Lagos, Nigeria,(CNA/EWTN News) Catholic leaders have voiced disappointment at a last-minute delay in Nigerian elections, but called for Christians to remain peaceful and participate in the postponed vote next weekend.
Just before polls were set to open Feb. 16, election officials announced that the presidential and national assembly elections were being postponed until Feb. 23.
Mahmood Yakubu, chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), said the decision was due to a delay in the delivery of ballots, and not a political move.
“Our decision was entirely taken by the commission. It has nothing to do with security, nothing to do with political influence, nothing to do with availability of resources,” said Yakubu, according to Africa News.
Catholic Action Nigeria said the delay places a burden on citizens, especially those who underwent difficult travels to vote. The group asked Yakubu to consider resignation if the delay continues.
“INEC had four whole years to plan for this election. No matter the excuses being bandied now, the postponement makes us doubt the readiness, sincerity and capacity of INEC to give Nigerians a free and fair and credible election they truly deserve, even in the coming week,” the statement read, according to NAIJ.
At the same time, Catholic Action encouraged Nigerians to vote in the rescheduled election. The group said residents cannot quit working for a better nation.
Electors should “vote in a government that will put Nigeria and Nigerians first and uphold the values and dignity of human life as espoused through the social teachings of the Catholic Church,” the group said in its statement.
Catholics in the country also offered prayers for the future of their nation.
Father Ben Alozie challenged parishioners at Saint Peter and Saint Paul Catholic Church in Lagos to entrust the upcoming election to God’s providence.
“As a church, we are first Nigerians before being members of our congregation; therefore, we need to take that which is of concern to our country to God in the same way we take our individual needs to God for a solution,” he said Feb. 17, according to NAIJ.
“Saturday’s elections will determine to a large extent the fate of our dear country in the next four years; so, no amount of supplication is enough to God in order for us to have a peaceful country after the polls.”
Africa Independent Television reported that Bishop Paulinus Ezeokafor of Awka asked Nigerians to take the rescheduling in good faith and not give up on INEC.
He disagreed with the call for Yakubu’s resignation, saying this would only lead to confusion at a time when the nation needs unity and a focus on a successful election.
The election in Nigeria comes as crashing oil prices leave the country facing economic uncertainty. The most populous nation in Africa, Nigeria for years has faced attacks and kidnappings by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. Over the weekend, 11 people were killed in an attack by the group south of Maiduguri, the BBC reported.
The pope and the grand imam of Al-Azhar laid the cornerstones for a new church and a mosque to be built side by side [Andrew Medichini/AP]
In the first-ever papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula, Pope Francis has said that faith leaders have a duty to reject war as he called for religious freedom in the majority Muslim region.
“War cannot create anything but misery, weapons bring nothing but death,” the pope said on Monday, addressing an inter-religious meeting attended by hundreds of representatives from different faiths.
“I am thinking in particular of Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya,” he added.
He said: “Every form of violence must be condemned without hesitation… No violence can be justified in the name of religion.”
The gathering included imams, muftis, ministers, rabbis, swamis, Zoroastrians and Sikhs.
Francis, who has made outreach to Muslim communities a cornerstone of his papacy, is on an historic three-day visit to the United Arab Emirates.
The UAE is involved in the wars in Yemen, Syria and Libya.
‘Before our eyes’
The United Nations calls Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. It was triggered by the intervention of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their allies in a war between the government and Houthi rebels.
More than 10 million Yemenis now risk imminent starvation.
The pope said the consequences of the war in Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East “are before our eyes”.
Francis warned the future of humanity was at stake unless religions come together to resist the “logic of armed power … the arming of borders, the raising of walls”.
“There is no alternative: we will either build the future together or there will not be a future,” said Francis.
He also called for religious equality in the region.
“I look forward to societies where people of different beliefs have the same right of citizenship and where only in the case of violence in any of its forms is that right removed,” he said.
At the end of the interfaith meeting, Francis and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb – the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning in Sunni Islam – signed a joint statement on “human fraternity” and their hopes for world peace.
They then laid the cornerstones for a new church and mosque to be built side-by-side in the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi.
Red carpet welcome
The document describes itself as being in the name of “all victims of wars, persecution and injustice; and those tortured in any part of the world, without distinction”. It also decried modern “signs of a ‘third world war being fought piecemeal'”.
“We resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood.”
