Fides News - English Agency NewsenContent on this site is licensed under aASIA/LAOS - The Church remembers Lionello Berti, first Bishop and missionary Prabang - The small Laotian Church participates spiritually, with great affection and gratitude, at the memorial of Mgr. Lionello Berti, missionary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate who died in Laos on 24 February, 50 years ago. As Fides recalls Fr. Angelo Pelis, OMI missionary for many years in the small Southeast Asian country, "half a century after the tragic death of Mgr. Berti, the first Bishop of North Laos, we will participate with deep feeling at the Eucharist for his commemoration in Reggello , on February 24, with other witnesses of the drama still engraved in the soul". Reggello is located in the diocese of Fiesole, Mgr. Berti’s birthplace.<br />As a priest, after joining the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1957, Berti accepted his designation in northern Laos. Laos, a former French colony, independent since 1955, then had just over three million inhabitants, belonging to a mosaic of ethnic groups very distant from each other: language, customs and traditions.<br />The Oblates of Mary Immaculate were present in the north of the country, in an area with animist and Buddhist population, since 1935, and the arrival of the six young Italian priests gave new impetus to the missionary work. In 1963 the Vicariate of Luang-Prabang was created, of which Mgr. Berti will be the first Bishop. The conditions of life for the population, in this poor country which lacks ways of communication, were complicated by guerrilla actions that the opposing factions, among them the Pathet-Lao communists, hired to obtain independence.<br />In this context it was easy to identify the Catholic religion as "the religion of the colonialists" and the missionaries paid the price. In fact, in total 17 priests and catechists, who in those years sacrificed their lives, engaged in pastoral service, beatified on December 11, 2016 in Vientiane. Moreover, the first missionaries had arrived together with the French colonizers who had seen in the propagation of the Christian faith a possible vehicle for extending their political influence on the population.<br />In 1962, at the age of only 37, Fr. Lionello Berti was consecrated Bishop and appointed vicar of Luang-Prabang. When the Luang-Prabang area was entrusted to Mgr. Berti it had 80 Catholics and in 1968, year of his death, there were a thousand: in his five years of pastoral ministry, despite the poverty of means and personnel, the mission extended to the borders of Thailand, Burma and China. Bertì began construction work on the cathedral, the seminary and the schools. He entrusted the care of the sick and partly the formation of the catechists to the Sisters of Charity. He founded the congregation of the "Auxiliaries of Mary Mother of the Church" for the human and Christian formation of women, secular order that continues its work even today.<br />On February 24, 1968, a small group of Hmong families prepared to leave for the area of Sayaboury, where they sought refuge from the guerrillas that raged in the mountains. Mgr. Berti decided, with paternal devotion, to accompany them. <br />Inexplicably, just a few minutes from destination, the plane on which they traveled crashed in the Mekong. The remains of the bodies of 13 people were torn apart by the animals in the river. Eleven days after the disaster, the body of the young Bishop emerged from the river, miraculously intact.<br />During the 1975 revolution, foreign missionaries were expelled, their properties seized and used for civilian use, the chapel was transformed into a warehouse and there were no traces of Mgr. Berti’s tomb for thirty years. Subsequently, thanks to a patient work of mediation with the Laotian local authorities, the tomb was traced and repaired with dignity. <br />Fri, 23 Feb 2018 13:30:04 +0100AFRICA/SOUTH SUDAN - Kenyan missionary:"I will continue to work in South Sudan despite the alarm of my government" - "Here in Rumbek, the few Kenyans I have met feel unsafe but as they work in these areas, they just entrust their lives to God", says to Fides Father John John Waweru, a Kenyan priest incardinated in Rumbek diocese in South Sudan, reacting to the warning given by the government of Kenya about traveling in South Sudan.<br />On February 21, Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued an advisory, alerting its citizens against traveling to parts of South Sudan that are affected by conflict. In particular, the statement urged all Kenyan nationals living or travelling to South Sudan to avoid areas where armed conflicts and inter-ethnic violence have occurred within the last six months.<br />The Nairobi government raised the alarm after two Kenyan pilots’ aircraft had developed technical problems on January 7, crash landing in the rebel-controlled area of Akobo, killing a South Sudanese and some heads of cattle, an episode that saw the pilots held by the army affiliated to the opposition for 44 days. The two pilots were released after a compensation of over a hundred thousand dollars had to be paid.<br />"I shared with some Kenyan mechanics working here the travelling advisory report issued by the government, but they just said they cannot avoid being here despite the challenges, even if the place is unsafe", said Fr. Waweru, who has been working in South Sudan since 2000.<br />"I know there are many Kenyans here in Rumbek, Western Lakes State and Eastern Lakes, and here in Rumbek, there are perpetual ethnic conflicts but we are working in these areas", says Fr. Waweru, who is a parish priest in a mission some 50km west of Rumbek town. <br />Pope Francis has dedicated Friday, February 23, 2018 as a day of prayer for peace in South Sudan, as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo. <br />Fri, 23 Feb 2018 13:01:49 +0100AFRICA/DR CONGO - Still violence while the world is praying for the DRC and South Sudan – While today, 23 February, the world Day of prayer and fasting for peace in the world is being celebrated, and in particular for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, announced by Pope Francis, Agenzia Fides continues to receive news of violence in the DRC.