Town bewiched into church-state labyrinth

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP)--Mayor Leni Sitnick says she will nolonger issue proclamations honoring people or groups after her recentrecognition of pagan religions sparked protest and anger in the community"I am deeply saddened that a gesture of good intention to support religioustolerance and freedom has caused division in our community," Sitnick said.

Sitnick proclaimed the week of Oct. 25 as EarthReligions Awareness Week a recognition of pagan religions, orEarth-centered beliefs. Critics feared the event might spark students'interest in witchcraft and the occult. Local ministers protested and askedthe mayor to instead designate "Lordship of Jesus Christ Awareness Week."Byron Ballard, high priestess of a witches' circle known as Notre Dame delHerbe Mouillee, said she returned the proclamation because it causedinfighting in the Christian community.

"It was never, never our intention,"Ballard said. "We just wanted to raise awareness that there are people inthis community who have this particular spiritual path." Sitnick hadplanned to sign the "Lordship" proclamation, but abandoned it at therequest of some local ministers. The ministers said the proposed gesturewas appreciated, but it would mean the government overstepping theconstitutional boundary separating church and state.

Wait... Her name was Byron?

And if this program doesn't reduce your stress, we'll make you do even more stuff...HYDERABAD, India (AP) A reform-minded politician, tryingto turn his state into India's technology powerhouse, is relying on yoga toprovide a "physically and spiritually balanced" government. ChandrababuNaidu, the highest elected official in the southern state of AndhraPradesh, is known to work 18 hours a day and live on a frugal diet.

In amove to boost the alertness and improve the performance of his governmentministers and officials, Naidu on Friday organized a mandatory three-daycourse in yoga. "Your health is precious not only for you but also for theentire state," he told participants. The course includes yoga exercises,meditation and stress reduction techniques and nutrition counseling.

Thecourse was organized by Prajapita Brahmakumari Eshwariya Vishwa Vidyalaya,a voluntary organization promoting spiritual well-being. Naidu's tips tohis ministers for improving efficiency at work: Wake up early in themorning, drink 1 1/2 gallons of water a day, practice yoga and meditationand eat light non-spicy food.

All lawmakers in Andhra Pradesh will have toundergo the yoga classes. Naidu made the decision after many lawmakers were unable to take part in his Motherland program, which involves voluntaryphysical work.

"The program requires people to dig, clean and do otherphysical work. They are unable to do it," he said. In other efforts toimprove efficiency, Naidu has computerized many public records, heldvideoconferences with remote villages and introduced greater accountabilityof public officials.

The measures have won him praise from such people asMicrosoft Chairman Bill Gates, who invested several million dollars in acomputer software facility in Andhra Pradesh.

Mexicans walk (and roll) with deceased psychic healer into the new millennium

ESPINAZO, Mexico (AP) They come to this desert village from across Mexico, fromDallas, from Chicago, from Indianapolis, crawling on their knees, callingon the spirit of "El Nino Fidencio.'' The unemployed, the disabled, thetroubled touch his photograph or caress his tomb, then rub their hands overtheir bodies to bathe themselves in his magic.

In the haze of incense, ayoung boy videotapes a spirit medium in a long velour robe as she hissesand trembles, then speaks in a youthful voice. She says it is that of JoseFidencio Constantino, a long-dead faith healer known simply as "The ChildFidencio,'' for his high-pitched voice.

Thousands of pilgrims, about halfof them Mexican-Americans, come to Espinazo each fall for a three-daycelebration of El Nino's spiritual birth as a healer in 1928 and hisphysical death in 1938. Their numbers are growing rapidly. This fall'sturnout reached 20,000 people a record, according to residents of thisvillage in northern Mexico and academics who study the phenomenon.Followers of El Nino have an official Fidencista church, winningrecognition in 1993 from the government as Mexico's newest religion.

Theyhave set up more than 500 temples across Mexico and the United States, andadherents have El Nino sites on the Internet. Mexican entrepreneurs areconsidering putting up a hotel in Espinazo, where residents havetraditionally played host to Fidencistas for free. Vendors crowd its dirtstreets during the fall gathering to hawk Nino-adorned clocks, candles,amulets and T-shirts.