First Ebola patient in eastern Congo’s main city dies, fears of epidemic spreading

A health worker checks the temperature of a woman as she crosses the Mpondwe border point separating Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of the ebola screening at the computerised Mpondwe Health Screening Facility in Mpondwe, Uganda June 13, 2019. REUTERS/Newton Nabwaya

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – The first Ebola patient in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s largest city, Goma, has died, the government said on Tuesday.

The spread of the virus to Goma, a city of roughly 1 million people on the border with Rwanda, has raised fears the outbreak, which is already the second deadliest Ebola epidemic ever, could spread more widely.

The patient was a priest who became infected during a visit to the town of Butembo, one of the epicenters of the outbreak, before taking a bus to Goma, according to Congo’s health ministry.

He was being driven from Goma to a clinic in Butembo on Monday to receive treatment when he died, North Kivu province’s Governor Carly Nzanzu told an Ebola response meeting.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that health officials had identified 60 people who had come into contact with the pastor since he was taken ill and that half of them had been vaccinated.

Goma, a lakeside city more than 350 kilometers (220 miles) south of where Ebola was first detected a year ago, is the largest city to be affected by the outbreak, which has infected more than 2,500 people and killed nearly 1,700.

Three Ebola cases which originated in Congo were confirmed in neighboring Uganda a month ago, but no new cases have since been registered in that country.

(Reporting by Stanis Bujakera and Djaffar Al Katanty, Writing by Anna Pujol-Mazzini, Editing by Ed Osmond)

‘We are witches’: Clerical abuse scandal divides parishes and politics in Poland

A cross is seen near trees with mistletoe near the church in Kalinowka, Poland November 25, 2018. Picture taken November 25, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

By Marcin Goclowski and Andrew R.C. Marshall

KALINOWKA, Poland (Reuters) – The former Catholic priest of the village of Kalinowka in Poland is serving three years in jail for molesting five schoolgirls. But Marta Zezula, a mother whose testimony helped convict him, says the priest’s victims are the ones made to feel guilty.

“We are witches … because we have pointed at the priest,” Zezula fumed as she shoveled straw into a chaff cutter in her barn in the tiny settlement in eastern Poland.

Many parishioners believe she and other mothers of those molested “simply convicted an innocent man”, she said.

Home to about 170 people, Kalinowka is a short drive from the main road, but feels more remote. The Holy Cross church, built in 1880, sits on a hill overlooking rolling farmland and forests full of deer.

Krystyna Kluzniak, hurrying into the well-kept church on a chilly November evening, said people should give the jailed priest a break. “The priest was cool and we miss him,” she said.

The priest, who cannot be named under Polish law, is now on trial again, charged with molesting another child. His lawyer, Marek Tokarczyk, said he denies the allegations. “We need a fair trial,” Tokarczyk said.

Similar scandals have shaken the Catholic Church and split communities in the United States, Ireland, Australia and elsewhere.

But Poland is one of Europe’s most devout nations, where most people identify as Catholics and the Church is widely revered. Priests were active in the fight against communism and in 1989, led by a Polish pope, John Paul II, the Church helped overthrow Communist rule.

Divisions over allegations of abuse are particularly stark here, said Marek Lisinski, the director of “Have no fear”, a group that advocates for victims of clerical abuse. Parishioners often side with priests and ostracize victims and their families, Lisinski told Reuters.

LANDMARK RULING

In October, “Have no fear” published a map that revealed the scale of the issue. It used black crosses to mark places where 60 priests had been convicted of abuses dating back to 1956.

Afterwards, Lisinski said, people called in to report another 300 cases of suspected abuse by priests which they had not raised with the Church or police for fear they would be doubted or shunned.

The same month, a Polish court of appeal upheld a landmark ruling which granted a million zloty ($260,000) in compensation to a woman abused by a priest as a child.

Jaroslaw Gluchowski, a lawyer in Poznan who represents victims of clerical abuse, said the ruling set an important precedent.

“We’re now at a moment when all victims in Poland are realizing that they’re not alone,” he said.

In a November statement, Poland’s bishops asked victims of clerical abuse for forgiveness and said the Church had begun collecting data to “identify the causes of these deeds and assess their scale”.

Archbishop Wojciech Polak, the primate of Poland, told Reuters the Church will publish its findings within six months.

Polak encouraged victims of clerical abuse to talk to their bishops, who are “obliged to report to the prosecutors’ service all credible cases they get knowledge of”.

He said he was aware the issue had caused rifts in some communities. “It is the Church’s responsibility to act in a way that doesn’t create divisions but heals them,” he said.

