Thursday, October 31, 2013

Two WA Coffee Shop Bikini Waitresses Arrested; Charged with Giving Nude Dances to Customers

Two female workers at a bikini-themed coffee shop near Seattle, Washington have been charged with providing customers nude, striptease-style dances in view of passersby, the Reuters website reports today (October 31, 2013).

The women -- aged 20 and 21 -- are employees at the Hillbilly Hotties coffee stand in Everett. They were arrested yesterday and charged with violating the city's adult entertainment laws, said Everett police spokesman officer Aaron Snell.

The charges are misdemeanors, which carry a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Bail for each was set at $500.

Police began investigating the coffee stand after receiving complaints that the women working there were exposing themselves for customers as they sat in their cars, Snell said.

Islamists Set Fire to Armenian Church in Syria; Committed by Al Qaeda, Torched Church Cross

Islamists have set fire to Surp Khach Armenian Church in Tel Abyad, a town in northeast Syria, the Orthodox Church Info blog reports today (October 31, 2013).

According to the Beirut-based Aztag daily, the arson was committed by members of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq and Levant group, who took the cross off the church and torched it.

Armenians have been living in Tel Abyad since 1915. The church was built in 1932 and reconstructed in 1996.

More than 115,000 people have been killed in Syria's civil war during the past two and one-half years, including tens of thousands of soldiers, rebels, and civilians.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

COMMENTARY: Vatican Needs to Remove Georgetown University's Catholicity for Defying Christ and Catholicism

Georgetown University -- America's oldest Catholic university -- has decided once again to defy the teachings of Christ and Catholic doctrine by offering a course at its law school next semester that will have students working with a pro-abortion rights advocacy organization.

Titled Regulatory Advocacy: Women and the Affordable Care Act, the course will have students working with the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) "to develop projects that will assist the organization's regulatory advocacy efforts."

Needless to say, Georgetown's decision to have its students work with such a pro-abortion lobby is a direct contradiction of the teachings of Christ as well as Catholic doctrine.

The fact is that Georgetown has defied Christ and the Catholic Church on numerous occasions in recent years. For example, two years ago, Georgetown selected U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius -- a strong pro-abortion advocate -- as its graduation speaker, despite the fact that the Vatican had declared that Sebelius should not receive Holy Communion because "she obstinately persists in support of abortions."

Earlier this month (even before the revelation of Georgetown law school's scheduled course on abortion), William Peter Blatty -- a Georgetown alumnus and novelist -- filed a canonical lawsuit with the Vatican to protect the Catholic identity of Georgetown.

Accompanied by a petition with more than 2,000 signatures, the lawsuit urges the Vatican to require Georgetown to implement "Ex Corde Ecclesiae," a papal constitution governing Catholic colleges. It also calls on the Vatican to suspend or revoke Georgetown's right to call itself Catholic and Jesuit in any of its representations, if it fails to implement and abide by this constitution.

We agree that the Vatican needs to remove Georgetown's Catholicity -- or take other severe punitive ecclesiastical action against Georgetown -- to put an end to its anti-Christian actions. Otherwise, Georgetown will just continue to operate on its current anti-Christian path, defying the teachings of Christ and Catholic doctrine.

Two Kidnapped Syrian Bishops Believed Located; Lebanon Security Chief Strives for Their Release

Lebanese authorities believe that two Syrian bishops -- kidnapped on April 22 near Aleppo -- have been located. According to Lebanon's security chief, Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, "indirect contact" has been established with the two abducted churchmen in an attempt to secure their safe release, the Spero Forum website reports today (October 30, 2013).

In statements released on October 29, General Ibrahim declared, "About a month ago, I contacted a person who told me where the bishops Boulos al-Yazigi and Yohanna Ibrahim were, and on this basis, I started the negotiations."

He added, "We are now indirectly in contact with the kidnappers, and this is an important development that we will use as a starting point to get the results we hoped for."

The two metropolitan bishops of Aleppo -- the Greek Orthodox Boulos al-Yazigi and the Syrian Orthodox Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim -- were kidnapped on April 22 in the area between the Syrian metropolis and the border with Turkey. Since then, no group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pastor Says His $1.7M Home "Comes from God;" Steven Furtick Being Investigated for Rel. Fraud

Pastor Steven Furtick apologized to his congregation Sunday (October 27) for any uncomfortable conversations they may have had regarding his 16,000-square-foot home and questions about his salary -- but he did not apologize for building such an expensive and extravagant home -- the Charisma News website reports today (October 29, 2013).

"My wife and I made a decision, and we built a house," the founder and pastor of the 12,000-member Elevation Church in Charlotte, N.C. said at a service in Blakeney, N.C. He added, "It's a big house, and it's a beautiful house, and we thank God for it... We understand everything we have comes from God."

Furtick was open about the house, which he described as 8,400 square feet of heated living area, with the rest consisting of basement, attic, garage, and porch space. Critics say the $1.7 million home does not reflect the heart of a true servant.

"The pastor should be the servant of his people. He should be the one that is most transparent," said Ole Anthony of the Trinity Foundation -- a nonprofit organization that monitors and investigates religious fraud -- in an investigative report from NBC Charlotte. Anthony added, "It saddens me to see what the church is becoming."

Air Force Opts "So Help Me God" in Honor Oath; Academy Cadets Given Option of Saying It or Not

Air Force Academy cadets no longer are required to include the words "so help me God" when taking their annual Honor Oath, the Religion News Service website reports today (October 29, 2013).

On October 25, officials at the Colorado Springs, Colorado campus announced its 4,000 current cadets would be allowed to opt out of the final phrase of their honor code, which they reaffirm each of their four years of study and training.

"Here at the Academy, we work to build a culture of dignity and respect, and that respect includes the ability of our cadets, Airmen, and civilian Airmen to freely practice and exercise their religious preference -- or not," said Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, the academy's superintendent, in a statement.

She added, "So in the spirit of respect, cadets may or may not choose to finish the Honor Oath with 'So help me God.'"

Monday, October 28, 2013

Exclusive: Record High Terrorist Attacks in 2012; Report:8,500 Attacks Killed 15,500 People Last Yr.

As terrorism increasingly becomes a viable tactic of warfare, the number of attacks and deaths soared to a record high in 2012, according to a new report, the CNN website reports exclusively today (October 28, 2013).

More than 8,500 terrorist attacks killed some 15,500 people last year as violence tore through Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, according to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START).

That is a 69 percent rise in attacks and an 89 percent jump in fatalities from 2011, said START -- one of the world's leading terrorism-trackers.

Six of the seven most deadly terrorist groups are affiliated with al Qaeda -- according to START -- and most of the violence was committed in Muslim-majority countries.

Georgetown Univ. Law Students to Favor Abortion; Students at Cath. Univ. to Work with Abortion Org.

A class at Georgetown University's law school scheduled for next semester will have students working with a pro-abortion rights advocacy organization, taught by that organization's senior counsel, Kelli Garcia, the Spero Forum website reports today (October 28, 2013).

The law school class -- titled Regulatory Advocacy: Women and the Affordable Care Act -- will have students working with the National Women's Law Center (NWLC), "to develop projects that will assist in the organization's regulatory advocacy efforts."

Patrick Reilly -- president of The Cardinal Newman Society -- views this latest scandal as the unfortunate culmination of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Reilly stated, "We have long warned about Georgetown scandals that undermine the Church's strong defense of innocent life. But here students are being required to work for a pro-abortion lobby, making America's oldest Catholic university an active agent of the culture of death. If allowed to continue, this puts Georgetown in direct opposition to the Church."

