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Christian Leaders Hope for Ecumenical Spring

March 13th, 2012 6 comments

13 March (ENInews)–For years, advocates for greater unity among Christian churches have wrung their hands amid talk of an “ecumenical winter.” But now, 10 years after leaders took the first steps toward forming the broad-based group Christian Churches Together in the USA (CCT), some have hopes that U.S. churches may be entering a new season of closer relations.

At a recent CCT meeting in Memphis, Tennessee, 85 Christians — Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox, white and nonwhite — made pilgrimages to historic sites of the civil rights movement, Religion News Service reports. They also made plans to use next year’s 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to pursue anti-poverty projects with houses of worship unlike their own.

“I would like to think of it as an ecumenical spring and that we do not yet know what will break forth,” said the Rev. Stephen J. Sidorak Jr., ecumenical staff officer of the United Methodist Church. “I think that there’s the potential for the ecumenical movement to be more alive than it’s ever been because it will be more inclusive.”

In many ways, the movement that has grappled with theological differences, leadership struggles, finances — and even what to call itself — is in the midst of major down-sizing that they hope will lead to wider engagement:

– The National Council of Churches (NCC), the flagship agency of ecumenism, has shrunk from some 400 staffers in its heyday in the 1960s to fewer than 20. It is seeking a “transitional general secretary” after its executive, the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, stepped down on 31 December.

– Churches Uniting in Christ, a network that dates to the 1960s, closed its office doors in 2010 and one of its nine affiliated denominations — the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church — has suspended its membership. CUIC’s remaining leaders hope to continue to address racism and shared ministries.

– CCT itself is looking for new leadership after its part-time executive director announced his retirement. Though it includes “families” of Catholic, Orthodox, historic and evangelical Protestant faiths, it has struggled to find acceptance among the “historic racial/ethnic” churches.

Ecumenical veterans say a movement that was built on slow-moving bureaucracies needs to find a way to stay nimble in the 21st century. “It’s a little bit like keeping the post office running,” said the Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, the outgoing president of CCT’s historic Protestant family.

Read more…

First Anglican Congregation in England Votes to Leave for Rome

October 22nd, 2010 1 comment

Anglican congregation’s plan for Roman exit not seen as exodus
ENI-10-0713

By Martin Revis
London, 22 October (ENI)–The decision by an Anglican parish in south-east England to leave the Church of England to become Roman Catholic has taken some by surprise.

The elected parochial church council of St Peter’s, Folkestone, south east England, which has taken the unanimous decision to secede, is seeking a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to discuss procedure.

Earlier this year Pope Benedict XVI offered special provisions for members of the Church of England unhappy with the prospect of female bishops.

The Rev. Stephen Bould, the parish vicar, and the church council said they regretted having to take such action and called for a smooth transition in the interest of both parties. Bould said he was proud of the courage and faith of the lay people concerned. He told journalists after the morning service on 17 October he did not know how many of the congregation would join the Catholic Church.

He also said he did he know what would happen to the 150 year-old parish church or the school, although he added that it would be wonderful if it were possible for converts to continue worshipping in the building.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, in whose diocese St Peter’s is located, was in India and there was no comment from Lambeth Palace, the headquarters of the Church of England.

The Folkestone initiative was the first taken by Anglican lay people intent on converting as a group. It came as the Bishop of Fulham, John Broadhurst, told a conference of the traditionalist pressure group Forward in Faith on 16 October he would resign before the end of 2010 and enter the Catholic enclave, known as the ordinariate, created for dissident Anglicans who will be allowed to retain some of their practices.

In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, Bishop Broadhurst accused the Church of England of breaking promises to make provision for opponents of female bishops.

“I don’t feel I have any choice but to leave the church and take up the pope’s offer,” Broadhurst was quoted as saying. “The general synod (the church’s parliament) has become vindictive and vicious. It has been fascist in its behaviour, marginalising those who have been opposed to women’s ordination,” he said. “The pope generously made an offer providing a home for our Catholic heritage at the same time as the Church of England made it clear that it does not want us.”

Members of the last Church of England general synod decided in July there was no need to further delay legislation to create women bishops or to provide male alternatives for parishes opposed to change.

Robert Pigott, the religious affairs correspondent of BBC News, commented, “Although this early decision by St Peter’s has taken observers somewhat by surprise, it shouldn’t be seen as evidence of a flood of parishes or even priests leaving for Rome.” [492 words]

(c) Ecumenical News International

Hagia Sophia to Be Used for Christian Worship Again?

