Religion news in brief

AP News
Posted: Apr 06, 2011 11:06 AM
Religion news in brief

Work to start in summer on rebuilding Chicago church known as the birthplace of gospel music

CHICAGO (AP) _ The on-again, off-again reconstruction of a landmark Chicago church known as the birthplace of gospel music is on again.

Church leaders have announced work to rebuild the fire-ravaged Pilgrim Baptist Church will begin in earnest this summer.

A 2006 fire ignited by workers repairing the roof devastated the 120-year-old structure designed by famed architects Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan.

Officials announced a $37 million rebuilding plan in 2008, but nothing came of it. Pastor Tyrone Jordan says a first construction phase set for a 2012 finish will "prove to the world" the church will rebuild.

The four-phase project is expected to cost at least $30 million.

Mahalia Jackson, Sallie Martin, the Rev. James Cleveland, and the Staples Singers are among those who have sung at the church.


Iranian clerics urge Bahraini protesters to resist Saudi-aided government crackdown

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ A leading Iranian cleric on Wednesday urged protesters in the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain to "stand up and resist" a government crackdown that has been backed by hundreds of Saudi Arabian troops.

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, speaking to clerics in the holy city of Qom, also demanded that Saudi Arabia withdraw its forces from Bahrain.

The unrest in 3Bahrain, which erupted in February, has played out against the region's deep rivalries between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. Protesters from Bahrain's Shiite majority have demanded that the kingdom's Sunni minority rulers grant them equal rights and a political voice.

Saudi Arabia, a largely Sunni nation, has rushed to the aid of Bahrain, while other Gulf countries have accused predominantly Shiite Iran of meddling in Bahrain's affairs by allegedly trying to stir Shiite unrest there.


Trial ordered for California priest charged with having sex with 12-year-old boy

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) _ A Southern California priest has been ordered to stand trial on felony charges he had sex with a 12-year-old boy.

A San Bernardino County judge ruled after a preliminary hearing on Tuesday that there was enough evidence to try the Rev. Alejandro Jose Castillo. He is charged with seven counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under age 14 and one count of forcible lewd and lascivious acts with a child under age 14.

The Riverside Press-Enterprise reports Castillo will be arraigned on April 28.

Prosecutors say he was pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Ontario when he molested the boy in late 2008 but has been removed.

Parishioners affiliated with the Coalition to Exonerate Fr. Alex raised $24,000 to bail Castillo out of jail.


British astrophysicist and black hole expert Martin Rees wins $1.6 million religion prize

LONDON (AP) _ A British astrophysicist known for his theories on the origin and the destiny of the universe has been honored with one of the world's leading religion prizes.

Martin Rees, a 68-year-old expert on the extreme physics of black holes and the Big Bang, is the recipient of the 2011 Templeton Prize, the John Templeton Foundation announced Wednesday. The 1 million pound ($1.6 million) award is among the world's most lucrative.

Rees _ who professes no religious belief _ was chosen because of the nature of his research, which he said invites everyone "to wrestle with the most fundamental questions of our nature and existence," said Dr. John M. Templeton, Jr.

In an interview at a London hotel ahead of the prize announcement, Rees told The Associated Press that he was attracted to "big questions which we can't answer."

One of the biggest has been posed by scientists who wonder why it is that the physical laws of the universe seemed perfectly calibrated to support human life. Even a slight tweaking of what scientists call universal constants could so alter the cosmos as to make it uninhabitable.

In one of his books, "Just Six Numbers," Rees argued that the perfect tuning was neither a mere accident nor the act of a benign creator. Instead, he said, "an infinity of other universes may well exist" where the constants are set differently. Some would be too sterile to support life, others too short-lived. Ours happens to be just right.

"It is still a conjecture," Rees cautioned, albeit one he said was being taken increasingly seriously.

Because of the Templeton Prize's focus on spirituality, recipients are often quizzed about their personal faith. In a statement and in his prepared remarks, Rees said he had no religious beliefs and during the interview he joked that the discovery of extraterrestrial life would probably "put some theologians into contortions."


France governing party debates the place of Muslims, and religion, in a secular nation

PARIS (AP) _ President Nicolas Sarkozy's governing conservative party held a politically charged conference Tuesday on ways to strengthen secularism in French society, amid worries it would stigmatize France's millions of Muslims.

The UMP were considering 26 ideas that party officials say are aimed at bringing France's stringent laws decreeing the separation of church from state into step with the times. With Europe's largest Muslim population _ estimated at about 5 million _ France is much changed from 1905, when the secularism laws were adopted, and they're in urgent need of revamping, the party argues.

The proposals discussed Tuesday include banning the wearing of religious symbols such as Muslim headscarves or prominent Christian crosses by day-care personnel and preventing Muslim mothers from wearing headscarves when accompanying school field trips. It also would prevent parents from taking their children out of mandatory subjects including gym and biology.

The debate could lead to a legislative bill in the National Assembly, where the UMP has a majority.

The round-table comes about a week before a new law banning garments that hide the face takes effect. Under the measure, which takes effect on April 11, women who wear the face-shrouding veils risk a fine, special classes and a police record.