Senior bishops from around the world will meet Pope Francis at a conference in the Vatican in February to discuss protection of minors. Conference organizers have said everyone must be held accountable or the Church risked losing credibility worldwide.

The issue could also have political ramifications in Poland, Lisinski and other observers say. The country is due to elect a new parliament by December 2019.

The Catholic Church has long played a major political role in Poland, making its 25,000 priests not only revered but also influential with voters.

In December, a report appeared in Gazeta Wyborcza, a leading Polish daily, containing molestation allegations from a woman, Barbara Borowiecka, against the late priest Henryk Jankowski, an iconic figure in the anti-communist Solidarity movement.

The mayor of Gdansk, the birthplace of Solidarity, asked the Church to investigate the allegations. Archbishop Polak told Reuters the Jankowski allegations “should be investigated for the good of the Church” and said it was up to bishop of Gdansk to address them.

“POLAND’S COLLAPSE”

The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party won power in 2015 with a blend of patriotism and piety that echoed the religious nationalism of the Church. In October, a former PiS minister, Antoni Macierewicz, credited the Polish clergy with helping the party win local elections that month.

Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus, an MP for a small opposition party called Now, is seeking an independent inquiry into child abuse by priests because she says the Church cannot be relied upon to investigate itself. She says the idea has received no support from PiS or other big parties.

A PiS spokesperson did not respond to several requests asking whether it supported the idea of an inquiry. Ryszard Czarnecki, a PiS MP for the European Parliament, responded to Reuters by asking why the Church should be singled out.

“I don’t know why we are focusing on one group, as this also concerns different groups – for example, artistic or journalistic ones,” he said.

About 12 million people, or almost a third of Poland’s population, regularly attend Mass, according to a survey by the Institute for Catholic Church Statistics, a Warsaw-based research center. The numbers slightly declined from 2015 to 2016, the survey showed.

Most children attend religious classes, but their numbers are dropping, too. In Lodz, Poland’s third-largest city, they fell from 80 percent in 2015 to fewer than 50 percent now, according to local government data quoted by the daily Dziennik Lodzki.

In November, the Church said such trends could have dire consequences. “Abandoning the Catholic faith and the Christian principles governing our national life and state’s functioning” could lead to Poland’s collapse, it warned in a pastoral letter.

In Kalinowka, Reuters spoke to seven parishioners. Most of them were sticking by the convicted priest. “I have a cousin whose son went to one of his classes and they didn’t see it,” Wieslaw Solowiej, a pensioner, said outside the Kalinowka church.

Jolanta Zych, whose nine-year-old daughter was among those molested, said neighbors spurned the family. “I always greet people but some turn their faces from me,” said Zych.

The other mother Reuters spoke to, Zezula, said her daughter began refusing food after the court case. “She didn’t want to eat because one woman told her the priest was in jail because of her.”

During Mass, Zezula said, people shrank away or refused to shake hands during a ritual greeting known as the sign of peace. She no longer goes to church.

Piotr Lenart, the current priest, referred questions to the Zamosc-Lubaczow Diocese in which the Kalinowka parish lies.

Michal Maciolek, a priest and spokesman for the diocese, said it had offered the victims and their families pastoral and psychological help, but this had been rejected. No financial compensation was offered, because “the diocese can’t take responsibility for the priest’s actions”.

(Additional reporting by Karol Witenburg; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Indian police arrest Christian priest after complaint by Hindu group

Three Crosses

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian police arrested a Christian priest and were questioning members of a seminary after a hardline Hindu group accused them of trying to convert villagers to Christianity by distributing Bibles and singing carols, police said on Saturday.

The priest was arrested on Friday after a member of the Bajrang Dal, a powerful Hindu group associated with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party, accused 50 members of a seminary of distributing the Bible, photos of Jesus Christ and singing carols in a village in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

“Our members have registered a criminal case because we have proof to show how Christian priests were forcibly converting poor Hindus,” said Abhay Kumar Dhar, a senior member of the Bajrang Dal in Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh.

The Bajrang Dal has direct links with Modi’s ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Madhya Pradesh, governed by the BJP, has strict religious conversion laws. People must give formal notice to local administrators in order to change religion.

“We have arrested the priest but have not booked him under the anti-conversion law because the probe into the allegations is still on,” said Rajesh Hingankar, the investigating official in Satna district, where the incident occurred.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India said they were “shocked, and pained at the unprovoked violence against Catholic priests and seminarians”.

