Photos Help Grieving Families Hold On to Lost Children

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Elizabeth McGuire will live forever in family photographs, a tiny girl with dark blue eyes and a full head of hair. Her family recently gathered in their New Jersey home to watch a computer slide slow of the portraits _ all the McGuires have left of their “littlest angel,” who died in March three months after she was born with spina bifida and a hole in her heart. The images were created thanks to Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, a nonprofit network of nearly 2,000 professional photographers who volunteer time to create digital memories of stillborn or dying babies. Elizabeth’s mother, Carolyn, called the photos a keepsake of the “little life that came into the world …

At 68, Grandfather Starts New Life as a Catholic Priest

c. 2007 Religion News Service ROCKAWAY, N.J. _ After three blissful Italian vacations, the striking scenery of Italy’s Amalfi Coast had settled snugly into Carmen Buono’s memory. Glorious sunsets off the hotel balcony in Sorrento, the woman he loved _ his wife, Barbara _ at his side. Then, in 2002, at age 63, Buono returned to Italy with friends, one of them a Franciscan monk. He again inhaled the coastal beauty, his heart aching as he thought of Barbara, who had died two years earlier.

COMMENTARY: Vienna’s Anti-Semitism Provoked Two Very Different Jewish Responses

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Vienna is always associated with frothy Strauss waltzes and excellent chocolates. But Austria’s capital also has a darker side: a history of anti-Semitism that was especially virulent in 1897, when Karl Lueger, running on an openly anti-Semitic platform, became Vienna’s mayor. It was a post he held until his death 13 years later, and scholars believe Lueger’s anti-Jewish policies influenced young Adolf Hitler, who moved to Vienna in 1907. Two remarkably gifted Viennese Jews of the same period _ Gustav Mahler, the famous composer and conductor, and Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism _ responded to the venomous hatred of Jews and Judaism in highly different ways.

Internet Puts Son in Baghdad at Dad’s Funeral

c. 2007 Religion News Service GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. _ Raymond J. Gress was 6,500 miles away in Baghdad during his father’s recent funeral at Rockford United Methodist Church. And he hardly missed a thing. The entire service _ from the moment Raymond A. Gress’ flag-draped coffin was ushered into the church until the 21-gun salute _ was broadcast live via the Internet.

COMMENTARY: The Measure of a Life

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Another school year closes and all teachers face the same event: grading. I’ve just turned in my grades for “Mysticism and the Spiritual Quest,” a cross-cultural course on great spiritual writing of history, including works so fine they qualify as literature. The Dhammapada. The Bhagavad-Gita.

The Immigrant Song

Pews Slow to Follow the Pulpit on Immigration Reform RNS Daniel Burke looks at immigration reform, and the differing messages from the pulpit and the pews, in this week’s full text article, linked above. With Congress preparing to take up immigration policy in the coming weeks, a number of prominent religious leaders-from all shades of the theological spectrum-have called for a “comprehensive and compassionate” reform of existing laws. It’s part of what they see as their biblical mandate to care for the stranger. More than 60 percent of white evangelicals said immigrants are a “burden” to the U.S. because they take jobs, housing and health care, according to a 2006 poll conducted by the non-partisan Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Fifty-six percent of white Catholics and 51 percent of white mainline Protestants agreed, according to the survey.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2007 Religion News Service NCC’s Edgar to Take Helm of Common Cause (RNS) The Rev. Bob Edgar, the outgoing general secretary of the National Council of Churches, has been named president of the public interest advocacy group Common Cause. Edgar, 63, a former congressman from Pennsylvania and an ordained United Methodist minister, was elected by Common Cause’s governing board on Friday (May 18). His tenure at the NCC ends Dec. 31 and he will split time between the two organizations until then, according to representatives.

Columbaria Revive a Church Graveyard Tradition

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Just outside Fredericksburg (Va.) United Methodist Church, an arc-shaped wall hugs the church’s quiet meditation garden and outdoor fountain. A closer look at the wall reveals 360 niches and the names of deceased members of the congregation. The columbarium, which holds urns containing ashes of the dead, was installed two years ago and is part of a growing trend of churches that are reverting back to the old church graveyard tradition in a modern way. “Rather than buying plots in a cemetery in which they have no connection, to be buried at their church where they’ve worshipped and celebrated their life is meaningful to many people,” said the church’s senior pastor, Larry Lenow.

