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MONDAY-TUESDAY      December 7-8, 1998      SECTION THREE       vol 9, no. 237

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with a Catholic slant provided by
Catholic World News Service



      ATLANTA ( - The number of abortions in the United States rose in 1996 for the first time since 1990, according to figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday.

      The CDC said there were 1,221,585 legal abortions in 1996, the latest year for which figures were available, an increase of 0.9 percent from the 1,210,883 reported in 1995. CDC epidemiologist Lisa Koonin said the increase in 1996 "may represent a leveling off in the numbers of abortions performed in this country."

      There were 314 legal abortions per 1,000 live births in 1996, a slight increase from the 1995 rate of 311 per 1,000, which was the lowest for any year since 1976. According to the report, about 55 percent of abortions in 1996 were performed during the first eight weeks of pregnancy and 88 percent occurred during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. "As in previous years, most women who obtained abortions were white and unmarried. And, as in 1995 and in years earlier, most women who receive an abortion are 19 years and older," Koonin said. "Only about one-fifth of women who receive abortions are 20 years and younger," she said.


      JAKARTA ( - Religious tensions continued to flare into violence on Friday when a mob of Muslim extremists set fire to a Catholic church in the city of Ujung Pandang.

      Police spokesmen said the rioting began after Muslim midday prayers when some rioters threw burning materials into the church. No one was seriously injured. The attack was the latest in a series of religion-motivated attacks over the past week in which Muslims and Christians have attacked each others' house of worship, as well as homes and shops.

      Indonesia is the most populous Muslim nation in the world, while Christians make up a small minority. Most of the country's wealthy ethnic Chinese minority are Christian, connecting the violence to fears that the poorer majority are being taken advantage of by the richer minority.

      Religious tensions have long simmered across Indonesia, but they were kept in check under the harsh, army-backed rule of former president Suharto, whose 32-year reign ended in May. Now with the military discredited over the deaths of pro-democracy protesters and lawlessness rising, these tensions have resurfaced.

      The Catholic bishops of Indonesian have condemned these series of attacks on Islamic mosques, which have followed in apparent response to a wave of attacks on Christian churches. Meanwhile, the Fides news agency has reported suspicions that the latest sectarian battles are being deliberately staged in an effort to provoke further unrest in the country.

      Government authorities in Jakarta have charged that the attacks on houses of worship were organized "to destroy religious harmony in the region." And Fides quoted an informed source as reporting, "It is untrue to say that Christians and Muslims are fighting each other. I suspect the military."

      Acknowledging his charge could not be proven, the Fides source said that the latest round of violence in Indonesia has consisted of "engineered riots, intended to create disturbance and therefore fear among the people, so that the military... can assume its former position."

      The recent violence has certainly hit religious targets. On November 22 there were dozens of incidents of arson and vandalism at Catholic and Protestant churches in Jakarta; on November 30, 15 mosques were burned in Kupang. There have been subsequent attacks on churches and mosques in Ngabang, Ujungpandang, and Roti.

      The Indonesian bishops condemned the attacks, and called upon the faithful to work for a restoration of peace and harmony. At the same time, the bishops asked the government to "investigate these disorders to verify whether there has been deliberate instigation."

      Cardinal Julius Darmaatmadja of Jakarta acknowledged that some Catholics had participated in the attacks on mosques, but added that "third parties" were also clearly involved. Bishop Johannes Hadiwikarta, the secretary general of the episcopal conference, added, "The destruction of a place of prayer of any kind is intolerable, regardless of the reasons."


      VATICAN ( -- In a message of condolence to Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila, Pope John Paul II has expressed his sympathies for the victims of a fire which swept through an orphanage in Manila on Tuesday, December 3, killing 23 children and 5 adults.

      In a telegram signed by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Pope conveyed his "profound sorrow" over the tragedy, and said that the Holy Father had "commended the children and adults who died to the merciful love of our Father in heaven."

