Fides News - English Agency NewsenContent on this site is licensed under aVATICAN - A new training course for the diocesan directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Rome City - Around 30 representatives of the National Directions of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Kenya, Cameroon, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, Spain and Bahrain will take part in a training course in English aimed at the diocesan directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies . The course begins on Monday, 15 April, at the International Center for Missionary Animation and follows the first training event held in February . The course is coordinated by the Secretary General of the Pontifical Missionary Union , Father Dinh Anh Nhue Nguyen , who is also responsible for the management of the CIAM as Director, and by Father Anthony Chantry, National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in England and Wales and European Continental Coordinator. There will be five days in which the training will alternate with contributions from speakers who actively work as missionaries, with moments of exchange and reflection. There will also be the possibility of participating in visits to places crucial to the life and activity of the Dicastery for Evangelization .<br />On Monday, the opening Eucharistic celebration in the afternoon will be led by Archbishop Emilio Nappa, President of the PMS. On Tuesday there will be an address by Monsignor Samuele Sangalli, Undersecretary of the Dicastery for Evangelization , followed by the contribution of Father Tadeusz Nowak , General Secretary of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of Faith , followed by a debate. The afternoon will be dedicated to a visit to the headquarters of the Pontifical Mission Societies and the Missionary Dicastery.<br />On Wednesday morning there will be the opportunity to take part in the general audience with the Holy Father, while in the afternoon there will be a lecture by Sister Roberta Tremarelli AMSS, Secretary General of the Pontifical Society of Missionary Childhood and a report by Father Anthony Chantry on the future of the missio ad gentes, which will be followed by discussion in working groups.<br />Father Guy Bognon , General Secretary of the Pontifical Society of Saint Peter the Apostle , will open Thursday morning with his contribution, which will continue with the working groups and the report of the Secretary General of PUM on mission and topicality of the Pontifical Mission Societies based on the messages addressed to them by Pope Francis. In the afternoon, visits to the Urban College, the Pontifical Urbaniana University and the historical archive of Propaganda Fide are planned. On Friday, the penultimate day of the course, the Eucharistic celebration is planned at the tomb of Saint Peter in the Vatican Basilica. Afterwards, it will be the turn of Father Anh Nhue Nguyen who, in addition to presenting the service of the PUM, will address the Pope's messages for the World Mission Days 2022/2023/2024 and will speak about missionary outreach and education work in the light of a renewed perspective on fundraising and communication. In the afternoon there is a visit to the Collegio San Pietro. The course ends with the celebration of the Eucharist and the subsequent presentation of certificates of participation. A training program for delegates from French-speaking countries is planned for September. <br />Sat, 13 Apr 2024 16:01:08 +0200The martyrology of Catholics in Rwanda in 1994 Stefano Lodigiani<br /><br />Rome - In Rwanda, which in 1994 was struck by a tremendous genocide that reached the impressive figure of one million victims in a population of 6,733,000 inhabitants , the Church and its members were not spared from the wave of violence and death that swept across the whole country . “This is genocide, for which sad to say also Catholics are responsible,” emphasized Pope John Paul II before reciting the Regina Coeli prayer on Sunday, May 15, 1994, warning: “I would like to appeal to the consciences of those who plan and execute this violence. They are pushing the country to the edge of an abyss. All will have to answer for their crimes before history, and first of all, before God".<br /><br />During the "Great Jubilee of the Year 2000", the Bishops of Rwanda held a liturgical celebration asking God to forgive them for the sins committed by Catholics during the genocide. On February 4, 2004, ten years after the genocide, the Rwandan bishops published a long message calling "not to forget what happened and therefore to promote truth, justice and forgiveness". "We have suffered greatly from being helpless witnesses while our compatriots suffered shameful deaths and were tortured under the indifferent gaze of the international community; we have also been deeply hurt by the involvement of some of our faithful in the murders," the bishops wrote , who thanked Pope John Paul II for his closeness during the genocide and his outcry to the international community. Recalling the massacres that were the result of unprecedented wickedness, the bishops called to "promote the unity of Rwandans" by asking everyone to "contribute to the preservation of truth and justice" and "asking for and granting the forgiveness that comes from God" .<br /><br />Also on the day of the conclusion of the "Jubilee of Mercy" , the bishops published a letter, read in all churches, containing a new "mea culpa" for the sins of Christians during the genocide. As the President of the Rwandan Episcopal Conference, Monsignor Philippe Rukamba, Bishop of Butare, explained, "one cannot speak of mercy in Rwanda without speaking of genocide." The text reiterated condemnation of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi and all acts and ideologies related to discrimination based on ethnicity. During Rwandan President Paul Kagame's visit to Pope Francis at the Vatican on March 20, 2017, the first visit since the genocide, the Bishop of Rome "expressed the deep regret of the Holy See and the Church for the genocide against the Tutsi and renewed the appeal to God for forgiveness for the sins and failures of the Church and its members who have succumbed to hatred and violence and betrayed their evangelical mission".<br /><br />As usual, the data on pastoral workers killed in 1994 were collected by Fides. <br />Missionary institutes , other religious congregations, dioceses, Catholic media were interviewed, in addition to verifying the scant information provided by the then Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples received from the Rwandan local church. These data indicate that there were 248 victims among church staff, including approximately 15 who died as a result of mistreatment and lack of medical care, and those missing who were never heard from again and were therefore presumed dead.<br /><br />The list of pastoral workers murdered compiled at the time by Fides is reproduced here as an attachment at the end of this article. However, this list is undoubtedly incomplete, because it only takes into account bishops, priests, men and women religious and consecrated lay people. There are also seminarians, novices and a large number of lay people such as catechists, liturgical workers, employees of charitable organizations, members of associations that carried out a non-secondary role in the Church and in which a large number of Catholics, especially young people, were involved. In many cases, even the dioceses did not have reliable information about how many people in normal times ensure the life of the Christian communities scattered even in the most inaccessible places in the "Land of a thousand hills". Furthermore, in 1994, modern communication tools that allow planetary distances to be overcome in just a few seconds were not yet available.<br /><br />Fides has regularly updated this dramatic list as it gathers news of the massacres and the bishops, priests and religious killed, as a look at the Fides news that appeared in print at the time shows. <br />According to the picture reconstructed by Fides, i three bishops and 103 priests died violently in Rwanda in 1994; 47 friars from 7 institutes .<br />The 65 women religious belonged to 11 institutes: 18 Benebikira Sisters, 13 Sisters of the Good Shepherd, 11 Bizeramariya Sisters, 8 Benedictine Sisters, 6 Sisters of the Assumption, 2 Sisters of Charity of Namur, 2 Dominican Sisters of the African Mission, 2 Daughters of Charity, a Sister of the Help of Christians, of Notre Dame du Bon Conseil and a Little Sisters of Jesus.<br />There are also at least 30 lay people of consecrated life from 3 institutes .<br /><br />Thirty years after the genocide in Rwanda, we report below some testimonies from this tragic time, published by Fides: The atrocities in which some Catholics were also involved, there were also heroic actions by those who went so far as to sacrifice their own lives to save the lives of others.<br /><br />'Whatever happens, we will stay here': Three bishops killed in Kabgayi<br />On June 5, 1994, three bishops were murdered in Kabgayi, along with a group of priests who accompanied them as they brought aid and comfort to those displaced by violence. They were the Archbishop of Kigali, Vincent Nsengiyumva, the Bishop of Kabgayi and President of the Rwandan Bishops' Conference, Thaddee Nsengiyumva, and the Bishop of Byumba, Joseph Ruzindana. In a letter written a few days before their deaths on May 31, they asked the Holy See and the international community to declare Kabgayi a "neutral city." A total of 30,000 displaced people, both Hutu and Tutsi, had gathered here and found refuge in Catholic institutions open to all without discrimination, such as the episcopal residence, parishes, monasteries, schools and a large hospital.<br />“Whatever happens to us, we will stay here to protect the population and the displaced,” they wrote in their appeal. Although they were given the opportunity to escape to safety, the bishops wanted to remain there because they believed that their presence would somehow protect the entire population, including refugees. But when they were placed under the protection of FPR rebels, they were murdered. <br />Other massacres attributed to members of the FPR followed in those days, including the one in Kigali in which some seventy people were killed, including ten religious who had gathered in a church with hundreds of other refugees.<br />"May the religious who disappeared with so many of their brothers and sisters who fell in the course of the murderous conflicts find forever in the Kingdom of Heaven the peace that was denied them in their beloved country," wrote Pope John Paul II in a message to Rwandan Catholics on June 9, 1994. "I pray to the Lord for the diocesan communities deprived of their bishops and numerous priests, for the families of the victims, for the wounded, for the traumatized children, for the refugees ", the Pope continued, asking all Rwandan residents and leaders of nations "to do everything possible to pave the paths of unity and reconstruction of the country so badly affected."<br /><br /><br />The first Mass celebrated in the place where his family was killed<br /><br />Father Gakirage celebrated his first Mass at the site where his brothers were killed. This is the account he gave of his life and the moments that led to his ordination.<br />"I was born on November 14, 1960 in Musha, near Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, into a large and deeply religious family of the Tutsi tribe. Since my childhood, I have always felt a certain attraction to religious and missionary life. When I attended the minor seminary of my diocese, I was tested for the first time: the first conflict broke out between Hutu and Tutsi and many comrades were killed. I did not feel comfortable in the seminary because I had the impression that the priests did not adequately denounce these injustices while people outside were killing each other. Is this how I wanted to become a priest? I left the seminary and went to Uganda to study other subjects. I was about to begin medical school when I clearly felt the call of Jesus. I entered the Comboni Missionaries seminary and in 1990, after the novitiate, I went to Peru to study theology. Four years later I returned to my homeland to be ordained a priest. The ordination was supposed to take place in my country, but while I was in Rome I learned that my family had been murdered by a group of Hutu soldiers. This happened on the eve of my ordination, and everything changed for me. Since I was unable to return to Rwanda after this sad news, I traveled on to Uganda, where I was finally ordained a priest.