1. Palm Sunday Massacre: Why can’t Egypt’s government protect its Christian minority? 

By The Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2017, Pg. A16, Review & Outlook

This is Easter season for Christians around the world, and so the Coptic Christians of Egypt gathered their families to attend Palm Sunday services that begin what is known as Holy Week. They settled in for some quiet reflection, but a bomb planted under a seat exploded and destroyed lives and families in a moment.

So it went Sunday in Tanta, Egypt, where a bomb in a church killed some 29 worshipers and wounded another 69, according to media reports. A suicide bomber also killed at least 18 and wounded 40 as he blew himself up as police blocked him from entering Saint Mark’s Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria, not far from Tanta. Police said they defused a second bomb they found on the cathedral grounds.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi denounced the attacks, but they raise more questions about his government’s competence in protecting the Copts.

The attacks also cast doubt on Mr. Sisi’s ability to protect Pope Francis when he visits Egypt later this month.


2. Sweden Blacklists an Antiabortion Midwife: Ellinor Grimmark found the ‘opinion corridor’ was too narrow to make room for her Christian faith. 

By Sohrab Ahmari, The Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2017, Pg. A17, Commentary

Ellinor Grimmark didn’t set out to wage a campaign. In 2007 the 40-year-old mother of two quit her catering job to become a midwife. She studied for years, dreaming of bringing life into the world. But Ms. Grimmark was professionally blacklisted in Sweden for her opposition to abortion. Now she is at the center of a yearslong legal dispute whose outcome will have implications for freedom of conscience in Sweden and across Europe.

Ms. Grimmark, a devout Christian, knew that some midwives participate in abortions, but she assumed that hospitals would offer conscience carve-outs for practitioners like her.

But Ms. Grimmark underestimated the authorities’ determination to root out antiabortion sentiment.

One other hospital denied her employment over her views, while still another made an offer, only to backtrack. One even offered counseling to help her come to terms with abortion. Concerned that her skills would atrophy, she accepted a midwife job in neighboring Norway, where hospitals accommodate abortion objectors.

Norway and Denmark manage to protect both abortion rights and freedom of conscience, and that hasn’t triggered a women’s health crisis in either country. Even some Swedish midwives enjoy freedom of conscience under informal arrangements that have been grandfathered in.


3. Pope Decries War, Terrorism and Weapons as Condemns Egypt Blast.

By Reuters, April 9, 2017, 7:21 AM

Pope Francis condemned a deadly blast at a church in Egypt and said at a Palm Sunday Mass that the world was suffering from wars, terrorism and “interests that are armed and ready to strike”.

While the pope, who is due to visit Egypt April 28-29, was celebrating the Mass for tens of thousands of people, the Vatican received word of the blast that killed at least 21 people and injured 50 in a Coptic church in the Nile Delta.

The blast was the latest assault on a religious minority that has increasingly been targeted by Islamist militants, and there have been deep security concerns over the pope’s trip.


4. Francis faces a high-wire act in Egypt, and not just on Islam. 

By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, April 9, 2017

Although Pope Francis will be challenged to strike the right balance on Islam during his April 28-29 visit to Egypt, that’s not the only high-wire act awaiting him. He’ll also be expected to help shape Christian attitudes to the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, seen as ‘Christian-friendly’ but with a dubious record on human rights and political freedom.

Christians represent roughly ten percent of the Egyptian population, with the Coptic Orthodox by far the largest group, but there’s also a small Catholic presence. It’s the most sizeable Christian community in the Middle East, and it plays a vital role in national affairs.

Today there’s a strong bedrock of Christian support for Sisi, who came to power in 2014 on the back of the “June 30 Revolution” that brought down a Muslim Brotherhood-led government under Mohammed Morsi. Sisi has made the protection of Egypt’s Christians a priority, and he’s the first Egyptian president ever to attend Christmas Mass at Cairo’s St. Mark’s Cathedral.

On the other hand, Sisi also presides over what expert Erik Trager at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy calls “certainly the most repressive [government] in Egypt’s contemporary history.”

According to Human Rights Watch, Sisi’s security forces have arrested tens of thousands and committed flagrant rights abuses, including torture, enforced disappearances, and likely extrajudicial executions. The group estimates that at least 41,000 people, and possibly as many as 60,000, are currently in Egyptian prisons for political reasons.


5. Catholics surge in Africa, but priest shortages persist elsewhere. 

By Josephine McKenna, Crux, April 9, 2017

The number of Catholics worldwide is rising fastest in Africa while the church continues to suffer from a shortage of priests in some parts of the world.

According to the Vatican’s latest statistics, released Thursday (April 6), the number of Catholics globally rose 1 percent, to 1.3 billion, in 2015.

In Africa, the number of baptized Catholics rose 19 percent – to 222 million, from 186 million in 2014.

Despite an increase in the number of Catholics, there was a fall in the number of priests called to ministry in some parts of the world. The number of priests rose by more than 1,100 in Africa and 1,100 in Asia but fell by 2,502 (6 percent) in Europe between 2014 and 2015. There were a total of 47 new priests in the Americas in 2015.

While noting the statistics presented a “mixed picture,” the Vatican reiterated “the positive trend” of Catholic growth, especially in the African continent, where the relative number of Catholics continues to increase over time.


6. Pope raises own mortality in rallying youth to lead church.

By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, April 8, 2017, 3:40 PM

Pope Francis urged young people to lead the church’s future Saturday even as he voiced doubts that he’d be around much longer to see it.

The 80-year-old pope referred to his own mortality twice in the span of a few minutes during a vigil service to rally enthusiasm for the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day, to be held in Panama in 2019.

Francis is known for his casual, self-deprecating remarks and has said repeatedly he didn’t expect to be pope for very long. Early on in his four-year papacy he predicted two to five years would do it. He has also not ruled out the possibility of resigning like his predecessor, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, did.

At the same time, there’s nothing indicating that Francis is slowing down.


7. Pro-life, religious freedom leaders cheer confirmation of Neil Gorsuch. 

By Matt Hadro, Catholic News Agency, April 7, 2017, 11:08 AM

Pro-life and religious freedom advocates cheered the Senate’s confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch on Friday to the U.S. Supreme Court, filling an almost 14 month-long vacancy.

“As Catholics, we welcome the confirmation of a judge whose record adheres to the Constitutional right to free exercise of religion without government bullying and whose scholarship affirms the inherent dignity in all people,” Ashley McGuire, senior fellow with The Catholic Association, said on Friday.  

Judge Gorsuch of the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was tapped by President Donald Trump on February 1 to fill a vacancy left on the bench by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016.