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  Jharkhand Government seeks Church's help in fighting famine

RANCHI, AUGUST 31 (UCAN) -- The government of Jharkhand has sought the Catholic Church's help to distribute food relief to people reeling from drought in the state.

T.P. Sinha, advisor to Jharkhand Governor K. Sankarnarayanan, met Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo of Ranchi on August 30 to make a formal request for assistance.

The government on August 2 declared the entire state drought-affected. Farmers in the state could sow only 20 percent of rice paddy this year because of lack of water, local media reported.

People in a drought-hit area are eligible for government aid, free grain, interest-free loans and other assistance.

The government has decided to distribute grain to families living below the poverty line and set up grain storage centers. It has also decided to allow women living below the poverty line and self-help groups to run 12,500 new shops to distribute the grain and earn an income.

The government said the administration had approved 111.9 million rupees (US$2.38 million) for the project.

Sinha, who met the cardinal at the prelate's residence, declined to talk to the media but Cardinal Toppo later told UCA News the government wants to use the Church's vast infrastructure and network in the state.

"We are fully devoted in serving the poor. We are only too willing to extend our fullest cooperation to the state," Cardinal Toppo said.

The drought has resulted in famine in many areas and has affected even those living above the poverty line.

As drought relief is meant only for the very poor, there have been reports of attacks on grain depots and looting in some areas.

"The entire state is reeling under drought conditions and we would collaborate with the government to ensure proper distribution of food grains," Cardinal Toppo said.

The prelate says the Church would first chalk out "an effective and transparent system" and implement it in collaboration with the government.

The state has eight Catholic dioceses and allied organizations engaged in serving the poor. "All our dioceses can be harnessed for this noble job," the cardinal said. He added that he would send out an urgent message and organize a meeting of directors of diocesan social development societies.

The Church would then finalize the plan after discussing it with the governor adviser.

Father Jaiman Xalxo, director of Ranchi archdiocese's Catholic Charities, says the government move has excited Church workers. "We are very excited to take up this most challenging work," he said.

He said the Church people plan to work with Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the social action wing of the American bishops' conference, which is present in the state. "We have been working together with CRS for a long time. It has much experience in the field of relief work," he said.

The priest also said the Church would take up the job as soon as the government hands it over officially.
  Dalai Lama to meet retired Cardinal in Taiwan
KAOHSIUNG (TAIWAN), AUGUST 31 (UCAN) -- The Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, will meet with Cardinal Paul Shan Kuo-hsi, retired bishop of Kaohsiung, during his August 30 to September 3 trip to Taiwan.

The two religious leaders are scheduled to have an open dialogue session on the morning of September 2, according to a government press release. This will be the only meeting the Dalai Lama will have with a religious figure.

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader is visiting Taiwan at the invitation of seven counties and cities in the south of the country, which are mostly ruled by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party.

On the second day of his visit, the Dalai Lama will visit people affected by flooding as a result of Typhoon Morakot, which swept southern Taiwan August 8, causing 475 deaths, according to reports. A total of 87 people are missing.

The Dalai Lama will deliver a public lecture and will pray for flood victims on the second day.

A planned meeting with international press on the first day has been canceled.

In a separate incident, prior to the arrival of the Dalai Lama, eight major religious groups in Taiwan jointly held a prayer service to pray for the flood victims on August 30. They included the Buddhist Association and the Taoist Association of Kaohsiung county, and the Catholic and Protestant Churches.

The Dalai Lama has visited the territory twice, once in 1997 and again in 2001. He had said in December that he wanted to visit Taiwan again but President Ma Ying-jeou replied through the media that the time was not ripe for such a visit.

Some observers believe that Ma's government approved this visit to divert attention from criticism of his slow response to the havoc wreaked by Typhoon Morakot.
  Shuttle mission to include missionary history
When the space shuttle Discovery next takes flight, perhaps later this week, it will carry a piece of missionary history with it into outer space.

On board Discovery will be a piece of the plane used by members of Missionary Aviation Fellowship, who were killed more than half a century ago in Ecuador by Waodani tribesman, the ministry announced.

Astronaut Patrick Forrester contacted the Idaho-based ministry about carrying a memento from the plane that had been used by pilot Nate Saint and four other missionaries before their deaths in 1956.

Their story was depicted in the 2006 movie End of the Spear.

"Bringing attention to and renewing interest in missions would be a great result of this experience," said Forrester, who was born the year after the missionaries were killed, in a statement. "My deepest intent is to honor Nate Saint, the Saint family and all missionaries around the world."

The item from the battery box of the plane was approved by NASA and will be returned to Missionary Aviation Fellowship with a certificate showing it was part of a space flight.

Forrester, who has served as a short-term missionary, learned about the missionaries when he attended a concert of Christian artist Steven Curtis Chapman, who told the audience their story. Some of the tribesmen involved in the killings were later converted to Christianity by relatives of the slain missionaries.

NASA announced Wednesday that the shuttle could launch Friday, depending on weather conditions. The trip to the international space station had been postponed due to a valve malfunction. (Courtesy: Christianity Today)
  Missioner priest preserves tribal musical heritage in Bangladesh
TANGAIL (BANGLADESH), AUGUST 31 (UCAN) -- The beat of traditional tribal Garo drums are being heard a little more often these days in Pirgacha in Mymensingh diocese.

The playing of these and other traditional instruments is undergoing a revival thanks to the efforts of American Holy Cross Father Eugene Homrich, parish priest of St. Paul's Church in Pirgacha, Tangail.

Father Homrich, 85, has been working in this forested tribal area in the northwest since 1952 and has established a small museum to preserve traditional tribal musical instruments, some of which risked being lost forever.

He has also employed four elderly Garo musicians to teach youngsters how to play these instruments.

"After having spent over 40 years with the Garo people, I found that ... they have a rich musical heritage. So I've tried to be of some help" in this area, said the priest, who is known affectionately as Achchu (Grandfather) Nokrek.

Father Homrich started collecting and preserving instruments in Pirgacha parish, northwestern Bangladesh, in 1993. Since then, he has preserved about 300 instruments, spending about 197,500 taka (US$2,857) in the process.

Just like Western musical instruments, their traditional Garo counterparts include wind, string and percussion instruments.

Father Homrich says he had to obtain many of the instruments from India. "My friends in America and some wealthy local and foreign donors helped me to finance the scheme," said the priest, who speaks the Garo language and often celebrates Mass in the Garo tongue.

The museum also has a collection of traditional Garo household utensils, some of which are no longer to be found in the Garo community in Bangladesh.

Father Homrich has employed 90-year-old Sohin Mree as museum curator, as well as a teacher of traditional Garo music to 25 young Garo people.

"I learned to play musical instruments from my father," said Mree, who used to be a farmer. He added that he had not imagined that he would one day become a music teacher.

For Father Joyonto Raksam, a native Garo himself, Father Homrich "has revived interest in traditional Garo music which is also a part of local Catholic liturgy."

Father Raksam, rector of St. Paul's Seminary in neighboring Jalchatra parish, said, "The Garo have hymnbooks and Mass books in their native language," so musical instruments are important for accompanying hymns sung during Mass and other liturgical celebrations.

The tribal priest also said that Father Homrich's initiative has helped reawaken cultural awareness among parish priests in the diocese. They, too, have started collecting and preserving traditional musical instruments in their own parishes, he said.

According to the Bangladesh Catholic directory, Catholics in the diocese numbered 72,952 in 2007. Most of the Catholics are tribal Garo.
  News Analysis by David W. Virtue: Sodomite behaviour of a homosexual bishop
  NEW Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson told a large audience at St. Mark's Cathedral, Salt Lake City, Utah, recently that at the end of the day the Anglican Communion will be fine. During the address he gave an upbeat report about the Anglican Communion's future citing, among other things, Desmond Tutu, his own sexual proclivities and why the wider Anglican Communion will ultimately hold together.

Bishop Robinson's ability at fiction writing and story-telling was apparently evident in the book-signing of his latest book, "In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God", once priced in hardcover for $25.00 and now available for $5.63 at Many, however, believe he was "swept to the center" not by God, but by votes of the HOB and Standing Committees of a theologically brain-scrambled denomination who long ago ditched their Bibles in favor of a cultural zeitgeist more amenable and malleable to pansexuality than biblical revelation.

"These last few years have been another chapter in God's people trying to find out how broad and merciful is God and God's love. We can be proud of our response," said Robinson.

Really. If "breadth" and "merciful" are the indicators, Robinson needs to explain the continuing withering of The Episcopal Church along with an horrendous fall off in members since he was consecrated bishop in 2003. How does he explain the advent of The Anglican Church in North America with more than 100,000 members, most of whom he is indirectly responsible for because of his sexual behavior. Or what of the "merciful" actions of PB Katharine Jefferts Schori who has adopted a Berlin Wall approach to fleeing Episcopalians?

Robinson told the New York Times that his diocese had grown by three per cent last year. That is flat out untrue. Every diocese in TEC, with one exception, -- the Diocese of South Carolina -- has lost membership, some great (splitting dioceses), some smaller through attrition, death, and moved membership.

Noting that the Episcopal Church struggled with questions of race in the 1960s and gender in the 1970s, Robinson said, "There will be another and another brouhaha until there is no more us vs. them, until there is just us. By then we'll be in heaven."

Robinson is being highly presumptuous to suggest that "we'll be (all) in heaven". How does he know that? These "brouhahas" have come about largely because of him and his actions. It has cost orthodox laity, clergy and bishops millions of dollars in lost properties, with millions more in lost pensions, salaries, bad health, firings, split churches, agonizing soul-searching and unmentionable pain. Robinson has not suffered, but caused all this, because he demands that his sodomite behavior be accepted by hundreds of thousands of Episcopalians and millions of Anglicans around the world. He has single-handedly done more damage than any Borgia Pope could possibly have achieved, all in the name of his selfish, self-absorbed, narcissistic behavior.

Robinson said that recent attempts to redefine the Anglican Communion as a centralized body are the product "of a small minority that have lost votes here and are now turning to the Anglican Communion, trying to reassert their power elsewhere."

No one has "centralized" the Anglican Communion more than the Archbishop of Canterbury. Dr. Rowan Williams single-handedly ran The Lambeth Conference. Many believe he is acting alone in an almost papal-like manner over the breakup of the Anglican Communion. For his "sins", he is being vilified by the theological left, a variety of British pansexual organizations, with the majority of his support coming, ironically, from liberal evangelicals like Fulcrum (a blog) and Durham Bishop Tom Wright.

Robinson has stated, "We absolutely need our partners. They are the ones that have been the victims of poverty, racism, and American hegemony. We desperately need the Anglican Communion more than they need us. We need their truth told in love, and I work day and night for that."

Reality check. 22 of the 38 Anglican Communion primates and their provinces have declared they are in "broken communion" with TEC, largely because of Robinson. What about the word "broken" does Robinson not understand? Furthermore, they have rejected money from TEC to fight problems of "poverty and racism" because the money comes at too high a price -- the souls of their people. Biblically speaking, they believe that Robinson and his fellow Episcopal pansexualists are risking their eternal souls by their behavior and want no part of it. He is right about one thing, however; TEC needs the Anglican Communion more than the Anglican Communion needs TEC.

However, Jefferts Schori is making noises that she is prepared to step up to the plate and develop links between liberal parishes in the UK and establish a TEC outpost in London.

Furthermore, the Lesbian and Gay Christian groups in the UK have rejected the Archbishop's proposal of a two-track communion, which now seems dead on arrival.

The New Hampshire church leader said that the proposed Anglican covenant is the work of those who "long for a mechanism so that any church can be kept from going too far. Those people call themselves traditionalists, but I would argue they are trying to take us to a place we have never been before."

So a proposed Covenant is seemingly dead killed off not by conservatives, but by liberals who don't want anyone telling them what to do or how to live their lives. God forbid anyone should do that.

"I don't think it's going to happen," Robinson said of the covenant. "We are not alone in resisting this idea." He is right. It isn't going to happen regardless of how many drafts are written.

"At the end of the day, the Anglican Communion is going to be fine," he said. "It's going to be messy. There are some churches that are not messy, but there is great value and treasure in our messiness, once you just get used to it."

That "messiness" has cost clergy and laity millions of dollars, personal vilification by Robinson himself and many of his fellow liberal bishops like John Chane (Washington) and Jon Bruno (Los Angeles); repeated bashings of Global South Primates as homophobic and fundamentalist and much more. The Anglican Communion is not fine. It is falling apart with the vain hope that the ABC's two tracks or two tier solution will somehow rescue it.

Referring to the pending election of bishops in the dioceses of Minneapolis and Los Angeles, both of which have nominated gay or lesbian candidates, Robinson said, "Maybe I will have a special friend in the House of Bishops. It would be nice to have someone like me who has had these experiences as a special friend. It will happen -- it is a question of when."

Mrs. Jefferts Schori is publicly on record saying that she knows of other "partnered" bishops in the HOB. So, why have they not stepped up to the plate and come out, publicly supporting Robinson? Why have they left him to carry the gay ball all these years? It is the height of hypocrisy for them to hide behind closeted doors while Gene takes all the heat.

And what if a gay or lesbian is elected? Will the ABC be able to schmooze it away when Jefferts Schori is a co-consecrator? Will he try to draw yet another line in the sand giving TEC another pass? Will the Primates play dumb and roll over. They have seen this before and they won't play dumb. Is Williams prepared for the fall out? Will he trot out his two-track solution to the Primates in order to keep the Communion together?

Perhaps Robinson should reflect on this. With the advent of GAFCON, ACNA and FCA, a shadow Anglican Communion is slowly being built alongside the dying structure that is currently in place.

Orthodox Anglicans have said repeatedly that they are staying because they are not the ones who have moved from the faith once delivered, but the liberals who have departed the faith. Canon Chris Sugden put it succinctly when he wrote:

The GAFCON conference in Jerusalem and the launch of FCA was part of the plan to affirm the nature of orthodox Anglican identity and to provide support for those being pressured by the aggressive liberal agenda. That planning culminated in the birth the Anglican Church in North America.

The launch of the Anglican Church in North America and FCA (UK and Ireland) showed that the GAFCON movement was not just in Africa, but that it was firmly located in the North Atlantic, as well and was committed to promoting biblically faithful, authentically Anglican mission. The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans will be launched in South Africa in the first week of September and in North America in the fall, embracing those within and outside of TEC."

Sugden concluded by saying that the understanding of the church that underlies the Jerusalem Statement (GAFCON) is not separatist. The movement has said it is "standing (for the truth) and staying (Anglican)".

If Robinson thinks that all is well that all manner of things will be well, and that everything, at the end of the day is going to be fine, then he is in complete denial, deluding not only himself but his fellow liberal and revisionist travelers.

Bishop Mark Lawrence, when he was rector of St Paul's Episcopal parish in Bakersfield, CA, in the Diocese of San Joaquin, put it succinctly when he wrote in 2006, "The Episcopal Church in the United States of America is dying -- a comatose patient on life support. The insufficient apparatus of aging communicants, and the evaporating wealth of prior generations will not sustain the patient indefinitely. Keeping vigil at its bedside, Episcopalianism, by which I mean the ethos of that body of Anglicans in the U.S., waits, gripped by a culture of denial, which includes its inability to look at either the declining health or the ecclesiology of the dying institution to which its constitution and canons tie it. Moreover, it has lost its Anglican identity, even while it has failed to reach its own American culture in any significant way. The average Episcopalian, parish church and mission, bishop and priest, seem to prefer to sleep at the bedside of the patient, thoughtless of the impending trauma, than to prepare for the inevitable or take swift action to avert it."

It is Bishop Robinson who is on the wrong side of history, faith and the future. And he will be answerable "in that day" for the damage he has done. Courtesy:
  Priests in Sri Lanka face dilemma after release
COLOMBO, AUGUST 29 (UCAN) -- The five Catholic priests just released from refugee camps in the north are weighing whether they should return to the camps to serve there or work in parishes as their bishops have asked.

"It is an ethical dilemma," acknowledged one of them, Father E.S.C. Mariathas, parish priest of St Anne's Church in Mullaitivu, who spoke to UCA News over the phone.

Father Anthony Victor Sosai, vicar general of Mannar diocese, likewise described the priests as "now in a dilemma about their future." He confirmed that the bishops of Jaffna and Mannar had asked the priests to take other assignments.

The five, released on August 26, are mentally and physically drained, he added. "They are still haunted by images of death and destruction from the war."

Released with them on August 26, by government order, were 177 Hindu priests and their families, and two Catholic nuns. They were freed from camps in and near Vavuniya where about 300,000 Tamil civilians are still detained while the military screens them for possible connections to defeated Tamil rebels.

Father Mariathas and three of the other priests -- Father A.A. Amalrajah of St Mary's Church in Pooneryn, Father Anton Stephen of St Anthony's Church in Thalaiady and Oblate Father Alfred Vijeya Kamalan of Amaithy Thenral, a Church-run institution in Mullaitivu -- all worked in Jaffna diocese. Father Francis Jude Gnanaraj Croos of St Francis Xavier's church in Alkaddively, Mannar diocese, was the other priest released.

Oblate Father S.E. Reginald, who served in a counseling center in Kilinochchi, Jaffna diocese, is still in a refugee camp, although authorities have not explained why.

There is also uncertainty surrounding the fate of an elderly priest, Father G.A. Francis Joseph, who has been missing since the final stage of fighting, which ended three months ago, when tens of thousands were displaced. He had been working in a church at Ampalkulam in Kilinochchi. There still has been no news of him, said Father R.G Vijintus, secretary to the bishop of Jaffna.

The two nuns who were released, Sisters Joseph Ruparani and Thamian Immanuel Kumuthini of the Franciscan Missionaries of Peace, are now working with sick children who lost their parents in the war.
  Ursulines look to reach out to other religions
BANGALORE, AUGUST 28 (UCAN) -- The international Ursulines of Mary Immaculate congregation has concluded its general chapter in India with a call to members to work toward improving interreligious understanding.

"Most of our institutions are a meeting place for all religions, cultures and languages, and we want to nurture an atmosphere of friendship, mutual acceptance and respect," said Sister Elvira Mattapally, the congregation's newly elected superior general.

Sister Mattapally is the second Indian to head the congregation and succeeds the first, Sister Bernardina Poonthottam.

Thirty-three delegates attended the August 1-25 general chapter in the southern city of Bangalore, which addressed the theme "Ursulines of Mary Immaculate as prophetic leaders bringing hope and life to all." A general chapter is the congregation's supreme body, with legislative and elective power.

The congregation, which Blessed Brigida Morello founded in Piacenza, Italy, in 1649, has around 800 members today. They do teaching, health care and socio-pastoral work in Africa, Brazil and India, besides Italy.

"As Ursulines we live our prophetic mission in accordance with our unified vision and mission irrespective of our ministries," says the chapter's final statement. "In our ministries, we respond prophetically to the signs of the times."

Speaking with UCA News on August 26, Sister Mattapally listed religious fundamentalism and a shortage of fresh vocations as major challenges to the congregation. Almost 80 per cent of its members are in India.

The assembly underlined the need for enhancing collaboration and networking with other congregations, diocesan clergy and laity to meet the common challenges the Church faces.

It reasserted the congregation's preferential option of prioritizing girls, women and marginalized people in all its services, and creating "space for slow learners and the physically and mentally challenged in our educational institutions."

The statement calls for the congregation's members to share its vision of a just world with staff, students, alumni and parent-teacher associations.

Despite the drop in vocations, the superior general said the congregation would stress "quality" over quantity in choosing its members and seek new ways to enhance lay participation in its ministries. "We have seriously discussed the issue of developing a lay association with our spirituality, vision and mission," she noted.

Sister Gaudenzia Chunayanmackal, an Indian delegate, said the chapter addressed various issues related to Christian life and noted a growing hunger for spirituality around the world.

Sister Berchmans, provincial of the Ursulines' central province in India, said the assembly also stressed contemplative spirituality nourished by the Eucharist and the word of God.

Renewing their contemplative spirituality with a prophetic vision would help the world to "distinguish us as daughters of Mary and true disciples of Jesus," she added.
  Jesuit artists use traditional songs, dance to portray biblical themes

KOLKATA, AUGUST 27 (UCAN) -- Suranjan Makhal was surprised when a Jesuit priest sang about the teachings of Jesus on an ektara, a one-string musical instrument, during a religious program in this eastern city.

"It was the first time I listened to baul songs by a Catholic priest," Makhal admitted. He had come from Keorapukur parish in Baruipur diocese to see two Jesuit priests use local art forms to explore Biblical themes.

The August 23 program at St. Xavier's College was titled "Bible, Baul and Bharatanatyam: An evening of song and dance meditations."

Baul, popular in West Bengal and Bangladesh, is a folksong tradition with philosophical overtones. Bharatanatyam is a classical dance form that developed in southern India.

Father John Chinnappan, a self-taught baul singer, and Father Saju George, a trained Bharatanatyam dancer, together with their musical troupe, enthralled the audience for two hours.

"I found it interesting to listen to Father Chinnappan's rendering of the message of the Bible in an idiom which is easy for me to understand," Makhal commented.

Father Chinnappan sang about Jesus as the way to the Father, his invitation to people leave everything in order to follow him, his words of encouragement and other Gospel themes.

The 41-year-old priest, who performed eight songs, told UCA News his vocation is to preach the Gospel in the vocabulary and idiom of Bengal, fulfilling the command of Jesus to share the Gospel with the whole world. He added that the people's response to his presentation overwhelmed him.

Makhal said Father George's 15-minute solo Bharatanatyam performance of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus also surprised him.

Father George, 44, explained: "The Lord was nailed to the cross and requires my hands to reach out to the people in need, and he invites me to offer myself in the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola -- 'Take Lord, receive!" He said he has performed this particular piece more than 100 times in Europe and several times in India.

In the West, he added, people do not like to watch depictions of great suffering, whereas in India people are affected deeply by it.

Father George said his other troupe members, all Hindus, go beyond the narrow boundaries of religion and find fulfillment in performing works with Christian themes.

According to Christian baul singer Sonojit Mondol, who attended the program, baul is a spiritual tradition. With the Bible's focus on spiritual values, it is easy to compose and sing baul songs based on Biblical themes, he said.

The program was part of the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Church's presence in Bengal and the founding of St. Xavier's School in Kolkata.

Church leaders who attended included Bishop Salvadore Lobo of Baruipur and three heads of Religious congregations: Missionaries of Charity Sister Mary Prema, Missionaries of Charity Brother Geoff Brown and Daughters of St Anne Sister Florence Rozario.
  Philippines' Peace month: Celebration starts September 1
From Ben Cal
Manila, August 27
A simultaneous ringing of bell and releasing of white doves will signal the start of the month-long celebration of the National Peace Month on September 1.

This year's theme is "UNA SA LAHAT, KAPAYAPAAN: Putting the Peace Agenda at the Forefront," to stress the collective affirmation of the primacy of peace. The celebration comes amidst the call by all sectors of civil society to revive the peace talks with rebel groups -- the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the National Democratic Front (NDF), the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People's Army (CPP/NPA).

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Avelino I. Razon, Jr. said the ringing of the peace bell and releasing of peace doves will be held at the Quezon City Memorial Circle. "As we have been celebrating this memorable occasion for the last six years, once again we intend to instil in every Filipino the gains we have achieved against all odds as we tread the paths of the peace process," Razon said.

Peace advocates from the Government, academe, civil society and religious sectors will be attending the annual affair, which is being organized by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP). The National Peace Consciousness Month aims to instil greater consciousness and understanding among the Filipino people on the comprehensive peace process. It also endeavours to promote a culture of peace based on nonviolence, respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, tolerance, understanding and solidarity.

On July 20, 2004, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued a proclamation declaring September as National Peace Consciousness Month. The OPAPP is tasked to coordinate and monitor the activities for the month-long celebration.

The event intends to provide creative venues for the public to participate in defining how the country can achieve a just and lasting peace. Early morning of September 1, over 300 bikers will pedal across five cities in Metro Manila to demonstrate their support to the peace agenda. The participants will end at the Quezon City Memorial Circle to join the ceremonial activities and the short program to be graced by leaders from the government and other sectors.

Other activities in store for the peace month include peace storytelling, peace forums, Kalayaan Barangays peace caravans, Trees for Peace, and launching of OPAPP Knowledge Products, among others. These are organised in collaboration with local Government units, civil society groups, donor organizations and academic institutions.

Why September? Razon said the month of September held several landmarks in the history of the Philippine peace process. It was in September 1986 when the Government and the Cordillera People's Liberation Army (CPLA) signed a Peace Pact or 'Sipat' during former President Corazon Aquino's administration. Ten years later, the Final Peace Agreement (FPA) between the Government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was forged under the administration of President Fidel Ramos, putting an end to more than two decades of war in Mindanao and spawning the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

"Twenty-three years ago this month, we made headway in our peace pact with our brothers in the Cordilleras, and thirteen years ago, we again made vital headway with our brethren in what is now the autonomous Muslim Mindanao region," Razon said.

September, likewise, saw the creation of the National Unification Commission (NUC), which studied and recommended the adoption of the comprehensive peace process in 1992.
  Catholics encouraged to act in solidarity with Muslims during Ramadan
LEMBANG (INDONESIA), AUGUST 27 (UCAN) -- Church leaders in West Java have asked Catholics to give Muslims their best wishes during the Islamic month of fasting and to refrain from holding wedding celebrations during this time.

"Look for a fitting place to put out banners of greetings for Ramadan and Id al-Fitr (Islamic feast marking the end of Ramadan)," advised Bishop Johannes Maria Trilaksyanta Pujasumarta of Bandung. He suggested putting them in front of parish churches. Bandung city is the capital of predominantly Muslim West Java province.

The bishop was speaking at an Aug. 23 Mass that concluded a meeting of representatives from parish ecumenical and interreligious affairs commissions. The prelate, also a member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, urged Catholics to offer best wishes to Muslims, who on Aug. 22 began their Ramadan observance of fasting daily from dawn to dusk on all food and drink, even water.

The prelate said he hopes that during Ramadan, Muslim "brothers and sisters" would be hungry for God alone and look to build a true brotherhood with all religions as well.

On his Facebook page, the bishop had written: "JP (short for Johannes Pujasumarta) greets his Muslim sisters and brothers: 'Ramadhan karim!' ... best wishes for your fasting."

Crosier Father Yohanes Cantius Abukasman of Christ the King Church in Cigugur, a speaker at the meeting, also urged Catholics to postpone any wedding celebrations during Ramadan. "It would be good if Catholics could prepare meals for underprivileged Muslims to break their fast," he also suggested.

The priest urged Catholics to give Muslim neighbors friendly greetings and to learn more about Islam and Ramadan.

About 50 Catholics from all the parishes in the diocese attended the gathering, at which they shared experiences. Topics included "Church social teaching regarding interreligious affairs" and the "Function, role, duty and challenges of parochial commission for ecumenical and interreligious affairs."

Arcenius Acen Setiawan of Holy Cross Parish in Purwakarta said he would soon put up a banner wishing Muslims well during their fasting.