<br /><br />Because I wanted to know if anyone in my family had been saved, I tried to cross the border and get to Rwanda on the day of my ordination. My journey would not have been successful without God's providence. At the border I met the escort of Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, President of the Pontifical Council "Justitia et Pax", who was on an official visit to Rwanda on behalf of the Pope.<br /><br />The next day, June 28th, some soldiers accompanied me to Musha. Upon arriving in my war-ravaged and devastated country, my first wish was to celebrate my first Holy Mass in these ruins. The thought that the place I was in was the same place where brothers and sisters and 30 young Tutsis had been murdered was painful. When I thought that I would no longer be able to find any living family members, I felt a deep sadness. However, when I looked at the stone that served as my altar, I was surprised to see three children: the two daughters of one of my sisters and the son of a cousin. They were the only survivors of a clan that consisted of 300 people before April 6th. I was overwhelmed and couldn't hold back the tears that welled up in my eyes. I calmed down, lifted my head, and continued the celebration thanking God that these three children had miraculously stayed alive.<br /><br />In my first homily I spoke about the resurrection. They were not empty words or words of pity. I spoke of our resurrection, I said that we ourselves are our own resurrection. It's really difficult to point out this reality in the midst of so much death and destruction. It is like the weak flame of a candle that the stormy wind tries to extinguish."<br /><br />The faith of Maria Teresa and Felicitas: "It is time to bear witness", "we will meet again in Paradise"<br /><br />Maria Teresa was Hutu. She taught in Zaza. Her husband Emmanuel was Tutsi. He was a skilled worker at the school in Zaza. They had four children, three boys and a girl. On Sunday, April 10, Emmanuel went into hiding with his eldest son. “On Monday evening they came back to say goodbye to us,” said Maria Teresa. In fact, they were discovered and killed on April 12th. Maria Teresa learned the news from her parents, where she found refuge with her children after their house was looted. On April 14, four men came and took their sons to kill them.<br /><br />Maria Teresa said she had to prepare her children: “My children, men are evil, they killed your father and your brother Olivier. They will certainly come after you, but don't be afraid. You will suffer a little, but then you will be reunited with your dad and Olivier, because there is another life with Jesus and Mary, and we will be reunited and we will be very, very happy." They picked up the children that same day and the witnesses said they were very brave and very calm.<br /><br />Felicitas was 60 years old, Hutu and was the Auxiliary of the Apostolate in Gisenyi. She and her sisters welcomed Tutsi refugees into their home. Her brother, an army colonel in Ruhengeri, knew she was in danger and asked her to leave and avoid certain death. However, Felicitas replied to him in a letter that she would rather die with the 43 people she was responsible for than save herself. She then continued to save dozens of people by helping them cross the border.<br /><br />On April 21, the militia searched for her and loaded her and her fellow sisters onto a truck that drove to the cemetery. Felicitas encourages the sisters: “It is time to bear witness”. They sang and prayed on the truck. In the cemetery, where mass graves were waiting, the militiamen, fearing the colonel's wrath, asked Felicitas to save herself, having already killed all 30 Auxiliary sisters of the Apostolate, but she replied: "I have no reason to live anymore after you killed my sisters." Felicitas was supposed to be the 31st victim.<br /> <br />The missionaries: amid brutality, fruits of faith also flourished<br /><br />Father Jozef Brunner, of the Missionaries of Africa, White Fathers, shared the testimony of one of his confreres, who for many years was in charge of the Christian Community Leadership Training Center in Butare. “The ears and eyes of journalists did not notice something,” said the missionary, “the deeply rooted and lived faith of Christians, from the simplest to the most educated, the civil servants, the soldiers, who sacrificed their lives for their neighbor. To the same extent as the brutalities committed, acts of authentic heroism also developed. Certainly the church has found itself in the crosshairs of violence: her message of peace and unity was an obstacle for extremists. There is no other explanation for the fact that between four and six thousand people who had found refuge in churches and not in town halls were massacred. Several priests were killed trying to save these people. On television I saw eight of my students washing and caring for some abandoned children: that's how my students became my teachers."<br />The White Sisters recounted their experience by saying, “We witnessed the peace of God and the complete acceptance of his will shown in those who were led like a lamb to the slaughter.”<br /><br />Sat, 13 Apr 2024 15:07:53 +0200ASIA/SOUTH KOREA - Democratic Party wins in the parliamentary elections - In the parliamentary elections on April 10 in South Korea, the Democratic Party and its coalition won a clear victory: according to the official count of seats, the parties received a total of 175 seats in the 300-member National Assembly. In addition, another small liberal party won 12 seats under the proportional representation system. The “People Power Party” of incumbent President Yoon Suk-yeol, together with “satellite parties,” only won a total of 108 seats. According to the Election Commission, turnout among South Korea's 44 million eligible voters was 67%, the highest in a parliamentary election since 1992. The new parliament will take office on May 30 and serve a four-year term. Of the 300 seats, 254 were filled in direct elections in the local constituencies and the remaining 46 were filled by the parties using the proportional representation system according to the votes received. Regardless of the outcome, President Yoon, who took office in 2022, will remain in power until 2027, but will be significantly weakened by his lack of a majority in parliament. The vote was seen by many as a test of approval for President Yoon, who has struggled with difficult domestic economic and internal security issues during his time in office. The mood among the population towards the president and the ruling party had deteriorated, particularly in the months before the election, due to rising food prices and a long-lasting crisis in the healthcare system. The president is now being described by political observers as "weakened" as it will now be even more difficult for him to implement his political agenda. Critics also accuse him of refusing to fire senior officials caught up in scandals and of failing to promote dialogue with the opposition to achieve political coordination on key issues. Commentators say President Yoon will lose momentum in pursuing some key policy goals, such as health care reform and the abolition of the Ministry of Gender Equality. However, the president's party was able to avoid the liberal alliance gaining a two-thirds majority of seats in parliament, which would have allowed it to override the president's veto power, impeach the president and hold a referendum to amend the constitution. On foreign policy, Yoon's priorities remain unchanged despite the defeat, as they do not normally require parliamentary approval. At a historic moment of crisis and tension with North Korea, Yoon strengthened the alliance with the US and improved relations with Japan. On the eve of the election, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea sent a questionnaire to the various parties to ask their position on issues of public interest and to compare them with the social teaching of the Church. <br />Fri, 12 Apr 2024 13:02:59 +0200AFRICA/KENYA - Religion is an instrument of peace and not of war: the conclusions of the seminar in Nairobi promoted by the Dicastery for interreligious dialogue - Religion must not be exploited to fuel conflicts which are instead determined by political, strategic and economic factors. This is the meaning of the message published at the conclusion of the consultative seminar "Christianity in dialogue with Islam and African Traditional Religions : challenges and opportunities" held in Nairobi from 9 to 10 April. Promoted by the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue, the event was attended by representatives of the Commissions for Interreligious Dialogue in Africa and Madagascar, from various countries including Morocco, Central African Republic, Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon, Benin, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Malawi, South Africa, Togo, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya. <br />"We are concerned over the increasing polarization, tensions, conflicts and religious radicalization in certain African countries, particularly in West, Central and East Africa, that can be attributed to various factors, including socio-economic and political ones. This situation worsens when some individuals and groups instrumentalize religion", is what is stated in the final document. "These elements weaken “the human family’s innate vocation to fraternity” and undermine conviviality among diverse social and religious groups. They also hinder the efforts of the Church in Africa and of other religious communities to promote constructive interreligious dialogue". <br />In order to face this challenge "the Church looks at the moral and religious values of African traditions with great respect. For us, interreligious dialogue is an effective means to eradicate ignorance regarding other religious traditions, promote mutual respect and preserve values that promote religious and cultural diversity and the dignity of every human being." <br />"Interreligious dialogue and the proclamation of the Gospel, though not on the same level and not mutually exclusive, are authentic elements of the Church’s evangelizing mission. In order to fulfil this mission, every Christian is called to participate in these two activities ”. “We declare that the African continent can only achieve an integral and sustainable development if it can foster a culture of peace and fraternity founded on the principles of freedom, justice, democracy, respect, and solidarity. A culture that, through dialogue, diplomacy, and negotiation, respects human rights and dignity and rejects violence,” the statement continues. “In this regard, religious leaders have a great responsibility to foster harmony and educate their respective followers to live as brothers and sisters. To this end, the creation of an Episcopal Commission for Interreligious Dialogue should be encouraged in each African country in order to promote various expressions of interreligious dialogue”. <br />In conclusion, the participants commit themselves “to continue discussing the characteristics of the African cultural environment and African identity that enable constructive interreligious dialogue guided by the light of the Gospel and the Church’s magisterial teachings. Second, to emphasize the importance of interreligious dialogue in a pluralistic environment by promoting education that is open to synergies and to the new challenges of our time and that rejects the isolationist attitudes that generate intrareligious and interreligious tensions and conflicts. Third, to involve political decision-makers, religious leaders, NGOs, women, and young people in innovative interfaith strategies that promote dialogue at local, national, and continental levels. Fourth, to explore various opportunities that can enhance diverse forms of interreligious dialogue.” <br /><br />Fri, 12 Apr 2024 12:30:10 +0200ASIA/KUWAIT - "Bride who adorns herself with her jewels". The six rites that make the Catholic Church in Kuwait vibrant Antonella Prenna <br /><br />Kuwait City - Maronite, Coptic Catholic, Syro Malabar, Syro Malankara, Melkite and Latin are the six rites that bring together in one large Church the varied Catholic community of Kuwait, which is part of the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia in Kuwait. <br /><br />Every day, thousands of Catholics