.

Irina Fedotova and Irina Shipitko appealed to the Moscow City Court after the Tverskoy District Court had turned down their request, the Interfax-Religion website reports today.

The women will now appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

The couple registered their lesbian relationship in Canada in October, 2009.

Record Number of Austrians Leave Catholic Church

A record number of Austrians left the Catholic Church in 2009, disgruntled by the Vatican's controversial decision to readmit a bishop who questioned the Holocaust, the Earth Times website reports. Last year, some 53,200 people disengaged from the country's biggest religious grouping.

The wave of exits started after the Vatican readmitted four ultraconservative bishops early in 2009, including Bishop Richard Williamson, who is known for his revisionist views on the Holocaust.

A significant portion of Austrian Catholics view themselves as more liberal than the Vatican, opposing Rome's views on abortion, homosexuality, or the ban on married priests.

The number of Catholics in Austria has sunk to around 66 percent, from 89 percent in 1961, according to government statistics.

Ohio Court Rules Runaway Teen Christian Convert Can Live Apart from Parents

The Christian Post website reports today that a teenage girl from Ohio, who ran away from home after she became a Christian, can remain free from her Muslim parents, according to the terms of a court settlement.

Although Rifqa Barry's parents have been fighting to regain custody of her since August, 2009, under the court agreement this week, the 17-year-old teen can stay in a foster home under state custody in Columbus, Ohio until she turns 18. After she becomes 18, Barry will be free to live where she chooses.

Barry's attorney told an Ohio juvenile court that the girl and her parents -- who emigrated to the U.S. from Sri Lanka -- love and respect each other, and will try to resolve their differences through counseling.

Since last August, Barry had been involved in a legal battle with her parents, claiming her father had said, "If you have this Jesus in your heart, you are dead to me! I will kill you!"

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Divided Serbian Church Leaders to Meet January 22, 2010 to Vote for New Patriarch

Bishops in the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) will meet January 22, 2010 to vote for their new patriarch, amid feuding and jostling among reformists and dogmatists, according to the Worldwide Religious News website.

The conservative SPC has been blocked by infighting of even more conservative bishops, who oppose openness to other churches and fight Western influences in Serbian society, while the more relaxed wing wants the church to be more open and modern.

The patriarch will be elected in a lottery draw, one of the three bishops who receive the most support in probably many rounds of voting.

One of the younger bishops, Fotije, said in an interview with the daily Blic, "We have bishops 80 years old educated before World War II and with huge experience. Then there are bishops under 40, also well-educated in the era of digital communication."

Fotije concluded, "In the end...God shall decide who is to lead the Church."

Arab Priest Tries to Revive Galilee Town Where Jesus Turned Water into Wine

In a small Galilee town where tradition says Jesus turned water into wine, an ambitious priest hopes to perform his own miracle -- revive a shrinking flock, according to the Associated Press.

Father Masoud Abu Hatoum -- nicknamed "the bulldozer" for his enthusiasm -- has come up with a few ideas, like re-enacting the New Testament story of Jesus transforming the water for guests at a wedding in the Galilee hamlet of Cana, now the northern Israeli town of Kufr Kana.

"We have to attract people," said Fr. Abu Hatoum.

Unfortunately, he will have a tough time slowing the exit of Christians from this economically depressed town, as the young move away to cities like Nazareth, which offer bigger Christian communities, more jobs, and better marriage prospects.

Conference of European Churches Says Poverty Affects Society as Well as Individuals

Poverty does not only affect individuals but has implications for the whole of society, churches in Europe have said as the European Union prepared to launch a special year to highlight the fight against poverty, reports the Ecumenical News International (ENI) website today.

"In Christian understanding, poverty and social exclusion are not only based on economic factors but ones which affect all dimensions of life, not only the individual but also the community," said the Rev. Rudiger Noll, Director of the Church and Society Commission of the Conference of European Churches (CEC).

The CEC was founded in 1959 to promote reconciliation, dialogue, and friendship between the churches of Europe. Its membership consists of most of Europe's mainstream Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican, and Old Catholic Churches.

Archbishop Demetrios's Failure to Help Two Orphans May Cost Him His Job

Fr. Johannes Jacobse, Editor of the American Orthodox Institute (AOI) website, writes that the National Herald reported on January 15, 2010 on the plight of two Congolese boys who were not allowed to join St. Basil's Academy by Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. The boys -- born of a Greek father and Congolese mother -- recently lost their father, and their mother is dying of cancer.

Having no relatives in the Congo, relatives in America approached the Archdiocese to see if the children could live at St. Basil's. The answer was no!

It was a "no" heard round the world -- at least in Greek circles -- and soon newspapers were buzzing with the alleged cold-heartedness of Archbishop Demetrios.

Metropolitan Theoliptos -- ranking hierarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch -- said in a letter "If he (Archbishop Demetrios) is not in apposition to help two orphan boys ten years old, then it is bad that he remains in his position."

Consequently, it appears that the Patriarch of Constantinople is planning to force Archbishop Demetrios into retirement. This scenario reminds me of the plight of the late Archbishop Iakovos several years ago, when the Patriarch of Constaninople forced him to "retire" because of Archbishop Iakovos's initiatives in his attempt to make the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America more independent of Constantinople.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Egypt Announces Unearthing of Ancient Cat Goddess Temple in Alexandria

Archaeologists have unearthed a 2,000-year-old temple that may have been dedicated to the ancient Egyptian cat goddess, Bastet, the Supreme Council of Antiquities said today (January 19, 2010).

According to the Associated Press, the ruins of the Ptolemaic-era temple were discovered by Egyptian archaeologists in the heart of the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, founded by Alexander the Great in the 4th century B.C.

Alexandria was the seat of the Greek-speaking Ptolemaic Dynasty, which ruled over Egypt for 300 years, until the suicide of Queen Cleopatra.

Modern Alexandria was built squarely on top of the ruins of the classical-era city and many of its great temples, palaces, and libraries remain undiscovered.

Thousands of Orthodox Christians on Banks of Jordan River Celebrate Jesus's Baptism

Thousands of Orthodox Christians braved rain on the banks of the Jordan River yesterday (January 18, 2010) to plunge into plastic tubs filled with its water to celebrate Jesus's baptism, the AFP website reports today.

Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, led a ceremony attended by the faithful from several eastern denominations on the river marking the heavily guarded West Bank-Jordan border.

The event marks the Feast of the Epiphany, when Jesus began His public ministry by receiving baptism in the Jordan River from John the Baptist.

