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Catholic priest in Nigeria kidnapped, murdered

September 5, 2017 CNA Daily News 2

Orlu, Nigeria, Sep 5, 2017 / 03:32 pm (CNA).- A Catholic priest was kidnapped and found murdered in Nigeria, local sources have confirmed.

According to local news source Vanguard, Fr. Cyriacus Onunkwo was kidnapped from his car by gunmen on Sept. 1 in… […]

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Grave of Cameroonian bishop who died under suspicious circumstances desecrated

September 2, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Bacolod, Philippines, Sep 2, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The grave of Bishop Jean Marie Benoît Bala of Bafia, whom the Cameroonian bishops’ conference claims was murdered, was found desecrated with traces of blood on Monday, prompting the temporary closing of the cathedral where his body rests.

Bishop Bala disappeared in late May, and his body was found a few days later in the Sanga River. The Cameroonian bishops’ conference has asserted he was murdered, based on autopsy results, though civil authorities do not share the bishops’ conclusion.

Local sources have now reported that Bishop Bala’s grave in Bafia’s San Sebastian Cathedral was desecrated sometime between the night of Aug. 27 and the morning of Aug. 28.

“There was a clear act of desecration in the cathedral of Bafia in the night…Traces of blood were found in the cathedral” on the grave of Bishop Bala, said Bishop Sosthène Léopold Bayemi Matjei of Obala, according to Agenzia Fides, a news service of the Pontifical Mission Societies.

“The cathedral is closed to public worship until a penitential rite will be celebrated as prescribed by the Code and the liturgical rite” because of the nature of the desecration, Bishop Bayemi added.

Bishop Bala, who was 58, disappeared the evening of May 30 after being seen leaving his residence alone. His body was found in the Sanga River June 2, about 10 miles from his car, in which was found a note that reportedly read: “Do not look for me! I am in the water.”

The note gave rise to the suspicion that Bishop Bala had committed suicide, but the Cameroonian bishops later determined that he had been murdered, based an autopsy report that showed he had not died by drowning, and that there were signs of torture on his body.

While local government authorities ordered investigations into the death, they have maintained that Bishop Bala committed suicide. The results of two autopsies conducted by Cameroon’s bishops were never made public. An investigation commissioned by the intergovernmental organization Interpol concluded Bishop Bala had died by drowning.

The bishops of Cameroon have called on local authorities to further investigate the case and to make clear the true cause of Bishop Bala’s death. They have also noted there have been a number of clerics and consecrated persons whose murders in the country have never been solved, including: Fr. Joseph Mbassi, killed in 1988; Fr. Antony Fontegh, 1990; Archbishop Yves-Joseph-Marie Plumey, 1991; a group of religious sisters in Djoum, 1992; and Fr. Engelbert Mveng, 1995.

In a June statement, the bishops asked the government “to shed complete light on the circumstances and the motives” for Bishop Bala’s murder and that those responsible be identified and handed over to the authorities.


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In deadly CAR conflict, Catholic seminary shelters 2,000 Muslims

September 1, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Bangui, Central African Republic, Sep 1, 2017 / 02:46 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Thousands of Muslim refugees have fled deadly militias in the Central African Republic thanks to Bangassou’s Bishop Juan José Aguirre Munoz.

“They would risk death if they venture out,” the Spanish-born Bishop Munoz told the BBC program Newsday. “For us, there’s no such thing as a Muslim person or a Christian person, everyone is a human being. We need to protect those who are vulnerable.”

The approximately 2,000 refugees sought help at the Catholic seminary in the southeastern city of Bangassou after the most recent outbreak of fighting in May.

In 2013, the largely Muslim Seleka rebels seized power and were accused of killing non-Muslim civilians. Since then, the Central African Republic has suffered sectarian violence. Self-defense groups called anti-Balaka formed, composed mainly of Christians. Those groups too have been accused of atrocities.

The refugees at the Bangassou seminary say they fear what is outside.

“Nearby, there are anti-Balaka militias who prevent them from going out to search for food, water or firewood,” said Bishop Munoz. “So they are completely confined inside the seminary.”

Both anti-Balaka and Seleka militias have attacked the Church’s properties, but the bishop says the Church is determined to protect the vulnerable on all sides.

Stephen O’Brien, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, warned that severe violence is possible.

“The early warning signs of genocide are there. We must act now,” O’Brien said. “Violence is intensifying, risking a repeat of the devastating destructive crisis that gripped the country four years ago.”