“We were only singing carols, but the hardline Hindus attacked us and said we were on a mission to make India a Christian nation … that’s not true,” said Anish Emmanuel, a member of the St. Ephrem’s Theological College in Satna.

Two senior police officials in Bhopal said they had detained six members of the Bajrang Dal who had allegedly torched a car owned by a Christian priest in Satna, 480 km (300 miles) northeast of Bhopal.

Religious conversion is a sensitive issue in India, with Hindu groups often accusing Christian missionaries of using cash, kind and marriage to lure poor villagers to convert to their faith.

Modi’s government has been criticized for failing to do enough to stop attacks on minority Christians and Muslims by hardline Hindu groups.

The government rejects the allegation and denies any bias against Christians or Muslims.

(Reporting by Rupam Jain; Editing by Paul Tait)

Christians caught up in Philippines’ urban battle with Islamists

A view of a fire caused by continued fighting between the government soldiers and the Maute group, in Marawi City in southern Philippines May 28, 2017.

By Tom Allard

ILIGAN CITY, Philippines (Reuters) – Bishop Edwin Dela Pena was sipping coffee after dinner in a southern Philippines coastal town last Tuesday when he received a phone call: it was from one of his diocese priests, who sounded panicky and distressed.

Father Teresito “Chito” Sugarno, the vicar general of Marawi City, had been taken hostage by Islamist militants along with about a dozen of his parishioners.

“He was only given a few lines to deliver, and it was simply echoing the demands of the kidnappers – for the troops to withdraw,” said Dela Pena. If the demand was not met, he was told, “something bad would happen”.

There has been no further word from the group of Christians since they were caught up in a ferocious battle that has raged between Islamist insurgents and Philippines soldiers in Marawi for the past week.

As many as 180,000 people, about 90 percent of the population, have fled the usually bustling lakeside town nestled in lush tropical hills that, almost overnight last week, became a theater of urban warfare.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law across Mindanao – the country’s southernmost island and an area the size of South Korea – as troops outside Marawi closed in on  Isnilon Hapilon, who was proclaimed “emir” of Southeast Asia last year after he pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

Mindanao has long been a hotbed of local insurgencies and separatist movements: but now, Islamist fighters from Malaysia, Indonesia and other countries have converged in Mindanao, stoking fears that it could become a regional stronghold of Islamic State.

More than 90 percent of the Philippines’ 100 million people are Christian, but here Muslims are in the majority. In 1980 Marawi proclaimed itself an “Islamic City” and it is the only city in the country with that designation.

For the small Christian community of Marawi, however, life in the city had until recently been peaceful and prosperous.

“We don’t consider ourselves Muslims or Christians, we are just friends,” said Dela Pena, who has lived for 17 years in Marawi but was out of town when the violence broke out.

That peace was shattered some months ago, he said, after the army bombed an encampment of Islamist groups some 50 km (30 miles) away.

“They said they pulverized the whole camp, but these people simply transferred their base of operation from the jungle to the urban center, to the city, Marawi,” he told Reuters in an interview from Iligan City, 37 km (23 miles) from Marawi.

“They came in trickles, a few people at a time. They have relatives there. They lived, they recruited,” he said, adding that authorities appear to have missed the looming threat.

Members of Philippine Marines walk next to an armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) as they advance their position in Marawi City, Philippines May 28

Members of Philippine Marines walk next to an armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) as they advance their position in Marawi City, Philippines May 28, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

CATHEDRAL ATTACKED AND TORCHED

Chaos was unleashed upon Marawi when troops searching for Hapilon were ambushed by heavily armed militants.

More than 200 local and foreign fighters from the Maute group and others allied to Islamic State fanned out across the city, seizing the main hospital and prison before attacking the Cathedral of Maria Auxiliadora.

Inside, nearby residents told Dela Pena, Father Teresito and a group of worshippers were decorating the church for a holy day to celebrate the life of Mary, a sacred figure in both Christianity and Islam.

Dela Pena said they ran to the nearby bishop’s house, hoping they would be safe there, but the militants burst in after them. That evening, after bundling their captives into vehicles, they torched the church, according to the residents.

Photos showing the priest, a young man and a woman slumped against a wall have circulated on the internet. Dela Pena believes they are being used as human shields by the militants.

“I cannot imagine. I have no words to describe it,” he said.

Still, he remains hopeful that the city can unite again. The vast majority of Marawi’s citizens, whatever their faith, are appalled by the violence and disruption, he said.

“I think we can begin something more effective in terms of working together, in terms of dialogue, in terms of peaceful coexistence,” he said. “After all, we have shared the same predicament.”