Thomas Djoko of St Ignatius Parish in Cimahi promised to continue hosting fast-breaking meals for poor Muslims, and Viktor Suharto of St Yusuf Parish in Cirebon said parishioners would make visits to mosques and pesantren, Islamic boarding schools.

According to Robertus Suryatno, head of Bandung's Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, the commission has already put up a banner in front of the diocesan Pastoral Work Council building wishing Muslims "Happy fasting."

Bandung diocese covers the major part of West Java province, where Muslims make up 96.5 percent of the 25.7 million population.
  Calls for Church to designate Aug. 25 as 'martyrs day'

BHOPAL, AUGUST 27 (UCAN) -- Members of an ecumenical forum donated blood in Bhopal and held prayer sessions in other parts of Madhya Pradesh state on August 25 to pay tribute to those who died in anti-Christian violence.

The blood donation "is our simple gesture to remember the great sacrifices" Christians have made, "especially in Orissa," said Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal, who heads the Catholic Church in the state.

August 25, 2008, was the day that extremist Hindus killed the most Orissa Christians in violence that began the day before and continued for seven weeks.

The Christian community "is very sensitive to the sacrifice of each victim," and the special events held on August 25 were meant to continue their spirit, Archbishop Cornelio added.

The prelate said that although the Catholic Church in India has not officially declared a "martyrs' day," it respects the intention of Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh (grand assembly of Christians in Madhya Pradesh), which wants to observe August 25 as Indian Christian Martyrs' Day.

Father Anand Muttungal, coordinator of the lay forum, said Christians across Madhya Pradesh conducted prayers to pay homage to all Christian martyrs in India from the time of Saint Thomas the Apostle. According to tradition, the saint arrived in the year 52 and established Christian communities in southern India before being martyred near Chennai 30 years later.

Father Muttungal said some Christians in Bhopal donated blood as a "real tribute" to those who sacrificed their lives to spread the Christian message of love.

Joshi Kurisungal, president of the ecumenical forum, affirmed that Christianity was built on the blood of martyrs.

He said his group decided to conduct their commemoration on August 25 "to pay special tribute" to all in the country who gave their lives for the faith.

The lay leader explained that the group wants the Church to declare an Indian Martyrs' Day, preferably on August 25.

Sheela Santiago, who heads the group's women's wing, declared: "We are ready, if required, to offer our blood to protect the Christian faith."

She said many Christians in India have sacrificed their lives for the Gospel, but their contributions are seldom acknowledged. She expects that observing and Indian Christians Martyrs' Day would help the younger generation of Christians understand the value of their faith and make the Church stronger.
  Sonrise in Egypt: Christians split over presidential scion
By Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa Al-Omrani

CAIRO, August 27 (IPS) - Leaders of Egypt's Coptic Christian Church have voiced support for Gamal Mubarak, son of President Hosni Mubarak, as preferred candidate for president. Concurrently, however, some Coptic activists are calling for demonstrations against what they see as official state bias against Christians.

"Comments in support of Gamal Mubarak by church officials don't represent the opinion of all Egypt's Copts," Youssef Sidhoum, editor-in-chief of Coptic weekly Al-Watani told IPS. "Calls for strikes and demonstrations by online Coptic activists, meanwhile, represent only the views of a small minority within the Coptic community."

Christians are estimated to represent between six and 12 per cent of Egypt's population of some 82 million, although precise figures are notoriously difficult to ascertain. Most Christians belong to the Egyptian Orthodox, or Coptic church, while the rest of the population is almost entirely Sunni Muslim.

Pope Shenouda III, the Egyptian Coptic Church's highest authority, appeared to give his support to presidential scion Gamal Mubarak, who many believe is being groomed to succeed his aging father.

"The majority of the public loves Gamal Mubarak and would prefer him (for president) over anyone else," Shenouda said in a July 27 interview on Arabic-language satellite channel On TV. "At the appropriate time, I and the Coptic community will give our opinions of Gamal."

Ever since he was appointed head of the ruling National Democratic Party's (NDP's) supremely influential Policies Committee in 2002, conjecture about Gamal's presidential ambitions has been rife. In recent months, speculation reached fever pitch, with many informed sources declaring that that "inheritance" of the presidency from father to son was "imminent".

The pope's statements, therefore, caused a considerable stir in the independent and opposition press.

In an editorial entitled 'The Pope and Inheritance', Coptic writer Gamal Asaad challenged Shenouda's assertions. "Where did he get the idea that the majority of the public prefer Gamal? Did he hold a national referendum?" Asaad asked in the August 5 edition of independent daily Al-Dustour.

Sidhoum, who enjoys a close relationship with the church, likewise stressed that Shenouda's statements did not represent the opinion of all of Egypt's Copts.

"Shenouda is the leader of the Egyptian Coptic community in spiritual matters only, not political ones," he said. "His opinion of Gamal is a personal one based on personal considerations.

"There are roughly 10 million Copts in Egypt of all different social, political and economic stripes," added Sidhoum. "It's ludicrous to suggest they all support Gamal Mubarak for president."

Hafez Abu Saeda, secretary-general of the Cairo-based Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR), also criticised Shenouda's statements, which he described as "uncharacteristically political."

"With all due respect to the pope, who usually avoids controversial political issues, it is not his place to take such positions," Abu Saeda told IPS. "The EOHR calls on all religious institutions, Christian and Muslim, to maintain a safe distance from politics."

Yet despite the criticisms, last week saw two more prominent Coptic leaders expressing similar sentiments.

On the sidelines of President Mubarak's recent meeting with the U.S. President in Washington, Bishop Al-Anba Bishoy, secretary of the Egyptian Coptic Church's Holy Synod, also declared that the Egyptian public "likes Gamal Mubarak."

"He (Gamal Mubarak) listens to the people and visits poverty-stricken areas of the country," Bishoy was quoted as saying in independent daily Al-Masri Al-Youm on August 20. "Gamal doesn't like to promote himself, but he visits the people that need to be heard and helps ease their difficulties."

Bishoy went on to express confidence in Gamal's "ability to lead Egypt in the future."

The younger Mubarak received similar endorsement from church spokesman Bishop Al-Anba Morcos, who, according to Al-Masri Al-Youm, described him as "the kind of economy man that the country needs."

An investment banker by profession, Gamal Mubarak -- and his circle of business-friendly associates in the Policies Committee -- has led the charge towards trade liberalisation and integration into the global economy. Despite considerable public opposition, he has consistently pushed for privatisation of state assets and opening the country to foreign investment.

According to Abu Saeda, the church's apparent support for Gamal at least partly reflects longstanding Coptic fears of an Islamist government. "Most Egyptian Copts support the ruling party largely owing to the fear of an Islamist alternative, which they worry could adversely affect their rights," said Abu Saeda.

He went on, however, to warn against making generalisations about the political orientations of all Copts.

"In the 2005 parliamentary elections, the church instructed Copts to vote for the NDP," said Abu Saeda. "Nevertheless, those elections saw Copts voting for Muslim Brotherhood candidates in some cases."

But while church officials express support for a Gamal Mubarak presidency, some Coptic activists accuse Mubarak's NDP of harbouring an official bias against Coptic Christians.

The last week of July saw the appearance of a group on social networking website Facebook urging Copts to stage a labour strike on September 11, Coptic New year. According to a statement on the site, dubbed "Copts for Egypt", the action is meant to express resentment over what they perceive as official bias by the state.

Notably, however, Egypt's Coptic Church -- along with Egypt's Catholic and Anglican churches -- officially rejected the appeal. "The church will not participate in this strike," a Coptic Church spokesman was quoted as saying in the local press. "The church does not get involved in politics."

According to Sidhoum, there is a degree of official bias against Copts at the state level, the most prominent indication of which is the lack of Coptic representation in the upper echelons of government. "But this new call to strike is directed only at Copts and not at all Egyptians," he said, "which itself shows a degree of bias."
  Yearlong centenary celebrations for Blessed Teresa begin
KOLKATA, AUGUST 26 (UCAN) -- The Missionaries of Charity (MC) launched on August 26 a year of programs to celebrate the birth centenary of their founder Blessed Teresa of Kolkata.

"Mother Teresa's birth centenary begins today," declared retired Archbishop Henry D'Souza of Calcutta while celebrating the birth anniversary Mass at the MC motherhouse chapel.

Sister Mary Prema, who heads the congregation, said the celebrations would conclude on August 26, 2010. During the centenary year, "the best gift we can all prepare for Mother's 100th birthday is our sincere endeavor to be channels of God's love and peace to the poor," she told the gathering.

Blessed Teresa was born Gonxha Bojaxhiu on August 26, 1910, in what is now Macedonia. She became known around the world as Mother Teresa by "dedicating her life totally to God and serving the poorest of the poor, doing small things with great love and recognizing the dignity of a child of God in every person," Sister Prema explained.

The MC superior general also said that when people experience God's love, they want to share it with others in various ways. Blessed Teresa inspired many by loving all people, she added.

"Maybe there is someone in our families who is lonely, unloved or in need of forgiveness, so beginning at home we can become a channel of love for them today," Sister Prema said.

The example of Blessed Teresa remains relevant, she affirmed, because the poor remain marginalized. "Mother taught us to give them the dignity of human beings, which is of significant need today and will always be needed."

After Mass, participants visited Blessed Teresa's tomb and sang "Happy Birthday" while photographers vied for position.

Blessed Teresa was born in Skopje to Nikola and Dranafile Bojaxhiu as the youngest of three children. She came to Kolkata, then Calcutta, as a member of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loreto nuns) on January 6, 1929, and founded the MC congregation on October 7, 1950.
  Orissa violence is Indian Church's 'catacomb experience'
  NEW DELHI, AUGUST 26 (UCAN) -- The attacks against and murder of poor Christians in Orissa last year provided a "catacomb experience" for the Indian Church, says Anto Akkara, who produced the first book on the anti-Christian violence in the eastern Indian state.

The Catholic journalist and author recently launched an updated version of his book "Kandhamal: A blot on Indian secularism," which he originally released in April.

Kandhamal district in Orissa was the center of four months of anti-Christian violence that began on August 24, 2008, a day after Maoists shot and killed Hindu leader Laxmanananda Saraswati in the district. The first anniversary of his murder, however, passed uneventfully there.

Akkara, who visited the region several times to document the stories of victims, said the determination of poor and illiterate people to hold on to their faith and their readiness to die for it reminded him of the plight of the early Christian community of Rome, which buried its martyrs in the catacombs.

In the following interview, Akkara, who also holds a law degree, speaks about the reasons for the violence and the lessons it holds for the Indian Church.

UCA News: What inspired you to write the book?

ANTO AKKARA: I went to Kandhamal last Christmas and visited some camps of the victims. The fear of further attacks forced people to live in camps.

The scenes of ill-clad Christians shivering in the winter cold, queuing up for food on Christmas night and sitting aimlessly before their plastic tents made me think of my role as a journalist.

I came across horrible stories about how people were hunted like mad dogs and their dear ones slaughtered before their eyes. Although most were poor and ill-educated, they were not fickle in their faith. Their stories inspired me.

Kandhamal was too far away for the national media. The camps and villages are at least 12 hours' road journey from the nearest airport or railway station. Much of what came out in the media was factually wrong.

The government did nothing as Hindus took Swami Saraswati's body on a zigzag route to inflame communal passion. The government's apathy was the prime reason for the continuing violence. Police were inactive and criminals enjoyed impunity from the law. I wanted to cut the lies the administration wanted to promote. I wanted to tell the world the kind of a nation we live in.

Why do you write that Kandhamal is the "graveyard" of Indian secularism?

Kandhamal is a freehold land for the Sangh Parivar (the association of groups that want to make India a Hindu nation). Criminals who promote a "Hindu nation" ideology enjoy complete impunity. No law can book them, no one questions them. Kandhamal cannot be part of India, because no Indian laws are applied there. The government does not want to act, for political reasons.

The Kandhamal killings were deliberate -- thought out and planned. Victims were given a deadline to change their religion. When the deadline passed ... they were given a last chance to disown their faith. On refusal, the victims were tortured and killed sadistically. Some were chopped into pieces. This is different from mob violence. And yet, the law does not act.

In one case, a woman whose husband was murdered caught the murderer by the collar and asked the police to arrest him, but the state police said they could not arrest him because officially he was "untraceable." Later, some central paramilitary forces patrolling the area intervened and arrested the person.

Government officials in Kandhamal told me the state home ministry had clearly instructed them not to arrest anyone. There is an element of helplessness among some officials.

Some say even central government action was inadequate to contain the violence.

The centra government didn't do much. It only paid lip service. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the violence was a national shame. He also promised to give compensations to victims. They are giving that. He had promised a delegation of the World Council of Churches that the government would give money to rebuild churches destroyed, but nothing was done.

Did you face obstacles in collecting your data?

I already had contacts in the area, because I had been following stories from there for some time. The government officials were quite supportive. Some are now my personal friends, and I know they are committed to enforce the law but unable (to do so) because of structural problems. They wholeheartedly supported me.

The biggest hurdle came from some Church people, who were quite reluctant to part with information. They had copies of documents but were reluctant to share them with me.

One source for the book was Subhash Chauhan, the state leader of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, world Hindu council). He kept telling me a pastor was arrested for murdering Swami Saraswati but has not given me that pastor's name -- because no such pastor was arrested.

A question lingers in people's mind: Why is there so much hatred for Christians?

The swami was an excellent leader. He knew the strength and weakness of Christians. There was a social issue, which he manipulated to advance his ideology.

A majority of people in the district are of the Kandho tribe. Dalit (formerly "untouchables" in the Indian caste system) groups account for some 10 per cent, but among them the majority, say 90 per cent, are Christians. Over the years dalit have become educationally and economically advanced, maybe because of the Church's help. But in the process, rightly or wrongly, Christians came to be associated with dalit. This gave rise to social issues of class superiority.

The swami knew the problems and capitalised on them. He used hate propaganda and had his own schools and centers. He said directly in many of his speeches: "Attack Christians. They are our enemies."

Why do you say Orissa gave the Indian Church a 'catacomb experience'?

You should see the heroism of the poor people in defending their faith, even as far as laying down their lives. Take the case of Kumaro Kanhar. Fanatics attacked the 47-year-old man on August 27, 2008, destroyed all his possessions and gave him a month to convert. Exactly on September 28 they returned. Angry that he had not become a Hindu they set his house on fire and beat him up. He somehow reached Bhubaneswar (the state capital). "I'm ready to give up everything. But I will not give up my faith," he told me.

There were several such cases.

A pastor's widow told me how her husband was beheaded while he sat in a chair refusing to part with his Bible.

One woman, sitting alone in her tent in a refugee camp on Christmas night, told me that it was her best Christmas, because she could celebrate in "my heart" the birth of "the one born in the manger."

There are hundreds of such stories about how Christians, including women and children, were tortured simply because they refused to abandon their faith and desecrate Christian symbols. If people were ready to give up their religion, there would not have been so many deaths and so much destruction.

How did it affect your faith?

I'm going to write another book on the real stories of those people's faith. I would say this is the finest moment of Christianity.

There have been many riots in India, but this riot was different. Here people were given time to change religion and people made a deliberate choice to accept death, misery, poverty and pain for their faith. There is a misconception that only the educated can exercise the freedom of faith. The poor of Orissa challenge that concept.

How can the Church help these Christians?

The Church can do a lot of things. First, it has to put its own house in order. It should be more inclusive and not give an impression that it works only for an exclusive group. However, this is not the time for a postmortem of the Church; it is the time for fire fighting.

The pressing issue is to make the government implement the rule of law in Kandhamal.

The Church should campaign with secular and civil groups. As long as criminals enjoy impunity, all attempts to rebuild churches and houses in Kandhamal are useless. They will come again to destroy or take away all that belongs to Christians.

Is there anything the Church should do urgently?

First, make proper documentation of what happened. We still have a problem with the list of people killed. When we go to court, our evidence should be solid and backed by facts. We should have the power of truth. We do not even know how many have left Orissa or how many are living in slums.

The second urgent need is to take our cases to court in a thoroughly professional way. The Church is already fighting hundreds of legal cases, but the quality of some affidavits is poor.
  Christians pray for peace on anniversary of Orissa violence
NEW DELHI, AUGUST 25 (UCAN) -- Christians have organized prayers in several parts of India to mark the first anniversary of anti-Christian violence in Orissa that left 90 people dead and displaced more than 50,000.

Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi, who led a prayer program in New Delhi, noted tension still prevails in the eastern Indian state. He urged the state and federal governments to help restore peace there.

Around 200 attended the August 24 program organized by the ecumenical National United Christian Forum, of which Archbishop Concessao is president.

It comprised readings from the Bible, intercessory prayers and hymns in Oriya, the main language of Orissa. The forum urged the authorities to bring justice to victims.

Violence in Orissa began the day after Maoists gunned down Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, a Hindu religious leader, and four associates in Kandhamal district on August 23, 2008.

Hindus blamed Christians for the murders and went on a campaign of often brutal violence, particularly in Kandhamal, that lasted four months.

Archbishop Concessao said he wants the Orissa government to bring justice, relief and rehabilitation to those who cannot return to their homes for fear of further attacks.

The prelate also called for the arrest of the attackers, who he said enjoy impunity from law and move freely around Kandhamal, threatening Christians.

The gathering called for a probe into the forced conversion of Christians to Hinduism and the prosecution of perpetrators among the 12 demands and recommendations it approved to send to the Orissa government.

It also called for police to help victims prepare proper reports about the violence, for immediate implementation of a witness protection program to help victims testify in court and for the deployment of more officers to expedite court cases.

The New Delhi group also urged the government to set up village peace committees representing people from all religions as well as a commission for minorities in Orissa, and to repeal Orissa's law on religious conversions.

Father Dominic Emmanuel, spokesperson of Delhi archdiocese, told UCA News Christians believe in the power of prayer. The perpetrators of violence also "need our prayer," the Divine Word priest said.

John Dayal, social activist and one of the speakers, told UCA News that one year after the trauma began, not much has been done to give justice to the people. He hoped the anniversary would remind Christians of the need to continue to pray for their brothers and sisters in faith in Orissa.

Bishop Simon John of Believer Church said the Orissa "martyrs" are "an encouragement for us" since they died for their faith.

Meanwhile, Christians in Orissa began the anniversary commemorations on August 23 with prayers in several parts of the state.

S. Parichha, an activist from Raikia, a population center in Kandhamal, said the anniversary passed uneventfully with people praying for peace and harmony.

Father Laxmikant Pradhan, parish priest of Balliguda, also in the district, said his parishioners organized a four-hour adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Sister Suma, regional superior of the Missionaries of Charity, said she joined Mass and adoration in Sankrakhol parish, where a priest was attacked during the violence.
  Mosque visit introduces Catholics to Islam in Singapore
SINGAPORE, AUGUST 25 (UCAN) -- As a stream of about 50 Singaporean Catholics entered a single-story mosque next to a busy road, the muezzin could be heard in the background leading the call to maghrib (sunset) prayers.

"Muhammad is the Prophet of God. Come, let us pray," said Syed Hassan Al-Attas, briefly translating the prayer call for the mostly Chinese visitors gathered at Ba'alwi Mosque.

Hassan is imam (prayer leader) of the 57-year-old mosque, which invited the Catholics to visit and learn more about the Islamic faith.

The August 20 visit was organized by the Archdiocesan Council for Inter-Religious and Ecumenical Dialogue (IRED) as part of its formation program for Catholics to learn more about the other religions in Singapore.

Hassan's father was of Yemeni origins. He built the mosque in 1952 and served as imam until his death.

Hassan, who took over in 1976, is a well-respected spiritual leader in Islamic circles in Singapore and an active participant in inter-religious dialogue.

He explained to the Catholics that his views on inter-religious harmony originated largely from his own upbringing. Since he was a child, Hassan has lived next to the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. On the other side, his neighbors were a devout Catholic family, one of whose members became a priest.

Another neighbor was a Hindu priest who frequently helped to take care of Hassan and his siblings when their father had to travel overseas. His father also regularly brought him to visit friends in Taoist and Buddhist temples.

Hassan credits his parents with having been "a big inspiration."

Besides learning about Islam, the Catholic visitors were treated to a generous buffet spread of seven dishes.

Syed Farid Alatas, head of the Department of Malay Studies at the National University of Singapore, gave a short talk after the meal. He called Catholic- Muslim dialogue the most developed among interreligious relations in Singapore.

Inter-religious dialogue is not simply talking to each other but involves a "relationship between two religious communities that results in the building of a new civilization," he said.

"Dialogue is more than just visiting each others' places of worship. It creates new schools of thought, new cultures, new civilizations."

He traced the birth of universities, which he said were modeled on the concept of the madrasah, an Islamic school, to dialogue between Arab Christians and Arab Muslims.

The Muslim academic also noted that the distinctive dome shape of most mosques was inspired by the famous Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey, a Byzantine Catholic basilica that later became a mosque and is now a museum.

Mona Ng, who came with her husband and 8-year-old son, later remarked: "I learned that there is quite a long history between Muslims and Christians that I didn't know about. The visit has helped me to know more about the relationship between the two religions and how we each have a role to play to forge a closer relationship and to understand each other better."

The visit included a tour of the mosque, which contains Islamic artifacts Hassan's family collected over the years. Each Catholic took home a box of dates as a gift.

The IRED also organized a visit to a Hindu temple, Sri Krishnan Temple, on July 29 as part of its interreligious formation program.
  Late President Kim praised as model for Catholics as well as Koreans
SEOUL, AUGUST 25 (UCAN) -- Thomas More Kim Dae-jung will be remembered as a model Christian, Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk of Seoul said during the former South Korean president's funeral Mass at Myeongdong Cathedral.

"I thank God for giving such a person to Korea," the cardinal said in his homily during the August 22 Mass, held a day before the state funeral. "At the same time, I feel sad at the thought that we may not see a leader like him again."

Speaking to a congregation of about 2,300 people, the cardinal praised the first Korean Nobel laureate, who won the Peace Prize in 2000 for his efforts to reach out to communist North Korea.

"He was a political leader who defined an epoch in Korean history and was an elder for all Koreans," Cardinal Cheong remarked, describing Kim as a champion of human rights, democratization and peace on the Korean peninsula.

"He practiced his faith in his daily life," the Church leader continued. "He regularly attended Sunday Mass even during his busy presidency ... (and prayed) for peace and the reunification of Korea."

Cardinal Cheong urged Koreans to follow Kim's example and heal divisions in society.

Kim, South Korea's first Catholic president, died from heart failure on August 18 at the age of 85. His successor, Roh Moo-hyun, was a baptized Catholic but was not known to practice the faith while in office.

"President Kim was not only a leader for Koreans but also for Catholics in his public expressions of his faith," agreed Anthonia So Kyong-ae, who attended the funeral Mass. "I was happy when he was became Korea's first Catholic president. I hope he rests in peace in the grace of God."

Kim's state funeral was held at the plaza in front the National Assembly. About 20,000 people came to bid him a final farewell. He was buried later that day in Seoul National Cemetery.

Kim was baptized in 1956 and often spoke about his faith publicly. During his presidential term from 1998 to 2003, he kept close ties with the apostolic nunciature to Korea and the Holy See.

In March 2000, during the Jubilee of the Year 2000 celebrations, he became the first Korean head of state to visit the Vatican. There he invited Pope John Paul II to visit North Korea to promote peace on the peninsula. In 1989, while an opposition party leader, he also had an audience with Pope John Paul, one of the world leaders whose appeals led to Kim's release from detention in 1982 after a military court sentenced him to death two years earlier.

Pope Benedict XVI sent a condolence message following Kim's death to President Lee Myung-bak through Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

"Pope Benedict XVI commends the late President's soul to the mercy and love of Almighty God, and upon all the Korean people who mourn his passing, he cordially invokes the divine blessing of peace and strength," Cardinal Bertone wrote.
  Government issues coins to honor Saint Alphonsa
  THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, AUGUST 24 (UCAN) -- Saint Alphonsa has become the first Christian in India to have commemorative coins issued in her honor.

Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee released the coins on August 23 as part of centenary celebrations for the birth of India's first Catholic woman saint.

About 1,000 people including Church and political leaders attended the ceremony in Bharananganam, the village near Kerala state's Palai town where the saint's tomb lies and where she spent her final years.

Mukherjee hailed the saint as someone who triumphed over suffering and whose intercession has brought relief for many distressed people in India. Saint Alphonsa made suffering part of her "noble life," he said.

"Saint Alphonsa taught us to transcend the barriers of language, culture and geography to live together," the minister added, alluding to the fact that people from various religions seek the saint's help.

Mukherjee ceremonially handed the new coins to retired Bishop Joseph Pallikaparampil of Palai. By releasing the coins in Saint Alphonsa's name, he said, India has once again shown itself a shining example of secular democracy.

Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Ramachandran Mullappally, who also attended the ceremony, noted that Saint Alphonsa was the first Christian to be thus honored. He added that she now belongs not to a particular community but to the whole nation.

The coins, with the saint's face engraved on them, come in denominations of Rs 100 and Rs 5.

Around 1,000 people ordered the coins on the first day of their release.

In November 2008, the Indian government issued a postal stamp to mark Saint Alphonsa's canonization the previous month.

Bishop Pallikaparampil said the issuing of the commemorative coins shows India's greatness as a nation that treats all religions equally.

His successor, Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt of Palai, who presided at the function, urged the government to declare Bharananganam as an international pilgrimage center. The diocese launched a yearlong centenary program to honor the saint on August 19, her birth anniversary.

Saint Alphonsa was born in 1910 at Kudamaloor, another village in Palai diocese. She died on July 28, 1946.
  Salesian center helps destitute youngsters prosper
By Lissy Maruthanakuzhy
GUWAHATI, AUGUST 24 (UCAN) -- Subhash Seal, a Hindu, and Martin Barmeo, a Catholic, have many things in common. Both are aged 25, and both have lost their legs from the knees down in car accidents.

The two also have a Salesian institution to thank for the successful business they jointly manage in Guwahati, the commercial capital of Assam state, in northeastern India.

"Our life was shattered after we lost our legs in accidents, but Snehalaya (abode of love) has given us new hope," Seal attests.

Salesian Father Lukose Cheruvalel, who started the charitable institution in Guwahati nine years ago, cites Blessed Teresa of Kolkata for his inspiration. He estimates Snehalaya has helped around 1,000 destitute needy children.

Guwahati, the bustling nerve center of northeastern India, is located in Assam, the most populous of the region's seven states.

The city is an important commercial center with the best road, air and rail links to the rest of the country and beyond, which makes it a magnet for poor northeasterners seeking a means of survival. Many, however, end up struggling to survive on the streets.

Snehalaya has become a lifeline for young people trying to make it on their own.

Seal and Barmeo, for example, were spotted by Snehalaya volunteers, who took them in and later helped them open a stationery shop together.

Two years ago, the government awarded them Rs 25,000(US$520) for exemplary entrepreneurship. With that money they bought rickshaws, which they rent out.

