Watch Pope Francis Deliver Angelus Prayer On Feast Of Saint Stephen, See Photos As Pope Prays For Suffering Christians, Martyrs And Victims Of Russian Plane Crash [Video]

On Dec. 26, Pope Francis addressed thousands at St. Peter’s Basilica on the Feast of Saint Stephen, to deliver the Angelus Domini. Also known as Boxing Day, St. Stephen’s Day is one of the Christian feast days that honors Saint Stephen. Stephen is the first martyr in the New Testament church and is referred to as a protomartyr. Saint Stephen’s Day or Boxing Day is always observed on Dec. 26, the day following Christmas. The Pope delivers the Angelus Domini live from Vatican City annually, and this year he followed the Angelus with a special prayer for the Christmas Day plane crash victims in Russia. You may see recent videos from the Vatican in the video player above. See the video below to only watch the Angelus. The Vatican shared a number of photos from Vatican City before the Angelus began. The photos showed the scene at St. Peter’s Square as thousands gathered to hear Pope Francis speak live and pray over the city. More photos followed showing Pope Francis speaking to the large crowd that had gathered below. The Angelus and prayer for Russia was translated into English and posted on the Vatican’s English news site. You may read the full transcript and translation at the site. The Pope offered a special prayer for suffering Christians and those who are facing martyrdom right now. As Christians around the world are facing death and torture at the hands of extreme terrorists, (read ISIS declares war on Rome, by the Independent Journal Review) the Pope remarked about the steadfast faith of Iraqi Christians who boldly celebrated Christmas yesterday as reported by the BBC. The pope stated the following in the Angelus. “Today we want to think about them and to be close to them with our affection, our prayer and our tears. Yesterday, Christmas Day, the persecuted Christians in Iraq celebrated Christmas in their destroyed Cathedral. [Theirs] is an example of fidelity to the Gospel. Despite the trials and the dangers, they bear witness with courage to their belonging to Christ and they live the Gospel committing themselves on behalf of the least, the most overlooked, doing good to all without distinction; they bear witness in this way to charity in truth.” The Pope spoke about repaying evil with love. The words did not fall on deaf ears as, after several years of terror and bloodshed in the Middle East, the Christian population has been dramatically cut down. Pope Francis pointed to Saint Stephen’s martyrdom and sacrifice as being an example of choosing faith in Jesus Christ above all else. Jesus Christ died for mankind and as Stephen was the first martyr, the Pope reminded the faithful that sacrifice and persecution is to be expected. The Pope explained in the Angelus as follows. “Today too the Church, to bear witness to light and truth, experiences harsh persecution in different places, [to the point of] the supreme test of martyrdom. How many of our brothers and sisters in faith suffer abuse, violence, and are hated for Jesus’ sake! I’ll tell you something. The martyrs of today are greater in number than those of the first centuries. When we read the history of the early centuries, here in Rome, we read about so much cruelty towards Christians. I tell you, there is this same cruelty today, and in greater numbers with Christians.” The Pope reminded the listeners that Christians must stand in solidarity with their brothers and sisters who are suffering for their faith in Jesus Christ. He spoke about the widespread persecuted church and called martyrdom the extreme test of the Christian faith. The Pope called on Christians to bring their affections, prayers and tears to and for suffering Christians. These sentiments truly express the call to comfort, love and pray for those who are facing abuse, trials, torture and death for their faith. Following the Angelus, the Pope addressed the Christmas Day plane crash that left 92 dead near Sochi, Russia. The Pope expressed the following prayer for consolation for the victims’ families and Russia as a whole. The Pope then commented that the Red choir had performed at the Vatican in 2004. “I express my sincere condolences for the sad news of the Russian plane that crashed into the Black Sea. May the Lord console the dear Russian people and the families of the passengers who were on board: journalists, crew and the excellent choir and orchestra of the armed forces. May the blessed Virgin Mary sustain the search operations underway. In 2004, the choir performed in the Vatican for the 26th year of the pontificate of Saint John Paul II. Let us pray for them.” The Pope concluded the Angelus by reminding the church to keep him in prayer. You may watch the full Angelus in the video player above. [Featured Image by Gregorio Borgia/AP]

Watch Pope Francis Deliver Angelus Prayer On Feast Of Saint Stephen, See Photos As Pope Prays For Suffering Christians, Martyrs And Victims Of Russian Plane Crash [Video]

