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Stewardship and Trusteesh
  By A.J. Philip  
  I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasi  
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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  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
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  Google fined for 'pedophile' libel against priest
  A Brazilian court has fined Google $8500 after an anonymous internet user posted defamatory messages on its Orkut social networking site against a priest, calling him a "pedophile".

A court in the state of Minas Gerais ruled in favour of the 54-year-old priest, identified by his initials J.R., after rejecting Google's argument that it was not responsible for what users posted, AFP reports.

The verdict upheld a lower court's judgment made after the priest sued for defamation in 2008 over the post, which called him "the pedophile ... the thief who has a lover", according to the O Globo daily.

"By making space available on virtual networking sites, in which users can post any type of message without any checks beforehand, with offensive and injurious content, and, in many cases, of unknown origin, (Google) assumes the risk of causing damage" to other people, judge Alvimar de Avila said.

Google's Orkut is a hugely popular networking site in Brazil, although a Portuguese-language version of Facebook is now making serious inroads into its dominance.

Source: Google fined for 'paedophile' libel against priest (Herald Sun/AFP)
  Priest's murder baffles diocesan officials
  NEW DELHI, APRIL 30 (UCAN) -- Church people in a western Indian diocese say they are baffled by the murder of a 74-year-old priest, but that they do not suspect Hindu extremists.

Some associates of Father Peter Bombaci found his body in a pool of blood on the morning of April 29 at his residence, near Vasai diocesan headquarters.

Archbishop Felix Anthony Machado of Vasai, who visited the scene, told Vatican news service Fides that the body had a rope around his neck and a pair of scissors stuck in his throat. "It was a gruesome scene," he said.

Diocesan officials such as Father John Furgose said they have "absolutely no idea" as to why the priest was murdered. "We do not suspect any one; we do not know who did it," he told UCA News on April 30.

Father Furgose, the archbishop's secretary, said the Church has no reason to suspect Hindu extremists in the crime. About 4,000 people, including "people from other religions" attended the priest's funeral late on April 29.

The police have begun investigation. "But they have not told us about any leads," the priest said.

The police conducted an autopsy but the report was not given to the diocese, Father Furgose said, adding that they would contact police soon about the development of the investigation.

The murdered priest was operating a de-addiction center for alcoholics, which he founded. Father Bombaci comes from the local community and "was well liked and respected by everyone" according to the archbishop.

"We have no idea of the reasons for the assassination, perhaps a theft or maybe someone was angry with him," he told Fides, saying Church officials do not "believe it to be the work of Hindu extremist groups."

He said local Christians and Hindus have "excellent" relations. Many Hindus expressed "dismay and solidarity," the archbishop said.
  United Kingdom: Jailed Christian accused of ‘passing secrets’
  LONDON, APRIL 30 (UCAN) -- Further details have emerged of the campaign to free jailed Chinese Christian Alimujiang Yimiti.

The US-based rights group ChinaAid is to launch a global campaign -- FreeAlim -- "to advocate for his freedom from this severe persecution," according to its president, Bob Fu.

Fu told UCA News on April 29 that Alimujiang, a Uyghur Muslim who converted to Christianity in 1995, was accused of passing secrets to Gregory Kopan, an American Christian businessman in Kashgar for whom Alimujiang worked.

Kopan was later expelled from China on suspicion of "engaging in illegal religious activities in Xinjiang."

Even before he was detained in January 2008, Alimujiang had been accused of "illegal evangelism" by the Bureau of Religion and Ethnicity in Kashgar.

A report on his case by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said his detention "followed years of reported intimidation and interrogation."

It says he was "allegedly physically abused and injured. His house was also ransacked and possessions, including his computer, seized."

The report says that Alimujiang, who managed a fruit garden in Shule County, was accused of "illegal religious infiltration activities ... in the name of doing company business" and distributing religious propaganda. It added that those close to him say he "was careful not to mix his faith and business activities."

Fu and Alimujiang's defense lawyer, Li Baiguang, visited Brussels, London and Belfast recently to talk to officials and politicians at the European Union, Westminster and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Among them was the British Catholic rights campaigner Lord Alton. He told UCA News: "China listens when it realizes the world is taking notice. Everyone should do what they can to raise this case."
  Nuns edified by priests' hard work
  KOLKATA, APRIL 30 (UCAN) -- Religious brothers and sisters in Kolkata, eastern India, say they admire diocesan priests for their hard work.

"We want to tell you that we are proud of you," Franciscan Sister Celine Xavier, vice-president of the Conference of Religious India's Kolkata unit told the gathering of about 400 men and women Religious to honor about 80 diocesan priests on April 29.

The program was organized to mark the ongoing Year for Priests.

Sister Xavier said the nuns appreciate the priests' "life witness" and readiness to sacrifice their rest for people who need their assistance.

"We marvel at the energy you possess when at odd hours you are called upon to attend the dying, even in places difficult to reach, or at times even dangerous to travel," she said.

Loreto Sister Cecily Wong said she wanted priests to be true to their calling as representatives of Christ. In the wake of the sex abuse scandals about priests, "authenticity is what the priests should have," she said.

Bambina Sister Thresia John Madamana said she appreciated priests being available to administer the Sacraments.

Archbishop Lucas Sirkar of Calcutta told UCA News that holiness is "not only for priests, but for everyone."

The 74-year-old Salesian archbishop said he admired diocesan priests for openly confiding in him their joys, sorrows, problems, difficulties and challenges.
  Catholic-dominated political factions merge
  THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, APRIL 30 (UCAN) -- Church leaders in Kerala have hailed news of a Catholic-dominated political faction ending its two-decade-long support of communists and merging with another group.

"It is a welcome move," Father Paul Thelakat, spokesperson of the Syro-Malabar Church, told UCA News on April 29.

P. J. Joseph, minister of public works in the Communist-led state government and factional leader of Kerala Congress party, has decided to resign from his government post, party officials told UCA News.

He would also merge his faction with a rival Kerala Congress faction, led by K. M. Mani, a prominent Catholic politician, officials said.

The party, founded in 1964, has been considered the political organ of the Oriental Syro-Malabar Church based in Kerala. Four decades ago it had some 25 members in the 141-member legislative house. However, over the years, political interests divided the party into several factions.

"First of all, it was a regional party. When it began to split and became four factions, it became little relevant. Leaders of each faction are very capable people," Father Thelakat said.

The unification will strengthen the party and will help its leaders play vital roles in state and national politics, the priest said. He hoped the merger of the two major factions would motivate the other two to join them.

However, Father Thelakat does not consider Kerala Congress the party of Christians. "It is a secular party and we want it to be fully secular, which means keeping a healthy distance from religion," he said.

George Sebastian, an official from Joseph's faction, told UCA News that Joseph would resign from the ministry on May 1.

He said Joseph is breaking away from the communists under the pressure from Catholic Church leaders. Media reports also said senior bishops were behind the merger.

However, Father Philip Nelpuraparambil of Changanacherry denies the allegation, saying bishops do not get involved in politics.

The Church has been at loggerheads with the state's communist-led government on several issues including its education policy, which Church leaders say was designed to spread atheism and take control of Church educational institutions.
  Tobacco industry flouting all rules: Study
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, APRIL 29 -- The tobacco industry flouts all rules and exploits its workers, in contrast to its claims about economic benefits to people and the government, says a report by the Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI).

"The tobacco industry not only represents a serious health hazard, but also exploits its workers by not paying them minimum wages and employing children among its labour force," says a study 'At the Crossroads of Life and Livelihood: The Economics, Poverty and Working Conditions of People Employed in Tobacco Industry in India' conducted recently by VHAI in Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

"Contrary to popular belief, tobacco is not a profitable cash crop. Rising costs of cultivating tobacco, low wages, high risk of crop failure and exploitation at hands of middlemen are reasons why marginal tobacco farmers find themselves constantly trapped in poverty and debt," says VHAI chief executive Alok Mukhopadhyay.

The report says that 'bidi' companies pay low wages (as low as Rs 23 per 1,000 bidis rolled) in certain parts of India. "This work is done mostly by women and children. Though child labour is prohibited in the country, children continue to work for long hours in the tobacco industry."

Speaking about tendu leaf pluckers (tendu leaves are used to make hand-rolled bidis), Mukhopadhyay said, "Their income, apart from being extremely low, involves hours of arduous labour and is very seasonal, lasting just over two months in a year. Most of the tendu pluckers live and work in geographically isolated areas, with barely any infrastructural facilities."

Emphasising for stronger government action, A M Mir, state executive director, Jammu and Kashmir Voluntary Health Association, says, "The government should stop contradictory policies of promoting tobacco on one hand and controlling it on the other. Taxation on all forms of chewing and smoking tobacco (raw, bidis, gutka and cigarettes) should be increased considerably to reduce demand."

He states that proactive steps should be taken to discontinue grants to conduct tobacco-related research and current subsidies and, instead, provide technical knowledge, seeds and marketing linkages for alternative crops. "The government should initiate an alternate livelihood for tobacco industry workers. The alternatives must be designed with long-term vision so that benefits extend to the next generation, who shouldn't be compelled under any circumstances to go back to their earlier occupation."

VHAI is one of few organisations working on tobacco control; both at the policy and grass root levels, says Mir. "The VHAI organisational structure is a federation of 27 state-level voluntary health associations that are further linked to more than 4,500 member institutions across the country and a network of more than 1,00,000 health promoters and workers."

VHAI, he says, is presently implementing a comprehensive tobacco control programme across nine states to strengthen the anti-tobacco movement in country. "This includes policy and media advocacy, research, capacity-building, networking, coalition-building, formation of national and state-level resource centres with helplines, lobbying with enforcement agencies, reporting of legislative violations, forming smoke-free zones and development of advocacy materials."

"Tobacco control has always been a crucial public health concern for VHAI and the organization has been campaigning against the tobacco industry's nefarious practices for nearly two decades," says Mir, adding that smoking is expected to cause 10 lakh deaths every year in India by 2010.

"Tobacco is produced, consumed and exported in various forms. India is the second largest producer of tobacco worldwide and ranks fourth in total tobacco consumption. But only 19 per cent of consumers are cigarette smokers, whereas 81 per cent take it in smokeless forms," informs Mir.

He further says that tobacco is easily accessible and consumed in rural India in diverse forms -- smoking, chewable and snuff -- like bidis, pan, flavoured powder (pan-masala and gutka) and hookah. "It is closely related to rituals and social status. Women, children and adolescents form a large part of both active and passive tobacco users."

"The Indian Government has armed itself with a Comprehensive Tobacco Control Act (COTPA) 2003 and has been taking proactive steps in enforcing the legislation. It is the responsibility of civil society organisations to join hands with the government in an endeavour to eradicate this deadly epidemic from the country," he suggests.
  Composite Indo-Pak dialogue must, says National Conference
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, APRIL 29 -- Describing a composite dialogue between India and Pakistan as the only viable means to address all issues, including those pertaining to Jammu and Kashmir, a spokesman of the National Conference (NC) hailed the proposed meeting between Prime Minister of India Dr Manmohan Singh and Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani scheduled at Thimpu on April 29, on the sidelines of the SAARC Summit.

Expressing the hope that composite dialogue between two countries will be restored soon, the spokesperson said, "The resolution of issues between India and Pakistan has direct relation to peace and development in Jammu and Kashmir in particular, and the subcontinent in general."

He said the NC was committed to facilitating internal and external dialogue to pave the way to address the issue. "We have witnessed a saga of bloodshed and economic disaster in the last two decades and had to bear the brunt of militancy," he said, adding, "Every stakeholder of peace and development in the subcontinent should strive for a permanent solution of political issues and dialogue is the only forum to do so."

Expressing hope that the talks will move ahead positively, he said an atmosphere of constant dialogue would be created aimed at finding solutions inconsonance with the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Hailing the statement of Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi wherein he highlighted the need for dialogue between India and Pakistan for amicable resolution of all issues, the spokesman expressed hope that it would create a conducive atmosphere for talks between the two leaders.
  Kerala bishops engineer political merger
  SOME senior Catholic bishops in Kerala are projected as the masterminds behind the likely merger of a communist ally in the state's ruling alliance with its rival Congress party as elections near in the state.

Catholic P J Joseph, a minister in the communist-led coalition government, is set to resign this week. He will soon merge the Kerala Congress faction led by him with the one led by K M Mani, another Catholic, Express Buzz reported.

The merger, a long pending dream of the Catholic Church in Kerala, is inching towards realization with retired Archbishop Joseph Powathil of Changanassery taking the lead role, the paper said.

Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt of Palai and Bishop Joseph Punnakkottil of Kothamangalam have also played crucial roles in the mission by effectively exploiting their respective affinity towards Mani and Joseph, the paper reported.

If plans are executed according to Joseph's wish, the merger of the Mani and Joseph groups will take place in June.

This will give the new party ample time to plant its feet firmly in the ground before the local body polls. The merger will make Kerala Congress the second largest party in the Congress-led United Democratic Front with 12 members attached to it.

"With the merger, the Catholic Church can easily enforce its agenda in the state's governance. There are many setbacks for the Church in the education sector" during the present Communist-led rule. The Church doesn't want to repeat them when the UDF comes to power next time," said a senior Kerala Congress leader.

The merger move has created confusion among the cadre of Joseph's Kerala Congress. A section of leaders led by ex-MP P C Thomas is toying with the idea of remaining in the LDF.

Thomas has the support of V Surendran Pillai MLA and senior leaders George Sebastian and Scaria Thomas. They claim to enjoy the blessings of the CPM leadership as well.

Source: Joseph to quit Kerala Cabinet? (Express Buzz)
  'India slow in protecting victims of violence'
  THE US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has put India on its "watch list" for a second time saying the nation experiences continued attacks on Christians and Muslims and their places of worship.

The commission's annual report released today said "multitude of religious communities has historically coexisted peacefully" in India. But government moves are inadequate to protect such peaceful life.

India's "progress in protecting and promoting religious freedom during the past year was mixed" the report said while placing the country on its "watch list."

The report said government at various levels recognized the problem of communal violence. "However, justice for victims of communal violence was slow and often ineffective, thereby perpetuating a climate of impunity."

It noted that there was "no large-scale communal violence against religious minorities" during the past year but "attacks on Christians and Muslims and their places of worship continued, along with incidences of intolerance against both."

The commission urged the U.S. government to take up issues of religious freedom and related human rights into all bilateral contacts with India. It also urged the U.S. ambassador to India to speak out against, and seek to visit sites of, communal violence.

The commission was unable to obtain visa last year to visit Orissa, where an anti-Christian riots in 2008 killed some 90 people and displaced some 50,000, mostly Christians.

The Commission attempted to visit India for assessing the status of religious freedom first hand but "no visas were granted," the report said.

In 2009, the commission has placed India in its "watch list" for the first time saying government's response was inadequate to violence against religious minority communities, including Christians in Orissa in 2008 and Muslims in Gujarat in 2002.

The countries on the "watch list" are Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Venezuela.

The report also listed 13 nations as "countries of particular concern" implying grave lack of religious freedom in those nations. These countries are Burma, China, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

Source: Eleventh Annual Report on Religious Freedom in the World (
  Parish 'apologizes' to priest 100 years later
  PANAJI, APRIL 29 (UCAN) -- People in a southern Indian parish have apologized for "sins" their ancestors committed against a Catholic priest, whose canonization process is now underway.

Catholic parishioners of Kumta village in Karnataka state say their forefathers "sinfully" doubted the integrity of Father Agnelo D'Souza, who was declared "Venerable" in 1986.

The priest, who died in 1927 at the age 58, belonged to the indigenous Society of the Missionaries of St. Francis Xavier. The congregation is based in the Pilar hills in Goa and is popularly known as the Pilar society.

Wilfred Noronha, a council member of the St. John the Baptist Parish in Kumta, read out the apology April 27. It came at the end of the centenary celebrations of the appointment of Father D'Souza to the parish.

In the name of all the parishioners, he apologized "for sins committed consciously and unconsciously by our ancestors" against Father D'Souza and sought his "forgiveness."

According to records, some drunken parishioners had approached the priest late one night and demanded to inspect the parish accounts.

The priest welcomed them and presented the books to them. However, these parishioners were illiterate men and were unable to read what was put before them. They left quietly after the priest blessed them.

The text of the apology, which also had the current parish priest's signature on it, was handed over to Pilar Father Tony Lopes, the society's superior.

Historian Father Cosme Costa said the incident happened at a time when the priest had just arrived in Kumta. His predecessor had been dragged to court by parishioners on matters relating to parish accounts.

"This ... may have prompted the villagers to suspect the priest" but he proved to be different, said Father Costa.
  Water 'evangelizes' in drought-hit area
  INDORE, APRIL 29 (UCAN) -- A Catholic diocese in a drought-hit central Indian area has set up three kiosks to provide drinking water to passersby, a service its bishop says helps the Church reach out to people.

"We are sharing God's gift with the needy," Bishop Devprasad Ganawa of Jhabua said about the service in tribal-dominated Jhabua district.

As daytime temperatures crossed 40 degrees Celsius in Madhya Pradesh state, public water sources have dried up. The state government has declared Jhabua and several other districts as drought-hit.

The Church-run kiosks at the side of roads are open to all.

The Divine Word prelate told UCA News that the service helps the Church "reach out to more people" in the state, which has a law restricting the preaching of Christianity.

"Service is more effective than preaching, and through this service people will come to know about us and our faith," he said.

