08 January 2024, The Tablet

News Briefing: Church in the World

News Briefing: Church in the World

The Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican gardens. A community of Benedictine nuns from Argentina has moved into the monastery at the Pope’s invitation.
Wikimedia Commons

The Bishop of Sokoto Matthew Kukah warned President Bola Tinubu that Nigerians are losing trust in the government to protect them and demanded a review of national security to prevent further terrorist killings. He was speaking after around 200 people were killed and 500 wounded in coordinated attacks on more than 30 villages in Plateau State between 23 and 28 December. 

There have been repeated clashes in the past between the Fulani, nomadic Muslim herders, and the largely Christian farming population. However, Bishop Kukah said the violence this Christmas went beyond traditional land conflicts or religious rivalries.

“These killings are no longer acts by herders and farmers over grazing fields,” he said, challenging the government to identify the attackers, their sponsors and motives.

“President Tinubu must know that the legitimacy of his government hangs on resolving this and giving us our country back,” he added, warning that the recent massacres could be part of a plan to destabilise the country. “A war is being waged against the Nigerian state and its people,” he said.

Plateau state declared a week of mourning from 1 January to honour the victims.


Ghanian religious have vowed to fight against illegal gold mining in a bid to clean up the West African nation before the 2025 Jubilee. Now the continent’s top producer of gold in Africa, surpassing South Africa, in 2022 Ghana increased its gold output by 32 per cent. One million Ghanaians are believed to work in illegal mines.  

The Conference of Major Superiors of Religious in Ghana declared 2024 their “year of action” to “restore our damaged environment, polluted water bodies and destroyed forests”. They added: “We cannot all sit idle and fold our arms as we watch helplessly as unscrupulous persons destroy God’s creative gift to us which is our shared home.”


A bishop used his Christmas and New Year message to caution those who “trivialise” reconciliation in Ivory Coast.

Bishop Joseph Aka of Yamoussoukro said that the country’s history of political instability had left many people who know “war and division”, making it urgent to foster reconciliation “so that no one trivializes the suffering we have experienced and which has led to the death of many of our brothers and sisters”. 

He cited Psalm 85 – “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.”  “Without this,” said Bishop Aka, “reconciliation in our country becomes an illusion.”


The Catholic bishops’ conference and the Protestant churches in the Democratic Republic of Congo have demanded an independent inquiry into irregularities during December’s elections.

In a joint statement last week, they said the results of the presidential and legislative vote needed scrutiny after their own election monitors witnessed widespread logistical problems, with polling times extended, polling stations opening late or voting machines not working.  

Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo of Kinshasa called the elections a “gigantic, organised mess” by in his Christmas Day Homily at the Notre-Dame du Congo Cathedral in Kinshasa. “What should have been a great celebration of democratic values quickly turned into frustration for many,” he said. 

President Félix Tshisekedi has already been declared winner of the election, but awaiting confirmation by the Constitutional Court.


Christians in Iraqi Kurdistan have been hit by airstrikes from Turkey in recent weeks.

“Every day the Turkish air force bombs our mountains and targets our villages,” said Fr Samir Youssef, parish priest of Enishke, a mountain village in the Diocese of Amadiya. He said that since 23 December Turkish forces have been carrying out attacks in areas controlled by the Kurds that are closest to their borders in Iraq and Syria. “More and more civilians are bombed,” he said. 

Turkey’s campaign against Kurdish militants follows an attack in December on Turkish military positions by the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan, which killed 12 Turkish soldiers. However, civilian lives and property are frequently caught in the crossfire. 

Fr Youssef has urged the apostolic nuncio in Baghdad to “tell and denounce” the situation to the Turkish ambassador, “because they are coming to strike ever closer to us and there are more and more civilians in their sights”. Christian families “now live in fear of the repetition of these bombings”. 

In north-east Syria, the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Mor Maurice Amsih of Jazira and Euphrates denounced Turkish bombings of civilians there. He has described the operations as “devoid of humanity”.


People are being “condemned to die without being able to say a word”, the Archbishop of Homs said last week, after the UN’s World Food Programme ceased delivering food and aid to Syria on New Year’s Day. 

Archbishop Jacques Mourad described the UN agency’s decision as “terrible” and “unfair”, saying it would “throw the Syrian people into complete despair…This is the end for us.”  Almost two-thirds of the population of Syria depended on aid from the World Food Programme, but US- and UN-imposed sanctions mean that transferring money to Syria is no longer possible.

The archbishop said the Church and non-governmental organisations could not cover all of Syrian’s needs, “because their financial capacity is limited”.

Observing that many Syrian families already subsist on only one meal a day, the archbishop said: “We have forgotten what heating means because we cannot buy diesel or wood, we have forgotten what hot water is…and we live in total darkness because the cities in Syria are without light.” He said his only hope was a response from the European Union based on “sincere, human sensitivity”.  

“What have we done wrong to be condemned to die?” he asked.


Indian Christians have distanced themselves from their leaders who attended a Christmas reception hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, criticising their silence over ongoing anti-Christian violence in the country.  

Over 3,000 Christians signed an online petition saying the Christian leaders, including Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai and several bishops from various Christian denominations, did not represent them at the Christmas Day lunch in Modi’s official residence. 

The two-day virtual campaign “Not in our name” was started on 1 January by Jesuits Fr Cedric Prakash and Fr Prakash Louis, along with lay Catholic leader John Dayal. The signatories included Christian parliamentarians, legislators, retired bureaucrats and members of India’s Conference of Religious. 