"Snehalaya made us what we are today," Barmeo told UCA News.

The center began with just eight children but today cares for about 180 children in five homes other Religious congregations help run around Guwahati. It also trains another 150 children in various skills.

Father Cheruvalel says most children that Snehalaya serves are found wandering round the railway station. Snehalaya workers approach such children, hoping to protect them from being exploited.

The center offers long-term and casual care to these and other street children, who can drop in any time for a meal or to wash.

"We provide them two meals a day and snacks," said Ursuline Sister Shanti D'Souza, who joined Snehalaya as a volunteer a year ago.

According to Sister D'Souza, the center does not immediately press children to give up their street life but gradually counsels them. Some who opt to become Snehalaya residents are enrolled in schools.

The children can stay on or leave, explained Father Lucas Marak, who looks after boys. The Salesian priest said Snehalaya can support youths only until they turn 18, in accordance with government rules. It takes advantage of this time to teach them arts and crafts as well as other skills that could provide a livelihood.

For example, Suresh Chetra, 17, lost his right hand when he was a child. He found out about Snehalaya a year ago, and through its help now works for a tea-packing company. He commutes to work on a bicycle the center provided.

Kabita Kakoty, a Snehalaya counselor, said most residents are orphans who have suffered a "painful" childhood. "We have to be prudent with them and give them lots of attention and love."

As part of its service, she said, the center has reunited more than 100 children with their families.
  Jesuit's vice-chancellor appointment delights Jharkhand
  RANCHI, AUGUST 24 (UCAN) -- People of various religions have welcomed a Jesuit priest's appointment as vice-chancellor of a new university in Chaibasa, in eastern India's Jharkhand state.

Father Beni Ekka's appointment as the first vice-chancellor of Kolhan University "is a matter of pride for Christians and others in Jharkhand," says Cardinal Telesphore P. Toppo of Ranchi, head of the Catholic Church in the state.

"It is also recognition of the Church's contribution in the field of education," the cardinal told UCA News.

On August 12, Jharkhand Governor K. Shankaranarayanan named Father Ekka to a three-year term as the effective director of the university, which is still being set up. Governors, who represent the Indian president in their respective states, serve as the chancellors of all state-run universities. The vice-chancellors function as chief executive officers.

Father Ekka, 62, officially moved into his new office at the governo's residence in Ranchi, the state capital, the day after his appointment. He had been director of Xavier Institute of Social Science (XISS), a Jesuit-managed business school in Ranchi, since 1994.

The priest described the "unexpected appointment" as a challenge. "It is an opportunity for me to work in an area that is rich in natural human resources, but remains underdeveloped."

His first priority, he said, is to set up new colleges and introduce professional courses. "I have a vision to produce tribal youth professionals" to work in the region, he added.

Cardinal Toppo called Father Ekka "the right person" to lead the new university, after proving his leadership ability as XISS director. "He can do much more than others. He understands this is a special role God has assigned him," the prelate remarked.

On August 13, thousands of students from all religions held a rally in Chaibasa, a major town in the state, to celebrate the priest's appointment. Madhu Koda, a member of India's parliament and former state chief minister, led the celebrations.

People in Jharkhand are "lucky" to get Father Ekka to head the new university, Koda later told UCA News. "He will provide a firm base for the university" as did for XISS, he added.

According to Koda, who follows a traditional tribal religion, the new university will bring higher education to students in one of the state's most backward regions. "I dreamt about such a university during my college days," he added.

In 2007, the state government led by Koda promised to establish the university in Chaibasa. "Some vested interests delayed the foundation of the university. They opposed providing academic facilities to tribal students," Koda alleges.

Some students said they expect the Jesuit priest to make the university a shining light in the country. "Now we have our own university and are lucky to have Father Ekka as vice-chancellor," enthused Sunita Sumbroi, a Ho tribal girl in Chaibasa.

Former governments "left us educationally backward," said Salkhan Soy, a Catholic tribal student. "Now we hope to have many colleges under this university."

Mohammad Bari, a Muslim leader in Chaibasa, acknowledges the university has brought "tremendous joy" for local people. Father Ekka's appointment "has further increased our happiness," he told UCA News. "We have high expectations for the Catholic priest."

In Ranchi, Muslim leader Naushad Khan said he would miss the Jesuit priest. Father Ekka maintained good relations with people from all religions and "always found time for people, especially in social work," he said.

Catholics now head two of the state's five universities, and the two administrators are former classmates.

Victor Tigga, vice-chancellor of Sido Kanhu University, studied with Father Ekka at St. Ignatius High School in Gumla and said the priest will do "his best for Kolhan University, since he is an able administrator."
  Fresh hurdles in resumption of peace talks in the Philippines
From Ben Cal
MANILA, August 23 -- The government today asked the National Democratic Front (NDF) to spell out clearly on whether or not they are sincere about their pronouncements to resume the stalled peace talks.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Avelino I. Razon Jr. made this query after Jose Maria Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) who is based in the Netherlands, threatened to abort the upcoming resumption of peace negotiations if the government would not release 14 detained communist leaders, who are facing various criminal charges.

Earlier, the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front (NDF), the political arm of the CPP, have agreed to resume formal negotiations in Oslo, Norway later this month when Sison suddenly made this new demand.
"It is unfortunate that the NDF has belittled the efforts of the GRP in pursuing confidence-building measures such as the lifting of the suspension of the JASIG (Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantee, which led to the release from detention of two of its (NDF) consultants, Randall Echanis and Elizabeth Principe," Razon said.

"We regret the pessimism expressed by the National Democratic Front regarding the prospects of their return to the peace negotiations table," he said, adding that the GRP has bent backwards making concessions to create space for peace."

"But it cannot undermine its own justice system nor allow the use of the peace table for quick fixes," Razon said referring to Sison's new demand.

Talks between the GRP and the NDF collapsed in 2005 after the United States and the European Union (EU) tagged New People's Army (NPA), the armed component of the CPP/NPA, as a terrorist organization.

However, back-channelling efforts between the two parties have been conducted during the period when there was no peace talk.

The back-channelling efforts which were done without fanfare have posted positive results lately after the two sides agreed to resume the peace negotiations in Norway late this month to again look avenues to find a peace settlement to the long-drawn communist insurgency in the Philippines.

"After months of assurances from the CNN that they are committed to the resumption of the formal peace negotiations and cooperating with the GRP in ensuring the safety of their consultants who are to attend the formal peace negotiations in Oslo, we are mystified at the ferocity of Mr. Jalandoni's statement (Friday) asserting that we have done nothing to respect and comply with the JASIG. Until today, Mr. Jalandoni has stayed true to the NDF's own suggestion to keep our communications felicitous," Razon said.

However, despite this new development, "the government remains open to pursuing the peace negotiations. We invite the NDF to speak clearly on whether or not they are returning to the peace table," he said in a statement.

In a related development, he said the refusal of two communist leaders Rafael Baylosis and Vicente Ladlad to surface despite the effectivity of the JASIG is entirely their personal decision.

But Razon said that "the NDF's demand to withdraw charges of multiple murder against them because it regards the charges to be 'false' or 'trumped up,' and its insistence that we subvert our judicial and administrative mechanisms to deliver their consultants to Utrecht, are dangerous moves signalling a serious intent to scuttle the talks."
  'Lonely' hi-tech generation reflects on faith and community
SHANGHAI (CHINA), AUGUST 22 (UCAN) -- A recent week-long summer camp received a big thumbs up from Catholic university students in Shanghai after they were able to get closer to God and reflect on their spiritual side away from high-tech gadgetry.

Many of the 120 participants in the August 2-8 program were attending the event for the first time. The students were given the chance to pray and adore the Blessed Sacrament during a one-day retreat, to test their knowledge of the Bible and catechism through contests, and to learn about themselves. Priests and nuns also shared with them about religious vocations.

A young man surnamed Xu, 20, said the August 6 retreat was most impressive. After surrendering his mobile phone, the student learnt how to pray to Jesus and meditate with the Bible, adore the Blessed Sacrament and talk individually with a spiritual director. "It made me truly calm and nearer to God," he said.

Zhang Xiaolai, 21, was also moved by the peaceful atmosphere of the Taize-style prayers during the retreat. "In the simple melodies and silent prayers, we were inspired and some cried aloud. I guess such touching feelings can only be experienced through God's love," she reflected.

The young woman said she is determined to spend at least 20 minutes each day praying to Jesus, sharing with him all her feelings.

Shanghai is one of many mainland dioceses that held summer activities for Catholic students during the vacation months of July and August.

Sister Maria, an organizer of the Shanghai camp, said some students expressed their joy at the sense of community they experienced and felt sad thinking of the loneliness that would set in once they returned to their houses, university dormitories or flats. Most students are their parents' only child and came alone to Shanghai to study.

"I asked them if this high-tech era had brought them a richer life or had led them into a lonely existence," the nun told UCA News. She added that they showed her they had a desire for God, for spiritual nourishment and to be loved.

Father John Zhao Shijie of Shanghai, another organizer, told UCA News on August 17 that the diocese began summer camps six years ago. He said most Catholics learn catechism in childhood, but later get busy with high school life and preparations for entering university that leave them with no time to deepen their faith or join Church activities.

Thus, he sees the summer program for Catholic university students as crucial in giving them the opportunity to experience God and rediscover their faith.

The program also encourages students to form small communities that can meet regularly for prayer, Bible-sharing and pilgrimages, enhancing their spiritual growth, he said.

This year's theme was "Where are you?" Father Zhao said this theme awakened the students to the fact that God is with them even if they are not aware of it, that God is calling to them even when they are preoccupied with material pleasures such as mobile phones, computers, games and money.

Campers are encouraged to experience God's existence in a calm atmosphere and to let God enter their lives, he said.

In his observation, more than 60 per cent of the almost 500 Catholic students who have taken part in the Shanghai summer camps have subsequently attached greater importance to their faith and attend Sunday Masses regularly.

"Youths are the future of our Church," the priest said. "At this stage in their lives, they need the Church to invest its time, human and financial resources in them and to care for them."

Father John Baptist Luo of Mindong diocese in Fujian province, also in eastern China, ran two summer camps for university students. Education in China has taught Catholic students to be ignorant about God, he said, so the Church "needs to affirm God's existence and enhance their affection for God and Church communities."
  Religion and science need each other, says archbishop
PUNE, AUGUST 21 (UCAN) -- Science and religion are allies and partners, not competitors, and true science opens out an exciting path to God, says an Indian archbishop.

"Science that studies the universe is an exciting path to God," Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati told a national seminar on "Christian Faith in a World of Science and Technology: Challenges and Opportunities."

The Salesian prelate is also chairman of the Commission for Education and Culture under the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI).

The CBCI Committee for Science, Religion and Society, which operates under the commission, organized the August 18-20 seminar in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Science and Religion. It was held in Pune.

Two Vatican delegates were among 60 bishops, Religious superiors and scientists who addressed issues related to the religious, moral and social challenges science poses.

Archbishop Menamparampil described the universe as a book of theology, a spiritual treatise.

"Today, not just theologians and mystics but also scientists speak of mysteries," he said in his presidential address. Mystery has been the underlying principal of religion, art and science as they look into deeper realities, he said.

While scientists in the past have insisted on experience and observation as the criteria of knowledge, "modern scientists are not embarrassed to say that they were guided by their intuition whenever their performance peaked," the prelate noted.

Archbishop Menamparampil also described scientists' version of the universe's origin as no less mysterious then the biblical account in the Book of Genesis.

"We get into the mystery of mysteries when we begin to study subatomic particles, supernovas and distant galaxies, speculate about the possibilities of multiple big bangs, of parallel universes and undreamt of dimensions of space-time, until we are lost in the majestic beauty of God's creation," he said.

The archbishop later told UCA News that science and religion need each other to appreciate the complexities of the world and the cosmos.

"Science and technology can make us only ardent consumers but religion gives meaningful direction to purposeful life," he explained.

A scientist cannot pretend to know all the answers to questions such as what preceded the big bang, what is the ultimate source of energy that holds sub-atomic particles together and what is human consciousness, he pointed out. Science needs religion and vice versa, which is why Albert Einstein exclaimed that science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind, he continued.

The prelate said scientists and religious thinkers should avoid unilateral reductionism and self-imposed isolation, and each should continue to enrich, nourish and challenge the other to find the ultimate meaning in life.

Archbishop Menamparampil recalled that at one point religion seemed to be on the way out and Nietzsche declared God as dead.

"But we have seen God is neither dead nor dying. Instead, God is back in a big way."

He cited the many Catholic ecclesial movements that thrive in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Religion, he said, is making "rapid headway" and using modern tools to propagate itself.

Even communists seem to concede that religion and modernization could co-exist, the prelate noted. He urged religious leaders and scientists to assume responsibility to realize the ultimate destiny of humanity and of all creation.
  Caritas grants keep bright tribal youngsters from dropping out
  BANDARBAN (BANGLADESH), AUGUST 21 (UCAN) -- Crippling poverty in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) has made many a bright student drop out of school only to face an uncertain future.

Life is difficult in this hilly and forested region in the southeastern tip of Bangladesh, where parents struggle to provide food for their children, let alone an education.

Deena Chakma, however, does not have to worry about dropping out of school.

The 11-year-old girl is one of 51 students who recently received an education grant for the 2009-2010 school year from Caritas Chittagong, the regional office of the Bangladesh Catholic Church's social-service agency.

The office distributed 136,200 taka (US$1,946) for the grants, which will be renewed annually until the youngsters complete their high school studies.

"If I didn't get the Caritas grant, I would be a school drop-out like many of my classmates from the primary level," a thankful Deena said.

Now enrolled in a local high school at the sub-district headquarters in Ruma, Bandarban, she added that Caritas' monthly grant of 800 taka is enough for her school fees and board. Since the school is far fro her home, she must stay in a student hostel.

Deena belongs to the tribal Chakma community, one of the major ethnic groups in the Hill Tracts. Most Chakma follow Buddhism.

Deena scored well in the January 2009 Junior Scholarship Examination under Bangladesh's Education Ministry, gaining a Talent-pool Scholarship. She received a merit certificate from the government and will also receive a scholarship of 120 taka a month.

Her earlier education did not come through a government primary school, because her mother, like many other parents, did not want her child traveling several kilometers along a narrow and dangerous road.

Instead, she attended classes at a Caritas-run Village-based Education Center (VBEC). Caritas runs 30 of these centers in the three CHT districts.

About 3,250 tribal children from the Bengali, Chakma, Tripura, Marma, Rakhain and other ethnic communities study for free in grades 1-5 at the VBECs.

The program offers only primary level education because of a shortage of qualified teachers, but has nonetheless instilled a go-to-school habit among children of poor families. The problems arise after they finish the 5th grade.

Many poor families live in remote areas far from high schools, which are not free, so they would have to pay boarding as well as school fees. As a result, many parents do not send their children for secondary education.

Deena's parents too had decided to stop her education after the primary level, but Caritas' grant and the government scholarship changed the situation.

Amor Shanti Chakma, 10, also successfully passed 5th grade at a VBEC and gets a Caritas grant. "My father, who is a poor farmer, wanted to stop my education after 5th grade, but I wanted to continue," he said.

"Caritas is helping me make a brighter future through education. My aim in life is to become a teacher" the boy beamed.

James Gomes, director of Caritas Chittagong, told UCA News: "It's the first ever initiative from Caritas whereby we help poor and talented students with cash. We undertook this initiative because we cannot extend our education service past the 5th grade."

Poverty forces most children to drop out after 5th grade, he acknowledged. "At least we can help 51 kids who are poor but have talent."

Caritas chooses students for the grant program based on their VBEC performance.

Deena has her sights set high. "I hope to get a scholarship after the 8th-grade scholarship examinations and go on to get the highest grade point average in both the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) and the Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) in science," she said.

"My aim in life is to become a doctor and extend a helping hand to the poor, deprived and marginalized 'adivasi' (indigenous) people in the remotest areas in the CHT. I'm grateful to Caritas and hope they will continue helping me."
  Sulabh founder Bindeshwar Pathak receives Stockholm Water Prize
  From A Correspondent
Stockholm, Sweden, August 20 -- Sulabh International founder Dr Bindeshwar Pathak received the prestigious Stockholm Water Prize from Prince Carl Philip of Sweden at a glittering function here this evening.

First presented in 1991, it is the world's most prestigious prize for outstanding achievement in water-related activities. The annual prize includes a $150,000 award and a crystal sculpture.
Tonight's award ceremony and Royal Banquet for Dr. Pathak highlighted the urgency and international importance of the sanitation challenge.

The founder of Sulabh sanitation movement is known around the world for his wide-ranging work in the sanitation field to improve public health, advance social progress, and improve human rights in his home nation and other countries. His accomplishments span the fields of sanitation technology, social enterprise, and healthcare education for millions of people, serving as a model for NGO agencies and public health initiatives around the world.

"If water is honoured by the Prize being named after it, the importance of sanitation, its sibling, cannot be left far behind," Dr. Pathak said in his acceptance speech. "The two complement rather than compete with each other. Provision of sanitation provides dignity and safety, especially to women, and reduction of child mortality. As a matter of fact, safe water and sanitation go hand in hand for improvement of community health."

Inadequate sanitation and its devastating effects on the world's poor comprise humanity's most urgent, yet solvable crisis, according to international leaders and experts asembled at the 2009 World Water Week in Stockholm.

"The correlation between sanitation and disease is dramatic and unmistakable," said Anders Berntell, Executive Director of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI). "Yet, at the current rate of progress, we are going to miss the Millennium Development Goal for sanitation by more than 700 million people, leaving still 2.4 billion people without adequate sanitation by 2015, about the same number as today. By any standard, this is unacceptable. We need the political will to translate our intentions into meaningful action."

In seminars, workshops, and side events during the week, participants have explored the causes, health impacts and possible solutions to inadequate sanitation that currently affects more than 2.6 billion people across the planet, kills over 5000 children daily, and causes the illnesses that fill half of the hospital beds in the developing world.

The topics include manual scavenging, sanitation for the urban poor, financing of sanitation, and the effects that climate change could have on sanitation, among many other subjects.

"The sanitation problem has a complex solution," said Jon Lane, Executive Director of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC). "If it was easy it would have been done by now. It needs a systemic intervention. This involves politicians, educationalists, marketers, entrepreneurs, technologists, financiers and philanthropists. Each has a particular role to play."

An international nominating committee appointed by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences is responsible to review the nominations and propose a candidate. The Founders of the prize are Swedish and international companies in co-operation with the City of Stockholm. The prize program is administered by the Stockholm International Water Institute.

The patron of the Stockholm Water Prize is King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.
  Rights blacklisting a wake-up call for India, say Church leaders
NEW DELHI, AUGUST 20 (UCAN) -- Indian Church leaders say an official American group's move to blacklist India for its poor record of protecting religious minorities is a wakeup call for the country.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) says India's response to attacks on religious minorities in recent years has been inadequate.

The USCIRF is an independent panel that provides recommendations to the US government. It released its latest report in New Delhi on August 12 ahead of the first anniversary of violence against Christians in Orissa state in eastern India.

The international body also found fault with India for its failure to protect Muslims during sectarian violence in Gujarat in 2002.

The US government closely monitors a country the USCIRF puts on its watch list. The current list includes Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Laos, the Russian Federation, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Venezuela.

The USCIRF usually releases its annual report in May but it was delayed this year as India declined to issue visas for its members.

USCIRF chief Leonard Leo who released the report said it was "extremely disappointing that India, which has a multitude of religious minorities, has done so little to protect and bring justice to its religious minorities under siege."

Leo also observed that India's police and judiciary were seen as unwilling or unable to seek redress for the victims of violence. "More must be done to ensure future violence does not occur and that perpetrators are held accountable," he said.

The USCIRF also pointed out deficiencies in investigating and prosecuting cases of violence against religious minorities.

The report recommended that the Barack Obama administration urge the government of India to ensure communal harmony and protect religious minorities.

However, the India government has said the USCIRF decision is "regrettable."

Shashi Tharoor, a junior minister in the federal External Affairs department, told the media that India does not need any outside agency to educate it on how to protect its minorities. He said India was capable of dealing with such issues when they occur.

However, Church leaders say the American group's move is a wake up call for the Indian government.

Father Babu Joseph, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, says the USCIRF decision indicated the international community's growing concern over India's repeated failure to curb religious intolerance.

All India Christian Council secretary general John Dayal says the USCIRF decision is "a call" to the nation's conscience to protect the weak and the injured.

India, he says, has a shameful record of minority persecution and violation of religious freedom. International agencies, including the United Nations Commission for Human Rights, have already pointed it out, he added.

"India would have been able to rebuff the US scrutiny more effectively if several thousand Christians were still not in (Orissa's) refugee camps and if the killers were still not roaming scot-free, and if witnesses ... were not being coerced," Dayal added.

Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash, who directs a center for human rights in Gujarat, said some state governments have failed to protect religious minorities. Some state governments were directly or indirectly involved in anti-minority violence, he said. On many occasions the real victims were blamed and prosecuted, he added.
  Catholics lodge protest over police inaction against Islamic magazine
PENANG (MALAYSIA), AUGUST 20 (UCAN) -- Three Catholics, including a lawyer, have lodged a complaint over police inaction against an Islamic magazine, whose journalists allegedly carried out an act offensive to Catholics.

The May issue of the Malay-language "Al-Islam" magazine carried a story by two Muslim journalists who said they went into Catholic churches in Kuala Lumpur, received Holy Communion and then spat out the host.

Two Catholics from Penang -- Joachim Francis Xavier and Sundhagaran Stanley -- lodged a complaint on July 8, but police apparently failed to act.

The Catholic Lawyers' Society, together with Stanley and Xavier, decided to protest by handing a memorandum to the Home Minister on August 17 in Putrajaya, the country's administrative capital south of Kuala Lumpur.

However, the plan had to be deferred due to claims from certain parties that the Christians were seeking revenge against Muslims.

On August 20, Xavier and Stanley, together with lawyer Annou Xavier, handed a letter to the Dang Wangi police station asking about the status of the investigation.

Stanley said the investigating police officer informed them they had completed the investigation and had handed the files to the attorney general a week ago. The officer said this was the fourth time the police had handed the files to the attorney general who had sent them back requesting further information.

Police say the matter is now in the hands of the attorney general.

"We are disappointed with the police for not taking swift action," said Stanley.

"The government had announced that action would be taken on anyone found to be seditious or inciting hatred or racial tension. However, it appears that the government had not taken us, the Christian community seriously."

Francis Xavier said he hoped the attorney general would charge the journalists "based on the evidence that we have, and not based on political influence."

He said the next course of action was to deliver a protest to the Home Ministry together with the Catholic Lawyers' Society. After consultation and approval from Bishop Antony Selvanayagam of Penang, he and Stanley also plan to hold a forum on issues affecting the rights of Catholics and how to respond to these.
  Priest says Hindus, Muslims must end provocations
MANGALORE, AUGUST 20 (UCAN) -- A Catholic priest engaged in interreligious dialogue has voiced serious concerns about religiously provocative incidents that have taken place in the Hindu and Muslim communities in Karnataka state.

"Desecrating Hindu and Muslim religious places has been going on for some time" in the southern state, says Father John Fernandes, who manages Samanwaya (harmony), an inter-religious movement in Mangalore, a costal town.

"The latest in the series of acts has been the expulsion of a Muslim girl student from a Hindu-managed college near Mangalore for wearing a headscarf," said Father Fernandes who chairs the department of Christian Studies in Mangalore University.

In that case, some Hindu students demanded permission to wear saffron shawls if the college allowed the girl to wear a headscarf. The principal finally expelled the Muslim girl.

In another incident on August 15, India's Independence Day, a rumour spread that a cow's head had been found inside a prominent Hindu temple in Mangalore. Hindus consider the cow a sacred animal.

Father Fernandes said that in reality there was only a bone fragment brought in by either a stray dog or someone with vested interests in sowing discord. However, after the rumor spread, Hindu groups surrounded the temple and threatened to create trouble if the culprits were not arrested.

The following day, a pig's head was placed inside a mosque in Mandya, a town near Mysore that has experienced communal tensions. Similar actions had led to sectarian violence in several towns in the state this year, the priest said.

"These are all unfortunate incidents that lead to communal tension in the state," Father Fernandes told UCA News August 20 after he appealed to the two warring communities to maintain peace.

The priest said some groups want to divide Muslims and Hindus in the state to consolidate Hindu votes.

Karnataka has nearly 53 million people, 83.9 percent of whom are Hindu. Muslims constitute about 12 percent while Christians make up less than 2 percent.

"It is high time people realized the vested elements' real motive and kept cool," Father Fernandes remarked. He says minority groups are aware of Hindu radicals' motives and have so far refused to be provoked.

Father John Fernandes also accused the state government of corrupting young minds.

He noted that after last year's terrorist attack in Mumbai, the Karnataka government organized college students in fighting against terrorism that eventually turned out to be a movement to isolate and attack Muslims.

"Now young minds are polluted with sectarian sentiments, a trend that is dangerous to the core," the 73-year-old priest noted.

Father Fernandes said his efforts to foster sectarian harmony and peaceful coexistence in colleges also received a setback after the Karnataka government started promoting the Hindu nation theory among students.

Though there are efforts to forge communal harmony in many colleges, "we are not able to change the mindset of those who really want to create trouble," he said.
  Kandhamal graveyard of Indian secularism: investigative book
By Our Correspondent
New Delhi, August 19

An investigative book on the Kandhamal carnage was released at a news conference by former Ambassador K P Fabian here today. The meet was part of the National Campaign for Justice and Peace in Kandhamal, ahead of the first anniversary of the violence.

"The state of affairs in Kandhamal, a year after, raises questions on whether it is part of the Secular Indian Republic or not. The lawlessness there is a blot on the nation," lamented Anto Akkara, journalist-author of the updated book, 'Kandhamal: A Blot on Indian Secularism'. It was first released in April 2009.

Elaborating on the recent alarming incidents, the book cautions that, "Despite winning a massive secular mandate, the Orissa Government seems to be succumbing meekly to the fundamentalists, instead of tackling them by the horns." The Kandhamal administration 'transplanted' last month 50 Christian families of Beticola to Nandapur -- 17 km away -- and allotted them plots of government land, as fundamentalists in Beticola would not let the Christians return unless they became Hindu and withdrew cases they had filed on destruction of their houses and churches.

Despite the Orissa Government's claim of 'normalcy and peace' in Kandhamal, the author, who has made half a dozen arduous trips to the area, pointed out that forsaking Christian faith remained a precondition for the refugees to return to their villages. Though the government claims that only less than 1,000 refugees are left in relief camps, compared to 25,000 last September, the book points out that many of the refugees have not returned to their villages, due to continuing threats to become Hindu.

"Thousands are languishing in the Saliasahi slum in Bhubaneswar alone," the author noted.

On the issue of rampant lawlessness, the author, quoting Orissa police data, said Kandhamal remained 'a freehold land for the saffron parivar' and only 679 had been arrested from over 11,500 named in 827 FIRs. Even murderers are roaming free and threatening witnesses to make them turn hostile in the fast track court.

