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Dates confirmed for Pope Francis' trip to Sri Lanka, Philippines

(Vatican Radio)  The Holy See Press Office issued a comunique Tuesday confirming the dates of the Apostolic Trip of the Holy Father in Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

Accepting the invitation from the civil authorities and the Episcopate, His Holiness Francis will make an Apostolic Trip to Sri Lanka from 12 to 15 January and in the Philippines from 15 to 19 January 2015. The program for the trip will be published shortly.

(From archive of Vatican Radio)

Fifty thousand ministrants in pilgrimage to Rome

Vatican City, 29 July 2014 (VIS) – From 4 to 8 August, more than fifty thousand ministrants from Germany, Austria and Switzerland will make a pilgrimage to Rome, a trip organised every August by German dioceses. This event is intended to strengthen the spiritual potential of an group that is important to German pastoral ministry, consisting of more than 430,00 children, adolescents and young adults who carry out altar service.

The week's program includes diocesan religious functions, guided tours on themes related to history, culture and spirituality, and cultural and religious excursions including a trip to Assisi. However, the key moment of the pilgrimage, eagerly awaited by all the participants, will be the audience with Pope Francis, who will receive them in the Vatican on Tuesday, 5 August.

2013 saw largest crackdown on religions in recent memory

(Vatican Radio) The annual International Religious Freedom Report has been released in the US, chronicling 2013 as one of the worst years for religious freedom.

The report mandated by the US Congress details where and when the universal right to religious freedom was neglected and protected, upheld and abused. In its introduction it states that in 2013, “the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory”.

In Syria, as in much of the Middle East, “the Christian presence is becoming a shadow of its former self. After three years of civil war, hundreds of thousands fled the country desperate to escape the ongoing violence perpetrated by the government and extremist groups alike. In the city of Homs the number of Christians dwindled to as few as 1,000 from approximately 160,000 prior to the conflict”.

Elsewhere, in the Central African Republic, “widespread lawlessness and an upsurge in sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims reportedly resulted in at least 700 deaths in Bangui in December alone and the displacement of more than one million people throughout the country during the year”.

Anti-Muslim violence in “Meikhtila, Burma, led to up to 100 deaths and an estimated 12,000 displaced residents from the area in early 2013. This event showed that mob violence against Muslims was no longer confined to western Rakhine State, where over 140,000 persons have also been displaced since 2012”.

Militants in Pakistan “killed more than 400 Shia Muslims in sectarian attacks throughout the year and more than 80 Christians in a single church bombing; the government arrested and jailed a number of those responsible for sectarian attacks, but it generally failed to prevent attacks”.

Both Shia Muslims and Christians “faced violent and deadly attacks in Egypt, and Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia continued to face discrimination and prejudice, as were others who did not adhere to the government’s interpretation of Islam. In Iran, officials threatened, detained and harassed members of almost all non-Shia religious groups”.

Hindus and other ethnic and religious minorities in Bangladesh faced increased harassment and physical attacks amidst political turmoil while in Sri Lanka violent Buddhist nationalist groups destroyed mosques and churches while security forces simply stood by.

China prosecuted family members of self-immolators, imprisoned and tortured Falun Gong practitioners, continued its harassment of members of house churches and unregistered Catholic bishops and priests, and sought the forcible return of ethnic Uighurs who were seeking asylum overseas.

Throughout Europe, “the historical stain of anti-Semitism continued to be a fact of life on Internet fora, in soccer stadiums, and through Nazi-like salutes, leading many individuals who are Jewish to conceal their religious identity”.

And yet, amidst the darkness of religious strife lay inspiring and unheralded acts of interfaith solidarity. “Following the deadly Peshawar church bombing in Pakistan resilient Muslim community members formed human chains around churches during services in a show of solidarity and to stand up against senseless violence. In Egypt, Muslim men stood in front of a Catholic church to protect the congregation from attacks”.