<br />On Sunday 18 February, unknown persons abducted a Catholic priest: Don Idelphonse Myatasi, parish priest of Visiki, kidnapped together with his driver in Kambya on the road between the villages of Cantine and Mabalako in Beni Territory, in North Kivu, in the east of the DRC. The priest and the driver were released on 19 February, it seems thanks to the strong pressure of the population.<br />According to the local organization CEPADHO for the defense of human rights, the area is plagued by kidnappings for extortion reasons where not even priests are spared.<br />On February 17, four operations were carried out by the NGO "Hyrolique sans Frontière" in the Rutshuru Territory, always in North Kivu. The bodies of two of them were later found with gunshot wounds.<br />According to the testimony of one of the surviving hostages who managed to escape from the hands of his kidnappers, the death of his two comrades occurred, when the kidnappers met and crossed a rival armed group. The two hostages were killed in the conflict. The fourth hostage was later released after payment of a ransom.<br />The kidnapping of HYFRO technicians, a local NGO based in Goma, risks accentuating the ethnic tensions between the different communities in the Rutshuru Territory. The kidnappers in fact belong to the Hutu militia, Nyatura, an ethnic group of Rwandan origin that often clashes with the local Nande.<br />The tensions in fact turned into violence on February 20, when in Mutanda, in the northwest of Rutshuru Territory, groups of young people from the Nande and Hunde communities set fire to several homes of the Hutu community. The young people said they wanted to avenge the killing of a member of the Hunde community, killed in the night by alleged Nyatura militiamen. According to CEPADHO, the whole Hutu community was expelled from Mutanda. According to CEPADHO "it is urgently necessary to impose State authority in the area to avoid an escalation of ethnic tensions between Hutu, Hunde and Nande. Otherwise the peacekeeping efforts of the government and MONUSCO will be undermined".<br />As the Peace Network for the Congo recalls "In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the continuous postponements of the presidential elections are one of the main causes of the current violence. The authorities recently set 23 December 2018 as the voting date. But since the end of 2016, Congolese leader, Joseph Kabila, 46, shows that he wants to delay the start of the electoral process as much as possible and remain in power when the country's Constitution prevents him from running for a third term. The current hostilities have caused about 4 million displaced people throughout the Country. In the north-east of the territory, especially in the Kivu region, the population is in fact the victim of numerous armed groups, often financed by businessmen and politicians with the aim of exploiting its precious resources. In the central province of Kasai, on the other hand, more than 3,300 civilians were killed in the last year of fighting in over 40 common graves discovered". As for South Sudan, it is emphasized that "For four years we have been living the atrocities of a brutal civil war in South Sudan, that is difficult to decipher. According to the latest estimates, there are about 3.5 million refugees throughout the territory or in neighboring Countries. In addition, the Country was hit in early 2017 by a dramatic famine that had a serious impact on about 5 million civilians, half of the population". <br /><br />Fri, 23 Feb 2018 12:43:25 +0100ASIA/INDIA - Indian Church and other religious communities join the Pope in prayer for peace in Africa Delhi - The Catholic Church in India and also the faithful of other religions, Hindus and Muslims, have responded to Pope Francis’ appeal and have joined the pontiff and universal Church in celebrating today, 23 February, a Day of prayer and fasting for peace, especially for the peoples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, in Africa. As Fides learns, numerous churches and religious communities throughout the country have celebrated prayer meetings, vigils and special moments of fasting. They were joined by faithful of other religions, many of Hindu religion, expressing the desire of long lasting for peace.<br />John Dayal, Catholic journalist and intellectual, former president of the "All India Catholic Union", told Agenzia Fides: "A day of fasting can give great spiritual benefit, in order to internalize the issue: the importance of peace cannot be minimized, thinking about Africa but also about the political environment in which India is situated".<br />The Holy Father also invited members of other religions to take part in the initiative, in the forms they consider most appropriate , underlining that religions can contribute considerably to the consolidation of peace.<br />Dayal continues: "India is going through a social phase marked by violence. Politics is also polarized with the use of the religious factor. In this context, the desire for peace and the common effort of the people assume an individual and collective value. We support the Holy Father's call to prayer and fasting in this time of Lent".<br />Dominican Fr. Francis Arackal, Professor of Media and Philosophy in Delhi, joins the prayer and tells Fides: "Fasting is an effective means of establishing peace and balance. This is how a peaceful society is built. I believe that it is with this spirit that the Pope asks people to fast. Without peace, there can be no development".<br />In some dioceses, parishioners, nuns and priests gathered in prayer of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. Mary Ratnam, a Catholic laywoman from the Archdiocese of Vishakapatnam, Andhra Pradesh tells Fides that her community gathered in silent prayer: "Our hearts and prayers go to Africa and to other parts of the world where hostility is increasing and people are suffering. Many people live in fear and uncertainty or die because of war. We hope and pray that violence stops, and that peace reigns". <br /><br />Fri, 23 Feb 2018 11:58:37 +0100ASIA/PAKISTAN - Asia Bibi's family at the Vatican: "The Pope will pray for us and with us" City - "We believe in Jesus Christ and we turn to Him by putting Asia's life in his hands. We are sure that the Lord will listen to us, also thanks to the Pope's prayer and to the prayers of all the faithful in the world": says to Agenzia Fides Ashiq Masih, Asia Bibi's husband. Asia is a Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy and still imprisoned in the Multan female prison, in Punjab. Ashiq Masih is in Rome with his daughter Eisham and speaks to Agenzia Fides on the eve of the meeting with Pope Francis: "Asia Bibi confides in the Pope's prayer and asks the Holy Father to pray for her and for her liberation", he remarks. "She lives her imprisonment with great faith and entrusts herself to the Lord every day. We live this privilege of meeting the Holy Father with great confidence. We ask him to pray for us and with us", says the man. Even his daughter Eisham also hopes to "see her mother as soon as possible, in a peaceful place and in family tranquility. I pray for this every day", she says.