Rome, Italy, Sep 15, 2011 (CNA) -
A leading Catholic charity is urging the upcoming Egyptian government to help free several hundred hostages being held captive by human traffickers in the country’s northern Sinai Peninsula.
“How much suffering must be endured before their cries of pain will be heard by the international community? The new Egyptian government must intervene to free the hostages,” says Father Mussie Zerai of the Habeshia Agency for Development Cooperation on Sept. 14.
Fr. Zerai said he just received a call from a woman who was being held hostage along with 53 others in Sinai. The group set off from Sudan some time ago, having paid $3,000 for help getting across the border into the more economically prosperous Israel.
“But once they arrived in Rafah they have been sold to another group of traffickers,” Fr. Zerai explained. The refugees are now being kept in the basement of a building until they pay more than $28,000 each. According to the account given to the priest, the group is also being beaten and tortured.
Fr. Zerai’s Habeshia Agency is based in Rome and seeks to assist asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. Hostages often phone him to relate the conditions they are being kept in. Their captors allow them to make calls to relatives and others so they can try to obtain ransom money.
Fr. Zerai says the group he spoke to is only one of several, with as many as 500 to 600 people in total being held hostage. This includes pregnant women and young children.
“This story goes on for some time, we have repeatedly denounced these crimes against humanity that are taking place in Sinai,” said Fr. Zerai.
The governance of Egypt has been in flux since the overthrow of the 30-year dictatorship of President Hosni Mubarak in February of this year. Democratic elections are planned for October, but in the meantime the country is being governed by the military.
Regardless of who emerges as the leader of the new government in the coming months, Fr. Zerai says ending human rights abuses in Sinai has to be one of their top priorities.
“The regime changes in Egypt, but (that) does not stop trafficking. In fact, the current situation seems more favorable to the robbers, who are the absolute masters in the area of the Sinai border with Israel,” he says.
He also wants other agencies such as the United Nations and European Union to help stop the abuse.
“How many refugees have to lose their lives before the world says enough to this massacre of innocents?”
Philadelphia, Pa., Sep 15, 2011 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of Philadelphia says there is “steady progress” in negotiations with the Catholic high school teachers’ union, but its high schools must shut down until an agreement is reached with the teachers’ union.
“We are willing to work around the clock to provide our students and school families with the best educational environment possible. Discussions over the past two days have been productive,” the archdiocese said on Sept. 13. “With the parties who best understand these issues remaining at the table and continuing to make progress, we can accomplish our goal.”
The contract under negotiation will affect about 800 lay teachers. There are 16,502 students at 17 archdiocesan high schools in the five-county Philadelphia region.
The schools had begun classes last week because students were mainly involved in orientation activities. However, school officials said reduced staffing could jeopardize student safety and the schools were closed on Wednesday, Sept. 14.
The Association of Catholic Teachers Local 1776 has raised concerns about proposed changes in working conditions and sick leave. It also raised worries about job security, noting that the archdiocese wants to bring in part-time teachers, which it says would compromise the position of full-time teachers.
Officials from the archdiocese’s Office of Catholic Education, in a Sept. 12 press conference, compared these proposed teachers to “part-time contractors” who can teach a limited number of sessions and specialized electives, such as Mandarin Chinese.
Changes are necessary to update the Catholic educational system, they said. They charged that the union has opposed requiring an online grading management system on the grounds it is a change in working conditions.
The present contract considers parental complaints about teachers as illegitimate secondhand information, which archdiocese officials said hurts teacher accountability and requires administrators to interview students about complaints.
Face-to-face talks between the two sides occurred Sept. 12-13 even though the union has requested mediation twice.
Patrick J. Eiding, president of the Philadelphia Council of the AFL-CIO, has encouraged mediation in the dispute. He told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he would urge teachers to return to their classrooms under provisions of the contract that expired Aug. 31 while talks continued.
Officials with the archdiocese rejected the idea of mediation on the grounds that the Catholic schools are unique and the archdiocese and the teachers’ union know the schools’ needs better than an outside third party.
The union originally sought a 14.5 percent pay increase over a three-year period, while the archdiocese offered a 7.84 percent increase. The teachers’ demand has since come down.
