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c. 2000 Religion News Service

Political Training Center to Be Launched for Muslims

(RNS) A leading Muslim advocacy group will inaugurate a first-of-its-kind political training center for American Muslims, signaling the growing clout and influence of the Muslim community across the country.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, which monitors anti-Muslim bias and lobbies on behalf of the 6 million U.S. Muslims, will formally announce the Leadership Training Center for American Muslims on Wednesday (June 14).

The Washington, D.C., center will train Muslims in community activism, lobbying, public relations and organizational management. A rotating class of activists, students and leaders will be trained at the center.

While there are numerous training centers in Washington, CAIR’s facility will be the first targeted at American Muslims. The center highlights American Islam’s growing influence in culture, politics and education.

The facility will be at CAIR’s headquarters in the shadow of Capitol Hill and offices of the Republican and Democratic National Committees.

Vatican Foreign Minister Will Represent the Pope at Assad Funeral

(RNS) Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican’s foreign minister, will represent Pope John Paul II at the funeral of President Hafez Assad of Syria, the Vatican said Monday (June 12).

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the French prelate will lead a delegation including Archbishop Diego Causero, the apostolic nuncio in Syria, and two other Vatican diplomats to the daylong funeral ceremonies Tuesday (June 13) in Damascus.

The Roman Catholic pontiff said in a telegram of condolence sent Sunday (June 11) to the Syrian leader’s son and designated successor, Bashar Assad, that Assad had “guided the destiny of his country for a long time and played a great role in the Middle East.”

“I share the pain of his family and that of the Syrian people,” the pope said. “May God comfort the authorities and the people of Syria in this sad hour and help them in the task of ever pursuing the development of the country and in following the path of peace for the good of all Syrians and all the inhabitants of the region.”

John Paul also renewed an appeal to the international community to end the decadelong economic sanctions against Iraq, which he said were causing hardships to “the entire Iraqi people” and especially to children, the aged and the ill.

“Today I repeat with still more force: Everyone must do everything possible to put an end to the suffering of so many civilian victims,” the pope said during an audience for Raphael I Bidawid, the Baghdad-based patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, and other Chaldean prelates.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, and Tauran met Friday (June 9) with Saadoun Hammadi, president of the Iraqi Parliament, and other Iraqi officials and assured them the pope and the Vatican will continue their humanitarian efforts on behalf of the Iraqi people.

Navarro-Valls said the meeting centered on “the negative effects of the sanctions on the conditions of life of the population.”

U.N. Security Council resolutions following the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait provide for the embargo to continue until Iraq is certified free of chemical, biological and nuclear arms and long-range missiles.

The Security Council last Thursday (June 8) extended an “oil for food” program for another six months to allow Iraq to use profits from oil sales to import food and other civilian goods.

The pope had hoped to travel to Iraq last December to visit the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham at the start of a Holy Year pilgrimage to biblical sites, but the government of President Saddam Hussein said the embargo and no-fly zones imposed by the United States and Britain made the trip impossible.

North Carolina Man Excommunicated for Anti-Gay Comments

(RNS) Lewis Green has a constitutional right to say whatever he wants, but his Episcopal parish in Biltmore, N.C., has told him that unless he can speak nicely, he is not welcome at the church.

Green, who has been publishing “deleterious” diatribes against gays and lesbians in his own independent newsletter, was banned from the Cathedral of All Souls and will be prohibited from receiving communion until he tones down the rhetoric, according to the Associated Press.

The Very Rev. Todd Donatelli, dean of the cathedral, excommunicated Green, but said he would be welcomed back once he studied the Bible for models of Christian conflict resolution and apologized in writing for making an obscene gesture during a worship service last year.

“Due to your refusal to seek reconciliation with the parish of All Souls and its members, and your continued efforts to attack this parish and its members, I hereby place you excommunicate,” Donatelli wrote in a May 30 letter.

Donatelli also warned that if Green comes on the church property and refuses to leave, he will be charged with trespassing and a restraining order will be issued.

Green, 68, said he will not back down. He cast the issue as a battle of freedom of speech.

“It will be a cold day in hell before I apologize,” Green said. “I don’t look at this as a church; it’s a liberal Democrat precinct.”

Green has repeatedly criticized the church’s growing acceptance of gays and lesbians and used his own newsletter, The Independent Torch, to criticize church leaders.

“I’ve been writing bad things about gays for some time, deleterious things, and that’s what this is about,” Green said. “What I’m doing is exercising my First Amendment rights, and if it’s about them, too bad. There’s nothing they can do about it.”

Pope Urges Indonesia to Defuse Tensions in the Moluccas

(RNS) Pope John Paul II urged the government of Indonesia on Monday (June 12) to defuse tensions in the Moluccas and seek a “just solution” to the plight of refugees in West Timor.

Receiving the credentials of Indonesia’s new ambassador to the Holy See, Widodo Sutiyo, the Roman Catholic pontiff underlined the Vatican’s concern over religious freedom and other fundamental human rights.

“At the present time it is especially necessary to repeat this, given the rise of violence in parts of your country between those of different religious beliefs,” he said.

The pope expressed strong concern over renewed clashes between Muslims and Christians in the Moluccas, islands in the Malay archipelago.

