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In El Salvador, women who miscarry can end up charged with abortion


Catholic News Service

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (CNS) — Guadalupe Vasquez is one of many women who have experienced the consequences of strong anti-abortion laws in El Salvador.

In this Central American country of 6.3 million inhabitants, a poor woman who has a miscarriage and goes to a hospital seeking medical help often ends up in jail. Read more »

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Report counts 5,000 Catholics killed by Boko Haram militants in Nigeria, 100,000 Catholics displaced


Catholic News Service

A new report has revealed the scale of suffering of Nigerian Catholics at the hands of Boko Haram militants, with 5,000 Catholics killed in one diocese alone.

Boko Haram militants carry food supplies on their heads April 15 as they walk away from a special prayer service at St. Theresa's Cathedral in Yola, Nigeria.  (CNS photo/EPA)

Boko Haram militants carry food supplies on their heads April 15 as they walk away from a special prayer service at St. Theresa’s Cathedral in Yola, Nigeria. (CNS photo/EPA)

A further 100,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Maiduguri, in the northeast of the country, have been displaced by the six-year campaign of violence conducted by the Muslim militant group, according to the “Situation Report on the Activities of Boko Haram in the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri.”

There are now about 7,000 widows in the diocese and nearly 10,000 orphaned children, said the report. Among the diocese’s displaced are 26 of 46 priests, 200 catechists and 20 religious sisters, the report found.

The diocese includes the entire states of Borno and Yobe and part of Adamawa state. More than 350 churches in the diocese have been the targets of terror attacks with “a good number of them destroyed more than once,” the report said.

Aid to the Church in Need said 22 of the Maiduguri Diocese’s 40 parish centers and chaplaincies have been deserted by Catholics. Many are occupied by Boko Haram militants, who control about three-quarters of the territory of the diocese, the report said. It said 32 of the 40 church-run primary schools have been deserted, and four of the diocese’s five convents are closed.

The information was sent to the U.K. branch of Aid to the Church in Need, and a summary of its findings was issued in a May 11 statement by the charity, which was set up to help persecuted Christians.

Father Gideon Obasogie, the diocesan director of social communications, told the charity: “People are very scared, and those who are able to return home find there is nothing left. … A life lived with much fear is terrible.”

But he added that the persecution had “purified” the faith of the suffering Catholics of the diocese,

“The good Lord has always been on our side,” he said. “He has seen us through thick and thin. Our faith has been purified through persecution.”


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Jordan faces ‘desperate situation’ in helping 1.4 million Syrian refugees


Catholic News Service

AMMAN, Jordan — International aid continues to fall short of what Jordan needs to host 1.4 million Syrian refugees, Jordanian officials reported, saying the number represents the equivalent of the United States hosting 60 million refugees.

Syrian refugees walk the street at Zaatari refugee camp near Mafraq, Jordan, March 14. Jordan officials report international aid continues to fall short of what the country needs to host 1.4 million Syrian refugees. (CNS photo/Jamal Nasrallah, EPA)

Syrian refugees walk the street at Zaatari refugee camp near Mafraq, Jordan, March 14. Jordan officials report international aid continues to fall short of what the country needs to host 1.4 million Syrian refugees. (CNS photo/Jamal Nasrallah, EPA)

With no end in sight to the Syrian conflict, now in its fifth year, officials are calling the situation critical. So far this year, Jordan has received only 7.2 percent of $2.9 billion needed for services to Syrian refugees and host communities.

Planning Minister Imad Fakhoury urged the international community to do its part, warning the country may have to restrict entry to Syrians if the crisis increases unemployment and poverty among its own citizens.

Syrian refugees now make up 20 percent of the kingdom’s population, Fakhoury said. However, only about 630,000 Syrians are registered with the U.N. refugee agency, he told reporters in Amman April 30.

“You can count on Jordan, but please don’t leave us alone in that effort,” Fakhoury said at the end of a recent visit by six U.N. agencies to view the situation on the ground.