Western Christians celebrate Epiphany on January 6 -- 12 days after their Christmas. Orthodox Christians, who continue to use the old Julian calendar, mark the date on January 18.

London Vicar Updates "Plow Monday" Church Ceremony by Blessing Laptops and Cellphones

The Rev. Canon David Parrott blessed a symbolic heap of laptops and smart phones on the altar of London's 17th-century St. Lawrence Jewry Church on January 11, 2010, according to the USA Today website.

"It's the technology that is our daily working tool, and it's a technology we should bless," Parrott said.

Parishioners took out cellphones as Parrott recited a blessing over them and their electronic devices.

Parrott said the blessing ceremony was an update of a traditional back-to-work ceremony called "Plow Monday," in which villagers gathered to bless a symbolic farming implement dragged to the church's door. He added that ceremony did not have much relevance for his church, which was "nowhere near a field in the middle of London."

Pope's Failed Assassin Vows to Reveal Role Soviet and Bulgarian Secret Services Played

Mehmet Ali Agca, 52, the Turk who was released from prison yesterday (January 18, 2010) after almost three decades behind bars for trying to kill Pope John Paul II in 1981, has volunteered to go to Afghanistan to kill Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the Bulgarian News Agency website reports today.

The man who pulled the trigger against Pope John Paul II said he plans to live in Istanbul, and has not decided yet whether to get married.

Ali Agca has received more than 50 offers from foreign publishers and movie-makers, eager to buy his story in the hope that he may finally shed light on his attempt to assassinate the pope, lawyers said.

The Turk has vowed to reveal the truth about the so-called "Bulgarian connection" in the assassination attempt, and answer all questions about the role that Soviet and Bulgarian secret services played. We need to keep in mind that Ali Agca shot Pope John Paul II in 1981 -- a time when Bulgaria and Soviet Russia were still communist nations -- 10 years before the collapse of the Soviet Union and communism in 1991.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Michigan Company Inscribes Secret Jesus Bible Codes on U.S. Military Rifles

Coded references to New Testament Bible passages about Jesus Christ are inscribed on high-powered rifle sights provided to the U.S. military by a Michigan company, the ABC News website reports today.

The sights are used by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the training of Iraqi and Afghan soldiers.

The maker of the sights, Trijicon, has a $660 million multi-year contract to provide up to 800,000 sights to Marine Corps, and additional contracts to provide sights to the U.S. Army.

U.S. military rules specifically prohibit the proselytizing of any religion in Iraq and Afghanistan, and were drawn up in order to prevent criticism that the U.S. was embarked on a religious "Crusade" in its war against al Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents.

WCC to Celebrate Centenary of Edinburgh World Missionary Conference in June 2010

Christians around the world are remembering the 1910 World Missionary Conference in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh as a key initiative that led to the ecumenical movement seeking the unity of the Church, according to the Ecumenical News International (ENI) website.

"The unexpected intuition to flash forth from the conference was the awareness that Christian disunity is destructive to the very mission of the Church, and the corresponding search for Christian unity began," said the Rev. John Gibaut, Director of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches (WCC).

Rev. Gibaut was preaching at a service at the WCC headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, to mark the beginning of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, as churches around the world prepare to mark the centenary of the 1910 conference.

The WCC will play a leading role in the organization of a celebrative mission conference in June 2010 in Edinburgh, in coordination with partners in the ecumenical movement, within and outside the WCC's fellowship.

Scottish Episcopal Church Votes Against Electing Britain's First Female Bishop

The Scottish Episcopal Church voted against electing Britain's first female bishop on Saturday (January 16, 2010), with a majority of an electoral synod of clergy and church members choosing a more experienced male candidate, Reuters website reports today.

Rev. Alison Peden, 57, was the first woman to be shortlisted to become a bishop since the Scottish Episcopal Church voted to consecrate women in 2003.

One of three candidates, she lost out to Rev. Gregor Duncan, 59, who is already dean of Glasgow and Galloway -- the diocese for which the election was being held.

The Scottish Episcopal Church -- the most liberal of the Anglican provinces in Britain -- is close in sympathies to the U.S. Episcopal Church. Anglicans in Canada, the United States, and New Zealand already have women bishops.

Head of Turkey's Religious Affairs Office Says He Supports Reopening Halki Seminary

The head of Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate, Ali Bardakoglu, has said -- regarding a Greek Orthodox seminary closed in 1971 -- that he believes the issue will be resolved within the framework of religious freedom, the Turkish website Today's Zaman reports today (January 18, 2010).

Bardakoglu said in an interview with the NTV news channel that as a Muslim and the head of Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate, he supports everyone's religious freedom.

"We should act ethically and be principled on this issue. Our ancestors opened the Halki Seminary in Istanbul. I have always been in support of the religious freedom of all religious groups in our country," he said.

Established on October 1, 1844 on Halki Island, in the Sea of Marmara, the Halki Seminary was the main school of theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church's patriarchate in Istanbul until its closure by Turkish authorities in 1971. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew -- head of the Eastern Orthodox Church -- has often complained about the status of this seminary, and has said that its reopening is of vital importance for the survival of Greek Orthodox clergy in Turkey.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

French President Sarkozy: Muslim Women Who Wear Veils "Are Not Welcome" in France

The head of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's party said today (January 17, 2010) that he wants a law to ensure that Muslim women who wear face-covering veils do not acquire French nationality, the Associated Press reports.

Xavier Bertrand, head of the conservative UMP party, said the full veil "is simply a prison for women who wear it" and "will make no one believe" a woman wearing it wants to integrate.

France is moving closer to banning such veils, even though only a small minority of Muslim women wear them.

Sarkozy opened debate on the topic in June, 2009, telling a special gathering of both houses of parliament veils that cover the face "are not welcome" in France. He reiterated his position last week, saying the full veil "is contrary to our values and contrary to the ideals we have of a woman's dignity."

Pope at Synagogue Regarding Church's Failings: "May These Wounds Be Healed Forever!"

Visiting the Rome synagogue this afternoon (January 17, 2010), Pope Benedict XVI strongly reaffirmed the church's commitment to dialogue with the Jews and its modern teachings against anti-Semitism, according to the Catholic News website.

He also recalled the church's request for forgiveness for the failings of Christians and for all they may have done to contribute to the scourge of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism. "May these wounds be healed forever!" the pope said to applause in the packed synagogue.

Without mentioning Pope Pius XII by name, Pope Benedict responded gently to criticism of the wartime pope, saying that "the Apostolic See itself provided assistance, often in a hidden and discreet way" to Jews in Rome who sought to escape Nazi persecution.

