Archive of January 15, 2014

Scottish official rejects sex ed guidelines for Catholic schools

Glasgow, Scotland, Jan 15, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - A Scottish Catholic education leader is “confident” the government’s proposal for sex education in Catholic schools regarding contraception and homosexual unions will not be implemented.

He did, however, characterize the proposal as “a bit mean-spirited.”

“The Church has a legal right to provide guidance for Catholic schools in this country. We intend to retain that right, and we’re looking for the government guidance to respect that and honor the assurance that was previously given us,” Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, said Jan. 14.

“Of course in a Catholic school we won’t promote any form of sex education which is at odds with the doctrine of the Church,” said McGrath, whose organization is part of the Scottish bishops’ Catholic Education Commission.

A new draft of the Scottish government’s guidance calls for sex education in Catholic schools to give explicit lessons about contraception and homosexual sex. Government ministers say every student should learn about local clinics where they can acquire contraception and tests for sexually transmitted disease, the Scottish Express reports.

The proposal comes ahead of the introduction of “gay marriage” in Scotland.

Scotland’s over 350 Catholic schools are not managed or owned by the Church, but are part of the state system, McGrath told CNA / EWTN News. However, the Church has legal rights over “the content of religious and moral education.”

While the government can provide guidance to determine how schools should teach certain issues, such as health education and sex education, McGrath said that “the Church has a legal right to determine what’s provided appropriately in a Catholic school in this area of the curriculum.”

“We are confident that the final guidance will respect the Church’s guidance, as Parliament backs our legal position, and if that were to be changed, we would contest that through the courts,” he added. “I’m surely confident that that won’t happen.”

McGrath said that parents who choose to send their children to a Catholic school are seeking to have them formed in the certain values and tradition which they are comfortable with. That choice is one that we honor and one that is popular in this country.”

About 20 percent of schoolchildren are in Catholic schools, he said.

“When parents make that choice, it’s right that the children are educated in accordance with their wishes.”

McGrath said that Catholic schools will still promote “a vision of marriage which is the Church’s traditional vision of marriage between one man and one woman.” He said he is hopeful that the government will “respond positively” to comments on this matter.

Government officials have made assurances that they have no intention of requiring a school to act contrary to the policies of the Scottish Catholic Education Service or other religious authorities, the Scottish Express reports.

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Sri Lankan Catholics rejoice in receiving Saint Sebastian relic

Colombo, Sri Lanka, Jan 15, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Catholics in Sri Lanka are celebrating the reception of a reliquary containing a fragment of the arm of St. Sebastian, a martyr of the third century.

On Jan. 12, Cardinal Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo received the relics at the city's airport, accompanied by officials of the diocesan curia, priests, and Catholic members of the Sri Lankan parliament.

The reliquary was brought to Colombo by Msgr. Neville Perera, and was a gift from the administrator of the Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua, Msgr. Enzo Poyiana, who received it from Narbonne, the birthplace of St. Sebastian.

Cardinal Ranjith led a prayer service at the Colombo airport following Msgr. Perera's arrival, and from Colombo led a procession to the St. Sebastian Shrine in Kandana, a suburb, where the relic will be kept for veneration.

The procession was accompanied by mounted policemen and a marching band, and flowers were sprinkled from helicopters above the pilgrimage. It was met along the way by crowds venerating the relic and welcoming St. Sebastian with flowers; the procession stopped in several places to allow for extended veneration of his relic.

On arriving at Kandana, the relic was enthroned at the shrine and Mass was said by Cardinal Ranjith.

The St. Sebastian Shrine is preparing to celebrate its 150th jubilee in 2018, focusing on both renovation of the shrine building and the spiritual and material edification of the impoverished people of Kandana.

The shrine hosts daily Masses, perpetual novenas to St. Sebastian and Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and weekly reflections on the Sunday Mass readings.

The arrival of the relic of St. Sebastian comes shortly before his feast, which is celebrated Jan. 20.

St. Sebastian was martyred during the Diocletian persecution in the late third century, being first shot with many arrows and then beaten to death. He is thus patron of athletes, particularly archers.

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Haiti's first cardinal-designate highlights nation's struggles

Port au Prince, Haiti, Jan 15, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - The president of the Haitian Bishops’ Conference voiced hope that his recent appointment to become a cardinal will raise the profile of the nation, which is still recovering from a devastating 2010 earthquake.

