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Kidnapped priest in Nigeria released, doing well

October 18, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Benin City, Nigeria, Oct 18, 2017 / 10:54 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Fr. Maurizio Pallù, an Italian missionary who was kidnapped in southern Nigeria last week, was freed Tuesday.

He was freed late in the evening of Oct. 17, according to authorities, and is doing well.

“The devil is cowardly, he wants to make us afraid but he has chosen the wrong way because we are poor men, that have fear, but are sustained by the grace of God,” Fr. Pallù told Vatican Radio Oct. 18.

Noting that it was actually the second time he’s been kidnapped in Nigeria, Pallù said that it was more difficult this time, but he saw “the miracles that the Lord did, just great miracles that the Lord did to keep us alive.”

“It means that the Lord has a big plan in this country because the devil is attacking with great force to destroy the work of God in this nation.”

Pallù, 63, is a member of the Neocatechumenal Way. He has served as a missionary in Nigeria for three years. He and two companions were kidnapped Oct. 12 by armed men near Benin City.

According to Vatican Insider, the kidnapping was carried out by a group of criminals who robbed the priest and others while they were travelling from Calabar to Benin City by car.

Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano told Radio Capital Wednesday that Pallù had been freed and is doing well. “We await him in Italy soon,” he said according to Italian news agency ANSA.

They had the intercession of the saints and of the Blessed Virgin Mary over these last few days, Pallù said, pointing out that both times he’s been kidnapped, it has been on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima.  

The first took place Oct. 13, 2016. He was released after only an hour and a half.

This time, he was taken captive on the eve of Oct. 13 and kept in the woods along with a Nigerian student and brother for five days.

According to Vatican Insider, Pallù had called his mother on Sunday night to tell her he was well and would be released soon. Pallù’s mother, Laura Pallù, made the phone call public during a prayer vigil for her son’s release in parish of Santa Lucia La Sala in northern Florence.

The priest said he has been asked to return to Italy for the time being, though he would like to stay in Nigeria if he can.

The devil “is keeping millions of people slaves here with lies, cowardice and corruption,” he said, “and when they allow me to return I will return here very happy and offer my poor person for the evangelization of Nigeria.”  

Fr. Pallù is a native of Florence. As a member of the Neocatechumenal Way, he was a lay missionary for 11 years in various countries. In 1998, he entered the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Rome.

After serving as a chaplain in two parishes in Rome, he was sent to Holland, where he was a pastor in the Diocese of Haarlem. From there, he was sent to the Archdiocese of Abuja.

Several other priests have recently been kidnapped from the Nigerian state of Edo, where Benin City is located, and one has been killed.

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Despair would worsen the situation, bishop says in wake of Somalia attack

October 16, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Djibouti, Djibouti, Oct 16, 2017 / 03:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After Somalia suffered its deadliest terrorist attack on Saturday, the Bishop of Djibouti reflected on the need for hope and unity among Somalis lest it become “a double attack.”

A truck packed with explosives exploded in front of a hotel in the Somali capital Mogadishu Oct. 14, killing at least 276 people. Many more were wounded.

“I would say that even though what has happened its a catastrophe, we mustn’t despair. It would be a double attack if we despaired,” Bishop Giorgio Bertin of Djibouti told Vatican Radio.

Bishop Bertin also serves as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Mogadishu, which has been vacant since the assassination of its last bishop in 1989.

The bombing has yet to have been claimed by any group. Some Somalis have reacted to the attack by condemning al-Shabaab, an Islamist militant group associated with al-Qaeda.

Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed called it a “heinous act” targeting “civilians who were going about their business.”

Bishop Bertin commented that “when one goes [to Somalia] the situation seems normal; I could spend five days in Baidoa, two days in Mogadishu. Obviously I was accompanied by an armed escort, but the Somalis seemed to be living normally. It seems like normal life.”

“You might have the impression that they are rather habituated to seeing, undergoing these momentary attacks, but they never seem to change life there.”

The bishop added that he thinks “we should continue to seek greater unity within Somalia and the international community to face this problem.”

Turkey is taking 40 of those injured in the attack for medical treatment, and the African Union has said it will continue its support of Somalia as it works “to achieve sustainable peace and security.”

The US Mission to Somalia stated that it “lauds the heroic response of the Somali security forces and first responders and Somali citizens who rushed to the aid of their brothers and sisters. Such cowardly attacks reinvigorate the commitment of the United States to assist our Somali and African Union partners to combat the scourge of terrorism to promote stability and prosperity for the Somali people and their regional neighbors.”

Somalia has been in a state of turmoil since the early 1990s, and was long regarded as a failed state. It has relatively stabilized in recent years, and has been called a fragile state.

