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Mexican church officials condemn casino attack

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MEXICO CITY -- Mexican church officials have condemned an arson attack on a casino in Monterrey, Mexico, which killed more than 50 bettors and employees and left the nation horrified as a city once considered a crown jewel of industrial development and progress descends deeper into organized crime violence.

"In terms of the criminal groups, we believed that we had seen everything. However, what happened today surprised us," said Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega of Monterrey in a message issued late Aug. 25.

"Hopefully our authorities surprise us with a definite solution to this serious scourge. We join in prayer for those who lost their lives, for their families and so that peace is restored," the cardinal said.

A statement released late Aug. 25 by the Archdiocese of Mexico City labeled the attacks as "cowardly and abominable," and said the deaths "add to the innumerable victims of the cruelty and evil of organized crime."

Maryknoll leader urges reconciliation in South Sudan

NAIROBI, Kenya -- The president of the U.S.-based Maryknoll Sisters urged leaders of the newly independent Republic of South Sudan to prioritize peacemaking and reconciliation within its national concerns.

Maryknoll Sister Janice McLaughlin also suggested that the fledgling country's leaders begin efforts to disarm and demobilization ex-combatants in South Sudan's militia.

Her recommendations came during an interview with Catholic News Service after she spent nearly three weeks in the country July 25 through Aug. 13 leading a series of workshops on conflict transformation.

The workshops were for nursing students, seminarians and radio broadcasters in both Diocese of Wau and the Archdiocese of Juba. She previously served as a missioner in Kenya, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

"It is critical to provide skills training and employment possibilities for former fighters so they have means of making a living and contributing to rebuilding the nation," Sister Janice said. "If they feel left out and have no way to support themselves, they can easily turn to crime or to extortion to survive."

Zambian president expresses sorrow at bishop's death

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ZAMBIA, Lusaka -- Zambian President Rupiah Banda, who for years was criticized by retired Bishop Paul Duffy, expressed sorrow upon hearing of the bishop's Aug. 23 death.

Bishop Duffy died of leukemia at the Oblate retirement home in San Antonio. He was 79.

Bishop Duffy, who served in the Diocese of Mongu for 14 years, was known for criticizing the Zambian government for neglecting the needs of poor people.

In a letter to the Zambia Episcopal Conference, Banda said he still remembered the conversation he had with Bishop Duffy when he visited the clergyman at his house in the rural district of Mongu, in western Zambia. He said that even though he differed with the bishop on some issues, he was a very intelligent person.

"The ... government and I are deeply sorry about this loss, and we wish you and the Catholic Church leadership in Zambia God's grace and strength as you handle the various pressures that arise out of this extremely difficult development," the president said.

Libya needs a diplomatic resolution

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COMMENTARY

After a week of destruction, violence and death rebel claims that the authoritarian regime of Muammar Qaddafi is at an end remains elusive. As events continue to unfold in Lybia, it is clear that Qaddafi retains the loyalty of local tribes and the fighting in Libya will continue.

For now, the NATO bombing operations is indispensable to the ultimate military success of the rebels in Tripoli or elsewhere in the country. Is there another way out of this messy business? Yes, diplomacy.

Tripoli fighting continues, bishop stuck in Italy

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VATICAN CITY -- As fighting continues in Tripoli and the search goes on for Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, the bishop of Tripoli is stuck in Italy but hoping to return to the North Africa nation soon.

"The fact that, as I have been told, some Libyans are trying to return home is a good sign because that means security conditions have improved in some parts of the country. This encourages me because, as soon as possible, I'll go back, too," said Bishop Giovanni Martinelli of Tripoli.

The Vatican's missionary news agency, Fides, interviewed Bishop Martinelli Aug. 26 in Italy. Rebel forces claimed Aug. 22 that they had taken the capital and were hunting Gadhafi, but there were still reports of fighting between rebels and Gadhafi loyalists Aug. 26 in Tripoli.

"I'm anxious to return to Tripoli to be with the community and the priests," he said. "Unfortunately, up to this point, I've been advised not to leave because the usual routes for returning to Libya have been blocked. But the fact that some Libyans are returning gives me hope that I can go back soon," the bishop said.

Franciscan: Middle East Christians must be courageous

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VATICAN CITY -- Christians in the Middle East should not live in fear of the changes happening across the region but should act with courage to denounce situations of injustice and with a Christian attitude of willingness to dialogue, said the head of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.

"There is great uncertainty and great fear" among Christians in Egypt and Syria, Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa told Vatican Radio Aug. 24.

Speaking to the radio in Rimini, Italy, where he was participating in a conference sponsored by the Communion and Liberation movement, Father Pizzaballa said that, too often, if Christians in the Middle East express concern about problems or potential tensions between Christians and Muslims, they are accused of "wanting to accentuate the differences."

"If, on the other hand, you say there is collaboration and sharing, you're (accused of being) naive," he said. "Both these experiences exist. It's not one or the other.

"There are experiences of sharing, but also elements of fundamentalism, division and persecution" in the region, he said.

Franciscans in Tripoli holed up as battle rages

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ROME -- Church sources who could be contacted said some Catholic leaders remained holed up in Tripoli as the battle for control of the capital raged around them.

Late Aug. 22, three Franciscan friars were barricaded in their home in a Tripoli neighborhood, where there was heavy fighting, the source told Fides, news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

Christians nearly absent in Holy Land

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LONDON -- By now, the threat facing Christianity in its birthplace is depressingly clear. Christians represented 30 percent of British Mandate Palestine in 1948, while today in Israel and the Palestinian Territories they’re 1.25 percent. The Catholic patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, warns that the Holy Land risks becoming a “spiritual Disneyland” -- full of glittering rides and attractions, but empty of its indigenous Christian population.

Growing influx of refugees poses challenge

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DADAAB, Kenya (CNS) -- It took 32 days for Fatima Mohammed to make it from her drought-racked farm in Somalia to the relative safety of a sprawling refugee settlement in northeastern Kenya. There were days, she recalled, when her children were so thirsty that they could not walk and the men in her family would ferry them ahead, returning to carry two more children in their arms.

Fatima Mohammed told Catholic News Service that her family had lived through drought before, but that support from aid agencies helped them survive until the rains returned.

"This time, al-Shabaab won't let them in," she said, referring to the Islamist group that controls portions of Somalia. "So when our animals started dying, our only choice was to stay and die ourselves, or else start walking for Kenya."

They trekked across the desolate stretch of African bush, all 11 members of the family, often walking with other families in large groups to dissuade attacks from wild animals and bandits. They arrived in Dadaab at the end of May.

Staking their lives

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PALENQUE, MEXICO -- José María Ortiz had forgotten that May 10 was his 23rd birthday until the train pulled into Palenque and he heard mariachis playing “Las Mañanitas” to mark Mexican Mother’s Day. Perched atop a tank car on a train carrying scores of migrants north, his brother, Wilson, 20, gave him the only birthday hug he would get from his family that day.

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