“If we are left alone, then we will have to make very difficult decisions about our national security with a priority to our citizens, and the world can’t blame us,” he added.

Today, Jordan is the world’s third-largest host of refugees, including some 208,000 Iraqis in addition to Syrians, Palestinians, Yemenis, Libyans, Sudanese and Somalis.

In March, the Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land urged the international community to “intervene in alleviating the desolation” of Syrian refugees in their “desperate situation.” It also expressed concern over cuts in support provided by humanitarian groups, including the international Catholic aid agency, Caritas, due to a lack of funds.

“Our projection is around $17 million and, for the first quarter of the year, we have received about 50 percent of this amount,” Omar Abawi, emergency program manager of Caritas Jordan, told Catholic News Service.

“But compared with 2014 and past years, it’s a real gap because it was more than 50 percent” at this time, said Abawi. “Funding for health services have yet been received as planned.”

As of February, Caritas Jordan had helped more than 91,000 Syrian refugee households, the equivalent of nearly 452,000 individuals, who had registered with the Catholic relief organization since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011. Caritas works solely among the majority of Syrian refugees who live in Jordanian communities and not those sheltering in U.N. camps where they already receive U.N. assistance. There are numerous other church-related agencies assisting Syrian refugees in Jordan, both in the community and in the camps.

Such cuts to services by the U.N. and charities include reducing the amounts provided for food assistance vouchers or eliminating them entirely. Also, refugees must now pay for health care that was once provided free to Syrian refugees by the Jordanian government.

U.N. agencies have limited aid to the neediest among the refugees, leaving many without basic subsistence.

“About four months ago, the U.N. refugee agency stopped issuing me and my family of five food coupons,” said Samira, a Syrian refugee from the southern town of Daraa.

Sitting cross-legged on foam cushions lining a floor where her family sleeps and eats, Samira told CNS that she has been trying to scrape together some living expenses from part-time work as a cleaner in Amman.

Samira, who only gave her first name for fear of retribution to family still in Syria, is also suffering from a painful kidney stone, but she has been unable to go to a doctor because the $60 treatment cost is prohibitive.

“In the past, Syrians got free medical help, but that is no longer the case,” she said, her dark eyes full of concern because, she said, one of her sons is suffering from a far more serious medical problem.

Although some 80 percent Syrian refugees live outside U.N. camps and in Jordanian communities, more are moving into the camps. There, they no longer have to pay rent, and they have access to some free medical services. Still, others have gone back to war-ravaged Syria, despite the enormous danger as a result of ongoing fighting.

“They returned because it’s difficult to keep living here. They got fed up and tired,” said Abu Omar, a Syrian refugee in Jordan’s largest camp at Zaatari. “The services aren’t good. They felt it’s better to die in Syria than here, at least to return to our land.”

That said, there are still dozens of Syrian refugees streaming into Jordan weekly.

Jordan, a resource-poor Middle Eastern country, has never been fully compensated for its assistance to refugees from all of the region’s conflicts over many decades, Fakhoury told CNS.

Last year, only 37 percent of the $2.3 billion requested for humanitarian assistance in Jordan was received, and that’s been one of the highest percentages ever received.

Jordan’s Information Minister Mohammed al-Momani said his country’s economy and security have been negatively impacted by the protracted conflict in Syria. Jordan’s military also bears the sole responsibility of protecting the 235-mile border between the two countries, he told reporters.

“The lack of a political solution to the Syrian crisis has a cost and will continue to increase until there is a political solution,” said Edward Kallon, the U.N. resident humanitarian coordinator in Jordan.

“The Syrian crisis is a global security threat and provides the highest caseload of refugees worldwide,” Kallon added.

Jordan is one of five host countries for nearly 4 million Syrian war refugees.


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Pope prays for Nepal’s quake victims, Caritas provides aid


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis offered his prayers to all those affected by a deadly earthquake in Nepal and encouraged rescue and emergency workers in their efforts.

