26 February 2024, The Tablet

News Briefing: Church in the World

News Briefing: Church in the World

Protesters in Manila mark the thirty-eighth anniversary of the bloodless coup to oust the father of the current President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, whose government is trying to amend the constitution.
Imago / Alamy

A Catholic bishop in northern Mozambique has warned that the crisis caused by an Islamic insurgency in the region, centred on the province of Cabo Delgado, could become a serious humanitarian disaster, as the threat of disease and famine looms. 

Tens of thousands of people fled remote towns and villages which have come under attack over the past few weeks, seeking refuge in the relative safety of larger cities, including the provincial capital Pemba. 

“They carry only what they can, in a bundle on their heads, or on the family bicycle – that’s all they have left. Hunger, thirst and disease will soon follow,” said the Bishop of Pemba António Juliasse Ferreira Sandramo, in a message to Aid to the Church in Need.


Bishop George Nkuo of Kumbo in Cameroon has condemned a bomb attack on a church in diocese, which killed one person and injured several others during a Mass.

“We strongly condemn and denounce any form of violence perpetrated during public and spiritual gatherings and within the sacred spaces of churches and hospitals,” he said. “We condemn in the strongest terms this heinous and senseless attack on innocent civilians during the Youth Day celebration in Nkambe.” 

The national bishops’ conference also issued a statement, calling the attack an “ugly” and “unfortunate” incident.

Bishop Nkuo said the violence “shatters the very core of our moral fabric and calls for our collective condemnation”, adding that attacks on churches “not only violate the sanctity of these institutions but also undermine the values of compassion, empathy, and respect that lie at the core of our faith”. 

He emphasised that the Mass is a sacred and solemn occasion where the faithful seek spiritual nourishment and strengthen their relationship with God, and that attacks not only disrespect the sanctity of the Mass but also infringe upon the rights and freedom of religious expression. The church “should be a haven of peace, where all can come together in reverence and unity,” he said. 

The bombing comes amid continued violence between Cameroon’s Francophone and Anglophone communities.


At least 15 people have been killed in northern Burkina Faso when gunmen attacked a church during Sunday Mass.

Abbot Jean-Pierre Sawadogo, vicar-general of the Diocese of Dori, said 12 people had been killed instantly in the attack in the village of Essakane, in Oudalan province near the Malian border. A further three had died later in hospital and two other people were injured. 

“In this painful circumstance, we invite you to pray for those who died in faith, for the healing of the wounded, and for the consolidation of grieving hearts,” he said.

While no one has claimed responsibility for the killings, the attack has been attributed to Islamist terrorists. Burkina Faso has been subject to regular attacks by jihadi groups linked to Al Qaeda and Islamic State since 2015. At least 20,000 people have died in the violence, while nearly two million have been forced from their homes.


Pope Francis used his Sunday Angelus address to appeal again for peace in Sudan, where the war that broke out in April 2023 has now claimed at least 12,000 lives and displaced 10.7 million people.  

“I once again ask the conflicting sides to stop this war, which inflicts a great deal of harm to the people and the future of the country,” he said, calling for prayer for “paths of peace”. 

Samiullah Danish of Cafod Sudan described how “despite challenges such as insecurity, bureaucratic obstacles, and poor network access, Cafod operates from its hub office in White Nile State, delivering crucial services in partnership with local organisations.” 

Hostilities have not only damaged water supply networks but also crippled health facilities, and diseases including cholera, measles, and malaria are spreading rapidly. At least 13 Sudanese migrants died and 27 others are missing after their boat sank in the Mediterranean off Tunisia’s coast last week as they tried to reach Europe.


Church aid agencies have called for action to address the conflict and climate change driving poverty in South Sudan. “We are living in a world where peace is at stake,” said Fr Charles Mbikoyo, head of the Catholic Organisation for Development and Peace.

“Today, matters of grave concern such as domination of the rich and powerful and the climate emergency are resulting in increased marginalisation, violence, poverty, and suffering in human life,” he said during a diocesan Lenten campaign. Drought and food insecurity have worsened the humanitarian crisis caused by the country’s persistent internal conflicts. 

