In Bangui, an evening with the general

Editor’s Note: Kevin Clarke, senior editor and chief correspondent for America magazine, is reporting from Central African Republic and is touring programs operated by Catholic Relief Services. His blog posts are being published by Catholic News Service under a special arrangement with the magazine. This post was written May 7.

By Kevin Clarke

BANGUI, Central African Republic — Coming from such a large and imposing figure, the soft voice of the general is a surprise. One has to lean in and listen closely to hear Mohamed-Moussa Dhaffane speak, sharing the high drama of the moment in something close to a whisper.

As acting president of Seleka in the Central African Republic and a former minister of water and forests for the ousted government, Dhaffane still haunts the capital, Bangui, in discussions with local government officials, NGO leaders and representatives of the international community.

His life is essentially in mortal peril each day as he makes his rounds for dialogue and courtesy calls. Many have urged him to leave Bangui for his own safety; his family has already fled the country entirely. But Dhaffane is determined to remain in the capital.

“Leaders should stop saying one thing and then doing something else,” says the general. “When I told the Muslims to turn back, I continued to stay myself in Bangui despite all the risks I am running.”

People hide from gunfire near a church during a Feb. 18 firefight between African peacekeepers and fighters from the Anti-Balaka militia in Bangui, Central African Republic.  (CNS/Reuters)

People hide from gunfire near a church during a Feb. 18 firefight between African peacekeepers and fighters from the Anti-Balaka militia in Bangui, Central African Republic. (CNS/Reuters)

He travels with two stone-faced Seleka guards in crisp jungle camouflage uniforms and AK-47s slung from their shoulders. The general says he keeps his own “Kalashnikov” with him in the car as the small squad moves across Bangui’s sometimes invisible and sometimes thoroughly barricaded borders, demarcations of districts no Muslim is safe to pass.

Despite the clear divisions that have erupted between the nation’s Christians and Muslims because of the conflict, Dhaffane echoes Christian leaders of Bangui in insisting that the struggle “is not religious, though politicians are trying to manipulate this as a religious conflict.”

“But if we are not careful it could become a religious conflict,” he quickly adds.

Of the state of the nation now, he says, reconciliation is still possible. “The situation is difficult, but we are allowed to hope.

“We can fix the problem quickly with the engagement of all religious leaders,” he says. “Let’s separate religions from the movements. Let’s put religions aside and have Seleka and anti-Balaka talk together because, in reality, Islam does not encourage people to go and kill civilians, and Islam does not encourage people to loot houses — it’s not in the Quran or in the words of the prophet. And in reality the Bible and the life of Jesus do not encourage people to eat the flesh of others and to kill others. When Jesus took the wine and said, ‘This is my blood,’ it was a symbol meant to unify people.

“What anti-Balaka has done is not in the Christian religion,” he says, “and what Seleka has done is not in Islam.

“Reconciliation is possible if the religious leaders are consistent in saying Seleka is one thing; Islam is something else. Anti-Balaka is one thing; Christianity is something else.”

Read more about this interview here.

Capturing the madness and joy of the canonizations

By Emily Antenucci

VATICAN CITY — As a Villanova University student doing an internship at the Rome bureau of Catholic News Service, I had the opportunity to be in Rome for the canonizations of St. John Paul and St. John XXIII.

The anticipation was high for this event and, truth be told, I was a little bit nervous about how it would play out. I was told that Rome’s population for the weekend would skyrocket and I knew that public transportation or even just walking around the city would be a nightmare.

Regardless of the screaming crowds that I stood in and the distance I had to walk to catch a bus home, it was one of the most memorable moments of my life.

With a video camera in hand, I wandered around Rome and Vatican City Saturday and Sunday to capture the madness and the joy.

I interviewed people in the crowds and took video of my surroundings the night before the canonizations as well as the morning of the Mass. I pushed my way through the crowds; I stood in the square with the clergy; and I talked my way onto Bernini’s colonnade with the press.