A few minutes earlier -- in a welcoming speech -- Riccardo Pacifici, president of Rome's Jewish community, said the "silence" of Pope Pius was still painful for the Jewish community. Many Jews believe that Pope Pius XII -- who served as pope during World War II -- did not do enough to oppose Germany's Nazism under Adolf Hitler and the holocaust, which resulted in the deaths of more than six million innocent Jews. Ironically, Pope Benedict XVI, who is of German background, served in Hitler's army during World War II.

More Than One Million People in Haiti's Capital Remain Homeless

More than a million people in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, are without shelter and no immediate prospect of accommodation in camps, the ACT-International website reports today.

Between 60 and 80 percent of the houses in Port-au-Prince were brought down or are uninhabitable by last Tuesday's 7.0 magnitude earthquake.

Hundreds of thousands of people are roaming Port-au-Prince's streets looking for relatives and other loved ones. Rescue and humanitarian operations are complicated, because the United Nations is paralyzed following the collapse of its building, leaving over 100 staff missing.

ACT (Action by Churches Together) -- a global alliance of churches and related agencies working to save lives and support communities in emergencies -- reports it has a two-week supply of water, food, and fuel for their personal needs, but stresses that any extra staff coming to Haiti need to bring their own tents, food, sleeping bags, and cash.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Man Who Shot Pope John Paul II in 1981 to Be Released from Prison

The man who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981 is set to be released from a Turkish prison on January 18, 2010, after serving almost 29 years, the Catholic Net website reports today.

Mehmet Ali Agca, 52, said once he is free, he wants to do two things: visit John Paul II's tomb and write two books, including one about his life.

For help with this second task, Agca reported he has contacted Dan Brown, author of the best-selling science fiction work, "The Da Vinci Code."

Agca's 29 years in prison resulted not only from his attempted assassination of the Pope, but also from having killed Abdi Ipekci, director of the Turkish newspaper Milliyet, in 1979.

Disputes Over Some 3,000 Greek Catholic Churches in Ukraine Hinder Pope-Patriarch Meeting

Disputes over parishes in Ukraine are the principal stumbling block preventing a meeting between Pope Benedict and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, according to Archbishop Hilarion, who leads the Moscow Patriarchate's department for external church relations.

"We are not interested in the protocol meeting and shaking hands in front of the television cameras," said Archbishop Hilarion. "We strongly disagree with the measures which saw the return of churches to Greek Catholics with no respect for the interests of Orthodox believers in Western Ukraine."

Following World War II in 1945, the Stalin regime dissolved the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, imprisoning all its bishops, 1,400 priests, and 800 nuns, and former Catholic parishes were used by the Orthodox Church, according to the Byzantine Catholic website.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and Communism in 1991, these churches were returned to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and there are now 2,939 Greek Catholic parishes in Ukraine.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Middle East Church Group Votes in Favor of Ordination of Women as Pastors

Representatives of Middle Eastern Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed Churches -- meeting today in Harissa, Lebanon -- have voted unanimously in favor of the ordination of women as pastors, according to the Ecumenical News International (ENI) website.

"This is historic and allows us to move forward in a leading role," said Jerusalem Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan, after the decision at the general assembly of the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches.

Younan, the fellowship's outgoing president, said the decision meant its 16-member churches were urged to open the door to the ordination of women pastors.

In the fall of 2009, Pope Benedict XVI eased the process for Anglicans to convert to Catholicism, but the Roman Catholic Church -- like the Eastern Orthodox Church -- does not allow women to serve as pastors.

Russia Will Soon Return Property Its Communist Government Seized from Orthodox Church

The Russian government wants to return property it seized from the Orthodox Church -- Russia's dominant religion -- more than 90 years ago, the United Press International (UPI) website reports today.

The Economics Ministry has been working on a bill to return religious property to the church since 2000. But Andrei Sebentsov, secretary of the commission on religious organizations, said a meeting held on January 13, 2010 made considerable progress on the bill.

He said, "We agreed to remove all weak points in it by February."

Religious groups now use facilities owned by the government free of charge. The Economics Ministry sees their return to the church as a cost-saving measure.

Minister Urges Restoring Sabbath as a Day to Spend with Family

A Scottish minister says the Church of Scotland should reclaim Sunday as a family day, Christian Today website reports.

The Rev. Ian Galloway, convener of the Kirk's Church and Society Council, said restoring the Sabbath as a day to spend time with the family instead of working would benefit all of Scotland.

Rev. Galloway said, "The truth is busyness does not guarantee fruitfulness. It is the quality of what our lives produce that determine whether or not we are truly fruitful."

He added, "It is time to be with those we care about and reclaim the Sabbath for what it is."

Israeli Police Arrest Polygamist Cult Leader Living with 17 Women

Israeli police today arrested the leader of an alleged polygamist cult and accused him of enslavement, rape, and incest, according to the BBC website.

Goel Ratzon is believed to have been living in Tel Aviv with 17 women with whom he had at least 40 children.

Ratzon, 60, denies the allegations, saying the women were with him voluntarily.

Ratzon -- whose first name means "savior" in Hebrew -- said in a documentary on Israeli television last year: "I'm perfect. I have all the qualities a woman wants."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Seven Killed in Stampede as Half-Million Indians Bathe in Hindu Ceremony

More than half a million men, women, and children today braved chilly winds to bathe in the icy waters of the Ganges River in the holy Himalayan town of Haridwar at the "Kumbh Mels" or Pitcher Festival, held every 12 years in different Indian cities.

Hindus believe that bathing in the Ganges during the almost four-month-long festival cleanses them of their sins, speeding the way to the attainment of nirvana -- a state of absolute blessedness.

In the state of West Bengal, six women were among seven people killed in a stampede, as thousands bathed at the confluence of Ganges River and the Bay of Bengal, the Reuters website reports today.

More than 50 million people from India and abroad are expected to visit the holy city of Haridwar over the next few months, authorities said.

UK Peer Warns Jewish Community under "Constant Attack" as Anti-Semitism Incidents Increase

The Independent website in England reports today that the Jewish community in the United Kingdom (UK) feels under "constant attack," with increasing incidents of anti-Semitism.

Lord Mitchell, a Labor peer, warned stickers, such as "Death to Jews," had been displayed at some of the UK's leading university campuses and had been "slow to be removed."

He noted, "Many Jewish friends have said to me that they felt more frightened, and more threatened, than at any time in their lives."

