Update on the latest religion news

MISSIONARIES RELEASED-VENEZUELA

North Dakota missionaries detained in Venezuela return home

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Four American missionaries released by Venezuelan authorities after several days of detention and questioning say they’re relieved to be back home in North Dakota, but hope to return to Venezuela someday.

The missionaries from Bethel Evangelical Free Church in Devils Lake were handing out medicine and hearing aids last Wednesday when they were detained. They were told they didn’t have the required work visas, something that wasn’t required in the last 14 years of delivering hearing aids and medicine to needy citizens.

Group leader Arlynn Hefta said armed Venezuelan soldiers came into the church where they had set up a clinic, but hundreds of villagers then surrounded the clinic and the soldiers, vowing to protect the missionaries. Hefta says the missionaries surrendered so no one would get hurt.

After they were deported to Aruba, Hefta said they learned that Venezuela’s president had denounced them as spies, an accusation they found laughable.

He says it was a “harrowing” experience, but the missionaries weren’t physically harmed and were treated “somewhat adequately.”

Sound:

262-a-08-(Dr. Russ Petty, medical missionary, in AP interview)-“type of work”-Medical missionary Dr. Russ Petty says the official reason for their arrest and deportation surprised them. (3 Mar 2015)

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260-a-07-(Arlynn Hefta, medical missionary, in AP interview)-“definitely go back”-Medical missionary Arlynn Hefta says they hope to return to Venezuela someday. (3 Mar 2015)

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258-a-12-(Arlynn Hefta, medical missionary, in AP interview)-“imagine the courage”-Medical missionary Arlynn Hefta says when Venezuelan soldiers entered the church hosting their clinic, hundreds of villagers tried to prevent their arrest. ((longer version of cut used in wrap)) (3 Mar 2015)

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257-w-29-(Steve Coleman, AP religion editor, with medical missionary Arlynn Hefta)–Four American missionaries released by Venezuelan authorities after several days of detention and questioning say they’re relieved to be back home in North Dakota, but hope to return to Venezuela someday. AP Religion Editor Steve Coleman reports. (3 Mar 2015)

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259-a-13-(Arlynn Hefta, medical missionary, in AP interview)-“come the spies”-Medical missionary Arlynn Hefta says the missionaries were surprised to hear what Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said about them. (3 Mar 2015)

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261-a-07-(Dr. Russ Petty, medical missionary, in AP interview)-“photographed multiple times”-Medical missionary Dr. Russ Petty says they were deported to the Caribbean island of Aruba. (3 Mar 2015)

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UNITED STATES-ISRAEL-BIBLE

Netanyahu cites biblical deliverance from Persians

WASHINGTON (AP) — In his speech before Congress, Israel’s leader has noted this week’s Purim holiday, which celebrates the Jewish people’s deliverance from a Persian leader’s genocidal plot 2,500 years ago.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Jews will read the biblical account of Queen Esther’s exposure of the plot, which enabled the Jewish people to defend themselves.

Netanyahu told Congress that Israel faces a similar threat today from Persians seeking to develop an Iranian nuclear weapon, and he vowed that Jews will protect themselves once again, even if they have to do so alone. He said the U.S. appears to be negotiating “a very bad deal” with Iran.

Addressing a packed chamber that included Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel (EL’-ee vee-ZEHL’), Netanyahu declared, “The days when the Jewish people remain passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over!”

The lawmakers responded with a standing ovation.

Sound:

272-a-09-(Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in speech to Congress)-“to destroy us”-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the Bible’s book of Esther records the Jewish people’s rescue from a Persian official’s genocidal plot 2,500 years ago. (3 Mar 2015)

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271-a-07-(Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in speech to Congress)-“to defend themselves”-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says this week’s Purim holiday celebrates Jewish deliverance from a Persian official’s genocidal plot 2,500 years ago. (3 Mar 2015)

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274-a-11-(Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in speech to Congress)-“Israel will stand (applause fades)”-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will do what’s necessary to protect itself from Iran. (3 Mar 2015)

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270-w-34-(Steve Coleman, AP religion editor, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu)–In his speech before Congress, Israel’s leader has noted this week’s Purim holiday, which celebrates the Jewish people’s deliverance from a Persian leader’s genocidal plot 2,500 years ago. AP Religion Editor Steve Coleman reports. (3 Mar 2015)

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273-a-13-(Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in speech to Congress)-“days are over (applause fades)”-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will protect itself from Iran. ((cut used in wrap)) Updated: 03/03/2015-07:32:10 PM ET (3 Mar 2015)

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CANADA-NORTH KOREA-MISSING PASTOR

Church: Canadian pastor missing in North Korea

TORONTO (AP) — A Canadian pastor has been missing in North Korea for more than a month, according to his church.

Lisa Pak, a spokeswoman for the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, says the Rev. Hyeon Soo Lim travelled to North Korea on Jan. 31 as part of a regular humanitarian mission where he supports a nursing home, a nursery and an orphanage. Pak said his family and church have not heard from him since.

Pak says the 60-year-old pastor has made over 100 trips to North Korea and has always previously been in regular contact his family and church.