Earlier this month, novelist William Peter Blatty -- a Georgetown alumnus -- collected more than 2,000 signatures on a petition to accompany a canonical lawsuit filed with the Vatican to protect the Catholic identity of Georgetown. If Georgetown does not quickly "shape up" -- by ending its implementation of actions that contradict the dogma and tradition of the Catholic Church -- the lawsuit calls on the Vatican to suspend or even end Georgetown's right to call itself Catholic and Jesuit.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Saudi Women Fined $80 for Defying Driving Ban; Had to Sign Pledge to Respect Kingdom's Laws

Police and newspaper reports indicate that at least 16 Saudi women have received fines for taking the wheel on a day set by activists to defy the kingdom's traditional ban on female driving, the Newsmax World website reports today (October 27, 2013).

Only a few women braved official threats of punishment and drove yesterday in response to an online campaign headlined "Women's Driving Is a Choice."

"Police stopped six women driving in Riyadh, and fined them 300 riyals (about $80) each," said the capital's police deputy spokesman, Colonel Fawaz al-Miman. Each of the women, along with her male guardian -- who could be a father, husband, brother, uncle, or grandson -- had to "sign a pledge to respect the kingdom's laws," Mimam added.

In Jeddah, police also fined two women for driving, according to the Red Sea city's police spokesman, Nawaf al-Bouq. Saudi newspapers, in addition, reported that six women were stopped by police in Eastern Province, and at least two others were stopped in other parts of the kingdom.

Russian Church Bans Priest for Anti-Semitic Word; Used "Kike" in Baptizing Girl with a Jewish Mom

Russian Orthodox Church officials suspended a priest for using an anti-Semitic pejorative while baptizing a girl, the Jewish Press website reports today (October 27, 2013).

The two-month ban on Andrey Estigneeva was announced on the website of the Diocese of Saratov -- a city about 450 miles southeast of Moscow. It resulted from complaints by the family and the Russian Jewish Congress.

The girl's parents said Evstigneeva used the Russian pejorative "zhidovskym" -- or "kike" in English -- in reference to the girl's name. The girl's mother is Jewish.

Church officials said Evstigneeva acknowledged the incident and insisted that "nothing untoward had happened." Evstigneeva's behavior was "incompatible with clerical dignity and disrespectful of parish members," the diocese's statement read. It added: "During the ban, you lose the right to wear the symbols of the church and teach believers, administer benedictions or hold services."

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Mother Arrested for Selling Daughters' Virginity; Colombia Mom Got Some $200 Each for 12 Girls

Margarita de Jesus Zapata Moreno, 45, a Colombian mother of 14, was arrested this week on charges that she sent her daughters into "hell" by selling their virginity for a few hundred dollars to make ends meet, the Christian Post website reports today (October 26, 2013).

The Bogota Metropolitan Police said that Zapata sold the virginity of her 12 daughters to much older men who had a desire to have sex with young virgins. She was caught this week with a 51-year-old contractor suspected of impregnating one of her young daughters.

According to Bogota police, Zapata would begin shopping her daughters around as soon as they turned 12 years old and charged men between $160 and $212 for each sale.

Authorities explained that they began investigating the case after one of Zapata's daughters came forward with the allegation. The daughter gave birth to a baby boy when she was 14 after she refused to have an abortion ordered by her mother.

US Charges US-Iran Dual Citizen with Conspiracy; Reza Olangian Tried to Acquire Missiles for Iran

Authorities say a dual citizen of Iran and the United States is accused of trying to acquire surface-to-air missiles and has been charged with conspiracy, the Washington Times website reports today (October 26, 2013).

Charges were announced yesterday in New York City. Prosecutors say the suspect, Reza Olangian, was arrested in Estonia in October 2012 and extradited to the U.S. in March.

An indictment alleges that Olangian first tried unsuccessfully to obtain about 100 missiles for the Iranian government in 2007.

It also says he began negotiating a new deal for missiles in early 2012, unaware that he was dealing with a confidential source for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Cath.League Pres.Calls Jenny McCarthy Porn Star; Enraged by Her Remark "I Hope Pope Gets Smart"

Jenny McCarthy -- a new host on "The View" who said on the TV show this week "I hope the pope gets smart" and allows people who had a divorce to receive communion -- has upset many Catholics with her comments, the Catholic League website reports today (October 25, 2013).

Bill Donohue -- president of the Catholic League -- blasted McCarthy for her comments, and called her a "former porn star." McCarthy was a Playboy naked model and actress before joining "The View."

On the TV show, McCarthy complained about the Catholic Church's refusal to grant communion to people who have had a divorce, relating that her mother "cries during communion because she watches all her friends go up there." She added, "I hope the pope gets smart and does something about it."

Donohue -- in an article in the "Albany Tribune" -- referred to McCarthy as a "former porn star" and wrote "Jenny, listen to Bill: If you know of any shortcuts on how to 'get smart,' please test them on yourself before contacting the Holy Father."

DNA Tests Confirm Bulgarian Is Maria's Mother; Sasha Ruseva Lived in Greece, Too Poor for Maria

DNA tests have confirmed that a 35-year-old Bulgarian Roma woman is in fact the mother of a "mysterious girl" in Greece known as "Maria," the Yahoo News website reports today (October 25, 2013).

Genetic profile of Sasha Ruseva matched that of the girl, 4, said Sveltozar Lazarov, an Interior Ministry official in Bulgaria.

Ruseva said she gave birth to the baby four years ago in a hospital in Lamia -- a city in central Greece -- where she was working as an olive picker, but had to give the girl away because she was too poor to care for her.

Maria has been placed in temporary care since last week after authorities raided a Roma settlement in central Greece and later discovered that the girl was not the child of the couple with whom she was living.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Bulgarian Says She's Mother of Greece's "Maria;" Sold "Mystery Girl" in Adoption in Central Greece

A 35-year-old Bulgarian woman -- who gave up her child for adoption because her family was "hungry" -- is believed to be the mother of the 4-year-old "mystery girl" nicknamed "Maria" that was found last week living in a Roma settlement in Farsala, in central Greece, the Ekathimerini (Greek Daily) website reports today (October 24, 2013).

Bulgarian media identified the woman as Sasha Ruseva. The woman is believed to have given birth to the girl in a hospital in Lamia -- another city located in central Greece -- in January 2009 before giving her up for adoption.

One of her children told journalists that Ruseva recognized Maria when her photograph was shown on TV, the Bulgarian state broadcaster reported.

Police are investigating whether Ruseva is in fact Maria's biological mother, the report said. "I gave my child away because we were hungry," Ruseva was quoted as saying after her arrest in Gurkovo, Bulgaria.

Saudi Women Plan to Drive Sat. Despite Their Ban; Authorities Say Women Driving Will Be Punished

Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry has contacted organizers of a campaign to end the ban on women driving and told them they will be punished if they go ahead with their plan to defy the male-only road rules, the Reuters website reports today.

The women organizing the campaign have been posting online footage of themselves driving in Saudi cities, and have called on Saudi women with foreign driving licenses to get behind the wheel this Saturday, October 26.

Saudi Arabia -- the only country in the world that bans women from driving motor vehicles -- often earns bad international publicity over the issue, but any change in the effective ban on women driving might ignite the wrath of religious hardliners in the world's most conservative Islamic nation.

In addition to banning women from driving, Saudi Arabia requires women to wear a full veil outfit in public, and allows them to leave their homes and to work only if they have permission to do so from their husbands, or other male family member if they are not married.

