Originally created 03/27/04

Religion News in Brief



Orthodox Christian leader plans interfaith conference in Istanbul

UNITED NATIONS -- The spiritual leader of the world's 300 million Eastern Orthodox Christians has announced plans for an interfaith conference and endorsed a proposed U.N. resolution that would condemn anti-Semitism.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, during his weeklong visit to the United States, met for about 30 minutes March 15 with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Bartholomew told Annan that the interfaith conference would involve Christians, Muslims and Jews, and would be held next fall in Instabul, Turkey, where the patriarch is based. The Orthodox Church has held two similar conferences in previous years.

Bartholomew said the secretary-general told him that "religion has an important role to play for the establishment of permanent peace around the globe."

Bartholomew also met with leaders of the World Jewish Congress.

The patriarch condemned religious fanaticism, terrorism and anti-Semitism and endorsed a proposed U.N. resolution to condemn anti-Semitism, said Elan Steinberg of the Jewish organization.

Bartholomew directly oversees ethnic Greek churches in the United States and several other countries, and is "first among equals" in the world Orthodox hierarchy consisting of heads of 14 self-governing branches, including those in Russia, Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia.

Pope puts new candidates on road to sainthood

VATICAN CITY -- An Italian priest forced to quit a political post because of Fascist violence, an Italian nun and two Spaniards are among the latest faithful put on the road to sainthood by Pope John Paul II.

The beatifications Sunday in St. Peter's Square raised to 1,324 the number of Roman Catholics upon whom the pontiff has bestowed the honor. Beatification is the last formal step before sainthood.

Doctors have urged the ailing 83-year-old pontiff to cut back on his taxing schedule, but John Paul has made such public ceremonies an important part of his shepherding of the Church, and he presided over the two-hour service on a damp day from the steps of St. Peter's Basilica.

He looked alert, reading the homily in its entirety and said the two newly beatified Spaniards could offer comfort for those grieving over the March 11 attacks in Madrid.

"Love is stronger than hate and death," the pope declared, speaking in Spanish from the steps of St. Peter's Basilica to several thousand pilgrims and tourists, including many groups from Spain.

The Madrid bombings killed about 190 people and wounded more than 1,400.

Among those beatified was Luigi Talamoni, who, after becoming a priest, was elected a city councilor in northern Italy, in 1893. He used the elected post to help the disadvantaged, but was forced to resign by Fascists. He died in 1926.

The pontiff also honored three others who overcame obstacles such as illness or opposition from their families to serve the church.

Sicilian Maria Barba became a Carmelite nun and founded a new monastery before her death in 1949.

Spaniard Matilde del Sagrado Corazon Tellez Robles founded a religious order which cares for orphans, the sick and poor. She died in 1902.

Spaniard Piedad de la Cruz Ortiz Real established an order of nuns dedicated to abandoned elderly and orphans. He lived a life of poverty, refusing a bed in his final illness, dying in a chair in 1916.

U.S. Muslims form anti-alcohol alliance with prohibitionists

PLAINFIELD, Ind. -- American followers of Islam, which forbids all consumption of alcohol, are working with a veteran, Christian-based temperance group to fight against drinking.

The Islamic Society of North America, representing 300 Islamic organizations, last year joined the National Temperance and Prohibition Council, forming a partnership with 14 Christian groups.

At the council's annual meeting in Plainfield, the Rev. Allen Rice of the Michigan Interfaith Council on Alcohol Problems said "getting the attention of millions of Muslims in America is a powerful boost for us. ... They will bring numbers, resources and inspiration."

"We share the same feeling about temperance and prohibition and consider this a sacred campaign," Sayyid Syeed, the Islamic Society's secretary general, told council members.

The council meeting issued 10 resolutions, including a call for reduction of alcohol in medications and opposition to TV ads that promote alcohol consumption by youths.

Alabama Methodist bishop found change in Cuba

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- A United Methodist bishop who recently returned from a visit to Cuba said he saw proof that the communist government of Fidel Castro was easing restrictions on churches.

Bishop Robert E. Fannin of North Alabama witnessed a mass baptism of 200 people while attending the Methodist Evangelism Leadership Summit in Havana.

Cuban leaders were "very open to us, very appreciative of what the United Methodist church does in Cuba," said Fannin, vice chairman of the evangelism division of the World Methodist Council.

While Cuba became officially atheist in the years after the 1959 revolution that brought Castro to power, the government removed references to atheism in the constitution more than a decade ago and allowed religious believers to join the Communist Party.

Castro's government had seized control of all church property when it took power, but the government has returned some Methodist holdings in recent years. Methodists are negotiating for more, while seeking permission to expand the denomination's work, Fannin said.

Not all denominations have been successful in their negotiations with Castro's government. "It's more receptive to certain churches," Fannin said.

Castro recently financed construction of a Havana cathedral for Orthodox Christians. That church was consecrated in January.

Belarusian Protestants appeal for change in law banning worship in homes

MINSK, Belarus -- Four Protestant churches in Belarus are asking the constitutional court of this former Soviet republic to repeal a law that forbids religious groups from worshipping in private homes.

"The law has limited citizens' religious rights, it has set obstacles to activities of legally registered organizations and it imposed restrictions on religious freedoms," a statement from the churches said.

Protestants have been harassed "simply because they study the Bible at home with their friends," the four churches said.

The law, enacted in 2002, forbids religious groups from conducting worship services outside of churches. It also puts restrictions on religions that have been working in Belarus for less than 20 years, barring them from publishing literature or setting up missions.

The law appeared to be an attempt at ending the inroads minority religions, especially evangelical Protestants, have made in Belarus. Opinion polls indicate that 80 percent of the population still consider themselves Orthodox Christians.

70-year-old widower and grandfather ordained to priesthood

MASSILLON, Ohio -- A 70-year-old widower with 10 children and nearly two dozen grandchildren has started a new career as a Roman Catholic priest.

Samuel Leonard was ordained last week in the Diocese of Youngstown. He will work in New Bedford, Mass., where his religious order, the Institute of the Incarnate Word, runs St. Kilian Church.

"I've always wanted to be a priest," Leonard said as he accepted hugs and handshakes from friends and family members after his ordination.

He had considered entering the priesthood as a young man, but he fell in love and got married. His wife died in 1998.

"My wife and I were always active in the church," Leonard said. "I even quit my job in 1979 to devote myself to full-time lay ministry, and watched God do some miraculous things."

When his wife died, he once again thought about becoming a priest, but thought the church would consider him too old to be a candidate.

A friend told him about the religious order, which works out of Cheverly, Md., and they welcomed him despite his age.

The 20-year-old Institute of the Incarnate Word was founded in Argentina has 200 priests in parishes and seminaries around the world.