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Patriarch: Palestine UN bid step toward solution

BETHESDA, Md. -- The Latin patriarch of Jerusalem said he hoped that an effort to grant full U.N. membership to Palestine would be a step toward eventual peace in the region, leading to the "two-state solution."

In a Sept. 20 interview in the suburban Washington offices of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, Patriarch Fouad Twal told Catholic News Service that "the question of full membership for Palestine does not mean the end of negotiations. On the contrary, they must continue negotiating and speaking to find a solution for everybody, peace for everybody and security for everybody."

Patriarch Twal, a Jordanian-born Palestinian, said that, in preaching about peace, he often says that it must be "peace for all the inhabitants, otherwise nobody can enjoy peace." He and other Christian leaders, including Pope Benedict XVI, often cite a two-state solution as the desired path to peace.

Mission to Iran improves relations with dialogue

UPDATE: The hikers, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, both 29, were released Sept. 21 on $500,000 bail each after the judge signed off on the deal. They were released to Swiss and Omani officials. Switzerland represents U.S. interests in Iran in the absence of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

WASHINGTON -- A delegation of Christian and Muslim leaders returned to the United States from Iran hoping that their six-day visit will improve relations between the two squabbling countries in a way that diplomatic channels have not.

The four-member delegation, which included Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, also hoped to be accompanied on the return home Sept. 19 by a pair of American hikers still being incarcerated by Iranian authorities on charges of espionage and entering Iran illegally, but was sidetracked because a judge who could approve their release was on vacation.

Police detain Mexican priest, two migrants

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MEXICO CITY -- A Catholic priest in southeastern Mexico -- known for his outspoken defense of undocumented Central Americans arriving from neighboring Guatemala -- was detained for several hours and threatened by soldiers and state police.

Father Tomas Gonzalez, pastor of the Crucified Christ Parish in Tenosique, near the lawless Peten region of Guatemala, told Catholic News Service that soldiers pulled over his vehicle -- also carrying two migrants and an Amnesty International activist -- and "surrounded us for three-and-a-half hours," after he refused to allow them to search his vehicle Sept. 17.

The soldiers called in Tabasco state police, whom Father Gonzalez said found nothing in his vehicle.

Father Gonzalez was traveling at the time with two migrants and Ruben Figueroa, an activist with Amnesty International.

A state police officer struck Figueroa and told him, "We're going to teach you to respect," Amnesty International said in statement.

Africans: Church needs role in election monitoring

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ACCRA, Ghana -- The church must strengthen its role in observing and monitoring elections in African countries where electoral violence prevails, said church representatives from 20 African nations.

Noting that 12 African countries are scheduled to hold elections before the end of 2011 and 14 others in 2012, participants in a mid-September conference organized by Catholic Relief Services and the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar said that "poor governance is often the source of intimidation, violence or conflicts in Africa during and after elections."

"More often than not," elections in Africa have been manipulated "to satisfy selfish or partisan interests to the detriment of the common good," participants said in statement signed by Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle of Accra. Other signers included chairs of their national bishops' justice and peace commissions: Bishop Paul Bemile of Wa, Ghana; Bishop Alexio Churu Muchabaiwa of Mutare, Zimbabwe; and Bishop Gbaya Boniface Ziri of Abengourou, Ivory Coast.

In South Africa, outrage gives way to acceptance of translations

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Editor’s note: This is one in an occasional series about the new missal translation that NCR will publish in the run-up to the translation’s official release in November.

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA -- In South Africa, where the bishops’ conference mistakenly introduced the new Mass translations into parish use in late 2008, it seems that most Catholics have adapted to the new responses, although they wish it had not been necessary.

When the new responses in the Order of the Mass “were first introduced, it felt like an imposition,” said Fr. Marc de Muelenaere of St. John Fisher Church in the Pretoria archdiocese.

“No one likes the English -- it’s grammatically clumsy and many people view the changes as fiddling around for the sake of change,” he said in an Aug. 16 telephone interview.

“But we’ve become used to the new words and I’ve come to see the great controversies as a storm in a teacup,” de Muelenaere said.

