08 April 2020, The Tablet

News Briefing: Church in the World

News Briefing: Church in the World

Holy Tuesday Mass broadcast on Face Book in Granada, Spain. A priest and an altar server pray before the Virgin of Hope
SOPA Images/SIPA USA/PA Images

Opposition leaders in Tanzania are criticising the government for refusing to close down places of worship. While Tanzania is taking similar measures against coronavirus as other African nations – closing schools, quarantining foreign arrivals, and banning public events – President John Magufuli has said the virus is "satanic" and therefore cannot thrive in churches. Tanzania has reported 20 cases to date, including one death and two recovered patients.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan has found 16 cases of clergy sexual abuse against minors, from the 1950s to the 2010s, in an internal inquiry. The nationwide investigation since last May invited people to come forward with reports of sexual abuse regardless of when it occurred. Abuse of victims, including children, took place in a priest's room, church buildings and other facilities run by convents including foster homes. Adults – particularly women – were abused during spiritual direction. Some perpetrators were removed from the Church, but in other cases higher-ranking clergy simply offered an apology. 

Colombia’s Catholic Church has suspended 15 priests accused of sex abuse, the Archdiocese of Villavicencio reported. “Fifteen priests from the archdiocese have been suspended as a precautionary measure since they are the subject of a preliminary investigation,” said spokesman Fr Carlos Villabon. The 15 were accused in February by an unidentified adult male Colombian. 

As restrictions in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the Covid-19 pandemic originated, are lifted, the Communist government has refused to allow churches to reopen. Schools and childcare centres also remain closed. The first thing many hundreds of people did in Wuhan as travel restrictions eased was to collect the remains of their dead relatives from crematoria and queue at cemeteries to arrange funerals for their loved ones. 

Venezuela’s bishops have expressed their concern about the coronavirus health emergency at a time of economic crisis, social hardship, and lockdown. “This situation is making Venezuelans suffer, especially the poorest, and poses an imminent danger of social violent explosions,” a bishops’ conference statement said. The bishops also thanked priests, religious and church groups who are accompanying the suffering people and assisting them to meet basic needs.  

A Texas order prohibiting most abortions during the novel coronavirus pandemic is temporarily back in effect, after the Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals put a stay on a federal district court ruling on Tuesday last week. The Western District Court of Texas on Monday, in response to a lawsuit from abortion provider Planned Parenthood, allowed elective abortions to continue, but a three-judge panel on the Fifth Circuit issued the temporary stay on the district court’s ruling the next day, 31 March. 

The port city of Guayaquil in Ecuador has emerged as a hotspot of the coronavirus in South America. As of Palm Sunday, Ecuador had reported 3,646 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 180 deaths, with another 159 deaths suspected to be related to Covid-19. Guayaquil has the highest concentration of cases, and photos circulated last week of corpses left outside as funeral homes and morgues struggled to keep up with the crisis. In a 1 April statement, the Ecuadoran Episcopal Conference called on civil society “to respond with concrete actions to the needs of this community that loves life, and to help their brothers who are at the highest risk.”

Political disputes continue to hinder the response to the coronavirus in Brazil.As of Palm Sunday, 487 people had died in Brazil due to Covid-19 and there were 11,130 confirmed cases. President Jair Bolsonaro has said that Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta “lacks humility” and flouted his recommendations to suspend public activities. The Brazilian bishops have encouraged Catholics to respect the guidelines for social distancing and the .Church is working with people in the country’s populous slums known as favelas and prison inmates. 

Pax Christi has joined 30 other European aid and peace groups in an online petition to stop arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition fighting rebels in Yemen. Pax Christi also appealed to US President Donald Trump to lift sanctions against Iran – which is backing the rebels fighting the Yemeni government - Syria and Gaza. 

Amid signs of a revived interest in religion in Europe during the pandemic, a survey by Germany's INSA agency suggested 30 per cent more citizens had started praying regularly. Portugal's Catholic Church said there had been a tenfold increase in visits to Catholic media sites during the crisis, while Poland's public approval ratings of Poland's Church have also risen sharply.

The complete Bible has now been translated into 694 languages, making it available to 5.7 billion people in their first language, with the New Testament available in a further 1542, according to new data from the United Bible Society. With an estimated 7350 languages worldwide, the UBS said there was still plenty of work to do. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s strict lockdown of South Africa on 27 March is supported by the Catholic Church, but Fr Pablo Velasquez, a Scalabrinian missionary in Johannesburg, said slum dwellers who rely on the informal economy will struggle. “Not working means they do not have resources to buy food", he said, and he suggested that closing off slums can worsen infection spread. The military is sealing off large slums. “Closing a township,” Fr Filippo Ferraro, a Scalabrinian missionary in Cape Town explained,“is like closing a boiling boiler: if you don't let it vent, it risks exploding". Meanwhile police removed 500 refugees from the Central Methodist Church in Cape Town on 2 April after a six-month occupation. They were relocated to a “temporary new home”.

Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Archbishop Emeritus of Abuja, has praised the 1 April international interfaith prayer for those affected by the coronavirus pandemic, organised by Religions for Peace. He felt it was “significant” that religious leaders all over the world united in prayer “so that with a common voice, we can invoke the mercy of God on the world”. “It is clear now that the whole of humanity is one,” he said. 

On five Greek islands, “more than 42,000 refugees are trapped in hopelessly overcrowded camps and horrific conditions” said Caritas Europe, Jesuit Refugee Service and more 200 other organisations. “There is no hope of containing any outbreak”, they said. There have been no coronavirus cases in island camps.

Last month ago, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, was ready to launch street protests if Sri Lanka's government did not arrest the culprits behind last year's Easter bombings, when Islamist extremists bombed three Christian churches, hotels, and killed more than 250 people. Now the focus is on prayer and fasting around the anniversary and also for deliverance from the coronavirus. Colombo Archdiocese had organised services from 7-21 April to pray for the bombing victims and their families.

The Archbishop of Turin has announced a special online exposition of the Shroud of Turin today, Holy Saturday. Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia will lead a liturgy of prayer and contemplation before the shroud at 5pm local time. The prayer service will be live-streamed along with live images of the 14-foot-by-4-foot shroud.










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