16 August 2018, The Tablet

News Briefing: The Church in the World

News Briefing: The Church in the World

Patriarch Mathias I

Iraqi Christians return home

Hundreds of Iraqi Christians last week processed through the streets of Karamles, a town in the Nineveh Plains traditionally inhabited by Christians, to mark “a new beginning” after four years of exile.

In August 2014 tens of thousands of Christians were forced to flee the towns and villages of the Nineveh Plains during an offensive by jihadist militia of the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

Some 300 Christian families have returned to Karamles in recent months.


Ahead of the Feast of the Assumption of Mary this week, Patriarch Mathias I (pictured) and the Synod of the Tewahedo Orthodox Church of Ethiopia has spent two weeks in fasting and prayer for peace and reconciliation in response to an upsurge of violence. Seven Orthodox churches have been attacked and set on fire, and more than six priests and laity have been killed in recent weeks, according to local reports from the Somali region of Ethiopia. Clashes in early August between forces under the command of former president of the Somali region, Abdi Iley, and the Ethiopian army escalated into attacks on minority ethnic groups.

A monk in Egypt has been charged with the murder of a Coptic Christian bishop at a desert monastery in July.

Bishop Epiphanius, 64, was the head of St Macarius monastery in Wadi el-Natrun, northwest of Cairo. Wael Saad, 34, who as a monk was known as Isaiah al-Makari, was stripped of his religious title following the bishop’s death from serious head injuries. Prosecutors say Wael Saad confessed to using an iron bar to bludgeon the bishop. There is no known motive for the crime, but it is reported he was being investigated for violating the monastery’s rules.


The Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia has condemned an air strike by the Saudi-led military coalition on a bus in Yemen that killed at least 50 people, 29 of them children. Archbishop Paul Hinder, whose diocese encompasses six countries, including Yemen, said that “all the rules have been broken in Yemen’s war”, adding that whoever is responsible “is truly unscrupulous”. Children on the bus were returning from a summer camp when it was hit after stopping near a market for the group to buy drinks.


The ruins of what may be a seventh-century monastery among the eastern oil fields of Saudi Arabia could support the thesis that, in a region that currently bans non-Muslin religious buildings, churches were once tolerated by Islam. While the ruins have not yet been confirmed, studies suggest they are authentic, The Economist has reported. Saudi authorities are believed to have known about the monastery for at least a generation but withheld the information from the public.


Indian Church in peace plea

Church leaders in India are to mark the tenth anniversary of the worst Christian persecution in India’s modern history. Next Saturday, Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar is to preside at a Mass for reconciliation and peace. In August 2008 Hindu militants in eastern India’s Odisha state destroyed some 5,600 Christian homes, 300 churches and other buildings, resulting in the deaths of at least 91 people, according to Christian sources.


The Catholic Church in Norway underwent a period of dynamic growth in the last 12 years, more than quadrupling in size, the Bishop of Oslo, Bernt Eidsvig told the Kathpress news agency during a visit to Austria.

From 42,000 in 2005, the number of Catholics officially registered with the state has risen to 177,000. Norway funds Churches according to their size and the Catholic Church especially depends on these payments as many of its members are poor migrants.

Numbers may actually be as much as a third higher because some migrants are reluctant to register with the state following their experiences at the hands of authoritarian governments.

Only 15 per cent of Catholics are native Norwegians, with 50 per cent coming from Poland and the rest from Lithuania, the Philippines, Vietnam, India, Sri Lanka and Latin America. In Oslo’ s cathedral, Sunday Masses are held in seven languages.

Demands to free detainees

Marchers took to the streets last week in several cities in Nicaragua, calling for people detained in anti-government protests to be released. At least 137 people, most of them young, have been jailed since April on charges relating to the protests.

Managua Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Báez has called for the immediate release of political prisoners. Writing on his Twitter account, the bishop demanded “no more disappearances and illegal detentions!”

President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, called for counter-protests on the same day, resulting in a person being killed in a clash between protesters and pro-government groups in the city of Matagalpa. The total number of deaths since the protests began in April is estimated to be up to 450.

A special group set up by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to monitor the situation in Nicaragua has found that arbitrary detentions are common, detainees are not informed of the charges against them and their families are not told where they will be taken.

The Archbishop of Managua, Leopoldo Brenes, said last week that the Catholic bishops were working to “reinitiate” the dialogue between government and protesters that was suspended in June.


The Peace and Justice Commission of the bishops’ conference in Venezuela is calling for the government to end the arbitrary detentions and repression that began following an alleged drone attack earlier this month on the country’s president, Nicolás Maduro.

Meanwhile attorney general Tarek William Saab said six people have been detained in relation to the attack so far, including opposition MP Juan Requesens on Wednesday in Caracas. The Supreme Court called for opposition leader Julio Borges (pictured above), living in exile in Colombia, to be arrested. Mr Borges says the claim that he was involved in the attack is “absurd”.

On Thursday Venezuelan bishops said that the attack should not lead to “arbitrary detentions, cruel or inhumane treatment, torture or forced disappearances”.

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