People carry the body of a victim on a stretcher after an earthquake hit Kathmandu, Nepal, April 25. More than 3,600 people were known to have been killed and more than 6,500 others injured after a magnitude-7.8 earthquake hit a mountainous region near Kathmandu. (CNS photo/Navesh Chitrakar, Reuters)

People carry the body of a victim on a stretcher after an earthquake hit Kathmandu, Nepal, April 25. More than 3,600 people were known to have been killed and more than 6,500 others injured after a magnitude-7.8 earthquake hit a mountainous region near Kathmandu. (CNS photo/Navesh Chitrakar, Reuters)

More than 3,600 people were known to have been killed and more than 6,500 others injured after a magnitude-7.8 earthquake hit a mountainous region near Kathmandu April 25. The devastation included not just buildings collapsing from the tremors, but also people and villages being buried by landslides and avalanches triggered by the quake and aftershocks. The number of casualties was expected to be much higher as rescue teams tried to make their way into more remote areas.

“I pray for the victims, those wounded and for all those who suffer because of this calamity,” Pope Francis said after reciting the “Regina Coeli” prayer with visitors gathered in St. Peter’s Square April 26.

Before leading people in praying the Hail Mary together, he expressed his hope that those affected by the disaster would “have the support of fraternal solidarity.”

“Pope Francis was deeply saddened to learn of the earthquake” and the damage it caused, said a telegram sent April 25 by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, to Bishop Paul Simick, apostolic vicar of Nepal.

The pope expressed his prayers and solidarity, and “he offers encouragement to the civil authorities and emergency personnel as they continue their rescue efforts and assistance to those touched by this tragedy,” the telegram said.

Huge tent cities have sprung up in Kathmandu to shelter those whose homes have collapsed or been damaged and those who dare not return as strong aftershocks continue, Caritas Internationalis reported in press release April 27.

“We hope to go back to our house soon, but are hesitating because of the aftershocks,” said Renuka Magdalene Thakuri, 54, who sought shelter with other families in Assumption Church in Kathmandu.

Jesuit Father Pius Perumana, head of Caritas Nepal, said the Catholic charity has been supplying tarps, tents and food, and was trying to help protect people from the rain and cold.

“People are still trapped in buildings and we don’t know whether they are dead or alive,” Father Perumana told Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican-based umbrella organization for more than 150 Catholic relief and development organizations around the world.

It said Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. Caritas partner, was sending relief materials from north India and working with Caritas Nepal to procure additional relief materials locally and in India.

“What the people need immediately is shelter. Temperatures are dropping at night and there is also rain. Children are sleeping outside at night. It is really traumatic for them,” Father Perumana said.

Immediate shelter as well as water and sanitation were among the top priorities, Caritas Internationalis said.

Santosh Kumar Magar, 29, said he was attending the ordination of a new priest in Okhaldhunga, a remote part of eastern Nepal, when the earthquake hit.

“I came out of the room, and saw two, three houses falling down around me. Some of the animals died around the same time. The people were saved because all the villagers were gathered for the ordination,” he told Caritas.

A boy, identified as Ahmed, who was staying at the Assumption Church in Kathmandu with his family, said he “felt as if I was flying because my elder brother dragged (me) from the house to the street.”

“We came to the church because we know a lot of people here so we can be together and coordinate and help each other out. Now later I feel everything is going to be all right,” he told Caritas.


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Exiled residents of destroyed Israeli village unite each month at the church


Catholic News Service

IQRIT, Israel — For the elders of Iqrit, their biggest regret in life is not having been able to raise their children together.

On April 13, they congregated with the younger generations in the old Church of St. Mary for Easter Monday Mass in this destroyed Melkite village perched on a sloping hill in Western Galilee.