Past Com. of Labor Camp Charged with Genocide; Ion Ficior Ran Romania's Periprava Labor Camp

A former commander of a communist labor camp in Romania has been charged with genocide for his role in the deaths of 103 political prisoners, the Euro News website reports today (October 24, 2013).

Ion Ficior, 85, was commander at the Periprava labor camp from 1958 to 1963. The camp -- located in the remote Danube Delta village near the Black Sea -- held up to 2,000 prisoners.

Romania had about 500,000 political prisoners under the Communist regime, about one-fifth of whom died while in detention, historians assert.

Ficior's role was brought to light by a Romanian institute that investigates communist-era crimes, which said that prisoners in the Periprava camp died from malnutrition, beatings, lack of medicine, and from dysentery caused by drinking dirty water from the Danube River.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Indian Teen Gang-Raped by 3 Men, Burned Alive; Eighth-Grader Was Walking Home When Attacked

Police said that a teenage girl died today (October 23, 2013) after she was gang-raped and burned alive by three men in a village in northern India, the Global Post website reports.

The girl -- age 13 or 14 -- was pronounced dead at a hospital this morning, the "Times of India" reported.

She suffered burns to 80 percent of her body following the incident last night in Sirsa Kalaar area of Orai, which lies in the district of Jalaun in northern India's Uttar Pradesh state.

According to police, the eighth-grader was walking home from a local farm with her sister when she was grabbed by three men. Her sister was able to escape and run for help, but to no avail. Local authorities have been raiding different locations in search of the assailants.

Pope Francis Ousts Germany's "Bishop of Bling;" Spent Over $40M on Renovations to His Palace

Pope Francis today (October 23, 2013) suspended the free-spending German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst -- who spent more than $40 million on renovations to his palace -- and ordered him to vacate the Diocese of Limburg, according to the Good Morning America website.

The pope -- who has declined to live in the Vatican's opulent papal residence in order to convey the critical need for man to live by Jesus' teaching of humility -- has been urging prelates to adopt a more humble lifestyle, and today's actions were the strongest yet to support that message.

The pope's decision was released in a short statement from the Vatican press office, which stated that the actions of the bishop had created a situation "where in the present moment he cannot exercise his Episcopal ministry."

"Pending the results of this examination and the related investigations on the responsibilities in this regard, the Holy See considers it appropriate to authorize Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst a period of stay outside the Diocese," the statement said. The pope's decision to expel the "Bishop of Bling" -- as he has been dubbed in the international media -- takes effect immediately.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Pope: Greed Destroys People, Families, Relations; Many Families Are Destroyed by Greed for Money

Greed and attachment to money destroys people, destroys families and relationships with others was Pope Francis' message yesterday during Mass in Casa Santa Marta, the Independent Catholic News website reports today (October 22, 2013).

Commenting on the day's Gospel -- in which a man asks Jesus to intervene to resolve a problem of inheritance with his brother -- the Pope spoke about the problem of our relationship with money.

The Pope said, "This is a day-to-day problem. How many families have we seen destroyed by the problem of money? Brother against brother, father against son. This is the first result that this attitude of being attached to money does: it destroys! When a person is attached to money, he destroys himself, he destroys the family. Money destroys!"

The Pope added, Jesus tells the parable of the rich man who lives to gather "treasures for himself but is not rich in what matters to God." Jesus' warning is to stay away from any kind of greed: "That's what does harm: greed in my relationship with money. Having more, having more, having more... It leads you to idolatry, it destroys your relationship with others. It's not money, but the attitude, what we call greed."

New Report Cites Rising Anti-Semitism in Europe; German Synagogues Attacked 82 Times in 4 Years

There have been 82 reported attacks on synagogues in Germany from 2008 to 2012, according to a report requested by Left Party legislator and Bundestag Vice President Petra Pau, the Forward (Jewish) website reports today (October 22, 2013).

But the reported number may actually be too low: An investigation by Germany's main Jewish weekly, the "Juedische Allgemeine," showed that several notable incidents were not included in the report from the German Interior Ministry that was released last week, including an attack on the Dresden synagogue in 2012, as well as desecration of synagogue property in Regensburg and Wuppertal that same year.

Most of the reported cases involved property damage and graffiti featuring banned Nazi slogans. According to the report -- which cites a rising trend of anti-Semitism in Europe -- the main perpetrators are far-right extremists, credited with more than 90 percent of the incidents, although some cases also originate in Muslim circles.

Pau told "Juedische Allgemeine" that attacks on synagogues are just the "tip of the iceberg" when it comes to anti-Semitic crimes in Germany.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Female Suicide Bomber Kills Six on Russian Bus; Is Worst Attack Outside Caucasus Area in 3 Years

A female suicide bomber attacked a bus in southern Russia today (October 21, 2013), killing at least six people in the deadliest such blast outside the volatile North Caucasus region in nearly three years, according to the Reuters website.

The bombing in Volgograd was likely to raise fears of further attacks by Islamist militants, as Russia prepares to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in February in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, not far from the predominantly Muslim North Caucasus region.

Investigators blamed a 30-year-old woman from Dagestan -- the North Caucasus province at the center of an insurgency -- for the bus attack which wounded 28 people, of whom eight were in critical condition, the federal Investigative Committee said.

Authorities named the suspect as Naida Asiyalova, a Muslim. "This woman, in a hijab, got on the bus at one of the stops and the explosion occurred almost immediately afterwards," Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said.

Greece Uses Global Probe for Lost Girl's Parents; Roma Couple Arrested for Abduction of the Girl

Greek police have launched an international search to establish the identity of a little blonde, blue-eyed girl found living with a Roma couple who are not her parents, the Euro News website reports today (October 21, 2013).

They hope Interpol (international police) can help solve the mystery of the girl -- aged around four -- who was discovered in central Greece, and is now in the care of a charity. Suspicions arose when she bore no resemblance to the two dark-complexioned Roma adults who claimed to be her parents.

"During questioning about the girl, they gave conflicting answers," a news conference was told by Vassilis Halatsis, the Police Director of Thessalia province. He added, "The constantly changing claims of the supposed parents consolidated our beliefs that these were not the biological parents of the child."

DNA tests confirmed this and the pair have been arrested and charged with abduction.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Afghan Army Comdr. Defects to Taliban Group; Flees in Humvee with Guns, High-Tech Equip.

An Afghan army special forces commander has defected to an insurgent group allied with the Taliban in a U.S. Humvee truck packed with his team's guns and high-tech equipment, officials in the eastern Kunar province said today (October 20, 2013), according to the Reuters website.

Monsif Khan -- who raided the supplies of his 20-man team in Kunar's capital Asadabad over the Eid al-Adha Islamic holiday -- is the first special forces commander to switch sides, joining the Hezb-e-Islami organization.

"He sent some of his comrades on leave and paid others to go out sightseeing, and then escaped with up to 30 guns, night-vision goggles, binoculars, and a Humvee," said Shuja ul-Mulkh Jalala, the governor of Kunar.

Zubair Sediqi -- a spokesman for Hezb-e-Islami -- confirmed that Khan had joined the group, saying he had brought 15 guns and high-tech equipment.

Surgeon: Syrians Shoot Pregnant Women for Fun; Several Women Shot by Snipers Have Lost Babies

Syrian snipers are now targeting pregnant women as "a game," a British surgeon says after he returned home from the conflict zone, the News (Australian) website reports today (October 20, 2013).

David Nott -- who spent five weeks volunteering as a surgeon at a Syrian hospital -- said the gunshot wounds he had treated also indicated that bored snipers were targeting particular parts of women's bodies in a bid to entertain themselves.

