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Religion news in brief

Published: Friday, Jan. 14 2011 6:16 p.m. MST

Greece condemns Islam slam

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The Greek government condemned anti-Islamic comments by a senior Orthodox Church official following protests from the country's Muslim community.

Government spokesman George Petalotis said the remarks by Serapheim, bishop of Piraeus, "foment racial and religious hatred."

Commenting on the New Year's suicide bombing of a Christian congregation in Alexandria, Egypt, the bishop described Islam as "a catastrophic worship" that's incompatible with Greece's constitution. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has accused foreign groups of being behind the church attack, which killed 21 people and sparked a wave of angry protests by Christians in the country.

Serapheim urged the government to scrap the planned construction of a mosque in Athens for the city's growing Muslim population.

Petalotis said Tuesday the government condemns such remarks "and rejects the mentality they express."

Leaders call for fewer abortions

NEW YORK (AP) — Archbishop Timothy Dolan is calling for efforts to make abortions in New York City "rare."

Dolan gathered with other Protestant and Jewish leaders to draw attention to the city's high abortion rate. The city health department last month released statistics that showed 41 percent of pregnancies were terminated in 2009, although the numbers have declined in the last decade.

Dolan said the practice is unlikely to end but that it was important "to tell people what is happening."

The religious leaders also criticized public schools' sex education programs that include condom distribution.

Final interpretive center picked

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The National Park Service has selected the Alabama State University campus in Montgomery for the third and final interpretive center along the Selma-to-Montgomery national voting rights trail.

Officials from the university and the Park Service announced the location Tuesday. The center will be across the street from the home where civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy lived.

Alabama State competed for the interpretive center with Mt. Zion AME Church and a site on Montgomery's west side where the marchers stopped for their last night before completing the 50-mile march to the Capitol in 1965.

The other locations for interpretive centers are in Selma and Lowndes County.

Israel offers Virgin Mary tours

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel is inviting tourists to retrace the footsteps of the Virgin Mary, officials said Tuesday, in the latest campaign to bring Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land.

A new itinerary developed by the Tourism Ministry helps tour operators plan pilgrimages to sites where the mother of Jesus Christ lived and traveled. They include her birthplace near Nazareth in northern Israel, as well as Mary's Spring and the Tomb of the Virgin near Jerusalem.

Tourism officials said Israel has long facilitated pilgrimages for Christians to travel in Jesus' footsteps — spanning from the sites of his crucifixion and resurrection in Jerusalem to the Sea of Galilee, where he is said to have walked on water. Working with Palestinians, Israel also facilitates visits to Bethlehem, the West Bank village of Jesus' birth.

The Virgin Mary itinerary includes holy sites in the West Bank as well, including Bethlehem. Tourism officials said they work closely with the Palestinian on tourism matters, though this itinerary was not specifically coordinated with the Palestinians.

In 2010, 69 percent of Israel's almost 3.5 million tourists were Christians — mostly Catholics. Now, Israel is encouraging return visits by those who have already made their first pilgrimage.

March to build interfaith bonds

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — It's being billed as an effort to promote interfaith understanding in New Orleans during the weekend of the Martin Luther King holiday.

Jewish and Islamic congregations from two places of worship in the city will jointly host community events, including distribution of meals and canned goods to the needy on Jan. 15.

On Monday, congregants from both faiths are scheduled to march from the steps of New Orleans City Hall to a memorial on the city's Claiborne Avenue that features a bust of King, according to a news release from City Council member Arnie Fielkow.

It's the fourth year in a row for the joint efforts.

Participants are members of Touro Synagogue and the Masjid Ur Raheem.

High court rejects church case

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) —The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected Boulder County's request that it review a land-use dispute with a church.

County officials said Monday that the court has decided against weighing in on the matter.

The county was appealing a federal court decision backing plans by the Rocky Mountain Christian Church in Niwot to nearly double the size of its 128,000-square-foot campus. The church challenged the county's denial of the plans, citing the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

The law protects churches from discriminatory land-use laws.

Boulder County has said it treated the church's application the same way it treated others and that it was denied because it would violate land-use codes.

N.Y. Catholic schools to close

NEW YORK (AP) — The Archdiocese of New York says 27 Catholic schools that had received heavy subsidies due to declining enrollment will close at the end of the current academic year.

The archdiocese on its website Tuesday said the closures of 26 elementary schools and one high school will affect roughly 3,700 students.

The schools include three in Manhattan, six in the Bronx and four on Staten Island. Nine schools are in Westchester and Putnam counties, and the others are in Orange and Ulster counties.

Last fall, the archdiocese put out a list of 32 "at-risk" schools. Four of those targeted were saved and the decision on one was postponed.

The closings will save the archdiocese approximately $10 million. The archdiocese says it will continue to spend about $13 million to support Catholic schools.

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