Khartoum, Sudan, Mar 29, 2011 (CNA) - Catholic Relief Services announced that it has been allowed resume food distribution in Sudan's West Darfur state after the government previously banned the group's efforts.
“We are working with the local government to ensure that food distributions begin immediately,” read the organization's March 28 statement.
The agency said it was “pleased” to resume its food operations – which aids 500,000 people in the country – after the Sudanese government told the relief organization it would have to close its program at the end of March due to security concerns.
Government officials also accused the the agency of distributing Bibles and suspended its other humanitarian operations in January. Catholic Relief Services has denied this claim.
Kim Pozniak, spokeswoman for the group's Sub-Saharan Africa office, was not able to provide information on why the food aid program was allowed to resume or whether or not the agency had been cleared of the Bible distribution charges.
Pozniak told CNA on March 29 that Catholic Relief Services would not be issuing additional commentary on the situation at this time.
Niigata, Japan, Mar 29, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Japan’s top Catholic charities official says the people face great challenges rebuilding their lives in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
"I really have no idea how long it may take to restore their normal life," Bishop Isao Kikuchi of Niigata, president of Caritas Japan, said in a March 29 e-mail to CNA.
The giant wave hit especially close to home for the bishop. It wiped out his seafront birthplace of Miyako City.
Sendai was the hardest hit diocese, with the tsunami wiping out entire coastal villages.
Neighboring Niigata is helping the people to pick up the pieces, Bishop Kikuchi said. Young people in particular have volunteered their services for the relief efforts.
More than 10,000 people have sought refuge in Niigata after being evacuated from a 12-mile radius of the damaged and still dangerous Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Nationally, Caritas has moved quickly to provide assistance to survivors. Bishop Kikuchi said that never before has Caritas had a more enthusiastic response to calls for donations and volunteers.
The organization had to request support from Japan’s bishops' conference to process the enormous donation response since a domestic campaign was launched just days after the twin disasters struck.
In the Diocese of Sendai, a support center staffed in part by Caritas workers is coordinating the local Church's relief efforts. Immediate aid included food and blankets, but the Church’s efforts are aimed principally at long-term rehabilitation efforts.
The center's phones “never stop ringing” with calls from willing volunteers all over Japan, said the bishop.
Caritas Japan's greatest need at the moment is experienced human resources personnel to coordinate the operation.
The economy is in shambles and farmers and fisherman are dealing with total losses. The tsunami that roared ashore after the record-breaking earthquake soaked farmland with seawater and destroyed fishermen's boats and aquafarms.
“It would be very hard for them to re-build their houses and, at the same time, re-establish their profession,” said Bishop Kikuchi.
Last week, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People launched a solidarity campaign through the Apostolate of the Sea to rehabilitate the fishing communities that were destroyed.
Even with the “enthusiastic” response to Sendai's plight, Bishop Kikuchi said there will be “long and difficult days lying ahead of them.”
Even those farmers who escaped the tsunami's wrath are now faced with the threat of radiation contamination from the damaged nuclear power plant at Fukushima.
Bishop Kicuchi said that situation is not a complete loss for the region's people.
For him, the tsunami has also provided the local Church an opportunity to strengthen its spirit of community and witness to Gospel values in assisting victims.
Catholics represent just a “tiny minority” of the general population and are generally viewed as “caretakers of European traditional culture, rather than socially and politically-active figures,” he said.
“What we can do as a tiny Church is evangelization through our social action among people seeking assistance. Not only for this disaster but there are so many people living in solitude in present Japan.”
He pointed to elderly without family support, youths isolated from the world in the comfort of their homes and migrants who fall through the cracks of public support.
“There is a lot to do for these people in present-day Japan,” the Niigata bishop said.
“The disaster,” he concluded, “reminded us of our role as Catholics in modern Japanese society. We are to evangelize through our living witnesses.”
Rome, Italy, Mar 29, 2011 (CNA) - Archbishop Piero Marini, who served as Pope John Paul II’s master of liturgical ceremonies, said the late Pope's beatification will be “a chance for all to reconnect with this friend of humanity.”
We must all “encounter John Paul II anew, listen to him again, interpret his gestures once more and be enthralled by his love for evangelization,” the archbishop said in a March 27 interview with Vatican Radio.
The late Pope will be beatified May 1.
Archbishop Marini, the current head of the Vatican's committee for International Eucharistic Congresses, encouraged Catholics to “foster holiness in their lives by responding to the vocation the Lord has given with humility and simplicity, as John Paul II did in dedicating his life to proclaiming the Gospel.”
“Through the proclamation of the word, through the celebration of the Eucharist and the Sacraments, he was able to bring unity to the Church around the figure of the Pope,” he said.
