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Posted on 12/3/2022 21:10 PM (CNA Daily News)
Vatican City, Dec 3, 2022 / 13:10 pm (CNA).
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the Vatican. A large hand-carved wooden nativity scene was unveiled in St. Peter Square on Saturday night at the Vatican’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
Cardinal Fernando Vérgez Alzaga presided over the ceremony on Dec. 3. Due to heavy rain and thunderstorms, the celebration took place inside Vatican City’s Paul VI Hall with a video live-stream from St. Peter’s Square of the Christmas tree lighting .
The Christmas tree is a nearly 100-foot-tall white fir from Rosello, a mountain village with around 182 inhabitants in the central Italian region of Abruzzo.
The tree was adorned with ornaments made by children at a psychiatric rehabilitation center in Italy. Other decorations for the tree were crafted by residents at a nursing home and schoolchildren from Abruzzo.
The outdoor nativity scene is made of life-sized figures hand carved out of alpine cedar trees from Italy’s northeasternmost region, Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
The scene includes a wooden grotto with an ox, donkey, angel, Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus. The wooden figures will also have tradesmen and tradeswomen typical of the area where the nativity was made, a shepherdess, and a family and children.
The Vatican has placed a nativity scene in front of St. Peter’s Basilica for the Christmas season since the 1980s. For about a decade, the Vatican has asked different countries or Italian regions to lend the nativity to be displayed. In 2021, the scene came from Peru.
This year the Vatican is also displaying an indoor nativity scene donated by the government of Guatemala inside the Paul VI Hall, where Pope Francis receives many audiences in December.
The Holy Family and three angels were handmade by Guatemalan artisans in the local tradition using large golden crowns for the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph.
Pope Francis spent time in silent prayer in front of the nativity scene set up in Paul VI Hall on Saturday morning ahead of the ceremony.
In an audience with delegations from the communities that donated the nativity scenes and the Christmas tree, the pope said that the Christmas tree with its lights is a reminder of Jesus who “comes to illuminate our darkness, our existence often shrouded in the shadow of sin, fear, pain.”
“Yes, God loves us so much that he shares our humanity and our lives. He never leaves us alone; He is by our side in every circumstance, in joy as in sorrow. Even in the worst of times, He is there, because He is the Emmanuel, the God with us, the light that illuminates the darkness and the tender presence that accompanies us on our journey,” Pope Francis said.
Posted on 12/3/2022 20:00 PM (CNA Daily News)
Vatican City, Dec 3, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).
Pope Francis blessed a nativity scene on Saturday that was handmade by artisan craftsmen in Guatemala.
Guatemala’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mario Búcaro led a delegation that traveled from the Latin American country to be present for the nativity scene’s inauguration in Vatican City’s Paul VI Hall on Dec. 3.
"It is the first time in history that our country presents a nativity scene in the Vatican, a beautiful work of sacred art, personally delivered to Pope Francis and, therefore, also a gift from the people of Guatemala in anticipation of Christmas," Búcaro said.
The nativity scene was made by the combined effort of more than 30 artisans. It features the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, wearing large golden crowns, in a manger surrounded by angels.
At the nativity’s inauguration, Pope Francis explained that the nativity scene tells of “the birth of the Son of God who became man to be close to each of us.”
“In its genuine poverty, the nativity scene helps us to rediscover the true richness of Christmas,” the pope said.
“Simple and familiar, the nativity scene recalls a different Christmas from the consumerist and commercial one. … It reminds us how good it is for us to cherish moments of silence and prayer in our days, which are often overwhelmed by frenzy.”
In St. Peter's Square, the Vatican has also displayed an outdoor wooden nativity scene hand carved from alpine cedar trees from Italy’s northeasternmost region, Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
Pope Francis recommended silent prayer and contemplation of the Christ child in a nativity scene as an intimate experience of God’s humility and tenderness.
“And if we really want to celebrate Christmas, let us rediscover through the nativity scene the surprise and wonder of littleness, the littleness of God, who made himself small, who was not born in the splendor of appearance, but in the poverty of a stable,” Pope Francis said.
The Guatemalan nativity scene will remain on display in Paul VI Hall until January 8, when the Church celebrates the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
Posted on 12/3/2022 15:30 PM (CNA Daily News)
Vatican City, Dec 3, 2022 / 07:30 am (CNA).
