Katrina and Rita Destroy More
Than 900 Worship Centers

BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                                © 2005 Religion News Service

More than 900 houses of worship on the Gulf Coast have been destroyed, seriously damaged or forced to suspend services by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, leaving many clergy without salaries.

Interviews with more than a dozen faith leaders indicate hundreds morecongregations had at least minimal damage.

Even as Monday's Gulf Coast damage from Hurricane Wilma begins to beassessed, Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups are spearheading efforts tohelp congregations affected by the previous hurricanes.

"One reality of these storms that is different from other recenthurricanes is that many of our churches will not be meeting for severalmonths," wrote Robert H. Bohl and Rick Ufford-Chase of the PresbyterianChurch (USA) in a fund-raising letter.

One of the biggest challenges is providing salaries for clergy. That'swhy megachurch pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren is leading aninitiative that involves 500 small groups from his Saddleback Church in LakeForest, Calif. Each of them is adopting an affected church and paying thepastor's salary for at least six months.

"It's very easy to raise money for bottled water," said Warren, authorof "The Purpose Driven Life," in an interview. "It's very easy to raisemoney for blankets. Nobody wants to pay the salary of a pastor. Ourphilosophy is help the caregiver so that they don't have to worry aboutthemselves."

He said almost 3,800 "Purpose-Driven" churches connected to hisinterdenominational network are located in the region hit by Katrina orRita. Of those, at least 500 were flooded, damaged or destroyed in the twostorms.

Bohl and Ufford-Chase, both former moderators of the PresbyterianChurch (USA), recently wrote a letter to the denomination's larger churchesto encourage them to contribute to a Presbyterian Disaster Assistance fundthat will provide salary support for pastors and other church staffers. Theyestimated that about 62 Presbyterian churches were severely damaged in thetwo hurricanes.

"Their church buildings need to be completely rebuilt, and their membershave scattered all across the nation," wrote Bohl and Ufford-Chase.

"This means there are no offerings being taken, no income stream to paysalaries of pastors and other church employees."

The African Methodist Episcopal Church has raised more than $1 millionfor relief efforts, including tens of thousands of dollars to supplementclergy salaries.

"It's like the office being torn down," said Bishop C. Garnett Henning,leader of AME churches in Louisiana and Mississippi and manager of hisdenomination's hurricane response.

"These pastors have been driven out of their place of leadership in thecommunity and there's a void."

Archbishop Warns of Mass Starvation in Zimbabwe

BY DAVID E. ANDERSON                                                                          © 2005 Religion News Service

Archbishop Pius Ncube, the outspoken Roman Catholic leader ofBulawayo, Zimbabwe, and fierce opponent of Zimbabwe's President RobertMugabe, has warned of mass starvation in the African country if emergencymeasures are not taken.

Ncube, speaking at a news conference on October 19 in Johannesburg, South Africa, said a combination of the forced removal of some 700,000 people from their homes by the government, a critical food and fuel shortage and hyperinflation meant the hunger crisis was entering a new dangerous stage. He said the economic meltdown, if not addressed, could result in as many as 200,000 deaths.

"Hunger is due to the Zimbabwean government refusing food aid," the BBCquoted Ncube as saying. AllAfrica.com quoted Ncube as calling the government"hopelessly bankrupt" and unable to do anything about the food crisis.

But Michael Huggins, the United Nations' World Food Program spokesmanfor southern Africa, said, "It's difficult to predict at this early stagehow many people may starve to death in Zimbabwe."

The Zimbabwean government has downplayed the need for food aid, andearlier this fall kept an emergency relief convoy from the South AfricanCouncil of Churches waiting for weeks at the border.

The aid was meant to help some of those evicted from their homes as aresult of Mugabe's "clean up" operation against urban slum dwellers andstreet vendors involved in Zimbabwe's "informal" economy. Many Zimbabweansand human rights activists believe the "clean up" campaign was aimed atcrushing the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which is centered inthe cities.


U.S. Church Groups Declare Victory in Averting
Proposed Cuts In Food Stamp Funding by Congress

BY KEVIN ECKTROM                                                                                                © 2005 Religion News Service

Religious groups are claiming victory in the fight to preserve funding for food stamps after a key Senate panel voted to keep $574 million for the program.

The Senate Agriculture Committee rejected proposed cuts that Bread forthe World, an ecumenical anti-hunger group, said would have removed 300,000people from the program.

The victory may only be partial, however, because a similar $1 billionmeasure to cut funding is pending before the House. Church groups hope theSenate action pushes House leaders to maintain the funding in theirproposals.

"With hunger on the rise and the forces of nature exposing poverty anew,we will continue to challenge our political leaders to drop any furtherplans to cut this vital and proven program," said the Rev. David Beckmann,Bread for the World's president.

Congress is looking to cut at least $35 billion, and as much as $50billion, from next year's budget. Other programs in the sights includeMedicaid (health care for poor Americans) and student loans.

Religious groups, particularly mainline Protestant churches, which havemade the 2006 budget their top domestic priority, have lobbied hard tomaintain the food stamp funding. Those groups thanked Sen. Saxby Chambliss,the Georgia Republican who chairs the Agriculture Committee, for keeping itin place.

"This is a victory, the first of many in which we hope that Congresswill reorder our national priorities and protect our most vulnerablecitizens," the Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of the anti-poverty Call to Renewalcampaign, said Wednesday (Oct. 19).

The measure now heads to the Senate Budget Committee, then to the Senatefloor.

The New York Times reported Thursday (Oct. 20) that House leaders havepostponed a vote on their budget-cutting bill in order to round up support.The high cost of recovery from Hurricane Katrina has put pressure onCongress to reign in government spending.-- Kevin Eckstrom


Catholic Archdiocese of Boston Decides
to Open Financial Books to Public

BY G. JEFFREY MACDONALD                                                                                           © 2005 Religion News Service

In a move expected to inspire imitation far beyond Massachusetts,the Archdiocese of Boston has pledged to disclose all of its finances to thepublic next year, even if the state Legislature doesn't require it.

"During the first quarter of 2006, we will release consolidated auditedreports for fiscal years 2004 and 2005 with full disclosure and explanationof the archdiocese's organizational structure," Archbishop Sean P. O'Malleywrote in the Friday (Oct. 21) edition of the archdiocesan newspaper, ThePilot. He explained his hopes in an interview with The Boston Globe.

"My hope is that when people realize there are not any great mysterieshere, that they will be more confident in their willingness to continuesupporting the works of the church," O'Malley told the Globe.

Critics of the church have intensified calls for greater financialtransparency as laypeople worried how the church would fund an $85 millionclergy sexual abuse settlement. Despite staunch opposition from theMassachusetts Council of Churches, state lawmakers have been considering aproposal that would require all Massachusetts religious organizations tofile financial reports with the state attorney general.

Before such proposals take root in other states, more dioceses are aptto follow Boston's lead, said David O'Brien, professor of Roman CatholicStudies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.

"I expect the new Vatican regime eventually will ... compel dioceses togreater financial disclosure in order to head off at least some of the courtintrusions into church life which bankruptcies bring -- and to get layleaders on board to deal with angry legislatures like ours," O'Brien said inan interview, referring to the Massachusetts legislature.

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