Fides News - English Agency NewsenContent on this site is licensed under aASIA/UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - After the Pope's visit, the mission to build harmony and coexistence among religions Dhabi - "It was a moment of joy to serve and meet Pope Francis. It was a great blessing from God for all of us who live in the United Arab Emirates", says to Agenzia Fides Nadeem Lal Bhatti, a Catholic Pakistani resident in the United Arab Emirates for 7 years, engaged in the liturgical service group in St. Joseph Cathedral in Abu Dhabi, recalling the visit of Pope Francis to the United Arab Emirates from 3 to 5 February. "The memorable moments with the people, with the faithful belonging to various nationalities will remain in our hearts and minds. Everyone enjoyed a climate of celebration and friendship in those days, even non-Christians. We will continue to commit ourselves to building bridges of harmony and solidarity", he notes. "The Pope gave all of us, to the society of the Emirates, a message of peace, hope and fraternity. After this visit, we feel that the theme of tolerance and coexistence among the faithful of different religions has strengthened in daily life", he says, recalling that the United Arab Emirates celebrate "the Year of tolerance" in 2019. The United Arab Emirates are home to a population of over 200 nationalities from various continents. And, despite having Islam as an official religion, they are known for the respect and freedom of worship given to all other faiths", he notes.<br />Adonis Panen, a young Filipino and extraordinary minister of Communion, who carried out liturgical service during the papal mass, speaking to Fides, declares: "The Pope's visit to this country has left a legacy of joy, between Catholics and non-Catholics. The climate of happiness among the people who participated in the papal Mass strengthened unity, peace and harmony in the United Arab Emirates".<br />Francis John, an Indian citizen resident in the United Arab Emirates for twenty years, who served as a volunteer, told Fides: "We worked hard for two months to prepare all the logistical-organizational aspects of the trip. It is the dream of every baptized to participate in the Pope’s Mass. For us who work in the United Arab Emirates it was a special blessing". <br /><br />Thu, 21 Feb 2019 13:16:47 +0100ASIA/NEPAL - The commitment of the Jesuit Refugee Service: Helping refugees build their future through education - Jesuits in Nepal help refugees build their future through education and social development. "I have benefited from rigorous education. It helped me find many new opportunities", says to Fides Indra Acharya, a former student, who was able to study thanks to Jesuit Refugee Services . A daughter of Bhutanese refugees who grew up in a refugee camp in Nepal, spent more than half her life in a structure surrounded by fences. JRS Nepal manages a variety of education, teacher training, counseling and guidance programs for young people and the disabled, nursery schools and professional training courses for over 50,000 refugees.<br />At the beginning of the 1990s, Acharya's parents were among the approximately 100,000 Nepalese people expelled from southern Bhutan as part of the government's "One nation, one people" policy. After losing the land, her parents fled to a refugee camp in Nepal where they spent about twenty years of their lives and had Acharya.<br />Acharya and her family experienced difficult living conditions as refugees. "There was a shortage of food and the camp was overcrowded", says Acharya. Her father died while in was in the refugee camp due to the lack of medical care. Acharya reports that she survived because she was studying in a school run by JRS. Acharya continued to study and after a few years, she went to the United States with her mother in 2012. She continued her studies and obtained a scholarship from Georgetown University in 2014. Many years later, Acharya did not forget the important lessons of life that the Jesuits taught her at the JRS school in Nepal. "It was not just about learning, it was the special attention and care for each person", she told Fides. "This service to the person - they note at JRS - is an evangelical work, in which the Christian faith is witnessed".<br />Today, the US government has drastically reduced the refugee resettlement program. Approximately 54,000 refugees were admitted to the United States in 2017, they were almost 85,000 in 2016. In 2019 the refugee admission limit has been reduced to 30,000. Acharya says. "It is necessary first of all to change people's hearts, in order to change politics". <br /><br />Thu, 21 Feb 2019 12:51:57 +0100ASIA/LEBANON - New Interior Minister rekindles the debate on civil marriage - The debate on civil marriage has stirred tensions in Lebanon after the newly appointed interior minister, Raya Hassan, reignited the issue for its recognition by religious authorities.<br />Current Prime Minister Hariri lent his support to the cause since 2013 when he said, “I personally would not want my daughter to get a civil marriage but I cannot oppose it, in my capacity as prime minister.” <br />However, several politicians, Druze leader Walid Junblatt and former president Amin Gemayel, have backed Ms Hassan’s proposal to reopen the confrontation on civil marriage. But several religious and political leaders have already expressed their opposition to the prospect of a legal recognition of civil marriage. Lebanon’s highest Sunni authority, Dar Al Fatwa, published a statement to express its “absolute rejection” of the idea saying that it contradicts Islamic law. Also Father Abdo Abou Kassem, the Catholic Church's spokesman, argued that an optional civil marriage is “wrong” and “confusing” and reaffirmed that on this point Lebanese Christians and Muslims are united, and that the Catholic Church does not support civil marriage because it contradicts the concept of the ‘sacrament of marriage. Similar considerations were expressed during a homily by the Maronite Archbishop of Beirut, Boulos Matar. And even some representatives of the Hezbollah Shiite party, like parliamentarian Ehab Hamadeh, rejected the hypothesis of the legalization of civil marriage as contrary to the legal criteria based on the Sharia. Along the same lines, the President of Parliament, the Shiite Nabih Berri, said there is no space for this campaign and that the matter was not even up for negotiation.