October 22nd, 2010 4 comments

Turkish aide wants Hagia restored for Muslim, Christian worship

ENI-10-0711

By Jonathan Luxmoore

Warsaw, 22 October (ENI)–A Turkish government adviser says Christians and Muslims should be allowed to worship again in Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia basilica, eight decades after it was turned into a museum by the country’s secularist authorities.

“Hagia Sofia was built as a place of worship. It served people this way as a church and mosque for more than a thousand years,” said Mehmet Akif Aydýn, an expert with the Presidency of Religious Affairs, which monitors religious sites in Turkey, including more than 80 000 mosques.

“As a Muslim, I’d like it to become a mosque. But if Hagia Sofia were opened to Muslim worshippers on weekdays, it should also be opened to Christians on Sundays. It disturbs me that it’s become just a museum and tourist destination.”

The expert was commenting on calls for the sixth century landmark to be reopened for religious events, after warnings from the European Commission that Turkey must offer better protection of religious rights as a precondition for joining the European Union by 2015.

In an interview with the daily Zaman newspaper on 5 October, he said the basilica’s use by both faiths would help strengthen Christian-Muslim co-operation in Turkey, which has witnessed several attacks by Islamic militants on Christian clergy, including the June killing of Bishop Luigi Padovese, president of the country’s Roman Catholic Bishops Conference.

“Continuing a culture of co-existence, which I hope will improve throughout Turkey, is more important and acceptable than having Hagia Sophia remain a museum,” said Professor Aydýn,   who also runs an Istanbul-based Islamic Research Centre and teaches at Marmara University. “We can learn to coexist with other faiths if we allow every faith group member to learn and live his religion without fears and reservations.”

Christian minorities have frequently complained of discrimination and hostility in Turkey, nearly all of whose 76 million inhabitants are Sunni Muslims. In May, the country’s Islamist prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ordered local authorities to “uphold the rights of the Christian and Jewish minorities” and to “behave with respect towards their clergy.”

In August, the Muslim head of the Presidency of Religious Affairs, Mufti Ali Bardakoglu, called for an ancient church at St Paul’s birthplace of Tarsus to be returned to Christian worship.  Two
years earlier it had attracted world attention during second millennium celebrations of the apostle’s birth.

Originally commissioned by Emperor Constantine, Hagia Sophia was rebuilt between 532 and 537 as the foremost church in Constantinople, which was later renamed Istanbul, from a design said to be dictated to the Emperor Justinian by an angel in a dream. It was used as a mosque after the city’s capture by Ottoman Turks in 1453 and turned into a museum in 1934 in Istanbul by Turkey’s secularist founder, Kemal Ataturk.

In 2005, a group of Swiss lecturers and academics began collecting one million signatures to petition the European Parliament to ensure “Christendom’s grandest place of worship for over 900 years” was reopened for religious worship. [506 words]

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Meeting Seeks to Unite All Orthodox Christians in America

October 14th, 2010 2 comments

Utah meeting seeks to unify American Orthodox Christians
ENI-10-0693

By Peggy Fletcher Stack
Salt Lake City, Utah, 14 October (ENI/RNS)–If a group of Orthodox Christians meeting in Salt Lake City this week (Oct. 14-16) has its way, future generations of Greek, Serbian, Russian and other ethnic faithful all will worship together in a single American church.

A unified church would “honour and celebrate the multicultural Orthodox community here”, says Bill Souvall, president of the group Orthodox Christian Laity, Religion News Service reports. “It would give us a powerful presence in America. Spiritual seekers and searchers would find us.”

There currently are 14 Orthodox jurisdictions in America, and each has its own bishop in the country of origin and its own language, but the liturgy and doctrines are the same, Souvall says. “The churches of America should be American. They shouldn’t have all these separate archdioceses.”

Even so, this push for unity is not universally accepted.

Some bishops who look to Europe for leadership are not eager to displease their superiors, Souvall said. Older members also worry about losing their language, culture, identity and ties to their home countries.

Such immigrants built their American parishes “with their nickels and dimes”, says George Matsoukas, OCL’s executive director. They always have been “the force that guided the church.”

Each Orthodox group that came to the United States, looked to its home for ecclesiastical guidance. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Russian Orthodox Church split between those who left and those who stayed. By the 1970s, the Russian Orthodox Church allowed its American wing to go independent and become the Orthodox Church in America.

The OCL began pushing for greater involvement in church governance, and clergy and lay members have been talking about unity off and on ever since.

Last year, more than 60 bishops convened an Episcopal Assembly of North and Central America. They discussed, Matsoukas says, the spiritual and legal issues confronting a move to unify the diverse groups.

This week, those gathering in Salt Lake City hope to advance the conversation. They will consider what legal and structural obstacles to unity remain.

