Update on the latest religion news

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By AP

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Updated: Tue, 29 Jul 2014 07:21:15 EST

EBOLA-AMERICAN DOCTOR

Doctor with Ebola was medical missionary

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — An Indianapolis woman whose son contracted Ebola while working in Liberia says family members are praying for his recovery.

Dr. Kent Brantly is the medical director for the Ebola care center of the Christian aid group Samaritan's Purse in the Liberian capital of Monrovia.

Jan Brantly says her son wanted to be a medical missionary from an early age. She says the Indianapolis Heritage Christian High School graduate began going on mission trips while young and has also worked in Uganda and Tanzania.

The director of maternal-child health at the Texas hospital where Brantly completed his residency has been in touch by phone and email. Dr. David McRay says Brantly has told him he is "terrified." McRay says Brantly's prognosis is grave.

McRay says Brantly asked for prayer for himself and fellow American missionary Nancy Writebol. A Samaritan's Purse official says she also has the Ebola virus.

Sound: (3:06 a.m. audio feed)

UNITED STATES-RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

Millions displaced by religious violence in 2013

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. says millions of people were driven out of their homes because of their religious beliefs last year.

Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday released the State Department's 2013 report on religious persecution around the world.

It says that in conflict zones, mass displacement has become the norm. Hundreds of thousands of minority Christians have fled Syria after three years of civil war, and this month Islamic militants have forced Iraqi Christians to leave Mosul or face execution.

The report also highlighted more than a million people being displaced in the Central African Republic amid an upsurge in Christian-Muslim violence.

Introducing the report, Kerry also noted the continuing imprisonment of American pastor Saeed Abedini in Iran, and said the U.S. will continue to press for his release.

Sound: (3:06 a.m. audio feed)

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AMBASSADOR

Obama nominates rabbi to be religious freedom ambassador

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama has nominated Rabbi David Saperstein to be the next U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom.

The 66-year-old Saperstein, an activist in the liberal Reform branch of Judaism, is expected to win Senate confirmation to the post that's been vacant since the resignation of Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook last October.

Secretary of State John Kerry introduced Saperstein while releasing the State Department's annual survey of religious persecution around the world. Kerry said the rabbi "is joining an important effort at a very important time."

Saperstein would be the first non-Christian to occupy the diplomatic post since its creation in 1998.

Sound: (3:06 a.m. audio feed)

RELIGIOUS AMBASSADOR

Blunt touts passage of religious envoy legislation

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt is touting passage of legislation that authorizes the appointment of a special ambassador to the Middle East focused on religious freedom.

The Missouri Republican says his legislation received unanimous approval from the U.S. House on Friday. It passed the Senate earlier this month and now goes to President Barack Obama.

Blunt has previously expressed concerns about the way Christians have been attacked, jailed and mistreated.

The bill authorizes up to $1 million annually for a special envoy's office to promote freedoms for religious minorities in what the bill describes as the Near East and South Central Asia. The envoy would have the rank of ambassador.

In addition to promoting religious freedom, the envoy would recommend responses by the U.S. when religious freedoms are violated.

FRANCE-MOSUL CHRISTIANS

France offers asylum to Christians of north Iraq

PARIS (AP) — France is ready to open its door to Christians from northern Iraq who were driven out of their homes by extremist Islamic militants.

France's interior and foreign ministers said in a joint statement on Monday that "we are ready, if they wish, to help (them) gain asylum on our soil."

Most Christians left Mosul — Iraq's second-largest city and home to some of the most ancient Christian communities — after the Islamic State and other Sunni militants captured the city June 10 in a brutal march across swaths of Iraq. The militants gave them a deadline, since passed, to convert to Islam, pay a tax or face death.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said, "France is revolted" and has provided "exceptional humanitarian aid" to help.

CHINA-CROSS REMOVED

Chinese police remove church cross amid crackdown

BEIJING (AP) — A Christian evangelist in China says hundreds of police have taken down a church's cross amid a crackdown on church buildings.

Qu Linuo says police arrived early Monday at the church in Wenzhou, a city known as "China's Jerusalem" for its many houses of worship, amid a crackdown on church buildings in a region where thousands of people are embracing Christianity.

Qu said about 200 parishioners had flocked to the church a few hours earlier to protect the church, but gave way to police. He said authorities told church leaders that the 10-foot-tall cross violated building height limits, and police used a crane to remove it.

In Washington, Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski said the State Department was concerned about the incident and similar official acts against churches in China. He said the U.S. will continue to press China to respect its people's religious liberty.

Sound: (3:06 a.m. audio feed)

VATICAN-PENTECOSTALS

Papal first: Francis visits Pentecostal church

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has become the first pope to visit a Pentecostal church, pressing his outreach to evangelicals who represent Catholicism's greatest competition for Christian souls around the globe.

Francis flew by helicopter Monday to visit the under-construction Pentecostal Church of Reconciliation in the southern city of Caserta. He met privately with a Pentecostal preacher who is an old friend. Speaking to some 350 Pentecostal faithful in the church, Francis apologized for Catholic persecution of Pentecostals during Italy's fascist regime and stressed the unity in diversity within Christianity.

He acknowledged the remarkable nature of his visit, saying: "Someone will be surprised: 'The pope went to visit the evangelicals?' But he went to see his brothers."

Francis has met unofficially with several Pentecostal and evangelical preachers recently.

CHURCH ABUSE-PRESBYTERIAN LAWSUIT

Presbyterian Church named in abuse lawsuit

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A minister is taking his own denomination to task, claiming in a lawsuit that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was partly responsible for sexual abuse he suffered as a teenager.

The Rev. Kris Schondelmeyer, a youth minister in Toledo, Ohio, is seeking unspecified damages in a lawsuit he filed against the PCUSA; the First Presbyterian Church of Fulton, Missouri; the Missouri Union Presbytery in Jefferson City; and his alleged abuser, Jack Wayne Rogers.

The 31-year-old Schondelmeyer, a native of Sedalia, Missouri, said he was sexually abused at a youth conference in Maryland in 2000. At the time, Rogers was a lay pastor in Montgomery County, Missouri. The suit alleges Presbyterian officials allowed Rogers to work as a chaperone despite Rogers' 1992 conviction for child pornography.

An attorney for the denomination declined comment, citing the pending litigation. A hearing on the case is scheduled for Aug. 18.

EID CELEBRATIONS

Muslims mark end of Ramadan with Eid celebrations

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Millions of Muslims across the world are celebrating the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan.

Families dressed in their finest clothes and children carried their new toys as they headed to mosques early Monday morning to observe traditional Eid prayers.

But the mood was dark for millions of people affected by the Syrian civil war, the Gaza war and the militant advance in Iraq.

Muslims in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Middle East, Europe and the U.S. began celebrating Eid on Monday. Millions more in India, Pakistan and Morocco were continuing to fast until Tuesday.

Muslims use a lunar calendar and a moon-sighting methodology that can lead to the month of fasting ending on different days.

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