ATLANTA (AP) – Leaders of 34 church groups have set aside years of differences over theology and other issues to create the broadest Christian unity organization in U.S. history.

Christian Churches Together in the USA brings together Roman Catholics, evangelicals, Pentecostals, mainline Protestants, historically black churches and Orthodox Christians.

The group announced its formation March 31 at the end of an Atlanta meeting and said its mission is to “strengthen our Christian witness in the world.”

Danish TV backs Islamic anchor

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) – Denmark’s public TV network defended its decision to let a woman wearing an Islamic headscarf host a program for the first time, following criticism by anti-immigration politicians.

Asmaa Abdol Riyad-Hamid, who wears a hijab, co-hosted a new talk show on DR last month, in the wake of the uproar surrounding the Prophet Muhammad cartoons which were first published in a Danish newspaper. Lawmakers for the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party criticized the show, saying the public network should not let program hosts wear religious symbols.

Arne Notkin, a spokesman for the show “Adam and Asmaa,” said Riyad-Hamid, a 24-year-old Palestinian immigrant, was hired because “she was the most competent candidate.”

He said the point of the program, the first in a series of seven shows, was to contrast her strong religious beliefs with the secular values of her co-host, Adam Holm, an atheist.

“We want to have the two different angles in the debate,” Notkin said.

Danish People’s Party lawmaker Aase Madsen criticized the network, saying Riyad-Hamid was using “a public service channel as a pulpit to persuade others about the good things about Islam.”

The party, Denmark’s third-largest, routinely lashes out at Muslims, accusing them of being unwilling to integrate into Danish society.


Leading bishop urges Catholic advocacy for federal marriage amendment

WASHINGTON (AP) – The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is urging all Roman Catholics to fight for a proposed federal constitutional amendment that would prohibit gay marriage.

Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., wrote in a letter to his fellow church leaders that there is a growing consensus among religious leaders that only action on a federal level will preserve traditional marriage.

The amendment, which would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, is expected to go before the Senate in June.

“Timely and focused efforts are needed to help the Catholic faithful form their consciences on such an important matter,” Skylstad said in his letter, which was released to the public Monday.



New York City plans increased security during Passover

NEW YORK (AP) – The mayor and police commissioner told Jewish leaders that the city will step up security for the holiday of Passover, which begins at sundown next Wednesday.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said authorities have not picked up any new information that requires heightened alert, but said the increased vigilance is now customary.

“As in the past, we intend to ensure that a climate of peace and security prevails,” Kelly said during a meeting at police headquarters.

The measures include increased patrols in Jewish communities and around places of worship. Heavily-armed units known as “Hercules” will also be deployed near major temples and synagogues, and other large gatherings.

“We want to make sure that everybody can celebrate in peace and safety,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who plans to attend a seder hosted by his sister.

Bloomberg also reminded the audience that sanitation trucks will be making extra pickups in neighborhoods with large Orthodox Jewish populations to accommodate the Passover tradition where homes are cleaned to get rid of all traces of “chametz,” or leavened products.


Nuns raise money through “adoption’ program

GREENWICH, Conn. (AP) – Nuns from a New Jersey-based religious order have opened a fundraising office in Greenwich to offer Connecticut residents a chance to “adopt” them.

The Adopt-a-Sister program has raised $5 million for the Roman Catholic Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco. The money has been used to help build a retirement home for aging nuns, some of whom are in their 90s.

The sisters are a teaching order without the support of a bishop or a diocese, so they must raise money to care for the 45 nuns who live at the retirement home.

Donors to the program get an adoption certificate, the sister’s picture, and a promise of daily prayer. Some people correspond by e-mail with the nuns they’ve adopted.

The religious order has advertised in New York, New Jersey, Florida and Louisiana, suggesting annual donations of $160 to $500. Since the program started 15 years ago, the sisters have received donations from around the world.

Linda Christiansen of Greenwich has adopted the nun who was her second-grade teacher.

“They have given so much to me,” Christiansen said. “We have to take care of them.”


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