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In Nicaragua, paramilitaries attack bishop and besiege church

Managua, Nicaragua, Jul 16, 2018 / 03:19 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- This weekend, paramilitaries in Nicaragua attacked a car carrying the Bishop of Esteli, and in a separate incident pro-government forces besieged students in a parish church, killing two.

Protests against president Daniel Ortega which began April 18 have resulted in more than 300 deaths, according to local human rights groups. The country's bishops have mediated on-again, off-again peace talks between the government and opposition groups.

Bishop Juan Abelardo Mata Guevara of Esteli was attacked in his car at a police checkpoint in Nindiri, about 15 miles southeast of Managua, July 15. He was returning from saying Mass. The paramilitaries damaged the car's tires and windows, and fired on the vehicle.

Together with his driver, Bishop Mata took shelter in a house which was surrounded by Ortega's supporters, who verbally harassed him for 90 minutes.

He was able to leave the house through the intervention of the Archdiocese of Managua, which intervened with the government to send general commissioner Ramon Avellan to guarantee the bishop's physical safety. Bishop Mata returned to Esteli by cover of dark.

Bishop Mata is among the mediators and witnesses in the national dialogue between the government and the opposition.

Also on Sunday, Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes Solorzano of Managua lamented that “police and paramilitaries” had entered a rectory and carried off “various belongings of the parish and of Fr. Jairo Velasquez”, who was unharmed. In his statement, the cardinal reiterated a call for the government and police to desist from “the attacks against the population” and to respect “the churches and rectories and personal articles of priests, which are used in humanitarian work.”

In Managua, around 150 student protesters who took refuge in Divine Mercy parish July 13 were able to leave the following day, after an intervention by the country's bishops.

The parish is near the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua, where the students had been protesting during a national strike. They were attacked by the paramilitaries, and sought shelter in the church building, where they were besieged. Two student protesters died in the church from fire by the paramilitaries.

The students were transferred July 14 to Managua's Immaculate Conception Cathedral, where they received medical care.

Fr. Raul Zamora, pastor of Divine Mercy parish, and his vicar, Fr. Erick Alvarado, announced July 16 their appreciation for those who have helped to clean up the church, and said that the church will be closed through July 19. On July 20, a penitential Mass will be said “where we will implore the Mercy of God and the gift of conversion for our Nicaragua.” Normal Mass times and perpetual adoration will resume July 21.

The Nicaraguan bishops have announced a day of prayer and fasting July 20 in reparation for desecrations carried out in recent months.

In a July 14 statement, the bishops' conference said that since it began mediation between the government and the opposition in April, “we have witnessed the government's lack of political will to dialogue sincerely and to seek real processes that would lead us to a true democracy.”

They said Ortega's government has refused “to address the central themes of the agenda of democratization” and to dismantle the paramilitaries.

They denounced the repression by police and paramilitaries, whose attacks “are juridically and morally condemnable” and which have the objective “of sowing terror in the people who have manifested themselves peacefully.”

Barricades and roadblocks are now found throughout Nicaragua, and clashes frequently turn lethal. Bishops and priests across the country have worked to separate protesters and security forces, and have been threatened and shot.

Nicaragua's crisis began after Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests only intensified after more than 40 protestors were killed by security forces initially.

Anti-government protesters have been attacked by “combined forces” made up of regular police, riot police, paramilitaries, and pro-government vigilantes.

The Nicaraguan government has suggested that protestors are killing their own supporters so as to destabilize Ortega's administration.

The Church in Nicaragua was quick to acknowledge the protestors' complaints.

The pension reforms which triggered the unrest were modest, but protests quickly turned to Ortega's authoritarian bent.

Ortega has been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014.

The Church has suggested that elections, which are not scheduled until 2021, be held in 2019, but Ortega has ruled this out.

Ortega was a leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which had ousted the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and fought US-backed right-wing counterrevolutionaries during the 1980s. Ortega was also leader of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.

Dominican bishops encourage citizens to respect life at all stages

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Jul 13, 2018 / 03:50 pm (ACI Prensa).- The bishops' conference of the Dominican Republic published Wednesday a statement affirming the importance for the Church of forming persons to value and respect life in all its stages.

