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Amid deadly protests, Pope Francis appeals for peace in DRC

Vatican City, Jan 24, 2018 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At the end of the general audience Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke out against violence, particularly its escalation amid political protests taking place in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Unfortunately, troubling news continues to come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Therefore, I renew my call for everyone to commit to avoiding all forms of violence,” he said Jan. 24.

“On her part, the Church wants nothing other than to contribute to the peace and to the common good of society.”

The Democratic Republic of Congo is currently experiencing deadly political tensions as protesters, banned by the Congolese government, demand that President Joseph Kabila step down.

Dozens of people have died in political protests, and militia violence has increased, prompting fears of a return to civil war.

Under Kabila, who has held office since 2001, Congolese bishops have spoken out against the government’s human rights violations and the president’s plan to remove term limits that bar him from re-election.

The bishops also helped mediate an agreement between the country’s ruling political coalition and opposition leaders, culminating in a Dec. 31, 2016 agreement.

The agreement allowed Kabila to remain in office beyond his mandate but he must step down after an election to be held this year. However, the country’s electoral commission then said an election could not be organized until December 2018. The president’s opponents fear Kabila aims to remain in power, while the president has blamed delays on a slow voter registration process.

The eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo are also suffering from armed conflict, with millions of people forced from their homes.

Francis’ appeal for peace was made at the end of the general audience in St. Peter’s Square. Following just two days after his return from a Jan. 15-22 apostolic visit to Chile and Peru, the Pope recapped the events of the trip, highlighting some important moments.

He noted that in Chile, the trip was preceded by protests, for various reasons, which he said made the motto of the visit, "My peace I give you," even more "current and alive."

“These are the words of Jesus addressed to the disciples, which we repeat in every Mass: the gift of peace, which only Jesus, dead and risen, can give to those who entrust themselves to Him,” he said.

In his meeting with Chilean authorities the Pope encouraged them to continue developing their democracy and to listen to the voices of the poor, young, elderly and immigrants.

In his homily for the first Mass of the trip, he emphasized the importance of the Beatitudes, especially "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

The Pope said that an important moment of the trip for him was his visit to the women's prison in Santiago. "The faces of those women, many of them young mothers, with their little ones in their arms, expressed hope” in spite of everything, he said.

His meetings with consecrated men and women and with bishops were also “very intense,” he stated. During his visit with the bishops, he urged them to reject any compromise when it comes to the sexual abuse of minors, and to trust in God, “who through this hard proof purifies and renews his ministers.”

Two other Masses were also celebrated in Chile: one in the north in Iquique, and the other in the south, in the Araucania region, where the Mapuche Indians live.

He also met with young people and with students and faculty of the Catholic University of Chile, encouraging them to ask themselves, in the words of the Chilean saint, Alberto Hurtado: "What would Christ do in my place?"

In Peru, the motto of Francis' visit was "United by hope." There, he said that his meeting with indigenous communities of the Amazon in Peru was "emblematic" of the unity that can be found not in uniformity, but in all the richness of the differences inherited from history and culture.

Speaking to political and civil authorities, he strongly denounced ecological-social degradation and corruption, which he said on Wednesday, “ruins hearts.”

“And I remarked that no one is exempt from responsibility in the face of these two wounds and that the commitment to counter them concerns everyone,” he continued.

In Trujillo, Peru, the Pope held Mass, met with priests and consecrated, and participated in a Marian celebration, in which he crowned the Immaculate Virgin of the Gate of Otuzco, a popular Marian devotion in Peru, the “Mother of Mercy and Hope.”

The final day of the trip took place in Lima, "with a strong spiritual and ecclesial accent," he said. In Lima he met with around 500 contemplative women religious, who he said are "a true 'lung' of faith and prayer for the Church and for the whole society."

He also prayed before the relics of five Peruvian saints in the Cathedral of Lima and again met with bishops of the country.

“As always, the word of Jesus gives full meaning to everything,” he said. “And so too the Gospel of the last Eucharistic celebration summarized God's message to his people in Chile and Peru: 'Repent and believe in the Gospel' (Mk 1:15).”

“Thus – the Lord seemed to say – you will receive the peace that I give you and you will be united in my hope,” he concluded.

'Rambo' the hero: Dog saves nuns from fire

Santiago, Chile, Jan 23, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- A dog named Rambo lived up to his “action hero” name, when his barking alerted sleeping religious sisters that a chapel next to their convent was on fire.