Lord Mitchell added, "All synagogues have constant security patrols and most Jewish social events have trained security personnel prominently watching and checking."

Shame on Evangelist Pat Robertson for Saying Haiti Has Been "Cursed"

A senior White House adviser says evangelist broadcaster Pat Robertson's remark that Haiti has been "cursed" does not express the spirit of the American people or the President.

Valerie Jarrett said today on ABC's "Good Morning America" that Robertson's statement left her speechless, and called it "a pretty stunning comment to make."

On January 13, 2010 -- the day after a devastating magnitude 7 earthquake struck Haiti -- Robertson said Haiti had been "cursed" because of a pact with the devil. His spokesman said the comments were based on Voodoo rituals carried out before a slave rebellion against French colonists in 1791.

Personally, I find it inappropriate and unnecessary for Robertson to make such a repulsive comment -- especially during this mournful time in Haiti. Consequently, I no longer have the respect for Robertson that I previously had, because his comment clearly illustrates that he lacks empathy and sympathy for God's people.

Pope Prays for Earthquake Victims in Haiti; Urges Organizations and People to Provide Assistance

Pope Benedict XVI prayed for victims of a massive earthquake in Haiti and urged the international community to provide generous assistance to the stricken population, the National Catholic Register website reports today.

The victims included Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot of Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. Haiti -- a predominantly Catholic country -- is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

Pope Benedict made his appeal at the end of his general audience on January 13, 2010, some 12 hours after a magnitude 7 earthquake struck Haiti, toppling many buildings and causing widespread destruction.

He said the Catholic Church's charity organizations would immediately move into action to assist those most in need. The Pope concluded, "I invite everyone to join in my prayers to the Lord for the victims of this catastrophe and for those who are mourning their loss."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pope Meets and Forgives Woman Who Knocked Him Down at Christmas Eve Mass

Pope Benedict XVI today met the woman who knocked him down during Christmas Eve Mass, and forgave her for the attack, according to the Times Online website.

Susanna Maiolo, 25, a Swiss-Italian woman, met the Pope privately with members of her family.

Ms Maiolo jumped over a security barrier in St. Peter's Basilica at the beginning of the Christmas Eve Mass, and pulled the Pope down by tugging at his robes. The Pope, 82, was unhurt.

At the meeting, Ms Maiolo apologized to the Pope for the incident. The Pope expressed his forgiveness, as well as his cordial concern and his best wishes for her health.

Turks Hold Demonstration Outside Patriarchate to Show Support for Minorities

A demonstration in support of minorities in Turkey was held on January 9, 2010, outside the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople, the Orthodox Beacon website reports today. The event was organized by a coalition of liberal and leftist organizations called "70 Million steps against coups."

Demonstrators outside the Ecumenical Patriarchate held banners reading in Greek "all people are brothers" and in Turkish "bring coup instigators and those planning 'Klovos' to justice."

Turkey's justice department recently revealed that "Klovos" is a plan for some forces in the Turkish army to perform assassinations.

Demonstrators say that Patriarch Bartholomew would be the victim of the first planned assassination, according to the "Klovos" plan, and stress that they will not allow a new coup to occur.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Jordan Appeals to UN for Return of Dead Sea Scrolls Seized by Israel in 1967 War

Claiming that the Israelis took away the Dead Sea Scrolls from them during the 1967 Six-Day War, the Jordanians have initiated a move in the United Nations to get the ancient texts back, The Next Reporter website reports today.

"Israel seized the scrolls and other antiquities from the Palestinian Museum, which was managed by Jordan, in East Jerusalem when it occupied this part of the city in 1967," Rafea Harahsheh, an official of Jordan's antiquities department said.

He added, "The government has legal documents that prove Jordan owns the scrolls."

The scrolls are of great historical significance -- especially to biblical scholars -- since they ascribe to the earliest origins of Judaism and Christianity.

Britain Outlaws Radical Islamic Group Known for Inciting Outrage

Britain said today it was outlawing a radical Islamic group that had incited outrage by planning a protest march through the streets of a town made famous for its somber ceremonies honoring British soldiers killed in Afghanistan, reports the New York Times website.

Alan Johnson, the British home secretary, said the move criminalizing membership in the banned group, Islam4UK, was a "tough but necessary power to tackle terrorism." The ban, which takes effect January 14, 2010, also outlawed other names used by the organization.

Last week, British prime minister, Gordon Brown, said he was "personally appalled" by the group's plans to march through Wootton Bassett, a town 70 miles west of London, where residents have lined the streets for more than two years to pay respect to passing hearses carrying the coffins of British soldiers flown home to a nearby military base.

Islam4UK denounced Britain's action in a statement posted on its website today, saying that the prohibition of the group was "a clear case of the oppressor and tyrant blaming the oppressed."

And Here's To You Mrs Robinson...Jesus Loves You More Than You Will Know

The headline of this blog refers to words from the popular song in the 1967 film "The Graduate." You may recall this movie, in which an older woman (Anne Bancroft) seduces a much younger man (Dustin Hoffman).

Unfortunately, this scenario has become a reality, as 60-year-old Iris Robinson -- that's right, another Mrs. Robinson -- of Northern Ireland admitted last week to having a seven-month affair with a man by the name of Kirk McCambley, who was 19 at the time. Yesterday (January 11, 2010) her husband, Peter Robinson -- Northern Ireland's first minister -- said he is stepping down "temporarily" to resolve family matters, according to the New York Times website.

To make matters worse, the BBC has revealed that Mrs. Robinson had taken $80,000 in secret loans from property developers in 2008 to finance McCambley's investments in a cafe near Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland. Neither Mrs. Robinson nor her husband had reported the loans to the Belfast assembly or the British Parliament, where the Robinsons each hold dual seats.

Mrs. Robinson has violated the seventh Commandment, which states that one must not commit adultery. I suggest that she turn to Christ and genuinely ask Him to forgive her for her immorality, in order to ease her pain during this troublesome time.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Evangelist Warns Preachers Could Face Jail Time for Teaching the Bible

Evangelist Franklin Graham says Christians who share their faith in 2010 will face greater obstacles than in years past.

"I believe the time is fast approaching when the preaching of the Gospel is referred to as hate speech," Graham wrote in a commentary posted today on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association website.

He said biblical statements about homosexuality, abortion, and other moral issues will be banned by "political correct cultures."

Graham said preachers could even face jail time for teaching the Bible -- and it is already happening in some countries.