“Pope Francis has also been emphasising working for the good of humanity and that there is no peace without a culture of care, hence that humanity and peace are co-related,” Fr Mbikoyo said.


Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako, the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, has issued a pastoral letter to Iraq’s Christians calling for unity.  Sectarianism endangers all communities’ existence, the patriarch said in his letter dated 17 February, titled “Unity, then unity: Every household divided against itself will be ruined”.  

He criticised international vested-interest groups which have split Iraqis along religious and ethnic lines. He called for mutual respect between Chaldean, Syriac and Assyrians Christians, and warned that political strife in the Middle East threatened all communities, including Christians.  

“Currently, the situation of the Middle East is terrible due to the political and componential divisions, which have brought nothing but evil,” he said.


The President of Pakistan’s Catholic Bishops’ Conference welcomed a Supreme Court decision to reject a government report into the authorities’ response to violence in Jaranwala last August.  The attacks, described by Church leaders as the “worst incident against Christians” in Pakistan’s history, saw mobs torch more than 25 churches and up to 100 homes

Bishop Samson Shukardin of Hyderabad praised the court for dismissing the government report, saying this was “very positive for us as Christians” and “the first time the government and especially the Supreme Court has taken this issue so seriously”. 

The Chief Justice of Pakistan, Qazi Faez Isa, said the report submitted by authorities in Punjab could be “thrown in the dustbin” and ordered that a fresh report be submitted within two weeks.

Church leaders have criticised delays in bringing prosecutions for the attacks, expressing concern that police are not committed to protecting Christians and other minorities at risk of attack. Last month, the Church’s Commission of Justice and Peace, presented its report on the Jaranwala incident, “Persecuted Yet Again” at the UK Houses of Parliament.  

It provided evidence that the attacks were premeditated, that the police were slow to react as the violence unfolded, and that local Muslims defended Christians against attackers. The report, produced in conjunction with Aid to the Church in Need UK, was presented at a parliamentary meeting chaired by Lord Alton of Liverpool, with Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore the main speaker.


The High Court in the Indian state of Manipur has deleted a paragraph on “Schedule Tribe” status from a controversial order that enflamed ethnic tensions last year, leading to riots that killed around 175 people.

On 22 February the court removed the part of the March 2023 order that directed the state government to recommend that the Hindu Meitei community be classed as a “Scheduled Tribe” with the same economic benefits and quotas in government jobs and education as the minority Christian Kuki. 

This would also enable the Meitei to purchase tribal lands in Manipur’s hill regions, which was a particular source of grievance for protesting Kuki.


Catholic bishops in Kerala have urged the government to amend the law to allow the killing of wild animals that encroach onto human settlements, following the deaths of six people in animal attacks in recent months. 

“Prompt measures should be taken to devise policies allowing the shooting of wildlife that pose a significant threat to the lives and properties of citizens,” Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, the Archbishop of Trivandrum and president of the regional Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council said on 18 February.  

India’s Wildlife Protection Act bans the killing of wild animals. The bishops made their appeal and called for compensation to families after a guard at an ecotourism centre was trampled by a herd of elephants on 16 February. Another man was killed by an elephant the previous week. The deaths in Kerala’s Wayanad and Idukki districts, where many Christians work as farmers, have prompted street protests.


The Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC) elected India’s Cardinal Filipe Neri Ferrão, the Archbishop of Goa and Daman, as its new president during its central committee meeting in Bangkok last week.

The 71-year-old cardinal, currently president of the Latin-rite Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI), will succeed Myanmar’s Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, in January 2025.

Cardinal Ferrão is the second Goan cardinal after Cardinal Oswald Gracias to be elected to this post.  He has served FABC as the chairman of its Office of Education and Faith Formation. He is also a member of the Dicastery for Evangelisation and is fluent in Konkani, English, Portuguese, Italian, French, and German. 

Bishop Pablo Virgilio Siongco David of Kalookan, in the Philippines, was elected as the vice-president of the federation, while Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi of Tokyo was re-elected for a second term as the secretary general.


Bishops, clergy and Religious joined protesters in Manila last Sunday challenging attempts to amend the Philippines’ constitution.

Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo of Kidapawan, national director of Caritas Philippines, said claims the amendment was a “people’s initiative” were “fake”. Speaking at the protest, he said: “We need to be critical, we need to stand up, and we need to raise the voice of the majority.”

The rally was organised by religious and civil groups and held on the thirty-eighth anniversary of the bloodless coup to oust the father of the current President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, whose government has framed the constitutional amendment as economic reform, but critics warn that lawmakers could also extend the president’s time in office beyond the six-year term defined in the 1987 Constitution.

Bishop Bagaforo said: “We pray that our leaders will not be led into the temptation of changing the constitution for power and riches but instead be steadfast in fulfilling their duties and responsibilities as servant-leaders of the people.” Some churches and schools hosted screenings of documentaries and art exhibits last weekend depicting abuses under the dictatorship of the first Marcos president. 


Christopher Saunders, the former Bishop of Broome in Western Australia, has been arrested on charges including rape, based in part on the findings of a Vatican investigation.

Authorities announced on 22 February that they were charging the 74-year-old with two counts of rape, 14 counts of unlawful and indecent assault, and three counts of indecently dealing with a child as a person in authority, all between 2008 and 2014.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that Saunders will plead not guilty to the charges. He was released on a bail of AU$10,000 (£5,200) bond the same and has been ordered by the Broome Magistrates Court to reside at this home until the initial hearing in June.

In a statement, Archbishop Timothy Costelloe of Perth, the president of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said the allegations made against Saunders “are very serious and deeply distressing, especially for those making those allegations”.


A Haitian bishop injured in an explosion on 18 February is in a stable condition after surgery, and will be moved a specialist burns unit in Miami, according to Church sources. Bishop Pierre-André Dumas of Anse-à-Veau-Miragoâne suffered serious burns in a blast which hit the house where he was staying in Port-au-Prince last weekend.

Archbishop Max Leroys Mésidor of Port-au-Prince, president of the Haitian Bishops’ Conference, said “it is still uncertain whether the explosion was caused by a gas leak or a criminal act, the police are investigating”. He called for prayers for Dumas’ recovery. 

Last week, a teacher and six members of the Congregation of Brothers of Sacred Heart were kidnapped from outside a school in Port-au-Prince and held to ransom, while a priest was kidnapped while saying Mass in the city on the same day.


The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that frozen embryos are human beings under state law, making in vitro fertilisation (IVF) practices illegal. In an 8-1 decision, the court held “that unborn children are ‘children’ for purposes of Alabama’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act ... a statute that allows parents of a deceased child to recover punitive damages for their child’s death”. 

In addition to the consequences for IVF procedures, the concurring opinion from the court’s Chief Justice Tom Parker appeared to undermine the separation of church and state, citing various theologians such as St Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin, as well as the prophet Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”  

He also cited the Book of Genesis, noting that the sanctity of human life has “deep roots that reach back to the creation of man ‘in the image of God’”.  

While many Americans draw on religious ideas to shape their politics, courts of law have traditionally avoided such explicit references to theology. Parker’s opinion was not the majority opinion of the court, but a “concurring” opinion, meaning it does not have the force of law, but other courts routinely cite such opinions in drafting their decisions.


Pope Francis has sent a telegram to the families of those who died or were injured in a fire in Spain. A blaze broke out in a seventh-floor flat in the city of Valencia on 22 February, and its spread through adjoining 14-storey buildings has been blamed on flammable cladding, leading some to dub the disaster the “Spanish Grenfell”.  

The 10 people who died in the blaze included a couple and their 3-years-old child and one-week-old baby. A further 14 people were injured. 

In a message sent on 23 February to the Archbishop of Valencia, Enrique Benavent, the Pope assured “the people of Valencia and all the families of those affected of his spiritual closeness”. He said he was praying for the Lord “to give them strength in this moment of pain” while “commending the souls of the deceased to divine mercy.”  

The Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced three days of national mourning after the tragedy.


A Spanish priest has been temporarily suspended from his parish duties after being arrested on charges of trafficking drugs including Viagra.

