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No sign of Italian priest kidnapped in Niger

September 21, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Niamey, Niger, Sep 21, 2018 / 02:57 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- There has been no sign of an Italian missionary priest kidnapped in Niger Monday night, a member of his community said.

“We have no news of Fr. Pierluigi. There has been no claim by the ki… […]

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Algerian martyrs to be beatified in December

September 14, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Oran, Algeria, Sep 14, 2018 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- The Algerian bishops’ conference has announced that the beatification of Bishop Pierre Claverie and his 18 companions, who were martyred in the country between 1994 and 1996, will be held Dec. 8.

The beatification will take place at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Holy Cross in Oran.

The new blesseds “have been given to us as intercessors and models of the Christian life, of friendship and fraternity, of encounter and dialogue. May their example aid us in our life today,” the Algerian bishops wrote.

“From Algeria, their beatification will be for the Church and for the world, an impetus and a call to build together a world of peace and fraternity.”

In January Pope Francis had authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to recognize the martyrdoms.

Claverie was a French Algerian, and the Bishop of Oran from 1981 until his Aug. 1, 1996 martyrdom. He and his companions were killed during the Algerian Civil War by Islamists.

In addition to Claverie, those being beatified are: Brother Henri Vergès, Sister Paul-Hélène Saint-Raymond, Sister Esther Paniagua Alonso, Sister Caridad Álvarez Martín, Fr. Jean Chevillard, Fr. Alain Dieulangard, Fr. Charles Deckers, Fr. Christian Chessel, Sister Angèle-Marie Littlejohn, Sister Bibiane Leclercq, Sister Odette Prévost, Brother Luc Dochier, Brother Christian de Chergé, Brother Christophe Lebreton, Brother Michel Fleury, Brother Bruno Lemarchand, Brother Célestin Ringeard, and Brother Paul Favre-Miville.

The best known of Claverie’s companions are the seven monks of Tibhirine, who were kidnapped from their Trappist priory in March 1996. They were kept as a bartering chip to procure the release of several imprisoned members of the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria, and were killed in May. Their story was dramatized in the 2010 French film Of Gods and Men, which won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.

The prior, Christian de Chergé, sought peaceful dialogue with the Muslim population of the area and provided employment, medical attention, and education to the locals.

Dom Christian accepted that the current political tensions and violent militias were a threat to his life. According to the Trappist order, he wrote a letter to his community and family, citing the peace felt giving his life to God.  

“If it should happen one day – and it could be today – that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to engulf all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church and my family to remember that my life was given to God and to this country,” he said.

After the death of the monks of Tibhirine, Bishop Claverie knew his life was in serious danger. A bomb exploded at the entrance of his chancery Aug. 1, 1996, killing him and an aide, Mohamed Bouchikhi.

Sister Esther Paniagua Alonso and Sister Caridad Álvarez Martín were Augustinian missionaries from Spain who were killed Oct. 23, 1994 in Algiers.


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Nigerian bishops urge free and fair general election in 2019

September 14, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Sokoto, Nigeria, Sep 14, 2018 / 03:58 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In the face of Nigeria’s upcoming general election, the country’s bishops have encouraged politicians and residents to participate in a just voting process.

The Nigerian bishops’ conference met in Sokoto Sept. 6-14, where they discuss the general election which is to be held in February 2019. Their concluding communique called for a respectful electoral process and emphasized its importance to the country’s success.

“We demand that the choice of the electorate, once made, be respected by all. Although elections are not enough to enthrone good governance, they are an important stage in that project,” read the statement.

“Unless we get our electoral process right, elections in Nigeria will only become expensive cosmetic exercises that legitimise corruption and ineptitude.”

The statement challenged citizens to ensure they are equipped with voter cards and to reject illegal voting practices, namely buying and selling votes. The bishops wrote that the voters should be wary of political inducements and not be swayed by the pressures of politicians.

“It is the right of Nigerians to fully participate in the electoral process without intimidation and violence” the bishops said.