The union previously struck over wages and benefits for about two weeks in 2003, when students missed six days of school. At the time, the archdiocese had 22 high schools serving 23,300 students.
Johannesburg, South Africa, Sep 15, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Catholic community in South Africa is celebrating the news that after 11 years, Catholic station Radio Veritas has been granted a license to air.
“The news of being granted this license has filled us with an indescribable joy and messages of congratulations have not stopped streaming in,” said Father Emil Blaser, a Dominican priest who has spearheaded the effort since 2000.
“We have waited so long and tried every means possible to get on air,” he added.
Fr. Blaser said that over the last 11 years, the station has engaged in public hearings, conducted market research, streamed online, and knocked “on government and international doors” in an effort to be granted a frequency for broadcasting.
Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg thanked the country's communications regulator – the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa – for finalizing the requests for the license.
“At last,” Archbishop Tlhagale said, “Radio Veritas will be broadcasting in the greater Johannesburg Metropolitan area – our Archdiocese.”
Radio Veritas will air on a 576kHz medium wave frequency, previously known as Metro FM. The official launch will be announced as soon as the technical aspects have been worked out, station representatives announced on Sept. 13.
Other Catholic radio stations have launched in Africa throughout the last year, including one in Uganda that is helping rescue children who have been abducted and forced into being child soldiers by rebel armies.
In November of 2010, Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need helped support the broadcast of diocesan radio station “Radio Wa,” or “Our Radio,” in Lira, northern Uganda.
The aid organization said that although the station has a range of just 120 miles, close to 1,500 child soldiers have been able to flee the rebel army.
Mexico City, Mexico, Sep 15, 2011 (CNA) - Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City will preside at a Mass to consecrate a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe at the Shrine of Lourdes in France.
According to the Archdiocese of Mexico City's news service, the consecration will take place at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18. Cardinal Rivera will be joined by Bishop Jacques Perrier of Tarbes and Lourdes.
The new chapel was designed by the late Jose Barroso Chavez, who was the international president of the Red Cross and president for life of the Red Cross in Mexico.
Barroso also contributed to the building of the current Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
A statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe sits in Rosary Square in Lourdes, where it was placed on May 12, 1966 by then-Archbishop of Mexico City, Cardinal Miguel Dario Miranda.
The Shrine of Lourdes is famous for pilgrimages by the sick and is one of the most visited shrines in the world. It was built on the grotto where the Immaculate Conception appeared to St. Bernadette in 1858.
Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Sep 15, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI told a gathering of new bishops Sept. 15 that they should encourage lay movements within the Church and seek the holiness of the laity.
“Bishops have the task of watching and working to ensure that the baptized increase in grace, in accordance with the charisms the Holy Spirit causes to arise in their hearts and communities,” the Pope told over 100 new bishops gathered at the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo.
He added that such “charisms which the Spirit arouses” amongst the laity are “for the edification of the Church” and that bishops should accept them “gratefully, for the sanctification of the Church and the vitality of the apostolate.”
Recent decades have seen the rise of numerous new movements and apostolic initiatives throughout the Church. Many of these have been founded by lay people and are not directly affiliated with a particular diocese.
The Pope made his comments at a gathering organized by the Congregation for Bishops. For the last 10 years the congregation has invited new bishops to make a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Peter in order to reflect on the main responsibilities of their episcopal ministry.
“The fundamental gift you are called to cherish in the faithful entrusted to your pastoral care is that of divine sonship,” said the Pope, urging the bishops to work for the personal holiness of lay people.
“Through your ministry of sanctification, you educate the faithful to participate with increasing intensity in the priestly, prophetic and royal office of Christ, helping them to build the Church, actively and responsibly, according to the gifts they have received from God.”
The Pope said bishops have to strike a balance between their legitimate role of governance and not stifling the freedom enjoyed by lay people.
Bishops should do this by judging “the genuineness of charisms and their proper use, not extinguishing the Spirit but testing and retaining what is good.”
At the same time, the Pope said lay Catholics have to be respectful of the bishop’s authority as “it must always be clear that no charism can dispense from deferring and submitting to the pastors of the Church.”
