Thursday, July 21, 2011

State Department tries to raise visibility of religion

Ecumenical News International News Highlights
21 July 2011

State Department tries to raise visibility of religion

Washington (ENI). Often accused of ignoring religion as they craft foreign
policy, the White House and State Department are trying to show that
religion is a rising priority for U.S. diplomacy. The most recent case in
point: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Istanbul last week (15
July) promoted a new U.S.-backed international agreement to protect freedom
of speech and religion, an accord described by her department as a
"landmark" change. [719 words, ENI-11-0381]

ENI Online -

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  • Monday, July 18, 2011

    Interfaith leaders urge protection of federal poverty assistance

    Interfaith leaders urge protection of federal poverty assistance

    Written by Wire Reports
    July 15, 2011

    Representing a growing movement of Americans concerned that the
    Administration and Congress are enacting a budget deal that will place an
    undue burden on the poor "while shielding the wealthiest from any additional
    sacrifice," leaders representing the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths
    today launched a new campaign to encourage policymakers to maintain a robust
    U.S. commitment to domestic and international poverty programs.

    Inspired by a common spiritual conviction that God has called on all
    Americans to protect the vulnerable and promote the dignity of all
    individuals living in society, the interfaith coalition is aiming to protect
    those struggling to overcome poverty in the U.S. and abroad and to exclude
    programs that protect people in poverty from the budget deficit debates.

    More than 25 heads of communion and national religious organizations,
    including UCC General Minister and President the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, are
    spearheading an 18-month faith-based public policy campaign to urge Congress
    and the Administration to exempt programs that assist at-risk families and
    children in the U.S. and abroad from budget cuts. The campaign will consist
    of high-level meetings with policymakers, a Washington fly-in of religious
    leaders and daily prayer vigils among other actions.

    The daily prayer vigils are being held on the front lawn of the United
    Methodist Building (100 Maryland Avenue, NE, Washington, DC) near the U.S.
    Capitol Building where the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries Washington
    office is housed. Led by a different religious organization each day at
    12:30 p.m. EDT, the prayer vigils will continue throughout the White House
    led budget negotiations.

    To kick-off the campaign, the religious leaders sent urgent letters this
    week to President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and
    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker John Boehner
    (R-Ohio), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) stating that
    "People who are served by government program - those who are poor, sick, and
    hungry, older adults, children, and people with disabilities - should not
    bear the brunt of the budget-cutting burden."

    The religious leaders wrote, "We share our grave concern and dismay that the
    ongoing conversations and negotiations regarding our nation's budget may
    yield an outcome that places individuals and families struggling with
    poverty at risk of even further hardship while shielding the wealthiest in
    our nation from any additional sacrifice."

    In addition, the religious leaders, writing as the heads of numerous
    U.S.-based religious institutions and faith-based organizations that have
    worked for decades in conjunction with federal programs to combat domestic
    and foreign poverty, made it clear that religious groups would be unable to
    make up the difference in funding if the government further cuts or
    eliminates programs for society's most vulnerable populations. The
    interfaith leaders warn that without a sustained federal commitment to
    federal- and state-run assistance programs, religious organizations and
    Houses of Worship while doing their best to help, cannot be the sole support
    for the country's most vulnerable in their most pressing times of need.

    In <>letters to
    President Obama and Congress, the leaders further explained that "Houses of
    worship and communities of faith cannot meet the current need, much less the
    increased hardship that would result from severe cuts in federal, and
    consequently, state programs. We need the public-private partnership that
    has for decades enabled us as a nation to respond to desperate need, both
    human and environmental."

    The campaign was announced today via a teleconference featuring the Rev.
    Canon Peg Chemberlin, President, National Council of Churches and Executive
    Director, Minnesota Council of Churches; the Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated
    Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); Rabbi Steve
    Gutow, President, Jewish Council for Public Affairs; the Rev. John L.
    McCullough, Executive Director and CEO, Church World Service; Sister Mary
    Hughes, OP, President, Leadership Conference of Women Religious; Dr. Sayyid
    M. Syeed, National Director, Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances,
    Islamic Society of North America; and the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, Director
    of Public Witness, Presbyterian Church USA.

    During the briefing, Syeed, the National Director for the Office for
    Interfaith and Community Alliances at the Islamic Society of North America,
    spoke first about our responsibility to stand up for those who cannot speak
    for themselves. He said, "It is our religious duty as part of the faith
    communities to convey our concerns about the problems of the budget cuts
    that will directly impact low income individuals and the dispossessed. We
    are asking for a budget that should be just and equitable. It is our Islamic
    duty because this is one of the pillars of Islam."

    Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, added, "To hurt
    the poor by trying to balance the budget or lessen the debt is a little bit
    ridiculous." He went on to say, "We were known by our founders as a city on
    a hill with a light of justice that emanated forth and we cannot and we must
    not be any less than who we are."

