Khartoum, Sudan, Jan 18, 2012 (CNA) - A truckload of attackers kidnapped two Catholic priests from their rectory in Sudan on Jan. 15, causing fears for their safety at a time of continued regional tensions.
The attack took place at St. Josephine Bakhita’s Catholic Church in the town of Rabak, south of Khartoum. The perpetrators, who arrived in a large truck, smashed through the gates of the parish compound and broke down the rectory door.
The victims of the kidnapping are Fr. Joseph Makwey, who is in his 40s, and Fr. Sylvester Mogga, who is in his mid-thirties, according to Aid to the Church in Need.
The assailants also looted the property, taking electronics and valuables like laptops and other computer equipment.
The two priests’ whereabouts are still unknown.
“We are worried about the two priests,” said Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Adwok Kur of Khartoum.
Fr. Sylvester, though he is young, is “sick and in need of medical help,” the bishop reported.
The police have been notified and investigations are at an early stage.
It is impossible to speculate on the identity of the kidnappers and their motives, Bishop Adwok stated. However, he feared the priests may be conscripted to fight amid reports of internal conflicts in Sudan and the newly independent South Sudan.
The abduction seemed deliberate, he said.
“The kidnappers would have known that these men were priests.”
Bishop Adwok, who lives in the town of Kosti, which is close to Rabak, said that across Sudan militants are intimidating people originally from what is now South Sudan and pressuring them to leave.
“The abduction of young men has frightened practically everybody here,” he added.
The bishop criticized the Sudanese government for appearing dismissive towards the kidnappings and saying that the abductors are foreigners who cannot be controlled.
“Innocent people are not there to be brutalized and the authorities must be called to account for what is going on,” he said. “It is not only in Kosti that this is happening. It is also taking place in Khartoum.”
Meanwhile, tensions continue between Sudan and South Sudan, which officially became a new country on July 9, 2011. South Sudan’s oil minister has accused Sudan of stealing 120,000 barrels of its oil a day.
Tribal violence also continues to be a problem. On Jan. 16, 47 people were killed by a South Sudanese tribe that itself had been targeted in a massive ethnic assault, the Associated Press reports.
Charleston, S.C., Jan 18, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Republican presidential candidates promised to uphold values such as religious liberty and traditional marriage at events in South Carolina, where the next primary election is slated to take place on Jan. 21.
“At every turn, at every issue that would reach my desk, I will stand up for the ability of Americans to worship God as they choose,” said Mitt Romney, who currently leads in polls across the state.
Romney vowed to protect America’s religious tradition while speaking at a Jan. 14 forum hosted by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.
During the event at the Sottile Theatre at the College of Charleston, Romney was asked by participants how he would address “growing anti-Christian sentiment” in America.
The former Massachusetts governor responded that he would not add to what he called the secularization of America, but instead promote all citizens' rights to practice religion as they see fit.
“I think we ought to be able to have manger scenes at Christmastime and menorahs, representing other faiths,” he explained.
“We are a believing people,” Romney said. “The Declaration of Independence established our rights by saying that they were created not by government, but by the Creator.”
GOP contender Rick Perry also voiced support for religious freedom.
At a Jan. 16 debate at Myrtle Beach Convention Center, the Texas governor defended the principle of “ministerial exception” – recently upheld by the Supreme Court – that allows religious groups to hire and fire individuals on their own terms, without government interference.
Perry also said that the Obama administration “is at war against organized religion.” He criticized the administration for denying a grant request from the U.S. bishops to run a program aiding human trafficking victims.
“This administration won’t give them those dollars for sexually trafficked individuals because this administration doesn’t agree with the Catholic Church on the issue of abortion,” he said.
“If that’s not a war on religion, I don’t know what it is.”
Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum used the Jan. 16 debate to advocate the strengthening of marriage, family and traditional values as a means of solving other problems in society.
He was asked if “special steps” should be taken to address high levels of joblessness and poverty among African Americans.
Santorum pointed to a 2009 Brookings Institution study which found that Americans could reduce their rate of poverty to just two percent by graduating from high school, getting a job and getting married before having children.
“It’s a huge, huge opportunity for us,” he said.
