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In the Boston Globe, the always worthwhile John Allen analyzes today’s meeting between President Obama and Pope Francis. Although the two men will agree on issues like economic inequality, Allen says, they will likely differ on others, including, notably, Mideast policy.
Pope Francis often highlights the crisis Mideast Christians face; President Obama, not so much. “Few on the Catholic side are inclined to see the Obama administration as a great defender of those Christians at risk,” Allen writes, “while standing up against violent anti-Christian persecution is emerging as a cornerstone of Francis’ social and political agenda”:
On Egypt, Obama took a “pox on both your houses” stance last summer with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood and the army after a military council declared controversial President Mohamed Morsi deposed. The Vatican was more favorable to the military intervention, inclined to see it less as a coup and more as a reflection of popular will.
In Syria, the Obama administration has made the removal of President Bashar al-Assad a precondition for any negotiated end to that country’s civil war, while the Vatican is more skeptical about regime change, in part out of concern that whatever follows Assad might actually be worse.
Underlying these contrasts is that the Vatican’s reading of the Middle East is heavily conditioned by the perceptions of the Christian minorities in these countries, who generally see either a powerful military or strong-arm rulers as a buffer between themselves and Islamic radicalism. They often point to Iraq, where a once-thriving Christian community has been gutted in the chaos that followed the collapse of Saddam Hussein.
Few on the Catholic side are inclined to see the Obama administration as a great defender of those Christians at risk, while standing up against violent anti-Christian persecution is emerging as a cornerstone of Francis’ social and political agenda.
When tomorrow’s meeting wraps up, it’s likely that the statements issued by both sides will be friendly. As US Ambassador to the Vatican Ken Hackett said in a recent interview, “In this kind of high-level meeting, it’s not about making anybody feel bad.”
That said, it’s also not clear that a dramatic “reset” in church/state relations is likely either. It’s more plausible that the relationship will continue to be a complicated ballet, with each side looking to extract what it can get, driven more by strategic interests than any deeper spirit of common cause.
You can read the full article here.
Vatican City, Mar 4, 2014 / 02:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In his daily homily Pope Francis called persecution a “reality” of Christian life, challenging faithful to take up the cross and noting that we are never given more than we can handle.
“But (people say) ‘today we are better educated and these things no longer exist.’ Yes they do!” the Pope said March 4.
“And I tell you that today there are more martyrs than during the early times of the Church.”
Centering his reflections on the day’s Gospel taken from Mark – in which Peter asks Christ what the disciples will receive for following him – the Pope pointed out to those present in the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse the response of Jesus, who explained that their reward would be great, but not without persecution.
Moscow (AsiaNews) – The Kremlin is still speaking of a visit still at the preparation phase , but by the Holy See Press Office has officially announced that at 5pm November 25, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, will make his first official visit to Pope Francis. Putin could meet the Pope in Rome in late November , said presidential spokesman Dmitri Peskov , commenting on the news releases of Italian media, and confirmed by the Vatican, on the private audience between the two leaders on November 25 , the eve of the inter-government summit between Italy and Russia , scheduled the next day in Trieste .
“The possibility of this meeting is being discussed as part of the preparation for the visit of the President to Italy, on 25 and 26 November,” Peskov told Interfax . The audience with the Pope according to some media is “strongly desired” by the Russian president , who at the G20 summit in September in St. Petersburg, had explicitly cited the Vatican among states opposed to an external military attack on Syria , which at the time seemed imminent .
A few days beforehand, Pope Francis had written a letter to the head of the Kremlin , who has always supported a diplomatic and political solution to the Syrian crisis, in which he stressed the concern of the Holy See for the possibility of military intervention as loudly demanded by the United States. Peskov said that “it is still too early” to say whether during the meeting at the Vatican will discuss Bergoglio’s letter, but certainly there will be the theme of international efforts to end the Syrian conflict and the situation of Christians in Middle East on the table. Issues which currently unite the Holy See and the Patriarchate of Moscow, for its part committed – both economically and diplomatically – to the protection of this minority in the region.
In a recent interview with AsiaNews the same Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate , Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk , chairman of the Department for External Relations described work between the two Churches on the theological level as ” unsatisfactory “, while at the same time speaking of “effective” work together ” on moral values and social issues ” , which also includes the defense of traditional values in Europe and the Christian presence in the Middle East. In fact, Hilarion will visit the Vatican ahead of Putin when, on 12 November , he travels to Rome to present the book “Word of God and the word of man,” with contributions by the Russian philologist Serghei Averintsev .
