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Bishops in southern Mexico face threats from organized criminal groups

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Catholic News Service

 

MEXICO CITY - Bishops in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero have suffered threats from organized criminal groups as they serve a region rife with drug cartel activities and parishes located in impoverished indigenous communities where people eke out existences by cultivating opium poppies.

Bishop Maximino Miranda Martinez of Ciudad Altamirano was robbed of his vehicle after encountering a roadblock manned by an armed group in the violent Tierra Caliente region. Bishop Dagoberto Sosa Arriaga of Tlapa, meanwhile, was asked to pay extortion, but escaped making payment as those making the demands were run off by rivals. Read more »

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Southern Philippines bishops support ‘temporary’ martial law

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MANILA, Philippines — Catholic bishops in the southern Philippines supported the declaration of martial law in Mindanao following an attempt by a band of gunmen claiming to be Islamic militants to seize a city in the region.

“At present we simply do not have solid and sufficient facts to absolutely reject the declaration of martial law as morally reprehensible,” the bishops’ said in a statement released May 29.

Smoke billows near a mosque in Marawi, Philippines, May 30. Catholic bishops in the southern Philippines supported the declaration of martial law in Mindanao following an attempt by a band of gunmen claiming to be Islamic militants to seize the city. (CNS photo/Erik De Castro, Reuters)

Smoke billows near a mosque in Marawi, Philippines, May 30. Catholic bishops in the southern Philippines supported the declaration of martial law in Mindanao following an attempt by a band of gunmen claiming to be Islamic militants to seize the city. (CNS photo/Erik De Castro, Reuters)

President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial across the southern part of the country after gunmen claiming to have links with the Islamic State group stormed Marawi May 23.

State security forces continued to battle with fighters of the Maute group May 29, resulting in the displacement of thousands of people.

“We are certainly agreed that martial law must be temporary,” the bishops of Mindanao said in the statement signed by Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, ucanews.com reported.

The cardinal said the church leaders “condemn the terrorist acts that have caused the loss of many innocent lives” and the burning of houses, a Catholic cathedral and a Protestant school.

“We condemn the unconscionable kidnapping of teachers and church personnel,” the bishops said.

The gunmen took several hostages including Father Teresito Suganob, vicar of the Prelature of Marawi, some of the prelature’s staff and churchgoers.

The bishops condemned “terrorism in its various forms,” adding that it is an “ideology totally against the tenets of any religion of peace.”

“Terrorism distorts and falsifies the true meaning of any religion. It destroys harmonious relationships among peoples of different faiths,” the bishops’ added.

They noted that many Filipinos see Duterte’s declaration of martial law as “reminiscent of the horrors of a past dictatorship.”

Former dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in the 1970s, resulting in human rights abuses carried out by the military.

“Martial law is a means of last resort,” the bishops said. “The answers to many questions are speculative. We have many fears.”

They offered their assurance that they will “condemn any abuse and as in the past will condemn it outright if it goes in the way of evil.”

The prelates urged Filipinos to be “vigilant.”

“We exhort everyone to be calm in the face of martial law, to be obedient to the just commands of lawful authority, and not to provoke violent reaction,” said the bishops.

Meanwhile, the Jesuits in the Philippines expressed concern about martial law, describing it as “fraught with danger.”

In a statement, Jesuit Father Antonio Moreno, head of the order’s Philippine province, said martial law in the region “is a source of deep sadness, as well as of real concern and alarm.”

“We have to assert that martial law is fraught with danger, as we in this country have so painfully known,” Father Moreno said.

Martial law is “not a path to be trod lightly, and becomes particularly worrisome in a context where there are already too many questions about the value of life and basic human rights,” he explained.

Father Moreno appealed to Duterte to make martial law “short-lived and calibrated” and avoid “escalating further to other areas.”

Duterte, however, warned that he might expand the coverage of martial law to the entire Philippines if terror threats persist.

The president said he would ignore the Supreme Court of the Philippines and Congress as he enforces martial law despite a provision in the constitution giving both branches of government oversight.

“Until the police and the armed forces say the Philippines is safe, this martial law will continue. I will not listen to others,” Duterte said.