Bishop Chibly Langlois of Les Cayes is one of 19 men who will be made cardinals at a consistory at the Vatican on Feb. 22. He is the first cardinal ever to be named from Haiti. Pope Francis announced the appointment of the new cardinals on Jan. 12, the four-year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake.

“The appointment this January 12, 2014 will help focus attention on Haiti, especially on our Roman Catholic Church in Haiti, where the realities, the needs and the challenges will be brought up to a much higher level,” Cardinal-designate Langlois said in statements to Alter Presse.

Some analysts suggested that the Pope’s decision to announce the cardinal appointments on the four-year anniversary of the earthquake may have been a sign of special consideration for the devastated country.

The 2010 earthquake killed more than 200,000 people in Haiti and left more than 1 million homeless. It destroyed dozens of churches, including the archdiocesan seminary. Archbishop Serge Miot of Port-au-Prince also perished in the quake.

As president of the Haitian bishops, Cardinal-designate Langlois has worked in recovery efforts. He has also led the Church’s mediation efforts in talks between Haitian President Michel Martelly, the opposition and the parliament, in order to help carve out a path towards rebuilding the country.

The cardinal-designate was born Nov. 29, 1958, in the southeastern city of Vallee. He entered the seminary at Port-au-Prince in 1985, where he studied philosophy and theology.  

Ordained a priest on Sept. 22, 1991, he served as vicar of the Cathedral of Jacmel and director of catechesis for the diocese before going on to study pastoral theology at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome.

In 1996, Cardinal-designate Langlois was appointed administrator of diocesan pastoral and catechetical formation. Three years later, he was sent to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the region of Des Oranger and was professor of pastoral theology at the Major Seminary of Notre Dame in Turgeau.

He was named Bishop of Fort-Liberte on April 8, 2004, and was ordained to the episcopate by Bishop Hubert Constant on June 6 of the same year. On Aug.15, 2011, after seven years in his first diocese, he was named Bishop of Les Cayes.

That same year, he succeeded Archbishop Louis Kebreau of Cap-Haitien as president of the Haitian Bishops’ Conference.

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California project aiding 'motel kids' seeks global expansion

Vatican City, Jan 15, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - An Orange county chef who began feeding impoverished children out of his restaurant in 2005 has created a special project to continue the work, which he hopes to expand to a global level.

“Growing up I knew what it was like first hand to be a part of a low income family,” Serato told CNA in a Jan. 14 interview, “so I identified with these kids.”

“I experienced many struggles myself as I came from a place of hardship and struggle.”

Serato, originally from Verona, Italy, where he grew up as one of seven children in a poor family, moved to the United States over 30 years ago and began to work as a dishwasher, but within 5 years had become the chef and owner of his own restaurant, the Anaheim White House, which is now a high-end restaurant in the area.

In 2003 the chef created “Caterina’s Club,” a project named after his mother that raises money for underprivileged children.

When Serato’s mother came to visit him in 2005, he took her to the local Boys and Girls Club, which is the main recipient of his clubs charitable funds, and while they were there they encountered a young boy eating a bag of potato chips for dinner.

It was then that they learned of the situation of the “motel kids,” which is a common phenomenon in the area where low-income families are unable to pay rent for an apartment, and are forced to live day-to-day in cheap hotels.

Often immersed in an environment of poverty, drugs, alcohol and prostitution, the kids often go without dinners because their parents cannot afford to pay for food, and there are usually no kitchens in the hotels where they stay.

When they heard this, Serato recalled that his mother told him “Bruno! Go back to your restaurant and make all of these kids dinner!” which he did, and has done every night since.

“I continued to feed them because I thought to myself, I don't have a warm meal just one night a week, or a few times a month,” he explained, “I eat dinner every night, and so do you. So these kids, they are going to eat every night!”

In 2011 Serato was nominated as one of CNN’s “Top 10” local heroes for feeding over 200 children pasta every night as an out-of-pocket expense. Since then publicity about his project has grown, and he now feeds over 1,000 children each night, operating almost 100 percent off of donations.

“The expansion of the feeding the kids has only been possible because of our generous donors” and by “the help of God,” the chef noted, adding that a 2013 fundraiser held by local KFI Radio Station “raised roughly 21,000 pounds of pasta and sauce alone.”

