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Archive of March 2, 2008

Archbishop praises Uganda peace agreement with guerillas

Kampala, Uganda, Mar 2, 2008 (CNA) - The Catholic Archbishop of Ugulu has praised the peace agreement between the government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) as a sure sign of lasting peace, Fides news agency reports.

“This is a great outcome and we are confident that soon there will be an all-inclusive peace agreement signed,” Archbishop John Baptist Odama said.

The 20-year war in northern Uganda has left over 100,000 dead and has forced 2 million people into refugee camps.

Members of the Community of Saint Egidio, a Catholic peace-making organization, joined representatives of Tanzania and South Africa, the former President of Mozambique, as well as a special UN envoy in the mediation efforts that began in July 2006.  The efforts were led by south Sudan’s vice-president, Riek Machar.

The agreement was signed in Juba, the capital of southern Sudan. 

The ceasefire agreement restricts the LRA in the area of Rikwangba to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo and southern Sudan.  The agreement proposes a 10-kilometer buffer zone around the LRA assembly area, guarded by troops from the Sudan’s People Liberation Army.  In addition, the agreement calls for the disarming of LRA troops by neutral forces and monitoring of the ceasefire by mediators and other African representatives.

The agreement follows a recent accord requiring that the crimes committed by the LRA be tried in a Uganda court rather than in the International Criminal Court that had issued a warrant for the leaders of the guerilla army.

According to Archbishop Odama, “The Ugandan laws will be revised in conformation with the standards of the International Criminal Court. That way, whoever is rendered responsible for the most serious crimes will be judged by a State court that will adhere to the international legislation on criminal material in crimes against humanity, and those who are found guilty of lesser crimes will be sentenced under the traditional judicial system of the Acholi community.”

The Acholi are the main ethnic group in northern Uganda.  Both victims of the violence and members of the LRA belong to the group.  The Acholi justice system, called “Mato Oput,” obliges the guilty to make public apologies to the injured party or community and to make reparations to the victims.

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China considers abandoning its one-child policy

Beijing, China, Mar 2, 2008 (CNA) - China is considering the elimination of its controversial one-child policy in response to an aging population and a gender imbalance created by sex-selective abortion, Reuters reports.

The present policy usually limits families to one child, or two children if they live in the countryside.

“We want incrementally to have this change,” Vice Minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission Zhao Baige told reporters in a Beijing talk about possible changes to the policy.

"I cannot answer at what time or how, but this has become a big issue among decision makers," Zhao added. "The attitude is to do the studies, to consider it responsibly and to set it up systematically."

China is the world’s most populous country.  Its average fertility rate has dropped from 5.8 children per woman in the 1970s to 1.8 children per woman today, below the replacement rate of 2.1.

The Chinese government says its policies have prevented several hundred million births.  However, experts have warned that its ageing population could cause severe social problems as the elderly come to outnumber the working population.  The policy has also caused gender disparity from the selective abortion of girls, as male children are preferred for traditional and economic reasons. 

The gender ratio in China is still close to 120 boys for every 100 girls

Increased mobility of the nation’s about 150 million migrant workers has weakened enforcement of the one-child policy.  Wealthy citizens are also willing to pay the fines imposed by the policy when they have more children, though officials have pledged to increase fines on wealthy lawbreakers. 

Enforcement of the policy has at times been draconian.  According to human rights groups and the U.S. government, family planning officials have sometimes used forced abortion, coercive sterilization, and other abuses to ensure compliance with the policy.

Reggie Littlejohn, an American attorney who advises the Brussels-based non-governmental organization, Human Rights Without Frontiers, spoke with Cybercast News Service on Thursday, voicing her skepticism about the announcement.

 "Right now, the one-child policy is often implemented by forced abortion and forced sterilization," she said. "Even if some couples in the future are allowed to have more than one child under the new policy, will the government still enforce that higher birth limit through coerced abortion and sterilization?"

"The timing of this announcement is no accident," she said, noting the announcement’s proximity to the Beijing Olympic Games and recent concerns about China’s involvement in Darfur.

"For me, the real question is not, 'Will the Chinese government abolish the one-child policy,'" Littlejohn said. "The real question is, 'Will the Chinese government abolish its coercive birth-control practices?"

The Bush administration withholds funding from the United Nations Population Fund because of its association with Chinese population control programs.  According to Cybercast News Service, U.S. law prohibits funding for any agency that “supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.”

China’s population could grow to 1.5 billion by 2033.

