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International briefing

[Episcopal News Service]   
  • ENGLAND: Holocaust Memorial Day prompts statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury
  • ENGLAND: Tributes from all faiths follow sudden death of Muslim leader in U.K.
  • ENGLAND: Affirming Catholicism welcomes civil partnerships as pastoral opportunity for Church
  • EUROPE: Archbishop of Canterbury to mark Bonhoeffer celebrations with visit to Germany and Poland
  • LIBERIA: U.S., West African interfaith leaders vow to consolidate region's peace efforts
  • ZIMBABWE: Parishioners vow to pursue Bishop Kunonga trial

ENGLAND: Holocaust Memorial Day prompts statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury

[ENS, SOURCE: Anglican Communion News Service] Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams issued a statement January 26 on the occasion of Holocaust Memorial Day 2006. Although January 27 has been designated as Holocaust Memorial Day, the national commemoration took place on Thursday, January 26. The full text of Williams' statement follows:

The importance of Holocaust Memorial Day is in its role in continually bringing to mind the unique significance, for Europe in general and for Christians in particular, of the Holocaust.
        It is essential for each generation to be able to enter into the terrible events of the Holocaust at the level of knowledge and of feeling and I welcome the Government's grant to the Holocaust Educational Trust to enable more schools to make a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. While it is true that human history has been stained by other genocides, including those of our own generation, the events of the Nazi era stand alone in their nature and causes.
        The development of a range of inter-religious dialogues in recent years has been welcome and fruitful, and further new initiatives such as the Christian Muslim Forum and the work towards a full Hindu Christian dialogue carry real promise. Nevertheless from a Christian perspective the dialogue between Christians and Jews is not only historically the most senior, but is also theologically distinct. The Council of Christians and Jews, founded in the midst of the terrible events in Europe of 1942, has done an enormous amount to help many to reconsider their theological understandings and to develop deep personal friendships. The many celebrations of the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate (the declaration on Christian-Jewish relations by the second Vatican Council) last year highlighted the journey that many Christians and Jews have made together.
        2006 is a year of particular significance as it is the 350th anniversary of the Resettlement of the Jewish community in this country. As a nation we should celebrate this anniversary, marking as it does, not only an attempt to right some of the terrible wrongs earlier inflicted on Jewish people, but also as an opportunity to celebrate the quite remarkable contributions of Jewish people to every aspect of the life of this country. Without the Resettlement, it is hard to imagine what our history, culture, politics and economy would be like today. Without doubt we would have been greatly the poorer in every respect.

Full statement:

ENGLAND: Tributes from all faiths follow sudden death of Muslim leader in U.K.

[ENS, SOURCE: Ecumenical News International] The sudden death at the age of 83 of Sheik Zaki Badawi, a leading figure in interfaith dialogue in Britain, on the day he was to attend the launch of the Christian Muslim Forum at London's Lambeth Palace, triggered immediate tributes from religious leaders and also from the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles.
        Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said, "I shall miss him greatly as a friend who has contributed immensely to the continuing labour of building bridges between the Christian church and the Muslim world, but also simply as someone whose company was a delight and whose commitment was an inspiration."
        Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, in a statement described the loss of the Egyptian-born academic as "a devastating blow to this country and to me personally" and paid tribute to the quality of his advice and the value of his friendship.
        Sir Sigmund Sternberg, a co-founder with Badawi of the Three Faiths Forum between Christians, Jews and Muslims said: "It is a bitter irony that the establishment of a Christian-Muslim Forum in this country was celebrated on the very day of Zaki Badawi's passing from our midst [24 January]." A Hungarian-born Jew, Sternberg noted, "The global aspect of his commitment to dialogue was seen in his chairmanship of the Abrahamic Forum of the International Council of Christians and Jews, the umbrella organization for 36 affiliates on every continent."  
        Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, the umbrella body for major Christian churches in the two countries, also praised Badawi's "great contribution to understanding among faith communities".  
        Badawi first came to Britain to study psychology at London University where he met his English wife Mavis, with whom he had two children. Later he taught in south-east Asia and Nigeria before returning to London in 1976 to become chief imam of the London Central Mosque and director of the Islamic Cultural Centre.  
        He had agreed to serve as an adviser to the Christian Muslim Forum which will meet three times a year to review issues facing the two faith communities.

