Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wisconsin Supreme Court Stands Behind Voters; Upholds State's Ban on Same-Sex Marriage

In a unanimous decision today (June 30, 2010), the Wisconsin Supreme Court stood behind voters and upheld the state's ban on same-sex marriage, the Christian Broadcast Network website reports.

In a 7-0 ruling, the court upheld a 2006 voter referendum preventing gay marriage and civil unions.

The court said the ban on gay marriage was properly put to a vote.

Fifty-nine percent of voters in Wisconsin said marriage should only be between one man and one woman.

Tadic: Kosovo's Image Is Serbian Christian; Some Trying to Change It to Albanian Muslim

Serbia's President Boris Tadic said today (June 30, 2010) that Serbia's Kosovo province -- along with its Christian character -- is a matter of identity for Serbs, according to today's Serbianna website.

In an address at the celebration of 150 years of the Serbian Orthodox Church parish in Vienna, Tadic said that Christian liberty to worship freely in the Roman Empire was legalized inside the Serbian territory. He also reminded the audience that the Roman Emperor Constantine was born on Serbian soil.

"That is why the Kosovo issue, which Serbia wants to solve peacefully, is not only a matter of territorial integrity and sovereignty, but above all, a matter preserving our identity," Tadic said.

Tadic warned that diplomats and others are seeking to "usurp" Serbia's Christian presence in its own province and substitute it with an Albanian Muslim one.

Kosovo illegally seceded from Serbia in February 2008, and declared itself an independent nation. Kosovo's legal status -- as an independent nation or a province in Serbia -- has been referred to the International Court of Justice in the Netherlands. A decision by the court on the status of Kosovo is expected to be made by late summer in 2010.

COMMENTARY: Council to Re-Evangelize Secular Nations May Be Fruitful

Pope Benedict XVI made a crucial decision this week to create a new Vatican office to fight secularization, and to "re-evangelize" the West.

The new pontifical council will promote a new evangelization in countries where the Christian Church has existed for centuries, but where a secular society has prevailed over Christianity in recent years.

Whether or not the new council will have a significant impact in returning a multitude of Europeans to the Catholic Church remains to be seen; however, Pope Benedict's decision to create such a council is an important step in the right direction.

The fact is that many Catholics have lost faith (no pun intended) in the Catholic Church in recent years, due to the plethora of child abuse cases against Catholic priests. For archdiocesan hierarchs -- and even the Vatican itself -- to "look the other way" and to allow these abusive priests to continue to celebrate Mass has indeed had a disastrous spiritual, social, and financial effect on the Catholic Church.

For example, in Austria, the Catholic Church has suffered exceptionally during the past several months, as some 700 people have come forward to report violent and sexual abuse at Catholic institutions. This is believed to be the chief reason for Austrians leaving the Church in droves. More than 30,000 Austrians left the Catholic Church in just the first three months of 2010; about 80,000 are expected to leave it by the end of 2010.

Other European nations have also had a huge exodus (again, no pun intended) of Catholic worshipers. Consequently, the new pontifical council that the Pope is creating will not be able to "re-evangelize" European and other Western nations unless the Catholic Church cleans its own house first.

In other words, the Catholic Church must have a zero tolerance with respect to abusive priests -- they must be removed from pastoral duties the first time an abusive incident occurs -- if the Catholic Church expects to re-evangelize secular nations, and to regain the respect and credibility it once enjoyed.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Vatican Case; Sought Sovereign Immunity in Pedophile Case

The Radio France Internationale (French) website reports today (June 29, 2010) that the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal by the Vatican for immunity in a high-profile pedophile case. The refusal is a blow to the Holy See, as it tries to protect itself from a number of sex-abuse cases.

The Supreme Court's refusal to hear the case will allow the trial of a lower court suit filed in 2002 by a plaintiff who was abused several times as a teenager by an alleged pedophile priest, Fr. Andrew Ronan, in Portland, Oregon.

Before being accused of the offenses in the United States, Ronan -- who died in 1992 -- allegedly sexually molested children in Ireland and Chicago.

The Vatican wanted the federal courts to throw out a lawsuit that sought to hold the Roman Catholic Church responsible for moving Ronan from Ireland to Chicago and then to Portland, despite the sex abuse accusations. The Vatican claimed immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976.

However, the Supreme Court rejected the Church's claim that it enjoys "sovereign immunity." Consequently, the Supreme Court's refusal to hear the case provides survivors of sexual abuse with more leverage in obtaining justice and truth about the complicity of Vatican leaders in covering up the criminal acts of Catholic priests.

Pope Makes Plans to "Re-Evangelize" the West; Says Europe Is Decaying to a Secular Society

Pope Benedict XVI is creating a new Vatican office to fight secularization and "re-evangelize" the West -- a tacit acknowledgment that his attempts to reinvigorate Christianity in Europe have not succeeded and need a new boost. Benedict announced the new office during a vespers' service yesterday (June 28, 2010), according to the Huffington Post website.

Benedict said that in Europe -- where Christianity has existed for centuries -- "the process of secularization has produced a serious crisis of the sense of the Christian faith and role of the Church."

The new pontifical council, he said, would "promote a renewed evangelization" in countries where the Church has long existed "but which are living a progressive secularization of society and a sort of 'eclipse of the sense of God.'"

Benedict did not say who would head the new office, but Italian media have said he will select Monsignor Rino Fisichella, who as head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, is the Vatican's top bioethics official.

Swedish Archbishop to Royal Couple: "No One Is Indispensable, Not Even a Princess or Prince"

The Ecumenical Church International website reports today (June 29, 2010) that Church of Sweden Archbishop Anders Wejryd, who married Crown Princess Victoria and Daniel Westling in Stockholm's Church of St. Nicholas on June 19, has reminded the couple -- they are not indispensable.

The archbishop, who heads the Lutheran Church in Sweden, reminded the couple that they will not have total control over their lives. "But you will successfully make your way through life if you keep your focus on people other than yourselves, on wider contexts, on society, on family, and on the future."

Wejryd, who was one of four officiating clergy at the Storkyrkan Cathedral -- as the Church of St. Nicholas is also called -- said the couple should ask themselves both, what they can do, and what they should do.

"None of us is indispensable, not even a crown princess or a prince. But we are still needed. We can all be called into question, not least if we are public figures," the archbishop said.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Head of WCC, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Meet; Discuss Role of WCC in Ecumenical Movement

The role of the World Council of Churches (WCC) within the ecumenical movement and of the Russian Orthodox Church within the fellowship of WCC member churches were among the subjects discussed by WCC general secretary Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, who met in Moscow today (June 28, 2010).

"The Russian Orthodox Church can play an inspiring role in the fellowship of WCC member churches," said Tveit after the meeting. Tveit highlighted Kirill's leadership for the development of the church's mission -- especially among youth -- according to the WCC website.

The meeting between the WCC general secretary and the Russian Patriarch took place in a warm and open atmosphere, Tveit said, which allowed for a frank discussion.

"His Holiness has expressed a deep commitment to, and a strong interest on the WCC which I really appreciated," Tveit said.

Jewish Rabbi Group: Kagan "Not Kosher" to Serve on Court; "Turns Judaism on Its Head"

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is "not kosher" -- meaning she is not fit to serve on the court -- according to more than 850 Orthodox Jewish members of the Rabbinical Alliance of America.

Rabbi Yehuda Levin, spokesman for the alliance, told the Cybercast News Service (CNS) website that "a great deal has been made about the fact that she would be the second Jewish woman on the court, and we want to signal to people across the country that we take no pride in this."

Levin added, "We feel that Elena Kagan turns traditional Judaism on its head -- from a concept of a nation of priests and holy people, she is turning it into, 'Let's homosexualize every segment of society. And by the way, partial-birth babies have no right to be delivered.'"

In a statement issued on June 24, 2010, the rabbinical alliance called on the Senate Judiciary Committee to refuse to confirm Kagan to succeed the outgoing justice John Paul Stevens. Senate confirmation hearings for Kagan began today (June 28, 2010).

Supreme Court: Christian Student Group Cannot Bar Gays; 1st Amendment Rights Not Violated

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, today (June 28, 2010) that a law school in California can deny recognition to a Christian student group that bars admission to homosexuals, according to the Christian Broadcast Network website.

In the case of the Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, Christian law students wanted the benefits of being recognized by the Hastings College of Law at University of California.