The issue of persecuted Christians is not only central to the foreign policy of the Patriarchate , but also that of the Kremlin, increasingly willing to stand as mediator between East and West , calibrating complaints of violence against Christian minorities , with declarations of friendship and support for Muslim leaders . Last month, about 50 thousand Syrian Christians asked for Russian citizenship, with the fear of “being banished from their lands, for the first time since the birth of Christ.” The Kremlin has now said it will seriously consider the request. Putin has already had three meetings with the previous Popes : in March 2007, with Benedict XVII and with John Paul II , in June 2000 and November 2003. In February of 2011, it was instead the then head of the Russian state, Dmitri Medvedev, to pay a visit to Pope Ratzinger in the Vatican, two years after the restoration of full diplomatic relations between the two countries.
First Report: Muslim Mob Turns Violent in Pakistani Blasphemy Row- Christian Community Flees as Neighborhood Destroyed-(March 9, 2013) LAHORE, Pakistan —After hearing accusations that a Christian man committed blasphemy against Islam’s prophet, over 3,000 Muslim protesters turned violent and destroyed a Christian neighborhood on Saturday by torching homes. Reports claim over 100 homes have been burned or vandalized. A large crowd from a nearby mosque went to the Christian’s home on Friday night, after a young Muslim man accused a Christian of committing blasphemy by making offensive comments about the prophet. Police took the Christian man into custody to try to calm down the crowd. Fearing for their safety, hundreds of Christian families fled the area overnight. Reports say the mob returned on Saturday and began setting the homes of Christians ablaze. Though no one in the Christian community was hurt, several policemen were injured when hit by stones as they tried to keep the crowd from rushing the area. READ MORE
Second Report: Mob loots, torches Christian colony in Lahore- The News (International) in Pakistan reports after a Christian accused of committing blasphemy the mob comprising thousands of people attacked Joseph Colony on Noor Road in the Badami Bagh area. The infuriated protesters forced some 170 Christian families to flee the area. It was reported that the mob not only attacked the houses but also looted them. Disturbing scenes of burning houses, streets strewn with debris and blackened furniture were seen as the mob attacked. An affected woman said people in large numbers came to her home, ransacked it, threw household items out of her house, doused them with gasoline and set fire to them. “They torched the houses of many such people who had nothing to do with the incident,” she added. READ MORE
Third Report:Pakistani Christians call for repeal of blasphemy law and voting reform/Sister claims accused innocent- New York: March 11, 2013. (PCP) We will only support and vote if the Muslim party will publically promise Pakistani Christians that the blasphemy law will be repealed and Dual voting rights will be granted to Chritians, said Mr. William Shahzad, Chairman of Pakistani Christian Association in USA, PCA here today. Mr. William Shahzad told Pakistan Christian Post PCP that Muslim political parties are not sincere with Pakistani Christians and PPP failed to stop the misuse of the blasphemy law in Pakistan. And the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz Group which is ruling Punjab province of Pakistan, totally failed to stop the violence against Christians on pretext to the blasphemy law. READ MORE
SC demands answers over arson attack on Christians- Pakistan’s top court yesterday ordered police and provincial officials to explain why they failed to prevent a riot in a Christian area of Lahore in which more than 100 homes were torched. A mob of more than 3,000 furious Muslims rampaged through the Joseph Colony area of Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city, on Saturday looting property and burning buildings after a Christian was accused of blasphemy. Three days went by between the blasphemy claims, which often provoke a violent public response in Pakistan, and the carnage in Joseph Colony. Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohamed Chaudhry said the violence could have been avoided. “We would like to have a clear stance of (Punjab) provincial government on failure to provide protection to people,” Chaudhry said during a Supreme Court hearing. He rejected a report submitted by the provincial government, saying: “nothing has been produced to establish causes of the incident in Joseph Colony… we need a specific reply”. “Similarly, no specific reply has been submitted in the report about conduct of police officers including the inspector general of Punjab police, city police chief and the local in-charge of police in the area,” Chaudhry said. Police and locals said the blasphemy allegations stemmed from a drunken argument last Wednesday between a Christian sanitary worker and his Muslim friend, who accused the Christian of making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad during the row. Punjab was the scene of one of the worst outbreaks of anti-Christian violence in recent years when a mob burned 77 houses and killed at least seven people in the town of Gojra in 2009 after rumours that a copy of the Holy Qur’ran had been desecrated. No one was killed in Saturday’s violence but Chaudhry said lessons should have been learned from Gojra and a system put in place to protect Christians. READ MORE