Hundreds of thousands of people traveled from all over the world for this historic weekend and I was lucky enough to be in the thick of it all. This is what I found:


Hearing God in ‘The Voice’ of the people


ROME — Ursuline Sister Cristina Scuccia nailed it again last night with her rendition of Irene Cara’s “Flashdance…What a feeling.” As you can see in the screengrab above, she stood before an opening backdrop that looked quite similar to this and this.

Viewers of last night’s live show voted for her to continue on to the final rounds on “The Voice of Italy.”


Her coach, rap-artist J-Ax, wanted her to do that particular song because, he said, it shows that it’s “a beautiful feeling to believe.”

Before she stepped on stage, Sister Cristina told the cameras (in her pre-taped “backstory”) that she had no idea she would be such a hit.

But she credits each of her successive victories on the TV talent show series “is because he (God) wants it that way…The voice of the people is the voice of God.”

sisterax tshirts

She continues to win the hearts of the public around the world, the show’s judges and the studio audience. A group of fans had #SisterAx t-shirts made — a play on the “Sister Act” movie and Sister Cristina being on #TeamJAx.”

She has said she is using her singing talent and the televised venue to evangelize and to show the world that “God doesn’t take anything away [from you], rather he gives us even more! I’m came here for this reason!”


J-Ax was once again moved to tears by her performance and praised her discipline and hard work.

Responding to online criticisms of her singing abilities, he said talent and “skill is also knowing how to work with the limits life has given you,” adding that Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash had very limited vocal ranges, but were still hugely talented.

Referring to the overwhelmingly positive, and also some negative reactions Sister Cristina has provoked, J-Ax said “It’s paradoxical that a 25-year-old nun can be seen as the biggest rule-breaking rebel” out there.



Another notable moment last night was after Sister Cristina won the vote for the next round and the M.C. wished her luck, saying the equivalent of “break a leg”  in Italian, which is, “In the mouth of the wolf” ["In bocca al lupo"].

But Sister Cristina told him the better way to wish someone well is to say, “In the arms of Jesus,” which he did!


Toward the end of the show, she also joined the stage with some of the other female contestants and Australian singer Kylie Minogue to do the star’s hit from 2001, “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.”


Statistics: How the Vatican dealt with abuse cases

VATICAN CITY — Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican representative to U.N. agencies based in Geneva, appeared yesterday before the U.N. Committee Against Torture to reply to members’ questions.

The session was part of the committee’s normal review of reports submitted by the Holy See and other countries that had ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment.

The committee had requested statistics on cases of clerical sexual abuse against children reported to and investigated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Archbishop Tomasi told the committee that between 2004 and 2013, the congregation had received “credible accusations” against 3,420 priests. Of those accused, he said, 848 have been dismissed from the priesthood and 2,572 have received other penalties always involving a ban on contact with children and usually including a ban on public ministry.

In providing the statistics, the archbishop also gave numbers for each year 2004-2013. Click on the chart below to see the numbers.






Bangui: A young man saved by a hat

Editor’s Note: Kevin Clarke, senior editor and chief correspondent for America magazine, is reporting from Central African Republic and is touring programs operated by Catholic Relief Services. His blog posts are being published by Catholic News Service under a special arrangement with the magazine. This post was written May 4.

A member of a choir sings a song of reconciliation and peace in front of a Catholic cathedral during the last day of Easter celebrations in Bangui, Central African Republic, April 21. (CNS/Siegfried Modola, Reuters)

A member of a choir sings a song of reconciliation and peace in front of a Catholic cathedral during the last day of Easter celebrations in Bangui, Central African Republic, April 21. (CNS/Siegfried Modola, Reuters)

Mohamed Bomassa was saved today by his baseball cap. “Pour la Paix” it reads, he holds it up for a photo. “This protected me,” he says, explaining that, for a Muslim youth, crossing Bangui, the capital city of the Central African Republic, can be a fatal experience these days. But it is hard to imagine that simple message embossed across a cap was enough to protect this young man from the roving bands of Anti-Balaka militia.