One kiosk is near the diocesan headquarters in Meghnagar while the other two are in Pipliya Mandi and Mandsaur towns.

Father Raju Mathew oversees the kiosk in Meghnagar. "One of our bore-wells has sufficient water and it is God's plan to serve the needy," he said.

About 650 mostly tribal people visit the town daily for business, and many drink water from the kiosk.

Father S. Lawrence, who manages the Pipliya Mandi kiosk, said it provides water to about 300 people daily.

He pays Rs 100 (about US$2) for a full tank of water, and has employed an elderly woman to supply water to people from 9 a.m. 6 p.m. The woman is paid 1,500 rupees a month. "That way I am also helping her," he said.

"When people get safe and cool water in the scorching heat, they naturally thank God. I feel happy when they come to know that they are being served by Christians," Father Lawrence said.
  Pakistan: Collaboration urged to fight extremism
  LAHORE, APRIL 27 (UCAN) -- Christian and Muslim religious leaders have called for collaboration to combat extremism in the country after attending an interfaith conference in Spain.

"Our country is infected with the worst terrorism and extremism and thousands of innocent lives have been lost," said Father James Channan, head of the Dominican Vice-Province of Pakistan, at an April 26 press conference.

"It is a serious situation and demands cooperation and joint strategies at national and international levels to change the mindset of suicide bombers."

The priest was part of the Pakistani delegation, including three Muslim clerics, who attended the April 7-9 conference in Madrid hosted by the governments of Pakistan and Spain.

Representatives from 10 Asian and 23 European countries attended the event.

"Declaring Pakistan a democratic republic instead of a theocracy is the first step," said Father Channan. "Members of minority communities must be allowed to contest for the country's top leadership."

Muslim cleric Allama Abdul Waheed Rabbani told media: "We condemn suicide attackers for their inhuman acts. Muslims are not terrorists but they get a bad name. Our call is not for conversion but tolerance and acceptance."

Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants have initiated deadly bombings across the country since the army launched an operation against Taliban militants in Northern Province, bordering Afghanistan, last year.

On April 24, about 11 people were injured in a bomb blast in Sibi, Balochistan province.

In a press statement, the speakers recommended that the Pakistani government use the media to promote interfaith dialogue, include chapters on the topic in the school syllabus, organize forums on inter-cultural harmony and establish dialogue and peace centers in all provinces.

Speaking to UCA News, Father Channan said: "We need a liberal education. Only open minded people can prevent the country from division."

Father Aftab James Paul, director of the Diocesan Commission for Interreligious Dialogue in Faisalabad, added, "We need a bigger movement to tackle militancy."
  Govt plans policy on domestic workers
  NEW DELHI, APRIL 27 (UCAN) -- A new government policy on domestic workers will help protect the rights of the "undocumented" workforce, says a Montfort brother who helped to draft the policy.

Brother Varghese Theckanath is part of the government-appointed Task Force on Domestic Workers. It aims to recommend to government welfare and regulatory policies for domestic workers in the country.

The 11-member task force constituted for a period of six months ending in June also includes Catholic Sister Jeanne Devos, founder of National Domestic Workers Welfare Trust.

Brother Theckanath, director of Montfort Social Institute in Hyderabad, said domestic work in India is informal, undocumented and poorly regulated.

The task force, which met on April 22, has recommended several measures, including identifying and registering domestic workers and their placement agencies.

It also wants the government to declare a minimum wage for domestic work and set working hours besides introducing welfare measures such as health and life insurances and skills training.

"The government has accepted these recommendations. These have to be now presented before the cabinet of ministers," Brother Theckanath said.

Incorporating the recommendations, the team also presented the first draft of the national policy.

Among other things, it stresses the rights for leave, retirement, employment contracts, a minimum wage, safe working conditions and conditions for termination of employment.

The government estimates India has 6.4 million domestic workers but the World Bank says the number should around 90 million, said Brother Theckanath.

"The right number would be anything in between."

He said domestic work in India is historically rooted in slavery, bonded labor, caste subjugations and other forms of servitude.

An estimated 70 per cent of the domestic workers are women. Thousands of tribal women, mostly Christians, migrate to work in cities and towns.

"No one has the number of Christians. But we know hundreds of tribal Christians work as domestic servants," Brother Theckanath said.
  Trafficking from riot-hit area worries Church
  BHUBANESWAR, april 27 (UCAN) -- Church leaders in Orissa state say they are alarmed by the increased trafficking of women from Kandhamal district, the epicenter of 2008 anti-Christian violence.

The Church has noticed a huge surge in trafficking of young girls from the violence-hit district, said Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak of Berhampure.

Bishop Nayak said victims of the Hindu extremist violence experience severe poverty since they have no jobs and are unable to cultivate their lands.

Families are looking for ways to sustain lives. When security to life and food is threatened, young girls become prey to traffickers' false promises of jobs, a good salary and shelter, the bishop said.

He said girls dropping out of schools as their parents are unable to pay tuition fees have added to the problem. Young people are ready to make sacrifices for their families, he added.

Archbishop Raphael Cheenath, head of the Catholic Church in the state, said, "Persecution and violence have destroyed the life and livelihoods of our people" and urged Catholics "to be on the alert" for false promises of traffickers.

Devi Pradhan, a school dropout, told UCA News that her family could not support her studies. "They look to me for support. I want to work and support my family."

Bishop Nayak wants the Church to launch "a mass campaign to make parents aware of traps" and hold the state responsible for a lack of jobs.

"If there is security and work here, no girl would be willing to go to a strange land to work," he said.

The Church does not have the numbers to show the increase in trafficking but media reported childcare workers rescuing Kandhamal girls from railway stations last week.

Media quoted government reports saying 3,578 women remained untraced during 2000 and 2005. Of these 1,418 were between 12 and 14, and 1,342 were between 21 and 30 years.
  Police crackdown on child abuse welcomed
  BHUBANESWAR, APRIL 27 (UCAN) --Church people and human rights activists have welcomed a police clampdown on sex tourism in Puri, a coastal town in Orissa.

"We welcome it. But a circular alone would not end the menace," Father Bijaya Pradhan, who heads the Child Commission of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese, told UCA News on April 25.

Five days earlier, the Orissa state police asked some 200 hotels in Puri not to let minor boys stay in rooms with tourists, especially foreigners, and warned of stringent action if they ignored the order.

Debasis Rath of the Childline of Child Welfare Committee, an NGO, laments that Puri has become "the hub of male-child abuses."

Puri town's Jagnnath (the lord of the universe) Temple attracts thousands of tourists throughout the year.

“Most tourists, who indulge in child abuse, are foreigners. They take advantage of families' poverty," Rath told UCA News.

According to a joint study by a Bangalore-based organization and a local NGO, Puri is among the top pilgrimage centers in India where tourists sexually exploit boys.

The study, published in November, noted that although Indian society generally marginalizes girls, boys get exploited worst of all in child sex tourism. It also said families believe there is less risk involved with boys selling sex compared to girls.

Adorers Sister Aparna, who works among Puri's fisher people, wants greater concerted efforts by government, activists and parents to end child abuse here.

The victims often do not mind "as long as they are rewarded with food, clothes and money," she told UCA News, and added that illiteracy and "uncertain income" from fishing drive children to sex tourism.

Divine Word Father T. K. Kurian, who also works in Puri, says the police instruction is only symbolic. "It should not end there," he told UCA News.

Rath says proving child abuse is tough because victims do not file charges.

He has urged the administration to closely monitor mushrooming health clubs, massage parlors and hostels. His group plans to launch a campaign against child abuse in these places.
  PDP stages massive rally, demands revocation of armed forces Act
  By Raja Jaikrishan

NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR, APRIL 26 -- Led by People's Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti, hundreds of party workers marched on April 26 to the historic city centre of Lal Chowk from the party headquarters in Srinagar.

Addressing the rally near the clock tower, Mehbooba Mufti cited the recent killing of civilians in Kupwara and Shopian and demanded immediate revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

The police tried to stop the party workers at various places, but they scaled the cordons and marched nearly one kilometre. The workers repeatedly raised slogans and demanded the resumption of talks between India and Pakistan for resolution of the Kashmir issue.

Mufti appealed to the separatists and other parties to join hands on the issue. "This is not an election battle. We, as well as those who want independence, are yearning for resolution of the Kashmir issue, revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, demilitarisation, release of prisoners and rights on water resources," she said.

Earlier, while announcing the agitation, PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had said his name would not lose sheen if he was called a separatist.

Reacting to the call, Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani told mediapersons at his Hyderpora residence in Srinagar that Sayeed should resign from the State Assembly and speak out of the framework of the Indian Constitution.

"When Sayeed was Union Home Minister, 22 persons were killed by troopers on January 25, 1990. He appointed Jagmohan as Governor of the state, who was responsible for massacres in the Valley," he alleged.

"Army men raped a woman and her daughter in Badra-Payeen in 2002 during Sayeed's term as Chief Minister. Moreover, he did not shift me to Srinagar from Ranchi jail, despite court orders", Geelani said. "Now, when his party is in opposition, he speaks about the Kashmir issue, revocation of AFSPA and other things. These are aimed at gaining the vote bank," asserted Geelani.

On the allegation of being a sympathizer of mainstream politicians, Geelani said: "This is false. I have sympathy for our cause, which is freedom as per Islamic teachings."

Among others, JKLF leader Mohammad Yaseen Malik has aired his disagreement with Geelani on the cause of establishing Nizam-e-Mustafa. Close on Malik's statement, Kamal Hak, a Kashmiri Pandit migrant, called Geelani's cause 'an exploitative tool'.

"In 1951, 21 Muslim religious scholars demanded that all government laws in Pakistan be based on the Quran and Sunna. Twenty years later, Maulana Madoodi, one of the main supporters of the resolution, said it was impossible to make a set of public laws as per The Book and the Sunna, which all Muslim sects would unanimously accept as Islamic".

In an article published by the Idara Tolu-e-Islam, Lahore, in 1977, the writer made a significant observation: "The flag bearers of the Nizam-e-Mustafa belonging to various Islamic sects have their own fiqah (jurisprudence). This is evident, as all these sects consider their own fiqah as unchallengeable Islamic law; no set of laws could be made which will be acceptable to all, their differences are so deep that each one of them has declared the other as Kafir, at one time or the other."

Recently, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, former foreign minister of Pakistan, said during a seminar in Lahore that Geelani was the only Kashmiri leader who refused to come on board the deal (which included full de-militarisation of both Jammu & Kashmir as well as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, short of azadi and self-governance for both sides of the disputed area.

"He accepts nothing, but merger with Pakistan, which ironically is something we too wanted, but knew wasn't practical. I once had an eight-hour meeting with him. Even Musharraf met him, but he refused to budge," Kasuri said.
  Barter system still in vogue among the poor in the Valley
  From Afsana Bhat

SUMBAL-BANDIPORA, APRIL 26 -- The barter system of exchange of goods seems to be a thing of the past but in many villages here the system still continues.

People purchase vegetables, pulses in exchange of paddy and other items. Though it is not carried out in a routine manner, residents find it a good alternative in times of need. The local traders are the major beneficiaries.

The system is in vogue in villages like Sheganpora, Ganasthan in Sumbal and Trikolbal and Mandiyari in Pattan. Residents consider it as a part of their daily chore.

Shahnaz Bano, a school-going student in Sheganpora, about 35 kilometres from the city centre, after purchasing eatables, particularly vegetables, from a passing-by horse-cart, said that she purchased turnips and radishes in lieu of one kilo of paddy. "This is a common practice, here."

Her mother feels that her daughter has been cheated as she is unaware about the weights being used by the vegetable vendor. She said that a few days back, she had bought vegetables on credit from the vendor, who is quite popular in the locality.

"I owed him one kilo of paddy in exchange of vegetables. As I was busy with household chores, I asked my daughter to return it and purchase vegetables as well," said Shahnaz's mother, adding, "She has been cheated."

Her husband, a carpet weaver often purchases vegetables once he goes to town. "Last time he purchased a sack of potatoes, but we can't eat potatoes all the time. Generally, we purchase vegetables from the local market on barter system," said the mother.

Several kilometers away from Sheganpora, Hameeda Bano's family in Gund-e-Ibrahim–Pattan plunged into deep crisis after all the material in their shop was stolen. The shop was the main bread-winning activity for the family. They had no resource to purchase fresh material for the shop.

The family couldn't think of taking a loan or taking an advance from anyone in the village. She approached the Khamnaiee Self-Help Group (SHG) that came up under the aegis of the Indo- Global Social Service Society (IGSSS). In due course, she took a loan from the SHG and re-started the family business in 2009. She is a happy shop-owner now.

Barter system continues in this village as well. The villagers purchase certain articles in exchange of others. "Due to poverty, people find it easier to exchange goods, instead of making cash payments. The barter system is beneficial. After collecting the material through this system, we sell it to wholesale dealer at a good price," said Hameeda.
  Nepal: Young people to work for social justice
  KATHMANDU, APRIL 26 (UCAN) -- Young Catholics say a one-day program on vocations has inspired them to put their faith into action by working for peace and social justice.

"Now I do believe that we should not limit ourselves to verbal prayers but should put our prayers into action," said 15-year-old high-school student Merina Karki.

"As socially aware youths, we should be agents of change in this country," she told UCA News.

Karki was one of 60 youths from three parishes in Kathmandu who attended a program on vocations and Church social teaching on April 24, held at the Assumption Church hall.

The International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS) of Nepal organized the event to mark Vocations Sunday, April 25.

"Nepal is undergoing political problems at the constitutional assembly level," Josh Niraula, a lay leader and parishioner of Assumption Church told participants.

"I wish our parliamentarians know about Catholic social teachings so that they can come up with a good national constitution."

Nepal's lawmakers have until May 28 to complete a new constitution. Christian and political leaders have demanded that it guarantee that Nepal remains secular after parliament in 2006 approved measures that converted the country, until then the world´s only Hindu nation, into a secular state.

However, there have been increasing calls for Nepal to become a Hindu state again.

Stressing the necessity of putting one's faith into action, another speaker, Prabin Mukhiya quoted James 2:17, stressing that faith without actions is dead.

Lawrence Lama, 23, a youth leader from Baniyatar parish, said, "Today's session has made our calling clearer to us... We expect to be fully involved for the protection and promotion of human rights through the IMCS movement."

According to IMCS-Nepal youth leaders, IMCS will hold a program in mid-western Pokhara town in June, focusing on theology and basic human rights.

Father Robin Rai, animator of IMCS-Nepal, spoke about the Religious life.

He said Nepal apostolic vicariate will organize a program at St. John Vianney pastoral center in Godavari in May to introduce young men to the priestly vocation.
  Nun’s center a refuge for orphan girls
  KARACHI, APRIL 26 (UCAN) -- Jessinta Fernandez lost both her parents by the time she was seven. However, she was able to continue her education and is now a teacher, thanks to the Daughters of the Cross nuns.

Fernandez was one of more than 500 Catholic girls from broken families, or who had at least one deceased parent, who received care at the nuns' Providence Home in Karachi archdiocese.

The nuns and staff provide the girls with a homely environment, support their education, and in some cases, like Fernandez's, even helped them get married.

"My father died of cancer when I was one and my mother passed away six years later," Fernandez recalled. "My uncle brought me and my sister to the home and we studied here until grade 12."

Fernandez, now a mother of two, said her future in-laws saw her at a picnic "and contacted the nuns with a marriage proposal."

She now teaches at a Catholic school, brings gifts to the girls at the home during her monthly visits, and helps raise funds for the facility.

"The nuns are like my parents and the children are my 'siblings'", she said with a smile.

Presently, 20 girls aged six to 15 stay at the home, together with two nuns and five other staff members.

"Most of them come from rural areas," said Sister Petra Mariam, the nun in charge. Many of these girls, who have had a traumatized childhood, "tend to be disobedient and display violent behavior."

She said it was a "special mission" to serve them. "We try to train them with love and help them to study, play games and say prayers."

The center charges 300 rupees (US$3.60) per month for each resident while Catholic schools in Karachi give a 50 per cent discount on educational expenses for each girl.

"The total expenditure [for the home] is more than 60,000 rupees monthly but only the relatives of a few girls pay," said Sister Mariam.

Providence Home was founded by German Sister Henerica in 1964.

Many of the former residents, like Fernandez, continue to visit the center regularly and support it.
  Diocese thrilled with vocation camp turnout
  INDORE, APRIL 26 (UCAN) -- Church leaders in a central Indian diocese are elated with the unexpected turnout at a religious vocation camp.

"It is not less than a miracle that 36 boys from various parishes came for the three-day vocation camp," said Father Thomas Rajamanikam, director of Indore diocese's minor seminary.

He said the diocese has been facing a shortage of local vocations to the priesthood for several years. "We used to organize such camps earlier but stopped it four years ago as there was no response," he told UCA News after the camp on April 25.

At present, more than 90 per cent of priestly vocations to the diocese come mostly from southern Indian states. "Now, it has become necessary to find local vocations as vocations from other states are drying up," he said.

Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal of Indore expressed hope that many who took part in the camp would eventually join the seminary.

The youths' response overwhelmed him as organizers had expected only 10 to 15 boys to attend the camp, he said.

Father Anand Chirayath, the diocese's vocation promoter and the minor seminary's joint director, credited the success to seminars and awareness camps on vocations that the diocese has been conducting in parishes for the past several years. "It is a very encouraging sign," he said.