of different origins and backgrounds crowd the four parishes: the Co-Cathedral of the Holy Family in Kuwait City, the parish-shrine of Our Lady of Arabia in Ahmadi, the church of Saint Therese located in the heart of the Indian community of Salmiya, and the more recent one, dedicated to Saint Daniel Comboni, in Abbasaya. All diverse in language, ethnicity, age, traditions and cultures. All united by Baptism in the one Body of Jesus Christ, together with the brothers and sisters who attend the small church of the Malkite rite in Kuwait City. <br /><br />“What gives vitality to these parishes, together with the priests, are first and foremost the lay people, including the members of the Parish Council, the readers, the ministers of the Eucharist, the altar servers, the choirs, the catechists, the pastoral assistants and the workers who provide their service there", says to Fides Bishop Aldo Berardi, O.SS.T., Apostolic Vicar of Northern Arabia, who together with a community of Capuchin friars and other diocesan priests or Fidei Donum takes care of the pastoral care of the faithful. Despite the restrictions of the situation, all the priests present in Kuwait celebrate masses in the various languages, hear confessions and carry out ordinary parish activities in the places assigned to them. <br /><br />It seems a paradox, the vitality of the multitude of Catholic faithful that springs up in the heart of a country totally shaped by Islam. There are more than 350 thousand. The vast majority are in Kuwait for work reasons, often without the families from whom they remain separated for months or years. They are Filipinos, Indians, Pakistanis, Sinhalese, Lebanese... who after exhausting days of work meet to pray. They form long lines to enter the church, in the different rooms set up and made available inside the Co-Cathedral; They share prayer spaces marked by precise schedules, each one in their own language and ritual, with total respect. They are men, women and children who animate the celebrations and who transmit with their presence a filial and unconditional love for God. <br /><br />The “masses in the basement” <br /><br />There are thousands of faithful who gather in the "basements" of some large buildings to pray, adore the Blessed Sacrament and attend mass. They are cramped environments and often not logistically safe. But they are there. They are the living presence of the Church, which testifies to its faith with its perseverance, even in less than "normal" conditions. <br />Father Johny Lonys, OFM cap., Episcopal Vicar, is the Syro-Malabar parish priest of Abbasiya, better known as Little Kerala. “Our 15 thousand parishioners”, says Father Johny “take turns celebrating all 3 Indian rites in three 'semi-basements'. We have a small room, that of Our Lady of Arabia Hall, which is the only place where there is adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. There are about three thousand catechism students, 2800 of the Malabar rite and 362 in the English language, and they are attented by 130 catechists." <br /><br />The presence of the Maronite community followed by Msgr. Raymond Mtanios EID, in Kuwait since 2012, is equally strong. Meetings and activities with young people and families are held at the Jabriya centre, a large mainly residential area where the Lebanese Maronite community meets, but on Sundays they move to the Co-Cathedral of Kuwait City. <br /><br />The area that delimits the space of the Co-Cathedral of the "Holy Family" is immense. Here, every Friday from early morning thousands of people begin to arrive for religious services that culminate with those on Saturday evening. Masses are celebrated in 14 languages: Arabic, English, Tagalog, Malayalam, Tamil, Bengali, Urdu, Hindi, Spanish, French, Italian, Sinhala, Korean, Konkani. Parish priest Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap., celebrates Mass in 5 languages: Korean, Spanish, Urdu, Konkani and English. He arrived at the Vicariate of Kuwait on 9 December 2009, and was parish priest of the Co-Cathedral of the Holy Family from 22 January 2010 to 19 October 2012 and then moved to the parish of Our Lady of Arabia, in Ahmadi. After a period in Goa he returned as parish priest of the Co-Cathedral on 18 November 2022. <br /><br />The great Easter celebration <br /><br />During the Easter Triduum, the uninterrupted 24-hour rotation of the faithful of six rites is impressive. All of them contribute indistinctly to giving life to the culminating moment of the liturgical year. It starts on Saturday afternoon and continues all night until Sunday evening. <br />While at 3 in the morning from one of the rooms inside the compound you can hear the songs of the Syro Malankara community celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, in the large courtyard of the Co-Cathedral the Filipino community stages a touching representation of the Triduum, from the Passion to the Death of Jesus up to the meeting of the Risen Lord with his mother Mary on Easter morning. Specifically, at four in the morning the statue of the Virgin Mary, in the wake of the choir of angels, performed by children who remove her black veil, is accompanied by a group of women towards the statue of the Risen Jesus carried in turn by a group of men. <br /><br />Respect for traditions <br /><br />The Coptic-Catholic community present in the Co-Cathedral continued to celebrate their masses according to the Julian calendar. It will celebrate Easter in May. <br /><br />During the Ramadan period, which has just ended, even the Catholic faithful were respectful of the traditions of their Muslim brothers. No food or drink during the day. “many more churches are needed” <br /><br />The Co-Cathedral, in addition to being the seat of the Catholic Bishop in Kuwait, is also a living testimony of Catholicism in the country. It is located on land donated in 1956 by the Emir and the Government of Kuwait. It was solemnly blessed and consecrated in 1961 by the first bishop of the country, the Carmelite Theophanus Stella, O.C.D., who, taking into account the particular circumstances in which the Catholics of Kuwait lived, that is, as temporary residents, decided to dedicate it to the 'Holy Family in the desert' . <br /><br />The “Mother Church” of Ahmadi <br /><br />Ahmadi, where Our Lady of Araba church, the first Catholic church in the country, is located, is the center of oil production, where dozens of people, especially migrant workers, began to settle. “In the small church, where the sanctuary of Our Lady of Arabia originated, a large statue brought by the Carmelites is preserved. This year we celebrate 75 years of presence", says Bishop Berardi. “Many more churches would be needed to be able to welcome everyone, unfortunately for now it remains a dream. “It is a long and complicated process.” <br /><br />Father Roswin Pires is the parish priest and, together with two other priests, cares for the community of faithful who come to the "Mother Church" even from outside Ahmadis. Many other faithful go to the other churches that are located in some of the basements. “The Kuwait Oil Company built and maintains the structure of our Ahmadi Church” explains Fr. Roswin. <br />During the weekend, 32 masses are celebrated in 11 different languages. The parish priest, originally from Goa, celebrates 5 masses every Friday, alternating in the afternoon with the Syro-Malabar community. During the week, since people work, one mass is celebrated in the morning and another in the evening, and the faithful arrive with a private transport service provided by the church. “There are many activities and pastoral services offered for children , young people and families – adds Father Roswin. Among the faithful, approximately 4 thousand speak Malayalan and 3 thousand speak other languages. <br /><br />“Faith flourishes here, even in the midst of suffering and some restrictions, but we are also helped by the police services. The Church must deal only with faith.” <br /><br />The Jubilee Year <br /><br />Throughout the Apostolic Vicariate of North Arabia, a jubilee year is being celebrated for the 1500th anniversary of the martyrs of Arabia, Saint Arethas and Companions of the Najran oasis . On 24 October 2023, the Holy Doors dedicated to him were opened: that of the Bahrain Cathedral and that of the Co-Cathedral of Kuwait . On this occasion the Pope granted plenary indulgence. <br /><br />“We consider that this is a year of grace for the entire Vicariate and for all the Christian communities present of the Arabian Gulf”, says Bishop Berardi. “We celebrate in faith the memory of our Christian ancestors who gave their lives for Christ, remaining faithful to the end. We find ourselves in the continuity of these Christian communities and monasteries that existed in this region. The archaeological remains invite us to do so.” <br /><br />Fri, 12 Apr 2024 12:15:22 +0200ASIA/JAPAN - Bishop Berndt: "We learn peace and non-violence from the people in Okinawa" City - "We learn peace and non-violence from the people of Okinawa. These gentle people give us the Gospel, they give us a completely Franciscan value such as that of peace, both internally and in the practice of life," emphasizes the Bishop of Naha on the Japanese island of Okinawa, Wayne Berndt to Fides. The American-born bishop is taking part in the Ad Limina Apostolorum visit to the Vatican together with the Japanese bishops. The name Okinawa means "rope in the sea" and is a fairly apt description for a long stretch of islands between the main islands of Japan and Taiwan. Okinawa Prefecture consists of the main island of the same name and other smaller islands and is the southernmost prefecture in Japan, which stands out for its thousand-year-old culture and natural beauty. As an American religious, Father Berndt, who came to Japan as a missionary in 1981, initially worked as a pastor in the dioceses of Naha and Saitama, and in the latter also in the “Open House Center for Migrants”. Back in Naha, he was a parish priest and since 2017 has been bishop of an island diocesan area in the prefecture with around 1.5 million inhabitants, a group of around 6,000 registered Catholics, "but around 10,000 in reality," as he emphasizes. Okinawa is the largest island in the Ryukyu archipelago, which once formed an autonomous kingdom and was only formally annexed in 1874. The local population has retained its own cultural and linguistic characteristics, dialects and customs: Okinawans see themselves as different from the mainland Japanese . Okinawans proudly call themselves “uchinanchu,” or “people of the sea.” The bishop explains: "The culture is completely different than in Japan. The religious landscape is also different: While the Shinto-Buddhist faith predominates in the rest of Japan, the basis here is the "Ryukyuan", the indigenous belief system. It is in this context that the Christian faith dialogues with people's lives: The inhabitants are messengers of non-violence. Even in the days of the Ryukyu Kingdom, when there were neither weapons nor an army, there is a goodwill for one another that springs from the depths of the people's hearts. "This is an evangelical and Franciscan value that we encounter and rediscover every day," he says. Gospel values go hand in hand with Okinawan culture, he emphasizes. Icharibacho-de, for example, means "once we meet, we become brothers" and expresses how Bishop Berndt himself - and many others - were welcomed by the Okinawans, as it is a local belief that "those who "choose to live and be together with them, become a family". Another concept is that of "Chimugurusan", which translates as "feeling the pain of others" and sharing it in order to grow stronger in one's own soul. <br />"People have a deep spirituality. The famous Ikigai, the philosophy of finding the reason for one's life, what gives life meaning, comes from Okinawa," he recalls. At the ecclesiastical level, in 1927, Okinawa Prefecture and Kagoshima Prefecture in southern Japan were separated from the Diocese of Nagasaki and combined to form the Apostolic Prefecture of Kagoshima. Then there were political events that affected the organization of the church: With the San Francisco Peace Treaty at the end of World War II, Okinawa Prefecture and southern Kagoshima Prefecture were under American military occupation. Therefore, the territories of Okinawa and the southern islands were placed under the direct jurisdiction of the Holy See and entrusted to the American Capuchins . In May 1972, when Japan regained sovereignty over Okinawa, the Ryukyu Apostolic