Father Souhail Khoury blesses a baby after Easter Monday Mass at St. Mary's Church in Iqrit, Israel, April 13. The residents were expelled by the Israeli army in 1948 and have never been able to permanently return to the village. (CNS photo/Debbie Hill)

Father Souhail Khoury blesses a baby after Easter Monday Mass at St. Mary’s Church in Iqrit, Israel, April 13. The residents were expelled by the Israeli army in 1948 and have never been able to permanently return to the village. (CNS photo/Debbie Hill)

As youngsters, they and their families left the village in October 1948, shortly after the Israeli war of independence, at the behest of the fledgling Israeli army, which said they would be allowed to return after 15 days. The villagers had hoisted the white flag atop their church as the soldiers entered, and the village priest received them with a Bible, and salt and bread as signs of peace and rapport.

But as Israel, which uses the Jewish calendar for holidays, is set to celebrate its 67th independence day April 23, the people of Iqrit are still waiting to return to their village.

A July 1951 Supreme Court decision ruled residents could return due to a lack of evacuation orders. Five months after the court’s decision, formal evacuation orders were issued. On Christmas Eve 1951, Iqrit was destroyed except for the church.

Villagers were finally allowed to re-enter their village in the summer of 1971.

The tightly knit group of some 126 families eventually dispersed among nearby villages, but they have never lost their connection to their town or given up their struggle to return. They continue to celebrate a monthly Mass at the church together, to teach their children, grandchildren, and now the newest great-grandchildren to love their Iqrit roots through gatherings and summer camps. They have come to bury their dead at the cemetery here, and now the elders say that they, too, will be buried here. At least then, they say, they will be allowed to return to Iqrit.

“Even our children don’t know each other. It is sad,” said Abdullah Haddad, 85, as he recounts the story of his secret courtship with his wife, Vidad, 83. Their relationship was disrupted because of what followed after the evacuation, and Abdullah Haddad went to work in Jerusalem. But Vidad Haddad said she put off other marriage proposals and waited 10 years until she and Abdullah could marry.

Haddad said he has not yet lost hope of returning, if not him, then his grandchildren.

Sitting together in a tin shack used as a reception hall with his brother Ibrahim and some childhood friends, Ayoub Ayoub, 76, recalled Easters in the village, when the girls would prepare colored eggs and the boys would sneak around to steal a look at the girls they fancied.

“These are memories we don’t forget,”he said. “When we are here, we are like one family. It is a happy and sad occasion to come here. The only thing I ask is that when God takes me, he allows my soul to return here and not to Rameh as a refugee.”

Though several Israel politicians and even nearby Jewish communities have expressed support for their cause, officially Israel has not relented.

Aymen Odeh, a Muslim, attended the Easter Monday Mass. The newly elected Knesset member is leader of the Joint Arab List, now Israel’s third-largest political party. He is a longtime supporter of the villagers and said he respects their nonviolent methods, but added that it was time to take the case outside the village.

“We need demonstrations in public squares and in front of the Knesset,” he said. “Things here are far away from the public eye.”

He said the Israeli position that the villagers could not return because of security reasons due to its strategic hilltop location is no longer valid, because the villagers and their descendants have proven to be loyal, productive citizens of Israel, some even serve in the army. He said the fear that their return would create precedence for demands by others is also null since the cases of Iqrit, and the Maronite Catholic village of Biram, whose residents faced a similar situation, are unique in that they left with the promise of return and have a Supreme Court decision in their favor.

For several years, some members of the younger generation, such as Nijmy Yacoub, 26, who grew up in Kfar Yasif, and Samer Awess, 21, of Haifa, have established a presence on the site, rehabilitating the rectory and planting gardens near the church. When they can, they spend the night in the village.

“We love the land and we feel a strong connection to this place,” said Awess, noting that theirs has always been a peaceful struggle. There is no reason to resort to violence, he said. “That is the nature of the village. We are doing the right thing. We feel like we have something here which belongs to us. I believe that someday we will be allowed to return. There is no reason not to. We are not settlers here; this is ours.”

