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International Briefing

[Episcopal News Service] 

BURUNDI: Christian agencies distribute food aid and development
CANADA: Church leaders call for release of housing funds
ENGLAND/CONGO: Winchester bishop speaks out on democracy, human rights
SOLOMON ISLANDS: Anglican Church warns leaders against political campaigning
SOUTH AFRICA: Tutu honored on commemorative gold coin
UGANDA: Bishop stripped of clerical rights

BURUNDI: Christian agencies distribute food aid and development

[ENS, Source: Ekklesia] As the food crisis in Africa continues to loom large, UK-based international agency Christian Aid says that its partners have distributed 130 tons of bean seeds to more than 10,000 families in response to shortages in northern Burundi.

The Anglican Church of Burundi and the Union of Baptist Churches in Burundi distributed seeds to people in areas most affected by food shortages.

The handouts are being accompanied the United Nations' provision of food rations, tools and fertilizer. Development agencies, both religious and secular, stress that long-term solutions lie in changes to the international food trade and financial systems -- but in the meantime assistance is vital.

Christian Aid's program manager in Burundi, Jean Marie Bashale, said the rations were of 13kg of beans, but he added: "Everywhere we saw the same phenomena. Each beneficiary shared their allocation of seeds with their neighbors."

Due to drought and plant disease, everyone is in need of seeds to plant this season. "We have been immensely impressed by this spontaneous inter-community solidarity," said Bashale.

For a country that has suffered years of civil war, based in part on inter-ethnic violence, this spontaneous solidarity may be a mark of reconciliation and progression towards peace.

It is thought that thanks to this generosity more than 14,000 households had received seeds last week. The work continues.

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CANADA: Church leaders call for release of housing funds

[ENS, Source: Anglican Church of Canada] Prime Minister Stephen Harper should move immediately to release funds designated for affordable housing, according to the leaders of four Canadian churches -- Archbishop Andrew Hutchison of the Anglican Church of Canada, Bishop Ray Schultz of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, the Rev. Peter Short of the United Church of Canada, and Henry Hess of the Christian Reformed Church of North America.

In June 2005, Parliament approved a budget that included $1.6 billion over two years for new affordable housing. Eight months have passed and these dollars remain uncommitted, the church leaders note.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, the church leaders cite the involvement of church members across Canada to care for the most vulnerable in their communities, through food banks, community suppers, and shelter programs. "Yet they know these acts of charity are not enough. Without secure, affordable and long-term housing, 'home' for the people they serve will never be possible."

Church groups and other civil society groups are ready to act, they say, to partner with federal, provincial, and territorial governments and develop housing that is "long overdue and desperately needed."

"Unless you take decisive action to allocate these funds," the church leaders say, "we fear they may simply revert to debt reduction – making only a marginal difference to Canada's economy and doing precious little to address the social and infrastructural deficits behind Canada's crisis of homelessness and affordable housing."

The four leaders remind the Prime Minister, who has asked God to bless Canada, of the words of the prophet Isaiah, explaining that God blesses you "when you share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house."

"We are asking you to spend tax dollars in a way that will help to bring the homeless poor into their own house, and allow them the dignity of sharing their bread with others."

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ENGLAND/CONGO: Winchester bishop speaks out on democracy, human rights

[ENS, Source: Church of England] Bishop Michael Scott-Joynt of Winchester, England, took part in a debate in the House of Lords on the Democratic Republic of Congo March 27, asking Her Majesty's Government what assistance it proposes to offer to the DRC to facilitate the promotion of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. He said:

"My Lords, in asking the Government what assistance they propose to offer to the Democratic Republic of Congo to facilitate the promotion of democracy, human rights and the rule of law I intend to focus on the situation in that huge and suffering country in these next weeks and particularly after the elections that should take place before the end of June this year.

"I cannot rehearse to your Lordships the terrible experience of the peoples of what is now the DRC, subjected successively to the kleptocracy of King Leopold, to life as a Belgian colony, to 30 years of the vicious, west-supported dictatorship of Mobutu, and then to the appalling history of the past 10 years or so in which well over 3 million people have been killed or have died of disease or as refugees, and millions more have been-to use a euphemism-displaced. Nor can I paint more than a sweepingly general picture of the DRC's situation today.

"There is hardly a hint of a footprint of government, national or regional, in terms of services to the people across that vast country-larger than western Europe-anywhere after three years of the Transitional National Government; and this notwithstanding the constant advisory engagement with them of the committee of the ambassadors, the UK's prominent among them, of those states most engaged with aid and technical assistance.

"The DRC has the largest currently deployed UN Force, MONUC, with some 17,000 personnel. MONUC's mandate is to disarm, demobilize, resettle or repatriate the bewildering number of armed groups, to integrate some of them into a new national army and to train it, and to assist this force to defend local people and to combat those who refuse to come out of the forests. But in many parts of the vast country militias continue to fight each other, the national army-which is as yet far from a reliable or disciplined force-or MONUC; whether for minerals, or for territory, or as proxies for neighboring states that arm them, to settle tribal scores, or simply to survive.