But they required members to sign a statement of faith -- one that bans practicing homosexuals and non-believers. The school demanded that student groups accept anyone who wanted to join them as a member.

The High Court's ruling today upholds a lower court ruling against the Christian Legal Society. The majority of justices wrote that the Christian group's First Amendment rights of association, free speech, and free exercise were not violated by the college's decision.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

WW II Concentration Camp Victims Honored; Over 40,000 Serbs, Others Murdered in Croatia

In the summer of 1941, more than 40,000 people -- mostly Serbs -- were killed in the Jadovno concentration camp in Croatia, an ally of Nazi Germany during World War II. The victims were commemorated for the first time on June 25, 2010.

The ceremony in southern Croatia was attended by the Croatian president and the Serbian President Boris Tadic's special envoy Mladjan Djordjevic, according to the All Voices website.

"Serbs, Croats, Jews, and others should commemorate the Jadovno victims and send joint messages of peace and love," Djordjevic said.

The ceremony was attended by numerous government and civil representatives from Croatia, Serbia, and the Republic of Srpska.

Pope Rips Police Who Raided Belgian Church; Denounces "Surprising and Deplorable Method"

Pope Benedict XVI today (June 27, 2010) criticized as "surprising and deplorable" a raid on church property last week by police in Belgium investigating sex abuse by clerics, according to the New York Times website.

In an extremely rare personal message -- as well as a rebuke of a sovereign country -- the pontiff stressed the church's "autonomy" to conduct its own investigations and criticized the "deplorable methods" of the Belgian police who last week detained bishops, confiscated files, and even drilled into the tomb of at least one cardinal in the Brussels cathedral in a search for documents.

"On several occasions I have personally reiterated that such serious issues should be attended to by both civil and canon law, with respect for their reciprocal specificity and autonomy," the Pope said in a statement circulated by the Vatican today.

He also expressed his "closeness and solidarity" with Andre-Joseph Leonard, the archbishop of Belgium and the president of the Belgian Bishops' Conference, and the Belgian clergy.

COMMENTARY: Nations Should Not Deny Muslim Women the Right to Wear a Burkha

Last week the Council of Europe, which is comprised of 47 European countries, voted unanimously that outlawing the burkha -- the full-faced veils worn by Muslim women -- would deny women the right to cover their bodies.

Ironically, this unanimous vote occurred on the same day that the Senate in Spain approved a motion to ban Muslim women from wearing the burkha. Consequently, Spain has become the first nation in Europe to legally ban the burkha.

The burkha is worn by many Islamic women for the purpose of hiding a female's body when she is out in public. These Muslims believe that non-relatives should not be allowed to look at a woman's body.

In addition to Spain's decision to ban the burkha, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands have initiated legislative discussions on this idea, as these countries are also planning to vote soon on banning the burkha.

There are several reasons for European countries wanting to ban the burkha. One reason is to ensure the safety of these women -- especially when they are driving a motor vehicle -- since their vision can be obstructed by this garment.

A second reason is that European nations, for the most part, are by tradition Christian nations, and using the burkha is an Islamic tradition.

A third reason is that many Europeans believe that wearing a burkha is demeaning to women. The belief that Muslim women are required to hide their bodies -- while Muslim men are not -- is a double standard, and views women as sex objects.

Although these reasons -- and others -- may be used by nations to ban the burkha, I believe that each Muslim woman should decide for herself whether or not she should wear a burkha.

In other words, a woman should have the choice of wearing a burkha or not wearing one. For a nation to legalize a ban on women wearing a burkha denies Muslim women of their right to choose what they feel is best for them.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

British House Speaker Woos Woman as Chaplain; Westminster Abbey Dean Prefers Male Cleric

In a significant step toward giving women clergy greater prominence, John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons in England, has selected Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin, a Jamaica-born priest, to be the next chaplain to the Commons.

She would be the first woman and first black cleric to be appointed to the centuries-old role, which is particularly prestigious as it currently also involves being installed as subdean of Westminster Abbey.

However, the Telegraph (British) website reports today (June 26, 2010) that Mr. Bercow's historic appointment is threatened by the Very Rev. John Hall, the Dean of Westminster Abbey, who is strongly opposed to such a move.

The Dean has refused to accept her as his deputy, and has insisted that the role is now broken up so that he can appoint a different candidate -- believed to be a male cleric.

Bulgarian Bishop Condemns Sofia Gay Parade; Says People Must Reject Depravity, Sin, Evil

"The Bulgarian Orthodox Church is praying for the repentance and sobering up of the participants in the Sofia Pride Gay Parade," Bulgarian Bishop Nikolay said in a sermon today (June 26, 2010).

Nikolay -- the youngest of all Bulgarian bishops -- condemned the third Sofia Gay Parade that was held today as an expression of depravity and sin, according to the Novinite (Bulgarian) website.

"God's scripture says that these are death sins. It is shameful to even talk about them, not to mention demonstrating them in such an overt way in the downtown of the capital before the eyes of the moral people and children. Let's watch out to protect our children from the depravity, sin, and evil," declared the bishop.

"Our law is the Bible. The Holy Church can give people the way to counteract against this spiritual virus," he said shortly before the beginning of the third annual gay pride parade in Sofia, Bulgaria's capital.

Kurdish Separatists Kill Three in E. Turkey; Seek Autonomous State, More Political Rights

Kurdish guerrillas killed two soldiers and a woman in an ambush in eastern Turkey's Elazig province late on June 24, 2010, according to Reuters website.

The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) rebels also wounded one soldier in the attack.

The PKK called off a unilateral ceasefire on June 1, and its fighters have killed more than 50 Turkish soldiers this past spring.

The PKK launched an armed campaign in 1984 to create an independent state of Kurds -- an ethnic Iranian Muslim group -- who make up about 15 percent of Turkey's population of 72 million people. The Kurds are also seeking more political rights in Turkey.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Christian Professor in Pakistan Beaten for Refusing to Convert to Islam; Police Unmoved

Muslim students attacked a Christian professor at the University of Peshawar in Pakistan this month, after he refused their demands to convert to Islam, the Compass Direct website reports today (June 25, 2010).

Psychology professor Samuel John, a father of four who has been teaching at the university for 12 years, said that as he came out of his home on the university campus at 8:30 a.m. on June 14, about 20 to 25 students rushed and assaulted him.

When his wife rushed to help him, the students beat her as well. Both John and his wife were rushed to Lady Reading hospital, where they were treated for their injuries, with John listed in critical condition.

"I am still getting threats," the professor told Compass. "They say, 'Leave the university or accept Islam -- if you don't convert, we will kill your family.'"

Police have refused to register a First Information Report on the incident, John said.

Muslim Attack on Jewish Dancers in Germany Cancels Event; 5 Arabs, One German Identified

The JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) website reports today (June 25, 2010) that Jewish leaders are worried about a possible upsurge in anti-Semitism by Muslim youth, as a result of an attack on dancers last week at a Jewish festival in Germany.

A group of children and teens of immigrant backgrounds threw stones at the Chaverim Dancers from Hanover Liberal Congregation on June 19 and shouted "Jews out!" One dancer was injured; the performance was canceled.

The stone throwers were mostly Lebanese, Palestinian, and Iranian origin. Police have identified six suspects in the attack -- five Arab immigrants and one German.

It was the first violent anti-Semitic incident this year in the greater Hanover area that was not committed by neo-Nazis.

WCC Chief to Meet Patriarch Kirill in Moscow; To Discuss Achieving Christ's Call to Be One

The Ekklesia website reports today (June 25, 2010) that the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, will pay an official visit to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, from June 27-29, 2010.

The two theologians will have conversations on the calling and the role of the WCC in response to Christ's call to be one, focusing on the role of the Russian Orthodox Church in the WCC.

Recent developments in the ecclesial and ecumenical domains will also be on the agenda -- especially with regard to the churches' common Christian witness and interreligious dialogue -- among other issues.

The Russian Orthodox Church joined the WCC in 1961, and is now its largest member church. Five of its representatives currently sit on the WCC's 150-member Central Committee.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Council of Europe Votes That Outlawing Burkha Denies Women the Right to Cover Their Faces

The Express (British) website reports today (June 24, 2010) that members of parliament from 47 European countries voted unanimously yesterday that outlawing the burkha -- the full-faced veils worn by Muslim women -- would deny women "who genuinely and freely desire to do so" the right to cover their faces.

