Faith in brief

Christians attacked in India

WASHINGTON — A series of violent attacks on Christians in India calls for a "strong and urgent American response," a broad group of U.S. Christian leaders urged President Bush in a letter.

"What has happened recently in India, and has been happening over the past few years, is tantamount to 'religious cleansing' of Christians and other minorities by extremists," said the letter signed by 24 Catholic, Orthodox, mainline Protestant and evangelical leaders. "This in the world's largest democracy that is a nuclear power and recently sent a mission to the moon."

The letter states: "You should insist, in the strongest terms, that these reprehensible groups and the assenting local government agencies be brought into conformity with India's rule of law."

Since anti-Christian riots began in late August, rampages by Hindu hard-liners have left at least 38 people dead, as many as 30,000 homeless and dozen of churches destroyed. While the worst of the violence subsided when authorities finally deployed soldiers to set up checkpoints and relief camps, house burnings and beatings have continued and Christian villagers say they've been told they must convert to Hinduism.

In Orissa's Kandhamal district, widespread trouble began after the Aug. 24 killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, a hard-line Hindu leader who advocated that Christian converts return to Hinduism. Police blamed Maoist guerrillas for the killing, but Hindu militants quickly turned on local Christians, The violence has since spread to other parts of India.

New York church removes pews

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — An Episcopal church in the New York suburbs is hoping that the removal of two dozen pews from the sanctuary will make the church feel less empty and more inviting.

St. Bartholomew's Church in White Plains, an 80-year-old congregation that like many mainline Protestant churches has experienced shrinking membership, hatched the plan as part of an effort to create a more intimate space for worship that could appeal to visitors.

"When people visited before, it seemed like a museum," said the Rev. Gawain de Leeuw, rector of St. Bart's for five years. "The church seemed empty. Each person could have had their own pew. Changing our sanctuary space immediately changed the way people feel in the church. It's an important start."

The church gets about 50 to 60 people during its morning services on Sundays. In its heyday in the 1950s, more than 1,000 people attended services. The 18 removed pews now sit in a spare room. The church was unable to sell them on Craigslist for $300 each. Other pews were used to build a new altar, which now rests at the front of the church floor.

Catholic college looks for more diversity

GOFFSTOWN, N.H. — New Hampshire's St. Anselm College, a Roman Catholic school, wants to double its enrollment of Hispanics, African-Americans and other minorities.

College officials say they want to create an environment that welcomes students of other Christian denominations, religions, and different sexual orientations.

"We need to be a place where everyone feels at home, not just some people," the Rev. Jonathan DeFelice, president of the college. "What are the things we do that are unattractive and therefore keeping some people away? We're asking that question ourselves. Are we doing enough so that people feel comfortable and at home here?"

Denise Askin, the school's new assistant to the president for inclusiveness, said the college would not water down its traditions as it expands course offerings, student organizations, admissions practices and faculty hiring. The college recently created faculty positions for experts in African history, African-American and postcolonial literature, Chinese language, and Asian religions.

— The Associated Press

This semester, it is offering about a dozen "inclusive" courses on those topics and others, such as liberation theology and women and crime, according to its Web site.

Some students and alumni worry the college risks compromising its identity as a liberal arts Catholic college in the Benedictine tradition.

"It could end up being like in the name of inclusiveness the college will have to accept certain things that are contrary to the Catholic identity," said Matthew Pietropaoli, a 2005 graduate.

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