From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Episcopalians: News Briefs

Date Fri, 28 Feb 2003 12:03:14 -0500

February 27, 2003


Episcopalians: News Briefs

Reformed leaders in Baghdad stand with ordinary Christians and 

(ENI) While Iraqis and the world brace for a war many believe is 
inevitable, a World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) team 
made a pastoral visit to Baghdad "to affirm our fellowship with 
our Iraqi Christian brothers and sisters and their Muslim 

"For most people in Iraq the threat of war has further reduced 
the quality of life, already under severe pressure as the result 
of 12 years of punitive sanctions," said the Rev. Setri Nyomi, 
general secretary of WARC. "Our group had on purpose not sought 
to speak to political leaders but just to have contact with 
ordinary people who will probably suffer most in an unacceptable 
war," he said after visits with Christians, Muslims and members 
of the five Presbyterian congregations in Iraq.

He reported that there are about 650,000 Christians in Iraq, 
accounting for less than 3 percent of a population of 22.5 
million. Almost 70 percent of the Christians belong to the 
Chaldean Church, in union with the Roman Catholic Church. 
Christians expressed fears that a new conflict could end the 
peaceful coexistence among religious communities in the country.

While Muslim fanaticism increased in the years after the 1991 
Gulf War, Christians in Iraq said that they were not affected in 
any major way.

WARC is a fellowship of Congregational, Presbyterian, Reformed 
and United churches, linking 75 million members around the 
world. It has 218 member churches in 107 countries.

Greek Orthodox in Jerusalem urged to pray with other 

(ENI) Christian leaders in Jerusalem are calling on the Greek 
Orthodox Patriarch to lift the church's ban on prayers with 
other churches. The appeal follows a surprise move by the Greek 
Church in January to send a representative to the Week of Prayer 
for Christian Unity, observed worldwide by most major Christian 

The decision by the Orthodox to participate raised hopes among 
other church leaders but also stirred disappointment when the 
church's representative spoke to the gathering but did not join 
the worship, declining to pray with the other representatives. 
"Christ is among us," said Archimandrite Alexandros at the 
ecumenical celebration. He made clear the claim of the Greek 
Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem to be the "mother of all 

Yet the Rev. Frans Bouwen, a Roman Catholic participant who is 
an expert on the Greek Orthodox Church, said that the presence 
of the archimandrite was a positive step. At the same time he 
said it was far from clear that tit was a sign of greater 
changes to come. "It has been greeted as a step forward by the 
churches in Jerusalem. We are still hoping for full 
participation of the Greek Orthodox Church," he said, pointing 
out that the Orthodox leaders "interpret some of the ancient 
canons of their church [to mean] that holding prayers with 
non-Orthodox is heresy."

Bishop Raih Abu El Assal of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem 
called for greater acceptance among the Greek Orthodox leaders 
of the importance of joining in prayer with other churches. 
"What is this business of not wanting to pray for unity?" he 
asked, pointing out that Christians in the Holy Land were "a 
small community now in this land" and therefore needed to stand 
together against those who threatened their existence.

Nigeria's Christian and Muslim leaders call for peaceful 

(ENI) Nigeria's Christian and Muslim leaders have united in 
calling for peaceful national elections, now scheduled for 
April, now seen my most observers as a critical test of the 
progress of democratization in Africa's most populous nation.

"There is the need for Muslims to rededicate themselves to 
making Nigeria and the world at large a safer place for human 
beings to live in," said Roman Catholic Archbishop Anthony 
Okogie of Lagos who has expressed dismay that terrorism was 
being promoted by radical Islamic elements. "God has created the 
world as a peaceful habitat for all living beings and no one 
should hide under any form of radicalism or religious 
over-zealousness to cause havoc."

Other church leaders joined the call for peace and a spirit of 
tolerance, urging the separation of religion from politics in a 
country where some states practice Sharia, or strict Islamic 
law. About half of the 130 million Nigerians are Muslim and 40 
percent are Christians.

Sultan Alhaji Muhammadu Maccido of Sokoto in northern Nigeria, 
regarded by many as the leader of the Muslim community in 
Nigeria, sent a message to Muslims urging them to spurn acts 
capable of destroying peace and harmony in the country. He 
warned that unless they practiced tolerance, Nigeria would never 
find economic and political stability. "No nation can progress 
if its citizens live in bondage and an atmosphere devoid of 
peace," he said. 

Former prime minister John Major of Great Britain warned 
recently that Nigeria's ability to successfully conduct the 
April elections would significantly determine the country's 
political status among democratic nations. "A successful ballot 
will entrench the transfer of power to a civilian 
administration," he said at a speech in Lagos where he worked as 
a banker in the mid-60s. "The extent of that result would signal 
right across the world that Nigeria, a modern democracy, is open 
for business. It will signal political maturity."

Anyim Pius Anyim, president of the national parliament, said in 
a message to the Muslim leadership that the only way out of the 
religious conflict that has plagued the country was for both 
Muslims and Christians to confront the "monster" that religious 
violence had become.