The Council of Europe's resolution is not binding on members of the group, which includes all European countries except Belarus and Turkey.

On the other hand, the vote by the human rights group threatens to torpedo bans of the burkha planned in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, since it could open governments up to costly legal battles.

Yesterday, the Senate in Spain approved a motion -- by a close 131 to 129 vote -- to ban Muslim women from wearing the burkha or other garments that cover the whole body. The Spanish government must abide by the Senate's motion. Thus, Spain has become the first country in Europe to legally ban the burkha.

Russian, Polish Churches Eye Reconciliation; Aim for Mutual Forgiveness, Christian Values

Russia's Orthodox Church and Poland's Roman Catholic Church pledged today (June 24, 2010)to help their nations overcome a painful shared past and work toward reconciliation, according to the Reuters website.

The two churches -- very influential in their own countries -- agreed at a rare meeting of senior clergy to draw up a joint document that will express their Christian vision of how the two Slavic neighbors can come together.

Soviet Russia joined Nazi Germany in 1939 in carving up Poland, and Russian dictator Josef Stalin ordered the murder of 20,000 Polish officers in 1940 in Katyn forest.

Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, head of the Russian Orthodox Church's external relations department, said, "Our aim is to call for mutual forgiveness and reconciliation so the errors of the past are not repeated in the future. Our aim is to seek those things common to us both -- such as Christian history."

First Century Roman Road Is Found in Serbia; Used to Connect Western-Eastern Roman Empire

Archaeologists have discovered the well-preserved remains of a Roman road dating back to the first century in southeastern Serbia, the Earth Times website reports today (June 24, 2010).

The Roman military road -- or Via militaris -- near the town of Dimitrovgrad used to connect the western parts of the Roman empire with the eastern parts, archaeologists said.

The eight-meter-wide road was constructed from large blocks of stone and had two lanes.

The excavations also unearthed numerous artifacts -- including horseshoes and metal parts of carts -- which indicate that the road was an important route.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Four Men, 11 Women in Saudi Arabia to Be Lashed; Saudi Law Forbids Men and Women to Socialize

The Asia News website reports today (June 23, 2010) that four men and 11 women in the city of Ha'il, Saudi Arabia, were sentenced yesterday for "socializing" at a party.

Each individual was judged by the court and received a sentence of one to two years in prison and an unspecified number of lashes. Only one of the women did not go to prison -- because she is a juvenile -- but she will be punished with 80 lashes.

Saudi law is based on a strict interpretation of Islam, and forbids men and women who are not related to each other to socialize. Punishments for such cases are very frequent in Saudi Arabia.

In March, 2010, a 75-year-old Syrian woman was sentenced to 40 lashes and four months in prison, after police found her at her home with two men. The woman had asked the men to bring her five slices of bread.

Catholic Classes in Austria Are Now at Risk; Some 80,000 Austrians May quit Church in 2010

The Austrian Times website reports today (June 23, 2010) that right-wing opinion leaders are up in arms, as just two of 200-plus students at a Vienna school are Roman Catholics.

"Two hours of religious classes per week are part of the education plan for Viennese primary schools -- but only from 10 students and more," a district schools inspector said today.

Conservative media has stressed that most of the children at the school are Muslims. Dozens of schools of all types across Vienna have a comparable majority of Islamic students.

Meanwhile, the Austrian Roman Catholic Church's reputation has suffered dramatically over the past few months, as some 700 people came forward to report violent and sexual abuse at its institutions.

Fears are increasing that up to 80,000 Austrians will leave the Catholic Church by the end of 2010; more than 30,000 quit in just the first three months of 2010.

COMMENTARY: Churches Must Have Finance Committees, Audits to Protect Their Funds

A Catholic priest, Rev. Kevin Gray, of Sacred Heart Church in Waterbury, Connecticut is accused of illegally taking one million dollars from his parish for his personal use.

While embezzling or stealing a large amount of money is nothing new, the fact that it was taken from a church -- and by a priest, no less -- makes this a shocking situation.

Although it is Catholic law for churches to have finance committees -- primarily to scrutinize church funds -- Sacred Heart Church never had one.

The Archdiocese of Hartford is immediately establishing a finance committee at Sacred Heart Church. This is a good example of "locking the barn door after the horse escapes."

The fact is that all churches -- Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant -- should have a finance committee to ensure that there is no theft of a church's finances. Additionally, a church should have an audit conducted by a reputable company annually to confirm that the church's finances are in order.

Parishioners and other people who donate money to churches usually work hard to earn that money, and expect it to be used to support the church, as it instills its worshipers in the teachings of Christ.

One of God's Ten Commandments is, "Thou shalt not steal." Unfortunately, many people -- including clergy and church officials -- believe it is all right to violate this Commandment. People who violate this Commandment -- which is also a civil law -- subject themselves to punitive action by both God and society.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pristina's "Unity" Monument to be Demolished; Built in 1961 to Show Unity of Yugoslavians

The Pristina (Kosovo) Municipality has decided to demolish the "Brotherhood and Unity" Monument to make way for the redesign of the area into a new "Adem Jashari Square."

The Brotherhood and Unity Monument was inaugurated in 1961, while Josep Broz Tito was the leader of the still-intact Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Rooted in the center of the square are the three sky-high pillars -- which join together at the peak -- with each pillar symbolizing a member of the brotherhood of Yugoslavia with Kosovo-Albanians, Serbs, and Montenegrins.

The Brotherhood of Unity Monument became a key tourist destination alongside the Youth and Sports Palace, but the square has become ragged in recent years.

Tito -- who did an excellent job of assimilating all Yugoslavians into one harmonious and friendly nation as the country's leader from 1943 to 1980 -- must be turning in his grave!

Interreligious Theological School to Form in MA; Will Provide Multi-Faith Experience

Two theological schools are joining to form a university to educate people of all religions, the Associated Press website reports today (June 22, 2010).

Andover Newton Theological School -- just outside of Boston -- and Chicago's Meadville Lombard Theological School announced today they will unite to form an "interreligious theological university" by 2011.

Andover-Newton president Nick Carter said students will still be able to receive a degree from his school. He said the difference is they will be interacting with students earning degrees in other religions from other schools on the Newton campus.

Carter added that experience is crucial in working in a multi-faith world.

Connecticut Priest Accused of Stealing $1M; Rev. Kevin Gray Took Money from His Church

A Catholic priest in Waterbury, CT is accused of illegally taking one million dollars from his parish for his personal use, the Everyday Christian website reports today (June 22,2010).

Rev. Kevin Gray of Sacred Heart Church is now being investigated by the police.

The Archdiocese of Hartford made the discovery after reviewing the church's finances. The Archdiocese claims Rev. Gray took the money over a seven-year period -- his entire time serving at Sacred Heart.

Rev. Gray has been suspended from performing duties as a priest, according to Rev. John Gatzak, spokesperson for the Hartford Archdiocese.

Monday, June 21, 2010

VT Legislature Urges Turkey to End Its Bias on the Orthodox Church, Ecumenical Patriarch

The Vermont Legislature is asking the government of Turkey to end religious discrimination against the Orthodox Christian Church, Sen. Richard Sears said on June 17, 2010.

"The General Assembly strongly urges the Republic of Turkey to recognize the right to religious freedom for all its residents and to end all discriminatory policies directed against the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church," the resolution said.

The secretary of state has been directed to send a copy of the resolution to Turkey's embassy in Washington, D.C., the Orthodox Church Information blog reports today.

According to Sen. Sears, Vermont is now one of more than half of the states in America to have passed a resolution urging Turkey to reconsider its position on the Orthodox Christian Church -- especially as Turkey looks for membership in the European Union.

About 98 percent of Turkey's population is Muslim.

Catholic Bishops Pray for Oil Spill Victims; Issue Statement on Gulf of Mexico Tragedy

The Catholic Culture website reports today (June 21, 2010) that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a brief statement on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster.

"We, the Catholic Bishops of the United States, gathered in St. Petersburg, Florida, for several days of prayer and reflection, take this opportunity to express publicly our heartfelt prayers and pastoral solidarity with all those affected by the oil that continues to leak into the Gulf of Mexico," the bishops said, in part, in their June 18 statement.