“It is partnerships like this that enable us to reach the people who want to help in our community but don't know how or where,” he noted, adding that “we currently feed children at after school programs at eight locations.”

Sharing the story of a family of six who lived in a motel for 12 years, Serato recalled that he originally met the family’s son, Carlos, at the Boys and Girls Club.

“I soon realized he was part of the Boys and Girls Club's Motel Outreach Program,” the chef recalled, stating that after learning “what a motel family was,” he “learned that Carlos has been living in a motel his entire life, and had known nothing different.”

“His parents had been stuck in the motel situation for 12 years, paying more monthly than they would if they were in an apartment or town home,” he explained, adding that “the only thing restricting them and their children from getting out of the motel life was a down payment.”

Being moved by the family’s situation, Caterina’s Club found “a good place for them,” and once the paperwork had been finalized, the chef “provided them with the down payment that had been holding Carlos and his family in a motel for 12 years.”

Expressing his hopes for the future, Serato highlighted his desire to “inspire people not just in America, but a crossed the globe to adopt Caterina's program,” and to “name theirs after their own mother.”

Serato voiced that although he understands these are “huge hopes,” Caterina’s Club is already communicating with various contacts in “Italy, New York, Chicago, South America, and surrounding cities in Southern California.”

Other organizations that have worked closely with the chef’s project are the KFI Radio Station, the YMCA, the Fresh Produce and Floral Council, as well as an organization called Illumination Foundation, which seeks to move families out of hotels to “safe comfortable homes and apartments.”

Serato observed that he is also “a good friend” of the Bishop of Orange County, Kevin Vann, who writes about and promotes the chef’s efforts in various ways throughout the diocese.

“Every child deserves to go to bed with a warm nutritional meal in their stomachs,” Serato stressed, “not just in Anaheim, not just in Verona, but in every city, every village, everywhere.”

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Pope Francis: our faith is 'not an ornament'

Vatican City, Jan 15, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - During his general audience, Pope Francis continued his reflections on the Sacrament of Baptism, emphasizing that we are called to use the grace we receive in order to become “missionary disciples.”

“We are one community, and living together our faith is not an ornament, but rather is something essential for the Christian life ... for testimony and for evangelization,” the Pope explained in his Jan. 15 general audience.

“Dear Brothers and Sisters,” he stated to the pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square, “today we continue our catechesis on the sacrament of baptism by reflecting on how, through baptism, we become members of Christ’s mystical body, the Church.”

The Second Vatican Council, noted the Pontiff, “expressed this truth, insisting that this sacrament incorporates us into the People of God; it makes us members of one People that walks throughout history.”

“In every generation, through baptism, we are reborn to the new life of grace and called to be witnesses of the Gospel before the world,” the Pope continued.

“Grace is transmitted through the baptismal fountain and the People of God walks in time, disseminating God’s blessing.”

Therefore, “Baptism makes us ‘missionary disciples’ within the communion of the Church,” he said, highlighting that “each one of us becomes a missionary disciple.”

“On the one hand, we never stop being disciples, learning, receiving; on the other, we are called to the mission, to share what we have received, what we live,” the Pope observed, which is “the experience of love, of faith in the Trinity.”

“There is a close bond, then, between our rebirth in water and the Holy Spirit, our responsibility to live this new life within the Church, in our families and our parishes, and our mission to bring the Gospel to others as channels of God’s grace.”

Emphasizing how we are “called to transmit to faith,” Pope Francis explained that “no one is saved alone,” and that “we are all called, despite our limitations, to proclaim to others the grace received in Baptism.”

Turning to the Church in Japan as an example of how “small communities of the faithful” have survived “clandestinely for over two centuries thanks to the grace of baptism,” the pontiff expressed his hope that their example would “help us to appreciate more fully the profound mystical, communitarian and missionary dimensions of our baptism.”

Bringing his weekly address to a close, the Pope invited all present to “take their Baptism seriously, being disciples and missionaries of the Gospel, by word and example itself.”

Pope Francis then extended personal greetings to pilgrims present from various countries around the world, asking that “God bless you, and the Holy Virgin take care of you.”

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Fidelity urged amid Seattle school's 'gay marriage' controversy

Seattle, Wash., Jan 15, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Controversy over a Seattle-area Catholic school’s treatment of employees who contract same-sex “marriages” is being described as a chance for the school to explain Church teaching and defend the faith.