(Additional reporting by Karen Lema in MANILA; Editing by John Chalmers and Lincoln Feast)

France buries priest murdered by Islamist militants

Picture of slain French priest

By Antony Paone

ROUEN, France (Reuters) – Mourners crammed into Rouen Cathedral on Tuesday for the funeral of the Roman Catholic priest knifed to death at his church altar, as France’s political leaders sought ways to defeat home-grown Islamist violence.

Father Jacques Hamel was leading morning mass in the nearby industrial town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray last Tuesday when the attackers stormed in, forced the 85-year-old to his knees and slit his throat while chanting in Arabic.

Amid tight security at the thirteenth century gothic cathedral in northern France, a procession of senior clergy followed pallbearers who carried Hamel’s coffin through the “Door of Mercy” and placed it on an ornate rug before the altar.

The priest’s sister, Roselyne Hamel, told the congregation how during his military service in Algeria her brother had refused an officer’s rank so as not give the order to kill, and how he once emerged the sole survivor in a desert shootout.

“He would often ask himself: ‘Why me?’ Today, Jacques, our brother, your brother, you have your answer: Our God of love and mercy chose you to be at the service of others,” she said.

The service was to be followed by a private burial.

Hamel’s murder by French citizens was the first Islamist attack on a church in western Europe and came just 12 days after a Tunisian who had pledged allegiance to Islamic State drove his truck through a crowd of Bastille Day revelers in the Riviera city of Nice, killing 84.

Islamist militants have killed more than 200 people in France since January 2015.

Facing strong criticism from right-wing opponents over its security record, the Socialist government has warned of a long war against militant Islam at home and abroad in places such as Iraq, Syria and Libya.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls has said the state must reinvent its relationship with the “Islam of France”. France’s Muslim minority, the European Union’s largest, makes up about 8 percent of the population.

URGENCY

Since the 1980s, successive governments have tried to nurture a liberal Islam that would better integrate the faith into French society.

Meanwhile, the Muslim community, riven by divisions and power politics, has struggled to oppose radical Salafist groups that have established their presence in some mosques and neighborhoods as well as on the Internet.

Valls wants to ban foreign funding for mosques and says all French imams should be trained in France. His interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, said that a foundation that would enable the secular state to finance cultural centers linked to places of worship would be established by the end of the year.

“We must guard against being paternalistic but we must have the lucidity to recognize that there is an urgency to helping ‘Islam of France’ get rid of those that undermine it from within,” Valls told the weekly Journal du Dimanche.

Some Islamic leaders have expressed doubts over the government’s plans.

“It’s on the internet that radicalisation takes place, not in the mosques,” Moroccan-born Tareq Oubrou, a leading moderate imam from Bordeaux, told BFM TV. “We mustn’t kid ourselves.”

Cazeneuve, whose portfolio includes religious affairs, said on Monday that the Socialist government had shut down about 20 mosques and prayer halls in recent months and that more closures would follow based on intelligence in hand.

(Additional reporting and writing by Richard Lough in Paris; Editing by Andrew Callus and Robin Pomeroy)

Pope says attacks show ‘world is at war’

ope Francis shakes hands with Polish President Andrzej Duda at a welcoming ceremony at Wawel Royal Castle in Krakow

ABOARD PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) – Pope Francis said on Wednesday that a string of recent attacks, including the murder of a priest in France, was proof that the “world is at war”.

However, speaking to reporters aboard a plane taking him to Poland, the pope said he was not talking about a war of religion, but rather one of domination of peoples and economic interests.

“The word that is being repeated often is insecurity, but the real word is war,” he said in brief comments to reporters while flying to southern Poland for a five-day visit.

“Let’s recognize it. The world is in a state of war in bits and pieces,” he said, adding that the attacks could be seen as another world war, specifically mentioning World War One and Two.

“Now there is this one (war). It is perhaps not organic but it is organized and it is war,” he said. “We should not be afraid to speak this truth. The world is at war because it has lost peace.”

About 15 minutes later, after greeting journalists individually, Francis took the microphone again and said he wanted “to clarify” that he was not referring to a war of religion.

“Not a war of religion. There is a war of interests. There is a war for money. There is a war for natural resources. There is a war for domination of peoples. This is the war,” he said.

“All religions want peace. Others want war. Do you understand?” he said.

He called Jacques Hamel, the priest forced to his knees by Islamist militants on Tuesday who then slit his throat, “a saintly priest”, but said he was just one of many innocent victims.

