Tag Archives: Niraj Warikoo

Ex-worldwide head of Anglican Communion visiting Detroit says: Christianity is vital for democracy, rights

Visiting Detroit, a former head of the biggest Protestant group in the world, the Anglican Communion, says that human rights and democracy comes out of Christianity

Published in Detroit Free Press, May 14, 2015

By Niraj Warikoo

— One of the world’s most prominent Protestant leaders is in Detroit this week, preaching that Christianity is vital for democracy, human rights and fulfilling the human soul. But in order for the Christian faith to survive in the West, it needs to reach out and help society or face continued decline, he said.

Lord George Carey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, was once the nominal head of about 80 million Anglicans worldwide, the third-largest Christian group after the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Known for his conservative views, Lord Carey on Wednesday delivered the opening prayer to the state Senate in the Capitol and will speak this weekend at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Detroit, the house of worship near Comerica Park that is hosting him.

Speaking to the Free Press, Carey called for Christian churches to be more responsive to the needs of communities to remain relevant. His visit comes the same week that a major new report by Pew Research Center was released, showing that the number of Americans identifying as Christian dropped eight percentage points, from 78.4% to 70.6%, since 2007 – or about five million people.

The drop was especially sharp among mainline Protestants, which include Episcopalians, an American denomination that is part of the Anglican Communion. In the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, Sunday attendance has declined more than 35% since 2000.

“I would look at a church and say, what do you offer young people, what are you offering elderly people, what are you offering young married couples, offering homeless people?” Carey said in an interview. “It’s about responding to the needs of the society … If your church were to disappear overnight, would your community miss you?”

For a church to remain relevant, it has to be “responding to the needs of the society.”

The fading of Christianity concerns Carey, once described as the Pope Emeritus of conservative Anglicans all over the world.

“Christianity is integral to our democracy” and human rights, said Carey, who led the Church of England from 1991 to 2002. “People make the assumption that Western democracy is based upon the principles of the Enlightenment,” but it comes from Christianity.

“Human rights, parliamentary democracy … flows out of a firm conviction in which God is central … the value of an individual,” he said. “If we leave Christianity behind, where will our moral system end up? I don’t know. I’m slightly worried about that.”

Carey will speak at St. John’s Episcopal Church, a historic church that has made a comeback over the past dozen years under the Rev. Steven Kelly, who does a more traditional liturgy. Their spike in membership at a time of Episcopal decline shows that traditional views could help stem the decline of Christianity, say church members. While mainline Protestants suffered the greatest loss in membership over the past seven years, evangelical Christians grew by two million, according to the new Pew report.

“Traditional liturgical churches with a solid theological grounding are growing,” said Dennis Lennox, a member of St. John’s Episcopal Church, who helped organize Carey’s visit. “At St. John’s, our fastest-growing demographic are 20s and 30s, which defies the conventional wisdom and statistics.”

Lennox said that “if mainline Christianity – and specifically Anglicans and Episcopalians – had more Lord Careys, then more churches wouldn’t be scratching their heads, wondering why the pews are empty.”

Carey is also expected to talk about the increasing persecution of Christians in the Middle East, and the importance of religious liberty, two issues that concern many Christians. While he opposes same-sex marriage, he says that “the church ought not to be seen talking so much about sexuality and homosexuality.”

Instead, churches should be engaging people where they are: from sports to community affairs to every day activities.

“The church is relevant to society in a big way,” he said.

“Each one of us has a spiritual dimension,” he said. He said he often hears people say: “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual. But can you have a spirituality that’s not religious? … People often don’t realize what they’re looking for. And the church has to be there to capture that, give them hope, and be available for them.”

The Rev. Kelly said: “People are seeking meaning in sexuality, they’re seeking meaning in sports, they’re seeking meaning in all sorts of things, but that doesn’t fill the God-sized hole” in people’s souls that religion can.

Contact Niraj Warikoo: nwarikoo@freepress.com or 313-223-4792. Follow him on Twitter @nwarikoo

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Two Detroit sisters killed in Ghana

Published in Detroit Free Press, May 8, 2015

By Niraj Warikoo

http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/detroit/2015/05/07/elderly-native-detroit-sisters-slain-ghana/70980666/

Inspired by the social movements at the time, Jeannette Salters of Detroit got involved in the early 1970s with African-American and feminist causes, helping lead a black women’s group.

That led her to discover her roots in west Africa, where she eventually settled in Ghana, changing her name to Mamelena Diop. Her journey to Africa was part of a movement of Detroiters who sought to reclaim their ancestral roots during a revival of black nationalist movements.