“A Catholic school does great damage by appearing inconsistent or embarrassed by the Catholic faith,” said Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, which works to promote Catholic identity in education.

“This is a great opportunity to stand up for the faith, or at least for the rights of a Catholic school to determine its own personnel policies.”

Eastside Catholic High School in the Seattle suburb of Sammamish has become the target of student-led protests and hostile media coverage after the departure of its former vice principal Mark Zmuda, following his “marriage” to another man in the summer of 2013.

The school attorney Mike Patterson said that the former vice principal agreed in December to resign and was not fired, according to the Associated Press. Zmuda said the school dismissed him on the grounds that he violated his commitment to Catholic teaching.

Sister Mary Tracy, the school’s president, said the Zmuda situation was “a church decision, not a school decision.” She said that if he had not resigned he would have been fired. She had suggested to Zmuda that he dissolve the marriage to save his job, KING 5 News reports.

Zmuda discussed  the situation with a former student in an interview conducted at an Episcopal church and posted on YouTube. He said he valued the Catholic high school’s principles but added, “I just disagree with the way the church feels on this particular issue.”

Reilly said the school was right to ask Zmuda to leave.

“Requiring a Catholic educator to teach and model Catholic values is more than justified – it’s essential to a faithful Catholic education. And firing an employee who signs and then violates a contract is perfectly justified,” he told CNA Jan. 10.

Some students have held protests against the school’s decision inside and outside of school and at the archdiocese’s headquarters. They have gained media attention and the support of gay activist groups like the Human Rights Campaign. Seattle’s mayor-elect Ed Murray, a self-professed Catholic in a same-sex “marriage,” has also supported the students.

The school’s senior class president has launched an internet petition asking for the Church to change its teaching on same-sex “marriage.” It has garnered 30,000 signatures.

Reilly suggested it was “shameful” that so many Catholic school students “know nothing about the Church,” as shown by their belief that “a petition is going to redefine marriage.”

He said such a large protest against “basic Catholic teaching” raises “serious concerns” about the quality of the education at the school.

“Faithful Catholic parents and teachers need to explain to these students what the Church teaches and why a Catholic school cannot employ teachers who have same-sex weddings,” he said.

Shortly afterward, the school's chairman of the board – who had been involved in Zmuda's dismissal – resigned abruptly, King 5 reported.

Eastside Catholic returned to news headlines when the school’s freelance drama coach, Stephanie Merrow, made public her own decision to enter a same-sex “marriage,” citing the student protestors as motivation for the announcement.

“I’m doing this to support the kids, and what the kids are trying to do is get to the Pope and change the Church,” she told KING 5 News on Jan. 6.

Merrow told the Associated Press that she has now signed a new contract with the school that does not address Catholic teaching. She said her meeting with school principal Polly Skinner was “very warm and welcoming” and she “got a little raise.”

Sister Mary Tracy, the school president, on Jan. 7 said Merrow is “welcome” to continue working. The protesting students claim that the school president is sympathetic to their cause and said they could quote her as saying, “I look forward to the day where no individual loses their job because they married a person of the same sex.”

The Archdiocese of Seattle told CNA Jan. 9 it had no comment “at this time” on the controversy.

Reilly was critical of Merrow’s vocal opposition to Catholicism.

“No one who publicly opposes Catholic teaching or encourages dissent should be teaching at a Catholic school, whether full-time or otherwise,” he said.

Reilly said that in contemporary culture it is “increasingly dangerous” for a Catholic school to hire employees without requiring “explicit support” for its Catholic mission and policies.

“School leaders should be faithful Catholics who celebrate the school’s Catholic identity,” he said, adding that while students should not have to be Catholic, they should know that their school is “firmly Catholic” and their parents should support its policies.

“Jesus Christ had perhaps his harshest criticism for those who lead young people astray,” Reilly said. “There’s no room for scandal in a Catholic school.”

Reilly suggested that Catholic schools being “consistently faithful” to Catholic teaching and hiring only employees who “expressly guarantee” their support for the school’s mission would avoid these kinds of controversies.

“Certainly one wouldn’t expect so many students and others to be shocked when such a school upholds Catholic teaching – but there’s no question that being faithfully Catholic is increasingly counter-cultural,” he said.

