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RELIGION BRIEFING

Saturday, March 29, 2008

OBAMA'S PASTOR

Florida Church Cancels Visit

A Florida church canceled this week's scheduled sermons by Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's former pastor because of security concerns, although Tampa police said they were prepared to provide protection.

Officials at Bible-Based Fellowship Church in Tampa said they asked the Rev. Jeremiah Wright not to deliver the sermons planned for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The Rev. Earl Mason said the controversy about Wright's past sermons would have been a distraction.

Mason said sheriff's officials told him that they would not provide certain security for Wright's visit. But a sheriff's spokeswoman said the agency was available to assist police.

Wright was the longtime pastor of a Chicago church attended by Obama, a Democratic presidential candidate. Some of his sermons have received scrutiny and criticism in recent weeks.

-- Associated Press

VATICAN REQUEST DENIED

Saudis Won't Build Christian Church

Saudi Arabia will deny a request by the Vatican to build that Muslim country's first Christian church, according to a report broadcast Tuesday by a television channel owned by the Saudi royal family.

The report came the same day that Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah announced plans to host a conference of monotheistic religions, including Islam, Christianity and Judaism, a project that he said he had discussed with Pope Benedict XVI on a visit to the Vatican last November.

The conference would be the first such interreligious event in Saudi Arabia, which forbids public observance of any faith but Islam.

The two events epitomize the ambivalent and volatile nature of recent relations between the Holy See and the Islamic world.

Benedict's decision to baptize a former Muslim, Magdi Allam, in St. Peter's Basilica on the day before Easter also raised tensions. Allam, who until his conversion was one of Italy's most prominent Muslims, has been an outspoken critic of Muslim intolerance of other faiths.

In an effort to soothe feelings, the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano ran a front-page article in its Wednesday edition declaring that Allam's baptism did not represent "any hostile intention with regard to so great a religion as Islam."

-- Religion News Service

SHRINE VANDALISM CASE

Catholic Bishop Forgives Crime

A criminal inquiry involving three Mormon missionaries accused of defacing a Roman Catholic shrine in Colorado was dropped after Catholic Bishop Arthur Tafoya sought forgiveness for the young men.

Costilla County Cpl. Scott Powell said last week that the investigation had just gotten under way when Tafoya asked that charges not be pursued.

Photos posted on the Internet showed the trio at the Shrine of the Mexican Martyrs at the Chapel of All Saints, which stands on a butte overlooking San Luis.

The photos, taken in 2006, show young men holding the broken head of a statue, preaching from the Book of Mormon at an altar and pretending to sacrifice one another.

The damage was only discovered this month, and officials from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints quickly issued an apology.

-- Associated Press

FREE SCHOOL TUITION

Wis. Church Makes Offer to All Families

Zion Lutheran Church in the Milwaukee suburb of Menomonee Falls is offering to let families send their children to the church's school for free whether or not they are members of the congregation.

Pastor Tim Lamkin said the congregation wants to do something to stimulate enthusiasm and excitement for enrollment. Church members voted overwhelmingly to support the idea.

Lamkin said the school, which offers 4-year-old kindergarten through eighth grade, has 47 students, down from about 130 in the early 1990s.

Mark Bahr, principal of Lake Country Lutheran High School in Oconomowoc and vice chairman of the Association of Lutheran Secondary Schools, said few if any parochial schools have ever offered free tuition to nonmembers.

-- Associated Press

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