International news

 — June 30, 200630 juin 2006

This year, Pope Benedict XVI will travel to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul (formerly Constantinople). The trip will take place next November 28-30 on the occasion of the feast day of the apostle Andrew, patron saint of the church of Constantinople. (Translated from Service Orthodox de Presse)

Fatwa against smoking sought. Muslim health professionals in the United Kingdom are asking religious scholars to issue a world-wide edict against smoking. “We’re hoping to serve as catalyst in the debate,” said Dr. Aziz Sheikh, professor of primary care at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, who co-authored the paper. While Islam’s holy book, the Quran, and a collection of sayings of the Prophet do not directly prohibit the use of tobacco, jurists have recently issued edicts out-lawing its use, citing Islamic law’s general prohibition against any actions resulting in harm to the body or the health of others. (National Catholic Reporter)

U.S. Church congregations can meet their liturgical need for palm fronds in a way that’s economically just and environmentally sound. Eco-Palms, a fair-trade project of the University of Minnesota Centre for Integrated Natural Resources and Agricultural Management, arranges for palm harvesters in central and south America to be paid a decent wage, promotes sustainable harvest methods and natural regeneration and discourages the clear-cutting or maiming of other trees in the forest. According to the centre data, U.S. churches annually use about 308 million palm fronds valued at some $4,5 million, not only for Palm Sunday and passion plays, but also for weddings, funerals and floral arrangements. “What we pay is only five cents a palm, but all that goes directly to people who harvest,” said the centre’s RaeLynn Loss-Jones. (National Catholic Reporter)

February 15 and 16, 2006 were designated as Darfur Advocacy Days in the U.S., and thousands of Americans travelled to Washington to press for international protection of Darfur civilians, the commitment of financial resources and additional peacekeepers. Members of a 65-person delegation to the State Department included American Jewish Committee, rabbinic and lay leaders, representatives of the Urban League, Concerned Black Clergy, the Darfur Alert Coalition, Catholics Charities of New York, Church World Service, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. They urged that Sudanese leaders be held accountable for their atrocious crimes and they called for active leadership form the U.S. government to support the frail Darfur peace process. (Prairie Messenger)

Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Evangelical, Jewish, Muslim, Silk, Hindu and Buddhist schools in Britain signed an agreement to address the failure of some faith schools to teach about religions other than their own. In the February 27 statement, the religious leaders said that teaching about a range of faiths enabled children to “develop respect for and sensitivity to others, in particular those whose faith and beliefs are different from their own.” “It promotes discernment and enables pupils to combat prejudice,” the leaders said. “We believe that schools with a religious designation should teach not only their own faith but also an awareness of the tenets of other faiths of other faiths,” they added. (Prairie Messenger)

A month-long visit to Pakistan in 2001 by Minnesota teenager, Chiara Kovarik, has resulted in the publication of her 174-page book, Interviews With Muslim Women of Pakistan. “I’d gone with the typical ideas that the women were oppressed and don’t have the right to speak, and I was finding that a lot of those previous notions I had were not true,” said Kovarik. To correct misconceptions about Muslim women and to amplify their voices, Kovarik began the challenging process of conducting interviews. Even when some women agreed to be interviewed, she still had to obtain an OK from a male relative and deal with some of the men insisting upon being present to answer for the women or dismiss their responses. She asked the women ten questions, including how their lives differ from their mothers’ and grandmothers’ about their women’s priorities, how they felt about being Muslim, being women and their expected gender roles. “None expressed regrets,” she said. Just one week after Kovarik returned from Pakistan, the Sept. 11 attacks occurred. She contacted every Muslim woman again, asking about the impact of terrorism on them. “They were as shocked and horrified as we were,” Kovarik said. “They kept stressing that Islam does not in any way condone the terrorists’ actions, and they really wanted people to know that.” (Prairie Messenger)

Lutheran and Reformed Church agreement. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) and Reformed (Presbyterian and congregational) churches in the Middle East, signed an agreement of full communion, January 26, 2006. Dr Munib A., ELCJHL bishop was among seven church representatives who signed The Amman Declaration. An ELCJHL news release noted, “The churches have mutually recognized one another’s ministries… They have agreed to mutual participation in one another’s worship… and other joint activities that will promote ecumenical and interfaith witness and service to God’s people in our land.” (Lutheran World Information)

Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary has established a lectureship in honor of the first African American women ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church. The Katie Geneva Cannon Lectureship inaugurated on March 26, 2006 with Dr. Cannon, will become an annual program of the Seminary’s Women’s Centre that will seek to invite a woman scholar who belongs to a racial ethnic minority in the United States and who raises a critical voice against the dominant oppressive structures and ideologies of the era. Cannon became the first African American woman ordained in the United Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A. in 1974 and the first African American woman to earn the Doctor of Philosophy degree at Union Theological Seminary in 1983. “As an African American woman student in the 1970’s I was an oddity, not only because I was black, but also because I was a woman and a woman in ministry,” recalls Cannon. Today, she is considered the frontrunner in womanist theology and African American social ethics. Cannon is President of the Society for the Study of Black Religion and in currently participating in a Pan-African Seminar on Religion and Poverty in Africa and the African Diaspora sponsored by the Ford Foundation. (Louisville Seminary)

Christian evangelical leaders in the U.S. have launched the Evangelical Climate initiative, which sees carbon dioxide reduction as the “basic task for all the world’s inhabitants.” “Look at the projections. Millions are going to die because of global warming. Those are people Jesus loves,” says organizer Rev. Jim Ball. Since 2000, Rev. Ball has been the executive director of the Washington-based Evangelical Environmental Network which helped develop the Evangelical Climate Initiative. (National Catholic Reporter)

Rabbis for Human Rights of Israel, a Jerusalem based organization that promotes peace and social justice for Israelis and Palestinians was awarded the 23rd Niwano Peace Prize, in Tokyo on May 11. The Executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, has faced the wrath of Israeli authorities and prosecution in Israeli courts by working with Palestinians to protect their property and homes from expropriation and demolition under Israeli occupation. Along with the award certificate, Rabbis for Human Rights received a medal and 23 million yen ($195,000 US). (Anglican Journal)

A theological symposium on Creation, organized conjointly by the Institute of Orthodox Theology of Paris (St. Sergius) and the Faculty of Protestant Theology of Paris, was held in Paris on January 26-27, 2006. Students and professors from both schools took part in the sessions held at St. Sergius on the first day and at the Protestant faculty on the second day. From the discussion around the subjects raised in the lectures, it was evident that clear differences exist between the orthodox highly theological reading of the biblical texts and the Protestant tendency to favour customs and beliefs founded on a more literal interpretation of scripture. Many of the Orthodox professors praised the intellectual honesty of the Protestant exegetical method. In this friendly atmosphere where everyone could appreciate the value of the exchanges, the participants agreed on a future meeting in three years’ time. (Translated from Service Orthodox de Presse)

The fifth meeting of the Russo-Iranian Commission for Islamic-Orthodox Dialogue was held in Teheran, 28 February – 4 March, on “Eschatology: Muslim and Orthodox Perspectives.” In his message to the participants, the patriarch of Moscow, Alexis II, emphasized the similarities which exist in the point of view of his church and of the Iranian religious leaders on “understanding the various aspects of the interrelationship between religion. State and Society, the important place of religion in the Social fabric including building moral and encouraging harmonious interaction.” While in Iran, the delegation from the Moscow patriarchate met with Ayatollah Mohamed Haraki, president of the organization for Islamic culture and foreign relations. Visits were made to St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in Teheran and to the Islamic Theological Centre In Qom. The dialogue commission was created following talks between Metropolitan Cyril of Smolensk patriarchate and Ayatollah Mohamet – Ali Tashkiri, who was then the president of the Islamic culture and foreign relations organization. The first meeting of the commission was held in December 1997. (Translated from Service Orthodox de Presse)

A gathering in Bulgaria of religious leaders from all major faiths has denounced ethnic and religious intolerance and pledged to strengthen inter-religious and inter-ethnic peace. “We, the leaders of religious denominations in Bulgaria, and as Bulgarians citizens, state our unflagging will to strengthen religious peace and ethnic peace,” Christian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Armenian leaders as well as Muslim and Jewish representatives stated in a joint declaration at the end of the 28 March meeting. The meeting was held at the initiative of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and follows concern in recent months about religious and ethnic intolerance in the country. The gathering also discussed the possibility of the various religious faiths joining together in celebration of some public holidays. In post-communist Bulgaria, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has been the only faith group to be represented officially at some national holiday celebrations. The Orthodox Church accounts for about 82 % of Bulgaria’s 7.5 million people, and other Christian denominations about 1.2 %, while 2 % are Muslim. (Ecumenical News International)

