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Quote of the Day: House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas “So, how was your day?” House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, a few hours after he became the highest-ranking congressional leader to be indicted while in office. He made the comment Wednesday (Sept. 28) in Washington while giving a speech to supporters of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.

Hillel Building Boom Enhances Jewish Life on College Campuses

c. 2005 Religion News Service (UNDATED) David Yaron belonged to a Jewish fraternity at Johns Hopkins University, but it wasn’t until the creation of the Hillel house that he felt a sense of pride and belonging with the campus’ broader Jewish community. The 16,000-square-foot complex built in the spring of 2004 is the central Jewish address on the Baltimore campus, offering everything from Shabbat services and study rooms to comfy lounges where students can project DirectTV’s “NFL Sunday Ticket” onto a huge screen. “It’s basically creating a lot of buzz about the stuff that we do,” says Yaron, a junior studying neuroscience who runs an outreach program to Jewish students. What’s happening in Baltimore is a nationwide trend.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2005 Religion News Service Serbian President Invites Pope to Visit Belgrade VATICAN CITY (RNS) Serbian President Boris Tadic met with Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday (Sept. 29), expressing support for a papal visit to Belgrade. He also pressed the Vatican to back Serbia’s drive to take over the breakaway Kosovo province as its status comes under review by the United Nations. A statement released by papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls following the 25-minute meeting said the “talks concentrated particularly on the need to teach values to young people, especially in the scholastic field.” Navarro-Valls also said that Tadic invited the pope to Belgrade and that “Benedict XVI expressed the hope that such a visit may take place in the future.” A visit to Serbia, which is 65 percent Orthodox, would be an important step in Benedict’s push to improve ecumenical ties between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

COMMENTARY: FEMA Needs to Change Dead Body `Blessing’ Policy

c. 2005 Religion News Service (UNDATED) The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s errors and blunders are by now well known, including those I personally witnessed in an early September visit to hurricane Katrina evacuees in Houston’s Astrodome. But Newsweek magazine recently reported another, more hidden, problem, that FEMA requires chaplains to recite a blessing over the bodies of hurricane victims. The requirement also extends to civilian contractors involved in recovering the dead following Katrina and Rita. Such a government policy is a clear violation of the historical American principle of church-state separation and represents a serious breach in the wall of separation between religion and state. Even though FEMA’s blessing requirement comes at a tragic and vulnerable moment in our national life, it is no excuse to impose an uncalled-for “one prayer covers all” policy upon the dead and their grieving families.

New Pope’s First Synod Could Shape Papacy

c. 2005 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY _ Back from his official vacation at the papal summer villa, Pope Benedict XVI convenes a worldwide assembly of bishops Sunday (Oct. 2) that many expect will set the contours of his young papacy. As the first assembly of bishops, or synod, of Benedict’s pontificate, the meeting will be closely watched for indications of how the freshman pope aims to govern his bishops. Under John Paul, synods generally functioned as consultative bodies rather than decision-making ones, prompting calls for more “collegiality,” or power-sharing, between local bishops and the Roman Curia _ the Vatican administrative body that helps the pope govern.

“Unlikely Angel” discusses drugs and God

Quote of the Day: Former hostage Ashley Smith of Duluth, Ga. “If I did die, I wasn’t going to heaven and say, `Oh, excuse me, God. Let me wipe my nose, because I just did some drugs before I got here.'” -Ashley Smith of Duluth, Ga., a former hostage who reveals in her new book, “Unlikely Angel: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Hostage Hero,” that she battled a methamphetamine addiction. She was quoted by The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle.

Vatican Rules Would Try to Prevent Gays From Entering Priesthood

Stacy Meichtry, RNS’ Vatican correspondent, reports on new rules that would bar gay men from Roman Catholic priesthood. Quotes: A Vatican official, speaking to RNS on the condition of anonymity because Vatican policy prohibits public discussion of internal matters, confirmed that a document containing the new regulations had been submitted to the pope for final approval. However, he stressed that the document could still be returned to the Congregation for revision. If that happened, its publication could still be years away. and Given the volatility of the issue, some have wondered if the pope will actually sign the document or simply let the guidelines be issued by the Congregation for Education without his official endorsement.

