Monday, January 31, 2011

Egypt Unrest Brings Coptic Christians Hope, Fear; Pope Shenouda Urges Egyptians to Protect Nation

The current images of violent protests across Egypt are worrying to all, but concerns over the chaos are felt more acutely by Egypt's minority Orthodox Christians, who have complained for many years that the current government does too little to protect them, the CBS News website reports today (January 31, 2011).

Thirty minutes after midnight on January 1, 2011 -- during New Year's Eve mass -- a bomb exploded in front of Saints Church in the northern port city of Alexandria, killing 21 worshipers and injuring about 100 others in the deadliest attack on Coptic Christians in more than a decade.

Now, as mass protests against President Hosni Mubarak's 30 years of harsh rule appear to be gaining steam, Egypt's Orthodox Christians have every reason to fear the possible outcome of a change at the top.

Coptic Pope Shenouda III appeared on Egyptian state television yesterday (January 30) and urged all Egyptians to "safeguard the security and stability of the country."

Netherlands Breaks Ties with Iran Over Execution; Dutch-Iranian Woman Hung for Possessing Drugs

The Eurasia Review website reports today (January 31, 2011) that the Netherlands has broken off ties with Iran to protest the hanging of a Dutch-Iranian woman for possessing and selling drugs, and has asked the European Union to take action against Iran.

The woman, Zahra Bahrami, 45, a native of Iran, was executed on January 29 in Tehran, more than a year after she was detained during protests against the re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009.

Bahrami's daughter told the New York-based rights group International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that the drug charges were fabricated.

The Netherlands today asked the Council of Foreign Ministers of the European Union to take action against Iran for Bahrami's execution.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Serbian PM Will Not Give In to Teachers' Wishes; Views 24 Percent Raise as Unrealistic, Inflationary

Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic said Saturday (January 29, 2011)that teachers' demands are unrealistic and that the government will not make concessions that would undermine economic stability, the Tanjug website reports today.

Meeting media directors and editors, Cvetkovic said that the demands of the teachers on strike for an increase of their earnings by 24 percent are unrealistic, and could cause a chain reaction of demands for salary and pension increases that would lead to inflation and weaken the domestic currency.

He added that he does not want to be a party to this, since his main task is to defend the macroeconomic stability of Serbia.

The teachers who are on strike and completely halted classes are breaking the law, he said.

Cvetkovic said he would make his views on the issue public after he returns from Brussels, where he will deliver the answers to the European Commission's questionnaire on January 31.

COMMENTARY: Billy Graham's New Perspective on Religion and Politics Is Correct

American evangelist Billy Graham -- considered by many people to be the greatest evangelist of the 20th century -- last week acknowledged publicly for the first time that he now regrets he crossed the line between ministry and politics.

Graham, 92, has met and prayed with every American president -- from Harry Truman to Barack Obama -- during the past six decades.

Last week, Graham said, "Looking back, I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn't do that now. I would have steered clear of politics."

This change of venue in Graham's religious philosophy regarding politics brings to mind the presidency of Richard Nixon. In 1968, Graham said he was voting for Nixon for president.

Graham became a regular visitor at the White House after Nixon's victory in 1968, offering advice and leading services for the Nixon family. In fact, Nixon and Graham became so friendly that Nixon offered Graham the post of ambassador to Israel, but he turned it down. Graham, in turn, invited Nixon to become the first president to speak at one of his rallies.

But Watergate strained their ties, as Nixon was forced to resign in 1974. Moreover, Nixon tapes that were declassified in 2002 showed Graham referring to Jews in disparaging terms in conversations with Nixon -- a revelation that proved to be very embarrassing to Graham.

Today, Graham feels sorry for having been so involved in the political arena. The fact is that Graham really should have concentrated on his role as an evangelist -- not also a political expert -- over the years, and let the politicians deal with politics.

On the other hand, Graham was perhaps the most loved and listened-to evangelist of our time. Graham had an unsurpassed charisma that attracted many thousands of people whenever and wherever he spoke.

Graham says he is amazed and grateful at the global success of evangelical Christianity. But humble as he is, Graham credits God entirely for evangelical Christianity's incredible growth and success.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

S.C. Woman Is Charged with Cruelty to Animals; Hanged and Burned Dog for Chewing on Her Bible

The Examiner website reports today (January 29, 2011) that a 65-year-old South Carolina woman has been charged with cruelty to animals, after she confessed to torturing and hanging a pit bull dog this week, because the dog chewed on her Bible.

Miriam Fowler Smith of Pacolet Mills, S.C., was arrested and taken to the Spartanburg County Jail, facing felony charges, accused of hanging her nephew's pit bull with an electrical cord, and burning its body after the dog chewed on her Bible.

Smith told police that the female dog -- just one year of age -- was named Diamond and was a "devil dog" that she feared might harm neighborhood children.

Smith faces 180 days to five years in prison if convicted.

French Court Upholds Ban on Same-Sex Marriage; But Same-Sex Civil Unions Are Allowed in France

France's constitutional court upheld on January 28, 2011 the country's ban on same-sex marriage, according to the Christian Post website.

A lesbian couple had challenged the law. But the Constitutional Council ruled that the law defining marriage as between a man and a woman as constitutional.

Same-sex civil unions are allowed in France. Couples that enter civil unions become eligible to file joint tax returns and share insurance policies and employment benefits.

But they do not enjoy all the benefits that come with marriage, such as inheritance rights and joint custody of children.

Baptist Leader Gives Up Mosque-Support Group; Says Support of Mosque-Building Crosses the Line

The Religion Review website reports today (January 29, 2011) that a top leader of a Southern Baptist Convention has resigned from a new interfaith coalition, saying some fellow Southern Baptists felt it was inappropriate for him to support the building of mosques.

Richard Land, who heads the convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, told organizers at the Anti-Defamation League that "many Southern Baptists share my deep commitment to religious freedom and the right of Muslims to have places of worship."

At the same time, "they also feel that a Southern Baptist denominational leader filing suit to allow individual mosques to be built is 'a bridge too far.'"

The Anti-Defamation League formed the Interfaith Coalition on Mosques in September 2010, after it was widely criticized for opposing the construction of a mosque near ground zero in New York City.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Paraguay Is Latest Nation to Recognize Palestine; Israel Foresees US Pressure for a Palestinian State

The Jerusalem Post website reports today (January 28, 2011) that Paraguay has joined a string of South American nations in recognizing an independent Palestinian state.

A declaration from the government of Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo today also recognizes Palestine's borders predating the 1967 Six-Day War.

Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, Uruguay, and Peru have already recognized a sovereign Palestine.

Israel fears that Spain, Belgium, Ireland, and the Scandinavian countries will be next in recognizing an independent Palestinian state.

Jerusalem officials estimated that Europe would then be used as a leverage tool by the US to place pressure on Israel to allow a Palestinian state to be established.

Vatican to Sponsor Seminars for Atheists in March; Will Be Held at Sorbonne U., Other Paris Locations

The Vatican announced today (January 28, 2011) a new initiative aimed at promoting dialogue between theists and atheists to be launched with a two-day event this March in Paris, according to the Huffington Post website.

The Vatican's Pontifical Council for Culture will sponsor a series of seminars on the theme of "Religion, Light and Common Reason," at various locations in the city, including Paris-Sorbonne University.

The events will conclude with a party of youth in the courtyard of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, followed by prayer and mediation inside the cathedral.

The seminars for atheists are being held in an effort by Pope Benedict XVI to counteract the extensive secularism that has been pervading Europe in recent years.

Billy Graham Regrets He Was Active in Politics; Says He "Crossed the Line" Aiding US Presidents

American evangelist Billy Graham -- who met and prayed with every American president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama during the last six decades -- this week acknowledged regret at crossing the line between ministry and politics, according to the Ecumenical News International website.

Graham, 92, said he "would have steered clear of politics," without mentioning his friendship with the late Richard Nixon.

"Looking back, I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn't do that now," said Graham, who has rarely been seen in public in recent years due to his frail health.

Regarding the global evangelical movement, Graham said he was "grateful for the evangelical resurgence we've seen across the world in the last half-century or so. It truly has been God's doing."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Catholic Journalist in the Philippines Is Murdered; Is 142nd Philippine Journalist Killed in 25 Years

A Catholic journalist and human rights activist, Gerry Ortega, was shot to death on January 24, 2011 in Puerto Princesa on the Philippine Island of Palawan, according to the Asia News website.

Ortega, 47, is the 142nd journalist to be murdered in the Philippines in the last 25 years.

Filipino bishops recently launched an alarm for the growth of crime and violence -- particularly against journalists, religious activists, trade unionists, and lawyers who defend the rights of the poor and marginalized.

Ortega was involved in the life of the Church, and was well-known for his battles via radio in defense of human rights in the Philippines.

Judge Upholds Law Preventing Guns in Churches; Gun Rights Group Claimed GA Law Was Unconst.

The Ethics Daily website reports today (January 27, 2011) that a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by gun rights advocates who claimed a Georgia law prohibiting weapons in a house of worship was unconstitutional., an organization that supports gun owners' rights, and two of its members filed suit against state officials, saying the law placed an undue burden on them.

