Armed Palestinians holed up in Jesus' birthplace
About 120 Palestinian men shot their way into Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity yesterday, and are still holed up there with the town's Palestinian governor, Mohammed Madani. Elia Melinkovicz, a Greek Orthodox priest from Yugoslavia, said the clergymen in charge of the church have repeatedly asked the Palestinians to leave. "We told them it's forbidden to enter the church with weapons," he told the Associated Press.

Israeli soldiers have the church surrounded, and a tank sits at the edge of Manger Square, but they are under strict orders not to harm holy places. But that's isn't being strictly followed. "Many churches were fired upon," Raed Awad, secretary to the Roman Catholic patriarch in Jerusalem, told the Australian press. "A Lutheran church was hit and a shell entered the office of the pastor." Hospital sources also said the Israeli military shot at least two churches, killing a priest and wounding seven nuns. (This priest was apparently not Jacques Amateis, who was earlier reported dead but isn't.)

Bullets aren't the only weapons in this battle, reports the AFP news agency. After taking over three Palestinian television stations in Ramallah, Israeli troops reportedly began broadcasting pornographic films on them. "I am furious," a 52-year-old mother of three said. "These are the people who are shooting at us that also play this disgusting trick on us." Luckily, she added, half of the town is without electricity. An Israeli army spokesman denied the report.

This story continues to develop, and reports are sketchy and difficult to confirm (as is evident from the Amateis story). Since we won't update until tomorrow morning, check out Yahoo's full coverage, DebkaFile, and other sources for the latest developments.

Meanwhile, President Bush is feeling pressure on many sides for his role in the peace process. All of Jerusalem's Christian leaders united to ask the president to enter the dispute immediately "We call upon your Christian conscience, because we know you are the only one who can stop this tragedy immediately," they wrote. "We in return will play our part in mediating for the peace and security of all the people of this land, both Israeli and Palestinian."

Conservatives in the U.S., however, think Bush has done too much peacemaking, reports the Los Angeles Times. "A chorus of leading conservative voices has begun loudly discouraging the administration from inserting itself into peace negotiations—and instead is urging the president to give Israel a freer hand to respond militarily to Palestinian suicide bombings," writes Ronald Brownstein. "To a broad range of conservative Christians, support for Israel is virtually ordained by the Bible. Last month, for instance, Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), a staunch social conservative, declared on the Senate floor that Israel should maintain control of the Palestinian territories 'because God said so. … Look it up in the book of Genesis.'"

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War & peace:

  • The price of war | Good guys can't do ransom. (Joel Mowbray, National Review Online)

  • The gods of war | One man's Truce of God is another man's opportunity for devilment. (Paul Johnson, The Wall Street Journal, subscription required)

  • Peace seeker | Through his memoirs, and the help if his writing seminars class, the Rev. John Mote, a conscientious objector, battles an unfair label. (The Baltimore Sun)



  • A fresh focus on Jesus | It's not just Christians who are paying attention to him. Academics, undergraduates and even people who never go to church are increasingly curious. (Arizona Daily Star)

  • Jesus in pop culture | Stores around Tucson are reporting brisk sales in items that depict Jesus' likeness, be it night lights, rings, pens or even an action figure that is flying off the shelves. (Arizona Daily Star)

  • It's time to embrace Jesus's blackness | There is no need for black people to crack their heads as they formulate a black image of Jesus, simply because he is black. (Dumisane Hlophe, City Press, Johannesburg, South Africa)

  • Also: Christians cautioned against 'African Bible' | During Easter Sermon, Catholic Archbishop Ndingi Mwana a'Nzeki refuted emerging claims by some African scholars that Christianity was a religion for the Whites while the Old Testament was for the Jews. (The East African Standard, Nairobi)

Religion online:

  • Easter drives traffic to religion Web sites | Internet traffic to religion and spirituality sites from surfers logging on at home totaled nearly 1.2 million unique visitors during the week ended March 24, says Nielsen/NetRatings (Reuters)

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  • Holy http:// | Families find a spiritual connection in cyberspace (Chicago Tribune)

  • Visiting holy sites | Christian Web sites seem to be getting flashier these days (The Washington Post)

Britain's Queen Mother dies:

Abuse news:

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Abuse fallout:

Abuse opinion:

  • Sacrifice | It takes strong men to make good priests (Charles M. Madigan, Chicago Tribune)

  • Sacrilege | Silence has been the biggest sin of all (Mark J. Allman, Chicago Tribune)

  • Begging your indulgence | Church of Rome's abuses led to Luther's Reformation (Ron Grossman, Chicago Tribune)

  • Silence weakens archdiocese's reform efforts | While the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church has undermined the church's credibility and moral authority, the scandal has the potential to be an instrument of change. (Dawn Turner Trice, Chicago Tribune)

  • Hell to pay | "The Devil made me do it," said the priest. So I went to see the Devil. (Art Buchwald, The Washington Post)

  • Everybody's scandal | Taxpayers likely to sharpen questions about funding church charities (Laura Flanders,

  • Sins against man | Recent priest-pedophilia stories are covering everything except the effect on victims (Geov Parrish,

  • Child abuse in the church | We hope the prosecutor's investigation corroborates the Archdiocese of Cincinnati's report (Editorial, The Cincinnati Post)

  • Evolution of the archbishop | Archbishop Justin Rigali must move toward full disclosure if he is to restore public confidence. (Editorial, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

  • Patent leather, impure thoughts | The obsession with sins of the flesh helped lead the Catholic Church into this disaster (Anna Quindlen, Newsweek)

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  • Shadows on the church | The Pope should pay victims' way to Rome, and in St. Peter's Square he should apologize to them in the name of God (Mary McGrory, The Washington Post)

  • A faith's earthly good | If the skeletons are all that people know about the history of a great religion, they may begin to question whether it is even worth sustaining (Vincent Carroll, The Cincinnati Post)

  • Chill out on the church | The Catholic Church is an institution that represents the core beliefs of, and is the moral compass for, tens of millions of people. It is not only unfair, it is unwise, to undermine this relationship by a response more visceral than thoughtful. (Jackie Mason and Raoul Felder, The Washington Times)

  • How many priests will suffer bad faith? | Innocents have had their lives ruined by baseless accusations (Dennis Roddy, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Using abuse to make other cases:

  • Can the church survive? | The discovery of sin. (William F. Buckley, National Review Online)

  • A cloud of sexism over the church | The sad and ironic history of the relationship between Christianity and women has a great deal to do with the current scandal in what remains an all-male institution. (Robert S. McElvaine, Los Angeles Times)

  • Church and Congress | Both Catholic cardinals and U.S. legislators work in rule-driven hierarchies. If the lawmakers can make reforms, then why can't the priests? (Eleanor Clift, Newsweek)

  • Church of the people, not of the priests | The church is where it has always been: in the people of God, not in the trappings of hierarchical mendacity and excess. (Edward L. Beck, Los Angeles Times)

  • The Church in crisis | The Roman Catholic Church must reconsider not only celibacy, but its entire approach to sexuality (Editorial, The Toledo Blade)

  • Celibacy for beginners | Yes, it's an issue, but it's not the reason for the church's troubles (Philip Jenkins, The Washington Post)

  • The struggle with celibacy | What a national scandal says, and doesn't, about a priestly practice. (Lorenzo Albacete, The New York Times)

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