Pope Francis celebrated the International Day of Disabled Persons on Saturday at the Vatican with a group of children with disabilities and their families.
In a private audience inside the Apostolic Palace on Dec. 3, the pope greeted each of the families present and said: “Your witness is a concrete sign of peace, a sign of hope for a more humane and fraternal world for everyone.”
Pope Francis underlined his desire for all Christian communities to be true places of “belonging and inclusion.”
“There is no inclusion if it only remains a slogan, a formula to be used in politically correct speeches,” he added.
The pope said: “Promoting recognition of the dignity of every person is a constant responsibility of the Church: it is the mission of continuing over time the closeness of Jesus Christ to every man and woman, especially those who are most fragile and vulnerable.”
The United Nations proclaimed Dec. 3 the annual International Day of Disabled Persons 30 years ago.
More than one billion people, about 15% of the world's population, live with some form of disability, according to the UN.
Pope Francis released an official message for the 2022 International Day of Disabled Persons in which he asked people to be “mindful of the sufferings of all those women and men with disabilities who live in the midst of war, or have been themselves disabled as a result of warfare.”
The pope also expressed gratitude for the participation of people with disabilities in the Church’s Synod on Synodality process.
“The Synod, above all by its invitation to journey together and to listen to one another, can help us understand how in the Church – also with regard to the disabled – there can be no us and them, but a single us, with Jesus Christ at the center, where each person brings his or her own gifts and limitations,” he said.
“This awareness, founded on the fact that we are all part of the same vulnerable humanity assumed and sanctified by Christ, eliminates arbitrary distinctions and opens the door to the participation of each baptized member in the life of the Church.”
Pope Francis added: “Encounter and fraternity break down the walls of misunderstanding and overcome discrimination; this is why I trust that every Christian community will be open to the presence of our brothers and sisters with disabilities, and ensure that they are always welcomed and fully included.”
Posted on 12/3/2022 12:00 PM (CNA Daily News)
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 3, 2022 / 04:00 am (CNA).
How far would you go to serve God?
Would you be willing to travel to the ends of the earth, with nothing but the guarantee of hardship, deprivation, and persecution?
Today’s feast celebrates the life of St. Francis Xavier, the patron saint of missionaries and missions, who led an unlikely life of adventure and heroism, full of unexpected twists and turns, taking the faith to the ends of the earth.
Born in 1506 to a noble Navarrese-Basque family, Francis grew up in a land wracked with war. Wedged between the growing imperial powers of Castile-Aragon (Spain) and France, Navarre seldom knew peace during Francis’ childhood.
As a member of the nobility, Francis was expected to lead a warrior’s life along with his father and brothers.
But at the age of 10, Francis’ life took its first dramatic and tragic turn. His father died, his homeland Kingdom of Navarre was defeated by Spain, his brothers were imprisoned, and his childhood home, the Castle of the House of Javier (Xavier), was almost entirely destroyed.
With his family disgraced and nearly wiped out, Francis’ prospects for a bright future were looking dim. But God still had incredible plans for young Francis.
Hoping to rebuild the family’s legacy, Francis was sent in 1525 to the center of European theology and studies, the University of Paris.
In Paris, Francis quickly made a name for himself. Handsome with a keen intellect and an agile athlete with a particular gift for pole vaulting, the last thing on young Francis’ mind was a life of humble service to God and the Church.
Yet Francis’ life took a second dramatic turn after he met a fellow Basque noble, Ignatius of Loyola. Headstrong and stubborn, Francis was initially repelled by Ignatius’ ideas of radical devotion to God. But Ignatius would remind him of Jesus’ words in the Bible: “For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26).
Inspired by Ignatius’ piety and fervor, Francis finally decided to dedicate his life to the service of God. In 1534, along with Ignatius and five others, Francis took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in a chapel at Montmartre in France.
Receiving Holy Orders alongside Ignatius in 1537, Francis had intended to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. But war in the region had made such a journey impossible. Once again, God was about to unexpectedly and radically alter the course of Francis’ life.
Pope Leo III asked the newly founded Jesuits to send missionaries to the Portuguese colonies in India. Though he was originally not supposed to go, one of the Jesuits assigned to the mission fell ill, and Francis volunteered in his place. Through that courageous act of trust, God would use Francis to transform the entire Asian continent.