Call to let Christians migrate if Govt. can’t protect them- LAHORE: If the sate cannot protect the Christian community, it should authorise the migration of every Christian to another country. It wasn’t just Christians’ houses that were burnt in Joseph Colony, but the faith of the minority too was reduced to ashes with them. It’s been so many days and still inquiry report of this incident and similar incidents have not been made public, which further dents the trust of people in the state and its agenda. Regulation needs to be practiced to end the use of religious machinery like the announcements for rallying support for such actions through mosques to fan extremist religious sentiments. These views were shared by the guests at the Jang Forum, held in relevance with the Joseph Colony catastrophe. The guests at the forum were Allama Khalil-ur-Rahman Qadri, Dr Raghib Naeemi, PML-N MPA Mian Naseer and Christian rights activist Joseph Francis. Joseph Francis said that the sentiments of the community cannot be described in words as they have lost their faith in the government.READ MORE
Request from Christians in Pakistan to Christians from all nations:
On March 15, 2013, PEACEFULLY protest at the Pakistan Embassy in your area. The march will be to petition them to end the violence against Christians suffering in Lahore. …This is the area where a Muslim mob destroyed a community by burning down a church, homes and vandalizing property, including Bibles. This event took place after a Christian was accused of blasphemy, which now is said to be false. Please share this information. Most Christians living in this area are extremely poor and have now lost everything. These Christians have undergone continued abuse by Muslims for many years, and they have reached a breaking point. Please keep them in your prayers. Ask that the Lord bring them peace, protection and that their needs are met. Pray that they refrain from retaliation, which will only bring more violence upon them. And remember the violators also, pray that they may find their way to Christ and become our brothers and sisters through Him. In Christ, we pray.
Pakistan: a study of reconciliation, restoration, and caution- Pakistan (MNN) ― Police have arrested around 150 men a day after a mob set fire to homes in a Christian neighborhood in Pakistan. The Christian neighborhood of Joseph Colony in Lahore came under attack on Saturday after a Muslim accused a Christian of blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed. No one was killed in the attack because police had cleared most of the Christian families from the area. When it was over, the mob had torched over 170 houses, 18 shops, and two churches. Christians protested on Sunday over the lack of protection and the existence of the blasphemy laws that have caused them no end of trouble. Speaking on a spotty cell phone connection, we reached Hana*, a Christian from Pakistan involved in ministry there that encourages and equips the local church to face persecution. She explains, “Most of the blasphemy accusations in Pakistan have been false. This one is debatable, and there’s been a lot of speculation on it. We would hope that there would be some further investigation into the blasphemy laws of Pakistan. We don’t know what it holds in terms of a repeal of this law.” READ MORE
CCPO Lahore replaced over Joseph Colony attack-LAHORE: Amjad Javed Saleemi was removed from the post of Lahore’s Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) on Thursday following the Joseph Colony mob attack, reported Express News. Mohammad Amlesh was made the new CCPO who will serve as the 16th police chief of the city. Saleemi was previously serving as Sargodha’s regional police officer and had taken over from Additional IG Aslam Tareen. The Supreme Court, while hearing the suo motu case of the mob attack on Wednesday, had held the CCPO responsible for not stopping a mob from burning down more than 150 Christian homes in Joseph Colony in Lahore. The court had questioned the Punjab government regarding the steps taken against the inspector-general of police and the CCPO. The judges were further distressed when the CCPO himself admitted that the system had indeed failed to keep houses from being torched. SOURCE
We had to burn our last hidden Bible North Korea– Hye first learned about Kim Il-Sung at school… and about God at home. From her earliest moments, she experienced the daily tension between faith in God and fear of a repressive government. Now living in South Korea, she tells us the story of her journey. Hye’s family has a long Christian heritage; her parents, grandparents and even great-grandfather were Christians. “During the Japanese occupation my grandmother was a member of a Baptist church, which was closed down after Kim Il-Sung came into power. However, she secretly kept meeting with other Christians. Everybody had to work for ten days, after which they had one day off. The Christians tried to arrange to work on their days off so that they could gather for Sunday services. They came on Saturday night and then stayed overnight. There were usually 5 or 6 people, but no more than ten.” Because her father’s job required him to meet a lot of people, visitors were not suspicious. “The people would gather in a small room in our home,” Hye relates. “They were almost silent. Children like me had to go outside and play. We also had to watch out for other people. As soon as someone came near to our house I ran home to warn my grandmother. She was the leader of the group and also the preacher.” READ MORE
New Update- Saeed’s Orphanage, Video:Naghmeh Abedini with children, Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani is Alive –COVERAGE HERE
SaveSaeed.org: Saeed’s wife, Naghmeh asks you to take action for her husband.
