Leaders Call on Summit

To Raise Foreign Aid

A group of U.S. and British religious leaders met in London on Wednesday with Gordon Brown, the United Kingdom's chancellor of the exchequer, to urge the British government to increase foreign aid with a goal of ending extreme global poverty.

On Monday, the U.S. delegation met with White House officials on the same issue. The meetings were timed to come before the start next Wednesday of the Group of Eight Summit in Scotland, where leaders of the world's wealthiest nations will come together to discuss international trade and economic policy.

The summit "is an opportunity for the world's leaders to take decisive action on behalf of those who live in extreme poverty," said the Rev. Jim Wallis, executive director of Sojourners, a religious group based in Washington that organized the London forum.

Wallis said this is the first time in history that humanity has had the technological and economic ability to end extreme global poverty.

Richard Stearns, president of World Vision United States, said the increases in foreign aid being sought are minor when compared with other government expenses.

"The per capita spending on foreign humanitarian assistance is about $56 per year," Stearns said. He compared that with the roughly $1,000 dollars per capita being spent each year on the war in Iraq. "We're calling on President Bush to make a more significant commitment to foreign assistance."

-- Religion News Service

Russian Church

Condemns Loyalty Oath

The Russian Orthodox Church has disavowed a Soviet-era declaration of loyalty to the communist government, a step that could help bring reunion with a foreign church that has been separate since 1920.

The New York-based Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia severed contacts with the Moscow church after Patriarch Sergiy issued the loyalty declaration in 1927.

The Moscow Patriarchate has said Sergiy made the proclamation to save the church from ruin, but a new posting on its Web site says it was among documents that "do not express the true voice of the Church of Christ [and] are deemed no longer valid."

The Web site presented several documents drafted by delegates of the Moscow Patriarchate and the foreign church and approved by their respective synods.

The two churches set up working groups on reunification issues after a 2003 visit to Russia by three archbishops of the foreign church and a 2004 visit by its head, Metropolitan Laurus.

The documents went the farthest so far toward apology by the Moscow Patriarchate for Soviet-era compromises with the state.

"Some clergymen and laypersons, trampling upon divine truth, facilitated the persecutors in their actions directed toward the destruction of the church," the posting said. "Such actions cannot under any circumstances be permitted and justified: they deserve all condemnation."

-- Associated Press

Interest-Free Bank

For Muslims to Open

A global Islamic bank in which no interest is paid or charged on deposits and loans will open next year, a group of investors announced last week.

The proposed $1 billion bank, which will be called the Emaar International Group, will adhere to Muslim law and bring together investors from several countries.

The bank's headquarters will be in Malaysia, Bahrain, Qatar or Dubai, said Saleh A. Kamal, chairman of the General Council for Islamic Banks and Financial Institutions.

Kamal said many Islamic banks are undercapitalized and in dire financial straits. The Organization of the Islamic Conference, a 57-nation group whose financial arm is a key shareholder in the proposed bank, includes 27 nations that are classified by the World Bank as "low-income."

Addressing financial needs and adhering to Islamic laws governing finance are two reasons for launching the new bank, but a third reason organizers cited was using a 10-year financial services master plan to encourage development in the Muslim world.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi told a group of investors gathered at a forum that addressing "the problems of extremism and terrorism" and encouraging development in OIC member-nations would be priorities for the new bank.

-- Religion News Service