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Published: Saturday, 12/28/2002

Catholics made headlines with scandals, successes

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

In 2002, religion news both locally and nationally was dominated by the Catholic Church - primarily coverage of the priest sex scandal. But there were many other noteworthy events among religious communities in Toledo and the surrounding region.

Bishop James Hoffman, leader of the 325,000-member Toledo Catholic Diocese, removed five priests from ministry this year for sexual misconduct involving minors and at least 13 lawsuits have been filed against the diocese and its former priests.

The local developments were part of a national crisis that erupted in January in Boston, that led the embattled archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Law, to resign Dec. 13.

Toledo's 70-year-old bishop, who has been in office since 1981, announced in November that he is suffering from cancer of the esophagus and is undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatment.

Not all Catholic news was negative, however.

One of the biggest events, for Toledo and around the globe, was World Youth Day 2002, held in Toronto, Canada. More than 700 Catholics from the Toledo Diocese joined people from more than 190 nations at the weeklong event. Pope John Paul II inspired hundreds of thousands with his passionate words. A highlight was the Pontiff's celebration of Mass for 800,000 faithful who had camped overnight at a former military base awaiting the Sunday morning service.

In April, the majestic $4 million All Saints Catholic Church opened its doors in Rossford, rising from the ashes after a New Year's Eve fire destroyed the parish facility.

Among the famous visitors who came to Toledo this year were the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Bishop Gilbert E. Patterson, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, Marianne Williamson, Deion Sanders, Bishop Mark S. Hanson, and His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, head of the 15 million-member Coptic Orthodox Church.

In April, Ms. Williamson, the New Age evangelist known as “the guru to the stars,” spoke at Notre Dame Academy in Toledo for the Interfaith Justice and Peace Center's Peace Festival.

On Aug. 31, Pope Shenouda consecrated the new St. George Coptic Orthodox Church of Toledo, located on Waterville-Monclova Road. The facility has a capacity of about 230 and was built at a cost of $580,000.

Bishop Patterson, worldwide head of the 6 million-member Church of God in Christ, helped celebrate the opening of St. James Holiness Church's building on Nebraska Avenue. The church founded by the late Bishop William James is known as “The Armory,” for equipping the saints for spiritual battle, and seats more than 3,000 people.

Mr. Falwell, introduced as “God's flak jacket for conservatism,” honored Toledo Baptist Temple's 50th anniversary with a Sunday morning sermon on Nov. 17. It was only the sixth time in his 47 years as pastor that Mr. Falwell missed a Sunday morning service at his home church in Lynchburg, Va.

Bishop Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America stopped briefly in Toledo in September on his way to a church conference in Lakeside-on-Lake-Erie, Ohio. In an interview, the bishop spoke of the many challenges facing the 5.1 million-member ELCA.

Rabbi Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the central body of the Reform movement in North America, came to Toledo last month to speak at a regional conference.

Mr. Sanders, the flashy football star known as “Prime Time,” gave his personal testimony last month at Cornerstone Church.

Cornerstone's pastor, the Rev. Michael Pitts, marked his first nationally distributed book release in the summer when Help! I Think God Is Trying To Kill Me was published by Whitaker House, one of the leading Christian publishing companies.

Rabbi Michael Ungar, leader of Temple B'nai Israel for five years, left in July to take a position at a Columbus synagogue.

Interfaith efforts among Toledo's diverse religious community showed great gains with a stirring Sept. 11 memorial service at the University of Toledo's Nitschke Hall. Jewish, Hindu, Catholic, Baha'i, Buddhist, mainline Protestant, Muslim, Christian Orthodox, Unitarian, and Ojibway Nation leaders gathered on the one-year anniversary of the attacks to honor the heroes and the ordinary people who were killed by the terrorists.

Leading religious peace activists who spoke in Toledo in 2002 included the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, known for his efforts to close the U.S.-sponsored School of the Americas in Georgia, and the Rev. Daniel Berrigan, who died earlier this month.

Close enough to have drawn many Toledoans was the four-day mission in Cincinnati put on by the Rev. Billy Graham. The 83-year-old evangelist reported that he felt weak during his sermons, but his organization said more than 11,000 people stepped forward to receive Christ during the mission.

Some of the biggest names in contemporary gospel music came to northwest Ohio in 2002, including Kirk Franklin, Steven Curtis Chapman, Alvin Slaughter, Third Day, Phil Keaggy, and Plus One. A homegrown band, Sanctus Real, became the first Christian rock group from this area to sign with a major label, Sparrow Records.

A dozen Buddhist monks from Gaden Shartse Monastic College in southern India visited Toledo in October and demonstrated chanting and butter sculpture and created a sand mandala.

Toledo movie theaters had VeggieTales fans packed like sardines when Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie opened in October. The $20 million film was the first Christian movie made with computer-animated graphics that held its own with the big Hollywood and Disney studios.



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