Administration was elevated to the rank of a diocese and became the Diocese of Naha, with the first Capuchin bishop, Father Tadamaro Ishigami OFMCap. "For 80 years, people have known and appreciated the Franciscan charism and associated it with the proclamation of the Gospel of Peace, even today, here in Okinawa, an area where American military bases are located and in which the tensions in relations with China or the tense situation in Taiwan are clearly noticeable," the bishop states. "Today," he reports, "the Catholic community is diverse: in Naha, the faithful are mostly elderly and are spread across the 14 parishes of the diocese. <br />International groups include the Filipinos, Spanish-speaking communities such as Peruvians, Vietnamese and Americans, but in terms of demographics and baptisms the situation is stable. Certainly it is difficult to pass on the faith to the new generations: for this reason the diocese promotes pastoral initiatives such as an annual summer camp for Okinawan children, organized by university students returning from mainland Japan, with the idea - for the children and also for the young people - to see themselves as Okinawans, with their own peculiarities and cultural sensitivity". The Bishop concludes: "Between the two giants of indigenous territory, the Japanese and the Americans, the Okinawan culture and community maintains its identity that combines the Gospel with the promotion of peace and non-violence". <br /><br />Thu, 11 Apr 2024 14:53:05 +0200VATICAN - Pontifical Yearbook, the title of "Patriarch of the West": Pope claims honorary title again Nikos Tzoitis<br /><br />Rome - In the Pontifical Yearbook 2024, published by the “Libreria Editrice Vaticana” , available since Tuesday April 9, appears on the page with the titles dedicated to Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome, also that of the “Patriarch of the West”.<br />This definition had disappeared from the list of papal honorary titles since 2006, following the order of Pope Benedict XVI. After this deletion, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, then headed by Cardinal Walter Kasper, issued a communiqué in which, among other things, it clarified that the title "Patriarch of the West" had been used in the year 642 by Pope Theodore I. The title later became established in the 16th and 17th centuries, “as part of the multiplication of papal titles,” as it was first stated in the Pontifical Yearbook in 1863. <br />The term "West", the communiqué continued, "is not intended to describe an ecclesiastical territory, nor can it be used as a definition of a patriarchal territory." Therefore, the title "Patriarch of the West" - the document continued - "would reflect the special relationship of the Bishop of Rome on this territory and could express the special jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome for the Latin Church". It was emphasized that the abolition of the title of Patriarch, which refers to the Bishop of Rome, does not mean the possibility of "new papal claims" in relation to the churches of the East, as had been suspected in some negative reactions from theologians and representatives of the Orthodox churches in the face of such an abolition: rather - it was affirmed - a "historical and theological realism" should be expressed which urgently requires the abolition of a title that is considered obsolete. Pope Francis' decision to reinstate the title of "Patriarch of the West" can be linked to his insistence on the importance of synodality and ecumenical concern, which urges us to keep looking back to the first centuries of Christianity, when there were still no dogmatic disagreements between the churches.<br />The title "Patriarch of the West" also recalls in some way the experience of the First Christian Millennium, when the five seats of ancient Christianity , despite the differences in their respective histories and different spiritual accents, were of particular importance due to the bond that united them to the Apostolic Tradition. <br />The relationships of these five seats, in communion, appeared structured in the practice that Church history studies define as "Pentarchy". <br />The five patriarchal sees - according to the historian Giorgio Morini - were also recognized by the imperial powers "as jointly responsible for the orthodoxy and leadership of the entire church." At a time in history marked by the spread of conflicts that are pushing peoples to the brink of a third world war, ecumenical care sees the approach of the 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea, held in 325 AD, as a favorable occasion. Christians have - as Pope Francis already emphasized on May 6, 2022 - have the opportunity to gather and celebrate together the 1,700 years since the Council of Nicaea, as if for a new beginning. Exactly in the year 2025, all Christians will, among other things, celebrate the Lord's Easter for the first time on the same day, Sunday, April 20th. On March 31, Easter Sunday for the churches according to the Gregorian calendar, Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, emphasized in an address that: "On this day, the universal message of the Resurrection becomes even more important, because our non- Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters celebrate today the Resurrection of our Lord from the dead, Holy Easter. We have already sent our representatives to all the Christian communities of other denominations present here to send them the festive greetings of the Holy Great Church of Christ and our patriarchal congratulations. But from here we also send a warm greeting of love to all Christians who are celebrating Easter today. We ask the Lord of glory that the common celebration of Easter that we will celebrate next year is not just a happy coincidence, a fortuitous event, but the beginning of the setting of a common date for the annual celebration by Eastern and Western Christianity. In his speech, Patriarch Bartholomew also referred to the 1700th anniversary of the convocation of the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, "which, among other things, dealt with the issue of regulating the timing of the celebration of Easter. We are optimistic," the Patriarch added, "because there is good will and willingness on both sides to do so. For in fact, it is a scandal to celebrate separately the unique event of the Resurrection of the One Lord". <br /><br />Thu, 11 Apr 2024 13:48:18 +0200AFRICA/TOGO - University academics are asking to stop the process of adopting the new Constitutionè - In Togo, where the Gnassingbé family has been in power for over 50 years, there will be no future presidential elections after Togolese deputies approved a new constitution between March 25 and 26 provides for the election of the President of the Republic by Parliament and no longer by voters. In an open letter to the President of the Togolese Republic, Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé, the African country's academics called for the process of adopting a new constitution to be stopped so that the debate on the amendment could be held by the newly elected representatives under fair and transparent conditions can be led primarily by the citizens who are supposed to decide in a referendum. "According to Article 59 of the Togolese Constitution, a referendum must be held for any amendment that calls into question the method of electing the President of the Republic or his term of office," we read in the note sent to Fides. <br />For this reason, we Togolese academics, who are aware of our mission as unbiased educators, strongly reject this process. The drafting of a new Constitution, a fundamental text for the government of our country, cannot take place in a climate of tension and strong protests. It requires a minimum level of consensus. " The letter denounces the fact that the National Assembly cannot under any circumstances adopt a new constitution, either during its regular term of office or during its extension. "The constitution represents social control over the entire society. In modern democratic systems, the adoption of a new constitution is, in principle, a power vested in the people, who exercise it by referendum." According to the new constitution, the President of the Republic will be elected "without public debate" by Parliament and no longer by voters. In addition, he can only remain in office for a term of six years: previously, the office of president lasted five years and it was possible to run for a second term. The parliamentary and regional elections, originally scheduled for April 20, will take place on April 29, 2024. This will be preceded by an election campaign that will begin at the end of the last day of the current protests, at midnight on April 13th. <br />Thu, 11 Apr 2024 13:19:12 +0200ASIA/CHINA - Generous participation of Chinese Catholic communities in the 2024 "National Collection" to support relief initiatives in emergency situations - As in the past eight years, this year, at the end of the Lenten season many Chinese Catholics took part in the National Collection Day, an initiative promoted by Jinde Charites, the organization that been coordinating charitable works supported by Catholic communities in mainland China for almost 27 years. And this year too, the first published data on donations collected is encouraging. The collection, which traditionally culminates on Palm Sunday, raises funds largely destined for relief efforts in areas affected by disasters and social emergencies. According to information collected by Fides, the Beijing diocese has raised a total of around 169,286 yuan , and significant signs have also come from dioceses in less economically prosperous areas. For example, from the provinces of Jiangsu, Shanxi , Guizhou and Shandong . <br />As of April 8, the Shanghai diocese alone, where the Mercy Sunday collection was held, had collected around 530,000 yuan from parishes and nursing homes. "The practice of the collection," said the Bishop of Shanghai, Joseph Shen Bin, "indicates the path to sanctification, it is moved by love for God which is manifested in the love of people". The collection to collect funds for the benefit of those in need has always been supported by the Catholic communities throughout China with great willingness to donate, also thanks to the possibility of being able to monitor the use of the donations collected over the years with the highest level of transparency. The projects funded also include the relief initiatives supported following floods and earthquakes in various parts of China, as well as the Hualien earthquake in Taiwan, the volcanic eruption in Guatemala and the tsunami in Indonesia in 2018. <br />Thu, 11 Apr 2024 13:09:36 +0200AFRICA/GHANA - Scholarships for disadvantaged students awarded to children of the elite: "This must stop" - "When you sit on the money for the poor, they will cry and God will hear them", warns John Bonaventure Kwofie, archbishop of Accra, commenting on the misappropriation of funds for scholarships intended for underprivileged students who deserve it. <br />Speaking at the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Sapeiman, on Divine Mercy Sunday, Msgr. Kwofie said: "Some news came up in the social media about scholarships that are offered by the Government of Ghana. I quote, some people pay bribes to get the scholarship. Students’ tuition fees and living expenses, and allowances aren’t paid. If paid, not on time. Some through corrupt means, get the scholarship award and don’t even report to the school". <br />The archbishop recalled that "the first of the 5 objectives of the government scholarship is to ‘Award scholarships to needy but brilliant students in second cycle institutions based on merit and hardship. However, the well-to-do people and their wards are those who are attracting the scholarship. This must stop". <br />The corrupt system to which Msgr. Kwofie refers was discovered following a journalistic investigation that revealed that deserving students who could qualify for scholarships for the economically disadvantaged, find themselves passed over in the ranking of assignment by Government officials and their children. <br />The investigation revolves around the Scholarship Secretariat, a body under the President's Cabinet, created in 1960 to grant national and foreign scholarships to academically gifted but economically needy students. <br />The Secretariat administers bilateral scholarships, funded by foreign countries, and non-bilateral scholarships, funded by Ghanaian