<br />Much of Lebanese civil law, including personal status matters such as marriage, divorce and inheritance, is applied according to the relevant religious sect and in some cases treats women differently to men. Lebanon has 18 recognized Muslim and Christian sects. <br />A previous phase of confrontation on the issue of civil marriage took place in Lebanon between the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013. Then, as reported by Fides , the public discussion had rekindled when a couple, belonging to Shiite Muslim families, had signed their civil marriage contract before a lawyer and not before a religious court.<br />So far, Lebanese couples who want to celebrate their civil marriage resort to the stratagem of civilly marrying in Cyprus and then registering their union in Lebanon. At that time, the Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, the highest authority of Lebanese Shiite Islam, issued a fatwa to distrust all Muslim politicians and ministers from supporting any legal form of civil marriage if they did not want to be considered as "apostates". The Maronite Bishops, had reiterated in an official statement that the eventual approval of civil marriage in Lebanon would necessarily entail an amendment to Article 9 of the Constitution, and that in any case "marriage is one of the sacraments of the Church, and civil marriage cannot replace this sacrament". <br /><br />Thu, 21 Feb 2019 12:36:15 +0100AFRICA/MOROCCO - The prisoner’s old creased Bible: when God enters the prisonès - Prison may not be hell or a place of despair, but a space where God meets man, wounded and suffering. And it can even become a place to bear witness to one's faith. This is what missionary Fr. Matteo Revelli, priest of the Society for African Missions and parish priest of St. François d'Assise in Fès says, reporting to Fides his recent experience. "I went to visit the prisoners in the prison in Fès. Three of them, who will be released in a few days, gave me a rather heavy package, with 3 creased Bibles inside", says the parish priest.<br />"One of them gave me a big old Bible, weighing at least a kilo and a half, creased, greasy, glued, underlined, with missing pages", adds the missionary. "Then he took me aside and told me that he had had the Bible by his side for 20 years, he had won it as a first prize in a Biblical contest of culture in his Country. He had brought it with him and had always read it during his adventurous journeys through the world in search of fortune".<br />"For years, he had carried cocaine in his suitcase, from some Latin American country to Europe or Africa", says Fr. Revelli. "He confessed that he never dared to carry that Bible in the same bag where there were drugs. One day he was captured during his last transit in Morocco where he spent 9 years and knows only the airport and the two prisons in which he stayed together with other Moroccan prisoners. When he leaves prison he knows perfectly the Moroccan dialect and the Bible. He confides that this Bible was his only support during his imprisonment and that he no longer needs that written book, because in the meantime he has memorized it. He entrusts it to me so that I can give it to some other prisoner". The missionary added with emotion that "by taking that greased and creased Bible and seeing my Bible neat and clean, I almost felt a feeling of shame". That Bible speaks of the life of a man who has encountered the Word of God during imprisonment: today like him other prisoners can experience the same grace of humble and disinterested spiritual support that priests, religious and laity offer to the prisoners of Fès. <br /><br />Thu, 21 Feb 2019 11:42:18 +0100AFRICA/CAMEROON - 170 students of the Catholic school of Kumbo kidnapped and then freed by English-speaking secessionistsé - A new mass abduction of students from a school in the English-speaking area of Cameroon, carried out by guerrillas demanding independence from the rest of the country. On 16 February 2019, unidentified gunmen came into the campus of Saint Augustine’s College, in the northwest region, shortly after 6 a.m., and abducted some members of the College Community. They took along 170 students, 2 college security guards, one teacher and three of his children.<br />The abductees were released sometime in the afternoon of Sunday 17 February 2019. Shortly after that, they assembled in the main mission station of St Paul’s Parish, Kikaikom. From there, they were conveyed by the authorities of the Diocese of Kumbo, back to the college Campus. Following the serious episode, the school was temporarily closed.<br />A statement from the diocese states that "the Bishop of Kumbo and the school authorities of Saint Augustine’s College, Nso regret this incident, and sincerely sympathize with all the children and their families. They render gratitude to all the sympathizers and persons of goodwill, who gave them moral support in these two days of grave concern and anxiety".<br />On November 5, the secessionist activists had kidnapped about eighty students from the Presbyterian Secondary School of Bamenda, the capital of the Northwest region. The children were released after a few days . <br /><br />Thu, 21 Feb 2019 11:19:25 +0100AMERICA/NICARAGUA - The Missionary Rosary of prisoners, timid signs for a way out of the crisis - A "Prayer Campaign for Hans Josué Gaitán Sandino and for all unjustly detained political prisoners" is promoted by the Pontifical Mission Societies of Nicaragua through its social network, Facebook. Hans Josué Gaitan Sandino, is one of many young people jailed during the demonstrations and the repression in the last 10 months. He was counselor and animator of Missionary Childhood of St. Mary Regina Pacis Parish, of the Archdiocese of Managua. Since 10 September 2018 he was detained at Chipote and now transferred to "Carcel Modelo inTipitapa".