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  Pakistan: Christians flee after Muslims destroy village
  KORIAN (PAKISTAN) AUGUST 1 (UCAN): Smoke was still rising from the Christian village of Korian in Punjab province on July 31 after it was completely destroyed in a violent raid the previous night by thousands of Muslims.

Korian was home to about 100 Christian families, most of them laborers, who all fled the area in the wake of the attack. No one died in the incident.

The village in Faisalabad diocese was attacked after Muslims accused a family there of blasphemy. In all, 60 houses and two churches belonging to the Church of Pakistan and the New Apostolic Church were destroyed and livestock stolen.

"They have left nothing. My horse, my only source of income, has also been taken," said Shubaan Masih, a local Christian.

The mob also blockaded the road leading to the village for several hours refusing entry to police or firefighters.

Masih said the mob was armed with firearms and explosives. "They used trucks to break the walls and petrol to start the fires," he said. "We saved our lives only by hiding in the fields until three in the morning, when relatives arrived with vehicles to collect us. The children cried all night," Masih said.

Tension between the Christian and Muslim communities in the area arose after pages containing Islamic inscriptions were found in front of a Christian home on July 26 following a wedding.

A group of Muslims then interrogated those who attended the wedding party, and accused the family of desecrating the Qur'an. The family says it has no knowledge of the offence but nevertheless apologized on July 30, saying that children who did not know what they were doing could have been responsible.

Muslims from surrounding villages gathered that evening at the local mosques before the mood turned ugly, Atif Jamil Pagaan, spokesperson of a Christian NGO told UCA News.

Local Muslims have filed charges against the family according to the country's blasphemy laws. They are accusing the family of blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad, which carries a mandatory death sentence in Pakistan. They also accuse the family of blasphemy against the Qur'an, which is punishable with life imprisonment.

Christian politicians and Catholic priests have condemned the incident and demanded investigations of the assault. A group of seven Catholic priests went to visit the site.

"One cannot but weep upon seeing the trail of destruction left behind," said Father Aftab James Paul, director of Faisalabad diocese's Commission for Interfaith Dialogue.

"It is yet another example of a feud being given a religious color. We shall visit the police station and demand the arrest of the instigators of this terrorism," he said.

According to media reports, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif also strongly condemned the incident and expressed his sorrow over the destruction of homes and loss of livestock.

Reports said that Sharif has directed authorities to secure the area and control the situation.
 
   
   
  Asian bishops want to build a loving, serving Church
  MANILA, JULY 31 (UCAN): A stronger and more effective network that builds, loves, shares and serves Church communities in Asia is what Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato hopes will come out of the 9th Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC) Plenary Assembly.

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate archbishop serves as FABC's secretary general.

FABC, the voluntary association of episcopal conferences in South, Southeast, East and Central Asia, was established in the 1970s to foster among its members solidarity and co-responsibility for the welfare of Church and society in Asia.

Recently, Archbishop Quevedo, 70, explained to UCA News the aims, hopes and significance of this coming assembly that expects to gather some 120 delegates and participants at Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila August 10-16.

He notes the impact of the assembly's theme, "Living the Eucharist in Asia" on the FABC's work of building a Church in dialogue with the poor, with cultures and religions in Asia.

Archbishop Quevedo also expressed his hope that Pope Benedict XVI's representative to the assembly, Cardinal Francis Arinze, will encourage the Church leaders in the work they are doing during times and under conditions of great challenge.

FABC plenary assemblies are held every four years.

Archbishop Quevedos interview with UCA News follows:

UCA NEWS: What does FABC do?

ARCHBISHOP ORLAND QUEVEDO: The vision of FABC for the Church in Asia is to be in triple dialogue --- dialogue with the poor, with cultures and with religions. FABC offices do this by organizing seminars, institutes, assemblies, meetings in the areas of inculturation, interreligious dialogue, and human development. Many such meetings are interreligious and ecumenical.

We establish networks with NGOs involved in various aspects of human development, particularly affecting the poor, such as migration, human trafficking, justice and peace issues, ecology and human rights.

Exposure and reflection programs have been organized for bishops with regard to the riches of spiritual and mystical elements found in other religions. Interreligious dialogue has been conducted in various countries in relation to issues of justice, peace, and development.

Other areas of concern are the renewal of seminary formation in Asia, renewal of clergy and Religious, renewal of laity and concern for the situation of women, the evangelization power of the young, the over all pastoral priority in Asia regarding education and Christian formation and harnessing social communication tools for integral evangelization.

What challenges does it face?

The sheer magnitude of the territory covered by FABC from Kazakhstan to Indonesia, the difficulties of travel and communication, the varieties of cultures and languages, the minority and often insecure status of Christianity, creeping secularism that is eroding the spiritual sense of Asians, ethnic and religious divisions and conflicts in Asia, worsening poverty and ecological problems.
Previous plenary assemblies have made some of these major pastoral priorities.

Why have some Churches in Asia been described as "mere extensions of the Vatican" and Catholics criticized for not living out their faith?

The idea of being "mere extensions of the Vatican" is not synonymous with non-internalization and non-practice of Catholic faith and teaching. The term can also mean an abiding faith-loyalty to the Magisterium that is expected of every Catholic.

When the faith is not internalized and integrated it is a failure of evangelization. It creates the following major pastoral concerns or needs: integral faith formation, renewal of clergy and Religious, renewal of the laity to be leaders in social transformation, development of spirituality and mission-consciousness, family as the focal point of evangelization and building participatory faith communities.

However, we are seeing the emergence of "contrast communities" in many places and there the faith is truly lived and practiced. In some places, they may be small and isolated, such as versions of European ecclesial movements. There are also many faith communities that are home-bred, such as the so-called transparochial communities in the Philippines, and various forms of Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs). Through these communities, parishes have become more alive and dynamic, a faith-force that is "salt and light" in the wider society.

What resources can help the FABC overcome challenges?

We have a common vision of the Church in Asia. Each episcopal conference has resources needed for its region. There is a great willingness to collaborate, and collaboration has been done in many instances, as on issues of development, in BEC building, in interreligious dialogue etc. There is a network of social communications, led by Radio Veritas Asia, that can be put to maximum use. And the Church in Asia is relatively young, full of enthusiasm and dynamism.

How significant are BECs in the FABC's vision of Church?

The movement toward a "new way of being Church" in Asia is mainly concretized in the building of BEC or faith communities with different names but of similar nature. Several bishops' conferences have made building of BECs one of their major pastoral priorities. To name a few: Malaysia-Brunei-Singapore, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. Many dioceses in other episcopal conferences have also been working along this line.

There is an Asian team that helps dioceses in different conferences, particularly in the use of AsIPA (Asian Integrated Pastoral Approach) which is a comprehensive approach to building BECs. Building BECs is a process that takes patience and endurance. But where BECs are operating, one can indeed see the difference in parishes in terms of people's participation, belongingness, fellowship, and pastoral action toward social transformation.

What is the connection between the assembly theme and FABC's vision and mission?

The theme of 9th Plenary Assembly in Manila, "Living the Eucharist in Asia," attempts to integrate the two synods on the Word of God and on the Eucharist. If I were to envision the directions, priorities, and actions that the FABC has to take in light of this plenary assembly, I would summarize them in terms of renewal toward "becoming Eucharistic persons and communities" that celebrate and live the Lord's own Eucharistic action of loving, self-sacrifice, sharing and serving in the context of Asia.

The plenary assembly should provide the Eucharistic dimension of renewal that is taking place to be injected into various Church programs and action. Such general direction is of great relevance to the vision of a Church that is a humble servant of the Gospel as well as servant-companion of the peoples of Asia in the journey to God's reign.

What is the FABC called to do?

It will be the 9th FABC Plenary Assembly in Manila that would obviously envision what should take place in the next few years. From my personal perspective, the years ahead will have to continue and reinforce the efforts of Church renewal that began at the 1st FABC Plenary Assembly in 1974.

In the year 2000, the 7th Plenary Assembly in Thailand, identified several movements of renewal for the Church in Asia. These movements are spiral in nature, going from a status quo to a faith community of deep spirituality through renewed integral evangelization and so on, and returning again to the beginning of another spiral of renewal. Many local Churches might find themselves at the very beginning, others could be a few steps ahead in the spiral, and others might have to retrace their steps.

But Church renewal in Asia toward a "new way of being Church" is ongoing and never ending. It is always in process. And at every moment of renewing "the house," it is the Lord who builds and renews.

What areas of FABC structure, mandate and statutes need updating and why?

The updating of terms of reference of the various FABC offices has just been completed. The structures, roles and relationships of various committees and offices have to be updated and operationalized, such as the Central Committee which is made up of the presidents of episcopal conferences, the Standing Committee, the associate members, etc.

Some of these updates are demanded by pastoral needs and others are for more efficient and effective management. The general purpose of such updating is to achieve the aims of FABC more effectively and in a more participatory way.

What message do you hope Rome will send to the assembly?

As Secretary General of the FABC, I hope His Eminence Francis Cardinal Arinze, the special envoy of the Holy Father, would give us a positive message of encouragement and inspiration with regard to our work in Asia. He would most surely remind us of our unity and of the fraternal bonds that tie us together. Most of all I hope that his coming to the assembly would palpably provide us with the wise and gentle shepherding and presence of Pope Benedict XVI himself.
 
   
   
  Catholic web TV team in Pakistan undaunted by challenges
 
KARACHI(PAKISTAN)JULY 31 (UCAN): The founder priest of the first Internet-based Catholic TV in Pakistan is working hard to ensure the success of his project, which he says is a stepping stone toward realizing more ambitious goals.

"I cannot let my dream die, so my team and I upload programs until midnight each day," says Father Arthur Charles, vicar general of Karachi archdiocese.

The priest launched www.goodnewscatholictv.com on May 24. Archbishop Evarist Pinto of Karachi presided over the event at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Father Charles, Good News TV's chief executive officer, claims it is the first bilingual Catholic Web TV in Asia and is visited by almost 700 people a day.

The website broadcasts in English and Urdu, and offers prayers, hymns, rosary recitations, Church news, Scripture reflections, faith testimonies, talks shows on the Catholic faith as well as a weekly message from Archbishop Pinto.

However, maintaining these broadcasts takes commitment due to the country's poor infrastructure. "There are countrywide electricity outages, sometimes for one or two days, that delay timely updates of programs. Post-production is also often delayed," the priest said.

The project's small budget also means staff have to work for very little salary.

Karachi archdiocese supports the project, which is run by a staff of five, including Father Charles, at the Catechetical Center. Part of the center has been converted to a studio with two secondhand computers.

"I want to make use of modern technology to proclaim the Word of God," said Father Charles, adding that the project aims at sharing Catholic teachings with people.

He noted that the Internet has now become what the television used to be for people not so long ago. The new medium is a "tool to connect the faithful to their faith," he added.

Despite the challenges the project faces, Father Charles is already thinking of other more ambitious goals. He says that the Catholic web TV is just "a rehearsal" for a possible Catholic satellite TV Channel and radio station project.

Christians have long been demanding fair media coverage in the Muslim-majority country's thousands of periodicals and more than 50 cable channels. State-owned Pakistan television airs 25 minutes of Christian-related drama at Christmas and Easter but the government has not approved a permit so far for any Christian radio, TV or news service.

"There are presently five round-the-clock Islamic channels on cable TV. I am also a Pakistani citizen and so have a right to operate my own channel," says Father Charles.

He said the Christian message is an important one in troubled times. "Only the message of Jesus can bring peace and harmony to modern Pakistani society plagued with violence, war and terrorism."

Archbishop Pinto shares his enthusiasm. "Our presence in the media is necessary," he said. He noted that there is not much of "a reading culture" in Pakistan and there is a need for the Church to reach out to the public in other ways.
 
   
   
  Abhaya murder case: High Court finds CBI's investigation not satisfactory
  Our Correspondent
KOCHI, JULY 30: The High Court has asked the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to submit the chargesheet in the Sister Abhaya murder case. In the course of the hearing, Justice K. Hema opined that the investigation by the CBI has not been satisfactory and convincing.

She said the practice of submitting a chargesheet even when the case was under investigation was unheard of in the country.

The court was hearing the contempt of court case filed by Sister Abhaya's father Thomas M. Aikkarakunnel who argued that the CBI has not obeyed the court's order to recover the original tapes of the Narco tests conducted on the accused in the sensational murder case.

Justice Hema further opined that if the CBI was sincere in its investigation, it would have recovered the original tapes. The reason why she mentioned in the bail order that the case should be investigated under the guidance of an able police officer was to ensure that the investigation was conducted in a proper manner.

The CBI not only did not follow that advice, it even approached another judge seeking clarity on her order, Justice Hema said.

When the CBI mentioned that it has already submitted the chargesheet against the three accused, the defence lawyer contradicted the CBI's lawyer by mentioning that the chargesheet itself mentioned about the possibility of conducting narco tests on four more witnesses.

The judge asked why there was need for more investigation. The CBI said it wanted to find out whether an attempt was made to destroy evidence.

The court has asked for the chargesheet to ascertain whether the CBI's intention to conduct Narco tests on the witnesses was to determine what exactly happened on the day of the murder.
 
   
   
  Orphans join congregation to mourn Dutch nun's death
  INDORE, JULY 30 (UCAN): Orphans have joined Church people in mourning the death of a Dutch nun who served the poor in central India for nearly half a century.

Sister Baptista Simons, who founded an indigenous Religious congregation that works among the destitute, died on July 28 at Uden in the Netherlands at the age of 91. The elderly nun, whom local people here fondly called "Mamma", had been ill for some years.

Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal of Indore said that Sister Simons had "done marvelous work, particularly for the poor and aged" from her base in Indore, the commercial capital of Madhya Pradesh.

The prelate told UCA News the deceased nun had provided houses at nominal cost to the homeless from all religions. "Her concern for leprosy patients is evident" from three colonies she set up for them.

Sister Johanni Ekka, superior general of the Sant Joseph Sevika Sanstha (Saint Joseph servants' society), the congregation Sister Simons founded in 1965, said the nun would be cremated on August 1 at Uden. Sister Ekka told UCA News she and a few council members would attend the cremation and bring back the ashes, which are to be buried at the congregation's headquarters.

Sister Simons left India for her home country in 1999 due to ill health. She was born at Maasniel, a village near Roermond in the south of Holland in 1918. She joined the Sisters Servant of the Holy Spirit in 1939 and traveled to India in 1953. She first worked as a teacher at St. Raphael's School in Indore.

Soon after, she and a few other women started the "Mata Maria Samiti" (Mother Mary's forum) and in 1965, at the request of the then Indore bishop, she founded her diocesan congregation.

Sant Joseph Sevika Sanstha now has 170 members and 12 novices in four Indian states. They care for orphans, the elderly and leprosy patients and engage in pastoral and evangelical works. They provide mobile medical teams for checkups and adult literacy classes in villages.

Sister Simons won several national and international awards for her work among the poor. The most recent was the Seva Ratna (jewel of service) that the Indian government awarded her this year for her contribution to society. Sister Ekka received the award on her behalf.

In 1975, a local organization in Indore presented her with a shield for promoting education among the poor. In 1996, the Madhya Pradesh state honored her for her work among orphans.

Deepika Pathak, a former orphan cared for by Sister Simons, says no one can replace Sister Simons. "It is very difficult for us to bear Mamma's death," said the 23-year-old woman who is now attending a master's course in nursing. "What I am today is because of her, otherwise I would have perished," she told UCA News.

Deepti Varghese, another orphan, says she is alive today because of Sister Simons. "I was suffering from heart disease and Mamma took me to Holland for major surgery when I was three," said the mother of two.

Sister Ekka said their founder's death has saddened their congregation. "She was my guiding spirit and I will carry forward the work she began in India," she stated.
 
   
   
  PRIEST'S NAKED BODY FOUND ON ROADSIDE
  MANGALORE, JULY 30 (UCAN): A Catholic priest has been found murdered in a remote area near Mangalore.

The naked body of Father James Mukalel, 39, was found on a roadside in the morning of July 30. The priest worked in Belthangady diocese, a Syro-Malabar diocese, with its headquarters near Mangalore, in Karnataka.

Father Thomas Kannankal, the diocesan social work director, said the deceased priest was returning to his parish after attending the funeral of one of his former parishioners in Thottathady parish on July 29.

Father Mukalel belonged to Tellicherry archdiocese in the neighboring state of Kerala, but opted to work in Belthangady, serving in Kutrapady parish at the time of his death.

Father Kannankal said that after attending the funeral of the former parishioner, Father Mukalel visited some families, had dinner in a convent, and was returning to his base at around 9 p.m.

Some parishioners found the body on the roadside at around 7 a.m. the next day and informed the diocesan officials. Police investigations are underway.

Father Kannankal claims the priest's death is "a clear (case of) murder as his body was found far from his motorbike." He added, "The body did not bear wounds except (for) signs of suffocation."

Belthangady diocese had reported some violence against Christians in the past year and police are enquiring into them, the priest said.

Father Jose Valiaparambil, the vicar general, said the incident has shocked the entire diocese, which is preparing for its mission congress from August 3.
 
   
   
  Massive turnout at Saint Alphonsa's feast day
  BHARANANGANAM (KERALA) JULY 30 (UCAN): The feast of India's Saint Alphonsa attracted 100,000 more people this year than last year as the popularity of the nun's tomb as a pilgrimage site continues to grow rapidly.

Father Joseph Thadathil, rector of Saint Alphonsa Pilgrim Centre at Bharananganam, a sleepy village in Kerala state's Kottayam district, said about 500,000 people offered prayers to Saint Alphonsa for the nine days leading to her feast day on July 28.

This year was the saint's first feast day celebration since she became the first Indian woman to be canonized on October 12, 2008.

Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt of Palai led the Mass. Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, head of the Syro-Malabar Church, also attended the celebration and urged the pilgrims to emulate the saint.

Saint Alphonsa, born in 1910, joined the Franciscan Clarist convent and made her final vows in 1936. The member of the Syro-Malabar Church was a schoolteacher for years and suffered illness for the last 10 years of her life. She died in Bharananganam in 1946 at the age of 36.

Father Thadathil said "people who suffer the most find an answer in Saint Alphonsa," pointing to the serpentine queue of mainly young people waiting for hours to offer their prayers.

"Every visitor to the tomb has some problems in life. The saint gives them courage and confidence to overcome pain," the 40-year-old priest said.

One of those who came to pray was Sheela Raju, a Hindu. She had prayed at the tomb on the saint's canonization day last year for a miracle cure for her daughter Reshma, who suffers from a brain tumor.

Raju, 36, says she believes the saint could cure her 18-year-old daughter, adding that she gets relief from pain whenever she prays at the saint's tomb.

He daughter's brain tumor was detected when she was 10. "We took her to doctors but they said there is no cure. So we brought her here," said Raju.

Ambily Damodaran, another Hindu woman, said she regularly prays at the tomb.

"My pain eases when I come here. I can't pray like Christians but I know Saint Alphonsa will answer all my prayers. She takes care of me," the 70-year-old widow said.

Merin Anto, a young Catholic medical student, said the long wait did not bother her.

"Saint Alphonsa suffered a lot but never complained. These are the little sufferings I can offer. I want only her blessings," she said.

Pope John Paul II beatified Saint Alphonsa on February 8, 1986.
 
   
   
  Jesuit college develops technology to tap green energy
  KOLKATA, JULY 30 (UCAN): A Jesuit college in eastern India has taken the lead in developing in-house technology to harness green energy for the institution's various needs.

Jesuit Father John Felix Raj, principal of St. Xavier's Autonomous College in Kolkata, says green energy is the answer to overcoming severe power shortages affecting the city.

The college has developed an independent solar power system that is used to operate 10 computers. Gradually the institution will use the system to operate other electrical appliances, the principal said.

Jesuit Father Xavier Savarimuthu, who teaches environmental science at the college, says green energy is available throughout the year and the new power system provides an uninterrupted energy supply at no cost.

"Green energy is the need of the day, but it often goes unharnessed," said the priest who claims the college's initiative is in tune with a request from a Jesuits' general meeting that asked its members to preserve nature.

Pradeep Kumar Chakraborty, who developed the power system, claims the college is the first educational institution in the city to develop and use solar power to operate computers. "It is a great achievement to develop this technology without support from solar-power firms," said the dean of the college's masters programs.

So far the college has spent Rs 250,000 (US$5,210) on the project, but the technology has helped reduce its energy costs to one tenth. "When something goes wrong, we are in control of the situation," said the Hindu professor.

Archbishop Lucas Sirkar of Calcutta hailed the college's initiative. The prelate said he supports such initiatives and that he himself received a solar lamp for emergency use two years ago.

Father Reginald Fernandes, who directs the archdiocesan Seva Kendra social center, said the college's achievement is part of a Church initiative to seek alternative energy sources. Last year, his center distributed some 200 solar lamps in villages that have no electricity.

Father Fernandes said a new wing at the center would also use green energy for lights, fans and computers. "All our centers harness green energy," he added.
 
   
   
  Deepalaya to forge partnership with Father and Daughter Alliance
  By Our Correspondent

NEW DELHI, JULY 29: "Boys should go with their fathers and girls with their mothers. We men cannot understand our daughters' issues."

This was a statement made by an Indian father in January 2009 to Pedro Moreno, international expert on social policy and economic mobility and founder-president of the Father and Daughter Alliance (FADA).

The Alliance is committed to the simple observation that girls have a far better chance of getting an education if they have the support of their fathers.

Moreno is in India this week to forge partnerships; a significant one already underway is with New Delhi-based NGO Deepalaya.

In collaboration with Deepalaya, which has over 30 years experience in the field of development and education, FADA is establishing fathers' associations to promote young girls' education through this critical concept of close involvement of the fathers.

In January this year, Moreno held extensive meetings in India with beneficiary communities, fathers, daughters, students, teachers, NGOs and government officials, including Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who later announced the government's commitment to partner with FADA and Deepalaya.

This week Moreno is meeting with target groups of fathers, daughters, government officials, school principals, planners, strategizers and members of the development community and media.

FADA's core idea is not to be prescriptive, but to share experiences, build networks, understand and include fathers in order to help them as they confront this simple question: "If you had all the money, time and opportunity you need, with no restrictions to send your daughter to school, no obstacles at all, would you do it?"

In hundreds of meetings like these, Moreno has heard few fathers answer no. However remote, when possibility is perceived, fathers tend to say yes. With that realization is the first making of hope and FADA is determined to facilitate these fathers together with their daughters and family to take this path toward a better future.

Delhi's Minister for Health and Welfare Kiran Walia has said, "We must increase interaction between fathers and daughters." Leveraging this interaction for the sake of daughters is FADA's work.
 
   
   
  Five sentenced to prison in Orissa violence case
  NEW DELHI, JULY 29 (UCAN): Church leaders have welcomd the prison sentences a fast-track court has handed to five people it convicted of taking part in anti-Christian violence last year in Orissa.

"t is a good development. It will go a long way in meting out justice to our people," Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar told UCA News on July 28, a day after the court announced its decision. The prelate heads the Catholic Church in the eastern state.

The court sentenced Disara Kanhar, Durbasa Kanhar, Gupteswar Kanhar, Rabindra Kanhar and Naresh Kanhar to six years of "rigorous imprisonment" each and also ordered each to pay a fine of Rs 5,000, special public prosecutor Bijoy Krishna Pattnaik told reporters.

Christians in the riot-hit villages were still living in fear, because they saw people who perpetrated and led the violence moving around freely, Archbishop Cheenath said. "The convictions and punishment will embolden our people to go back to the villages and start life."

His archdiocese covers tribal-dominated Kandhamal district, where most of the violence took place. Unrest began there the day after Maoists gunned down a Hindu religious leader.

Hindu radicals blamed Christians for the murder and destroyed houses, churches and convents in retaliation. About 90 people died and about 50,000 were displaced, mostly Christians, according to Church leaders.

In June, a fast-track court began hearing some 900 cases against Hindus charged with orchestrating attacks on the mostly peasant Christians.

Investigating officials have arrested around 680 people, accusing them of planning, abetting and executing violence.

With its latest verdicts, the court has concluded six cases and punished six people, reports said. It has also acquitted 15 people for lack of evidence.

"The biggest problem we face is the threat to witnesses," Archbishop Cheenath, noting that radicals have issued death threats to people who dare to testify.

"We have taken some steps to protect the witnesses. We take them to safe places before the trial and counsel them to speak the truth," the prelate added.

In light of this, he called the July 27 rulings "a big encouragement" for Church people "who work hard to arrange legal help" for the ill-educated victims.

Elsewhere, Father Dominic Emmanuel, spokesperson for Delhi archdiocese, said the court decision is "of course welcome, but the cases should be considered more seriously."

Instigators of violence "should be punished severely so that it would be a lesson to themselves and others who spread sectarian hatred," the Divine Word priest told UCA News.

