AMDBOCOMMENTARY: Grim prospects for the future in a land no one seems to want

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Andrew M. Greeley is a Roman Catholic priest, best-selling novelist and a sociologist at the University of Chicago National Opinion Research Center. Check out his home page at http://www.agreeley.com or contact him via e-mail at agreel(at)aol.com.) OXFORD, England _ Northern Ireland is the land that no one seems to want. That depressing sentiment seemed to prevail at a meeting of scholars here on the Irish troubles recently convened by the British Academy and the Royal Irish Academy. The British would like to be rid of Northern Ireland because of the enormous financial subsidy that they pour into it every year, though it is apparently of no national interest to them.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service Christmas marked by prayer, protest and calls for peace (RNS) Christmas celebrations around the world drew tens of millions of worshipers marking the birth of Jesus with a mix of prayer, protest and calls for peace. From a Vatican balcony, Pope John Paul II spoke of”peace and serenity”in Guatemala and Bosnia, where new peace agreements have thus far remained intact. He wished for similar results in the Middle East, where, he said,”provocations and profound differences”threaten a tension-filled peace, the Associated Press reported. He also lamented the globe’s general indifference to turmoil in Africa.

COMMENTARY: Two films shed new light on a dark era

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Rabbi Rudin is the national interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee.) UNDATED _ Sometimes movies can be a source of disappointment and dismay. But two new and highly acclaimed films with historical themes have given filmgoers much to think about. Both”The English Patient”and”Shine”reflect our continuing fascination with the past, particularly the tumultuous decade of World War II and the Holocaust. Both movies continue the trend of earlier motion pictures like”Schindler’s List,””Enemies: A Love Story,”and”Sophie’s Choice.”

TOP STORY: THE STARLET WHO MADE HERSELF A SAINT: Who was the real Evita?

c. 1996 Religion News Service UNDATED _ As millions of moviegoers flock to see”Evita,”the new musical starring Madonna, they’ll follow the story of Evita the Whore, a second-rate actress who slept her way into the Argentine presidential palace in the 1940s. But there’s another view of Argentine first lady Eva Peron: Evita the Saint. To her beloved”descamisados”(shirtless ones), she was a spiritual mother who built schools and hospitals and showered the poor with gifts, from homes to false teeth. In the two years before she died of cancer in 1952, Pope Pius XII received 40,000 letters calling for her canonization.

COMMENTARY: The transforming power of forgiveness

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Charles W. Colson, former special counsel to Richard Nixon, served a prison term for his role in the Watergate scandal. He now heads Prison Fellowship International, an evangelical Christian ministry to the imprisoned and their families. Contact Colson via e-mail at 71421.1551(at)compuserve.com.) UNDATED _ Cultural critics complain, with some justification, that nobody writes good Christmas songs or stories any more, which is a serious problem here in the season of hope. I’m no Dickens, but I do have a true story about the transforming nature of love, one that is played out on a much larger stage than the tale of the family Cratchit, spanning decades and continents, peacetime and war.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 19) suspended indefinitely a ruling by a lower, Islamist-dominated court that an Egyptian professor, accused of insulting Islam, must divorce his wife. The legal battle between conservative Muslim lawyers and the more secular scholar and his wife has been watched around the world as a barometer of whether Muslim activists, intent on installing Islamic law in Egypt, will prevail over more moderate and secular Muslims committed to intellectual and academic freedom. Similar struggles sometimes violent ones are being waged in other Muslim nations such as Algeria and Turkey. “This ruling suspends the carrying out of the divorce order forever,” Abdel-Moneim el-Sharkawy told the Associated Press.

NEWS STORY: TV rating plan gets bad reviews from many religious groups

c. 1996 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ Television’s proposed new rating system for programming, which the major networks plan to begin using Jan. 1, generally flopped with the religious community, drawing responses that ranged from harsh condemnation to cautious concern. The plan, unveiled Thursday (Dec. 19), will use a system of rating programs based on the program’s appropriateness for six age levels.

TOP STORY: ETHICAL CHRISTMAS SHOPPING: Could your kids toys be made in a sweatshop?

c. 1996 Religion News Service UNDATED _ Ben Gordon, a respiratory therapist and consumer from New Orleans, always asks three questions before buying: “Where does it come from? Who made it? What kind of values are behind it?” It’s old hat for a man long accustomed to applying ethical values to the purchase of food and clothes. Now, after years of prodding American companies to pay more attention to workplace conditions overseas, churches and other socially conscious investors are finding more Americans willing to raise Gordon’s questions for the first time for themselves.

