19 November 2019, The Tablet

Church in the World: News Briefing

The opening hours of the Church of the Nativity will increase in the lead up to Advent and Christmas.

Church in the World: News Briefing

The Church of the Nativity, also Basilica of the Nativity is a basilica located in Bethlehem in the Palestinian West Bank.
Sang Hoon Kish Kim/SIPA USA/PA Images

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Texas announced it was joining a suit filed by the Attorney General of that state, seeking an exemption from federal non-discrimination rules (writes Michael Sean Winters). The archdiocese wants its Catholic Charities to help address the crisis in the state foster care system, but only if it is allowed not to consider placing children with same-sex couples.  In the lawsuit filed on 31 October, the brief stated: “The archdiocese may only provide foster care services consistent with its sincerely held beliefs on Catholic doctrine and social teaching. As such, the archdiocese cannot provide home studies and certifications for unmarried cohabitating or same-sex married couples.” The litigation is being handled by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, that also worked with the US bishops to claim exemptions to the “Obamacare’ contraception mandate ordered by the Obama administration.

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera has attempted to win back support from the large sectors of society that have protested against his government during recent weeks, (writes Martha Pskowski). At least 25 people have been killed during the protests which began over increases in metro fares, but embraced other issues including the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. In a national address on Sunday, Piñera acknowledged that security forces had overstepped their bounds. On Thursday in the city of Puerto Montt protesters vandalised the city’s cathedral.

A parish priest has denounced police and army who have prevented people from entering his church to support protesters inside demanding improved human rights from the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. Fr Edwin Roman, of San Miguel Arcangel Church in Masaya, lobbied last week for permission for water and food to be delivered to the dozen or so protesters – including the mothers of political prisoners – and for their relatives to be allowed to visit them. Instead, police have maintained a tight cordon around the area, and water and electricity services have been cut. Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes said that Pope Francis has been privately lobbying Nicaragua to free all those detained for political reasons before Christmas.

Bolivia's ousted president Evo Morales took refuge in Mexico on 11 November and an opposition senator has declared herself the new president. The self-appointed Jeanine Áñez has not laid out a clear path to new elections and a democratic transition. Morales now says he was victim of a coup. Ms Áñez said that Morales and his allies should face criminal charges in Bolivia. The bishops’ conference called for free elections.

The head of Poland's Bishops’ Conference has attacked the ruling conservative Law and Justice party for failing to honour electoral promises of tighter abortion curbs, after the Constitutional Court refused requests for a ruling on the issue.  “Abortions due to severe or irreparable foetal damage mean denying the right to life for children capable of life, who are often able to undertake publicly trusted professions in adult life,” said Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan. "I express my disappointment that an electoral promise tabled by the governing party to protect life from the beginning has not been honoured. The Constitutional Court decided not to consider a petition, lodged in 2017, for a ruling on the propriety of aborting damaged foetuses, which is currently allowed under Poland's otherwise restrictive 1993 law. 

The Presidential Committee of Churches Affairs in Palestine announced on 11 November that the opening hours of the Church of the Nativity will increase in the lead up to Advent and Christmas. Ramzy Khoury, President of the Committee, said this is responding to the increase in the numbers of pilgrims and tourists, both locally and internationally, visiting Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity.

Colombian unions and student organisations called for a general strike on 21 November. The organisers are critical of President Ivan Duque and the spate of recent killings that show Colombia’s Peace Accords are far from being fully realised. Archbishop Oscar Urbina Ortega, president of the Colombian Episcopal Conference, released a video on 14 November saying that the planned strike responds to "grave problems" in the country, calling mobilisation “a democratic right” but discouraging acts of violence.

John Bel Edwards narrowly won re-election as Governor of Louisiana. He is the only Democrat serving as governor in the deep South, and the only pro-life Democratic governor in the country. Edwards garnered 51.3 per cent of votes to 48.7 percent for Republican Eddie Rispone. “Governor John Bel Edwards has shown by example that he is a consistent and reliable whole-life advocate,” said Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life.

In a 13-page interview in the Catholic bi-monthly journal Communio, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn has criticised the European Church for “instrumentalising” the Amazon Synod for inner-church issues when ecological conversion was the Synod’s top priority. Using the Synod for inner-church reform instead of taking the alarming ecological situation in the Amazon Region, which concerned the whole world, seriously, was the wrong way forward, he said. “I am disgusted at the way in which the Amazon Synod was abused!”

Venice has been hit by the worst series of high tides since records began in1872. They have raised water levels by up to six feet, and flooded St Mark’s Basilica. Its crypt has been inundated several times since 12 November, facing “irreparable” damage, according to Carlo Alberto Tesserin, head of the board responsible for the church. The flooding has left Venetians exasperated at the failure to complete the city’s Moses flood defence project. 

The Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town has been slightly injured during scuffles at a church sheltering around 200 migrants demanding relocation from South Africa. Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, and others in a delegation, were attacked by the migrants on 15 November after they asked them to leave the Central Methodist Mission Church in Cape Town as it was overcrowded. Most of the migrants were from other African countries, staging a sit-in demanding that they be resettled and given refugee status in another country as they do not feel safe in South Africa after significant xenophobic violence.

Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) in the Philippines vowed to work for justice and the protection of the environment as they ended their national assembly on 14 November. At least 700 BEC leaders attended the four-day gathering that was hosted by the Davao Archdiocese. Such communities have been involved in projects ranging from reforestation to campaigning against large-scale mining projects and dams.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the murder of an Armenian Catholic priest and his father on 11 November. Fr Hovsep Bedoyan, 43, from the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli, and his father, Abraham Bedoyan, were killed while traveling by car to visit an Armenian Catholic Church in Deir Al-Zor, a city in Northeast Syria. This is in the area from which US forces withdrew recently, and President Erdogan of Turkey has been adamant that Turkey will prevent any Islamic State resurgence in the area. 

Poland's Catholic bishops have called for St John Paul II to be declared a Doctor of the Church and patron saint of Europe, by virtue of his "exceptional sanctity" and eternal insights. 

The retired general supervising the reconstruction of Notre Dame cathedral has been strongly reprimanded for telling his chief architect to "shut up" about how to rebuild the monument's spire destroyed in a fire last April. General Jean-Louis Georgelin lashed out last week at Philippe Villeneuve, France’s chief architect for historical monuments, for saying the spire should be rebuilt as it was. The tight plan the former chief of defence staff oversees calls for a decision in early 2021. “He should shut up,” he told a Senate culture commission hearing on the reconstruction. Critics took this as a sign the government wanted to push through a modern design. President Emmanuel Macron has called for an international competition for the spire's design and suggested something modern. The spire over the crossing dated back only to 1859 some architects say its replacement need not match it. A YouGov poll last spring showed 54 per cent of respondents wanted the old style and only 24 per cent preferred something modern. 



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