It added countries have a duty to establish a concept of “full citizenship”. The UAE relies heavily on foreign labourers who have no path to naturalisation.
Even for a nation known for excess, the Emiratis’ red-carpet welcome was remarkable, especially for a pope who prides himself on simplicity. It featured horse-mounted guards escorting the pontiff’s motorcade through the palace gardens, while a flyover trailed the yellow-and-white smoke of the Vatican flag.
Advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) had urged the pope to use his visit to the UAE to highlight abuses it said are currently being carried out in the Gulf state.
It sent a letter to Francis before his visit calling on him to lead international pressure to hold the UAE’s leadership accountable.
“Despite its assertions about tolerance, the UAE government has demonstrated no real interest in improving its human rights record,” the HRW said.
The New York-based watchdog said the UAE authorities have targeted critics, political dissidents and human rights activists with arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances.
The pope is scheduled to hold an open-air mass on Tuesday for 135,000 of the Muslim country’s estimated one million Catholic residents, set to be the largest ever public gathering in the Gulf state.
LOWELL — Shigeaki Mori was only 8 years old when the atomic bomb detonated over Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, in the final weeks of World War II.
At the time of the blast, he was only 2 1/2 kilometers from the epicenter of the explosion, he said at a Memorial Day ceremony in Centralville Monday morning.
“Luckily, I was on the bridge on the way to the school, and I was blown into the river,” Mori, 81, said in Japanese, translated to English by “Paper Lanterns” documentary producer Nobuko Saito Cleary.
Mori wasn’t hurt. His wife, Kayoko Mori, was about 4 kilometers from the blast, and suffered a permanent hip injury, he said.
Shigeaki Mori could have hated the U.S. for dropping the bomb and the lasting effects it had on the Japanese people.
Instead, Mori “transcended the enmity of war” between the countries and reached “across the battle lines to honor the memory of the Americans, the so-called enemies, who were killed in Hiroshima,” said Japan Society of Boston President Peter Grilli.
“It’s a story that we should all keep in our hearts, because it’s a story of a kind of love and humanity that unites us all,” Grilli said.
“Paper Lanterns,” directed by Billerica native Barry Frechette and Max Esposito, follows the stories of the 12 American prisoners of war who died at Hiroshima — with a focus on Lowell native Normand Brissette and Kentucky native Ralph Neal — and the decades of efforts Mori undertook to honor them.
Frechette said Mori was the thread that brought it all together, bringing a voice to those who no longer had one.
Mori — who is traveling around the U.S. with the film team for a series of events, flanked by several major Japanese media outlets — came to Lowell to participate in the unveiling of a new monument in memory of the 12 U.S. Army Air Force and U.S. Navy airmen at the Centralville Veterans Park on Ennell Street. The men either died in the blast or in the following days due to radiation.
“They were truly patriots who fought and sacrificed their lives for their country. I am here now because I want the people of the United States to know about the men,” Mori said to a standing ovation.
Mori researched the aftermath of the bombing, double-checked official histories with contemporary newspaper reports and conducted his own interviews with fellow survivors, said Mayor William Samaras.
“He spent 40 years researching the American POWs, searching through thousands of boxes of records and placing hundreds of long-distance phone calls in hopes of contacting next of kin in America,” Samaras said. “Mr. Mori sought to not only share their stories but also have them recognized as victims by the Hiroshima Peace Museum.”
Through his dedicated work to honor and preserve the memories of the American soldiers, in 1999 Mori finally got his wish for a memorial plaque at the site of the military detention center where they’d been held.
“From their families, we thank you for something you never had to do, but you did it out of your heart,” said City Councilor Rita Mercier. “We’re very, very grateful and we love you.”
Rokuichiro Michii, consul general of Japan in New England, said Mori’s tireless effort has helped to tell “a very important and human story” of so many affected by the bombing.
“Thanks to Mr. Mori and his work, a newfound sense of compassion has been born,” Michii said. “This has helped to bring people together, for the past in order to look toward the future.”
Brissette’s niece, Susan Brissette-Archinski, of Dracut, visited Japan three years ago during the making of the documentary and said it was an experience every American should have once in their life. She called Mori “a wonderful man” and said she was happy he could come to the U.S. and be honored for the work he spent half of his life undertaking.
Neal’s nephew — also named Ralph Neal — traveled from Memphis, Tenn., to participate in Monday’s ceremony.