In the early morning hours of Jan. 20, a fire destroyed the Virgen de la Candelaria Chapel in the town of Calafquen, Chile, next to the home of the Carmelite Missionary Sisters. Police suspect the fire was caused by arson.

Fr. Alejandro Gutiérrez is the pastor of San Sebastián Parish, which includes the chapel. The priest told Radio Bio Bio that the sisters' house “is attached to the church. A much greater tragedy could have happened there. If  the dog's barking hadn't alerted them, the fire would have spread to the convent and we would be grieving over a much more serious incident.”

Gutiérrez explained that the chapel was 80 years old, and the sisters there worked mainly in education.”

“This just creates a new opportunity to continue serving Jesus Christ and to strengthen our faith,” he priest  said.

Sources told ACI Prensa that around 3:30 in the morning, a group of masked arsonists broke a window in the rear of the Church, and threw a fire bomb inside.

Four companies of firefighters arrived on scene to fight the flames. With the help of the neighbors they were able to keep the fire from spreading to the nuns' convent.

The Panguipulli fire chief, Rodolfo Zúñiga, told Cooperativa Radio that the electricity to the church was shut off at the junction box, so the fire was probably caused by a third party.

“Unfortunately for our town, as residents of Panguipulli, [arson] is already becoming routine, the situation is lamentable, but once again today we had one of the most beautiful chapels in the area reduced to rubble,” the fire chief said.

The Carmelite superior, Sister Maria Daniela, told Radio Bio Bio that she believes the fire was intentional, though the sisters had not received any kind of threats.

“We are women of peace. This is an oasis of peace,” the religious explained. “I never would have imagined that people would come and do something bad.”

Sister Maria Daniela sent a message to those responsible: “you need to place yourselves in the presence of God. It's sad to know that there are people dedicated to doing evil, because the world does not progress with evil.”

Two other churches in Panguipulli were also recently attacked and two received threats, including the town's main church.

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.


Pence in Israel: US is committed to persecuted Christians, peace process

Jerusalem, Jan 23, 2018 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- U.S. Vice President Mike Pence reaffirmed America’s commitment to both peace and persecuted Christians during his four-day trip to Israel and the Middle East, which concluded on Tuesday.

In a Jan. 22 speech to the Knesset, Israel’s national legislature, Pence confirmed that the U.S. government intends to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of 2019.

“Our President made his decision...we believe that his decision is in the best interests of peace. By finally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the United States has chosen fact over fiction. And fact is the only true foundation for a just and lasting peace,” said Pence, who added that America will support a two-state solution if both Israel and Palestine are in agreement.

On Dec. 6, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the United States was recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Israel has traditionally always recognized Jerusalem as its capital. However, Palestinians claim that the eastern portion of the city is the capital of the future Palestinian state. In recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the U.S. is the first country to do so since the state was established in 1948.

As a result of the announcement, Pence’s trip to the Middle East was postponed, taking on a new tone and focus.

Pence had posted on Twitter on Dec. 4, “Important dialogue with Bashar Warda, the Archbishop of Erbil, about @POTUS' commitment to directly assist persecuted Christians & religious minorities in Iraq. I’m heading to the Middle East this month to discuss U.S. plans to accelerate funding those impacted in the region.”

However, following Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement, the Egyptian Coptic patriarch Tawadros II and other religious leaders stated that they would not meet with Pence.

Thirteen religious leaders in the region signed an open letter warning that the move would only lead to “increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us father from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division.”

The announcement was also met with opposition from the Vatican, which has long called for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

With stops in both Jordan and Egypt in additional to Israel, Pence cut his formerly planned visits to Bethlehem and the West Bank during his rescheduled four-day January trip this week.

Pence did have a chance to speak about U.S. plans to aid persecuted Christians towards the end of his speech to the Israeli parliament. He told Israeli lawmakers that the U.S. is dedicated to its assistance of Christians and other religious minorities in the region.

“We will also support faith leaders in this region and across the world, as they teach their disciples to practice love, not hate. And we will help persecuted peoples, who have suffered so much at the hands of ISIS and other terrorist groups,” he said.

“To this end, the United States has redirected funding from ineffective relief efforts. And, for the first time, we are providing direct support to Christian and other religious minorities as they rebuild their communities after years of repression and war.

“The United States has already committed more than $110 million to assist Christian and other religious minorities across the wider Middle East.”

