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, Russia Agree to
Full Diplomatic Ties
ussian President Dmitry Medvedev and Pope Benedict XVI agreed December 3 to establish full diplomatic relations between Russia and the Holy See, a step likely to be seen as healing decades of mutual suspicion and tension.
"During the meetings both parties expressed their satisfaction at the cordial existing relations and it was agreed to establish full diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Russian Federation," read a statement on the Vatican Web site.
The Vatican established informal ties with the former Soviet Union in 1990, a year before the Communist state disintegrated. By upgrading relations, Russia and the Holy See will now have embassies in Rome and Moscow.
Political ties between the two states have been overshadowed by longstanding distrust between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. The late Pope John Paul II longed to visit Russia, a request that was repeatedly denied.
Former Patriarch Alexy II, who died last year, accused the Catholic Church of trying to poach Orthodox followers, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union, and never met John Paul's successor, Benedict XVI.
The Vatican repeatedly denied the accusations, saying its activities in Russia focused on Catholic minorities, such as those of Polish and German descent.
Property disputes also contributed to the frosty relationship, which led many observers to conclude it was one reason why former Russian President Vladimir Putin, now Prime Minister, was one of only a handful of world leaders not to attend John Paul's funeral in 2005.
The situation has thawed considerably since Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill -- the former head of the Russian Orthodox Church's foreign relations -- assumed the top post last February.
The Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow has just published a collection of speeches by Pope Benedict on the struggle against secularism in Europe, an area where Kirill has expressed an interest in cooperating with the Catholic Church.
Report: Anti-Muslim Discrimination Up, Hate Crimes Down
Muslim Americans faced more anti-Muslim bias but fewer physical assaults in 2008, according to a report released December 3 by the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations.
"In 2008, Muslims continued to face barriers to their full and equal participation in American society. Certain individuals and institutions persisted in profiting by smearing Islam," CAIR's annual civil rights report said. "American Muslims continued to fear profiling, surveillance and undue scrutiny by law enforcement and other authorities."
According to the study, CAIR recorded 2,728 incidents of anti-Muslim discrimination or bias in 2008--an increase of 3 percent from 2007. So-called hate crimes--incidents involving threats or physical
violence--fell 14 percent, from 135 to 116.
CAIR also expressed concern about government surveillance of Muslims and mosques, profiling, and worries that many politicians were willing to play on public fears about Muslims, and equate tolerance of Muslims with weakness on national security.
CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper acknowledged the increase in reported incidents could be attributed to greater Muslim American organization and less timidity about seeking help from law enforcement or civil
rights groups. Still, he said Islamophobia persists.
"There is an increasingly vocal minority of Muslim bashers who are promoting hate and trying to marginalize Muslims, and they are having an impact," said Hooper.
NIH Approves Stem Cell Lines as Obama Revamps Bioethics Panel
The National Institutes of Health has approved the First human embryonic stem cell lines for research after President Obama lifted Bush-era bans on such research last March.
"In accordance with the guidelines, these stem cell lines were derived from embryos that were donated under ethically sound informed consent processes," said Dr. Francis S. Collins, NIH director, in a December 2 announcement. "More lines are under review now, and we anticipate continuing to expand this list of responsibly derived lines eligible for NIH funding."
Eleven of the first 13 lines that were approved were produced at Children's Hospital Boston, and the other two were developed by Rockefeller University in New York.
While critics of embryonic research object to the destruction of embryos required to harvest the stem cells, supporters say it holds the potential of treatment for a range of diseases.
NIH guidelines released in July stipulate that federally funded research would only be permitted on excess embryos at fertility clinics that otherwise would have been discarded.
The NIH announcement follows the creation of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues on November 24.
Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania and a scholar of ethics and public policy, was chosen as chair of the commission. The vice chair is James W. Wagner, president of Emory University, which has a Center for Ethics on its Atlanta campus.
Fire Safety Reminders Issued For December Holidays
Secular and religious groups are urging Christians and Jews to take safety precautions during Christmas and Hanukkah, when candles, electric lights and flammable decorations create fire hazards.
Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish festival of lights that begins at sunset on December 11, has traditions that involve lighting up to eight candles and frying foods in oil--potential hazards that have prompted Judaism's Orthodox Union to designate December as Fire Safety Month.
Jews should keep lit candles out of reach of small children and at least four feet away from curtains, draperies, blinds, cabinets and bedding. Although traditionally lit around sunset, Jewish law permits the menorah to be lit later if necessary, according to Rabbi Hershel Schachter, who advises the Orthodox Union on issues of Jewish law.
"If one is not going to be home while the Hanukkah candles are lit, it is better that they not be lit, but one can light later in the evening if they will be home," he said in a statement. "There should always be someone watching or near the candles."
Live Christmas trees should be freshly cut, kept watered at all times and displayed far from a heat source, according to the U.S. Fire Administration's seasonal warning. Holiday lights should be inspected for frayed wires, gaps or any other problems; electric outlets should not be overloaded, and wires should never feel warm to the touch.
Every home should have at least one working fire extinguisher, and families should have an emergency evacuation plan, officials said. The fire administration also warns against disposing of gift wrap in a fireplace.