Montfort Brother Mani Mekkunnel, secretary of the Conference of Religious India, highlighted the value of the state being seen as "doing something to bring people to justice," as well as the relative speed involved.

India's judicial system normally "takes time in concluding cases, but this time it is a good move," he explained. In his view, the fast-track court's swift verdicts and sentencing "will help in normalizing the situation and reduce people's frustration."
 
   
   
  13 years later, prime accused in Parag Das murder case let off
  By A Special Correspondent
GUWAHATI, JULY 29: Kamrup District and Sessions Judge Dilip Kumar Mahanta has let off the prime accused in the Parag Das murder case.

He delivered the verdict in a jam-packed court, amidst tight security. The one-line verdict said Phukan, one of the three living accused in the murder case, was acquitted due to lack of evidence.

Following the verdict, the Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS), a rights body co-founded by Das, called for a bandh on July 30 to protest against the decision. "The killers have been set free. This is sheer mockery of the legal system. The MASS has called for a bandh to protest against the judgment," MASS leader Lachit Bordoloi said.

Parag Das, editor of popular daily 'Asomiya Pratidin', was shot dead in the city's Rajgarh Road near Chandmari in broad daylight on May 17, 1996, as he was picking up his seven-year-old son from school.

Former members of the banned United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) were said to have killed him.

In June 2000, a group of prominent citizens, concerned at the 'inordinate delay' in the investigation, had even filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in Guwahati High Court, seeking its intervention to speed up the probe. Though the Assam Police initially probed the murder, the case was subsequently handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). It filed a charge sheet in January 2001. The hearing of the case began in 2003.

Among those charge sheeted, Biswajit Saikia alias Tapan Dutta and Diganta Kumar Baruah were killed before the charge sheet was filed. Another accused, Nayan Das alias Guli, was killed later during the pendency of the trial in the case. Two other suspects -- Promode Gogoi and Prabin Sarma -- were not charge sheeted by the CBI, for lack of evidence.

The charge sheet submitted by the CBI featured accounts of around 70 witnesses. The schoolchildren who had seen the killing from close quarters had identified Phukan from photographs as one of the gunmen who killed Das.
 
   
   
  NGOs back Catholic center over government land claim
  BANGALORE, JULY 28 (UCAN): Voluntary groups have rallied behind a Catholic social-service center against an attempt by the BJP government of Karnataka to take back most of the center's land.

"Sumanahalli" (village of people of good will) covers 63 acres, or about 25 hectares, on the outskirts of the state capital, Bangalore.

The government has refused to extend the center's lease and is demanding it hand back nearly 58 acres, leaving it just five.

Claretian Father George Kannanthanam, director of the complex, told UCA News on July 27 that the government move would force out around 700 people affected by leprosy, HIV/AIDS and other disabilities.

"We have around 60 houses for rehabilitated leprosy patients and their families on the site as well as a dispensary, an HIV/AIDS rehabilitation center, a community health center, a garments factory, training centers for street children and several other projects," he said.

Bangalore archdiocese established Sumanahalli in 1977 at the request of the then-chief minister of Karnataka, Devaraj Urs of the Congress party, to help combat an increase in leprosy cases. The lease the government gave expired in 2001, and the center has been seeking to renew it since.

"Although the lease period has ended, they could have been more considerate toward the cause," the director commented.

A group of NGOs in Bangalore has formed "Sumanahalli Solidarity Forum" and submitted a memorandum to Karnataka's chief secretary, the state's top bureaucrat, expressing "deep concern" and "shock" over the land grab. The move would prevent society from helping the poor and the needy, the forum warns.

Calls to government officials by UCA News for comment were not returned.

Sumanahalli works for "the most marginalized groups in society" the forum asserted, pointing out that the Karnataka government gave the center a "best organization" award two years ago. The current government came to power in May 2008.

"The variety and extent of the service rendered by (the Church center) is commendable. It is the social-service hub of Bangalore and provides a home for those who use it," the memorandum noted.

Suresh Kumar, president of the leprosy patients association, told UCA News July 27 that his group also plans to press the government. "We cannot afford to lose Sumanahalli, the only organization that has supported us," he stated.

Father Kannanthanam said his center has raised about 160 million rupees (US$1.39 million) over the years and has constructed many buildings with government permission.
 
   
   
  Bishop's pastoral visits bring priests and laypeople closer
  By George Kommattathil

KOODATHAI, JULY 28 (UCAN): The bedridden woman took some time to recognize that the figure standing near her bed was Bishop Paul Chittilappilly of Thamarassery.

"Oh God, it is the bishop!" exclaimed the 80-year-old Vallikkathazhath Theresa, bedridden for four years, as she sat up suddenly. She clutched the bishop's hand and kissed his ring several times as tears of joy ran down her face.

The retired schoolteacher said she had met a bishop so close only once before in her life, when she received the Sacrament of Confirmation decades ago.

The bishop wiped Theresa's tears, put his hands on her head and prayed for a while. After spending nearly 15 minutes with her, he moved to another house to meet more people unable to go to church.

Bishop Chittilappilly spends most Sundays in one or another of the 107 parishes in his diocese in Kerala state. He reaches the parish early in the morning and offers Mass, then meets with children, youths, parents and various parish-based groups.

After these official meetings, he visits people confined to their home because of illness and the elderly, accompanied by the parish priest and parish trustees. On the day the bishop met Theresa, he also visited seven other bedridden people.

"A shepherd should know his people personally," Bishop Chittilappilly said, adding that he takes stock of each parish by talking directly to its parishioners. "The visits help me know the laity better."

Mathew Vadakkedath of Koodathai parish, which the prelate visited in June, affirmed that people "really enjoy the bishop's way of mingling with the laity." He reported that the prelate will walk into any home, hear the family's problems and console them.

Bishop Chittilappilly, 75, is about to complete the third round of pastoral visits since taking charge of the diocese in 1997. During the first round, he spent a week in each parish meeting people and visiting homes. For the second and third rounds, he has spent a day in each parish.

Father Paul Chakkanikunnel, the Koodathai parish priest, credits the visits with helping bridge the gap between laity and priests, and creating "a kind of family atmosphere" in the diocese.

Augustine Madathiparambil, secretary of the diocesan pastoral council, also says the visits have strengthened parish communities. "Earlier bishops visited parishes rarely, and that too to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation," he said. "Fortunately, Bishop Chittilappilly has changed the tradition and his visit inspires everyone."

While Seena Simon, president of an organization for mothers, compared the bishop's visit to a father coming to see his children, V. Vivek, a second-grade catechism student, said he was happy the prelate had come with lots of gifts for children.

Theresa too received a gift, one she treasures.

"I could not go to the church for years, and I thought Church people had forgotten useless people like me," said the woman, who has no children and relies on neighbors to attend to her needs. "Now I know I am also a member of the Church, and it considers me precious."
 
   
   
  PM urged to intervene over investigators 'vulgar' remarks
  NEW DELHI, JULY 28 (UCAN): A Left-wing member of Parliament, Brinda Karat, has demanded the Prime Minister's Office take action against the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) over its "vulgar" description of a virginity test on a Catholic nun.

Eight New Delhi-based women's groups including the Indian Catholic bishops' women's commission have called for a sit-in demonstration on July 29 to protest against virginity tests on women.

Karat says the "objectionable" description of the test on Sister Sephy "invites criminal action" under laws dealing with atrocities against women and obscenity.

Sister Sephy and her Kottayam archdiocese have threatened to sue CBI over the language used in the charge sheet, including descriptions of the nun's breasts and other intimate details the CBI investigators said were evidence that she was a "woman of loose morals."

The CBI has been investigating the alleged murder of another nun, Sister Abhaya, 17 years ago in Kerala. On July 17 it charged Sister Sephy and two priests, Fathers Thomas Kottoor and Jose Poothrukayil, with murder, destroying evidence and other offences related to the case.

Sister Abhaya's body was found in the well at her Pius X Convent in Kottayam on March 27, 1992. She and Sister Sephy lived in the convent, which belongs to the Sisters of St. Joseph, a congregation founded in India.

The CBI conducted a virginity test on Sister Sephy to investigate her claim that she was a virgin.

The protesting women's groups go further than Karat and question whether even holding such tests is warranted.

In a July 27 media release, they called the tests "shameful," insulting to women and "a throwback to the primitive age."

The women found various CBI references to Sister Sephy "degrading" and "outrageous," and demanded action against offending officials.

According to Sister Lilly Francis, secretary of the Church women's commission, the CBI remarks violated Sister Sephy's fundamental rights. "The CBI has no right to use such abusive language against a woman, and a nun at that," she said.

She cited the controversy as another example of harassment of religious minority groups. "The Church is going through a difficult situation," the nun observed.

John Dayal, secretary general of the ecumenical All India Christian Council, described the CBI remarks as a matter of great shame for India. "It was non-police language, simply gutter language," he added.
 
   
   
  Hard labour teaches French students about poor's struggle
  PEDANA (INDIA) JULY 27 (UCAN): A group of French students, who helped to build a center for women in southern India, says the experience has been hard work but has deepened their Christian faith.

The 16-member team is part of the Inde Espoir (hope for India) initiative started by a French Jesuit in 1981 as a voluntary support group for the order's work. "Giving my time to work for the poor is witnessing Gospel values," said Cecile Clergue, a member of the group who worked on the center in Pedana, a village near Hyderabad.

Clergue and the other 15 young people in his group come from universities across France.

Jesuit Father Christian Mellon, the "spiritual companion" for the group, told UCA News that many students join the association as volunteers after being inspired by Jesuit university chaplains.

Every year, Inde Espoir sends out students to villages and slums to construct buildings. It also raises funds for other projects, and this year the organization raised some 25,000 euros (US$35,200) for this center.

The association's website says a four-week stay in India helps these students understand "the reality of underdevelopment and social inequality" the caste system generates.

This year, three groups are in India, the Pedana group of eight women and eight men, and two other groups in neighboring Karnataka state. The Pedana volunteers arrived in the predominantly Dalit village on July 6 to construct a center, in which programs for poor women would be conducted. The center will be run by Ursuline Franciscan nuns.

The team stayed in the local parish compound where the new building was being constructed.

Sister Mariappan Pushpa, superior of the local Ursuline convent, said her congregation had applied to the French Jesuits for funds for the center. She said she was happy that they received not only funds but also the volunteers.

The French team's "mere presence and love in deeds has motivated youths and children in the parish," she said.

Parish priest Father T. J. Mathew said he found the volunteers "very serious and time-conscious" and Sister Edwina Saldana, 58, who organized food for the workers, said "their faithfulness through work is tremendous."

Paul Leveque, leader of the French team, said he and his fellow volunteers wanted to show "our love in action in ways other than collecting money."

"Although it was very hard, the work is quite fulfilling and rewarding," said Anne Laure Baviere, a civil engineering student. The experience "helps me understand life better and deepens my Catholic faith," she said.

Baviere says she is used to donating money for social causes but it was only after coming to India that she understood the problems the poor faced just to survive.

Working with masons and others also has helped her understand why some projects are delayed and costs escalate. It has also helped her understand the practical implications of her engineering lessons, she added.

Nagaraju Kukatla, a local mason, said the French team worked with speed, dedication and punctuality. They carried building materials to the second floor with a "smile on their faces," he added.

Clergue, a physiotherapy student, said she found the Dalit people happier than people in her country, many of whom she feels are focused on acquiring possessions. "The poor in Pedana have few possessions but are very happy and full of life," she remarked.
 
   
   
  Nuns help HIV/AIDS patients live meaningful lives
  LOIKAW (MYANMAR), JULY 27 (UCAN): A congregation of nuns in this city are helping HIV-positive people fight discrimination and earn a living.

Through their Abundant Charity Day-care Center, the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, with the help of Loikaw diocese, provides food, medicine and clothing to HIV/AIDS patients and their children. The center also helps patients with livelihood skills.

Monica, a 29-year-old ethnic Kayan Catholic, says that the center helped her buy shampoo in Yangon for sale at a small profit in Loikaw.

She also attended a short course in Yangon that taught her how to make shampoo as well as an HIV awareness program run by the Catholic Religious Conference of Myanmar (CRCM) in the capital.

Monica was infected by her husband who has since died.

"When I was first diagnosed as HIV-positive, I was in great sorrow and wanted to die," she said. "But I realized I must try to live for my child who tested negative."

The nuns' center was a vital part of coming to terms with her infection.

"There was stigma and discrimination at the beginning," she said, "but now I can live meaningfully thanks to the nuns' support."

Sister Evelyne Aye, who set up the center in 2007, said it was serving about 18 HIV positive people when it first started. The facility now serves about 50 people.

The center is located near Christ the King Cathedral, and has a working team comprising two nuns, one accountant, two nurses and two HIV-positive people.

"We started the mission in order to control the rising HIV infection rate, which is the scourge of the district," said Sister Aye, adding that HIV/AIDS patients are usually "neglected by the community and relatives."

Patients come to the center every Saturday and are given foodstuffs such as rice, oil, eggs and chickpeas.

Some of the food comes from the mission's own gardens. "We have planted many kinds of vegetables and fruits and are rearing three pigs," Sister Aye told UCA News.

In 2007, the nuns gave one pig to each of 10 households, and to another 10 households 20,000 kyat (US$18) each.

The center also supports 25 HIV-positive school children, supplying uniforms, paying school fees and buying stationery.

Another beneficiary of the center, Lucia, said she is grateful to the nuns for providing her family with food, clothing and medicines, as her husband is jobless. "Thanks to the nuns, almost everything is going well in my life," she said.

According to UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, 240,000 people in Myanmar are living with the HIV virus.
 
   
   
  Church-run centers give hope to impoverished kids in Bangladesh
  SATKHIRA (BANGLADESH) JULY 27 (UCAN): Satkhira is a God-forsaken part of Bangladesh at the best of times, battered by storms, cyclones and biting poverty.

For kids like 12-year-old Bannya Boiragee, life looked particularly bleak after her mother died and her father remarried a woman who soon grew tired of her.

Faced with being thrown out into the street, help for her came in the form of a Church-run orphanage that took her in when she was eight years old.

She told UCA News, "My stepmother didn't treat me well and forced me to come to this orphanage."

Boiragee is one of 50 children living at the St. Aloysius Orphanage for girls. They are looked after by 10 Catholic widows who also live at the center. The orphanage was established in 1957 and is run by the Sisters of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, popularly known as Luigine Sisters.

Boiragee's memories of her mother are hazy, but she now looks to the widows at the orphanage for comfort and support.

"These women whom we call Masi (maternal aunt) take care of us well and Sister Irene Cruze, the director, is like a mother to us" said the third-grader.

The center helps kids in this backward part of Bangladesh where subsistence farming and fishing provide a meager living for most families, who survive on less than 70 taka (US$1) a day.

Families often find it hard to support a child in the case of the death of a parent, economic problems or natural calamities.

Often, such families contact their parish priest for help in looking after their children. Sometimes, the children are sent to such centers.

Just as St. Aloysius Orphanage serves girls, the St. Andrew Bobola Children Center, located nearby, provides assistance for 150 boys.

"Over the last 70 years, the center has helped thousands of kids make a better life through academic and moral education," said Father Giovanni Gargano, an Italian Missioner from the Society of St. Francis Xavier for Foreign Missions.

The boys' home was established in 1939 by Father Henry Costa, a Portuguese Jesuit Missioner.

Father Gargano, who is the current director, said: "From the very beginning, Xaverian Fathers, with help from the bishop of Khulna, as well as local and foreign donors, have been running the center."

Both establishments serve their charges by supplying food, clothing and medical help.

The centers arrange counseling sessions for the children every month. They also learn Christian values, prayers and catechism through special classes conducted by priests and nuns.

The children also receive primary and secondary education in Church-run and government schools.

On completing their Secondary School Certificate Examinations (SSC) they return to their parishes. Their parish priests then help them continue their education with financial support from benefactors.

Like Boiragee, Prince Halder went through some tough times.

"My father died two years ago and my mother started working in a garment factory in Dhaka. She left me with my maternal aunts, but because they were so poor, they couldn't afford to keep me so they sent me" to the St. Andrew Bobola center, said the fifth grader.

"I still miss my parents but I'm happy with what I have now, including the education," he added.
 
   
   
  Activists claim Christian executed in North Korea
 
SEOUL, JULY 27 (UCAN): North Korea publicly executed a Christian woman last month for allegedly "spying for its enemies" and distributing the Bible, according to South Korean activists.

Ri Hyon-ok, 33, was accused of spying for South Korea and the United States and organizing dissidents. She was executed in the northwestern city of Ryongchon bordering China on June 16, according to a report from the Investigative Commission on Crimes against Humanity, published on July 24.

The commission, a coalition of 50 activist groups, says Ri's parents, husband and three children were sent to a political prison camp and another woman and a man have been arrested and their whereabouts unknown.

The report published Ri's North Korean government-issued photo ID as evidence of the execution. Similar claims in the past have been difficult to confirm.

The commission is calling for North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il to be charged with crimes against humanity.

The coalition says membership of the "underground" Protestant Church has been growing in recent years and the North Korean government is ramping up its "war with religions."

Persecution of Christians has increased in tandem with recent international conflict on North Korea's nuclear program, Stephen Do Hee-youn, a Catholic member of the coalition told UCA News.

North Korea officially guarantees freedom of religion and there are several religious organizations of Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, and followers of Chondo-gyo, an indigenous Korean religion. The first Russian Orthodox Church in Pyongyang was recently established.

However, the country has only one Catholic and two Protestant churches, all in Pyongyang.

North Korea has had no resident Catholic clergy since the end of the Korean War in 1953, although the Protestants have pastors and a seminary.

South Korean Catholic priests have made irregular visits to the country where they have been allowed to celebrate Mass but banned from talking to local Catholics.
 
   
   
  News Analysis by Ashok Handoo: Needed holistic approach to tackle Naxalites
  IF Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been saying it repeatedly that Naxalism is the biggest challenge to our internal security, he clearly wants to underline the dangers it has been posing to India, as also the need to deal with the challenge in a most effective way.

Naxalism, which started from Naxalbari in West Bengal in 1967, ostensibly to champion the cause of small farmers and tribals through violence, was wiped out in 1970. It soon became out of fashion in its homeland West Bengal. But the underground operations of the outfit continued.

The problem became more serious after the merger of the People's War Group (PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in September, 2004 which led to the formation of the CPI (Maoist). Naxalism today holds sway in vast swathes of 10 states in the country, involving about 180 districts.

Only last week, the Home Minister said in Parliament that the Naxal challenge had been underestimated over the years as a result of which left wing extremism had increased its area of influence. The Home Minster said that they now pose a very grave challenge to the state. Just days before his statement, 36 policemen, including an SP, had been ambushed by the Maoists in Chhatisgarh. It was against this backdrop that Mr. Chidambaram urged the Members of Parliament to join hands in facing the challenge. "All sections of the House must recognize that if we must remain a democratic, republic ruled by law, we must collectively rise and face the challenge of left wing extremism" Chidambaram said.

In its status report presented to Parliament on March 13, 2006, the then Home Minister Shivraj Patil said that the Naxalite movement continues to persist in terms of spatial spread and intensity of violence. He pointed out that it remains an "area of serious concern". Naxal violence has claimed about 6000 lives during the last 20 years.

The question that arises is why have the Naxals been able to extend their area of influence over the years to become a serious threat to the country's internal security?

It is encouraging to know that the government is not treating it as a mere law and order problem. The 2006 status report itself made it clear that the Government would address the problem in a holistic manner. That includes 'political security, development and public perception management fronts' as well. Surely, the Naxal problem is deeply rooted in the social and economic disparities in remote and tribal areas. Since the fruits of development have not percolated to these areas, the Naxal outfits are able to exploit the sentiments of the local people. But the outfits themselves have been preventing and in fact destroying, developmental initiatives taken by the government. They destroy roads, railway infrastructure and administrative institutions that are needed for speeding up developmental activities. Not only this, they indulge in train hold-ups, jail breaks and attacks on politicians. That is proof enough to indicate that they do not have real interest in the development of these areas and their loyalties lie elsewhere. Perhaps, they want to usurp political power which, they think, flows through the barrel of the gun.

At the same time, a lot many measures need to be taken to make the fight against Naxalism effective. On top of this is improving governance in the affected areas by moving corrupt officials who exploit the local people. It must also be ensured that large-scale projects in these areas do not lead to displacement of people, who in any case, live a life of penury.

Since law and order is a state subject, the role of State Governments in dealing with the problem can hardly be overemphasized. They too have their share of responsibility to fulfil. A good deal of coordination between the Centre and the States is, therefore, called for. This is particularly true in view of the fact that the Outfits have established inter-state networks. The state police need to be modernized to be able to tackle the Naxal attacks. The Greyhounds experiment in Andhra Pradesh is a case in sight. Actionable intelligence collection and sharing mechanisms need to be strengthened. Funds provided to the States under the Police Modernisation Scheme need to be better utilized.

The states also need to go fast with raising India Reserve Battalions, particularly in Naxal affected areas, which besides addressing security concerns, provide jobs to the unemployed youth.

A specially trained police force also needs to be put in place to fight the Maoists who basically are adopting guerrilla warfare techniques. There is also a difference in their targets. While other terrorist groups attack the strong foundations of the country such as democracy, secularism and the financial institutions, Maoists make India's weak points like poverty and economic disparity as their targets. All this needs to be factored in the strategy to deal with the Maoist problem.

Keeping in view the fact that the Naxal groups have been raising mainly land and livelihood issues, it is important that land reforms are taken up on a priority basis. States have also to focus on physical infrastructure like roads, buildings, bridges, railway lines, communications and power etc. There is no room to brook any delay on this account.

Unfortunately, the several rounds of talks held with the Naxals hitherto and the announcements of amnesties and attractive rehabilitation schemes have not worked so far. Some states like Andhra Pradesh have a good rehabilitation policy and it has achieved some success, but a lot more remains to be done.

The Government indeed is committed to address the Naxal problem in right earnest. It is focusing on improving intelligence set up at the state level, providing help to the states to modernize and train their police forces and accelerate development in the affected areas. What is needed is better coordination both on security and developmental fronts to meet the challenge posed by the Naxals.
 
   
   
  Families of bomb victims satisfied with compensation in Nepal
  KATHMANDU, JULY 25 (UCAN): Relatives of those killed in the Assumption Catholic Church bomb blast on May 23 say they are satisfied with the compensation they are receiving from the government for their losses.

On July 23, an official at the Chief District Officer's Office handed over a check of 300,000 rupees (about US$4,000) to Binay Patrick, the husband of Deepa Patrick, who died instantly in the blast.

The official said his office was prepared to pay the same amount to Balan Joseph on July 24 as compensation for the loss of his wife, Buddha Laxmi Joseph. The office had already given him the same amount some days back as compensation for losing his daughter, Celeste, in the blast.

"I can at least use this money for my other children's education," said Joseph, 41, who works as a designer at a garment factory.

He has a nine-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter.

"Although I have not made any specific plans as to how I will spend the money on my children, I will do so in a couple of days and save the money until I need to use it," Joseph said.

He told UCA News that he felt the government "has done its job" and that he is satisfied with the amount.

Patrick also told UCA News that he is satisfied with the government's compensation. The 23-year-old man, who is from Bihar state in northeastern India, said he will use the amount for a "good cause," but did not elaborate.

Hira John, an uncle of Deepa Patrick and a parishioner of Assumption church, said, "It is a good thing that the government acted on its promise and paid the compensation early."

Newly elected Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, during a visit to the church after the blast, had promised compensation as soon as he had finalized his Cabinet.

Patrick and Deepa, who were married for just three months, were holidaying in Kathmandu when the blast ripped through the church while they were attending Mass.

"Although the money will not bring our Deepa back to life, it will certainly help her family, who are still in a state of shock," John said.

Father Robin Rai, parochial vicar at Assumption Church, welcomed the compensation.

"Though money is no match for a life of a person, the compensation will still help the affected families to a great extent," he said. "We welcome it and are grateful to the government for showing its concern."

The priest added that he understood that the government "may not" compensate the 14 people injured in the blast, but was likely to foot their medical bills.

Two of the seven who were seriously injured are still undergoing treatment at a hospital in Kathmandu.

A little-known Hindu extremist group calling itself the Nepal Defense Army (NDA) took responsibility for the bombing.
 
   
   
  Youth leaders hope to gain from international program
  By Dini Philip

NEW DELHI, JULY 24 (UCAN): Participants of an international exchange program now underway in India say they are excited about experiencing new cultures, religions and traditions in the South Asian nation.

About 50 Catholic youth leaders from 20 countries are presently attending the bhaichara (brotherhood) program jointly organised by the Federation Internationale des Mouvements Catholiques d'Action Paroissale (FIMCAP) or International Federation of Catholic Parochial Youth Movements, and the Indian Catholic Youth Movement (ICYM).

