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from Global News Journal:

Religious leaders and the EU take tentative first steps

religion

Top European Union officials held talks this week with religious leaders, part of a policy of holding consultations with religious groups that was enshrined in the EU's Lisbon reform treaty, which came into force last December. But not everyone supports the move.
 
More than two dozen Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders -- joined by a representative each from the Hindu and Sikh communities -- met  the presidents of the European Parliament, European Commission and European Council on Monday to discuss how to fight poverty and social exclusion.

It was the the sixth such consultation since 2005, but the first to take place in the context of the Lisbon treaty, the EU’s latest collective agreement.  Article 17 of the treaty commits the EU to maintaining "an open, transparent and regular dialogue with ... churches and (non-confessional and philosophical) organisations".

But opponents of the guidance say that because many Europeans are secular and an increasing number practise non-Christian religions, churches should not have special rights.

“Leaders need to respect the separation between church and state,” said Jean de Brueker, deputy secretary general of the European Humanist Federation, which advocates more secularism in Europe. De Brueker’s organisation says separate consultation agreements should be limited to elected officials and those with recognised special expertise.
   
Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, said the EU was a secular organisation but spoke about the moral significance of the 27-country bloc, hinting at the need for spiritual and religious input. 
   
“The European Union has to be a union of values. That is our added value in the world. That is the soft power of Europe in the world,” he told reporters.
   
Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Poland, who spent decades in the Vatican as private secretary to Pope John Paul II -- who played a subtle but intimate role in late Soviet politics -- has spoken in favour of Article 17.
   
“I believe there is a need for such consultations with churches so as not to make mistakes on moral or ethical issues,
for the benefit of societies,” Dziwisz told Reuters in December. “Let’s not forget that religion is also a great force that creates cultures and societies. It cannot be bypassed.”
   
The European Parliament will meet Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox leaders on Sept. 30 to discuss how to implement Article 17, European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek said.

One way or another, debate over what role the Church, and by extension churches, can play in engaging with the European Union is only likely to intensify. The EU's hopes of 'reaching out' to religious communities may very well end up drawing it deeper into a complex, centuries-old debate.

Turkey offers citizenship to Orthodox archbishops to help patriarch succession

bartholomewTurkey has offered citizenship to Orthodox Christian archbishops from abroad to help the next election of the ecumenical patriarch, the spiritual leader of the world’s 250 million Orthodox faithful, officials said.  Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has quietly led the gesture to the Orthodox, who face a shortage of candidates to succeed Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, 70, and serve on the Holy Synod, which administers patriarchate affairs. (Photo: Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I leads the Easter service at the Cathedral of St. George in Istanbul, April 4, 2010/Murad Sezer)

Turkish law requires the patriarch to be a Turkish citizen. But the Orthodox community in Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim country, has fallen to some 3,000 from 120,000 a half-century ago, drastically shrinking the pool of potential future patriarchs.  There are now only 14 Greek Orthodox archbishops, including Bartholomew, who are Turkish citizens. Bartholomew himself is in good health.

Seventeen metropolitans from countries including Austria, France, the United States and Greece have applied for passports, said Rev. Dositheos Anagnostopulous, the patriarchate spokesman.  Another six may still apply, and the See hopes the first archbishops will receive their papers by Christmas, he said.

Ultra-Orthodox protest against Israeli ruling to integrate Jewish schools

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Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested in Israel Thursday against a court order to desegregate a religious school and force Jewish girls of European and Middle Eastern descent to study together.

Demonstrations were held in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, a Tel Aviv suburb with a large population of religious Jews, before some 80 Ashkenazi parents, Jews of European origin, were to report to jail for defying the Supreme Court ruling.

Israel’s ultra-Orthodox minority has long been at odds with the Jewish state’s highest judicial authority over edicts which some devout Jews say interfere with their religious lifestyle.