Father Chirayath said six participants volunteered to join the seminary on the first day, but 15 did so on the last day. "They have shown an inclination toward God's mission and now we have to encourage and motivate them," he said.

Joseph Thomas, an 11th grader who attended the camp, told UCA News he wants to become a priest to work for the poor while another participant, Rackward Emmanuel, said the camp strengthened his resolve to face challenges in becoming a priest.

Indore diocese has nearly 20,000 Catholics representing less than 0.5 per cent of the people in its territory. It has 30 diocesan priests and 58 Religious priests.
  Felling of trees blamed for heat wave
  RANCHI, APRIL 26 (UCAN) -- Church people and environmentalists in Jharkhand are blaming large-scale deforestation for an unprecedented heat wave that has killed at least eight people in the eastern Indian state.

Temperatures touched 47 degrees Celsius in 13 of the state's 22 districts. Four schoolchildren and a 58-year-old man died of sunstroke on April 22 in Ranchi district. A day earlier, three children died in Simdega district.

Authorities ordered schools in the state to close on April 26 for its summer vacation. Usually, schools close from May 15.

Father Ignace Topno, president of All Churches Committee, an ecumenical forum, said the administration allowed the cutting of thousands of trees to widen roads and construct buildings, but undertook no re-plantation to maintain the ecology.

"No efforts were made to maintain the water level of ponds and dams that are now drying up," he added.

Six waterfalls in the state that attract hordes of picnickers have dried up completely.

Father Stanislaus Runda, who lives near the popular Jonha waterfall, says the dry spell has threatened hundreds of families who depend on tourists. Many families are forced to migrate.

He told UCA News that the state normally experiences the full heat of summer in May and June and predicted "acute water shortage" then.

Pradeep Kumar Balmuchu, the state's Congress party president, pointed out that ground water level across the state has gone down by 20 to 25 feet (6-7.6 meters). "The water crisis now threatens livestock and wildlife," he told UCA News.
  Anti-conviction strike in Kashmir Valley
  By Raja Jaikrishan

NEW DELHI, APRIL 24 -- Defying curfew–like restrictions people in hundreds hurled stones and fought pitched battles with police in the Kashmir valley on Friday.

The people halted work in response to the call of the two factions of the All Party Hurriyat Conference to protest against the death sentences given to three Islamic Front activists in the 1996 Lajpat Nagar Market bombing in New Delhi.

Pro–Azadi protesters marched streets of Srinagar, Baramulla, Sopore and Anantnag towns chanting "Revoke the death verdict" slogan. Shopkeepers pulled their shutters down, schools closed and buses and trucks kept off the road. Police also resorted to tear smoke and baton charges to disperse stone-throwing mobs in which one person was injured.

JKLF chairman Muhammad Yasin Malik was detained by the police while leading dozens of protesters in the uptown Maisuma locality. 'Yasin Malik has been detained by us as he tried to violate Section 144 which is in force in the city,' a police officer said. Before being whisked away by police, Malik told reporters he would sit on a day's hunger strike on Wednesday to protest the death sentence given to two Kashmiris.

Srinagar's Nissar Hussain and Mohammad Ali Bhat were given the death sentences, as was a third, Delhi's Mohammad Naushad, for their role in the blasts, which had killed 13 people. The trio was part of a group of six members, including a woman, of the Jammu Kashmir Islamic Front (JKIF) convicted on April 8. Of the remaining three, one got a life term, while two others, including the woman, were given lighter sentences.

Senior separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was also restrained by authorities in his uptown Nageen residence. The move was aimed at preventing the Hurriyat leaders from leading a demonstration at Pratap Park in Srinagar. Besides Mirwaiz, those who have been placed under house arrest include senior APHC leader, Agha Syed Hassan Al-Moosvi.
  Vatican seeks 'transparency' in abuse cases
Published: April 24, 2010
The New York Times
ROME -- As the Roman Catholic Church grapples with a widening sexual abuse scandal involving its clergy, it must show that it has "nothing to hide," the Vatican spokesman said Saturday.

"This is the age of truth, transparency and credibility," said the spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi. "Secrecy and discretion, even in their positive aspects, are not values cultivated in contemporary society. We must be in a position to have nothing to hide."

His remarks, at a meeting of the Italian bishops' conference, did not refer directly to the abuse scandal that has shaken the Roman Catholic Church. Accused of failing to act in widespread cases of pedophilia among priests, the Vatican has in recent days begun to remove bishops who have either been accused of covering up accusations of sexual abuse or of committing abuses themselves.

In the most recent case, in which a Belgian bishop resigned Friday after admitting to sexually abusing a boy, new information came to light on Saturday suggesting that church authorities had been warned about the bishop years ago.

The bishop, Roger Vangheluwe, 73, of Bruges, said that he had abused a boy when he was a priest and that he had continued after he became a bishop in 1985.

On Saturday, Rik Deville, a retired priest, said he told Archbishop Godfried Danneels between 15 and 17 years ago that Bishop Vangheluwe had abused a boy, The Associated Press reported. Mr. Deville said he was stonewalled until the bishop was forced to resign.

Archbishop Danneels told The A.P. through a spokesman that he had no recollection of Father Deville's allegations at the time.

Bishop Vangheluwe was one of several European bishops who resigned in the past week. On Thursday, a bishop in Germany resigned after being accused of beating children years ago. Also Thursday, the Vatican said that the pope had accepted the resignation of an Irish bishop cited in an Irish government report on the concealment of cases of clerical abuse.
  Dr Paulos Mar Gregorios Award conferred on Dr Karan Singh
NEW DELHI, APRIL 23 (PTI)-- Veteran Congress leader Karan Singh was today conferred with the prestigious Paulose Mar Gregorious Award for his contribution in promoting inter-faith dialogue and social reform.

The award was presented by President Pratibha Patil at a function here and described Singh as a "rare person with a number of rare qualities". (See photograph alongside)

Singh, member of the erstwhile royal family of Jammu and Kashmir, was selected for his work towards promotion of inter-faith dialogue, social reform, culture and national integration. The award was instituted by the Sophia Society in the memory of its founder, the late Dr Paulos Mar Gregorios, who was the first Bishop of the Delhi Diocese of the Indian Orthodox Church.

The award recognises the seminal contribution made by individuals in the promotion of inter-faith dialogue, as well as work in the fields of community self-renewal, education, public health, social justice, culture and peace.

Following is the text of the President's speech:

I am very happy to be at this function for the presentation of the 5th Paulos Mar Gregorios Award. This prestigious Award was instituted by the Sophia Society in the memory of its founder, the Late Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios, who was the first Bishop of the Delhi Diocese of the Indian Orthodox Church, an extraordinary human being, a scholar and linguist, as also an activist for peace and justice. He spent his life in the service of the people. He had a deep desire for learning and was a life-long seeker of truth and knowledge. He believed that all religions worked for the common goal of the well being of humanity. He often said that the deeper we go into our respective religions, we find the basic love of God and love for all humanity, which should unite us all.

The Paulos Mar Gregorios Award recognizes the seminal contribution made by individuals in the promotion of inter-faith dialogue, as well as work in the fields of community self-renewal, education, public health, social justice, culture and peace. Dr. Karan Singh richly deserves this award for his outstanding contribution in the fields of public life, inter-faith dialogue and culture. I congratulate him warmly.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since the dawn of human civilization there has been a constant search for answers about existentialism and the purpose of life. This has led to a universal conclusion that peace and harmony are the very basis of progress and prosperity. But, despite this knowledge, human history has not been free of discord and conflict. Strife, however, has neither diluted the quest for peace nor resulted in diminishing the commitment of the proponents of peace. Indeed, our efforts for bringing harmony can never be given up and these must continuously be pursued. Many men and women have contributed to these efforts throughout human history, and continue to do so. Dr. Karan Singh is one of the foremost among them.

Dr. Karan Singh is a respected and distinguished statesman, an eminent administrator, a thinker, author and diplomat. He has seen and experienced life in its many hues. He has contributed enormously to the nation in various fields and shown exemplary dedication in working for the welfare of the people. His many interests range from education, literature, culture, spirituality to social work and the preservation of wildlife, just to name a few. One of his major interests is a deep study of religion. He has a mastery over Vedic literature, the Upanishads and other such texts. I attended the engagement ceremony of his son and the daughter of late Madhavrao Scindia. At that time Dr. Karan Singh chanted shlokas non-stop for a long time, so much so that the five pundits who had come for this purpose were amazed. His is a voice heard with deep respect on many matters and in many fora. He believes that each religion has made a special contribution to human knowledge. Dr. Karan Singh has always advocated that all on our planet have a shared destiny and, therefore, all must seek to live in peace with one another, through respect for each other's faiths. He is of the view that inter-faith discourses should move from the periphery to the center of human consciousness. Speaking in January 2004, he posed the question,

What sort of global society are we going to have? Will it be based upon exploitation � and fanaticism, or are we going to have a sane and harmonious global society based on inter-faith understanding and peaceful conflict resolution?"

In view of the happenings around us in the past few years and the world becoming a smaller place, this indeed is a very important question. We must try and find an answer.

Often it is divisions created by lack of understanding and misperceptions that have sparked the fires of conflict. We need to bridge these divides and necessarily through dialogue. In the contemporary world, globalization has accentuated and intensified inter-action amongst people of diverse backgrounds. No country or community lives in isolation. This imposes an even greater responsibility on all of us to understand the many cultures, faiths and the religions. However, it is most regrettable when religion is used to sow the seeds of suspicion and dissensions. Across the world, in recent years, extremism and terrorism have been issues of concern. Both are antithesis of all religions. There is no religion that promotes disharmony. All religions advocate welfare of humanity as the highest form of duty and devotion. Love and affection are the cardinal principles underlying all religions. Inter-faith dialogue can promote an understanding of the basic tenets on which different faiths are anchored.

Dialogue produces a confluence of the various streams of thought, opinions and aspirations. They bring together the inputs of different civilizations, cultures and religions, to produce a grand movement of human advancement. Today's world is different from yesterdays. Tomorrow's world too will be different from the one of today. Change is inevitable and the march of time a reality. We stand today at the start of a new decade of a new millennium. It offers an opportunity when science and technology combined with the values of harmony and tolerance of our civilizational heritage can create the conditions of peace and security, where individuals and societies can excel, and where compassion and respect for others prevail.

India is a land of many faiths and cultures. Inter-faith discourses have taken place in our country over the millennia. Besides all the faiths that originated here, India welcomed people belonging to other religions. Their customs and ideas were synthesized to create the unique composite identity of India. The principle of secularism, enshrined in our Constitution, is based on respect for all religions. I would like to stress this again, that not merely tolerance but respect for all religions is important. There is no place for fissiparous ideas of any sort - region, religion, language, caste, creed, hatred or any other ground. We have to work together with unity of purpose with patriotic feelings, keeping India together and strong with perfect communal harmony. All Indians of all faiths in different parts of the country have worked together collectively for India. This spirit must continue, as we build a more prosperous and harmonious nation.

I, once again, congratulate Dr. Karan Singh for receiving this prestigious award. Dr. Karan Singh is a rare person with a number of rare qualities of the head and the heart. I also compliment the Sophia Society for instituting this Award and their efforts to promote peace, justice and wisdom, the ideals for which Mar Gregorios worked for.
  Pakistan: 'Church needs to do more for environment'
  LAHORE, APRIL 23 (UCAN) –- The Church needs to work harder at tackling environment issues, say priests and Religious who attended a Mass marking Earth Day.

"Besides Caritas, only one congregation [Society of St. Columban] has committed itself to addressing issues in [Lahore] archdiocese," Sister Hellen McAllister, provincial Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, told UCA News.

"They hold ecological workshops in Catholic schools, organize liturgies, and print posters and booklets. The awareness is slowly catching on ... but the gravity of the situation demands a more serious response."

The Scottish nun was speaking on the sidelines of an April 22 Mass to commemorate Earth Day, which was attended by about 60 people, mainly school teachers, in Lahore.

Main celebrant Father Nadeem John Shakir, executive secretary of the bishops' commission for social communications, noted that "in Pakistan, bomb blasts and urbanization have done severe damage to the environment."

"Many species, for example vultures, are getting extinct. It is our responsibility to preserve this earth and life on it. It is a vocation of faith but still we have not answered this call positively."

Father Yousaf Sohan, vicar general of Multan diocese, expressed similar views.

"We have to do more than occasionally talking about the environment in sermons," he told UCA News.

"We have had 50 per cent less rain this year and the summers are hotter than usual. The shortage of water has greatly affected power supply, causing more than 20 hours of power cuts in the villages of Punjab thus affecting the agricultural sector."

Sister McAllister observed: "In my 50 years in Pakistan, I saw roads expanding but the flood of traffic has increased twofold. It is hard to breathe on roads now. It is an insult to our environment."
  Catholic leaders join 'secular' temple festival
  THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, APRIL 23 (UCAN) -- The biggest temple festival in Kerala is a "secular celebration" for all people including Christians and Muslims, says a Catholic archbishop.

Archbishop Andrews Thazhath of Trichur says the annual temple festival in Thrissur, is "essentially a festival for all and is secular in character." He added: "People from all religions join to celebrate it. It binds all people. Even as a child, I used to participate in it."

The archbishop visited the temple grounds to offer his prayers for the smooth running of this year's festival which falls on April 24.

It is tradition that the Archbishop of Trichur visits the temple the day before the festival, Bishop Thazhath told UCA News on April 23. Trichur is the anglicized name for Thrissur, which the diocese continues to keep.

He said the festival, popularly known as Trissur Pooram, is famous for its processions of heavily caparisoned elephants accompanied by traditional percussion ensembles and fireworks.

The festival falls on an auspicious Hindu day in April or May.

Temple authorities and festival organizers welcomed the archbishop and other Catholic leaders.

Madhavan Kutty secretary of the festival organizing committee told UCA News that Muslim craftsmen decorate the venue and manufacture colorful parasols for use during the festival.

Christians are mainly behind the fireworks display at the end of the festival.

"It's a festival beyond religion and has become a symbol of secularism practiced in Kerala," Kutty said.

Francis Chethalan, a Catholic who works abroad told UCA News that he has taken leave to come home during the festival. "I can't miss it. I just wait for this great day," the 39-year-old said.

The two-century-old festival is said to have been started by the then local ruler Sakthan Thampuran.
  Activists demand change in communal bill
  BHUBANESWAR, APRIL 23 (UCAN) -- Church and activist groups in Orissa have demanded drastic changes to a proposed federal bill that aims to check sectarian violence in the country.

At an April 21-22 seminar at Bhubaneswar, the Orissa state capital, 52 activists, lawyers and Church people reviewed the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill the Indian parliament expects to pass this year.

Most participants are associated with cases related to anti-Christian violence in Orissa's Kandhamal district in 2008 that killed more than 90 people, mostly Christians, and rendered some 50,000 people homeless.

Seminar participants found several loopholes in the proposed bill which they say could be misused during sectarian violence as was seen in Kandhamal. They demanded a new committee draft another bill to tackle sectarian violence.

Church workers and activists working among Kandhamal survivors say police and the local administration tacitly supported Hindu extremists who attacked Christians there.

The seminar wants the government to draft a new bill using an open, transparent and public process involving jurists, activists, academics and legal experts.

The committee should take into account the recommendations of various commissions of inquiries, international covenants to which India is a signatory and new emerging standards in international law, the seminar stressed.

Vrinda Grover, a Supreme Court lawyer, told the seminar that the bill is "dangerous" as it strengthens federal and state governments with arbitrary and unfettered powers that could be misused against "vulnerable groups."

The bill also provides immunity for political leaders and government officials from punishment for their actions or negligence during sectarian violence, Grover explained.

Mustafa Faizana, vice chancellor of the National Law University of Orissa, who opened the seminar, called on the country's intelligentsia to study the bill thoroughly in order to make necessary changes.

The Muslim academician, who survived sectarian violence as a 12-year-old, predicted "disastrous consequences" if a government with unfettered powers tacitly supports groups that commit violence, such as in Kandhamal.
  Catholic bishop, accused of abuse, wants to quit
  BERLIN, APRIL 22 (AP) -- A leading conservative Roman Catholic bishop in Germany has written to Pope Benedict XVI offering to resign amid persistent allegations of physical abuse and financial misconduct, the Augsburg Diocese said Thursday.

Bishop Walter Mixa wrote a letter to the pope on Wednesday, the Augsburg diocese said in a statement, offering to step down in hopes of allowing a "new start" for his diocese. He said he would cooperate fully with investigators and offered an apology.

"I ask the forgiveness of all those to whom I may have been unfair and to those who I may have caused heartache," Mixa wrote, acknowledging that he was "fully aware of my own weaknesses."

Mixa has been accused of hitting children while a priest decades ago. He initially denied ever using violence against youngsters, but later acknowledged he may have slapped children.

Although the case does not involve any allegations of sexual abuse, Mixa has been a key member of Germany's Bishops Conference for more than a decade and his initial denial of physical violence fueled frustration among German Catholics that the church appeared to be unwilling to come clean on the issue of abuse.

Adding to Mixa's troubles, a special investigator has found financial irregularities at a children's home under his responsibility around the same time as the allegations of abuse.

Mixa said in his letter he would support efforts for a "thorough investigation" into all the allegations.

On Wednesday, the head of the national bishops' conference had urged Mixa to take leave until the allegations are cleared up, German media reported.

