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In Nigeria, a palpable hunger for democracy

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ABUJA, NIGERIA -- Africa’s largest democracy and second-biggest economy -- Nigeria -- will hold national elections April 9. And in Nigeria, a nation where religion counts, religious people want to be counted.

Nigeria has a population of 155 million. With half its citizens, or 75 million, listed as Muslims, Nigeria has overtaken Egypt as the biggest Islamic country in Africa. Officially, Christians make up 40 percent of the population, though some sources put the figure at 48 percent, due to rapid growth of evangelical megachurches in the south.

Among Christians, Catholics are the largest denomination, comprising 20 percent of the nation. They are among “the strongest supporters of democracy,” Msgr. Obiora Ike told NCR. Ike directs the Catholic Institute for Development, Peace, Justice and Caritas in Enugu, Nigeria.

Christians in northern Iraq find themselves in flux

ANKAWA, Iraq -- When Suhail Louis left the sectarian violence of Baghdad a year ago, he thought he would find comfort in the safety of Northern Iraq. Instead, he's faced with a new discomfort: unemployment.

Today he lives in Ankawa, a predominantly Christian town just outside of Irbil. The town has seen the arrival of more than 5,000 Christian families since the beginning of the war. His new home offers safety, but little more.

Should he learn Kurdish, the local language, to improve his employment prospects here? Or should he study English in case he is able to migrate to North America?

The 43-year-old Arabic-speaking engineer cannot stop reminiscing about his home city -- the hustle and bustle, the culture, his once-good life. Even if the past eight years have been fraught with danger, it was still home.

"Where is better? Here or Baghdad?" Louis asks rhetorically, as he sits at a cafe in the middle of the afternoon, the slow-paced life around him seeming to remind him of his own life on pause. "In Baghdad there was a future. Here, the future is unknown."

Iraqi Muslims, Christians wish to live together in peace again

SULAIMANI, Iraq -- On a sunny afternoon in this quiet city in northern Iraq, a young veiled Muslim woman from Baghdad kneels to pray -- at a Catholic church.

The church keeper, a woman also from Baghdad, enters the sanctuary and welcomes the visitor.

"Don't worry, pray in your own way," she tells the visitor.

British court rules on Christian foster parents

LONDON -- A British court has effectively disqualified a couple from becoming foster parents because of their Christian views on premarital and homosexual intercourse.

Owen and Eunice Johns of Derby, England, were told by judges sitting in the High Court in London that gay equality laws must "take precedence" over the rights of Christians to act in line with their faith.

The couple, who have fostered 15 children, had sought a judicial review of a 2009 decision by the Derby City Council to defer their application to be approved as short-term, respite, foster caregivers because of their views on sexual morality.

The judges were asked to consider the abstract question of whether public authorities should consider applicants' views on sexual ethics when deciding to approve them as foster parents.

The judges stated that Christian beliefs on sexual ethics may be "inimical" to children and implicitly upheld a submission by the publicly funded Equality and Human Rights Commission that children risked being "infected" by Christian moral beliefs.

Irish bishops: Keep Catholics in police force

DUBLIN -- Ireland's Catholic bishops have renewed their opposition to the abolition of a special fifty-fifty Catholic-Protestant recruitment policy for the Police Service of Northern Ireland later this month.

In a statement following its spring general meeting, the bishops' conference noted that "recruitment challenges remain for the PSNI as there is continued underrepresentation of Catholics in the senior ranks of the PSNI."

"The current level of 29 percent Catholic membership of the PSNI is not sufficiently representative of the community background of the workforce in Northern Ireland," the bishops said.

The equal recruitment scheme was introduced as part of the 1998 peace agreement when the Royal Ulster Constabulary was replaced by the newly formed Police Service of Northern Ireland. At the time, the Constabulary drew more than 90 percent of its membership from the Protestant community, and Catholics frequently complained of discrimination and intimidation.

As Kenya's church grows, it works to stand on its own

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NAIROBI, Kenya -- When 33-year-old Fr. Moses Kago was a teen and considering becoming a priest, he thought that he would have to have surgery to make him a white man.

As he recently recounted that story at his home parish about 60 miles north of Nairobi, he told the congregation members they lived in a different church. He had not seen an African priest; they have seen many.

Australian bishop: 'Traditional' Anglicans should convert

PERTH, Australia -- Traditionalist Anglicans who remain in the Anglican Church rather than taking up Pope Benedict XVI's offer of an Anglican ordinariate are wasting their time and spiritual energy clinging to a dangerous illusion, said the Vatican's delegate for the Australian ordinariate.

Melbourne Auxiliary Bishop Peter Elliott, a former Anglican, urged Anglicans at a Feb. 26 festival in Perth to take up the pope's offer of "peace."

"I would caution people who still claim to be Anglo-Catholics and yet are holding back," he told The Record, Catholic newspaper of the Archdiocese of Perth, Feb. 26. "I'd say 'When are you going to face realities?' because there's no place for a classical Anglo-Catholic in the Anglican Communion anymore."

In November 2009, Pope Benedict announced his decision to erect personal ordinariates for former Anglicans who wanted to enter into full communion with Rome while preserving liturgical and other elements of their Anglican heritage, including a certain amount of governing by consensus.

Vatican expresses concern about Libya

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VATICAN CITY -- With pro-democracy movements moving across North Africa and the Middle East, the situation in Libya worries the Vatican because of the loss of human lives, "the targeting of civilians and of peaceful protesters, and the indiscriminate use of force," a Vatican representative told the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva, told the council Feb. 25 that the Vatican supports all efforts to encourage a dialogue between pro-democracy demonstrators and the government of Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

Since late January, demonstrators across the region have taken to the streets calling for democratic reforms; the protests led to leadership changes in Egypt and Tunisia, but saw a violent crackdown in Libya where some 1,000 people were believed to have been killed, foreign workers were being evacuated and about 100,000 people were said to have fled to Egypt and Tunisia.

90-year-old Maronite patriarch resigns

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VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation of Lebanese Cardinal Nasrallah P. Sfeir, the 90-year-old head of the Maronite Catholic Church.

In a letter Feb. 26, Pope Benedict said the cardinal began his ministry as patriarch or head of the Maronite Church in 1986, "in the turmoil of the war that bloodied Lebanon for too many years. With the ardent desire for peace for your country, you have guided this church and traveled the world to comfort your people who were forced to emigrate."

"Peace finally came back," the pope said, and while it is "always fragile," it continues to reign in Lebanon.

As the head of an Eastern Catholic Church, Cardinal Sfeir could have served for life but chose to ask the pope to accept his resignation.

In a country where religious identity and political identity often are entwined, Cardinal Sfeir has been criticized at times for being too political, while at other times he was criticized for not engaging directly enough in the practical affairs of the country.

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August 1-14, 2014

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