Pope John Paul II sent a Vatican team to Iran during Christmas week to take a "message of prayer and human solidarity" to prisoners of war being held there. A Vatican spokesman said a three-man delegation headed by French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray flew to Tehran Dec. 23 to meet with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Pope John Paul sent the delegation "in response to a proposal of the Iranian government," the spokesman said. He said a similar visit by Cardinal Etchegaray to prisoners of war in Iraq is being discussed with Iraqi authorities.
"The missions, exclusively humanitarian in character, are intended to express the vivid interest of the Holy Father in the painful condition of the two Iranian and Iraqi peoples involved in a prolonged and wearing conflict," the spokesman said.
Cardinal Etchegaray is president of the Pontifical Justice and Peace Commission and the Cor Unum Council, a Vatican office in charge of coordinating Catholic aid and human development services. He was accompanied by the Very Rev. Joseph Chennoth of the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church, or Vatican foreign ministry, and by the Rev. Marco Brogi of the Sacred Congregation for Oriental Churches.
A measure to permit women priests from overseas branches of the Anglican Communion to officiate as priests when visiting England has been approved by a substantial majority of Church of England dioceses.
The measure has been approved by 35 diocesan synods -- 81 percent of the total -- and has been rejected by only eight. The legislation will return to the General Synod in February and may win final approval in July. A two-thirds majority in all three houses -- bishops, clergy and laity -- will be needed for it to take effect.
An analysis of the diocesan voting shows that the measure won the approval of slightly more than three-quarters of the bishops, just over two-thirds of the laity and a similar proportion of the clergy.
Bill Glass, former pro football player turned preacher, has donated the files of his evangelistic association to the archives of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton (Ill.) College.
A former star with the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns, Glass founded his association in 1969. Three years later, he and his co-workers began specializing in prison ministries. He has spoken at more than 500 prisons with other football stars, including former Los Angeles Rams Rosie Greer and Mike Barber; and with former pro baseball stars Frank Titana and Jim Sunburg of the Texas Rangers.
"The physical size and appearance of Glass and his team make a big impression on the inmates," said Donald Smarto, director of the Graham Center's Institute for Prison Ministries. He said that wardens report that "no violent incidents occur during his visits and that after the visits violence usually decreases."
Materials donated by the Glass Association to the Graham Center include correspondence, photos, films, reports, clippings, and audio tapes.
Jehovah's Witnesses have lost their last appeal to have their children exempted from singing India's national anthem at the start of each day in schools in Kerala.
After being turned down by a judge of Kerala's high court, the Jehovah's Witnesses appealed to two other judges of the court . The judges have now ruled that chanting the anthem is a "secular act" and does not violate the Indian constitution.
The Jehovah's Witnesses' children had been removed from the school rolls when they refused to sing the anthem. Members of the sect objected to a reference in the anthem to a "ruler of the heart," saying that their religion forbade them to sing "prayers" to earthly rulers.
But the court said it was unable to "discern any traces of worship" in the hymn. In an opinion written by Chief Justice V.S. Malimath, the court said that "when men, women and children join together to sing such an anthem, they are not joining any rituals or prayers to God or to any other divine concept. The religious freedom of Jehovah's Witnesses will not in any way be abridged, affected or offended by singing it."
Witnesses filed for permission to appeal to the Indian Supreme Court in New Delhi, but that court said there was no "substantial" issue for such an appeal.