Fides News - English Agency NewsenContent on this site is licensed under aASIA/CHINA - The Island of Saint Francis Xavier: the first shrine for Chinese Catholics Marta Zhao<br />Shangchuan - The life of the great Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier is a faithful reflection of the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John: " Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit" .<br /><br />At the age of 46, Francis Xavier - whose feast day is commemorated in the church today - dies of pneumonia in a leaf hut on the island of Shangchuan off Guandong, the coastal province of the China he wanted to reach. All he has with him is a crucifix and a Chinese man who has recently converted to Christianity and who should have accompanied him on his new adventure as an interpreter. It looks like a failure. It is the image of the "Twilight of the Jesuit" that José Maria Péman tells in his play "The Impatient Divine", which Pope Francis also recalls several times. Nevertheless, Francis Xavier is celebrated today as the patron saint of missions and revered as a great missionary.<br />After 471 years, this excellent "grain of wheat" still bears abundant fruit, even spreading to Shangchuan Island, where he died at dawn on December 3, 1552.<br />For Francis Xavier, China was not a forbidden "dream" or an unfulfilled missionary ambition. This is evidenced by the hundreds of missionaries who, after him, brought the Gospel to China and followed in the footsteps of his apostolic work. The island of Shangchuan itself, where his earthly life ended, also tells the story in its own way. From this place, the southern gateway to China and also an outpost of the Silk Road, it can be said that Francis Xavier continues to watch over the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ in China.<br />On Shangchuan Island there is an entire park surrounding the cemetery dedicated to the holy Jesuit missionary, a place that has been called China's first shrine, an important place for the faith of many Chinese Catholics and pilgrims of other countries, visited by catechumens of all ages. A place marked by a chapel, a large statue of St. Francis Xavier, a cross and a fountain, where many come to find refreshment and new strength for their Christian journey.<br />Thanks to St. Francis Xavier, Shangchuan Island is now a popular pilgrimage site for many Christians from all over the world. Civil authorities also contribute to maintaining this place of worship and spirituality.<br />As early as August 1986, the authorities of Taishan County, which also governs Shangchuan Island, allocated funds which, together with donations from Chinese Catholics from all over the world, financed the restoration of the cemetery to its original appearance, a place of prayer and reflection whose history dates back to 1700. The remains of Saint Francis Xavier have been resting in the Basilica of the Good Jesus in Goa since 1553. However, in the cemetery of Shangchuan Island there is a symbolic mausoleum of the saint and a plaque dedicated to him,<br />dating back to 1639, the period of the Qing Dynasty, on which is engraved in Chinese and Portuguese: "This is the eternal resting place of Saint Francis Xavier, the Jesuit preacher of the Orient". Groups of Catholics in China and abroad have contributed to the preservation and restoration of the site, a work in which the Canossian nuns of Hong Kong have distinguished themselves. The steps leading to the main entrance of the cemetery on the hill were built, and the road of the "Via Crucis" that goes up from the hill to the monument. Furthermore, a pagoda, a statue of the Saint and a stone cross were built along the road.<br />In 2006, former students and friends of the Hong Kong Jesuits' Wah Yan College donated to the restoration of the cemetery to mark the 500th anniversary of the birth of Saint Francis Xavier. In September 2011, the Taishan Municipality recognized the saint's tomb as a municipality site and heritage site. In December 2015, the Guangdong provincial government also recognized the site as a provincial heritage site.<br />According to the Chinese government, the Francis Xavier Cemetery provides important evidence for studying the impact of the Maritime Silk Road on Chinese culture and religion.<br />Chinese and foreign pilgrims come from all over the world to pray on Shangchuan Island. A cross erected on the seashore welcomes the people; A few steps up the stone steps is the chapel dedicated to St. Francis Xavier, where it is remembered that the saint traveled thousands of kilometers by sea to proclaim the Gospel of Christ everywhere.<br />A stone staircase on the back of the hill, flanked by images of the Stations of the Cross, leads to the summit where the large statue of Franz Xavier stands. The pine trees surrounding the statue are curved. Local belief is that the pines miraculously bent out of reverence for the saint. Even more surprising is the well from where the saint drew the water he needed for his daily life. The well is located near the sea, and according to the islanders, it is completely flooded during high tide. But when the tide goes out, the water comes back clear and sweet, without a grain of sand, so it is safe to drink.<br />In these places, many pilgrims gain strength for their journey; they feel compelled to persevere by walking in the footsteps of St. Francis Xavier.<br />“The great missionary Francis Xavier,” Pope Francis recalled in the interview book “Senza di Lui non possiamo far nulla” , “dies like this, looking at China, where he wanted to go and was unable to enter. He dies like that, with nothing, alone before the Lord. He dies there, he is buried, and it is like burying a seed." This fate, the Pope added, befell all missionaries who were buried in the countries of their mission: "By dying in these places , they were planted like seeds in this land." True missionaries of all kinds, added the Successor of Peter, "are not just 'emissaries.' They are not mediators. You go on mission following Jesus, with Jesus, together with Jesus. You go with him. And when they are great missionaries, you understand that he is the one who brings them". <br />Sun, 03 Dec 2023 17:57:06 +0100ASIA/ARAB EMIRATES - Safeguarding the Earth, protecting Peace. Pope Francis' speech at COP28 Gianni Valente<br /><br />Dubai - "Sadly, I am unable to be present with you, as I had greatly desired. Even so, I am with you, because time is short. I am with you because now more than ever, the future of us all depends on the present that we now choose".<br /><br />This is how the speech sent by Pope Francis to COP 28, the global summit on climate change which is being held under the aegis of the UN from November 30 to December 12 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, begins. <br /><br />Pope Francis was supposed to personally take part in COP 28. But the trip of the Sovereign Pontiff was canceled on the advice of doctors due to his state of health. The Pontiff's speech was nevertheless read today, Saturday December 2, during the work of the Conference by His Holiness' Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, before the Secretary General of the UN, Antonio Guterres, and the audience of more than 200 Heads of State, Government Representatives and international experts gathered in the hall of Expo City in Dubai.<br /><br />The destruction of the environment and the “illusion of omnipotence ”<br /><br />The "destruction of the environment" Pope Francis underlines in the first lines of the speech read by Cardinal Parolin "is an offense against God, a sin that is not only personal but also structural, one that greatly endangers all human beings, especially the most vulnerable", and now also threatens "to unleash a conflict between generations".<br /><br />"It has now become clear", repeats Pope Francis, far from theses aiming to relativize the impact of activities linked to economic development on the fate of the Earth "that the climate change presently taking place stems from the overheating of the planet, caused chiefly by the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to human activity, which in recent decades has proved unsustainable for the eco system". The Bishop of Rome calls into question "the desire to produce and possess which has become an obsession", into an "inordinate greed", that has made the environment the object of unbridled exploitation. The climate, run amok, is crying out to us to halt this "illusion of omnipotence" and recognize "our limits". A recognition hampered and suppressed by the pressure of those who let their narrow interests of lobbying or national power prevail over the common good global. <br /><br />Pope Francis directly refers to the manipulation operations carried out by lobbies and powers to pursue their perverse choices to the detriment of the environment, including those who today try to justify themselves by calling into question "what others did in the past. The changes to be implemented, the Pope specifies, do not concern the past, but about tomorrow: a tomorrow that, whether we like it or not, will belong to everyone or else to no one".