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  Masked men shoot and injure priest in Bihar
  By Malini Manjaly, Mokama

THREE masked men shot and wounded a Catholic priest in Mokama in Bihar last night.

The motives for the attack are unclear.

Father Michael Ignatius, the local parish priest, received four gunshot wounds which shattered his hands but are not life threatening. He was rushed by police escort to Kurji Holy Family Hospital, Patna, where he is still being treated.

Father Ignatius says he was watching television at his residence when the attack took place. The men came into his unlocked room, fired at him and left. As he fell to the ground and called for help, they returned and fired again. He claimed they were aiming for his chest but he blocked the bullets with his hands.

Assistant parish priest Father Alex Vedamackiam was in his room at the time and was unharmed.

The watchman at the residence recognized one of the attackers, a local Catholic, who has now fled. Police have taken his younger brother into custody.

The attackers' motives are still under investigation. Police have ruled out robbery as the watchman's cell phone was the only thing stolen.

Mokama is a notorious crime black spot. Father Matthew Uzhuthal, vicar general of Patna archdiocese, was stabbed to death in 2005 by a youth who allegedly demanded money. The murdered cleric had also been parish priest in Mokama for several years.
 
   
   
  Shooting attack fails to deter Filipino priest
  By ucanews.com reporters, Manila

A CATHOLIC priest targeted in a post-midnight shooting attack in the Philippines on Saturday says he will not abandon his parish and will continue serving the poor.

"I will never leave my parish," Father Jose Francisco "Jeofran" Talaban, 43, parish priest of Nuestra Señora de la Salvacion in the Aurora province village of Bianoan, Casiguran town, told Church-run Radio Veritas.

The shots missed the sleeping priest by a few meters.

Police later recovered empty shells and grenade shrapnel. Also found were anti-communist pamphlets accusing Father Talaban of belonging to the New People's Army.

"The Church will not be cowed and will not stop helping the poor and oppressed," Father Talaban said.

He said he suspects that the attack was related to his campaign against government projects in the Aurora Special Economic Zone.

Father Talaban is known as a vocal advocate of the rights of farmers' and indigenous people who will be displaced by the project.

Infanta Bishop Rolando Tria Tirona condemned the attack, saying the threats will not deter the Church.

He described the perpetrators as "cowards and without conscience".

"We are on the side of the poor, so if they think we will back out, they are wrong," the bishop said.

Claiming to know those behind the attack, Bishop Tirona noted that the threats against Father Talaban only started when the special economic zone project was proposed.

However, Aurora Representative Juan Edgardo Angara, a proponent of the project in Congress, said it was premature to make any links.

"Definitely, the attack should be condemned," he said. "(But) it may or may not have anything to do with the project."

"Elements" may be out to destabilize the local situation, he added.

Bishop Tirona will meet local clergy later this week to discuss improved security measures.
 
   
   
  'Lay brothers' on the run after rape charges
  By ucanews.com reporter, Kochi

POLICE in the southern Indian state of Kerala have launched a manhunt for two men alleged to be lay Catholic brothers who absconded after being charged with raping four women and a young girl at a spiritual counseling center they ran.

The rapes allegedly took place at Karunnya Ashram, an orphanage and spiritual counseling center in Agali, a remote tribal village in Palakkad district.

State Director General of police Jacob Punnoose told ucanews.com that the five women, including a 16 year-old, had accused the pair, known as Brother Patrick and Brother Josey, of sexually abusing and mentally torturing them over a three-month period.

All the women aged 16-23 were sent to the counseling center by their parents "to correct their wayward ways," police said.

The women ran away from the center on June 26 and were picked up by railway police after trying to board a train at Palakkad railway station. After hearing their stories, the railway police handed them over to local authorities.

The women said Patrick, 33 and Josey 28, used to rape, sexually abuse and mentally torture them at night under the pretext of counseling them, investigating officer Rajpal Meena told ucannews.com.

Police raided the center and found 35 boys and girls there.

"The center didn't have separate rooms for the girls or boys and were just temporary sheds. The two accused also had no license to run a home for the destitute," said Girija Surendran, who heads the state's social welfare board.

Local Church officials denied any knowledge of Karunnya Ashram.

The center has "nothing to do with the Church," said Syro-Malabar Church spokesman Father Paul Thelakat.

It operated without the knowledge or control of the Church, he said.
 
   
   
  Priestly year 'not good one' for Goa Church
  By Bosco de Souza Eremita, Panaji

A SENIOR priest has hit out at the Church in Goa over several embarrassing and humiliating events that he says has damaged reputations in the state.

Father Mario Saturnino Dias, a former official of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences, also criticised the performance of clergymen during the Vatican-declared Year for Priests that ended this month.

He made the scathing assessment in an article for the local daily Herald on June 19, the day the special year concluded across the world.

Although there were no accusations of clergy sexually abusing minors, the release of a compact disk by some lay people discredited the Church, priesthood and priestly celibacy, he wrote.

The public even demonstrated outside the archbishop's house and anonymous letters were circulated questioning the transparency in the administration of church property and money, he said.

He wanted priests to show more accountability in preaching the Word, the administration of Sacraments, having proper time management and make themselves available to parishioners.

Since Catholics still respect the authority of the parish priests and the bishop, they quite often do not question explanations offered. Therefore, priests ought to be even more concerned about matching their trust, he said.

He questioned whether pastors provide spiritual and moral leadership to the secular world or whether they were being influenced by worldly matters, which could result in the twisting of truth, speaking half truths and making false assurances to suit their needs.

Father Dias lamented that the Church authorities seemed to enjoy their routine life of moral relativism that lets them justify their dubious actions and cheap popularity.

On the other hand Father Dias said the special year also saw moderate participation in a prayer campaign to provide opportunities for reflection and renewal, with prayers in churches, religious communities and homes seeking priestly holiness.
 
   
   
  Indonesian nun debunks myths around AIDS
  By Yasintus Rattu, Ruteng

A NUN has given high school students a factual insight into the realities of HIV/AIDS in Indonesia, while dispelling some of the myths.

"They wanted to know whether the HIV virus can be transmitted through a kiss," said Sister Mary Yosefina of the Servants of the Holy Spirit.

She and NGO worker Yohanes Jimmy Carvalo organized the program for 500 students of different faiths at the Catholic-run Senior High School of Karya in Ruteng, capital of West Manggarai, on June 25. "The students were so enthusiastic," said Sister Yosefina afterwards.

Sister Yosefina pointed out that in all three districts of the Ruteng diocese -- Manggarai, West Manggarai, and East Manggarai -- 66 people are living with HIV/AIDS and 16 have died of it. While these figures are not abnormally high, the infected include 10 high school students and Sister Yosefina believes that general awareness of HIV/AIDS is poor. "That's why we organized the program," she said.

The students were also briefed on the problem of human trafficking by Johanes Jimmy Carvalo, who told them that the practice has reached a number of villages in the diocese. "Many villagers have been trapped by it," he claimed.
 
   
   
  Hindu radicals dominate Orissa's schools
  By Ajay Kumar Singh, Bhubaneswar

RADICAL Hindu groups in the Indian state of Orissa may have stolen a march on Christians by developing a large network of schools in rural areas of the state neglected by the Church, an education expert fears.

Since 1978, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, national volunteer corps) has built a network of 793 schools in the eastern state with a faculty of 12,000 teachers, local reports say.

"The RSS has spearheaded the movement, successfully penetrating into the educational systems of both the grassroots and centralized regulatory commissions," the English-language Asian Age notes.

"A whole new generation is being grown indoctrinated in Hindutva (Hindu ideology). It is a devious strategy to teach hate to the young," the paper claims, with as many as 55 of the top 100 10th grade students now coming from these schools.

"The RSS made it clear that the schools, together with the Ekal Vidyalayas (primary schools in villages), were set up to counter the influence of the schools run by the Church," John Dayal, President of the All India Christian Council, said.

He lamented that Christian schools, which are mostly located in metropolitan cities and towns, have earned the reputation of being elite English language institutions for the rich and powerful.

Barring a few exceptions, there are hardly any Christian schools in rural areas, Dayal added, and the RSS-run schools fill the vacuum, providing high quality education without the elitism.

"The Church needs to do a rethinking in this regard," he warned.

Father Anselm Biswal, former director of social work, agreed.

"The schools that we have are no match for the RSS schools," he said. "What we require today is a commitment and direction to the issue of education".
 
   
   
  Kerala Church looks to scupper surrogacy bill
  By ucanews.com reporter, Kochi

AN Oriental-rite Catholic Church in Kerala says it plans to try and torpedo an upcoming bill to legalize surrogacy in India, which it says will destabilize a family system already struggling "under Western influence."

"The Church will take all possible steps to stop the bill and will alert elected state representatives about the impact it will have on family life," Syro-Malabar Church spokesman Father Paul Thelakat told ucanews.com on June 24.

"We have been teaching our faithful about moral living, so if the government enacts a bill which is against our teachings, how can we sit idle," the priest said.

The federal government has finalized the draft for the Assisted Reproductive Technologies (Regulation) Bill 2010, which will legalize surrogacy and sperm banks.

It is planning to table the bill before parliament for approval.

Under the proposed legislation, "renting" a womb would be banned and only non-profit surrogacy permitted for women aged 21 to 35.

Critics say this leaves the door open for gay couples and single heterosexuals to become parents.

Commercial surrogacy in India has been practiced since 2002.

"To have a child, one cannot take recourse to any and every means and technology possible," said Kerala Church head Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil.

"We shall not play God and opt for fabrications of humans at our own designs," Cardinal Vithayathil said.

According to Father Stephen Alathara, spokesman of the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council, the bill will make a mockery of the institution of marriage.

"If the bill is passed, it will reduce marriage to a contract without responsibilities," he said.

India is emerging as a leader in international surrogacy and a destination in surrogacy-related fertility tourism. Indian surrogates are increasingly popular with couples in industrialized nations because of the relatively low cost.
 
