AMERICA/VENEZUELA - The analysis of the situation of the country in times of the pandemic at the center of the work of the Assembly of Bishops

Fides EN - www.fides.org - jeu, 07/01/2021 - 16:30
Caracas - The 115th Plenary Assembly of the Bishops' Conference of Venezuela begins today and will take place online, in accordance with the new regulations of the authorities of this country to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
As announced by the Bishops' Conference, the Apostolic Nuncio in Venezuela, Archbishop Aldo Giordano, also takes part in the virtual meeting. He will address the bishops with a greeting. One of the central topics of the meeting will be the analysis of the situation in Venezuela at this time of the pandemic.
Venezuela has recorded 115,000 cases of Covid-19 with 1,050 deaths. Since January 4, Venezuela has returned to what is known as the "7 + 7" system as part of measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic, which includes seven days of strict quarantine and another seven days of more flexible measures. This was announced by the Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez via Twitter. Health ministry statistics confirmed an increase in cases in recent days, and with it the need for a return to stricter measures.
In the meantime, the Council of American Bishops 'Conferences asked the Venezuelan Bishops' Conference to discuss the proposals for the restructuring of CELAM, which is why this topic will also be on the agenda of the plenary assembly. The opening address will be given by the President of the Episcopal Conference, Bishop José Luis Azuaje, of Maracaibo. As usual, the bishops 'conference will be addressed to the country's Catholics in a joint bishops' conference, which will most likely also deal with the current humanitarian crisis in the country.
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AFRICA/SOUTH AFRICA - The South African Church hit hard by Covid-19; Christian leaders: "Do not delay vaccines"

Fides EN - www.fides.org - jeu, 07/01/2021 - 16:24
Johannesburg - "We appeal to Government to pull out all the stops to ensure urgent rollout of the vaccine, which is a public good" say the Christian leaders of South Africa, in a note from the South African Council of Churches "It is cause for significant concern to think that we must continue to watch our people dying as we wait for the first confirmed COVAX vaccines to arrive in the county in the second quarter of the year. If any other steps can be taken to bring vaccines into the country sooner, let there be no human hindrance to that process".
COVAX is a program which was launched in April by the World Health Organization , the European Commission and France in response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, aimed at producing 2 billion doses of vaccines by the end of 2021. All participating Countries, regardless of income levels, will have equal access to these vaccines once developed.
South African authorities have so far not ensured a certain supply of vaccines or a plan for mass inoculation. This portends the worst devastation of Covid-19 in the year to come for the country.
"While we are awaiting such vaccines to reach our shores, there are already visible repercussions of Covid-19 being felt and I am afraid such effects have dire consequences for the Church in South Africa", writes Fr. Elias Ledwaba, South African priest. "Covid-19 has negatively affected church attendance. This global pandemic, at least in my parochial jurisdiction has exposed demographics; it became crystal clear that the church is comprises of an older generation which is mostly susceptible and stands at a higher risk of infection and eventually succumbing to Covid-19. This fact poses as a challenge to device means of reaching out to this group of people and to propose new ways of youth and young adult evangelization".
"Therefore, Covid-19 has challenged parishes and dioceses to be forward thinking and to find ways to keep themselves financially afloat. If the trajectory of Covid-19 continues at it is, I am afraid a sizeable number of parishes will have to be merged or even closed", underlines Fr. Ledwaba, who also remembers the various priests and religious affected by the virus.
The priest concludes with a note of hope: "I am consoled by the fact that Covid-19 has provided people with a prolonged “retreat” to assess their relationship with God, to strengthen family bonds and to grow spiritually; to introspect and make certain behavioural changes and to learn to appreciate everything we have. As we struggle with this invisible yet felt enemy, let us always remember that there is always a light at the end of a tunnel".
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AMERICA/GUATEMALA - Confirmation of the National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies

Fides EN - www.fides.org - jeu, 07/01/2021 - 15:42
Vatican City - On 12 June 2020, Cardinal Luis Antonio G. Tagle, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, confirmed Fr. David Arias Guzman, CM. as National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Guatemala for another five years .
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AFRICA/ZAMBIA - Confirmation of the National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies

Fides EN - www.fides.org - jeu, 07/01/2021 - 15:38
Vatican City - On 10 August 2020, Cardinal Luis Antonio G. Tagle, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, confirmed the position of Fr. Edwin Mulandu as National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Zambia for another five years .
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ASIA/PAKISTAN - Christians welcome the new government initiative to protect religious minorities

