From CNS, Staff and other sources
Freedom Commission Notes Violations in Turkey

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom strongly urged the U.S. government to include concerns regarding Turkey’s religious freedom violations on the U.S.-Turkey bilateral agenda. The United States should urge Turkey to continue its legal reforms to protect the rights of Turkey’s religious minorities, including Catholics, said the commission, an independent, bipartisan, federal agency mandated by Congress to review international religious freedom and provide recommendations for its advancement to the U.S. secretary of state. The Turkish government should take steps to address the restrictions on the right to own property and train clergy and undertake significant steps to establish and enhance trust between the majority and minority religions in the country, added the commission. Though Turkey did not make the commission’s infamous list of countries with egregious human rights violations, the struggle regarding Turkey’s policy of secularization, treatment of minority religions and growing Muslim identity earned the country a special section in the commission’s 2007 annual report. The report was released in Washington May 2. It designated North Korea, Iran, China, Sudan, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia as countries of particular concern for their blatant denial of religious freedom.

Thousands March for Immigration Reform

Undocumented immigrants need better treatment and deserve it, said Manuel Gonzalez, a Mexican-born U.S. citizen, waiting for the start of a march and rally on May 1 in support of immigration reform in Detroit. Let us treat immigrants the same as everybody else in this country, said Gonzalez, a member of Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Detroit, who attended the Detroit rally with his 3-year-old son. Gonzalez was among about 3,000 peopleoverwhelmingly Hispanic and mostly young, with many pushing baby strollerswho took part in the 2.5-mile march. Many of them carried American or Mexican flags, or signs calling for justice or an end to the breaking up of families. The march took place on the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, just two days after Michigan’s Catholic bishops issued a statement on the need for immigration reform. The Detroit rally was one of dozens of immigration rallies held across the country the same day.

Estonian Catholics Shaken After Riots in Capital

Catholics in Estonia remain shaken and afraid by repeated riots in the capital, Tallinn, after a government decision to dismantle a Soviet war memorial sparked angry reactions from ethnic Russians. People aren’t accustomed to such violence here, said the Rev. Alfonso Di Giovanni, the Italian rector of Tallinn’s Sts. Peter and Paul Parish. They’re badly shaken and fearful, and many have had windows broken and their homes damaged. We’ve held prayers every night, asking God to touch people’s hearts, and tried to stay close to those affected, he said. Rioting by ethnic Russians in Tallinn and other towns in late April left one dead and more than 150 injured and was matched by violent anti-Estonian protests in Moscow. The Rev. Guy Barbier de Courtois, a French priest in Tallinn, said the war memorial was viewed by Russians as symbolizing the end of the war and Nazi regime, but by Estonians as the start of the Soviet era and mass deportations to Siberia. In a telephone interview May 1, he told Catholic News Service, It’s hard to believe people have such strong feelings about distant issues like thisthe violence has clearly been fueled by propaganda.

Mugabe Attacks Zimbabwe’s Bishops

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has warned his nation’s bishops that they are treading a dangerous path by criticizing the government. He said he was angry about the Easter pastoral letter in which the bishops said Zimbabwe was in deep crisis and extreme danger because of the country’s overtly corrupt leadership. Mugabe, a Marist-educated Catholic, told the London-based New African magazine that he was not at Mass on Easter to hear the bishops’ letter read. If I had gone to church and the priest had read that so-called pastoral letter, I would have stood up and said nonsense,’ he said in an interview in the May edition of the magazine. Mugabe, 83, said the letter is not something spiritual, it is not religious, and the bishops have decided to turn political. He said, And once they turn political, we regard them as no longer being spiritual, and our relations with them would be conducted as if we are dealing with political entities, and this is quite a dangerous path they have chosen for themselves.

Pope Meets Women Superiors General

Renewing their own spirituality and carefully studying the needs of others, women religious will be able to live the Gospel message and bring hope to the world, Pope Benedict XVI said. The pope, meeting May 7 with almost 800 superiors of women’s congregations, asked the religious to follow the biblical example of the prophets, who first listen and contemplate and then speak, allowing themselves to be totally permeated by that love for God, which fears nothing and is stronger even than death. The International Union of Superiors General was holding its plenary meeting in Rome. The participating superiors represent almost 600,000 sisters working in 85 countries around the world. The theme of the meeting was Challenged to weave a new spirituality, which generates hope and life for all. During the meeting from May 6 to 10, the women were to focus specifically on helping other women, migrants, safeguarding the earth, working with the laity and interreligious dialogue.

Pax Christi International Elects Co-Presidents

An archbishop from the Democratic Republic of Congo and a longtime social justice activist from the United States have been elected co-presidents of Pax Christi International, the Catholic peace movement. Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kisangani, Congo, and Marie Dennis, director of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, will assume their new posts for a three-year term during the triennial world assembly of Pax Christi International, set for Oct. 30-Nov. 4 in Belgium. Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem will continue to serve as international president until Nov. 3. By electing a laywoman and a bishop at Pax Christi International’s annual general assembly April 28 in Antwerp, Belgium, the organization, according to a news release, returns to its roots and lifts up a model of shared leadership in the Catholic Church.

Eugene Fisher Honored for Catholic-Jewish Work

The Anti-Defamation League and a variety of Catholic and Jewish leaders honored Eugene J. Fisher as he approached retirement after 30 years as one of the world’s leading advocates of better Catholic-Jewish relations. Since 1977 Fisher has been associate director for Catholic-Jewish relations at the Secre-tariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In awarding him the A.D.L.’s Dr. Joseph L. Lichten Award in Catholic-Jewish relations April 29, the organization’s national director, Abraham H. Foxman, called Fisher a central figure in implementing changed Catholic understandings of and relations with Jews following the Second Vatican Council. Gene was an important part of Pope John Paul II’s program to revolutionize Catholic-Jewish relations, Foxman said. He added that it was Fisher who drafted Pope John Paul’s famous 1987 speech to American Jewish leaders in Miami, in which the pope pledged to join the Jewish people in the cry never again’ regarding the Holocaust. On May 2 Fisher was honored again at a testimonial dinner sponsored by the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. Fisher is retiring from his post at the secretariat at the end of June.

New French President Man of Catholic Culture’

When Nicolas Sarkozy is inaugurated as the president of France May 16, Catholics in the country will have some reasons to celebrate and some reasons to be wary. Sarkozy, the 52-year-old head of the Union for a Popular Movement political party, defeated Socialist Party candidate Segolene Royal in the French elections May 6, winning 51.3 percent of the vote. The son of a Hungarian immigrant and a French mother with roots in Greece, Nicolas Paul Stephane Sarkozy de Nagy-Bocsa attended a private Catholic high school and describes himself as Catholic but an infrequent churchgoer. I am of Catholic culture, Catholic tradition, Catholic faith, he said in his 2005 book, The Republic, Religions and Hope. Even if my religious practice is episodic, I acknowledge myself as a member of the Catholic Church. Sarkozy’s maternal grandfather, with whom the family lived after his father left his mother, was a Sephardic Jew from Greece who converted to Catholicism when he married a French Catholic woman in 1917.