Browsing News Entries

ASIA/HOLY LAND - Patriarch Pizzaballa: the proclamation of the Gospel passes through the gratitude of "forgiven sinners", such as Mary Magdalene

Magdala - Men and women of all times, to be reached and touched by the announcement of the Risen Christ, need "witnesses in the same league", "sinners like the Apostles and as we are today". And the story of Mary of Magdala, the first eyewitness and the first herald of Christ's resurrection, suggests that Christian witness can only flourish from the gratitude of forgiven sinners, who foretold in their lives the salvation and healing given by Christ himself. Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Patriarch of Jerusalem of the Latins, repeated this during the mass celebrated today, Saturday, April 10, in Magdala, a small town on the western shore of Lake Tiberias. In his homily, focusing precisely on the evangelical figure of Mary of Magdala, the Patriarch re-proposed in simple and suggestive terms what are the source and dynamism of every apostolic witness and every missionary adventure, linking the experience of Magdalene, first person to whom the Risen Lord appears, and sending the incredulous disciples to Galilee or to all people. The appearance of the Risen Christ to Mary Magdalene - the Patriarch pointed out at the beginning of his homily - is an important detail of the Gospel announcement. With the passion and death of Jesus, his disciples, out of any rigid 'religious' obstinacy, "had lost faith, except the Mother of the Lord. Mary of Magdala, therefore, is the one through whom God, with the encounter with the risen one, reconnects the bond with men". Like Mary, who according to the Gospel account had been "possessed by seven demons", whose life had truly been "immersed in sin", but her encounter with the Lord freed her, forgave her, saved her". Mary of Magdala - continued the Patriarch – is the one who represents us, our human condition marked by sin and the expectation of healing: "We could not be represented by the Virgin Mary because she has always remained faithful; she is without sin. We, on the other hand, are sinners. She is also an image of the Church. The Church that the fathers of the Church called “Casta Meretrix,” saint and sinner, is represented by Mary of Magdala". The Virgin Mary is a mother of the Church and our Mother, as the Council reminds us. On the other hand, Mary of Magdala is a figure of the Church, which is composed of sinners but is at the same time reconciled with the Father from the presence of risen Christ.
Already in the Gospel - the Patriarch continued - the apostles’ difficulty believing in the resurrection needs "witnesses in the same league, who are like them, like Mary of Magdala". For this reason Jesus "did not go first to the incredulous disciples but to Mary of Magdala, who was in search of his body, considered lost". And that historical fact narrated in the Gospels - Archbishop Pizzaballa pointed out - retains a paradigmatic value for the entire mission of the Church throughout history. To those same disciples, reproached by Jesus for their incredulity - continued the Patriarch, underlining in this passage a certain 'irony' of the Gospel account - he will entrust the mission of preaching his resurrection to all peoples in the world. The Apostles themselves - continued Pizzaballa - "needed witnesses in the same league, sinners like them, like Mary of Magdala, who was possessed by seven demons, but who was saved by the encounter with Jesus". In the same way, "the men of that time and today need witnesses like them, sinners like the Apostles and as we are today. Jesus needs normal men, sinners, but at the same time happy to have met the treasure that has upset their lives. Ordinary people, but who have the full flavor of life, of the resurrection. May they become by themselves witnesses of something greater than them". The story of Mary Magdalene - continued the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem - suggests that the only authentic source of Christian mission and witness is the astonished gratitude for having tasted in one's own life the liberation given by Christ himself, through his forgiveness: "If we do not recognize ourselves as sinners", added Archbishop Pizzaballa "we do not need Christ and the forgiveness of God to which he alone gives us access. We can’t even love him because we don’t feel the need for him, he’s a presence that doesn’t communicate anything to us, and so we have nothing to witness except ourselves". But if we recognize we are sinners and allow him, with humility, to forgive us, we will have access to his love, to his life that will break into us, and that alone will become an announcement. Rediscovered salvation "is the lost-and-found drachma of the Gospel of Luke. Once found, the woman calls all her neighbors to rejoice; she can’t keep her joy".

