07 April 2016, The Tablet

News Briefing: global

A boy injured in a suicide bomb attack at a public park in Lahore, Pakistan, on Easter Sunday, rests in his bed on 28 March at a hospital in the city.

Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore said he was grief- stricken while visiting hospitalised child victims of the Islamist attack. Speaking with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need on 29 March, the archbishop said that seeing severely injured children, some as young as four, was “truly difficult”. The children were among 340 people injured by a suicide bomber. At least 72 people died, including 29 children, in the attack in which a splinter group of the Taliban specifically targeted Christian families. “I visited every bedside and every victim, of whatever faith. It was truly difficult because I saw so many children, only four or five (years old), both Christians and Muslims, who had been wounded or killed,” Archbishop Shaw said.

Catholic bishops in Kenya have joined with other faith leaders to caution against the creation of illegal militia groups, as politicians position themselves for the 2017 general elections. Fresh in the leaders’ minds is the 2007-2008 post-election violence, during which more than 1,300 people were killed in two months by supporters of rival politicians. The burning of scores of refugees hiding in a church drew the strife to the attention of the world. In Nairobi last Thursday the Inter-religious Council of Kenya, which includes Catholic bishops, warned that the politicians were setting the country up for similar violence. “It is immoral and sinful for anyone seeking a position to casually posit that Kenyans can die and be maimed so that they achieve their political ambitions,” the faith leaders told a news conference. “This must be stopped.” The leaders expressed concern that social media were stoking ethnic hatred. “We counsel you that the best security against those hell-bent on destroying our national cohesion is to speak out against those messages,” they said.

The Catholic Bishops of Alberta, Canada, have refused to cooperate with a request by the Government to suggest “practical safeguards” in the drafting of new laws and regulations regarding euthanasia and medically assisted death. The bishops told the Department of Health that the idea of somehow drafting regulations to protect the vulnerable from the new reality of legally sanctioned medical death was a non-starter. “As bishops, we cannot propose ‘practical safeguards’ with the knowledge that advocates for these practices will use the same ‘practical safeguards’ to advance their own cause,” they said. The bishops also informed the Government that none of the 18 hospitals in the province run by the Church can “participate in, condone or advocate for physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia”.

Aleppo remembers
A “March for peace in Syria”, led by the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II (above) was held in Aleppo, on Sunday 27 March, with a focus on the fate of the two bishops of the war-ruined city – Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and Greek Orthodox Boulos Yazigi – who were abducted on 22 April 2013. According to sources in the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate, the march saw the participation of priests and religious along with more than 400 boys and girls who had earlier attended a meeting of the Syrian Orthodox youth under way in Aleppo. A fragile “cessation of hostilities” truce has held in Syria for more than a month as the various parties try to negotiate an end to Syria’s five-year civil war, but the truce excludes Islamic State and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front.

No to women
The Polish Lutheran Church has voted against women’s ordination. The proposal to ordain women put forward by the leader of the Polish Lutherans, Bishop Jerzy Samiec, failed by eight votes to get the necessary two-thirds majority at the Lutheran Synod which met in Warsaw on 2 April. Only 425,000 (0.3 per cent) of the Polish population of 38.5 million are Lutheran; 87 per cent are Catholic and 1.3 per cent Orthodox. Around 30 of the 145 Churches that belong to the Lutheran World Federation do not have women priests.  

In the United States, Archbishop of Atlanta Wilton D. Gregory and Gregory J. Hartmayer, Bishop of Savannah, said that while they support the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) they “do not support any implementation of RFRA in a way that will discriminate against any individual”. The 1993 federal act signed into law by former president Bill Clinton “ensures that interests in religious freedom are protected” but is increasingly challenged by activists. The bishops were speaking on 29 March, the day after the Georgia Governor Nathan Deal vetoed a state religious liberty bill modelled on RFRA. He said he would reject any bill allowing religious exemptions aimed, for example, at protecting clergy who oppose same-sex marriage. Critics of the bill said it would have given faith-based organisations in Georgia the option to deny services and jobs to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Numerous corporations announced that if the bill became law, they would no longer do business in Georgia.

Prayer vigil
An Indian archbishop presided over a prayer vigil in Goa last week for the release of the Indian Salesian priest kidnapped in Yemen on 4 March. There have been assurances from the Indian Government that Fr Tom Uzhunnalil is likely to be alive, despite rumours circulating on the internet that he would be crucified. India’s Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, told the Indian Catholic Bishops’ Conference last Saturday that speculation about Fr Uzhunnalil’s crucifixion was baseless and the Government was working to secure his safe return. Archbishop Filipe Neri António Sebastião do Rosário Ferrão of Goa and Daman said: “The Church in Goa prays for the safe return of Uzhunnalil, SDB, a son of our country.”  

Last respects
Actor Jim Caviezel (above), who played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ, pays his respects at the casket of Mother Angelica before her 1 April funeral Mass at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama. A garage here was the site of the first Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) studio in 1981. Mother Angelica, who founded EWTN, died on Easter Sunday, aged 92. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia celebrated the Mass, joined by the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, and dozens of priests. Pope Francis sent a message expressing his “gratitude for Mother Angelica’s service to the Gospel through social communications and a life of prayer”.

Compiled by James Roberts

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