Washington D.C., Jul 8, 2004 (CNA) - Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom called yesterday upon African Union leaders currently meeting in Addis Ababa to press the government of Eritrea, in the horn of Africa, to free three prominent pastors and two popular Christian singers arrested as part of a two-year government crackdown against evangelical Christians. All detainees are Eritrean.
According to the Christian news service “Compass Direct,” at 6 a.m on Sunday, May 23, Haile Naizgi, chairman of the Full Gospel Church, one of Eritrea’s largest Pentecostal denominations, and Dr. Kifle Gebremeskel, chairman of the Eritrean Evangelical Alliance, were arrested at their homes in the capital Asmara.
During the arrests, police officials reportedly confiscated the keys to the pastors’ offices and verbally threatened the men’s wives.
Four days later, Pastor Tesfatsion Hagos of the Rema Evangelical Church in Asmara was arrested while visiting Massawa, Compass Direct also reported.
Hagos’ fellow church members confirmed to Amnesty International that they have been unable to learn their pastor’s whereabouts since his arrest. Hagos is married with three children.
Another detainee is Singer Helen Berhane, 29, who recently released an album of Christian music popular among youth. Compass Direct reports that she has been incarcerated since May 13 in a shipping container at the Mai Serwa military camp.
A member of the Rema Church, Berhane has reportedly refused demands that she sign a paper recanting her faith in Christ and agreeing to stop singing and participating in Christian activities.
Her detention follows the March arrest of evangelical singer Yonas Haile, arrested a month after releasing a Christian videotape and believed to still be jailed at the Sawa military center.
The Christians have not appeared in court or been charged with any offense, as is legally required within 48 hours of arrest. The detainees are being held without access to their families or other visitors.
The arrests of these well-known evangelical Christians comes in the wake of specific threats issued to local evangelical leaders in mid April.
During a meeting called by the government’s Department of Religious Affairs, pastors of banned Christian churches were reportedly ordered to “not inform anyone outside Eritrea of your problems.”
They were also forbidden to invite Christian speakers from abroad to Eritrea without first obtaining government permission.
The pastors present at the meeting rejected these demands, vowing, in fact, to inform the outside world of the threats made against them and to continue until their constitutional rights to freedom of worship are restored.
Two years ago, President Issayas Afewerki’s government closed down all 12 of Eritrea’s independent evangelical churches, forbidding their congregations to worship even in private homes.
The state recognizes only four “historic” faith groups: Christian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran and Islam.
Washington D.C., Jul 8, 2004 (CNA) - The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called on the Senate to protect children, exploited by human trafficking in the United States.
Calling trafficking "a modern-day form of slavery" and "the largest manifestation of slavery today," Sr. Mary Ellen Dougherty of the Bishops' Office for Migration and Refugee Services urged the action in testimony yesterday before the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights.
The School Sister of Notre Dame testified at a hearing on "Examining U.S. Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery." The subcommittee is headed by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).
"Human beings are being sold into bondage as prostitutes, domestic workers, child laborers and child soldiers," she said.
An estimated 700,000 persons annually are being trafficked worldwide, with about 17,000 in the United States. One-third of the victims in the United States are children.
"We must pay particular attention to child trafficking victims and ensure that they are protected and provided special care," said Sr. Dougherty, expressing her concern that children have “fallen through the cracks of these enforcement efforts."
Since the enactment of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000, only 34 child victims have been identified within the U.S. and referred to trafficking victims’ assistance. However, research into trafficking and statistics, gathered by the State Department on worldwide numbers of trafficked kids, point to a much larger number of children than identified, she said.
Sr. Dougherty also outlined principles to be invoked in any decision-making process regarding child victims. She firmly recommended that all children receive immediate safe haven and an assessment of their needs; that efforts for family reunification should be explored as a priority; and that assistance be provided them for legal matters and immigration procedures to remain in the U.S.
Sr. Dougherty's testimony can be found at www.usccb.org
Denver, Colo., Jul 8, 2004 (CNA) - Colorado Public Radio will feature an in-depth interview with Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver about the Catholic Church and politics.
The interview will air July 13 on KCFR's Colorado Matters, hosted and produced by Dan Drayer. This is the archbishop’s most extensive interview on the subject since the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement last month, deeply disapproving of Catholic politicians, who support abortion rights.
"Many people who are upset with the Church on this matter are telling us to shut up," Archbishop Chaput tells Drayer, "rather than just entering into the debate in a way that respects our American rights and our dignity and, of course what I think is really at stake here, the dignity of the unborn child. ... There's nothing wrong with a good debate and an ongoing debate about these issues.”
Audio of the full interview is available upon request.
Archbishop Chaput’s interview on Colorado Matters will air July 13 at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., on Colorado Public Radio: KCFR 1340 AM in Denver, KCFC 1490 AM in Boulder, KKPC 1230 AM in Pueblo, KPRN 89.5 FM in Grand Junction, KPRH 88.3 FM in Montrose, and online at www.cpr.org.