On Dec. 26, Pope Francis addressed thousands at St. Peter’s Basilica on the Feast of Saint Stephen, to deliver the Angelus Domini. Also known as Boxing Day, St. Stephen’s Day is one of the Christian feast days that honors Saint Stephen. Stephen is the first martyr in the New Testament church and is referred to as a protomartyr. Saint Stephen’s Day or Boxing Day is always observed on Dec. 26, the day following Christmas. The Pope delivers the Angelus Domini live from Vatican City annually, and this year he followed the Angelus with a special prayer for the Christmas Day plane crash victims in Russia. You may see recent videos from the Vatican in the video player above. See the video below to only watch the Angelus. The Vatican shared a number of photos from Vatican City before the Angelus began. The photos showed the scene at St. Peter’s Square as thousands gathered to hear Pope Francis speak live and pray over the city. More photos followed showing Pope Francis speaking to the large crowd that had gathered below. The Angelus and prayer for Russia was translated into English and posted on the Vatican’s English news site. You may read the full transcript and translation at the site. The Pope offered a special prayer for suffering Christians and those who are facing martyrdom right now. As Christians around the world are facing death and torture at the hands of extreme terrorists, (read ISIS declares war on Rome, by the Independent Journal Review) the Pope remarked about the steadfast faith of Iraqi Christians who boldly celebrated Christmas yesterday as reported by the BBC. The pope stated the following in the Angelus. “Today we want to think about them and to be close to them with our affection, our prayer and our tears. Yesterday, Christmas Day, the persecuted Christians in Iraq celebrated Christmas in their destroyed Cathedral. [Theirs] is an example of fidelity to the Gospel. Despite the trials and the dangers, they bear witness with courage to their belonging to Christ and they live the Gospel committing themselves on behalf of the least, the most overlooked, doing good to all without distinction; they bear witness in this way to charity in truth.” The Pope spoke about repaying evil with love. The words did not fall on deaf ears as, after several years of terror and bloodshed in the Middle East, the Christian population has been dramatically cut down. Pope Francis pointed to Saint Stephen’s martyrdom and sacrifice as being an example of choosing faith in Jesus Christ above all else. Jesus Christ died for mankind and as Stephen was the first martyr, the Pope reminded the faithful that sacrifice and persecution is to be expected. The Pope explained in the Angelus as follows. “Today too the Church, to bear witness to light and truth, experiences harsh persecution in different places, [to the point of] the supreme test of martyrdom. How many of our brothers and sisters in faith suffer abuse, violence, and are hated for Jesus’ sake! I’ll tell you something. The martyrs of today are greater in number than those of the first centuries. When we read the history of the early centuries, here in Rome, we read about so much cruelty towards Christians. I tell you, there is this same cruelty today, and in greater numbers with Christians.” The Pope reminded the listeners that Christians must stand in solidarity with their brothers and sisters who are suffering for their faith in Jesus Christ. He spoke about the widespread persecuted church and called martyrdom the extreme test of the Christian faith. The Pope called on Christians to bring their affections, prayers and tears to and for suffering Christians. These sentiments truly express the call to comfort, love and pray for those who are facing abuse, trials, torture and death for their faith. Following the Angelus, the Pope addressed the Christmas Day plane crash that left 92 dead near Sochi, Russia. The Pope expressed the following prayer for consolation for the victims’ families and Russia as a whole. The Pope then commented that the Red choir had performed at the Vatican in 2004. “I express my sincere condolences for the sad news of the Russian plane that crashed into the Black Sea. May the Lord console the dear Russian people and the families of the passengers who were on board: journalists, crew and the excellent choir and orchestra of the armed forces. May the blessed Virgin Mary sustain the search operations underway. In 2004, the choir performed in the Vatican for the 26th year of the pontificate of Saint John Paul II. Let us pray for them.” The Pope concluded the Angelus by reminding the church to keep him in prayer. You may watch the full Angelus in the video player above. [Featured Image by Gregorio Borgia/AP]

Jehovah's Witnesses Watchtower Society Houses Hidden ual Abuse Records, Says Journalist

