In Volatile Iraq, Shiite Mosques and Minarets Increasingly Targeted

c. 2006 Religion News Service BAGHDAD, Iraq _ Razaq Jawad Kadhum dodged Saddam Hussein’s security agents for more than two decades when he served as his mosque’s muezzin, the announcer who chants the daily calls for prayer to gather the faithful. Kadhum, 54, was detained three times, and his life threatened more than once under the Ba’ath Party’s brutal rule. He thought the worst was over after the regime crumbled in April 2003, but then came the sectarian clashes that have torn the country and killed thousands. Instead of repression directed by a Sunni-dominated government, Shiites such as Kadhum have been subjected to intimidating attacks by insurgents.

Dallas pastor looking to bring spiritual renewal

Quote of the Day: Dallas Pastor Tony Evans “We have a generation of men who are not in the home. They are like the abominable snowman-their footprints are all around, but they can’t be found.” -Dallas pastor Tony Evans, who leads Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship and the Urban Alternative, an organization that aims to bring spiritual renewal to urban America. He was quoted by the Battle Creek Enquirer in Battle Creek, Mich., after a recent speech in that city.

Judas Rehabilitated?

Ancient ‘Gospel of Judas’ to Be Published, Promoting Christ’s Betrayer RNS Vatican correspondent Stacy Meichtry reports (linked above) on the upcoming publication of the first translation of a Gnostic “Gospel of Judas.” Quote: According to scholars who have seen photographs of the brittle manuscript, it argues that Judas Iscariot was carrying out God’s will when he handed Christ over to his executioners. The manuscript could bring momentum to a broader academic movement that argues Judas has gotten a bum rap among both historians and theologians, as well as in popular culture.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2006 Religion News Service Muslim and Arab Groups Say Uproar Over Ports Amounts to Profiling (RNS) Arab and Muslim-American leaders say the uproar over a White House deal that would turn over operations of several major U.S. ports to an Arab-owned company could leave many in the Islamic world thinking Americans hate them. “This is sending a dangerous message not only to Arab and Muslim citizens of this country about how we in America see Arabs and Muslims, but also to the Muslim world, where we’re trying to win hearts and minds,” said Rabiah Ahmed, a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Washington-based advocacy group. “It’s almost as if it’s a race to see who can be more anti-Arab.” Citing security concerns, politicians and commentators from both sides of the aisle have fiercely criticized a $6.8 billion acquisition by Dubai Ports World, owned by one of the United Arab Emirates, of Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. The British company had been managing shipping terminals in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia.

The High-Tech Making of a Handwritten Bible, for $4 Million

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) With the help of computers, calf skins and turkey feathers, Donald Jackson is reviving a lost art form by creating a Bible by hand, at a cost of about $4 million. The Saint John’s Bible, a seven-volume, illustrated endeavor slated for completion in 2007, is the first handwritten Bible to be commissioned by a major religious institution in 500 years. According to a group of more than 200 monks at Saint John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minn., five centuries was too long to wait for an artistic reinterpretation of the Bible. How monumental is the task?

American cardinals named; Abortion opponents encouraged; and a new handwritten Bible in the works

The pope has named two American cardinals, reports Kristine Crane from the Vatican City in Wednesday’s RNS report: Pope Benedict XVI elevated two Americans to the status of cardinal Wednesday (Feb. 22), sending a message of encouragement and approval to U.S. bishops struggling to deal with an ongoing sex abuse crisis. In all, 15 new cardinals were named. The two in the United States were William J. Levada, 69, who has served as an archbishop in San Francisco and Portland, Ore., and Sean P. O’Malley, 61, archbishop of Boston, the epicenter of the sex abuse crisis. The selections bump the number of American cardinals to 13, more than any country except Italy and the most ever for the United States.

Religious Opponents of Abortion Predict Supreme Court Shift

c. 2006 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ After years of disappointment with Supreme Court decisions on abortion, religious conservatives say they expect significant legal changes after the high court agreed Tuesday (Feb. 21) to consider the constitutionality of a federal law banning a controversial type of late-term abortion. “With two new judicial conservatives on the Supreme Court, this could signal the end of the abortion lobby’s stranglehold on the court,” said Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Washington-based Traditional Values Coalition, which hopes the high court will end the protracted battle over a “grisly procedure” her organization opposes. The case, involving a procedure critics call “partial-birth abortion,” will be heard this fall.