<br />Asia Bibi has been in prison since 2009 and, after the conviction in first degree, which was confirmed on appeal, only the Supreme Court of Pakistan has the power to change Bibi’s fate.<br />According to Joseph Nadeem, at the head of the "Renaissance Education Foundation", the Foundation that is taking care of Asia Bibi’s family and supports its legal expenses, "the lawyers are taking care of the appeal and we are awaiting a date for the hearing, which let us hope happens as soon as possible. This family lives the drama of the imprisonment of an innocent wife and mother. We have full confidence in the rule of law and the Pakistani judiciary. We are convinced that we can prove to the Supreme Court Asia Bibi’s innocence".<br />In Pakistan, Asia Bibi's case has become symbolic and Islamic radicals only want her hanged. Her case was cited and exploited even during anti-government demonstrations organized in recent months in Islamabad by Islamic fundamentalist groups. In order to put a peaceful end to the demonstrations, the government had to sign a memorandum of understanding. In the text, the government undertook not to change the blasphemy law in any way, which continues to be abused in Pakistan, as in the case of Asia Bibi. <br />Fri, 23 Feb 2018 11:46:54 +0100AFRICA - Africa ready to pray for peace in the DRC and in South Sudan - The Church in all of Africa is mobilized to welcome the appeal launched on February 4 by Pope Francis to dedicate the second Friday of Lent, 2018, February 23, to a day of prayer and fasting for peace in the world and in particular in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in South Sudan.<br />In the DRC, the Bishops have elaborated a detailed program that provides for the priestly and religious communities, in addition to the prayer of the liturgy of the hours and the Mass of the day, the prayer of the Rosary, the Eucharistic Adoration to be held in all the parishes; the Via Crucis, and finally an ecumenical prayer, leaving the different dioceses to freely organize it on the basis of the relationships maintained with the other Christian confessions in their jurisdiction.<br />School chaplains are invited to celebrate Mass for peace in the DRC and South Sudan together with pupils and teachers or to recite the rosary together.<br />In South Sudan, the Bishops have invited everyone to join in prayer communion with Pope Francis. In the capital Juba, the prayer will be held in the cathedral from 4 pm on 23 February. The Archbishop of Juba, His Exc. Mgr. Paulino Lukudu Loro, invited the faithful of other Christian confessions and Muslims to participate in the prayer.<br />His Exc. Mgr. Erkolano Lodu Tombe, Bishop of Yei, said that in his diocese the spiritual preparation for tomorrow's prayer has already begun. The Bishop hoped that prayers and fasting for peace in his Country and in the DRC will continue even after February 23rd.<br />Even other African Episcopal Conferences have fully adhered to Pope Francis’ appeal.<br />The Episcopal Conference of Benin is among these. The Bishops of Benin had expressed, at the end of their Plenary Assembly held from 24 to 26 January, their full "emotional and spiritual closeness to the Catholic Church in the DRC, to the Congolese people assuring their prayers so that God may spread his peace on this nation wounded by so many years of political instability".<br />In Togo, which is experiencing a situation of strong political tension, in some ways similar to the Congolese, the local Episcopal Conference has invited the faithful to be in communion with the Pope on the occasion of the day of prayer and asked the Togolese to ask God for the conversion of hearts, especially those who have in their hands the fate of the DRC and South Sudan and those who are involved in one way or another in the situation of these Countries. The Episcopal Conference of Togo has asked to pray also for Togo, where a political dialogue has just been launched to try to get the Country out of the crisis.<br />Also on 19 February the Bishops of the Ivory Coast asked all priests, religious and laity to take the necessary steps to live this day in communion with the universal Church".<br />In Ghana His Exc. Mgr. Philip Naameh, Archbishop of Tamale and President of the local Episcopal Conference, in welcoming an electoral delegation from the DRC, expressed the solidarity of the Ghanaian Church towards the Congolese, stating that Ghanaian Catholics are praying so that the elections scheduled for December 23rd in the DRC are carried out peacefully.<br />At the end of their Plenary Assembly on 21 February, the Bishops of Burkina Faso-Niger sent a message of solidarity to the Episcopal Conference of the DRC, for the repression of the demonstrations called by the Catholic laity to demand full compliance with the New Year's Agreements. <br />Thu, 22 Feb 2018 13:37:17 +0100AMERICA - Christians pray for peace in Africa and also in Venezuela - "We join Pope Francis’ appeal to believers all over the world, for a special prayer for peace in Congo and South Sudan, to be held on Friday 23 February": says Mgr. Aldo Giordano, Apostolic Nuncio in Venezuela who, together with Father Ramòn Vinke, director of the Secretariat for Ecumenism of the Archdiocese of Caracas and Secretary General of the Council of historical Churches of the capital, organized a meeting at the Nunciature of Caracas. "We will be an ecumenical community, with representatives of the Churches and Christian communities in Venezuela", says Mgr. Giordano in the note sent to Agenzia Fides.