The vice president rounded out his trip with a personal visit to the Western Wall and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. Reflecting on his trip, Pence wrote of Israel on Twitter, “I never fail to leave without a sense our faith has been renewed - our faith in God, but also our faith in the people of Israel & their commitment to freedom, security & peace.”

The complicated case of China’s Catholic bishops

Beijing, China, Jan 23, 2018 / 03:48 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Vatican’s efforts to resolve the split between underground Chinese bishops and the government-recognized Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association face another challenge, as an aging bishop faithful to Rome has reportedly declined a Vatican request to retire, to be replaced by a bishop favored by the Chinese government.

The Church in China is split between an underground Catholic Church and the officially recognized Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. Every bishop recognized by Beijing must be a member of the association.
The Holy See’s negotiations with the Chinese government could eventually lead to Vatican recognition of seven illicitly ordained bishops aligned with Beijing. The Holy See could be pursuing China’s official recognition of 20 bishop candidates appointed by the Holy See, some of whom have already been secretly ordained, in addition to state recognition of up to 40 bishops in the underground Catholic community.
Many underground bishops, priests and lay faithful have faced persecution and harassment.
In December 2017, the Holy See asked 88-year-old Bishop Peter Zhuang Jianjian of Shantou in southern Guangdong province to retire so that an illicitly ordained excommunicated bishop could take his place and be recognized by the Vatican, Asia News reports.
However, the Vatican-recognized bishop reportedly refused the delegation’s request that he retire.
The Holy See had previously asked Bishop Zhuang to resign in an Oct. 26, 2017 letter. A church source in Guangdong, who asked not to be named, told Asia News that at the time of the letter Bishop Zhuang “refused to obey and rather ‘carry His Cross’ for being disobedient.”
The bishop was secretly ordained in 2006 with Vatican approval.The Chinese government does not recognize the ordination, and considers the bishop to be a priest. The government supports Bishop Huang Bingzhang, a member of China’s parliament, called the National People’s Congress, for Zhuang’s position. This bishop was excommunicated in 2011 when he accepted episcopal ordination without the Vatican’s permission.
In December the elderly Bishop Zhuang was reportedly escorted to Beijing, despite poor health and cold weather, where he met separately with leaders of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, officials from China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs, and the Vatican delegation.
If Bishop Zhuang resigned, the Holy See delegation reportedly said, he could nominate three priests, one of whom Bishop Huang would choose as his vicar general.
“Bishop Zhuang could not help his tears on hearing the demand,” Asia News’ source said, explaining “it was meaningless to appoint a vicar general, who is still a priest that Bishop Huang could remove him anytime.”
The controversy is part of a delicate diplomatic effort to advance Vatican-Chinese relations while also considering the circumstances of underground Catholics. Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli is responsible for the negotiations and was identified by Asia News as head of the Vatican delegation.
Even bishops in the patriotic association can be faithful to the Holy See, and they sometimes bristle against the association. Shanghai’s Auxiliary Bishop Taddeus Ma Daqin was jointly approved for ordination by the Holy See and the Chinese government, but announced his resignation from the patriotic association at his July 2012 ordination Mass. He was immediately placed under house arrest. Though he later appeared to back away from his stance against the association, he still faced isolation.
Initially eight bishops illicitly ordained as part of the patriotic association were awaiting recognition from the Holy See, but one of them passed away last year.
For its part, the Chinese government under President Xi Jinping is pursuing an effort to “Sinicize” religion. In his role as general secretary of the Communist Party, last October, Jinping called for “new approaches” to religious and ethnic affairs.
“The gist is to demand all religions to uphold an independent principle and follow the leadership of the Community Party,” Asia News said.
Other arrangements to reunify the country’s licit and illicit bishops are underway in the Diocese of Mindong in China’s eastern Fujian province. Its ordinary, Bishop Joseph Guo Xijin, is an underground Catholic who was detained for a month before Holy Week in 2017.
Citing local sources, Asia News said the Vatican delegation has asked the bishop to voluntarily accept a position as coadjutor bishop under Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu, one of the seven illicitly ordained bishops favored by the government. This was also among the conditions Chinese officials had proposed to Bishop Guo during his detention.

