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bookmark_borderASIA/MYANMAR – A Catholic church hit by rockets, Baptist churches burned down

Pekhon – Last night some rockets and heavy weapon bullets fired by soldiers of the Burmese army hit the Catholic Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, in the diocese of Pekhon, in the southern part of the Shan State, in eastern Myanmar. As reported to Fides by Fr. Julio Oo, priest of the diocese of Pekhon, “it is an execrable act, to be condemned”. “The church complex – reports Fr. Julio – is a place of refuge and security in the generalized instability of a violent conflict, given that, while there is fighting in the area, hundreds of local people are taking refuge in the Cathedral complex”.
While local resistance militias are fighting the army 8 miles from the city, “such acts of gratuitous violence against civilians and places of worship increase frustration and youth protest against the army. We are concerned: churches are becoming more and more targets of attacks for military forces”, added the priest.
According to local sources in the Christian community, the army could specifically target churches because “they are the core of the community, by destroying them, the soldiers want to destroy the hope of the people”. The population in the diocese of Pekhon is about 340 thousand inhabitants and there are about 55 thousand Catholics.
In other separate incidents, the military in Myanmar devastated and burned houses and a Baptist church in the village of Ral Ti in the municipality of Falam in the Burmese state of Chin in recent days.
In clearing the rubble, a village Baptist pastor and community members miraculously found the Bibles and hymnbook intact.
The army also burned 134 homes in the city of Thang Tlang, also in Chin state, setting fire to two other Christian churches, one Presbyterian and one Baptist, in retaliation against local rebels. A local Christian faithful, Lian Hmung Sakhon tells Fides: “With such violence, destroying and burning houses and churches, the army will not win, but it will create even greater hostility and rebellion among the civilian population and young people”

bookmark_borderASIA/HOLY LAND – Catholic Churches of the Holy Land confirm their “Eucharistic hospitality” to the baptized of the non-Catholic Eastern Churches