<br />In the publication of Missionary Childhood we read: "testimonies and photos confirm that Hans Gaitan recites the Missionary Rosary with prisoners, teaches them to pray and to praise God". "In many parishes, animators and children of Missionary Childhood pray for him and for the other prisoners, so that the Lord may strengthen them in moments of difficulty". From the Gospel of St. Matthew : "Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven".<br />In Nicaragua Missionary Childhood is active with its groups and its missionary initiatives in many parishes of the nation. Pastoral work with children, adolescents and young people has relaunched a much felt solidarity at a continental level.<br />The situation in the country is still tense, even if there are recent signs of a possible opening. In recent days, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, Archbishop of Managua and President of the Episcopal Conference, together with the Apostolic Nuncio, Mgr. Stanislaw Sommertag, attended a meeting of government representatives with entrepreneurs in which the situation of the serious crisis was exposed. The statement released at the end states that "in the open exchange of opinions, the need for an understanding to start negotiations was confirmed, through an inclusive, serious and frank meeting".<br />The Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Managua, Mgr. Silvio José Báez, commented on the possibility of reopening national dialogue, underlining that there should be the fundamental conditions for its realization: "the first is the release of political prisoners, there cannot be national dialogue if there are young people, students, farmers, journalists in prison", said the Bishop through his personal account on Twitter. <br /><br />Thu, 21 Feb 2019 10:35:46 +0100ASIA/PALESTINE - Crisis at the University of Bethlehem. Negotiations with students continue - The problems that are likely to stop the academic semester underway at the University of Bethlehem have not yet been overcome. The University, run by the Brothers of the Christian schools and relaunched in the seventies also at the impulse of Pope Paul VI as a tool of formation of young Palestinians in the city where Jesus was born, is experiencing a difficult season marked by a strong contrast between the administrative authorities and student representatives, linked to the increase in management costs and the consequent increase in the financial contribution requested to the students enrolled in the courses. "Even today", says Michel Sansur, Executive Vice President of the University, to Agenzia Fides "we are dealing with student representatives in order to find a solution to the problems and to convince everyone to return to classes and resume courses. If this does not happen, the Palestinian Ministry of Education has announced that it will cancel the semester of our University, given that the minimum number of hours required to recognize the academic validity of the courses has not been carried out".<br />The crisis of the University of Bethlehem has increased in recent weeks. On 6 February, Brother Peter Bray, Vice Chancellor of the University, announced the indefinite suspension of university courses in the spring semester - which began last January 18 - due to repeated interruptions of the lessons determined by members of the Senate of the students. The students' representatives have until now considered inconclusive the negotiations started with the University Administration to face "the increase in fees for the formation of students of the faculties of Nursing and Educational Sciences".<br />The increase in training fees had entered into force in 2016. The University of Bethlehem supports more than half the cost of the courses with money from external sources. In a letter recently published by the university authorities, it was also stated that the Catholic University "should receive 1.3 million dollars each year from the Palestinian Authority, but this is not happening".<br />What worsens the difficult situation created at the University of Bethlehem is the increase in the costs of training activities outside the University - such as those carried out at Palestinian health facilities.<br />In January 2018 - the official sources of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem reported - the US froze $65 million of a $ 125 million package of aid to the UN agency for relief and employment for Palestinian refugees and on 25 August they cut 200 million dollars of aid to the Palestinian Authority destined in particular to government, health, education for civil society. <br /><br />Wed, 20 Feb 2019 13:31:33 +0100VATICAN - Archbishop Rugambwa to Rectors and vice-Rectors of Seminaries: "Forming priests according to the heart of God" City - "The first formation Course for formators established by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, in collaboration with the Pontifical Urbaniana University, is part of the setting and preparation for the Extraordinary Missionary Month announced by Pope Francis for October 2019. The course intends to contribute to nourishing the spirit and the missionary passion in young Churches, in the five continents": this is what Archbishop Protase Rugambwa, Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of People said to Agenzia Fides, who presided over the inauguration of the initiative, bringing the greetings of Cardinal Fernando Filoni and of all the Superiors of the Congregation. 