The bishops conclude, "May God give them (our government and industrial leaders) wisdom and strength in this trying hour, and may He move them to seek lasting solutions benefiting the common good of our society."

Protestant Groups Meet in U.S. to Launch New Organization of 80 Million Christians

Two global Protestant groups are meeting in the United States to launch a new organization representing more than 80 million Christians in Presbyterian, Reformed, United, and other churches around the world, the Ecumenical News International website reports today.

The two church groupings -- the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC) and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) -- came together on Jue 18, 2010 at a gathering in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to establish the World Communion of Reformed Churches.

Reformed Christians trace their heritage back to the 16th century Reformation led by Jean Calvin, John Knox, and others, as well as to earlier movements that sought to reform the Roman Catholic Church.

The Protestant Church came into being in 1517 when Martin Luther -- at that time a Catholic priest in Germany -- adamantly protested (thus the adoption of the name Protestant) the Roman Catholic Church's policy of selling indulgences as a means of speeding up the time it would take a deceased loved one to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

UK Christians Fight Human Trafficking; Rescue Many Young Children from Slavery

A growing number of Christians in the United Kingdom (UK) have taken an important stand against human trafficking by rescuing young children from some of the worst kinds of modern slavery, the Christian Broadcast Network website reported yesterday (June 19, 2010).

Hope for Justice says children as young as three have been trafficked into the UK from China, Bangladesh, and Nigeria for sex, drugs, and domestic slavery. They say the situation has become worse, with a massive 50 percent increase in child trafficking in the UK in the past two years.

Ben Cooley -- founder of Hope for Justice -- hosted "The Stand" event in Manchester to equip the church to help end human trafficking in Europe.

Cooley said he started the initiative after hearing about the plight of trafficked people around the world.

Friday, June 18, 2010

COMMENTARY: A Time to Pray and A Time to Play

A Church of Scotland congregation has screened its Sunday services live onto lPhones and iPads, so that people can see and hear the church services wherever they are.

While this "iGod" venture -- as it has often been called -- seems like a convenient means for people to receive the Word of God, the fact is that this technological service can indeed be a drawback to spiritual worship.

It may be a good idea for elderly people in nursing homes -- as well as for people who are too weak to attend church services -- to have access to this state-of-the-art technique. Otherwise, these people would probably miss the church services.

On the other hand, this new technique should not be used by people who can easily attend church services, but prefer to take part in a recreational activity, such as relaxing on a beach or enjoying a cruise. Taking part in this kind of activity -- and at the same time observing church services -- has a tendency to demean the importance of church services.

In other words, church services must be considered a solemn spiritual experience, in which we give our utmost attention and genuine love to God -- in His Home (that is, the church) -- and show our sincere appreciation for everything He has done for us. To endeavor to do this on a beach -- or in any recreational setting -- denies God of the sacred respect, devotion, and love that He deserves from us.

Top Vatican Official Arrives in Cuba; Hopes to Help Gain Release of Political Prisoners

The Zenit website reports today (June 18, 2010) that a top official from the Vatican Secretariat of State is in Cuba for a six-day trip that has given him the opportunity to express hope that negotiations over political prisoners will continue to give fruit, and to reiterate opposition to the the U.S. embargo of the island.

Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for relations with states, was welcomed in Havana on June 15. His visit commemorates the 75th anniversary of the establishment of relations between the Holy See and Cuba.

On June 18, Archbishop Mamberti celebrated a Mass in the Havana cathedral to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Benedict XVI's pontificate.

He also participated in the unveiling of a plaque commemorating Pope John Paul II's apostolic trip to Cuba.

Orthodox Church Burns Down in Ukraine; Was Independent Church under Kiev Patriarchate

St. Jure Orthodox Church of the self-proclaimed Kiev Patriarchate has burned down in the village of Beregomet of the Ukrainian Chernovtsy Region, the Interfax-Religion website reports today (June 18, 2010).

The fire emerged on the evening of June 18. It demolished the church building and material values in it, the Emergency Ministry press service reported.

It took about two hours to extinguish the fire. There were no victims or injured.

The reason of the fire is being investigated. The wooden church was built in 1894.

Obama Finally Takes "First Step" to Fill Ambassador for Religious Freedom Position

The Christian Post website reports today (June 18,2010) that President Obama has made a "positive first step" to fill the empty Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom post.

Obama nominated Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook -- founder and president of the Wisdom Worldwide Center and senior pastor of Bronx Christian Fellowship Baptist Church in New York City -- on June 15 for the position. Cook's nomination needs to be confirmed by the Senate.

The post has been vacant since the start of the Obama administration despite pressure from religious freedom and human groups to fill it.

The position of Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom was created by law in 1998 to monitor global religious persecution, recommend and implement policies, and advise the U.S. State Department and the administration.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Lutheran Minister Wins World Food Prize to Bread for His Efforts in Fighting World Hunger

The president of a Christian anti-hunger lobbying group has won the premier award for fighting world hunger, the Ethics Daily website reports today (June 17, 2010).

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton awarded the World Food Prize to Bread for the World President David Beckmann at the State Department yesterday (June 16).

Beckmann, an economist and ordained Lutheran minister, shared the $250,000 prize with Jo Luck, president of Heifer International.

The World Food Prize Foundation recognizes individuals "who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world," according to its website.

Scottish Church Takes Services to Next Level; Provides Live Services on iPhones and iPads

The Ekklesia (British) website reports today (June 17, 2010) that a Church of Scotland congregation in Bo'ness has screened its Sunday services live onto iPhones and iPads, so that people can join in wherever they are.

Members of Bo'ness St. Andrew's Church have welcomed the "interactive service," which allows people to follow worship real-time in nursing homes, public transport, and in some unexpected locations also -- up a mountain, on a train, or even on a beach.

The pioneering "iGod" venture -- as it has already been nicknamed -- was set in digital motion by the Rev. Albert Bogle and congregation member Neil MacLennan.

The congregation -- which has a growing reputation for embracing cutting-edge technology -- also plans to try streaming services live onto BlackBerrys, Google Android-based phones, and Nokia phones in the near future.

MA Man Pleads Guilty to Burning Black Church; Was Angered by Obama's Election as President

A white Springfield, Massachusetts man -- angered by Barack Obama's election as the nation's first black president -- pleaded guilty yesterday (June 16, 2010) to federal civil rights charges for burning down a black church in 2008, according to the Associated Press.

Benjamin Haskell, 23, faces a mandatory incarceration of at least 108 months when he is sentenced on September 29, 2010 by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Ponsor.

Haskell torched the Macedonia Church of God in Christ in Springfield on November 5, 2008, within hours of Obama's election.

The church -- which had been under construction at the time of the attack -- had about 300 members, 90 percent of whom were black, federal authorities said.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

COMMENTARY: Court Ruling on Greek Orphanage in Turkey Will Enhance Status of Patriarch

The unanimous ruling of the European Court of Human Rights this week requiring Turkey to return a former Greek orphanage to the Fener Greek Patriarchate will have a significant positive impact on the status of the Ecumenical Patriarch.

Turkey does not recognize the role of the Ecumenical Patriarch as the spiritual leader of some 300 million Orthodox Christians throughout the world, but only considers him to be a Patriarch in Turkey. The European Court ruling will now require Turkey to recognize the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Fener -- the Istanbul neighborhood where the Patriarchate is located.

The ruling also provides hope for an improved status to the Catholic, Armenian, and Jewish minorities living in Turkey. Since 98 percent of the population of Turkey is Muslim, minorities in that country have often been treated as second-class citizens. Patriarch Bartholomew made that very clear late last year on the American television program "60 Minutes," when he said he felt that he was being "crucified" by living in Turkey.

Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan has told Patriarch Bartholomew that he will not oppose the ruling of the European Court on the orphanage.

Patriarch Bartholomew said he intends to turn one section of the orphanage building into an international center for the protection of the environment, and the other section into a center for inter-faith dialogue.

Let the implementation of the European Court's ruling begin!

European Court Rules That Turkey Must Return Former Greek Orphanage to Greek Patriarchate

The Asia News website reports today (June 16, 2010) that the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled in a unanimous decision that Turkey must return the former Greek Orphanage on Buyukada Island -- the largest of the Princes' Islands -- back to Fener Greek Patriarchate.

This concludes the long legal case between the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and Turkish authorities.