Pope Says Selfishness and Lack of Respect for Life Caused Financial Crisis

War, hunger, oppression, environmental degradation, and the current global financial crisis are all the result of selfishness and a lack of respect for the human person created in God's image, Pope Benedict XVI told diplomats from around the world today.

"If we wish to build true peace, how can we separate or even set at odds the protection of human life, including life of the unborn?" the pope asked ambassadors from the 178 countries that have diplomatic relations with the Vatican.

Pope Benedict met January 11, 2010 with the ambassadors to offer them his best wishes for the New Year, the Catholic News Service reports today.

The pope told the diplomats that a "self-centered and materialistic way of thinking" triggered the current global economic crisis, and is also the attitude behind the devastation of the environment.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Religious Experts Say 15 "Dangerous" Religious Sects Are Active in Bulgaria

There are about 15 "totalitarian and destructive" religious sects that are currently active in Bulgaria, according to the Sofia Morning News website.

Prof. Ivan Zhelev, Chair of the Center for Research of New Religious Movements (CRNRM), said many of the 120 religions registered in Bulgaria were fictitious, and that if the state undertook a campaign to inspect them, their number would drop to no more than 20.

Among the most "destructive" sects are the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Krishna Followers, and the Charismatists, according to Prof. Alexander Dvorkin, Director of the Center for Religious Research and of the Russian Association for Studying Religions and Sects.

In his words, several Russian sects -- including the Followers of Visarion, of Anastasia, and of Norbekov -- are also active in Bulgaria. The predominant religion of Bulgaria is Eastern Orthodoxy. Prof. Dvorkin warned that periods of crisis and stress increased people's susceptibility to being influenced by destructive religious movements.

Study Indicates Latinos Will Comprise Majority of U.S. Catholics in Near Future

What will the Roman Catholic Church in the United States look like in coming years, when at least 40 percent -- and perhaps even a majority -- of U.S. Catholics are Latino?

According to the Ecumenical News International (ENI) website, the changes occurring now within U.S. Catholicism will eventually be reflected in the wider U.S. culture, a process Luis Lugo, Director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in Washington, D.C., called "the browning of America."

Although the U.S. remains predominantly white and Protestant, shifting demographics will change that dynamic, Lugo said. He added that by 2050 Latinos will constitute at least a quarter -- and perhaps a third -- of the U.S. population. (Currently, Latinos comprise about 15 percent of the population.)

Lugo noted that one-quarter of newborns in the U.S. are Latino, and more than half of newborns to Catholic families are Latino.

COMMENTARY: Was Patriarch Correct Saying He Felt "Crucified" in Turkey?

Last month on the CBS television program "60 Minutes," Patriarch Bartholomew said he felt "crucified" by living in Turkey. Obviously, he used the term "crucified" to compare his suffering to Christ's suffering on the Cross; however, the Patriarch's "suffering" in Turkey really cannot be compared to Christ being nailed to a Cross. The fact is that Christ suffered more on the Cross -- and for no justifiable reason -- than any human being has ever suffered.

Using such a harsh term as "crucified" on "60 Minutes" has come back to haunt the Patriarch, as it has caused much anger in Turkey. As a "payback" to the Patriarch, the Turkish prime minister said last week that Turkey will not reopen the Orthodox Seminary on its island of Halki -- which Turkey illegally closed in 1971 -- until Greece introduces changes benefiting the Turkish minority in Greece, most of whom live in Thrace, which borders northwestern Turkey.

Consequently, we must not expect the seminary on Halki Island to reopen anytime soon. Turkey -- which is 99 percent Muslim -- probably had no intention whatsoever in reopening this Christian seminary all along, and is now requiring more benefits for Turks living in Greece as a good excuse for this decision.

Although Patriarch Bartholomew said Orthodox clergy in Istanbul are in danger of dying out, I disagree with him. Even if the Orthodox Seminary on Halki Island never reopens, there are numerous Orthodox seminaries in Greece, Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, and many other countries that will prepare students to become Orthodox priests. Some of these newly-ordained priests will be assigned to Orthodox Churches in Istanbul, and someday, one of them may very well become a new Patriarch of Constantinople!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Dalai Lama Speaks on Sufferings of Tibetans under Occupation of China

The Dalai Lama today (January 9, 2010) asked people across the world to visit Tibet under the "military occupation" of China to see for themselves the "sufferings" of Tibetans, as his five-day peace lectures ended in Bodh Gaya, India, with an emphatic political appeal.

"I request all of you make a visit to Tibet to have your assessment of the situation," the Buddhist monk told a gathering that included hundreds of westerners, the Big News Network website reports today.

The five-day lecture at Bodh Gaya -- the place of the Buddha's enlightenment 2,500 years ago -- drew some 4,000 visitors from Australia, Africa, and Europe, apart from the nearly 30,000 domestic audience.

The Dalai Lama's plea came within a year of his appeal in March, 2009 to the United Nations to "inspect the violation of human rights" in Tibet; however, the UN did not respond to the spiritual leader's appeal, apparently because of China's clout.

Male-Only Orthodox Ceremony of Diving for Cross Is Broken by Albanian Girl

Diving for a metallic cross is an annual event observed by many Orthodox Churches to celebrate Theophany -- referring to the manifestation of God to man -- usually in January.

In Albania, it has been an event traditionally participated only by males -- until this year, according to The Next Reporter website.

A 16-year-old Albanian girl named Katerina Munguli, broke with tradition by joining and competing with the boys and men in diving for the metallic cross thrown into the bottom of the chilly Ionian Sea.

Munguli surfaced with the cross in her hand, beating her male rivals, to the surprise and amusement of the crowd and the priests.

Women's Groups in Israel Blast Chief Rabbis for Denouncing Abortion

Israel's chief rabbis were blasted by women's goups this week for circulating a public statement denouncing abortion in Israel, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) website reports.

In a letter circulated to rabbis on the state payroll, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger wrote that abortion "delayed the redemption." They also wrote that most abortions in Israel were "unnecessary" and were "against Jewish law."

Several women's rights groups condemned the rabbis for seeking to prevent women from their right to choose.

Ronit Ehrenfreund-Cohen, who heads the Women's International Zionist Organization's Status of Women Division, chided the rabbis for "violating the essence and values of the society and country in which we live, which also pays their salaries."

Suspects in Egypt's Christmas Eve Slayings Surrender to Police

Three suspects in a drive-by shooting that killed six Christians in southern Egypt surrendered to police yesterday (January 8, 2009), the Jerusalem Post (JP) website reports today.

