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Cartel battle leaves church looted, bullet-ridden in western Mexico

March 30, 2019 CNA Daily News 0

Apatzingan, Mexico, Mar 30, 2019 / 06:01 am (CNA).- A clash between drug trafficking cartels last week left a church pillaged and full of bullet holes in a village in the Mexican state of Michoacan.

Saint Joseph the Worker parish in San José de Chila, about 25 miles southwest of  Apatzingán, found itself at the center of a power struggle between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and the Knights Templar Cartel the evening of March 19.

Speaking to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language sister agency, Fr. Isaac Barajas Castañeda, the pastor of Saint Joseph the Worker, said the drug traffickers “engaged many weapons, a lot of ammunition, armored cars, they left many men dead, many pools of blood” in the village.

The church was reportedly seized as a fort by one of the cartels, leading their opponents to open fire. Barajas was not at the parish at that time since he had left the village two days prior to the confrontation, on March 17. He is now assessing the damage to the church and rectory.

“The bell tower is full of bullet holes, the bells are shot through, the baptismal font is overturned, they opened up the sacristy, broke windows, knocked down doors,” he said.

“They went looking for people and at the same time for money, jewelry, weapons, they searched everywhere, there wasn’t a small box they didn’t open.”
The drug traffickers took from the church a motorcycle, money, and gold objects, as well as the priest’s personal belongings.

The distance to the village, he said, meant that the authorities could not intervene.

“This is a rural village far from Apatzingán, the authorities are there in Apatzingán. They knew what was going on, but they didn’t come.”

However, he said “anyhow the local authorities are outmatched, because the (federal) government has already come twice. While the government comes it’s perfectly quiet here. You don’t see anyone here doing any harm.”

“The government spent two days here and then they left. And as soon as they had left, the shooting started up again. There would have to be I don’t know how many platoons living here for that not to happen.”

Despite the level of violence going on in the area, Barajas is not thinking of abandoning the village or his ministry. He said he is staying “for the mission the bishop has entrusted to me and because my presence shores up the few remaining families.”

Bishop Cristóbal Ascencio García of Apatzingán visited San José de Chila March 24 to see the damage caused by the violence of the drug traffickers.

“He looked surprised and offered a prayer of reparation for the church, the baptismal font, and the sacred vestments,” the pastor said.

Barajas said that Bishop Ascencio “explained the readings on the call of Moses, who liberated a people, the Gospel reading on the fig tree and emphasized that we must bear fruits of love, peace and justice.”


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How popes have addressed the conquest of the Americas

March 29, 2019 CNA Daily News 3

Vatican City, Mar 29, 2019 / 08:01 pm (CNA).- President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico this week wrote to Pope Francis and the King of Spain, Felipe VI, asking for an apology for the conquest of Mexico by Spanish Catholics in the 16th century.

His demand for an apology comes at the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the conquest, and the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s independence.

“I have sent a letter to the Spanish king [Felipe VI] and another letter to the Pope so that the abuses can be acknowledged and an apology can be made to the indigenous peoples for the violations of what we now call human rights,” López Obrador said in video comments earlier this week.

“There were massacres…The so-called conquest was done with the sword and the cross. They raised churches on top of temples,” he said.

“The time has come to reconcile but first they should ask forgiveness,” he added.

The request generated criticism, and some agreement, in both Spain and Mexico.

According to the New York Times, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez dismissed the request, along with Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell, who said it was “weird to receive now this request for an apology for events that occurred 500 years ago.”

Sergio Sarmiento, a Mexican columnist, asked why the president was calling for an apology from the people who stayed in Spain, and therefore would not have been a part of the Spanish conquest. Others criticized the president for demanding an apology for a 500 year-old offense.

One voice of support for the request came from Ione Belarra, a politician with the far-left Spanish Podemos party, who said on Twitter that it was “very right” to demand an apology for the “abuses” of the conquest.

In 1519, Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés led a small army into the Aztec empire in Mexico, and within two years the Aztecs had fallen under European rule. The conquest led to a great loss of life among the indigenous peoples of Mexico, both in battle and from the introduction of foreign diseases, like smallpox.

At the time of Cortés’ arrival in Mexico, the Aztecs were practicing child sacrifice, as well as a ritual in which they pulled the still-pulsing heart out of the chest of sacrificial victims and offered it to the gods, letting the blood spill over the altars and throwing the dead bodies off the steps of the temple.

Towers and other structures found in the Aztec empire were also reportedly made entirely human skulls, and anthropologists have also found evidence of a type of ritual cannibalism that took place among the Aztecs.

In 1892, Leo XIII offered a defense of the conquest of the Americas, largely at the hands of Christians. In the native people of America, Pope Leo said, Christopher Columbus “saw in spirit a mighty multitude, cloaked in miserable darkness, given over to evil rites, and the superstitious worship of vain gods. Miserable it is to live in a barbarous state and with savage manners: but more miserable to lack the knowledge of that which is highest, and to dwell in ignorance of the one true God. Considering these things, therefore, in his mind, he sought first of all to extend the Christian name and the benefits of Christian charity to the West.”

The conquest of the Americas has also been addressed recently by St. John Paul II and Pope Francis.

In an address to native peoples during a visit to the United States in 1987, John Paul II acknowledged the pain caused by the encounter of Europeans with Native Americans, which “was an event of such significance and change that it profoundly influences your collective life even today. That encounter was a harsh and painful reality for your peoples. The cultural oppression, the injustices, the disruption of your life and of your traditional societies must be acknowledged,” he said.

However, he also defended the positive aspects of the work of the “many missionaries who strenuously defended the rights of the original inhabitants of this land,” who established missions and improved education standards while working to preserve the native language.