taxpayers. <br />In recent years, this body has been increasingly criticized for alleged cases of clientelism, in favor of people with political connections and high society. Among those who have received scholarships to study at prestigious institutions abroad without being entitled to them include children of politicians, ambassadors, senior police officials and well-known actors. Additionally, at least 26 people received multiple scholarships that allowed them to pursue different programs in two consecutive years or different programs in a single year. This means that while some needy students struggled to get a scholarship to fund one program, others received funding for two different programs. <br />Thu, 11 Apr 2024 12:59:10 +0200ASIA/JAPAN - The face of the Japanese Catholic Church City - On the occasion of the ad limina visit of the Bishops of Japan, Fides publishes some figures and information about the Catholic Church in Japan. <br />The Catholic Church in Japan today has 419,414 Catholics, out of a population of 125 million inhabitants . The missionary staff is made up of 459 diocesan priests, 761 religious priests, 135 religious men, 4,282 religious sisters and 35 major seminarians. The Japanese Church, present in the territory with three ecclesiastical Provinces, in which the 15 Dioceses are grouped, although small in number, manages numerous educational institutions and charitable institutions . <br />The Constitution guarantees Japanese citizens the freedom to profess any religion . The main religions are: Shintoism and Buddhism . Christians, of various denominations, represent a total of 1.2%, while there are small communities of Muslims and a large percentage of Japanese declare themselves "non-religious". <br />In general, the Catholic population is decreasing , but in the dioceses of Saitama, Naha and Nagoya, there is a slight increase. <br />Furthermore, the Catholic community in Japan has about 500 thousand foreign faithful, including immigrants from Asian nations, South America and Europe. The Church has assumed the mission of "welcoming immigrants, renewing Japanese society together and moving towards a multicultural society and ecclesial community". However, the presence of the large community of foreign Catholics constitutes an additional challenge for the local Church, which also feels the need to preserve a Japanese Catholic identity. Pastoral service towards Japanese and foreigners requires discernment and wisdom, and "multicultural coexistence", founded on unity in Christ Jesus, is always a community commitment and a point of arrival. <br /><br />Historical data on evangelization <br /><br />Evangelization in Japan begins precisely on August 15, 1549, St. Francis Xavier landed in the archipelago. The first Christian community was founded on the island of Kyushu, the southernmost of the four large islands that make up the archipelago. After Saint Francis Xavier left Japan, the Italian Jesuit Alessandro Valignano arrived in the archipelago. <br />The Jesuits were followed by the Franciscan friars, mainly Italians. <br />Foreigners arriving in southern Japan with their dark-colored boats were called nan banji , as they were considered rude and uneducated people, simply because they did not practice the customs and traditions of the country. During the 16th century, the Catholic community grew to more than 300,000 units; in 1588 the Diocese of Funay was therefore established. The coastal city of Nagasaki was its main center. The Italian missionaries, in their work of evangelization, followed the rules drawn up by Valignano, author of the Fundamental Ceremonial for Missionaries in Japan. <br />In 1582, the Japanese Jesuits organized a trip to Europe to witness the openness of the people of the Rising Sun to Christian faith. The journey lasted eight years. The delegation, made up of four prelates, first visited Venice, then went to Lisbon and finally returned to Italy, where it concluded its journey in Rome. The Japanese Jesuits were received by Pope Gregory XIII and also met his successor, Sixtus V. In 1590 they returned to their homeland. <br />The Tokugawa Shogunate soon understood that the Jesuits, through their evangelizing work, were influencing the imperial dynasty, which was in fact relegated to a merely symbolic function and therefore interpreted the presence of Christians as a whole, and the Nan Ban in general, as a threat to the stability of his power. <br />In 1587 the kampaku Hideyoshi, “Crown Marshal” in Nagasaki, issued an edict ordering foreign missionaries to leave the country. <br />However, Christians continued to profess their faith underground. <br />Ten years later, the first persecutions began. On February 5, 1597, 26 Christians, were crucified. <br />In 1614, the shogun Tokugawa Yeyasu, lord of Japan, banned Christianity with a new edict and prevented Japanese Christians from practicing their religion. On May 14 of that same year, the last procession was held along the streets of Nagasaki, touching seven of the eleven churches in the city, which were all subsequently demolished. <br />The policy of the shogun regime became increasingly repressive. A popular uprising broke out in Shimabara, near Nagasaki, between 1637 and 1638, animated mainly by peasants and led by the Christian samurai Amakusa Shiro, the revolt was repressed in blood, and was followed by several summary executions of its supporters. It is estimated that 40,000 Christians were massacred. In 1641, the shogun Tokugawa Yemitsu issued another decree, later known as sakoku , prohibiting any form of contact between the Japanese and foreigners. From then on, Christians created their own symbols, rituals and even their own language, incomprehensible outside their own communities. In 1644 the last remaining Christian priest was sentenced to death. <br /><br />Between "hidden Christians" and martyrs <br /><br />For two and a half centuries Nagasaki remained the only door open to trade with Europe and the Asian continent. The port, its surroundings and the islands off the coast provided a refuge for the few hidden Christians. Without priests and churches, the Catholics organized themselves: the village chief led the community, established the religious solemnities based on the Christian calendar and kept the sacred books; the catechist taught the children; the baptizer administered the first sacrament; the herald visited families to announce Sundays, Christian holidays, days of fasting and abstinence. <br />Frenchman Théodore-Augustin Forcade was the first Apostolic Vicar of Japan from 1846 to 1852, the year in which he had to leave the country due to the persecution decrees. However, he was never able to actively exercise his ministry due to the impossibility of reaching the archipelago. Monsignor Forcade later became Bishop of Nevers. <br />In 1858, following the apparitions in Lourdes, the cult of Our Lady began to spread throughout Japan. In 1853, under pressure from the United States, the country was reopened to foreign relations. Even though proselytism was still prohibited, many missionaries of Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox faith arrived. Christianity once again entered the country through trade routes and embassies, landing in the ports of Kobe and Yokohama. <br />In 1862 Pope Pius IX canonized the twenty-six Christians martyred in 1597. The following year, French missionaries built a church in their memory in Nagasaki: the Church of Oura. <br />With the Meiji Renewal of 1871, religious freedom was introduced, thus recognizing Christian communities the right to exist. New churches were built, largely inspired by French models. The Christian message was able to spread to market cities such as Osaka and Sendai, and even to the then capital, Kyoto. Cistercian communities entered the hostile northern territories of the island of Honshu and even beyond Hokkaido, until the beginning of the 20th century. On 24 February, 1873, the Japanese Government repealed the edict of persecution, dating back to 1614. <br />In 1888 the right to religious freedom was recognized, expanded in 1899 as the right to promote one's religious faith and to build sacred buildings. <br /><br />The Church with a Japanese face <br /><br />The first Bishop of Japanese nationality, after the return of religious freedom, was Januarius Kyunosuke Hayasaka, appointed on 16 July 1927 at the head of the diocese of Nagasaki . <br />In 1930, an evangelization mission took place in Japan, undertaken by Maximilian Maria Kolbe and his conventual confreres. Among the developments of this mission there was, in the 1950s, the experience of the "Ant Village", which welcomed the poor and dispossessed as a result of the war. Elizabeth Maria Satoko Kitahara distinguished herself in the care of poor children, declared venerable in 2015. After the difficult years of Japanese militarism and the Second World War, there was a certain renaissance of the Catholic community. The famous Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto also belonged to it. <br />In 1981, Saint John Paul II was the first Pope to visit the country. Following the appeal for reconciliation and peace on 25 February, the Japanese Bishops' Conference organized "Ten days for Peace", an annual series of events to commemorate the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the nuclear issue. The event, which involves all Japanese dioceses, is also open to other religious denominations. Some Catholic buildings have been declared “national treasures”. Japan has also drawn up a list of monuments to submit to UNESCO, which includes 47 buildings built between 1864 and 1938, as well as the new Urakami Cathedral, built in 1959 and the church of the 26 Martyrs, built in 1962. <br />On 24 November 2008, 188 Catholic martyrs, tortured and killed between 1603 and 1639 , were beatified in Nagasaki, in a ceremony which saw the presence of Pope Benedict XVI. <br />In 2019, from 23 to 26 November, during his apostolic trip, Pope Francis visited Japan. The Holy Father had a private visit with Emperor Naruhito, gave speeches on nuclear weapons and paid homage to the martyrs. The apostolic journey strongly contributed to the visibility of the Catholic Church in the political, intellectual and cultural circles of the country, allowing the average citizen to differentiate the Church from the many other Christian denominations present. However, the population usually finds it difficult to distinguish Catholics from Christians of other denominations. <br /><br /><br />Wed, 10 Apr 2024 12:39:49 +0200AFRICA/NIGERIA - Nigeria questions the role of the military after the massacre of 17 soldiers in a village in Delta State - What role does the military play in the life of the country? This is the question being asked in Nigeria after the massacre carried out on March 14th of 17 soldiers, including 4 officers, by the youth population of the village of Okuama, in Delta State, in the south of the country. Officially the military had intervened to settle a dispute between the community of Okuama and that of a neighboring village. According to witness statements, the situation escalated at some point and young people from the village attacked the soldiers. Other soldiers later intervened in response to the massacre of their comrades and carried out reprisals against the civilian population. The area where the massacre took place is known for oil theft and the presence of separatists from the Indigenous People of Biafra , a group outlawed by the Nigerian authorities. IPOB issued a statement saying the residents of Okuama initially received the soldiers peacefully but then rebelled when the soldiers tried to take some local leaders away for questioning. Another version says that an armed group in camouflage came on boats and opened fire on soldiers and civilians. Despite its omnipresent presence, the military is failing to stop the numerous kidnappings, murders and other crimes that are plunging large parts of Nigeria into insecurity. In his Easter message Matthew Kukah, bishop of Sokoto, asked "How can we say that we are in a civilized democracy when the military literally looks like an occupying army that spreads like an octopus across all 36 states and the federal capital Abuja". "It is difficult to understand why the military is omnipresent in our country," emphasized the Bishop of Sokoto, adding that this "has very serious consequences for their professionalism, their integrity and their perceived role in protecting society." <br />According to Bishop Kukah, it is necessary for the