Egyptian security forces flushed the men out of dense sugar cane fields where they were hiding, and forced them to surrender.

In the late January 6 shooting in Nag Hamadi, three gunmen had opened fire on a crowd of worshipers leaving a church after a mass for Coptic Orthodox Christmas Eve. Six Christians and a Muslim security guard died in a hale of bullets.

The attack -- the worst to target Christians in nearly a decade -- shocked Egypt's Christian community. Copts, who make up most of the eight million Christians in this predominantly Muslim country of 80 million people, celebrate Christmas according to the Julian Calendar, on January 7.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Says Christians Must Be Tougher to Preserve Beliefs

In a harsh message this week, Lord Carey -- the former Archbishop of Canterbury -- said the Church of England needs to be "tougher" and more outspoken in preserving its beliefs, according to the Virtue Online website.

Lord Carey's message came as he said migrants wanting to come to the United Kingdom should respect the country's Christian heritage and warned the country could be in "deep trouble" if immigration and population keeps growing at the current rate.

His attack was seen by some as a criticism of his successor as the head of the Anglican Church, Dr. Rowan Williams. Dr. Williams sparked anger in 2008 when he said it "seems inevitable" that some parts of the Islamic sharia law would be enshrined in United Kingdom law.

Lord Carey concluded, "I think we need a tougher Church. We Christians are very often so soft that we allow other people to walk over us and we are not as tough in what we want, in expressing our beliefs, because we do not want to upset other people."

Putin Says Russia Will Return All Religious Property to Orthodox Church

The Interfax-Religion website reports that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin believes Russian authorities and the Russian Church will find a civilized solution to all problems with regard to the transfer of state-owned assets to the Russian Orthodox Church.

"I am certain that based on the good relations they have established in recent years, the state and the Church will find the solutions that will return to regional organizations what they rightfully own, rather than destroy what was created in the past years," Putin said this week at a meeting with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia at St. Daniel Monastery.

A bill has been prepared, titled "Regarding the transfer of the property of religious significance, currently in federal and municipal ownership, to religious organizations," Putin said.

This dilemma of Church property ownership in Russia is a by-product of the communist government that ruled Russia from 1917 to 1991, and seized control of all religious property in the nation.

Turkish Premier Says Seminary Will Not Reopen Until Athens Aids Turks in Greece

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, has now linked possible legal improvements for the patriarchate, to Greece taking similar steps for the Turkish minority on Greek soil.

In an interview published this week in "Kriter," a magazine specializing in Turkish-European relations, Erdogan said his government continued to work for the reopening of a Greek Orthodox seminary near Istanbul that Turkey closed in 1971.

Without the school on the island of Halki, the Orthodox clergy in Istanbul are in danger of dying out. Although there are only a few thousand Greeks left in the city that was once the capital of the Christian Byzantine Empire, the patriarchate -- which dates back to the fourth century -- has remained the spiritual center of the Orthodox Church worldwide.

In the "Kriter" interview, Erdogan said the seminary could only be reopened if the government in Athens introduced changes benefiting the ethnic Turkish community in northeastern Greece -- a region called Thrace which borders the northwestern part of Turkey.

Patriarch Bartholomew told Turkish media that it was wrong to establish a link between the two issues. "Why do we have to pay the price for mistakes or deficits over there?" he asked. "We are Turkish citizens and we want our rights as citizens. We pay taxes, we do our military service, we vote in elections."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Pope Asks Turkey to Grant Catholic Church "Civil Juridical Recognition"

Pope Benedict XVI is seeking more freedom for the Catholic Church in Turkey, the Hurriyet Daily News in Turkey reports.

The pontiff said today that while Catholics in predominantly Muslim Turkey -- 99 percent of Turkey is Muslim -- appreciate the freedom of worship guaranteed by the Constitution, the Catholic Church is waiting for "civil juridical recognition."

He told the new Turkish ambassador to the Holy See that this would help the church "enjoy full religious freedom and to make an even greater contribution to society."

The Catholic Church is not formally registered in Turkey, unlike religions practiced by Turkey's non-Muslim minorities such as Greek Orthodox and Jews. This makes it difficult for the Catholic and Protestant churches to set up new homes of worship.

Christians in Bethlehem Protest Patriarch Selling Church Lands to Israelis

Dozens of Palestinian Christians booed their religious leader during a procession in the biblical town of Bethlehem marking Greek Orthodox Christmas, the Associated Press reports today.

The protesters accuse Patriarch Theofilos of selling church lands to Israelis.

Tuesday's protest was peaceful. But about two dozen Palestinian policemen wearing helmets surrounded the protesters, who held signs reading "The Holy Land is not for sale."

It was the first time police have been called in for Christmas celebrations, although relations have been tense for decades between the church and its Palestinian followers. They accuse their religious leadership of shady land deals with Israeli developers.

Many Eastern Orthodox Churches celebrate Christmas on January 7 instead of December 25.

Rev. Pat Robertson Says God Told Him U.S. Is on a "Decline to Insolvency"

Televangelist The Rev. Pat Robertson says God told him that the United States is under a cloud of divine wrath and is headed for financial ruin.

The Christian broadcaster announced his 2010 predictions on a TV broadcast of "The 700 Club" earlier this week.

Robertson said God would not bless an America that institutionalizes gay rights and abortion, while prohibiting prayer and Bible reading in public schools.

He also said that God told him the United States is on a "decline to insolvency" and will ultimately go bankrupt.

Seven Killed at Egypt Coptic Church After Midnight Christmas Mass

The Times On Line in England reports today that seven people were killed after being sprayed with bullets in a drive-by shooting, as they left a Coptic Christian Church in southern Egypt yesterday (January 6, 2010).

Three men in a passing car opened fire on churchgoers as they left a midnight Mass for Coptic Christmas in the town of Nag Hamadi in Qena province. Egyptian authorities believe the attack was in retalation for the rape in November, 2009 of a Muslim girl by a Christian man in the same town.

Christians -- mostly Coptic -- account for about 10 percent of Egypt's predominantly Muslim population.

Bishop Kirollos of the Nag Hamadi Diocese said six male churchgoers and one security guard were killed. He also said he had an idea of who the attackers were, calling them "Muslim radicals."

Bishop Kirollos concluded, "This is a religious war about how they can finish off the Christians in Egypt."

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cardinal Warns Europe's Apathy of Christian Culture Will Lead to Islamisation

A leading Catholic cardinal said today that Europeans only have themselves to blame for allowing Islam to "conquer" the continent, according to the Telegraph website in England.