The Philippine Constitution adopted in 1987 imposed limits on martial law to prevent a repeat of the abuses carried out under the Marcos regime, which ended a year earlier.

Duterte has described military rule under Marcos as “very good.”

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Deadly attacks increase fears of Egypt’s Christians

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CAIRO — Christians in Egypt “are getting to this idea that we could be a martyr at any moment,” the spokesman for the nation’s Catholic bishops told Catholic News Service.

The spokesman, Father Rafic Greiche, also lamented the number of children killed in an attack on a bus carrying Coptic Orthodox Christians to St. Samuel Monastery in southern Egypt May 26.

The mother of one of the victims of an attack on a group of Coptic Christians that took place May 26 attends a funeral at the Sacred Family Church in Minya, Egypt, that same day. (CNS photo/Mohamed Abd El Ghany, Reuters)

The mother of one of the victims of an attack on a group of Coptic Christians that took place May 26 attends a funeral at the Sacred Family Church in Minya, Egypt, that same day. (CNS photo/Mohamed Abd El Ghany, Reuters)

At least 26 people, many of them children, were killed when masked assailants attacked the bus. Dozens of others were injured.

“It is too early to say who is behind it, but certainly terrorists, and the security forces are now scanning the area” to find the culprits, Tarek Attia, Interior Ministry official, told Sky News Arabia, an Arabic-language television station, May 26.

He said three cars carrying the masked gunmen had attacked the bus at roughly 10:30 a.m. in the southern governorate of Minya, a traditional stronghold of Egypt’s Christian community, which accounts for a tiny percent of the country’s mostly Sunni Muslim population.

At the Vatican, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, sent a message to Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, expressing Pope Francis’ ‘prayers and solidarity after the “barbaric attack.”

“Mindful in a particular way of those children who have lost their lives, His Holiness commends the souls of the deceased to the mercy of the Almighty. He assures their grieving families and all who have been injured of his ardent prayers, and he pledges his continued intercession for peace and reconciliation throughout the nation,” the telegram said.

The attack marked the latest in a series of deadly attacks on Coptic Christians, whose church was founded by St. Mark the Apostle in the first century, and whose community represents the largest of the Middle East’s Christian minorities.

On April 9, two suicide bombers attacked St. George’s Cathedral in Egypt’s northern city of Tanta and St. Mark’s Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria. Those attacks killed and maimed dozens in what was the deadliest attack against Christians in Egypt’s recent history. A nationwide state of emergency has been in place since.

In a widely publicized visit to Egypt soon after the April attacks, Pope Francis addressed the terrorist violence carried out in the name of a fundamentalist reading of Islam. Pope Francis frequently has said there are more Christians being martyred today than during the persecutions of the church in the early centuries of Christianity. And, using the term “ecumenism of blood,” he has noted how Christians divided into churches and denominations are united in mourning for their members killed not because they are Orthodox or Catholic, but simply because they are Christian.

The pope paid tribute to the Coptic Orthodox Church’s modern martyrs, praying before a memorial in Cairo marking the place where 29 people were killed and 31 wounded in December by a suicide bomber. He told Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, “Your sufferings are also our sufferings.”

After the May 26 attack, the Coptic Orthodox Church released a statement saying, “We extend our condolences to all the affected families and are suffering with the entire country due to this evil and violence.”

“We hope for the necessary procedures to prevent these kinds of attacks, which degrade the image of Egypt and cause so much suffering to Egyptians,” the statement said.

Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sedrak of Alexandria sent condolences to Pope Tawardros and “all families of all the martyrs,” reported the Egyptian paper, Al Masry al Youm.

Ashraf Sultan, Egyptian parliament spokesman, told Sky News Arabia, “This is an attack on the entire society and affects us all.”

Egypt’s top authority on Islam, Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar University, said that “such attacks can never satisfy a Muslim or a Christian.”

In Washington, Cardinal Daniel N. Di Nardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, compared the May attacks with previous attacks, noting that, again, children were murdered as they traveled to church.