Fides EN - www.fides.org - jeu, 07/01/2021 - 15:35
Lahore - "We appreciate the government's renewed commitment to the protection of religious minorities in Pakistan, especially for the protection of those falsely accused and for the protection of innocent underage girls trapped in forced conversions and marriages. The initiative of the Government Office for Interreligious Harmony will certainly strengthen peace and harmony between people of different religions and help ensure that members of religious minorities do not to live in fear": with these words, released to Agenzia Fides, Bishop Samson Shukardin OFM, Bishop of Hyderabad and new President of the National Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace welcomed and appreciated the initiative of Hafiz Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, head of Pakistan Ulema Council , and Special Advisor to Prime Minister Imran Khan for religious harmony. The Islamic leader launched a new initiative for the protection of religious minorities living in Pakistan, entitled "Appeal to non-Muslims in Pakistan", announcing the creation of a special section within the Government Office for Interreligious Harmony, dedicated to specifically addressing the problems and issues relating to religious minorities.
From time to time we hear episodes of forced conversions, forced marriages and people threatened in the name of religion from different parts of the country," said Ashrafi. "In order to combat these problems and especially to stop the abuse of the blasphemy law in Pakistan, on the instructions of our Prime Minister Imran Khan we have established a new department in our Office".
Hafiz Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, launching the initiative, said: "The government of Pakistan is committed to protecting religious minorities from becoming victims of forced conversions and forced marriages, as well as false accusations under blasphemy laws". "The government will set up appropriate Interfaith Harmony Councils across the country to promote religious tolerance. These councils include representatives from all Islamic schools so that abuse of blasphemy laws can be prevented".
Hafiz Ashrafi, who with his team also helped save six Christians in Lahore in November , explains: "In the past two months we were able to intervene and solve 101 cases, and with the help of Islamic scholars and religious will find a solution that will save 101 non-Muslim Pakistanis from abusive laws and false accusations. Under the leadership of Imran Khan, we want to ensure equal rights for all citizens. We plan to train imams on the themes of interreligious harmony, interreligious dialogue and tolerance".
Fr. James Channan OP, Director of the Peace Center in Lahore, sharing his thoughts with Fides, said: "The commitment of the Council for Interreligious Harmony of Pakistan, in favor of the protection of religious minorities, is very positive and is a message of hope for us in the new year". Fr Channan urges: "We encourage all of our religious leaders and Christian politicians to spread the message and the appeal launched by Hafiz Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi of the Government's Interfaith Harmony Office, in order to quickly get help for non-citizens Muslims who are suffering from abuse of their dignity or rights".
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ASIA - The Federation of Asian Bishops launches online courses for pastoral communicators

Fides EN - www.fides.org - jeu, 07/01/2021 - 15:20
Manila - The Veritas Asia Institute of Social Communication , established by the Office for Social Communications of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences , launched three online courses for the formation of pastoral personnel in the region. As reported to Agenzia Fides by the FABC, the President of the Office, Roberto Mallari, inaugurated the website www.vaiscom.org, illustrating the courses through the Zoom web platform on 6 January.
"Our God is a communicating God, and communication is central to the mission of the Church", he said, explaining that the new online programs "will instill dynamism among pastoral leaders in Asia, to help uplift the skills of pastoral personnel for effective ministry in the Church".
The Executive Secretary of the Office for Communications, Father George Plathottam, SDB, the institute is "committed to form personnel for various communication ministries, for the Church in Asia through online, in-campus and in loco programs". The current online mode of learning, although planned long before the pandemic, has become a timely and common platform of learning. The Institute, said Fr. George offers three specific programs, at different levels: Basic, Advanced, and Diploma in Social Communication. The intent is "to equip church leaders to meet the challenges presented by new media and the diverse pastoral contexts in Asia".
Fr. William LaRousse, Assistant Secretary General of the FABC, citing Pope Paul VI recalled that "the mission of the Church in Asia is for all peoples". The new training courses are, in the current phase, marked by the pandemic, "timely and hugely beneficial to the Church in Asia, especially as the federation celebrates its golden jubilee this year". The Information Communication Technology revolution - he remarked - represents a great challenge and a new opportunity for the Church in Asia and for her mission. "The Veritas Asia Institute of Social Communication is the FABC's answer inspired by the Holy Spirit to meet this challenge", he concluded.
The first online course titled “Communication for Pastoral Leadership” is set to begin in July 2021 and VAISCOM has started admission to the program. The course is very flexible and offers candidates the opportunity to complete the program at their own pace of study. The courses were prepared by a team from the Salesian congregation under Father Plathottam with technical support from the Delhi-based Manna Media Hub, Manila’s Asia Pacific Consortium of Educational Research, and Radio Veritas Asia based in Manila.
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AFRICA/CENTRAL AFRICA - Bangassou, a ghost town. Bishop describes the situation as "calm but tense"