   
   
  Religious groups back man's bid to save home
  By Francis Rodrigues, Mangalore

SEVERAL religious organizations in the Indian city of Mangalore have joined a Catholic layman's fight against the Karnataka state government's acquisition of his land and demolition of his house.

Gregory Patrao has been on indefinite hunger strike since June 17 demanding the return of his property which the Karnataka government seized to make way for a proposed extension to an oil refinery.

Patrao's house was demolished on April 28 after his plea challenging the land acquisition by the Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board (KIADB) was dismissed by the High Court. In his petition he had claimed his house was more than 350 years old.

"We will continue the fight until Patrao is permitted to return and cultivate his land," said Walter Cyril Pinto, the President of the Catholic Sabha (Catholic assembly) of Mangalore diocese.

He also demanded that property confiscated from his house before demolition should be returned and all criminal cases filed against him be withdrawn.

More than 600 people show their support to Patrao each day by signing a supporter's book.

A total of 23 multi-religious organizations have extended their support to Patrao.

"We should fight because today it is Gregory, tomorrow it could be anybody," said Dorothy Vas of the Citizens Forum.

His hunger strike for justice has gained huge support, she added.

Bishop Aloysius Paul D'Souza of Mangalore visited Patrao on June 23 to offer his support.

"We assure our support to a farmer who has experienced injustice. We need progress with rights and justice," he said.

Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited is planning start building the third phase of its refinery soon. People from five villages were displaced during the first phase of the refinery's construction.
 
   
   
  Hindus regret attack on Christian mission
  By Francis Maria Britto, Raipur

HINDUS in the Indian state of Orissa are expressing regret over an attack nearly two years ago on a Christian mission which had served them for more than five decades.

"People feel very sad about it. It was not an attack on Christians but on us [Hindus]," social worker Sushil Kumar told ucanews.com when asked about the attack on the mission in Madhupur, which is part of Sambalpur diocese.

During anti-Christian violence in August 2008, some 400 Hindus destroyed everything in the mission after blaming Christians for the killing of radical Hindu leader Swami Laxmananda Saraswati in Kandhamal district.

The attacks that followed destroyed around 7,000 houses, 350 churches, killed 95 people and displaced up to 60,000 others.

"Many people say it was unfortunate. It should never have happened," said Father Sushil Kerketta, the assistant pastor.

"Hindu leaders accused the mission of being involved in conversions. But we know what sort of social work it was and still is doing," said Satyajit Pradhan, a journalist.

The mission, now fully restored, runs a school, a hostel for boys and girls and a health-care center.

Arvind Sahu, a police official in the nearby town of Sohela, said the mob were under the influence of several leaders and did not have any ill-feeling toward the mission.

"They regret what they have done," he added.

Although about 20 people were arrested in connection with the attack no prosecutions are likely, Sahu said.

"Since no one will testify as an eyewitness, they will not be punished," he said, adding that "they are not really criminals. They were provoked."
 
   
   
  Indian Hindus assist in Sri Lanka's recovery
  By ucanews.com reporter, Colombo

AN Indian Hindu delegation has met senior Sri Lankan Buddhist monks to discuss post civil war recovery assistance, such as national conciliation, interfaith unity and repairing Hindu temples.

The Hindu delegation, which included several priests, dignitaries and intellectuals, met the monks at the Mahabodhi Maha Viharaya, a Buddhist temple in Colombo on June 20.

The meeting was arranged by the Buddhist MahaBodhi Society which has branches around the world including in India.

"Committees have been appointed to improve mutual trust and for the repair of Hindu temples," said Hindu priest Swami Dayananda Saraswathi, a co-chair of the World Council of Religious leaders who headed the Indian delegation.

The committees would also help promote pilgrimages in the two countries, said Buddhist Monk Banagala Upatissa Thera, the president of the Sri Lanka Maha Bodhi society.

Ways of promoting harmony and unity between Hindu and Buddhist leaders were also discussed during the two-day talks which ended on June 21.

"We have to ensure the fostering of friendships and establishing links as soon as possible are vital to deepen the relationship between religious leaders," the Buddhist monks said.

"It is the beginning of constructive dialogue between the spiritual masters of both countries. We discussed what has to be done to achieve peace and prosperity in this country. We would like to participate in the development work here," said Shri R. Govind Hari, secretary of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha of India at the end of the talks.
 
   
   
  Church green project to reach all Indian schools
  By Saji Thomas, Bhopal

THE Catholic Church's environment-friendly project in a central Indian state is set to be included in the country's education curriculum.

The Federal Ministry of Human Resources Development (HRD) has given its nod to making the Matr Chhaon Abhiyan (shading Mother Earth movement) project, launched less than a year ago, part of the country's education system.

Fifty Catholic schools in Madhya Pradesh took part in a tree-planting movement launched by the Church on July 29, 2009 to check global warming.

Under the project, students from grades five to nine, who were willing to take part, had to plant at least one sapling and care for it for more than three years.

Students who succeed in nurturing their plants will gain additional credits in their final practical examination on environment study.

"I approached the federal HRD ministry dealing with education in the country to adopt this project," said Father Anand Muttutungal, who initiated the activity.

Incalcating a love for the environment in young school children is a worthy investment, said the priest, who is also the spokesperson of the Catholic Church in the state.

The inclusion of the project in the education curriculum "is a great honor and ... achievement for the Church in the country," he said.
 
   
   
  Indian Religious focus on next generation leaders
  By Jessy Joseph, New Delhi

THE Conference of Religious India (CRI) is to launch a special scheme to prepare new Indian Religious congregation leaders to meet challenges posed by the country's expected rapid development in the next decade.

"There are many people predicting that India will be a developed country by the year 2020 and the Catholic Religious will have to prepare for that," Brother Mani Mekkunnel, CRI national secretary, told ucanews.com on June 19.

He said the conference will organize courses on "visions for the future" for young Religious in its 13 regions across India.

"We are planning to bring one Religious aged 30-35 from each region for the program," Brother Mekkunnel explained.

The first session is scheduled for July 1-4 at the Renewal Centre in Kochi, for the Kerala region.

The program will conclude with a national convention in March, 2011 in Pune, where more than 1,000 young Religious are expected to attend.

CRI represents more than 125,000 Catholic Religious brothers, priests and nuns in India. Some 30,000 religious are aged 3035.

Religious who participate in the program would become leaders in their congregations and regions by the year 2020, Brother Mekkunnel said.

The participants will make a commitment to seek ways to make Religious life more relevant in the modern world. They will set 10 goals to achieve this.

Many of the traditional functions done by Religious today will become irrelevant in the next ten years, said Brother Mekkunnel.

The Religious will have to look for ways to make their life meaningful and purposeful, he said, adding "nothing will be imposed" on the participants during the program.

It would be a collective search, he added.
 
   
   
  Catholic hospital boosts HIV/AIDS nursing care
  By Malini Manjaly, Patna

A CATHOLIC hospital in India's Bihar state, which has 90,000 HIV/AIDS patients, has conducted a meeting to address the nursing challenges created by the pandemic.

"The main objective of the meeting was to work together in strengthening the quality of nursing education and services in the hospitals," said T. Dileep Kumar, president of the Indian Nursing Council and nursing adviser to the Indian government.

The Nazareth Hospital in Mokama, about 60 kilometers from Patna, the state capital, organized the one-day meeting of nursing superintendents on June 21.

The hospital, the only one in the state that carries out training on the nursing of HIV/AIDS patients, has so far trained 548 nurses over 22 sessions.

More nurses need to be trained annually as India will be short of about 685,000 nurses by 2012, said Sandeep Kumar, the state government's assistant health secretary.

"There are 90,000 HIV/AIDS-inflicted patients in Bihar and it is imperative to reduce the transmission of this disease by following universal precautions," Kumar said.

"The quality of nursing service is very poor" due to a very low nurse-patient ratio in Bihar, he said.

The meeting was supported by:
The Indian Nursing Council
Government of Bihar Health Services
UNICEF Patna
The Futures Group under The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria
 
   
   
  Koreans up in arms over Bush peace prayer
  By John Choi, Seoul

CHRISTIAN groups in South Korea have denounced an invitation to former US president George W. Bush to address a major prayer meeting organized by major Protestant churches.

The 22 groups, including the Korea Christian Faculty Association, Christian Ethics Movement of Korea, Christian Alliance for Church Reform, issued a joint statement on June 21 welcoming the peace prayer meeting but describing the invitation as "absurd".

President Bush waged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and maintained an antagonistic policy against North Korea, the group said.

"Inviting him as a messenger of peace shows the organizers' lack of historical consciousness," they lamented.

The groups also insisted that Christian peace is based on reconciliation and love, not on weapons and suppression of the enemy.

Up to 70,000 Protestants were expected to attend the June 22 prayer meeting hosted at a Seoul stadium by conservative churches including the Full Gospel Church.

The meeting, which addresses the theme "Beyond division, towards peace", commemorates the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War on June 25, 1950. The war ended on July 27, 1953, finally dividing the Korean peninsula into North and South Koreas.

Bush is slated to speak on the peaceful reunification of the two Koreas and on freedom.

Meanwhile, the National Clergy Conference for Justice and Peace issued a statement on June 14 criticizing the invitation to the "jingoistic Bush" as "crazy."
 
   
   
  Hindu farmers help build church in Sri Lanka
  By ucanews.com reporter, Vavuniya

THE help that Hindu farmers gave to build a church in a war-ravaged area in Sri Lanka bodes well for the deeply divided country, Church leaders say.

"You [Hindus] have shown that you are brothers," said Bishop Rayappu Joseph of Mannar during the June 16 concecration of St. Anthony's Church in Paranaddagal, an area known for its paddy north of Vavuniya city.

Hindu farmers helped to build the small brick church and its thatched roof with their own labor, as well as donated wood and cement.

About 300 Tamil families, displaced by the 26-year civil war, were resettled in their home village of Paranaddagal recently. Forty-two families are Catholics and the rest are Hindus.