If the July 31 verdict of the fast track court in Phulbani in the arson attack on the Gochhapada police station is any indication, thousands of Christian families hounded out of Kandhamal for their faith have little hope of getting justice.

All the 16 brought to trial in connection with the killing of a police constable and the torching of the Gochhapada police station on September 15 night were acquitted by the court for 'lack of evidence'. In the meticulously planned assault, a mob of 500 people attacked the guardians of law in the middle of the night, after blocking access roads.

The impunity that prevails in Kandhamal was reinforced by Justice S C Mahapatra heading the Commission of Inquiry into the carnage, when he told the author that 'murderers could be innocents,' justifying the police's failure to arrest the culprits.

"Perhaps, it is time for the Supreme Court to take note of the ominous message from the Gochhapada acquittal, as in the infamous Best Bakery acquittal in Gujarat that led to the reopening of the post-Godhra carnage cases. It is certainly time for the higher judiciary to ponder trial outside Kandhamal to ensure justice and redeem people's faith in the criminal and judicial system of the country," the book points out.

The carnage and mayhem following the murder of Swami Lakshmanananda on the night of August 23, 2008, left dozens of Christians dead and more than 50,000 displaced, with more than 5,000 homes and 250 churches and institutions looted and torched in Kandhamal.
  Catholics in Nepal bid farewell to Jesuit educator
KATHMANDU, AUGUST 19 (UCAN) -- Catholics bade farewell to American Jesuit Father James J. Donnelly who died here on August 17. The priest, who had dedicated his life to education in his adopted homeland, was 80 and suffering from various ailments.

"Father Donnelly was a warm-hearted person and an astounding teacher," Jesuit Father Augustine Thomas Amakkatt told the crowd at the funeral held at the Church of our Lady of Assumption on August 17.

The late priest was also a "walking encyclopedia of chronology of Nepal," an expert on the Himalayan mountain peaks and a lover of Nepal's natural beauty, Father Amakkatt said.

Father Donnelly was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and celebrated his 80th birthday on August 5 this year. He came to Nepal as a young priest just after his ordination in 1961.

He was assigned to teach English at Godavari St Xavier's School, one of two Jesuit-run schools in Nepal. Over the years, he taught students who went on to become doctors, engineers and businessmen.

Father Donnelly remained at the school till 1968 when he moved to St Xavier's School at Jawalakhel, staying there until 1980. He then returned to Godavari St Xavier's where he was principal until 1990.

He began writing textbooks for schools in 1991. He wrote three English language textbooks -– "The Writing Handbook," "The Workbook I for the Writing Handbook" and "The Teachers' Key."

The priest was among four Jesuits to receive the highest award given by the state to the public. Former King Gyanendra Shah gave him the Gorkha Dakshin Bahu III for his dedication to teaching young people in the country.

The other Jesuit recipients of the award were Father Marshal Moran, Father Casper Miller and Father Lawrence Maniyar, the current regional superior of the Jesuits in Nepal.

Father Maniyar told UCA News that Father Donnelly was also renowned for his trips abroad to raise funds, mainly for the construction of school buildings and houses for Jesuits in Nepal.

Various people shared their recollections of Father Donnelly with UCA News.

"His English was great and he taught the boys very well. He was strict but loving and caring as well," said Rama Parajuli, a Catholic whose son was taught by the priest.

"He had this special gift of spirituality that touched everyone he met and had this amazing knack of remembering the names of all his former students."

Maggie Fetch, who knew Father Donnelly from her early childhood, "deeply regretted" his death.

"Priests like him are rare and very few exist in the country," she said. "No one can forget how friendly he was, his ability to recognize people and talk to them even if he had met them only once."

According to Father Amakkatt, Fr Donnelly's most popular activity was showing his large collection of slides which featured the development of Nepal and the growth of the Jesuits among others.

Father Maniyar said the priest had died with one regret -- he failed in his attempts to become a Nepali citizen. Father Maniyar said Father Donnelly had always remarked: "Nepal is my home; Nepalis my people."
  Church mourns India's first Dalit prelate, Bishop John Mulagada
HYDERABAD, AUGUST 19 (UCAN) -- Church and political leaders were among the more than 20,000 mourners at the funeral of India's first Dalit bishop on August 18 in Andhra Pradesh.

Bishop John Mulagada of Eluru died on August 16 while undergoing treatment at a private hospital in Vijayawada. He had been suffering from cancer, diabetes and paralysis, and had undergone heart surgery several years ago.

The archbishop, 71, belonged to the Dalit community (former "untouchables" in the Indian caste system) and had headed Eluru diocese for more than 32 years as its first bishop.

Fransalian Archbishop Mariadas Kagithapu of Visakhapatnam led the funeral Mass at St. Xaviers Grounds in Eluru. Archbishop Marampudi Joji of Hyderabad conducted the last rites.

More than 700 priests and about 1,500 nuns attended the funeral.

"His death is a big loss for the poor and marginalized," said Archbishop Joji, head of the Catholic Church in Andhra Pradesh.

Archbishop Joji described Bishop Mulagada as the "people's prelate" because he was so approachable. "People could meet him without an appointment." The late prelate was also known as "the bishop of shrines" as he helped build several Marian shrines in the state, Archbishop Joji added.

Bishop Mulagada was born in 1937 near Visakhapatnam, a harbor town. His parents died when he was a child, and his aunt and grandfather brought him up.

He was ordained a priest in 1965 for Visakhapatnam, which was a diocese then. He served many parishes there before being appointed bishop of Eluru in 1977. Eluru was formed out of Vijayawada diocese.

Archbishop Joji said Bishop Mulagada had helped promote social awareness and literacy through the Andhra Pradesh Social Service Society of which he was chairperson for more than two decades.

He also helped rebuild houses in the coastal areas of the diocese, which are prone to natural calamities such as cyclones and floods.

Bishop Mulagada "was the first Telugu bishop," said Jesuit Father Elango Arulanandam, who has worked in the state for decades. Telugu is the official language of Andhra Pradesh.

Father Arulanandam told UCA News that the late prelate had promoted education among his people, who are mostly Dalit. "He opened schools and parishes to help his people educationally and spiritually," he added.
  First Catholic president of South Korea, Kim Dae-jung, dies
SEOUL, AUGUST 18 (UCAN) -- Religious leaders have expressed deep sorrow over the death of Thomas More Kim Dae-jung, the first Catholic president of South Korea.

Kim Dae-jung was hospitalized in Seoul on July 13 with pneumonia. He died from heart failure at around 2 p.m. on August 18. He was 85.

Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk of Seoul issued a condolence message soon after Kim's death was announced.

He said Kim, the first Korean Nobel Prize recipient, had dedicated his life to promoting human rights and the democratization of South Korea, and had worked for peace on the Korean peninsular.

Cardinal Cheong said Kim forgave his political foes despite the persecutions he suffered, during which he experienced threats to his life.

The cardinal also praised Kim's faith, quoting him as saying that, "With the knowledge that Jesus was crucified for humanity, I could overcome all hardships and trials."

Reverend Kwon Oh-sung, secretary of the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK), also issued a condolence message. He said that the former president had established human rights and peace as basic values in society.

Reverend Kwon said he hopes that the government, politicians, and the country's people would build on Kim's achievements.

Venerable Jikwan, chief executive of the Jogye Order, the largest Buddhist order in the country, also remembers the president as a "pioneer of democratization." In his condolence message, he urged the whole nation to be unified on this occasion.

Kim was exiled twice in his life during military dictatorships in South Korea. He survived two assassination attempts in the 1970s and escaped a death sentence by a martial court in 1980. He was freed in 1982 after requests for a pardon from the international community and Pope John Paul II.

Kim was baptized in 1956 as a young politician and often spoke about his faith publicly.

In an interview with UCA News in 1993, he said that "all my hard trials in the past -- imprisonment, frequent detentions, torture and forced exiles -- happened in the process of God's redemptive work, and in this sense, I have also participated in God's salvation."

He said Christ saved his life when he was abducted by a South Korean spy agency in Tokyo in 1973, and faced the prospect of drowning.

Kim was elected as the country's 15th president in 1997 and took office from February 1998 to February 2003. In 2000 he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts toward reconciliation with North Korea.

Kim is survived by his second wife Lee Hee-ho, a Methodist, and three sons.
  FABC plenary outlines document on Eucharist, cautions about Mass innovations
MANILA, AUGUST 18 (UCAN) -- The 9th Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC) Plenary Assembly in Manila closed August 16 with an outline for a document on living the Eucharist in Asia, and a caution from the Pope's representative about liturgical innovation.

Seventy-five Asian bishops were among 117 participants who attended the August 11-16 plenary with papal envoy Cardinal Francis Arinze. The FABC meeting had "Living the Eucharist in Asia" as its theme.

Participants approved the scheme for the assembly document presented by Filipino Bishop Luis Antonio Tagle of Imus, chairman of FABC's Office of Theological Concerns.

He will be writing the document summarising the assembly discussions and pastoral recommendations addressing concerns and challenges related to living the Eucharist in the region.

Bishops had reported that in Asia there are "death-dealing" and "life-giving" forces at work that impact the way people live their faith and celebrate the Eucharist.

Among the life-giving forces is the renewed faith found in small Christian communities, increased Bible sharing and interest in inter-religious dialogue.

Bishops in the plenary talked about forms of worship and adoration in their areas, and a "hunger" for the Eucharist in places such as Indonesia, Myanmar, Mongolia and Timor Leste.

In Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, and other places, such hunger cannot be satisfied due to a lack of priests, they noted. There the people have not been given enough catechesis and information about their faith and the Eucharist, while in places such as India and Pakistan they suffer from religious fundamentalists who prevent Christians from practicing their faith due to centuries-old misunderstandings.

The bishops also proposed extensive discussion of the Eucharist as a medium of reconciliation, especially amid war and ever-increasing nationalism.

Other bishops want the final document to include discussions of growing problems of materialism, family separation due to forced migration caused by wars and unemployment, loneliness that leads to depression and suicide, and equal treatment of all, especially women and children.

Bishop Tagle said the paper will aim to present these using prayers, rites and symbols used in the Mass.

Voting delegates approved Bishop Tagle's outline in principle and authorized members of the central and standing committees to approve the final paper that he will submit to FABC Secretary General Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato within a month.

The plenary assembly message distributed to participants at the end of the meeting issued a call to community saying, "We cannot celebrate the Eucharist and at the same time maintain, practice or tolerate discrimination based on religion or race, culture or language, caste or class."

The message recommended "devout listening to the Word every day at home as a family, especially on the eve of Sundays to prepare for the Eucharist." Pastors and church workers were reminded to help heal those who experience "the trauma of hopelessness" through the Mass.

The message also called for the use of Asian symbols, melodies and values "to make our celebration create a resonance in the depths of Asia's heart."

Cardinal Arinze in his homily at the closing Mass stressed "the art of proper celebration" of Mass and proper focus on the Word of God in liturgical celebrations.

He cited Church tradition of taking readings only from Scripture, on which the homily should principally be based. The homily is not a time for "theological acrobatics, political discussion, and sociological analysis" or to ask for donations, he said.

Acknowledging the value of Asian cultures in enhancing liturgical celebrations, he cautioned against "downright mistaken innovations and idiosyncrasies of some enthusiastic clerics."

Use of dance, he said, needs critical examination because most performances draw attention to the performers, and offer enjoyment and invite applause. "People come to Mass not for recreation, but to adore God," the cardinal said.

He also highlighted the importance of ongoing liturgical formation "since many liturgical abuses are based on ignorance rather than bad will."
  Catholic church's green campaign gains wider support

BHOPAL, AUGUST 18 (UCAN) -- A Church tree-planting initiative among students in central India has sparked enthusiasm not only among them but in the wider community as well.

The initiative, dubbed 'Matr Chhaon Abhiyan' (shading mother earth movement), was launched in 50 Catholic schools in Madhya Pradesh state on July 29 and will be expanded to cover all 500 Catholic schools in the state.

Under the project, students from grades five to nine will each plant at least one sapling and care for them over three years.

Each student who is successful in nurturing their tree will gain additional credits in the final practical examination on environmental study, said program director Father Anand Muttungal.

He added that he plans to ask the state government to include the program in the formal academic curriculum to promote environmental protection, and will also write to the prime minister, members of parliament and chief ministers of others states on the initiative.

"To protect nature is our collective responsibility. Future generations will not forgive us if we fail to do this," the priest said.

Each participating school has assigned a teacher to monitor the initiative's progress.

Students have welcomed the scheme.

Pradiksha Mahurkar, a ninth grader of Bhopal's St. Mary Senior Secondary School, described the project as "motivational". She told UCA News that it would not only help to increase tree cover but would also help to curb the effects of pollution.

Mahurkar said she joined the campaign for the additional academic credit but within a fortnight her motives had changed as it had brought her closer to nature.

She planted saplings at her home and encouraged her parents to tell their friends about the campaign.

Her mother, Vasundra, a government school teacher, said the Church initiative inspired her to tell her own students to plant saplings. Her younger son, Pradhesh, a fourth grader, had joined in after being inspired by his sister. He had planted rose and basil plants at their home. "I'm doing it for a better future," he said.

Aditi Jadli, a seventh grader student in Mahurkar's school, said she is proud to be part of the campaign. She has persuaded 15 families in her condominium to plant saplings.

Jadli's mother, Vaishali, occasionally helps her daughter. "Everyone should do it instead of thinking of it as a movement for children alone," she said.

She was full of praise for the Church for launching "an environmentally friendly initiative."

Vijay Laxmi, Mahurkar's environmental science teacher, said students in her school have joined the campaign enthusiastically.

"It is a wonderful gift to the younger generation to prepare for a bright tomorrow free of environmental pollution and other problems attached to it," she added.
  Apostolic churches challenge HC verdict on gay rights; SC issues notice to Centre
  Our Correspondent

New Delhi, August 17 -- The Supreme Court has issued notice to the Central Government on a petition filed by the Alliance of Apostolic Churches in India challenging the Delhi High Court verdict on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.

In the petition, the Alliance of Apostolic Churches claimed that the High Court judgement hurt the religious feelings, beliefs, faith practices and sentiments of Christians, as it termed their teachings against homosexuality and sexual perversion as archaic.

It may be recalled that the High Court had struck down the provision of Section 377 that criminalised consensual sexual acts of adults. The court said Section 377 violated Articles 21, 14 and 15 of the Constitution.

The petition mentioned that the Christian faith condemned sodomy as a contemptuous sinful act. The very word 'sodomy' in medical science originated from the Biblical word 'Sodom' -- the name of a place mentioned in the Bible that was so infamous for the act of sodomy and homosexuality that God destroyed and burnt it. Historians geographically identify Sodom as part of the Dead Sea, where even today no living creatures can have life therein.

Echoing the feelings of the Christian population, the petition said the condemnation of homosexuality and sodomy and preaching against the same was a cardinal principle of the Christians and indirectly allowing the same by decriminalising it hurt their religious beliefs and sentiments.

The decriminalisation of consensual sexual acts between adults was sought on the pretext of tackling the spreading of HIV/AIDS. The petition added that the National Aids Control Organization (NACO) had identified the High Risk Group to broadly include men who have sex with men (MSM), female sex workers and intravenous drug users. In this light, the judgment has left behind the other high risk group of female sex workers, who will now demand that their act also be decriminalised.

The petition argued that the High Court failed to note that there were homosexuals, bisexuals and heterosexuals within the populations of MSM, who had multiple sex partners, making them more prone to HIV/AIDS. Hence, it negated one of the cardinal subsidiary fundamental rights envisaged in Article 21 of the constitution -- the right to health.

Negating the High Court's interpretation of the word 'sex' in Article 15 as including sexual orientation, the petition said the Court confused the word as that of sexuality rather than gender, as mandated by the Constitution. It argued that if the said strange interpretation held good, reservation for MSM would soon arise, on the pretext of equal opportunity. In fact, a commission in Karnataka, based on the recent judgment, recommended reservation of vacancies in government jobs for gays, considering them minorities.

The petition added that the judgment also resulted in repealing the Immoral Traffic Act 1956, which stated that any person who detained [any other person, whether with or without his consent,] should be punished. A combined reading of the judgment and the above Act showed that the verdict gave permission for male brothels and female brothels to function, exclusively for the act of sodomy and oral sex, subject to the consent of the males and females concerned.

The petitioners claimed that the High Court did the said exercise by sitting on its public interest jurisdiction. Although the Government of Delhi and Delhi Police, who were the most important respondents in the case, chose not to file pleadings or counter affidavits, the HC did not hear the version of the police force of the country in response to the allegations levelled against them.

All states in the country needed to be heard before a verdict of this order was made, the petition said. Moreover, the High Court had no constitutional power to declare a law invalid, as that was in the legislative domain of Parliament.
  Christians attacked again in Karnataka

MANGALORE, AUGUST 17 (UCAN) -- Hindu radicals have apparently attacked a teachers' training camp organized by a Christian group in Karnataka, southern India, the scene of waves of anti-Christian violence last year.

Members of the Rama Sene (Ram's army) and Bajrang Dal (party of the strong and stout) groups attacked the camp's organizers and participants around midnight on August 11, according to Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC).

The attackers accused the Christian group of training people for religious conversions.

George told UCA News that when police were called, they sided with the Hindus, stopped the camp and detained the organizers.

The August 11-14 residential camp of 50 men and 24 women at Annigere, a village in Dharwad district, was organized by Seva Bharath Mission India, a Christian service organization. The camp was to train teachers for a literacy campaign.

George said the Hindu radicals verbally abused and manhandled the women, aged 17-23.

"They created terror in the camp" and "beat up sleeping participants," George said. "All their Bibles and mobile phones were confiscated during the attack that lasted for around 90 minutes."

Seva Bharath Mission India, a faith-based NGO headed by an inter-denominational council, works in rural development and has been active in Karnataka's northern region for nine years. It conducts literacy classes for adults and provides tuition for street children as well as formal educational programs.

According to GCIC sources, four pastors were seriously injured in the attack. Some later lodged a complaint at the Annigere police station. The Hindu radicals also detained camp participants, while police later arrested eight pastors who were at the camp.

George said the attackers also detained local people and pastors who visited the scene but released them later. Such detention, he said, is a serious human rights violation.

George accused Karnataka's pro-Hindu government of conspiring with the radical groups.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian people's party) has ruled the state since May 2008. The party is considered the political arm of groups that want to establish a Hindu theocratic state in India.

The GCIC has lodged a complaint to the Karnataka governor, the federal home minister and the National Human Rights Commission over the incident.

Father Faustin Lobo, secretary of the Karnataka Regional Catholic Bishops' Council, has condemned the incident as an "inhuman attack on humanity." The Catholic Church is deeply pained to see recurring attacks on Christians in Karnataka, the priest told UCA News.
  'Father of Asian Theology' honors late Korean cardinal
  MANILA, AUGUST 17 (UCAN) -- Jesuit theologian Father Catalino Arevalo paid tribute to the late Korean Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan as he accepted a plaque in recognition of his service to the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC).

"In receiving this honor, I honor Cardinal Kim," Father Arevalo told the 89 cardinals, bishops, priests, Religious and laypeople gathered at Pius XII Catholic Center for the final session of the 9th FABC Plenary Assembly.

Speaking on August 16, the priest called South Korea's first cardinal a "man of great vision" and who was the spirit of the FABC, the moving force.

The August 11-16 plenary assembly resolved to recognize Father Arevalo for his "pivotal" contributions when he was serving as theological expert to the FABC from its genesis in Manila in 1970 until 1995.

The plaque of appreciation, read out by FABC secretary general Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, said the accolade of "Father of Asian theology" is appropriate for the priest who promoted indigenous Asian theology.

The citation mentioned specially "Evangelization in Modern Day Asia," the "visionary and programmatic" final document of the first FABC plenary assembly in 1974 for which Father Arevalo served as principal drafting consultant.

The 84-year-old priest, in his acceptance speech, said he was surprised to be thus honored. "When they asked me to come here, I thought FABC would recognise Cardinal Stephen Kim," he said.

The cardinal was among those who founded the FABC and moved Asian Churches to contribute to the universal Church, Father Arevalo noted. "The time of Asia had come," and Cardinal Kim, with FABC founders, believed "it was time for us to bring our gifts to the Church."

"The body of Christ is not complete until all its parts have contributed," the Jesuit theologian told participants at the FABC assembly.

Father Arevalo narrated how Asian bishops, just five years after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), sought to "develop friendships" with fellow bishops in the vast region of scattered islands and diverse cultures.

"Vatican II had said 'Church is people," and people would be its foundation, the Jesuit theologian recalled.

He remembered Pope Paul VI's visit to Manila in 1970 when he addressed the first Asian bishops' meeting that saw the participation of 180 prelates. Cardinal Kim and other FABC pioneers resolved that Asia's many diverse cultural and religious traditions would be its contribution to the Church, the theologian said.

Bishops in those days decided that the Church in Asia would be the Church of the poor and it would "look toward the future, not the past," Father Arevalo recalled. Cardinal Kim and the FABC founders believed the "Church should bring the face of Jesus" to the issues it faces, he added.

Cardinal Kim himself spoke out strongly for social justice in his country in the era of military dictatorship from the 1960s-1980s. When he died of sickness in Seoul on February 16, hundreds of thousands of mourners of various faiths paid their respects to him at the cathedral in Seoul, from where he had preached social justice.

In his acceptance speech, Father Arevalo expressed his hope that FABC leaders today will continue its founders' vision and expand it as "we never imagined."

Archbishop Quevedo, responding to Father Arevalo's suggestion on Cardinal Kim revealed the FABC's plan to honor "great people of the FABC" in 2012 when it commemorates the 40th anniversary of Rome's approval of its statutes.

He also cited the establishment in 1985 of FABC's Theological Advisory Commission (TAC) as among Father Arevalo's contributions to the association.

The TAC has evolved into FABC's Office of Theological Concerns which fosters Asian theological reflection on issues and questions of special relevance to local Churches and the wider Church. It is also responsible for mediating theological thought between local Asian Churches and the universal Church.

The recently concluded FABC meeting had "Living the Eucharist in Asia" as its theme.
  Serampore to phase out B.Th programme in favour of 5-year BD course, says Registrar
  From Our Correspondent

FARIDABAD, AUGUST 15 -- The B.Th programme was being phased out by Serampore College (University). However, it would continue till those church-run institutions were able to upgrade the B.Th course to the BD level.

This was announced by Rev Dr Ravi Tiwari, Registrar of Serampore College, while delivering the Easow Mar Timotheos Mission Lecture - 2009 at Dharma Jyoti Vidya Peeth, at Fazipur Khader, Chandpur, near Faridabad this afternoon.

He said the BD degree programme was the basic theological programme offered by the university since 1910.

The BD had been a postgraduate degree programme, though the nomenclature of the degree suggested that it was a graduate degree.

Serampore tried to fill in the gap with a proper graduate degree by upgrading its Licentiate in Theology (LTh diploma) to Bachelor of Theology (BTh) degree, but it failed to end the confusion about two bachelor degrees in theology at the graduate level.

This anomaly has been resolved with the phasing out of BTh in favour of BD.

He said the university was aware that a few colleges, mostly church-sponsored ones, were not in a position to upgrade themselves to BD colleges as they needed more time.

The BD programme was now a five-year programme. Anyone who was eligible for admission to a degree course could be admitted to the programme on the basis of an entrance test and personal interview. The course was an internal (residential) study programme, available only through colleges affiliated to Serampore College (University).

The university has made a provision for mature people who are more than 24 years of age, have passed HSLC, but could not study further. If they are able to submit a certificate that they have been in full time vocation/profession/employment for two years, they are allowed to sit for an entrance examination.

Dr Tiwari added that Serampore was planning to introduce a new graduate programme in Missiology, a course that would be an apt tribute to the late Bishop Easow Mar Timotheos.

He said the late Bishop was a missionary who had identified himself with the economically backward people. He was engaged in poultry farming and agriculture while he was at Sihora. Even after becoming a bishop, he cared for the needy and the downtrodden.
Dr Tiwari remembered that when his father the late Yesudas Tiwari used to leave him at the Sihora Ashram, it was Koshi Achen, as he was known before he became a bishop, who had taken care of him. His father, who translated the liturgy of the Mar Thoma Church, into Hindi, had a long association with the church.

"In 1988, while the bishop was on his way to Andaman Islands, he paid my father a visit at Serampore, where I was teaching. The bishop wanted to visit Belur Math of Swami Vivekananda, and I accompanied him. He had a meaningful religious dialogue with the Mutt chief.

"After the visit, we took leave of each other. Little did we know that this would be his last visit! A few days later, his mortal remains were brought back to the mainland from the island," he recalled.

Earlier, Rt. Rev Dr. Abraham Mar Paulos, bishop of the Delhi and Mumbai dioceses of the Mar Thoma Church inaugurated the BD programme of Dharma Jyoti Vidya Peeth by lighting a lamp and introducing the new batch of students.

He said the BD programme at Dharma Jyoti Vidya Peeth was not meant for the Mar Thoma Church alone. It was an attempt to bring the church closer to the people and, therefore, a fulfilment of Easow Mar Timotheos' dream. The attempt would be to raise the standards of the institution so that it could offer courses like M.Th and doctorate in theology.

The bishop hoped that the two dioceses he headed would be mission-spirited. In this context, he mentioned that nearly 25,000 people were ready to join the church. With the inauguration of the BD programme, Dharma Jyoti Vidya Peeth became the Mar Thoma Church's second BD-level seminary.

Bishop P.B. Santaram of the Church of North India and member of the Faculty of Dharma Jyoti Vidya Peeth and Dr John V. George, a prominent member of the church and DGP of Haryna Police, felicitated the institution on the occasion.

Principal of Dharma Jyoti Vidya Peeth Rev P.G. George welcomed the guests while Rev Koshy P. Varghese proposed a vote of thanks. Rev Alex Thomas and Mr Jobby John Philips led the worship service that preceded the inauguration.
  Hatred, mistrust can't take country forward, says President
  By Andalib Akhter

New Delhi, AUGUST 14 -- Maintaining that communal harmony is a must for the progress of the country, President Pratibha Devi Singh Patil today said that it was like the thread that holds together a garland of beautiful flowers made of different colours and fragrance.

Addressing the nation on the eve of the 63rd Independence Day on Friday she said: "Let us prove that we can be united and not divided. Let us fight against violence and extremism and be an important part of promoting peace and harmony".

She said that the feelings of hatred, mistrust and apathy would never take India forward.

Reciting the famous couplet of Iqbal, "Mazhab Nahi Sikhata, Aapas Mai Bair Rakhna", Mrs. Patil called upon people of all religions to live together in harmony.

The President also called for a more accountable and transparent governance to ensure that the benefits of flagship and other schemes reach the poor. She said reforms in governance are critical for effective delivery of public services to change the lives of the people.