"One day it would be shots in the groin. The next, it would only be the left chest," Nott said. On another day, two consecutive gunshot patients were heavily pregnant women shot through the uterus  and both lost their babies. "From the first patients that came in in the morning, you could almost tell what you would see for the rest of the day. It was a game."

Nott -- a prominent surgeon who counts former British prime minister Tony Blair as an ex-patient -- said he had treated more than half a dozen shot pregnant women on one day in the Syrian city, which he did not identify for security reasons.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Saudi Arabia: Take This U. N. Seat and Shove It!; It's 1st Time Nation Refused Security Council Seat

In a move that has left many international affairs experts baffled, Saudi Arabia announced yesterday that it is rejecting a rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council -- just one day after being elected to it -- the Slate website reports today (October 19, 2013).

This is believed to be the first time this has ever happened in the nearly 70 years of U.N. history. Indeed, it illustrates the conspicuous lack of faith that Saudi Arabia has in the U.N., due to its failure to maintain peace around the world.

The Saudi government has been increasingly frustrated with the Security Council's response to events in Syria, and in a statement, the country's foreign ministry said that "the manner, the mechanisms of action and double standards existing in the Security Council prevent it from performing its duties and assuming its responsibilities toward preserving international peace and security as required."

The rejection of a Security Council seat by Saudi Arabia comes after public disagreements over its policy toward Syria, Egypt, and Iran, and with the U.S. depending less on Middle East oil. It's also another sign that U.S.--Saudi relations have become less friendly than they have been in many years.

French Mayors Can't Refuse to Marry Gay Couples; Court: Marrying Gays Doesn't Violate One's Rights

France's highest court ruled yesterday that the country's mayors cannot refuse to officiate at same-sex marriages, thus rejecting a bid by a group of mayors who claimed gay marriage went against their moral or religious beliefs, the France 24 website reports today (October 19, 2013).

The Constitutional Council's ruling followed an appeal by mayors and registrars opposed to France's controversial bill legalizing same-sex marriages, which went into effect last May.

They argued that the same-sex marriage bill should have included a "freedom of conscience" clause, giving officiators the right not to carry out same-sex marriages if doing so conflicts with their personal religious or moral beliefs.

But France's highest legal authority rejected this argument in its ruling. "The Council judged that, in view of the functions of a state official in the officiating of a marriage, the legislation does not violate their freedom of conscience," the Council said in a statement. France's mayors now plan to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights, which serves as the "supreme court" for all the member nations of the European Union (EU).

Friday, October 18, 2013

Thomas Aquinas College Is "Most Beloved" in US; Based on a US News Mag. Survey on Alumni Giving

In a survey conducted by U.S. News and World Report magazine, Thomas Aquinas College (TAC) -- a small Catholic college in Santa Paula, California -- ranked first in percentage of alumni contributing back to the college, the Cardinal Newman Society website reports today (October 18, 2013).

TAC announced the achievement in a recent news release that also explained the U.S. News and World Report ranked 1,200 colleges and measured the "most beloved" college as the one with graduate satisfaction expressed by the highest participation rate of financial giving to the college.

Thomas Aquinas College replaced Princeton in the highest spot, obtaining a 63.7 percent alumni-giving rate. The national average giving rate is only 12.8 percent, which means that the giving rate to TAC is more than five times higher than the national average.

In recognizing the college's exceptionally high alumni-giving rate, TAC's Vice President for Development Paul O'Reilly said, "We are profoundly grateful to our alumni for their generous and sacrificial support."

Christians Erect High Statue of Christ in Syria; Built for Peace, Can Be Seen from Lebanon, Israel

Envoys of the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches have erected a monumental statue of Christ -- in an effort to symbolize hope and peace --  on top of the Cherubim Mountain in the Syrian city of Saidnaya, the Orthodox Church Info blog reports today (October 18, 2013).

Moscow Theological Academy -- the curator of the project -- reported today that this monument should become a symbol of hope of all Christians for a forthcoming termination of bloodshed in Syria.

"The figure of Christ with the blessing gesture is placed on the way of the historical pilgrimage route from Constantinople to Jerusalem at a height of 2.1 km," the curators said. "The sculpture can be seen from Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel."

The installation of the monument was timed to the Orthodox Christian holiday of the Intercession of the Theotokos and the Muslim feast of Kurban Bayram. "During the three days, when the works were under way, the warring parties suspended military operations in the area and watched the installation of the sculpture, which was called, 'I Came to Save the World,'" the representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church said.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Calif. Man Attempting to Join Al-Qaida Is Arrested; Agents: He Was Going to Mexico to Fly to Pakistan

Court documents in Santa Ana, California indicate a Southern California man -- charged with attempting to join al-Qaida and lying on a U.S. passport application to aid international terrorism -- was planning to travel to Pakistan before he was arrested, the Fox News website reports today (October 17, 2013).

A federal court order to detain 24-year-old Sinh Vinh Ngo Nguyen of Garden Grove says arresting agents stated he was due to travel to Mexico City by bus and then board a flight to Pakistan.

The order states that Nguyen -- a U.S. citizen -- was holding a fake passport and had recently traveled to Lebanon and Syria to help the Free Syrian Army.

Nguyen -- also known by the name of Hasan Abu Omar Ghannoum --  was arrested last week in Santa Ana while waiting to board a bus to Mexico. He has pleaded not guilty.

France's Abuse of Roma May Lead to Sanctions; Pulled 15-Year-Old Roma from bus to Deport Her

France's crisis of conscience in dealing with its Roma immigrants hit a new low this week, following the controversial expulsion of a Kosovo girl, the France 24 website reports today (October 17, 2013).

The teenager -- identified as 15-year-old Leonarda Dibrani -- was taken from a school trip in the Doubs region in eastern France on October 9, according to some teachers, sparking outrage among the students.

A Kosovar of Roma gypsy origin, Leonarda was not home when police arrived at the family home to expel her mother and her six children. Her father had already been expelled on October 8.

The traumatic expulsion of Leonarda by police on a school bus during a class outing has resulted in an investigation being conducted by French Interior Minister Manuel Valls. Last month, the European Union (EU) warned France that it could face sanctions over its uncivil treatment of the Roma community after Valls declared that France was "not here to welcome these populations."

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Funeral of Nazi War Criminal Is Halted in Italy; Police Prevent Entry to Church Due to Protesters

The funeral of Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke was called off near Rome in Italy at the last minute yesterday by his lawyer, after he said police prevented friends and family members from attending amid a noisy protest against the planned memorial, the France 24 website reports today (October 16, 2013).

Shouting "murderer" and "executioner," hundreds of people jeered as Priebke's coffin arrived for the funeral Mass to be celebrated by a splinter Catholic group opposed to the Vatican's outreach to Jews.

But Priebke's lawyer, Paolo Giachini, said the funeral did not take place "because authorities did not allow people to enter who wanted to come in." The casket remained inside.

Since Priebke's death on October 11 at the age of 100, debate has raged over what to do with his remains. Pope Francis' vicar for Rome refused him a funeral in a Catholic Church and Rome's police chief backed him up, citing concerns for public order. Where he will be buried remains unresolved.

"Luxury Bp." in Germany Causes Church Exodus; Bishop of Limburg Spent $40M on His Palace

A huge number of Catholics are leaving the Church in Germany in protest at the behavior of the Bishop of Limburg who has spent an estimated $40 million on renovations to his palace, the Catholic News website reports today (October 16, 2013).

The thousands leaving -- both locally and nationally -- has alarmed the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Moreover, the crisis caused by the behavior of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst has divided the most senior German Catholics.

