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 March 7, 2005 VOL. 43, NO. 5Oakland, CA
News in Brief

Honoring a murdered nun
Members of Brazil's Federation of Rural Agricultural Workers pay tribute, Feb. 28, with a moment of silence for U.S. Sister Dorothy Stang, a leading human rights and environmental activist, was murdered Feb. 12. Two memorial services are planned in the Bay Area: March 8 at Holy Names University chapel in Oakland at 5 p.m. and April 2 at Notre Dame de Namur University chapel in Belmont at 1:30 p.m. Sister Stang attended both schools.


Justice in Rwanda
Genocide suspects detained at Rwanda prison stand as they are invited to confess their role in the 1994 killings of 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Confessions will result in reduced sentences. The backlog of more than 80,000 suspects awaiting trial in conventional courts has prompted a revamped version of a traditional form of justice that says a confession of guilt and a plea for forgiveness is sufficient for a lighter sentence.

RNS PHOTO/REUTERS/Themistocle Hakizimana

Post-Fidel planning
Cuban dissident Osvaldo Paya announces in Havana last month that he and other Cuban dissidents are setting up a committee to promote a national dialogue on a post-Fidel Castro transition to democracy in Cuba. The committee is calling for a general amnesty of political prisoners, the opening up of the Cuban economy to private initiative and a constituent assembly to decide political reforms to Cuba’s one-party state.


Bill said to hurt asylum seekers
WASHINGTON (RNS) – A broad cross-section of Christian and Jewish organizations are objecting to legislation seeking to increase requirements for refugees coming to the United States.

The REAL ID Act – passed Feb. 10 in the House of Representatives and currently being considered by a Senate committee – would demand greater evidence of persecution from asylum seekers while giving judges more power to decide if the evidence presented is adequate.
Proponents say it will increase national security against terrorism.

Nineteen faith-based organizations are opposing the legislation, arguing current asylum provisions are rigorous in keeping potential terrorists out of the United States. They said proposed changes to the asylum process could bar legitimate asylum seekers.

Mitzi Schroeder, advocacy director of Jesuit Refugee Service in Washington, said the U.S. government needs to be fair and generous in its asylum policy. Accepting immigrants seeking a haven, Schroeder said, is “based on our faiths’ depictions of all people as children of God.”

WCC urges members to divest from Israel
GENEVA (RNS) – The World Council of Churches has urged its 347 member denominations to give “serious consideration” to pulling investments out of Israel in protest of what it sees as mistreatment of Palestinians.

In calling for church-sponsored “economic pressure,” the WCC on Feb. 21 gave strong support for last year’s controversial decision by the Presbyterian Church (USA) to seek “phased selective divestment” from Israel.

The WCC, the major ecumenical voice for the world’s mainline Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox churches, said its concern was focused on companies that assist Israel in demolishing Palestinian homes, constructing settlements and erecting a controversial “dividing wall” within the Palestinian territories.

Supreme Court to review assisted suicide law
WASHINGTON (RNS) – The U.S. Supreme Court announced Feb. 22 that it will take a case examining Oregon’s doctor-assisted suicide law. The court agreed to hear the federal government’s appeal of a lower court ruling that prevented the Drug Enforcement Administration from punishing doctors who prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill patients under Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act.

It will hear the case in October at the beginning of its 2005-2006 term. During the first six years the law was in effect, 171 terminally ill people ended their lives.

Survey indicates support for stem cell research
NEWTON, MA (RNS) – Three out of four Americans say they support or might be able to support embryonic stem cell research, according to a recent survey.

The survey, released Feb. 15, was conducted by Opinion Research Corporation for the Institute’s Results for America Project.

In 2001, President Bush placed restrictions on the funding and number of cell lines that could be used in embryonic stem cell research. Some religious groups are expected to oppose the bill, and one religious leader questioned the validity of the poll.

The poll does not mention that “the embryos killed for this research are alive and developing when they are killed,” said Richard Doerflinger, a spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.

Voters in California agreed in November to allocate funds for embryonic stem cell research.

Oxford to examine link between faith and pain
LONDON (RNS) – Can religious faith affect the perception of pain? That is one of the questions to be investigated by a new research project at Oxford University.

The project is funded by a two-year grant of $2 million from the Templeton Foundation, the same organization that funds the annual Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.

The Oxford Centre for Science of the Mind said the study will bring together six university departments — anatomy, pharmacology, philosophy, physiology, theology and the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics — to develop a better understanding of pain and how the brain copes with it.

Fastest-growing church in U.S. is the Mormons
NEW YORK (RNS) – Mormons are the fastest-growing church in the United States and rose to the No. 4 slot of the country’s top 10 churches, according to annual church membership figures compiled by the National Council of Churches.

The 2005 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches reports a 1.71 percent growth rate for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2003, for a total membership of 5.5 million in the United States.

The 2005 Yearbook (based on data from 2003) found 163 million members in 217 denominations. The Roman Catholic Church, with 67 million members, continues its strong lead in the No. 1 spot, with the third-highest growth rate of 1.28 percent. Southern Baptists maintained their No. 2 spot with 16.4 million and a growth rate of 1.18 percent.

Church of England to consider women bishops
LONDON (RNS) – The Church of England’s general synod voted overwhelmingly Feb. 16 to move toward deciding whether it should have women bishops.

At present, Church of England parishes that do not accept the ordination of women to the priesthood can request the ministry of “flying bishops” with similar views rather than be ministered to by a diocesan bishop who accepts women priests. This arrangement would clearly come under severe strain if the episcopate included women.

Suspect surrenders in slaying of U.S. nun
ALTAMIRA, Brazil – Amair Frejoli de Cunha, a suspect in the Feb. 12 murder of Sister Dorothy Stang, surrendered to police, Feb. 19.

Three other suspects have been taken into custody following the murder of the 73-year-old member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. Police are still searching for Vitalmiro Goncalves de Moura, the rancher who reportedly ordered the killing. Moura was interested in the near-pristine land Sister Stang wanted for her Sustainable Development Project, a protected area that residents could develop if they preserved the environment.

CRS provides assistance to thousands of Afghans
GHOR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Teams from Catholic Relief Services (CRS) are leading efforts to provide food, heaters and medicines to thousands in western Afghanistan, where severe cold and snow up to nine feet deep have cut off communities from food and medical care and triggered severe hunger, illness and death.

Some 265 people are confirmed dead, including 73 children who died from an outbreak of measles and whooping cough in Ghor Province. CRS provided an initial $60,000 for kerosene stoves, fuel and leasing of heavy machinery to clear roads. A medical team was recently dispatched to distribute antibiotics, ointments and other medicines.

Up to $200,000 in U.S. funds are being funneled through CRS to provide emergency assistance.

Pro-life group applauds U.N. call for cloning ban
WASHINGTON – Jeanne E. Head, a representative for National Right to Life, praised delegates to the U.N. legal committee who recently voted to accept a declaration calling on all nations to enact laws prohibiting all forms of human cloning.
“Cloning and killing living human embryos to obtain their stem cells for experimentation is unethical and unnecessary,” she said. “Adult stem cells are the only stem cells that have helped thousands of patients, including those with spinal cord injuries and diseases like Parkinson’s, and new clinical uses expand almost weekly.”


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