Kevin Eckstrom Named Editor of Religion News Service

c. 2006 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ Kevin R.E. Eckstrom has been promoted to the position of editor for Religion News Service (RNS), effective May 1. He succeeds Mark O’Keefe, who will join the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life as associate director, editorial. Eckstrom has been associate editor of RNS for the past year; prior to that, he was RNS’ national correspondent, focusing on the Catholic and mainline Protestant beats and on enterprise reporting. He led Religion News Service’s coverage last year of the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI.

Eckstrom new RNS editor; and geocentrism

In Tuesday’s RNS report we announce that associate editor Kevin Eckstrom has been named editor of Religion News Service: Kevin R.E. Eckstrom has been promoted to the position of editor for Religion News Service, effective May 1. He succeeds Mark O’Keefe, who will join the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life as associate director, editorial. Eckstrom spent the last year serving as associate editor for RNS. Prior to that, he was RNS’ National Correspondent, and has focused on the Catholic and mainline Protestant beats and on enterprise reporting. He led Religion News Service’s coverage last year of the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI.

Missionaries to Pass Out Solar-Powered `GodPods’ in Africa

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Seventh-day Adventists have found a new use for personal digital audio players: bringing the Bible to remote parts of Africa. Adventist World Radio and the It Is Written television network have formed separate partnerships with MegaVoice, producers of an iPod-like device officially called the Ambassador but informally dubbed the “GodPod.” The project could provide a model for religious and secular humanitarian groups wanting to distribute information to illiterate or visually impaired people. Seventh-day Adventist officials say missionaries will give out devices loaded with Christian content recorded in local languages. They will distribute the “GodPods” in the Kalahari Desert _ the dry, sandy swath of land covering parts of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa _ as well as parts of northern Africa.

This is an updated version of an RNS story, RNS-TORAH-RETURN, that was first transmitted Thursday, M

c. 2006 Religion News Service NEW YORK _ When Gavriel Wesel came safely home to Vienna, Austria, after World War I, his wife, Miriam, sewed a cover for a Torah scroll at their synagogue to give thanks to God. On Monday (March 27), 87 years later, the cover was returned to the New York grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the Wesels, who have died. The return took place in the office of New York Gov. George Pataki, who established the world’s only public agency that helps Nazi victims and their heirs recover looted properties. Because the Torah cover survived in a Nazi-annexed country during World War II, it is considered extremely rare.

COMMENTARY: Why I Didn’t Ask `Why Me?’ When Diagnosed With Cancer

c. 2006 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ Recently I was diagnosed with cancer. Between that day and the beginning of my treatment two weeks later, I was surprised by community and surprised by what it is not _ small groups, churches that “are there for me” or people calling to wish me well and add me to prayer lists. To be sure, these heart-felt expressions of concern are welcome, especially in times of duress. I deeply appreciated each that I received.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2006 Religion News Service Fate of Afghan Convert to Christianity Remains in Doubt (RNS) The fate of an Afghan convert to Christianity who faced a criminal trial and possible death sentence remained uncertain Monday (March 27) after conflicting reports about his release. An Afghan court dismissed charges against Abdul Rahman on Sunday, citing lack of evidence and questions about his mental fitness to stand trial. But Afghan authorities continued to hold Rahman in a Kabul prison Monday while prosecutors said they would conduct a mental evaluation and then make a decision. Rahman’s freedom does not guarantee his safety, however, as some Afghan clerics have said they would incite followers to kill him if the court releases him.

Catholic Trend Combines Beer, Bible for `Theology on Tap’

c. 2006 Religion News Service MONTCLAIR, N.J. _ It was a regular Sunday night at Just Jakes, a downtown bar. Regulars were shooting eight-ball, downing drafts, and tilting their heads at 10 mounted screens showing the Oscars, college basketball and “Caddyshack.” Meanwhile, down a hallway in a comfortable back room, 25 young bar patrons and two Catholic priests talked about Jesus. In this room the TVs were off, but waiters kept the beer and wine coming. After all, alcohol is implied with “Theology on Tap,” a church-run religion discussion series drawing crowds to bars and restaurants in Montclair and elsewhere.

NEWS STORY: Pope Installs New Cardinals and Raises Profile of U.S. Church

c. 2006 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY _ Pope Benedict XVI crowned his first batch of cardinals Friday (March 24) in a solemn ceremony that underscored the rising influence of American churchmen in the heart of Roman Catholicism. Two of the 15 men who knelt before Benedict to receive their blood-red skullcaps and three-point birettas were Americans. The promotion of archbishops Sean O’Malley of Boston and William Levada, the former San Francisco prelate, brings to 15 the number from the United States, which now has the second-largest number of cardinals after Italy. “It’s quite a strong voice,” Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington said in an interview after the ceremony.

COMMENTARY: Would the World Be Better Without Religion?

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Wouldn’t the world be better off without religion? This sentiment is perhaps most famously associated with ex-Beatle John Lennon (remember “Imagine”?), but it has also been suggested by more formidible intellectual figures. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, two celebrated popularizers of Darwinism have publicly asserted that the world would be a less violent and more tolerant place if we abandoned religious belief.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2006 Religion News Service Pennsylvania Political Group’s Church Work Stirs Complaints HARRISBURG, Pa. (RNS) A conservative advocacy group is hiring 10 full-time organizers to rally churches across Pennsylvania to get out the vote for the November election. “Evangelical or Catholic background is helpful,” said an online job posting. The group, Let Freedom Ring, was founded by former Chester County Commissioner Colin Hanna.

On Just War, Religious Groups Still Divided

c. 2006 Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly (UNDATED) At Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., students in professor Brian Stiltner’s class on faith and justice marked the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq still arguing about whether the war was morally justified. “I think we are there for a good purpose,” argued one student. “Something is getting done, even though it’s taking a long time.” Another student disagreed. “We went in with the wrong intentions, and us being there now _ it’s just making the situation worse.” Stiltner admitted his own ambivalence.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks out

Quote of the Day: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton “It is certainly not in keeping with my understanding of the Scriptures because this bill would literally criminalize the Good Samaritan and probably even Jesus himself.” -Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., speaking out against a House bill that would impose criminal penalties on those who assist undocumented immigrants. She was quoted by the Associated Press.

Torah cover being returned; church at the multiplex; drywall crucifix

A Torah cover that survived the Nazis is being returned the family of the woman who sewed it, writes Marilyn Henry in Thursday’s RNS report: When Gavriel Wesel came safely home to Vienna, Austria, after World War I, his wife, Miriam, sewed a cover for a Torah scroll at their synagogue to give thanks to God. On Monday (March 27), 87 years later, the cover will be returned to the New York grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the late Gavriel and Miriam Wesel. The return will take place in the office of New York Gov. George Pataki, who established the world’s only public agency that helps Nazi victims and their heirs recover looted properties. Because the Torah cover survived in a Nazi-annexed country during World War II, it’s considered extremely rare. Hitler’s Nazis looted or destroyed virtually all ceremonial or ritual Jewish objects, called Judaica.

Byassee addresses evangelicals

Quote of the Day: Christian Century Assistant Editor Jason Byassee (RNS) “When the powers that be are done with you, we mainline liberals will have a rocking chair for you at the retirement home of the formerly religiously important. Maybe then we can finally see each other as sisters and brothers.” -Jason Byassee, assistant editor for The Christian Century magazine, a mainline Protestant publication, addressing evangelicals in a guest column in the March issue of Christianity Today, an evangelical Protestant magazine.