Synod Advises Pastors

A year after a church panel lifted the suspension of a New York church official who took part in a prominent interfaith prayer service, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has issued guidelines for its pastors' participation in civic events.

The majority of the denomination's Commission on Theology and Church Relations determined that Missouri Synod pastors may take part in certain public events involving leaders of other Christian and non-Christian faiths.

"The question is whether it is possible . . . for an LCMS pastor to offer a prayer in a public setting involving a variety of religious leaders without engaging in 'joint prayer and worship,' " the guidelines say.

The 23-page document was posted online late last month. In May 2003, the denomination announced that it had lifted the suspension of the Rev. David Benke, president of the denomination's Atlantic District, who had been punished for taking part in an interfaith event at Yankee Stadium after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The guidelines state that Missouri Synod pastors participating in civic events should be sure that their prayers reflect a belief in the Trinity and "the exclusivity of access to God through faith in Christ alone."

A majority of the panel concluded that there may be "an irresolvable tension" between providing Christian witness at such events and risking the appearance of approving "syncretism," or worship with non-Christians.

Two minority members, rejecting that conclusion, wrote that they could not subscribe to a document that "is not intended as an unambiguous, confessional attempt to prevent future participation in events like the Yankee Stadium one."

-- Religion News Service

Search for Polish Torah

Archaeologists have begun excavations at the site of a synagogue near the former Auschwitz death camp in Poland, looking for a Torah scroll and other objects missing since the Nazis burned down the building in 1939.

Malgorzata Grupa, the archaeologist leading the project, said the excavation's only guidance came from a Jewish survivor who saw members of his community burying the religious objects in the hope of saving them from destruction by the Nazis.

"We don't have any other information apart from the knowledge that the Torah scroll and the objects were buried in boxes in September 1939 and that an eyewitness is still alive," Grupa told the PAP news agency.

The excavation, financed by private donors, is expected to take a month.

The synagogue was the largest of about a dozen in Oswiecim, the town where the Nazis built Auschwitz. Nearly 1 million people died there, 90 percent of them Jews.

About 3.5 million Jews lived in Poland before the war. There are only about 20,000 Polish Jews today.

-- Associated Press

Stymied in Ukraine

Pope John Paul II said Thursday that Orthodox opposition makes it impossible for him to establish a patriarchate for the 4.5 million Ukrainian Catholics who celebrate the Byzantine Rite.

Addressing the members of the Permanent Synod of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the pope praised the church for its "heroic witness" under communism and said he supported its aspiration to have "a full juridical-ecclesial configuration." He indicated that he would bow, at least for now, to the strong opposition of the Russian and other Orthodox churches to a Ukrainian patriarchate.

Bartholomew I, ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople and spiritual leader of all Orthodox Christians, warned in a letter to the pope several months ago that the creation of a Ukrainian Catholic patriarchate could mean the end of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue.

The warning carried extra weight because Bartholomew normally has cordial relations with John Paul and will lead an Orthodox delegation to celebrations of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul in Rome on June 29.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexey II has repeatedly cited property disputes and alleged Catholic proselytizing as the major impediments to a papal visit to Moscow. The visit has been a goal for John Paul because it would mark important progress in efforts to heal the 1,000-year-old schism between the Orthodox and Catholic churches.

-- Religion News Service