Archive of April 5, 2014

Brazil's bishops take responsibility for backing junta

Brasilia, Brazil, Apr 5, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Brazil's bishops' conference has issued a declaration acknowledging that some of its members supported the authoritarian military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1964 to 1985.

“For New Times, with Freedom and Democracy,” issued April 1, says some of the nation's bishops backed the junta with “the intention of combatting communism.”

The document, unprecedented among Latin American bishops' conferences, is a contribution of the Church in Brazil to the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the dictatorship's beginning.  

The Brazilian Armed Forces staged a coup March 31, 1964, overthrowing the left-wing president João Goulart, a member of the Brazilian Labour Party.

It was feared that Goulart would align Brazil with Fidel Castro's Cuba, and the military installed itself as a dictatorship. During its 21 years of rule, it restricted freedom of speech and the press, as well as political opposition. For it's anti-communist stance, it was also supported by the U.S.

The bishops called the period of the junta one of the “darkest periods of history” in Brazil: “throughout this period, student movements, laborers from rural areas and cities, intellectuals and religious groups fought arduously for democracy. Many were assassinated, tortured, exiled, or 'disappeared'.”

They recounted that “a spiral of violence, the limitation of the freedom of expression, the establishment of torture and censorship, the freeze of political rights” took place during those 21 years.

“In the name of a progress that was not carried out,” people were displaced from their homes, and killed.

Democracy and civilian rule returned to Brazil with the 1984 presidential elections, after which Jose Sarney assumed office.

“If it is true that, initially, part of the Church backed the movement that led to the so-called revolution to fight against communism,” the bishops' declaration stated, it is also true that “the Church did not neglect to denounce the repression as soon as it discovered that the means used by the new powerholders did not respect human dignity and human rights.”

Another statement, issued April 27 by the Church in Brazil as well as other Christian groups in the country, examined the current situation in Brazil, urging that public interest not be subjugated to “the private interests of businesses and organizations of economic power,” lamenting that there is a political culture which “is, in part, a legacy of the years of dictatorship.”

The bishops committed themselves to “a reform of the political system” and stated their support for popular democracy.

“We reaffirm our commitment to the deepening of a full democracy. The electoral process this year should be permeated by the central issues which guarantee the quality of democracy in our country.”

Elections for both president and the National Congress are schedule for October.

A source close to the Brazilian bishops' conference told CNA that Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis, Archbishop of Aparecida and president of the conference, is not willing to take strong political stances, and wants to keep neutral in view of the upcoming political elections.

The source maintained that the choice of issuing such a document “is driven by the need of balancing the bishops' conference, as well as the government.”

He underscored that “liberation theology remains strong among the members of the current administration,” and that some bishops and priests as well are “fascinated by it.”

“Taking responsibility for the wrongdoing of those in the Church who backed the dictatorship” also means “leaving the Church's left-wingers armless,” he explained.

“No more polemics can be made about the role of the Church in the military dictatorship – and so the bishops will be able to take the middle ground in view of the upcoming elections.”

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Holy Land bishops urge Christian-Muslim unity against extremism

Jerusalem, Israel, Apr 5, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Holy Land’s bishops have said that Christians and Muslims need to unite against extremism, stressing that people of all beliefs are at risk.

“Christians and Muslims need to stand together against the new forces of extremism and destruction,” the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land said in an April 2 statement posted on the website of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

“All Christians and many Muslims are threatened by these forces that seek to create a society devoid of Christians and where only very few Muslims will be at home,” the assembly continued. “All those who seek dignity, democracy, freedom and prosperity are under attack. We must stand together and speak out in truth and freedom.”

The assembly’s bishops urged the pursuit of “a society in which Muslims and Christians and Jews are equal citizens, living side by side,” in which “new generations can live and prosper.”

They downplayed notions that Islamic extremism threatens only Christians.

“There is no doubt that the recent upheavals in the Middle East, initially called the Arab Spring, have opened the way for extremist groups and forces that, in the name of a political interpretation of Islam, are wreaking havoc in many countries, particularly in Iraq, Egypt and Syria.”

“There is no doubt that many of these extremists consider Christians as infidels, as enemies, as agents of hostile foreign powers or simply as an easy target for extortion,” the assembly continued. “However, in the name of truth, we must point out that Christians are not the only victims of this violence and savagery.”

The statement noted that moderate Muslims and those labeled heretical, schismatic, or non-conformist are also being attacked and murdered.

While Christians are sometimes targeted “precisely because they are Christians,” they are victims “alongside many others who are suffering and dying in these times of death and destruction.”

“They are driven from their homes alongside many others and together they become refugees, in total destitution.”

However, the assembly warned against selective use of the charge of persecution. They criticized using the word “persecution” only to refer to Christians suffering “at the hands of criminals claiming to be Muslim.”

This habit “plays into the hands of extremists, at home and abroad, whose aim is to sow prejudice and hatred, setting peoples and religions against one another.”