“The bishops, conscience of the challenges facing our society, consider the integral formation of a human being to permit him to value and to respect life in all its stages a very important challenge,” reads the July 11 statement from the Dominican bishops. The nation's episcopal conference had held a plenary assembly July 1-6.

The bishops' focus on respect for life comes as various groups, including the Christian Alliance of the Dominican Republic, press for the decriminalization of abortion in cases of the mother's life, fetal inviability, or rape.

Moreover, the bishops said there must be work done “so that the people do not let themselves be discouraged, because what the Church encourages is that we fight for all lives. We have reaffirmed, before science, law, and before God that no-one has the right to condemn to death an innocent, and much less an indefensible child.”

“We promote public policies, which rather than leading to death, are the foundation for defending all human rights, beginning with the first and most important: the life of all,” they exhorted.

The bishops also noted that they are anticipating the celebration of the 525th anniversary of the first known Mass to have been said in the Americas, on Epiphany in 1494.

That Mass was said during Columbus' second voyage to the New World, on the northern coast of Hispaniola, in what is now the Dominican Republic.

“The congresses, pilgrimages, and gatherings around this festivity demonstrate to us a Church which responds to its faith, despite the great challenges which continue regarding evangelizing and revealing the face of the love of God, amid a society seduced by evil, and the boredom of the realities which it suffers.”

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Ex-chancellor of Chilean archdiocese arrested for child sex abuse

Santiago, Chile, Jul 13, 2018 / 09:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A priest who served in the chancery of the Archdiocese of Santiago de Chile for 15 years was arrested by local authorities Thursday on accusations of sexual abuse of minors and of the cover-up of abuse.

Fr. Óscar Muñoz Toledo, 56, was arrested July 12 on seven counts of the repeated sexual abuse of minors and statutory rape. He also faces accusations of cover-up.

The abuse is alleged to have begun in 2002, with victims between the ages of 11 and 17 years old. According to Chilean press, five of the seven alleged victims are nephews of Muñoz.

Starting in 2003, Muñoz served as vice-chancellor of Santiago under now-emeritus Archbishop Javier Errazuriz Ossa, who is a member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals. Following Errazuriz’ retirement, Muñoz became chancellor, a position he held until earlier this year.

Muñoz reported himself to the archdiocese’s office for abuse complaints Jan. 2. He was subsequently removed as chancellor and as a parish priest at Jesús de Nazareth parish, where he had served since 2016, and was prohibited from the public exercise of his priestly ministry.

A chancellor is responsible for maintaining the documents of a diocese. According to Chilean newspaper La Tercera, Muñoz, as chancellor, was also present during statements made against Chile’s most notorious abuser priest, Fernando Karadima, who was convicted of sexually abusing minors in a 2011 Vatican trial.

According to the Spanish language news agency EFE, the local prosecutor’s office opened an investigation against Muñoz in May.

In June the same office seized evidence from the Diocese of Rancagua and the ecclesiastical court in Santiago to examine claims of abuse by a group of priests in the O’Higgins region of Chile.

They are the latest investigations of clergy of the Church in Chile as it continues to face fallout from sexual abuse scandals.

In June Pope Francis accepted the resignation of five Chilean bishops, including Bishop Juan Barros Madrid, who had been accused of covering up for Karadima.

The resignation of Bishop Alejandro Goić Karmelić, the then-head of the Church in Rancagua, was also accepted June 28. In May, Goić, 78, admitted to dropping the ball on abuse allegations brought to him in 2017. He apologized for having not investigated the charges and suspended 12 priests who were accused of inappropriate sexual conduct with minors.

All the active bishops of Chile had submitted their written resignation to Pope Francis at the end of a three-day meeting with the pontiff in Rome. Francis summoned the bishops following an in-depth investigation and report into the Chilean clerical abuse crisis carried out in February by Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Msgr. Jordi Bertomeu of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Venezuelan bishops say country is going in 'suicidal' direction under Maduro

Caracas, Venezuela, Jul 12, 2018 / 01:37 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of Venezuela issued Wednesday a scathing critique of the country's political leadership, calling for greater respect for basic needs and rights.

Since Nicolas Maduro succeeded Hugo Chávez as president of Venezuela in 2013, the country has been marred by violence and social upheaval.

