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Stewardship and Trusteesh
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  I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasi  
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  DEVOTIONAL  
 
   
Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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  COUNSELING
 
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  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
     
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  Dalit's job suspension was 'discrimination'
  By Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

INDIAN Church officials have accused the Tamil Nadu state government of religious discrimination after it suspended a dalit Christian civil servant for allegedly producing false information to secure his job.

The state government suspended C. Umashankar on July 21, saying he presented a certificate stating he belonged to the Scheduled Castes group but did not say he was a Christian.

India's constitution allows job and education quotas for dalit (former lower castes or "untouchables") to improve their socio-economic status. However, Christians are denied such quotas on the grounds that their religion does not recognize the caste system. The dalit have been socially discriminated against and oppressed for centuries. The Indian Constitution in 1950 listed them as "Scheduled Castes" eligible for privileges to help their socioeconomic advancement.

Umashankar, who was employed in 1990, said he was a Hindu dalit then but converted to Christianity two years ago.

The government action is "illegal," he said. No government can insist a caste certificate issued 24 years ago be updated to work against an individual's freedom of religion.

"The government discriminates against citizens on the basis of religion. This case is just the tip of the iceberg," said Father Cosmon Arokiaraj, secretary of the Indian bishops' commission that looks after the interests of low-caste, tribal and underprivileged people.

"I have full solidarity with the officer who is helpless before the state. He has dealt honestly with a dishonest government," he said.

The suspension goes "against the secular nature" of the country, said Father Devasageayaraj, secretary of the regional commission for dalit people.

The commission is discussing how to help the suspended officer and is consulting with other Christian leaders, he said.

Umashankar said he has filed a complaint with the National Commission for Scheduled Castes against the state government and is "considering" other options.

Media reports say Umashankar claimed the caste issue emerged after he made graft allegations against the state government, which involved relatives of the state chief minister.
 
   
   
  Election office orders bishops’ letter probe
  By ucanews.com reporter, Kochi

KERALA'S Election Commission has ordered an investigation into a pastoral letter from bishops asking Catholics not to vote for atheistic political parties.

The head of the state Election Commission, P. Kamalkutty, has directed the Ernakulam district collector to inquire into the content and circumstances behind the letter from the Kerala Catholic Bishop's Council.

The Election Commission's order follows a complaint by Joseph Velivil, a Catholic from Ernakulam.

He alleges the letter propagates social disharmony.

Velivil, who heads the Kerala Latin Catholic Association, a dissident group, also alleges the letter undermines the state's democratic principles.

The pastoral letter was read out in all the state's parishes on July 18.

It comes ahead of village council elections in September and state polls next year.

The letter, without naming Kerala's ruling alliance led by the Communist Party of India (Marxists), allegedly attacked the tactics of "atheist" parties in politics.

It asked people to be vigilant against "atheists" fielding "God-fearing popular people" as independent candidates to garner votes from Christians.

The bishops' spokesperson Father Stephen Alathara said it was the Church's "right to issue a pastoral letter to guide its faithful."

"We are not concerned about its legal aspects," he said.

The Electoral Commission, a quasi judicial body, acts independently of state bodies.

If those responsible for the letter fail to give a satisfactory explanation for its contents, the commission can take legal action, experts warned.

The commission had sought explanation for a pastoral letter prior to the 2009 general election, Father Alathara said.

"It later ruled there was nothing improper in its content," he said.

The latest letter is aimed at "strengthening democratic values" and to educate people about political traps, he said.

"We have not appealed to voters to favor particular political parties," Father Alathara explained.
 
   
   
  Dhaka rehab center helps female addicts
  By ucanews.com reporter, Dhaka

A FORMER Church-run drug rehabilitation center for men in Dhaka is now working wonders for many of Bangladesh's female addicts.

Ashokti Punorbashon Nibash (APON) has brought light back to hundreds of women whose lives have been darkened by drug abuse.

Originally set up for men in 1994 by American Holy Cross Brother Ronald Frederick Drahozal, it became the first center to help female drug abusers in 2005.

The center is currently helping 25 women addicts kick their habit and can accommodate 40 patients.

"In five years, the center has treated 430 female addicts. They are now drug free and leading a normal life," said APON supervisor Luna Begum.

Many of the women have been cast out by their families or are sex workers, she said.

APON's counselors not only help rid them of their addiction but also try to find them employment and have their families take them back, Begum said.

"More addicts will get their lives back if their husbands, relatives and families extend a helping hand to them," said Brother Drahozal.

Morjina Begum, 25, says APON has been a blessing.

"I started taking drugs following rows with my husband and I eventually lost my family and was forced onto the streets," she said.

APON helped cure her addiction and two months ago gave her a job looking after addicts here, said Begum. "I'm grateful to Brother Drahozal for helping me begin a new life."

Jasmine Akter, 24, became an addict after falling in with bad company.

"I came here about a month ago. I was using marijuana, heroin and was drinking heavily. I had a happy family life and drug addiction completely destroyed it," she told ucanews.com.

"I came to APON and it has opened my eyes. I also learned how easily drug abuse can kill. I had been in hell but now I've found paradise," Akter said.
 
   
   
  'Underground’ priest detained yet again
  By ucanews.com, Beijing

OFFICIALS in northern China's Hebei province have rearrested Father Peter Wang Zhong of Xiwanzi moments before he could walk to freedom following a three-year prison term.

Sources told ucanews.com that Father Wang's relatives and about 20 laypeople were waiting to pick him from Tangshan Jidong prison at around 4 a.m. on July 24.

They saw Father Wang walking toward the prison gates before three or four men grabbed him and dragged him to a nearby police car.

The gates closed while Father Wang was still struggling.

The gate reopened about an hour later and two police cars emerged.

Father Wang's relatives and the laypeople then stopped the car with the priest inside to speak to him.

They also demanded to know why the government officials were detaining the priest again.

"Father Wang told us not to create any problems with the officials, that he was okay and asked us let them take him away," a source said.

There was a short standoff, after which the Catholics backed down.

Hours later, Father Wang called his younger sister to say he was safe.

Local Catholics suspect the officials want the priest to "work openly" and accept the authority of the government-sanctioned Catholic Patriotic Association.

Officials from Guyuan County asked Father Wang in May what he wanted to do after his release, they said.

Father Wang told the officials he wanted to return to Guyuan because Catholics there needed him, they added.

Sources believe the officials took action at the prison gates as they feared Catholics would protect and hide the well respected priest after he returns to the parish.

The priest was jailed for illegal assembly and for illegally making an official government seal to stamp documents in late 2007 after the consecration of a church in Guyuan.

Auxiliary Bishop Leo Yao Liang of Xiwanzi's underground community presided at the consecration Mass that was concelebrated by some 20 priests and attended by more than 7,000 people.

Bishop Yao, Father Wang the parish priest, and four other priests were arrested. The other priests were released shortly afterwards. Only Father Wang was sentenced while the bishop was put under house arrest for 30 months.
 
   
   
  Malaysian High Court to hear conversion case
  By ucanews.com reporter, Kuala Lumpur

A MALAYSIAN Hindu woman, whose three children were converted to Islam by their father without her knowledge, was today allowed a full trial to quash the conversion in a civil court.

