NEWS STORY: With Return of Icon, Vatican Looks to Better Catholic-Orthodox Relations

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) With the return by Pope John Paul II of the venerated icon of the Mother of God of Kazan to Moscow, the Vatican can look to improved relations with the Russian Orthodox Church. A papal delegation presented the icon to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexey II on Sunday (Aug. 29) at a solemn, three-hour ceremony celebrated with incense and sacred music in the Cathedral of the Dormition of Mary, the church inside the Kremlin in which Russia’s czars were crowned and patriarchs are enthroned. Sunday was the Orthodox Feast of the Dormition, the equivalent of the Catholic Feast of the Assumption marking the end of the Virgin Mary’s life on earth.

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c. 2004 Religion News Service Former Christian Coalition Head Accepts Fees From Casino Lobbyists (RNS) Ralph Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition and now a Republican strategist, admitted that he accepted $1.23 million in consulting fees tied to Indian-run gambling casinos, The Washington Post reported. Reed, who also serves as Southeast regional chairman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, received the fees from two lobbyists whose ties to the Indian tribes are now the subject of a federal investigation. Sources told The Post that Reed’s Atlanta-based Century Strategies was paid $1.23 million by public relations executive Michael Scanlon, whose clients included a Louisiana Indian tribe that was trying to prevent other tribes from opening competitive casinos. Part of Reed’s job was to mobilize Christian ministers and activists against the new casinos.

NEWS STORY: Christian Right, Sure of Payoff Should Bush Win, Is Backstage in New York

c. 2004 Religion News Service NEW YORK _ The prime-time speakers lineup at the Republican National Convention doesn’t include Pat Robertson, the Rev. Jerry Falwell or anyone else instantly identifiable with the Christian right. At conventions past, the religious movement’s leaders would have been upset by such a slight, but not this year, they say. That’s because the event’s most important speaker, President Bush, is himself a Christian conservative. The sophisticated, more politically mature movement realizes it has never had a better friend in the Oval Office than George W. Bush, and is eager to get him re-elected, even if it means taking a lower convention profile to ensure the attention of moderate and swing voters.

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c. 2004 Religion News Service Second Court Strikes Down `Partial-Birth’ Abortion Ban (RNS) A second federal judge has struck down a law against so-called “partial-birth” abortions as unconstitutional, a ruling that conservatives said was disappointing but predictable. U.S. District Judge Richard Casey called the procedure “gruesome, brutal, barbaric and uncivilized,” but said the law signed by President Bush last November does not include a exception to protect the health of the mother. Four years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court mandated such a provision when it struck down a similar Nebraska law. The new law allows the procedure if the mother’s life is threatened, but does not include a broader exception if a doctor felt the procedure might improve a patient’s health.

NEWS FEATURE: Lessons on the Lake: Boats, Biscuits and the Bible

c. 2004 Religion News Service PELL CITY, Ala. _ As the pontoon boat bobbed back and forth on the ripples of Logan Martin Lake, Sunday school teacher Teresa Harris stood to begin her Bible lesson. First she reached into a picnic basket and began passing out hot sausage biscuits. Teenagers reached into coolers for cans of soda.

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c. 2004 Religion News Service Pope Urges Youth to Resist Seduction of Success and Power VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope John Paul II urged young people Thursday (Aug. 26) to resist the temptation of New Age idolatry and reject the “facile myths of wealth and power.” The 84-year-old Roman Catholic pontiff addressed young people in a message issued to prepare for the church’s 22nd World Youth Day celebrations in Cologne, Germany, next August. John Paul called on youth to “be worshippers of the only true God” and make Christ “the rock on which to build your future and a world of greater justice and solidarity.” “Idolatry is an ever-present temptation,” he said in a clear reference to New Age cults. “Sadly, there are those who seek the solution to their problems in religious practices that are incompatible with the Christian faith.” Acknowledging that young people may feel “a strong urge to believe in the facile myths of success and power,” the pope warned that “it is dangerous to accept the fleeting ideas of the sacred, which present God in the form of cosmic energy, or in any other manner that is inconsistent with Catholic teaching.” “My dear young people,” John Paul said, “do not yield to false illusions and passing fads which so frequently leave behind a tragic spiritual vacuum!

COMMENTARY: No Shortage of Catholics Falling Short

c. 2004 Religion News Service (Eugene Cullen Kennedy, a longtime observer of the Roman Catholic Church, is professor emeritus of psychology at Loyola University in Chicago and author of “Cardinal Bernardin’s Stations of the Cross,” published by St. Martin’s Press.) (UNDATED) Last spring, the Monsignor Moron Award was given, as saints were first named, by popular acclaim. It went to Monsignor Richard Sniezyk, who was then holding the fort in the diocese of Springfield, Mass., after its bishop departed under the cloud of the sex abuse scandal. The good monsignor may therefore have been pressured when he told the Boston Globe in February that, as a young priest, he had heard about priests having sex with young men but that “no one thought much about it.