The Catholics had a small hut church built years ago but it was destroyed by the fighting.

In the days leading up to the consecration ceremony, young Hindus and Catholics together decorated the church yard and tied loudspeakers to trees.

Hindu villagers also took part in the three days of prayers and flag-hoisting activities prior to the consecration.

"The help that the Church has received from Hindus is a sign of unity and friendship that offers hope," Father David Alexander Silva, director of the Center for Social communication, Culture and Interreligious, told ucanews.com

"Temple and church worship are important parts of the daily life of Tamils," said Ganeshalingam Sivakumar, 48, a villager. "Now a shortcoming in the village has been rectified by this new church."

"To me all religions teach love," said another villager, a middle-aged Hindu farmer who sang a hymn that he composed during the church procession held as part of the celebrations.

For some parishioners like Nesan Mangalarajah, 39, the new church building is a prelude to an even more magnificent building in the future.

"We know one day our church will rise above the jungle with beautiful stained glass windows, marble floors and large crowds," said Mangalarajah.
 
   
   
  Priest fights for poor workers' overdue wages
 
By ucanews.com reporter, Ahmedabad

A Salesian priest in Gujarat is fighting for hundreds of poor workers to be paid wages due to them under a job guarantee scheme.

Father Mayank Parmar and workers from dalit and other underprivileged communities staged a day-long sit-in outside a government official's office in Kheda district on June 14.

Dalit are the former "untouchables" under the Indian caste system.

The protesters demanded timely payment for wages and punishment for government officials responsible for the delay. They also submitted a memorandum to the official, S. Murali Krishnan.

"Due to a lack of awareness, [these workers have] become victims of official indifference and apathy," said Father Parmar, who works with the NGO Drishti Shramik Sangathan (workers vision forum), operated by the Don Bosco Trust.

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), which came into force in August 2005, provides adult members of rural households a legal guarantee of 100 days of employment in each financial year.

The Act guarantees a minimum wage of Rs 100 (US$2) per day and stipulates that workers should be paid within 15 days.

However, 400 workers from 11 villages have not received their wages for as long as three months, according to Drishti Shramik Sangathan, which has been working among NREGA workers for the past year.

Most of the workers are illiterate, said Father Parmar.

His NGO held four days of training for them in March to make them aware of various provisions under the Act.

Meanwhile, Krishnan said he has ordered the local authorities to ensure that all the workers be paid on time.
 
   
   
  Indian church workers foster communal peace
  By Saji Thomas, Bhopal


THE Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh has initiated a move to foster communal harmony by networking with secular groups.

The Harmony Foundation, a Church initiative, brought five such groups together on June 15 in an effort to build peace in the central Indian state, which has experienced attacks on Christian and their institutions.

"It is the need of the hour for the Church to change its position for reaching out to everyone," Father Anand Muttungal, spokesperson of the Catholic Church in the state, told ucanews.com June 17.

Although the Church has been engaged in building peace and harmony, its reach was very limited, he said.

"Whenever the Church is under attack from Hindu radical groups, it is often forced to suffer in isolation due to its failure to promote understating with other people," Father Muttungal said.

The Church in Madhya Pradesh has suffered a series of violent attacks on its people and institutions, mostly on allegations that Christians engaged in religious conversions.

The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People's Party) has ruled the state for the past seven years.

"The [radical] communal forces were already united and the need of the hour was to unite the secular forces," said Ram Puniyani, a well-known social worker who attended the June 15 meeting.
 
   
   
  Murder suspect priest surrenders to court
  By ucanews.com reporter, Kochi

A JACOBITE Syrian priest, prime suspect in the murder of a Christian lay leader, has given himself up to a court in Kochi, India.

Father Varghese Thekkekara of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church surrendered after a demand from the Kerala High Court. He was granted bail of Rs 25,000 (US $542) on his own recognizance and two sureties of the same amount.

Father Thekkekara was charged with conspiring to hire henchmen to murder Malankara Varghese, a management committee member from the rival Malankara Orthodox Church. Police have also accused 19 others, including criminal gang members, of the 2002 murder. The Jacobite Church suspended the priest upon his accusation.

It is thought that the murder was part of a long-running feud within the Syrian Malankara Church, which split into Jacobite and Orthodox factions after a dispute over property and money, more than a century ago.

The Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church recognizes the Patriarch of Antioch as its spiritual head while the Malankara Orthodox Church reveres a local prelate as its leader.

The two factions jointly own 1,026 churches across Kerala, their base. Since the split, each faction has tried repeatedly to gain control over the other's domain.

Saramma Varghese, the victim's widow, said she would not stop her fight for justice. "I believe there is a wider conspiracy behind the murder," she said. "I believe more church leaders are involved, including bishops."
 
   
   
  Orissa seminarians told to be more outgoing
  By Ajay Kumar Singh, Bhubaneswar

SEMINARIES in Orissa are urging their students to involve themselves more in inter-religious dialogue and community activities.

This comes amid concerns that the seminarians may have grown introspective since anti-Christian violence rocked the state in 2008.

A series of shocking attacks destroyed around 7,000 houses and 350 churches, took 95 lives and displaced up to 60,000 people.

The incidents raised questions over the preparedness of priests and nuns to be leaders in times of crisis. The traditional discouragement of seminarians from mingling with the community, especially with people from other religions, is seen as a contributing factor.

"Until the violence, inter-religious dialogue and social harmony were merely subjects for teaching," said Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak of Berhampur, "but now they have become an important part of seminary formation."

"Our seminarians are not well trained in conflict management or reaching out to other faiths," he added, "yet our future and security lies in multi-cultural communities."

"After the attacks, the Church realized the need to get closer to its flock," said Father Joseph Topno, East Indian provincial of the Society of the Divine Word.

He now encourages students to live among their neighbors, especially during crises and conflicts. "Priests and sisters ought to be at the disposal of the people," he said.
 
   
   
  Police tell church to play down vandal attack
  By ucanews.com reporter, Hyderabad

POLICE have told a parish in Hyderabad archdiocese in Andhra Pradesh, India, to play down the recent vandalism of shrine statues for fear of sparking communal violence.

"The cops are trying to hush up the case because we are Christians. If such a thing had happened in a temple or a mosque, there would not have been peace in the city," said Salesian Father Bokkala Rayappa from Bandlaguda parish.

"They told us not to make an issue of it as it could lead to communal violence."

A priest found two damaged statues in the street on June 13.

A statue of Saint Michael the Archangel had its head missing while one of Mary Help of Christians was damaged and placed upside down, said Salesian Father Bokkala Rayappa.

The incident occurred in the early hours of the morning so nobody heard anything, Father Rayappa said.

Parishioners found a saffron flag associated with Hindu hardline groups near one of the statues, he said.

The parish informed the police, who came and put the statues back on their pedestals.

Father Rayappa said the police investigation was "very shoddy." They arrested a worker the parish had sacked recently.

Parishioners staged a peace rally in the aftermath of the incident.
 
   
   
  Churches welcome lifting of blockade in Manipur
  By Thomas Kent, Kohima

CHURCH people in the Northeast have welcomed the suspension of a two-month road blockade by Naga tribal groups in Manipur state.

The Naga Students Federation (NSF) stopped its blockade on June 15 following appeals from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Naga groups had blocked two highways that link Manipur, a hilly, landlocked state, to the rest of India, since April 12.

The blockade led to huge increases in prices of essential commoditiess such as food and medicine.

The Naga groups intensified their blockade on May 6 when two students were killed in police shooting at Mao Gate, one of the entry points to Manipur.

Some Church leaders had appealed for the blockades to end.

The Nagaland Baptist Church Council had asked the students twice to stop their action on humanitarian grounds, said council president Reverend Khari Longchar.

He said the students were upset after the Manipur government prevented them from attending a meeting in the hill districts. The government also barred a Naga leader from visiting his ancestral village in Manipur.

Church people conveyed the students' displeasure to the Manipur chief minister, who apologized to the students, Reverend Longchar said.

Reverend Prim Vaiphei welcomed the NSF's "positive response" to the Churches' appeal. Ending the blockade is necessary for "peaceful coexistence" in the region, said the president of the All Manipur Christian Organization.

The Manipur government had approached his group for help to end the blockade.

"We are praying that there will be no further confrontation and the groups can resolve their differences through dialogue," Reverend Vaiphei told ucanews.com

However, the All Naga Students Association of Manipur said it would continue its blockade until the government invalidates recently held local council elections in hill districts.
 
   
   
  Church leaders deny exposing sex scandals
  By T.S. Thomas and Philip Mathew, Bangalore

CHURCH leaders in the Indian state of Karnataka say they had nothing to do with uncovering sex scandals involving a Hindu seer after a hardliner accused a "Christian lobby" of the expose.

"It is false and malicious propaganda," Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore, who heads the Catholic Church in Karnataka, told ucanews.com on June 15.

Pramod Muthalik, head of the hardline Sri Rama Sene (army of Lord Rama) Hindu group, had earlier told the media that Nithyananda's escapades had been publicised by Christian missioners.

The Hindu seer, aged 33, founded the Life Bliss Foundation and Dhyanapeetham (throne of meditation) located outside Bangalore.

He was arrested after sting operations by television stations exposed sex scandals in his ashram. The Hindu religious leader was also accused of criminal intimidation, financial irregularities and cheating.

The Karnataka High Court on June 13 released Nithyananda on bail on condition that he did not continue religious preaching.

The same day Muthalik visited Nithyananda at his ashram and later told the media that Christian missioners conspired to malign the Hindu spiritual leader.

Archbishop Moras said the allegation as provocative, insinuating and derogatory. "Such baseless allegations against the Christian community are intended to create communal disharmony and distrust," he said.

Muthalik has no credibility even among Hindus, so people should not take his statements seriously, said Church of South India pastor Reverend Vincent Rajkumar, director of the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society.

Muthalik's group has been accused of attacks against churches and Christian missioners in Karnataka. The group also attacked women in a bar in Mangalore last year.
 
