WASHINGTON, Dec. 20 (RNS) -- When the clock ticked past midnight on Jan. 1, 2000, the new year -- and indeed a new millennium -- dawned with both hope andtrepidation. Doomsday sects anticipating Armageddon were leftdisappointed, while people of all faiths hoping for a momentous JubileeYear were not.

At home and abroad, religion continued to impact the private andpublic lives of millions. Scientific discovery, ethnic identity,internal church votes and the candidacy for vice president by a Jewishsenator from Connecticut all shaped the interaction of the human and thedivine.

In a year dominated by the presidential election, perhaps the biggest storyof 2000 came in August when Vice President Al Gore named Sen. JosephLieberman -- an Orthodox Jew -- as the first Jew to run on a major partypresidential ticket, a watershed event in American religious and politicalhistory.

More than any other modern politician, Lieberman infused the publicdiscourse with a deeply personal faith, calling for a greater role forreligion in civic life and urging a "dedication of our nation andourselves to God and God's purposes."

Although ultimately unsuccessful in their race for the White House,the Democratic duo changed the political dynamics and opened the doorfor Jewish Americans to play a more prominent -- and perhaps morepowerful -- role in the nation's public life in the future.

On the other side of the aisle, religion played an important role inthe campaign of President-elect George W. Bush, a self-professedborn-again Christian who weathered weeks of biting criticism forspeaking at Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist school where the popeis seen as the anti-Christ and interracial dating was forbidden.

The Bush presidency promises to feature a high profile role for themurky mix of religion and public policy with his promised White Houseoffice for faith-based programs to allow "Methodists or Mormons orMuslims" to deliver social services.

Perhaps the greatest public policy accomplishment for the religiouscommunity came in late October with the agreement between the WhiteHouse and Congress to erase the foreign debts of the world's poorestcountries.

The Jubilee campaign attracted a diverse coalition of rock stars,bishops and rabbis to push the government to contribute $900 millionover three years for an international relief fund. The first twoinstallments took heavy prodding; another battle looms ahead next year.

This year also saw the country's Christian churches to bedeeply divided internally by sex and gender issues, mostprominently the role of gays and lesbians in church life.

Over the course of three months, the Methodists, Presbyterians andEpiscopalians endured raucous protests and hundreds of arrests duringchurch meetings, but left their assemblies largely upholding theirpositions against same-sex unions and gay ordination.

The nation's largest Protestant denomination, the Southern BaptistConvention, again made headlines in June when delegates voted toprohibit women from the pulpit, a long-held practice that was madeofficial at the Orlando meeting.

The contentious summer meetings led to visible cracks within thechurches, with conservative Episcopalians joining a dissident group andmoderate Texas Southern Baptists withholding their money from church-runseminaries. Former President Jimmy Carter, the nation's best-knownSouthern Baptist, cut his ties to the "rigid" church.

Despite a push for greater inclusion in the Christian churches,ironically the greatest advancement for gay rights came in March whenReform rabbis voted to allow the blessing of same-sex unions, a decisionthat was heavily debated but without the same public hoopla in the Protestantdenominations.

The nation's Catholic churches rallied around Pope John Paul II'scall for a Year of Jubilee, with a focus on reconciliation andreflection. In May Catholics shed tears for New York Cardinal JohnO'Connor, who had emerged as the nation's most prominent -- and oftencontroversial -- Catholic leader before succumbing to brain cancer atage 80.

Without a doubt, however, most Catholics focused their attention ontheir ailing pontiff and his whirlwind tour of the Middle East in March.Before leaving, John Paul issued an unprecedented apology for the pastsins of the church, declaring that "to recognize the deviations of thepast serves to reawaken our consciences to the compromises of thepresent."

Touching down in the Middle East, John Paul followed the paths ofAbraham and Jesus through the Holy Land. He prayed at Jerusalem's Western Wall,said Mass in the Upper Room, called for justice for Palestinians andvisited Israel's somber memorial to the Holocaust.

"There are no words strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy ofthe Shoah," the pope said of the Holocaust.

But the pontiff stopped short of formally apologizing for what somesee as the Vatican's all-too-quiet role during the Holocaust. In a movethat outraged many Jews, the pope also beatified Pope Pius IX, a 19th centuryItalian who kidnapped a young Jewish boy and raised him as a Catholic.

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