The federal government has consolidated control over much of the southern part of the country, though Islamists still control several swathes of territory. Somalia’s northern areas are effectively governed as the autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland.

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Italian Catholic priest kidnapped in Nigeria

October 16, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Abuja, Nigeria, Oct 16, 2017 / 01:44 pm (ACI Prensa).- An Italian Catholic priest, who is a member of the Neocatechumenal Way, was kidnapped on Thursday by armed men in Benin City, Nigeria, according to media reports.

Fr. Maurizio Pallu had been a missionary in Nigeria for three years.

According to the Italian bishops’ publication, Avvenire, the kidnappers may be local criminals whose aim would be to obtain a ransom in exchange for the priest.

While the Islamist terror group Boko Haram is active in Nigeria’s northern region, the priest was kidnapped from the south.

Authorities are investigating the incident.

Greg Burke, director of the Holy See Press Office, posted on Twitter that “Pope Francis has been informed about the Italian priest kidnapped in Nigeria, Fr. Maurizio Pallu, and is praying for him.”

Fr. Pallu is 63 and a native of Florence. As a member of the Neocatechumenal Way, he was a lay missionary for 11 years in various countries. In 1998, he entered the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Rome.

After serving as a chaplain in two parishes in Rome, he was sent to Holland, where he was a pastor in the diocese of Haarlem. From there, he was sent to the Nigerian archdiocese of Abuja.

Several other priests have recently been kidnapped from the Nigerian state of Edo, where Benin City is located, and one has been killed.

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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Iraqi women visit historic monastery after its recapture from Islamic State

October 9, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Mosul, Iraq, Oct 10, 2017 / 12:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Last week 300 women visited a historic monastery near Mosul after its liberation from the Islamic State – a decision their priest said was made in order to show they aren’t afraid, and that Christians in Iraq are there to stay.

“We decided to go to San Behnam and Sara monastery because a lot of Christian people are afraid to go to this place, because it is sometimes dangerous,” Fr. Roni Momika told CNA Oct. 6, after returning from the visit.

He said the group wanted to go to the monastery “to pray and to tell the world that we are here and we will pray for peace, and we will pray for the soldiers, and we will pray for Christians in all the world.”

“Our message to give is for all people,” he said, “and our message is we want to put the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit out loud and to tell the people we are here.”

Fr. Momika is a Syriac Catholic priest from Bakhdida, also known as Qaraqosh. As a seminarian he was forced to flee when Islamic State militants attacked the city, 21 miles southeast of Mosul, in 2014. After completing his studies in Lebanon, Momika returned to Iraq and was ordained in a refugee camp in Ankawa, the Christian suburb of Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

He served women and youth in the camp, which held some 5,000 families, for over a year and a half as the battle to overthrow Islamic State carried on. However, he returned to Bakhdida two months ago after it was re-captured by the Iraqi army.

Some 2,000 families joined him in returning to their hometown, which had formerly been referred to as the “Christian capital” of Iraq. The other 3,000-some families have stayed either in Erbil or surrounding villages.

Since returning to Bakhdida, Fr. Momika has taken charge of St. John the Baptist parish and has continued to lead his women’s group with another priest, which is held every Wednesday at his parish.

In his comments to CNA, Momika said his was the first group to go to Mar Behnam Monastery since it was regained from the Islamic State, and “we were so happy.”

“As you know we were displaced people, refugees, but now we have come back to Qaraqosh after the liberation,” he said, explaining that he and his fellow priest, Fr. Younan, offer the women something different every week, ranging from lectures to reflections on scripture.

However, this week they decided to make the 20-minute drive and take the women to the monastery, about 23 miles southeast of Mosul, which dates to the 4th century and is home to Saints Behnam and Sara, a brother and sister killed by their father after converting to Christianity.

Built by Assyrian King Senchareb as a penance for killing his son and daughter, the monastery is one of the oldest in Iraq. Although it has changed hands several times throughout history, the Syriac Catholic Church has consistently been in charge of the monastery since 1839.

When the Islamic State unleashed its offensive on the Nineveh Plains in 2014 they bombed parts of the monastery, destroying the tombs of the saints. However, since its liberation monks have moved back in and are working to restore the areas that have either been burned or bombed.

During their visit, Momika said he and the women “and we had a special time. It was a good idea to take all these women to this monastery because we have a special memory with this monastery, because it’s our monastery.”

The monastery has not yet been blessed after the destruction, since efforts to rebuild are still preliminary, he said, but the Church “is good for prayer.”

Many people have returned to Bakhdida and are trying as much as possible to live life as normal while rebuilding their city, Momika said, but noted that there are many others who can’t come back yet “because their house is not rebuilt, or it’s burned or destroyed.”