ASIA/PAKISTAN- Two Christian nurses accused of blasphemy

Faisalabad - Two Christian nurses from Faisalabad, a city of Pakistani Punjab, have been formally accused under the Pakistani penal code 295 B, one of the articles of the notorious "blasphemy law" of committing blasphemy against Islam. As Agenzia Fides learns, the First Investigation Report n. 371/21 c was filed yesterday, April 9th. The case was registered at the request of medical superintendent Dr. Mirza Mohammad Ali of the civilian hospital in Faisalabad. On April 8, 2021, the two Christian nurses Mariam Lal and Navish Arooj removed and tore a sticker containing verses from the Holy Koran from a closet. The doctor claims that Navish Arooj removed the sticker and handed it to Maryam, who hid it in her hand when she saw a senior nurse, Rukhsana, coming towards them. At the request of the senior nurse, Maryam, according to her account, did not give her an adequate answer. The senior nurse took the sticker into custody and took photos. The next day, April 9, the Muslim nurse shared the matter with the hospital administrator and health inspector Faisal Yaqoob. They found both Christian nurses guilty of dishonoring the verses of the Holy Koran, filing a complaint for blasphemy. In the confusion that broke out in the hospital, upon hearing the news, one of the boys in the ward, Muhammad Waqas, tried to kill the Christian nurse Maryam with a knife, but Maryam was only wounded on her arm. Both nurses are now in police custody. Kashif Aslam, coordinator of the programs in the National Commission for Justice and Peace, of the Bishops of Pakistan, speaking to Fides, notes: "It is another false accusation against Christian women; there is a personal matter among the staff members that must be discovered in the investigation. The Christian faithful have a deep sensitivity on these issues, and they are also taught to respect other religions. I do not believe that the young Christian nurses desecrated the sticker containing the verses of the Holy Koran". Saleem Iqbal, a Christian human rights activist speaking to Fides, says: "It is alarming to see an increase in the number of unjustly accused in cases of blasphemy and the forced conversions of girls belong to religious minorities. This is the second case recorded this year: previously the Christian nurse Tabitha Gill was accused in a hospital in Karachi . Now this has happened in Faisalabad". He adds: "We appeal to Christian politicians to hurry to act to protect their people and ask the faithful to always be attentive to those who can trap them in such matters, using blasphemy for personal disputes or personal jealousies".

AFRICA/SUDAN - Covid-19 infections increase in particular among young people: the authorities appeal to a sense of responsibility

Kartoum - The picture presented by the World Health Organization in much of Africa is that of health systems which are collapsing, doctors, nurses and other health workers who have reached the limits of their physical strength, overloaded structures and organizations, lack of personal protective equipment, exposure to COVID-19 patients, overload of work, poor prevention of infections and control measures… which represent the main risk factors associated with infections in health care facilities.
In particular in Sudan, the increase in cases of contagion from Covid-19 records in particular vulnerable young people, contributing to a further spread of the virus. The "white coat army" continues its tireless service, said Siddig Tawir, chairman of the Health Emergency Committee. Tawir reported 200 new cases registered on Saturday 3 March and another 250 on Sunday 4 March, mostly among young people, including schoolchildren. As can be seen in the note sent to Agenzia Fides, the president attributes the increase in the rate of infection to a relaxed attitude towards the second wave of the pandemic "many think that the pandemic is over", he said. "COVID-19 will not be contained so much by laws and procedures as by the awareness of the entire population".
During a recent meeting, the Transitional Partners Council discussed the latest developments regarding the pandemic. Speaking on behalf of the TPC, Maryam El Sadiq explained that all state agencies are working to fight the virus and praised Sudan's 'White Coat Army' "whose members are making fundamental efforts to tackle COVID-19 and they are currently involved in a series of national and international initiatives". The TPC spokesperson also appealed to the public to adhere to health precautions. A report released by WHO notes that, since the beginning of the pandemic, an average of 267 infections have been recorded among health workers every day, or 11 new infections per hour. To date, more than 100,000 healthcare workers have contracted COVID-19 in the African region, 3.5% of the total number of cases in the region. "Vaccine doses will remain limited", said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, "and it is crucial that frontline health workers and other most exposed groups have priority. Healthcare workers must be protected because without their central role, efforts against the pandemic would be in vain. We need to further protect and equip our health care workers to effectively contribute to efforts to contain COVID-19. Everyone's well-being is at stake without properly supported healthcare personnel", said Dr. Moeti. On March 3, the first batch of 828,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine arrived at Khartoum airport.