“Orthodox Christianity in America is at a crossroads,” Matsoukas says. “Our bishops may be stuck in a groove, but the young people are asking for this. We all need to work together – clergy, hierarchy and laity – in love and fellowship for the good of the church and of the
nation that we live in and are a part of.”

• Peggy Fletcher Stack writes for The Salt Lake Tribune [415 words]

(c) Ecumenical News International

Sudanese Cardinal Survives Assassination Attempt

October 14th, 2010 Comments off

Sudanese cardinal survives ‘assassination’ attempt
ENI-10-0695

By Fredrick Nzwili
Nairobi, 14 October (ENI)–Sudanese Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako has avoided what could have been an assassination attempt after a man rushed towards the cleric with a knife during a Mass in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum.

“The cardinal was seated close to the altar when the man with a knife approached it,” Elarion Zambakari, the chief editor of the Voice of St Paul magazine, told ENInews in a telephone interview, following the incident. “There are strong indications this was an assassination attempt.”

Cardinal Wako was celebrating Mass on 10 October to mark the feast day of St Daniel Comboni, a 19th century Italian missionary who built up the Catholic Church in Sudan, Africa’s biggest country.

“I saw a person coming up, carrying a dagger and pointing it at us and coming towards us. I hurried and stopped him,” said Barnaba Matuec Anei who was standing next to the Cardinal, the Voice of St Paul reported. “I took away the dagger from him and the security men who were around came and I handed him over to them. They took him away.”

The suspect was identified as Hamdan Mohamed Abdurrahman, Vatican Radio reported.

Police sources said it is not clear who was the target. Two other bishops had been alongside Cardinal Wako when the attack took place.

The incident came a day after clashes between supporters and opponents of autonomy for Southern Sudan, where most of the population are Christians or follow traditional beliefs. The same region will vote in a January referendum on whether it will remain as one country with the predominantly Arab and Islamic north. [275 words]

(c) Ecumenical News International

Poland’s Catholic Schools Can Bar Homosexual Teachers

October 12th, 2010 Comments off

Poland’s Catholic schools ‘can bar homosexual teachers’
ENI-10-0688

By Jonathan Luxmoore
Warsaw, 12 October (ENI)–Poland’s Roman Catholic Church has defended the right of its schools to refuse employment to homosexual teachers, after human rights groups called for the resignation of a government minister who supports the policy.

“We must defend someone’s right to declare their views and convictions publicly,” Archbishop Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw told the Gazeta Wyborcza daily newspaper on 5 October. “Under both State and church law, Catholic schools must clearly state the norms under which they take on teachers. It’s a long time since I encountered such an attack on a State official because of something they said.”

The archbishop was reacting to criticism of Elzbieta Radziszewska, the government representative for equal treatment, after she confirmed that Catholic schools are entitled to dismiss gay or lesbian staff members. She was also backed by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, who praised her for standing up for the rights of Catholics.

“Catholic schools must defend themselves. They are Catholic precisely because they want the moral values presented by the Catholic Church,” the cardinal told a radio interviewer. “They cannot accept values they don’t identify with, so they can indeed refuse employment to a declared lesbian.”

In a mid-September interview with Poland’s Catholic Gosc Niedzielny weekly newspaper, Radziszewska said church-owned schools and colleges could refuse jobs to declared   homosexual staff and sack those already employed.

However, the claim was criticised as a violation of anti-discrimination laws by Elzbieta Czyz, a director of Poland’s Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, and rejected by the head of the
country’s Anti-Discrimination Rights Association, Krzysztof Smiszek. He said the minister’s “hurtful statements” were in conflict with European Union norms and risked creating “a climate allowing homophobia”.

Grzegorz Schetyna, the speaker of Poland’s lower house of parliament, the Sejm, said he  believed Radziszewska, a member of Poland’s governing Civic Platform, had “gone beyond a certain limit,” noting that her “indiscretion” risked “causing trouble for the political class and the State”.

Gay and lesbian groups have frequently complained of discrimination in Poland, where the predominant Catholic Church opposed clauses in the 1997 constitution barring discrimination on grounds of ”sexual orientation” and has rejected requests for a pastoral service for homosexuals.

Although church leaders have condemned gay awareness events, homosexual groups say anti-gay violence has been met with silence in the country, which has been accused of tolerating homophobia by Amnesty International and the European Parliament. [408 words]

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Pope Denounces Violence in Middle East

October 11th, 2010 1 comment

Pope denounces violence in God’s name at meeting on Middle East
ENI-10-0685

By Luigi Sandri
Vatican, 11 October (ENI)–Pope Benedict XVI has denounced violence committed in God’s name, when he addressed around 250 people attending a special meeting of bishops from the Muslim-majority Middle East.