Some of the refugees at the seminary have been shot at, including a 10-year-old boy. He said one of his brothers was shot in the heart and another was shot in his chest.

Ernest Lualuali Ibongu, a doctor with Doctors without Borders, told the BBC that many refugees need medical care but cannot leave the seminary compound to go to the hospital.

According to Bishop Munoz, that appeals to the militia to allow aid workers into the seminary were not successful.
“The anti-Balaka are armed and very violent and capable of killing children,” he said, adding that it is “very difficult” to reason with them.

Since the conflict began, thousands of people have been killed and at least a million people have been displaced. At least half of Central Africans depend on humanitarian aid, the U.N. reports.

A tentative peace deal was signed in June. The government and 13 of 14 armed groups agreed to end fighting in return for political representation and integration of the militias into the military. Pope Francis visited the country in 2015.


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After three years of ISIS occupation, the Mass returns to Mosul

August 30, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Mosul, Iraq, Aug 30, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Following the liberation of Mosul, Iraq, from the hands of the Islamic State, Christians are cautiously returning to the city. And as they return, so does the Mass.

Fr. Luis Montes, a priest of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, celebrated Mass earlier this month at Saint George Monastery. The priest traveled to Mosul to record part of a documentary entitled Guardianes de la Fe (Guardians of the Faith), which seeks to show the reality of life for Christians in Iraq and Syria.

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In a video posted on the Amigos de Irak (Friends of Iraq) Facebook page, Fr. Montes said that the Mass was celebrated Aug. 9 – a month after Mosul’s liberation – on the feast day of St. Edith Stein, who died a martyr in a Nazi concentration camp.

The priest said it was “a great gift of God” to be able to celebrate the feast day of a martyr in the monastery, which “surely gave many martyrs to the Church.”

Pointing to the damage to the monastery entrance, he said that he believes the lower level may have been “used as a prison at some time, (as) the Christians left their names there written on the walls as a witness.”

Located in the eastern part of the city, the monastery was badly damaged by ISIS militants.

“Rubble everywhere, the stone facing on walls knocked off, all the religious statues destroyed,” Fr. Montes said. “The grotto of the Virgin Mary destroyed…Crosses set into the walls were chopped off with sledgehammers so no trace would remain of anything that is Christian, of anything that is Jesus Christ.”

In the chapel where they celebrated Mass, the altar was stripped of its marble adornments, and the walls had been damaged.

The experience of celebrating the Eucharist amidst so much devastation was awe-inspiring, Fr. Montes said.

“In this place, which has been attacked for being Christian, the contemplation of the Mystery of the Cross, which is renewed in Holy Mass, had so much power,” he reflected.

“Some priests later told the young people that accompanied me that they believed that this was the first Mass” celebrated within the city of Mosul – which was among the areas hardest hit by ISIS – in the last three years, he added. “It’s really a gift from God.”

The priest said that he offered the Mass for Europe, “which suffers from having turned away from Our Lord God, so that the blood of the martyrs here in the Middle East may stir Europe, touch it, so that it awakens.”

The sight of so much desecration is painful, Fr. Montes acknowledged, and it is even more painful to think of the hatred for Christ that motivated the attacks.

But at the same time, he said, “there is such a beautiful satisfaction in knowing that one is serving a persecuted people.”


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Thousands of South Sudanese find refuge in Cathedral

August 20, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Wau, South Sudan, Aug 20, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As the civil war in South Sudan heightens, millions are fleeing their homes for safer ground, which many have found at St. Mary Help of Christian’s Cathedral in Wau, the country’s second largest city.

“Those who flee believe that even rebels still fear God and would not slaughter civilians in the backyard of a church,” said Fr. Moses Peter, a priest at St. Mary’s, according to IRIN News.

“Many other churches have also taken in hundreds of people,” he said.
South Sudan has been in the middle of a brutal civil war for the past three-and-a-half years, which has divided the young country between those loyal to its President Salva Kiir and those loyal to former vice president Reik Machar. The conflict has also bred various divisions of militia and opposition groups.

Since the beginning of the war, around 4 million citizens have left the violence-stricken country, in hopes of finding peace, food and work. This week, neighboring Uganda received the one-millionth South Sudanese refugee, highlighting the crisis as the world’s fastest growing refugee epidemic.

For those who have not fled the nation, many internally displaced persons (IDPs) are seeking refuge in churches – including St. Mary’s Cathedral, which is the country’s largest church and is located Wau. Over 10,000 people now seek shelter there.