Justice Zainal Adzam Abdul Ghani, a Muslim, hearing arguments in chambers in Ipoh, was of the opinion that the matter was of public interest.

Indira Gandhi, in her original application, had named the Perak state religious authorities, the Malaysian government and her estranged husband, now known as Mohd Rizuan Abdullah, as respondents.

The respondents had earlier argued that the High Court had no jurisdiction to hear the matter as it involved Muslim children.

Gandhi's lawyers, however, said that as a non-Muslim, she had no avenue to seek legal redress apart from the civil courts.

She has two weeks to make a formal application for a hearing date.

In Malaysia the Syariah Court has jurisdiction over Muslims only, on family matters such as marriage, divorce and inheritance, while the civil court covers all other matters and serves people of other religions.

Last year, the Syariah Court granted custody of the children to Mohd Rizuan.

At that time, two of the three children, aged 12 and 13 were living with Gandhi. The youngest, a two-year-old toddler was taken away by the father when he left the marital home.

The High Court granted Gandhi custody of all three children in March this year.

M. Kulasegaran, Gandhi's lawyer, commended the judge for a "fantastic and unique" decision after the latest court decision.

He told reporters that in the past, the courts often sat on a decision or disallowed such an application, when there was conflict between the shari'a and civil courts.

Meanwhile, local media reported that Gandhi's lawyers will track down her husband and personally serve him with the four-month-old High Court order compelling him to surrender his youngest child.
 
   
   
  Priest rejects Indian maid homicide claim
  By Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

A MAID in a northern Indian parish hanged herself at a church center over a disappointment in love but her family is now trying to portray it as homicide, according to the local parish priest.

Nineteen-year-old Maya took the tragic step in her room in the Navjeevan (New Life) Don Bosco center in Chandigarh on July 23.

Parish priest Father Sebastian Vadakkethannickal told ucanews.com July 27 that the girl's parents are now trying to paint the case as a homicide "but they will be sorry once the legal process starts."

A police officer dealing with the case told ucanews.com that initial investigations have revealed that the girl had an affair with Anop Sebastian, 20, son of the parish priest's niece.

The boy's mother, Mercy Sebastian, opposed the relationship and threatened the girl with "dire consequences" if she continued the affair, the officer said.

The victim narrated the incident to her sister who stayed with her at the church center.

Police have now registered "a case of abetting suicide against Mercy Sebastian," Father Vadakkethannickal said, adding that an autopsy had confirmed the incident as suicide due to hanging.

He told ucanews.com that there is "no merit in the case" against his relatives and that "there is nothing" for the parish to worry about.

"We will follow the course of law. We know what to do," he said.

The priest discovered the body of the victim in her room on the first floor of the building.

The boy also lived in the parish house, media reports said, quoting Manju Devi, a maternal aunt of the victim.
 
   
   
  Blasphemy is now a death sentence
  MANY won't agree with this claim and consider it over-exaggerated. But they must then explain how the insult to a holy personage can be tantamount to the death sentence when none of the saints or prophets killed those who rebuked them, according to all the holy books.

But if I leave aside the inspiration of scripture and instead study Pakistani laws, which promote the "honoring of holy personages," we will see this is the very driving factor behind murders such as the ones of the two brothers in Faisalabad last week.

They -- a pastor in the ministry of United International Pakistan and his younger brother charged with blasphemy -- were killed as they left court after an appearance. A church was later ransacked and Muslim-Christian tensions erupted into five hours of violence.

If this is the way Muslims enforce respect for their religion then it begs the question, how genuine is respect if it is born out of fear? Creating a climate of fear to make one respect something is an odd way of demanding honor. But Pakistani authorities don't seem to care.

The Catholic Church has been engaged in this argument with government after government in Pakistan ever since the introduction of blasphemy laws to the country's constitution in the early 1980s. Sometimes Church protest has been extreme, born of desperation. The late Bishop John Joseph of Faisalabad shot himself in 1998 in protest against a death sentence handed down to a Catholic convicted of blasphemy against Islam.

But still the laws are enforced. The Punjab dioceses alone have seen four cases of blasphemy this year.

This issue is not limited to Pakistan, of course, as ucanews.com reported earlier this month that Islamic militants chopped off a Catholic professor's hand in Kerala, India, for allegedly insulting Islam in an exam question paper.

The victim's family said that they have forgiven the attackers showing, at least, the power of Christianity in their own lives. But what impression of Islam is left in the hearts of the families of all these victims? Did they finally understand through the violence, the strength of Islam's religious doctrine?

But then to answer these questions would leave me open to charges of blasphemy.

India at least does not share Pakistan's blasphemy laws on the statute books but the principle is the same -- once a charge or allegation of blasphemy is made, escape is almost impossible. The allegation itself becomes judge, jury and sentence, with the law seemingly justifying taking matters into one's own hands.

"We don't feel this country is ours anymore"

President Asif Ali Zardari has ordered a report on the facts in the most recent Faisalabad murders but judging by past form when other Christians have been attacked, the report will not be made public and yet another case will quietly close.

Not that Christian politicians are much help either. According to a parish priest in Faisalabad, Christian politicians were not available on phone although he tried to call them several times. This leaves many Christians in despair.

"We don't know who to ask for help; we don't feel this country is ours anymore," the priest told me.

Fearful Christians are now criticizing the bishop and priests for failing to plead their case but in the past the Church got very far. Leaders say they will "only pray" since they are not politicians and can't start campaigns although, to be fair, there has been some attempts in recent months with a Church commission conducting a signature campaign against the laws.

Individual clergy have also asked for the repeal of the blasphemy laws, using several platforms over the years. But much of that has fallen on deaf ears. Our political assemblies don't seem to be interested in debating these controversial laws, leaving little doubt that more lives will be claimed by them in future despite the thousands of articles that have been written on the abuse of these laws.

Time for renewed protest movement

There is always hope that the recent killings might start a renewed movement against blasphemy laws but it is going to take a concerted decision by the Pakistan bishops to come in forefront of the battle. They are being called to do so by their flock as more and more Christians demand "visible Church leadership" -- and its time they got it. They certainly deserve it.

There are precedents in other countries. Even peaceful Buddhist monks took to streets and five were killed when they demanded an end to military rule in Burma 2007. Although their initiative was later crushed by the army, yet this was a clear demonstration of their leadership.

It is a worthy cause. Blasphemy laws are the biggest threat to Christians in Pakistan. Praying in chapels and dining with police officials by the bishops is important but change requires practical effort as well. Peace is not simply about being passive. There are a number of ways to demonstrate peacefully.

But the fight so far has been left to ordinary Christians who are demonstrating nationwide against the brothers' murder. They urgently need to be joined by the Church's top leadership. These men need to step forward to deal with the situation that has reached crisis point. They have to "show" their rejection against spilling of more Christian blood so that the wounds of a persecuted community can start to be healed.

Failure to act in time will only increase the growing trust deficit between Church "leaders" and their flock.

Source: ucanews.com
 
   
   
  Girl commits suicide in church building
  A 19-YEAR-OLD girl allegedly committed suicide inside a church building in Chandigarh.

The girl, identified as Maya, took the extreme step on July 23 inside the Navjeevan Don Bosco church after she was allegedly threatened to keep distance from a boy, with whom she was in love, the Times of India reported.

