MEXICO CITY - A Mexican bishop said at least one priest has abandoned his parish in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, where the bodies of at least 122 abducted and murdered bus passengers have been pulled from mass graves within the first half of April.

Matamoros Bishop Faustino Armendariz Jimenez told reporters April 13 that at least one priest from a municipality near where the mass graves were discovered had fled after being threatened and subjected to harassment by presumed members of organized crime. He added that other priests have encountered difficulties travelling in the state, which is plagued by highway checkpoints manned by organized criminal groups such as Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel.

"We've had (incidents) at the armed checkpoints," Armendariz said in comments published by the newspaper El Universal. "Thanks to God, we're still here. Fortunately, nothing has happened, but we travel with fear."

Oct. 22 to be John Paul II’s feast day

The Polish pope, who died April 2, 2005, will be beatified May 1. (CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo)VATICAN CITY - The feast day of Blessed John Paul II will be marked Oct. 22 each year in Rome and the dioceses of Poland.

When the Vatican made the announcement April 11, it also said Catholics throughout the world will have a year to celebrate a Mass in thanksgiving for his beatification. While thanksgiving Masses for a beatification — like the observance of a feast day — usually are limited to places where the person lived or worked, “the exceptional character of the beatification of the Venerable John Paul II, recognized by the entire Catholic Church spread throughout the world,” led to a general permission for the thanksgiving Mass, said a decree from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

The decree was published in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, and included information about the thanksgiving Mass, Pope John Paul’s feast day, annual Masses in his honour and naming churches after him. The newspaper also published the text of the opening prayer — formally the “collect” — for his feast day Mass in Latin, English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Polish.

New 'boat people' put Church teaching to the test

Migrants from North Africa arrive by boat, escorted by two members of an Italian security force, at the southern Italian island of Lampedusa March 14. More than 22,000 refugees, many fleeing political unrest in Tunisia and Libya, have arrived on the tiny island since January. (CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters)VATICAN CITY — The new flow of North African immigrants into Italy is putting the Vatican's teaching on immigration to the test.

More than 22,000 "boat people," many fleeing political unrest in Tunisia and Libya, have arrived on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa this year. The fighting in Libya has spurred more people to flee in recent days. Not all survive the trip. About 150 people drowned April 6 when a migrant boat capsized in rough seas.

Church leaders have underlined the broad right to emigrate, the specific rights of refugees and the responsibility of wealthier nations to welcome those in need. But their moral advocacy has provoked criticism and even derision among some Italians, who have suggested that the Vatican and other religious institutions be the first to open their doors to the wave of immigrants.

Church culture must change after sex abuse scandal, archbishop says

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, speaks April 4 at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee during an international conference on the clergy sex abuse scandal. Archbishop Martin was harsh in his assessment of most of the priest abusers he has met since becoming archbishop of Dublin in 2004. (CNS photo/Mike Gryniewicz, Marquette University Law School)MILWAUKEE — Much more remains to be done to "turn around the culture of an institution" that allowed thousands of children to be abused by priests in the archdiocese of Dublin, the head of the archdiocese told an international conference on the clergy sex abuse scandal April 4.

Opening the two-day conference at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin was harsh in his assessment of most of the priest abusers he had met since becoming archbishop of Dublin in 2004.

"I can honestly say that with perhaps two exceptions, I have not encountered a real and unconditional admission of guilt and responsibility on the part of priest offenders in my diocese," Martin said. "Survivors have repeatedly told me that one of the greatest insults and hurts they have experienced is to see the lack of real remorse on the part of offenders even when they plead guilty in court."

Brother of slain Pakistani minister says he forgives murderers


Paul Bhatti, centre, meeting Pope Benedict XVI April 6. Bhatti's brother, Shahbaz, was a former Pakistani minister for minorities who was murdered by Islamic extremists last month. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters) ROME - Paul Bhatti, brother of the former Pakistani minister for minorities who was murdered by Islamic extremists, said he and his family forgive his brother's assassins.

Shahbaz Bhatti, who spoke out against Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws and encouraged religious freedom, was killed March 2.

Speaking to reporters in Rome April 5, Paul Bhatti said his family has forgiven Shahbaz's assassins, "because our faith teaches us to do this. Our brother Shahbaz was a Christian and the Christian faith tells us to forgive."

The brother participated in a conference sponsored by the Community of Sant'Egidio, a Rome-based Catholic lay organization active in international affairs. The conference was designed as a memorial to Shahbaz Bhatti and as a way to encourage the continuation of his mission of promoting interreligious dialogue in Pakistan.

Pope offers prayers for refugees feared dead after fleeing Libya


Italian  Police  and Coast Guard officers carry an injured refugee as he arrives  on the  Italian island of Lampedusa. (CNS photo/Vincenzo Tersigni,  Reuters)VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI offered prayers for at least 150 refugees, including women and children, whose boat sank off the Italian island of Lampedusa after they fled Libya.

"The tragedy of the death at sea of such a large number of migrants from North Africa trying to reach Europe has deeply saddened the Holy Father," said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office.

Lombardi spoke April 7, the day after the Italian military and international aid agencies reported the sinking of the vessel, which may have been carrying as many as 300 passengers. The boat, which sailed from Libya, was carrying asylum seekers from Somalia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Ivory Coast, Chad and Sudan, said the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration.

1,000 dead in Ivory Coast massacre

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.