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch said he had several phone conversations with Mixa in recent days to discuss "how to contribute to calming down the current difficult situation in the Augsburg diocese," according to the DDP news agency.
  Holistic formation can end sex abuse
  MANILA, APRIL 22 (UCAN) -- The priests' sex abuse crisis troubling the Church today calls attention to the value of a well-rounded and "human" seminary formation program, a former seminarian spiritual director says.

Monsignor Elmer Abacahin, former spiritual formator of San Jose de Mindanao Seminary (SJMS) in Cagayan de Oro archdiocese maintains that such scandals in the Philippines and abroad show seminaries need to "integrate" intellectual, spiritual, psycho-social and pastoral aspects of their formation program.

"Recent sex scandals being raised up to the [Pope] is a wakeup call for formators to confront and address the question of celibacy and sexuality," said Monsignor Abacahin.

He currently serves as executive secretary of the Office on Basic Ecclesial Communities of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in Manila.

From his 10 years' experience as spiritual formator of college-level seminarians, Monsignor Abacahin noted the value of "interactive" learning. He suggests human sexuality be tackled more "seriously" than just as an academic subject.

Spiritual directors and counselors must also "openly discuss" sexuality issues with aspiring priests on a private level, he said.

The CBCP in 2006 published its Updated Philippine Program of Priestly Formation (UPPPF) developed in consultation with seminary formators and approved by the Vatican.

Subjects on contemporary issues such as globalization, technology, pro-life concerns, cultural heritage and interreligious dialogue have been included.

It also stresses formation as a "continuum' that extends beyond ordination.

Bishop Mylo Hubert Vergara, chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Seminaries told UCA News the program seeks to respond to the present local context of the Church, and address "pastoral priorities" determined after a national Church plenary council.

Father Abacahin's former seminary, 775 kilometers southeast of Manila, has introduced a year-long community exposure program for seminarians who have graduated from college and plan to proceed to study theology, the final stage of studies before ordination.

SJMS vocation director Father Raul Ricacho said the program was conceptualized last year as a response to the need of seminarians to reach out to the grassroots before taking up the post-collegiate course.
  Keep Nepal secular, Christians demand
  KATHMANDU, APRIL 22 (UCAN) -- Christian and political leaders have demanded that the new constitution guarantee that the majority-Hindu nation remain a secular state.

"We want the guarantee of a secular state. Let the leaders voice that here and now," said Chari Bahadur Ghahatraj from the Christian Advisory Committee for the New Constitution during a mass rally on April 20.

"We want a Parliamentary Commission of Religions and a Religious Act in the new constitution that will ensure our right to form Christian NGOs and church trusts easily."

Ghahatraj was one of several speakers who addressed thousands of Christians from all over Nepal, including dozens of pastors, at the Khulla Manch open-air theater in Kathmandu.

Speaking to the cheering crowd, he said, "We have been stopped from being represented at all government levels... We have been jailed and suppressed in the past ... but now, if we are not treated fairly, we will come out to the streets in millions, as we are not afraid anymore."

Nepal's lawmakers have until May 28 to complete a new constitution after parliament in 2006 approved measures that converted Nepal, until then the world's only Hindu nation, into a secular state.

Fear of Nepal becoming Hindu state again

However, there have been increasing calls for Nepal to become a Hindu state once again. Over the past year or so, Hindu extremist groups have used violence to back this demand. Churches and mosques have been bombed.

Chief guest at the event, Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, launched a booklet containing a two-year-old agreement signed by 25 political parties to make Nepal "secular."

"One of the main things we were able to achieve was the concept of secularism," he said. "But now the very leaders -- and even ministers -- of some of the 25 political parties who endorsed secularism are starting to speak against it. I assure you that we will fight with you till the end to institutionalize this."

He added, "All religions should be treated equally but conspirators are trying to restore Nepal as a Hindu country."

Prakash Man Singh, a leader of the Congress party, also assured the crowd, "We will not move one inch from our commitment to religious freedom."

Participants said that such a rally is much needed at the present time.

Surendra Shakya, a Buddhist activist and president of the Nepal United Religions Initiative, told UCA News, "Buddhists and other non-Hindu minorities have to raise their voices for secularism like this, as it is now endangered."

Few Catholics attended rally
Father Pius Perumana, Nepal's pro-vicar and parish priest of Godavari in southern Kathmandu said he was "very impressed by the event."

"It was good to see such a massive gathering of Christians coming from so far away."

He said that about 20 people from his parish, including three nuns, participated in the rally.

"I was sad to see so few Catholics. I really think we should participate more in such ecumenical and interreligious events."

Bishop Anthony Sharma, apostolic vicar of Nepal, said: "I am happy to hear from Father Pius that it was a very good gathering. It is good that Christians voice their concerns as it is our basic right to do so."

He added, "Christians and other minorities have been suppressed in Nepal and should have their representation in the new government."

The rally was organized by the Christian Advisory Committee for the New Constitution.

About 80 per cent of Nepal's 28.5 million people are Hindus, with Buddhists forming the next largest religious community. According to the Nepal Catholic Directory 2008-09, there are a total of 1.5 million Christians, 7,500 of them Catholics.
  Goa priests, laity split over education project
  PANAJI, APRIL 22 (UCAN) -- Goa's archbishop and two senior priests have resigned from a multi-million dollar educational project they began with laity, citing its "incompatibility" with Church views.

Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao of Goa and the priests quit the board of trustees for the Marian Institute of Health Care Management, a year after the US$3.7 million project was launched.

The institute aimed to offer diploma courses in health care management in collaboration with faculties from some of the country's leading institutes.

The prelate left his position as president, while the priests resigned as secretary general and treasurer on March 20, 2009. The resignations were only announced in the April 16 issue of the archdiocesan pastoral bulletin.

Father Saturnino Dias, who resigned as secretary general, told UCA News the board refused to amend the rules to project "Church values and ethics in its syllabus."

The board, including the Church had agreed to maintain a secular character for the institute but disagreements arose over pro-life issues like pregnancy, abortion, euthanasia, cloning and stem cell research, where the Church has a definite stand.

Father Dias said the archbishop "cannot sponsor an institute that would go against the teachings of the Church, and suggest, for instance, that abortion is okay."

He said that the differences hit breaking point after the board failed to generate necessary funds. The board also failed to carry out its pledge to train Catholic nuns working in Church health institutions.

Father Antimo Gomes, who quit as treasurer, also said the institute hardly got any of the funding it was promised by the end of its first academic year, which ended in March. The only funding the institute received came from the archdiocese's own coffers.

Father Gomes said Church authorities mulled closing the institute but wanted to "avoid serious consequences" for students already enrolled.

Some lay people on the board of trustees have agreed to carry on running the institute, which some say will take nearly a decade to become viable, Father Gomes said.
  Female foetus find hints at failed campaign
  AHMEDABAD, APRIL 21 (UCAN) -- The discovery of 15 foetuses in a garbage bin in Ahmedabad indicates the law's failure to check female feticide, Church workers and others say.

"Although sex determination tests are illegal, they are still being carried out rampantly in Gujarat," Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash told UCA News on April 20, one day after police found the fetuses in the western Indian state's commercial capital.

The priest, who runs a human rights center in the city, says the discovery reflected society's callousness toward female children.

Preliminary investigations revealed eight of the foetuses were females. Police are awaiting the results of autopsies on all the unborn babies. Investigators suspect the foetuses were aborted after sex determination tests found them to be female.

On April 19, Ahmedabad police arrested Jayanti Patel, a gynaecologist who runs a maternity home in the city. A court, however, ordered his release on April 20.

The doctor was in the process of moving his clinic to another location and allegedly dumped the foetuses which were kept in glass jars.

"We are very sad," Missionaries of Charity Sister Jeanvie, superior of an adoption center in the city, told UCA News. She slammed the sex determination tests as "misuse of technology" and branded abortion as "cold-blooded murder of babies."

She said her center accepts abandoned babies and has a waiting list of 60 childless couples willing to adopt such children. However, "for the last three months, we have not received a single baby," the nun added.

Sister Molly, another Missionaries of Charity nun managing a center for the terminally ill, condemned the abortions. "Those destroying children have no heart," she added.

Joy Mathew, a Catholic lawyer, said killing females in the womb "is really very depressing" and "highly sinful."

Ilaben Pathak, a Hindu who heads the Ahmedabad Women's Action Group, says the incident indicated the government's slackness in monitoring feticide. "The officials know the clinics where illegal abortions are carried out but they lack the will to stop it," she said.

Official statistics show a drop in Gujarat's sex ratio from 934 females to 1,000 males in 1991, to 921 females to 1,000 males in 2001.

The national average is 933. Haryana, a northern state, has only 861 females to 1,000 males, the lowest in the country.

Social activists say female foeticide is practiced mostly by Hindus who prefer male children, since only they can perform the last rites for their parents at funerals.

Another reason is the dowry for a daughter's marriage. Bridegrooms in India demand huge amounts as a precondition for marriage.
  Mission congresses galvanize laity to action
  BANGALORE, APRIL 20 (UCAN) -- Mission congresses at regional and diocesan levels have promoted a laity appraisal in the Church, say officials of the national conference of the Latin-rite bishops.

"The laity have played a key role in organizing the mission congress in many dioceses," Father Uduma Bala, deputy secretary general of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI), told UCA News on April 18.

The priest said CCBI organizes follow-up programs of the Indian Mission Congress held in October 2009. More than 1,400 delegates from India's 160 dioceses attended the program in Mumbai, western India.

One of its resolutions was to promote laity in organizing mission congresses in regions and dioceses.

Father Bala attended the latest congress on April 9-11 in Port Blair diocese that covers Andaman and Nicobar Islands. "In Port Blair, the laity have proved again their presence, mission and role in the Church," he added.

Father Vijay Shantiraj, secretary of the CCBI Commission for Proclamation, who coordinates the follow-up programs, said the mission congresses aim to assert lay people's role in proclaiming the Gospel.

He told UCA News that seven of the CCBI's 13 regions have already started preparations for their mission congress.

Besides dioceses and regions, Religious congregations and seminaries will also organize separate programs to imbibe the mission congress spirit, he said.

From April-September, at least six dioceses will organize mission congresses.

Some 5,000 Hindus are expected to join the mission congress the Chhattisgarh-Madhya Pradesh region plans to organize at Jhabua, a tribal-dominated area in Madhya Pradesh state May 21-23.

"We are not to convert any one, but to convince others that Christianity in India can promote brotherhood and harmony," Father Shantiraj explained.

Madhya Pradesh in central India has recorded more than 150 anti-Christian incidents in the past seven years. Hindu radical groups, who are blamed for the attacks, accuse Christian missioners of using social service as a façade to convert gullible tribal and low-caste people.

Father Shantiraj regretted the idea among some Church people that missionary activities are "solely the duty" of priests and nuns. "Every baptized Christian is a missioner and possesses the primary responsibility to proclaim Jesus," he asserted.
  Murder sentence upheld in 'victory for justice'
  NEW DELHI, APRIL 20 (UCAN) -- Church people have hailed the confirmation of a life sentence of a murderer as a victory for justice.

The Supreme Court on April 19 upheld the Delhi High Court verdict against Manu Sharma, son of a rich and influential politician of the ruling Congress party, convicted of killing Jessica Lal, a Protestant Christian.

"Often the rich and influential buy witnesses and try to twist the case. We welcome the verdict as it gives hope that ultimately the law can be at the service of the people," said Father Dominic Emmanuel, spokesperson of Delhi archdiocese.

Lal, a model-turned-actress, was shot dead in April 1999 at a nightclub in the national capital.

On Feb. 21, 2006, a trial court freed Sharma and eight others in the case, generating a nationwide protest. Thousands joined marches in New Delhi and other cities, demanding a retrial.

The High Court took up the case and convicted Sharma on Dec. 20, 2006. He appealed his conviction in the Supreme Court, resulting in the latest verdict.

"Civil society and the media to some extent helped to get justice in the case," said Sister Mary Scaria of Delhi archdiocese's commission for justice and peace.

The media and the public "played a greater role in keeping the case alive," the nun told UCA News.

She also said the large scale campaign had influenced the judiciary.

"The victim's reputation as a model was an added element," she said.

The nun also believes the verdict might offer hope for the victims of anti-Christian violence especially in Orissa, eastern India. They also suffer at the hands of the rich and influential who get away with their wrongdoings, she said.

Media reports say several influential politicians accused of engineering and leading the 2008 anti-Christian riots in Orissa were acquitted for lack of evidence.

Christian leaders say they intimidate or influence witnesses.

Father Emmanuel regretted that "there is no one to campaign for the people in Orissa. They have no means to fight their cases. Being in Delhi has helped the Jessica Lal case."
  Bhopal Christians take grievances to governor
  BHOPAL, APRIL 20 (UCAN) -- Church leaders in Madhya Pradesh are seeking the intervention of top officials of the central Indian state to check increasing violence against Christians.

A delegation headed by Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal met state Governor Rameshwar Thakur on April 19 and handed over a memorandum demanding protection for Christians from fanatic violence.

In the latest incident on April 17, one person died and three others were injured when masked assailants attacked a Christian prayer meeting in a village in Betul district.

Two days earlier, suspected Hindu fanatics tried to storm a Protestant prayer meet in Balaghat. When police stopped them, they threw a petrol bomb at a church.

Archbishop Cornelio told the governor, the representative of the Indian president in the state, about the state government's inaction to check the continued violence.

Jerry Paul, who was in the four-member delegation, said the governor promised to take up the issue with state Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Home Minister Umashankar Gupta.

Paul said the attack on Christians have steadily increased since December 2003 after the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian people's party) came to power in the state.

On April 20, another delegation from the Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh (confederation of Christians) called on the home minister to seek action against the criminals.

Manis Mathew, who led the delegation, told UCA News the minister's response was "very cold." He said the minister tried to blame Christians for not seeking permission to conduct prayer meetings.

The minister also insisted the administration has been doing "its best" and has already arrested some people involved in the attacks.

Mathew agreed that police arrested "some of the accused" but maintains that these will "come out without much problem" as they have not been charged with serious criminal offences. "We want them to be booked under murder charges" for the incident in Betul, he added.

Police have arrested nine persons and remanded them to judicial custody until April 30. The arrested include the local leader of a Hindu radical group, police sources said.

Meanwhile, the administration has withdrawn protection it had given to churches, priests and pastors in Balaghat since April 18.

"Normalcy has returned to the area. We do not know when our next turn is," Catholic Father Liju Antony, who works in Balaghat, told UCA News on April 20.
  Christians arrested in Bhilai for alleged conversion
  FOUR Christians, including a police officer, have been arrested in Bhilai, Chhattisgarh, on charges of attempting to convert Hindus after a group of Hindu fanatics attacked Christians.

The Christians from the Bhilai Brethren Church were arrested following complaint against them of forcible conversion on April 15, said Christian Today India quoting All India Christian Council (AICC) and Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI).

The fanatics, allegedly from the Bajrang Dal and Dharam Sena (Religious Army), attacked the Christians while they were distributing gospel tracts around 8.30 in the morning.

They culled a crowd of people and started verbally abusing and beating the Christians with their lathis. The victims have suffered cuts and wounds on their bodies.

Among the injured is a Christian police officer who went to investigate the matter after the false complaint of 'conversion'.

The Christians have been arrested under Chhattisgarh Freedom of Religion Act 1968 with non-bailable charges. They were also booked under sections 294, 323, 341, and 334.

Chhattisgarh is one of five states where anti-conversion law is in force. The Bill although is aimed at curbing conversions made by 'force', 'fraud' or 'allurement', has been on many occasions misused to arrest and imprison Christians on cooked up charges.

Hundreds of Christians in Raipur and other parts of Chhattisgarh reportedly have come out in protest and submitted memorandum to District Collector of Raipur.

Taking serious note of the incident, AICC said it would bail out the arrested and submit a memorandum to the National Commission for Minorities and Human Rights Commission.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in power in Chhattisgarh since December 2003. (

Source: Four Christians booked under anti-conversion law in Chhattisgarh (Christianity India Today)
  One dies, three hurt as Christians attacked
  ONE person drowned in a well while running for cover and three injured after masked men attacked a Christian prayer meeting at Saliya village near Betul town in Madhya Pradesh, police said on Sunday.

Around 8-10 persons armed with lathis stormed the Christian prayer meeting underway in a field on Saturday night and attacked the congregation, Press Trust of India news agency reported.

One person ran for cover and fell in a nearby well which had no protective walls, police said.

Three others, including a woman, were injured in the incident, they said, adding the attackers had covered their faces with saffron cloth.

The deceased has been identified as Amit Gilbert (25), a Christian who had come to attend a meeting from Raipur district of neighbouring Chhattisgarh, Superintendent of Police R L Prajapati said. (CathNewsIndia)

Source: 1 drowns, 3 hurt after Christian meet attacked in MP (google.PTI)
  Sufi shrine in a shambles in the Valley
  From Afsana Bhat
Herald News Service

LADHOO-PAMPORE, APRIL 18 -- As the world observed Heritage Day on Sunday to raise awareness about the diversity of world's cultural and natural heritage and to protect, conserve and promote its understanding, the shrine of the famous saint, Bramh Reshi Jeewan Sahib, here lies in a shambles needing immediate attention.

Located in Wasturwan Mountains, this two-storey shrine apart from its dilapidated condition faces severe threats of encroachment.

Almost half of the shrine has been razed to the ground. Its walls have developed deep cracks, window openings damaged, mud and wooden pillars have almost tilted and stairs are out of order.