Jerusalem – A priest belonging to one of the Catholic communities present in the Holy Land can administer the sacraments of Penance, the Eucharist and the Anointing of the sick even to Christians belonging to Orthodox and Eastern non-Catholic Churches, if they request it spontaneously, on their own initiative, “and are adequately prepared”. This is the most exemplary provision contained in the text of the “Ecumenical Pastoral Directives” for the Catholic Churches, just issued in Arabic by the Assembly of Catholic Ordinary Bishops of the Holy Land.
The document provides guidelines and also binding provisions on crucial issues for the spiritual life of Christians belonging to the many ecclesial communities present in the region. The pastoral directives aim to “illuminate, stimulate and guide the ecumenical relations of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land” by applying the teaching and guidelines followed in sacramental matters by the Catholic Church to the current local ecclesial context.
The directives apply to all Catholic Churches in the Holy Land , involve Latin, Maronite, Melkite, Chaldean, Sire, Armenian and Coptic Catholic communities, and concern in particular the participation in the sacramental life, crucial issue and of great interest for the ordinary life and common witness of the baptized in the lands where Jesus Christ was born, lived, died and rose again. Other issues – such as ecumenical formation in schools and the promotion of charitable initiatives shared between Catholic and non-Catholic ecclesial communities – will be addressed in future pronouncements by the Assembly of Catholic Ordinary Bishops of the Holy Land.
In the first part of the directives, the particular significance assumed by the “ecumenical issue” in the context of the Holy Land, where multiple ecclesial rites and traditions have always coexisted, is outlined in summary. This diversity, in the course of history, instead of being recognized and welcomed as a richness, has often been reduced to a mere instrument of identity differentiation in the divisions of doctrinal, jurisdictional and power oppositions that have torn the communion between Christians.
The orientation document released by the Catholic Bishops of the Holy Land recognizes that now the situation is “completely different”. The ecumenical journey strongly promoted after the Second Vatican Council, gestures such as the pilgrimage of Pope Paul VI to the Holy Land in 1964 and also the difficult political and social conditions experienced in the Holy Land in recent decades, have contributed to bringing together the Churches, which have also assumed the recent commitment of restorations in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher.
The Christians of the Holy Land, although belonging to different communities – underlines the document with precious and eloquent annotations – live “side by side”, and recognize the common vocation to confess faith in Christ together in the current context of the Holy Land, marked by conflicts, suffering and opposing fundamentalisms. Mixed marriages, between Christian spouses belonging to different confessions, are now a constant feature of the family life of all the baptized in the area, who “sometimes even go so far as to say that they are in full communion, and that the division is only a question that concerns the clergy”.
Daily coexistence leads the baptized not to give too much weight to the confessional boundaries between one ecclesial community and another, also with regard to liturgical life and sacramental practice. The baptized “spontaneously identify themselves as Christians, while priests tend to define themselves according to confessional standards”. This spontaneous process has been confronted in recent years and “in some places”, with a certain “tendency to reaffirm sectarian identity”, marked sometimes also by an attitude of withdrawal and hostility towards other Christian communities. The provisions of the Catholic Bishops of the Holy Land explicitly recall as their sources of inspiration the essential statements of Catholic doctrine in ecumenical matters, referring to the documents of the Second Vatican Council and to the Pastoral Plan issued by the Diocesan Synod of Catholic Churches in the Holy Land in 2000.
All baptized Catholics are called to “faithfully” respect those magisterial texts. With regard to sacramental and liturgical life, it is reiterated that it is necessary to keep in mind the different degrees of “imperfect communion” shared by Catholics with Christians of other Churches and ecclesial communities.
In the third section, criteria and directives are defined in detail that should guide Catholics – clergy and laity – in sharing the sacramental life with baptized persons of other Christian confessions.
First of all, the orientation document encourages believers “to practice their faith and sacramental life in their own churches”, and to avoid any attitude of slovenly indifferentism towards ecclesial discipline regarding liturgical celebrations and the administration of the sacraments. It reaffirms that “every Christian has the right, for reasons of religious conscience, to freely decide on his own ecclesiastical affiliation”. And the “permanent and clear distinction between participation in non-sacramental liturgical worship and the life of the sacraments, in particular of the Eucharist, is reaffirmed”.
Next, the document provides guidelines for sharing the sacramental life with the children of the Eastern Churches or the Eastern Orthodox Churches. It is explicitly reiterated that Catholic priests are authorized to administer the sacraments of penance, the Eucharist and the anointing of the sick to the faithful of the Eastern Churches, if they request it and are adequately prepared. At the same time, it is clarified that Orthodox Christians and the ancient non-Catholic Eastern Churches are required to respect the discipline and customs with which the sacraments are administered in the Catholic Church. It is clarified that a baptized person belonging to the non-Catholic Orthodox and Eastern Churches can carry out the role of godfather or godmother, together with a Catholic godfather or godmother, in the baptism of a Catholic. Similarly, a Christian belonging to an Eastern Church can witness a marriage in a Catholic Church.
In continuity with the guidelines already defined by the great discipline of the Catholic Church, it is also repeated that, in situations of danger of death, “Catholic priests can administer the sacraments of penance, the Eucharist and the anointing of the sick to members of other Churches or ecclesial groups”, when they cannot resort to priests or ministers of worship belonging to their own ecclesial community, provided that those who ask for such sacraments do so on their own initiative and in full freedom, expressing their faith in the sacrament they receive.

bookmark_borderAFRICA/TOGO – Churches closed until mid-October, but missionaries do not stop solidarity

Kolowaré – The episcopal conference of Togo has asked in this month of the Rosary to light a candle on October 7, the day of Our Lady of the Rosary, in front of the closed doors of all parish churches. Despite the imposition of the closure of churches in the African Country, the commitment of the missionaries does not stop. “Here I am again in Kolowaré. I returned on September 16 after my usual annual stay in Genoa at the Provincial House of the Italian Society for African Missions “. Father Silvano Galli, priest of the Society for African Missions, missionary in Togo, told Fides about his return to the mission land that has welcomed him for 17 years, after 22 years in Ivory Coast. “I left from Genoa with Fr. Ceferino Cainelli, Provincial of the Italian province of SMA, we arrived in Lomé half an hour earlier than expected – he wrote. After all the checks, I arrived at customs. The baggage scanner was broken, and they opened my suitcases. I approached the chief of the customs officers, greeted with a convinced Salam Aleikoum, then two words in kotokoli, I explained that I am priest in Kolowaré and, with a smile, they let me pass. The driver Bassarou from Kolowaré is waiting for me to go to the Maison Régionale. ” The missionary explains that this ‘regional house’, in the neighborhood of Beh in Lomè, is the point of reference for all the SMA fathers working in Togo.
“It will become a center to welcome the propaedeutic, with young people who wish to enter our community, in which I will also be present from January when I leave Kolowaré”.
“The next day we left and stopped in Amakape where they offered us several packs of medicines for the dispensary in Sokodé – continued Fr. Silvano. At the entrance to Sokodé, a policeman asked us what was in the packages. ‘Medicines for the Dispensary’ in Kolowaré, I replied. The policeman lights up: ‘But I went to school in Kolowaré, I lived behind the old church’. Once we arrived at the mission, we unloaded the medicines in front of the nuns’ warehouse as the churches here are closed until mid-October. The next day, early in the morning, a few visits followed one another: a group of boys arrived with their coaches, Charles, with a chicken, Jean with vegetables from the garden, Celine with a pitcher of local beer, and then the group of children who came with baskets of manure for the vegetable garden. They learned of my arrival, and here they are! These little missionaries made me feel at home again”, concluded Fr. Galli.