“Attitudes of arrogance, authoritarianism and abuse of power, as well as the constant violation of human rights, are accumulating on their actors a rejection that future generations will claim,” the bishops said in a July 11 statement at the close of their plenary assembly.

“It is suicidal to continue stubbornly insisting on a path of self-destruction that will turn against its promoters,” they said, stressing that the Church does not endorse acts of revenge or retaliation, “but neither does it promote impunity for crimes that threaten life and fundamental rights.”

The United Nation's human rights office said in June that Venezuelan security forces carried out more than 500 extra-judicial killings amid purported crime-fighting efforts between July 2015 and March 2017. The report highlighted the failure of authorities to hold accountable perpetrators of serious human rights violations which include killings, the use of excessive force against demonstrators, arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment, and torture.

The bishops' statement, “Do not be afraid, I am with you,” offers an overview of the political and humanitarian crisis plaguing the country and their reaction as pastors.

The bishops said the future of the nation is at stake, and the situation is becoming “increasingly more serious.”

Citing “monstrous hyperinflation” as a key reason for much of the country's crisis, the bishops noted that the quality of life for the majority of Venezuelans, which was “already extremely precarious, is deteriorating day by day.”

Added to shortages in food, healthcare supplies, public services such as water and electricity, which were already a cause for serious concern, are problems with personal safety, employment, the circulation and sale of cash, and problems with public transport.

With most methods of public transport disappearing from the streets, citizens have created their own means getting around, packing themselves into overflowing truck beds or holding onto cage-looking structures on the back of large lorries, causing an increase in traffic accidents and deaths.

Poor economic policies, including strict price controls, coupled with high inflation rates, have resulted in a severe lack of basic necessities such as toilet paper, milk, flour, diapers and medicines.

Venezuela's socialist government is widely blamed for the crisis. Since 2003, price controls on some 160 products, including cooking oil, soap and flour, have meant that while they are affordable, they fly off store shelves only to be resold on the black market at much higher rates.

In  2017, Maduro announced plans to re-write the country's constitution, a decision that was widely opposed by citizens and the Church. Millions of people turned out to protest in the lead-up to a July 30, 2017, nation-wide election which approved a constitutional assembly to reform the country’s 1999 constitution.

In their statement, Venezuela's bishops pointed to the ongoing political crisis the country is facing, saying the primary cause for their woes is the national government, “for putting its political project over any other consideration, including the humanitarian.”

They also criticized the government for “erroneous” financial policies, for its “contempt for productive activity and for private property and for its constant attitude of placing obstacles in the way of those who want to resolve some aspect of the current problem.”

The government is playing the victim in both internal and external ways, they said, explaining that this is “nothing more than the confession of their own inability to manage the country. One cannot pretend to resolve the situation of a failed economy with emergency measures such as food bags and bonuses.”

Elections held in May, which many Venezuelans, including the bishops, protested as illegitimate, has only cemented the current government's hold on power, rather than leading to legal and democratic presidential elections, they said, noting that the boycott by high numbers of the population is a “silent message of rejection” toward a regime that seeks to impose “a totalitarian ideology.”

Calling Venezuela's National Constituent Assembly “illegitimate,” the bishops said the entity violates “the most sacred rights of the Venezuelan people: the fundamental freedom to elect their own leaders in a fair electoral competition” without manipulation or favoritism.

Bishops said they live under a “de facto regime” which does not live by the constitution, and stressed the need for national leadership which puts people and ethics at the center, rather than power, control, or the pursuit of “petty interests.”

They also pointed to the growing Venezuelan diaspora throughout the world, mostly in neighboring Latin American countries, who risk trafficking and often struggle to integrate into their new countries. The Unied Nations Refugee Agency recently estimated that 5,000 Venezuelans emigrate daily.

Noting the high numbers of youth who have left, bishops said their absence is a loss of “human talent” for the country and of hope for the future.

However, the bishops stressed that  “God guides his people from slavery to freedom, but he also educates them, through trials and hardship, so that it reaches the necessary maturity as a nation.”

They urged citizens to pray, saying no prayer or sacrifice is useless, even if the result is not immediately seen.

In the midst of the crisis, the Church, they said, has en evangelic task of looking after the interests of the people.

