DAMASCUS, SYRIA -- Up until recently, it seemed as if the turmoil going on in other parts of the Arab world might pass Syria by. When I arrived for a weeklong visit, Syria was still quiet. When I asked Syrians what they thought of the upheaval occurring in other countries in the region, they told me “The situation is different in Syria.” And then, in a matter of days, things changed.
VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican ordered a Belgian bishop who admitted to sexually abusing his nephew to leave his country and undergo "spiritual and psychological treatment," Vatican Radio reported.
Citing a statement from the Vatican nuncio in Belgium, the radio report April 10 said that former Brugge Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, 74, had already left the country, although his whereabouts were not divulged.
The statement said the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican agency that handles clerical sex abuse cases, "has decided that, even though the canon law statute of limitations has expired as regards the acts of sexual abuse committed against his nephew, Msgr. Vangheluwe must leave Belgium and begin a period of spiritual and psychological treatment," Vatican Radio reported.
Bishop Vangheluwe "has lived in various places with no fixed address since his resignation, and has already left the country," the statement said.
TOKYO -- A group of Brazilian citizens living in Japan launched efforts to help victims of what Japanese media are calling the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Thirty representatives from 60 Brazilian organizations formed Brazil Solidarity in an effort to coordinate aid distribution, rubble removal and support services for hundreds of thousands of victims in the region of northeast Japan affected by the quake.
Carlos Shinoda, 55, a Catholic and head of a school for Brazilians in Nagoya, Japan, is the leader of the new organization. He also is president of the Council of Representatives of Brazilians Abroad living in Japan.
Brazil Solidarity first met in late March with the help of Marcos Bezerra Abbott Galvao, Brazil's ambassador to Japan, and Brazilian business owners, Shinoda said.
"We decided to purchase relief materials and bring them to disaster areas, an effort financed by Brazilian companies through the embassy of Brazil," Shinoda explained. "At present, our intention is to deliver 450 bicycles to Sendai. Joined by Ambassador Galvao, we also plan to offer our service as volunteers there."
VATICAN CITY -- One thousand people were suspected to be dead or missing in the town of Duekoue, Ivory Coast, after clashes throughout the country intensified, Caritas Internationalis reported.
Aid organizations have been recovering hundreds of bodies in Duekoue, according to news reports.
Caritas workers visiting the town "are reporting a thousand people have been killed there or 'disappeared,'" Caritas Internationalis, the Catholic Church's aid and development agency, said in an April 2 statement.
"Caritas condemns all attacks on civilians and says the humanitarian situation in Ivory Coast is rapidly deteriorating," it said.
Army forces and militia supporting President-elect Alassane Ouattara have been clashing with security personnel and others loyal to outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to leave office after Ouattara was declared the winner of elections Nov. 28.
Some 1 million people have fled the violence, according to the United Nations. Many have escaped the violence by taking refuge in Liberia.
VATICAN CITY -- While Pope Benedict XVI has encouraged Catholics in mainland China to reconcile with one another and form one community united with Rome, some Chinese Catholics believe the only way to be faithful to the universal church is for the clandestine church to continue, said a Chinese Vatican official.
Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai, the Hong Kong-born secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, told the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire, "The clandestine communities still have a reason to exist."
In the interview published April 1, Archbishop Hon said that while some Catholic bishops have been forced by the Chinese government to participate in public events against their will, other bishops and priests have gone willingly.
BERLIN -- Africa's bishops have asked German President Christian Wulff to support them in their efforts to develop their continent as one way of slowing the flow of migrants into Europe.
Cardinal Polycarp Pengo of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, asked Wulff to urge European governments "not to see the African migrant ... as a stranger or a threat, but rather as a fellow human being who indeed is an asset and not a liability when given the opportunity."
Cardinal Pengo addressed Wulff during SECAM's March 28-April 2 meeting with the German bishops' conference in Berlin. The meeting focused on migration, especially from Africa to Europe, and the church's responsibility for refugees and migrants.
Africa's bishops "also appeal to you to support us and our governments in our quest to provide the necessary conditions for the development of Africa as one of the ways to mitigate the challenges of migration," Cardinal Pengo said, noting recent violence in North Africa and Ivory Coast.
QUITO, Ecuador -- Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has accused the nation's bishops of interfering in politics after they commented about a May 7 referendum.
Correa said the bishops' statement was a veiled effort to support a "no" vote in the referendum, which had nothing to do with morals, faith or religion.
"What do the bishops have to do with this consultation?" he asked in a televised speech April 2.
The balloting includes two sets of questions. Affirmative answers to five questions would result in changes to the Ecuadorean Constitution. The other five are about legislation unrelated to the constitution.
In a late-March statement, the bishops called for dialogue, saying, "The very principles of the rule of law are at stake: the independence of the branches of government, the organization of the judicial system and enforcement of fundamental rights and freedoms."
The bishops cautioned against moving too quickly to change the constitution, which was rewritten by a constitutional assembly after Correa took office in 2007. The new constitution was approved in a referendum in 2008.
LONDON -- The president of the Pakistani bishops' conference has called for the arrest of a U.S. Protestant pastor whose decision to burn the Islamic sacred book has caused fury in the Muslim world and the deaths of more than 20 people.
Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore, conference president, said the U.S. government should seek to diffuse mounting tensions by detaining the Rev. Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center Church in Gainesville, Fla., who oversaw the burning of the Quran by the Rev. Wayne Sapp, his assistant.
"The U.S. government should detain the pastor for some time," Archbishop Saldanha told the British branch of Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity for persecuted Christians around the world.
"In view of the effects his actions have had all over the world, he should be controlled and understand the harm that has been done," he said in an April 4 telephone interview.
"The U.S. government talks about religious freedom -- but we call upon the U.S. government to prevent such actions by extremists and other fundamentalist Christians," the archbishop said.
Renowned theologian and advocate of the poor, Joseph Comblin, died March 27 in Salvador, Brazil of natural causes. He was 88.
Comblin, a leading exponent of liberation theology, was once a follower and an adviser to the Brazilian bishop, Dom Hélder Câmara, a defender of human rights and the church’s option for the poor.
WARSAW, Poland -- The Vatican's representative to the Ivory Coast has said Catholic priests have been targeted by armed groups during the current conflict, but added that he still hopes "full-scale civil war" can be avoided in the West African country.
In Rome, officials of Caritas Internationalis, the church's charitable aid agency, said one of the priests kidnapped was Father Richard Kissi, diocesan director of Caritas in Abidjan, who was kidnapped March 29 by an armed group.
In a March 30 telephone interview, the nuncio, Archbishop Ambrose Madtha, told Catholic News Service, "I wouldn't call it a civil war as yet -- the rebel army has been trying to attack certain cities, and this is why the violence is continuing."
He said students at the main Catholic seminary in Abidjan, the country's largest city, had been evacuated after its buildings were occupied by rebel soldiers. He added that a Catholic priest had been abducted while helping supervise the evacuation, while another had been attacked while returning from a late-night radio broadcast and had been hospitalized. He would not identify the priests by name.