leadership of the state to strive for a clear strategy to resolve the general insecurity in the country. "Fighting insecurity is a challenge today. I believe that our men and women from the security services can defeat these criminals within a few months. All we hear and see are fingers pointing up," says the bishop and refers to the highest authorities of the state. The Catholic Herald Weekly, published by the Archdiocese of Lagos, publishes a detailed analysis of the state of relations between civil society and the military. According to author Olu Fasan, relations between civil society and the military in Nigeria are characterized by three factors in particular. First, Nigeria is a state but not a nation, understood as a cohesive community that "has a sense of belonging and a strong sense of a common and undivided national identity." Second, Nigeria is a fragile state that “lacks the capacity to deal with security threats from organized and non-state violence.” And thirdly, the military and police have lost the trust and respect of the population through corruption and massacres in the recent past. <br />Wed, 10 Apr 2024 10:01:09 +0200ASIA/LEBANON - Cardinal Raï, Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites calls for calm after the murder of a member of the Lebanese Forces - Condemnation for the barbaric murder and a strong appeal for "calm and moderation in this delicate and tense political, security and social situation". This is what the Maronite patriarch, Cardinal Béchara Boutros Raï, said in a statement following the discovery of the body of Pascal Sleiman, coordinator in Jbeil of the “Christian Lebanese Forces Party”. Sleiman disappeared on Sunday, April 7th and was the victim of a kidnapping. His body was found in Syria on the border with Lebanon. According to Lebanese military intelligence, Sleiman was the victim of a kidnapping by an unspecified "Syrian criminal gang" who killed him while trying to steal his car and then took his body to Syria. The Lebanese army says it has arrested most of the criminal gang's members and is in contact with Syrian authorities to recover the body of the slain leader. Cardinal Raï said he was "saddened, like all honest Lebanese, by the tragedy of the kidnapping and murder of Pascal Sleiman." "We all hoped that he was still alive, and that was what was said at the beginning. But the bitter truth is completely different. I prayed for the salvation of his soul. May God protect his family, united in grief, as well as his companions from the Lebanese Forces party." The Maronite Patriarch particularly praised the wisdom of the widow, who "taught the Lebanese a life lesson" because she did not express any thoughts of revenge. The Cardinal added: "May God protect Lebanon and its people from evildoers" and called on "the media to refrain from any misinterpretation and not to fan the fires of discord". <br />Tue, 09 Apr 2024 13:45:35 +0200ASIA/CHINA - 470 baptisms in Shanghai, consecration of a new church in Wenling: an Easter full of fruits of faith - A total of 470 baptisms were celebrated in the diocese of Shanghai during the Easter Vigil. In the other Catholic dioceses of China, a precious flourishing of the gift of faith was also recorded during the Easter Vigil. In Beijing, 142 baptisms were celebrated in the Cathedral on Easter Vigil. In the Church of the Immaculate Conception, founded by the Jesuit Matteo Ricci, about 100 new Catholics received the first sacrament of Christian life, while in the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel 25 baptisms were celebrated. According to partial statistics from the Chinese Catholic portal “”, a total of 349 of the 470 newly baptized people in Shanghai received all three first sacraments of so-called Christian initiation . On April 4, the first week of Easter, Bishop Jin Yangke of Ningbo presided over the inauguration of the new church in Wenling dedicated to Saint Francis Xavier. During the solemn liturgy, which was attended by all the priests of the Taizhou Diocese, about thirty young people and adults received the sacrament of Confirmation. Designed by a priest, the church has the shape of a cross and a neo-baroque facade. It is 39 meters long and has a total area of 1,500 square meters. The construction cost was nearly 8 million yuan, which was partly raised through donations from the faithful and a significant contribution from the Taizhou Diocese and state authorities. <br />Tue, 09 Apr 2024 13:23:52 +0200ASIA/JAPAN - Among the "treasures of faith", the experience of Blessed Angelo Orsucci, missionary in Japan City - Among the "treasures of faith" presented by the traveling exhibition "Thesaurum fidei: Missionary martyrs and hidden Christians in Japan. Three hundred years of heroic fidelity to Christ", curated by Paolo Giulietti and Olimpia Niglio, is the experience of Blessed Angelo Orsucci . As Father Marcello Brunini, Director of the Diocesan Historical Archives of Lucca, says, Orsucci was "imbued with a deep desire to proclaim the beauty of the Gospel in the encounter with new peoples." That's why he left Lucca, traveled by ship to Spain, arrived in Valencia and finally reached the Philippines via Mexico and from there to Japan, his final destination. "Angelo is a messenger of the good and beautiful message, which he proclaims and witnesses until his death," he remarks. From the catalog that collects part of the documentation of the missionary adventure of the religious man from Lucca and his martyrdom that took place in Nagasaki on September 10, 1622, traces the history of Christianity in the East Indies between the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century. "In this way we become acquainted with the impact of the first proclamation of the Gospel in Japan in those centuries. We are led to a more precise knowledge of Blessed Angelo's growth in faith, the events of his imprisonment and martyrdom. We will be introduced to the events of recognition of his holiness and to the memory and veneration that the Church has bestowed on him over time," notes Father Brunini. In a 1602 letter from Manila to his father, he wrote: "It seems that these empires are not of this world, nevertheless here is really the world and not there [in Europe]". "The desire of Blessed Father Angelo to step out of his known 'space' and to go 'unarmed' into new and unexplored paths can be an incentive today to nourish our own desires that drive us, also through the encounter with previous experiences, "to enter with respect and open curiosity into concrete or symbolic territories that are new and unexplored, of culture, of the future, of humanity, of faith," hopes Father Brunini. <br />The objects collected and displayed in the exhibition include documents and volumes in Italian, Latin, Japanese and Spanish and come from various sources, including the Vatican Apostolic Archives, the Historical Archives of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the State Library of the National Monument “Santa Scolastica” in Subiaco. The curator of the exhibition, Archbishop Paolo Giulietti of Lucca, contextualizes the figure of Blessed Orsucci: "The process of evangelization of Japan, which began in 1549 with the arrival of St. Francis Xavier, recorded an initial success: a large number of people converted and received baptism, including some important feudal lords of the Kyushu region. Everything changed with the seizure of power by the Tokugawa shogun, who unified the country and became de facto the highest authority. As part of a policy of rigid isolation from all foreign influence, in 1612 the “Kinkyo-rei”, the ban on Christianity in Japan, was promulgated." Thus, a season of systematic and radical persecution began, destined to last over 250 years. "During this long and sad period, two phenomena occurred that are of greatest interest to the history of evangelization: the missionaries who continued to work in secret for a few years in the land of the Rising Sun and met certain death. And that of the 'hidden Christians' who, after the end of the missionary flows, kept the flame of faith burning in families and small communities, also defying death, in absolute secrecy. <br />Archbishop Giulietti explains that the Dominican friar Angelo Orsucci, who came from Lucca, was among the first: "His missionary longing and his desire for martyrdom led him to Japan, where he landed in 1618. After a few months he was discovered and imprisoned. During his four years in prison he managed to write to his family: 'I am very happy for the favor our Lord has shown me and I would not exchange this prison for the greatest palaces in Rome'. He was martyred on 10 September 1622". <br />The anniversary of the 450th anniversary of the birth of the Blessed was used as an opportunity to dedicate an exhibition to the extraordinary history of the missionary martyrs and "hidden Christians" in Japan. "The memory of the missionary martyrs and the 'hidden Christians'," said Archbishop Giulietti, "is not only a tribute to a glorious history, but also has a unique actuality: The 'outgoing church' desired by Pope Francis will not be able to develop if the appreciation for the precious gift of faith and the zeal for mission among the people of God diminish. Today, like back then in Japan, is the time of courage". <br />Tue, 09 Apr 2024 13:17:31 +0200AFRICA/NIGER - Nine months after the coup: an analysis Mauro Armanino <br /><br />Niamey - Nine months have passed from the end of July last year to April this year, the period of pregnancy. The military coup was relatively unexpected and was particularly surprising because of the method used. The kidnapping of the incumbent president in the presidential house by the bodyguard who was supposed to protect him from this and other coup attempts. The cyclical rhythm of the coups in Niger highlights the blockages in the implementation of democratic change by political parties and the "unreliability" of the institutions that are supposed to guarantee it. These institutions also include the military, which has played a crucial role in the country's democratic or non-democratic order since the beginning of the Republic. The politics of transition seem to be built on sand. The country's tricolor flags, initially carried by taxis, have gradually disappeared. Even the crowds of people in the stadium in the first few days and the protests on the streets have gradually given way to the monotony of everyday life. The reopening of the borders and the lifting of sanctions by the Economic Community of West African States have not brought the relief that the poor population and economic entrepreneurs were waiting for. <br />After the expulsion of the French military and the discretion of the few remaining foreign civilians, it has now also called on the American military to withdraw. The Italian soldiers remain on site pending future diplomatic and economic considerations. The Alliance of Sahel States , which includes Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, the countries most affected by terrorism, banditry and profiteering, is intended to be a political-military response to the dramatic situation of insecurity of the population. The number of displaced people in this part of the Sahel is in the millions and thousands of farmers are struggling to survive. The feared famine, which unfortunately has also been "institutionalized" for years, affects a large part of the population. The political decisions associated with the absolutization of the concepts of "national sovereignty" and 'autarchy' have consequences and "reactions" on the population that have not always been adequately taken into account. Perhaps the crucial point of the transition of these months lies in the difficulty of finding the core of a political project that shapes the present. In order not to betray the principle of "reality", it should focus on the "common good", namely justice for the poor. In order to avoid the past being reproduced in the future, politics and especially democracy were invented. <br />Tue, 09 Apr 2024 12:44:38 +0200ASIA/HOLY LAND - Father Ibrahim Faltas: War also darkens the future of Christians in the Land of Jesus - If you want to see Hell - said the Syrian Bishop Jacques Mourad at the beginning of the last war in Gaza - today you have to go to the Holy Land, where the massacres of innocents have turned into extermination. <br />Christians in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel suffer with their companions on the path and destiny belonging to other faith communities. And the war – explains in an interview with Fides Agency the Egyptian Franciscan Father Ibrahim Faltas, Vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land – also casts new shadows on the future permanence of the baptized communities in the land of Jesus. A wounded humanity that in the time of trial - repeats Father Ibrahim – bears witness to his mendicant faith, even in the simple gestures of sharing pain and suffering.