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Western Wall highlights women's struggle for religious equality

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These days, interfaith solidarity is important in struggles for justice. And so it is with the quest for women’s equality in faith traditions across the board.

This week on Interfaith Voices I spoke with Sue Morningstar, a rabbi of the Jewish Renewal Movement who is an international vice-chair of a group called “Rabbis for Women of the Wall.”

This group seeks gender equality in the way Jews pray at the Western Wall (or “Wailing Wall”), in Jerusalem. It’s the holiest sight in Judaism, and the rules about praying there are enforced by fundamentalist Orthodox rabbis in Israel.

There is even a physical partition that separates men from women. Some women have even been threatened with serious jail time (years, in fact) for “offenses” like wearing a prayer shawl or reading aloud from the Torah at the Wall.

The latter threats make me glad that the Vatican doesn’t have a way to jail Catholic women who call for women’s ordination as deacons and priests! But the overlap in our struggles was most apparent when I asked Rabbi Morningstar what the Jewish Renewal Movement was about.

Happy anniversary to the American Dream

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This year the American Dream turns eighty years old.

It's actually hard to imagine that the words "American Deam" have a birthdate, a creator, an inventor. But they do. Over the years, these words have become very elastic -- meaning whatever the speaker wants them to: a new home, a new car, a new life, a chicken in every pot.

But "American Dream" first was coined in 1931, by historian James Truslow Adams, in his book, "Epic of America." He was writing as the Great Depression gathered full steam, here at home and around the developed world. This is how he put it, in excerpts you can find at Wikipedia, as honestly, directly, and succintly as only an inventor can:

On this day: Regicide

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On this day in 1793, in the place de la Révolution, today's place de la Concorde, the National Convention of France guillotined King Louis XVI.

Henry Essex Edgeworth de Firmont, the priest who said Mass for the king on the morning of his execution, heard his confession, gave him a last blessing, and accompanied him to the scaffold, described the event in Memoirs of the Abbé Edgeworth; Containing His Narrative of the Last Hours of Louis XVI, edited by C. S. Edgeworth. (Start on page 54.)

Morning Briefing

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Catholic gay rights coalition asks Colorado Springs diocese to reconsider

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The following press release came across my desk today from "Equally Blessed," a Catholic gay support coalition.

Equally Blessed, a coalition of four Roman Catholic organizations that support full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families both in the church and in civil society, today called upon the Diocese of Colorado Springs to reconsider its decision to offer a 12-step program for LGBT Catholics in which participants are asked to state that they are “defective.”

“We are all sinners, but in this instance, the sin lies not in gay and lesbian Catholics, but in those who describe children of God in such demeaning language,” said Frank DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, an Equally Blessed partner.

“The notion that homosexuality is an illness similar to alcoholism or addiction to narcotics finds no support in psychological literature,” DeBernardo added. “You don’t need an advanced degree to understand that the fruits of lifelong, committed, monogamous relationships are quite different than the damage and heartache done by chemical dependencies.”

U2's Bono on Sargent Shriver

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Bono, the lead singer of the band U2 and a co-founder of the advocacy group ONE and (Product)RED, and contributing columnist for The New York Times, offers this reflection on the life of Sargent Shriver:

The Irish are still mesmerized by the mythical place that is America, but in the ’60s our fascination got out of hand. I was not old enough to remember the sacrifices of the great generation who saved Europe in the Second World War, or to quite comprehend what was going on in Vietnam. But what I do remember, and cannot forget, is watching a man walk on the moon in 1969 and thinking here is a nation that finds joy in the impossible.

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Major Islamic university in Egypt suspends ties with Vatican

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Al-Azhar University in Cairo, a prestigious institution sometimes called “the Vatican of the Islamic world,” today announced it is suspending its long-standing dialogue with the Vatican in protest over Pope Benedict XVI’s recent demand for protection of Egypt’s Coptic Christians.

The decision by the university’s Islamic Research Academy was reported this morning by the Catholic media agency “Asia News.”

The move by Al-Azhar, a state-sponsored institution widely seen as close to the Egyptian government, comes after Egypt also recalled its ambassador to the Holy See in protest over what it called “interference” by Benedict XVI in the country’s internal affairs.

The chill in relations between Egypt and the Vatican could have broad implications for Catholic/Muslim relations. As recently as late November, for example, the country’s state-appointed Grand Mufti, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, was a featured speaker at the New York launch of a major research project at Notre Dame titled “Contending Modernities.”

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