COMMENTARY: This German Philosopher `Kant’ Be Forgotten

c. 2004 Religion News Service (Rabbi Rudin, the American Jewish Committee’s senior interreligious adviser, is Distinguished Visiting Professor at Saint Leo University.) (UNDATED) At a recent service in our synagogue, Rabbi Darren Levine spoke about the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and his impact on Jewish religious thought. The sermon set me thinking about a “Kantian moment” I experienced as a rabbinical student when I first entered the office of Samuel Atlas, who taught both Talmud and philosophy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. He was a brilliant product of the pre-World War II Jewish academies in Europe that were destroyed in the Holocaust. Although three pictures were on Atlas’ wall, I was able to identity only two: Moses Maimonides and Atlas himself.

NEWS FEATURE: Gibson DVD Hits Stores Without the Spring Passion

c. 2004 Religion News Service LOS ANGELES _ Looking back to those highly charged weeks in February and March, Rabbi Marvin Hier would have changed nothing because nothing has changed about his analysis of filmmaker Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” which makes its DVD debut Tuesday (Aug. 31). “If you’re asking me if we have changed our positions, absolutely not,” said Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance. Like other critics reflecting on past protests, Hier has no regrets.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2004 Religion News Service Ugandan Archbishop Lays Claim to Two California Churches (RNS) The Anglican archbishop of Uganda said the Episcopal bishop of Los Angeles has “no jurisdiction” over two parishes in Newport Beach and Long Beach that left the U.S. church and aligned themselves with Ugandan leaders. On Aug. 17, St. James Church in Newport Beach and All Saints’ Church in Long Beach abruptly left the Episcopal Church and declared themselves under the jurisdiction of Bishop Evans Kisekka of Luweero, Uganda.

NEWS STORY: Pope Writes Prayer for Unity With Russian Orthodox Church

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) A prayer written in Russian by Pope John Paul II to venerate the icon of the Mother of God of Kazan before its return to the Russian Orthodox Church: Glorious Mother of Jesus, who proceeded before the people of God on the way of the faith, love and union with Christ, you are blessed! All generations call you blessed because the Omnipotent has done great things for you, and holy is his name. You are blessed and honored, O Mother, in your icon of Kazan, in which for centuries you have been surrounded by the veneration and love of the Orthodox faithful, having become protector and witness of the special works of God in the history of the Russian people, all very dear to us. Divine Providence, which has the power to win over evil and to draw good even from bad works of men, has acted so that your icon, lost in long ago times, reappeared in the Sanctuary of Fatima in Portugal.

NEWS STORY: Groups Rally for Sudan in `Day of Conscience’

c. 2004 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ Religious and humanitarian groups rallied from coast to coast Wednesday (Aug. 25) in solidarity with more than a million refugees in Sudan who fled their homes in fear of government-backed militias. The “National Day of Conscience” demonstrations were organized by the Save Darfur Coalition, a broad-based network of religious and aid groups that are demanding international intervention to stop what they call a genocide campaign by the Sudanese government. Six people, including actor Danny Glover and the Rev. Bill Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, were arrested outside the Embassy of Sudan in a raucous but peaceful protest.

NEWS STORY: Praying for Christian Unity, Pope Sends Treasured Icon Back to Russia

c. 2004 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY _ Pope John Paul II on Wednesday (Aug. 25) kissed a treasured Russian icon and sent it back to Moscow as a sign of his affection for the Russian Orthodox Church and his desire to end 1,000 years of division between the Catholic and Orthodox worlds. The frail, 84-year-old pontiff expressed “special emotion” as he presided over a solemn celebration of the Liturgy of the Word for the veneration of the icon of the Mother of God of Kazan. He consigned the jewel-encrusted painting to a Vatican delegation that will carry it to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexey II.

NEWS FEATURE: Churches Struggle to Recover, and Help Others, After Hurricane Charley

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) When members of Grace United Methodist Church in Cape Coral, Fla., came forward for Communion two Sundays after Hurricane Charley, they were each given a bottle of water to share with someone who, like them, was still hurting after the storm. The symbolic act illustrated an ongoing reality. Grace United, which lost three roofs and several offices, must not only help itself but help others recover in the aftermath of the hurricane that slammed Florida on Aug. 13.