“Though our grief is unbearable, our unity grows all the more strong. That unity is the way to peace,” he said, sending prayers and condolences to the Egyptians.

Other church leaders around the world also reacted. The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem expressed the condolences of churches in the Holy Land.

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, offered prayers and said, “This attack reminds us again of the horrific persecution of our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East and their courageous witness to their faith.”

An Egyptian Interior Ministry statement said unknown assailants driving three four-wheel-drive vehicles had attacked by “randomly shooting” the bus carrying the Copts, and that an official count of the final toll was underway.

Local media showed grainy images of bloody bodies strewn on sandy ground, indicating many of the slain had fled the bus trying to escape the assailants’ bullets.

Later, the media showed images of the wounded being taken to hospitals and reported that el-Sissi was calling for an emergency security meeting to address the attack. El-Sissi had instructed authorities to take all necessary measures to attend to the injured and arrest the assailants, the local media reported.

Asked about government assurances that security in the country would be tightened, Father Greiche told CNS: “It is now time for action, not just words.”

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Attack on Christians in Egypt kills 28, including children

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CAIRO — Masked assailants attacked a bus carrying Coptic Orthodox Christians on the way to St. Samuel Monastery in southern Egypt, killing at least 28 people, many of them children, according to the country’s Interior Ministry.

“It is too early to say who is behind it, but certainly terrorists, and the security forces are now scanning the area” to find the culprits, Tarek Attia, Interior Ministry official, told Sky News Arabia, an Arabic-language television station, May 26.

A bus carrying Coptic Christians in southern Egypt is seen after gunmen attacked it May 26. The Health Ministry reports at least 26 fatalities, with at least 25 more wounded. (CNS photo/Reuters TV)

A bus carrying Coptic Christians in southern Egypt is seen after gunmen attacked it May 26. The Health Ministry reports at least 26 fatalities, with at least 25 more wounded. (CNS photo/Reuters TV)

He said three cars carrying the masked gunmen had attacked the bus at roughly 10:30 a.m. in the southern governorate of Minya, a traditional stronghold of Egypt’s Christian community, which accounts for a tiny percent of the country’s mostly Sunni Muslim population.

The attack marked the latest in a series of deadly attacks on Coptic Christians, whose church was founded by St. Mark the Apostle in the first century, and whose community represents the largest of the Middle East’s Christian minorities.

On April 9, two suicide bombers attacked St. George’s Cathedral in Egypt’s northern city of Tanta and St. Mark’s Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria. Those attacks killed and maimed dozens in what was the deadliest attack against Christians in Egypt’s recent history. A nationwide state of emergency has been in place since.

In a widely publicized visit to Egypt soon after the April attacks, Pope Francis addressed the terrorist violence carried out in the name of a fundamentalist reading of Islam. Pope Francis frequently has said there are more Christians being martyred today than during the persecutions of the church in the early centuries of Christianity. And, using the term “ecumenism of blood,” he has noted how Christians divided into churches and denominations are united in mourning for their members killed not because they are Orthodox or Catholic, but simply because they are Christian.

The pope paid tribute to the Coptic Orthodox Church’s modern martyrs, praying before a memorial in Cairo marking the place where 29 people were killed and 31 wounded in December by a suicide bomber. He told Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, “Your sufferings are also our sufferings.”

After Friday’s attack, the Coptic Orthodox Church released a statement saying, “We extend our condolences to all the affected families and are suffering with the entire country due to this evil and violence.”

“We hope for the necessary procedures to prevent these kinds of attacks, which degrade the image of Egypt and cause so much suffering to Egyptians,” the statement said.

Ashraf Sultan, Egyptian parliament spokesman, told Sky News Arabia, “This is an attack on the entire society and affects us all.”

Egypt’s top authority on Islam, Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar University, said that “such attacks can never satisfy a Muslim or a Christian.”

An Interior Ministry statement said unknown assailants driving three four-wheel-drive vehicles had attacked by “randomly shooting” the bus carrying the Copts, and that an official count of the final toll was underway.

Local media showed grainy images of bloody bodies strewn on sandy ground, indicating many of the slain had fled the bus trying to escape the assailants’ bullets.

