World News in Brief

Bishops criticise refugee camp closures

Kenya’s bishops have added their voices to calls by the Jesuit Refugee Service and others for their government to reconsider plans to close refugee camps and repatriate refugees. 

The government announced its plans on May 6, claiming that the refugees posed a security threat, particularly from Somali Islamist group al-Shabab.

Welcoming how the government was trying to protect national security, the bishops said security interests must be protected “in accordance with the constitution”, which says national security must be pursued “with utmost respect to the rule of law, democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

In a statement signed by all 25 members of Kenya’s hierarchy, the bishops said “Those living in camps have a right to be protected and to enjoy basic services until lasting solutions are found in their home countries,” adding, “We advise the government that any form of involuntary repatriation may expose the returnees to dangers of persecution.” 


Brazilian churches fight swine flu

Churches throughout Brazil have had to change liturgical practices to cope with outbreaks of swine-flu across the country.

Since January, 61 people have died from the disease, leading parishes and even the national shrine at Aparecida to substitute a moment of silence for the traditional sign of peace, to suspend hand-holding during prayers and to insist that during Communion the Eucharist be placed in parishioners’ hands rather than directly into their mouths.

“This is a way the Church can (support) the health of its parishioners,” Uberaba’s Archbishop Paulo Mendes Peixoto said, while Bishop Dario Campos of Cachoeiro de Itapemirim, who directed his 42 parishes to take extra precautions to avoid contamination, said: “We live (in) an alarming moment with the outbreak of the H1N1 (swine flu) in our state. We believe that during the winter period, measures can be taken to inhibit the spread among the population.”


Philippines president-elect attacks Church

The president-elect of the Philippines has called the country’s Church “the most hypocritical institution” and claimed some bishops had asked favours from politicians, including him.

Davao’s Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said the bishops were irrelevant, recalling how during the election campaign they had criticised him as immoral for advocating the killing of criminals. He had reacted by telling potential voters they might go to Hell if they backed him, he said, and millions of them had done so. 

As such the election, in which he received more than six million votes more than his nearest rival, had served as a referendum, said Mr Duterte, who has previously boasted of links to vigilante groups responsible for killing more than 1,000 suspected criminals.

Accusing some bishops of violating their vow of celibacy and being otherwise corrupt, Mr Duterte said he would continue to disclose publicly “the sins of the Catholic Church” until the day before his presidential inauguration on June 30.

The country’s bishops, meanwhile, have protested against Mr Duterte’s plans to reinstate the death penalty, with Archbishop Ramón Cabrera Argüelles claiming that if the death penalty is reintroduced, he will volunteer to be executed in place of those who might be condemned. 


Campaigning priest freed in Vietnam

A Vietnamese priest and human rights campaigner was released from prison just days before the visit to the country of US president Barack Obama.

Eighty-year-old Fr Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly has been in prison since 2007 when he was sentenced to eight years in prison and five years’ house arrest for anti-government activities, and had been due to be released next month. It remains unclear whether he must still serve his period of house arrest. Over his life he has spent more than 20 years in prison and 15 years under house arrest for his activism.

Fr Ly has long campaigned for democracy and free speech.