NEWS STORY: Acknowledging His Physical Suffering, Pope Opens Pilgrimage to Lourdes

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Acknowledging that age has brought him physical suffering, an ailing Pope John Paul II began a pilgrimage to the French shrine of Lourdes on Saturday (Aug. 14) to reaffirm his deep personal faith in the Virgin Mary and to pray for peace in the world. Like many of the 6 million pilgrims who travel each year to the mountain shrine in the Pyrenees of southwest France to seek healing, the pope started his visit by drinking water from a spring in the cave of Massabielle where a 14-year-old peasant girl claimed to have seen visions of the Virgin Mary almost a century and a half ago. As bells rang in the towering, Gothic-style basilica that stands above the cave, John Paul sat on a white throne on wheels, his head bent in prayer.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2004 Religion News Service Prescription Discount Plan Saves Methodists $348,728 (RNS) United Methodists who have signed up for an innovative church-sponsored drug discount program have saved $348,728 in prescription costs since the program was unveiled in March, church officials said. The first-ever partnership between the United Methodist Church and DestinationRx allows participants to save up to 50 percent on prescriptions, medical supplies and even pet medicine at 30,000 pharmacies across the country. It is the first such program between a church and a drug company. “One of the great satisfactions to me is to know that persons who needed help are getting help,” said the Rev. Mearle Griffith, president of the United Methodist Association of Health and Welfare Ministries, who helped broker the deal.

NEWS FEATURE: Lynne Hinton’s New Novel Tells a Darker Story

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) An odd alliance between a widow and her husband’s illegitimate adult daughter emerges from the tangled emotions at play in Lynne Hinton’s newest book. Love, loss, infidelity, betrayal, grief and suffering all come into play in the popular writer’s novel, “The Last Odd Day” (HarperSanFrancisco). In this slim volume, the popular author departs from the simple sweetness of her earlier works, which included “Friendship Cake” and two other books in the Hope Springs series. This time around, she still examines relationships, but it is a darker story and Jean, her lead character, is a loner and not part of a community.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2004 Religion News Service Vatican Closes Austrian Seminary Investigated in Sex Scandal VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican on Thursday (Aug. 12) closed a 200-year-old Austrian seminary at the center of a sex scandal involving thousands of child pornography photographs and evidence of homosexual relations between priests and seminarians. Bishop Klaus Kung of Feldkirch, acting for Pope John Paul II, announced the decision at a televised news conference in Vienna following his three-week investigation of accusations against the St. Poelten Seminary, just outside Vienna.

NEWS STORY: Pope to Visit French Shrine of Lourdes on 104th Trip Outside Italy

c. 2004 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY _ A frail and wheelchair-bound Pope John Paul II will travel to the shrine of Lourdes in the Pyrenees of southwest France on Saturday (Aug. 14) as “a pilgrim among pilgrims,” weak in body but strong in devotion to the Virgin Mary. The purpose of the pope’s two-day visit to the most important of shrines dedicated to the Virgin is to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Pope Pius IX’s proclamation of the Immaculate Conception, the dogma that holds that Christ’s mother was born without the stain of original sin. The high point will come on Sunday when John Paul will preside over a Mass in a meadow beside the River Gave to mark the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, which is closely related to the Immaculate Conception.

NEWS FEATURE: Some Couples in Israel Turn to Alternative Weddings

c. 2004 Religion News Service KFAR SABA, Israel _ The Three Weeks, the period prior to Tisha B’Av when Jews mourn the destruction of the biblical temples, is traditionally a time of quiet reflection. Due to this period’s prohibition against getting married, most wedding musicians and photographers go on vacation. Yet this ban did not stop Shanee and Moshe Sheleg, secular Jews, from recently exchanging their vows in the lush, poolside garden of Nir Eliahu, a community northeast of Tel Aviv. Once a taboo, non-Orthodox and secular marriages are a small but growing phenomenon in Israel, to the chagrin of the country’s Orthodox rabbinate, the nation’s sole legal authority performing weddings.

NEWS STORY: Judge Dismisses Suit Over Greek Orthodox Constitution

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) A New York judge has sided with the Greek Orthodox Church in a fight over its constitution, ruling that the court has no authority to interfere in an internal church dispute. State Supreme Court Justice Ira Gammerman on Aug. 6 dismissed a suit brought by lay activists that said the church’s charter, or constitution, had been improperly adopted in a violation of state corporate law. “The First Amendment to the United States Constitution precludes courts from intervening in ecclesiastical matters, such as church governance, to resolve disputes involving religious organizations,” Gammerman ruled.