25 Rectors and vice-Rectors from the Seminaries of the five continents participate in the course.<br />"We are convinced that the future of the Church depends on the quality of its priests", the Archbishop explains to Fides. "This is why our Dicastery considers formation, especially priesthood, as a priority, and is strongly committed to supporting not only formators but also the formation structures in mission territories. This happens through different modalities: the visits of the Prefect to the Seminaries on the occasion of his travels; the action of the Pontifical Society of St. Peter the Apostle; the service carried out by the Pontifical Urbananiana University to affiliated Institutes".<br />In Rome, the commitment of the Congregation in the field of formation is expressed through the Pontifical Urbaniana University and 5 colleges that host students from five continents: the Urban College for seminarians, Saint Paul, Saint Peter and Saint Joseph College for priests, and Mater Ecclesiae College for nuns.<br />"The decision to start a formation course for formators - continues Mgr. Rugambwa - is in continuity with the refresher course dedicated to the professors of the major Seminaries and Institutes affiliated to the Pontifical Urbaniana University, started since the academic year 2012-2013. Now, continuing to address the first semester to the professor training course, it will reserve a term for the formation of formators".<br />The Archbishop explains to Fides the triple objective of the course: "Offer adequate preparation to take on the direction of a Seminary; strengthen formation skills; to update the participants on the challenges and current needs of priestly formation. To this end, we propose a program that includes master classes on various aspects of formation, but also practical exercises and group work with exchange of experience".<br />Addressing the Rectors and vice-Rectors present, Mgr. Rugambwa, who also celebrated an inaugural Mass, said: "The future of the Church in Africa, Asia and Latin America is in your hands. You have an important responsibility to give your dioceses worthy priests, well prepared on a human, cultural and spiritual level, capable of carrying out evangelization. Today we need to form priests according to the heart of God, that is, priests who reflect a living image of Jesus Christ, Head and Shepherd of the Church".<br />"Your Seminaries - concluded the Secretary of CEP – are needed to form missionary disciples, in love with the Master, Shepherds with the smell of sheep, who live in the midst of them to serve them and bring them the mercy of God. It is necessary for every priest to always feel he is a disciple on a journey, constantly in need of an integral formation, understood as a continuous configuration to Christ. Be aware that the service you give to priestly formation is an excellent way to participate in the Church's missionary activity". <br /><br />Wed, 20 Feb 2019 12:59:18 +0100ASIA/INDIA - India’s rising violence against Christians Delhi - In January 2019 there were 29 incidents of violence against Indian Christians in 13 Indian states. Among the injured there are 26 women and 25 children. For none of these cases an official complaint was filed by the police. The data communicated to Agenzia Fides by the volunteers of the "United Christian Forum Helpline", a telephone line activated in the country to listen to and record cases of violence, threats and intimidation of various kinds against Christian communities. "The data do not differ much from the trend of 2018, which saw an average of 20 incidents a month, almost a case of violence a day", says in an interview with Fides Tehmina Arora, human rights lawyer, activist and consultant of the NGO "Alliance Defending Freedom" , which takes care of the organization of the service. Arora cites a recent episode: "A prayer meeting in a house in Kotra Tehsil, in the district of Udaipur, in the state of Rajasthan was interrupted by Hindu extremists who threw stones and shouted slogans against Christians, with false accusation of conversion. The police took no action or filed an official complaint against the guilty".<br />According to the lawyer, "if the political forces do not stop encouraging people to take justice on their own, the culture of mass violence and impunity will become the norm". The tendency not to file complaints against the perpetrators of violence "demonstrates the tacit complicity between the perpetrators of violence and the police who obviously enjoy the patronage of local political leaders or officials", she notes.<br />The state of Uttar Pradesh continues to hold the record for the highest number of incidents of violence against Christians. Out of 29 episodes reported in January 2019, nine come from Uttar Pradesh. The modus operandi followed in all nine cases is the same: a crowd accompanied by the police arrives at the place where a prayer meeting is held, and start shouting slogans and beating up the faithful, including women and children. Then the Pastors are arrested or detained by the police with false conversion charges. "Some forces that plan these acts, instigae hatred towards a particular community to create polarization", denounces A.C. Michael, Director of ADF India.<br />"Even in the state of Chhattisgarh, the faithful of a village were expelled from their community only because they were followers of the Christian faith", adds A.C. Michael, who tells Fides about other cases of violence. In some places in the states of Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, Christians were forcefully dragged to Hindu temples and extremists smeared ash on their foreheads, forcing them to worship Hindu gods. In Karnataka, a Pastor who was cycling on his bicycle was hit on the head with an iron rod and left on the road with serious head injuries. Also in Karnataka, a mob ignited building materials stored on the site of a church under construction and the Pastor of the same church suffered burns. <br /><br />Wed, 20 Feb 2019 11:30:02 +0100AMERICA/MEXICO - Xt2 Program: young protagonists in social and ecclesial life, with commitment and creativity City - "We have two fundamental objectives: to help young people find the meaning of their life and their vocation, knowing that they are loved and listened to, and to be incisive in the search for the common good of society with concrete actions that help the world to be better, starting with our city". With these words, Fr Álvaro Lozano, director of the Vocational Youth Pastoral Commission of the Archdiocese of Mexico, summarizes, in an interview with Agenzia Fides, the purpose of the "Xt2 project".