World Report

World Report Fr Marek Rybinski killed in Tunisia


26 pastoral workers murdered in 2011

The year 2011 saw 26 religious and lay pastoral workers killed in the course of their work.

In a document released by the Fides, the Vatican’s information service for missions, details are offered of those 18 priests, four religious sisters and four lay people who died by violence over the year. The overall figure stands at one higher than 2010.

The Americas accounted for the greatest number of those who died, with 13 priests and two lay people, followed by Africa where two priests, three religious sisters and one lay person died violently. Asia accounts for two priests, one religious sister and one lay worker. One priest died by violence in Europe.

Included in this year’s list is Fr Marek Rybinski, a Polish Salesian missionary to Tunisia who was murdered in February at his order’s school in Manouba.

Also included are retired Fr Ricardo Munoz Juarez who was killed by burglars at his home in Spain; Fr Salvador Ruis Encisco was abducted from his parish in Mexico, in May and later found bound and disfigured; in the same country, Fr Marco Romero died when he was caught in a shootout in July; in October, gunmen targeted and killed Italian missionary Fr Fausto Tentorio in the Philippines; in India, Sr Valsha John was killed in November in the community where she had worked for 20 years after threats from criminals.

Speaking after the Angelus on December 26, marking the feast of the martyr Stephen, Pope Benedict said: ”As in ancient times, today the sincere adherence to the Gospel may require the sacrifice of life and many Christians in various parts of the world are occasionally exposed to persecution and martyrdom. But, the Lord reminds us, ‘he who endures to the end shall be saved’.”

Philippines: Murder arrests

A man linked to the killing of missionary Fr Fausto Tentorio has been arrested after a shootout. Jimmy Ato was detained by police along with his brother Robert in Minado.

According to a statement from the country’s minister for justice, the brothers opened fire as agents of the National Bureau of Investigation moved in to arrest them for the October 17 shooting to death of Fr Tentorio in Arakan.

Witnesses to the shooting named Jimmy Ato as the killer at that time, while naming Robert Ato as the man who drove the motorcycle which carried the killer from the scene.

Indonesia: Muslim protection

It has been reported from the country that hundreds of moderate Muslims stood guard as Christians in Bogor celebrated Christmas this year.

As worshippers gathered at a house instead of the GKI Yasmin Church after threats from radical Islamists (and blockades by police), members of Banser, a grouping of moderate Muslims linked to the larger Nahdalatul Ulama, the country’s leading association of moderate Muslims, turned out to show support and offer protection to the Christians as Christmas Mass got under way.

It was reported that more moderates stood by in case extremists decided to act despite the solidarity shown, though it appears violent elements were dissuaded by the show of protection.

India: Crib burned

According to Catholic sources in the country, unknown attackers launched two attacks on prayer halls in Mangalore over the Christmas period, damaging one and burning a crib at the other. Hindu extremists have been blamed for both attacks, though no suspects have yet been identified or arrested.

Egypt: Christmas patrols

In addition to a call on the army to protect Coptic places of worship during Christmas celebrations (January 7), the Muslim Brotherhood last week offered to organise patrols to offer Christians protection.

It was during the Coptic celebration in January 2011 that extremists struck at worshippers in Alexandria, killing 20 in a church bombing.

”We are ready to co-operate with authorities and to organise patrolling groups and people’s committees of Muslim Brotherhood members in order to help protect the churches,” a statement from the group said, adding that it intended to send a delegation to the Copts carrying Christmas wishes this year.

Facebook rage

Christian homes in the southern city of Assuit have been attacked by Muslims angered at a local teenager’s use of allegedly insulting images of the Prophet Muhammad on his Facebook page.

Homes were burned in the attacks which lasted over two days at the end of December, ceasing when soldiers used tear gas to disperse rioters.

Seventeen-year-old Gamal Massoud, a Copt, was later arrested and received 15 days in prison despite claiming friends had posted the images without his knowledge.

Spain: Family march

Thousands of Spaniards have marched in Madrid to demonstrate their support for the family.

For the fifth consecutive year, and marking the feast of the Holy Family on December 30, numerous Catholic bishops joined with marchers in Colon Square to reassert the value of families to society.

Ahead of the event, Bishop Jose Angel Saiz of Terrassa called on the recently installed government to be aware of ”the importance of the family as the basic unit of society; to commit oneself to promote and defend the family in line with Christian values and finally to promote specific policies that make family life easier”.

Russia: Sacred text

A court in the country has rejected a claim that a text sacred to Hindus should be deemed extremist literature.

Following opinions offered by two universities that the foreword to the Bhagavad Gita contained suggestions of ”religious hatred”, prosecutors asked the court, in Tomsk, Siberia, to include the book on a list of extremist literature which contains such publications as Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

The case had garnered much attention from India, and resulted in diplomatic exchanges between Delhi and Moscow, including the assurance from Russian authorities that the text would not be obstructed further following the court ruling.

United States: Ordinariate head

Pope Benedict has appointed Bishop Jeffrey Neil Steenson, a former Episcopal bishop and father of three, to lead the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, the national ordinate for Anglicans and Episcopalians seeking to join the Catholic Church.

Bishop Steenson stepped down as the Episcopal Bishop of Rio Grande, New Mexico, when his Church elected the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. He has described the Catholic Church as the ”true home of Anglicanism”.

Religious commission

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom is operating normally once again following a last-minute reauthorisation for its funding by the House of Representatives.

It had been feared that the commission, a federally funded commission which advocates for religious freedom and monitors religious abuses globally, would cease to exist on December 16 over issues of funding raised by Democrat Richard Durbin in the Senate.

However, those issues were resolved just as the commission was set to close it doors, and Congress was able to release the needed funding.

China: Christian dissident

After 20 months of silence, Chinese authorities have finally acknowledged their arrest and detention of a Christian human rights lawyer.

In a letter to the brother of Gao Zhisheng, authorities have revealed the lawyer is being held in Shaya prison in Xinjiang province in the west of the country.

It is not clear if this has been his location throughout his detention since February 2009. Gao is well known as an activist on behalf of religious minorities and has championed religious freedom in China.

Nigeria: Bishops’ call

The Catholic bishops have urged the government to reassert control over the security situation following the Christmas bombings by the Islamist Boko Haram group.

Speaking on behalf of the Catholic leaders, Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie of Lagos said: ”If they cannot protect the lives of its citizens, then why do we have a government?”

He added pointedly: ”This is what you get when people are not ready to rule, but are just there to embezzle the money. You cannot keep playing with people’s lives.”

The spate of bombings over four days in the north of Nigeria claimed 40 lives, while, last week, it was reported that a Christian family had been killed in a machete attack in Plateau State, one of the regions targeted in the bombings.