RNS Daily Digest

c. 2005 Religion News Service Jewish Groups Urge Protestant Churches to Reject Israel Sanctions (RNS) A group of seven Jewish organizations is urging five mainline Protestant denominations and the National Council of Churches to reject economic and political sanctions against Israel. The joint letter is in response to last year’s decision by the Presbyterian Church (USA) to protest Israeli policies by seeking “phased selective divestment” from certain companies that do business in Israel. The Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Orthodox Union, Union for Reform Judaism and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism signed the April 22 letter, which said that the divestment initiative is hurting relations between Christians and Jews. The letter was sent to the Presbyterians, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the National Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church.

NEWS STORY: Will New Pope Sacrifice Growth for Clarity?

c. 2005 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY _ It’s too early to tell in what direction Pope Benedict XVI may lead the church, but one of his long-standing beliefs may actually curtail the growth of Catholicism. Benedict has long aligned philosophically with orthodox Catholics who say they want the church to stress ideological clarity, even if it means losing members. “The phrase he uses is that Christianity may need to be a creative minority, and he’s used the analogy of the mustard seed, the tiny mustard seed that becomes the huge plant,” said John L. Allen Jr., a Vatican correspondent who wrote a book about Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is now the pope. “His view is, if you have to choose between being acceptable to everyone and being clear on who you are, you ought to choose the latter.” In an interview 18 months ago on the Eternal Word Television Network, Ratzinger said he saw the church getting smaller as part of its renewal.

NEWS STORY: Grass-roots Innovation May Help New Pope Reclaim Europe’s Churches

c. 2005 Religion News Service POITIERS, France _ Marie-Cecile Augeai does not consider herself a church hopper, but after years of moving around France, the 47-year-old Roman Catholic is an expert of sorts on local parish life. Since settling in Poitiers last year, Augeai believes she has found her spiritual home _ at Saint-Jean de Montierneuf, an 11th century stone edifice framed by buttercups and daisies, where the congregation largely runs the show. “There’s a sense of warmth and fraternity here,” said Augeai, as she sipped cider during a meet-and-greet gathering after Sunday Mass. “One senses an openness.

NEWS STORY: In Installation Mass, New Pope Looks to Future, Appeals to Youth

c. 2005 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY _ At a massive Sunday (April 24) Mass marking the formal start of his papal reign, Pope Benedict XVI received a symbolic fisherman’s ring and proclaimed that the Roman Catholic Church is alive and young and will show the world the “way toward the future.” Describing himself as a weak servant of God, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 78, made an emotional appeal for the prayers of the people so he could be a listening good shepherd who lovingly leads his flock and an obedient fisherman who helps pull souls from the sea of suffering. He urged renewed efforts to seek Christian unity and urged the young not to be afraid of Christ because “he takes nothing away, and he gives you everything.” The pope’s bold and forward-looking homily, which was interrupted by applause 39 times, projected a very different figure than the rigid portrait some had made of Cardinal Ratzinger, “God’s rottweiler,” who as the conservative head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, cracked down on deviations from the centuries-old morals and faith of the church. In a dramatic ending to the outdoor Mass, Benedict drove through St. Peter’s Square standing in a white, open-topped jeep, a visual contrast to the bullet-proof “popemobile” that his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, used after being targeted by an assassin in 1981.

NEWS FEATURE/PROFILE: Pope Benedict XVI: Humility and the Man

c. 2005 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Seen through the gauzy lens of history, Joseph Ratzinger’s arrival in the world borders on the mystical. He was born the day before Easter, the second son of deeply religious parents named Joseph and Mary. Within four hours of his first breath, he had been baptized. Seventy-eight years later, Ratzinger has been reintroduced as Pope Benedict XVI, spiritual leader to 1.1 billion Roman Catholics.

NEWS STORY: New Pope Meets the Press, Thanks Journalists for Papal Coverage

c. 2005 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY _ On the eve of his installation Mass, Pope Benedict XVI thanked journalists, photographers and television crews in four languages Saturday (April 23) “for all you have done” for society and the Roman Catholic Church. The 18-minute audience with the Vatican press corps came one day after the pope met with the College of Cardinals and on the eve of Sunday’s outdoor Mass that will formally inaugurate his reign. Rome geared for the arrival of an expected 500,000 pilgrims, 100,000 of them from the pope’s native Germany. “It can be said that thanks to your work, for several weeks the attention of the entire world remained fixed on the (St.