“My thoughts turn in particular to the Moluccas where atrocities, massacres and destruction have taken place again in recent days and where persisting tensions continue to be a source of grave preoccupation,” he said.

“The international community looks to Indonesia to adopt the necessary measures to defuse tensions, to ensure that all citizens are treated as equal before the law and to bring an immediate end to violence.”

The pope, who visited Indonesia in 1989 and recently met at the Vatican with Indonesian President Abdurrachman Wahid, called for a “return to the path of dialogue and peaceful negotiation in a spirit of mutual respect and tolerance.”

John Paul also urged action on behalf of refugees remaining in the Indonesian territory of West Timor following the conflict that led to independence for East Timor, a former Portuguese colony annexed by Indonesia in 1975.

Calling the situation in predominantly Catholic East Timor “a long-standing matter of concern to the Holy See,” the pope said authorities in both Dili, capital of East Timor, and Jakarta must work with international organizations to find practical means “to relieve the plight of the refugees in West Timor.”

“A just solution which respects the freedom of the refugees themselves and which guarantees the availability of humanitarian assistance calls for increased cooperation between the parties involved,” he said.

Women’s Conference Leaves Key Issues Unresolved

(RNS) Concluding a weeklong global conference that examined the status of women around the globe, representatives from more than 180 nations agreed Saturday (June 10) on new initiatives to accelerate progress toward equality.

On the final day of the U.N. Women’s Rights Conference, held at U.N. headquarters in New York, delegates approved a document reaffirming the equal rights platform passed at the 1995 Beijing conference on women. In a consensus vote, delegates reaffirmed a woman’s right to “decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality … free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”

“All those millions of women who are looking at us are totally vindicated,and they have something to grasp to assist them for their battles for equality,” said U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Angela King. “We have a strong document that not only reaffirms Beijing and other relevant conferences on human rights and social development, but also moves forward.”

The document called on governments to eliminate the selling of women for sexual abuse, as well as end economic exploitation and “commercial sexual exploitation” of women. Governments should prosecute marital rape and other forms of domestic violence, concluded the document, which urged nations to stop forced marriages and so-called “honor killings”_ marking the first international consensus on such matters.

Still, some of the most divisive issues _ such as reproductive health rights and abortion access _ remained unresolved, and proposals to mention abortion access, sexual rights and sexual orientation in the final document did not succeed.

Those issues were contentious at the Beijing conference as well, as the Vatican and some Islamic and predominantly Roman Catholic countries objected to the inclusion of language advocating sexual and reproductive rights for women, and sex education for adolescents.

“We regret that there was not enough political will on the part of some governments and the U.N. system to agree on a stronger document with more concrete benchmarks, numerical goals, time-bound targets, indicators and resources aimed at implementing the Beijing platform,” said a statement by Linkage Caucus, which coordinates various, mostly liberal nongovernmental organizations.

A review of international progress on the equality initiatives will take place in 2005, said King.

Catholic Activist Urges Mugabe’s Excommunication

(RNS) Claiming President Robert Mugabe supports violence and the disintegration of law and order in the country, the former director of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe has asked Pope John Paul II to excommunicate the controversial leader.

“I and many other Catholics believe that it is time for the universal church to take a stand against this murderous dictator,” wrote Mike Auret in the first of two letters sent to the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, according to Ecumenical News International, the Geneva-based religious news agency. “His recent crimes should be sufficient grounds for excommunication, and the followers of Christ our Savior are looking to the church for some action which will bring the torture of a nation to an end. For the love of God and his people, please do something.”

Auret _ a candidate for parliament for the opposition group Movement for Democratic Change _ also accused Mugabe of carrying out “a reign of terror in the country” and wrote, “The president is using the land issue which he and his government have failed to address, racism and terroristic violence to persuade voters to keep him in power.”

Auret said he resigned last year from his position as director of the justice commission because he believed most of the Catholic bishops in Zimbabwe were allying themselves with Mugabe, and had refused to release a report _ co-drafted by the commission _ on the national army’s persecution of people living in Matabeleland during the early 1980s.

Auret also claimed Mugabe supported the recent takeover of more than 1,500 mostly white-owned commercial farms by veterans of Zimbabwe’s war for independence.

But clergy of the Catholic Church _ which does not permit excommunication on political grounds _ said Auret’s campaign is unlikely to succeed.

“I don’t think there are any real grounds to excommunicate the president,” said Father Walter Nyatsanza, secretary of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference. “He has not taught any heresy or proclaimed any false doctrine.” Instead of demanding Mugabe’s excommunication, said Nyatsanza, Auret should urge the president to employ the “lawful and best way to redistribute land in a peaceful and orderly manner.”

Quote of the Day: Galan Entertainment President Nely Galan

(RNS) “You know when you go to church on Sunday, you feel rejuvenated because you feel like somebody tells you how to be a good person. Wouldn’t it be great to have that feeling five days a week?”

Nely Galan, president of Galan Entertainment in Los Angeles, which produces the “Padre Alberto” talk show for the Telemundo Spanish-language television network. She was quoted in the Monday (June 12) Washington Post.

DEA END RNS

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