This is the final International News for this year. It will recommence on 12th January 2015. We wish all our readers warmest best wishes for Christmas and throughout the New Year and look forward to serving you again in 2015.
KIDNAPPING, FORCED CONVERSIONS AND COLLECTIVE PUNISHMENT HAUNT EGYPT’S COPTS
It’s been two months since Coptic Christians in an Upper Egypt village endured a traumatic sequence of events ending in heavy police abuse. The victims still have not received any justice from the state security authorities who broke the law and violated its citizen’s human rights. On September 16, in Deir Gabal al-Teir village, Egyptian security forces ambushed several Coptic homes in the middle of the night. They proceeded to steal and destroy the families’ belongings before dragging dozens of residents out of their beds, binding their hands behind their backs and beating them with batons. The police then proceeded to drag them to the police station by a single rope.
The security forces collectively punished the villagers in response to a demonstration initiated by a group of Copts the previous day. They were protesting outside the station to pressure the police to investigate the earlier disappearance of 39-year-old Coptic woman Iman Saroufim. Her family initially filed a police report on September 3, believing that she was kidnapped by Muslim Sami Abd al-Rahman. They said they were unable to help, declaring that they believed Saroufim ran away willingly, and that since leaving she had also converted to Islam. After two weeks of unsuccessful negotiations with executive leaders of the province, hundreds from her Coptic community organized a demonstration outside the station.
The protest turned violent, leaving a police vehicle and a civil defence vehicle with broken windshields during the scuffle between the Copts and police. The police used tear gas to disperse the protestors, and then proceeded to raid their village late that night. On September 26, Saroufim unexpectedly returned to her family and told the media that she had “escaped.” She said that a Muslim man abducted her. “He tried to force me to go with him to Al-Azhar to convert to Islam, but I refused. He took another veiled woman to Al-Azhar, pretending she was me, to change my religion. He managed to change my religion using my photo.” Despite the collective punishment, no police were charged for the attack.
“The police brutality in this case is similar to attacks under the former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak,” a Cairo pastor said. In a meeting between Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim and a Coptic delegation from Minya on September 23, Ibrahim promised to compensate the owners of the homes for any damages. Youssef Sidhom of Watani International said he was not satisfied with this response, “A non-biased investigation is needed into the brutal police response to the protest of the Coptic villagers. The way the police handled the events cannot be brushed over. It implies that we accept the police going back to their previous savagery and horror practices, ”Sidhom said.
The use of this form of collective punishment by the Police is common practice. “If demonstrators attack police and hurl stones at them, then it is a transgression that needs to be addressed in accordance with the law. But it in no way justifies the use of collective punishment on the village,” said Ishak Ibrahim, an officer for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, (EIPR). EIPR urged the public prosecutor to launch an investigation into allegations against the police made by Saroufim. “The unfortunate events that took place in Deir Gabal al-Teir revealed the roots of the problem, which is the absence of a clear policy and specific laws to guarantee the freedom of citizens to change their religion whenever they want,” said EIPR.
“It is the state’s responsibility to resolve sectarian disputes following the principle of the rule of law, without engaging in collective punishment, customary law, or other methods that do not indicate respect for the citizenship rights of religious minorities,” EIPR said. In terms of the long-recurring issue of kidnapped Christian women, Ebram Louis believes that demonstrations are the only method to force police to take any action to return these women. Louis, the founder of the Association for the Victims of Abductions and Enforced Disappearances said that the position of Egyptian police is biased against Christians whose daughters have been kidnapped by Muslims.
Police are notorious for not acting, Louis said, even if the girl has been missing for 24 hours and the family has been threatened for ransom, “because they are afraid of the militant groups. They did not even follow up phone calls, to identify the callers or arrest perpetrators. The police have not helped the families of the kidnapped girls at all. Moreover, some police officers told the families not to search for their kidnapped daughters, as they converted to the right religion,” Louis said. Without any protection it is especially easy for kidnappers to target members of rich Egyptian families, to extort their families for ransom.
In just one generation, Latin America has seen the number of people who identify as Catholic plummet, with more people becoming Protestant or dropping religion altogether, a new report shows. The shift is dramatic for a region long seen as a bastion of Catholicism. With more than 425 million Catholics, Latin America accounts for nearly 40% of the global Catholic population. Through the 1960s, at least 90% of Latin Americans were Catholic, and 84% of people surveyed recently by the Pew Research Centre said they were raised Catholic. But now only 69% of Latin Americans still consider themselves Catholic, with more switching to Protestant churches (19%) or describing themselves as agnostic or religiously unaffiliated (8%).