Spouses who attend religious services together are less likely to divorce, according to new research from the University of Michigan. A study done by researchers connected to the Institute for Social Research examined how religion and race affected the risk of divorce for couples in the first seven years of marriage. The study showed that regardless of race, couples who attended religious services together were less likely to divorce. (The Banner)

The second international conference of Jewish and Muslim clerics was attended by about 140 rabbis and imams from thirty four countries. Held in Seville, southern Spain at the end of March, the conference was sponsored by the Paris-based peace foundation. In a joint statement on March 22, they said, “While modern politics has impacted negatively upon the relationship, our two religions share the most fundamental values of faith in the One Almighty whose name is Peace.” Reports said goodwill was sowed when rabbis took the side of imams in demanding a halt to the construction of a Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem by the Simon Wiesenthal centre when the remains from an adjacent, ancient Muslim cemetery were discovered during digging o the museum’s foundations. “That the rabbis understand us on this issue gives hope we can reach agreement on other issues,” said Imad al-Fallouji, a Palestinian imam from the Gaza Strip. (Prairie Messenger)

A growing number of Jewish-Christian study centres in the United States, Canada and Europe are building positive relations between two ancient faith communities. Today, twenty-seven centres, most of them located on university and college campuses, focus on developing mutual respect and knowledge, develop courses of academic study, offer educational programs for clergy and lay people, set up websites, provide internship for students who hopefully will become future inter-religious leaders, and publish important journals. The centres act co-operatively with one another as members of the Council of Centres on Jewish-Christian Relations. The current council chair is Rev. Dr. Peter Petitt of Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania. Protestants and Eastern Orthodox Christians, as well as Catholics, have also begun the vital work of strengthening positive relations with the Jewish community throughout the world. (Prairie Messenger)

A local Habitat for Humanity affiliate in Louisiana has been constructing fifty houses for the displaced families of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Bayou Area Habitat for Humanity, one of more than 2,000 Habitat for Humanity International affiliates, in a non-profit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry. The homes are built by volunteer labourers through donations of money and materials and sold at no profit. Homeowners are required to work 350 hours on their own homes and on building houses for others. (Prairie Messenger)

A meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop Rowan Williams, head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, later this year will mark the 40th anniversary of the 1966 meeting between Pope Paul VI and Anglican Archbishop Michael Ramsey of Canterbury. The meeting also coincides with the foundation of the Anglican Centre in Rome the same year. (Prairie Messenger)

The Bavarian Lutheran Church has for the first time appointed a married couple to share the post of a regional bishop. Elisabeth Hann von Wayhern, 43, and Stefan Ark Nitsche, 50, have been installed to the post of regional bishop for Nuremberg, one of six districts within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria. (National Catholic Reporter)

More than 200 residents of Tucson, Arizona took a step toward cooperation between Jews and Muslims on Sunday, March 6 when they walked from one house of worship to another, where they were joined by others in a celebration as part of the third annual Muslim-Jewish Peace Walk. The walkers made their way from the Islamic Centre of Tucson, to Temple Emanu-El where the children played non-competitive games while the grown-ups shared their traditions. “It always helps when a person meets the person and sees the person as more than just a Muslim or a Jew,” said Shafir Lobb, rabbi of Congregation Ner Tamid, who also is director of the Tucson-based International Center for Peace. “We have to break down those stereotypes and get people to see each other as a real people.” Fayez Swailem, a 64-year-old professor of radiology and nuclear medicine at the University of Arizona said he remembers Muslims, Jews and Christians getting along well during his youth in Egypt. “There was never a conflict between the religions,” he said. “We’ve lived together for more than a thousand years.” (MORE)

About 12,000 Catholic and Lutheran parishes in Germany posted their Easter Schedules on a joint website this year. Worshippers could enter a town or postal code, date and church (Catholic or Protestant), and the website would give them all the details they need to get there. A similar website for Christians counted 65,000 visitors. (Living City)