<br /><br />Father Ibrahim, how are the Christian communities of the Holy Land experiencing this dark moment? <br /><br />IBRAHIM FALTAS: The Christian communities of the Holy Land are experiencing it badly. War is always a defeat, as Pope Francis says, and for Christians who are a minority in the Holy Land, it becomes a very difficult tragedy to face. In Gaza, about eight hundred Christians have found refuge in the parish of the Holy Family, another two hundred in the Greek Orthodox church. Many have died, the survivors have lost everything. They have to share the same space for all their needs, and there is a shortage of food, water, medicine. A few days ago I was impressed by the smile of the vice-parish priest, who showed me a red apple, the first fruit I had seen after six months of war and which he shared with other parishioners. <br /><br />What is happening in the West Bank and Israel? <br /><br />FALTAS: In the West Bank, Christians, who are mainly dedicated to tourism, do not have jobs due to the lack of pilgrimages. They see no future for their families and many would like to leave the Holy Land. Also in Israel, Christian communities live and suffer the consequences of war. In the north, in Nazareth and Galilee, they are very close to another war front. However, all Christians in the Holy Land are bearing witness to their faith in an exemplary way. <br /><br />How are Christian communities in Israel and the West Bank in contact with their brothers and sisters in Gaza? <br /><br />FALTAS. Unfortunately, the Christian communities of the Holy Land cannot have contact with each other, despite the physical proximity of these places. They were already subject to so many restrictions before the war and for the last six months it has been impossible to think of initiatives to support Gaza. Thank God, technology has made it possible for us to hear from each other and to sustain each other in prayer. <br /><br />Israel said the goal of the war was to "eliminate Hamas." Is what is happening justifiable as a "side effect" to achieving that objective? <br /><br />FALTAS: I cannot make a political analysis of this war but, like everyone else, I see the consequences of this absurdity. Children, like all children in the world, are the first victims of these atrocities. Thousands have lost their lives, thousands more remain under the rubble, others have suffered serious amputations and many will carry the physical and moral signs of the war for life. Who will erase the psychological traumas of children, of all children, regardless of their nationality or religious belief? An important sign is the reception for treatment in Italian hospitals of so many children from Gaza. Since January, about 160 people, children and their companions, have been able to reach Italy, and for this we must thank the generosity of the Italian people. <br /><br />What is happening in Jerusalem? <br /><br />FALTAS: In Jerusalem we experienced a Holy Easter without pilgrims and without Christians from the West Bank, who were not allowed to go out and participate in the Easter celebrations in the Holy City. The climate is gloomy and hope is fading. Christians, especially in the West Bank, suffer many restrictions and the lack of work is also a source of great concern. What is especially striking is the lack of confidence in the future of young people, the sadness of not being able to build their life in the land where they were born. <br /><br />How are the Pope's speeches on war and calls for a ceasefire perceived? <br /><br />FALTAS: Pope Francis' appeals support and give strength to the Christians of the Holy Land and, believe me, not only to Christians. He was the first and, for a long time, the only one to call for a ceasefire. He is a man of peace and suffers greatly from the war. <br />When I met him I felt and saw his suffering, in his words and in his eyes. In the letter that he sent to the Christians of the Holy Land for Easter, the tenderness of a good father who suffers for his children shines through. I hope that the powerful of the earth will concretely accept his calls for peace, truth and justice . <br /><br />How do you evaluate the choices and the moves of the international community in the face of the war in Gaza? <br /><br />FALTAS: I am not a political analyst, but I have lived in the Holy Land for thirty-five years and I can say that I know the situation well. For years I have believed that the international community has to intervene to try to bring peace to this part of the world so in need of peace. The war has brought destruction, death and suffering to Gaza and not only to Gaza. Only with real and concrete intervention by the international community will it be possible to return to negotiations. Despite recent ceasefire resolutions, I still do not see the possibility of a definitive solution to this devastating war. <br /><br />In the midst of so much destruction, what testimonies of faith have impressed you the most? <br /><br />FALTAS: The Lord is great and merciful and he supports this wounded humanity. I see it in the eyes of the children and the defenseless of this tormented Holy Land. I see it in the simple gestures when sharing pain and suffering. This is the strength of the faith of the Christians of the Holy Land. Their life here is a continuous testimony, and we must continue to support them. <br /><br /><br />Tue, 09 Apr 2024 12:27:44 +0200AFRICA/SIERRA LEONE - The President declares a national emergency on drug abuse; Caritas had raised the alarm some time ago - "It is my solemn duty as President... to declare a national emergency on drug abuse". Thus the President of Sierra Leone Julius Maada Bio addressed the population to announce the creation of an anti-drugs task force. The new body will be responsible for the prevention and treatment of drug addiction cases, as well as the support of social services and law enforcement against drug dealing.<br />The National Drug Task Force, which involves all sectors of society and is overseen by a presidential advisory group, is to implement a five-step strategy to ensure what the Head of State called 'a drug-free future'.<br />Heavy drug use, particularly of 'Kush', a synthetic marijuana that causes dangerous health effects, is having deleterious effects on Sierra Leonean society. In October, Caritas Freetown had made a strong appeal to the government to act "immediately by declaring a health emergency" in the face of rampant 'Kush' consumption .<br />Now President Bio seems to have heeded the call for action to try to stop a phenomenon that seriously endangers the health of Sierra Leoneans and the social stability of the nation. Under the name 'Kush' there may in fact be mixtures of different substances, with different, yet deleterious effects. It may include, in addition to cannabis, Fentanyl and Tramadol, two powerful synthetic drugs, and even formalin , possibly recovered from embalmed corpses.<br />The origin of the "ingredients" of "Kush" is varied. While cannabis is widely cultivated in Sierra Leone, Fentanyl is thought to come from clandestine laboratories in China, where the drug is illegally produced and shipped to West Africa. Tramadol is also believed to come from illegal laboratories in several parts of Asia.<br />Neighbouring countries such as the Republic of Guinea and Liberia also have to cope with the strong spread of drugs such as marijuana, heroin, cocaine and 'Kush'. The latter is imported from Sierra Leone, while Colombian drug traffickers have for several years now set foot in Guinea Bissau from where they manage massive cocaine trafficking to Europe. But over time, a market for this substance has also been created in West Africa. <br /><br />Mon, 08 Apr 2024 13:17:43 +0200ASIA/MALAYSIA - The feast at the end of Ramadan lived "in the authentic spirit of Easter, to celebrate a dawn of peace and fraternity" - In Miri, a Malaysian city in the province of Sarawak , less than 100 meters away are the "Masjid An Naim" mosque and the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd. There is mutual hospitality between the communities. On Fridays, the church opens its gate to allow Muslims to park their vehicles during prayer time, while on Sundays, the mosque does the same. Christian faithful of the church and the Muslim faithful of the mosque come together on special occasions for each other's religious holidays. It is the spirit of dialogue and interreligious closeness that characterized the time of the holy month of Ramadan and its conclusion , the celebration of Id-al-fitr, in numerous places in Malaysia, a multi-religious multicultural country. Joint meetings sanctioned the special bond that has developed, in particular, between Christian and Muslim communities in the province of Sarawak. As Fides learned, the religious communities of Miri today share spaces, facilities, events "and for them it is so natural that it is part of their daily way of life", explained the Archbishop of Kuching, Simon Poh Hoon Seng, noting that the people of Sarawak "show that they are truly a big family, not in slogans but in everyday life". The Catholic faithful have joined the Muslims at various times during Ramadan, and they do so also in celebrating the end of the holy month, on the feast of Id al-Fitr. And they do so in the spirit of Easter, "whose authentic meaning is to celebrate a new dawn of peace, fraternity and mutual love with a God resurrected from a tomb where death was defeated", said the Archbishop. <br />It should not be forgotten, he continued, that "racial and religious intolerance continues to manifest itself from time to time in the country, with acts of hostility that create tensions and divisions within society," but precisely because of this, he noted, "there is a need for greater understanding and respect for the diversity that exists in our country and, to work for harmony". <br />Archbishop Simon Poh said he visited the Islamic State Information Center on Good Friday and shared the spiritual celebration of fasting "in a spirit of fraternity, friendship and strengthening mutual understanding and mutual respect". <br />The Archbishop also presented the Message of the Vatican Dicastery for interreligious dialogue for the month of Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, entitled "Christians and Muslims: extinguish the fire of war and light the candle of peace", inviting us to "look together at the Almighty as the God of peace, the source of peace, who loves all those who dedicate their lives to the service of peace in a special way". Monsignor Simon Poh said that faith in Christ is concretely expressed by loving God and being at the service to one's neighbour, contributing to the "common good" of society, wishing "brothers and sisters of other faiths peace, joy and hope, sharing in the work of making our nation and our world a better place for all".<br />A large "interreligious Iftar" was also organized by the Muslim Council of Elders in Kuala Lumpur, with the participation of numerous Christian leaders, including Msgr. Julian Leow, Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur. Numerous Muslim personalities emphasized the importance of interreligious dialogue in the creation of peace and asked the faithful to make an effort to get to know people of other religions. The Christian faithful present appreciated the opportunity to come together with people from different backgrounds, emphasizing the importance of promoting understanding and cooperation between different faith communities. The Muslim Council of Elders stressed the vital importance of supporting peace and mutual acceptance within Malaysian society. In a world troubled by wars and discord, the end-of-Ramadan celebration "represents a poignant reminder of our common humanity, illustrating the profound capacity for unity and compassion among all individuals and peoples," the Council said. <br />Mon, 08 Apr 2024 13:04:02 +0200ASIA/JAPAN - 'Money, money, money'. The reasons for conflicts and the arms race according to missionary Archbishop, Tarcisius Isao Kikuchi Victor Gaetan* <br /> <br />Archbishop Tarcisius Isao Kikuchi, age 65, holds a startling number of key positions, yet he’s calm as a church usher. <br />President of Caritas Internationalis, Secretary General of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences, President of the Japanese Bishops Conference—he waves these titles away. <br />“You know how it works: Excellent people do the real work, hard work, and I’m kind of a governor who comes in and says ‘yes,’ or ‘no,’” he laughs.