Even the election of an Argentine as pope has led to conflicting feelings in Latin America. “While it is too soon to know whether Pope Francis can reverse the church’s losses in the region, the new survey finds that people who are currently Catholic overwhelmingly view Francis favourably and consider his papacy a major change for the church,” the report said. “But former Catholics are more sceptical about Pope Francis. Only in Argentina and Uruguay do majorities of ex-Catholics express a favourable view of the pope.” The diminished influence of the Catholic Church helps explain why countries in the region have so quickly adopted laws legalizing abortion, gay marriage and the decriminalization of marijuana.
A recent USA Today report found that more countries are adopting and debating changes on those contentious social issues, which would have been impossible in previous generations. People gave Pew a wide variety of reasons for abandoning the Catholic Church. The most common answer was people saying they wanted a more personal connection with God. Others said they enjoyed the style of worship at their new church or that they were looking for a greater emphasis on morality. The report was prepared by conducting 30,000 face-to-face interviews in three languages in 18 countries. Other findings from the report were:
•Evangelization efforts have worked. More than half of the people who switched from the Catholic Church to Protestant churches (58%) say their new church reached out to them.
•The shift in beliefs mirrors those seen in the Hispanic population in the United States. About 22% of Hispanics in the U.S. are now members of Protestant churches, compared to 19% in Latin America.
•Despite their affiliated religion, many in the region say they believe in some practices associated with Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Brazilian and indigenous religions. For example, at least a third of adults in every country believe in the “evil eye,” or the idea that some people can cast curses on others.
POPE FRANCIS TO BUILD SHOWERS FOR THE HOMELESS IN ST PETERS SQUARE
In his latest bid to ease the suffering of the poor Pope Francis plans to build showers for the homeless under the sweeping white colonnade of St. Peter’s Square. Three showers are to be built into refurbished public restrooms provided for Catholic pilgrims along the marble columns leading into the historic basilica, which was completed in 1626. The Vatican’s deputy spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, said that the project was a joint initiative of the pope and Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner who distributes charity on the pope’s behalf. Construction is due to begin within weeks.
It’s an unconventional move, even for a pope who constantly preaches that more should be done to help the poor. It also could rankle traditionalists as the homeless line up to wash beneath the extravagant apostolic apartments that Francis shunned after his election. “I think it’s a good thing,” said Adrian Sztrajt, a 27-year-old homeless man. “I would like to go for showers there.” Grzegorz Bialas, from Poland, said he’s a fan of the pope but thinks the showers are “a bad idea” since they could attract hundreds of homeless to the Vatican. He also said it was possible for the homeless to get a shower elsewhere in Rome.
Dariusz Puszkarz, a construction worker from Gdansk, said the showers were less important than finding work. He said he was fed up with the priests and cardinals who walked past their group every day without stopping to help them. “They don’t do anything,” he said. “They think we don’t want to work. Because we drink, everyone thinks we are alcoholics. No one offers us work.” The Italian daily La Stampa reported that Krajewski pressed for the showers to be built after he met a homeless man called Franco. When he learned it was Franco’s 50th birthday, he invited him for dinner but the man said he was too embarrassed because of his body odour while complaining there were no toilet or wash facilities around the Vatican.
Krajewski, who is also Polish told La Stampa’s Vatican Insider that he had visited 10 parishes in Rome where the homeless gather and asked them to install shower facilities. He said he tells parish priests: “The Holy Father is paying!” The Community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic charity that helps Rome’s homeless, also publishes a handbook, titled “Where to eat, sleep and wash,” in several languages. “It is not simple, because it is easier to make sandwiches than run a shower service,” Krajewski said. “We need volunteers, towels, underwear.” But Catholic charity is unlikely to stop there. Next on Krajewski’s list is haircuts. He said he has asked a local hairdressing school if students may be available to give haircuts to pilgrims without a home.
CHURCH OF ENGLAND IGNORES CENTURIES OF TRADITION BY APPOINTING FEMALE BISHOP
The Church of England has appointed its first female bishop overturning centuries of tradition in a Church that has been deeply divided over the issue. It named Reverend Libby Lane, a 48-year-old married mother of two, as the new Bishop of Stockport in northern England. Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted: “Congratulations to Rev. Libby Lane on becoming the first woman bishop in the Church. An historic appointment and important day for equality.” Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, spiritual head of the Church, said she was a “wonderful choice.” After long and heated debate, the Church of England governing Synod voted in July to allow women to become bishops and formally adopted legislation last month.