“I feel more connected here than to the village where I grew up,” added Yacoub, who had her young niece and nephew, already the fifth generation of Iqrit descendants, in tow. “When I come here I feel comfortable, and I come here when I am feeling low. I like to tell the stories my grandparents told my father, and my father told me.”

After the Mass, Melkite Father Souhail Khoury, whose great-great-great-grandfather was a priest in the village and is buried in the church, was asked by several eager grandparents to “church” the newest-born, in the Melkite tradition.

“Even if we live in Haifa or other places where we have no problems, our connection is here to the church and the priest here. This is our holy site,” said Hubbeya Khoury, 60, as she held her infant grandson, Ettienne, after the rite.

“We believe in prayer,” said the priest, who lives in Nazareth, where he also serves as a parish priest and in a nearby village. “We ask God to be with us and hear us and answer us so we can come back to live in Iqrit.”


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Mideast groups seek protected zone for minorities in Iraq, Syria


Catholic News Service

AMMAN, Jordan —A call for an area to protect Christians and other religious minorities in Syria and Iraq is gathering pace even as April marks the centenary of the 1915 genocide of Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Christians.

“We have met with representatives of four of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — the United States, Britain, France and Russia — and submitted our request for a temporary protected area to be set up for Christians, Yezidis, and other minorities in Iraq and Syria,” said Bassam Ishak, president of the Syriac National Council in Syria.

“Our issue is how to protect these people,” said Ishak, a prominent Syrian Christian political leader. He said his council and other organizations concerned about the future of religious minorities caught in the crosshairs of volatile conflicts in the Middle East “want a U.N. resolution drafted and passed that will provide for their protection.”

“We are asking for a temporary protected zone. This is different and separate from resolving the Syrian or Iraq question,” Ishak told Catholic News Service. “People are taking the call very seriously.”

“Representatives of 60 countries spoke in favor of the protected area at a U.N. General Assembly meeting. But Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria aren’t for it,” Ishak said of the March 27 meeting.

Ishak’s own Assyrian forefathers were victims of the 1915 massacre of Syriac-speaking Christians that took place in Turkey. Forced into exile, they took up shelter near Hassakeh, in northeastern Syria.

“There have been three massacres on the same people in one century,” said Father Emanuel Youkhana, who heads the Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq, CAPNI. The group provides practical aid to Syrian Christians displaced by the recent Islamic State attacks along the Khabur River.

“The grandfathers of these Assyrians survived the Christian genocide of 1915 under the Ottoman Turks, referred in our language as ‘Seyfo’ or sword,” he told CNS by telephone from Iraq.

“We lost one-third of our population in 1915. Around 700,000 Assyrians from different denominations, including the Church of the East, Chaldeans, Syriac Orthodox, and Syriac Catholics were massacred,” he said.

Some 1.5 million Armenians also were killed in the onslaught.

Those Assyrians who survived fled to the northern Iraqi town of Dohuk, a province of Mosul, which became part of the new state of Iraq and a member of the League of Nations in 1932.

Father Youkhana recounted that on Aug. 6 and 7, 1933, another “massacre and the first genocide in the new Iraq took place in Simele, near Dohuk, against Christian Assyrians.” Those who survived fled to the Khabur River region of northeastern Syria.

Fast forward some 80 years. Islamic State began its sweep of Christian towns along Iraq’s Ninevah Plain last Aug. 6. And during this past February, it attacked the Christian towns along the Khabur, setting off another flight of Christians escaping for their lives. Around the same time, the militant group destroyed priceless, historic Assyrian artifacts in Iraq.

Father Youkhana has urged the international community to stop this “open-ended persecution,” saying it had a moral obligation to do so.

“If our history is being destroyed and our historical sites demolished, our present is targeted and we have been massacred, can we have a future?” Father Youkhana asked.

Others are also expressing deep concern over the recent violent attacks against Christians in the Middle East and their diminishing numbers, saying more help by the international community is needed quickly.