<br /><br />A taboo to be dispelled on the poor and births<br /><br />In his speech, delivered in Dubai by Cardinal Parolin, Pope Francis also forcefully rejected attempts to blame the poor or the number of births for the environmental crisis. "These are falsities that must be firmly dispelled", given that "almost half of our world that is more needy is responsible for scarcely 10% of toxic emissions". "The poor", continued the Bishop of Rome, "are the real victims of what is happening: we need think only of the plight of indigenous peoples, deforestation, the tragedies of hunger, water and food insecurity, and forced migration. Births are not a problem, but a resource", while the insidious thing to be monitored is rather represented by "certain ideological and utilitarian models" which "are being imposed with a velvet glove on families and peoples" as real forms of colonization".<br /><br />Relaunching multilateralism<br /><br />"The path to take" adds the Pontiff, "is not to penalize the development of many countries already burdened by grave economic debt but to consider the footprint of a few nations responsible for a deeply troubling "ecological debt" towards many others. From this perspective, it is appropriate to seek appropriate means to erase the economic debt that weighs on different peoples, taking into account precisely the "ecological debt" accumulated by others towards them. <br /><br />Pope Francis insists that the path forward to confront the serious environmental emergency that puts everyone at risk can only be a shared path. The Pontiff refers several times to multilateralism, the only method for addressing common problems in a multipolar and complex world, and it is "disturbing" that global warming has been accompanied by a "general cooling of multilateralism", and a growing lack of trust within the international community.<br /><br />Safeguarding the Earth, preserving peace<br /><br />"The care of Creation", Pope Francis underlined in one of the most intense passages of the speech delivered on his behalf in Dubai by Cardinal Parolin - "is linked to the protection of peace". These are the most urgent issues and they are closely linked. In the wars that bloody the world, including those taking place in Ukraine and the Holy Land, immense resources are wasted on weapons and instruments of death which "destroy lives and devastates our common home" while they would also be valuable in combating the environmental emergency. In his speech, Pope Francis relaunches the proposal, already outlined in the Encyclical "Fratelli Tutti" - to use the money intended for weapons and other military expenditures to create a Global Fund to fight hunger.<br /><br />The useless agitation of the "fans"<br /><br />The Pontiff recalls the urgency of a "political change", to lay the foundations of a "new multilateralism" and to move away from particularisms and nationalisms which "are models of the past". In this regard, the Pontiff assures the commitment and contribution of the Catholic Church, also in the field of education and the "promotion of lifestyles" adapted to the protection of the "common home". The Pope, citing the Encyclical Laudato Si' and the recent Apostolic Exhortation Laudate Deum, also recalls the urgency of moving away from abstract declarations of principle and implementing concrete choices, recalling that various agreements and commitments made so far in international forums such as the one currently underway in Dubai "have been poorly implemented, due to the lack of suitable mechanisms for oversight, periodic review and penalties in cases of non-compliance" .<br /><br />Operational choices - the Pope hoped in his speech delivered in Dubai by Cardinal Parolin - must be achieved in four sectors: energy efficiency; renewable sources; the elimination of fossil fuels; and education in lifestyles that are less dependent on the latter. While for the Sovereign Pontiff, the media wars between "fans bases" where "prophets of doom and indifferent bystanders, radical environmentalists and climate change deniers" confront each other seem totally sterile, since theatrical oppositions do not lead to any solution.<br /><br />Praying with Saint Francis<br /><br />The Pontiff's speech at COP 28 concludes with an appeal to ensure that 2024 marks a turning point, and introduces as a sign of good omen a suggestive reference to an episode in the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, which occured in 1224. "In that year - recalls the Pope who bears his name - Francis of Assisi composed his “Canticle of the Creatures”. By then Francis was completely blind, and after a night of physical suffering, his spirits were elevated by a mystical experience. He then turned to praise the Most High for all those creatures that he could no longer see, but knew that they were his brothers and sisters, since they came forth from the same Father and were shared with other men and women". Shortly thereafter, Francis added a stanza in which he praised God for those who forgive; he did this in order to settle – successfully – an unbecoming conflict between the civil authorities and the local bishop. I too, who bear the name Francis", concludes the Bishop of Rome "with the heartfelt urgency of a prayer, want to leave you with this message: Let us leave behind our divisions and unite our forces! And with God’s help, let us emerge from the dark night of wars and environmental devastation in order to turn our common future into the dawn of a new and radiant day". <br />Sat, 02 Dec 2023 17:31:53 +0100ASIA/SOUTH KOREA - Illustrated calendar with the Pope's prayer intentions accompanies Korean Catholics through 2024 - The Pope's prayer intentions and spiritual communion of the Korean faithful with Pope Francis inspire an artistic calendar for the year 2024 to be published and disseminated in Korean "to strengthen the bonds of faith". The calendar was also created thanks to the work of the Korean section of Vatican News, which is desired and financially supported by the Church in Korea.<br />With the aim of deepening the bond between the Holy See and the Korean Catholic community, the Department of Communications of the Archdiocese of Seoul has published the calendar of the Pope's monthly prayer intentions for the year 2024 and published it in a visually appealing form and to provide an appropriate visual representation of the Pope's prayer intentions affecting the universal Church. <br />The calendar is the result of a collaboration that began in 2017 on the basis of a "Memorandum of Understanding" between the Archdiocese of Seoul and the Dicastery for Communication of the Holy See. The aim of the creation of the Korean section of the news portal Vatican News was to receive messages from the Holy Father to all Korean Catholics in Korea and around the world, while offering a model for the evangelization of other local churches, particularly in Asia. Today, Father Matthew Kwang-hee Choi, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Seoul, says: "The Korean Division of Vatican News is an important step given the urgent need for evangelization and communication."<br />Published for the second time, the calendar is "the result of a collaboration that is always based on common faith and the desire for evangelization and aims to strengthen the connection between the Holy See and Korean Catholics," said Choi.<br />The first edition of the calendar in 2023 commemorated the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and South Korea, an event also marked by the recent visit of the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, to Korea.<br />The Korean artist and illustrator Ye-hee Suh, winner of the "Catholic Young Artist Contest 2022", winner of the "Catholic Young Artist Contest 2022", who hosted an exhibition at the ‘1898 Gallery’ of the Archdiocese of Seoul was involved in the design of the calendar for the year 2024, which will accompany the Korean faithful month after month in the coming year as they pray for the intentions of Pope Francis. <br />"Suh's creative skill brings a unique blend of spirituality and aesthetics to the calendar, capturing the essence of the Pope's intentions in a visually captivating way," said a statement from the Archdiocese of Seoul.