    Parsons, the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church USA,
    was very poignant in his warning that cuts to domestic and international
    poverty programs would have a devastating impact not only on individuals and
    families facing economic hardship, but houses of worship across the country
    that have worked in conjunction with federal- and state-led economic
    assistance programs for decades.

    Parsons said, "Churches alone cannot fill in the gap if the government's
    social safety net is taken away. While doing their best to help, there's not
    enough capacity in all those churches to meet the gap that would happen to
    if the government was to abandon tradition and, the fundamental role of
    providing a basic floor to give people the basic human needs of food,
    shelter, and health care."

    Sister Mary Hughes OP, President of the Leadership Conference of Women
    Religious noted that "Because of the lag in current funding, homelessness is
    up 15 percent in my state. There are usually one or more children involved
    in each [homeless] family. There are faces associated with budget numbers."

    Chemberlin, President, National Council of Churches, said "Extreme
    politicians are threatening to stop Medicare and Social Security payments,
    stop paying our men and women fighting overseas, plunge even more Americans
    into unemployment, and completely abandon the poor, only so that they can
    maintain a few tax loopholes for the richest Americans."

    The interfaith coalition's campaign was summed up by McCullough, the
    Executive Director and CEO, Church World Service. He said, "While we don't
    know what may be the final outcome of the budget discussions between the
    President and Congress, proposed cuts by Members of the House of
    Representatives to humanitarian and development programs are drastic,
    irresponsible, and fail to recognize the detrimental life and death
    consequences to vulnerable people recovering from disasters and living in
    poverty worldwide."

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  • Thursday, July 14, 2011

    Students of diverse faiths seek understanding at Bossey

    World Council of Churches - Feature


    For immediate release: 14 July 2011

    by Theodore Gill (*)

    "Religions as instruments of peace" is the subtitle of a 2011 summer course
    on "Building an interfaith community". Twenty-three students from more than
    a dozen nations have assembled at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey,
    Switzerland for the course which runs from 4 to 29 July.

    One of the early lecturers admitted that many observers today see religions
    not as instruments of peace but as reasons for conflict. "Our hands as
    religious leaders are not clean," said Rabbi Richard Marker of the
    International Jewish Committee on Inter-religious Consultations.

    The experience of too many nations and their governments, he added, "is that
    religion is a cause of divisiveness that works against shared values."

    Now in its fifth year, the institute's summer course on interfaith relations
    brings together students of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions for
    a time of study, shared experience of one another's sacred spaces and
    reflection on their own cultures, spiritualities and worldviews.

    The student body is made up of nine men and fourteen women. Ten are
    Christian, seven are Muslim and six are Jewish.

    They have come from Latin America, western and eastern Europe, the Middle
    East, Asia and Australia. Three are sisters from religious orders in
    Colombia, Guatemala and Romania. Three students have come from Israel, and
    three are Palestinians.

    Danielle Antebi of Israel, whose academic background is in criminology and
    international politics, was eager to join the course after her brother's
    positive experience as a student last summer. "He is an archaeologist who
    gives presentations on Israel in various places," she says, "and he wanted
    an opportunity to meet people from different countries and hear their
    opinions of Israel and of the relationships between people of differing

    She concluded that a month at Bossey, overlooking Lake Geneva, would provide
    her "a great opportunity to meet and interact with people representing a
    number of cultures."

    Charlotte Lindhé heard of the course from her pastor in the Church of
    Sweden. Following her graduation from secondary school, she began an
    ambitious programme of travel and backpacking that has taken her to China,
    Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Future destinations include Greece,
    India and North America.

    "I hope to learn more about my own religion in relation to the beliefs of
    others," she explains, "and I hope to be able to share what I learn with my
    own parish and others when I return to Sweden."

    She says that her interest in inter-religious activity was awakened while
    visiting Israel and Palestine where she saw "religions existing side by
    side, yet not really living together."

    Move beyond tolerance of differences to appreciation

    Mohammed Azhari of Australia, who pursued studies in Islamic teaching and
    inter-religious dialogue during his graduate work in Damascus, sees the
    course at Bossey as "a brilliant opportunity to come and encounter people of
    other faiths. Here, we will begin by building community among ourselves,
    hoping that this will be a first step toward some greater achievement."

    Azhari sees the students asking themselves, "How do people attain peace
    through prayer, through their beliefs? In coming to know one another as
    persons, we will learn to respect each other. In this way we can move beyond
    mere tolerance to appreciation, to acceptance even of what makes us
    different. And this is for the best, since it is ignorance that leads to

    During the first week of classes, Rabbi Marker was joined in discussing
    Judaism by Grand Rabbi Marc Raphaël Guedj, president of the Fondation
    Racines et Sources (Roots and Sources Foundation).