“Some of the oldest Christian communities in the world are disappearing in the very lands where their faith was born and first took root,” noted the Washington-based Center for American Progress. “Christians have migrated from the region in increasing numbers, which is part of a longer-term exodus related to violence, persecution, and lack of economic opportunities stretching back decades,” the center said in a report published in March.

John Michael of the Assyrian Democratic Movement told Britain’s Catholic Herald that “the West is arming and supporting the central government in Iraq, the Kurdish peshmerga, the Shiite militias, but no one is supporting the Assyrian Christians.”

“The Assyrians are totally ignored and being left to their own devices with no means to defend themselves against the evil barbarians” of the Islamic State, he said in an article published Feb. 24. “How much longer will this persecuted minority have to suffer before those in positions of power act to protect them? Or should we all remain silent whilst a massacre unfolds in the ancestral lands of the Assyrian Christians?”


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Cardinal Njue calls Kenyans to prayer in wake of militants’ brutal college attack


NAIROBI, Kenya — The president of the Kenyan bishops’ asked Easter worshippers to pray for peace and security in their homeland after militants attacked a college campus days earlier.

Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi also condemned the April 2 attack by the Somalia-based al-Shabaab militants at Garissa University College in which Christian students were targeted.

Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi, Kenya, delivers the homily during a special Easter Mass April 5 at Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi for victims of the massacre at Garissa University College. Al-Shabaab militants raided the campus April 2, leaving at least 147 dead. (CNS photo/Thomas Mukoya, Reuters)

Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi, Kenya, delivers the homily during a special Easter Mass April 5 at Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi for victims of the massacre at Garissa University College. Al-Shabaab militants raided the campus April 2, leaving at least 147 dead. (CNS photo/Thomas Mukoya, Reuters)

After reading a message of condolence from Pope Francis to the congregation at Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi, Cardinal Njue urged worshippers to commit themselves to praying for peace and security in the country.

“We need to constantly invoke God’s name, following common attacks in the country by the al-Shabaab militia group, including the most recent one at Garissa,” the cardinal said.

In his message, Pope Francis condemned the assault by Somali militants, calling it an act of “senseless brutality.”

“In union with all people of goodwill throughout the world, his holiness condemns this act of senseless brutality and prays for a change of heart among its perpetrators,” said the pope’s message in a statement sent by the Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

Cardinal Njue said the assault, which left 148 people dead, shocked the bishops’ conference and Bishop Paul Darmanin of Garissa in particular.

“I have assured the shocked bishop of the bishops’ support, through prayers and any other (means),” Cardinal Njue said.

He reminded Christians that Christ was persecuted and suffered for the sake of people’s sins and told them never to give up even in the face of terror.

“We as a nation are undergoing through many challenges and we must remain fixed to things above. Let us pray for the families and victims of Garissa terror attack and let their dead be a meaning to us.” Cardinal Njue said.

The cardinal called for a global response to terrorism and urged Kenyans not to look at Garissa massacre through a religious lens.

“Even in the wake of the insecurity in the country, we must remain united and not give a few people the impression that this is a war between Christians and Muslims,” Cardinal Njue says.

Meanwhile, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta April 4 announced three days of national mourning, in the wake of the attack.

In an address to the nation, Kenyatta cited those who have stood with the country as it dealt with the aftermath of the attack, including the United States, United Nations and Pope Francis.

Contributing to this story was Francis Njuguna and Walter Cheruiyot.


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Holy See calls for world effort to end Boko Haram terror in Africa


GENEVA — The Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations in Geneva called on the international community to assist Nigeria and neighboring countries to rid the region of Boko Haram insurgency.

“The Holy See urges an international collaborative effort to address this crisis situation with urgency so as to prevent the extension of Boko Haram and other terrorist groups and their strategy of inflicting suffering on local people and to destabilize Africa even further,” Archbishop Silvano Tomasi told a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council April 1.

