The Adventist Review shares the following world news from Religion News Service as a service to readers. Opinions expressed in these reports do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Review or the Seventh-day Adventist Church. -- Editors
Vatican Launches Its Own YouTube Channel
he Vatican extended its digital communications capabilities on January 23, when it launched its own video channel on the Web site YouTube.
The Vatican Channel features short video news clips about events involving Pope Benedict XVI and other Vatican officials in four languages--English, Spanish, German, and Italian--and will be updated daily.
Videos are limited in length to two minutes or less, but the Rev. Federico Lombardi, head of the Vatican press office, said officials hope eventually to offer full-length coverage of certain events, as well as videos in high-definition (HD) format and other languages. Although users will be able to e-mail site administrators to react to content, the channel does not allow for the posting of comments by the public. "Right now we would not be in a position to manage a global flow of comments and responses," Lombardi told reporters.
The launching of the channel coincided with the release of Pope Benedict's message for this year's World Communications Day, January 24. Entitled "New Technologies, New Relationships," the pope's message dwelt on the promise and perils of social networking sites such as Facebook.
Benedict wrote that the popularity of such sites expresses a "fundamental desire of people to communicate and to relate to each other," which he praised as a "reflection of our participation in the communicative and unifying love of God."
But the pope warned young people in particular not to pursue "on-line friendships" at the expense of "real social interaction" with relatives, neighbors, and co-workers. "If the desire for virtual connectedness becomes obsessive, it may in fact function to isolate individuals from real social interaction while also disrupting the patterns of rest, silence, and reflection that are necessary for healthy human development," Benedict wrote.
The pope's message also stressed the need for universal access to the latest communications technology. In a reference to the so-called digital divide between rich and underdeveloped nations, Benedict wrote that it "would be a tragedy for the future of humanity if the new instruments of communication...were not made accessible to those who are already economically and socially marginalized."
Rabbi Under Fire For Attending Inaugural Prayer Service
An Orthodox rabbi broke Jewish law by participating in an interfaith prayer service on January 21 at Washington National Cathedral, according to the Rabbinical Council of America.
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, who leads Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York, was one of three rabbis who participated in the National Prayer Service. The others were from Judaism's Conservative and Reform branches. Lookstein recited a nondenominational prayer during Wednesday's service.
"The long-standing policy of the Rabbinical Council of America," the RCA said in a statement, "in accordance with Jewish law, is that participation in a prayer service held in the sanctuary of a church is prohibited."
Rabbi Basil Herring, RCA's executive vice president, said he does not expect Lookstein to be punished for his role in the service. "We simply wanted to make the point that he was not going there on behalf of the rabbinical council, and that whatever he did, he did in his own capacity."
Nathan Diament, director of the Orthodox Union's Washington office, one of the largest Orthodox umbrella groups in the U.S., said he also attended the service in his "personal capacity."
Asked whether Jewish law prohibits Jews from visiting Christian churches, Diament said, "I'm not a rabbi." Diament also said that he attended Harvard Law School with President Obama and is friendly with the new chief executive.
Lookstein told the Jewish news service JTA that "after consultation with people who are absolutely committed to halacha (Jewish law), I...decided to do it because I felt it was a civic duty to honor the new president of the United States. Had I pulled out, it would have been something of an insult from the Orthodox community," Lookstein said.
Herring said the criticism of Lookstein was not politically motivated, and noted that the RCA praised Obama's "qualities of mind and leadership" and called his election a "cause for joy."
Update: 3 Men Charged in Black Church Fire After Obama's Election
Three men arrested in an arson that destroyed a predominantly Black church just hours after Barack Obama's election were acting in anger over the election of a Black man as president, according to a federal prosecutor.
The three men appeared in U.S. District Court on January 16, charged with violation of civil rights by means of conspiracy to "injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate the parishioners of the Macedonia Church of God in Christ, a predominantly African American congregational church," according to the criminal complaint. The men are being held without bail pending a hearing Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenneth P. Neiman, who heard initial arguments from attorneys for and against detention.
The three charged are Benjamin F. Haskell, 22; Michael F. Jacques, 24; and Thomas A. Gleason Jr., 21, all of Springfield. All are White, and no pleas were entered. The blaze occurred at approximately 3 a.m. November 5, destroying a new church under construction just hours after the Obama's election.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Regan described the crime as "reprehensible both in its idea and also in its effect." All three men confessed to taking part in the arson following an investigation involving local, state, and federal agencies, he said.
The crime carries a penalty of 10 years imprisonment, O'Regan said.
Governor Deval L. Patrick, the state's first black governor, said in a statement that he was "deeply troubled" by the findings of the investigation. "We have no room for hate in Massachusetts communities," Patrick said. "I commend the state police, the ATF, and other law enforcement agencies for bringing the perpetrators to justice. And I stand with this church community--as do all people of good faith--as they rebuild and heal."
The $2.5 million church building had been under construction for about a year. The facility was about 75 percent complete at the time of the fire. The men "decided to act out violently," carrying gas cans in the night to set the fire both inside and outside the church, O'Regan said.
A cooperating FBI witness said he drove by the destroyed church site with Haskell and Jacques two days after the fire and alleged the two "laughed to each other," and Haskell said, "We did it," according to an affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Ian D. Smythe.
Bishop Bryant Robinson Jr., the church's pastor, attended the hearing Friday, joined by Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno. The arrests "help to elevate our spirit," he said.
"We are comforted by and supported by God's word," Robinson said. "What was done to our destruction, will be turned to our construction."
Graham Grandson Tapped as Successor to D. James Kennedy
A grandson of Billy Graham has been nominated to succeed the late Rev. D. James Kennedy as pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
A pastoral search committee on January 18 gave the congregation its recommendation of the Rev. Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of nearby New City Church, as Coral Ridge's next senior pastor.
Tchividjian, the son of Gigi Graham, the evangelist's eldest daughter, seems ready to consider the position as long as he can bring his current church members with him. "Because he is committed to his congregation at New City Church, he has requested, and the (pulpit nominating committee) has agreed, to consider merging the two churches," the Coral Ridge search committee announced on the church's Web site. The search committee considered more than 150 candidates to succeed Kennedy, who died in 2007 at the age of 76.
On his blog on New City's Web site, the 36-year-old Tchividjian said the decision, which will be preceded by joint meetings on legal, financial, and structural issues, will be up to God. "Only if agreeable terms on all of these fronts can be reached and those terms approved by both church sessions would the two become one," Tchividjian said. "This due diligence process is not simply a formality to `close a deal' that's already been made. All of us are willing to walk away at a moment's notice if God says `stop.'"
Coral Ridge has given Tchividjian 30 days to consider the invitation, and if an agreement between the churches can be reached he will preach at the church and then be voted on by the congregation. Tchividjian, an author and radio broadcaster, is one of Gigi Graham's seven children. His father, Stephan Tchividjian, who is divorced from Graham, attends New City Church, said Lana Trombly, Tchividjian's assistant.
Started in 2003, New City attracts about 500 worshippers each week and meets in a high school in Coconut Creek, Florida. It is affiliated with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Coral Ridge has about 1,800 regular worshippers and is affiliated with another conservative denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America.