“He’s made the story known,” the younger Neal said of Mori. “Our mission now as a family is to keep it going, to tell the story, that we don’t do it again.”
He and Christopher Golden presented Mori with the gift of an American flag.
The event, emceed by Joe Dussault, park director of operations, also served to honor all veterans who gave their lives in service.
“They fought for their country, they died honorably, and they will never, ever be forgotten, for they gave us their tomorrows for today,” said Bernie Lemoine, president of the memorial committee.
Lemoine asked attendees to keep in their prayers Brissette’s sister, Connie Brissette-Provencher, who died Saturday.
Mori was presented with citations from Samaras, state Rep. Tom Golden and U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, who also provided citations for the Brissette and Neal families. Samaras also presented Mori with the key to the city.
Mori was visibly moved as Samaras thanked him for helping the families of the 12 Americans to understand the loss of their loved ones and bring them closure.
“You have the keys that open the doors to the city of Lowell, but you also have the keys to our heart because of your great work,” Samaras said. “We so appreciate it, and we are honored to have been able to meet you.”
After the ceremony, Mori said he was “extremely touched” by the warm welcome he received from the citizens of Lowell and many others in the U.S.
Feeling that he has now finished telling the stories of the American POWs, Mori said he has already started another project: Researching the POWs from Australia.
Follow Alana Melanson at facebook.com/alana.lowellsun or on Twitter @alanamelanson.
In response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in the US grieve for those who lost their lives in this tragedy and stand with the surviving students and people from all corners of the United States who are demanding legislative action on gun control.
Doing nothing is not an option. We need our legislators to come together and engage in a process that results in passing and implementing laws that will address safety in our schools, workplaces and public spaces.
As educators of students from preschool through university and adult education in the United States we support the people of Parkland, Florida. We also empathize with students, parents, and administrators all across this country who on a daily basis face the potential for gun violence in their schools.
We agree with the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, when in support of a ban on assault weapons they said. “We must respond. Violence in our schools, and streets, our nation and the world – is destroying the lives, dignity and hopes of millions of our sisters and brothers.”
As Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, we strive to be people of justice and peace in a world that is too often violent. We invite others to join us on this journey towards peace. Let us stand together to keep all who are suffering from the violence in Parkland in our hearts and prayer and let us take action now.
Please contact your legislators right now. Respectfully let them know that you expect them to immediately work with their colleagues to pass a bill that will address violence associated with guns in this country.
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 12 2017 (IPS) – More than seven decades after the deployment of deadly atomic bombs in Japan, the UN has passed a historic treaty banning nuclear weapons around the world. Though it has sparked hope for a future without nuclear weapons, uncertainty in the success of the treaty still lingers.
More than 122 countries, representing two-thirds of the 192-member UN, adopted the historic treaty banning nuclear weapons after months of talks.
“We have managed to sow the first seeds of a world free of nuclear weapons…the world has been waiting for this legal norm for 70 years,” said Elayne Whyte Gomez, Permanent Representative of Costa Rica and the president of the UN conference which negotiated the treaty.
Nuclear Disarmament Program Manager for the civil society organization PAX Susi Snyder similarly highlighted the importance of the occasion to IPS, stating: “People have been working for decades on the issue, myself included, and to have a moment that you know, to the very tips of your toes, that history is being made? That’s a moment to feel all the feelings.”
There are approximately 15,000 nuclear warheads globally, more than 90 percent of which belong to the United States and Russia.
Unlike the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) which allowed five countries to possess such arms, the new instrument is an explicit prohibition on the direct or indirect use, threat of use, possession, acquisition, and development of nuclear weapons.
It also for the first time includes obligations to provide assistance to victims of nuclear weapons testing and use as well as environmental remediation of areas contaminated a result of nuclear weapon activities.
“This normative treaty highlights the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons—it is a huge achievement especially for the Hibakusha, the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Arms Control Association’s (ACA) Researcher Alicia Sanders-Zakre told IPS.
Reference to such consequences can be seen throughout the treaty, including the deep concern “about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from any use of nuclear weapons” and the persistent risk to humanity posed by the “continued existence of nuclear weapons.”
Though the awareness of nuclear weapons’ devastating humanitarian ramifications is certainly not new, both Snyder and Sanders-Zakre noted that states still legitimize nuclear weapons in their security approaches.