“Above all, they proclaimed the Good News of salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ, an essential part of which is that all men and women are equally children of God and must be respected and loved as such. This Gospel of Jesus Christ is today, and will remain forever, the greatest pride and possession of your people,” he said.

He recalled the example of St. Junipero Serra, who presented Mexican authorities with a “Bill of Rights” of sorts for indigenous peoples. He also recalled how in 1537, Paul III “proclaimed the dignity and rights of the native peoples of the Americas by insisting that they not be deprived of their freedom or the possession of their property.”

In 2015, Pope Francis also addressed the conquest of the Americas, during a meeting with native peoples in Bolivia.

He echoed the sentiments of St. John Paul II, asking forgiveness for the sins committed by some Christians at the time, while defending the actions of other Christians at the time, who chose peace over violence.

“I say this to you with regret: many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God. My predecessors acknowledged this, CELAM, the Council of Latin American Bishops, has said it, and I too wish to say it. Like Saint John Paul II, I ask that the Church – I repeat what he said – ‘kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters,’” he said, quoting an address given by John Paul II in the year 2000.

“I would also say, and here I wish to be quite clear, as was Saint John Paul II: I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the Church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America. Together with this request for forgiveness and in order to be just, I also would like us to remember the thousands of priests and bishops who strongly opposed the logic of the sword with the power of the Cross. There was sin, a great deal of it, for which we did not ask pardon. So for this, we ask forgiveness, I ask forgiveness. But here also, where there was sin, great sin, grace abounded through the men and women who defended the rights of indigenous peoples,” he said.

The Vatican has yet to officially respond to López Obrador’s recent request for an apology for the conquest of Mexico.


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Will LGBT activists split the Methodists?

March 29, 2019 CNA Daily News 1

Washington D.C., Mar 29, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- While the United Methodist Church has reaffirmed traditional Christian teaching on controversial LGBT issues, some American leaders in the denomination have rejected that decision, and now are organizing… […]

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Underground bishop, vicar general detained in China’s Hebei province

March 29, 2019 CNA Daily News 3

Xuanhua, China, Mar 29, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- A bishop of the underground Church in China’s Hebei province and his vicar general were placed in detention this week, and a lay Catholic activist was jailed in Hong Kong.

According to UCA News, Coadjutor Bishop Augustine Cui Tai of Xuanhua and his vicar general, Father Zhang Jianlin, were detained by officials of Hebei province this week.

“The government’s aim is to paralyze the diocese. If the diocese fails to manage the community, then the government will use this as an opportunity to take it over,” an anonymous priest from the underground Church told UCA News.

According to the UCA News, the bishop had been taken in custody the morning of March 29 after he received a text message in regards to his arrest. He had also been detained for indoctrination in April last year and was recently released in January.

UCA News reported that Father Zhang was seized March 28 for violating a traveling restriction. Since his identity papers were confiscated, the priest has not been allowed to travel even to a neighboring city.

In November two of Bishop Cui’s priests, Fr. Su Guipeng and Fr. Zhao He, were abducted to be “indoctrinated on the religious policy of the Chinese government … because they refuse to enroll in the Patriotic Association.” Two priests of the Diocese of Chongli-Xiwanzi, also in Hebei, were also taken.

Meanwhile in Hong Kong, Yip Po-lam, a member of the Justice Peace Commission of the Diocese of Hong Kong, was jailed March 28. A court had refused to hear an appeal regarding a conviction she received five years ago for disturbing the peace during a protest.

The peaceful demonstrations were protesting the controversial Northeast New Territories Development Plan, which displaced villagers and damaged property. Chairman of the Hong Kong Catholic Institution Staff Association, Alexander Yu, decried the court’s decision, stating Yip had acted justly, according to UCA News.

“We agree with Yip’s action as her motives were genuine when calling on the general public to examine the injustices of the development plan,” he said. “The social teaching of the Catholic Church points out that our love for neighbors urges us to seek social justice.”

The Church in mainland China has been divided for some 60 years between the underground Church, which is persecuted and whose episcopal appointments are frequently not acknowledged by Chinese authorities, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a government-sanctioned organization.

In September 2018 the Holy See and Beijing reached an agreement meant to normalize the situation of China’s Catholics and to unify the underground Church and the CPCA.

The agreement has been roundly criticized by human rights groups and some Church leaders, including Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong.

In December, two bishops of the underground Catholic Church agreed to step aside in favor of bishops of the CPCA, in the wake of the September agreement.

One test of the result of the Holy See-Beijing agreement may be the appointment of a bishop to the Diocese of Jining (Wumeng) in Inner Mongolia.

The South China Morning Post reported March 29 that the diocese is nearing its selection of episcopal candidates, making it the first time that the Vatican and Beijing might agree on a bishop appointment since the September 2018 accord.

Religious freedom is officially guaranteed by the Chinese constitution, but religious groups must register with the government, and are overseen by the Chinese Communist Party. The Sinicization of religion has been pushed by President Xi Jinping, who took power in 2013 and who has strengthened government oversight of religious activities.

In 2017, Xi said that religions not sufficiently conformed to communist ideals pose a threat to the country’s government, and therefore must become more “Chinese-oriented.” Since he took power, crosses have been removed from an estimated 1,500 church buildings.

Reports of the destruction or desecration of Catholic churches and shrines have come from across China, including the provinces of Hebei, Henan, Guizhou, Shaanxi, and Shandong.

The US Commission on International Religion wrote in its 2018 report that last year China “advanced its so-called ‘sinicization’ of religion, a far-reaching strategy to control, govern, and manipulate all aspects of faith into a socialist mold infused with ‘Chinese characteristics.’” Christians, Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners have all been affected.