The boy is the son of the relative of church's priest Father Sebastian Gose.

The body of the deceased, who used to work as a maid in the church, was noticed by Father Gose in her room situated on the first floor in a building of the church.

Manju Devi, maternal aunt of the deceased, alleged that the girl was in love with 20-year-old Anop, also a resident of the church and son of Father Sebastian's niece.

She claimed the family members of the boy were not in favor of their relation and they had threatened the girl two days back, the newspaper reported.

Police said that the incident was being investigated and no suicide note and other material supporting the girl's family's claim was found.

Source: The Times of India
 
   
   
  Indian nun's body found in well
  By Bosco de Sousa Eremita, Panaji

THE body of a 24-year-old Catholic nun was found in the well of her convent in a village in Goa on July 26, police said.

Handmaids of Christ Sister Dipti Brahmane is believed to have committed suicide by jumping into the well.

The nun comes from Nasik in neighboring Maharashtra state and was under medication for depression, reports said. She was on a replacement duty at the St. Teresa Convent in Raia village, south of the state capital Panaji.

The nun was missing during lunch time and a search around the premises discovered her slippers were floating in the well.

Personnel from the fire services took her body out of the well.

She had taken classes up to July 26 and had spoken to her parents the previous night.

A police officer said they do not suspect "any foul play" and are investigating if it is an accident or suicide. A case of unnatural death has been registered.

Goa archdiocesan spokesperson Father Francis Caldeira refused to comment on the incident.

"I don't know anything," he said.
 
   
   
  Commonwealth Games cause 'common worry'
  By Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

SOCIAL activists have slammed India's national government over the eviction of the poor and homeless in preparation for the October Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

More than 1 million families have already been evicted as a result of Games-linked development projects.

Another 40,000 families are likely to be displaced in the lead up the October 3-14 mega event, says a report of the Housing and Land Rights Network, a member of the Habitat International coalition.

The claim that the Games are helping to make a Delhi a world class city has already been proven wrong, the report says, citing "grave human costs" including slum demolitions, destruction of livelihoods, environmental degradation and arrests.

Father Jose Vattakuzhy, secretary of the Labor Commission of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India agreed.

"India is not mature enough to host such a big event," he said.

Behind the "bright and shining" image of India that the government wants to project, there lies "a very ugly face," he added.

As well as displacing the poor, Games construction has also led to the deaths of at least 64 workers. But their families have not been compensated properly, Father Vattakuzhy said.

"Workers are also not being paid properly," he added.

"It has become a common worry for the common people," he said, noting that government is spending billions of rupees on the project.

Social activist Dhananjay Singhal, who works on homeless and urban poverty issues, told ucanews.com that thousands of children are also being used as bonded laborers on the project.

"Instead of these Games," the priority of the government should have been to fulfill the "basic necessities of the people," said Hindu ascetic Swami Agnivesh, who works for bonded laborers.
 
   
   
  Muslims fined over 'cow-head' incident
  By ucanews.com reporter, Kuala Lumpur

A COURT in Malaysia's Selangor state has fined 12 Muslim men whose protest over the relocation of a Hindu temple last year saw one of them stepping on the head of a cow.

Mohd Azmir Mohd Zain, who stepped on the animal's head was fined 3,000 ringgit (US$940) by the court on July 26.

Eyzva Ezhar Ramli, who brought the cow head, was sentenced to one week's jail and also fined 3,000 ringgit.

Both men could be imprisoned for three months if they are unable to pay the fine.

Both pleaded guilty to a sedition charge, and also to another charge -- that of illegal assembly, for which they were fined another 1,000 ringgit each.

They were part of a group of Muslim men who in August 2009 demonstrated at the State Secretariat building in the Selangor state capital of Shah Alam.

They were protesting a planned relocation of a 150-year-old Hindu temple to their neighborhood.

Another 10 were fined 1,000 ringgit each on an amended charge of illegal assembly.

Cows are considered sacred to Hindus.

Local media reported Hindu Sangam president Mohan Shanmugam as welcoming the sentences but describing them as "minimal." However, he said it still served as a warning to groups looking to stoke religious tension.

"The law has taken its course. They have been charged and convicted," said Reverend Philip Thomas, president of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism.

"If they are genuinely remorseful about the whole incident, let's forgive and forget."

Muslim Member of Parliament Khalid Samad, from the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), said the Muslim men's protest was politically motivated and that the sentences were not going to be a deterrent.

"It sends a bad message and falls short of what people were expecting. The actions of the cow-head protesters were extreme and provocative," he told local media.
 
   
   
  Nepal blast survivor teaches forgiveness
 
A CATHOLIC who lost his wife and daughter when a bomb exploded inside Kathmandu's Assumption Church over a year ago is now giving talks on forgiveness to Christians.

"I have felt a great inner peace after I forgave, met and reconciled with the bombers," Balan Joseph told participants at a three-day meeting on forgiveness and reconciliation.

"The main mastermind claims to have converted to Christianity and he prays actively inside the jail," Balan told the July 20-22 meeting organized by Christian groups United Mission to Nepal and Micah Network Nepal. "As for myself, I have offered my children's future to God and feel very free inside."

Joseph's wife and daughter were among three people killed when a bomb exploded in Assumption Church on May 23, 2009.

During a commemoration of the tragedy earlier this year, he said he had forgiven the culprits and was praying for them.

Balan has since gone to various Christian churches and gatherings in Kathmandu to speak on forgiveness.

His two surviving children, Sylvester and Chelsea, accompanied him for the first time for his recent talk.

"For two months after the blast I had felt a spiritual weakening inside and doubted if I would be able to work or bring up my children," he told the gathering. "But the priests and nuns of my church urged me not to lose hope."

He said he was inspired by the example of Saint Paul, who had killed Christians before his conversion, to forgive the woman who planted the bomb. "We need Saint Pauls in today's world and how will we get them if we do not give a chance to people to change?" he asked.

Balan told ucanews.com that "even if I am invited to give a talk at the last moment, I will leave everything to make sure I do God's work."

Source: ucanews.com
 
   
   
  Another PFI leader arrested over hand chopping
  POLICE in Kerala have arrested another activist of Popular Front of India (PFI), a Muslim outfit, in connection with the attack on Catholic professor T. J. Joseph, whose hand was chopped off for allegedly insulting Islam in a question paper.

Yunus (33), a divisional leader of the PFI, was arrested on July 21 and remanded to judicial custody by a magistrate court in Muvattupuzha. He is the fourth person to be arrested in connection with the case.

Police said although the accused was not among the gang that chopped off Joseph's hand on July 4, he was part of planning the attack and hiring the assailants, English daily Indian Express reported.

Two persons were arrested on July 5 and remanded to judicial custody for their alleged involvement in the case.

Recently, a dentist and an active PFI worker was also arrested in the case on charges of sedition. Raneef, a native of Aluva near Kochi, was accused of giving first aid to one of the assailants who was injured during the attack.

Professor Joseph was attacked while he was returning home from Sunday mass with his mother and sister, a Catholic nun.

Church-managed Newman College in Thodupuzha, where Joseph taught Malayalam, suspended him on March 25 for allegedly preparing a question paper with insulting references to the Prophet Muhammad.