"Many hundreds of thousands of people have been freshly displaced this year both in the south and all up the east side of the country. That implies constant further attrition of the sparse and fragile provision, largely by the churches, of schools and health clinics. I doubt whether more people are killed each day in Iraq than in the DRC. The first appearance before the International Criminal Court in The Hague at the end of last week of a Congolese indicted for war crimes is a most important step; but there are many others much more prominent, and with as much if not more blood on their hands, than Thomas Lubanga; and it is vital that MONUC and Congolese forces work at bringing them too to justice..."

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SOLOMON ISLANDS: Anglican Church warns leaders against political campaigning

[ENS, Source: Pacific Magazine] The Diocese of Hanuato'o of the Church of Melanesia in the Solomon Islands has warned church leaders on Makira-Ulawa against involvement in politics, Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation reports.

Bishop Johnny Kuper of Hanuato'o said he would not hesitate to strip priests, catechists and church laymen of their practicing licenses if they are seen to be directly partaking in political propaganda, or publicly showing support for a particular political party or candidate.

Kuper said he strongly believes the church's role is towards peace and love, and that it must not be used as a platform for political propaganda.

He said the church must always remain neutral and avoid taking sides in politics.

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SOUTH AFRICA: Tutu honored on commemorative gold coin
By David Wanless

[ENS, Source: Ecumenical News International] South African Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been honored by the South African Mint at a ceremony in which he struck a commemorative gold coin celebrating his achievement.

"We are too prone as South Africans to sell ourselves short," Tutu, the former head of the country's Anglican Church said at the March 28 ceremony. "We have so much about which to be proud. We ought to be a country that can show the world how to be compassionate."

The gold coin is one of a series struck to pay tribute to South Africa's Nobel Peace Prize winners. It features Tutu's image, with his hands prominent, and part of the acceptance speech he gave at the ceremony in Norway when he was awarded the 1984 peace prize.

The governor of the South African Reserve Bank, Tito Mboweni, paid tribute to Tutu's role as head of the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which probed gross human rights violations during the country's years under apartheid.

"The archbishop is a very, very special person from a religious and spiritual point of view, also as a counselor, peacemaker and [for] playing an important role in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission," Mboweni said, the South African Press Association reported.

South Africa's first Nobel Peace Prize winner, Chief Albert Luthuli, the former African National Congress president, was featured on commemorative coins issued in 2005. Luthuli, awarded the prize in 1960, was a deacon of the Groutville Congregational Church in the Natal province.

South Africa's other Nobel Peace laureates, former presidents F.W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela, who shared the award in 1994, will be commemorated on coins at a future date.

UGANDA: Bishop stripped of clerical rights
By Fredrick Nzwili

[ENS, Source: Ecumenical News International] A Ugandan bishop has been stripped of his clerical rights by the country's Anglican Church, which says the bishop, Christopher Ssenyonjo, has been misrepresenting Scripture by going against the denomination's teaching on homosexuality.

Ugandan Anglican Archbishop Henry Orombi announced March 26 that the Church had disassociated itself from Ssenyonjo after he was reported to have founded the Charismatic Church of Uganda, and had consecrated a bishop.

"Our church canons provide for a bishop to relinquish the exercise of ordained ministry when he affiliates with another religious body not in communion with the Church of Uganda," Orombi stated. "When, however, a bishop does not do that, our canons stipulate that he has abandoned the Church of Uganda."

Orombi said Ssenyonjo, a retired bishop of the Diocese of West Buganda, was no longer entitled to wear the robes of a bishop or function as a cleric of the Anglican Church of the Province of Uganda.

"For at least six years, Ssenyonjo has persisted in openly misrepresenting the teachings of Scripture," Orombi said. "In so doing, he has been misleading the public on the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the historic teaching of the church on human sexuality that the Church of Uganda and the vast majority of the Christian world uphold."

Orombi added, "The Bible is very clear that sexual intimacy is reserved for a husband and wife in a lifelong, heterosexual, monogamous marriage."

Ssenyonjo was reported in 2004 to have complained that he had been ostracized by church authorities for his support of homosexuals. Two years previously the Church's House of Bishops had imposed sanctions against the former bishop.

"He is sympathetic to homosexuality. The whole world knows it is against the Bible. So what can we do as Christians?" the Rev. Aaron Mwesigye, the church's provincial secretary, told Ecumenical News International on March 29.

But Ssenyonjo maintains that he is still a member of the Anglican Church and a bishop.

"The title of a bishop is not sacrosanct to the Anglican Church of Uganda alone," Ssenyonjo told journalists on March 27. "I was consecrated in the Church of God. I belong to the Church in the royal priesthood of all believers."

He defended his association with the Charismatic Church of Uganda saying he simply conducted services for the group when invited.

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