MADRID - A cloudless blue sky turned to inky night as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims participated in the opening Mass for World Youth Day, celebrated by Madrid Cardinal Antonio Rouco Varela in the Plaza de Cibeles.

Protected from the heat by white umbrellas and streams of soft mists, dozens of bishops and priests gathered on and around the makeshift altar to celebrate the Mass for pilgrims representing their homeland with flags, special hats, T-shirts and banners.

In his homily, Rouco said World Youth Day is inseparable from Blessed John Paul II, "the pope of the young," whose memory they celebrated with the Mass.

The relationship Blessed John Paul had with the young was "unprecedented," he said "a hitherto unknown relationship between the Church and her young: direct, immediate ... imbued with a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, enthusiastic, hopeful, joyful, contagious."

This tradition has continued with Pope Benedict XVI, he said, who did not hesitate to highlight Blessed John Paul's love of the young in his homily for his predecessor's beatification in May.

Abuse payouts put Dublin archdiocese on brink of financial collapse


DUBLIN - The Dublin archdiocese is on the brink of financial collapse because of payouts to victims of clergy sexual abuse, according to an internal report.

The report — prepared by the diocesan Council of Priests and obtained by The Irish Catholic newspaper — said that "reserves the diocese had built up over decades have been spent on seeking to compensate, somewhat, victims of child sexual abuse by priests."

So far, 172 civil actions from people alleging abuse have been taken against 44 priests of the Dublin archdiocese; 117 have been concluded and 55 are ongoing. The costs, so far, to the archdiocese for settlement of claims regarding child sexual abuse by priests is currently at 13.5 million euros ($20 million) — 9.3 million euros in settlements and 4.2 million euros in legal costs for both sides.

"This means the diocese will have to go into debt for a considerable period and will not have resources for other projects unless we fundraise for them specifically," the document added.

Some may protest, but young will welcome pope in Spain, spokesman says


VATICAN CITY - Protests planned against Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Madrid Aug. 18-21 are "not worrying or surprising" to the Vatican, particularly because "there are hundreds of thousands of young people who will be happy to welcome the pope," the Vatican spokesman said.

Groups opposed to government and church spending for the pope's visit have planned a protest Aug. 16, the opening day of World Youth Day.

Briefing reporters Aug. 12 about the papal trip, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi said, "It seems to me that before every papal trip there are demonstrations by people who have a different opinion and use the occasion to express their problems or concerns .... It's part of life in a democratic country."

Father Lombardi also acknowledged the failure of efforts to keep the location of the next World Youth Day secret until Pope Benedict announces it at the final Mass Aug. 21.

Brother of slain Pakistani minister disputes family feud theory


BANGALORE, India (CNS) -- The brother of assassinated Catholic government minister Shahbaz Bhatti has joined Christians in rejecting the idea that family and property disputes were behind the March assassination.

"This is just nonsense," Paul Bhatti, special adviser on minorities to the Pakistan government, told Catholic News Service Aug. 15 from Islamabad, Pakistan.

The assassination of 42-year old Shahbaz Bhatti, who was ambushed and sprayed with bullets while being driven to his office in Islamabad, has drawn worldwide condemnation, including from Pope Benedict XVI.

Paul Bhatti spoke to CNS about a leaked news report that absolved Islamic extremists for his brother's assassination.

Christians fearful, but hopeful for Egypt's future


NASHVILLE, Tenn. - In the wake of the revolution that toppled Egypt's authoritarian government last winter, the country's Christians remain fearful, yet hopeful, said Cardinal Antonios Naguib, patriarch of the Coptic Catholic Church.

"I think that (the people) are afraid," said Naguib during a recent visit to Nashville. The revolution has provided a historic opening for equality and freedom for people of all faiths in Egypt, but the prospects for Christians depend on the future government, he added.

"At the same time we have much hope it will be better than before," Naguib said.

The cardinal is the leader of the Coptic Catholic Church, based in Egypt and one of the Eastern Catholic churches.

Vatican spokesman 'astonished' Croatia repossessed church property


VATICAN CITY - A tract of disputed church property in Croatia was returned to the Croatian government after a justice minister annulled a series of past property decisions that had given the property to a diocese.