Source: indianexpress.com
 
   
   
  Blasphemy accused killings shock Pakistan
  By ucanews.com reporter, Faisalabad


THE Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has condemned the extra-judicial killing of two Christian brothers who had reportedly been cleared of blasphemy charges.

Rashid Emmanuel, 30, and his brother, Sajid, 27, were gunned down by suspected Islamic extremists while in police custody on July 19.

"It is obvious that the mere charge of blasphemy, however preposterous it may be, is now a conviction in itself," HRCP chairperson Mehdi Hasan said in a July 20 statement.

"The tragic incidents raise many questions," Hasan said, particularly in relation to the failure of police security and the lack of a legal requirement for an investigation prior to registration of blasphemy charges.

The HRCP also condemned the use of mosque loudspeakers to instigate violence against religious minorities.

It urged the government to act against the promotion of hatred and to ensure that the attackers are prosecuted.

The Catholic bishops' National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) also demanded a long-term solution to the abuse of blasphemy laws.

According to NCJP statistics, 35 Christians and Muslims have been killed extra-judicially since 1992 over blasphemy allegations.

Meanwhile, several Faisalabad streets in the Christian majority area of Warispura are still empty as families have either fled or sent their women to other cities.

Local Christian youths are criticizing Church leaders for failing to protect minorities as rumors fly of more Muslim mob attacks.

Pakistan intelligence agencies also reported yesterday that terrorists are planning attacks on the worship places of minorities in the provinces.

"We are being killed and persecuted," Dominican Father Pascal Paulus told ucanews.com, adding that the Church is presently formulating defense strategies.

"We are not politicians and will not organize any protests," he said.
 
   
   
  Indian Christians renew Congress-support threat
  By Bijay Kumar Minj and Shailendra Boora, New Delhi

ANGRY dalit Christians and Muslims have again threatened to withdraw support for the ruling Congress Party in fresh New Delhi protests demanding fairer quota benefits.

Some 500 Christians and Muslims from all over India joined the July 21 demonstration, the latest in a series of protests to press the government to address their grievances.

Leaders said they plan to vote against the Congress Party in upcoming elections if their demands go unmet.

"We are seriously thinking of withdrawing our support," said Father Roby Kolenchery, from Punjab.

Christian and Muslim dalit traditionally support the Congress Party, which currently heads the federal ruling coalition.

It is a "shame that this government" cannot implement what we have been demanding for 60 years, the priest told ucanews.com.

Successive governments have reneged on their own promises to grant quota benefits to dalit, he said.

Dalit are members of lower castes once branded "untouchables."

The Indian constitution allows them special benefits such as quotas for government jobs and in education. However, it excludes Christians and Muslims on the grounds that their religions reject the caste system.

"Ours is a non-violent protest," said Father Cosmon Arokiaraj of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India. However, dalit people will take "drastic steps" if the government continues to ignore them.

"This is the best time to press the government" politically because elections in many states are "just around the corner," said the secretary of the bishops' commission for dalit and tribal people.

Jawahar, a lawyer from Tamil Nadu, said the only way left to press the government was through direct political action. He said Christians should boycott state elections in Tamil Nadu.

Official forums of Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Churches together with some Muslim groups organized the protest.
 
   
   
  Catholic school attacked after suicide attempt
  By Saji Thomas, Jabalpur

A GROUP of some 150 Hindu activists has attacked a Catholic school in central Indian Madhya Pradesh state after a student attempted suicide and broke his leg.

The mob stormed St. Gabriel Senior Secondary school in Jabalpur on July 21 and started smashing windows, less than an hour after an 11th-grade student jumped from a first-floor window.

The boy, who fractured his leg, was rushed to hospital but has no life-threatening injuries.

His suicide attempt came after he was summoned to the principal's office to answer questions about his alleged role in a prank.

In the attack that followed, the Hindu mob shouted slogans demanding the immediate closure of the school. They also accused the school of harassing students, office assistant Vivek Chauhan told ucanews.com.

He said the police managed to prevent the Hindu attackers from inflicting further damage on the school.

Principal Brother Joy Joseph said the boy was summoned over his suspected role in planting rotten eggs near the chalkboard in his class.

The principal condemned the Hindu attack saying the school had "done nothing wrong."

Christian schools in the state have become an easy target for Hindu groups to assert their socio-political dominance, he told ucanews.com.

Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur condemned the attack and said Hindu groups frequently attack Christian schools and damage "our properties on flimsy excuses."

Christian schools have pioneered education in the state and continue to provide quality education, he said.

He urged the state government to put an end to such attacks.

The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party has ruled the state since December 2003. Since then, Christians and their institutions have suffered more than 150 violent incidents, Church people say.
 
   
   
  'Church should rethink homosexuality stance'
  By Paul Hwang, Seoul

PANELISTS at a Seoul Christian conference have argued that homosexuality is not sinful and that the Church should change its attitude on the issue.

"Sexuality as the abuse of power, like sexual violence against little girls, is a sin. But sexuality itself is not a sin," feminist theologian, Reverend Koo Mi-jung, told the July 18 conference organized by the Protestant-run Saegil Institute for Christianity and Culture.

Reverend Koo, one of several members of a panel that also included a theologian, homosexual people and a psychiatrist, said that although some Bible phrases mention homosexuality, these need to be reinterpreted within a concrete context and should not be regarded as unchangeable.

"The Church should follow Jesus' love for minorities, the only Gospel, no other one. And it should champion minorities including sexual ones," she stressed.

"It is sad to see that the Church has become a supporter of power rather than the weak like us," Hahn Chae-yoon, director of the Korean Sexual Minority Culture and Rights Center, told ucanews.com.

Christian homosexuals want to go to the Church but they are rejected, she said.

"The Church should repent on this issue," she added.

Reverend Jung Ji-seok, director of the Saegil Institute, acknowledged that despite positive social changes in people's attitude toward homosexual people, the Church has remained unchanged.

"Most faithful think that discussing the issue in the Church is unimaginable and regard homosexuality as a grave sin. That should be changed," he told ucanews.com.

The Saegil Institute pioneered lay-led liturgies and has promoted forums on a variety of issues since its foundation in 2000.

The Catholic Church teaches that while homosexual desires are not in themselves sinful, "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered" and contrary to the natural law (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2357-2359).
 
   
   
  Religions support Hindus on pilgrimage
  By ucanews.com reporter, Batticaloa

A TWO-MONTH Hindu pilgrimage to a popular temple is becoming an occasion for Sri Lankans of various faiths to show support to the devotees who walk through dense jungle.

Many Tamils are presently taking part in a spiritual trek along the east coast to the Lord Murugan temple at Kataragama. Many walk barefoot while balancing a small bundle of belongings on their heads.

Thousands of pilgrims, from children to grandparents and hermits, could be seen walking through villages on July 17 and 18. Many carried red and yellow banners, and peacock feathers and lances associated with the deity.

All along the way, villagers of different faiths offer them rice, vegetables, milk, ghee and fruits.

Such "acts of alms-giving" help to "connect people with people," said Father Soosaimuthu Douglas James, parish priest of St. Joseph church in Thirukovil village.

He observed that his villagers had already cleaned their wells to serve pilgrims better.

More than a million people are expected to gather at the Kataragama temple for prayers and a ritual bath in the river on July 26, the last day of the religious observance.
 