<br />"On February 23, we will dedicate a day to prayer and fasting for peace in the world, especially for countries affected by violence such as Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan. Our prayer will also be for peace in our beloved country", emphasizes the Nuncio. "I urge you to invite all members of your communities to take part in this moment at our Nunciature", concludes Mgr. Giordano.<br />Also in other American countries, we pray in communion with the Pope. In Argentina, the diocese of Catamarca responded to the request of the Apostolic Nunciature of your country who invited "all the Bishops of Argentina to take initiatives so that the faithful of every particular Church can join this day of prayer and therefore ask God, infinite in His mercy, the conversion of the hearts of those who lead the nations, especially in those countries that need the gift of peace".<br />In the Mexican diocese of Querètaro, Bishop Mgr. Faustino Armendáriz Jiménez addressed the faithful the invitation to join in prayer and fasting: "As a diocesan Pastor of this particular Church of Querétaro - declares Bishop Jiménez - I invite and encourage you to become all bearers of the Holy Father’s concern. On the first Friday of Lent we offer our prayers, our fasting and sacrifices for this purpose, so that no one feels exempt from this apostolic initiative in favor of peace. I ask all the parish priests, parish vicars and all the priests of the diocese to make the faithful know about this initiative promoted by the Vicar of Christ and in which he asks us to participate intensely", concludes the Bishop. <br /><br />Thu, 22 Feb 2018 13:27:48 +0100AFRICA - Congo and South Sudan: peace and hope against all appearances - The "Day of Fasting and Prayer for Peace in the Congo and South Sudan and in the world", announced by Pope Francis was welcomed with gratitude by the Christians of South Sudan. "This shows us that we are not alone and that the faithful all over the world are with us on the path towards peace and reconciliation", says James Oyet Latansio, general secretary of the Council of Churches of South Sudan.<br />"The chaos in which the populations of the Congo and South Sudan find themselves, and many African peoples in general, suggests the urgency of a common ideal. This common ideal is nothing but peace and reconciliation", says Father Donald Zagore, theologian of the Society of African Missions , in view of the Day.<br />"Peace and reconciliation will be an effective reality in Africa only when the Kingdom of God will truly penetrate the depths of the heart of African man. There is a truth of faith that must never be forgotten by our minds: the peace of Jesus is a peace that the world can never give", he continues.<br />Fr. Zagore explains: "Many situations have led and continue to lead to the creation of barriers among African peoples on the African continent. Today we must stand up courageously and prophetically against all these obstacles and barriers to wipe them away and free the hearts and congested spaces. For this reason, humanity in Africa has a decisive role to play. By relying on God, the African peoples are called to work actively to ensure true liberation to the continent. The little every African can do is already a lot in the measure in which he manages to free a being from his suffering, from his pain or from his fear". "The African man - says the theologian - must realize that any act of liberation accomplished in justice and in truth is an act of salvation. <br />We need to discover in depth this soteriological vocation to which Christ invites us and to live it fully in our daily life. In the name of our faith we remain convinced that death will not have the last word".<br />Among the many international churches and religious organizations that have joined Pope Francis’ appeal is that of the Ecumenical Council of Churches which, in a letter from the Secretary General, Pastor Olav Fykse Tveit, invites "to join in prayer and fasting, as a global ecumenical community, in the light of political and social tensions, violence and suffering suffered by the citizens of the Congo and South Sudan".<br />The situation in the two African states is dramatic. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has 4.3 million refugees and over 13 million people in need of urgent humanitarian aid. In South Sudan, 2 million people have left the country because of the civil war, while the displaced within the national territory are almost 2 million. Women, children and young people are those who suffer most the burden of this situation of violence and instability. <br />Thu, 22 Feb 2018 13:15:09 +0100OCEANIA/NEW ZEALAND - Resignation of the Bishop of Dunedin and appointment of successor City - Today the Holy Father has accepted the resignation from the pastoral care of the diocese of Dunedin , presented by His Exc. Mgr. Colin David Campbell, and at the same time appointed Rev. Michael Joseph Dooley, as successor.<br />Rev. Michael Joseph Dooley was born on December 13, 1961 in Invercargill, in the diocese of Dunedin, he studied Philosophy and Theology in the Holy Cross College of Mosgiel. He obtained a Baccalaureate in Theology at the University of Otago in 1987. He was ordained a priest on December 13, 1989 for the clergy of the Diocese of Dunedin.<br />Since his priestly ordination he has held the following positions: 1990-1994: Parish Vicar of St. Mary's Basilica, Invercargill and, at the same time, Chaplain of Verdon College; 1994-1995: Parish Vicar of Blessed Sacrament Parish Gore, at the same time Chaplain of St. Peter's College; 1995-1998: Higher studies at the Melbourne College of Divinity, obtaining a Master of Theology; 1998-1999: Director of the Holy Cross Seminary formation Center in Mosgiel; 1999-2005: Parish priest of St. Mary Parish in Mosgiel; 2005-2008: Spiritual Director in Holy Cross Seminary, Auckland; since 2008: parish priest of Saint Mary in Mosgiel and St. Peter Chanel in Green Island and, at the same time, chaplain of Kavanagh College ; since 2016: Vicar General of the Diocese of Dunedin; since 2017: Member of the College of Consultors and Presbyteral Council. <br />Thu, 22 Feb 2018 12:53:13 +0100ASIA/INDONESIA - Appointment of the Bishop of Tanjung Selor City – Today the Holy Father appointed the Rev. Fr. Paulinus Yan Olla, M.S.F., currently Rector of the Theological Studentate M.S.F. in Malang as Bishop of the diocese of Tanjung Selor .