bookmark_borderAFRICA/UGANDA – Churches remain closed: “We must also pay attention to the spiritual economy”

Kampala – “May our desire for an earthly economy not come at the expense of the spiritual economy”, said James Kakura James, Ugandan seminarian, referring to the reopening of public spaces and the permanent closure of churches to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Churches and mosques have given birth to the current economy of Uganda – reads the note sent to Fides -. Many today wonder whether places of worship are more susceptible to the spread of the virus than public transport and marketplaces. But for us who know the importance and power of the Lord’s Supper, common prayer and church meetings, this theory is not valid”, said the seminarian. “Other places are being reopened, not because they are safer, but because they are considered indispensable for the future of the country’s economy”. Kakura explains that it was once European missionaries, including the White Fathers, the Missionary Society of St. Joseph of Mill Hill and the Comboni Missionaries, who introduced formal education in Uganda at the end of the 19th century. “We must not forget the enormous contribution the Church has made to the economy in Uganda since there were places of worship in the country”. “Education was initiated by the denominations in order to counteract ignorance in society”, the bishops of Uganda had already emphasized in 1997. “The missionaries were pioneers in the education of the children who would later be at the forefront of the country’s economy. The same missionaries continued to build schools, hospitals, and roads”. The Ugandan seminarian emphasizes: it was the Muslim traders who introduced trade in Uganda, and we owe them a lot in terms of our economy”.
The fundamental task of the church is evangelization and sanctification of people, he emphasizes in this context, and the role of religion in building consciences must not be forgotten. “A people already sanctified by the ministry of the Church becomes an instrument of peace and love, a key factor in steady economic growth. Any government that wants to stimulate the economy must first sanctify and shape the conscience and morality of its people. This can only be done through the sacraments, which can never be received virtually”, explains Kakura. “How can one believe that the sanctification that comes through Baptism, the celebration of the Eucharist, penance, or anointing can also be received on radio or television? Can the reception of the Eucharist be broadcast on television? Does everyone have a radio, a television or YouTube?”, concludes the young seminarian.

bookmark_borderASIA/MYANMAR – Churches and monasteries refuse funding from the military junta; the resistance proclaims the “defensive war”