"The law at issue here...does not prohibit anyone from attending services at a place of worship," ruled Judge Ashley Royal of the U.S. District Court in Macon, Georgia.

L.A. Catholic Elementary Schools Up School Year; Adopt a 200-Day School Calendar for 2011-12 Year

The Catholic News website reports today (January 27,2011) that Catholic elementary schools in the Los Angeles Archdiocese will be adding four weeks of instruction to their school year.

Kevin Baxter, archdiocese superintendent of elementary schools, said the plan -- announced at a principals' meeting in mid-January -- is for as many schools as possible to adopt a 200-day academic calendar for the 2011-12 school year, thus increasing instruction by about 20 days.

The increase in the number of days will add four weeks to the school calendar, establishing an 11-month school year, instead of the current 10-month year that fulfills California state requirements.

Baxter pointed out, "The U.S. is kind of at the bottom with regard to length of the school year. A lot of countries -- like Indonesia, Japan, China, and Singapore -- have 220-230 days and they outperform us on international tests."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Serbian Orthodox Church Revives Its Mostar Seat; Seat Had Been Transferred to Trebinje Since 1992

After nearly two decades, Mostar is again the seat of the Eparchy of Zahumlje and Herzegovina of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The seat was temporarily transferred to Trebinje in the beginning of the 1992-1995 conflict, according to the SETimes website.

Bishop Grigorije of Zahumlje and Herzegovina announced the return this month.

This revival of the Eparchy seat, according to Grigorije, is a "landmark moment for the Serb Orthodox Church." He urged all resettled Serbs to return to the town and reconstruct their homes.

Until 20 years ago, the Neretva River Valley area was home to both Serbs and Bosniaks. The 1991 census recorded about 24,000 Serbs living there. Today, there are around 5,000.

Since the 19th century, Mostar has hosted the seat of the Orthodox metropolitans of Herzegovina, and its episcopes have had seats in the major centers or cities.

COMMENTARY: Patriarch Kirill's Call for a United Cyprus Requires Action

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia was "right on the money" last week when he told reporters that the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as the Russian nation, view Cyprus as a single nation. The Russian Patriarch also said that Cyprus must be reunified and that it is "deplorable" that the international community has not resolved the division of the island which began over 35 years ago.

The year was 1974 when a totalitarian junta ruling Greece at that time sent troops to Cyprus -- an independent nation -- in an attempt to take control of it and make it a part of Greece. The troops from Greece failed to accomplish their objective.

Meanwhile, Turkey took advantage of this fiasco and turmoil by sending thousands of its own troops, as well as military equipment, to Cyprus, and these troops took control of the northern third of the island. Incredible as it may seem, Turkey has maintained the illegal control of northern Cyprus to the present day.

Patriarch Kirill called this situation in Cyprus "deplorable," because it is hard to believe that it has not been resolved in over 35 years.

One can only believe that the international community -- including the United Nations -- has not considered Turkey's illegal control of northern Cyprus as a top priority that needs to be resolved. Thus, the UN has not taken any serious action to resolve it.

Perhaps, if the UN imposed sanctions against Turkey, this action could have an impact in convincing Turkey to relinquish its illegal control of northern Cyprus.

Another action that may convince Turkey to leave northern Cyprus is for the United States to stop giving Turkey billions of dollars in foreign aid each year, until its departure. But don't hold your breath waiting for either of these two options to be implemented, because they haven't occurred for over three decades.

The most likely reason for Turkey to relinquish its control of northern Cyprus is Turkey's insatiable desire to become a member of the European Union (EU). The fact is that Turkey has been trying diligently -- but unsuccessfully -- to join the EU for several years. The EU will not allow allow Turkey to join it until Turkey gives up its illegal control of northern Cyprus.

So the ultimatum for Turkey is this: Give up your illegal control of northern Cyprus, or you will not be allowed to join the European Union.

It's that simple!

Holocaust Memorial Day Observed on January 27; Genocide Continues to Occur in Several Countries

After the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews during World War II, the world cried out "never again." But one of Britain's best-known rabbis, Jonathan Romain, of Maidenhead Synagogue in Berkshire, said although it was a wonderful phrase, "never again" has proved to be wrong.

"Genocide has happened again and again," he said in an interview with the Ecumenical News International website ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day, January 27, 2011.

"We only have to think about Biafra, Bosnia, Darfur, and there are other examples," said Romain.

He added, "The list is deeply depressing and screams out that Holocaust Memorial Day is needed as much now as ever before."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

World's First Black Female Rabbi Leaving NC Job; Temple President: "She Wasn't a Good Fit" for Us

Less than two years after she arrived in Greenville, North Carolina as the world's first black female rabbi, Rabbi Alysa Stanton is leaving her current position, the Worldwide Religious News website reports today (January 25, 2011).

Stanton won the center of international media attention when a small Jewish congregation picked her as its leader in 2009. But the Board of Congregation Bayt Shalom recently voted not to renew her two-year contract.

Samantha Pilot, president of the congregation -- which is affiliated with both Reform and Conservative branches of American Judaism -- would only say that Stanton "wasn't a good fit for the congregation."

Stanton, whose contract expires July 31, 2011, did not specify what she would do, but said she may stay in North Carolina.

Patriarch Kirill Calls for the Reuniting of Cyprus; Finds It "Deplorable" UN Cannot Resolve Its Unity

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia on January 22, 2011 called for rebuilding the unity and territorial integrity of Cyprus, according to the Orthodox Church Info blog.

"The position of both the Russian Orthodox Church and Russia remains unchanged -- Cyprus is a single state," Patriarch Kirill told reporters after he and the Archbishop of Cyprus, Chrysostomos II, led a worship service at the Assumption Cathedral in the Kremlin.

There are "quite many means" to reunify Cyprus, and it is "deplorable" that the United Nations has been unable to have the country reunited, the Patriarch said.

Cyprus has been a divided nation since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded the island and illegally seized control of the northern third of the country. Turkey has been trying to join the European Union (EU) for several years, but has not been allowed to do so, because the EU has made it very clear to Turkey that it must first relinquish its illegal control of northern Cyprus before it can become a member of the EU.

GA Board Agrees to Hold Graduations at Church; Church-State Separation Org. Threatens Lawsuit

The Cherokee County (Georgia) school board voted unanimously on January 20, 2011 to keep graduations at a local megachurch, despite the threat of a lawsuit, the Christian Post website reports today (January 25).

The board voted to continue holding high school graduations at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, which is led by former Southern Baptist Convention president Johnny Hunt.

The Americans United for Separation of Church and State threatened to sue if the district did not move the ceremony to a secular venue, on grounds that it is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

The Cherokee County school board's attorney said the district will read disclaimers before the start of the graduation ceremony.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Anglican Clerics Attack Pope's Offer to Convert; One Compares It to a "Corporate Takeover Bid"

Several senior Church of England figures recently attacked Pope Benedict XVI's offer to disillusioned Anglicans to convert to Catholicism, the Telegraph (British) website reports today (January 24, 2011).

One Anglican bishop has claimed that the Vatican's invitation has "embarrassed" Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, while a leading cleric compared it to a "corporate takeover bid."

It is the first time that prominent Anglicans have criticized the Pope's offer to ease the process for Anglicans to convert to Catholicism since the Pope made it in 2009, and it reveals the anger that has been simmering ever since.

The comments by the Church of England senior figures follow the ordination of three former Anglican bishops as Roman Catholic priests earlier this month, and risk exacerbating tensions between the Catholic and Anglican Churches.

Peru Recognizes Palestine as a Sovereign State; Palestinians Claim State in All West Bank, Gaza

Peru said today (January 24, 2011) that it has recognized Palestine as a free and sovereign state, thus joining a half-dozen other Latin American countries in making an endorsement, according to the Reuters website. Since last month, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, and Ecuador have recognized Palestine.

Peruvian Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde did not specify if Peru recognized the Palestinian state along borders that existed before 1967.

Palestinian authorities are hoping for a diplomatic domino effect to back their claim for a state in all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel disputes the Palestinian claim on all the West Bank and East Jerusalem -- land it captured from Jordan in a 1967 war.

Israel -- infuriated by Latin American countries' recognition of a Palestinian state -- considers the recognition to be "highly damaging interference" by countries that were never part of the Middle East peace process.

Suicide Bomber Kills 35 People at Moscow Airport; Chechen Military Leader Umarov Claims Attack

The RIA Novosti (Russian) website reports that an explosive device detonated by a suicide bomber at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport today (January 24, 2011) killed 35 people, and wounded 130 more -- many of them in grave condition.

Law enforcement officials said the power of the blast was equal to 5kg of TNT and that the bomb was packed with metal objects to cause maximum damage.

The attack was claimed by Chechen military leader Doku Umarov, who warned that "war" was coming to Russia's streets. Chechnya is a Russian state populated mainly by Muslims, many of whom would like Chechnya to gain its independence from Russia.