<br />The Rev. Fr. Paulinus Yan Olla, M.S.F., was born on 22 June 1963 in Seom-Eban, Diocese of Atambua . He entered the Minor Seminary in Laian and later, in the Major Seminary in Yogyakarta. He completed his philosophical and theological studies at the Weda Bhakti Pontifical Faculty in Yogyakarta. He was ordained a priest on August 28, 1992.<br />He then held the following positions: 1992-1994: Parish Vicar of the Holy Family Parish in Banteng ; 1993-2005: Coordinator of the Commission for the Family of the Archdiocese of Samarinda ; 1995-1997: Rector of the Don Bosco Minor Seminary in Samarinda; 1997-2000: Parish priest of the Buna Maria Parish in Banjarbaru, Diocese of Banjarmasin ; Director of the MSF Postulancy in Banjarbaru; 2000-2004: Studies for the Degree in Spiritual Theology at the Theresianum in Rome; 2001-2007: MSF General Assistant in Rome; 2007-2013: MSF General Secretary in Rome; since 2013: Rector of the MSF Theological Studentate in Malang; since 2014: Coordinator of the Commission for the Family of the Diocese of Malang; since 2014: Professor of Spiritual Theology at the Philosophical and Theological Higher Institute Widya Sasana in Malang. <br />Thu, 22 Feb 2018 12:37:19 +0100AMERICA/PERU - The Church in Lima fights drug trafficking among young people - Drug trafficking is not an extra threat to society, it is the main threat. In Peru, this plague moves figures above 3 billion dollars a year and "the problem grows every day", says to Agenzia Fides Marilú de Cossio, founder and president of "Mundo Libre", the only formal therapeutic community for the street children of Peru. In this situation, the weakest point is the family, given that one third of families do not have a paternal figure. Delinquents take advantage of the affective deficiencies of problematic families to involve younger members in the sale of drugs, with precise strategies to enter schools and poor neighborhoods and, therefore, captivate new consumers.<br />Faced with this scenario, the Archdiocese of Lima has activated itself in the promotion of the family, which is the foundation of every society. The 20th Archdiocesan Synod of Lima, in 2015, proposed the creation of "Centers for the promotion and orientation of the family and defense of life" in every parish, and today they are a reality in many of them. From the conclusions of the last Synod, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, Archbishop of Lima, underlined in his last Pastoral Letter: "it is necessary to have a family pastoral care organized in each parish, to accompany family the members in all stages of life", thus re-echoing the call of Pope Francis in "Amoris Laetitia" for a pastoral care focused on the Gospel of the family.<br />Marilú de Cossio, who has been working in the rehabilitation and reintegration of street children for over 30 years, offering them a wide and comfortable space, with the presence of professionals, through holistic treatments, tells Fides: "It is important for us to recover them at a spiritual, psychiatric and psychological level. The Bishop of Lurín, Carlos García, sends us seminarians and catechists every Saturday to prepare the children to receive the sacraments of initiation". Affirming that 89% of the young people who follow the complete rehabilitation program overcome this problem, explains: "Today they are company administrators, lawyers, mechanics, technicians, among others. It is true that not everyone can save themselves, but it is worth making every effort". <br />He therefore comments with satisfaction that over the past few years 2,500 minors have been reintegrated in a situation of abandonment.<br />According to the "National Commission for Drug-Free Development and Life", about 70 thousand people per year start to use marijuana in Peru. Likewise, in the Ministry of Health's latest report of 2017, it was noted with concern that the consumption of drugs among young people between 19 and 24 years of age increased significantly between 2010 and 2015. <br /><br />Thu, 22 Feb 2018 12:25:22 +0100ASIA/IRAQ - The struggle for political elections affects the return of refugees to Mosul and the Nineveh province - The maneuvers and pressures of the political forces in view of the upcoming Iraqi political elections, scheduled for May 12, are heavily influencing the return of displaced people who had left Mosul and large areas of the Nineveh province during the years of the jihadist regime imposed by the militants of the so-called Islamic State . This is in particular supported by the militants of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan , who accuse the rivals of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan of hindering the return of refugees from Mosul and the province of Nineveh still hosted in the camps in Erbil, in order to encourage them to vote for their candidates in the next general election. In this operation, the PDK militants - support the rivals of the UPK - have also scattered checkpoints through the communication routes linking the governorate of Erbil with Mosul and several districts of the Nineveh province, including that of Sinjar, inhabited mainly by the Yazidi minority.<br />There are at least 800,000 internal Iraqi refugees who continue to live in camps set up in the Erbil and Dohuk regions. Among them are also included many of the tens of thousands of Christians who had fled their villages on the Nineveh plains in the summer of 2014, in front of the offensive of the jihadists of Daesh. Even activists of the Yazidi component, in recent days, have referred to pressures implemented by the PDK to get votes and electoral support from that community.<br />The UPK militants urged the federal government, the Electoral Commission and the Iraqi parliament not to renounce the electoral rules for displaced people to return home, to allow them to exercise their right to vote in their areas of origin. The alarms launched by UPK and Yazidi members join those launched by Hanin al Qaddo, a parliamentarian belonging to the Shabak minority component, who denounced the existence of a plan to deploy US troops in the Nineveh province during the elections, upon request and guarantee of the Sunni component.