According to canon law, coadjutor bishops have the right to succeed the bishop in their diocese, meaning that, in principle, Zhan could eventually resume the leadership of a diocese.
Bishop Zhan did not confirm the meeting to Asia News or discuss the recognition process in detail, but said there are regular meetings between Vatican and Chinese officials about the negotiations.
Two leading cardinals in the region have different views of Vatican diplomacy in China.
In a February 2017 article for the Hong Kong's Sunday Examiner newspaper, Cardinal John Tong Hon of Hong Kong said the illicitly ordained bishops are willing to show their obedience to the Pope. He voiced optimism that the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association could transform into a more voluntary body.
In May 2017, the Archbishop Emeritus of Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen voiced skepticism of the Vatican’s current diplomatic approach towards China. In his view, the Pope’s advisors are “giving bad advice.” He doubted the goodwill of the government.
“They are still controlling the Church and they want to control it even more,” he said.
However, Cardinal Zen has also voiced optimism about the clergy of the Chinese-recognized Catholic association.
“The majority of the priests and bishops in the official church, they may, in their heart, still (be) very much united with the universal church, but they are under tight control,” he told CNA in February 2017. 


Interview with an exorcist- 'The Devil and Father Amorth'

Rome, Italy, Jan 23, 2018 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A documentary on the ministry of Father Gabriele Amorth, popularly known as the “Vatican exorcist,” will be released this spring. The film was directed by William Friedkin, director of the 1973 movie “The Exorcist.”

“The Devil and Father Amorth” will be released April 20, Deadline reports.

The film follows Amorth during the events surrounding the exorcism of an Italian women in 2016.  Amorth died in September 2016 at 91, shortly after filming was completed.

“I had been curious to meet Father Amorth for many years and when he granted permission to meet and film him in Rome last May, it was the opportunity to complete the circle and see how close that film came to reality,” Friedkin told Deadline.

During filming, Friedkin was present at an exorcism, which he said he had not previously seen personally, despite his work on “The Exorcist.”

“In the early 1970s when I directed ‘The Exorcist,’ I had not witnessed an exorcism but I wondered how close I had come to portraying reality,” he said in an interview with Variety.

The documentary interviews Amorth about the exorcism of an Italian woman, referred to as “Rosa,” who, Amorth said, struggled with demonic mood swings and convulsions, which were reportedly heightened on Christian holidays like Easter.  It includes a video recording of the event.

Father Amorth was born in Modena in northern Italy on May 1925. Twenty years later, the man joined the Congregation of the Society of St. Paul, and was ordained a priest in 1951.

In 1985, Father Amorth was appointed an exorcist by Cardinal Ugo Poletti, vicar general of the Diocese of Rome. Amorth claimed to have performed thousands of exorcisms. He was the author of “An Exorcist Tells His Story” and “An Exorcist: More Stories.”

Which Catholics oppose abortion? A closer look at the data

Washington D.C., Jan 23, 2018 / 02:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A recent Pew study shows that support for legal abortion varies widely among religious groups, with Catholics falling somewhere in the middle when it comes to beliefs about legal abortion.

Among Catholics in the United States surveyed in the study, 48 percent said they were in favor of legal abortion, while 47 percent said they were opposed to it and 5 percent said they didn’t know.

Unitarian Universalists are the most likely religious group to support legal abortion at 90 percent, while Jehovah’s Witnesses were the least likely to support, it at 18 percent, according to the study.

Among both atheists and agnostics, 87 percent support legal abortion; as do 83 percent of Jews; 82 percent of Buddhists; 68 percent of Hindus; 55 percent of Muslims; and 27 percent of Mormons. Among Orthodox Christians, 53 percent support legal abortion.

The numbers may be surprising, as the Catholic Church is one of the most outspoken opponents of legalized abortion in the U.S. and teaches that abortion under any circumstance is a grave sin.

However, a closer look at other available data for Catholics helps to explain some of this discrepancy.

Overall, “the more frequently you go to Mass the more likely you are to oppose to oppose abortion,” Mark Gray, a senior research associate with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) out of Georgetown University, told CNA.

However, responses vary significantly depending on the frequency of Mass attendance of the respondent as well as on the phrasing of poll questions about abortion, according to data from the General Social Survey analyzed by CARA.

When asked if they would support abortion if a woman wants it for any reason, 85 percent of frequent Mass attendees (those who go weekly) said they would not support abortion, while 56 percent of Catholics who attend Mass less than monthly said they would oppose abortion if a woman wants it for any reason.

Responses changed the most among Catholics when were asked whether they would support abortion in situations in which the “woman’s health is seriously endangered.”

When posed this question, 26 percent of weekly Mass attendees said they would oppose abortion in this circumstance, compared with 5 percent of infrequent Mass attendees saying the same.