AFRICA/ALGERIA - Augustinian missionaries: "Restoring hope for the future to young people"

Algiers - "The goal of our missionary project in Algeria is to create a psychological and social assistance program for young Algerians, structured in listening centers managed by professionals, associations and volunteers, with the aim of countering the worrying increase in cases of suicide, as a definitive response to difficulties and uncertainty and to recover a look of hope towards the future". This is what Maurizio Mistiano, in charge of international projects and fundraising of the Agostiniani nel Mondo Foundation, a non-profit organization for the missionaries of Saint Augustine that operates in more than fifty countries in support of the poor and most needy, reports to Agenzia Fides. "The Augustinians have been present in Algeria practically since their birth - says Misitano - as Saint Augustine was born in Tagaste in 354 AD. During the terrible years of terrorism in the nineties, the friars decided not to leave the country, despite the danger of being killed, and kept their presence alive thanks to a program of intercultural dialogue promoted within the Basilica of Hippo. Today - he continues - thanks also to the constant search for dialogue with Muslim religion representatives, other small social programs have been able to start, in favor of young people, the elderly and migrants". In recent years Algeria has been the protagonist of significant economic growth and a clear improvement in human development indices but, although the situation is improving, a quarter of the population is still below the poverty line: "There is social insecurity and injustice and the unemployment rate of young people remains high , especially for those with higher levels of education. This generates a sense of frustration, alienation and a loss of confidence in the future that lead many young people to choose to take their own lives". In fact, in the North African country, the suicide rate is constantly increasing and is reaching alarming dimensions: "Every day at least three people take their own lives and the phenomenon mainly affects young people between the ages of 15 and 24 - reports Mistiano - This problem, moreover, is treated as a taboo by the institutions and therefore it is difficult to deal with it in a scientific way. For this reason - he underlines - our project intends to constitute itself as a methodological model that can also be replicated by other humanitarian organizations". "We have developed an assistance program that aims to guarantee support and prevention through the creation of 5 listening centers in the cities of Algiers, Boumerdes and Annaba and the establishment of a telephone line from which qualified operators can answer people who cannot physically go to the centers. It is not excluded - he concludes - that in the future this project may be transformed into something more structured".
Link correlati :Watch the video interview on Agenzia Fides Youtube channel

ASIA/SYRIA - Syriac Catholic Patriarch: Those who use sanctions as an instrument of political pressure starve the Syrian people

Damascus - In the Syrian crisis, "it is neither fair nor logical to condition the lifting of sanctions on a so-called political solution while ordinary people are impoverished and suffering from hunger, disease, and humiliation". The lucid and penetrating judgment on the use of the sanctions long imposed by the international community on Bashar al Assad's Syria comes from Ignace Youssef III Younan, Patriarch of Antioch of the Syriac Catholics. The Primate of the Syriac Catholic Church, who usually resides at the patriarchal seat in Lebanon, expressed his thoughts in his Easter message.
In the Easter text, the Patriarch called on "international decision-makers and all those of good will to make efforts to lift the unjust sanctions imposed on the Syrian people, whose suffering is intensifying day by day". The situation in Syria is a terrible catastrophe - the Patriarch remarks – which has surpassed the brutality of the emperors of time, past invaders, and occupiers: "Ten years of war, killing, destruction, and the international conflict on its soil have only led to the abuse of the Syrian people and the destruction of its economic, social, and civilizational structure".

AFRICA /D.R. CONGO - "Stop with the murders": appeal by the Bishops to stop the violence in the east of the country

Kinshasa - "For more than two decades, the east of our country has been devastated by armed conflicts and recurrent insecurity that cause death, desolation and displacement of populations. Unfortunately, all our appeals have not yet found significant echoes in the affected population", states a message from the Standing Committee of the Bishops' Conference of the Democratic Republic of Congo sent to Agenzia Fides.
"To demonstrate our emotional and effective closeness with our brothers and sisters wounded and victims of this tragedy, a delegation of Bishops from the Association of Episcopal Conferences of Central Africa and the National Episcopal Conference of Congo carried out a pastoral mission in the east of the country, in particular in the dioceses of Goma, Butembo-Beni and Bunia, from 14 to 26 January" .
"During this mission, the Bishops prayed with the people and conferred with representatives of different strata of society", the message recalls.
The Congolese Bishops, during the ordinary session of the Standing Committee held in Kinshasa from 22 to 25 February 2021, "given the importance of the information received", have taken into consideration "the possibility of making an appeal to the Head of State and making public a special communication on the results and on our recommendations in the hope of obtaining a great mobilization to fight against the root causes of this insecurity".
The violence of the armed groups that act for the occupation of the land, the illegal exploitation of natural resources, the unjust enrichment and the Islamization of the region despite religious freedom have left families in mourning, have caused massive displacements of populations and have caused significant losses of assets, damaging the economy of a region that is the breadbasket of the country. The victims are thousands: more than 6,000 dead in Beni since 2013 and more than 2,000 in Bunia in 2020 alone. There are also at least 3 million displaced people and about 7,500 people kidnapped.
"To this must be added the burning of several houses and villages, the destruction and closure of schools and health centers, the looting of administrative buildings, the looting of animals, fields and crops, this can be added the burning of several houses and villages, the destruction and closure of schools and health centers, the looting of administrative buildings, the looting of animals, fields and crops, etc. The perpetrators are usually armed groups and militia, some of which transmit an ideology close to "Satanism", denounce the Bishops.
The same situation of precariousness and insecurity that characterizes North Kivu and Ituri occurs in South Kivu, where, for this reason, "another mission of listening and closeness will be sent in the coming months".
"CENCO remains committed to supporting the process of building peace and social cohesion. By virtue of our pastoral mission, we will work, internally and externally, to consolidate the fraternity between peoples and communities, so that those who are now adversaries commit to taking part in the journey together", concludes the message.