Palau Redefines Mass Evangelism With Party-Like Approach

c. 2005 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ When evangelist Luis Palau enters the main stage at his “DC Festival” on the National Mall Oct. 8-9, he won’t be the sole messenger of the gospel. Instead, he will continue a team effort his ministry has successfully established in other American cities, moving away from the centuries-old crusade model made famous by Billy Graham. Christian celebrities are part of the plan to combine fun and faith in a party-like atmosphere.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2005 Religion News Service U.S. Envoy Raises Alarm on Inflammatory Literature in Mosques (RNS) Karen Hughes, the U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, has raised concern about inflammatory literature reportedly found in American mosques. According to media reports on Hughes’ trip to Saudi Arabia this week, Hughes told a group of Saudi journalists that the administration is concerned about a study that identified anti-Christian and anti-Semitic literature, connected to Saudi religious organizations, in American mosques. “We are concerned that literature has been found in American mosques that has a message that is not tolerant, and we hope the people of Saudi Arabia will work with us as we try to deal with this issue,” she told reporters Tuesday (Sept. 27), according to Reuters.

Gay Rights Advocates Say Vatican Can’t Stop Religious Momentum

c. 2005 Religion News Service CLEVELAND _ The Vatican may be on the verge of delivering a stunning setback to homosexuals in the Catholic Church, but a ban on celibate gay seminarians cannot stop the momentum for gay and lesbian rights among the nation’s religious groups, advocates for change say. Members of a national interfaith coalition on gay rights in religion concluded a two-day strategy meeting Tuesday (Sept. 27) in Cleveland, condemning a proposed Vatican document that they say links homosexuality with pedophilia. However, leaders seeking change in faiths from Catholicism to Islam to mainline Protestantism said the decision of the Episcopal Church to stand behind its election of a gay bishop and the United Church of Christ’s vote to endorse same-sex marriages is part of a “great awakening” on gay rights issues.

Mystical Seekers Find Meaning in Kabbalah Without Madonna-like Flair

c. 2005 Religion News Service (UNDATED) If you want to find Len Robinson, a longtime practitioner of the Jewish mystical path Kabbalah, it won’t be through his local synagogue. The best way to Robinson, the Kabbalist, is through theater circles _ he is a director and actor in Grand Rapids, Mich. To be the best director he can be is at the heart of his Kabbalah practice. “I direct Kabbalistically,” he said.

COMMENTARY: Hurricanes Reveal Religion’s Needed Role in Ecology

c. 2005 Religion News Service (UNDATED) In the years that I have worked on environmental issues in religious congregations, I have often seen the topic get pushed down the list in deference to activities seen as more germane to the mission of the faith community _ feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, other charitable acts. You will never hear me condemn acts of charity and humanity, and they are certainly necessary now. But what we have seen in the Gulf Coast states in the last few weeks is a perfect illustration of why ecological issues matter. They matter most for the poor and least protected members of any society _ and therefore they are an issue of concern for religious people.

Gays in the Catholic Church; Palau’s festivals; finding meaning through Kabbalah

David Briggs writes in Wednesday’s RNS report about the potential effects of the Vatican’s proposed document on homosexuality in the Catholic Church. While some gay rights groups have condemned the document, they say a ban on celibate gay seminarians cannot stop the momentum for gay and lesbian rights: Leaders seeking change in faiths from Catholicism to Islam to mainline Protestantism said the decision of the Episcopal Church to stand behind its election of a gay bishop and the United Church of Christ’s vote to endorse same-sex marriages are part of a “great awakening” on gay rights issues. Luis Palau is redefining evangelism with his festivals, according to correspondents Adelle M. Banks and Judith Cebula. His upcoming “DC Festival” on the National Mall Oct. 8-9 will feature a “party approach” to evangelism, defined by the slogan, “Great Music!

RNS Weekly Digest

c. 2005 Religion News Service FEMA Extends Faith-Based Initiative With Hurricane Reimbursements (RNS) The Federal Emergency Management Agency intends to reimburse religious groups that have offered relief to victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, marking a new step in the White House’s faith-based initiative. The move by FEMA is being criticized by a church-state watchdog group, while a scholar of the faith-based initiative says it should not cause constitutional alarm. Butch Kinerney, a spokesman for FEMA, said the government will reimburse sheltering expenses of private nonprofit organizations if they made an agreement with county or state government officials to house evacuees. “We want to make sure that every group, religious or nonreligious, which opens its doors and opens its arms to shelter evacuees from this storm are able to get compensated for their generosity,” Kinerney said in an interview.

Episcopal Bishop John Chane

Quote of the Day: Episcopal Bishop John Chane of Washington “If the church is to really focus on the issues of the Bible’s teaching and the core teachings of Jesus Christ, why does this archbishop spend so much time on human sexuality issues while so many of his countrymen and women are oppressed by poverty, illiteracy and violence?” -Episcopal Bishop John Chane of Washington, writing in a column in Washington Window, his diocesan newspaper, about Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola’s criticism of the pro-gay policies of the Episcopal Church.