In off-the-cuff remarks, the Pope referred to, “The power of the terrorist ideology that carries out violence in the name of God, but this is not God. These are false divinities that must be unmasked, because they are not God.”

At the 10 October Sunday service Benedict spoke about the future of Christians in the Middle East who made up 20 percent of the population a century ago, but today account for less than 6 percent, as war and poor economic conditions have triggered their departure.

Jewish and Muslim representatives are also attending the 10-24 October gathering, called a synod.

Biblical readings and prayers were conducted in Arabic, English, Farsi, French, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Greek, and Turkish.

The 185 official synod participants come from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrein, Cyprus, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, the  Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Syria, Turkey and Yemen.

Monsignor Nikola Eterovic, the general secretary of the synod, had noted on 8 October that about 356 million people live in the region of whom only 5.7 million are Catholics, or 1.6 percent of the population. The total number of all Christians of different churches is about 20 million people, approximately 5.6 percent the population.

While describing the purpose of the synod as being, “primarily pastoral”, Benedict noted, “the bishops cannot ignore the delicate and sometimes dramatic, social and political situation of some of the countries in the Middle East.”

The Pope said he hoped the synod’s work will strengthen the communion of Catholic churches along with those belonging to the Oriental rite (such as Maronite, Melkite, Armenian, Syrian, Coptic and Chaldeans) that belong to the church of Rome and other Christian churches, as well as relations with Muslims and Jews.

A meeting working paper presented by the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria, Antonios Naguib, a key figure at the synod, underlines the main issues facing Christians in the Middle East.

The document notes that in the Middle East, “Freedom of religion customarily means freedom of worship and not freedom of conscience, that is, the freedom to believe or not believe, to practice openly one’s religion, privately or publicly, or to change one’s religion for another.”

Generally speaking, the text says, “In the Middle East to change one’s religion is perceived as a betrayal of the society, culture and nation, which are founded, for the most part, on a religious tradition.”

One of those attending the synod, requesting anonymity, told ENInews that this means, “In the Middle East, society blesses a Christian who becomes Muslim, but absolutely does not tolerate a Muslim becoming a Christian.”

Another issue discussed in the paper is the emigration “of Christians and non-Christians from the Middle East, a phenomenon which began at the end of the 19th century and chiefly arose for political and economic reasons … Today, emigration is particularly prevalent because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the resulting instability throughout the region.” [532 words]

(c) Ecumenical News International

Ban on Christmas Carols Upheld in US District Court

October 8th, 2010 3 comments

Ban on school Christmas carols upheld in US district
ENI-10-0677

By Jeanette Rundquist
Washington DC, 7 October (ENI/RNS)–”Silent Night” and other religious songs will remain off the programme at holiday concerts in one New Jersey school district – and possibly others across the country – after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a school ban on religious holiday music.

By deciding on 4 October not to hear the case, the high court ended a six-year legal battle that started when parent Michael Stratechuk sued the School District of South Orange and Maplewood over a policy that barred religious songs at public concerts, Religion News Service reports.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ban last year, and Stratechuk attempted to take the case to the higher court.

“There’s nothing more, short of the school district changing its policy. There’s no other legal avenue to take,” Stratechuk’s attorney, Robert J. Muise of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said.

While the 3rd Circuit ruling technically only applies to Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Muise worries the high court’s rejection of the case could lead to a chilling effect on religious music in school districts across the country.

“Religion has not been banned totally in schools but we’re headed in that direction,” he said on 5 October. “The South Orange-Maplewood Schools are in the forefront of taking that step.”

Stratechuk, a musician whose two sons were in seventh and ninth grades when he brought the case, could not be reached for comment.

In a statement, school Superintendent Brian Osborne said the policy “was adopted to promote an inclusive environment for all students in our school community. We have always felt our policy was constitutional and are pleased with the outcome.”

In the 1990s, South Orange-Maplewood adopted a policy banning the use of religious songs in school performances. The district stirred controversy in 2004 when a memo clarified the policy, extending it to vocal and instrumental performances.

Opponents organized an “illegal” night of Christmas carols, Hanukkah songs and other musical pieces that December, according to Muise’s petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. The policy covered religious songs of all faiths, but Muise said his client’s case was brought on behalf of Christmas songs.

“You’re not even going to allow the instrumentals of the music that doesn’t contain the words,” Muise said. “People in the audience would sing the songs in their minds?”

The case was brought under the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause of the U/S. Constitution, which requires the government to be neutral toward religion, Muise said.

“The whole idea of diversity and tolerance, you learn those traits by understanding other people’s traditions and religious traditions,” he said.