<br />This is the fusion of the two pastoral desired by Card. Carlos Aguiar Retes, Archbishop of Mexico, to respond more effectively to the multiple needs and expectations of young people. "Service, passion, mercy" is the trinomial chosen for the Xt2 logo, acronym "free" which means "Por to-dos" . Fr. Lozano explains that the proposal intends to "dynamize the cells of youth ministry", true "basic ecclesial communities of young people", and to give vitality to the whole pastoral and missionary process through joint projects". <br />To outline this process, the group commissioned by the Archbishop conducted a profound analysis on the status of the pastoral ministry concerned, with over 300 inquiries to people, youth centers and institutions, and is now consolidating the formation of young animators. The programs - young liturgy, accompaniment and listening, social media, youth mission and social action - were not only "designed by young people for the young, but were designed together with them, listening to their proposals and expectations".<br />Xt2 aims to strengthen the approximately 200 youth groups already existing in the archdiocese, but does not want to limit itself to parishes. One of the objectives is to create youth centers in other places frequented by young people, together with the mission at "schools, bars, discos" and other environments frequented by young people, in "a kind of street pastoral care" and with solidarity work initiatives. The Listening Centers are among the first innovations activated: "they promote the union among all those who are willing to help youth", explains the priest, "because they feel listened to and helped to finding a deeper meaning for their life. There are already more than a hundred religious congregations, family movements and institutions that have joined forces to consolidate the Centers already in operation and to open up others", says Fr. Lozano. "Soon one will be opened on the internet" he underlines.<br />Even the line of social action "has begun with a certain intensity", reports Fr. Álvaro, "with assistance to people with vulnerabilities and, in particular, with a large event for disabled children and young people who brought together many of them and mobilized many young volunteers". The organization of the Holy Week missions has also started. "Since this has begun", assures the priest, "the young have taken the reins of everything while we accompany them". It should be noted that the new momentum and "greater awareness and decision" in pastoral work have been the result of the participation of many at World Youth Day in Panama. <br /><br />Wed, 20 Feb 2019 11:15:41 +0100AMERICA/COLOMBIA - A priest who helped Venezuelan refugees has been killedà - At approximately 7 pm local time, on Monday 18 February, in the Tierra Buena neighborhood of Patio Bonito, in the town of Kennedy, in the south of the Colombian capital Bogotà, Fr. Carlos Ernesto Jaramillo, 65, was assassinated. The Prosecutor's Office is carrying out the investigation.<br />According to the information sent to Agenzia Fides, the residents of the condominium complex where the priest was resident, who helped the Venezuelan emigrants, said that some young men killed the priest to rob him. A minor, who is suspected of the murder, was stopped by the police and told the authorities that the priest tried to abuse him, a version which is being investigated.<br />"The priest was a very good person, he invited people to come to Mass. Last night he was with two young men in his flat, suddenly one of them escaped with his hands covered in blood. When we went to see, we found the priest had been wounded", said one of the neighbors. Rescuers took the priest to the Clinica de Occidente, but unfortunately he was already dead, following the numerous wounds inflicted with a knife. The police are analyzing security videos because there is a third suspect. The testimonies disseminated by the local media are in agreement in defining Don Carlos Ernesto a good priest, dedicated to his ministry, who had also had missionary experiences. <br /><br />Wed, 20 Feb 2019 10:36:02 +0100AMERICA/BOLIVIA - Resignation of the Vicar Apostolic of Reyes City - On February 18, 2019, the Holy Father Francis accepted the resignation from the pastoral care of the apostolic vicariate of Reyes, Bolivia, presented by H.E. Msgr. Carlos Bürgler, C.SS.R. <br /><br />Wed, 20 Feb 2019 10:24:54 +0100AFRICA/MADAGASCAR - Church’s strong position for the death of Fr. Nicolas, victim of a road ambush after bringing the Eucharist to a sick person - Strong position taken by the Catholic Church for the death of Fr. Nicolas Ratodisoa, victim of a brutal attack on 9 February and died on 14 February due to his injuries. His Exc. Mgr. Odon Marie Arsène Razanakolona, Archbishop of Antananarivo, announced that he will file a complaint against the death of the priest who worked at the Soanavela formation center.<br />According to Fr. Ludovic Rabenatoandro, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Antananarivo, who reported the testimony given by Fr. Nicolas a few days before his death, on 9 February, around 6.30pm, while he was riding his motorcycle, he was stopped by some bandits on the road to Mahitsy, a rural town located only 30 km from the capital. Fr. Nicolas was returning to the Soanavela center, after bringing the Eucharist to a sick man.