Norway’s churches try to foster healing after attacks

TRONDHEIM (RNS/ENInews) A Norwegian bishop addressing the recent bombing and shooting attacks in Norway said his country has “countered this insane terrorism by demonstrating love and solidarity.” “We have brought out a social capital we maybe even did not know was there. We must rebuild our trust in human beings as fellow human beings,” said Church of Norway Bishop Tor Singsaas of Nidaros at the opening of the annual St. Olav Festival in Trondheim on Thursday (July 28). On July 22, Anders Behring Breivik bombed a government building in Oslo, then massacred youths at a nearby summer camp, killing 76 people in all, according to law enforcement officials.

Head of Southern Christian Leadership Conference dies

(RNS) The Rev. Howard Creecy Jr., a Baptist preacher chosen early this year as the new president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, died suddenly Thursday (July 28) at the age of 57. His death means the civil rights organization founded by the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. will go through another unexpected transition. Creecy became president after the Rev. Bernice King, the founder’s daughter, decided in January not to assume the presidency, citing a leadership clash. SCLC leaders expressed shock at Creecy’s death of a suspected heart attack but vowed to continue the work he started. “He was a strong leader but he has laid the groundwork for us to move forward in a way that we probably haven’t been able to in the past,” said Damien Conners, program director of the Atlanta-based organization.

Vatican unveils new JPII iPhone app for World Youth Day

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pilgrims at next month’s Catholic World Youth Day in Madrid will have some high-tech help in their devotions, thanks to a new iPhone app unveiled at the Vatican on Friday (July 29). World Youth Day (WYD), an international gathering held every three years in a different city, will take place August 16-21, culminating on the final day with an outdoor Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI. In 2005, the last time the event was held in Europe, a papal Mass in Cologne, Germany, drew an estimated 1 million. The new iJPII app, named for Pope John Paul II, who held the first WYD in 1986, offers a selection of prayers and poems by the late pontiff, and photos of him and his successor. Among the inspirational videos is one of the opera singer Leontyne Price performing the “Ave Maria.”

Friday Godbytes

America Magazine’s “In All Things” blog traces the history of the belief that the pope is the Antichrist – an idea that recently made news as the stance of Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s former church. Apparently, it’s nothing new: “While the president of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (better known as ‘Michelle Bachman’s church’) claims that the belief doesn’t make them anti-Catholic, 19th-century Nativists didn’t care to make that distinction.” Meanwhile, David Helm at Christian Century offers his own take on the controversial belief, especially in light of its (former) connection to Bachmann: “Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to have a presidential candidate who is a conservative Christian not as in ‘conservative evangelical’ but as in conservative, creedal, sacramental, confessional Lutheran. How would her Lutheran understanding of the two kingdoms, and of law and gospel, shape her politics?” In Biblical circles, the magazine Relevant has an extensive piece on “The Gospel of Immigration”: “This is much more than a “political” issue, abstracted from our salvation.

`Debtpocalypse’ and America’s fascination with The End

(RNS) For many Americans, nothing is as exciting as an impending apocalypse, except perhaps for the thrill of waking up the next day and discovering that Armageddon did not arrive and we have been spared. And that has generally been the result, whether it was the “Great Disappointment” of the 1840s when Jesus did not return as expected, or, more recently, when the Rapture failed to occur on May 21 as evangelist Harold Camping said it would. Camping had also predicted doomsday for 1994, and has since shifted his latest forecast to October. But there is no reason to wait that long, as the Capitol Hill default spectacle has provided the nation with a handy apocalypse fix. Indeed, Tuesday, Aug.

Friday’s Religion News Roundup

Eleven faith leaders were arrested in the Capitol rotunda yesterday after they sang and prayed for Congress to pass a budget deal that didn’t include cuts that could hurt America’s poor. Rev. Howard Creecy Jr, civil rights leader and president of the Southern Christian Leadership conference, died yesterday. He was 57. U.S. soldier Naser Adbo has admitted to planning another shooting at Fort Hood after being arrested just three miles from the post with weapons in his motel room and a bomb in his backpack. The feds are suing a Taco Bell in North Carolina after it allegedly fired an employee whose religious beliefs prohibited him from cutting his hair.

Thursday’s Godbytes

Various blogs are mourning the recent loss of Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Vatican’s diplomat to the U.S.: “Had he lived, Pietro Sambi would have surely received a cardinal’s red hat. But he will be laid to rest with the love and respect due a true churchman. May he be received into the company of Christ and his saints.” Meanwhile, Religious Dispatches raises questions about religious freedom after an Austrian man fought for his right to wear a pasta strainer on his head in his driver’s license photo. He claimed it was his religious right as a Pastafarian, an atheist-themed religion: “The affair raises questions that go beyond the jokey ‘church’-questions with which every society must grapple: What is religious freedom?

Vatican’s U.S. envoy, who helped shape stateside church, dies

(RNS) The Vatican’s highest-ranking official in the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, died Wednesday (July 27) night at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, succumbing to complications from lung surgery performed a few weeks earlier. Sambi, who was 73, spent five years representing the Holy See’s interests in Washington, helping Pope Benedict XVI reshape the American hierarchy through key appointments. Choosing Sambi’s replacement could be one of the most important decisions Benedict will make. The apostolic nuncio — in effect the Vatican ambassador to Washington — plays a central role in advising the pope on naming new bishops. Those appointments form a key legacy for any pope, but especially for Benedict, who is 84 and has made only one visit to the United States as pontiff.