Currently Syriac Catholic Church leaders in the area are working hard to rebuild the houses that were destroyed with the help of several charitable organizations, including Aid to the Church in Need, SOS and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. But funding is a problem, he said, since there is so much that needs to be rebuilt.

However, despite the challenges that face them, including the possibility of fresh conflict as a result of the recent Kurdish referendum, which voted nearly unanimously for an independent Kurdistan separate from the Iraqi central government, Momika said the people want to stay.

“For us in Qaraqosh, it’s because it’s the center of Christianity in Iraq and it’s the center of the Syriac-Catholic Church in Iraq. I think this is why so many came back to Qaraqosh.”

In its position on the Nineveh Plain, Bakhdida sits between the Kurdish and central governments, “and I think this is the bigger problem for us,” he said, but noted that at the moment “we are living here in peace.”

“I think our God will save us, not the soldiers or anyone else,” he said, explaining that he personally chose to come back “because this is my place and it’s liberated and it’s my history, it’s my family place and it’s my own place…I won’t stay in another place that’s not my place.”

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Want Ghana to be transformed? Proclaim your faith, says local bishop

October 5, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana, Oct 5, 2017 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholics in Ghana should openly profess their faith in God if they want to improve their country, said Bishop Emmanuel Kofi Fianu of Ho last week, encouraging the faithful not to be ashamed of their Catholicism but rather boldly to proclaim it everywhere.

“Our world today does not want teachers but models; people who take the lead and invite others to follow them instead of sitting in their comfort zones and pointing out the way to others without they themselves ever taking the way,” said Bishop Fianu, chair for the Ghanaian bishops’ Commission of Laity, Women and Youth, according to CANAA.

“The witness of life and word demands that we march our words with our life so that what we say corresponds to what we do,” Fianu continued.

The bishop’s words came during a Sept. 29-30 conference on “Living Our Vocation as Catholic Faithful” held at the Star of the Sea Cathedral in Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana.

The conference also celebrated the legacies of the Diocese of Sekondi-Takoradi’s three deceased bishops: Joseph Amihere Essuah, Charles Kweku Sam, and John Martin Darko.

Fianu told those gathered at the event that the sacraments of baptism and confirmation have endowed them with the responsibility of boldly sharing their faith with others, whether in groups or individually.

He also encouraged the faithful to become involved in ministry and to utilize their talents for the Church. Fianu also prompted local priests to help the laity in their parishes become active members within their communities.

Fianu did note that he was inspired by the growing number of Catholics who showed interest in Bible studies and scriptural reading.

“Today, in Ghana, we see some people who stand at street corners, in buses, lorry parks, and other places to preach to others…They do so because that is how they understand the command of Christ to preach the Gospel to all nations,” Fianu said.

“The Church desperately needs the laity to carry out that role with the authority, creativity, and power that the Holy Spirit has given them in Baptism.”

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Iraqi Church leaders pray for peace after Kurdish referendum

October 1, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Erbil, Iraq, Oct 1, 2017 / 05:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Church leaders have expressed anxiety over a Kurdish vote for independence in a recent referendum, saying Kurdistan’s decision to split from Iraq could prompt more conflict and uncertainty in a region that has already faced immeasurable suffering in recent years.

Despite signs of hope in Iraq, “there is still much of uncertainty and danger that threatens the region,” Patriarch Louis Raphaël Sako, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, said at an international conference Sept. 28.

Tension has been building in Iraq this week, as the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, voted on Monday to separate from Iraq. The vote will initiate a process of negotiation between Iraq and Kurdistan, which Kurdish leaders say will lead to the region’s independence.  

The Sept. 25 referendum has been opposed by the central government in Baghdad – calling it illegal – as well as by neighboring countries, such as Turkey and Iran. But in a poll Sept. 25, Iraqi Kurds voted overwhelmingly in favor of the separation from Iraq.

“The referendum of Kurdistan, toward independence from Baghdad, is creating an escalation of tension between the two governments and we can almost hear the beats of war drums,” Sako said.

Speaking in Rome at an international conference hosted by the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need, Patriarch Sako said that the referendum has given rise to new fears for Christians in Iraq.

“Today, our people are living with fear of being engaged in another war, which means more chaos, more bloodshed, destruction and refugees,” he said.

“They are concerned about stability, security and worried about going back to live with daily crimes of robberies, gang rapes, torture and murder of Christians that has become so common.”

Patriarch Sako said that if the confrontation leads to violence between the two sides, Christians and minorities, whose full rights are not acknowledged by either government, will be caught in the crossfire.

This will “certainly result in another exodus of Christians from their homeland,” he said.