The bishops urged politicians to reflect on the purpose of public office and its service to the people. Emphasizing the importance of law, the statement also asked lawmakers to construct just laws, remove unfair regulations, and uphold the equal rights of all citizens.

“We continually encourage the legislators to enact good laws and abrogate bad ones, so as to ensure order, safety, good conduct and safeguard the Common good,” wrote the bishops.

“We also enjoin the judiciary not to allow itself to be used as an instrument of subjugation, oppression, discrimination and injustice…We note that the rule of law connotes equality of all under the law; seeks the protection of fundamental rights of citizens; and guards against abuse of power.”

The Nigerian bishops advocated for the government’s aid in releasing the captives of the radical Islamist group Boko Haram.

“We advise the Federal Government to ensure the safe release of the remaining Chibok girls and all other persons in captivity.”

The path toward an ideal Nigeria must overcome ethnic and religious boundaries, the bishops said.

“We desire that mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence becomes a model for the adherents of all religions in the country,” the statement read. “This would enable us to collectively build the great Nigeria of our dreams.”

The bishops emphasized the power of prayer and encouraged all members of the Church to participate in continuous prayer for the upcoming election.

“Our Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated the power of prayer during his earthly life. He prayed incessantly, especially, at very decisive and significant moments of his life.”

“Following his footsteps, we direct that our Church at various levels continue to pray, especially as we approach the election year.”


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What a vocation to be a Holy Land Franciscan looks like

September 10, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Jerusalem, Sep 10, 2018 / 07:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A religious vocation to serve in the Holy Land is demanding, but there is nothing like walking where Christ walked to strengthen the life of a Christian, the Franciscans of the Holy Land maintain.

Fr. Benjamin Owusu, O.F.M., told CNA he decided to join the Franciscans of the Holy Land out of “a love for the land which received our Lord and a love to serve in this unique place, to meet people from all walks of life.”

“If you really don’t have the passion to be in that place, you will definitely leave, especially in hard times,” Owusu said.

Owusu, who is from Ghana, has been a Franciscan for 20 years. He presently works with the pilgrimage office at the Washington, D.C.-based Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America.

“The holy places have a big draw. It is very powerful,” said Father Athanasius Macora, O.F.M. “When you come here, people are very moved by the experience. It puts the gospel in perspective… It’s a very powerful tool for evangelizing or re-evangelizing Catholics.”

Macora, an American who grew up in a military family, has spent two years in Jordan, three years in Damascus, and the last 20 years in Jerusalem, where he now serves as guardian of the Flagellation Monastery.

The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land is among the oldest and largest Catholic institutions in the Holy Land. The province was founded by St. Francis of Assisi in 1217, just eight years after he founded the Franciscan order.

The Custody’s primary role is care of the Holy Places and for pilgrims, while the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem has pastoral responsibility for Latin-rite Catholics who live in the region.

As of 2016 the Custody had 216 friars. Their main presence is in Israel, but there are also friars in Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Cyprus, and Egypt.

“I have always been fascinated by the Holy Land and it is a very rich and stimulating environment. I have gotten a lot out of it personally. It is very different from the U.S.,” Macora told CNA. “Of course, some periods have been better than others. A few times it has been really hard. There are many positive things about the U.S. that I miss, but I committed myself to being here.”

Macora said he is most struck by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over both the place of the Crucifixion and the tomb in which Christ’s body was buried.

“The Church is the place where the death, burial and Resurrection (of Jesus Christ) took place and therefore it serves as a memorial to the Paschal mystery and the three most important days on the Christian calendar,” Macora said. “I think that Calvary and the Tomb are my favorite parts, but I like it when it is really quiet there.”

Macora has witnessed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre’s impact on pilgrims, like those who “decide to go to confession after 20 or 30 or even 40 years.”

Like many places of Catholic mission, the Holy Land Franciscans are also in need of vocations.