Francis set out for India in 1541, on his 35th birthday. Traveling by sea at this time was extremely uncomfortable, and those who dared to do so risked disease with no guarantee of ever successfully arriving at their destination. Francis had to sail all the way around Africa, past the Cape of Good Hope, almost to the very bottom of the globe, just to cross the Indian Ocean and arrive in Goa, a province in India.
Upon arriving in India in 1542, Francis immediately faced countless challenges in bringing the word of God to the people of this new and strange region. For seven years Francis preached in the streets and public squares, laboring tirelessly across India and the Asian Pacific islands, contending with persecution from warlords and at times even from the Portuguese authorities meant to help him.
After converting tens of thousands and planting the seeds of a renewed and lasting Christian Church in India, Francis began to hear stories about an enchanting island nation known as “Japan.” Francis’ heart was set ablaze with the desire to bring the Gospel to Japan. After he had ensured the faithful in India would be properly cared for, Francis set sail for the mysterious new land, becoming the first to bring the Christian faith to Japan, on the complete opposite side of the world from his home in Navarre. He was truly going to the ends of the earth in service of God.
In Japan, Francis and his companions traveled far and wide, often on foot and with almost no resources. Crisscrossing the nation, he built up a vibrant Christian community over 6,000 miles from Rome.
Francis would later hear of the even more mysterious and closely guarded nation of China and here, too, he decided to bring the word of God. But before he could find a way into China’s heartland, Francis got sick and died in 1552, while on the Chinese Shangchuan Island.
Now considered one of the greatest of all the Church’s missionaries, St. Francis Xavier proved that one life lived in complete trust in God can transform an entire continent and the whole world.
Posted on 12/3/2022 01:15 AM (CNA Daily News)
Boston, Mass., Dec 2, 2022 / 17:15 pm (CNA).
As California’s three-year window to file child sex abuse lawsuits past the statute of limitations nears its conclusion, 66 Catholic clergy and religious have been named in 116 lawsuits in Alameda County, which covers the area between San Francisco and San Jose.
Additionally, 14 of the clergy members and religious identified in the lawsuits are named for the first time, the law firm of Jeff Anderson & Associates announced Nov. 28.
The law firm said that the 116 lawsuits may be a small percentage of the total number of suits filed under the California Child Victims Act, which was passed in 2019.
The legislation allowed a three-year period in which victims of child sex abuse could come forward with claims that would have expired under the previous statute of limitations. The window began Jan. 1, 2020, and will expire in less than a month. The bill was signed by Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The legislation allows one to file a civil lawsuit for child sexual abuse up to the age of 40, or within five years from the date that the plaintiff “discovers or reasonably should have discovered that psychological injury or illness occurring” after the age of 18 was caused by the abuse.
Previously, claims had to be filed by age 26, or within three years of discovering damages from the abuse. Dec. 31 is the last day to file a lawsuit before the window closes.
“The California Child Victims Act has helped hundreds of survivors seek justice and healing,” attorney Jeff Anderson said in a statement. “This law is a major advancement in the child protection movement, and we applaud all of the survivors who have come forward. But time is running out. Survivors must act before the Dec. 31 deadline.”
Andy Rivas, the then executive director of the California Catholic Conference of Bishops, said at the the time the law, known as AB 218, passed that the Church viewed it as a “step forward."
“Ultimately, our hope is that all victim-survivors of childhood sexual abuse in all institutional settings will be able to have their pain and suffering addressed and resolved and so our prayers are that AB 218 will be a step forward in that direction,” Rivas said.
“The Catholic Church has confronted this issue of child sexual abuse for more than two decades now,” he said. “It is a legacy of shame for all of us in the Church, and we are aware that nothing can undo the violence done to victim-survivors or restore the innocence and trust that was taken from them.”
According to the law firm, the lawsuits allege that the abuse occurred within the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Archdiocese of San Francisco, the Diocese of Fresno, the Diocese of Monterey, the Diocese of Oakland, the Diocese of Sacramento, the Diocese of San Jose, and the Diocese of Santa Rosa.
