Outcry Over Insult to Sacrament

For sale to the highest bidder: a Communion wafer consecrated by Pope John Paul II at a 1998 Mass at the Vatican.

That posting on eBay in early April -- by a self-described non-Catholic who claimed to have gone through the Communion line twice and saved the second wafer -- drew immediate protests from Catholics, who believe that Communion wafers consecrated by a priest during Mass are transformed into the body of Christ.

At first, eBay officials determined that the listing did not violate the company's ban on the sale of items promoting hatred and intolerance. But they reconsidered as they continued to receive complaints not only from church officials but also from "our own Catholic employees," said eBay spokesman Hani Durzy.

The auction site ordered the listing removed, Durzy said, after concluding that "the fact that someone was selling a consecrated host . . . was a sign of intolerance of a fundamental belief of the Catholic Church."

By then, the seller had struck a deal to sell the host for $2,000 to a Catholic in California who hoped to save it from desecration, according to a Catholic Web site.

But the sale never went through. The Rev. Roger Augustine, administrator of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa, which includes the seller's home town, said the seller apologized and gave the host to the diocese. The host was dissolved in water, which was then poured onto the ground and buried, a procedure in keeping with church law, the diocesan newspaper reported.

A Host of 'Unchurched' Christians

One-third of U.S. adults are not involved with any house of worship -- but 56 percent of those "unchurched" people consider themselves Christian, 60 percent pray to God each week and 20 percent read the Bible in a typical week, according to a new study by the Barna Group.

The findings, based on a survey of 1,003 adults in January, suggest a historic shift in the nation's spirituality as a large and growing number of Americans are rejecting congregational life but not Christianity, said George Barna, directing leader of the research and media organization.

Barna said he expects that segment of the population will continue to grow substantially over the next decade, in part because of the emergence of a national body of spiritual leaders "who are assisting unchurched people in their quest for spiritual depth."

The study also found that the Northeast has the highest percentage of unchurched adults; that Catholics are more likely than Protestants to avoid going to church; and that people with no college degree and below-average household income are much more likely than their upscale counterparts to stay out of the pews.

French Outreach to Imams

The French government is encouraging the country's imams to sign up for classes in French history, civics, language and culture, opening a new front in its campaign against Islamic extremism.

Two-thirds of France's 1,200 imams are immigrants, and most of them do not speak French, according to the Interior Ministry. The ministry is planning to provide the voluntary courses as part of a government effort to promote the integration of foreign-born imams and make them less interested in joining radical Islamist movements.

But some Muslim clerics think that the attempt to assimilate them into French culture ignores the needs of the communities they serve. Melvut Yildirim, an imam who was sent to France by the Turkish government last year to minister to Turkish immigrants in the town of Clermont-Ferrand, told Religion News Service that he is glad to have a chance to study French. "But it's better that the Turkish government sends imams to head the prayers here," he said. "They're better qualified to explain daily life and norms in Turkey."


This Month's Spotlight Birthday of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I.

Date July 23.

Description Selassie was born in 1892 as Ras Tafari Makonnen. He became emperor of the East African country of Ethiopia in 1930 and died in 1975. The Rastafarian movement, founded in Jamaica, believes he is the divine king who will gather Africans from around the world and bring them back to their native land. That belief is based on his claim to be descended from the biblical King Solomon, as well as his imperial titles -- King of Kings, Lord of Lords and Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah -- which fit Prophet Isaiah's description of the messiah. Rastafarians, conservatively estimated at 700,000 worldwide, observe Selassie's birthday with drumming and chanting.

More Information www.zhurnal.ru/music/rasta/napti.htm and web.syr.edu/ {tilde} affellem/raslinx.html

Religion 101

At Jewish weddings, why does the couple stand beneath a four-posted canopy, and why does the groom smash a glass on the floor?

The canopy, known as a chuppah, symbolizes the new home that the couple is about to create together. Its four open sides recall the tent of Judaism's preeminent biblical couple, Abraham and Sarah, who showed hospitality to all. The groom breaks a glass to show the importance of remembering life's sadness even at times of great joy. The broken glass also symbolizes the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The custom has its origins in the Talmud, which tells of an ancient rabbi so upset at the extreme revelry of a wedding party that he smashed a valuable glass object to bring people back to their senses.

-- Compiled by Caryle Murphy and Paul Bernstein