   
   
  Sri Lankan doctor reveals child abuse cases
  By ucanews.com reporter, Chilaw

A DOCTOR in Sri Lanka revealed yesterday that six girls below the age of 10 have been brought to his hospital recently, all of them raped by their fathers.

He said that no family's home in the country can be considered safe from child abuse.

Doctor H.M.P. Herath made the revelation to a conference on child abuse, sexual harassment and drug abuse, in Marawila, Sri Lanka on June 15.

Parish priest Father Felix Colombage told the conference that "drugs, alcohol and people forsaking their responsibilities and religions are piling sin upon sin."

He attributes the situation to the war in Sri Lanka, where "cruelty and corruption almost boggled the mind." Since then, parents have been forced to leave children at home while they work and many mothers have taken Middle East domestic jobs.

Against this background, drug and alcohol abuse in coastal areas such as Marawila are increasing.

"Parents are lacking in knowledge on these issues," said Kanthi Asoka, a senior probation officer, who also confirmed that drug addiction was the highest in coastal towns. "Parents should change their life styles and be an example. Consuming alcohol and cigarettes and indecent behavior are not good values to teach children."

The conference was organized by the St. Mary's Elders Society, a group that promotes the value of senior citizens and draws on their knowledge and experience for social improvement.

"Child abuse, sexual harassment and drug abuse are pressing issues in Sri Lankan society which must be addressed," said its president Dayananda Wedamulla.
 
   
   
  Peace leads to love as ex-Tigers tie the knot
  By ucanews.com reporter, Vavuniya

FIFTY-THREE former Tamil Tiger soldiers in rehabilitation camps in Sri Lanka's north were married in Catholic and Hindu religious at the weekend.

Father Anthony Sebamalai of Mannar diocese conducted a wedding ceremony for 12 Catholic couples at Vavuniya's Pompeimadhu Rehabilitation Center on June 13. The 41 Hindu couples underwent Hindu religious rites.

"The new era of peace is also ringing in a time of romance and love," said Rehabilitation Commissioner Brigadier Sudantha Ranasinghe.

Numerous requests from the couples to be married resulted in the recent wedding ceremonies, he said.

Father Sebamalai said he was happy to marry the 12 Catholic couples and help "give them a new life in accordance with the Catholic faith."

Priests and nuns had conducted marriage preparation classes for these couples prior to the weddings, said Vicar General Father Anthony Victor Sosai.

The government will provide the newly-weds with financial and other assistance to help them get started in life, said Ranasinghe. They will be given temporary homes while still undergoing rehabilitation, he added.

"Once they complete the rehabilitation process, they will be allowed to integrate into the community."

About 400 people attended the recent wedding ceremonies in which each couple could invite up to 10 relatives.

Member of Parliament Namal Rajapaksa, son of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and Bollywood star Vivek Oberoi, who was in Sri Lanka to rebuild a school destroyed by the civil war, acted as witnesses.

Some 12,000 former Tamil Tiger soldiers are now facing charges or undergoing rehabilitation after the 26-year civil war ended in May last year.
 
   
   
  Mass weddings unite Gujarat tribal groups
  By Fatima Tanveer, Ahmedabad

BRIDES and grooms, each from a tribal group different from their partner, were married in a mass wedding ceremony in the Indian state of Gujarat recently, breaking an age-old custom of marrying only within clans.

Politicians exploit tribal divisions for their own selfish ends, said Jesuit Father Stanny Jebamalai, director of Shakti Trust, a Catholic group in Gujarat that conducted the program.

The priest said the aim of the event in which 29 couple married was to unite tribal people.

"What was significant about the weddings was that the brides and bridegrooms came from different tribal groups," he said.

The ceremony took place at Songadh, a tribal-dominated region some 450 kilometers from Ahmedabad, the state's commercial capital, on June 3.

The couples, from four clans, came from three districts of Gujarat and one district of neighboring Maharashtra state.

Father Jebamalai said it was the first time that people from different clans gave away their children in marriage to people outside their own groups.

He was initially unsure if the plan would succeed. "I was very surprised when 29 couples came forward."

Tribal people are among the poorest in the region, said the priest, who has worked for years to preserve tribal unity and identity in the state.

They have maintained "strict social regimentation" for centuries and this has divided them politically and regionally, obstructing their socio-economic advancement, he added.

Politicians exploit the tribal divisions for their own selfish ends, he added.

Thousands of tribal people attended the wedding program to encourage the couples, including Tushar Chaudhary, a junior federal minister in charge of tribal affairs. The tribal minister praised the Catholic group's efforts to strengthen social unity among his people.
 
   
   
  Indian legal changes make divorce easier
  By Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

AN amendment to India's national marriage laws, making it easier for Hindus to divorce, has been hailed by activists and religious leaders.

The amendment to the 1955 Marriage Act, passed on June 10, adds "irretrievable breakdown of marriage" as a possible ground for divorce.

Previously, divorce was granted on grounds including adultery, cruelty and desertion. Under the new amendment, a couple can seek divorce on the basis that either or both spouses do not want to live with each other and the relationship has ended with no hope of resumption.

"It is a good move. If both parties can't live together, they should be granted a divorce," said Jyotsna Chhatterjee of the Church of North India.

Chhatterjee is also Director and Secretary of the Protestant Joint Women's Program, which spearheaded a campaign to amend the Christian Personal Law in 2001. She said the amendment should be added to that law too, as women often suffer because they are forced to continue relationships.

The change was also welcomed by Hindu activist Swamy Agnivesh, who said it will reduce unnecessary delays. Paramjit Singh Sarna, President of a Sikh body in Delhi, added his support but said that couples should be given time to reconsider their decision.

The act is applicable only to Hindus in India; other laws such as the Christian Personal Law apply to other religions.
 
   
   
  Jesuits slam tribal region dam plans
  By ucanews.com reporter, Ahmedabad

TENS of thousands of tribals will be forced out from their homes if construction on several dam projects in Gujarat proceeds, Jesuit activists warn.

"This is another attempt to push indigenous people to the periphery by grabbing their land and houses to construct big dams," Jesuit human rights activist Father Cedric Prakash, who directs an NGO in Gujarat's commercial capital Ahmedabad said.

"More than 30,000 tribals displaced by the Sardar Sarovar dam over the river Narmada in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh are yet to be rehabilitated and construction of new dams would lead to further displacement of tribals," the priest added.

The government says damming the Ambika, Par and Tapi rivers in Gujarat's southern region will provide irrigation water to the Saurashtra and Kutch regions.

Meanwhile, drinking water for Mumbai in Maharashtra state can be supplied by building dams over the Damanganga and Pinjal rivers which flow through the two states.

An agreement for the projects was signed by the two governments in May.

The project sites are currently populated by indigenous people with their own language and cultural identity.

Other activists say the projects will not benefit the tribals at all.

"Compensation is unlikely because most of the land is claimed by the state government's forest department," said Father Stanny Jebamalai, who heads the Shakti Trust in Songadh in Tapi district.

Jesuit Father Xavier Manjooran accused authorities of trying to take water away from area already in need.

Dangs, a tribal dominated district, already has a water shortage so why build "big dams to take water to other areas?" he asked.

"Small reservoirs and check dams can be constructed without uprooting people to conserve water," said Father Manjooran, who also provides legal aid to local tribal people.
 
   
   
  Orissa Christians face ongoing Hindu attacks
  By Ajay Kumar Singh, Bhubaneswar

HINDU fundamentalists have attacked Christians in two different areas of the Indian state of Orissa over the past week, priests have told ucanews.com.

"We cannot even have prayers, gatherings and meals together. The attackers must be taken to task," Father Alphonse Toppo, vicar general of Sambalpur diocese said.

Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak of Berhampur also condemned the attacks.

"Terrorizing people is unacceptable. The government must apply stringent measures."

On June 9, a group of Hindu radicals beat three visiting Christian pastors following a ceremony in Deogarh district.

Biranchi Kispata and his wife, a recently converted tribal Christian couple, had organized the thanksgiving event to celebrate the recovery of their sick child.

But when police arrived on the scene, they detained the pastors. They were released after explaining the purpose of their visit.

The pastors were "not keen to file a report against the attackers," Lamuel Pattnaik, one of the clergymen, told ucanews.com on June 11.

Biranchi and his wife also said that they would remain Christians and not file a case against the offenders as they have forgiven them.

In a second incident on June 7, Hindu fundamentalists attacked dalit Christian, Bhagat Bivar, who embraced Christianity four years ago, and burned his copies of bible.

Bivar lodged a complaint against five persons and police have arrested four of them.
 
   
   
  School rejects full blame for student's suicide
  By Julian S Das, Kolkata

A PROTESTANT school in Kolkata at the center of a storm following the suicide of a student who suffered corporal punishment says it deeply regrets the teenager's death.

But attempts to hold the school "entirely responsible" for the death were "misplaced," it said.

"We deeply regret the loss of a young life," said a June 11 press statement from La Martiniere for Boys, a prestigious school managed by the Church of North India.

Rouvanjit Rawla, an eight grader, committed suicide on Feb. 12, four days after his principal caned him.

Corporal punishment was banned in West Bengal state schools three years ago and the death has sparked demands for action against the school.

A June 9 visit to the school by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, found it was still using corporal punishment.

"The idea has always been to inculcate a sense of values among them," the school said to justify what it described was a need to correct and help children.

Other students at the school seemed surprised at the controversy.

Twelfth grader, Krishnarup Chakravarty, described the principal as "a disciplinarian who combines strictness with concern." He has introduced extracurricular activities to nurture student talents, Chakravarty said.

Rawla must have committed a "serious" offence to have warranted such a punishment, said Satanik Pal.

Meanwhile, state Education Minister Partho De said on June 11 that the government will introduce measures ensure schools stick to the ban on corporal punishment.
 
   
   
  Bishops ask ministers not to create divide
  By ucanews.com reporter, Kochi

KERALA'S Catholic bishops have thrown the ball back into the politicians' court, urging leaders to say nothing that could disturb communal harmony in the southern Indian state.

