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c. 2003 Religion News Service

Pope Condemns `Abhorrent’ Terrorist Killings of Hostages in Colombia

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope John Paul II has condemned the “abhorrent” killings of 10 hostages, including a former governor and minister of defense, by Colombian guerrillas.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, said in a telegram to Archbishop Alberto Giraldo Jaramillo of Medellin on Tuesday (May 6) that the pope received “with deep grief the abhorrent news” of the executions.

Guerrillas of the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) on Monday killed Guillermo Gaviria Correa, 39, former governor of Antioquia, and former Defense Minister Gilberto Echeverry Mejia, 62, along with eight soldiers. Gaviria and Echeverry were taken hostage in April 2002 while leading a peace march.

The bodies were found in a rural area of Urrao, 280 miles northwest of Bogota, where a military operation was under way to try to free FARC hostages, who also include presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three American anti-drug agents.

Sodano said the pope wanted to express “once more his most energetic condemnation of terrorist acts, which outrage peaceful coexistence and offend the most profound human feelings,” and to encourage Colombians “to continue on the road toward the longed for pacification.”

Echoing the pope’s concerns, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said the killings showed that the violence in Colombia’s nearly 40-year civil war was escalating and “should stimulate both profound reflection and immediate steps to stop the spiral of kidnappings, forced displacement, massacres and assassinations that have made civilians the primary victims of Colombia’s conflict.”

Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch, the New York-based human rights organization, said the killings underscored the need for Colombian guerrilla forces to cease kidnapping and release their hostages. “The onus for these death lays squarely on guerrillas, who held them hostage for over a year,” Vivanco said.

Amid growing domestic criticism that the rescue attempt was a mistake, the Colombian government defended the response, with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who has taken a hard line against the guerrillas, saying he accepted responsibility for the action.

The Roman Catholic Church, meanwhile, initiated a national conference in Bogota this week to reaffirm its commitment to finding peaceful ways to resolve the Colombian conflict.

_ Peggy Polk in Rome and Chris Herlinger in New York

House Approves New Religious Discrimination Rules in Jobs Bill

WASHINGTON (RNS) The House of Representatives approved a bill Thursday (May 8) that allows church-run job training programs to use federal money to hire only people who share their faith.

The provision, included in the $6.6 billion Workforce Investment Act, reverses 20-year-old rules to allow religious groups to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion.

The change would extend an exemption used by religious groups in private hiring to employees paid for with federal money. The jobs bill passed the House on a 220-to-204 vote.

“Faith-based organizations cannot be expected to sustain their religious mission without the ability to employ individuals who share in their tenets and practices,” said Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo., according to The New York Times. “It is that very faith that motivates these people to help Americans that are in trouble.”

Democrats and church-state groups, however, said the new rules turn back the clock on civil rights protections. The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, called the bill “shameful.”

“The House has just approved legislation that undermines our nation’s commitment to civil rights and attacks the church-state wall,” Lynn said.

The discrimination language is similar to that approved by the House two years ago for faith-based social services groups. Senate Democrats, concerned about government-funded discrimination, killed that bill and opted instead for a scaled-back bill that provides incentives for charitable giving. The jobs bill now heads to the Senate, where opponents are more hopeful the discrimination language will be removed.

_ Kevin Eckstrom

Faith-Based Disaster Response Follows Week’s Deadly Storms

(RNS) Faith-based disaster relief efforts are under way to aid communities ravaged by the tornadoes and severe storms that ripped through the Midwest this week.

Lutheran Disaster Response, a joint ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, is assessing damage in the hardest-hit states of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Tennessee.

“It is certain that major cleanup will be needed, as well as spiritual and emotional care for the children and adults whose lives have been affected by this destructive weather,” said the Rev. Gilbert B. Furst, director for Lutheran Disaster Response.

The organization will provide emergency disaster grants and rally congregations to help with local efforts, Furst said.

Catholic Charities USA also responded to the damage with $10,000 in emergency funding for its offices in Kansas City and St. Joseph, Mo., for the immediate needs of families affected by the storms.

Week of Compassion, the humanitarian arm of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), has sent emergency grants to at least five congregations and is collecting contributions for further efforts.

The Church World Service Emergency Response Program, which is planning to issue an appeal for emergency aid, is also coordinating relief efforts with Lutheran Disaster Response, Mennonite Disaster Service and the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

The storms did not spare sanctuaries or seminaries. Missouri Baptist Convention disaster relief teams mobilized after a tornado that cut through Kansas and Missouri hit their communities and caused an estimated $15 million to $20 million in damage to affiliated William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., Baptist Press reported. Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., narrowly missed damage and is aiding in local relief efforts.

_ Christina Denny

Vatican Invites Buddhists to Join in Prayer for World Peace

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican invited Buddhists on Friday (May 9) to join Christians in prayer for peace at a time of “bloodshed, violence, confrontation and crisis” in the world.

Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, the new president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, issued the invitation in a warm message marking the Festival of Vesakh, which Buddhists will celebrate Wednesday (May 14). Vesakh, Buddhism’s most important festival, marks the major events in the life of Buddha.

“I would like to invite you, my dear Buddhist friends, to join in prayer for the cause of peace in the world,” Fitzgerald said. “Observing the current international situation, we cannot but be aware of the acuteness of the question of peace in our world.

“Since the beginning of this new millennium, marked by the dramatic events of Sept. 11, 2001, we witness every day fresh scenes of bloodshed, violence, confrontation and crisis in almost all parts of the world. In the midst of this grave situation, we cannot lead our lives without committing ourselves to advancing the cause of peace in the world,” he said.

Fitzgerald said that both Christians and Buddhists believe that conflict is caused by “selfish desire, specifically by desire for power, domination and wealth often at the expense of others,” and that “peace must inhabit people’s hearts before it can become a social reality.”

The prelate called it “a wonderful coincidence” that while Catholics pray the rosary to “foster contemplation of Jesus Christ,” Buddhists have a similar tradition of using the Mala “to overcome the 108 sinful desires in order to reach the state of Nirvana.”

“By virtue of their meditative character, these two prayers have in common a calming effect on those who pray them,” Fitzgerald said. “They lead them to experience and to work for peace, and they produce the fruits of love.

“I am convinced that by persevering in prayer we will contribute to advancing peace in the world both now and in the future,” he said.

_ Peggy Polk

Quote of the Day: Adventurer Aron Ralston

(RNS) “I may never fully understand the spiritual aspects of what I experienced, but I will try. The source of the power I felt was the thoughts and prayers of many people, most of whom I will never know.”

_ Adventurer Aron Ralston, who survived being pinned by a boulder in a Colorado canyon by cutting off his forearm with a pocketknife. He was quoted by the Associated Press.


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