In Moscow, Orthodox Christian churches draw closer

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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (C), Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill (R) and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I meet in Moscow's Kremlin, May 25, 2010/Dmitry Astakhov

President Dmitry Medvedev warmly welcomed the spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians Tuesday, hailing improving ties between Russia’s powerful church and its ancestor faith.  Relations among the Orthodox have improved after past strains when churches in former Soviet states such as Estonia and Ukraine broke away from the Russian mother church and tried to pledge allegiance to the patriarch in Istanbul.

“The visit of your Holiness is a significant event and, beyond all doubt, it will help strengthen the dialogue which always linked the two sisterly churches,” Medvedev told Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, according to a transcript published by the Kremlin.

New WCC head aims at global issues, skirting some hot buttons

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WCC General Secretary Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, 22 Feb 2010/WCC-Peter Williams

Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, the new general secretary of the World Council of Churches, aims to give the organisation a higher profile as a focus for action by Christian bodies on global issues like humanitarian relief in crises, climate change and the Middle East impasse. But at his first news conference this week since taking over on January 1, the Norwegian Lutheran cleric also made it clear that the constraints imposed by a widely diverse organisation that makes its decisions by consensus limit his options.  It’s unlikely we’ll hear him taking a public stand on two of the main issues making religion headlines these days, the sexual abuse charges against the Roman Catholic Church and the disputes over homosexuality straining relations in several Protestant churches.

Tveit left no doubt that the 349-member WCC, which groups many of the world’s Christian churches but not the Roman Catholics, will not join in widespread criticism of the Roman Catholic Church for its continuing problem with clerical sexual abuse of children. These have surfaced most recently in Ireland and Germany.

“That is a burden all of us have to bear. It is a burden that is carried by the Roman Catholic Church, and they have to deal with it. It is not our role to make it worse,” the 48-year-old Tveit told journalists on Monday at the Geneva Ecumenical Centre, where he has his office and which serves as the effective headquarters of the WCC.

Will Orthodox Jews say good-bye to Sabbath elevators?

jerusalem-cropped (Photo: Posters for protest in Jerusalem against parking lot open on Sabbath, 8 July 2009/Baz Ratner)

In a move that may literally take the breath away from many of the world’s Orthodox Jews, a group of Israel’s top rabbis recently ruled that riding in what for decades have been designated as “Shabbat (Sabbath) elevators,” is  against Jewish law. This decision — already been opposed by other leading rabbis – could force many Jews who live in apartment buildings to sweat their way up staircases once a week.

The Jewish Sabbath, or Shabbat, is meant to be a day of rest. Observant Jews refrain from working, traveling in vehicles, spending money and from using electricity.

Reuters photoIn modern times, it’s tough to imagine going 24 hours without using anything electric. So gadgets have been invented to allow the use of certain appliances without physically turning them on. Like timers for lights, called Shabbat clocks. Or special cookers for stove tops. Or elevators for Shabbat.

Serbian Orthodox bishop extols the virtues of quality wine

trebinjeThe Serbian Orthodox Church’s Bishop Grigorije of the diocese of Zahumlje and Herzegovina is not only a prominent figure in the Church who’s seen as a possible candidate for Patriarch. He is also a major vinter whose operations have earned praise and good money for quality wines.His Tvrdos Monastery, located in Trebinja in southern Bosnia, produces 500,000 bottles of wine per year and exports it to Serbia, Montenegro and even further afield to Germany, the United States, Switzerland and other countries. “It is a very good business, but it is very difficult,” he said during the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God late last month. “It is good, but it is very difficult because we have wine from Italy, France, Spain.”
(Photo: Bishop Grigorije leads service at Trvdos Monastery, 28 Aug 2009/Adam Tanner)