   
   
  Top UN posting 'proves' Church's universality
  By ucanews.com reporter, India

CHURCH officials in Kerala have hailed the appointment of an Indian as the Vatican's top envoy to the United Nations, saying it demonstrates the Church's multi-national character.

The appointment of Archbishop Francis Assisi Chullikatt as the Vatican's Permanent Observer to the UN is a "great recognition" of the Indian Church, said Syro-Malabar Church spokesperson Father Paul Thelakat.

Pope Benedict XVI appointed the 57-year-old former apostolic nuncio to Iraq and Jordan on July 17.

He became the first non-Italian to hold the post and succeeds Archbishop Celestino Migliore, who is now apostolic nuncio to Poland.

Archbishop Chullikatt's appointment reflects the Church's intention to include all races, nationalities and cultures rather than being a European reality, said Father Thelakat.

"The assembly of nations is hearing the voice of the Catholic Church, which includes all nationalities. We Indians can be proud that the Church's voice will get an Indian hue and flavor in the UN," he said.

"It is a very important and prestigious post as far as the Church is concerned. I pray God helps him carry out his duties to his full capacity," said Father Stephen Alathara from the southern Indian Kerala state's Latin-rite Church.

Archbishop Chullikatt, from the Latin-rite Verapoly archdiocese in Kerala, was ordained a priest in 1978 and holds a doctorate in canon law.

He joined the Vatican's diplomatic service in 1988 and speaks French and Spanish as well as English and Italian.

He has served in the Honduras, in various countries in southern Africa, in the Philippines and at the United Nations in New York. He also served in the Secretariat of State at the Vatican.
 
   
   
  Pakistan Christians told to stay silent on Islam
  By ucanews.com reporter, Faisalabad

IN the wake of recent blasphemy accusations against Christians, Faisalabad Church leaders have warned Catholics not to discuss Islamic doctrine.

"Do not talk about the religion [of the majority]. Our survival depends on this," Dominican Father Pascal Paulus told parishioners at Holy Rosary Church at Mass on July 18.

"Respect Islam and try to be tolerant and peaceful," the priest said after the church was stoned on July 10 by a crowd of 100 angry Muslims carrying sticks and glass bottles.

Local Christians guarded the church for several nights last week following the incident, which was sparked by blasphemy charges against Rashid Emmanuel, a Christian pastor, and his brother for allegedly publishing an "anti-Muhammad" pamphlet.

The pamphlet contained the names and telephone numbers of the accused.

"It is hard to imagine that anyone would give their contact details in such a note," Nauman, a Holy Rosary parishioner, told ucanews.com.

The Catholic Church has formed an inquiry committee of 15 lay people to investigate the facts of the case.

About 90 local religious leaders, including four Catholic priests, six Christian pastors and 80 Muslim clerics met at a local hotel on July 16 to discuss the issue.

They agreed to use their pulpits in a bid to stop further unrest by focusing Friday sermons and Sunday Masses on brotherhood and acceptance.

"Last Friday was crucial as such religious gatherings are often used to form mobs," said Father Aftab James Paul, director of the Diocesan Commission for Interreligious Dialogue in Faisalabad.

"We are challenged by a large number of Islamic seminarians who are generally less moderate than common people. Also many self-proclaimed pastors are misguiding people, most of them illiterate,” he told ucanews.com.
 
   
   
  Villagers oppose site of new cemetery
  By ucanews.com reporter, Kozhikode

A PROPOSAL to build a new Catholic cemetery has been opposed by villagers in southern India who say it will pollute their drinking water sources.

St. Antony's Forane Syro-Malabar Church plans to locate the cemetery on a 37,000-square-meter plot it bought recently in Thamarassery diocese, Kerala state. It also intends to build a school, hostel, home for the elderly and a youth training center on the site.

People from Maloorkunnu village in Kozhikode district have organized protest marches and distributed leaflets and posters, stating that their wells and a river in the village would be polluted.

"We will not allow this cemetery at any cost," said one protester.

Another opponent, who lives near the site, pointed out an economic objection. "Locally, the value of land near cemeteries does not appreciate. The proposal has already diminished the price of land here," he said.

But St. Antony's priest Father Jose Manimalatharappil described the protests as "baseless, painful and a reaction based on ignorance."

"The cemetery will be well built with extra care against pollution and will have concrete vaults to ensure that nothing gets out of it," he said. "The parish already has government permission to build the cemetery and people will withdraw the protest when they understand the facts."

Vinod Kuthukalunmkal, a parish trustee, added that he expected the protests to ease off, once work starts on the school and the other planned facilities.
 
   
   
  Kerala religious leaders appeal for harmony
  By ucanews.com reporter, Kochi

CATHOLIC and Muslim leaders in a Kerala town have appealed for religious amity following a recent attack in which Islamic extremists chopped off the hand of a local Catholic professor.

At a July 14 meeting in Muvattupuzha, the leaders also appealed to the government to set up interreligious vigil committees in every village of the state, Bishop George Punnakottil of Kothamangalam Kothamangalam.htm told ucanews.com.

Bishop Punnakottil, whose diocese covers the town, said both communities deplored the "heinous incident."

People "want peace and harmony," the prelate said, adding that the "unfortunate incident" should not disturb social peace in the area where Hindus, Christians and Muslims have lived peacefully for centuries.

Kerala Member of Parliament, P. T. Thomas, who convened the meeting, told ucanews.com that all Muslim leaders condemned the July 4 attack on professor T. J. Joseph over alleged derogatory remarks concerning Prophet Muhammad in a school exam paper.

T. A. Ahmad Kabeer, president of Ernakulam district, Jamath, agreed saying that Muslim leaders wanted to take precautions to prevent the spread of sectarian division.

"So we have requested the government to set up vigil committees," he said.

"We have also decided to take steps to remove unnecessary misunderstanding on religions caused by the event," Kabeer said, recognizing that the incident has caused "severe damage to social harmony" in Kerala.

Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan told ucanews.com that police intelligence had failed to warn against the attack on the professor.

Meanwhile, police have conducted a series of raids against Popular Front of India (PFI), whose activists are suspected for the attack.

Police reportedly recovered bombs and deadly weapons from PFI offices in Kozhikode and Kannur districts.
 
   
   
  Churchgoers told to get active in Kerala polls
  By ucanews.com reporter, Kochi

LEADERS of the Latin Catholic Church in the Indian state of Kerala have called on their congregations to take an active role in the upcoming local elections either by directly contesting them or at the least, voting.

The rallying cry came at the end of the annual meeting of the Kerala Regional Latin Catholic Council on July 11.

Representatives from all 11 dioceses used the meeting to devise a strategy for effective participation in the September polls so that the community's socio-economic needs and interests can be met.

Despite making significant contributions in the past, the community has failed to win any representation in local government or political leadership.

"It is our responsibility to ensure that the community is not alienated from the mainstream and is adequately represented at the administrative level in local bodies," said Archbishop Maria Calist Soosapakiam of Trivandrum, head of the Council.

"We have no vested interest in exhorting our people to vote in and contest the elections," he added, "but we do need the community to get its due representation."

He said that the Latin Church will maintain a neutral stance, equidistant from the state's communist-led Left Front and the Congress-led United Front.