The city of Wau, in the northern part of the country, had gone years without being touched by the brutality of the war, which originally drew IDPs to the area. But that changed this spring, when the conflict widened its reach to the area.

Among the IDPs are usually women, children and those who have lost most of their families in the war. Many are too fearful to stay in their homes because they know they could be killed, tortured, raped or even forced into fighting.

“Soldiers burned our houses, took our cattle, and almost murdered my whole village,” said Maria, a disabled, elderly woman who has been living at St. Marys for the past year.

“I don’t know why I was spared, but I was left alone and helpless,” Maria said.

A blind man named Juda, who is also staying at St. Mary’s, said that he “has nothing to return to, so I will wait here in the church.”

While the 61-year-old church welcomes those seeking refuge, it is running low on food supplies. It has been four months since the last food distribution from the World Food Programme.

Local bishops have also called for food aid and peace negotiations in the country, voicing their frustrations that their pleas have not been heard.

“Those who have the ability to make changes for the good of our people have not taken heed of our previous pastoral messages,” stated a Fed. 23 message from the South Sudanese bishops.

Despite successful partnerships between the local church, aid agencies and government, the refugees are still in need of a proper supply of food. However, the church has made recent upgrades, including water pumps, toilets, classrooms, and health offices, which were set up by international aid agencies.

While St. Mary’s may feel like a safe haven for many, the war rages on only 20 miles from the city. Local relief workers have faced various threats, and security at the church consists of only one guard.

“Between hunger and insecurity, people face a lot of pressure here,” Fr. Peter said.

One local businessman, Hasan, said that the famine in the country is not due to food shortage, but rather a result of corruption, inflation and lootings.

“There could be enough for all,” he told IRIN, saying, “if people had money, food would be available to them.”

The refugee crisis will persist as long as the bloodshed and violence in the country continues. However, international peacemaking efforts have stalled and neither side of the conflict have made advances towards a truce.

“I am not confident about peace,” said Juda, the blind man at St. Mary’s. “If it doesn’t come, I don’t know if I’ll ever have a place to call home again besides this church.”


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Kenyan bishops decry post-election violence

August 19, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Nairobi, Kenya, Aug 19, 2017 / 04:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- With violent protests and several deaths in the wake of Kenya’s Aug. 8 presidential election, the nation’s bishops have lamented the  violence and called for respect for the democratic process.

The re-election of Uhuru Kenyatta was announced Aug. 11, and international observers called the vote free and fair. Kenyatta’s challenger, Raila Odinga, claims the election was rigged.

At least 24 persons have been killed during violent protests in the wake of the vote, according to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. Anti-riot police shot protesters, and some children are reported to have been struck and killed by stray bullets.

“Dear Kenyans, to lose even one life because of elections is abominable,” the Kenyan bishops wrote in their Aug. 17 statement signed by Bishop Philip Anyolo of Homa Bay, chairman of the bishops’ conference.

“To injure and maim anybody is unacceptable. This must never be allowed in any civilized society like Kenya.”

The bishops castigated the riot police who confronted protesters, saying their actions resulted in “painful loss of life, the barricading of roads and the destruction of property.”

They said the violence was a reminder “of the post-election violence of 2007/2008 that we, as a Nation, had vowed never again to experience.”

Kenya’s 2007 elections resulted in nationwide ethnic violence that killed 1,300 people and displaced as many as 700,000. Odinga was also the challenger in that election.

Odinga has called for peaceful protest and strikes, and has said he will mount a legal challenge to the results in the courts. He claims computer fraud had given extra votes to Kenyatta.

The choice was welcomed by Kenya’s bishops, who said, “All the aggrieved parties should use the legal means as provided in the Constitution to seek redress. It is only by respecting and having recourse to the established Constitutional institutions that we, as Kenyans, are able to enhance and strengthen the rule of law and the democratic process in our country.”

“As we await the determination of the disputed Presidential elections by the Supreme Court, we call upon our Government leaders, beginning with the President to take the lead in uniting the country.”

They urged “all Kenyans to avoid anything that incites others to violent protests.”

At a press conference presenting the bishops’ message, Bishop John Oballa Owaa of Ngong stressed the need for the courts not to rubber stamp automatically the election outcome, saying: “We call upon the judiciary and other constitutional institutions to jealously protect their independence and discharge their mandate justly, in a fair and impartial manner, to act without any favour and not to give in to any form of coercion or intimidation.”

