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Stewardship and Trusteesh
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Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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Back to infancy -- they n
  By Shaheen Chander  
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  Bulgarian Rose cultivation needs to be encouraged: Expert
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, MARCH 31 -- In spite of immense international market value, employment potential and favourable agro-climatic conditions, the cultivation of Rosa damascene (commonly known as Bulgarian rose) fails to see dawn in Kashmir.

With just 75 hectares of land under cultivation, nothing appears to have been done seriously to tap the resource. Lack of motivation among the farming community and absence of techno-practices play spoilsport.

Kashmir has the potential to be at par with Bulgaria, the largest producer of Rosa damascene, or second to it, says Fida Ali Alamgeer, Floriculture Development Extension Officer.

Over 10,000 species of rose grow world over in temperate zones. "Roses are mostly used as cut flowers and have emerged as a big industry," informs Alamgeer.

Rosa damascene and Rosa centifolia are best used for perfumes, with the former being the best essential oil constituent.

Damascone present in the plant is an important odour constituent.

'Otto', believed to be the finest and most powerful rose perfume, is a product of steam distillation from rose blossom. "The traditional system has been used to undertake hydro-distillation," he says.

Solvent distillation, Alamgeer says, is frequently used to extract the aroma from rose blossom. "The product extracted is waxy, light brown, semi-solid and contains phenyl ethyl alcohol in the same ratio as blossom."

Rose oil is colourless or yellow and has a characteristic odour. Although rose oil is a complicated mixture of more than 100 different components, the major component recovered from blossom is phenyl ethyl alcohol, followed by 'rose alcohol', 'geranoil', 'citronellol' and 'nerol'. Many other components are also important for the overall quality of the oil.

"Because of the solubility of phenyl ethyl alcohol in water, it is usually lost in the traditional distillation system, unless collected as rose water," he states. Chilling enhances its growth, increases bud formation, elongates stem length and there is an increase in the quantity and quality of flowers.

Flower picking commences in May and lasts for 30-35 days. "Picking has to be done early morning so that volatile elements don't evaporate with rise in temperature," the officer says.

Only full-grown flowers are to be picked. On an average, 3 kg flowers can be picked in an hour. The aromatic plant starts flowering in its second year of cultivation and reaches a maximum in the fifth year (once it blooms completely) and attains a height of 2 metres.

Over 1,600 plants can be accommodated in one hectare of land. A single plant has the capacity to bear 6 to 6.5 kg of flowers. A flower weighs 2.5 to 4 gram. "One hectare of land has the capacity to produce 2 litres of oil. One litre fetches Euro 20,000," explains Alamgeer.

There are no local marketing facilities available in the state. Fida says that the government should come up with a few distillation plants. The farming community needs to be encouraged and subsidy should be provided to them. "A big chunk of fallow land can be reclaimed by its cultivation."

A specialised process has to be followed for its cultivation. Soil has to be prepared for cultivation in autumn, as March is plantation season. "Plants below six years and above 20 should not be selected for cultivation. Pollution of any kind can adversely affect flowering," he says. Apart from rose oil, stem cuttings, medicines and rose water can add additional economic value.

Mughal emperor Jahangir brought the aromatic plant to Kashmir from Kashan, Iran, says Alamgeer. Unfortunately, its cultivation declined with the passage of time.
  Church officials welcome "Gandhian" punishment
  SOME Church officials in India have commended a court for imposing a "creative punishment" for lying.

On March 29, the Delhi High Court ordered Kanhaiya Lal to pray for two hours daily at the mausoleum of Mahatma Gandhi and clean the surroundings for a month. This is to seek "atonement for committing the sin of being untruthful to the court of law."

Lal told UCA News on March 31 that he had sought the court's help to regain his job as a guard at the Gandhi memorial in New Delhi. He said he was dismissed illegally in 1999.

However, in his petition, Lal had falsely claimed that he had begun the work in 1990, but records later revealed he started only in 1997. Lal admitted he was lying and pleaded for leniency.

The court said Lal committed not only perjury that attracts a maximum of three-year jail but "a greater sin" of lying despite being a guard at the Gandhi memorial. The judge regretted Lal could not imbibe the ideals of truthfulness that Mahatma Gandhi upheld throughout his life.

The court agreed Lal was illegally removed from his job and granted him a compensation of 35,000 rupees, provided he followed the court's Gandhian punishment.

Father Nithiya Sagayam, secretary of the Indian bishops' justice and peace commission, welcomed the judge's "human way" of dealing with the case and hailed the verdict as "a creative and model punishment" that will help transform people.

The Capuchin priest pointed out that Gandhi had opposed physical punishment but preached non-violence and tolerance. The verdict gives the guilty an opportunity to reflect on his action and help society to work for a society Gandhi had envisaged, he added.

Sister Mary Scaria, who works with Delhi archdiocese's Justice and Peace Commission, says she finds "moral, human and religious values" in the verdict.

"The judgment is dynamic, positive and noble," she told UCA News today. "One month prayer will help the person to examine his conscience and amend his behavior," she said and added asking Lal to clean the place "is a symbolic way of cleaning his inner self."

Lal, who started the punishment today, said he was sorry for his mistake and would do what the court has ordered. "I should not have lied since I was working at the Gandhi memorial. It is a big sin," said the 45-year-old father of four while waiting outside the office of the memorial in scorching sun.

Source: "Gandhian" punishment welcomed (UCAN)
  Church welcomes verdict on honour killing
  CHURCH people have welcomed a court verdict on an honor killing.

On March 30, a court in Haryana state sentenced five people to death and awarded a life term to another person involved in murdering a couple, who belonged to the same caste, in 2007.

A council of the caste had ordered the killing of Manoj and Babli for marrying against societal norms. The council had asked them to dissolve the marriage as people of the same caste are considered siblings.

Upon requests for help, the police produced the couple before a court on June 15, 2007. However, on the same day, the girl's family abducted them as they were returning from the court. The couple's badly mutilated bodies were found in a canal with their hands and legs tied.

"We welcome the verdict but we are against the capital punishment," Father Nithiya Sagayam, secretary of the Indian bishops' Commission for Justice, Peace and Development, told UCA News March 31.

The priest said the verdict would deter those who indulge in "inhuman" ways of punishing people who go against social norms. "It is unimaginable and sad that some poor and illiterate people still practice honor killings," he said.

Father Sagayam says the court should have given those convicted life terms so that they have "sufficient time" to repent of their action. He says honor killings happen because of a lack of education among poor people.

"Punishing the guilty is fine but awarding them death sentences is unacceptable because then there would no difference between the court and the convicted. Both indulge in killing," he added.

Father Cosmon Arokiaraj, secretary of the Indian Catholic bishops' commission for dalit (former low-caste people) and tribal groups, described the verdict as a "historic" judgment. "The verdict will make people think twice before committing honor killings," he added.

Society in India is divided into four main castes and hundreds of sub castes. Each sub caste has a council that decides on disputes and community issues, including marriages, although it has no legal authority.

Father Sagayam says the government should check caste councils that often violate the constitution.

The caste groups punish erring couples in the name of saving the honor of the caste, community or family. Punishments include the public lynching of couples, sexual assaults on erring women and other women in their families, and public humiliation such as the blackening of faces and the shaving of heads.

Source: Verdict on honor killing hailed (UCAN)
  Nun seeks changes in prison policy
  SISTER Mariola Sequeira, who won an award for her work among under-trials, says regardless of honors her work aims for policy changes that would respect prisoners' rights.

"What has honor to do with Catholic nuns?" asks the member of Mission Sisters of Ajmer, who was people a media group awarded as "real heroes" of India.

Sister Sequeira received the Real Heroes Awards, instituted by media group CNN-IBN and corporate giant Reliance Industries Limited, on March 10.

The nun said she is "uncomfortable" with the award because life of consecrated women is "to be lived for the people, helping them, no matter if it is recognized or not."

She said the award publicized in the national television network has no meaning to her. But she dedicated it "for the unfortunate people in prisons."

She said her work is not "just scratching the surface to get legal help" for the under-trials. "I'm working for policy changes" at government level to help prisoners.

The nun, who has spent her time with women prisoners in Rajasthan, said the nation needs more open prisons, where people "can live like normal human beings."

Such open prisons are a "practical, humane and productive" way of respecting prisoners' rights.

An open prison allows persons to move in with their families in an enclave, live and earn livelihood through some works. They give attendance to officials in the morning and evenings.

She said Rajasthan has such prisons where women who have proved their good conduct live and work in the city and mark their attendance in the enclave mornings and evenings.

Open prisons exists in several nations and governments make use of the abilities of prisoners in building works such as road and bridges, the nun said

Source: Award winning nun seeks prison policy change (UCAN)
  Bangladesh: Migrant Santals take to the football pitch
  DHAKA, MARCH 31 (UCAN) -- Tribal Santal people have taken to the football pitch to build solidarity as they struggle to rebuild their lives in the Bangladeshi capital.

About 800 mostly Catholic tribal Santals of different ages took part in the day-long football tournament on March 26.

The play was followed by the Way of the Cross and Mass at Notre Dame College grounds in Dhaka.

"This reunion and football tournament proves that migrant Santals have not abandoned their religious values and unity amid striving for a better living and higher education," said Father Raphael Murmu who celebrated Mass and led the Way of the Cross for participants.

The Santal people have migrated to the capital city from northwestern Bangladesh. Father Murmu is himself a migrant Santal and current assistant rector of St. Joseph's Seminary at Ramna Cathedral parish in Dhaka.

The tournament was the second, Boniface Hembrom, president of the organizing committee, said.

"We organized the event for the first time last year and the response was great. We aim to strengthen unity and solidarity among the migrant Santals who live scattered across Dhaka," said Hembrom, an office assistant of Notre Dame College.

Helping Santals observe Lent
Hembrom, 45, said the event was specially organized during Lent. "We wanted to help those who wished to take part in Lenten observances but who found it difficult because of work and studies."

Eight teams with a total of 120 Santal men and boys took part in the day-long tournament.

The champion team won a 17-inch color TV while the runners-up received a 14-inch black and white TV.

Shaymol Marandi, 28 came to the capital for a better life from northwestern Dinajpur district, about 440 kilometers away from Dhaka.

"Life in Dhaka is challenging and I struggle to survive here with 4,500 taka (US$63.66) from my job in a garment factory. Participation in this tournament was a great pleasure for me," he told UCA News.

There were some women and girls who came to enjoy the fun.

"Though we can't play but at least we can enjoy the sporting event as spectators," Sumoti Kisku, 39, told UCA News,

"I'm happy to see many people and get to know them," said Kisku, a beauty parlor worker who came to Dhaka from Kusthia district, about 310 kilometers northwest.

Prodip Soren, 19, a member of the organizing committee said, "We took 1,500 taka from each team for registration and some wealthy Santal people donated money."

There are about 2,200 migrant Santals in Dhaka, most of whom came seeking higher education and jobs.
  Priests dismayed by 'rush time' confessions
  PANAJI, MARCH 31 (UCAN) -- The Holy Week and Christmas seasons witness "rush time" confessions but their quality is less than desirable, some priests in Goa say.

"There is a gaping difference hearing about sins during Christmas and Easter seasons and at retreats," says Father Jesuino Almeida, a sought-after confessor in the western Indian state.

Catholics join "rush time confessions" before Easter and Christmas mainly to fulfill an obligation, not out of "genuine repentance," he told UCA News.

In contrast, people at a retreat confess their sins after hours of prayer and introspection before the Blessed Sacrament and listening to talks. "This helps bring real changes in them," Father Almeida added.

Father Aleixo Gracias, who teaches moral theology in the local seminary, says Catholics are ignorant about God's grace in regular confessions.

Christmas and Holy Week are the only time some priests stress renewal of the heart. On other occasions, they stress charity and love but ignore the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Father Gracias added.

Jesuit Father Vasco de Rego says some priests' attitude turn people away from the confessional. The sacrament of peace and joy becomes daunting for some people, he said, because its disciplinary part makes them afraid and ashamed.

He cited cases where people who were chastised at a confessional "never went to confession again fearing retribution from a priest." He also regretted the reluctance among some priests to sit at the confessional.

Father Rego says priests have to reveal "by our approach, the compassionate heart of Jesus and of our Father." Christ instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation since people "need assurance of divine pardon," he explained.

Confession would bring desired changes only if the priest helps the person encounter the living Christ in the Sacrament, and not through harsh discipline. "Our catechizing has failed by insisting mainly on the disciplinary aspect," Father Rego explained.
  Street theatre highlights development issues
  From Afsana Bhat

SUMBAL - BANDIPORA, MARCH 30 -- Street theatre workshops are used by Indo-Global Social Service Society (IGSSS), Kashmir, a non-government organisation, to highlight development issues, here.

"Workshops have been used to highlight issues concerning the common masses," said Fayaz Ahmad Baig, a resident of Ganasthan-Sumbal, about 35 kilometres from the city centre. He is associated with the organisation's youth club and participated in a 10-day workshop on street theatre, held from April 20- May 1, last year.

Baig said the workshop was a "tool to enhance personality development" and helped in making villagers aware of their rights.

The youth group comprising 11 members was formed in April last year. They generate awareness about education, counsel and interact with people living in backward areas, inform people about government jobs and discuss social issues.

"We used to practice for the workshop at our respective places. As the atmosphere in our village is not so friendly, rehearsing here was tough," said Baig.

He added that they were looking forward to another such workshop in Baramulla, but it didn't take place.

Recollecting pre-stage performance, Baig said participants were hesitant at first, but later realized its importance. "It was first-hand experience. There were times when we felt like quitting. But then, interest took over."

"About 5-6 plays were enacted during the workshop. There were times when two plays were performed on the same day. Lecture and other assignments also formed its part. A few documentaries and films were screened to educate us about the concept of street theatre," he said.

Baig, a BA final year student and part-time tailor admitted that the workshop improved his personality skills. "It helped in developing my personality. I think theatre should be introduced in the school curriculum."

When asked how he related baand pather (folk theatre) to street theatre, Baig said, "Baand pather is an old concept. They still focus on age-old topics. There's nothing new. It needs to be updated and streamlined." He added that baand pather groups existed in certain areas in the main Bandipora town.

Talking about the carpet industry that is prominent in the Valley, Baig shared that out of the 60 per cent persons engaged in carpet weaving, 35 per cent were women. "As this is a home-based industry, more women are involved. The media has also played a positive role in spreading the importance of education. Parents are keen on giving their children education. The communication system also played its role in reducing the role of 'wosta' (middlemen) in the carpet-weaving sector. These middlemen used to exploit the weavers."

Saima Gul, project supervisor-IGSSS, said the organisation supported economically weak students and orphans by proving them with books and uniforms, apart from working with 35 women Self-Helf Groups, 25 Village Welfare Committees and youth groups. "IGSSS works on poverty reduction through self-help structures in Baramulla and Bandipora. The organisation has been conducting workshops about the Right to Information Act for village welfare committees. Our role is to facilitate."

"IGSSS Kashmir has also been implementing a Rehabilitation Project for earthquake victims of Uri since October 8, 2005, and presently focuses on disaster management and sustainable livelihood for residents of Balkote," said Yasir Qureshi, Officer Programs and Unit Head Jammu and Kashmir - IGSSS.

Under the disaster management programme, a community is sensitised about disaster preparedness and risk reduction. "Trainings are offered at the village level. We intend to organise mock drills in the future," said Qureshi.
  Maoists blow up Christian school in Bihar
  MAOISTS blew up a Protestant school and several other institutions in Duddha village near Bhabua, headquarters of Bihar's Kaimur district, yesterday to protest a government crackdown.

Some 40 armed men stormed the village in the wee hours, police sources said. They forced villagers to stay indoors before detonating dynamite at a primary school managed by Girls Everywhere Meeting the Savior (GEMS), a non-denominational Christian sect.

The Maoists also blew up a government school and three community centers before leaving the village. The buildings suffered severe damage, but no casualties were reported, police said.

Police have intensified patrolling in the area and launched raids to nab the Maoists.

Local newspapers said the attack was against "green hunt," a crackdown on Maoists jointly undertaken by federal and state security forces.

GEMS has been active in the area for several years. The group works for the development of the poor, especially illiterate women.

The village comes under Buxar Catholic diocese.

Jesuit Father Sebastian Kanekattil, its vicar general, said the Catholic Church has no center in Bhabua. A priest, Father Thomas Vettukattil, stays in a rented place to explore ways of opening a mission there, he told UCA News.

Source: Maoists blow up Protestant school (UCAN)
  Jesuits rally forces to revive radio program
  KOLKATA, MARCH 30 (UCAN) -- Financial constraints have prompted Salesians and a diocese to collaborate with a Jesuit media center to revive a radio program aimed at mainly Muslim listeners.

Jesuit Father Joseph Pymbellykunnel, who directs Chitrabani (sight and sound) in Kolkata, told UCA News that his media center and Banideepti in Dhaka have been preparing Bengali radio programs for the Manila-based Radio Veritas Asia (RVA) listeners for over three decades.

However, the radio recently cut 30 percent of its subsidy it gave to the two South Asian centers to prepare the Bengali program and reduced the number of staff from three to two, the Jesuit priest said. Now, the Salesians and Krishnagar diocese in West Bengal have agreed to become partners in the mission, he added.

Chitrabani is involved in producing radio programs for the Church in West Bengal, and it was necessary to tap resources available in the state, said Father Pymbellykunnel, who is also secretary of the regional bishops' council's communication commission.

Salesian Father Robin Gomes, who produces two of the weekly RVA Bengali programs since 1998, said his center, Nitika, another media center in Kolkata, did not receive funds for the past year.

"We had to produce the programs from our resources, and therefore the Salesian superior has agreed to support the production of these two programs," Father Gomes, who coordinated the Bengali program from Manila during 1995-2001, told UCA News.

Father Subhash Baroi, director of Prerona (inspiration), the pastoral center of Krishnagar diocese, told UCA News that his bishop and laypeople have come forward to help RVA's Bengali programs because they are convinced about the "grave need" to collaborate to keep the programs going.

Father Baroi, who was also in the RVA Bengali section in Manila, said he is now working on details to support Chitrabani produce programs for Manila.

Dilip Majumdar, who produces RVA Bengali programs, said radio reaches millions and promotes interfaith dialogue with Muslims. He said RVA's Bengali programs reach some 70 per cent of the Muslims in the area. If Muslims of rural Bengal know about Christ and the Bible, it is thanks to RVA programs, he told UCA News.

India's West Bengal state and neighboring Bangladesh have Bengali as a common language. Muslims form 25 per cent of West Bengal's total population of 80 million while 90 per cent of Bangladesh's 160 million people are Muslims.
  Interreligious group tries peace in riot-hit city
  HYDERABAD, MARCH 30 (UCAN) -- Two days of Hindu-Muslim clashes forced police to impose a curfew yesterday in some areas of Hyderabad, where a group, which includes Christians, is trying to bring peace back.

One person was killed and several wounded when groups of Hindus and Muslims clashed in the Old Hyderabad area of the city, capital of Andhra Pradesh state. The violence followed disputes over hoisting religious flags in public places.

Interreligious groups are trying to bring leaders of the clashing communities "together in order to work out a solution," said Mazher Hussain, executive director of the Confederation of Voluntary Associations (COVA), an inter-faith forum.

Violence reportedly began on March 27 when Hindus, who organized their Hanuman Jayanti feast, tried to hoist their flags and remove flags that Muslims hoisted a month ago to celebrate their Milad-un-Nabi feast. Disputes turned to clashes and violence increased as news of the incidents spread, Mazher said.

Father Anthoniraj Thumma, executive secretary of Andhra Pradesh Federation of Churches, an ecumenical forum and COVA member, told UCA News that the federation members plan to visit the troubled areas and counsel people for peace.

Mazher said his organization was trying to involve local people "to identify and isolate trouble mongers from outside who were fomenting trouble in the area." He said places prone to violence were identified and volunteers are patrolling them to prevent violence.

He said people in the affected areas are very poor and "hardly have food, if they do not go to work." COVA is trying to collect resources to give them relief as the curfew is expected "to last for well over a week," he said.

Some members of the state's ruling Congress party alleged that the riots were instigated. State Congress legislator P. Shanker Rao, said the people feel there "is a conspiracy to destabilize the government. Let the investigating authorities probe it," he said without speculating on who could be behind it.
  Gujarat chief minister questioned on riots
  AHMEDABAD, MARCH 30 (UCAN) -- Muslims and Christians in Gujarat have welcomed a Supreme Court team questioning the state chief minister about his role in the 2002 anti-Muslim riots.

The Special Investigation Team appointed by the Supreme Court cross-examined Narendra Modi for nine hours on March 27 on a petition by Zakia Jafri, widow of a parliamentarian, who was killed during the riots.

Modi is among 62 people the 71-year-old widow has blamed for killing 1,180 people, mostly Muslims, during riots that lasted three months from Feb. 27, 2002. The violence began after 59 Hindus were torched inside a railway coach.

Modi is accused of directing the then state police chief and senior government officials not to act against Hindu mobs attacking Muslims.

Jafri told UCA News on March 29 that she hoped the riot victims would get justice after the team managed to question Modi. The chief minister has used his political clout and administrative powers to evade the law, but “the clock seems” to be turning against him, she added.

The widow said she has "full faith in Allah Taala who will certainly punish" Modi for his deeds.

Muhammed Shafi Madani, president of a Muslim group in Gujarat, says questioning Modi is the first victory for human rights groups against "the perpetrators of the 2002 crimes." He expressed hope that the team would work honestly to nab those named in the widow's petition.

Latest development is in 'right direction'

Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash, who directs a human rights center in Gujarat's Ahmedabad city, says the latest development is in "the right direction" although it took more than eight years to make Modi answer questions that had remained unanswered until now.

The priest wants a case filed against Modi and "he must be charge-sheeted" since "mere quizzing of Modi" would not bring justice for the riot survivors.

The Jesuit activist says Modi now uses the questioning to project himself as a martyr to gain Hindu sympathy.

Another Jesuit activist, Father Stanny Jebamalai, says Modi had so far managed to evade the law. His interrogation "is a good sign for justice for the riot victims," said the priest, who works for the land rights of tribal people in Gujarat's southern region.

Jesuit Father Xavier Manjooran, who heads a social service society in Gujarat, says "the noose" has been finally tightened" around Modi, who "has bluffed the entire system so far."

Father Manjooran says the new development would deter others who "unjustly target" Christians and Muslims, who are "weak" minority groups in the state.

Modi took over as the Gujarat chief minister in 2001. Since then, Hindu radicals have targeted Christians involved in charitable works among the poor.
  Christians pray for 'secular' constitution
  KATHMANDU, MARCH 29 (UCAN) -- Christians in Nepal are praying religion in the country's new constitution will be secularist in nature and be completed ahead of a May 28 deadline.

Christians are keeping their fingers crossed for a secular charter amid increasing calls for Nepal to become a Hindu state once again.

Special prayers for "peace and stability" were offered by the apostolic vicar of Nepal, Bishop Anthony Sharma, as he concelebrated with over three dozen priests to bless "holy oil jars" at a Chrism Mass in Kathmandu's Assumption Church on March 22.

"Christians cannot be blamed for having brought about an end Hinduism as the state religion -- leftist, ethnic groups, castes and Buddhists brought it about -- so we Christians were given the gift of a 'secular' state on a platter," he told UCA News.

The Nepal Christian Civil Organization led by Pastor Uttam Pariyar also held a prayer and discussion program on March 26 in Kathmandu's National Academy to discuss an "inclusive new timely constitution."

The chief guest was Nepal's vice- president, Parmanada Jha (a Hindu), and included other leaders like Damodar Gautam, president of the Nepal wing of the World Hindu Federation.

Popular local Hindu leader of the Nepal Citizens Society, Doctor Sunder Dixit told the 500 participants, "You are a minority and may feel you are challenging the Hindus by pushing for a secular Nepal. But I am a Hindu and I can shout out loud -- Nepal must never become a Hindu nation again because other ethnic communities and other religions will be unfairly treated."

Female Hindu activist, Sheela Pant, warned, "A lot of blood and sweat has flowed to arrive at this point. We women have lost our husbands, brothers and children -- so think seriously -- as you the chosen leaders of Nepal, will not remain alive if you do not get the constitution drafted by May 28."

The gathering ended with a joint resolution calling for an inclusive and timely constitution.

Meanwhile, the Nepal Chapter of the interfaith network United Religions Initiative (URI) led by President Surendra Shakya met on March 29 at Yasodhara Buddhist school in southern Kathmandu to discuss the "threat to secularism."

At the meeting both the Christian representative, Jesuit Father Jomon Jose and Muslim representative, Nazrul Hasanfalahi, said -- Muslims and Christians being minority religions of Nepal -- were ready to pray and cooperate with civil society groups leading campaigns to ensure secularism but did not want to 'challenge' the majority Hindus by publicly leading such efforts.

URI's Buddhist representative Bhikkhu Ananda, who is also an MP, told UCAN, "The fact that Nepal is a secular state is known, but it will only be confirmed officially if it is included in a new constitution. We must keep up the pressure for this to happen."
  Nun's remains shifted on popular demand
  SAGAR, MARCH 29 (UCAN) -- The remains of a Catholic nun buried seven years ago in central India were moved to another town following people's claim to have her tomb near them.

The remains of Sister Lucy Kochuveettil, who died at the age of 90 in 2003, were exhumed and carried to Sagar town, where she had worked for 62 years.

She was "a saintly nun who lived for the people," said Bishop Anthony Chirayath of Sagar, who took steps for the transfer on March 27, her seventh death anniversary.

The remains were entombed in the cemetery of St. Raphael Cathedral Church in Sagar. The town is some 200 kilometers northeast of Bhopal, capital of Madhya Pradesh state.

The Sister of St. Joseph Chambery died of old age in Bhopal and was buried there. Catholics in Sagar wanted her mortal remains, but the demand remained unfulfilled since the congregation's rules do not permit transferring bodies of nuns from the place of their death.

However, people in Sagar built a tomb for the nun in their town, where the nun had worked for the socio-cultural advancement of the poor.

The bishop, who knew the nun when he was a seminarian, said she "was a very lovable and altruistic person and those who had known her wanted her remains among them." He said he "took the initiative to ensure that their dream came true."

Ashok Shankar, a Hindu who had known the nun since 1984, said she had worked for people without discriminating on the basis of religion and caste. "She was a caring mother," he told UCA News adding that the nun "always made me and others happy in her company."

Sister Flavia Pullokaran, local provincial of the congregation, told UCA News that the transfer happened after the congregation made an exception to its "strict rule" on burying members. People "who loved her" wanted her to "be buried among them," she added.

Sister Lucy was born in Kerala, southern India, in 1913.
  Valley to have new dockyard
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, MARCH 29 -- The foundation stone of a dockyard on the banks of Nigeen Lake near Behrar was laid by Minister for Tourism and Culture Nawang Rigzin Jora on March 28. The dockyard is expected to be constructed at a cost of Rs 75 lakh.

Jora was accompanied by Minister of State for Tourism Nasir Aslam Wani and Director of Tourism Farooq Ahmad Shah. The yard would provide facilities for shikara (wooden boats) and houseboat owners.

"Steps are being taken to promote tourism in the state," said Jora, while addressing members of the Boatmen Owners Association of Nigeen. He added that he had promoted the state's tourism in several foreign countries.

The minister said the industry was expecting more tourists to the Valley this year. He appealed to people to be honest and hospitable to visitors.

"The government has fulfilled the genuine demands of the association. No stone will be left unturned in boosting the state's tourism," he said.

