Pope's August visit to South Korea
Catholics in South Korea were hopeful the Pope's August trip to the country would ease tensions with North Korea and work toward a long-awaited reconciliation with its northern adversary.
Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, Archbishop of Seoul, expressed his people's hope that Francis' August apostolic mission to South Korea would produce a "miracle" for the peninsular, helping both countries to enter into dialogue.
South Korean Catholics also hoped the Pope would invite North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Park Geun-hye to take part in a common gesture of prayer for peace.
"In the Holy Land, the Pope invited the presidents of Israel and Palestine 'to his home' in the Vatican to pray together. Perhaps, Pope Francis might make a gesture of peace or detente for the two Koreas," said Cardinal Yeom.
Cardinal Yeom said his nation's people were "really impressed" by the Pope's decision to visit, adding: "I truly believe that God is working to show us a path and His will. The Pope is coming first and foremost to meet the young people of Asia ... He is coming to encourage us to be at the forefront of mission." He also lauded the trip's focus on the laity, calling them "a vital force in the growth of the Catholic Church in the country".
Of South Korea's population, 49 million are Christians, making them the biggest single religious group accounting for 31.6 percent (Protestant 24 percent, Roman Catholic 7.6 percent). Buddhists account for 24.2 percent.
Zenit News Agency
Mass attendance falling in Poland
Sunday Mass attendance has fallen below 40% in Poland, according to statistics published in L'Osservatore Romano. Nonetheless, some statistics are positive: Poland, for example, has more seminarians than any other nation in Europe.
According to the report: 39.1% of the baptised now attend Mass on Sunday, down from 57% in the 1980s and 50% in the 1990s
Since 2003, the number of Poles who attend Sunday Mass has fallen by two million. However, 2.1 million have emigrated since the nation joined the European Union in 2004, and many of them attend Mass in Western Europe.
The number of diocesan and religious priests continues to rise as ordinations outpace deaths. Poland now has the second-highest number of diocesan priests in Europe (after Italy) and the third-highest number of religious priests (after Italy and Spain).
Catholic World News
Vatican congress for Ecclesial Movements
The Pontifical Council for the Laity will hold its third world congress of ecclesial movements and new communities from November 20-22.
Titled "The joy of the Gospel: a missionary joy", based on Pope Francis' Apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, the event is to take place at the Pontifical International College Maria Mater Ecclesiae in Rome.
Before the Angelus prayer on 19 May 2013, the Sunday of Pentecost during the Year of Faith, Pope Francis addressed the new movements and new ecclesial communities, encouraging them to continue in their work: "You are a gift and wealth for the Church! Always carry forth the strength of the Gospel! Do not be afraid! Always keep alive your joy and passion for the communion of the Church!"
Starting from this exhortation, the Pontifical Council for the Laity consulted with the movements and new ecclesial communities regarding the organisation, logistics and main themes to be considered in the congress.
Delegates expected to be present will be from international associations with the most widespread presence all over the world.
The registration of delegates at the congress is formally open. So far members have enrolled from ecclesial movements and new communities from all continents and from more than 80 international associative entities, which will be accompanied by various bishops from the diocese and organs of the Roman Curia.
Zenit News Agency
Pope expresses solidarity with Iraqi Christians
Pope Francis has called the Patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church, Ignatius Youssef III Younan, to reassure him that he is following news out of Iraq with concern, especially the dramatic situation of Christians in Mosul.
Pope Francis phoned Patriarch Younan shortly after reciting the Angelus to express his solidarity with Iraqi Christians, Vatican Radio reported.
Sunni Islamist militants of the Islamic State threatened Mosul's Christians with death and seizure of their homes unless they left or converted to Islam. Iraq's second largest city is now without a Christian presence for the first time in nearly 2,000 years.
During the nine minute phone call, the patriarch thanked the Pope and asked him to intensify his efforts to engage world leaders, bringing them face to face with the facts on the ground.
Specifically, he underscored that in the province of Nineveh a massive religious "cleansing" campaign is under way to rid the region of those who do not share the beliefs of the new occupiers.
At the end of the call, Pope Francis bestowed his Apostolic Blessing upon all eastern Christians with the assurance that he "will always keep them in his prayers for peace and security".
At his traditional Angelus blessing, the Pope offered prayers for Iraqi Christians who "are persecuted, chased away, forced to leave their houses without the possibility of taking anything with them" and called for dialogue to resolve armed conflicts.
Zenit News Agency
Pakistani Catholics, Muslims co-operate
When a fire broke out recently at a Capuchin friary in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, both local Christians and Muslims rushed to put out the blaze.
On 16 July, a fire began at Karachi's Capuchin House around 11:00am. People in the neighbourhood heard a huge blast, and then saw a raging fire engulf the residences of the friary.