The South Orange-Maplewood policy, which says its goal is to “foster mutual understanding and respect for the right of all individuals regarding their beliefs,” permits religious music to be taught in the curriculum. But the music cannot be used to celebrate religious concepts, events or holidays.

Muise said by banning it from performance, the district essentially kept religious songs out of the curriculum because “teachers tend to have students learn in class what they’re going to perform” at a concert.

He also said that despite the district’s stated policy, prior to 2004 some holiday concerts did contain Christmas music. In 2003, for example, according to the petition, one holiday concert included “Joy to the World”, “O Come all Ye Faithful”, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” and
“Silent Night”.

He said the policy also prohibits “any printed programmes for any holiday concert to have any graphics which refer to the holidays, such as Christmas trees and dreidels [Yiddish for a  four-sided spinning top] “.

• Jeanette Rundquist writes for The Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey. Whitney Jones contributed to this report. [620 words]

(c) Ecumenical News International

European Catholic Bishops Establish Christian Rights Watchdog

October 8th, 2010 Comments off

Europe’s Catholic bishops establish Christian rights watchdog
ENI-10-0681

By Jonathan Luxmoore
Warsaw, 8 October (ENI)–Europe’s Roman Catholic bishops have set up an organization to defend the rights of Christians as well as monitoring prejudice and injustice across the continent.

“Our first task will be to provide people around Europe with objective and reliable data about the anti-Christian discrimination which is taking place, as well as to alert Catholic bishops’ conferences and other religious institutions,” Thierry Bonaventura, media officer of the Council of Catholic Episcopates of Europe, told ENInews.

“But we also want to encourage local church groups to be involved and take concrete steps against intolerance, such as by presenting reports to the United Nations and the Council of Europe, and encouraging them to take appropriate measures.”

Bonaventura was speaking after the announcement of the formation of the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination, headed in Vienna by Bishop Andras Veres of Hungary, and Austrian lay director, Gudrun Kugler, during a meeting of the bishops in Zagreb.

In an interview on 6 October, the bishops’ spokesperson said the decision to set up the body had been taken in 2009 by the CCEE, which is based at St Gallen in Switzerland and groups bishops’ conferences from 33 countries and Monaco and Cyprus.

“The cases we highlight will involve Christians throughout Europe, so the scope of the organization will be ecumenical,” the media officer told ENInews. “For now, though, it’s a Catholic initiative, involving the CCEE and Catholic groups.”

In a statement on 4 October, the CCEE said the observatory would work autonomously but also enjoy support from local church leaders, especially in collecting data on anti-Christian acts.

“The cases of Christians who suffer some form of discrimination have seen a rapid increase in recent years in Europe. Although this often happens in a hidden manner, the discrimination is all too real,” the statement added. “The aim is to awaken public opinion to what is happening, so that such situations do not become habitual and run the risk of degenerating into real hatred.”

At the same time, the CCEE’s Hungarian president, Cardinal Peter Erdo, said the observatory would also assist evangelisation and “authentic democracy based on equality,” by promoting a society “more respectful of religious freedom, and more capable of understanding and accepting its own roots and reality through a healthy secularism.

“When the existence of God is denied at all costs, as some groups seek to do,” said Erdo, “the result is always the denial of the possibility of basing life and societal structures on a solid foundation, basing them instead on the opinions of some or on the apparent momentary consensus of certain lawmakers.”

The cardinal noted, “Europe needs God. It needs to remember its own roots and thus look to the future with realism and hope. The situation is often not easy for Christians, who seek to bear witness with their lives to the faith and hope that is in them, through a lifestyle that becomes a challenge for others.”

• Observatory Web site: www.intoleranceagainstchristians.eu [504 words]

© Ecumenical News International

Revised Chinese Union Bible: Uniting Point for all Chinese Christians

October 5th, 2010 1 comment

Revised Bible seen as ‘uniting point’ for all Chinese Christians
ENI-10-0671

By Francis Wong
Hong Kong, 5 October (ENI)–The head of the United Bible Societies has praised the newly released Revised Chinese Union Version Bible, which took 27 years to complete, as a uniting point for Chinese Christians around the world.

Speaking at the dedication service for the revised Chinese Bible on 27 September at St John’s Anglican Cathedral in Hong Kong, the global chairperson of the United Bible Societies, Nora Lucero, praised the original version, first published in 1919.

She said it was a tool in “uniting and harmonising the diversified language usage of Chinese people from various regions” and noted that the revised version would continue this mission.

Lucero said that the revision had made the biblical texts “in a manner and format that the modern Chinese will understand and appreciate”. It is said that the revised version also benefits from the latest biblical research and archaeological findings.

She said that the revision was carried out by more than 30 Bible scholars with the utmost caution to make the text acceptable to Chinese readers from different denominations throughout the world.

