Christian unity is necessary measure against violence
At a gathering of Middle East leaders coinciding with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the Syriac Orthodox patriarch emphasised the need to unify efforts against extremism and terrorism.
“A hundred years after the genocide during the Ottoman Empire and major displacements”, Christians in the region are still facing similar circumstances, said Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch. “Many of our churches have been destroyed and hundreds of thousands of our Christian brothers have been forced to migrate from the land of their fathers,” he said. “To whose benefit is it if the region is emptied of Christians?”
Indonesian politician freed after blasphemy sentence
An Indonesian Christian, the former governor of Jakarta was released from jail on January 24, completing a two-year long sentence for alleged blasphemy against Islam. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Chinese Christian, was Jakarta’s governor from 2014 to 2017.
He was sentenced to prison that year, after being convicted of blasphemy after he charged that his opponents in his re-election race misused a Quranic verse about Muslims being ruled by non-Muslims. A video of his comments with inaccurate subtitles was later released. Hundreds of Muslim protestors gathered outside the court and called for his imprisonment.
Similar demonstrations of 150,000 people had twice occurred against the governor. The protests were largely supported by the Islamic Defenders Front, a group that has previously been involved with violence against Christians and Shia Muslim groups.
Heart relic journeys to Philippines for health prayers
A heart relic of a saint is being sent to the Philippines during the’heart month’ of February. The heart relic of St Camillus de Lellis, patron of the sick, doctors, nurses, and health workers, will arrive on February 2 and remain in the country until the end of March.
Bishop Oscar Florencio, member of the Episcopal Commission on Health Care of the bishops’ conference, called the visit a “grace from God”. “There are many requests to have the relic [of St Camllius] visit their place…but by the grace of God we were given this chance,” Bishop Florencio said.
Schools risk ‘shutdown’ in Fiji
The Catholic Church in Fiji is prepared to shut down all of its 44 primary and 19 secondary schools if the government continues to elect non-Catholics as the head of those schools. Fiji’s education ministry recently named two non-Catholics as principals of St Thomas High in Lautoka and Xavier College in Ba. The Church is now calling for greater autonomy in the governance of its schools. Archbishop Peter Loy Chong of Suva has said he is prepared to close the local schools, but will only do so if Catholic leaders and government authorities cannot arrive at a solution.
Priests and protestors trapped by Venezuelan army
As opposition marches were held across Venezuela, at least 700 supporters of interim president Juan Guaido were trapped in Maturin’s Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel for several hours, besieged by the Venezuelan Army.
Bishop Enrique Pérez Lavado of Maturin reported that seminarians, priests, and some 700 people participating in the demonstration were besieged in the cathedral, with the military “trying to break their way inside”, according to the Venezuelan bishops’ conference on Twitter. The people took refuge in the cathedral due to repression by the regime’s security forces and by pro-government groups.
After more than three hours trapped inside the Maturín cathedral, the group of opposition supporters managed to begin leaving at 5pm. The opposition marches were supported by the Venezuelan bishops, some of whom participated.