The GOP hopeful criticized the Obama administration for failing to take advantage of the opportunity to reduce the poverty rate in America. Instead, he said, the administration is preventing organizations from helping young people make the choices that will fight poverty.
He referenced the Best Friends Foundation – an education program for at-risk girls, often in African American community – and said that the Obama administration has introduced new regulations telling the foundation’s members that they “can no longer promote marriage as a way of avoiding poverty.”
Nor are they allowed to continue teaching abstinence education, he added, because they “have to be neutral with respect to how people behave.”
“The problem is, neutrality ends in poverty,” Santorum said. “Neutrality ends in choices that hurt people’s lives.”
Denver, Colo., Jan 18, 2012 (CNA) - Colorado’s proposed civil unions bill is “just a stepping stone to the legalization of same-sex marriage,” the head of the Colorado Catholic Conference has warned.
“In every state where legislators or lawmakers have pushed civil unions, there has then been a push for the recognition of same-sex marriage,” conference executive director Jennifer Kraska told CNA on Jan. 17.
If passed, Senate Bill 2 would create legal partnerships for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.
“The legal benefits, protections and responsibilities that are granted under the law to spouses apply in like manner to a civil union,” the bill summary says.
The bill creates an “alternate structure to marriage,” Kraska said. “It’s marriage, just under a different name.”
She cited former Archbishop of Denver Charles J. Chaput, who said the difference between civil unions and marriage is “a distinction without a difference.”
Colorado’s Catholic bishops have published a statement saying the civil union structure uses “explicitly spousal language.”
“Nearly every benefit being sought by this legislation is already legally available to Coloradans. The truth is the movement for recognition of ‘same-sex marriage’ and ‘civil unions’ is less about benefits and rights and more about societal acceptance and approval of homosexual relationships,” they said.
“Marriage and the family are cornerstones of every culture,” the bishops stated. “Civil unions may attempt to mirror the marital relationship, but they lack the essential fruits of marriage. The marital relationship ensures the future of society through the creation of new human life.”
Upholding the truth of marriage helps everyone by promoting “a culture where children can profit from the unique and complementary gifts of a mother and a father,” they said.
The Colorado bishops reiterated that they do not want to deny others’ fundamental civil rights and that they are sensitive to the pastoral needs of homosexual people, who must be treated “with dignity and love.”
“As Catholics we have a duty to protect and preserve marriage as the union of one man and woman in our laws and policies. Any attempts to weaken or redefine marriage will serve only to deteriorate the family structure of our society,” the bishops wrote. “We strongly urge all Catholics in Colorado to contact their elected officials and ask them to protect marriage in Colorado.”
The Colorado Catholic Conference has organized a postcard campaign to help Catholics voice their opposition to the bill. Kraska explained that the campaign is still underway and participation statistics are not yet known.
“I hope that our legislators will understand that there are people who are definitely opposed to this,” she said. “We hope that they will respect the will of the voters of Colorado, who already by a fairly big margin rejected Referendum I and supported a constitutional amendment saying that marriage is between one man and one woman in the state of Colorado.”
In 2006, Colorado voters passed a marriage definition amendment with 56 percent of the vote. Referendum I, a domestic partnership measure, failed with 47 percent in support and 53 percent opposed.
Washington D.C., Jan 18, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Nearly 20 members of Congress voiced their support for an Ohio law regulating the use of the abortion drug RU-486 in compliance with U.S. Food and Drug Administration protocol.
The legislators backed the law in a brief filed in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which would prohibit abortion providers from encouraging women to use RU-486 in “off-label” ways that have not been approved by the FDA.
“Eight women in the U.S. have died from bacterial infection following the misuse of RU-486 – a misuse advocated by Planned Parenthood,” said Dr. Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, in a Jan. 10 statement.
“Ohio’s law is simply a medical regulation aimed at promoting the safest use of a drug, as it was approved to be used by the FDA,” she added.
Americans United for Life filed the brief on behalf of Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and U.S. senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK), along with nine other U.S. representatives from Ohio and seven other representatives with medical backgrounds from around the country.
The brief was filed in a federal case involving an Ohio regulation requiring RU-486 – also known as mifepristone or Mifeprex – to be administered according to FDA recommendations.
Planned Parenthood has challenged the constitutionality of the law, arguing that it is too vague, violates women’s bodily integrity and places an “undue burden” on their “right” to abortion.
