Church Provided Care, Prayer for Passengers from Derailed Train
BOOTHWYN, Pa. - A Methodist pastor says his ministry switched suddenly from preaching to caring for hundreds of shaken passengers who were evacuated from a train that crashed into a backhoe outside Philadelphia, killing the equipment operator and a supervisor.
The Rev. James Ford says he was preparing his Sunday sermon when the train derailed nearby.
Ford says his congregation and an American Red Cross spiritual care team provided blankets, counseling and prayer for the 300 passengers who were brought into Trainer United Methodist Church.
Ford says, "We certainly sincerely pray for the two families that lost someone." Federal officials described both of the victims as Amtrak employees.
More than 30 passengers were sent to hospitals with injuries that weren't considered life-threatening.
Syrian Army Presses Offensive Against IS
QARYATAIN, Syria - Syrian troops have recaptured the town of Qaryatain from Islamic State militants who had abducted and terrorized its Christian residents.
An Associated Press crew was among the first journalists to enter the town and witnessed the destruction wrought on the once-thriving Christian community and its fifth-century monastery, which was bulldozed by the extremist group last summer.
Once a cherished pilgrimage site, much of the St. Elian monastery had been reduced to a pile of stones.
Activists said last summer that Qaryatain had a mixed population of around 40,000 Sunni Muslims and Christians, as well as thousands of internally displaced people who had fled from the nearby city of Homs. Many of the Christians fled the town after it came under attack by IS.
Dozens of Qaryatain's Christians and other residents have been abducted by IS. While the town was under Islamic State control, some were released while others were made to sign pledges to pay a tax imposed on non-Muslims.
Groups Rally to Call for Veto of Religious Objections Bill
JACKSON, Miss. - Hundreds of protesters in Jackson, Mississippi have voiced their opposition to House Bill 1523.
Supporters say it supports religious objections. Opponents say it would permit discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.
Human Rights Campaign, ACLU of Mississippi and Planned Parenthood Southeast led a rally outside the Governor's Mansion in downtown Jackson.
The protesters, civil rights groups, religious leaders and major businesses are all calling on Gov. Gov. Phil Bryant to veto the bill. It would allow government employees and private business people to deny services to same-sex couples based on the argument that gay marriage violates their religious beliefs.
Bryant hasn't indicated whether he will sign the bill. A spokesman says Bryant will thoroughly review it before making a decision.
Tennessee Lawmakers Vote for Bible as State's Official Book
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee lawmakers have voted to make the Holy Bible the state's official book.
The state Senate gave final approval Monday on a 19-8 vote despite arguments the measure conflicts with a provision in the Tennessee Constitution that "no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship."
Republican Sen. Steve Southerland argued that his bill is aimed at recognizing the Bible for its historical and cultural contributions to the state, rather than as a government endorsement of religion.
Opponents argued that the Bible would be trivialized by being placed alongside other state symbols like the official tree, rock or amphibian.
The measure heads to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who hasn't said whether he'll issue a veto.
Chino Valley School Board Members Ordered to Pay Legal Fees
CHINO HILLS, Calif. - Two months after members of a California school district board were ordered to halt prayers and religious proselytizing at meetings, the same federal judge has ordered them to pay the legal fees of the lawsuit's winning side.
The San Bernardino Sun reports that U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal wants four Chino Valley Unified board members to pay more than $202,000 to the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The group sued the district in 2014.
The board is appealing Bernal's Feb. 18 order to end its long-standing tradition of reciting prayers and Bible readings during meetings.
Shelter for Homeless Fathers, Children to Open in Sioux City
SIOUX CITY, Iowa - A Christian nonprofit agency is opening a shelter in Sioux City, Iowa, for homeless single fathers and their children.
The Sioux City Journal reports that Gospel Mission began construction on the $600,000 facility in the fall of 2015. The apartments are scheduled to open later this month.