BOOK REVIEW: Book Reveals John Paul as Basic Guy

c. 2005 Religion News Service (Raymond A. Schroth, a Jesuit priest who teaches at Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City, N.J., wrote this review for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.) (UNDATED) Since his funeral on April 8, three interpretations have emerged of Pope John Paul II and his career. In the first he is John Paul the Great, the superstar who tore down the Iron Curtain, worthy of instant sainthood by the proclamation of the millions who flooded to Rome for his funeral. In the second _ disregarding those who hated him simply because they hate religion _ he is a strong, gifted personality who nevertheless failed in his mission to strengthen the church. By stifling the voices of loyal but critical theologians, he is responsible for the decline of Catholicism in the United States and Western Europe.

NEWS STORY: Christian Artists to Join Muslim Artists in Morocco

c. 2005 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Contemporary Christian artists and Moroccan musicians are making plans to share the stage at a three-day festival in Marrakech in May, with the goal of building bridges between evangelicals and Muslims. “The Friendship Fest,” scheduled for May 6-8, is the result of meetings last year between evangelical Christian and Moroccan leaders on how the two faiths can find “common ground,” officials said. “There’ll be some sessions where Christian musicians are playing with the Moroccan musicians and vice versa,” said the Rev. Harry Thomas, the festival’s director and leader of the Creation Christian music festivals for more than two decades in the United States. “I found the Moroccan musicians really enjoy improvisation and enjoy what we would call jamming.” Jeremy Camp, who was named male vocalist of the year for the second year in a row at the recent Gospel Music Association’s annual awards, is among the artists who’ll be taking part in the trip to the predominantly Muslim country in northwest Africa. “It’s going to be a good eye-opener to really see what their religion is about and to be able to share what God has meant in my life,” he said in an interview.

NEWS STORY: New Pope Signals that Interfaith Dialogue Will be a Top Priority

c. 2005 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY _ At a meeting that underlined the high priority he intends to give to dialogue with other faiths, Pope Benedict XVI on Monday (April 25) invited non-Catholics to join an effort to build world peace through “understanding, respect and love.” Addressing representatives of more than 30 other religions who had attended his inaugural Mass on Sunday, Benedict said it is “imperative to engage in authentic and sincere dialogue built on respect for the dignity of every human person.” The emphasis that the new pope has given to ecumenical and interfaith dialogue contrasted sharply with views he expressed when, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he served as the Vatican’s guardian of doctrine and was called “God’s rottweiller” and the “grand inquisitor” for his relentless pursuit of deviations from orthodoxy. “At the start of my pontificate I address to you and to all the believers of the traditional religions whom you represent, as well as to all those who search for the truth with a sincere heart, a strong invitation to become builders of peace in a reciprocal commitment to understanding, respect and love,” he said. In his interfaith outreach, and in mildly jocular remarks to German pilgrims in which he recalled seeing “the guillotine moving closer” in the papal conclave as support for his election solidified, the pope seemed to reveal a softer, more pastoral side than was evident in Cardinal Ratzinger. In the controversial “Declaration Dominus Iesus” issued in September 2000, Ratzinger alarmed the church’s ecumenical partners by saying only Catholics may have “the fullness of salvation” and followers of other religions “are in a gravely deficient situation.” But as Benedict XVI, starting with a message to the College of Cardinals the day after he was elected, he has seized every opportunity to declare his commitment to dialogue with other faiths.