"Some statements from political leaders can shatter the harmony that prevails here," Bishop Joshua Mar Ignathios, president of the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council, said at the end of a three-day meeting on July 10.

The state's Marxist chief minister said on June 3 that Christian and Muslim religious leaders may be inciting sectarianism among their people.

Religious minority groups in Kerala have always respected Hindus, the largest community in the state, the Church official said. "But some statements from political leaders are trying to open up a communal divide. It's most unfortunate," the Syro-Malankara prelate said.

Allegations that Catholic bishops had mediated to merge two factions of a Christian-dominated political party were baseless, he said.

However, the bishops continue to attract criticism. Thomas Isaac, the state's finance minister, said his party believes that some Church leaders are trying to promote Christian communalism in the state.

The Kerala Catholic Bishop's Council comprises bishops from the Latin, Syro- Malabar and Syro-Malankara ritual Churches that make up the Catholic Church in India. A total of 34 attended the Kochi gathering.
 
   
   
  Goa rapped for failing Muslims over burials
  By Bosco de Souza Eremita, Panaji

THE National Commission for Minorities has slammed the Goa government's "failure" to grant a burial ground for Muslims in a Catholic-dominated area.

"It is a clear case of discrimination," the federal body that looks after the interests of India's religious minority groups said in a report released on June 9.

Muslim groups in Margao, Goa's commercial capital, have been demanding land for a kabrastan (burial place) for the past two decades.

"The state government has failed completely to carry out its statutory duty and constitutional obligations for the allotment of suitable land for a Muslim kabrastan even after passing a resolution in the legislative assembly in 1999," the report noted.

The federal commission called the delay "harassment and illegal deprivation" and called on the state government to complete the land acquisition process within six months.

The government also has to submit an action-taken-report every month. If not, the state chief secretary has to explain why, the commission said.

Its directive follows a petition submitted by Abdul Matin Daud Carol, general secretary of Masjide-Gaousiya, a Goa-based Muslim organization.

The issue came to a head during Goa and Daman archdiocese's Mission Congress in February 2009. A Muslim leader alleged Catholic civic authorities in the state often discriminated against him because of his religion.

He also accused a Catholic-dominated village council in Margao of passing a resolution barring the selling of land to Muslims.

In Goa, Muslims account for only 7 per cent of its 1.3 million population, whereas Christians, mostly Catholics, number 26 per cent. The rest are Hindus.
 
   
   
  Church rails at Bhopal committee 'eye wash'
  By Saji Thomas, Bhopal

NEW government committees to address the fallout from the Bhopal disaster have been dismissed as "eye wash" by local Church leaders.

"This is a mere political gimmick, applying balm to the wounds of the victims rather than treating the disease," said Father Anand Muttungal, spokesperson for the Catholic church in Madhya Pradesh.

The federal government announced on June 9 that a new ministerial group, headed by Home Minister P Chidambaram, will examine the relief and rehabilitation measures for those affected by the world's worst industrial disaster.

At state level, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan announced a new five-member legal committee to study ways to take the case to a higher court.

These moves come in response to widespread condemnation of the lenient sentences that were handed to the eight men found guilty. Each was given two years imprisonment and fined 100,000 rupees (US$2,200).

Father Muttungal said the Church wants both the state and federal governments to address the real problems and provide victims with treatment, compensation and the infrastructure for a decent living. Governments have been shirking their responsibilities ever since the tragedy stuck in 1984, he says.

However, Carmelite Father Denny George, a High Court lawyer, pointed out that "legally, there is very little the governments can do in this case." He added that the accused can only be tried according to the laws that existed when the incident took place.
 
   
   
  Displaced Mao Naga start heading home
  By Thomas Kent, Kisama

NAGA tribal people have begun returning home, a month after violence forced them to flee their homes in several villages in Manipur state.

Conditions in their villages had improved, Lokho Ashuli, an elderly member of the Mao, one of 30 Naga sub-tribes, told ucanews.com.

Hundreds, mostly women and children, fled after two boys were killed and 82 people wounded by police in Mao Gate, a village in the Senapati district of Manipur bordering Nagaland state on May 6.

Police opened fire after failing to break up Naga protesters.

The protest was against the Manipur government's decision not to allow a Naga leader to visit his ancestral village.

Though Naga people have a separate state, Nagaland, many tribes are spread across other states in northeastern India, including Manipur.

Manipur opposes a leading Naga group's demand for Naga-dominated districts in Manipur to be ceded to Nagaland.

After the violence Mao Naga people fled to Nagaland and stayed in schools and churches.

Some later moved to Kisama, a Naga heritage village near Kohima, Nagaland's capital.

Now that federal forces have replaced the Manipur police in their villages, "We can now return home in peace." Ashuli said.

Christian and civil groups looked after us during "our time of distress," he added.

Baptist pastor Reverend Zelhou Keyho, who teaches at a local theology seminary, warned the returning people, most of them Christians, not to lose faith in God even in times of unrest.

Naga people have faced hard times for decades, but have kept their fortitude and faith in God intact, he reminded them. "God has not done with the Nagas yet," he added.

Prayers have united the Naga people, said Sister Katini Lahona, a Mao tribal who helped many of the displaced.
 
   
   
  Thousands denounce 'meddling' bishops
  By ucanews.com reporter, Kochi

ABOUT 2,000 people marched through the streets of Kochi in southern India this week to protest against "meddling" in politics by Kerala's bishops which they say could lead to communal clashes.

The protesters from the lay Christian group Joint Christian Council converged on the Pastoral Orientation Centre on June 8 where a meeting of the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council (KCBC) was underway.

"We are against bishops meddling in politics or mixing religion with politics," JCC general secretary Felix J. Pullooden told ucanews.com on June 9.

Christians in the state have come under pressure after bishops allegedly facilitated the merger of two factions of a Christian-dominated political party, he said.

"Their actions and statements have led to communal polarization in the state. If the trend continues there will be communal clashes soon," Pullooden warned.

But KCBC spokesperson Father Stephen Alathara denied the charges as baseless and politically motivated.

"Church leaders and bishops have always taken a stand for communal harmony," the priest said. Church leaders have never engaged in party politics but they would protest when their community's interests are threatened, he said.

The protest was an attempt to sow confusion among laity and gain publicity, he said.

Two factions of the Kerala Congress, a regional party with a strong Christian-base and led by two Catholic politicians, decided in early May to merge.

Opponents to the merger alleged that Catholic bishops had helped bring the two factions together.

Kerala's Marxist chief minister recently accused Christian and Muslim leaders of promoting minority communalism in the state.

Many view his statement as an attempt to cultivate Hindus, who form 56 per cent of the state's 32 million people.

Muslims are the next largest religious group at 24 per cent, while 19 per cent are Christian.
 
   
   
  Church to support Bhopal verdict appeal
  By Saji Thomas, Bhopal

THE Church is to back a fight by Bhopal disaster victims to overturn a court verdict and demand stronger sentences against eight senior Union Carbide employees, a spokesman has said.

"The Church will provide any help, if required," Father Anand Muttungal, spokesperson of the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh state, told ucanews.com on June 9.

A gas leak in Bhopal on Dec. 3, 1984, killed more than 20,000 people and affected 550,000 others in what was the world's worst industrial disaster.

On June 7, a court convicted the eight employees and sentenced them to two years imprisonment. They were also fined 100,000 rupees (US$2,124) each.

Abdul Jabbar, who coordinates a forum for the gas victims, said his group has decided to appeal the verdict in the state High Court. "We want stringent action against all those involved," he said.

The group will demand trying the culprits for "culpable homicide" which gets a maximum ten years in jail.

The convicted employees were tried for causing death by negligence.

The group also wants the extradition of principle defendant Warren Anderson, who was Carbide's chairman at the time of the disaster, Jabbar said. The Bhopal court declared him an absconder after he failed to appear for the trial.

Father Muttungal said the Church also wants the government to push for Anderson's extradition.

"The Church has been with the victims since the tragedy struck and will continue to be with them in their endeavors for justice," he said.

Robert Antony, a former Carbide employee and a victim, said he has lost hope of getting justice. He dismissed the recent verdict as a "mockery of justice."

Another Catholic victim, Roy John Thatta, called a further legal battle futile since the lenient verdict came more than 25 years after the disaster.
 
   
   
  Ahmadis on silent protest after massacre
 
By ucanews.com reporter

THE Ahmadi community says it will not retaliate or accept any government compensation after the killing of 96 members in recent attacks.

"We do not plan any demonstrations, hunger strikes or anti-government agitations -- we've never had such a tradition," said Ahmadi spokesperson Saleem-ud-din.

"Our matter rests with God and we shall continue our silent protest."

Ninety-six people died and 87 other were injured on May 28 during two simultaneous attacks on Ahmadi places of worship in Lahore.

The government has so far offered no compensation to families of the victims or for damages to the buildings.

The Ahmadis are "infidels" and cannot be regarded as brothers of Muslims unless they re-convert to Islam, said Wifaq ul Madaris Al Arabia Pakistan, the largest federation of Islamic seminaries in Pakistan, in a June 8 press statement.

"The level of intolerance has reached extremely dangerous levels," Saleem-ud-din told ucanews.com "Even those politicians who express sympathy for us are being criticized by hardline [Muslim] clerics."

Meanwhile an elderly Ahmadi was stabbed to death on May 31 in Narowal, about 100 kilometers northeast of Lahore. Local police quoted residents as saying that the assailant had threatened to spare no Ahmadi.

Many Muslims consider the Ahmadis a heretical Islamic sect.

They were declared a non-Muslim minority in Pakistan in 1974 and all forms of Ahmadi worship were criminalized in 1984.
 
   
   
  Cricket brings Muslims and Hindus together
  By Fatima Tanveer, Ahmedabad

CATHOLICS have welcomed a Gujarat police initiative to bring Hindus and Muslims together on the cricket field but some say more is needed to remove underlying sectarian pressures.