This is not the first time Domodedovo Airport -- Moscow's busiest airport -- has been targeted by terrorists. Two planes which took off from this airport were blown up by female Chechen suicide bombers in August 2004, killing a total of 90 people.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Serbian Mufti Zukorlic Seeks Boycott of St. Sava; SDP Leader Compares Plan to "Pouring Oil on Fire"

The main Mufti of the Islamic Community in Serbia, Muamer Zukorlic, called on Muslims today (January 23, 2011) to boycott celebrations of the school saint -- St. Sava -- the Blic website reports.

In an announcement posted on the site of Zukorlic's Islamic Community, Zukorlic called on the Muslims in Serbia to support and encourage the children to boycott the activities regarding celebrations and meetings dedicated to St. Sava.

According to Zukorlic, Muslim parents "should not allow realization of the project of assimilation of their children and violation of human rights of the Muslims."

Commenting on Zukorlic's boycott plan, Meho Omerovic, a high official of the Sanjak Democratic Party (SDP), said, "That shall bring no good to either Bosniacs or the believers, but shall only complicate the situation in Sandzak."

Omerovic added, "Problems do exist, but they have to be solved by dialogue, and not by pouring oil onto fire."

COMMENTARY: UK Is Correct in Rejecting Pastor Terry Jones' Visit

Last week, the British government informed Pastor Terry Jones that he would not be allowed to visit England -- as he was planning to do next month -- because of his extremism. Jones described the British government's decision banning his entry to the UK as "unfair." He also said he would not violate any law if he were to visit the UK.

You may recall that last September, Jones had planned to lead a protest in burning the Koran on 9/11 -- the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States -- on the grounds of his Gainesville, Florida church. Due to a great amount of pressure against the Koran-burning from several groups, however, Jones decided to cancel his Koran-burning ceremony.

Jones authored a polemic book last year titled "Islam Is of the Devil," in which he describes Islam as a violent faith.

He had been scheduled to speak against Islam next month to an anti-Islamic group in Britain called "England Is Ours." However, he will not be speaking to this group, since the British government will not allow Jones to enter the UK.

A British Home Office spokesman explained why Jones was denied entry to the UK: "Coming to the UK is a privilege, not a right, and we are not willing to allow entry to those whose presence is not conducive to the public good." In other words, Jones' entry to the UK is being denied because more harm than good would probably result in the UK from his visit.

Indeed, the British government is correct in its decision to deny Jones entrance into the UK. Let there be no mistake about it, Jones is an extremist -- an anti-Islamic fanatic is a better definitive description of him -- and Britain does not need to risk having riots or other unwanted activities resulting from his visit.

As the British government's statement for rejecting Jones' entrance in the UK so clearly delineates, "Coming to the UK is a privilege, not a right."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Man Held for Firebombing Mosques in Berlin; Believed He Bombed Berlin's Biggest Mosque

A Berlin court remanded a man into custody today (January 22, 2011) on suspicion of firebombing mosques in the German capital over the past several months, according to the Earth Times website.

Police said the suspect, 30, had admitted some attacks, without specifying if he had claimed to be behind all of them. His name was withheld under German privacy and defamation laws.

Berlin's biggest mosque -- the Turkish Sunni community's Sehtlik Mosque -- was firebombed four times in recent months.

The Ahmadiyya community's mosque was also attacked, as was a building in Tempelhof district -- the Islamic Cultural Center.

US Rep. Cohen Apologizes for His Nazi Comments; Compared GOP Health Care Tactics to Nazi Tactics

The Christian Broadcast Network website reports today (January 22, 2011) that US Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) has apologized for comparing Republican tactics against the health care law to tactics used by Nazis.

"The Germans said enough about the Jews and people believed it -- believed it and you had the Holocaust," Cohen said on the House floor on January 18.

He added, "We heard on this floor about government takeover of health care. There is no government takeover."

On January 20, Cohen apologized, saying, "I want to be clear that I never called Republicans Nazis. I regret that anyone in the Jewish community, my Republican colleagues, or anyone else was offended by the portrayal of my comments."

Friday, January 21, 2011

Russia's Orthodox Church Launches a University; Driven by Shortage of Orthodox Staff in Society

The RIA Novosti (Russian) website reports today (January 21, 2011) that Russia's Orthodox Church has set up a university to prepare Orthodox staff for business and state companies.

The Russian Orthodox University was set up by the direct decree of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia.

The decision to set up the university is driven by "the acute shortage of competent and competitive Orthodox staff in state, society, and business," according to a statement issued by Patriarch Kirill's office.

The new university is located in Moscow's downtown Novaya Square.

Vatican Is "Worried" by Berlusconi Sex Scandal; PM Allegedly Had Sex with Underage Prostitute

The Life in Italy website reports that Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader of Italy's biggest opposition party, said today (January 21, 2011) that he is hoping to get 10 million people to sign a petition calling on Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to resign over allegations he had sex with an underage prostitute.

Berlusconi, a 74-year-old billionaire, has denied any wrongdoing, after it was revealed last week that prosecutors are investigating whether he paid to have sex with several young women, including Karima El Mahroug, at the time a 17-year-old belly dancer, who stayed overnight at the prime minister's villa near Milan on several occasions. Mahroug admitted that she had received money from Berlusconi, but said it was "a gift."

Yesterday, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone -- second only to Pope Benedict in the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy -- said the Vatican was "particularly worried" about the impact the scandal was having in Italy.

Cardinal Bertone added, "The Church pushes and invites everyone, above all those who hold public responsibility in any administrative, political, and judicial area, to be committed to a more robust morality, a sense of justice and lawfulness."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pilgrims Celebrate Epiphany on Banks of Jordan; Site Is Where John the Baptist Baptized Jesus

An estimated 15,000 people attended the annual Feast of the Epiphany celebrations on Tuesday (January 18, 2011) at Qasr el Yahud, on the banks of the Jordan River, according to the Orthodox Church Info blog.

The ceremony, which celebrates Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist, drew Orthodox Christian pilgrims from around the world, and featured a procession from the Monastery of St. John led by Theophilos III, the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, and a waterside ceremony.

Qasr el Yahud -- located near the Palestinian city of Jericho -- is considered the third most holy site for Christian pilgrims, as it is only surpassed by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. It is the site where -- according to the New Testament -- John the Baptist first baptized Jesus and where Jesus began His ministry.

At the height of the Epiphany ceremony, the patriarch released white doves -- symbolizing the presence of God -- into the air, while church bells rang in the background and pilgrims on both sides of the river sang out prayers. The doves flew across the river to the Jordanian side and perched above the heads of the crowd.

Pastor Terry Jones Banned from Visiting Britain; Why? "Govt. Opposes Extremism in All Its Forms"

The Evangelical Alliance today (January 20, 2011) welcomed the Home Office's decision to ban Pastor Terry Jones -- who threatened to lead a protest to burn the Koran on 9/11 last year -- from entering Britain on the grounds that the Government "opposes extremism in all its forms."

Explaining the reason for the ban, a Home Office spokesman said, "The Government opposes extremism in all its forms which is why we have excluded Pastor Terry Jones from the UK."

Pastor Jones had been scheduled to speak against Islam at an "England Is Ours" rally in Bletchley next month, according to the Christian Today website.

He said he plans to appeal against the ban, and vowed that he would not do anything against the law if he were to visit Britain.

Bosnian Muslim Commander Is Jailed for 10 Years; Sefik Alic Instigated Killing of Serbs in 1995

Bosnia's war crimes court appeals chamber jailed a Bosnian Muslim wartime commander for 10 years today (January 20, 2011) for instigating the killing of Croatian Serb soldiers in 1995, according to the Euro News website.

The chamber's president, Hilmo Vucinic, said it found Sefik Alic, an ex-deputy commander of a battalion operating under the Muslim-led Bosnian army Fifth Corps, guilty of failing to prevent the killings of Serb detainees by a soldier under his command.

"Alic is held responsible for inhumane treatment of four prisoners who had been arrested in August 1995 and for failing to report the killings to his superiors or take any action to have the perpetrators investigated and punished," Vucinic said.

Alic served in the Fifth Corps, which operated in western Bosnia, close to the border with Croatia.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

COMMENTARY: US, Other Nations Show Support for a Palestinian State

With the permission of the Obama administration, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) raised its official flag outside its offices in Washington, DC for the first time this week.

This is a critical occurrence, because it illustrates that the United States -- Israel's closest ally -- has become upset with recent Israeli actions that have prevented a peaceful Israeli-Palestinian peace in the Middle East. Israel's resumption of settlement construction in Jerusalem -- despite the U.S. emphatically urging Israel not to do so -- in effect has derailed the Mideast peace talks and infuriated Palestinian leaders, who now no longer want to sit at the peace table with Israel.

Instead of peace talks with Israel, Palestinians have taken a new approach to peace and statehood in the Middle East; namely, the recognition of an independent Palestinian state by the nations of the world. Just today (January 19, 2011), Russia confirmed that it has recognized Palestine as an independent state.

During the past month, at least seven Latin American nations have recognized Palestine as an independent state. They are Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, and Guyana. Paraguay and Peru are also expected to recognize Palestine soon. Venezuela recognized Palestine in the mid-2000s.

Another 100 or more countries -- most of them developing nations -- have recognized Palestine since 1988, after then PLO leader Yassar Arafat declared the "independence" of Palestine.