Later, the media showed images of the wounded being taken to hospitals and reported that Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi was calling for an emergency security meeting to address the attack. El-Sissi had instructed authorities to take all necessary measures to attend to the injured and arrest the assailants, the local media reported.

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Gunmen take Catholic hostages; Philippines’ Duterte imposes martial law in Mindanao

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MANILA, Philippines — Gunmen claiming to have links with the Islamic State group threatened to kill hostages, including a Catholic priest, who were taken from the southern Philippine city of Marawi May 23.

President Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law across the entire Muslim-majority region of Mindanao late May 23, but ucanews.com reported that many, including church leaders, characterized the imposition of martial law as an overreaction.

Philippine government soldiers walk past a mosque before their May 25 assault on Maute insurgents, who have taken over large parts of the town of Marawi. Residents started to evacuate Marawi after President Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law across the entire Muslim-majority region of Mindanao. (CNS photo/Romeo Ranoco, Reuters)

Philippine government soldiers walk past a mosque before their May 25 assault on Maute insurgents, who have taken over large parts of the town of Marawi. Residents started to evacuate Marawi after President Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law across the entire Muslim-majority region of Mindanao. (CNS photo/Romeo Ranoco, Reuters)

As of May 25, nothing had been heard of the whereabouts of the priest and the prelature’s staff and some churchgoers who were taken captive.

Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato appealed to Muslim religious leaders to intercede with the gunmen, who claimed to be Muslims, for the safety of the hostages who were reportedly used as “human shields” when the militants attacked the city.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Philippine bishops’ conference, said the terrorists “have threatened to kill the hostages if government forces pitted against them are not recalled.”

“As the government forces ensure that the law is upheld, we beg of them to make the safety of the hostages a primordial consideration,” he added.

Initial reports received by ucanews.com said Father Teresito Suganob, vicar general of the Prelature of Marawi, and several staff of St. Mary’s Cathedral, which was set on fire, were taken hostage. The gunmen also forced their way into the residence of Bishop Edwin de la Pena of Marawi.

Bishop de la Pena confirmed reports that the attackers took Father Suganob, several of the prelature’s staff, and some churchgoers. He said he received a call from “a member of Islamic State” who used his kidnapped secretary’s phone and demanded a “unilateral cease-fire” in exchange for the life of the priest and the other hostages.

“They want a cease-fire and for the military to give them access out of Marawi,” said Bishop de la Pena. “Otherwise they will kill the hostages.”

In a statement on his Facebook page, Manila Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle told the people of Marawi that no words could express the “shock, confusion, and sadness for what happened.”

Sending solidarity and prayers from the Archdiocese of Manila, the cardinal asked why anyone would hurt their neighbor.

“We weep for you, for all Filipinos, and everyone in the world (whose) lives (are) ruined because of the violence,” he said. “O God, forgive our contempt for life and human dignity.”

Archbishop Villegas said Father Suganob was performing priestly duties at the time of his capture.

“He was not a combatant. He was not bearing arms. He was a threat to none. His capture and that of his companions violates every norm of civilized conflict,” said Archbishop Villegas.

Fighters of the Maute group, which has vowed allegiance to the Islamic State, also burned several buildings, including the cathedral, a Protestant school and the city’s jail.

The bishop said the gunmen used the hostages as human shields as fighting continued with security forces May 24.

In Marawi, the military confirmed that five soldiers were killed and 31 others injured in the attack on the city. At least two policemen were also reported killed.

Philippine authorities refuse to release the number of casualties and fatalities as “clearing operations” continued.

Duterte placed all of Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities, roughly a third of the country, under martial law for a period of 60 days. Mindanao is home to an estimated 20 million people.

Duterte warned that the martial law in Mindanao “will not be any different” from the martial law declared by former dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

“I’ll be harsh,” said Duterte. “I have to do it to preserve the Republic of the Philippines,” he said, even as he assured Filipinos “not to be too scared.”

Ucanews.com reported that religious leaders and civil society groups, however, said there was no need for Duterte to put Mindanao under military rule. Filipinos have been wary of martial law since it was used by Marcos to remain in power for two decades, until his ouster in 1986.