Hakha – The military junta of Myanmar has made a cash donation to Christian Pastors and Buddhist leaders in all the cities of the Chin State through the commanders of the local army. The military summoned church pastors, parish priests and Buddhist monks to donate them a contribution of 18,000 Burmese kyats , in order to use them in their churches, but almost all religious leaders refused the money. “We do not want to be bought or considered close to the army”, a Baptist pastor among the approximately 3,000 Protestant Baptist pastors of Chin state told Fides, asking for anonymity for security reasons. “However, to avoid retaliation against our family or our community, we attended the meeting with the military commanders, politely returned the money offered”, he informs. “In recent days – report Fides sources in the diocese of Hakha – the army has sought and compiled a list of religious leaders of churches and monasteries as recipients of the donation, but most of the Christian and Buddhist leaders did not want to provide their own names.
Many religious leaders have stated that instead of donating money, the army should protect religious buildings that have been hit, damaged, seized or devastated” .
Meanwhile, the Burmese military junta has released the controversial Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu, known for his anti-Muslim nationalist rhetoric, declaring all charges against him dropped. The monk had been accused of sedition by the previous civilian government of Myanmar. Known for his support for the army, Wirathu has repeatedly delivered hate speeches towards Rohingya Muslims, animating the nationalist-Buddhist “969 Movement”. In recent years he had promoted nationalist speeches, criticizing then leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her government of the National League for Democracy. In 2019 he was charged with inciting “hatred and contempt” against the civilian government. He fled, he was arrested by the authorities in November 2020, and was awaiting trial.
At the level of popular resistance, the National Unity Government of Myanmar , made up of politicians and social leaders in favor of democracy, on September 7th, formalized a “defensive war” against the military junta. “During this popular revolution, all citizens of Myanmar must rebel across the country against the military junta, led by General Min Aung Hlaing”, says the NUG. “Months of cruel killings, torture and arrests by the military have passed. Everyone knows about the continuing inhuman acts perpetrated by soldiers when they occupy homes, religious buildings, hospitals and schools”, said Duwa Lashi La, an ethnic Kachin politician, currently acting president of the NUG.
The rebel government, which remains loyal to the democratic movement and leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has created its own militias, the People’s Defense Forces, to fight the army of Myanmar. In a public message, the NUG calls on soldiers and policemen to desert the official ranks and join the resistance. It also asks for the support of the guerrillas of the different armies that have been fighting Tatmadaw for decades for greater self-determination for their regions. The shadow government says it is committed to building a federal democracy that protects all citizens equally. At least 1,046 people lost their lives as a result of violent repression by the army, which fired on those participating in peaceful demonstrations while, according to the Association for the Assistance of Political Prisoners, more than 6,000 opponents are detained.

bookmark_borderASIA/MYANMAR – Burmese army soldiers occupy and desecrate two churches

Hakha – The Burmese army has occupied and profaned two churches, the Catholic church of St. John and a Baptist church, in the village of Chat, in the municipality of Mindat, in the Burmese state of Chin, in western Myanmar. Ecclesial sources in the diocese of Hakha, where Mindat is located, confirm to Agenzia Fides that the attack took place yesterday, August 31, 2021. The military of Myanmar occupied the religious buildings and established their headquarters inside the two churches.
The Catholic parish priest of the Church of St. John, Father John Aung who was expelled, expresses all his indignation to Fides: “It is execrable. The military has requisitioned the church for their use. They opened the tabernacle, they took the consecrated hosts and threw them on the fall and continued trampling and looting. They destroyed all the locked cabinets. The army should know how to respect religious buildings and should not touch anything inside the church. We condemn the aggression and gratuitous violence and the desecration of our church, with the blatant violation of freedom of worship”. In the village of Chat there are 68 houses, 42 of which are of Catholic families. The whole parish embraces 20 villages in the area. Upon the arrival of the military, who clashed with some militants of the local resistance forces in the area, the parish priest fled into the forest with the villagers.
Shane Aung Maung, one of the village’s faithful Baptist Christians, said: “The soldiers destroyed our bibles, the sacred furnishings, the electric generators and the sound amplifier. They drink alcohol inside the church building. They slaughter the cattle.and they cook meat in the church”. “Tatmadaw is destabilizing the country, hitting people and property of the Christian Churches, killing unarmed and peaceful civilians and burning villages and houses. We are really bewildered”, he adds.
The local Catholic priest Fr. David Hmun: “We are shocked. It is really unthinkable. The military of Myanmar are no longer a people’s army but thus become a militant terrorist group, which commits violence on the people, on innocent civilians”.
The occupation of the church by the army occurred as fighting between the military and local civil resistance groups intensified in the predominantly Christian area of Chin state.
The Institute of Chin Affairs, a non-profit organization created by ethnic Chin leaders, currently based in India, has condemned the acts of violence carried out by troops during the occupation of the churches. “The occupation of the church and the devastation of church property is a violation of the Geneva Convention. We demand the immediate end of acts against international humanitarian law and against human rights”, says the Institute in a statement sent to Fides. The Institute condemns the killing of hundreds of Chin civilians in recent months and reports that, as a result of the February 1 military coup, “the country is slipping into a fratricidal war leading to ruin”. Given the “resourceful and resilient reaction of the population, the coup failed”, it reports, noting the formation and tenacity of “People’s Defense Forces” across the nation.

bookmark_borderAFRICA/EGYPT – The number of churches and ecclesiastical buildings “approved” by the Egyptian government rises to 1958