But according to the brief, medical regulations are necessary to “protect women from the dangerous off-label use” of RU-486, a drug regimen that – according to the FDA – has killed 14 women and injured more than 2,000 others.
Lower courts have upheld the law, which does not ban the drug, but simply requires that it “be administered in the way deemed safest by the FDA.”
According to the brief, Planned Parenthood has acknowledged that “abortion providers routinely administer RU-486 in a number of ways that fall outside the safety guidelines” established by the food and drug administration.
Such “off-label uses” include administering the drug after the seventh week of pregnancy; failing to examine women before and after taking the drug; and administering the regimen’s second drug – misoprostol – vaginally rather than orally.
The brief said that precedent indicates that “states are given wide discretion to legislate in areas where there is medical and scientific uncertainty.”
Even when used properly, the RU-486 drug regimen is dangerous, it argued. The drug label notes that nearly all women who take it “will report adverse reactions.”
A 2011 report issued by the FDA recorded 2,207 complications in the U.S. related to the use of RU-486, including 14 deaths, 339 blood transfusions, 612 hospitalizations and 256 infections.
Such a risky drug should be carefully regulated in order to “protect the health and welfare of women,” said the brief.
It argued that “potentially 10 out of the 14 reported U.S. deaths could possibly have been prevented” if the mifepristone had been properly administered according to FDA protocol.
The court of appeals will decide the fate of the Ohio bill, which has been tested in a series of courts since its 2004 approval by state legislature.
Yoest explained that the law is important because “women’s lives hang in the balance.”
“Requiring the proper distribution of drugs should be an area of bipartisan agreement,” she said.
Leon, Mexico, Jan 18, 2012 (CNA) - Archbishop Jose Guadalupe Martin Rabago of Leon said Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming trip to the city will be the first time a pontiff visits the country's area with the highest percentage of Catholics.
In an interview with CNA on Jan. 17, Archbishop Rabago expressed his joy that Leon was chosen as the site of the papal visit, which will take place March 23-26.
He noted that within the city “there is a section where 94 percent of the population is Catholic.” Pope John Paul II did not visit the area during any of his five trips to Mexico, and the arrival of Benedict XVI “is a way to allow people to rejoice in this experience of faith.”
Archbishop Rabago said the Pope’s visit is “a recognition of the fidelity of our people, who have remained faithful to the Church despite all the proselytism by sects. The people have overwhelmingly remained in the Church,” he added.
“Leon is the geographical center of Mexico and since the Pope was not going to visit other areas of Mexico, a site accessible to the largest number of Mexicans was chosen,” the archbishop explained.
He called on Mexicans to be understanding of the Pope Benedict’s inability to travel to Mexico City, as the area’s high altitude could pose a risk to the 84 year-old pontiff.
“It is probably not an altitude appropriate for the Pope’s health,” Archbishop Rabago said.
He also observed that the Pope will be arriving in Mexico as the country continues to deal with the crisis of widespread violence. This crisis “is the result of a culture without values that does not see the validity and importance of life,” he said.
“We are convinced that we can only emerge from this situation if we teach people to respect one another and live in solidarity.”
For this reason, the archbishop added, “We hope Pope Benedict will encourage us to be more sensitive to these values that we have lost.”
Pope Benedict “has frequently expressed solidarity with those who have been struck by violence and he has called on us to strengthen our hope. This is what we hope for in order to move forward and build a better country,” he said.
Archbishop Rabago also said the Archdiocese of Leon has launched a program “in all parishes and apostolic groups” to prepare Catholics for the papal visit and help them learn more about Pope Benedict XVI.
Vatican City, Jan 18, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Benedict XVI said today that achieving Christian unity requires more than “cordiality and cooperation” and that it must be accompanied by interior conversion.
“Faith in Christ and interior conversion, both individual and communal, must constantly accompany our prayer for Christian unity,” said the Pope to over 8,000 pilgrims gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall on Jan. 18.
The Pope’s comments mark the start of the 2012 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that runs until Jan. 25. It will be observed by over 300 Christian churches and ecclesial communities around the globe.
The Pope asked for “the Lord in a particular way to strengthen the faith of all Christians, to change our hearts and to enable us to bear united witness to the Gospel.”