<br />The artist who created the illustrations said: "It was not easy to represent the Pope's prayer intentions in a single image; I thank God for blessing me and giving me the inspiration and time to think about the year's prayers in advance. I hope that my illustrations can help many people to pray with the Pope. I hope that this calendar will enable young people like me to pray in their daily lives and that many people will find comfort in common prayer", also through the universal language of art. <br />Sat, 02 Dec 2023 11:09:54 +0100AMERICA/GUYANA- Contested region of Guyana Esequiba: Tensions between Venezuela and Guyana - The relationship between Guyana and Venezuela is tense since today, December 1st, the decision of the International Court of Justice on Guyana's request for interim measures to stop the referendum organized by Caracas for next Sunday, 3 December, on the annexation of Guayana Esequiba, which is part of neighboring Guyana, is expected. <br />The Guayana Esequiba region, which Venezuela claims from Guyana, was the subject of US intervention in 1895 to prevent British efforts in the area. Guyana Esequiba is an area of approximately 159,500 km2 west of the Essequibo River, currently administered and controlled by Guyana, but claimed by Venezuela as part of its territory. The dispute dates back to colonial times, when Spain and the Netherlands fought for control of the area. In 1814, the Netherlands ceded its colonies of Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice to Great Britain, which later united them to form British Guyana. Venezuela inherited Spanish claims to the region after its independence in 1811, but Britain extended its control further west of the Essequibo River in the 19th century. In 1895, Venezuela asked the United States for help in resolving its border dispute with Great Britain, citing the Monroe Doctrine, which called for an end to all colonization efforts in the Western Hemisphere. The United States intervened and forced Britain to agree to international arbitration over the entire disputed territory. The arbitration tribunal convened in Paris in 1898 awarded most of the territory to British Guiana in 1899. However, Venezuela later declared the award invalid, accusing the tribunal of being biased and corrupted by British influence. The dispute remained unresolved even after Guyana gained independence from Britain in 1966. Since then, Venezuela has maintained its claims to Guyana Esequiba, occasionally resorting to military and diplomatic pressure to assert its sovereignty over the region. Venezuela has also rejected the ICJ's jurisdiction to resolve the dispute, instead proposing bilateral negotiations with Guyana. The region is rich in natural resources such as oil, gas, gold, diamonds and timber, which have attracted interest from both countries and foreign companies. In recent years, Guyana has granted exploration and production licenses for offshore oil and gas reserves in the disputed waters to several multinational companies such as ExxonMobil. Venezuela has protested these activities and accused Guyana of violating its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Both Venezuela and Brazil reported military movements on Guyana's borders, the latter as a preventative measure. Brazil has so far tried unsuccessfully to mediate between the two countries. <br />Fri, 01 Dec 2023 13:11:25 +0100ASIA/KAZAKHSTAN - A Light Shining from Astana: How Kazakhstan Turned Tragedy into Positivity Victor Gaetan <br /><br />The Republic of Kazakhstan, five times bigger than France, established diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1992. It turned the catastrophe of 1.5 million victims of nuclear experiments into an active campaign against nuclear weapons in international forums, side by side with the Holy See <br /><br />Astana - Even in places where the Catholic population is very small, such as Kazakhstan, the Holy See’s positive influence is palpable. <br /><br />“Good relations with the Vatican are important to us because the Vatican is a force for good and Kazakhstan wants to be a force for good, globally,” Deputy Foreign Minister Roman Vassilenko told me, in Astana, the country’s capital. “We promote similar ideals, and are engaged in similar efforts to build peace, understanding, and dialogue.”<br /><br />Vassilenko and I met last month at the twentieth anniversary of the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, which convenes every three years, bringing hundreds of religious leaders to the Republic of Kazakhstan, a country that celebrates its 34th birthday on December 16. Pope Francis attended the congress in September 2022. <br /><br />“The message Pope Francis brought was extremely constructive,” Vassilenko observed, adding that his government also endorses the statement on human fraternity “that the pope and Muslim leaders adopted jointly” in 2019. <br /><br />The purpose of Kazakhstan’s ecumenical spiritual forum is threefold: 1) Enhance the ability of religious leaders to strengthen global peace, stability, and security; 2) Contribute to mutual understanding between Eastern and Western civilizations; and 3) Prevent the destructive power of religious competition. As Astana’s Archbishop Tomasz Peta explained: “It can be a sign that points to God as the source of peace.” This year, organizers met to plan ahead: reviewing a document anticipating that religious leaders will need to collaborate more intensely over the next decade.<br /><br />How did such a new nation wind up hosting this ambitious global event? As Pope John Paul II highlighted, for one thing, it’s a function of a long history: “This spirit of openness and cooperation is part of your tradition, for Kazakhstan has always been a land where different traditions and cultures come together and coexist.” <br /><br />As well, Kazakhstan has, very constructively, assimilated tragic history and a challenging climate to redefine itself as a tolerant, multi-ethnic, multi-confessional society. The Congress is a manifestation of this identity—particularly valuable considering the strategic location of Kazakhstan, straddling Europe and Asia, bordering China, Russia, and the rest of Central Asia.<br /><br />Deputy Minister Vassilenko confirmed that Kazakhstan is an “ethnically diverse society” based on a unique history of displacement: “We have Roman Catholic churches even in very far-flung places such as Lake Ozernoye in the north where ethnic Poles were exiled in the Soviet times and they survived thanks to Kazakh hospitality.”<br /><br />Built on Pain: Mass Ethnic Deportation <br />Hundreds of thousands of people, suspected by Soviet authorities of not supporting the Stalinist program, were deported from their homes to the cruel Kazak steppe in the late 1920s through early 1950s. <br /><br />In 1936, over 35,000 Polish people living on the Ukrainian border and 20,000 Finnish peasants were locked into train convoys and sent to Kazak work camps. In 1937-38, over 175,000 Koreans from the Soviet Far East were shipped to Kazakhstan. Since local officials were given no warning, many of these poor uprooted souls died of starvation, disease, and homelessness.<br /><br />After Soviet troops occupied Poland in September 1939, they rounded up some 60,000 Poles, Ukrainians, and Belarussians for the cruel Kazakh steppe—where temperatures in the north can drop to -40C in winter—a journey by train that took up to one month. <br /><br />When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the Stalinists turned on Germans who had settled around the Volga River, invited by Catherine the Great. Of the 850,000 Volga Germans deported further east, over 400,000 were resettled in Kazakhstan. In 1944, it was the Chechens’ turn to suffer this harsh practice of mass relocation based on ethnicity: 478,000 Chechen-Ingush people were forcibly relocated to the largest Central Asian Republic.<br /><br />This practice slowed with the death of Stalin in 1953. By then, gulag camps were spread across Kazakhstan, including one reserved for women whose husbands or fathers has been arrested as traitors. Another, KarLag, was one of the Soviet Union’s largest labor camps. It gave rise to Karaganda, the country’s fifth largest city. <br /><br />Much of Kazakhstan’s economic wealth was originally built by these prisoner workers, whose descendants populated the country and contributed to its multi-ethnic character.<br /><br />Catholic Perspective<br />The idea that persecution created a society celebrating diversity and dialogue today seems almost too good to be true. I sought out a talented Rome-based video producer, Aleksey Gotovskiy, age 33, born and raised in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, to hear his perspective on the evolution of his home country. <br /><br />Gotovskiy confirmed, “The common past reinforced the idea of a multi-cultural society because in the gulags, people were not Catholics or Orthodox or Polish or Germans. They were people who had to survive, and it was done through cooperation and helping each other. So I think from this time of Communism when everyone suffered together, then helped each other, it was a natural step for the new Kazakstan to embrace this idea.”<br /><br />He sees two other factors as crucial for understanding how the Soviet experience forged great unity from diversity: The physical tasks facing people and the harsh climate in which they were planted.