“And after an increase of mosque attacks in the United Kingdom, a local orthodox Jewish neighborhood watch team began assisting Muslim leaders to ensure safe access to mosques and alert them to possible attacks”.


The full report is available here.

(From archive of Vatican Radio)

Pope’s August prayers to focus on refugees fleeing violence.

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis’ universal prayer intention for the month of August was released on Tuesday and focuses on “refugees, forced by violence to abandon their homes” that they may “find a generous welcome and the protection of their rights”.

Ahead of the papal appeal the French government announced that it is ready to help facilitate asylum in its territory for Christians and other minorities fleeing an Islamist onslaught in Northern Iraq.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in a joint statement on Monday that they are taking steps to ease the suffering of Christians now fleeing northern Iraq en masse.

Support growing in France for the religious minority being run out of their homeland in northern Iraq by ISIS jihadists, with thousands taking part in demonstrations of support this weekend in various cities across France.

Meanwhile a French Church delegation led by Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon, has travelled to Iraq in a sign of solidarity with the Christian community there. The group includes Bishop Michel Dubost, of Evry-Corbeil-Essonnes , who told Vatican Radio there is some concern that the situation in Gaza is overshadowing the plight of  Eastern Christians and what is happening to them:

“The images on our television speak clearly: what we see is Gaza. But we have no images of what is happening in Syria and Iraq. Yet the Christians here are really suffering! There is little or no mention of this so we are trying our best to bring this suffering to public attention”.

Bishop Dubost also denounces the  failure of the international community to intervene to find a solution.  He says the US led invasion of 2003 opened a “Pandora's box, which has done more harm than good” and warns that the so-called "Caliphate" appears to be very well financed with an alarming access to resources and media.  This, he adds, should be of global concern.

The French bishop says that their mission is to first of all a show of solidarity for the Iraqi people.  The French delegation wants to meet the people who are suffering, tell them face to face that they are spiritually present beside them and hear their stories.

“Sure, it's a small consolation”, he concludes “but when someone is suffering it is important to listen to them and be close. We ask the Lord to change hearts. There are no other solutions! We go to Iraq as poor people, but the poor can change the world!”

(From archive of Vatican Radio)

Pope apologizes for the Catholic persecution of Pentecostals

(Boston Globe) Pope Francis traveled today to the southern Italian city of Caserta to meet some old Protestant friends and to pray with them, a trip that culminated with an apology from the pope for persecution of Christianity’s burgeoning Pentecostal […]

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Catholic officer sues Scotland Yard for ‘religious discrimination’ claiming he was ‘bullied’ by his Protestant boss

(Daily Mail UK) A Belfast-born detective is suing Scotland Yard, claiming he was the victim of ‘sectarian’ discrimination by a senior Irish colleague. Detective Inspector Paul Armstrong, a Roman Catholic, alleges his boss Detective Chief Inspector Mark Roycroft, an Ulster […]

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For some Mideast Catholics, church is anchor of hope amid violence

(CNS) — As the death toll in Gaza surpasses 1,000, violent demonstrations in the West Bank leave dead and wounded, and an entire Christian community is exiled from the Iraqi city of Mosul by Islamic extremists, Christians in the Holy […]

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Changes in synod process designed to increase discussion

(The Catholic Leader) The extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family will be shorter than a usual synod and will include new rules aimed at helping the bishops really grapple with the issues together, the general secretary of the synod […]

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Pope heads to Vatican cafeteria for Friday fish menu

(The Catholic Leader) Taking the chef completely by surprise, Pope Francis unexpectedly showed up to eat with the Vatican’s blue-collar workers at their cafeteria in the tiny city-state’s “industrial park”. “He showed up, got his tray, silverware, he stood in […]

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City Officials Undecided Where Pope Francis Would Appear If He Visits Philadelphia

(CBS) – Archbishop Charles Chaput last week fueled speculation that the Pope will visit Philadelphia for the September 2015 World Meeting of Families. As of Monday morning —  there’s still no confirmation from the Vatican, but if the pontiff does […]

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