<br />On the eve of his departure for the Japanese bishops ad limina visit with the Holy Father, Archbishop Kikuchi and I sat together in an unassuming meeting room at St. Mary’s Cathedral, a dramatic contemporary sculpture-like church constructed in 1964. No staff, no ground rules, uninterrupted—for 1.5 hours of discussion. <br />Following are excerpts from my interview with the man who in 2004 was appointed Bishop of Niigata by Pope John Paul II, and today, as Archbishop of Tokyo, manifests great closeness with Pope Francis' pastoral concern.<br /><br />What is your dream for improving operations of Caritas Internationalis?<br />TARCISIUS ISAO KIKUCHI: I have been working with Caritas since 1995 when I was already a priest: I was a volunteer in refugee camps in [Democratic Republic of the] Congo. Then I was director of Caritas Japan. So, I knew Caritas Internationalis for a long time.<br /><br />My dream at this moment is, there is always the problem between those who have and those who have not, among the Caritas members because remember Caritas is not one big NGO organization. It is a confederation of the national Caritas’ in each country, more than 160 countries and territories. So, Caritas is different. Some Caritas, like in the US and Europe, they have enough funds then some of those in Africa and Asia, they don’t have any funds.<br />We are always talking about “partnership,” we have to work in “partnership.” That means everyone is supposed to be equal, working together, as brothers and sisters. But that’s not what happens! <br />The reality is always: those who have money dictate over those who receive it. That sometimes creates a problem. So, I really want to introduce, or develop, the real partnership among the member organizations.<br /> <br />You were the first Japanese missionary to Africa, serving for 7 years as a parish priest in Ghana. How does that influence your leadership today? What lesson from that time remains with you?<br /><br />KIKUCHI: Listen to the people. Don’t dictate. <br />Ghana was a British colony, but English is not the main means of communication. There are many local languages, meaning many local cultures. There I was, a missionary speaking English, and it was very difficult to communicate. I learned the local language of a small tribe, but I mainly learned that to be a good parish priest, I had to listen to the people—observe what they are doing, understand what they are thinking, but never dictate over the people. <br />That’s what I learned and every day I found something new. It was the same in Congo because I don’t speak French. I went there and everyone was speaking French including refugees from Rwanda. So, I had to hire a translator! <br /><br />I know the conversation is private, but can you share some concerns that face the Japanese bishops to be discussed with the Holy Father during your ad limina visit?<br /><br />KIKUCHI: It’s the first time we will meet with the Holy Father since he came to Japan in November 2019! The visit’s theme was Protect All Life, which we recommended to the Holy See. This includes not only the abortion issue in Japan but also respect for human dignity, abolition of the death penalty, operation of nuclear power plants that destroy the environment, and ecological concerns. <br /><br />We wanted to try to organize a social campaign around this theme, but because of the pandemic, everything stopped, and we couldn’t do that. So, we want to talk to the Holy Father about it. We can report to him that he came and preached about protecting all life, about establishing peace, and abolishing nuclear weapons, but now, what are we going to do to highlight human dignity? Throughout the life of the human being, at every stage, there are issues around protecting life, protecting dignity, which is really neglected in Japan. The traditional family system is disappearing. Single parents are caring for kids, or children are neglected—all kinds of problems exist related to human dignity. These are big problems to discuss with the Holy Father.<br /><br />I saw you took a strong stand on the menace of war and increased budgets for weapons. Please tell me more. <br /><br />KIKUCHI: After the second world war, because of what happened, we abolished the military. The Constitution says, “No army.” Yet, there is an army in Japan so there is a big contradiction at this moment. We don’t say we should abolish the army and military. We need some kind of protection, but it is too much right now. They [the government] are spending too much money on that. [Encouraged by the US, Japan approved an 16.5% increase — $56 billion — in defense spending for 2024 fiscal year]. <br />They are using the expanding influence of China as an excuse and the presence of North Korea as another excuse. Of course, these are not Countries like others, China, and North Korea, but I don’t think they are immediate threats. Especially with North Korea, once there used to be discussions. I don’t know what goes on in the minds of Japanese politicians, but they don’t want to talk let alone meet. If you don’t talk, nothing good can happen!<br /><br />I met earlier with someone in high political circles who said, Japanese governments cannot make any move without getting permission from Washington DC.<br /><br />KIKUCHI: It’s true. Most probably, it’s true.<br /><br />The Japanese Catholic Church has admirably been involved in peace efforts and the nuclear disarmament movement. Do you perceive a growing threat regarding the use of nuclear weapons? Is this a subject you might discuss with the Holy Father?<br /><br />KIKUCHI: Honestly speaking, for the people who have the right mind, those who are not insane, they will never use nuclear weapons because it is really so destructive and it will destroy not only the target, but also the country that originates the attack. If the US attacks Russia and Russia fires back, that’s the end of the world. <br />Everyone knows this, at least, those who are not insane. As long as this balance of power still exists, probably no one will use nuclear weapons but then they always use threats as an excuse to develop new arsenals—spending so much money for nothing. It does not secure actual protection, so they are just putting money into a trash bin.<br /><br />In Western circles, the international geopolitical situation is presented as a struggle between the “good” North Atlantic West and many other countries presented as "bad" . How do you judge this Western way to present the the geopolitical state of the World, and the continous opening of new fronts of war?<br />KIKUCHI: That’s a good question. It used to be very simple, that the Soviet Union and the United States were locked in conflict. But the Soviet Union disappeared, and the fight continues! <br />I think we, human beings, are destined to look for conflicts all the time, that’s why there is always a war. We want to fight to have a sense of our existence. It’s going on right now. Everybody says it’s politics but it’s not just politics. Most probably, the biggest problem is money. Money, money, money. <br />When we look at the reality of the world, only a very few people with money are really controlling the economy and politics of the world. And the majority of people are under this control. So that imbalance between those who have, and those who don’t have, is becoming acute and it is affecting all political problems.<br /><br />Indonesian Government and Bishops confirmed that Pope Francis will go to Indonesia. How does this benefit the region?<br /><br />KIKUCHI: Many of us really appreciate the pope’s attention to countries that nobody knows of—places such as Indonesia, East Timor, and Mongolia. He is quite interested in Asia!<br />For Asia, Indonesia is famous as the largest Muslim country in the world. It’s very important. Christianity is protected by the Constitution there, but there are local problems between Christians and Muslims. So, it is very significant for the Holy Father to go. He will speak about religious freedom as he did in the Gulf countries, and it will have a strong impact. <br /><br />Regarding religious freedom, in Japan for centuries Christians transmitted the faith from generation to generation, baptizing children in silence. Without means, without strength, in persecution, yet the faith was alive. What does this historical experience suggest about the nature of the Christian faith? <br /><br />KIKUCHI: Whenever we talk about persecution and martyrs, we always see examples from Nagasaki area because Nagasaki is famous and it is the origin of the Catholic Church in Japan. But there are many who died for the faith all over Japan. Like in northern parts of Japan or in Tokyo or in rural parts of Japan there used to be huge Christian communities existing in the villages. The examples of the martyrs are great. But why were there so many Christians in areas of Northern Japan? Because at that time the Christians took over providing social welfare, taking care of the poor and sick, and also education. <br />During the Shogun period [Japan was under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate from 1603-1868], the power in Tokyo were really serious about promoting education all over the country based on the Buddhist temple. Why? Because they were really afraid of Christian influence, so they wanted to take over Christian influence. That is why the Christian presence actually modeled the social welfare system in Japan. <br /><br />What has remained of that history and that experience of grace in the Church today in Japan?<br /><br />KIKUCHI: Unfortunately, the legacy of the martyrs is much stronger in the Nagasaki area today but here in Tokyo, not so many people care about this. We did not do the proper promotion of this. <br /><br />Please tell me something beautiful you see among the faithful in Japan.<br /><br />KIKUCHI: This question reminds me of my first ad limina visit in 2007 with Pope Benedict XVI, who had a private audience with each bishop. <br /><br />When I met Pope Benedict for the first time, he asked me, “What is your hope in your diocese?” He was always talking about hope! So I told him, I can tell you many hopeless stories, but hope…Then what came into my mind was the existence of Filipino immigrants. They are married to Japanese farmers because even now, rural farmers don’t have Japanese wives, because not so many people want to be a farmer anymore, so they look for wives among Filipinos, who are Catholic! <br />These Catholic women are coming to Japan for the farmers, and they reside in villages where we don’t have churches. That is hopeful—wives as missionaries coming to Japan. Cardinal Tagle from the Philippines said the same thing. He encourages Filipino migrants, “You are the missionaries, sent by God!” And it is true. <br /><br />Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis both said often that Christianity spreads through attraction and not through proselytism. How can Christianity's promise of salvation and happiness appeal to young Japanese today? What are the factors that prevail today in determining the psychological condition of Japanese boys and girls?<br /><br />KIKUCHI: Attracting youth, this is crucial. <br /><br />One answer is in the work of Caritas. Since 2011, in response to earthquakes and tsunamis in northern part of Japan, we established volunteer teams to support local people through Caritas. Non-Catholics began calling the youth volunteers, “Miss Caritas” or “Mr. Caritas,” with affection. So we are saying, this is our way of mission in Japan! It shows what the Church is. Caritas is most important in a country such as Japan to show the people the real meaning of what we preach.<br /><br />Thank you so much your Excellency, for your time and honesty. <br /><br />*Victor Gaetan is a senior correspondent for the National Catholic Register, focusing on international issues. He also writes for Foreign Affairs magazine and contributed to Catholic News Service. He is the author of the book God’s Diplomats: Pope Francis, Vatican Diplomacy, and America’s Armageddon published in paperback in July 2023. Visit his website at<br />Mon, 08 Apr 2024 11:57:50 +0200