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Pope Benedict at Angelus: "We confess our blindness"

Vatican City, Mar 2, 2008 (CNA) - Tens of thousands of pilgrims packed St. Peter's Square on Sunday morning for Pope Benedict XVI’s Angelus message.  The Pope called on the faithful to admit that their sins have blinded them and to follow the example of the man born blind who turned to Jesus for healing.

In Sunday's reflection, the Holy Father recalled that Jesus came into the world to work for justice and to separate those whose blindness is curable from those whose blindness cannot be cured because they presume themselves to be healthy.

Pope Benedict said that the Lenten liturgy and the texts in the Gospel of John take us through a “baptismal journey.”

"Last Sunday, Jesus promised the woman the gift of  "living water"; today, healing the man born blind reveals how Jesus is the ‘light of the world’; and next Sunday, the raising of his friend Lazarus appears as ‘the resurrection and the life.’

"Water, light and life are symbols of baptism, the sacrament that 'plunges' believers in the mystery of death and resurrection of Christ, freeing them from the slavery of sin and giving them eternal life."

The Pope recounted Sunday's Gospel reading, John 9:1-18, the story of the healing of the man blind from birth.  The Pope explained that the disciples followed the mentality of the time, which took for granted that a man's blindness resulted from his own or his parents' sins. But Jesus rejected this assumption and said, "neither he nor his parent sinned, it is so that the works of God might be made manifest through him."

Pope Benedict said that Jesus' gestures in healing the blind man, such as making clay with His spit, allude to creation, when God's breath enlivens the earth.

"'Adam' means 'soil,' and the human body is actually composed of elements of the earth. In healing the man, Jesus makes him a new creation," he said.

"But that healing stirs debate, because Jesus did this on the Sabbath, transgressing the law according to the Pharisees. Thus at the end of the story, Jesus and the blind man find themselves both ‘driven out’ by the Pharisees: one because he has violated the law and the other because, despite his recovery remains branded as a sinner from birth."

In the same way, Pope Benedict said, we are tempted to close ourselves off by building “security systems.”

"Strong indeed is the constant temptation to build an ideological security system: even one's religion can become part of this system, as well as atheism or secularism, but in so doing one is blinded by selfishness. Dear brothers and sisters, let us allow ourselves be healed by Jesus, who can and wants to give us the light of God! We confess our blindness, our myopic view, and especially what the Bible calls the ‘great sin’ (cf. Ps 18:14): pride."

The Angelus followed upon yesterday's rosary vigil in Pope Paul VI Hall, where ten thousand students from Rome universities joined the Holy Father in praying the Rosary.

University Students in the United States, Ecuador, and Cuba, Mexico, Romania and Belarus joined the recitation of the Rosary via satellite links, praying together on the theme "Europe and the Americas: together to build a civilization of love."

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Pope Benedict prays for kidnapped Iraqi archbishop

Vatican City, Mar 2, 2008 (CNA) - Speaking after his Sunday Angelus, Pope Benedict XVI voiced prayers of support for a kidnapped Iraqi archbishop and for peace in the Holy Land.

The Pope said that he has followed with "deep sadness" the tragic story of the kidnapping of Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul Paulos Faraj Rahho.

Archbishop Rahho was ambushed on Friday after leaving a church where he had celebrated the Way of the Cross.  A group of armed men opened fire on the archbishop’s vehicle, killing three aides, before abducting the clergyman.

"I join the call of the Patriarch, Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, and his collaborators, that the dear Msgr. Rahho, who is in precarious health, be released promptly. I raise, at the same time, my prayer of intercession for the souls of the three young men killed, who were with him at the time of the abduction."

The Holy Father also expressed his closeness to the whole Church in Iraq and in particular the Chaldean Church, which has once again been severely affected by violence.

"I encourage all pastors and faithful to be strong and steadfast in hope, and to all who hold dear the fate of the Iraqi people, let us multiply our efforts that the peace and security to which you are entitled will not be denied you in the future," the Pope said.

The Holy Father also expressed concern about tensions between Israel and Gaza, which became very serious this week. Yesterday, some 54 people in Gaza were killed as a result of Israeli air strikes in retaliation for Hamas militants’ rocket attacks on Israel.

"I renew my invitation to the authorities, both Israeli and Palestinian, that they stop this spiral of violence, unilaterally, without conditions: only by showing an absolute respect for human life, even that of the enemy, can we hope to give a future of peace and coexistence to the younger generations, and to all those people who have their roots in the Holy Land."

Pope Benedict invited the whole Church to raise their prayers and supplications for peace "in the land of Jesus" and to show "careful and effective" solidarity for both Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

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