followers as he blesses online fans and tweets: 'Dear friends...'
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI hit the 1 million Twitter follower mark on Wednesday as he sent his first tweet from his new account, blessing his online fans and urging them to listen to Christ.
In perhaps the most drawn out Twitter launch ever, the 85-year-old Benedict tapped the screen of a tablet brought to him at the end of his general audience after the equivalent of a papal drum roll by an announcer who intoned: "And now the pope will tweet!"
"Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart," the inaugural tweet read.
At around the same time the message was sent, the number of followers of Benedict's (at)Pontifex accounts surpassed the 1 million mark, with all eight languages of the pope's account combined.
The first papal tweet has been the subject of intense curiosity — as well as merciless jokes, criticism and commentary. "The pope has an iPad?" comedian Jon Stewart asked earlier this year. The Onion satirical newspaper ran a piece "Pope tweets picture of self with God." And in perhaps a more long-term and problematic issue for the Vatican, the (at)Pontifex handle was flooded with negative messages from users remarking on the clerical sex abuse scandal.
Vatican officials have said they expected such negativity, but that is a risk they take by putting the Catholic Church's message out.
China revokes title of new Catholic bishop in Shanghai in fresh challenge to Vatican authority
BEIJING (AP) — In a fresh challenge to Vatican authority, China has revoked the title of a new Catholic bishop in Shanghai who outraged Chinese officials by immediately dropping out of the government agency that oversees the country's officially sanctioned church, religious officials said Wednesday.
Ma Daqin, who was jointly named for the post in a rare consensus between Beijing and the Vatican, has been confined to a seminary since he announced his intention to drop out of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association in front of a congregation during his July 7 ordination as auxiliary bishop.
The move by Ma, 44, was seen as challenging China's attempts to run the country's Catholic church independently of the Vatican.
A Shanghai church official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said the decision by Chinese officials to revoke Ma's title was announced at an internal meeting this week. He said no reason was given for the revocation.
Vandals spray-paint hate graffiti on wall of Greek Orthodox church in Jerusalem
JERUSALEM (AP) — Vandals have spray-painted "Death to Christianity" and "Jesus, son of a whore" on a Greek Orthodox monastery in Jerusalem.
The overnight attack on the Monastery of the Cross was the latest in a series of vandalisms of Christian holy sites. Extremist Jews sympathetic to Israel's settlement movement are suspected.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Wednesday the vandals also sprayed "price tag" on the monastery's outer wall — a form of retribution settlers and their sympathizers use in retaliation for acts they consider to be pro-Palestinian.
Extremists have carried out similar "price tag" attacks on other churches, mosques and Israeli military bases.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the defacing of the church.
Israel has 155,000 Christian citizens, less than 2 percent of its nearly 8 million people.
Anti-Shariah law on lame duck agenda at Michigan House; Muslim group urges governor to veto
DETROIT (AP) — A Muslim rights group has urged Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to veto legislation designed to block use of Islamic law in the state should it reach his desk.
A House bill to bar use of "foreign laws that would impair constitutional rights" was on Tuesday's House agenda. Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville, sponsored the bill, which doesn't specifically mention the Islamic legal code called Shariah. However, the bill's supporters have said they are concerned about the use of Shariah spreading.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a statement criticizing what it called an "anti-Islam bill" and urging its rejection.
Dawud Walid, executive director of the group's Michigan chapter, said that aside from undermining the rights and wellbeing of Muslims, the bill creates an atmosphere unfriendly to international investment and the immigration of people who can promote Michigan's economic development.
In May, the Michigan Catholic Conference said it strongly opposes the bill because it would likely affect the application of Catholic canon law, the judicial structure governing the church.
Walter Sullivan, known progressive Catholic leader and longtime Richmond bishop, dies at 84
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Former Bishop Walter F. Sullivan, a progressive leader in the U.S. Roman Catholic church and the longest-serving head of the Richmond diocese, died Tuesday. He was 84.
Sullivan, who had been diagnosed with liver cancer, died at home, said Judy Lindfors, assistant editor of The Catholic Virginian.
He spent the majority of his life serving the church, including 29 years as bishop of the sprawling Richmond diocese and 21 years before that as a priest.
As the 11th bishop to head the Richmond diocese, Sullivan was known as one of the more progressive leaders in the Catholic church. He caused controversy by opening his churches to gays and lesbians, condemning wars in Vietnam and the Middle East and speaking out against the death penalty.
Under Sullivan, women found a greater role in the church as lectors and Eucharistic ministers, and seven of the diocese's 145 parishes were run by women.
Sullivan also was instrumental in reaching out to minorities and other groups. Before he retired in 2003, the diocese had 24 advisory committees representing youth, women, homosexuals, blacks and senior citizens — all of which he consulted regularly.