Besides having spent an estimated $40 million on his residence -- including $20,000 on his bathtub -- Bishop Tebartz has also received two court orders for perjury from a Hamburg court and nine for breach of trust from a court in Limburg.

Under the German system, people leave the Church by signing the appropriate documents. They then no longer pay the automatic church tax, but lose church-linked privileges. Consequently, dioceses  can easily monitor numbers, and register sudden trends.

Exclusive: Franklin Graham: US Is in Moral Decay; Ignoring God Resulted in Greed, Lust, Wickedness

Evangelist Franklin Graham -- son of the world-renown evangelist Billy Graham -- says greed, lust, and wickedness are at the heart of Washington's woes, the CBN (Christian Broadcast Network) website reports from an exclusive interview today (October 16, 2013).

The leader of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association says America is in crisis because we've taken God out of the picture. "Our government is in trouble; our country is in trouble," Franklin warned. "We are in moral decay; we are in economic decay."

"Our politicians don't know right from wrong," he continued. "And our politicians come to this city (Washington, D.C.) and they fight one another and it's the greed in their hearts, the lust that's in their hearts, and they make all these rules and laws that affect the rest of us." According to Graham, this is what happens when God is removed from government and the nation's schools.

"And the government spends and spends and spends, and they don't have the money to pay for it. But the politicians are trying to use that money to buy votes in favor for themselves. It is so greedy and so wicked and so wrong," he charged.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Army Calls American Family Assoc. a Hate Group; AFA Is Listed Alongside Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazis

U.S. Army officials recently told active duty and reserve troops that the American Family Association (AFA) should be classified as a domestic hate group, the Charisma News website reports today (October 15, 2013).

A briefing at Camp Shelby in Mississippi listed the AFA alongside the Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazis, and the Black Panthers. According to a soldier at the briefing -- who asked not to be identified -- the AFA was listed as a hate group because it is viewed by the Army as a group that hates homosexuals.

Brian Fischer -- director of issues analysis at AFA -- said, "The truth is that the AFA doesn't hate anyone. We love everybody. We love homosexuals enough to tell them the truth about the moral, spiritual, and physical dangers of homosexual conduct."

Fischer added that the AFA is calling on the military to strip all of their training materials of any reference to the AFA as a hate group. If it fails to do so, the AFA will initiate legal action against the military.

Russian Police Detain Suspect in Stabbing Death; Murder Caused Riots Among Muslims, Russians

Russian police have detained a suspect in the stabbing death of an ethnic Russian man that set off riots in Moscow during the past week, the Washington Post website reports today (October 15, 2013).

Russia's Investigating Committee said in a statement today that a 30-year-old suspect named Orkhan Zeynalov -- a native of the Caucasus nation of Azerbaijan -- had been detained in a town outside of Moscow.

In addition, 50 people were detained by police today, as they gathered to protest near the scene of October 13 riots.

Tensions have long simmered between ethnic Russians and natives of the predominantly Muslim Caucasus region, who often work in Russia's cities. Violent confrontations between the two groups have been occurring more often in recent years.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Malala Yousafzai Wins EU Human Rights Prize; Taliban Had Shot Pakistani Advocate of Girls' Ed.

European lawmakers have awarded their top human rights prize to Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai -- who survived a Taliban assassination attempt last year -- the Wall Street Journal website reports today (October 14, 2013).

The prize -- which includes a $65,000 monetary award --  is considered the top rights award of the European Union (EU). Previous winners include Nobel Peace Prize laureates Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela.

Ms. Yousafzai, 16, was shot in the head last October by a Taliban gunman as she walked home from school. She had been campaigning for girls' education in Pakistan's Swat valley, where the Taliban's interpretation of Islam keeps women at home and bars girls from attending school. Militant Muslims still threaten to kill her if she returns to Pakistan.

After the shooting she was flown to the United Kingdom for treatment at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. She gradually regained her sight and her voice and was reunited with her parents. Since leaving the hospital in March, she has co-written a book, delivered a speech at the United Nations Youth Assembly, and become the youngest Nobel Peace Prize nominee in history.

Northborough, MA Cath. Priest Stole $230,000; Rev. Stephen Gemme Had a Gambling Problem

A Roman Catholic church pastor in Northborough, Massachusetts has resigned, as the diocese investigates allegations he stole more than $230,000 from the parish and its school, Worcester Bishop Robert McManus said in a letter to parishioners Sunday, the Boston Herald website reports today (October 14, 2013).

The Rev. Stephen Gemme of St. Bernadette Parish in Northborough was granted a medical leave of absence and placed in residential treatment after the alleged thefts were uncovered, McManus said.

Gemme admitted to having a gambling problem and offered his resignation, which was accepted, according to McManus.

"As a result of the magnitude of the misuse of funds," the Worcester district attorney's office has been informed, the bishop added. It appeared that Gemme used more than $110,000 in school funds and more than $120,000 of parish funds "for personal expenditures unrelated to the parish or school" over the last four years, McManus concluded.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Turks Nabbed for Giving Nazi Salute in Poland; Also Chanted "Heil Hitler" to Israeli Students

Two Turkish students have been arrested for giving a Nazi salute to Israeli students while on a trip to a former concentration camp in Poland, the World Bulletin website reports today (October 13, 2013).

The incident occurred on October 6 at the Majdanek concentration camp just outside of Lubin. Reports say that the two Turkish students chanted "Heil Hitler" along with giving the Nazi salute when they came across a tour group of Israeli students.

Upon receiving complaints from the Israelis, Polish police arrested the pair who will now be prosecuted for fascist propaganda.

The Turkish students are contesting the charges, claiming that they were just joking. If found guilty, they could be sent to prison for three years.

Pope Praises Role of Women in Church, Society; "Woman Brings into World the Children of Men"

The role of women in the Roman Catholic Church should be one of "service" -- and not "servitude" -- the pope said at a Vatican conference yesterday, the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website reports today (October 13, 2013).

Pope Francis, 76, said he "suffered" when he saw "in the Church, or in certain Church organizations... that the woman's service role slips into one of servitude."

He also singled out two dangers facing Catholic women, beginning with "motherhood being reduced to a social role." On the other hand, he said that the "sort of emancipation" that allows women to enter traditionally male domains may rob them of "the very femininity that characterizes them."

"The Church is a woman, a mother, that is what is beautiful," the pope told some 150 people attending the conference marking the 25th anniversary of the publication of papal text on the woman's vocation. Whatever cultural and social changes have occurred or may occur, "the fact remains that it is the woman who conceives, carries, and brings into the world the children of men," the pontiff concluded. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

US Admits to Holding Fake Honor-Guard Rituals; Honored Vets Killed in Wars Were Not in Coffins

The U.S. Department of Defense has been forced to admit that a Hawaii-based command special unit -- charged with recovering the remains of dead service members -- has been holding fake honor-guard ceremonies, the Big News Network website reports today (October 12, 2013).

The Pentagon acknowledged this week that honored members were not in coffins that were being borne from planes that had arrived from World War II, Vietnam, and Korea battle areas.

Some of the planes couldn't even fly and had been towed onto tarmac areas by army vehicles while the audience was kept at bay.

The families of the missing, veterans, politicians, and media who did attend were led to believe that they were witnessing the return of the remains of Americans who had been killed in the major wars. The ceremonies occurred at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii.

Russian Police Arrest 67 at a Gay Rights Protest; Gays, Opponents Detained in St. Petersburg Melee

Police arrested 67 people today (October 12, 2013) after a fight broke out between gay rights activists and their opponents at a demonstration in the Russian city of St. Petersburg, according to the Reuters website.