Stott, called `evangelical pope,’ dies at age 90

(RNS) The Rev. John Stott, a renowned and prolific author credited with shaping 20th-century evangelical Christianity, died Wednesday (July 27) in England at age 90. While not a household name like evangelist Billy Graham, Stott was considered nearly as influential. He wrote more than 50 books, crafted the Lausanne Covenant — a definitive statement that unified evangelicals worldwide — and supported numerous Christian scholars through his organization. If evangelicals elected popes, they would have chosen Stott, the scholar Michael Cromartie once quipped. “John Stott never had quite that sort of public face,” said David Neff, editor in chief of Christianity Today, comparing Stott to Graham.

Judge tosses out San Fran’s circumcision referendum

(RNS) A proposed circumcision ban will not appear on San Francisco’s citywide ballot in November, a Superior Court judge tentatively ruled Wednesday (July 27). Judge Loretta Giorgi has determined that as “a widely practiced medical procedure,” circumcision cannot be banned by the city, since California law forbids municipalities from regulating medical procedures allowed by the state. She is expected to make the ruling official July 28 at a hearing on a lawsuit against the proposal. The proposed ban is an attempt by those who consider circumcision cruel and harmful to end the practice in the city for any male under 18. They were led by “intactivist” Lloyd Schofield.

Thursday’s Religion News Roundup

Two major religious figures left this earthly realm on Wednesday. The Rev. John Stott, who helped write the Lausanne Covenant and was often called the “evangelical pope,” died in England. Stott, who was 90, leaves behind more than 50 books acclaimed for their accessible theology. And the papal ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, died during surgery on Wednesday. Sambi helped set up a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and clerical sex abuse victims three years ago.

Wednesday’s Godbytes

Get Religion wonders about recent stories on the ordination of female Catholic priests, and whether the media shields the male priests who may be involved in the ordination rites: “To what degree did editors and other members of the Sun team intentionally participate in the hiding of a national or even global news story by agreeing to shield Catholic staffers and, perhaps, clergy who participated in the Womenpriests rite in Baltimore?” Speaking of Catholics, Anthony Stevens-Arroyo at the Washington Post’s On Faith blog asks if there is a specific “Catholic approach” to debates over the debt ceiling: “I think it is important for Catholic America to quickly recognize that the unseemly partisan fighting about whether the deficit will be reduced when the rich will loose tax loopholes (most Democrats) or when only spending will be cut (most Republicans) is a surrogate argument about the social fabric of the United States. Is Capitalism in America to be unbridled? Or should the people rely on elected government to limit the power and wealth of the few in the papal call for Social Democracy?” Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal blog is all aflutter about Harvard students who are taking action against Subramanian Swamy, a Harvard Summer School economics instructor who penned an op-ed in an Indian newspaper railing against Islamic terrorism in a way that “many have called offensive and inflammatory.”

HBO film follows Muslim children competing to memorize the Quran

(RNS) A new documentary follows three Muslim children as they travel to Egypt to compete in a tournament that requires young contestants to recite whole passages of the Quran, Islam’s 600-page holy book, from memory. Each year during Ramadan — a Muslim holy month when believers fast, pray and read from the Quran — 100 students from more than 70 countries flock to Cairo for the International Holy Quran Competition. Greg Barker, a former war correspondent and creator of films such as “Ghosts of Rwanda,” captured the contest in his new documentary “Koran by Heart,” which is set to premiere on HBO on August 1, the first night of Ramadan. Barker’s film tells the story of three 10-year-olds — two boys and one girl — as they travel to the competition. All three dedicated most of their early years to memorizing every word of the Quran — even though they do not speak or understand Arabic, the language in which the holy book is written.

Christians divided on Belgium’s burqa ban

(RNS/ENInews) Belgian Christians expressed mixed reactions to the country’s new “burqa ban,” as Belgium joined France in criminalizing the Islamic veil. “We’re against this ruling, since it violates basic human rights,” said Kristine Jansone, general secretary of the Brussels-based Ecumenical Youth Council in Europe. “Although I can’t speak on behalf of all our member-groups, I think it’s the general consensus we should oppose a measure which will clearly impede the free practice of religion.” The new law, which began implementation on Saturday (July 23), imposes fines of 137.50 Euros ($197.50) and jail terms of up to a week for women caught wearing the burqa in public. Orthodox Bishop Athenagoras Peckstadt backed the restriction and said Christian doctrine held that “human beings are created with faces” and should be able to look at each other “to be a full person.”

Catholic bishops urge House against steep budget cuts

(RNS) The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops are urging the GOP-led House to reject a cuts-only approach to the budget as Washington tries to avert an unprecedented government default on its multi-trillion-dollar debts. “A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons,” wrote Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., and Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., in a Tuesday (July 26) letter to House members. The bishops said balancing the budget “requires shared sacrifice by all,” and called for raising revenues, eliminating unneeded military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly. Blaire heads the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Hubbard the Committee on International Justice and Peace. The bishops’ call for balancing spending cuts with new revenues tends to echo the approach of President Obama and other Democrats.