29 June 2023, The Tablet

News Briefing: Church in the World

News Briefing: Church in the World

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva attends the opening of the 26th Meeting of the Sao Paulo Forum in Brasilia, Brazil, on June 29 de 2023.
Photo: Mateus Bonomi/AGIF

Columban missionaries in Fiji have held study days in the capital Suva on implementing the principles of Laudato Sì’ to conserve life on Pacific islands threated by climate change and rising sea levels and “to give the new generations a chance”.

The Columban Justice and Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission said: “At the heart of Laudato Sì’ there is the call to be peacemakers: therefore work of reconciliation is necessary at all levels, among ourselves, in the different groups of our society, in our relationship to our common home.”


Church activists from the Amazonian province of Orellana in Ecuador have been staging weekly protests in its capital since February against mining and oil extraction in the rainforest. They say extraction activities are contaminating rivers, soil and the atmosphere and are linked to rising cancer cases.

Bishop José Adalberto Jiménez Mendoza of the Aguarico Vicariate, who heads the Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network in Ecuador, reports that “the Punino and Payamino rivers are contaminated with heavy metals, like mercury used by miners, but they are the source of our water and people are getting sick”.


Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has promised to personally lobby his Nicaraguan counterpart, Daniel Ortega, to release Bishop Rolando Álvarez, a critic of Ortega’s government who has been serving a 26-year prison sentence on charges of treason since February this year. 

Da Silva, popularly known as “Lula,” made the comments a day after meeting Pope Francis for the first time since his re-election last year. The private meeting on 21 June lasted 45 minutes and was described as “warm and cordial” by the Vatican’s press office.

Lula’s government is considered one of the few allies of the increasingly-authoritarian Ortega regime in Latin America.


A conference raising awareness of attacks against Christians in the Holy Land, planned for at Jerusalem’s Tower of David Museum, was forced to move venue to another site following pressure from senior municipal officials.

The conference was organised in response to increased attacks on nuns, priests and pilgrims in the Old City of Jerusalem. Over the last six months witnesses have filmed 19 such attacks, including spitting, swearing, physical violence and vandalism. 

The conference, organised by the Centre for the Study of Relations Between Jews, Christians and Muslims at the Open University of Israel, addressed the issue of the history of such attacks and the legal aspects.

Yaska Harani, one of the organisers, said the conference was intended to “build change, not to offend or come out against the ultra-Orthodox society” and to “rid the city of the spitting”.

“As long as the scope of these incidents is not recognised, there will be no legislation or efforts to oppose it,” she said.


Church reform groups welcomed the Instrumentum laboris for the October synod on synodality. Kate McElwee, executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference welcomed the language about new ministries being open to women and “the fact that the Church is open to trying something new”.

Phyllis Zagano, who has researched the female diaconate in the early Church, said: “The Church will continue to understand how the clear historical evidence of women in the diaconate points to a future when women will be restored to ordination as deacons.” LGBT groups welcomed the document’s raising issues of welcoming their community.


The long-delayed premiere of Scottish Catholic composer Sir James MacMillan’s latest oratorio Fiat Lux took place this weekend in Orange County, California.

A work for soprano, baritone, mixed chorus, organ and orchestra based on a five-part libretto by poet Dana Gioia, Fiat Lux was commissioned to mark the consecration of Christ Cathedral, the episcopal seat of the Diocese of Orange. Originally intended to premiere in March 2020, it was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Macmillan is one of the UK’s most prominent classical composers – his works have been performed at the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK in 2010, and the late Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral in 2022.

Christ Cathedral, known as “Crystal Cathedral” when first built by the protestant televangelist Robert Schuller, is built of 10,000 rectangular, tempered glass panes, and is one of the largest glass structures in the world.


US President Joe Biden signed an executive order aimed at expanding access to contraceptives, including those pro-life activists label abortifacients. Biden signed the order the day before the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, denying a federal constitutional right to an abortion and sending the issue to state legislatures.

“Contraception is an essential component of reproductive health care that has only become more important in the wake of Dobbs and the ensuing crisis in women’s access to health care,” said a White House press release. In addition to increasing access, the executive order seeks to increase coverage of contraception in private insurance plans.


A Thai bishop has appealed to communities in his diocese to support refugees fleeing conflict in Myanmar. Thousands of refugees have entered Thailand’s border areas in recent weeks and are “knocking at our front doors, seeking refuge”, said the Bishop of Chiang Mai, Francis Xavier Vira Arporndratana, on 22 June.

One parish registered around 4,000 Catholics and more than 1,400 Buddhists from Myanmar’s Loikaw diocesan area, the bishop reported, and “at present, they are in need of food, materials to make tents for shelter and toilets.”

