BANGALORE, India - Catholic prohibitionists in India's Kerala state have proposed making alcoholism a sin in the nation's largest Christian enclave.

"Alcoholism is a serious problem in Kerala, and we have to take tough measures to counter it," Bishop Sebastian Thekethecheril, chairman of the Temperance Commission of the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council, told Catholic News Service Feb. 1 during the general assembly of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India in Bangalore.

With Mass, tears, prayers, Nigerians bury victims of Christmas bombing


MADALLA, Nigeria - Officials of the Archdiocese of Abuja celebrated Mass for 18 victims of the Christmas bombings at St. Theresa Catholic Church, then buried the remains within the church grounds.

Abuja Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan told about 2,000 people gathered at the church Feb. 1 that "those who killed others, either in the name of their faith or ideology, are murderers.''

Cardinal Bevilacqua, retired Philadelphia archbishop, dies at age 88


PHILADELPHIA - Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, retired archbishop of Philadelphia, died Jan. 31 at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, where he resided.

According to the Philadelphia archdiocese, he died in his sleep at 9:15 p.m. He was 88. The archdiocese said he had been battling dementia and an undisclosed form of cancer.

Cardinal Bevilacqua headed the archdiocese from February 1988 to October 2003. Funeral arrangements were pending.

Bishop says world must help rebuild 'functioning authority' in Somalia


WASHINGTON - The international community must contribute to reconstructing a "functioning authority" in Somalia, said the bishop who serves as administrator of the country's only Catholic diocese.

After 21 years of "practically anarchy," Somalia "has become a failed state, a black hole," said Bishop Giorgio Bertin of Djibouti, who took over as administrator of the diocese in neighboring Somalia in 1989, when the bishop of Mogadishu was killed.

Vatican, Palestinian leaders continue talks on church rights, freedoms


VATICAN CITY - The Vatican and the Palestine Liberation Organization are continuing talks aimed at a formal agreement regulating and promoting the presence and activity of the Catholic Church in the Palestinian territories.

Vatican and PLO representatives met Jan. 28 at the headquarters of the Palestinian president in Ramallah, according to a statement released at the Vatican Jan. 30.

In San Salvador, vets continue long tradition of occupying cathedral


SAN SALVADOR - A group of former guerrillas has spent more than two weeks in San Salvador's Metropolitan Cathedral to demand better economic conditions, continuing a long tradition of the cathedral as a place to expose perceived injustices.

The veterans of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front began their occupation Jan. 12, demanding that President Mauricio Funes meets previously agreed-upon arrangements, such as the inclusion of parents of combatants killed in action into the pension system.

French president rejects calls for secular values to be in constitution


PARIS - French President Nicolas Sarkozy rejected calls for secular values to be enshrined into his country's constitution and urged religious leaders to do more to spread their message in the country.

"A secular society is one which has decided to separate churches from the state, so the state doesn't have to account for its choices to churches, and churches don't depend on the state to live and organize -- this is secularity, a secular republic," he told religious leaders at a traditional New Year meeting Jan. 25.

Vatican downplays charges of financial 'corruption'


VATICAN CITY - Insisting on the Holy See's continuing commitment to transparency and rectitude in economic affairs, the Vatican's spokesman downplayed references to "corruption" in a letter apparently sent to Pope Benedict XVI by a Vatican official who is now apostolic nuncio to the United States.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican Press Office, criticized as "partisan," "partial and banal," an Italian television news program, which, on Jan. 25, broadcast portions of letters addressed to Pope Benedict and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State.

Months after independence, South Sudan grapples with contentious issues


CAPE TOWN, South Africa - The church in South Sudan and its partners in North America are frustrated that their efforts to build peace in the infant country are threatened, but they have not given up, Catholic officials said.

A serious political deadlock between South Sudan and its northern neighbor, Sudan, over the split of oil revenues "could lead to a declaration of war," said Auxiliary Bishop Santo Loku Pio Doggale of Juba, capital of South Sudan.

Bishop Doggale said that he and other church leaders met with South Sudan President Salva Kiir and other senior government officials in Juba after the government announced Jan. 20 that it was shutting down oil production immediately.

Vatican signs treaties against drug trade, organized crime, terrorism


VATICAN CITY - The Vatican has signed three international treaties supporting the fight against the illegal drug trade, financing terrorism and organized crime.

By signing onto these international legal instruments Jan. 25, the Vatican "confirms its intention as well as its effective and practical commitment to collaborate with the international community in a manner consistent with its nature and mission, with a view to guaranteeing international peace and justice," wrote Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican secretary for relations with states.

Congo's bishops: Elections 'stained,' council must acknowledge errors


KINSHASA, Congo - Months after Congo's general elections, the nation's bishops continue to speak out about the legitimacy of the results.

"We believe that the electoral process is stained by serious irregularities which raise questions about the published results," the bishops' conference said in mid-January. "We call on the organizers to have the courage and honesty to draw the necessary conclusions."

The bishops called on members of the National Electoral Council to "have the courage to question their own practices, or if not, step down."