Minister of State for Tourism Nasir Aslam Wani said the government had given 350 kanals of land to rehabilitate Dal dwellers. Marking of plots is expected to be completed in May. He appealed to houseboat owners and those who earned a livelihood from the world-famous Dal Lake to help in its maintenance. President of the association Manzoor Ahmad Wangu assured cooperation for the same.
  Christians join prayers for Kolkata fire victims
  KOLKATA, MARCH 29 (UCAN) -- Catholics, including priests and nuns, joined people of other religions March 28 to pray for the victims of a recent fire in Kolkata, eastern India.

"There is very little we can do for the victims but pray for them," said Father John Mohandas, vicar general of Calcutta archdiocese. He said some 300 people prayed for the lives lost and those still seeking their relatives missing after the March 23 fire.

The fire gutted Stephen Court, an 87-year-old building complex near the Calcutta Jesuit provincial house on Mother Teresa Sarani, better known as Park Street. The fire gutted the top two floors of the six-story building.

The Society for Park Street Rejuvenation, Kolkata, a secular group, organized the program to pray for the 34 people who were killed.

Father Mohandas, who led the Catholic group, read from the Psalms and offered intercessory prayers for the victims. He urged the many survivors who joined the prayers to "build hope from despair."

Salesian Father Robin Gomes, another Catholic priest, prayed for better understanding among all sections to reach out to the needy during disasters.

Retired Church of North India Bishop Parimi Samuel Pavana Raju of Calcutta, who also joined the prayers, told UCA News his first reaction on hearing about the fire was to immediately contact civil authorities.

"How long are we to keep our mouths shut against the callous attitude of the civic authorities" the prelate asked and called for the creation of a civil police force and neighborhood committees to tackle disasters.

Lalit Malhotra, a Hindu survivor, said Stephen Court residents were touched by the spirit of solidarity they have received from the people of the city following the fire.

Rama Malhotra, one of the last to be rescued, said she saw many people jumping to their deaths. "It was a traumatic experience," she added.

Janab Abdul Aziz, a Muslim, said. "It is a matter of shame that we were not able to save many victims, and my prayer is that such a disaster does not happen again," he said.
  Bishop allays Hindu fear over mass migration
  THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, MARCH 29 (UCAN) -- A Catholic bishop says Hindu fears over the Kerala Church's plan to organize a mass migration are misplaced and unwarranted.

"We planned the migration to bring about better food production, not to change communal profiles or create an imbalance," Bishop Mathew Arackal of Kanjirappally told UCA News March 25.

The prelate was referring to a report in the Organizer, a hard-line Hindu weekly, which expressed fears that a mass migration to Konkan in Karnataka state would tip the demographic balance of that region.

The weekly recently warned that "a huge Christian exodus is all set to invade the Konkan region shortly" and its "hidden agenda" is to dramatically alter the Hindu-dominated region's demographic profile.

The report also warns that crosses and mini churches would spring up along roads and that the liquor trade will increase rapidly when Christians gain the upper hand in the region. "Worst and crucially, during election time it will become a Christian vote bank," it further added.

Such fears are "unwarranted and without basis," says Bishop Arackal, chairman of the Kerala Bishops' Council's Laity Commission that is organizing the migration.

According to the prelate, India's poor people are facing potential food shortages and the Konkan region has some of the most fertile soil in the country.

"Since land was available at a reasonable price, the Church decided to promote the migration of farmers who can help the country in food production," the prelate explained. He described as "unfortunate" that some Hindu groups have mistaken the Church's intention as an attempt to convert people.

Bishop Arackal also clarified that the migration is not limited to Catholics alone. "The Church welcomes any farmer who wants to join this mission," he added.

The bishop said the Church has already bought 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares) of land in the Konkan region. He said the Kerala Church conducted a similar migration in Kerala in the 1960s under a "grow more food program."

The prelate also said farmers have responded enthusiastically to the Church initiative. He said the Church is convinced that only through viable agricultural projects can the country ensure food security.

The Church will set up townships and train farmers in scientific farming methods and help them market their agricultural products, he added.
  Climate risk management need of the hour: Experts
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, MARCH 29 -- In the wake of continued climate change posing threat to crop production, experts at the Regional Agricultural Research Station, Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, Kashmir (SKUAST-K), Leh-Ladakh, stressed the need for effective weather and climate risk management.

"Farmers' self-reliance will be secured through effective weather and climate risk management and sustainable use of natural resources for agricultural production," said Pervez Ahmad Bhat, Public Relations Officer, SKUAST-K.

An awareness programme on weather and climate was held on March 26 to help farmers deal with issues that affect agricultural production, breeding and livestock.

"It also increased interaction between farmers and agro-meteorological service providing agencies," the PRO said.

Tundup Tsewang, Executive Councilor (agriculture) Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) stressed upon the need for use of the university's seed varieties of wheat and barley that have a yield potential of 30-35 quintals per hectare, as compared to the local yield of 8-10 quintals. Tsewang sought collaboration with the varsity for production of wheat, particularly the Singhchen variety.

Talking about temperature change in the Valley, Prof A R Trag, Director, Research, SKUAST-K said, "During the first half of the 20th century, the average summer temperature in Kashmir was 30.80 degree Celsius. In the second half, it was about 34.80 degree Celsius, a 4.80 degree C increase. Similar changes have been observed in Jammu and Leh also."

Trag said with increase in temperature, glaciers were receding. Glaciers are the main source of irrigation and drinking water, especially in Leh. "Since agriculture is dependent on irrigation, whatever water is available during the year should be conserved for agricultural use."

He added that farmers in Leh would now get location-specific weather forecast twice a week (on Tuesday and Friday) under district-level agro-advisory services.

While Dr G A Parray, Associate Director, Research, SKUAST-K, said that a soil-testing laboratory was being set up, chief agriculture officer G M Bardi emphasised on the need for judicious use of fertilisers.

A brief farmer-scientist interaction programme also took place on the same day. The farmers stressed on the need for such interactions, as they helped them keep up with the latest technology.
  Supreme Court's live-in order upsets Church people
  NEW DELHI, MARCH 26 (UCAN)-- A recent Supreme Court order allowing unmarried adults to live together has evoked mixed reactions in India.

"What would the future of children who will be born in these live-in and pre-marital affairs?" asks Father Varghese Pullan, secretary of the Indian bishops' Laity Commission.

Children need to grow in a stable and secure place that can happen only through the family. Those born out of live-in relations will suffer a lot, the Pallottine priest told UCA News March 26.

On March 23, the court ruled in favor of the right to live together, saying that it is not an offense. The ruling came while considering a petition from a film actress who faced 22 criminal cases in various courts across the country after allegedly endorsing pre-marital sex in a magazine interview five years ago.

"When two adult people want to live together, what is the offense?" the judges asked while reserving their judgment on the case.

Father Pullan points out that all religions uphold the sanctity of marriage but "a law like this will destabilize" marriage's purity and Indian society's morals and culture.

S. Vincent, vice-president of the Catholic Council of India, described the ruling as "a shame" and warned it would promote evil and free sex in society.

St. Anne Sister Jessy Kurian, a Supreme Court lawyer, says the ruling would create "a future-less" generation in the country. "We will soon have children without proper parents," she told UCA News.

Those born to a live-in relation may not have the same rights as those born in a proper family, she said.

The nun also said the ruling would encourage people to have many partners whereas the Indian law bans more than one spouse.

Sindhu Mathew, a Catholic mother, believes the ruling will lead to "more broken families, sexual diseases and teenage pregnancies."

However, Jyotsna Chatterjee, director of the New Delhi-based Protestant Joint Women Program, says women's organizations welcome the order because it would "certainly protect women from domestic violence."

However, the Church of North India member wants the order on pre-marital sex reviewed because it could increase sexually transmitted diseases.
  Martyrdom status for Orissa victims likely
  BHUBANESWAR, MARCH 26 (UCAN) -- The Catholic Church in Orissa has initiated a process to declare those who died for their faith during anti-Christian violence as martyrs.

"We are exploring the possibility of martyrdom for those who died for their faith. We need to collect adequate and unquestionable information," Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, who heads the Church in the eastern Indian state, told UCA News March 26.

As a first step, the archdiocese set up a five-member committee on March 17 to collect information on those killed during the 2008 violence.

Father Joseph Kalathil, vicar general of the archdiocese, welcomed the move as a "good" gesture by the Church to remember those who preferred to die rather than give up their faith.

Paul Pradhan, a tribal Catholic leader who narrowly escaped being attacked by Hindu extremists, said people who died for their faith "will be a great source of inspiration for generations to come. They will be role models."

Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak of Berhampur told UCA News the Church should not have "second thoughts" on the matter. "It should be done." The process would be "quite challenging, but worth the effort," he added.

The prelate, a canon law expert, said he wants the committee to gather information in a scientific way and keep Church authorities updated on its progress.

Montfort Brother Varghese Theckannath, who is assisting the archdiocese with a group of religious lawyers to get justice for the victims, said the entire Indian Church is proud of the Orissa "martyrs."

The legal activist pointed out that martyrs contribute to the Church's collective faith experience. "We cannot ignore their experience," he added.

John Dayal, secretary of the ecumenical All India Christian Council, said victims of anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal in 2008 who died "terrible deaths for their faith" have not asked for martyrdom status, "but we need them as our martyrs".

The lay leader pointed out that the victims were "among the poorest of the poor. They faced killer gangs, swords and fire, but did not renege on their faith. Even their killers must have been shamed."

The violence began Aug. 24, 2008, the day after Maoists gunned down a Hindu religious leader, and lasted more than seven weeks. According to Church sources, some 90 people were killed.

Dayal says each death in Orissa "nurtures the Church in India, and strengthens our own commitment to a salvific Christ".
  China: Catholic web's struggle harder than Google's
  BEIJING, MARCH 26 (UCAN) -- Google's decision to withdraw its search engine from mainland China due to censorship came as no surprise to Catholic webmasters and bloggers who say they have to struggle to spread the Gospel because of state pressure.

Google launched its Chinese interface in 2000 and entered mainland China, the world's biggest Internet market with 400 million netizens, in 2006. It announced its decision to withdraw from the mainland and to re-establish a simplified-Chinese search service in Hong Kong on March 22.

Father Joseph, who manages a few Catholic websites, believes the impact of Google's withdrawal would be small, since its share in the mainland Internet search-engine market lagged behind local provider Baidu, which has a 58 per cent share.

As the Internet blossomed in China, state control over websites and blogs has become tighter, the priest said.

Besides pornographic websites, the "Internet police" also censor websites which carry perceived dissident views. Any article that might portray a negative image of the government or stir a harmful reaction is blocked, he said.

Many Catholic websites based in Hong Kong and overseas cannot be accessed in the mainland, including CathNews China, the new Chinese-language website launched in January by UCA News.

Unlike influential Internet players such as Google, most middle to small size websites, including the Catholic ones, "are forced to keep any resentment to themselves while under government pressure," Father Joseph said.

"We dare not risk our websites by posting a politically sensitive article or sentence," he noted.

Father Peter, an active blogger in northern China, says he is monitored frequently by officials from various departments. "I was just told by officials today [March 25] to be careful over my blogs and to keep them in line with the spirit of the central [government]," he told UCA News.

Censorship means "many truths cannot be told and much news cannot be known," he lamented, giving government restrictions on diocesan websites over publishing obituaries of "underground" bishops as an example.

The priest, from the government-approved Church community, spoke of his sadness when he was recently asked to remove several articles and pictures reporting activities in his parish, including street-corner evangelization activities, non-Catholic schoolchildren visiting the church to learn about Christmas and even the celebration of his 20th priestly ordination anniversary.

"Religious freedom is allowed only inside religious venues. We cannot promote our religion outside the church," he said, repeating what an official once told him.

Parishes can continue to hold religious activities, but are forbidden to conduct online propaganda, he was told.

A Catholic laywoman in eastern China said the website she is associated with was closed down several times in the past after it put up sensitive posts. "The service provider called to warn us to remove such articles, or our website would be closed down," she recalled.

The most recent closure lasted a week after the website carried the obituary of underground bishop James Lin Xili of Wenzhou who died in October 2009.

Yet, she said, "Though we enjoy less freedom of speech, we will persevere in this ministry."
  Alpha course strengthens missioners' faith
  A THREE-MEMBER Malaysian team today concluded a three-day course on a new evangelization method at Guwahati, northeastern India.

Some 100 priests and nuns working in Guwahati archdiocese attended the Alpha course, which helps people explore meaning of life and Christian faith.

Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati invited the Malaysian team to animate the church community in his archdiocese.

The Salesian prelate, who had earlier attended the course, told UCA News he found the Alpha members convictions about their faith "very strong and their pedagogy good."

According to Alpha course website, more than 13 million people worldwide have attended the course so far. The normal course is conducted in a relaxed setting over "ten thought-provoking weekly sessions, with a day or weekend away," it adds.

Notre Dame Sister Mallika Toppo, who attended the March 23-25 course in Guwahati, said it has renewed her faith and emboldened her to proclaim Christ.

"It helps the local Church as it transforms people and fills them with the power of the spirit," explained the tribal nun, who was recently posted in the archdiocese for pastoral work in villages.

Divine Providence Sister Lilly, another participant, said the course by a lay team deepened her commitment to pastoral ministry. She, however, felt the course does not offer "an easy method to introduce Jesus to those who have not known him."

Father Nazarene Acharya, an elderly missioner, found the course "simple method of evangelization" that the local Church has to adapt to its situation.

Soosay Anthony, 52, a member of the Malaysian team, said he was introduced to the course in 2005 and it helped him become a Christ-centric person from a Sunday Catholic.

Anita Sennyam, 40, another member in the team, says the course strengthens and reinvigorates her life. "Every time I attend the course has an electrifying effect on me. I get new messages every time," she told UCA News.

Damian Prakash, 22, the youngest member in the team, says God has pushed him into the ministry. "I find the course changing many lives. It is an effective tool for evangelization especially in the tribal areas," he claimed.

The Alpha course is a 10-week practical introduction to Christian faith designed primarily for slack and new Christians.

Most sessions are held in the evening that where a subject central to Christian faith is discussed. Participants break into groups for further discussion.

The talks center on topics such as who is Jesus, Why did Jesus die, How can I be sure of may faith, why and how do I pray, why and how I should read the Bible.

In India, the course was also introduced in Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai archdioceses.

Source: UCAN
  Court denies rector’s bail plea
  A COURT in central India today denied the bail application of a seminary rector who was arrested in connection with a seminarian's suicide.

Police arrested Father Thomas Philip, rector of Bhopal archdiocese's St. Teresa Minor Seminary two days ago over the suicide of Venu Kumar on Jan. 29.

The priest is also facing charges of attempting to convert Kumar to Christianity by force after the seminarian's father claimed his son was a Hindu.

Father Anand Muttungal, spokesperson of the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh state, told UCA News the court denied the bail citing incompletion of police investigation.

The priest said the Church would look into all legal options to get the priest out on bail.

The Kumar was a native of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The police complaint reportedly contained the name of the boy's parish priest in Andhra Pradesh.

The seminarian's father, P. Sreenivas, had earlier told the media that his son was not a Christian but he had sent his son to the seminary to study. He accused the Church of trying to convert his son to Catholicism.

Sreenivas, a native of Andhra Pradesh, southern India, came to Bhopal along with a leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (world Hindu council).

Father Anand clarified that Church admits only Catholics for seminary training.

Source: UCAN
  Catholic school attacked near Delhi
  IRATE parents today attacked a Catholic school in the national capital region.

"Today was the school result day and our school authorities decided to withhold the result of students who had not paid the fees," Sister Eline, who is associated with Carmel Convent School, Faridabad, told UCA News.

The Carmelite nun said the school's policy irked some parents who entered the office and pushed attendants.

They also roughed up I. S. Vardhaman, an official of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) who had come to the school on a routine visit.

Sister Eline said the angry parents hit Vardhaman's forehead with a chair and he started bleeding profusely. Seeing blood, the attackers left the place, the nun added.

She also said the school authority rushed the CBSE official to a nearby hospital. He was given first aid as a scan did not show major injuries.

The school is managed by the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel and comes under Delhi archdiocese.

Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi rushed to the school on hearing about the incident.

Later in the evening, the school authorities met police officials to update him about the developments, Sister Eline said.

Source: UCAN
  Church aims to improve interfaith relations
  BHOPAL, MARCH 25 (UCAN) -- The Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh has drafted guidelines to improve its relations with other religions.

The guidelines aim to dispel some popular misgivings and misunderstandings about the Church so that it can work properly in the central Indian state, says Bishop Sebastian Vadakkel of Ujjain, chairman of the commission for ecumenism and dialogue of the Madhya Pradesh Regional Bishops' Council.

The prelate, who headed the committee that drafted the 5,470-word guidelines, said Madhya Pradesh's multireligious and socio-cultural diversities prompted the Church to issue them.

"Bridging the gap between the Church and other religions is essential for dealing with communal flare-ups and sustained campaigns against the Church in the state," Bishop Vadakkel told UCA News yesterday.

The state has seen more than 150 incidents of anti-Christian violence after the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party) came to power seven years ago. "Things have not changed yet," the prelate said.

He said the guidelines also aim to foster "meaningful collaboration among religious leaders" to help build "better understanding and respect for each other."

According to the prelate, religions play "a vital role" in Indian society, and therefore, "it is our duty to engage in meaningful dialogue with people of other religions."

The prelate admitted Church people are not sufficiently aware of the need for interreligious dialogue or how to go about talking with people from other religions.

The guidelines insist the need to respect every religion and foster a positive approach to them.

Divine Word Father Prasad Kuzhivelil, another committee member, said ignorance about other religions breeds confusion and distrust and leads to disharmony.

He said the Church dialogues with other religions to create an environment of peace, harmony and amity.

Every religion "has goodness in it and we need to accept it and work toward building confidence," he told UCA News.

The guidelines encourage people of various religions to share their joys and sorrows with each other.

The Church document wants Christians and others to work for the integral development and liberation of people. It urges specialists to deepen their understanding of various religious heritages to help them appreciate each other's spiritual values.

It wants Christians, while holding on to their belief in the uniqueness of Jesus, to "remember that God has also manifested himself in some way to the followers of other religious traditions and continues to vivify them."
  US Embassy to provide citizen services in Punjab
  By A Correspondent

NEW DELHI, MARCH 24 -- The American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi will be taking appointments to provide services for American citizens in Jalandhar during March 30-31.

ACS staff will be at the Jalandhar Radisson Hotel to take applications from American citizens for passports and reports of birth for American citizen children in India, and to perform notary services.

The aim of the program is to provide accessible service to American citizens in Punjab who would otherwise need to travel all the way to New Delhi for routine services.

Customers for passport services are required to complete their forms online at and bring the printed application and all required documents to their appointments.

They should also bring a bank draft for the required fees. Details about requirements and links to all forms are found on the embassy's website at

If you are an American citizen and wish to make an appointment for one of these services in Jalandhar, please contact the ACS Unit at or call at 011-2419-8000.
  Vandals attack Goa's Catholic cemetery
  VANDALS attacked a Catholic cemetery in Goa on the night of March 22, damaging a grotto, three crosses, a mausoleum and an altar.

Police rushed to the site in Chandor village with a sniffer dog and fingerprint experts. They questioned people, including two constables on night patrol duty.

They said the vandals entered the cemetery by breaking the lock of a side gate.

The vandals reportedly placed tiles on the altar in the cemetery to avoid leaving footprints and destroyed statues in the cemetery.

In what is believed to be a related incident, vandals destroyed a wayside cross in another parish. The cross was knocked from the pedestal where it stood barely 30 meters from a police outpost.

These incidents occurred amid a controversy over illegal religious structures on public land.

The government had listed some 800 structures, including some wayside crosses and chapels.

Father Saude Pereira, a parish priest, has urged people to remain calm and let the police find the culprits.

Agnelo Fernandes, a Catholic lay leader, told UCA News the incidents were an attempt to create disharmony.

Urban Development Minister Joaquim Alemao, a Catholic, visited the scene of the crime. He said the cemetery desecration was a "conspiracy to target the government." (Courtesy: CathnewsIndia)

Source: Vandals attack Catholic cemetery in Goa (UCAN)
  Peace returns slowly in Orissa: Church team
  THE situation in Orissa has become almost normal as nearly 90 per cent survivors of anti-Christian violence have returned to their villages, says a Church team that visited the eastern Indian state recently.

"There is smile on people's face now," Brother Mani Mekkunnel, national secretary of the Conference of Religious India (CRI), told UCA News today after visiting Orissa's Kandhamal district a third time since it witnessed unprecedented attacks on Christians in 2008.

The Montfort Brother and CRI administrator Queen of Apostle Sister Marie James covered nearly half of Kandhamal during their March 17-18 visit to assess the situation.

"The process of building houses is on and a well planned joint effort by Church agencies and the state government is visible," Brother Mekkunnel said and noted the district administration is building houses and repairing damaged one with the help of NGOs and Church agencies.

The collector, the top government official in the district, is coordinating relief and rehabilitation activities and "there is visible improvement in the over all situation," the Brother said and added some 90 per cent victims have returned to their villages.

However, the victims in three villages are facing hostility from local Hindus so the administration is creating alternative villages, Brother Mekkunnel said. He said he visited one of the new villages and saw "reasonably planned houses" coming up for people, who now stay in temporary sheds nearby.

"I am sure they will be able to move into new houses before monsoon rains" start in June, he said and added they found some 2,000 houses already completed.

Church agencies are now concerned about providing implements such as spades, axes, ploughs and bullocks to help the victims resume cultivation.

Another challenge is to help children resume education that was disrupted by the violence. Brother Mekkunnel said his organization is planning to offer funds for two years.

CRI also plans to start vocational training for jobless youth.

The Brother said he experienced "a positive feeling" for the first time in Kandhamal where had earlier noticed "so much of hatred and helplessness on all sides." He said he has "great hopes" that the situation will normalize in a year.

He suggested "an inclusive development process" to build a secure and peaceful situation in Orissa. (Courtesy: CathnewsIndia)

Source: UCAN
  PSI, Suzlon Foundation intensify TB awareness campaign
  From A Correspondent

UDUPI, March 24 -- The 'Edde Arrogya' project implemented by Population Services International (PSI), a civil society organization with support from Suzlon Foundation, launched an awareness campaign on the occasion of the World TB Day today in Udupi taluk.

PSI works closely with the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Program (RNTCP) and is partnering with them for the World TB Day activities.

The Edde Arrogya communication team presented a skit on TB during the government program organized by the District TB Office in Udupi. Six street plays reaching an audience of 440 persons were staged in the villages of Kaup, Padubidri, Hejamadi and Tenka by Yuvaka Mandal of Yermal Tenka.

The Suzlon Foundation-funded project staff members are currently engaged in creating awareness on TB through interpersonal communication using a variety of job aids, including flipcharts and leaflets. PSI staff screens the target group for symptoms and then counsel them to undergo a TB test. If the test is positive, they counsel and coordinate with the infected persons to take treatment and ensure that they complete the DOTS course which is of high quality and is freely available in government hospitals.
  Prelate cries foul over Bhopal rector's arrest
  BHOPAL, MARCH 24 (UCAN) -- The rector of a minor seminary in a central Indian state was remanded in judicial custody yesterday in connection with abetting the suicide of a seminarian.

Police arrested Father Thomas Philip, rector of Bhopal archdiocese's St. Teresa Minor Seminary on March 23 over the suicide of Venu Kumar on Jan. 29.

The priest is also facing charges of attempting to convert Kumar to Christianity by force after the seminarian’s father claimed his son was a Hindu.

Church officials have dismissed the charges as "totally baseless" and said the case was another example of right-wing Hindu groups' continued campaign against the Church.

The priest's arrest is the "outcome of a premeditated conspiracy" between police officials and Hindu radical groups inimical to the Church, Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal told UCA News today.

The arrest was executed in such a way that the priest was not able to apply for bail as today is a Hindu festival and a government-declared holiday.

"It is really sickening to see the Church being dragged into baseless controversies for working for the development of the downtrodden," the prelate said.

He plans to meet top state and federal government authorities to ensure Christians in Madhya Pradesh enjoy "a trouble-free life."

The seminarian's father, P. Sreenivas, told the media his son was not a Christian but he had sent his son to the seminary to study. He accused the Church of trying to convert his son to Catholicism.

Sreenivas, a native of Andhra Pradesh, southern India, came to Bhopal along with a leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (world Hindu council).

Meanwhile, Father Anand Muttungal, spokesperson of the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh, said the Church had rejected the demand for Rs 700,000 (US$15,435) Sreenivas made to the Church after his son's suicide.

The Church, the priest said, admits only children of Catholic families to seminaries. The allegation that the deceased was a Hindu "is absolute baseless and aimed at misleading people who are ignorant of how the Church functions," he added.

Madhya Pradesh is among some Indian states that have enacted anti-conversion laws.
  Independent investigation into enforced disappearances a must: Tribunal
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, MARCH 24 -- While stressing the need for independent investigations to find out whether the enforced disappearances across the Kashmir Valley since 1989 correlate with the number of bodies in unknown mass graves, the International People's Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice (IPTK) argues that the existence of these graves is indicative of the effects of militarisation.

Dr Angana Chatterji, co-convener, IPTK, and professor at California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, stressed on the issue at 'The Global Phenomenon of Enforced Disappearances and Entry into Force of International Convention for Protection of All Persons From Enforced Disappearance' on March 17 during a United Nations Human Rights Council session in Geneva.

She emphasised that independent investigations must be undertaken across all 10 districts of Kashmir to inquire if and how more than 8,000 enforced disappearances since 1989 correlate with the number of bodies in unknown, unmarked and mass graves.

"Besides, the existence of these graves may be understood as indicative of effects and issues pertaining to militarisation," said Dr Chatterji.

She also presented 'Buried Evidence', a preliminary report on unknown, unmarked and mass graves in Kashmir that was released by IPTK in December 2009.

Dr Chatterji said evidence from these graves must be used to seek justice through sentencing of criminals and other judicial and social processes. "The cessation of violence and cruelty must be prioritised in Kashmir and violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws, including crimes against humanity be addressed."

The event was convened by eight organizations, including the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), Permanent Assembly for Human Rights (APDH), Euro-Mediterranean Federation Against Forced Disappearances (FEMED), Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared-Detainees (FEDEFAM), Non-violence International (NVI), Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PHILRIGHTS), and International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID). Representatives of the governments of Argentina and France offered remarks on the occasion, reiterating their commitment to the issue.

'Buried Evidence', authored by Chatterji, Parvez Imroz, Gautam Navlakha, Zahir-Ud-Din, Mihir Desai and Khurram Parvez documents 2,700 unknown, unmarked and mass graves containing more than 2,943 bodies across 55 villages in Bandipora, Baramulla and Kupwara districts of Kashmir based on research conducted between November 2006-09.

"The graveyards entomb bodies of those murdered in encounter and fake encounter killings during 1990-2009. These graves include bodies of extrajudicial, summary, arbitrary executions and massacres committed by the Indian military and paramilitary forces," said a press release issued by the organisation.

The report found that 2,373 (87.9 per cent) graves were unnamed, out of which 154 contained two bodies each and 23 contained more than two cadavers. "Within these 23 graves, the number of bodies ranged from 3 to 17."

The report examined 50 alleged encounter killings by security forces in numerous districts of Kashmir. "Of these persons, 39 were of Muslim descent, four Hindu and seven were not determined. Of these cases, 49 were labeled militants and foreign insurgents by security forces and one body is said to have been drowned. Following investigations, 47 were found to be killed in fake encounters and one has been identified as a local militant."

Jeremy J Sarkin, chairperson and Rapporteur, UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Special Procedures of UN Human Rights Council, spoke about the urgency to ratify the Convention for Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in order to address institutionalised systems of impunity.