The federation organises similar international camps every three years and this is the first time that India is hosting one. The ICYM is part of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India's youth commission.

The participants reached New Delhi on July 18 and attended an orientation seminar for three days.

Youth commission secretary Father Alwyn D'Souza told UCA News that the youth leaders would spend the next two weeks with tribal families in Assam and Meghalaya in northeastern India, and Kolkata in the east. They would teach children, empower women, attend to the sick and interact with local diocesan leaders.

"This is not just a tourism project but a fellowship meeting with the people from rural areas," Father D'Souza explained.

He said the program aims to facilitate exchange between the visitors and local youths and develop the social service talents of both groups. The visitors will also participate in parish work and spread messages of peace and solidarity, he added.

Siby Mathew, an Indian youth coordinator of the event, said participants represent youth movements in Africa, Europe and Latin America, besides Asia.

Delegates will interact with tribal families assisted by local animators to learn about their problems, traditions and ways of development, Mathew said.

Marie Gutierrez, one of two delegates from the Philippines, said she looks forward to meeting young people and women in India and learn about their lives.

The 38-year-old lawyer said what she looks forward to most is the opportunity to work for women's empowerment. "I am eagerly waiting to meet their self-help groups," she said.

Gutierrez said the exposure program could help give her ideas for similar projects for "our people back in the Philippines." Most people in her country, including women, work in the agriculture sector, she noted.

Linda Magdalena Martin, 24, from Germany, says she believes the program will give her ideas on how to better train youths in her country.

She added that "it is a challenge to work among people of diverse cultures who want to bring change in society."

FIMCAP director Father Albeiro Vaquez said that program participants are active in their local parishes and dioceses. The Indian exposure program, he said, would give them an opportunity to interact with people of other religions, traditions and cultures. It would also help them learn about youth groups in other countries.
 
   
   
  Orissa Christians want to forgive and forget
  BHUBANESHWAR, JULY 24 (UCAN): A Christian group in Orissa wants August 23 -- the day a Hindu religious leader was killed sparking waves of anti-Christian violence -- to be observed as a day of "peace and harmony."

"Let us forgive and forget the past and build a strong and integrated civil society which is not ravaged by the evil designs of criminals and trouble mongers," said the ecumenical United Christians Forum of Orissa.

The organization made this plea in a Press release issued on July 23 in Bhubaneswar.

Hindu extremists blamed Christians for the murder of Swami Laxmananda Saraswati, 85, and four of his associates on August 23, 2008, even though Maoists claimed responsibility for the deaths.

The killings, in Orissa's Kandhamal district, unleashed a reign of terror the following day that lasted for four months.

According to Church sources, about 90 people, mostly Christians, died and more than 50,000 were displaced.

The ecumenical forum said the "mindless and brutal violence" against the Hindu leader as well as "innocent people" was the work of criminals and had tarnished the image of Orissa and India.

It urged the federal and Orissa governments to declare August 23 a day of peace and harmony. It said it also wants the United Nations to declare that day as a global day for peace and harmony.

The forum added that such a commemoration would help thwart the "evil designs of criminals" who want to divide society along religious lines. It called on civil society to address such "designs" which disrupt the peaceful coexistence of religious communities in Orissa.

The ecumenical group said it also wants the Orissa government to provide security to Hindu religious leaders, their disciples and ashrams lest "criminals" misuse them to spread terror or attack religious minorities.

The forum also urged the Orissa government to provide security to religious minorities, such as Christians, their institutions and places of worship.

The media release noted that Christians are waiting patiently "for the true criminals to be booked."

Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, the forum president and head of the Catholic Church in Orissa, urged the state government to take adequate steps to assist survivors to pick up the pieces of their lives.

The prelate said at a Press conference that hundreds of people still remain in relief camps as they are afraid to return to their villages. Radical groups press Christians to convert to Hinduism and there is a lack of security for them in villages, he said.

 
   
   
  Priest on bail after charges of cheating woman
  HYDERABAD, JULY 24 (UCAN): A Divine Word priest could face a maximum of 10 years in prison if found guilty on charges of cheating and harassing a woman who claims he fathered her children.

Father Jacob Gerald Sequeira was arrested in Mangalore in Karnataka on July 20, and appeared in a court in Hyderabad on July 22.

He was released on bail of Rs 10,000 rupees on July 23 after being charged with cheating and harassment of the woman, who calls herself Shoba Rani Sequeira.

The offence of cheating carries a penalty of up to seven years' imprisonment and/or a fine.

Harassment, defined under the Indian Penal Code as making unlawful demands, carries a penalty of three years' jail and/or a fine.

The popular priest, known to locals as Father Jerry, is the founder of Divine Call Center in Mulki, in Karnataka state. The center offers retreats for local Catholics. Father Sequeira belongs to the Bombay province of the Society of the Divine Word.

The woman complainant, a resident of Hyderabad, alleges that the priest lived with her for several years and that she had children fathered by him.

Father Sequeira claims he is innocent and says he has been framed.

The police said the woman could not provide proof of her marriage to the priest.

Father Sequeira had worked in Andhra Pradesh for several years before being transferred to Mangalore more than 10 years ago, a priest who did not want to be named told UCA News.

The Divine Word retreat center's website says that Father Sequeira was involved in a dispute with his order. A new director of the retreat center, Father Cyprian Lewis, was appointed in February.

The website says that Father Sequeira was told to transfer to Mysore in May.

"However, Father Jacob Gerald has refused to accept the transfer and has not vacated the office and has made it difficult for the new director to function. This has caused much confusion and has disrupted normal functioning," the website says.

A senior official of the Divine Word order's Bombay province told UCA News he would not comment on the case as it is presently before the court.

Father Sequeira's arrest created a disturbance when some youths tried to free the priest from policemen. The youths had thought the priest was being kidnapped by the four plainclothes police officers.
 
   
   
  Muslim bodies reject NHRC report on Batla House 'encounter', call for protest
  By Andalib Akhter

NEW DELHI, JULY 24: Several Muslims bodies and Parliamentarians have expressed shock over the National Human Rights Commission's (NHRC) clean chit to the Delhi Police in the Batla House "encounter" case.

The All India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat (AIMMM), an umbrella body of Indian Muslim organisations, in a statement said that the hasty report seems to be solely based on police briefing and papers offered by the police which have been denied to the relatives of the encounter victims.

"There is no indication that the commission bothered to contact the relatives of the victims or the residents of the area where the infamous encounter took place or the civil society organisations which prepared fact-finding reports about the event and expressed serious misgivings about the police version," said AIMMM President Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan adding that the NHRC did not deign to even acknowledge many representations made by the relatives of the victims and sent to the commission by post.

"The NHRC did not take suo motu notice of an event that shook millions of people and moved only when it was asked by the High Court to probe the matter in the face of the stout refusal of the Lt. Governor of Delhi to allow an enquiry. The NHRC even failed to take notice of the fact that the police flouted the commission's own guidelines to conduct an enquiry in every case of killing by its officers," the AIMMM statement said.

Talking to this correspondent, JD (U) MP Ejaz Ali said, "The NHRC report is one-sided. It did not talk to the local people. The police committed excesses not only on the youths who were killed but also on Inspector MC Sharma". He demanded a judicial inquiry to clear all doubts.

Earlier in the Lok Sabha, another MP of the same party, Munazir Hasna, also demanded a judicial probe into the "encounter".

Rajya Sabha MP Mahmood A Madani also supported the demand for a judicial inquiry, while maintaining that he has respect for NHRC. "What's wrong in the demand? The NHRC inquiry boosted the morale of the police. Saying that inquiries will bring down the morale of the police is wrong," he said.

Congress leaders were reluctant to comment on the issue.

Meanwhile, the Jamia Millia teachers' body, various civil rights groups and student organisations have decided to hold a protest demonstration at the head office of the National Human Rights Commission in New Delhi today to register their anger over the commission's enquiry report.

The Jamia Teachers' Solidarity Group (JTSG), the All India Students' Association (AISA) and the Association for the Protection of Civil Rights (APCR) called for a protest demonstration against the NHRC's farcical 'enquiry'. "For truth and justice, reject the NHRC's partisan conclusions," they said.

There is resentment in Azamgarh over the NHRC report. People from several parts of the town, especially from Sarai Meer and Sanjarpur areas -- Sajid and Atif's villages -- will assemble at the collector's office on Friday to demand judicial enquiry into the encounter. The two were killed in the encounter. They say the report is biased as it is based entirely on the police version.
 
   
   
  Women leaders demand action against CBI officers for assault on woman's dignity
  Our Correspondent

NEW DELHI, JULY 23: Women leaders have demanded action against the CBI officers responsible for the derogatory references to Sister Sephy, the third accused in the Sister Abhaya murder case.

CPM Politburo member Brinda Karat has in a letter to the Prime Minister said that the CBI officers concerned had assaulted the dignity of women.

National Women's Federation General Secretary Anne Raja said the CBI was expected to investigate cases and not teach morality.

Even the accused has a right to be treated with dignity and the CBI should not forget this, said social activist Shabnam Azmi. A chargesheet is not something in which anything can be written against the accused.

The Indian Express had on July 23 reported that the chargesheet filed in a Kochi court had claimed that Sister Sephy had a surgery to conceal evidence of rupture of hymen due to frequent "vaginal sexual intercourse" and that "her pendulous breasts were suggestive of vigorous fondling during sexual intercourse".

In her letter to the Prime Minister, Karat said, "It's an affront to the dignity of women; it is insulting to the woman concerned and also reflects a perverted mentality.

"The language used in the chargesheet against a female accused invites criminal action against the officials concerned under laws pertaining to protection of a woman's dignity, against harassment and also against obscenity".

She urged the Prime Minister to inquire into the matter and "ensure disciplinary action and prosecution under the relevant section of the laws against the officers concerned.

"I support all efforts to bring the guilty persons to book and bring justice to the murdered nun. While holding no quarter for the accused, I request you to send a strong message to all investigating agencies that minimum standards of respect to the dignity of women will be protected.

"If the premier investigating agency of the country can use such objectionable language, what can women expect from local investigation officers?" Karat wrote.

 
   
   
  Church disappointed as Andhra High Court rules out Holy Land subsidy
  HYDERABAD, JULY 23 (UCAN) -- Church officials in Andhra Pradesh have expressed dismay after the High Court told the state government on July 22 not to subsidise pilgrimages to holy places.

Andhra Pradesh had allocated US$20 million for Christians to visit Jerusalem and other holy sites.

"While we respect the High Court's decision, we are very disappointed at its order,” said Archbishop Marampudi Joji of Hyderabad. “We got this subsidy after pleading with the government for a very long time.”

The prelate heads the Catholic Church in Andhra Pradesh.

The High Court said that it was not proper for the state government to subsidise pilgrimages from the state treasury. The state government began giving subsidies for the Holy Land tour in 2008. The court said that if a devotee undertakes a pilgrimage to a holy place out of his own beliefs, taxpayers’ money should not be spent on that.

The court was hearing two petitions, one against the government granting aid to pilgrims bound for Jerusalem and another seeking aid to Hindu devotees visiting their shrines in various parts of India.

While hearing the arguments, Chief Justice Anil Ramesh Dave said holiness “cannot be earned by spending money belonging to others."

The state government plans to contest the High Court ruling in the Supreme Court as it could also affect the subsidy given to Muslims going for their Haj, which has been paid out for several decades.

The Central government spends around US$4 billion annually for Haj pilgrims.

"The state government will fight our case in the Supreme Court. We are hopeful of a positive outcome," Archbishop Joji said. He also noted that the subsidy was only for the poor. “The budget allotted for the pilgrimage is very miniscule," he added.

Father Anthoniraj Thumma, one of the two secretaries of the ecumenical Andhra Pradesh Federation of Churches, said there is nothing wrong in the state government subsidising pilgrimages.

"The government is secular and not anti-religion. Is it wrong to help people fulfill their religious obligations?" he asked. Father Thumma has led pilgrims to Jerusalem as a government-sponsored guide and as a pastor.

Three groups of pilgrims have already made use of the government subsidy to visit Jerusalem.
 
   
   
  Church to battle beard case in court
  JABALPUR, JULY 22 (UCAN) -- Officials from a diocese in central India say they are prepared for a lengthy legal battle to maintain discipline in their schools.

The Church does not want to be involved in any legal fight, but has been forced to act since controversy over a Muslim student sporting a beard at a Church-run school has become portrayed as a Christian-Muslim tussle, Bishop Antony Chirayath of Sagar told UCA News.

Mohammed Salim, 16, left Nirmala Convent Higher Secondary School in 2007 after refusing to shave off his beard. He had maintained that wearing a beard was part of his religious identity and had challenged the school's policy requiring male students to be clean-shaven.

The school is under Sagar diocese in Madhya Pradesh.

Bishop Chirayath said the diocese is upset after the Supreme Court on July 6 withdrew its March 30 ruling that upheld the school's ban on the Muslim student wearing a beard to class.

The Supreme Court had earlier ruled that no one can breach the statutory rights of a minority institution to have its own rules. The state High Court had earlier also ruled in the school's favor.

One of the Supreme Court judges instructed the boy to join another institution if he could not follow the Church school's rules. He also said the court did not want "Taliban" in the country.

However, Salim sought a review of the ruling and the judge, who said he regretted his remarks, referred the case to the Chief Justice.

Bishop Chirayath said the latest development "is a matter of serious concern for the Church." He said the Church has not received "any official communication from the court" so far. All the same, the Church would respond to it at the appropriate time, he added.

Meanwhile, a thrilled Salim said he feels "there is justice for a person like me in this country."

Asked whether the legal fight would affect his studies, the ninth grader told UCA News that he only wants to study in the same school where he had begun his schooling. His older brother Asam Khan said their family would withdraw the case only if the school agrees to take back Salim.

Their lawyer Abdul Kareem Ansari said he was prepared to withdraw the case if both parties "settled it between themselves."

The lawyer also said the case could hurt the Christian and Muslim minority communities, which have faced hostilities from Hindu radical groups.

Church authorities said no side has proposed an out-of-court settlement so far. Father Abhilash Illimoottil, the school manager, said the school is only insisting on observing the rule in the school manual.

Since the boy has gone to court, the school has no other option but fight it out legally, he said.

Diocesan spokesperson Father Thomas Lall Pathil says the Church is hopeful of victory since the nature of the case remains the same. He said the judge withdrew his ruling primarily because of some of the comments he made when hearing the case.

Father Pathil said the boy is free to attend a Muslim school instead of insisting on continuing his studies in "our school where we don't permit beards."

 
   
   
  Catholics in China reflect on faith during solar eclipse
  SHANGHAI, JULY 22 (UCAN) -- The solar eclipse on July 22 has inspired many Chinese Catholics to reflect on their faith.

Francis, a catechumen in Hubei province, central China, said he saw stars in the totally dark sky in the morning and reflected on "the greatness of God and the smallness of humankind."

The total eclipse of the sun was visible within a narrow corridor stretching from India, through Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and China.

It traversed 10,000 kilometers of China territory, covering 11 provinces along the Yangtze River, and lasted for about three hours in the morning.

John, a Catholic journalist in Hangzhou city, eastern China, said he recited the Lord's Prayer as he experienced the natural wonder.

"I said to God: 'You make us feel our smallness through such miracles," he told UCA News.

In Shanghai, at the Yangtze River mouth, Catholic youth Richard Gong prepared special sunglasses to observe the eclipse and wondered, "Won't the coming of Jesus at the end of the world be similar" to this?

He also associated the event with the darkness that covered the earth when Christ died on the cross. He said the eclipse encouraged him to meditate on Christ's passion.

Laywoman Marry in Fujian province said she saw the day darken outside her office. She added that she was amazed by the "dancing crescent-shaped light" cast by the sun on the ground as it was gradually eclipsed by the moon.

"People can observe an astronomical phenomenon with their eyes and telescope, but who can really understand God's will?" she asked herself.

Li, a Catholic university student in Sichuan province, southwestern China, said clouds blocked the sun at his location, but he and other passersby were amazed when the darkness fell.

"For people who have no religious belief, they merely watched the event, but I thought of God's greatness," he said.

According to the Chinese Astronomical Society, the duration of this eclipse was the longest to be experienced in China since 1814.

 
   
   
  Priest to end religious ministry to run for presidency in Philippines
  MANILA, JULY 21 (UCAN) -- Father Eddie Panlilio has declared he is running for president in the May 2010 election.

"I have every intention to file my candidacy," the governor of Pampanga told reporters at a weekly public forum organized in Manila by Catholic media groups on July 21.

The priest, who is currently on leave from his religious ministry, also announced his plan to apply for a dispensation from priestly duties before filing his certificate of candidacy in time for the Nov. 30 deadline.

"I'm ready for all the consequences," Father Panlilio said. "This priesthood that I love so much, I'm willing to give up for a greater love and that's love for the country," continued the 55-year-old priest of San Fernando archdiocese in Pampanga.

He added, "For me the heart of priesthood is accepting the love of God and working for other people, especially the poor."

Dispensation will release him from priestly obligations, including obedience to the bishop, according to Archbishop Oscar Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan, head of the Catholic bishops' dispensation desk. Once dispensed, Father Panlilio would no longer be allowed to officiate at Masses and administer sacraments.

The prelate and other bishops had urged Father Panlilio to run as a layman.

Father Panlilio said that as president, he will address problems such as people's livelihoods, malnutrition, corruption and insurgencies in the country.

"I call on all supporters of good governance and ethical leadership in the country to support this candidacy and campaign," the priest-governor said.

He called particularly on fellow Pampanga people "and all those who believe in me and in this campaign."

"Let's work together because this is for you," he stated.
 
   
   
  Religious leaders pray for bomb victims in Indonesia
  JAKARTA, JULY 21 (UCAN) -- About 100 representatives of Buddhism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Islam, and Protestantism gathered here to pray for the victims of last week's bomb attacks.

Five religious leaders representing the five religions recited prayers in turn during the July 20 program under the theme, "Damai Sekarang" (peace now).

They were Hasyim Muzadi from Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim organisation in the country; Father Yohanes Rasul Edy Purwanto from the Bishops' Conference of Indonesia; Reverend Petrus Oktavianus from the Communion of Protestant Churches in Indonesia; Venerable Duta Pravira from Trusteeship of Indonesian Buddhists (Walubi); and Anak Agung Ngurah Ugrasena from the Association of Indonesian Hindu Dharma.

They then went on to the nearby Ritz Carlton Hotel and J.W. Marriott Hotel, the sites of the attacks, and placed flowers there as a sign of peace.

On July 17, two suicide bombers attacked the hotels killing nine people, including the bombers, and injuring over 50 people.

Local media reported July 21 that the police claimed the method of the attacks were similar to previous Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) attacks. However, police deputy chief spokesman Brigadier General Sulistiyo Ishak said the police had not found a link between the suicide bombers and JI and refused to confirm recent media speculation on the identity of one of the two bombers.

Muzadi told participants at the prayer gathering that terrorism is not taught by any religion.

"Religion is not terror and terror is not the teaching of religion," the Muslim scholar said, adding that such acts are the result of misunderstanding and misinterpreting religious teachings.

"No religion teaches its followers to kill people," he declared.

He claimed Indonesia was not a center of terrorism, but rather a victim of terror. He added that Indonesian is a tolerant country.

Father Purwanto, executive secretary of the Catholic bishops' Commission for Laity, said the bishops' conference is concerned about the bomb attacks and wishes to console victims through prayer.

Reverend Oktavianus condemned the attacks and called on the government to punish the culprits. "The government should increase safety in our country so that a similar incident does not reoccur," he said.

He said such action harms the bombers' karma (deeds), society, and the country, while Ugrasena said the country needs peace.

In 2003, suicide bombers attacked J.W. Marriott Hotel, killing 12 people and injuring more than 100.
 
   
   
  New Khandwa bishop to prioritize faith-building
  KHANDWA, JULY 20 (UCAN) -- The newly ordained bishop of the central Indian Khandwa diocese says he will stress faith-building among his people so as to bolster the Church's mission in the Hindu majority area.

"Until and unless we are united and cooperative, we cannot move forward," Bishop Alangaram Arockia Sebastian Durairaj told UCA News after his July 16 ordination. "I want the clergy and laity to come together and move forward," the Divine Word bishop said, adding that he would implement programs to strengthen the unity and faith of Catholics.

Braving heavy rains, some 8,000 people, mostly tribal people and framers, attended the ordination in Khandwa town, Madhya Pradesh state.

Four archbishops, 14 bishops and about 400 priests and 700 nuns attended the event.

Catholics in the diocese are a small minority, numbering only about 30,500 out of 4.2 million people, mostly Hindus. Diocesan officials say 70 per cent of Catholics are either tribal people or belong to the socially oppressed dalit groups.

Bishop Durairaj said he wants to create "job opportunities for the educated Christians" in the villages so they do not need to migrate to cities. "I wish to encourage agriculture and conduct workshops on water augmentation and modern cultivation," the bishop said.

He said he also plans to revive tribal culture and dialects and foster tribal values. "Modern education is ruining tribal values and culture," the new bishop said.

Bishop Durairaj also observed that the socio-political atmosphere has changed in the past decade.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has ruled the state since December 2003. Since then, scores of attacks on Christians and other religious minority groups have been reported. The BJP is considered the political arm of pro-Hindu extremist groups who want to establish a Hindu theocratic state in India. These groups view Christian social and charitable works as a facade to convert poor Hindus to Christianity.

Several Christian missioners have been attacked during their village visits and during prayer meetings.

The new bishop said he wants his clergy to develop "personal contact" with laypeople. "I believe the priests and nuns are doing their best in all the places they are in and doing their mission fairly well."

The diocese has been without a bishop after its head, Bishop Leo Cornelio, was appointed archbishop of Bhopal in 2007. Bishop Durairaj, who has worked in the region for several decades, was appointed Khandwa bishop on May 11 this year.

Some Catholics who attended the ordination told UCA News that priest-laity relations were ignored for almost two years, when the diocese had no bishop.

Priest-officials managed the affairs but they did "not give enough attention to maintain laity-clergy relations," said Rakesh Sastya. The dalit Christian farmer accused priests of ignoring the laity and abandoning house visits. "We want the new bishop to take initiatives to strengthen clergy-laity relations," he said.

Vijay Ohri, a dalit Catholic, also wants more house visits from clergy while Melsingh Jirban wanted the new bishop to visit parishes at least three times a year to instill confidence among priests.
 
   
   
  Church cautiously welcomes educational reform plans
  NEW DELHI, JULY 20 (UCAN) -- Church leaders have cautiously welcomed a Central move to reform India's educational system, as long as there is no undue state interference in their institutions.

Human Resources Minister Kapil Sibal in June proposed a series of steps to reform the Indian education system to make it more effective, economical and accessible to the poor.

Leaders of religious minorities, including Catholics, welcomed the move at a July 11 seminar in New Delhi. The seminar, which was considering minority rights and responsibilities in education, also discussed Sibal's proposals.

A delegation of seminar participants later submitted a memorandum to Sibal's office, said Father Kuriala Chittattukalam, executive secretary of Indian bishops' commission for education. He said Sibal's proposals could improve the educational system but the Church is "anxious" about its implementation.

The memorandum calls for the establishment of an independent education board to oversee Catholic schools without undue state interference.

Sibal's plan, unveiled on June 26, includes setting up a national autonomous educational board to bring uniformity to the educational system. Currently all the 28 Indian states have separate educational boards as well as different educational standards.

The minister proposed a law to provide free and compulsory education to children aged 6-14 and to allow foreign direct investment in education, aimed at improving school infrastructure and curricula.

According to a survey by a Hong Kong-based brokerage firm in 2008, the private education market in India could be worth US $40 billion and would be attractive to foreign investors.

Father Chittattukalam said the Church welcomes the idea of overseas investment in education but insists that this should be done with "regulatory government control."

The Church already has the largest private network of educational institutions in the country managing some 13,250 schools, 450 colleges and two universities for a total of 6.8 million students, said the priest. State governments often interfere in the admission process and staff appointments of Church schools, "curbing our freedom," he said.

An independent board for Catholic institutions would help end state interference and "ensure our constitutional rights," he said.

Jesuit educationist Father Thomas Kunnunkal agreed the state should not interfere with the running of Catholic schools but he doubted if the single regulatory body proposed by Sibal is the answer. The board is "a typical bureaucratic response to a complex problem," he said.

He said with "all the diversity that is existing in India, uniformity is not the answer." He also warned that foreign investment in education should be handled with caution as it could lead to commercialization of education.

Father K. J. Antony of the All India National Association of Catholic Schools, however, said the proposed reforms were necessary to end educational "stagnation." However, he said allowing foreign investment in higher education would make it the "exclusive domain of the rich."

He added that he supports the idea of an independent Catholic education board.