The Latin Catholic Church follows the Roman liturgy introduced in the 15th century. Based in Kerala's coastal regions, its members mainly come from fishing communities and are generally poorer than members of the state's two other Catholic rites, the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara churches.
 
   
   
  Protestant seminary praised for outreach
  By Philip Mathew, Bangalore

A THEOLOGICAL seminary in southern India has been praised for training students from different Christian Churches as it celebrated its centenary.

The Protestant-run United Theological College in Bangalore, opened by European missioner Bernard Lucas in 1910, celebrated its 100th anniversary in Bangalore last week.

State governor Hans Raj Bhardwaj, who opened the celebration, praised the college for its contributions toward theological education and in forming students from different sections of Christianity.

The institution trains students from Protestant, Orthodox, Pentecostal and independent Churches across India.

The college offers bachelor's and master's degrees in theology and also has facilities for research leading to doctorates. It also conducts diploma courses in counseling and women's studies.

The institution gives special attention to students from the "marginalised sections of society," said college principal Reverend John Samuel Raj.

This in line with its motto, "not to be served, but to serve," he said.

The college has also helped develop Third World theologies such as dalit (former "untouchables" in the Indian caste system) theology, tribal theology and Indian feminist theology, said former principal Reverend Israel Selvanayagam.

Although the Catholic Church does not send seminarians to the college, Catholic professors have taught here. The late Bethlehem Father Michael Traber taught communication as a visiting professor for more than a decade.

Some Catholic research scholars have also used the seminary for their studies, officials said.

The college is managed by a 42-member governing body which includes representatives of Protestant and Orthodox Churches.
 
   
   
  Two sex scandals rock Hong Kong Church
  By ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong

TWO widely reported sex scandals in the space of five days have shocked Hong Kong Catholics and prompted a parish to help its congregation to come to terms with them.

The first scandal, surrounding Divine Word Father Gregorius Harapan, school supervisor and pastor of St. Edward's Church, broke on July 4. One of Hong Kong's biggest selling dailies alleged a love affair and reported a number of obscene text messages between the Indonesian priest and the married woman who was his Cantonese dialect teacher. He has not been seen at the church since late 2009.

During Sunday Mass on July 11, a statement from the Divine Word Society was read out to parishioners, saying that Father Harapan had left his duties due to emotional disturbance and his father's sickness and is now in Europe. It did not confirm or deny the newspaper report.

A second scandal made headlines on July 9 after Nguyen Van Truyen, a Vietnamese deacon at St. Jude's Church, appeared in court the previous day to answer charges of molesting a Church housekeeper. He pleaded not guilty and the case was adjourned until July 19.

Leaders at St Edward's Church responded by arranging a prayer gathering on July 25. "The aim is to help parishioners remain firm in their faith and pray for our clergy and the universal Church," said Francis Tang Chi Ho, parish chairperson. "It also aims to help them build up a positive mindset to face the bad news," he added.

Father Dominic Chan Chi-ming, vicar general of Hong Kong diocese, said he would not comment on Nguyen's case as it was still ongoing. However, he said that the succession of sex abuse cases throughout the Church in recent years could usher in a time for purification of the Church. "We have to remember to remain loyal to our decision and loyal to the Church," he said.
 
   
   
  Chariot festival brings Hindus and Christians together
  By ucanews.com reporter, Jaffna

THE ravages of war usually widen divisions between people, but the end of Sri Lanka's civil conflict has seen Catholic and Hindus forging closer links.

Religious festivals are playing a prominent role in helping Catholics and Hindus live together as one community instead of being divided along spiritual lines.

In the Jaffna peninsula, healing within the Tamil community through joint Catholic-Hindu participation in festivals is very much in focus.

The Hindu Ratha Yatra chariot festival is one example.

This huge festival marks Hindu deity, Lord Jagannath's, annual visit to his aunt's temple.

It involves hundreds of people pulling large decorated chariots to a local temple.

This year saw local Catholics, especially young people, working with Hindus to clean and decorate streets, and even pull the celebrated chariots to the Sadda Nathar Lord Siva temple in Jaffna.

"The good thing the civil war did in the Tamil community was to change the old dogmatism and break down barriers," Father Aseervathampillai Anton Punithakumar told ucanews.com.

Sheltering together during the war drew the two religious communities together, the parish priest of St. John's church in Jaffna said.

"It has united different faiths, so now we do something for them and they do something for us," he added.

The united front has invigorated a sense of community spirit, according to one young Catholic.
"As neighbors, friends or even as human beings we can't sit by and watch Hindu men, women and even children, strugling to pull these huge chariots," a sweating Camillus Nimalan, 23, told ucanews.com.
 
   
   
  Indian Catholics back hunger striker's claim
  By Francis Rodrigues, Mangalore

SOME 1,500 Indian Catholics demonstrated yesterday to support a fellow Catholic's hunger strike protesting state acquisition of his land.

Gregory Patrao started his strike on June 17 to demand that the Karnataka government return his property.

Patrao's house was demolished on April 28 after his plea challenging the land acquisition by the Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board (KIADB) was dismissed by the High Court.

The Karnataka government plans to expand a refinery on that plot of land.

Patrao now lives in a shed with his aged mother and other family members.

Members of the Indian Catholic Youth Movement (ICYM), Catholic Sabha (forum) and Diocesan Council of Catholic Women (DCCW) in Mangalore joined a July 8 demonstration to fight "the injustice" to Patrao.

Renowned Hindu sage Vishvesha Thirtha Swamiji also visited Patrao on July 8 to express support. "It is tragic that farmers have to struggle to protect their own land," he said.

Forcible acquisition of farm lands is a "great injustice" to farmers and the nation, said Father William Martis, a diocesan priest who joined the demonstration.

While barren land is available in the state, the government forcibly acquires fertile land, he said.

"We have to do something decisive and rigorous," the priest said, adding that government and officials tend to ignore protests such as hunger strikes.
 
   
   
  Catholics take aim at Bhopal waste dump
  By Emmanuel Pathrose, Indore

SOME 1,000 Indians, including priests and nuns, have protested a government move to dispose of toxic waste from the Bhopal gas tragedy site in their locality.

The Madhya Pradesh government, following a Supreme Court order, is to dispose of 346 tons of poisonous material from the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, the state capital.

The state plans to destroy the waste in an incineration facility in the Pithampur area near Indore town, some 190 kilometers west of Bhopal, according to reports.

The waste has to be moved from Bhopal as it is still polluting water sources and the air, but "dumping it in Pithampur is not the solution," says Divine Word Father Prasad Kuzhivelil.

The waste, which includes remnants of the pesticide factory, has been left untouched since poisonous methyl isocyanate escaped from the plant on Dec. 2-3, 1984, killing some 20,000 people.

Father Kuzhivelil is a member of Lok Maitri (friends of people), which along with several other organizations marched through Indore on July 6 in protest.

Demonstrators said the incineration facility in Pithampur is situated in a "populated area" and that bringing the waste here would "invite another tragedy."

The facility is in the middle of four villages and near a pond catchment area, which is Indore's main water source, said Father Kuzhivelil.

The government is ignoring the suggestions of an expert committee on the waste disposal, said Divine Word Father George Payatikat, another priest opposing the move.