The Palestinian Authority circulated a resolution to the UN Security Council last month, stating that Israeli settlement activities are illegal and are the main obstacle to a two-state peace solution. It is unlikely that the U.S. will veto this resolution, since doing so would indicate a failure to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace.

This month, an Israeli official said, "Within a year, the UN and all the nations of the world -- including the United States -- will have recognized Palestine as an independent state."

If supporting an independent Palestinian state will achieve peace in the Middle East -- and it appears that it will -- then the United States must agree to such a solution for peace to prevail.

PLO Flag Is Raised in US Capital for First Time; Russia Recognizes Independent Palestinian State

The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) raised its official flag for the first time outside its Dupont Circle offices in Washington, DC yesterday (January 18, 2011), according to the Christian Broadcast Network website.

The Obama administration granted the PLO permission to fly the flag last July, despite the mission's lack of embassy status.

"We hope that this will help in the international effort to provide recognition for the Palestinian state," said PLO official Maen Ariekat.

In a related development, Russia today joined several South American nations in confirming its recognition of an independent Palestinian state.

Ala. Gov. Apologizes for Remarks on Christians; ADL Says Remarks Called for Christian Conversion

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley apologized today (January 19, 2011) for his inauguration day remarks about only Christians being his brothers and sisters, and said he would work over the next four years for people of all faiths and colors, according to the Associated Press website.

Bentley -- a former Southern Baptist deacon -- said, "If anyone from other religions felt disenfranchised by the language, I want to say I am sorry. I am sorry if I offended anyone in any way," Bentley said today.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) -- a Jewish group that fights discrimination -- said it sounded like Bentley was using the office of governor to advocate for Christian conversion.

"If he does so, he is dancing dangerously close to a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which forbids government from establishment of any religion," ADL regional director Bill Nigut said.

Egypt Has Its Vatican Ambassador Return to Cairo; Is Peeved by Pope's Appeal to Protect Its Christians

The Ekklesia website reports today (January 19, 2011) that Egypt has recalled its ambassador to the Vatican, because Pope Benedict XVI appealed to Egypt and Iraq to do more to protect their Christian minorities, in his recent address to ambassadors.

In Egypt a bomb attack on a Coptic Orthodox Church in Alexandria on New Year's Eve killed 23 people. In Iraq there have been dozens of attacks on Christian homes and churches.

In his address, the Pope condemned the anti-Christian attacks in Egypt and Iraq, saying they showed "the urgent need for governments to adopt effective measures for the protection of religious minorities."

Egypt issued a statement saying: "Egypt asked its ambassador in the Vatican to come to Cairo for consultation after the Vatican's new statements that touch on Egyptian affairs, and which Egypt considers an unacceptable interference in its internal affairs."

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ultra-Orthodox Jews Pose Challenges in Israel; Threaten the Future of Israel by Refusing to Work

About a third of the babies born in Israel in 2010 were born into the ultra-Orthodox community -- an insular and devout minority that has long been at odds with the rest of the modern and prosperous country, according to the Huffington Post website.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews -- known in Hebrew as "Haredim," or "those who tremble" before God -- have a birthrate far higher than that of other Israeli Jews, with 10 children in a single family not uncommon. Indeed, they are determined to become far more numerous and influential.

Relations between Haredim and other Israelis have never been smooth. Critics have long complained that they shun work in large numbers in favor of religious study, rejecting mainstream Israel even as they rely on that mainstream for financial support.

There are about 700,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews living in Israel, and about half of the adults do not work. The financial daily, The Marker, stated this week that if Haredim do not begin working in large numbers soon, this will have a negative impact on Israel's future.

High Court Refuses to Hear DC Gay Marriage Case; Refusal Allows DC to Continue Gay Marriages

The U.S. Supreme Court today (January 18, 2011) rejected an appeal from opponents of same-sex marriage who want to overturn the District of Columbia's gay marriage law.

The court did not comment in turning away a challenge from a Maryland pastor and others who are trying to get a measure on the ballot to allow Washingtonians to vote on a measure that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Bishop Harry Jackson led a lawsuit against the district's Board of Elections and Ethics, after it refused to put the initiative on the ballot. The board ruled that the ballot question would authorize discrimination.

Last year, Washington, DC began issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Police in Montenegro Arrest Serb Ranko Momic; To Be Extradited to Serbia for Kosovo War Crimes

Police in Montenegro have arrested Ranko Momic, a suspected member of the notorious paramilitary formation, The Jackals, which is accused of war crimes in Kosovo, the Balkan Insight website reports today (January 17, 2011).

Momic was arrested on the orders of Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic on January 15, 2011, and is expected to be extradited to Serbia under the terms of a new bilateral treaty.

Members of the paramilitary unit are charged with killing at least 43 civilians in the village of Cuska on May 14, 1999, during the conflict in Kosovo, and nine suspects are currently on trial.

According to the indictment against the nine members of The Jackals, Momic participated in the murder of Hakija and Selim Gashi and another 11 civilians and -- as a group leader -- in the burning of houses and the expulsion of families from Cuska.

Momic also allegedly took part in the seizure of money, vehicles, gold jewelry, watches, and other valuables, and the resettlement of the remaining population of Cuska.

Beatification of Pope John Paul II Set for May 1; Vatican: He Cured Nun of Parkinson's Disease

The Catholic News website reports today (January 17, 2011) that Pope Benedict XVI approved a miracle attributed to Pope John Paul II's intercession, clearing the way for the late pope's beatification on May 1, 2011, Divine Mercy Sunday.

Pope Benedict's action on January 14 followed more than five years of investigation into the life and writings of the Polish pontiff, who died in April 2005 after more than 26 years as pope.

The Vatican said it took special care with verification of the miracle -- the spontaneous cure of a French nun from Parkinson's disease -- the same illness that afflicted Pope John Paul in his final years.

Pope John Paul's death and funeral brought millions of people to Rome. Vatican officials will soon be working with the City of Rome in logistical planning for the beatification.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Egyptian Man Sentenced to Death for 2010 Attack; Killed 7 People Following Coptic Christmas Mass

An Egyptian court sentenced a man to death today (January 16, 2010) for a drive-by shooting of Christians in the southern city of Naga Hammadi last year which left seven people dead, according to the Earth Times website.

Mohamed Hassan -- the primary defendant in the case -- was sentenced by a State Security Emergency Criminal Court in the southern province of Qena.

The sentence will be confirmed by the court on February 20, when it will also hand out the sentences of the other two defendants in the case, Qurshi Abulhagag and Hendawy Mohamed Hassan.

Mohamed Hassan is charged with opening fire on a group of people as they were leaving a Christmas mass in Naga Hammadi on January 6, 2010, the night of Coptic Christmas eve.

The attack left six Christian teenagers and a Muslim security official dead.

UK's YWCA Drops Word "Christian" from Name; Dropped to Reflect Changes Occurring in Society

The British branch of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) dropped "Christian" from its historical title last month, citing its need to "evolve" to reflect the changes in society and the needs of women, the Christian Post website reports today (January 16, 2011).

After 55 years, one of the UK's oldest charities changed its name to "Platform 51," saying that the original name "no longer stood for the organization's identity and purpose."

A spokesman for a British evangelical organization was concerned that the YWCA's decision to change its name lends further proof of the increasing marginalization of Christianity in the public sphere.

MIke Judge, Head of Communications at The Christian Institute, stated, "Many believe there is anti-Christian bias among those who decide which charities get state funding."

COMMENTARY: Polish Leaders Must Stop Criticizing Plane Crash Reports

On April 10, 2010, a plane carrying Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 other people to the site of the Soviet massacre of Polish officers in World War II, crashed in Western Russia due to a thick fog, killing all 96 people on board.

Despite the thick fog -- and warnings from personnel in the controller tower not to land -- the pilot of the plane attempted to land at the airport in Smolensk, Russia, but instead crashed into trees about one-half mile from the airport.

Russia has written several reports on the reasons for the plane crash -- all of which have been criticized by some Polish officials.

In the most recent -- and hopefully final -- Russian report released on January 12, 2011, Lech Kaczynski's twin brother, Jaroslaw, complained that Polish officials failed to investigate the tragedy properly. At least 24 Polish officials took part in the investigation of the plane crash.

Russia's last report blames the tragedy on serious organizational flaws, poor pilot training, and pressure on pilots to land the plane by Lech Kaczynski and other high-ranking state officials on the plane.

Indeed, the January 12 Russian report -- written with the cooperation of 24 Polish counterparts investigating the plane crash -- was objective and transparent.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski and other Polish officials must now end their criticism of this report, and focus their efforts on resolving important issues confronting Poland today.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

County Sued Over Ten Commandments Plaque; Tenn. Man Claims Officials Rejected His Posters

The Christian Broadcast Network website reports today (January 15, 2011) that a Tennessee man has sued his county for promoting Christianity, claiming officials rejected his request to post a display on church-state separation in the same courthouse where a Ten Commandments plaque has been displayed for many years.

The suit claims Johnson County commissioners last June rejected Ralph Stewart's bid to hang two posters at the Mountain City courthouse's "public forum" area -- one titled "The Ten Commandments Are Not the Foundation of American Law."