“Putting the whole of Mindanao under martial law is very dangerous and vulnerable to abuse,” said Alih Aiyub, secretary-general of the Ulama Council of the Philippines.

The Muslim religious leader told ucanews.com that “innocent people might be caught in the crossfire or might be arrested illegally by mere suspicion.”

“Fighting terrorism does not need the declaration of martial law, because our existing laws are more than enough to enforce it,” said Aiyub.

Bishop Jose Bagaforo of Kidapawan said the declaration of martial law could have been limited to Marawi City and surrounding areas, “not all of Mindanao.”

Redemptorist Father Amado Picardal, who works with basic ecclesial communities and the bishops’ conference, said declaring martial law across Mindanao while only Marawi was attacked “is either idiotic or an excuse to expand dictatorial control.”

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Pope Francis decries ‘barbaric attack’ on concertgoers in Manchester – updated

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Catholic News Service

MANCHESTER, England — Pope Francis decried the “barbaric attack” on concertgoers in Manchester, adding his voice to Catholic leaders dismayed at what British officials said was the deadliest case of terrorism since 2005.

In a telegram sent to English church officials on Pope Francis’ behalf, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said the pope “was deeply saddened to learn of the injury and tragic loss of life” after a suicide bomb killed at least 22 people and injured another 59 at Manchester Arena May 22. Many concertgoers at the Ariana Grande concert were teenagers, young adults and families.

Two women wrapped in thermal blankets stand near Manchester Arena in England where U.S. singer Ariana Grande had been performing May 22. At least 22 people, including children, were killed and dozens wounded after an explosion at the concert venue. Authorities said it was Britain's deadliest case of terrorism since 2005. (CNS photo/Jon Super, Reuters)

Two women wrapped in thermal blankets stand near Manchester Arena in England where U.S. singer Ariana Grande had been performing May 22. At least 22 people, including children, were killed and dozens wounded after an explosion at the concert venue. Authorities said it was Britain’s deadliest case of terrorism since 2005. (CNS photo/Jon Super, Reuters)

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack.

The pope “expresses his heartfelt solidarity with all those affected by this senseless act of violence,” the telegram said, as “he commends the generous efforts of the emergency and security personnel and offers the assurance of his prayers for the injured, and for all who have died.”

“Mindful in a particular way of those children and young people who have lost their lives, and of their grieving families, Pope Francis invokes God’s blessings of peace, healing and strength upon the nation.”

In Britain, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, and other Catholic leaders offered prayers for the victims of the attacks and their families.

“My shock and dismay at the horrendous killing of young and innocent people in the Manchester Arena last night is, I know, shared by all people of goodwill,” Cardinal Nichols said in a May 23 statement posted on the Westminster archdiocesan website. “I know, too, that Catholics and many others will be praying earnestly for those who have been killed, for the bereaved and for grieving loved ones.

“We pray in support of all those working so hard in response to this tragedy: the police and security forces, hospital staff, neighbors and friends and for all the people of Manchester. May God, in his mercy, strengthen and sustain us and keep us firmly united in the face of all evil.”

The terrorist attack took place within the Diocese of Salford, which incorporates most of Manchester and much of northwest England.

Bishop John Arnold of Salford offered a lunchtime Mass May 23 at St. Mary’s, a popular city-center church close to Manchester Arena.

In a statement the same day, he said: “The citizens of Manchester and the members of the Catholic community are united in condemning the attack on the crowds at the Manchester Arena.

“Such an attack can have no justification. I thank the emergency services for their prompt and speedy response which saved lives,” he continued. “We join in prayer for all those who have died and for the injured and their families and all affected by this tragedy. We must all commit ourselves to working together, in every way, to help the victims and their families and to build and strengthen our community solidarity.”

Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, whose diocese covers southern parts of Manchester, wrote to his clergy, urging them to pray for the victims and their families.

“Let us also keep in our prayer the police and emergency services, together with all hospital staff and chaplains,” he said in his letter.