They stressed that the Church is not a substitute for political leaders, and does not wish to “dominate the social panorama, nor to become a factor of government or opposition.”

“However, it encourages the duly educated and aware laity of their citizens' rights and obligations to make their voices heart and to actively intervene in the political arena, so that the high principles and values that the Christian faith transmits to us can also be lived in the scope of the public and translate into works of common good.”

The bishops invited members of civil society to look for creative solutions to the crisis, urging citizens not to grow accustomed to living in “humiliating” conditions, and to be active in using every means possible to return power to the people.

Addressing the Venezuelan armed forces, bishops urged them to be faithful to their oath before God and homeland to “defend the constitution and democracy, and not to be carried away by political and ideological bias.”

They also advocated for greater solidarity on the part of parishes and ecclesial institutions in keeping with the Church's social doctrine, despite the difficulties. The Church community, they said, is called “to promote a structural change in favor of the transformation of our society.”

“We must never be discouraged in front of the challenges of an uncertain and difficult present,” they said. “On the contrary, we place our trust in God, who gives us the strength to bear witness and to do good, and we strengthen the demands in favor of justice and freedom.”

Bishops attacked by pro-government mob at basilica in Nicaragua

Managua, Nicaragua, Jul 10, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A group of bishops in Nicaragua who went Monday to free a group of protesters who had taken refuge in a basilica the previous day were themselves assaulted by a pro-government group.

Protests against president Daniel Ortega which began April 18 have resulted in more than 300 deaths. The country's bishops have mediated on-again, off-again peace talks between the government and opposition groups.

Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes Solorzano of Managua, 69; his auxiliary, Bishop Silvio José Baez Ortega, 60; and Archbishop Waldemar Sommertag, 50, apostolic nuncio to Nicaragua, were surrounded July 9 when they tried to enter San Sebastian basilica in Diriamba, about 25 miles south of Managua.

Their route was blocked, and the pro-government groups called them murderers and liars. Among those trapped in the basilica were volunteer medics.

Bishop Baez posted a tweet showing a cut on his arm, and saying, “Besieged by an angry mob who wanted to enter the Basilica of San Sebastian in Diriamba, I was wounded, hit in the stomach, robbed of my episcopal insignia and verbally attacked. I am well, thanks be to God. The basilica was liberated, and those who were within.”

 

Asediado por una turba enardecida que quería ingresar a la Basílica San Sebastián en Diriamba, fui herido, golpeado en el estómago, me arrebataron las insignias episcopales  y agredido verbalmente. Estoy bien gracias a Dios. Se liberó la basílica y a quienes allí estaban. pic.twitter.com/9qTgugBjic

— Silvio José Báez (@silviojbaez) July 9, 2018


 

The Archdiocese of Managua called the attack committed “by persons close to the government and paramilitaries” was “condemnable and repudiable.”

The bishops were visiting Diriamba after what the Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights reported as deadliest day in the country since the country's unrest began more than two months ago.

The rights group said that 38 people were killed during clashes July 8. Of these, 31 were anti-government protesters, four were police officers, and three were members of pro-government groups. Most of those killed were in Diriamba and nearby Jinotepe.

The Nicaraguan bishops' conference said the delegation of bishops was “fulfilling the mission of Jesus Christ, to be at the side of the suffering people, a pastoral visit to the priests and faithful of the Carazo department, the victims of police, paramilitaries and crowds producing death and dolour.”

Cardinal Brenes said he had “felt the brutal force” exercised against his priests. “We have gone to the parishes to console our priests, to accompany them in their suffering, and we have received aggressions.”

 

«Padre, perdónalos, porque no saben lo que hacen» (Lc 23,34). Orando en la capilla de la Catedral de Managua hoy después de ser agredidos. pic.twitter.com/NiKxORL9lh

— Silvio José Báez (@silviojbaez) July 10, 2018


 

Barricades and roadblocks are now found throughout the country, and clashes frequently turn lethal. Bishops and priests across Nicaragua have worked to separate protesters and security forces, and have been threatened and shot.

The violence in Diriamba and Jinotepe was focused on police and paramilitaries trying to clear barricades set up and manned by protesters.

Bishop Rolando José Alvarez Lagos of Matagalpa said the government efforts to clear roadblocks were made “at the price of blood and death,” and that the government has become blinded by “arrogance and pride”.