<br /><br />“These were not death camps as in Germany; They were not sent there to die. People were sent to create new cities and industry. My city was built by people sent to the camps—by Japanese, Koreans, Germans, and many other nations,” explained Gotovskiy. <br /> <br />He continued, “What was most challenging was the very harsh environment, the climate. For people to survive, they had to cooperate, which they did, with help from the Kazakhs.” <br /><br />Gotovskiy was educated in the post-Communist period when values such as tolerance and respect for religious diversity were actively taught at school. He was an altar boy and remembers being excused from class when he had had a feast day celebration, for example. Literature class included Bible study. On the classroom wall where Russian history was taught, an icon hung. <br /><br />Kazakhstan’s main religious traditions are Islam and Orthodox Christianity . Catholics comprise, at most, one percent of the 19 million population. I asked Aleksey, how did relationships play out between Muslims and Christians?<br /><br />His answer was fascinating: “Belief in God unites people in Kazakhstan. I grew up with this belief that there is only one God. We don’t really go into specifics, but Kazakh people don’t think I am a heretic—on the contrary. The Muslim attitude is more like, ‘If there is only one God, that’s our God too.’ So, my neighbors would say to me, ‘Would you pray for this or that at Church?’ and they were Muslims. They believe in one God. So, if he exists, he exists for all of us. Only one God. I talk to him, Muslims talk to him, our one God.” <br /><br />Nuclear Disarmament <br />A regular theme explored by the Religious Leaders Congress is nuclear disarmament, described in one Congress document as “the importance of collective actions of societies and States to build a world without nuclear weapons.” <br /><br />Again, Kazakhstan’s history helps explain its strong public stand against nuclear arms.<br /><br />The Soviet military used Kazakhstan as its main test site for nuclear weapons. Between 1949-89, over 500 nuclear experiments were conducted above and below ground, mainly in the northeast town of Semipalatinsk, renamed Semey. Some 1.5 million of citizens were exposed to negative impacts of radiation exposure including high rates of birth defects and cancer. The country had the fourth largest stockpile of nuclear arms when it declared independence; four years later, it had none because the new government closed the site and worked with Western experts to dismantle the lethal weapons. <br />Pope France explained, “Kazakhstan has made very positive choices, such as saying ‘no’ to nuclear weapons and making good energy and environmental policies. This was courageous. At a time when this tragic war brings us to the point where some people are thinking of nuclear weapons — that madness — this country says ‘no’ to nuclear weapons from the very beginning.”<br />Kazakhstan continues to be an international leader for disarmament and worked hard to gain approval for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons alongside the Holy See. The TPNW went into effect in 2017—without the support of major nuclear powers including the United States, Russia, and Israel. A meeting of signatories is occurring this week at the United Nations. <br /><br />Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:22:49 +0100AFRICA - Similarities and differences: analysis of the 3 coups in the Sahel - In the last 2-3 years, military coups in the Sahel present similarities and differences compared to those that occurred in the 70s-80s. This was stated by the bishops of the Permanent Committee of the Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar , meeting in Lagos, Nigeria, on the occasion of the golden jubilee celebrations of the Pan-African Episcopal Committee for Social Communications . <br />The African bishops declare: "We are against coups d'état, a position consistent with the teaching of the Church, which firmly rejects the seizure of power by force. The Church defends democracy". In their final statement, the members of SECAM analyze the situation, considering that the current coups "contrast with the coups of the 70s and 80s, whose main objective was the acquisition and prolonged maintenance of power." “The recent coups are characterized by a somewhat messianic intention, supposedly aimed at freeing the population from injustice and ending the monopoly of national wealth by established political dynasties and their international allies,” they point out, adding that "the general population has shown its support for the coup plotters, considering these actions as an expression of deep frustration and anger at long-standing injustices.” Rahmane Idrissa, a researcher at the University of Leiden, agrees with this thesis. However, he draws a comparison between the current situation and the coups d'état that took place in the late 1990s and early 2000s, characterized by a period of transition and a rapid return to democracy. In an interview with Fides, the researcher outlines an overview of the military coups that have taken place in the three countries of the Sahel . <br /><br />What are the similarities and what are the differences between the 3 coups in the Sahel? <br /><br />There are several similarities because the 3 countries face the same problems, in particular the war of terrorist groups in the Sahel. Therefore, I believe that if this war had not taken place, these coups would not have occurred. At the same time, the three coups d'état are different in terms of the circumstances in which they occurred. Especially in Mali and, to a lesser extent, in Burkina Faso, the coups occurred after a long series of popular protests against the established power. In Niger, on the other hand, there were no popular protests at the time of the Putsch. In fact, it was a very quiet period. Furthermore, the coups in Mali and Burkina Faso were carried out by young officers, while in Niger they were carried out by quite mature senior officers. The coup d'état in Mali has created a model in which the military promises to return power to a civilian government, but then fails to do so, postponing the date of the transfer of power between the military and civilians. In this sense, the military of Burkina Faso is imitating those of Mali and I believe that those of Niger will do the same. In conclusion, these three coups are different from those of the recent past, which were followed by a period of transition and a rapid return to civilian rule. <br /><br />But will the coup plotters be able to defeat the terrorists and regain control of the territory? <br /><br />No, because the security crisis is very complex and complicated. A purely military solution alone is insufficient to solve it. A political and economic solution is needed. The military, given their profession, think mainly in terms of military solution. In my opinion, they are not qualified to resolve the issue, in fact I fear that they will aggravate it. <br /><br />Do you foresee other coups like in Chad? Do you think a coup is possible in Nigeria? <br /><br />In Nigeria I see it difficult in the current circumstances and I do not think there will be coups d'état in other countries in the region. Chad already has a military regime. Instead, I think there will be other coups in the three countries that have already experienced one. This is because the situation is not stable. The military took power promising to resolve the security crisis and has no legitimacy other than that of force. And those who seize power by force can be overthrown by a superior force. <br />Fri, 01 Dec 2023 10:59:46 +0100ASIA/PAKISTAN - 800 years of the Franciscan order: peace work and service to the poor are the focus of the work of the Franciscans in Pakistan - "The Franciscan Rule in Pakistan and with it the proclamation of the Gospel through the witness to the charism of St. Francis of Assisi has borne many fruits in a country like Pakistan. The fruits are especially in the field of interreligious dialogue, of promoting and practicing peace, of being close to the poor, in a country with an Islamic majority", said the President of the Pakistan branch of the Catholic World Association for Communication SIGNIS and Executive Secretary of the Commission for Social Communication of the Bishops' Conference of Pakistan, Father Qaisar Feroz from Lahore to Fides. <br />"The period of Franciscan anniversaries, such as the 800th anniversary of the adoption of the Order's Rule of 1223 and the upcoming celebration of Christmas in Greccio, is celebrated here with meetings, liturgical celebrations and charitable initiatives in which the entire Franciscan family in Pakistan is involved which "are a fruitful sign for the entire local Church, which adopts from St. Francis of Assisi the style of humility and fraternity to live the faith in the context of a nation like Pakistan, which is sometimes marked by difficulties and challenges," noted the religious. <br />"Today the roots of the Franciscan presence in the country are deep," continued the Capuchin friar, considering that the first Franciscan missionaries arrived in the Indian subcontinent in 1880 - long before the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. The Italian Capuchin friar was Paolo Tosi, the first Franciscan to set foot in this country as Vicar