Czech Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, the Archbishop of Prague, said Muslims were well placed to fill the spiritual void "created as Europeans systematically empty the Christian content of their lives."

He added, "Unless the Christians wake up, life may be Islamised and Christianity will not have the strength to imprint its character on the life of people, not to say society."

The 77-year-old cardinal made his remarks in an interview to mark his retirement, after spending 19 years as the leader of the Czech Church.

He said he did not blame Muslims for the crisis as Europeans had brought it upon themselves by exchanging their Christian culture for an aggressive secularism that embraced atheism.

Metropolitan Jonah Challenges Young Adults to "Shatter the Idols" in Society

The Orthodox Church in America (OCA) website reports that over 200 young adults attending the annual Christian conference at Antiochian Village in Ligonier, Pennsylvania during the last week of December, 2009, listened as His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah challenged them to "shatter the idols" worshiped by today's society.

"The gods so many have been taught about don't exist," Metropolitan Jonah said in his keynote address, adding that only by surrendering to Jesus Christ can the true meaning of life be discovered.

Metropolitan Jonah also spoke on the importance of maintaining a serious prayer life, the centrality of the Resurrection as "the lens through which we see everything," the importance of engaging non-Orthodox Christian peers in exploring the faith, and the need for outreach ministries and mission work.

"In the end, however, it's all about salvation," the Metropolitan stated. "We have a wonderful gift, but we must share it."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Brit Hume's Message to Tiger Woods: Turn to Christ for Forgiveness of Infidelity

Today's Christian Broadcast Network (CBN) website reports that veteran journalist Brit Hume, a Fox News contributor, this week gave straightforward advice to Tiger Woods, who has seen his reputation plummet in the wake of marital infidelity -- turn to Christ.

"He's said to be a Buddhist. I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith," Hume said. He added, "So my message to Tiger would be, 'Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.'"

Hume, whose son committed suicide 11 years ago, made the statement on the Fox News Channel on Sunday, January 3, 2010.

Hume said he was speaking from experience, since he himself turned to Christ after his son's suicide. He said turning to Christ helped him to comfort the horrendous pain he was suffering, because Christ forgives sinners who genuinely ask Him for forgiveness.

Brooklyn Holocaust Survivor Had 17 Children and Left 2,500 Descendants

A 94-year-old Holocaust survivor died, leaving behind at least 2,500 descendants, The Jewish Week website reports today.

Yitta Schwartz of Kiryas Joel in New York was buried yesterday (January 4, 2009). She had five generations of descendants.

Schwartz survived Bergen Belsen, leaving the concentration camp with her family intact when World War II ended in 1945. Schwartz, her husband and six children moved to Antwerp, Belgium before settling in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

The Schwartzes had 11 more children following the war. Her husband died 33 years ago.

Schwartz had 170 grandchildren -- and she knew all their names.

Russian Orthodox Church Opens Its First Seminary Outside Former Soviet Union

The Russian Orthodox Church has opened its first seminary outside the former Soviet Union -- in a small French town outside Paris. The institution is starting modestly, but has big ambitions: to serve Russia's growing diaspora and foster closer ties between Eastern and Western Christian churches, according to the Voice of America (VOA) News website.

Located in the town of Epinay-Sous-Senart, the building is an old convent. But the nuns are gone and the Roman Catholic crosses have been traded for Russian icons and incense.

The seminary was inaugurated in November, 2009 and is starting modestly with 12 students -- mostly from Russia and former Soviet Republics -- enrolled in its five-year program.

There are plans to diversify and grow the student body to 40 over the next few years, with the seminarians also earning master's degrees in theology from the Sorbonne University in Paris.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Serbia Files Genocide Lawsuit in International Court of Justice Against Croatia

Serbia has filed a genocide lawsuit in the International Court of Justice in the Hague against Croatia, the Serbianna website reports today.

The lawsuit does not charge Croatia for the genocide of the Serbs during World War II when Croatia was an independent state and ally of Adolph Hitler.

The evidence details genocide during the Croatian attack on ethnic Serbs in 1995 and Croatian atrocities against the ethnic Serbs who attempted to return to their property after being forcefully expelled by Croatians in 1995.

Serbia, a nation which is primarily of the Orthodox faith, and Croatia, a nation which is mostly Catholic, were part of the former Yugoslavia until 1991, when Yugoslavia was dissolved into several independent nations.

Beaten Greek Orthodox Priest in Florida Directed to Return to His Native Crete

Priest-monk Alexios Marakis, 29, assistant priest at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Tarpon Springs, Florida, will return to his native Crete immediately after the 2010 Epiphany celebration, as he has been directed to return by Archbishop Ireneos of Crete, according to the Orthodox Beacon website.

U.S. Marine reservist Jasen Bruce, 28, has been accused of attacking Father Marakis -- apparently with a tire iron -- after mistakenly identifying him as a terrorist because of his long beard, hair and Greek Orthodox clerical garb.

The incident occurred on November 9, 2009 at about 6:30 p.m., when Fr. Alexios was returning from a pastoral visit to a nursing home and got lost. He followed Lance Corporal Bruce into the garage of his Tampa apartment building and asked for directions, when Bruce allegedly struck the priest with a tire iron.

Patriarch Bartholomew Urges Young Christians to Resist Europe's Secularization

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, head of the Eastern Orthodox Church, urged Young Christians to resist secularization in Europe in a message to an ecumenical meeting in Taize that was greeted by global and regional leaders, reports the Ecumenical News International (ENI) website today.

"After the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989), Europe no longer recognizes the place for Christianity that history dedicated to it. It is as if Christianity were being expelled from the history of Europe," the Patriarch said.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Turkey's First Muslim Conscientious Objector Is Sent to Prison and Tortured

Being a conscientious objector is perhaps the most challenging way to question authority in Turkey -- a traditionally militaristic country where militarism is embedded not only in state organs but also in the culture, reports Today's Zaman website in Turkey.

Refusing to serve one's compulsory military service means you will be jailed and possibly subject to physical torture. It also means that you are probably leftist or an anarchist or an adherent to some other left-wing ideology shunned by the state.

Enver Aydemir -- dubbed "Turkey's first Muslim conscientious objector" -- was arrested on December 24, 2009. He was taken to the Maltepe Military Prison, where his family and lawyers say he was tortured. Aydemir is 35 and is married with two children.

Aydemir, a devout Muslim, refuses to serve in the military because he feels the secular Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) is anathema to his religious beliefs, making him the first conscientious objector in Turkey who has put forward religious grounds as his reason for not completing his military service.

