From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Episcopal News Service Briefs

Date Thu, 6 Dec 2001 14:47:25 -0500 (EST)


News Briefs

Churches should shun 'mea-culpa business' and join public debate, says European 
religion writer

     (ENI) Secular media are sometimes more courageous in debating religious 
issues than churches, according to Pieter van der Ven, a Dutch journalist who has 
just been presented with the 2000 John Templeton European Religion Writer of the 
Year award.  

     Speaking at an award ceremony in Geneva on November 30, van der Ven, desk 
chief for religion and philosophy at the Dutch daily newspaper Trouw, pointed to 
the response of churches after the events of 11 September.  

     Many church people, said van der Ven, were ready "to admit that Christianity 
and Western arrogance and wealth are much to blame for the wrongs in the world," 
and, as a result, were reluctant to sound critical and afraid of appearing 

     Feeling "more comfortable in the mea-culpa business," they tended to "shun" 
the debate about Muslim-Western relations, which, as a result, was left to 
journalists, philosophers and professors, said van der Ven, whose background is 
Roman Catholic.  

     But churches could do more, he suggested. "To begin with they can do more in 
explaining both the necessity and the danger of the Enlightenment that the 
churches in the West had to go through and that Islam still has to face."  

     He said that his own newspaper was trying to deepen the analysis and the 
debate about Muslim-Western relations. He hoped the result was neither "self-
righteous" nor "soft and indulgent" but instead "a serious and firm approach to 
Islam and the Muslim world."  

     The John Templeton European Religion Writer of the Year award, inaugurated 
in 1994, is given for excellence, enterprise and versatility in reporting 
religion in the secular press, and includes a citation and a cash prize of 3500 
Swiss francs (US$2,130).   

National Council of Churches issues statement on Israeli-Palestinian conflict

     (NCCCUSA) Calling on President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin 
Powell to insist that both Israel and the Palestinians exercise military 
restraint and pursue resumption of negotiations, General Secretary Robert W. 
Edgar of the National Council of Churches has issued an urgent appeal for the 
vigorous pursuit of peace in the Middle East.

     Edgar's statement:

     "On Saturday evening and Sunday, as bombs exploded in Jerusalem and Haifa, 
Advent began. Christians here in the U.S., with a new awareness that their Muslim 
neighbors were engaged in fasting and spiritual discipline to mark the holy month 
of Ramadan, prepared to receive the Prince of Peace into our hearts.  But in 
Palestine and Israel there is no peace.

     "We condemn the suicide bombings and express our horror and rage at such 
senseless and inexcusable acts of violence. We mourn with the Israeli families 
and individuals who have lost loved ones, and pray for the healing of all who 
were injured. And we mourn as well for the Palestinians killed,  and pray for the 
injured ones today in Gaza.

     "The circle of violence must end. We repeat the call made last May by the 
Council of United Methodist Bishops to Israeli and Palestinian leaders to bring 
end to all hostilities. Amidst our own revulsion at terrorist acts of this kind, 
and against the urge to respond in violence, we lift our voices in a call for 
restraint by both sides, and for an even more vigorous pursuit of peace.

     "We call on Prime Minister Sharon and President Arafat, and on other Israeli 
and Palestinian leaders and people, to turn away from acts of retaliation and 
further bloodshed. Neither terrorism nor military force can bring lasting peace 
or security for Israelis, Palestinians and others in the region.

     "To counter further violence, we ask the United States government to join 
with other nations to send an international monitoring force to the region. We 
urge President Bush and Secretary of State Powell to insist that both sides 
exercise restraint, and to encourage and support an immediate resumption of 
negotiations to resolve the causes of the conflict, and to construct a just and 
enduring Israeli-Palestinian peace."

Pakistani Christians demand more action to bring church killers to justice  

      (ENI) More than a month after an attack on a Christian church left 16 
people dead, Pakistan's government still hasn't solved the killings, according to 
church leaders.  

     "Government officials just keep saying they are working on it, yet no one 
has been arrested as far as we know. We think they know who did it, and 
announcing an arrest would be a big step forward," Victor Azariah, the general 
secretary of the National Council of Churches of Pakistan, told Ecumenical News 

     Unidentified gunmen attacked a church in Bahawalpur on October 28. Azariah 
said he had information that the assassins were members of Sipah-e-Sahaba, the 
"Soldiers of Islam," one of several Islamic extremist groups that have been 
irritated by Pakistan's support for the US military intervention in neighboring 

     Pakistan's Christian community, accounting for less than 2 per cent of the 
population, is often associated with the West. "They say America is Christian, 
and so we are identified with the United States whether we want to be or not," 
said Cecil Williams, bishop of the Peshawar diocese of the Church of Pakistan, a 
denomination that in 1970 united Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans, and the Church 
of Scotland.   

     The massacre in Bahawalpur took place in a Roman Catholic church, but Roman 
Catholics shared the building with a congregation of the Church of Pakistan. On 
the Sunday of the attack, the Catholic and Protestant congregations had switched 
their times of worship. The Protestants were the ones attacked. Many suspect that 
the intended target was the local Roman Catholic priest, a US citizen, but they 
weren't aware of the switch in services.  

     Azariah said the government has so far only carried out a police 
investigation of the case. However, church leaders are not aware that this 
investigation has produced any results and are demanding a more thorough judicial 
inquiry led by a judge.   

     He said the Christian community here "has not publicly protested the 
killing, as we want to give the government a free hand to investigate."  Most 
church buildings in Pakistan have police guards since the massacre.  

     In the wake of the massacre, Williams said Pakistani church leaders had 
received letters of condolence and solidarity from Christians around the world. 
"Yet all the messages aren't going to help the survivors," Williams complained. 
He noted that church organizations were spending money to help Afghan refugees in 
Pakistan. "If we're taking care of the refugees we should also take care of our 
own brethren, the Christians."  

     According to Sarophina Parvez, a lay activist in the Church of Pakistan in 
Peshawar who is related to 13 of the people killed at Bahawalpur, local congregations 
here received written threats following the killings. She said they took the notes to the 
police, who spoke to the local Muslim cleric they believed responsible. The threats 
stopped, she said, but fear  lingered. "Some of the congregations wanted us to get 
Kalashnikovs (assault rifles), but what are we going to do with Kalashnikovs? And, 
besides, it is written in the Gospels that we will suffer," Parvez told ENI.  

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