The discrepancy between these two different sets of responses may be attributable to a misunderstanding of the principle of double effect, an aspect of moral theology which can be used in evaluating acts which will have multiple effects.

The principle of double effect states that an act which is not inherently evil may be chosen for a good end, even if it is foreseen that this act will have an additional, evil effect, which is not disproportionate to the good end. The actor chooses the positive end, and tolerates the evil effect as a consequence of achieving that good end. The act may never be chosen for the sake of the evil effect.

Therefore, in the case of an ectopic pregnancy, a physician may licitly choose the act of removing the affected area of the mother's fallopian tubes to achieve the end of saving her life. The consequent death of the embryo or fetus owing to its removal is a foreseen, but unchosen, side effect of that act.

This principle of double effect is sometimes also invoked (incorrectly) to justify an abortion performed to save the life of the mother. However, the principle of double effect does not apply in this case, because the act of abortion is the direct killing of an innocent – an inherently evil act which is proscribed in all cases. Even if the act of abortion is chosen as an end to the means of saving the mother's life, the act is itself nevertheless evil.

Economic models should be centered on human dignity, says Pope Francis

Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, Jan 23, 2018 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis encouraged global delegates at the 2018 World Economic Forum to promote economic models that create the proper conditions for the human person to thrive.

“The recurring financial instabilities have brought new problems and serious challenges that governments must confront, such as the growth of unemployment, the increase in various forms of poverty, the widening of socio-economic gaps and new forms of slavery, often rooted in situations of conflict, migration and various social problems,” Pope Francis wrote on Jan. 12.

“In this context, it is vital to safeguard the dignity of the human person, in particular by offering to all people real opportunities for integral human development and by implementing economic policies that favor the family,” the Holy Father continued.

Pope Francis’ words were addressed to Professor Klaus Schwab, executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, which is meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland from Jan. 23-26. The theme of the 48th annual meeting is “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World” – a topic that Pope Francis called “timely.”

According to the forum’s website, the goal of the event is to “rededicate leaders from all walks of life to developing a shared narrative to improve the state of the world.”

At the center of the Pope’s speech was an overarching theme of placing human dignity at the center of global development, despite the barriers of suffering, poverty and injustice.

“Economic models, therefore, are also required to observe an ethic of sustainable and integral development, based on values that place the human person and his or her rights at the center,” he said.

“We cannot remain silent in the face of the suffering of millions of people whose dignity is wounded, nor can we continue to move forward as if the spread of poverty and injustice had no cause,” Pope Francis continued.

The Pope told the leaders gathered at the event that it is a “moral imperative” to create inclusive conditions that benefit the good of society, rather than furthering self-centered individualism.

By rejecting the “throwaway” culture, Pope Francis said, leaders can strive for a better future, by “increasing the quality of productivity, creating new jobs, respecting labor laws, fighting against public and private corruption and promoting social justice, together with the fair and equitable sharing of profits.”

The Holy Father also encouraged “wise discernment” for world leaders, asking them to support authentic values that will foster the prosperity of all.

“I hope, therefore, that this 2018 meeting of the World Economic Forum will allow an open, free, and respectful exchange, and be inspired above all else by the desire to advance the common good,” Pope Francis said.

“Now is the time to take courage and bold steps for our beloved planet. This is the right moment to put into action our responsibility to contribute to the development of humanity.”

Dairy farm to the episcopate: Stockton gets a new bishop

Vatican City, Jan 23, 2018 / 05:06 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday the Vatican announced that Bishop Myron Joseph Cotta, who grew up on a dairy farm and has until now served as an auxiliary bishop in Sacramento, has been tapped to take the reins in the Diocese of Stockton.

In a Jan. 23 communique, the Vatican announced that Cotta will be taking over for Bishop Stephen Blaire, who has passed the age of 75, when bishops are required to submit letters of resignation to the Pope.

Born March 21, 1953, in Dos Palos, Cali., Cotto grew up on a dairy farm in Merced County and attended public school, graduating from Dos Palos High, according to a biography on the Sacramento diocese's website.

After graduation, Cotta obtained an associate's degree from West Hills Junior College in 1973. He entered St. John's College Seminary in Camarillo in 1980 to finish his undergraduate studies. From there, he entered major seminary where he finished his theological education and received a Master's degree in Divinity.