Cairo – In July and August 2021, the Egyptian government confirmed that a further 76 churches and buildings owned by the church comply with the regulations for the construction of Christian houses of worship and the associated service buildings. This time the declaration concerned 27 Christian houses of worship and 49 associated buildings. The new list of retrospectively “approved” churches and church buildings was published in the Official Gazette and was approved by Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly on the basis of the review by the relevant government committee, which was used on an ad hoc basis to implement the retrospective building permits for Christian places of worship and associated buildings, which had been built in the past few decades without the necessary government and administrative permits.
On July 25th of this year, the responsible committee announced its judgment on the legal conformity of the newly approved churches and buildings. The Council of Ministers’ decision to “legalize” these buildings was taken on August 9th. This increases the number of churches and auxiliary service buildings that have been approved since the beginning of the “legalization” of Christian places of worship, which were built in the past without the necessary permits, to 1958.
The review and legalization process began with the adoption of the new law on the construction and management of places of worship, which was ratified by the Egyptian parliament on August 30, 2016. Since then, the government committee set up for this purpose has met 20 times and each time has approved the legalization of other churches and ecclesiastical buildings, which up until then were not legally approved in whole or in part. The last subsequent “approval” of the government committee for the legalization of churches, chapels and ecclesiastical properties took place on April 12 of last year and affected a total of 82 church buildings.
The churches examined by the responsible government committee are mainly those that were built before the new law on the construction of Christian houses of worship came into force. The task of the committee is to check whether thousands of Christian churches and places of worship, which were built in the past without the necessary permits, meet the standards set out in the new law. The control usually leads to the legalization of places of worship.
In the past few decades, many churches and chapels across Egypt have been built spontaneously and without any required permits. Even today, such buildings, which were erected by local Christian communities without legal permission, are repeatedly used as a pretext to incite sectarian violence.
The law on places of worship of August 2016 represented an objective step forward for the Egyptian Christian communities compared to the so-called “10 rules” added in 1934 to the Ottoman legislation by the Ministry of the Interior, which prohibited, among other things, the construction of new churches close to schools, canals, government buildings, railways and residential areas. In many cases, the strict application of these rules had prevented the building of churches in cities and towns inhabited by Christians, especially in the rural areas of Upper Egypt.

bookmark_borderAFRICA/DR CONGO – Bishops condemn theft and attacks on churches in Mbujimayi and Kinshasa

Kinshasa – “These are deliberate acts of desecration, despicable and particularly revolting acts”, said His Exc. Mgr. Bernard-Emmanuel Kasanda Mulenga, Bishop of Mbujimayi, about the recent thefts and attacks on a dozen churches in his diocese in the Kasai region, in the center of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The targets of the attacks included the cathedral Saint Jean-Baptiste de Bonzola in Mbujimayi and the parish churches of Saint Amand, Sainte Bernadette de Nkolongo, Saint Vincent de Paul de Nkuadi, Christ Roi de Kansansa and others.
Mgr. Kasanda has asked for “extremely exemplary, firm and rapid” condemnations against the perpetrators. For almost four months, the churches in Kasai, the region from which the Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi comes, have been subjected to “progressive and systematic desecration”: “tabernacles, sacred vessels, altar stones and cloths, furniture and statues of the Sacred Heart Jesus and the Virgin Mary were stolen”, denounced the bishop.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the provincial government confirmed that Bishop Kasanda had provided the police with some information to help them find the stolen sacred objects. In this context, he pointed out that both “deviants” within the church and “fetishists who believe that they can consolidate their alleged power by taking possession of the sacred things of the Catholic Church” are possible perpetrators for the desecration .
In the background there are still tensions between the Catholic Church and the government over delays in the election of the President of the Independent National Electoral Commission , who has to be nominated by the main Congolese denominations. On July 23, Fr. Donatien Nshole, spokesman for religious denominations had denounced “the pressure, intimidation and threats of all kinds which some members of the religious denomination platform are subjected to to prevent us from doing our work freely”.
The Bishops’ Conference and the Église du Christ au Congo reject the candidacy of Denis Kadima, who, on the other hand, was supported by representatives of the six other religious denominations because he was considered too close to President Félix Tshisekedi.
Protesters threw stones at the Archbishop’s residence in Kinshasa last Sunday, August 1st. “A group of unidentified people turned up at the Archbishop’s Palace in Kinshasa and at the residence of Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo, shouting offensive slogans and phrases and committed acts of violence”, denounced Fr. Georges. Njila, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Kinshasa.