“Some states negotiating the treaty would say that by having a security doctrine of nuclear deterrence, nuclear weapons states legitimize nuclear weapons and distract from their humanitarian consequences…which are often not in the forefront of the security stage,” said Sanders-Zakre.
The new treaty aims to strip nuclear weapons of their prestige by making them unacceptable under international law.
Not Without a Fight The world’s nine nuclear-armed states as well as the majority of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) members boycotted the negotiations, except for the Netherlands which voted against the document.
Among the most vocal critics is the United States who, since the beginning of the talks, said that the process was not “realistic,” especially in the wake of rising tensions between the North American nation and North Korea.
“There is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons, but we have to be realistic. Is there anyone who thinks that North Korea would ban nuclearweapons?” asked U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley.
In a joint statement, the U.S., United Kingdom, and France announced that they do not ever intend to sign, ratify, or become party to the treaty.
“A purported ban on nuclear weapons that does not address the security concerns that continue to make nuclear deterrence necessary cannot result in the elimination of a single nuclear weapon and will not enhance any country’s security, nor international peace and security,” they stated, reiterating their continued commitment to the NPT.
Snyder told IPS that it was not surprising that such nations did not participate due to a desire to retain the political power associated with nuclear weapons. However, she criticised the joint move as it may be in violation of the NPT.
Article 6 of the NPT, which the majority of member States have signed, states that each party must “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”
Snyder noted that negotiations were considered by the majority to be an “effective measure” in the pursuit of disarmament.
“While this prohibition is not the final effort to achieve and maintain a nuclear weapons free world, it is certainly a key element of a world without nuclear weapons. It was an absence that is embarrassing for the nuclear armed states, demonstrating their commitment to inhumane weapons over humanity,” she continued.
However, nuclear-armed nations would argue that they are not violating the NPT as they do not consider that the prohibition will result in the elimination of nuclear weapons and is thus not an “effective measure,” said Sanders-Zakre.
The treaty reflects a growing divide between nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states on visions of disarmament.
Between a Nuke and a Hard Place? Additional frustrations have arisen concerning the treaty’s prohibition on the stationing, installation or deployment of nuclear weapons on territories as it puts many NATO members in nuclear sharing agreements in a sticky situation.
Five nations, including Germany and Turkey, currently host U.S. nuclear weapons as part of NATO’s nuclear sharing policy. In order for NATO members to join, they will have to reverse or withdraw from their obligations.
“One the one hand, the treaty seeks to be universal to include many members. But at the same time, it is a prohibition treaty and having a member of a prohibition treaty that has nuclear weapons on their soil would be contradictory,” Sanders-Zakre told IPS.
But can a nuclear ban treaty be successful without such nations? Snyder and Sanders-Zakre say yes.
“The treaty sets a norm, and the nuclear armed states have a history of following norms even when they don’t sign up to the treaties behind them,” said Snyder, referencing the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) which, despite not being ratified by all nations and not entering into force, has set a norm in which nuclear testing is condemned.
“That norm will grow from this treaty as well, and will likely result in ongoing substantive condemnation of the activities of the nuclear armed states that are not disarmament,” Snyder continued.
Sanders-Zakre noted that there might be some obstacles in the way before the treaty’s entry into force, including potential lobbying by nuclear weapon states to dissuade others from ratifying the instrument or a general decrease in political momentum.
But, with or without the nuclear weapon states, the treaty will mark a significant normative step towards disarmament if all 122 states which negotiated the instrument sign and ratify.
“My hope is that this treaty will be the first step towards more productive disarmament dialogue, and that it will serve as a wake-up call to nuclear weapon states that have not seriously been pursuing disarmament negotiations for quite some time,” Sanders-Zakre said.
Snyder similarly described the historic occasion as the first step of many, stating: “This treaty will help towards the elimination of nuclear weapons—it’s not the last thing that will get them out of the world forever, but it helps by reaffirming the complete illegitimacy of such inhumane weapons and offers a pathway for elimination.”
The treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons will be open for signature by member states on 20 September, marking the beginning of the 72nd Session of the General Assembly. It will enter into legal force 90 days after it has been ratified by 50 countries.
Earlier this year, atomic scientists set the Doomsday Clock to two and a half minutes before midnight, reflecting a fear that the world is closer to a nuclear disaster than it has been since 1953 after the U.S. and Soviet Union tested hydrogen bombs.
