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c. 1999 Religion News Service

Hormel sworn in as ambassador amid cheers, demonstrations

(RNS) James Hormel, a gay businessman, was sworn in as ambassador to Luxembourg on Tuesday (June 29), with family and supporters cheering inside the State Department and opponents protesting outside.

The usually routine oath-taking ceremony featured loud cheering from hundreds of friends of Hormel, whose nomination sometimes appeared in doubt during a 20-month period. He is the first openly homosexual U.S. ambassador.”What an incredible privilege it is to be standing before you today,”Hormel said, the Associated Press reported.

President Clinton broke the impasse over the nomination by making Hormel a”recess appointment”using a method that circumvents the regular Senate confirmation process.

Conservative groups, including Concerned Women for America and the Traditional Values Coalition, demonstrated against Hormel’s appointment outside the State Department building.”James Hormel’s appointment will be the grave marker of an administration which sold out every core American value within its grasp even as it waved a Bible and spoke about the sacredness of families,”said Andrea Sheldon, executive director of the coalition.”It is hypocrisy conducted on the grandest scale in our history, and its days are numbered.” But Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had a different view of the appointment of Hormel, a former dean of the University of Chicago law school.”This is one of those glorious days when the nice guy finishes first,”she told those at the swearing-in ceremony.”Neither race, nor creed, nor gender nor sexual orientation should be relevant to the selection of ambassadors for the United States.”

Proposed House resolution on prayer, fasting defeated

(RNS) A proposed House resolution calling for Americans to observe a national day of fasting and prayer in response to recent violence was narrowly defeated Tuesday (June 29).

A two-thirds majority is needed when legislation is considered using special rules aimed at speedy passage of noncontroversial bills. But the resolution, proposed by Rep. Helen Chenoweth, R-Idaho, failed when 275 voted for it, 140 opposed it and 11 members voted”present.”The margin was nine votes short of two-thirds.”Our nation is sick and hurting and now is the time when all Americans of faith must come together and pray for healing and a spiritual renewal,”said Chenoweth from the House floor.”If there ever is a time when we need almighty God, it is now.” She cited recent events, including the shooting of students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., to explain the bill.

Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, spoke against the resolution, calling it morally wrong and unconstitutional.

Chenoweth said the resolution only recommends prayer and Edwards misunderstood the bill.

Mark J. Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, called the resolution”misguided”and said he was troubled that it gained a majority vote.”While the resolution was only advisory in nature, in its own way it was one of the most offensive measures we have seen from this House,”Pelavin stated.”The Chenoweth resolution amounted to an attempt to make the House go on record pushing religious leaders to make specific pronouncements.” The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, also objected to the proposal.”Calling people to prayer and worship is the job of our houses of worship,”Lynn said in a statement.”If the House has nothing better to do than stomp all over religion’s turf, then it’s time for them to take a long summer vacation.”

Kidnapped American missionary freed in Chechnya

(RNS) An evangelical American missionary has been released in Chechnya following seven months of captivity, during which his abductors cut off his right index finger to dramatize their ransom demands.

Herbert Gregg, 51, of Mesa, Ariz., was freed Tuesday (June 29) with his right hand still bandaged. The Russian Interfax news service said Russian soldiers had conducted an”operation”to free Gregg the day of his release, but gave no details other than to say no ransom was paid.

Gregg and his wife, Linda, had been teaching English to university students in the neighboring Russian republic of Dagestan, where he was abducted by still-unidentified kidnappers in November 1998. He was then taken to Chechnya, a breakaway republic in which holding kidnapped foreigners for ransom is rampant.

Chechnya declared itself independent of Russia, and Russian troops withdrew from the Caucasus region republic in 1996 following two years of war. However, Moscow still regards Chechnya as part of Russia.

In April, Gregg was videotaped having his finger cut off by those holding him. He was also forced on the tape to ask for ransom to be paid. The videotape was made public Tuesday after his release, the Associated Press reported.

Gregg is associated with TEAM _ The Evangelical Alliance Mission in Wheaton, Ill. John Jackson, a spokesman for the group, said Wednesday that Gregg”appears to be doing very well”and would undergo a full physical exam before returning to the United States for an extended rest.

Military, Native American church reach agreement on peyote use

(RNS) The Pentagon and the Native American Church of North America have reached agreement on the ritual use of the hallucinogenic plant peyote by members of the U.S. military.

The agreement comes five years after enactment of a federal law permitting Native Americans to use peyote, which comes from a cactus species harvested in parts of Texas. Peyote is dried and eaten or made into tea, which is then ingested.

The agreement, released June 18 in Farmington, N.M., at the church’s annual convention, includes a prohibition against peyote use by the estimated 40 church members assigned to work around nuclear weapons. Additionally, peyote cannot be used on military bases except with the permission of a commanding officer or on a military aircraft, ship or vehicle.