The Pope concluded by reminding the bishops that, first and foremost, they have to become saints themselves so that the sanctity of their lives “will be an example and support to your priests.”
Together they will form “the choral communion of the Church” that can “bear witness to Jesus Christ, that the world may believe,” he said.
Havana, Cuba, Sep 15, 2011 (CNA) - The coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Paya, has called on the Cuban government to hold free elections, because “it is obvious Cubans want real change.”
“Give the people back their rights and hold free elections without delay, based on a new electoral law so that the people can exercise their sovereignty,” Paya said in a message released on Sept. 13, after a meeting that marked the 23rd anniversary of movement.
“It’s time for change because Cubans want a new life and they want to bring about these changes through their own peaceful means and for the good of all,” Paya continued. “Without hatred, violence, exclusion, holding on to everything that is good and bringing about everything that is new. But now. Let’s have true change for once,” he said.
“Those who govern us, who are also Cubans and sons and daughters of this nation, continue to be absorbed in their own power and do not want to listen to the popular outcry which up until now was not expressed because of fear,” Paya said.
“The essence of the changes is freedom, rights and reconciliation. It is possible to build peace and justice among all Cubans in a transparent process and an atmosphere of trust that can only be achieved within respect for the rights of citizens in law and in practice,” he added.
Washington D.C., Sep 15, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The U.S. State Department’s recent Report on International Religious Freedom is eliciting both praise for its efforts to promote religious rights around the world and criticism for not doing enough.
Leonard Leo, chairman of the independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom commended the State Department for its efforts but expressed concern “that no new countries were added to the list” of countries of particular concern, known as CPCs, since last year. All eight of the countries designated as CPCs had been on the list last year.
“Repeating the current list continues glaring omissions,” Leo said. He noted that his commission had recommended earlier this year that Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam also be added to the list.
“Since CPC designations can be made at any time, we respectfully urge Secretary Clinton to consider the six additional countries we recommended for designation,” he said.
Leo also urged the State Department to engage in “vigorous U.S. diplomatic activity to seek improvements with respect to this fundamental human right.”
Each year, the State Department is required to review every country in the world to determine which governments have “engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” Any country that meets these criteria is placed on the State Department’s list.
The annual report was released on Sept. 13 by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who designated eight countries as being of concern. They are: Burma, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Eritrea, Iran, the People’s Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.
“The protection of religious freedom is a fundamental concern of the United States going back to the earliest days of our republic, and it remains so today,” Secretary Clinton said.
“When governments crack down on religious expression, when politicians or public figures try to use religion as a wedge issue, or when societies fail to take steps to denounce religious bigotry and curb discrimination based on religious identity, they embolden extremists and fuel sectarian strife,” she continued.
Secretary Clinton praised the U.N. Human Rights Council Resolution 1618, which was adopted in March. Introduced by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the resolution “calls on all states to take concrete action against religious bigotry through tolerance, education, government outreach, service projects, and interfaith dialogue.”
Suzan Johnson Cook, Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, said that the State Department’s report is one step in working towards greater religious freedom worldwide.
“We hope it will prompt other countries to redouble their efforts to create an environment where citizens can freely follow their faith or profess no faith, according to their own conscience,” she said.
Ambassador Cook said that the United States must continue to engage government and religious leaders in other countries and to call attention to governments that violate the rights of their citizens. In addition, she said that later this year, she will hold a meeting of experts from around the world, to discuss further ways to promote freedom of religion.
Amarillo, Texas, Sep 15, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, has said that if his bishop does not allow him to return to full-time pro-life work, he will consider being incardinated in a different diocese or founding a religious order to continue his pro-life ministry.
The well-known pro-life priest also said that he had been actively talking with Bishop Patrick J. Zurek of Amarillo, Texas for months about spending more time in the diocese before the bishop forbid him from ministry outside of the diocese.
In an interview with CNA, Fr. Pavone said that he arrived in Amarillo on Sept. 13, in obedience to Bishop Zurek’s order, but found that the bishop left town that day and would be out of the country for two weeks.
Fr. Pavone said that he does not know when he will be able to meet with the bishop, or how long he wants him to stay in the diocese.
He said that he has been given no assignment and left no instructions, so he is continuing to do work for Priests for Life from Amarillo.
