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Third Dominican group to travel to Iraq

On March 5, a group of eight Dominican religious sisters, a priest and a member of the Dominican laity will travel to Iraq in support of Iraqis suffering under U.S.-supported sanctions. The visit by the Dominicans will be the first during the Bush administration, which initiated a recent campaign of bombings near Baghdad Feb. 16.

Hundreds from the Midwest have been invited to gather for a prayer service and sendoff on the eve of the group's departure. The prayer service will begin at 4 p.m., March 4 in Lewis Hall at Dominican University in River Forest, Ill.

The eight travelers will be the third group of Dominicans to travel to Iraq despite U.S. policy forbidding such travel. All three groups have said they have made the decision to go to Iraq to witness firsthand the devastation created by 10 years of economic sanctions imposed on Iraq by the United Nations. The plans to visit Iraqi Dominican sisters and priests to personally express their sorrow about the situation and extend to them prayer and aid.

The trip is sponsored by the North American Justice Promoters, a nationwide group of Dominican sisters, brothers and priests who seek world justice. The Dominican Leadership Conference, an organization representing the elected leaders of Dominican congregations and provinces around the country, has passed a resolution that calls for the economic sanctions to be lifted.

Brooklyn museum opens controversial exhibit

The Brooklyn Museum of Art opened a new exhibit Feb. 16 that features a work depicting Jesus as a naked woman, prompting New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to appoint a task force to set "decency standards" for institutions that receive public funds.

The exhibit's inclusion of "Yo Mama's Last Supper," has sparked a new controversy for the museum, which was involved in a six-month legal battle with Giuliani in 1999 over a painting of the Virgin Mary that included elephant dung.

The piece by Jamaican-born artist Renee Cox features the photographer surrounded by 12 black apostles. It is part of an exhibit of works by 94 contemporary black artists, the Associated Press reported.

Cox, who was raised Roman Catholic, said the Last Supper image raises appropriate criticisms of the Catholic church, including its prohibition of women's ordination. "Get over it," she said. "Why can't a woman be Christ? We are the givers of life."

Giuliani said the exhibit demonstrates that anti-Catholicism is accepted in society.

"I think what they did is disgusting, it's outrageous," he said. The mayor said Feb. 15 that he will appoint a task force to "set decency standards for those institutions that are using your money, the taxpayers' money," including the museum, which is subsidized by the city.

More are working, but many are still poor

Faith-based providers of social services across the country report that more Americans are working as a result of a 1996 welfare reform law, but many continue to be poor after leaving welfare. In responses to a nonscientific survey distributed by the National Council of Churches, representatives of community programs voiced mixed opinions about the success of programs such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. That program and others dealing with food stamps and child care expire in 2002 and must be reauthorized by Congress to continue.

The survey results were announced Feb. 15 during a three-day forum sponsored by the National Council of Churches during which members of ecumenical, interfaith and grassroots organizations worked to develop recommendations concerning the reauthorization of the welfare reform-related programs.

The survey, which garnered about 150 responses from 34 states, also showed a disparity between the services some people are seeking and the ability of churches to help them. For instance, many churches provide assistance with food, counseling and clothing but are not able to help with utilities, housing costs and job training. …