The nondenominational ministry will give families food and resources to find daycare and work. The apartments offer kitchen appliances, a laundry machine, a living area with a TV and bunkbeds. Residents will be allowed to stay for six months, with a goal of getting the family back on its feet.
Gospel mission already has a shelter for single women with children. A dedication and open house for the new shelter is scheduled for April 17.
Michigan Nonprofit Renamed Samaritas to Reflect Broad Reach
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - One of Michigan's largest social service and refugee resettlement agencies says it's changing its name to reflect its broad reach.
Lutheran Social Services of Michigan is changing its name to Samaritas. It's holding public events across the state to mark the launch, starting with Grand Rapids on Tuesday and Detroit on Wednesday.
Officials say internal research revealed that many people didn't seek the more than 80-year-old organization for work or services because they weren't Lutheran. Yet it has hired and served individuals of all faiths and ethnicities.
Samaritas, which references the biblical story of the good Samaritan, continues to provide the same services. They include refugee resettlement, adoption, foster care and at-home services and residential centers for the elderly and disabled.
Head of Decapitated Statue Found in California Cove
MONTEREY, Calif. - Police in California say the head of a statue of Father Junipero Serra at the lower Presidio of Monterey that was defaced in October has been found.
The Monterey Herald reports that Monterey police Sgt. Mickey Roobash says a girl came across the head Saturday while walking in shallow water at Breakwater Cove.
The statue was one of several targeted by vandals in the Monterey Peninsula after Pope Francis elevated Serra to sainthood in September. A statue in the city of Carmel and one at the Carmel mission were also vandalized.
The 18th-century Roman Catholic missionary brought the Catholic faith to California.
Some Native Americans say the missions cut their ancestors off from their traditional languages and cultures and enslaved those who converted to Christianity.
Honolulu Church's $25 Million Project to Honor 2 Saints
HONOLULU - A Honolulu church has a $25 million project in the works that would expand its building to include a new museum honoring Hawaii's two saints.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports that St. Augustine Catholic Church was recently awarded a permit for the project to build the Damien and Marianne of Molokai Museum.
The museum will feature virtual and interactive exhibits that detail the stories of the two saints, who both served leprosy patients quarantined on the island of Molokai.
St. Damien was a priest with the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary who was canonized in 2009. The canonization of St. Marianne, formerly a Sister of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, took place in 2012.
To make space for the two-story building, the church's parish hall and back parking lot will be demolished and replaced. Construction is set to start in 2017.
Leaked Report: Safety Issues Raised on Pope's Youth Day Mass
WARSAW, Poland - A leaked report says the site for Pope Francis' July meeting with world youth in southern Poland poses a "high risk for the life and health of people."
Released Monday by TVN24 television, the report from the Government Center for Security reportedly says the planned site for the World Youth Day Mass on July 31 lacks proper access and evacuation routes, a major power line runs nearby and a leak in the nearby dikes on the Vistula River could pose a threat. A rain could turn the site into a swamp and no sufficient medical support has been planned, the document reportedly said.
TVN24 said the report was directed to the office of Poland's prime minister, who said the report will be used to improve security for an event expected to attract some 2 million young people.
New Hopes for Vatican Progress with Schismatic Catholics
VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis has met with the head of a breakaway group of traditionalist Catholics amid hopes for progress toward ending a quarter-century schism.
The Society of St. Pius X said Monday that the 40-minute meeting Friday was cordial, and took place because Francis wanted a "private and informal meeting" with its superior, Bishop Bernard Fellay.
The Vatican in 2014 resumed dialogue with the society after doctrinal talks on bringing it back under Rome's wing collapsed. Last year, Francis made an extraordinary gesture by allowing priests of the society, which has no legal status in the church, to hear confessions during his Holy Year of Mercy.
The late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre founded the society, which opposed the Second Vatican Council's introduction of Mass in local languages and its outreach to Jews.
In 1988, the Vatican excommunicated Lefebvre and four other bishops after Lefebvre consecrated them without papal consent.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.