04 June 2020, The Tablet

News Briefing: Church in the World

News Briefing: Church in the World

Pope Francis has approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Father Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus.
CNS file photo

Caritas in Colombia has warned that overcrowding and unhealthy conditions in prisons have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. The Director, Fr Héctor Fabio Henao, has called for “measures that respect human dignity and protect the health of prisoners" and also better protection for guards, administrative staff and families. He feels overcrowding must be addressed particularly for mothers with young children, and those with pre-existing diseases or vulnerability to Covid-19 because of age. Social distancing is currently impossible in most prisons, detention centres and police cells.

Bishops in Northern Mozambique have condemned Islamic militant activity in the gas-rich province of Cabo Delgado which flared up at the end of May and has terrified a population already fearful of the coronavirus. “The dramatic consequences of this crisis are evident: village fires, destruction of economic and social infrastructure, frightened and hungry populations, families fleeing without knowing where to seek shelter and protection", the Bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province of Nampula said in a statement.

The president of the Bishop’s Commission for the Unity of Christians and Interreligious Dialogue has welcomed the Bangladesh government’s decision to release prisoners serving less than one year's imprisonment, as a measure to contain the coronavirus. Authorities ordered the staggered release of more than 3,000 inmates after positive cases for Covid-19 were registered in Dhaka prison. “It is a timely initiative,” said Bishop Bejoy D'Cruze of Sylhet.

Relentless heavy rain and floods have displaced hundreds of thousands of people in eastern India's Assam state, adding to the misery caused by Covid-19 and last week’s devastating cyclone. There is a rise in waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea. Bishop Thomas Pulloppillil of Bongaigaon reported that, “many people lost their houses in heavy rain and powerful winds”. Archbishop John Moolachira of Guwahati said the floods came as church people were organising quarantine facilities and aid for returning migrant workers. 

Churches and Catholic schools on the southern Philippines island of Mindanao are sheltering and feeding thousands of refugees who fled clashes that erupted in Mindanao during last week’s Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr. More than 6,000 people – both Christian and Muslim - left their homes when armed militants attacked army units in Maguindanao province with mortar fire and killed two children. Bishop Arturo Mandin Bastes of Sorsogon called the attacks an “inhuman act of murder in the midst of a pandemic that has caused so much suffering”. Authorities believe the attack was launched by a radical Islamist group fighting for an independent state of Mindanao on the predominantly Muslim island. 

An imposing iron cross that stood on a hill above the parish of Fr Pierluigi Maccalli, the Italian missionary of the Society of African Missions kidnapped in September 2018, has been pulled down. Erected in Bomoanga in 1995, when the remote parish was founded in the Archdiocese of Niamey, and solidly screwed to concrete with rust-proof bolts, the cross was removed by hooded and armed men, presumed to be jihadists who regularly intimidate Christians in the region. A brief video, sent to the editor of Niger’s Aïr Info newspaper in April, shows Fr Pierluigi sitting on the ground with Nicola Ciacco, an Italian tourist who was last known to be cycling from Timbuktu to Douentza. The film is date-stamped 24 March 2020. 

North Kivu and Ituri provinces in Democratic Republic of Congo have seen nearly half a million people fleeing in terror from the escalating violence of ethnic militia over the past two months. Between 18 and 24 May alone at least 49 civilians were massacred and 45 others kidnapped. One of the dead was a leading lay leader in a Catholic parish. In March, the Catholic bishops called for the government to tackle corruption and violence. 

The National Commission of Priests of the Brazilian Conference of Catholic Bishops said on Friday that 117 clergy have contracted the corona virus, and 14 have died. Caritas and the Bishops’ Conference, along with the NGO Ação da Cidadania (Citizens’ Action), announced a new campaign this week that will distribute food to more than 135,000 people, including women, migrants, and rural families. 

Mexico ended its nationwide social distancing campaign on Saturday, May 30, and now will enter a gradual re-opening. For the time being, 31 out of 32 states remain in the “red light” category, but activity in the mining sector, construction and some factories will now be allowed to reopen. The red light refers to "maximum risk" and will be followed by orange, yellow and green categories. The progression is measured by the number of active cases, the number of new detected cases and the capacity at hospitals. Bishops’ conference guidelines for the gradual reopening include limiting the number of parishioners and keeping Mass under one hour long. 

South African churches can now officially hold religious services after two months of closure, as from 1 June, so long as there are fewer than 50 congregants and strict distancing and other guidelines are maintained. The South African Council of Churches said it had given churches 12 weeks to prepare to implement guidelines before opening. President Cyril Ramaphosa made the announcement on 27 May. The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) welcomed resumption of services saying opening the churches will assist “our people many of whom have experienced emotional and spiritual distress during the lockdown”. But the Jesuit Institute of South Africa disagreed. “Prayer, acts of kindness, reading sacred texts and service of neighbour can continue without gathering in the midst of this pandemic,” said Fr Russell Pollitt SJ, director of the Jesuit Institute. “This sudden, seemingly rushed move is questionable.” 

Some Catholic Church leaders in South Sudan are calling for more stringent measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the country, as top government officials continued to test positive for the disease. Archbishop Stephen Ameyu of the capital Juba advocated a total lockdown in the city as three vice-presidents and two ministers tested positive of the disease. Wani Igga, one of the vice-presidents on 30 May became the latest public figure to contract the disease. Riek Machar Teny, the first vice-president, his wife, Angelina, the defence minister, other staff and some bodyguards tested positive for the virus in mid-May. 

Pope Francis has issued new rules for Vatican procurement and spending aimed at cutting costs and reducing corruption in the awarding of contracts. The rules aim to tackle nepotism and cronyism with a centralised system aimed at bringing in more transparency. They will include a list of approved suppliers. 

Pope Francis has approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Fr Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, clearing the way for his beatification. The Vatican announced on 27 May that Pope Francis had signed the decree, but did not announce a date for the beatification ceremony. A statement from the Knights of Columbus said: “The miracle recognised as coming through Fr McGivney’s intercession involved an unborn child in the United States who in 2015 was healed in utero of a life-threatening condition after prayers by his family to Fr McGivney. A date will soon be set for the beatification Mass, which will take place in Connecticut.”




Mass in Geneva’s Protestant cathedral in doubt


Tom Heneghanin Paris


The planned first Catholic Mass since 1535 in Geneva’s Protestant Cathedral of Saint Peter has been postponed twice so far and may not be held as local opposition to this ecumenical gesture mounts.


Originally planned for 29 February, the event in the Gothic cathedral atop the Old City hill was rescheduled for 30 May, but could not take place because of coronavirus precautions. 


Now some parishioners there have criticised what Swiss-born Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Vatican’s Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has said would be “a great symbol” of ecumenical cooperation. The cathedral’s general assembly in September may decide the issue.


Geneva, where the French theologian John Calvin preached during the sixteenth-century Reformation, became known as the "Protestant Rome”. 


Relations between Catholics and Protestants have improved considerably in recent decades and clergy from both denominations work together well. But the Mass plan has exposed tensions beneath the surface.


  Loading ...
Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99