John Paul II's closeness to “the holy people of God” was the emblematic sign of his entire pontificate, the archbishop explained. “To see him draw close to the people, to communities, even the small ones, to see the poor almost want to rush upon him … reminded me of scenes from the Gospel,” he added.
Archbishop Marini said he hopes both believers and non-believers “will consider John Paul II a friend.”
Khartoum, Sudan, Mar 29, 2011 (CNA) - Updated March 29, 2011 at 11:40 a.m. MST. Adds report in paragraphs 11 and 12 that CRS has been allowed to resume operations.
Catholic Relief Services has announced that it will be forced to close its food program in Sudan’s West Darfur state at the end of March because the government cannot guarantee its security.
“Hundreds of thousands of people have been cut off from aid,” the relief agency’s president Ken Hackett said on March 26. “We call upon the Sudanese government to immediately restore the flow of food aid to the people of West Darfur by either allowing us to resume our service, or urgently finding an alternative.”
The closure could deprive 400,000 people of emergency food supplies.
Catholic Relief Services spokeswoman Sara Fajardo told Agence France Presse that the government asked the agency to leave because “they couldn’t guarantee our security.”
The Sudanese government accused the agency of distributing Bibles and suspended its operations in January, but the agency has denied the claim.
Catholic Relief Services builds schools and provides education, emergency shelter and water and sanitation supplies in Darfur.
“This is completely wrong,” Fajardo said. “It is against all our operating principles.”
“We are a humanitarian organization whose work is based on need and not creed. The majority of our staff in Darfur are Muslim,” she added.
Mohamed Awad, head of the government’s Humanitarian Aid Commission in the state, told Reuters that Bibles had been found in refugee camps and schools and the governor had ordered an investigation which concluded they had been handed out by CRS.
The allegations of Bible distribution had resulted in a perceived safety threat to agency staff.
On March 29, Catholic Relief Services was allowed to resume food distribution in the country. Kim Pozniak, spokeswoman for the group's Sub-Saharan Africa office, was not able to provide information on why the food aid program was allowed to resume or whether or not the agency had been cleared of the Bible distribution charges.
Pozniak told CNA on March 29 that Catholic Relief Services would not be issuing additional commentary on the situation at this time.
Renewed fighting between rebels and the Sudanese army since December is believed to have created more than 70,000 displaced persons.
The United Nations says at least 300,000 people have been killed in the conflict since 2003, when non-Arab rebels first rose up against the Arab-dominated regime based in Khartoum. The government estimates the death toll at 10,000.
The International Criminal Court in 2009 issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. He responded by expelling 13 of the largest foreign aid groups working there.
In February 2011 Sudan expelled the French agency Medecins du Monde, accusing it of spying and helping rebels.
Aid operations have also been hindered by a lack of security and kidnappings of foreign workers.
Austin, Texas, Mar 29, 2011 (CNA) - A pro-life group plans to continue their billboard campaign in Chicago after a recent ad was pulled in New York City following complaints.
Life Always, the organization behind ads claiming the abortion industry targets America’s black community, will launch a new billboard in Chicago on March 29, featuring an image of President Obama.
The billboard reads: “Every 21 minutes, our next possible leader is aborted.” In the ad, President Obama is shown next to the word “leader,” and viewers are also directed to visit thatsabortion.com.
“Our hope at Life Always is to call attention to the devastation that abortion is causing in America,” Marissa Gabrysch, group spokeswoman, told CNA March 28.
“By using a likeness of our President, we hope to draw attention to the fact that our next generation of leaders is in jeopardy because of abortion,” Gabrysch said.
The organization says it plans to unveil over 30 billboards in South Chicago to draw attention to the disproportionate number of abortions among African Americans in the U.S. Life Always cites Census data and Center for Disease Control reports which show that although African Americans comprise less than 13 percent of the population, they account for 36 percent of the entire country's abortions.
The plans to launch the Chicago ads follow the removal of the group's prominent billboard in New York City. A 29 feet high and 16 feet wide billboard – unveiled on Feb. 22 and taken down within days – depicted a young black girl beneath the phrase “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.”
“The New York billboard generated strong reactions, which was the goal,” Gabrysch said. “We all need to react.”
Pete Costanza, the general manager for Lamar Advertising, said the billboard was removed because an objector to the billboard harassed the waiters and waitresses in the Mexican restaurant below the sign.
The restaurant has no affiliation with the billboard company or the pro-life group.
Dr. Alveda King – niece of civil rights legend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – told CNA that despite being removed, the New York billboard “opened up dialogue across the country.”
“I've been able to have many conversations since the billboard went up and came right back down,” she said, “about how African American women and their children are victims and how we have been targeted by genocide.”