Pak says Pastor Lim, who is married with an adult child, has grown his Toronto church from just five families to 3,000 members today.

SYRIA

Islamic State group releases 4 more Christian hostages

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian activists say the Islamic State group has released four more Christian hostages from among the hundreds the extremists abducted last week.

The four hostages — a married couple, a woman and a 6-year-old girl — were released Tuesday evening in northeastern Syria.

The Assyrian rights group Demand for Action and Edmond Gabriel, chairman of the Assyrian Charitable Association, say the reasons for their release were unclear.

Earlier this week, the Islamic State group released 19 Assyrian Christian hostages after an IS Shariah court ordered them to pay an unspecified amount as a traditional tax on non-Muslims.

At least 190 Assyrian Christians remain captives of the Islamic State group, which overran several Christian villages in Syria’s eastern Hassakeh province.

FDNY-NEW CHAPLAIN

Fire Department of New York gets 1st female, gay chaplain

NEW YORK (AP) — The Fire Department of New York has sworn in its first female and first openly gay chaplain.

The Rev. Ann Kansfield was sworn in on Tuesday. She is the department’s eighth chaplain. Six others are Christian and one is Jewish. Kansfield is a pastor at Greenpoint Reformed Church in Brooklyn.

The duties of FDNY chaplains include providing counseling to firefighters and department personnel and performing blessings and invocations. They work part time.

Kansfield told The New York Times it would be great if she can be part of the effort to diversify the fire department.

CHRISTIAN SOUGHT-SUPERINTENDENT

Christianity no longer required for school chief in Michigan

McBAIN, Mich. (AP) — A public school district in northern Michigan says it’s no longer asking that its next superintendent be a Christian after getting a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU wrote Tuesday to the McBain Rural Agricultural School, challenging the religious criteria included in its job posting for a new superintendent. The online posting listed “a strong Christian background and philosophy” among criteria for the school district’s new leader.

ACLU lawyer Dan Korobkin’s letter said religious tolerance is “fundamental to American public education” and that the posting likely violated both federal and state laws.

Michigan Leadership Institute regional President Scott Crosby is coordinating the district’s job search. He told The Associated Press that he mistakenly included the Christian criteria and said it’s being removed.

VATICAN-US-CALIFORNIA BISHOP

Newly named San Diego bishop calls for immigration reform

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The newly selected Roman Catholic bishop of San Diego says Congress needs to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

In his first comments after his appointment was announced Tuesday, Bishop Robert McElroy said the United States has fallen short in dealing with immigrants. The native Californian and history scholar also vowed to be a friend to the Latino community. He said Hispanics are the foundation of the church and relies on their support.

The 61-year-old has been an auxiliary bishop in San Francisco since 2010.

McElroy earned history degrees at Harvard University and Stanford University. He studied at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, and later obtained doctorates in moral theology at the Gregorian University in Rome and in political science at Stanford.

GAY MARRIAGE-ALABAMA

Alabama Supreme Court halts same-sex marriage

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama Supreme Court is ordering the state’s probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

The all-Republican court sided with a pair of conservative organizations Tuesday in ruling that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t alter the judges’ duty to administer state law.

The court says Alabama has defined marriage as between only one man and one woman for about 200 years. And it says a federal court used “sleight of hand” in a case that resulted in most of Alabama allowing gay marriage last month.

The Alabama Policy Institute and the Baptist-run Alabama Citizens Action Program asked the court to halt same-sex unions after a federal judge in Mobile said Alabama laws banning them were unconstitutional.

CHICAGO-CARDINAL GEORGE

Chicago’s retired Cardinal George admitted to hospital

CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago’s retired Cardinal Francis George has been hospitalized for evaluation after stopping treatment for kidney cancer more than a month ago.

The Archdiocese of Chicago said Tuesday that George was admitted to Loyola University Medical Center on Sunday and would stay there several days for tests.

George said in January that doctors had run out of options for his cancer treatment and he was focusing on quality of life rather than a cure. He stopped receiving an experimental drug treatment in December because it wasn’t working.

George stepped down as leader of Chicago’s more than 2 million Roman Catholics in November. Blase Cupich (blayz SOO’-pich) then became Chicago’s archbishop.

HINDU PRAYER-REAX

Idaho Senate opens with Hindu prayer, 3 lawmakers protest

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Three lawmakers have refused to attend the Idaho Senate’s daily invocation after objecting to the offering of a Hindu prayer.

Rajan Zed, the guest chaplain, gave a lengthy prayer in both English and Sanskrit on Tuesday that focused on selflessness and peace. Senators from both sides of the aisle shook his hand and thanked him for coming.

However three lawmakers, all Republican, only returned to the floor once the prayer was over: Sens. Steve Vick, Sheryl Nuxoll and Lori Den Hartog.

Nuxoll said she declined to attend because she believes the United States is a Christian nation. Vick had announced his objections the day before, saying that he would ask his colleagues to join him. Hartog said it would’ve been disingenuous to her Christian faith to attend.