Jehovah’s Witnesses are confronting allegations of a widespread child ual abuse coverup, mostly centered around a database of abusers that critics say are managed by their Brooklyn Watchtower Bible and Tract Society headquarters, a property recently purchased by Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Trey Bundy, a reporter for investigative radio program Reveal, has spent the last few years following the case, and he recently sat down with WNYC to share some of his most recent findings. Bundy claims that Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is a highly secretive organization with underground tunnels that link it to at least 30 other properties in the area. Inside, he says, leadership can access a roll call of ual abuse cases involving Jehovah’s Witness members. “It’s the nerve-center of a multi-billion dollar corporation that has interests in publishing, in real-estate….it’s the head of a religion with eight million members, but it’s this very secretive place.” Watchtower has been the main legal entity of the Jehovah’s Witnesses since the 1880s. [Image via Evening Standard/Getty Images] Bundy alleges that Jehovah’s Witness leadership has been ordering its congregation to keep incidents of ual abuse within the church for at least 25 years. He references a series of memos that Watchtower has emitted: one, from 2012, makes the statement, “Not every individual who has ually abused a child in the past is considered a ‘predator.’” Another recent one from 2014 shows a continued push to keep such inquiries within the organization. “In some cases, the elders will form a judicial committee to handle the alleged wrongdoing that may also constitute a violation of criminal law (e.g., murder, rape, child abuse, fraud, theft, assault). Generally, the elders should not delay the judicial committee process, but strict confidentiality must be maintained to avoid unnecessary entanglement with secular authorities who may be conducting a criminal investigation of the matter.” Bundy says that Jehovah’s Witnesses have refused to do an interview with him, instead issuing a blanket statement claiming that they comply with all ual abuse reporting laws. It’s a statement that Watchtower has stuck by for at least a decade: A fax to the BBC in 2002 argued that the secrecy of the database was actually due to how wide-reaching it was. Giving the public full access, they said, would open them up to a wave of libel lawsuits. “You have been told that here in the United States we have compiled a list of 23,720 names of child abusers. That is false. First of all, the total number of names in our records is considerably lower than that. In addition, it is not meaningful to focus on the number of names we have in our records. This is because our figures include the names of many persons who have only been accused of child abuse whereas the charges have not been substantiated… Christian parents can rightly feel secure in the knowledge that SUCH EFFORTS ARE MADE TO SCREEN OUT possible child abusers FROM APPOINTMENT to responsible positions within the congregation.” Current world headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Watchtower HQ was recently bought by Jared Kushner. [Image via Seth Wenig/AP Images] Yet some former child ual abuse victims claim that such measures from the Watchtower do not adequately protect against predators. Jose Lopez, who was molested by a Jehovah’s Witness at the age of 7, was awarded $13.5 million in court in 2015 after his abuser not only was not prosecuted, but managed to rise in church leadership. “The community does not know of all this and there was no publicity about this. Everything took place in the congregation and because of that he was not prosecuted.” If Bundy’s claims are accurate, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and the Jehovah’s Witnesses who run it seem to be using a First Amendment defense to allow it to run its own internal court system when it comes to child ual abuse. After selling off their Brooklyn headquarters to Jared Kushner earlier this year. they plan to move operations upstate, according to Brooklyn Paper. [Featured Image via Seth Wenig/AP Images]

Pastor Paula White: Trump's 'Spiritual Adviser' Facing Jeremiah Wright-Style Backlash Ahead Of Inauguration Invocation

Pastor Paula White is attracting attention again; this time for the wrong reasons and Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day 2017 ceremony continues to be clouded in controversy. White, 50, is the head of New Destiny Christian Center, a non-denominational place of worship located in Apopka, Florida. Multiple news outlets are reporting a public backlash over the president-elect’s choice for the invocation; Pastor White, Trump’s spiritual adviser, was tapped to lead the event in prayer. Erick Erickson is the editor of the Resurgent and a Fox News contributor. In a blog post on Thursday, he criticized Trump for choosing an “open heretic,” whom he accuses of rejecting the “eternality off Jesus Christ and the trinity itself.” Paula White has spent her life taking money from gullible people. Now, she’ll be at the inauguration: https://t.co/JNhtiwPlXd pic.twitter.com/mEdxB4lFgz — The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) December 30, 2016 Furthermore, the WSB radio host is comparing Trump’s pick to Barack Obama’s past association with Jeremiah Wright during his presidential campaign. “You think I’m overreacting, a sore loser, or some such. And you know damn well that if Jeremiah Wright had said a prayer at Barack Obama’s inauguration you’d be publicly outraged and calling for Obama to reconsider the invitation. Jeremiah Wright’s black liberation theology and Paula White’s prosperity gospel are two sides of the same heretical coin. “By being outraged about one and not the other, and admit it that you would be and you were upset by Barack Obama attending Wright’s church, you have reduced Jesus Christ to partisan team sport.” Reverend Wright retired from Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago in early 2008 after 36 years as its leader. As Obama’s personal pastor, Wright came under fire when ABC News operatives played sound bites of his past sermons during then-Senator Obama’s presidential bid. The Atlantic hosts a video on its website from Wright’s 2003 sermon where he famously said, “God damn America” instead of “God Bless America,” as part of his suggestion that the government is responsible for killing innocent people in wars overseas. Later in another sermon, Wright used a famous line from the late Malcolm X by suggesting that America is a host of terrorism and largely responsible for the September 11 attacks: “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” Under pressure by the public and electorate, Obama later censured Wright and eventually resigned as a member of his church. Erickson suggests that a double standard is at play by scolding Trump supporters for expressing outrage over the fallout. Paula White is no stranger to controversy. The self-proclaimed, “former messed up Mississippi girl,” preaches and practices a theology called the “prosperity gospel” where God anoints believers with wealth and material things as the fruits of their labor. As Complex wrote, in 2004, White’s Without Walls International Church with her then-husband, Randy White, was the subject of a 9-year investigation by the IRS. In 2007, the Senate investigated Pastor White and six other mega-church ministers for their opulent lifestyles. White was never brought up on charges as investigators failed to produce enough evidence for an indictment. Erickson berates White for allegedly dismissing the Christian embrace of the Nicene Creed. As one of the creeds of Christendom, it says in part,”We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” In its simplest form, it’s a public profession of faith. Erickson points to a video in making his claim of her denunciation of the orthodoxy. “And you are an absolute hypocrite if you ever said or thought a critical word about Jeremiah Wright, but will keep your mouth shut now about this because of partisan team sport,” Erickson adds. “Paula White is a trinity denying heretic. She rejects the Council of Nicaea’s creed that every Christian accepts. To reject the orthodoxy of the Nicene Creed is to reject Christianity itself.” Erickson warns that White’s presence at the Jan. 20, 2017 presidential inauguration will offend Christians from all faiths that acknowledge the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Franklin Graham and Paula White are among the faith leaders participating in Donald Trump’s inauguration https://t.co/l8OQcEt3Xc pic.twitter.com/wSxPsDxOaH — CNN (@CNN) December 29, 2016 In an attempt to bolster his case against Pastor Paula White, Erickson lauds Obama for being the “first President to mention atheists in his inaugural address” while admonishing Trump for adding insult to injury by inviting “an actual trinity-denying heretic to pray at his inauguration.” Share you opinion about White’s backlash. Are critics fair to compare the pastor to Rev. Wright? [Featured image by Rick Diamond/Getty Images]

