NEWS FEATURE: The city of Jesus’ birth readies itself for the millennium

c. 1999 Religion News Service BETHLEHEM, Palestinian Authority _ When Khalil Shokeh attended last weekend’s inauguration of this ancient city’s Bethlehem 2000 millennium festivities, he noticed that he was seeing his city in a light that was unfamiliar even to him, a native son.”Now, for the first time, thanks to all of this cleaning and plastering of buildings, I am seeing the real old town as it might have looked hundreds of years ago,”said the director general of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce.”It’s really a hopeful sign, a sign of peace.” After months of furious preparations, the Palestinian Authority is beginning to showcase the results of its $160 million millennium redevelopment project, known as Bethlehem 2000. Two years in the making, the project has provided the city with a much-needed face lift for the coming year. The hope is it has also laid the groundwork for making Bethlehem a more pilgrimage-friendly destination for years to come.

COMMENTARY: Parades, race and Jesus

c. 1999 Religion News Service (Tom Ehrich is a writer and computer consultant, managing large-scale database implementations. An Episcopal priest, he lives in Durham, N.C.) DURHAM, N.C. _ Even though the Northerner in me is surprised by 70-degree days in December, I don’t complain as we stand along Main Street in short sleeves and watch a Christmas parade. It is an urban medley. High-stepping school bands whose dancers sway to intricate drum rhythms, ROTC and Young Marine color guards, television personalities, dune buggies, clowns, the mayor, sanitation workers, church floats _ one church’s military-uniformed guard chanting the spelling of”J-E-S-U-S”_ Chinese followers of Falun Gong holding delicate poses, enormous city vehicles showing our tax dollars at work, and Shriners driving”ragtops”and”Bugs.”

NEWS STORY: Religion journalists name Protestant Reformation millennium’s top story

c. 1999 Religion News Service UNDATED _ The Protestant Reformation was selected as the top religion story of the second Christian millennium by members of the Religion Newswriters Association, who also voted the Holocaust the 20th century’s leading news event. In 1517, the rebellious German priest Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses condemning Rome’s practice of selling indulgences on a church door in Wittenberg to spark the Protestant Reformation. The act led to Christendom’s second major schism, the Catholic Counter-Reformation and the founding of the Church of England. The millennium’s second most important story was the widespread dissemination of the Bible and other religious literature, beginning with the first English translation of the Bible by John Wycliffe in 1380, the 1455 publication of the Gutenberg Bible and the 1605 publication of the King James Version.

NEWS STORY: Supreme Court hears arguments on key church-state case

c. 1999 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ Should the government provide computers and other equipment to religious schools in an effort to treat all schoolchildren equally? Or does providing such materials violate the separation of church and state guaranteed by the First Amendment? The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday (Dec. 1) in the ongoing debate over the relationship between religion and schools, with the technology of the 1990s at the center of the discussion.