The shrine comprises a hall and a room meant for 'langar' on the ground floor and saints' 'Dhune' (sacred fire), where he used to meditate and a store on the first floor. 'Dhenu' is on a raised portion -- about 18 feet high -- in the upper storey. A couple of idols here are not well-preserved.

"The renowned saint lived from 1780 to 1858 and has been highly revered by people irrespective of caste and creed," said Ravi Ji Bhat, a social activist, adding "the sacred fire (Dhune) used to be here round the clock and ashes were highly revered by devotees."

The shrine is revered by people belonging to various religions, races and cultures. The area is known for saints and saffron. Close by are shrines of other Sufi saints including Abdul Wahab, Neewaam Sahib and Sheikh-ul-Alam and the Jawala jee temple.

Bhat, who is also the general secretary of the Hindu Welfare Association, Ladhoo, said the temple spread over hundreds of kanals of land in the past is now left with a few kanals. "The rest has been encroached upon. We want the present status to be maintained so that it isn't further encroached upon."

"The shrine so far has been protected by the locals," says Bhat adding, "Till he passed away, last year Mohammad Razak Lone, a local, used to look after the shrine."

The social activist said that since the shrine is in a deteriorating condition "it ought not only to be protected, but renovated at the earliest, so that the symbol of rich heritage is preserved for posterity."

A group of residents vehemently argued that the shrine had a huge area, but the same has been encroached upon. "Being a symbol of rich cultural heritage, it ought to be preserved. Unfortunately, its major portion of land has been sold off."

Bhat added that encroachments have been going on for years. "We are trying to stop further encroachments, but we need support of the government." He added that they've constructed a Samadhi of the saint in 2007 on their own, but they have their limitations in terms of available funds and human resources.
  Priest demands action on police torture
  NEW DELHI, APRIL 16 (UCAN) -- An increase in the incidents of torture and death in police and judicial custody shows the need for human rights lessons for the police, a Church official said today [April 16].

The New Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) reported on April 13 that the number of deaths in custody in India increased by 41.66 percent in the past six years.

The Indian Supreme Court on April 15 also called for firm action to check torture and custodial deaths.

"They are human rights violations," Capuchin Father Nithiya Sagayam, secretary of the Indian bishops' Commission for Justice, Peace and Developments, told UCA News.

The country's top court said torture and deaths in lock-ups and police stations had increased across the country and described such incidents are "the most heinous crime by men in uniform."

A person in police custody should be considered innocent unless his guilt is proven, Father Sagayam said.

"Police have no right to torture or harass a person in their custody. Instead the law expects them to safeguard the personal liberty and life of citizens."

Such crimes occurred because of lack of proper training for police personnel, he said.

"First of all, the government should teach them the basics about human rights," he said and pointed out that most victims are the voiceless poor and marginalized.

"In many cases the actual criminals are out in the open and the innocent are behind bars," the priest said.

He wants the government to seriously take up the court's suggestion to deal strongly with deaths in custody and for the federal government to take up the matter with the states.

The ACHR report, "Torture in India 2010,' noted a 70.72 percent increase in deaths in prison custody and 12.6 percent increase in deaths in police custody.

'It is the common people who are mainly tortured and subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment,' it said.

In the past five years, the rights group has recorded 7,468 police custodial deaths in India, an average of four deaths a day. It also noted that an equal number or more have also died in the custody of army and paramilitary forces.

The government, however, denies these allegations.
  Govt accused of waging war on Christian dalits
  NEW DELHI, APRIL 16 (UCAN) -- A Church official has accused the Indian government of waging "a psychological war" with Christians over the dalit (former low caste) Christian issue.

"We will keep struggling until our demands are fulfilled," asserts Father Cosmon Arokiaraj, secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India's (CBCI) commission that looks after the interests of low-caste, tribal and socially underprivileged people.

The priest spoke with UCA News on April 15, a day after a top Church team met federal Law Minister Veerappa Moily to press for the extending of statutory rights to Christians of low-caste origin.

The National Coordination Committee for Dalit Christians urged the minister to implement the recommendation of a commission the government set up in 2004. The Ranganath Mishra Commission studied the socioeconomic conditions of Christian and Muslim people of low-caste origin.

It submitted its report three years later and favored among other things extending quotas in educational institutions and government jobs to Muslim and Christian dalit people.

The Indian Constitution allows such quotas for dalit, members of low castes once considered "untouchable," to help them advance socially and economically.

However, Christians and Muslims from dalit groups are excluded on the grounds that their religions reject the caste system. The Sanskrit term dalit means "trampled upon" or "broken open."

The Mishra commission said non-inclusion of Christian and Muslim dalit from the statutory benefits is tantamount to religious discrimination.

Father Arokiaraj says the government is "dilly dallying" on tabling the commission's report in parliament. Condemning such an "indifferent attitude," he said "the government is waging a psychological war against us."

The priest said when the Church team met with the minister, the minister had expressed his helplessness, but promised that the government would definitely decide on the matter soon.

"Various regions in the country are planning an agitation over the issue," Father Arokiaraj said.
  Bhopal priest selected for US leadership program
  BHOPAL, APRIL 16 (UCAN) -- A Catholic priest is among three Indians the US government has invited to a leadership program.

About 5,000 people from around the world are expected for the April 19-May 7 International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) in Washington, according to a US Consulate official in Mumbai.

The official, who requested anonymity, told UCA News on April 15 that her government selected Father Anand Muttungal in recognition of his leadership abilities and efforts toward peace-building in Madhya Pradesh state.

The Bhopal archdiocesan priest is spokesperson of the Catholic Church in the central Indian state where Christians have been facing trouble from Hindu hardliners for several years.

The US official said the priest was selected purely on merit "as we don't invite applications or inform the candidate until the completion of the selection." She said the priest will be "our esteemed guest" during the trip.

Father Muttungal told UCA News that his selection is the recognition of the "good works" the Church is doing for the poor and disadvantaged in the state. "I am humbled," he said, and added that he had only done what was assigned to him as a priest.

Program aims to help people exchange ideas

The US official said participants will interact with each other on "community approaches to social issues."

According to her, the IVLP is an annual professional exchange program the US Department of State started in 1940 to help people from around the world exchange ideas and get exposed to American culture and diversity.

She said American Foreign Service Officers select current or potential leaders in government, politics, media, education and other fields for the program.

More than 200 current and former heads of state have attended the program. They included two presidents and four prime ministers from India.

Jomey Joseph, Catholic Relief Services program officer, and Aloysius Arokiam, executive director of Social Awareness and Voluntary Education, are the other Indian participants this year.

Father Muttungal, who has initiated several programs to foster interreligious harmony in Madhya Pradesh, has already won several awards.

Buddhists in India awarded him their highest award for world peace and harmony in January. Two years ago, a literary organization in Madhya Pradesh awarded him for his peace efforts, and the previous year, Sikhs in the state honored him.
  Information law helps poor stay in the loop
  AHMEDABAD, APRIL 15 (UCAN) -- India's chief information commissioner has urged Church workers to make the best use of the information law to help the poor.

The Right to Information Act passed in 2005 is a tool for citizens to participate in the democratic process, Wajahat Habibullah told a seminar in Ahmedabad, the commercial capital of Gujarat state in western India.

About 300 Church workers from all over the state attended the April 13 seminar on Right to Information: Challenges in Making it More Effective.

Habibullah pointed out that even after five years, many Indians are unaware of the scope of the law that enables them to seek information on government schemes and projects.

The chief information officer wants seminar participants to make the law more broad-based by educating people about it, especially the young. By doing this, they could help people participate in governance, "which had unfortunately not happened so far," he regretted.

Quoting a study, he said only 30 per cent of urban and 10 per cent of rural people know about the law. Among youths, the awareness level is even lower at only 2.5 per cent in villages and 2 per cent in cities.

"Church groups could use their network to spread awareness about the Act intended to empower the poor and downtrodden," the Muslim bureaucrat said.

Prashant (tranquility), a Jesuit-managed human rights group based in Ahmedabad, organized the seminar at St. Xavier's High School.

Its director Father Cedric Prakash regretted that even after five years many Church workers have not used this "very important instrument" the government "has given us" to empower the poor.

The Jesuit priest said the Church must use the law extensively for "greater accountability and transparency at every level in society."

Bishop Thomas Macwan of Ahmedabad told seminar participants that Church people should use the law to spread Christ's message of peace, reconciliation and love among people of all religions.

Spreading awareness of the right to information act is part of the Church workers’ "divine duty," he said.
  Goa police guard archbishop's house
  PANAJI, APRIL 15 (UCAN) -- Archdiocesan officials in Goa called for police protection as a group of Catholics besieged the archbishop's house, protesting the cancellation of a feast day.

Some 100 parishioners of a village in south Goa marched to the archbishop's house April 14 protesting against a ban on their parish's St. Joseph's feast.

The celebration of the feast has been stopped for the last four years following a Vatican directive prohibiting the celebration of feasts on six Sundays following Easter.

The slogan-shouting protesters from Siroda village wanted to restore the feast on the third Sunday of May, which they say has been a tradition for more than 100 years.

The third Sunday of May, May 16, is the sixth Sunday after Easter.

A team of police cordoned off the entrance to the house of Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao of Goa blocking protestors from entering the house. A delegation was later allowed into the house.

"We have written several petitions to the archbishop, but nothing has materialized. We have come here so that we are heard," said their leader Gonsal Gracias.

Father Francisco Caldeira, spokesperson of the archdiocese said that the Vatican directive discouraged feasts in honor of saints or the Blessed Mother for up to six Sundays after Easter Sunday, when the Church recalls resurrection-related events.

"After this period is over, ordinary Sundays commence on which feasts can be celebrated," Father Caldeira said. He added the archbishop cannot change a directive applicable to the universal Church.

"We suggest that the parishioners could celebrate the feast on a day of their choice other than a Sunday" in agreement with the parish priest, he added.

Parish priest Father Santo Antonio Pereira said that a press conference is scheduled April 16 to explain the situation and refused to elaborate further. He, however, admitted that his parish was divided over the issue.

Assistant parish priest Father Xavier Mascarenhas said that the group has been wavering on a decision on the date.
  Pope's birthplace in Germany vandalised
  A FOOT-HIGH profane slogan, saying "F*** Yourselves", has been spray painted onto the facade of the house where Pope Benedict was born in Germany.

The 30-centimetre high letters of the slogan over the door of the 264-year-old building in Marktl, first noticed yesterday, were hastily painted over, according to reports by the ABC and an AFP article in the Herald Sun.

The damage to the house on the market square in the picturesque village was estimated at just over $2000, police said.

Police spokesman Konrad Rutzinger is cited saying that the message seems to be linked to the abuse scandals that have engulfed the Catholic Church.
  Maternal deaths higher in India than China
For the first time in decades, researchers are reporting a significant drop worldwide in the number of women dying each year from pregnancy and childbirth, to about 342,900 in 2008 from 526,300 in 1980.

The findings, published in the medical journal The Lancet, challenge the prevailing view of maternal mortality as an intractable problem that has defied every effort to solve it.

"The overall message, for the first time in a generation, is one of persistent and welcome progress," the journal's editor, Dr. Richard Horton, wrote in a comment accompanying the article, published online on Monday.

The study cited a number of reasons for the improvement: lower pregnancy rates in some countries; higher income, which improves nutrition and access to health care; more education for women; and the increasing availability of "skilled attendants" -- people with some medical training -- to help women give birth. Improvements in large countries like India and China helped to drive down the overall death rates.

But some advocates for women's health tried to pressure The Lancet into delaying publication of the new findings, fearing that good news would detract from the urgency of their cause, Dr. Horton said in a telephone interview.

"I think this is one of those instances when science and advocacy can conflict," he said.

Dr. Horton said the advocates, whom he declined to name, wanted the new information held and released only after certain meetings about maternal and child health had already taken place.

He said the meetings included one at the United Nations this week, and another to be held in Washington in June, where advocates hope to win support for more foreign aid for maternal health from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Other meetings of concern to the advocates are the Pacific Health Summit in June, and the United Nations General Assembly meeting in December.

"People who have spent many years committed to the issue of maternal health were understandably worried that these figures could divert attention from an issue that they care passionately about," Dr. Horton said. "But my feeling is that they are misguided in their view that this would be damaging. My view is that actually these numbers help their cause, not hinder it."

He said the new study was based on more and better data, and more sophisticated statistical methods than were used in a previous analysis by a different research team that estimated more deaths, 535,900 in 2005. The authors of the earlier analysis, published in The Lancet, in 2007, included researchers from Unicef, Harvard, the World Bank, the World Health Organization and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. The World Health Organization still reports about half a million maternal deaths a year, but is expected to issue new statistics of its own this year.

The new report comes from the University of Washington and the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, and was paid for by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

A spokesman for Unicef said it had no comment on the new findings, and there was no response to messages that were left late Tuesday for W.H.O. officials.

Dr. Christopher J. L. Murray, the director of the institute for health metrics and evaluation at the University of Washington, in Seattle, and an author of the study, said, "There has been a perception of no progress."

But, he said, "some of the policies and programs pursued may be having an effect, as opposed to all that effort with little to show for it."

"It really is an important positive finding for global health," he said.

Dr. Murray said no one had approached him directly about delaying the release of his findings; he heard about those efforts from The Lancet, and described them as "disappointing." He said, "We believe in the process of peer-reviewed science, and it's the proper way to pursue these sorts of studies."

The researchers analyzed maternal mortality in 181 countries from 1980 to 2008, using whatever information they could glean from each country: death records, censuses, surveys and published studies. They ultimately gathered about three times as much data as the previous researchers had found.

Among poor countries with longstanding high death rates, progress varied considerably. For instance, from 1990 to 2008, the maternal death rate dropped 8.8 percent a year in the Maldives, but rose 5.5 percent in Zimbabwe. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest maternal death rates. Brazil improved more than Mexico, Egypt more than Turkey. Six countries accounted for more than half of all the maternal deaths in 2008: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But India has made steady progress, and because its population is so large, its improvements have helped considerably to decrease the worldwide rate of maternal deaths.
China has also made considerable progress. In India, there were 408 to 1,080 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 1980, and by 2008, there were 154 to 395, the new study found. In China, there were 144 to 187 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1980, and 35 to 46 in 2008.

Dr. Murray said the findings came as a surprise. What also surprised him and his colleagues, he said, was the number of pregnant women who died from AIDS: about 60,000.

"Really to a large extent that's why maternal mortality is rising in eastern and southern Africa," Dr. Murray said.

"It means, to us, that if you want to tackle maternal mortality in those regions, you need to pay attention to the management of H.I.V. in pregnant women. It's not about emergency obstetrical care, but about access to antiretrovirals."

Dr. Horton contended that the new data should encourage politicians to spend more on pregnancy-related health matters. The data dispelled the belief that the statistics had been stuck in one dismal place for decades, he said. So money allocated to women's health is actually accomplishing something, he said, and governments are not throwing good money after bad.

An advocate for women's health, Dr. Flavia Bustreo, director of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, said the improvements described in the new report represented "hope at last." She said her organization, affiliated with the World Health Organization, was not one of those that tried to delay release of the findings.

She said the report was well done and called The Lancet a "scrupulously" edited journal. She said the findings made sense and were consistent with other reports from large countries like India, which can drive global figures.

"For 20 years, the safe motherhood movement has been conveying an impression of no progress," Dr. Bustreo said. "To hear confirmation of improvements is good news. To us, the good news will maintain the interest of investors. If you don't show results, that's the worst position you can be in. The evidence and scientific truths have to be put in the open and discussed."

Her group issued its own report on Tuesday, noting improvements that were saving the lives of women during pregnancy and birth in various countries. For instance, India pays women to get prenatal care and skilled care for delivery. Nepal provides home visits for family planning. Malawi is training nonphysicians to perform emergency Caesarean sections. Brazil has set up a health system that provides free primary care and skilled attendance at birth for all. (Courtesy: The New York Times)
  Nuns educate Muslim, Hindu street girls
  KOLKATA, APRIL 14 (UCAN) -- Some Hindu and Muslim girls living on the streets in an eastern Indian city are getting quality education from some Catholic nuns.

"If given an opportunity to study, street girls would outshine others in all spheres," says Holy Cross Sister Lissy Thomas, who directs Navjeevan (new life), a home for street girls in Kolkata, capital of West Bengal state.

Eight Hindu and 22 Muslim girls aged five to 14 now live in the provincial headquarters of the Sisters of Holy Cross of Chavnod in Kolkata.

The home began five years ago for street girls. It admits only five girls each year to provide them "the atmosphere of a home" that they miss on the streets, Sister Thomas told UCA News on April 11.

The girls can study as long and as much as they want, after which they would be initiated to a job that would help them start their own home.

The girls attend classes in the afternoon after the nuns coach them in the morning, the director explained. Five nuns and three lay people manage the home.

Sister Prasanna, who assists Sister Thomas, said the girls' parents contribute 50 rupees (about US$1.10) every month. The nuns put in an equal amount into a bank account they open in the name of the girl as soon as she joins the home.

The money would be used for the girl's higher studies, Sister Prasanna said, and added that the nuns insist that parents give their share each month.

A challenge handling street children

Sister Thomas said the girls come with their street manners and sometimes "it is difficult to handle them."

Girls start to beg or scavenge as soon they reach eight years of age. Most fathers are either drug addicts or alcoholics.

"It is hard to make the parents understand the importance of education, but when the girls reach third or fourth grade, they cooperate with the nuns," Sister Thomas added.