SaveSaeed: 23,000 more signatures needed by Friday, March 15! Join Jay as he goes in front of Congress by signing the petition! SIGN HERE
Iran Christian Inmates Face “Huge” Bail; Sweden To Deport Converts- TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– An Iranian court has told five jailed members of the evangelical Church of Iran movement that they can be released temporarily if they pay what trial observers call “exorbitant bail terms” of up to $200,000. The ruling, published Tuesday, March 12, came while two Iranian converts reportedly faced imminent deportation from Sweden, despite fears they may be executed as “apostates” in their home country. Church of Iran members Mohammad Roghangir, Surush Saraie, Eskandar Rezaie, Shahin Lahooti and Massoud Rezaie were expected to face a trial on charges of evangelizing, disturbing public order, action against national security and an Internet activity against the system. However the 14th Branch of the Revolutionary Court in the city of Shiraz told the Christians they could be released on bail, trial observers said. Mohammed Roghangir was reportedly ordered to pay the equivalent of $200,000, while the others were asked for $80,000 each. It was not immediately clear whether their families and supporters would be able to raise these funds. No date was set for the continuation of the trial. READ MORE
Congressman alarmed at Christian plight in Mideast- WASHINGTON – A Republican congressman who just returned from the Middle East says U.S. aid to Egypt should be conditioned on how it treats its besieged Christian minority. Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf says many of the Coptic Christians he met believe the U.S. supports Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood regime regardless of the persecution they suffer. Wolf also visited Christian refugees in Lebanon who have fled Syria’s civil war. Despite overwhelming support in the House, Wolf’s bill creating a Special Envoy for Religious Minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia has been rebuffed by the Senate and State Department. He says the Middle East, where Christianity first took root, is at risk of losing virtually all of its native Christian population. SOURCE
Six Children Killed in Slaughter of Families in Plateau State, Nigeria- KOGOM TAH, Nigeria, March 8, 2013 (Morning Star News) – Regina Luka does not know whether it was rogue soldiers or Islamic terrorists who invaded her dual-family dwelling here and killed 10 Christians; she only knows her husband and two young children are dead. The 20-year-old Luka was recovering from gunshot and machete wounds on her legs and back when she spoke with Morning Star News about the attack on Feb. 21 in Kogom Tah, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) southwest of Jos in central Nigeria’s Plateau state.
From her bed at Vom Christian Hospital about six miles from the village, she said she and her brother-in-law’s family had gathered in front of their joint-home compound to discuss burial arrangements for their recently deceased grandfather when gunmen began shooting sporadically at them. “I ran into our house and straight into our bedroom to take cover and to ensure that my children were safe, but minutes after getting into the room, some gunmen forced their way into the room, shooting and cutting anyone they found with machetes,” the tearful Luka recounted. Flying bullets forced her to dive under a bed, but the assailants dragged her out, cut her back with a machete and shot her buttocks and leg. “Six of us had run into that room, but five were killed while I was the lone survivor in the room,” Luka said. “Those who attacked us thought I was dead, and so they left.” READ MORE
Persecution and the Pope – Pope Francis I should be a strong defender of persecuted religious believers of all faiths. The world is in dire need of such leadership. Religious persecution is the gravest human-rights abuse of our day, both in its global reach and the numbers affected and in its implications for regional stability and world peace. When Congress enacted and President Clinton signed into law the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998, the United States became a world leader in the defense of religious freedom, with the high point of American leadership being a negotiated end to a religious conflict in South Sudan that had taken some 2 million lives. But it is a world leader no more. Washington has abdicated that role even as religious repression is intensifying internationally.– Ongoing religious persecution should be a major concern of the Catholic Church. In sheer numbers, Christians are the most persecuted religious group, suffering under the remaining militantly secular Communist regimes, under Islamist regimes, and under some nationalist regimes. And these persecutors of Christians typically persecute other religious minorities as well. READ MORE
USCIRF Speaks Out about Religious Freedom Violations in Iran- WASHINGTON D.C. – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) yesterday met with family members of Baha’is unjustly imprisoned in Iran. These family members seek to highlight the status of their family members and friends who have been persecuted and imprisoned solely for adhering to their faith. “During the past year, religious freedom conditions continued to deteriorate in Iran, especially for religious minorities, most notably Baha‘is and Christians,” said Katrina Lantos Swett, USCIRF’s Chair. “In fact, religious freedom conditions in Iran have regressed to a point not seen since the early days of the Islamic revolution more than 30 years ago.” USCIRF will be testifying on Friday, March 15, before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on The Worsening Plight of Religious Minorities in Iran.