AMERICA/VENEZUELA - The Bishops urge vaccinations: "We cannot wait any longer, the human being is above political diatribes"

Caracas - "Motivated by our pastoral ministry in favor of the people of God, we echo their cries regarding the need to resolve the issue of vaccination against covid-19 as soon as possible. It is an urgency that must be framed in the call to practice the commandment of brotherly love, which the Lord Jesus left us". With these words, the Presidency of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference has published a statement in which it highlights the urgency of vaccination against Covid-19 without prejudice of any kind, and the convocation of the different realities involved in the health and social sphere.
In the statement, sent to Fides, the Bishops denounce that unfortunately the number of infected and dead has increased, and this has created even greater anguish in the population, among the most vulnerable, for this reason they reiterate that "people have the right to be properly treated, both in prevention and in the necessary medical care".
Then they turn to the national Executive, to the health authorities, to all public and private bodies, so that "thinking about the good of the people they should serve, they seek an agreement in order to obtain the best vaccines that can be applied to the entire population without exception or discrimination". "We cannot wait any longer. The human being is above political diatribes, because the life of every person is worthy and sacred".
The statement of the Presidency of the CEV asks the nations and multilateral organizations involved in the distribution of vaccines, to collaborate with the Venezuelan people, and the National Executive to convene the representatives of all the realities operating in the health and social sector, without using political-partisan criteria, in order to present a united front to guarantee that the entire population is vaccinated without conditions. Finally, they reiterate their call for everyone to follow the biosafety guidelines.

AFRICA/GUINEA BISSAU - The Bishop of Bafatà died of Covid: the first Brazilian missionary Bishop of a mission territory outside Brazil

Bissau - "Today it is urgent to rebuild the person, the heart of the people, because people suffer psychologically and spiritually, in addition to poverty. It is necessary to promote reconciliation and peace. Bafata is a region inhabited by many Muslims, so dialogue is necessary to work together". With these words, in an interview with Agenzia Fides His Exc. Mgr. José Pedro Carlos Zilli, Bishop of Bafatà, in Guinea Bissau, described the situation of the new diocese at the time of assuming his new position.
Archbishop Zilli, 67, passed away on March 31, due to complications from Covid-19 at the Cumura hospital, on the outskirts of Bissau, where he had been hospitalized for two weeks.
Bishop Zilli was a missionary of the PIME and before his appointment as Bishop of Bafatà he had already spent 14 years in Guinea Bissau occupying various positions including parish vicar in Bafatà and regional superior of his institute. Born in 1954 in the state of Sao Paulo , Father Zilli was the first Brazilian missionary to be appointed Ordinary of a mission territory outside Brazil.
In the interview with Fides, Bishop Zilli recalled his previous experience as a missionary in the African country, making particular reference to relations with Muslims: "During my stay we established very good relations of friendship: we had a Muslim cook who worked for us and he was an exquisite person, through him I learned to know and love Muslims. In addition, Muslims also love missionaries: especially with the war they saw that the Church loves people, without making any distinction. In general, the relationship is good. We have already worked together on some social projects, in schools, even if only in the initial phases. Some of the missionaries had a deeper relationship, especially in the medical field".
Bishop Zilli clearly announced what his pastoral priorities were as the first Bishop of the new diocese. "Christians are few and must be educated to give their testimony without fear, but with joy ... In the first place of my work agenda I put evangelization, then work for vocations, the family, social commitment , dialogue, inculturation, and many other things to come ... ".

