25 March 2024, The Tablet

News Briefing: Church in the World

News Briefing: Church in the World

A pro-Trump rally at a country music bar in Chicago.
Matthew Kaplan / Alamy

Alt-right Catholics espousing notions of Christian nationalism gathered at former US President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago mansion for a $1,000 per person “Catholic Prayer for Trump” rally.

Among the speakers was General Michael Flynn, who served 22 days as Trump’s national security advisor in 2017 before being forced to resign because he lied about contacts with Russian operatives. Flynn told the gathering the US is in “the valley of the shadow of death” and that Trump’s re-election was the only way to restore the nation.

Other speakers, including conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec and Frank Pavone, a priest defrocked in 2022, painted a similar dystopian vision of the country, saying their mission was “to destroy communism and save Western civilisation”.

Pavone highlighted Trump’s opposition to abortion, calling him “the most pro-life candidate this country has ever seen”. In recent months, Trump has been unclear about his position on laws restricting abortion access.


Religious in Washington, DC organised an online Way of the Cross for peace and justice on Good Friday, promoted as “an opportunity to reflect on the ways we have broken our covenant with God at the expense of other persons and creation”.

Each station would focus on a difference economic and ecological challenge or sign of hope for our times, located at various sites around the city including the White House, the Treasury and the Pentagon. Themes include political privilege and corruption, justice for workers, racism, migrant rights, peace, human rights in foreign policy and the need for ecological conversion and climate solutions.

The last station included the prayer: “O God, we confess our sins of selfishness and greed. We pray for a new vision of community and solidarity where we recognise one another as one human family, and share the abundant gifts of the Earth for the common good. We pray for the coming of the New Creation; we believe that another world is possible.” 

Organisers and sponsors included the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Churches for the Middle East, Franciscan Action Network and Pax Christi USA.


A Nevada judge ruled that the state must include coverage of abortion in Medicaid, the government-provided health insurance programme for the poor.

Medicaid is jointly funded by state and federal governments, but since 1977, a federal law known as the Hyde Amendment has barred the use of federal funds for abortions except in the cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. Nevada would therefore be required to pay for the abortion coverage entirely.

The ruling came in a case brought by a pro-choice organisation, the Silver State Hope Fund, which sued Nevada arguing that the state’s 2022 Equal Rights Amendment required it to provide abortion coverage in the Medicaid programme. They argued that not doing so “disadvantages women because of their sex, including their reproductive capabilities”.

Attorneys for Nevada countered that “if Medicaid were to cover elective abortions, it would have to divert state money from covering other services because it cannot use federal matching dollars to pay for elective abortions”.

Since the US Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe vs Wade decision that had asserted a nationwide constitutional right to abortion, state courts and legislatures have been trying to establish what legitimate restrictions state laws place on the procedure.


Pope Francis sent a letter to the bishops of Panama, Colombia and Costa Rica urging them to develop greater pastoral care for migrants traveling towards the US border, while also working towards a long-term solution to guarantee the “right not to migrate”.

Bishops from the three countries met in Panama last week for a conference titled “Easter with our migrant brothers and sisters”, focusing especially on pastoral outreach to those who attempt to cross the treacherous Darién Gap that connects Central and South America.

Pope Francis called for pastors and pastoral workers to be close to migrants, “leading the Church, together with our migrant brothers and sisters, along the paths of hope”.

In another letter to a group of migrants gather in a reception centre in the Panamanian town of Lajas Blancas on 21 March, Pope Francis said: “I too am a child of migrants.”  He referred to his own family, who “set out for a better future”, leaving northern Italy for Argentina in the 1920s, and described migrants as “the face of Christ” whom the Church lovingly offers “relief and hope”.


About 30 students and staff from Hong Kong’s Saint Francis University took part in a programme of environmental education and joined a beach clean-up at Lobster Bay, as part of the local diocese’s ecological initiatives for Lent.

Teachers and pupils from Yan Tak Catholic Primary School embarked on a two-hour walk from Discovery Bay to the Abbey of Our Lady of Joy at the outlying Lantau Island for an “Ecological Stations of the Cross”.

In his Lenten message, the Bishop of Hong Kong Cardinal Stephen Chow Sau-Yan had invited Catholics to embrace “ecological conversion”.