According to the Diocese of Plascencia, Fr Alfonso Raúl Masa Soto has been provisionally released by the investigating judge following his arrest. The diocese expressed “pain and dismay at the suffering and scandal” caused by the arrest of Fr Soto, whom the it has now offered psychological and spiritual accompaniment.  

Spanish reports said that a man believed to be the priest’s lover was also arrested. Both men had been under police surveillance for months. One newspaper said the news had caused “disbelief” among Fr Soto’s congregation in the parish of San Sebastián, Don Benito. Parishioners in Fr Soto’s previous parish in Béjar, Salamanca, had signed a petition begging the diocese not to move him.


The Marian sanctuary at Lourdes in south-western France will reopen its baths by the end of 2024, almost four years after they were shut by the Covid pandemic.

The shrine’s rector Fr Michel Daubanes said the reopening had been further delayed by stricter hygiene rules, a reorganisation of the bath ritual and the training of a staff of new assistants. “The pandemic made us realise how dilapidated our facilities were,” he said. At the same time, the sanctuary admitted, “for many [pilgrims], the ‘water gesture’ before an unused bathtub is not particularly suitable”.

Bathing in Lourdes water dates from its early days in 1858, after one of the Marian apparitions told St Bernadette Soubirous: “Go drink from the spring and wash yourself there.”

During the baths’ closure, pilgrims could at most perform the “water gesture” of drinking Lourdes water and washing their hands and faces. This will still be available besides immersion in the bath, both of which fulfil the instructions to the saint. 

New hygiene and organisational standards will mean the baths will not be able to accommodate all 380,000 pilgrims who used them annually before the pandemic. “The same blue wrapping cloth can’t be used all afternoon,” the rector explained.


Pope Francis will probably not attend the reopening of Notre Dame cathedral in December despite invitations by President Emmanuel Macron and Archbishop Laurent Ulrich of Paris.

France has made extensive plans for a three-day ceremony around the first Mass in the cathedral on 8 December to mark its reopening after the devastating fire of 19 April 2019. Archbishop Ulrich told Le Parisien that he had told the Pope he would be welcome at the reopening, once orally and then in a more formal written invitation. Macron has also promised to invite him. 

Ulrich said the Pope had replied: “I continue my visit to countries that have not received many popes in recent years.”  The archbishop concluded: “A priori, it’s no.” 

He confirmed the cathedral would be ready in December, but said the six modern stained-glass windows for the southern side of the nave, which have been the subject of some protest, would not be installed in time.


A Polish archbishop has resigned aged 71, apologising to his priests “if my weaknesses, including incomplete understanding of specific circumstances, and sometimes even my ordinary human fatigue became the cause of your anxiety”.

The apostolic nunciature in Poland announced the resignation of Archbishop Andrzej Dziega of Szczecin-Kamien on 24 February, but did not provide a reason for his departure before the formal retirement age of 75. 

In a resignation letter published the same day, Dziega – who has been accused of covering up cases of sexual abuse – made his apology and said “a radical weakening of my condition” had forced him to resign.


Bulgaria will become the first European Union (EU) country to have religious images on its regular money, when it adopts the euro in 2025.

The Bulgarian Central Bank announced that the EU had approved plans to depict a haloed Bulgarian Orthodox Saint Ivan Rilski – known abroad as St John of Rila – on the national side of its €1 coin.  The Orthodox monk Paisii Hilendarski, a forefather of Bulgaria’s National Revival, will figure on the €2 coin. The motto “God save Bulgaria” will be inscribed on that coin’s edge.  These images already appear on Bulgaria’s lev coins. 

The EU has no ban on religious images but members mostly choose neutrality beyond the occasional commemorative coin depicting saints or statues. Mini-states like Vatican City and San Marino, which belong to the eurozone but not the EU, have minted coins with religious images that entered circulation in neighbouring Italy.


The theme of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees for 2024 will be “God Walks with His People”. The day was established in 1914 by St Pius X, and will be celebrated this year on 29 September.

According to the Vatican, while the Pope has not yet released his message for the day, the content will address “the itinerant dimension of the Church with a particular focus on our migrant brothers and sisters, a contemporary icon of the journeying Church”. In a statement, it described this journey as “a path to be undertaken in a synodal way”.

  Loading ...
Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99