NEWS STORY: Thousands of Fearful Christians Flee Iraq

c. 2004 Religion News Service AMMAN, Jordan _ Iraqi Christians flocked to the Latin Catholic church in the Hashmi district of the Jordanian capital, a drab working-class area, where they celebrated Mass in the ancient Chaldean language. On a recent Sunday, some 200 worshippers packed the sanctuary, which is adorned with a simple wooden cross and a picture of the Virgin and Christ. Here, away from their native country, these Iraqi Christians felt safe. Fearing lawlessness and rising Islamic fundamentalism in their own country,large numbers of Iraqi Christians are fleeing to neighboring Jordan and Syria.

COMMENTARY: The Melting Pot of South Texas

c. 2004 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. Visit his Web site at LEAVING TEXAS _ Somewhere east of Houston, wedged into a tiny regional jet, I think about Texas, the expansive and somewhat mythical Lone Star State. After a dozen visits to South Texas, I have little more than impressions, certainly not an insider’s knowledge. In one sense, South Texas seems like every other place in our increasingly national franchise culture.

NEWS STORY: France Battles Anti-Semitism With School Documentary

c. 2004 Religion News Service PARIS _ In an effort to stem a rising tide of anti-Semitism, France’s government is distributing excerpts of a haunting documentary on the Holocaust to high school classes, hoping the gripping accounts will breed a new spirit of tolerance in public schools. DVDs extracting the documentary “Shoah,” or Holocaust, will arrive in the coming weeks to some 4,400 French public high schools _ alongside a primer on how to teach the French Republic’s creed of “liberty, equality and fraternity” to ever-growing numbers of ethnic immigrant students. Mirroring renewed Palestinian-Israeli violence, the numbers of anti-Semitic incidents have soared in recent years in France, home to Europe’s largest communities of Jews and Muslims. The French government counted some 135 acts of violence against Jews in the first half of 2004 alone, compared to 195 attacks against North African Muslims and other minorities. Those numbers don’t reflect epithets or other, less violent acts.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2004 Religion News Service Tucson Diocese Declares Bankruptcy (RNS) The Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson, Ariz., filed for bankruptcy protection Monday (Sept. 20), making it the second diocese in U.S. history to take such a step. Like the Portland, Ore., archdiocese, which declared bankruptcy in July, the Arizona diocese sought legal protection after dealing with ongoing lawsuits concerning sexual abuse of children by parish priests. The Tucson diocese also made the move because it is facing serious debt, the Associated Press reported.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2004 Religion News Service Funeral Planned for Anti-Apartheid Activist (RNS) An official funeral with full state recognition is planned Saturday (Sept. 18) for the white anti-apartheid activist Beyers Naude, whom former South African President Nelson Mandela called “a true son of Africa.” That the 89-year-old Naude, who died Sept. 7, would ever receive such an honor would have been unthinkable under a white minority government, which ostracized the onetime general secretary of the South African Council of Churches and limited his public visibility for nearly a decade. But if Naude was seen as a traitor to white South Africans who supported the apartheid system, he was a hero to South Africa’s black majority.

COMMENTARY: New Book Blames Pope for Sex Abuse Scandal

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) In the just published “Vows of Silence” (The Free Press), two of America’s most respected religion writers document the life and career of the Rev. Marcial Maciel, founder of the controversial Legion of Christ. Maciel has been protected by Pope John Paul II himself from any investigation of the many accusations of sexual abuse that have been made against Maciel by seminarians and priests of his own religious order. A hale and hearty Maciel survives, well protected, in Rome, according to Jason Berry, the investigative journalist who 20 years ago courageously broke the first story of clergy sexual abuse and church attempts to cover it up in Louisiana.

NEWS FEATURE: In New Museum of the American Indian, Spirituality Is the Subtext

c. 2004 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ Just as earth tones form an underlying decorative element in the new National Museum of the American Indian, spirituality is an undercurrent within the 254,000-square-foot edifice built on the National Mall. The top level of the imposing building of light brown limestone features a permanent exhibition that highlights how spiritual beliefs and values merge with everyday life of native peoples across the Western Hemisphere. “Spirituality is really a rather fundamental tenet of native life,” said Richard West, director of the newest Smithsonian Institution museum in an interview days before its Sept. 21 opening, on the eve of the fall equinox.

