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Five nuns kidnapped from village near Damascus


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The kidnapping of five Orthodox nuns from a Christian village near Damascus has shocked Syria’s Christian community and filled many Christians with fear, said Chaldean Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, Syria.

Speaking to Vatican Radio Dec. 3, Bishop Audo said the latest information is that the superior and four of the nuns belonging to the Orthodox Monastery of Santa Tecla in Maaloula were kidnapped during the night Dec. 1 and taken to Yabrud, a city nearby.

“We have no more information,” he said.

Most media reports on the kidnapping, including by the government’s Sana news agency, speculated the kidnapping was the work of the Al Nusra Front, which the U.S. State Department defines as a terrorist organization linked to al-Qaida. Early reports said 12 nuns were kidnapped.

Bishop Audo told Vatican Radio, “Maaloula is an important symbol not only for Christians, but also for Muslims in Syria and throughout the Middle East, because it is known that people there still speak the Aramaic dialect, the language of Christ. That is one of the reason people are so struck” by the kidnapping of the sisters and the rebels’ capturing the town in early December.

As for the motive of the kidnapping, Bishop Audo said, “the first reason is the war.”

“As Christians, as the church in Syria, we don’t want to say this is a war against Christians because we want to be a presence for reconciliation and coexistence. That is our vocation. We don’t want to create provocations with the Muslims.”

However, he said, Christians feel more threatened now because the kidnapping has brought the war “to a sacred Christian place, one where for centuries nothing like this has happened.”

Maaloula is about 35 miles north of Damascus, the capital of Syria.


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Ukrainian church leaders condemn police violence against protesters


KIEV, Ukraine — The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church and other Catholic leaders condemned police violence against “peaceful demonstrations” after President Viktor Yanukovich’s decision not to seek closer ties with the European Union.

A man throws a flare in the direction of Interior Ministry members during a rally in Kiev, Ukraine, Dec. 1. The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church condemned police violence against “peaceful demonstrations” after President Viktor Yanukovich’s decision not to seek closer ties with the EU. (CNS photo/Gleb Garanich, Reuters)

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, of Kiev-Halych, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, also spoke of preventing an “escalation of violence, which could lead to even more tragic consequences.”

“We must not respond to violence with violence and evil with evil,” he said.

Demonstrators barricaded Kiev’s Independence Square and urged a general strike to protest the president’s withdrawal from an EU association agreement, which was to have been signed at a Nov. 28-29 summit in Lithuania.

Ukraine’s Council of Churches and Religious Organizations also urged citizens to remember “violence begets violence.”

“Law enforcement agencies need to protect public order and promote the constitutional right to peaceful assembly and expression,” the council said in a Nov. 27 statement.

“Radicalization of these protests can only harm the people and national interests of Ukraine. In a civilized society like Ukraine, we must learn to express different views on social issues in a peaceful manner and through dialogue,” the council said.

Protesters blockaded the Cabinet office and other official buildings in the capital Dec. 2, demanding the resignation of Yanukovich and his prime minister, Mykola Azarov.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian newspapers reported police reinforcements were being sent to Kiev after weekend street clashes left at least 100 police and 165 opposition supporters injured.

In a Nov. 30 statement, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, Archbishop Shevchuk’s predecessor, criticized the president for backtracking on the agreement, which is strongly opposed by neighboring Russia. However, the cardinal said “people power” required “peaceful, coherent, joint activities,” rather than violence.

Ukraine’s Catholic University accused the government of “sending hired thugs” to “fuel a body confrontation” Dec. 1 in front of Kiev’s presidential palace, but warned protesters against revenge, “no matter how strong the motivation is.”

“The consequences of the actions of both sides are the same: an encroachment on peaceful protests by a million people throughout Ukraine,” the Lviv-based university said in a Dec. 2 statement. “The present time does not require an elite which cynically robs the people, nor seekers of revenge wishing harm to their enemies, but people willing to serve by establishing peace, harmony and prosperity.”