COMMENTARY: `DaVinci Code’ Need Not Threaten Faith

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.) Lots of parsons and prelates have placed their highest spiritual threat level on Dan Brown’s best seller, “The DaVinci Code.” This just shows you what happens when supposedly religious figures don’t have enough to do. They have flooded the market with books that debunk and denounce the novel. Where are these preachers when we need them to condemn such really dangerous tracts as the anti-semitic “The Protocols of Zion,” which has had more reprints than “Gone With The Wind?” Instead, such distinguished clergymen as Erwin W. Lutzer, senior pastor at Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute, and author of “The DaVinci Deception,” claim that the novel is “a direct attack against the foundation of the Christian Faith.” The Rev. James Garlow, co-author of “Cracking the DaVinci Code,” insists that it is not “just an innocent novel.

NEWS STORY: Jehovah’s Witnesses See Voting as Divisive

c. 2004 Religion News Service CLEVELAND _ Call it a campaign strategist’s nightmare: More than 30,000 people coming to a central location in Cleveland over four weekends, and hardly a single vote to be had. In this most political of seasons, where small percentages of votes in key states could prove decisive, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are staying true to their theological beliefs that their kingdom is not of this world. There will be no voter registration drives for the more than 8,000 delegates as the Witnesses’ hold four district conventions, which begins at the Cleveland State University Convocation Center. Neither candidate has been invited to any of the monthlong series of weekend conventions, and campaign literature is nonexistent.

COMMENTARY: Campaigns, War and Jewish Scripture

c. 2004 Religion News Service (Rabbi Rudin, the American Jewish Committee’s senior interreligious adviser, is Distinguished Visiting Professor at Saint Leo University.) (UNDATED) The 2004 election is rapidly turning into a martial political campaign. George W. Bush says he is a “war president,” and John Kerry, a former U.S. Navy officer, told the Democratic Convention he is “reporting for duty.” Bill Clinton reminds voters that the president, Dick Cheney and he never served in Vietnam. Indeed, Clinton points out that both he and the vice president avoided the military draft. The Democrats and Republicans are trotting out retired generals and admirals to impress the American public, and the word “war” is front and center in the run up to Election Day.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2004 Religion News Service Pope Decries Lost Sense of Sin, Will Travel to Marian Shrine (UNDATED) Calling a pilgrimage to the site where the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared “a special gift of providence,” Pope John Paul II said Wednesday he will pray there for modern mankind, which has “lost the sense of sin.” Addressing some 3,500 people attending his weekly general audience in the courtyard of his summer residence at Castelgandolfo, south of Rome, John Paul said that he was traveling to Lourdes, in France, on Saturday (Aug. 14). There he will mark the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception, which says that the mother of Jesus was free from original sin from birth. The pope said that it was four years after Pope Pius X’s 1854 proclamation that St.

NEWS FEATURE: Biotechnology Advances Lead Some Ethicists to See `Free Market’ Eugenics

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Encouraging the “breeding” of the “fittest” babies became discredited by the crimes of Nazi Germany. Yet eugenics is resurfacing today in the advances of biotechnology, say some ethicists and theologians. The eugenics of the past originated with government, says Ted Peters, president of Pacific Lutheran Seminary and a researcher at the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences. “We’re going to see free market eugenics.

NEWS FEATURE: Ice Cream `Taster’ Gives Kosher Test

c. 2004 Religion News Service PALMER, Mass. _ There is something sweet about the Rondeau family’s connection with its Jewish neighbors. And it comes in 36 flavors. As the summer season for 50-year-old Camp Ramah, which has been at its Palmer location since the early 1960s, got under way, the camp mashgiach paid his annual visit Rondeau’s Dairy Bar.

RNS Weekly Digest

c. 2004 Religion News Service Diverse Religious Groups Unite Behind Aid for Sudan WASHINGTON (RNS) An unusually broad coalition of Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and evangelical groups has come together to urge intervention by the United States and the United Nations in war-torn Sudan. The Save Darfur Coalition is comprised of more than 70 religious and humanitarian organizations, a sign that the growing crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan has united groups across religious and ideological lines. “We must not wait for a legal determination of `genocide’ to ensure a massive worldwide humanitarian response and call to end the violence and investigate crimes against humanity,” the coalition said in a “unity statement” released Tuesday (Aug. 3).

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2004 Religion News Service Survey: Blacks Practice Religion More Than Other Groups (RNS) Black Americans are the most likely to participate in religious activities like prayer, Bible reading and worship attendance, compared to other racial and ethnic groups, a survey shows. The Barna Group, a Ventura, Calif.-based consulting firm, found that 91 percent of blacks said they prayed to God in the previous week, compared to 86 percent of Hispanics, 81 percent of whites and 46 percent of Asians. The results of the research, based on surveys of 2,632 adults in January and May, were released Tuesday (Aug. 10).