<br />The criminals shot the priest behind his back. Once on the ground, they walked over him and kicked him. Before leaving, the bandits shot him for the second time.<br />Mgr. Odon Razanakolona has indicted the inefficiencies and complicity of the police, saying that some policemen are in cahoots with criminals, to whom they rent their weapons. In the case of the ambush in which Fr. Nicolas was victim, the Archbishop emphasizes that the city's national gendarmerie did not respond to the request for assistance to the population, and arrived at the spot of the ambush with considerable delay. The population of Mahitsy had already complained about the lack of reactivity of the police forces during other attacks in the vicinity of their city.<br />The Episcopal Commission "Justice and Peace" also urged the police to take measures to effectively combat the growing insecurity in the Country.<br />Eight people have already been arrested in connection with the killing of Fr. Nicolas. The Secretary of the National Gendarmerie has removed the head of the Gendarmerie in Mahitsy from his office, while some gendarmes in the area are currently under investigation. <br /><br />Wed, 20 Feb 2019 12:05:14 +0100AFRICA - Protection of minors: "Justice does not exclude pastoral mercy for sinners" - "The Church must not in any way be an accomplice of evil", says Father Donald Zagore, an Ivorian theologian of the Society for African Missions, to Fides, in view of the meeting on "The protection of minors in the Church" to be held in the Vatican from 21 to 24 February.<br />Leaders of episcopal conferences from all over the world will gather together with a delegation of men and women religious to tackle this tragic phenomenon and find immediate answers and solutions. "The involvement and commitment of the Church, through this extraordinary summit, shows how often the whole Church, and Pope Francis in particular, want justice to be done", explains Zagore.<br />"The great challenge for the Church - he says - is certainly to protect the victims but also not to abandon the guilty. In fact, justice does not exclude mercy. Like Christ, the Church has the fundamental mission of looking for the lost sheep, waiting anxiously for the return of the prodigal son, and to be the doctor who comes for those who are sick, the Church of honest people and even of sinners".<br />"For all the clerics involved, a pastoral accompaniment of listening and concern, fundamentally built on God's mercy, is more than ever necessary. The Church should not be ashamed of her children, whose dignity has been stripped of the power of sin, but must work to ensure that in justice and in the truth they continue to feel the gaze of the merciful God on them. God hates sin, but loves sinner", says the missionary.<br />"The Church must keep in mind that sin is always lurking and that it is a permanent possibility of man. In human nature - concludes the theologian - the worst is not always certain but it is highly probable. Being the 'guardian of the most holy things' does not necessarily prevent us from misunderstanding and even abusing it". <br /><br />Wed, 20 Feb 2019 12:18:42 +0100OCEANIA/AUSTRALIA - "One heart, many voices": conference in preparation for the extraordinary missionary Month - "The intention behind the extraordinary missionary Month announced by Pope Francis is to cultivate a spirit of missionary conversion in each of us, as well as in the life and pastoral activity of the Church. The conference 'Mission: one heart many voices' will represent a fundamental opportunity to prepare oneself to live this extraordinary moment". This is what Peter Gates, National Deputy Director of Catholic Mission, National Directorate of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Australia said in a note sent to Agenzia Fides, introducing the conference to be held in Sydney from 13 to 15 May, considered an important milestone in Australia on themes related to the challenges of the Church's mission.<br />The initiative, among the events proposed in view of the extraordinary missionary Month that the Catholic Church will live in October 2019, will be attended by over 450 people from all the dioceses of the nation, who will be involved in a program characterized by artistic and creative elements, with interactive workshops and a focus on the issues of inclusion, meeting and dialogue.<br />Among the speakers present, there will be Mgr. Paul Tighe, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, who will highlight the central role of technology in spreading the Gospel and messages for the mission. According to Mgr. Tinghe, social media today are of central importance because they represent an instrument of conversation in a constantly connected world: "The Church must realize that social media is the main way to be present in the modern world, to involve new generations and enter their conscience".<br />In addition to the Irish bishop, among others, the conference will be attended by Carol Zinn SSJ, executive director of the Conference on the leadership of religious women; by Ravina Waldren, indigenous Catholic leader of the Archdiocese of Brisbane, and Robert Fitzgerald, a member of the Australian Government's Productivity Commission. <br /><br />Tue, 19 Feb 2019 13:50:07 +0100ASIA/PHILIPPINES - Mid-term elections, Cardinal Tagle: "To put the country in good hands"<br />Manila - We must put the country "in good hands", hands that are generous and supportive, so that Filipino society is better, "welcoming as a womb that gives life": said Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila who, as Agenzia Fides learns, expressed his views on the situation in the country, in view of the upcoming mid-term elections, which will be held in May. The vote will elect the House of Representatives, 12 senators and renew all the posts in the regional, provincial and municipal administrations.