30 October 2020, The Tablet

News Briefing: Church in the World

News Briefing: Church in the World

Pakistani members of Human Friends Organisation demonstrate against the kidnapping and forced conversion of 13-year-old Christian girl Arzoo Raja.
Rana Sajid Hussain/Zuma Press/PA Images

Pakistan’s Christians have been outraged by the kidnapping and forced conversion to Islam of Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Catholic girl from the Railway Colony of Karachi City. Taken on 13 October, she was forced into an Islamic wedding by a 44-year-old Muslim. There has been a rise in abductions this year of girls from religious minorities. The Catholic Church’s National Commission for Justice and Peace has helped the family to initiate legal proceedings, submitting documents challenging false claims that Arzoo is 18 years old and willingly accepts the situation. 

A retired cardinal who served as personal secretary to Pope John Paul II has denied any knowledge of sexual abuse by priests in his Krakow archdiocese. “They seek to thrust responsibility on to me when I had no such responsibility and no knowledge of this matter,” said Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, 81, responding in a Polish TV interview to questions about a prominent sexual abuse case in the Krakow archdiocese, which he headed for 11 years until his retirement in 2016. He said he had no recollection of the case, insisting it fell under the jurisdiction of another retired prelate, Bishop Tadeusz Rakoczy.

The Zimbabwe Council of Churches reports that eight million people in the country – around half the population – will face food emergency by the end of the year. Fr Frederick Chiromba, Secretary General of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference told The Tablet: “It is true that many people in Zimbabwe are in need of food aid.”

The three top leaders of the Focolare movement in France have stepped down after a news report said an independent commission into sexual abuse in the Church had found about 30 cases committed by a former consecrated lay member. 
The investigative website Les Jours said the man was accused of abuse in 1994 but was not expelled until 2016. The leaders who resigned were Bernard Brechet and Claude Goffinet, co-leaders of the Focolare movement in France, and Henri-Louis Roche, head of Focolare's Western European region. Accepting the resignations, Focolare headquarters in Rome said Jesus Moran, co-president of the international movement, had met with presumed victims and the French section’s abuse commission in September. On that occasion, Moran spoke of “the silence or lack of initiative sustained for years on the part of various people in positions of responsibility”.

Nigeria’s Catholic bishops are supporting nationwide youth-led protests against police violence and corruption. Daily demonstrations since 7 October against the police's Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) have continued even after 12 protesters were shot dead in Lagos. The Bishops’ Conference president, Archbishop Obiora Akubeze of Benin, said: “There is hardly any Nigerian who has not directly or indirectly encountered the crude and inhuman manner in which the SARS officials deal with citizens of this country.” 

Coptic Orthodox Bishop Anba Makarios of Minya called on Egyptians to vote last weekend in the first phase of parliamentary elections, saying it was their duty to demonstrate civic spirit and solidarity with their home country

The Dutch Church has withdrawn the “Catholic” title from the Catholic University of Nijmegen, founded in 1923, after a dispute over church rights to appoint board members of the university and its medical school. 

A Cameroonian Jesuit Fr Ludovic Lado is undertaking a 150-mile pilgrimage for “dialogue, peace and reconciliation” in the Anglophone regions of the Central African nation. More than 3,000 people have been killed over four years of conflict. .

The Vatican’s apostolic administrator in the Holy Land has been named by Pope Francis as the new Patriarch of Jerusalem. Italian Franciscan Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, 55, has been acting Patriarch for four years. 

Three of Kerala’s Catholic bishops sat on a day-long hunger strike in front of the state secretariat in Kerala on 20 October, accusing the communist-led provincial government of denying the constitutional rights of Christian educational institutions. More than 3,000 teachers in state-aided schools under Church management have not received the government funding they are entitled to in what Bishop Joshuah Mar Ignathios of Mavelikara, described as an “act of cruelty”.

The patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Karekin II, reports that escalating violence in the Nagorno-Karabakh region has the potential to become another genocide of the Armenian people, a reference to the Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Turks of 1915-18. A fresh series of deadly clashes erupted in September around the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan. 

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel released an interim report documenting clergy sex abuse in the state. The two-year investigation, which began with the search and seizure of documents at the state’s seven chanceries, charges 454 priests with abusing 811 victims. The special investigative team continues to make its way through all the documents seized and estimates it has examined 65 per cent of them. Eleven clergy have been charged and two have already been convicted of sexual abuse. 

Luis Arce, the candidate for Evo Morales' Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party, was officially declared the winner of Bolivia’s presidential election, which took place on 18 October. Taking more than 55 per cent of the vote, he won in the first round. The Bolivian Episcopal Conference congratulated the Bolivian people “for an elections day carried out with respect and peace for all”. 

On Sunday, October 25, a remarkable 78 percent of Chileans voted peacefully in favour of drafting a new constitution, The vote is a major victory for the protest movement that began a year ago in response to increased subway fares and economic inequality. Representatives for a constitutional convention will be chosen next year and in 2022, Chileans will vote on the new constitution. The Chilean Episcopal Conference called for Chileans to participate and inform themselves. 

Representatives of the Minga people arrived in the Colombian capital Bogota on 19 October, calling for dialogue with President Ivan Duque. The Minga is a coalition of Indigenous and Afro-Colombian organisations from South-western Colombia that organises against violence and government neglect of their territory. The Colombian Episcopal Conference called on the government to engage in meaningful dialogue with the Minga.

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