Police in the western Indian state organized the first inter-faith match recently in Vadodara, a city where there have been frequent clashes between Muslims and Hindus in the past.

Father Cedric Prakash, a Jesuit who directs a human rights center in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's commercial hub, welcomed such initiatives and said they should be encouraged if they help reduce sectarian tension.

But without any attempt to bring the two communities closer at grassroots level, they were just "cosmetic exercises," the priest told ucanews.com on June 8.

"Does a Hindu welcome a Muslim in a locality populated by Hindus?" asked the priest who was among the few people to work among victims of Hindu-Muslim clashes in 2002.

Muslims are not allowed to buy houses in Hindu areas in Ahmedabad and other cities in the state, the priest said.

Authorities should check such "endemic social diseases" by inter-mixing communities so that they get to know each other better, Father Prakash said.

He challenged police to restore "broken hearts" by repairing the dargah (Muslim tombs) destroyed during the 2002 clashes.

"I do not believe a few inter-religious cricket tournaments will bring about a change of heart among people," said another Jesuit, Father Xavier Manjooran.

Authorities and police have done little to bring changes in people's attitude, he added.

Vadodara diocese's vicar general Father Joel R. Pais welcomed the police initiative, saying it would help bridge the "wide gap" between Muslims and Hindus.

Cricket matches offer opportunities for young people to interact with each other and remove mistrust, he said.
 
   
   
  ILO sets standards for domestic workers' rights
  By Varghese Theckanath, Geneva

THE International Labour Conference of the ILO has overridden opposition from Bangladesh, India, Arab countries and employers to adopt a convention on the rights of domestic workers around the world.

Opponents to the measure tried to have the document limited to a non-binding "recommendation."

Unexpected support for the convention came from China, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

"This is a major victory," said Sister Jeanne Devos from India's National Domestic Workers Movement (NDWM), which has more than 3.5 million members.

The decision showed that the international community has recognized domestic workers as people with rights comparable to other workers, she said.

The official opposition to a convention showed the scale of problems facing workers and their advocates, she said.

The new convention was passed at the ILO's June 2-18 meeting in Geneva, attended by more than 2,500 delegates from member countries, trade unions and employer's confederations.

It provides for freedom of association, fair terms of employment and decent working and living conditions, easy access to dispute settlement procedures, regulation of employment agencies and protection of migrant domestic workers.

The agenda also included the adoption of two recommendations -- one on decent work for domestic workers and the other on HIV/AIDS and the world of work.

The conference's decision "is only the beginning of hard bargaining for the inclusion of substantive provisions to protect the rights of domestic workers," said Halimah Yacob, deputy secretary-general of Singapore's National Trades Union Congress.

She praised the defeat of the resolution for a recommendation.
 
   
   
  Bhopal verdict 'shakes people's faith in justice'
  By Saji Thomas, Bhopal, Jose Kavi, New Delhi

THE court verdict in the Bhopal gas tragedy was "a crime," a "travesty of justice" and has shaken people's faith in the justice system, Church leaders in India said today.

Yesterday's verdict that came 25 years after the tragedy showed an "indifference to the suffering of the poor and gullible," says Father Babu Joseph, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India.

A trial court in Bhopal found eight former senior employees of Union Carbide's Indian subsidiary guilty of the world's worst industrial disaster sentencing them to two years imprisonment and imposing fines of 100,000 rupees (US$2,200) each.

Warren Anderson, the American head of the company at the time, fled the country soon after the disaster and now lives in New York.

Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur says such delays and the lenient verdicts would force people to look to criminals to get justice. He called for immediate change in the system to try criminal cases.

The prelate and Father Anand Muttungal, spokesperson of the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh, want a new law to deal with such disasters.

Bhopal is the capital of the central Indian state.

The federal and state governments were not serious about getting justice for the victims, according to Father Muttungal.

The main drawback, he added, was the failure to try the Union Carbide chairman Anderson.

Brother Mani Mekkunnel, national secretary of the Conference of Religious India, says the legal process in the case was "travesty of justice."

"We feel humiliated by such a failed process of seeking justice," said the Montfort Brother who directs the conference of more than 125,000 Catholic Religious in the country.

Brother Mekkunnel also said many Religious were involved in relief and rehabilitation programs among the survivors during the past 25 years.

The verdict gave the impression that the law either lost its course or "did not know how to handle such a complex and powerful case."

The verdict, he says, is not the "end of the story," but a beginning of a new awakening to find justice and make those responsible for the tragedy accountable.

Father Joseph agreed and said India requires a better industrial policy that focuses on workers' safety and security, especially when many transnational firms are setting up units in the country.
 
   
   
  Rights group exposes child mining scandal
  By Jose Kavi, New Delhi

AT least 70,000 children, mainly from Bangladesh and Nepal, are working in hazardous and inhumane conditions in mines in the Jaintia Hills area of the Christian-majority state of Meghalaya in northeastern India.

An international human rights group and an Indian NGO have urged national and international bodies to investigate.

India has many mechanisms to address child labor but they are ineffective in the Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya, Kazuko Ito, secretary general of Human Rights Now (HRN), a Tokyo-based international human rights group.

Meghalaya comprises three hills districts -- Garo, Jaintia and Khasi.

An HRN team collaborated with the Impulse NGO Network, a Meghalaya-based NGO, to study the child labor situation in the Jaintia Hills from May 31-June 2. The team visited three coal mines and interviewed 45 people, including child workers.

Ito said they found most children below 14. A 12-year-old boy told them he has worked there since he was eight.

The children also work in extreme danger with few safety measures. They cut coal in deep underground holes with little air supply.

Ito said her team felt suffocated and made a hasty retreat after going some 1000 meters into a coalmine hole.

The team quoted some elders as saying middlemen duped the children promising easy money for simple tasks.

Hasina Kharbhih of the Impulse NGO Network alleged that the mine owners are also guilty of extrajudicial killings as they lock up children in closed mines as punishment and many die.

She said her group has worked in the Hills for the past five years and had reported the matter to the federal Social Welfare Department and National Human Rights Commission, but so far no action has been taken.

The NGOs want international monitoring bodies such as Commission of Inquiry of ILO and UN Special Rapportuers to look into child trafficking and extrajudicial killings in the Jaintia Hills.

They also want the Indian government to sign a bilateral agreement with Nepal and Bangladesh to prevent child trafficking and prosecute offenders.

The groups also want international business communities to stop buying coal from Meghalaya until the mine owners stop using child labor.
 
   
   
  Jesuits hope to spread the good news with manga
  By Anne Nigli, Kolkata

KOLKATA Jesuits organized a recent workshop on the Japanese comic form of manga drawing, which they say has potential as a Bible-teaching tool.

The stylistic and attractive Japanese art form is "an excellent means" to evangelize among illiterate Indians as it has "enormous potential" to teach the Bible, said Father Joseph Pymbellikunnel, director of Chitrabani (light and sound), the communication center of Calcutta archdiocese.

Japanese use the art form to teach various topics, apart from mere entertainment, said Japanese manga artist Yukichi Yamamatsu who conducted the workshop.

He said he wanted Indians to explore ways to use the Japanese art form for education. Manga can express easily what words fail to communicate, he added.

The workshop is the first of its kind in India and the response was "overwhelming," said Indian artist Bharath Murthy, who assisted in the program.

In India, only children read comics unlike in Japan where all ages enjoy them, he added.

But it wasn't just the style of drawing that was decidedly "un-Indian" about the workshop.

The 50-odd participants came to the sessions on time and hardly talked or took lunch breaks during the six-day program, Father Pymbellikunnel said.

"It was so alien to our Indian nature to see everyone, including the youngest eight-year-old, working silently, glued to their seats."
 
   
   
  Gujjars of Kashmir ask PM for special package
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, JUNE 6 -- Ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's scheduled visit to Srinagar on Monday, Gujjars of Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday appealed to the Prime Minister to come out with a comprehensive socio-economic package for the tribal community. They want resolution of all tribal issues that have been pending with the Union government. This includes opening of a tribal university, inclusion of Gojri in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution and conduct of a special census of nomadic Gujjars and Bakerwals.

"Gujjars had been demanding a tribal university in the state even before 2007 when the first-ever national tribal university was established in Madhya Pradesh", said Dr. Javaid Rahi, secretary, Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation (TRCF).

He said that the demand is still pending with the Centre. "We demand early resolution. The university, if established, will promote studies and research in tribal art, culture, tradition, language, custom, medicinal systems, forest-based economic activities, including special studies in flora and fauna and advancements in technologies related to natural resources of tribal areas of the state".

Dr. Rahi said that the case for inclusion of Gojri language among the official languages of India has been pending with the Union government since 1991. This has been adversely affecting the development of tribal culture of the Gujjars. Urging the Prime Minister to resolve the issue, he said "the tribal language deserves more constitutional safeguards. It should be included in the list of official languages of India, on merit. Being one of the oldest and ancient languages of South Asia, it requires urgent preservation and indispensable propagations on priority".

The Foundation demanded a special census of nomadic and shelter-less Gujjars and Bakerwals of state, who are presently under seasonal migration along with their livestock in the upper reaches of the northwestern Himalayas. It also demanded a special census survey of Gujjars with a correct enumeration of their tribe under the "shelter-less category".

Dr. Rahi said Gujjars had been demanding the raising of a full-fledged 'Gujjar Regiment' in the Indian Army on the pattern of the Jat, Raput and Dogra Regiments since 1947. "This demand is also pending with the Union government".

The Foundation added, "lakhs of nomadic Gujjars and Bakerwals in the state are landless, shelter-less, illiterate and without health facilities. They deserve a special rehabilitation package".

He added that in all states, the Scheduled Tribe communities are rehabilitated on forest land as per the Forest Act 2006, passed by Parliament and the same should be extended to the state as well.

The Foundation urged the Prime Minister to enhance the Centrally-sponsored tribal sub-plan to empower Gujjars in terms of financial resources. It wanted formulation of a new scheme so that this institution functions properly in each and every field for the development of Gujjars.

