FaithWorld

California megachurch seeks bankruptcy protection

crystal one (Photo: Crystal Cathedral, 21 June 2005/Nepenthes)

The Southern California megachurch founded by televangelist Robert Schuller filed for bankruptcy court protection, saying a number of creditors had opted not to prolong a moratorium on debt payments.

Crystal Cathedral Ministries, best known for its weekly “Hour of Power” television program that it claims has 20 million viewers, listed assets and debts of between $50 million and $100 million each, according to documents filed on Monday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Santa Ana, California. Its largest creditors include several U.S. television stations.

Hundreds of U.S. churches have defaulted on loans and even filed for bankruptcy as they struggle to pay debts leftover from a historic building boom now that a deep economic downturn has cut into offerings. Financial woes have hit many large congregrations, from Without Walls International Church of Florida to Shore Christian Center in New Jersey, which filed for bankruptcy.

crystal two (Photo:  Crystal Cathedral, 6 May 2009/Wattewyl)

The megachurch, based in Garden Grove in Orange County, has 3,000 members, according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.

The church is contending with overwhelming expenses incurred in 2009, “when budgets could not be cut fast enough to keep up with the unprecedented rapid decline in revenue due to the recession,” Senior Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman said in a statement posted on the church’s web site.

Germany holds inflamed debate on Islam and migration

merkel JUGermany’s inflamed public debate about Islam and integration risks serious overheating as politicians compete to make ever tougher statements criticizing Muslims immigrants they accuse of refusing to fit in here.

The escalating row, sparked off when a Bundesbank board member slammed Muslims as dim-witted welfare spongers, has mixed some social problems and some Muslim customs into a vision of Islam as a looming menace to German society. (Photo: Chancellor Angela Merkel tells CDU meeting that multicultural policies have failed, in Potsdam, 16 Oct. 2010/Thomas Peter)

When President Christian Wulff tried to build bridges by saying Islam was now part of German society, critics retorted the country was based on “Judeo-Christian values” and should not accept any more immigrants from foreign cultures.

Christian exodus hurts Middle East: Muslim official

muslims at synodChristian emigration from the Middle East is impoverishing Arab culture and Muslims have a duty to encourage the presence of Christian minorities, a Lebanese government adviser has told a Vatican summit. (Photo: Muhammad Al-Sammak (R) at the synod for the Middle East bishops, October 14, 2010/Osservatore Romano)

Mohammad Sammak, a Sunni Muslim who is secretary general of Lebanon’s Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue, told a synod of bishops on Thursday the declining number of Christians in the region was a concern for all Muslims.

“The emigration of Christians is an impoverishment of the Arabic identity, of its culture and authenticity,” said Sammak, who is an adviser to Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. He added that maintaining the Christian presence in the Middle East was a “common Islamic duty.”

Arab Christians face political Islam threat-official says

synod bishops 1 (Photo: Bishops at a Mass opening of the synod of bishops from the Middle Eastern at the Vatican, 10  Oct 2010/Tony Gentile)

The rise of political Islam in the Middle East poses a threat to Christians in the Arab world and must be faced together, a senior cleric told a synod of Catholic bishops on Monday.

At the two week meeting to debate how to protect minority communities in the region and encourage harmony with Muslims, the Catholic Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria, Antonios Naguib, also said that attacks against Christians were on the rise due to growing fundamentalism in the region.

“Since 1970, we have witnessed the rise of political Islam in the region, consisting of many different religious currents, which has affected Christians, especially in the Arab world,” said Naguib. “This phenomenon seeks to impose the Islamic way of life on all citizens, at times using violent methods, thus becoming a threat which we must face together.”

Brazil “values voters” go YouTube against prez hopeful Rousseff

pastor022The YouTube video that helped push Brazil’s presidential election to a second round begins with Paschoal Piragine solemnly telling his flock: “In 30 years as a pastor, I’ve never done this before.” He then warns them that the ruling Workers’ Party wants not only to legalize abortion, but would make divorce easier, permit the spread of pornography, and continue to allow tribes in the Amazon to bury alive “thousands of children.”

The video, which includes disturbing images and has received nearly 3 million views, concludes with the Baptist preacher telling his followers not to vote for the Workers’ Party in upcoming elections. “Otherwise, God will judge our land,” Piragine says.

The last-minute doubts of many evangelical Christian and Catholic voters probably cost Workers’ Party presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff an outright first-round victory in last Sunday’s election, polls suggest. The shift is unlikely to keep Rousseff from winning an October 31 runoff vote against her nearest contender, opposition leader Jose Serra.

