Soldiers loyal to Ivory Coast President-elect Alassane Ouattara move through the main city Abidjan (CNS photo/Emmanuel Braun, Reuters)VATICAN CITY - One thousand people were suspected to be dead or missing in the town of Duekoue, Ivory Coast, after clashes throughout the country intensified, according to Caritas Internationalis workers in the area.  

The alleged massacre occurred in a part of Duekoue controlled by president-elect  Alassane Ouattara during intense clashes March 27-29, Caritas said. Caritas is the Catholic Church’s aid and development agency.

Army forces and militia supporting Ouattara have been clashing with security personnel and others loyal to outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to leave office after Ouattara was declared the winner of elections Nov. 28. Some one million people have fled the violence, according to the United Nations.

Ecuador’s bishops accused of meddling in politics

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, right, has accused his nation’s Catholic bishops of interfering in politics. (CNS photo/Guillermo Granja, Reuters)QUITO, Ecuador - Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has accused the nation's bishops of interfering in politics after they commented about a May 7 referendum.

Correa said the bishops' statement was a veiled effort to support a "no" vote in the referendum, which had nothing to do with morals, faith or religion.

"What do the bishops have to do with this consultation?" he asked in a televised speech April 2.

The balloting includes two sets of questions. Affirmative answers to five questions would result in changes to the Ecuadorean Constitution. The other five are about legislation unrelated to the constitution.

Bishops offer views on international talks on Libya

A rebel fighter guards the final checkpoint on the road from Bin Jawad toward Nawfiliyah, where forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi have halted a rapid rebel advance in eastern Libya March 29. (CNS photo/Finbarr O'Reilly, Reuters)VATICAN CITY - The Vatican observer at the London conference on Libya said the situation in the North African country is forcing the international community to examine its obligation to intervene when the lives and rights of civilians are being threatened.

Meanwhile, another prelate, the bishop in Libya's capital, Tripoli, said it appears to him that people just want the fighting to continue.

"They want to continue the war," Bishop Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli of Tripoli told Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. "Arming part of the Libyan population against another part other doesn't seem to me to be a moral solution."

Pope seeks dialogue for Libya

A rebel fighter fires a cannon during a battle with forces loyal to Col. Moammar Gadhafi near Ras Lanuf, a major oil port in Libya. The Pope has called for a sus- pension of fighting and for a start to dialogue to restore peace. (CNS photo/Goran Tomasevic, Reuters)VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI has appealed for a suspension of fighting in Libya and the immediate start of a serious dialogue aimed at restoring peace to the North African country.

The Pope said he was increasingly concerned at the news from Libya, where rebels supported by U.S., Canadian and European air strikes have battled the forces of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Following a UN directive authorizing all necessary measures to protect civilians, an international coalition of forces, led by warplanes from the United States, Canada, Britain and France, have been pounding Libyan military targets. The military mission was to be taken over by NATO on March 31 under the command of a Canadian,  Lieutenant-General Charlie Bouchard.

Sendai Catholics reach out to people hit by Japanese disasters


Uchidate Noboyuki, 33, pauses as he digs through the remains of his house that was destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters)SENDAI, Japan — Despite the post-tsunami chaos, parishioners of Kita Sendai Catholic Church have been busy delivering food aid to victims of the deadly quake and tsunami.

Hiroko Haga, one of the parishioners, told the Asian church news agency UCA News that persistent distribution difficulties in the city have meant that "people must stand in line for three hours to buy a slice of bread," so parishioners reach out not only to the homeless but also to the elderly and to nursing mothers for whom the endless lines would be too arduous.

The ongoing efforts of the parishioners form a natural extension of charitable activities in which the church was already active, reported UCA News.

Violent aftershocks — as strong as magnitude 6 on March 24 — and the continued disruption of gas supplies forced parishioners to cook meals with propane. Food was supplied by a variety of organizations, including Caritas Japan, food banks and ecumenical groups.

Libyan bishop calls on African Union to mediate end to crisis


Women take part in a rally supporting coalition airstrikes in Libya at the rebel-held city of Benghazi March 23. (CNS photo/Finbarr O'Reilly)VATICAN CITY — After five nights of listening to bombs exploding, the apostolic vicar of Tripoli, Libya, said it is time for the African Union to try to mediate an end to the violence.

"I have trust in African wisdom to resolve the crisis," Bishop Giovanni Martinelli of Tripoli told Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, on March 24.