 
   
   
  Catholics mourn death of nun who went missing in China
  HONG KONG, JULY 20 (UCAN) -- More than 200 lay Catholics, nuns and priests paid their last respects to a nun, whose body was found in June after having gone missing for nearly six months.

The funeral of Sister Gonzaga Hu Xiaojuan of Jilin diocese, in northeastern China, was held on July 20. Her body was found in a culvert where she had apparently frozen to death.

It is the second blow in a week to Jilin diocese, whose Bishop Damas Zhang Hanmin passed away suddenly on July 19 in Changchun, the provincial capital, at the age of 88. His successor has not yet been named.

Sister Hu's younger brother Hu Xiaowen told UCA News that the police had informed the family of his sister's death on July 14 after identifying her body.

Sister Hu had not been seen since Dec. 28, after she "went out for a walk" after visiting a clinic in Tonghua to seek treatment for a psychological condition.

Her body was found in a suburb of the city in Jilin province.

The funeral Mass for Sister Hu was held at the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Family congregation's cemetery on the Our Lady of Lourdes Hill. The late nun was cremated and her ashes buried.

More than 200 lay Catholics, nuns and priests came to pay their last respects. "However, my mother was too sad to attend the funeral," said the late nun's brother.
On July 17, the youth group of Changchun cathedral parish organized a prayer vigil to commemorate Sister Hu's life.

Sister Hu was born into a Catholic family in 1965 and entered the congregation in 1988. She made her final vows in 2000.

She studied in Germany and the United States, and obtained a master's degree in pastoral theology. She had been the mistress of novices, vice superior general, councilor and was responsible for formation of other nuns in the congregation.

At the time of her disappearance, she managed a retreat center at Our Lady of Lourdes Hill, a famous pilgrimage site in Jilin.
 
   
   
  Homosexuality: Anglican church on the verge of split
  By David W. Virtue in Anaheim
www.virtueonline.org

Two Episcopal bishops of orthodox dioceses say the actions of General Convention 2009 have pushed The Episcopal Church over the edge and will accelerate splitting the Anglican Communion.

Albany Bishop William Love said the action of General Convention with the passage of D025 was the final straw. "The wider Anglican Communion will now say we have gone too far."

"It is very sad for me. I am a lifelong Anglican, but first of all I am a life-long Christian. It is breaking my heart to see what has happened," said Love choking back a tear as he spoke.

"I don't agree with their interpretation with what is the right thing. It (gay sex) is not a blessing but a curse. Rather than bringing people into the church it will accelerate the death of The Episcopal Church and will drive people away. It will accelerate the splitting up of the Anglican Communion and that is very sad. TEC has so much to offer. We are far from being at our best."

Love hit out at the notion perpetuated by liberals that conservatives hate homosexuals and that God doesn't love gays and that they have no place in the church. "That is not the case. Some people have made derogatory statements that have been hurtful and have said things that should never have been said. We cannot support such statements. This is not about hatred toward homosexuals; it is their lifestyle that is not in accordance with God's will.

"I believe in sexual relations between a man and a woman in the confines of marriage and sexual relations outside of that is not in accord with God's will.

"[Homosexuality] is often talked about as a justice issue. We do people a great injustice to say it is okay to do something God says is not okay. It is a matter of love for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to tell them that."

Springfield Bishop Peter Beckwith said The Episcopal Church is dying under its own weight. "We are losing members, churches and dioceses. It is a disaster and we need to name it for what it is. We are under God's judgment.

"Sex outside of marriage will kill you. Gays want temporal pleasure but at the cost of your souls," said the Springfield Bishop.

Questioned about schism, the bishop said the House of Bishops doesn't have a clue what they are risking. They are willing to risk schism over a justice issue.

Love said he came to GC2009 and, as an optimist, hoped to avoid the passage of D025. It happened. "Once again, we are saying we want to be part of the Anglican Communion and that we value that partnership. Yet there is always that 'but' we want to do it on our terms and we expect you to approve that. The rest of the Anglican Communion says it won't."

The two bishops were cautious when asked whether they would consider taking their dioceses out of TEC. "This pushes us away," said Beckwith. "If things don't change, there will be no orthodox expression in TEC."

"I don't have the power or authority or interest in taking the diocese out of TEC, said Beckwith. "I have been assisting people and I don't have the money for lawsuits."

Bishop David Anderson (CANA), president of the American Anglican Council, said the primary problem was not sex. "If sexuality issues were done away with, the problem would still exist in TEC. The real issue is the authority of Holy Scripture and Christology. Sex is symptomatic of the problems we face."

Asked by VOL if a third great wave of leavers, orthodox parishes form orthodox dioceses, would occur after GC2009, Love said the passage of D025 makes life difficult. "Our focus must always be on The Great Commission."

Beckwith said people keep drifting away from his diocese and the church. "If a priest says it is time to leave TEC, we would and talk to the Standing Committee and Diocesan Council. We don't have money to go to court. If you want to leave you can leave and you can always come back. The problem is Gene Robinson thinks he is pursing the gospel...one of us is wrong."

Beckwith said schism has [already] occurred because we have departed the teaching of the church. Schism is getting larger.

Beckwith said his e-mail traffic from the diocese, following the passage of D025, was what he expected. "It is exactly what I expected and yet better than what I expected." He said he was experiencing a generous hospitality from colleagues in the HOB.

Philip Ashey, ACC CEO, said the most egregious assessment of the B033 moratorium is that it is not really killed until another gay or lesbian candidate is ordained or consecrate. There is a conspiracy to commit schism, he said.
 
   
   
  Papal letter has become part of history in China
  HANDAN (China), JULY 19 (UCAN) -- Father Peter Peng Jiandao of Handan in Hebei province received his formation in the underground Church before he surfaced to work openly.

He recently wrote a commentary for UCA News in Chinese on the occasion of the second anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI's letter to Chinese Catholics that the Vatican released on June 30, 2007. The letter highlights theological points about the Church, including episcopal appointments, and provides practical guidelines for Church life and evangelization in China.

Father Peng, 44, was baptized in 1982 and was ordained a priest in 1990. He enjoys writing and has a blog where he shares his pastoral ministry and observations on the development of the Church in China.

His commentary, translated into English, follows:

Chinese Catholics were excited to receive the Pope's pastoral letter dated Pentecost Sunday May 27, 2007, after having suffered different kinds of persecution.

The Chinese government blocked the letter five hours after it was made public on the Internet. But this was long enough for Catholic netizens who waited overnight in front of computers. Once the document was released, it took them just a few minutes to download and print. Copies of the letter then spread nationwide within days. The government was sensitive to this, but it seemed could do nothing about it.

Both the "open" and "underground" Church communities first welcomed this letter but then went their separate ways after some excitement. The underground Church kept fighting for its faith principles while the open Church continued to uphold the banner of patriotism. More than 200 Church representatives took part in the commemoration of the golden jubilees of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) in July 2007 and of the "self-election and self-ordination of bishops" in December 2008.

Among such participants, quite a number of them were Vatican-approved bishops.

No matter what the Vatican said, Chinese Catholics kept doing things their way. It is something difficult for Europeans to understand. The Holy See may be surprised to see that no one seriously implemented the contents of the letter, although it was warmly welcomed. (Now retired) Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong encouraged mainland bishops to emulate the martyrdom spirit of Saint Stephen. But would they listen? One mainland bishop remarked, "We are under Communist rule in mainland China. Things are not so easy."

The underground Church leaders were grateful for the letter as the Pope praised them for not "compromising," but were sad to see the revocation of special faculties given to their community, and the Pope's instruction of reconciling with the open Church, which many in the underground community have opposed.

Even though it was a difficult choice to reconcile with the open Church, some "holy" underground Church leaders took great steps forward. To name a few, Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo of Zhengding in Hebei province accepted open Church priests from Shijiazhuang diocese for the sake of unity. Bishop Stephen Li Side of Tianjin also accepted some open Church priests, removing years of enmity between the two communities. Bishop Joseph Wei Jingyi of Qiqihar in Heilongjiang province also did the same.

How has the papal letter influenced the Church in China? Many leaders in the open Church will possibly insist on their old ways. The Eighth National Congress of Catholic Representatives would still be an assembly of Church leaders. Their speeches would still uphold the principle of an "independent, autonomous and self-managed" Church. Most of the bishops would still have their own philosophy of life, which the Europeans would never understand. This is an important reason why China and the Vatican cannot reach an agreement on building ties.

The Europeans are nurtured by Christian religious thinking and often emphasise contractual agreements and universal love, whereas the Chinese are deeply influenced by Confucianism. Though the Chinese talk about charitable love, it is greatly different from universal love as the former includes hierarchical love, such as the love between father and son, between the emperor and his officials.

China's ancient image as "a nation of etiquette" is related to "face" (giving respect). As such, mainland Church leaders joined the celebrations of the CCPA and the "self-election and self-ordination" of bishops because of "face." They were not really under a "so-called threat" or a "complete loss of freedom." It is no longer the time of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and the Chinese government does give its people a certain extent of freedom now. The point is whether mainland bishops should talk about "giving face" or "faith."

For the Church in China, the papal letter has become part of history. No one in the open Church studies or propagates it anymore. The letter seems not to be a concern for them. Some underground Catholics continue to study it but with an "uncompromising" spirit. It is sad to see the papal letter appear "like a shooting star" that serves only to be an epochal symbol for the Church in China.
 
   
   
  News Analysis by Meetu Tewari: The real issue is crime against women
  LUCKNOW, JULY 18 -- WITH UP Chief Minister Mayawati reiterating that she would not spare UP Congress chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi for her slanderous remarks against her and Congress MP Rahul Gandhi claiming that Joshi's anger was justified, though her language was unacceptable, an early end to the controversy can be ruled out.

Joshi was angry at the monetary compensation of Rs. 25000 offered by the state government to many Dalit rape victims. At a meeting of grassroots women leaders, she furiously said that the women should throw the money at the CM's face and tell her that if she got raped, they would give her 10 million rupees.

It did not take long for her to be prosecuted by the state government. Within a few hours of her speech she was arrested on charges ranging from insulting a woman's modesty, insulting a Dalit person (SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act) and of invoking social unrest. Joshi has been booked under 153A and 109 of the IPC for inflammatory speeches and using abusive language. She has been remanded to 14 days' judicial custody.

Not long after, under cover of darkness, Joshi's house was partially set on fire by the supporters of Mayawati. This happened despite her house being in a high security zone in Lucknow. However, no casualties were reported.

Rahul Gandhi has admitted the remarks to be excessive and regretted they were used but asserted that one must understand the emotions behind such a reaction. He stated that due to the inefficiency of the state government, people were suffering.

Meanwhile, Congress president Sonia Gandhi has also maintained that the remarks were regrettable but that no action would be initiated against Joshi. Ms Gandhi's stepping in was deemed necessary amid fears that the Congress might lose support amongst the Dalits.

However, what is unfortunate is that in the political maelstrom people seem to have overlooked the general plight of rape victims, who are the real issue. The compensation is also seen by some as depriving the victims of the cover of anonymity and of bringing them out in the open. The reason why monetary compensation is seen as redeeming the horrible act is because the government feels money to be a compensation for everything -- whether it's murder or rape which then absolves it of further responsibility.

Instead of money, victims need counseling and the assurance of anonymity. The severity of the trauma they face is something that cannot be cured by cash. In fact, assigning a figure of Rs 25,000 is a humiliation for any woman as it attaches a price to her modesty when what the victims suffer is something which cannot be measured. The government must also promise speedy action against the culprits and back its words through action.

Women leaders feel that rape is not something which cannot be prevented. Nor should women be treated always as victims. The government should initiate measures to offer better protection to women and the people in general in a state that has a very high crime rate.

They further feel that the government should offer the women counseling and help them to accept what has happened and to again face life. Making women feel helpless and giving them money somehow has a very negative connotation. Monetary compensation is not the answer -- the government needs to actually initiate steps to ensure the safety of women.

With a woman as their chief minister, the women of Uttar Pradesh expect her to understand their plight and react more sensibly and supportively. In the whole political storm blowing over UP, we must certainly not forget the core of the problem -- the high crime rates against women and the need for proper professional mechanisms to help the victims regain their normal lives.
 
   
   
  Two priests, nun accused in Sister Abhaya murder case
  From Our Correspondent
KOCHI, JULY 17 -- Fr Thomas Kottoor (60), Fr Jose Puthukkayil (54) and Sister Sephi (46) are the three accused in the Sister Abhaya murder case, according to the crime report the investigating agency -- Central Bureau of Investigation -- has filed in the court today.

The fourth accused -- former ASI V.V. Augustine who allegedly committed suicide during the investigation of the case -- has not been included in the final report.

The report does not clearly say who hit Sister Abhaya twice with an axe. The charges against the accused are murder, conspiracy, criminal trespass and destruction of evidence.

The CBI has concluded that the three had killed her for fear that Sister Abhaya who had come to the kitchen to drink water early in the morning and had seen them in a compromising position would expose them.

The report says Sister Abhaya had fallen down unconscious when she was hit twice with an axe on her head near the right ear. Fr Thomas Kottoor and Fr Jose Puthukayil, with the help of Sister Sephi, threw her into the nearby well.

The unconscious sister died of drowning. It was to ensure that she was killed and to destroy evidence that the culprits did this, says the report.

The late V.V. Augustine had originally been named the fourth accused for allegedly destroying the axe used in the murder and the circumstantial evidence gathered from the scene of crime. The CBI had concluded that Augustine, who was properly investigating the case, had done this on the pressures of his senior officers.

Since some more people are likely to be given a Narco test in the case, additional reports will be submitted later. The CBI does not rule out the possibility of including more persons among the accused.

It is after 17 years of the "murder" of Sister Abhaya that the CBI has filed the crime report. The three accused were arrested on November 19, 2008.

Sister Abhaya, who was a second year Pre-Degree student at BCM College, Kottayam, was killed at the Pius Xth Convent on March 27, 1992. The Kottayam west police initially registered the case. The Crime Branch, which took over the case on April 14, 1992, concluded that the nun had committed suicide.

It was on the orders of the Kerala High Court that the CBI took over the case on March 29, 1993. It took the CBI 16 years to arrest the accused in the case.
 
   
   
  Religious leaders condemn bomb attacks in Jakarta
  JAKARTA, JULY 17 (UCAN) -- Christian and Muslim leaders have condemned two bomb blasts in Jakarta that killed nine people and injured more than 50 others as "uncivilized acts" and urged the police to immediately apprehend the culprits.

Father Johannes Dwi Harsanto, executive secretary of the Indonesian bishops' Commission for Youth, said he was deeply distressed over the tragedy. "We pray for the dead and those who are injured. Let us also pray for our nation. May God move the heart of this nation to uphold and maintain peace," he said.

Father Harsanto expressed hope that all religious leaders will call on their respective followers to maintain national unity. He also hoped that the police would investigate the tragedy thoroughly.

The official of the Bishops' Conference of Indonesia told UCA News that about two bombs exploded this morning at 7:45 a.m. at the J.W. Marriott Hotel's restaurant and at 7:47 a.m. on the second floor of the Ritz Carlton Hotel.

Alex Asmasubrata, an eyewitness told UCA News that he was jogging pass the street where the hotels are located when he suddenly heard the blast. "It was the Marriott hotel. So I ran back to the Marriott, but two minutes later another blast happened at the Ritz-Carlton," he said. He added that at the Marriott he saw six people, all foreigners, with serious burns, broken legs and arms.

According to police, at least 18 foreigners were among the dead and wounded.

Amidhan, head of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), told UCA News, "I am deeply concerned and strongly condemn the uncivilized act which was done irrespective of motives." He said the "MUI does not tolerate such violence against innocent people."

Reverend Richard Daulay, general secretary of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI), a Protestant grouping, told UCA News, "We strongly condemn the bomb attacks. It is an immoral and uncivilized act." He added, "On behalf of the PGI we pray for the victims."

Both Amidhan and Reverend Daulay said they strongly urge security officers to investigate and arrest the culprits.

The Marriott hotel in Jakarta has been bombed before, with 12 people killed in a 2003 car-bomb attack.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, has a history of bloody terrorist attacks, including the Bali bombings of 2002 which claimed 202 lives including the lives of more than 100 foreign visitors.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks but suspicion has immediately fallen on the Al Qaeda-linked Southeast Asian terror network Jemaah Islamiyah. It had been more than three years since a major terrorist attack has occurred in Indonesia.

Meanwhile, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the attack was carried out by a "terrorist group" and vowed to arrest the perpetrators. He said it was too early to say if the Jemaah Islamiyah, blamed for past attacks in Indonesia, including a 2003 bombing at the Marriott, was responsible.

"Those who carried out this attack and those who planned it will be arrested and tried according to the law," he told a news conference. The attacks came just two weeks after a presidential election, in which Yudhoyono is expected to be re-elected. He has been credited with stabilizing a nation previously wracked by militancy.

 
   
   
  Christian youths plant trees to help environment in Bangladesh
  SAVAR (BANGLADESH), JULY 17 (UCAN) -- Christian youths are busy planting trees in several districts across Bangladesh in a drive to help alleviate the country's ecological problems.

"The government can't bring about major changes to address environmental problems alone. Ordinary people have to play a vital role," said 22-year-old Bobby Pereira.

Pereira was one of 42 participants at the "Youth and Students Responding to Protect the Environment" workshop organized by the Ecumenical Asia Pacific Students and Youth Network (EASY NET) last month.

EASY NET comprises six Christian organisations -- the National Christian Conference of Bangladesh (NCCB), the Student Christian Movement (SCM), the Bangladesh Catholic Students Movement (BCSM), Young Christian Students (YCS), the National Alliance of YMCA, and the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA).

It was established in 2001 with the vision of building grassroots ecumenism.

Pereira, an activist from the BCSM, is now involved in the tree planting program in Dhaka's Gazipur area.

During the workshop, EASY NET came up with a scheme to plant at least 6,000 trees before the onset of the rainy season at the end of July. The project is designed to raise public awareness of the lack of forestation caused by the clearing of trees for housing, cultivation and illegal logging.

At present only 16 percent of Bangladesh is covered by forest, well short of the 25 percent which environmentalists say is essential to help protect the country from natural disasters such flooding, drought and soil erosion.

Swapan Baroi, 32, a Catholic officer from the YMCA, who attended the workshop, has planted about 400 trees in the southern Gopalgonj district with the help of his organization.

"Besides this, on behalf of the YMCA I distributed 360 saplings to 120 students at a primary school in the area," Baroi told UCA News.

Bipul Alite Gonsalves, co-ordinator of the workshop, said: "The response for the tree plantation from Christian youths has surpassed our expectations. No doubt, youths can make a difference with their enthusiasm."

 
   
   
  Tourists help make village students' dreams come true
  By T.S. Thomas
BELGAUM, JULY 17 (UCAN) -- Mahadevi Bhadarwadi had no ambition in life until she met a group of tourists from Luxembourg at a Jesuit development center.

"Now, I want to go abroad and earn big money," says the 23-year-old tribal woman who now works as a nurse in a top hospital in Belgaum, in Karnataka.

Bhadarwadi, a Hindu, is among 43 young men and women the tourists had helped to complete professional courses. They did so through the Jana Jagaran (people's vigilance), a center started by Jesuits in 1985 to help tribal villagers in Belgaum district.

The tourists met Bhadarwadi when they visited the center in 2004 during a holiday in neighboring Goa, India's top tourist destination.

"The tourists changed our lives," Bhadarwadi told UCA News. She said at that time she was working in a woolen factory for just Rs 20 a day.

Father Joseph Chenakala, the founder director of the Jesuit center who invited the visitors, said they volunteered to support Bhadarwadi's three-year course in general nursing and midwifery.

"Her performance encouraged others in Luxembourg to sponsor more students," the Jesuit priest told UCA News. He said they named the program the "Mahadevi Project" after their first beneficiary. "Her determination, confidence and joy are exciting," he said, pointing to Bhadarwadi.

The priest said that under the scheme, each student gets Rs 200,000 rupees to pursue a professional qualification. Bhadarwadi's course cost about Rs 265,000.

Bhadarwadi said she would have married early and led a simple village life if the visitors had not helped her. The Jesuit center had helped her complete 12th grade, but she did not have the means to pursue studies beyond that.

The center has turned the money from the tourists into an evolving fund and uses it to support others. Beneficiaries repay the money in installments after they finish their studies and secure jobs. Some have become nurses, others software engineers, medical representatives and hotel managers.

Father Chenakala said the money is given as an interest-free loan.

Currently, the overseas benefactors are sponsoring 35 students while the Jesuit center is helping another eight.

Sujata N. Doddamani, another sponsored student, said she wants to repay the entire loan so that another deserving person can get an education.

Father Chenakala says he started the project because he is convinced India will progress only if its villagers are empowered. "Most women here spend their entire lives in poverty and illiteracy," he stated.

The priest says the Mahadevi Project has given new hope to young people. "They can not only dare to dream but also make their dreams come true."

 
   
   
  Spanish priest's 'grave' mission wins over villagers in Jharkhand
  By Ajit Paul
DERANG (JHARKHAND), JULY 16 (UCAN) -- One of the first things Spanish missioner Father Jose Alfaro did when he arrived in the village of Kamda in Jharkhand state nine years ago was to find someone to dig his grave.

He even had a headstone made that reads "RIP Father Jose Alfaro" in Hindi and English.

"I wanted to assure the people that I had come here for them and wanted to work for them until I died," said Father Alfaro.

The Piaris priest has since moved to Derang, another village, but still vows to stay in Jharkhand. He says he likes its people "so much that I don't want to go anywhere else."

"I will get a grave dug here also soon," he said, referring to Derang.

The missioner worked in a total of three mission stations in Khunti, a diocese dominated by the Munda, a major tribe in Jharkhand.

The early days of his mission were challenging, Father Alfaro says. People doubted his motives and refused to cooperate as they were not sure he would stay for long.

"To ensure that I would be with them until I die, I asked the villagers to dig a grave for me. That worked. Many started coming to the mission," he says cheerfully.

Vicar general Father Hilarious Barla says Father Alfaro has been a boon to Khunti diocese.

"He is a zealous missioner. There is no one else like him. He is an example for us," said the diocesan official.

According to Father Barla, the Spanish missioner has a "great gift" of making people feel at home with him. "Even Hindus and Muslims come to him for prayers," he said.

Father Barla said the missioner managed to quickly adapt to the tribal lifestyle and learned Mundari, the local language. "So people love him and feel comfortable with him," noted Father Barla, a Munda himself.

Father Alfaro worked among the poor in Argentina for 28 years before coming to India in 1993. He first worked in Cochin diocese in Kerala, where he opened a seminary. "But Kerala is so developed that I did not find I was needed there," he said.

He was advised by some Missionaries of Charity nuns to go to Jharkhand. "In 2000, I came to Khunti and stayed in the Bishop's House for three years to learn Mundari," he says. Then, in 2003, Bishop Stephen Tiru of Khunti handed him Kamda mission station deep in the forest.

Father Alfaro opened a school and on the first day, some 450 children arrived. "This convinced me that God had brought me here to educate the people," he said.

In 2006, he started the school at Derang, eight kilometers from Kamda. It has now some 250 students.

Father Alfaro charges no fees. His congregation, the Order of Poor Clerks Regular of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools (Piaris), supports him. "I get help from my people in Spain. Money is not a big problem," he says.

He added that many remote villages have invited him to help them. The people are poor and have no means to educate their children, he said.

"It is my earnest desire to open a string of schools in all neighboring villages before my last call," he said and added he would keep a grave ready in each place.

"My real resting place will be my last grave," he declared.
 
   
   
  100-year-old nun hailed as unsung Mother Teresa
  By Anne Nigli
KOLKATA, JULY 16 (UCAN) -- A Hungarian nun, who has just turned 100, has been hailed as an unsung Mother Teresa for her decades of work helping poor women gain the skills to earn a living.

Franciscan Sister Etelka Marton, popularly known as Sister Lenke, has lived in Kolkata since 1968 where she has taught thousands of women to sew and embroider, giving them skills that helped them feed their families.

Unlike Mother Teresa, or Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, Sister Lenke was "unknown to the media," retired Archbishop Henry D'Souza of Calcutta told UCA News before celebrating a Mass to mark her 100th birthday on June 27.

While Blessed Teresa's work was highly visible, Sister Lenke spent most of her time in her workroom, training poor women sent by priests from far-flung mission stations.

The frail nun, with a wide grin and sparkle in her eye, still commands respect and love from her companions and the women she taught, say those who know her.

Some 250 women who she has helped over the years visited her on her birthday bringing their children and grandchildren.

Sister Lenke was active until Jan. 1 when she broke her right arm in a fall, her superior, Sister Celine Xavier, said. While her arm has healed, Sister Lenke, who is nearly blind, has been bedridden since the accident.