“We do need more brothers,” Macora added. “The shrines need friars because sometimes it gets really busy, and you need to give the guys a rest. A presence is really important in the shrines and that requires a lot of friars.”

Besides accompanying pilgrims and staffing the shrines, Franciscan friars also work in areas like parish ministry and as directors of schools.

“A vocation is from God and so if one feels called to serve here they have to consider it,” Macora said.

For Owusu, knowing the Holy Land and developing a particular attachment to it helps contribute to one’s vocation and desire to serve there.

“Serving in the Holy Land opens one to the reality of the world,” said Owusu, who said this service opens one to others who do not necessarily share one’s faith.

Israel itself is majority Jewish, with a predominantly Muslim Arab Palestinian minority. Many Christians have emigrated in recent decades, and now make up about two percent of the population.

Jerusalem itself is politically contested, with many in the Palestinian Authority hoping to secure East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestinian state.

“It is a place where you meet different people, and different people have different views,” Owusu continued, tying this diversity to the Franciscan mission.

“It has opened me to accepting different people, because we are international,” he said. “You meet a lot of friars, even within our monastery, who come from different backgrounds. It has enriched me more, as far as my Franciscan vision is concerned.”

Macora was 15 years old when his father retired from the military in Texas, and he began exploring a religious vocation a few years later.

“In university I started to have strong feelings about serving the Church, feelings I could not dispel even though I tried,” he said. “So I started to think about where to serve, and the international dimension of the Franciscans and the Holy Land really appealed to me since we grew up in many places because of my father’s military career.”

Owusu said being a Holy Land Franciscan means “there’s always something to learn.”

“You need to learn, first of all, to accept other people,” he said. “You need to learn languages, and languages open you to culture, and culture also brings you that reality of the place. There is a lot to learn.”

“Of course, you don’t have to understand all these things to be a friar,” he added. “What you have, will be developed. What you have as a friar can be developed from there. There is always room to learn more.”

Pilgrimages to the Holy Land have resulted in some vocations. Owusu said one such vocation is a California priest who was drawn by the organ played at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

“We have another one who came from France on a pilgrimage. Afterwards he came back, and is now a friar over there,” said the D.C.-based friar.

Macora is also Secretary of the Status Quo Commission of the Custody of the Holy Land. In that role, he takes part in agreements and negotiations among the Churches with claims to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Status Quo agreement, reached in 1852, concerns the ownership and rights of Catholic and Orthodox Christian communities at important sanctuaries including the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre,  the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and the Tomb of the Virgin Mary in Jerusalem.

Macora said the Franciscans of the Custody have a clear mission rooted in their history.

“We have a very specific identity which involves a heavy institutional burden, because we have to run so many projects,” he said. “The institutional part is not seen as very Franciscan by the Franciscans themselves, but we are here for 800 years now and the existence of the shrines and the large institutional Catholic presence is due also to those guys hundreds of years ago, so we just have to keep doing it.”


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Journalist-turned-missionary finds happiness in evangelization

August 21, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Aug 21, 2018 / 08:33 pm (ACI Prensa).- Belén Manrique had a promising career in journalism, surrounded by good friends and family. But at age 30, she left her life in Spain behind to become a missionary in Ethiopia.

“I always say that the mission is never boring. It’s a thousand times better than what we could imagine. It’s a life full of surprises if you put yourself in the Lord’s hands,” she told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language sister agency, during a recent visit to Rome.

“I live in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, and my mission is to be a witness to the love of God there where he puts me, to build up the Church because it’s very poor there. The Christian community is very weak, and so it is very important to help the people know Jesus Christ,” she explained.

Despite worldly success, “the life I led did not fulfill me,” she said. “The plan God had for me was different, and when I discovered that what he wanted was for me to bring the love of God to people who don’t know him, I did not doubt God’s call – it wasn’t hard for me to leave my job as a journalist or leave Madrid.”