"The Europeans are wrong to think they can resolve this with bombs. Let's allow space for mediation by the African Union."

U.S., British and French military began air strikes March 19 to weaken leader Moammar Gadhafi's military forces and their ability to retaliate against pro-democracy activists and innocent civilians. After the initial air raids, the U.S. government said European and NATO forces would take control of the operation.

Coalition must not lose sight of limits in Libya


Mourners react next to grave of a rebel killed by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in Ajdabiyah during a funeral in Benghazi, Libya, March 23. (CNS photo/Suhaib Salem, Reuters)LONDON - The head of Britain's military diocese has urged restraint in the ongoing military action against Libya.

Bishop Richard Moth said it was vital that coalition forces did not lose sight of the limits of their mission to protect civilians in the North African country. He said action against the armed services of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi was only to defend civilians from attack.

In a March 23 statement released to Catholic News Service, Moth said: "The recent decision to enforce a no-fly zone over the country in order to protect the people of Libya sent a strong and clear message to the international community as a whole. Such action must serve only to provide defense for the defenseless," he said.

"It must be hoped that the necessity for the use of force is over as soon as possible and that international forces continue to make every effort to avoid loss of life and unnecessary damage to the country's infrastructure."

Pope calls on leaders to protect, allow aid for civilians in Libya


Vehicles belonging to Gadhafi forces explode after an airstrike by coalition forces. (CNS photo/Goran Tomasevic, Reuters)VATICAN CITY- Pope Benedict XVI made an urgent appeal to political and military leaders to protect the safety and security of civilians and guarantee the free flow of humanitarian aid inside Libya.

He said the "worrying news from Libya" in the past few days caused him "deep trepidation and fear," and he kept the North African country's people in his prayers during his Lenten retreat March 13-19.

Speaking to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square March 20 for the recitation of the Angelus, the pope said, "I address a pressing appeal to those who have political and military responsibilities" to ensure the safety and security of defenseless citizens as well as guarantee those offering emergency assistance have access to those in need.

Throngs welcome Aristide to Haiti after seven-year absence

Supporters of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide cheer before his arrival outside the international airport in Port-au-Prince. (CNS photo)PORT-AU-PRINCE - Amid blaring horns and cheering crowds, former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide returned to his native Haiti March 18.

The exiled leader touched down about 9:20 a.m. at Toussaint Louverture International Airport, and his arrival sent the crowds that had gathered throughout the morning into joyous cheering and flag-waving.

Under heavy security, parading groups of people circled the airport grounds, shouting their support and displaying fliers with Aristide's image and the message "Bon Retour" ("Good return"). UN troops and the Haitian National Police were stationed at numerous locations.

Other supporters of the ousted former leader drove on roads near the airport, handing out fliers and flags and shouting.

Vatican welcomes European court decision on classroom crucifixes

A crucifix hangs in a school classroom in Rome. (CNS photo/Reuters)VATICAN CITY - Crucifixes displayed publicly in Italy, including in classrooms, are a sign of Christianity's key contribution to European culture and civilization, said Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Christianity is a "founding element" of Western civilization and "even if someone does not want to recognize it, it is an objective fact that the Christian presence is absolutely relevant, decisive,"  the cardinal told reporters March 18.

Ravasi spoke just a few hours before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of Italy in a case where a mother claimed crucifixes in Italian public-school classrooms violated her children's freedom of conscience. A lower chamber of the European court had ruled in 2009 that the classroom crucifixes violated the religious freedom clauses of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Religious violence unlikely in Egypt

A Christian cleric clasps hands with a Muslim sheik during a rally to demonstrate unity between Muslims and Christians in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, March 11. The rally took place after recent sectarian clashes left 13 people dead. (CNS photo/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany, Reuters)Despite a church-burning and Muslim-Christian rioting that killed 13 and wounded 140 in a Christian neighbourhood in Cairo March 8, Egyptian Christians don’t believe their country is headed for a spiral of Iraq-style religious violence.

“Egypt won’t become Iraq because the nature of the Egyptian person throughout history is that he loves to live in peace,” Catholic student Fady Bushra told The Catholic Register in an e-mail from Cairo.

“We are all angry. It has nothing to do with being Christian or being Muslim. We are all Egyptians,” said Egyptian-born Germaine Raie of Holy Family Coptic Catholic Church in Toronto.

But even as they express confidence that Egyptians don’t want communal violence, Raie and Bushra are worried there could be more incidents.