News/International

LAGOS, Nigeria - Catholic leaders condemned the spate of bomb blasts in Nigeria and urged the government to get control of security.

Lagos Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie criticized the government for its failure to protect citizens.

Speaking at the dedication of St. Peter Church in Awka, the cardinal said the spate of bombings in a four-day period makes people wonder "what the government is doing with our money. If they cannot protect the lives of its citizens, then why do we have a government?"

Italian state experts create similar colorations seen on Turin shroud

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VATICAN CITY - Using high-tech lasers shooting pulses of ultraviolet light, Italy's national research agency succeeded in reproducing on linen cloth colorations similar to those seen on the Shroud of Turin.

The enormous technical difficulty in achieving the positive results also makes it highly unlikely that the shroud is a fake from medieval times, the agency said.

The Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development, or ENEA, spent five years looking for ways to recreate the micro-thin, yellow-sepia toned colorations that form the image of a man on the Turin shroud, said the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, Dec. 29.

Pope's 2012 to include synod, international trips, canonizations

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VATICAN CITY - A trip to Latin America, a Synod of Bishops on new evangelization, the start of the Year of Faith, creation of new cardinals and proclamations of new saints are all on Pope Benedict XVI's calendar for 2012.

Of particular interest to the United States, the pope will also continue his meetings with groups of U.S. bishops making their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican during the first half of the year. His talks to the bishops are expected to focus on themes of education, religious freedom and the relationship between culture and religion.

The 2012 highlights are only a small part of the pope's day-to-day schedule, which includes hundreds of meetings, speeches, messages and liturgies. The German pope, who turns 85 in April, also pursues a "private" agenda of writing whenever he gets the chance, as he works to complete the latest in his "Jesus of Nazareth" series of books -- this one on Jesus' infancy and childhood.

Castro says Cuba will free 2,900 political prisoners in spring

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HAVANA - Cuban President Raul Castro announced his country will free 2,900 political prisoners in the spring, a move he partially attributed to Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit.

In a speech to the National Assembly, Castro said the Council of State had taken into account the papal visit as well as requests from prisoners' family members and top Catholic officials. He also mentioned the 400th anniversary of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, patroness of Cuba.

New Jersey nurses don't have to assist in abortion in new hospital agreement

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NEWARK, N.J. - A group of 12 nurses who sued the University Hospital in Newark over a policy requiring them to care for patients before and after abortions can no longer be compelled to assist in these procedures, under an agreement reached in federal court.

The nurses in the same-day surgery unit of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey can remain in their current jobs and will only be required to help patients with abortions in a life-threatening emergency when no other nonobjecting staff members are available and only until someone can be brought in to relieve them, according to the Dec. 22 agreement.

U.S. District Judge Jose Linares, who mediated the agreement, said the nurses would be allowed to remain in the unit and would not be discriminated against because of their stance on abortion. He declined to rule on how the hospital would configure its nursing staff, calling that a contract issue.

Pope condemns Christmas bombings in Nigeria

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VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI appealed for an end to violence in Nigeria, condemning the Christmas church bombings that led to the deaths of at least 39 people.

The celebration of Christmas leads people to pray in an even stronger way that God would "stop the hands of the violent who sow death and that justice and peace would reign in the world," the Pope said Dec. 26 as he recited the Angelus with visitors gathered in St. Peter's Square.

A group called Boko Haram, which has been promoting the adoption of Islamic law across Nigeria, claimed responsibility for the bombings. News reports said at least 35 people died at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, just outside Abuja. Other deadly bombs were set off at the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Church in Jos and at police stations in three other cities.

Pope to visit Mexico March 23-26, spokesman confirms

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MEXICO CITY - A spokesman for the Mexican bishops' conference confirmed details of Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit to Mexico originally published by the newspaper Reforma, which reported the papal visit would occur March 23-26.

The spokesman, Father Manuel Corral, stressed that details of the visit "are not official," although he said the Pope would only visit the state of Guanajuato and its environs in west-central Mexico. Father Corral said specific details of the visit would likely be made public before the end of the year.

Midnight Masses canceled in Iraq because of growing security concerns

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LONDON - Chaldean Catholic officials have canceled traditional Christmas Eve midnight Masses because of security risks.

Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk in northern Iraq told the agency Aid to the Church in Need that Christians will spend Christmas in "great fear" because of the risk of new attacks.