The bishop added: “Together with church and religious leaders in Greater Manchester, I ask the prayers of your parishioners for peace and solidarity in all our communities that the hate which inspires such indiscriminate violence may be overcome by that love which faith and prayer inspires in our hearts. I hope the days ahead, overshadowed by this atrocity, will lead us all to such prayer and active charity.”

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote Bishop Arnold to assure him of the prayers of Catholics in the United States.

“Words are not enough to convey the deep shock and sadness with which Catholics and all people of goodwill in the United States learned of the horrible attack which took place yesterday at England’s Manchester Arena,” said his letter, released May 23 in Washington. He mentioned “the unspeakable loss of life, terrible injuries, and untold trauma to families — especially to children.”

“Evil, as dense and dark as it is, never has the last word,” Cardinal DiNardo wrote. “As we prepare to celebrate the new dawn of Pentecost again, may the Easter words of the risen Christ, ‘Peace be with you,’ settle deep into the hearts of the citizens of your great country.”

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Trump arrives in Holy Land, visits Church of the Holy Sepulcher — updated

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Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — Following his official welcome to Jerusalem by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, U.S. President Donald Trump began his two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories with a private visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Western Wall.

Details of the visits to the holy sites had been a carefully guarded secret until the last moment, but from early May 22 the alleyways of the Old City were closed to both residents and tourists, and the main thoroughfares leading to the Old City were closed off to all traffic.

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump speak to Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem after visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher May 22. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump speak to Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem after visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher May 22. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

Under tight security and led by the traditional kawas honor guard announcing the way with the thumping of their ornamental staffs, the president made his way by foot through the Old City’s alleyways to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. He and first lady Melania Trump were welcomed at the entrance of the church courtyard by Greek Orthodox Patriarch Archbishop Theophilos III; Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land; and Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian. The president spoke briefly to the religious leaders and stopped at the entrance of the church for a group photograph after also speaking to a few other religious.

Trump, who also was accompanied into the church by his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, spent about 30 minutes in the church, which encompasses the area where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus was crucified, buried and later rose from the dead. At the entrance of the church is the stone of unction, where tradition holds that Jesus’ body was laid out and washed after his crucifixion. Inside the central rotunda is the newly renovated Edicule, where Jesus was buried.

The delegation then walked the short distance to the Western Wall plaza, where Trump was greeted by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall. Wearing the traditional Jewish kippa or skullcap, Trump walked alone to the wall, where he placed his hands on the stones for several minutes. He then placed a note with a prayer into a crack in the wall, a Jewish tradition. Melania and Ivanka Trump visited the women’s section of the wall separately, and the first lady spent a few minutes silently in front of the wall, touching it with her hand.

Trump is the first sitting president to visit the Western Wall in the contested Old City of Jerusalem. Both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital city.

The Western Wall, considered the holiest site for Judaism today as a remnant of the retaining wall of the Biblical Jewish Temple, also surrounds the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif compound, where the Jewish temple once stood and the location of Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site.

Avoiding any symbolic controversy involving the issue of the city’s sovereignty, the Trump administration insisted the visit to the sites be private, vexing Israel by Trump’s refusal to be accompanied by Israeli political leaders to the Western Wall.

Meanwhile, Palestinians said Israel had not allowed a Greek Orthodox Scout marching band to accompany the delegation to Church of the Holy Sepulcher as planned because of the Palestinian flags on their uniform. A spokesman from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied any Israeli involvement in the matter, suggesting that it might have been a U.S. security issue.

In a visit that encompasses both political and religious symbolism, Trump spent two days in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with King Salman and other Muslim leaders. He was scheduled to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas May 23 in Bethlehem, West Bank, and was expected to urge the Palestinian leader to take productive steps toward peace.

According to media reports, he did not plan to visit Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity because of an exhibit there supporting hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

In statements upon his arrival in Israel, Trump spoke warmly about the U.S.-Israeli bond and his deep sense of admiration for the country. He also spoke of the need to unite against “the scourge of violence.”

“We have the rare opportunity to bring security and stability and peace to this region and to its people by defeating terrorism,” Trump said at the welcoming ceremony upon his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, where he was greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. “But we can only get there by working together. We love Israel. We respect Israel and I send your people the warmest greeting from your friend and ally, from all people in the USA, we are with you.”

