Vatican: Pope will open key bishops' meeting in Brazil
The Fifth General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean is set for May 13-31 in Aparecida, a pilgrimage center about 100 miles Northeast of Sao Paolo.
Benedict will celebrate an inaugural Mass with representatives of the Latin American Episcopal Council, known as CELAM, and give an address at the opening session, according to the director of the CELAM press office.
Bishops from Canada, the United States, Spain and Portugal will also attend, along with a small group of lay people and representatives of other denominations.
The theme of the meeting is ``disciples and missionaries in Jesus Christ.''
In recent decades, the Roman Catholic Church has been losing members steadily to Pentecostal and other churches in the region.
Veteran priest in China's underground church dies at 103
BEIJING (AP) - The Rev. Joseph Meng Ziwen, a Roman Catholic clergyman in China since the 1930s who secretly served as a bishop to underground congregations while working as a priest in the Communist Party-sanctioned church, has died at 103.
Meng died Jan. 7 in the southern city of Nanning, where he was a priest for the state-backed Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. An official with the association, which oversees Catholic churches, confirmed the death but would not disclose a cause.
AsiaNews, a Vatican-affiliated news agency, said Meng died from liver cancer.
Meng secretly served from 1984 to 2003 as bishop to underground churches, which operate outside the state-sanctioned system, according to a biography released by the Holy Spirit Study Center, a Catholic research center in Hong Kong.
Tens of millions of Chinese worship in underground churches that remain loyal to the Vatican in defiance of a 1951 order by the ruling party for China's Catholics to sever ties with Rome.
Born in 1903, Meng studied in Malaysia, was ordained a priest in 1935 and later served as a seminary teacher, the Holy Spirit Study Center's biography said.
Following the 1949 communist revolution, he was sent to a labor camp in 1951 and spent 20 years in captivity, the biography said. It said that after his release, he helped rebuild the church in the Nanning area by training young Chinese priests.
Meng was ordained a bishop in 1984 in China's underground church, according to the Holy Spirit Study Center.
Its biography quoted Meng as saying that when a Chinese official asked him whether he really was a bishop and who appointed him, he replied, ``I was chosen by the Catholic Church and that is enough for me.''
Court upholds ban on Muslim teachers wearing head scarves in German state
MUNICH, Germany (AP) - A court has upheld a ban on Muslim teachers wearing head scarves in schools in the German state of Bavaria under a law requiring teacher attire be in line with ``western Christian'' values.
An Islamic association based in Berlin had complained about the law, which authorities in the conservative-run state have used to ban head scarves while allowing Roman Catholic nuns to continue to wear their head-covering habits in schools.
The Bavarian Constitutional Court ruled last Monday that the application of the law in the state neither violated religious freedom nor was discriminatory.
Authorities in several states, including Baden-Wuerttemberg and Hesse, have introduced similar head scarf bans.
A lawyer for the Islamic Religious Community said some of its members were considering taking their case to the Federal Constitutional Court, Germany's highest court.