Sister Xavier said that during her decades of service, the centenarian nun has worked as gardener, nurse, matron to orphans, sacristan and catechism teacher. Her main mission, however, was to head the embroidery section that had in its early years trained over 500 poor village women.

She stopped teaching in 1994 but continued to pray, listen to spiritual readings, and welcome innumerable visitors, said Sister Xavier.

Sister Lenke was born in 1909 in Budapest. According to Sister Celine, the senior nun vividly recalls growing up in the turmoil that followed the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I.

While her father was away at war, her mother worked as a dressmaker to provide for her four children, of which Sister Lenke was the eldest.

Only the nun's younger sister is still living today, in Hungary. One of her brothers died a few weeks after his birth and the other died during the World War II.

Sister Lenke joined the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in 1930 and reached Jabalpur in central India in 1934. She came to Kolkata in 1968 but remains a Hungarian citizen.
 
   
   
  Church's call for peace talks evokes response from Philippines Government
  From Ben Cal
MANILA, July 16 -- Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Avelino I. Razon Jr. welcomed the statement of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) calling the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) to resume peace talks with the government.

"We are all for peace because the best way to settle the long-drawn insurgency war is through negotiation," Razon said in response to the statement issued by the CBCB.

In its statement, the CBCP urged the MILF and the CPP to return to the negotiating table "to find solutions that would lead to lasting peace thus preventing further violence, death and displacement of innocent people."

Razon said the government is ready to resume the stalled peace talks with the MILF and the communist rebels.

"There is no alternative to peace and we are all for peace," Razon said.

He also said that the government has been conducting back-channeling efforts to revive the peace talks and "there are some progress made and we are hopeful formal peace talks will resume soon.

"We are looking forward to that day when the peace talks will again resume," Razon said.

At the same time, he said the government will intensity its peace-building efforts, particularly in southern Philippines.

Razon said various infrastructure projects are being implemented by the government in armed conflict areas. Many of these projects are also funded by foreign donors.

Razon also said a rehabilitation program is also being pursued by the government to help the people displaced by the recent fighting in Mindanao go back to their home.

Earlier, Bishop Nereo Odchimar, the newly elected president of the influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), asked all Filipinos to join him to pray for peace.

Odchimar, the archbishop of Tandang, Surigao del Sur, expressed concern over the spate of bombings in Mindanao last week that killed 12 people and wounded 82 others.

"Continuing (the peace) talk is the key solution to solve the problems and not through the barrel of the gun," he said, referring to the recent violent incidents.

Odchimar will assume the CBCP presidency this coming December to replace Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo.

Bishop Odchimar, who was also chosen as head of the conference's Permanent Council, cited the importance of prayer for the country to attain that elusive peace.

Bishop Odchimar, the concurrent CBCP vice-president of the conference, was elected as CBCP president during the two-day 99th Plenary Assembly of bishops at the Pope Pius Xll Catholic Center in Paco, Manila on Saturday.

Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo urged everyone to pray for the cessation of conflict and violence.

He also appealed to various groups to refrain from unfounded speculations to gain political and ideological leverage.
 
   
   
  Biblical board games aim to give hope to young people
 
HONG KONG, JULY 17 (UCAN) -- Pauline Shum Sui-ping has come up with a new and fun way for young people to learn more about the Bible and its messages.

In March 2007, shocked by the increase of suicides among young people, she felt that a greater understanding of the Scriptures would help bring a message of hope to those who apparently had none.

Her answer was to come up with a board game called "The Great Leader, Moses" based on the Old Testament prophet's life. She says there are many inspiring messages one can glean from Moses' life, the first being never to give up on oneself.

"Moses did not give up on himself after fleeing the pharaoh's palace to become a shepherd," she said.

"I hope my game encourages young people not to give up on their lives so easily."

The game can be played by three to six people. Players throw dice and move their tokens on the board with the aim of reaching the "Promised Land." In the course of the game, they will land on squares that require the answering of Bible-based questions. Clue cards are on hand to help.

Pressed by her customers, who liked this game, she came up with another one based on the life of Christ, called "The Great Teacher, Jesus." This game was launched in September 2008.

Shum, owner of Resonance Publisher, also illustrates Biblical storybooks depicting the lives and teachings of Jesus, Moses and other Biblical figures.

The single mother with a 21-year-old daughter, said she hopes her religious games and storybooks will subtly inculcate the values of the Christian faith in children.

The designer has experienced the value of faith herself. In April, her stock was flooded and computers ruined when firefighters put out a fire at a building next to her company. "At first I felt so anxious because I had lost everything within minutes," she said. But she was inundated with consoling phone calls and emails from friends and even strangers that showed her "the grace of God" and helped "consolidate" her faith.

Young Catholics who have played Shum's games give them the thumbs up.

Margaret, for one, said the Moses game not only helped her to learn the story of the Israelite's exodus, it also helped her realise that just as Moses persevered in his mission, "we also should not give up easily."
 
   
   
  Bangladesh church supports Santal 'revolution' to preserve rights
  DINAJPUR (BANGLADESH, JULY 15 (UCAN) -- The Catholic Church is supporting the Santal tribal people's ongoing "revolution" to demand equal rights and preserve their culture.

St. Francis of Assisi Church in Dinajpur recently celebrated the 154th anniversary of the Santal Rebellion where the downtrodden people rose up against the British Raj.

"Unless we are properly educated, know about our history and have lawful rights to our lands, the revolution will go on," said Cherubim Hembrom, 50, a local Santal leader and guest of honor at the June 30 event.

"Today is the day of mourning for Santals, not a day of festivities. We should pay proper tribute to our ancestors who laid down their lives to claim rights and respect for us," he said.

The Santal say they are still subject to similar land grabs and social injustices that led to their uprising against the British.

The Santal rebellion was one of the first major uprisings against the Raj.

Santal leaders Sido Murmu and his brother Kanhu mobilized 10,000 of their people, skilled archers, to attack the British. After early successes, the rebellion was suppressed.

The parish council of Dhanjuri and Dinajpur diocese's Justice and Peace Commission jointly organised the recent celebration.

Father Silas Murmu, assistant parish priest of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, said that by hosting the remembrance ceremony, the Church hopes to preserve the ethnic languages and cultural heritage of minorities.

It was also to heighten awareness of ethnic Santal demands.

About 700 Santal, mostly students, attended Mass followed by a procession accompanied by traditional musical instruments. A rally, a discussion session, an archery competition and cultural programs followed.

Uzzal Peter Besra, one of the church volunteers who helped organise the event, said it gave him new insights into his own history.

"I didn’t know much about the Santal Revolution but as I studied and read the history of the Santal, I realised how significant it was for ethnic minorities like us," Besra told UCA News.

Besra, 21, a Catholic graduate student along with nine volunteers went door-to-door in the parish's villages to remind Santal to gather.

Father Murmu said that while the Church was not involved in the actual revolution 150 years ago, it "wants to make Santal aware of it in order to ensure education and lawful rights for them as well as for other ethnic minorities."

About 50,000 of the 225,000 Santal in Bangladesh have embraced Christianity. Of these, 70 percent are Catholics.

The Santal are the largest indigenous tribal group in the Indian subcontinent.

 
   
   
  Catholics file police report over communion host incident in Malaysia
  PENANG, JULY 15 (UCAN) -- Two Catholics have filed a police report against an Islamic magazine which reported that two Muslims, after receiving Holy Communion during Mass, spat it out.

The monthly "Al-Islam" magazine, in its May issue, carried the article "Al Islam's investigation in church: Finding the truth behind youths' apostasy."

The article says that a journalist and his friend, both supposedly Muslims, went into two Catholic churches in Kuala Lumpur and carried out these acts.

The Malay-language "Al Islam" is available at most news vendors around the majority-Muslim country.

Joachim Xavier and Sudhagaran Stanley from Penang filed the police report on July 8, saying they found the way that the two Muslims claimed they handled the Eucharist sacrilegious. According to the article, the two men received Holy Communion, later spat out the host, took a photo of it and published their story in "Al Islam."

The article describes in detail how the two men went to two churches to investigate rumours that Muslim youths are being offered money to convert to Christianity. However, they did not find such conversions taking place.

"I have no objection to the Malay Muslim men visiting the church. But the issue is their intention of visiting a church to spy on its activities," Xavier told UCA News.

Xavier and Stanley, in a joint press statement, said, "Entering these premises with the intention to spy, and worse, to violate the sanctity of the worship only serves to incite anger and hatred that could lead to potentially dangerous consequences that would tear this country apart."

Bishop Antony Selvanayagam of Penang has urged Catholics not to respond to the events in a tit-for-tat manner. However, he noted that "Catholics cannot just keep quiet either," and expressed hope that the Malaysian home ministry will take appropriate action.

Police said they have commenced investigations into the incident, according to media reports.
 
   
   
  Buxar bishop unfazed by small number of Catholics in diocese
  By Malini Manjoly
BUXAR (BIHAR), JULY 14 (UCAN) -- Buxar diocese may have only 15,000 practicing Catholics, but its new prelate is undaunted by this.

"Being small is good," said Bishop Sebastian Kallupura, adding that the diocese can still be developed into a "model diocese according to Vatican II and God's plan."

The diocese covers Bihar's Bhabua, Bhojpur, Buxar and Rohtas districts. It has only 25,000 registered Catholics, mostly Dalit or former "untouchables", out of 2.8 million people. About 10 diocesan and 15 Religious priests manage 14 parishes.

The new bishop, speaking to UCA News on July 4, two weeks after his episcopal ordination, said he will strive to make these Catholics "the leaven for the majority."

Despite the small number of Catholics, Bishop Kallupura, who was the chancellor of Patna archdiocese before his episcopal appointment, said he expects them to take a leading role in diocesan affairs.

"The Church will be the people's Church, not just of priests and nuns," he stated.

Bishop Kallupura said he plans to appoint a nun to direct the diocesan social service center but wants to include laypeople in diocesan commissions such as finance, that now priests or Religious hold exclusively.

Language is another challenge for the prelate who comes from Kerala. Most people in his diocese speak Bhojpuri, a variation of the official Hindi language.

"I am eager to learn this language, which is musical and very soft," the balding bespectacled prelate said.

The bishop says an immediate priority is to start some social outreach programs to help Christians in his diocese, who are mostly landless agricultural labourers. The diocese is one of the most backward areas of the country.

He said he would find funds to run projects for up to five years, "then give the people support and guidance to administer the projects and programs themselves."

He also wants to give quality education to Catholic children but has no plans to duplicate government services. Bishop Kallupura believes the Church should motivate teachers to join the federal government's campaign for universal education.

Another potential for the diocese is its youth, Bishop Kallupura says. He says he would invite religious congregations exclusively engaged in youth work to work in his diocese.

The prelate says he is also happy with his one-room residence. "It is good to live like our people," he said.
 
   
   
  Hindu group in Nepal tells Christians to leave country again
 
KATHMANDU, JULY 13 (UCAN) -- Christians have been told to leave Nepal or face dire consequences from the Hindu group that claimed responsibility for the bombing of Assumption Church in Kathmandu in May.

According to Bishop Anthony Sharma, apostolic vicar of Nepal, the obscure Nepal Defense Army (NDA) made threats over the phone to pro-vicar Father Pius Perumana, director of the St John Vianney Pastoral Center at Godavari, Jesuits at the St. Xavier's school, nuns at St. Mary's School and the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth at Baluwatar, all in Kathmandu.

"The NDA has been threatening non-Nepalese priests and nuns. It has asked them to leave the country within one month," the Jesuit bishop told UCA News on July 8.

He said the latest threats were made in the name of NDA chief Ram Prasad Mainali. The bishop added that the police had been informed and Catholic institutions alerted. "Six policemen have been stationed on duty at the pastoral center at Godavari," he said.

The latest threats echo a similar demand issued on May 29, following the May 23 blast at Assumption Church. In the statement given to the media, the NDA gave the country's 1.5 million Christians a month to leave Nepal or have their homes bombed.

NDA comprises former soldiers, former policemen and victims of Maoist guerrillas. It claims to have trained suicide bombers to fight communists, Christians and Muslims and restore Nepal as a Hindu nation.

Protestants have also received similar warnings.

A pastor, who asked not to be named, told UCA News on July 12 that the Protestant Church in Kathmandu has received a letter purportedly signed by Mainali, demanding that Christians leave the country or face dire consequences.

"We have formed a committee of leaders of five or six big Churches that will look into the threat, verify the letter and take measures accordingly," said the pastor from one of the main Protestant Churches in Kathmandu.

"We have received another letter from another Hindu group asking us to give them 750,000 rupees (around US$10,000). The group has said in its letter that if we pay them the amount, they will see to it that NDA's Mainali does not harm the Churches in Nepal," the pastor added.

According to the pastor, Protestant Church leaders are "in a fix" after receiving two separate letters from two Hindu groups and "don’t know which group to listen to."

Police Inspector Krishna Thapa from the office of the Inspector General of Police (IGP), said the police department is "doing the needful" about the threats.

"We are acting accordingly and some Churches have been given police security. Investigations are ongoing on," Thapa, also the personal assistant of the IGP, told UCA News on July 12.

The government, formed in 2006 after former King Gyanendra Shah was forced to give up absolute power, declared the country secular. The Maoists, who led a decade-long insurgency in this Himalayan nation, joined mainstream politics the same year after signing a peace accord with the government. However, several Hindu groups are up in arms demanding that Nepal be declared a Hindu nation again.

The NDA has also been blamed for the murder of Salesian priest Father John Prakash Moyalan in east Nepal in 2008. It has also claimed responsibility for bombing a mosque in east Nepal in April last year, and a number of bomb blasts in 2007, including at a Maoist office in Kathmandu.

According to the Nepal Catholic directory, there are 7,500 Catholics in the country.

 
   
   
  Charity groups prepare to aid flood victims in China
  NANNING (CHINA), JULY 13 UCAN) --Church-run charity groups are ready to launch relief efforts in flood-hit southern and central China where 75 people have been killed and 13 are reported missing.

Heavy rain since late June has inundated the area. According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, nearly 40 million people in Chongqing, Hubei, Guangxi, Guizhou, Jiangxi and seven other provinces have been affected by the floods.

In Guangxi province, the local Church is closely monitoring the situation and is preparing to give a helping hand.

Bishop John Baptist Tan Yanquan of Nanning diocese told UCA News recently the Church has not received reports of damage to Church buildings or casualties among Catholics. According to the Chinese government, the province has recorded a total property damage of 200 million yuan (US$29.3 million), he said.

The prelate added that the Church will "closely watch" the developments in the aftermath of the natural disaster that has affected 25 cities and counties, and is "ready to give help alongside the government's relief campaign."

About 938,000 people have been evacuated and more than 100,000 buildings have been damaged or collapsed in the affected areas.

The Guangxi Catholic Loving Heart Foundation, of which Bishop Tan is the president, has sent Church workers to each parish to investigate losses among Catholics and draw up relief plans.

The foundation was formed several years ago but only formally registered with the local government in April 2009. Its mission is to bring aid to the needy and visit the elderly and sick.

Father Paul Han Qingping, deputy director of the Catholic-run Jinde Charities, said the organization is working with priests in Guangxi and Hunan provinces, and appealed to Catholics in and outside China to provide relief.

According to a recent Jinde report, Father John Li Hongwei of Changsha, Hunan, is now contacting Catholic villagers in the disaster areas for an update on the situation.

The priest said some areas in Hunan have suffered severe flooding. Two weeks of heavy rain have flooded farmlands and damaged houses. The situation in some remote mountainous areas is more critical as transportation and telecommunication services have been disrupted.

Hunan, a hilly agricultural region, suffers from torrential rain and flooding every summer.
 
   
   
  Government to rebuild worship venues in Sri Lanka
  COLOMBO, JULY 13 (UCAN) -- The Bishop of Jaffna has welcomed assurances by the government that it will rebuild religious venues destroyed in the civil war.

Pandu Bandaranayaka, the Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs and Moral Upliftment, told UCA News that Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse is personally supervising the rebuilding program.

"We understand the cry of the people," he said, adding that preparatory work has already begun for the renovation of temples and churches.

A specialist team of government agents is presently collecting information on Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim religious venues in northern areas where fighting was heaviest.
Bishop Thomas Savundaranayagam of Jaffna, said he was pleased at the initiative.

"We welcome the government's undertaking to rebuild damaged religious centers in the north," he said but added that he was concerned that he was still banned from visiting the former war zone to inspect the damage himself.

Hundreds of churches, Hindu temples and other places of worship have been destroyed or damaged in fighting that lasted more than 25 years.

Some 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDP) presently languish in 40 camps waiting to return to their homes.

Bandaranayaka said the government would also build churches and temples in the IDP camps. Many Tamils in the camps have complained about lack of access to spiritual leaders or places of worship.

"We discussed building a church in the destroyed city of Kilinochchi with the Bishop of Jaffna," Bandaranayaka said. Kilinochchi was the stronghold and administrative city of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eeelam, the rebels who were fighting for a separate state for the Tamil minority.

The deputy minister also said that a mine-clearing operation is presently taking place in the former war zone, and once that is completed, people will be resettled.

However, the de-mining and development program around the popular shrine of Our Lady of Madhu in Mannar diocese has already been completed, according to the government. After discussions with Catholic Church leaders, the government has given the green light for the shrine's annual Marian feast to be held as usual on Aug. 15, the Feast of the Assumption.

 
   
   
  News Analysis by Vishal Arora: Liberhan report delay is no jigsaw puzzle
  SOMETIMES the truth is simple. Even the truth behind Byzantine political intricacies. So simple that we can stumble over its simplicity, like we stumbled when the report of the Liberhan Commission of Inquiry was submitted to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on June 30.

Taking the current political scene as the point of reference, we sought to interpret the timing of the report's submission. Several possibilities came to mind: maybe the commission -- tasked to indicate culpability in the December 1992 Babri Masjid demolition case "as soon as possible but not later than three months" -- submitted the report in June 2009 so that the new Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government would be able to bash into the ground the Rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was already in a shambles. Or maybe the UPA's eyes were on the upcoming assembly elections in Maharashtra and Jharkhand.

While there is no denying that the UPA can use the report as a political tool, such exegeses overlook a simpler truth -- one that can shed light on why the commission waffled for about 17 years, all through the vastly different dispensations of PV Narasimha Rao, HD Deve Gowda, IK Gujral, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the first full term of the current prime minister, Manmohan Singh.

Precisely five years ago, on June 30, 2004 -- when the general election to the 14th Lok Sabha was over and a new government had been sworn in a few days earlier -- the commission's chairperson, Justice MS Liberhan, informed the media that all oral arguments and analysis of evidence had been completed and that he would submit the report "very soon". It didn't happen; perhaps he was waiting for a nod from the government. The UPA, which had snatched power from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and was touting it as a victory of 'secularism', seemed to be in no mood to receive the report.

The reasons are clear: LK Advani, the main accused in the demolition case and who had been until a few days earlier the deputy prime minister, had been appointed Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. Another accused, Kalyan Singh, who was chief minister of Uttar Pradesh when the Babri Masjid was demolished, had been appointed vice-president of the BJP. A third accused, Uma Bharti, had been rewarded with the chief ministership of Madhya Pradesh after having led the BJP to a three-fourths majority a year earlier. The stature of BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi, the fourth accused, had not been diminished in popular memory: he had been a Union minister with three portfolios -- human resource development, science and technology, and ocean development -- from November 1999 until a few weeks earlier.

So, although the BJP was definitively out of power, it was still perceived as a powerful player in national politics. It had won 138 seats on its own in the 14th Lok Sabha election, just seven short of the Congress's count of 145.

Furthermore, Congress leader Narasimha Rao, the former prime minister in whose term the Babri mosque had been razed following his permission to the Sangh Parivar to gather in huge numbers at the disputed structure in Ayodhya, was still alive.

In hindsight, what had apparently then turned the UPA's mood against the Liberhan report was the simple fact that the demolition was still a high profile case. All the accused were alive and kicking.

But it's mid-2009 now, and the political scene has changed.

Advani has again been appointed Leader of the Opposition, but only to conciliate, however temporarily, the infighting that has torn apart the BJP's second-rung leaders over who will occupy the party's top post and positions in the two Houses of parliament. Advani wanted to resign following the BJP's wholesale humiliation in the recent general election, but agreed to stay on for a little longer in the interest of the party as well as to ensure that it is his protégés who fill the leadership vacuum.

Kalyan Singh resigned from the party on January 20, 2009, protesting that he had been ignored in party affairs in Uttar Pradesh ever since former chief minister of that state Rajnath Singh had become party president. Soon after, this Trojan horse of the BJP joined the Samajwadi Party (SP), only to skid to a dead end. Not only did the SP show up poorly in the general election, the party also dropped Kalyan Singh's son, Rajveer Singh, its national general secretary, from the subsequent Ferozabad Lok Sabha by-poll.

Uma Bharti had to resign as chief minister in August 2004 following an arrest warrant against her in a 1994 Hubli (Karnataka) riot case. In November 2004, she was suspended from the BJP as punishment for ranting at Advani. In May 2005, though, the party appointed her to its national executive thanks to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's intervention. That very year, she was removed, again, following her outburst against the appointment of Shivraj Singh Chouhan as Madhya Pradesh chief minister. She is now president of the 'BJP' -- not the Bharatiya Janata Party but the Bharatiya 'Janshakti' Party, which she formed in April 2006. In the Madhya Pradesh assembly election in 2008, Bharti's party got only five of the 230 seats. It's a pretty good indicator of her future in politics.

For 75-year-old Murli Manohar Joshi, the best is history. A day after the 2009 general election results were announced on May 16, he had no one to vouch for him as Leader of the Opposition -- except himself. "I am not in any race," he told the media. "But if I am given any responsibility by the party, I do not shy away."

Although he had won the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat, he seemed to have little following in the party or outside his constituency. His blog is a good yardstick of the extent of his popularity. He posted a 'thank you' note on his website on May 16, saying, "I thank the people of Varanasi from the core of my heart for posing their faith in me... As your humble representative in the Indian Parliament, I shall strive to work honestly for you." A hyperlink that solicited comments had not been clicked even once, at least not until mid-July. Created in December 2008, Joshi's website has only 38 'followers'.

As for Narasimha Rao, time has rendered him a non-issue. Rahul Gandhi had blamed him for the demolition of the mosque in March 2007, over two and a half years before Rao died of a heart attack.

In other words, the difference in the UPA's receptivity of the Report of the Liberhan Commission of Inquiry between 2004 and 2009 is that the case the report addresses is no longer 'high profile'. The main accused, barring Narasimha Rao, are alive but not quite kicking. The report's presentation, and acceptance, is a move that is consistent with a simple truth -- that most high profile persons accused in graft or criminal cases in India are rarely indicted in their prime. If, perchance, they are, acquittal follows; or else they are indicted 'posthumously'. (Courtesy: Caravan)
 
   
   
  Working paper for bishops' meeting to focus on Asian life situations
  MANILA, JULY 11 (UCAN) -- When over 100 bishops and cardinals from around Asia gather in Manila for their plenary assembly on the Eucharist next month, they will reflect on more than just the beliefs and practices of celebrating Mass.

They will also look at how Christians in the region -- inspired by their faith -- respond to life situations with faith and hope, according to the working paper for the 9th Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC).

The paper to be presented at the assembly by Filipino Bishop Luis Antonio Tagle of Imus is titled "Living the Eucharist in Asia."

It has been issued to participants so they can gather their thoughts on the assembly's theme and share them at sessions during the Aug. 10-16 assembly at the Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila.

The Eucharist, the working paper explains, is more than the Eucharistic celebration focusing only on one part of Jesus' life and ministry. It commemorates Christ's whole life which was "a pleasing sacrifice or offering of love to the Father for the salvation of the world."

It says that in Asia today, "living the Eucharist," involves a new way of coming together as a family and community because it is God who gathers people.

The paper gives as an example the Church's call to Christians to give a welcoming response to migrant workers, refugees and displaced peoples.

On July 8, Scalabrini Father Edwin Corros, executive secretary of the Philippine bishops' Commission for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, told UCA News that this part of the paper is more than just ideas for him.

Drawing on his experience working with migrants, he noted "many Churches in Asian countries are welcoming to migrants in terms of celebrating the Eucharist." More than a decade ago, when he served as a chaplain and parish priest to Filipino workers in Taipei, this was not so.

"We were celebrating Mass in Filipino at the cathedral" in the mid-1990s. "But after four weeks the now-deceased parish priest requested us to stop celebrating Mass because the police were giving him trouble," Father Corros recalled.

He remembered the days when the illegal employment of overseas filipino workers was rampant in Taipei, so the workers were "automatically suspected" of being undocumented. He said police would watch the cathedral during his Mass, looking for illegal workers.

"I felt in that instance, the Church didn't defend us, and it made me ask where the welcoming spirit of the Church was," Father Corros said.

