29 November 2022, The Tablet

Church in the World: News Briefing

Church in the World: News Briefing

Pope Francis greets a family at the end of an audience with people with disabilities, in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican.
(CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The two sides in the peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the guerrillas of the ELN (National Liberation Army) issued a joint statement on 25 November reporting an “atmosphere of confidence and optimism” in the talks that began in Caracas on 21 November. The statement said that the two sides were inviting Brazil, Chile and Mexico to be “guarantors” of the process, and Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and Spain to be “accompaniers”. They also confirmed as “accompaniers of the dialogue” the United Nations and the Colombian bishops’ conference.  The bishops are represented at the negotiations by Mgr Héctor Fabio Henao, their delegate for relations with the state. The United States is also to be invited to send a special representative.  There was also an agreement to facilitate humanitarian activities during the talks to support communities at risk from the continuing armed conflict. This idea of reducing the impact of the conflict before a final agreement is reached is a key element of President Gustavo Petro’s concept of “total peace”.  Petro himself is a former guerrilla, and Colombia’s first left-wing president, a fact that has encouraged the ELN to engage in the peace process. Mgr Henao said that the Church is working in a "pastoral" spirit: "It is there to encourage confidence-building, to build bridges with the communities, because it has a huge interest in the people most affected by the confrontations." The FARC guerrillas signed a peace agreement with the Colombian government in 2016. Earlier talks with the ELN were broken off in 2019 after the group exploded a car bomb at the police cadet school in Bogotá, killing 20 people.

Russia’s lower house of parliament on Thursday last week passed a new law banning all forms of “gay propaganda”. Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of the State Duma and the author of the bill, said on his Telegram channel the legislation enforces the ban on the promotion of LGBTQ propaganda, including through advertising and film, through a fine of up to 10 million rubles, or about $165,000. The bill passed unanimously after the third reading in the State Duma. The legislation still needs to pass in the Russian parliament’s upper chamber, the Federation Council, and be signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin to become law. “The solution will protect our children, the future of the country from the darkness spread by the United States and European states,” Volodin wrote. “We have our own traditions and values.” Russia has already banned “gay propaganda” among minors and has used the law to detain activists and stop gay pride marches. In 2020, Russia passed amendments to its constitution explicitly outlawing same-sex marriage in the country.

Experts restoring Notre Dame cathedral in Paris after its 2019 fire assured the public that their cleaning method, which led to charges of health problems when used in London's St. Paul's Cathedral two decades ago, was totally safe. Instead of the traditional method of drenching the walls with water, cleaners spray the cathedral’s interior surfaces with a thin layer of a latex preparation that absorbs surface grime. When the latex dries, it is removed to reveal the once-darkened limestone blocks restored to their original gleaming off-white tone. Experts said the preparation cleaned better than water and did not contain chemicals that reportedly caused some staffers at St Paul’s to suffer skin rash and breathing problems. “It’s a neutral latex,” one said.

 Bishop James Golka of Colorado Springs, Colorado condemned the “horrific shooting” at a local gay nightclub that killed five people. “The recent shooting and killing is especially troubling as it appeared to target a specific part of our community,” Golka said. “The shooter appeared to target members of the LGBTQ community. Anytime specific members of the population are targeted for violence, we should all be concerned.”

Ghana’s Cardinal Richard Kuuia Baawobr has died in Rome. A communique issued by the Secretary-General Missionary Of Africa, Fr André-Léon Simonart, said the 63-year-old Cardinal died on Sunday 27 November, after he was rushed to hospital. The former Bishop of the Diocese of Wa he was named Cardinal in May by Pope Francis. Cardinal Baawobr underwent heart surgery in Rome in September 2022 at the Santo Spirito Hospital in Rome shortly before the ceremony in which he was to receive the red hat from Pope Francis. He served six years as Superior General of the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) from May 2010, the first African to occupy the Office. He was elected President of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) at its plenary in Accra in July.