Shortly after the bishops were assaulted in Diriamba, paramilitaries and government sympathizers were profaning and sacking St James the Apostle parish in Jinotepe.

The parish showed on Facebook that it had been desecrated by “persons, paramilitaries accompanied by police forces” who were “destroying pews, tables, and medications”.

The medications had been used in part to provide medical care for those wounded in the July 8 riots in Diriamba.

The profaners threw garbage at the parish's priests, and threatened to burn the church.

The Nicaraguan bishops' conference has called off the working groups meant to mediate in the country's crisis, and protesters are planning a strike July 12.

Nicaragua's crisis began after Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests only intensified after more than 40 protestors were killed by security forces initially.

Anti-government protesters have been attacked by “combined forces” made up of regular police, riot police, paramilitaries, and pro-government vigilantes.

The Nicaraguan government has suggested that protestors are killing their own supporters so as to destabilize Ortega's administration.

The Church in Nicaragua was quick to acknowledge the protestors' complaints.

The pension reforms which triggered the unrest were modest, but protests quickly turned to Ortega's authoritarian bent.

Ortega has been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014.

The Church has suggested that elections, which are not scheduled until 2021, be held in 2019, but Ortega ruled this out July 7.

Ortega was a leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which had ousted the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and fought US-backed right-wing counterrevolutionaries during the 1980s. Ortega was also leader of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.

Legal challenges to Canada Summer Jobs focus on freedom of speech

Ottawa, Canada, Jul 10, 2018 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Legal opposition continues to gather against a new rule for a long-standing Canadian summer jobs program, which requires grant applicants to affirm abortion access as a human right.

Previous legal challenges have concerned prospective grantees’ right to advocate against abortion, but newer challenges now cite arguments about religious freedom and compelled speech, the Canadian newspaper The National Post reported.

The Canada Summer Job Grants program has funded an estimated 70,000 summer jobs for secondary school or college students, granting small businesses, non-profit organizations, and religious employers the money to fill positions such as camp counselors or landscapers.

Under the grant application’s new clause, non-profits and for-profit organizations must check a box affirming their consistency with Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, relevant case law, and the Canadian government’s commitments to the human rights it recognizes. These include “women’s rights and women’s reproductive rights, and the rights of gender-diverse and transgender Canadians.”

The wording has drawn objection from foes of abortion, among others.

Among those challenging the new requirement is Power To Change, a Christian campus ministry, which filed a federal lawsuit in late May. Its applications for grants for 44 summer jobs were rejected because it included a letter stating its objections: “Our belief is contrary to the current government’s view on women’s reproductive rights. Our honestly held belief is protected under the Charter,” the objections said.

The Toronto Right to Life Association had filed the first federal challenge against the requirement in January, a case that has been slowed by additional allegations. A September hearing will address allegations that the government wrongly withheld documents during the disclosure process.

However, Power To Change contested a government request that the court consolidate its case with the pro-life group or stay its proceedings until the case is decided. The campus ministry group said it is not principally involved in raising awareness about abortion and the government would gain “a significant tactical advantage” by tying religious objections to the anti-abortion objections.

Power To Change said its challenge represents “a far larger segment of the non-profit sector.” Its challenge contended that the requirement is overbroad and blocks funding not only to groups acting against abortion, but also to “organizations that do not have this mandate.”

Private businesses are also challenging the new requirement for summer jobs grants.

Saturn Machine Works Ltd., a manufacturing company in southeast Edmonton, on July 3 applied for judicial review of its rejected application.

“No government should be using the power of the state to coerce a business to express agreement with government ideology in order to receive funding to help employ students,” said Kurt Feigel, the business’ owner, the Edmonton Journal reports.

The business had applied to fund a student position through the summer jobs program but did not check the box on the application affirming agreement with the values. It attached a letter seeking accommodation to remain neutral. The application was returned as “incomplete and therefore ineligible for assessment.”

Saturn Machine Works is backed by Free to Do Business Canada. Its spokesperson, Tamara Jansen, characterized the issue as “compelled speech.”

“We wouldn’t make employees state their views on their stances on reproductive rights,” she said. “Being asked to do this is an incredible overreach of the government.”