Fides EN - www.fides.org - mar, 05/01/2021 - 15:45
Bangui - Bishop Juan José Aguirre Muñoz of Bangassou describes the situation in the city in the south-east of the Central African Republic conquered by the rebels as "calm but tense" .
While a part of the population fled to the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo - reports Mgr. Aguirre - the regular soldiers and police forces took refuge in the nearby Blue Helmets base of MINUSCA .
"The city is almost deserted now. The night was calm. There were no shootings", reports the Bishop. "In the city of Bangassou there are only bandits who have looted the shops. Otherwise the situation is calm. Perhaps the rebels want to understand first what the next government will look like and they do not want to hurt the population for the moment", says Mgr. Aguirre.
Yesterday, January 4, the preliminary results of the presidential and parliamentary elections on December 27th were published in the evening. The outgoing President Faustin-Archange Touadéra therefore won in the first round with 53.92% of the vote.
The final results are expected to be released on January 19th, pending consideration of any objections. In fact, several opposition candidates have already denounced fraud, intimidation and the buying and selling of votes.
Elections in Central Africa were held despite much of the territory still under the control of armed groups. Three weeks ago, six of the most important Central African armed groups decided to join forces in a new alliance, the Coalition des patriotes pour le changement . They denounced non-compliance with the peace agreement of February 6, 2019, which provided for the integration of armed groups into the political system, and called for the electoral process to be suspended and a national consultation to be set up. The presence of Rwandan troops and Russian mercenaries has so far prevented the rebels from marching into the capital Bangui, but did not prevent armed groups from taking control of large areas of the country.
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AMERICA/DOMINICAN REP. - Violence against women and families continues to worsen: "Let's sow peace in 2021"

Fides EN - www.fides.org - mar, 05/01/2021 - 15:38
Santiago - The Archbishop of Santiago and Chairman of the Dominican Bishops' Conference, Mgr Freddy Bretón Martínez, hopes that the country will have a judicial system that lives up to its name by 2021. He also expressed the hope that violence will decrease at all levels in the new year and that young people will be given more opportunities for work and education. In his public statement, Archbishop Bretón Martínez also hopes that citizens' awareness will grow and respect will prevail, so that aggression, rape and femicide can be effectively combated.
The Archbishop of Santiago also referred to the words of Mgr.Jesús Castro Marte, Bishop of the diocese of Nuestra Señora de La Altagracia, who on Sunday, January 3, publicly condemned the violent deaths of two women in the first days of the New Year. "The violent death of two women at the very beginning of 2021, in less than 48 hours, causes helplessness and sadness. Please stop with this situation! Our society is declining every day. As long as we endure this situation, how will our poor society end?" wrote the Bishop on his Twitter account.
Mgr. Castro Marte added: "the issues of violence against women and families continue to aggravate the wound and cause distress to hundreds of families in the Dominican Republic, we should try to sow peace in 2021".
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AFRICA/EGYPT - The "Way of the Holy Family" project takes off, despite the pandemic