Manrique belongs to the Neocatechumenal Way, an ecclesial movement that focuses on post-baptismal adult formation. She said the movement helped her grow in faith.

“I was able to encounter Jesus Christ and realize that he’s the only one who gives happiness to man. I went there where I found the mission the Lord had planned for me.”

Her first destination in Ethiopia was the eastern desert, “where most people are Muslims.”

“I realized it was necessary for the Church to come there to bring the Gospel to those people who don’t know [Christ],” she said. “Ethiopia is 50 percent Muslim and 50 percent Christian, but most of them are Orthodox Christians. The Catholic Church is less than 1 percent of the population.”

“We’re building a ‘missio ad gentes’ on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, in a neighborhood where the Catholic Church has no presence. Besides the Orthodox, there are a lot of Protestants,” she said.

Manrique’s work consists of helping out in the parishes, and talking to people. She stressed that success in her mission is “not about gaining followers but of being witnesses and making Jesus Christ known.”

“Not long ago a boy asked me: ‘Can you be a Catholic without being a nun or a priest’? Most of the Catholics that have come to Ethiopia are nuns and priests, and so they have that thought.”

She added that she often encounters Ethiopians who want to leave their country, either to flee violence or because they have seen an idealized version of Europe on television, and believe life there to be luxurious and worry-free.

“Every day, there’s someone who asks me to bring him to my country, and I tell them that the one who’s not going back to her country is me,” she said. “I tell them that I lived in this idyllic world that they want to go to, and I have renounced it.”

“I explain that riches don’t give happiness, that I had all that which they long for and it wasn’t making me happy.  I’m much happier because God gives happiness and love for one’s neighbor.”


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


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Bishop’s murder draws attention to tensions in Coptic Orthodox Church

August 20, 2018 CNA Daily News 1

Alexandria, Egypt, Aug 20, 2018 / 02:48 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Last month’s murder of Bishop Epiphanius, the abbot of St. Macarius Monastery in the Egyptian desert, has highlighted tension in the Coptic Orthodox Church over monasticism, ecumenism, and reform.

Bishop Epiphanius’ body was found July 29, with injuries to his head and back that suggest that he had been hit by a sharp object.

Isaiah al-Makary, whose name in the world is Wael Saad, was charged with the bishop’s murder Aug. 11, and confessed to the murder the following day. Saad said another monk, Faltaous al-Makary (Raymond Rasmi Mansour), assisted in the crime. Faltaous attempted suicide in recent weeks, and was being treated at a Cairo hospital.

Saad was expelled from the monastery Aug. 5, for “inappropriate actions which violate monastic behavior and way of life.” The Coptic Orthodox Church said that his dismissal had been decided on before the bishop’s death.

Bishop Epiphanius’ murder has led to the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate issuing several decrees on monasticism.

Tawadros II, Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, announced Aug. 1 that the Church’s monasteries would stop accepting new brothers for one year. Those who established monasteries unapproved by the patriarchate will be stripped of their priesthood and monastic state. No new monasteries may be founded except as a revival of old monasteries, and this is to be done under the care of a recognized monastery.

The Church has also instructed its monks to close their social media accounts, and has suspended the ordination of monks for three years. Permissions for monks to attend outside functions is also being restricted.

And on Aug. 16, the Church announced that unrecognized monasteries have one month to submit to the supervision of the patriarchate. This will allow Tawadros “to supervise spiritual, financial, and managerial aspects,” the Egypt Independent reported.

The Coptic Orthodox Church is an Oriental Orthodox Church, meaning it rejected the 451 Council of Chalcedon, and its followers had historically been considered monophysites – those who believe Christ has only one nature – by Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, though they are not considered so any longer.

Samuel Tadros, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told the New York Times that Bishop Epiphanius was “a senior figure in a reformist Coptic movement” that has been favored under Tawadros.

“His appointment, in May, to position in which he would work as a liaison with the Catholic Church was seen as a sign that conservatives were being sidelined, Mr. Tadros said.”