The plaque is part of a history law exhibit.

The suit was filed on January 13 for Stewart by Americans United for Separation of Church and State in the U.S. District Court in Greeneville.

Holocaust Archives Volunteer Arrested for Theft; Stole Holocaust Documents and Sold Them Online

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency website reports that a volunteer at a private Holocaust archives library in Texas was arrested this week for stealing documents and selling them online.

Mansal Denton, 20, was a volunteer for a year-and-a-half at the Mazal Holocaust Library in San Antonio of the largest privately held Holocaust archives in the world.

Retired Mexico City businessman Harry Mazal, 73, owns the archives. He reportedly spent one million dollars collecting the documents.

While scanning documents to post on the archive's website, Denton allegedly stole the documents. In December 2010, Mazal found some of the missing documents for sale by Denton online.

Denton was arrested on January 12 and charged with second-degree felony theft.

Former Anglican Bishops Are Ordained Catholics; Used Pope's Ruling Easing Anglicans to Convert

The Associated Press website reports that three former Anglican bishops were ordained as Catholic priests in London today (January 15, 2011), thus becoming the first ex-bishops to take advantage of a new Vatican system designed to make it easier for Anglicans to embrace Roman Catholicism.

The crowded ceremony at Westminster Cathedral made priests of former bishops Keith Newton, Andrew Burnham, and John Broadhurst -- Anglicans who had been unhappy with the direction the Anglican Church has taken in recent years.

The three declined to comment after the ordination presided over by the Most Rev. Vincent Nichols, Catholic leader in England and Wales.

The ceremony was made possible by a 2009 ruling by the Vatican, which allows Anglicans worldwide to join the Roman Catholic Church and still adhere to many Anglican traditions.

Pope: Family Crises Caused by Changes in Society; Rejects Legislation Recognizing Same-Sex Unions

The many crises that families face are "caused by the rapid social and cultural changes" in society, Pope Benedict XVI said yesterday (January 14, 2011) in a speech to officials from the city and province of Rome and the Lazio region of Italy, according to the National Catholic Register website.

Passing legislation or adopting policies that recognize "forms of unions, which distort the essence and purpose of the family end up penalizing those who, with much effort, commit themselves to living a life whose bonds are marked by stable intimacy, have juridical guarantees, and are recognized publicly," he said.

While same-sex unions or same-sex "marriage" is not recognized in Italy, a number of city and regional governments -- including Rome's Lazio region -- have introduced registries for same-sex couples that are largely symbolic and have no legal consequences.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Times, They Are Achanging at US Colleges! Ohio U. to Allow Gender-Neutral Dorms in Sept.

Ohio University will allow male, female, gay, and straight students to cohabitate in the same room during a one-year trial of gender-neutral dormitories, beginning in September 2011, according to the Christian Post website.

Ohio University will become the 56th university in America to offer the chance to live in Gender-Neutral Housing (GNH).

Other schools -- including Princeton University, Columbia University, and George Washington University -- also have gender-neutral campus living quarters.

By adopting GNH, the Office of Student Affairs says Ohio University is creating "a more inclusive environment."

Ohio University has 42 residence halls housing some 8,000 students.

Russian Reporter, Gibbs Disagree on AZ Shooting; Russian: Shooting Due to Excess Freedom in US

The Yahoo blog reports today (January 14, 2011) that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked by a Russian reporter at a press conference yesterday, "Was the Arizona shooting rampage an inevitable byproduct of Americans having too much freedom?"

Andrei Sitov, a reporter for the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS, argued that the "freedom of the deranged mind to react violently: It is also America."

Gibbs told Sitov he "vehemently" disagreed. "That is not America," Gibbs said.

Sitov -- whose country of Russia is known for denying the kinds of personal freedoms that Americans cherish -- apparently was not convinced by Gibbs' explanation. He told a reporter after the news conference that "If you want to stop this, you have to be willing to restrict some freedoms."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

ICC Announces Its 2011 Hall of Shame Countries; Named World's 11 Worst Persecutors of Christians

International Christian Concern (ICC) exists to serve the worldwide persecuted Christian Church with effective advocacy, awareness, and assistance, the Persecution website reports today (January 13, 2011).

The 2011's Top 11 Hall of Shame report -- just released -- is ICC's ranking of the globe's top persecutors by country.

The ICC has determined that Christians -- due to their faith -- endure harassment, discrimination, deportation, imprisonment, rape, torture, murder, and other forms of persecution. Moreover, the ICC has found that there has been a significant increase of Christian persecution in Islamic countries in recent years.

The 11 countries elected to the ICC Hall of Shame for 2011 -- with the most shameful countries listed first -- are the following:
1. Iraq
2. Iran
3. Egypt
4. Nigeria
5. Eritrea
6. Somalia
7. India
8. Pakistan
9. North Korea
10. China
11. Vietnam

EU Omits Christmas and Easter in School Diaries; MEP: "Aggressive Atheism" of EU Commission

Many Christians were astonished today (January 13, 2011) upon learning that the European Union (EU) diaries for school children list Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim festivals, but make no mention of Christmas or Easter, according to the Christian Today website.

Three million of the diaries were printed for 2011. The diaries have angered Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant Christians.

German conservative Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Martin Kastler attributed the omissions to "aggressive atheism in the apparatus of the European Union Commission."

He added, "I expect a personal apology from the Commission president because I believe this was intentionally published in this way."

COMMENTARY: News Media and Self-Interest Groups Must Practice Responsibility

The killing of six people, and the wounding of 13 others, in Tuscon, Arizona on January 8, 2011 by a schizophrenic pot-smoking loner has resulted in a "circus" of sensationalism and opinion by the news media and a plethoric "blame game" by various special-interest groups.

Jared Lee Loughner, 22, allegedly shot and killed six people and wounded 13 others, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who was shot in the head at a grocery store.

Instead of presenting the news on this situation in an objective and responsible manner, the news media, for the most part, is presenting it with an air of sensationalism and with its own biased opinions. At the same time, various groups are blaming other groups -- and even individuals -- for the Tuscon tragedy.

Both of these occurrences are ridiculous and need to end -- fast. The fact is that one person killed and wounded several people in Tuscon, and that person alone is responsible for this savage action. Investigators have clearly indicated that there was no conspiracy and no one else involved in this tragedy.

The ramifications that have resulted from this unfortunate incident remind us of 1963 when Lee Harvey Oswald, a communist, shot and killed President John F. Kennedy. The news media presented its opinion for many years after Kennedy's assassination, conveying that it wasn't just Oswald who killed Kennedy, but that a "communist conspiracy" was behind the killing. This opinion proved to be wrong.

As for individuals and special-interest groups blaming others for the horrendous Tuscon shooting, we can go back as far as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to illustrate one's self-satisfaction as a result of blaming someone else for a negative occurrence. Adam told God that it wasn't his fault that he ate the forbidden fruit because Eve persuaded him to do so. Eve told God that it wasn't her fault, because the devil convinced her to eat it.

So "the blame game" can be traced all the way back to Adam and Eve. But it needs to be put to rest, and the sooner the better for America.

Americans, then, need to take responsibility for their actions and beliefs, and not blame other groups or individuals, in order to make themselves look good or to justify their actions and beliefs.

At the same time, the news media must present the news in an objective and non-opinionated manner, thus leaving the analysis and opinion of the news to the discretion of the reader or listener.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Liberal Orthodox Rabbis Reject Women Members; IRF President: Halacha Forbids Women Rabbis

The Jewish Week website reports today (January 12, 2011) that the most liberal Orthodox rabbinic group in the United States has voted against its first proposal to accept women members.

The International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF) -- a group of about 140 rabbis formed three years ago -- held a discussion of the issue before "a close vote" on December 20, 2010, according to Rabbi Barry Gelman of Houston, the president of the organization. The result of the vote count was not revealed.

Rabbi Gelman said he personally opposed admitting women to the IRF, because "this is not the road for the IRF to go down at this time. We want to gain some traction and be seen as an educational leader."

He also emphasized that the IRF "has publicly stated that we are in favor of women serving in various forms of congregational and communal religious and spiritual leadership, in accordance with the halacha (interpretation of the laws of the Scriptures) and Orthodox practice."

Kaczynski Rips New Russian Plane Crash Report; Report Says Twin Brother Pressured Pilots to Land

The RIA Novosti (Russian) website reports that Jaroslaw Kaczynski -- twin brother of the late Polish president -- criticized a Russian report released today (January 12, 2011) regarding the plane crash that killed Lech Kaczynski and 95 other top officials in April 2010.

In its final report, Russia's Interstate Aviation Committee blames the tragedy on serious organizational flaws, poor pilot training, and pressure on the pilots to land the plane by Kaczynski and other high-ranking state officials on board the TU-154 plane.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski -- a losing candidate in early presidential elections that followed the death of his twin brother -- has repeatedly criticized incumbent Polish authorities for their failure to investigate the tragedy properly.

However, Russian investigators claim in the new report that their cooperation with Polish counterparts during the probe was very close and transparent. At least 24 Polish officials took part in the Russian investigation.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Head of the Missouri Baptist Convention Resigns; MBC : "Due to Immoral Behavior with a Woman"

The executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) resigned on January 7, 2011, "due to immoral behavior with a woman," the organization announced.