Apostolic of the Punjab, followed by the mission of the Belgian Capuchins, to whom the Holy See entrusted the pastoral care of the diocese of Lahore in 1888. Since then, the Franciscan mission has continued with the establishment of religious communities and the construction of churches, schools, hospitals - works that are still fully at the service of the population today, especially the poorest", he says. <br />The proclamation of peace and service to the poor are the two priorities of the Franciscan presence in Pakistan. "To be peacemakers," he emphasizes, "interreligious dialogue, especially Islamic-Christian dialogue, is essential in this country. It is crucial to build good relationships with Muslim leaders and ordinary people of the Muslim faith in order to avoid prejudice, discrimination and to defuse possible hostility, in the logic of 'Fratelli Tutti'. Today we can say that after a long and patient work to build good relations, many Muslims have become ambassadors of peace and are working with us to make Pakistan a place of coexistence and peaceful coexistence, for the good of all. <br />This is a very encouraging sign that shows that the spirit of Francis, who traveled to Egypt at the time of the Crusades to meet the Sultan, has borne fruit." "The works of charity of the Franciscans are aimed at the homeless, the sick and the weak, or at the outcasts, marginalized, on the margins of society," continued Father Feroz. "We are close to them in spirit, always on the side of the poor to stand and be poor among the poor ourselves. To do this means to be a living Gospel here, as Francis was". The Franciscans in Pakistan are mainly present in the provinces of Sindh and Punjab with several communities of the Order of Capuchins. Lay Franciscans and young Franciscans have several communities in the two provinces, where there are also women's orders inspired by the Franciscan charism. A Franciscan, Sebastian Shaw OFM, is currently Archbishop of Lahore; a Capuchin friar, Bishop Khalid Rehmat OFM Cap, is Vicar Apostolic of Quetta, the capital of Balochistan Province. <br />Thu, 30 Nov 2023 13:48:58 +0100AFRICA/CENTRAL AFRICA - Ten years after the outbreak of the civil war: victims of sexual violence are left to fend for themselves - They are probably the least known and most hidden victims of war: women and girls who are subjected to sexual violence by members of the various fighting groups. One of the countries affected is the Central African Republic, where the second civil war that broke out on December 10, 2012 . Ten years after the terrible events in the Central African Republic, the Denis Mukwege Foundation, an international organization that has long been committed to helping victims and survivors of sexual violence in the country, held a ceremony on Sunday, November 26, at the Catholic University Center to launch a series of initiatives to support victims. The Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018, has been working for rape victims in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo for decades . Despite the efforts of the Central African authorities and some non-governmental organizations, the situation of survivors of sexual violence in the Central African Republic remains worrying, said Country Director of the Denis Mukwege Foundation in the Central African Republic, Earvin Isumbisho Mazambi. In addition to providing psychosocial support to survivors of sexual violence related to armed conflict, the Denis Mukwege Foundation has carried out a number of awareness campaigns. According to Oubangui Médias, one in four women is a victim of sexual violence every day. "The victims are sometimes left to their sad fate. They have to be helped to come to terms with everything they have suffered. But unfortunately the survivors receive no help," lamented Francine Evodie Ndémadé, coordinator of the Association of Victims of the Political-Military Crisis in the Central African Republic. One of the victims said that in 2014 she was raped first by Seleka fighters and then by militiamen from the “Anti-Balaka” units, despite being the mother of a baby who was only three months old. The various international troops that have intervened in the Central African Republic over the years have not been spared allegations of rape, from the French military to the UN peacekeepers to the Russian Wagner mercenaries. <br />Thu, 30 Nov 2023 13:25:47 +0100ASIA/INDIA - Appointment of the Reverend Linus Pingal Ekka as Bishop of Gumla City - The Holy Father has appointed the Reverend Linus Pingal Ekka, of the clergy of the diocese of Gumla, India, until now diocesan administrator, as bishop of the same See.<br />Msgr. Linus Pingal Ekka was born on 23 September 1961 in Chainpur, in the diocese of Gumla. He obtained a Master of Arts from Saint Aloysius College in Jabalpur, and was awarded a licentiate in philosophy and theology from the Pontifical Urbanian University in Rome.<br />He was ordained a priest on 22 January 1994 for the diocese of Gumla.<br />After ordination, he first served as deputy parish priest and then parish priest of Dalmadi , and rector of the preparatory seminary of Karondabera . He was awarded a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Urbanian University, at the same time providing pastoral service in the archdiocese of Udine . He went on to hold the offices of visiting professor at Saint Albert’s Regional College in Ranchi ; residential professor and prefect of the Department of Philosophy at Saint Albert’s Regional College in Ranchi ; parish vicar in Ampezzo, in the archdiocese of Udine ; chancellor of the diocese of Gumla and head of matrimonial cases ; judicial vicar and judge of the Ecclesiastical Tribunal ; and since 2021, diocesan administrator of Gumla. <br />Thu, 30 Nov 2023 12:55:47 +0100ASIA/INDIA - Appointment of Rev. Malcolm Sequeira as bishop of Amravati City - The Holy Father has appointed the Reverend Malcolm Sequeira, of the clergy of the diocese of Poona, until now vicar general of the same diocese and parish priest of Saint Anne’s Church, as bishop of the diocese of Amravati, India.<br />Msgr. Malcolm Sequeira was born on 4 November 1961 in Giriz, in the diocese of Vasai. He studied philosophy and theology at Saint Pius X College in Mumbai.<br />He was ordained a priest on 13 April 1996 for the diocese of Poona.<br />After ordination, he first served as priestly assistant at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and diocesan director of the Basic Christian Communities . He was awarded a licentiate in social communications from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome , and went on to serve as diocesan director for social communications and head of public relations ; rector of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral ; diocesan consultor ; vicar general ; director of the Property Office ; parish priest of the Divine Mercy Church and parish priest of Saint Anne’s Church . <br />Thu, 30 Nov 2023 12:52:57 +0100ASIA/INDIA - Appointment of Bishop of Kottapuram City - The Holy Father has appointed the Reverend Ambrose Puthenveettil, of the clergy of the diocese of Kottapuram, India, until now rector of Saint Antony’s Shrine, as bishop of the same diocese.<br />Msgr. Ambrose Puthenveettil was born on 21 August 1967 in Palliport, in the diocese of Kottapuram. He studied philosophy at Saint Peter’s Pontifical Institute in Bangalore and theology at the Collegium Canisianum in Innsbruck, Austria. He was awarded a licentiate in pastoral theology at the Leopold-Franzens-Universität in Innsbruck and a doctorate in missiology at the Pontifical Urbanian University in Rome.<br />He was ordained a priest on 11 June 1995, for the diocese of Kottapuram.<br />He has held the following offices: secretary to the bishop ; substitute at Saint Vincent Ferrer ; deputy parish priest of Saint Don Bosco ; vice rector of the Saint Francis Assisi Major Seminary ; deputy parish priest of Our Lady of Snow ; professor at Saint Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary in Aluva ; vice-rector of Saint Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary in Aluva ; rector of Saint Antony’s Minor Seminary ; parish priest of Saint Michael’s Catheral and vicar forane ; and since 2022, rector of Saint Antony’s Shrine. <br />Thu, 30 Nov 2023 12:49:45 +0100ASIA/INDIA - Appointment of Bishop of Daltonganj City - The Holy Father has appointed Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, S.F.X., until now titular of Lisinia and auxiliary of the archdiocese of Ranchi and apostolic administrator sede vacante et ad nutum Sanctae Sedis of Daltonganj, as bishop of the same diocese of Daltonganj. <br />Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, S.F.X., was born on 9 November 1960 in Camurlim, in the archdiocese of Goa. He gave his first religious vows in the Society of Saint Francis Xavier on 14 June 1979, and was ordained a priest on 24 April 1988 for the same Society of Pilar. He was awarded a doctorate in Sacred Scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.