Pope Francis New Year Message: 'We Should Acknowledge That We Need The Lord'

Pope Francis, in his new year messages at St. Peter’s Basilica suggested that “we should acknowledge that we need the Lord to enlighten us” to the faithful and the tourists who came to celebrate together and hear his message. In general, reviewing the various messages in recent days from this pontiff, it seems Francis wanted to express hope and encouragement to the people who came to share, worship and celebrate with him at the Vatican. And Pope Francis clearly sees new opportunities for improvement with the arrival of a new year, per the report from Crux. He added we should consider the infant born in Bethlehem to learn something more about God. As the pontiff points out in his message, there was a plan. “God wanted to be close, in the flesh, to those who feel lost, hurt, discouraged, afraid, inconsolable, or who feel burdened by loneliness so that sin, despair and exclusion…” But Pope Francis’ new year messaging seemed one designed to preach to the faithful and give hope to all persons seeking an official communication from the popular pontiff. Considering the message of the birth of the Lord in a Bethlehem manger, said the pontiff, would help in the contemplation of the God-Child as the old year ends and a new year begins. He stated that “the times ahead call for bold and hope-filled initiatives, as well as the renunciation of vain self-promotion and endless concern with appearances.” If people were to make an effort and “return to the sources and roots of our faith,” said Francis, then that faith would become a new hope. “In Jesus, faith becomes hope; it becomes a leaven and a blessing.” Pope Francis arrives in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. [Image by Alessandra Tarantino/AP Images] As RadioVaticana describes it, the Pope meant to explain “the logic of the manger” as being one of “closeness” which does not allow for exclusion or divisiveness. He encouraged all “to contemplate how God has been present throughout this year and to remind ourselves that every age, every moment is the bearer of graces and blessings.” Later, per Voux Magazine, Pope Francis told another crowd of believers that our modern means of communication may be “cauterizing our hearts and making us lose the capacity for tenderness and wonder, for pity and compassion.” From the YouTube video below, Francis also wanted to speak clearly to those feeling alone in the world. “To celebrate Mary as Mother of God and our mother at the beginning of the new year means recalling a certainty that will accompany our days,” said Pope Francis in the first new year message, “we are a people with a Mother; we are not orphans.” He added that it also “reminds us that we are not interchangeable items of merchandise or information processors. We are children, we are family, we are God’s People.” Addressing the crowds of faithful at the Vatican, the 80 year old Pope again warned the people of societies which risk becoming “cold and calculating” and losing compassion, per the information from Reuters. Quoted in that story, the pontiff tried to encourage “all men of good will.” “I ask the Lord to sustain all men of good will to courageously roll up their sleeves to confront the plague of terrorism and this stain of blood that is covering the world with a shadow of fear and a sense of loss.” And with the terrorism attack recently in Istanbul, NBC reports that this was also weighing upon the Pope’s mind. He took time to urge leaders to work together in the effort to fight the “plague of terrorism.” In his New Year’s message he told the faithful that “a bloodstain” covered the world as it began the new year 2017. The Istanbul nightclub attack killed at least 39 people, per the report. The Pope, however, took time to express the pain he said he felt over this, and he prayed for the victims as well. “Pained, I express my closeness to the Turkish people. I pray for the many victims and for the wounded and for the entire nation in mourning.” Pope Francis’ new year’s messages are usually well-received, as he is known for his humility, and he tends to emphasize God’s mercy and love for people. [Featured Image by Andrew Medichini/AP Images]

Watch Pope Francis Deliver Angelus Prayer On Feast Of Saint Stephen, See Photos As Pope Prays For Suffering Christians, Martyrs And Victims Of Russian Plane Crash [Video]

