FaithWorld

Pope Benedict condemns ‘Ndrangheta organised crime in south Italy visit

(Friends and relatives attend the funeral of Francesco Fortugno, vice president of Calabria's regional government, in the southern Italian town of Locri October 19, 2005. Italy's interior minister said on Monday the 'Ndrangheta mafia group was responsible for the assassination/Stringer)

Pope Benedict on Sunday condemned “ferocious” organised crime groups in the southern Calabria region, where lawlessness, corruption and underdevelopment have resulted in one of Italy’s highest unemployment rates. The pope, in a homily for tens of thousands of people from all over the region that forms the “toe” of Italy, said the area seemed to be in a constant state of emergency and that he wanted to encourage the people’s efforts to improve their condition.

“This is an area …. where problems exist in acute and destabilising forms, where crime groups that are often ferocious tear at the social fabric, a land that seems to be in a constant state of emergency,” he said.

Calabria is home to the ‘Ndrangheta, considered among the most dangerous and powerful crime syndicates in western Europe. Investigators believe that the highly secretive Calabrian group has overtaken the Sicilian Mafia to dominate drug trafficking and extortion rackets in Europe and beyond. Unemployment in Calabria, one of the most backward regions in Italy despite its potential in industries such as tourism and shipping, is about 32 percent against a national rate of 7.9 percent. Youth unemployment peaks at about 50 percent in parts of the mostly mountainous and coastal region.

Lamezia’s mayor, Gianni Speranza, who has received threats from the mob because of his anti-crime programme, speaking before the pope, called Calabria “a land of suffering … of unacceptable unemployment, of dramatic injustices and violence.”

Italian government shell-shocked by Catholic bishop’s sex scandal attack

(Italian Bishops Conference head Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco (L) at the Vatican April 1, 2009 and Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Rome May 5, 2009/Max Rossi)

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right government appeared to be in a state of denial and shell-shock on Tuesday after Italy’s top Roman Catholic bishop issued a blistering attack against the country’s rulers. Political sources said Berlusconi was left “stunned and saddened” by a speech on Monday by Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, who said Italy needed to “purify the air” contaminated by licentious behaviour, scandal and corruption.

Bagnasco, who stopped just short of asking Berlusconi to resign, painted a damning picture of a ruling class that was more concerned with its survival than the good of the people. “Everyone knew the blow was coming but no-one expected it to be so brutally clear,” said Alberto Bobbio, a writer for Italy’s influential Catholic weekly, Famiglia Cristiana (Christian Family).

Italian Catholic bishops attack Berlusconi government over sex scandals

(Saint Peter's Basilica seen from a hill in the north of Rome July 26, 2011/Alessandro Bianchi)

Italy’s powerful Catholic Church issued a blistering attack on the ruling political class on Monday, saying the country needed to “purify the air” contaminated by licentious behaviour that had sullied its name around the world. A speech by Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco to fellow bishops did not specifically name Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi but he left little doubt he was referring to the sex and corruption scandals that dog Berlusconi and his centre-right government.

“It is mortifying to witness behaviour that not only goes counter to public decorum but is intrinsically sad and hollow,” said the head of the Italian Bishops Conference.

Pope urges German Catholics to close ranks, some frustrated by lack of change

(Pope Benedict XVI makes an address during a meeting with Catholics involved in the Church and society, at the concert hall in Freiburg September 25, 2011/Miro Kuzmanovic)

Pope Benedict urged Catholics in his native Germany on Sunday to close ranks behind him rather than demand reforms or leave the Church, a staunchly conservative message that some who came to hear him found frustrating. Delivering his last major address of a four-day trip at a mass for about 100,000 people at a small airport near the southwestern city of Freiburg, he said the sometimes fractious Church needed to unite around him and the German bishops.

“The Church in Germany will continue to be a blessing for the entire Catholic world if she remains faithfully united with the successor of St Peter,” he said, referring to himself.

Pope Benedict says East German Catholics suffered “acid rain” under communism

(Thousands of faithful celebrate a Eucharist service conducted by Pope Benedict XVI at Cathedral Square in Erfurt, September 24, 2011/Alex Domanski)

Pope Benedict has praised Catholics in eastern Germany who held on to their Christian beliefs despite the “acid rain” that corroded their faith under the Nazis and communism. The pope said mass on Saturday for some 30,000 people in the medieval main square of this city in former communist East Germany, where only about seven percent of the people are Catholic.

“You have had to endure first a brown and then a red dictatorship, which acted on the Christian faith like acid rain,” he told the crowd from the altar, set against a hill dominated by Erfurt’s cathedral and another Catholic church. The region was ruled by the Nazis from 1933 to 1945, like all of Germany, and then by the East German communists until after the Berlin Wall opened in 1989.