Orthodox priests tackling problem of alcohol abuse in Alaska

(ENI) "Substance abuse is a very serious problem in Alaska," 
said Bishop Nikolai in announcing a new initiative of the 
Orthodox Church in America (OCA) to tackle the issue by training 
seminarians to become counsellors.

The program, launched by the Diocese of Alaska, was an example 
of the church reclaiming a traditional role, according to 
Nikolai, placing itself "in the center of needs and social 
concerns." In the coming months four counsellors, all graduates 
of St. Herman's Orthodox Seminary in Kodiak, Alaska, will be 
certified and begin to implement the program. The goal is to 
eventually certify all Orthodox clergy as counsellors.

The OCA is the Russian-oriented church in the US and the largest 
church in Alaska with about 20,000 members in 90 parishes and 
chapels. It has only 25 priests, however, to cover a diocese of 
1.5 million square kilometres (586,000 square miles). Its 
history goes back to 1794 when the first Russian monks arrived 
in present-day Alaska, the remotest region of the Russian Empire 
until it was sold to the United States in 1867. More than a 
third of Native Alaskans are Orthodox Christians.

Alaska's state government reports more alcohol-related deaths 
per head than any other US state yet it has very few treatment 
centers. A recent study concluded that almost 10 percent of 
adult Alaskans were alcohol-dependent.

Nikolai stressed that "life here is much different than in the 
lower 48. It's centered on a community lifestyle" and alcohol is 
an integral part of the social life.

Atlanta Covenant emerges from December Anglican Congress 

(ENS) A document being called the "Atlanta Covenant" has emerged 
from a December meeting of conservative Episcopalians and 
members of churches in the Anglican tradition that are not in 
communion with the archbishop of Canterbury.

After initial gatherings in November 2000 and January 2002, 
nearly 300 people gathered at Atlanta's Cathedral of St. Philip 
December 4-7, 2002 for the U.S. Anglican Congress. They were 
joined by two primates of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop 
Bernard Malango of Central Africa and the retired primate of the 
Province of the Southern Cone, Maurice Sinclair.

"We are determined that the fragmentation within that quadrant 
of Christendom known as the Anglican Way no longer hinder our 
obedience to the Gospel imperative," the covenant stated. "We 
are feeling our way toward a new style and depth of unity, 
thereby stimulating reform and renewal in western Christianity 
so that the Gospel might be released, more than ever before, to 
the world around us."

The document declares links "with the Anglican Essentials 
movement in Canada and the various expressions of dynamic 
orthodox Anglicanism in Britain." The Anglican Essentials 
movement is at the forefront of opposition to the proposed 
blessing of same-gender unions in the Canadian Diocese of New 

"The Congress does not seek to alter jurisdictional boundaries 
or commitments," the document states. "This new configuration is 
a network rather than a formal hierarchical structure, in which 
we seek to safeguard one another's convictions and honor each 
other's canonical limitations, while advancing the Gospel and 
developing an appropriate style of orthodox ecumenism."

A follow-up meeting to the U.S. Anglican Congress will be held 
in Atlanta April 28-29. Jurisdictions and bodies will be invited 
to send delegates to that gathering, convened by the Most Rev. 
Leonard W. Riches, presiding bishop of the Reformed Episcopal 

Israeli wall around Rachel's Tomb to divide Bethlehem  

(ENI) Israel is preparing to build a security wall that will 
divide the birthplace of Jesus on the West Bank, on the grounds 
that it will safeguard a sacred Jewish religious shrine in 
Bethlehem. The move will divide Bethlehem's Palestinian areas 
and is likely to further isolate the town that is so holy for 
Christendom. For more than two years, few tourists have been to 
Bethlehem because of violent clashes in the town.

At issue is the site known as Rachel's Tomb, at the edge of the 
town which has become a frequent flash point of violence between 
the Israeli military and Palestinians. Israel plans to construct 
a barrier around 3.5 acres of land surrounding the tomb and also 
in other parts of the West Bank--an area inhabited mainly by 
Palestinians that was administered by Jordan until Israel 
occupied it in 1967. Visitors to the tomb, located on the main 
road leading to Bethlehem from Jerusalem, already have to cross 
an Israeli military checkpoint.

The Israeli government has approved a plan to build a 225-mile 
wall separating Palestinians from Israel and Jewish settlements 
as a security measure prompted by, among other things, suicide 

The original shrine of Rachel's Tomb was built in the style of 
Muslim tombs and renovated in the 19th century by Sir Moses 
Montefiore, a Jewish philanthropist. He had in mind a place of 
worship for Jews and also Muslims, who also consider the site 
holy. But his work is no longer recognizable from the exterior. 
Five years ago, the Israeli government spent $2 million 
enclosing the tomb in a fortress-like complex of stone-faced 
concrete, topped with guard towers. Now Israel believes the 
fortified building is not enough and has issued a formal order 
for the seizure of land around it.


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