Brother Salvatore Billante and Father Stephen Kiesle were accused most frequently, according to the law firm. Billante was accused at least 11 times and Kiesle was accused at least nine times, the law firm said. Billante’s alleged abuse took place at locations in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Kiesle’s alleged abuse took place at locations in the Diocese of Oakland.
Fourteen of the allegations named clergy members for the first time. Their names, reported by the law firm, are Father James Corley, Father Sidney Hall, Father John A. Lynch, Father John Francis Scanlon, Father William Dodson, Father Henry Hall, Sister M. Rosella McConnell, Father Joseph Watt, Father Elwood Geary, Father Domingos S. Jacque, Brother U Benedict Reams, Father Robert Gemmet, Father Robert H. Lewis, and Father Christian Sandholdt.
It’s unclear whether the 66 accused clergy and religious are living or deceased, and where they are living, the law firm said. The names of the 66 accused clergy and religious can be seen here.
“The vast majority of claims against these individuals have not been fully evaluated in a civil or criminal court,” the law firm said.
“The allegations should not be considered proven or substantiated in a court of law. All individuals should be considered innocent until proven guilty.”
Several other states, such as New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, Arizona, Montana, Hawaii, Vermont, and North Carolina have also passed legislation opening windows for lawsuits past the statute of limitations.
Posted on 12/3/2022 00:45 AM (CNA Daily News)
CNA Newsroom, Dec 2, 2022 / 16:45 pm (CNA).
A watch worn by Pope Francis was sold Wednesday at a charity auction and set a new world record for the brand.
The LaViolette Scholarship Foundation auctioned off a Swatch Once Again watch Nov. 30 that Francis had worn for much of his pontificate.
The watch, which can be found at the brand's official store for $55, was finally sold for $56,250 — more than 1,000 times its retail value — making it the Swatch watch for which the most money has ever been paid.
Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, Wisconsin, sent a letter to the Holy Father in May telling him about the life of Brian LaViolette, a teenage watch collector who died at the age of 15 in a swimming accident.
In the letter, Ricken asked the pontiff to donate one of his cheapest watches to be auctioned by the LaViolette Foundation, which offers financial help for students to go to college.
The Holy Father agreed to the request and the auction of the watch joins those of other famous people such as Fred Savage, Joe Theismann, Terry Bradshaw, Condoleezza Rice, and Randall Park.
It’s not the first time that Pope Francis has donated things for auction.
Less than a year after being elected pope, Harley-Davidson gave the pope a motorcycle that, after he autographed it, was sold for $285,000.
The money raised was used to renovate the “Don Luigi Liegro” shelter, which welcomes the homeless or jobless.
Then in November 2017, Lamborghini gave one of its most exclusive cars to the Supreme Pontiff, who decided to auction it off and allocate the money to numerous charitable works.
This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.
Posted on 12/3/2022 00:15 AM (CNA Daily News)
St. Louis, Mo., Dec 2, 2022 / 16:15 pm (CNA).
Religious private schools in Vermont will now be allowed to make use of a state tuition assistance program that previously excluded them, after the state settled two lawsuits on the matter Nov. 30.
Vermont’s Town Tuition Program provides tuition benefits for students who live in towns without public schools, and it previously allowed payments to secular private schools but not religious ones. As part of the settlements, state and local government officials agreed that Vermont’s exclusion of religious private schools from the program is unconstitutional and unenforceable.
The Diocese of Burlington, which includes the entire state and serves some 2,300 students at 13 schools, was party to both lawsuits, as were several private-school families.
“We are glad that our schools will finally be included along with the other private and public schools as a choice for students that do not have a school in their town,” Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington said in a statement to CNA.
The lawsuits were filed by attorneys for the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Christian legal group. Thomas McCormick, a longtime Vermont lawyer who works with the ADF Attorney Network, is serving as local counsel on behalf of the families and the Diocese of Burlington.
On Wednesday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont entered a stipulated judgment enforcing the settlement agreement. Under the settlements, the plaintiff families who requested tuition but were wrongly denied by their school districts will be reimbursed for the tuition they paid out of pocket, ADF stated. The school districts will reimburse the plaintiff families directly; other families will have the opportunity to request reimbursement from the school districts. The state of Vermont and the school districts will also pay the families’ attorney fees, ADF said.