Bomassa grins widely not the message, he explains. The hat covered the prayer mark on his forehead, a small bump at the top of the head most observant Muslim men acquire from kneeling and resting their heads on prayers rugs five times each day. The small bumps have been used by Anti-Balakas to identify Muslims on the streets of Bangui.

Which is not to say that Bomassa does not find solace in the message he wears on his hat, spreading it surreptitiously in this manner through this deeply divided community. It’s a message that he takes to his heart and lives in his life every day now in Bangui. As his city and his nation have been torn by strife that has frequently taken on all the ugly characteristics of an interreligious conflict, he is joining with other young people across religious lines to bring a message of peace and reconciliation to Central African communities now trapped in sometimes deadly cycles of suspicion and recrimination.

Read the entire post here.

Cardinal O’Malley: “moral obligation” trumps legal requirements on sex abuse

Boston Cardinal O’Malley speaks during a press conference at the Vatican Dec. 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — Members of the new papal commission for protecting minors from sexual abuse spoke to reporters May 3, the third and last day of their first round of meetings at the Vatican.

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston was joined on stage at the briefing by fellow commission members Marie Collins and Jesuit Father Hans Zollner. The other five members sat with reporters in the audience.

Reading a statement on behalf of the entire commission, the cardinal said the members planned to draft statutes for approval by Pope Francis, to clarify the commission’s “nature, structure, activity and the goals.”

“It is clear, for example, that the commission will not deal with individual cases of abuse, but we can make recommendations regarding policies for assuring accountability and best practice,” the statement said.

Later, in response to a reporter’s question, the cardinal said such policies were necessary to fill gaps in existing church law.

“Our concern is to make sure that there are clear and effective protocols to deal with situations where superiors of the church have not fulfilled their obligations to protect children,” he said. “There are, theoretically I guess, canons that could apply here but obviously they have not been sufficient.”

Asked about a recent directive from the Italian bishops’ conference stating that bishops have no legal obligation to report accusations to the police or other civil authorities, Cardinal O’Malley said: “Obviously, accountability should not be dependent upon legal obligations in the country when we have a moral obligation.”

The commission announced its plans to nominate additional members for appointment by the pope. Cardinal O’Malley said preserving the commission’s independence required a strong presence of lay volunteers, and that sitting members hoped to be joined by more victim-survivors in addition to Collins.

The cardinal said adding geographical diversity to the commission — currently made up of six Europeans, a North American and a South American — was also a priority, largely to ensure that awareness of sex abuse extends to all parts of the church.

“In some people’s minds, ‘oh, this is an American problem, it’s an Irish problem, it’s a German problem,’” the cardinal said. “Well, it’s a human problem, and the church needs to face it everywhere in the world.”

Collins, one of four women on the commission, was molested by a priest at the age of 13. As an adult, she has worked with the Catholic Church in her native Ireland to improve child protection and help abuse victims.

Asked about the relevance to sex abuse of the Vatican’s scheduled May 5-6 appearance before a United Nations committee monitoring adherence to an anti-torture treaty, Collins said “many survivors would probably say their abuse was torture, but it’s an entirely different thing, a separate matter altogether from state-sponsored torture.”

The eight-member commission met at the Vatican guesthouse, where Pope Francis lives. The members met the pope on two occasions during their stay, once after a morning Mass and once for a photo opportunity, but he did not address them as a group or attend any of their sessions. The cardinal said he expected the pope to address the commission once all its members had been appointed.

Notes on Peace and Justice

Index identifies 29.8 million people in modern slavery

Global Slavery Index 2013_Page_001 (596x842)Slavery still exists around the world on an almost unimaginable scale, according to a study from the Walk Free Foundation.

The Global Slavery Index reported that an estimated 29.8 million people were trafficked in some type of forced labor or the money-for-sex trade during 2013.

The U.S. State Department’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons report estimated that 27 million people are trafficked annually.

