Dalai Lama, Tutu awarded forgiveness prizes

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (RNS) After a worldwide search, the first $100,000 Fetzer Prizes for Love and Forgiveness were awarded Sunday (Sept. 27) to the Dalai Lama and retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. “We wanted this prize to recognize people who live with the reality of fear and violence and yet are inspiring examples of both the promise and power of love, forgiveness and compassion,” Tom Beech, president of the Michigan-based Fetzer Institute told more than 1,000 people at the 2009 Vancouver Peace Summit. The Dalai Lama, 74, accepted the prize on behalf of his Tibetan Buddhist community, while Tutu’s daughter, the Rev. Mpho Tutu, accepted on behalf of her 78-year-old father, who had to cancel due to a back injury. “For more than 50 years, each of you has faced with great courage a world that is weary from being in the grasp of fear and violence.

Pope urges Czechs to reclaim Christian heritage

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Visiting the Czech Republic 20 years after a Velvet Revolution overthrew the nation’s communist regime, Pope Benedict XVI called on one of the world’s most secular societies to reclaim its Christian heritage as the basis for “true freedom.” “True freedom presupposes the search for truth — for the true good — and hence finds its fulfillment precisely in knowing and doing what is right and just,” Benedict told a gathering of politicians and diplomats in Prague on Saturday (Sept. 26), the first day of a three-day papal visit. “For Christians, truth has a name: God,” he said. “And goodness has a face: Jesus Christ.”

SIDEBAR: The 14 ‘Coenmandments’

(RNS) In her new book, “The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers,” columnist and author Cathleen Falsani lists 14 “Coenmandments,” or moral lessons derived from each of Joel and Ethan Coen’s films. They are: 1. What goes around comes around. 2. Every action has a reaction. 3.

SIDEBAR: Coens’ acolytes worship at Church of the Latter-Day Dude

(RNS) Cathleen Falsani isn’t alone in finding a spiritual role model in the Dude, the slacker anti-hero of the 1998 film “The Big Lebowski.” In fact, the character has spawned a new religion, the Church of the Latter-Day Dude, which says it has ordained more than 60,000 members. — Key tenets of Dudeism are explained in “The Take it Easy Manifesto” and, of course, the Book of Duderonomy. They include “keep your wits about you even when you’re bummed out” and “when confronted by unfortunate circumstances, forget about it.” — Great Dudes in history include Mohandas Gandhi, Julia Child, and Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s dog.

The Coen brothers’ complicated gospel

(RNS) In the beginning was the Dude. And the Dude was with God, and the Dude himself was kind of godly, if you’re into that sort of thing. In his right hand the Dude carried a cocktail, and in his left, a bowling ball, and all of his ways were righteous and mellow altogether. And Cathleen Falsani saw the Dude, and saw that he abides, and was so smitten that she wrote a book about his creators. “The Dude,” for those not versed in the films of the Coen brothers, is Jeffrey Lebowski, the slacker-saint anti-hero of the 1998 movie “The Big Lebowski.”

Cleveland Catholics ask Vatican to oversee their bishop

CLEVELAND (RNS) Catholics protesting Cleveland Bishop Richard Lennon’s plan to close 50 churches are asking the Vatican to oversee Lennon’s actions. Separately, at least three Cleveland churches received letters from the Vatican this week (Sept. 20-26), saying their appeals of Lennon’s orders to close are being reviewed. Some parishioners from the three churches are members of the protest group Endangered Catholics, which is seeking the oversight of Lennon. The request for oversight is in accordance with church law but is rarely exercised, said Catholic activist Peter Borre of Boston, who will file the complaint in Rome on behalf of the Cleveland group.

Religious leaders press for binding pact on climate change

NEW YORK (RNS) Representatives from various faith traditions, gathered this week in conjunction with United Nations meetings on climate change, urged political leaders to adopt “strong, binding targets” for the reduction of greenhouse gases. The Sept. 21 statement by religious leaders called upon industrialized nations “to act responsibly in mitigation efforts, by making the largest cuts in carbon emissions… (and) showing leadership in their ethical behavior.” However, they also said all people are responsible for turning “the human-earth community into a global culture of ecological responsibility.”

Pope to visit Portugal and maybe England in 2010

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI will travel to Portugal next May to visit the world-famous shrine to the Virgin Mary at Fatima, the Vatican confirmed on Thursday (Sept. 24), amid semi-official reports of a papal trip to England later in the year. The pope will preside over observances at Fatima on May 13, marking the 92nd anniversary of the date in 1917 when three shepherd children reportedly saw, and heard prophecies from, the Virgin Mary, the first of six reported apparitions there over the following six months. The Shrine of Fatima, built on the site of the visions, is one of Catholicism’s most visited sanctuaries, drawing up to 5 million pilgrims every year. Pope John Paul II credited the Madonna of Fatima with saving his life after he was shot in St.

