An interreligious delegation was with Jesse Jackson when he traveled to Yugoslavia to broker the release of three U.S. servicemen held by Yugoslav forces. Included in the delegation was Joan Brown Campbell, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, and Roy Lloyd, an ELCA pastor and the NCC broadcast news director. (See also, page 38.)
A Vatican news agency charged that the arrest of Augustin Misago, a Roman Catholic bishop in Rwanda, is part of a government plot to undermine the church's influence in the country. Misago is accused of participating in the disappearance of 30 girls who asked for protection during the 1994 massacre of Tutsis and moderate Hutus by extremist Hutus. Almost half of Rwanda's population is Catholic, according to the Vatican. The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest U.S. Protestant denomination, reported a decrease in membership for the first time since 1926. The decline of 1 percent, or 162,158 members, gives the denomination 15,729,356 members. The church is unsure what the decline means. Despite a robbery in the Lutheran World Federation Department for World Service offices in San Salvador, the agency's El Salvador and Guatemala programs will continue. Computers, printers, a television and $820 were stolen April 1. "We can't rule out the fact that [the robbers] may have other motivations," said Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, the program representative. A few weeks before this incident, intruders broke into the Salvadoran Lutheran Church Office of Human Rights and left notes saying, "Long live terrorism." Negaso Gidada, president of Ethiopia, appealed to the Lutheran World Federation to help Ethiopia and Eritrea cope with their economic and social problems. The two countries are in the midst of a border war. Peace efforts by church leaders in both countries have been unsuccessful. Konrad Raiser became the first general secretary of the World Council of Churches to officially visit North Korea. Raiser said the visit took place "in the context of more than 10 years of WCC efforts to promote a process of reconciliation between the North and the South of this divided country, and to further the attempts to bring about reunification in the long term." The delegation also discussed the WCC's readiness to continue providing humanitarian aid for the famine-struck country. The Lutheran World Federation and other service agencies called on the Nepal and Bhutan governments to ensure that Bhutanese refugees living in eastern Nepal camps aren't subjected to ethnic discrimination or deprived of their nationality. LWF, which helps care for 90,000 Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal, said the governments must be urged to set up an impartial verification process and make more effective efforts to negotiate the return of Bhutanese refugees. The number of men studying to become Roman Catholic priests in the United States increased 7 percent to 3,386, the highest figure since 1993-94. The increase is explained in part by more men 30 years and older leaving secular careers and by a rise in immigrants joining the priesthood. Despite the increase, the estimated 21,000 priests in the year 2005 is 40 percent lower than the total in the mid-1960s. And if all prospective priests were ordained, statistics show they would not offset the number of active priests who retire, die or leave the priesthood each year. Missing atheist leader Madalyn Murray O'Hair, her son and granddaughter may have been murdered, dismembered, put in 55-gallon drums and hidden on a ranch about 120 miles west of San Antonio, reports The San Antonio Express-News, citing unnamed sources. The report also noted that a search of a ranch near Camp Wood, Texas, by federal and state agents didn't turn up any evidence. Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey called for a dialogue across cultures to help resolve divisions within the communion over the ordination of women and the place of gays and lesbians in the church. "The most powerful question that confronts the entire Anglican community is: `What is the Anglican common denominator for unity?'" Carey said at a meeting of U.S. Episcopalians in Charleston, S.C., to mark the 450th anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer, Anglican's central faith and worship book. The U.S. Episcopal Church approved women's ordination in 1976. Last year's Lambeth Conference, a once-a-decade gathering of Anglican Communion bishops, divided sharply over the issue of gays when the conference adopted a critical statement of homosexuality. Dario Castrillon Hoyos of Colombia, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy, reiterated the Roman Catholic Church's stand against women being ordained as deacons, saying the role is too close to that of priests. Supporters of a female deaconate argue that it falls within the papal guidelines because deacons are restricted to carrying out liturgical functions and do not celebrate the eucharist. Egypt's Coptic Christian community is threatened by Islamic extremists, discriminatory government policies and abusive local police, reports Freedom House, a Washington-based group that monitors religious and other freedoms. The report says the Egyptian government discriminates against Copts (10 percent of the country's largely Muslim population) by enforcing restrictions on building or repairing churches and by applying religiously discriminatory laws and practices regarding family law, conversions, education and clergy salaries. The Egyptian government denies the discrimination. The video cassette Hurricane Heroes, mentioned in the March issue of The Lutheran, (page 43), is available at ELCA Resource Centers. For a free loan call 800-LWR-LWR-2. Several of Angola's government-controlled provincial capitals, including Huambo, are under siege and in need of emergency relief. Huambo, with 300,000 people, was cut off by enemy forces of the Union for the Total Independence of Angola rebel movement. The Lutheran World Federation Department for World Services is working with 60,000 (the number of those in need is estimated at 200,000) internally displaced people, implementing emergency relief by providing shelter, water, food and camp management. Aaron Tolen, former president of the World Council of Churches from 1991 to 1998, died April 7. He was 61. "He was a relentless champion of the African cause and African interest," said Konrad Raiser, WCC general secretary. "For him, the search for a peaceful, just and democratic society in Africa was a lifelong commitment. He struggled for the respect of human rights and human dignity for all." Paul Fynn, president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana, dedicated a $25,000 new chapel/training center at Amadua near Buduburam. The chapel was financed by Trinity Lutheran Church, Utica, Mich. Fynn appealed to the country's churches and nongovernmental agencies to improve living conditions of people in rural areas and asked the chiefs in the country to stop litigation and release land that could be used for building schools and clinics. Fynn said he hopes his church, with help from Trinity, will build four more chapels and training centers in the region by the end of this year.