Bishops Facing Death Threats

18 March 09 | Posted in Global Catholic, Social Justice

They avoid taking buses, make sure friends know their schedules, and rarely go out when it’s dark. For the three foreign-born Roman Catholic bishops under death threat in Brazil’s northeastern state of Para, speaking out against social ills that plague this often-lawless area at the Amazon River’s mouth has come at a price.

Yet they still noisily involve themselves in rights issues here, part of a tradition of Catholic priests who came to Latin America with their views formed by 1970s Liberation Theology that emphasizes justice for the poor and oppressed.

One of the bishops under threat in Para is 69-year-old Austrian-born, Bishop Erwin Krautler. Bishop Krautler has had armed bodyguards around the clock for the past two years in his diocese of Altamira, from where he has denounced illegal logging and other illicit businesses as well as the handling of the Sister Dorothy Strang murder case.

Bishop Krautler remembers the first time he received a death threat. “It was the exact day I completed 25 years as a bishop,” he recalled.  Later that year, a local paper announced the day his assassination would be expected.

Bishop Krautler says there are several groups unhappy with him and with his colleagues, who are fighting to save the Amazon region from environmental destruction. The bishop has recently spoken out against the construction of  a hydroelectric plant along the Xingu River. He has also strongly opposed land-clearing by farmers and loggers in the Amazon forest and is one of the main figures in trying to bring to justice those who killed Dorothy Strang, of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 2005. bishop-erwin.jpg

“These people have formed a consortium to murder those who speak out against what they are doing,” Bishop Krautler told Catholic News Service. “I believe it was a consortium of landowners who got together to hire someone to murder Sister Dorothy. Sister Dorothy Strang, a native of Ohio and a naturalized Brazilian, was 73 when she was murdered near the town of Anapu. She was known as a fierce defender of the Amazon forest.

The government was surprised by the international repercussions of Sister Dorothy’s assassination. Not wanting to worsen its image abroad, the authorities now provide limited police protection for Bishop Krautler and others.

Bishop Bastes vs. the Mining Industry

12 March 09 | Posted in Global Catholic, Stewardship

Filippino Bishop Arturo Bastes is leading a campaign by Catholic clergy to shut down a gold and copper mine on Rapu-Rapu Island in the central Philippines. Bishop Bastes hounded the mine’s Australian developers after a chemical spill at the site, and is now working on shutting down the new owners–a consortium headed by South Korean industrial giant LG International Corp. bishop-bastes.jpg

In the process, Bishop Bastes–with the support of the Catholic hierarchy in the Philippines–risks thwarting a plan by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, herself a Catholic, to tap the Philippines’ mineral wealth to help lift the country out of poverty.

Bishop Bastes is following a global trend of Catholic clergy taking on mining, especially in Central America.  Priests in the Honduras are protesting open-pit mining techniques and mining-rights laws which they say grant too many benefits to foreign mining companies.

When the church began campaigning against mining in the 1980s, more than 50 mines operated in the Philippines, contributing a fifth of the country’s exports. The number of mines decreased to 12 in 2003 as opposition intensified.

“It’s written in the Bible,” Bishop Bastes says, quoting the book of Numbers, chapter 35, verse 34: “Do not defile the land where you live and dwell.”

Environmentalists and activists such as Jaybee Garganera, of the Philippines’ Anti-Mining Alliance, credit Bishop Bastes and other church leaders for turning mining into a mainstream issue. “It’s debatable whether we would have gained the same traction without the Church,” Ms. Garganera says.

The Rapu-Rapu mine was supposed to illustrate the Philippines’ new pro-mining policy. But the Australian founder of the project, Lafayette Mining, Ltd., felt the brunt of Bishop Bastes’ force when it began operations in 2005.