bookmark_borderASIA/IRAQ – Ecumenical meetings to relaunch the Council of Patriarchs and Heads of Churches present in Iraq

Erbil – A delegation of the Chaldean Church, led by Patriarch and Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, held a series of meetings in Erbil with representatives of other Churches and ecclesial communities present in Iraq, in an attempt to start a process aimed at redeveloping and relaunching instruments of contact and ecumenical organisms “frozen” for years in a state of substantial inertia. Patriarch Sako, with some of his collaborators, met among others Mor Nicodemus Daoud Matti Sharaf, Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of Mosul, Archbishop Nathanael Nizar Samaan, at the head of the Syrian Catholic diocese of Hadiab and representatives of the Assyrian Church of the East. In the meetings – the accredited sources of the Chaldean Patriarchate report – the exponents of the various Churches focused in particular on the need to find new ways of fraternal cooperation, in light of the many emergencies that afflict the Iraqi people and represent the real context in which the ecclesial communities are called to confess the same faith in Christ. The meetings represented a first step in the process aimed at relaunching the role of the Council of Heads of Churches present in Iraq, an ecumenical body established in 2006, which in recent years has entered a phase of substantial aphasia and inaction. In June, as reported by Fides , Patriarch Sako had published an intervention centered on ecumenical relations in which he underlined, among other things, that the path to restore full unity between Churches and ecclesial communities “is not as easy as some people imagine”. In that text, the Iraqi Cardinal recognized that the issue of the path to restore full sacramental unity among the baptized represents a “complex question” that cannot be treated with arrogance or sentimentality. The Churches and ecclesial communities – acknowledged the Patriarch – cannot be unified by force, and they cannot even be stripped of their individual identities “by decree”, because “the Church is not a mere administrative entity”, but a reality intimately characterized by its own, unmistakable spiritual nature. The historical and ideal model to look at – Sako emphasized, continuing his reflection – remains that of the nascent Church, recounted in the Acts of the Apostles. At that beginning – the Iraqi Cardinal pointed out – the unity of the baptized was not an ideal goal to be achieved through human efforts and stratagems, but it flourished as a gratuitous effect of the faith and charity that animated the hearts reached by the grace of Christ. In his speech, the Chaldean Patriarch had also deplored the inaction which, in his opinion, characterizes the ecumenical bodies and inter-ecclesial contacts in his country, calling into question precisely the period experienced in recent years by the Council of Patriarchs and heads of Churches in Iraq, made evident also by the comparison with the operational liveliness of similar organizations present in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.

bookmark_borderAFRICA/ESWATINI – In a worrying social and economic situation, the Churches strive to dialogue with everyone

