LEWISTON — Archbishop Lazar Puhalo believes in compassion. He believes lack of compassion has led to many of the world’s problems.

And he believes some people have hidden behind religion in their lack compassion.

“People are paying a great deal of attention trying to micro-manage what everybody does in their personal lives and not enough time paying attention to real crises,” he told a group at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College on Thursday.

Puhalo, a hierarch of the North American Orthodox Church, spoke to about a dozen students from the college’s association for international students and the class Global Past, Global Present. He was invited to the college by professor Barry Rodrigue, a longtime friend.

Puhalo’s background is diverse. He’s studied physics and particle physics at the University of British
Columbia, as well as theology at Holy
Trinity Seminary, in Jordanville, N.Y., and neurobiology, Byzantine history and the writings of the early Church Fathers at
the Warburg Institute at the University of London. He’s a philosopher, environmentalist and a human rights advocate who has written 48 books on religion, science, medicine and other topics.

Puhalo spoke at Lewiston-Auburn College about six years ago. Thursday marked his second visit to the campus.

Dressed in black robes and sporting a long white and gray beard, Puhalo spoke to students over a potluck lunch held in the college’s second-floor lounge. Encouraged by questions, he jumped from topic to topic, covering in two-and-a-half hours: same-sex marriage, universal health care, women’s rights, religious fundamentalism, politics, an individual’s impact on society, ecology, suffering, compassion, fear, hatred, faith, hope and love.

“There is no hand of an angry God. There is no angry God,” he said, adding, “If God’s so full of hate, what’s he got to teach us?”

Puhalo lambasted what he sees as Christian hypocrisy and bigotry, saying too many religious people moralize and judge while too few help and support. He also spoke against politicians’ use of religion and fear to gain supporters, particularly when it comes to universal health care and same-sex marriage — both of which he supports and are already available in his home country of Canada.

Universal health care is an example of basic compassion for others, Puhalo said. And he believes that same-sex marriage is an issue of democratic rights for citizens, not an issue for religious groups.

“We (the Christian church) don’t have a copyright on the word marriage,” he said.

Puhalo also lamented the state of women’s rights, saying civilization isn’t possible without a balance between men and women, and too often — particularly in fundamentalist Islamic countries — that balance is missing. Men, he said, should be offended by such a disparity.

“It’s not a women’s issue. It’s a human issue,” he said.

Although Puhalo’s topics wandered, he repeatedly returned to the subject of compassion and people’s power to help others. As the discussion began to wind down, one woman told Puhalo that many of her friends had left the Roman Catholic Church because they couldn’t understand why, if there was a God, He hadn’t stopped all the suffering in the world.

Puhalo’s answer: Sometimes parents have to let their children make their own mistakes.

“We have to take responsibility for human suffering ourselves,” he said. “People who say, ‘Why does God allow this?’ don’t look in the mirror and say, ‘Why do I allow this?'”

Puhalo will speak Friday at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church Parish House in Portland from 9 a.m. to noon.

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Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, the head of the North American Orthodox Christian Church and world-renowned philosopher and advocate of human rights, women’s rights, and the environment, speaks to a small group at USM-LAC Thursday afternoon. “People are paying a great deal of attention trying to micro-manage what everybody does in their personal lives and not enough time paying attention to real crises,” he said.

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