Christians in Arab Gulf face hurdles to worship

doha church (Photo: Worshippers pack the first Mass at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Doha, March 15, 2008/Fadi Al-Assaad)

Every Friday in the Muslim Gulf Arab state of Kuwait, 2,000 worshippers cram into a 600-seat church or listen outside to the mass relayed on loudspeakers, prompting their Roman Catholic bishop to worry about a stampede. “If a panic happens, it will be a catastrophe … it is a miracle that nothing has happened,” said Bishop Camillo Ballin.

These churchgoers represent only the tip of the iceberg. Ballin reckons his flock in Kuwait numbers around 350,000 out of a total of half a million Christians in the country.

At least 3.5 million Christians of all denominations live in the Gulf Arab region, the birthplace of Islam and home to some of the most conservative Arab Muslim societies in the world. The freedom to practice Christianity — or any religion other than Islam — is not always a given in the Gulf and varies from country to country. Saudi Arabia, which applies an austere form of Sunni Islam, has by far the tightest restrictions.

Christians in Lebanon fret despite privileged role

lebanon christiansAfter a panicky mass flight from his Christian village, Sami Abi Daher watched from across the valley as Syrian-backed Druze fighters burned and looted it. That was back in 1983 when battles forced tens of thousands of Christians from their homes in the Aley and Shouf hills near Beirut in a bloody postscript to Israel’s 1982 invasion. (Photo: Supporters of Christian Lebanese Forces commemorate the Lebanese Resistance Martyrs in Jouniyeh, north of Beirut, September 25, 2010./ Mohamed Azakir)

Abi Daher, a former Christian militiaman, has never returned to live in his village, Rishmaya, instead working and bringing up his three children in a Christian district of Beirut.

Twenty years after the 1975-90 civil war, Christians formally enjoy a reduced but still disproportionate weight in Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system. While under no specific threat, as a community they are weak and divided.

In Holy Land, Christians are a community in decline

latinIn the land where Jesus lived, Christians say their dwindling numbers are turning churches from places of worship into museums. And when Christian pilgrims come from all over the world to visit the places of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, they find them divided by a concrete wall. (Photo: Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal at a checkpoint in the West Bank town of Bethlehem December 24, 2009/Ammar Awad)

Members of the Abu al-Zulaf family, Palestinian Christians, have left the hills and olive groves of their village near Bethlehem for Sweden and the United States, seeking a better life than that on offer in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Ayman Abu al-Zulaf, 41, moved to France in 1998. But he returned to Beit Sahour, the village where he was born, a year later. “I needed to be here, not in France,” he said. “Without Christians, the Holy Land, the land of Jesus, has no value.”

Egypt Christians say intolerance grows, close ranks

coptsMinarets and church towers mingle on Cairo’s skyline, but tensions mar Egypt’s record of religious coexistence and a perception of growing intolerance is leading some Christians to shun their Muslim compatriots.

Amira Helmy, from a middle-class area of the capital, was brought up by a Muslim neighbour after her mother died and attended a state school alongside Muslim children. “Most of my friends were Muslims. We used to go on outings together and some would call to me from below my house so we could walk to school,” recalls Helmy with a smile. (Photo: Leader of Egypt’s Copts, Pope Shenouda (C), with fellow clergymen,June 8, 2010/Asmaa Waguih)

Now a housewife in her 40s, she sends her daughter Christine and son Kirollos to a private Christian school and forbids them from mingling with Muslim children to protect them from insults. Around a tenth of Egypt’s 78 million people are Christians, mostly Orthodox Copts — descendents of Christian communities that founded monasticism in the early centuries after Jesus.

Vatican synod to mull Middle East Christian exodus

baghdad churchWith Christianity dwindling in its Middle Eastern birthplace, Pope Benedict has convened Catholic bishops from the region to debate how to save its minority communities and promote harmony with their Muslim neighbours.

For two weeks starting on Sunday, the bishops will discuss problems for the faithful ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and strife in Iraq to radical Islamism, economic crisis and the divisions among the region’s many Christian churches. (Photo: Worshippers light candles after Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Baghdad October 3, 2010/Mohammed Ameen)

They come from local churches affiliated with the Vatican, but the relentless exodus of all Christians — Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants — has prompted them to take a broad look at the challenges facing all followers of Jesus there.