Mbabane – Violence continues in the small Southern African state of eSwatini. The murder of Thabani Nkomonye, a young law student, at the hands of the police last May, sparked protests from thousands of citizens a few weeks ago. But beyond this sad episode, it is the harshness of the regime to which the population has been subjected for some time that has triggered the massive protests that have gathered thousands of demonstrators since the end of last month. King Mswati III is accused of oppressing the little more than a million inhabitants and of not wanting to encourage the democratic process of the country. The king responded to the protests by blocking the internet, imposing a curfew and deploying armed forces. According to activists, many people were killed and injured. The situation is now close to chaos, as evidenced by the declaration of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on 6 July, who says he is “deeply concerned”. Reverend Zwanini Shabalala, Secretary General of the Council of Churches of Swaziland, spoke about this difficult time for the small country to Fides. “Since Prime Minister Themba Masuku banned the possibility of delivering petitions, we have seen the situation deteriorate day by day. The so-called ‘petition strategy’ was the only way for the people to exercise their constitutional right of expression in the most formal and correct way: that is, by asking the district power centers and parliamentarians to listen to the demands of the population. At first, the government showed tolerance and, although the petitions clearly disagreed with the policy of the executive, it at least allowed a meeting point between the power and the people. But this initial acquiescence was followed by an announcement of closure published on June 24, which disturbed the peace of our country, especially frustrating the hopes of the youth. In fact, in the last days of June, when the petition presented by MP Mduduzi Simelane – one of the politicians calling for the election of the prime minister – was banned, the situation precipitated and there were clashes, looting and arson by demonstrators in all regions of the country. Since then, the deployment of the armed forces – which are not well trained for this type of situation – has been massive and, with it, the fear that the eSwatini will soon turn into a military state with martial law. The fact that in some cases the armed forces have brought deviant elements who wanted to take advantage of the chaos, should not be misleading and suggest that the situation is back under control. After the first few days, the internet was restored but all social networks are still blocked.
To date more than 50 people are believed to have died, although the figures are difficult to verify in such a situation. For some time now, the small southern African state has been living in an emergency situation, exacerbated by the high number of AIDS victims. In recent times, the population, overwhelmed by a prolonged economic crisis and exacerbated by the arrival of the Covid, which from the outset proved particularly virulent in neighboring South Africa, unlike other African countries, and suffocated by anti-democratic measures, wanted to make its voice heard in a massive way. “The pandemic has made everything worse. Many have lost their jobs and the level of poverty in the country has increased. For young people, education and employment opportunities have been reduced But the Covid has hit an already precarious economic situation and many businesses have had to close due to the restrictions imposed, which have limited mobility and trade. With the increase in poverty, we have witnessed a increase in violence, especially gender-based violence: there was a lot of abuse within families and many girls had to drop out of school because they were pregnant. But in addition to this violence, abuses by the police and other forces have increased and the population has lost confidence in the security agencies. In addition, there is a very weak national health system, the absence of vaccines, the scarcity of medicines as well as a deficient infrastructure network, also damaged by recurring cyclones. For all these reasons, our country, renowned for its level of peace, has plunged into violence, and its citizens demand that at least minimum services be guaranteed. For some time now, the political groups belonging to the progressive or pro-democratic front have been sounding the alarm bells on an autocratic drift, but they are often silenced: our model of government does not allow political parties to participate in the electoral system and parliamentarians are appointed on the basis of their personal merit in the 59 constituencies. This is why petitions have multiplied in recent times, especially from young people who hand over their constituency representatives to Parliament, in which they demand, among other things, a democratically elected prime minister. Other petitions targeted minimum services, high unemployment and police brutality”. In this situation, the position of the Churches becomes fundamental. With the call for peace and dialogue, based on a long tradition of presence and activism in Swazi society, all churches wanted to make their voices heard. The Swaziland Council of Churches continues to call for calm and for all parties to sit peacefully around the table and discuss. We know that it will not be easy but also that it is the only possible way and the way that God wants us to promote as a Church. In this sense, we are committed to dialogue with all the actors at this stage of the country and we are already reaching some of them, such as the government, traditional political structures and civil society. We are also mobilizing our regional ecumenical bodies, such as the Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa, the All Africa Conference of Churches and the World Council of Churches, to put pressure on the African Union, the Southern African Development Community , and the UN so that the situation in eSwatini becomes a priority”.

bookmark_borderASIA/MIDDLE EAST – The Middle East Council of Churches invites to join in the consecration of the region to the Holy Family: our land “attracts” wars, let’s ask the Savior for help

Beirut – The Middle East has become an optimal geopolitical space to unleash “wars by proxy” that turn into a sort of “rotating slaughter” for local populations, victims of conflicts “that end in one place to ignite in another”in the Middle East region. An uninterrupted flow of pain, mourning and misery fueled by the same model of modern development, with its insatiable need to foment new conflicts to keep the performance of the arms industry high that fosters technological globalization. Faced with these scenarios, the most realistic option is to “turn to the Savior”, recognizing that “only the mercy of God, the Creator, can save us”. This is the view and judgment on Middle Eastern events that prompted the Middle East Council of Churches to launch an appeal to invite all the inhabitants of the region, Christians and non-Christians, to join the initiative promoted by the Catholic Churches present in the area, which tomorrow, Sunday, June 27, will celebrate the first day of peace for the East and will consecrate the Middle East to the Holy Family of Nazareth .
Greek Orthodox Christian Michel Abs, current Secretary General of the MECC, takes his cue from the unprecedented initiative of the Catholic Churches of the Middle East to propose a severe and realistic analysis of the real roots of the conflicts that for decades have torn that part of the world apart, sowing relentlessly death and destruction among defenseless populations. “War – the economist Abs points out – is dear to modern society, the society of industry, the society of ‘Had it not been for the destruction, you would not have lived in production’: that is, we destroy your society then we rebuild it and bill you, national debt, incomplete sovereignty, dependency and even slavery”. Technological society – urges the General Secretary of the MECC “lives only on war”, but the wise one is in the one who profits from the lesson to be learned and waves war away from his own society turning it into senseless and divided societies. Such a one entrusts others to wage his wars by proxy and to operate his weapons and ammunitions factories, in addition to the factories of products that the war has destroyed, ranging from infrastructure equipment down to home furniture”. Wars continues Michel Abs “are taking place today through intermediates”, and those who need this state of continuous war do not hesitate to destabilize countries even by inventing “accusations of nuclear or chemical production for it to invade it, destroy its stability, and then apologize to its people and to a million or more victims”. In the Middle East – insists the message of the Secretary of the MECC – “wars end in one place to ignite in another” in what is defined as “rotating slaughter”. And this happens because “our geographical location makes us an attractive place for wars, and so are our resources”.
Because we have been subjected to frequent destabilization, catastrophes, and disasters, often fictitious – notes Michel Abs in the final part of his speech – we have become convinced “that only the mercy of God, the Creator, can save us. We are no longer able to curb or control, so we must turn to the Savior”, because “man-made solutions have been exhausted”.

