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c. 2006 Religion News Service

Iran Opens Exhibit of Holocaust Cartoons

(RNS) A new exhibit of cartoons depicting the Holocaust has opened in Iran after Muslims were angered earlier this year when a Danish newspaper published cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

The contest, which received 1,200 entries from around the world, prompted outrage from Abraham Foxman, national director of the New York-based Anti-Defamation League.

“Aside from the fact that it’s outrageous, hateful and cynical, it’s also ironic,” Foxman said in an interview, noting that Jews were not behind the original Muhammad cartoons that appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

The collection of 204 selections from Iran, the U.S. and more than 40 other countries opened this week in Tehran, according to the Associated Press. The host gallery, Caricature House, co-sponsored the contest with the Iranian newspaper Hamshahri, according to the AP.

Foxman also criticized the lack of “even logic” in the Iranian government. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran drew criticism last year for calling the Holocaust a “myth” and saying that Israel should be destroyed, the AP reported.

“Here is a government and institutions who say the Holocaust didn’t happen, and at the same time they accuse the Israeli government of acting like Nazis,” Foxman said.

A cartoon in the exhibit by Indonesian Tony Thomdean features the Statue of Liberty holding a book on the Holocaust in its left hand while giving a Nazi salute with the other, the AP reported.

Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, said that the competition and Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denials were troubling on a personal level.

“This is so hurtful because what it tries to do is not only deny that they weren’t killed, but you’re killing them again. … It’s like killing even their memory,” he said.

The exhibition, located next to the Palestinian Authority’s embassy, will run until Sept. 13, and the winner will receive $12,000, according to the AP.

_ Kat Glass

It’s a Dirty Job, But Satan’s Got to Do It

(RNS) Satan is not evil, he just has a dirty job.

That’s the argument put forth by Henry Ansgar Kelly, an English professor and former Jesuit who led the inaugural “Satan Seminar” at the Catholic Biblical Association’s recent (Aug. 5-8) meeting in Chicago.

Attended by about two dozen Bible scholars and academics, the “Satan Seminar” included a spirited examination of the few ancient texts that mention the prince of darkness.

Kelly, a professor of English at the UCLA who’s written a new biography of Satan due out this month, said he managed to persuade a few colleagues of his thesis: that Satan is not the enemy of God but the employee of God. Satan’s job, Kelly said, is to smoke out bad people so only the truly virtuous will reach heaven.

“He wants to test (humans), he’s suspicious and he doesn’t care about his methods,” Kelly said.

Highlighting his role in the Book of Job, Kelly said Satan is a member of the divine “old guard bureaucracy.”

“He’s a hated member of the government, like an IRS agent or (former U.S. Sen. Joseph) McCarthy.”

It was the early church fathers who recast Satan as “the Evil One,” and as God’s opposite, Kelly said.

In what he hopes will become an annual seminar, Kelly may have many more chances to persuade his colleagues. Very few, he said “know that I’ve got something new on Satan.”

_ Daniel Burke

Bush Signs Law Putting Controversial Cross Under Federal Control

(RNS) President Bush signed a measure into law Monday (Aug. 14) that aims to preserve a controversial cross on public land in San Diego.

The law permits the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial to be owned by the federal government, marking the latest juncture in a legal battle over its constitutionality.

In July, Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy issued a stay that suspended a lower court decision that would have forced the city to remove the 29-foot cross from public property.

Even as further court action is expected, groups on both sides of the issue reacted to Bush’s signing of the law.

“This legislative victory is an important step in safeguarding the Mount Soledad cross,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the Washington-based American Center for Law and Justice, which has represented members of Congress who wanted to preserve the cross. “While we applaud the legislative victory, our focus remains on ensuring that we secure a decisive and lasting legal victory to keep the Mount Soledad cross in place.”

Republican members of Congress from California who supported the bill joined Bush at the signing ceremony Monday. Rep. Duncan Hunter introduced the legislation and Reps. Brian Bilbray and Darrell Issa co-sponsored it.

While supporters argued that the religious symbolism of the memorial did not merit its removal, opponents said its use of the symbol of the Christian faith was inappropriate because veterans have a range of religious backgrounds.

“Americans of many different faiths and none fought in our wars,” said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “It is wrong to use the symbol of only one faith to memorialize all those who died in service to their country.”

The American Humanist Association was disappointed that a federal judge in San Diego denied a request for a temporary restraining order to prevent the transfer. But further legal action is expected as soon as September.

“Transferring control of the cross to the federal government does nothing to resolve the basic issues of the case,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the Washington-based association.

_ Adelle M. Banks

Indian Cardinal Calls for More Children in Marriage

CHENNAI, India (RNS) The head of the Syro-Malabar Church said a committed married life that does not limit childbirth is the only way the church can arrest the dwindling percentage of Catholics in southern India.

Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, who heads the Eastern Rite Catholic Church in India’s Kerala state, issued a pastoral letter to urge parishioners to combat the growing feeling that children are a nuisance to pleasurable life.

“There is sin and injustice to society behind the decision of not having children by those parents who have the means and normal health,” Vithayathil said in his letter, which was read in all churches.

The Rev. Paul Thelakat, the church’s spokesman, told a church news agency that a church study found there had been three baptisms for every marriage blessed in the 1980s, but now there were only nine baptisms for every 10 marriages.

“The trend indicates that our churches will be full of graying people after 40 years” _ a trend the church wants to reverse, Thelakat said.

In a pointed reference to the situation in Europe, Vithayathil said: “Today, at least in 25 countries of Europe a sufficient number of children to maintain the present level of population are not born. They are slowly becoming countries of old people. … It is not the lack of economic resources or good health that has caused a lower birth rate in these countries. The reason for this appalling situation is the culture of death … and the lack of love pointed out by Pope Benedict XVI. These influences do find their way into our society too.”

K.C. Zachariah, an economist, told the church news agency that low birth rates and high migration rates make the future of the Syro-Malabar community “bleak.” He said more employment opportunities for women delayed marriages and caused a low birth rate in the community.

The Syro-Malabar Church is one of three rites that form the Catholic Church in India. It follows Syrian liturgies and customs, as does the Syro-Malankara Church, also based in Kerala. Latin Rite churches use the Roman liturgy introduced by European missionaries in the 15th century.

_ Achal Narayanan

Quote of the Day: Airport chaplain Philip Majka

(RNS) “I have a challenge right now of how to get a bottle of wine through (security). I have to have the Mass wine, you know.”

_ The Rev. Philip Majka, the new Catholic chaplain at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, talking about new security measures that prohibit any liquid beyond security checkpoints. He was quoted by The Washington Times.


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