While 81 countries have signed it, two additional signatures are required for it to take effect. India signed the Convention on February 6, 2007, but hasn't ratified it yet.

Advocate Parvez Imroz, co-founder and co-convener of IPTK, was denied a passport by the Government of India and couldn't join Dr Chatterji in Geneva.
  Bangladesh: Catholics in 'panic' over attack by Muslims
  RANGPUR, MARCH 24 (UCAN) -- Attacks by Muslim extremists on tribal Catholic villagers in a northwestern parish have left about 50 people injured, with 10 in a serious condition.

The attacks in Boldipukur, in Rangpur district, have raised tensions and created panic in the area, according to a local parish priest. Some of the victims were women and children, he added.

"They [Muslims] said they will kill some of our people. We're in a panic and are afraid to go out," said Father Leo Desai, pastor of Christ the Savior Church which is in Dinajpur diocese, about 440 kilometers northwest of Dhaka.

Father Desai, who is also secretary of the diocesan Catechetical-Liturgical Commission, spoke to UCA News on March 22 following the attacks on his parishioners on March 20.

According to Father Desai, Muslims armed with sticks, bricks and knives attacked villagers who had gathered around noon to watch construction work on a piece of land the parish owns.

"We were watching construction work on Church land when they attacked us. I ran for safety but 10-12 men beat me up," said Nirod Bakla, 40, who is in charge of the parish hostel.

"I have cuts all over my body. All the parishioners are afraid to leave their homes, even though they have to go to work," he told UCA News.

It is believed the attack is a result of a seven-year land dispute in which a local court recently sided with the parish. Part of the Church land had previously been occupied by a Muslim-run high school.

But some disgruntled Muslims allegedly led by the school management committee instigated the attack in response to the court verdict.

Father Desai said he has already filed complaints against 17 of the attackers with help from a lawyer sent by Holy Cross Bishop Moses M. Costa of Dinajpur.

"Local authorities and the police asked me not to file any complaints. They said the dispute can be settled, but we doubt that because the Muslims became so violent," the priest said.

Another tribal Catholic Sushil Ekka, 35 recounted his terrifying ordeal. "I went to the market to buy betel-leaves when five to six Muslims attacked me and beaten me with sticks," he told UCA News.

"I saved myself by running away", the farmer said.

"About five out of a total 14 parishes in the diocese have land-related problems," Father Anthony Sen, secretary of diocesan Justice and Peace Commission that deals with Church land issues told UCA News.

"Most tribal people are illiterate and have no land documents for their ancestral lands. Local Muslims occupy their lands and land disputes arise," he said.
  Lack of clean drinking water a major concern
  From Afsana Bhat

SUMBAL-BANDIPORA, MARCH 24 -- As World Water Day was being observed on March 22, people in remote areas of Jammu and Kashmir longed for the availability of safe drinking water.

Medical experts say that 80 per cent of infectious diseases could be prevented if safe drinking water and proper waste disposal were made available.

The common masses have to fight long 'battles' to get wells sanctioned. Water tankers are not available and people have to depend on polluted water sources for drinking and other purposes. Women have to walk for miles to fetch water.

Ali Mohammad Dar, a resident of Sumbal in Bandipora, says that as there is no nallah (rivulet) nearby, a well in the village is an absolute necessity. Tap water is available to the villagers for a couple of hours.

"Every household here requires about 200-250 litres of water for their cattle everyday. Cattle are the basic source of income in this village. One well can be used by 50 households," says Dar.

Dar says the villagers are ready to donate land for the construction of wells. "The owner of land will give in writing (an affidavit) that he will not stop anyone from using the water."

When asked why common land in village, often known as panchayat land, isn't used for the construction, he replied that such land is outside the village and it would be cumbersome for the villagers to go there to fetch water. It would be especially time consuming for women.

The condition of Mandiyari-Pattan village, a few kilometers away, is worse. Safe drinking water isn't available at all. The villagers boil the polluted river water that flows across the village and then drink it.

"More than 50 villages are dependant on this river for household purposes. In summer, the local people face serious health problems, owing to water-borne diseases," says Mubeena Bano, a local resident.

The observance of World Water Day is an initiative that grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development.

A report by the World Health Organization (WHO) observes that four billion cases of diarrhoea are reported each year, in addition to several other illnesses caused by lack of clean water. It also states that waterborne diseases cause the deaths of more than 1.5 million children each year and millions of women and children spend several hours daily collecting water from distant, often polluted, sources. Poor people living in slums often pay 5-10 times more per litre of water than wealthy people living in the same city.

"The state has been experiencing erratic weather for the past 50 years. Maximum temperatures were recorded in Srinagar and Jammu in the late 1990's. Rain and snowfall patterns have also changed substantially," says Gurcharan Singh, former Deputy Conservator of Forests.

Singh adds that the Valley used to record maximum snowfall in the second fortnight of December or early January. Now snowfall takes place only in late February or the second week of March.

"Both soil and air temperature is increasing, resulting in the melting of snow and unexpected flashfloods, even in March and April," he says, adding, "Water required for irrigation isn't available at the right time, resulting in drought and failure of paddy and horticulture crop production."

The state also witnesses variance in the rainfall pattern. The plains of Jammu and mountainous ranges of Shivaliks and windward of Pirpanchal get monsoon rains, whereas higher reaches of Pirpanchal on the windward side get snowfall during winters. Pirpanchal's slopes on the leeward side don't experience monsoon rains, except for a few clouds that escape the mountains.

Singh says the impact of global warming can also be observed in the drying up of springs, shrinkage of water bodies and loss of biodiversity. "Irrigated agriculture land use is receding because of shortage of water and even dry land agriculture dependent on rain is yielding lesser quantity of crops."

Suggesting measures to combat the ill-effects of climate change, Singh emphasizes the adoption of correct and optimal land-use strategies, proper disposal of sewage, garbage after treatment, proper urban planning, large-scale planting in degraded forest areas, proper management of water bodies and wetlands and improvement of water irrigation systems.

"Efficient resource management calls for sustainable development. Every generation should leave water, air and soil resources as pure and unpolluted as when it came to the earth. Each generation should leave enough space for animals and plants found on the earth," he says.

Singh adds, "This calls for development to ensure ecological balance by adopting eco-friendly strategies to combat the effects of climate changes and meet the needs of the ever-increasing human population."
  World Vision to tackle child deaths
  WORLD VISION, a leading Christian humanitarian organization, has launched a campaign to improve maternal and child health in India.

Globally, nearly 9 million children under the age of five die each year, mostly due to preventable causes. And in India, about 5,000 children die every day due to preventable diseases.

To mitigate this evil, World Vision launched on March 18 a five-year campaign Baal Swastya Abhi (Child Health Now) that addresses the effects of poor health on mothers and their children.

World Vision's Global Ambassador Dean Hirsch, who launched the campaign, said: "Child Health Now is World Vision's contribution to the growing chorus of leaders from the UN, NGOs and other organizations calling for urgent action to save mothers and their children from preventable deaths."

Through the campaign, his organization aims to support communities demand their right to quality health care, and press national governments to meet their responsibilities to children, mothers, families and communities throughout the country.

Worldwide every 3.5 seconds a child under five dies: 24,000 deaths a day; almost nine million a year and India shares the highest burden of 1.95 million under five deaths, as stated in the 'Child Health Now-Together We Can End Preventable Deaths' report.

India joins the ranks of countries such as Afghanistan and Zambia which are in the list of 20 countries with the highest rates of child deaths per 1000 children.

Jayakumar Christian, national director of World Vision India, says India is among countries that are unlikely to meet the Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5. India spends only 1.06% of GDP on health, which is 2.3% of the country's total budgetary expenditure." (Courtesy: CathnewsIndia)

Source: World Vision launches five-year campaign to avert child deaths (Christiantoday)
  Resurvey upsets Goa Catholics
  THE Goa government plans to resurvey illegal religious structures in the western Indian state, but some Catholics are unhappy.

Many wayside chapels and crosses were among some 800 religious structures the government enlisted on March 14 after a survey. The state cabinet ordered a resurvey five days later after Power Minister Alexio Sequeira, a Catholic, said the survey was improper and replete with errors.

The government undertook the survey following a Supreme Court order to remove illegal religious structures on government land in the country.

"The government is perpetrating a fraud on the public by feeding false information with the list," says Andre Antonio Pereira, secretary of Goa Association of Components of Comunidades, an ancient system of collective land holdings.

Pereira told UCA News all land in Goa belonged to the communidades and people erected the wayside crosses before the roads were made. He said his group would apply for the survey details under right to information to devise its future plan of action.

Pereira also explained the crosses were linked to the Lenten way of the cross. People erected sheds over some crosses for priests to relax. These sheds later became chapels, he added.

Policarpo D'Souza, attorney of a village communidade, pointed out the communidade land belongs to people and the government has no power even to amend laws. People would block any government move to demolish the "illegal" structures, he warned.

Daniel Barretto, a Catholic lay leader, says most officials who undertook the survey were from other religions.

Father Francis Caldeira, spokesperson of Goa archdiocese, says people have to respect the government order since its concern over illegal religious structures is within the law.

The priest says some 4,000 crosses and shrines dot the state's 4,999-kilometer asphalt roads. People have built those crosses, chapels and makeshift Hindu shrines with the belief they will protect passersby, the priest explained.

Father Caldeira also pointed out the Catholic structures were built during the Portuguese rule and the Church does not have documents for many of them. He also said the Church now authorizes only those religious structures that have proper documents.

Source: UCAN
  Philippines: Journalist receives death threat
  MANILA, MARCH 23 (UCAN) -- Reports of a death threat sent to internationally recognized journalist Marites Vitug after launching her book on maneuvering in the judiciary has prompted the Catholic Media Network (CMN) head to set a meeting of board members.

Vitug, editor-in chief, of Newsbreak online magazine of ABS-CBN media network, issued a statement yesterday announcing she has received two text messages from an unknown sender since the launch of her book, 'Shadow of Doubt', near Manila last week.

The first message mentioned something about the pen being mightier than the sword, but "the sword kills faster than the words," Vitug said.

"Your kind is one of the reasons why journalists are being killed," the second message reportedly read. Vitug said it went on to say, "Ampatuan has valid reason to kill those journalists. I hope you were one of them."

Fifty-seven people, including at least 34 journalists, were massacred Nov. 23, 2009 in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao allegedly for political reasons. Members of the Andal Ampatuan, Sr. clan ruling in the southern Philippines region are on trial for the murders.

Vitug said she has reported the death threats and the cell phone number used to National Capital Region Police Command director Roberto Rosales.

"The sender wants to intimidate me or warn me. I want to make this public because this is the best protection," the journalist wrote.

Various media bodies, including the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines which she had served as Board member, have issued statements of support and appeal for protection for Vitug.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemned the messages sent to Vitug, and demanded she be given protection and that authorities "investigate the threats and those making them."

Father Francis Lucas told UCA News today he had just arrived in the country and is "disturbed" by the news. "I will call our board together quickly and we will issue a letter of support, and defend freedom of the press" the media network head said.

CMN and the bishops have a history of speaking out for the protection of media practitioners and freedom of the press, noted Father Lucas, also Executive Secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Social Communication.

'Shadow of Doubt' reveals the processes of the Supreme Court and who controls or somehow manipulates them. Partly funded by overseas donors, it is the first book to expose the maneuverings and the politics behind the High Court's controversial decisions and scandals.

On March 15 the day before the book launch, Supreme Court Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco, Jr. filed 13 counts of libel charges against Vitug and sought one 1-million pesos (US$ 21,750) in damages.

Velasco alleged Vitug insinuated he had breached provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct when he engaged in partisan politics to help his son's congressional candidacy in Marinduque province, Vitug's network online service reported.

Vitug founded the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and was awarded the Courage Award by International Women's Media Foundation for her environmental reporting.
  Pakistan: Christian groups alleviate water crisis
  GUJRANWALA, MARCH 23 (UCAN) -- Christian organizations are undertaking several projects to conserve and purify water amid the worst power crisis in the country's history.

In Gujranwala, northeast Punjab, the Social Transformation Association for Native Community's Education (STANCE) group is running an advocacy campaign on the use of clean water and prevention of water wastage.

"Our country is reeling under a severe shortage of water. The water level has decreased in the dams," STANCE patron Saqib Khadim said during a World Water Day program.

"This has already impacted power generation capacity and will decrease agricultural yield."

STANCE, a rights-based Christian NGO, was one of several groups that jointly coordinated the March 22 program for students.

The UN has chosen Clean Water for a Healthy World as this year's theme.

Khadim also urged children to drink only boiled water to avoid waterborne diseases.

He told UCA News his team started their campaign a few months ago after discovering polluted water in the area.

"We collected samples from different settlements, two of them Christian-majority areas. While bacteria were detected in all of them, traces of arsenic were also found, which can cause cancer, stillbirths and postneonatal mortality," he said.

Pakistan's severe power crisis
Pakistan is experiencing a severe power crisis with power outages lasting as long as 11 hours in big cities and 16 to 20 hours in small cities and villages.

There have also been reports of high-level arsenic contamination in the drinking water in Southern Punjab. A news report yesterday said that over 1.2 million people die each year in Pakistan from waterborne diseases. They include 250,000 children under the age of five who succumb to diarrhea.

"Industrial effluence, dilapidated underground water pipelines, cross-connections with sewerage drainage pipelines, agricultural chemicals and pesticides are the major reasons behind this groundwater contamination," said Mumtaz Bashir, coordinator of the Caritas Pakistan Hyderabad (CPH) Livelihood Program.

"The women in the rural desert of southern Sindh province are mostly affected since the men migrate to cities to work," said Bashir.

Since June 2009, CPH has been providing sand filters to local people, including Muslims, Christians and Hindus, to help them filter their water.

"People and animals drink from the same pond in these extremely hot regions. Most of the income of poor locals is spent on treatment of their children for drinking polluted water," said Bashir.
  Evangelical network begins email campaign
  BANGALORE, MARCH 23 (UCAN) -- An alliance of evangelical Christians has spoken out against the "unbridled persecution" in the southern Indian Karnataka state, which has recorded "over 1,000 anti-Christian attacks in 500 days."

The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) in a statement issued as part of an email campaign started on March 20, said "it has become commonplace to report on physical attacks on Christian workers and believers, vandalism of church property, desecration of statues of Jesus, and arrests of priests on frivolous complains of conversions in Karnataka."

The EFI was founded in 1951 as a national alliance of evangelical Christians in India. It is a central network of evangelical groups in India.

The number of attacks is "growing by the day," said the EFI, whose mission is to "serve churches, institutions and individuals by strategic initiatives."

Quoting an independent enquiry report on the attacks on Christians in the state by Justice Michael F. Saldhana, a former judge of the Karnataka High Court, the EFI statement said that "the 1,000th attack in the state took place in Mysore city on Jan. 26," India's Republic Day.

According to the EFI statement, "Most recently, on March 17, around 150 people allegedly led by rightwing Hindu extremist groups stormed the funeral of a 50-year-old Christian man at St. Thomas Church near Arsikere town in Hassan district. The mob pulled the coffin apart and desecrated the cross the relatives of the deceased were carrying. They threw the body in a tractor and dumped it outside, saying his burial would have contaminated the Indian soil and his body should be buried in Rome or America."

On March 11, V.S. Acharya, Karnataka Home Minister reportedly said in the Legislative Council that 52 churches were attacked by "miscreants" in the state during the last three years.

He also said that the highest number of attacks occurred in 2008 during which 38 churches were attacked.

The evangelical Christian group noted that Karnataka was a symbol of India's economic progress, but it has now become a "hub of rightwing Hindu extremism."

The EFI urged people to express their concern by writing to the state's chief minister, the governor, and the home minister, and also to "flood the Share Your Opinion column on the chief minister's personal blog."
  Muslim law board demands better deal for women
  By Andalib Akhter

LUCKNOW, MARCH 22 -- Though the All India Muslim Personal Law Board did not take a stand on the much-publicized Women's Reservation Bill at its annual conclave here, the deliberation at the meet clearly reflected the Board's concern for the welfare of women.

The Board not only increased the strength of the women in the religious body, its president Maulana Rabey Nadvi even asked for a better deal for women.

In his presidential address, Nadvi emphasized the need to accord greater importance to women in all spheres, particularly in matters of marriage, inheritance and reforms within the Muslim society.

"The true spirit of Islam is in giving honour and respect to women who often do not get their dues," said Nadvi, who was re-elected the Board chief for the third consecutive term.

The Maulana appealed to Muslims to stay away from social evils like female foeticide, dowry and lavish weddings. These, incidentally, formed the core of the "islah-e-ma'ashra" (reform of society) programme of the law board. He laid emphasis on the protection of women's rights.

Interestingly, the board's reluctance to oppose the Bill is seen as a setback to many, from Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad to Mamata Banerjee, who have described the legislation as detrimental to Muslim women.

Sources in the Board said that during an informal discussion before the formal session some office-bearers had highlighted the need for a "quota within the quota". But Nadvi dropped the subject on the ground that the Board should restrict itself to protection and preservation of the Islamic shariah, instead of taking a political position on key issues of the day.

Board secretary Abdul Raheem Qureshi too explained that it was not a proper platform to discuss a "sensitive and potentially political issue" like the Women's Reservation Bill.

The total number of women members in the executive panel of the body has increased to five. The four new women members are Rukhsana Lari, Safia Naseem (both from Lucknow), Noorjehan Shakeel (Kolkata) and Asma Zehra (Hyderabad). Naseem Iqtidar Ali Khan was till now the sole woman member in the executive committee. She continues to be on the panel.

Another significant feature of the Board's elections was its attempt to expand its representation to the Northeastern States and Ladakh. The representatives from these regions were elected as term members. While Maulana Bilal was elected from Meghalaya and Syed Ahmed from Tripura, the Independent MP from Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir), Ghulam Hussain and Maulana Ata-ur-Rehman, AUDF (Assam United Democratic Front) MLA from Badarpur in Assam were elected term members from Ladakh and Assam.

Meanwhile the Board has decided to oppose the proposed amendments to the Communal Violence Bill which seek to give more powers to men in uniform. The board would bring all Muslim MPs to mobilise opinion on the issue.

"The police force throughout the country is biased against Muslims... any arbitrary powers given to them would be extremely harmful for the community," the board's general secretary Mohd Abdur Rahim Qureshi said. "We oppose amendments to the Communal Violence Bill which would give extraordinary powers to the police in riot situations," he said.
  Ad agency reputation survey reveals 'disconnect' between advertisers and clients
  By Ciar Byrne

LONDON: T-Mobile's "Life's for sharing" ad campaign began by filming the reactions of commuters to 350 "flash mobbers" breaking into a choreographed dance routine at Liverpool Street station, central London, and went on to stage a giant karaoke version of Hey Jude in Trafalgar Square. The ad has helped to propel Saatchi & Saatchi to joint first place in the Agency Reputation Survey, relaunched today by the publisher Centaur after a five-year absence. Sharing the top slot is Bartle Bogle Hegarty, for its innovative work for clients including Barnardo's, Robinsons and Lynx.

The survey, which featured annually in Marketing Week until it was dropped for cost reasons, is being revived as a feature of a new social-networking website for advertisers and agencies called Pitch. It asked advertisers to evaluate agencies using nine criteria, including creativity, value for money, digital ability and the quality and involvement of senior management.

Sonoo Singh, the editor of Pitch, explains that the YouGov poll of 340 top-spending marketers reveals signs of a "disconnect" between agencies and their clients which the website is setting out to rectify.

"One of the things that came up is that clients still seem to be confused about the name Saatchi, even though Saatchi & Saatchi and M&C Saatchi are rival agencies," says Singh. "Another surprise is that a big network agency which has done some memorable ads and has been around for some time is not even mentioned. Also, some dedicated digital agencies didn't rank at the top when marketers talked about digital ability. It's vital that some of these misconceptions are put right."

Pitch aims to bridge the gap between marketers and agencies with a mixture of editorial and user-generated content. It is a members' only site for Marketing Week's 23,000 controlled circulation readers -- those with a marketing budget of more than £100,000 a year -- and agencies that pay £5,000 a year to subscribe, a fee that allows them to add their own branding and content to the site for other users to comment on.

Singh says: "The idea is to get clients to interact with agencies. Even though the advertising and communications industry has trade bodies, there isn't any community where they can talk without fear of being gawped at." (Courtesy: The Guardian, London)
  Mother Teresa helps family holiness
  BLESSED Teresa of Kolkata encouraged working with the poor not only in the slums of India, but primarily in our own families, says the author of a new book about the nun.

Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle is the author of the recently published "Mother Teresa and Me: Ten Years of Friendship" (Circle Press).

She told about her experiences with Mother Teresa, now recognized as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, and the ways in which the nun taught the Missionaries of Charity, the congregation she founded, and others to love Christ in the poor.

Mother Teresa encouraged O'Boyle, a wife and mother, to live her vocation well and to help other families thrive. Over the years, the author has also written other books with this goal, including "The Heart of Motherhood: Finding Holiness in the Catholic Home," "The Domestic Church: Room By Room," and "Grace Cafe: Serving Up Recipes for Faithful Mothering."

As well, she is a host for Eternal Word Television Network, and will soon be premiering a new series, "Everyday Blessings for Catholic Moms."

O'Boyle has written for several newspapers and magazines, and maintains various personal blogs, including a new saints' Website for youth.

In an interview with ZENIT, a Rome-based news agency, she spoke about the holiness of Mother Teresa, and the ways in which her teachings can be implemented in families today.

  Jesuits make presence felt on Internet
  A COURSE on designing websites for their social service centers has taught Jesuits and their lay associates the importance of making their services known to others.

Presently, the work of Jesuits in the social service sector are not visible enough, because many work in places where there is little electricity, says Father Joe Victor, the Darjeeling Jesuit province's social action coordinator.

The opportunity to design their own websites has made course participants realize the need to inform and involve others in Jesuits' social work, he added.

Father Victor was one of 21 Jesuits and laypeople from 10 Jesuit provinces in India who attended a March 15-21 web-design course at Konchowki near Kolkata.

Father Victor says he now hopes to link the social service centers in his province through a common website for greater visibility.

His confrere, Father Ravi Sagar, 42, from the Jesuits' Kohima region in Northeast India, said the workshop provided simple tools on how to manage a website, and that this would be useful for obtaining feedback on the work of Jesuits.

He added that some viewers might be inspired by their work and may even ask to collaborate with them.

According to him, most Jesuits are busy with their work and do not know how to manage websites.

Father Xavier Jeyaraj, coordinator of the Jesuits in Social Action (JESA) in South Asia, the Jesuits in this region are involved in grassroots developmental works in some 120 social centers. However, only less than 10 of the centers are able to communicate what they do through websites.

The recent workshop, titled Making your Presence online, thus aimed to provide participants with the basic tools of web design.

The workshop also aimed to help participants reflect on their own perception of social reality, and help others learn from what they had achieved at the grassroots level, he said.

Source: Jesuits learn to make presence felt on Internet (UCAN)
  Church helps media discuss social issues
  INDIAN bishops' media institute organized an exposure seminar on Saturday to help journalism students respond "critically and creatively" to socio-political issues.

The National Institute for Social Communication Research and Training (NISCORT) which organized the seminar said it was the third annual program in a series discussing national issues of the time.

Regional resurgences and the media reportage was the topic of the latest program addressed by senior mainstream journalists.

NISCORT director Father Jude Botelho said seminars help their students to realize that media studies are not merely about learning theories and acquiring presentation skills but that these should be related to present-day happenings.

NISCORT offers masters and graduate courses that are affiliated with a national university besides short course in pastoral communication. It also provides distance education in mass media and conducts seminars, film festivals and debates on social issues.

Amit Sengupta, editor of Hard News, said media have now two clubs. One speaks about for the influential and powerful people and the other which acts according to its owner, he said.

Zabiah Zaidi, professor at Jamia Millia university, addressed the group saying the current Indian media ignored the plea of the women, especially the poor, tribal and dalits.

She said the press, especially in the cities, has very little coverage on women. She asked the media to be more sensitive about the gender issue.

Kayio Dihrii, a student from Manipur, told UCA News the seminar enriched him. "During the course we don't get a clear picture of media."

Such seminars would enable him to "choose the right path", Dihrii said noting that many senior journalists lamented the deterioration of the media.

Another student Susil Kumar said "it was an opportunity to meet many media people" and interac with them. (Courtesy: CathnewsIndia)

Source: UCAN
  Brother remanded for child abuse
  JABALPUR, MARCH 22 (UCAN) -- A court in Madhya Pradesh state yesterday remanded a Catholic Religious brother to 10-day judicial custody.

Malabar Missionary Brother John Kuttikatil, who was accused of child sexual abuse, had surrendered to police a day earlier.

Police in the tribal-dominated Panna district booked him after they received a complaint from a 10-year-old boy, a resident of St. Joseph Bal Bhavan (children's hostel) where the accused was warden, and his parents on March 19.

The accused, according to the police, had taken the boy to the hostel guestroom at night and forced him to have sex with him. Medical tests corroborated the charges, the police added.

The Catholic Church has also ordered an internal investigation into the allegation.

A statement from Father Anand Muttungal, spokesperson of the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh, described the case as "a serious allegation and we are concerned about it." It also said the Church wants the law to "take its course."

The Church investigation, the statement added, will focus on the truthfulness of the charge and the role of fundamentalist elements in it.

Father Muttungal told UCA News the charge appeared to be a "pre-meditated act to defame the Church and its highly reputed educational institutions."

The alleged sex abuse incident sparked violent protests from rightwing Hindu groups who forced business establishments to close a day after the boy filed the complaint.

The Hindu activists, according to local parish priest Father Augustine Chittuparambil, damaged a statue of Jesus kept in front of Panna's St. Joseph Church. They also damaged the main gate of the parish's Lisieux Anand Higher Secondary School where the boy studied.

The police, however, saved the Church institutions from further damage with the arrest of three persons. Police also cordoned off the area and tightened security in and around the church campus where the school is located.

Father Chittuparambil told UCA News today that the situation was "very tense. We are still under police protection and not able to move out freely."
  Pope offers apology, not penalty, for sex abuse scandal

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 20 -- Faced with a church sexual abuse scandal spreading across Europe, Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday apologized directly to victims and their families in Ireland, expressing "shame and remorse" for what he called "sinful and criminal" acts committed by clergy.

But the pope did not require that church leaders be disciplined for past mistakes as some victims were hoping; nor did he clarify contradictory Vatican rules that many fear allow abuse to continue unpunished.

"You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry," the pope said in a long-awaited, eight-page pastoral letter to Irish Catholics. "Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated."

The strong letter was written in language at once passionate, personal and sweeping. And the pope did take the relatively rare step of ordering a special apostolic delegation to be sent to unspecified dioceses in Ireland to investigate. But even that action raised questions among critics who wondered what the investigators might unearth beyond what was found in two wide-ranging and scathing Irish government reports released last year. One of those reports said the church and the police in Ireland had systematically colluded in covering up decades of sexual abuse by priests in Dublin.

The pope has apologized before for sexual abuse scandals, most notably when meeting with victims in the United States.

The letter was especially anticipated after weeks of damaging reports that brought the scandals close not only to the leader of Ireland's church, but to the pope himself.

The most recent revelation came last week when a psychiatrist who treated a priest decades ago in an archdiocese run by the future pope in Germany said he repeatedly warned that the accused priest should never work with children again. The priest was reassigned to pastoral work, but another church leader had taken responsibility for that decision.

The pope did not address that case in his letter, nor did he call for Cardinal Sean Brady, the leader of the Irish church, to resign. Cardinal Brady said last week that he would step down if the pope asked, after revelations that he took part in an investigation in 1975 in which two children were forced to sign secrecy oaths.