The association agreement, establishing a Ukraine-EU free-trade zone, was approved in September by the government, which pledged Ukraine would meet required “standards of democracy and human rights.”


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Call to forgive in murder of two priests in Mexico


Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY — Two Mexican priests were found murdered in their Veracruz parish residence in a crime that authorities attribute to a robbery gone wrong.

Fathers Hipolito Villalobos Lima and Nicolas de la Cruz Martinez, pastor and vicar, respectively, of St. Christopher Parish in the municipality of Ixhuatlan de Madero, were found dead early Nov. 29, the Diocese of Tuxpan said in a brief statement.

Five suspects, including two minors, were arrested for the crimes. Both priests were stabbed, the authorities said.

“This assassination, so violent; as Christians we see that it is nothing good, but we have to also forgive,” Archbishop Hipolito Reyes Larios of Xalapa, capital of the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz, said Dec. 1.

“We don’t know exactly what happened,” he said.

The crimes come as a few priests in Mexico have put themselves in harm’s way by speaking out against the drug cartel and organized crime violence that has claimed an estimated 70,000 lives over the past seven years.

In Tamaulipas state, just south of the Texas border, Father Carlos Ornelas Puga was kidnapped Nov. 3, and his whereabouts remain unknown, the newspaper El Universal reported, citing confirmation from a church spokesman.

In west-central Mexico, Bishop Miguel Patino Velazquez of Apatzingan published an open letter Oct. 15 calling attention to the security situation in his diocese, where priests have been threatened for providing assistance to so called “self-defense” groups that fight drug cartels.


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Cardinal Zen: Vatican must speak for religious freedom in China

November 25th, 2013 Posted in International News


VATICAN CITY — Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the retired bishop of Hong Kong and an outspoken advocate of religious freedom in China, called on the Vatican to speak more clearly in defense of Catholics there, especially the so-called “underground” or clandestine communities who refuse to register with the government-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association.

“The Holy See has to choose between being clear or accepting compromise,” the cardinal told Catholic News Service Nov. 13. “Unfortunately, on the executive side, people see a lot of compromise. There is the shadow of ‘Ostpolitik.’”

The term “Ostpolitik,” in the context of Vatican diplomacy, refers to efforts to foster better relations with Soviet bloc countries during the Cold War, in an effort to improve conditions for Catholic churches there.

The cardinal highlighted the divisions among China’s estimated 10 million Catholics, not only between the “so-called clandestine community and the community that accepts government control,” but also among those who comply with the government’s requirement to register with the Catholic Patriotic Association.

“The part that submits to the government is not united. There are those who still put up a certain resistance, notwithstanding their submission, and others who tolerate this oppression, this control,” he said. “There are also opportunists who have rather cordially accepted collaboration with the government, and look out for their own interests and those of the government rather than for the church.”

The cardinal praised efforts by retired Pope Benedict XVI to bring unity to the church in China and gain concessions from Beijing, but said some Vatican officials were and continue to be “much more understanding and conciliatory” toward the communist government.

“What we may call the underground community suffers,” Cardinal Zen said. “They feel abandoned. The actions by Rome are not in their favor. Especially, for example, many bishops die and no successors are named.”

“In my view, this policy is a mistake,” he said, “and as a result the church is getting ever weaker.”

The cardinal praised Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, a diplomat with long experience of China, and the congregation’s secretary, Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai, the highest-ranking Chinese official at the Vatican, as men who “understand the situation better” than other officials.

He also said that Pope Francis had made an “excellent choice” for Vatican secretary of state in Archbishop Pietro Parolin, who officially took office in October but was to start work Nov. 16 after recuperating from surgery.

“The new pope has not yet spoken out,” Cardinal Zen said. “He is evidently a very wise leader. He is listening, he is studying. Let”s hope the Lord helps him.”

“Let’s also hope that something changes in China,” he said, “and they begin a more sincere conversation with the Holy See. If that happens, there will be some hope.”

A video of Cardinal Zen speaking about religious freedom in China will be available on the Catholic News Service YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/user/CatholicNewsService.