    Professor Fawzia Al-Ahmawi of the University of Geneva and Hafid Ouardiri,
    president of the Ta'aruf (Interknowing) Foundation, are offering their
    expertise on Islam, and Christianity is to be interpreted by several staff
    members of the World Council of Churches (WCC) as well as by Professor S.
    Wesley Ariarajah of Drew University in the United States of America.

    Professor Odair Pedroso Mateus of the Ecumenical Institute, academic
    coordinator for the 2011 summer course, champions this opportunity for
    "promoting encounter, not provoking conflict", for asking hard questions and
    exploring the possibility of "dialogue as a means of peaceful change" in the
    world, for "encouraging community among civilizations, rather than a clash."

    The Ecumenical Institute administration is sensitive to the variety of
    dietary practices among the students, and spaces for worship have been
    arranged appropriate to each of the religious traditions represented.

    Founded in 1946, the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey is the international
    centre for encounter, dialogue and formation of the WCC. It is related to
    the University of Geneva through a covenant agreement with the university's
    autonomous faculty of Protestant theology.

    The summer course has been jointly organized by the Ecumenical Institute,
    the WCC programme on Inter-religious Dialogue and Cooperation, the Ta'aruf
    Foundation and the Fondation Racines et Sources.

    [784 words]

    (*) Theodore Gill is senior editor of WCC Publications in Geneva and a
    minister ordained by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

    WCC programme on Inter-religious Dialogue and Cooperation
    (Link: )

    Website of the Ecumenical Institute (Link: )

    More information on the interfaith course (Link: )

    High resolution photos to illustrate this article may be requested free of
    charge via (Link: )

    The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and
    service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches
    founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox,
    Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in
    over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church.
    The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, from the [Lutheran]
    Church of Norway. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.

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  • Tuesday, July 12, 2011

    Interfaith Awareness Week 2011 - July Meeting

    Interfaith Awareness Week 2011 
    (December 4-10, 2011)
    Event Coordination Meeting
    Thursday, July 28, 2011 
    6:00 pm (~ one hour)
    Perkins Restaurant & Bakery (608) 238-5133
    5237 University Avenue, Madison 
    Please reply and let us know you are coming.
    If you need more information, contact either
    Rev. Anne Wynne
    Rev. John-Brian Paprock
    email us if you need to speak by phone and need a phone number

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  • 9-11-11: A National Day of Reconciliation.

    The goal of the 9-11-11 Project is to make the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks into a national day of reconciliation between American Muslims and non-Muslims, be they Christians, Jews, people of other faiths or those who practice no religion.

    You can help and we hope the website benefits you and your members: 
    Please send us details of any interfaith events planned in your area observing the 10th anniversary of 9/11. We'd like to add them to our website both to publicize them and to encourage others to make plans. As you'll see, we're also interested in on-going interfaith efforts. (Please include the website or page address, if any, for the event or interfaith efforts.)

    Please share information about this website and its resources with your members as an encouragement to plan interfaith events, be they on the congregation, city or regional level.

    You are, of course, also welcome to link to our site from yours.
    Thank you. Ralph Henn

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  • Sunday, July 03, 2011

    Americans are more sensitive to the sufferings of others

    'Americans are more sensitive to the sufferings of others'
    July 03, 2011 19:06 IST's George Joseph speaks to 'the hugging saint', Mata
    Amritanandamyi in New York, about spirituality, compassion and human

    The questions were slightly controversial. But the answers were simple
    and straightforward, may be possible only for someone who lives a life
    of holiness such as Mata Amritanandamyi or Amma for millions of her
    devotees worldwide.

    Amma, who visits the United States regularly since 1987, spoke
    extensively to on many subjects at a posh penthouse owned
    by one of her devotees in New York city.

    One question was about the treasure, worth more than Rs 50,000 crore,
    unearthed in the Sree Padmanabha Swami Temple in Thiruvananthapuram,
    the family temple of the erstwhile kings of Travancore. Amma,'s
    family, which belongs to Quilon district, were the subjects of the
    king, before India's [ Images ] independence.

    She saluted the wisdom and values of the kings who preserved such a
    treasure. The kings and their relations could have moved part of it to
    their places. "I have seen people from the royal family living in
    abject poverty. Yet they did not take the treasure to help the family

    She says she has no right to comment about the treasure. It is for the
    government and courts to take a decision. "But it is part of our
    heritage and they should be preserved as much as possible or needed.
    In Europe I have seen such places. An ancient agriculture land in
    Italy [ Images ] remains the same way and people are not even allowed
    to put a stone there."

    "If there is still more left, it can be used for common good. It is
    temple property, she says."