Dr. David Tolliver had led the 600,000-member state convention, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, since February 2009, according to the Christian Post website.

Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, said in a statement, "It is disheartening to learn of any fellow believer succumbing to sinful choices. It is doubly so when the individual is in a visible and trusted role of ministry leadership."

Tolliver, 60, is married with two children and two grandchildren. Prior to joining MBC, he served as a Baptist pastor to three Missouri churches.

Coptic Church Head Seeks Govt. Help for Copts; Says Egyptians Must Unite Against Terrorists

The patriarch of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda III, has urged the government to find a solution to the problems facing Egypt's Copts, the Orthodox Church Info blog reports today (January 11, 2011).

In an interview last week on state-run television, Shenouda warned that "failure to solve these problems will prompt some people to behave in a certain way only to attract attention."

"We cannot prevent people from expressing their sorrow, yet I ask them to express their feelings without violence," Shenouda said.

He added that the attack has brought Egyptians together, and Egyptians must unite against the enemy that aims to weaken the Egyptians' bonds.

Montenegrin Prince Wants Royal Property Back; Threatens to Take Case to Montenegrin, EU Courts

The Balkan Insight website reports today (January 11, 2011) that Prince Nikola II of Montenegro has decided that if no acceptable solution regarding the return of royal property is reached soon with the government, he will take the case to Montenegrin and European Union (EU) courts.

Prince Nikola II is the great grandson of Nikola I -- the only king of Montenegro who reigned from 1910 to 1918.

The prince said he has spent nearly six years seeking to rehabilitate the Montenegrin dynasty and to find a fair agreement on the restitution of confiscated property, but the government has not taken any action.

"No one can pretend that the Montenegrin dynasty was legally expelled and legally deprived of all rights and property. And if the Montenegrin authorities do not propose an acceptable and honorable solution, then what am I to do? If I am forced, I will use my rights and seek a court order, both in Montenegro and in Europe," Prince Nikola II said.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pope Blasts Sexual Education Courses in Schools; Says They Undermine Families' Religious Freedom

Sexual education courses in schools undermine the religious freedom of families, Pope Benedict XVI warned today (January 10, 2011) in a speech calling for the protection of Christian communities and religious minorities worldwide, according to the Life in Italy website.

"I cannot remain silent about another attack on the religious freedom of families in certain European countries which mandate obligatory participation in courses of sexual or civic education, which allegedly convey a neutral conception of the person and life, yet in fact reflect an anthropology opposed to faith and the right reason," Benedict said in his traditional "state of the world" address.

The Pope also criticized what he called a "state monopoly" in schools, and urged politicians to do more to ensure the religious freedom of families.

Filipinos Swarm to Raucous Religious Procession; Over a Million Christians Honor Statue of Christ

More than a million Roman Catholics joined a raucous religious procession in Manila yesterday (January 9, 2011) to honor a centuries-old black statue of Jesus Christ that they believe possesses mystical powers. Nearly 600 were treated for injuries, according to the Washington Post website.

Barefoot devotees surged forward over iron railings to try to touch the 404-year-old image of Christ, known as Black Nazarene.

The wooden statue of Christ -- crowned with thorns and bearing a cross -- is believed to have been brought from Mexico to Manila in 1606 by Spanish missionaries.

The Philippines -- Asia's largest predominantly Christian nation -- is about 80 percent Catholic.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Rep. Giffords' Judaism Was Motive of Attacker; Jared Lee Loughran Viewed as Anti-Semitic, Loner

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency website reports today (January 9, 2011) that U.S. Rep. Gabriel Giffords (D-AZ), who was shot in the head yesterday at a Tucson, Arizona shopping mall, was the victim of an anti-Semitic man who was a loner. The first Jewish congresswoman from Arizona remains in critical condition today, after undergoing surgery yesterday at University Medical Center in Tucson.

Jared Lee Loughner, 22, who has been charged with wounding Giffords and killing six people in the mall shooting, reportedly listed "Mein Kampf" ("My Struggle," a book written by Adolf Hitler) and Karl Marx's "Communist Manifesto" as two of his favorite books on his MySpace Internet page.

Giffords, 40, was raised "mixed" by a Christian Scientist mother and a Jewish father, but decided to be "Jewish only" following a visit to Israel in 2001.

She attended religious services at a Tucson Reform synagogue.

COMMENTARY: Communism Failed to Destroy Christianity; Islam Extremism Will Also Fail

Before the year 1991, communism was the greatest threat to Christianity. It was the year 1917 when the Bolshevik Revolution brought communism -- along with its atheistic philosophy -- to Russia.

And it was the year 1945 -- at the end of World War II -- when Russia began to occupy several Eastern European countries and to impose its atheistic communist doctrine on these countries. Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia were some of these countries in which Christians were no longer free to worship, because they lived under communist rule.

Fortunately for Christians in these countries, the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and communism was replaced with capitalism. The former Soviet satellite countries in Eastern Europe regained their independence, and the Christians in these countries were able to practice their religion again without fear of being persecuted by communist rulers.

Today, Christians living in many countries around the world are encountering a different threat to their Christian worship: Islamic fundamentalism. The fact is that Christians are being killed in Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, and other predominantly Islamic nations just because they are Christians. Indonesia -- which has more Muslims than any other country in the world -- has indicated that it wants to get rid of all Christians who live there.

Since Muslim terrorists crashed American planes into the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 -- killing some 1,000 innocent people -- Islamic terrorism has been occurring in several countries around the world.

Just why are Muslim terrorists committing these terrorist acts? Muslim extremists view Christianity as their enemy, and they will try to destroy it any way that they can. Threats and attacks against Christian nations that pass laws which Muslims consider unfavorable toward Islam have become common.

For example, Switzerland has been targeted by Muslim extremists for passing a law a little over a year ago that bans minarets from being built on mosques. Likewise, France is on the Muslim "hit list" for passing a law last year forbidding women from wearing the customary Muslim veil in public in that country.

Muslim extremists do not like America, because they believe America is biased against Palestinians and favors Israelis when the United States serves as mediator of Israeli-Palestinian disputes. The fact that Israel is America's closest ally in the Middle East also results in Islamic hatred of the United States.

Muslim extremists have also indicated that they will commit terrorist acts against nations that have sent troops to help Americans fight the war in Afghanistan -- a predominantly Muslim country.

Despite their multiple threats and terrorist attacks against Christian nations during the past decade, Islamic extremists have not had an impact in their primary goal to destroy Christianity.

Just as the communist effort to destroy Christianity ended in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, so too will the Islamic fundamentalists' attempts to destroy Christianity fail, and hopefully come to an end in the near future.

Muslim extremists need to realize that their barbaric terrorist acts are not the least bit effective in destroying Christianity. Indeed, the sooner that they realize this fact and end their savage acts, the better for Islam, and the better for Christianity and the entire world.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Turkish Deputy PM Visits Patriarch Bartholomew; Visit Confirms Turkey's Recognition of Patriarch

The Asia News website reports today (January 8, 2011) that the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul, Bartholomew I, received the deputy prime minister of the Turkish government, Bulent Arinc, who is in charge of minority affairs, on January 6.

The visit is the first in 58 years, when the prime minister at that time, Adnan Menderes, paid a visit to then Patriarch Athenagoras.

This week's visit is especially significant, because it occurred one month after the legal recognition of the Ecumenical Patriarchate by Turkish authorities with the restitution of the deeds of property of the Buyukada Orphanage.

At the end of the meeting, Arinc stated, "I hope that my visit here will mark the beginning of a new era. As a government, we are obliged to meet the needs of these citizens who have a centuries-old presence in these lands."

The meeting will most likely serve as a harbinger for a closer and a more harmonious relationship between the Turkish government and the Patriarch of Constantinople for many years.

Australia's Hillsong Church Renown for Its Music; Released 40 Albums of Worship Music Worldwide

The Christian Broadcast Network reports today (January 8, 2011) that the Australian Hillsong megachurch is known worldwide for its contemporary praise and worship music. Hillsong has released a total of 40 albums of praise music that continues to influence people of all ages around the globe.

Senior pastor Brian Houston said, "We were intentional in writing the songs that affected the church and glorified God."

Houston and his wife Bobbie first started Hillsong Church in 1983. At that time, it was called Hills Christian Life Center and had only 45 members.

Now, 23,000 people attend services on any given weekend. The church has three campuses in Sydney, 14 extension services, and churches in many cities around the world, including Kiev, Moscow, New York, London, Cape Town, and Paris.

Report: Islam Is the Greatest Threat to Christians; Iraq, Egypt Are Elected to the ICC "Hall of Shame"

The Christian Today website reports that International Christian Concern (ICC) -- the persecution watchdog -- this week released its "Hall of Shame" list of the world's worst countries for Christian persecution in 2010.

It used to be that Christians suffered greatest in communist countries, but today Islamic fundamentalism has replaced communism as the number one cause of persecution against Christians, according to the new ICC report.

Entered into the ICC "Hall of Shame" in 2010 were Iraq and Egypt, both of which have seen a substantial increase in anti-Christian violence.