They said that India recorded 650 cases of violence against Christians in 2023 and that since Modi came to power in 2014, violence against Muslims and Christians has increased.


Church groups in Indonesia’s Catholic-majority island of Flores rushed to help villagers who fled their homes after a volcano erupted on New Year’s Day. Around 2,400 people were evacuated to temporary shelters.

Bishop Fransiskus Kopong Kung of Larantuka instructed the diocesan Caritas to “respond to the situation as soon as possible”, providing mats, masks, water, food, and cooking utensils. “We have no clothes other than those in which we fled,” said a villager who lived at the foot of the mountain. 

Mt Lewotobi Laki-laki spewed volcanic ash across a six-kilometre area, covering houses, plants and trees. It is part of a group of volcanoes that form the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where the meeting of continental plates causes high volcanic and seismic activity.


The Central America office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called on the Nicaraguan government to provide information about Bishop Isodoro Mora of Siuna, who was arrested on 20 December.  

“Concealing this information and isolating him from his family and legal representatives puts at risk his life and physical integrity,” it said in a social media statement. 

On 2 January, the Nicaraguan authorities published photographs of Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, who has been in prison since February 2023, undergoing a medical assessment. This followed a statement from the US State Department demanding that the regime “immediately and unconditionally release” Álvarez, saying that “staged videos and photographs…only increase concerns about his well-being”.


From January 2024 the Archdiocese of Chicago will switch its nearly 400 parishes, schools, and offices to 100 per cent renewable energy sources for its electricity needs. “As an expression of our commitment to the sanctity of life, the Archdiocese of Chicago has chosen to do all we can to ensure generations to come have a future,” said Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago. 

The archdiocese has purchased enough renewable energy certificates to cover electricity consumption for the coming year for more than 2,000 buildings. The renewables behind the certificates are almost entirely wind from across the Midwest.


A Catholic women’s college in Indiana has reversed a decision to admit transgender women after opposition from both the local bishop and from within the school community emerged.

“Some worried that this was much more than a policy decision: they felt it was a dilution of our mission or even a threat to our Catholic identity,” wrote Katie Conboy, the president of St Mary’s College president, and Maureen Karnatz Smith, chair of the school’s governing board, in a letter to the college community.  

“As this last month unfolded, we lost people’s trust and unintentionally created division where we had hoped for unity. For this, we are deeply sorry.” 

After the initial decision to admit transgender women was announced in November, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana urged the board to reverse course. Rhoades argued the school should “reject ideologies of gender that contradict the authoritative teachings of the Catholic Church”.


A 48-year-old Italian priest has been excommunicated after describing Pope Francis as an “anti-Pope usurper” and a freemason.

During his homily at a New Year’s Eve Mass, Fr Ramon Guidetti said: “There has been a schism for 10 years, there is a masonry that governs. The bishops and cardinals know that he is not the pope, they know but they are silent.”  

The 48-year-old parish priest of San Ranieri Church in Guasticce, in Tuscany, cited a conspiracy theory which claims that when Benedict XVI resigned, he renounced his ministry as Pope but not his role as pontiff.

On New Year’s Day, Bishop Simone Giusti of Livorno issued the decree of excommunication, which charged Giudetti with publicly committing “an act of a schismatic nature” during the Mass and “refusing submission to the Supreme Pontiff and communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”


A community of Argentine nuns has moved into the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican, where Benedict XVI lived for nine years after resigning the papacy in 2013. The monastery was founded by John Paul II in 1994, with different groups of contemplative nuns living there for three-year intervals, to be “a praying presence in silence and solitude” inside the Vatican. 

Benedict was cared for in the monastery by consecrated lay sisters, who moved out after his death, and in October Pope Francis invited Benedictines from the Abbey of Santa Scholastica in Buenos Aires to return the monastery to contemplative life.


A 49-year-old Spanish bishop and 17,000 young people attended an Epiphany concert given by a Catholic youth movement in Madrid. Bishop Jesús Vidal, an auxiliary in the Archdiocese of Madrid, attended the Hakuna concert at Madrid’s WiZink Centre.  

Hakuna is a Private Association of the Faithful, which began in 2013 as a response to Pope Francis’s appeal at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro for young people to “make a ruckus” through loving deeds in their parishes. The Pope has since described Hakuna as a “Eucharistic family”. 

It was founded by the Opus Dei priest Fr José Manglano, who left the prelature to focus on Hakuna. As well as recording music, Hakuna organises weekly evenings of Eucharistic Adoration and invites young people to join “sharings” or social action projects of “learning from others and growing together.”  

Hakuna’s website explains: “Through ‘sharings’ we rediscover the dignity and potential of every individual. Once the fuse is lit, the revolution begins.”


Last year saw record numbers of pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago. In 2023, nearly half a million people walked the route, two per cent more than the year before. 

Nearly 200,000 of the pilgrims were from Spain, with the next-largest contingent came from the US, with 32,069 pilgrims, followed by Italy, Germany, Portugal, France, and the UK. The Asian country with the most pilgrims was South Korea, with 7,563.  The leading African country was South Africa, with 1,562 pilgrims.

Despite the Camino being a traditional Catholic pilgrimage, 23.3 per cent of those walking the route said they completed it for nonreligious reasons. 

Various historic routes known as the Camino de Santiago, or Way of St James, converge on Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, the traditional burial place of St James the Apostle. Along the routes, pilgrims collect stamps on a pilgrim passport and, upon arrival, receive a certificate confirming that they have completed the pilgrimage.

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