– Tej Francis



(CNA) The Vatican will host a “spiritual retreat” for South Sudan’s president and opposition leader as they navigate the peace process in the war torn country, a Vatican spokesman confirmed Wednesday. Following a five-year civil war and a tenuous peace deal signed in September, the South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar will meet in Rome April 10. “It will be a spiritual moment and above all an invitation to realize the responsibility that political leaders and authorities have,” Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said April 3.

Parolin confirmed that Pope Francis will also be present and participate in the retreat. Pope Francis previously discussed the implementation of the peace agreement and the return of refugees with the South Sudanese President Salva Kiir during a private audience on March 16. The following week, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, traveled to South Sudan, where he and a Vatican delegation visited a refugee camp outside the South Sudanese capital. The years-long civil war has left 2.1 million people displaced within South Sudan, and another 2.5 million refugees in neighboring countries, according to the United Nations.



(UCAN news) Tribal people who have converted to Christianity and Islam should not contest India’s general election in seats earmarked for tribal candidates, according to a traditional tribal group. Central Sarna Samiti, an organization of non-Christian tribal people based in Jharkhand state, petitioned state authorities on March 31 as campaigns continue for the April-May polls. It called on the Election Commission of India to ban Christians and Muslims from contesting seats reserved for tribal people, arguing that those who convert have abandoned tribal culture and ethos.

However, Christian leaders say the demand aims to keep Christian and Muslim tribal people away from the political mainstream to satisfy groups pressing to make India a Hindu-only nation. “This is yet another conspiracy of pro-Hindu groups to divide the tribal community and it will have a nationwide impact,” said Prabhakar Tirkey, president of ecumenical Christian forum Rashtriya Isai Mahasangh.

Of the 543 elected seats in parliament, 47 are reserved for candidates from tribal communities and 84 reserved for those from socially poor scheduled castes. The reservations aim to ensure their representation in making laws. Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal said the move to discriminate against people on the basis of religion goes against the spirit of secularism. Christians comprise just 2.3 percent of India’s population of 1.3 billion and are politically insignificant as they are spread across the country.



(Crux) A northern Italian town became a battlefield in the culture wars this weekend during a three-day international congress on traditional family values. While populist leaders and conservative Catholics defended the event from the inside, progressive and liberal factions tagged the meeting as “medieval.” The Vatican took a step back, with high-ranking officials deciding not to formally attend the event. “We agree on the substance but not on the methodology,” said the Vatican Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, after an event marking the 150th anniversary of the Vatican-owned Bambino Gesu children’s hospital last week.

The Catholic Church agrees with the traditional family values based on the marriage between a man and woman and founded on the respect for human life from conception to natural death on display at the World Congress of Families that took place in Verona, Italy, March 29-31. What the Vatican doesn’t agree with is the rhetoric and approach that the congress promoted. Religious sisters could be seen on local television calling homosexuality an “abomination” and a “sin against God.” Bishops condemned abortion with strong language, and life-sized puppets of fetuses were handed out to attendees.

The bishop of Verona Giuseppe Zenti attended the event along with many other Catholic bishops from other parts of the world, including Archbishop-Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco and papal critics Cardinal Raymond Burke and Cardinal Walter Brandmüller. Organizers included pro-life and conservative factions not only from Italy, but also Russia and the United States. Brian Brown, president of the International Organization for the Family and close friend of U.S. President Donald Trump, attended the event.