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15 countries cited for religious freedom violations

It can be hard to come up with a list of countries with the most egregious records on religious freedom when some of the world's worst offenders aren't even nation states.

For its annual report of violators, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom counts 15 nations where abuse of religious liberty is "systemic, egregious, and ongoing."

But the commission, which was created by Congress in 1998 as an independent watchdog panel, also wants to highlight the crimes of non-nations, which for the first time this year get their own section in the report.

Cardinal Tagle, clergy stress church social teaching on Philippines' Labor Day

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Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle kept the spotlight on "God's work of creation" and St. Joseph's role in mission during a Mass on Monday, International Labor Day, ahead of the annual marches and street protests of labor unions.

The first laborer was God, who was "not just sitting pretty" but who busied himself creating heaven, things in the world and human beings, whom he made in his image, Tagle said.

Israeli court OKs construction of barrier through Salesians' property

An Israeli court has approved the construction of the Israeli separation barrier along a route that will nearly surround a convent and its primary school and confiscate most of their land on the outskirts of Beit Jalla, West Bank.

After more than six years of legal proceedings, the decision was handed down by the Israeli Special Appeals Committee for Land Seizure under emergency law in late April.

Israeli president invites pope to visit Israel, 'the sooner the better'

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Israeli President Shimon Peres officially invited Pope Francis to Israel, telling the pope "the sooner you visit the better, as in these days a new opportunity is being created for peace, and your arrival could contribute significantly to increasing the trust and belief in peace."

The Israeli president's remarks were reported in a statement released by the Israeli Embassy to the Vatican after Peres met Pope Francis on Tuesday.

Cardinal Tagle leads Mass for missing, abducted people

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Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle at a Mass for Jonas Burgos and other missing activists warned abductors that while they might escape human courts, they will eventually have to answer to God.

"I appeal to those who are holding Jonas and the many others whose mothers are still searching for fathers, siblings, children: You will face up to God," said Tagle at the end of his homily for the Mass in Quiapo Church on Thursday ahead of the sixth anniversary of Burgos' abduction.

South Africa's bishops say state secrets bill fails to promote openness

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The Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference said it regrets that South Africa's parliament passed a bill expanding protection for state secrets Thursday, noting that the country needs more openness, not more secrecy, to fight corruption.

The bishops urged President Jacob Zuma, who must sign the Protection of State Information Bill before it becomes law, to refer it to the Constitutional Court for deliberation in order to protect the democracy that "we all cherish."

Ban on religion forced Albanians to pray in secret: one woman's story

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Almost every evening at 6, the sounds of the organ resonate in the brick Catholic church on Kavaja Street. The hymns may vary, but the organist, Maria Dhimitri, is always the same.

It has been that way for nearly 23 years and could have been double that, Dhimitri said in a recent interview, if it had not been for a brutally enforced ban on religion in her country in southeastern Europe from 1967 to 1990.

"They banned all religious practice," the 76-year-old musician told Catholic News Service from an annex of Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

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July 18-31, 2014

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