“The revised version has the potential to be the one and only version used by Chinese-reading Christians all over the world,” noted Lucero.

She said that Chinese Christians “have paid a high price to own and read a copy of the Chinese Union Version Bible throughout history”. Lucero added in an interview that the high price was paid not only in financial terms but also through the suffering of Chinese Christians in recent history.

Delegates attending the dedication service included leaders from the Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist and the Roman Catholic churches, as well as officials from the church in China and the State Administration for Religious Affairs in China.

The Hong Kong Bible Society, which was responsible for the revision project, revealed that the church in China will publish a parallel edition of both the revised version and the original version of the New Testament in simplified Chinese by the end of 2010.

Some estimates say there are around 100 million copies of the Chinese Bible in the world, including monographs, New Testaments and Old Testaments, and more than 50 million copies in China alone. Four million copies of the Chinese Bible, including monographs, New Testaments and Old Testaments, are published each year.

The Chinese Union Version Bible was created in 1919 jointly by the British and Foreign Bible Society, the American Bible Society and the National Bible Society of Scotland, and involved the assistance of many different associations and Chinese Christians. It is now the most widely used version of the Chinese Bible and is said to have served as a de facto “standard version”.

The United Bible Societies is the collective name for 145 individual Bible Societies working in more than 200 countries and territories. It is based in Britain. [485 words]

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Interfaith Organization Calls for Ancient Japanese Concept of Harmony, Unity and Really Cool Ninja Moves

October 4th, 2010 2 comments

OK, so I added the “really cool Ninja” moves part…

40 years on, world interfaith peace body petitions for ‘arms down’
ENI-10-0670

By Hisashi Yukimoto
Tokyo, 4 October (ENI)–A world interfaith organization marked its 40th anniversary with a conference aimed to inspire “mahoroba”, the ancient Japanese concept of harmony and unity.

The Religions for Peace and its youth network were also concluding a global petition for “shared security,” which calls for a reduction in nuclear weapons and the reallocation of the world’s military spending by 10 percent to help achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

The network has collected more than 13.5 million signatures, many of them in Japan, which are to be presented to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, the permanent members of the Security Council, as well as to world leaders.

The Mahoroba Statement was adopted on 28 September in Japan’s ancient capital city of Nara, where the New York-based organization, known as Religions for Peace, held its first world assembly in 1970.

Traditionally Nara is known for fostering life and faith, abundance, beauty and harmony.

The conference theme was, “To inspire the concept of “mahoroba” throughout the world – A message from Japan: The last outpost of the Silk Road”. The Silk Road is a network of ancient trade routes across Asia connecting it with the Mediterranean world, as well as North Africa and Europe.

“The rich diversity which arrived by the Silk Road was fused into the Japanese traditional culture,” the statement said. “With respect for diversity and the harmonious spirit “wa”, this process cultivated the historical ‘mahoroba mind’.”

“However, we must admit that we have at times regretfully forgotten the ‘mahoroba mind’ and created unfortunate history,” the statement continued.

“We are facing many types of violence, conflicts, antagonisms and disputes. These horrendous threats are severely impacting human life and dignity and the natural world,” the statement added.

• English link to 1300th anniversary event in Nara: www.1300.jp/foreign/english/index.html

• History of the Religions for Peace: religionsforpeace.org/about/history.html [324 words]

© Ecumenical News International

“Islam is Now Part of a Modern, Changing Germany” says German President

October 4th, 2010 Comments off

German president says 20 years later, Islam now part of Germany

(fixing date in 2nd graph to 3 October instead of 4)
By Anli Serfontein
Trier, Germany, 4 October (ENI)–Islam is part of a modern, changing Germany, the country’s president, Christian Wulff, told the nation in an address on the 20th anniversary of the reunification of the once divided nation.

“Christianity is, of course, part of Germany. Judaism is, of course, part of Germany. This is our Judeo-Christian history. But, now, Islam is also part of Germany,” the president told the assembled dignitaries in the northern city of Bremen, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, on 3 October.

Before his appointment as president in July 2010, Wulff, as Minister President of Lower Saxony, appointed the first Muslim state cabinet minister in Germany.

“When German Muslims write to me to tell me ‘You are our president’ – then I answer wholeheartedly: Yes, of course I am your president! And with the same dedication and conviction of which I am the president of all the people who live in Germany,” Wulff said.

Wulff spoke about the challenges facing a multicultural Germany in times of rapid social and global changes. “Twenty years after reunification, we stand before the huge task of finding new solidarity in a Germany that is part of a swiftly changing world,” he said.

