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On the Catholic frontier

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WEST SIKKIM, INDIA -- Bishop Stephen Lepcha gasps for a breath in the thin air. He trudges a few more steps along the narrow path etched into the side of the mountain, here in the craggy foothills of the Himalayas, then stops, his chest heaving. We are enveloped in an inky blackness except for the weak beam of a flashlight four of us share. The road we left behind an hour ago is far below, yet the lights of Behga, the tiny village atop this mountain five miles from the border with Nepal, still look distant.

Philippines' first electronic election seems successful

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Church bells pealed across the Philippines Monday morning to mark the beginning of voting in national elections, and Catholic bishops began the day with a special 6 a.m. Mass in Manila’s cathedral to pray that the elections would be fair and peaceful.

By the end of the day with the official election commission reporting a voter turnout of around 75 percent, their prayers may have been answered.

For the first time, a computerized vote-counting system is being used, in an effort to stamp out the vote-rigging that has caused chaos in the past. Formerly, weeks could pass between election day and final results, as ballots were hand-counted and the results carried to the nation's capital from the thousands of far-flung islands that make up this archipelago.

Some 50 million people were registered to vote.

But the election was not without glitches and violence.

The leading candidate in early Philippine election results, Sen. Benigno Aquino III, was not able to cast his vote because an electronic voting machine malfunctioned. He, like thousands of others, had to wait four hours before finally casting his ballot.

Cuban cardinal says nation's situation difficult

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HAVANA -- Economic woes and accusations of human rights abuses have thrust Cuba into "a difficult situation, the most difficult we have experienced in the 21st century," said Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino.

In an interview with the Archdiocese of Havana's magazine, Palabra Nueva (New Word), Cardinal Ortega also criticized U.S. President Barack Obama for his stand on U.S.-Cuban relations.

Divisions in Honduras also split the church

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Since the forced removal last July of President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras, the political situation in that country has remained tense, with demonstrations against the new president and allegations of abuse of those who opposed the ouster. The tension has even permeated the church, with opposing views coming from the archbishop of the country’s capital, Tegucigalpa, and a popular radio priest who is also the head of a Jesuit social analysis center.

Microfinance: Extending financial services to the poor

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When the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and its founder, Muhammad Yunus, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, “microfinance” was suddenly thrust into the global limelight. Though microfinance is mostly associated with microcredit or lending, it also includes other financial services such as savings, money transfers, and even insurance provided to those at the base of the economic pyramid.

Once banned Muslim scholar makes US appearance

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Tariq Ramadan made his first public appearance in the U.S. April 8 since the U.S. State Department barred entry to the controversial scholar and Islamic activist in 2004.

Ramadan's appearance on a panel in New York on “Islam in the West” reflects recent U.S. efforts to build bridges with Muslims and ends a long odyssey for Ramadan, who teaches Islamic Studies at the University of Oxford.

Romero: Good news for the poor, good news for all

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[Dean Brackley is a U.S. Jesuit priest and a professor of theology at the University of Central America in San Salvador. He went to serve in El Salvador in 1990 after six Jesuit priests and two coworkers were murdered by the Salvadoran army on the campus of the university. This is the homily he preached at a Mass marking the 30th anniversary of the assignation of San Salvador Archbishop Oscare Romero.]

REMEMBERING MONSEÑOR ROMERO


Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, March 26, 2010

1. Why We Gather

Thirty years ago, Monseñor Romero was murdered while celebrating the Eucharist. We come here today to REMEMBER him, because his life and his words have INSPIRED us. His memory gives us HOPE: This is what it means to follow Christ today! This is what it means to be human! We want to be like this. We want the Church to be like this.

Those of us who were born in the U.S. give thanks to our Central American sisters and brothers for the gift of Monseñor Romero and for your faith and witness. Some of you bear the scars of war, the burden of poverty and suffer now from unjust immigration policies. History has joined us together, permanently.

A Cold War perspective on Romero's death

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Commentary

In that last Sunday sermon on March 23, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero followed his familiar format, starting with an extended reflection on the scripture texts of the day. He eventually described and denounced incidents of government violence against civilians in recent days.

This had been his practice since he became archbishop three years earlier in the midst of a political crisis: Government troops had ended a weeklong demonstration in a plaza protesting fraudulent elections. Dozens of protestors had been killed. At a pastoral meeting the next day, Romero listened to reports on the violence and then suggested the meeting be suspended and all return to their parishes and be available to provide help to those who needed it. Within days, the murder of his friend Fr. Rutilio Grande triggered a church-state conflict that lasted for months and included the military occupation of the area of Grande’s parish. Given the lack of media able or willing to criticize human rights abuses, Romero’s sermons became a source of alternate news, and a denunciation of the abuse of power.

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