1. Pope Touts Unity on Colombia Trip After Long War: Pontiff to meet war victims conflicted between the bounties of peace and an accord that lets ex-rebels run for office and avoid prison terms.

By Kejal Vyas and  Juan Forero, The Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2017, 5:30 AM

Edna Rocio Pinto said she was just 10 years old when combatants from the FARC rebel group grabbed her as she was fetching water near her family farm and raped her. The family soon after fled their land.

Eighteen years later, Ms. Pinto says she is conflicted as she watches the FARC transform into a political party as part of a peace deal that ended a half-century guerrilla war. She wants justice, she says, but also national reconciliation, Pope Francis ’ main theme as he visits this country of 48 million.

The Vatican strongly supported the negotiations here that led to an accord with the FARC last year. But the pontiff is finding a polarized country during his five-day tour, with polls showing a majority of Colombians skeptical of a deal they see as overly generous to former rebel commanders.

Pope Francis’ most direct engagement with victims of war comes Friday when he holds a prayer service in the cattle city of Villavicencio with 6,000 of them and a group of former rebels. Ms. Pinto plans to attend.

“I will come as a pilgrim of hope and peace,” the pope said Monday in a message to Colombia. “Peace is what Colombia has sought for a long time, working to achieve it. A stable peace, lasting, so we can see and be with each other as brothers, never enemies.”

The FARC recently stoked more resentment when its members declared that they had $324 million in assets to deliver as compensation for victims—not only land and cattle but also pots, brooms and other household items. Many Colombians said the group was mocking the reparations process.

The former rebel leaders and their supporters say they hope the pope’s visit will prod conservatives to support the pact, which calls for a modernization of the countryside, reparations for victims, a joint rebel-government effort to fight drugs and other policies.


2. Pope kicks off visit to Colombia aimed at building bridges.

By Nicole Winfield and Joshua Goodman, Associated Press, September 7, 2017, 1:02 AM

Pope Francis opens the first full day in his Colombia visit on Thursday with messages to political leaders and citizens alike encouraging all to rally behind a peace process seeking an end for Latin America’s longest-running conflict and to address the inequalities that fueled it.

Francis will kick off the day with a meeting with President Juan Manuel Santos at the presidential palace, where he is likely to call for a building of bridges among elites bitterly divided by last year’s peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

It will be followed in the afternoon by an outdoor Mass in Simon Bolivar Park that is expected to be attended by hundreds of thousands of worshippers in one of Latin America’s most-fervently Roman Catholic nations.

In between, he is to meet with bishops from around the region, including his first encounter with clergy from neighboring Venezuela, who are looking for the pope to demand accountability from their country’s socialist government and deliver a message of hope to a nation torn by political and economic turmoil.

The theme of reconciliation wasn’t far from Francis’ mind from the moment he arrived in Bogota late Wednesday afternoon to great fanfare.

In a gesture likely to mark the deep symbolism of the trip, he was presented on the tarmac with a commemorative peace dove by a youth who was born in a jungle camp to a guerrilla father and a politician mother after she was taken captive by FARC rebels in 2002. Clara Rojas, now a congresswoman, did not see her son again until she was rescued in 2008 when he was 3.


3. Pope Francis Visits Colombia, Where Even Peace Is Polarizing.

By Nicholas Casey and Susan Abad, The New York Times, September 7, 2017, Pg. A4

As Pope Francis arrived in Colombia on Wednesday for a six-day visit, the challenge before the leader of the Roman Catholic Church was clear: nudging the country, torn apart by 52 years of war, toward a peace with former guerrillas that remains controversial in the eyes of many of the war’s victims.

On the surface, much has gone well for the peace accords between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by their acronym, FARC. After failing in the referendum, the government reworked the deal and passed it through Congress, sidestepping voters. About 7,000 rebels left the jungle, gave up weapons and are returning to civilian life.