For her part, Merkel, endorsed Wulff’s words, but also expressed reservations with regard to the position of Islam in German culture. Merkel demanded that Muslims living in Germany also conform to “fundamental German values,” saying there can be no leeway on the issue.

In recent weeks an intense debate has raged in Germany about the willingness of Muslim immigrant to integrate and learn the language. A book claiming that Turkish Muslims are not willing to integrate reached the top of the non-fiction bestseller list.

“The future belongs to those nations who are open to cultural diversity, to new ideas and who do not shy away from debating with foreigners,” Wulff noted.

He also paid tribute to the role the churches played 20 years ago in enabling the peaceful revolution that led to reunification. “The churches gave a shelter to the new, courage for freedom,” he said.

In the autumn of 1989 prayer meetings for peace grew from week to week, ending in mass demonstrations against the totalitarian East German state.

“The growing together of German unity was especially an act of great solidarity, ” the
chairperson of the German Roman Catholic BishopsÆ Conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, and the Rev. Nikolaus Schneider, the chairperson of the Protestant umbrella, the Evangelical Churches in Germany, said in a joint statement on 1 October.

Citing the book of Luke (1:37) in the Bible, “For nothing is impossible with God,” they said the impossible became possible in late 1989. They added that the unity of Germany ôhas to be understood as part of a pan-European unity. The integration of a united Germany into a reinforced and extended European Union is maybe the biggest merit of the German unification,” they concluded.

About two thirds of the German population belongs to a Christian church. Before 1989, West Germany had a majority Roman Catholic population, while East Germany was predominantly Protestant. Today there are 25 million Catholics and 24 million Protestants in the country. While people of Turkish origin account for 2.4 percent of Germany’s people, Muslim’s account for 3.7 percent of the 82 million population. [560 words]

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Kenyan Government’s Remarks about Homosexuality Anger Both Christians and Muslims

October 4th, 2010 Comments off

Kenya government irks Christians, Muslims on call for homosexuals
ENI-10-0668

By Fredrick Nzwili
Nairobi, 4 October (ENI)–Some Kenyan Christian and Muslim leaders have expressed anger at a government minister’s suggestion that the country’s people should learn to with live homosexuality.

Faith leaders said they want an apology from the minister. Others are calling on President Mwai Kibaki to sack Esther Murugi, the special programmes’ minister, accusing her of making “irresponsible comments” during a speech in Mombasa, the capital of the coastal region.

“It is would be very honourable for the minister to accept and issue an apology to the people of Kenya. Her comments were annoying. They have hurt local people especially in the coastal region,” Anglican Bishop Julius Kalu of Mombasa told ENInews on 4 October in a telephone interview.

Some faith leaders have said the coastal region is an area in which homosexuals have been associated with tourism.

Murugi told participants at a national symposium on HIV and AIDS for homosexuals, lesbians and sex-workers on 30 September that the government has no option but to address the concerns of the gay community as it is an independent constituency and should not be stigmatised.

“We need to learn to live with the men who have sex with other men …. We are in the 21st century and things have changed,” Murugi said.

Still, Archbishop Kalu said Kenyan religious leaders totally oppose homosexuality and now understand why the government was quick to pass its new constitution, which the leaders warned secretly legalised the actions of people who choose partners of the same sex.

“This is not acceptable,” said the Rev. Joseph Methu, the national chairperson of the Federation of Evangelical and Indigenous Christian Churches of Kenya. “We, therefore, petition the president to sack her as minister or ask her voluntarily to resign from her position.”

Methu said if the minister did not step down as soon as possible his churches would call for demonstrations to push her out.

Angry Muslim leaders issued similar demands that the minister resign.

“God, in his holy books, the Quran and the Bible, cursed homosexuality and directed us to fight it. The minister has offended Kenyans who passed a new constitution that criminalises the vice,” the Daily Nation newspaper quoted Sheikh Mohammed Khalifa, the organizing secretary of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, as saying on 1 October. [395 words]

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Patron Saint of Whistle-Blowers

October 1st, 2010 1 comment

Buzz builds around new unofficial saint of abuse victims
ENI-10-0667

By Francis X. Rocca
Vatican City, 1 October (ENI/RNS)–Mother Mary MacKillop won’t be canonised until 17 October but some Catholics already have an unofficial title for the 19th-century Australian nun: Patron Saint of Whistleblowers.

MacKillop (1842-1909), Australia’s first native-born saint, was co-founder of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart, an order of nuns dedicated to the religious instruction of children and care for the poor, Religion News Service reports.

The strong-willed MacKillop, who worked under harsh conditions in the Australian outback, was once briefly excommunicated by her bishop for reasons that have never been entirely clear.

