February 8, 2007

World News

Religious Groups Criticize Bush Budget
for Cuts to Domestic Programs
BY DANIEL BURKE                                                                           ©2007 Religion News Service  
capA variety of faith groups are protesting President Bush's proposed $2.9 trillion budget, arguing that cuts in medical and anti-hunger programs would leave millions of Americans sick and hungry.
The president's budget, which was submitted to Congress Monday (Feb. 5), slashes spending on health care, education, and housing. It also proposes drilling for oil in an Alaskan wildlife refuge and changing food-stamp eligibility rules.
Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, told reporters the budget was "disingenuous." With Democrats in control of Congress and the federal government's purse strings, Bush's proposal amounts to an opening salvo in the upcoming budget battle.
That hasn't stopped faith-based advocacy groups like Catholic Charities USA, Bread for the World, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism from criticizing Bush's plan. "The president's budget misses the mark on reducing poverty in America," said the Rev. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA. "In fact, with cuts to key programs such as Medicaid and Medicare, the president's budget will only serve to exacerbate problems facing millions of our nation's poor families."
Over the next five years, Bush's budget would reduce funding for Medicaid and Medicare--health care programs for the poor and elderly--by more $100 billion. While the food stamp changes may help new households, it may also hurt those already part of the program, according to the anti-hunger group Bread for the World.
"The president's budget proposal offers little new for those low-income families needing help from our federal nutrition programs and reveals little for struggling rural communities and small farmers," said the Rev. David Beckmann, Bread for the World's president.
President Bush's budget also proposes drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, a plan that has been debated and defeated several times in Congress.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism said Congress must again squelch the plan. "As a habitat for hundreds of native species, and home to the indigenous Gwichin tribe the (refuge) is an invaluable part of our natural and human world," RAC said in a statement.
Report Says Catholics Must Rethink Parochial School System
BY DANIEL BURKE                                                                                        ©2007 Religion News Service
The glory days of the U.S. Catholic parochial school are gone, according to a new University of Notre Dame report, and the church must rethink its mission in order to recapture the school system's lost luster.
The report, issued late last year by a 50-member team assembled by Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins, presents the "grim statistics and trends" facing the world's largest private school system. But it also lays out hope the trends can be turned around.
Enrollment in the nation's approximately 7,800 elementary and secondary Catholic schools is now about 2.4 million, after peaking near 5 million in the mid-1960s, according to the report. Recent school closures have wiped out the modest enrollment increases of the 1990s.
The nuns and priests who educated generations of American Catholics are almost gone, retired, or deceased. Collections and Mass attendance are down. Faculty salaries are too low while tuitions and costs are rising, the report says.
Internal and external trends are responsible for the declines, including demographic shifts, the "changing role of religion in the lives of American Catholics," and an increase in other educational options. Moreover, only 3 percent of Latino families send their children to Catholic schools, despite the nation's rising Latino Catholic population, according to the report.
"In little more than a generation, Catholic schools have undergone an almost complete transformation in how they are staffed and how they are financed," the report says.
The schools' mission is now primarily to "educate disadvantaged children of their neighborhood regardless of their religious affiliation." The traditional parish school is "most under duress, most vulnerable to demographic shifts and eventual closure," the report says.
But the report states the U.S. church has "abundant resources to meet the challenges" and issues 12 recommendations to revive the school system, including: recruiting a new generation of Catholic school teachers and leaders, building a national initiative to improve academics, strengthening the schools' Catholic identity, forming partnerships with Catholic colleges and universities, and attracting Latino students. 
[Super Bowl] Parties Cancelled at Some Churches,
Continued at Others
BY MICHAEL FOUST                                                                                          ©2007 Baptist Press
When the National Football League pressured an Indianapolis church to cancel its Super Bowl party several days before the big game, many churches nationwide followed suit and axed their own party plans. Other churches, though, accommodated the NFL rules and went ahead with their functions.