bookmark_borderASIA/MIDDLE EAST – Catholic Churches are preparing to consecrate the Middle East for the Holy Family of Nazareth

Nazareth – The Catholic Churches present in Middle Eastern Countries are preparing to celebrate the first “Day of Peace in the East” on Sunday, June 27, which this year will also be characterized by a special act of consecration of the Middle East to the Sacred Family of Nazareth. The initiative to celebrate from now on an “Annual Day of Peace for the East was promoted in principle by the Episcopal Committee ‘Justice and Peace’, a body linked to the Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East, in conjunction with the 130th anniversary of Rerum Novarum, the encyclical issued by Pope Leo XIII on May 15, 1891 on the ‘Rights and duties of capital and work’.
As part of the first edition of the “Day of Peace for the East, a Eucharistic liturgy will be celebrated in each of the countries where the Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East exercises its action of coordination.
The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa will carry out the act of consecration of the Middle East to the Holy Family during the Eucharistic liturgy he will preside in Nazareth, at the Basilica of the Annunciation, starting at 10 am on Sunday, June 27.
During the concelebration, an icon of the Holy Family will be blessed, specially painted and inlaid with relics kept in the same Basilica. The icon reproduces the image of the Holy Family depicted above the altar of the church of St. Joseph, in Nazareth, where, according to tradition, the house of Mary’s groom was located. “Once blessed”, explained Patriarch Pizzaballa himself in his message presenting the initiative, “the Icon will be carried on a pilgrimage, starting from Lebanon, towards the countries of the East, until its arrival in Rome towards the end of the year of Saint Joseph, on 8 December 2021. From Rome, the Icon will make its return journey to the Holy Land”. Pope Francis will also impart his special apostolic blessing from Rome on Sunday, June 27 for the “Day of Peace for the East”. In Iraq, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako will celebrate mass and will perform the act of consecration of the Middle East to the Holy Family from Baghdad, during the Eucharistic celebration which he will preside at 10 am on Sunday, July 27 in the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Joseph, in the district of Karrada. On the same date, and at the same time, each bishop of the Chaldean dioceses scattered throughout the country will join in the act of consecration during the Eucharistic liturgy in their respective cathedral.
In Lebanon, Maronite Patriarch Béchara Boutros Raï will celebrate the divine liturgy in Diman, the seat of the patriarchal summer residence. In recent days, during a press conference to present the event, Dr. George Bitar, Undersecretary General of the “Justice and Peace” Episcopal Committee of the Council of Catholic Patriarchs, underlined the novelty of the initiative, which is unprecedented in the history of the Churches of the East, confirming that on Sunday, June 27 all the Catholic Churches present in Lebanon will join in the unprecedented act of “choral” consecration. In Lebanon, this initiative is intertwined with the expectations surrounding the imminent meeting between the heads of the Lebanese Churches and ecclesial communities summoned to Rome by Pope Francis on July 1, to pray and reflect together on the many factors of crisis in the country of Cedars. In Lebanon, the Synod of Bishops of the Melkite Greek-Catholic Church, chaired by Patriarch Youssef Absi, and the Synod of Bishops of the Armenian Catholic Church, called to elect the new Patriarch, are currently underway, following the death of Bedros Ghabroyan.
In Egypt, Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak will join the initiative of the day of peace for the East and the act of consecration of the Middle East to the Holy Family during the divine liturgy he will preside on the afternoon of Sunday, July 27 at the Sacred Heart church, in the Cairo district of Heliopolis.

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