But for Ms. González and thousands of others, the conflict left lasting scars. An estimated 220,000 people were killed as rebels battled government and paramilitary groups from isolated mountains to city streets. At least six million people were displaced by the conflict.

Public opinion has edged up — slightly — in favor of the deal signed by President Juan Manuel Santos. But the country is still as divided as ever at a time when rebels are meant to be starting new lives among civilians.

Last October, after four years of negotiations with the FARC, Mr. Santos scheduled an up-or-down vote for Colombians on the deal. Although the president had seen it as little more than a popular rubber stamp, the referendum instead galvanized widespread feelings that the rebels had gotten off too easily.

Among the loudest campaigners were Christian Evangelist churches that joined allies of Álvaro Uribe, Mr. Santos’s predecessor, and argued that the deal betrayed religious values.

When the deal was rejected, Vatican diplomats urged the Colombians to save it. After the new deal was signed, Francis called Mr. Santos and Mr. Uribe to the Vatican to hash out their differences, but the two men left with little agreement.

Mr. Uribe continued to air his grievances this week ahead of the pope’s visit, issuing a public letter to Francis. “We’ve never been against peace,” the former president wrote. “Nevertheless total impunity for those responsible for atrocities,” the letter said, will “ simply stimulate more crimes.”


4. China Tightens Regulation of Religion to ‘Block Extremism’.

By Reuters, September 7, 2017, 7:48 AM

China’s cabinet on Thursday passed new rules to regulate religion to bolster national security, fight extremism and restrict faith practiced outside organizations approved by the state.

The document passed by Premier Li Keqiang updates a version of rules put into place in 2005 to allow the regulation of religion to better reflect “profound” changes in China and the world, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The rules released by Xinhua use strong and specific language about the need to protect China’s national security against threats from religious groups.

“Religious affairs maintenance should persist in a principle of maintaining legality, curbing illegality, blocking extremism, resisting infiltration and attacking crime,” the regulations say.

“Any group or individual must not create conflict or contention between different religions, with a single religion or between religious individuals and non-religious individuals,” they say.

President Xi Jinping has emphasized the need to guard against foreign infiltration through religion and the need to prevent the spread to “extremist” ideology, while also being tolerant of traditional faiths that he sees as a salve to social ills.

The officially atheist ruling Communist Party says it protects freedom of religion, but it keeps a tight rein on religious activities and allows only officially recognized religious institutions to operate.

The rules, which come into effect on Feb 2, 2018, also place new oversight on online discussion of religious matters, on religious gatherings, the financing of religious groups and the construction of religious buildings, among others.

They increase existing restrictions on unregistered religious groups to include explicit bans on teaching about religion or going abroad to take part in training or meetings.


5. U.S. bishops, other Catholic groups back conscience protection bill.

By Catholic News Service, September 7, 2017

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and 32 other organizations have signed a joint letter of support for the Conscience Protection Act of 2017.

The bill, which has House and Senate versions, is intended to close loopholes that ignore the conscience rights of medical professionals on abortion, according to the signed letter.

Its backers say the bill “would mean almost no change in the substantive policy of Congress” but “would be an enormous step forward in assuring Americans who serve the sick and needy that they can do so without being forced by the government to violate their most deeply held convictions on respect for innocent human life.”

The House passed an identical bill last year, 245-182.

Other Catholic signatories of the letter included the Catholic Medical Association, the Knights of Columbus [a principal sponsor of Crux], the National Council of Catholic Women, the National Catholic Bioethics Center, the National Association of Catholic Nurses, the Catholic Benefits Association, Catholic Healthcare International and the Franciscan Alliance.

Other signers included the National Right to Life Committee, the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the National Association of Evangelicals, the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, the American College of Pediatricians and the Susan B. Anthony List.


6. Cardinal Carlo Caffarra Dies at 79: Widely thought to be the Church’s leading expert on marriage and the family and one of the four ‘dubia’ cardinals, the Italian cardinal passed away this morning after a long illness. 

