Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
In today's edition:
Violence Escalates Over 'Muhammad' Cartoons
Muslim rage over caricatures of the prophet Muhammad grew increasingly violent on Sunday and Monday, with five people killed in protests in Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Syria, and warning shots fired outside a US consulate in Indonesia. The anger was sparked by the circulation of caricatures of Muhammad that first appeared in a Danish newspaper last September. Islamic tradition forbids any depiction of the religion's holiest figure. White House spokesman Scott McClellan denounced the violence: "We would also urge people who are criticizing these cartoons to speak out forcefully against all forms of hate speech, including cartoons and articles throughout parts of the Arab world, which frequently espouse anti-Semitic and anti-Christian views." Meanwhile, Christian Newswire, an American distributor of religious press releases has posted the cartoons on its website, including one of an angry Muhammad with a fuse-lit bomb in his turban, and another of Muhammad on a cloud telling newly arrived suicide bombers, "Stop, Stop! We have run out of virgins!" Christian Newswire director Gary McCullough says nobody paid for the web posting, and his company isn't "speaking on behalf of the Christian faith." But McCullough says he is concerned that some American media are censoring themselves in the face of "terroristic threats," and he wants to stand with those who will not be intimidated.
Bombs, Hidden Persecution Aimed at Driving Christians out of Iraq
AsiaNews has reported that there is a “hidden reality of persecution” against Iraq's Christians, including daily threats, kidnappings, discrimination and bomb attacks, such as the recent series of car bombings against Christian places of worship in Kirkuk and Baghdad. AsiaNews says that the aim of the bombings is to feed internal divisions and the ongoing political instability, but also to “drive the Christian community out of Iraq.” The local Chaldean Church explained that the January 29th attacks revoke “the nightmare of violence of 2004” for Iraq's Christians, when explosions against four churches in Baghdad and three in Mosul left 12 people dead and dozens injured. The latest death toll was three dead, one Catholic and two Muslims, with nine injured. “Responsibility for the blasts has yet to be claimed,” the story continues. “Among the local population the theory is that the bombings were in answer to the... caricatures of Mohammad published by a Danish newspaper.” But according to Chaldean bishop Msgr. Rabban Al Qas, there are very different motives behind the violence. “It was a well studied plan, perhaps from weeks before; car bombs are not built in a matter of days,” he declared. The prelate hypothesizes that behind this most recent violence there are “forces intent on destabilizing and dividing the country.”
Hope Remains in the Philippines
Filipinos poured into Manila’s Rizal Park Thursday evening, as Franklin Graham spoke powerfully on the love and forgiveness found in Christ on the first night of the four-day Metro Manila Festival. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association reports attendance was 33,700, and more than 1,490 committed their lives to Jesus Christ. Metro Manila, Philippines, has been one of the fastest-growing regions in the world the last 30 years, and it now stands as a major cosmopolitan center of Southeast Asia. Along with such rapid growth has come a flood of challenges as the nation has struggled with poverty, crime, unemployment, drugs, and the spread of HIV-AIDS. This is a nation crying out for hope — and Bishop Reuben Abante, general secretary for the Festival, is hopeful. “The Philippines is simply crying out for preaching of the Gospel and the spiritual regeneration it brings,” he says. The theme chosen by the Festival planning committee is “There Is Hope.” Christians across denominational lines have joined together in unprecedented numbers for the Metro Manila Festival, uniting to ready the region for the message of God’s love. More than 16,000 Filipinos attended Christian Life and Witness classes, where they learned how to share their faith, and over 6,000 applied to serve as counselors at the Crusade.
Efforts on to Find Catholic Priest's Killer in Turkey
Turkish authorities on Monday intensified their search for a young man who shot and killed an Italian Roman Catholic priest in his church along the Black Sea coast, the AP reports. The image of the clean-shaven man, wearing a beret, was broadcast by national television stations. It was not clear if Sunday's shooting was linked to the publication in European newspapers of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Earlier, hundreds of Turks protested in Istanbul against the cartoons. ‘’We really think that it is not linked,'' Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told reporters on Monday. The 58-year-old priest, Andrea Santoro, was shot hours after Sunday Mass inside the 19th-century Santa Maria Church. The gunman shot the priest twice and shouted ‘’Allahu Akbar,'' or ‘’God is great,'' as he escaped. ‘’Priest Santaro was a person who loved Turkey and I don't think he did something that could cause any reaction from the local people,'' Italy's Consul General Stefano Canzio said. Pope Benedict XVI's envoy in Ankara, Monsignor Antonio Lucibello, said he had spoken with a witness - an Italian woman who worked with the priest - who said Santoro had been killed while he was ‘’kneeling in the first row of the church'' and praying. The priest had received threats for allegedly proselytizing, but had not requested any protection, Trabzon's governor said. The Vatican did not immediately issue any comment on the killing, but Italian Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the head of the Rome diocese, said Santoro was ‘’treacherously killed'' as he was about to pray.