The index, the first in what the foundation hopes will be an annual assessment, ranks 162 countries by measuring the estimated prevalence of modern slavery by population, child marriage and human trafficking in and out of a country.

Founded in 2012, Walk Free works to end human trafficking by involving political and business leaders and advocates to produce quality research and raising significant funds to bring change in countries and industries bearing the greatest responsibility for modern slavery.

India holds the dubious distinction of having nearly 14 million people being held against their will, the highest number in the world.

The nine countries next in line include China (2.9 million), Pakistan (2.1 million), Nigeria (701,000), Ethiopia (651,000), Russia (516,000), Thailand (472,000), Congo (462,000), Myanmar (384,000) and Bangladesh (343,000), the index reported. Together, the 10 nations account for 76 percent of all people being trafficked and enslaved, the report said.

The index was referenced in the April issue of the Stop Trafficking! newsletter of the Bakhita Initiative, U.S. Catholic sisters united against human trafficking. About 70 congregations of women religious sponsor the initiative.

The newsletter is a valuable resource for anyone concerned about human trafficking.

The April issue also included a report on fair trade products and how average people can promote labor fairness through their purchases of goods and services.


Issue of humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons gets more attention

Despite not being on the front pages every day, nuclear weapons continue to pose a threat to the world, said participants at a daylong interfaith symposium at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington

Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International was among the participants. She told CNS the April 24 event highlighted growing perspectives on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, a concern that has largely been overlooked as the world’s nuclear powers have kept the focus on national security and deterrence.

“It’s important to shift the conversation. The conversation has been controlled by the nuclear weapons states,” Dennis said from the United Nations, where she was attending the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee meeting running through May 9.

Sponsored by the Buddhist association Soka Gakkai International, the symposium brought together faith leaders, peace activists and policy experts to identify common concerns and recommit to work to abolish nuclear weapons.

Before adjourning, representatives of 11 faith groups adopted a resolution pledging increased activism toward the abolition of nuclear weapons and sent to the preparatory committee.


Resources for St. Francis Education Program on climate change on the way

It’s not too early to begin thinking about the fall and the observance of the feast of St. Francis of Assisi and connect his love of the environment to Catholic teaching.

The Catholic Climate Covenant, formerly the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, is preparing resources for its St. Francis Education Program that will encourage students of all ages as well as interested adults to take steps to protect God’s creation.

“This year we want to link that feast day to the witness and life of St. Francis as we celebrate the 35th anniversary of him being named the patron saint of those who promote ecology and Pope Francis’ charisma and mind as his papacy unfolds,” said Dan Misleh, covenant executive director.

“And we want to encourage people to act likewise — to live their faith to model what St. Francis has done and what the pope is saying,” he said.

The effort will focus on the themes “From St. Francis to Pope Francis to You! Creating a Climate for Solidarity.” It will include video testimonials with an opportunity for group discussion to explore the effects of climate change on poor and vulnerable people around the world.

Misleh said each program will be offered free in versions for parish groups, youth and college students in both English and Spanish. Programs will carry over into Earth Day observances April 22, 2015 and the saint’s feast later that year.

Information is available online and by email at


All work and no pray…

st. joseph worker

May 1 is the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, who is depicted in this mosaic at Galway Cathedral in Ireland. (CNS photo/Crosiers)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has a special devotion to St. Joseph — as the earthly father of Jesus and as a worker.

To help celebrate this feast of St. Joseph the Worker, here are a few snippets of some of the many things the pope has said about the importance of work and dignified working conditions.


On work as dignity:

“Work means dignity, work means taking food home, work means loving!”

Meeting with workers and the unemployed in Cagliari, Sardinia,  Sept. 22, 2013

“Work is part of God’s loving plan, we are called to cultivate and care for all the goods of creation and in this way share in the work of creation! …It gives one the ability to maintain oneself, one’s family, to contribute to the growth of one’s nation.”

General Audience in St. Peter’s Square,  May 1, 2013

On the problem of  ‘an economy of exclusion:’

“Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.

Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel #53, Nov. 24, 2013


Pope Francis wearing a hard hat during an audience with pilgrims from Terni Diocese in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall March 20, 2014. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

On the problem of unemployment: 

“It is the consequence of an economic system which is no longer capable of creating work, because it has placed an idol at the center that is called money!

Therefore, the various political, social and economic entities are called to promote a different approach based on justice and solidarity. This word now risks being removed from the dictionary. Solidarity: it seems like a dirty word! No! Solidarity is important, but this system is not very fond of it, it prefers to exclude it.

Such human solidarity should ensure that everyone have the possibility to carry out a dignified form of work. Work is a good for everyone and it needs to be available for everyone. …Solidarity requires that all members of society renounce something and adopt a more sober lifestyle to help all those who are in need.”

Audience with Italian steelworkers at the Vatican,  March 20, 2014


On the need for ‘enlightened’ politicians:

“I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor! It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare. Why not turn to God and ask him to inspire their plans?

I am firmly convinced that openness to the transcendent can bring about a new political and economic mindset which would help to break down the wall of separation between the economy and the common good of society.”

Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel #205, Nov. 24, 2013

wall street

Wall Street sign outside the New York Stock Exchange in 2008. (CNS photo/Lucas Jackson, Reuters)

On the need for a new global approach:

“I am convinced that from such an openness to the transcendent a new political and business mentality can take shape, one capable of guiding all economic and financial activity within the horizon of an ethical approach which is truly humane.

The international business community can count on many men and women of great personal honesty and integrity, whose work is inspired and guided by high ideals of fairness, generosity and concern for the authentic development of the human family.”

Message to World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 17, 2014

On the need for action:

Pope Francis asked the factory owners to be creative and generous in finding ways “to reignite hope in the hearts of these brothers of ours and in the hearts of everyone who is unemployed because of waste and the economic crisis.”

“Please,” the pope said to business owners, “open your eyes and don’t just stand there with your arms crossed.”

General Audience address, April 23, 2014

On the pope’s experience:

“I am very familiar with this situation because of my experience in Argentina. I myself was spared it but my family wasn’t. My father went to Argentina as a young man full of illusions ‘of making it in America.’ And he suffered in the dreadful recession of the 1930s. They lost everything! There was no work! And in my childhood I heard talk of this period at home. …I never saw it, I had not yet been born, but I heard about this suffering at home, I heard talk of it. I know it well.”

Meeting with workers, unemployed in Cagliari, Sardinia,  Sept. 22, 2013

The pope’s work experience as a young man includes: sweeping floors in a factory; running tests in a chemical laboratory; working as a bouncer; and teaching high school literature and psychology.


Pope Francis meeting workers from aluminum company Alcoa during his general audience April 2, 2014. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

On hope grounded in the Gospel:

“…Revive the roots of faith and your fidelity to Jesus Christ. Here is the guiding principle of the choices made by a Christian: his faith. Faith moves mountains!

…Dear brothers and sisters, never stop hoping for a better future. Fight for it, fight. Do not be trapped in the vortex of pessimism, please! If each one does his or her part, if everyone always places the human person — not money — with his dignity at the center, if an attitude of solidarity and fraternal sharing inspired by the Gospel is strengthened, you will be able to leave behind the morass of a hard and difficult economic season of work.”

Audience with Italian steelworkers at the Vatican, March 20, 2014

rosary catch

Pope Francis holds a rosary he caught in the crowd as he arrives for his weekly general audience at the Vatican June 5, 2013. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)


While work is key, always take time out to pray:

“To listen to the Lord, we must learn to contemplate, feel his constant presence in our lives and we must stop and converse with him, give him space in prayer. Each of us, even you boys and girls, young people, so many of you here this morning, should ask yourselves: ‘how much space do I give to the Lord? Do I stop to talk with him?’ …Let us remember the Lord more in our daily life!”

