Argentina – Catholic bishops in Costa Rica, with the backing of the Evangelical Alliance, are against a proposed reform of the constitution removing Catholicism as the official state religion.
Christian leaders in the Central American country argue that the move is fueled by anti-Catholic bias and would actually erode the religious freedom currently enjoyed nationwide.
According to the latest census, over 70 percent of the population of five million describe themselves as Christian, with Catholics representing just over 50 percent of the country’s total population.
Yet Maria Vita Monge, a deputy from Social Christian Unity Party, presented the proposal to de-establish the Church, citing the fact that it is the only country in the region with a state religion: In fact, the only other officially Catholic states are Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco and Vatican City.
The bishops conference released a document in response offering a defense of the current constitutional status.
“The deputies proposing the constitutional reform to the text of article 75 and article 194 of our Magna Carta uncritically assume a text from a sector that under the guise of a ’benevolent secularism’ seeks a ‘neutrality of the State in religious matters’,” the bishops write. This, however, “does not come to provide any added benefit or protection to the religious freedom of the inhabitants of the Republic.”
The bishops also said “this initiative is protected by a justification that summarizes markedly anti-Catholic prejudices” that are only supported by a minority of the population, a fact demonstrated by the support of the Evangelical Alliance in keeping the articles in the constitution.
This was alluded to last year by Fabricio Alvarado, the 2018 presidential candidate for the New Republic Party, who said he opposed the bill because the aim was making Costa Rica an “atheist state, a godless state, a state where the people who profess a religion have no right to express themselves.”
“As we know, the Citizens’ Action Party [the ruling party] promotes euthanasia, abortion, same-sex marriage and promotes all these issues that are against the values of the Costa Rican being,” he said.
Costa Rica’s supreme court issued a decision in May legalizing same-sex marriage, a ruling that was praised by Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada, a member of the PAC.
The bishops argue that the proposed new next for the constitution “does not reflect a correct development of religious freedom as a root human right and of fundamental importance not only in the correct conception of a democratic state, but also especially necessary in the development of the human person; it assumes an individualistic and biased vision of the religious phenomenon.”
Despite the fact that Catholicism is the official religion, the population of Costa Rica is free to choose their religious affiliation or non-affiliation. A quarter of the population is Protestant, and nearly 20 percent say they are atheist or agnostic.
Although the Catholic Church is the only religion officially tax exempt, most other congregations are registered as cultural associations. Costa Rica bans members of the clergy from holding certain public offices, but this only applies to Catholic clergy, since it is the official religion.
In the statement, the bishops pointed to the historical and sociological reasons for the development of the constitution of Costa Rica, calling it “a nation that was born under the protection of the Christian faith and specifically the Catholic faith.”
The bishops also argue that they cannot endorse the draft law, not because they’re in principle against of the idea of a lay state, but because the proposal did not come from “a positive treatment of the religious phenomenon in society, and does not lead to a healthy treatment and development of religious freedom.”
“Rather, it surrenders before positions that note, if not a prejudice, an individualistic and reductionist conception of religious freedom and of the religious reality, as a fully human act,” they said.
Monge says the proposed constitutional changes are seeking legal security for the plurality of religions in Costa Rica, while at the same time recognizing the human right to freedom of thought and conscience. Last year, she requested a meeting with Pope Francis through the Vatican’s representative in the country to discuss the “need of a lay State in Costa Rica.”
“The request was made after His Holiness, as leader of the Catholic Church in the world, reiterated on several occasions the need for countries to be lay,” she argued in a statement released over the weekend.
“It’s fundamental that, in discussing such a sensitive topic, we establish a dialogue with the Vatican’s Secretary of State and the Holy Father,” she added. Monge first proposed the bill in May 2019, but the debate is now just heating up.
“If the Holy Father agrees with a lay state, I don’t see a reason why the Catholic Church in Costa Rica would oppose to us being a lay State,” she said.
Carmen Chan, the politician who currently leads the New Republic Party, said she “totally opposes” the proposed changes.
“We are clear on the fact that the PAC and their allies are bothered when the Catholic Church or any other religion raises its voice to defend its religious precepts and values,” Chan said recently. “I’m struck by the fact that some activists who have publicly expressed that the Church should not voice an opinion on issues of national interest are the same activists who today support or promote a lay state, with characteristics that will endanger religious freedom in our country.”
North Korea is facing a severe food shortage
Addressing a meeting of senior leaders, Mr Kim said: “The people’s food situation is now getting tense”.
He said the agricultural sector had failed to meet its grain targets due to typhoons last year, which caused flooding.
There are reports that food prices have spiked, with NK News reporting that a kilogram of bananas costs $45 (£32).
North Korea has closed its borders to contain the spread of Covid-19.
Trade with China has plummeted as a result. North Korea relies on China for food, fertiliser and fuel.
North Korea is also struggling under international sanctions, imposed because of its nuclear programmes.