The letter also remained tightly focused on Ireland to the dismay of many victims' groups around the world even as the crisis has widened among Catholics in Austria, the Netherlands and Germany.

In the letter, Benedict criticized bishops for "grave errors of judgment and failures of leadership."

"There is still no full acknowledgment of the systematic institutional cover-up which is not restricted only to Ireland," said Colm O'Gorman, the co-founder of a victims' group called One in Four and the leader of Amnesty International in Ireland.

"I find that deceitful because we know that this is a global and systemic problem in the global church," said Mr. O'Gorman, who said he was sexually abused by a priest as a teenager in Ireland in the early '80s. "It's all about protecting the institution and, above all, its wealth," he added.

For many Catholics, the letter offered a critical test of whether the pope can stem a widening crisis that has shaken the credibility and authority of the Roman Catholic Church in other parts of the world. Even as Benedict urged local clergy to cooperate with civil justice authorities, it has also put to the test a Vatican culture of protecting its own even in the face of crimes against civil and canon law.

Indeed, while many Irish Catholics were hoping for concrete measures and actions in the wake of the government reports, instead, Benedict offered a prescription for how to renew their faith, urging bishops to go on a spiritual retreat and dioceses to set aside special chapels where Catholics could pray for "healing and renewal." (Courtesy: The New York Times)
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  Church constitutes enquiry committee on sexual abuse allegation
  BHOPAL, MARCH 20 -- The Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh has constituted a committee to inquire into the sexual abuse allegations levelled by an 11-year-old boy against the in-charge of a hostel run by MMB brothers in Panna district.

The church has made it clear that it is a serious allegation and it is concerned about it. The enquiry will ascertain the truthfulness of the allegation by meeting the complainant boy, his parents, other children of the hostel and other people involved with the hostel.

It will also ascertain the role of fundamentalist organisations involved in this issue. In the past such organizations had made false allegations of religious conversion against the Church to damage its good image in the field of education, health and social development.
  Tailor-turned-apiculturist talks about his trade
  From Afsana Bhat

Bijhama-Uri, March 20 -- Mohammad Sidiq, a resident of Bijhama in Uri, is considered one of the best apiculture producers in Jammu and Kashmir. He has developed an apiculture farm and his expertise is of great value to people here. Apiculture is the maintenance of honeybee colonies or hives. Sidiq is a tailor and owns a cloth shop as well.

Sidiq believes that interest and dedication are the reasons for his success. "I learnt about the concept during an interaction between officials and villagers a few years ago and found it very interesting."

It was around this time that the Centre for Environment and Education (CEE) Himalaya and Welthungerhilfe (WHH-formerly German Agro Action) organised a livelihood support programme in villages adjacent to his. Sidiq participated in the programme and expressed his desire to set up a unit.

"Our area of concern included villages like Maya and Reshawari," said Mubashir Ahmad, Coordinator CEE Himalaya, adding "seeing Sidiq's dedication, we adopted Bijhama village as well and provided him with a unit." Now, he also works as a trainer with CEE Himalaya.

"Eighteen boxes produce about a quintal of honey. I leave 50 per cent of the honey in the box so that the bees can survive in the winters," the expert says.

In November, he shifts the bees to Jammu. They are moved back after five months. "Snowfall leads to a decrease in number of bees. If we do not shift them, production will be affected. However, this is an expensive process."

Sidiq shifts colonies to Chinoor and Talab Tiloo in Jammu. "I pay Rs 2,000 as monthly rent, in addition to other transportation and labour charges."

Although Sidiq has a few people to assist him, he does most of the work. "Honey is always in demand. I sell the produce at Rs 200 per kg."

"Due to less rainfall in March-April last year, flowers didn't bloom as usual and the yield was less," he said. Although Sidiq caters only to the local market, he hopes to export honey in the future.
  Goa lists 800 illegal religious structures, minister objects
  GOA'S Power Minister Alex Sequeira says his government was "faulty" in identifying some 800 religious structures, including churches, as illegal and demanded a fresh list.

The survey, which prepared the list "is faulty and it should be thrown out," Sequeira said told media yesterday in secretariat.

The government conducted the survey following a Supreme Court direction to all states to identify religious structures and worship places that occupy government land.

The Feb. 16 Supreme Court order also asked the states to formulate a policy within eight weeks to remove, relocate or demolish unauthorized places of worship, including churches, at public places in the country.

The apex court passed the direction while expressing dissatisfaction over reports and affidavits filed by all states and Union Territories for their lack of time-bound action on the issue.

All states, except Uttarakhand, filed affidavits assuring the court that steps are being taken to remove or relocate unauthorized constructions.

Sequeira noted the list in Goa was prepared after North and South Goa collectors surveyed worship places. The survey identified some 800 structures in government land including churches, temples and cross.

Sequeira while referring to the survey cited example of one church at Verna, which he said was listed as heritage site in the Regional Plan of Goa government. "How can it become illegal now?" he wondered.

The government should revise the list before filling an affidavit in the Supreme Court. "The whole exercise should be redone," the minister said and added he could raise the issue in the state cabinet meeting today.

Source: Minister objects to survey of unauthorized religious structure (
  Court questions Church property law
  THE Supreme Court of India today [March 19] asked Madhya Pradesh state to explain its move to enact a state law to manage Christian properties in the state.

The court response comes in following a plea by Church spokesperson Father Anand Muttungal seeking to restrain the state establishing a state-controlled trust system to control Christian properties.

The court asked the state to file their replies within four weeks.

The Church petition claims a resolution for such a law was passed in the absence of commission's chairman.

"Therefore the commission members overstepped their jurisdiction. Similarly, the commission had also passed a resolution seeking property details of the Church including its schools, churches and cemeteries," Father Muttungal said.

The district collectors and education department issued notices to certain Church schools to provide the details. The Church refused and took the matter to the Madhya Pradesh High Court and then to higher court when the High Court failed to stop the state moves.

Lawyer Sister Mary Scaria, who was part of the panel of lawyers dealing with the case told UCA News that the court served notices on the state and four others listed as respondents, seeking their replies on the matter.

The notice was also sent to district educational officer of Jhabua district, state minority commission and the Christian member of the commission, who claimed to have pushed the idea, the sister said.

Father Muttungal told the UCA News the Church was "happy with the initial outcome" and would "hope and pray that justice will be done to us".

The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian people's party) has ruled the state since December 2003 and is seen as the political arm of Hindu radical groups that want to create a Hindu nation in India.

Christian groups complain that their people and institutions have faced attacks from Hindu radicals since the BJP came to power.

Source: Court seeks explanation of Church property law (UCAN)
  Indian Brother faces child sex abuse charges
JABALPUR, MARCH 19 (UCAN) -- Police in a central Indian state today registered a case of child sexual abuse against a Catholic Religious Brother after a complaint from a boy and his parents.

The accused, Malabar Missionary Brother John Kuttikatil, is the warden of St. Joseph Bal Bhavan (children's hostel).

Church people, however, have rejected the allegation and dismissed the case as a result of rivalry between private schools and a Church school in the Panna district of Madhya Pradesh state.

Investigating police officer N. N. Jharia told UCA News police acted on the complaint of a 10-year-old resident of the hostel. They have sent the boy for a medical examination and will set up a special team to look into the matter, he said.

Father Augustine Chittuparambil, the local parish priest, told UCA News that the boy and his parents came to the hostel with media persons and accused the brother of forcing the child to have sex with him.

The police said the boy alleged that the brother had taken him to the hostel's guest room at night.

The parish priest says the allegation was apparently a "well-orchestrated case" to tarnish the image of the Church-managed Lisieux Anand Higher Secondary School, where the boy studies.

The Church school "has been a threat to mushrooming private schools in the area and hence a case of this heinous nature has been filed against the hostel warden," he said.

The priest also noted the case was filed days before admissions for the new academic year commence.

The accused is currently on a vacation to his home state in Kerala, southern India.

Father Anand Muttungal, spokesperson of the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh, has demanded a fair investigation into the case, which he described as "a well-planned and executed conspiracy against the Church."

The Church has already been falsely accused of religious conversions, he said. But such incidents would not deter the Church from its commitment to look after the educational and heath needs of the poor in the state.
  Church welcomes 'late' food security plan
  NEW DELHI, MARCH 19 (UCAN) -- Some Church officials have welcomed the Indian government's plan to set up a food security fund to reduce the number of deaths from starvation in the country.

"We welcome the move, although it is a little late," Father Nithiya Sagayam, secretary of the Indian bishops' Commission for Justice, Peace and Development, told UCA News today.

A day earlier, Indian media reported that the federal government had drafted a bill to set up a Central Food Security Fund to compensate 65.2 million families living below the poverty line.

Each family under this category is entitled to 25 kilograms of wheat or rice through the public distribution system at the subsidized rate of 3 rupees (US$0.06) a kilo. However, many families cannot afford even this amount.

Federal Food and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar told media yesterday that he expects the cabinet to approve the bill next week.

Father Sagayam said it was "a national shame" that the government "took so long to come up with the bill."

On March 1, the Capuchin priest released a trainers' kit as part of the Church's campaign to educate people on their right to food. He says the government makes many promises to help the poor but does "very little to change their pathetic situation."

The government spends a huge amount to make the country a nuclear power but neglects the poor, he added.

Father Sagayam wants the bill passed without much debate in parliament because "it is the government's obligation to look after the poor."

He said the Food Corporation of India stores are overflowing with grain but many die because of inadequate relief. Some 100,000 farmers committed suicide in 2006 because of starvation and debts, he noted.

Father Babu Joseph, spokesperson for the Indian bishops' conference, welcomed the bill as a "commendable step" to eradicate hunger from India.

The government public distribution system was implemented decades ago but very few people have benefited from it, the Divine Word priest said.

"It is a well-intentioned system but very poorly managed."
  "Give alternative jobs to autowalas"
  A CHURCH official says phasing out motorized tricycle taxies in Delhi would cause injustice to the poor drivers if the government fails to offer them alternative jobs.

Father Susai Sebastian, director of the Delhi archdiocesan social service wing, told UCA News that the government should give the drivers of tricycles, popularly called auto-rickshaws, an alternative before phasing them out.

He wants the government to give drivers financial assistance in the form of a loan or subsidy to start an alternative business. While stressing that the government has a duty to act against polluting vehicles, he said it also has a duty to consider the "plight of the poor."

Delhi Chief Minister Sheela Dixit announced on March 17 that her government was planning to phase out the auto-rickshaws from the national capital since they “are not the best option for travel.”

Over 55,000 of the vehicles ply Delhi's roads, making it an important means of transport in the city.

Mohammad Juman, a migrant from Bihar, who drives an auto-rickshaw in Delhi said he makes some 1,000 to 1,200 rupees a day but 400 of it goes to the owner of the rickshaw as rent.

"Even if we don't earn, we have to pay the rent," he says.

"This auto helps me to support my family and if the government goes ahead with its plan then we will suffer. Even with this job I find it difficult to make both ends meet. I cannot imagine the government removing the autos from Delhi," says Jaman who has driven for the past 20 years in Delhi.

Sushil Kumar, who owns an auto-rickshaw says he has to support his wife, three children and his parents.

He says it "will take years for the government to find an alternative job for all drivers."

Source: Church wants alternative jobs for tricycle taxis (UCAN)
  Churches urged to jointly fight cancer, HIV in Northeast
  CHRISTIAN groups should jointly fight the spread of HIV/AIDS and cancer in northeastern states, said a two day seminar that discussed Church's role in health in the region.

"Cancer and the spread of HIV/AIDS present a daunting challenge in Northeast India," a speaker told the two-day seminar on 'Churches Involvement in Health and Mission."

Churches should come together and join hands with NGOs and government to initiate programs and campaigns that educate our youths and help them take the right steps," said Dr. Hrangthan Chhungi, who addressed the March 10-11 seminar at Aizawl, Mizoram.

National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) and the Christian Medical Association of India (CMAI), organized the seminar.

Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla also took serious note of cancer and said it posed a great threat to the people of Northeast.

"Christians are expected to be healthy and hardworking, the reality in Mizoram is the opposite. The number of missionaries we sent outside Mizoram does not make us known to the world. What makes us known is the number of cancer patients in our small state," he said.

He wanted the Church to initiate awareness campaigns against tobacco consumption that is responsible for half of all the cancers in men, he said. "Christians are called to be holy, and to maintain this holiness we need to be cautious of what we eat and what we must abstain from."

Source: Church's help sought in fighting HIV/AIDS, cancer in NE India (Christian Today)
  Bishop gets bail in conversion case
  A COURT in a central Indian state yesterday granted bail to Christians, including a bishop, accused of violating the state's anti-conversion law.

"The truth is vindicated," Bishop Mathew Vaniakizhakkel of Satna in Madhya Pradesh state told UCA News after the court verdict later in the day.

Local police had charged the bishop, two priests, a nun and two people for violating the non-bailable sections of the state's stringent anti-conversion law.

Father Jolly Konnukodan, assistant parish priest of Satna's St. Vincent Cathedral and one of the accused, told UCA News the prosecution could not produce any evidence to prove the allegation.

The case arose after Christopher Pavy complained to police March 9 that the bishop and others had solemnized the marriage of a woman after converting her to Catholicism in May 2009.

Source: Bishop gets bail in conversion case (UCAN)
  Church opposes quota for minority schools
  NEW DELHI, MARCH 18 (UCAN) -- Church groups in India have criticized a federal commission insisting minority educational institutions should admit 30 per cent students from their own community to enjoy constitutional privileges.

The ruling by M.S. A. Siddiqui, chairperson of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI), is a "pernicious" attempt to infringe on minority rights, says John Dayal, secretary general of the ecumenical All India Christian Council.

Dayal, who is also a member of the National Integration Council, another federal body, told UCA News today the NCMEI chairperson "should be told his job is to protect minority rights, and not otherwise."

The Indian Constitution, promulgated in 1950, allows religious and linguistic minority groups to manage educational and cultural institutions without government interference.

However, over the decades thousands of disputes over the minority status arose and the federal government set up the commission in 2004 to ensure the governments respected the minority rights.

Father Kuriala Chittattukalam, secretary of the Indian bishops' commission for education and culture, also expressed surprise that the commission has decided against the interests of minority groups it is supposed to protect.

In his letter to the prime minister and other federal authorities on March 16, the Salesian priest pointed out that the commission's minimum quota stipulation was arbitrary and one-sided and violated the constitution.

He also noted that the chairperson's ruling came when the Christian and Sikh members in the commission are absent since the government has not filled their vacancies.

Father Chittattukalam also noted that the constitution does not insist on the minimum quota. Christians, he pointed out, form a little over 2 per cent of the country's population and they are scattered all over India.

"Wherever they are, they have the right to preserve their religion and culture," the Church official insisted. The priest also noted that Christian educational institutions have served all sections of society without discrimination.

Sajan George of the Global Council of Indian Christians has said that his group endorsed the Catholic bishops' views on the matter.

According to Dayal, the minimum quota issue was first raised by a Christian member of the commission who thought that was "a good way" to get Church educational institutions to admit more poor Christians.
  Disaster management programme underway in Srinagar
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, MARCH 17 -- Jammu and Kashmir witnessed large-scale destruction in the October 2005 earthquake. Following the devastation, the administration initiated disaster management programmes across the Valley.

A week-long disaster management programme began on Tuesday (March 15) at Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal. On the second day, officers from various departments conducted a mock drill exercise on the busy Boulevard Road. Onlookers were caught unaware and watched the procedure in utter surprise. The programme is being organised by the Divisional Administration in collaboration with the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

Mehraj Ahmed Kakroo, Deputy Commissioner, Srinagar, while inaugurating the programme, urged officers to update their disaster preparedness plans. "During any disaster, people are the first respondents. It is, therefore, necessary to involve the community and conduct awareness programmes for them."

Kakroo added that as Srinagar and its adjoining areas fell in Seismic Zone V, it was vulnerable to earthquakes and other disasters.

A table top exercise on March 14 was attended by senior officials of the district administration, police, fire and emergency services, health and medical education, civil defence, home guards and auxiliary police.

Brigadier (Dr) B K Khanna, senior specialist (trainings) NDMA, organised a mock earthquake scenario and defined roles for each participant.

Aamir Ali, coordinator Disaster Management Kashmir and Officer on Special Duty (OSD) with the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir said a mock earthquake drill would be held in Baramulla on March 17 and 18. Officers from Kupwara and Bandipora districts will also participate in the event. "Mock drills will be held at Anantnag on March 19 and 20. It will see the participation of officers from Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam."

A safety awareness programme was also held at Tyndale Biscoe School and Mallinson Girls School where students and staff were taught about precautions required to be taken before, during and after disasters, especially earthquakes.

Parwez Samuel Kaul, Director, Tyndale Biscoe, Principal of Mallinson Girls School, and their staff members, were taught methods to tackle disasters in schools. Posters and brochures prepared by the Disaster Management Kashmir were also distributed on the occasion.
  Jesuits to open college in Rajasthan
  Jesuits will have their first college in northwestern India when they upgrade St. Xavier's school in Jaipur, Rajasthan, in this July.

The school Jesuits founded in 1941 will be initially launch degree courses in the new college to be affiliated to Rajasthan University, said a report in the Times of India.

Students in three streams -- Bachelor of Commerce (BCom), Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) and Bachelor of Computer Application (BCA) -- will be admitted for the first session starting in July 2010

The Jesuit Society plans a big campus -- similar to the school's -- either at Jagatpura or Ajmer Road, though the college will be run from the Hathroi Fort Road campus in the first year, the report said.

Jesuit Father Varkey Perekkatt, manager of St Xavier's College said their new initiative was inspired by the present national higher education policy which involves expansion, excellence and inclusion.

The college aims to transcend the existing level of education in Jaipur with "the help of an expert faculty and a thoroughly researched curriculum, providing holistic development to its students," he said.

The BBA and BCA streams will have 60 seats each, which, if the university allows, can go up to 100. However, it will have a minimum of 100 seats in the BCom stream, with at least two sections, Father Perekkatt said.

The college already got NOC for 11 subjects in arts and six in science stream, which will be launched once the college gets a full-fledged campus.

"May be by the next session, we introduce BA and some additional afternoon classes on the school campus as the school finishes by noon," said S. N. Sharma, coordinator of the college. (

Source: Now, a St Xavier's College in Jaipur
  Christians want riot bill changed
  AN ecumenical group wants the Indian government to review a proposed law that aims to contain sectarian violence in the country.

In a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh the All India Christian Council says the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2009 does not adequately address several issues that disturb sectarian peace in the country.

The March 16 letter commended the premier for further strengthening the "strong body of laws" that try to protect secularism and ensure equality for all in the country.

Expressing Christians' "deep concerns" about the Bill, the council urged the premier to rewrite the legislation to tackle hate campaigns and "communalization process."

The letter, signed by AICC president Joseph D'Souza and general sectary by John Dayal, was also sent to several ministers and Sonia Gandhi, who heads the coalition that rules the federal government.

It says recent waves of sectarian violence in states such as Orissa and Karnataka and ongoing "terrible hate campaigns" have worried Christians.

The "well-studied phenomenon" of "hate speech" appears in media before sectarian violence erupts. Such "illegal but not often prosecuted activities" are the root cause of communal disharmony, the letter adds.

The bill does not address the pattern of living of various communities in India. Since Christians do not live in concentrated or contiguous areas as some other communities do, public usually dismiss anti-Christian violence as sporadic, the letter says.

Another problem with the bill, according to the council, is that it has no guidelines for states to compensate sectarian violence damage. "We need a uniform national policy as well standards on the assessment of damages after riots in order to prevent ghettoization," the letter asserts.

The Christian group is also worried about a "good faith" clause in the bill that exempts police and administration from prosecution for their actions during riots.

The council also shares Muslim worries that the bill treats sectarian violence as spontaneous clashes between two groups and ignores the possibility that it could be premeditated or state sponsored.

It called for witness protection programs and guidelines to improve the country's legal system. It wants action against police officials who refuse to register first information reports on riots, besides strengthening the federal National Commission for Minorities and its state units.

The council also wants the government to debar its own officials found involved in sectarian violence.

"Our suggestions are rooted in the reality of rural India where the vast majority of our members -- thousands of Protestant, Catholic, and independent Christian organisations -- live and work to improve our beloved society," the letter concludes.
Source: UCAN
  Nuns pioneer mission in remote Indian village
  NAGRIJULI, MARCH 17 (UCAN) -- Fighting hostility, wild elephants and diseases, Sisters of the Handmaids of Mary continue their pioneering works in a remote village in Guwahati archdiocese.

They came to Nagrijuli five yeas ago following a request from Father Nazarene Acharya, the first Catholic priest here.

The 68-year-old priest's mission had been facing opposition. Some 300 people rose against him, asking him to return, Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati recalled.

But the priest "was not the type to turn back easily. He stayed on. Because he knew people would not be angry after certain limits," the Salesian prelate added.

The village already had a few Catholic families attended by priests from neighboring villages. They and the visiting priests faced continued hostility from a section of villagers.

"People used to ask us to return the land we bought. They once burned down the temporary school we built," the archbishop said. He said police intervention and security slowly helped them establish themselves.

"Today we are seeing the fruits" of the hard work of the missioners, said the prelate.

The mission center now covers 35 villages and includes a Catholic school, hostel and dispensary serving some 1,770 Catholics and thousands of other villagers.

Primary health care center established

On March 14, Archbishop Menamparampil blessed and opened a 20-bed primary health care center, a gift from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

The turnaround for the mission began with the arrival of the Handmaids of Mary in 2005. Despite not having a place for them to live, the nuns started a health care mission.

Sister Mary Mathew, a 72-year-old nun, has treated over 43,000 people in the past five years, says Father Alex Kalayathinal, who succeeded the pioneering priest.

Sister Mathew recalled the nuns opened their health center under a tree "because there were no houses even to rent. We stayed in a makeshift tent and stored the medicines there. Wild elephants' disturbance was frequent. They destroyed our tent twice, but left the medicines intact."

Sister Mathew, a medical nurse does all the diagnoses, nursing and medicine administration. Father Kalayathinal says the nun's hands "are something special. People have great faith in her."

The priest said the diocese provides medicines. Sister Mathew also has "a lot of contacts. So we also receive a lot of medicines from the government."

"People now have faith in us," the priest said, adding that a year ago they also got funding from an overseas Catholic agency to build roads here.

The nuns' arrival has helped reduce child and adult mortality rates, observed Mary Immaculate Sister Thelma, who works in a neighboring parish.

Kumar Canuhan, a Hindu, who attended the March 14 function, said his community is "very happy the Church has provided the facility. We have been happy with the services of the sisters in the health center from the very beginning."
  US delegation sees a 'shallow' Orissa peace
  NEW DELHI, MARCH 17 (UCAN) -- A five-member delegation from the United States that visited Orissa recently says violence could flare up again at any time.

"The peace we saw there is very shallow. Any small incident could cause the violence to erupt again," warns John Prabhudoss, who led the delegation of the American Coalition, a network of some 30 Church and advocacy groups based in the United States.

The Indian American spoke with UCA News on March 16, after concluding the delegation's five-day visit to the eastern state to "assess the ground reality."

Other members of the group reported an "inadequate" justice system with intimidation of witnesses rife.

The team visited several villages in Kandhamal district where seven weeks of anti-Christian violence which started on Aug. 24, 2008, left some 90 people dead and 50,000 others homeless.

Prabhudoss, who represents the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America, said their "experience has been a tremendous eye-opener."

Confusing and contradictory reports

Virginia L. Farris, foreign affairs adviser of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the coalition partners have received several confusing and contradictory independent reports on the Orissa situation from their Indian associates.

The coalition, therefore, decided to "go to the ground and get the feel," Farris said, and added that the social and economic damage in Orissa is more extensive than what they had read.

"We want to share our experience with our partners back home to find a meaningful and realistic response," said the Catholic laywoman, who works with the American bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development and Office of International Justice and Peace.

Farris also said the coalition would press the US government to respond seriously to the Orissa situation.

Valerie Payne of the Jubilee Campaign said the delegation met with Church and political leaders, survivors and leaders of Hindu radical groups to assess the root cause of the violence.

People offered various reasons such as religious conversion, a tussle between tribal people and others, and land disputes, she said.

'A lack of compassion for humanity'

"But the real cause seems to be a lack of compassion for humanity," Payne said, and added it was strange that some people consider others less equal and incapable of making economic and social decisions.

She also found "a lot of hypocrisy" in the system that allows the accused to intimidate witnesses. "The justice system is inadequate and that is somewhat disturbing," she added.

Sajan George of the Global Council of Indian Christians, who accompanied the delegation, said Hindu radicals who are blamed for the violence are "very pointed and adamant in their positions."

He quoted the radicals as saying the Kandhamal problem would be solved only if Christians stopped conversions and got out of the district.

Prabhudoss said his team was surprised when some Hindu leaders insisted the Church's education work was an inducement to convert tribal and low-caste people. The Hindu radicals spoke from "an imagined position of strength and a notion that they can dictate terms to the Church and government," he said.

He quoted some secular political parties saying NGOs should work at the grassroots level to restore trust among communities.
  Pope plans letter amid abuse reports
  POPE BENEDICT XVI plans to issue a pontifical letter later this week in the wake of increasing reports of clergy sex abuse in European nations, media said quoting a Vatican official.

A top Vatican official Archbishop Rino Fisichella told an Italian newspaper on Monday that the zero-tolerance policy that Pope Benedict wanted to implement was a "moral obligation."

The Pope is expected to release his letter soon in response to decades of systematic abuse in church-run schools and other institutions in Ireland, a predominantly Roman Catholic country.

Though it will be difficult for victims to obtain such large sums in Europe because of a more restrictive legal set-up or to initiate any legal proceedings against the erring priests because of a statute of limitations, the scandal, which is gathering momentum, is likely to cause much greater damage in Europe.

The abuse scandal has since spread to other European countries, including The Netherlands, Austria and most significantly Germany, the Pope's homeland, where as many as 170 people have broken their silence to complain.

Many media commentators and some liberal Catholics, such as Swiss theologian Hans Kueng, have blamed the marriage ban and strict celibacy rules for the recent scandals and called for the rule from the 12th century to be scrapped.

"Times have changed, and society too, and the Church will have to consider how this type of life can be maintained or what it has to change," said Salzburg Archbishop Alois Kothgasser on Austria's ORF television.

In a diocesan newsletter, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna said the Church had to ask difficult questions. "That includes the issue of celibacy and the personal development" of priests, he wrote.

Though none of the prelates advocated putting an end to celibacy, the Pope, known for his conservative views, has stubbornly refused to consider these suggestions. (Courtesy:

Source: German anger over abuse prompts Vatican response (The Hindu)
  Church welcomes foreign universities coming to India
  THE Union cabinet on Monday cleared a bill to allow overseas universities set up their campuses in India, which a Church official said was "long overdue."

The draft Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operation) Bill, 2010, can now be introduced in Parliament. It seeks to allow foreign universities start campuses in India and offer degree courses.

"It is indeed a step in the right direction. It will open up opportunities for better quality education and better competition," said Father Babu Joseph, spokesperson of the Catholic Church in India.

The bill, proposed four years ago, has been opposed mainly by leftwing parities which have objected to certain provisions. Last year, it was referred to a Committee of Secretaries, which modified the draft.

If it becomes a law, "it will help thousands of Indian students have international quality education without leaving India at a much cheaper fees," Father Joseph said.

As many European universities also teach philosophy and theology as part of their multi-disciplinary curriculum the new move could help get recognition for courses of certain Religious formation houses, Father Joseph said.