Vermont’s school choice program dates to 1869. The state has barred religious schools from the program since 1999, following a state Supreme Court ruling that held that public funds may not be used to "support any place of worship” under Vermont’s constitution. The lawsuits against the state were filed more than two decades later, in 2020.
The settlements in the present cases come in light of a landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in June in the case Carson v. Makin. In that decision, the court ruled 6-3 that Maine’s policy barring students in a student-aid program from using their aid to attend “sectarian” schools violates the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.
In that decision, Chief Justice John Roberts noted that having chosen to fund private schools through its aid program, Maine cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious. The state “pays tuition for certain students at private schools — so long as the schools are not religious. That is discrimination against religion. A state’s antiestablishment interest does not justify enactments that exclude some members of the community from an otherwise generally available public benefit because of their religious exercise.”
Other recent cases before the Supreme Court have led to favorable results for advocates of school choice. In its June 2020 decision Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the court struck down as a violation of the free exercise clause a state scholarship program that excluded religious schools. And in 2017, the court found in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer that a church-owned playground can be eligible for a public benefit program.
Posted on 12/2/2022 23:45 PM (CNA Daily News)
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 2, 2022 / 15:45 pm (CNA).
Ever since she was a young girl, Lorie Smith has loved weddings. Now, as an artist with her own studio, she says she wants to help others celebrate their big day. But she feels like she can’t — because she is a Christian who believes that marriage is between a man and a woman.
The 38-year-old graphic artist and website designer from the Denver metro area is challenging Colorado’s anti-discrimination law that she says would compel her to use her artistic talents, or speech, to create messages celebrating same-sex weddings. At the same time, Colorado argues that the case is one about discrimination: If someone sells a product in the public sphere, he or she has to sell it to all people.
For her part, Smith stressed that she creates for everyone with her company, 303 Creative.
“I serve everyone, including those who identify as LGBT,” she told CNA. “I love to custom create and will work with anyone — there are simply some messages I can’t create regardless of who asks me.”
Her case, she said, is about freedom of speech for all artists.
“I want the LGBT graphic designer to be free to create consistent with her beliefs, and the Democrat speechwriter and the atheist photographer,” she said. “A win in my case is truly a win for all Americans.”
Represented by faith-based legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Smith is challenging Colorado officials, including Aubrey Elenis, the director of the Colorado Civil Rights Division. The case centers on the question of “whether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.”
Right now, Smith said that she is compelled.
“After I started my own design studio, I wanted to expand my portfolio to custom create art and websites to tell stories about weddings, but Colorado made it clear I wasn’t welcome in that space,” she said. “Colorado officials are censoring my speech and forcing me to speak messages about marriage that are inconsistent with my beliefs — the core of who I am.”
She added: “Not wanting to be punished for saying what I believe, I had no choice but to challenge this unjust law.”
Smith is optimistic that the Supreme Court justices will agree with her.
“I love to design art — every word I write, every graphic I design, and every website I craft expresses a unique and custom message,” she said. “I’m hopeful that the Supreme Court will ensure that the government can’t force myself or anyone to say something they don’t believe.”
While Smith considers her creative skills a gift to glorify God, she revealed that she was not always a Christian.
“My faith journey began after I lost my uncle, who was like a father to me, to a tragic accident,” she said. “I couldn’t understand why bad things could happen to good people, so I set out on a journey to try to disprove the existence of God.”
Instead, she said, she found God.
“I attended church regularly to equip my arsenal of evidence against him,” she said. “But God had other plans, and it was through this process that he brought me to faith, and that changed my entire life. Now, everything I do or say and how I love other people, I do for his glory.”
According to Smith, her case has only drawn her closer to God.
“As I’ve navigated the highs and lows of the past six years of litigation, including death threats, hate mail, and even having my home address posted on social media, I have grown much in my faith,” she said.
“I know that my stand for free speech is for everyone, regardless of who they are or how they identify,” she added. “I know my stand will protect even those who disagree with me or who say uncharitable things about me. I know the freedom of speech is worthy of protecting and I want all Americans — and the next generation — to be able to enjoy this incredible freedom.”
She concluded: “My faith has inspired me to continue to stand for this important truth.”
Jake Warner, senior counsel for ADF, explained how Smith’s art translates into speech.