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Newly appointed Pueblo, Colo. bishop promises to give his all

Vatican City, Jan 15, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis has named the next bishop of Pueblo, Colorado: Monsignor Stephen J. Berg of Fort Worth, Texas, a trained pianist who became a priest after a career as a business executive.

“You will have all I have to give,” Bishop-designate Berg, 62, told the people of his diocese at a Jan. 15 press conference in Pueblo. “I will also give my best to all of my people, especially the Hispanic ministry.”

Bishop-designate Berg, whose new diocese is predominantly rural and mountain, cited his own background in rural life in Montana and Texas. “My happiest moments in ministry were in the rural ministry of northwest Texas in the wide open spaces,” he said.

Addressing his new diocese’s priests, he said “We need each other. I need your support, and I promise you will have mine.”

He will succeed Bishop Fernando Isern, who retired in June 2013 for health reasons.

Bishop-designate Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth said his diocese is “very proud and joyful” at the appointment. “I personally am happy for him and the Diocese of Pueblo. At heart, Bishop-elect Berg is a good priest, a kind man, a true Christian and a wise leader.”

The bishop-to-be is a native of Miles City, Mont., the Diocese of Pueblo said. He is the oldest of the 10 children of Connie and Jeanne Berg and an uncle to 27 nieces and nephews. He is a nephew of Bishop emeritus Joseph L. Charron of Des Moines, Iowa.

He attended Catholic schools in Miles City and graduated from Sacred Heart High School in 1979. He studied at Gonzaga University in Washington and graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in piano performance.

Bishop-designate Berg on Jan. 15 noted his past in Colorado. “The best times of my life seem to be coming together, and they seem to fit. I am very at peace with this situation,” he said.

The future bishop earned a master’s degree in piano performance from Eastern New Mexico University in 1975 and a master’s of divinity from the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio in the 1990s.

He taught music at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth and worked for 14 years as a manager and an executive in the retail  nursery industry. In 1993 he entered Assumption Seminary and in 1999, Bishop Charron ordained him to the priesthood.

Bishop-designate Berg has served as parochial vicar, pastor and administrator at several Diocese of Fort Worth parishes. Bishop Kevin Vann named him the diocese’s vicar general in 2008. He also served as moderator of the curia of the Fort Worth diocese and as an adjunct spiritual director at Dallas’ Holy Trinity Seminary.

Pope Benedict XVI named him a monsignor in March 2012. He is a member of the Knights of Columbus, the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre and the International Serrans.

When Bishop Vann was moved to the Diocese of Orange, Calif. in December 2012, Msgr. Berg was chosen as administrator of the Fort Worth diocese. Bishop-designate Olson said that Msgr. Berg’s time as pastor, vicar general and diocesan minister has prepared him for his new assignment.

Bishop-designate Berg will be ordained a bishop and installed as head of the Pueblo diocese on Feb. 27.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver welcomed the appointment, saying that the “Church will be enriched by his enthusiastic and energetic presence, and I am sure that the faithful will appreciate his love for Colorado.”

The archbishop praised the bishop-designate’s “rich family life,” his love of music, and his experience in both the corporate world and church life.

“I and the faithful of Northern Colorado pray that God will bless his ministry here in Colorado and make it bear abundant fruit!” Archbishop Aquila said in a Jan. 15 statement.

Bishop-designate Berg said in a statement he was “humbled and deeply moved” at his appointment.

“I know Colorado to be a beautiful land of beautiful people and I look forward to serving the faithful of Pueblo as their shepherd in Christ. I eagerly anticipate our future together as we grow and build our local church.”

The Pueblo diocese covers 48,000 square miles of territory across southern Colorado. It has about 64,000 Catholics in 53 parishes, 44 missions and four Catholic schools.

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AK-47 designer felt 'unbearable' pain for rifle deaths

Moscow, Russia, Jan 15, 2014 (CNA) - According to a Russian daily, Mikhail Kalashnikov wrote a letter more than six months before his death expressing repentance for his design of the AK-47 assault rifle.

“My spiritual pain is unbearable,” Kalashnikov wrote in a letter to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill I, according to the Jan. 13 issue of Izvestia.

“I keep having the same unsolved question: since my rifle killed people, can it be that I... a Christian and an Orthodox believer, was to blame for their deaths?”

Kalashnikov was was born in 1919 in Soviet Russia, and fought in World War II, eventually becoming a weapons designer.

