Parliament of Religions

Meets in Barcelona

More than 7,000 people from five continents gathered in Barcelona this week for the fourth Parliament of the World's Religions.

Scheduled speakers for the seven-day event included Iranian Nobel Prize-winner Shirin Ebadi; German theologian Hans Kung; Ela Gandhi, a South African peace activist and granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi; primatologist and activist Jane Goodall; health expert and author Deepak Chopra; and Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (also known as Amma) of India, noted worldwide for her practice of warmly embracing each of her followers.

The Dalai Lama was slated to speak at the opening plenary session Wednesday but canceled at the last minute because of illness.

The Rev. William Lesher, chairman of the board of trustees for the parliament's council, stressed that the meeting "is not about the unity of world religions." Instead, he said, organizers hope attendees will "find points of convergence in their beliefs and values and turn those commonalities into real actions in their communities."

Discussion topics included religiously motivated violence, international debt, the plight of refugees and universal access to clean water.

Parliaments were held in 1993 in Chicago and in 1999 in Cape Town, South Africa.

-- Religion News Service

Kerry Backs Funding

For Faith Initiatives

Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry said he supports government funding of faith-based initiatives as long as they respect the separation of church and state and do not allow discrimination in hiring.

"I invite churches and faith-based institutions to continue to play the role they have always played -- as leaders, teachers and guides in our communities," Kerry, a Roman Catholic, told attendees of the African Methodist Episcopal Church General Conference in Indianapolis on Tuesday.

"I know there are some who say that the First Amendment means faith-based organizations can't help government," Kerry said, according to a text of his speech. "I think they are wrong. I want to offer support for your efforts, including financial support, in a way that supports our Constitution and civil rights laws and values the role of faith in inspiring countless acts of justice and mercy across our land."

According to a proposal released by the Massachusetts senator's staff, Kerry would enable faith-based organizations to compete on an "equal footing" with other private groups for federal funds and provide training and technical assistance for helping those groups apply for grants.

He also would establish an advisory group of religious leaders, legal experts and social service providers that would tackle constitutional questions and prevent tax dollars from being used to purchase Bibles or build churches.

-- Religion News Service

Council of Churches

Has New President

Bernice Powell Jackson, executive minister of justice ministries for the United Church of Christ, has been named a president of the World Council of Churches.

She was elected by mail ballot as a midterm replacement for the Rev. Kathryn Bannister, a Kansas United Methodist pastor elected in 1998 who resigned for personal reasons.

The world organization, based in Geneva, chooses seven presidents to interpret its programs in various regions of the world. One usually comes from North America.

Jackson, a longtime social activist, is the U.S. spokeswoman for the World Council of Churches' Decade to Overcome Violence program during its 2004 focus on the United States.

The World Council lists a constituency of 340 Orthodox, Protestant and independent church bodies that include about 400 million members.

Jackson formerly was executive director of the racial justice commission of the United Church, a denomination with 1.3 million members. Before that, she worked on the staffs of New York Gov. Hugh Carey and the National Urban League.

-- Associated Press