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Sunday, January 2, 2005; Page C11

The Holy Spirit Made Him Do It

Pope John Paul II has proclaimed more saints and blesseds in his 26-year reign than 38 of his predecessors combined, racking up a total of 1,828 people deemed worthy of veneration.

Critics who have cried "Saint inflation!" might consider the party John Paul recently said is responsible. "It is the fault of the Holy Spirit," he told Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

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At a conference in Rome last week, Martins said the pope has canonized 483 people and beatified 1,345 more as "blesseds," Religion News Service reported.

"This figure exceeds by far all the blesseds and saints proclaimed by his predecessors," the cardinal said, referring to the period after 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII changed the process leading to sainthood and centered it at the Vatican. In 1983, John Paul streamlined the process for sainthood, reducing the number of required miracles from three to two -- one for beatification and a second for sainthood.

French Evangelicals Feel Abused

The evangelical community in France is growing, and it's having a tough time overcoming hurdles placed in its way by authorities, especially when it comes to buying or building churches, French Protestant leaders say.

"Evangelical churches face more and more administrative problems from local authorities," Stephane Lauzet, secretary general of the French Evangelical Alliance, told Reuters. In one case, officials in Paris refused to let an evangelical congregation buy a warehouse it had occupied for 12 years, saying there were too few parking spaces.

Protestant leaders say evangelicals face discrimination because they proselytize in a country that is trying to enforce secularism and are viewed as supporters of President Bush. Some say the movement has suffered "collateral damage" in France's debate over Islam and the ban against head scarves in school.

Essay on 'The Passion' Wins $25,000

An essay contest on Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ" has netted an Emory University theology student $25,000.

Adam Meredith-Floyd, a 22-year-old graduate student, took the top prize last month in a competition to promote understanding between Christians and Jews after the release of the film, which was criticized as containing Christian stereotypes of Jews.

The debate over "The Passion" showed there are "residual issues between Christians and Jews that are 2,000 years old," Meredith-Floyd told the Associated Press. His essay found common ground in Christians' and Jews' views of time, based on the biblical account of the creation of the world in seven days. Both faiths, he noted, honor the seven-day cycle that culminates on the Jewish Sabbath and Christian Sunday.

Elizabeth Goldhirsh, 25, a Harvard Divinity School graduate student and daughter of the late Bernie Goldhirsh, founder of Inc. magazine, told the Associated Press that she offered a large prize package -- $100,000 overall -- to encourage interest in the issue. Four thousand people entered the contest.

An Earlier Bush in Muslim Doghouse

The censors at al-Azhar, Cairo's center of Islamic learning, have recommended that the Egyptian government ban a 19th-century biography of the Prophet Mohammad by the Rev. George Bush, a Presbyterian minister and scholar believed to be an ancestor of President Bush.

An al-Azhar official said the ban applied to the original version of "The Life of Mohammad," published in New York in 1830 and reissued in 2002, Reuters reported. The Egyptian press has run articles by Islamic experts criticizing Bush's account of early Islamic history. Among other things, they take issue with Bush's assertion that Muslims spread Islam by force and persecuted Christians.

The book's U.S. publishers say it's unclear whether the author is related to the president. But in "God's Sacred Tongue: Hebrew & the American Imagination," a book published this year, Shalom Goldman says the White House confirmed that the two men are related.

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