This, he said, “is the only way these institutions will earn the trust and confidence of all Kenyans.”

Bishop Anyola added that the “ugly divisions that we witness every election year, the tribal voting pattern that emerges, the hatred that is triggered by the winners and losers syndrome, and the win-it-all mentality that characterizes Kenyan politics are pointers to an electoral system that needs to be reviewed.”

The bishops’ statement commended citizens’ participation in the election, saying it reflected a “sense of patriotism and love for our nation.”

“We commend this country to prayer for peace, justice and prosperity,” they concluded.


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A bishop’s plea: Don’t forget victims of war and cholera in Yemen

August 11, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Aug 11, 2017 / 04:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A deadly cholera outbreak in Yemen could continue indefinitely without an end to the civil war, says a bishop in the region who has pleaded for the faithful to pray and for an end to arms sales to the parties.

“As I believe in the power of prayer, I can only ask the faithful around the world, to keep in mind the suffering people in Yemen – Muslims as well as the few remaining Christians, including the Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa.” Bishop Paul Hinder told CNA Aug. 8.

Bishop Hinder heads the Abu Dhabi-based Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia, which serves Catholics in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Yemen.

The Church in Yemen is “a tiny group without any structure” that can do little in the face of the situation, he said.

A cholera outbreak provoked by the war has infected a suspected 350,000 people, with over 1,800 people dying from the disease. Over 600,000 could be infected by the end of the year, the International Committee of the Red Cross has said.

The latest outbreak began in April. Within a few hours of infection, the disease causes vomiting and diarrhea, leading to severe dehydration that can be deadly without rapid intervention. At the same time, most cases can be treated with simple rehydration treatments.

Even simple treatments are hard to come by.


#Yemen #Cholera update: 474K suspected cases & 1’953 deaths. For the 1st time in 2 months, weekly cases dipped below the 40K mark. Good news

— Robert Mardini (@RMardiniICRC) August 9, 2017


More than 3 million people have been displaced since the conflict began in March 2015. Over 20 million people are in need of humanitarian aid.

Revenue shortfalls mean 1 million civil servants, including 30,000 medical staffers, have gone unpaid since September. About 45 percent of the country’s hospitals are operating, and only 30 percent of the needed medical supplies can reach the country.

Bishop Hinder stressed the difficulties the war is causing.

“We all should know that the blockade of the country hinders the reconstruction of the destroyed sanitary system in the country,” he said. “As long as the minimal infrastructure in many parts of the country is not functioning, we cannot expect that the cholera can be stopped, other sick people get the proper treatment, and the starving people be fed properly.”

“Whatever help is possible through the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, and other reliable channels remains limited as long as sufficient security is not guaranteed,” he added.

The Yemeni civil war involves the internationally recognized government, and its Saudi-led coalition allies, fighting Shiite Houthi rebels.

“We have to keep in mind that in the Yemen conflict there are no pure angels on one side and pure devils on the other,” Bishop Hinder continued. “Without bringing people again around the table and getting to a cease-fire, there will be only killing and destruction with disastrous consequences for the civilian population and the country as a whole.”

“I think that the people in the so-called West should be aware that their powers are not innocent in what is going on in Yemen,” he said. “The deal of the present U.S. administration with Saudi Arabia regarding weapons will not help to make peace.”

Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, similarly stressed that countering the outbreak depends on peace.

“The great tragedy is that this cholera outbreak is a preventable, man-made humanitarian catastrophe. It is a direct consequence of a conflict that has devastated civilian infrastructure and brought the whole health system to its knees,” Maurer said July 23. “Further deaths can be prevented, but warring parties must ease restrictions and allow the import of medicines, food and essential supplies and they must show restraint in the way they conduct warfare.”

U.N. agencies were caught by surprise at how fast the disease spread, George Khoury, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Yemen, told the Associated Press. After an initial mild outbreak in October appeared to have ended, funds had been cut and health monitors put their attention elsewhere.

“It’s a cholera paradise,” Khoury said. “It’s a recipe for disaster.”

In March 2016 an attack on a Missionaries of Charity house in Aden left four sisters dead. The attackers kidnapped Indian-born Salesian priest Father Tom Uzhunnalil. The priest’s whereabouts are not known, and no groups have claimed responsibility for his capture. An unauthenticated video posted to YouTube in May of this year showed him with a sign dated April 15, 2017. He appeared thin, with overgrown hair and a beard.

The priest appealed for his release and claimed his health was rapidly deteriorating.