Nigeria and its neighbors, including Cameroon, Benin, Chad and Niger, have been beset by Boko Haram’s violent campaign to impose Islamic rule in the region. Based in northeastern Nigeria, leaders of the insurgents have claimed credit for a series of bombings and gun attacks on public markets, churches and isolated communities since 2009.

He said the insurgency requires an “urgent and effective response.” Citing Pope Francis in an address to diplomats accredited to the Holy See in January, Archbishop Tomasi called the situation in Nigeria and its neighbors “a scourge which needs to be eradicated, since it strikes all of use, from individual families to the international community.”

The archbishop also expressed concern that Boko Haram’s recent announcement that it was aligning with the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria shows that “such extremist groups are growing like cancer, spreading to other parts of the world.”

“Crimes in the name of religion are never justified. Massacring innocent people in the name of God is not religion but the manipulation of religion for ulterior motives,” the archbishop told the council.

“It appears the time is ripe for the international community to assist in bringing an end to the violence, which has caused numerous civilian victims,” Archbishop Tomasi said. “Before such violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws we cannot afford to have a posture of indifference that would lead to the widening contagion of violence and also set a dangerous precedent of non-action in response to such horrific crimes.”


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Diocese in Italy seeks to keep mafia out of Easter processions


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The bishop of a southern Italian diocese has issued new directives aimed at keeping the mafia out of this year’s Easter processions.

Commonly called “L’Affruntata” (the encounter), the popular and traditional Easter Sunday procession involves bringing together three statuesm, one of Jesus, the apostle John and Mary, who is caped in a black robe. The Marian statue’s black robe is removed at the end of the procession to symbolize her joy over Jesus’ resurrection.

But the infiltration of the mafia in the Easter procession and religious celebrations as a way of asserting its power in southern Italy has been both common and contentious.

Last year, Bishop Luigi Renzo of Mileto-Nicotera-Tropea stood behind parishioners in the town of Sant’Onofrio, who opted to cancel their Easter procession rather than allow the infiltration of the mafia or let civil authorities determine how they would celebrate. The bishop decided to celebrate a Mass instead.

However, in July 2014, he banned a procession outright in another Calabrian town when authorities said men with suspected mafia ties were slated to carry the statue of Mary. Earlier that month, a procession in a neighboring diocese made international headlines and caused public outcry in Italy, after people carrying a statue of Mary stopped in front of the house of a presumed mob boss and tilted the statue forward, as if bowing in homage.

While the Calabrian bishops published joint guidelines last fall, Bishop Renzo issued a new set of regulations in March for all processions in his diocese.

In a section particular to the Easter procession, Bishop Renzo urged the faithful to reclaim their traditions and “not to allow themselves to be dispossessed of their most genuine religious heritage by leaving it in the hands of unscrupulous people.”

He also exhorted priests to be “more courageous and united” in offering “new signs of presence and hope” to the people.

“Concrete signs of breaking with certain bad habits are needed,” the bishop told the priests. He also encouraged them to entrust the role of carrying the statues to young people active in the parishes and to make them “protagonists” in organizing the procession.

Among the new general rules: Processions are forbidden to stop in front of any people, homes or buildings, other than hospitals or long-term care facilities; routes must be established ahead of time in consultation with the pastor; those carrying statues must be active members of the parish and chosen by the pastor, along with the parish council; for the Easter procession, those carrying statues are selected from among parishioners in a lottery on Palm Sunday; people who are members of organizations “condemned by the church” cannot carry statues; if the procession route is long, a second group of parishioners must be selected ahead of time to help carry the statues, not just anyone along the route can act as a substitute.

The new regulations took effect March 1.


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Anglican and Catholic rites for reburial of King Richard III


Catholic News Service

MANCHESTER, England — One of England’s last Catholic kings was reburied three years after his skeleton was discovered in a coffin beneath a parking lot.

King Richard III, the last monarch of the Plantagenet dynasty and the last English king to die in battle, was originally buried by Franciscan friars in Leicester, a city in the Midlands, after he was slain at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Read more »

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