Diop loved it there, say friends and family. But this week, her body, along with that of her sister, Nzinga Janna, was found near their home in Ghana in what may been killings in a dispute over land. She was 75 and her sister was 60 at the time of death, according to reports in a Ghanian online news site and family members. Two men have been arrested, according to the Ghanian news report and family members.

“I feel terrible about what happened,” said her son, Greg Salters of Detroit. “It’s a tragedy. Words can’t even explain how I feel about my mom being taken away from her home, murdered and put in a shallow grave 300 feet from her home.”

Salters said his mother and aunt were killed by people who wanted land she had legally acquired from the government in Ghana.

“Some locals decided they wanted to take the land from them,” he said. “My mom went to court over that” and won.

“I guess the locals decided they were going to take matters into their own hands,” he said. “And they decided to abduct and murder them.”

A report on MyJoyOnline.Com said the sisters “had gone missing and a search in their room Tuesday afternoon revealed blood on the floor and a bloodstained cudgel, believed to have been used to hit them.”

Her dogs had been poisoned several weeks ago, said family members and the media report.

The report said the dispute also may have been over who has the authority to be a chief, with others trying to say that the sisters could not legally be chiefs. But family members in metro Detroit say that story doesn’t add up since the sisters could not be chiefs in that area because they were women.

Friends and family of Diop mourned her loss, saying it was a tragedy for her to die in a land she loved so much. Diop had moved back and forth between Detroit and Ghana over the years and was a dual citizen of the U.S. and Ghana. She was last in Detroit two years ago for the funeral of a relative.

“She loved that place,” said Diop’s daughter Cheryl Salters. “She loved Africa. The people were nice.”

A family member or friend of Janna could not be reached for comment.

Diop’s close friend, Thea Simmons of Grosse Pointe Park, was in shock when she heard about the deaths.

“My mind went blank … I shed some tears,” she said. “It’s beyond a travesty that she should lose her life in her adopted homeland. She loved Ghana. And she loved the Ghanian people.”

Family are now trying to get her body back into the U.S. The U.S. Embassy has contacted them to notify them of the deaths of the sisters, said family members.

The family is trying to raise money through GoFundMe to ship the sisters’ remains back to Detroit.

Diop was originally from Cleveland, but moved to Detroit as a young woman, said Simmons. She “became involved in radical politics … social movements” in African-American and women’s movements.

In 1973, she helped set up the Detroit chapter of the now-defunct National Black Feminist Organization. She was also a social worker and counselor, said family members.

Several years later, she traveled to west African countries, the land of her origins. She settled in Ghana, getting involved with helping people, said family members. She was also into eating organic and using natural herbs.

“My mother was very articulate, very into herbs and holistic medicine, eating natural,” said Cheryl Salters.

A grandson, James Salters, said that Diop was involved with helping Ghanians with education, water systems and affordable housing.

He said: “I feel sad that someone would actually target an older woman when she’s over there trying to do good for that country.”

Contact Niraj Warikoo: nwarikoo@freepress.com or 313-223-4792. Follow him on Twitter @nwarikoo.

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800 pack Jewish Community Center in Oak Park, Michigan, to stop it from closing

Hundreds jammed the Jewish Community Center in Oak Park Monday night to strongly object to the center’s closing, accusing Jewish leaders of favoring the wealthy in the community.

It was standing-room only inside the center as residents lined up to blast the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and Jewish Community Center leaders for moving to close the center. About 800 attended, with police preventing additional people from entering because of fire safety regulations.

Leaders are “only caring about the country-club set instead of worrying about those in need,” said Alan Hitsky, 69, of Southfield, to loud applause.

“Something has to be done to save it,” said Tova Schreiber, 26, of Oak Park. “It provides a very valuable service for different segments of the community.”

Some at the Monday discussion suggested setting up a grassroots fund to raise money to save the center, with one woman writing a $1,000 check.

Alan Hitsky, 69, of Southfield, speaks out against the closing of the Jewish Community Center in Oak Park, Michigan, on Jan. 12, Monday.

“I have tears in my eyes,” Florine Mark, president of the Jewish Community Center, said at the meeting. “I’m so proud of this Jewish community. I just got a check for $1,000. Let’s save this building.”

But center officials stressed Monday that any such effort to save the building would probably have to be independent of the Jewish Community Center.

Leaders with the center and Federation are recommending the center be closed because it is losing up to $1 million a year. The plan has led to a sharp pushback from some in the Oak Park area, with a petition against the closing drawing 650 signatures so far, said Aaron Tobin, 53, of Oak Park, who opposes closing the center.

The meeting on Monday night was to hear the concerns of the public; all of the speakers from the audience opposed the closing.