The Supreme Court of Georgia reinstated a “fetal heartbeat” law, which effectively bans abortion after six weeks, overturning a lower court ruling that the law was unconstitutional. The law includes exceptions in cases of rape or incest and to save the life of the mother. Atlanta Archbishop Gregory Hartmayer responded to the decision, saying, “As I have said before, no matter what law is on the books, we must be dedicated to upholding the dignity of life for all people. That includes mothers, fathers and their children. 

The annual memorial Mass was celebrated at a cemetery in Seoul, Korea, last week to pay tribute to 6,000 donors who gave their bodies for medical research over the last 55 years. The donation of bodies helps the medical community at the Catholic Medical Centre and its eight affiliated medical schools to study anatomy. Students recite a prayer before and after the classes that involve using a donated cadaver. Then, the College bears the cost of disposal of the remains. 

 Filipino bishops have called for the dignified burial of deceased prisoners after authorities in the country’s biggest penitentiary started disposing of 200 unclaimed, decomposing bodies. This followed a government order stating that a deadline be given to relatives to collect bodies. Bishop Joel Baylon, of the Bishops’ Commission on Prison Pastoral Care, appealed to prison authorities to “observe Catholic rituals” for Catholic prisoners. Some bishops sent clergy to bless the bodies before interment or cremation, and names were remembered in Masses in several dioceses.

Iraqi Christians, living mainly in the cities of the Nineveh Plains and other areas of northern Iraq, continue to leave the country. This is happening "at a rate of around 20 families a month," said Iraqi Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldean Church. He criticised the lack of a law on the civil status of Christians, which he believes paves the way for sectarian discrimination. 

The Vatican’s first guidelines on “faith-consistent investing”, released last week, are the highest-level effort so far to direct investments in accordance with Catholic teaching and the priorities of Pope Francis. They call for “proactive, positive investing” in industries such as environmental protection, renewable energy, microfinance and job creation. The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences published “Mensuram Bonam” (For Good Measure) on 25 November. It suggests shunning companies making materials for abortion, capital punishment, nuclear weapons or genetically modified seeds “especially in developing countries where multinational groups patent seeds to dominate the market.”  

The Custos of the Holy Land, Fr Francesco Patton, visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem last Saturday to launch Christmas celebrations. Christmas lights have gone up in Star Street, where Christmas parades lead to the church. A large tree has been installed and lit up in Manger Square. Last week, a Palestinian school in Masafer Yatta, near Bethlehem, was destroyed by Israeli forces.

Catholic bishops of DR Congo urged prayer, fasting, and support for a peace march on 4 December, to urge improved security as militia violence across the country has displaced around 400,000 people, mainly in the East. They condemned, “the complacency” of the international community toward corporations and nations they accused of being “predators of our natural resources” and fuelling unrest. Caritas Congo has reported that more than 2,600 refugees from western DR Congo, including many children, recently fled to neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville and are living without adequate food or safe sanitation. 

The Bishop of Maroua-Mokolo has described people in Cameroon’s northernmost region as experiencing a “reign of terror”. Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need International, Bishop Bruno Ateba said last week that his diocese is the scene of recurring attacks by Boko Haram Islamists near the border with Nigeria. According to the U.N. there are more than 760,000 internally displaced people in Cameroon due to the conflict in the English-speaking regions of the northwest and southwest of the country since 2016. 

In their Advent message, Nicaragua’s Bishops expressed concern, “for the thousands of people who are migrating because of the crisis in the country”. Around 200,000 people have fled persecution and human rights violations, mostly going to neighbouring Costa Rica. A new edition of the report, “Nicaragua: A Persecuted Church?”, produced by researcher Martha Patricia Molina, documents nearly 400 attacks since 2018 against Catholics under the dictatorship of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.

Pope Francis has appointed a successor to Bishop Thomas Tobin, the Bishop of Providence, Rhode Island. On 23 November he named Bishop Richard G. Henning, 58, an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, as coadjutor bishop of Providence with right of succession. Bishop Tobin is required to submit his resignation on his 75th birthday — 1 April 2023 – and said he had communicated to Rome his desire that Pope Francis accept his resignation sooner rather than later. “I don’t want to be a lame duck forever, I’d rather be a dead duck,” he said. Bishop Tobin is known for his firm support of the pro-life cause and active Twitter presence.

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