The justice minster's action has caused "great astonishment," the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, told journalists Aug. 11.

The center of the dispute is a monastery located in Dajla, Croatia, along the Adriatic coast.

The monastery was built by the Benedictine monks of Praglia, Italy, who were given the property in the mid-1800s by a nobleman.

The property, which included vineyards and an olive grove, was used by the church until the then-communist government of Yugoslavia nationalized all church property in 1948 and turned the Dajla monastery into a home for the aged.

Nuns help London residents displaced by rioting


LONDON - Catholic nuns who live near London neighbourhoods hit by riots are working with local authorities to help -- and even counsel -- homeless victims.

Members of the Sisters of Marie Auxiliatrice, a French-based community, made their decision after attending an ecumenical prayer vigil amid smouldering ruins and husks of burned-out vehicles in the British capital's Tottenham district.

Dublin-born Sister Sylvia McCarthy told Catholic News Service Aug. 10, "The shops were burned out completely, and many people lived over those shops, and they had very little time to get out of their apartments.

"The people were in an awful state," she said. "They are short of everything."

Faith, human spirit of rescued Chilean miners key in Smithsonian exhibit


WASHINGTON - The dramatic and uplifting story of survival and a rescue that captivated the world one year ago unfolds in "Against All Odds: Rescue at the Chilean Mine," a new exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington.

The exhibit opened Aug. 5, exactly one year after the mine collapse in Chile, in which all 33 miners survived and were rescued 69 days later.

The technical skill of the rescuers can be seen in the drill bit that cut through nearly one kilometre of rock, and the Fenix rescue capsule constructed by the Chilean navy in consultation with NASA. That capsule was named for the phoenix, the legendary bird that is a symbol of rebirth.

But the human spirit and faith that helped the miners endure is also on display, in the form of a small Bible, about the size of a hand, labelled Santa Biblia ("Holy Bible"), and the exhibit notes, "Miner Jose Henriquez, a committed Christian, read from this Bible when he led the men in daily prayer."

Salvadoran soldiers indicted for deaths of Jesuits surrender


SAN SALVADOR - Nine former soldiers in El Salvador's army have surrendered to authorities, three months after their indictment in Spain for the 1989 killings of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter during the country's 12-year civil war.

The ex-military members turned themselves in at a military base Aug. 8 and were transported to a Salvadoran court, the government said.

They were among 20 former soldiers indicted by a Spanish court for their role in the deaths on the campus of the University of Central America in the Salvadoran capital, where the priests taught and lived.

Five of the priests were Spanish. Spain's courts have used the principle of international jurisdiction to prosecute the killings.

Knights called to foster Christian unity, carry out new evangelization


DENVER - The archbishop of Quebec told members of the Knights of Columbus gathered in Denver for their convention he hoped they would be transformed, just as the first disciples had been transformed at the Transfiguration.

"The Gospel reminds us that 'Jesus took with him Peter, James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain ... and he was transfigured before them,'" said Archbishop Gerald Cyprian Lacroix, quoting from the Gospel of St. Matthew.

"This year the Lord has led us up a high mountain to the Mile High City -- Denver, Colorado -- for a very special experience; hopefully a  transfigurating experience," he said.

Archbishop Lacroix, who also is the primate of Canada, was one of three speakers at the Knights' States Dinner Aug. 2. The others were Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iniguez of Guadalajara, Mexico, and U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, who is prefect of the Apostolic Signature, the Vatican's supreme tribunal.

At Angelus, Pope calls for prayers for Syria, Libya


CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI appealed for reconciliation and respect for human rights in Syria and Libya where the governments have used force to try to end pro-democracy protests.

"With deep concern, I am following the dramatic and growing episodes of violence in Syria," the pope said Aug. 7 at the end of his Angelus address to visitors gathered in the courtyard of the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo.

A government crackdown on protesters in Hama, Syria, Aug. 5 reportedly left two dozen people dead. The United Nations has said "around 2,000 people are reported to have been killed in clashes in Syria since protesters took to the streets in mid-March demanding greater civil liberties. The violent crackdown by the authorities has received widespread condemnation from the U.N., including the Security Council and top officials, as well as world leaders."