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Advocacy group leader talks challenges facing Somalia, Kenya


NAIROBI, KENYA -- "War does not bring peace" is a refrain sometimes heard among those in Kenya's religious communities.

Yet while there are some private misgivings about Kenya's recent incursion into Somali border areas, public support for the action -- often called Kenya's "first war" -- remains strong. (Although in recent weeks, Kenyan human rights activists have said Kenyans are not getting adequate media coverage needed to properly judge the war.)

As one Roman Catholic cleric put it: "If you have lions among your people, you need to cage the lions. The government had no other option."

The alarm is due in part to insecurity -- following bombings and grenade attacks throughout 2011, Kenyans feel under siege by the Somalia Islamic militant group Al-Shabab. The group controls large parts of Somalia and has restricted humanitarian access by outside organizations, arguing the groups have harmful agendas. The lack of access has been roundly condemned internationally as worsening Somalia's current crisis, resulting in more famine-caused deaths in Somalia.

Pope calls for end to Nigerian violence


VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI appealed for an end to violence in Nigeria, condemning the Christmas church bombings that led to the deaths of at least 39 people.

The celebration of Christmas leads people to pray in an even stronger way that God would "stop the hands of the violent who sow death and that justice and peace would reign in the world," the pope said Dec. 26 as he recited the Angelus with visitors gathered in St. Peter's Square.

Catholic University of Leuven reaffirms Catholic identity


LEUVEN, BELGIUM — After more than a year of extensive debate and consultation about its identity, the Catholic University of Leuven (long known in the English speaking world as the Catholic University of Louvain) has strongly reaffirmed its Catholic identity.

An official statement, released today (Dec. 22) by University Rector (President) Mark Waer and Jef Roos, Acting Chair of the Board of Trustees, stresses the university's Catholic tradition, its identity, its value system, and its role as a critical center of thought in and for the Catholic community.

Protesters persist despite crackdown



Of the popular pro-democracy civil insurrections that have swept the Middle East over the past year, none were as large -- relative to the size of the country -- as the one that took place in the island kingdom of Bahrain. And while scattered resistance continues, none were so thoroughly suppressed.

The crackdown against the overwhelmingly nonviolent pro-democracy struggle launched in mid-February was brutal. More 40 people have been killed, including a number in custody, and more than 1,600 have been arrested. Those targeted were not just human rights activists, but journalists who covered the protests and medical personnel who treated victims. In October, a military court sentenced 20 doctors and nurses to up to 15 years in jail for assisting the wounded.

Report shows Christianity shifting to Africa

With 2.18 billion adherents, Christianity has become a truly global religion over the past century as rapid growth in developing nations offset declines in Christianity's traditional strongholds, according to a report released Monday (Dec. 19).

Billed as the most comprehensive and reliable study to date, the Pew Research Center's "Global Christianity" reports on self-identified Christian populations based on more than 2,400 sources of information, especially census and survey data.

Findings illustrate major shifts since 1910, when two-thirds of the world's Christians lived in Europe. Now only one in four Christians live in Europe. Most of the rest are distributed across the Americas (37 percent), sub-Saharan Africa (24 percent) and the Asia-Pacific region (13 percent).

"In two out of three countries in the world, the majority of the population identifies as Christian," said Conrad Hackett, lead researcher on the "Global Christianity" report. "I had no idea about that. ... I was surprised."

Religious freedom panel to continue with less funding


WASHINGTON -- As the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was preparing to shut down, Congress reauthorized it for three years, but with reduced funding and fewer commissioners.

The Senate voted Dec. 13 and the House Dec. 16 to approve amendments to an appropriations bill that reauthorized the commission. But the commission's yearly budget will be decreased from more than $4 million to $3 million and the number of commissioners will go from nine to two.

Speaking to a House subcommittee Nov. 17, Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, N.M., who served on the commission from 2003 to 2007, urged Congress to keep the rights-monitoring agency alive and said its work must be given higher priority in foreign policy.

In his testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights, Bishop Ramirez said that in practice, religious freedom discussions seldom make it into the public record in dialogues with key countries.

Prague archbishop remembers Havel as friend, 'fellow prisoner'


PRAGUE -- Calling former Czech President Vaclav Havel a "friend and fellow prisoner," the president of the Czech bishops' conference said the entire nation owes Havel a debt of gratitude for its freedom and the new flourishing of Czech life and culture.

Archbishop Dominik Duka of Prague, who was imprisoned with Havel by the communists, asked that the bells of all Catholic churches in the Czech Republic ring at 6 p.m. Dec. 18 in memory of the former president who died that morning at the age of 75.

The archbishop, who met Havel in prison in 1981 and continued to meet with him after the end of communism in 1989, was scheduled to celebrate Havel's funeral Mass Dec. 23 in St. Vitus Cathedral.

"He knew the loss of freedom, the denial of human dignity, oppression and imprisonment," Archbishop Duka said in a statement posted Dec. 18 on the Czech bishops' website. "I am convinced that everyone across the country, regardless of political or religious beliefs, owes him honor and thanks."

Crisis of climate, land use underlies Ethiopia's drought


ADIGRAT, ETHIOPIA -- It says a lot about Tigray, Ethiopia, that people can’t legally cross the border with Eritrea but cattle can.

“It is a chain of disaster,” Fr. Teum Berhe Danne mused one morning recently about life in this northern province that borders Eritrea -- a locale that almost seems to define the word hardscrabble.



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July 4-17, 2014


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