Fides EN - www.fides.org - mar, 05/01/2021 - 14:54
Cairo - The "Way of the Holy Family" is "the Christmas gift that Egypt gives to the world". Even the pandemic, which has also paralyzed tourism around the world, has not stopped the great project supported by the Egyptian authorities aimed at opening up to international pilgrimages the itinerary that unites places crossed, according to millenila traditions, by Mary, Joseph and the Child Jesus when they were in Egypt to escape the violence of Herod. This was reiterated at the beginning of 2021 by Adel al Gindy, director general of International Relations at the Authority for the Development of Tourism and Coordinator of the project.
In a long interview, relaunched by wataninet.com, the engineer explained in detail the progress of the project, providing detailed information on the works already carried out or in progress to make each stage of the itinerary accessible to tourists and pilgrims according to the standards of reception corresponding to the criteria defined by the World Tourism Organization. The project, already defined in detail, is relaunched on the occasion of Christmas - which Coptic Christians celebrate on 7 January -, while the investment plan, which includes a substantial contribution from private financiers and international organizations, will be exposed in detail within the next two months.
The "Way" unites 25 places dear to the memory of Egyptian Christians, winding along an itinerary of 3,500 kilometers, which crosses 11 Governorates, from the Nile Delta to Upper Egypt. Once developed, the "Way" will represent one of the largest religious pilgrimage routes in the world. The project represents an investment not only economic but also ideal for the entire Egyptian nation, also stricken by the pandemic. The expectation of the end of the pandemic in Egypt is also based on the hope of gathering in the future an increasing flow of tourists and foreign pilgrims, attracted to the country by the desire to follow in the footsteps of the passage of Saint Joseph, the Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus in Egyptian land.
For some time now, as reported by Agenzia Fides , the Egyptian authorities have been committed to promoting the "Way of the Holy Family" also in terms of tourism. On 4 October 2017 Pope Francis, in the context of the general audience on Wednesday, greeted a large Egyptian delegation that arrived in Rome to promote pilgrimages along the "Way of the Holy Family" in collaboration with L'Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, institution of the Vicariate of Rome, organ of the Holy See, directly dependent on the Pope's Vicar for the Diocese of Rome, Cardinal Angelo De Donatis
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AFRICA/BURUNDI - Mission as the central point of priestly formation

Fides EN - www.fides.org - mar, 05/01/2021 - 14:01
Bujumbura - From 28 to 30 December 2020, a missionary study seminar for priests who study in this ecclesiastical and academic institute was held at the "St. John Paul II" Interdiocesan Major Seminary in Gitega. This seminar took place as part of the activities related to the Silver Jubilee that this important theological seminary celebrated in May 2019. The central theme that was the guiding thread of the conferences and debates was: "Proclamation, Sacrament and Priesthood in the Mission of the Church".
Five conferences created days of reflection and discussion among priests. The first conference was moderated by Monsignor Nestor Niyokindi, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Gitega. The theme was: "Papal Magisterium on Mission: Foundations and Openings. The case of Pope Saint John Paul II". Recalling that the Church of God in Burundi is the fruit of mission, the moderator invited the participants to realize that today everyone is called upon to move from the pastoral logic of preservation to a logic of evangelization.
The conference moderated by Brother Emmanuel Ntakarutimana addressed "the state of the Spirit and the missionary commitment of the Church in Burundi, the situation, the main actors and future prospects" and underlined that the aim of the mission is to invite people to follow Christ, this means that Christians must not only look outside, since everyone needs to convert to Christ, hence the two dimensions of the mission: ad intra and ad extra. The religious proposed different paths of reflection in relation to these two dimensions.
The chairman of the Bishops' Conference of Burundi, Bishop Joachim Ntaholevaye of Muyinga, spoke about the "tools for an effective missionary pastoral care of the Church of Burundi".
These tools should be armed by comparing the nature and the specifics of the missionary nature of the Church with the challenges one faces in Burundian reality. His Exc. Mgr. Bonaventure Nahimana, Bishop of Rutana, stressed that the seminary should be lived as a space and a time of formation for missionary awareness.
His Exc. Mgr. Simon Ntamwana, Archbishop of Gitega recalled the need to reflect on the dimensions of priestly spirituality and the means to meet the challenge posed by the multiform noise of the internet and the risks of becoming imbued with mundane elements.
The training seminar ended with the formulation of recommendations to the various actors who are directly affected by the topic of mission, as well as the concrete commitment of the participants to awaken and strengthen the missionary spirit of the Church of God in Burundi.
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AFRICA/CAMEROON - Appointment of bishop of Buéa, Cameroon

Fides EN - www.fides.org - mar, 05/01/2021 - 13:47
Vatican City - The Holy Father has appointed Bishop Michael Miabesue Bibi, until now titular of Amudarsa and auxiliary of the metropolitan archdiocese of Bamenda, as bishop of the diocese of Buéa, Cameroon.
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ASIA/INDONESIA - The commitment of the Jesuits of Sahabat Insan in favor of victims of human trafficking

