06 February 2020, The Tablet

News Briefing: Church in the World

News Briefing: Church in the World

PHILIPINES: Feast of infant Jesus in Tondo. Thousands of Catholic devotees flocked to Sto. Nino de Tondo Church in Manila bringing along with them their dressed image of infant Jesus for the annual holy water blessing during the festivities.
Joseph Dacalanio/Pacific Press/Sipa USA

Russia's Orthodox Patriarch has called for a reference to God to be included in the country's constitution, currently being amended under plans announced by President Vladimir Putin (writes Jonathan Luxmoore). "Most Russian citizens believe in God – and I'm not talking about just the Orthodox, but also about Muslims and many, many others", Patriarch Kirill said during weekend celebrations in Moscow of his eleventh anniversary in office. "If we have 'This Native land protected by God' in our national anthem, then why not in our constitution? With joint efforts and prayers, I think we can facilitate the elevated idea of faith in God, the basis for personal, social and political morality, becoming present in our constitution as well".

The Church leader spoke a week after draft constitutional changes, widely believed likely to extend Mr Putin's leadership after his current presidential term ends in 2024, were approved unanimously by Russia's State Duma after just two hours' debate. The vice-president of the Duma's Legislative Committee, Mikhail Emielianov, told the Novosti news agency he believed the patriarch's proposal would violate the constitution's church-state separation clauses, and prove "too abstract". However, this was countermanded on Monday by Dmitri Peskov, the president's press secretary, who told journalists the Church initiative would be debated by the working group handling the constitutional amendments.

Meanwhile, the Moscow Patriarchate's external relations director, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, has declared his earnings and personal possessions. In a Novosti interview, Hilarion said he had use of a four-room flat and two Western cars, and was paid made 50,000 roubles (£ 600) monthly, but also earned considerably more on royalties from books, films and musical works. 

The Iowa Democratic caucuses ended with a train wreck as the party failed to deliver the results on election night, writes Michael Sean Winters. At the time of writing, 97 per cent of votes have been tallied, but it remains unclear whether Bernie Sanders or Pete Buttigieg has won overall. The current tally indicates that left-wing Senator Bernie Sanders and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg did well, ahead of Senator Elizabeth Warren, and of former Vice President Joe Biden, who seemed to have performed significantly worse than expected. If this is the case, the delay will represent a break for Mr Biden, who can try to regroup in New Hampshire, and an infuriating turn of events for Mr Sanders or Mr Buttigieg. If either was the winner, they would not have been able to capitalise on momentum in Iowa to take their campaign for the Democratic nomination forward. As it is, whatever the final result, the winner’s momentum is already lost.

In effect no one won the caucuses. The key is to be giving a victory speech on live TV before midnight. By 2 a.m., no one could claim victory and all the candidates had boarded planes to New Hampshire. The primary there, on Tuesday, has assumed an increased importance given the muddled results in Iowa.

The US Secretary of State has pledged American backing for Ukraine's new independent Orthodox church, and welcomed its recent recognition by several churches abroad. “The US will always champion the right of all people to worship freely,” Mike Pompeo said after a Kiev meeting with Metropolitan Epiphanij Dumenko, head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.    

Bangladesh Christian leaders have expressed "deep concern" about an attack on Rohingya Christian families at the Kutupalong Maga refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar. It took place on 26 January and the next day, 25 Christian families were moved to a UNHCR camp. At least 12 people were wounded, eight requiring hospitalisation. A few hundred Rohingya Christians live amongst 750,000 mainly-Muslim ethnic Rohingya who fled their homeland to escape genocide at the hands of Myanmar’s army. 

Poland's Catholic bishops have disowned an ethnic Polish former prelate, Archbishop Jan Lenga of Kazakhstan, after he told an interviewer be believed Pope Francis was "preaching falsehood and sin". 

Fr Pawel Rytel-Andrianik, the bishops’ conference spokesman, said: "It is a matter of regret that Archbishop Lenga is appearing in the media and leading the faithful into error, but he does not represent the Catholic Church in Poland." He was reacting to a series of media statements by the 69-year-old retired Ukrainian-born archbishop, who quit his Kazakhstan see in 2011 and now lives in Poland.  