On Dec. 26, Pope Francis addressed thousands at St. Peter’s Basilica on the Feast of Saint Stephen, to deliver the Angelus Domini. Also known as Boxing Day, St. Stephen’s Day is one of the Christian feast days that honors Saint Stephen. Stephen is the first martyr in the New Testament church and is referred to as a protomartyr. Saint Stephen’s Day or Boxing Day is always observed on Dec. 26, the day following Christmas. The Pope delivers the Angelus Domini live from Vatican City annually, and this year he followed the Angelus with a special prayer for the Christmas Day plane crash victims in Russia. You may see recent videos from the Vatican in the video player above. See the video below to only watch the Angelus. The Vatican shared a number of photos from Vatican City before the Angelus began. The photos showed the scene at St. Peter’s Square as thousands gathered to hear Pope Francis speak live and pray over the city. More photos followed showing Pope Francis speaking to the large crowd that had gathered below. The Angelus and prayer for Russia was translated into English and posted on the Vatican’s English news site. You may read the full transcript and translation at the site. The Pope offered a special prayer for suffering Christians and those who are facing martyrdom right now. As Christians around the world are facing death and torture at the hands of extreme terrorists, (read ISIS declares war on Rome, by the Independent Journal Review) the Pope remarked about the steadfast faith of Iraqi Christians who boldly celebrated Christmas yesterday as reported by the BBC. The pope stated the following in the Angelus. “Today we want to think about them and to be close to them with our affection, our prayer and our tears. Yesterday, Christmas Day, the persecuted Christians in Iraq celebrated Christmas in their destroyed Cathedral. [Theirs] is an example of fidelity to the Gospel. Despite the trials and the dangers, they bear witness with courage to their belonging to Christ and they live the Gospel committing themselves on behalf of the least, the most overlooked, doing good to all without distinction; they bear witness in this way to charity in truth.” The Pope spoke about repaying evil with love. The words did not fall on deaf ears as, after several years of terror and bloodshed in the Middle East, the Christian population has been dramatically cut down. Pope Francis pointed to Saint Stephen’s martyrdom and sacrifice as being an example of choosing faith in Jesus Christ above all else. Jesus Christ died for mankind and as Stephen was the first martyr, the Pope reminded the faithful that sacrifice and persecution is to be expected. The Pope explained in the Angelus as follows. “Today too the Church, to bear witness to light and truth, experiences harsh persecution in different places, [to the point of] the supreme test of martyrdom. How many of our brothers and sisters in faith suffer abuse, violence, and are hated for Jesus’ sake! I’ll tell you something. The martyrs of today are greater in number than those of the first centuries. When we read the history of the early centuries, here in Rome, we read about so much cruelty towards Christians. I tell you, there is this same cruelty today, and in greater numbers with Christians.” The Pope reminded the listeners that Christians must stand in solidarity with their brothers and sisters who are suffering for their faith in Jesus Christ. He spoke about the widespread persecuted church and called martyrdom the extreme test of the Christian faith. The Pope called on Christians to bring their affections, prayers and tears to and for suffering Christians. These sentiments truly express the call to comfort, love and pray for those who are facing abuse, trials, torture and death for their faith. Following the Angelus, the Pope addressed the Christmas Day plane crash that left 92 dead near Sochi, Russia. The Pope expressed the following prayer for consolation for the victims’ families and Russia as a whole. The Pope then commented that the Red choir had performed at the Vatican in 2004. “I express my sincere condolences for the sad news of the Russian plane that crashed into the Black Sea. May the Lord console the dear Russian people and the families of the passengers who were on board: journalists, crew and the excellent choir and orchestra of the armed forces. May the blessed Virgin Mary sustain the search operations underway. In 2004, the choir performed in the Vatican for the 26th year of the pontificate of Saint John Paul II. Let us pray for them.” The Pope concluded the Angelus by reminding the church to keep him in prayer. You may watch the full Angelus in the video player above. [Featured Image by Gregorio Borgia/AP]

VBS: A Low Cost Summer Activity For Kids Or Cause For Parental Sticker Shock?

