RNS Daily Digest

Rev. David Yaeger told a Jerusalem conference on anti-Semitism Monday that Israel, not the Vatican, is to blame for tensions between Jews and the Catholics. Yaeger, who represents the Vatican on a bilateral committee to improve relations with Israel, […]

c. 1999 Religion News Service

Vatican official says Israel to blame for Catholic-Jewish tensions

(RNS) The Rev. David Yaeger told a Jerusalem conference on anti-Semitism Monday that Israel, not the Vatican, is to blame for tensions between Jews and the Catholics.

Yaeger, who represents the Vatican on a bilateral committee to improve relations with Israel, said that while the Catholic church and the Jewish people are”now allies, friends and lovers,”Israel’s anti-Catholic attitude is preventing relations from warming.

In particular, he said, Israel has angered the Vatican by refusing to acknowledge Catholic overtures of friendship, including recent official declarations against anti-Semitism.

Instead, he said, Israel seems to be trying to keep the Vatican on the defensive by continually pointing to Pope Pius XII’s alleged failure to speak out against Nazi atrocities during World War II.

Yaeger labeled that a”blood libel,”the Associated Press reported.

Israel has also criticized the church for the proposal to beatify Pius, the last step before making him a saint.

Jewish participants said Yaeger was glossing over 2,000 years of Catholic anti-Semitism.”Our questions, our desires to search the truth are not blood libelous,”said Abraham Foxman, director of the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League.”We both have responsibilities that we haven’t fulfilled,”Foxman said. But he also praised efforts by Pope John Paul II to remove anti-Semitism from Catholic liturgical rites.

The flare-up came as John Paul ended a two-week vacation that Vatican officials said was dedicated to planning for the pontiff’s trip to the Middle East, including major stops in Israel.”One of his most constant thoughts here in the mountains was his desire to make tripes to the Middle East,”said Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls.

Although the trip has not been formally announced, it is expected that John Paul would like to visit the Middle East, including Iraq, Syria, Israel and cities ruled by the Palestinian Authority, in March of next year.

But Vatican officials are now saying the trip to Iraq _ where the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur is located and which is believed to be the birthplace of Abraham _ may take place this year.”The plan is taking shape here but it seems that the orientation is that the Middle East pilgrimage during the millennium will be more than one trip, which logistically would be enormously complicated,”Navarro-Valls said.

Update: Brothers suspected in synagogue arsons charged with killing gays

(RNS) Two brothers who are suspected in arsons at three northern California synagogues and have been linked to a white supremacist group have been charged with killing a gay couple.

Benjamin Matthew Williams, 31, and James Tyler Williams, 29, were charged on Monday (July 19). They could face the death penalty if convicted, the Associated Press reported.

Prosecutors consider the slayings of Gary Matson and Winfield Scott Mowder to be hate crimes. The Williams brothers are charged with murder with special circumstances, robbery, burglarizing the couple’s home and stealing their vehicle.”Murder is the ultimate expression of hate,”said Sheriff Jim Pope.”I’m looking forward to them being prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” The brothers also are suspects in June fires at three synagogues in the Sacramento area that resulted in more than $1 million in damage.

On July 1, Matson and Mowder were discovered shot to death in their bed in their residence in Happy Valley, a rural community near Redding, about 165 miles north of Sacramento.

Authorities have found hate literature at one of the brothers’ homes, including anti-Semitic writings and a notebook that contained names of people associated with the Sacramento-area synagogues.

The literature also included handouts from the World Church of the Creator, an Illinois-based white supremacist group. Over the Fourth of July weekend, a former member of that group targeted minorities in a Midwestern shooting spree, killing two people and wounding nine others before committing suicide.

Three American men who say they are missionaries on trial in Zimbabwe

(RNS) Three American men who say they are missionaries pleaded innocent Monday (July 19) to weapons charges in Zimbabwe.

The trial of John Dixon, 36, Joseph Pettijohn, 35, and Gary Blanchard, 34, began in the Harare High Court with a display of dozens of weapons police say were seized from them at the time of their arrest.

The men face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment if they are convicted of charges of possessing”arms of war”and trying to smuggle firearms aboard an airplane, USA Today reported.

On Tuesday, lawyers for the three complained that authorities were preventing them from preparing a defense by refusing to allow them to confer in prison.

The men say they are missionaries for Harvestfield Ministries, a small Pentecostal church group based in Indianapolis.

When the men were arrested March 7 at the international airport in Zimbabwe, police allegedly found weapons in their luggage and in their truck parked at the airport. Among the items prosecutors displayed in court were 21 rifles, 22 handguns, 31 bayonets, nine silencers, 70 knives, and three devices used to administer electric shocks.

The men have admitted possessing weapons but say they only used the firearms for fun, self-defense and hunting in the war-torn southern Congo where their mission was located.

In March, Jonathan Wallace, the head of Harvestfield Ministries, said the weapons were used for protection and hunting, not to supply arms to rebels, as Zimbabwean officials suspected.

Methodists giving up first half of year

(RNS) Giving by United Methodists for churchwide ministries and administration increased by 7 percent in the first half of 1999, compared with the same period in 1998.

When giving for disaster relief and other separate churchwide programs are added in, total giving to the church rose nearly $12 million, to $63.4 million _ a jump of 23 percent _ over the first half of last year.”I think it’s just a continuation of a trend that’s been in place for the last few years _ the impact of not raising the apportionments (the designated amount asked of each of the church’s 66 annual conferences) and the good economy,”said John Schrieber, an associated general secretary of the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Ministry.

The denomination has a national budget of some $120 million that is apportioned among the annual conferences.

Rights group: China cracking down on Falun Gong sect

(RNS) A Hong-Kong-based human rights monitoring group said Tuesday (July 20) that Chinese authorities have arrested at least 70 members of Falun Gong, a quasi-religious group founded in 1992 that stresses meditation.

According to the report, arrests were made in 16 cities, with police seizing books and smashing images of the group’s leader Li Hongzhi, a former grain bureau clerk now living in the United States.

The group first attracted widespread public attention in April, when 10,000 members stood in silence around the government’s leadership compound in Beijing, startling the Chinese authorities with the size and surprise of the demonstration. Leaders said they protesting the government’s treatment of the group.

Falun Gong was banned from holding large public gatherings but last week, some 5,000 members gathered in the eastern city of Weifang to protest critical articles about it in a local magazine.

The communist government estimates the group to have 10 million to 70 million followers, the Associated Press reported.

Quote of the day: Bishop Joseph Fiorenza, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops

(RNS)”It is our hope that in this time of anguish, the Kennedy and Bessette families will find strength in their union with God, feel solace in the realization that life is not ended but changed, and fondly recall that God graced them, even for too short a time, with the lives of John F. Kennedy Jr., Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and Lauren Bessette.” _ Bishop Joseph Fiorenza of the diocese of Galveston-Houston and president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops on a statement on the apparent deaths of John F. Kennedy Jr., Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and Lauren Bessette.