The authoritarian leader of the single-party state talked about the food situation at the ruling Workers’ Party central committee which started this week in the capital Pyongyang.
During the meeting, Mr Kim said that national industrial output had grown by a quarter compared to the same period last year.
Officials were expected to discuss relations with the US and South Korea during the event but no details have been released yet.
In April, Mr Kim made a a rare admission of looming hardship, calling on officials to “wage another, more difficult ‘Arduous March’ in order to relieve our people of the difficulty, even a little”.
The Arduous March is a term used by North Korea officials to refer to the country’s struggle during the 1990s famine, when the fall of the Soviet Union left North Korea without crucial aid.
The total number of North Koreans who starved to death at the time is not known, but estimates range up to three million.
It is highly unusual for Kim Jong-un to publicly acknowledge a food shortage. But this is a North Korean leader who has already admitted that his economic plan has failed.
The problem for Mr Kim is that when he took over from his father, he promised his people a more prosperous future. He said they would have meat on their tables and access to electricity. This has not happened. Now he’s having to prime the population for more hard work.
He is trying to tie this into the global pandemic, and state media reported that he pointed out to party officials that the situation across the world is getting “worse and worse”. With so little access to outside information, he can paint a picture of things being bad everywhere – not just in sealed off North Korea. He also described efforts to beat Covid-19 as a “protracted war”. That signals that border closures are not easing any time soon.
That is the concern of many aid organisations. The sealed border has prevented some food and medicine getting through. Most NGOs have had to leave the country, unable to get staff and supplies in or out.
Pyongyang has always called for “self-reliance”. It has closed itself off, just as it may need assistance and it is unlikely to ask for help. If it continues to push away all offers of international assistance, as ever, it may be the people who pay the price.
Christian pastor killed over outreach to Muslims: ‘Today Allah has judged you’
A radical Muslim has confessed to police in Uganda that he killed a 70-year-old pastor earlier this month because of Allah’s word to kill all infidels who mislead Muslims by sharing the Gospel.
The accused, identified as Imam Uthman Olingha, told police he killed Bishop Francis Obo, senior pastor of Mpingire Pentecostal Revival Church Ministries International in Odapako village Mpingire Sub-County, on June 11, Morning Star News reported.
Olingha was one of the Muslim extremists dressed in Islamic attire who stopped Pastor Obo and his wife on their way home from a market at about 8:30 p.m., his wife, Christine Obo, said.
“Olingha openly confessed to police that he can’t regret that he killed the bishop because he did it in the cause of Allah’s word to kill all infidels who mislead Muslims. He added that Allah will be with him in jail, but the kafiri (infidel) deserved the killing.”
One of the attackers told the pastor, who oversaw 17 churches across the region and had been sharing Christ with Muslims, that he was an “infidel” who caused Muslims to leave Islam and “blasphemes the words of Allah,” and that, “Today Allah has judged you.”
A week before the murder, the couple had invited a former Islamic teacher to testify on how he became a Christian at their church, Christine Obo recalled. Area Muslims were also upset with the church because it offered the former Islamic teacher a pig as part of a micro-enterprise livestock project that helped raise funds for the church, she added.
Describing the incident, she said, “As I moved a few meters in a hurry trying to save my life, I heard a little noise and wailing from my husband and realized that his life was in danger.”
When she reached home, she was trembling and unable to speak, she said, and her children took her to a hospital. When she regained consciousness the following morning, she told her oldest son and his siblings to go to the site.
“Reaching there, they were shocked and fearful as they found a big number of Christians and relatives gathered around the dead body mourning their bishop after being murdered by Muslims,” Obo was quoted as saying.
According to World Watch Monitor, a homegrown Islamist rebel movement organizing in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo has emboldened Ugandan radicals to persecute Christians.
Voice of the Martyrs earlier noted that Uganda’s history has made it vulnerable to the influence of Islam as “Arab countries also continue to invest significant resources into furthering Muslim interests in the country.”
In Uganda, persecution is mainly seen in the form of local Islamists persecuting Christians, mostly in areas where “radicals have been steadily encroaching.”
“Radical Islam’s influence has grown steadily, and many Christians within the majority-Muslim border regions are facing severe persecution, especially those who convert from Islam,” a Voice of the Martyrs factsheet explains. “Despite the risks, evangelical churches in Uganda have responded by reaching out to their neighbors; many churches are training leaders how to share the Gospel with Muslims and care for those who are persecuted after they become Christians.”
Last December, a mob of Muslim extremists in Uganda reportedly killed 41-year-old former imam Yusuf Kintu a week after he converted to Christianity.
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North Korea is facing a severe food shortage
Addressing a meeting of senior leaders, Mr Kim said: “The people’s food situation is now getting tense”. He said the...
Christian pastor killed over outreach to Muslims: ‘Today Allah has judged you’
A radical Muslim has confessed to police in Uganda that he killed a 70-year-old pastor earlier this month because of...
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