The nuns now get lots of requests from parents to admit their girls to Navjeevan. "We do not want to make it a hostel but ... a home to give personal attention to each girl," she said.

Ohima Khatoon, 11, who was top student in her fourth-grade class, thanks the nuns for her success. The girl, who begged on the streets before joining the nuns five years ago, now wants to become a teacher.

Kamli Goswami's daughter, Priya, joined the home a year ago. She told UCA News her eldest daughter is receiving "the best education."
  Indian bishops set to finalize abuse guidelines
  NEW DELHI, APRIL 14 (UCAN) -- The Indian Church's guidelines to protect children from abusive priests and Church workers are "likely to be finalized" by the end of this month when senior officials of the bishops' conference meet with Religious.

Brother Mani Mekkunnel, national secretary of the Conference of Religious India (CRI), an association of the Religious Major Superiors, says the document has been in preparation for the past four years and was not prompted by the recent controversy over clerical sex abuse cases in Europe and the Americas.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) is preparing the document in collaboration with CRI and it is "likely to be finalized" on April 28 in Bangalore, southern India.

The Standing Committee, the top decision-making body of the bishops' conference, meets every six months. Its members include some 40 cardinals, archbishops and chairpersons of CBCI commissions.

The draft document made available to UCA News stresses the guidelines' pastoral nature and says the Church's investigations and findings should not be questioned in a civil court.

Church response 'should not be defensive'

It also said Church authorities' responses in the investigation of cases should not be defensive. "They are expressions of the Church's teaching on justice and compassion," it said.

If the offender is an employee, such as a teacher, action taken must be in accordance with employment law. "If the accused person is a priest or a Religious, then any action taken must be within Canon Law and civil law if applicable," it suggests.

The guidelines also speak about ways to prevent child abuse. Dioceses and Religious institutes should share information when “an offender moves to another ministry," the draft document says.

It says Church leaders should train those in child and youth ministries and screen potential employees and volunteers in terms of their suitability to work with children and young people.

It adds that all reports of suspected or alleged sexual abuse by clerics and consecrated persons must be reported to the local bishop or the major superior.

During the investigation, the primary aim "will be concern for the alleged victim and the victim's family."

The draft says that "pastoral care will be offered to the victim, but no financial compensation will be offered."

Both in the civil and canonical penal system, the accused is presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Nonetheless, during the period of investigation, the accused will be suspended from public ministry, says the draft document.
  Annual maize workshop starts tomorrow
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, APRIL 9 -- The 53rd annual maize workshop is scheduled to be held at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology of Kashmir (SKUAST-K), in collaboration with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), here, from April 10 to 12.

The three-day event will see deliberation and debate by experts on various issues concerning production, productivity, scientific management and other related aspects, said Parvez Ahmad Bhat, Public Relations Officer (PRO), SKUAST-K.

Governor Narendra Nath Vohra is expected to inaugurate the workshop, which will be followed by technical sessions.

The Project Director, Directorate of Maize Research ICAR, New Delhi, is expected to address scientists and other stakeholders about the maize scenario in the country. There will be technical sessions on the first day.

"Scientists will give presentations on the subject with regard to differing agro-climatic conditions in the country," the PRO said.

He added that the valedictory function would be attended by Agriculture Minister Ghulam Hassan Mir.

Scientists, policy makers from various research institutes and representatives of the seed industry will take part in the event.

"Maize is a multipurpose foodgrain valued as food, feed and industrial raw materials. It is a valuable item for food security in tribal and hilly areas," the PRO said, adding, "It has more protein than rice and wheat."
  Germans justify EU ban on Gujarat minister
  AHMEDABAD, APRIL 9 (UCAN) -- A visiting parliamentary delegation from Germany on April 8 justified the European Union (EU) debarring Gujarat state Chief Minister Narendra Modi from visiting its member nations.

The EU imposed the ban after sectarian violence in 2002 killed more than 1,000 Muslims in Gujarat. Muslim and human rights groups have accused Modi of tacitly supporting Hindu radical groups that attacked Muslims.

The German delegates said they were on an unofficial visit to India with the approval of Chancellor Angela Merkel and the German parliament.

One of them, Ute Granold, said the visit aimed to improve relations between her country and India. However, German society and companies are "very sensitive to human rights issues."

In Gujarat, the group met politicians from various parties, survivors of the 2002 riots and Church leaders to study the human rights situation in Gujarat.

Granold, a Christian Democratic Union (CDU) member of the German parliament, expressed surprise that courts in India have not decided on the Gujarat anti-Muslim riots even after eight years.

She said their discussions with various groups revealed that religious minority groups in Gujarat are experiencing increasing alienation. "It is the duty of the government to try to improve relations between religious groups but we heard from several groups that this is not happening in Gujarat."

Textbooks 'project Hitler as hero'

Granold said the delegation was shocked to see Gujarat school textbooks projecting German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler as a hero, and omitting a portion of German history on the elimination of Jews.

She said that Modi continues to be unwelcome in Germany and EU countries. "The position on Modi cannot be changed because too many things happened in 2002 and many questions are being asked about his role in anti-Muslim riots," she added.

The German parliamentarian asserted that Gujarat's apparent economic success cannot be at the cost of human rights. "The two things need to go hand in hand," she said.

Pascal Kober, another parliamentarian in the team, expressed serious concern over restrictions imposed on religious freedom in Gujarat.

Gujarat is among several Indian states that have strict laws on religious conversion.

"It concerns us very much because we come from a country that has no restriction on religious practices," said Kober, who is from the Free Democratic Party (FDP).

Missio, a German-based Catholic pastoral body, organized the four-member delegation's visit to India. They visited Gujarat on April 7-8 and concluded the trip by addressing a select group of journalists at Ahmedabad, Gujarat's commercial capital.

Other delegates were Missio director Otmar Oehring and Jan Bitter, chairperson of the Christian Democratic Union parliamentary group.
  Christians hail justice for massacred dalits in Bihar
  NEW DELHI, APRIL 9 (UCAN) -- Christian and dalit groups have welcomed an Indian court sentencing 26 upper-caste people for killing low-caste villagers.

"The Indian judicial system grinds slow but grinds exceedingly fine," John Dayal, a Catholic lay leader and member of the National Integration Council, told UCA News on April 8, a day after a court in Bihar state, eastern India, awarded death sentences in a 13-year-old case.

Welcoming the verdict, Father Babu Joseph, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, said it would send a "strong signal" to those engaging in organized violence against low-caste communities. "At last justice is done," the Divine Word priest told UCA News.

According to the prosecution, members of Ranveer Sena (army of warriors), a private militia of high-caste Hindus in Bihar, killed 58 people, including 27 women and 10 children, on Dec. 1, 1997 over a land dispute.

The police framed charges in the case after 11 years. Three accused are on the run, while another three had died over the years.

A court in the Bihar state capital of Patna concluded the hearings on March 31 and awarded death sentences to 16 and a life term to another 10. It set free 19 for lack of evidence.

Dayal said he opposed the death sentence as a human rights activist, but "if they are guilty, the verdict is correct."

He also criticized the delay in the verdict and wants the government to set up special investigation teams and fast track courts to try cases of caste-based violence. "It should not take so long to give justice to those affected," Dayal added.

Udit Raj, who heads a confederation of dalit (former low-caste people) and tribal organizations, says the verdict is weak. "We appreciate the order, but it is quite delayed." The entire judicial process, he said, is faulty and the culprits would go scot-free eventually. "I don't think the verdict will help the poor," he told UCA News.

He also regretted that cases against low-caste people linger for years as the rich high-caste people try to influence the judiciary.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, Bihar registered 2,786 cases of crimes against low-caste people in 2008, and which are now pending in various courts in Bihar.
  Rector's arrest sparks seminary policy review
  BHOPAL, APRIL 8 (UCAN) -- The arrest of a seminary rector following the suicide of his student in central India has prompted bishops to become choosy about admitting students into seminaries.

"We want to look beyond just the recommendation of the parish priest for the selection of a candidate" to seminaries and formation houses, said Archbishop Joseph Augustine of Raipur in Chhattisgarh state.

Bishops of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh states in their regional meeting on April 6 discussed seminary admission after a seminary rector spent nine days in jail just before Easter.

Father Thomas Philip, rector of Bhopal archdiocesan minor seminary, was arrested and sent to jail on March 23 on charges of abetting the Jan. 29 suicide of a seminarian. The priest was released on bail April 1.

The boy's father, a Hindu, also accused the priest of trying to convert his son to Catholicism.

Archbishop Augustine said the incident calls for more caution in selecting students. So far students were admitted mostly on the recommendation of parish priests.

"But now we want more details including the candidate's faith formation and family background," he told UCA News on April 8. Dioceses now would insist on having students, whose both parents are baptized and practicing Catholics.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal said such an insistence is new but it has become necessary in changing situations. "Religious life needs a lot of commitment and faith," he said adding that the training also requires "more focus on spirituality to help people lead a committed life."

Archbishop Cornelio said bishops in the two central Indian states were also concerned about the increasing number of dropouts during formation that they attributed to "lack of faith formation and understanding."

Some Church people, who do not want to be named, said a lack of vocations forced some dioceses to relax their selection process and promote vocations from newly converted families of mostly tribal people.

Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal of Indore said the Church in the region would be able meet current challenges with a "strong spirituality and faith formation programs." The Divine Word prelate also said "more precautions" are needed in selecting candidates for priesthood.
  Minister's gown remarks upset Church people
  BHOPAL, APRIL 8 (UCAN) -- The Catholic Church has been dragged into a controversy resulting from a federal minister's ire over the use of ceremonial gowns at convocations.

"The Church has unnecessarily been made a scapegoat," Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal told UCA News on April 7, referring to recent remarks made by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh.

On April 2, the minister publicly removed a ceremonial gown he was wearing during a convocation ceremony in Bhopal, asking, "Why do we have to come dressed up as medieval vicars and popes?" Gowns, hats and robes are colonial relics, he remarked, and added that these should be replaced with shirts and trousers.

Some rightwing Hindu groups supported the minister.

On April 4, a Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people's party) leader, Murli Manohar Joshi, told a function at Indore that the Church had inspired such practices and that Indians should discard them.

Bishop Cornelio, who heads the Catholic Church in the state, says the minister's very public act had insulted students and the intelligentsia. "If he had some grievances about wearing the gown, he should have either refrained from attending the function or adopted a graceful means," the prelate added.

He asserted that the Church has nothing to do with convocation gowns, although it was among the pioneers of "good quality education" in the country. "But that does not give anyone the liberty to blame the Church for anything they don't like."

Father Anand Muttungal, spokesperson of the Catholic Church in the state, says the minister should seek appropriate legal means to have the tradition changed if he finds it annoying.

The minister's unexpected and "senseless behavior" at a convocation ceremony has dragged a religious community into a controversy, he added.

The Catholic priest pointed out that the shirts and trousers the minister recommended as an alternative to ceremonial gowns are also part of Western dress.

Joshi Kurisungal, president of the ecumenical Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh (grant confederation of Christians) regrets that the Church has been dragged into an unnecessary controversy for some "ulterior motive."

He said the controversy arose when the Church was facing "very difficult times" in India.
  Bishops make tackling sex abuse top priority
  MUMBAI, APRIL 8 (UCAN) -- The Indian bishops have put formulating guidelines to tackle priests who abuse children on top of their agenda, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay told UCA News April 8.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) has scheduled a meeting of its standing committee on April 25 in Bangalore.

The committee is the highest administrative body and comprises archbishops from India's three ritual Churches and chairpersons of various CBCI commissions and centers.

Cardinal Gracias, who was elected CBCI president in early March, told UCA News that his top priority at the coming meeting was to formulate guidelines to tackle the issues of abusive priests in the Catholic Church in India.

Media reports about an Indian priest charged with child abuse by US authorities have rattled the Church here. Some commentators have accused the Indian Church of sheltering Father Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, 52, who is now working in Ootacamund diocese.

"We will discuss these priests' cases threadbare with the respective bishops and formulate an action plan for all dioceses in India," Cardinal Gracias said.

The Church official said the reports were of "very stray cases" and aimed at damaging the Church's "good image" in India.

"They are not at all widespread," he said, but the Church would nevertheless take all steps to curb them.

Referring to allegations against another priest, who is also blamed for an offence while working in the US, he said, "I am trying to get to the bishop to know the entire case."

"We will discuss if there are any other such cases and frame guidelines to settle them," he added.

Upset by media reports of Pope Benedict XVI failing to deal with abusive priests, Cardinal Gracias on March 27 issued a clarification on sex scandals in the Church in The Examiner, Bombay archdiocese's 161-year-old weekly.

"Many reports are misleading in their headlines and inaccurate in content," the cardinal's circular said.

Headlines such as "Sex scandal closes in on Pope" gave the impression that the Pope is involved in a sex scandal or in a cover up operation to suppress the truth.

"This is not true and categorically denied," the cardinal said.

The Indian Church official said that some media reports failed to portray the correct picture about the comprehensive steps the Vatican has taken to address the issue of sex abuse by priests.

The cardinal also regretted an allegation that Pope Benedict XVI has issued a document to deal secretly with priest pedophile cases.

"This is a misrepresentation of the content of the document," he said and pointed out that Pope Benedict, when Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had laid down steps for thorough investigations and stricter action against those found guilty of sex abuse.
  Kanataka 'not serious' about violence probe
  BANGALORE, APRIL 8 (UCAN) -- The Karnataka government is not serious in finding the truth about anti-Christian violence the southern Indian state witnessed in 2008, a Church leader says.

"It looks like the government is not serious about the enquiry," remarked Father Faustine Lobo, spokesperson of the Catholic Church in Karnataka after the state government decided to extend its investigation team's term for one more month.

The government, headed by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian people's party), set up a commission soon after violence against Christians broke out in the state on Sept. 14, 2008.

A retired judge of the state High Court, B.K. Somashekhara, headed the seven-member commission that began the probe in January 2009.

It was asked to complete the task in six months, but got the term extended seven times. When the last term ended on March 31, the commission demanded six more months.

The government asked it to submit its final report on April 30.

Unconfirmed reports said the commission plans to hand over its collected report so far to the government without indicting anybody for the attacks, if its term is not extended.

Father Lobo told UCA News that the government seems more worried over money than finding the truth. "So it wants to somehow wind up the enquiry soon," he added.

The commission had in early February submitted an interim report to the government indicting Hindu radical groups for the attacks on churches.

It had recommended that the government ensure protection to all religions and their institutions without politicizing the issue.

The interim report also recommended setting up a commission of religions and a task force to take its recommendations forward.

Karnataka reportedly has 120,000 Hindu temples and 3,000 churches and an equal number of mosques.

Since it was set up, the commission has collected 3,204 documents and 30 pieces of evidence, and conducted 25 spot inspections at affected churches.

It has also received 1,019 affidavits from Christian and Hindu organizations.

It is yet to cross-examine 126 police witnesses and 83 Hindu and 94 Christian organizations.
  Church rejoices at new Kandhamal priests
  CUTTACK, APRIL 8 (UCAN) -- The Catholic Church in Orissa is rejoicing after five seminarians from Kandhamal were ordained priests on April 8.

Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar said the occasion is "a proud moment" for the Church in Orissa. It signaled that the Church in Orissa "is alive and kicking," added the head of the Catholic Church in the state.

The Divine Word prelate led the ordination ceremonies at Holy Rosary Church in Cuttack, the former state capital.

Three of the newly ordained priests come from Bamunigam parish in Kandhamal district, the epicenter of anti-Christian violence in December 2007 that killed five people, and destroyed 871 houses and 50 churches.

Two others came from Batticola, a parish the Church abandoned after the sectarian violence in August 2008. Hindu radicals torched the parish church and tried to build a temple nearby, although the government forcibly halted construction.

The radicals also drove the parish's 35 Catholic families from their ancestral village for refusing to become Hindus. They now live in shelter homes at Nandagiri, some 25 kilometers away.

The parish also accounted for nine of some 90 deaths during the seven weeks of violence in 2008.

Archbishop Cheenath said the violence challenged the new priests to share Christ's experience of passion, as all their families had suffered.

Inspired by Orissa 'martyrs'
Father Jaharlal Singh, a newly ordained priest from Bamunigam, agreed.

He said the Orissa "martyrs" inspired him to live for a cause.

"It is quite a challenge to be a priest today," he told UCA News after the ordination ceremony.

He said he wants to work for justice since there cannot be peace without "equitable justice for everybody irrespective of caste and creed."

Father Anjan Nayak from Batticola said priesthood in the context of Kandhamal helps him to look at life anew.

"Jesus remains a source of inspiration as he had to suffer for witnessing truth and faith," he said.

Father Jashobanta Pradhan, another priest from the same parish, said the priesthood was a channel of peace and unity and he promised to promote dialogue and harmony between Christians and Hindus.

Several of his relatives are Hindus, who "regret and feel ashamed of the conflicts."

Raj Kishore Pradhan, a Hindu relative who attended the ordination, said he could not understand all the rituals and ceremonies. However, he said he was sure his priest relative "would work for us without considering religion and caste."

The other new priests are Fathers Pabitra Badseth and Ramesh Baliar Singh from Bamunigam.
  Kashmir's carpet industry has great potential: Expert
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, APRIL 8 -- Although the carpet industry in Jammu and Kashmir has huge potential, lack of adequate finances play spoilsport.

