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From Zenit News Agency in Rome


LISBON, JUN 21 (ZENIT) - After a controversial 116-107 vote by the Portuguese Parliament in February to allow abortion in the first ten weeks of pregnancy if the woman goes to counseling beforehand, pro-life forces have arranged a public referendum on the change. Before the new law, abortion was prohibited - except when necessary to save the life of the mother - carrying up to a three-year jail term. The changes are being pushed by the socialist, communist, and green parties. The Portuguese Bishops are not pleased with deciding morality by referendum. In a statement, they indicated, "since the right to life is inviolable, it should not be submitted to a referendum." The secretary of the Episcopal Conference added, "It [abortion] is an immoral act, and a referendum won't make abortion moral."


BISSAU, JUN 21 (ZENIT) - "The missions, with their personnel and many volunteers, have really done their part, coordinating the exodus, offering indispensable nutritional aid and transport for children and elderly. Despite this, many have died along the roads under the blazing sun, having to be buried before reaching their desired destination to find a little peace," reported Bishop Settimio Arturo Ferrazzetta of Bissau. Bishop Ferrazzetta wrote a letter to the people of his country on June 11, discussing the armed revolt rocking the nation. "All Guineans feel profoundly wounded and only desire one thing: to return to a normal life," he asserted. At the same time, he asked the president to accept dialogue and seek lasting peace. "From this moment on, the most important thing is to open the way to peace... The Church is with you."


VATICAN CITY, JUN 22 (ZENIT) - In the Biblical Jubilee tradition, every fiftieth year was a year for taking account of the past, canceling debts, and releasing prisoners. The Great Jubilee of 2000 provides a similar opportunity. The Italian press has now reported that the Pope will direct words to the governments of the world at the beginning of the Jubilee calling for acts of clemency, indulgence, and amnesty. This would most likely come in the Papal Bull for the Holy Year, which will be published on November 29, the first Sunday of Advent and the Liturgical beginning of the final year of preparation for the Jubilee. This act would recall the words of Christ as he began his public ministry in Nazareth: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord."


NEW DELHI, JUN 23 (ZENIT) - While India and Pakistan continue to exchange contrary peace proposals, two Christian groups, Caritas India and YMCA Asia, have united to condemn all nuclear testing, calling nuclear arms deplorable and unnecessary for maintaining peace and order in the world. Caritas India feels that national resources should be deployed for helping all people live with equal dignity. As a Christian organization in a minority Christian population (approximately 2% of Indians are Christian), Caritas has challenged itself to critically analyze the situation in the light of the Gospel, acting as "yeast in society." They denounce that "some powers give the impression of promoting a mono-culture and of controlling international institutions, including U.N. institutions, and trying to impose their own hegemony." The Asian branch of the YMCA, present in 24 countries, said that the arms race "only serves to impoverish the common people even more."


VATICAN CITY, JUN 23 (ZENIT) - In a significant gesture of solidarity, Pope John Paul II recently sent economic aid to the people of North Korea, who are suffering famine. Vice-chancellor Kim Chang Ryong received the Vatican delegation led by Msgr. Celestino Migliore and Msgr. Paul Gallagher. Among their activities were a Mass in the Cathedral of Pyongyang and visits to various humanitarian projects directed by the Church. The current visit marks the third time that the Vatican has sent aid to the people of this communist country, where the Church is often suppressed by authorities, as was the case with the recent celebrations of Our Lady of LaVang.


ROME, JUN 24 (ZENIT) - The Vatican News Agency FIDES, organ of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, has decried African practices whereby soccer players become "slaves in shorts." According to FIDES, Nigeria's excellent performance at the Atlanta Olympics of 1996 has bred a group of "secret hunters," who quietly take promising soccer players from their homelands to train abroad, paying the families some 1,000-1,500 francs for their cooperation. After crossing the Nigerian border, the boys have their names changed and are fully at the mercy of their "patrons," who make all decisions for the boys. The hope is that the 8-to-10-year-old boy taken from Africa for this price will grow into a soccer player worth 100 million francs at age 16 or 17. The players, on the other hand, get little from the system. Players on the Nigerian team currently competing in the World Cup earn about 175 dollars per month. Of course, soccer is not wholly a negative experience in Africa. Missionaries are using the sport to build communities and understanding -- it should be noted that Christians and Muslims play together on the Nigerian team. The Agency concluded its report by saying, "Soccer, when it is not just 'business,' can also be a great opportunity to educate people in living together."


VATICAN CITY, JUN 25 (ZENIT) - The Pontifical Council "Cor Unum" has announced that in 1999, which the Pope has dedicated to contemplation of God the Father and the virtue of charity, it will promote a new initiative entitled "One Hundred Projects of the Holy Father." The projects to be supported by the Vatican cover a very wide range, from providing drinkable water to people in developing countries to an medical clinic in Ghana. Archbishop Paul Cordes presented this plan in his visit to Malta to raise funds to support the activity. In conjunction with this project, he has officially created the new "Ghana Mission Foundation."


TEGUCIGALPA, JUN 25 (ZENIT) - The Latin American Episcopal Conference (CELAM) is holding a meeting with international financial institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Interamerican Bank in order to find a solution to the staggering debt in many South and Central American nations. Bishop Óscar Andrés Rodríguez of Tegucigalpa, President of CELAM, explained that "foreign debt is not just an economic problem, it is a human problem . . . , and it is impoverishing Latin Americans more and more, which impedes countries of this area from achieving economic and social development." The meeting will take place in the Honduran capital from June 30 to July 2, involving 15 Bishops along with representatives of numerous financial institutions. Auxiliary Bishop Stephen Blaire of Los Angeles has traveled to Honduras to take part in the meetings, which are based on the conviction that "loans are not a solution to poverty. They are a help for development . . . , and countries must make an effort to use their own resources and avoid foreign debt."


VATICAN CITY, JUN 26 (ZENIT) - John Paul II received Bishop Karl Lehmann, President of the German Bishops' Conference in audience one day after the radio transmission of a letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger urging his brother Bishops to be firm and clear in the defense of the unborn. According to Südwestfunk (SWF), Cardinal Ratzinger made an exhortation to Bishop Lehmann in the name of the Pope that the Catholic Church in Germany should not issue certificates of abortion counseling that a woman could then use to get an abortion. The matter has provoked heated debate in Germany since, if the Church did not issue the certificates, few women would come to the Church for advice while, on the other hand, the issuance of the certificate has become almost a tacit permission to abort. Last January 27, the Pope sent a letter to the German Bishops asking them to stop issuing these certificates, but to seek a way to continue advising women in distress. (See ZW980128-4) After the letter, the German Bishops agreed to stop the practice, but asked for some time to adapt their structures so that the counseling centers could continue offering their services to needy women. The Pope's meeting with Bishop Lehmann was intended to encourage the Bishops not to wait any longer than absolutely necessary before banning the practice, since the delay is causing confusion among the faithful.


VATICAN CITY, JUN 26 (ZENIT) - Even bankers can enter into the Kingdom of God, assured Pope John Paul II on receiving thirty members of the Central Institute for Banks of Cooperative Credit. As proof that bankers can live according to the Gospel, the Holy Father cited those generations of business men who "not only have promoted economic progress, but also have never lost sight of solidarity and protection of the most unprotected strata of society." Following the traditional teaching of the Church, the Holy Father explained that "the goods of creation are destined for all." This led to his conclusion that "that which human industry produces with the contribution of labor should serve the common good."


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