VBS, also known as Vacation Bible School has been a traditional summer activity for kids in the southeastern and mid-western regions of the U.S. Structured days spent making macaroni art, plaques with Bible verses, and all of those prizes earned by memorizing and reciting passages from the New Testament are happy memories for many parents and grandparents hoping to give the children in their lives the similar memories. VBS Goes From Store Brand Cookies And Macaroni Art To Big Business For Publishers The long-held belief that VBS is an inexpensive way to give Mom a break has taken hits in some circles. The notion of hot summer days spent in cool church basements reading booklets, playing dodgeball, and pausing midway through the day for a Kool-Aid and Duplex Cookie break is, for the most part, a thing of the past. Over the past two decades, VBS has gone from being a fun summer activity for kids (churched or otherwise) to a profitable industry for religious publishers. Wildlife Wonders at VBS Deep Sea Discovery! #VBS2016 pic.twitter.com/5V2coNE0tE — FBCWoodstock (@fbcwoodstock) June 21, 2016 Parents who have taken to discussion boards such as Mamapedia after experiencing sticker shock when trying to find VBS programs. While some posters question the practice of charging for attendance to Summer church activities, many parents find the fees, which typically range from $10.00 to $25.00 per child for a week of activities, snacks, a t-shirt, and sometimes a CD of the songs used in the program, to be reasonable. The upper end of fees, ranging from $50.00 to over $100.00, often include premium items as giveaways. Some include pricey rentals for the last day of VBS. Members of the Mamapedia board mentioned bounce houses, petting zoos, and miscellaneous equipment rental throughout the week as reasons VBS can cost as much as it does. Related Stories At Inquisitr Summer Activities For Kids: Three Boredom Busters That Won’t Break The Bank Orlando Shakespeare Crafts ‘Angels’ Against Westboro Baptist Church Protests At Victims’ Funerals ‘Finding Dory’ Boasts Largest Animation Movie Opening Weekend Of All Time As has been the case in previous years, many publishers offer themes based on current trends in entertainment for children. This year the successes Cokesbury’s “Surf Shack” and Standard Publishing’s “Deep Sea Discovery” showed the companies correctly anticipated the popularity of “Finding Dory,” Disney’s sequel to “Finding Nemo.” Beyond direct affiliation, parents often seek out churches offering the popular programs. While they can bring otherwise unchurched kids in for a week of fun activities for a week in the summer, many of them have proven to be very expensive. Surf on into VBS! Coburn Church will host Surf Shack starting tomorrow at 6p.m. Kids 4-12 can register at the door! pic.twitter.com/DKJMtQiNwZ — Coburn Church (@Coburnumc) June 11, 2016 Two Reports Reveal The Tough Reality Of The Impact Of VBS On Church Resources The flip side to the fees, the hard sell, and a growing number of children with parents who are seeking places for them in VBS programs is the economic reality of keeping a church open. In 2012 and 2013, two studies on attendance and outreach, one conducted for the Annual Congregational Report for the ELCA, and the other a study of the state of Vacation Bible Schools in American Protestant churches conducted by The Barna Group painted a sobering picture of the financial health of churches in today’s economy. “First of all, a church’s budget plays a key role in its VBS involvement. Churches with annual budgets of $500,000 or more are more likely (91%) to offer VBS than churches with annual budgets of $150,000 or less (56%). This trend is in keeping with the practical costs of VBS in terms of curriculum resources, snacks, craft materials and more, and the reality that VBS is typically a free (or very low cost) program for participants.” One slide from a presentation of the 2012 ELCA report as posted by writer at Network is a Verb, a blog devoted to following trends in church networking, shows a shocking 50 percent drop in attendance in Evangelical Lutheran churches. The ELCA is one of many denominations that often play a role in creating structured summer activities for kids. A decrease in active congregants means fewer resources for activities like VBS. Praise the Lord for another great night of VBS. Over $500 given to help The Shepherd's Place. 244 in attendance. pic.twitter.com/z1n2NhoKK2 — Jonathan Neal Rice (@NealRice_PBC) June 22, 2016 Even though this was a trend that reached its nadir in 2012, The Barna Group study in the following year showed many churches were tightening their belts. Sixty-eight percent of all churches, roughly two out of three, offered VBS. This is down from a national high of 81 percent of all churches participating in VBS in 1997. While there has been a stabilization in some areas and some recovery for some denominations, shrinking resources in the form of funds and available manpower has meant many congregations have taken a hard look at how much they can realistically invest in VBS. In spite of so many factors that have proven to be challenging, many church still offer no to low-cost options for parents seeking VBS as a part of their kids’ summer fun. While VBS as a summer activity for kids will continue to evolve, it isn’t going away any time soon. [Photo by Giorgio Cosulich/Getty Images]

Vatican’s Stand Of Cremation Changes: Here's What Devout Catholics Can And Cannot Do With The Ashes Of Their Loved Ones