All services and Masses have been scheduled for daylight hours, he said in an interview with Rome-based AsiaNews.

Pope points to joyful lessons learned from World Youth Day, Benin trip

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VATICAN CITY - Knowing one is loved by God gives life meaning and gives one the energy needed to carry on with joy, even in difficult personal or societal situations, Pope Benedict XVI told top Vatican officials.

Meeting members of the Roman Curia Dec. 22 for his annual exchange of Christmas greetings, the pope said the "faith fatigue" seen in various areas of church life contrasts sharply with the faith and joy he witnessed during World Youth Day in Madrid and during his November trip to Benin.

The two trips, he said, hold lessons for church leaders and for the faithful.

New homes help tsunami survivors adjust to changed circumstances

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BANDA ACEH, Indonesia - Squatting inside his small home in the fishing hamlet of Alua Naga near the city of Banda Aceh, Hussein Sweid knitted together a fishing net, preparing for his next venture out to sea.

"This is a new life and I am slowly coming in terms with it," Sweid, 45, said, surrounded by his family: a wife of four years and two daughters, both now almost 3 years old.

Tears welled up in his eyes as he recalled how he lost four of his five children and first wife in the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami when the sea rose up to 38 feet, submerging much of westernmost Indonesia's island of Sumatra.

"Only my (10-year-old) daughter survived because she was with the grandparents (in another city) at the time," Sweid said.

Prague archbishop remembers Havel as friend, 'fellow prisoner'

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PRAGUE — Calling former Czech President Vaclav Havel a "friend and fellow prisoner," the president of the Czech bishops' conference said the entire nation owes Havel a debt of gratitude for its freedom and the new flourishing of Czech life and culture.
Archbishop Dominik Duka of Prague, who was imprisoned with Havel by the communists, asked that the bells of all Catholic churches in the Czech Republic ring at 6 p.m. Dec. 18 in memory of the former president who died that morning at the age of 75.
The archbishop, who met Havel in prison in 1981 and continued to meet with him after the end of communism in 1989, was scheduled to celebrate Havel's funeral Mass Dec. 23 in St. Vitus Cathedral.
"He knew the loss of freedom, the denial of human dignity, oppression and imprisonment," Duka said in a statement posted Dec. 18 on the Czech bishops' web site. "I am convinced that everyone across the country, regardless of political or religious beliefs, owes him honour and thanks."
Havel, a playwright and essayist, was one of the founders of the Charter 77 movement, which began criticizing the communist government of then-Czechoslovakia, particularly for its lack of respect for human rights, in 1977.
He served four years of hard labour and nine months in prison for dissident activities before becoming head of state after the 1989 "Velvet Revolution" that toppled communism. He resigned in 1992 when Slovakia declared its independence, but was elected president of the Czech Republic six months later.
Havel met Pope Benedict XVI during the Pope's trip to Prague in 2009. He met Blessed John Paul II at least five times, three of them in Prague, and Havel attended the late pope's funeral at the Vatican in 2005. The two men admired one another and saw each other as participants in the same battle for freedom, human rights, human dignity and respect for the cultures of Eastern Europe.
In an interview with a Polish Catholic news agency in 2000, Havel said, "John Paul II is someone very close to me, who continually startles me with his personality and inspires me.
"His language, constantly stressing human dignity and recalling the rights of man, has been a novelty in the papacy's history. If the pope had been someone else, from another part of the world, without the historical experience of Poland, he probably wouldn't have had such a clear attitude to totalitarianism. John Paul II's services in this area are undeniable," he said.
He also told the interviewer that in April 1990 he made his confession to Pope John Paul during the pope's first Czech pilgrimage while under the spell of the pope's "charismatic personality."
"I suddenly realized I was in fact confessing in front of him, even though I'm not accustomed to going to confession, since I'm not a practising Catholic. I felt the need because of the great will to understand the other person that emanates from the person of the pope," Havel said.
L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, noted that Havel attended a Mass of thanksgiving in St. Vitus Cathedral immediately after his inauguration in 1989, restoring a practice Czech leaders had followed for centuries until the communists came to power.
"That ceremony was not only the recovery of an ancient liturgy that united politics and tradition, culture and religion, but represented the beginning of a new history, a history of freedom of which Vaclav Havel was the most important symbol," the newspaper said.