Fides EN - www.fides.org - mar, 05/01/2021 - 13:44
Jakarta - Internal migrants, looking for work, but also immigrants from other neighboring countries are the privileged victims of human trafficking in Indonesia. Often they fall into the webs of organized crime, unscrupulous mediators and even corrupt officials. Without protection, far from their families, their villages or their country, they become victims of poverty and of those who exploit them. In addition, in the situation of poverty worsened by the pandemic, the recruitment of traffickers becomes even easier.
Father Ignatius Ismartono SJ, a 75-year-old Jesuit, is the director of "Sahabat Insan" , an Indonesian Jesuit organization based in Jakarta, which deals with migrant workers and victims of human trafficking. The Jesuit tells Agenzia Fides about the odyssey of many young people, including young girls who are often forced to engage in prostitution, blocked in a criminal network of national and international intermediaries. "The injustices suffered by these people are many and different. It begins with recruitment thanks to the complicity of some corrupt official willing to falsify their age. Then they are often sent abroad, but often with insufficient training. An officer confiscates passports until the debt owed to the mediator is not extinguished. The traffickers are paid directly for the first seven months of wages and the worker is thus without salary". Many people in this trap, explains Fr. Ismartono, "end up at the total mercy of the traffickers, and if she is a girl between 16 or 19, she becomes a sex slave".
The cases dealt with by the association led by Fr. Ismartono are many: "But we are not alone. There are, for example, the nuns present within the Talitha Kum association with whom we are in close contact. We try, where possible, to prevent the phenomenon. As a religious organization, we disseminate the exhortations of Pope Francis and seek to translate his pastoral indications into facts".
"In Jakarta - continues the priest - various civil institutions take care of migrants: the issue is enormous. To finance the work of Sahabat Insan, we count on donations from lay people, and especially from former students of the period during which I was teaching at the Indonesia University in Jakarta".
Father Ismartono has spent a large part of his life exercising functions such as Secretary of the Indonesian Episcopal Commission for Interfaith Dialogue. "Now I take care of Sahabat Insan, to restore dignity to exploited migrants. Last year - he says with pain- the association took care of of the repatriation of 207 migrants to their families".
According to a report by the International Labor Organization, in 2016, some 40.3 million people were victims of a form of modern slavery: 70% are women and girls forced to work or marry under threat. Of these 40 million, nearly 30 million - men, women and children - live in the Asia-Pacific region. According to observers, the pandemic has worsened the situation.
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AMERICA/COLOMBIA - The Bishop of Quibdó thanks for the aid collected and distributed during the pandemic and the winter period

Fides EN - www.fides.org - mar, 05/01/2021 - 13:12
Quibdó - Mgr. Juan Carlos Barreto Barreto, Bishop of the diocese of Quibdó, thanked the benefactors who supported communities in need during the Covid-19 pandemic and winter period. Quibdó is a municipality in Colombia, the capital of Chocó department, located in the western part of the country and known for its large Afro-Colombian population. Despite the existence of untapped natural resources, the population has one of the lowest living standards of any Colombian department. The region has long suffered from violence, the absence of the state, corruption and armed conflict. The diocese, together with local organizations and representatives of the indigenous peoples, has repeatedly denounced the situation and demands respect for the human rights of the population and the commitment of the state .
"During this Christmas season and at the end of 2020 - reads the letter sent to Fides - the Diocese of Quibdó sincerely thanks all the people, institutions and organizations who have supported our pastoral mission in this difficult year. In particular, we would like to thank those who, in cooperation with us, have given and are offering a contribution to alleviating the fears of many families in connection with the effects of the Covid 19 pandemic".
With the help of donations, thousands of safety and hygiene kits, packs of potatoes and sugar were distributed to the families of the 30 parishes in the department, as well as financial aid, the bishop said. "We are very grateful to all the benefactors who have entrusted their donations to the diocese in order to fulfill this humanitarian commitment", writes the Bishop, who notes: "We are aware of the great needs of this territory and of the context in which we find ourselves, which requires structural changes. Many of them we promote together with social and ethnic-territorial organizations.
Finally, the Bishop wishes "all people and institutions that have given us a hand in making the presence of God who loves us feel close to us", merry Christmas and hopes that the New Year can continue, "to work together to build a better world".
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ASIA/MALAYSIA - Diocese of Keningau opens the Year of St. Joseph, the saint who teaches trust in God

