Answers come slowly about why 117 villagers died in Colombian church
Fighting between Colombia's left-wing guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary groups continued to escalate last week, and the tiny village of Bojaya, accessible only by river, became a major battleground. About 117 villagers, more than a third of them children, were killed in the village church as they prayed for peace. A homemade mortar came through the roof of the church, exploding above the altar. "It sounded first like thunder and then felt like an earthquake," said 50-year-old farmer Octaviano Palacio. "When I recovered my senses I began to look for my family. I saw my wife, dead, and then began looking for my children." They died, too, and Palacio is recovering from shrapnel wounds in his neck and back and a disfigured arm.
"The bishop of Quibdo blamed all three sides: the [leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC] for firing the mortar, the paramilitaries for endangering the civilians by deploying fighters in the village, and the government for 'doing nothing to avoid this tragedy,' " reports the Associated Press.
The town is "reportedly strewn with corpses and with wounded awaiting evacuation," says the AP. According to the BBC, by the time the Colombian military reached the town five days after the attack, "it had become a ghost town."
President Andres Pastrana singled out the guerrillas for blame. "What happened here was genocide on the part of the FARC," he said. The paramilitary group fighting the FARC, the Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), is officially outlawed but is reportedly supported by the national military.
FARC leaders aren't taking responsibility for the action, but say they lament it. "There was never any intention on our part to harm the community," the group said, blaming the AUC for being in the village in the first place.
Although this was Colombia's deadliest attack since its civil war began 38 years ago, it's far from the only incident of an attack on the country's Christian community. In March, for example, guerrillas assassinated Isaias Duarte Cancino, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Cali.
U.S Commission on International Religious Freedom takes aim at U.S. policies
The informative annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) was released Monday, but much of what it says has been said before. The report blasted China, Indonesia, North Korea, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and other countries for persecuting religious minorities, but also criticized the U.S. government for not doing much about it. "Actions taken by the executive branch in response to serious violations of religious freedom have been sporadic," the report says. "The [State] Department is without a plan as to how to implement IRFA's central statutory purpose." The panel again urged the State Department to add Saudi Arabia and Turkmenistan to its list of "countries of particular concern." India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam should also be more closely monitored, said the group. But just watching and reporting isn't enough, says the USCIRF. The State Department has been reluctant to increase sanctions against the worst offenders, and has repeatedly disregarded USCIRF recommendations to "use the full range of available policy tools, especially in the case of China and Sudan, to take additional action."
- Bush breaks with right on policy toward Saudi Arabia | Conservatives push hard line against the Saudis, but White House isn't following. (Los Angeles Times)
- Red rosary | China's Catholics deal with their own brand of oppression (ABCNews.com)
- Hostile congregation | Eager to remain the official state religion, Russia's Orthodox Church cracks down on Roman Catholics. (Time)
- Also: Russia's growing religious repression | Almost overnight, Russia's Catholic minority has caught up with the Protestants as a target of repression (Lawrence Uzzell, The Washington Post)
Politics and law:
- Senate bill protects clergy | Pre-emptive strike against federal appeals court now goes to President (The Washington Times)
- Ex-priest faces murder probe | Former Ebenezar Evangelical Church pastor Reverand Itumeleng Sibenya, whose wife Shirley was murdered in an alleged hijack drama, is to be questioned by the police about the circumstances of his wife's murder (City Press, Johannesburg, South Africa)
- U.S. will revive policy to down narcotics planes | Shoot-down program was suspended a year ago after a CIA spotter aircraft helped Peruvian warplanes fire on a U.S. missionary plane (The Miami Herald)
- Abortion issue returns as state GOP meets in Waikiki | At least 1 legislator opposes the party's moderate platform (Honolulu Star-Bulletin)
- Aids fear as Bush blocks sex lessons | US undermines global declaration (The Observer, London)
Church and state:
- As a word, 'Church' isn't up to city code | Broader terms—"religious facilities" and "religious organizations"—will replace the word throughout the Thousand Oaks's municipal code (Los Angeles Times)
- Offbeat issues fill the bills in California Senate | State replaces "holiday tree" with "Christmas tree," among other actions (Los Angeles Times)
- Girl sues to put 'God' on yearbook | Grade school printed her winning yearbook cover design without the words she wanted: "God Bless America." (Quad-Cities Times, Davenport, Iowa)
- Israel refuses to recognize Greek Orthodox patriarch | The Israeli government has refused to grant Irineos formal recognition, a decision the cabinet restated on Sunday. (The New York Times)
Religion and culture:
- Faith in America | It's as important as ever, no matter what you believe (Cover Story, U.S. News & World Report)
- Religion can stop healthy patriotism becoming nasty nationalism (Stephen Plant, The Times, London)
- Religion a force in local environmentalism | Area congregations called to activism as a moral obligation (The Ann Arbor [Mich.] News)
- Americans credit faith for nation's strength, poll says | While Americans strongly believe in the importance of religion, they are also tolerant — 84 percent say religious belief isn't necessary to be a good American citizen. (The Washington Times)
- Fall and rise of Christianity | Despite its decline in the West, the Christian faith is growing fast in parts of Latin America, Africa and Asia. (The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Other stories of interest:
- Blessing the beasts | Interfaith ceremony celebrates the bond between all creatures. (News & Observer)
- Prayers for a new saint | Devout Puerto Ricans are hoping a second miracle will elevate 'Beato Charlie' (The Hartford [Conn.] Courant)
- Private schools compare faiths, discover unity | Muslim students and students from Greater Atlanta Christian School gather with a Jewish student body to learn about religious history, custom, and tradition. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
- The small ads | The story behind a personal ad (William Shaw, The Observer, London)
- Congregation used to Pastor of Disaster | Tim Davis races trucks and preaches. (Times Colonist, Victoria, B.C., Canada)
- Anglican visits Ambridge with wit, wisdom, love | Archbishop of Canterbury speaks at Trinity seminary (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
- Censor bid on opera fails | Homosexual-themed production will go on. (The Mercury)
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