“Our project became politicized very quickly,” said David Baker, who took over the management at Lafayette in 2006 after a chemical spill at the site killed thousands of fish. That incident enabled Bishop Bastes and others to successfully petition the Philippine government to order the mine closed. Lafayette eventually sold the mine in 2008 to a South Korean and Malaysian consortium headed by LG International, headquartered in Seoul.

Bishop Bastes and his allies have marched on the South Korean embassy in Manilla to protest the resumption of mining and are tapping environmental experts to expose the dangers of chemical leaching from the project. “Mining is the cause of all the trouble,” Bishop Bastes said. “God created the world for people to enjoy, not for miners to destroy.”

Leading Eco-Theologian Named Bishop

15 February 09 | Posted in Events, Global Catholic

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One of Pope Benedict XVI’s recent episcopal appointments is that of Karl Golser, 65, as the new bishop of the Bolzano-Bressanone diocese in northern Italy. Not only is the diocese a particular favorite of the pope, who has taken his summer vacations there since the late 1960s, but Golser is also a long-time associate of Benedict.

He worked under then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the early 1980s and stayed in touch with him afterward.

Golser is widely considered among the leading eco-theologians on the European Catholic scene, which means that Benedict has chosen to introduce a strong new environmental voice in the episcopacy.

During an interview with John L. Allen, Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter, Golser was asked about Benedict’s core ideas on the environment. “It’s not an accident,” Golser said, “that many of the Holy Father’s comments on the environment have come on Sundays…That’s very important. Sunday is the day we live the joy of redemption, and it also expresses a new relationship with time and space. It’s about the return to Christ, the Parousia. In the Eucharist, it’s also about offering the earth itself back to God, in the consecration of bread and wine.”

“I think the Holy Father draws a great deal on Eastern theology and the fathers of the church, who have a great sensibility for the cosmic dimension of the faith. Starting from the Eurcharist, the liturgy, they propose a whole style of life that’s in harmony with all of creation.  There’s a strong current in Eastern thought, for example, on humanity as the “priest of creation.”

Read the whole interview here.

Copernicus Identified

29 November 08 | Posted in Events, Global Catholic, Science

Archaelogists reported they have identified the remains of Nicolaus Copernicus.

Swedish genetics expert Marie Allen analyzed DNA from the bones and compared it to that taken from two hairs retrieved from a book that the Polish astronomer owned.

The discovery put an end to centuries of speculation about the final resting place of Copernicus, a priest and astronomer whose theories identified the sun as the center of the universe. Copernicus died at age 70 in 1543.

Polish archaeologist Jerzy Gassowski told a news conference forensic reconstruction of the skull his team found in 2005 buried in a cathedral in Frombork, Poland, bears striking resemblance to portraits of the 16th century astronomer.

The reconstruction shows a broken nose and other features that resemble a self-portrait of Copernicus, and the skull bears a cut mark above the left eye that corresponds to a scar in the painting. copernicus.jpg

St. Columba and the Loch Ness Monster

11 November 08 | Posted in Animals, Arts and Letters, Events, Global Catholic, Saints

St. Adamnan, the biographer of St. Columba, recorded an encounter with the Loch Ness Monster in 565 A.D. colm-cille.JPG

St. Columba was on his way to visit with the Pictish king in Inverness, came upon some Picts burying the remains of one of their people. They told Columba that the poor man had been bitten and mauled to death by a water monster.

The dead man’s boat lay on the other side of the water.  Columba ordered one of his followers to swim across and retrieve the boat.

One of his companions, Lugneus Mocumin, stripped down to his tunic and plunged into the water.

The monster saw him swimming, and having tasted blood, broke the surface of the water and made for him. Everyone who was watching was horrified, and hid their eyes in terror.

In the words of St. Adaman: “The monster suddenly rushed out and giving an awful roar, darted after him with its mouth wide open, as the man swam in the middle of the stream.”

St. Columba raised his hand, made the sign of the Cross and “commanded the ferocious monster saying, ‘Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed.’ Then at the voice of the saint, the monster was terrified, and feld more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes.”