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RELIGION BRIEFING

Saturday, July 5, 2008

UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISTS

Assembly Backs Gay, Immigrant Rights

Unitarian Universalists ended their annual General Assembly meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with a call to oppose ballot measures in Florida and California that would outlaw same-sex marriages.

Delegates also called for an end to what they called the "present day slavery" of undocumented immigrants. The five-day meeting ended Sunday.

"Our vision of justice is not limited to concern for one oppressed group," said the Rev. William Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, at a rally. "It's a vision of justice in which all American families are valued. We say that the Beloved Community must have room for all of us."

In addition to the resolutions supporting immigrant and gay rights, the assembly passed resolutions advocating a higher minimum wage, alternative energy sources and a single-payer national health-care system, as well as opposing military engagement with Iran.

-- Religion News Service

CHURCH CLOSURE TALKS

Angry Parishioners Storm Out of Meeting

With food rations and toiletries stacked on a back pew, defiant parishioners of a New Orleans church scheduled for closure as part of a post-Katrina downsizing plan angrily rejected all talk of closing their parish.

But after a heated meeting on Monday, parishioners returned to their homes without seizing the church in protest, as they had said they might.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans had summoned parishioners of St. Henry Catholic Church to meet with three volunteer facilitators who were to help the church fashion new leadership as their 152-year-old parish closed and merged with two others.

But the meeting broke down within moments. The facilitators were unable to generate any discussion of the mechanics of merger; one after another, parishioners, most of them elderly, lifelong Catholics, rose to denounce the closure plan and vowed not to abandon their church.

"If I have to sit on the front step and put on a hunger strike, I'll do it," 85-year-old Anthony LaRocca, a parishioner for 60 years, told the facilitators. "We're not moving, and that's final."

Archbishop Alfred Hughes has ordered that St. Henry be closed and merged with two nearby parishes. The archdiocese says it can no longer staff small, closely spaced parishes because of a growing shortage of priests.

But parishioner Alden Hagardorn and other lay leaders have asked Hughes and his aides to consider alternative solutions, including a cluster arrangement in which the three parishes remain open under some kind of priest-sharing arrangement.

Hagardorn and others have said the archdiocese has refused even to acknowledge the suggestions, much less discuss them, which has infuriated parishioners all the more.

-- Religion News Service

COPTIC CHRISTIAN

U.S. Appeals Court Reviewing Deportation

Lawyers for a Coptic Christian are asking a U.S. court to consider his claim that he would be tortured if he's sent back to his native Egypt.

Sameh Khouzam, a Coptic Christian who was convicted in absentia of killing a woman in 1998, says he was beaten and sodomized for refusing to convert to Islam in Egypt.

His attorneys say he's innocent of the murder.

U.S. officials told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia that Egypt has offered "diplomatic assurances" that Khouzam won't be tortured if he's sent home.

But Khouzam's lawyers say Egypt has violated such assurances in the past.

-- Associated Press

HOLY WATER FOR CARS

Priest Blesses Congregants' Vehicles

A Tennessee priest has blessed the cars of his parishioners.

It was the fifth annual blessing of the cars at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Memphis.

After Mass on Sunday, the Rev. John Geaney stood outside the church, flicking holy water onto a long line of vehicles driving slowly past him.

Geaney is a Boston native who got the idea from the New England custom of blessing boats. He says people spend a lot of time in their cars, so blessing them seemed like a good idea.

Rosalyn Whitaker, 17, said she wanted her new car blessed because she "bumped into something."

-- Associated Press

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