NEWS FEATURE: THE CUSTOMS OF RELIGION: Scholar casts a skeptic’s eye on religious practices

c. 1996 Religion News Service UNDATED _ Charles Panati can tell you why Muslims are teetotalers, Jews don’t eat pork and some Christians experience a run of meatless Fridays. “Food taboos _ of the kind that abound in Leviticus, chapter 11, and Deuteronomy, chapter 14 _ are the means by which ancient societies maintained their separateness from others, their cohesiveness as a clan and the exclusivity of their religious beliefs,” Panati says. “God knew what he was doing; strict dietary laws kept Jews from easily socializing with people of other faiths. Less socializing meant less intermarriage.” Likewise, the Koran forbids all intoxicating drink, which sharply distinguishes Muslims from the wine and beer enthusiasts in other faiths.

COMMENTARY: Newsmakers, big and small, in 1996

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Rabbi Rudin is the national interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee.) UNDATED _ The top news stories of 1996 involved the high and the mighty, as well as humble, ordinary people, whose fates express universal lessons and unanswered questions for us all. Here are my choices for the year’s top religion stories. 1. The Religious Right remained a major force in American life, though it had far less impact than expected on the 1996 presidential elections.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 19). The pope has maintained silence on the recently renewed tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. But in a careful diplomatic response to the flare-up, the Vatican said in a statement that the two men dedicated part of their meeting to”an exchange of news and views on progress between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and on the situation of the people in the autonomous territories.” The pope has previously urged both sides to stick to the Middle East peace accords, which require the gradual redeployment of Israeli troops from West Bank villages in return for Palestinian security guarantees.

TOP STORY: SELLING THE NATIVITY: Nativity jewelry sales campaign draws ire in Bethlehem

c. 1996 Religion News Service BETHLEHEM _ The pitch seems to be everywhere this Christmas season: For as little as $59.95 (plus postage and handling) you, too, can own a piece of the place where Jesus was born. In reverential tones, actor Ricardo Montalban describes a filigreed cross, centered with a stone that he says”witnessed”the birth of Jesus. The offers have been broadcast in more than 35 countries, from the United States to Argentina and the Philippines. They have been seen on the Fox network, the Discovery Channel, VH-1, local television affiliates and on Pat Robertson’s”700 Club.”Print advertisements have appeared in such publications as Catholic Digest, Biblical Archaeology Review and the newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of New York.

TOP STORY: THE CHURCH AND VIETNAM: In Vietnam, flourishing trade fails to reap religious harvest

c. 1996 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY _ Archbishop Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan has no delusions about freedom of religion in his native Vietnam. Thirteen years in prison is instructive, said the former archbishop of Nha Trang, the coastal village north of Ho Chi Minh City. Above all, it teaches patience. Like a character in a Solzhenitsyn novel, Van was banished by his government for the ideas he espoused.

COMMENTARY: The truth shall make you odd

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Dale Hanson Bourke is the author of”Turn Toward the Wind”and publisher of Religion News Service.) UNDATED _ It is more than ironic, I fear, that one of the lowliest births of recorded history is commemorated this time of year with Nativity sets crafted from porcelain, fine glass or precious metal. These little scenes that often decorate our homes are supposed to remind us of Jesus’ birth. Instead, they serve as commentaries on what we pretend Christianity is and what we hope will be required of us if we follow the one who was born in a manger. Jesus’ birth couldn’t have been easy.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service Clinton launches celebrations for Hanukkah, Christmas (RNS) President Bill Clinton officially launched the holiday season in Washington, D.C., on Thursday (Dec. 5), hosting a special ceremony in the Oval Office to mark the beginning of Hanukkah and then riding across the street to light the national Christmas tree at the annual Pageant of Peace. At sundown on Thursday, Jews around the world began the celebration of Hanukkah, the eight-day holiday commemorating the time 2,100 years ago when Judah the Maccabee and his followers recaptured the temple in Jerusalem from their Syrian oppressors. In the Oval Office ceremony, cantor Laura Croen lit the first candle in a small menorah on the president’s desk and briefly explained the meaning of the holiday to Clinton and 18 youngsters from the Temple Sinai Nursery School in Washington, D.C. The children sang several Hanukkah songs and then Clinton joined them spinning a dreidl, the traditional Hanukkah game played with a four-sided top.