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Quebec mayor fights order to remove crucifix

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TORONTO -- The mayor of a Quebec town says he will appeal a decision by a human rights tribunal that bans prayer at city council and ordered him to remove a crucifix from the council’s chambers.

Saguenay Mayor Jean Tremblay said he will refuse to heed the judgment from the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal that also ordered him to remove a Sacred Heart statue.

The tribunal ordered the town to pay $30,000 in damages to the local resident who complained about the religious symbols, ruling they infringed on his freedom of conscience. The town is roughly 90 percent Catholic.

Tremblay has set up a toll-free telephone line and posted a link on the town’s website to solicit donations for his legal battle.

“Why is it us Christians that always have to bend?” Tremblay told the Globe and Mail newspaper. “Our values have no importance. I am the first mayor in the history of the world to be punished for reciting a prayer.”

The tribunal’s decision is widely viewed as the latest step toward Quebec’s aggressive march toward secularism. Earlier this month, provincial lawmakers voted to ban ceremonial Sikh daggers, known as kirpans, from the legislature.

Bishops lead sit-in over Indian court findings

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BANGALORE, India -- Nineteen Catholic and Protestant bishops staged a sit-in to protest the findings of a report that cleared Hindu fundamentalists of a series of attacks on Christian targets in southern Karnataka state in September 2008.

The clerics, including 13 Catholic bishops, were joined by nearly 500 church leaders in the southern city of Bangalore, where they again criticized the findings of a commission chaired by Judge B. K. Somashekhara for not identifying the attackers in 57 incidents involving Christian churches and other sites.

The demonstrators gathered in central Bangalore, with the bishops sitting on chairs in their clerical garb under a midday sun.

Organized by the Karnataka United Christian Forum for Human Rights and the Karnataka Region Catholic Bishops' Council, the church leaders said the report was biased and that it "whitewashed" the incidents.

The crowd renewed a call for a new inquiry headed by the India's Central Bureau of Investigation. They also demanded the withdrawal of more than 150 cases lodged against Christians who were injured in the attacks.

Caritas head denied second term by Vatican

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VATICAN CITY -- Vatican officials have prevented the secretary-general of Caritas Internationalis from seeking a second four-year term.

Lesley-Anne Knight, a British citizen born in Zimbabwe, did not receive the necessary approval, or "nihil obstat" ("nothing stands in the way"), in January when she submitted her name as a candidate to continue in the position with the church's worldwide aid and development organization.

"The Holy See wants a change in the way it works with Caritas and says this requires a change in the person of the secretary-general," said a statement released late Feb. 18 by Caritas Internationalis in Rome.

"The Holy See has therefore not granted Mrs. Knight the nihil obstat to seek another mandate," the statement said.

The statement said the Vatican had acknowledged "the professional work done and achievements of Mrs. Knight."

Elections for the position of secretary-general and international president, which is held by Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, are set for late May in Rome during Caritas Internationalis' quadrennial general assembly.

Irish bishops reject 'bonus culture' of capitalism run amok

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Facing an economic crisis that has produced record unemployment, staggering levels of household debt, and deep political unrest, the Catholic bishops of Ireland have issued a stinging critique of “the excesses of advanced capitalism” and its “bonus culture,” calling for an economy rooted in social solidarity as opposed to “radical individualism.”

Indian priest dies trying to save woman

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COCHIN, India -- A Syro-Malabar Catholic priest who had a role in the 2008 canonization of St. Alphonsa Muttathupandathu, India's first woman saint, was killed while trying to save a parish worker who had become entangled in a power line.

Father Mathew Thondamkuzhy, 72, of St. George Church in Lalam, Kerala state in the Syro-Malabar Palai Diocese, was electrocuted while trying to free the female staff member, said Father George Choorakkat, diocesan vicar general.

The worker, Achamma George, 63, became entangled in the high-voltage power line while working on the parish grounds, the diocesan spokesman said.

Father Thondamkuzhy reportedly rushed to save the woman after hearing her cries for help, said Father Choorakkat.

"He tried to use a plastic rod to save her, but was also electrocuted," he said.

Engineers found the bodies of the two victims when they went to switch off a transformer before doing maintenance work.

Bangladesh mourns tribal evangelizing bishop

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MYMENSINGH, Bangladesh -- Retired Bishop Francis A. Gomes, who pioneered evangelization among tribal people in his northeastern Bangladesh diocese, died Feb. 17 following a lengthy illness. He was 79.

Catholics across the country mourned the death of the bishop, who had been seriously ill since his retirement in 2006, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News. His health worsened after he became paralyzed following a massive stroke in 2008.

"He was taken to Bangkok for treatment, but doctors informed he wouldn't improve anymore," said Salesian Sister Maria, one of the two nuns who cared for Bishop Gomes.

He was born April 30, 1931, at Rangamatia parish in the Dhaka Archdiocese. He was ordained a diocesan priest in December 1959.

Bishop Gomes pioneered evangelization among tribal people throughout the Mymensingh region and was the first local Bengali priest to work among tribes in the area.

He led Mymensingh to erection as diocese in 1987, and he became the first bishop of the new diocese. Mymensingh had been part of the Dhaka Archdiocese.

Church offers lessons for post-conflict development

WASHINGTON -- With countries around the world undergoing reorganization after wars, nonviolent revolutions and in one case, a vote to split apart, the Catholic Church's example for development holds valuable lessons, according to economist Paul Collier.

"The cry for justice runs from top to bottom" among the world's poor people, said Collier in a plenary address Feb. 15 to the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering. And the church, with its long experience in aid and development at the grass-roots level can provide an example and the capacity for helping address issues faced by developing countries, he said.

Collier, author of "The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It," is professor of economics and director of the Center for the Study of African Economics at the University of Oxford.

His talk was followed by half a dozen workshops on international policy issues, including peace-building, the realities facing Sudan, and the soon-to-be-independent South Sudan, and the transitions facing Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Catholic Relief Services plans 'strategic rethink' after Egyptian uprising

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The 17-day popular uprising in Egypt, which saw hundreds of thousands demonstrate in cities across the country, has prompted a "strategic rethink" for Catholic Relief Services operations across the region, said Mark Schnellbaecher, the agency’s regional director for Europe and the Middle East.

In Mexico's drug war, church caught in the storm

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Benjamín Jiménez Hernández, the bishop of Culiacán, Sinaloa, extended his arm. Speaking in his packed and sweltering church in northwestern Mexico, he called for action, as his flock sweated it out. “We must fight for our faith, we must fight for our future. ... This heat we’re living in today, we must use our faith to conquer it.”

A group of young narcos, as Mexico’s drug traffickers are known, had been killed the day before in Jiménez’s violence-plagued city. Hundreds of locals had turned up to the church to hear his words of calm, braving the 90-degree heat inside to hear what they hoped might be solutions.

There were none. As they filed out of Mass, many of the faithful simply shook their heads. They headed back to their homes, dismayed, perhaps comforted, but nothing more. The next day, the headlines offered up more of the same: three more Culiacán narcos butchered.

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