Pope Sends Message by Elevating Two Americans to Cardinal

c. 2006 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY _ Pope Benedict XVI elevated two Americans to the status of cardinal Wednesday (Feb. 22), sending a message of encouragement and approval to U.S. bishops trying to deal with an ongoing sex abuse crisis. In all, 15 new cardinals were named, including two from the United States: William J. Levada, 69, who has served as an archbishop in San Francisco and Portland, Ore., and Sean P. O’Malley, 61, archbishop of Boston, the epicenter of the sex abuse crisis. The selections bump up the number of American cardinals to 15, the most of any country except Italy, which counts 40, and the most ever from the United States.

COMMENTARY: The Vatican’s Worthy Call for Dialogue on Christian-Muslim History

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Amid the global uproar over the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, a Vatican official has called for talks with Christian and Islamic scholars on the Crusades and the Muslim conquests of Europe. I wholeheartedly support the idea. In an interview with Religion News Service reporter Stacy Meichtry in Rome, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said: “It is a question that needs to be addressed. How do we read history?

COMMENTARY: The Press Is Brave, Unless the Subject Is Islam

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) If only the Danish cartoonists had drawn a picture of Dick Cheney shooting … Well, we have to be careful here, don’t we. The way things are today, one could get in trouble for describing a hypothetical, nonexistent drawing. The very mention of the sinful syllables “Danish cartoonists” is sufficient to set 16 cities in Nigeria aflame.

RNS Weekly Digest

c. 2006 Religion News Service U.S. Church Leaders Decry `Idolatrous’ War of `Terror’ in Iraq (RNS) U.S. church leaders attending a World Council of Churches Assembly have issued a written lament for not preventing a U.S war in Iraq that has brought “terror” to the vulnerable while enlisting God in a way that is “nothing short of idolatrous.” The statement was issued Saturday (Feb. 18) by the assembly’s U.S. conference, representing 34 Protestant and Orthodox denominations that make up the National Council of Churches. Denominations include the Episcopal Church, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Presbyterian Church (USA). It was not approved by each of the 34 denominations, but was drafted by a board made up of leaders from those denominations.

Tutu says “all belong”

Quote of the Day: Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa “Jesus was quite serious when he said that God was our father, that we belonged all to one family, because in this family all, not some, are insiders. Bush, bin Laden, all belong, gay, lesbian, so-called straight-all belong and are loved, are precious.” -Retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, addressing the Ninth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Porto Alegre, Brazil, on Monday (Feb. 20).

Decision on tea; Ash Wednesday in the office

Kevin Eckstrom reports in Tuesday’s RNS report that the Supreme Court has ruled that a New Mexico sect may use hallucinogenic tea: The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday (Feb. 21) unanimously upheld the right of a small sect in New Mexico to use hallucinogenic tea in its religious rituals. Writing in his first opinion in a religious freedom case, Chief Justice John Roberts rejected the government’s arguments that the tea violated U.S. drug control laws. Roberts said Congress has mandated that the government strike “sensible balances” between regulations and a religious group’s right to religious expression. The Supreme Court also said Tuesday it will take up the issue that opponents call “partial birth” abortion.

On Ash Wednesday, Some Employees Take Their Cross Back to Work

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) John Spink, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution photographer, often observes Ash Wednesday while shooting services for the newspaper. He usually sets aside his camera, walks to the altar and feels the sensation of a finger making the blackened image of a cross. Spink says he then returns to the office, sometimes getting quizzical looks and odd comments, such as “Excuse me, there’s something on your forehead.” Many Christians will mark the start of Lent on March 1 by observing Ash Wednesday, when an ashen cross is placed on the forehead as a sign of one’s sins and penance. But the day poses a dilemma at work.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2006 Religion News Service U.S. Church Leaders Decry `Idolatrous’ War of `Terror’ in Iraq (RNS) U.S. church leaders attending a World Council of Churches Assembly have issued a written lament for not preventing a U.S war in Iraq that has brought “terror” to the vulnerable while enlisting God in a way that is “nothing short of idolatrous.” The statement was issued Saturday (Feb. 18) by the assembly’s U.S. conference, representing 34 Protestant and Orthodox denominations that make up the National Council of Churches. Denominations include the Episcopal Church, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Presbyterian Church (USA). It was not approved by each of the 34 denominations, but was drafted by a board made up of leaders from those denominations.