As the Arab Spring made its way to Syria a little more than a year ago, Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, and his government were prepared for the peaceful protestors. Assad unleashed his military to break up the protesters and sparked violent clashes. The U.N. estimates that the current death toll is 9,000. A U.N.-led diplomatic solution is being pressed by special U.N. envoy Kofi Annan. As the conflict between Assad's government forces and the protesters continues, the issue of religious persecution of Christians is a major concern for church leaders in the region.
More than two years after a massive earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti, much of the capital city remains in shambles, with nearly 500,000 people still living under tarps, a lack of clean water and the looming threat of disease, leaving some to wonder what was done with the relief money funneled through countless organizations that operate in the impoverished Caribbean nation.
Egypt’s Coptic minority, the largest and most influential Christian community in the Middle East, already faced deep uncertainty about its future in the wake of the Arab Spring. Many Copts feel suspended between the promise of equality in a democratic state, after centuries of second-class citizenship, and the peril of an Islamic theocracy.
Now they also face a vacuum in leadership with the March 17 death of Pope Shenouda III, who for more than 40 years was the face and voice of Egypt’s 10 million Coptic Christians, representing 10 percent of the national population.
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA -- While in Seoul for an award ceremony March 13, campaigners from Cambodia urged the South Korean government to ban using land mines and to scrap its stockpiles of mines and cluster munitions.
Mercy Sr. Denise Coghlan, founder of the Cambodia Campaign to Ban Landmines, and one of its activists, Song Kosal, were recipients of this year’s Tji Hak-soon Justice and Peace Award.
The Subcommittee on Aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe is one of the smaller offices at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, with only two full-time staffers. But the office may pack more punch for the dollar than many other initiatives because its work in helping to rebuild the churches in former communist countries is yielding a harvest of grace.
BANGKOK, THAILAND -- Longtime Burma watchers here are in a wait-and-see mode as diplomatic and business enthusiasm builds for the new civilian-garbed, military-installed government of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. They wait to see the results of the April 1 by-elections to fill 48 seats in the 440-member parliament.
CAVITE, Philippines -- Manila's Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle challenged Sisters of Mary, Brothers of Christ and the thousands of students celebrating Monsignor Aloysius Schwartz's 20th death anniversary Friday to emulate the example of love and humility of their founder and to keep his legacy alive.
Later, almost like a pep rally for the nuns and priests, Korean students of his schools beat drums and banged gongs in a musical number for the Tribute Concert for Fr. Al after lunch that day.
Schwartz followed Christ and worked to uphold the value of human dignity in his various projects, Tagle said in his message at the end of the thanksgiving Mass on Friday at Girlstown gym in Silang, Cavite, south of Manila. He said the priest's efforts to build children's villages were motivated by a deep love for the poor.
I'm just back from a week and a half in Kenya, much of it spent at the Laikipia Nature Conservancy, a 100,000-acre game preserve in the northern part of the country and site of a gathering observing the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Global Peace Initiative of Women.
The gathering, "Awakening the Healing Heart: Transforming Communities through Love and Compassion," was conducted over eight days, beginning with a daylong session at the United Nations Information Centre in Nairobi.
One of the forces behind the initiative is Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister, who gave a stirring presentation at the U.N. center. The next day, she made the more-than-six-hour trip in a van from Nairobi, about 5,280 feet above sea level, and climbed to 7,000 feet to reach the conservancy. The last portion of the trip was about an hour across jolting and dusty unpaved roads.
MANILA, Philippines -- World boxing champ Emmanuel "Manny" Pacquiao is expected to tell priests at their recollection Tuesday how the Bible is helping him live an upright life and why he is in their corner in the bout against destructive mining.
Some of the 72 diocesan and religious priests serving in the Marbel diocese are to gather Tuesday in Pacquiao's mansion in General Santos City, southern Philippines, for their bimonthly joint recollection, Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez of Marbel told NCR on Sunday.
Pacquiao, the first boxer to be world champion in eight divisions, has built himself a 35 million peso ($820,000) house in the city. On May 2010, he was elected representative for Sarangani's lone district in the House of Representatives.
VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI urged Christians in the Middle East not to lose hope despite the serious difficulties they face.
"I extend my prayerful thoughts to the regions in the Middle East, encouraging all the priests and faithful to persevere with hope through the serious suffering that afflicts these beloved people," he said.
The pope made his remarks when he greeted Armenian Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni of Beirut and Armenian bishops from around the world attending their synod in Rome.
At the end of the general audience Wednesday in St. Peter's Square, the pope expressed his "sincere gratitude" for Armenian Catholics' fidelity to their heritage and traditions, and to the successor of St. Peter.
Such fidelity has always sustained the faithful throughout "the innumerable trials in history," he said.
The majority of Catholics in the Middle East belong to Eastern Catholic churches -- the Armenian, Chaldean, Coptic, Maronite or Melkite churches.
In his catechesis, the pope said oftentimes it seems God is silent, especially during times of great trial and difficulty.