The working paper says this year's Plenary Assembly continues a theme started in recent years "to help the Church appreciate the life she draws from Christ in the Eucharist."

The 2005 Synod of Bishops presided by Pope Benedict XVI for instance had as its theme "The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church."
 
   
   
  Detained priests comfort Tamil refugees in Sri Lanka
  WEERAPURAM CAMP, Sri Lanka, JULY 10 (UCAN) -- As hundreds of thousands of Tamil refugees languish in detention camps nearly two months after the end of the civil war, some are drawing spiritual comfort from the priests held with them.

"Two priests are detained with us, it is an auspicious sign," says Jacob Sebastianpillai, a Tamil presently living in Weerapuram Refugee Camp in northern Sri Lanka.

Sebastianpillai, 56, and his children, have until recently not been able to attend Mass, or receive Holy Communion or other spiritual support.

Two priests were recently sent to the camp, however, after being picked up by security forces in the former battle zone. They face investigation by the military for their alleged connection with the Tamil Tiger rebels, but meanwhile are ministering to Tamil Christians' spiritual needs in the camp.

Weerapuram Refugee Camp, located 20 kilometers southwest of Vavuniya city, presently houses about 6,000 people. Of these, about 1,400 are Catholics, and the rest mainly Hindus. It is one of more than 30 barbed wire-encircled camps for those displaced as a result of the fighting between rebels and government forces.

Amid the hardship and uncertainty, the religious leaders are providing comfort to many.

"Sermons and healing services give a sense of relief," said Sebastianpillai, who before being detained was a parishioner of St Peter's Church in Mullaitivu.

Church leaders are also trying to secure the release of six priests detained in the camps. The military have let some priests go already due to sickness or age.

But some priests do not want to leave the people behind, such as the two detained at Weerapuram Camp.

"We do not want to be released as the climate of fear is high among people here," Father E.S.C. Mariathas, parish priest of St Anne's Church in Mullaitivu, told UCA News on July 9.

"At this point of time, we want to stay with the refugees".

Father Francis Jude Gnanaraj Croos says he spends his time strengthening fellowship among Catholics. "We celebrate Mass together and talk about the time when we will be released, get back to our homes and breathe the air of freedom," he said, with his hand on the camp's barbed-wire fence.

At present, more than 300,000 Tamils are still being held in camps after the 25-year-long civil war ended in May.

The Catholic Church is providing relief aid to these people through Caritas-Valvuthayam, the social service arm of Mannar diocese. The organization provides four kitchens for refugees and also education for children of school-going age.
----
By special arrangement with www.ucanews.com
 
   
   
  Religious leaders unite to fight gay sex
  By Andalib Akhter

NEW DELHI, JULY 10 -- Well-known minority leaders of the country have decided to launch an all-India campaign against legalisation of gay practice in the country. They called upon people who believe in ethical and religious values to stand up against those who spoil the social fabric of the country.

Addressing a joint Press conference here on Thursday, the leaders of Christians, Muslims, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists termed the Delhi High Court judgment on Article 377 as "shocking and unfortunate". They wanted the government to intervene in the matter and declare in clear terms that unnatural sex was unacceptable and illegal.

Father Dominic Emmanuel, the founder of Sarvadharma Sadbhav (Communal Harmony and Peace), said: "We have no objection to de-criminalisation of homosexuality because we never considered them (homosexuals) as criminals." He, however, said his group was against legalising it... because what they do is "unnatural and against the design and will of God."

President of Jamaat-e-Islaami Hind, Maulana Syed Jalaluddin Umari, who organised the conference, said homosexuality was considered a crime in Islam. "Such behaviour is against the moral values of our nation, which is based on cultural and ethical traditions. The government should take our views seriously."

"We urge the government to keep in mind the views of various religious groups, while taking a stand on the judgment of the Delhi High Court," said Jain religious leader Acharya Lokesh Muniji.

"As a representative of a religious body, one of my greatest fears is that this judgment may be a step towards legalising homosexual marriages in India. This is completely unacceptable," he said.

Sardar Tarsem Singh of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee said the Sikh religion did not view homosexuals as criminals, adding his religion did not encourage such behavior.

Seeing the huge media presence at the Press conference, Father Dominic Emmanuel said the way the media was showing interest in the issue was astonishing. "When we call a Press conference to fight against atrocities committed on the innocent, hardly anyone covers it," he said sarcastically.
 
   
   
  Seminary starts academic year by 'going green'
  By Anne Nigli

KOLKATA, JULY 10 (UCAN) -- A Catholic major seminary is adding ecological studies to its spiritual and theological program in a groundbreaking initiative.

"We want to take concrete steps toward caring for the earth and its conservation," said Father Franklin Menezes, rector of Morning Star College, at Barrackpore, north of Kolkata.

The seminary began its new academic year recently with an orientation program on the ecology and a brainstorming session on how to make the campus more environment-friendly.

Students, staff and members of neighboring religious houses were among the 245 people who attended the three-day program.

Jesuit Father Robert Athickal, founding director of Tarumitra (friends of trees), a green group, helped the participants to map out strategies.

The seminary decided to make the campus plastic-free, use solar panels to generate electricity, collect saleable waste paper and use disposable clay cups instead of paper ones.

The students will also start rainwater harvesting and go organic when working on their 15-hectare farm. Here they will grow medicinal plants and plant a greater variety of trees to promote bio-diversity, in addition to avoiding the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

The seminary will also clean up drains outside the campus every month, recycle campus waste water and ban the burning of dead leaves.

There are also plans to start a bio-gas plant as well as set up an ecological committee in the campus to monitor the programs.

"We are beginning in small ways to help in the international plan to save the earth. What is the use of anything if the earth is destroyed?" Father Menezes asked.

The rector told UCA News the seminary decided to go for environment friendly activities in 2008 when it celebrated its 40th anniversary. "These are efforts toward the realization of that dream."

The seminary will spread the message further afield with programs in schools and parishes to educate people about the need to preserve the environment.

Participants would be encouraged to adopt trees and take care of them.

Father Menezes said his students could learn the environment-friendly skills and go out as apostles at a time when the world is waking up to the scale of the ecological crisis.

Jesuit Father Patrick Walsh, a seminary staff member, said the program was "a wonderful start" to the new academic year. His colleague, diocesan Father Stephen Pampakal, also encouraged the participants to compose an earth prayer to be recited daily.
 
   
   
  Orissa witnesses fall silent amid threats
  BHUBANESWAR, JULY 9 (UCAN) -- Christian lawyers and social workers say that witnesses of violence in Orissa are becoming uncooperative in court following threats to their lives.

Fear and uncertainty have gripped many people as gunmen comb villages for people named as witnesses in cases related to last year's anti-Christian violence in the state, a Church official said.

In June, a fast-track court began hearing hundreds of cases against radical Hindus, who had orchestrated a four month-long campaign of violence against Christians.

The unrest began on August 24, 2008, a day after Maoists gunned down a Hindu religious leader in Orissa's Kandhamal district.

Hindu radicals blamed Christians for the murder and destroyed houses, churches and convents in retaliation.

About 90 people died and about 50,000 were displaced, mostly Christians, according to Church leaders.

"Three gunmen in the Sarangarh area are going around villages and threatening to kill people if they go to court and testify" against Hindu radicals, said M. Nayak, a social worker in the area.

He said people have alerted top district officials and the police about the threats. They hope the police can put a stop to this, he added.

Nayak also said he recognised the three gunmen. They led "a hand-to-mouth existence," but now "they wield revolvers and are moving around in motor vehicles, threatening people," he said.

Some witnesses who were threatened, and who spoke to UCA News, requested that their experiences not be published for fear their lives might be further endangered.

R. Pradhan, a lawyer associated with the court cases, said the witnesses are increasingly becoming more uncooperative as a result of the threats.

For example, on July 7, during court proceedings in a murder case, the elder brother of a victim of violence suddenly refused to cooperate, "telling the court he didn't know anything about the case."

The lawyer said that just the previous day the same witness had promised to tell the truth to help punish his brother's killers.

"From reliable sources we know that his life was in danger if he had told the truth. Anyway, we are not disheartened because the victim's widow and son are determined to testify."

"Although, their lives are in danger, God will protect them," he said.

However, Pradhan fears the victims may not get justice if such threats continue. "We keep getting reports of threats to witnesses from various parts of the district. We are keeping the authorities informed regarding these incidents," he said.
 
   
   
  Catholics, Hindus oppose Muslim cemetery in Goa
  PANAJI, JULY 9 (UCAN) -- Muslims in Goa have accused the residents of a village of racism and communalism after a request for a new burial ground met with opposition from Catholics and Hindus.

Goa has 150,000 Muslims out of a population of 1.3 million but they only have four qabristan (cemeteries). The largest is 100 years old, located in Margao, the state's commercial capital.

Muslims have faced local objections to a new cemetery for several decades, but things have come to a head now that the 15,000 square-meter Margao graveyard is full and the lack of space is forcing people to dig up old graves to bury new bodies. "This has led to disputes between the qabristan management and relatives of the deceased," says Sheikh Bashir Ahemad, president of the All Goa Muslim Association and Jamaat.

The proposed new cemetery is at Davorlim, a village on the outskirts of Margao, but the residents are against it. Nearly 90 percent of the villagers are Catholics and the rest are Hindus.

On June 24, the Popular Front of India (PFI), a Muslim group, in a memorandum asked the Margao Municipal Corporation for land for a burial ground.

PFI spokesperson Iftiaz Sheikh says the local government's handling of the issue has upset members of his community. "It is sad the people of Goa, including Catholics, have succumbed to racism and communalism. To worsen matters, politicians have joined hands with them," he said.

Muslims also say the government is ignoring their demands so as not to displease the majority Catholics in the area.

Earlier, on June 20, the Davorlim village council summoned an emergency meeting after it became known the government planned to acquire 15,000-square meters of agricultural land for the cemetery.

Village chief Sandeep Verlekar, a Hindu, said there was "stiff opposition" to the plan. He said some villagers had said the plan would endanger their livelihoods because of encroachment on agricultural land, while others said they wanted to keep the land as a "green belt." However, none specified the "real" reasons for their opposition, he added.

Father Leonardo Moraes, pastor of Our Lady of Rosary, Navelim, which oversees Davorlim, prefers to remain non-committal. "I am not in a position to talk on this issue. I can only say people are objecting to the idea," he told UCA News.

Father Ivo Conceicao de Souza, a history lecturer, said opposition to the cemetery is a "cultural clash." Local people fear the Muslims will come under the influence of militant Islamic organisations and their fears have deepened after swords were found a year ago in a Muslim area.

Local people also resent the way Muslims treat their women. Goan society, which is open and liberal, finds Muslim women wearing a veil "unpalatable," the priest explained.

Muslim in Goa are immigrants from neighboring states and work mostly for a daily wage.

Ahemad says the anti-Muslim sentiments are politically motivated. "Our religion does not preach about killing," he said, and noted that even mosques are attacked in Pakistan, which is a mainly Muslim country. He however acknowledged that a communication gap does exist with other communities which could have led to a sense of distrust.

Some prominent religious figures, who visited Goa recently urged the local people to allow the building of the cemetery.

Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash, a human rights activist in Gujarat, told Catholics that refusing Muslims land to bury their dead is a sin. Swami Agnivesh, a Hindu reformist leader, also urged Goans not to fear Muslims but learn to celebrate diversity.

 
   
   
  'Sikh' man buried as a Muslim in Malaysia
  PETALING JAYA (MALAYSIA), JULY 9 (UCAN) -- A religious minorities body says it is "greatly disappointed" that a court has ruled that a deceased man, whose family claims he had been a Sikh throughout his life, was a Muslim.

The High Court of Selangor state ruled on July 6 that Mohan Singh, who died of a heart attack on May 25 at age 41, converted to Islam in 1992. It based its decision on a religious conversion certificate the deceased had apparently signed, according to media reports.

His family, however, says he had always been a practicing Sikh.

The country's Islamic authorities claimed his body after his death. Local media later reported that Mohan was buried in a Muslim cemetery the same day as the High Court ruling.

The situation "is a great disappointment for minorities," said A. Vaithilingam, president of the Malaysian Consultative Council on Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST). He told UCA News there have been similar cases involving Hindus, Buddhists and Christians in the past several years. "Although the numbers are not large, there is a feeling of injustice."

Vaithilingam, a Hindu, said his council has no problem with people converting to Islam and living as Muslims. However, he said there are cases in which people have signed documents of religious conversion without fully understanding them, and the family also has no knowledge of these until the person dies.

He said even many Muslims are not happy with cases such as the one involving the late Singh.

Vaithilingam said the MCCBCHST has been submitting memorandums to the government on the matter, and plans to meet government and opposition leaders, as well as the traditional Malay rulers or sultans for discussions.

Meanwhile, parliament has shelved a debate on a government proposal that children be raised in the religion that their parents had at the time of marriage, even if one parent later converts.

This is apparently to forestall disputes in the case of a parent, who after converting to another religion, decides to change the religion of the children without the spouse's consent.

In late June, the sultans, at a special meeting, decided to refer this issue to the Islamic religious councils in the various Malaysian states. The nine Malay sultans are guardians of the Islamic faith in Malaysia. They also have a largely ceremonial role in politics.

Earlier, Chandra Muzaffar, a prominent Muslim scholar and president of Malaysia-based human rights organisation Just International, told UCA News the government proposal, if passed, will go a long way to improving relations between Muslims and people of other religions in the country.

Muslims constitute about 60 percent of Malaysia's 28 million people. The constitution states that "Islam is the religion of the federation" of Malaysia.

 
   
   
  Christians protest against 'rude' Catholic schools
  BHOPAL, JULY 9 (UCAN) -- The head of the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh has promised to look into the grievances of a Christian group that recently organised prayers for Church schools to treat people with dignity.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal told UCA News on July 8 that he would look into the matter but expressed his disapproval of Christians airing their grievances against Church schools in public.

On July 5, about 150 members of Christian Adhikar Manch (forum for Christian rights) prayed and sang hymns for two hours in front of St. Joseph Girls Senior School, a Catholic school in the state capital.

The protesters also carried placards, some of them with the words, "God, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing."

The group also threatened to hold similar protests in front of all Catholic schools in the state if the Church authorities fail to resolve their grievances.

The protesters, made up of Catholics and Protestants, have sent a memorandum to Archbishop Cornelio to take corrective steps to improve the system.

The prelate views the protest as an "outcome of denial of admission." He noted some reputed Catholic schools in the state face a "huge rush for admissions" that is beyond their capacity to cope. "That makes people hostile and level allegations," he said.

But Sheela Santiago, president of the ecumenical group that organised the protest, said that they prayed the school authorities would treat people more politely. School principals, she alleged, treat people arrogantly and rudely. They do not bother to see Christians who want to meet them and sometimes ask their security guards to chase visitors away, she said.

Santiago says her group decided to act after Christians found the humiliating treatment too much to bear.

One of the complaints from protesters is they have difficulty getting their children admitted to the schools, even though the children are Christians.

Madhya Pradesh has some 500 Catholic schools, according to Father Anand Muttungal, the Church spokesperson in the state.

John Antony, a Catholic parent who did not join the protest, said more than 90 percent of Christian schools in the state mistreat people. He said he has also noticed a "general trend" of rudeness and arrogant behavior by Christian school authorities across the state. "Even if they don't give admission, they should behave properly with regard to the parents," he asserted.

Santiago said her group had informed the archbishop about the problem earlier and he had instructed the principals to give preferential treatment to Christians. However, the principals continue "their dictatorial attitude," she added.

Archbishop Cornelio says the principals have been dealing with people in a proper manner after he issued his instructions.

Father P.P. Joseph, secretary of the archdiocese's education commission and principal of Bhopal School of Social Science, said the protest was unwarranted. "Even if they had some genuine grievances they should have taken it up with the authorities concerned," he said.

He asserted Church schools always treat Christians well and denied any impropriety or "aberrations as the protesters claimed."

The principal of St. Joseph Girls Senior School was not available when UCA News tried to contact her.

Sister Mary Sebastian, principal of another school in Bhopal, said Christian schools always face these allegations whenever they deny admission. She also said Church schools try their best to admit as many Christians as possible. "There is no point in running schools if we don't care for our people," she asserted.
 
   
   
  News Analysis by Meetu Tewari: Maya-Mishra rift spells doom for BSP
  LUCKNOW, JULY 9: Satish Chandra Mishra has been the face behind Mayawati's success in Uttar Pradesh. Everyone is aware how this lawyer-turned-politician helped garner upper caste votes for Behenji.

In other words, Mishra helped her achieve a stunning victory, making the Bahujan Samaj Party the single largest party in the most populous state. He worked very hard, addressing numerous rallies in UP as the BSP's national general secretary.

Mishra assured Brahmins and other upper castes in the state that Mayawati was never against them, that they all needed to work together in goodwill.

The party slogan "Haathi nahin Ganesh hai, Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh hai" became immensely popular and this catapulted Mayawati to the post of Chief Minister. For the first time, she did not need anybody's support to stay in power.

Come 2009 and things stand changed. The popularity of the Chief Minister has plunged. Not only that, Mishra has been gaining prominence through his absence at important party meetings.

Especially noticeable was his absence at the June 25th unveiling of the controversial statues built at Mayawati's behest. Until then, he had always been present by the side of Mayawati at all public meetings.

Mishra, however, maintains that he remains committed to Behenji and the BSP. He asserted at a recent meeting that the relations between him and the Chief Minister have been the same as ever.

The Chief Minister has described the party's poor performance in the Lok Sabha elections as the result of the inability of the party workers to gear up for the elections. She has asked her ministers to focus on the coming by-elections in UP.

Mayawati has also clarified that anyone guilty of poor performance will be punished. At the same time, she made it clear that should she become the Prime Minister, then a Dalit would be her successor as Chief Minister of UP.

Though she cannot be the PM for the next four years by which time UP would have faced state elections, it does show confidence that she believes she will become the CM again, despite the flak she has drawn for her mindless construction activity.

Her statement that a Dalit will succeed her should not come as a surprise. Even last year, after proclaiming her life to be in danger, Mayawati had stated that her successor was being prepared for the job in case she was assassinated.

That she has stressed this point again is seen by many as an indication of the growing rift between Satish Mishra and herself. It is simply meant to dispel any rumoUrs about her successor.

Though Mishra continues as the national general secretary, it has to be seen whether their relations will remain cordial or not. The fault of poor performance is not because he or any other party member did not work hard enough.

If public opinion is to be believed, the fault lies in Mayawati's poor performance and at her inability to live up to the grand promises she had made. Even if she chooses to replace Mishra or any number of party leaders, the malaise will remain so long as she does not change herself.
 
   
   
  Pakistan government compensates attacked Christians
  BAHMANI WALA (PAKISTAN), JULY 8 (UCAN) -- The Punjab provincial government has distributed the first cheques to the recently attacked Christians, after announcing it would pay Rs 220,000 (US$2,750) to each of them as compensation.

On July 6, Ahmed Ali Tohlu, a member of the provincial assembly, distributed 20,000-rupee cheques to 57 Christians whose houses in Bahmani Wala village were looted and damaged on June 30 by a Muslim mob. Tohlu promised to hand over the rest of the amount within two weeks.

Three Catholic priests and several government officials presided at the ceremony in front of United Church, the only church in the village, which all denominations use. The attack came after allegations spread that a Christian there had committed blasphemy the previous day.

"The compensation will help in slowly rebuilding what was damaged, but our hearts are heavy with grief," said Yousaf Masih, one of the beneficiaries. "But the money cannot make up for the terror we were subjected to."

Local people say a pregnant woman suffered a miscarriage when she tried to save herself and a child when assailants threw acid on two other Christian women taking a bath at the time. The families fled the village at night to seek safety.

Catholic parishes around the country have appealed for aid for the Bahmani Wala victims. Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan sent a truckload of food hampers to the Christian farmers on July 7.

Father Morris Jalal, parish priest of St. Francis Church in Lahore, arrived that same day at the village with a truck carrying 175 packages containing flour, rice, lentils, tea and milk.

Oblate Father Pervez Raza heads Our Lady of Sorrows parish based in Kasur, which serves the village area.

"All efforts are being made to resolve the conflict with dialogue, since the government is fulfilling its promises," he told UCA News. "We are trying to persuade local people not to protest or register complaints of destruction of property and theft."

The priest also said the parish provided three meals a day to 117 Christian families at their homes for the week following the attack.

The government replaced all electric meters stolen from the Christian houses during the attack and repaired their water pumps within three days.

"We have deployed 22 police officers in the village to prevent further riots," said police Inspector Akmal Kauser.

"Christians were targeted due to a misunderstanding, and the government is trying to support and protect the minorities."

Hundreds of Christian villagers staged a demonstration at a local main road on July 1 against the government's failure to protect religious minorities.

Muslims involved in the attack have registered a blasphemy complaint against 11 Christians. Pakistan's blasphemy laws punish vaguely defined insults to Prophet Muhammad or the Qur'an. Church leaders have long charged the laws are abused for personal gain and to harass non-Muslims.

A church fact-finding team said a quarrel between a local Christian and Muslim on June 29 sparked the attack.
 
   
   
  Church leaders maintain opposition to legalising homosexuality
  NEW DELHI, JULY 8 (UCAN) -- Church people across India continue to urge the government not to legalise homosexuality after the Delhi High Court struck down a law that made gay sex a crime.

The Delhi High Court's July 2 ruling said the law discriminated against people based on their sexual orientation and violated their right to equality.

Father Babu Joseph, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, told UCA News the Church will continue to campaign against any move to make homosexuality morally permissible.

"Homosexuality is against the law of nature and morally unacceptable to the Church," the Divine Word priest asserted, while clarifying that the Church does not oppose decriminalising homosexuality as a sexual orientation. It is a pathological condition that needs remedial action from society, he said, and the Church will teach this.

Speaking before the court's decision, Father Joseph said the Catholic Church has consistently opposed homosexual behavior because it considers the social obligation of giving birth to a new generation to be "very important."

Pope Benedict XVI said in December 2008, during an end-of-year address to the Roman Curia, that behavior beyond traditional heterosexual relations is a "destruction of God's work".

Reverend Richard Howell, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, calls it "common sense to recognise that homosexual practice is a violation of the natural order."

The Protestant leader warned that decriminalising homosexuality would open a "potential Pandora's box," leading to same-sex marriages and the right of same-sex couples to adopt children. Such developments would become a "threat to the definition and sanctity" of marriage and related social institutions.

Catholic bishops in Kerala, wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on July 3 urging him to consider the Church's views before repealing the law.

Father Stephen Alathara, spokesperson of the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council, told UCA News the Church would oppose any attempt to legalise homosexual activity.

"There is no way this can be legalised without considering people's views in a democracy like India," he insisted.

The law in question, a holdover from British colonial times, criminalises "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" and has been used against a wide range of sexual behavior including homosexuality. Penalties range from 10 years to life imprisonment.

Even before the recent court decision, the government had been considering a review.

Human rights groups, gay rights groups and media across India have welcomed the court decision as historic.

"De-criminalising homosexuality is a historic correction waited since the end of British rule (in 1947)," said 'The Hindustan Times' in a July 3 editorial.

A group of plaintiffs including Naz Foundation India, an NGO, had asked the Delhi High Court to amend or repeal the law.

The petitioners argued that banning an open and permanent relationship between consenting homosexuals violates rights, encourages secret and indiscriminate sex, and obstructs HIV/AIDS prevention efforts among high-risk groups.

One Christian leader, Bishop D. K. Sahu, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in India, said he welcomed the move to decriminalise adult homosexual relations even though he disapproves of homosexuality.

"Homosexuals can't be branded as criminals, but they should be nurtured and helped out" by Churches as part of creation, the prelate told UCA News.

Law Minister Veerapa Moily told UCA News his government would discuss the issue with all religious organisations and gay activists before deciding on a course of action.

The minister has agreed to convene a meeting of High Court chief justices and Supreme Court judges to discuss the legal implications of decriminalising sex between homosexuals.
 
   
   
  Pope's new encyclical asserts need for ethics in economics
  VATICAN CITY, JULY 8 (UCAN) -- The Vatican released Pope Benedict XVI's long-awaited first social encyclical, "Caritas in Veritate" (charity in truth), on July 7, the eve of the G8 meeting in Italy.

An important part of the papal document focuses on the current economic crisis and the fundamental need for ethics in the economy. The pope drew on the help of experts in economics and other fields in writing this letter.

More than two years went into its preparation, and some of it had to be revised in the light of the economic crisis.

The Vatican has made the text available in English, Italian and several other European languages, with a Chinese version in the offing. The release came as leaders of the Group of 8, a forum of industrialized nations, prepared for the opening of their summit meeting on July 8 in L'Aquila, outside Rome.