Pope Francis visited Egypt last year, and signed a joint declaration with Tawadros announcing that their Churches will recognize the validity of each other’s baptisms.

Previously, the Coptic Orthodox Church had repeated baptism if a Catholic had sought to join it.

Conservative members of the Coptic Orthodox Church have reportedly resisted such reforms under Tawadros. According to a commentary by Engy Magdy in the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn’s The Tablet, these conservatives are associated with Shenouda III, the immediate predecessor of Tawadros as Coptic Orthodox Patriarch.

The dispute goes back to tensions between Shenouda and Fr. Matta El Meskeen.

Fr. Matta was tasked by Cyril VI in 1969 with reviving monastic life at St. Macarius Monastery. The monk was focused on the spiritual life, openness to the thought of other Churches, and ressourcement.

While Shenouda was a disciple of Fr. Matta early on, after he was elected Pope of Alexandria in 1971 the two came into conflict. Shenouda restricted Fr. Matta to his monastery, and discouraged the reading of his books, according to an essay by Mina Thabet in Middle East Eye.

It was during this time, in 1984, that Epiphanius joined St. Macarius and became a monk. Epiphanius was a disciple of Fr. Matta, and was involved in ecumenism.

Fr. Matta died in 2006.

St. Macarius Monastery was long independent of the Coptic Orthodox hierarchy, but Shenouda restored it under the Church’s authority in 2009, and appointed some 70 conservative monks, among them Saad and Faltaous.

In the year after Shenouda’s 2012 death, Epiphanius was elected abbot of St. Macarius, and consecrated a bishop.

The murder of Bishop Epiphanius in his cell at St. Macarius may well only heighten tensions within the Coptic Orthodox Church, especially as Tawadros continues to extend his oversight of the monasteries in the desert of Egypt.


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Monks arrested over suspected murder of Coptic Orthodox bishop

August 13, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Cairo, Egypt, Aug 13, 2018 / 11:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Egyptian police have arrested two men, one a monk and one a former monk, over the death last month of Bishop Epiphanius, the abbot of St. Macarius Monastery.

Bishop Epiphanius’ body was found July 29, with injuries to his head and back that suggest that he had been hit by a sharp object. St. Macarius is a Coptic Orthodox monastery in Egypt’s Beheira governorate, about 60 miles northwest of Cairo.

Isaiah al-Makary, whose name in the world is Wael Saad, was expelled from the monastery a few days after Bishop Epiphanius’ death. He was charged with the bishop’s murder Aug. 11.

The Egypt Independent reported that Saad confessed to the murder the following day, and said that another monk, Faltaous al-Makary (Raymond Rasmi Mansour) had assisted in the crime.

Faltaous, 33, was detained Aug. 13. He had attempted suicide the previous week and was being treated at a hospital in Cairo.

Saad was expelled from the monastery Aug. 5, for “inappropriate actions which violate monastic behavior and way of life,” the Egypt Independent reported. The Coptic Orthodox Church said that his dismissal had been decided on before the bishop’s death.

After Saad’s confession, his lawyer, Amir Nasif, withdrew and declined to defend the suspect.

Tawadros II, Coptic Orthodox Pope of Alexandria, announced Aug. 2 that Coptic Orthodox monasteries will stop accepting seminarians for one year, Egypt Today reported.

The Church has also instructed its monks to close their social media accounts, and has suspended the ordination of monks for three years.

According to The Coptic Orthodox Church Centre, Bishop Epiphanius was born June 27, 1954 in Egypt’s Tanta governorate. He joined St Macarius Monastery in February 1984, and became a monk in April of that year. He was ordained a priest Oct. 17, 2002, and in 2013 was elected abbot and consecrated a bishop.

The Coptic Orthodox Church is an Oriental Orthodox Church, meaning it rejected the 451 Council of Chalcedon, and its followers had historically been considered monophysites – those who believe Christ has only one nature – by Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, though they are not considered so any longer.