<br />On 9 July 2014 he was appointed titular bishop of Lisinia and auxiliary of the archdiocese of Ranchi, receiving episcopal ordination on 30 August 2014.<br />From 2016 to 2019 he was secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India. Since 8 December 2021 he has also served as apostolic administrator sede vacante et ad nutum Sanctae Sedis of the diocese of Daltonganj. <br />Thu, 30 Nov 2023 12:47:39 +0100ASIA/SRI LANKA - Over 5 thousand children from all over the country celebrate the 180th Anniversary of Missionary Childhood by helping their peers - On Saturday December 2nd celebrations will take place in Sri Lanka for the 180th anniversary of the Pontifical Society of the Holy Childhood , founded on May 19, 1843 by Bishop Charles de Forbin-Janson. Here, too, as in so many countries around the world, more than 120, where the Pontifical Society of the Holy Childhood is present, many different initiatives throughout the year took place to celebrate this special anniversary, which is also at the heart of the Holy Father's message to the "missionary children and young people, parents, formators and friends" of POSI . <br />The General Secretary of POSI, Sister Roberta Tremarelli, explains: "In this very important year for our Society, we are called above all to thank the Lord for the valuable contribution that the Children's Missionary Society has made to the mission of the Church and to growth in faith since 1843 and to so many children and young people who are involved, as well as the numerous institutions and activities that are supported by the donations of children all over the world. The founder was already able to see the first sprouts of what the Holy Spirit aroused in his heart following his missionary passion; today we can enjoy the ripe fruits and are called to persevere in prayer, witness and sacrifice so that every child and young person has the opportunity to know Jesus and how "to grow in wisdom and grace". On December 2, more than 5,000 children from the 12 dioceses of the country will gather at the National Shrine of Saint Anne in the Diocese of Kurunegala, together with the approximately 1,000 animators who have contributed and continue to contribute to missionary work with children. It is the first time that POSI have come together at a national level. On this occasion, the children and young people of the children's missionary organization, true to the founder's motto "Children help children", launched a fundraising campaign for a school in the Diocese of Kurunegala by selling flags. The celebrations begin with a joint service, preceded by a solemn procession, in which the main guest is the Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith, who, in his capacity as National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies, contributed significantly to revitalizing the Children's Missionary Society. Also present will be the Apostolic Nuncio to Sri Lanka, Archbishop Brian Udaigwe, the bishops of the country's 12 dioceses and over 230 priests and religious. <br />Thu, 30 Nov 2023 12:44:43 +0100ASIA/ARAB EMIRATES - Bishop Martinelli on the cancellation of the Pope's visit to Dubai: “We continue to pray for the Pope and the success of COP28” Paolo Martinelli* <br />Dubai - We deeply regret that Pope Francis will not be able to come to Dubai tomorrow. <br /><br />Pope Francis himself told me personally about his intention to attend the climate conference when I met him at the World Synod in Rome in October. I could see that he was very interested in this trip. He considered it a very important personal obligation. We knew from the beginning that it would not be a pastoral visit, but that the purpose would be to speak at COP28. But as a local church we have accompanied the preparations for the trip with commitment and with affection and prayer as far as we have been asked. The duration of the trip was also very short, less than 48 hours, and many bilateral meetings had been requested. Six hours of travel time and a time difference of 3 hours. It would certainly have been a very strenuous journey, also from a physical point of view. When news of the Pope's trip was made public, I sent a letter to our communities asking for prayers for the Pope and for the success of his participation in COP28. Prayers continue in our churches for the success of this very important meeting, and now to these prayers are added prayers for the Pope's health. <br /><br />Our believers are very fond of Pope Francis. Everyone remembers his visit in 2019, the Mass at the stadium and his visit to the Abu Dhabi Cathedral. <br /><br />We, as the Apostolic Vicariate of South Arabia, continue to feel strongly about the problem of climate change and we appreciate the Pope's contributions on this issue. Our young people in particular are very interested in these problems. For some time now we have included the theme of integral ecology in the catechesis we do for young people and adolescents. The encyclical “Laudato Si'” and the exhortation “Laudate Deum” are texts that are highly valued by our young people. They see in the writings and interventions of Pope Francis a great love for the new generations and the concern of the Bishop of Rome for their future. <br /><br />I am convinced that, even if the Pope cannot come to us, his desire to take part in COP28 and having tried with the best of intentions is a great testimony to his pastoral commitment to the theme of care for the common home. I think that no one can remain indifferent to this testimony, even if he physically cannot be with us in person. In any case, the Holy See will be present at COP28 and the local Church is also doing its part. We will do everything we can to ensure that the Holy Father's message is known and accepted. <br /><br />* Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia <br />Thu, 30 Nov 2023 11:08:55 +0100VATICAN - Pope Francis: Christ's salvation is announced only in today's world, as it is - The proclamation of the Gospel does not mean "standing on a balcony and shouting out Jesus’ name, but rather going down onto the streets, going to the places where one lives, frequenting the spaces where one suffers, works, studies and reflects, inhabiting the crossroads where human beings share what has meaning for their lives". The salvation that Christ brought can only be witnessed by inhabiting "the crossroads of today", while "leaving them would impoverish the Gospel and reduce the Church to a sect". This is what Pope Francis has said repeats the words of the Apostle Paul that today is the "favorable time" to bear witness to Christ. And that this testimony can only happen in the real world, as it is today, without closing oneself to foreign worlds or to live in the memory of the past. He did this at the general audience this Wednesday, November 29th, continuing the cycle of catechesis dedicated to the passion for evangelization: the apostolic zeal of the believer. At the beginning of the Audience, Pope Francis informed the pilgrims and faithful gathered in Paul VI Hall that the text of the catechesis would be read in his place by Prelate Filippo Ciampanelli, an employee of the Secretariat of State, due to his state of recovery after his health problems in past days. <br /><br />The first part of the catechesis described the scenario of today's times and the dominant culture that determines people's lives. A time in which "one almost always hears bad things being said about today", marked by "wars, climate change, worldwide injustice and migration, family and hope crises", dominated "by a culture that puts the individual above all else and technology at the centre of everything". We find ourselves - the Pope insisted in his examination - appears as the "the first civilization in history that globally seeks to organize a human society without the presence of God, concentrated in huge cities that remain horizontal despite their vertiginous skyscrapers". The world today - continued Pope Francis' catechesis - has many features that bring to mind the story of the city of Babel and its tower, told in the book of Genesis". This biblical story also seemed to proclaim "a social project that involves sacrificing all individuality to the efficiency of the collective". A model of society in which "humanity speaks just one language, we might say that it has a “single way of thinking”, and is "as if enveloped in a kind of general spell that absorbs the uniqueness of each into a bubble of uniformity. Then God confuses the languages, that is, He re-establishes differences, recreates the conditions for uniqueness to develop, revives the multiple where ideology would like to impose the single. The Lord also distracts humanity from its delirium of omnipotence". Even today - the Pope recognized in his catechesis today - "cohesion, instead of fraternity and peace, is often based on ambition, nationalism, homologation, and techno-economic structures that inculcate the persuasion that God is insignificant and useless: not so much because one seeks more knowledge, but above all for the sake