Encyclicals are the most authoritative papal teaching documents, usually addressed to the world's bishops and or Catholics as a whole.

Traditionally, they are known by the first three words of their Latin text.

Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which made a major contribution to the content of the encyclical, presented the document to the international media at a Vatican press conference.

Pope Benedict had already confirmed that the new encyclical, the third in his four years as pope, would "be dedicated to the vast theme of economics and labor."

Speaking on June 13 to members of a papal foundation, the theologian-pope said it would "highlight what are for us Christians the goals that are to be pursued and the values that are to be tirelessly promoted and defended in order to bring about a truly human coexistence in freedom and solidarity."

Remarks the Pope made in February to priests of Rome diocese, of which he is bishop, provide insight into his thinking on the Church's role in the present crisis.

"It is the Church's duty to denounce the fundamental errors that have now been revealed in the collapse of the major American banks. Human greed is a form of idolatry that is against the true God, and is a falsification of the image of God with another God -- Mammon," he said then, at the beginning of Lent.

Pope Benedict said the Church must not merely denounce this courageously but also offer concrete guidance, since moralizing is not helpful if it is "not supported by a familiarity with reality that helps us understand what can be done concretely."

He stressed this point by saying the Church "has never simply denounced evils" but has also shown "paths that lead to justice, to charity and to conversion of hearts."

This same approach applies when the Church looks at economics, he explained, because "in the economy as well, justice is established only if there are just persons, and these persons are assembled through the conversion of hearts."
 
   
   
  Christians among those affected by Xinjiang riots
  HONG KONG, JULY 8 (UCAN) -- Catholics in northwestern China were among those affected in the recent rioting in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and are praying for peace.

Ethnic Han Chinese Catholics have narrowly escaped mob violence in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in northwestern China.

John, a cathedral parishioner in Urumqi, the Xinjiang capital, reported the church was not damaged, but he noted that a few laypeople were affected in the violence.

Catholics are praying for peace and for the victims, he said.

The layman also said very few Catholics came to church after the regional government imposed a curfew on July 7 and strictly monitored vehicle movement.

Catholics in the Muslim-dominated Xinjiang region number about 5,000 and are mainly Han Chinese. Bishop Paul Xie Tingzhe of Urumqi heads the community.

Many Catholics in Urumqi came from Gansu and Shaanxi provinces in northwestern China or parts of northeastern China and moved here to do business, John said.

Rioting started on July 5 after a peaceful demonstration by Uighur, members of the Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim group native to Xinjiang, protesting the deaths of Uighur workers killed in a brawl in southern China last month. The situation spiraled out of control as mainly Uighur groups beat people and set fire to vehicles and shops belonging to Han Chinese.

According to the official Xinhua News Agency, the violence left 156 people dead and more than 1,000 injured, the largest number of casualties in any single incident of its kind in six decades.

Police arrested 1,434 people in connection with killing, beating, smashing, looting and burning during the riots, Xinhua reported on July 7.

Min, a Catholic layman from Hebei province who runs a wire and cable business in Urumqi, was attacked while driving his car through a protest area on his way to church on the morning of July 5.

He told Catholic-run Hebei Faith Press that a mob threw bricks and stones at his car, breaking the front windshield and other windows, and damaging the back seats. He was able to drive away, avoiding injury, Min told the Church-run newspaper based in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province.

The paper also reported that Xiao Han, a 22-year-old Catholic, was eating noodles at a restaurant on July 5 when about 20 people surrounded him and shouted slogans.

The air-ticketing clerk was quoted as saying he managed to escape from the danger and chaos but felt frightened even a couple of days later.

Some mainland Church sources outside Xinjiang told UCA News the same day that government officials have warned Catholics to be vigilant in guarding church premises even amid stepped-up public security measures.
 
   
   
  Catholic Japanese PM meets Pope and pledges closer cooperation
  By Gerard O'Connell, Special Correspondent in Rome

VATICAN, JULY 8 (UCAN) -- Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, a Catholic, received a warm welcome from Pope Benedict XVI before they began a wide-ranging discussion on topics including development in Africa and China-Holy See relations.

The cordial meeting on July 7, the first between the two men, is sure to enhance already positive relations between the Holy See and Japan.

Pope Benedict greeted Aso in his private library in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace, as is customary. The two leaders then conversed together in private for 25 minutes.

Aso said he was "very happy and honored" to be the first Japanese prime minister to meet the pope in 10 years, sources told UCA News. He said he was particularly "proud" because his maternal grandfather, Shigeru Yoshida, was the first prime minister of Japan ever to meet a pope. Yoshida, Japan's first post-war prime minister, met Pope Pius XII in 1954.

Aso expressed the hope that Japan would deepen its cooperation with the Holy See, which he acknowledged has "very special diplomatic power" in today's world. He said he believed such cooperation would contribute to greater stability in the international community and help solve international problems.

Pope Benedict said he was "very pleased" to receive the prime minister of Japan, whose family is Catholic.

Acknowledging Japan's role in the world, he added his hope that Japan would contribute even more to world development, especially in Africa. He warned that developing countries should not be victimized by an economic crisis for which they are not responsible.

The Japanese leader responded positively, saying his country had various mechanisms in place to foster development. In turn he praised the positive contribution of Catholic religious communities to education and charitable work in Japan.

The Pope and the prime minister also spoke about China and the Holy See's efforts to normalize bilateral relations, UCA News has learned.

After they had concluded their private session, Aso introduced the members of his 10-person delegation to the pope. First among them was his wife, Chikako, a daughter of former prime minister Zenko Suzuki, who was in office when Pope John Paul II visited the country in 1981.

The prime minister also presented Japan's ambassador to the Holy See, Kagefumi Ueno, and his wife.

For the traditional exchange of gifts, Aso gave the Pope a digital movie camera while the pontiff presented his visitor with medals of his pontificate.

The prime minister then bade farewell to Pope Benedict and went on to have talks with the Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's "prime minister," and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for relations with states, effectively the Vatican's foreign minister. Archbishop Mamberti made an official visit to his Japanese counterpart in Tokyo three months ago.

Aso spoke with the cardinal and archbishop for almost 40 minutes on topics ranging from possible future cooperation between Japan and the Holy See in multilateral forums, to respect for the dignity of life, bioethical issues and Africa.

A short Vatican press statement after the meetings said, "The cordial conversation allowed [the leaders] to deal with several relevant international issues, particularly the economic crisis and the commitment of Japan and of the Holy See for Africa."

On the bilateral level, it continued, "the fine relationship between Japan and the Holy See was mentioned, as well as the existing harmony and cooperation between the Church and the State."

Speaking after the visit to UCA News, Ambassador Ueno revealed that Aso had said he found the meeting with Pope Benedict profoundly touching and had felt the "weighty presence" ("sonzaikan" in Japanese) and historical significance of the papacy.
 
   
   
  Bank employees in Korea pool donations for development work abroad
  SEOUL, JULY 8 (UCAN) -- Catholics working at a major Korean bank have launched a program to support poor families in the Philippines by offering micro-credit and educational support for poor students.

"If children of a poor family have no chance to get education, they have no chance to escape poverty," asserted Francis Lee Jae-heon, head of the Joy and Hope group.

"We want to help such children in the Philippines."

His group's micro-credit program also helps poor families escape the poverty trap, Lee explained on July 2.

"We believe that education for their children and a self-support program like micro-credit are effective tools to prevent poverty from being handed down to generations," he said.

Around Catholics working at the Bank of Korea launched Joy and Hope in November 2008. Its current 230 members each donate 10,000-30,000 won (US$8-24) a month, and the group sent 7.12 million won to the Philippines last March.

Dominican Father Francis Kim Hong-nak, a missioner in Navotas City, in the Manila metropolitan area, handles the aid on the receiving end.

He told UCA News he had selected 93 students for assistance, without considering their religious background, and disbursed the funds in early June, when the current school year began.

"Sixty-nine elementary and middle-high school students were granted 500-600 pesos each," he said. "Although tuition here is free for public schools, many still can't afford to go to school because they don't have the money for other expenses," he said.

The group also provides 24 university students a monthly grant of 1,800 pesos each for tuition fees and other expenses.

Under Joy and Hope's micro-credit plan, five families receive assistance of 10,000 pesos each and repay 200 pesos a week, without interest.

Funds do not come in the form of cash loans but go to buy equipment for the families to establish small businesses, such as barber shops or restaurants.

Joy and Hope is also helping to renovate a mission station where Father Kim works.

The Korean missioner first met Lee and his colleagues in 2005 while they were taking a preparation class to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. After moving to the Philippines to work and seeing the poverty in Navotas, the priest asked them to help, spurring them to set up Joy and Hope.

According to Francis Kim Dae-min, head of the International Cooperation Department of Seoul archdiocese's One-body One-spirit Movement, the number of small groups supporting overseas aid in the local Church has been increasing.

Many, however, did not know how to manage the aid work effectively, so good networks, such as Joy and Hope's, are essential, he added.

Joy and Hope applied to the Korean government on June 30 to become a legal entity. Francis Oh Yang-sik, a board member, expects the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to register the group sometime in July.

"The legal status will give a more trustworthy image to the public, and more supporters will join us," he predicted.

Oh said his group hopes to extend its aid to include medical support by inviting doctor volunteers.
 
   
   
  Orissa report a 'fictitious' whitewash, say Church leaders
  BHUBANESHWAR, JULY 7 (UCAN) -- Church leaders in Orissa have dismissed the report on anti-Christian violence in the state as "one-sided," "fictitious" and "pre-meditated."

S.C. Mohapatra, the retired judge who comprised the one-man commission that investigated last year's violence, said in his interim report that the attacks were not sectarian but rooted in tribal land disputes.

He said fake caste certificates had been used to prove entitlement to land and that "conversion and re-conversion" were also issues, according to media reports.

The judge recommended a grassroots survey to verify caste certificates and stricter enforcement of the state's law regulating conversions.

Father Mrutyunjay Digal, treasurer of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese in Orissa, says the report was designed to "give a clean chit" to Hindu radical groups that orchestrated the violence.

"It is an attempt to hide the root cause," the priest told UCA News, calling the report "baseless and one-sided" with no statistical evidence. He said statistics would show that land disputes are not a major issue in the region.

Father Ajay Singh, who directs the social-service society of the archdiocese, which covers the area where the violence was most intense, told UCA News on July 6 that the report had been prepared without studying the ground realities.

Father Singh described the report as "fictitious" and its outcome "pre-meditated." He pointed out that Mohapatra had expressed the same views soon after he was appointed.

The state government set up the commission in October after nearly two months of violence that killed at least 90 people, mostly Christians, and displaced more than 50,000.

The violence began on August 24, a day after Maoists gunned down a Hindu religious leader in Orissa's Kandhamal district.

Hindu radicals blamed Christians for the murder and destroyed churches, convents, other Church institutions and hundreds of Christian homes. They killed some people who refused to convert to Hinduism.

About 88 percent of land in Kandhamal district, the epicenter of the violence, belongs to the government. The Kandha tribe owns 5.5 per cent, the Pano 1.5 per cent and other communities the remaining 5 per cent.

Dharmapad Ranjit, a human rights activist, said it was "unfortunate" the commission had not talked to people in the area and visited the villages.

At least 20 fact-finding teams that have visited Kandhamal since the attacks concluded that the violence was sectarian in nature and had been perpetrated by Hindu radical groups, Ranjit told UCA News.

The commission reportedly studied 300 affidavits filed by various groups to prepare its interim report.

Mohapatra told reporters he had suggested the state government take steps to return to tribal people their land taken by other communities.

However, he said he would need at least two years to produce a complete report on the violence.

Christians are already worried over the July 5 release on bail of Manoj Pradhan, accused of being a ringleader in the riots, so he could take his oath as a recently elected member of the state legislature.

A court in Kandhamal released Pradhan even though he faces charges including seven counts of murder and six counts of arson.

B.D. Das, general secretary of the Protestant Church of North India, expressed surprise that Pradhan got bail and said they would approach the Supreme Court to appeal against this.
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  Christians in Pakistan attacked for alleged blasphemy
  BAHMANI WALA, Pakistan, JULY 7 (UCAN) -- Catholic Church leaders have visited this village in Punjab province where a Muslim mob vandalised and looted Christian homes after alleged blasphemy.

More than 50 assailants armed with sticks, hammers, guns and Molotov cocktails raided the homes on June 30 in Bahmani Wala, home to 112 Christian families.

They abused the Christians, broke down doors, destroyed household goods and looted money and jewelry. A few Christian women were forced to flee without being properly dressed. The assault continued for two hours until police arrived.

"Burn the isai (Christians) in their homes, they shouted," Pervaiz Masih recounted. "They even put dirt in our food and cooking pots. It was open tyranny," the vegetable hawker said. He estimated the attackers raided about 100 Christian homes.

Auxiliary Bishop Sebastian Shah of Lahore and Father Andrew Nisari, vicar general of the archdiocese, went on July 1 to the village, about 50 kilometers south of Lahore. Staff members of the local Church's Caritas social-service agency and the Catholic bishops' National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) went with them. They visited affected families and assured them of the Church's support.

Later they met Christians as a community inside United Church, the only church in the village, which all denominations use. "You will get justice. Do not fear. You are being tested for your faith," Bishop Shah, a Franciscan, told them.

According to the Church's fact-finding report, a quarrel between a local Christian and Muslim on June 29 sparked the attack.

"The next morning, announcements were made in a mosque of a neighboring village to go on jihad (struggle) against Bahmani Wala Christians for insulting Prophet Muhammad," Abid Gill, an NCJP worker told UCA News. "The cleric asked Muslims to make Christians flee the village, and kidnap their children and girls."

He charged: "Local clerics have religiously provoked the people."

Local Muslims also imposed a social boycott on Christians and have refused to sell them goods. Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Kasur, three kilometers from Bahmani Wala, has been helping villagers with food.

"It is sad seeing weeping families. We are providing them food and distributed 50 water jars so far," reported Oblate Father Pervez Raza, the parish priest.

Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani and Peter Jacob, NCJP director and executive secretary, respectively, condemned the attack in a July 2 press statement.

"We urge the government to take strict action, register a case against the culprits and investigate the incident properly without any delay," the release said. It asked the government to "provide proper compensation to the victims, ensure safety and security for religious minorities and also consider repealing the blasphemy laws, on account of their manifest and repeated abuse."

Anti-Christian protests also occurred on July 1 in Faisalabad, Punjab province, where more than 100 Muslims rallied in a Christian area after word spread of an alleged blasphemy incident. Protesters blocked a nearby main road and raised slogans against Christians.

Imran Gill, a Christian, was arrested after an old third-grade Islamic studies textbook, whose pages contained Quranic verses, was found amid newspapers and other papers gathered in front of his house for disposal as rubbish.

Gill, 26, was charged with blasphemy and sent to the Faisalabad District Jail after being remanded to judicial custody for 14 days.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws punish vaguely defined insults to Prophet Muhammad or the Quran. These insults can include innuendo. Church leaders have long charged the laws are abused for personal gain and to harass non-Muslims.
 
   
   
  Christians pray for peace in riot-hit Mysore
  MYSORE, JULY 6 (UCAN) -- Catholics of Mysore diocese organised prayers on July 5 after Hindu-Muslim riots killed three people, including a child, and wounded scores of others, causing chaos in this ancient city.

"Many churches organized special prayers on Sunday, besides praying for peace during the Mass," Father John Sequeira, the diocesan chancellor, told UCA News on July 6.

The riots started on July 2 after some Hindus reportedly desecrated a Muslim religious school and site for a planned mosque.

Those wounded in the clashes include the youth wing president of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, which now rules Karnataka.

Police have arrested more than 100 people, who have been remanded to judicial custody. They recovered arms from some houses. A curfew remains in place in areas such as suburban Udayagiri.

Father Sequeira said the Church is concerned, but the situation is still too tense to initiate peace talks between the warring communities.

The Church official identified the parishes affected the most as Blessed Mother Teresa in Rajiv Nagar and St. Anthony's in Gayathripuram.

Father Sequeira said the diocese held special prayers after each Mass in St. Philomena's Cathedral on July 5 and urged Massgoers to remain calm and prayerful.

"We have strictly instructed Catholics of Udayagiri parish to avoid passing comments in favor of any community, to avoid misunderstandings," he added.

The Church feels "helpless," admitted the priest, who took over as chancellor only a month ago.

"We have been the target of attacks in Karnataka and how can we interfere in this matter?"

With tensions still high in the violence-hit areas, he reported that a school and other Church institutions in the Udayagiri area had been closed indefinitely.

The night curfew and daytime prohibitory orders affected Mass attendance in affected areas on July 5, but the cathedral was full for each Mass, he said.

The administration has asked schools and colleges in the city to close until July 8, since violence continued even on July 6.

Sectarian violence has erupted several times previously in Mysore. The present crisis began with a dispute over the construction of a mosque, according to a police official.

Two years ago a Muslim group had tried to build a mosque on the site, but a temple trust challenged the move in the court.

Mosque officials tried to resume construction on the night of July 1, but a group of Hindus threw a pig's carcass at the construction site, sparking the violence.
 
   
   
  Muslim women workers allowed to wear veils in Philippines hospitals
 
QUEZON CITY, Philippines, JULY 5 (UCAN) -- The bishops' commission on interreligious dialogue has lauded the health department's move to allow Muslim women health workers to wear veils while on hospital duty

On June 30, the Islamic Medical Association of the Philippines (IMAP) started distributing a Department of Health memorandum which states that female workers "should be allowed to use their veil (hijab) and wear their prescribed mode of dressing inside the premises of all healthcare institutions."

"In special areas where sterility must be maintained, veils must be treated equal to the hair," the document states. "They must be freshly laundered, covered by a surgical cap or worn neatly and changed when going out of the assigned area."

Father Carlos Reyes, executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Interreligious Dialogue considers the memorandum a "positive" development. He told UCA News that Muslim women wearing veils is "an expression of their religiosity and religious sentiment." He added that people have the "right" to practice their religious beliefs as long as public health and safety are safeguarded.

Even if the hospital is run by Christians, Muslim women should be allowed to wear their veil and traditional attire in less critical areas of the health facility, provided these do not constrict their movements, he added.

IMAP board secretary Doctor Naheeda Dimacisil told UCA News that Health Secretary Francisco Duque signed the memorandum on April 29 in response to the association's appeal for the protection of the rights of Muslim workers, students and trainees in hospitals. She said students reported restrictions in one hospital in Pasig City.

Dimacisil noted that in her six years of medical practice in Metro Manila, wearing the hijab (veil) "has never been a problem for me or other Muslim women doctors."

Even if not all Philippine Muslim women wear veils, she is "happy" that the Department of Health has given them the option to do so. Modesty as expressed in properly covering one's self is an Islamic value, she said.

Dimacisil said IMAP is circulating the memorandum and encouraging nursing students to demand a respect for their religious rights and to follow the directive on how to dress in critical areas of a hospital.

The IMAP was established in 2007 by a group of Muslim physicians to address issues related to health care for Philippine Muslims.
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  Muslim women workers allowed to wear veils in Philippines hospitals
 
QUEZON CITY, Philippines, JULY 5 (UCAN) -- The bishops' commission on interreligious dialogue has lauded the health department's move to allow Muslim women health workers to wear veils while on hospital duty

On June 30, the Islamic Medical Association of the Philippines (IMAP) started distributing a Department of Health memorandum which states that female workers "should be allowed to use their veil (hijab) and wear their prescribed mode of dressing inside the premises of all healthcare institutions."

"In special areas where sterility must be maintained, veils must be treated equal to the hair," the document states. "They must be freshly laundered, covered by a surgical cap or worn neatly and changed when going out of the assigned area."

Father Carlos Reyes, executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Interreligious Dialogue considers the memorandum a "positive" development. He told UCA News that Muslim women wearing veils is "an expression of their religiosity and religious sentiment." He added that people have the "right" to practice their religious beliefs as long as public health and safety are safeguarded.

Even if the hospital is run by Christians, Muslim women should be allowed to wear their veil and traditional attire in less critical areas of the health facility, provided these do not constrict their movements, he added.

IMAP board secretary Doctor Naheeda Dimacisil told UCA News that Health Secretary Francisco Duque signed the memorandum on April 29 in response to the association's appeal for the protection of the rights of Muslim workers, students and trainees in hospitals. She said students reported restrictions in one hospital in Pasig City.

Dimacisil noted that in her six years of medical practice in Metro Manila, wearing the hijab (veil) "has never been a problem for me or other Muslim women doctors."

Even if not all Philippine Muslim women wear veils, she is "happy" that the Department of Health has given them the option to do so. Modesty as expressed in properly covering one's self is an Islamic value, she said.

Dimacisil said IMAP is circulating the memorandum and encouraging nursing students to demand a respect for their religious rights and to follow the directive on how to dress in critical areas of a hospital.

The IMAP was established in 2007 by a group of Muslim physicians to address issues related to health care for Philippine Muslims.
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By special arrangement with www.ucanews.com
 
   
   
  J&K High Court asks for exhumation of bodies in Shopian case
  JAMMU, JULY 4: The Jammu and Kashmir High Court has asked the police to exhume the bodies of the two women who were alleged to have been "raped" and "murdered" at Shopian.

The court has directed that no one, including the CRPF and police personnel posted in the area, can leave without the permission of the special police team investigating the case.

The court has also asked the mobile telephone service providers to give details of all the calls made immediately before and after the bodies of the women were found.

It has also ordered that a team of doctors nominated by the principal of the Government Medical College, Srinagar, would conduct postmortem of the exhumed bodies.

It may be recalled that the two women -- Nilofer and Asya -- were allegedly "raped" and "murdered" on the night of May 29. Police initially claimed that they died of drowning.

State Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has welcomed the High Court's order. He said the government wanted to know the circumstances in which the two young ladies died and punish the guilty.
 
   
   
  Latin-rite bishops to promote vocations, renew priests spiritually
  MANGALORE, JULY 3 (UCAN) -- India's Latin rite bishops are planning special programs for the Year for Priests to attract more men to the priesthood.

"If there are no priests, there is no Eucharist. If there is no Eucharist, there is no Church," reads a poster designed by the Conference of Catholic Bishops in India (CCBI) that will be distributed across the country.

The poster urges people to promote vocations to the priesthood, appreciate priests, pray for them and work with them.

Father John Kulandai, secretary of the CCBI Commission for Clergy, told UCA News the decline in new priestly vocations has worried his Church.

The priest said that St. Peter's Pontifical Seminary in Bangalore, for example, one of the premier priest training centers in the country, has 47 fewer students this year than last year. Without proper planning, India could go the way of Europe where seminaries have closed for lack of students, he warned.

Father Kulandai said, however, that the bishops want quality as well as quantity in vocations. "For this, we plan to develop a parish-based vocation promotional drive, with lay participation."

The CCBI is the national forum for the bishops of the Latin rite, the major Church group in India's Catholic Church. It accounts for 128 of the country's 160 dioceses with the remainder belonging to two Oriental rites, Syro-Malabar Church and the Syro-Malankara Church that are based in Kerala, southern India.

Pope Benedict XIV launched the Year for Priests on June 19.

During a recent national meeting, the CCBI discussed plans to hold seminars and retreats for priests throughout the year as well as address the crisis in priestly vocations.

According to Father Kulandai, two national seminars, to be held in Varanasi in northern India in November, and in Bangalore in the south in December, will focus on "priesthood resource enhancement."

Father Kulandai said these programs would target those who have been priests for between five and 10 years.

"While stressing more vocations, it is equally important that our existing priests renew their commitment and assert their spiritual role," Father Kulandai said.

The programs will try to "re-vision" the Catholic priesthood in an Indian context and will discuss topics such as the priest as a community builder, and priestly spirituality. The seminars will also address issues such as priestly fraternity, celibacy, relationship skills and challenges to a priest's life and work.

CCBI also plans priest-bishop colloquiums to improve relations between priests and prelates.

Father Kulandai said vocation promotion would also stress formation of the laity and the nurturing of lay missioners. "The commission will increase its activities among the laity to build a family atmosphere and to nurture vocations," he added.

The bishops' conference also wants to improve relations between priests and lay people and ensure that the public has a positive opinion about the priesthood. It is also urging priests to work for inner renewal and rediscover the joy of the priesthood, said Father Kulandai.

He added that the Church has instructed its priests to limit their works to pastoral services and encourage more lay participation in managing Church property.

"We don't require a priest to teach in schools or manage estates. A lay person can do that just as well," he said.

The CCBI has decided to strengthen the Conference of the Diocesan priests of India, the national forum for diocesan priests approved by bishops. It also plans to set up a committee of diocesan priests in every diocese to plan and implement programs related to the Year for Priests.
 
   
   
  Workshop teaches migrants about sex, relationships
 
SINGAPORE, JULY 3 (UCAN) -- Twenty-six-year-old Reni Yonmunitasari, an Indonesian domestic worker, now knows that there is no such thing as "safe sex" even with the use of a condom.