Russia's mostly Muslim autonomous republic of Tatarstan is creating the first inter-faith pilgrimage centre for Orthodox and Catholic Christians at a rebuilt cathedral housing a revered Virgin Mary icon, donated by St John Paul II in 2004. "This miraculous icon of the Mother of God, especially revered in the Christian world, is the special pride of Kazan and the need to rebuild a majestic temple for it has always been present", Tatarstan's former Muslim president, Mintimer Sharipovich Shaimiev, 83, told a local Orthodox news agency. "I hope we will all witness a great event in the near future, as the icon of the Mother of God from the Vatican finds its place here".  

Catholics and other Christians across China had no church services or changed Eucharistic practices last weekend after the coronavirus spread to every province, and the World Health Organisation declared a global emergency. Church services were banned in several provinces. The former hospital of the Missionary Sisters of St Columban, now known as Wuhan's Number 5 Hospital and seized by the Communists in 1949, has been designated to receive coronavirus patients. There are more than 17,000 confirmed cases of the virus in China. More than 360 people have died, with 75,000 people possibly infected in the city of Wuhan, which is at the epicentre of the outbreak. According to Catholic News Service since 27 January the Vatican has sent 600,000-700,000 protective masks to China, the Vatican press office told CNS. Meanwhile Christian funerals have been banned in some areas of China as the communist government begins to enforce a set of repressive regulations on religious practices which ban priests from attending funeral prayers outside a religious place.

Desert locusts in Kenya have spread in 15 counties, consuming all green matter, eliminating food crops, pasture and fodder. According to Florence Ndeti, the director of Caritas in Kitui diocese since the arrival of the insects, local people have become desperate. “There has been an attempt at aerial spraying, but the insects won’t die or go away. We urge the government to bring in more help,” Ms Ndeti told The Tablet. Kenya last experienced such deadly locust infestation 70 years ago.

The executive secretary of the women's International Union of Superiors General, an organisation of around 2,000 superiors of religious orders of women, suggests that although global numbers are reducing, exciting new ministries are developing. In an interview with CNS, in advance last Sunday’s World Day for Consecrated Life, Rome-based Loreto Sister Patricia Murray said, "on one level, we're perceived as diminishing, but on another, small inter-congregation communities are the mustard seeds, the leaven of a new way of living". According to Vatican statistics, there are 650,000 women religious in the world, a drop of 70,000 over the past decade. Their numbers continue to increase in Africa and Asia, but to decline in the rest of the world.

Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian woman who spent years on death row after being convicted of blasphemy, has published a book. Called Enfin Libre, or Finally Free, it is written with French journalist Anne-Isabelle Tollet. An English version is due out later this year. 

Bibi, 47, was sentenced to death by a Pakistani court in 2010 but acquitted in 2018 and fled to Canada. "How could I ever imagine in 50 years that I would become a global symbol of the fight against religious extremism when I am but a simple, illiterate peasant?” Bibi writes. “From my small windowless cell, I often wondered why Pakistan was targeting me.”

Three days of political negotiations in Haiti failed to yield an agreement between the ruling party and its opponents. The nunciature in Pétion-Ville hosted the talks from January 29-31. Several opposition groups took part and the UN and foreign diplomats participated as observers. The nunciature said it was motivated “solely by the desire to offer a possibility of peace and stability to the country.”

The US Department of State sanctioned 13 former and current military personnel from El Salvador for their roles in the murders of six Jesuit priests and two others in 1989. The perpetrators and their immediate family members will not be allowed to enter the US. At the time of the attack, the US was supporting the right-wing government of El Salvador against Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front guerrillas. The six Jesuit priests were killed alongside their housekeeper and her daughter at the Jesuit-run Central American University in San Salvador. 

Venezuelan and Colombian bishops, Caritas representatives and other organisations working on the border of the two countries met in Cucuta, Colombia this week to discuss "charity on the border." The political crisis in Venezuela has caused an estimated 5 million refugees to leave the country. Cardinal Peter Turkson attended the event and read a statement saying Pope Francis was "closely following the development of the situation" and encouraged the Church to be "on the side of the people who are suffering".

In a letter released on 1 February and headlined "Decree concerning the proper celebration of the Eucharist in Kampala Archdiocese", Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, the Archbishop of Kampala decreed that Holy Communion can only be received on the tongue, and not in the hand, because of "many reported instances of dishonouring the Eucharist."

Addressing a conference on pastoral ministry for the elderly at the Vatican on Friday last week, Pope Francis said old age is “a precious treasure that takes shape in the journey of every man and woman’s life”. On the same day he welcomed the President of Argentina, Alberto Fernandez, to the Vatican, in a meeting some believe could lead to his first visit to his homeland since he became Pope. 

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