The case had begun in 1997 when Turkey tried to take the building away from the Patriarchate in order to upgrade the area without compensation.

The ruling is of critical importance in that it clearly recognizes the legal status of the Patriarchate. Turkey has never recognized the Ecumenical Patriarchate, despite recently improved relations between Ankara and the Fener (the Istanbul neighborhood where the Patriarchate is located). Turkey must now recognize the Ecumenical Patriarchate as a result of the European Court's ruling.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Report: Kosovo Is Human Trafficking Center of Women and Children for Sexual Exploitation

Kosovo is a center for human trafficking, according to a report of the United States Department of State, Radio Television Serbia (RTS) reports today (June 15, 2010).

The 2010 report -- published by the U.S. Department of State -- says that Kosovo is a source, transit side, and destination of women and children, victims of human trafficking, mainly for sexual exploitation and mendicancy.

Most foreign victims of sexual exploitation are young women from Eastern Europe -- especially from Kosovo, Moldova, Albania, Bulgaria, and Serbia -- according to the report.

UCal. Irvine Suspends Muslim Student Group; Disrupted Lecture by Israel's Ambassador

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) website reports today (June 15, 2010) that the University of California, Irvine suspended a Muslim student group over its disruption of a lecture by Israel's ambassador to the United States.

In a May 27 letter to the Muslim Student Union released on June 14, 2010 by the university, the student affairs disciplinary committee announced that after an investigation, it found the group guilty of violating certain sections of the university's policies applying to campus activities, organizations and students, including disorderly conduct and obstructing university activities.

During a February 8, 2010 speech at the university -- sponsored by a campus pro-Israeli group -- Ambassador Michael Oren repeatedly was heckled and interrupted; 11 students were arrested in the incident.

The student group has been suspended for one year, beginning September 1, 2010, and will be subject to a one-year probation upon its reinstatement.

Huge "King of Kings" Statue of Jesus Is Struck by Lightning , Burns to Ground in Ohio

A six-story-tall statue of Jesus Christ -- with His arms raised along the highway -- was struck by lightning in a thunderstorm last night (June 14, 2010) and burned to the ground, according to the Associated Press.

The "King of Kings" statue -- one of southwest Ohio's most familiar landmarks -- had stood since 2004 at the evangelical Solid Rock Church along Interstate 75 in Monroe, just north of Cincinnati.

The sculpture -- 62 feet tall and 40 feet wide at the base -- showed Jesus from the torso up and was nicknamed "Touchdown Jesus" because of the way the arms were raised, similar to a referee signaling a touchdown.

It was made of plastic foam and fiberglass over a steel frame, which is all that remained of the statue.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Polish Legislators Defy Catholic Church by Allowing State Interference in Family Life

The Ecumenical News International website reports today that Polish parliamentarians have defied the country's predominant Roman Catholic Church and approved a law to prevent violence in families, despite warnings by church groups that it could allow State interference in family life.

The legislation -- passed in Poland's Senate on May 28, 2010 -- tightens rules against "psychological suffering," as well as banning smacking and any "corporal punishment of children."

The president of Poland's bishops' conference, Archbishop Jozef Michalik, cautioned that the law would, "disturb the natural order" by undermining parental control and "questioning the role of the family as a responsible community."

New Trial Begins in Belgrade for 20 People Accused of Burning Down Bajraki Mosque

The Balkan Insight website reports today (June 14, 2010) that a new trial of a group accused of burning down the Bajraki Mosque in Belgrade six years ago has begun in the Serbian capital.

A group of 20 people are accused of participating in the riots in Belgrade in March 2004 when the Bajraki mosque was burned down.

The original trial began more than a year ago, but a retrial was ordered due to the appointment of a new presiding judge which came as a result of reform in Serbia.

Two mosques -- one in Belgrade and the other in Nis -- were attacked in the aftermath of the violence in Kosovo in March 2004. In Belgrade, a library that belonged to the mosque containing more than 7,000 books was burned down as well. One of the books was a 400-year-old Qur'an.

Christian Leaders and Pro-Life Lobby Praise Ad of a Scan of Jesus with Halo in the Womb

The Continental News website reports today (June 14, 2010) that a United Kingdom billboard campaign Church -- showing Jesus in the womb -- has drawn fire from secularists and praise from Christian leaders and the pro-life lobby in Great Britain.

According to Karen McVeigh, writing in the Guardian newspaper in London, "The campaign, which aims to reach 40 million people, shows a scan of a fetus with a halo above its head. It will feature on billboards over Christmas and reads, 'He's on the way: Christmas starts with Christ.'"

Drawn up by the charity,, the "Ultrasound Jesus" campaign is backed by a number of Christian organizations, including the Church of England, the Baptist Union, the United Reformed Church, the Anglican Church, and the Methodist Church.

The National Secular Society (NSS) has criticized the ad, saying it gives the impression that it is politically motivated.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

FCC Restricts Use of Wireless Microphones; Churches Cannot Use 700 Megahertz Frequency

A new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ban of wireless microphones that operate in the 700 megahertz frequency went into effect yesterday (June 12, 2010), which requires churches that use them to replace them.

Only emergency responders -- such as police and firefighters -- are now allowed to use the frequency, according to the Christian Broadcast Network website.

Currently, about 10-12 percent of the wireless mics used in churches violate the ban, according to Matt Nodine, chief of staff of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau of the FCC.

Churches or other facilities that now use the 700 megahertz frequency could face fines and criminal penalties.

Congregations across the United States have already spent millions of dollars to replace the devices.

The Bible Has Been Given a Modern Makeover; German Turns It into Trendy Looking Magazine

The Austrian Times website reports today (June 13, 2010) that the Bible has been given a modern makeover to turn it into a trendy looking magazine.

The idea for the magazine Bible was from Oliver Wurm, 40, a devoted Christian from Hamburg, Germany, who said, "Everybody reads magazines, but the traditional Bible is not really very user-friendly."

The official website of the magazine bible is

Large numbers of photographs are also used to illustrate the various passages in the magazine.

COMMENTARY: Catholic Church Must Act to End Rampant Child Molestations by Priests

Pope Benedict XVI begged for forgiveness from clerical abuse victims last week, and promised to "do everything possible" to ensure priests never molest children again.

The Pope made the pledge at a Mass in St. Peter's Square, following revelations of hundreds of new cases of clerical abuse, cover-up, and Vatican inaction to root out pedophiles.

The Pope did not say how he intends to end clerical abuse. Nonetheless, there are various actions the Catholic Church should take to end -- or at least significantly decrease -- the molestation of children by priests.

One action would be to have Catholic seminaries require at least one course for all students on the prevention of child abuse. Such a course would inform prospective priests -- before they are even ordained -- of the seriousness and prevention of child abuse.

Another step the church should take is to unfrock a priest who has committed child molestation. The current church practice of transferring pedophile priests to other parishes is really ineffective, since these priests tend to continue their abusive behavior in their newly-assigned parishes.

Finally, the church bishops and other hierarchs should not "look the other way" and pretend that no problem exists, but rather must take swift action against priests who are abusive.

The Catholic Church, then, must adopt the three actions indicated above, in order to end its rampant clerical abuse.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Syria Considered a Safe Haven for Christians and Muslims in a Conflict-Prone Middle East

Syria's dwindling Christians coexist with their Muslim compatriots in a country many of them see as a safe haven, in a region where religious minorities often struggle for survival, according to the Reuters website.

Pope Benedict XVI is so worried about how Christians are faring in a conflict-prone Middle East that he has called bishops to the Vatican in October 2010 to consider their plight.

Muslims and Christians enjoy equal rights in Syria, apart from a constitutional stipulation that the president must be a Muslim.

Samer Lahham, a layman who runs ecumenical relations at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Damascus, told Reuters that the Syrian government "really puts religion aside," noting that passports and identity cards make no mention of religion.

Rabbi Who Interviewed Helen Thomas on White House Grounds Has Been Flooded with Hate Mail

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) website reports today that the rabbi, whose recent interview with Helen Thomas ended the veteran White House correspondent's career, says he has been deluged with hate mail.

Rabbi David Nesenoff has posted several of what he says are the 25,000 and counting anti-Semitic e-mails on his website, Some of the e-mails say "Hitler was right" and others are replete with obscenities.