Church members must also cease using the drug at least 24 hours prior to returning to active duty, but may wear peyote in amulet form as a religious item.

Native Americans have used peyote for thousands of years in traditional religious ceremonies. The church says the drug is used only in amounts too small to produce hallucinations but of sufficient quantity to induce a reflective mood.

Of the more than 11,000 Native Americans serving in the military, less than 5 percent are associated with the Native American Church, according to the Washington Post.

Overall, the church reports having about 250,000 members belonging to about 50 tribal groups.

Pope describes his intended pilgrimage through”the history of salvation” (RNS) In an unusually personal, almost wistful letter to the faithful, Pope John Paul II described in detail Wednesday (June 30) the pilgrimage through”the history of salvation”he hopes to make in the year 2000.

John Paul also expressed his sorrow at the death of Catholicos Karekin I, leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Karekin died Tuesday after an extended bout with cancer.”I so much wanted to pay him a visit of fraternal friendship, but circumstances did not permit me to do so,”John Paul said. The pontiff had originally planned to visit Karekin in early July but canceled the visit because of the Armenian leader’s illness. He then planned to add a visit to Armenia on the end of his trip to Poland earlier this month, but his own bout with the flu forced him to cancel that trip as well.

On the proposed Middle East trip, the 79-year-old Roman Catholic pontiff outlined an arduous journey that would take him from Old Testament sites in present-day Iraq, Egypt and Jordan, to the cities of Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem to relive the life and death of Abraham, Moses and Jesus and to Damascus and Athens to meditate on the early church through the story of St. Paul.

The 19-page”Letter of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II Concerning Pilgrimage to the Places Linked to the History of Salvation”is addressed not just to Catholics but”to all who are preparing to celebrate in faith the Great Jubilee,”the Holy Year that will mark the start of the third millennium of Christianity.

While underlining the importance of pilgrimage to holy places so that the church”does not forget her roots,”the pope said his trip also will have an ecumenical dimension, encouraging dialogue with Jews, Muslims and the Orthodox.

The letter also states that the pilgrimage would have no political implications, a statement John Paul omitted from a preview of the document, which he read Tuesday after celebrating a Mass for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

In the letter, John Paul said he hoped to start his journey in Ur of the Chaldees, the present-day Tell el-Muqayyar in southern Iraq, where”Abraham heard the word of the Lord, which took him away from his own land, from his people, from himself in a sense, to make him the instrument of a place of salvation which embraced the future people of the Covenant and indeed all the peoples of the world.” From there, he said, he would travel to Mount Sinai in Egypt”where Moses received the revelation of God’s name”and”which was the setting for the sealing of the Covenant between Yahweh and his people, thus linking the mountain to the gift of the Ten Commandments.”Then, he said, he would go to Mount Nebo in Jordan”from which Moses could see the Promised Land.””It will probably not be possible for me on my pilgrimage to visit all these places,”John Paul said.”But I would like at least, please God, to visit Ur, the place of Abraham’s origins, and then go to the famous Monastery of St. Catherine on Sinai near the mountain of the Covenant, which in a way speaks of the entire mystery of the Exodus.” At the heart of his pilgrimage, the pope said, will be visits to Nazareth, where the church teaches that the Angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would give birth to Jesus, to Bethlehem where Jesus was born, and to Jerusalem, which is”especially charged with meaning”as the place of Jesus’ death and resurrection.”In the Holy Land, from north to south, we may say that everything recalls Christ,”he said.”But I will have to be satisfied with the more important places, and Jerusalem in a sense sums them all up.” The pope said that to meditate on the early church and”the missionary outreach of the first Christian community,”he would like to visit Damascus, the place of St. Paul’s conversion. And, he said,”it would be nice to be able to visit Athens where Paul gave his magnificent speech in the Areopagus (which) can in a sense be considered the very symbol of the Gospel’s encounter with human culture.” But John Paul, who suffers the debilitating effects of what is believed to be Parkinson’s disease, acknowledged that his itinerary may prove too ambitious and could be complicated by Middle East politics.”Abandoning myself completely to the divine will, I would be happy if this plan could be put into effect at least in its main points,”he said.”It would be an exclusively religious pilgrimage in its nature and purpose, and I would be saddened if anyone were to attach other meanings to this plan of mine.”

Quote of the day: Traditional healer Solly Nduku of South Africa”I find it saddening to realize that even after our fifth year of democracy, you still find people claiming to be Christians demonizing all that originated in Africa.” Solly Nduku, chairman of traditional healers in South Africa who scrapped plans to bless the ocean for a surfing competition in the country after Christians objected to the”pagan”ritual. He was quoted in the June 30 edition of USA Today.


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