MANCHESTER, England -- British bishops plan to use the 2012 London Olympic Games to renew interest in the Catholic faith, with initiatives ranging from fighting human trafficking and homelessness to promoting youth ministry and ecumenical dialogue.
The Syrian pro-democracy struggle has been both an enormous tragedy and a powerful inspiration. Indeed, as someone who has studied mass nonviolent civil insurrections in dozens of countries in recent decades, I know of no people who have demonstrated such courage and tenacity in the face of such savage repression as have the people of Syria these past 10 months.
The resulting decline in the legitimacy of Bashar al-Assad’s government gives hope that the opposition will eventually win. The question is how many more lives will be lost until then.
While the repressive nature of regime has never been in question, many observers believed it would be smarter and more nuanced in its reaction when the protests of the Arab Spring first came to Syria in March. Indeed, had the government responded to the initial demonstrations like those of Morocco and neighboring Jordan with genuine (if relatively minor) reforms and more subtle means of crowd control, the pro-democracy struggle would have probably faded rather quickly.
MANILA, PHILIPPINES -- As 90 members of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) gather this week ahead of the semiannual plenary assembly Jan. 28-30, they are trying to stay clear of the impeachment trial of Philippines Chief Justice Renato Corona, which has captured the attention of the nation.
In Nigeria, the militant Islamic Boko Haram movement has launched a religious cleansing campaign against Christians in the country’s north (see Page 14). It would be somewhat comforting to regard the atrocities there, which include machete-wielding fanatics attacking pregnant Christian women and young girls, as an isolated case.
Alas, that option is not available to anyone whose eyes are open. Today, Christians are by far the most persecuted religious group on the planet. As a result, defense of persecuted Christians is destined to be the defining religious freedom struggle -- indeed, a defining human rights struggle -- of the early 21st century.
As counterintuitive as it may seem for Westerners long accustomed to thinking of Christians as oppressors, not the oppressed, empirical confirmation of the point is depressingly easy to find.
- The Pew Forum estimates that Christians face persecution in a staggering total of 133 countries, representing two-thirds of all nations on earth.
As Christians in Nigeria face new threats from the militant Islamic Boko Haram movement, following Christmas Day church bombings with a death toll that the country’s Catholic bishops say now stands at 200, two new reports suggest the Nigerian drama is part of a global pattern of anti-Christian violence.
Fides, the Vatican’s missionary news agency, released on Dec. 31 its annual list of Catholic pastoral workers killed during the past year. The report found that 26 priests, religious and laity lost their lives in 2011, in locales stretching from South Sudan and the Philippines to Colombia and India.
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.
When it comes to development work, organizations like Catholic Relief Services and Church World Service are widely seen as having a better record and certainly more credibility among residents in areas like Machakos, Kenya, than have East African governments. But that, some say, puts too much pressure on nongovernmental agencies.
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."
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."
NAIROBI, KENYA -- The trek Somalis fleeing famine take into neighboring Kenya is sometimes called the road of death, because it is marked by mounds of soil where the fallen, many of them children, are buried.