Religion in Brief


VATICAN CITY — Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet with Pope Francis on June 10 at the Vatican, with conflicts in Syria and Ukraine likely to top the Holy See’s agenda.

Putin last called on Francis on Nov. 25, 2013.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the meeting would take place in the afternoon of June 10; Putin is expected to visit Russia’s pavilion at the Expo world’s fair in Milan, where June 10 has been slated as Russia’s national day.

After nearly a half-century of hostility between the Vatican and the Kremlin during the Cold War, a major breakthrough came just after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 when the Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, met the Polish-born pontiff, John Paul II.

After a 2009 visit by then-President Dmitry Medvedev, Russia and the Holy See upgraded their diplomatic relations to full-fledged ties, with ambassadors.

Long-running tensions in Russia between Orthodox and Catholic faithful in Russia prevented Pope Benedict XVI and before him John Paul from achieving their long-sought dreams of a Russian pilgrimage and meeting with the Russian patriarch.

Tellingly, Putin didn’t invite Francis to visit during his 2013 visit, one of the few world leaders who have not extended an invitation to the enormously popular pope during an audience.

Francis has sought to enlist Orthodox leaders in his campaign to condemn attacks on Christians by Islamic militants in the Middle East. But he has trod lightly with Russia over Ukraine, denouncing the casualties and calling for a cease-fire to hold, but not laying any blame on Moscow.

ATLANTA — An Atlanta megachurch’s board of directors said this week that it is moving forward in a campaign to buy a private jet.

The board of directors for World Changers Church International and Creflo Dollar ministries said the Gulfstream G650 Dollar wants is necessary to continue international ministry and aid work. The jet is valued at more than $65 million.

An initial recorded appeal for donations didn’t adequately explain that Dollar was looking for donations from like-minded people and not the public at large, board members said. The board says a revamped video will be released soon. Numerous online reports quoted the initial request on the ministry’s website as saying: “We are believing for 200,000 people to give contributions of 300 US dollars or more to turn this dream into a reality.”

Board members said they reject criticism that the appeal for donations was an attempt at taking advantage of worshippers and that all significant church projects must be presented before they’re implemented.

“A proper system of checks and balances is in place to insure the ministry’s dealings are beyond reproach,” the statement said.

Dollar is a prominent African-American preacher based near Atlanta who has built successful ministries on the prosperity gospel. Ministers in this tradition often hold up their own wealth as evidence that the teaching works.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ eagerly awaited environment encyclical will be published June 18.

The Vatican took the unusual step this week of announcing the release date in advance “to avoid confusion over the diffusion of unconfirmed information.”

No papal document in recent times has elicited as much anticipation and anxiety as Francis’ encyclical.

The Vatican has helped fuel interest by mounting an unprecedented roll-out, featuring conferences, speeches and book launches tied to it.

Environmentalists are thrilled the pope is lending his moral authority to the climate change debate ahead of U.N. climate talks this year in Paris. Climate skeptics have voiced alarm that the pope is getting involved.

This week, U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum said he wanted the pope to stop talking climate change and “leave science to the scientists.”

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A board member of the congregation that worships at the oldest synagogue in the U.S. says they felt “blackmailed” by the nation’s first Jewish congregation in a dispute over the sale of ceremonial bells for $7 million.

Lawsuits over control of Newport’s Touro Synagogue are being heard in federal court in Rhode Island.

David Bazarsky said the congregation agreed to sell the bells to a museum only because they’d be on display to the public, and they wanted an endowment so Touro could operate in perpetuity.

Touro is owned by New York’s Congregation Shearith Israel. Newport says it acts only as trustee.

Bazarsky says Shearith Israel hasn’t been involved at Touro, even when asked for help.

Shearith Israel’s lawyer submitted documents showing New York’s involvement and relationship with Touro.

Associated Press