24 January 2019, The Tablet

News Briefing: the Church in the World

‘Shocking’ rise in persecution
The number of Christians persecuted for their faith globally has risen by more than 13 per cent in the past year, according to the charity Open Doors International.

Henrietta Blyth, chief executive of the UK and Ireland branch of the charity, described the increase as “shocking” after its 2019 World Watch List found that 245 million Christians worldwide face high levels of persecution in 73 countries, up from 215 million in 58 countries last year. 

Released on 16 January, the watch list found that one in three Christians face high levels of persecution in Asia. India entered the list of the top 10 countries responsible for persecution for the first time. In China – which has risen from number 43 on the list last year to 27 – persecution is the worst it has been for a decade.

Bishops in Colombia have condemned a car bomb attack on the Santander police academy in Bogotá last week that killed 20 police cadets.

The president of the Colombian bishops’ conference, Oscar Urbina Ortega, Archbishop of Villavicencio, called for a “total rejection of any form of terrorism and violence” and appealed for a “search for peace through dialogue, reconciliation and social justice”. Pope Francis also sent a message condemning “the cruel terrorist attack”.

Throughout Colombia last Sunday there were marches condemning terrorism. A nun is pictured opposite at a march in Bogotá, where a Mass was held in memory of the victims

The ELN guerrilla group has admitted responsibility for the attack. It said the academy was a legitimate target and that the bombing was a response to army attacks on its bases during the ELN’s Christmas truce.

Peace terms agreed with the largest Colombian guerrilla group, the FARC, in 2016, left the ELN as the only remaining guerrilla force still fighting a war that has lasted for more than 50 years.

Pope Francis launched an app on Sunday called Click to Pray, which connects Catholics to a global network to share prayer intentions via their smart phones. He encouraged young Catholics, in particular, to download the smartphone app to pray the “Rosary of Peace” ahead of World Youth Day. Click to Pray allows users to post prayer intentions and view other prayer requests in six languages.

Marx foresees a difficult year
German Cardinal Reinhard Marx has said 2019 will be as difficult a year for the Catholic Church as 2018 was. In an interview with German news agency KNA, Marx said that the bishops attending the abuse summit next month in Rome “must make clear publicly that we are prepared to tackle the problem of sexual and spiritual abuse in the Church together”. He said it was crucial for all bishops to listen to the life stories of survivors of abuse and hear their testimonies.

Four of the five Catholic nuns in India who protested against a bishop accused of rape have been asked to move back to their original convents. The nuns say that the move is part of an attempt to weaken their united action in the case against Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar. In July last year, a nun accused him of having raped her 13 times between 2014 and 2016. Bishop Mulakkal has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Amid allegations of electoral fraud, a Catholic bishop in the Kasai-Oriental region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has celebrated a Mass to consecrate the man declared the winner of the 30 December presidential elections, Felix Tshisekedi (pictured), to God.

In a statement issued ahead of the Mass, Bishop Kasanda of Mbuji-Mayi said: “Anticipating the publication of the definitive results by the Constitutional Court, let us offer President-elect Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo to the Lord. He now symbolises the much anticipated political alternative.”

On Sunday, the constitutional court of the DRC confirmed Mr Tshisekedi’s victory in the election, dismissing a challenge from the runner-up, Martin Fayulu. He said that he was the rightful winner of the vote and accused the ruling party of stitching up the result.

The Catholic bishops’ conference of the DRC, CENCO, last week publicly disputed the provisional results of the presidential election, saying that the results did not tally with the findings of its 40,000 election observers.

Pakistan’s top court has ordered the registration of marriages of the minority Christian community in Punjab, the country’s most populous province.

Christians have previously struggled to have their marriages registered in the mainly Muslim country. In its ruling, issued on 16 January, the court said the constitution of Pakistan states that all citizens are equal before the law and are therefore entitled to the equal protection of the law, so it is discriminatory to refuse non-Muslims the right to register their marriages.

The court directed the Punjab government to register Christian marriages and issue computerised marriage certificates. The Pakistan Christian Action Committee has hailed the ruling as a victory for equal rights.

Trafficking guidelines
The Vatican has created a set of pastoral guidelines to improve the Church’s work on tackling human trafficking and caring for its victims worldwide. Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking was released on 17 January, produced by the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. The dicastery also published a work of nearly 500 pages on Pope Francis’ teachings on migrants, refugees and human trafficking, titled Lights on the Ways of Hope.

Pope Francis, pictured with Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello of Santiago, spent nearly three hours with bishops from Chile on 14 January, discussing the sexual abuse crisis that has rocked the Church in the country.

Bishop Luis Fernando Ramos Perez, apostolic administrator of Rancagua and secretary-general of the bishops’ conference said: “It was … an interesting meeting … with the Holy Father. He made a series of suggestions and comments. We also reaffirmed our commitment of communion, participation and collaboration with the Holy Father’s mission.”

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