OSCE conference warns of growing intolerance against Europe’s Christians

(Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion (R) addresses an OSCE meeting on hate crimes against Christians. Archbishop Dominique Mamberti is sitting at his right. In Rome, 12 September 2011/OSCE/Jens Eschenbaecher)

European and Christian officials have warned that hate crimes, attacks and intolerance against Christians in Europe were on the rise and could lead to social instability in some areas.  “The climate of fear and suspicion caused by hate crimes has the potential to create insecurity within and between communities …” Janez Lenarcic, an official of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), told a conference in Rome on Monday.

“Hate crimes are a security issue and may contribute to destabilising regional or even inter-state relations,” he told OSCE conference whose title was “Preventing and Responding to Hate Incidents and Crimes Against Christians.” The conference heard reports of growing acts of intolerance against Christians, including attacks on churches in Spain, France and Austria and attacks on anti-abortion activists in Vienna.

Lenarcic, the head of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, said the OSCE was monitoring “hate crimes against Christians, as well as intolerance and discrimination against Christians more broadly” than before (click here for his speech). The conference echoed recent concerns by the Roman Catholic and other Christian Churches over what they see as growing “Christianophobia” in an increasingly secular Europe.

Russian Orthodox leader urges Vatican to resolve dispute and pave way for summit

(Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow December 2, 2010/Denis Sinyakov)

A senior leader of the Russian Orthodox Church on Monday called on the Vatican to do more to resolve outstanding disputes so that a meeting between Pope Benedict and the Russian Patriarch could take place. In an exclusive interview with Reuters, Russian Orthodox Metropolitan (Archbishop) Hilarion, urged the Vatican to show “some signs” of readiness to resolve a decades-long conflict between Orthodox and Catholics in Ukraine that has been blocking a meeting of the two world religious leaders.

An unprecedented meeting between Benedict and Patriarch Kirill could begin to heal the 1,000-year-old rift between the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity, which split in the Great Schism of 1054. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the Russian Orthodox Church has accused Catholics of using their new freedoms to poach souls from the Orthodox, a charge the Vatican denies.

But the biggest bone of contention concerns the fate of many church properties that Soviet leader Joseph Stalin ordered confiscated from Eastern Rite Catholics, who worship in an Orthodox rite but owe their allegiance to Rome. Stalin gave the property to the Russian Orthodox Church but after the fall of communism, the Eastern Rite Catholics took back more than 500 churches, mostly in Western Ukraine.

Vatican excommunicates pro-govt Chinese Catholic bishop, criticizes Beijing

(Christmas mass at a Catholic church in Beijing December 24, 2009./David Gray)

A Chinese bishop ordained without papal approval has been excommunicated from the Catholic Church, the Vatican has said, bringing relations between the Vatican and Beijing to a new low. In a statement branding Thursday’s ordination illegitimate, the Vatican said Pope Benedict “deplores” the way communist authorities are treating Chinese Catholics who want to remain faithful to Rome instead of to the state-backed Church.

China’s state-sanctioned Catholic Church ordained Joseph Huang Bingzhang as bishop in Shantou city in southern Guangdong province on Thursday despite warnings he would not be recognized because the city has a Vatican-approved bishop.

“Consequently, the Holy See does not recognize him … and he lacks authority to govern the Catholic community of diocese,” the Vatican said on Saturday.

Police send “holy” Roman robber to Queen of Heaven jail

(A prisoner stares out of a window at Regina Coeli jail in Rome August 4, 2006/Dario Pignatelli )

Italian police have found a fitting temporary home for an accused jewellery robber whose priestly disguise failed to help him slip past their dragnet.

Police said they tracked down and arrested the 37-year-old male suspect by reviewing closed circuit television footage around Via del Corso and Via Condotti, the swanky shopping district near the Spanish Steps, after a July 4th hold-up at one of Rome’s most prestigious jewellery shops.

As Vatican readies to recognise South Sudan, a look back at tense 1993 papal visit

(A man holds up South Sudan's new flag as South Sudanese children rehearse their dance routine, to be performed at half time during South Sudan's national soccer team's match with Kenya as part of the independence day celebrations, in Juba July 7, 2011/Paul Banks)

As predominantly Christian and animist South Sudan stands on the threshold of independence, one man who helped bring world attention to the suffering of believers there is no longer here to savour the day.

On Feb. 10, 1993, Pope John Paul made a tense visit to Khartoum and pulled no punches in a highly charged meeting with the country’s president, General Omar Hassan Ahmed al Bashir. In his meeting,  the outspoken pope left diplomacy at the door, as was often his custom when he wanted to speak from the heart. He bluntly compared the suffering of Sudan’s Catholics to the crucifixion of Christ and told the Islamic government that only guaranteeing the rights of  Christians and other minorities would bring peace.