Central African Republic still seeking peace amid violent attacks

The Central African Republic is still hoping for a return to a peaceful and stable society despite continued attacks on churches, a priest stationed in the country told Catholic aid workers.

“We hope that the refugees will soon be able to return home, but no end is in sight,” said Father Federico Trinchero in a June 3 interview with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, adding that peace is “still a long way away.”

Father Trinchero is an Italian Carmelite Father and Prior of the Carmelite Monastery in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic. His comments came after a May 28 attack on the Church of Our Lady of Fatima in Bangui, during which 18 people were killed and more than 40 people were abducted.

Since December 2012, the Central African Republic has been torn apart by violence, killing thousands, displacing an estimated 1.1 million persons and leaving millions more without an assurance of food or safety. The fighting began when Seleka rebels, comprised mostly of Muslim fighters from other countries, began to carry out acts of terrorism and violence, with individuals continuing to loot, rape and murder even after the Seleka disbanded.

Then, in September 2013, “anti-balaka” self-defense groups, many comprised of Christians, began to strike back, attacking Muslims in revenge for earlier acts of violence. In response to the continued violence and conflict that now divides political, tribal, and religious groups in the country, the African Union has deployed 5,000 peacekeepers to the Central African Republic, and the United Nations has also pledged an additional 12,000 troops by the end of 2014.

DACA renewal process announced

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced the process for individuals to renew enrollment in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program June 5.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has submitted to the federal register an updated form to allow individuals previously enrolled in DACA, to renew their deferral for a period of two years. At the direction of the Secretary, the USCIS will begin accepting renewal requests and will continue accepting requests for DACA from individuals who have not previously sought to access the program. More than 500,000 individuals have received deferred action.

“Despite the acrimony and partisanship that now exists in Washington, almost all of us agree that a child who crossed our border illegally with a parent, or in search of a parent or a better life, was not making an adult choice to break our laws, and should be treated differently than adult law-breakers,” Johnson said. “By the renewal of DACA, we act in accord with our values and the code of this great Nation. But, the larger task of comprehensive immigration reform still lies ahead.”

The first deferred action approvals will expire in September. Individuals must file renewal requests before the expiration of their current period of DACA to avoid a lapse in the period of deferral and employment authorization. USCIS encourages requestors to submit their renewal request approximately four months before their current period of deferred action expires.

Blasphemy laws present in nearly one-quarter of world’s countries

Laws punishing acts of blasphemy or apostasy against certain religions are present in almost one-fourth of the world’s countries, said a U.S—based religious research group.

“Apostasy and blasphemy may seem to many like artifacts of history. But in dozens of countries around the world, laws against apostasy and blasphemy remain even today,” said the Pew Research Center in a blog post last month. The organization found that “that as of 2012, nearly a quarter of the world’s countries and territories” had anti-blasphemy laws or policies, and 11 percent of countries had “laws or policies penalizing apostasy.”

Consequences for changing faiths or criticizing a religion ranged from fines to the death penalty. Pew examined data in its 2014 Religious Freedom Report, as well as the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom's 2014 report.

The research showed anti-blasphemy laws across the world and on every populated continent, with some of the most severe legislation enacted in Pakistan. Such laws are also on the books in Michigan and Massachusetts, although they are not enforced in these states.

Apostasy laws have drawn attention in recent weeks in connection with Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, a 27-year-old woman who has been sentenced to death in Sudan. Ibrahim is recognized as Muslim under Sudanese law because her father was Muslim, despite the fact that her father abandoned the family when she was six years old, and she was raised as a Christian by her Ethiopian Orthodox mother.

Ibrahim was arrested in August 2013. A Khartoum court convicted her May 15 of apostasy from Islam, and adultery, on the grounds that marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men is not recognized.

She recently gave birth to the couple’s second child while in prison. Reports indicate that she will be allowed to nurse her baby for several months before her death sentence is carried out. Meanwhile, international attention and pressure is growing on Sudan to release her and her children.

Bishops: Surge in unaccompanied child migrants a ‘crisis’

The migration of unaccompanied children into the U.S. is a “humanitarian crisis” that demands a “comprehensive response” from the government, said the head of the U.S. bishops’ immigration committee.

“These children are extremely vulnerable to human traffickers and unscrupulous smugglers and must be protected,” said Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration.

“Young lives are at stake,” he emphasized. About 60,000 children from Mexico and Latin America are expected to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014, CBS News reported. U.S. government statistics indicate that over 47,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended at the border in the 2014 fiscal year, a 90 percent increase over the previous fiscal year.

Bishop Elizondo said in a June 4 statement that child migration is “a very complicated problem” whose roots must be addressed both by the U.S. government and by governments in the region. He said increasing violence from gangs and organized crime in the young migrants’ home countries must be examined.

“This is an issue which should not become politicized or give cause for negative rhetoric,” the bishop said.

Despite improvements, still ‘a long way to go’ for U.S. homeless

A new report on homelessness shows some improvements in the country’s response to those who are without shelter, but also a need for continued work, said an advisor to the U.S. bishops.

“There’s a long way to go still, especially (for) those who are most vulnerable,” said Tom Mulloy, policy advisor on economy, labor, housing and welfare for the USCCB.

In a June 3 interview with CNA, he explained that “the vast majority of people who compromise the homeless population are non-chronic persons and families who have fallen on hard times,” rather than people who are continually without a home.

“We’re talking about people for whom living paycheck-to-paycheck is a hard reality,” he said. Mulloy spoke in reference to a new report by the Homelessness Research Institute. The report shows a slight decrease in U.S. homelessness as the economic recovery from the financial crisis of 2008 continues, as well as a decrease in unemployment and increase in shelter services and re-housing programs.

However, these trends were not uniform throughout the country. Twenty states showed an increase in homelessness, and some populations — such as veterans — saw extremely high rates of homelessness in some regions.

In addition, the report found that the economic recovery is reaching the poor at a slower rate, with the number of those in poverty increasing between 2012 and 2013, and the rate of poverty remaining the same nationally even as unemployment rates decrease. The number of poor rental households paying more than half of their income towards housing — a key risk factor for homelessness — increased nationally.

—Catholic News Agency