<br />In these days the Redemptorist, Bashar Warda, Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, during lectures and interviews carried out in the USA reported that Christians who remained in Iraq after the last years of conflict and violence are now less than 200 thousand. <br />Thu, 22 Feb 2018 12:11:20 +0100ASIA/INDIA - Discrimination against Dalit women: government intervention is urgent Delhi - "Dalit women in India are poorer, more marginalized and discriminated than men, and the average age of their mortality is 14.6 years lower than the highest caste women. The data of the new UN Report are alarming", says to Agenzia Fides Fr. A. Singarayan, Catholic priest of Tamil Nadu. The priest refers to the UN report titled "Turning promises into action: gender equality in the 20130 agenda", a recent study that highlights the increase of mortality concerning lower caste women in India, mainly due to poor health and hygiene conditions.<br />"Women must have equal rights and opportunities. God created mankind in his own image; he created him in the image of God, but it is sad to know that little girls are not treated with the same attention as boys in India", observes the priest. "In Indian society - he continues - women and girls experience multiple forms of disadvantage based on gender and other inequalities", which translates into "lack of access to quality education, decent work, health and well-being".<br />At the heart of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development - adopted two years ago by the UN - there is a commitment to "leave no one behind", giving priority to the needs of the most disadvantaged groups. The agenda sets a series of global benchmarks, such as: eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, access for all children to school education. The new UN Report highlights how women are particularly affected by these emergencies and examines the policies needed to achieve the stated goals.<br />The goal is to ensure that all women and girls, regardless of their age, class, race, ethnicity or religion, enjoy equal rights and opportunities. According to the Report, the intersection of gender-related discrimination with other forms of discrimination - caste, ethnicity, religion - further marginalizes the women and girls of the poorest and most disadvantaged groups.<br />Poverty, therefore, has other consequences in India: for example, it often leads to lack of access to education, child labor and child marriage. <br />According to the UN Report, a woman aged between 20 and 24 in India, from a poor family in a rural area, is five times more likely than a wealthy urban family to marry prematurely, before 18 years of age.<br />The Report invites governments to develop policies with the objective of "leaving no one behind", so as not to further aggravate social fragmentation.<br />"Do not leave anyone behind - concludes Fr. A. Singarayan - means accepting and satisfying the needs of the most marginalized, those who are disadvantaged at a social, political, economic, environmental, cultural level: here is where the Church is committed in India, and this is where the government must commit itself". <br />Thu, 22 Feb 2018 11:15:00 +0100AMERICA/UNITED STATES - The Bishops: National day of civil commitment to save dreamers - The US Bishops have launched a special "National Catholic Call-In Day for the Protection of Dreamers", the young immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors and without legal documents to follow their parents, who now risk deportation. Catholics across the United States are being asked to call their Congressional representatives on Monday, February 26 and urge them "to protect Dreamers from deportation, to assure them a path to obtain citizenship". The statement sent to Agenzia Fides reminds Catholics that "our faith compels us to stand with the vulnerable, including our immigrant brothers and sisters. We have done so continually, but we must show our support and solidarity now in a special way. Now is the time for action".<br />In the February 15 session, the US Senate, had rejected four measures related to immigration, two of these promoted by Trump’s government, putting on hold the general immigration reform announced by the president during the "state of Union Address", delivered on January 30th.<br />Immediately, Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, issued an urgent alert to Catholics in his archdiocese to raise their voices to support the Dreamers. "Time is running out for them - he said - Congress must pass bipartisan legislation that would provide urgently needed relief for Dreamers" - a bipartisan measure that included a path to citizenship for an estimated 1.8 million young people of the DACA program which is set to expire March 5, as promised by the President Trump.<br />Since the beginning of February, other Bishops and religious have been putting pressure on parliamentarians and public opinion in favor of the reactivation of DACA. The Catholic University of Notre Dame in Indiana, reiterated that the university "will continue to support them financially, maintain their enrollment, provide expert legal assistance". Some experts see a ray of hope, such as Kevin Appleby, director of the international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies in New York: "The fact that the president's framework proposal has been rejected could pave the way for a narrower law that grants citizenship to young people without documents, without decimating the family immigration system". "The Bishops and the Catholic community of the United States can take a leading role in continuing to underline the moral necessity of offering protection to these young people" concluded the expert.<br />Since 2012, the DACA program has allowed minors to come to the United States with their parents without legal permission to receive a two-year protection period and to be entitled to a work permit. <br />Wed, 21 Feb 2018 09:24:43 +0100AMERICA - Synod on the Amazon: "To show the closeness of indigenous and Christian values" - "I could not say no, I agreed to contribute with all of my years of experience among the indigenous peoples, in the liturgy, catechesis and inculturated evangelization, as well as contributing to the reflection on indigenous spirituality, from the indigenous theology point of view that I have been carrying out for almost twenty years". This is what Fr. Justino Sarmento Rezende, contacted by Agenzia Fides reported, chosen among the five expert consultants who will help the Pre-Synodal Council to prepare the special Synod of the Bishops on the Amazon in 2019. Mauricio López, Executive Secretary of the Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network , announced the names of the five consultants, selected from a list of over 25 names, specifying that although they are not part of the Council, they will participate in the work meetings with very specific tasks.