According to a new Australian television documentary set to air a week before her anonisation, at least one of the reasons MacKillop was punished was for denouncing clerical child abuse.

“The story of the excommunication amounts to this: that some priests had been uncovered for being involved in the sexual abuse of children,” the Rev. Paul Gardiner, the official advocate for MacKillop’s canonization, told Australia’s ABC television.

After her denunciation led to disciplining the priests, Gardiner said, “one of these priests was so angry with this that he swore vengeance.”

The same bishop who excommunicated MacKillop rescinded the decision on his deathbed five months later.

A short statement from the Sisters of Saint Joseph in late September referred to “several factors” leading to MacKillop’s excommunication, and said only that the new documentary’s account is “consistent with” previous studies of the event.

Yet the news that MacKillop may have been persecuted for speaking out has already prompted bloggers and others to nominate her as the “patron saint of whistleblowers,” and even of abuse victims themselves.

“If the facts support that account, then she should be looked to for her intercession by all who seek justice in the sex abuse crisis,” said the Rev. James Martin, a New York Jesuit and author of “My Life with the Saints.”

“The timing of this revelation seems providential,” Martin said, referring to abuse scandals that have shaken the church in Europe for most of 2010. “Maybe there is a reason that Mary MacKillop is walking back onto the international stage at this time.”

But according to the Rev. Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, casting MacKillop as protector of abuse victims would “reduce the extraordinary richness of her work to a very marginal episode in her life.”

“The merits of Mother Mary MacKillop, her commitment to children, to the poor, to indigenous peoples, to the dignity of all human persons, were much more extensive than the fact that she denounced an abuser,” Lombardi said.

Martin doubted the Vatican will make any official link between MacKillop and  child abuse, but said her experience with the problem could become a focus of popular devotion — much as how Hawaii’s St Damien de Veuster, who cared for lepers, has been adopted as the patron
of AIDS patients.

According to one American advocate for sex abuse victims, MacKillop’s story is “an example of what needs to be done.”

“Sister Mary understood that the men who were sexually abusing children were just men and were not representing God,” said Gary Bergeron of Survivor’s Voice, a group that is organizing an international demonstration by abuse victims to be held in St. Peter’s Square on 31 Oct October.

“Anyone that can be used as an example to protect children is a positive thing,” Bergeron said. [571 words]

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Christian Leaders in Nigeria Lament the State of Their Nation

October 1st, 2010 Comments off

Christian leaders lament during Nigeria’s 50th anniversary
ENI-10-0666

By Lekan Otufodunrin
Lagos, 1 October (ENI)–Christian leaders in Nigeria have joined in marking 50 years of independence in Africa’s most populous nation but have also called for divine intervention because of their concern for the state of the nation.

“Though it might seem like there is not much to jubilate about in the nation, prophetically and by faith, we celebrate Jubilee. We believe that as God sees our faith, he will give us cause to be jubilant as we begin the journey of another 50 years,” said the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor.

He was speaking at a media conference in the country’s capital Abuja on 1 October, 50 years to the day since Nigeria achieved its independence from the Britain in 1960.

The celebrations were marred by a number of bomb explosions in Abuja and police said at least eight people had been killed and a number of others injured. News agencies reported that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta in a statement claimed responsibility in which it said the country was marking 50 years of failure.

Militants from Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta set off several small bombs in the capital during ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of independence. Police in Nigeria say at least eight people have been killed and several others injured

World leaders, including Pope Benedict XVI, congratulated Nigerians on the anniversary.

Oritsejafor said that, judging by the lack of many basic facilities and infrastructure in Nigeria, it was unfortunate that the country’s leaders since independence had failed to live up to the expectations of the people.

“It is about time we bring about the change that is needed to move the country forward, and we all have to work hard at it,” said Oritsejafor.

In an anniversary message, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria said that the last 50 years had been a period of mixed blessing for the country. They noted that Nigeria’s national resources have not been properly developed for the benefit of the 149-million population, which is roughly divided equally between Christians in the south, and Muslims in the north.

“Our leaders need political will, which in the present context calls for heroism. Our citizens need to recover confidence in themselves, and work with their leaders in the hope of a better Nigeria,” said the bishops.

“There are reasons for our nation to turn to God for help at this 50th anniversary of the birth of her sovereignty,” the bishops added in their message signed by their president, Archbishop Ade Job, and secretary, Bishop Adewale Martins.

The retired primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola, had also been quoted as saying that that Nigeria has had a tortuous history since independence, with the unity of the country being constantly threatened by religious disharmony, fanaticism and sporadic crises. For the country to progress, Akinola said corruption should be criminalised to stop political office holders from stealing the country’s resources. [505 words]

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