The refugees escaped fierce fighting between Myanmar’s military and local militia in Kayah state, close to the Thai border. Myanmar has been in turmoil since a military coup in February 2021.


More than 3,000 Catholics participated in a Mass last week to commemorate clergy, religious, and laypeople martyred by Cambodia’s Pol Pot regime in the 1970s.

Officiating was Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler, apostolic vicar of Phnom Penh, who particularly remembered his predecessor, Bishop Joseph Chhmar Salas and his death at a forced labour camp in 1977.

In 2015, the Cambodian Church officially opened the diocesan phase of the beatification process for Bishop Salas and 34 priests, lay people, catechists and missionaries who died during the persecution of the Church by the Khmer Rouge.


Catholic bishops have highlighted a recent UN report on South Sudan which said four million girls were victims of early or forced marriage in 2022, up from 2.7 million in 2021.

“As Church leaders, we deplore the behaviour of parents who force their daughters to drop out of school to get married or because they become pregnant,” said Bishop Mathew Remijio Adam Gbitiku of Wau.

“For a better and egalitarian society, it is necessary to promote the education of its children, boys and girls, because marrying them at an early age or before they have completed their studies destroys their future.” He urged fathers to be inspired by the efforts of many mothers who work in the fields, build a house and support their daughters in their studies.

Bishop Emmanuel Barnadino Lowi Napeta of Torit criticised parents who prioritise material dowries granted in exchange for their daughters, such as cattle and other gifts.

He reported that during a recent visit to a parish, “I heard that some elders force their daughters to marry when they are still young in order to obtain cows in exchange.” He said that “this old mentality must be challenged to allow girls to obtain a quality education that will ensure them a decent future”.


Ahead of the seventieth anniversary of the Korean War, South Korean bishops organised a “Day of Prayer for Reconciliation and National Unity” on 25 June.

“This unfinished confrontation remains the main cause of the current threat to peace,” they said – the armistice signed on 27 July 1953 is not a peace treaty between North and South Korea.

“Even if the path is long and arduous, we cannot abandon our efforts for peace on the Korean Peninsula,” they said, adding that “meetings, dialogue and efforts to understand each other are the right path to peace – high-tech weapons or military power are not”.


France has hit a new low in ordinations this year with only 88 new priests in the whole country, compared to 122 last year and 130 in 2021.

The drop-off is most visible among diocesan priests – from 81 in 2020 to 52 in 2023. This year's total included 37 ordinations in religious orders, communities or societies of apostolic life, five of them in orders using the Roman Missal of 1962.

Numbers have been affected by the Vatican’s decision last year to suspend ordinations in Fréjus-Toulon diocese, a notable source of vocations that was judged too lax in its choice of candidates. About 700 seminarians from around France will gather in December for three days of discussion about rural depopulation, secularisation and new means of evangelisation.


More than 70 intellectuals signed a letter to the Paris daily Le Monde denouncing a wave of cancellations of concerts in churches by what they called “radicalised fundamentalist groups”.

They accused traditionalist Christian groups of violating the artists’ freedom of expression by blocking entry or intimidating organisers of events they disapproved of in church buildings. Some events have been called off by local authorities because of the threat of violence.

Churches built before 1905 belong to the state and local mayors, who often stage cultural events in the buildings which they have to maintain despite falling attendance at liturgies. Some traditionalist Catholics consider this blasphemous and have increasingly protested against it.


India’s bishops have called a national day of prayer and solidarity with India’s north-eastern Manipur state on 2 July. They urge reconciliation between religious and ethnic communities, which have been embroiled in clashes since 3 May.

A report by the Archdiocese of Imphal on 15 June said that more than 50,000 people have been displaced since the violence erupted. The Catholic institutions have suffered mob attacks in at least ten places, including churches, pastoral training centres and Catholic schools.

The report questions the role played by state security forces. “It is hard to say if the state forces were outnumbered or overwhelmed with calls for help, or if they were complicit,” it said, adding that “the absence of the security personnel in places where they were most needed raises questions: why is it that vulnerable places were left unguarded even after attempted attacks?”

According to local reports, 249 Meitei Christian churches have been destroyed since the beginning of the conflict and more than 200 villages ransacked. Prime minister Narendra Modi has been widely criticised for his “silence” over the violence in the region.


Archbishop Georg Gänswein has rented an apartment in the archdiocesan seminary in Freiburg, the spokesman for the archdiocese of Freiburg, Marc Mudrak, confirmed on 23 June. For the moment Gänswein has rented the apartment as a private person.

The Archbishop of Freiburg, Stefan Burger, will be his immediate neighbour. Gänswein’s future income is also one of the points that would have to be discussed, Mudrak said in an interview for the German bishops’ conference’s official website, katholisch.de. As he has no particular appointment in Germany to date, Gänswein will not be a member of the German bishops’ conference.

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