He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Fresno in 1987. After his ordination, Cotta carried out several pastoral assignments, including St. Anthony parish in Atwater; the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Laton; and the Shrine of Our Lady of Miracles in Gustine.

In July 1999 he was named vicar general for the diocese of Fresno, and since that time has also served as Moderator of the Curia, Vicar for Clergy, Director of Continuing Education of the Clergy, supervisor of the Safe Environment Program and director of the office for the Propagation of the Faith.

Cotta was named “Chaplain to His Holiness” in 2002, and “Prelate of Honor” in 2009, receiving the title “Monsignor.”

He served as diocesan administrator for Fresno from 2010-2012 after the death of the late Bishop John Steinbock. In 2014 Cotta was named auxiliary bishop of Sacramento. He was ordained March 25, 2014.

Within the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cotta serves as part of the Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Island Affairs. In addition to English, he also speaks Spanish and Portuguese.

Belgian deacon on trial for murder

Bruges, Belgium, Jan 23, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA).- Ivo Poppe, a 61-year old Catholic deacon in Belgium, went on trial this week under the suspicion of killing at least ten people, including multiple family members.

In 2014, Poppe was arrested after telling his psychiatrist that he had “euthanized” dozens of people, according to the BBC.

Based on the deacon’s diary, the death toll could exceed reach as high as 50.

Most of the alleged victims died from an injection of air into their bloodstream, causing fatal embolism. Among those who died were multiple relatives, including Poppe’s 89-year old mother, his two great-uncles, and his father-in-law. Poppe had claimed that his mother wanted to be euthanized, but her doctors denied that she had expressed any wishes to end her life.

Before he became a deacon, Poppe was a nurse and worked for 20 years at a clinic in the town of Menin.

Poppe, made two partial confessions during an investigation, saying that he killed “out of compassion, to spare the physical and mental suffering” of his victims, according to Expatica.

However, Poppe later withdrew his confessions and now denies  the murder charges against him.

Cardinal Jozef De Kesel, head of the Poppe’s diocese during the killings, offered the church’s full cooperation in the investigation, saying he was “stunned” by the accusations, Expatica reported.

Officials from the diocese will testify at Poppe’s trial, along with other witnesses, relatives, and psychiatrists.

The trial, which started on Monday in the northwest city of Bruges, is expected to last two weeks. If convicted, Poppe would be considered the most prolific serial killer in Belgian history.


Damascus bombing kills 9 in Christian districts

Damascus, Syria, Jan 22, 2018 / 06:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An estimated nine people were killed in a bombing on Monday afternoon in Damascus. The shelling targeted the Bab Touma and al-Shaghour districts, which are historically Christian areas, and several churches were damaged as well.

At least 18 additional people in Old Damascus were injured in the bombings.

Nobody has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks.

A bomb reportedly caused “severe damage” to the Maronite cathedral in Damascus. According to Archbishop Samir Nassar, the bomb also knocked out water and electricity.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">From Archbishop Samir of Damascus &quot; Another bomb hit the Archdiocesan complex which includes the Cathedral at 14h today January 22nd . There is severe damage . We are without water and electricity. <br>3 bombs not far from here have claimed 15 victims.<br>We pray to the Lord.&quot; <a href="">@acn_uk</a></p>&mdash; Edmund Adamus (@EdmundPAdamus) <a href="">January 22, 2018</a></blockquote>
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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">BREAKING NEWS: Another bomb hit the Maronite Archdiocesan buildings in Damascus, Syria today, 22 January at 14:00 - damage is severe. 3 bombs close by claimed 15 victims. Please pray for them <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Prayforus</a></p>&mdash; Aid to the Church (@acn_uk) <a href="">January 22, 2018</a></blockquote>
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This is not Archbishop Samir’s first brush with death this month: a bomb hit his bedroom Jan. 8. He survived unscathed due to an extremely well-timed trip to the bathroom before the bombing began.

The Maronites are an Eastern Catholic Church that is in full communion with Rome. There are about 3 million Maronites in the world. Although the church originated in the Levant, there are now significant Maronite populations in Brazil, Argentina, and the United States. The Maronites have faced persecution throughout their history.

The Syrian civil war began nearly seven years ago, in March 2011. More than 400,000 people have been killed. At least 4.8 million have become refugees, and another 8 million have been internally displaced.

What began as demonstrations against the nation's president, Bashar al-Assad, has become a complex fight among the Syrian regime; moderate rebels; Kurds; and Islamists such as Tahrir al-Sham and the Islamic State.