Members of Jewish Sect Spend Weekend in Gaza to Show Support for Palestinians

The Associated Press reports today (January 3, 2010) that several members of an anti-Zionist sect have spent the Jewish Sabbath in Gaza with some of Israel's most bitter enemies, including the militant Islamic group Hamas.

Yisroel Dovid Weiss, a leader of the radical Neturei Karta, said that his group is in Gaza to show support for the Palestinian people.

The sect decries Israel's existence, because they believe Jews must live in exile without a country of their own until the coming of the Messiah.

Neturei Karta is believed to have a few thousand followers, and is mostly shunned by mainstream Judaism.

To Show His Benevolence, Pope Has Aide Visit Woman Who Knocked Him Down

Pope Benedict XVI's personal aide visited the mentally disturbed young woman who jumped over a barrier and knocked the pontiff down in St. Peter's Basilica on Christmas Eve, the Buffalo News website reports today (January 3, 2010).

Benedict asked his secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, to pay a call on 25-year-old Susanna Maiolo "to show his interest and benevolence," the Rev. Federico Lombardi said.

Lombardi declined to comment on an Italian newspaper report today that the aide told the woman the pope had forgiven her and gave her a rosary during the December 26 visit.

The visit to the psychiatric clinic in the town of Subiaco near Rome had been made discreetly, and the Vatican had not planned on publicly talking about it until the Italian newspaper report appeared, Lombardi indicated.

Lombardi said, "Every Christian pardons."

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Vatican Admits It Maintains Secret Archives Dating Back to Over 1,000 Years

A 13th-century letter from Genghis Khan's grandson demanding homage from the pope is among a collection of documents from the Vatican's Secret Archives that has been published for the first time, according to the Telegraph website in the United Kingdom.

High-quality reproductions of 105 documents -- 19 of which have never been seen before in public -- have now been published in a book. The Vatican Secret Archives -- with correspondence dating back more than 1,000 years -- features a papal letter to Adolph Hitler, an entreaty to Rome written on birch bark by a tribe of North American Indians, and a plea from Mary Queen of Scots.

The book documents the Roman Catholic Church's often hostile dealings with the world of science and the arts, including documents from the heresy trial against Galileo, and correspondence exchanged with Erasmus, Voltaire, and Mozart.

Head of Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Says He Is Ready to Retire

The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), Lubomyr Cardinal Husar, announced on December 29, 2009 that he is ready to retire from that position, but he did not name a successor, because such a decision was not for him to make, the Interfax-Religion website reports.

"I'm not immortal. It seems I'd better delegate my authority now, quietly, so that work can go on. The Church is living and no one is indispensable," the UGCC head said.

Husar stressed it was not up to him to decide who would succeed him, but a decision to be made by the Holy Synod. He added, "I don't have an exact date. It's a kind of process."

Husar has been the UGCC leader since January, 2001. He was the first head of this Church to be elected after Ukraine gained its independence from Russia in 1991.

Greek Orthodox Christian Leaders Vote to Boycott Reception of Patriarch Theophilos

Thirteen Greek Orthodox Christian leaders met in Bethlehem on December 30, 2009, and voted unanimously to boycott the reception of the denomination's Patriarch Theophilos III for Christmas celebrations on January 6, 2010, according to the Maan News website.

The decision came as a result of a meeting in the Orthodox Society headquarters in Bethlehem, following local leaders' dissatisfaction with the patriarch's unrealized promises to reverse land sales to Israel that saw the previous patriarch replaced.

The former Patriarch Irenaios I was voted out of the position in 2005 by the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulture, of which he had been the head.

The congregation in Jerusalem had been increasingly angered by the sale of church land to Israel, much of which was private Palestinian land given to the Church in trust before the 1967 war which resulted in Israel occupying the West Bank and annexing East Jerusalem.

Jerusalem Mayor's Office Urges Jews to Stop Desecrating Christian Churches

Jerusalem authorities have spoken against recent desecration of Christian Churches, reports the Interfax-Religion website today.

"We urge all, who are in power to do it, to put an end to this shameful practice by way of explanation and start clearing away the evil and then it will be peace in our camp," representatives of the Jerusalem Mayor's Office said in their statement summing up results of a session with representatives of Christian and Jewish communities.

Inscriptions "Death to Christians!" appeared on walls of several Christian Churches in Jerusalem in December, 2009.

"Besides, our forefathers banned provocations against non-Jews, as such provocations can lead the whole society to a catastrophe," the document concludes.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Pope Calls for Respect of All People and World Peace in New Year Mass

Pope Benedict XVI today called for respect of all people without discrimination and the protection of children from war and violence, as he celebrated the start of the new year, reports the Yahoo News website.

January 1 is also the Roman Catholic Church's World Day of Peace, and the pontiff issued an appeal to all armed groups to "stop, reflect and abandon the way of violence," even if it seems impossible.

He said peace begins by recognizing that men are brothers, not rivals or enemies.

"Peace begins with a look of respect that recognizes in another man's face a person, regardless of the color of his skin, nationality, language, or religion," Pope Benedict said during a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica today.

Sad But True: President Obama and 2009 Saw the Erosion of Christian Ideals

President Barack Obama, a mainline Protestant who currently has no home church, dominated much of the United States religion news in 2009, reports the USA Today website. His inaugural address called the United States "a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers."

In his first months as President, Obama lifted a Bush administration ban on federal funding for groups that offer abortion information and services abroad, and expanded the policy permitting federal funds for embryonic stem cell research.

Scores of Catholic bishops called it a travesty that Notre Dame -- a flagship Catholic university -- awarded Obama an honorary degree and invited him to deliver the commencement address in May. In fact some invited honorary guests -- including the Indiana Catholic bishop whose jurisdiction includes Notre Dame -- redused to attend the graduation because of Obama's support of abortion.

Obama used his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway to lay out the theology of a "just war" and the morality of standing for the good in a world where, he said, "evil exists."

Disgusted by the United States government's trend during the past year to erode Christian ideals, many Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christian leaders -- in a show of unity, strength, and determination -- drafted the Manhattan Declaration in October 2009, in which they defined life, marriage, and religious liberty as these ideals were defined by Christ. Already signed by more than one-half million people, the Manhattan Declaration makes it very clear that Christians will not agree to non-Christian viewpoints, such as abortion. To emphatically delineate this standpoint, the Manhattan Declaration concludes, "We will render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, but we will not render unto Caesar that which is God's."