This was observed by former Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) president Dr Mubeen Shah in a paper entitled 'Economic potential of Kashmir'. He claims that while the monetary requirement is about Rs 5 lakh per carpet loom owner, banks offer only between Rs 50,000 and Rs 1 lakh.

The paper observed that traders who buy carpets from artisans and sell them to exporters or retailers in the country are also under-financed. It found that these traders were provided minimum limit and did value addition of washing, finishing and holding stock, till they were in a position to market the same.

According to Dr Shah, exporters are also under-financed. Although on recommendations of the KCCI, the Reserve Bank of India allows credit for export of carpets, up to 360 days, not all banks were implementing it. Moreover, the rate of interest is higher if credit is for more than 90 days.

With tough competition from China, Iran and Turkey, it is important that money is provided to exporters at a lower rate of interest. The time period should also be extended. Dr Shah, however, admits that Kashmir's local artisans are as good as their international competitors.

To promote Kashmiri goods in the international market, the paper recommends that wool carpets, preferably from Pashmina, be manufactured.

To strengthen the originality of Kashmiri carpets, the paper recommended that organisations like the Indian Institute of Carpet Technology (IICT) offer new designs, develop new looms and develop skilled labour.

Common facilities for washing, clipping and dyeing ensure the production of quality carpets. Dr Shah recommends a common centre for these activities in all the districts of the Valley. In addition, creation of centralised places for procurement of goods is also sought.

Handmade carpets are Iran's second-biggest export commodity. "This speaks volumes about the market potential for this product," the paper highlights.

The paper also suggests that if certain structural changes are introduced, Kashmir's carpet exports could rake in Rs 2,000-3,000 crore.

Dr Shah's objective behind the paper was to identify potential areas wherein locals as well as outsiders can make investments in Kashmir.

Kashmiri's carpets are world-famous. They are made of silk and fine wool, including Pashmina and Shahtoosh.
  NY Times needs consultants, not Vatican: Italian paper
  THE influential Italian political newspaper Il Foglio published an article April 6 criticizing the New York Times for relying on a computer-generated translation from Italian to English of important responses from the Vatican to a sex abuse case.

The failure to translate led the American newspaper to argue that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was protecting a sexually abusive priest from Milwaukee, Catholic News Agency reported.

The article, titled "What the New York Times does not translate," starts by saying, "Last Sunday, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd returned to attack the Pope. Commenting on the words of exorcist Gabriele Amorth, who said that behind pedophile priests is the devil, Dowd suggested a way for the Catholic church to solve the problem: hire a 'sexorcist."

Nevertheless, "after re-reading the NYT's allegations against the current Pope on the case of the pedophile priest Lawrence Murphy, who abused hundreds of deaf children when he worked at a school in Milwaukee, it is the American newspaper which seems to be in need of some consultants," the paper opines.

"Behind the accusations," says Il Foglio's senior writer Paolo Rodari, "there is a gross translation mistake."

Rodari reviews how NYT's Laurie Goodstein reconstructed the events on her March 25 article and concentrates on the correspondence between the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Archbishop Rembert Weakland, then of Milwaukee, his Auxiliary, Bishop Richard Skilba and the Bishop of Superior, Raphael Fliss.

"This is a meeting of crucial importance, because it reveals what path Bertone, on behalf of Ratzinger, decides to take once they know the facts."

Il Foglio notes that the NYT story provides links to both the English and Italian version of the 1998 meeting, "but it omits to say one thing: the English version is a grossly distorted translation of the Italian, made with 'Yahoo translator,' a translation that the Vicar of the diocese, Thomas Brundage, sent to his authority, Bishop Fliss, to help him understand the Italian," the Italian political paper explains.

According to Il Foglio, Fr. Brundage warned in his letter that "It is a very rough translation and the computer certainly cannot distinguish some of the peculiarities of canon law."

The computer-generated English version would support the NYT's allegations against Bertone and Ratzinger, "but that same conclusion is not possible if a correct review of the sources is done, in other words, if (the story) is based in the official text written by the CDF in Italian," Rodari explains.

Source: Italian political paper: NY Times needs consultants more than Vatican does
  New education law pinches Jesuit school
  NEW DELHI, APRIL 7 (UCAN) -- A Jesuit school in the national capital became the first institution to experience the impact of India's new law on universal education.

On April 5, the Delhi High Court stayed the expulsion of a girl by St. Xavier's School, citing the Right to Education Act.

The law that came to force on April 1 seeks free and compulsory education for students between 6 and 14 years of age and restrains schools from expelling students during this period.

With the new law's enforcement, India became one of 135 countries to make education a fundamental right for its citizens.

The Jesuit school expelled Suman Bhati on March 27 after she failed her sixth grade exams. School regulations stipulate that a child who fails twice cannot continue in school. Bhati had failed in the fourth grade also.

The girl's father asked the Delhi High Court to act against the school's decision to expel her.

The court reportedly criticized the school management for taking unlawful action. It said the girl was expelled without considering how such an act would affect her. It asked the school to take back the girl.

School principal Father Jose Philip was not available for comment despite several attempts to contact him.

However, Jesuit provincial of Delhi, Father John Ariappilly, told UCA News April 6 that the school only followed its rules. The Jesuit superior said the school would respect the court order and take Bhati back. "We have to follow all the regulations of the new act," he added.

Father Ariappilly says schools now are not required to make separate rules after the enforcement of the new law.

Father Kuriala Chittattukalam, secretary of the Indian bishops' education commission, says the court order was hasty. "They have gone too fast. The Act came into force only on April 1. Implementation takes time," the Salesian priest told UCA News.

The Church official maintained that the school had given the girl "a fair chance according to its rules." Maintaining that the Church is willing to follow government laws, he asserted, "We are doing a good job and not harassing anybody."
  People mourn 'mother' to leprosy patients
  KANNUR, APRIL 7 (UCAN) -- Church people in Kerala state are mourning the death of an Italian missioner, who built several institutions during her four-decade work among leprosy patients.

Canossian Sister Antoniette Sala died of old age on April 3 in Cherukunnu village in Kannur district. She was 96. Her funeral was held the following day.

"Missioners like Mother Sala are a great inspiration. Her life was a blessing to Kannur diocese and her death is a great loss," said Vicar General Father Devassy Earathara.

The Milan-born nun came to India in 1938 and in 1960 chose to work in Chirakkal mission, one of the least developed areas in northern Kerala, said her companions who work in the region.

Before coming to Kerala, the late nun taught in a school in neighboring Karnataka state's Belgaum town and worked in a missionary hospital in Lucknow, northern India.

In Kerala in 1968, the nun started St. Martin De Porres Hospital at Cherukunnu with 72 beds. In the course of her work, she set up another nine institutions, including hospitals and old age homes, in various parts of the state's Malabar region.

"She set apart her life to serve the poorest and to save the leprosy patients in Malabar," said Sister Laly, a tutor at St. Martin De Porres Hospital and Nursing school.

Every week, she organized awareness programs in tribal hamlets. "Her visits helped many get rid of their fear of the disease," the nun told UCA News.

Leprosy considered a curse

When the Italian nun began her work, leprosy was considered a curse and patients were ostracized even by their families. But the nun "took care of the leprosy patients without any hesitation" and healed them as well as society, Sister Laly added.

The late nun, who had a doctorate in skin diseases from Spain, introduced multi-drug therapy and treated nearly 7,000 leprosy patients in one hospital alone -- the Father Cairony Memorial Leprosy Rehabilitation Centre at Cherukunnu.

Jose Thankappan, a local Catholic, said people of various religions have already started praying at the nun's tomb. "Soon we will have a saint, who have spoken to us and touched us," he told UCA News.

The Italian government honored the late nun with the Chevalier award in recognition of her service. She also won several other local honors.

"But no award can match her contribution to society," said Chandra Babu, a Hindu. "We still admire her love, compassion and dedication."
  Jesuits condemn arrest of tribal activists
  AHMEDABAD, APRIL 6 (UCAN) -- Jesuit activists in Gujarat have criticized the recent arrests of two people who worked among tribal people in the western Indian state.

"It appears that to demand one's legal rights and to be a terrorist is the same thing in Gujarat," Father Xavier Manjooran, a member of the Adivasi Mahasabha (federation of tribal organizations) of Gujarat, told UCA News April 5.

The Jesuit was referring to the arrest of Avinash Kulkarni and Bharat Powar on March 21 on charges of being linked with Maoists who planned to wage war against the nation.

The two members of a labor union affiliated to the tribal federation have worked for the advancement of Gujarat's indigenous people for the past 15 years.

On April 4, a tribal outfit held a big public meeting at Zankhvav in Navsari district and asked the government to stop arresting people under the pretext of cracking down on Maoists.

Father Manjooran condemned the arrests and pointed out that the two had played a significant role in making the federal government enact the Forest Rights Act in 2006 that gave tribal people rights over forest land.

Tribal people account for about 15 per cent of Gujarat's 50.7 million people.

'Illegal arrests, tortures and murders'

Father Manjooran also said the tribal federation condemned increasing incidents of illegal arrests, and custodial torture and murders. He alleged a state conspiracy to undermine tribal rights.

He also alleged police tortured Kulkarni and Powar in violation of Supreme Court guidelines for police officers making arrests. Even the judge asked the police to follow the guidelines when they presented the two for hearing, he added.

Father Manjooran demanded the government deal with human rights activists in a just and transparent manner.

His confrere, Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash, who directs a human rights center in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's commercial capital, says the arrests indicated "a strong nexus" among the government, industrialists and powerful people to grab forest land by ousting tribal people.

"Anyone fighting for tribal rights and justice is being hounded, intimidated and harassed," Father Prakash told UCA News. He hailed the arrested duo as "people totally committed to fighting for tribal rights."

Another Jesuit, Father Jolly Nadukudiyil, said Kulkarni and Powar acted as spokespersons of poor tribal people and prevented their exploitation by state agencies and powerful anti-forest lobbies.

On March 22, an opposition member raised the matter in the state legislative assembly and described the arrests as "undemocratic and suppression of tribal" people.
  Religion a concern as national census starts
  NEW DELHI, APRIL 6 (UCAN) -- As India began a census of its more than 1 billion people, some Church officials have expressed concern about how the process would deal with religions.

The once-in-10-years exercise, billed as the world's largest census process, began April 1, with the recording of Indian President Pratibha Patil's income, employment and educational details.

"The first phase of the census covers only the household questions. We are concerned about whether religion will be there in the second phase," says Reverend Enos Pradhan, general secretary of the Church of North India synod.

The current census is the 15th in a series. Some 2.5 million officials are expected to visit every household in the country of some 1.2 billion people.

Catholic and Protestant Church leaders welcomed the exercise saying it is needed to plan developmental projects for the needy.

However, they also expressed concern about how people's religions are recorded. For example, the 2001 census showed India had a little over 24 million Christians, a figure that did not tally with those provided by Christian organizations.

The Catholic Church claims there are 17 million Catholics in India, while the National Council of Churches in India, an association of the country's 29 mainline Protestant and Orthodox Church groups, claims a membership of 13 million people.

Some dalits do not reveal their religion

Christian leaders say some Christians of dalit (former "untouchable" castes) origin officially list themselves as Hindus since they fear that revealing their religion would render them ineligible for statutory benefits their families now enjoy.

The Indian Constitution grants a special quota in governmental jobs and educational concessions for Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh dalit people. However, Christians and Muslims are denied these benefits on the ground that their religions do not recognize the caste system.

Father Babu Joseph, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, says Christian groups are concerned over "the real problem" of their dalit brethren not revealing their identity.

The Divine Word priest told UCA News the issue calls for "rectification of systemic injustice" done to dalit Christians. "We have been demanding development of dalit without religion [as a factor]," he added.

The priest said people would fearlessly reveal their religion "if the religion tag attached to the quota is removed. Dalits of all communities should be treated equal."

According to some Church estimates, dalits make up 60 per cent of Christians in India.

The last census in 2001 estimated that Hindus formed 80.5 per cent of India's 1.02 billion people.

Muslims and Christians, at 13.4 per cent and 2.3 per cent of the population respectively, formed the largest religious minority communities. Next came Sikhs, at 1.9 per cent, and Buddhists, at 0.8 per cent.
  Sex-charge priest ready for his day in court
  CHENNAI, APRIL 6 (UCAN) -- An Indian priest accused of sexually assaulting a teenage girl in the United States says he is innocent and would stand trial if required.

"I am innocent. There is no truth in these accusations. I am not guilty," Father Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, 57, told UCA News April 6.

International media reported that Father Jeyapaul, a priest from Ootacamund diocese in Tamil Nadu state, had molested the 14-year-old while he was working in a parish in Crookston diocese in the state of Minnesota.

The priest worked in the US diocese from September 2004-August 2005 after an invitation from the local bishop.

Father Jeyapaul said he came to India to visit his ailing mother and did not return as the local prelate had withdrawn his invitation, which was originally for three years, after the accusations.

"I was accused after I returned to India," he said. "I will go back and stand trial if called. I have nothing to fear."

However, the Washington Post had earlier reported the priest does not want to return to the US. It said the priest had also been accused of an inappropriate relationship with a 16-year-old girl.

Accusation "a painful experience"

Father Jeyapaul said he remembers seeing his 14-year-old accuser during a Mass but denies meeting her personally. He says that in the US some people accuse priests with a motive to get money from dioceses.

The Vatican's lawyer in the United States, Jeffrey S. Lena, said that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had suggested Father Jeyapaul agree to leave the priesthood.

Lena said that demonstrated "that the Congregation believed that the accusations were serious enough to merit dismissal from the clerical state. However, as a matter of longstanding canon law, such decisions are made by the local bishop, who is deemed to be generally in the best position to adjudicate the case relating to the priest in question."

"The Holy See has cooperated with the requests of law enforcement authorities seeking the extradition of Father Jeyapaul to the United States, and in fact provided his exact location in India to assist such efforts," Lena said.

Meanwhile, Bishop Arulappan Amalraj of Ootacamund says Father Jeyapaul "is innocent until proven guilty." The prelate told UCA News that he has known the priest for many years. "He is not that kind of person to indulge in such activities."

The bishop said he has informed the Vatican about the issue and would act according to the Holy See's instructions.

Bishop Amalraj pointed out that his diocese had conducted a local enquiry after accusations were raised against the priest. The diocesan authorities quizzed all parishes where the priest had worked in.

"We did not receive any complaint or allegations against the priest in local parishes. In fact, people said he had done a wonderful job," he added.

The bishop, who heads a small diocese based in a hill station, said he regrets that the unwanted controversy has made his diocese well-known "for the wrong reasons."
  School to reopen after bodies exhumed
  GUWAHATI, APRIL 6 (UCAN) -- The Salesians plan to return to a northeastern Indian village two months after they abandoned it following a fire.

Father James Poonthuruthil, Salesian provincial of Dimapur, told UCA News April 6 that his people would return to their Don Bosco school in Palin, a village in Arunachal Pradesh state's Kurung Kumey district, on April 10 to study the situation.

The decision came after Palin residents removed on April 3 the bodies of 14 students who were killed in the Feb. 9 fire.

Although the fire broke out in a private hostel, villagers blamed the school for the accident since the victims were all its students.

Priests and nuns working in the school were forced to flee after angry villagers tried to storm the institution. They also forcibly buried the bodies in the school basketball court.

Later, parents and guardians of the school pleaded with the Salesians to return but they insisted the residents should first remove the bodies.

Father Poonthuruthil said school authorities would start classes only after assessing the situation. He also said his men had several rounds of talks with district authorities, parents and guardians of students.

Memorial to be put up

Deputy Commissioner Chaku Thakar told reporters that the villagers exhumed the bodies from the school premises and reburied them at the fire site. He said the administration would put up a memorial at the spot with the names of the children.

In an earlier meeting, guardians and parents of the deceased children agreed to remove the bodies by April 3.

They also demanded the government give a job to a member of each family that had lost children. State Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu promised to consider their matter sympathetically.

School principal Father Jose Karippai told UCA News that the school would start classes only by the end of May.

Anxious about the children's future, some village leaders met with Bishop John Thomas Kattrukudiyil of Itanagar on April 6. They proposed promoting students without exams.

At the height of the tension, the state administration evacuated the Salesian priests and staff by air and the army guarded the school in Kurung Kumey district.

Some Franciscan Clarist Congregation nuns working in the village also fled on Feb. 13.

However, six nuns of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata's Missionaries of Charity congregation, who work in the village, decided to stay.
  Vatican declined to pursue accused Indian priest
The New York Times

A Catholic priest who has been criminally charged with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in Minnesota six years ago is still working in his home diocese in India despite warnings to the Vatican from an American bishop that the priest continued to pose a risk to children, according to church documents made public on Monday.

The documents show that the American bishop warned the Vatican that the priest was accused of molesting two teenage girls whose trust he gained by promising to discuss their interest in becoming nuns.

A county attorney in Minnesota is seeking to extradite the priest from India in a criminal case that involves one of the girls, who said the priest had forced her to perform oral sex and had threatened her and her family.

The case took place during the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, who has recently come under fire for his role in cases of sexually abusive priests in Germany and Wisconsin.

The case was handled after the Vatican clarified and streamlined its procedures in 2001 to respond to accusations of sexual abuse by priests. In the midst of a growing scandal, the Vatican has sought to defend the pope by pointing out that he was both an architect and a promoter of these procedures.

But the Vatican also says it defers to local bishops to decide how to treat accused priests, leaving it exposed to criticism that the church is not doing enough to rein in sexually abusive priests.

