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French bishops support counterparts in Egypt, Libya

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PARIS -- France's bishops have written to church leaders in Egypt and Libya, pledging to back their campaign for democracy and justice.

"You have shown us your aspiration for dignity, respect, justice and democracy for those entrusted to you," said the April 13 letter, signed by six bishops, including the bishop of the armed forces and the head of the French chapter of Pax Christi.

"They need our support so the impetus does not become exhausted. But they also need us to renew our own adherence to these founding values," the letter said.

Day of prayer launched for Pakistani victims

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ROME -- Catholics and human rights activists have called for a worldwide day of prayer for Asia Bibi and other victims of the anti-blasphemy law in Pakistan.

The Masihi Foundation, a Pakistani group that works to protect minority rights in Pakistan and is providing legal assistance to Bibi, said the idea was to rally prayerful support April 20, the Wednesday of Holy Week.

Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy, has been jailed since June 2009 and still awaits a trial date for her appeal.

The day of prayer "intends to bring into communion all believers and all people of goodwill in prayer and to light a candle, imploring God's salvation and the freedom of this woman and all who suffer the consequences of being falsely accused of blasphemy," Haroon Masih, the Masihi Foundation's director, told Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

Catholic leaders in Pakistan and human rights activists have said the country's anti-blasphemy law has been misused to persecute Christians and other minorities.

Lusaka archbishop warns of disaster

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LUSAKA, Zambia -- Lusaka Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu warned of a "huge disaster" if political authorities do not take decisive action to discourage their supporters from engaging in acts of violence.

"Although Zambians are generally peaceful and long-suffering people, those we elect to rule us should always bear in mind that there is limit to people's patience and resilience, as recent events in North Africa and the Middle East can testify," Archbishop Mpundu said. "Law enforcement institutions seem to be powerless and paralyzed into inaction while people are beaten up in their presence and absence alike."

The archbishop said it was sad that those who perpetrated political violence could not be arrested even though they were well-known.

"These cadres ... act with impunity, maiming innocent citizens, threatening others with unprintable atrocities in the open, insulting even public figures and terrorizing commuters at bus and railway stations, at marketplaces and even at the international airport at will," he said.

Germans leaving Catholic Church in droves

BERLIN -- The number of Germans leaving the Roman Catholic Church rose dramatically in 2010 as Pope Benedict XVI’s homeland wrestled with reports of systematic sexual abuse of minors and attempted cover-ups, according to a study by a German newspaper.

About 180,000 Catholics officially ended their church affiliation in 2010, a rise of 50,000 (or 40 percent) from 2009, according to the weekly Die Zeit newspaper.

The data was collected from surveys answered by most of Germany’s major dioceses. Official church-collected data is not expected until the summer.

The release of 2009 defections almost a year ago had already signaled a growing wave of departures even before the scandal fully erupted last year as several officials at church-run schools were accused of abusing children.

“The increase of church departures in 2010 represents a loss of trust that fell especially hard on the church because of the abuse cases,” said Dominik Schwaderlappe, the general vicar of Cologne. “This is painful for us, because it clearly shows that people are using church departures as their personal form of protest and as a way to show their disgust with the scandal.”

Despite history of stability, turmoil reaches Syria

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DAMASCUS, SYRIA -- Up until recently, it seemed as if the turmoil going on in other parts of the Arab world might pass Syria by. When I arrived for a weeklong visit, Syria was still quiet. When I asked Syrians what they thought of the upheaval occurring in other countries in the region, they told me “The situation is different in Syria.” And then, in a matter of days, things changed.

Vatican: Disgraced Belgian bishop to leave

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VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican ordered a Belgian bishop who admitted to sexually abusing his nephew to leave his country and undergo "spiritual and psychological treatment," Vatican Radio reported.

Citing a statement from the Vatican nuncio in Belgium, the radio report April 10 said that former Brugge Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, 74, had already left the country, although his whereabouts were not divulged.

The statement said the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican agency that handles clerical sex abuse cases, "has decided that, even though the canon law statute of limitations has expired as regards the acts of sexual abuse committed against his nephew, Msgr. Vangheluwe must leave Belgium and begin a period of spiritual and psychological treatment," Vatican Radio reported.

Bishop Vangheluwe "has lived in various places with no fixed address since his resignation, and has already left the country," the statement said.

Catholics step up Japanese earthquake response

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TOKYO -- A group of Brazilian citizens living in Japan launched efforts to help victims of what Japanese media are calling the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Thirty representatives from 60 Brazilian organizations formed Brazil Solidarity in an effort to coordinate aid distribution, rubble removal and support services for hundreds of thousands of victims in the region of northeast Japan affected by the quake.

Carlos Shinoda, 55, a Catholic and head of a school for Brazilians in Nagoya, Japan, is the leader of the new organization. He also is president of the Council of Representatives of Brazilians Abroad living in Japan.

Brazil Solidarity first met in late March with the help of Marcos Bezerra Abbott Galvao, Brazil's ambassador to Japan, and Brazilian business owners, Shinoda said.

"We decided to purchase relief materials and bring them to disaster areas, an effort financed by Brazilian companies through the embassy of Brazil," Shinoda explained. "At present, our intention is to deliver 450 bicycles to Sendai. Joined by Ambassador Galvao, we also plan to offer our service as volunteers there."

Caritas: 1,000 dead, missing in Ivory Coast town

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VATICAN CITY -- One thousand people were suspected to be dead or missing in the town of Duekoue, Ivory Coast, after clashes throughout the country intensified, Caritas Internationalis reported.

Aid organizations have been recovering hundreds of bodies in Duekoue, according to news reports.

Caritas workers visiting the town "are reporting a thousand people have been killed there or 'disappeared,'" Caritas Internationalis, the Catholic Church's aid and development agency, said in an April 2 statement.

"Caritas condemns all attacks on civilians and says the humanitarian situation in Ivory Coast is rapidly deteriorating," it said.

Army forces and militia supporting President-elect Alassane Ouattara have been clashing with security personnel and others loyal to outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to leave office after Ouattara was declared the winner of elections Nov. 28.

Some 1 million people have fled the violence, according to the United Nations. Many have escaped the violence by taking refuge in Liberia.

Chinese Catholics struggle for unity, says Vatican

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VATICAN CITY -- While Pope Benedict XVI has encouraged Catholics in mainland China to reconcile with one another and form one community united with Rome, some Chinese Catholics believe the only way to be faithful to the universal church is for the clandestine church to continue, said a Chinese Vatican official.

Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai, the Hong Kong-born secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, told the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire, "The clandestine communities still have a reason to exist."

In the interview published April 1, Archbishop Hon said that while some Catholic bishops have been forced by the Chinese government to participate in public events against their will, other bishops and priests have gone willingly.

Bishops ask Germany to support migrants

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BERLIN -- Africa's bishops have asked German President Christian Wulff to support them in their efforts to develop their continent as one way of slowing the flow of migrants into Europe.

Cardinal Polycarp Pengo of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, asked Wulff to urge European governments "not to see the African migrant ... as a stranger or a threat, but rather as a fellow human being who indeed is an asset and not a liability when given the opportunity."

Cardinal Pengo addressed Wulff during SECAM's March 28-April 2 meeting with the German bishops' conference in Berlin. The meeting focused on migration, especially from Africa to Europe, and the church's responsibility for refugees and migrants.

Africa's bishops "also appeal to you to support us and our governments in our quest to provide the necessary conditions for the development of Africa as one of the ways to mitigate the challenges of migration," Cardinal Pengo said, noting recent violence in North Africa and Ivory Coast.

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