Nesenoff interviewed Thomas on the White House grounds on May 27, 2010 while he was attending a Jewish American Heritage Month event there. Asked to comment on Israel, Thomas said, "Israelis should get the hell out of Palestine and go home to Germany and Poland."

The subsequent uproar spurred Thomas, 89, to end her career of six decades.

Mormon Church Agrees to Pay $5,000 Fine; Failed to Report Donations to Support Prop. 8

The Ethics Daily website reports today that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will pay a $5,000 fine for not reporting non-monetary contributions in support of Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission concluded the church "failed to timely report making late non-monetary contributions totaling $36,928" during the November 2008 election. It assessed a penalty of $5,539.

In a June 8, 2010 statement, the church acknowledged a reporting error.

The Latter-day Saints Church -- also known as the Mormon Church -- denied any intentional wrongdoing. "Claims that the Church misrepresented its contributions to the Protect Marriage Coalition are false," it said.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Exhibition on Poles under Nazi Occupation in WW II Opens in Krakow on Schindler Site

A new exhibition recounting the fate of Poles -- both Jews and non-Jews -- during World War II opened in southern Poland today (June 11, 2010) at the former factory used by Oskar Schindler.

"Huge numbers of visitors" came to see the exhibition -- "Krakow under Nazi Occupation 1939-1945" organized by the city's Historical Museum -- on its opening day, museum spokeswoman Anna Gabrys told the Associated Press.

It opened at the building on Lipowa Street in Krakow in which Schindler ran his factory during World War II. He added production of munition for the German army, which gave the facility special protected status.

Photographs, films, witness testimony, and multimedia presentations are displayed through 45 rooms to portray the ordeal of the city residents under Nazi occupation.

Most of Poland's 3.5 million Jews died in the Holocaust under German occupation.

Pope Begs Forgiveness from Abuse Victims; Will "Do Everything Possible" to End Abuse

The Express (British) website reports today (June 11, 2010) that Pope Benedict XVI has begged forgiveness from clerical abuse victims and promised to "do everything possible" to ensure priests never molest children again.

He made the pledge during a Mass in St. Peter's Square yesterday, marking the end of the Vatican's Year of the Priest -- a celebration of the priesthood that has been marred by revelations of hundreds of new cases of clerical abuse, cover-up, and Vatican inaction to root out pedophiles.

In his homily, the Pope lamented that during what should have been a year of joy for the priesthood, the "sins of priests came to light -- particularly the abuse of the little ones."

He said the scandal was a call for purification of the Church.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

European Court: Russian Ban of Jehovah's Witnesses Illegal, Violates Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights today (June 10, 2010) ruled that the 2004 court ban on a Moscow Jehovah's Witnesses community was illegal, according to the Interfax-Religion website.

The ban was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights articles on freedom of thought, conscience, worship, and assembly, the Strasbourg-based court said in a statement.

In March 2004, a Russian court banned the Jehovah's Witnesses community, accusing it of encouraging suicide, of forcing some of its members to avoid medical assistance for religious reasons, of drawing minors into religious activities against their will and without their parents' consent, of causing families to fall apart, and of infringing on personal rights and freedoms.

Afghanistan Suspends Two Christian Groups; Aid Groups Accused of Converting Muslims

The Christian Broadcast Network website reports today (June 10, 2010) that two Christian aid groups have been suspended from Afghanistan over claims that workers were proselytizing.

Yesterday, anti-Christian protesters took to the streets in Afghanistan for the third day since the government suspended the groups.

The demonstrators shouted death threats toward foreigners who try to convert Muslims. Proselytizing -- that is, converting from one faith to another -- is illegal in Afghanistan and many other Muslim countries.

The Church World Service and the Norwegian Church Aid groups have been involved in Afghanistan for the past 30 years, working to improve agriculture, education, and general living conditions. Protesters demanded that both organizations be shut down, and their foreign employees brought to justice.

Women Protest for Ordination Near Vatican; Want "Full and Equal" Sharing in RC Church

The Ecumenical News International website reports today (June 10, 2010) that a group of women demonstrated this week in Rome's St. Peter's Square, calling for women's ordination.

The women said they want "full and equal" participation in the Roman Catholic Church.

The small group held a banner stating, "Ordain Catholic Women," in the Via della Conciliazione -- the boulevard that leads to the square -- before they were told to move by police.

"Our church urgently needs large numbers of male and female pastors to serve our parishes. Charisma should be important, not gender," said Angelika Fromm, a German representative from the International Movement We are Church.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

COMMENTARY: Romanian Patriarch's Brother Should Not Convert to Catholicism for Revenge

Gheorghe Ciobotea, the brother of Romanian Patriarch Daniel, said he intends to give up on Orthodoxy and convert to Catholicism, because of his brother's attitude.

The Patriarch's brother said, "Daniel is not my brother anymore. I asked him to save his nephews from shepherding and hire them in constructions at the monastery in our village. He wouldn't do it. I ask you, is this behavior worthy of a brother?"

The answer to your question, Gheorghe, is "yes." The fact is that it is not Patriarch Daniel's responsibility to provide his nephews with jobs. Moreover, providing them with jobs in constructing a monastery could result in embarrassment for the Patriarch, as his worshipers could accuse him of favoring his nephews over more qualified persons for the jobs. In short, the Patriarch must be above reproach.

For the Patriarch's brother to give up Orthodoxy and convert to Catholicism, because of the Patriarch's "attitude" in not employing his nephews, is a poor reason to convert. Conversion from Orthodoxy to Catholicism -- or vice versa -- should be based upon a more inspiring spiritual reason, not one based on favors given by one's brother, or anyone else.

I believe that Gheorghe has become so upset at his brother's refusal to hire the nephews that he has decided to convert to Catholicism in order to embarrass his Patriarch brother.

This is not a valid reason for Gheorghe to convert to Catholicism. If he does convert to Catholicism, he should do so because he feels closer to God in converting, not because he wants to take revenge on the Romanian Patriarch.

Divorced Clergy to Be Allowed to Become Bishops in the Church of England for First Time

The Telegraph (British) website reports today (June 9, 2010) that divorced clergy will be allowed to become Church of England bishops for the first time in a move that has been condemned by traditionalists.

Critics described the change in Church rules as "utterly unacceptable" and warned it would undermine the biblical teaching that marriage is for life.

While Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, supported relaxing the rules, John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, is against the change.

The Church is expected to issue a statement announcing the new policy next month (July 2010), after legal advice made clear that there is no obstacle to a divorcee -- or a priest married to a divorcee -- being consecrated.

Vandals Spray Graffiti on Mosque in Israel; Police Suspect Residents of Nearby Village

The Y Net News (Israeli) website reports today (June 9, 2010) that vandals sprayed hate messages last night on a mosque in the northern Israeli village of Ibtin which read: "Up for demolition," "Price tag," and "War will break out in Judea and Samaria."

Star of David signs were also sprayed on the building. Ibtin police believe that residents of the nearby community of Rechasim were behind the act.

Police have launched an investigation, but no suspects have been arrested yet.

Until recently, relations between Ibtin and Rechasim residents had been good; however, new residents have settled in the area in recent years, and the state of calm has been broken.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Anglicans Cut Episcopalians from Serving on Interfaith Bodies; Elected Lesbian Bishop

The Anglican Communion has suspended U.S. Episcopalians from serving on interfaith bodies, because of its recent election of a lesbian as a bishop in California, the Associated Press website reports today (June 8, 2010).

The U.S. church opened a rift in the global communion -- and within its own ranks -- seven years ago by electing a gay man, V. Gene Robinson, as bishop of New Hampshire.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, had called for a moratorium on appointing homosexuals to leadership positions. He asked for action against the Episcopal Church after the Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool - a lesbian -- was named as assistant bishop of Los Angeles last month.

The Anglican Communion is an association of 44 regional and national member churches -- most were founded by Church of England missionaries -- with more than 80 million members in more than 160 countries.

Thousands Protest Planned "Mega Mosque" at Ground Zero; Say It Would Demean 9/11 Victims

The Christian Today website reports that thousands of protesters gathered around the corner of Liberty and Church Streets in New York City on Sunday (June 6, 2010) to voice their opposition to a proposed "mega mosque" near Ground Zero.

The protest -- organized by Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) -- kicked off at noon and rallied support behind efforts to stop construction of the Cordoba House -- a 15-story facility that project leaders claim will promote tolerance and serve as a platform for people of all backgrounds to come together.

