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Missionaries grapple with leaving Japan

Wolfgang Langhans, a Tokyo-based field director for missionaries, calls the week since the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan “the busiest and most stressful week of my life.”

But when those twin crises created a third—the threat of dangerous radiation leaks from a damaged nuclear plant—the balancing act between living out a missionary calling and keeping safe became particularly difficult.

Economic issues on Obama's trip agenda lead back to migration

WASHINGTON -- Much of the official itinerary of President Barack Obama's trip to Latin America March 20-23 deals with economic, development and trade issues, which to the thinking of Salvadorans ought to start with the issue of immigration.

Obama was to visit Brazil and Chile before concluding his trip with a swing through El Salvador.

Bishop: Interfaith tensions worsen in Ethiopia

OXFORD, England -- A Catholic bishop in Ethiopia said he thought interfaith tensions were worsening in western parts of the country.

After a rampage by Muslims left dozens of Christian churches in ruins, Christian leaders met and "pledged to prevent this from happening again," said Bishop Theodorus van Ruijven, the Dutch-born bishop of Nekemte. He also said Muslim leaders promised to help rebuild what was destroyed.

"But Islamic missionaries are coming from Somalia and preaching to local Muslims, telling them they'll be raised up and get to heaven sooner if they do something to strengthen the Islamic faith here," he told Catholic News Service in a March 17 telephone interview.

The bishop said Catholic churches were not directly targeted by the attackers, who destroyed Protestant and Orthodox churches and schools and ransacked private homes earlier in the month in Ethiopia's Oromia region. However, he added that the rapid expansion of Muslim communities had created tensions, fuelling wider uncertainties about the future.

Cuba releases pro-life activist

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WASHINGTON -- Cuba released a renowned pro-life activist and political dissident, but sent mixed signals the next day when courts sentenced an American contractor to 15 years in prison for taking telecommunications equipment into the country.

Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, 49, an activist first jailed in 1999 for denouncing Fidel Castro's abortion policies, was released from prison March 11, as announced by the Archdiocese of Havana, which has negotiated the release of 52 political prisoners since last summer. He was also among a group of 75 activists jailed in anti-government protests in 2003.

Upon his release, he told EFE, the Spanish news agency, that he intends to stay in Cuba.

"I've always lived in Cuba and I am of Cuba," he said. "I haven't ever harmed anybody, just given love, much love, and because of that I was harmed by the government."

In a teleconference from Havana March 14, Biscet signaled his intention to remain critical of the government, calling the Castro regime a "total dictatorship" that fears informed citizens.

In Nigeria, a palpable hunger for democracy

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ABUJA, NIGERIA -- Africa’s largest democracy and second-biggest economy -- Nigeria -- will hold national elections April 9. And in Nigeria, a nation where religion counts, religious people want to be counted.

Nigeria has a population of 155 million. With half its citizens, or 75 million, listed as Muslims, Nigeria has overtaken Egypt as the biggest Islamic country in Africa. Officially, Christians make up 40 percent of the population, though some sources put the figure at 48 percent, due to rapid growth of evangelical megachurches in the south.

Among Christians, Catholics are the largest denomination, comprising 20 percent of the nation. They are among “the strongest supporters of democracy,” Msgr. Obiora Ike told NCR. Ike directs the Catholic Institute for Development, Peace, Justice and Caritas in Enugu, Nigeria.

Christians in northern Iraq find themselves in flux

ANKAWA, Iraq -- When Suhail Louis left the sectarian violence of Baghdad a year ago, he thought he would find comfort in the safety of Northern Iraq. Instead, he's faced with a new discomfort: unemployment.

Today he lives in Ankawa, a predominantly Christian town just outside of Irbil. The town has seen the arrival of more than 5,000 Christian families since the beginning of the war. His new home offers safety, but little more.

Should he learn Kurdish, the local language, to improve his employment prospects here? Or should he study English in case he is able to migrate to North America?

The 43-year-old Arabic-speaking engineer cannot stop reminiscing about his home city -- the hustle and bustle, the culture, his once-good life. Even if the past eight years have been fraught with danger, it was still home.

"Where is better? Here or Baghdad?" Louis asks rhetorically, as he sits at a cafe in the middle of the afternoon, the slow-paced life around him seeming to remind him of his own life on pause. "In Baghdad there was a future. Here, the future is unknown."

Iraqi Muslims, Christians wish to live together in peace again

SULAIMANI, Iraq -- On a sunny afternoon in this quiet city in northern Iraq, a young veiled Muslim woman from Baghdad kneels to pray -- at a Catholic church.

The church keeper, a woman also from Baghdad, enters the sanctuary and welcomes the visitor.

"Don't worry, pray in your own way," she tells the visitor.

British court rules on Christian foster parents

LONDON -- A British court has effectively disqualified a couple from becoming foster parents because of their Christian views on premarital and homosexual intercourse.

Owen and Eunice Johns of Derby, England, were told by judges sitting in the High Court in London that gay equality laws must "take precedence" over the rights of Christians to act in line with their faith.

The couple, who have fostered 15 children, had sought a judicial review of a 2009 decision by the Derby City Council to defer their application to be approved as short-term, respite, foster caregivers because of their views on sexual morality.

The judges were asked to consider the abstract question of whether public authorities should consider applicants' views on sexual ethics when deciding to approve them as foster parents.

The judges stated that Christian beliefs on sexual ethics may be "inimical" to children and implicitly upheld a submission by the publicly funded Equality and Human Rights Commission that children risked being "infected" by Christian moral beliefs.

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