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Archive of January 8, 2011

Darfur bishop: Humanitarian troubles, persecution could follow Sudan independence vote

Khartoum, Sudan, Jan 8, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - With independence very likely in south Sudan, one Sudanese bishop is looking to the future. He warns of the possibility of “humanitarian disaster” in the south and “real persecution” for Christians in the north following the upcoming election.
 
On Sunday there will be a referendum to create an independent state of semi-autonomous southern Sudan. World governments and experts on the region predict a landslide "yes" vote, giving autonomy to the area which has been united for more than 50 years.

The Jan. 9 - 15 vote comes five years after a landmark peace agreement ended more than 20 years of civil war in the African nation with the largest land area.

Autonomy will bring its trials, however, as Bishop Macram Max Gassis of El Obeid told Fides news agency in a Jan. 8 report.

The Diocese of El Obeid is in South Central Sudan and encompasses the Darfur region, the site of ongoing conflict and humanitarian catastrophe. Bishop Gassis’ jurisdiction borders the southern region included in the vote.

"After the euphoria of independence we will have to face the harsh reality of the thousands and thousands of southern Sudanese who have returned to the South and have nothing," he said.

Truckloads of hopeful people have been returning from the North for weeks in anticipation of the vote.

But the southern Sudan they find has little to welcome them. Dropped off "in the middle of nowhere" without any vital supplies or even bedrolls, he said, they find an infrastructure that is already inadequate for the existing population.

Bishop Gassis warned of the consequences if all those of South Sudanese stock return to their roots.

"If you think that just in the area of Khartoum, the capital of united Sudan, there are about four million southern Sudanese that could return to the South, you understand that we are facing a potential humanitarian disaster," said the bishop.

He explained that a five-year window before a vote for independence was provided for in the 2005 peace agreement precisely to give the Khartoum government time to promote unity.

"It has become the opposite," Bishop Gassis said. "It has not adopted a policy that recognizes the needs of the diverse populations that make up this country, which is multi-confessional, but continued to insist on the application of Sharia."

Sharia is the Muslim rule of law, installed by then-Sudanese President Gaafar Nimeiry in 1983. Seventy percent of the nation’s 43 million inhabitants profess Sunni Islam while just five percent are Christians who are divided between the capital and South Sudan.

Independence in the South could thus be devastating for Catholicism in the northern region, where the enormous Diocese of El Obeid is located. The 150,000 Catholics in the diocese represent less than two percent of the total population.

"What will become of the Church in the north, once Sudan is divided into a Christian and animist southern state, and in a largely Muslim northern state?" asked the bishop.

His fear is that Catholics and Copts who remain in the region risk being singled out. A system where the Sharia law is interpreted in the strictest sense, said Bishop Gassis, could demote them to be "second class citizens, or worse, becoming victims of real persecution."

An additional Fides editorial published on the same day cited experts' analysis that independence for South Sudan could open a "Pandora's Box" of similar referenda in the rest of Africa who have been similarly engaged in war and oppression. "The greatest risk" in such cases in the continent, said Fides, "is that of an instrumental use of religion to sustain pro-independence projects."

Delegations of diplomats from all over the world including one from the U.S., led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are on the ground in Sudan to monitor the election. Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier of Durban, South Africa is at the head of a representation from the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference as part of the All African Conference of Churches, reported L'Osservatore Romano.

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Vatican not collaborating with Discovery Channel’s exorcism series, says spokesman

Vatican City, Jan 8, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican's Press Office director Fr. Federico Lombardi has denied claims that there is any official collaboration between the Holy See and the Discovery Channel for a series called “The Exorcist Files.” Publicity for the show was “misleading.”

The network was reputed to be "teaming up with the Vatican" to recreate documented cases of haunting and possession, Inside TV said on Jan. 5. The report included several statements from Discovery Channel president W. Clark Bunting on the difficulty and nature of an apparent agreement with the Vatican.

Bunting claimed that producers were given "access into the Vatican’s case files" and that "the organization’s top exorcists — religious experts who are rarely seen on television" sat for interviews with them.

“The Vatican is an extraordinarily hard place to get access to, but we explained we’re not going to try to tell people what to think," said Bunting.

Fr. Lombardi's comments, however, suggest the publicity for the show has distorted the reality.

In statements to international media on Jan. 8, he stated that no Vatican bodies are working with Discovery.
 