The next leg of his first overseas trip as president is slated to include a visit to the Vatican as well as to Brussels.

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Sydney archbishop: No comment for now on allegations about Cardinal Pell

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SYDNEY — Public prosecutors have submitted recommendations to Victoria Police on whether to try Australian Cardinal George Pell on decades-old abuse allegations, but their advice has not been made public.

Until police decide how to proceed, Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher said he will not be commenting on the case.

Australian Cardinal George Pell celebrates Mass in 2014 in Sydney. Public prosecutors have submitted recommendations to Victoria Police on whether to try Australian Cardinal Pell on decades-old abuse allegations, but their advice has not been made public. (CNS photo/Jane Dempster, EPA)

Australian Cardinal George Pell celebrates Mass in 2014 in Sydney. Public prosecutors have submitted recommendations to Victoria Police on whether to try Australian Cardinal Pell on decades-old abuse allegations, but their advice has not been made public. (CNS photo/Jane Dempster, EPA)

“Justice must be left to run its course,” Archbishop Fisher said in a statement May 17.

Archbishop Fisher said Cardinal Pell, currently head of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, “has cooperated in every way with multiple police, parliamentary and Royal Commission investigations.”

“Everyone supports just investigation of complaints, but the relentless character attacks on Cardinal Pell, by some, stand the principle of innocent-until-proven-guilty on its head,” Archbishop Fisher said. “Australians have a right to expect better from their legal systems and the media. Even churchmen have a right to a fair go.”

Last July, allegations surfaced in a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. featuring several people who accused Cardinal Pell of sexual assault; at least one of the accusations had been found to be unsubstantiated by an Australian court in 2002. Some accusations dated to the late 1970s, when Cardinal Pell was a priest in Ballarat, Australia.

He served as archbishop of Melbourne 1996-2001 and archbishop of Sydney 2001-2014 before being asked to serve at the Vatican.

At the time the allegations surfaced, Cardinal Pell dismissed them as “nothing more than a scandalous smear campaign,” and a statement issued by his office said that “claims that he has sexually abused anyone, in any place, at any time in his life are totally untrue and completely wrong.”

In October, Australian police questioned Cardinal Pell in Rome regarding the accusations.

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Commission reportedly thought the first alleged visions at Medjugorje were real

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The commission that now-retired Pope Benedict XVI established to study the alleged apparitions of Mary at Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, reportedly voted overwhelmingly to recognize as supernatural the first seven appearances of Mary in 1981.

The sun sets behind a statue of Mary on Apparition Hill in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in this 2011 file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The sun sets behind a statue of Mary on Apparition Hill in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in this 2011 file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

However, according to a report published by the website Vatican Insider, the commission was much more doubtful about the thousands of alleged visions that have occurred since July 4, 1981, and supposedly continue to this day.

Two of the 17 commission members and consultants thought the alleged visions after the period of June 24-July 3, 1981, were not supernatural, while the other members said it was not possible to make a judgment.

The commission said it was clear that the six alleged visionaries and a seventh who claims to have begun receiving messages from Mary in December 1982 were not given adequate spiritual support.

Vatican Insider published its piece on the report May 16, three days after Pope Francis spoke about some details of the report to journalists traveling with him from Fatima, Portugal.

The Vatican press office May 17 declined to comment on the Vatican Insider piece.

Speaking to journalists May 13, Pope Francis said that, regarding the Medjugorje commission’s work, “three things need to be distinguished.”

“About the first apparitions, when (the ‘seers’) were young, the report more or less says that the investigation needs to continue,” the pope said, according to the English translation posted on the Vatican website.

“Concerning the alleged current apparitions, the report expresses doubts,” he said. Furthermore, “personally, I am more ‘mischievous.’ I prefer Our Lady to be a mother, our mother, and not a telegraph operator who sends out a message every day at a certain time; this is not the mother of Jesus.”

Pope Francis said his “personal opinion” is that “these alleged apparitions have no great value.”