The bill plans to give approval to foreign educational institutions within eight moths of application. They need to be registered with the University Grants Commission or other regulatory body that will have a check on their operations.

Education Minister Kapil Sibal has already said reservation policies will not be applicable to foreign universities setting up campuses in India.

Media hailed the new moves as the biggest reform Sibal plans to bring to Indian education.
  Grievances of minorities increase, says minorities commission
  THE grievances of religious minorities to the government have only increased this year, according to details the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) presented in parliament.

During the 11-month period from April 2009 to February 2010, the commission received 2,268 complaints, Minorities Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told the house yesterday.

That number was higher than the 2,250 complaints received during last financial year, April 2008 to March 2009, the minister said.

Complaints related to issues of cultural rights, religion based harassment, religious property management matters, law and order, economic matters and compensation for the riots-affected persons, said an official press release.

The government also allots millions of rupees to NGOs to help provide free coaching that aims to improve the employment possibilities of religious minorities.

Khurshid said under the "Free coaching and Allied schemes" the government sanctioned some 50 million rupees to the NGOs during 2007-2008.

The amount was increased to 61 million in 2008-09, but in the current fiscal the amount again came down to some 50 million.

Source: Press Information Bureau
  Christians seek bail in conversion case
  JABALPUR, MARCH 16 (UCAN) -- Church people, including a bishop, yesterday sought anticipatory bail after police booked them for violating a central Indian state's law on religious conversion.

Bishop Mathew Vaniakizhakkel of Satna, a diocese in Madhya Pradesh state, has dismissed the case against him, two priests, a nun and two laypeople as "totally fabricated."

The bishop told UCA News today that the case is "part of a motivated campaign against the Church for its role in helping the weaker sections of society."

Police registered the case under non-bailable sections of the state's stringent anti-conversion law after one Christopher Pavy, a Christian, complained that a woman converted to Catholicism before her marriage in May 2009.

Pavy also sought action against the bishop and others under the state law that forbids conversion through force or allurement.

However, the woman's brother, Nand Kishore, says the charge is false as "ours is a strong Catholic family." Kishore, who is a lawyer, told UCA News his family attends Church services regularly. "My sister's marriage was done according to our Christian tradition," he added.

The bishop said the Church baptizes only the children of Catholics, "hence, the question of conversion does not arise at all."

Father Jolly Konnukodan, assistant parish priest of Satna's St. Vincent Cathedral, told UCA News that the Church applied for anticipatory bail since it took the case seriously.

The priest said the police had already investigated the case after they received a similar complaint soon after the woman's marriage.

This was corroborated by police officer Shashank Garg, who probed the case earlier. “There was no merit in the case," he told UCA News.

Father Konnudkodan regretted that "vested interests use the case to harass us regularly."

On March 11, two days after Pavy filed the case, some Hindu radicals tried to vandalize the cathedral but police foiled that attempt.

Sacred Heart Sister Pauly, who is among the accused, expressed shock over the case. "I am engaged in educating children and not in any conversion activities as alleged," the principal of Christ Jyoti Senior Secondary School told UCA News.
  Snow baseball championship concludes in Gulmarg
From Afsana Bhat

GULMARG, MARCH 16 -- The first-ever snow baseball championship concluded here at the world-famous ski resort of Gulmarg on March 15. The three-day championship was organised by the Jammu and Kashmir Baseball Association (JKBA).

"For the first time in the history of baseball, a championship was organised on snow," says Fida Hussain Fidvi, General Secretary, Jammu and Kashmir Baseball Association (JKBA).

Brig Jagmohan Verma of High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS), Gulmarg, spoke at the concluding ceremony. "It is exciting to see the youth of Kashmir participate in such an event. We are hoping to organise this event on a larger scale next year."

P C Bhardawaj, Secretary General, Amateur Baseball Federation of India (ABFI), who was the chief guest, said, "This is for the first time that baseball was played on snow."

He added that the ABFI would support the JKBA in conducting more such events. "Teams from Japan and United States will be invited. A team from the Army will also be included."

"As there is a lot of competition these days, it is wise to learn more than one sport," said Sayima Rashid, captain of the Silver Star Baseball Club.

Two private baseball teams sponsored by Hotel Silver Star, Lasjan, and Mirza Irfan Baseball Club, Nigeen-Hazratbal, besides a team of the Jammu and Kashmir Baseball Association (JKBA) participated in the competition.

JKBA emerged winners in both the male and female categories. Mirza Irfan Baseball Club was runners-up in the male category and the team sponsored by Hotel Silver Star won in the female category.

In the male category, JKBA scored four homes and the runners-up scored three. Gulzar scored two homes for the winners, followed by one each by Parvez and Fida Hussain. For the runners-up, a home each was scored by Wasim, Zulfikar and Muneer.

In the female category, JKBA scored seven homes, while the runners-up scored five homes. Jasia scored two homes for the winning team, followed by a home each by Fareeda, Aruna, Nusrat, Arifa and Shahzada. For the runners-up, homes were scored by Saima, Shazia, Shahnaza, Fareeda and Firdousa.

Snow baseball reportedly began here in 2004 at the district, state and national levels. "The game is gaining popularity among youngsters," said an office-bearer of the JKBA.

The event was held as a part of the silver jubilee celebrations of ABFI. It was held to celebrate 'Valeev Kashmir' and 2010 as the International Year of Youth, as declared by the United Nations Organization (UNO).

"Gulmarg was chosen as the venue for the championship as it has requisite infrastructure. We have snow beating machines, world class accommodation and emergency hospital services," said Fidvi, adding, "These facilities aren't available at other resorts like Pahalgam and Sonamarg."

He added that snow baseball cannot be played on rough snow, as there are chances that the player's feet may get trapped in the snow. "The snow has to be beaten to make the surface smooth," said the JKBA general secretary.

"Our aim is to make snow baseball an annual event," Fidvi said.

Gulmarg hosted a demonstration event of snow baseball during its Winter Festival on December 25, 2009. State Tourism Minister Nawang Rigzin Jora inaugurated the event.
  Equipping Kashmir’s youth with lifelong skills
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, MARCH 16 -- To equip youth with skills that could help them earn a livelihood, the Directorate of Lifelong Learning (DLL), University of Kashmir, has initiated a series of vocational training programmes.

The Directorate is offering training to thousands of students in different trades. They include basic computers, Tally 9.2, plumber and fitter, electrician, videography, digital photography and fashion designing.

"The exercise is aimed at helping our youth become entrepreneurs," said Showkat Shafi, Public Relations Officer (PRO), University of Kashmir.

"These skills enable youth to set up income generation units. It is also easier to get jobs in different government and non-government organisations," he said.

With unemployment on the rise in the Valley, youth are inclined towards white-collared jobs. The Directorate is trying to change the situation by offering skill-based training to youth, the PRO said.

"I am being trained as an electrician. Although I completed my studies two years ago, I failed to get a job. Now, I plan to set up my own unit," said Wasim Ahmad, a trainee from Rainawari-Srinagar.

"Ever since my son joined DLL, he has been excited about becoming an entrepreneur," said the parent of a trainee from Harwan in Srinagar.

Professor Neelofer Khan, Director, DLL, said, "There is wide scope for vocational training. The Directorate is operational in Baramulla, Budgam, Pulwama, Srinagar, Shopain, Ganderbal, Bandipora (Gurez) and other remote areas of the Valley."
  UK charity, Jesuits help flood victims
  A BRITISH charity, SPICMA (Special Projects in Christian Missionary Areas) is supporting efforts by Indian Jesuits to rebuild the lives of villagers still devastated by floods more than five months ago.

It has renewed an appeal for funds for the people of Manvi/Pannur in Raichur district, Karnataka.

Most of the homes in 29 villages here were reduced in October last year to little more than rubble, in what the BBC at the time described as one of the worst disasters in the area for decades.

An initial appeal through SPICMA and Jesuit Missions raised £32,000 (US$48,000), which provided food, clean water and medical help.

The Jesuits also helped several dalit (former low-caste) villages to build temporary accommodation of wood, reeds and corrugated iron.

But SPICMA says many of the people made homeless are still living in makeshift tents. Land has been bought above the flood plain for new houses, but £3,000 is needed to provide each family a home.

"We appeal again... for these poor people who had so little and lost all," writes Jesuit Father Maxim Rasquinha, mission superior in the area, in the SPICMA appeal leaflet.

Source: UK charity, Indian Jesuits work to help flood-affected people
  Christians join Muslims for dalit rights
  CHRISTIAN leaders joined some 500 Muslims today in New Delhi to demand the government grant quotas for their socially and economically poor people.

Some 500 people from 19 Indian states, including farmers, labors and youths shouted slogans demanding the implementation of a government committee that recommended quotas to dalits among Muslim and Christians.

Father Cosmon Arokiaraj, secretary of Indian bishops' commission for dalit Christians, who joined the rally said Dalit Christians and Muslims are upset by the inordinate delay in implementing the recommendations of Ranganath Misra commission report.

In 2007 National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, popularly known as the Ranganath Misra Commission made its recommendations. The report was tabled in parliament in December 2009.

It said denying quota rights to dalits among Christians and Muslims on the grounds that their religions do not practice the caste system, was unjust.

Christians and Muslims have been jointly conducting rallies pressing the government for the implementation of the measure since 2007, Father Cosmon said.

"Today they (Muslims) organized the rally and we joined," he said.

"Today [March 15] marks the martyrdom of Muslim warrior Hasan Khan Mewati," who was champion of Hindu-Muslim Unity.

Khan died while fighting and resisting the army of Muslim invader Babar at Khanwa in 1527.

The rally, organized by two Muslim groups, warned the government that Muslim and Christian youths would be forced to take to the streets if the government continues religious discrimination.

"Our youths are getting restless and I am afraid that if any unwanted incident happens, the government will have to be responsible for that," Father Arokiaraj told UCA News.

Muslim leader Muhammad Arif Kasmi expressed hope that the recommendation would be discussed in the current session of parliament because "many of our leaders are raising the issue."

Another leader Janmanan Muhammad asked: "How long the government will fool us? We will fight till death for our right."

Source: UCAN
  Working Brothers of Jesus seek new members
  PILAR, MARCH 15 (UCAN) -- They work in factories, earn a salary and some of them even celebrate Mass. Are they priests or are they laymen?

"Yes, people get confused, but it has been a happy confusion," said Goa-born Father Bartholomew Dias, 64, of the Little Brothers of Jesus.

The priest, on a home visit from his mission in Mexico, said he worked as a carpenter for 19 years in India before taking up the overseas posting.

"Jesus was a manual worker for 30 years. He is our spiritual model," said the priest.

Father Dias said he became a priest not to enjoy the honors and comforts attached with priesthood. He took a typical Indian name, Viswas Bhai, or "brother of faith," as his Christian name was difficult for people in northern India to pronounce.

The relatively new congregation, established in 1956, has just 80 members. They work in 25 communities in Asia, Africa, Europe and South America.

The order is exceptional in its leadership too. Rome has accepted it electing a brother as superior general, although 45 per cent of members are priests.

A lack of vocations challenges the congregation, Father Dias said, adding that most people choose "secure" congregations. He said his order's system may not "assure" a secure old age. "But it definitely will not permit our brothers to die angry or sad for choosing our order."

Superior General Brother Giuliano Pallicca agreed his order cannot offer "the security and support young people look for."

"The large distances" between members who live scattered in several nations is also a challenge, said Brother Pallicca, who was also on a visit to Goa last week.

The order closed its only community in India in 1994 as it had only "just two members." One went to Tanzania, East Africa, and the other to Mexico.

Brother Pallicca said salaries their members earn in some countries are "very good." The excess money is pooled to help the congregation's other community houses.

Brother Pallicca said his confreres "build deep friendship" at workplaces, and after work they "mingle with families, share their problems and influence them through friendship."

The congregation is inspired by Charles de Foucauld who lived and died as a hermit in the Sahara desert in 1916. French Father Rene Voillaume started the Little Brothers congregation. It also has a women's wing named Little Sisters of Jesus.
  Tribals access services through information law
  RAIPUR, MARCH 15 (UCAN) -- Church workers are using a government freedom of information law to help illiterate people get payments and help that are due to them.

The Right To Information (RTI) Act, passed in 2005, forces government officials to give information on pay and other entitlements within a fixed time frame.

Few tribal people know how to access it, however, so a drive to educate them on their rights is being led by the social service wing of Raipur archdiocese, called Seva Sadan, or house of service.

Father Joshy Abraham, a lawyer and social activist who trains the villagers, says "secrecy breeds corruption. Transparency is vital to the government."

The state government has several schemes to help the socio-economic development of "primitive and backward" tribes but "due to bureaucracy, the programs do not reach them."

The Church help is delivering some dramatic results.

Imla Marawi, a tribal of Rampur village of Chhattisgarh state, and eight co-workers waited for eight months for the state to pay them 350,000 rupees (some US$7,700) for work leveling 18 acres (7.28 hectares) of land.

Marawi was trained by a Church social worker of her rights under the law.

Reaching out to Baiga and Gond tribes

She applied for details of the payment.

"Immediately our payment was released," says the leader of a village women forum.

The Church group is publicizing the law among the poorest Baiga and Gond tribes.

"The Baiga lack basic amenities," says Father Joseph Raj, who directs the social service center. "The information will help them to know the government schemes. And they can benefit," he added.

The center works through village leaders in tribal communities, who train villagers. There are 18 Baiga leaders now under training. They in turn will train people in some 60 villages.

As people started using the law, the elderly, who were not receiving old-age pension, started getting it, Father Raj said.

"It is a slow process. It may take a lot of time to achieve our goal," Father Raj told UCA News.

The tribal "people are weak. They are not organized," he said adding the law has come to them like "a messiah" to empower them.

Father Raj also said the Church "can effectively make use of" the law to help illiterate tribal people who are not aware of procedures to use it.

Father Abraham guides them in analyzing each problem and tells them what information they should seek to get the desired effect.
  Six-year-old Orissa girl identifies dad's killer
  BHUBANESWAR, MARCH 15 (UCAN) -- A six-year-old girl has identified Orissa legislative assembly member Manoj Pradhan as her father's killer during the anti-Christian violence two years ago.

Lipsa Nayak and her mother were among hundreds of witnesses summoned by two fast track courts trying cases related to the attacks on Christians.

When asked by the judge if she could identify the man who murdered her father, she pointed to Pradhan, a leader of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people's party).

Nayak's mother told the court her husband escaped to the forest with his family but a mob tracked him down. They demanded he denounce Christianity or face death but he kept quiet, the 25-year-old widow recalled.

"They played with him for a few hours before cutting him into pieces and dousing him with kerosene," she said, and added that her daughters who were then aged four and two had witnessed the crime.

Defense and prosecution lawyers grilled the girl for more than 90 minutes asking her about persons she saw killing her father and the place of the crime.

"She answered all their questions without wavering," Raj Kishore Pradhan (not related to the legislator), a lawyer assisting the prosecution, told UCA News after the March 12 hearing in Orissa's Kandhamal district.

Pradhan, the politician, represents the G. Udayagiri constituency in the Orissa assembly. He is accused in 14 cases of arson and looting as well as nine murders during the violence.

The courts have exonerated him in several cases after witnesses turned hostile in court, allegedly under intimidation and threats.

"Here is a young girl who has mustered the courage to testify against the powerful" politician, defense lawyer Pradhan said. Her example "would encourage others to testify before the court and get justice rather than turn hostile," he added.

Father Manoj Kumar Nayak from the same village hoped the girl's testimony would bring justice to the victims.

The Catholic priest pointed out that the legislator was among 307 people the fast track courts have acquitted for lack of witnesses. He also told UCA News most accused are not yet arrested or brought to trial.
  Pope must act decisively on clerical abuse
  WHEN Cardinal Sean Brady, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, met journalists in Rome after a two-day carpeting by Pope Benedict XVI of Ireland's bishops over sex abuse scandals last month, he appeared contrite. "There have been failures in our leadership," he told us. "The only way we will regain credibility will be through our humiliation."

Lent, Cardinal Brady said, was "a time of penance, and we must begin with ourselves and have a change of heart."

Similar expressions of contrition and "humiliation" can be expected from Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, head of the German Bishops Conference, when he meets the Pope today as the growing clerical sex abuse scandal engulfs the Pontiff's native Germany.

Even now, though, despite the spread of a scandal that began in the US in 2002 and has since embroiled Ireland, Austria, Germany, Australia and The Netherlands, there is a danger that the Vatican and Pope Benedict have not fully grasped the devastating damage it is doing to the standing of the Roman Catholic Church.

"Papal Whitewash" ran one headline in the Irish press after Pope Benedict's encounter with the Irish bishops. No bishops were sacked, no abuse victims were heard, and the Pope announced no plans to visit Ireland to apologise and to mend fences.

Vatican officials appear bemused by widespread media coverage of the admission by Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, the Pope's older brother, that he "slapped" choirboys at a Regensburg boarding school where pupils suffered sex abuse at the hands of a "sadistic" headmaster. "This is irrelevant," one said.

But even though Ratzinger claimed not to have been aware of the sexual -- as opposed to physical -- abuse at the school, his remarks opened a window on to the climate of fear, secrecy, repression, hypocrisy and cover-ups in which sexual abuse took place in Catholic institutions.

The Vatican has only slowly -- and reluctantly -- moved from refusal to face the problem of clerical sex abuse to attempts to deal with it publicly as the scandals and lawsuits multiply. The Pope's spokesman argued defensively this week that the problem was wider than the Church, and even claimed the Church had acted "decisively and swiftly".

Roman Catholic bishops in a number of the affected countries have adopted new guidelines to protect children from abuse, including better co-operation with the police and civil authorities. The Vatican has come a long way since the US abuse crisis of 2002, when senior Vatican officials dismissed the problem of pedophile priests as largely confined to a minority of clerics in the Anglophone world.

Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the Brazilian head of the Congregation for the Clergy, recently admitted sexual abuse was "extremely serious and criminal". The Pope himself called it "not only a heinous crime but also a grave sin which offends God", an echo of Pope John Paul II's 2002 definition of clerical sex abuse as delictum gravius -- or a grave sin. On his 2008 visit to the US, Pope Benedict admitted that he was "deeply ashamed" of the scandal.

Yet it was Pope Benedict who as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- the successor to the Inquisition -- imposed secrecy on sex abuse cases in 2001, making them subject to "papal confidentiality".

The suspicion lingers in the Vatican that the crisis is all part of an anti-Catholic plot to undermine the Church -- or as the Pope's brother put it this week, to foster "a spirit of animosity" towards it.

The Church, Vatican officials maintain, is being singled out unfairly. Last year the Holy See stated that "in the last 50 years somewhere between 1.5 per cent and 5 per cent of the Catholic clergy has been involved in sexual abuse cases," adding the figure was comparable to that of other groups and denominations.

Then there is the argument -- advanced by Monsignor Ratzinger among others -- that attitudes and mores have changed over the years. As Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, pointed out recently, "Our understanding of this problem has evolved . . . in those days, years ago, decades ago, people didn't realise how serious this was, and so rather than pulling people out of the ministry directly and fully, they were moved."

To the wider public, however, this all sounds like evasion and self-justification, not contrition. The Pope's brother's revelations have brought the sex abuse problem uncomfortably close to home -- and many are now wondering how long it will be before sex abuse cases come to light in the archdiocese of Munich, where the Pope was Archbishop from 1977 to 1982.

Even in the short time since he summoned the Irish bishops to Rome, a flood of sex abuse cases has emerged in Berlin, Hamburg, Bonn and other German cities. "An immense tragedy is becoming apparent," said Father Stefan Dartmann, head of the Jesuit order in Germany.

How he responds to that tragedy could be the defining moment of Pope Benedict's pontificate. The pastoral letter he is due to issue to the faithful in Ireland on the sex abuse crisis will be closely scrutinised for evidence that the Pontiff can confront the scale of the crisis.

"Sexual abuses of minors by representatives of the clergy are criminal acts, shameful, inadmissible mortal sins, ignoble actions, among the darkest of the Church," Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Council for Christian Unity, said this week. "There needs to be a serious house cleaning in our Church. The Pope is not just going to stand by and watch." (Courtesy: The Times, London)
  Kashmir village lacks basic amenities
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, MARCH 12 -- While the modern world makes huge technological strides, this village in the border district of Karnah, about 100 kilometres from Srinagar, is devoid of basic amenities.

Dragad-Teetwal, comprising 105 families, lacks any road connectivity, dispensary, ration depot and other facilities.

"The Sazwani stream flowing by the village no longer exists. Now, there is neither a river nor a road. Cultivation suffers because of this. Farms are almost barren and maize production has declined. Nothing grows without water," says middle-aged Sarwar Jan, a resident of the village. However, drinking water is available.

The nearest hospital is about 10 kilometres away. Although there is a dispensary at Gundishat, about 2-3 kilometres away, there's no doctor there.

"A medical assistant and a nurse do the job. They often fail to diagnose diseases. No medical tests are carried out there for want of facilities," Jan rues. "Expectant mothers, in case of emergency, are carried to the hospital. Some die on the way."

There are two schools in the village: A Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA) and a government school, up to the seventh standard. "Girls have started going to school now, although their attendance is still low."

A ration depot exists about 3-4 kilometres down the hill. "People are forced to walk down the mountain to buy foodgrains."

Recollecting the October 8, 2005, earthquake, Jan says, "We first thought it was a bomb blast. I then saw my father's house collapsing and ran for cover."

Jan lost her mother, sister, uncle and five other family members in the earthquake. "It gives me great pain whenever I remember them. Had there been a proper connecting road, several of the injured could have been saved."

After the death of his first wife, Jan's husband married her. "Being her cousin, she was forced to marry him. Women's consent is not considered vital at the time of marriage here. It's the family that decides," says social activist Hamraz Ahmad. Jan's eight-member family lives on farming. "Whatever had to happen, happened," Jan confesses.

Jan joined a 10-month handicrafts training course organised for the village women by Charkha Communication Development Network, a New Delhi-based NGO. "Forty one girls are being trained at two centres," says Sarwar, who works as a trainer at one the centres.
According to her, the Scheduled Tribe status to Gujjars has lead to a rift between Gujjars and Pahadis in the area.

"Funds meant for Gujjars aren't utilised for their welfare."
  German scandal: Pope meets bishop
  AMID repots of clergy sex scandals in Germany, Pope Benedict XVI met with the head of German bishops yesterday, a day after the Vatican reaffirmed the values of priestly celibacy.

The meeting with Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg was planned as a traditional review of the recent spring gathering of Germany's bishops.

But the two Germans reportedly focused on the wave of scandals over predator priests and teachers that has now engulfed 19 of Germany's 27 dioceses, AFP said.

The German scandals are among several to have rocked the Catholic Church lately, notably in Ireland last year, and now Austria and The Netherlands as well.

Germany's shock revelations began in late January when an elite Jesuit school in Berlin admitted systematic sexual abuse of pupils by two priests in the 1970s and 1980s.

The allegations also entangled the pope's brother Father Georg Ratzinger, who ran Regensburg cathedral's thousand-year-old choir for 30 years. The boarding schools implicated includes the one to which the choir is attached.

Father Ratzinger, 86, said that the alleged sexual abuse in the 1950s and 1960s -- before his time -- was "never discussed."

Most priests concerned are not expected to face criminal charges because the alleged crimes took place too long ago, but there have been growing calls for a change in the law and for the Church to pay compensation, the report said.

Source: Pope meets German bishop over abuse scandal
  Nuns help former prisoners survive in life
  SARITA DEVI, a Hindu, is grateful to some Catholic nuns for her peaceful life after a prison term.

"The sisters trained me knitting and tailoring while I was in the correctional home. It helped me start a small tailoring shop after my release last year," the 34-year-old woman told UCA News.

Devi was among 80 people who have benefited from the Occupational Training Program the Apostolic Carmel nuns started in Alipore Central Women's Correctional Home in Kolkata three years ago as part of their prison ministry.

Devi, who spent five years in the prison as an under-trial, now makes woolen clothes and women's suits to make a living. Her family also supports and cooperates with her, besides the nuns, she said. "All this was possible because of the sisters and I am grateful," she added.

According to Sister Alexia, who coordinates the prison ministry, the nuns started the training program after they noticed women "going mad" soon after they arrive in the correctional home.

"In order to divert their mind from the thoughts of the crimes they supposedly committed, we began providing training in tailoring," she explained.

In November 2009, 40 prisoners received certificates for completing a year-long course in tailoring. The second batch started in January with 27 women.

The congregation's Calcutta province spent 70,000 rupees (US$1,520) on the project. Each student in their schools contributes 100 rupees "to make them and their parents help the neglected women," said Sister Alexia who joined the prison ministry in 2001.

She said the nuns also provide follow-up support to the women after their release, if required.

The correctional home has 80 children, most aged 10-13. Malabika Basu, who imparts basic literacy skills them, said the children too are keen on learning knitting and stitching.

"When they are engaged in such activities, they tend to forget their worries and are able to gain useful and practical knowledge," Basu told UCA News. (Courtesy: CathnewsIndia)
  'Check surrogate motherhood'
  AS India emerges as world leader of surrogacy for gays and others, a Christian leader wants the nation make effective laws to check science exploiting poverty with no regard for human values.

Surrogate parenting is a booming industry in India, and in recent years the ranks of childless foreign couples have been swelled by gay partners looking for a low-cost, legally-friendly path to parenthood, reports French news agency AFP.

In the United States, laws governing adoption and surrogacy vary from state to state, while in India the service is legal, loosely regulated and -- so far at least -- non-discriminatory on grounds of sexual orientation.

Surrogacy Abroad, which specializes in finding surrogate mothers in India has a growing number of gay couples on its client roster, the agency said. It bills each couple around 20,000 dollars, including medical charges and the payment for the surrogate who receives around 8,000 dollars.

India IVF (In vitro fertilization) clinics claim a high success rate as doctors are allowed to implant five embryos into the uterus at one time. In many other countries, such as Britain, only two implants are allowed.

According to the Indian Surrogacy Law Centre, a legal firm based in the southern Indian city of Chennai, opportunities for gay couples to find surrogate mothers overseas have grown substantially.

"South Africa is now advertising access to such surrogacy, but India has the highest volume because procedures here are simple and more affordable than other countries," said G.R. Hari, a partner in the legal firm.

Critics warn that the lack of effective legislation governing surrogacy -- whether for gay or heterosexual couples -- encourages "rent-a-womb" exploitation of young, poor Indian women.

"Where will all this end? Surrogate farming in poorer countries has implications of human trafficking," said John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council.

The council is particularly concerned that foreign gay couples figure increasingly on the client lists of Indian IVF clinics.

"The Church is clear that marriage and parenthood are Sacraments and they are valid only for those in natural union which is husband and wife," Dayal said.

Source: Gay couples find surrogate mothers in India
  Christian campaign continues for dalit rights
  BISHOPS, pastors and lay leaders of Catholic and Protestant Churches joined in a seminar seeking ways to overcome socio-religious discriminations of dalit Christians.

The top two Church bodies of the Churches -- the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India and the National Council of Churches in India -- organized the last weekend seminar in New Delhi.

They discussed "Building Inclusive India: Overcoming Social and Religious Discriminations" in the particular context of inequality suffered by dalit people.

Father G. Cosmon, secretary of Indian bishops' commission for dalit Christians and other oppressed class people, said the seminar primarily aimed to seek ways to press the government to extend quota for dalit Christians.

The government tabled in parliament its own commission's report that suggested extending the benefits to dalit Christians but "it is being neglected."

In December 2009, the report from the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, popularly known as the Ranganath Misra Commission, was tabled in parliament.

It said denying quota right to dalits among Christians and Muslims on the ground that their religions do not practice caste system violates justice. It recommended quota for these groups.

