August 1, 2023 // National

News Briefs: August 6, 2023

U.S. Official Calls State of Religious Freedom in Nigeria ‘Abysmal,’ Says Country in ‘Slow -Motion Genocide’

WASHINGTON, D.C. (OSV News) – The chairman of U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, has described religious freedom conditions in Nigeria as “abysmal.” Speaking on Tuesday, July 18, at a House subcommittee hearing on religious freedom, he pointed to the country’s “blasphemy laws and armed attacks on believers that have continued to worsen,” and noted that Africa’s most populous nation is like “a slow-motion genocide.” The country has maintained its rather unflattering status as a place where it is increasingly becoming harder to live as a Christian, with instances of crime against Christians happening every day and kidnapping of priests seen as organized crimes. On Monday, July 10, Father Joseph Azubuike at St. Charles Parish in the Diocese of Abakaliki in Ebonyi state was abducted, along with three other people, not far from his rectory. The event occurred as he was traveling home from a pastoral engagement. The abductees were led into a forest. According to the diocesan Vicar General, Father Donatus O. Chukwu, the kidnappers demanded $66,000 or, they threatened, the kidnapped priest would be killed. The abductees were however released the following day, without the church having to pay a dime, much to the relief of the religious community. The kidnapping of the priest is just one of many targeting the clergy and Christians in Nigeria – not all of them have such a happy ending. According to a January report by research organization SB Morgen Intelligence, not fewer than 39 Catholic priests were killed by gunmen in 2022, while 30 others were abducted. The report also showed that 145 attacks on Catholic priests were recorded within the same period.

‘The Church Needs Our Gifts’: Black Catholics at National Congress Reflect on Their Calling

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland (OSV News) – As people left the Sunday, July 23, closing Mass for the National Black Catholic Congress, Vernon Taylor of St. Joseph’s Parish in Wilmington, Delaware, said he was moved particularly at the end of Mass when Washington Auxiliary Bishop Roy E. Campbell Jr., Congress President, invited any young people considering a vocation to the priesthood or religious life to come up for a blessing – and some young adults, teens, and children stepped forward. “The most moving thing to me, and it really brought tears, was to see the young folks go up to profess their faith and potential vocation,” Taylor, a member of the Knights of Peter Claver, told Catholic Standard, the Washington Archdiocese’s newspaper. Among them, Lux Leverette, 12, who told Catholic Standard what interested him about priesthood: “In general, the whole idea to go wherever is needed and help people is very pleasing to me.” The National Black Catholic Congress also offered a time for participants to reflect on the legacy of the six U.S. Black Catholics being considered for sainthood. Sister Stephanie Henry from Philadelphia, President of the Blessed Sacrament Sisters founded by St. Katharine Drexel, said she had actually met and spoken with one of those potential Black Catholic saints, Sister Thea Bowman. “Her whole being radiated praise and joy,” Sister Stephanie told Catholic Standard, saying Sister Thea emphasized “Black Catholics have a place in the Church. We belong here, and the Church needs our gifts.”

Spain’s Bishops Search for Common Ground in Post-Election Deadlock

(OSV News) – Spain’s newest archbishop has urged his country’s politicians to prioritize national interests, amid fears of political deadlock following elections on Sunday, July 23, in which neither the conservative opposition Partido Popular (People’s Party) nor prime minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist Party (PSOE) secured enough votes to form a government. “The contribution of believers and the Church in the public square must be prophetic and never accommodating – it must respond to present needs and concerns, often experienced in a dramatic way by society,” Archbishop Francisco José Prieto Fernández of Santiago de Compostela told Catholics in a Tuesday, July 25, cathedral homily. “I ask those elected to dedicate their best efforts to demands of the common good and to building a peaceful society founded on truth, justice, and freedom, where service above legitimate political differences is always the horizon of political responsibility.” The archbishop was preaching at his installation by the Vatican’s Madrid Nuncio, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, after Sunday’s election gave the PP 136 seats and the PSOE 122 in the 350-member lower house of Spain’s Parliament – Cortes Generales, with the far-right Vox and far-left Sumar parties each claiming 33 and 31 seats respectively. Although 53.7 percent of Spain’s 47 million inhabitants still identify as Catholic, according to March data, religious vocations and Mass attendance have dropped sharply across the church’s 70 dioceses and 23,000 parishes, while more than half of all 18- to 34-year-olds declare themselves nonreligious.

Global Synod Faces Challenge of Getting Pastoral Care to Divorced Catholics in Parishes

MARIETTA, Georgia (OSV News) – The forthcoming 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops – which Pope Francis convenes in Rome on Wednesday, Oct. 4 – will examine ways to accompany divorced and remarried Catholics. Several Catholics involved in ministry to the divorced told OSV News the synod needs to grapple with how the Church’s significant gaps in this area are affecting Catholic adults and their families. “The Church is vastly underserving divorced Catholics,” said Vince Frese, Author and Creator of the Recovering from Divorce program and “We didn’t do a good job at all ministering to those Catholics when they went through a divorce,” he said. “It’s very much parish by parish – and roughly less than 15 percent of parishes have any kind of ministry to divorced Catholics.” The working document asks how the Catholic Church can create space where “those who feel hurt by the Church and unwelcomed by the community feel recognized, received, free to ask questions, and not judged.” It also asks the global synod’s participants to consider concrete steps to “welcome those who feel excluded from the Church because of their status or sexuality” including “remarried divorcees.” Rose Sweet, Author of  “The Catholic’s Divorce Survival Guide,” said there is an opportunity for dioceses and parishes to work together to implement these ministries. “We need to have one skilled, trained, and compassionate contact person in every diocese,” Sweet said, “so every parish could reach out to and make contact with that person regarding helping the divorced, the separated, and the remarried.”

Vatican Officials Meet German Bishops to Continue Dialogue on Synodal Path

VATICAN CITYS (CNS) – Representatives of the Roman Curia and the German bishops’ conference discussed theological and disciplinary issues related to the German church’s Synodal Path in a “positive and constructive climate” during a meeting at the Vatican on July 26. The meeting was a “continuation of the dialogue initiated during the ‘ad limina’ visit of the German bishops in November of 2022,” Vatican officials and the German bishops said in a joint communique on July 26. In November, Germany’s 63 bishops met with Pope Francis for two hours and discussed with heads of Vatican offices the Synodal Path the Church in Germany launched in December of 2019. It specified that more meetings between the Vatican officials and the German bishops were expected in the future in which the theological and disciplinary topics addressed would be discussed further. Germany’s bishops were in Rome for a regularly-scheduled “ad limina” visit in November of 2022. Bishop Bätzing told reporters at the end of the visit on November 19 that the bishops’ meeting with Vatican officials was “a serious test of synodality” during which a moratorium on Germany’s Synodal Path was proposed but ultimately rejected. In the wake of the clerical abuse scandal and with the release of a major study of its suspected causes, the German bishops’ conference and the Central Committee of German Catholics launched the Synodal Path in 2019 to come up with appropriate responses. The process began with forums to discuss issues in the four areas the study identified as containing the “systemic causes” of sexual abuse and its cover-up: the exercise of power in the Church; sexual morality; priestly existence; and the role of women in the Church.

A supporter of Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga of the Azimio La Umoja (Declaration of Unity) One Kenya Alliance, participates in an anti-government protest against the imposition of tax hikes by the government in Nairobi July 21, 2023. (OSV News photo/Thomas Mukoya, Reuters)

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