The real core of the commission’s report, he said, is “the spiritual fact, the pastoral fact” that thousands of pilgrims go to Medjugorje and are converted. “For this there is no magic wand; this spiritual-pastoral fact cannot be denied.”

The spiritual fruits of the pilgrimages, he said, are the reason why in February he appointed Polish Archbishop Henryk Hoser of Warsaw-Praga to study the best ways to provide pastoral care to townspeople and the pilgrims.

According to Vatican Insider, 13 of the 14 commission members present at one meeting voted to recommend lifting the Vatican ban on official diocesan and parish pilgrimages to Medjugorje.

The commission also recommended turning the town’s parish Church of St. James into a pontifical shrine with Vatican oversight. The move, the commission said, would not signify recognition of the apparitions, but would acknowledge the faith and pastoral needs of the pilgrims while ensuring a proper accounting of the financial donations pilgrims leave.

The commission’s role was to make recommendations to the pope; its report is not an official church judgment on the apparitions. Pope Francis told reporters May 13 that “in the end, something will be said,” but he gave no timeline.

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Latin American bishops call for help for food-short Venezuela

By

Catholic News Service

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Bishops from across Latin America condemned the ongoing violence in Venezuela and called for the church to find ways to provide charity to the South American country amid food shortages that have left thousands hungry.

A protester faces the National Guard during clashes May 10 in Caracas, Venezuela. The motto on his back reads: "Mom, today I went out to defend Venezuela. If I do not come back, I went with her." Latin American bishops have condemned the ongoing violence in Venezuela and called for the church to find ways to provide charity to the South American country amid food shortages  (CNS photo/Miguel Guitierrez, EPA)

A protester faces the National Guard during clashes May 10 in Caracas, Venezuela. The motto on his back reads: “Mom, today I went out to defend Venezuela. If I do not come back, I went with her.” Latin American bishops have condemned the ongoing violence in Venezuela and called for the church to find ways to provide charity to the South American country amid food shortages (CNS photo/Miguel Guitierrez, EPA)

“We are worried and pained by the deaths, the violence, the lack of the most basic goods, the divisions, the violation of human rights,” said Auxiliary Juan Espinoza Jimenez of Morelia, Mexico, secretary general of the Latin America bishops’ council, known by its Spanish acronym, CELAM.

Bishop Espinoza spoke during CELAM’s assembly in San Salvador, which brought together Catholic representatives from 21 Latin American countries plus delegations from the United States and Canada. The meeting, which ended May 12 and was themed “A poor church for the poor,” dedicated special attention to the situation in Venezuela.

The conference appointed a commission to study the issue and make recommendations. The commission will be headed by Archbishop Diego Padron Sanchez of Cumana, Venezuela, president of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference.

“The bishops, presidents and delegates of the episcopal conferences of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have placed our minds and hearts with our brothers and sisters in Venezuela,” the bishops said in a letter that was read at the meeting. “We want to express to all citizens, and especially those in the Catholic Church, our closeness, solidarity and support, at the same time that we transmit a voice of hope in Christ, way, truth and life.”

The South American country of 31 million has been besieged by a deep political crisis since President Nicolas Maduro moved to expand his power, including taking over the functions of the opposition-controlled congress and, more recently, pushing for the constitution to be reformed.

Weeks of large-scale street demonstrations have led to violent clashes with police, leaving nearly 40 people dead and drawing international condemnation. The country has struggled with a deep economic recession and runaway inflation that has caused shortages of food and medical supplies. A survey by a Venezuelan university found about 75 percent of the population had lost an average of 19 pounds last year because of the lack of food.

Bishops Espinoza urged the church to respond to the crisis by providing supplies. “We call on the diocesan communities of Latin America and the Caribbean to initiate initiatives of charity with our Venezuelan brothers and to think about ways to make them effective, despite obstacles that may arise,” he said.

“The Catholic people of Latin America and the Caribbean know well that, in the most difficult moments of their history, we must turn to God with all pity to move forward,” the letter said, urging all churches to “pray for this brother and sister country for a prompt and definitive reconciliation and social peace.”

Latin American bishops call for help for food-short Venezuela

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