Jesuit Father A.X.J. Bosco, convenor of National Council of Dalit Christians, said "it is very important to carry on the momentum of Christian community" in the context of tabling the Misra commission report.

Satish Deshapande, who teaches in Delhi University, who studied the issue of Dalits in Muslim and Christian communities said, the gap between the rich and the poor in Muslim community is narrow, while the gap between the rich and the poor in the Christian community is wider. "So, in Christian community there is no larger consensus with regard to fighting for reservations" to improve their dalit's future.

Some in the seminar suggested intensifying the lobbying with parliamentarians. They also suggested putting political pressure by garnering public support.
  Security was a major concern for bishops' meet
  SECURITY of bishops was a challenge in organizing the national bishops' plenary in Guwahati that witnesses sporadic violence, reveals Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil, who organized it.

"I do not want to hide the fact that I had some fear about the security of the participants," said the prelate, whose archdiocese in the city hosted the eight-day meeting that ended March 3.

Assam state Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi took "personal interest to provide security" the prelate said in an interview with Church news agency SAR News.

Several towns in Assam continue to witness sporadic explosions and sudden strikes as ethnic groups fight each other for socio-political dominance.

The prelate also shared some anxiety he had about possible "negative comments in the press" about the bishops' meet. But the press was "positively interested" in discussions bishops had on issues of modern youth, he noted.

He said the "real challenge" was to help the bishops keep their time schedules so that they could give full attention to their deliberations.

It meant the smooth functioning of the transport systems, food arrangements, communication facilities, information network, and secretarial assistance.

The meeting could have been disrupted by matters such as water shortages, electricity failure, "phone disruption, some unforeseen political commotion, or a stray bomb blast."

Source: Archbishop Recalls Agony and Ecstasy of Hosting Bishops' Meet (CBCI/SAR News)
  Philippines: "No to war", says Muslim official in war-torn region
  From Ben Cal

BUTUAN CITY, MARCH 12 -- Mindanao cannot afford another all-out war in the magnitude of the '70s that brought a wide swath of destruction to lives and property and a stagnant economic growth in the region, according to a ranking Muslim official.

Sukarno Muhamad, regional director in Caraga Region of the newly created National Commission of Muslim Filipinos (NCMF), tearfully related his experience and the hardship of tens of thousands of civilians affected by the fighting between government forces and the then Moro National Liberation Front(MNLF) in southern Philippines during that gloomy period of the country's history.

Muhamad, who was young when the war broke out, was one of the resource speakers at the reflective dialogue conducted here Thursday which was attended by 430 people from various sectors of society in the Caraga Region.

He recalled that sometime in February 1973, he saw more than 300 bodies, including women and children killed following a rampage by MNLF forces when the war broke out. Their bodies were strewn in the streets.

Muhamad stressed the importance of peace, saying "peace should be achieved now in the peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)."

"War and armed conflict should not come back to haunt the people of Mindanao," he said.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) is conducting a series of "reflective dialogues" nationwide to find a lasting solution to the decades-old Mindanao problem that has claimed the lives of some 150,000 people with the government spending over P150 billion for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Muhamad said the reflective dialogues would promote understanding among cultural-cross section of society.

"The OPAPP reflective dialogues would help all concerned stakeholders to promote cultural understanding and not foment prejudices and conflict," Muhamad said.

Among those who showed up at the forum here were representatives from the Caraga Council for Peace and Develop (CCPD), priests and seminarians from Agusan and local officials from Surigao, farmers , fisher folks met, indigenous groups and other sectors from the religious, academe, business, women, youth and local government units (LGUs).

"Dialogue Mindanaw" is a positive development as it reflects the true will and sentiments of the people as they can talk freely of their opinions.

The day-long forum was held t the St. Peter's College Seminary here.
  Assn seeks investigation into 'return' of missing son
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, MARCH 11 -- The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) demanded on March 10 that an investigation by an independent agency be conducted into the recent incident wherein a missing person supposedly returned home after 20 years.

While refuting the news, APDP president Parveena Ahangar said, "Some forces are trying to destabilise a movement initiated by parents and relatives of disappeared persons."

A few days ago, a truck driver reportedly brought home Javaid Ahmad Dar, son of Ghulam Hassan Dar, a resident of Ladoora-Baramulla. "The young man has his lost memory and so we have opted for a DNA test, the result of which is pending," the family members said.

Eight-and-a-half-year-old Javaid alias Sonu went missing 20 years ago from a road near Zero Bridge in Srinagar. According to the family, Javaid allegedly hurled a stone at a passing military truck and was arrested by security forces.

Parveena said the incident has shaken Javaid's parents. "An investigation should be conducted by an independent agency and those involved in this re-surfacing episode should be brought to light."

She said two such cases were reported in the past as well. "No action, whatsoever, was taken by the government."

Parveena reiterated that the association would continue to protest till they got justice. "An independent commission should be set up to look into the issue of disappearances and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) should be withdrawn," she said.
  Church plans to set up professional college at Indore
  THE Catholic Church in central India plans to open a professional college as part of its efforts to keep in touch with youths after they have finished school.

"Youth are the Church's strength and to mould them into successful individuals is our aim," Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal of Indore told UCA News on March 8 after laying the foundation stone for the Church's first professional college in the west of Madhya Pradesh state.

The region, with Indore as the base, comprises the tribal-dominated dioceses of Jhabua, Khandwa and Ujjain, as well as Indore.

"We have been giving a good foundation and education to the students of our schools but there was no follow up," the Divine Word prelate explained. Local people have been demanding a professional institute for a long time, he added.

According to the prelate, young people face a "troublesome period" soon after high school. "By accompanying and guiding them in their higher education, we can help them not to go astray in their struggle to establish themselves," he added.

Bishop Thottumarickal, who was recently elected the chairperson of the Indian Catholic bishops' social communication commission, said the new institute is "an opportunity" to groom the youths, especially when the Church in the country is focusing on youth in a special way.

Youth for peace and harmony was the major theme of the bishops' Feb. 24-March 3 biennial plenary.

The institute will start bachelor's courses in business administration, computer science and commerce from July in Indore, the state's commercial capital.

Amit Ganawa from Jhabua welcomed the Church's initiative. "The Church provides the best education until high school, but after that we have no option but to join institutes run by politicians and other individuals," said the tribal youth who is enrolled in a bachelor's course in pharmacy in Indore.

Victor Antony, president of the local Catholic council, welcomed the Church "finally" agreeing to meet people's demand for higher education.

Source: Church college keeps in touch with youth (UCAN)
  Police spoil move to vandalize Cathedral
  CHRISTIANS in Satna, central India, expressed relief after police thwarted today an attempt by some Hindu radicals to vandalize the Catholic cathedral in the city.

Some 60 people came in a procession to Satna diocese's St. Vincent Cathedral around 5 pm but the police prevented them from entering the church complex, Father Joseph Kodakallil, diocesan vicar general, told UCA News.

The crowd shouted some anti-Christian slogans and burned an effigy on the road before dispersing after 30 minutes.

Hindu radicals planned to burn effigies of Church people inside Cathedral today to protest the Church's alleged conversion activities, said some newspapers in Madhya Pradesh.

The media also reported about Hindu radicals' plan to take out a mock funeral procession before burning the effigies.

"We feel relieved since no untoward incident has happened," said Father Kodakallil, who is also the cathedral parish priest. He said the police had advised him and his assistant priest not to appear before the crowd.

The parish priest also said the media did not reveal who had issued the threat, but the reports mentioned the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (world Hindu council) and Bajrang Dal (the party of the strong and stout) as behind the threat.

"The threat was a serious and the Church could not take it lightly. So, we sought police protection for the cathedral," he said and added the Church submitted separate complaints to top police and civil officials in Satna district demanding protection for the church and action against those behind the threat.

Father Kodakallil said the officials had promised to protect the cathedral.

The media reports said the Hindu radicals were upset over a Christian marriage that took place in May 2009 that they alleged was a case of conversion.

However, assistant parish priest Father Jolly Konnukodan said the Church has not conducted the marriage of anyone from another religious community as the media alleged. Such reports, he regretted, creates confusion and tarnish the Church’s image. He demanded a "fair probe" to identify mischief mongers.

The priest also expressed relief the police presence prevented the crowd from vandalizing the church. The young priest dismissed the Hindu threat as "well orchestrated strategy" to target the Church for doing "good work" among the poor.

Source: UCAN
  West Bengal Governor opens Church's child care center
  A 25-year-old Salesian home for street-children in West Bengal yesterday opened a child care research center with an emergency 24-hour counseling helpline for children at risk.

The Don Bosco Ashalayam (home of hope) in Howrah near Kolkata, coordinates 25 homes for street children with four Salesian priests and 170 staff and volunteers caring for more than 3,000 children.

The research institute would manage the round-the-clock ChildLine counseling service, manned by professional therapists and counsellors.

The institute will also monitor various projects for street children and undertake research on child care.

Some 600 street children joined more than 500 nuns and priests for the opening of the Child Care Research Institute by state Governor Mayankote Kelath Narayanan.

Salesian Archbishop Lucas Sirkar of Calcutta blessed the new building.

Narayanan said he is indebted to Christians since he himself was educated by the Church.

He urged the children to imbibe the will to succeed under "the care and love" of the Salesian priests.

The governor awarded six former and present students of Ashalayam for their exemplary performance in studies and co-curricular activities.

One, Probhat Bose, 26, said he had been wandering around Howrah railway station 15 years ago but, thanks to the center, he is now a social worker.

Ashalayam helped him complete a master's degree and he now coordinates Ashalayam's social work.

Ashalayam has reached out to over 10,000 children at risk, mostly from the streets of Kolkata and Howrah, director Father George Chempakathinal told UCA News.

Source: Salesians open child care research institute (UCAN)
  Nun salutes men for passing women's bill
  NEW DELHI, MARCH 11 (UCAN) -- A Catholic nun leader in India says the passage of a bill reserving parliamentary seats for women is "a great example" of growing gender sensitivity in the country.

"Men deciding for women's advancement is a great achievement in India's male-dominated society," said Sister Lilly Francis.

The new law would set aside 33 per cent of seats in parliament and state legislative assemblies.

The Rajya Sabha, or the upper house of parliament, passed the controversial Women's Reservation Bill on March 9. The success came after two days of high drama in the house that suspended seven members for disrupting proceedings.

The bill, which has been pending for 14 years, now requires the approval of the Lok Sabha (people's council), or the lower house, as well as state legislative assemblies.

Sister Francis, secretary of the Indian bishops' women's department, says the "bill has to get through and it will" to give women a greater role in the country's decision making process.

The 63-year-old Salesian nun credited male parliamentarians for passing the bill in the upper house, which has only 21 women among its 223 members. The larger Lok Sabha has only 59 women among its 543 members.

'Great joy' among women in India

"A big salute to the men parliamentarians but for whose help and willingness the bill would not have been passed. They are the elected noble men of our country," she told UCA News today.

The Rajya Sabha set "the best example of gender parity," she said.

Sister Francis also pointed out that the bill's success has brought "great joy" among women in the country irrespective of their political, religious and social backgrounds.

"This is a historic moment for women in India who have experienced an unprecedented sense of togetherness these days," Sister Francis told UCA News.

The bill had brought "unusual enthusiasm" among convents and parish women's groups across the country. She said she had asked the bishops to pray for the bill and several of them wrote back saying they would continue to pray until the bill becomes law.

The nun also noted that the Rajya Sabha passed the bill nearly two weeks after the Indian Catholic bishops approved a gender policy for the Church.

"It is again our men leaders in the Church who approved the policy. So, all credit to them," she added.

The Church's gender policy reserves one third of seats for women in Church administrative structures.
  Indonesia: Muslim says terrorism crime against religion
  JAKARTA, MARCH 11 (UCAN) -- The leader of Indonesia's largest Islamic organization says he supports police action against terrorists, and declared terrorism as a crime against religion.

"Terrorism is not only a crime against humanity but also religion. Why? It is because terror attacks carried out in the name of religion disgraces religion itself," Masdar Farid Masudi of the Central Board of Nahdlatul Ulama told UCA News yesterday.

As a crime against humanity, he added, terrorism indiscriminately threatens the right to life for everyone, regardless of their social or religious backgrounds. "Terror attacks carried out by those claiming to be Muslim fighters have taken their toll on Muslims," he said.

Muslims across the world should condemn those committing terror attacks because they disgrace Islam, he maintained.

Masudi's comments came after police mounted raids on March 9 in Pamulang, in Jakarta's outskirts, killing three suspected militants.

One of the dead was Dulmatin, a 39-year-old Indonesian trained by Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, who was suspected of planning the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings which killed 202 people. He had been one of Southeast Asia's most wanted fugitives and was thought to have fled to the Philippines.

The raids were part of a police crackdown on suspected Jemaah Islamiyah militants who recently established a training camp in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam province.

Police said the operation was carried out based on information from about 20 suspected militants from Aceh and Java already in custody.

Commenting on Indonesia's efforts in combating terrorism, Masudi said his organization fully supports the security forces in what they are doing. "It is needed to stop the ideology of violence," he stated.

Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, executive secretary of the ecumenical and interreligious affairs commission of the Indonesian Bishops' Conference, agreed that terrorism is a crime against humanity. "It uses religion to justify or legalize terror attacks," the diocesan priest told UCA News.

Commenting on the recent police raid, he said terrorism should not only be fought with guns but also with proper guidance and education for those involved so as to make them realize that what they do is wrong.
  Priest rides to the rescue of rag pickers
  A DIVINE WORD priest has come to the rescue of rag pickers who have been threatened by a government move to employ contract laborers to clear waste material in towns.

"Rag pickers eke out a living collecting and selling waste materials. They come from the very bottom of society," Father George Payatikat, who works among scavengers in Madhya Pradesh, told UCA News today, after he organized more than 500 women engaged in waste disposal to protest the government move.

The priest heads Jan Vikas Kendra (center for people's development) he started in 2001 in Indore.

The priest says the women's "very existence" has been threatened after local civil bodies began to engage contract workers in clearing waste material.

The women submitted to Indore municipal commissioner a memorandum addressed to state Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan demanding "a dignified life and sustained livelihood."

For this, they demanded the permanent right to collect and sell waste material, and permission and facilities to collect waste from houses. They also demanded health and accident insurance as well as residential schools for their children.

Father Payatikat quoted official records saying India has more than 1.5 million rag pickers.

On the Church's part, his center has helped more than 1,000 women in Indore form self-help groups, a co-operative society with intra-loan facilities and a health insurance cover.

"We also conduct regular health check-up camps for them and their family," he said. "It is regrettable that no help from the government ever came to them despite the fact that it is the duty of the government to protect every individual."

Meanwhile, some 500 men and women engaged in a similar profession gathered in the state capital of Bhopal.

Divine Word Father Albinus Kujur, who organized the program, told UCA News that the rag pickers' contribution to keeping cities clean "is immense." He regretted however that "neither society nor the government give them their dues."

The Church, he continued, strongly believes everyone has a right to a dignified life and decided to take up the rag pickers' cause.

The priest said most scavengers are women. "Their husbands drink and the women are unable to send their children to school," Father Kujur noted.

The Church also wants the government to set up schools for their children. "Such initiatives," he said, would help rag pickers stop their children from joining the same job," he added.

Source: Priest rides to the rescue of rag pickers (UCAN)
  Orissa women rally for social amity
  SOME 4,500 Christian and Hindu women marched in the riot-hit Kandhamal district, Orissa, on March 8 demanding interfaith harmony and development.

The march in Balliguda was to mark International Women's Day. Participants demanded justice for the survivors of sectarian violence and the proper implementation of government welfare schemes.

Kandhamal was the center of anti-Christian violence in 2008.

The women, most of them Hindus, called for reconciliation between Christians and Hindus and the rehabilitation of women affected by the violence.

They also spoke out against the state government's alleged apathy toward women trafficking and demanded a ban on cheap locally brewed liquor.

Several speakers urged the marchers not to fall prey to forces that try to divide the community along religious lines, or agents of globalization who try to displace tribal and low caste people under the pretext of industrial development.

"The violence showed how fanatics use us to fight each other. We forgot our dignity and our womanhood and wanted to see other women in ruins," said Sibani Behera, a teacher.

She told the gathering comprising mostly tribal and dalit (former low caste) women to stop their dependence on men and fight for their rights and place in society.

Namita Majhi, another woman leader, urged the gathering not to look to "government officials for everything or treat them as our masters." She asked women to press the government to work for rehabilitation and reconciliation among women.

Some men backed the women leaders.

"Women are powerful [and if] they organize and agitate, the rights and privileges they seek will be within reach," asserted chief speaker, Praful Samantray, who heads the Jana Shakti Abhiyan (people's power campaign).

Chita Behera, a lawyer and the chief guest, encouraged women to keep away from Hindu radical groups who try to divide society along religious lines. He urged them to shed the notion that women are weak. "You are the powerhouses for peace and reconciliation," he asserted.

Rashmi Pradhan, a Catholic tribal woman leader, said the march was a "positive signal" as it involved Christian and Hindu women. "Now government officials have to act swiftly to meet our demands," she added.

Source: Christian, Hindu women stress reconciliation (UCAN)
  Religious lawyers to help riot victims
  A GROUP of Religious lawyers today finalized plans to help to improve conviction rates in anti-Christian riot cases in the eastern state of Orissa.

The Forum of Religious Lawyers for Kandhamal (FRLK) will help victims appeal to the Supreme Court to reopen 11 murder cases handled by two fast track courts in Orissa, said forum head Monfort Brother Varghese Theckanath.

Flawed investigation and a lack of expert legal help were to blame for the high rate of acquittals, Brother Theckanath said.

Five representavies of the forum concluded a two-day meeting with Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar to finalize plans today.

The Religious lawyers formed the forum after they came together Feb. 25-28 in Hyderabad.

The Hyderabad meeting was initiated by Montfort Social Institute in that city and Pune-based Streevani, a Church-run center for women's empowerment.

The 54 members who gathered for the initial meeting, all priests, brothers or nuns, have agreed to spend time in Kandhamal, the epicenter of violence, to provide legal help to victims, Brother Theckanath said.

The seven weeks of rioting and violence against Christians in 2008 resulted in 3,232 complaints by victims.

Police have filed 831 cases for investigation. The investigations of some 120 cases have been completed and sent for trial.

By February end the courts have closed some 60 cases, convicting a total of 89 persons and acquitting 251 people, the Religious lawyers said in a statement.

They plan to work with other groups to appeal to the Supreme Court to "stay all criminal proceedings" of riot cases and to re-open and re-investigate all cases.

"We propose appointing a leading criminal lawyer each in the district, state and Supreme courts," the brother said.

They also want to approach the National Human Rights Commission and the National Women's Commission to ensure justice for victims, he added.

Some 90 people were killed and 50,000 displaced in the riots. The state government, however, says only 42 were killed and lists the rest as "missing" because their bodies have not yet been found.

Source: Religious lawyers step in to help riot victims (UCAN)
  Indonesia: Catholic youths launch chastity campaign
  JAKARTA, MARCH 10 (UCAN) -- A Catholic youth group in Jakarta archdiocese has launched a nine-month-long campaign to stress the importance of chastity to other young people.

Organizers of the Domus Cordis (sanctification and evangelization) group, say the campaign will include talks based on Pope John Paul John II's Theology of the Body, the recruitment of "chastity ambassadors" to spread the message, as well as the use of media and social networking websites.

Organizers say they launched the True Love Celebration (TLC) campaign after the National Commission for Child Protection reported in 2008 that 93.7 per cent of 4,500 junior and senior high school students surveyed had engaged in petting and oral sex, and that 97 per cent watched pornographic movies.

In addition, 21.2 per cent of the senior high school students had gone for abortions.

"These cases are one reason why young Catholics decided to launch the campaign by using Pope John Paul II's emphasis on chastity in his Theology of the Body as a focus," TLC's co-chairman Kevin Darmawan told UCA News.

Theology of the Body is the topic of a series of lectures on the human person given by the late Pope. It was the first major teaching of his pontificate.

About 300 mostly young Catholics attended the TLC launch on March 6, officiated by Domus Cordis moderator Jesuit Father Thomas Aquino Deshi Ramadhani.

Darmawan said the campaign would include nine monthly gatherings, starting this month, featuring praise and worship and talks based on Theology of the Body.

The campaign also aims to invite as many as young people as possible to become "chastity ambassadors," who would share with others the importance of living a chaste life and what true love is all about.

Sixty such "ambassadors" have already been recruited two months ago, "who will spread the message to others at least once a week," said Darmawan.

The campaign will also use multimedia such as social networking websites, and radio and television to spread the chastity message, he said.

One "chastity ambassador," Vincentius Wedyanto, admitted that he used to watch pornographic films. "I want to change my life," he said. "And this campaign's gatherings, confession sessions and prayer meetings make me realize that God is the only one who can heal me," he told UCA News.

Father Ramadhani, who teaches biblical studies at the Jakarta-based Driyarkara School of Philosophy, said the campaign is in the form of a nine-month-long novena. "It is actually an expression of concern of young people who want to concretely translate Theology of the Body" into action.

Young people are targets of the campaign, he added, "because we believe that they can reach out to other young people."
  Former Jesuit students fund girls' education
  BAGI, MARCH 10 (UCAN) -- In a rare thank-you gesture, former students of a Jesuit school have funded a new school building for village girls in eastern India.

Jesuit Father Andre Bruylants opened the new school building at Bagi village, some 20 kilometers south of Kolkata, on Sunday, the day before International Women's Day.

Alumnorum Societas (ALSOC), the old boys' association of St. Xavier's Collegiate School in Kolkata, provided the funding to help girls' education, its secretary Noomi Dorab Mehta said.

Association members contributed money and materials to complete the 12-room, two-storied building, which cost about 3 million rupees (US$67,000), Mehta said.

Some 150 students from grade five to 10 presently study at the 14-year-old privately-managed school, said principal Oli Kole. She said she was "excited" to have a new school building.

Kole, 32, said there are no other girls' schools within a radius of five kilometers. She expressed hope that the new building would help give more girls an education.

School management committee member, Surya Sen Patro, said before ALSOC stepped in, the school lacked basic amenities. He said they could not get government help because the school was not officially recognized.

Father Bruylants said school officials sought his help in 2004 to get assistance for the school, which was "in a terrible condition."

The 84-year-old Belgian missioner received help from the Loreto nuns in the city in repairing the roof, but no other help was forthcoming.

The missioner, a former principal of St Xavier's Collegiate School and former president of ALSOC, then looked to his former students.

Such help "is also part of their commitment to society, and the education of young girls was a big concern for them," Father Bruylants told UCA News.

Father Jerome Francis, principal of St. Xavier's Collegiate School, said at the school building opening ceremony that ALSOC would continue supporting the school.

The Jesuit priest urged school staff and former students to do their best to ensure quality education for all young girls in the area.
  "More women should join politics"
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, March 9 -- Emphasising the need for increased participation of women in politics, Anjum Zamrooda Habib, patron, Muslim Khawatein Markaz (MKM), said on March 8 that women ought to be encouraged to consider the profession.

"It is the need of hour," she said during a programme 'Women of Lost Paradise' that was organised to celebrate International Women's day. "We can't forget the brutalities committed against women, especially the Kunan Poshpora and Channapora gang rape incidents."

Her book 'Our Widows' was also released on the occasion.

Syeda Assiyah Andrabi, patron Duktaran-e-Milat, who was the chief guest, said it was the society's duty to make women politically active, adding, however, that it 'ought to be exercised within religious limits.'

"omen are ignorant of health issues and healthcare facilities available in the state," pointed out Dr Abdul Hamid Zargar, Director, Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), Soura, at a seminar 'Women's Health Rights and Care' organised on the same day by the Department of Students' Welfare, University of Kashmir, in collaboration with the Women's Study Centre.

"Women here face several health problems due to changing lifestyles. Obesity, diabetes and infertility are on the rise," Dr Zargar said.

"The administration, academics and health experts should join hands to address women's health-related issues," said Naseema Lankar, Divisional Commissioner Kashmir.

Meanwhile, a meeting of social workers, village health workers and voluntary organisations was held at the Jammu and Kashmir Voluntary Health Association's (JKVHA) headquarters in Pandrethan.
The participants hoped that the government would strive hard to create a suitable environment for women empowerment. They felt little progress had been made so far in rural areas.

They expressed concern regarding the growing violence against women and human rights issues in the society. They also felt that introduction of the Women's Reservation Bill was a big step and hoped that the long-pending Domestic Violence Bill would be approved by the government during the current state assembly session. The meeting was presided over by A M Mir IAS (retd), Executive Director of the organisation.

A cultural programme was also organised at Tagore Hall, here, by the 117 Batallion of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Srinagar. Director General Special CRPF N K Tripathi was the chief guest.
  Women asked to assert rights
  MADHYA PRADESH Isai Maha Sangh, the federation of lay Christian organizations in the state, observed the special day with a day-long program on how to access state welfare schemes meant for women.

"Our women are totally unaware of the government welfare and employment programs meant for them," said Sheela Santiago, a Christian woman, an organizer of the program in Bhopal, the state capital.

Anil Mittal, finance manager of the state's Backward Classes and Minorities Finance Development Corporation, who led the classes, said schemes are available to give low interest loans to women for self-employment, education and to start small businesses.

But they "seldom make use of such schemes," Mittal said.

Suhasini Das, one of some 300 people at the program, said the Church should help educate the poor about such schemes. She wanted parish priests to announce such schemes and Church media to publicize them. Most schemes would "immensely help" the poor Christians in the villages, she said.

In another Church initiative, more than 250 women joined a rally in Rehli town to create awareness of gender discrimination on March 7.

The Sisters of Jesus and Sagar diocese organized that event to mark Women's Day.

The culmination of the rally at the town's market included a play staged for some 2,000 people gathered there for their weekly shopping. The play stressed the need for girls' education and showed how moneylenders cheat illiterate people.

"Gender discrimination is the root cause of the backwardness of women in our society," said Sister Anila Chacko after the rally. The nun, a medical nurse, told UCA News, that mothers often hesitate to breastfeed baby girls as they prefer boys.

Girls are also discriminated against with regard to food, education and their choice of a life partner, said Sister Mereena Antony.

Source: Church educates women on state schemes (UCAN)
  Church agrees sharing power with women
  AS the Indian parliament today passed a bill reserving seats for women as law makers, an official of the bishops' conference said the Church introduced a gender policy document last week stressing more power to women.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) introduced the Gender Policy for Catholic Church in India in its last biennial meet ended March 3, spokesperson Father Babu Joseph said.

The Rajya Sabha or Upper House of Indian parliament passed the historic Women's Reservation Bill that reserves 33 per cent of seat in parliament for women.

The late evening voting came after a discussion on the Bill, which witnessed vociferous protests. The moving of the bill for the house's consideration saw unruly scenes, that resulted in three adjournments and suspension and eviction of seven disruptive members.

However, the Church's gender policy formulated with nation-wide consultation, outlines 'adequate' representation for women in all parish bodies, barring ordained priesthood, Mid-Day newspaper said quoting Father Joseph.

Participation includes encouraging women to lead prayer services, serve communion and lead small community groups, among other things.

Father Joseph said the policy began to take shape after the prelates discussed Catholic women's issues in their last meeting in 2008.

The bishops felt "were several instances of discrimination against allowing women to participate in decision-making within parish bodies across India," said Fr Joseph.

The change is welcome, says Bandra doctor Astrid Lobo Gajiwala. She wants Church offer decision-making to women. The policy document will be handy for women to assert rights, Gajiwala added.

Joseph Dias of the Catholic Secular Forum says the Church needs "to begin with nuns, who constitute 80 per cent of the religious in the country." This group is found to be the "most vulnerable in terms of respect and taking care of their basic needs," he said.