“She creates words, pictures, and graphics. And all of those things are what the Supreme Court calls ‘pure speech’ because they express a message,” he said, adding that Colorado has conceded the same about Smith’s work.
Rather than having one product to sell to all, Smith’s creations are tailored to her every client, he said. Every website or graphic is custom-made, with different names, pictures, and details.
This is not the first time ADF has represented a Coloradan Christian artist at the Supreme Court. In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled on a case brought by Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, after he refused to create a cake for a same-sex wedding. With that case, Warner said the court ruled that Colorado had discriminated against Phillips and that his free exercise rights were violated.
“It didn’t reach the free speech issue raised in that case, which is the one that the 303 case, or that Lorie Smith’s case, raises now,” he said. “Can the government force an artist to express a message that goes against their deeply-held beliefs?”
Posted on 12/2/2022 23:00 PM (CNA Daily News)
CNA Newsroom, Dec 2, 2022 / 15:00 pm (CNA).
The beatification and canonization process for Carmen Hernández, co-founder of the Neocatechumenal Way, officially opens this Sunday. The archbishop of Madrid, Cardinal Carlos Osoro, will preside at the event that will take place at Francisco de Vitoria University.
The second Sunday of Advent is the liturgical setting for the official ceremony. Also attending the event will be the international team of the Neocatechumenal Way: Kiko Argüello, Ascensión Romero, and Father Mario Pezzi, as well as the diocesan postulator for the cause, Carlos Metola.
During the ceremony, the members of the tribunal will be sworn in: the episcopal delegate for the Causes of the Saints, Father Alberto Fernández; the promoter of justice, Father Martín Rodajo; and deputy notaries Ana Gabriela Martínez and Mercedes Alvaredo.
Almost a year and a half has passed since July 2021, when the postulator delivered the “supplex libellus” to Cardinal Osoro at a Mass celebrated on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the death of the Servant of God Carmen Hernández.
The “libellus” is the formal petition for the start of the process. It includes writings, documents, and testimonies in support of the sanctity of the co-founder of the Way and that she lived the Christian virtues to a heroic degree.
On that occasion, Cardinal Osoros noted that Hernández was “a tireless catechist and worker of the announcement of Christ” who in her life wanted to be “a bearer of Jesus Christ.”
Argüello, who co-founded the movement with Hernández, highlighted in a letter that Hernández “was a deep, authentic, and free woman in her relationship with everyone. She loved Christ and the Church and the pope above all.”
“For love of the Church and the brethren, she has stayed with me for 50 years, carrying out this Christian initiation that is the Neocatechumenal Way,” Argüello recalled.
“I thought they were following me,” Argüello acknowledged, “but I discovered that thousands of brethren are on the Way thanks to Carmen and because of the love that Carmen had for Christ.”
After the solemn act, there will be the premiere of two symphonic poems by Argüello, titled “Daughters of Jerusalem” and “Aquedah.” The latter expression refers to the sacrifice of Isaac recounted in Genesis Chapter 22.
Both the solemn act and the premiere of these works can be followed on the YouTube channel of the Archdiocese of Madrid:
This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.
Posted on 12/2/2022 21:45 PM (CNA Daily News)
Abuja, Nigeria, Dec 2, 2022 / 13:45 pm (CNA).
November proved to be an especially deadly month in Central Nigeria, leaving Catholics like Matthew Onah and his family struggling to cope with their losses.
In the Catholic enclave of Maikatako, 11 people were killed on Nov. 15 in an attack by armed militia, reportedly 200 to 300 in number and dressed in black.
Among the victims was Onah’s 2-year-old son. A member of the St. Benedict’s Independent Mission Kuba within the Diocese of Pankshin in Plateau State, Onah said his wife, Rosemary, 33, was injured but is recovering in a local hospital. Their two other children survived.
One week later, at least 12 unarmed civilians were killed by radicalized Muslim militia in the town of Wumat, 45 miles south of Jos, the capital of Plateau State, according to Titus Alams, a former speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly.
Alams told CNA more than 200 terrorists encircled the hilltop settlement on the cold Tuesday night, shooting residents who tried to escape.
The attacks followed weeks of terror raids on surrounding Christian villages, causing farmers to stay away from their farms, said Father Andrew Dewan, who is in charge of St. Benedict’s Independent Mission Kuba, which serves approximately 25 surrounding villages.
