Spiritual Changes

Common in U.S.

Half of U.S. adults have had a spiritual transformation experience, and 35 percent of those are not born-again Christians, according to research by the University of Chicago.

Most "changers" were part of a religious community when they had the experience and reported an increased commitment to God that has lasted for many years, the study found. Many transformations occurred early in life and at a turbulent time -- during an illness or after an accident or a relationship breakup.

Tom W. Smith, the study's author, was surprised by the reported endurance of the changes, which included becoming more compassionate and quitting bad habits. "I expected a deterioration," Smith said, noting that 13 years, on average, had passed since most respondents' experiences.

The question was posed to 1,328 adults in 2004 as part of the General Social Survey by the university's National Opinion Research Center.

Fundamentalist and evangelical Christians reported the highest percentage of changers (72 percent). Members of those groups are more poised for a change experience, Smith said.

But nearly half of Protestants in moderate and liberal denominations and 30 percent of Catholics also reported transformations. Jews, Muslims and members of other religious groups were omitted from the report because of small sample sizes.

-- Religion News Service

Holiday-Related Issues

In Wash. State Schools

Holiday religious issues have arisen in two suburban school districts in Washington state, one involving lunch menus with the words "Merry Christmas" and the other involving a "giving tree."

In Federal Way, between Seattle and Tacoma, December lunch menus for all 23 elementary schools were recalled and reprinted with the words "Happy Holidays" at a cost of $494 after a new employee mistakenly prepared them with the greeting "Merry Christmas," spokeswoman Diane Turner said.

Using "Merry Christmas" on the menus violated school policies because "it has a religious connotation for some people," Turner said. The 11,500 menus were not distributed and were recycled.

In Medina, east of Lake Washington, a Christmas-style tree bearing mittens with gift ideas was up for about a week at Medina Elementary School, office manager Chris Metzger said. The idea was for pupils to take a mitten and get the gift for someone at Lake Hills Elementary School, in a needy area of neighboring Bellevue.

Some parents had put up the tree -- with lights and a star at the top -- but it was removed Monday after a parent complained that it had religious connotations, Metzger said. The mittens were transferred to a counter in the office so the gift program could continue.

"We covered the star and called it a giving tree. We hoped it would suffice, but it didn't," Metzger said. "Now we just have a giving counter."

-- Associated Press

New Catholic Diocese

Established in Vietnam

About 10,000 people participated in a ceremony in Hanoi to establish a Roman Catholic diocese, the first in more than 30 years in Vietnam, in another sign of thawing relations between the communist government and the Holy See.

The ceremony to create Ba Ria Diocese was presided over by Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, who heads the Vatican's evangelization office, said the Rev. Nguyen Duc Quynh of Chu Hai parish. Monsignor Thomas Nguyen Van Tram was appointed bishop of Ba Ria.

Ba Ria Diocese will have more than 220,000 Catholics, Quynh said.

Phan Thiet Diocese, in the southern coastal province of Binh Thuan, was the last diocese established in Vietnam, in January 1975.

Last week, Sepe also presided over the ordination of 57 priests in Hanoi, the largest number ordained in the communist country in a single ceremony. During his visit, Sepe met with several government officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Vu Khoan.

Although predominantly Buddhist, Vietnam has an estimated 6 million Catholics, the second-highest number in Southeast Asia after the Philippines.

Vietnam and the Holy See have no diplomatic ties, and relations have been strained over Hanoi's insistence on having the final say in most church appointments, a policy the Vatican has rejected.

-- Associated Press