ICC president Jeff King said that while forms of persecution such as harassment, imprisonment, torture, and murder "steadily declined" in 2010 in communist and former communist countries -- with the exception of North Korea and China -- there continued to be a "significant increase" in incidents of persecution in Islamic countries.

King added, "Anti-Christian hatred arising from Islam has flowed into 2011, as seen in the horrific attacks in Egypt, Pakistan, and Iraq already this year."

Friday, January 7, 2011

Christmas Church Services Held in Serbia, Kosovo; Thousands Gather at Belgrade's St. Sava Cathedral

Serbs headed to church for Christmas in huge numbers throughout Serbia, with midnight liturgy starting on Thursday evening, according to the Balkan Insight website. The Serbian Orthodox Church celebrated Christmas on January 7, based on the Julian Calendar.

In Belgrade, Serbia's new Patriarch, Irinej, led the mass at St. Sava's Cathedral. Several thousand worshipers gathered at Serbia's largest Orthodox shrine at midnight, along with government ministers, representatives of other churches and religious communities, and other leading public figures.

The Serbian Church marks the holiday for three days. Christmas services are also taking place in churches and monasteries in Kosovo, a former Serbian province that seceded from Serbia in 2008, and declared itself an independent nation.

In the western Kosovo town of Prizren, the newly enthroned Bishop, Teodosije, conducted a liturgy before a large congregation, including Serbia's deputy prime minister, Bozidar Djelic, who used the occasion to repeat that Serbia will never recognize Kosovo's independence.

Goethe University Launches Islamic Studies Major; Islamic Program in Frankfurt Is First in Germany

Frankfurt's Goethe University has introduced a three-year bachelor's degree in Islamic studies -- the first such program in Germany -- the Deutsche Welle website reports today (January 7, 2011).

The program places Islamic theology on the same footing as Christian and Jewish theology at German universities.

Over 100 students have already signed up for the first semester of the program.

Germany is home to an estimated four million Muslims.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Albanian Jews Refuse to Recognize Chief Rabbi; Say Govt. Appointed Him without Their Viewpoint

The Jerusalem Post website reports today (January 6, 2010) that the Jewish community in Albania has refused to recognize the appointment of Rabbi Yoel Kaplan as the nation's first chief rabbi, because the government failed to consult the community before appointing him last month.

"We completely alienate ourselves from this illicit and incorrect act, which was carried out in total discordance to the historical and religious traditions and principles of our nation," stated a letter sent to the Jerusalem Post, and signed by 34 of Albania's estimated 150 Jews.

The letter continued, "We strongly appeal and urge all the Albanian institutions and their international Jewish organizations to preliminary consult the Albanian-Jewish community before taking any action that would directly impact its dignity and community life, since we do not recognize Rabbi Yoel Kaplan as Albania's Chief Rabbi."

Rabbi Kaplan said he would continue to serve the Albanian community despite the criticism of its members. He said, "A day will come, God willing, I will bring them together."

Christianity Is Fastest Growing Religion on Earth; Is Sweeping through Africa, China, Southeast Asia

Christianity -- not Islam, as many people tend to believe -- is the fastest growing religion on earth, according to the World Net Daily website.

Evidence indicates that Christianity is sweeping through places like China, Africa, India, and Southeast Asia -- making it, by far, the fastest growing faith on the planet.

In his book titled "Megashift," author James Rutz says, "The growing core of Christianity crosses theological lines and includes 707 million born-again people who are increasing by eight percent a year."

Rutz claims that hundreds of millions of Christians are not associated with institutional churches, but meet in secret.

Court: Memorial Cross in Calif. Unconstitutional; Case Is Being Appealed to the US Supreme Court

The World Net Daily website reports today (January 6, 2011) that a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has decided a memorial cross on federal land on Mt. Soledad, California violates the U.S. Constitution.

In a 3-0 ruling in the Jewish War Veterans v. City of San Diego case, the panel decided that the 29-foot concrete cross -- which has stood for 57 years -- constitutes a government endorsement of religion and therefore violates the First Amendment's establishment clause.

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, said, "This flawed decision not only strikes at the heart of honoring our military veterans, it reaches a faulty conclusion that this iconic memorial -- part of the historic landscape of San Diego -- is unconstitutional."

Sekulow added, "We look forward to the case going to the Supreme Court where we're confident this decision will be overturned."

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

COMMENTARY: Five Religious Heads in Macedonia Define Marriage Correctly

The heads of the five dominant religions in Macedonia have supported a proposed change to the country's constitution, so that it defines marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

The heads of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, the Islamic Religious Community, the Catholic Church, the Methodist Church, and the Jewish Community unanimously supported the change to the constitution last week when they met in Skopje, Macedonia's capital.

Currently, Macedonia's constitution does not address the issue of same-sex marriages. Article 40, which the Macedonian church leaders want to change, merely says that "legal relations in marriage, the family and non-marriage communities as regulated by law."

If the Macedonian legislature changes the constitution by defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman, it could set a precedent that other countries could follow. This change could be a godsend for Macedonia -- and other nations as well -- since the Bible defines marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

Indeed, Jesus, in His teachings, considered the marriage of one man and one woman to be an important institution for the well-being of society. This is the same kind of marriage that we must continue to believe in and accept today, since it is the only kind of marriage adhered to by true Christians.

Lesbian Episcopal Clergy Marry on New Year's Day; CEO of American Anglican Council Blasts Wedding

Two lesbian Episcopal priests kicked off the New Year by marrying in Massachusetts, the Christian Post website reports today.

The Very Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, dean and president of Episcopal Divinity School, and Mally Lloyd, canon to the Ordinary, married on New Year's day at St. Paul's Cathedral in Boston in front of some 400 guests. The Rt. Rev. Thomas Shaw, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, solemnized the marriage.

For orthodox Anglicans, the lesbian union was another act of defiance.

"This is another action of reckless disregard for the life of the Anglican Communion and the authority of the Bible by the Episcopal Church," the Rt. Rev. David Anderson, president and CEO of the American Anglican Council, said.

Serbian Priest Vranisovski Will Remain in Bulgaria; Court Denies Macedonia's Request for His Return

Sofia's Court of Appeal yesterday (January 4, 2011) denied to hand over Serbian Orthodox priest Jovan Vranisovski to Macedonia, according to today's Sofia Morning News website. Vranisovski was arrested in Bulgaria on November 17, 2010 based on an international police order.

The detainee's 40-day term of arrest expired on December 28, 2010. He has an active two-and-one-half-year sentence in Macedonia for abuse of church money estimated at EUR 250,000, which is why he left that country. The abuse allegedly occurred between 1998 and 2002.

Vranisovski had formerly acted as a cleric in Macedonia, but presented himself as the Exarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia; however, the Macedonian Orthodox Church split from the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1967 and is not recognized by it as a separate ecclesiastical entity.

The Serbian Orthodox Church regards the self-proclaimed Macedonian Church as schismatic and sees its territory as falling under its Ohrid Archbishopric.

Officials Give Details of Upcoming Royal Wedding; Abp. of Canterbury Will Marry Couple on April 29

Palace officials today (January 5, 2011) revealed key details about the upcoming royal wedding, announcing that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams will marry Prince William and Kate Middleton when they tie the knot on April 29, according to the Associated Press website.

The wedding ceremony at Westminster Abbey will begin at 11 a.m., kicking off a day of pomp and ceremony on what has been declared a national holiday throughout the United Kingdom.

The route -- from Westminster Abbey in a carriage procession to Buckingham Palace -- is expected to be lined with a huge crowd of well-wishers. The carriage will go through Parliament Square, Whitehall, Horse Guards Parade, and the Mall.

Once they retreat inside the palace, the newlyweds will be the guests of honor at a reception hosted by William's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Archdiocese of Milwaukee Files for Bankruptcy; Has Paid Out $29M for Sexual Abuse by Priests

The Earth Times website reports today (January 4, 2011) that court-ordered payments to victims of sexual abuse by priests have forced the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wisconsin to file for bankruptcy.

Archbishop Jerome Listecki said in a video recording on the church's website today that the bankruptcy filing is due to several priests sexually abusing minors.

He acknowledged that this was a "dramatic step" but hoped it would help bring "resolution and closure" and "the opportunity for a new beginning."

The Milwaukee archdiocese has paid out 29 million dollars over the last 20 years "to try to resolve this tragedy," Listecki said. He did not indicate how many victims received payments.

Pakistani Governor Is Slain by Muslim Extremist; Had Opposed Death Sentence for Critics of Islam

The governor of Pakistan's most dominant province -- Punjab -- was shot and killed in Islamabad today (January 4, 2011) by a bodyguard, who authorities said was angry about the governor's opposition to blasphemy laws carrying the death sentence for insulting the Muslim faith, according to the Associated Press website.

Punjab Governor Salman Taseer -- regarded as a moderate voice in a country increasingly beset by Islamic fanaticism -- is the highest-profile Pakistani political figure to be assassinated since former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's assassination three years ago.

Mumtaz Qadri -- a police commando guarding Taseer -- unloaded up to 26 rounds on Taseer from an automatic rifle. Other guards then forced Qadri to the ground, according to police officials.