He stressed that he has not been suspended from working for Priests for Life and that he still maintains all of his priestly faculties as a priest in good standing. The bishop’s only order was that he return to work in the Amarillo diocese.
According to Fr. Pavone, the bishop initially expressed a desire for him to spend more time in the diocese to fill a need for pastoral work.
The two clergymen had talked about an arrangement that would allow Fr. Pavone to come to the diocese periodically for several weeks in order to do pastoral work. In the course of this discussion Bishop Zurek asked for dates that he would be able to come to Amarillo.
“I sent him those dates two or three weeks ago,” the priest said.
But according to Fr. Pavone, the bishop never acknowledged receiving the dates, and instead sent a letter to the U.S. bishops accusing him of disobedience and demanding that he return immediately.
Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, told The Catholic Review that he supports Bishop Zurek’s decision.
“I appreciate Bishop Patrick Zurek’s statement and would hope that Father Pavone would adhere fully to the requests of his bishop,” Archbishop O’Brien said. “Bishop Zurek has been so very patient and thorough in dealing with this matter over many months. I appreciate his decision and support it completely.”
Monsignor Harold Waldow, vicar of clergy for the Diocese of Amarillo, said that while Fr. Pavone submitted financial information for Priests for Life, he failed to do so for two other affiliated nonprofit groups, Rachel’s Vineyard and Missionaries of the Gospel of Life.
“Two of the major pieces of the international pro-life movement and national pro-life movement are missing,” he told the Amarillo Globe-News.
“This is patrimony of the Church. It belongs to the Church,” Msgr. Waldow said. “People give their money over the understanding that it goes to the Church or Church auspices and programs and ministries.”
“I’m sure that our bishop does not stand alone on this,” he added. “I think Rome has been quite clear the bishops of the United States need to exercise more prudential guidance and governance over the patrimony of the Church.”
Meanwhile, on the afternoon of Sept. 15 Msgr. Waldow issued a clarification that said: “because there is dispute about the auditing process and the complete audit for all the entities of Priests for Life, Rachel’s Vineyard, and the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life does not mean that Father Pavone is being charged with any malfeasance or being accused of any wrong doing with the financial matters of Priests for Life.”
While Fr. Pavone has appealed his bishop’s decision to the Vatican, he says this is not a sign of disobedience or unwillingness to talk to Bishop Zurek.
“We have been talking with the bishop for years about these issues,” he said, explaining that he was only appealing to the Vatican on areas where he and the bishop had been unable to reach an agreement.
Fr. Pavone also added that he is following the prescribed procedure for a Vatican appeal, and that he has had a close working relationship with the Vatican for years.
“It is natural and normal that they already know about this,” he said.
If he is not allowed to continue his work with Priests for Life, Fr. Pavone explained that he is looking into the possibility of being incardinated into a different diocese.
“I do have various options,” he said. “The Church is bigger than Amarillo. The Church is the Church.”
Fr. Pavone noted that the reason he had initially come to Amarillo was to be able to run his pro-life ministry, which he did with permission from the bishop. He emphasized that he has always run Priests for Life with the approval of the bishop.
“I have experienced the call to full-time pro-life work,” he said. “I want to do that for the rest of my life.”
“It’s a vocational matter,” he added, explaining that he has never had the slightest doubt about his call to the priesthood, or about his call to pro-life work. He does not see them as incompatible but believes that he is called to both.
Fr. Pavone stated that he is “confident” that he will be able to work toward a positive resolution with both Bishop Zurek and the Vatican. He believes that part of the solution may lie in creating a new type of pro-life ministry within the Church.
Canon law allows for many movements and structures within the Church, Fr. Pavone explained. Religious communities are the most well-known, but there are also other ways to commit to a particular cause within the Church.
He said that he would be open to pursuing such a structure to welcome the commitments of both religious and lay people who feel called to give their whole lives to the pro-life cause.
Fr. Pavone pointed to saints who founded religious orders to devote their lives to working with the poor or disabled. Opposition from the local church was sometimes present as part of the “growing pains” of beginning their ministry, he explained.
“But ultimately, the Church vindicates the mission,” he said.