Fides EN - www.fides.org - mar, 05/01/2021 - 12:57
Keningau - In communion with the Pope and the universal Church, the Diocese of Keningau would like to celebrate the special year dedicated to Saint Joseph under the motto "WITH A FATHER’S HEART" . It is one of the first dioceses in Malaysia to join the initiative launched by Pope Francis who, on 8 December last, announced the Year of St. Joseph, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the declaration of St. Joseph as Patron of the universal Church by Pope Pius IX.
As Agenzia Fides learned, Mgr. Cornelius Piong, Bishop of Keningau opened the year of St. Joseph with a special Eucharist at the Holy Family Pilgrimage Center. During the celebration, broadcast live on Facebook and Youtube, the Bishop thanked Pope Francis for the initiative of the Year of Saint Joseph. "It is very appropriate to proclaim the Year of Saint Joseph at this time to help fathers to follow Saint Joseph's example, strengthening their faith to embrace their vocation and mission as fathers", he remarked. Mgr. Piong also said he was inspired by Saint Joseph, a courageous and faithful man who had done his duty to protect Mary and Jesus. "By entrusting himself completely to the Holy Spirit, Saint Joseph was able to accept life as it is, with all its contradictions, frustrations and disappointments", he said. "Saint Joseph teaches us to trust God in happy or sad situations and makes us aware that God can make flowers sprout from rocky ground. As a father, Joseph had to face many hardships and difficulties", the Bishop said. "Joseph, who is the protector of the universal Church, is also known as a special patron of all those who have been forced to leave their homeland due to war, hatred, persecution or poverty", he continued.
The Bishop recounted his experience 40 years ago, when a group of Vietnamese was stranded in Kuala Penyu, the capital of Kuala Penyu district, in the province of Sabah, Malaysia. Their ship sank and they remained in Kuala Penyu for several months waiting for help. Many of them were Catholics and family men. "To express our closeness, I celebrated Mass with them and told them to remember Saint Joseph, who had become a migrant to protect Jesus and Mary. I urged them to always invoke him, especially in difficult moments, and to entrust their lives to this great saint", recalled the Bishop.
In the diocesan community, priests, religious and laity have welcomed the beginning of the Year of Saint Joseph. Pastoral and spiritual initiatives are planned, organized by the diocese but also by the parishes and ecclesial movements.
"The Special Year will allow Catholics to reflect on the role and responsibility that Joseph played for Jesus and Mary. We must pray to him and imitate his qualities in our lives", said Michel Tijon, a lay catholic. Demia Potong, a Catholic and mother, describes the Apostolic Letter of Pope Francis on the year of Saint Joseph as "a document suitable for all to contemplate and meditate".
The diocese of Keningau is located in Sabah, a state of the Malaysian Federation that occupies the northern part of the island of Borneo.
The Federation of Malaysia is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious country. The population is made up of almost 32.7 million inhabitants, 60% are Muslims. Catholics represent 4% of the population.
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ASIA/IRAQ - Shiite leader Muqtada al Sadr creates a Committee for the return of illegal expropriations from Christian property owners

Fides EN - www.fides.org - lun, 04/01/2021 - 14:41
Mosul - The Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al Sadr, head of the Sadist political group who enjoys strong representation in the Parliament of Baghdad, has ordered the creation of a Committee in charge of collecting and verifying news and complaints regarding cases of illegal expropriations from Christian property owners in various regions of the country. The decision was communicated in a statement published in the first few days of 2021, in which the names of the collaborators of Muqtada al Sadr chosen as members of the Committee are indicated, as well as the e-mail addresses and Whatsapp accounts to which the Christians can send ownership documents concerning real estate - houses and land - illegally expropriated in recent years by other people or groups of people.
The intention of the operation launched by the Shiite leader is to restore justice and end violations of the property rights of the "Christian brothers", including those for which members of the Shiite movement led by al Sadr were responsible.
The request to report cases of illegal expropriations suffered is also addressed to families of Christians who have left the country in recent years. Complaints about abuse against Christian property owners can be sent to the committee by the end of next Ramadan.
On the morning of Sunday 3 January 2021, a delegation sent by Muqtada al Sadr and led by Sheikh Salah al-Obaidi visited Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako to offer the Head of the Chaldean Church a message of congratulations for the Christmas season, together with a copy of the document with which the Shiite politician set up the Committee in charge of collecting documentation on houses and land that were previously owned by Christian owners and illegally expropriated. The Patriarch and Cardinal Sako, for his part, thanked Muqtada al Sadr for the initiative aimed at putting an end to the injustices suffered by Christian citizens and underlining the importance of ensuring the protection of the common good of the Nation and placing this above any private or sectarian interest.
Already at the beginning of 2016 Muqtada al Sadr had demanded the rights of Christians to the houses and real estate that had been illegally expropriated from many Christian families in Baghdad, Kirkuk and other Iraqi regions and their return.
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AFRICA/NIGER - More than 100 people die in attacks on two villages