<br />The Cardinal celebrated Mass during the “Walk for Life” held at the Quezon City Memorial Circle, in Quezon City. And he said: "We hope that this walk for life can be a march to build a welcoming society like a mother's womb, a space that is harmoniously shared by people, communities, leaders. We want our society to become like a life-giving uterus", because "the hands of those who live there are generous, not greedy".<br />Cardinal Tagle recalled that "Jesus taught and showed the logic of giving: the action of proximity and charity requires a generous commitment of solidarity for others". "A small quantity of bread, if it passes through good hands, will multiply", he explained, commenting on the Gospel passage of the multiplication of the loaves. "On the other hand, even 7000 loaves, if managed by greedy people, will not be enough for four people", he continued. "They are hands that kill, and this is a damage not only to society but to creation, which generously takes care of us", he said.<br />Many young people were present at the event. The March for life, in which the Filipino Church every year places the accent on life and on the inalienable dignity of every human being, took place on February 16th also in the cities of Dagupan, Tarlac, Cebu, Ormoc and Cagayan de Oro, as well as in the cities of Palo and Palompon.<br />Referring to the May elections, Bishop Crispin Varquez, at the head of the diocese of Borongan, also invited the faithful to "vote responsibly to correct the distorted values that characterized the past elections". According to Bishop Varquez, "people will vote for politicians inspired by good governance".<br />"The time has come to ask for real change", he remarked, recalling that, during the previous elections, the poorest provinces of the country were marked by the phenomenon of sale and purchase of votes. "This systemic corruption - he underlined - undermines the emergence of credible candidates, which is why we need to make a fair discernment and elect candidates whose main concern is the common good". <br /><br />Tue, 19 Feb 2019 13:39:23 +0100AFRICA/MOROCCO - In prayer before the crucifix of nails of Fr. Gigi Maccalliès - Prayers and solidarity for the release of Father Luigi Maccalli, a missionary in Niger continue. We have no news of Fr. Macalli since 17 September 2018. Among the many testimonies, Father Matteo Revelli, priest of the Society for African Missions , parish priest of St. François d'Assise in Fès, told Fides about when in 2003 Fr. Gigi went to visit him in Fès. "On that occasion - Father Revelli recalls - he had given me a small crucifix composed of intertwined nails, finely joined by a piece of iron. His father Giovanni was the artist of this crucifix. He had learned to do it and in the winter evenings he spent his time in these modest works of art, which were then delivered to the catechists in Africa, and even to me. I removed it from the wardrobe to put it on the altar of my chapel, where I often pray even with the students, to remind me of Gigi. We all pray for him and we hope to be able to embrace him soon". <br /><br />Tue, 19 Feb 2019 13:03:54 +0100AFRICA/BURKINA FASO - The Rector Major of the Salesians: "May the blood of Fr. Antonio César be the seed of Christians, faithful followers of Jesus, and of young vocations at the service of the Kingdom" - "A good man, a man of God who, like the Lord, spent his life “doing good”, especially among his beloved African people", this is how the Rector Major of the Salesians, Fr. Ángel Fernández Artime, describes Fr. Antonio César Fernández in a letter to all his confreres and to the Salesian Family in the world, immediately after having learned the "painful news" of his killing in Burkina Faso .<br />In the letter sent to Agenzia Fides, Fr. Fernández Artime recalls that "our Salesian confrere Fr. Antonio César Fernández, was assassinated on February 15 at 15.00 hours local time, with three shots during a jihadist attack perpetrated at about 40 kilometers from the border of Burkina Faso. Fortunately, two other confreres managed to survive the attack. They were coming from Lome, after celebrating the first session of the Provincial Chapter of the AFO Province".<br />"Dear brethren, there are many days during the year in which I receive the news of the demise of Salesian confreres for natural causes. This is the law of life, and it will come for us as well. In such cases, however, we give thanks to the Lord for so many beautiful lives generously donated", emphasizes the Rector Major of the Salesians. "Our confrere Antonio César war deprived of his life, they killed him without any reason. He was a good man, a man of God who, like the Lord, spent his life “doing good”, especially among his beloved African people. Antonio Cesar was 72 years old, with 55 years of religious profession and 46 of priestly life. We had met a few months ago in Burkina Faso, precisely in his community of Ouagadougou, where he was Rector and Parish Priest", recalls Fr. Fernández Artime who adds: "Antonio Cesar adds to the number of many other martyrs of the Church today in the world ".<br />Fr. Fernández Artime concludes by inviting all "to thank the Lord for the beautiful life of our Fr. Antonio César. And also to ask God the Father to help humankind to put an end to this escalation of violence which only causes damage. May the Lord grant that César’s blood, shed in African land, be the seed of Christians, faithful followers of Jesus, and of young vocations at the service of the Kingdom.<br />Rest in peace, dear César".<br /> <br /><br />Tue, 19 Feb 2019 12:42:34 +0100AFRICA/NIGERIA - Postponement of the vote; a Bishop: "Let us put aside controversies and support those who must ensure credible elections" - "The electoral process is managed by human beings and there may be errors, so let us stop complaining" said His Exc. Mgr. Paulinus Chukwuemeka Ezeokafor, Bishop of Awka, who urged Nigerians to stop finding those who are responsible for the postponement of the general elections that had to be held on Saturday 16 February but were postponed, a few hours after the scheduled opening of the polls, to the following Saturday, 23 February.