In 2006, the Vatican recommended that the priest simply be monitored, a document shows. A lawyer for the Holy See said in a statement that the Vatican had recommended that the priest be defrocked, but that canon law specifies that the decision rests with the local bishop. The bishop in India sentenced the priest to a year of prayer in a monastery rather than seeking his removal from the priesthood, according to documents and interviews.

The priest, the Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, was working temporarily in the Diocese of Crookston, Minn., which like many United States dioceses is bringing in priests from India because there are not enough American priests to serve its parishes. Father Jeyapaul ministered to three parishes simultaneously in Crookston, where he was accused of misappropriating church funds as well as sexual abuse.

A lawyer for the Holy See, Jeffrey Lena, said in a statement on Monday that the Vatican had cooperated with law enforcement authorities seeking the priest's extradition and had provided the location of the priest in India.

Lisa B. Hanson, the county attorney in Roseau, Minn., said, "Maybe all this attention has gotten them to change their tune, and if that's the case we'll take their cooperation."

Mr. Lena also said that the Vatican office in charge of handling abuse cases, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had recommended laicization, which is removal from the priesthood.

Mr. Lena said in the statement: "The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith suggested in this matter that Father Jeyapaul agree to laicization, demonstrating that the Congregation believed that the accusations were serious enough to merit dismissal from the clerical state. However, as a matter of longstanding canon law, such decisions are made by the local bishop, who is deemed to be generally in the best position to adjudicate the case relating to the priest in question." He declined to provide any documents on the case.

The bishop of Ootacamund, India, Arulappan Amalraj, told The Associated Press, which first reported the news on Monday, that Father Jeyapaul had no contact with children and would remain in the diocesan offices.

"We cannot simply throw out the priest, so he is just staying in the bishop's house, and he is helping me with the appointment of teachers," the bishop said. "He says he is innocent, and these are only allegations. I don't know what else to do."

Father Jeyapaul told The A.P., "It is a false accusation against me. I do not know the girl at all."

The criminal complaint from Minnesota said that the 14-year-old girl, whose name is redacted, was praying after school at Blessed Sacrament Church in Greenbush, Minn., when Father Jeyapaul told her to come into the rectory. The girl claimed that when she refused to touch his genitals, he told her it was a sin and said he "could make her life miserable." She said he then pushed her down onto a couch, touched her breasts and pulled down his pants.

The woman, now 20, has brought a lawsuit against the Diocese of Crookston. The documents were released in a news conference on Monday by her lawyers, Jeff Anderson and Mike Finnegan, the same lawyers who gave documents last month to The New York Times on another case involving a Wisconsin priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys.

The former bishop of Crookston, Victor H. Balke, wrote to Cardinal William J. Levada, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in 2005, requesting that the Congregation handle the case itself.

"I cannot in good conscience allow this matter to be passed over because the cleric has left my territory," Bishop Balke wrote. "In my mind that would be a shameful act of betrayal towards the women and girls in India to whom Fr. Jeyapaul could at present pose a serious risk."

He received a letter back in May 2006 from Archbishop Angelo Amato, in the Vatican, saying that the Congregation conveyed the facts to the bishop in India "with the request that Father Jayapaul's priestly life be monitored so that he does not constitute a risk to minors and does not create scandal among the faithful."

Bishop Balke subsequently sent two more letters to Cardinal Levada informing him that a second alleged victim had come forward with more serious allegations, that criminal charges had been filed and that the county attorney wanted to extradite Father Jeyapaul. He pleaded for quick action. Bishop Balke also wrote to the Vatican's top diplomat to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who provided the address of Father Jeyapaul in India, to give to the county attorney.

Church offices were closed on Easter Monday, and officials in the Diocese of Crookston did not respond to messages left by phone and e-mail. (Courtesy: The New York Times)
Daniel J. Wakin contributed reporting from Rome, Lydia Polgreen from New Delhi and Christina Capecchi from St. Paul.
  Priest released on bail, Brother continues in jail
  BHOPAL, MARCH 5 (UCAN) -- A priest, who spent nine days in jail in connection with a seminarian's suicide, says the experience helped him relate better to Christ's sufferings.

Father Thomas Philip, rector of Bhopal archdiocese's minor seminary, was released on bail on April 1, Holy Thursday. He was jailed on March 23 for allegedly abetting the suicide of a seminarian.

However, no bail was granted to a Malabar Missionary brother who continues to be in jail over an alleged act of pedophilia. Police in Panna, a town in Madhya Pradesh, arrested Brother John Kuttikatil on March 20.

Bhopal archdiocesan sources said the bail for the priest took nine days since the charges against him were serious offences in Madhya Pradesh, one of the few states that legally ban religious conversion through allurement or force.

The seminarian committed suicide on Jan. 29 inside the seminary on the outskirts of Bhopal, the state capital. His father complained to police that his son was a Hindu and the priest had tried to convert him to Catholicism.

Father Philip told UCA News April 5 that he was implicated in a case in which he had no involvement. However, the time in the jail "helped me really understand the suffering of Christ," he added.

Reflecting on Christ's sufferings
the priest said he found it hard and painful to realize he was in a jail for "heinous" crimes. But when "I began to reflect over the life and crucifixion of Christ, new hope began to lead me."

Jesus suffered for no fault of his, and "I too was imprisoned," Father Philip said. Such an experience is the price one has to pay occasionally for being Christ's follower. "Now I can value it," he added.

The priest also said he felt shattered when the court denied his bail application immediately after his arrest. "Initially, I thought it would be easy to get bail as I had no role in the case, but when that did not happen my confidence began to shake," he recounted.

The police, he said, did not harm him physically, but he "felt really hurt" as he had to remove his clothes and line up with those accused of serious offenses. "It was really disappointing to realize that no one in the jail was ready to understand your innocence," he added.

Some jail residents "helped me get my food and wash my clothing," Father Philip said. "However, the general treatment I got was no way different from what is given to a criminal."

Father Philip dismissed the allegation of the seminarian's father as "unfounded and aimed at targeting the Church." He asserted the seminary, just as other seminaries across the world, admits only baptized Catholics as students.
  Believed to be Jesus's grave, shrine banned for foreigners
  By Tejinder Singh Sodhi
Tribune News Service

SRINAGAR, APRIL 4 -- This Easter foreign tourists won't be allowed to go in the famous shrine of Rozbal, which, according to a belief, is the grave of Jesus Christ.

After this shrine in the old town of Srinagar city became one of the most visited tourist destinations, mostly by foreigners, as they believe it is the 'grave of Jesus Christ', the shrine management has banned foreign tourists from entering the shrine.

According to the local Muslim belief, the Rozbal Shrine in the old town holds the mortal remains of a medieval Muslim saint Yuz Asaf, but some bestseller books, 'Christ in Kashmir' by Aziz Kashmiri and 'Jesus lived in India' by Holger Kersten fanned the belief that Jesus survived the crucifixion and died in Kashmir at the age of 120.

The belief was further strengthened when the shrine found its entry into the latest edition of the international travel guidebook 'Lonely Planet' making it one of the 'must visit' tourist destinations in India.

"We have locked the shrine for foreigners, who were engaged in blasphemous activities. They believe that Jesus Christ was buried here, which is totally false," a manager of the shrine said.

Even though the controversy about the shrine being the burial place of Jesus Christ is not new, as the belief had existed since the late 18th century, these days the shrine has started getting much coverage in the western media as the 'grave of Jesus Christ', which is rejected by the church and the local Muslims.

In his book published in 1981, Kersten wrote that during the years of Jesus's life from the age of 12 to 30 he had travelled to India and studied Buddhism and after surviving the crucifixion he again returned to India and lived in Kashmir as a Muslim saint.

A few years ago a US national was forced to leave Kashmir after she wanted the locality to be put under curfew so that she could exhume the body and conduct tests.

Speaking to The Tribune, Dr Fida Hussnain, a renowned historian, who authored "A Search for Historical Jesus", said, "Only a scientific investigation, including a DNA test, can bring the facts forward. In my book I have mentioned that the visit of Jesus to India is mentioned in the Bhavishya Mahapuran written in 115 AD."

A US-based Christian sect called the Church Universal and Triumphant is also a supporter of the belief that Jesus lived in Kashmir, but is not of the view that he died here. (Courtesy: The Tribune)
  Lankan bishops slam attack on media firm
  CATHOLIC bishops in Sri Lanka have condemned a violent attack on one of the country's leading media companies, calling it "lawless behavior."

A group of protestors pelted Sirasa Media's offices with rocks before trying to storm the building on March 22 in Colombo. The attack, which injured four people was to protest the company's sponsorship of a proposed concert featuring Senegalese-American R&B singer Akon.

A music video by the singer, called Sexy Chick, features scantily clad women dancing in front of a Buddha statue. The video has sparked outrage in Sri Lanka among people who say it desecrates their religion.

"I was not aware that the statue was even on the set of the video until now. I would never set out to offend or desecrate anyone's religion or religious beliefs. I myself am a spiritual man, so I can understand why they are offended, but violence is never the answer and I am disheartened," the singer said in response to the public's anger.

The R&B singer was later denied entry to Sri Lanka after the protests in the capital turned violent and his concert on April 24 was canceled.

In a statement, the bishops expressed shock at the attack on Sirasa Media, which is seen as a voice for the opposition, calling it "lawless behavior resulting in the destruction of common property," and a "bad example" to set younger generations.

'We call upon all those responsible for the maintenance of law and order to carry out their responsibilities irrespective of whatever affiliation, political or any other, the perpetrators might hold," the statement said.

The bishops noted the attack took place ahead of a general election on April 8 and insisted acts of violence must not hinder people's right to vote.

"We reiterate that the required climate of respect for the exercise of one's franchise, namely freedom of conscience, non-violence and justice be maintained at any cost so that the forthcoming general election would be free and fair," the statement said.

The assistant secretary general of the bishop's conference, Father Leopold Ratnasekara, told UCA News on March 30 it was necessary to send this message since the protest was an attack on the media and an assault on the "moral values of democracy."

More than 7,500 candidates are vying for the 225 seats in Sri Lanka's parliament.

Source: Bishops slam 'lawless' attack on media firm (UCAN)
  Indian Jesuits continue in Afghanistan
  AS the Indian government reportedly scales down its presence in Afghanistan amid growing security concerns, Jesuits say they will continue their work in the troubled nation.

"We cannot suspend our work here. We have made a commitment and we need to go ahead," says Father James Kalapura, one of the Jesuit priests working in Afghanistan.

The Jesuit decision comes amid reports that recent attacks on its missions and staff have compelled the Indian government to close its operations in several places in Afghanistan.

"India may keep insisting that it is in Afghanistan for the long haul, but on the ground there are signs that it is gradually winding down its presence following persistent attacks on Indian interests there," the Daily News and Analysis newspaper reported today.

Even Indian business people and NGOs have also reportedly left the troubled nation.

However, Jesuits and their collaborators, the major Catholic group present in Afghanistan, have no plan to retreat, says Father Edward Mudavassery, provincial of Jesuits in South Asia.

The priest, who heads more than 4,000 Jesuits in the region, says he is in "constant contact" with his people in Afghanistan. All his men and their collaborators not only want to continue there but also plan to expand their outreach programs to new areas, he added.

"I am convinced the spirit of the Risen Lord is strengthening and guiding our men in this difficult mission," Father Mudavassery told UCA News today. He says his people "are well aware of the security situation there. I have made sure no one stays there under compulsion."

Father Kalapura, who works in Herat province, "a comparatively safer place," says the Jesuit team there goes about its work. "We are moving around freely as usual. We have not faced any threat yet," he said and added, "but then anything can happen at any time in Afghanistan. This is a fact we have to live with."

The Jesuit priest said the security of Indians in Afghanistan became "a major concern" after an attack on Indians in Kabul past February.

Even in Herat, the road in front of the Indian consulate is closed to traffic and the Indian Medical Mission suspended its activities indefinitely, the priest said in his letter to Father Mudavassery.

Father Kalapura said even the Indian vice consul in Herat sounded "much concerned and a bit frightened" after hearing about a Taliban plan to kidnap Indian diplomats in Afghanistan.

Source: Jesuits to stay in Afghanistan undaunted (UCAN)
  Court moves nun's rape case from danger area
  BHUBANESWAR, APRIL 1 (UCAN) -- The Orissa High Court has transferred the rape case of a Catholic nun away from violence-hit Kandhamal district, giving hope for justice to victims of anti-Christian riots.

Justice Indrajit Mohanty referred the rape case to the Sessions Court in Cuttack, near the state capital Bhubaneswar. The move follows a transfer plea by the nun, who said Kandhamal's intimidating atmosphere would prevent her appearing in court there.

The nun's lawyers told UCA News the court's decision highlights the poor state of justice in Kandhamal, the center of 2008 anti-Christian riots.

Lawyer Lansingh Lu Rongmei said the referral "is a victory not only for the nun," but also for every victim of the violence.

"The very fact the court accepts the atmosphere is not conducive in Kandhamal for a free and fair trial opens the doors of justice for others who have so far been denied justice," she said.

Manasa Ranjan Singh, another lawyer who handled the nun's case in Kandhamal's Balliguda trial court, said the transfer would definitely impact on prosecutions in that district. It would force the administration to review the investigation and judicial process, he added.

The nun's petition explained to the High Court that during trials in other cases, witnesses had not cooperated because of intimidation from Hindu extremists. This led to high rate of acquittals and she feared a similar outcome would happen in her case if it was heard in Kandhamal.

The petition also noted the atmosphere in Kandhamal was not "conducive" for her to appear before the court. Christian leaders say some of the nun's attackers and other riot perpetrators are yet to be arrested.

Her petition also said she feared her life was in "grave danger" and pleaded for the case to be moved from Kandhamal.

On two earlier occasions, the High Court allowed her to attend police line-ups outside Kandhamal to identify her attackers.

Orissa police have arrested 19 people for allegedly attacking the nun on Aug. 25, 2008, as well as raping and parading her half-naked through the streets.

Christian leaders also welcomed the transfer of the case. John Dayal, a lay Catholic leader, said he particularly welcomed the court order to re-examine witnesses who refused to cooperate.

Dayal wants the High Court decision to serve as a precedent to counter the intimidation of witnesses in the fast track courts or as a catalyst for the transfer of all the cases to Cuttack.

Father Dibakar Parichha, spokesperson of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese, said the Church also wants to see all the cases moved from Kandhamal to help the victims get justice.
  Christians seek Easter protection in Hyderabad
  HYDERABAD, APRIL 1 (UCAN) -- The head of the Catholic Church in Andhra Pradesh state has sought police protection to conduct Holy Week services in the wake of recent sectarian violence in the state capital.

Archbishop Marampudi Joji of Hyderabad sought police protection after this southern city witnessed Hindu-Muslim violence in the last week of March. Police imposed a curfew in violence-hit old city areas and prohibitory orders banning assemblies of more than five people.

The Archbishop Joji said several of his parishes have requested him to seek police protection for Good Friday services, which normally include a procession through public streets.

"We have requested police protection to conduct Holy Week services within our churches," Archbishop Joji told UCA News.

He said Christians in areas where the curfew was imposed will "find it difficult to attend the Holy Week prayers."

He has asked some parishes not to have processions and for congregations to go home quietly after religious ceremonies.

Police relaxed the curfew in a few areas on April 1 morning after the situation improved.

The archbishop said last week's sectarian flare-up was political rather than religion-related.

"As citizens, we feel there is an agenda to disturb the peace and tranquility," he said.

Police have identified two municipal councilors for instigating the riots.
  Jailed priest, brother spoil Holy Week
  BHOPAL, APRIL 1 (UCAN) -- Church leaders in Madhya Pradesh say Holy Week will be a somber one this year while a priest and Religious brother continue to languish in jail.

"No doubt, this is a harrowing time for the Church," said Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal, who heads the Catholic Church in the central Indian state. "It is really sad that two of our brethren are behind bars especially during Holy Week," the prelate told UCA News April 1.

Police in Panna arrested Malabar Missionary Brother John Kuttikatil on March 20 over an alleged act of pedophilia.

Three days later, police in Bhopal, the state capital, arrested Father Thomas Philip, rector of Bhopal archdiocese's minor seminary, for allegedly abetting the suicide of a seminarian.

The brother is in a jail in Panna and the priest is in a Bhopal prison. Both are awaiting bail.

Archbishop Cornelio said the two Churchmen are suffering like Jesus, who also faced baseless allegations. He said the two incidents are helping Church people to reflect on the plight of ordinary Christians who have to witness their faith in hostile conditions.

"Jesus died standing for truth, and hence no soldier of his should expect a bed of roses," the prelate added.

Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur described the situation as painful. "We cannot run away, but have to face such challenges," he told UCA News.

Brother Bastin Karuvelil, vice provincial of the Malabar Missionary Brothers' congregation, said the arrest and remand of a member has been a setback for them.

"We are really sad our brother has been dragged into a controversy in which he has had no role at all," Brother Karuvelil told UCA News. "We are sure he will be exonerated," he said.

Sheela Santiago, a member of an ecumenical forum, says the imprisonment of the two Churchmen has demoralized Christians in the state.

If a priest and a brother can be put behind bars through no fault of their own, there is no guarantee others will not face the same fate, said the president of the women's wing of the Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh (Grant Confederation of Madhya Pradesh Christians).

She said Christians want the government to release the priest and brother to attend Holy Week services and instill confidence in people.

The state has witnessed several incidents of anti-Christian violence since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party government came to power in December 2003.
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