Wednesday at sundown marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year of 5744 or Rosh Hashanah, which translated from the Hebrew means "head of the year."
It is the start of a 10-day period of introspection and repentance for Jews ending with the most solemn holy day in Judaism, Yom Kippur, which this year begins at sundown Sept. 16.
Judaism teaches that, beginning with Rosh Hashanah, the Book of Life is opened, and believers are admonished to settle quarrels, right any wrongs they may have committed and set their lives in order during the period known as the Days of Awe.
Jews believe that God makes an initial determination of an individual's fate for the year on Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur a final determination is made resulting in entry into one of three books: Book of Life, Book of Death or Book of Uncertainty.
Unlike Passover, where bitter foods are prepared in commemoration of hard times, the Rosh Hashanah table is laden with delicacies such as honey-dipped apples, raisins and carrots to ensure a "sweet year" ahead.
Sounds of the shofar, a ram's horn, signal the beginning and end of the 10-day period and scales symbolize God weighing the good and bad deeds of the faithful.
Visitors beware: No bare shoulders or bare knees will be tolerated inside St. Peter's Basilica, the principal church in the seat of Roman Catholicism.
Dozens of tourists, including small children in short pants, have been turned away recently from the famed edifice due to renewed enforcement of the Vatican dress code. These days, even the baggiest of Bermuda shorts or a modest sundress do not seem to escape the watchful eyes of Vatican security guards.
"I am sorry, you cannot enter with such dress," said a custodian to a German tourist, Helga Werner, who with her husband and two children had traveled all the way from Frankfurt to see St. Peter's. "It is 90 degrees and very muggy. I suppose they would turn away Jesus Christ if he wasn't dressed properly," Helga Werner responded with an angry shrug of her bare shoulders.
The dress code has long existed but only recently has it again been enforced with such vigor. The Rome daily newspaper, II Messaggero, reported hundreds of tourists had been turned away in recent weeks.
The Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled that a group that left a Baltimore United Presbyterian congregation three years ago has no right to the church property, even though the group constituted a majority of the congregation.
An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is being considered by the majority group, one of eight Maryland congregations that since 1980 have voted to break their ties with the former United Church--now part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)--over theological differences.
The Rev. Robert B. Lauthan, pastor of the Babcock Memorial Presbyterian Church for many years, is now pastor of the breakaway group of about 300 people, who worship on Sundays at a nearby public elementary school under the name of Loch Raven Village Presbyterian Church.
The Rev. Herbert Valentine, executive presbyter of the victorious church wing, said, "We're obviously pleased that the presbytery [regional governing body of the denomination] was vindicated, but basically we're sorry this eruption occurred in the first place. We're not in a position to do any gloating. It's a sad affair."
Valentine said the presbytery, joined by the minority of the old Babcock congregation who remained loyal to the denomination, "plans to step up activities" at the disputed church.
Hundreds of Palestinian Arabs have reported seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary this week on a wall in a village near the Israeli-occupied West bank town of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus.
One villager in Beit Sahour said in a telephone interview that the vision he had seen Tuesday on a wall near the village marketplace was difficult to describe. He declined to be identified. He said the vision has been seen by many people in the last three days.
Another witness said he was "absolutely amazed" by the vision, which he said was first seen by an old woman who reported it to a priest after attending the nearby Church of the Well of Mary.
Michel Bahbah, administrative director of the Arabic-language daily Al-Fajir newspaper published in East Jerusalem, said the vision he saw was "one foot tall, with the shape of robe the Virgin Mary usually wears. She was turning around and walking back and forth."
"As word spread, hundreds of people came to see. Police had to keep people from fighting to get in," Bahbah added.
He said at least 300 people arrived at the church and others had called the newspaper Wednesday to say the vision was continuing and had been joined by one of Joseph.
The first synod of former Catholic priests who married opened this week with an assertion that Jesus Christ and the apostles never insisted on obligatory celibacy for the priesthood.
Former priests from Italy, Spain, West Germany, the Netherlands, France and Brazil are taking part in the week-long meeting in Chanciano Terme, Italy. Almost all were barred from serving as Catholic priests after their marriages.
An estimated 70,000 Catholic priests throughout the world are believed to have broken their ordination vows by marrying, but this was the first time they had organized to press for readmission to the priesthood.