Court dismisses $5 million judgment against anti-gay protestors

(RNS) Members of Westboro Baptist Church, the anti-gay church that protests military funerals, won a court victory Thursday (Sept. 24) when a federal appeals court overturned a $5 million judgment against them. The father of a Marine who was killed in Iraq in 2006 sued Westboro pastor Fred Phelps and members of his Topeka, Kan., church after they protested his son’s funeral with signs that said “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “God hates America.” Judge Robert B. King of the 4th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., writing in the majority opinion, said the signs were “utterly distasteful” but addressed “matters of public concern.” Rejecting the privacy arguments of Albert Snyder of York, Pa., King upheld the church’s free speech rights.

Study: One in 5 Americans may be secular by 2030

(UNDATED) The number of American adults who do not identify with a particular religion is growing and may comprise more than 20 percent of the population in two decades, according to a new study. Conducted by researchers at Trinity College, the study, entitled “American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population,” showed that people who profess no religion, or “Nones,” are similar to the general public in marital status, education, racial and ethnic makeup and income. According to the study, it is possible that one in five Americans will put themselves in the “None” category by 2030. “We are here. We are like everybody else.

Muslims pray for âÂ?Â?soul of America’ at Capitol

WASHINGTON — Swapping prayer rugs for massive plastic rain tarps, an estimated 3,500 Muslims gathered at the foot of the U.S. Capitol on Friday (Sept. 25) to pray for “the soul of America” in a grassroots demonstration of religious and national pride. The rally, organized by the Dar-Ul-Islam mosque in Elizabeth, N.J., was billed as regular Friday “jummah” prayers, but it quickly became a chance for rank-and-file Muslims to publicly witness to their faith and claim their place as American citizens. “Islam and Muslims will never ever give to America anything except the best,” said Hamad Chebli, the imam, or spiritual leader, of the Islamic Society of Central Jersey in South Brunswick, N.J. “Islam and America will never ever bring anything from their homelands, from their countries, except the best.” Participants were told that the “Islam on Capitol Hill” rally would not be a political event, and were advised to leave their protest signs at home.

COMMENTARY: Life after Nazism

(UNDATED) Albert Einstein (Time magazine’s “Person of the 20th Century”), Sigmund Freud (the founder of psychoanalysis) Henry Kissinger (the former secretary of state), Billy Wilder (the film director/screen writer), Kurt Weill (the composer of “The Three Penny Opera”) and Hannah Arendt (the political philosopher) … What story do these six people share? They were all Jews from Germany or Austria who escaped to the U.S. or England following Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 — despite restrictive anti-immigration policies that limited the number of Jews who could find safety from Hitler’s death march. Some individuals, including these half-dozen prominent Jews, eluded the Nazis and escaped the fate that befell 6 million fellow Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust. Of those six, only Kissinger, now 86, is still alive.

Orthodox patriarch to advocate for Mississippi River

NEW ORLEANS (RNS) Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s 250 million Orthodox Christians, will convene dozens of experts here next month to discuss environmental challenges facing people in the Mississippi River Valley. Bartholomew, known in some quarters as the “green patriarch” for his environmental activism, has convened seven prior environmental gatherings around the world since 1995. Although based in Istanbul, Bartholomew has sponsored meetings to focus attention on environmental challenges to the Arctic, the Amazon River, the Adriatic, Baltic, Black and Aegean seas and the Danube River. In recent years, leaders of many faiths have come to recognize a faith-based duty to care for the earth, said the Rev. Sally Bingham, who heads an environmental ministry in California and is helping to plan the New Orleans meeting. “Religious leaders are used to saying our responsibility is saving souls.

Diverse faith groups agree on disaster-relief ethics

(RNS) More than 20 faith-based organizations, from Scientologists to Buddhists to Catholics, have come together to produce a guide on addressing the spiritual and emotional needs of disaster victims. The document was released by the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, an organization made up of 49 U.S. non-profit groups whose missions includes disaster response. National VOAD brings the groups together to focus on the five stages of disaster: preparedness, relief, response, recovery and mitigation. In 2008, these groups gave more than $200 million in direct financial assistance and volunteered more than 7 million hours of labor. While National VOAD works to restore homes and businesses after disasters, it also recognizes that spiritual, emotional and psychological trials may persist after the physical ramifications of a disaster have been addressed. The diverse group of Catholics, Scientologists, Buddhists and Jews teamed up to form a 10-point set of minimum standards when dealing with survivors of catastrophes.

Canadian judge dismisses polygamy charges

TORONTO (RNS) A judge on British Columbia’s Supreme Court has dismissed criminal charges against two alleged polygamists who say Canadian law protects their right to have more than one wife. Supreme Court Justice Sunni S. Stromberg-Stein on Wednesday (Sept. 23) threw out polygamy charges against Winston Blackmore, 53, and James Oler, 45, leaders of rival factions in the polygamous community of Bountiful in British Columbia’s interior. Blackmore and Oler belong to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a breakaway sect from the mainstream Mormon Church, which banned polygamy more than a century ago. Blackmore was charged with one count of polygamy with at least 19 women named in an indictment.