Catholic efforts to aid those in Japan most affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami are including people from across the country and at all levels of society, say Western missionaries and agency directors there.
WASHINGTON -- Cuba released a renowned pro-life activist and political dissident, but sent mixed signals the next day when courts sentenced an American contractor to 15 years in prison for taking telecommunications equipment into the country.
Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, 49, an activist first jailed in 1999 for denouncing Fidel Castro's abortion policies, was released from prison March 11, as announced by the Archdiocese of Havana, which has negotiated the release of 52 political prisoners since last summer. He was also among a group of 75 activists jailed in anti-government protests in 2003.
Upon his release, he told EFE, the Spanish news agency, that he intends to stay in Cuba.
"I've always lived in Cuba and I am of Cuba," he said. "I haven't ever harmed anybody, just given love, much love, and because of that I was harmed by the government."
In a teleconference from Havana March 14, Biscet signaled his intention to remain critical of the government, calling the Castro regime a "total dictatorship" that fears informed citizens.
ROME -- Japanese church officials are setting up an emergency center to coordinate humanitarian aid operations in Sendai, the area most devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The center will be managed by Caritas Japan and will draw on the resources of numerous Catholic volunteers.
ABUJA, NIGERIA -- Africa’s largest democracy and second-biggest economy -- Nigeria -- will hold national elections April 9. And in Nigeria, a nation where religion counts, religious people want to be counted.
Nigeria has a population of 155 million. With half its citizens, or 75 million, listed as Muslims, Nigeria has overtaken Egypt as the biggest Islamic country in Africa. Officially, Christians make up 40 percent of the population, though some sources put the figure at 48 percent, due to rapid growth of evangelical megachurches in the south.
Among Christians, Catholics are the largest denomination, comprising 20 percent of the nation. They are among “the strongest supporters of democracy,” Msgr. Obiora Ike told NCR. Ike directs the Catholic Institute for Development, Peace, Justice and Caritas in Enugu, Nigeria.
ANKAWA, Iraq -- When Suhail Louis left the sectarian violence of Baghdad a year ago, he thought he would find comfort in the safety of Northern Iraq. Instead, he's faced with a new discomfort: unemployment.
Today he lives in Ankawa, a predominantly Christian town just outside of Irbil. The town has seen the arrival of more than 5,000 Christian families since the beginning of the war. His new home offers safety, but little more.
Should he learn Kurdish, the local language, to improve his employment prospects here? Or should he study English in case he is able to migrate to North America?
The 43-year-old Arabic-speaking engineer cannot stop reminiscing about his home city -- the hustle and bustle, the culture, his once-good life. Even if the past eight years have been fraught with danger, it was still home.
"Where is better? Here or Baghdad?" Louis asks rhetorically, as he sits at a cafe in the middle of the afternoon, the slow-paced life around him seeming to remind him of his own life on pause. "In Baghdad there was a future. Here, the future is unknown."
SULAIMANI, Iraq -- On a sunny afternoon in this quiet city in northern Iraq, a young veiled Muslim woman from Baghdad kneels to pray -- at a Catholic church.
The church keeper, a woman also from Baghdad, enters the sanctuary and welcomes the visitor.
"Don't worry, pray in your own way," she tells the visitor.
LONDON -- A British court has effectively disqualified a couple from becoming foster parents because of their Christian views on premarital and homosexual intercourse.
Owen and Eunice Johns of Derby, England, were told by judges sitting in the High Court in London that gay equality laws must "take precedence" over the rights of Christians to act in line with their faith.
The couple, who have fostered 15 children, had sought a judicial review of a 2009 decision by the Derby City Council to defer their application to be approved as short-term, respite, foster caregivers because of their views on sexual morality.
The judges were asked to consider the abstract question of whether public authorities should consider applicants' views on sexual ethics when deciding to approve them as foster parents.
The judges stated that Christian beliefs on sexual ethics may be "inimical" to children and implicitly upheld a submission by the publicly funded Equality and Human Rights Commission that children risked being "infected" by Christian moral beliefs.
DUBLIN -- Ireland's Catholic bishops have renewed their opposition to the abolition of a special fifty-fifty Catholic-Protestant recruitment policy for the Police Service of Northern Ireland later this month.
In a statement following its spring general meeting, the bishops' conference noted that "recruitment challenges remain for the PSNI as there is continued underrepresentation of Catholics in the senior ranks of the PSNI."
"The current level of 29 percent Catholic membership of the PSNI is not sufficiently representative of the community background of the workforce in Northern Ireland," the bishops said.
The equal recruitment scheme was introduced as part of the 1998 peace agreement when the Royal Ulster Constabulary was replaced by the newly formed Police Service of Northern Ireland. At the time, the Constabulary drew more than 90 percent of its membership from the Protestant community, and Catholics frequently complained of discrimination and intimidation.
NAIROBI, Kenya -- When 33-year-old Fr. Moses Kago was a teen and considering becoming a priest, he thought that he would have to have surgery to make him a white man.
As he recently recounted that story at his home parish about 60 miles north of Nairobi, he told the congregation members they lived in a different church. He had not seen an African priest; they have seen many.
PERTH, Australia -- Traditionalist Anglicans who remain in the Anglican Church rather than taking up Pope Benedict XVI's offer of an Anglican ordinariate are wasting their time and spiritual energy clinging to a dangerous illusion, said the Vatican's delegate for the Australian ordinariate.
Melbourne Auxiliary Bishop Peter Elliott, a former Anglican, urged Anglicans at a Feb. 26 festival in Perth to take up the pope's offer of "peace."
"I would caution people who still claim to be Anglo-Catholics and yet are holding back," he told The Record, Catholic newspaper of the Archdiocese of Perth, Feb. 26. "I'd say 'When are you going to face realities?' because there's no place for a classical Anglo-Catholic in the Anglican Communion anymore."
In November 2009, Pope Benedict announced his decision to erect personal ordinariates for former Anglicans who wanted to enter into full communion with Rome while preserving liturgical and other elements of their Anglican heritage, including a certain amount of governing by consensus.