Gay rights campaigners in Russia have held several small protests since the adoption of a law in June banning homosexual "propaganda" directed at minors. Critics say the law curtails homosexuals' rights to free speech and assembly.

The disturbance in central St. Petersburg began after a group of around 15 gay rights activists tried to hold a demonstration to mark International Coming Out Day. They were far outnumbered by the anti-gay demonstrators, including several dressed as Cossacks and Orthodox priests.

The anti-gay demonstrators included several elderly women who chanted Russian Orthodox prayers. The new law banning homosexual "propaganda" is backed by most Russians, including many Russian Orthodox Christian believers who regard homosexuality as a sin.

Friday, October 11, 2013

School Supt.'s Ban on Xmas Music Angers Parents; Stunned Wis. School Board to Address Music Ban

The Wausau, Wisconsin school district has informed its music teachers that beginning this December, they must either perform five secular songs for every one religious song, have a concert with no holiday music at all, or cancel the concert altogether, the Christian Broadcast Network website reports today (October 11, 2013).

"The goal is to make sure that students do not feel coerced into performing songs that make them very uncomfortable," Kathleen Williams, Wausau School District superintendent, said. She added that public schools should not endorse any one religion.

But the new order is making people feel uncomfortable. The high school choir director called off all 15 of the elite master singers concerts. "This group sings at Christmas programs. We sing for nursing homes, grad schools, and businesses. To do that without Christmas music doesn't make sense," Phil Buch, Wausau West high school choir director, said.

Many parents agree and are angry about the dissolution of the traditional school Christmas concerts. Even the school board appears to have been blind-sided by the new ban on Christmas songs, according to Pat McKee, Wausau school board member. The school board will discuss the new music standards and hear from the community at an upcoming meeting.

Enraged Egypt Blasts US for Suspending Mil. Aid; Egypt Might Now Violate Peace Treaty with Israel

An angry Egypt has hit back at the United States' decision this week to suspend a large part of the military aid it gives, the Euro News website reports today (October 11, 2013).

The U.S. decision follows the undemocratic military takeover in July and the violent crackdown on supporters of ousted Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Mursi.

Egypt's foreign ministry spokesperson, Badr Abdelatty, questioned the future of the relationship between the U.S. and Egypt, saying: "It wasn't an appropriate decision and it raises serious questions with regards to the commitments of the United States to provide the security programs and assistance to Egypt."

Political analyst, Saad El-Dine Ibrahim, warned it could have a knock-on effect for Israel: "Egypt will be freer to manipulate its relations with Israel. It will not be as dutiful in observing the terms of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty as it has been for the last 40 years."

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Penn. School Cancels Halloween Fun to Avoid Rel.; Parents Protest, Decision Reversed Like a Phantom

The Inglewood Elementary School in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, issued a letter to parents on October 8, telling them that Halloween festivities were canceled in order to comply with a Supreme Court edict that public schools not promote any religion, the Huffington Post website reports today (October 10, 2013).

"Some holidays observed in the community that are considered by many to be secular (such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Valentine's Day) are viewed by others as having religious overtones," Principal Orlando Taylor wrote in a note to parents. "The district must always be mindful of the sensitivity of all the members of the community with regard to holidays and celebrations of a religious, cultural, or secular nature," Taylor added.

Some parents protested the ban, which they believed was brought on by political correctness. "Why deny our elementary school children the right of freedom of expression and celebration of American culture/traditions that most of us experienced in school?" one parent asked.

But now, it appears that the controversy will vanish mysteriously like a phantom late in the night. A clarification posted on the district's website explains that Inglewood School's original interpretation of the Supreme Court edict was incorrect after all.

Rabbis Arrested for Beating Men to Divorce Wives; Ex Must OK Divorce for Orth. Woman to Remarry

Two Orthodox Jewish rabbis and two others were arrested for allegedly kidnapping and beating men in order to force them to grant their wives religious Jewish divorces, the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) website reports today (October 10, 2013).

The men were arrested last night in a month-long sting operation in which a female FBI agent posed as an Orthodox Jewish woman trying to get a religious divorce -- or a "get" as Orthodox Jews call this divorce document -- from her husband.The FBI conducted searches at Yeshiva Shaarei Torah in Monsey, in New York's Rockland County, in Lakewood, N.J., in Brooklyn, and elsewhere.

Rabbis Mendel Epstein and Martin Wolmark -- along with two accomplices -- were due to appear today in U.S. District Court in Trenton, New Jersey. Six others could also be charged, according to reports.

According to the complaint unsealed yesterday, the rabbis charged $10,000 to persuade the rabbis on the rabbinical court to approve the kidnapping, and another up to $60,000 to pay for others to handle the kidnapping, beating, and other physical torture of the Orthodox Jewish men who had not granted their wives a religious divorce. Orthodox Jewish women are not allowed to remarry without a writ of divorce granted by a rabbinical court.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Vanderbilt Divinity School Picks Lesbian as Dean; "Devoted to Confronting Homophobia in Society"

Vanderbilt Divinity School (VDS) -- located in Nashville, Tennessee -- has installed an openly lesbian clergywoman as the school's new dean, the Christian News website reports today (October 9, 2013).

The school's "Commitments" page states that the institution "is committed to the faith that brought the church into being," but advocates "a critical and open examination of the Hebraic and Christian traditions." In particular, VDS is devoted to "confronting the homophobia that prevails throughout much of the church and society."

"We recognize the rights of lesbians and gay men within the religious community and the need for the eradication of civil discrimination based on sexual orientation," the commitments page continues.

In keeping with these beliefs, the VDS has officially appointed Emilie Townes as the 16th dean of the school. Not only is Townes an ordained American Baptist clergywoman, but she is also an overt homosexual. A news article on the VDS website described her as "a pioneering scholar in the field of womanist theology."

Egypt to Begin Mohamed Morsy's Trial Nov. 4; Ousted Pres. Is Charged with Inciting Violence

Ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy is slated to stand trial starting November 4 on charges of committing and inciting violence, the CNN website reports today (October 9, 2013).

Facing trial alongside him are 14 other members of the Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Morsy -- who is backed by the Brotherhood -- will be tried at Egypt's Criminal Court on charges relating to his alleged involvement in violence that took place around presidential palace in Cairo.

Egypt's military forcibly removed Morsy from office in early July. He has been in detention since then, and a military-backed interim government has been in power.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

France to Build 1st Muslim Campus in Strasbourg; Will Use Arabic, Be a Standard for Islam in Europe

The first French-Turkish Muslim campus in France will be built in the outskirts of the city of Strasbourg, the Ansamed (Italian-Mediterranean) website reports today (October 8, 2013).

The project -- fully funded by Turkey -- will train France's future imams with courses and exams exclusively in Arabic. There are currently only two private institutes in France for the training of imams: one school created by Paris's Grand Mosque and one set up by the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Union of Islamic Organizations in France.

In addition to the theology faculty and its five-year course of studies, there will also be a Muslim secondary school based on the Turkish imam hatip, as well as internships. "The secondary school will be a nursery ground for recruiting future students of theology. It will become the standard for Islam in France and Europe," said Saban Kiper, socialist councilor in the Strasbourg municipality.

He added that Turkey is investing 15 million euros in "the most ambitious project ever for France's Muslim community of Turkish origins." More Muslims live in France than any other country in Europe.

Russian Train-Riders to Get Audio Info Programs; Topics Include Russian History and Orthodox Rel.

Passengers on Russian trains will soon be treated to special audio programs designed to broaden their knowledge of history, philosophy, and religion -- more specifically, the Russian Orthodox Church -- the Spero Forum website reports today (October 8, 2013).