Educators in Syria discuss school year start amid political turmoil

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Like many educators, Gabe and Theresa Kubasak spent the first part of September preparing for a new school year. They did so, however, under unusual circumstances.

Four years ago, the American couple founded the Iraqi Student Project (ISP), a program that seeks undergraduate education in the U.S. for young Iraqis displaced by war and ongoing violence in their homeland. As refugees in Syria and Jordan, these students cannot attend university there.

Located in the Syrian capital of Damascus, ISP is now operating in a country that is in the middle of a brutal crackdown with pro-reform protests eliciting violent government repression.

I recently questioned Huck and Kubasak, via email, on how the turmoil was affecting their work. Here is an edited version of our interview:

Nigerian bishops head: Gov't must control violence

LAGOS, Nigeria -- For the second time in as many weeks, a prominent member of the Nigerian bishops' conference has pushed the government to get a handle on violence perpetrated by the Boko Haram sect.

Archbishop Felix Alaba Job of Ibadan, president of the Nigerian bishops' conference, said that, within the past five years, security agencies had furnished governments at all levels with information on activities of the extremist Islamic sect, but nothing significant had been done to curtail their activities.

"We have spoken at length on it," he said Sept. 11, at the opening Mass of the Nigerian bishops' weeklong plenary in Abakaliki. "The blame as I know it is with the government ...."

"If you go to Maiduguri, you discover that their headquarters is at Central Railway quarters. What has the government done? At the first outbreak, I was there. I have been talking since then," he said.

Violence -- especially in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital -- has claimed hundreds of lives and resulted in the loss of property running into thousands of dollars.

Court: Catholic hospital must rehire divorcee

BERLIN -- A divorced doctor fired from his job at a Catholic hospital because he married another woman should be reinstated, a German court ruled Thursday.

The ruling by Germany’s highest labor court means that church organizations may fire someone if they are found not living up to church standards, but only if there is no overriding argument for the person to retain his job.

The case concerned a doctor at St. Vincent Hospital in Dusseldorf. According to a court press release, after he was divorced from his first wife, the doctor moved in with another woman, before marrying her in a civil ceremony.

The hospital then fired him, noting that when he was hired in 2000, he had signed documents promising to follow Catholic values.

The judges said that the hospital weakened its case by not disciplining the doctor when he was cohabitating and by not enforcing similar rules on non-Catholic employees.

They also noted that the man’s first wife had left him—and that the doctor and his new wife remained committed to church doctrine.

Church works for peace in Colombia

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BOGOTA, Colombia -- The Catholic Church in Colombia is actively involved in efforts to bring peace between the government and leftist rebels who have been engaged in a half-century-long war, said a Washington-based priest who recently visited the predominantly Catholic nation.

Father Juan Molina, director of the U.S. bishops' Office for the Church in Latin America, said he was impressed by the church's involvement in efforts to reach a settlement between the warring parties.

The rebels claimed they are defending the interests of the country's poor but finance their campaign through the drug trade, kidnapping and extortion. They also have been accused of widespread human rights abuses.

The Colombian government has been criticized for favoring a military solution to the conflict over negotiations while also committing human rights abuses. The government has argued that its actions are aimed at maintaining order and stability to protect the rights of citizens and private companies.

Japanese mark six months since disasters

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TOKYO -- The church bell tolled at 2:46 p.m., marking six months since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in eastern Japan.

Throughout the nation Sept. 11, Japanese gathered for memorial services and to offer prayers for the more than 20,000 people who died and the hundreds of thousands made homeless in the disaster, which also triggered a nuclear meltdown.

The Japanese bishops' conference and the National Christian Council in Japan conducted a joint memorial service at the United Church of Christ's Shitaya Church. Approximately 180 people gathered for the service, which also had the support of the Japan Evangelical Association, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News.

The congregation offered prayers in memory of the victims, for the recovery of the worst-affected regions, and for a swift resolution to the nuclear crisis that arose in the wake of the tragedy.UCA News reported that Archbishop Peter Takeo Okada of Tokyo participated.

During the ecumenical gathering, Isao Tadokoro of Caritas Japan gave a short account of the Catholic Church's relief work in the disaster area.

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