WASHINGTON - Historic churches in Washington, Maryland and Virginia were among buildings with the most serious damage after the unusual Aug. 23 magnitude 5.8 earthquake shook the region.

The temblor could be felt as far away as Detroit, north of Toronto and into Florida.

The archdioceses of Washington and Baltimore each reported damage to several churches. But in the Diocese of Richmond, Va., where the quake was centered near the town of Mineral, that town's St. Jude Church had the only reported damage in the diocese, and that was relatively minor, according to its pastor, Father Michael Duffy.

He told Catholic News Service a couple of hours after the quake that some pictures fell off the walls and smashed and holy oils fell out of the ambry. He said also said there were cracks in the plaster, a broken water pipe and some damaged light fixtures.

More people facing religious restrictions worldwide


WASHINGTON - Close to one-third of the world’s citizens have faced increased restrictions on religious practice and expression imposed on them by their respective nations’ governments, according to a study issued Aug. 9 by the Pew Research Centre’s Forum on Public Life.

The report, “Rising Restrictions on Religion,” noted that such limitations are on the upswing in 23 of the world’s 198 nations, and that many of those countries are among the world’s most populous and fastest-growing in population.

By contrast, 12 nations were judged to have eased restrictions on religion. But the Pew report suggested that those countries “already scored low” in previous studies, while nations imposing greater restrictions “already had high or very high levels of restrictions or hostilities.” No changes were reported in 163 countries.

Christians faced harassment in more nations than any other religious adherents — 130 nations, followed by 117 nations for harassment of Muslims, 75 for Jews, 27 for Hindus and 16 for Buddhists. Christians and Muslims account for about half of the world’s population.

Libya’s rebel leader denies claims of Islamic extremists in group


TRIPOLI, Libya - The head of Libya’s rebel forces, on the verge of taking the capital city of Tripoli, said dictator Moammar Gadhafi had tried to scare people by saying that Islamic extremists were part of the rebel movement.

Mustafa Abdel-Jalil called on all Libyans to respect the lives of others and urged the rebels to show the world that Libya is a country of “religiously moderate” people.

“Moammar Gadhafi will be remembered and his period of rule through the acts that he committed against the rebels and the world,” he said Aug. 22.

“But God has chosen that Gadhafi’s end should be at the hands of these youths, so that they can join the Arab Spring that is going around the Arab nations. And now I say with all transparency that the era of Gadhafi is over,” he said.

Youth told to share the faith


MADRID, SPAIN - Pope Benedict XVI saw that 1.5 million young people could be buffeted by gusty winds and drenched by a driving rain and still fall silently to their knees to adore the Eucharist.

At WYD vigil, pope encourages young people to use prayer to find their life’s vocation


MADRID - Hours after firefighters doused overheated pilgrims with much-needed jets of water, the heavens added to their efforts by driving rain and wind onto the more than 1 million young Catholics camping at Cuatro Vientos airbase Saturday night for the World Youth Day vigil.

But the rain didn’t dampen the spirits of the pilgrims, who sang and chanted all the louder for Pope Benedict XVI, who entered the airbase to cheers and applause. The pope, however, skipped the longer speech he had prepared in favor of short addresses to pilgrims in Spanish, French, English, German, Italian, Portuguese and Polish.

In the different languages, he told the young people to be proud of the gift of their faith they should “gather with others to deepen it, be faithful to the celebration of the Eucharist, the mystery of faith par excellence.”

Pope Benedict asked that the youths, during the eucharistic adoration that followed, to “raise our minds and hearts to Jesus Christ” so he “may he pour out his Spirit upon us and upon the whole church, that we may be a beacon of freedom, reconciliation and peace for the whole world.”

He encouraged them to seek out their life’s vocation and to “persevere in it with joy and fidelity, knowing that he never abandons you or betrays you.”

Pope hears confessions in the park at WYD


MADRID — Pope Benedict XVI began his third day in Madrid by hearing confessions in one of 200 portable confessionals set up in a park for World Youth Day pilgrims.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the pope offered the sacrament of reconciliation to four World Youth Day volunteers: two young men and two young women. The pope heard the confessions of two in French, one in German and the confession of a Spaniard in Italian.

While the pope used one of the same portable white confessionals that all penitents and priests in the park used, a white screen was placed around his to increase privacy.

Organizers originally had said the pope would offer the sacrament to three young people.