Jansen has been involved in pro-life work, but she said this work is unrelated.

Sarnia Concrete Products Ltd. filed a case in late June arguing that it does not take a position on abortion or “other political, moral, ethical and social issues” that are “completely unrelated to its business.”

Roy Botma, the company’s CEO, has served on the boards of many Christian groups and Redeemer University College. The legal challenge aims to argue the right of his business to maintain neutrality, according to Free To Do Business, which announced the court challenge.

Opponents of the mandate have considered whether to file civil lawsuits or a human rights tribunal case alleging discriminatory government spending. Applications for federal court must be filed within 30 days after the rejection of grants.

In January the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said the new policy “seriously undermines the right to religious freedom since the Government of Canada is directly limiting the right of religious traditions to hold, teach and practice their principles and values in public.”

“It seriously undermines the right to religious freedom since the Government of Canada is directly limiting the right of religious traditions to hold, teach and practice their principles and values in public,” they added.

Bishops denounce crisis caused by armed groups in Colombian department

Quibdo, Colombia, Jul 6, 2018 / 04:11 pm (ACI Prensa).- The bishops of the Chocó Department in Colombia denounced Thursday the crisis occurring in the impoverished region due to crime and an onslaught by illegal armed groups which have been met by government inaction.

A July 5 statement signed by the Chocó Inter-ethnic Solidarity  Forum, the Standing Roundtable of Dialogue and Agreement of the Indigenous Peoples of Chocó, and the dioceses of  Quibdó, Apartadó, and Itsmina-Tadó denounced this situation and demanded concrete action from the government.  

Located in Colombia's far-west, Chocó has one the lowest living standards among the country's departments. More than 80 percent of its population are Afro-Colombians, and almost 13 percent are indigenous. Only five percent are white or mestizo.

Violence in Chocó has continued despite a 2016 peace deal between the national government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) which was meant to wind-down the country's 54-year conflict among the government, right-wing paramilitaries, and left-wing guerillas.

The text states that little progress has been made in the implementation of the peace accord with the FARC, and not fully controlling the territories left by the guerrillas has left the inhabitants of Chocó “quite helpless, at the mercy of paramilitary groups, the National Liberation Army (ELN), and other armed actors.”

Although the Colombian army and navy conduct operations in the department, these forces “are not sufficient to counteract the actions of groups outside the law. The Army has a network of informants in the civil population, which violates the principle of distinguishing between civilians and combatants, and despite the implementation of infrastructure projects, healthcare activities and social integration, without effective security the civilian population is put at grave risk due to the intensity of the armed conflict in the region.”

In the cities of Chocó “the murder rate is above the national average,” the leaders wrote. “Illegal armed actors exercise territorial control in extensive areas, they systematically extort the inhabitants, they construct invisible boundaries, they impose schedules on the people's free movement, they restrict access by foreigners, they engage in small time drug dealing, they use adolescents as informants (called bell-ringers) and they very frequently rape minors.”

Another aggravating factor is the presence of the Clan del Golfo, a drug-trafficking paramilitary group which continues to fight in the Colombian conflict. Clan del Golfo “occupies and contests ethnic territories” the bishops said, and “is financed by black market mining operations, takes part in the production and distribution of cocaine, [and] extorts and forces people from the communities to be their informants.”

In addition, the ELN guerilla group continues their terrorist actions, recruiting “black and indigenous minors,” forcing the communities to participate in their meetings and obstructing “their traditional work.”

The bishops recalled that “the ELN stormed into a community festival” May 13, killing “José David Hurtado Mosquera in the town of Pogue, a black community in Bojayá township.”

They are therefore urging the Colombian government “to guarantee the free movement and security of the leaders, communities, and organizations in the Chocó department; that the safeguards and commitments established in the Chapter on Ethnic Groups of the Peace Accord be fulfilled; that the illegal armed groups be disbanded; and that the grave humanitarian, social and environmental  crisis in Chocó be addressed.”  

They also requested the various law enforcement agencies  to exercise more effectively their responsibility concerning the protection of human rights in the Chocó department.

They also called on the Colombian government and the ELN to assume the demands of the Humanitarian Accord and to establish a cease fire, “respecting human rights and international humanitarian law.”