Under the initiative -- headed by a senior figure at the Moscow Patriarchate -- a compilation of programs previously hosted by Radio Rossii journalist Lyudmila Borzyak will become available on more than 200 long-distance trains in the coming months.

Topics will include stories from the lives of famous Russian saints, including Princess Olga and Prince Vladimir; the early days of Orthodox Christianity in Russia; and the formation of the Russian nation.

"We believe this project will help foster a higher level of culture and instruction in society," said Yelena Miroshnikova, a spokeswoman for the state-owned Russian Railways. "It also aims to encourage personal values such as respect for our country's historical past, kindness, and spiritual growth," she added. However, in some Russian republics -- especially those whose primary religion is not Orthodox Christianity -- some people are skeptical about the project.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Billy Graham Exclusive: US in "Sea of Immorality;" Americans Now Face Threats to Civil, Rel. Liberties

The Rev. Billy Graham says that President Obama's "hope and change" mantra is nothing more than a cliche, and warns that the nation faces increasing threats to civil and religious liberties from its government, the Newsmax website reports exclusively today (October 7, 2013).

Graham -- who is preparing for possibly his last crusade, this time via video -- said America is drenched in a "sea of immorality" and suggested that the second coming of Christ is "near."

Graham -- who turns 95 this month -- said, "Our country is turning away from what has made it so great, but far greater than the government knowing our every move that could lead to losing our freedom to worship God publicly, is to know that God knows our every thought; He knows our hearts need transformation."

Graham continues to share his message of God's love -- a message he has imparted faithfully for many decades -- despite faltering health in recent years.

Scores Killed in Egypt on Yom Kippur War Anniv.; Thousands of Mil. Govt. and Morsi Backers Clash

At least 50 people were killed in clashes in Egypt yesterday (October 6), after supporters and opponents of the country's deposed president Mohammed Morsi took to the streets for rival protests, the France 24 website reports today (October 7, 2013).

At least 45 people were killed in Cairo and at least another 268 were wounded in cities across Egypt, senior health ministry official Ahmed al-Ansari said.

The demonstrations began early in the day as thousands of supporters of the military-backed interim government thronged Cairo's symbolic Tahrir Square, waving Egyptian flags and brandishing posters of army chief General Abdel Fatah al Sisi, who led the July 3 military coup that deposed Morsi. However, Islamist backers of Morsi staged their own counter protests, and clashes between the two groups soon broke out, with police firing tear gas to disperse the protesters.

The protests fell on the 40th anniversary of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War -- also known as the Yom Kippur War -- a surprise Arab attack against Israel on an important Jewish holiday that eventually led to the recovery of the Sinai Peninsula in a 1979 peace treaty. The war is celebrated each year in Egypt on October 6 as a national holiday.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Orthodox Christians Mark Anniv. of Edict of Milan; Established Rel. Tolerance in Roman Empire in 313

Eight Orthodox Christian leaders, dignitaries from other faiths, politicians, and thousands of others today (October 6, 2013) celebrated the anniversary of the Edict of Milan, which established toleration for Christianity in the Roman Empire 1,700 years ago, according to the Reuters website.

Roman Catholic Pope Francis was not present at the liturgy in the Serbian city of Nis -- his absence reflecting centuries-old divisions between Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox branches of Christianity -- despite significant progress in recent years by both toward reconciliation and dialogue.

The city of Nis -- located about 125 miles south of Serbia's capital of Belgrade -- was selected as the venue for the celebration because the emperor Constantine the Great, who proclaimed religious tolerance in 313, was born in the then Roman city of Naissus in 272.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was flanked by patriarchs Theophilos of Jerusalem, Kiril of Russia, Irinej of Serbia, and their counterparts from Albania, Cyprus, Poland, Slovakia, and other smaller Orthodox churches, as he called in a sermon for more religious freedom and reconciliation.

"Many Christians are being persecuted these days in the Middle East, in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Nigeria and other places, only because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus," Patriarch Bartholomew said.

Turkey PM:Would Reopen Halki "In a Minute;" If Greece Allowed Two Ottoman Mosques in Athens

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday that he expects Greece to offer a concession for Ankara approving the reopening of the Halki Seminary near Istanbul -- which Turkey closed down in 1971 -- the Ekathimerini (Greek Daily) website reports today (October 6, 2013).

Erdogan suggested that in return for the seminary being allowed to function again, Greece should agree to the Muslim community in Thrace -- a province in northern Greece -- being allowed to appoint its own religious leader (mufti), rather than the government in Athens doing so.

"The Turkish government does not appoint the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios in Istanbul," said Erdogan. "The Greek community chooses its leader. Why, then, should the Greek government decide who should lead the Muslim community in western Thrace?"

Erdogan -- who is a fanatical Islamist as illustrated by the recent secular-oriented mass riots against him in Turkey -- also suggested that Ankara would be willing to reopen the Halki Seminary "within a minute" if Athens allowed two Ottoman mosques in Greece's capital to be rebuilt.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Popes Francis and Benedict in Latin Mass Clash; Benedict: Francis Hurt Summorum Pontificum

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI allegedly feels that his "Summorum Pontificum" decree has been "wounded" by Pope Francis' decision to restrict the Latin Mass -- which Benedict's 2007 apostolic letter had explicitly allowed -- the WWRN (Worldwide Religion News) website reports today (October 5, 2013), in what appears to be the first important discord between the two popes.

Italian journalist Sandro Magister reported that in "conversations with his visitors," Benedict has revealed his private opinion of the Francis-initiated limitation.

Rorate Caeli reported on the "explosive revelation" -- which came to light in Magister's analysis of the Francis pontificate to date -- agreeing that Francis' restriction does indeed undermine the authority of the Summorum Pontificum itself.

Francis came under fire from Catholic traditionalists over the summer for "abrogating the Summorum," but the Vatican responded with a statement that refuted claims that his decision undermined Benedict's initial letter. Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said to the National Catholic Reporter that Francis' orders "do not intend to contradict the general instructions" of Benedict, but respond "to specific problems and tensions created in that congregation regarding the rite for the celebration of Mass."

Georgetown U. Hit with Canon Lawsuit at Vatican; Suit Calls for Removal of GU's Right to Be Cath.

Novelist William Peter Blatty -- author of "The Exorcist" -- has filed a formal canonical lawsuit asking the Vatican to protect the Catholic identity of Georgetown University (GU), the Catholic Culture website reports today (October 5, 2013).

Blatty -- a Georgetown alumnus himself -- collected more than 2,000 signatures on an accompanying petition, urging the "Catholic Church to require that Georgetown implement 'Ex Corde Ecclesiae,' a papal constitution governing Catholic colleges." If Georgetown does not restore its Catholic identity, the petition calls for "the removal or suspension of top-ranked Georgetown's right to call itself Catholic and Jesuit in any of its representations."

The canonical petition -- a lengthy document supported by 124 witness statements -- argues that Georgetown has regularly flouted Catholic Church teaching and discipline, and failed to provide its  students with authentic Catholic instruction. For example, last year Georgetown selected the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services -- an outspoken abortion supporter -- to be the speaker at its graduation ceremony.

The petition has been submitted to the Vatican Secretariat of State and to the Congregations for Education and for Religious.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Syrian Pres. Assad: "I May Run Again Next Year;" Wants New 7-Yr. Term Despite War to Oust Him

Syrian president Bashar Assad says it's still too early to say whether he'll run for re-election in next year's presidential vote, the Newser website reports today (October 4, 2013).