Vatican publishes documents related to Oregon sex abuse cases


VATICAN CITY - The Vatican published online more than 70 pages of documents which, it said, prove the Vatican had no knowledge of a priest's sexual misconduct until he and his religious order petitioned for his laicization.

The case involves the late Andrew Ronan, a former Servite priest who was laicized in 1966; a man who says he was abused by Ronan in Oregon in 1965 has taken the Vatican to court, claiming Ronan was a Vatican employee.

In a statement Aug. 17, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said, "While most of the case has been dismissed, two accusations made by (the) plaintiff's attorneys have persisted and have been repeatedly reported in the press: that the Holy See knew that Ronan was an abuser, and that the Holy See transferred Ronan from one place to another with that knowledge.

"Those would, of course, be very serious accusations -- if true," Father Lombardi said. "But, as we are learning with the development of the case, the accusations are decidedly not true."

Pope offers challenges to young professors, young religious


SAN LORENZO DE EL ESCORIAL, Spain (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI's meetings with young religious women and young university professors, held in the same complex, had very different tones.

The sisters and nuns -- all under 35 -- gathered in the sunny courtyard of the Basilica of St. Lawrence, while the professors -- most under 40 -- gathered inside the imposing stone basilica.

The young consecrated women were exuberant: singing, chanting and doing the wave. Most of them stood on their plastic chairs when the pope entered. The young professors visited one another rather quietly before the pope arrived and remained standing on the floor when the pope entered; they were in a church, after all.

In speeches to both groups, the pope expressed gratitude and offered encouragement, but he once was a young professor himself, and much of his advice to the scholars was based on personal experience and a continuing keen observation of what is happening in universities around the world.

Youths welcome pope to WYD; he asks them to think about faith


MADRID - Formally welcomed to World Youth Day by a boisterous, flag-waving throng of hundreds of thousands of young people from around the world, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged their enthusiasm but also urged them to be strong, solid and think about their faith.

Pope Benedict walked through the Puerta de Alcala, a monumental arch symbolizing the entrance to the city, with young people representing Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Moving to the nearby Plaza de Cibeles for the formal greetings and a prayer service, young people representing the various regions greeted the pope and gave him a gift that represented a formal cultural welcome. The pope received salt and bread from a young Polish woman; a flower garland from a Japanese woman; a bowl of rice from a South Korean; a sombrero from a Honduran; and coffee beans in a banana leaf from a young man from Australia.

Pope says listening to, praying with young is a great joy


MADRID - Listening to and praying with energetic young Catholics is a joy, Pope Benedict XVI told the king of Spain.

"I have come here to meet thousands of young people from all over the world, Catholics committed to Christ, searching for the truth that will give real meaning to their existence," the pope told King Juan Carlos Aug. 18 at Madrid's Barajas airport.

The king, walking with a crutch, and Queen Sofia welcomed the pope, as did 50 Spanish boys and young men dressed as Swiss Guards to make the pope feel at home.

Pope Benedict told the royal family, Spanish bishops and dignitaries at the airport that joining hundreds of thousands of young people at World Youth Day was the motive for his third papal trip to Spain and his 20th trip outside of Italy since becoming pope in 2005.

Many participants at the youth gathering "have heard the voice of God, perhaps only as a little whisper, which has led them to search for him more diligently and to share with others the experience of the force which he has in their lives," the pope said.

On plane to Madrid, pope says WYD refreshes, strengthens the young


ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT TO MADRID - Pope Benedict XVI described the World Youth Day celebrations as a "waterfall of light" that refreshes, nourishes and strengthens young Catholics and, therefore, can bring hope to the world.

Responding to four questions during the flight from Rome to Madrid Aug. 18, the pope told reporters that Blessed John Paul II was inspired when he instituted World Youth Day, and the celebration has brought much good to the church and the world, even if the results aren't always evident immediately.

"God sows silently, and the seeds he plants don't show up right away in statistics," the pope said. It's like the parable where some of the  seeds fall on the road and just dry out, while others fall among weeds and struggle, and others fall on fertile ground and flourish, he said as he prepared to join hundreds of thousands of young people in Spain Aug. 18-21.

Obviously, he said, some of the seeds sown during World Youth Day "will be lost, but that is human."

However, he said, he was confident most of the seeds, especially the seeds of "friendship with God and friendships with others," would continue to grow.