The Foundation stressed the need for a task force for speedy implementation of developmental schemes in Gujjar-populated areas and suitable market facilities for sale of livestock, milk products and introduction of cattle insurance schemes for Banharas and Bakerwals. The community also demanded a share in employment in the Central government. It asked for a special employment drive for Gujjars in the state.
 
   
   
  Korea logs world's highest suicide rate
  By Paul Hwang, Seoul

SOUTH KOREA has the highest suicide rate in the world, according to a Korean National Police Agency report released yesterday.

The number of suicides in 2009 was 14,579, a rise of 18.8 from 12,270 in 2008, says the report.

This means the suicide rate in 2009 was 29.9 for every 100,000 persons. The total population in South Korea is 48,746,693.

The figures are even higher than those released recently in the OECD Factbook 2010.

That data showed 21.5 suicides out of every 100,000 persons, making the suicide rate the highest out of the 31 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries.

Japan came close at 19.1 suicides per 100,000 people.

According to the police report, the most frequent cause of suicide was "psychological/psychiatric" problems, at 28.28 percent, followed by "physical/disease" problems at 21.88 percent and economic problems at 16.17 percent.

People older than 61 were the most vulnerable to suicide, at 31.65, followed by those in the 41-50 age group at 19.0 percent. Those in the 31-40 age group made up 17.2 percent of suicides while those in the 51-60 age group made up 16.65 percent.
 
   
   
  Asia looms large at UK missionary meeting
  By Mike MacLachlan, London

DELEGATES from Asia are prominent at a major missionary conference that got down to work today in the Scottish city of Edinburgh.

There are 29 delegates from the continent among about 300 from more than 60 countries and 50 Christian denominations. Ten are from Korea and others from China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

"Asia will be an important topic in many of the sessions," said Jasmin Adam, spokeswoman for the conference. "One of our keynote speakers is Dr Lee Young-hoon of the Yoido Full Gospel Church, Seoul."

Lee was expected to speak on June 3 about the activities and mission of his Church during a session on Mission Worldwide, which will consist of case studies of various aspects of missionary work.

The first plenary session, Mission in Long Perspective, to be addressed by Dana Robert of Boston University School of Theology, was also scheduled for June 3.

The conference marks the centenary of one held in Edinburgh in 1910 which gave birth to, among other things, the National Missionary Council in India, which in turn became the National Christian Council, which is still the ecumenical forum for Protestant and Orthodox churches in the country.

The 1910 conference was also the inspiration for the merging of Protestant denominations in South India, now, along with the Anglicans, the Church of South India.

This year's conference will concentrate on the changes in the 100 years since 1910, when missionary work was almost entirely Northern-based. One discussion this year will be on South-North missionary activity.

Also among the themes are to:

Create a new vision and spirituality
Encourage networks and alliances across regions
Give guidelines on mission practice and identify priorities

One significant change since 1910 is that while that conference was entirely Protestant, this year's delegates also include representatives of the Orthodox, Evangelical, Pentecostal and Catholic Churches, including Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
 
   
   
  Gujarat tries to muzzle rights lobby, priests say
  By ucanews.com reporter, Ahmedabad

GUJARAT church leaders have condemned the arrest of two activists as a move to stifle opposition to human rights violations in the western Indian state.

The government "is trying to link human rights activists with Maoists" and terrorists "without any evidence," says Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash, who directs a human rights center in Ahmedabad, the state's commercial hub.

On June 1, a day after the activists' arrest, the priest made his center available as a platform for several NGOs to brief the media on government "excesses".

Earlier, police had arrested Srinivas Sattaya Kurapati and his wife Hansa, both working with two different NGOs.

Activists say the arrests happened despite the state having no record of Maoist activities.

The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people's party) headed by Chief Minister Narendra Modi now rules the state.

Father Prakash says that NGOs in Gujarat have countered Modi's "fascist" approach to the sectarian riots in 2002 that killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims.

"He is now creating a ghost of Maoism to target human rights groups," Father Prakash alleged.

The government has already arrested 12 NGO activists for alleged Maoist links, the priest said.

"We will defend them," he added.

Social service society manager Father Xavier Manjooran noted that the activists were arrested after they questioned state violence against tribal people.

A third Jesuit, Father Joseph Appavoo, echoed the comments, accusing Chief Minister Modi of trying to silence dissent so that he could continue his agenda of violence against tribal people and religious minorities.
 
   
   
  Church 'failed the test' over Orissa violence
  By Christopher Joseph, New Delhi

THe Church's response to the anti-Christian violence in Orissa was inadequate, a priest from the state says.

The massacre offered Church agencies and groups a golden opportunity to test their capabilities in a challenging situation, but most of them failed the test, Father Ajay Singh said.

Lack of funds, insensitivity to the crisis and poor coordination all compounded the problem, Father Singh, director of social service programs for the Cuttuck-Bhubaneswar archdiocese in the Kandhamal district, says.

The Church in India had never experienced a calamity of such magnitude, the priest told ucanews.com. But it still has not managed to evolve a system to face similar challenges in future.

Kandhamal was the epicenter of the violence that killed around 90 people and displaced 50,000 and the misery continues, with hundreds still without shelter as monsoon season approaches.

If Hindu radicals succeed in making Kandhamal a laboratory to test their hatred against religious minorities, "Christians should try to make it a laboratory of our charity and service," Father Singh says.

The priest is urgently raising funds to help house the displaced Kandhamal Christians.
 
   
   
  Salesians rescue girls from illegal orphanage
  By Philip Mathew, Bangalore

A SALESIAN center has rescued 18 girls kept illegally in an orphanage run by the Protestant Church of South India in Bangalore.

The rescued children were from the northeastern states of Manipur and Assam, Gnana Prakash, coordinator of Bosco ChildLine, told ucanews.com on June 2.

They were sent to a home run by Karnataka state's Women and Child Development Department and will later be placed into the care of child welfare committees in their respective states, he added.

The orphanage, the New Life Center for Girls, housed some 60 girls but had no records on most of them, the Catholic layman said.

Some 50 girls were hospitalized last week with vomiting and diarrhea, prompting a human rights group to complain to the Karnataka State Human Rights Committee (SHRC) about the "unhealthy living conditions" in the home.

The SHRC mounted a raid and found the orphanage had no license. The home had also not provided the state Child Welfare Committee with any details on the girls.

The other 48 children are from Karnataka and many of them may be returned home since they still have parents, said Prakash.

The orphanage will immediately seek to meet legal requirements required by state authorities, said Church of South India pastor Reverend Nirmala Vasanth Kumar, who runs the home.

The Salesian center has worked for street and working children since 1984. On average it reaches out to some 3,500 children every year, helping them enjoy their childhood and strengthen their ties with their families.
 
   
   
  Survey a bleak picture for Catholic values
  By ucanews.com reporter, Ho Chi Minh City

A SOCIOLOGIST has concluded that "religious education is defeated by secular education," after a survey showed nearly 40 per cent of youths from Ho Chi Minh City are in favor of premarital sex, artificial contraception and fortune-telling.

Nor did they oppose abortion, divorce or viewing pornography, said Dominic Le Minh Tien who helped conduct the survey.

A near majority of respondents said they would even "abandon their faith if necessary," he added.

Young Catholics appear to be more influenced by society's materialistic and consumerist values than religious values, said Tien, 36, who teaches at a local university.

In other words, "religious education is defeated by secular education," he said.

Tien's group surveyed the faith life of 271 Catholics aged 18-29 from the parishes of Binh Hung, Cho Dui and Hanh Thong Tay in and around Ho Chi Minh City in March.

It found that 48.3 per cent of the young people would disregard Church teaching for their own benefit. A total of 22.5 per cent said they would identify themselves as Catholics only if it was favorable to them.

Surprisingly, the survey also revealed that a large portion, 73.4 per cent, of respondents attend Sunday Mass regularly. However, 33.5 per cent said they did so to avoid committing sin, while 24.5 per cent said they did so as a matter of habit.

Tien presented the survey findings to 300 college students, people with physical disabilities, migrant workers, priests and Religious at a May 29 workshop on youth concerns in Ho Chi Minh City.
 
   
   
  Keep sex education out of schools, bishops say
  By Roy Lagarde, Manila

TEACHING sex to children as young as 11 is inappropriate in schools and should be left to parents, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has said.

The bishops voiced their opposition after the Department of Education announced May 31 a sex education program to be implemented this academic year in both elementary and high schools.

The bishops are particularly concerned about the focus of the program, said CBCP spokesperson Monsignor Pedro Quitorio, noting that sex education proposals in the past focused more on the physical aspect instead of the values surrounding it.

"Students should be taught the right sex education ... not sexuality that focuses on the physical aspect but rather see sex as a gift from God," he said.

While schools may be entrusted with the formal education of children, the primary responsibility for raising children rests with the parents and guardians, Monsignor Quitorio insisted.

However, Education Secretary Mona Valisno said her department will pursue its implementation because "we really need this."

The measure, she said, is necessary to avoid unwanted pregnancies and to control the spread of sexually transmitted diseases that have now reached an alarming level because of a lack of awareness.

She pointed out that the education department will consult with Catholic bishops before classes begin to convince them about the necessity of the plan.
 
   
   
  Indian bishop denies forced conversions
  By ucanews.com reporter, Kohima

A CATHOLIC bishop in Arunachal Pradesh denies claims that some groups are forcibly converting Buddhists in the northeastern Indian state.

On May 21, two Buddhist groups in the Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh alleged groups associated with a faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim had engaged in forcible conversion practices.

A local community of Buddhist monks, the Indigenous Faith and Cultural Society of Arunachal Pradesh and Purbanchal Bhikkhu Sangha, wrote to the state's chief secretary to take immediate and necessary steps to prevent such activities.

Bishop P.K. George of Miao, whose diocese covers the district, denied the allegations following a meeting of Baptists, Revivalists and Catholics at his residence.