By Edward Pentin, National Catholic Register, September 6, 2017

Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, the archbishop emeritus of Bologna and one of the original four cardinals to sign the dubia sent to Pope Francis, has died suddenly at the age of 79.

The cardinal, who led the diocese of Bologna for nearly 12 years from late 2003 until October 2015, passed away this morning after a long illness, according to the Italian bishops’ newspaper, Avvenire.  The sound of the bells in the Bologna archdiocese announced news of the cardinal’s death. 

Arguably the Church’s leading expert on marriage and the family for decades, Pope St. John Paul II gave Cardinal Caffarra the mandate to found the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in 1981. 

Benedict XVI elevated him to cardinal in 2006, and together with Cardinals Walter Brandmüller, Raymond Burke and Joachim Meisner (who died in July), he signed the dubia — five straight-forward questions put to Pope Francis last September aimed at clarifying parts of his apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.

Both he and Cardinal Meisner died without receiving an acknowledgement or any form of reply to the dubia. His letter to Francis on behalf of the four cardinals requesting an audience also received no response.


7. Pope Francis Arrives in Colombia For Five-Day Visit: Pope’s pronouncements on peace process between FARC and the state hover over tour.

By Juan Forero and  Kejal Vyas, The Wall Street Journal, September 6, 2017, 6:49 PM

Pope Francis arrived Wednesday here in one of Latin America’s most Catholic nations to help its people mend relations after a long guerrilla conflict and show support for a peace process that led the FARC rebel group to disarm and morph into a political party.

An estimated 80% of Colombia’s 48 million people are Catholic, and many of them were clearly thrilled to have the Argentine-born pontiff visit their country in his fifth papal trip to Latin America. Though the end of Colombia’s conflict with the FARC is a clear theme in his visit, for many Catholics the visit was simply a chance to hear and see a charismatic pope with whom many here feel a special bond.

On his long journey from Rome, the pope told reporters that he considered this visit “a little special because it’s a trip to also help Colombia to get ahead in its path of peace.”

“I ask for a prayer during this trip,” he added.

The pope also took a moment to mention Venezuela, where several members of the church hierarchy and antigovernment opponents have asked the pontiff for a tougher stand against the growing authoritarianism of President Nicolás Maduro’s government.

“A prayer, too, for Venezuela, so that there can be dialogue and the country can find a good stability,” he said, referring to the possibility of talks between Mr. Maduro’s regime and its adversaries.

The pope’s pronouncements on the peace process that ended 52 years of conflict between the FARC and the state, though, hover over his tour.

Many here, though, are opposed to the way Mr. Santos’s government handled the peace process with the FARC, believing it was too generous to the guerrillas. The rebels turned in their weapons in June in a United Nations-monitored disarmament, and last week the group’s commanders formed a political party, keeping the acronym FARC but now calling themselves, Alternative Communal Revolutionary Force.

But in a letter to the pope from the most prominent opponent of the peace pact, Senator Álvaro Uribe, the former president said the deal with the rebels generated “total impunity” and would lead to further crimes by the organization. There was no immediate public response by the Vatican.

Some here, though, said they hope the pope’s words will help soothe divisions.


8. Vatican declares Mother Teresa a patron saint of Calcutta.

By Manik Banerjee, Associated Press, September 6, 2017, 10:14 AM

The Vatican on Wednesday declared Mother Teresa a patron saint of the Archdiocese of Calcutta at a Mass in the city where she dedicated her life to the poorest of the poor.

The honor came 16 months after Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa a saint.

About 500 people attended the Mass at a cathedral where Vicar General Dominique Gomes read the decree instituting her as the second patron saint of the archdiocese.

“We are very happy that Archdiocese of Calcutta has declared her as its patron, acknowledging her great work for the people,” said Sister Prema, the head of Missionaries of Charity, the order of nuns started by Mother Teresa in 1950.

Catholics in Kolkata said they were delighted with the Vatican’s decision.