Madrid, Spain, Jul 8, 2004 (CNA) - A study carried out by a leading research group has revealed that half of all minors in Spain who get pregnant turn to abortion as a solution.
The study was carried out by a branch of the Ministry of Education and Science and concludes that more than 50% of teenage girls between the ages of 15 and 17 end their pregnancies through abortion, with the highest rate of 60% in the region of Catalonia.
The study shows that in the region of Murcia, the number of abortions in 2001 among teens was 14 times higher than in 1990. Regarding the total number of abortions, the study indicates an increase of 88% between 1990 and 2001, which translates into 70,000 abortions, of which almost 30,000 were performed on women younger than 25 years of age.
The provinces with the highest percentages of abortions were Baleares (20%) and Asturias (19%), with the lowest percentages in Navarra, Extremadura, the Basque Country, and Castilla La Mancha, with less than 10%.
Managua, Nicaragua, Jul 8, 2004 (CNA) - In an historical move, the ex-president of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega (1979-90), who led the Sandinista movement, has asked forgiveness for the abuses the Sandinista revolution committed against the bishops of the Catholic Church.
“We were wrong, we made a lot of mistakes and we mistreated officials of the Church who were so well respected,” said Ortega in a speech delivered in the city of Jinotepe.
The ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the revolution was led by Bishop Bismark Carballo, one of the bishops who was humiliated by the Sandinista regime by being exposed naked on television.
“We mistreated such respected persons as Bishop Carballo, who we publicly ask for forgiveness, that there may be no doubt concerning our sincere acceptance of these mistakes,” Ortega said.
An emotional Carballo accepted the apology of the Sandinista leader and offered him a warm handshake as a sign of reconciliation.
“Since the celebration of the Jubilee, we have offered forgiveness, and perhaps today has been a public opportunity to shake hands without any bitterness and with the sincere desire of building a new Nicaragua,” the bishop said.
He acknowledged that there are still scars that are not easily forgotten, “but right now what is most important is that there is forgiveness, and that overcomes anything else.”
Opposition parties have accused Ortega and his party of reaching out to the Church as a political strategy to gain support for local elections in November and presidential elections in 2006, in which Ortega will be a candidate for the fourth time.
“It is difficult to know the intentions of one’s heart, but what is important is that we work for reconciliation in Nicaragua,” said Bishop Carballo.
The reconciliation between the Sandinista party and the Church was made evident recently when Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, a fervent critic of the government of the 1980’s, announced he would celebrate a Mass during the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Sandinista rise to power.
Havana, Cuba, Jul 8, 2004 (CNA) - The former president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, has sent a letter to the promoters of the Varela Project—which is collecting signatures for a referendum on political changes in Cuba—stating the dissident movement proves the Cuban government deceives its people.
The Varela Project “proves the Cuban regime lies” because “it has not responded to a demand for political change based on the current Constitution,” said Havel in his letter to Oswaldo Paya, leader of the movement. The letter, which was sent three months ago, was made public by the Mexican magazine “Letras Libres.”
In the letter, Havel reiterates his desire to continue supporting the actions of Paya.
According to the Cuban Constitution which is supposedly recognized by the Castro government, if citizens present a petition with 10,000 signatures calling for a referendum, it must be put to a vote. However, since 2002 the Varela Project has collected more than 25,000 signatures, but there has been no response from the government.
The Varela Project is calling for democratic changes in country’s laws through a referendum.
In addition to ignoring the grassroots movement, the government began a campaign of repression and arrests of its proponents.
In his letter, Havel explains that “more Cubans are learning that the only real threat is the very existence of a totalitarian regime.”
“It is not possible to see from outside the real movements of a society controlled by a totalitarian government, since those in power deceive not only their own citizens, but also themselves as well, and they hide the truth,” he added.
“Sooner or later the day will come when the opposition will become the focal point in the discussions about the future of Cuba. The manner in which the repressive regime ends its days will be very important for the development and the positioning of the opposition,” said Havel.
Vatican City, Jul 8, 2004 (CNA) - A supervisory committee of eight cardinals headed by Cardinal Sergio Sebastiani announced yesterday that the Vatican budget is in the red for the third consecutive year, despite the raise in offerings.
Sebastiani explained that there was a loss both for the Holy See (the central organization of the Roman Catholic Church) and the Vatican State, which has its own employees and sources of income.
The Cardinal said the Vatican had an income of 203.6 million euro ($351.4 million) in 2003, and a deficit of nearly 9.6 million euro ($16.6 million) compared to 13.5 million euro ($23.3 million) the previous year.
The Vatican gets income from investments, real estate, legacies and donations by the faithful called Peter's Pence, which increased 5.7 per cent last year to 45.2 million euro ($78 million). But officials said the pope gives this money away to people affected by war and natural calamities.