Full story by Martin Revis:

ENGLAND: Affirming Catholicism welcomes civil partnerships as pastoral opportunity for Church

[ENS, SOURCE: Affirming Catholicism] The Anglican organization Affirming Catholicism will publish January 27 a booklet calling on the Church to welcome civil partnerships as a pastoral opportunity and a means of listening to the experience of lesbian and gay Christians.
        In a foreword to the booklet, the Very Rev. Dr. Jeffrey John, dean of St Albans Abbey, England, thanks God for the legislation, which came into effect in England and Wales on December 21, 2005. He says that same-sex couples who commit their lives to each other "are expressing the deepest and most godlike instinct in human nature." Acknowledging that many in the Church have yet to recognize this, John nonetheless believes that civil partnerships will help to change attitudes.
        "We know that the road to full and equal acceptance of gay relationships throughout the world will be long and hard," he said, "but we can rejoice that in this country the partnership law is a very big step along it."
        The booklet, written by the Rev. Jonathan Sedgwick, an Anglican priest, argues that civil partnerships will provide a way out of the "catch 22" which faces many gay Christians whose relationships are criticized for being unstable while -- at the same time -- the Church fails to offer any support which might help couples stay together. The argument is backed up by real-life case studies of lesbian and gay Christian couples.
        Canon Nerissa Jones, MBE, the Chair of Trustees, said, "The period of listening and reception to which Anglicans are committed can't happen on a purely theoretical level. It must also be about the lived experience of lesbian and gay Christians who need to feel safe enough to tell their stories. We believe that civil partnership can help give that security and that local clergy should offer prayer and support for couples."
        The policy of the Church of England, as stated by the House of Bishops is that, while there could be no authorized liturgy to bless same-sex couples until there was consensus on Church teaching, parish priests should nonetheless respond sensitively and pastorally to gay couples seeking blessings.
        The publication calls for an end to the double standard at the heart of current Church teaching which accepts gay relationships between lay people but bans sexually active homosexual women and men from the priesthood.

Full release:

EUROPE: Archbishop of Canterbury to mark Bonhoeffer celebrations with visit to Germany and Poland

[ENS, SOURCE: Lambeth Palace] The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, is to visit Germany and Poland next week (Jan 31 - Feb 5, 2006) to attend a major ecumenical theological conference and to take part in the celebrations marking the centenary of the birth of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
        In the first part of his visit, Williams will visit the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), leading the Church of England Delegation attending a meeting of a Meissen Commission conference on Theology as Wisdom for Life. Williams will lead a conference session seeking plan the work of the Commission over the next five years.
        Later in the week the Archbishop will travel to Bonhoeffer's birthplace, Breslau, (now Wroclaw) in Poland. Williams will give one of the opening addresses at the Bonhoeffer Centennial Congress, meet ecumenical representatives and take part in a special service, laying a wreath at the Bonhoeffer Memorial. He will then return to Germany for ecumenical meetings. On the final day of his visit [Sunday, Feb 5] he will deliver a sermon at the Bonhoeffer Memorial service in the Church of St Matthäus in Berlin.
        Williams said the visit recognized that the roots of collaboration and mutual concern between the Church of England and the German Churches went back many decades:
        "As we celebrate the centenary of one of the greatest Christian thinkers of the 20th Century, who had a great love for the Church of England, we give thanks for all that brings us more closely together as English and German believers and especially for all that continues to grow out of the Meissen Agreement."

Full story:

LIBERIA: U.S., West African interfaith leaders vow to consolidate region's peace efforts

[ENS, SOURCE: Church World Service] Interfaith leaders from the United States and West Africa meeting this week in Liberia vowed to work together to monitor government activity, work toward justice and equality, and minimize corruption in West Africa to help achieve lasting peace in the region.
        The action plan concluded a three-day international conference held in the capitol city of Monrovia, aimed at raising the visibility of peace efforts by the religious community and consolidating those peace efforts in fragile, post-conflict Liberia and other Mano River Union countries.
        The gathering, keynoted by Liberia's new Vice President, Dr. Joseph N. Boakai, was the first international conference held in Liberia since the recent election of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. It also attracted participants from the diplomatic community, civil society, and non-governmental organizations.
        "It is time for creative strategies that will take us to the next level," said the Rev. John McCullough, executive director of United States-based global humanitarian agency Church World Service. Church World Service and the United States Catholic Mission Association co-sponsored the event.
        African and supporting U.S. interfaith leaders agreed to a strategy of organizing around country-specific action programs for Manor River Union countries Liberia, Guinea-Conakry, and Sierra Leone and around overall programs for the entire Mano River region.
        "In the streets of the city I heard many people saying 'No more war," recalls Rita Tams Redfield, a delegate from the Episcopal Church.  "I think they are all pretty tired of war and with the religious community promoting peace from the pulpits and everyone being very open and willing to discuss any differences, it makes for a very positive situation."

ZIMBABWE: Parishioners vow to pursue Bishop Kunonga trial

[ENS, SOURCE: SW Radio Africa] Anglican parishioners have vowed to pursue the retrial of Harare Bishop Nolbert Kunonga, who appeared in court facing 38 charges ranging from intimidating and firing priests who were opposed to his leadership and even inciting murder.
        His trial collapsed when Malawian judge James Kalaile quit, citing squabbles between the prosecution and the defense over procedure. The parishioners have been in consultation with lawyers and last week sent in a legal paper to the church that was drafted by Robert Stumbles, a diocese chancellor and vice registrar of the province, SW Radio Africa reports.
        The paper outlines the legal failures in which the case had so far been handled. Archbishop Bernard Malango, Primate of Central Africa, was expected to re-appoint another judge but he declared in December last year that he would make a ruling on his own.

Full story by Lance Guma: