06 May 2024, The Tablet

News Briefing: Church in the World

News Briefing: Church in the World

Fr Greg Boyle SJ, founder of Homeboy Industries, in his office in 2009. He was awarded the Presidential Medal for Freedom this year for his work to rehabilitate young gang members.
BBC World Service

Pope Francis offered prayers for the people of Rio Grande do Sul State on Sunday after the Angelus in St Peter’s Square. Brazil’s southernmost state is recovering from massive flooding and landslides. The Pope prayed for those who died and for consolation for their families and those forced to leave their homes.

On Monday the flooding death toll had reached 75, with over 100 people missing and more than 80,000 displaced by the disaster. The destruction of infrastructure left more than a million people without access to drinking water.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, arrived in Rio Grande do Sul on Sunday to discuss rescue and reconstruction with local authorities. “Never before in the history of Brazil had there been such a quantity of rain in one single location,” Lula said.


The Mexican bishops’ conference claimed a retired bishop was the victim of an “express kidnapping” after he disappeared only to be found unconscious in a hospital. 

Medical records from the Dr José G Parres General Hospital in Cuernavaca, the capital of the central Morelos state, show that traces of cocaine and Viagra were found in the blood of Salvador Rangel, Bishop Emeritus of Chilpancinga. 

Local police claimed Rangel had entered a motel voluntarily with a man who had then departed alone. However, the public attorney for Morelos said Rangel was kidnapped. According to the bishop’s lawyer, he can remember nothing after leaving home and entering a shop to buy a bottle of water.  

Other bishops accused local police of “politicising” Rangel’s disappearance. In a homily on Sunday, the conference’s secretary general Bishop Ramón Castro of Cuernavaca, said: “Thousands of bots, individuals interested in injuring the moral authority of the Church have seen this as an opportunity… What a shame, because far from seeking the truth and justice they only confuse people.”  

In March, Bishop Rangel announced he had received death threats, but commented: “I don’t know if they are from cartel leaders or the government.”


US President Joe Biden awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Fr Greg Boyle SJ, founder of Homeboy Industries, a ministry in Los Angeles that helps rehabilitate young gang members.

The president said Boyle had “changed countless lives” through his ministry, which began in his parish 1992 and is now the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry ministry in the US. Homeboy now serves nearly 10,000 people in the city each year. 

Biden said its work “reminds us of the power of redemption, rehabilitation and our obligation to those who have been condemned or counted out”, adding: “Thank God for the Jebbies.”  The organisation is not religiously affiliated but says its work is “in line with the Jesuit practice of social justice”. 

Biden also conferred the Presidential Medal on former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the only woman to hold the post. During her tenure, she helped enact the Affordable Care Act which extended health insurance to millions of Americans, and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, which funded a major clean energy programme. Pelosi’s Catholic faith has sometimes been a source of controversy because of her unwavering support for abortion rights

A third Catholic, the swimmer Katie Ledecky, who has won seven Olympic gold medals, was also among the 19 people honoured by the president.


The Pope said transgender people “must be accepted and integrated into society” in a message to a leading American advocate for LGBTQ rights in the Church.

Sr Jeannine Gramick SL, the co-founder of New Ways Ministry, said last week she had received the message in response to her criticisms of Dignitas Infinita, the Vatican document on human dignity published last month which included a denunciation of “gender ideology”.

Sr Gramick said that after she expressed “my sadness and my disappointment” at the use of this terminology, Pope Francis had replied that the term referred to “something other than homosexual or transexual people”, an ideology “which nullifies differences”.


A group of Carmelite nuns in Arlington, Texas withdrew their application for a restraining order against the local bishop and an association of Carmelite monasteries which the Vatican appointed to govern the monastery.  

They had sought to prevent Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth and representatives of the Association of Christ the King from entering the grounds of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity, or exercising governance over the nuns there. The court hearing to consider the application was scheduled for 30 April, but was cancelled when the nuns withdrew their request, according to a lawyer representing Bishop Olson. 

The nuns have been engaged in a legal battle with the bishop for a year, after he removed their superior following allegations that she violated the Sixth Commandment with a priest. It is unclear if any legal recourse remains to the nuns, who have rejected the Vatican’s decision to have the Carmelite association govern them.


The new Bishop of Portland, Maine drove a truck making twice-weekly deliveries of hot food to the poor of Rhode Island while he was a parish priest.  

Bishop James T Ruggieri, who was installed last week, said it had been “a joy” to drive the truck, which had been emblazoned with a quotation from the Gospel of Matthew, images of St John Paul II, St Teresa of Calcutta, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Jesus as the Divine Mercy.


Zimbabwe’s Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace urged workers to show “resilience” despite worsening economic conditions, a message for International Workers’ Day. 

“Hard work is the foundation of success and progress,” it said. “Keep pushing, and remember your work matters.” Unions have complained of workers going months without salaries, while the unemployment rate stands at 10 per cent.


A coalition of evangelical Churches in Botswana has voiced opposition to the parliament’s latest effort to amend the constitution to include gay rights. 

The Apostolic Faith Mission voiced “grave concerns” that “these provisions portend grave threat for our Christian way of life, our democracy and, indeed, our republic as we have known it over the many decades”, according to its pastor Abraham Kedisang.  

Botswana’s high court decriminalised same-sex relations in 2019, a measure supported by the Botswana Council of Churches, including the Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Methodist leadership.  

The chief executive of the group Lesbians, Gay and Bisexuals of Botswana, Thato Moruti, said last week that the constitutional amendments are about protecting human rights and are not a religious issue. “It is an issue that is concerned with reducing systematic disadvantages on other people,” he said.


Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) warned of a “climate of mistrust” in Burundi after the country’s Catholic bishops issued a “message for peace” condemning political violence. 

“The realisation that there are people in our country who are cruelly murdered or abducted and disappear for political reasons or other macabre interests makes one shudder,” the bishops said in their statement, which ACN circulated with an appeal that “all those in positions of responsibility in the country will listen to the voice of their conscience”. 

The bishops called for justice to be “administered in accordance with the law” because if Burundians lost confidence in due process they would “become discouraged, take the law into their own hands, and commit crimes”.


The Archbishop of Kinshasa Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo was not in the Democratic Republic of Congo when he was invited to an interview with a senior state prosecutor, according to a statement from Congolese bishops. 

There was widespread outrage last week at a letter dated 27 April which ordered a judicial investigation of the cardinal, accusing him of making “seditious remarks” and of failing to attend an interview with the prosecutor Firmin Mvonde Manbu on 25 April.

Following protests at the legal threat, the Congolese bishops’ conference issued a statement appealing for “calm” on 30 April. It noted that Ambongo was away from his diocese, in his capacity as president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, when Mvonde Manbu invited him for interview. 

A statement issued the same day by Kinshasa clergy said the legal threat was a “shameful initiative which instrumentalises justice and reflects a dictatorial drift aimed at annihilating freedom of expression”. The bishops asked for calm “while the case is handled in a responsible manner by the competent authorities”.


The Catholic Church in Ethiopia backed the “Clean Cities – Healthy Lives” initiative of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed introduced last month.  

The Archbishop of Addis Ababa, Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, said that the Church believes in nourishing a culture of dignified sanitation by building public toilets. “Dirty materials and other wastes should be discharged in a modern manner to keep the city clean since cleanliness is happiness, health and wealth,” he said. 

The Church agreed to implement the programme in its schools, medical centres, and other buildings, and Cardinal Berhaneyesus called on Catholics to help local communities support the initiative.


A priest and his driver were reported missing in South Sudan’s West Equatoria state on 27 April. Bishop Edward Hiiboro Kussala of Tombura Yamb appealed to President Salva Kiir for state assistance to find Fr Luke Yugue and Michael Gbeko, and on 2 May announced four days of prayer for their safe return. 

Church officials said they had been travelling by motorcycle from one parish to another, where Fr Yugue was expected. His family suggested he was kidnapped by “opposition forces” in the area, though priests have not normally been targets in South Sudan’s internal conflicts

Violence has persisted in many parts of the country since the end of its seven-year civil war in 2021. Bishop Kussala urged South Sudanese to “work for durable peace”.


Italian police arrested a man identified in reports as a Czech priest in St Peter’s Square on Sunday after a security search found an air gun and a number of blades in his bag. The priest, named as Milan Palkovic, was part of a group of Czech pilgrims, and said that the bag belonged to another man in the group and that the items were for “self-defence”. The other pilgrim was also arrested. 

In a separate incident the previous evening, a man with a replica pistol designed to fire blanks was arrested outside the Basilica of St Mary Major. Last month, police arrested Moises Tejada – a US fugitive on New York state’s “most wanted” list – in a bathroom next to St Peter’s Square. He was carrying three concealed knives.


Redemptorists in Vietnam have objected to the construction of a new building on property which Hanoi city authorities acquired from them over half a century ago.  

The existing state-run Dong Da General Hospital stands on a former Redemptorist monastery and there are now plans to build a new hospital next to it. Because the authorities never officially confiscated the site, “we are the legal owners of the properties” the Redemptorists said in a statement on 26 April.  

Fr Joseph Nguyen Van Hoi, who heads the order in Hanoi, said they will petition local authorities to stop the new project and have existing Church property returned as a “clear way to hold local Christians in respect as Vietnam tries to improve bilateral relations with the Holy See”. The Redemptorists will be celebrating the centenary of their arrival in Vietnam in May 2025.


Filipino bishops instructed Catholic parishes to pray for rain and lower temperatures last weekend as an extreme heatwave in late April forced the government to order around 47,000 schools to switch to online at-home learning. In Manila, the temperature reached a record-high of 38.8°C (101.8F).

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued an Oratio Imperata Ad Petendam Pluviam – a special prayer for rain.  

The text said: “We humbly ask you to grant us relief from the extreme heat that besets your people at this time, disrupting their activities and threatening their lives and livelihood. Send us rain to replenish our depleting water sources, to irrigate our fields, to stave off water and power shortages and to provide water for our daily needs.” 

The El Niño phenomenon drove a widespread drought earlier this year which has compounded difficulties.

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