Calling for the optimal implementation of the various flagship programmes of the government, Mrs. Patil stressed the need for empowerment of the weaker and vulnerable sections of the society. She said they are still not full partners in the growth and development process and remain on the sidelines.

Mrs Patil said that these sections need to be given access to education, health and skill-building so that they can be drawn into the national mainstream.

Referring to Swine flu, the President said the people have to come forward to contribute to the government's efforts in this regard as well as other developmental initiatives through public-private partnerships.
  In Sri Lanka priests conduct Marian celebrations in camps
  CHEDDIKULAM (SRI LANKA), AUGUST 14 (UCAN) -- Unable to travel to the popular Madhu Marian shrine to mark the feast of the Assumption, priests, Church workers and laypeople detained in camps in the north are conducting their own Masses and prayers.

With the decades-long civil war with Tamil Tiger separatists now over, about 500,000 pilgrims are expected to venture north and descend on the island's most popular Catholic shrine for the Marian feast on August 15.

The government has opened the road to the Our Lady of Madhu shrine, located in Mannar diocese, and often considered Sri Lanka's answer to Lourdes and Fatima. A special security program is also being implemented.

Sri Lanka railway has also introduced special train services for pilgrims going to the shrine, some 200 kilometers to the north of Colombo. Already, there are hundreds of vehicles lining up at military checkpoints on the highway to Madhu, according to media reports.

However, Catholics detained in refugee camps in the north, who are unable to attend celebrations at the shrine, are conducting their own novenas, said Father Celestine Mascringe, parish priest of St. Anthony's Church in Cheddikulam.

In Ananda Kumarasamy and Weerapuram camps, located about 40 kilometers from the shrine, parishioners have put up temporary worship venues with the military's permission. In others, people are celebrating the Marian feast under the trees with priests conduct evening prayers, Father Mascringe said.

When the war ended in May 2009, 300,000 Tamil civilians found themselves detained in displacement camps as the government sought to weed out fleeing Tiger rebels. Thirty thousand Catholics, including church choirs and altar servers from the Madhu shrine area, are among them.

Bishop Rayappu Joseph of Mannar had asked state officials and the military to release civilians, especially Catholics. The request was turned down, with the government saying that the screening of people in the camps is not yet complete.

Father Santhiapillai Emilianuspillai, former administrator of the shrine, said, "I feel uneasy about celebrating a feast without parishioners." He said Catholics who are now being held in the camps had helped him a lot in keeping the shrine safe. Father Emilianuspillai was posted to St Anthony's church in Vavuniya town some months ago.

Since August 12, pilgrims have been allowed to stay overnight at the shrine, which is now surrounded by barbed wire fencing. Land mine warning signs are also visible.

The 400-year-old shrine is a major center for pilgrimage and worship. The venerated Marian statue there was taken to St. Francis Xavier Church in Thevanpiti, northeast of Madhu, in April last year to prevent it from being damaged during the war. The statue was returned to the shrine in August that year.
  Early marriages spark concern in church circles in West Bengal
  RAGHABPUR, AUGUST 14 (UCAN) -- The phenomenon of Catholics marrying before the statutory minimum age is worrying Church officials and young people in an eastern Indian diocese.

Each parish in Baruipur diocese in West Bengal state reports an average of 10 such marriages annually, says Father Indrajit Sardar, the diocese's youth commission director.

Johnny Mondal, a youth leader at St. Joseph's Church, Raghabpur, said his Jesuit-managed parish has already reported 10 cases of Catholics getting married before the minimum age this year.

The Indian law stipulates 21 years as the marriageable age for boys and 18 years for girls. However, there are cases in which people get married almost immediately after puberty.

Mondol, 26, added that in most cases the couple runs away from home and returns a few days later with the girls wearing sakha (white bangles) and sindur (vermilion powder on the head), the culturally accepted symbols of marriage.

In several cases, where Catholics marry spouses from other religions, in most cases Hindus, they usually go to an ancient Hindu temple in Kolkata, the state capital, to perform the rituals.

In other cases where both parties are Christians, Protestant pastors have conducted marriage ceremonies not realising that they have been presented with false certifications of the couple's ages.

Father Sardar said villagers accept such marriages as they are mostly illiterate and unaware of the legal stipulations.

However, he added that on attaining marriageable age, most Catholic couples who married early, but who were not married in Church, come to the Church to solemnise their marriages. Raghabpur parish records showed it had regularised about 30 marriages on a single day in 2002.

The priest also said that usually in such instances, spouses of other religions also join the Catholic Church.

To tackle the early marriage problem, the diocesan youth commission organized a one-day seminar on August 9 at Raghabpur.

Father Sardar, the organiser, blamed lack of education for early marriages in the area. In some cases, the partners do not even know their own age, the priest regretted.

According to him, some young people who fall in love decide to elope. He said that catechising Catholics about the problem would help reduce early marriages.

Raghabpur parish priest Jesuit Father Thomas Thamarackat agreed and said many families in his parish now prefer arranged marriages. The average age at the parish's educated youth now decide to marry is between 20 and 30 years, he said.

According to him, many people still hold on to the traditional belief that children should be married early to save them from getting "spoiled." However, people do realise the negative consequences and insecurity that come with such marriages, he added.

Prosenjit Ghosh, a college student and president of the parish's youth commission, said early marriages used to be a big problem, but now the trend is waning.

The 22-year-old youth leader said the commission educates its members about the consequences of early marriage. He claims no member of the youth commission has married before the legal age.

The parish youth commission has 40 male and 20 female members aged between 15 and 28 years.
  Communal harmony and national unity needs of the hour, says President
  By Andalib Akhter

NEW DELHI, AUGUST 14: President Pratibha Devi Singh Patil, Vice-President Hamid Ansari and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have exhorted the people to strive for communal harmony and unity in the country. They cautioned them against those groups and individuals who use violence in the name of religion.

They were speaking at a function to present the national communal harmony awards and Kabir Puraskar here on Wednesday.

The news of the award ceremony did not get place in most of the print and electronic media. Perhaps, for them this news was not catchy enough to increase TRP, as Rakhi Sawant's fake marriage did a few days ago.

It was Home Minster P Chidambaram who revived the awards established in 1996.

The national communal harmony awards for 2007 were presented to Ram Puniyani, a former professor at IIT, Mumbai, for spreading the message of peace and amity in the individual category and Setu Charitable Trust, Mumbai, in the organisation category.

Dr. Dominic Emmanuel, SVD and Anjuman Sair-e-Gul Faroshan were presented the awards in the individual and organisation category respectively for the year 2008.

The award carries a citation and a cash prize of Rs. 2 lakh in the individual category and a citation and cash prize of Rs. 5 lakh in the organization category. The awards are given for promotion of communal harmony fraternity and national integration.

Kabir Puraskar for the year 2008 was conferred on Abdul Gani Abdullabhai Qureishi of Vadodara, Gujarat, and Ghulam Ahmed Bhat of Budgam, Jammu and Kashmir. For the year 2007, Kabir Puraskar was presented to S Hri Khalifa Gufran of Saharanpur U.P.

Kabir Puraskar is a national award instituted by the Government of India for recognising the acts of physical/moral courage displayed by a member of one caste, community or ethnic group in saving the lives and properties of member(s) of another caste, community or ethnic group during caste, community or ethnic violence. The award is given annually in three grades viz., Grade-I, Grade-II and Grade-III, carrying cash amounts of Rs. 2,00,000; Rs.1,00,000 and Rs. 50,000.

Speaking on the occasion, President Pratiha Patil said that there was need to recognize those people who pursue a divisive agenda and see every element of diversity as an issue for polarising their selfish interests. "In such situations, as Indians, we must collectively stand up as one. The message should be that our agenda is for the unity of all Indians, the growth and prosperity of our nation and we will not be divided whatever be the provocation" she said.

"History bears testimony to the fact that whenever harmony existed between peoples and nations, mankind made progress. On the other hand, in situations of disharmony and strife, there was a lack of progress," the President exhorted. She said that it was democracy that allowed space for all shades of opinions to be expressed and seeks the participation of all in national life. "We are fortunate that we have a rich inheritance of values of harmony and that we are a democracy", she said.

The President gave an example of Dr. Ravi Wankhede of Nagpur who gave a kidney to his friend Salim Chimthanwala, whose kidneys had failed. "They are not related by blood, belonged to different communities, but were yet linked by human ties. It is these feelings that our nation needs. It will help us to deal in eliminating extremism and terrorism and to bring peace and prosperity to our nation", Mrs Patil said.

Speaking on the occasion, Vice-President Hamid Ansari regretted that even after six decades of Independence there was still a compelling need for the state to foster communal harmony and national integration. "The virus persists; it is harmful to the body politic; it is anti-Indian. It is indicative of the collective failure of our family values, educational system, the media, and the civil society", he said adding that communal disharmony and violence were neither spontaneous nor natural occurrences.

"Prejudices and stereotypes resulting in ill will and hatred are created on purpose" he contended.

He said that the imperative of urbanisation, modernisation and globalisation was to accept diversity, not merely as a necessity but as an essential virtue of a modern society.

On the occasion, Prime minister Manmohan Singh said India had been home to all the great religions of the world and for centuries provided a unique social and intellectual environment in which many distinct religions have not only co-existed peacefully but have also enriched one another. "It is the sacred duty of each one of us to carry forward this great tradition", he urged.

"No religion sanctions violence. No religion preaches hatred. No religion endorses animosity towards another human being. Those who use religious symbols and forums to talk of violence, sectarianism and discord cannot be said to be true spokesperson of their respective religion", Dr Singh said, adding that he could say with conviction that India needed many more men and women like those whose work was recognised and awarded.

Interestingly, Leader of Opposition L K Advani was also present at the function.
  More attacks on Christians feared in Pakistan
  LAHORE, AUGUST 13 (UCAN): Peace activists predict that extremists may target more Christian communities unless the government changes its policies and laws.

"I am afraid to say it, but we may expect more attacks in areas where Christians are a sizeable number," said Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, national director of the Catholic Bishop's National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP).

"We have never believed in guns," he said, adding that "it is time to bring about a peaceful revolution."

Father Mani was speaking at an NCJP seminar on August 12, titled "Extremism and Law," at the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) auditorium.

The program started with a minute's silence in memory of 10 Catholics killed in rioting in the Punjab city of Gojra and the nearby village of Korian. A Muslim mob vandalized and looted 113 Christian houses and damaged four Protestant churches on July 30 and August 1.

Tensions arose after pages containing Islamic inscriptions were found in front of a Christian home in Korian. Muslims accused the family of blasphemy against Islam.

Blasphemy laws make an insult to the Qur'an an offense punishable by up to life imprisonment, while giving the death penalty for anyone convicted of insulting Prophet Muhammad.

According to advocate Mehboob Ahmed Khan of the HRCP, extremism is one of the major challenges facing the Muslim-dominated country. "More Christian settlements will be attacked, more blood will be spilled in coming months. The perpetrators will use the same old blasphemy laws as an excuse," he told the seminar participants

A press statement was also issued at the event in which the NCJP demanded the abolition of laws that provoke hatred, the amendment of discriminatory articles in the constitution, and the arrest of those who kill in the name of religion, among other matters.

According to the commission, 25 Christians have been killed for their faith since 1972.

Earlier, special prayers were held in churches and protest rallies organized throughout the country to mark August 11, Minorities' Day, as a day of mourning. Speakers at these gatherings also expressed their fear that extremists, if not brought under control, would start committing Gojra-like violence against Christians across Pakistan. The NCJP also launched a petition for the repeal of the blasphemy laws on August 11.

Meanwhile, damaged houses in Gojra and Korian are being demolished after the government announced they would be reconstructed. Tents have been set up in the narrow streets of the Christian community here where Church organizations continue to provide food and other services to locals.

The government has set up two medical stations in the affected areas where 1,847 Christian patients have been treated so far.

"Some patients suffered from burns," Doctor Abdul Hameed, deputy district officer for health, told UCA News, adding that more patients are now suffering from diarrhea, cough and fever. "Dust- and fume-related respiratory infections are also spreading among the survivors," he said.
  Swine flu closes 'Asia's largest seminary' in Pune
PUNE, AUGUST 12 (UCAN): A Catholic seminary, billed as Asia's largest, was closed on August 11 as swine flu spread rapidly in Pune.

"Precaution is better than cure and, therefore, we have shut down Asia's largest seminary for one week from August 11," said Jesuit Father Job Kozhamthadam, president of the Pune-based Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth (University of Knowledge Light), earlier known as the Pontifical Athenaeum.

By August 12, swine flu had claimed its sixth victim in Pune, which reported India's first death from the disease on August 3. Elsewhere in the country, the virus has killed nine other people.

"The airborne disease is entrenched in the city and the virus is spreading fast," Father Kozhamthadam said, adding that the seminary followed a state health directorate advisory to close all educational institutions. "We don't want to lose any candidates training for priesthood" as the virus can be easily transmitted "through coughing, sneezing and human contact," he added.

The Jesuit priest also said more than 770 students of philosophy, theology and doctoral courses stay at the campus. About 10 per cent of students are women and 15 per cent are from overseas.

The Indian students come from 68 dioceses and 49 religious congregations. The 116-year-old institute has 30 resident and 25 visiting teachers.

On August 12, Bombay archdiocese closed all its 150 high schools and five colleges for a week. "We don't want to expose our students to the virus, which is now spreading rapidly," Father Gregory Lobo, secretary of the Bombay Archdiocesan Board of Education, told UCA News.

On the same day, the Maharashtra government ordered the closure of all educational institutions for a week and shopping malls and cinemas for three days.

Meanwhile, two Vatican officials have confirmed their participation at a national seminar the Indian Bishops' Committee for Science, Religion and Society plans to hold in Pune from August 18-20. Its theme is "The Christian Faith in a World of Science: Challenges and Opportunities."

Father Kozhamthadam, an organiser, said Polish Father Tomasz, executive director of the Dicastery of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and Pilar Father Theodore Mascarenhas, undersecretary of the council's Asia Desk, have said they will attend the seminar despite the swine flu outbreak.

"Some Indian participants have canceled their visit to Pune and we will make a decision whether to hold the seminar or not in a couple of days in consultation with Archbishop Thomas Menamparambil of Guwahati, the chief organizer of the seminar," Father Kozhamthadam said.

The more than 100 invitees to the seminar include bishops, provincials and other Church leaders from India, the priest said.
  New Colombo archbishop calls for cooperation to rebuild country
COLOMBO, AUGUST 12 (UCAN): Newly installed Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo has called upon majority Sinhalese people and the international community to help rebuild his country ravaged by decades of civil war.

During an August 10 ceremony held to honor his episcopal appointment, he urged the majority Sinhalese community to "reach out to" the minority Tamil citizens. He asked the Sinhalese people to do everything possible "to ensure" that the Tamils' "identity and dignity as a people is respected, their rights safeguarded," lest they "fall back on to the lap of extremists again."

Sri Lanka's 25-year civil war ended in May with the military defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels. About 300,000 civilians are still in refugee camps.

The archbishop also appealed "to all international bodies and governments" to help "the government of Sri Lanka to redevelop the devastated North and East... so that the Tamils and the Sinhalese here can find unity, a new sense of freedom, equality and dignity."

The ceremony was jointly organised by the Colombo Archbishop House and the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse attended the event, together with 300 Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu and Christian religious leaders, and 800 others.

Archbishop Ranjith, 61, was installed Colombo archbishop on August 5 after Pope Benedict XVI appointed him to the post in June. He took over from Archbishop Oswald Gomis of Colombo, who reached the official retirement age of 75 over a year ago.

Archbishop Ranjith had worked as secretary of the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments prior to his new appointment.

In his speech, he also stressed the importance of different religious communities working together to bringing about true peace and reconciliation.

Archbishop Ranjith's call comes amidst economic hardships Sri Lankans are facing due to the long civil war, mounting foreign debt and the global economic downturn.

"There is no point in punishing further the poor and the suffering in the affected regions through sanctions, economic or political. Sanctions cannot bring about healing. They can only make the situation worse for those displaced in the camps," the archbishop said.

President Rajapakse praised the Church's contribution toward the peace process and the country's economic development. He said he appreciated the efforts by the new archbishop to rebuild the image of the country. "His installation as (Colombo) archbishop at this moment is a gift to foster unity and nation building," he said.

Minister for Religious Affairs Pandu Bandaranayke, told UCA News he believes the archbishop will "take the country on a new path where people are united, setting aside differences."

Archbishop Ranjith in the past had been involved in the country's peace efforts and dealt with both the state government and Tamil rebels.
  Church mourns layman who helped found major lay organisation
  THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, AUGUST 12 (UCAN): The Church in India is mourning the death of a layman, who, along with some priests, founded what has been billed as Asia's largest lay organisation.

Pallattukunnel Chemmalamattom Abraham, also known as P.C. Abraham and popularly known as "Kunjettan" (little brother), died on August 11 in a hospital in Kerala, nine days after he was involved in a road accident.

The funeral is scheduled for August 13 at Chemmalamattam, his native parish in Palai diocese. Abraham was 84 and survived by his wife and seven children.

"I mourn the death of a person who led such an ideal Christian life," Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil of Ernakulam-Angamaly, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, said in his condolence message. The prelate recalled that Abraham had inspired thousands of young people to become missioners working in India and abroad.

The cardinal said the Indian Church had honored Abraham for his contributions to the Cherupushpa (little flower) Mission League he founded 63 years ago.

The league is a forum for young people in parishes that helps missions by raising funds and offering prayers. It conducts regular programs on the life and needs of missions in India and overseas.

The league has some 1.7 million members and about 41,500 of its former members are now nuns and priests serving the Church throughout the world. Among them are 37 bishops. Three of Abraham's four daughters are nuns.

"Kunjettan's death is a great loss for the Church in India," said Archbishop Joseph Perumthottam of Changanasserry in his condolence message. The archbishop, a former Mission League member, hailed Abraham as a "unique" lay missioner who was the lifeblood of his lay organisation.

Archbishop Mathew Moolakkatt of Kottayam noted that the late lay missioner led a simple life and was inspired by the teachings of a local saint, Saint Alphonsa.

Abraham's home village was near Bharananganam where Saint Alphonsa, a nun, spent the last 10 years of her life. He was 21 when she died in 1946.

In an interview with UCA News in 2008, Abraham recalled how the saint used to ask him to pray for missioners whenever he went to seek her blessings. He later joined a Capuchin seminary but was sent home because of his poor health.

Retired Bishop Joseph Pallikaparampil of Palai, mourning Abraham's death, noted the layman spent six decades nurturing the growth of the Mission League. "He met with his accident while on a League-related journey. The Church has lost a big missioner," he said.

Bishop Jacob Manathodath of Palghat said Abraham had sacrificed his entire life in selflessly serving the Indian Church's missionary apostolate.

Bishop Varghese Chakkalakal of Kannur said Abraham played a leading role in maintaining the mission spirit in Kerala. According to him, the Mission League has been most instrumental in producing religious vocations in Kerala.

A sizeable number of priests and nuns working in India's 160 dioceses come from this state.

Chacko Sebastian, secretary of the Syro Malabar Church laity commission, told UCA News "Kunjettan" was instrumental in him joining the Mission league when he was only 11. "Like me, thousands of children joined the movement. He always encouraged people to serve the Church without looking for positions or profit. He was a role model to all of us," the 46-year-old lay leader added.

Joseph Thomas, a Catholic youth from Palai who had worked with Abraham, noted that the missioner had a positive approach to life. "His presence alone motivated people to serve people and the Church."
  Religious leaders in Indonesia praise police for combating terrorism
  JAKARTA, AUGUST 11 (UCAN): Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu and Muslim leaders in Indonesia have applauded efforts by the national police and its special counterterrorism squad in combating terrorism in the country.

Their praise comes in the wake of the elite Detachment 88 unit exchanging fire with terror suspects at a house in Beji village, in Central Java's Temanggung district, on August 7.

Noordin Mohammad Top, Southeast Asia's most wanted terror suspect from Malaysia, was allegedly found dead inside the house after an intense 18-hour shootout. Noordin was reportedly behind the twin suicide blasts at the Ritz Carlton and J.W. Marriott hotels in Jakarta on July 17.

"If the man shot dead in the village is really the man whom we are looking for... Alhamdulillah (praise to God)," Masdar Farid Masudi, chairperson of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia, told UCA News.

While thanking the national police for their work, Masudi also pointed to factors giving rise to terrorism -- extreme and intolerant interpretations of religious teachings, poverty and backwardness, and injustice.

Similarly, Amidhan, who heads the Islamic Ulema (scholars) Council, commented, "I do appreciate the efforts taken by the national police, especially Detachment 88, in catching terror suspects."

He however suggested that all people in the country should "be aware and increase security levels in their own areas in order to prevent terror suspects from entering their localities."

Father Yohanes Rasul Edy Purwanto, executive secretary of the bishops' Commission for Laity, also commended the anti-terrorism efforts.

Noting that some people have raised doubts as to whether the man shot dead was in fact Noordin, the priest said that nevertheless, "the most important thing is that the national police have carried out their tasks professionally."

Philip Wijaya, secretary general of the Trusteeship of Indonesian Buddhists (Walubi) also praised the police, but said: "They need to work harder because terrorists still exist in this country. They threaten our nation and harm our country's image in the eyes of the world."

He expressed hope that religious leaders would be able to offer their people adequate religious education and foster tolerance in society.

Nyoman Udayana Sanggih from the Association of Indonesian Hindu Dharma (PHDI) said he salutes the national police for their efforts.

"The Jakarta Post" English daily reported on August 10 that the national police have taken blood samples from Noordin's children in Malaysia for DNA testing to establish if he was indeed the man shot dead.

According to National Police Chief General Bambang Hendarso Danuri, police need at least a week before they can release the results to the public.

The daily also reported that police killed two members belonging to the Al Qaeda-linked Southeast Asian terror network Jemaah Islamiyah -- Air Setiawan and Eko Joko Sarjono -- during a raid in Jati Asih in West Java on August 8.

According to police, both planned to blow themselves up at the residence of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Cikeas, south of Jakarta. Police found half a ton of explosives at their residence.
  Pune Catholic diocese braces for swine flu outbreak
  PUNE, AUGUST 11 (UCAN): Poona diocese has closed all its educational institutions and postponed several programs as swine flu claimed its fifth victim in the western Indian city on August 11.

Elsewhere in the country, the disease has claimed five other victims and affected nearly 900 people. The worst hit is Pune (formerly Poona), the cultural capital of Maharashtra state.
The Pune administration, too, has directed educational institutions to close for a week as more cases of infection were reported.
The diocese's 50 schools and three colleges closed as more cases were reported in the last three days in the city, said Father Louise D'Mello, secretary of the Poona Diocesan Board of Education.

The priest, who is also the principal of Vidya Bhavan Higher Secondary School, said it was "painful and sad" that many students have contracted the virus. All Catholic institutions will close for seven days starting August 11 as a precautionary measure, he said, adding that all their 1,900 students have been instructed not to leave their homes during the week.

The city's first victim was a student of St. Anne's High School managed by the Congregation of the Religious of Jesus and Mary. The 14-year-old Muslim girl died on August 3.

Sister Silvia Coelho, the principal, said the ninth grader's death was "tragic and painful" and the management immediately closed the school for two days as a mark of respect.
Sister Coelho said government authorities tested all her 2,200 girls for the virus and two more girls tested positive, sparking panic in the city. The government medical teams then disinfected all the classrooms, the nun added.
Janice Fernandes, chairperson of the parish council of St. Patrick's Cathedral, said the parish has postponed its Confirmation ceremony as 19 girls from St. Anne's High School would be involved. The children were attending Confirmation classes at Bishop's House for the past one month. "We did not want to take any chance of spreading the infection," the mother of a college-going daughter said.

Father Malcolm Sequeira, Poona diocesan spokesperson, said the diocese has canceled catechism class on Sundays as the city reported more deaths. He said 800 children attend catechism classes and 182 children attended Confirmation classes at the Bishop's House. He said the diocese would announce new dates for Confirmation.

Father Sequeira said the diocese will also issue prayer leaflets in two days "as only prayers can heal, deliver us from the pandemic disease that is spreading rapidly."

Jesuit Father Peter D'Cruz, manager of Loyola High School, said they closed the school for two days after two of their 1,500 students tested positive in the first week of August.

St. Joseph High School, another school managed by the Jesus and Mary congregation, cancelled its prize-giving ceremony on Aug. 7. School officials said it was a "precautionary move."

Father D'Mello said some principals and other representatives of Catholic schools attended a meeting convened by the Maharashtra state health directorate in the first week of August. "We are meticulously following the heath advisory issued by the state health officials," he added.
  First Cambodian Salatian nun takes vows; parents accept daughter's decision
  PHNOM PENH, AUGUST 10 (UCAN): The Salesian nuns in Cambodia have cause to celebrate. For the first time since the congregation started here 16 years ago, a local member of their congregation made her first vows.

Wearing a white habit and with her head covered, Sister Mary Tang Sovathanak, 29, described the occasion as "a special day" since she is now a "bride of Christ."

"I don't have anything to give him back," she said, "only my life to him."

More than 150 people attended the special Mass, concelebrated by the heads of the three Church jurisdictions in Cambodia, to mark the occasion on August 5.

Monsignor Antonysamy Susairaj, apostolic prefect of Kompong Cham, where Sister Sovathanak comes from, presided at the Mass, held at the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center for girls at Tek Thla, Phnom Penh.

Sister Sarah Garcia, superior of the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco in Cambodia said she is overjoyed at the occasion. "My prayer is that she will be able to live out her journey faithfully," she said.

All the other 20 Salesian nuns in Cambodia are foreigners.

Bishop Susairaj, in his homily, said he is aware that Sister Sovathanak's parents may not be entirely happy with her decision. However, he reminded everyone that being a nun does not mean leaving one's family.

Moreover, the bishop asserted that Sister Sovathanak, in responding to God's call, "will help many young people who need education" through her ministry.

The bishop also pointed out that Sister Sovathanak's mother was one of the first Catholics in Kompong Cham when the Church revived here in the 1990s after decades of civil war and religious persecution.

Sister Sovathanak studied at the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center for girls, run by the Salesian congregation, and graduated in 2003 in secretarial and computer studies. It was while studying at the center that she first decided to become a Salesian nun.

"I was attracted to the simple life of the nuns. They are always smiling and putting their lives in God's hands, even though they encounter problems." Moreover, she said, "holiness does not come from just impressive deeds, but also from small acts carried out with love."

Sister Sovathanak is the oldest in her family of four children. Her father, a Buddhist, is director of a primary school, and her mother, a Catholic, is a vendor at the local market.

Speaking after the ceremony, Sister Sovathanak's father, Tang Phirom, 51, admitted he had wanted his daughter to marry and have children, but now accepts his daughter's decision.

The Salesian Sisters in Cambodia run a secretarial and computer program, a food and home management program, and a literacy and sewing program for girls in Phnom Penh and Battambang. They also run two kindergartens, one primary school, and a hostel for 20 high school girls in Phnom Penh.

