NEW ORLEANS (AP) – The Metropolitan Community Church of Greater New Orleans, which serves gays and lesbians, has been kicked out of a building owned by the local Roman Catholic diocese.

The Rev. William Maestri, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, said the one-year lease with the church was terminated because “this particular group blesses gay unions, which we do not support.”

The congregation had been renting the space while searching for a permanent home, but now must leave by Nov. 4. The archdiocese’s building is home to the Project Lazarus complex, which provides hospice service to AIDS patients.

The Rev. Dexter Brecht, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church, said the decision was “another blatant example of the homophobic policies present in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.”

The Catholic Church teaches that gay sex is “intrinsically disordered.” Maestri said continuing the lease might give the wrong impression about Catholic teaching.

Metropolitan Community Churches are a fellowship of congregations around the world providing a place of worship for gays and lesbians. Those affiliated with the fellowship offer a union ceremony for same-sex couples.

The New Orleans’ congregation had been in the building for three months. Brecht said he has already been offered temporary space in several other churches.

Replica of Buddha’s tooth stolen

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) – A replica of Buddha’s tooth – a holy relic of the Buddhist religion – has been stolen from a temple in a northern suburb of Yangon, an official said.

The glass casing at the Swedaw Myat – “Tooth Relic” – Pagoda in which the tooth replica had been enshrined was discovered broken Aug. 14, and the tooth, along with several precious gems, found missing, said an official at the Religious Affairs Ministry.

The replica relic had been kept on a bejeweled pedestal with a jewel encrusted holder inside the glass case. Soldiers have sealed the pagoda premises and pilgrims have not been not allowed to visit while the theft is being investigated.

There are generally acknowledged to be only two genuine Buddha’s teeth in existence, one in China and the other in Sri Lanka. Buddhists believe the teeth, reportedly found after Buddha was cremated 2,400 years ago, bring peace and good fortune.

Beijing lent its genuine tooth to Myanmar for display for 45 days in April 1994 and again from December 1996 to March 1997.

The loan was seen as a shrewd foreign policy move because it boosted the prestige of China and of the prestige of Myanmar’s otherwise unpopular military government among the nation’s devout Buddhist population. China is the most important ally of the ruling junta, which is ostracized by Western nations for its poor human rights record and failure to hand over power to a democratically elected government.

When China lent the real tooth, two ivory replicas were carved to be displayed with it, and after the real one was returned to China, one replica was kept at Swedaw Myat and the other in Myanmar’s second city of Mandalay.

Thousands of pilgrims make annual uphill crawl on Greek island of Tinos

TINOS, Greece (AP) – Religious devotion – on the holiest of days on the Orthodox Christian calendar – is an uphill struggle.

Thousands of pilgrims crawled on their hands-and-knees more than half a mile up a hill to a church on this Aegean Sea island devoted to the Virgin Mary, where a revered icon is credited with miraculous powers.

The annual pilgrimage ended Monday, on the Feast of the Assumption – a holy day focused on the Virgin Mary. It is the ultimate test of faith for worshippers with special intentions: Expectant mothers hoping for a boy or girl; relatives praying for the recovery of their loved ones. Around 30,000 pilgrims and other visitors file past the icon every Aug. 15.

“I did it to pray to do well in my exams,” said Jim Christopoulos, 17, who said his scraped knees were “very painful.”

This year, special prayers were said for victims of the Cypriot airliner disaster which killed 121 people when a Helios Airways jet crashed into a hill 25 miles north of Athens last Sunday.

Catholic group accuses academics

BOSTON (AP) – A conservative Roman Catholic watchdog group wants 18 academics barred from Catholic school campuses for supporting abortion rights or siding against Terri Schiavo’s parents, who fought unsuccessfully to have her feeding tube reinserted.

The Cardinal Newman Society accused the academics of perpetuating a “culture of death,” and said in a fund-raising appeal that administrators at Boston College, Georgetown University and elsewhere should be warned their school risks being “stripped of its Catholic identity by the bishop who has authority over that college.”

The eight-page letter was sent to 75,000 people in two mailings split between April and last month. Critics have called the letter a threat to academic freedom.

The Virginia-based group lobbies Catholic schools to remain faithful to church teachings.

Boston College issued a statement declaring it is “firmly committed to its Jesuit, Catholic mission and heritage” and “openly engages issues of the day, especially those concerning faith and culture.” It added: “The publicity-seeking rhetoric and unfounded accusations of the Cardinal Newman Society are a disservice to Catholic colleges and universities and the church that they proudly serve.”

Catholics have debated for years how best to retain the religious identity of their more than 200 colleges and universities in the United States.

Under Pope John Paul II, U.S. bishops were instructed in 2002 to obtain a “mandatum” or mandate from Catholic theologians, certifying that the instructors were teaching authentic Catholicism at the schools. However, the initiative lost steam as the clergy sex abuse crisis overtook the church. Conservatives have complained the Vatican requirement was never enforced.

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