      In front-page coverage of the story, L'Osservatore Romano said the incident was "one of the most tragic fires in the history of the Philippines." The Vatican newspaper reported that the mayor of Manila, Joselito Atienza, planned to investigate whether unsafe conditions at the orphanage had added to the death toll.

      The bodies of 25 children, ranging in age from infants to adolescents, were pulled from the wreckage of the building. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but faulty wiring is suspected. The local district fire chief was fired on Friday following media reports that firefighters took more than an hour to arrive on the scene after the fire was reported.

      Some children had shouted for help from the orphanage's second-floor windows, which were covered with metal grills to protect against intruders, but neighbors were unable to open the padlocked main gate to get to them. The fire's source was traced to the library on the second floor. The orphanage, founded 85 years ago by a local women's organization, also took care of children of unwed mothers and children of working parents.

      Juan Agravante, a real estate salesman, was one of those killed in the fire. He had been visiting his wife, Maria Theresa, a babysitter at the orphanage. Their bodies were found in each other's arms, hugging their two sons, John Andrian, 8, and Jomari, 2.


      GUATEMALA CITY ( - The chief prosecutor investigating the murder of a Guatemala bishop in April said on Thursday that he would resign from the case, but denied that he mishandled the case.

      Prosecutor Otto Ardon had been criticized by human rights groups and independent observers for not considering the possibility that paramilitary or military groups were behind the murder of Auxiliary Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi Conedera. The bishop was murdered two days after he released a report blaming the military for majority of the deaths in the country's 36-year civil war.

      Ardon had originally charged a homeless man in the murder of the bishop, who was bludgeoned to death in the garage of his home. Later, Ardon arrested a Father Mario Orantes who lived in the same house as the bishop, and said he believed the priest's dog had bitten the bishop at his command. A later autopsy revealed no dog bites.

      Chief Prosecutor Adolfo Gonzalez, told reporters he would not accept Ardon's resignation until the prosecutor explained more fully why he was abandoning the case. Father Orantes remains in jail awaiting trial.


      MEXICO CITY ( - Reacting to a wave of kidnappings, the Archdiocese of Mexico City may join the bishops of western and central Mexico in a declaration that kidnappers will be subject to automatic excommunication.

      Church sources in Mexico City indicate that Cardinal Norberto Rivera may issue a decree of excommunication, similar to those issued by other Mexican bishops, to apply to "all those who participate or collaborate in a kidnapping." A proposal calling for such a decree is reportedly now under consideration by the presbyteral council of the archdiocese.

      The bishops of Aguascalientes, Autlan, Ciudad Guzman, Guadalajara, San Juan de los Lagos, Tepic, Zacatecas, and Colima y Nayar have already proclaimed the excommunication of kidnappers. Speaking on behalf of those bishops, Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iniguez of Guadalajara explained that the wave of kidnappings had become a matter of scandal in the country's western regions.

      The move in Mexico City follows closely after the kidnapping of Father Pedro Lascurain Perez, who was held for three days by drug dealers, and subjected to threats and abuse. Mexico has suffered through a wave of kidnappings, attributed to political rebels as well as organized criminal gangs.

For more headlines and articles, we suggest you go to the Catholic World News site. CWN is not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provides this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

November 25th Medjugorje Monthly Message

    Dear children! Today I call you to prepare yourselves for the coming of Jesus. In a special way, prepare your hearts. May holy Confession be the first act of conversion for you and then, dear children, decide for holiness. May your conversion and decision for holiness begin today and not tomorrow. Little children, I call you all to the way of salvation and I desire to show you the way to Heaven. That is why, little children, be mine and decide with me for holiness. Little children, accept prayer with seriousness and pray, pray, pray. Thank you for having responded to my call.

For more on Medjugorje, click on MEDJUGORJE AND MORE

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December 7-8, 1998 volume 9, no. 237   DAILY CATHOLIC