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Japanese mark six months since disasters

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TOKYO -- The church bell tolled at 2:46 p.m., marking six months since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in eastern Japan.

Throughout the nation Sept. 11, Japanese gathered for memorial services and to offer prayers for the more than 20,000 people who died and the hundreds of thousands made homeless in the disaster, which also triggered a nuclear meltdown.

The Japanese bishops' conference and the National Christian Council in Japan conducted a joint memorial service at the United Church of Christ's Shitaya Church. Approximately 180 people gathered for the service, which also had the support of the Japan Evangelical Association, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News.

The congregation offered prayers in memory of the victims, for the recovery of the worst-affected regions, and for a swift resolution to the nuclear crisis that arose in the wake of the tragedy.UCA News reported that Archbishop Peter Takeo Okada of Tokyo participated.

During the ecumenical gathering, Isao Tadokoro of Caritas Japan gave a short account of the Catholic Church's relief work in the disaster area.

Irish government defends comments on clergy abuse

DUBLIN -- The Irish government has stood by comments by Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who charged that the Vatican attempted to "frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago."

In a one-page statement issued late Sept. 8, five days after the Vatican refuted the accusation, the government also welcomed the Vatican's expression of regret over the suffering of abuse victims.

Court rejects appeal involving murder of religious sister

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SAO PAULO (CNS) -- A court in the state of Para rejected an appeal by rancher Regivaldo Galvao, convicted of being one of the masterminds behind the February 2005 assassination of U.S.-born Sister Dorothy Stang.

With the Sept. 6 court decision an arrest warrant was issued for Galvao, who in April 2010 was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his role in the murder of Stang, 73, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and a naturalized Brazilian citizen.

The other four men involved in the murder are in jail, serving sentences that range from 17 to 30 years.

Stang, a native of Dayton, Ohio, lived in the Amazon region for nearly four decades. She worked closely with the Brazilian bishops' Pastoral Land Commission in favor of land rights for the poor and for sustainable development in the region.

Malawi priests condemn president's attack on bishop

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LILONGWE, Malawi -- Malawi's priests and religious have condemned the president's "irresponsible verbal attacks" on the head of the bishops' conference, Bishop Joseph Mukasa Zuza of Mzuzu.

"The threat of war is a major concern, especially coming from the head of state," the Association of Diocesan Catholic Clergy of Malawi, the Association of Religious (Women) Institutes of Malawi and the Association of Men Religious Institutes of Malawi said in a Sept. 3 statement.

Bishop Zuza invoked the ire of President Bingu wa Mutharika when, in a mid-August sermon, he said Malawi's social, political and economic problems "are of our own making, depending on our respective roles."

Responding to the bishop's remarks in an Aug. 25 speech in Blantyre, Mutharika said he would "deal with the nongovernmental organizations which are leading people to protest against my leadership," adding that his "patience is wearing thin, let us fight." He said people thought he was a fool, "but you're wrong because, when I spring up, you'll see."

Irish officials respond to Vatican letter

DUBLIN -- Irish government officials planned to meet in early September to discuss the Vatican response to criticisms by Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny over the findings of an Irish judicial report on the handling of clerical sex abuse.

Kenny said Sept. 3 he wanted to read the Vatican's response -- issued that day -- before responding officially. However, in a row that shows little sign of abating, Kenny said he did not regret his July 20 remarks to the Irish parliament in which he accused the Vatican of attempting to "frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago."

The Vatican, in its 11,000 word response, described Kenny's claim as unfounded and said the Irish prime minister had "made no attempt to substantiate" it.

The Irish government's Cloyne Report was issued July 13 and said then-Bishop John Magee of Cloyne paid "little or no attention" to safeguarding children as recently as 2008. But the report also accused the Vatican of being "entirely unhelpful" to Irish bishops who wanted to implement stronger norms for dealing with accusations and protecting children.

Nigerian cardinal addresses president on terrorism

LAGOS, Nigeria -- Lagos Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie urged President Goodluck Jonathan to use all security and intelligence networks at his disposal to unmask the sponsors of the Boko Haram sect and deal with them decisively.

Cardinal Okogie's advice followed the late-August bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja in which at least 23 people died.

The extremist Islamic sect, which has a somewhat undefined leadership and structure, also bombed various public buildings in the northern Nigeria towns of Maiduguri, Kano, Kaduna and Jos, as well as the Nigerian Police Force national headquarters, where several hundred people were killed.

The group says it is fighting against Western culture and education, which it claims negates its beliefs.

The cardinal said the continuous spate of mayhem being unleashed on the nation by members of the sect was becoming a matter of national embarrassment capable of disintegrating the nation if not properly checked. His remarks were released in a statement Sept. 1.

Nuncio praises Turkish decision to return properties

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VATICAN CITY -- The Turkish prime minister's announcement that the government will return hundreds of properties confiscated from non-Muslim religious groups or compensate the groups for properties sold to third parties is "a historic decision," said the Vatican nuncio to Turkey.

"Even though the Roman Catholics will not benefit from this, it is an important step that is a credit to Turkey," said Archbishop Antonio Lucibello, the nuncio.

"It is a sign that is not just good, it's an excellent sign that the government wants to reconstruct the unity of the country so there no longer are first-class and second-class citizens," the nuncio told Catholic News Service Aug. 30 in a telephone interview from Ankara.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Aug. 28 that his government would return hundreds of pieces of property -- including schools, orphanages and hospitals -- that were confiscated by the government in 1936. The properties involved belonged to officially recognized religious minorities: Jews, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Armenian Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholics and Chaldean Catholics.

Faith groups seek support for reforms in Malawi

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- Faith groups in Malawi are calling for international support as they seek major reforms in the southern African country, a Catholic church official said.

"Malawians are desperate for a government that responds to their concerns," said Chris Chisoni, national secretary of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace.

Nineteen people died in Malawi in clashes with police during July 20-21 protests against government policies and a shortage of fuel and foreign currency.

The Public Affairs Committee, which includes Catholic bishops, Protestant and Muslim representatives, has called for a "proper investigation with the support" of the Southern African Development Community and the United Nations into the clashes and their causes, Chisoni said in an Aug. 26 telephone interview from the capital, Lilongwe.

The United States and Britain have cut aid to Malawi, which depends on donors for as much as 40 percent of its budget, because of disagreements with President Bingu wa Mutharika and the police response to protests.

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