of more power". In all of this –Pope Francis continues, referring to his apostolic exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium", "Jesus can be proclaimed only by inhabiting the culture of one’s own time; and always taking to heart the words of the Apostle Paul about the present: “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation”. Given the challenges and also the evils of today, it does not make sense to "contrast today with alternative visions from the past. Nor is it sufficient to simply reiterate acquired religious convictions that, however true, become abstract with the passage of time. A truth", continued the papal catechesis, "does not become more credible because one raises one’s voice in speaking it, but because it is witnessed with one’s life". And “apostolic zeal is never a simple repetition of an acquired style, but testimony that the Gospel is alive today here for us”. That's why it's worth "looking at our age and our culture as a gift". And living in today's times also helps "us Christians to understand in a renewed way the reasons for our hope, to extract and share from the treasure of faith “what is new and what is old”. In short, instead of transforming today's world, Pope Francis said in his catechesis, again quoting Evangelii Gaudium, "we need to convert the world of today, we need to convert pastoral care so that it better incarnates the Gospel in today. Let us make Jesus’ desire our own: to help fellow travellers not to lose the desire for God, to open their hearts to Him and find the only One who, today and always, gives peace and joy to humanity". <br />Wed, 29 Nov 2023 14:00:26 +0100EUROPE/RUSSIA - 800 years of the Franciscan Order and the Nativity scene celebrated by the Franciscans in Russia and Kazakhstan Chiara Dommarco <br />Moscow - On November 29, 1223, exactly 800 years ago, Pope Honorius approved, with the Bull "Solet annuere", the final Rule of the Friars Minor, drawn up by Saint Francis, later called "Regola bullata". A few days later, in the village of Greccio, on the way back from Rome to Assisi, Francesco created the first representation of the Nativity. The story of the first Nativity scene is closely linked to the birth of the Franciscan Order itself. In 2023, the 800th anniversary of the “Greccio Christmas Nativity Scene” and the papal approval of the “Regula Bollata” are celebrated all over the world. <br />This is also the case in Russia. "We too have thought of various initiatives to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Christmas Nativity Scene in Russia of Greccio and the Rule of the Order," said Father Dariusz Harasimowicz , Custodian of the Russian General Custody of Saint Francis of Assisi to Fides. Given the circumstances, says the letter issued on October 4th by the Conference of the Franciscan Religious Family gathered in Assisi, Pope Francis grants to all the faithful from December 8th, 2023 to February 2nd, 2024 the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple) in front of the nativity scene set up in one of the churches looked after by the Franciscans around the world, a plenary indulgence. Even those who are unable to go to one of these churches can receive the gift of the plenary indulgence by "offering their sufferings to the Lord or performing pious acts," as the letter says. “Not only by visiting one of the Franciscan churches present in the Russian Federation and in Kazakhstan will one be able to receive the spiritual 'gift' of Pope Francis – continues Brother Dariusz − but also other 'gifts' designed by the Franciscans of this Custody to live well not only the anniversaries of 2023, but also the equally important one that awaits us in 2024: the 800 years since the day on which Saint Francis received the stigmata". Starting from the month of December it will be possible to purchase from the Franciscan Brothers a special 2024 annual calendar published by their Moscow publishing house: inside it will be remembered the saints and blessed who, during their lifetime, joined the various ecclesial realities that came from the charism bestowed by St. Francis, and a quotation from the order's rule is given for each month of the year. In addition, from December 8th, the faithful of all Catholic dioceses in the Russian Federation can take part in a nativity scene competition organized by the Franciscans. "It is not an initiative for 'professional artists': the most important thing," emphasizes Brother Dariusz, "is that the figures and huts are not bought in a shop, but that you can buy them together as a family or if you don't have a family, also alone or with friends". A commission of Franciscan friars put together specifically for the competition will evaluate the nativity scenes and award the prizes. The first three winners will also receive the Russian translation of the book "Franciscan Sources" as a prize, while the creators of the first classified nativity scene will also win all five volumes of the "Catholic Encyclopedia", published between 2002 and 2013 by the Franciscan Publishing House in Moscow. There is also a special initiative at the parish level, this time just for children: At the beginning of Advent, the Franciscans will send scripts for Christmas plays to all Catholic dioceses in Russia, which will be distributed among catechists and educators. "We propose texts, but each parish is free follow the scripts it wants: the most important thing is that the children have a good experience to prepare for Christmas together," concludes Brother Dariusz. Today there are a total of sixteen Franciscan conventuals who have taken final vows in Russia and Kazakhstan, coming from Lithuania, Slovenia, Poland, Belarus and Italy. In the Custody there are six Franciscan churches where indulgences can be obtained according to the specified modalities: five in Russia and one in Kazakhstan . The Order's recent history in Russia and Kazakhstan began after the collapse of the USSR, when in 1993 the Friars Minor were invited to these countries by Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, then Apostolic Administrator of European Russia. At the beginning of their mission, the religious belonged to several Polish religious provinces, and in 2001 the Russian General Custody of Saint Francis of Assisi was founded, which also includes Kazakhstan. <br />Wed, 29 Nov 2023 12:27:09 +0100ASIA/PHILIPPINES - Houthi rebels hijack cargo ship in Red Sea: Bishop calls for release of Filipino hostages - The impact of the war in the Middle East also affects the Philippines, especially since thousands of Filipino emigrants work in various countries in the Middle East. In Gaza, Filipinos have been held hostage by Hamas: during the ceasefire of the last few days, Hamas initially released one Filipino citizen , while today, November 29, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. called for the release of Noralyn Babadilla, a Filipino citizen kidnapped by Hamas, confirmed that there are no other Filipino hostages in the hands of the Islamic group. But national attention is not only focused on the Gaza Strip: several sailors, including 17 Filipinos, are currently on board an Israeli shipowner's merchant ship that was taken hostage by Yemen's Houthi rebels on November 19 off Yemen's southern Red Sea coast. The Filipino sailors are on board the merchant ship “Galaxy Leader,” which was captured by the rebels. The Philippine Foreign Ministry said the ship was Israeli-owned but operated by a non-Israeli company and was flying the Bahamas flag. Since the beginning of the war in Gaza, the Houthi rebels have shown solidarity with Hamas and attempted to attack Israeli targets. Bishop Ruperto Santos of the church relief organization Stella Maris expressed concern about this situation and called on the government to do everything possible to secure the release of the sailors. "We constantly pray that our government representatives will not tire of exploring all possible means and avenues "to open a window for the release of our kidnapped sailors," said Bishop Santos. The Bishop of Antipolo assured that he was praying for the hostages and their families in "this painful and problematic situation." "We are close to their families and relatives" and "we place this matter in God's hands," he said, informing that the pastors of the "Stella Maris" network will pray for the release of the hostages during the celebration of the mass. "We pray to God fervently and trust in Him even more that our sailors will be rescued and return home safely," he assured. The hijacking of the Israeli merchant ship by the Houthi rebels in the Red Sea brings another front of the Middle East conflict into the headlines and shows how this war can have regional repercussions. The Houthi rebels, who control northern Yemen and the Red Sea coast, declared all Israeli ships passing through the Red Sea "legitimate targets." The ship "Galaxy Leader" with a crew of 25 was on its way from Turkey to India and belongs to the "Ray Car Carriers", which is owned by Abraham Ungar, an Israeli entrepreneur and owner