"I deny that supposed collaboration," he flatly told the Spanish EFE agency on Jan. 8. He called the claimed relationship "totally out of place."

Such news is "misleading," said Fr. Lombardi in a report from Italy's Il Giornale. He denied any involvement with both the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and the Vatican Television Center, of which he is also director.

"Neither are the Vatican nor the Catholic Church involved in this project," he stated.

Fr. Lombardi said that while the network could have been in contact with individual experts, "every attribution of this kind to the Vatican must be considered inexact."

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US lodges strong protest with Vietnam after beating of American diplomat

Washington D.C., Jan 8, 2011 (CNA) - The U.S. State Department lodged a sharp protest with the Vietnamese government after a U.S. diplomat was beaten in the country for attempting to visit an ailing Catholic priest who is under house arrest.

The recent incident joins a string of human rights abuses involving Vietnamese police using violence against the country's inhabitants.

Radio Free Asia reported on Jan. 5 that the U.S. has lodged a "strong protest" with the Vietnamese government after local policemen attacked Christian Marchant – a political officer with the U.S. embassy in Hanoi –  while he was trying to visit a Catholic priest.

Marchant, a practicing Mormon who lives in Hanoi, Vietnam with his wife and two children, was allegedly beaten outside a home for retired priests in Hue, where 63 year-old Father Nguyen Van Ly, a pro-democracy activist, is being held under house arrest. Father Ly was released from prison on medical parole last year. The diplomat had a pre-arranged meeting with Father Ly, who later told the RFA that he witnessed Marchant being wrestled to the ground, placed in a police vehicle and driven away. Police reportedly shut a car door numerous times on Marchant's legs.

“The United States Government, both here in Hanoi and in Washington, has lodged a strong, official protest with the Government of Vietnam,” said U.S. Ambassador Michael W. Michalak at a press conference concluding his three year term in the country on Jan. 6. “We are waiting for an official response from the Government of Vietnam.”

Mark Toner, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, reported in a Jan. 6 briefing that although Marchant was “injured during that incident,” the diplomat was “up and walking around now.”

The U.S. State Department has summoned the Vietnamese ambassador in Washington to protest the incident, Toner said.


Officials from the Vietnamese embassy to the U.S. in Washington, D.C. did not respond to a request for comment from CNA.

Reports on human rights abuses in Vietnam – particularly against religious minorities such as Catholics – have caused an outcry among U.S. political leaders.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) recently condemned violence against Catholics by the Vietnamese government and appealed to President Obama  for a resolution designating Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern.

Beatings, Church raids, arrests – and even deaths –  are some of the violent incidents that have been inflicted on Catholics by authorities in Vietnam over increased conflict related to property rights. Throughout the last several decades, in provinces throughout the country, tensions have mounted between the Communist government and local parishioners as officials have repeatedly attempted to claim land where Catholic churches and facilities are situated.

Rep. Smith said in his remarks to Congress in Dec. 2010 that although Vietnam was listed as a Country of Particular Concern in 2004 and 2005 – with demonstrable progress for Catholics in the area during that time – the country has since been removed. He claimed that the Vietnamese government promising concrete actions as well as a major trade agreement with the U.S. led to Vietnam being taken off of the CPC list.

After this, he said, many “religious believers who expected a thaw and reform and openness were arrested or rearrested and sent to prison.”

He added that the Country of Particular Concern designation – and the penalties described by the International Religious Freedom Act – have in the past and “can be again a useful tool in performing reform in Vietnam.”

“Congress, the president, and all those who espouse fundamental human rights ought to be outraged at Vietnam's turn for the worse,” he added. “We should stand with the oppressed, not the oppressor.”

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Revised New American Bible to be released Ash Wednesday

Washington D.C., Jan 8, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The New American Bible, Revised Edition has been approved for publication and will be available on March 9, Ash Wednesday. The new translation aims for better accuracy, better adaptation to contemporary English, and easy singing or recitation of the Psalms.

Cardinal Francis George, former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, approved the publication on Sept. 30, 2010 while he was still the head of the conference. The new edition will be available in a variety of print, audio and electronic formats, the bishops' conference reports.

The translation takes into account both advances in the study of the biblical languages and changes in the English language. It also takes into account newly discovered and more accurate ancient manuscripts so that the best possible text is used.