snipped: The Special Rapporteur’s report also highlighted the perilous status of Christians in Iran who are being arrested and prosecuted on vaguely worded national security crimes for exercising their beliefs. USCIRF has condemned the treatment of Christians in Iran and spoken out against the charging and sentencing of Iranian-born American pastor Saeed Abedini to eight years in prison for “threatening the national security of Iran. For over a decade, USCIRF has recommended, and the State Department has designated, Iran as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). Iran has merited this most serious and critical designation for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused. READ MORE
Christian Tortured by Libyan Islamists Dies in Custody-An Egyptian human rights organization said that an Egyptian Coptic Christian who died while being detained by Libyan Islamists was tortured to death. Ezzat Hakim Attallah was one of over 50 Coptic Christians detained by Libyan authorities last month and charged with proselytizing. Naguib Guebrayel, a Coptic Christian attorney who heads a group called Egyptian Union for Human Rights, told AFP News that Attallah “died after being tortured with other detainees.” Fox News reported that Atallah, who was among several dozen Egyptian Christian detained since February 25 in Benghazi, had been hospitalized March 6 before he was brought back to his cell and later died, according to family members. Attallah brother, Effat Hakim Atallah, said that Attallah had originally been arrested February 13 while working at a mobile phone shop in a Benghazi marketplace. Other Egyptian merchants from surrounding shop stalls were arrested as well, supposedly because they had displayed Christian symbols in their businesses. Fox News reported that Atallah’s wife visited him three days after his arrest “and found him in a state of severe fatigue and with bruises and cuts, according to Effat Hakim Atallah.” At that time, said the brother, Libyan officials had already subjected him to both physical and psychological torture. “According to Atallah’s wife,” Fox continued, “he was arrested because his telephone number was found on a telephone of another suspect who had been arrested for possession of Christian books.” READ MORE
Nigerian Christians in U.S. Decry FG’s Inability to Tame Boko Haram- NIGERIAN Christians based in the United States of America, operating under the aegis of the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans (CANAN) have expressed disgust over the continuous killing of Christians in the northern part of the country. Consequently, CANAN recently came down hard on the Federal Government for its inability to checkmate the activities of the Boko Haram sect in parts of the country. The group pleaded with President Goodluck Jonathan to seek for the intervention and assistance of the US President, Barack Obama to end the menace. At a joint press conference with the Secretary General of CAN, Dr. Musa Asake, in Abuja, CANAN president, Dr. James Fadele gave the advice, while donating the sum of $50,000 (about N8 million) as relief funds. At the occasion, a former Minister of Education Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, broke into tears after listening to Pastor Sarana Chinda of All Saints Protestant Church, Hauran Wanki, Barracks, Kano on how eight members of his congregation were wiped out for refusing to renounce Jesus Christ. READ MORE
China to abolish hated labour camps-Senior Chinese government officials have pledged to abolish the country’s hated re-education-through-labour prison camps. The system involves extra-judicial detention in which dissidents, underground Christians and minor criminals are sent away to remote labour camps for many years at a time, often without their families even being notified. At the end of this week China’s annual session of parliament, the National People’s Congress, will endorse a group of leaders who will immediately become some of the most powerful people in the world. While analysts are still watching for any signs of the direction the incoming administration of Xi Jinping may take the Asian giant, it appears they are already on the record with the key promise. In freezing and remote parts of China there are about 350 labour camps holding about 160,000 prisoners who did not step into a courtroom before their detention. They have been judged by the local police or other officials to be in need of re-education through labour – often for being troublemakers or dissidents – and face up to four years of deprivation, arduous work and physical abuse. China’s legal fraternity has been increasingly critical of the system. Some say it is unconstitutional. READ MORE
Bajrang Dal men attack Christian prayer house in Udupi, 7 injured- Seven persons were injured when they were allegedly assaulted by Bajrang Dal activists during an attack on a Christian prayer house at Moodubelle in Udupi district, on suspicion that conversion activities were being carried out there, a senior police official said. The attack was carried out on Friday night after the activists had lodged a police complaint against a man, accusing him of indulging in conversion, Udupi SP D R Boralingaiah told PTI. A group of Bajrang Dal activists barged into the man’s residence at Moodubelle, also a prayer house, and assaulted the people gathered there, he said, adding that 19 of them had been arrested. Senior officials, including IGP Pratap Reddy visited the place. The coastal districts of Udupi and Mangalore had in the past seen attacks on churches triggered by suspicion that they were carrying out conversion. SOURCE