“We’re not abandoning this neighborhood,” said Scott Kaufman, CEO of the Jewish Federation. “We’re going to continue servicing the community, but at a price we can afford.”

Built in 1956, the Jewish Commmunity Center in Oak Park is the oldest and smaller of the two main Jewish community centers that is largely funded by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. The other center is in West Bloomfield. Residents say the closing of the Oak Park center would hurt the Orthodox and less wealthy members of the community, who tend to be more concentrated in the Oak Park area.

In fiscal year 2013-14, the Jewish Community Centers in Oak Park and West Bloomfield lost close to $1.4 million, said Jim Issner, interim executive director of the Jewish Community Center. The centers were projected to lose $1.2 million for fiscal year 2014-2015.

“They have been losing a significant amount of money for a number of years,” said Issner. “A significant portion of the losses can be attributed to the Oak Park facility.”

But Issner says he understands the concerns that some may have.

“No one is taking this lightly,” he said.

Schreiber said that Jewish leaders are not aware that a growing number of young Jewish people have moved to the Oak Park area in recent years.

She said the center is a great place for different denominations in the Jewish community, and age groups, can come together.

“It would really be a shame if it closed,” she said.

Marvin Berman, 80, of Southfield, suggested teaming up with the Chaldean community to create a joint Jewish-Chaldean center. He also said the Federation should spend more locally on the community than on helping Israel.

“The needs of the local community are more important than the financial needs of Israel,” Berman said.

Shirley Zimberg, 84, of Southfield, said the center plays an important role.

The Oak Park center “offers a face-to-face experience for all people, young and old, disabled, all kinds of religions and races,” she said.

Contact Niraj Warikoo: nwarikoo@freepress.com or 313-223-4792, Follow him on Twitter @nwarikoo

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Sign at Packard Plant in Detroit similar to Nazi sign at Auschwitz concentration camp

Photo by Niraj Warikoo of new sign at the overpass at the Packard Auto Plant in Detroit

I broke the story this week of the infamous Auschwitz sign being placed at the Packard Plant in Detroit.
It’s since been removed.

By Niraj Warikoo
Detroit Free Press Staff Writer

Published: 9:44 PM, February 4, 2013

Big letters have been placed on the overpass at the Packard Automotive Plant in Detroit that read in German “Work will make you Free,” concerning some metro Detroiters, given the resemblance to an infamous sign at the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz. It’s unclear who put up the letters.
In capital red letters on a white background, the new sign at the decaying site on Detroit’s east side reads: “Arbeit Macht Frei,” the exact same words at the entrance to the concentration camps in Poland where Jews were forced to work and were murdered. The sign, which was used at other Nazi camps, became well known as an international symbol of cruelty.
“I found it disturbing,” said David Schulman, 53, a Huntington Woods resident who came across the Detroit sign while driving home last week from Belle Isle. His grandmother had family members killed in the Holocaust.
“It’s a form of hate speech,” Schulman said. “It really appalled me.”
An attorney who represents the owner of the plant said he wasn’t aware of the sign until contacted by the Free Press, but now intends to remove it or cover it up.
“This is a disgusting act,” said Troy attorney John Bologna, who represents the plant’s owner Dominic Cristini. Cristini is in a legal dispute with the city over the plant’s ownership.
The sign consists of separate white rectangular pieces for each letter. The style of the lettering in the Detroit sign has specific similarities to the Nazi sign at Auschwitz that made it unique: for example, the upper half of the letter “B” in “Arbeit” (“Work”) is bigger than the lower half, just like it is in Auschwitz.
The letters appear to have been hung there sometime this year, said Schulman. He didn’t notice them when driving about a month ago by the overpass, which sits across East Grand Boulevard near Concord Street.
The plant has become a symbol of Detroit’s industrial decline. Designed by the noted architect Albert Kahn, the Packard Plant used to be an auto manufacturing facility where thousands worked and was a symbol of the strength of blue-collar labor in America’s Midwest.
It’s unclear if the sign is meant to be a satirical remark on the decline of manufacturing and cities like Detroit. In recent years, artists have explored the plant, and installed or moved around objects to make commentary on urban and industrial decay.
Regardless of whether the sign is part of an art project or satire, Schulman said such a sign is quite offensive.
His grandmother and her sister were the only two members in their family to survive the Nazis, he said. Schulman has contacted the Michigan chapter of the Anti-Defamation League about the sign at the Packard Plant.
“I can’t explain why someone would want to do something like that,” he said. “It doesn’t belong there. It doesn’t make our city look well.”

