Bishop RuizMEXICO CITY - Retired Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia, known as the champion of the poor and indigenous in southern Mexico, died Jan. 24 of complications from long-standing illnesses. He was 86.

The bishop headed the diocese of San Cristobal de Las Casas from 1960 to 2000, and from 1994 to 1998 mediated a commission looking for an end to the conflict between the Mexican government and the indigenous Zapatista National Liberation Army in Chiapas state.

For his work with the state’s indigenous population he received death threats and, in 2002, was the recipient of the Niwano Peace Prize for his work “raising the social standing of the indigenous communities of Mexico” and for his work toward “the reclamation and preservation of their native cultures.”

Bishop Ruiz had suffered from arterial hypertension and diabetes for a decade and had obstructed arteries, some cerebral damage and difficulty moving his body. The severity of his illness led to his transfer Jan. 12 to a Mexico City hospital from one in the state of Queretaro.

Pope John Paul II miracle approved, beatification set for May 1

John Paul IIVATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI approved a miracle attributed to Pope John Paul II's intercession, clearing the way for the late pope's beatification on May 1, Divine Mercy Sunday.

Pope Benedict's action Jan. 14 followed more than five years of investigation into the life and writings of the Polish pontiff, who died in April 2005 after more than 26 years as pope.

The Vatican said it took special care with verification of the miracle, the spontaneous cure of a French nun from Parkinson's disease — the same illness that afflicted Pope John Paul in his final years. Three separate Vatican panels approved the miracle, including medical and theological experts, before Pope Benedict signed the official decree.

Pakistani prelate calls official's remark on blasphemy law 'setback'

BANGALORE, India - Catholic officials in Pakistan expressed disappointment after Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani reiterated there would be no amendment to the country's blasphemy law, which makes insulting the Prophet Mohammed or the Quran punishable by life imprisonment or death.

"This is a setback. We have to take it in our stride and move on," Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore, president of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops' Conference, told Catholic New Service Jan. 12, hours after the prime minister's remarks.

"We are really disappointed," Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the church's National Commission for Justice and Peace, told CNS from his office in Lahore.

Vatican foreign minister meets ambassador called back to Egypt

VATICAN CITY - In the wake of Egypt's displeasure at recent comments by the Pope, the Vatican's foreign minister met with Egypt's ambassador to the Vatican before the minister was recalled to Cairo for consultations.

Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, whose formal title is secretary for relations with states, met with Ambassador Lamia Aly Hamada Mekhemar Jan. 11, just hours after she was told to return to Cairo in response to Pope Benedict XVI's appeal to Egypt to protect Christians.

The Vatican said in a written statement that it "fully supports the government's concerns about 'avoiding an escalation of clashes and tensions for religious reasons,' and appreciates the efforts that it is taking in this direction."

Pope denounces recent attacks in meeting with Holy See diplomats

Blasphemy protestsVATICAN CITY - Religious freedom and religious diversity are not threats to society and should not be a source of conflict, Pope Benedict XVI told diplomats from around the world.

The Pope asked the representatives of 178 countries, as well as of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the European Community and the Knights of Malta, to examine how well their own countries respect the right of individuals to believe, to act in accordance with their conscience, to gather with other believers for worship and to carry out the educational and social projects their faith inspires.

Pope Benedict met Jan. 10 with diplomats accredited to the Holy See and continued his Christmas-season focus on the connection between religious liberty and peace, and on threats to full religious freedom in Western democracies as well as in countries notorious for violating human rights.

Once again he denounced recent attacks on Christians in Iraq, Egypt and Nigeria and expressed concern about the recent renewal of Chinese government restrictions on Catholics there. Condemning the murder Jan. 4 of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab in Pakistan, the Pope said the country must overturn its blasphemy law, which makes insulting the Prophet Mohammed or the Quran punishable by death.

Taseer supported the move to abrogate the law, which the Pope said often “serves as a pretext of acts of injustice and violence against religious minorities.”

Colorado scientist's research finds spot for parting of the Red Sea

Red SeaBOULDER, Colo.- From his office in Boulder, scientist Carl Drews can pinpoint the spot where his research theorizes the biblical miracle of the parting of the Red Sea took place.

Although Drews has never been there, the Google Earth Pro imaging on his computer can zoom in on the place in Egypt where Moses and the Israelites escaped death when the waters parted, according to the Book of Exodus. His virtual "pushpin" comes back with images of what is now predominately agricultural land, with orchards, irrigation canals and grape fields indicating vineyards.

