Tunis, Tunisia, Nov 1, 2014 / 06:01 am (Aid to the Church in Need).- In Tunisia, public expressions of Christianity are against the law and the government frowns on conversions. But compared to the situation of the Church in other Muslim nations, circumstances in the North African country are tolerable.
“The Catholic Church in Tunisia can do its work without political problems, thank God. The authorities know that we have nothing to hide and that our charitable institutions are here to serve the Tunisian people,” Father Sergio Perez said in an interview with international Catholic pastoral agency Aid to the Church in Need.
The Argentine belongs to the religious order “Institute of the Incarnate Word” (IVE). He has been working as the parish priest of the Cathedral of Tunis for the last four years.
“The Catholic Church is the only religious community in the country that has an agreement with the state,” he observed. That agreement was concluded by the Holy See and Tunisia in the 1960s.
“It gives us legal certainty, but also brings restrictions. According to this modus vivendi, public expressions of the Catholic faith, such as processions, are not allowed. On the whole, this agreement also prohibits any form of proselytizing.”
Fr. Perez considers the country’s new constitution, which was approved in January of this year, to be step in the right direction.
“It not only guarantees freedom of worship, but also real freedom of conscience. This includes religious conversions, such as those from Islam to Christianity. This would be inconceivable in many Islamic countries.”
“Of course, theory and practice are two very different things. But these are still very new policies. We will have to see how things develop,” the missionary said.
Fr. Perez also reported a growing interest in Christianity in Tunisia.
“Thanks to Pope Francis, more and more people are becoming interested, especially those who follow Islam more for cultural than for religious reasons. This is also happening in Algeria and some other countries.”
Nonetheless, the priest views the large number of Tunisians who have joined jihadist groups with concern. Even so, he said, “Christians have not felt any threats from jihadists yet. The extremists are more menacing toward Tunisians who are considered too liberal” in their practice of Islam. Fr. Perez insists, moreover, that jihadism is a foreign import, lacking roots in the country.
The composition of Tunisia’s Christian community, which is almost exclusively made up of foreign nationals, has greatly changed in the last few years.
“This has something to do with the fact that several hundred Christian families from Sub-Saharan Africa have left the country, along with the exit of the African Development Bank. These had temporarily settled here in after being forced to leave the Ivory Coast in 2003 for reasons of safety. The Bank has now returned to the Ivory Coast, taken its Christian employees along. A number of our parishes have deeply felt this loss of part of their community. However, we still have many Christian students here from Sub-Saharan Africa, to whom we provide pastoral care.”
The Catholic Church is the largest single Christian denomination in Tunisia; the Archdiocese of Tunis serves the entire country. Various religious orders help to further the charitable mission of the Church, and maintain schools, student residence halls and medical facilities.
There are a number of smaller Protestant as well as Orthodox communities. In 2012, the number of Christians in Tunisia was estimated to be about 25,000, with Catholics accounting for 80 percent of the total. Official records are not kept.
Oliver Maksan is a reporter for Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); ; www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN) www.acnmalta.org (Malta)
Vatican City, Nov 1, 2014 / 05:21 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After four years of drafts and adjustments, the troubled Legion of Christ has announced that its new constitutions have been approved by Pope Francis.
The Pope’s approval of the final draft of the new constitutions brings the first phase of renewal and purification to a close after it was discovered that Legion founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel, had been living a double life.
The new constitutions were drafted during the congregation’s Extraordinary General Chapter meetings, which began on Jan. 9 and was mandated by Benedict XVI in the wake of the revelation of Fr. Maciel’s scandalous activities.
Among other discoveries, it was found out that Maciel was a pedophile, a womanizer and had fathered at least one child.
In 2006, with the approval of the pope, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith imposed upon Maciel “a retired life of prayer and penance, renouncing any form of public ministry.” Due to his advanced age, it was decided not to subject him to a canonical process.
From that point on, Benedict XVI carried out a process of reform for the Legionaries, and in 2010 the then-Archbishop Velasio de Paolis was appointed as their Papal delegate, thus initiating a three-year process of renewal.
All members of the Legionaries had the opportunity to participate and contribute during the last three years of consultation and reflection.
Fr. Eduardo Robles-Gil, appointed general director of the Legionaries of Christ during their January and February 2014 general chapter meetings, announced the definitive approval of the Constitution in a Nov. 1 letter to all the members of the Legionaries of Christ.
In the Vatican-approved letter dated Oct. 16, he urged members to be “grateful for the paternal care with which Popes Benedict XVI and Francis and Cardinal De Paolis and his councilors have guided our congregation’s steps in these years.”
These represent the sixth edition that have been approved for the Legion by ecclesiastical authorities. Previous editions were approved in 1948, 1965, 1970, 1983 and 1994.
While the previous statutes consisted of 878 paragraphs, the new ones consist of 247 paragraphs.
The first part of the new statutes is dedicated to the charism and patrons saints of Legionaries of Christ, while the second part describes the four vows every Legionary must profess.
In addition, the Constitutions lay out the steps for formation, the characteristics of suitable candidates to be Legionaries of Christ, the religious profession, the studies, the ordination and the management and administration of the order.
A key difference between the old and the new constitutions are that the old ones included many clauses regarding the application of the norms, while the new constitution focuses more on essential principles.
The initial draft of the statutes were given to an ad hoc commission established by the Congregation for Consecrated Life, whose results were presented by Cardinal Braz de Aviz to the government of the Legion on July 3.
It was also on that occasion that the appointment of Fr. Gianfranco Ghirlanda S.J. as Pontifical advisor for the Legionaries of Christ was made public.
An expert in Canon Law, Fr. Ghirlanda has been among the consultants of the Legionaries of Christ since the very beginning of their renewal process.
Following the suggestion of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the constitutions include references to the documents of the Second Vatican Council as well as other official documents on consecrated life.
The Congregation also asked that clear references to Sacred Scripture and the Code of Canon Law be included.
It was also suggested that the relationship between the Regnum Christi Movement and the Legionaries of Christ be clarified, which is a task that is currently underway.
At the end of the Legionaries’ 2014 extraordinary general chapter, which took place in January and February, Cardinal Velasio de Paolis declared the congregation to be “reconciled with themselves, with their history, with the world and the Church.”