Opponents of the Muslim-led project say building an Islamic center so close to Ground Zero would be demeaning and offensive to the 2,976 victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"Ground Zero is a war memorial. Ground Zero is a burial ground," said SIOA Co-Founder Pamela Geller during Sunday's rally. "We are asking for sensitivity."

Monday, June 7, 2010

U.S. Jews to Hold Memorial Service in D.C. for Those Killed in Israeli Flotilla Attack

As part of a protest against the Israeli attack of a Gaza-bound flotilla, a Jewish memorial service will be held in a Washington, D.C. park opposite the White House on Sunday, June 13, 2010, the Jerusalem Post website reports today (June 7, 2010). Prayers will be said for people killed in the raid.

The event is part of a conference sponsored by the "Interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives" and will include Jewish healing prayers for those hurt or wounded in the raid.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives and editor of Tikkun Magazine, said, "The overwhelming majority of American Jews are saddened at the killings and wounding that took place on the high seas on May 31st, and want to make clear that this kind of behavior is not a morally acceptable or politically effective way for Israel to achieve security."

Christian and Muslim clerics are also expected to attend the memorial service.

Romanian Patriarch's Brother to Convert to Catholicism; Patriarch Refused to Hire Nephews

The Nine O'Clock (Romanian) website reports today (June 7, 2010) that Gheorghe Ciobotea -- brother of Romanian Orthodox Patriarch Daniel -- intends to give up on Orthodoxy and embrace Catholicism instead, because of his brother's attitude.

"I'm fed up with the Orthodox moral taught by the man that used to be my brother. If this is the Orthodox teaching, then, I will give up on it," the Patriarch's brother said.

"Daniel is not my brother anymore. I asked him to save his nephews from shepherding and hire them in constructions at the monastery in our village. He wouldn't do it. I ask you, is this behavior worthy of a brother?" Gheorghe Ciobotea lamented.

In this scenario, I see the Patriarch's brother trying to pressure Patriarch Daniel into hiring his nephews to help build a Romanian monastery. The Patriarch's refusal to hire his nephews angered Gheorghe Ciobotea to such a degree that he decided to embarrass the Orthodox Patriarch by converting to Catholicism. Any other thoughts on this incredible story? Please feel free to leave a comment on it.

Edinburgh 2010 Ends with Call for Christians to Renew Benefit of Service to One Another

The Christian Post website reports today (June 7, 2010) that some 1,000 Christians from across the denominations and traditions heard the call from the Archbishop of York to "be, see, think, and do mission" last night, as they came together for the close of Edinburgh 2010.

Christians were gathered for the conference in the capital of Scotland for most of last week. The occasion celebrated the 100th anniversary of the historic World Missionary Conference held in Edinburgh in 1910 and the subsequent birth of the world church.

In a closing address, the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu, stressed that although not every follower of Christ was called to be an evangelist, every Christian was nonetheless called to be a witness, with a responsibility to lead people to Christ.

Sentamu urged Christians "to put love where there is none" by turning away from the culture of "self-absorbed individualism" and rediscovering the benefit of service to one another.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Pope Ends Cyprus Visit with Appeal to World Community to Prevent Bloodshed in Middle East

The Earth Times website reports that Pope Benedict XVI -- speaking in Cyprus today (June 6, 2010) -- appealed to the world community to intervene in the Middle East in order to prevent "greater bloodshed."

His appeal for an "urgent and international effort to resolve the ongoing tensions in the Middle East" coincided with the release of a Vatican's Instrumentum Laboris -- or document -- on the region that focuses on the problems facing Christians in the region.

Benedict was concluding a three-day visit to the Mediterranean island -- his first to an Orthodox country -- with a mass in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, today.

Economic emigration and declining birth rates in recent years have contributed to the decline of Christianity in the predominantly Muslim Middle East. Sixty years ago, Christians made up 20 percent of the total population of Israel and the Palestinian territories. Today, they represent less than two percent.

COMMENTARY: It's Time for Helen Thomas to Resign Her White House Job or Be Fired

Helen Thomas, who has been a White House reporter covering every American President since the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s, should resign her position or be fired by her employer, Hearst Newspapers.

On May 27, 2010 -- at a Jewish heritage event outside the White House -- an interviewer asked Thomas if she had any comments on Israel.

Her reply: "Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine. The Palestinian people are an occupied people and Palestine is their land. Israelis should go Poland, Germany, and America, and everywhere else."

Many people have called Thomas' remarks anti-Semitic, disgusting, hateful, etc. The fact is that Thomas never should have described Israel -- America's strongest ally in the Middle East -- in such a caustic manner. Her apology eight days later for making the remarks cannot eliminate the damage they have caused.

The fact that Thomas is of Lebanese ancestry explains -- at least in part -- the hostility that she has toward Israel and Israelis. Lebanon and Israel have been bitter enemies since 1948, when Israel declared itself an independent nation in what was previously a part of Palestine. Consequently, most Palestinians and Arabs in general believe that Israel is illegally "occupying" Palestinian land.

Nevertheless, this belief does not justify Thomas' recent unprofessional conduct in her denunciation of Israel and Israelis. Thomas turns 90 on August 4, 2010. She has had a full career -- and then some -- as a reporter covering the White House for more than a half-century.

Thomas must now resign her position because of her recent defamation of Israel and Israelis. If she does not resign within a week, then Hearst Newspapers must fire her.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Head of Cyprus' Orthodox Church Tells Pope Turkey Has Taken Over 37 Percent of Island

The Orthodox Church Info Blog reports today (June 5, 2010) that the head of Cyprus' Orthodox Church, Archbishop Chrysostomos II, said "Turkey has barbarously invaded and conquered by force of arms 37 percent of our homeland," while addressing Pope Benedict XVI who is on a pilgrimage in Cyprus.

Chrysostomos also said the Turks had "ruthlessly sacked" Christian artworks, asserting they were seeking to make Greek and Christian culture disappear from the north. He urged the Pope to help ensure protection of the sacred Christian monuments in a struggle against the Turks.

The Pope did not respond to the archbishop's remarks. Instead -- in his comments at an archeological site where St. Paul is said to have preached in the first century and to have been whipped by Roman soldiers -- Benedict spoke of an increased co-operation between Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians.

Christianity became divided in the Great Schism of 1054, which saw the Christian Church torn apart into Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Recent meetings between Catholic and Orthodox hierarchs -- such as the Pope's current visit to Cyprus -- have resulted in a rapprochement with a more harmonious and spiritual relationship between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Consequently, a reunification of one Christian Church may be achieved in the near future.

Armenian Church Sues Getty Museum for Return of Seven Pages Ripped from Bible

The Armenian Church has sued the J. Paul Getty Museum to demand the return of seven pages ripped from a sacred Armenian Bible dating back to 1256, the Associated Press reports today (June 5, 2010).

The Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America filed the lawsuit June 1, 2010 in Los Angeles. The lawsuit alleged the church had the Bible authenticated in 1947 or 1948, and it was returned with the pages missing.

A spokeswoman for the Getty Museum said the museum legally acquired the pages -- known as the Canon Tables -- in 1994 from an anonymous private collector "after a thorough review of their provenance."

Michael Bazyler, a member of the plaintiff's legal team, said yesterday that attorneys hope the pages can be returned during negotiation rather than litigation.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Helen Thomas to Jews: "Get the Hell Out of Palestine and Go Back to Germany and Poland"

White House reporter Helen Thomas -- the senior correspondent to Hearst newspapers -- was interviewed on camera by Rabbi David Nessenoff of during the Jewish Heritage reception at the White House on May 27, 2010. In the interview, Thomas said Jews should "Get the hell out of Palestine and go back to Germany and Poland," and that Palestine is a country of Jewish occupation.

Thomas, who turns 90 this summer, was born in Winchester, Kentucky on August 4, 1920 of Lebanese immigrants from Tripoli, Lebanon. She is a Christian of the Eastern Orthodox faith.

Thomas -- the senior White House reporter -- has covered every President of the United States since the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s. Moreover, she was the first female officer of the National Press Club.

Thomas issued an apology for her denunciation of Jews on her personal website Hot today (June 4, 2010) in which she writes, "I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon."