However, the Salesian bishop also noted that "if there were such forceful conversions, the district's deputy commissioner and superintendent of police will take care of them."

Bishop George said he suspects the allegation was a ploy by two sub tribes in the state who may be jealous of the progress of Chakma tribal settlers from Bangladesh.

Local people refuse to accept the settlers.

Several Chakma tribal people have voluntarily accepted Christianity, the bishop said.

Meanwhile, the National Socialist Council of Nagalim information and publicity wing also denied the allegation. It said "vested interests" may have misused the group's name.

The group described the allegations as a "smear campaign" to tarnish the group's image as it is currently engaged in discussion for greater autonomy for Naga people.

It said it believes in the freedom of religion and has no links with those forcing others to convert.
 
   
   
  Mangalore air crash survivor thanks God
  By Francis Rodrigues, Mangalore

SURVIVING tragedies seems to run in the D'Souza family.

Joel Pratap D'Souza, the youngest of three children in this Catholic family, was among eight survivors of the May 22 air crash in Mangalore that killed 158 people.

His father Joseph D'Souza was among four survivors from a boat that sank in the Arabian Sea with 14 people on board 26 years ago.

"Life is a mystery which no one can explain except God," Joseph told UCA News on May 30 sitting with his son in their hut in Vamanjoor, 10 kilometers from Mangalore, Karnataka state.

Joel escaped death by jumping out of a hole in the aircraft that appeared near his seat. "I jumped and three others fell on me," he recalled. He later spent five days in hospital after fracturing his spine and injuring his right knee.

Joel says his family believes providence saved him.

He said he didn't think he would see his family again as he prepared to jump from the aircraft. "Yet God wanted me to live on," he told UCA News on May 29.

Joel said he did not want to alarm his parents so he called his brother-in-law in Dubai, who broke the news to the family about his lucky escape.

His only regret was that he could not keep a promise to a traveling companion to drop him off home. "Unfortunately he died and his mother is inconsolable," he added.

Joel's father says God not only opened the aircraft near his son's seat but also kept Joel's presence of mind intact at a trying time. He said a Capuchin priest had visited the house the previous evening and prayed for the family.

Joel's strength of character has impressed Air India's chairman and managing director, Arvind Jadhav, who has offered him a job.
 
   
   
  Terror attacks leave Ahmadis reeling
  By UCAN reporter in Lahore

HEAPS of shoes and body parts can still be seen lying among ashes at one of two Ahmadi places of worship in Lahore, after armed people threw grenades and fired at congregations at Friday prayer.

The director of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan condemned the May 28 deadly attacks on his members.

"The terrorists belong to so-called religious groups, but are acting against the true teachings of Islam," Mirza Ghulam Ahmad told media on May 30.

"They have turned it into a horrible, violent and destructive religion."

Ninety-five people died and 88 were injured in the attacks.

"This is the result of a decades-long government-led hate campaign. The terrorism has taken a sectarian turn now and we are expecting more if this is not stopped right now," said Ahmad, reading out a statement.

Many Muslims regard the Ahmadis as a heretical Islamic sect.

The situation became "extremely grave" for Ahmadis after the government declared them non-Muslims in 1974, Pakistan's community leaders say.

Destruction at the Ahmadi place of worship

The late president General Zia ul-Haq promulgated Ahmadi-specific laws in 1984 which criminalize all forms of Ahmadi worship.

"These laws effectively legitimize the exclusion and persecution of our community," Ahmad later told UCA News.

Father Abid Habib, regional coordinator of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic major Religious superiors, has expressed condolences for the victims.

He visited the damaged places of worship along with workers of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

"It is sad that the country's leadership didn't come. People are generally not concerned about this tragedy and we condemn this attitude," said Father Habib.

"The commission had been warning the Punjab government about threats to the Ahmadis... in Lahore," said HRCP in a statement. "The security measures to protect the vulnerable minority ... were not enough to face the well-coordinated and well-planned terrorist attack.

HRCP said it "appeals to sections of civil society that have been sympathetic to the militants... to raise their voice against this inhuman act."
 
   
   
  Bangladesh a role model for food security, says global expert
  By Rock Ronald Rozario, Dhaka

AN international food security expert says Bangladesh is to be showcased as a model for other countries to follow. Shenggen Fan, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute, praised the country's successful pursuit of a sustainable food security program.

"Bangladesh will be presented as a model because of its achievements in augmenting food production, the government's strong commitment to ensuring food security and the progress it has made in drafting a nationwide plan of action," he said.

Fan was speaking on the sidelines of the two-day Bangladesh Food Security Investment Forum. Opened by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina last Wednesday, the event was hosted by the Bangladesh government, along with the United States Agency for International Development, the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, as well as Fan's own group.

"Bangladesh will be showcased at the G8 summit in Canada in June and the Asia Food Security Investment Forum in the Philippines in July, so other nations can be inspired to pursue food security," said Dr. Fan, who went on to further explain the country's achievements.

"In the past decade, Bangladesh has made impressive progress towards many of the Millennium Development Goals. Poverty, for example, has fallen from 57 per cent of the population in 1990 to 40 per cent in 2005 despite repeated natural disasters and external shocks. And economic growth since 2000 has averaged 6 per cent," he said.

However, he added, "the global food market is unlikely to be stable anytime soon and prices will remain volatile." He suggested that Bangladesh should build up an 'optimum stock' of food grains and diversify its food trade partners, instead of relying on India only.
 
   
   
  Ethnic clashes 'tied to Assam border dispute'
  By Thomas Kent, Kohima

A SENIOR Presbyterian leader in Meghalaya says recent "ethnic clashes" in the Christian-dominated northeastern Indian state were part of a continuing border dispute with Assam.

Four people were killed and 26 injured on May 14 after police were forced to open fire on warring Khasi and Nepalese groups.

"Assam sends Nepalese people to settle in border areas, which it shares with Meghalaya in order to claim the areas as its own," said Reverend P.B.M. Basaiamoit, vice-president of the National Council of Churches in India.

He said there are no ethnic tensions between native Meghalaya tribal groups -- Garo, Jaintia, Khasi and Nepalese.

Fighting broke out in Langpih village, some 60 kilometers from Assam's commercial capital Guwahati. Both Assam and Meghalaya lay claim to the area.

Langpih is located close to Meghalaya's West Khasi Hills district, home to the Khasi tribe, and near Assam's Kamrup district.

Khasi elders say Assam has settled many Nepalese migrants in the disputed area. Khasi people, fearing the loss of their land, often clash with the settlers.

The latest outbreak of violence started after the Khasi Students Union issued notices to the Nepalese to leave the area.

However, Khasi tribal leaders intervened and withdrew the notices saying the issue must be sorted out at state level, said Reverend Basaiamoit, who is based in Meghalaya.

The dead victims in the clashes were all Khasi.

Some 70 per cent of the 2.3 million people in Meghalaya are Christians. It is one of three Christian dominated states in India. The others are Nagaland and Mizoram.
 
   
   
  Indian Films excel at Warsaw Festival
  By C.M. Paul in Niekpkalaw, Poland

A CONTROVERSIAL Indian religious congregation has won a major award for a film telling the story of seven nuns and a divorcee who rediscover meaning in their lives.

The Kerala Province of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel took first prize in the feature film category at the 25th International Catholic Film Festival held at Niepokalanow, Poland from May 27-30.

The award winning Nurunguvettangal (Gems of Light), a telefilm in Malayalam with English subtitles, deals with a range of issues including attachments, boredom, conservatism, prejudice, workaholism, desires and fears.

The Kerala sisters conceived and produced the 56-minute film in the context of several controversies, including a former nun who wrote a controversial book, "Amen", on convent life, and another nun who was caught in a sex video scam.

The film tells the story of seven nuns in a village convent. People's reactions disillusion some, while a sense purposelessness in life drains others.

Some have forgotten how to love after becoming engrossed in their work, while one doubts even her vocation.

One day, Meera, a divorcee and a cancer patient, visits the convent. There, she comes to terms with her illness, her lost love and her fear of death and rediscovers a sense of purpose.

The nuns are also transformed by Meera's experience. Each rediscovers her faith in God and people and finds a new purpose in her mission.

"The film narrative goes off on a tangent with seven stories of seven nuns and a divorcee woman dying of cancer," explains director Leo Thaddeus who used symbolism in photography, music, dialogue and art work to tell the story.

The festival screened 172 films and 40 Radio programs from 20 countries, including China, India, Mongolia and Taiwan.
 
   
   
  Nuns empower elected village leaders for change
  By Saji Thomas, Sagar

Catholic nuns in central India are training elected village representatives to overcome ignorance regarding their duties and work for village development.

"Now I know my role as a village leader," said Ramrani Bai, one of 50 people who attended a May 28 program organized by the Sisters of Jesus congregation, in Sagar diocese.

Bai, 47, is member of a gram sabha or village council, the lowest decision-making body in the three tier Indian administrative system. The federal parliament and state legislative assemblies form the other two.

I "never knew" what kind of decisions elected people had to make for their villages before the nuns' training program, Bai said

A village council has an elected Sarpunch (leader) and punch (members), who together can decide on how to spend allocated funds for village development.

Sister Mereena Antony said the nuns working in the villages decided to train the leaders after finding out that many leaders were "unable to do anything" because they "didn't know what their powers, new roles and duties were."

Most villages in the diocese in Madhya Pradesh state are "epitomes of poverty and backwardness." Villagers have no proper roads, and are faced with constant water shortages and a lack of toilet facilities.

"Now I know my role is to work out plans for the welfare of my people," said Rakesh Kumar Patel, a village leader. He said he is a "changed man" because of nuns' training session.

Halkan Singh Takur said he would stop people abusing Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards, issued to help the poor get food subsidies. He said the training taught him the village council has the power to take away the cards from the rich.

Santosh Kumar Patel, from the village leaders' forum, thanked the Church's support and said more training would change villages faster.
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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