Diocese Builds Crematory as Cremation Acceptance Grows

c. 2007 Religion News Service EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. _ Despite the Catholic Church’s preference for burial, a New Jersey diocese has begun work on the first crematory in the United States to be built by a diocese. Church officials say the crematory at the 200-acre Holy Cross Burial Park here will open by year’s end. Within the last decade, more and more Catholics have opted for cremation as they became aware of changes in church law that now allow it, reflecting an overall trend in the growing popularity of cremation, according to theologians and funeral directors. After forbidding cremation for centuries, the church began allowing it for Catholics in 1963, while maintaining a strong preference for burial.

Muslim Volunteers Meet Death, Find Life, in Washing Bodies

c. 2007 Religion News Service HERNDON, Va. _ Deidre “Nusaybah” Ritchie knelt down and gently braided the brown hair of the woman’s body lying in a cocoon of white sheets. After demonstrating to the women gathered around her how to wash the body with soap and sweet-smelling camphor, Ritchie finished wrapping the woman in several layers of seamless white cloth, which five minutes earlier were a set of store-bought queen-sized bed sheets. “Performing this service for others is a reminder that death is a certainty for all of us,” said Ritchie, 39, as her audience of more than 20 Muslim women took notes and asked questions on how to prepare a body for burial in accordance with Islamic law.

10 Minutes With … Steven Friedman

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) You probably knew one could buy holy water, but what about holy soil? Steven Friedman’s brainchild, Holy Land Earth, imports 16-ounce bags of soil from Israel for use at American funerals, all with USDA and rabbinical approval. The grandson of Holocaust survivors, Friedman sees Israeli soil as sacred and wanted to make it available to the American public. Since the law student at New York’s Fordham University began selling the pieces of Earth in February, he has received interest from people of various faiths.

COMMENTARY: The Measure of a Life

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Another school year closes and all teachers face the same event: grading. I’ve just turned in my grades for “Mysticism and the Spiritual Quest,” a cross-cultural course on great spiritual writing of history, including works so fine they qualify as literature. The Dhammapada. The Bhagavad-Gita.

RNS Weekly Digest

c. 2007 Religion News Service Government Rescinds Fine Against Baptist Group WASHINGTON (RNS) A moderate Baptist group will not have to pay a fine related to alleged violations by members of affiliated churches who traveled to Cuba, the Treasury Department has decided. In 2006, the Washington-based Alliance of Baptists received a notice that it could be fined $34,000 because the itineraries of five churches that used its travel license “did not reflect a program of full-time religious activity.” In a May 17 “warning letter,” the Office of Foreign Assets Control informed the alliance that “after a careful review of the entire file, OFAC has decided to withdraw the notice.” But Elton A. Ellison, OFAC’s assistant director for civil penalties, noted that the alliance should be aware that any action by the alliance or its affiliates that violates the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba “may result in the imposition of criminal and/or civil penalties.” The Rev. Stan Hastey, executive director of the alliance, said he was “gratified and grateful” that the issue has been resolved. The alliance had appealed the fine notice. “According to our attorney …

Thousands Bid Farewell to Falwell

c. 2007 Religion News Service LYNCHBURG, Va._ About 10,000 mourners bid farewell Tuesday (May 22) to the Rev. Jerry Falwell, remembering him for his influence as a pastor, political activist and Christian educator. Falwell’s black and gold casket, adorned with a spray of red roses, stood under the pulpit of the 6,000-seat sanctuary of Thomas Road Baptist Church, the church he started with 35 people in an abandoned soft drink bottling plant 51 years ago. “People have asked me, `Franklin, do you agree with Jerry Falwell?”’ said evangelist Franklin Graham, in a message piped to two overflow locations on the nearby Liberty University campus. “Every time he opened the Bible, I agreed with Jerry Falwell.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2007 Religion News Service Gay Bishop Says Exclusion is an `Affront’ to U.S. Church (RNS) Openly gay Episcopal bishop V. Gene Robinson reacted angrily to his exclusion from a key meeting of Anglican leaders in England next year, saying it is “an affront to the entire Episcopal Church.” “It is time the bishops of the Anglican Communion stop talking about gay and lesbian people and start talking with us,” said Robinson, who was elected bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. “The refusal to include me among all the other duly elected and consecrated bishops of the church is an affront to the entire Episcopal Church,” Robinson said Tuesday (May 22). Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, sent the first round of invitations to the 2008 Lambeth Conference scheduled for next July in Canterbury. Held every 10 years, the conference brings together bishops and leaders from throughout the Anglican Communion’s 38 regional and national churches, all of which trace their roots to the Church of England.