Out of a total of about 100 nuns in Cambodia, only seven are Cambodians.

  Christians in Pakistan remember victims of Gojra violence
GOJRA (PAKISTAN), AUGUST 10 (UCAN): More than 500 people packed the Sacred Heart Church in Gojra recently to remember those who died in anti-Christian rioting.

Banners with phrases such as "We salute the dignity of Christian martyrs" and "Martyrs' blood is the seed of the Church," fluttered in the Catholic Church compound during the August 6 memorial Mass.

Photos of the Christians who died in the August 1. violence were also placed in front of the altar.

The Mass, celebrated by parish priest Father Shafique Hadayat, saw Church of Pakistan Bishop John Samuel of Faisalabad, sharing his thoughts on the tragedy with the congregation.

He noted that "we live in a world with conflicting beliefs."

"While we believe those killed for their faith go to heaven, there are those who kill others for the promise of heaven. Only the Word of God can bring comfort to our heavy hearts," he said.

Shahbaz Bhatti, Federal Minster for Minorities, also attended the Mass.

In his address at the end of Mass, Father Hadayat thanked government authorities for their support during this tragic period. "It was the deadliest attack on Christians in the history of this country," he said. "I believe their blood will not go wasted and will bring about a revolt against the black (blasphemy) laws."

Seven Catholics were burnt alive when a Muslim mob vandalized and looted 68 Christian houses and damaged two Protestant churches in Gojra on August 1. The violence came in the wake of an attack on the nearby Christian village of Korian on July 30. Tensions arose after pages containing Islamic inscriptions were found in front of a Christian home. Muslims then accused the family of blasphemy against Islam.

Blasphemy laws in the Muslim-majority country make an insult to the Qur'an an offense punishable by up to life imprisonment, while giving the death penalty for anyone convicted of insulting Prophet Muhammad.

According to Church sources, the death toll from the rioting has now risen to 10, including three children and three women. Police have arrested 80 Muslims for the attacks and a police post has now been established in Gojra.

According to Sri Lankan Sister Teresa Pereira, superior of the Holy Family Sisters, the violence sparked safety concerns for the four nuns who run a school in Gojra. "Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad advised them to leave for Lahore, but they returned to Gojra after only one night. We decided to be with our people in their hour of need," she said.

Federal Minister Bhatti later distributed checks worth 499,400 rupees (US$6,242) among grieving relatives. He also appealed to Christians who fled during the violence to return to Gojra, and announced that the government will rebuild all the damaged houses.

Among those who received compensation was Almas Hamid, a Catholic, whose wife and two of his children were burned alive during the violence. Two other children are still in hospital, he told UCA News, pointing to third-degree burn marks on his back.
  Indian Christians protest killings in Pakistan
NEW DELHI, AUGUST 10 (UCAN): Indians have demonstrated outside the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi to protest the killing of Christians in the neighboring country.

"We are terribly shocked and pained at the killings and the burning of Christian houses in Pakistan," said Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi who led the demonstration on Aug. 7. About 60 Christians from various denominations took part in the event.

Archbishop Concessao is the president of the National United Christian Forum, the ecumenical body that organized the protest.

Later an eight-member delegation submitted a memorandum to the Pakistani High Commissioner in India addressed to the president of Pakistan, Asif Zardari. The memorandum demanded that Zardari take strong action against those persecuting Christians.

"The High Commissioner said Pakistan is already taking necessary steps to control the violence, and for the protection" of minorities in his country, Archbishop Concessao later told the media.

Ten people have since died in the wake of the Aug. 1 violence, when a Muslim mob vandalized and looted 68 Christian houses and damaged two Protestant churches in Gojra. The tragedy occurred two days after an attack on the nearby Christian village of Korian. Tensions arose after pages containing Islamic inscriptions were found in front of a Christian home. Muslims then accused the family of blasphemy against Islam.

Archbishop Concessao told UCA News the issue is very serious and should be addressed as soon as possible. He said the High Commissioner told him the violence occurred in villages where many people are illiterate.

The prelate said his forum has urged the Pakistan government to remove the country's much abused blasphemy laws.

These laws in the Muslim-majority country make an insult to the Qur'an an offense punishable by up to life imprisonment, while giving the death penalty for anyone convicted of insulting Prophet Muhammad.

Archbishop Concessao said these laws have been frequently misinterpreted and have led to the loss of life.

John Dayal, general secretary of the All India Christian Council, told the gathering that in Pakistan people use the blasphemy laws to attack Christians.

The memorandum said Christians in India support the demands of civil society and minority communities in Pakistan for the arrest of the perpetrators of the violence. It also urged peace building in Pakistan to help minority groups live in safety.

Orthodox Church leader Ramban M. S. Sakariah of Delhi, who was part of the delegation that met the high commissioner, told UCA News, "We hope for peace and are organizing prayers so that God can bless those who died and forgive the perpetrators."
  Caritas helps tribal people retain 'ancestral lands' in Bangladesh
  MYMENSINGH (BANGLADESH), AUGUST 10 (UCAN): For many years, tribal Garo people fought alone to keep their mortgaged ancestral lands from being given up to moneylenders.

In most cases, their efforts proved fruitless until a Caritas project in Mymensingh gave them hope.

Marcel Mankhin, 40, is one of those who has lost land to money lenders and through government requisitions.

He claims his land was taken because he had no documents to support ownership. "A few years ago, the government took an acre (0.4 hectares) of land from me and gave it to someone else because the land was not registered. I went to the land office and tried to register the land but it was never given back to me" said, Mankhin, a Catholic Garo.

Most Garo people are Catholics.

"More recently, I risked losing my house as I know nothing about land rights and registration," said Mankhin.

However, Caritas, through its Land Retention and Development (LRD) department in Mymensingh, helped him apply for land registration on his remaining property with the deputy commissioner in the district.

Mankhin, a laborer from Dighalbagh in Bhalukapara parish, holds out little hope of reclaiming the land he lost to the government, but he now looks forward to getting his legal documents on his house.

Since 2007, LRD has been helping tribal Garos, regardless of religious affiliation, to retain their lands mortgaged to moneylenders as well as have their lands registered. LRD's work, which includes an awareness campaign and interest-free loans, is part of the Integrated Community Development Project (ICDP) of Caritas Mymensingh.

Caritas has ICDPs serving ethnic communities in various parts of the country -- Barisal, Dinajpur, Gazipur, Moulovibazar, Mymensingh, Rajshahi, Sylhet and the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The ICDPs provide training, help communities to generate income and provide awareness on health and education issues for integral human development.

Under the Mymensingh project, about 100 people whose lands are not registered but whose families have been living on them for centuries have now applied for land registration through Caritas.

Anupoma Rongdi, 32, a Garo Catholic schoolteacher from Bhuiyan Para also applied for land legalization through Caritas. She said she knew nothing about land rights in the Muslim-majority country before she attended a Caritas seminar this year.

"Some Muslims have a constant yearning for tribal land," she alleged. "As a result they have taken so much because we didn't know how to go about defending what is ours.

According to Biplob Ghagra, Community Development Officer for the Mymensingh ICDP, Caritas has also provided about 2.88 million taka (US$41,528) in interest-free loans to help keep 193 acres of mortgaged lands from moneylenders. Borrowers pay the money back in monthly installments.

About 400 tribal Garo families are benefiting from these loans.

Furthermore, Caritas is seeking to reclaim and legalize about 800 acres of tax-free and mortgaged lands via negotiations with the local government.

The Mymensingh ICDP has also established a Village Development Committee (VDC) to make people more aware and unite them over land rights.

According to the Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples' Forum, the country's indigenous tribal population numbers about 2 million, less than 1 percent of the total population of 150 million people.
  Catholics discuss whether government should manage Church properties
  NEW DELHI, AUGUST 10 (UCAN): A row has erupted among Catholics in India after several lay leaders demanded that the government be allowed to manage Church property.

Members of the clergy and other lay people are opposed to the demand.

The call for such management by the government was raised at a public forum during a July 28 seminar in Panaji, capital of Goa. The All India Catholic Union (AICU), a leading lay group in the country, was one of the co-hosts of the event.

Retired Supreme Court judge K.T. Thomas, one of the speakers, said a law for governing Church property would ensure accountability and transparency, and that every religious leader should welcome it. Those opposing the move could have some "sinister motive" to misuse the assets, he alleged.

Another speaker, Eduardo Falerio, a former federal minister, noted that in other parts of the world, government laws control Churches, but India allows for canon law. "Religious organizations cannot form a state within a state," the Catholic politician asserted.

The demand echoed a recommendation by the minority commission of a central Indian state earlier this year. The commission wanted the Madhya Pradesh government to set up a board to manage Church properties, similar to the Waqf (foundation) Board for Muslims.

That body, set up in 1995 to manage properties for religious and charitable purposes, supports Muslim institutions. It allocates money generated from the properties as well as from donations.

However, the government rejected the proposal after Church groups argued that unlike the assets the Waqf Board oversees, Church properties were purchased, not received from the government as charity.

However, others elsewhere are supporting the move for government management of Church properties. Most prominent among them is Joseph Pulikunnel, who directs the Indian Institute of Christian Studies in Kerala.

According to him, canon law allows bishops, as the Pope's representatives, to administer Church property using legislative, executive and judicial powers. Though Church properties are acquired through contributions by its lay people, they, however, have no say in their administration, he noted.

"The head of the Vatican, a sovereign state, has taken over the administration of Church property in India, another sovereign state," Pulikunnel told UCA News, adding that this is a bad legal move.

He also points out that the property of other religions in India are managed by government-appointed committees. The exemption for the Church is discrimination, he argues and adds that a law to administer Church property is "overdue."

He said the controversy arises from a misunderstanding. What some lay leaders are demanding is not that the government take over Church property, but a government law that allows elected representatives to form trusts and societies for the administration of parish and diocesan properties.

The AICU has, however, rejected the demand for government intervention. "Transparency in Church affairs is an internal matter for the community. The laws of the land are sufficient to check any irregularity," asserts AICU spokesperson John Dayal, who is also a member of the federal government's National Integration Council.

Dayal also points out that the Church uses its property to serve India's poor. Most of its beneficiaries are the Dalit and tribal people. Government interference and subsequent political and administrative intervention could throttle "this critical freedom to reach out to the poorest of the poor," he stated.

Father Babu Joseph, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), dismisses the demand as preposterous. "Government interference is not warranted in the existing practices of management of Church property," he told UCA News.

Church property, the Divine Word priest pointed out, is already governed by the laws controlling societies and trusts. Church groups get their accounts audited and submit reports to the government regularly, he said, adding that the government can probe irregularities and take proper corrective action under current laws.
  Amartya Sen says Right to Food Act and more are required to fight under-nutrition
  From A Correspondent

NEW DELHI, AUGUST 8: Nobel-laureate Amartya Sen has welcomed the proposed Right to Food Act and argued for wide-ranging legal entitlements. He was addressing a Press Conference at the Press Club of India here this morning. (See photograph alongside)

Professor Sen began by recalling the magnitude of hunger and malnutrition in India, calling this a "shocking situation". He pointed out, for instance, that malnutrition levels are much higher in India than in most African countries. In this context, he stressed that the idea of the Right to Food Act was "extremely important".

Professor Sen said that there were many reasons for this situation, including poverty, unemployment, lack of health care, and gender inequality, among others. Accordingly, he argued, there is a need for a range of interventions, to address different aspects of the problem. Programmes such as NREGA, ICDS and the Public Distribution System (PDS) have much to contribute, but no single programme will suffice -- "we need them all," he said.

Further, Professor Sen highlighted the complementarity between different interventions, and the close links between malnutrition, poor health, illiteracy, and other deprivations. He gave the example of the mid-day meal scheme, an "almost magical way of intervening" on different fronts at the same time.

Coming back to the Right to Food Act, Professor Sen said that the first step was to defend what already exists, as programmes of this kind are "attacked all the time". The next step is to expand the scope of these programmes and develop a comprehensive system of food entitlements and nutrition interventions.

Professor Sen also spoke at length about maternal undernourishment, as a neglected aspect of food deprivation in India. Recent research has brought out the close links between women's under-nutrition, maternal under-nutrition, low birth-weight and child under-nutrition. India is a "copybook case" of this vicious sequence of deprivations, he said.

Among other neglected aspects of the nutrition situation, Professor Sen highlighted the lack of health care. He strongly criticized India's "ghastly premature privatisation" of health care.

Asked about his views on "targeting versus universalisation" of the PDS, Professor Sen said that there were strong arguments for universalisation. For instance, a universal system is less divisive, and helps to create a strong public demand for quality services. A targeted system, on the other hand, always involves exclusion errors. These arguments for universalisation are "not dismissible", he said, but may need to be weighed against the possible costs.

There were also other presentations on this occasion. Kavita Srivastava (convenor of the steering group of the Right to Food Campaign) presented the campaign's "essential demands" for the Right to Food Act. Harsh Mander, Supreme Court Commissioner, highlighted the role of the Act in eliminating hunger and vulnerability. Jean Drèze, Allahabad University, presented a possible framework for the Act, on behalf of a larger working group.

Professor Sen welcomed these ideas and expressed his strong support for this initiative. "At least we have a proposal," he said. He said that the proposal was particularly timely, as rapid economic growth has made it possible to undertake ambitious social programmes.
  My Country My Life: Advani tries to reach Muslims through Urdu

By Andalib Akhter

NEW DELHI, AUGUST 8: Despite the fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could not get the support of Muslims in the last general elections, the party's effort to woo the community has been going on.

The release of Mr Lal Krishna Advani's autobiographical book in Urdu on August 7 evening was another attempt in this direction.

Mr Advani, who is the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, praised Urdu like any other lover of the language. At a function to release his book 'Mera Watan Meri Zindagi', the Urdu edition of 'My Country My Life', he said that Urdu occupies a special place in India's linguistic bouquet, which charms everybody with its hues and aroma. The language was not confined to any particular state or region. "Just as Hindi is spoken or at least understood in most parts of the country, the same is true about Urdu also", he said.

The book was released by journalist M J Akbar in the presence of several Urdu editors and BJP leaders, including party president Rajnath Singh.

Seeing a good market for his book in Pakistan, Mr Advani said that Urdu-speaking people in general, not only in India but also in neighbouring Pakistan, would be able to read his autobiography in their own tongue. "I hope that the book will help them know me better and also know more about my party and the many socio-political issues and developments that I have witnessed in my six-decade long public life".

Mr Advani said that India's linguistic diversity was a very unique and proud feature of our national identity. "There is simply no other country in the world that has accorded the status of "scheduled language" to 22 languages as India has done in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. As far as dialects in India are concerned, their number may well run into thousands”, he said.

Mr Advani hoped that the book would help Urdu readers to sift the truth from many misconceptions that have been spread about the ideological underpinning of the BJP. "Is cultural nationalism a religious concept? No. Is it anti-Islam and anti-Muslim? No," he said.

He said that cultural nationalism holds that India's national identity is defined by its unifying and integrating culture, which transcends its religious and other diversities. "I was born and grew up in an environment of cultural nationalism. In the first phase of the book, which deals with the first 20 years of my life that I spent in Sindh, I have described how the social and cultural ethos of the province was informed by a remarkable harmony and peaceful coexistence between Hindus and Muslims".

"I have illustrated in my book the best traditions of Sindhiyat by referring to the teachings of Shah Abdul Latif 'Bhitai', who is universally regarded as the greatest Sindhi poet of all times. He composed poems in praise of Rama. I have also referred to Sachal Sarmast, who described himself as a "Jogi" and advocated brotherhood among Hindus and Muslims under one single benevolent God".

Mr Advani added, "I have described how the Sufi tradition is deeply ingrained, even today, in my wife Kamla's family. Her mother was a devoted follower of the famous Sufi saint, Sain Qutab Shah, whose dargah in Hyderabad she regularly visited. She used to sing Sufi kalaams, gurbani and songs about Ram and Krishna with equal piety. My wife's sister Sarla and her husband visit Pakistan almost every year to pay obeisance at the dargah of Sain Nasir Faqir, another widely respected Sufi saint.

He appealed to the Muslims to understand cultural nationalism in the right perspective. "The tragic Partition of India in 1947, on the basis of the spurious two-nation theory, created problems in Hindu-Muslim relations in India, besides engendering problems in the relations between India and Pakistan. It is time to remove prejudices and rebuild unity based on our common cultural heritage," the leader of opposition said.

In a veiled threat, he asked Muslims to abandon their claim on Babri Masjid. "The best and the most enduring solution to a sensitive issue like this is to arrive at an amicable settlement through dialogue between leaders of the Hindu and Muslim communities. I would also like to reiterate another belief of mine: nothing can contribute to Hindu-Muslim harmony better than a positive gesture by the Muslim community on this emotional issue close to the hearts of millions of Hindus", he said.

Mr Advani also said that his party was firmly committed to secularism. "We chose to support and join the Ayodhya movement only because of the prevailing atmosphere of pseudo-secularism. If secularism had not been perverted to subserve the interests of vote bank politics, I am sure the course of the Ayodhya movement would have been significantly different.

"Vote bank politics has not helped you. It has helped its practitioners, but not you. It has kept a large section of your community backward, economically and educationally, as the Sachar Committee report has shown", Mr Advani contended.

Releasing the book, Mr M J Akbar said that no party can rule the country by ignoring 15 per cent of its population. He also said that Urdu has not yet got its right status in the country. He said the tendency of conflict-creation was increasing while there was need to resolve conflicts amicably.

Editor of 'Urdu Rashtriya Sahara' Aziz Burny said that what Advani has written about the killings in Karachi in his book was similar to what happened in Delhi as described in Maulana Azad's book 'India Wins Freedom'. Maualana Wahiduddin Khan praised Mr Advani as a dynamic leader.

Interestingly, the book was to be released before the general election. But no Known Urdu publisher was ready to publish it. After much persuasion, Khan Publishers agreed to oblige the BJP leader on the condition that the book's title would remain the same.

  Displaced minorities return to Swat Valley in Pakistan
MARDAN (PAKISTAN), AUGUST 8 (UCAN): Christian and Sikh families have started returning to the Swat Valley and surrounding areas following their displacement during military operations against Taliban militants.

The federal government announced the start of the repatriation process on July 13 following the three-month offensive against the Taliban in North West Frontier Province.

The military claims that more than 1,800 militants and 166 security personnel died in the operation. Security forces are still conducting search operations in the northern tribal areas.

According to Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, 177,610 out of the 329,792 registered families displaced from Malakand division have returned home.

The refugees also include Christian and Sikh families who were ordered by the army to leave their homes.

The Church of Pakistan has been running three camps for about 600 displaced families in Mardan and Peshawar using two churches and a technical center. About 350 of these families have returned home since the repatriation process began.

The family of Ayub Masih, who have been living at Sarhadi Lutheran Church in Mardan, will be returning home too.

Speaking to UCA News on Aug. 6, the sweeper from Batkhela near Swat said, "We are happy to leave today for home after waiting three months for this moment." He said the money the government has given as compensation to displaced families "might last for a few months during which I will keep searching for a job."

Masih hopes that things would improve in his town where there have been severe food shortages because of lengthy curfews.

Most of the 485 Sikh families taking refuge at the gurdwara in Peshawar and Hasan Abdal also left in late July. "About 80 per cent have returned and those staying are the ones whose houses were completely destroyed," said Sardar Kalyan Singh Kalyan, secretary-general of the Guru Nanak Ji Mission, a Sikh organization.

However, Kalyan still has doubts regarding the security of minorities in the conflict-hit areas. "I cannot predict a peaceful existence for Sikh minorities. They might have to move to other provinces in the near future," he said.

Anila J. Gill, national executive secretary of Caritas Pakistan, said she disagrees with federal government claims that the military has "eliminated" the Taliban militants.

"The government has to make plans to address not only reconstruction but also the root causes of extremism," she said. "The Taliban kidnap young boys and train them in camps to become mujahid (warriors of God). The militant groups have their recruiting centers in all provinces especially in parts of Punjab both in the north and south. Thus terrorism is not only limited to Swat."

According to Caritas Pakistan's Disaster Management Department, the organization has distributed tents, mattresses, pillows, bed sheets and fans to those displaced.
  Ecclesiastical warfare in UK mirrors battle in North American church
  By David W. Virtue

A FEW short years ago, I argued that the war over pansexual acceptance now being waged in North American Anglicanism would sooner or later sweep across the Atlantic and hit the UK. I received letters of outrage from bishops and clergy, many conservative, suggesting, none too politely, that "we don't do that sort of thing. Sodomy is your problem ol' boy, not ours, you keep your problems to yourself, we don't want them... It'll never happen here."

This week the remaining scales were blown from everyone's eyes when pan-sexuality hit the Church of England with hurricane force. A headline in "The London Times" read "Liberal Anglicans declare war on conservatives in the Church."

Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent for "The Times" cried that liberals in the Church of England have declared war on conservatives, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams.

Condemning as "flawed" Dr Williams's recent declaration that the way forward lay in a "twin-track" Anglican Communion, 13 liberal groups revealed plans to bring same-sex blessings and gay ordination to England, as has happened in the Episcopal Church in the US. Their strategy will be to attempt to win the General Synod, the Church's governing body currently dominated by evangelicals, over to the liberal cause. The opportunity will come next year when the quinquennial elections for a new synod are due, wrote Gledhill.

"Liberals from organizations such as Inclusive Church, set up and led by Giles Fraser, the new canon chancellor of St Paul's, and the long-established Modern Churchpeople's Union, will attempt to win key seats throughout the Church's 44 dioceses in what look likely to be the hardest fought elections since the synod came into being in 1970 and which could turn into a battle for the soul of the established Church," she wrote.

It is schism in all but name. Dr. Williams has viewed that the actions, taken at GC2009 allowing non-celibate pansexualists to all orders of ministry and rites for same-sex blessings, should not be seen in "apocalyptic terms of schism and excommunication", but rather as "two styles of being Anglican". In Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Future, Dr. Williams has relegated liberal Churches like the Episcopal Church to an inferior position in a two-tier Communion.

This has led to liberals and homosexuals crying foul. Organizations as diverse as women priests, lesbian and gay Christians, liberal Affirming Catholics and evangelicals have joined forces to condemn Dr. Williams's response as being "flawed". They intend to plan their own strategy in order to effect the same innovations in England as have been made in North America and that have plunged the Anglican Communion into schism.

"We wish to reaffirm our loyalty to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in the scriptures, our commitment to the Anglican way, and our celebration of and thanksgiving for the tradition and life of the Church of England," the liberal groups said.

Referring to Dr. Williams's reference to same-sex unions as a "chosen life-style" and his assertion that those who have made such a commitment are analogous to "a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond", they accused Dr. Williams of being inconsistent in the light of past statements he has made, which gave the impression of a more liberal stance.

Signatories to the letter, such as Inclusive Church, are planning a survey of all gay and lesbian clergy in the Church of England. They believe that in some dioceses, such as London and Southwark, the number may be as high as one in five. They also intend to conduct a survey to find out how many same-sex blessings have been carried out in secret.

A number of voices have been raised in England challenging the notion that the liberals can coalesce into a body and win. One senior cleric told VOL, "Their battle plan won't work: anyone trying to get elected on that ticket is doomed. And what is more, there will be few liberal bishops left in 12 months' time -- anyone identifying himself as a gay campaigner will very likely face episcopal displeasure. I think they have missed the tide in England -- the future here is firmly Evangelical."

The Rev. Peter Ould, an ex-gay Church of England priest (and evangelical), criticized Williams for saying that the voices of gay, bisexual and trans people have not been adequately heard within recent discussions. "I find this hard to believe. There have been numerous consultations, uncountable Diocesan and Deanery panels, seminars and discussions on the issue. Every time you go to a Church political event (e.g. Synod) the stands are there."

"If anything, England (and the wider United Kingdom) is the place where the discussion has happened, but the real problem for Inclusive Church is that despite a generation of talking and listening, the conservatives haven't changed their mind because no good Biblical argument has been presented to support endorsing, let alone blessing, homosexual relationships. All that the revisionist groups have to go on is '"justice'".

The Rev. John P. Richardson writing at his blog asked, has "open warfare" been declared in the Church of England? He observed that the release of the statement by a number of Anglican groups is in Anglican-speak, "fighting talk".

He also noted that evangelicals are not united naming three evangelical groupings listed as signatories to the statement including Accepting Evangelicals, Courage and the Evangelical Fellowship of Lesbian and Gay Anglicans. "This is symptomatic of the 'drift' in evangelicalism generally, which now means that in some quarters, the acceptance of same-sex relationships is regarded as a personal matter and a subject for dialogue rather than correction."

"I am, therefore, personally adopting a 'wait and see' approach as to whether this is, indeed, part of a greater plan or merely a letting-off-of-steam."

Richardson noted that at least the "liberals" managed to get their act together enough to issue a joint statement. The orthodox have managed no such thing, citing mutual hostilities between evangelicals. That is not encouraging. What all this really calls for, however, is immediate and courageous clarity from Evangelicals, and all the orthodox, writes Richardson.

Ironically, it was only a few months ago that the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, a coalition of nearly 2,000 Evangelicals met in London, with the endorsement of the Queen, to confess the historic faith and talk up the church's genuine mission of evangelism and discipleship. Such illustrious figures as Southern Cone Archbishop Greg Venables lent their voices of support along with other evangelical luminaries including Archbishop Robert Duncan and Canadian Anglican Bishop Donald Harvey, moderator of the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC).

One would have to be somewhat blind not to see that GAFCON, AC-NA and FCA are a new Anglican super structure in the making.

Of course, TEC's Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is not without a certain amount of resourcefulness of her own. You will recall the 16 flags that flew at GC2006 and her oft-repeated "I am Presiding Bishop of TEC" and then reeling off her 16 diocesan franchises in the face of Dr. Rowan Williams in Jamaica. There are rumours that she is interested in forging more permanent links between liberal parishes in England and The Episcopal Church, rather as orthodox African and Southern Cone provinces have done in setting up orthodox dioceses in the US (now under one umbrella). If Jefferts Schori did set up an outpost in London, it would be to commit ecclesiastical suicide. Not only would it be a slap in the face to Rowan Williams, it is doubtful that the liberal loving Anglican Consultative Council could justify such a move and would be forced to take sides. Even they do not want to run afoul of Synod as their funding comes in part from them as well as TEC. By her actions, the ACC might also be rendered irrelevant.

Even as the ecclesiastical battle heightens and looms larger, property battles will continue in The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. Millions of dollars worth of properties are at stake and millions of dollars will be spent defending or taking these properties away from their rightful owners.

William Wantland, Bishop of Eau Claire (ret) and assisting Bishop of Ft. Worth, spoke prophetically in 2006 at the Forward in Faith Convocation in Chicago, when he said, "I wish I could tell you that things are going to be simple and clear cut, and quick. It's not. Different people are at different places in their life, and there are different areas in which there is an attempt made to find ways of either living together intentioned or for amicable separation if there is no other way. But in many places, it is almost what it is like unfortunately going on in the Middle East today warfare. 'You dare challenge me, I will kill you. I will take your property."
  Orissa Christians scared as 1st anniversary of violence looms
KANDHAMAL, AUGUST 7 (UCAN): The head of the Catholic Church in Orissa state says Christians here are becoming more fearful as the first anniversary of anti-Christian violence they had experienced approaches.

Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar says Christians are tense after an attack on a Church worker on Aug. 6.

A gang attacked Chikusagar Nayak, who works with the archdiocese's justice and peace commission in Kandhamal district, the center of last year's violence.

Nayak was returning on a motorbike to Udayagiri, a major town in Kandhamal, from a village where he had gone to counsel victims of last year's violence, when the attack occurred.

Archbishop Cheenath said the Catholic youth is helping to prepare witnesses for court cases against perpetrators of the violence.

Police in Orissa have registered more than 1,000 cases related to the anti-Christian violence that began on Aug. 24, one day after a Hindu religious leader and his four associates were killed in Kandhamal. Maoists claimed responsibility for the killings.

Church people complain that Hindu militants have threatened victims and witnesses and told them not to appear in court against them.

Nayak, who suffered a broken arm in the attack, said his assailants were apparently waiting for him. "One kicked my bike and another snatched my bag," he said.

The gang sped away on their motorbikes when they saw other people approaching. Nayak said he managed to start his vehicle and return home and register a police complaint.

Archbishop Cheenath says people are afraid "as hardcore criminals are still on the loose." The prelate says only a few accused in last year's violence have been arrested. Some of those arrested have even been acquitted for lack of sufficient evidence and are threatening victims and witnesses, he added.

The archbishop said people are reluctant to move from relief camps where they have been living for a year. The government has stopped trying to get them to leave as it also fears attacks from Hindu radicals.

The prelate foresees more trouble as Hindu groups have announced a weeklong celebration of Janmashtmi (birthday of Lord Krishna) starting on Aug. 13. Earlier, Christian groups had asked Hindus to help them observe Aug. 23 as Peace and Harmony Day, but the Hindu groups have ignored the appeal.

The archdiocese plans to send a memorandum to the federal home minister, and the state governor and chief minister, seeking increased security for Christians in Orissa.

Jabon Nayak, another social worker, says the situation in Orissa is far from normal yet. "People are living in fear as the anniversary is approaching," he said.

Rabindra Parichha, another activist, said the situation appears to be turning more volatile after Hindu groups decided to organize meetings and prayer gatherings in various parts of the state.

  DHAKA, AUGUST 7 (UCAN): Catholics in Bangladesh have welcomed the appointment of the country's first Catholic government minister, hoping he will highlight minority and tribal concerns.

Advocate Promod Mankin, 71, was appointed state minister for cultural affairs on July 31 and will be responsible for the country's cultural development and its sustainability. He comes from the tribal Garo community in Mymensingh diocese and is also a member of the government's Ministry of Religion.

"The expectations of Christians are enormous. I am fully aware of their concerns as a result of my three terms in government and as member of parliament," Mankin told UCA News at his government residence in Dhaka Aug. 5. "People have to understand that I am now a state minister and have to look after the cultural affairs of the whole nation and protect the interests of the national culture. But since I am from the Christian community, I will not forget my roots," he assured.

Since 2003, Mankin has also been chairman of the Bangladesh Christian Association (BCA), a major inter-denominational Christian forum.

He said he will push for a proposal he made to parliament and the permanent committee of the Ministry of Religious Affairs to declare Christmas and Easter public holidays.

Mankin said another of his priorities is to consider the interests of all the 45 minority ethnic groups in Bangladesh.

He stressed that he will work for improved land rights for these communities and strive to protect them in cases of false criminal accusations against them by the Muslim majority community.

Another goal is to establish a Christian Religion Welfare Foundation which will be separate from the BCA. The foundation will deal directly with the Ministry of Religious Affairs to provide support for the Christian community and a better working relationship with the government.

"This is the first step I want to take under the banner of the BCA as I am also its chair," he said. "Now it is easier for me to share things directly with the prime minister," he added.

His fellow Catholics have welcomed his appointment, and have expressed the hope he will be able to be a voice for Christians and other ethnic minorities in the country.

Catholic Bishop's Conference of Bangladesh secretary, Father Subrato Boniface Gomes said: "We are proud to have him as the state minister. He can add our voice to the government's policy-making process."

Benjamin Marak, a Garo layperson from Mymensingh diocese told UCA News he hopes Mankin's appointment would mean justice for ethnic people in the case of false accusations, and a better transport and communication infrastructure in tribal areas.

Mankin himself credited the Church for his rise to the Cabinet. He said the Church "financed my studies at school and college." Caritas Bangladesh had also given him a job in the organization which helped him develop his leadership and people skills. "Now I am able to provide leadership at the national level," he said.
  Catholics defy bishop, attend banned priest's retreat
  MANGALORE, AUGUST 7 (UCAN): About 1,000 Catholics defied the orders of their bishop as they attended a retreat conducted by a priest who had been banned from performing pastoral duties.

Catholics from various parts of Mangalore diocese in Karnataka attended the Aug. 2 retreat that Divine Word Father Jacob Gerald Sequeira conducted, ignoring Bishop Aloysius Paul D'Souza's orders to people to stay away from his programs.

In a July 22 circular, Bishop D'Souza had also banned the popular preacher from performing priestly duties for his alleged "disobedience" of his superiors and "unholy relations with a woman." The circular also announced that the priest is barred from celebrating Mass or administering any pastoral duties in the diocese.

On July 20, police in neighboring Andhra Pradesh state arrested the priest and released him on bail two days later. He was charged with cheating and harassment of a woman, who claimed he fathered her child.

Father Sequeira had worked in Hyderabad prior to working in his native Mangalore diocese.

However, the priest wore a cassock at the Aug. 2 retreat in a village some 30 kilometers away from Mangalore, naming it a "new beginning." He titled it a "Christian devotional fest." During the program, he expressed his displeasure with his superiors and the bishop for "forsaking him".

Father Sequeira founded Divine Call Center in 2004 in Mulki, a village near Mangalore, and has been directing it when he was banned. Father Cyprian Lewis, who succeeded him as director of the center said Father Sequeira's new ministry has no "consent and approval" of Church authorities.

The new ministry "might confuse Catholics and probably lead to a division in the Church," Father Lewis told UCA News Aug. 5. Father Sequeira's congregation "had given him several chances to rectify his mistake, but he refused to oblige."

Father Lewis said Father Sequeira "is quite popular among people." Many of his followers are "devout Catholics who are ignorant of the consequences."

Father Sequeira, however, had this to say when contacted by UCA News: "I have been baptized as a Catholic and ordained as a priest by God, and no authority on earth can ban me from being a Catholic or a priest."

He added that he had been a retreat preacher for the past 15 years and will continue to do so. "I have publicly asked pardon for committing a mistake, and I believe God has forgiven me for that," said the priest who had initially refused to comment.

He denied charges that he fathered a child, but admitted that he had an affair with a woman while he was in Hyderabad in 2001. "It is my opponents who instigated her to file a complaint against me now," he alleged.

He said his plan is to start an independent ministry in Mangalore and continue with this as long as people need him.

Another priest, diocesan Father Vincent Monteiro said Father Sequeira has become "a bad role model."

"Some people supported him in spite of diocesan directions. We hope the people will not break away from the Church, but rather understand and return."

Bethany Sister Alice D'Souza, who attended the Aug. 2 retreat, said she felt Father Sequeira has a "prophetic voice, divine charisma and clarity in vision and mission."

"He had committed a mistake, but he admitted it openly" during several retreats. "Why can't the Church forgive him when Jesus was prepared to forgive," asked the nun who is in her 70s.

Another Catholic woman, Carmine D'Souza, said people liked the priest "very much as a retreat preacher, but we don't like" his actions.
  New Colombo archbishop appeals to all faiths to overcome challenges
  COLOMBO, AUGUST 7 (UCAN): The newly installed archbishop of Colombo has called on all religions to work together for the betterment of Sri Lankan society ravaged by years of civil war.

"We should build a democratic, peaceful, fair and free society," Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith told more than 7,000 Buddhist leaders, Hindu priests, heads of Christian Churches and Catholic laypeople during his installation at St. Lucia's Cathedral in Colombo Aug. 5.

For this, "we need the support of other religious leaders," said Archbishop Ranjith who had worked as secretary of the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments prior to his new appointment.

Pope Benedict XVI appointed Archbishop Ranjith to his present post in June after accepting the resignation of Archbishop Oswald Gomis of Colombo, who reached the official retirement age of 75 over 18 months ago.

Archbishop Ranjith, 61, was one of only two Asians who held top positions in the Roman Curia -- the other being Indian Cardinal Ivan Dias, who is presently prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of the Peoples.

During the installation Mass, Archbishop Ranjith noted he was taking over the archdiocese at a difficult and challenging time.

A bloody 25-year civil war has just ended with the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers rebels. The civil war, besides causing havoc to the economy, also left people divided on the basis of race, language and religion.

"Let us not allow weak human nature to create divisions among us," said Archbishop Ranjith.

Bishop Thomas Savundaranayagam, whose Jaffna diocese was the hardest hit in the civil war welcomed Archbishop Ranjith in his homily. "The war is over but with your capabilities and experience, you can overcome the remaining challenges," he said.

Bishop Savundaranayagam pointed out that there are now about 300,000 Tamil civilians detained in refugee camps after the war and appealed to the new archbishop to continue his predecessors' work for peace.

Retired Colombo Archbishop Nicholas Marcus Fernando told UCA News that Archbishop Ranjith's "strong belief in interfaith dialogue could help eliminate causes of tensions and disagreements between religious and ethnic groups in our country."

Oblate Father Tissa Balasuriya, a well-known theologian, told UCA News that he expects the Church to "play a big role toward peace and resettlement of displaced people" under the new archbishop's leadership.

Archbishop Ranjith was born in Polgahawela, Sri Lanka, on Nov. 15, 1947, and ordained a priest in 1975. Pope John Paul II named him auxiliary bishop of Colombo in 1991 and appointed him bishop of Ratnapura in 1995.

From 1995-2001, he served as secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka and chairman of the National Commission for Justice, Peace and Human Development. In the latter role, he became heavily involved in the search for a solution to the country's civil conflict. The government appointed him as its emissary on peace negotiations with the Tamil Tigers.

In 2001 he was made adjunct secretary at the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples at the Vatican and in 2004 was appointed apostolic nuncio to Indonesia and Timor Leste. Pope Benedict designated him secretary to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, a post he held until recently.
  Christians in Pakistan demand repeal of blasphemy laws
  KARACHI, AUGUST 6 (UCAN): Catholic bishops are urging the government to repeal the country's blasphemy laws, saying they are being misused and causing problems for minorities in Pakistan.

Church-held press conferences have been taking place around the country expressing concern over recent attacks on Christians in Punjab province.

In an Aug. 4 press conference, chaired by Vicar General Father Arthur Charles at the Karachi Press Club, Archbishop Evarist Pinto of Karachi demanded that the government abolish the blasphemy laws, make public the findings of its enquiry commission, and provide immediate compensation to victims of the attack on Gojra village on Aug 1.

Seven Catholics were burnt alive when a Muslim mob vandalized and looted 68 Christian houses and damaged two Protestant churches in Gojra. Torn copies of Bibles were also found outside the churches' entrances.

The violence came in the wake of an attack on the nearby Christian village of Korian on July 30. Tensions arose there after pages containing Islamic inscriptions were found in front of a Christian home. Muslims then accused a family there of blasphemy against Islam.

Two other people died later in hospital bringing the death toll to nine. Punjab police has since ordered tight security for minorities in their respective areas.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan as well as the Catholic Bishop's National Commission for Justice and Peace said in their Aug. 4 reports that the attacks were led by Sipah-e-Sahaba, a banned Sunni Muslim organization.

"The killing and desecration of houses could have been avoided if the people and security forces were vigilant and had taken timely action against the militant groups who constantly threaten the Christian minorities with false allegations of 'desecrating the Qur'an,' and try to use the blasphemy laws against them," Archbishop Pinto said at the press conference.

"Several innocent Christians who have been charged under these controversial laws continue to languish in jails awaiting trial," he stated.

These laws make an insult to the Qur'an an offense punishable by up to life imprisonment, while giving the death penalty for anyone convicted of insulting Prophet Muhammad.

Speaking to reporters, Father Charles said that a study of the last 1,000 blasphemy cases revealed that 90 per cent of them were against Christians and were mostly untrue.

"We are also Pakistani citizens; inhale the same air and drink the same water. Yet, mosques are being used to gather locals and attack Christian communities in a bid to claim their lands," he charged, adding that "there are no outside forces as the government claims."

"Muslim clerics use loudspeakers for extremism and speeches of hate," he said.

Christian leaders in Hyderabad also condemned the attacks and demanded the repeal of the blasphemy laws at an Aug. 5 press conference and protest rally.

Bishop Max Rodrigues of Hyderabad, Vicar General Father John Murad, Bishop Rafiq Masih of the Hyderabad Diocese of the Church of Pakistan, and a Christian pastor organized the event at the Hyderabad Press Club.

"This was not the first time that people have been falsely accused of blasphemy," said Bishop Rodrigues in a press statement. "Discriminatory blasphemy laws are being used against Christians on one pretext or the other -- personal enmity, vested interests or bias without a semblance of truth in the allegations."

He added, "Religious extremism is on the rise and minorities are living in constant fear due to a horrendous law which must be repealed."

Meanwhile, the Christian community has announced it will observe a "Black Minority's Day" on Aug. 11 to protest the Gojra killings. The announcement follows the call of Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore to observe a period of mourning from Aug. 10-12.

Sajjad Masih, a Christian farmer in Korian, told UCA News: "We shall not even observe Independence Day, which falls on Aug 14. I am living in a burnt house with three children. There is no celebration for us."
  Cardinal reflects on 37 years as head of Thai Church
BANGKOK, AUGUST 6 (UCAN): Cardinal Michael Michai Kitbunchu is set to stand down on Aug. 16 as administrator of Bangkok archdiocese after 37 years at the helm of the Church in Thailand.

The first cardinal of Thailand, who turned 80 on Jan. 24, has been a priest for almost 50 years, archbishop of Bangkok for more than 36 years and a cardinal for over 26 years.

During that time, the Catholic Church in predominantly Buddhist Thailand has changed from being a missionary Church to one that is rooted in the local community, said the cardinal in an interview with UCA News.

He also gave his views on the current challenges the country is facing, including political conflict that has sometimes turned violent, and the violence in the Muslim-majority deep south that has reportedly claimed more than 3,500 lives since 2004.

He sees the Church's role in education and social services as one of its biggest contributions to the predominantly-Buddhist country.

Pope Benedict XVI on May 14 accepted Cardinal Michai's resignation as Bangkok archbishop and appointed Bishop Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovitvanit of Nakhon Sawan as his successor. Cardinal Michai remains administrator of the archdiocese until Bishop Kriengsak's installation as archbishop of Bangkok, which is scheduled for Aug. 16.

The cardinal was ordained a priest on Dec. 20, 1959, and appointed archbishop of Bangkok on Dec. 18, 1972. The late Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal on Feb. 2, 1983.

He has served as a member of the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Thailand. He headed the Catholic Commission for Clergy, Catholic Commission for Education, Catholic Commission for Seminaries and Vocations, Catholic Commission for Emergency Relief and Refugees, and Catholic Commission for National Social Cooperation.

UCA News interviewed Cardinal Michai in the bishop's house in Bangkok.

UCA News: What has been the main change in the Thai Church over the course of your career?

CARDINAL MICHAEL MICHAI KITBUNCHU: Fifty years ago, the Catholic Church in Thailand was called a mission Church. The bishops at that time were foreigners -- from France, Italy, Germany, Spain or the United States and other countries. Now the bishops of all 10 dioceses are Thai. Priests and Religious are also mostly Thai. The number of missioners is becoming fewer and fewer.

What have been your major challenges?

Catholics are a small minority in Thailand. Buddhism is the way of life here, while Christianity is considered foreign. We have tried to change that way of thinking and help people better understand the Catholic Church. Evangelization started here more than 400 years ago. But many people still think of the Catholic Church as Western.

After I was ordained a priest, I considered it the most important task in my life to serve God and serve the people in my country, and also working upcountry among the poor. When I became bishop, I had more responsibilities. The archbishop of Bangkok is regarded as the head of the Catholic Church in the country. So it is a big responsibility.

What is the Catholic Church's biggest contribution to the nation?

From the beginning, the Catholic Church has been involved in education. The people have a lot of confidence in our Catholic schools. Now we have more than 400 schools, from kindergartens to universities, with more than 300,000 students, the majority of whom are Buddhists.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Thailand has had several meetings to discuss how to introduce Jesus Christ in our schools. We decided that every Catholic school would try to be a center of the Good News.

The second big contribution is development and charity work. We are involved in many aspects of social welfare. We have hospitals and medical centers and have set up many centers in remote and tribal areas in the north.

Did your elevation to cardinal have an effect on the local Church?

It was a big honor for the Catholic Church in Thailand. Even the government and leaders of other religions have come to know that and have congratulated the local Catholic Church. From then on, Thai society and government have accepted the assistance and activities of the Catholic Church more than before.

But I dare not say why Pope John Paul II made me cardinal. One day, when I went to see him and was invited to have dinner, I said to him, "Many people have asked me why I was made a cardinal. Now I would like to ask you directly, Holy Father, why did you make me a cardinal." He kept smiling and said, "It is not necessary to give you the reason." So I don't know why.

Did the late Pope John Paul II's visit to Thailand 25 years ago have an impact on the local Catholic Church?

Thai people gained a better understanding of the Catholic Church after the visit. Some were interested in learning about the doctrines and teachings of the Church. In Bangkok archdiocese, we have had more than 200 new adult conversions every year.

What is the Church's role now amid the political divisions in the country?

Thailand now faces a big political challenge because of globalization. The people are more conscious of their rights and freedoms. The bishops' conference tries to explain to Catholics to reflect correctly on the situation and follow the rule of law as well as Church teachings.

On many occasions I was invited to talk to parliamentarians and high-ranking government and military people about seeking solutions. I told them Church teaching tells us to love one another. This is very important but in practice it is not easy. Mistakes or misunderstandings can happen everywhere. To overcome misunderstandings, people should come together to have dialogue. I don't say "negotiation," I say "dialogue". You have to keep peace in your mind and heart. The most important thing is to pardon. If you cannot pardon, you cannot have any reconciliation.

Bishops, priests or Religious must maintain neutrality so that they can say what is right and what is wrong.

How is the Church contributing toward building peace in the south?

The Catholic Church is greatly concerned about the social and political problems in the south. We try to talk with Muslim leaders. We have meetings in which we study the situation and provide solutions, or come up with some suggestions to the authorities.

When the tsunami occurred (in December 2004) the Catholic Church was very much involved in assistance programs and these were very well accepted. We sent Religious people to help and set up several centers to help the victims and affected families. I have given many scholarships to Muslim students.
  Aquino's service to the Philippines remembered
MANILA, AUGUST 5 (UCAN): "Take care of each other," Corazon Aquino had said to her family members as she lay dying in hospital. But for her daughter, Kris Aquino-Yap, "those words were not meant just for our family."

Aquino-Yap was delivering her family's message to over 2,000 people who attended the former president's funeral on Aug. 5 in Manila Cathedral.

In her speech, the tearful woman spoke about her mother's work after her presidency and highlighted the foundation Aquino set up which finances vocational projects for poor women and scholarships for young people. According to Jesuit Father Catalino Arevalo, Aquino's spiritual director, it was precisely this concern for the country and its people that inspired Aquino to run against dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the 1986 election.

In his homily for the two-hour Mass, the theologian said the former president offered herself completely to God, to her country and its people, and to her family.

Following the assassination of her husband, opposition Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. in 1983, she ran against Marcos in a disputed election which spurred the "people power revolution" that swept her to office. She served as president until 1992.

Father Arevalo had accompanied the Aquino family through their struggles since the 1980s when they lived in exile in Boston, USA. He was with Aquino during her last days at Makati Medical Center, where she died on Aug. 1 aged 76.

He recalled how her faithfulness impressed the late Korean Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan during his visit to Manila when she was president. "She is pure of heart, with no desire for power," the Jesuit quoted Cardinal Kim telling him after a 45-minute meeting with the president.

He said the tributes people had paid to her following her death showed that her sacrifices and service did not go unappreciated.

Outside the cathedral, thousands more mourners stood in the rain-drenched grounds on what was a national holiday declared by the government in honor of Aquino.

Throngs of people lined the streets or walked behind the hearse as it took her coffin to Manila Memorial Park. She was to be buried there next to her husband.

"Cory! Cory!" they chanted, in scenes reminiscent of her presidential campaigns. The streets were a sea of yellow T-shirts and confetti. Fire trucks along the way blasted their horns and shot water into the air in tribute.

Timor Leste President Jose Ramos Horta, in Manila for her funeral, recounted how the frail cancer-stricken Aquino insisted on seeing him when he visited the country last year.

"I offered to go to her because she was a greater person, but she insisted on coming to my hotel," Horta said. This made him feel "humbled," he said.

Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, wife of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim offered her family's condolences to Aquino's children at Aquino's wake at on Aug. 2.

She cited "Aquino's generosity and support" during the six years her husband spent in prison on what people have said were false charges.

Even Aquino's personal bodyguard, speaking during eulogies on the eve of the funeral, remembered how she would offer him a bowl of hot noodles that she had cooked herself at the end of a long day.

Aquino "made ordinary people feel special," said business leader Ramon del Rosario, Jr. at the same gathering. "She treated the business community not as piggy banks to be shaken, but as a resource to be tapped," to make life better for people, he added.

He told former Cabinet members, politicians, civic and religious leaders who had joined Aquino's relatives and friends that the greatest tribute to Aquino is to abide by the tenets she lived by.

"She deserves her rest," the business leader said. He also urged fellow mourners to defend the democracy that Aquino "worked so hard to restore."
  Visit to Hindu temple in Singapore an eye-opener for Catholics
  SINGAPORE, AUGUST 5 (UCAN): Breathing in the sweet smell of incense, a group of mostly Chinese Singaporean Catholics toured a 139-year-old Hindu temple adorned with paintings of saints while Hindu priests looked on.

For many of the visitors, this was their first time in a Hindu place of worship. As the evening sun lit the temple's interior, the Catholics turned their attention to the numerous statues and other images adorned with gold and semi-precious stones.

P. Sivaraman, the chairman of the temple's board of trustees, explained to the 80 Catholics that Hindus do not worship the images -- they are only there to help devotees focus their minds on an omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient God.

The July 29 visit to the Sri Krishnan Temple was organized by the Archdiocesan Council for Interreligious and Ecumenical Dialogue (IRED) as part of a formation program for Catholics.

More IRED-led visits to the places of worship of other faiths are scheduled to take place over the next five months. The program is a follow-up to last year's series of five talks on Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Taoism, conducted by IRED.

Participants at those talks had said they wanted to learn more about these religions from their respective religious teachers, and to visit places of worship.

During the recent visit, Yashodhara Dhoraisingam, a student of Hinduism, explained to the Catholics that contrary to current misconception, Hinduism is actually a monotheistic faith.

According to her, Hinduism has no founder or prophet, but is a faith revealed by Brahman (God) around 5,000 B.C. It was passed on verbally through the generations until it was eventually recorded in Sanskrit.

These Hindu scriptures are the Vedas, which focus on rituals, and the Upanishads, which focus on philosophical and spiritual teachings such as reincarnation.

In Hinduism, Dhoraisingam explained, "The universe manifested from Brahman, is sustained by him and will return to him." She added that Hindus believe in a trinitarian God personified by Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Sustainer, and Shiva the Transformer.

A Hindu is taught to be compassionate and loving to his neighbor because "he and his neighbor are one and the same; all life is one," she said.

To achieve self-realization or salvation, a Hindu must "rise above his selfish ego," Dhoraisingam said. This is achieved through reincarnation, where the material body dies, but the essence of the person lives on and is reincarnated into another form.

For some of the Catholic visitors, the visit was an eye-opener.

Betty Lee, 60, said she was surprised that some Hindu beliefs "are like those of Catholics,'" such as the belief in one God, though Catholics don't believe in reincarnation.

Terence Chin, a 32-year-old engineer, also said he was surprised to learn that Hindus "have the concept of a trinitarian God," and that some of the basic beliefs of Hinduism "are similar" to those of Christianity.

According to government statistics, 42.5 percent of Singaporeans are Buddhists, 8.5 percent are Taoists, 14.9 percent are Muslims, 14.6 percent are Christians and 4 percent are Hindus. Chinese Singaporeans make up about 75 percent of the island's 4.8 million people.
  Christians in Pakistan protest against deadly violence
  QUETTA (PAKISTAN), AUGUST 5 (UCAN): Prayers, protests and fundraising campaigns are being held for the victims of recent anti-Christian violence in central Punjab.

On Aug. 2, Churches in Pakistan prayed for the "Christian martyrs" during Sunday Masses and services.

On the same day, around 600 Christians staged a protest against the Punjab provincial government in front of the Quetta Press Club in the capital of the southwestern province of Baluchistan.

They carried banners which read, "Stop violence against minorities" and "Arrest Gojra murderers." The protesters included Caritas workers from Quetta, members of the Catholic bishops' Justice and Peace Office, and several pastors and politicians.

Jafar George, the Catholic provincial minister of the ruling Pakistan People's Party, said in his address at the gathering: "The Punjab provincial government has failed to stop violence in Gojra or act against the attackers. If it cannot provide security to the minorities, it must resign."

Similarly the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance staged protest rallies in Lahore and Sargodha on Aug. 2 to condemn the Gojra rioting.

On Aug. 1, a Muslim mob vandalized and looted 50 Christian houses and damaged two Protestant churches in Gojra. Torn copies of Bibles were also found outside the churches' entrances.

The violence came in the wake of an attack on the nearby Christian village of Korian on July 30. Tensions arose there after pages containing Islamic inscriptions were found in front of a Christian home. Muslims then accused a family there of blasphemy against Islam.

The total death toll from the two incidents has now risen to nine.

Catholic as well as Muslim state ministers have said the blasphemy accusation was "baseless and without grounds." President Asif Ali Zardari has ordered a judicial inquiry into the killings and the destruction of Christian homes. He has also announced a presidential relief package of 500,000 rupees (US$6,250) for every family which has lost a member, and 300,000 rupees for each household whose house was burned down.

On Aug. 3, the Salvation Army started providing food three times a day to victims of the violence. The Catholic Church has also started a fundraising campaign for the Gojra victims.

Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore on Aug 4. urged all priests to appeal for relief funds in their parishes. Speaking at a special Mass for the Year for Priests, he said: "The present situation is difficult and is a big challenge for the Church. We should not lose hope and must try to raise as much funds as we can."

The villagers are slowly returning to what is left of their homes, with many living in makeshift cloth tents.

