ASIA/SYRIA - Pope Francis' letter to Assad

Damascus - On Monday 22 July Pope Francis sent Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a letter in which he "reaffirms support for the restoration of stability in Syria".
This is how Syrian government agency SANA launched the news of the papal letter physically brought to the Syrian President by Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for the promotion of Human Integral Development, accompanied by Father Nicola Riccardi ofm, undersecretary of the same Vatican Dicastery, and by Cardinal Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio in Damascus.
The Syrian government media do not report the contents of the letter, merely reporting that support for the return of stability is reaffirmed and the end of the suffering of the Syrian people is hoped for. The Syrian side reports instead focus on the words that Assad addressed to the Vatican representatives who handed him the Pope's letter. According to reports from SANA, during the conversation Assad stressed that the attacks against the civilians were perpetrated by those who the Syrian President defined as "terrorists" present in Idlib Province, and reiterated accusations against regional and western foreign forces that in his opinion continue to offer support to armed groups in Syria. The only way to help Syrian people - remarked Assad - is to put pressure on "the states that support the terrorists, trying to prolong the war".
The official Syrian media also published photos of the meeting between Assad and Vatican representatives, but their oriented and partial reports did not mention the interview of the Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin disseminated by VaticanNews and by Osservatore Romano, in which the concrete requests that the Pope wanted to include in his letter to the Syrian President were also described. The Bishop of Rome - Cardinal Parolin explained in his interview - asked Assad to "do everything possible" to stop the humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib province, also providing concrete examples, such as the need to ensure "the conditions for a safe return of exiles and internally displaced persons" and to ensure "conditions of humanity" to political prisoners often detained in unofficial places of detention.
Already in December 2016, while the clash between the government army and anti-Assad militias was underway for the control of Aleppo, Pope Francis had sent a letter to the Syrian President through apostolic Nuncio Zenari to denounce all forms of extremism and terrorism, and to ask that in that situation of conflict the need to "fully respect international humanitarian law regarding the protection of civilians and access to humanitarian aid" was fundamental.

AMERICA/CUBA - The Church applauds the pardon for 2,604 prisoners, a gesture of mercy for social reintegration

La Habana - The national commission for penitentiary pastoral care of the Cuban Bishops' Conference, together with Bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity, "join the happiness of families who, with joy and affection, welcome the pardon granted by the State Council of the Republic of Cuba to 2,604 people". The note, sent to Agenzia Fides, is signed by His Exc. Mgr. Jorge Enrique Serpa Pérez, Bishop Emeritus of Pinar del Río, President of the Commission.
Following the guidelines of the new Constitution of the Republic, which favors the social reintegration of detained persons, the Council of State granted a pardon to 2,604 condemned to effective penalties of deprivation of liberty. Those who behaved well during imprisonment will benefit of the pardon. In addition, the time elapsed since the sanctions, the facts for which they were convicted, the age and the illnesses of which some suffer were taken into consideration. Especially women, young and old were included. In all cases these are people who have already served at least one third of the penalty imposed by the Courts.
"The pardon, which in itself is a humanitarian gesture of mercy - continues the communiqué of the Commission - shows how this, being superior to animosity, favors the reintegration into society of the people who benefit from it and a better social coexistence, according to what Pope Francis taught us in the Year of Mercy and in his unforgettable visit to our country, in September 2015, as a Pilgrim of Mercy".
Finally, the note underlines that this pardon constitutes "the occasion to sensitize the communities towards a greater alternation and support for this specific commitment of penitentiary pastoral care, which is based on Jesus' teaching: I was a prisoner and you visited me".

ASIA/BANGLADESH - Third anniversary for the first Catholic online radio channel

Bogra - The country's first Catholic radio celebrated its third anniversary. The name of the web radio is "Radio Jyoti" and the broadcast studio is located at the Emmaus Catholic church in Bogra, in the diocese of Rajshahi. The purpose of the radio is to announce God’s message and spread the teachings of Jesus Christ through radio programs. Listeners can listen to radio programs via smartphone or PC and many young people do it.
In a message for the occasion, sent to Fides, Radio Jyoti’s Chairman Bishop Gervas Rozario said: "On the occasion of the third anniversary of Radio Jyoti, I would like to greet and express my best wishes to all the listeners, in the country and abroad. On 13 February, World Radio Day is celebrated every year. The theme of the Day this year was "Dialogue, Tolerance and Peace". For having chosen such a meaningful theme, I would like to thanks UNESCO. This our main theme for the whole year".
Mgr. Rozario, who is Bishop of the Diocese of Rijshahi, explains in his message: "It is not possible to solve problems with weapons, wars, terrorist acts. Only dialogue and discussion can make it possible. Many may agree with me that recently a lack of tolerance among people has been shown. Why is this happening? Men should show that they respect and love others as themselves. People cry and suffer from conflicts in today's world. Conflicts have damaged harmony among religions and nations. One should keep in mind that weapons, competition, war and conflicts are not part of civilization".
"Right from the beginning, Radio Jyoti talks about peace", writes Msgr. Rozario, vice-president of the Bishops' Conference of Bangladesh, in his message, who before sending his blessings, he addresses an invitation to listeners: "I would like to ask you, come forward to establish peace in the world. If peace is established, you too will live in peace".
The web address of the radio is People from Bangladesh living abroad appreciate this radio station for its Christian teaching programs. Bangladesh is a country where radio has gradually become popular. Radio Jyoti broadcasts hymns, small dramas, news ... preaching Christian values with its programs.

AMERICA/EL SALVADOR - Bishops: migrants should not be criminalized, the underlying causes must be addressed

San Salvador - "We are worried about the very serious situation in which hundreds of thousands of compatriots currently live in the United States. We think, first of all, of those who are in danger of being expelled and those who are on the border of that Country, in deplorable conditions": this is stated by a declaration of the Bishops' Conference of El Salvador that on Sunday 21 July was made known by the Archbishop of San Salvador, Mgr. José Luis Escobar Alas, during his usual Sunday meeting with journalists. Mgr. Escobar Alas pointed out that the State must design policies focused on solving the migration crisis, as well as the protection and defense of the rights of those who migrate, because it is not right for them to be criminalized. For the Catholic Church, the phenomenon of immigration must be tackled at the base, focusing on the causes that generate it, in particular violence and poverty.
The pronouncement of the Bishops’ Conference was announced while US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is visiting El Salvador. The visit should bring benefits to the population, the Archbishop said.
The Bishops, and the Salvadoran community were particularly touched by the case of Oscar Alberto Martínez and his little daughter Valeria, who drowned while they were trying to cross the Rio Grande, a tragedy captured in a photograph that caused outrage worldwide. "We are deeply concerned about the situation of children who suffer all types of abuse in detention centers and, above all, the separation of their parents. This situation can cause irreparable psychological damage", the Bishops added in their statement.
El Salvador appeared on the front pages of newspapers because of the phenomenon of emigration towards the United States, where migrants died at the southern border of this country. In addition, the American press has just announced that the Trump administration will expand the expedited removal program nationwide which currently applies only within 100 miles of the border. A memorandum from the Department of National Security , published yesterday Monday July 22 in the federal register, reveals that the expulsion of immigrants declared inadmissible in the United States will be dramatically accelerated.
The president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, recently said that, according to statistics provided by the US government, the caravans of migrants consist of 40% of Hondurans, another 40% of Guatemalans, 8 or 9 % from migrants from other countries and only 11% from Salvadorans. It is estimated that over 2.5 million Salvadorans live in the United States, of whom 179,000 have temporary protection status . The last extension of the TPS will expire in September 2019.

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