The Trvdos Monastery also has a minority partnership with a Serbian-American investor who owns 440 hectares of Trebinje land, of which 200 are now vineyards, an unusual tie up between the Church and profit-seeking investor (click here to see that story).The monastery’s wine, which they sell for six euros a bottle but can retail for 30 euros in a restaurant, was available in ample amount during a late morning feast of fish and vegetarian dishes. Believers from Trebinje, Bosnia’s southernmost town of about 30,000 people, crowded onto benches around long tables to enjoy the meal.Although other Serbian Orthodox monasteries and churches grow wine (and monks and priests privately say food and wine is one of the few indulgences afforded them), Bishop Grigorije said the Tvrdos operation is the largest.  “Wine, it is very good for people, it is so good,” said the bishop, who as a boy picked grapes in this largely Serbian region of southern Bosnia. “If you drink wine, and you don’t drink too much, you will be so happy and so healthy.”treb2“If you drink bad wine, you are going to feel bad.  All the southern people, Italians, French, Spanish are so much happier than the Germans, the Czechs, as they are drinking so much wine!”The Trvdos Monastery wine production came to a halt in the 1990s Bosnian war and restarted a decade ago. Every year they are boosting production by 15,000 bottles and they recently took out about a two million euro loan to buy a series of shiny new Italian Defranceschi 30,000 litre wine storage tanks, Grigorije said. After some time in those tanks the wine goes into hundred-year old barrels to acquire the wine’s hardy, full-bodied flavour.In grape-growing and wine-making, you have to have a little faith, Grigorije said, because so much depends on uncontrollable factors such as the weather: “The most difficult thing is if we won’t have grapes – it is in the hands of God.”
(Photo: Lunch at Tvrdos Monastery, 28 Aug 2009/Adam Tanner)

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from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Ultra-Orthodox protest

ISRAEL/ 

Click on the window bellow to watch a multimedia "essay" on Ultra-Orthodox Jews protesting the opening of a parking lot in Jerusalem on the Jewish Sabath.

World religious leaders hold their own G8 summit

laquila-church (Photo: L’Aquila’s Santa Maria of Collemaggio Basilica, 13 April 2009/Daniele La Monaca)

They came, they prayed, they appealed.

Religious leaders from around the world held their own not-so-mini “G8 summit” in Italy on June 16-17. The “Fourth Summit of Religious Leaders on the occasion of the G8,” as the meeting was officially called,   started with a visit to L’Aquila, the central Italian city severely damaged by an earthquake on April 6. That will be the venue in July of the actual summit of the G8 club of industrial nations.

Nearly 130 religious leaders and diplomats then moved to Rome where they held two days of talks under the auspices of the Italian foreign ministry. This was the religious leaders’ fourth annual meeting, following those held in conjunction with earlier G8 summits in Moscow, Cologne and Sapporo.

Biden visit to Kosovo monastery splits Serbian Orthodox Church

biden-in-kosovo-1DECANI, Kosovo – A visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to one of the best known monasteries in Kosovo has again revealed a deep split in the church. A veteran of Balkan complexities from his U.S. Senate activism against Serbian aggression during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, Biden visited the 14th century Decani monastery on Thursday afternoon to highlight the importance protecting the Serbian minority in Kosovo. (Photo: Fr. Janjic with U.S. Vice President Biden at Decani monastery, 21 May 2009/Adam Tanner)

Father Sava Janjic, sometimes called Decani’s “cyber monk” because of his embrace of the Internet, warmly welcomed the vice president, who had first visited there in 2001. “This is his second visit to this monastery which is one of the most important Serbian Orthodox sites in Kosovo,” Fr. Sava told Reuters in fluent English. “We sincerely believe his visit will help the preservation of Serbian Orthodox heritage in Kosovo and generally help the position of the Serbian people in Kosovo.”

However, the diocese overseeing Kosovo, which the church considers the cradle of Serbian Orthodoxy, issued a strong statement condemning the visit. “The U.S. vice president is visiting Kosovo as an independent state, to confirm forceful secession of Serbia’s territory and its hand over to Albanian terrorist who were not punished for numerous crimes against Serbian people, Serbian property and Serbian cultural and religious heritage,” the diocese said in a statement. “Does Joseph Biden want to confirm with his gesture that Decani is an American base in Kosovo, the same as Camp Bondsteel?”