General Audience in St. Peter’s Square, Feast of St. Joseph the Worker,  May 1, 2013

Papal reformers in Rome this week


Screengrab of a CNS graphic.

VATICAN CITY — Three papally-appointed groups working on overhauls of the Roman Curia and specific issues of concern are meeting here this week.

The Council of Cardinals (the so-called C-8, although Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, is pretty much its ninth stable member) was meeting all day Monday to Wednesday, and Pope Francis taking part in the meetings when he could.

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, told us the council is gathering the findings from a variety of study groups charged with looking for ways to improve the organizational, administrative and financial workings of the Vatican.

The council currently is looking at the pontifical councils as part of its broader mandate to help Pope Francis revamp and/or streamline the various offices of the Roman Curia. The changes are expected to be radical and overarching, not cosmetic touch-ups, as the pope seeks to underline the curia’s role of being in service to the universal church and the local churches. Because such broad and specific reforms are in the works, Father Lombardi said no definite outcomes should be expected until next year.

The C-8′s fifth meeting is planned for July.

The pope will also meet with members of his new commission for protecting minors from sexual abuse; the commission will meet for the very first time May 1-3. The members will begin drafting the commission’s aims and statutes as well as discussing ways to include additional representatives and input from other parts of the world, Father Lombardi told us today.

If you’d like a refresher “who’s who” look at the C-8 panel and the three papal commissions, be sure to check out our slideshow here.

The pope also will meet with the new Council for the Economy when it gathers for the first time May 2. The group will discuss its statutes and how it will proceed with its work. The pope formed the council — made up of eight cardinals and seven lay experts — to devise appropriate economic policies and best practices for the Holy See.


For collectors: Treasury of stamps, coins mark newest saints

Malta's two-stamp souvenir sheet honoring the two new saints.

Malta’s two-stamp souvenir sheet honoring the two new saints.

It’s not just Vatican City commemorating the canonizations of Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II through postage stamps and coins.

Post offices and treasuries around the world have taken steps to honor the Catholic Church’s newest saints.

At least 11 countries have joined the Vatican in creating philatelic delights for collectors. Among them are Poland (a joint issue with the Vatican), Benin, Chad, Republic of Congo, Croatia, Djibouti, Liechtenstein, Madagascar, Malawi, Malta and the Philippines.

The new issues come in both single-stamp and souvenir-sheet formats. In some cases the souvenir sheets include multiple colorful high-denomination, large-format stamps. While technically valid for postage, they are primarily issued in an attempt to attract collector money. Still, they are fun to collect.

One of two souvenir sheets from Philippines Post depicts St. John XXIII.

One of two souvenir sheets from Philippines Post depicts St. John XXIII.

Among the most interesting issues are the two 3-D, embossed gold foil stamps from Philippines Post each with a face value of 200 pesos, about $4.50. Printing quantities were 10,000 for the sheet featuring St. John Paul II and 5,000 of the St. John XIII sheet.

A new stamp from Croatia marks the canonization of St. John Paul II. Another of similar design depicts St. John XXIII.

A new stamp from Croatia marks the canonization of St. John Paul II. Another of similar design depicts St. John XXIII.

Croatia issued single stamps for both men and Liechtenstein’s single-stamp souvenir sheet commemorates only St. John Paul, who visited the small Alpine nation in 1985.

The Vatican and other nations have joined the commemoration parade by minting coins depicting the new stains. The Vatican’s issues include 50-euro gold and 15-euro silver coins.

The treasury of the government of Niue minted a rectangular triptych honoring St. John Paul.

The treasury of the government of Niue minted a rectangular triptych coin honoring St. John Paul.

Elsewhere, the Royal Canadian Mint has issued $25 gold and $10 silver coins honoring St. John Paul while Poland has minted a series of four coins depicting its Polish son. Perhaps the most unusual release comes from the treasury of the island nation of Niue with its colorful rectangular triptych coin. It has a face value of $20 New Zealand, about US$17.

If you’re so inclined, most of the stamps and coins can be ordered online direct from the appropriate post office or mint.





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