The revised edition includes the first revised translation of the Old Testament since 1970 and a complete revision of the Psalter. Work on most books of the Old Testament began in 1994 and finished in 2001. The 1991 revision of the Psalter was further revised from 2009 to 2010.

The new edition retains the 1986 edition of the New Testament.

The revision is in many ways a more literal translation than the original New American Bible and aims to be more consistent in its rendering of Hebrew or Greek words and idioms, especially in technical contexts like rules for sacrifices.

Special effort was made in translating the Psalter to provide a “smooth, rhythmic translation” for easy singing and to retain the concrete imagery of the Hebrew text, the U.S. bishops’ conference explains.

The New American Bible, Revised Edition is approved for private use and study and will not be used for the Mass, which uses an earlier modified version of the New American Bible translation.

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Denver layman’s nonprofit aids Ethiopian orphanage

Denver, Colo., Jan 8, 2011 (CNA) - Mac Bryant is familiar firsthand with the adage: Want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans.

Last year due to dwindling funds, Bryant planned to shut down a nonprofit organization started by his parents, Frank and Patricia Bryant, in the early 1980s: The Sister Kathleen Mission.

They established the organization to support mission work in Zambia, Africa, following a trip to visit their daughter—Religious Sister of Charity Kathleen Bryant—who served in rural areas of the impoverished country for five years.

The Sister Kathleen Mission thrived for several years, providing a hospital, food, medical supplies and farming resources to the country. Bryant took over as president in 1995, after both of his parents had passed away.

“The last several years, it’s been really, really slow. I had pretty much made up my mind to close it (The Sister Kathleen Mission),” Bryant said. “Then we went to Ethiopia to get our little girl.”

In December 2009 Bryant and his wife Yolanda made a three-day journey from Denver to the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa to adopt their daughter Ruth from an orphanage.

“It was the beginning of a spiritual journey that would change our lives forever,” he said. “As always is the case, God had a plan for us on this trip and we didn’t know it.”

Toward the end of their visit in Ethiopia—a predominantly Christian country with more than 345,000 Catholics according to 2006 figures—they were inspired to contact the Archdiocese of Addis Ababa to see if there were some missionary projects they could visit.

The archdiocese put them in touch with Samuel Muse, project manager for the Angel’s Children’s Home, an orphanage that provides a home, education and life skills for boys age 12 and up.

“They’re boys considered too old for adoption, practically,” Bryant said. “(Without Angel’s Home) they’d end up right back in the cycle of poverty.”

Angel’s Children’s Home was founded in 2004 by lay Missionary of Charity Monica Tonna Barthet. After witnessing the suffering of orphans during a trip there, Barthet returned to her home in Gharghur, Malta; sold all of her possessions and used the proceeds to build the home.

Angel’s Home provides 24 young men room and board, a Catholic education, medical support, counseling, and skills such woodworking, farming and welding. Many of the residents come from the nearby Missionaries of Charity Sisters’ Home founded by Mother Teresa.

“They’re teaching them survival skills, so they can survive in their own country,” Bryant said.

During their visit Bryant—a certified public accountant and director of the internal audit office for the Denver Archdiocese—asked how the home was funded. Muse told them the primary source of support was the pension of “the wonderful lady who started this project”—76-year-old Barthet.

“What happens when that source of income runs out? Will these 24 boys be pushed out into the streets again?” Bryant asked.

“It struck me when I walked out, that if someone doesn’t support this place it’s going to go under,” he said. “There’s so much demand there; the poverty is unlike anything we’ve seen or experienced in the U.S.”

That’s when he responded to the call to revive the work started by his parents nearly 30 years earlier.

“It was a calling,” he said. “It was like God said, ‘Hey, you’ve already got this not-for-profit established; you know what to do. Continue the work, support this home.’”

In May 2010 he officially established a Colorado presence for The Sister Kathleen Mission. The volunteer-run 501(c)3 organization only supports ministries in adherence with Catholic teaching, including life issues. Their primary goal is to fund self-help programs overseas, primarily in Africa, such as the Angel’s Children’s Home.

“We ask you to keep the needs of those less fortunate than ourselves in your prayers,” Bryant said. “I’m sure that God is smiling at the efforts we make to take care of each other.”

For more information on the Sister Kathleen Mission or to donate, visit www.sisterkathleenmission.org.

Printed with permission from the Denver Catholic Register.

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