of "Ungar Holdings Ltd", a leading company in the construction field in Israel. The Houthi rebels are one of several groups in the Middle East region that side with the Palestinians. "The seizure of the ship is a response to the heinous acts against our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. If the international community is interested in security and stability in the region, it should end Israel's aggression against the Gaza Strip, rather than expanding the conflict," said the Houthi military spokesman. The Houthi militias said they seized the ship because of its ties to Israel and warned that they would continue to attack Israeli-linked or Israeli-owned ships in international waters until the end of Israel's campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The hijacking of the freighter shows that the Red Sea already represents a new war front of geopolitical importance, as all major regional and world powers have an interest in freedom of navigation and are potentially vulnerable, especially in the area of commercial and civil shipping. In this context, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel now find themselves fighting, separately, the same enemies such as the Houthis, who aim to consolidate control over the northwestern part of Yemen and the adjacent stretch of sea. According to analysts, the Houthis could also return to attack Marib, one of the cities contested in the civil war that has lasted since 2015 and which sees a Saudi-led Arab-Sunni coalition facing Yemeni rebels. <br />Wed, 29 Nov 2023 11:51:55 +0100AFRICA/NIGER - Concern about the possible reactivation of human trafficking in Agadez after the repeal of the law that classifies it as a crime - "After the fall of Gaddafi, who had significant financial means to control the situation in the Sahel, Niger had become a key point of Western action in the region. However, after the fall of President Mohamed Bazoum, the country now seems to act more independently", warns Rahmane Idrissa, researcher at Leiden University, to Fides. The military junta that took power in Niger with the July 26 coup, which deposed Bazoum , announced the repeal of the law of May 26, 2015 that criminalized the illicit trafficking of migrants in Niger. "A law that was approved under pressure from the European Union", recalls the Nigerian researcher. Migration routes through Niger are concentrated in the city of Agadez, which used to be a popular tourist destination. “About two decades ago, Agadez was a beautiful tourist resort visited by people from Europe. There were wonderful hotels, including an Italian one that offered excellent Italian cuisine,” Idrissa recalls. “The city's role as a center for human trafficking diminished in 2015-16 after the European Union pressured Niger to pass a law that would criminalize the passage of migrants through Nigerien territory, due to the tragedies in the Mediterranean carried out by migrants” emphasizes the researcher. "Although this law did not completely stop human trafficking through Niger, it did manage to reduce it significantly compared to 2015,” says the Leiden University researcher. "I myself - continues the researcher - have been able to verify that, compared to the recent past, in Niamey there were fewer citizens of the coastal countries of West Africa waiting to undertake the journey that would take them to the Mediterranean coast through Agadez." Despite this, Idrissa points out that the measure has not always benefited migrants: “It is important to note that, once in Agadez, migrants were prohibited from continuing their journey, which increased their danger. They were alone and had to learn to survive on their own. Subsequently, an attempt was made to repatriate them and, while they waited for repatriation, the International Organization for Migration was in charge of their assistance.” The military junta's repeal of the law has received severe criticism from the European Union. Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, has expressed deep concern about the repeal of the law, stating: “I deeply regret this decision. I am very worried about the situation. There is a great risk that this will cause more deaths in the desert; That is the most worrying point.” Johansson added that this would likely lead to more migrants heading to Libya and attempting to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe. The European Union strongly condemned the seizure of power in Niger on July 26 by the military, who has kept President Mohamed Bazoum under arrest since then. After the coup, the EU has suspended its budget aid to Niger and ended all security cooperation. <br />Wed, 29 Nov 2023 11:29:56 +0100AFRICA/SIERRA LEONE - Clashes in Freetown: attempted coup or protest? - Is this an attempted military coup or a simple "protest" by a fringe military group? This is the question being asked in Sierra Leone after clashes broke out at dawn in the capital, Freetown, on Sunday 26 November. Gunmen first attacked the armory of Wilberforce Barracks, the country's largest barracks, located near the presidential villa in a heavily guarded area of the city, in what may have been a partially successful attempt to seize weapons. The gunmen engaged in a firefight with security forces for several hours. They also targeted key detention centers, including the Central Prison, which houses more than 2,000 inmates, and released or abducted an unconfirmed number of people. At least 20 people died in the fighting, including 13 government soldiers. "This was probably more of a warning than an actual coup attempt by the military," local sources who requested anonymity told Fides. "Military elements and parts of the opposition wanted to tell the president: 'We are here too,' perhaps to get something in return," said Fides sources. "It must be said that this time it was reported in the international press, but since the controversial re-election of Julius Maada Bio on June 24 of this year there have been repeated minor incidents ". Last August, six police officers and at least 21 civilians died in anti-government protests. At the time, the president claimed it was an attempt to overthrow the government. However, in his address to the nation on Sunday, Julius Maada Bio expressed himself more calmly, also because the opposition had agreed to return to parliament and local councils after months of protests. "Now the situation is calm, the curfew imposed on Sunday has been reduced from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.," the sources report. "The bishops issued a communiqué on Sunday discouraging the faithful from attending Sunday mass and asking them to stay at home and pray for peace. A decision to avoid incidents on the way of the faithful to churches ". The clashes on Sunday, November 26, reminded the less young people of those on May 25, 1997, which reignited the civil war in Sierra Leone that had broken out in 1991. <br />Tue, 28 Nov 2023 13:45:47 +0100ASIA/CHINA - Advent in anticipation of the birth of Jesus: meditation and spiritual exercises - Catholic communities in mainland China are beginning the Advent season with pastoral initiatives, often inspired by the pastoral letters addressed by the bishops to the people of God in anticipation of Christmas. "Meditation" is the title of the pastoral letter that Joseph Gan Junqiu, archbishop of the southern Chinese metropolis of Guangzhou, published at the beginning of Advent at the beginning of the church year. Advent is a time of waiting and preparation for the birth of Jesus, and "waiting in meditation," writes Bishop Gan, "helps us to find God," because "without inner silence we cannot encounter Jesus and speak with him". Bishop Joseph emphasized the importance of this silent meditation in today's frenetic times, "deafened by so much noise, so much unrest." It proves all the more important to "preserve this unique and indispensable moment of silence, the silence of Nazareth ", added the Bishop of Guangzhou, quoting the sentence from the Gospel of Luke . "Teach us, quietly, contemplatively and fervently, the true teachings to respect the soul; and also teach us to wait, prepare and receive Jesus' Christmas in silence," Bishop Gan added. According to the Guangzhou Ethnic and Religious Affairs Department, as of October 2022, the diocese had a total of 15 priests and 25 religious women. Joseph Gan, who was appointed archbishop in November 2006, was ordained on December 4, 2007 in communion with Pope Benedict XVI. In the Diocese of Ningbo, meditation was also the focus of the priests' spiritual exercises "to clear the heart so that one can encounter the Lord." Twenty-eight priests from the diocese took part in the year-end retreat, which took place from November 21 to 24, just before Advent, at the diocesan formation center and focused on questions and aspects of priestly life. Among other things, it was about the crisis of orientation and identity that some priests find themselves in when they reach middle age after the years of initial commitment. <br />Tue, 28 Nov 2023 13:40:04 +0100