In a Feb. 25 post on his blog, The Gospel in the Digital Age, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan said that the removed ad was so upsetting because its “message is somberly true.”
Likening the ad to anti-smoking campaigns that show the graphic affects of nicotine addiction or world hunger organizations that show pictures of starving children, the New York archbishop said that being “confronted by the truth can often be unpleasant.”
Lahore, Pakistan, Mar 29, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The bishops of Pakistan appealed to Pope Benedict to officially recognize Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic official in the country who was recently assassinated, as a martyr.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of Pakistan, which met from March 20 - 25 in Multan, unanimously decided to make a formal request to the Vatican to name Bhatti as a “martyr and patron of religious freedom.”
The 42-year old Bhatti – a leading voice for religious freedom and peace in Pakistan – served as federal minister for religious minorities. He was shot to death by three masked men on March 2 as he left his mother's home in Islamabad by car.
Al-Qaida and the Punjab-based Pakistani Taliban Movement claimed responsibility for Bhatti’s killing, according to the AP.
Rome-based Fides news reported that Bishop Andrew Francis, delegate for the Pakistan conference's Inter-religious Dialogue, presented the official request for recognition of Bhatti's martyrdom, which was approved unanimously by the bishops. The bishops also paid tribute to Bhatti during the meeting, recalling his work on behalf of religious minorities and Christians in the country and his willingness to give his life for his mission.
A “martyr,” from the Greek word meaning “witness,” is someone who dies for the faith. A declaration of martyrdom would mean a miracle would not be required for Bhatti’s possible beatification, although to be canonized as a saint a miracle would be required.
Bhatti's recent murder was especially momentous as it followed the Jan. 4 assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer. Both men were critics of Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which impose death sentences or life imprisonment for acts of disrespect for Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and the Quran.
In a video he recorded to be released in case of his death, Bhatti stated: “I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us. I know what is the meaning of ‘cross,’ and I follow Him to the cross.”
“Pray for me and for my life,” Bhatti told Fides ahead of his murder. “I am a man who has burnt his bridges. I cannot and will not go back on this commitment. I will fight fanaticism and fight in defense of Christians to the death.”
In the second week of April, Pakistan's bishops and Catholic faithful will gather in Islamabad to commemorate Bhatti, 40 days after his death.
Vatican City, Mar 29, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI asked a sister of the order of St. Augustine to author the prayers and meditations that will be used for this year's Good Friday way of the cross in Rome.
The Vatican announced March 25 that the president of the international federation of Augustine sisters, Mother Maria Rita Piccione, composed the meditations according to the "traditional" 14 stations.
The “traditional” form employs a mixture of scripture and tradition-based scenes. Another option exists in the “biblical” form of the rite, introduced in 1991 by Pope John Paul II and including only the stations with an explicit foundations in scripture.
Both the traditional and biblical forms describe Jesus' Passion through stages along the path to the cross.
The 2011 texts will be released in a soon-to-be published booklet meant to accompany pilgrims and television viewers through the stations. Along with them are images created by another Augustine sister, Sister Elena Manganelli of the federation's convent in Siena, Italy, to guide people in prayer.
Mother Piccione is a resident of the Augustines' Rome headquarters at the Convent of the Santi Quattro Coronati, within view of the Colosseum.
She is the latest of a number of women to be chosen by the Pope to write the Good Friday meditations. According to Italy's Avvenire newspaper, she is the eighth woman and third religious sister to do so.
In the 1990s, a Benedictine abbess and a Protestant nun from Switzerland both took on the responsibility. The other five women have been journalists.
A significant Augustinian “stamp” marks this year's way of the cross. Easter will be celebrated on April 24 this year, the same day St. Augustine was baptized in the year 387.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Mar 29, 2011 (CNA) - The Argentinean bishops' committee on justice and peace issued a statement denouncing the March 27 blockade of two printing press facilities.
“We have a civic duty to protect the health of our institutions and promote democratic life in a respectful way, fostering dialogue, consensus building, and promoting social peace against every form of violence and aggression,” the committee stated.
The blockades took place March 27 at the printing press facilities for the national papers Clarin and La Nacion. Unable to distribute its newspapers, Clarin issued its edition that day with a blank front page in protest.
The bishops' committee noted that “there are issues of real priority in our country that demand our utmost attention, such as the caring for human life, the eradication of poverty and promotion of comprehensive development.
“These objectives, which are where all of our efforts should be focused, will not be achieved if we cannot guarantee, as a society, true openness to the diversity of ideas and a just defense of the freedom of expression.”
Sunday's blockade was the fifth of its kind since November 2010.
Both newspapers blamed the government for not acting to stop the blockade carried out by workers from the Rioplatenses Graphic Art Firm. The firm claims its union leaders are being treated unfairly.