LONDON -- By now, the threat facing Christianity in its birthplace is depressingly clear. Christians represented 30 percent of British Mandate Palestine in 1948, while today in Israel and the Palestinian Territories they’re 1.25 percent. The Catholic patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, warns that the Holy Land risks becoming a “spiritual Disneyland” -- full of glittering rides and attractions, but empty of its indigenous Christian population.
DADAAB, Kenya (CNS) -- It took 32 days for Fatima Mohammed to make it from her drought-racked farm in Somalia to the relative safety of a sprawling refugee settlement in northeastern Kenya. There were days, she recalled, when her children were so thirsty that they could not walk and the men in her family would ferry them ahead, returning to carry two more children in their arms.
Fatima Mohammed told Catholic News Service that her family had lived through drought before, but that support from aid agencies helped them survive until the rains returned.
"This time, al-Shabaab won't let them in," she said, referring to the Islamist group that controls portions of Somalia. "So when our animals started dying, our only choice was to stay and die ourselves, or else start walking for Kenya."
They trekked across the desolate stretch of African bush, all 11 members of the family, often walking with other families in large groups to dissuade attacks from wild animals and bandits. They arrived in Dadaab at the end of May.
PALENQUE, MEXICO -- José María Ortiz had forgotten that May 10 was his 23rd birthday until the train pulled into Palenque and he heard mariachis playing “Las Mañanitas” to mark Mexican Mother’s Day. Perched atop a tank car on a train carrying scores of migrants north, his brother, Wilson, 20, gave him the only birthday hug he would get from his family that day.
CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNS) -- Christians cannot be indifferent to the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people starving in the Horn of Africa, Pope Benedict XVI said.
"It is inadmissible to be indifferent in the face of the tragedy of the hungry and thirsty," the pope said, speaking in Polish after reciting the Angelus July 31 with pilgrims gathered in the courtyard of the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo.
French intellectual Régis Debray, a committed progressive who once fought alongside Che Guevara, has observed that the embattled Christian minority in the Middle East represents a "blind spot" in the West's view of the world -- too Christian to concern the left, too foreign to engage the right.
That's often depressingly accurate, and especially in that light, a recent ecumenical summit on the fate of Christians in the Holy Land, cohosted by the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and the Catholic archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, is commendable.
The outlook for the tiny Christian community in Israel and the Palestinian Territories is bleak, having plummeted from 30 percent of the population in 1948 to a nearly invisible 1.25 percent today. French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Commission for Interreligious Dialogue and formerly Pope John Paul II's top diplomat, describes where things seem headed: the Christian centers of the Holy Land as "archeological and historical sites, to be visited like the Coliseum in Rome … museums with entrance tickets, and guides who explain the beautiful legends."
VATICAN CITY -- When China’s state-run Catholic Church ordained a new bishop for the Diocese of Shantou last July 14 without the Vatican’s approval, it represented the latest step back from years of progress in a complex relationship.
Yet the main causes for the shift may have little to do with Rome, experts say, and instead lie in momentous geopolitical events in other regions of the globe, and deep social changes within China itself.
KHARTOUM, Sudan -- Like the early Christians who were challenged by social pressures and political forces, Sudan's Catholics face modern-day challenges that can best be met by "putting Christ at the center of their life," the bishops of Sudan said.
They also said called upon their collaborators in various ministries to initiate a period of spiritual renewal, strengthen the spirit of cooperation, communion and mutual support, share resources and personnel in an effort to better serve the Sudanese people.
The July 16 statement from Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako of Khartoum, Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Adwok Kur of Khartoum and Coadjutor Bishop Michael Didi Mangoria of El-Obeid followed Sudan's partition into two nations as South Sudan became the world's newest country a week earlier.
The bishops urged a peaceful outcome to the recent violence in Sudan's South Kordofan state. Witnesses said a series of attacks by government troops were aimed at the ethnic Nuba people around Kadugli, South Kordofan's capital. Other attacks occurred in Abyei, home primarily to members of the Dinka Ngok tribe, supporters of the government of Southern Sudan.
VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican said a Chinese bishop ordained illegitimately in mid-July has been automatically excommunicated and lacks the authority to govern his diocese.
At the same time, the Vatican praised bishops loyal to Rome who resisted participation in the ordination ceremony before being forced by authorities to do so.
"The Holy Father, having learned of these events, once again deplores the manner in which the church in China is being treated and hopes that the present difficulties can be overcome as soon as possible," a Vatican statement said July 16.
The Vatican was reacting to the ordination of Father Joseph Huang Bingzhang July 14 at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Shantou, in southern China's Guangdong province. Bishop Johan Fang Xingyao of Linyin, president of the government-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, was reportedly the main celebrant; he was one of eight Vatican-approved bishops at the ordination.
The global community has greeted the world’s newest nation with acclaim, joy, caution -- and not a few worries.
The Republic of South Sudan formally came into being July 9, amid celebrations throughout the world and as words of hope and encouragement poured in from global leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama.
SHANTOU, China -- Chinese officials ordained a bishop without papal mandate, just 10 days after the Holy See excommunicated another newly ordained bishop.
Father Joseph Huang Bingzhang was ordained July 14 at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Shantou, in southern China's Guangdong province.
The Asian church news agency UCA News reported that Bishop Johan Fang Xingyao of Linyin, president of the government-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, was the main celebrant. He was one of eight Vatican-approved bishops at the ordination.
On July 4, the Holy See excommunicated Father Paul Lei Shiyin of Leshan, who was ordained a bishop without papal mandate. The July 4 statement also stated that the consecrating bishops, including Bishop Fang, have exposed themselves to serious canonical sanctions.
Earlier, UCA News reported that a bishop in Guangdong said he was en route to Shantou, accompanied by government officials. Some other bishops who tried to avoid going to the ordination were taken to guesthouses by officials.