The assembly attributed the uprisings to desires for “a new age of dignity, democracy, freedom and social justice.” Christians had lived under “dictatorial regimes” that provided “law and order” at the “terrible price of military and police repression.” Christian fear of extremism and chaos led them to defend these regimes.

“Instead, loyalty to their faith and concern for the good of their country, should perhaps have led them to speak out much earlier, telling the truth and calling for necessary reforms, in view of more justice and respect of human rights, standing alongside both many courageous Christians and Muslims who did speak out,” the bishops said.

The bishops noted that Christians and Muslims should be aware that the outside world will not protect them, as local and international powers “seek their own interests.”

“We, alone, can build a common future together. We have to adapt ourselves to realities, even realities of death, and must learn together how to emerge from persecution and destruction into a new dignified life in our own countries.”

The bishops voiced their prayers both for their allies and for those “who are harming us now or even killing us.”

“We pray that God may allow them to see the goodness he has put in the heart of each one,” they said. “May God transform every human being from the depth of his or her heart, enabling them to love every human being as God does, He who is the Creator and Lover of all.”

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Pope Francis prays for kidnapped priests, nun

Vatican City, Apr 5, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis is remembering in his prayers two Italian priests and a Canadian religious sister who were kidnapped in Cameroon Friday night.

Vatican Radio reports that Pope Francis “hopes for a rapid and positive solution to the affair.” He “remains in constant contact with the nunciature.”

The two priests and religious sister were kidnapped by armed persons around midnight on April 4. The identity of the kidnappers is unknown at this time, although the Islamic militia Boko Haram has been known to operate in the area, Reuters reports.

Fathers Giampaolo Marta and Gianantonio Allegri are priests of northeastern Italy’s Diocese of Vicenza. They work as missionaries in the Diocese of Maroua in the north of Cameroon, along with Sister Gilberte Bissiere. They were helping improve water supplies and combat the spread of HIV / AIDS.

During Lent, the priests’ religious activities included the preparation of catechumens and children for baptism during the Easter vigil.

In a March 12 letter posted on the Vicenza diocese’s missions website, Fr. Allegri described the political situation. He wrote “the situation of insecurity in the territory has not changed: even if outwardly here one does not perceive (it to be) particularly alarming, it is palpable in our feelings and in our conversations.”

“We know that on the border with Nigeria, the police and the military are committed to ensuring that there are no leaks,” his letter continued, adding that the regional governor has asked that Europeans moving in groups should have a police escort.

“However, rest assured, we are calm and confident in the Father whom we preach, merciful and great in love,” the priest said.

According to a statement from the Diocese of Vicenza, “the situation is a source of great concern for the whole diocesan community.” At the recommendation of the ministry of foreign affairs, the diocese said, it is not issuing specific statements “in order to avoid complicating an already extremely delicate situation.”

Vicenza’s Bishop Beniamino Pizziol had visited the missionaries in Cameroon in January. He said he will hold a prayer vigil for them Saturday evening.

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Work on others’ behalf, Pope tells politicians

Vatican City, Apr 5, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis met with a group of Italian mayors and other political leaders Saturday morning, encouraging them to live among the people and to act on behalf of everyone’s wellbeing.

“The mayor, in the midst of people. One doesn’t understand a mayor who would not be there, because he is a mediator, a mediator in the midst of the needs of the people,” Pope Francis said to the president and 120 members of the National Association of Italian Municipalities on April 5.

He said it is “dangerous” when a mayor is not a mediator but rather an “intermediary” who acts as a “broker” and “takes advantage” of people’s needs. He praised the leader who is a mediator and “pays with his life for the unity of his people, for the wellbeing of his people, in order to bring forward diverse solutions to the needs of his people.”

The Holy Father noted that this is not an easy task.

Often “the poor mayor ends up dejected by so many things” when “at the end of a day he comes home with so many things that have not been resolved.”

Yet, said the Pope, this work is their “spirituality.”

After dedicating so much effort at work, “a mayor, this man, or this woman, ends up tired, with the desire to rest a little, but with a heart full of love because he or she has been a mediator.”

“And I congratulate you in this,” encouraged the pontiff, “that you are mediators. In the midst of the people, to make unity, to make peace, to resolve problems and to solve the needs of the people.”

Pope Francis went on to suggest that the politicians “think of Jesus” who found himself in a crowd “almost to the point--says the gospel--where he couldn’t breathe.”

“The mayor must be like this,” stressed the Pope, “with his people, with that man, with that woman, because this means that the people, as with Jesus, look for him because he knows to respond.”

“I wish you this,” continued the Holy Father, “tiredness, in the midst of your people, and that the people look for you because they know you always respond well.”

The National Association of Italian Municipalities was established in 1901. According to the group’s website, its main goals involve responsibility for the communities administered, unity and solidarity of communities and institutions, and autonomy from governments and political parties.

It represents the municipalities’ interests and lobbies parliament, the government, regions, Italy’s public administration and E.U. bodies on their behalf.

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