<br />Mahmood Yakubu, President of the Independent Electoral Commission assumed the "full responsibility" of the logistical delay on the preparation of the elections, stating that organizing the vote in a Country whose infrastructure is lacking or in ruins is "a huge challenge".<br />Despite the assumption of responsibility by the President of INEC, the postponement of the vote has provoked strong protests from the population, especially those who had returned to their country of origin to vote.<br />The gesture of Mahmood Yakubu was praised by Archbishop Ezeokafor who urged Nigerians to support INEC’s action to have free, fair and credible elections". "Nigerians must have faith in INEC because it is the only body able to allow us to choose our leaders".<br />The decision by the Electoral Commission to divide the vote into two phases is also increasing discontent. While the presidential and parliamentary elections will be held on 23 February, those for the election of governors have been postponed from 2 to 9 March, raising strong controversy over the cost of the vote.<br />"We must stop calculating costs, we must be zealous to vote for the people we want, no matter the sacrifice we have to face" concludes Mgr. Ezeokafor <br /><br />Mon, 18 Feb 2019 09:57:15 +0100ASIA/MIDDLE EAST - Patriarchs at the summit in Munich: the West is jointly responsible for Middle Eastern conflicts - The 55th International non-governmental Conference on Security, held in Munich from 15 to 17 February, also hosted a qualified representation of Middle Eastern Churches: Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, together with Mor Ignatios Aphrem II, Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch. They had the opportunity to participate in many bilateral meetings with political representatives of different countries, and talk about the condition of religious communities in the Middle East, organized on 16 February by the Hanns Seidel Foundation.<br />Patriarch Sako, in his speech, recalled the long-term causes that contributed in the last century to making the condition of the Middle Eastern autochthonous Christian communities more precarious. The Primate of the Chaldean Church, created cardinal by Pope Francis, recalled that since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire the occupying Western powers did not show any intention to favor the creation of rules of Law in the Middle East. The Patriarch referred to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - as a historical factor that contributed to nurturing political Islam - and to the prejudice which labels Middle Eastern Christians as "allies" of the Western policies and powers in the Middle East.<br />Referring to the specific situation in Iraq, Patriarch Sako repeated that Iraqis has experienced a real chaos since the fall of the regime of Saddam Hussein , which has caused a situation of political-institutional emptiness where the plagues of sectarianism, corruption and the multiplication of militias and armed groups outside the control of state authority have increased. "The instability in the Middle East", the Chaldean Patriarch remarked, "has contributed to the dilemma of Christians, because of 'Western politics' that encourages conflict in this region rather than promoting democracy and freedom. In other words - the Patriarch added - the Western 'decision makers' have done everything possible to promote their economy and serve their interests to the detriment of our Countries. For example, controlling oil and other natural resources, as well as selling arms for both sides of the conflict". With regard to the Nineveh Plain, and the hopeless return of the Christian populations who fled from that area during the years of occupation by the Islamic State jihadists , the Primate of the Chaldean Church remarked that the Iraqi government did not do anything to help internally displaced people return to their homes, partly because of corrupt practices that prompt some to ask for money for the restoration of homes and churches destroyed during the conflict. "We have suffered enough", said the Chaldean Patriarch, stressing that Middle Eastern Countries can only come out from the current crisis if the equality of rights for every citizen are recognized, if school programs are amended from any incitement to discrimination, and if one aims to eliminate "the ideology of Jihad in Islam or of the Holy War in Christianity and other religions".<br />Cardinal Sako also hopes that the recent visit of Pope Francis to the United Arab Emirates and the publication of the document on human Fraternity signed by him together with the Great Imam of al Azhar may contribute to the disappearance of the causes of religious fanaticism.<br />Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Mor Ignatios Aphrem II, in his speech on the situation in Syria, recalled the two Archbishops of Aleppo - Greek Orthodox Boulos Yazigi and Syrian Orthodox Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim - who disappeared during the conflict in April 2013, and complained about the absence of representatives of the Syrian government among the guests at the summit on security. The Primate of the Syriac Orthodox Church underlined that in the current phase, the suffering of the Syrian population called to grips with a Country devastated by the conflict is exacerbated by the policy of international sanctions imposed by some countries against Syria.<br />The international conference saw the participation of German Chancellor Angela Merkel , the US Vice-President Mike Pence and Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergej Lavrov. <br /><br />Mon, 18 Feb 2019 09:37:55 +0100