A report from the New Delhi-based United Christian Forum has warned that in 19 out of India’s 28 states, “Christians face threat to life for practicing their faith”. The forum’s coordinator A.C. Michael said that “the minority communities are feeling unsafe”.

The report, published on 21 March, said the central state of Chhattisgarh had the highest number of reported incidents of violence targeting Christians. Uttar Pradesh was second and Madhya Pradesh was third. All three have governments led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is pursuing a third consecutive term in forthcoming elections.

There have been increasing instances of violence against Christian since he took office in 2014. The BJP governs eleven states, most of which have implemented comprehensive prohibitions of conversion.


The Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad, Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako, accused Iraq’s Supreme Court of “unconstitutional” conduct, after it annulled the quota of 11 seats reserved for ethno-religious minorities in the Parliament of the Autonomous Region of Iraqi Kurdistan.

In a statement on 9 March, the patriarch expressed his concern about political interference in the operations of the court. Representatives of the Chaldean, Syrian and Assyrian churches met President Abdul Latif Rashid at the Al Salam Presidential Palace in Baghdad on 12 March, where told them Christian communities are “an integral part of the interdependent diversity of the country’s multicultural identity”.

In a message for Holy Week, Cardinal Sako said Christians “desperately need Jesus” at a time when “principles have been violated” and “corruption legalised” as the Chaldean Church endures its own “Way of the Cross”.


Catholic delegates at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca) Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development conference, held in Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe at the start of March, called for funding for the “loss and damage” support promised by developed countries.

Successive climate change conferences have recognised the need for rich countries to finance the poorer victims of climate change, but little funding has emerged.

“This is an important conversation. We all desire that our planet is protected. To develop and protect climate justice we need finance,” said Fr Charles Chilufya, who heads ecology and justice at the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar.

The finance ministers met to establish the continent’s climate finance needs, with the Catholic agencies present appealing for more support for the poor. “We are interested in livelihoods, especially the poor and climate. The poor are the most hit by climate change,” Fr Gabriel Mapulanga, director of Caritas Zambia.


The bishops’ conference of Malawi has begun partnerships with international donors to conduct direct cash transfers to needy families. The bishops said more than 4,500 families will benefit from the cash transfer programme, aimed at relieving hunger by the most efficient means possible. The project is backed by $300,000 from Sciaf.

“The grant will help the Church to implement a cash transfer initiative aimed at assisting hunger-stricken families to buy foodstuffs during this tough period,” said Bishop Alfred Chaima of Zomba, who heads Malawi’s Catholic Development Commission. “The Church is planning to reach out to 4,520 families with cash transfers of $59 to each household as a short-term solution to aid them with food during this hard season.”


Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo of Kinshasa condemned the decision of the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to lift its ban on the death penalty as “a step backwards”, after the justice minister announced the end of a two-decade moratorium on capital punishment in response to “acts of treachery or espionage”.

Minister Rose Mutombo announced on 13 March that the restoration of the death penalty would aid efforts to “rid our country’s army of traitors” and restore order to the conflict-ridden east of the DRC, but Cardinal Ambongo said it was “abnormal that a government that claims to be responsible could take such a decision”.

He said that authorities could “take advantage of a vague notion of traitors to settle political scores”, while he felt that “the greatest traitors to the country are precisely those in power”.


Archbishop Matthew Man-oso Ndagoso of Kaduna has urged the Nigerian government to “live up to its promises” of improved security after recent attacks on Christians. He said that the government was not supplying security forces with adequate weaponry to protect its people from terrorists.

The archbishop spoke after visiting Adama Dutse, a village in his archdiocese where five children and six adults were shot dead recently by unknown gunmen. The attackers also destroyed 28 homes and a Catholic church. Archbishop Ndagoso thanked local security forces for responding quickly, despite their lack of weapons.

Successive governments have promised to address the growing problem of violent land disputes, where members of the predominately Muslim Fulani herder community target the largely Christian farming population.

Separately, Nigeria’s bishops appealed to President Bola Tinubu to release Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, a group seeking the independence of Biafra from Nigeria. Kanu has been in detention since he was rearrested and extradited from Kenya in June 2021 on controversial terrorism charges.

The bishops said on 20 March that releasing Kanu would help Nigeria’s south-east region to recover from the impacts of insecurity enflamed by his prolonged detention.


A priest in Tenerife apologised for ordering the re-painting of 300-year-old frescoes in a bid to spruce up his church before Holy Week. Fr Héctor Lunar said he was unaware that the frescoes in the Church of St Anthony of Padua in El Tanque had been listed in 2011.

Fr Lunar, a Venezuelan who reportedly left his country after receiving threats for criticising Nicolás Maduro’s regime from the pulpit, said no one had told him he needed to apply for permission from the regional government of the Canary Islands before altering the church premises.

The local religious fraternity that filed a complaint against the works, calling for Fr Lunar to be replaced as parish priest, accepted his apology but said they could not understand why the priest had not consulted anybody before summoning the decorators.


French police have detained a suspected radical Islamist in the Paris region who they said had visited several Catholic churches to prepare a violent attack on a house of worship. The 62-year-old man, who police said was “clearly committed to jihadist ideology” and followed the Islamic State movement, was remanded in custody for associating with terrorists with an attack plan, according to reports in France.

This was the second time this year that Parisian authorities has broken up plans for possible violence. In early March, three French teenagers with contacts to four men arrested in Brussels, who planned to storm a concert there, were detained for questioning, with two of them remanded in custody. 

Paris has tightened security as it nervously prepares to host the Summer Olympics in late July and early August. The opening ceremony, a spectacle due to be held on boats descending the Seine, has had to cut its total spectators by half due to security concerns.


The heads of four European organisations representing different Churches issued a joint declaration ahead of the 2024 European elections, affirming a commitment to work with the European institutions, MEP candidates and political parties to promote a positive agenda inspired by Christian values.

The declaration, issued on 20 March, was signed by the heads of, the Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, the Conference of European Churches, the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy and Together for Europe. It encouraged the EU to implement Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, for transparent and regular dialogue between Churches and the EU.

The declaration noted the “exclusion of any appropriate reference to Christian values in relevant EU texts” and the disappointment of “a large proportion of citizens, who confidently look at the European future through the prism of Christian values”. The Churches called for a reversal of this attitude to ensure the widest possible participation of citizens in the EY’s decision-making process.


The Norwegian Bible Society has published the first Catholic bible in Norway’s two official languages. Scripture scholars, linguists and writers – including Jon Fosse, the Catholic Norwegian winner of the 2023 Nobel Prize for Literature – produced the new edition, available in Bokmål and Nynorsk.

Bishop Erik Varden of Trondheim welcomed the publication on 15 March as “a major ecumenical event”. The edition includes the seven deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament omitted from Protestant bibles, as well as extended passages of the books of Esther and Daniel.

Varden described the edition as a fresh invitation for Norway’s Catholics “to engage with the entirety of Scripture” and “read each book as a whole, attentive to the symphony of voices that join in proclaiming a single, undying and saving words”. He said he hoped Catholics would learn to “love and revere” Scripture and let it renew their lives.


Opus Dei expressed regret at the “bad personal experience” of former members recorded in a Financial Times article, but said they “reflect situations that occurred decades ago”.

“The Opus Dei Diaries” published in the FT Magazine on 16 March alleged that assistant numeraries – women who do domestic work in the organisation’s centres – had been kept in “unpaid servitude” and subjected to emotional and spiritual abuse.

In a statement issued the same day, Opus Dei said it was “clear there is pain in these testimonies [of former members] and it is now clear that we have not always been sensitive enough to listen at the time”.

However, it denied several of claims in the article, specifying that the “vocation of assistant numerary” was supported by a long process of discernment and included state-approved education and training, and that to characterise it as “servitude” was “a flat misrepresentation of reality”.


Churches joined major landmarks around the world to mark Earth Hour last Saturday. Lights went out for an hour from 8:30pm local time at the dome of St Peter’s, at Cologne Cathedral in Germany and at St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Bulgaria. Indonesia’s Prambanan Temple – one of the largest Hindu temples in Southeast Asia – also participated.

Earth Hour is a campaign by the World Wide Fund for Nature encouraging simple steps to cut emissions to tackle the climate crisis. Famous buildings taking part this year included the Eiffel Tower in Paris, New York’s Empire State Building in, the Kremlin and Sydney Harbour Bridge.

  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