Additionally, they asked the authorities to implement the peace accord with FARC.

Finally, they asked that “the Roundtable Talks with the ELN in Havana be continued, with the criteria of truth and coherence, and respect for the trust of the Colombian people.”

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Mexican bishops urge collaboration after election of Lopez Obrador

Mexico City, Mexico, Jul 2, 2018 / 12:27 pm (ACI Prensa).- The bishops of Mexico congratulated Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador on his election as the next president of the country, stressing the need to “collaborate in a positive way with our elected officials.”

Leftist candidate Lopez Obrador won the July 1 presidential election in Mexico by significant margins. The anti-establishment candidate ran on a populist platform, pledging to tackle the drug violence, corruption, and poverty plaguing the country.

He has called for a respectful relationship between the U.S. and Mexico, but criticized U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan for a border wall.

In a statement published July 2, the Mexican Bishops’ Conference highlighted that election day “was in general, orderly and peaceful.”

“Behind this exercise in democracy is the dignity and freedom of every human being, called to participate in social life,” they said. “We express our appreciation to the election officials as well as all citizens in general. Government and society, working together, we can do great things.”

The Mexican bishops stressed that no single government official can solve all problems. They noted the importance of participation by the people, “always with respect for human rights and the authentic common good.”

“We will only be able to create better conditions for development for everyone if we get personally involved in the improvement of our municipalities, states and the entire Mexican Republic,” they said.

Looking to the future, the bishops said that “education and the fight against poverty, truth and freedom, respect for differences and the search for consensus are ways to overcome inequality, selfishness and abuse.”

“We especially urge Catholics to redouble their commitment so that the witness of our dedication and generosity will illuminate social life with the Gospel of life, peace and solidarity.”

Entrusting the country to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the bishops said they will continue to pray for “a reconciled, just and fraternal Mexico which vindicates the dignity of the poorest and most excluded, the life of the unborn, the good of our families and authentic religious freedom.”

 

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Calls for peace and justice ahead of Mexico's general election

Mexico City, Mexico, Jun 29, 2018 / 05:17 pm (ACI Prensa).- Various civil organizations in Mexico, including one dedicated to the philosophy of St. Thomas More, have urged politicians participating in the upcoming general election to re-establish peace and justice in the country.

By signing of the “Pact for Peace,” the organizations stressed that “We educational, social, political and governmental actors must all be united  in order to strengthen the essential conditions for peace: the promotion of ethical, human and social values of respect and peaceful coexistence. The prevention of violence, drugs and crime. Social dialogue and conciliation.”

The signatories include National Parents Union, the Mexican Commission for Human Rights, the Citizen Coordinator, the Fundación Tomás Moro, and the Citizen Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice.

Mexico's July 1 general election will determine the country's president as well as all of the members of the federal legislature. Many regional and local positions will also be voted on.

The Mexican civil organizations also expressed their rejection of campaign promises such as the creation of an “armed civilian guard.”

The signers encouraged “the Armed Forces to remain as long as necessary (performing) domestic security duties to protect citizens,” and at the same time they called for “the prohibition and dissolution of self-defense groups” and “the dismantling of armed organized crime gangs.”

They also asked the winners of the July 1 electoral contest to establish as public policy in the different levels of the government a substantial improvement in “care and assistance for crime victims and their families who are demanding justice and solidarity.”

“We social organizations that are fighting for peace demand from the political actors the commitment to create a social and political climate of peace and to resolve their conflicts without creating chaos, making threats, or encouraging acts of vengeance.”

The civil organizations also urged the authorities who are elected to work with “transparency” against corruption and that they provide “justice against impunity.”

“We ask the president of Mexico to report quarterly to the National Public Safety Council and to make the information public so society can evaluate the results in abating impunity, crime and vioence. And that the Council report on the performance of the public prosecutors, criminal judges and magistrates,” they said.

They then encouraged that there be order in the prisons and at the same time neither “hatred nor amnesty.”

“We urge that the prisons be put in order so they are not schools of criminality, that sentences be served with social work and that their assimilation back into society be effective with the participation of social organizations,” they stated.

The Pact for Peace concluded by urging candidates to accept the results of the July 1 elections and “in the case of disagreements,” that they turn to the board of elections and the other legally competent authorities.