"Some domestic workers have sex, get pregnant and get sent home. At least we now know not to do that," she said. "Of course we feel lonely, but prayer will support us."

Yonmunitasari was commenting on the "Love and Relationship" workshop that the Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ACMI) organised for female migrant domestic workers in late June.

A fellow Indonesian, Eni Prihati echoed Yonmunitasari's views, saying the workshop helped her to know how to "take care of myself."

The two Indonesians were among the 150 participants -- mainly Indonesians and Filipinas -- who attended a 90-minute workshop conducted by Doctor Ligaya Acosta at the Catholic Archdiocesan Education Centre.

Doctor Acosta, a Filipina, is executive director of Human Life International Asia-Oceania, a Catholic organisation based in the United States which promotes the Church's pro-life teachings.

In her talk, Doctor Acosta encouraged the women to "conduct themselves properly" and not allow their bodies to be exploited for sex, as "sex is a beautiful gift given to husbands and wives alone."

Doctor Acosta urged her audience to reject pressures to engage in sexual acts with their boyfriends in order to prove their love. She reasoned that if a man really loves a woman, he would wait until after marriage to consummate the relationship.

She also warned of the risk of pregnancy and the possibility of the man later abandoning the woman after learning about it.

In Singapore, foreign domestic workers face repatriation if they get pregnant.

Doctor Acosta also spoke against the use of condoms and contraceptives. Debunking the fallacy of "safe sex" even with the use of condoms, she said, "Using condoms doesn't protect from HIV or pregnancy. The condom has the highest failure rate (among contraceptives)."

Regarding other contraceptives she added, "Contraceptives kill (the foetus) and cause a lot of documented horrible side effects such as destroying the female reproductive system."

She warned attendees of the consequences of sexual promiscuity, such as contracting sexually transmitted diseases, and damage to psychological health from break-ups and divorce. She encouraged the women to dress modestly as opposed to sporting plunging necklines and short skirts to avoid sexually tempting men.

The workshop ended with the speaker offering some practical tips to the foreign domestic workers to help them cope with their loneliness. Some examples include taking care of a plant, joining a church group, and talking to a friend. She advised them to "pray, pray, pray" and to take Jesus, Mother Mary and Saint Joseph as their role models.

Speaking to UCA News, she said that migrants face loneliness as they are away from their families. "Therefore we have to teach them how to cope with loneliness" and show them that "they can be happy with other things aside from sex."

However, not all participants agreed with Doctor Acosta. A 39-year-old Filipina said, "I'm against abortion because it kills, but I'm not against contraceptives as it is a form of prevention." The woman, who admits to using contraceptives, says she has regular health check-ups.

There are about 170,000 foreign domestic workers in Singapore. Many of them are from the Philippines and Indonesia.

 
   
   
  Christians welcome move to review anti-conversion laws
 
NEW DELHI, JULY 2 (UCAN) -- Church leaders in India have welcomed a promise by federal Home Minister P. Chidambaram to review the so-called "freedom of religion" laws that restrict conversions in several states.

Father M. D. Thomas, secretary of Indian bishops' commission for inter-religious dialogue said the move, reported by local media, was "appreciable." However, he said it was too early to comment, as details of the review have yet to emerge.

Media reports said the federal ruling alliance, led by the Congress Party that came to power in May, wants to review the situation.

The controversial laws make it punishable offence for anyone to change religion or perform a conversion ceremony without informing district authorities. The laws also have provisions to punish people who convert others using "force," "fraud" or "allurements."

Christian leaders say these clauses target missioners since their social services programs could easily be construed as inducements to convert.

The laws were enacted after the Indian Constitution was promulgated in 1950. Orissa in eastern India, became the first state to pass the law in 1967, followed by Madhya Pradesh in 1968 and Arunachal Pradesh in 1978. The Congress Party governed those states at the time.

In recent years, similar laws have been passed in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh.

Father Thomas said the Church hopes those states where such laws are in force would "reconsider" their rationale as the Indian Constitution guarantees all citizens freedom of religion.

Anti-conversion laws were "mainly framed to target minorities, especially Christians," he said. He added that some states wanted to amend laws to re-define conversion as the act of becoming Christian, and to overlook Christians converting to Hinduism.

Father Thomas said the law must be "uniformly applicable to all religions in line with the promise of the constitution" that ensures the freedom to profess, practice and propagate a religion of one's choice.

Bishop D. K. Sahu, secretary of the National Council of Churches said any review of the laws was "a positive gesture."

"The anti-conversion laws curtail the freedom of the common people. These laws are often misused," the Protestant prelate told UCA News. He said he wants the federal government to repeal them and develop a "consensus" among various religions to address conversion and religious freedom.

The general secretary of the Church of North India, Reverend Enos Pradhan, said he welcomes a federal review because it gives hope "for people to practise and profess their religion in their own way."

By special arrangement with www.ucanews.com
 
   
   
  Church welcomes first conviction in Orissa violence
 
BHUBANESWAR, JULY 2 (UCAN) -- A Church leader in Orissa has hailed the first conviction linked to anti-Christian riots there last year, saying it will enhance Christians' confidence in the justice system.

The conviction will help "people to have more confidence in the justice system and government," said Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, who heads the Catholic Church in the eastern Indian state. "We are happy that at least one person has received justice."

A court in Phulbani, in Kandhamal district, convicted Chakradhar Mallick on June 30. The court said he was guilty of setting fire to the house of Lokanath Digal, a Christian in Dampidia village in Kandhamal district.

He was sentenced to four years in prison and fined Rs 2,000.

Mallick, a local landlord, was accused of leading and instigating a Hindu group to burn homes and attack Christians.

The tribal-dominated district was the center of a four-month long campaign of Hindu-extremist violence that killed about 90 people and displaced about 50,000, mostly Christians, according to Church leaders.

The violence began on August 24, a day after Maoists gunned down a Hindu religious leader in the district. Hindu radicals blamed Christians for the murder and destroyed houses, churches, convents and killed people who refused to convert to Hinduism.

The judge found Mallick guilty of inciting a mob to set fire to Digal's home. He is also accused of engineering several similar attacks.

Archbishop Cheenath said the Church believes other "ringleaders" behind the violence will be arrested, investigated and punished. "It is a good development from the judiciary," said the Divine Word prelate, adding that a first conviction would encourage witnesses to come forward.

"Anyway, victims will not live with compassion but with justice," he added.

Digal's lawyer R. Pradhan told UCA News that "it was risky for the witnesses" to testify in court against Mallick, because they were threatened. But his team managed to help "them to say the truth and the victim to get justice."

An archdiocesan legal team along with Human Rights Law Network and the Christian Legal Association are working together to help riot victims fight their court cases, a Church official said.
 
   
   
  News Analysis by Aman Sandhu: Rape confirmed in Shopian murder case, says probe
 
NEW DELHI, JULY 2: The Shopian rape and murder case has shocked the Kashmir Valley. On May 29, Aasiya Jan and her pregnant sister-in-law Neelofar, residents of Bongam district in Shopian, left for their neighbourhood family orchard in the evening.

When they did not return home at night, their family members, including Shakeel Ahmad, husband of Neelofar and brother of Aasiya, went searching for them. Unable to locate them, they sought police help.

The search party eventually found Neelofar's body in the Rambiara Nullah at around 6 am, some distance from a CRPF camp, and Aasiya's body, a km away from her.

Another brother, Zahoor Ahmad, who lifted the bodies, said Neelofar's body was in the water near a boulder about 50 feet away and the right side of her body bore scratches. Her neck had visible strangulation marks and her clothes had been torn.

Aasiya's body was found in a stream flowing near the Arahama shrine. She had a deep wound on her forehead and scratches on the right side of her face.

Judicial enquiry into the matter confirmed that the duo was raped and murdered, and their bodies abandoned by a troop of 10 to 18 Army personnel. Since the incident had the potential to cause violent outbursts in the Valley, the initial probes were somewhat controversial, with the doctors and the police accused of destruction of evidence and false autopsy reports.

As the news spread, massive protests broke out and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah ordered a judicial enquiry led by Justice Muzaffar Jan (retd).

The Commission, in its interim report, confirmed sexual assault and murder of the two women. It also blamed the doctors and the local and district police for lapse in duty. The police initially refused to register a case of rape and murder, but after the medical reports arrived, two separate cases were registered.

In his report submitted on Sunday, Justice Jan said the police and civil administration had erased all links that could have helped the panel reach the culprits.

The panel held four top police officers, including former Shopian SP Javid Iqbal, DSP Rohit Baskot, former SHO Shakil Ahmad and SI Gazi Abdul Karim, responsible for trying to hush up the case and make it look like accidental drowning. Chief minister Omar Abdullah on Monday ordered their suspension.

Javid was recently transferred to Ramban in Jammu following large-scale resentment against him in Shopian. CID IG Farooq Ahmad will hold a departmental inquiry against these officers, sources said.

Justice Jan said the doctors, who conducted the postmortem, also tried to hush up the case by holding back the report for six days. He observed that Javed Iqbal Hafiz, Scientific Officer at the Forensic Science Laboratory also delayed the submission of the doctors' certificate confirming rape.

He recommended Hafiz's prosecution for obstructing and delaying investigations by deliberately keeping the FSL report to himself. Abdullah has suspended Hafiz.

Justice Jan also said the doctors did not take all the required heart and brain samples of the two women for FSL tests. In the 150-page report, he has recommended departmental action and inquiry against the doctors. He also recommended disciplinary action against former Shopian deputy commissioner Mohammad Ramzan Thokar for inaction. "I have recommended stern disciplinary action against former Shopian deputy commissioner for not giving orders to register an FIR," Justice Jan said. Quoting the medical report, he said the women were raped before they were killed.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that the government was committed to "zero tolerance" against rights' violations and effective action will be taken in such cases. Responding to a question on the case, he said it was "very unfortunate" that such an incident had taken place. "If there has been violation of human rights, we will take effective action," he told journalists.
 
   
   
  News Analysis by Meetu Tewari: Maya's statue mania
 
LUCKNOW, JULY 2: On June 25, BSP supremo and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati unveiled 15 statues of herself and party founder Kanshi Ram. Contrary to expectations, the unveiling was low key and without much fanfare. In fact, it took place nine days before schedule.

Some time back, Ravi Kant, a Supreme Court advocate, filed a PIL alleging that the State Government had squandered huge amounts of public money in self-glorification and in construction of projects that yielded no benefit to society.

He contended that over Rs 2,000 crore was wasted in the flurry of building activity that centered on creating statues of BSP leaders, the party president and party symbols.

The court has given the state four weeks to file a reply, admitting the petition that has called for restraining the Mayawati government from further construction activity and also asks for a CBI probe.

The early public presentation is seen by many as an attempt by the chief minister to pre-empt any future court order, calling a halt to her ambitious plans. Also, Mulayam Singh Yadav, who heads the Samajwadi Party and is a former chief minister of UP, had called for protests and demonstrations on July 3, the day originally planned for unveiling of the statues.

Says Nigam (name changed), a senior civil servant in the State, "The chief minister has definitely wasted money in useless activity when these funds could have been utilised for setting up of industries or houses for the poor, if construction was what Mayawati wanted to focus on. The money that was used for this and that which has disappeared are huge amounts."
In a state which has been reeling with power shortages, one can notice how lights are always working in Lucknow at places where the chief minister has sanctioned building works. Power is always available, even at 7 am in the morning, in daylight, as this correspondent observed. Wastage of funds, power, land and labour has now become synonymous with the building frenzy in UP.

People are generally discontented with the way Mayawati has been working. Says a student, who identified herself only as Priyanka, "I am glad that there is nationwide focus on what is happening here. We want people to become aware of the sheer wastage. Here, no one dares speak out against Mayawati. I am happy this issue is now in the limelight. I hope it will force the Government to become accountable. Even the Union Home Minister has called it shameful."

It appears that this time the chief minister’'s focus was centered solely on building-related projects and unfortunately for her, they have attracted a lot of controversy. The BSP supremo has rubbished the complaints, stating that Dalit leaders too need to be publicly recognised.

Another student of Lucknow, Disha Srivastava (name changed) made a humorous comparison. "Leaders who indulged in creating a cult following and erected their own statues, like Stalin, Saddam Hussein and Franco, all died, and their statues were pulled down. And now we have Mayawati. Has the death knell sounded?" she asked.

Politically it is felt that these complaints have been damaging. With the attention now being centered on UP, people are slowly becoming more outspoken about their displeasure. How great an impact this might have on the political career of Mayawati still remains to be seen. But if the general election results are anything to go by, people have already lost faith in her.
 
   
   
  Church hails US lawmakers' support of Bhopal gas victims
  BHOPAL, JULY 1 (UCAN) -- Church leaders have welcomed an appeal by US Congress members to the Dow Chemical Company asking it to address the needs of victims of the world's worst industrial disaster.

More than 3,000 people were killed on December 3, 1984, in Bhopal, and some 8,000 within a week, after 42 tons of poisonous methyl isocyanate gas, a pesticide, escaped from a Union Carbide pesticide plant.

In all, about 500,000 people were exposed to potential lethal waste. An estimated 25,000 people are thought to have died over the past 25 years due to air, soil and water pollution.

Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide in 1999.

In mid-June, 27 members of Congress reportedly wrote to Andrew Liveris, chairman and chief executive of Dow Chemical, asking him to meet the survivors' demands for medical and economic rehabilitation, and to clean up the soil and groundwater contamination in and around the factory site.

The Congress members also asked the company to send a representative to take part in court proceedings in India.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal, who heads the Catholic Church in the state, said the move was "quite late, but better than never."

He welcomed the politicians' recommendation as a "very positive step" in protecting survivors and said it signaled a renewed global understanding about their suffering.

Archbishop Cornelio said Dow Chemical had shirked its responsibility to remove thousands of tons of toxic waste accumulated at its Bhopal factory site.

The congressional initiative may help the victims get justice, he told UCA News.

A legal suit has been lodged with the Madhya Pradesh High Court against Dow Chemical and others demanding safe disposal of the toxic wastes.

Father Mathew Vattakuzhy, who heads a forum that coordinates the Catholic social services in the state, said the American gesture is "really good news and a welcome step." The priest added that the disaster continues to haunt the victims' second generation.

"Many children born after the disaster in the affected areas continue to suffer various mental and physical disorders," he said. Problems would continue unless Dow Chemical or the Indian authorities dispose of the toxic waste, he stressed.

Father Michael Sebastian, who heads Bhopal archdiocese's social work department, says waste disposal should be carried out urgently to protect future generations.

He said the Church had helped in the rescue and relief operation in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. However, this diminished after the government took control of the rehabilitation work and other NGOs joined the post-disaster settlement program. The Church, however, continued to provide education and to provide occasional medical treatment for the victims, the priest said.

Roy John, who says he saw the disaster unfold as a child, says the American gesture surprised him but was "a golden opportunity" for India's Madhya Pradesh state and the federal government to give the victims "much delayed justice."
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By special arrangement with www.ucanews.com
 
   
   
  Church mourns death of Malabar monsignor
  By George Kommattathil
KULATHUVAYAL, JULY 1(UCAN)-- The church has mourned the death of Monsignor C.J. Varkey, who served Christians, Hindus and Muslims in Kerala's Malabar region for nearly six decades.

Some 10,000 people attended the priest's funeral on June 27 at Kulathuvayal, a village in Kozhikode district. The priest died three days earlier at the age of 88.

Monsignor Varkey's death was "a great loss for the Indian Church," said Bishop Paul Chittilappilly of Thamarassery, the diocese covering Kulathuvayal.

According to the prelate, the late priest's contributions to spiritual and social development in the region were remarkable. "He was one of the most admired figures in Kerala Church and a leader of the charismatic renewal movement in the state," Bishop Chittilappilly said.

In 1976, Monsignor Varkey started the Malabar region's first charismatic retreat centre that now attracts thousands of people. He also founded the Missionary Sisters of Mary Immaculate in 1962 that now has 123 houses and 750 members working in various parts of the world.

"He was a man of great vision, spirituality and farsightedness," said Sister Joyce, the congregation's current superior general.

The funeral services were held at Nirmala Retreat Centre in Kulathuvayal. Retired Archbishop Jacob Thoomkuzhy of Trichur, Archbishop George Valiamattam of Tellicherry and Bishop Lawrence Mukkuzhy of Belthangady joined Bishop Chittilappilly at the services, along with hundreds of priests and nuns.

Monsignor Varkey, popularly known as Varkey Achan ("Father" Varkey) was based in Kulathuvayal, about 50 kilometers east of Kozhikode town, and for 58 years he worked across four northern districts of Kerala.

He came to Kulathuvayal in 1951 when the region was an underdeveloped hill area with no roads, schools or churches. Most Christians in Malabar are migrants. Migration began during the economic Depression of the 1930s and continued for decades.

Pope Benedict XVI gave the priest the honorary title of monsignor in 2007 in recognition of his service to the Church.

Appachan Kumblani, a 57-year-old Catholic layman said that soon after his arrival, Monsignor Varkey began organising people of all religions to build roads and bridges. He started the first school in Kulathuvayal in 1954 and encouraged other parishes in the diocese to open schools before building churches. "Schools were a great blessing for all as they accelerated the region's development," he said.

Archbishop Thoomkuzhy, the former prelate of neighboring Mananthavady diocese, noted that the late priest always encouraged lay initiatives. Monsignor Varkey "empowered lay people, guided and directed them well," he told UCA News.

Johnson Poovathinkal, 46, a Catholic lay leader and bank manager, said he was inspired by Monsignor Varkey to become a Gospel preacher. "It is he who guided me over the past 15 years," he said.

Benny Punnathara, 46, chairman of the Shalom Media Foundation, hailed the late priest as the "patriarch of the charismatic renewal in Malabar." Shalom Television, the first Gospel-based channel in Kerala, was Monsignor Varkey's brainchild, Punnathara said.

People from other religions also recalled the priest's services. Ahmed Kodiyeri of Kulathuvayal says no person who has associated with Monsignor Varkey would forget him. "He was a great man who organised Christians, Hindus and Muslims and made the material and spiritual development of this region possible," said the 64-year-old Muslim vendor.

Kunhikrishnan Nair, a Hindu who came to pay his respects to the priest, said "Varkey Achan" had fought to develop Malabar. "He helped everyone who approached him without any consideration of their religion. He was a man who walked and worked with all kinds of people."
 
   
   
  'Saint Paul of Arunachal' remembered
  NEW DELHI, July 1 (UCAN) -- The local Church has organised a variety of programs to mark the first death anniversary of the "Saint Paul" of Arunachal Pradesh state.

About 2,500 Catholics, Protestants, Hindus and tribal people attended Mass at the tomb of Brother Henry Gaikwad, popularly known as Prem Bhai (loving brother). The Benedictine brother died on June 28, 2008 while on a visit to Sri Lanka. He was buried in Banderdewa, a village near the Arunachal Pradesh capital of Itanagar.

Bishop John Thomas Kattrukudiyil of Itanagar led the Mass hailing Brother Gaikwad as a "saint" who labored for more than 25 years to build the Church in the tribal-dominated border state.

"The memorial program was a big event for us," said Father Ivan Vaz, public relations officer of Itanagar diocese. One of the ceremonies was the blessing of the brother's tomb that now attracts people from all over the state, he said.

The priest pointed out that the gathering of thousands in the hilly area is remarkable because villages are far flung and people must walk kilometers to reach the church, covering hills and streams.

Young people in the diocese commemorated the anniversary with a three-day Prem Bhai Memorial Youth Festival that ended on June 27. The brother specially worked for young tribal people, Father Vaz said.

Some 500 Catholic youth celebrated Brother Gaikwad's life with songs, dances and skits, he said. "Almost everyone here considers him a saint," Father Vaz noted, saying, "There are lots of stories of how he healed people and worked miracles among them."

He recalled that people used to pluck hair from Brother Gaikwad's beard and use it to pray over sick people. "Almost every Catholic home in the diocese has his photograph. For people, he is already a saint."

Bishop Kattrukudiyil said the "wandering missioner" was to Arunachal what Saint Paul was to the world of his times. Many legends about the Benedictine brother's accomplishments surfaced after his death, he added.

The bishop cited from Brother Gaikwad's writings about the difficulties he faced in Arunachal Pradesh where government regulations had prohibited Christian priests and missioners from preaching or ministering there for decades.

Brother Gaikwad had covered more than 45,000 kilometers on foot, wearing sandals made from tires. He preached the Gospel, baptized more than 25,000 people and built 128 churches in the state.

He was arrested eight times, imprisoned five times, and was attacked by people who opposed Christianity as well as by wild beasts during his journeys. However, on two occasions, police officers took the missioner to their homes and asked for baptism.

He was born in 1953 in Maharashtra state, western India. After completing his bachelor's degree in commerce, he joined a few religious congregations but left all of them seeking "something more challenging."

In 1980, he joined Santi Vanam, a Benedictine Ashram in Tamil Nadu state, southern India. "He remained a Benedictine Oblate until his death," Bishop Kattrukudiyil said.

Brother Gaikwad came to Arunachal Pradesh in 1982 and began visiting villages. The bishop hailed the brother as the "greatest pioneering missionary of Arunachal."

Divine Word Father P.A. Augustine, who directs Holy Trinity Ashram in Banderdewa, recalled that Brother Gaikwad had given him his room keys before he went to Sri Lanka. "There was nothing precious or valuable in his cupboard. Some photographs, a few pairs of traditional attire ... The bed had no mattress, he slept on a mat and for a pillow, used a wooden plank," he added.

Arunachal Pradesh borders Bhutan, China and Myanmar and has some 200,000 Christians among a population of 1 million, mostly animist tribal people. The state's two Catholic dioceses of Itanagar and Miao cater to some 70,000 Catholics.

 
   
   
  Christians, Muslims oppose move to legalise gay behaviour
 
NEW DELHI, July 1 (UCAN) -- Christians and Muslims are opposing a government review of a 149-year-old law that treats homosexual behavior as a crime.

In a statement on June 28, Union Law Minister Veerapppa Moily said the government was prepared to re-consider the 1860 British colonial law, which it views as outdated. The government has asked ministries dealing with law, health and home affairs to review it, he said.

"But we are not going to rush to any conclusion. We will take into account concerns of all sections, including religious groups such as the Christian Church," the Press Trust of India quoted Moily as saying.

The colonial law criminalizing "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" has been used against a wide range of sexual behavior including homosexual behavior, with penalties ranging from 10 years' jail to life imprisonment.

Moily's announcement came the same day as small Gay Pride parades were held in a few Indian cities.

Gay rights groups in India have campaigned for years for a repeal of the law, saying homosexuality is not a perversion and the state has no business in regulating sexual affairs between consenting adults.

However, Christian and Muslim groups have come out in opposition to any review of the law.

The Catholic Secular Forum, a Mumbai-based lay organisation, says it opposes the move because it is against India's culture and social mores.

Forum general secretary Joseph Dias, in a Press release, says homosexuality is unnatural even among animals. "So why do human beings want to stoop down even lower than animals?" he asked, and added, "it is yet to be proved that homosexuality is genetically induced."

Dias says India has an estimated 4.5 million homosexual men and they form 86 per cent of HIV/AIDS patients in the country. He warned that homosexual behavior would increase if it were legalised, and encourage "manipulative, dominating, coercive, under age and unsafe sex."

The forum also urged the Church to educate its followers on the ills of homosexual relations. It said it wants the Church to issue an advisory on homosexuality to help parents and youths to understand sexual orientation and respond appropriately to it.

Father Babu Joseph, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, speaking to UCA News, said, "The Church is very clear that gay relations are against the order of nature and divine will."

"In homosexual relations, persons may get personal gratification but they are not obeying natural law and social obligations," the Divine Word priest said.

The Catholic Church has consistently opposed homosexual behaviour because it considers the social obligation of giving birth to a new generation to be "very important," he said.

However, an Indian theologian, who did not want to be named, said theologians could support gay marriage "with some reservations." He said people should understand that homosexual people are naturally attracted to those of the same sex and are not inclined to be celibate.

"So under the principle of lesser evil, theologians can tolerate a permanent love relation between two consenting adult constitutional homosexuals," said the priest.

Leading Islamic figures also condemned the proposed law review.

"Homosexuality is an offence under shari'a law and haram (prohibited) in Islam," Maulana Abdul Khalik Madrasi, deputy vice chancellor of the Darul Uloom Deoband, told reporters on June 29.

Maulana Salim Kasmi, vice-president of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, in a statement, also referred to gay activities as crimes, and said Islam punishes homosexual acts.

India is one of the few secular democracies in the world that still criminalises homosexual acts. Other states that do are mostly Islamic or authoritarian regimes. China lifted its ban in 1997.

 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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