He said the committee reported that the "most technically feasible and environmentally sound option" was to incinerate the waste in cement kilns. The proposed plant at Pithampur "does not have such facilities," he said.

The state should find ways to dispose of the waste "without harming nature and people," said Sister Suchita Kerketta, who joined the protest.
 
   
   
  Orissa mission station abandoned after riots
  By Francis Maria Britto, Khutpali

AN Indian Catholic mission station, where a woman was burnt alive and a clergyman attacked during the Orissa riots, now lies priestless and abandoned.

Some 80 Hindu extremists vandalized the mission station at Khutpali village in Sambalpur diocese on Aug. 25, 2008, two days after anti-Christian broke out in the eastern state.

Divine Word Father Edward Sequeira, who had worked here since 1998, was beaten up and his hut set on fire. The priest saved himself by hiding in his bathroom.

A Hindu woman looking after children at a Church-run hostel was less fortunate. Rajni Majhi was burnt alive after refusing to leave the place.

"No priest has been appointed to the mission so far. Father Sequeira visits it now and then," said local Divine Word provincial Father Joseph Topno.

Father Sequeira, who has been transferred to another parish in the diocese, does not stay in the mission because of the "danger to his life," said Father Topno.

Father Sequeira ran a hostel for poor students, cared for leprosy patients and organized women groups. The 22 hostel residents have returned to their homes.

Villagers have looted the abandoned mission and some are now claiming its land.

"That is my land. I will occupy it," Devdatt Tandi, a Christian, told ucanews.com.

Police official Vadman Patel claims that the situation is now peaceful.

Police arrested 86 people in connection with the 2008 attack and all of them have been released on bail, Patel said.

The seven-week-long violence in Orissa killed some 90 people and displaced about 50,000 people, mostly Christians, according to Church records.
 
   
   
  Christian college says sorry for Hindu 'slur'
  By Saji Thomas, Jabalpur

A CHRISTIAN college in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh has apologized over an alleged insult to Hindus.

Members of Hindu Dharam Sena -- the Hindu Religious Army --demonstrated outside St. Aloysius College in Jabalpur on July 7, demanding an apology from the management. They were aggrieved because the college's application form does not include a column for Hindus to indicate their religion.

"This is an insult because the form has columns to identify all others but Hinduism, which is the religion of the majority in this state," said Yogesh Agrawal, Hindu Religious Army leader. "We want a new application form which does include the Hindu religion."

In response, college vice-principal Father Valan Arsu said the college uses the columns only to identify candidates from minority religions, because federal and state governments require details of these students. People who do not fall under any of the minority religions are automatically assumed to be Hindus, he said.

He described the protest as "absurd" and the allegation "baseless". However, the college has apologized to the protesters and will include an additional column for the Hindus in the admission forms.

Madhya Pradesh has witnessed increasing sectarian unease and incidents of violence since 2003, when the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party came to power.
 
   
   
  Indian priest receives death threat
  By Saji Thomas, Bhopal

CHRISTIANS in India's Madhya Pradesh state have demanded the administration ensure the safety of a priest who received a death threat.

Father Anand Muttungal lodged a police complaint in the state capital, Bhopal, on July 6, a day after he received the threat on his mobile phone from an anonymous caller.

"The caller not only issued a threat to my life but also abused me using filthy language," said the priest who is
spokesperson for the Catholic Church in the state.

The caller told him to stop all welfare work, failing which he would be "eliminated," he said.

The priest said he received a similar call more than a month ago but did not take it seriously.

Nevertheless, he is unfazed by the threats, he said.

A four-member delegation of the ecumenical forum Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh (grand assembly of Christians) called on a state official on July 6 and submitted a memorandum demanding protection for the priest.

The official promised to ensure the priest's safety and take action against the culprit, said delegation member Sheela Santiago.

"We will proceed with legal action if required," said Richard D’Silva, another delegation member.

Father Muttungal is a founder of the Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh which aims to unite Christians in curbing attacks on their communities.

He has also organized public movements against sectarian attacks on minority communities.

Madhya Pradesh has experienced anti-Christian violence in the past seven years after the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party came to power.

Christians, who form less than 1 per cent of the 60 million-strong population here, have suffered over 150 attacks since then.
 
   
   
  Muslims break up Indonesian Mass
  By Konradus Mangu, Depok

UP to 40 Muslims broke into the home of a Catholic family and forced a thanksgiving Mass in Indonesia on July 1 to be abandoned.

"I invited dozens of Catholics to the Mass to thank God for the house I've just bought and to celebrate my third child's 17th birthday," said Servulus Sihotang, a parishioner of St Paul's Church in Depok, West Java.

"But the Muslims suddenly forced their way in and made us stop."

He said he had bought the house from a Muslim and Muslim neighbors had been present at a housewarming party the week before, but added that the attackers were from outside the area.

"The area is pretty vulnerable," said Franciscan Father Taucen Hotlan Girsang, who led the Mass. "Some Muslim inhabitants do not allow any other religious activity, while some welcome it."

He went on to say that he and local Catholics were constantly working to develop a dialogue so that people living in the area could have a better understanding of all religions recognized by the Indonesian government -- Buddhism, Catholicism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam and Protestantism -- and of every citizen's right to follow the religion they choose.
 
   
   
  Muslims step up protest on headscarf ban
  By George Kommattathil, Thalassery

MUSLIMS in Kerala state say they will intensify their protest against a Catholic school that refuses to allow girls wearing headscarves to attend classes.

It is "our fundamental right to practice our religion," said Abdul Jabbar, district secretary of the Popular Front of India, a confederation of Muslim organizations.

Muslim groups in Thalassery have been protesting the Church-managed San Jos Metropolitan School's policy for over a year.

The school allows students to wear headscarves to campus but wants them to take them off once they reach the classroom.

"We will intensify our protest until the school permits our students to wear headscarves in class," said Jabbar, who organized a march to the school on July 1.

He said Muslims also want Muslim boys to be allowed to attend Friday prayers at a mosque nearby.

Principal Sister Rosemary said the school cannot agree to the headscarf demand as it would make the school uniform's dress code meaningless.

"We will not accept the demand. It is not the sole decision of the management; it is also the decision of the Parent-Teacher Association," she told ucanews.com.

The nun said the school also cannot allow students to attend Friday prayers. Students are only allowed to leave the campus after school hours because of security and disciplinary reasons, she said.

Chancellor Father John Onamkulam said the archdiocese-managed school treats all religions equally. "We can't show partiality to anyone."

Although several talks between the school and Muslim groups have failed, the Church is open to further talks, the priest said.

Some 40 per cent of 1,050 students in the co-educational school are Muslims. Hindus form some 50 per cent and Christians make up the rest.
 
   
   
  Muslims condemn attack on Kerala teacher
  NEW DELHI (AMN)-- Muslim leaders of different hues on Monday strongly condemned the violent attack on T. J. Joseph, a lecturer of Newman College, Thodupuzha, Kerala.

It is reported that some miscreants on the pretext of taking revenge for Joseph's act of blasphemy against Islam yesterday chopped off his right palm.

"We find that the attack on the Kerala lecturer is against the basic tenets of Islam and the Sunnah of the Prophet which emphasises on forgiveness", they said adding that the law should take its due course to punish the criminals who attacked the lecturer.

