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Religion Today Summaries, August 28, 2003

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk News Staff

Religion Today Summaries, August 28, 2003

Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.  In today's edition:

  • Priests in Five Dioceses to Ask for Discussion on Celibacy
  • Eritrean Commanders Intensify Harsh Conversion Measures
  • Baptist Congregation Targeted in Turkmenistan
  • Indian Christians, Muslims Deplore Bombay Bombing

Priests in Five Dioceses to Ask for Discussion on Celibacy
Religion News Service

Catholic priests in at least five dioceses will likely follow the lead of priests in Milwaukee and ask church leaders to open a discussion on mandatory celibacy. Local priests groups in New York, Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh and southern Illinois said they will circulate letters to their bishops asking them to consider allowing married priests to help ease the clergy shortage across the country.  The five dioceses include some of the nation's largest.  Last week, more than 160 Milwaukee priests mailed a letter that said, "The Catholic Church needs more candidates for the priesthood, so that the church's sacramental life might continue to flourish."  The Rev. Robert Bullock of Sharon, Mass., said that the Boston Priests' Forum will likely circulate a letter at a Sept. board meeting. "This is a crisis that is in the structures and the governance of the church and those issues have to be addressed," Bullock said. "The shortage of priests is part of the systemic problem." Other priests groups that said they would likely follow Milwaukee include the New York-based Voice of the Ordained, the Association of Pittsburgh Priests and the Southern Illinois Association of Priests. The Catholic Church has required clergy to be celibate since the 12th century.  Pope John Paul II has said celibacy is not optional.

Eritrean Commanders Intensify Harsh Conversion Measures
Compass Direct

Fifty-seven teenage Eritrean Christians jailed last week under severe punishment for having Bibles at the Sawa Military Training Camp remain locked in metal shipping containers. Five of the 11th grade students were released a week after their arrest when they signed an agreement to deny their evangelical beliefs and return to the Orthodox Church. Previously, the teenagers were allowed to leave the containers briefly once a day to relieve themselves. But angered by the failure of most to denounce their faith, commanders revoked that necessity. Meanwhile, another 10 Protestants from several independent denominations were arrested in the Red Sea port city of Massawa by local police on August 24. The latest Sawa and Massawa arrests bring the total number of evangelical Christians in Eritrea known to be imprisoned for their faith to 218. The Eritrean government routinely justifies the arbitrary arrest of independent Protestants, dissident journalists and political opponents by claiming, despite evidence to the contrary, that the individuals have failed to do their military service.

Baptist Congregation Targeted in Turkmenistan
Charisma News Service

In Turkmenistan, authorities have targeted a Baptist congregation that primarily serves the deaf and dumb. Members of the church in the eastern city of Turkmenabad were initially threatened with a 12-year prison sentence during the recent raid. They eventually were given fines the equivalent of $48 for participating in a prayer meeting. Two women from the church were also summoned to court last month. Olga Shchedrova and Nezire Kamalova reportedly were fined and jailed for 15 days. The Barnabas Fund said police recently had at least four raids on unregistered churches in the mainly Islamic country. Turkmenistan has the harshest religious policy of all the former Soviet republics. No faiths except for the officially sanctioned Muslim religion and the Russian Orthodox Church have been allowed to register. Since May, pressure on religious minorities, including Baptist and Pentecostal churches, has intensified with a series of raids in six different locations.

Indian Christians, Muslims Deplore Bombay Bombing
Alexandra Alter, Religion News Service

Indian Christians and Muslims spoke out against the twin car bombings that killed at least 50 people and wounded 150 in India's financial capital Monday (Aug. 25).  About 200 Muslims marched in Bombay on Tuesday, carrying national flags and banners that denounced the blasts as "an act of cowardice," not a show of strength. Indian churches were also quick to condemn the attacks, for which no organization has claimed responsibility. The National Council of Churches in India, a coalition of 29 Protestant and Orthodox churches, said in a statement that it deplored "this ghastly act of terrorism."  The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India urged India's government to find a lasting solution to sectarian strife between India's religious communities. "It is not enough to condemn such occurrences of hatred and enmity but it is important for people and governments to find causes and address them squarely in order to find lasting solutions," the Catholic Bishops' Conference said in its statement. Chaggan Bhujpal, deputy chief minister for the Maharashtra state, of which Bombay is the capital, told journalists the government suspected the bombings were linked to anti-Muslim riots that took place in neighboring Gujarat state in 2002.