04 February 2021, The Tablet

News Briefing: Church in the World

News Briefing: Church in the World

The Parish of Santa Maria Magdalena in Mexico, on Candlemas.
Gerardo Vieyra/PA

Portugal’s Parliament voted in favour of legalising euthanasia on Friday 29 January. The final vote took place the day after the country registered the highest number of Covid-related deaths in 24 hours, 303, since the beginning of the pandemic. The Portuguese Bishops’ Conference reacted with a statement expressing “sadness and anger” at what it called an “unprecedented cultural step backwards”. 

Myanmar's military has seized power after detaining Aung San Suu Kyi and other democratic- ally elected leaders. In a 26 January open letter, Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon wrote: “I plead, lay aside the futile pursuit of military solutions. You each have the capacity to trans- form Myanmar’s divisive political culture. Renew your commitment to face the truths of our history.” The army alleges that the land- slide election win by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party in November was marred by fraud.

The historical Surp Toros Church in Turkey's Western province of Kütahya has been demolished. The Armenian Orthodox church was privately owned. A parliamentary question has been tabled since the church was designated an ‘Immovable Requiring Protection’. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom said the church was “a protected site,” and that “Turkey must ensure the protection of its diverse religious and cultural heritage.” Before the Armenian genocide of 1915/16, 4,000 Armenians lived in Kütahya, but the church had recently been used as a cinema and wedding venue. 

On a visit to Cameroon last week and this, the Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin said he is hoping that peace and reconciliation can be found in the country. An armed separatist movement in the Anglophone Southwest and Northwest regions of Cameroon has led to the displacement of 679,000 people with 3,000 lives lost over four years.

Pope Francis on Sunday established the World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly. “Their voice is precious because it sings the praises of God and guards the roots of peoples,” he said announcing the day in the library of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, which will take place annually on the fourth Sunday of July, close to the feast of Sts Joachim and Anne.

The Secretariat of the Bishops of Central America (SEDAC) has appealed for states to "respect the right to emigrate and not to repel people in need of international protection". It comes as migrants from Honduras, in a caravan of around 7,000 people heading for the US, were stopped and dispersed in Guatemala. Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador and Cardinal Rosa Chávez, auxiliary Bishop of San Salvador signed the statement. In addition, the Church network “Red Clamor”, which includes over 70 Catholic organisations in Latin America and the Caribbean, has condemned the killing of at least 19 migrants at Camargo, Mexico, on 23 January, allegedly by criminal gangs.

Meanwhile on 29 January, Raúl Vera OP, hailed as the last of the liberation theology bishops, retired from the diocese of Saltillo, northern Mexico, after 20 years. In his time in Saltillo, Bishop Vera was known for championing miners forced to work in dangerous conditions, the LGBT community and migrants from Central America heading for the US.

The Archbishop of Concepción, central Chile, has blessed the people of his city and its surrounds from an airplane, by sprinkling Holy Water and praying over them for 20 minutes. Archbishop Fernando Chomali filmed himself on 24 January as he hoped to “exorcise” the people from the evil of the pandemic. After more than10,000 people had viewed a video he shared on Twitter he took it down as it had stirred up controversy.

St Mary’s Catholic Church in Oud Metha, Dubai, reopened on 1 February, with two Masses scheduled daily, after being closed for 10 months. Parish Priest Fr Lennie J.A. Connully said that 30 per cent of the church’s capacity, or some 250 people, will be allowed to attend each Mass.

Cardinal Louis Sako, the Baghdad-based patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, says Pope Francis' trip to Iraq on 5-8 March is going ahead and that the Pope plans to meet Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, leader of the country's Shia Muslim majority. The Pope will also meet with the prime minister and president and with clergy in Baghdad's Syriac Catholic cathedral.

Purple-dyed fabric dating back 3,000 years has been discovered in southern Israel. Archaeologists working in the Timna Valley found a tassel and fibres of wool dyed with royal purple. “Royal” or “Tyrian” dye, from the distilled glands of sea snails, was worth more gold. Dr Naama Sukenik, curator of organic finds at the Israel Antiquities Authority said, “this is the first piece of textile ever found from the time of David and Solomon that is dyed with the prestigious purple dye.”

A Sudanese bishop is concerned that "peace is not felt on the ground" in the troubled Darfur region of Sudan as peacekeepers start withdrawing. Bishop Yunan Andali of El Obeid, the diocese that includes Darfur, feels that the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission is still needed. “Hundreds still hold guns,” reported Bishop Andali; “the situation is still fragile.” In December, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution to terminate the 4,000-strong mission by 30 June 2021 and hand over security to Sudan’s government.

Christians have criticised the construction of new sewage works adjacent to a Christian school in Faisalabad, Pakistan, saying it is an act of discrimination. Naqash Sajid, the administrator of New Convent School, that enrols 1,500 pupils, most of them Christian, said: “It is hard for children to study when the machines roar and start operating” and “the smell has destroyed the educational environment”.

The northern French city where exiled English Catholics produced the Douay-Rheims Bible translation during the Counter-Reformation has invited US President Joe Biden to visit after he was sworn in on his family’s edition of that Bible. "It would be an immense honour for Douai and its citizens if you decided, on a future visit to France, to spend a short time in the city whose name is so intimately linked to your inaugural oath," the city’s mayor Frédéric Chéreau wrote.

Three men were sentenced to up to five years in prison by a Le Havre court last week for swindling 28 aged French priests. Their five female accomplices were given six-month terms as first offenders. The fraudsters managed to trick elderly priests across western France out of a total of €150,000, mostly by claiming they had been married by them years ago and turned to them for help now that they were in desperate financial straits. The accomplices, pretending to be bank managers, telephoned the priests afterwards to vouch for the stories. One swindler learned the confidence trick from his father before him.

The president of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Bishops Conference, Bishop Franjo Komarica, has urged greater Church recognition of the Marian centre of Medjugorje, where more than 42,000 visions of the Virgin Mary have been reported since 1981. Speaking at a 40th anniversary online congress, with several million participants worlwide, he said the sanctuary now occupied a "particularly valuable position" for "conversions, confessions and spiritual professions".

The US bishops’ conference is planning a document on “eucharistic coherence”, according to a letter sent to all bishops by Archbishop Jose´ Gomez, the conference’s president. The letter accompanied the statement on the new presidency the archbishop issued last month. Both the statement and the proposed document are the fruit of the working group Archbishop Gomez established at the end of the bishops’ November plenary meeting to address what he called the “difficult and complex situation” of a pro-choice Catholic president. Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich, who publicly criticised the January statement as “ill-considered”, was received by Pope Francis in Rome last week. Catholic author George Weigel said Cardinal Cupich and Newark Cardinal Joseph Tobin “put intense pressure” on Gomez not to make the statement, as did the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre.

As the Covid pandemic continues to afflict the Brazilian Amazon city of Manaus, the local Church has launched an appeal for people to join a “listening network”. The archdiocese is asking priests, Religious and laity to “welcome with love, listen to and advise people who are suffering the consequences of Covid-19”. The service will initially operate via a WhatsApp group. The diocese is also ensuring a rota of priests at the cemetery to bless coffins as they are taken for summary burials. On 31 January, 20 oxygen containers and 50 breathing support machines arrived in Manaus as a result of the appeal launched by the local region of the bishops’ conference, including donations from the Vatican. The Covid death toll in January in Amazonas is estimated at almost 3,000.



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