<br />Speaking to Fides, Fr. Justino Sarmento Rezende then adds that he also accepted because, having been a priest for 24 years and a religious for 34 years - the first indigenous Salesian priest - he feels called to "show the closeness of indigenous and Christian values".<br />"The path we are starting - continues Fr. Sarmento - will be of profound ecclesial experience with other members of the Commission and with the Holy Father, with whom we will meet on April 12 and 13. I think I can learn a lot, contributing at the same time to making the indigenous peoples and the experiences of the missionaries working among these populations known", he concluded, expressing the hope that the Lord "inspires wisdom and may our Amazonian experiences illuminate the experience of other continents and vice versa, so that we learn from others".<br />The five experts will work with the Pre-Synodal Council will be led by Pope Francis and accompanied in the coordination by Cardinal Baldisseri, Secretary of the Synod of Bishops. "May the God of life guide us and enlighten us in this important task, give us discernment and courage, and know how to be faithful to the voice of Christ incarnate in the peoples and territory of the Amazon", concludes the letter from the Secretary of REPAM. <br />Wed, 21 Feb 2018 13:41:26 +0100AFRICA/EGYPT - Al Azhar is "open" to Coptic students (but they must memorize the Quran) - The University of al Azhar, the most prestigious theological and academic center of Sunni Islam, supports the consolidation of a "modern and democratic" State in Egypt, and does not exclude opening courses also to Coptic Christian students able to fulfill the conditions of admission, including the memorization of the Quran. This was stated by Abbas Shuman, "number two" of the prestigious center led by Grand Imam Ahmed al Tayyib, as reported by Egyptian sources such as Copts United.<br />As reported by Agenzia Fides, already in March 2017 the possibility to see Coptic students admitted to courses of al Azhar had provoked heated discussions in Egyptian society, after deputy Mohammed Abu Hamed announced the intention to present a draft law to enable Christians to attend courses and obtain educational qualifications at the Sunni academic institution. At the time, the same sheikh Abbas Shuman had pointed out that the studies and courses carried out at the University "are not suitable for Christians", because they imply a thorough knowledge and also the memorization of large sections of the sacred book Islam as an admission requirement. Professor Abdel Fuad, Dean of the Faculty of Islamic Studies, had instead rejected the whole discussion as a useless provocation, starting from the observation that Egyptian Christians have not expressed any intention to enroll at al Azhar University. <br />Wed, 21 Feb 2018 13:14:37 +0100AFRICA/SOUTH AFRICA - The Bishops applaud the State of the Nation Address by President Ramaphosa - "We are at a moment in the history of our nation when the people, through their determination, have started to turn the country around", said the newly elected President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation Address in Parliament.<br />Firstly, not since 1994 has a President found it necessary to talk of ‘turning the country around’. Previous speeches assured us that we were moving in the right direction, though possibly not fast enough and not without encountering obstacles and opposition. To speak of ‘turning around’ is to concede quite explicitly that we were in fact heading for the rocks", says the Parliamentary Office of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, SACBC.<br />The appointment of Cyril Ramaphosa in place of the resigning Jacob Zuma is arousing strong hope in South Africa, after the previous presidency was marked by scandals, nepotism, corruption and a serious economic crisis. According to the Parliamentary Office of the SACBC, it is important that Ramaphosa recognized that it is the people, through their determination’ that started the turnaround not the alliance; not the government. "It is the resilience of our people, expressed in myriad ways, from street protest to radio talk-shows, from investigative journalism to court applications, from withholding their votes to changing their loyalties", it says.<br />"We are particularly happy with the emphasis on Unity, Ethical Leadership, and the total equality of all citizens" the Bishops say in a statement signed by His Exc. Mgr. William Slattery, Archbishop of Pretoria and spokesman of the SACBC, who notes that "the intention to reduce poverty and youth unemployment, improve education access for the children of the poor, deconcentrated effort on greater employment will certainly bring hope to all South Africans".<br />"The setting out of a generous and enlightened national plan is only the first step", warns Mgr. Slattery. "We now all look to implementation. But at least, we now have a benchmark against which we can make assessment of our national progress. The first step in realizing our hopes will become visible in the appointment of cabinet ministers and in the budget speech of next Friday. Let us hope that free tertiary education for first year can be financed while leaving money for the other necessary investments".<br />"We welcome the State of the Nation Address. Yet so much depends on stable family units which are the basis of all society. If we are not trustworthy within our families can we be trusted anywhere else?", concludes the Archbishop of Pretoria. <br /><br />Wed, 21 Feb 2018 12:46:28 +0100AFRICA/TOGO - National political dialogue begins: Catholics pray for peaceè - National political dialogue among the various political parties in Togo has begun in Lomé: the government and the coalition of the 14 opposition parties, which organized demonstrations almost every week for five months, demanding the resignation of President Gnassingbé and the return to the 1992 Constitution, confront each other. The Catholic Church accompanies the process by praying and pledging for peace. While the negotiating table will resume in three days, the Episcopal Conference of Togo has announced a week of prayer from 16 to 23 February, with the aim of "opening serious perspectives for the end of the crisis". As Fides learns, in an open letter, the Bishops have invited the entire population to all the parishes of Togo to participate in a special 24-hour Eucharistic Adoration on 23 February, and to organize a week of the Via Crucis. "In Kolowarè, we will hold an hour of specific prayer for three days", said Father Silvano Galli, of St Leon IX parish in Kolowaré to Fides.