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Kenyan farmers seek ways to weather crises

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NEAR MACHAKOS, KENYA -- At first glance, farmer William Ndolo’s small acreage doesn’t look like much. It doesn’t seem that different from the surrounding dry, desiccated land in this rural pocket southeast of the capital of Nairobi.

The topsoil is parched and dry, for example, and there is a spartan, denudated quality to Ndolo’s farm that, as old-timers will tell you, contrasts with the more variegated and robust land of this region’s past, when you could spot animals (like wild monkeys) roaming the fields.

But if you look more carefully, you will see telling differences between Ndolo’s farm and its surroundings -- differences that are allowing Ndolo and his family to lead, amid a drought, a reasonably sustainable life.

Digging under the topsoil you see that it is actually healthier than it first appears -- richer and darker than the parched top. Then you notice that Ndolo’s fields are terraced, the folds of land shaping downward, allowing rain runoff to serve as irrigation for the crops.

Mexican priest investigated for helping displaced Guatemalans

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MEXICO CITY -- Mexican human rights groups and the migration ministry of the Mexican bishops' conference have expressed outrage at the attorney general's office for pursuing anonymous criminal complaints against a priest who provided material and spiritual support to a group of displaced Guatemalans.

The groups also took issue with Mexican immigration officials forcibly removing some of the Guatemalans, who had been residing in a camp they established in Tabasco state near the Mexico-Guatemala border since August after fleeing a violent displacement in their country.

Franciscan Fr. Tomas Gonzalez Castillo is accused of human trafficking for doing what his supporters say was nothing more than providing food and shelter to the displaced Guatemalans.

Gonzalez was in Mexico City Jan. 12 to meet with judicial officials. He told reporters his migrant shelter in the border town of Tenosique and a parish human rights center were the only organizations that offered support to the Guatemalans who "arrived with nothing more than the clothes on their backs."

Iraqi archbishop 'not afraid' after shooting

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VATICAN CITY -- Gunmen shooting at guards keeping watch over the archbishop's residence in Kirkuk in northern Iraq triggered a firefight, leaving two of the gunmen dead and five policemen wounded.

Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Louis Sako told Vatican Radio he had just returned home from a parish visit before the drive-by attack Wednesday.

After the shooting, the archbishop said he immediately went to the scene to bolster the spirits of guards and bystanders.

"We are not afraid," he said. "It's also true that the situation is a bit tense, and there's no order or control in the country. We, however, were not afraid, at least not immediately."

Sako said he believes the gunmen had the wrong target. Police suspect the attackers were targeting a member of the Iraqi parliament who lives next to the archbishop's house and whose home also was attacked Sunday, according to the Rome-based AsiaNews.

Sako said the gunmen were from Baghdad "and, therefore, were not sure where to go. They found themselves facing our security guards and fired, without knowing who they were shooting at."

Paying tribute to a great Czech

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Appreciation

A party was under way at the apartment on Prague’s Engels Embankment. The brother of playwright Vaclav Havel had just got married, and his friends had come back to celebrate, under the watchful eyes of the StB secret police.

It was May 1988, and I sat talking with Havel and Fr. Vaclav Maly, who, like Havel, had been beaten and jailed for signing Charter 77, a human rights declaration, a decade before. Talk of democratization in communist-ruled Czechoslovakia should be treated cautiously, Havel told me. The regime was too fearful to risk introducing reforms.

But he and his friends were determined to “create spaces” for some free activity. Despite the year’s repression, ordinary people still had consciences. They knew instinctively that “certain things are right and certain things are wrong.”

Top news of 2011: the gathering consensus for reform

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VIEWPOINT

One of the most interesting news stories of 2011 was the increasing number of countries in which Catholic priests have issued statements urging radical church reform. In most cases the declaration included a call for the ordination of married men and the ordination of women. In Germany, Austria, Ireland and Belgium, these remarkable documents quickly attracted growing endorsements from other clergy and laity. However, in every case they also aroused questions, doubts and strong disagreement from other quarters. These movements must be stopped, declared some critics, calling the declarations blasphemy, heresy, an affront to legitimate authority and cause for the excommunication of their leaders and proponents.

Pressure on Dutch church after report

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Two leading politicians in the Netherlands, both from conservative parties, have called for the resignations of Catholic bishops in the wake of a damning report on sexual abuse in the Dutch church.

The country’s prime minister, Mark Rutte, also announced that his cabinet is considering lifting a statute of limitations to allow criminal prosecutions. A complaint has already been filed with the public prosecutor’s office against a former bishop of the Rotterdam diocese, Philippe Bär. An attorney representing alleged victims has charged Bär with covering up abuse during his tenure from 1983 to 1993.

Meanwhile, an influential Catholic commentator in Italy has rejected suggestions that the revelations amount to an indictment of the liberal spirit of Dutch Catholicism following the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

Released on Dec. 16, the report found that somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 Dutch children suffered abuse by Catholic personnel, ranging from unwanted sexual advances to rape, during the period of 1945 to 2010. A commission sponsored by the Catholic bishops and religious orders of Holland produced the report.

Advocacy group leader talks challenges facing Somalia, Kenya

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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.

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