More than 100 politicians have been killed across Mexico ahead of the general election.

On June 21, Ocampo mayoral candidate Fernando Ángeles Juárez was killed by unknown gunmen, the BBC reported. When federal forces arrived to investigate the killing, they were stopped by local police. The entire local police force of the city in Michoacan state has since been detained.

 

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Masked, armed men attack chancery in Nicaragua

Matagalpa, Nicaragua, Jun 28, 2018 / 03:22 pm (ACI Prensa).- The pastoral center of the Diocese of Matagalpa in central Nicaragua, whose bishop is currently in Rome to inform the pope of the situation in his country, was attacked by men armed with machetes on Tuesday.

Two months of protests against Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega have resulted in more than 200 deaths.

The priests of the Matagalpa diocese stated that around noon on June 26 “our Charterhouse Diocesan Pastoral Center was raided by a group of masked men armed with machetes.”

The priests indicated that the assailants “stormed into the center,” took away valuables, and damaged the furniture and the infrastructure. They also threatened the guard.

The priests expressed their sadness “for this desecration of a sacred place dedicated to evangelization and spirituality.” They also condemned the lack of respect for members of the Church and its goods.

“This shameful act is an affront to the person of our pastor Bishop Rolando Álvarez who is on his consultative trip to Rome, and to our parishioners,” the priests said, asking the authorities to find those responsible.

The clergy of the Matagalpa diocese renewed their “urgent call for peace, the end of the violence, and we strongly support the strengthening of the national dialogue in order to come to and honor a national accord for peace and justice. Let's keep our sanity and respect for others. Let us pray untiringly to the Lord.”

The country's bishops have mediated on-again, off-again peace talks between the government and opposition groups, and were quick to acknowledge the protesters' complaints. Bishops and priests across Nicaragua have worked to separate protesters and security forces, and have been threatened and shot.

Bishop Álvarez is currently in Rome together with Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes Solorzano of Managua to brief Pope Francis on the state of affairs in Nicaragua.

He wrote on Twitter June 27 that “As soon as I arrived in Rome, I was informed of the lamentable events that took place at the Charterhouse Pastoral Center. They achieved their objective. Already I knew. This was obviously directed. This is the reality Nicaragua is going through.”

 

"Apenas he llegado a Roma, me informan los lamentables acontecimientos acontecidos en el Centro Pastoral de la Cartuja. Cumplieron su objetivo. Ya lo supe. Obviamente ésto fue dirigido. Esta es la realidad que vive Nicaragua". Mons. Rolando José.

— Monseñor Rolando José Alvarez L. (@DiocesisdeMat) June 27, 2018


 

Bishop Álvarez has been outspoken in favor of the opposition; he exhorted Nicaraguans during his June 10 homily to join “the immense majority” of the population which is asking for an urgent change in the country since “Nicaragua can no longer tolerate this.”

He has also said, “We hope there would be a series of electoral reforms, structural changes to the electoral authority – free, just and transparent elections, international observation without conditions … Effectively the democratization of the country.”

Fr. Vicente Martínez Bermúdez, a priest of the Diocese of Matagalpa, has reported that over the weekend he was detained by a group of 20 hooded men and threatened with death. Another priest of the Matagalpa diocese was wounded by shrapnel May 15 while trying to separate protesters and security forces, the AP reported.

Protests began April 18 after Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests only intensified after more than 40 protestors were killed by security forces initially.

Barricades and roadblocks are now found throughout the country, and clashes frequently turn lethal.

Peace talks resumed June 25 under the Church's mediation.

But the day prior, the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights charged that Matagalpa, as well as Diriamba, Managua, Masaya, Nagarote, and Tipitapa were attacked by “combined forces” made up of regular police, riot police, paramilitaries, and pro-government vigilantes.

The Nicaraguan government has suggested that protestors are killing their own supporters so as to destabilize Ortega's administration.

The pension reforms which triggered the unrest were modest, but protests quickly turned to Ortega's authoritarian bent.

Ortega has shown resistance to calls for elections, which are not scheduled until 2021, to be held early.

Ortega has been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014.

He was a leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which had ousted the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and fought US-backed right-wing counterrevolutionaries during the 1980s. Ortega was also leader of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.

 

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.