Contact Niraj Warikoo: 313-223-4792 or nwarikoo@freepress.com

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Exclusive: Catholic pastor in Troy, Michigan, bought $500,000 Florida condo from his church manager

I obtained and reviewed documents from Florida that show Fr. Edward Belczak of St. Thomas More parish in Troy, Michigan, bought on March 28, 2005, a half-million home from his longtime parish manager, Janice Verschuren. Both have now been removed amid an embezzlement investigation.

Detroit Free Press: “The charismatic Catholic pastor removed last week from his parish in Troy amid an embezzlement investigation bought a half-million-dollar condo in Florida from his longtime church administrator, the Free Press has learned.”

Click here to read more.

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Fr. Belczak story

Hi, If you would like to comment or share thoughts about Fr. Edward Belczak of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Troy, Michigan, please contact me anytime at nwarikoo@freepress.com, 313-223-4792, or Twitter.com/nwarikoo. Thank you.

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January 26, 2013 · 11:12 am

Embezzlement investigation of Troy pastor Rev. Edward Belczak surprises those who knew him

Troy priest embezzlement investigation shocks community

By Niraj Warikoo and Patricia Montemurri

Detroit Free Press Staff Writers

Published: Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013

To those who know him, the Rev. Edward Belczak of St. Thomas More church in Troy is a gregarious pastor who helped grow his parish into one of the biggest Catholic congregations in Oakland County with his charisma and sense of humor. His homilies are so entertaining that some people attend his church just because of him.

“He was well-respected and well-loved,” said the Rev. Chris Yaw, a former Catholic who is rector of St. David’s Episcopal Church in Southfield. “People wanted to be around him. … He was an outstanding pastor.”

That’s why many were surprised to learn that Belczak, 67, was removed this week from his parish as Troy Police and the Archdiocese of Detroit investigate whether he embezzled $429,000 in church funds to benefit himself and an unnamed ghost employee.

“I’m shocked and stunned,” Yaw said about the allegations.

That view was echoed Wednesday by others.

“We’re all pretty shocked and saddened,” said Mary Jane Doherty, who has been a member of St. Thomas More parish for 17 years. “It’s a very sad day for us. … We’re praying for him.”

The archdiocese disclosed Tuesday that Belczak has been “temporarily excluded from the office of pastor” after an audit discovered financial irregularities that included receiving excessive pay worth $92,000 and paying a ghost employee at least $240,000. The archdiocese — which oversees 1.3 million Catholics — did not say who the ghost employee is.

The audit was one of about a dozen it does per year, part of an effort started in 2009 by Archbishop of Detroit Allen Vigneron “to better secure … finances,” archdiocese spokesman Ned McGrath said Wednesday.

Belczak, who is no longer allowed to reside at the parish that he led for 30 years, faces an administrative hearing that will be conducted by a priest from outside Michigan, McGrath said. The police investigation is separate.

Part of the embezzlement allegations involves the St. Thomas More Travel Group, which was a parish activity, though not a travel agency, McGrath said. On the church’s website, the travel group advertises upcoming trips to Israel and Russia.

“We offer opportunities to travel with both friends and fellow parishioners,” says the site for the travel group, which is part of the church website.

Belczak could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Officials at St. Thomas More either declined to comment or did not respond to calls and messages. Belczak’s brother, the Rev. Tom Belczak, a Catholic priest at St. Kenneth in Plymouth, also could not be reached for comment.

Marion McDonough, 65, of Troy has been a member of St. Thomas More since her teens, and her parents were founding members of the parish, established in 1963.

“His method of preaching is very entertaining,” said McDonough. “He tells a lot of jokes.”

Yaw co-led a funeral service with Belczak a few years ago, finding him great to work with. When he was a Catholic, Yaw had attended some of Belczak’s services.

Belczak “was like Johnny Carson,” Yaw said. “He was charismatic.”

Contact Niraj Warikoo: 313-223-4792 or nwarikoo@freepress.com

More Details: Other cases

Recent cases of alleged embezzlement at churches in Michigan:

• November: Joseph Finnigan, former deacon at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Grand Haven, charged with embezzlement between $20,000 and $50,000.

• August: Pastor Etheridge Henry Moore of Heritage Baptist Church in Gaines Township admits embezzling more than $100,000 from his church.

• April: A Wayne County judge orders Kathleen Galoch of Canton to pay restitution within four months for embezzling $13,169 from St. Theodore Catholic Church in Westland, where she worked from 1986 to 2011.

• February: Reuben Bynum arraigned on charges that he embezzled more than $600,000 from Trinity Baptist Church in Pontiac, where he had worked as a financial officer.

• December 2011: The Rev. Arthur Pearson Sr. of Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church in Grand Rapids accused by prosecutors of embezzling $50,000-$100,000.

 

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