Also, use of the word 'adequate' was also debated. "In the meeting in 2008, there was talk of increasing reservation to 50 per cent. It's a little disappointing to see otherwise," said Gajiwala.

Source: More power to Catholic women: Church says Amen (Mid-Day)
  Get "CBSE Class X – Math" result on March 11 itself!
  From A Correspondent

LUDHIANA: CBSE Class X students all over India will appear for their Mathematics exam on March 11 and will know the result on the same evening. TCY, India's premier 'Education Services Company' will share the complete solutions of the CBSE Math question paper on March 11, 2010, evening. The solutions will be made available on and initially, followed by a printed version in one of the leading newspaper in the state the next day.

Wherever different question papers are used, students will just need to log onto and click on the link for their geographical location to see the solved question papers. Another free service being provided by TCY is the facility of CBSE Math Mock Tests that will be hosted exclusively on As the students will be taking the exam for local language on the 8th of March, they will have two and half days to revise their Math syllabus. The students will be able to utilize this time well by attempting CBSE Pattern Mock Tests on the website. The mock tests will be followed by a detailed analysis and explanations by TCYonline experts.
  Police fail to summon raped nun to ID lineup
  NEW DELHI, MARCH 9 (UCAN) -- Police have failed to notify a Catholic nun, raped during the 2008 anti-Christian violence in Orissa, of an identity parade including a new suspect in the case.

"Unofficially we knew ... that the court fixed March 8" for the identification lineup, Lansingh Lu Rongmei, one of a team of lawyers dealing with the nun's case told UCA News today.

"But until she gets the summons, how can she attend?" the lawyer asked.

The nun, 29, also feared going to Kandhamal and she planned to request that the court move the police lineup outside the district.

On two previous occasions, the court had allowed the lineup to be moved to Cuttack, the state's ancient capital, as the nun did not feel safe in Kandhamal.

Kandhamal was the epicenter of the seven-week long riot where she was raped on Aug. 25.

"The district is not yet safe for the nun. And, we also do not think the police would act in a fair manner," the lawyer said.

She accused police of standing by while the nun was paraded half naked after she had been raped.

Rongmei said the investigating officer had applied to the court in Balliguda, Kandhamal, last month for an identity parade featuring the new suspect.

Father Thomas Chellan, who was also attacked on the same day, was also due to attend but he did not receive notification either, she said.

The last time the nun attended a lineup was on June 23, 2009, conducted inside Choudwar Circle Jail in Cuttack. Police lined up about 80 people, mixing prisoners with eight suspects, and asked the nun to identify those who attacked her.

A similar exercise was conducted on Dec. 5, 2008. On that day, she identified two people -- one who slapped her and another who was in the crowd that attacked her.

Sister Mary Pulickal, superior of the nun, told UCA News today that the nuns "will not go to Kandhamal; we cannot go there because we do not feel safe." Press Trust of India, quoting official sources, said 19 people have been arrested in the case so far. The state police's Crime Branch was in search of two others, they said.

The news agency said Crime Branch officials also failed to turn up for yesterday's lineup.
  Diocese honors parents with larger families
  THAMARASSERY, March 9 (UCAN) -- An Oriental-rite diocese in Kerala, southern India, has honored parents having four or more children in attempts to check a slide in the Christian population.

Bishop Paul Chittilappilly of Thamarassery diocese addressed the March 6 function, urging the mostly peasant Catholics families to have more children.

Augustine Madathiparambil, Pastoral Council Secretary of the Syro-Malabar diocese, told UCA News that their Christian population is shrinking in the state. "Within a decade, there will be a huge decline in the Syrian Catholic population," he added.

The Church's concern over the number of members started since 2001, when the national decennial census showed a slide in Kerala's Christian population.

In 1991, Christians accounted for 19.5 per cent of state's 29.09 million people. The state's population increased to 31.84 million in 2001, but Christians dropped to 19 per cent.

Church leaders have been devising means to encourage families to have more babies, urging them to end the modern trend of couples not having more than two children.

About 110 families having four or more children attended the program. Most families had four children each, while only two families had six children each.

Father Joseph Christy Palliyodil, one of the organizers, said the diocese has more such large families, but many could not travel long distances with children.

He said the Church is "happy that many young parents are rediscovering their heritage of having large families."

Senior members of the community note that prior to 1970, when family planning methods were not popular in Kerala, Catholics families typically had six or more children.

Antony Thekkekara, a police officer and father of four, said he decided to have more babies after attending a charismatic retreat.

He wanted the Church to encourage couples in concrete ways. He suggested Catholic schools offer free education to the fourth child.

Biju Karimundackal, father of four and a businessman, said he is convinced that God will provide "whatever the children need." He blamed families'
"selfishness" for not having more babies.

However, Thomas Kinattukara, a father of four, said raising his children demands "unimaginable sacrifices." Finding money for education is also a major concern, he said.

Bishop-elect Remigius Inchananiyil of Thamarassery told UCA News that the diocese plans to introduce some schemes to encourage big families.
  Women's Day: Several suffer from stress and anxiety in J&K
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, MARCH 8 -- Women's Day is just another long day for women here. Bearing the brunt of the two-decade-long armed conflict in Jammu and Kashmir, most women are caught between the devil and the deep sea. Their roles have shifted abruptly from that of homemakers to forced breadwinners. They are physically crippled, emotionally bruised and economically disturbed. Psychologically, they are traumatised.

Stories of the deaths of a few expectant mothers due to lack of prenatal care in the initial years of militancy, as reported by former Deputy Director Health Services-Kashmir Dr Abdul Rashid Malik, sends shivers down the spine.

"In the early 1990s, the deaths of a few expectant mothers were reported for want of prenatal care, as they couldn't make it to hospital, due to cross-firing and search operations. The situation became particularly grim during Governor Jagmohan's rule. George Fernandes, the then Kashmir Affairs In-charge, Central Government, was apprised of the same by senior health officers," Dr Malik says.

The former Deputy Director says several women were in need of psychiatrists. "As psychiatrists were few in number, these women had to look for alternatives. Young widows and half-widows who had to single-handedly fend for their children suffered the most," the doctor says. Half-widows are those whose husbands disappeared during the conflict.

Most of the women who were directly affected by the conflict suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which often leads to depression, says Dr Hameedullah Shah, head of department, Psychiatry, Government Medical College, Srinagar.

"Emotionally, women are more susceptible. Most of the women are worried about the safety of the male members in their family," says Dr Shah, adding that anxiety, body ache and irritability are commonly reported among women here.
Isolation and other social problems, says Dr Shah, have been witnessed among women who are confined to the four walls of their houses. He adds that no specific data is available to quote their health problems.

Referring to the society's attitude towards widows, renowned religious scholar Kaleemullah Khan says, "Ignorance, selfishness, cruelty and inhuman attitude towards widows are at their peak."

"The Quran is very clear about how widows must be treated. If she has no children, she inherits one-fourth of the deceased's property. If she does have children, she gets one-eighth," Khan states.

Regarding inheritance rights to half-widows, he says, "Although no verse deals exclusively with this issue, a decree based on consensus can be issued by ulemas and moulvees (scholars and clerics), taking into consideration the immediacy of the problem and its ramifications."

To make such women economically self-reliant, Khan suggests certain measures, such as providing them with suitable professions (crèches, orphanages and home-based industries) and encouraging re-marriage.

However, well-known sociologist Dr Khurshid-ul-Islam says a woman's emotional attachment to her first husband and children stops her from remarrying. "Although remarrying is permitted in Islam, it is usually because of her children that a woman does not marry again."

"Being sensitive, such women are unable to face the situation they are in. In addition, they are labeled as 'widows', some of them are exploited and they become the talk of the town. This is very distressing," the sociologist says.

"A majority of them voluntarily worked in fields earlier, but now they are forced to do so. This is not economic empowerment," Dr Khurshid-ul-Islam says.
  Anger continues over deadly fire in Arunachal school
  A STANDOFF is continuing between villagers and a Catholic school in the northeast of the country one month after 14 children died in a fire, say Missionaries of Charity (MC) nuns.

The MC nuns, the only Religious now in Palin village in Arunachal Pradesh, visit the families every day and pray with them, trying to bring about peace, said MC Sister Concettaina.

Angry villagers tried to storm the Salesian Don Bosco school after 14 children died in a blaze that engulfed a privately run hostel. The fire on Feb. 10 broke out while the children were sleeping.

People want "revenge against the priests, so they [the priests] have not yet returned," said the regional superior of the MC nuns.

The school was closed after 13 of the victims were buried in the school grounds. Sister Concettaina said the families of seven of the children have agreed to remove the bodies. School authorities say they will not open the school until all the bodies are exhumed and buried outside the school grounds.

Sister Concettaina said the nuns are trying to convince parents of the need to remove the bodies of the other six children.

School principal Salesian Father Jose Karippai said the school needs to reopen soon as annual exams are slated for March 22-31.

Source: Anger continues over deadly fire (UCAN)
  Teach all religions in schools: Bishop
  THE government in Madhya Pradesh should teach scriptures of all religions in schools, not just the Hindu sacred books, says a Catholic archbishop.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal made the demand after the state Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan announced a government move to introduce lessons from the Hindu holy book, the Bhagawat Gita (song of the lord), in the school curriculum.

"We are not against introducing lessons from the religious scriptures in schools. But all religions in the country should get equal representation," he told UCA News yesterday [March 7].

The move favoring just one religious scripture "is against India's secular character," which respects all religions equally, he said.

The prelate added the Church supports the idea of having lessons from scriptures as they will help inculcating values in students.

Chauhan told media on March 5 that the Bhagawat Gita "is a source of knowledge" and should be taught in schools. He heads the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian People's Party) government.

Ever since the BJP government came to power in December 2003 in the state, it has made efforts to promote the Hindu religion.

Source: Archbishop wants equal status for all religions (UCAN)
  New rule threatens minority schools
  MANY of India's top Christian schools and colleges could lose minority status if the government's minority education watchdog goes ahead with its new ruling.

An institution should have at least 30 per cent students from a minority community to claim minority status, says the new condition set by the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI), which awards the minority certificates.

The new condition, laid down last week, goes against the commission itself, reported Kolkata's Telegraph newspaper on March 7.

The commission since inception in 2004 to February 2010 granted minority certificate to thousands of institutions that do not meet the new condition.

The panel's chairman, Justice M.S.A. Siddiqui, who passed the controversial ruling in early March, confirmed that the commission had granted minority status to institutions with less than 30 per cent students from that community.

Siddiqui had cited the 2005 P.A. Inamdar judgment to defend his rulings.

But M.P. Raju, a Supreme Court lawyer and minority education expert, said Inamdar judgment did suggest that institutions could lose minority status without an adequate number of students from the community.

However, he termed Siddiqui's rulings a "misinterpretation" of the Supreme Court order.

The Inamdar judgment does not lay down a minimum percentage of minority students required for institution to earn a minority tag.

As Christians comprise merely 2 per cent of the country's population, it is unreasonable to expect them to muster 30 per cent students from the community outside states like Kerala, Raju argued.

The apex court has barred minority institutes from importing community students from outside the state boundary, following a case in Karnataka involving the Sikh community.

Source: Past mistakes' haunt minority panel (Telegraph)
  Pope's sainthood setback after 'miracle cure' nun reported to be ill again
  IT was the miracle that set Pope John Paul II on the road to sainthood and provided faithful followers with proof of his holy powers. But hopes that the former pope's canonisation would be fast-tracked by Sister Marie Simon-Pierre's recovery from Parkinson's disease have been set back by reports that the French nun has fallen ill again.

Simon-Pierre described three years ago how she regained her health after a night of prayer to the then recently deceased Polish pontiff. John Paul also suffered from Parkinson's disease, which is incurable.

"It's like a second birth," she said at the time. "I feel like I've discovered a new body, new limbs."

In 2007 Simon-Pierre could barely move her left side, could not write legibly, drive or move around easily and was in constant pain.

Her disease worsened after the pope's death, and her order prayed for his intervention to ease her suffering. Then after writing his name on a paper one night, she woke up the next day apparently cured and returned to work as a maternity nurse with no traces of the disease.

But according to the Polish daily newspaper Rzeczpospolita, one of the doctors charged with scrutinising the nun's case believed she might have been suffering from a similar nervous disease, not Parkinson's, which could go into sudden remission. A report on the paper's website went further, saying that the 49-year-old nun had become sick again with the same illness.

The Vatican was making no comment on the grounds that the late pope's case was still under examination.

Although no date has been fixed for the late pope's beatification, there had been an expectation that it would be announced in mid-October. His case was fast-tracked by his successor, Pope Benedict, and the anniversary of John Paul's election falls on 16 October.

The first sign that all might not be as it should be came when the Vatican fixed the canonisation of six new saints for the following day, a Sunday, making a beatification the same weekend impossible.

Vatican sources stressed that the panel of doctors which will examine the evidence relating to Simon-Pierre's recovery was not due to meet until April, when it will consider a report by two medical experts.

Beatification is an intermediate step on the road to canonisation, though not all of those declared "blessed" go on to become saints. Beatification requires at least one miracle. A second is needed for sainthood.

The Vatican, whose congregation [department] for the cause of saints deals with canonisations and beatifications, has been under relentless pressure to speed up John Paul's progress. On the day of his funeral in 2005 there were unparalleled scenes in St Peter's Square, when the crowd took up a chant of "santo subito", or "saint straightaway". (Courtesy: The Guardian, London)
  Church supports villagers against POSCO
  BHUBANESWAR, MARCH 8 (UCAN) -- The Catholic Church in Orissa is standing by villagers fighting Korean steel giant POSCO that they say threatens to displace thousands with its multi-billon dollar projects in eastern India.

"We oppose anything that goes against the interests of the communities. The Church cannot accept projects that would make people refugees in their own land," Bishop John Barwa of Rourkela told UCA News last weekend.

Villagers are fighting government plans to lease 4,000 acres (1,600 hectares) of village land to POSCO (The Pohang Iron and Steel Company) for its three projects of iron mining, a steel processing plant and a private port.

The company's subsidiary, POSCO-India, has been facing problems since 2005 when it signed agreements with the state government that promised land and other concessions.

With protests rising, the US$12 billion plan to produce 12 million tons of steel a year is threatened. This is the biggest ever foreign investment project in India.

Opposition comes from affected villages in Keonjhar and Sundargarh districts and the coastal district of Jagatsingpur. In several places, villagers are guarding against entry into their farm lands.

Mansid Ekka, a Christian who leads the villagers' fight to protect their "water, land and forest" said the project is a "conspiracy" by the state to "loot vulnerable tribal and dalit (former low caste) people in the name of development."

Father Nicholas Barla, a tribal leader said the proposed mines would displace 42,493 people in Sundargarh district alone. Of these 32,044 are tribal, dalit and poor Christians.

Activists say the projects would also seriously damage the ecology, environment and water bodies in the state. They note that about 2,700 acres of the land pledged are forests, which the company plans to clear.

"Our lands, houses, rice fields, betel-vines, cashew plants, forest lands, river, ponds, and seashore will be snatched away from us," says Nrusingho Behera, a youth activist.

Praful Samantaray, who leads Jana Shakti Abhiyan (people's power campaign), said the port threatens the nesting habitat of the endangered Olive Ridley turtles as well as dolphins, hyenas, jackals and other animals in the forest. The port would "destroy mangroves and increase the intensity of cyclones," he warns.

John Dayal, president of the All India Christian Council, who attended the protest meetings, said the Church must support "the movement against large projects which are denuding forests, marginalizing tribal people and trivializing human dignity."
  Malaysia: Catholics accept magazine apology
  PENANG, MARCH 8(UCAN) -- Catholics have accepted an apology from the publisher of an Islamic magazine after two of its journalists allegedly desecrated the Communion host after visiting churches.

The magazine's editor said the two journalists were investigating allegations of Muslims converting to Christianity for their article, published in May 2009.

Their actions were never meant as an insult to the Christian faith, he said on the apology posted on the publisher's website.

The Al-Islam journalists had apologized for unintentionally hurting the feelings of Christians and said it would not happen again, the statement said.

An apology would be published in the magazine's April issue, the editor said.

The May 2009 article described how the two journalists went into Catholic churches in Kuala Lumpur, received Holy Communion, spat out the hosts and then took photos of them.

The report also said the journalists did not discover any religious conversions of Muslims. Church-goers were very warm and friendly toward each other and to all who went to the church, it said.

'Glad and ready to forgive'

On July 8 last year, two lay Church workers from Penang filed a complaint against the magazine. On Feb. 23 this year, one of them, Sudhagaran Stanley was told by police the attorney general's office had advised no action to be taken against the journalists.

Speaking to UCA News on March 7, Stanley said he was glad and ready to forgive. However, he said the government and the attorney-general (AG) handled the issue badly.

"The AG was not being fair at all when he dismissed the case," saying that the "Al-Islam journalists were ignorant," said Stanley.

"His action was politically motivated," the layman insisted. "We will now shift our focus on the AG, and we will issue a statement soon."

According to media reports, Archbishop Murphy Pakiam of Kuala Lumpur has accepted the apology. Most Church people echoed similar sentiments.

Anil Netto, a popular blogger and social activist, said: "The apology should be accepted since Stanley has already made his point. The issue had been highlighted and was much publicized. Many people are aware that what the journalists did was wrong."

Now that they and the publisher of the magazine have apologized, "the matter should be closed," he said.

S.V. Singam felt "the apology is insincere," but said it should be accepted. "They have realized there is a line they can't cross so they have stepped back," he said.
  Bishops, priests arrested in Dalit rally
  POLICE arrested hundreds including Catholic bishops and priests today in Chennai as thousands gathered for the culmination of a month-long dalit rally, a Church official said.

Police have detained Archbishops A. M. Chinnappa of Madra Mylapore, several bishops and some thousand people, said Father G. Cosmon Arokiaraj, secretary of Indian bishops' commission for dalit Christians.

"They are kept inside a marriage hall as police cannot take the large number of people to jail," he added.

Thousands of Christians gathered in Chennai today to conclude a "long march" that Catholics and Protestants together organized demanding quota for dalit Christians.

The "long march," began Feb. 10 in Kanniakumari with some 50 people walking to state capital. They reached Chennai yesterday as planed.

The organizers planned to end the march with massive public meeting and presenting a memorandum demanding reservation for dalit Christians.

The 50 people began a march through the streets of Chennai. "But police objected and arrested morning Bishop Anthonisamy Neethinathan" of Chingelpet who joined the team in Chennai, Father Arokiaraj said.

The bishop's arrest made "more bishops, priests, nuns and join the marchers' team, which soon swelled into some thousand people. The police blocked all of them took them inside a kalyana-mandampam (marriage hall). The police have not released them yet. We are in contact with the officials," the priest said in the evening.

The chief minister was also not prepared to meet the delegation of Bishops and leaders, the priest said.

Christian leaders are demanding the central and state governments to implement the Ranganath Misra report to grant Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims quota meant for socially poor groups.

Archbishop Chinnappa, president of the Tamil Nadu Bishops Council, yesterday told media that Dalit Christians and Muslims are upset by the inordinate delay in implementing the Misra report.

He said the Misra Commission report clearly states that non- inclusion of SC Christians and Muslims in the SC list is discrimination based on religion that goes against the Constitution of India.

The Indian Constitution allows quota in education and jobs for dalit or oppressed castes to help their socio-economic advancement. However, dalit among Christians and Muslims are excluded for the past 60 years on the ground their religions do not follow the caste system.

The marchers have demanded the federal government to implement the Ranganath Misra Commission report that recommends extending the quota to all dalit regardless of religion.

They also demand the repeal of the Constitutional Order 1950, which limited the quota only to Hindus. The order was amended twice later to include Sikhs and Buddhists, but continued to exclude Muslims and Christians.
  Orthodox priest arrested for abuse
  POLICE in Kerala yesterday [March 4] arrested a priest from the Orthodox Church for allegedly molesting a young girl.

Police said they charged 61-year-old Father K. G. Joseph, also known as Father Habeeb, for "outraging the modesty" of a 15-year-old resident at a home for the poor managed by the Syrian Orthodox Church.

The priest was later released on bail, police officer Velayudhan Kamalakshan told UCA News.

The girl made the allegation when police began investigating her elder sister's suicide. Both girls were residents at the home, police officials said.

The elder sister died in hospital on Oct. 24, 2009, after taking poison. Her family accused two priests of having sexually abused the girl.

They also accused two nuns who manage the home of poisoning the girl to cover up the priests' crimes.

During the investigation, the younger girl complained to the police that Father Joseph had abused her and her elder sister.

Source: Orthodox priest arrested for sexual abuse (UCAN)
  MC nuns struggle to give babies for adoption
RAIPUR, MARCH 5 (UCAN) -- A bureaucratic tangle is delaying attempts by Missionaries of Charity (MC) nuns to give orphan babies up for adoption.

On Aug. 31, 2009, the Chhattisgarh state government allowed the nuns to give babies up for adoption, listing the nun's center as a licensed agency for promoting domestic adoption.

"With great difficulty we got permission. But only the process is on now," said Sister Marie Ananda, superior of the MC nuns in the state capital of Raipur.

The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people's party) now rules this central Indian state.

Only government approved agencies can give children up for adoption. Before the state was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000, the nun's center in Indore was a licensed agency.

Even after this division, the nuns in Chhattisgarh used to take abandoned babies of "unwed mothers" to Indore, in Madhya Pradesh, some 720 kilometers to the west, to place them for adoption.

But in September 2009, as the nuns were taking four two-month-old babies by train to Indore, a group of Hindu fanatics pulled them out mid-way.

The application process for the babies, started months ago, was nearing completion in Indore but the fanatics blocked the nuns and took them to a police station, accusing them of "human trafficking" and "converting" the babies to Christianity.

Police brought the nuns and the babies to a nearby convent.

Since the incident, the nuns could not give 43 babies up for adoption, including 10 with physical disabilities. However, "we can't refuse children since several unwed mothers seek our help," MC regional superior Sister Mamta told UCA News.

The superior also noted that the nuns have given babies for adoption to mostly childless Hindu couples for more than 50 years.

Sister Ananda said two social welfare centers, supported by some Hindu organizations, work against the nuns and their center. "They want us to close our institution," she added.

Chhattisgarh's rules for adoption also make the process lengthy. The norms want foster parents to take babies for three months before actually adopting them through a court order.

The rules also stipulate that the names of foster parents should be published in the government gazette.

"Many adoptive parents will not like their names to be published," Sister Ananda said.

She said the process has been on for the past three months to give eight babies to foster parents. However, "only after the court order, can they be completely given," she added.
  Nuns stand by women demanding education
  SAGAR, MARCH 5 (UCAN) -- More than 200 poor and illiterate women staged a rally in a central Indian town yesterday [March 4] to promote women's education.

Sister Vinaya Thomas, a member of the Sisters of Jesus congregation that organized the rally in Sagar, Madhya Pradesh state, said the country could address many problems if its women were educated.

"Women are the torchbearers of the family and their education is a must for the strengthening of society and nation," the nun told UCA News after the rally.

The rally ended with the women performing dances and short plays for some 500 people, including men and children. A play on female infanticide highlighted how important females are in the family and society.

Sister Alice Jacob, the congregation's assistant superior general, urged the women to fight as a group for their rights. "When you go alone to a government office, you may be denied your rights, but go in a group and get what is due to you," the nun said.

Sister Thomas said her congregation has been striving to help women lead a dignified life.

Geeta Patel, a high school dropout, said the plays made her realize she would have had a better life if she had continued her studies. She had to quit school because she had to find work to support her family after her father's sudden death.

Although the Indian government has expressed a strong commitment toward education for all, India still has one of the lowest female literacy rates in Asia. According to 2009 statistics, the percentage of female literacy in the country was 54.5 percent, which means today there are at least 200 million illiterate women in India.

This not only has a negative impact on women's lives but also on the lives of their families and on the country's economic development. Studies reveal that illiterate women have high levels of fertility and mortality, a poor nutritional status, low earning potential, and little autonomy within the family. A woman's lack of education also adversely impacts the health and well-being of her children.
  Drug addiction situation grave in the Valley: Doc
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, MARCH 4 -- The Hindustan National Social Service (HNSS), a de-addiction centre at Khanyar, functions at snail pace after being 'closed down'.

Dr Ghulam Nabi Wani, who heads the HNSS, says he continues to work with the centre despite a shutdown due to severe financial crunch, as he doesn't want addicts to be misled by quacks. The centre was started by Dr Hamida, Dr Wani's wife.

He warns that a time would come when there would be de-addiction centres everywhere. "The influx of tourists to the Valley would be mainly responsible for the situation."

Dr Wani, however, adds that once a drug policy is framed, 50 per cent of synthetic drug addiction would be reduced, owing to restrictions imposed thereafter.

The HNSS centre offers counseling and management therapy to addicts. "We have stopped admitting people, due to lack of finances," says Dr Wani, adding, "Serious cases can't be handled, unless they are kept in wards."

The doctor says that he counsels family members of addicts, and thus his social activity isn't restricted to grant-in-aid only; it's humanitarian as well.

He suggests that drug addicts not be left alone for the first 10 days of detoxification. "They should not be allowed to use mobile phones and should be administered alternative medicines. This should be followed by weekly follow-ups."

Dr Wani says the centre gets 2-3 cases every week. "Earlier, the number was double."

Pinning high hopes on chief minister Omar Abdullah, Dr Wani says he has submitted a 20-page application, asking him to do something about the drug situation in the Valley. "In spite of his busy schedule, he has promised to organize a meeting with our delegation. Hundreds of youngsters are addicted to drugs, here. The problem is grave," he says adding that 20 such persons have approached him since last April.

"I couldn't really help, except guide them to the right places. I have confidence in the Police Control Room's de-addiction centre. People are, however, reluctant to go there, as they fear that confidentiality won't be maintained," says Dr Wani.

"Not everyone knows that the centre has shut down. When people approach us, we guide them to other places. A man from Jammu recently wanted to get treated at our centre. I guided him to a de-addiction centre in Amritsar."

The doctor proposes a place between Kargil and Ladakh as the ideal place to set up a de-addiction centre. He plans to request the government to do so.
"The magnetic power there is very high. Owing to less pollution and better magnetic waves, the area is the best for people to get rid of their addiction and develop self-confidence. A soothing environment always helps," he says.
  Bishops re-organise offices
  THE Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) has completed reorganizing its commissions and elected new office bearers during their latest plenary ended early this week in Guwahati, Assam.

Only Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal and Bishop Yvon Ambroise of Tuticorin have retained their posts.

Bishop Ambroise continues to head the Commission for Justice and Peace while Archbishop Cornelio looks after the youth, which has now become a department under the Laity Commission.

Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal of Indore has replaced Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay as the head of the CBCI Commission for Social Communication. Cardinal Gracias is the new CBCI president.

Archbishop Marampudi Joji of Hyderabad has taken over the Commission for Scheduled Castes, Tribes and Backward Classes from Jesuit Bishop Charles Soreng of Hazaribagh.

The conference also replaced another Jesuit, Bishop John Baptist Thakur of Muzaffarpur, who headed the Women Commission, which has also become a department under laity. Archbishop Dominic Lumon of Imphal is its new chief.

However, Bishop Felix Toppo of Jamshedpur compensated the Jesuit loss by taking over the Commission for Clergy and Religious from Bishop Valerian D'Souza, who retired last year as Pune bishop.

Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi is the new chairperson of the Health Care Commission, replacing Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore.

The Commission for Dialogue and Desk for Ecumenism has gone to Archbishop-Bishop Anthony Machado of Vasai, in place of Bishop Gali Bali of Guntur.