Members of Indonesian Christian Church Appeal to UN Against Decision to Close Their Church

Members of the Indonesian Christian Church -- also known as the Yasmin Church -- are preparing to appeal to the United Nations against a decision by the authorities in the West Java City of Bogor to close down their church, the Persecution website reports today (June 4, 2010).

Municipal authorities have been trying to prevent Christians from expressing their faith publicly in response to Muslim extremists. Christians have argued that they have a right to profess their faith wherever they live -- even if it means praying in the streets.

The decision to appeal to the UN was taken yesterday.

There are more Muslims living in Indonesia than in any other country in the world.

Pope Benedict Visits Island of Cyprus; Will Celebrate Liturgy, Visit St. Paul's Pillar

Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to arrive in Cyprus today (June 4, 2010), and remain on the island until June 6, according to the EWTN website. EWTN -- a Catholic TV channel linked to most satellite and cable networks -- will televise most of the Pope's Cyprus visit.

During his visit, the Pope will meet with Cyprus President Demetris Christofias, who invited the Pontiff to visit Cyprus during a March 2009 audience in Rome.

He will also meet with a minority Catholic community -- mostly Maronite Catholics -- at St. Maron primary school's sports field at Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus. Later that same day, he will celebrate Mass at Nicosia's Elefheria sports center and distribute a document, which will be the basis for a discussion during the synod of the Middle East, coming this October in Rome.

The largest religion on the island is Greek Orthodox. Archbishop Chrysostomos II -- head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Cyprus -- has publicly welcomed the Pope's visit.

The Holy Father will make history as the first Pope in modern times to visit Cyprus, known for its beautiful Christian mosaics and churches. The Pope is expected to tour the Church of Avia Kyriaki Chrysopolitissa -- near St. Paul's Pillar -- after he celebrates an outdoor liturgy there. St. Paul was scourged and imprisoned there for preaching the Gospel, and the pillar that was used some 2,000 years ago remains in its original location.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Some 300 Christian Leaders Meet in Scotland for the 100th World Missionary Conference

More than 300 Christian leaders from 30 traditions across 60 countries are meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland through June 6, 2010 for the 2010 World Missionary Conference, the Ethics Daily website reports today (June 3, 2010).

"The 2010 Conference will be held in the same city and in the same month as the epic-making World Missionary Conference of 1910 -- exactly 100 years ago -- which many say witnessed the birth of the ecumenical movement," Roman Catholic Marist Brother Stephen Smyth said.

The 1910 conference led to the creation of the International Missionary Council in 1921, and inspired other church unity movements, culminating in the formation of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in 1948.

Participants range from the evangelical, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Protestant, and Roman Catholic traditions. The WCC's general secretary, the Rev. Olav Fykse, is scheduled to speak at the conference.

Serbian Orthodox Church Racked by Dissent; Monks Rebel in Support of Bishop Artemije

The Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) continues to be racked by dissent, as monks in two monasteries have openly rebelled against the church leadership, the Serbianna website reports today (June 3, 2010).

Monks from Crna Reka and Holy Archangels monasteries launched their rebellion in support of Bishop Artemije, the former head of the Kosovo eparchy whom the SPC replaced because he had ignored orders and was implicated in corruption scandals.

The monks said they were set to abandon their monasteries despite orders from the SPC to remain in place.

The Kosovo eparchy has been in focus not only because of the secession of Kosovo from Serbia in 2008, but also because of alleged financial abuse. The allegations have so far led to the criminal indictment and arrest of Artemije's right-hand man, Simeon Vilovski.

Catholic Bishop in Turkey Stabbed to Death; His Driver Is Arrested for the Alleged Murder

A Catholic bishop in Southern Turkey was found stabbed to death today (June 3, 2010), and his driver was arrested for the alleged murder, the Earth Times website reports.

Bishop Luigi Padovese, the Vicar Apostolic for the Anatolia region since 2004, was found dead in his summer home in the city of Iskendrun, in the Hatay region on Turkey's Mediterranean coast.

The Hatay region is home to an ancient -- but dwindling -- community of Christians who have lived in the area since Roman times.

In recent years, nationalist extremists in Turkey have attacked or kidnapped Christian clergymen in the country on several occasions.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Repair of Christ the Redeemer Statue Finished; Considered World's Largest Art Deco Statue

The $3.8 million restoration work on one of the world's most famous statues has been completed in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, the Ria Novosti (Russian) website reports today (June 2, 2010).

The 130-foot statue of Christ the Redeemer -- which has been covered with scaffolding since January -- is expected to be reopened to the public within the next two weeks.

Christ the Redeemer -- Brazil's most prominent symbol of Christianity -- is made of reinforced concrete and soapstone, and was constructed between 1922 and 1931.

It is considered the largest Art Deco statue in the world. It weighs 635 metric tons and is located at the peak of the 2,300-foot Corcovado mountain in the Tijuca Forest National Park overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro.

COMMENTARY: Shame on Israel for Killing Flotilla Humanitarians in International Waters

Israel must hang its head in shame for its barbaric and unprovoked killings of at least nine pro-Palestinian activists on humanitarian boats in international waters.

The flotilla was carrying humanitarian aid -- not weapons or military supplies -- to the 1.5 million people trapped inside the Gaza strip when Israelis attacked them. The fact that the Israeli attack occurred in international waters -- that is, more than three miles beyond Israeli land -- adds more disgrace to the attacks. (Actually, the flotilla had been at least 68 miles from the Gaza coast when it was attacked.)

A large number of church-based relief organizations -- including the Action by Churches Together (ACT) Alliance -- have condemned the Israeli aggression and called it "a crime."

The United Nations has condemned the Israeli flotilla raid and has called for an investigation. The United States -- perhaps Israel's strongest ally -- supports the UN's condemnation of the Israeli act and the UN's call for a credible investigation.

Turkey -- previously one of Israel's friendliest nations in the Middle East -- has been pressuring the UN to sanction Israel for its attack of the flotilla, and has condemned the raid as a "bloody massacre by Israel." In fact, Turkey has recalled its ambassador to Israel.

Archbishop Hilarian Capucci, a Greek Catholic prelate from Jerusalem who was imprisoned by Israel in 1974, said the Israeli attack was unwarranted. "Our trip to Gaza was a trip of love and God was with us. Israel by its actions has rightly drawn world outrage over its brutality against unarmed people carrying a message of love to an innocent occupied people under siege," Capucci said.

The Greek Catholic Archbishop is correct in saying that the attack was unwarranted. The fact is it never should have occurred.

Israel will now pay the price for this unwarranted attack. It has already lost the support it previously had from many nations. Moreover, the Israeli aggression has hindered the prospects for peace in the Middle East, and has infuriated several Muslim organizations and militants to such a degree that they will undoubtedly retaliate against Israel and Israelis in the ensuing months -- perhaps even years.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Judge Rules Two Conn. High Schools Cannot Hold Graduation Ceremonies in a Christian Church

A federal judge ruled today (June 1, 2010) that two Connecticut public high schools cannot hold graduation ceremonies inside a Christian church, because using a church for graduation would be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall ruled against Enfield High School and Enrico Fermi High School, both in Enfield, Connecticut. The district had planned to hold two school commencements at First Cathedral Church in Bloomfield on June 23 and 24, according to the Christian Broadcast Network website.

The judge said Enfield had unconstitutionally entangled itself with religion by agreeing to cover much of the church's religious imagery. She also said the town coerced the plaintiffs to support religion by forcing them to enter the church for graduation.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the group Americans for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit on behalf of two students and three of their parents, arguing that the graduation plan violated the First Amendment.

Israelis Kill Nine Activists on Flotilla with Human Aid for Gaza in International Waters

A large network of church-based relief organizations has called Israel's deadly attack on a convoy of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza "a crime," the Christian Post website reports today (June 1, 2010).

"This incident could easily have been avoided. This aggression has been heavily criticized and condemned by the worldwide members of ACT Alliance," said John Nduna, general secretary of Action by Churches Together (ACT) Alliance.

ACT is an alliance of 100 humanitarian and development organizations working in 130 countries, including the Gaza Strip.

Israeli troops yesterday raided a convoy of ships carrying hundreds of activists in international waters. The confrontation resulted in the death of at least nine pro-Palestinian activists.

The incident sparked a firestorm of criticism against Israel for its hard-handed handling of an aid flotilla. Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel yesterday, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the raid as a "bloody massacre by Israel."