"They have clearly sinned and defamed Islam by committing this crime which we condemn without reservations", they pointed out.

The leaders in a joint statement said that those who attacked Joseph forgot that the Prophet of Islam, in his own life had pardoned a Jewess who used to throw garbage on him. When she did not do so one day, the Prophet enquired about her and upon being told that she was ill, went to wish her early recovery and good health.

The statement said that the law was taking its due course against the said lecturer. He allegedly substituted the word "madman" with the Prophet Mohammed while preparing a question paper for the students of his college.

"The Prophet forgave the people of Mecca after its conquest although they had pained him, expelled him from his hometown and had waged war against him for years". it said.

The signatories include Dr. Manzoor Alam of All India Milli Council, Mohammad Jafar from Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and Acting President, All India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat, Dr. Zafarul-Islam Khan, editor of the Milli Gazette, Niaz Farouqui of Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind and Navaid Hamid of the Movement for Empowerment of Muslim Indians (MOEMIN).
 
   
   
  Court throws out sex education case
  By Chona Yu with ucanews.com staff, Manila

THE lawyer representing parents opposed to the government's school sex education plans refused to accept defeat today after a court rejected their petition to halt the program.

Judge Rosanna Fe Romero-Maglaya of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 88 threw out a petition lodged by Jo Aurea Imbong on behalf of 30 parents for a temporary restraining order on teaching sex education in public schools.

The court ruled that Imbong and the other petitioners did not prove that their rights were violated because they failed to show their children were studying in the schools where the sex education module would be tested.

Imbong who lost her senatorial bid in the May 10 elections also serves as a legal counsel for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines.

The battle is not over, she told Church-run Radio Veritas 846 on July 5. The decision only covers the petition for a restraining order and not the lawsuit which contests that the Education Department's sex education plans are unconstitutional.

Imbong said she will now concentrate on preparing for hearings on the injunction parents filed last month seeking that the court declare the Education Department's Memorandum No. 26 implementing sex education in schools illegal.

The memorandum is "anti-family" and "anti-life," Imbong's group allege.

She said she expects more parents will add their names to the suit.
 
   
   
  Muslim extremists chop off Catholic's hand
  By ucanews.com reporter, Kochi

SUSPECTED Islamic militants have chopped off a Catholic professor's hand in Kerala for allegedly insulting Islam in an exam question paper.

Professor T.J. Joseph was attacked on July 4 in while returning home from Sunday mass with his mother and sister, a Catholic nun.

Kochi inspector-general of police, B. Sandya, told ucanews.com that an Islamic extremist group is suspected of the crime and have arrested four people and impounded a vehicle.

She said the attackers used the vehicle to block Joseph's car before dragging the professor from his vehicle and chopping off his right hand. The attackers then threw the hand away before fleeing.

Church-managed Newman College in Thodupuzha had suspended Joseph, its Malayalam professor, on March 25 for allegedly preparing a question paper with insulting references to the Prophet Muhammad.

St. Joseph Sister Mary Stella said the assailants attacked her brother with an axe and swords.

"They also attacked our elderly mother," before fleeing, she said.

Her brother had been threatened three times following the question paper row, she added.

Police say officials suspect the Popular Front of India, an extremist group and its political wing the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) for being behind the attack.

Thodupuzha, the commercial center of Idukki district, saw angry protests by various Muslim organizations in March when the question paper outcry first broke and several people were injured in clashes with police.

Joseph was arrested and granted bail in April.

Several political parties including the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) condemned the attack.

State Education Minister M. A. Baby from the communist-led government said the attack was an attempt to polarize society along sectarian lines.

The Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council also condemned the attack.
 
   
   
  Ranjith says textbooks defame the Church
  By ucanews.com reporter, Colombo

THE Archbishop of Colombo has told Sri Lanka's Education Minister that several current history and geography textbooks contain defamatory remarks against the Pope, Catholics and the Church.

"This is an attempt to create disharmony among the religious communities," Archbishop Ranjith told Education Minister Bandula Gunawardana when the latter paid him a courtesy visit on June 24.

"It is an attempt to instill very insulting and defamatory concepts in the minds of the students and also to discredit the government," the archbishop continued.

He urged the Minister to initiate a review of the texts by an interfaith committee.

"Many complaints from principals and teachers in history and geography prompted the archbishop to raise the matter with the Minister of Education," Father Ivan Perera, national director of Catholic education, told BBC Sandeshaya on July 1.

"The Minister has promised the archbishop to investigate and take corrective measures," Father Perera said.
 
   
   
  Kerala bishops stop lavish parish feasts
  By ucanews.com reporter, Kochi

BISHOPS in India's Kerala state have asked Catholics to celebrate parish feasts in an eco-friendly manner and avoid commercializing them.

Parishes should avoid expensive firework displays, parades and pageants during such celebrations, said a circular from the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council (KCBC), which will be read in parishes during Masses on July 4.

The 12-point guidelines state that feasts should be conducted in an environment-friendly manner, limiting the use of plastic and conserving energy as far as possible.

"Feasts are celebrated in memory of saints who have led a simple life. So we have decided to curb lavish celebrations of feasts," said council spokesperson Father Stephen Alathara.

Over the years, commercial firms had begun sponsoring feast programs in an attempt to advertise themselves, said Syro-Malabar Church spokesperson Father Paul Thelakat.

"Now sometimes commercial interests supersede spiritual interests in parish programs," he said, adding that it was necessary to check this "dangerous tendency."

The guidelines state that parishes should not invite bishops from other dioceses for feasts without prior permission from the diocesan tribunal.

Parishes should also follow civil laws and local regulations in conducting feasts and processions, the guidelines say.

The Kerala High Court had recently banned processions that obstruct roads.

Green activists say the bishops' instructions are timely and would help protect the environment.
 
   
   
  Three held over priest shooting in India
  By Malini Manjaly, Mokama

POLICE have arrested three men, including a parish house watchman, in connection with the shooting of a Catholic priest in the eastern Indian state of Bihar.

Three masked men shot and wounded Mokama parish priest Father Michael Ignatius at his residence on the night of June 28.

He later underwent surgery for four gunshot wounds at the Kurji Holy Family Hospital in the state capital Patna and is recovering.

The motive for the attack is still unclear, but police seem to have ruled out robbery.

Patna archdiocesan Vicar-General Father Devasia Mattathilani said the parish house watchman had identified one of the attackers, a local Catholic.

Police have arrested three men including the watchman. Other suspects include the younger brother and father of the identified attacker who is still at large, Father Mattathilani said.

"It looks like strained personal relations" with a family was the reason for the shooting, he said, ruling out a sectarian motive.

However, Father Ignatius says he doesn't know why he was attacked.

"It's a mystery, I have no enmity with any Catholics," he told ucanews.com.

Meanwhile, Father Mattathilani said Father Ignatius would not be returning to the parish and that a temporary priest had already been appointed. The assistant priest has also been transferred, he said.

Mokama is a notorious crime black spot, some 100 kilometers from Patna. Five years ago, Father Matthew Uzhuthal, vicar-general of Patna archdiocese, was stabbed to death by a youth who allegedly demanded money. The murdered cleric had been parish priest in Mokama for several years.
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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