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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

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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'

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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

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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.

The high cost of the now-defunct war in Iraq

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And, like that, the war is over.

Over with a somber ceremony in a highly secured location in Baghadad.

Over with a simple, two-word "Welcome home" from President Barack Obama in a ceremony at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Conspicuously missing were the throngs of cheering, pro-American Iraqis that existed so long ago in the fevered imaginations of former President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and those who manufactured a war out of misrepresented intelligence and fictions about threats and weapons of mass destruction.

We are grateful to President Obama for persisting in bringing this nightmare to an end. It is one of several actions he has taken that has brought a welcome sobriety and realism to our foreign policy.

New archbishop installed in Philippines

MANILA, Philippines -- The crowded Manila cathedral erupted in applause and the choir sang "Alleluia" after the priest read the letter from the Holy See appointing Archbishop Luis Tagle the next head of the Archdiocese of Manila.

"By the leadership of your example, may the faithful entrusted to your care heed their superiors and, above all, pursue holiness of life to which we are called," read Father Rufino Sescon Jr. of the archdiocesan liturgical office. "This is the will of God: your sanctification."

Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, retired archbishop of Manila, handed over the seat of the archdiocese to Archbishop Tagle.

"The bishops, the clergy, the religious and the laity of the metropolitan Archdiocese of Manila now welcome your 32nd shepherd," Cardinal Rosales proclaimed to the overflowing crowd of around 2,000, including the U.S. and Swiss ambassadors to the Philippines and bishops from at least five Asian countries.

A long line of clergy, religious and laypeople snaked its way to the altar to pay homage to Archbishop Tagle. The laity included members of the marginalized segment of the population, for which the archbishop is a major advocate.

Nobel Prize has a gender imbalance

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Commentary

Anyone lucky enough to be teaching peace studies courses soon notices that more females are in the classes than males. Many, many more. Noticeable also is that women tend to write more passionate papers, ask more cogent questions and know how to keep class discussions lively. Puzzled by all this, I explained it away by theorizing that it must be genetic: Women have a peace gene floating around inside them.

A while back, I offered this theory to my students at Georgetown Law. Leaving class, a female student approached. As I remember it, she said: “Professor, let me explain what’s going on because it’s clear you’ll never get it on your own. More women than men are in these courses because more women than men are victims of violence, and victims always want solutions quicker.”

I was reminded of this when the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize went to three women: Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkol Karman and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The awards were given out Saturday in Oslo, Norway.

Belarus urged to end capital punishment

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MINSK, Belarus -- Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Minsk urged his country to abolish capital punishment, after two 25-year-olds were sentenced to death for killing 15 people in a Metro bomb attack.

"No terrorist act can be justified, and the perpetrators should receive just punishment," Archbishop Kondrusiewicz told the Belarussian church's online news agency, Catholic.By. "But the church calls for bloodless methods for restraining and punishing offenders, best suited to the common good and human dignity. Given the opportunities available to the state for preventing serious crimes, cases where the death penalty is absolutely necessary are very rare, even nonexistent."

"I appeal to President Alexander Lukashenko and the parliament to impose a moratorium on the death penalty, then abolish it completely, replacing it with life imprisonment and pardoning those sentenced to capital punishment," he said.

On Nov. 30, the Supreme Court sentenced Vladislav Kovalyov and Dmitry Konovalov for their roles in the April 11 explosion, which blasted ball bearings and nails into afternoon commuters in Minsk's Kastrychnitskaya underground station.

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