19 December 2019, The Tablet

News Briefing: Church in the World

News Briefing: Church in the World

Christmas in the Vatican
Alessia Giuliani/IPA MilestoneMedia/PA Images

Sudanese Catholic Bishop Yunan Tombe Trille Kuku of El-Obeid diocese has expressed hope that his country’s new government will return church properties seized during the rule of President Hassan Omar al-Bashir (writes Fredrick Nzwili. Bashir’s 30-year dictatorship, marked by oppression, human rights abuses and mass killings, ended abruptly in April following mass protests. Church land, buildings and other properties had been appropriated by his regime, and the return to the rightful owner of what was seized is a test of the new government.  “The church properties were taken by force by high ranking individuals in the government and security. Others were taken away by state institutions and are still in use,” Bishop Kuku told The Tablet.  “Though the Ministry for Religious and Endowment has stated that church the properties will be returned, we are waiting to see action taken.” According to Kuku, several committees have been formed to tackle corruption and stolen state properties, but they have not yet talked to the Churches.  Meanwhile, the bishop has highlighted that questions remain over the country’s shift from a religious to a civil state.  “It is true…that the country has now opened to the world and speaks out its problems, but the people are still challenged by extreme poverty, lack of basic services and difficult living conditions,” said Kuku.

California prosecutors have issued subpoenas to half of the state’s 12 Catholic dioceses as part of a growing investigation into the Church’s handling of sex abuse cases. The move marks another escalation of the California attorney general’s investigation of the scandal, which has already resulted in huge settlements for accusers and criminal charges against individual priests state-wide. Receiving subpoenas are the archdioceses of Los Angeles and San Francisco and the dioceses of Sacramento, Fresno, San Jose and Orange.

New Zealand’s Catholic bishops say, “we are deeply distressed and saddened by the tragedy of the volcanic eruption at Whakaari/White Island”. Bishop Patrick Dunn of Auckland and the Bishops’ Conference’ President offered prayers for the dead and injured and for “those who took grave risks to rescue them, and for the support and care that is being given to their grieving families”. The first of the 16 confirmed deaths from the eruption on 9 December has been identified as 21-year-old Australian Krystal Eve Browitt. She was described as a “beautiful soul” by the principal of her Melbourne high school, Kolbe Catholic College.

The restoration work on the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem has been described as "a commitment to peace” by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State.  He called for peace in the Holy Land at an event organised by the Embassy of the State of Palestine to the Holy See on 6 December at the Vatican Museums. Cardinal Parolin thanked the ecclesial teams responsible for the management of the Basilica and also Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas "who took the project to heart". However, Christians from Gaza will not be able to visit the Basilica this Christmas. Israel announced on 12 December that it will not issue permits for them to celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem or Jerusalem. 

The acting president of Bolivia, Jeanine Áñez, announced on 14 December that she intended to issue an arrest warrant for former president Evo Morales, who resigned on 10 November under pressure from the army and after reports from the Organisation of American States that his government had manipulated the October elections, which Morales claimed to have won outright. After a period in Mexico, Morales is currently in Argentina, one of Bolivia’s neighbours, where he has been given refugee status by the new left-wing president, Alberto Fernández. 

A Spanish-born Jesuit who devoted his life to the study of Paraguay's Guarani people has died in Paraguay at the age of 86. Fr Bartomeu Melià, an expert in Guarani language and culture, started living with the country’s indigenous people in 1954. Melià was a professor of ethnology and Guarani culture at the Catholic University of Asuncion. He was expelled from the country by dictator Alfredo Stroessner in 1976 after reporting massacres of the Ache indigenous people. He returned to Paraguay in 1989, when the Stroessner regime fell.

More than nine million people are estimated to have gathered around Mexico City's Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe on 12 December, a day honouring Mexico’s patroness. Many carried statues and images, while some crawled along on their knees. According to Church tradition, in 1531 the dark-skinned virgin appeared to the indigenous peasant Juan Diego and her image was imprinted on his cloak, which is on display inside the church. Juan Diego was made a saint in 2002 by St John Paul II.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy has upheld an appeal by Fr Pierre Valkering against his suspension as an Amsterdam parish priest after he published a memoir entitled “Undressed Not Naked” that recounted his active homosexual life and taste for pornography. The Congregation found procedural errors in the suspension ordered by Bishop Jos Punt of Haarlem-Amsterdam in April, even though it supported his measures. 

It said Valkering, 59, who has long advocated a more welcoming Church attitude toward homosexuals, could say Mass privately but not take back the Peace Church he used to head. It advised him to voluntarily resign so as not to go through being fired again, and avoid speaking in public.

A retired archbishop from India’s northeast has been recognised for his peace efforts among some of India’s tribal groups. The Delhi-based International Human Rights Council presented the Ambassador for Peace Award to Thomas Menamparampil, Archbishop Emeritus of Guwahati, at a ceremony in the Indian capital on 9 December. Archbishop Menamparampil promoted dialogue and reconciliation among Assam’s ethnic groups, particularly as president of the Office for Education and Culture of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India.

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska announced he was taking a leave of absence from ministry to attend to mental health concerns. “I have been medically diagnosed with depression and anxiety, along with chronic insomnia and debilitating tinnitus, which is a constant ringing of the ears,” Conley wrote in a letter to the diocese. “For months, I’ve tried to work through these issues on my own through spiritual direction, counselling, and prayer. It has been difficult to accept that my mental health problems are real health problems, and not just a defect of my character, especially during a year of difficulty for our diocese.” Conley, 64, said he was publicising his diagnosis “to help lift the stigma of mental health issues.”

An interfaith vigil was held in Washington, D.C. last week to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the death of Jakelin Caal Maquin, the 7-year old refugee who died of dehydration and shock while in the custody of federal immigration forces. Since then, an additional five children have died in custody, some of the flu. Franciscan Fr. Joseph Nangle addressed the group, and called on all people of good will to “join in this struggle for the soul of America.”

At least 1000 Christians have been killed in 2019 in five states, according to the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART). Baroness Cox, Founder of HART, blamed Muslim nomadic herdsmen for most of the violence. She urged the UK Government to make its annual £300m donation to Nigeria conditional on the Nigerian Government’s taking determined action to stop the killings. “While the underlying causes of violence are complex”, she said, “the escalation of attacks by well-armed Fulani militia upon predominantly Christian communities is stark, and must be acknowledged”. The report asks the international community to recognise the attacks as genocide.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, has been awarded this year’s Wei Jingsheng Chinese Democracy Champion Prize by the US-based Wei Jingsheng Foundation. It said he, “has always firmly supported the Hong Kong democratic movement and strongly opposed communist interference in the missionary activities and religious freedom of the Church”. Tribute was also paid to the people of Hong Kong protesting on the streets this year against the erosion of civil liberties by the Chinese government. The annual award is named after exiled Chinese pro-democracy activist Wei Jingsheng.


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