ASIA/MYANMAR - Military raids on churches and temples: the army violates religious freedom

Yangon - Christian churches and Buddhist temples are subjected to continuous military raids and violent searches by the Burmese army, in search of hidden activists or alleged illegal activities. As sources of Fides confirm, in recent days the army raided numerous Christian churches of all denominations in Kachin State, claiming that a subversive activity was underway. The military raided Baptist Christian, Catholic and Anglican churches in the city of Mohnyin. The raids are also targeting Buddhist monasteries and temples across the country.
"These raids are deplorable and are blatant violations of religious freedom. Religious places are sacred. The entire population stigmatizes and is scandalized by the fact that one enters with weapons in hand in a sacred place, Buddhist churches and monasteries are regularly ransacked with violence. These are serious acts of intimidation by the army that are generating growing tension and hostility in the Burmese population of all ethnicities and religions", says Fides source. "The military identifies youth and protest leaders on social media and then then launches night operations to stop them", he says.
"The soldiers climbed over the fences and entered all the building in the complex, without any justification and searched all the spaces", said Reverend Awng Seng of the Kachin Baptist Convention , when recounting, still shocked, what happened in the Kachin State. Soldiers suspected that a protest leader was hiding inside the compound and that religious leaders participated in protests and initiatives against the regime. The security forces found nothing illegal in all of the searched churches.
"It is unacceptable to carry out these raids on a Christian religious site with armed personnel acting as if they were conducting a military operation. We strongly condemn it. If the army acts in this way in sacred places, we cannot imagine how it behaves in the private homes of people", remarked Rev. Awng Seng, reporting that the Kachin Theological College and the adjacent Baptist Christian Seminary in the capital of the Kachin State, Myitkyina.
The Kachin Baptist Convention which, with more than 400,000 members and 429 churches, plays a leading role in the Kachin State, recalls that "Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim religious communities preach truth and justice" stating that "such intimidating and violent raids are frightening".
The KBC has declared its opposition to the military regime and has held daily prayer liturgies for peace and justice, calling for federal democracy, equality, respect for freedom and human rights.
In recent days, security forces also raided a Baptist church in Lashio, in the northern Shan State, arresting 10 religious leaders and resident personnel for two days , firing gunshots inside the church while looking for for anti-regime protesters.

AMERICA/GUATEMALA - Centenary of the Archdiocese of Los Altos: "Evangelizing, forming disciples, bearing witness has been, is and will be our commitment"

Los Altos - "On July 27, 2021 we will celebrate the first centenary of the creation of the diocese of Los Altos. This centennial raises two actions. This event arouses two attitudes. On the one hand, thanks to God because he allows us to be members of his Church in this Archdiocese; on the other hand, the prayer of supplication so that his grace may guide us in future years". This was written by the Archbishop of Los Altos, Quelzaltenango-Totonicapan, Mgr. Mario Alberto Molina Palma, OAR, in his Pastoral Letter to the People of God, dated Holy Thursday, April 1, 2021.
The Archbishop remembers the Bishops who have succeeded in this diocese, archdiocese since 1996 from which five other dioceses have originated, local and foreign, secular and religious priests, in particular those who during the difficult years of reorganization and violence of the armed conflict, "served and guided the people of God in this land". Then he gives thanks to the innumerable consecrated women who, in the fields of education, health, care for the elderly, catechetical formation and social promotion "collaborated in the task of evangelization". He also addresses a special thanks to the laity, "who in all ages have offered their time, their ingenuity, their personal sacrifices to collaborate with the Pastors, replacing them and representing them in the guidance and coordination of the communities, in catechesis and evangelization".
On the occasion of the centenary, an academic study on the history of the diocese will be published, as there is little information about it. However, theological and historical material has been prepared to organize conferences, video clips, radio and television programs to prepare this event reflecting on the nature of the Church and the Christian faith.
In his pastoral letter, the Archbishop invites us to give thanks to God, "Lord of the Church and of time ... for the faith we have known and received ... for the service and ministry of the people who were instruments in his hands because through them faith reached us and so many works of evangelization, catechesis and charity were carried out".
Bishop Molina also invites all communities to offer the Holy Eucharist as thanksgiving on Saturday 24, Sunday 25 and Monday 26 July 2021. On Tuesday 27, the anniversary date, the Holy Eucharist will be celebrated in the local Church with biblical readings appropriate for the occasion.
Unfortunately, says the Archbishop, the health situation prevents a community celebration of the entire Archdiocese, with the participation of priests, religious and laity from all communities, but he hopes that it can take place in the future.
In the second part of the Letter, Monsignor Molina invites us to look to the future with hope, outlining a broad panorama of the current situation and indicating some pastoral options that must be taken.
Finally, the Archbishop recalls that "Evangelizing, forming disciples, living as the Church of Jesus Christ, bearing witness to the world of our hope, has been, is and will be our commitment. Undoubtedly God arouses thoughts, inspires decisions, energizes works. Each one of us contributes the thoughts, decisions and works that he conscientiously believes will contribute to the proclamation of the Gospel, to the edification of the Church and to the formation of the faithful and to the achievement of the final objective that is the life of holiness in God".