He thanked the many people around the world who have sent their condolences over the killing of Father Hamel, particularly French President Francois Hollande, who spoke to the Pope on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Larry King)

France’s Hollande meets religious leaders amid row over attacks security

A young girl prays near flowers and candles at the city hall in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray to pay tribute to Father Jacques Hamel, who was killed in an attack on a church

y Andrew Callus and Chine Labbé

PARIS/SAINT-ETIENNE-DU-ROUVRAY, France (Reuters) – President Francois Hollande demonstrated interfaith unity with France’s religious leaders on Wednesday after two Islamist militants killed a Roman Catholic priest in a church, igniting fierce political criticism of the government’s security record.

One of the assailants was a known would-be jihadist awaiting trial under supposedly tight surveillance, a revelation that raised pressure over the Socialist government’s response to a wave of attacks claimed by Islamic State since early in 2015.

“We cannot allow ourselves to be dragged into the politics of Daech (Islamic State), which wants to set the children of the same family against each other,” the Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, told journalists after the meeting at the Elysee presidential palace.

He was flanked by representatives of other Christian denominations as well as Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist leaders.

Hollande and his ministers were already under fire from conservative opponents over the policing of Bastille Day celebrations in the Riviera city of Nice in which 84 people died when a delivery man drove a heavy truck at revelers.

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is expected to enter a conservative primary for next year’s presidential election, stepped up his attack on Hollande’s record since the first major attack against satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last year.

“All this violence and barbarism has paralyzed the French left since January 2015,” Sarkozy told Le Monde newspaper. “It has lost its bearings and is clinging to a mindset that is out of touch with reality.”

Sarkozy has called for the detention or electronic tagging of all suspected Islamist militants, even if they have committed no offense. France’s internal security service has confidential “S files” on some 10,500 suspected or aspiring jihadists.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve rejected Sarkozy’s proposal, saying that to jail them would be unconstitutional and in any case could be counterproductive.

“What has enabled France to break up a large number of terrorist networks is keeping these people under ‘S file’ surveillance, which allows intelligence services to work without these individuals being aware,” he said on Europe 1 radio.

Cazeneuve later told reporters that summer festivals that do not meet tight security standards will be canceled, as the government assigned 23,500 police, soldiers and reservists to protect 56 major cultural and sports events.

In an acknowledgement that the last two attacks occurred outside Paris, the minister announced a shift in the balance of the 10,000 soldiers already on the streets. Some 6,000 will now be based in the provinces.

DEATH AT THE ALTAR

Tuesday’s attackers interrupted a church service, forced the 85-year-old priest to his knees at the altar and slit his throat. As they came out of the church hiding behind three hostages and shouting “Allahu akbar” (“God is Greatest”), they were shot and killed by police.

The knifemen arrived during morning mass in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, a working-class town near Rouen, northwest of Paris, where Father Jacques Hamel had been celebrating mass. One of the hostages was badly wounded during the attack.

Islamic State said on its news agency that its “soldiers” carried out the attack. It has prioritized targeting France, which has been bombing the group’s bases in Iraq and Syria as part of a U.S.-led international coalition.

Police said they arrested a 16-year-old local youth after the incident but Cazeneuve said on Wednesday he did not appear to be linked to the church attack.

One of the attackers, 19-year-old Adel Kermiche, was a local man who was known to intelligence services after his failed bids to reach Syria to wage jihad.

Kermiche first tried to travel to Syria in March 2015 but was arrested in Germany. Upon his return to France he was placed under surveillance and barred from leaving his local area.

Less than two months later, Kermiche slipped away and was intercepted in Turkey making his way toward Syria again.

He was sent back to France and detained until late March this year when he was released on bail pending trial for alleged membership of a terrorist organization. He had to wear an electronic tag, surrender his passport and was only allowed to leave his parents’ home for a few hours a day.

Kermiche’s tag did not send an alarm because the attack took place during the four hour period when he was allowed out.

According to the justice ministry, there are just 13 terrorism suspects and people convicted of terrorist links wearing such tags. Seven are on pre-trial bail. The other six have been convicted but wear the electronic bracelet instead of serving a full jail term.

France was already in a state of shock less than two weeks after the Nice truck attack. In November, 130 people died in shooting and suicide bombings in and around Paris.

In March, three Islamist militants linked to the Paris attackers killed 32 people in suicide attacks on Brussels airport and a metro station in the Belgian capital.

Since the Bastille Day killings in Nice, there has been a spate of attacks in Germany too.

(Reporting by Andrew Callus and Chine Labbe; Editing by Paul Taylor)