"We thank God that no lives have been lost and the friars are safe," Asif Nazir, a local teacher, told CNA on 21 July.
"Only an assistant parish priest, Fr Javed Kashif, sustained burn injuries on his hands while trying to extinguish the fire."
Nazir explained that the lack of casualties was because "the friars were in the city on their missionary assignments, and the rest of the staff were on summer vacations".
He added that it has been confirmed that the fire was caused by an an electrical short circuit.
"The Muslim neighbours rushed to help in extinguishing the fire, which brings a ray of hope for dialogue, communal harmony, and sustaining peace," Nazir reflected.
He lamented that the friary's "precious books, documentation file folders, and electronics such as computers" have all "turned into ashes".
The Capuchin Franciscans are among the 11 religious priests in the Archdiocese of Karachi, who serve alongside the local Church's 26 diocesan priests. Together, they serve some 166,000 Catholics, who constitute just over one percent of the area's total population.
The archdiocese does works of charity, serving the youth and women with education, and health and social development. Both Christians and Muslims are served by the 14 archdiocesan high schools.
Updated "Pope App" launched
The Pontifical Council for Social Communications has launched an updated version of The Pope App, and presented it to Pope Francis. At a viewing to demonstrate its features with the council's president, Archbishop Claudio Celli, and the project coordinator, Thaddeus Jones, the Pope expressed gratitude for all the media services the council makes available.
Released in the iTunes and Google Play stores on 4 July, The Pope App 2.0 is free and available in five languages. Powered by News.va, the app features the latest papal news and information as produced by the Vatican's own media services and can be downloaded on Apple and Android devices.
The Holy Father thanked the council for enhancing the Vatican's presence and participation in the digital world, Vatican Radio reported.
According to the council's president, the app's new design simplifies access to content and, allows people to be in ever closer contact with the Pope, his ministry and his message of God's love.
Zenit News Agency
Key challenges for families in Africa
Representatives from the Pontifical Council for the Family gathered in the Republic of the Congo with over 40 bishops to discuss the state of families in Africa, highlighting both strengths and challenges they face.
"The bishops are very glad and positive about the family because it is really the structure of African society," Fr Andrea Ciucci told CNA on 11 July, however "there are some problems not typically African but that Africa is learning from Europe and America."
A priest of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Fr Ciucci travelled to Brazzaville, the capitol of the Republic of the Congo, along with the council's president, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, to meet with the Association of Episcopal Conferences of Central Africa (ACERAC).
Bishops from each of the six nations composing the ACERAC, Congo Brazzaville, Cameroon, Chad, Gabon, Central African Republic and Equatorial Guinea, met alongside various other international bishops to discuss the theme of the family in Central Africa.
Noting how there are "two typically African problems", Fr Ciucci explained that the first "is polygamy and the second one is the difficulty in putting together the three traditional ways of marriage in Africa".
There are "the traditional marriage, the legal marriage and the religious marriage", he said, describing how central African bishops are trying to unite "these three ways of marriage".
Traditional marriage in Africa is less of a religious event so much as a cultural tradition where honour is given to the bride's parents while the bride herself dresses up in flamboyant colours to impress her groom.
Legal marriage is considered to be low-key yet crucially important in order to protect the couple's assets, while the religious wedding is the typically traditional marriage around the rest of the world that takes place in a church with a pastor and a bride wearing white.
In addition to these challenges, Fr Ciucci explained that gender identity is an increasing problem for the family in Africa, and is something that is not a natural phenomenon, but rather is being learned through technology and the internet.
Large crucifix vandalised in India
After a large public crucifix in Mumbai was vandalised, the city's archbishop appealed for peace and prayers.
"The Archbishop of Bombay, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, appeals to the Christian community to remain peaceful, calm and lift up the perpetrators of this crime in prayer," the Archdiocese of Bombay stated on 14 July.
"We urge the police to investigate the crime with full earnestness and to provide police protection to this sacred image."
The historic crucifix's hands had been hacked off.
The Archdiocese of Bombay said it was "deeply pained" by the desecration, and noted that this was the second time, in less than a year, that the crucifix has been vandalised.
"To date no updates have been provided to the Christian community at Vile Parle or to the Archdiocese of Bombay with regards to the investigation of the previous vandalisation which took place on 15 December 2013," the archdiocese noted, deploring the law's slow response.
Bombay Catholic Sabha, a lay association of the Bombay archdiocese, has lodged a complaint with the local police station.
The crucifix, which was erected in 1880, is visited regularly by the faithful, who offer prayers and floral gifts, and is also generally treated with reverence by people of other religions.
A Hindu lawyer, who spoke to CNA on condition of anonymity, condemned the vandalism, saying, "Such disgusting violent trespass on a religious community or symbols of faith is highly disgraceful and demonstrates deficiency of intellectual, spiritual, and cultural sensitivity."
Catholic News Agency