Christian Churches Together (CCT), a new grouping of the major Christian traditions in the United States, including Roman Catholics as well as Evangelical and Pentecostal denominations, after five years of discussions and planning, has been formally launched as Christian Churches Together. CCT calls itself “the most inclusive fellowship of Christian churches and traditions” in the United States. (Ecumenical News International)

The Institut supérieur d’études œcuméniques held its annual symposium at the beginning of February on the theme: “Reading the Bible Today – A challenge for the churches”? There were discussions on the difficulties raised by literal applications of tents as well as on the various historical and theological approaches to Bible reading in the different churches. A whole morning was given to identifying what is at stake in the life of Christians and in the life of churches in their journey toward unity in the reading of the Bible. These discussions demonstrated a growing interest in reading the Bible thanks to the Bible weeks organized by the Alliance Biblique. (Translated from œcuménisme – Informations)

The 12,000 residents in Alsace have at their disposition, since June 4, an interreligious garden: a place to walk and to relax in an atmosphere of each of the religions. The idea for such a garden with a space for each of the religions originated in the Saverne interreligious dialogue group “Cultures and Religions.” With Catholics, Protestants, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist members, the group has been holding monthly discussion meetings since 2001. “A garden has to be worked at; it doesn’t make itself,” comments Martine Lorber, the president of the association. Early on in the planning, the association won the support of local bodies. Half of the total cost of 70,000 euros is assumed by the regional council, 15% by the town, 15% by the general council and the rest by the faith communities. The town turned over to the project the former municipal library garden in the middle of downtown. The choice of plants has been based on sacred scriptures: palms, olive trees and grapevines. The association wanted religions symbols to remain discrete: no cross or star of David. “We want everyone to feel at ease,” added Martine Lorber. (Translated from La Croix)

Some of the world’s major international ecumenical bodies are proposing joint meetings in the near future. The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC ) is discussing the possibility of holding its general council meetings (held every seven years) with the Lutheran World Federation and possibly the World Council of Churches. The idea was raised at WCC‘s General Assembly in Brazil in February. (Presbyterian Record)

Rev. Dr Walter Altmann, president of the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil, was elected as president of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches on 23 February 2006. He succeeds Catholicos Aram I who has held the post since 1991. Walter Altmann is one of the Brazilian theologians who encouraged the churches to take a more active part in social affairs and in the defence of human rights during the military dictatorship. As president of the Latin American Council of Churches (1995 – 2001) he worked to bring the Evangelical and Pentecostal churches into the ecumenical movement. He has been teaching systematic theology at the Theological College in São Leopoldo since 1974 with a focus on Martin Luther, Latin American liberation theology and ecumenism. He was director of the Ecumenical Institute for Postgraduate Studies from 1989 – 1994. (Latin American Ecumenical News and translation from Nouvelles œcuméniques internationals)

The Russian Orthodox Church will host a World Interfaith Summit which will gather representatives of major religions just prior to the meeting of the G8 heads of state of the main industrialized nations in Moscow this summer. The religious leaders will meet in Moscow July 4-5 to look at the effects of globalization and to pass on a message to the G8 delegates. “It is imperative for the religious leaders to make them aware of the dangers of globalization,” said Metropolitan Kirill, head of the foreign affairs department of the Russian Orthodox Church. For Metropolitan Kirill, the most important question of the 21st century is whether or not it is possible to achieve a balance between religious and secular values. “I think these values can be balanced,” he said. “Naturally, this requires hard work, but I think it can be done,” he added. (Translated from Nouvelles œcuméniques internationals)

The Church of England moved closer to accepting women bishops and the possibility of a female Archbishop of Canterbury as spiritual head of the worldwide Anglican Communion following a report issued 16 January. The fifty-seven page document, entitled Women in the Episcopate: the Guildford Group Report, was produced at the request of the General Synod, the church’s parliament. It was debated in February but a final vote on further action will happen in July. To avert the threat of a schism which faced the Church of England over the admission of women priests a decade ago and more recently over its position on homosexuality and same-sex civil partnerships, the report recommends a panel of male bishops should be appointed to care for all parishes that reject women bishops. Bishop Christopher Hill of Guildford, who led the group that issued the report, said it would be illogical to have women priests without women bishops. (Anglican Journal)

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