COMMENTARY: The Recurring Relevancy of the Jewish Holy Days

c. 2004 Religion News Service (Rabbi Rudin, the American Jewish Committee’s Senior Interreligious Adviser, is Distinguished Visiting Professor at Saint Leo University.) (UNDATED) “What have the ancient religious holidays got to do with me? It’s all kid stuff.” Every rabbi, minister or priest has heard this question or a close variation of it hundreds of times. The clear implication of the questioner is that traditional holy days have no meaning for modern men and women who long ago outgrew the need for such antiquated festivals. I love such queries because they provide an opportunity to show that despite our incomparable technological, medical and scientific advances, the so-called outmoded holidays are really “with it” and relevant today.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2004 Religion News Service Christian Leaders Urge Caution on `Passion’ DVD Release (RNS) A group of nearly 100 Christian theologians urged caution and expressed concern about “misrepresentations” of Jews in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” as the blockbuster film was released on DVD. A statement signed by 97 theologians, pastors and other church officials said the “visually powerful portrayal” of the death of Jesus in Gibson’s film includes “numerous explicitly anti-Jewish elements that we consider an affront to the gospel.” “It encourages misunderstanding of the role of Jews and their leaders in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ death; it includes gratuitous anti-Jewish portrayals; and its promotion by Christians has largely ignored the pain and concern of the Jewish community about the film,” the statement said. The statement was coordinated by John Merkle, a professor of theology at the College of St. Benedict and St.

NEWS ANALYSIS: Episcopalians, Anglicans Launch Diplomatic Push Before Commission Report

c. 2004 Religion News Service FAIRFAX, Va. _ Speculation that the Episcopal Church could be suspended from the Anglican Communion for allowing an openly gay bishop has set off a flurry of cross-Atlantic diplomacy as both sides brace for a report set to be released next month. According to London newspapers, a panel headed by Irish Archbishop Robin Eames will likely come down hard on the U.S. church when it releases its report Oct. 18.

NEWS DIGEST: Religion in Canada

c. 2004 Religion News Service Studies Show Contrasting Portraits of Canada’s Religiosity OTTAWA (RNS) Two new studies show vastly divergent views of Canadians’ religious faith. A September survey published by the Centre for Research and Information on Canada shows that the nation is among the world’s most secular countries, with only 29 percent of Canadians saying religion is a very important part of their lives, compared to 59 percent of Americans who gave it a high priority. Another 37 percent said religion is somewhat important _ for a total of 66 percent _ a drop from 20 years ago, when 76 percent of Canadians said it was either very or somewhat important. As for the question of whether society would be better off if people attended religious services more regularly, 50 percent agreed, but 48 percent disagreed.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2004 Religion News Service Southern Baptist Leader Adrian Rogers to Leave Church Post (RNS) Adrian Rogers, a prominent Southern Baptist leader and longtime local pastor, has announced plans to retire from his position at a church in the Memphis, Tenn., area. Rogers, 73, was president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1979, the year the denomination began its concerted turn in a conservative direction. He announced Sunday (Sept. 12) that he would no longer be pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., next spring.

NEWS STORY: Powell Adds Saudi Arabia to Religious Freedom Watchlist

c. 2004 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ The U.S. State Department on Wednesday (Sept. 15) for the first time included Saudi Arabia on a list of eight “countries of particular concern” for not allowing religious freedom, a potential stumbling block for relations between the United States and its Persian Gulf ally. The department’s sixth annual report on international religious freedom also added Eritrea and Vietnam to the roster of those countries guilty or tolerant of “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.” Countries that remained on the list were Burma, China, Iran, North Korea and Sudan. Iraq, which had been on the list under Saddam Hussein’s regime, was removed.