Religion news in brief

AP News
Posted: Jan 11, 2012 6:36 PM
Religion news in brief

Security alert lifted in Philippine capital after Catholics end parade without terror attack

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ The Philippines lifted a terrorist alert in the capital Tuesday after millions of Roman Catholic devotees ended a 22-hour parade of a Christ statue that authorities feared was a tempting target for Muslim extremists.

Authorities had deployed a massive police cordon after the president warned over the weekend that terrorists might target the raucous annual procession. After the parade ended, they declared the event a success and lifted the security alert in Manila.

The government did not have specific intelligence on a terrorist plot. Still, about 15,000 policemen, backed by hundreds of army troops, secured the three-mile (five-kilometer) procession route for the charred wooden Black Nazarene statue from seaside Rizal Park to a popular church in Manila's congested Quiapo district.

Air force helicopters stood by and cellphone service was blocked in procession areas to prevent its use to trigger bombs. Despite the president's warning, huge crowds of devotees wearing maroon shirts surged near the statue, believed to have healing powers.

Devotees waving handkerchiefs and towels let out shouts of "Viva!" as the statue was finally brought inside the church at the end of the grueling procession.


Emerging from shadows, leader of radical Islamist sect challenges Nigeria leader amid unrest

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) _ The leader of a radical Islamist sect has challenged the authority of Nigeria's president in an online video, promising more attacks in a nation increasingly overcome by unrest and divided by religion.

The video of Imam Abubakar Shekau cements his leadership in the sect known as Boko Haram. Analysts and diplomats say the sect has fractured over time, with a splinter group responsible for the majority of the assassinations and bombings carried out in its name.

It also exploits the widening mistrust those living in Nigeria's Muslim north feel for a weak federal government run by a Christian president, who has sparked a nationwide strike and protests after removing subsidies that kept gasoline prices low.

Boko Haram, whose name in Hausa means "Western education is sacrilege," has carried out attacks in Nigeria's northeast and its capital that killed at least 510 people last year alone, according to an Associated Press count. The sect is blamed by the government for killing at least 68 people in the last week alone, as it continues its campaign to impose strict Islamic Shariah law across the multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people.

On Wednesday, suspected Boko Haram gunmen attacked a bus in Yobe state carrying Christian Igbo traders fleeing the north for their homeland in the country's southeast, killing four people, police said. In Adamawa state, authorities said sect members shot to death a police officer.


China warns US against interfering after it expressed concerns about Tibetan self-immolations

BEIJING (AP) _ China warned the United States on Wednesday against using religious incidents as a pretext to interfere in its domestic affairs, after the U.S. expressed concern over a series of self-immolations by Tibetans.

At least 15 Buddhist monks, nuns and former monks are believed to have set themselves on fire in the past year, mostly in traditionally Tibetan areas of southwestern Sichuan province. Most have chanted for Tibetan freedom and the return of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who fled to India amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

Three men reportedly set themselves on fire in the past week.

The U.S. State Department on Monday said it was seriously concerned by the latest reports of self-immolations. Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the incidents reflected "enormous anger and enormous frustration" over severe Chinese government restrictions on human rights and religious freedom.

In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said the government "attaches great importance and safeguards the basic rights of ethnic groups, including their freedom of religious belief."

"We firmly oppose making use of religious affairs to interfere in China's domestic affairs," he added.


Judge denies appeal made by Ohio priest convicted of killing nun in hospital chapel

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) _ A Roman Catholic priest convicted of killing a nun inside an Ohio hospital chapel a day before Easter in 1980 won't get a new trial.

A judge ruled Monday that police reports discovered after the priest's trial didn't contain any new information that would have changed the outcome.

It has been more than five years since jurors convicted the Rev. Gerald Robinson of stabbing and strangling Sister Margaret Ann Pahl at Mercy Hospital in Toledo where both worked. The stab wounds on Pahl's chest were in the shape of an upside down cross and blood was smeared on her forehead, investigators said.

Robinson was the hospital chaplain and presided at the nun's funeral. He emerged as a suspect when police found a sword-shaped letter opener in his desk drawer two weeks after the killing. But he wasn't charged until 24 years later after investigators reopened the case.

Now 73, he remains a priest but has been barred from ministry, and is serving a sentence of 15 years to life in prison.

Church historians say it's the only documented case of a Catholic priest killing a nun.


Ga. megachurch pastor back in pulpit after leave of absence to deal with personal issues

LITHONIA, Ga. (AP) _ Beleaguered megachurch pastor Eddie Long is back in the pulpit after a leave of absence to deal with his divorce and other personal issues.

Long's spokesman, Art Franklin, said Tuesday that the senior pastor at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church returned to preaching at a New Year's Eve service. Franklin said Long will attend weekly services at the suburban Atlanta church.

In September 2010, Long was accused of sexual misconduct by former church members. He settled out of court eight months later for an undisclosed amount.

His wife, Vanessa, filed for divorce in December.