It is in the Eastern Nile Delta, between Pelusium and Qantara, and 120 km north of the most popular theorized place in Egypt, which has been the Suez Canal. And it's reachable on foot.

"One of the places right in the middle of the crossing shows what looks like a hotel and some type of building," said Drews, a member of Epiphany Anglican Fellowship in Boulder, a congregation under the umbrella of the Anglican Mission of the Americas out of Rwanda. "It would be fun to knock on their door and to say in Arabic, 'Do you know that Moses walked right by here.' It would probably elicit a form of disbelief. But perhaps people would say, 'Well, maybe...' ”

Archbishop: Haitians feel abandoned by world

Haiti Sign of the CrossWASHINGTON (CNS) — Frustration and aggravation are simmering across Haiti a year after a terrifying earthquake ripped apart the country's most densely populated region and as a persistent cholera epidemic endangers the health of people throughout the impoverished nation.

Life in a tattered tent in a crowded makeshift camp with no alternative on the horizon, threats to personal safety and the need to scramble for food and clean water are fueling the growing anger, said Archbishop Louis Kebreau of Cap-Haitien, president of the Haitian bishops' conference.

"The people of Haiti are tired of misery," Archbishop Kebreau said during a visit to the Washington headquarters of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "They are tired of living in their tents. The people are saying they are not happy. They're frustrated and angry. That provokes violence."

More than 1 million people continue to live in hundreds of settlements that sprouted after the 35-second magnitude 7 earthquake. At least 230,000 people were killed.

Pope John Paul II miracle nears final recognition

Pope John Paul IIVATICAN CITY (CNS) — A presumed miracle needed for the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II reportedly has reached the final stages of approval.

The miracle — involving a French nun said to have been cured of Parkinson's disease — has been approved by a Vatican medical board and a group of theologians and is now awaiting judgment from the members of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, according to Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli.

If the congregation accepts the healing as a miracle attributable to the late Pope's intercession, then Pope Benedict XVI still would have to sign a decree formally recognizing it before a beatification ceremony can be scheduled.

Coptic leaders say attack reflects Egypt 'Islamization'

Egypt protestVATICAN CITY (CNS) — Leaders of the Coptic Catholic Church in Egypt said a deadly attack against Christian worshipers was an act of political destabilization and a sign of the increasingly radical "Islamization" of the country.

"The newspapers are pointing the finger at al-Qaida. But terrorism arises in sectors of the Muslim society where other organizations encourage intolerance. For 40 years in Egypt, there has been a creeping Islamization that pervades every area of society," said Coptic Auxiliary Bishop Kamal Fahim Awad Hanna of Alexandria.

Bishop Hanna told the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, Jan. 3 that the government was making every effort to ensure the safety of worshipers as they prepared for the Coptic celebration of Christmas Jan. 7. All Christian churches have been surrounded by security forces, he said.

Former Anglican bishops received into Catholic Church

LONDON (CNS) — Three former Anglican bishops were received into the Catholic Church just hours after they officially gave up their ministries in the Church of England.

Bishops Andrew Burnham of Ebbsfleet, John Broadhurst of Fulham and Keith Newton of Richborough will be soon ordained as priests for a special Anglican ordinariate that will be set up in England later in January.

Their resignations took effect at midnight Dec. 31, and they were received into the Catholic Church the afternoon of Jan. 1 during a Mass in London's Westminster Cathedral.

They will be ordained as Catholic deacons at Allen Hall seminary, London, Jan. 13, then as priests at a ceremony in the cathedral Jan. 15. They will be incardinated into the English ordinariate, which is expected to be formed by papal decree the second week of January, when Pope Benedict XVI is also expected to appoint an ordinary.

Pope begins new year with call for religious freedom, end to violence

VATICAN CITY - Opening 2011 with a strong call for religious liberty, Pope Benedict XVI condemned deadly attacks against Christians and announced a new interfaith meeting next fall in Assisi, Italy.

At a Mass Jan. 1 marking the World Day of Peace and a blessing the next day, the Pope voiced his concern about fresh episodes of violence and discrimination against Christian minorities in the Middle East. In particular, the Pope condemned an attack Jan. 1 against Orthodox Christians in Egypt, calling it a "despicable gesture of death." A bomb that exploded as parishioners were leaving a church in Alexandria, Egypt, left 25 people dead and dozens more injured.

The Pope said the attack was part of a "strategy of violence that targets Christians," and which has negative repercussions on the entire population. He offered prayers for the victims and their families.