Religion news in brief

AP News
Posted: Dec 23, 2009 11:14 AM

Students filtered into the pews as church bells rang to mark the start of a Wyoming Catholic College noon mass, a service conducted in Latin on a recent fall day.

The prospect of daily church services may not appeal to many college students, but it's a draw for this tiny, fledgling liberal arts college in central Wyoming.

Now in its third year, Wyoming Catholic College is operating near capacity in Lander and developing plans for a new campus 15 miles south of town. Applicants interested in the college's mix of academic, outdoors and spiritual instruction have exceeded the college's limited space in each of its three years, directors said.

"I think the educational model has been demonstrated to be very workable by our students," said the Rev. Robert Cook, the college's president. "We know how to run it, we know how to operate it, and we're paying for it. So I'd say we're well-established for a beginning college, and it's working."

Cook said the college has enrolled about 33 students each fall since 2007 _ for a total of 99 _ and retained all but one student. The student body represents 35 states, and applications for next school year have arrived from 45 states.

The college is laying the groundwork to raise money for its planned $120 million campus, which will sit on a donated ranch, said Mark Randall, vice president of development. Randall spends two weeks per month traveling coast-to-coast drumming up financial support for the college.

The project will be built in phases and directors hope to break ground in three to four years.


Australian Catholics celebrate as country moves closer to getting its first saint

SYDNEY (AP) _ Australian Catholics celebrated last Sunday a Papal decision that will give the country its first saint _ the feisty Mary MacKillop, who founded a network of schools for poor children and was briefly excommunicated before being set on the path to canonization.

The Vatican on Saturday said that Pope Benedict XVI approved a decree that MacKillop was responsible for a second miracle, one of the final steps in a complex and often yearslong process before sainthood can be bestowed.

MacKillop founded the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, an order that built dozens of schools for impoverished children across the Australian Outback in the 1800s, as well as orphanages and clinics for the needy.

With vows of abstinence from owning personal belongings and dedication to helping the poor, MacKillop is credited with spreading Roman Catholicism in Australia and New Zealand.

But she is also remembered as a strong-willed advocate who sometimes got into trouble for challenging orthodox thinking within the male-dominated church. In 1869 she was excommunicated for inciting her followers to disobedience, though the bishop who punished her recanted three years later and she was exonerated by a church commission.


Iran's senior dissident cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, dies at 87

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ Iran's most senior dissident cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who emerged as the spiritual father of its reform movement, died last Sunday. He was 87.

Thousands of his followers quickly set out for the holy city south of the capital where he is to be buried, according to an opposition Web site, presenting authorities with a challenge in trying to prevent Monday's funeral from turning into another display of power by the government's resilient critics.

For years, Montazeri had accused the country's ruling Islamic establishment of imposing dictatorship in the name of Islam, and he persisted with his criticism after June's disputed presidential election.

His stance made him a hero to the opposition, and his criticisms were even more stinging because of his status.

Police increased their presence in the city of Qom, where he is to be buried, according to the pro-reform Web site Rah-e Sabz.

Authorities there faced a difficult choice over whether to try to prevent an outpouring at the funeral that could turn into another opposition street protest. Doing so risks serious backlash from an influential group of clerics based in Qom who are among the current leadership's critics.

The opposition's leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, called Montazeri's death "a great loss" and said he is hopeful other clerics will fill the gap left behind and answer the needs of Iran's younger generation.


Neo-Nazis rally on Hanukkah at SoCal synagogue

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) _ Congregants at a Southern California synagogue were met by a group of neo-Nazis waving swastika flags on the last night of Hanukkah.

Rabbi Suzanne Singer says Friday's demonstration at Temple Beth El in Riverside was the third at the temple in recent months.

There were fewer than a dozen protesters at the site. Police were called but there were no incidents or arrests and the services went on as planned.

In October in Riverside, a scuffle broke out and punches were exchanged between about 20 Neo-Nazis rallying against illegal immigration and about two dozen counter-protestors near a Home Depot store where day laborers often gather. One man was arrested. A similar rally was held a month earlier.

Singer says members of her congregation have been among the counter-protestors at those rallies.


Arson unit investigating fire that destroyed northeast Georgia church

CARNESVILLE, Ga. (AP) _ An arson unit is investigating an early morning fire that destroyed a northeast Georgia church last weekend.

The office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John Oxendine said in a statement that a fire around 4:30 a.m. Saturday destroyed the 600-seat church at the Refuge Baptist Camp in Carnesville.

It was reported to authorities by a deer hunter.

The fire has not been ruled arson, but Oxendine's office is asking anyone with information about the fire to call the arson hot line at 800-282-5804.