The Orientals also have found proportional share in the CBCI administration.

Bishop Joshua Ignathios of Mavelikara of the Syro-Malankara Church has taken over Education and Culture, replacing Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati.

The Syro-Malankara prelate until now held the Labour Commission that has now gone to Oswald Lewis of Jaipur.

Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt of Palai, a Syro-Malabar prelate, heads the Commission for Doctrine. Bishop Thomas Dabre of Pune held this post until now.

Another Syro-Malabar Bishop George Alencherry of Thuckalay is the new chairperson of Laity, replacing Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao of Goa and Daman.

The Catholic Church in India comprises three rites -- Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara. The Latin rite accounts for 128 of India's 164 dioceses, while the Syro-Malabar has 28 and the Syro-Malankara eight dioceses.
  CBCI's Guwahati plenary boosts first timers
  SOME first timers to the biennial plenary assembly of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) say the meeting has given them ideas to govern their dioceses.

"The plenary has encouraged me to promote my people's culture," Bishop Selvister Ponnumuthan of Punalur told UCA News on March 3, the concluding day of the plenary.

The prelate from Kerala was one of the 20 bishops who were ordained during the period between the CBCI'S last two meeting. Most of them attended the latest Feb. 24-March 3 plenary at Guwahati in Assam.

"The conference has encouraged me to become sensitive to the needs of my people, especially the youth," said Bishop Ponnumuthan, who was appointed a bishop on May 8, 2009.

"Youth for peace and harmony" was the major theme of the plenary. The Punalur bishop said he would encourage his youths to use their talents to build up the Church and society.

What impressed Auxiliary Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Delhi, the youngest of 163 prelates at the plenary, was the "collegiality" among the bishops. "As a young boy I used to believe bishops were beyond people's reach," he recalled.

The plenary was "a spiritual experience" since he could see God's hand in its deliberations, said India's youngest Catholic prelate.

Bishop Emmanuel Kerketta of Jashpur, Chhattisgarh, said the plenary gave him a platform to discuss and exchange new ideas with other bishops.

Such discussions have given him hope and confidence to resolve problems and challenges he is facing as a new prelate, Bishop Kerketta told UCA News.
The tribal prelate said senior bishops shared with him that they too had faced similar problems "All dioceses have problems, some are big and complex," he added.

He said the plenary also showcased the Indian Church as a good example of unity in diversity. "We are from different cultures, traditions and background, but share the same faith," he added.

He said the conference rightly chose youth as its theme because they are the future of the Church and the nation. "The youths will triumph if we can plant good virtues and deep Christian faith in them," he added.

Bishop Devprasad John Ganawa of Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh, said he found the prelates willing to listen to other's problem and offer help. All bishops rallied behind Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, Orissa, where Hindu radicals killed many Christians last year. "It was morally boosting," Bishop Ganawa said.

Bishop Sebastian Kallupura of Buxar, Bihar, said the plenary "gave me a glimpse of how the Church is growing in various parts of India." He found a lot of openness among the bishops to discuss various issues.
  Miners invade Bellary church land
  BISHOP Henry D'Souza of Bellary has deplored his Church's land being "illegally and forcefully mined and looted" in a Karnataka village.

Despite repeated pleas to the government departments, "the illegal miming is carried on with the claimed active support of people in high offices", the bishop said in a statement.

The land in Ramgad village in Bellary district has four dilapidated bungalows in which Church personnel had lived for over 70 years. The diocese's ownership can be traced to the existing revenue records that are about 100 years old, Bishop D'Souza said.

People belonging to a mining company illegally mined iron ore and have transported it. When questioned, "they have been extremely abusive and insulting," the statement said.

The encroachers also claimed to have "active support and backing" of officials in the present state government led by Pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, it said.

The company claims it has licenses from the government's mining department to mine the Church land.

"This is a grave injustice" and the encroachment gives the impression that Church properties are "not safe anymore," the bishop said adding the Church seems "to be soft targets" for such unlawful actions.

Source: Bellary Church Property Being Looted By Illegal Mining (CBCI site)
  New Church fortnightly seeks lay help
  THE first multi-colour Church periodical launched by a group of media professionals last month gets encouraging response but needs lay collaboration, its editors said.

Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president of Pontifical Commission for Social Communications, released the pilot issue on Feb. 12 in New Delhi.

A group of Church communicators headed by Jesuit Father Jacob Srampickal mooted the idea of a publication that "respects the Christian reader" as a means of faith communication.

The pilot copy was released with title "Companion," which is awaiting final clearance from the Registrar of Newspapers of India.

The usual quesiton "why another magazine?" will be answered by the "the magazine itself," Blessed Sacrament Father Jacob Naluparayil, the publication's chief editor, said in a press release.

The magazine published from Kochi aims to "draw in laity" to help make it professional and readable "to all Christians, not restricting to elite academicians," the release said.

A team of experts met several times to chalk out the content and design of the magazine. The three pilot issues scheduled for February, March and April will set the trend of the magazine before hitting stands as a fortnightly, it said.

The magazine is committed to look at life events through the vision of Jesus," the priest said in the release.

"The response to the Pilot copy has been very encouraging and enthusiastic," said Bambina Sister Leela, executive editor of the new publication.

Source: Press release
  Bishops pledge money for youth as CBCI meet concludes
  THE Catholic Bishops' Conference of IndiaA (CBCI) ended its 29th biennial plenary assembly on March 3 with a promise to ensure "adequate" planning and funds for its youth ministry.

As many as 163 bishops from the country's 164 dioceses, who met Feb. 24-March 3 at Guwahati, Assam, also promised a national youth policy and pastoral plan. They decided to design a family life education program to help families train youth.

Fifty one representatives from various youth organizations under the Church attended the first three days of the plenary that deliberated mainly on "youth for peace and harmony."

The bishops in their concluding statement said they "listened with interest and humility" to the youths' appreciation of the Catholic faith and eagerness to participate in Church life but noted many young Catholics also experience a "sense of disconnect" with the Church's language, expression and priorities.

The statement commended some young Catholics' "genuine" efforts to lead a Christian life, even when some bishops "seem to fail to adequately respond to their aspirations."

The bishops also promised to open the Church's nation-wide network of institutions and parishes to care for young people who migrate to cities for jobs.

They also resolved to promote better education and professional skills training for tribal and dalit (former untouchable caste) youths.

The CBCI will encourage its 13 regions and all dioceses to appoint a "dedicated" person to look after the needs of youth.

They also plan to introduce training for the youth ministry as part of seminary formation.

The statement ends with the bishops urging youth to assume responsibility for their own formation "under the guidance of your duly appointed leaders."

The bishops also want young Catholics to get involved in the Church's evangelization works, work for human rights and social justice, and engage in various peace movements in the country.

Source: Indian bishops pledge money and attention for youth (UCAN)
  'Kidney priest' plans nationwide campaign
  A CATHOLIC priest in Kerala who donated his kidney concluded his state-wide campaign on March 2, announcing plans for a nation-wide journey.

Father Davis Chiramel met hundreds of people with kidney ailments and their families during the 20-day-long Manava Karunnya yatra or human compassion journey.

The priest said he plans a nation-wide journey to spread the idea of kidney donation. He aims to convince close relatives of the need for voluntary kidney donations.

He said he felt the need to "sensitize" people about the matter four months ago when he donated his kidney to save the life of a poor Hindu laborer who was married and had two minor children. He said his priestly commitment called for such an action.

Soon after surgery, Father Chiramel set up Kidney Federation of India to help people with kidney ailments.

Source: Priest who donated a kidney plans nationwide campaign (UCAN)
  British House of Lords for gay marriages in churches
  THE House of Lords has voted to amend Britain's Equality Bill to allow, but not compel, religious organisations to host same sex couples holding civil partnership ceremonies inside churches.

Peers voted by a majority of 74 in favour of the amendment, which was not backed by the government, BBC reports, but it is thought to be unlikely that MPs would make any significant changes.

Labour peer Lord Alli proposed the amendment, telling the Lords: "There are many gay and lesbian couples who want to share their civil partnership with the congregations that they worship with.

"And there are a number of religious organisations that want to allow gay and lesbian couples to do exactly that."

It was not an "attack" on the Church of England or the Catholic Church, he added.

Lords leader Baroness Royall and Conservative equality spokesman Baroness Morris of Bolton, a Roman Catholic, both spoke against the amendment but later abstained, the report said. (Courtesy: BBC)
  Police hide attempts to murder Christians
  FANATICS tried to burn alive Christians in a Punjab town during a recent violence but the state police have covered up the facts, says a fact-finding team.

The Punjab police are hiding the fact that "Sangh Parivar-led hoodlums in Batala, Punjab tried to burn five Christians alive," said the report from the All India Christian Council.

A council team, led by senior journalist John Dayal, said the attackers threatened to kill Christians from two families who live in the Church of North India's historic Church of the Epiphany compound in

Batala is a small business town in Punjab's Gurdaspur district.

On Feb. 20, the CNI church was set on fire and all its furniture burnt.

Attempts were made to destroy a nearby Salvation Army church, raised in 1958, where the pastor was seriously injured.

"We pleaded with the police to help, but they did not," said the Pastor, Maj. Gurnam Singh.

Even as the larger group of attackers focused on burning the CNI church, a group of men armed with sticks and rods, and came to the CNI Deacon's house.

The deacon, Victor Gill, and his wife Parveen, hid themselves under the bed. The assailants damaged the doors, tried to enter the room forcibly, and told the couple they would be burnt alive if they did not come out.

No police report has been filed on the attempted murders even as the top police and administrative officers enforced a one-sided "peace accord" on the local Christian leadership.

The violence on Christians began when they protested a blasphemous picture of Jesus Christ holding a can of beer in one hand a lit cigarette in another, which appeared on roadside banners to celebrate the Hindu "Ram Nauvmi" festival. Most Christians in the area are of Dalit origin.

Source: CSF e-mail
  Brother slams Church treatment of nuns
GUWAHATI, MARCH 3 (UCAN) -- Many nuns are reduced to the status of domestic workers even in their own congregations due to the fixed mindset of Church leaders, a leading member of India's Religious said today [March 3].

Most have not been given skills training and education to deal with the demands of their work, Montfort Brother Mani Mekkunnel, national secretary of the Conference of Religious India (CRI), said.

In the worst cases, they are subjected to human rights violations and "that should worry all of us," he told India's bishops assembled at their plenary meeting in Guwahati, Assam.

Church leaders need to respect women's dignity, appreciate their consecrated status and acknowledge their work by providing "decent remuneration," Brother Mekkunnel said.

Church leaders must take the lead to allow women their proper places in the Church, otherwise "popular pressure" will build up and "break the Church leaders' mindsets," the brother told the bishops.

The CRI leader wants the bishops to involve more women Religious in diocesan structures, as stipulated in the Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops.

Despite the shortcomings in treatment of women, there have been improvements since Church leaders began to take the issue seriously four years ago, Brother Mekkunnel said.

More awareness of discrimination against women

Religious men have become more aware of discrimination against women and more sympathetic to their plight. Bishops have also begun treating women better, the brother said.

But neither bishops nor male Religious have done much to change patriarchal values, structures and practices in the Church and society.

Even among women's congregation, there is still "a long way to go in realizing tangible results," he said.

Nuns form more than 80 per cent of India’s more than 125,000 Religious.

Brother Mekkunnel went on to note that there had been some tensions between bishops and Religious despite generally "good relations" between the two groups over the past two years.

The Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops had urged prelates to respect the "rightful autonomy" of Religious, but its interpretation "has not been very positive always," Brother Mekkunnel said.

There had been "misunderstanding and tension" when the two groups addressed issues beyond the directory's guidelines, he said.

The Vatican document specifies rules for setting up a Religious house in a diocese, entrusting a congregation with different work than what was originally agreed and building public churches and schools.

The Indian bishops' plenary, which began on Feb. 24 and ended today, was attended by 163 bishops from the country's 164 dioceses.
  Bishops teach people of their right to food
  GUWAHATI, MARCH 2 (UCAN) -- The Catholic bishops in India yesterday [March 1] released a trainers' kit as part of its campaign to educate people on their right to food.

"Although India is rich, its people live below the poverty line," said Father Nithiya Sagayam, secretary of the Commission for Justice, Peace and Development of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI).

Speaking with UCA News after the release of the Right to Food Campaign, Trainers' Kit, the Capuchin said many Indians die of starvation although the country has excess food grains.

The Food Corporation of India stores are overflowing with food grains but many die because of inadequate relief, the priest explained.

In 2006, some 100,000 farmers committed suicide because of starvation and debts.

The priest said such incidents made him realize the Church's "old charity methods" were not appropriate for modern challenges. "We have to promote human rights methods and we are using the food crisis to empower people," he asserted.

The Church official pointed out that the Indian government has several schemes for the welfare of the poor, but few have access to them because of their illiteracy.

The worst affected are the dalit, (former "untouchables" in the caste system) tribal people, slum dwellers and rural poor, Father Sagayam said.

"These groups have to be taught their basic rights," he said, and added that the Church project also aims to help the poor utilize government welfare schemes.

The kit includes a trainers' manual on the use of such schemes and a PowerPoint CD for training.

The commission aims to have the content available in 10 languages. Content in three languages has already been completed.

"This campaign is non-violent. We do not confront those oppressing the poor. We make the poor assert their rights," Father Sagayam explained.

Father Sagayam said his commission next plans to educate children from the sixth to twelfth grade. "If the children are motivated, they will fight for their rights when they grow up, besides pressuring their parents to assert their rights," he added.
  Sikh's murder sparks calls for protection
  HASAN ABDAL, MARCH 2 (UCAN) -- The Catholic Church in Pakistan has urged the government to safeguard religious minorities in the country, in the wake of the murder of a Sikh by the Taliban.

The Sikh trader was beheaded for refusing to convert to Islam. Relatives of the murdered man had failed to pay the Taliban a ransom of 20 million rupees (US$235,080). Since then, two other Sikhs abducted by the Taliban in the restive Khyber tribal region bordering Afghanistan have managed to escape.

"This was not a solitary incident of brutality against the religious minorities in Pakistan. Such incidents have happened before involving victims from Sikh, Hindu and Christian communities," said a Feb. 25 press release by the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NJCP), a human rights body of the Catholic Church of Pakistan.

The press release was signed by NCJP chairperson Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha and Peter Jacob, the executive secretary.

"A lethargic attitude on the part of the government has encouraged the imposition of jizia [a religious tax imposed on non-Muslims living under Islamic rule] by militant organizations, kidnapping for ransom, target killing and internal displacement," the statement said.

Sikhs 'will not pay ransom'

The government should "treat these incidents as an alarm bell and must take stringent measures to control the situation," it added.

The NCJP demanded that the government protect religious minorities as a 'priority' as they happen to be “"ne of the most vulnerable groups to social and organized crimes." The NCJP also recommended the repeal of all discriminatory laws to promote tolerance and social harmony.

Sikh leaders have also said they will not be intimidated by Islamic militants and will refuse to pay the Taliban-imposed jizia.

"We are ready to undergo sacrifices but will not pay ransom for abducted Sikhs in the northern tribal districts," Sardar Kalyan Singh Kalyan, secretary-general of the Guru Nanak Ji Mission, a Sikh organization, told UCA News.

The two Sikhs who escaped "are suffering from malnutrition after 54 days of captivity," said Kalyan, who reported that "they had much difficulty speaking to me on the phone." He added however, that "we are happy for their recovery and grateful to security agencies."

Presently, there are about 25,000 Sikhs living in federally administered tribal areas.

Muslims form about 95 per cent of Pakistan's more than 160 million people while Christians, including 1.3 million Catholics, account for close to 2 percent. Ahmadis, regarded by many Muslims as members of a heretical Islamic sect, number about 3 million, Hindus 1.1 million and Sikhs about 200,000.
  Jesuits economists vow to guide development
  KOLKATA, MARCH 2 (UCAN) -- Jesuit economists say development must be given a "human face" if it is to reach the majority of India's poor.

Most of the country's most vulnerable are missing out on the benefits of aid programs, said Father Dominic Savio, who organized the first national seminar of the Jesuit Economics Association of India (JEAI) in Kolkata on Sunday [Feb. 28].

The 14 Jesuits attending vowed to continue the work, engaging their confreres around the country.

Subhash Seraphim, assistant general manager of National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), said there were some "major grey areas" in economic policies.

Economic students and researchers as well as NGOs working for the poor need to translate government policies into reality, he said.

Jesuit Father John Felix Raj, the association's convener and principal of the city's St Xavier's College, said he had recommended to the Jesuit Provincial of South Asia to bring together all Jesuits of India involved with teaching or researching economics.

Father Raj said any Jesuit with a master's degree in economics would be eligible to become a member of JEAI. Jesuit seminarians studying economics at master's level, and Jesuits engaged in economic fields are also eligible, he told UCA News.

The association aims to examine Jesuit economists' contribution through research, encourage them to undertake research projects and influence policy-makers of the country, he said.

The Jesuits have already made a notable contribution in education, Father Raj said. The new association should aim to influence policy-makers.

"It may take some years," he acknowledged.

Father Ajay Kumar Xess from Ranchi, Jharkhand state, said the association would help members clarify many economic issues.

The principal of St Xavier's School in Duranda expects the association to "make concrete contributions" in policy-making at the national and state levels.
  Human rights issue just an election plank
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, MARCH 1 -- Accusing the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of using human rights as an election plank, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) said both these parties, when not in power, accused the other of committing human right violations.

"The discourse of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir enjoys a strange relationship with political parties, especially the NC and the PDP. It finds favour with both these parties, only when they are out of power," said spokesperson of the association Ghulam Nabi Mir.

Mir stated that during the 2002 and 2008 State Assembly elections, both these parties used human rights as an election plank. "While sitting on the opposition benches, both of them accused the ruling party of committing human rights violations and not taking steps in bringing the perpetrators to justice."

He said their voices of concern were meant to hoodwink the people. "On December 10, 2003, the NC, while in opposition, moved an adjournment motion in the Legislative Assembly asking for a thorough debate on human rights' violations. Three years later, on March 30, a private members' resolution supported by Members of the Legislative Assembly Ali Mohammad Sagar and Abdul Raheem Rather of the National Conference demanding judicial commission into cases of disappearances was rejected by the then Law Minister from the PDP Muzaffar Hussain Beig."

Mir said the NC, during a press conference on May 2, 2008, while acknowledging the disappearance of 4,000 Kashmiris, demanded the appointment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). At the same press conference, the then NC president Omar Abdullah sought a probe into the exact number of disappearances.

"When they came to power, the NC retracted its demand for a TRC. It remained tightlipped on Buried Evidence, a report that indicated the presence of 2,700 mass and nameless graves. The report was submitted to the chief minister's office in December 2009," the spokesperson said.

He added that disappearances continued during the PDP's three-year rule and inquiries were ordered into many human rights incidents. "Contradicting figures were given by the ruling party about the number of missing persons. Even a promise made by the then Law Minister regarding empowerment of the State Human Rights Commission, instead of appointing a commission on disappearance, was not fulfilled."

The Association observed that the NC, which remained in power since 1996 to 2002 and is presently in the ruling coalition, went to the extent of seeking accountability from the perpetrators. "Because of its longevity in power, the maximum cases of disappearances have taken place during NC rule. The PDP during its three-year rule also promised to stop human rights violations under its 'healing touch' slogan. Notwithstanding the promises, the state of affairs remains unchanged."

The spokesperson said such positions on human rights violations were taken to draw political mileage. "The PDP, in the Opposition, is now harping on human rights issues. The truth is that the position on human rights violations is decided by equations of power and people don't seem to matter much."

Mir said both the NC and the PDP were playing politics in issues concerning humans. "If the NC has a legacy of Papa Kashtawari, the PDP has one of PAPA II, a notorious torture centre where scores of people disappeared and thousands were tortured."

Members of the Association said the relatives of those who had disappeared can persuade the government, with the help of international lobbying, to address the issue seriously.
  Gogoi seeks Church help for development
  ASSAM state chief minister Tarun Gogoi has sought the Catholic Church's help in the overall development of northeastern India.

"With the help of the Church, I am certain the region can face all its problems," Gogoi told a public function organized on Feb. 28 to welcome Catholic bishops of India.

More than 160 bishops from India's 164 dioceses are in Guwahati, Assam's commercial capital, for their biennial plenary assembly. The eight-day program concludes on March 3.

Gogoi, who heads the largest of seven states that make up the region, acknowledged the Church's role "in building peace and harmony in this part of the country" hit by ethnic unrest and insurgencies.

Acknowledging the Church's yeoman services in the development of the region, Gogoi wants the Church to focus more on the poor.

The chief minister also commended the bishops for choosing youth as their main topic, which is relevant for northeastern India where majority of people are young.

Welcoming the gathering, Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati assured the chief minister of the Church's "creative" collaboration with the government.

The Salesian prelate said the Church is aware of the "anxieties" of the region's myriad problems.

Source: UCAN
  Court orders to end Divine center probe
  THE Supreme Court has ordered police to wind up all investigations against the Divine Retreat Centre in Potta, Kerala.

The Supreme Court on Friday [Feb. 26] said investigations against the Centre are "not maintainable under law" and ordered an end to all police investigation into it, including allegations of rape and murder.

The popular retreat center is managed by the Vincentian congregation.

The probe originally began in 2007 after an anonymous letter was sent to the Kerala state High Court alleging a series of crimes and irregularities. It was halted by the Supreme Court in March 2008.

However, in January the state court ordered police to renew its inquiry against the center. That order came on a public interest litigant from one Venugopal Kalarcode, who said the Supreme Court had stopped the investigation only in one case. The retreat center then approached the Supreme Court, which elicited the latest verdict.

Father Augustine Vallooran, who directs the center, welcomed the ruling, saying it helped remove suspicion against the center.

Saji Raphael, the center's legal consultant, said the Supreme Court has cleared the center from a "mudslinging campaign" by the media. "God has heard the prayers of thousands who come here for retreats," he told UCA News.

Source: Supreme Court puts an end to retreat center probe (UCAN)
  Cardinal Gracias elected CBCI presdient
  CARDINAL Oswald Gracias, newly elected president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference (CBCI), says he would strive to make the Church outward looking serving people of all religions in the country.

"There is a belief that the Church in India is inward looking as it keeps aloof from mainstream society," the 65-year-old cardinal told UCA News today soon after he was elected to head the world's fourth largest bishops' conference.

The Church leader says he sees the new post as an opportunity to lead the Church along with other bishops. "We want to make the Church more vibrant and responsive to various issues confronting the nation," he added.

Another priority for the new leader is to foster better cooperation among bishops of all three ritual Churches in India.

He said the current efforts to reorganize the conference will help CBCI to become the face of the Church in India.

The cardinal said he was involved in CBCI's reorganization since 1987 when the pope allowed the ritual Churches to have their own separate bishops' conferences.

The reorganization, he explained, is "a logical necessity in the new reality of the ritual Churches taking responsibilities for their people."

The new setup allows the CBCI to respond better to national issues and deal with the country's government which was not possible in the old structure.

The Church official said the bishops' conference has to protect the interests of the Church and develop "right relations" with other religions.

Cardinal Gracias said CBCI would not lose relevance as ritual bishops' conferences are strengthened. Major Archbishop Moran Mar Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, head of the syro-Malankara Church, was elected the first vice president.
  Politicians and bishops bask in mutual esteem
  GUWAHATI, MARCH 1 (UCAN) -- It was mutual admiration at its best when some political leaders from northeastern India met with the country's more than 160 Catholic bishops.

The politicians thanked the bishops for coming to the region, where the Church has been active for less than 125 years. The bishops said the large number of Catholic political leaders in the region encouraged the prelates in their efforts to urge their people to join mainstream politics.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) arranged an unscheduled program on Feb. 27 during its plenary assembly to help political leaders interact with the Church leaders.

Some 15 Catholic members of parliament and legislative assemblies of northeastern India's seven states came to seek a blessing from the bishops' Feb. 24-March 3 meeting in Guwahati, Assam.

Welcoming them, CBCI vice president Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay said the Church was proud it could produce so many leaders in the region.

Observing that most visiting legislators were young, the cardinal said their presence has given a new impetus to the Church's efforts to address issues related to youth.

The theme of the bishops' plenary is Youth for Peace and Harmony which is relevant to northeastern India that suffers ethnic violence and secessionism, he added.

Cardinal Gracias is conducting the plenary in the absence of CBCI president Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, who is unwell.

Church's achievements in political field

Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi, former CBCI president, observed that even traditional Churches in India's south and western regions could not match what the young Church in northeastern India has achieved in the political field.

The political leaders, all former boarders of Church schools, lined up as if children in a school assembly to address the prelates.

The main attraction was Agata Sangma, 29, India's youngest federal minister. She told the prelates that people in northeastern India owe much to the Church, especially for educating them. She said she had come from New Delhi just to meet the bishops and would rush back immediately for an urgent meeting.

Sangma's two elder brothers, Joseph and Conrad, both members of the Meghalaya state legislative assembly, accompanied her. Sangma represents Meghalaya's Tura constituency in parliament and is the current federal minister of state for rural development.

"Religious and political leaders coming together is good and necessary. They should meet often. Even though they do not realize or recognize it, both have the same goal, human development," she later told UCA News.

Sangma noted that while religious leaders help people grow spiritually, political leaders help in their socioeconomic advancement.

Bishop Cyprian Monis of Asansol said northeastern India has set a good example of how to nurture political leaders. "It is possible because of the strong Christian presence in the region," he said.
  Prelates' conference bridges generation gap
  GUWAHATI, MARCH 1 (UCAN) -- India's Catholic bishops and some young people who spent three days together say the experience has helped them understand and appreciate each other.

The two groups met at the Salesian-managed Don Bosco Institute, a center for youth training in Guwahati, Assam, during the first three days of the biennial plenary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI).

As many as 164 bishops from the country's 164 dioceses are attending the Feb. 24-March 3 plenary that chose Youth for Peace and Harmony as the main theme.

Each group came to the program with certain apprehensions but they all soon disappeared as bishops and youth mingled with each other, noted Father Alwyn D’Souza, secretary of the CBCI commission for youth which organized the encounter.

By 2020, the average age of Indians would be 29 and the Church has to attend to their various needs, he added.

Although the bishops had a separate dining area, most of them preferred to eat with the youths, he said. Each session started with bishops dancing to action songs the young people played on the dais.

The highlight was the "youth cafe" where youth representatives sat at tables and discussed topics. The bishops went from one table to the other listening and sharing their views.

Bishops seen as 'youth-friendly'
All this removed doubts that Deepica Elizabeth Lakra had about bishops. The 20-year-old tribal youth from Orissa's Rourkela diocese told UCA News she had come with the impression that bishops were "big people" who hardly mixed with others.

Subin Jacob, assistant national coordinator of the Jesus Youth Movement, found the bishops "very much youth-friendly." According to him, the meeting reaffirmed his commitment to serve the Church.

Rakesh Singh, a youth leader, said the meeting convinced the young participants that bishops are concerned about them. He said some bishops wanted to know what the youths would do for the Church. "Our contributions in parishes are not recognized," he regretted.

Some bishops said the encounter helped them understand modern youth and their concerns.

Bishop Gerald Isaac Lobo of Shimoga noted that the encounter provided an opportunity for bishops "to understand the tremendous potential of our youth."

Bishop Sebastian Kallupura of Buxar said the meeting has encouraged him to enhance some programs his diocese in Bihar had started for youth.

Joy Candelario, executive secretary of the FABC youth desk who was an observer, said the meeting was "a very inspiring breakthrough" for the youth ministry in India as well as Asia. "I am not aware of any other bishops' conference that has taken up youth as a major theme for its plenary assembly," she told UCA News.
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