World Report


Spain: Spain to reverse abortion legislation

The new Spanish government of Mariano Rajoy has pledged to reverse abortion legislation introduced by the previous administration.

In an announcement by Minister of Justice Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, the ruling Spanish People’s Party looks set to enact greater restrictions on the availability of abortion.

The move would specifically target current laws allowing for abortion at 14 weeks and the right of girls as young as 16 to procure a termination without having to inform their parents.

Introduced in 2010 by the socialist government of Jose Zapatero, the loosening of Spain’s 1985 abortion laws — which confined availability to cases of rape, a threat to the life of the mother or malformation of the foetus — caused dismay among pro-life groups and led to a massive march by concerned Spaniards through Madrid to protest the plan. Madrid remains the site of a major annual pro-life march.

Signalling the reversal of legislation without giving details of a timetable or how far the new government’s restrictions would go, Minister Ruiz-Gallardon said the move was necessary as the previous administration had worked ”without consensus” in watering down the law.

The government move is the fulfilment of a manifesto promise which saw the People’s Party sweep to power in November elections.


Syria: Orthodox death

An Orthodox priest has died in continuing clashes in the country between government forces and anti-Assad rebels.

Fr Basilious Nassar was reportedly attempting to help an injured man to reach cover during an exchange of fire between the sides in the rebel stronghold of Hama when he was struck and killed.

President Bashar al Assad continues to ignore international calls for him to accede to the demands of his people for greater freedoms and thousands have died in his attempt to crush ongoing dissent across Syria.


Indonesia: Schools attacked

Three Catholic schools have been attacked by Muslims outraged by a Facebook posting from a student describing himself as ‘anti-Islamic’.

Following the internet post by a student claiming to be with the Pangudi Lujur 1 school in Central Java, mobs descended on that school and the Stela Duce 2 and St John Bosco Catholic schools.

The attacks took place after school hours, so while damage was caused to buildings and property, no students were harmed.

An investigation into events has shown that no-one using the name listed on Facebook attends any of the schools targeted.


India: Christians assaulted

For the third time in 2012, Christians in the state of Karnataka have been attacked by extremists levelling accusations of proselytism.

In the latest incident, Hindus identified as belonging to Rashtriya Sangh Savayansevak, an extremist grouping, stormed a house church in Haliyal and attacked worshippers.

The community leader, Pastor Kalappa Chandrakanth Chavan, was beaten and stripped naked before being dragged through the village.

The pastor was then tied to a tree only to be arrested, along with one of his followers, by police.

Responding to the attack, Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), said: ”The complicity between the government forces and [Hindu extremists] is seriously endangering the survival of Christians in Karnataka.”

Convictions condemned

The All India Christian Council has condemned the charging, under sharia law, of two Christian clergy accused of converting Muslims.

The cases relate to Fr Jim Borst, a Catholic missionary to Kashmir with 46 years’ experience, and Rev. Chander Mani Khanna of All Saints Church in Srinigar.

Rev. Khanna was convicted by a sharia court in early January for his alleged role in luring Muslims from their faith, and he has since left Kashmir to avoid violent retaliation.

Fr Borst, meanwhile, faces a similar charge. There is currently a drive by more militant elements within the Muslim community in Kashmir to drive out all non-Muslim influence.

In addition to the cleric’s predicament, various NGOs have been accused of attempting to bribe Muslims with alcohol and women to leave their faith.


Pakistan: Kidnapping threat

Caritas Pakistan has revealed that an increase in kidnappings of members of its staff is having a negative impact on its ability to move aid to those most in need in the country.

In the last six months, the charity explained, seven foreign volunteers have been abducted by Islamist militants, four of them in January alone.

Those abducted are usually held for ransom or to force concessions from the Pakistani government.

The issue means that Caritas has been forced to bar workers from some of the more risky areas, which are also those where people in need of aid live.

”We have barred them from field visits to a few southern areas including rural Sindh province and restive Balochistan,” said Amjad Gulzar, executive secretary of Caritas Pakistan.


Nigeria: Christians flee

Despite a recent call by a Catholic prelate for the faithful in the country’s north to hold fast against the aggression of Boko Haram, it has been reported that some 35,000 Christians have fled south since the extremist group launched a violent drive against them, most dramatically in the major bomb attack on the city of Kano on January 20 which claimed at least 185 lives.

”There is panic. Many just leave everything behind and run for safety, because they do not know when violence might flare up again,” a local source quoted by Aid to the Church in Need reported.

Observers believe that Boko Haram’s main aim through its violence is to make President Goodluck Johnathan look incompetent in ruling Nigeria and thereby stoke civil strife.


Britain: Unity message

Catholic and Coptic leaders in the country are working to strengthen co-operation between their faith communities in the face of growing secularism.

The joint approach to a common threat was announced on January 23 when Archbishop Kevin McDonald of Southwark joined with Coptic Orthodox Bishop Angaelos in launching a book, Joint Statements between the Catholic and Oriental Orthodox Churches.

”We’re facing serious threats of increased secularism and marginalisation of religion in general and Christianity in particular,” said Bishop Angaelos.

The two clerics are co-chairmen of the Catholic-Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum, which compiled the statements towards increasing awareness on Catholic and Oriental Orthodox similarities, rather than differences.


Mexico: Archbishop’s plea

A Catholic prelate has called on crime gangs in the country to guarantee a peaceful period during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI between March 23 and 26.

During a press conference, Archbishop Jose Guadalupe Martin Rabago of Leon said: ”To those who do evil, if my word reaches them in some way, tell them to take into account that the time we are going to experience is one of peace and grace.”

He urged criminals ”who are human beings” to do everything to avoid ”pain and death” out of respect for the Pontiff.


The Netherlands: Burqa ban

The Dutch parliament has secured a majority agreement towards moving on legislation that would see the Muslim burqa — among other face coverings — banned in public.

Citing security concerns over a range of face coverings, together with the issue of equality between men and women, government supporters of new legislation stress that it ”is removing a barrier to women participating in society”.

The inclusion of the burqa in proposed legislation is being viewed as largely symbolic. It is estimated that just 300 women in the country actually wear the style of dress.

The adoption of legislation against such veils will make The Netherlands the third European country, after France and Belgium, to do so.

One Muslim women’s organisation in the country has criticised the proposed move which will remove women’s right of self-determination.