The Vatican would not have registered a loss last year had it not made up the 10 million euro ($17.3 million) deficit of Vatican Radio, which maintains a global broadcasting system considered critical especially for missionary regions or where Christians are being persecuted.
Cardinal Sebastiani said the Vatican spends most of its money on wages for the 2,674 employees of the Roman Curia, the central bureaucracy, and nearly 1,000 pensioners.
The Cardinal also said that the 44 hectare Vatican City State had an 8.2 million euro ($14.2 million) deficit in 2003, 45 per cent less than the previous year.
Vatican City, which has its own railway station and helicopter pad, employs 1,534 people, including the so-called “Sanpietrini,” the workers responsible for the upkeep of the buildings and art works.
Also restoration works at the Vatican took their toll on 2003 accounts despite a small increase in global church offerings.
The 2003 deficit shrank to 9.6 million euros ($11.86 million) from 13.5 million euros the year before.
Church offerings were up 5.7 percent at 55.8 million euros, but not enough to offset higher costs. Donations were mostly earmarked for the victims of conflict and natural disasters.
The shortfalls come after eight years of budget surpluses, thanks in part to the strong international financial markets.
The Holy See's budget is smaller than some individual Catholic dioceses around the world.
Winona, Minn., Jul 8, 2004 (CNA) - Bishop Bernard Harrington of Winona (Minnesota) wrote in his weekly column that anyone supporting abortion rights should not approach the Communion rail.
The Bishop, a member of the Ad Hoc committee on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians headed by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick reminded Catholics of the Church's teaching that those in "serious sin" should not receive the sacrament.
"There is no question that those who are in serious sin should not receive the Eucharist until they have turned away from sin and been reconciled within the Sacrament of Reconciliation," the Bishop adds in his column entitled "Catholic Politicians are Called to be Pro-Life."
"No Catholic can support abortion rights and believe that he or she has a correctly formed conscience,'' he wrote in the Courier, the diocesan newspaper. "Any Catholic who would believe that they are morally justified in supporting abortion has to know that they are in opposition to natural law and the official teachings of their Catholic faith,'' he added.
"I believe that the Eucharist should not be politicized,'' wrote the Winona Bishop; and said that politicians should take steps to "form a correct conscience'' and that bishops should counsel, assist and, if necessary, "confront the individual who errs in this way.''
"It is time that we recognize that morality and ethics determines what we believe and not our political party,'' he wrote. "Are we Catholic first or are we adherents to a political party and then Catholic?"
In his column, Bishop Harrington also recalled that awards, honors and platforms should be denied to any public official supporting abortion.
Read the Bishop's full column at: http://www.altermysite.com/mysite/dow/www/documents/Courier%20July%202004.doc
Washington D.C., Jul 8, 2004 (CNA) - The United States Congress should not authorize the use of federal funds to support embryonic stem-cell research, says William Cardinal Keeler in a letter to the members of the Congress Appropriations Committee, issued yesterday.
Amendments to the Labor/HHS appropriations bill, which would authorize the use of government funds for embryonic stem-cell research, are being considered.
“Government has no business forcing taxpayers to support research that relies on the direct destruction of any human life,” he says.
The authorization of such funding would contradict scientific evidence, indicating that embryonic stem-cell research is not as promising as was originally thought, says the cardinal, who serves as the chairman of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The cardinal points out that adult stem-cell research and animal embryonic stem-cell research have proven to be more promising than human embryonic stem-cell research.
In his letter, the archbishop of Baltimore notes that, in 1999, the Clinton Administration’s National Bioethics Advisory Commission stated that early human embryos “deserve respect as a form of human life.” The Commission had concluded that research requiring the destruction of “embryos, remaining following infertility treatments, is justifiable only if no less morally problematic alternatives are available for advancing the research.”
The National Bioethics Advisory Commission had recommended funding embryonic stem-cell research because it thought, at that time, that no alternatives existed.
However, research has shown that alternatives do exist in the use of adult stem cells and animal embryonic stem cells, says the cardinal.
“As a result, researchers now know that the apparent initial ‘promise’ of embryonic stem cells was exaggerated,” says the cardinal. “At this point in medical science, the question is not whether alternative ways are available to pursue the therapeutic goals served by embryonic stem cells – on the contrary, it is whether embryonic stem cells will ever catch up with the therapeutic benefits now arising from the alternatives.”
“The current federal policy of funding research on a limited number of existing embryonic stem-cell lines has achieved its stated goal – that of exploring which avenues of stem-cell research will most quickly and effectively lead to promising treatments,” says the cardinal.
“If there is to be any change in the existing policy, it should be to end this limited funding of embryonic stem-cell research altogether, so taxpayers’ resources can more effectively be marshaled for research avenues that now appear to be more ethically and medically sound,” he says.