<br />The letter signed by the president of CET, Mgr. Benoît Alowonou, urges the faithful to join Pope Francis in communion, who convened a special prayer on 23 February for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and the world, to "urge God to convert the hearts, especially those who hold the fate of these countries and those involved in any way". Also the Archbishop emeritus of Lomé, Mgr. Philippe Kpodzro, spoke about the crisis, asking "the rehabilitation of the 1992 Constitution in its entirety, with all its legal implications".<br />Among the leaders of the Catholic Church, Fr. Pierre Marie-Chanel Affognon who, in a message addressed to Catholic political leaders, declared: "It is urgent for every politician, for every man and woman of good will, to assume their responsibilities by working more for social peace, which necessarily implies social justice, the rule of law and democracy". "Love for the truth must never leave the political debate", added Fr. Affognon, encouraging the participants "to renounce pride, lie, egocentrism that destabilized the coexistence and the integral development of our country".<br />The Togolese priest also recommended politicians to take account of the Church's social doctrine in the governance of the country.<br />On 19 February, at the opening ceremony of the dialogue session called "Lomè 2018" the president of Ghana Nana Akufo-Addo emphasized his neutrality, his role as facilitator, and his desire to see Togo grow towards the rule of law. "This is the challenge of our generation in Africa and it is important for us leaders to solve national problems, because this will foster the progress and well-being of our people", said Nana Akufo-Addo. During the plenary session, the various parties gave priority to discussing "peaceful measures and creating a climate of trust".<br />The coalition of 14 opposition parties, has joined the suspension of demonstrations pending the outcome of the dialogue. The main demands of citizenship remain: the return to the 1992 Constitution; the revision of the electoral framework with the right to vote for the Togolese abroad; the release of the institutions of the Republic and the release of all political prisoners. <br /><br />Wed, 21 Feb 2018 12:06:05 +0100ASIA/INDIA - Appeal of religious leaders: "Stop targeted violence on minorities" - "It is urgent to stop targeted violence against Christians": this is the appeal launched by Christian leaders to the Prime Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Chauhan, and to all Indian political leaders. As Fides learns, the appeal was launched during an interreligious seminar held in recent days in Bhopal, in Madhya Pradesh, central India, focused on the theme of peace and national harmony, in which Hindu, Christian, Muslim and other religions took part.<br />The leaders present recalled the high number of incidents of violence against the Christian community in the country in 2017, particularly in the state of Madhya Pradesh. According to a report sent to Fides by the Christian organization "Evangelical Fellowship of India" , 2017 was one of the most traumatic years for Christians in India, reporting at least 351 cases of violence during the year and according to Efi, these are only incidents which are reported.<br />Alarmed by the huge number of incidents of violence against religious minorities in 2017, Hindu and Muslim religious leaders have called on the government to "take urgent measures against the groups responsible for this chaos". Hindu leader Acharya Maharaj and Muslim leader Shahar Quazi Mohammad Ishrat Ali denounced "extremist forces targeting Christians and other vulnerable groups". The Bishop of Indore, Mgr. Chacko Thottumarickal presented a Memorandum, co-signed by all the other leaders, to be submitted to the political leaders of Madhya Pradesh and also at a federal level.<br />The Memorandum, sent to Fides, lists incidents such as: detention of children under the pretext of stopping conversions; intrusion of Hindu militants to prayer meetings; violence against believers. All this with increasing police involvement in these actions.<br />According to the All India Catholic Union , "in various states of India, such as Madhya Pradesh, some laws called "religious freedom laws" are usually used as a shield to disturb or carry out abuse against minority communities. These laws must be repealed".<br />Lancy D. Cunha, National President of AICU, points out to Fides: "We criticize the growing abuse of religious symbols in political debates and invite religious leaders to educate their communities and citizens to strengthen democratic traditions, including religious freedom and human rights, free participation in elections, ethics in politics, and not to incite violence or to polarize society". AICU - the largest and oldest movement of lay Christians in the country - says it is "deeply concerned about the failure of the government to condemn and contain threats to freedom of expression in the country" and reaffirms its commitment "in defending the rights of the dalit and tribals, especially those who profess the Christian faith". <br />Wed, 21 Feb 2018 11:35:29 +0100AFRICA/LESOTHO - Appointment of the National Director of the PMS, Fr. Felix Lerata Mahlatsi City - On November 16, 2017 Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, appointed the rev. Fr. Felix Lerata Mahlatsi, of the diocesan clergy of Leribe, as National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Lesotho for five years .<br />The new National Director is 46 years old and was ordained a priest on July 9, 1994. He studied at the "St. Theresa Seminary" and at the "St Augustine" Major Seminary. He was rector of the St. Joseph Seminary. <br />Wed, 21 Feb 2018 09:41:58 +0100