Fides EN - www.fides.org - lun, 04/01/2021 - 14:28
Niamey – About one hundred people died on January 2 in Niger in attacks on two villages in the west of the country, in Tchoma Bangou, where 70 people were killed, and in Zaroumadareye, where 30 people were killed. Another 25 people were wounded, some of whom were bundled up in the Niamey and Ouallam hospitals.
The attack, which has not been claimed, was carried out by terrorists who came aboard about a hundred motorcycles. To attack the two villages , the attackers split into two groups. The two villages are located about 120 kilometers north of the capital Niamey, in the Tillabéri region, on the border with Mali and Burkina Faso. This region known as the "three borders" has been regularly targeted for years by murderous attacks by jihadist groups.
The double attack was committed in broad daylight, around noon, at the same time as the proclamation of the results of the first round of the presidential elections on December 27, in which the ruling party candidate, Mohamed Bazoum was in the lead. During the election campaign, the former interior minister promised to intensify the fight against jihadist groups.
In Niger, on the border with Mali and Burkina Faso, there are repeated attacks by groups associated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The violence is part of a wider security crisis in the Sahel region of West Africa. In neighboring Mali, five soldiers of the French intervention force lost their lives in two different attacks in one week.
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ASIA/PAKISTAN - The new Vicar Apostolic of Quetta places his office under the protection of Our Lady

Fides EN - www.fides.org - lun, 04/01/2021 - 14:01
Lahore - "God is doing great works in my life and I am surprised when I ponder God's plans. I had never thought of being elected Custos of the Capuchin fraternity and much less did I expect to become a Bishop. As a servant of the Lord, I meditate and pray that God's will be done in every aspect of my life and in this vocation to the priesthood and religious life, in which I said yes to the Lord": comments Fr. Khalid Rehmat OFM Cap on his appointment as Bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of Quetta, announced by the Holy See on 1 January 2021.
Fr. Khalid Rehmat, who recently took charge of the Capuchin Custody 'Mariam Siddeeqa' of Pakistan explains: "I was organizing my new task as Custos and now I am called to the new mission to serve the faithful in Quetta as Bishop. Upon receiving the news, Mary's words came to mind: Here I am the servant of the Lord. I was appointed Bishop on January 1, the day of the feast of Mary, Mother of God, and I chose March 25, 2020, the feast of the Annunciation, as the date for my episcopal ordination at the Cathedral of the Holy Rosary in Quetta. My ministry will be a pastoral ministry consecrated to Mary. I do not yet know God's plan, but I hope that his grace will accompany me to carry out the project for which God has chosen and called me". "God's mercy accompanies me. I pray to God that he will help me to be obedient to the Mother Church and to fulfill God's will. I hope, with his blessing, to be able to best respond to the requests of the Holy Father, the Apostolic Nuncio and my fellow Bishops in Pakistan, whom I sincerely thank and to whom I humbly ask for support".
Fr. Khalid Rehmat is the first Pakistani Capuchin chosen to serve as Bishop in Pakistan. Previously Fr. Felicissimus Raeymaeckers OFM Cap, who came from Belgium, was the last Capuchin Bishop who served the Catholic community in Lahore until July 10, 1975. The Belgian Capuchin missionaries began missions on September 1, 1886 in the Pakistani province of Punjab. Father Khalid Rehmat is also the first bishop of the Catholic diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, in particular from the "Parish Mariakheil" in a small village in which about 400 Catholic families now live.
Capuchin friar since 2007 and priest since 2008, Fr. Khalid Rehmat was editor of the Catholic fortnightly magazine 'Naqeeb' and has pastoral experience in the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Sialkot, in the Archdiocese of Lahore, where he built nine new chapels and three houses for catechists.
The Apostolic Vicariate of Quetta, which he will head from now on, has about 33 thousand Catholics with a population of over 32.6 million inhabitants, mainly Muslims, belonging to various ethnic-linguistic groups such as Balochi, Brahvi, Pashtun, Hazara, Urdu.
The Vicariate, currently structured in 9 parishes, covers the entire province of Balochistan, the largest province in Pakistan, which occupies 44% of the country's total area. The area was evangelized by the Mill Hill missionaries in the second half of the nineteenth century. They were replaced by the Jesuits who stayed there until 1935. In this, the Franciscan Friars Minor took the place of the Jesuits and administered the region until 1982, when pastoral responsibility was transferred to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate . In 1999 the Salesians who are committed to education and evangelization also arrived in Quetta City.
Catégories: From the church

AFRICA/CENTRAL AFRICA - Bishop reports dead and wounded after the siege of Bangassou