The Vatican has made a few changes to the guidelines pertaining to cremation. While the Church still considers burning the remains of the loved ones to be a “brutal destruction” of the body, it has added several more caveats to the procedure. Timed to coincide with Halloween and “All Souls Day,” which falls on November 2, when the faithful are supposed to pray for and remember the dead, the Vatican has issued a new set of instructions for those families who wish to cremate their dead, instead of the preferred burial method. While the Holy See still advises to bury the deceased, cremation has been permitted since 1963. However, the Church has now issued several conditions that need to be followed if the dead are to be cremated instead of being buried in a church approved cemetery. Vatican issues guidelines on cremation, says no to scattering ashes https://t.co/dozYBg0WkE pic.twitter.com/AZSn3Ce3Dy — CNN (@CNN) October 25, 2016 The revised guidelines about cremation come from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It reiterates that burial is still the most preferred method of remembering or honoring the dead. Interestingly, the document doesn’t hide the Church’s position on cremation, with officials terming the method a “brutal destruction” of the body. However, the guidelines officially recognize the wishes of increasing number of Catholics who want to be cremated. Ashes to ashes is fine, the Vatican says, as long as you don’t spread them around https://t.co/2X9OKBiThK — The New York Times (@nytimes) October 25, 2016 According to the new guidelines from the Vatican’s doctrinal office, Catholics may be cremated, but the ashes can’t be kept in the homes of family members, reported CBS News. Moreover, even if the deceased may have requested prior to his or her death, the ashes can be scattered over land, in air or at sea. Additionally, the ashes can’t be divvied up. Furthermore, relatives can’t preserve the ashes “in mementos, pieces of jewelry or other objects,” notes the revised guidelines. The last aspect may have been targeted at specific companies that offer the service. Vatican releases instruction on burial, cremation; forbids scattering ashes or keeping cremated remains at home https://t.co/31r7PTd024 pic.twitter.com/p9rlaRZFrG — Catholic News Svc (@CatholicNewsSvc) October 25, 2016 The only permissible final resting place for the ashes will be according to the church and a place it designates. The sacred, church-approved place will be designated by the local churches, and the relatives will have to hand over the urns for safekeeping. Vatican: Don't Scatter Cremation Ashes, And Don't Keep Them At Home https://t.co/ixAxNUL15y — NPR (@NPR) October 25, 2016 Ever since the birth of Christianity about 2,000 years ago, the Catholic Church has expressly preferred the dead of its religion be buried in designated regions. According to the faith, those buried have the best chance of resurrection. However, the Vatican did grant permission for cremation, but categorically noted that the process doesn’t suggest a denial of faith about resurrection. In other words, Catholics can cremate their dead, and while the Church doesn’t prohibit the method, it asks that the process shouldn’t strip away the traditional beliefs. Catholic funeral rites should not be denied to those who had asked to be cremated, the Church said, reported CNN. Pope says Islam's peaceful. Sits back as Christians are crucified, butchered & sold. But when it comes to $$https://t.co/UytOAxg2GP — (((Irish Zionists))) (@IrishZionists) October 25, 2016 Many in the community have long justified and preferred cremation. Cemetery plots are increasingly becoming a rare, prized and expensive proposition. Many Christian families often invest in premium burial plots, and needless to say, pay a hefty premium to reserve a place to bury their dead ones, long before they die. Apart from the plots, prices of coffins too have risen sharply in the past few decades. More often than not, these coffins are quite elaborate and ornate, which really shoots up the costs. The Vatican has published new cremation guidelines for Catholics https://t.co/UE9u8bZtOU pic.twitter.com/I1SVNzJoP7 — CBS News (@CBSNews) October 25, 2016 Some environmentalists have objected to the use of rare types of wood. The fact that cremation requires a lot of wood is a classic case of irony. However, modern-day furnaces that operate on natural gas or even electricity, do address the problem of pollution and tree-cutting. RT @carolmaczim:Church prefers burial; allows cremation if ashes not scattered, kept at home https://t.co/zJicpL5mrd pic.twitter.com/fWfdW39Ygo — Catholic News Svc (@CatholicNewsSvc) October 25, 2016 The Vatican may have decided to revise the guidelines because it wanted to dispel the “erroneous ideas about death.” According to the Church, modern societies often demean death with concepts about afterlife that may trivialize dead bodies. In particular, the Church opposes concepts of pantheism (the worship of nature), naturalism (the idea that all truths are derived from nature, not religion) and nihilism (a deep skepticism about all received truths). If cremation stems from any of these beliefs, then the deceased should not receive a Catholic burial, note the revised guidelines. [Featured Image by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images]

Jehovah's Witnesses Watchtower Society Houses Hidden ual Abuse Records, Says Journalist

