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Trip to Africa provides brush with nature, beginnings of a good joke


First person

I'm just back from a week and a half in Kenya, much of it spent at the Laikipia Nature Conservancy, a 100,000-acre game preserve in the northern part of the country and site of a gathering observing the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Global Peace Initiative of Women.

The gathering, "Awakening the Healing Heart: Transforming Communities through Love and Compassion," was conducted over eight days, beginning with a daylong session at the United Nations Information Centre in Nairobi.

One of the forces behind the initiative is Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister, who gave a stirring presentation at the U.N. center. The next day, she made the more-than-six-hour trip in a van from Nairobi, about 5,280 feet above sea level, and climbed to 7,000 feet to reach the conservancy. The last portion of the trip was about an hour across jolting and dusty unpaved roads.

Boxer Manny Pacquiao invited to Philippines priests' meeting


MANILA, Philippines -- World boxing champ Emmanuel "Manny" Pacquiao is expected to tell priests at their recollection Tuesday how the Bible is helping him live an upright life and why he is in their corner in the bout against destructive mining.

Some of the 72 diocesan and religious priests serving in the Marbel diocese are to gather Tuesday in Pacquiao's mansion in General Santos City, southern Philippines, for their bimonthly joint recollection, Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez of Marbel told NCR on Sunday.

Pacquiao, the first boxer to be world champion in eight divisions, has built himself a 35 million peso ($820,000) house in the city. On May 2010, he was elected representative for Sarangani's lone district in the House of Representatives.

Don't lose hope, even in hardship, pope tells Middle East Christians


VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI urged Christians in the Middle East not to lose hope despite the serious difficulties they face.

"I extend my prayerful thoughts to the regions in the Middle East, encouraging all the priests and faithful to persevere with hope through the serious suffering that afflicts these beloved people," he said.

The pope made his remarks when he greeted Armenian Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni of Beirut and Armenian bishops from around the world attending their synod in Rome.

At the end of the general audience Wednesday in St. Peter's Square, the pope expressed his "sincere gratitude" for Armenian Catholics' fidelity to their heritage and traditions, and to the successor of St. Peter.

Such fidelity has always sustained the faithful throughout "the innumerable trials in history," he said.

The majority of Catholics in the Middle East belong to Eastern Catholic churches -- the Armenian, Chaldean, Coptic, Maronite or Melkite churches.

In his catechesis, the pope said oftentimes it seems God is silent, especially during times of great trial and difficulty.

'Where there is gold, there are guns'



As I arrived in Segovia, a small city in Colombia’s Antioquia province, I was startled to see soldiers fully geared for combat -- machine guns poised, helmets strapped tight, field radios crackling -- intently watching the traffic coming into the town, which is a refining center for Antioquia’s booming gold industry. “We have one of the army’s antiterrorism units stationed here,” a local friend explained. “In Colombia, wherever there is gold, there are guns. Lots of them.”

Colombian gold-mining village fights to stay put


MARMATO, COLOMBIA -- The preparations for the evening Mass on Jan. 15 in the Church of Santa Barbara in Marmato, a mountainside mining village in central Colombia, were ordinary in every detail but one. Shortly before the service began, the village priest, Fr. Carlos Valencia, threaded his way through a tangle of horses and donkey carts into the town square at the wheel of a battered jeep. As he arrived, the bell in the church tower rang out. Inside the brick church, candles were lit as people from the village -- many dressed in colorful handmade clothes, decorative ponchos and heavy leather boots -- gathered beneath rows of brightly glazed ceramic statues of the Virgin and saints. As Valencia commenced the Mass, the only thing out of the ordinary was the presence behind the altar of a bishop from the United States.

Judge's ruling opens door for deportation of retired Salvadoran general

WASHINGTON -- Family and friends of four American churchwomen murdered in 1980 welcomed a Florida immigration judge's decision that paves the way for the deportation of a former Salvadoran defense minister found to have a role in their killings.

James Kazel, brother of Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel of Cleveland, said the expected deportation to El Salvador of Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova was "past due as far as I'm concerned."

"He got away with murder and got away with living in the United States," Kazel told Catholic News Service from his home in Avon, Ohio. "He didn't deserve to be here."

Vides, who served as defense minister from 1983 to 1989 before retiring and moving to Florida, commanded the Salvadoran National Guard in December 1980 when the women were murdered by guardsmen along a rural road outside the capital, San Salvador.

Five guardsmen were convicted of the killings in 1984 and served long jail sentences.

"Justice moves kind of slow in the U.S., but we finally got our mission accomplished," Kazel said. "It was a thing that everybody from the families was waiting for."



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