Assad says "the picture will be clearer" in the next four to five months because Syria is going through "rapid changes" on the ground. He spoke in an interview with Turkish television channel Halk TV, aired late last night.

Assad has been president of Syria since 2000; his second seven-year term ends in mid-2014. Syria's opposition wants him to step down and hand over power to a transitional government with full powers until new elections are held. He has adamantly refused to step down.

Despite Syria's ongoing civil war -- which has already resulted in more than 110,000 killings during the past two and one-half years -- Assad still enjoys wide support among minorities, including Christians and Alawites, members of the Shiite Islam sect.

Organized Crime Linked to Murders of 2 Priests; Eight Priests Killed in Colombia in the Past Year

Father Bernardo Echeverry, 62, and Father Hector Fabio Cabrera, 35, who ministered at San Sabastian Roman Catholic parish in Roldanillo village, Valle, Colombia, were found murdered late September 27, the Charisma News website reports today (October 4, 2013).

Neighbors reported to police having seen two men running from the parish. Investigating officers found the priests' bodies in the residence they shared near the church.

Open Doors Colombia notes that in the last year alone, eight priests have been killed in the country.

According to police and media reports, two men broke into the residence while the priests were celebrating 8 p.m. Mass and awaited the priests with knives. The murderers fled with offerings, a computer, and an iPad. Ubeimar Delgado -- governor of Valle -- linked the double murder to organized crime.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Hobby Lobby Chain Won't Carry Hanukkah Items; Because of Owner Steve Green's "Christian Values"

Hobby Lobby -- the national craft store owned by conservative billionaire Steve Green -- does not carry merchandise related to Hanukkah because of Green's "Christian values" -- and some Jews are taking offense -- the Religion News website reports today (October 3, 2013).

"I will never set foot in Hobby Lobby. Ever," wrote Ken Berwitz, the New Jersey blogger who brought the Hobby Lobby Hanukkah flap to light in a blog post on September 27.

Berwitz's outrage has spread to other bloggers who are taking Hobby Lobby to task as a store that courts the general public, but refuses to stock anything related to Judaism -- even in communities with significant Jewish populations.

Green owns more than 550 Hobby Lobby stores nationwide, all of which are closed on Sunday, the Christian Sabbath. He is also known for his lawsuit against President Obama's health care law, which he says tramples on his religious liberty by forcing him to insure employees for medical services he objects to on religious grounds. Many legal experts agree that his lawsuit has a good chance of being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Golden Dawn Head Ordered to Remain in Custody; Greece's Neo-Nazi Party Leader Appears in Court

Greece's Golden Dawn party leader Nikos Michaloliakos has been ordered to remain in custody pending trial, the Ekathimerini (Greek Daily) website reports today (October 3, 2013).

Yesterday, the head of Greece's neo-Nazi party defended himself in court on charges of setting up a criminal organization.

During the marathon session at the Evelpidon court complex in Athens -- which went on until  the early hours this morning -- Michaloliakos denied the charges which he refuted as politically-motivated.

"I feel sorry for the murder of (Pavlos) Fyssas," Michaloliakos said of the 34-year-old rapper that was stabbed to death by a Golden Dawn member last month. "I condemn (the murder), like I condemn violence in general. I am not a Nazi," said the 56-year-old mathematician.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Anti-Semitism Has Been Rising Fast in Hungary; Govt. Determined to Crack Down on Hate Crimes

Hungary has moved to to stamp out resurgent anti-Semitism that has pervaded the country in recent months, the Euro News website reports today (October 2, 2013).

In a recent hate incident, bars of soap were nailed to the fence of a synagogue -- a reference to the myth that Nazis made soap out of those murdered in concentration camps.

Hungary's Deputy Prime Minister Tibor Navaracsics said the state is determined to crack down on hate: "We have learned from the past. We know what happened and we will not allow it to happen again. This democracy will defend itself against anyone who wants to incite hatred."

The far-right Jobbick Party has on a number of occasions attacked Jews and Israel in speeches in parliament where they hold 43 of the 386 seats. Hungary still has one of the largest and oldest Jewish communities in Europe, despite the fact that more than 500,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in the Holocaust during World War II.

Can Catholic Church Have a Rabbi as Its Pope?; Argentine Rabbi Has Lived with Pope for a Week

"Never before in the history of Christian-Jewish relations have a Pope and Rabbi celebrated their friendship by living in the Vatican together for several days, sharing all meals, including on two Jewish festivals and the Sabbath at which the Rabbi said prayers in Hebrew, and discussing what more they can do together to promote dialogue and peace in the world," the Spero Forum website reports today (October 2, 2013).

That is what actually has been happening since September 25 at the Vatican guesthouse (Santa Marta) where Pope Francis lives and where his friend from Buenos Aires, Argentina, Rabbi Abraham Skorka, has been his guest from September 25 to this very day.

"I eat with him at breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. He cares for me, and controls everything regarding my food to make sure it is all kosher, and according to my religious tradition. These are festive days, and I have to say certain prayers at meals and, I expand the last prayer and translate it. He accompanies me together with the others at table -- his secretaries and a bishop, and they all say 'Amen' at the end," the Rabbi said.

Rabbi Skorka revealed that he and Pope Francis are planning to travel together to the Holy Land next year. The Israeli and Palestinian authorities have invited Pope Francis, and the Ecumenical Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, wants him to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting of his predecessor, Athenagoras, with Paul VI in the Holy City.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Christianity Is Becoming Extinct in Its Birthplace; Experts: Extinction Is a Result of Muslim Attacks

Respected United Kingdom historian Tom Holland told a briefing in London this week that the world is watching the effective extinction of Christianity from its birthplace, the Religion Today website reports today (October 1, 2013).

In an apocalyptic appraisal of the worsening political situation in the region, a panel of experts provided a mass of evidence and statistics for the end of the region's nation states under the onslaught of militant Islam.

Holland said, "It is the climax of a process grinding its way through the twentieth century -- the effective extinction of Christianity from its birthplace."

Holland also compared the predicament of Christianity in the Middle East today to the Thirty Years' War: "In terms of the sheer scale of the hatreds and sectarian rivalries, we are witnessing something on the scale of horror of the European Thirty Years' War."

(The Thirty Years' War ((1618-1648)) was mainly a religious struggle between the ((Catholic)) Holy Roman Empire and the Protestant principalities in Europe that relied on the chief anti-Catholic powers of Sweden and the Netherlands.)

New Study:Most Jews Indifferent Toward Judaism; U.S. Jews More Concerned with Culture, Ancestry

In the most comprehensive study of American Jews in 12 years, a strong majority said being Jewish is mostly about ancestry or culture -- not the religious practice of Judaism -- the Religion News website reports today (October 1, 2013).

"A Portrait of Jewish Americans" -- released on Tuesday (October 1, 2013) by the Pew Research Center -- shows strong secularist trends most clearly seen in one finding: 62 percent of U.S. Jews said Jewishness is largely about culture or ancestry; just 15 percent said it's about religious belief.

"Non-Jews may be stunned by it," said Alan Cooperman, co-author of the study. "Being Jewish to most Jews in America today is not a matter of religion."

Pew's new American Jewish statistics -- regarding intermarriage, raising of children, synagogue membership, and attachment to Israel -- are likely to come under intense scrutiny by Jews who are focused on the "continuity" question. That question concerns the fear -- brought into reality by the Holocaust -- that the survival of the Jewish people is tenuous. Many Jews believe that continuity depends on maintaining strong defenses -- especially against external enemies who would kill Jews and destroy Israel, and against the growing internal threat of intermarriage with its tendency to diminish the number of children who are raised as Jews.