    Another question was about the money and gold found at the chambers of
    Satya [ Images ] Sai Baba of Puttaparthy after his samadhi. She says
    her 'math' (monastery) does not keep gold worth more than Rs 15 lakh.
    If more is to be kept, the math has to pay Rs 1,000 as tax for gold
    worth Rs 100,000.

    "Whenever we get more offerings it is used for the marriage of poor
    girls. I only use an old crown worth Rs 500 given by a devotee long

    She says that the math follows all the laws of the country. It follows
    the rules of monastery (sanyas math), and it is on the model of
    Ramakrishan Mission ashrams. She says she is not sure what rules Sai
    Baba's temple followed.

    The math is ruled by a trust consisting of 11 people. She says she
    does not handle the money, but always keeps an eye on the accounts to
    make sure they are maintained properly.

    Many of the maths in India are owned or operated by families. But her
    math follows the 'monastic order' which means that the charge goes to
    the next sanyasin in line.

    Coming to the spiritual side, she says that spirituality is increasing
    worldwide. Love for the nature is also going up. At the same time,
    numbers of those who plunge in to worldly pleasures and selfishness is
    also increasing.

    Asked about the belief that the world may come to an end in 2012, she
    says that it's ending every day. "When people lack love and care for
    others, the world is ending. Mere population does not make the world,"
    she says.

    Though she speaks mostly in her native tongue, Malayalam, she never
    had a problem because of that anywhere in the world. "A child can
    understand a mother's language, and vice versa."

    She is unhappy that there are around 10 times more people in the jails
    in the US than in India, she says Americans are generally more
    compassionate to the sufferings of others.

    "We can doubt if there is a God. But we cannot doubt the sufferings of
    the people. If we show compassion to them, it is the best evidence for
    belief in god. The culture may be different in the US, but people are
    the same everywhere, like fire or honey."

    She also spoke about her father, who had several businesses. When he
    died he had six boats, and bequeathed one to her. She says she comes
    from a village where girls were not allowed to go out alone after they
    were 12.

    There were restrictions. Some people opposed or attacked her
    initially, but they too softened over the years. "For me, both stones
    and flower are the same."

    Though she has been hugging people for the last 40 years, she says she
    was not exhausted by it. "Love does not get bored." She never felt
    tired, she says, but adds that the body shows its wear and tear, as
    years go by.

    "Even gold and iron get withered over time," she reasoned.

    When asked about her expectations 10 years from now, she says she only
    lives in the present.

    "If we live properly in the current moment, tomorrow will bring the
    right results," she says. For her, no day is a bad day. She says her
    life flows like a river and she has not thought of where it would end.

    "The work or institutions were not the result of any planning. They
    came into existence as a response to specific situations," she says.

    When the tsunami occurred, she did not ask for help. But the help
    came, regardless, from many parts of the world. "Even the poor sent
    produce from their lands," she says.

    When a journalist questioned her about living in a posh pent house,
    she says she lives in ordinary places without amenities too. She never
    thought of the abode or how big or small it was.

    "After all, life itself is like a lodge. Bigger houses may not bring
    peace or sleep.

    Everything in the universe is interconnected," she says.

    Image: Mata Amritanandamyi
    George Josep in New York

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    Orthodox Peace Fellowship - North America 2011 Conference
    Madison, Wisconsin - September 16-18

    Conference Theme: "Forgiveness: Finding Wholeness Again"

    Dates: September 16-18, 2011
    Place: Madison, WI
    Venue: Bishop O'Connor Pastorl Center, 702 South High Point Road, 53719
    Theme: Forgiveness: Finding Wholeness Again

    Partial list of speakers ~

    Bob Enright ~ professor of forgiveness studies, University of
    Wisconsin/Madison; director, International Forgiveness Institute
    Ms. Kim Phuc ~ Kim Foundation International [invited]
    Rev. George Morelli, PhD ~ Chairman of the Department of Chaplaincy
    and Pastoral Counseling Ministry, Antiochian Orthodox Christian
    Ms. Judith Toy ~ author, Murder as a Call to Love and ordained Buddhist cleric
    Miroslav Volf ~ director, Yale Center for Faith and Culture; author,
    Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace
    Rev. John-Brian Paprock ~ pastor, Holy Transfiguration Orthodox
    Mission; author of Neighbors, Strangers and Everyone Else

    as well as ~ films, food and fellowship


    Please be good enough to print out a copy of the attached flyer and
    post it in your parish. You can also share it electronically with
    anyone in your address book who you think might be interested in
    attending. As always, we welcome non-members and non-Orthodox.

    Information will be available shortly about conference costs. We will
    endeavor to offer low-cost options for those who are
    financially-challenged, or who are coming greater distances.

    Yours in Christ,

    Alexander Patico -

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