“Just last month, we buried two of our parishioners in a town close to Maikatako,” Dewan said. “They were killed by the same Fulani militants who went to kidnap their sister. They kidnap Christians for ransom, destroy their farm crops and still wage attacks, killing Christians and destroying their livelihoods.”
The motivation for the attacks is “land grab and forceful Islamization,” he said.
“They have taken many of our communities and turned them into no-go zones,” Dewan said.
Officials in Nigeria have often characterized the attacks as clashes between sedentary farmers and semi-nomadic herdsmen over the fertile land, which they say have increased because of climate change.
Bishop Michael Gokum of the Pankshin Diocese told CNA this is a distortion of the facts.
“If you are in your house and somebody comes and attacks you, that is not a clash,” Gokum said in a phone interview. “We are worried about the growing killings not just of Catholics but all Christians which have continued unabated.”
The attacks by groups of Islamist militia variously called “herdsmen,” “bandits,” or “unknown gunmen” increasingly victimize farming towns in Nigeria’s vast Middle Belt of states.
At least 18 people were shot and hacked to death in the northern area of Benue State on Nov. 3 in three neighboring villages of Guma County, reported Father William Shom, a resident of the county. Many of the victims were children, Shom told CNA.
More worrisome to Nigerian experts is that herdsmen attacks are popping up in Nigeria’s southern states, where they were rare a few years ago.
On Nov. 21, a terrorist group heard speaking the language of the Fulani tribe attacked villages in the southern area of Enugu State, approximately 400 miles from the attack sites in Bokkos County, Plateau State. Enugu State is home to more than one million Roman Catholic residents.
Analysts have warned that the incessant attacks — if unresisted — could push Africa’s most populous nation into the hands of radical Islamists.
“True, Christian farmers have clashed with nomadic Fulani Muslim herders, or militants, for scores of years, but recent attacks by Fulani militants appear to be coordinated and strategic,” Kyle Abts, executive director of the International Committee on Nigeria (ICON), told CNA.
It’s “concerning that there are continued killings in Plateau State and just a few days later new attacks in the southern state of Enugu,” he added.
“Throughout the Middle Belt, security forces are either overwhelmed, unable to stop, or complicit in these attacks,” Abts said.
Solomon Maren, a member of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, said Bokkos has seen a steady rise in armed attacks and annexations since 2018.
“Our people in the rural areas can no longer farm or move freely without the fear of attacks. Just last month, we buried more than 30 of our people who were attacked either on their farms or in their houses,” he said.
Gov. Simon Lalong ordered a crackdown on terrorists’ hideouts in Bokkos on Nov. 17. Military spokesman Major Ishaku Takwa told CNA that night that the effort was already underway.
However, three hours later, apparently, the same gang of 300 terrorists that attacked Maikatako assaulted a village approximately two miles west of Maikatako.
The volunteer guards in Maikatako armed with single-shot shotguns resisted the night attack as best they could, according to guardsmen who spoke to CNA.
“They took cover behind houses firing their guns but were forced to retreat by the terrorists’ superior weapons, AK-47 assault rifles,” said Bitrus Dang, a retired assistant superintendent of police. Dang and two other men were injured during the attack.
According to the military spokesman in Plateau State, Major Ishaku Takwa, villagers do not call for help early enough.
“Prompt information sharing is key to ending these attacks,” he said. “These terrorists come in and strike within minutes and go away so we need information as soon as it happens.”
A pastor in the town who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation told CNA that two army trucks carrying at least five men each were stationed on a bypass encircling Maikatako earlier in the evening when rumors of a planned attack started circulating. However, they stood by listening to music during the attack, the clergyman said.
“We were helpless,” Dang said.
“They came with AK-47 and AK-49 rifles as well as other sophisticated weapons,” he said. “We only had single-shot cartridge guns.” He said the attack continued for four hours without any intervention by police or soldiers.
While sifting through the rubble of their burned house on the morning of Nov. 16, Onah found a Bible, his only belonging that survived the terrorists’ fire.
“I lost everything including my baby, my car, my house, food and clothing, but with this [Bible], my hope is renewed,” he said.
“Nothing will stop me from being a Catholic. Nothing will stop me from following Christ,” he said.