1. Archdiocese’s Christmas campaign revisited in Metro ad ban case. 

By Ann E. Marimow, The Washington Post, March 27, 2018, Pg. B2

A federal appeals court on Monday considered whether Metro’s policy barring issue-oriented advertisements on buses, trains and transit stations goes too far in keeping out all religious ­messages.

The case reached the court after Metro rejected a 2017 holiday campaign from the Archdiocese of Washington with the message “Find the Perfect Gift.” The planned banner ads featured a biblical Christmas scene and link to a website that encouraged people to attend Mass or donate to a Catholic charitable group.

For decades, the transit system allowed a range of messages, ­including political satire and criticism of the Catholic Church. But in 2015, prompted by security concerns over anti-Muslim-themed ads, Metro banned issue-oriented messages as well as any related to religion or politics.

Verrilli, representing Metro, acknowledged the ads from the archdiocese were “benign.” But accepting those ads, he said, would force the transit system to accept other campaigns criticizing Islam, Judaism and Catholic bishops that could cause “tension and divisiveness” for riders and employees — and interfere with Metro’s ability to run the transit system.

Kavanaugh sounded skeptical, asking what would happen if Metro were forced to run a religious ad.

“The buses aren’t effective ­anymore?” he asked.


2. Report: Key Unofficial Bishop in Vatican-China Deal Detained. 

By Associated Press, March 27, 2018, 7:48 AM

A bishop in China’s underground church has reportedly been detained, just as the Vatican has been laying the groundwork for him to step aside as part of a historic deal with Beijing authorities over bishop nominations.

The AsiaNews agency, which closely covers the Catholic Church in China, said Bishop Vincent Guo Xijin and his chancellor were taken away late Monday, at the start of Holy Week. AsiaNews noted that Guo had disappeared for several weeks last year around Easter as well.

Recently, the contours of a deal were hammered out under which the Vatican would recognize the seven remaining “illegitimate” bishops in China, who were consecrated without papal consent over the years, and ask two underground bishops to step aside and allow the official ones in Mindong and Shantou to become the de-facto Holy See-recognized bishops, the Vatican official said.

Going forward, the agreement calls for the pope to be able to “intervene” in future bishop nominations, which the official said amounted to a papal veto over names proposed by Beijing.


3. Pope seeks to ‘slap’ world about bond between young and old. 

By Claire Giangravè, Crux, March 27, 2018

In a new interview book, Pope Francis tries to deliver a “cultural slap” to the modern world by encouraging young people and the elderly, both groups he believes are being discarded by a throw-away society, to enter into a fruitful and positive dialogue.

The book, God is Young, reflects a conversation about youth between Francis and Italian author and journalist Thomas Leoncini. It was published at a time when the Vatican was hosting a meeting of over 300 young people, with the goal of providing guidelines and suggestions for an October summit of bishops on youth and discernment.

According to Giancarlo Penza, who heads a project of the Community of St. Egidio aimed at helping the elderly, the “revolutionary proposal of this book” is that of instituting a dialogue between grandparents and their grandchildren, which he calls “the slap philosophy.”


4. With no election drama, Egypt’s leader enjoys uncertain Christian support. 

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, March 27, 2018

In what’s likely to be the least dramatic election in recent memory, some 65 million Egyptians, roughly ten percent of them Christians, will begin heading to the polls today to determine whether President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former army general who came to power after ousting a Muslim Brotherhood-led government in 2013, will get another term.

When he ran the first time in 2014, el-Sisi claimed victory with a staggering 96.9 percent of the vote, in an outcome many observers called “rigged” and a “sham.” If anything, he may do even better now, since most potential rivals have been arrested, intimidated or bribed into submission.

That handwriting on the wall doesn’t mean Egyptians lack frustrations, especially with a faltering economy that’s brought recent spikes in prices for basic goods and in unemployment. Little of that, however, seems likely to be reflected in this week’s vote, with the only real question being what percentage of eligible voters will even bother to show up.

Even in the absence of reliable polling, one point seems fairly clear: Four years into his rule, el-Sisi still commands strong support from the country’s most important minority group, meaning its Coptic Christian population.

Pro-el-Sisi banners hang overhead in neighborhoods where Copts reside, often showing the president standing alongside Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II. El-Sisi has made a habit of attending Christmas services at Cairo’s Coptic cathedral, and the personal rapport between him and the Coptic leader is described as “excellent.”

Despite mounting international criticism of el-Sisi’s human rights record, many Egyptian Christians see his strong rule, backed by the army, as the main firebreak against the sort of disintegration and sectarian chaos that’s gripped neighboring Middle Eastern states such as Iraq and Syria, where the Christian minorities have been devastated.

Yet Christian backing for el-Sisi isn’t universal. There’s a small but influential circle of Christian intellectuals and activists unhappy with what they see as the Church’s uncritical embrace of “the regime” – a term which, in Egypt, doesn’t just refer to a single leader, but to the powerful military/political complex that’s basically run the country since the era of Gamal Abdel Nasser in the mid-1950s.

That discontent is especially strong among younger Christians in Egypt, many of whom are veterans of the Tahrir Square Revolution that brought down the government of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

As Egypt’s incumbent watches the returns roll in this week, therefore, he would seem to have little to worry about in terms of the immediate result.

The longer-term question for el-Sisi, however, is whether he can continue supplying the security and stability Egyptians crave, but also gradually open up greater space for the kind of society for which his most idealistic young people, including many of the country’s young Christians, still are dreaming seven years after those remarkable events in Tahrir Square.


5. Ambassador Brownback: World faces a ‘critical moment’ for religious minorities.

By Courtney Grogan, Catholic News Agency, March 26, 2018, 4:11 PM

“It is more dangerous now than any time in history to be a person of faith,” said Ambassador Sam Brownback at an event marking the second anniversary of U.S. recognition that the Islamic State committed genocide against religious minorities, including Christians, in Syria and Iraq.

Brownback, who was sworn-in as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom last month, said that religious freedom should be advanced in U.S. national security policy, assistance programs, and economic strategies.

“I would like to see religious freedom be for this administration what climate change was for the last,” said Brownback at the March 23 event hosted by the Heritage Foundation.

“ISIS’ Genocide of Christians: The Past, Present and Future of Christians in the Middle East” brought together human rights experts, academics, and religious freedom advocates to examine how best to address the threats posed to religious minorities by extremist groups such as the Islamic State.

While the panel discussions focused on Christians in the Middle East, Brownback also spoke of threats to religious liberty throughout the world. He highlighted the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Burma, Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims in China, and Catholic leaders in Venezuela, who came under fire from President Nicolas Maduro for speaking out about the country’s current crisis.


6. U.S. Papal Foundation announces period of reflection, re-evaluation. 

By Cindy Wooden, Crux, March 26, 2018

After disagreement over funding a $25 million grant request from the Vatican was leaked to the press, the leadership of the U.S.-based Papal Foundation has called for a period of reflection and “a re-evaluation of its mission, its approach to grant giving and its relationship with the Holy See.”

And while the foundation still has scheduled its annual pilgrimage to Rome April 11-14, the trip will not include the members’ customary audience with the pope, according to a press release issued by the foundation March 22.

The Vatican, it said, agreed to “postponing a papal audience until the work of the foundation is complete and its members and stewards have agreed upon the foundation’s mission, governance structure and relationship to the Holy See.”

The statement was released after a meeting of the executive committee of the foundation’s board of trustees, which includes both active and retired cardinals living in the United States. The full board of trustees, which includes the nine cardinals, seven bishops and eight laypeople, is expected to meet in Rome during the pilgrimage.