Fides EN - www.fides.org - lun, 04/01/2021 - 13:29
Bangui - "Yes, Bangassou has fallen into the hands of the rebels, many of whom are mercenaries and people from Niger. The morning was hectic. Heavy artillery from 5 in the morning with about thirty dead and wounded", reports His Exc. Mgr. Juan José Aguirre Muñoz, Bishop of Bangassou, a city in the south of the Central African Republic which was captured by rebels on Sunday 3 January.
Faced with insecurity, the Bishop brought a group of orphans to safety. The children "are innocent. You look them in the eye and they know nothing about rebels, mercenaries, struggles for power ... They only hear the gunshots and explosions. And they are very frightened", says Mgr. Aguirre. "There are many children injured by stray bullets, children who are trying to flee to Congo to escape the violence", he added.
The Bishop reports that, after trying to resist the rebel offensive, government soldiers fled Bangassou. "The military put up resistance for several hours", said Mgr. Aguirre, who fears "the aggressiveness of these mercenaries, who are looking for natural resources and wealth. How can you give a tender look in the midst of so much violence?" asks the bishop.
The conquest of Bangassou took place when the diocese had started several reconstruction projects. "Now we will have to start many of these over again. There are many traumas that need to be healed. The suffering Christ is behind every post-traumatic shock", highlights Mgr. Aguirre.
"We will have to adapt to a new regime ... We hope that attacks and looting are avoided. For the Church, the population is still there, the poor have not moved nor the Christ who dwells in them, the Christian community will continue to grow and we will continue to grow with it", concluded the Bishop, asking everyone to pray for the situation in his diocese and allo f Central Africa.
The siege of Bangassou takes place on the eve of the publication of the first partial results of the presidential elections by the Autorité Nationale des Elections . The election took place on December 27th, although two-thirds of the national territory is occupied by armed groups.
On December 19, a coalition of armed groups launched an offensive to stop the presidential and legislative elections and promised to "march on Bangui". However, the rebels are currently being kept at a distance from the capital by the UN peacekeeping forces and the armed forces of the Central African Republic . They are supported by hundreds of Russian soldiers and Rwandan elite soldiers.
Catégories: From the church

AMERICA - Message from the President of CELAM: In addition to pain and poverty, 2020 will also go down in history for great acts of Christian charity"

Fides EN - www.fides.org - lun, 04/01/2021 - 13:13
Trujillo - "We are ending a year that history will remember as a time marked by the global health crisis related to the coronavirus - Covid-19. Our region was also faced with this harsh reality", says Mgr. Miguel Cabrejos , Archbishop of Trujillo and President of CELAM, at the beginning of his message for the new year. In solidarity with those who are particularly hard hit by the effects of the pandemic he underlines: "we have lost many of our brothers and sisters; the number of infected continues to increase; thousands of people have lost their jobs and poverty has become catastrophic. In general, 2020 was a difficult year with a lot of suffering".
Despite death, pain, illness and poverty, the year that ended will go down in history also for the "great acts of humanism and Christian charity", says Archbishop Cabrejos, highlighting the values and feelings that emerged during the crisis: "great gestures of solidarity, generosity, a call to service, dedication to heroism, actions that write beautiful stories of authentic charity".
Closeness to the poor showed "the face of a Samaritan Church, which welcomes and heals a brother who has fallen on the street". This was demonstrated by all those initiatives that shed a light of hope for the most needy across the continent, under the direction of Caritas and the Episcopal Conferences, which Archbishop Cabrejos thanks for their commitment to face the challenges, putting the most vulnerable first: "together we have managed to save many lives and guarantee food and health for the poorest".
The pandemic also highlighted the major problems affecting the Latin American and Caribbean region, "such as the serious injustices and social inequalities, the fragility of our political systems with the still and open fight against corruption and the destruction of our environment… These are tasks and challenges that we cannot afford to overlook in the new year that begins".
The message highlights the priority tasks for 2021: "we must protect and accompany the lives of thousands of our brothers and sisters, strengthen the health system in order to successfully tackle the coronavirus pandemic and find a solution to the economic crisis that has impoverished thousands of families". Archbishop Cabrejos concludes that there is no doubt that "the hope of access to the vaccine for all is an urgent need and a requirement of all sectors of society".
Catégories: From the church

AFRICA/KENYA - Resignation of the Archbishop of Nairobi

Fides EN - www.fides.org - lun, 04/01/2021 - 12:59
Vatican City - The Holy Father Francis has accepted the resignation from the pastoral care of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Nairobi , presented by His Eminence Cardinal John Njue.
Catégories: From the church

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