Recalling the mob attack, Sohail Yousaf, a Gojra villager, said: "We threw stones and exchanged gunfire but were unable to stop them from entering the village. They were heavily armed. We started to fall back, but after a few Christians were shot we ran for our lives. Women then locked themselves inside the houses."

"Now, it is like starting life all over again," he said sadly.
  Jharkhand bishops seek governor's help to end church robberies
  RANCHI, AUGUST 4 (UCAN): A group of Catholic bishops in Jharkhand recently met with the state governor to seek help in preventing Church institutions from being robbed.

"Church establishments have become soft targets for the miscreants," Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo of Ranchi told UCA News after meeting Governor Kateekal Sankaranarayanan on July 29.

The cardinal, who led the group of bishops, told the governor that at least two Church institutions are looted every week in the state, but the police and the administration have not arrested anyone so far.

The cardinal, who heads the Catholic Church in Jharkhand, said the governor listened to them patiently and asked them to give in writing details about all such incidents over the past few years. The governor, who resumed office recently, also assured the Catholic delegation that he would ask the police to make investigations of the incidents a top priority.

The cardinal said he regretted that the lackadaisical approach of the police and administration has emboldened people to loot Church institutions in Gumla, Khunti and Simdega dioceses, besides his own Ranchi archdiocese.

"Now the trend is spreading to other dioceses too, and the Church cannot protect itself," he said.

Other prelates in the delegation were the cardinal's Auxiliary Bishop Binay Kandulna, and Bishops Charles Soreng of Hazaribag, Julius Marandi of Dumka, Felix Toppo of Jamshedpur, Gabriel Kujur of Daltonganj and Paul Alois Lakra of Gumla.

Bishop Lakra told UCA News that most Church centers in Jharkhand are in remote villages and priests and nuns who serve them now feel unsafe. "How can they serve the poor in this situation?" he asked.

According to him, masked robbers break into church buildings at night and threaten priests and nuns at gunpoint. "The nuns in remote places spend sleepless nights fearing attacks on their modesty. This situation has reduced their work capacity," he added.

Two separate robberies took place on July 9 in Gumla and Simdega dioceses. In Gumla, unidentified people attacked the Montfort Brothers and stole about Rs 80,000 (US$1,680). The robbers also stole cell phones and valuables. Although the brothers informed the police station immediately, no one was arrested, Bishop Lakra said.

The same night, robbers also stole more than Rs 250,000 from Barwadih parish in Simdega diocese. The money belonged to a Church thrift society.
  Diocese mourns murdered priest, cancels scheduled events
  MANGALORE, AUGUST 4 (UCAN): The mysterious murder of a priest has forced a southern Indian diocese to cancel several planned events, including its mission congress.

The entire Belthangady diocese is "upset about losing one of its priests in such a mysterious way," said Vicar General Father Jose Valiaparambil.

The diocese was scheduled to begin its mission congress on Aug. 3 but canceled it as Church people feared the investigation into Father James Mukalel's death may interfere with the smooth management of the program, the priest added.

Father Valiaparambil said the diocese has also cancelled its celebration of the 10th anniversary of the diocese and the episcopal ordination of its bishop, Bishop Lawrence Mukkuzhy, which fall on Aug. 4.

The diocese is based at Belthangady, a town near Mangalore, a Christian stronghold in Karnataka state.

On July 30, the naked body of Father Mukalel, 39, was found on a roadside. The priest was returning to his parish after attending a funeral in another parish the previous day.

A diocesan press release says that bishops, priests, nuns and laity are in a state of shock over the priest's death, adding that the diocese demands justice.

Archbishop George Valiamattom of Tellicherry led the priest's burial services at Vellad, his native parish in Kerala's Kannur district, on Aug 1.

Police sources dismissed sectarianism as a possible cause of the murder and said personal enmity might have been a motive. They are investigating a telephone call the priest had made to a Catholic residence before he died. His body was found not far from the house.

Preliminary autopsy reports have indicated no external or internal injuries. A second autopsy was conducted in Kerala after his family expressed dissatisfaction over the first one carried out in Mangalore.

"Both results are expected within two or three days," said Valiaparambil. The Karnataka police have already registered a case of unnatural death and formed a team to investigate the murder as there were no witnesses to the incident, he added.

Meanwhile, the Conference of Diocesan Priests of India, representing over 10,000 priests from Latin-rite dioceses, has condemned the death as "inhuman."

"We are shocked to hear of the gruesome murder of a young, good and kind-hearted missionary, tirelessly working for all people irrespective of caste or religion in the area of Mangalore," said their statement.

The conference also noted that the "meaningless and cruel act" occurred in an area marked by attacks against Christians and other religious minorities 11 months ago. It has demanded proper protection for priests, minorities and those working among the poor.
  Guwahati Archbishop: FABC has great relevance for Asian Churches
  GUWAHATI, AUGUST 4 (UCAN): The Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC) has helped bring Churches in Asia together, but it has more work to do, says Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati, who has been associated with the forum for the past 25 years.

The Salesian prelate in northeastern India says FABC members have become more realistic as they continue to confront challenges that have put their energies under severe strain.

The prelate, who is chairman of the FABC's Office of Evangelization, plans to present a paper at the 9th FABC plenary assembly, scheduled to take place in Manila Aug. 10-16. About 120 participants are expected for the meeting, which has the theme, "Living the Eucharist in Asia."

The FABC, a voluntary association of episcopal conferences, was established in the 1970s to foster solidarity and co-responsibility for the welfare of Church and society in Asia. It holds its plenary assemblies once every four years.

In the following interview, Archbishop Menamparampil shares his vision for Asian Churches and reflects on his favorite subject, evangelization.

UCA NEWS: You have often spoken of "whispering the Gospel to the soul of Asia." What prompted you to suggest this way of evangelization?

ARCHBISHOP THOMAS MENAMPARAMPIL: It is just an Asian way of expressing a very deep thought. Announcing the Gospel is important, but there is an Asian way of going about it. I did not suggest "whispering" as in being apologetic about the message. We "whisper" because in Asia the most sacred words are whispered, the most precious secrets are whispered, an exchange in a context of intimacy is whispered.

However, a whisper can be effective only if we are close to the person with whom we are sharing a precious message. We have to come close to the soul of Asia. It is here that we fail. We have to go beyond ideologies and superficial programs of action and touch the inner genius of a people. It is not easy, but it is not impossible.

Persons such as Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa seemed to have interpreted the Asian genius better than many of our social activists. We can learn from them. For example, in Asia what people admire more in a religious person is renunciation rather than efficiency, moral authority rather than mobilizing skill, God-experience rather than political correctness. Such values are always relevant. Some missioners perceived this by their sheer genius. We seek to walk in their footsteps. Great days are ahead.

Do you expect the upcoming FABC plenary assembly to stress this more?

I have a feeling the FABC members are becoming more and more realistic, having continuously to confront challenges that have put their energies under severe strain.

We begin to notice that we are only micro-minorities, that we need to have an attitude of humility, that we need to keep learning, that we need to fall back on our own civilizational resources, that we need to become deeper persons based on our faith.

We need to be more personal, pastoral, flexible, creative, and never lose hope. That is what this assembly seeks to do -- hold out hope to everyone, especially those in difficulties, and look beyond the present horizons.

Will you stress this in the paper you plan to present at the assembly?

The main thrust of my paper is about a "presence" that challenges and strengthens. Jesus is present to us in the "word" he announces and the "bread" he gives.

This is a presence that motivates and chastens, urges and strengthens. As the "word" penetrates every heart, culture and society, Jesus makes his way into the deeper dimensions of everyone's life -- to challenge, "to uproot and to pull down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant" (Jeremiah 1:10). He makes all things new. A presence that corrects and humbles is also the presence that sustains.

Jesus' presence is a life-giving presence. It offers a message of "life" in the present context of war, ethnic conflicts, genocide, communal clashes, urban violence, state-sponsored violence, domestic violence, euthanasia and exploitation of the environment. It invites us to go beyond mere utilitarian values and avoid the risk of becoming inwardly superficial and shallow, of slipping toward consumerism and becoming blind to the transcendent.

My paper suggests that we keep our Christian vision clear amid various contradictory ideologies and social philosophies, and respond to the needs of each local community in an existentially realistic manner, paying attention to local cultures, situations, and compulsions, and not be excessively influenced by alien ideologies, values and strategies. Finally my paper argues that such challenges can only be taken up by persons who are deep, which means, persons who are convinced and committed.

How long have you been associated with the FABC?

I came into the FABC as a member of the Office of Evangelization in 1984. The very next year they surprised me by asking me to be chairman of the office.

I took up the challenge and completed two terms. I was happy to hand over responsibility to (Philippine) Bishop Cirilo Almario. I was surprised again after 15 years when I was invited to the same office and the same post. Though reluctant, I accepted the responsibility. For me evangelization is life. I would do anything in order to take this work forward.

Aside from conducting several seminars, consultations, and reflections on creative forms of evangelization in different parts of Asia, we brought together persons laboring in difficult situations at that time, for example those under communist regimes. We studied indigenous communities of Asia and reflected over our work among them.

We had an Asian Missionary Congress on Evangelization in Manila (1992) that many people unfortunately have forgotten. Many other things have been done; and more can still be done.

According to you, how relevant is the FABC now?

The relevance of the FABC has only grown. It stands for the Church in Asia. It brought together the leadership of the national Churches of the continent that had hardly any interaction before the FABC came into existence. Now we can say it has come of age. Serious works are still ahead, to be built on the collective consciousness of an Asian identity and common heritage. There is much more theological thinking that needs to be done. But what is most important is that we offer the message in a convincing and meaningful manner to fellow Asians.

How can FABC become more effective?

We have to strike a balance among various interests -- national, regional, ideological, theological, cultural, and put them in relation with what is genuinely continental, what belongs to our collective patrimony. We must take the triple dialogue (with the poor, cultures, religions) more seriously. I would emphasize the need for dialogue with cultures more specially. I have a feeling that we have given too little attention to that. We still have to develop the needed skills.

It is important that going beyond the dominant culture in each country, we pay attention to the little traditions as well. We need to pay more attention to the smaller Christian communities, to the smaller countries, to those who have had less chance to emerge onto the Asian stage. We should not limit interreligious dialogue to a ritual, but make it meaningful in relationship with the tensions we have with dominant religions, with dominant communities.

Our eagerness to dialogue with the dominant groups should not weaken our commitment to minority communities, to the poor and the marginalized. Our skills for persuasion must grow, and our skills for self-righteous denunciation should be kept in abeyance for a while.

This is the Year for Priests. Why did you decide to become a priest? What have been the challenges over the years?

From what I can remember, I always longed to be a missioner. I would have liked to carry the message of Jesus over the Himalayas to distant lands. When Buddhism crossed these mighty mountains centuries ago, it became a world religion. It is wonderful to take the Christian message to the heart of Asia. Even in the hardest times, I never regretted having chosen the less trodden path.

Though difficulties abounded all along the way, I never met with real opposition. I always met with people who came out to help. I am eternally grateful to everyone. In recent years when conflicts began to erupt among various ethnic groups in our region, I was compelled to help out. Our ecumenical peace team has intervened helpfully at least in five different ethnic conflicts in which hundreds had died. Despite troubles, the Church in northeastern India is vibrant. It has a great future.
  Pope appeals for end to violence in Pakistan
  By Gerard O'Connell, Special Correspondent in Rome

VATICAN CITY, AUGUST 4 (UCAN): Pope Benedict XVI has expressed "profound sorrow" at recent anti-Christian riots in Pakistan and appealed to everyone "in the name of God" to "renounce violence" and "take up again the path of peace."

He communicated this message in a telegram to Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad, along with the assurance of his "spiritual closeness" to all Christians who have suffered violence in Gojra in Pakistan's Punjab province.

Gojra is part of Faisalabad diocese.

The telegram, signed by the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, expressed the Pope's "profound sorrow" at "the tragic killing of innocent children, women and men, and the immense destruction" caused by the recent "senseless attacks" against Pakistani Christians.

A Muslim mob raided a Christian settlement in Gojra on Aug. 1, vandalizing and looting houses.

The incident, according to many sources, including Vatican Radio and the Vatican newspaper "L'Osservatore Romano," caused the deaths of at least eight persons, including a seven-year-old child and four women, and caused injuries to many others. Fifty Christian homes were destroyed.

The violence came in the wake of an attack on the nearby Christian village of Korian on July 30. Tensions arose there after pages containing Islamic inscriptions were found in front of a Christian home. Muslims then accused a family there of blasphemy against Islam.

Pope Benedict, in the telegram, called "on everyone" in Pakistan "to renounce the instrument of violence that causes so much suffering and to take up again the path of peace."

He urged Bishop Coutts to encourage Pakistan's Christian community, including those in his own diocese, "to help build a society in which a profound sense of trust in human and religious values" is characterized by "mutual respect for all its members."

Vatican Radio on Aug. 3 said Pakistani Christians had decided to protest the violence "in a peaceful way" by closing its schools and "L'Osservatore Romano" had reported that Catholic schools in Punjab would be closed for three days "as a sign of mourning."

Vatican Radio on Aug. 3 interviewed the apostolic nuncio to Pakistan, Archbishop Adolfo Tito Yllana, on the plight of Christians in the country. Christians, including 1.3 million Catholics, account for less than 2 per cent of Pakistan's 160 million people, most of whom are Muslims.

The nuncio pointed out that the recent violence by extremists were not unexpected and was but the latest in a series of attacks against Christians facilitated by Pakistan's blasphemy law.

This law makes an insult to the Qur'an an offense punishable by up to life imprisonment, while giving the death penalty for anyone convicted of insulting Prophet Muhammad.

"Truly we are being subjected to persecution by this law," the nuncio said, adding that everyone knows that the law "is used specifically against the Christian minority in Pakistan."

Extremists "begin the persecution by accusing them of blasphemy and a big religious chief starts to shout, 'These are infidels, we must eliminate them, kill them because they have desecrated" something sacred to Islam.

The nuncio described these alleged acts of desecration as "an invention."

"All these accusations of blasphemy, which have been hurled against Christians, are without foundation, including this last one."

"We suffer and it is not the first time," he said. "It is not a question of religion; it is in fact a lack of humanity by a group that wishes to subjugate another group which is a minority."

He said the Pakistani Christian Church is "a martyred Church and suffers much." However, he said he drew "consolation" from a Christian whose house was burned and who said, "We only hope that God will give them light to see the right way."

Those words "are powerful" and show "there is a Christian spirit among the suffering," the nuncio stated.

In a related development, commentators in Rome noted that the Pope's mission intention for August, announced by the Vatican on July 31, is "that those Christians who are discriminated against and persecuted in many countries because of the name of Christ may have their human rights, equality and religious freedom recognized, in order to be able to live and profess their own faith freely."

The commentators read the intention as having particular relevance to the recent happenings in Pakistan.
  End of insurgency in the Philippines in sight as talks with rebels to start soon
From Ben Cal

MANILA, Aug 4: The upcoming peace talks between the government and two rebel groups that could end the 40-year insurgency in the country -- the longest running in the world -- would be good for the Filipino people, according to Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Avelino I. Razon Jr.

"There is a very good prospect we could give to our people because it reflects our dedication, perseverance and patience to achieve lasting peace to our country," Razon said at his monthly management-executive meeting with officials of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Monday.

He said the government was very pleased to know that two rebel groups -- the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People's Army/National Democratic Front (CPP/NPA/ND) have expressed their desire the resume the stalled peace negotiations.

Talks with the MILF collapsed a year ago following the aborted signing of the controversial Memorandum of Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), while negotiations with the CPP/NPA/NDF bogged down in 2005 after the United States tagged the NPA as a terrorist organization.

However, during this period, despite the intermittent fighting that erupted, particularly the non-signing of the MOA-AD which was declared as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, the government has not stopped back-channeling talks with the two insurgent groups to revive the peace talks.

"Our efforts have paid-off. The government panels are ready to resume talks with them so we can have peace in our beloved Philippines," Razon said.

Ambassador Rafael E. Seguis, head of the government peace panel that will talk with the MILF, returned from Kuala Lumpur last week and announced that the MILF was ready to resume negotiations.

The MILF panel was headed by Mohaghe Iqbal.

The MOA-AD will no longer be discussed as the two sides have agreed to focus the talks for a lasting solution to the long-drawn Mindanao conflict. Razon lauded this new development that would move the peace process forward.

On the other hand, peace talk with the CPP/NPA/NDF will also start soon.

Razon said a government peace panel will go to Oslo, Norway, this month in preparation for the forthcoming negotiation.
  Protestant leaders: Churches need to rethink stance on homosexuality
CHENNAI, JULY 4 (UCAN): Christians need to rethink their stance on homosexuality, says an Indian Protestant leader who organized a debate on a recent court verdict which decriminalized gay sex.

Most Churches in India are reacting to the verdict without really studying the issue, says Reverend Christopher Rajkumar, secretary of the Justice, Peace and Creation Commission of the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI).

The council is the umbrella organization of 30 Protestant and Orthodox Churches and 17 regional Christian councils in India representing 13 million people.

On July 2, the Delhi High Court struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that considered homosexual acts, even consensual ones, as crimes. The Catholic Church was among the first to protest the verdict.

After the July 28 NCCI debate in Chennai, the council issued a document urging its member Churches to "accompany the People with Different Sexual Orientation (PDSO) in their journey." It urged the Churches to create forums to discuss human sexuality and proposed to re-read and re-interpret Scriptures from the PDSO perspective.

The NCCI also urged Christians to protect PDSO's human rights and dignity. "We should not outrightly reject the issue without discussion as some Churches have done," Reverend Rajkumar told UCA News.

Reverend Rajkumar said most people reacted without bothering to read the 105-page judgment. He said the issue requires debate, but discussions do not necessarily aim to challenge the judgment but "to listen to the other side" and become "sensitive to its needs."

The Protestant leader also says a rethink is needed in Christian theology.

NCCI general secretary Bishop Deerandra Kumar Sahu says the court verdict has led to confusion among Church groups. "We need clarity," the prelate told the meeting attended by social activists and members from gay and transgender groups.

Bishop Sahu said the NCCI organized one meeting in New Delhi and one in Chennai soon after the court verdict. The NCCI plans to send a message, based on the outcome of the meetings, to all its members to invite their responses. The NCCI will come to a consensus after receiving the feedback, he added.

"Our aim is to engage the Church and civil society" to address the issue from a pastoral perspective, the Protestant prelate added.

Dhanam, a transgender activist and participant, expressed happiness that Churches are discussing the issue and are willing to listen to "our stories." She said police often used Section 377 to harass people like her.

Anto James, a self-proclaimed homosexual, says the NCCI debate helped others understand people like him. "I hope the Churches recognize our needs and stand by us," he said.
  Bishops laud Aquino's sense of mission, commitment to faith
  MANILA, JULY 4 (UCAN): Church leaders have joined thousands of mourners in honoring Corazon Aquino, who served as the country's first woman president from 1986-1992.

In his homily for a Mass for Aquino, who died Aug. 1, Bishop Florentino Cinense of Tarlac said, "We all dream of having a better country." Aquino did her share, "we also must do our own share," said the prelate of the province where Aquino was born.

Her body had been laid for public viewing at La Salle Greenhills in San Juan City near Manila since Aug. 1. She died of a cardio-respiratory arrest while hospitalized with stage 4 colon cancer. The ex-president was 76 at the time of her death.

Noting her reluctance to run in the 1986 snap election against dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Bishop Cinense said during the Mass on Aug. 3, "Her imperfections were never an excuse for her not to govern wisely."

Citing her devotion to the rosary and the Blessed Mother, and her consulting of spiritual advisers during crises, the prelate said Aquino "showed us prayer cannot be the last recourse, but must be the first step."

"In Aquino, we see that for a true Christian there can be no distinction between private and public life," the bishop told people who packed the gym where her body was laid. "Let her life and virtues challenge us to strive to do even better," he urged.

Aquino agreed to run in the 1986 snap election called by Marcos amid growing public outrage over the 1983 assassination of her husband, opposition Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr.

Her installation as president after a non-violent uprising in Manila ended Marcos' 21-year rule.

In a speech, Aquino had described her presidency as a contract with her people and a covenant with God. The covenant was not easy to keep, Church leaders acknowledged.

Restoration of democratic processes and institutions and making them work as they should for the common good brought "immense difficulty," said organizers of the Church's 1991 Second Plenary Council (PCP-II) in their preparatory paper.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) convened the national recollection to discern Church renewal in the context of restored democracy that was then threatened by factionalism and other problems.

Archbishop Leonardo Legaspi of Caceres, who was then CBCP president, said Aquino's administration provided the atmosphere needed for this discernment. "We could calmly examine the Church's situation and its challenges at that time," the Dominican prelate said.

Reflecting on Aquino's qualities, retired Bishop Francisco Claver said the former president is regarded as a spiritual person, doing "well what a good Catholic is supposed to do -- pray, attend Mass, receive the sacraments.

In his view, Aquino also has been "outstanding" in her dedication to justice, non-violence and integrity. "I'd put more weight on such social virtues," said the Jesuit bishop who headed the CBCP social action, justice and peace commission at the time of the 1986 snap election.

Aquino "has shown how it is possible for a Filipino Catholic to be engaged in politics and still remain a Catholic," he added. For too long, Bishop Claver said, Filipino Catholic politicians were corrupt, but Aquino was not.

After Bishop Cinense's Mass, honor guards carried Aquino's casket into a flower-decked truck for a procession to Manila Cathedral. Public viewing of her body is to continue there until her funeral on Aug. 5.

The truck plodded down streets lined with people waving yellow balloons and flags under a rain of yellow confetti, as they did during her presidential campaign. Yellow was Aquino's symbolic color.

Women and children flashed the "L" sign with their hands as Aquino did in protests against her husband's assassination, urging laban, or fight for democracy.

A jubilant welcome of sirens, cheers and music from a band greeted the truck at the cathedral. Aquino will be buried near her husband's grave in Manila Memorial Park in Paranaque City.

Pope Benedict XVI, in a message sent to Aquino's family had praised the former president for her "courageous" commitment to the freedom of the Filipino people, her firm rejection of violence and intolerance" and her "unwavering faith".
  Christians in Nepal refuse to give in to extremists' demands
  KATHMANDU, AUGUST 2 (UCAN): Christians are praying in the wake of Hindu extremist threats with some saying there is no question of meeting demands for money from these groups.

"There have been demands for money from Hindu groups and threats to us to leave the country, but it is not possible for us to meet each and every demand... and we cannot leave our mission and the country," said a pastor from the Gyaneshwor Protestant Church.

He requested anonymity for security reasons.

Reverend Isu Jung Karki, pastor of the Kathmandu Spiritual Church, said that Ram Prasad Mainali, head of the shadowy group Nepal Defense Army which claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Catholic church in May, has been calling clergy personally with demands for money.

"We have formed a committee to look into the matter. It has decided not to pay the amount demanded and to face the situation as it comes," he said. "We will continue with our mission in Nepal and not bow down to such threats."

Following the bombing at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption that killed three people, the NDA demanded that all 1.5 million Christians leave Nepal or face "dire consequences."

Bishop Anthony Sharma, apostolic vicar of Nepal, said Catholics remain alert and are praying on this issue.

"We will go to the police and seek protection if we get threats again," the Jesuit prelate added.

According to the Gyaneshwor Protestant Church pastor, most of the large churches have started security screenings at prayer services. "We have started using metal detectors and checking the bags of every person that enters the church," he said.

The Assumption church, the main parish in Kathmandu, has introduced similar measures and police are deployed round the clock there.

Reverend Karki said his church committee has also submitted a memorandum to the government and security agencies concerned demanding that they ensure security for Christians.

"The prime minister himself has assured us that the security situation in the country would be improved and that he would do everything possible to protect Christians," he added.

A group of Protestant Churches has also formed a committee to look into the situation and take measures to protect Christians.

A committee member said the group of Churches recently took out an appeal through a local vernacular daily urging prayers for the “"ever growing" Church in Nepal, for its pastors and elders, and for killings, violence and extortion targeted at Christians to be stopped.

The committee member, who also requested anonymity, blamed extremist Hindus from neighboring India for the growing climate of hostility. He said the extremist groups in Nepal have the backing of "influential political leaders" and that the Nepali government is "helpless".

The NDA comprises former soldiers, former policemen and victims of Maoist guerrillas.

In 2006, the government, formed after former King Gyanendra Shah was forced to give up absolute power, declared the former Hindu 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.

According to the Nepal Catholic directory, there are 7,500 Catholics in the country.
  Catholic media center's 1st commercial film a box-office flop
  KOLKATA, AUGUST 1 (UCAN): The first commercial film produced by a Jesuit media center here bombed at the box office recently because of poor publicity and a weak story line, critics say.

About 30 former students of the Chitrabani (sight and sound) center helped produce "Mullick Bari" (House of Mullick), a 129-minute commercial feature film. It was released on July 18 in cinemas in and around Kolkata in eastern India.

However, the theaters stopped screenings of the movie after only three days because of poor attendance, said Motiur Rahman, Chitrabani's public relations officer.

Alok Banerjee, a former student of the Jesuit center who watched the film, said its storyline was weak and confusing. The film's target audience was also unclear, he added.

The film comprises three stories revolving round a haunted house. In the first story, the house's first occupant becomes friendly with the spirits and later commits suicide. In the second story, the second tenant goes in search of his long-lost sister and finds her eloping with a gangster. In the third story, the house's next occupant falls in love but dares not meet the woman he is interested in. He arranges for a friend to meet her on his behalf, and the friend ultimately falls in love with her.

Film critic and teacher Samik Bandopadhyay said the 39-year-old Chitrabani, the city's oldest film training institute, should have stuck to training, instead of venturing into commercial film production.

Mubarak Mirza, another critic, blamed poor publicity for the film's failure. A tabloid the center prepared for publicity purposes failed to convey the film's message, he added.

At the time of the launch, Chitrabani director Jesuit Father Joseph Pymbellykunnel said the center undertook the project after some former students sought its help to produce a commercial film. Until then, "we only produced documentaries and short films," said the film's 47-year-old co-director.

The priest said the enthusiasm of his ex-students encouraged him to undertake the project. They wanted a launch pad from which to enter the film industry and Chitrabani offered it, he added.

Anirban Chakraborty, the other director who went with his family to the film premiere, said he was thrilled to fulfill his dream of directing a feature film.

Sanjoy Kumar Dutta, another alumnus, said the city's film industry was sympathetic and supportive of Chitrabani's first attempt. He also claimed Chitrabani is the first media center in the country to produce a commercial film with its former students' help.

Prosenjit Majumdar, the film's creative director, said it was inevitable that the movie suffers from inadequacies since it was the center's first attempt at making such a film.

Father Pymbellykunnel said his center has received requests from four producers to make films. "We are studying their proposals and hope to take up ventures that are in tune with our values and options," he added.

More than 100 former students have contacted the center, expressing their eagerness to get involved in the next film-making venture, the priest added.
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