“We must clarify: if there will be a new military conflict in Iraq, the consequences will be a disaster for everyone, Christians and minorities will once again pay the highest price.”

The displacement and migration of Christians has a hugely negative impact on the country and this is the main concern, he said. Christians vanishing from Iraq is an “irreplaceable” loss.

But for now, the future is uncertain: “the question remains,” he said, “what is next?”

Also present at the conference was Archbishop Alberto Ortega Martin, apostolic nuncio to Iraq and Jordan, who gave a keynote address on the current situation on the ground in Iraq.

In his speech, Ortega also voiced anxiety over the consequences of the referendum and the backlash the vote has received from various international leaders.

“The Baghdad government, as was foreseeable, opposed this initiative by considering it illegal and against the constitution and is now taking countermeasures,” he said. However, authorities in surrounding countries such as Turkey and Iran have also condemned the vote, threatening to “take measures” against Kurdistan.

“Many other countries have asked to suspend or at least postpone the initiative,” he said, noting that the referendum vote has added to uncertainty in the region by causing “tensions and controversy.”

Referring to positions taken by both the United Nations Office for Iraq and its Secretary-General, Ortega highlighted the “inappropriateness” of the referendum in the country’s current political and social climate, and echoed the U.N. office’s desire for both the Kurdish government and the central Iraqi government to “resolve open issues through dialogue and negotiation.”

In a session with journalists after the conference, Sako said Iraqis must “find a way of living together.”

Right now “there is a mentality of violence (and) the people are already tired,” he said. “So we need to help the people think in a new way.”

“Before rebuilding houses with stones we have to rebuild the person,” the patriarch said, noting the fear among Iraqi Christians that the referendum “will create problems between the central government and the Kurdish government.”

“Tensions are already very high and the people are afraid,” he said. He called on the international community to take responsibility in assisting the central government and the Kurdish government “to push the two to have a serious, courageous dialogue to find a solution.”

“Everyone is waiting. What will happen tomorrow? Will there be a new war or not? Will there be peace? They don’t know,” Sako said. “Everyone is waiting, waiting with fear, without certainty.”

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Togo’s bishops call for peace while reform goes to public vote

September 19, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Lome, Togo, Sep 19, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Following Togo’s largest protests in over a decade, the bishops of the small African country urged political leaders toward a constitutional reform aimed at lasting peace.

The time is “right to organize prayers in each diocese for peace, or more specifically, for institutional and constitutional reforms,” said Archbishop Denis Amuzu-Dzakpah of Lomé, according to La Croix International.

Tens of thousands of protesters marched through Togo’s cities during the week of Sept. 6, demanding for the end of the Gnassingbé regime – a 50-year long father-son dynasty.

Directed towards an audience of political leaders, priests, religious, and lay people gathered on Sept. 17, Archbishop Amuzu-Dzakpah urged the government to revisit a limit for the presidential term, which was removed in 2002.

Additionally, the bishops prayed for light of the Holy Spirit to inspire the country’s leaders “that they may urgently carry out the reforms requested by the people in accordance with the 1992 Constitution.”

Having first claimed power in a 1967 coup, Gnassingbé Eyadema responded to protests in the 1990s by instituting an apparent multi-party democracy and ostensibly limiting the presidential term to two periods of five years. The limit was then scrapped 10 years later by lawmakers to allow for Eyadema to run again.

He died in 2005 shortly after his re-election. While an election was supposed to be held within 60 days, the military removed a clause which would have temporarily placed the President of Parliament into power. Faure Gnassingbé was then installed to finish his father’s term.   

Since Faure’s rise to power, opposition leaders have called for protests to reinstitute a presidential limit as well as two round voting system. Recent protests incited the government to restrict internet and phone access to the public, and demonstrations were met with violence by security forces.

The bishops challenged the Togolese army to keep a neutral position. They also urged political leaders to refrain from opposing “demonstrations on the same day to avoid clashes resulting from these rallies.”

According to Agenzia Fides, Togo’s Conference of Catholic Bishops also issued a recent pastoral letter condemning the army’s “excessive use of force against their fellow citizens.”

In the letter, the bishops emphasized the importance of constitutional reform, stating that without it, “peace and social cohesion” would be impossible.

On Sept. 19, Togo’s parliament failed to agree on a reform. According to Reuters, opposition parties boycotted the reform because no clause was included which would prevent Faure from being re-elected for an additional two terms, potentially leaving him in power until 2030. A referendum will be held by popular vote in the next few days.

While Togo’s bishops have openly called for reform, the clergy has also urged for non-violence on both sides and encouraged social media to be used only for building peace, instead of spreading hatred.

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