UN Correspondent for @ipsnews | #HumanRights Advocate | #ForeignPolicy | #Politics Analyst | Internet Enthusiast | Tweets are my own | RTs ≠ endorsement.
Police and demonstrators battle in Kinshasa as talks between President Kabila’s government and opposition fall apart
Congolese police fired rounds into the air and launched tear gas canisters to disperse hundreds of opposition supporters in Kinshasa on Tuesday after talks between the opposition and President Joseph Kabila‘s government fizzled out.
Unrest broke out in the Democratic Republic of Congo‘s capital after Catholic bishops withdrew from their role as mediators between the government and opposition in talks aimed at paving the way for delayed elections later this year.
Demonstrators, some burning tyres at city crossroads, took to the streets in several areas in Kinshasa.
A Reuters news agency witness saw opposition members gathering at the home of the late Etienne Tshisekedi, the main opposition party’s former leader, during a news conference with his son, the new Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UPDS) party leader, Felix Tshisekedi.
Many shops remained closed and some schools called parents to collect their children
Kabila’s mandate ran out in December but polls were not held because of what the government said were budgetary constraints, sparking violent protests at the end of last year in which security forces killed at least 40 people.
DRC’s conference of Catholic bishops (CENCO) helped negotiate a December 31 deal aimed at avoiding a political crisis by ensuring an election this year to elect Kabila’s successor.
In January, the bishops warned the deal was at risk of unravelling if politicians did not act quickly to reach compromises and implement it.
The bishops stepped aside on Tuesday after progress on the deal stalled, raising the prospect of renewed violence in a country that has suffered a succession of wars and rebellions.
“We think that there’s no longer anything to do,” Donatien Nshole, secretary-general of CENCO, told Reuters. “We have given all our time and all our energy, and in the meantime, pastoral work suffers.”
Kabila has ruled the mineral-rich central African nation since his father’s assassination in 2001. His critics accuse him of deliberately delaying elections in order to remain in power.
Nearly half of the Congo’s 67.5 million people are Catholic. Previously, nearly 6 million people died in the 1996-2003 conflict over the nation’s transfer of power.Following recent attempts at brokering peace between the government and political opposition leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Catholic priests and religious are facing violent backlash around the country.
According to Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic aid society that works in the country, Catholics have experienced a slew attacks on churches and convents. In particular, a Carmelite Convent and a Dominican Church were both ransacked in late February.
Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, the Archbishop of Kinshasa, told the organization that the incidents “lead one to believe that the Catholic Church is being targeted deliberately, in order to sabotage her mission of peace and reconciliation.”
“Along with all bishops, we denounce these acts of violence, which are likely to plunge our country further into unspeakable chaos,” he said.
The attacks follow recent attempts by the Catholic Church in the DRC to mediate between talks between the government of President Joseph Kabila and the opposition. The opposition to President Kabila and claims of a constitutional crisis follow after his refusal to step down from office at the end of 2016.
However, after delays for the funeral of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi and other conflicts, the peace agreement has all but dissolved, according to some reports. Presidential elections are now expected to take place at the end of 2017.
“Politicians ought to acknowledge with humility, before their nation and the international community, their political tendencies and the immorality of their self-serving decisions,” Cardinal Monswengwo said in a statement about the elections.
The attacks have continued into March. According to Crux, 25 Catholic Seminarians in Malole in the south of the country had to be evacuated by UN peace-keeping forces by helicopter after armed troops attacked the seminary. The attackers were part of a militia loyal to former tribal leader Kamwina Nsapu, who died in August 2016.
For the Catholics, the violence has been terrifying.
“They systematically broke down the doors to different rooms and destroyed everything inside. They entered the teachers’ rooms and burned their belongings,” Father Richard Kitenge, rector of the seminary, told Agence France-Presse.
Recently, the Church has also lead anti-corruption initiatives in the province and local area. The animosity towards the Church also extends outside of the church or convent walls.
“In the street, it’s not unusual to hear threats against the Church,” Father Julien Wato, the Dominican priest of Saint Dominic’s Church, the Kinshasa church vandalized in February said in a statement after the event.
Nearly half of the Congo’s 67.5 million people are Catholic. Previously, nearly 6 million people died in the 1996-2003 conflict over the nation’s transfer of power.