Jehovah’s Witnesses are confronting allegations of a widespread child ual abuse coverup, mostly centered around a database of abusers that critics say are managed by their Brooklyn Watchtower Bible and Tract Society headquarters, a property recently purchased by Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Trey Bundy, a reporter for investigative radio program Reveal, has spent the last few years following the case, and he recently sat down with WNYC to share some of his most recent findings. Bundy claims that Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is a highly secretive organization with underground tunnels that link it to at least 30 other properties in the area. Inside, he says, leadership can access a roll call of ual abuse cases involving Jehovah’s Witness members. “It’s the nerve-center of a multi-billion dollar corporation that has interests in publishing, in real-estate….it’s the head of a religion with eight million members, but it’s this very secretive place.” Watchtower has been the main legal entity of the Jehovah’s Witnesses since the 1880s. [Image via Evening Standard/Getty Images] Bundy alleges that Jehovah’s Witness leadership has been ordering its congregation to keep incidents of ual abuse within the church for at least 25 years. He references a series of memos that Watchtower has emitted: one, from 2012, makes the statement, “Not every individual who has ually abused a child in the past is considered a ‘predator.’” Another recent one from 2014 shows a continued push to keep such inquiries within the organization. “In some cases, the elders will form a judicial committee to handle the alleged wrongdoing that may also constitute a violation of criminal law (e.g., murder, rape, child abuse, fraud, theft, assault). Generally, the elders should not delay the judicial committee process, but strict confidentiality must be maintained to avoid unnecessary entanglement with secular authorities who may be conducting a criminal investigation of the matter.” Bundy says that Jehovah’s Witnesses have refused to do an interview with him, instead issuing a blanket statement claiming that they comply with all ual abuse reporting laws. It’s a statement that Watchtower has stuck by for at least a decade: A fax to the BBC in 2002 argued that the secrecy of the database was actually due to how wide-reaching it was. Giving the public full access, they said, would open them up to a wave of libel lawsuits. “You have been told that here in the United States we have compiled a list of 23,720 names of child abusers. That is false. First of all, the total number of names in our records is considerably lower than that. In addition, it is not meaningful to focus on the number of names we have in our records. This is because our figures include the names of many persons who have only been accused of child abuse whereas the charges have not been substantiated… Christian parents can rightly feel secure in the knowledge that SUCH EFFORTS ARE MADE TO SCREEN OUT possible child abusers FROM APPOINTMENT to responsible positions within the congregation.” Current world headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Watchtower HQ was recently bought by Jared Kushner. [Image via Seth Wenig/AP Images] Yet some former child ual abuse victims claim that such measures from the Watchtower do not adequately protect against predators. Jose Lopez, who was molested by a Jehovah’s Witness at the age of 7, was awarded $13.5 million in court in 2015 after his abuser not only was not prosecuted, but managed to rise in church leadership. “The community does not know of all this and there was no publicity about this. Everything took place in the congregation and because of that he was not prosecuted.” If Bundy’s claims are accurate, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and the Jehovah’s Witnesses who run it seem to be using a First Amendment defense to allow it to run its own internal court system when it comes to child ual abuse. After selling off their Brooklyn headquarters to Jared Kushner earlier this year. they plan to move operations upstate, according to Brooklyn Paper. [Featured Image via Seth Wenig/AP Images]

Pope Francis Believes Christians Should Seek Forgiveness For Mistreating Gays

On Sunday, Pope Francis said Christians and the Roman Catholic Church need to seek forgiveness for the way they’ve treated homouals. According to Reuters, Pope Francis believes the Church has a lot to apologize for in addition to treating the homouals poorly. He also believes the Church should seek forgiveness for treating women poorly, turning a blind eye to child labor, and blessing weapons. During an hour-long conversation with reports, which has become somewhat of a trademark of Pope Francis as he travels, reporters asked if he agreed with the comments a German Roman Catholic cardinal had made recently about whether or not the Church should be apologizing to the gays for their awful treatment. Reuters reported Pope Francis had a sad look on his face when one reporter asked if he believed the Orlando Pulse shooting which killed 49 people this month made the apology from the Roman Catholic Church more of an urgent issue. The Catholic News reported the question involving the Orlando Pulse shooting appeared to cause the Pope pain. Sorrow. Dismay. Pain. #PopeFrancis, when I mentioned Orlando massacre. pic.twitter.com/1k6qL2En47 — Cindy Wooden (@Cindy_Wooden) June 26, 2016 The Pope took a moment to reflect on the teachings of homouals at the church. “Should not be discriminated against. They should be respected, accompanied pastorally.” “I [Pope Francis] think that the Church not only should apologize… to a gay person whom it offended but it must also apologize to the poor as well, to the women who have been exploited, to children who have been exploited by (being forced to) work. It must apologize for having blessed so many weapons.” The Roman Catholic Church teaches individuals that homoual tendencies are not sinful, but the acts of homouality are sinful. It also teaches that homouals should try to remain pure. “The questions is: if a person who has that condition, who has good will, and who looks for God, who are we to judge?” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi clarified that when Pope Francis said “has that condition” he did not mean that being homoual was a medical condition. He means “a person in that situation.” He felt the need to clarify as the word “condition” means “situation” in Italian. “We Christians have to apologize for so many things, not just for this (treatment of gays) but we must ask for forgiveness, not just apologize! Forgiveness! Lord, it is a word we forget so often!” Pope Francis has been praised and hailed in a lot of the gay communities as he has been the most merciful pope when it comes to homouality. Even when more conservative Catholics criticize him for making comments about ual morality that are ambiguous at best. Pope Francis says Christians should apologise to gay people https://t.co/gTCFXLUdQz — Guardian news (@guardiannews) June 26, 2016 According to Pope Francis, some cultures and countries find homoual demonstrations to be offensive. He, however, does not believe that is justification or proper grounds for discriminating against homouals. During the banter, Pope Francis never went into detail about what he meant by the Church needing to seek forgiveness for blessing weapons. However, it is likely a reference to some Churchmen who backed wars in the past. Pope Francis did deny any reports during the conversation that Pope Benedict, who resigned back in 2013, had any influence inside of the Vatican. “There is only one Pope.” Pope Francis did, however, praise Benedict for having is back. There were rumored to be Church officials who went to Benedict to complain that Pope Francis was being too liberal. According to the rumors, Benedict was supposed to have sent them packing. Do you think Pope Francis is right? Should the Roman Catholic Church and Christians be apologizing for the way they’ve been treating the gays? Is it right to discriminate someone just because you think their choice in lifestyle is sinful? [Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images]