The NFL policy, as presented to Indianapolis' Fall Creek Baptist Church in a letter and a series of e-mails from NFL attorney Rachel Margolies, essentially prevents anything but small churches from hosting Super Bowl parties: It prohibits screens larger than 55 inches and forbids the game being connected to any message, such as Christianity.
First Baptist Church in Summerfield, N.C., had planned on hosting a Super Bowl party with perhaps 200 to 400 people in attendance, watching it on three large projection screens. But they axed those plans after the Indianapolis church story broke. Leaders from churches of all stripes have said the NFL is wrong to give a huge exemption to bars -- where alcohol is served and money is made -- while not allowing churches to show the game to large audiences for free.
"The thing we have the issue with is the double standard," Darrell Myers, associate pastor to students at the North Carolina church, told Baptist Press. "That doesn't sit well with any of us, and the people in the church were pretty disappointed."
For years, churches have viewed the Super Bowl as an opportunity to reach unbelievers. FBC Summefield was no different. It had planned at halftime on showing a "Power to Win" DVD featuring testimonies from Christian NFL players such as Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander. The church was going to give away prizes tied to trivia questions during timeouts. The grand prize of the evening was to be a recliner.
"We were going to have a lot of food and a lot of fun and a lot of fellowship. There was to be no charge at all," Myers said. "[But] we just decided that since [the NFL policy] had been brought to light and that we were in violation of the law, that we were going to take the stance that the law is the law. While we don't agree with it, we will fight and we will send our grievances to the NFL and to whomever we need to.
"We will pray that next year we won't have this problem."
But there remains confusion over exactly what the NFL's policy is. Although the 55-inch restriction was mentioned in e-mails to the Indianapolis church, it hasn't been mentioned in other e-mails from the NFL policy since then. Additionally, the e-mails have been silent regarding the NFL's supposed ban on hosting events tied to messages (such as Christianity). WorldNetDaily ran a story two days before the Super Bowl with the headline, "Church 'Super Bowl' festivities may go on." The story claimed that churches had been "given sweeping permission by the NFL to go ahead -- just as long as no admission fees are charged."                 
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Old World Kosher Is Now New World Gourmet
BY MAURA GRUNLUND                                                                          ©2007 Religion News Service
What's old is new in the kosher food industry. Ethnic favorites once regarded as too Old World for mainstream consumption are taking over the marketplace, if the products promoted at the recent Kosherfest convention in Manhattan are any indication.
Many of those products are quickly filtering down to local retail stores. They especially appeal to the 70 percent of kosher food buyers who are in the 18-to-35-year age group and looking to experiment with new and exciting foodstuffs.
Consider, for example, the "new" Hungarian cabbage soup sold by the 74-year-old Gold Pure Food Products. The soup is based on founding grandmother Tillie's recipe found in the Gold family's files, said partner Marc Gold. Each 6-ounce serving contains only 70 calories, with no fat or cholesterol.
"This tastes like stuffed cabbage without the meat," Gold said.
Updated condiments in convenient packaging are being ushered in by the fourth generation of the family, represented at the show by Melissa Gold of Manhattan.
Gold's horseradish, which Tillie Gold used to grind in the kitchen for her husband, Hyman, to sell from a pushcart, now is an ingredient in many different kosher, Asian, Russian, Hispanic and All-American products. Items are as varied as Russian borscht, duck sauce, salsa, and ketchup. Various flavors of wasabi, mustard, horseradish and tartar sauces are sold in consumer-friendly squeeze bottles. A 26-ounce jar of seafood cocktail sauce ideal for entertaining is on the shelves of discount retailers such as Costco.
Kosher manufacturers, including the Gold family, are vying for a share of the $75 billion U.S. ethnic food market, which accounts for $1 of every $7 spent on groceries. Those ethnic food sales are expected to increase by 50 percent over the next decade, according to reports from Kosherfest retailers.
Maura Grunlund writes for The Staten Island Advance in Staten Island, N.Y.