In this way, he said, they “will contribute to the new evangelization and respond ever more fully to the spiritual hunger of the men and women of our time.”
The Pope explained that the concept of a week of prayer for Christian unity was initiated in 1908 by Paul Wattson, an Episcopalian minister from Maryland. One year later, he became a Catholic and was subsequently ordained to the priesthood.
Pope Benedict recalled how the initiative was supported by his predecessors Pope St. Pius X and Pope Benedict XV. It was then “developed and perfected” in the 1930s by the Frenchman Abbé Paul Couturier, who promoted prayer “for the unity of the Church as Christ wishes and according to the means he wills.”
The mandate for the week of prayer, the Pope underscored, comes from the wish of Christ himself at the Last Supper “that they may all be one.” He observed that this mission was given a particular impetus by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) but added that “the unity we strive for cannot result merely from our own efforts.” Rather, “it is a gift we receive and must constantly invoke from on high.”
The theme for 2012 Week of Prayer – “All shall be changed by the victory of Jesus Christ our Lord” – was crafted by the Polish Ecumenical Council. Pope Benedict said it reflects “their own experience as a nation,” which stayed faithful to Christ “in the midst of trials and upheavals,” including years of occupation by the Nazis and later the Communists.
The Pope tied the victory the Polish people experienced over their oppressors to overcoming the disunity that marks Christians.
He said that the “unity for which we pray requires inner conversion, both shared and individual,” and it cannot be “limited to cordiality and cooperation.” Instead, Christians must accept “all the elements of unity which God has conserved for us.”
Ecumenism, the Pope stated, is not an optional extra for Catholics but is “the responsibility of the entire Church and of all the baptized.” Christians, he said, must make praying for unity an “integral part” of their prayer life, “especially when people from different traditions come together to work for victory in Christ over sin, evil, injustice and the violation of human dignity.”
Pope Benedict then touched on the lack of unity in the Christian community, which he said “hinders the effective announcement of the Gospel and endangers our credibility.” Evangelizing formerly Christian countries and spreading the Gospel to new places will be “more fruitful if all Christians together announce the truth of the Gospel and Jesus Christ, and give a joint response to the spiritual thirst of our times,” he explained.
The Pope concluded his comments with the hope that this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will lead to “increased shared witness, solidarity and collaboration among Christians, in expectation of that glorious day when together we will all be able to celebrate the Sacraments and profess the faith transmitted by the Apostles.”
The general audience finished with Pope Benedict addressing pilgrims in various languages, including greeting a group of men and women from the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, before leading the crowd in the Our Father and imparting his apostolic blessing.
Glasgow, Scotland, Jan 18, 2012 (CNA) - Two Catholic midwives are testifying before Scotland’s highest civil court that they are being forced to participate in abortions against both their consciences and the law.
Mary Doogan and Connie Wood have been told by the state-run National Health Service in Glasgow that they are expected to supervise and support fellow midwives who perform abortions.
As senior staff, the two midwives were expected to be on standby to help in abortion procedures in certain medical situations.
In their Jan. 17 petition to the Court of Session in Edinburgh, the women explained that “they hold a religious belief that all human life is sacred from the moment of conception and that termination or pregnancy is a grave offence against human life.”
The midwives maintain that their right to opt-out of providing abortions for reasons of conscience is upheld by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Section 4(1) of the U.K.’s 1967 Abortion Act.
But the National Health Service in Glasgow has previously rejected their appeals, claiming that their rights are being respected because the midwives are not compelled to administer abortion-inducing drugs. Doogan and Wood have argued in response that existing legislation allows staff to opt-out of the entire abortion process.
The court heard on Jan. 17 how both Doogan and Wood have worked for over 20 years at Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital and that throughout that time they have always made clear their conscientious objection to abortion.
In 2007, however, the National Health Service in Glasgow decided to send more women undergoing late-term abortions to labor wards, instead of admitting them to gynecological departments. This change in policy led to the current dispute between the health service and the midwives.
Doogan, who comes from Glasgow, has been absent from work because of poor health since 2010, as a result of the ongoing situation. Meanwhile, Wood has been transferred to other duties.
The case is currently being heard at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.