COMMENTARY: Pope Benedict XVI: The Right Man at the Right Time for the Right Job

c. 2005 Religion News Service (UNDATED) “Some people think that the church should not be the salt of the Earth but that it should be sugar.” These words, recently pronounced by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, may describe well the disappointment of some people at the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as successor of Peter. To call our new pope a “Rottweiler” or a “German shepherd” is ridiculous: He is a shy, kind and humble man who does not like crowds; a listener and, at the same time, a great scholar and a man of high intelligence. At least three times, he asked Pope John Paul II to relieve him of his important and influential position as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith so he could return to his great love of scholarship, but Karol Wojtyla told him that he would stay as long as John Paul reigned. In the years leading up to the conclave and in its opening Mass on April 18, Ratzinger avoided any politicking and, for this reason, was seen until the week before the conclave as a dead candidate.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2005 Religion News Service Methodists Name Panel to Probe Abuse Allegations at Congo Hostel (RNS) A three-member panel has been appointed by the United Methodist Church to probe decades-old allegations of child abuse at a hostel for missionary children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, church officials said. Retired Mississippi Bishop Marshall Meadors will chair the panel that will review and assess allegations of abuse at the Methodist-Presbyterian Hostel in Kinshasa. Also serving will be Edith Fresh, an expert in child abuse issues at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, and the Rev. Jim Evinger, a Presbyterian who teaches at the University of Rochester in New York. The panel is a followup to a 2002 report by the Presbyterian Church (USA) that documented serial abuse at a separate Presbyterian school in Congo between 1945 and 1968.

NEWS STORY: `Justice Sunday’ Raises the Ire of Both the Left and Right

c. 2005 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ The Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, president of Chicago Theological Seminary, tuned in to the much-publicized “Justice Sunday” national broadcast on Sunday (April 24) night and found herself “shocked” by the efforts of evangelical leaders to rally support for President Bush’s judicial nominees. “I think this is a major shift,” said Thistlethwaite, a United Church of Christ minister. “I think it really does signal that there’s absolutely no limit to which the radical religious right will … go to wrap their political agenda in the Bible.” The conservative campaign to fight Democratic filibusters of judicial nominees has brought the debate over religion in the public square to a new juncture.

NEWS STORY: Pope Thanks Cardinals, Vows `Simplicity and Willingness’

c. 2005 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY _ Putting formality aside, Pope Benedict XVI gave warm thanks on Friday (April 22) to the cardinals who elected him pope, and vowed to conduct his papacy “with simplicity and willingness.” As Benedict prepares to be formally installed as the 265th pope on Sunday, Jewish leaders welcomed an invitation to send a delegation to the Mass, as well as the pope’s expressed desire “to continue dialogue and collaboration with the sons and daughters of the Hebrew people.” Leone Paserman, president of the Rome Jewish Community, called the invitation “a sign of continuity with Pope John Paul II,” who made an historic visit to Rome’s main synagogue in 1986. Paserman said, however, that the Jewish community could not send a delegation to the Mass on Sunday because it coincided with the Jewish festival of Passover. The German-born pontiff met with the cardinals at an audience in the Sala Clementina of the Apostolic Palace, the ornate hall where John Paul’s body lay in state for three days following his death on April 2. Benedict, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had been one of the late pope’s closest aides, spoke of the “sad event of his death,” but the mood at Friday’s meeting was more upbeat, less somber.

NEWS ANALYSIS: Like Benedict XV, Pope Benedict XVI Must Address Catholic Infighting

c. 2005 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY _ “Nomen et Omen,” the Romans of an earlier day used to say. In other words, one’s name signals one’s destiny. American Catholics who were hoping for a unifier and reformer as the next pontiff may be able to find some solace in this old Latin proverb. By taking the name Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was consciously resurrecting the legacy of his previous namesake, Benedict XV, who ruled the church from 1914 to 1922.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2005 Religion News Service Conservatives Vow Not to `Follow’ Episcopal Church (RNS) Conservative Episcopalians have drafted nine-point “covenants” for bishops, priests and parishioners to promise “I will not follow” if the Episcopal Church strays from the wider Anglican Communion. The three “Windsor Action Covenants” were drafted by the Atlanta-based American Anglican Council and approved during an April 18-20 meeting in Bedford, Texas. The oaths will be distributed prior to the church’s 2006 General Convention meeting in Columbus, Ohio, which promises to be a showdown between liberals and conservatives on gay clergy, same-sex unions and other issues. “If General Convention chooses finally to walk apart, I will not follow, but will remain a faithful Anglican, God being my helper,” the covenants say.