Taseer's assassination clearly illustrates the growing danger in Pakistan to anyone who dares to challenge the demands of Islamist extremists.

ESPN Fires Announcer Ron Franklin for Sexism; Told Female: "Leave This to the Boys, Sweet Baby"

The Yahoo Sports blog reports that ESPN announcer Ron Franklin was fired by the network today (January 4, 2011), because of a derogatory remark to sideline reporter Jeanne Edwards in a meeting before the Fiesta Bowl.

At the meeting, Franklin said, "Why don't you leave this to the boys, sweet baby?" When Edwards objected to the derogatory remark, Franklin responded, "okay then, [expletive]."

Although ESPN has fired several announcers for offensive remarks in recent years, Dan Lebowitz, the executive director of Sport in Society at Northeastern University, told the Washington Post that ESPN "is no worse than other male-dominated businesses."

"I hate to single out ESPN for having a dysfunctional culture," Lebowitz said. He added, "It just mimics an inherent ill in our society. It just seems more sensational at ESPN because they're a very public entity."

Greece to Build Wall Along Its Turkish Border; Purpose Is to End Mass Entry of Illegal Immigrants

The Europe News website reports today (January 4, 2011) that Christos Papoutsis, Greek interior minister, has confirmed that Greece will build a 128-mile anti-immigrant wall along its border with Turkey in northeastern Greece.

"Co-operation with the European Union (EU) is going well," Papoutsis said. He added that the EU considers this area to be the most insecure boundary in all of Europe.

Papoutsis was emphatic on Greece's need for this wall, saying, "The Greek public has reached its limit in taking in illegal immigrants. We are absolutely determined on this issue. Greece can't take it any more."

Critics viewed the planned wall as a symbol of widespread opposition to Turkey's EU membership, and an emblem of a new Christian-Muslim divide between West and East.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Italian Priest Is Arrested in Prostitution Probe; Alleged He Allowed Prostitutes to Use His Shelter

The Life In Italy website reports today (January 3, 2011) that an Italian priest has been arrested in connection with allegations that his shelter was used by Nigerian prostitutes to practice their trade, and that he asked one of them for sex in exchange for a regular job.

Father Giovanni Usai -- founder of the Good Samaritan Shelter in northern Sardinia -- was placed on house arrest on December 22.

He denies the allegations.

A 35-year-old Nigerian man has also been arrested in the probe.

Egyptian Orthodox Bishop Says Muslims Upset; Receives Muslim Support After Church Bombing

The Catholic News website reports today (January 3, 2010) that an Egyptian Orthodox Bishop said he has received many messages of support from Muslims, after a January 1 church bombing in Alexandria that killed about two dozen people.

Mideast Catholic leaders also sent messages of support to their fellow Orthodox Christians.

"We have to pray. We have to pray for peace," Coptic Orthodox Bishop Youhannes Zakaria of Luxor, Egypt said.

"They (Muslims) don't accept this violence. They are very upset about this," the bishop said.

Montenegrin PM to Begin Dialogue on SPC Assets; 600 Orthodox Churches in Montenegro at Stake

New Montenegrin Prime Minister Igor Luksic said today (January 3, 2011) that he will initiate a dialogue regarding assets of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) in Montenegro, the Orthodox Church Info blog reports.

According to Luksic, a solution to the problem would come more easily if those who wanted to talk came to the fore.

Luksic admitted that resolving the SPC property issue would be difficult and that it would take quite a while to resolve the matter, but he believes that a great insistence could lead to solutions.

The problem related to the assets of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, or the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral, has been present since the establishment of the canonically unrecognized Montenegrin Orthodox Church, and especially since Montenegro gained independence in May 2006.

In 2007 the SPC Metropolitanate of Montenegro won a court case when the court from the coastal town of Kotor issued a decision that the municipality of Budva should return 4,000 square meters which were taken away from the SPC because of a construction of detours 20 years ago.

The Metropolitanate is registered in the Kotor cadaster as the owner or user of about 600 Orthodox churches in Montenegro.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Parent Sues Jesuit School for $40,000 Donation; Wants Money Back Since School Rejected His Son

Dr. Michael Bardwil donated $40,000 to his alma mater -- a Jesuit college preparatory school in Houston, Texas -- after a school administrator advised him it would guarantee his son's admission. So when his son was rejected at Strake Jesuit School in 2010, Bardwil was upset, the Huffington Post website reports today (January 2, 2011).

He asked for his money back. Bardwil said, "I told them if they didn't want my son that's fine, but I am going to rescind my donation. That's when they told me that they can't give me my money back."

Bardwil says the only option he has left is to sue the school. He is suing the school for the return of his $40,000, plus his attorney's fees.

Myra McGovern, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Independent Schools, said that some people "feel that making donations will better their chances for their children's admission, but admission to independent schools is not done that way."

IHOP Restaurant Ends Lawsuit Against Ministry; Claimed Violation by International House of Prayer

The Christian Post website reports today (January 2, 2010) that IHOP, the pancake restaurant chain, has dropped its lawsuit against IHOP, the church missions organization.

The restaurant chain had filed a lawsuit against the International House of Prayer -- an evangelical missions organization headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri -- in September 2010 over trademark infringement.

The International House of Pancakes dismissed the case on December 21, saying it opted for "ongoing mediation with the defendants."

Restaurant spokesman Patrick Lenow said the two parties -- which share the same acronym -- have agreed to not talk about the case publicly.

COMMENTARY: Israelis Must End Their Ethnocentrism and Xenophobia

A growing backlash is currently occurring in Israel against foreigners who are now living in Israel. About 32,000 of these foreigners -- mostly Africans who sneaked into Israel from Egypt -- are in Israel illegally. Consequently, Israel is now building a high wall along its border with Egypt, in an effort to stop this flow of illegal immigrants.

Also, about a month ago, many Israeli rabbis signed an edict stating that -- according to true Judaism -- Israelis must not sell or rent their homes to Israeli Arabs.

The ramifications resulting from these two situations occurring in Israel today have led many people to believe that a large percentage of Israelis are now xenophobic and ethnocentric.

Israelis would be wise to rectify their current predicament by using the United States as an example, in an effort to alleviate their current dilemma and end these unnecessary fears. When the earliest European settlers came to the United States in the early 17th century, almost all of them were Protestants from England.

By the early 20th century, a plethora of various ethnic and religious groups from around the world had made the United States their permanent home.

There was no fear by the British Protestants and their heirs, who had settled in the United States, that these ethnic groups would be a threat to them. Rather, these new immigrants were welcome by the British pioneers, and eventually the United States became a "melting pot" comprised of residents from various countries throughout the world.

In fact, many historians and others believe that this "melting pot" -- with its assimilation of scores of ethnic groups -- is a primary reason that the United States became a world power.

Granted, Israel is a much smaller and younger nation than the United States; nonetheless, it would behoove Israelis to keep in mind how the acceptance and assimilation of various ethnic and religious groups in the United States served as critical factors for the United States to become a great nation.

Israelis, then, must welcome -- and not fear -- the legal entry of immigrants to Israel. Indeed, the acceptance and assimilation of these immigrants by Israelis could someday well result in an "Israeli melting pot" -- a melting pot that could help to make Israel a world leader, as it did for the United States.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Five Faiths in Macedonia Against Gay Marriage; "Marriage Is a Union of One Man and One Woman"

The heads of the five dominant religions in Macedonia want the constitution changed to define marriage strictly as a union of one man and one woman and to prevent same-sex couples and single parents from adopting children, the Balkan Insight website reports today (January 1, 2011).

The heads of the five faiths unanimously supported the proposed changes to the constitution at a meeting this week in Skopje.

Behind the proposition stand the heads of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, the Islamic Religious Community, the Catholic Church, the Methodist Church, and the Jewish Community.

Archbishop Stefan, head of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, said, "No one should be afraid of traditional and correct views regarding marriage."

Reacting to the clerics' proposed changes, the opposition Social Democrats said they suspected the campaign was being conducted in coordination with Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his VMRO DPMNE party, which has a majority in parliament.

Two-thirds of Macedonian legislators must vote in favor of a proposed change to the constitution for it to be adopted.

21 Dead, 80 Wounded at New Year's Mass in Egypt; Al-Qaida Suicide Bomber Believed Responsible

The Associated Press website reports today (January 1, 2011) that a powerful bomb -- probably from an al-Qaida suicide attacker -- exploded in front of a Coptic Christian Church in Alexandria, Egypt as a crowd of worshipers emerged from a New Year's Mass early Saturday, killing at least 21 people and wounding 80 others.

The attack came in the wake of threats by al-Qaida militants in Iraq to attack Egypt's Christians.

Nearly 1,000 Christians were attending the New Year's Mass at the Saints Church in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, said Father Mena Adel, a priest at the church. The service had just ended, and some worshipers were leaving the building when the bomb went off about a half hour after midnight, he said.

"The last thing I heard was a powerful explosion and then my ears went deaf," Marco Boutros, a 17-year-old survivor, said from his hospital bed. "All I could see were body parts scattered all over -- legs and bits of flesh."