Women have served as priests in the Church since 1994, a decision that prompted some 470 male priests to leave in protest, many for the Roman Catholic Church. “It is an unexpected joy for me to be here today,” Lane said in her acceptance speech. “It is a remarkable day for me and I realize an historic day for the church.” She added: “I am conscious this morning of countless women and men who for decades have looked forward to the time when the Church of England would announce its first woman bishop.” The issue of women bishops has caused internal division ever since the Synod first approved female priests.
It has pitted reformers, keen to project a more modern image of the Church as it struggles with falling congregations in many increasingly secular countries, against a conservative minority which says the change contradicts the Bible. Two years ago, opposition from traditionalist lay members led to the defeat of a vote in the Synod to allow women bishops, to the dismay of modernizers and the Church hierarchy. Women serve as bishops in the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand but Anglican churches in many developing countries do not ordain them as priests. Lane is married to Reverend George Lane, Coordinating Chaplain at Manchester Airport, and they have two grown up children.
Pakistani officials have fended off Taliban gunmen who stormed a military school in Peshawar last Tuesday, but not before the attackers massacred 132 children and nine staff members. “Their sole purpose, it seems, was to kill those innocent kids. That’s what they did,” military spokesman Asim Bajwa said. Authorities say most of the victims were students in grades 1-10 at the army public school. “My son was in uniform in the morning. He is in a casket now,” Fox News quoted Tahir Ali, who arrived at the hospital to claim the body of his 14-year-old son Abdullah. “My son was my dream. My dream has been killed.”
The attack was the worst in Pakistan in over a year. Taliban spokesman Mohammed Khurasani claimed responsibility for the massacre, saying that six suicide bombers initiated it in revenge for Taliban members killed by Pakistani authorities. His organization, Tehreek-e-Taliban, is a Pakistani military group working to overthrow the government. The jihadists entered the school Tuesday morning and began shooting at random until army commandos arrived at the scene. The school is located at the edge of military quarters in Peshawar but most of the students are civilian. Local hospitals are treating dozens of the injured. Peshawar has endured frequent terror attacks in the past, but recently had enjoyed a relative lull.
MORMANS REELING FROM TRUTH REVEALED ABOUT FOUNDER JOSEPH SMITH
It seems almost every denomination is having a day of reckoning whereby what’s been hidden is being exposed for all the world to see. After all, scripture does promise that “judgment must begin at the house of God.” Now, after over 100 years of concealing the truth, the Mormon church, has come forward with a bombshell revelation of their own. It’s a big one, centring on their founder Joseph Smith. Several sources report the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has “quietly” posted essays on their official website dealing with a number of controversial topics regarding the church. The one on Smith, reveals that he had up to 40 wives, including several who were already married and one who was only 14 years old.
The revelation has shocked Mormons worldwide who for years were taught that Smith was a loving and loyal spouse to his only wife Emma. The confession by church leaders indicates that Smith’s polygamous relationships were an “excruciating ordeal” for Emma. For many women in polygamous relationships— Mormons, Muslims, and certain animistic and cultic religions—sharing a husband with others is unbearable. Kristine Haglund, editor of a Mormon Journal, said, “most women are really troubled by it.” Emily Jensen, a blogger from Farmington, Utah, wrote, “Joseph Smith was to me a perfect prophet and this is true for a lot of people… this is not the church I grew up with, this is not the Joseph Smith I love.”
MUSLIM COMPLAINTS SPUR SCHOOL DISTRICT TO DO AWAY WITH CHRISTMAS
A school district in Maryland is taking all religious holidays off of the school calendar after complaints from Muslim families. They wanted the Muslim holiday of Eid Al Ahda to be recognized the same way Jewish holidays are. Superintendent Joshua Starr made the recommendation that the board consider removing the names of Jewish and Christian holidays from the 2015-2016 calendar, even though county public schools would still close on the holidays. Many of the families say removing all religious holidays doesn’t fix anything. “The school board basically stripped any designation of Christmas, Easter, Rosh’ashana, and Yom Kippur. I think they made a mistake and it’s short-sighted,” one parent said after the school board meeting.