His AK-47 is among the most widely used firearms in the world, and has long been popular in less developed countries for its simplicity and reliability; it was used by North Vietnamese forces in the Vietnam War. He had long abjured responsibility for the gun's uses.

Kalashnikov died Dec. 23, following a hospital admittance for internal bleeding. He was 94.

Izvestia provided an image of the letter written to Patriarch Kirill, which the BBC said is typed on Kalashnikov's personal writing paper and is signed by “a slave of God, the designer Mikhail Kalashnikov.”

Nearing his death, it seems Kalashnikov was troubled by the problem of evil, reportedly writing, “The longer I live, the more this question drills into my brain, the deeper I go in my thoughts and guesses about why the Lord allowed man to have the devilish desires of envy, greed and aggression.”

He noted that despite the “increasing number of churches and monasteries”  in Russia, “evil still does not decrease.”

He went on to praise the Russian Orthodox Church, which he said brings “kindness and mercy” to the world. Kalashnikov lauded Kirill, the Patriarch of Moscow, for his “pastoral wisdom” and assistance to the Russian Orthodox laity.

Raised in the Soviet Union, Kalashnikov was not baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church until he was 91.

“The Lord showed me the way in the afternoon of my life … when at the age of 91, I crossed the threshold of a church, my soul felt as if it had been there before.”

His letter recounted planting a sapling from his birthplace, the Siberian village of Kurya, at a church in his home, Izhevsk, located 750 miles east of Moscow.

“People will look at the church and the tree, and think about the proximity of these two eternal symbols of goodness and life. And my soul shall be joyful, watching from the heavenly heights for this beauty and grace.”

Izvestia was told by Patriarch Kirill's spokesman, Alexander Volkov, that the patriarch had replied to Kalashnikov, calling him a patriot and telling him that the Russian Orthodox have “a very definite position: when weapons serve to protect the Fatherland, the Church supports both its creators and the soldiers who use it.”

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Social hostilities toward religion reached six-year high in 2012

Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Social hostilities related to religion climbed to a six-year peak in 2012, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center.

One-third of the 198 countries and territories in the Pew Research Center’s study had “high” or “very high” social hostilities involving religion, an increase from 29 percent in 2011 and 20 percent in 2007. Some of these countries are very populous. Collectively, they are home to almost 75 percent of the world’s population.

Social hostilities include “abuse of religious minorities by private individuals or groups in society for acts perceived as offensive or threatening to the majority faith of the country,” the Pew Research Center explained Jan. 14.

Violence has intensified in predominantly Buddhist Sri Lanka, where monks have attacked both Muslim and Christian places of worship. Attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt rose in 2012, and Hindu nationalist groups in India have intensified efforts to enforce religious norms.

Mob violence related to religion has also increased, as has religion-related terrorist violence, which includes an August 2012 shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin which killed six worshipers and wounded three.

About 18 percent of countries experienced sectarian or communal violence in 2012, up from eight percent in 2007.

The percentage of countries with harassment of women over religious dress has risen to 32 percent, an increase from seven percent in 2007.

Every country that had “very high” social hostilities in 2011 continued to rank “very high” in 2012: Pakistan, India, Russia, Israel, Indonesia, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, the Palestinian Territories, Egypt, Yemen, Afghanistan and Kenya. Additionally, six new countries joined this list: Syria, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand and Burma.

Among the regions of the world, only the Americas avoided an increase in social hostilities related to religion. The Middle East and North Africa witnessed the sharpest increase.

Although social hostilities have risen significantly, the number of countries with formal laws restricting religion has risen only slightly. In 2011 there were 20 countries ranked at a “very high” level of government restrictions on religion, a number which increased to 24 the following year.

However, restrictions increased in areas such as government interference with worship or religious practices, limits on public preaching, and the use of government force against religious groups or individuals.

Government interference with worship or other religious practice increased to 74 percent of surveyed countries from 69  percent in 2011 and 57 percent in 2007. Public preaching is now restricted in 38 percent of countries, while almost half of countries have used force against religious groups or individuals.

Pew researchers drew on publicly available information sources including the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, the Council of the European Union and Amnesty International.

Some of the reported increases could be due to the use of better information sources, though the Pew Research Center said there is no evidence of a general information-based bias towards reporting higher restrictions.

The report does not include scores from North Korea because it is “effectively closed to outsiders.”

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