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Prosecutor says crime families in Italy would like to hurt the pope

November 25th, 2013 Posted in International News


VATICAN CITY — Crime families in Italy are not happy with Pope Francis and would hurt him if they could, said an Italian prosecutor who has spent years investigating organized crime and has written a book about the apparent Catholic devotion of mafia bosses.

“I’m not sure organized crime is in a position to do something, but they certainly are thinking about it,” said Nicola Gratteri, the assistant prosecutor of Italy’s Reggio Calabria region. “It could be dangerous.”

In his book “Acqua Santissima” (“Most Holy Water”), Gratteri argues that while organized crime and the church should be completely at odds, that is not always true. He said he has never been to an arrested mafia boss’ hideout that didn’t have holy pictures on the wall, and many of his investigations have led to the discovery of financial ties between the bosses and Catholic parishes or organizations.

“But things are starting to change,” he said in an interview Nov. 13 in the Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano.

“This pope is on the right path,” he said. “He immediately sent important signals: He wears an iron (pectoral) cross and fights against luxury. He is consistent, credible and is aiming for a complete cleanup.”

Mafia members involved in the world of finance are particularly concerned, Gratteri said.

“Those who feed off the power and the riches of the church are nervous and agitated,” he said. “Pope Francis is dismantling the centers of economic power in the Vatican. If the bosses could bring him down, they wouldn’t hesitate.”

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters Nov. 14 that no one in the Vatican is alarmed, and the pope is serene in continuing his work. He also said it is natural for organized crime families to feel threatened by papal teaching, since the Christian message is about honesty and transparency.

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Dissident opposes China’s forced abortion policy


TORONTO — As Chinese and U.S. diplomats sought a resolution to the diplomatic crisis surrounding Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, many Chinese-Americans turned their attention to the nature of Chen’s dissent.

Without challenging any fundamental tenet of China’s constitution or its 1949 revolution, Chen has focused attention to the country’s forced abortion and sterilization practices, leading to a crackdown by the government on his movement and prohibitions on contact with foreigners and the media.

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‘What’s really necessary is a council’ – Memories of Blessed John XXIII


Catholic News Service

SOTTO IL MONTE GIOVANNI XXIII, Italy — When the freshly named patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Angelo G. Roncalli, chose 37-year old Father Loris F. Capovilla as his personal secretary in 1953, a skeptical adviser told the cardinal that the priest looked too sickly to bear the strain of his new job.

“Then he’ll die as my secretary,” replied the future pope, now known as Blessed John XXIII.

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Censures of priests in Ireland mark divisions in church


Catholic News Service

DUBLIN — A series of censures has brought to the fore the divisions within the Irish church between those who seek a leaner and smaller church that adheres more strictly to the magisterium and those who seek space to discuss church issues.

Up to 250 nuns, priests and laypeople held a silent protest outside the Vatican Embassy April 29 to protest the doctrinal congregation’s censure of five Irish priests over their stance on issues such as the ordination of women, the ban on artificial birth control, mandatory clerical celibacy and homosexuality.

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Papal visit said to help ‘reawakening’ of church in Cuba


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The March visit to Cuba by Pope Benedict XVI has helped reawaken people’s interest in the Catholic Church, according to two Cuban bishops visiting the United States.

But it also has stirred criticism of the church’s efforts to work with the government more and may be connected to a fire of suspicious origin that gutted a travel agency that organizes charter flights from Florida to Cuba.

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Illicit ordinations in China cause scandal, Vatican says


VATICAN CITY — Lay Catholics in China have been scandalized by priests who are ordained bishops without papal approval and by the participation of Vatican-recognized bishops in those ordinations, said the Vatican Commission for the Catholic Church in China.

The very identity of the Catholic Church as apostolic, guided by the faith handed down from the apostles through bishops in communion with the pope, “has been obfuscated by those clerics” who have been ordained bishops without papal recognition, said the statement released April 26 after a three-day meeting at the Vatican.

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