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  Kandhamal victims need to be paid better compensation: Archbishop Cheenath
  By Santosh Digal

BHUBANESWAR, AUGUST 31 — A top-ranking church leader in Orissa has asked the state government to provide higher financial aid as compensation to the Kandhamal violence-affected people. He also wanted the state to provide adequate security to those who still face threat and intimidation from the perpetrators of violence.

The Orissa government must provide enhanced compensation ranging from Rs. 5 lakh to Rs. 20 lakh depending on the damage for rebuilding of damaged churches, religious and public institutions. NGOs, whose furniture and fixtures were destroyed, too, need to be compensated for the damages they suffered, said Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar diocese of the Catholic Church.

He was speaking at a Press conference in Bhubaneswar yesteday. The government was doing something, but it was not enough, he said.

The government provided Rs 50,000 for fully damaged houses and Rs. 20,000 for those whose houses suffered partial damages but this was "insufficient," he said.

"About 12,500 people have been resettled in their houses. About 17,500 people are still displaced and have a right to be resettled by the state government. Adequate measures and enabling environment should be created," Archbishop Cheenath said.

The government made an "arbitrary" assessment to give compensation to the affected victims whose houses were damaged during the December 2007 and August 2008 Kandhamal pogrom. He also said the government did not "consult" the concerned victims while assessing the damages.

The Archbishop also asked the state government to provide adequate security and protection to Christians and their property, including churches and other religious institutions. It should ensure that they are able to celebrate the Christmas without any fear this year.

He also said the Orissa government must follow the example of other state governments and ensure fool-proof investigation of all criminal cases so that the guilty are punished for their heinous crime and are not let off for want of adequate evidence because of shoddy investigations and lack of forensic expertise.

Dr. Swarupananda Patra, president of the Orissa Minority Forum, who was present on the occasion said during the Kandhamal violence at least 35 women and girls were sexually assaulted or raped. Their cases should be looked into by the police with due fairness.
  Alcohol prohibition to remain in Nagaland
  OPPOSITION from the powerful Baptist Church in Nagaland has forced the state government to suspend plans to lift a total prohibition on alcohol.

The state would convene another consultation with non-governmental agencies and Church bodies soon to garner public opinion for lifting the 1989 ban, M.C. Konyak, state excise minister, told media last week.

The latest round of consultations was held in Kohima in July.

"This time round we couldn't lift the prohibition owing to the stiff opposition of the [Baptist] Church," said Konyak.

The Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC), had spearheaded the original ban.

Konyak and other government officials say the prohibition has failed as it has only resulted in an increase in homemade liquor, crime and bootlegging. The state has also been losing an estimated annual excise revenue amounting to millions of dollars.

"We have to see it from all angles," Konyak said.

NBCC's Reverend Khari Longchar said his Church "will ask the government to work out a mechanism for the reduction of consumption and smuggling of alcohol."

If the government is unable to do it, "we will work out our own mechanism," he said.

Some 90 per cent of the state's nearly 2 million people are Christians, mostly Baptists.

  Mother Teresa events in full swing in India
  By reporters, New Delhi and Kolkata

THE release of two commemorative coins, an exhibition and a quiz competition on Mother Teresa were among programs organized to mark the birth centenary celebrations.

Mother Teresa was born in Skopje, Macedonia, on Aug. 26. She came to Kolkata as an aspirant nun in 1929. The Missionaries of Charity (MC) congregation she founded in 1950 to serve "the poorest of the poor" is also based in Kolkata. She died in 1997 and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2003.

The Government of India released two commemorative coins and a souvenir on Mother Teresa at an Aug. 28 function.

Federal Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee released the coins of 100 and 5 rupees by giving them to Indian President Pratibha Patil. The five-rupee coin will be for circulation while the 100-rupee one is a collector’s item. Both coins have the nun's face engraved on them.

Sister Maria Prema, who heads the MC congregation, thanked "the Government of India for paying this tribute to Mother Teresa."

Some of India's top artistes paid homage to Mother Teresa through their paintings in an exhibition opened by West Bengal governor Mayankote Kelath Narayanan on Aug. 27.

"The artistes who have painted the Mother had seen her with their hearts and that is why they were able to represent her love in these paintings," said Sister Prema.

The three-day exhibition in Kolkata showcased over 80 paintings, artifacts and photographs.

Narayanan described Mother Teresa as "one of the most saintly persons who has walked on the earth."

Another highlight was a special quiz organized by Calcutta archdiocese, the Missionaries of Charity and the Catholic Association of Bengal.

The Aug. 29 quiz in Kolkata aimed "to create awareness among the young about Mother Teresa's life, her mission and to help them spread her message of love, peace and service to all," event Director Eugene Gonsalves told

Forty teams of three students each from different parts of West Bengal state attended it.

"We knew little about Mother Teresa but now we have learnt a lot about her love for the poor and it inspires us to do a little bit," said Abhilash Jash, a student who participated in the quiz.
  'Weed out' Christian controversy continues
  By Philip Mathew, Bangalore

CHURCH leaders continue to put pressure on a Karnataka state legislator to apologize for asking people to "weed out" Christians from society.

Prahlad Remani, the legislator of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), refused to apologize and reiterated his comment.

Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore told on Aug. 28 that he has sent memorandums to federal and state officials seeking action against Remani.

Remani made the comments while addressing an Independence Day program on Aug. 15 in his constituency in Belgaum.

He said Christianity was a mistake of the British in India and Indians should work to drive out Christians from Indian society. He also warned against the Christian social work, which he said were tactics by missionaries to convert people.

State Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa condemned the comments and told Bishop Peter Machado of Belgaum that he would ask Remane to apologize. If Remani fails, the BJP will initiate action against him, the bishop was told.
  Indigenous people win back their road
  By Liton Leo Das, Rajshahi

INDIGENOUS villagers in northwestern Rajshahi have won a battle to reclaim their century-old road after a massive protest.

The villagers were at loggerheads with two local men who sought to prevent road improvements by claiming a portion of the Gopalpur village road at Poba sub-district as their own property.

The vital one kilometer road served an average 2,000 local villagers, including 500 indigenous Catholics.

"This is the only road for our movement and communications and we have used it for over 100 years," local resident Michael Hembrom told

"For a long time it remained in miserable condition. However, recently the government began to develop it," added Hembrom, whose property was one of those affected by the claim on the land.

"We requested the local Union Council chairman to solve the problem but there was no remedy," he said.

Eventually after several meetings, agitated indigenous people armed with traditional bows and arrows as well as sticks blockaded the Rajshahi-Chapai Nawabgonj highway on Aug. 22 to claim their rights over the road.

"People had no other choice," said Father Patras Hasdak, an indigenous Santal Catholic in the village. "It is the only road and is meant for people's movement to the marketplace, to church, and to schools," he added.

The two-hour blockade ended after local officials and law enforcement agencies intervened to reassure the people that their lawful demands would be met.

"Using roads is a basic human right for all," said Bazle Rizvi Al-Hasan, a local official.

"We have bought the land from the two men who claimed it. Construction work has now begun again and we hope it will end within 10 days," Al-Hasan said.

The protest drew the attention of several national daily newspapers and of government officials.
  Catholics honour Indians who died for their faith
  By Saji Thomas, Bhopal

CATHOLICS in Bhopal held a blood donation drive and organised prayers yesterday to honor Christians who died for their faith in the country.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal had agreed last week to make the last Sunday of August "Indian Martyrs Day."

The Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh, a Christian confederation, had asked for the commemoration following the 2008 anti-Christian violence in Orissa, in which about 100 people died.

Anand Francis said he took part in the Aug. 30 blood drive to express "solidarity with those who died for the faith" all over India.

There can be no greater sacrifice than shedding one's blood for others, he said.

Christians should emulate the spirit of the martyrs especially when "we face challenges" to our faith, he added.

People also prayed for the "pious souls of all those who shed their life for their faith," said Father Siby Joseph, a parish priest.

The Martyrs Day helps stress the need to "have a strong faith in God," he said.

However, lay leader Richard D'Silva feels more should be done "to involve all the Christians in the country to commemorate the great sacrifices of ordinary Christians."

Archbishop Cornelio, in his message for the special day, said the martyrs' "blood is a real inspiration to every believer to follow the righteous path against trials."

Madhya Pradesh state has witnessed several anti-Christian attacks that Christian leaders say have increased after the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2003.
  Mother Teresa film festival packs in 45,000
  THE Mother Teresa film festival was a resounding success with over 45,000 people attending the four-day event organizers in Kolkata say.

It was an honor for the West Bengal state government and its film center to host the event, said Nilanjan Chatterjee.

Chatterjee, the head of the government film center, was speaking at the closing ceremony of the Third Mother Teresa International Film Festival on Aug. 30.

I was proud to be part of the festival that marked the birth centenary of Mother Teresa, he said.

Nandan, the film center, along with Calcutta Archdiocese co-organized the festival.

The event made history by giving the disabled an exclusive opportunity to watch films, Chatterjee said.

No other film festival has ever done this, he added.

The festival showcased 18 films about Blessed Teresa, with 64 screenings, for some 45,000 people, said festival director Sunil Lucas.

I am "amazed" at the response, all the shows were packed with people sitting in the aisles or standing at the back," Lucas said.

Besides the two special screenings for 500 disabled people, there were also more than 7,000 residents from Missionaries of Charity care centers, he said.

The festival will now tour India over the next six months, and will be staged in 15 other countries, he added.

Gaurav Singh Ray, a business school student, said he "was able to see missioners' selfless service through these films."

The cooperation between Church and secular organizations in staging the event was very moving, said Canadian Jesuit filmmaker Father Pierre Belanger who presented his film The Making of a Saint.

  People mourn dalit archbishop's death
  PEOPLE in Andhra Pradesh are mourning the death of Archbishop Marampudi Joji of Hyderabad.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister K. Rosaiah in a condolence message described the archbishop as "a person who cared for the poor, downtrodden and championed their causes."

The 68-year-old archbishop died of cardiac arrest on Aug. 27. He had been suffering from cancer, diabetes and had undergone heart surgery in 2002.

The third archbishop of Hyderabad, based in the state capital, belonged to the dalit community (former "untouchables" in the Indian caste system).

Archbishop Joji was born in 1942 in Viajayawada and was ordained a priest there. He was also Bishop of Khammam and Vijayawada before heading Hyderabad archdiocese in 2000.

As the first to become an archbishop from the dalit community, he highlighted issues of dalit Christians and supported their demands for equal rights.

State Legislator Jayasudha Kapoor, a Catholic, said the archbishop inspired her to enter into politics. "He was there like a rock for me in times of difficulty. I am orphaned," she added.

The state unit of Conference of Religious India in a statement said the archbishop effectively led the Christians in the state and represented their problems to the government.

  Mother Teresa's nuns give street kids a home
  By Sumon Corraya, Dhaka

THE Missionaries of Charity (MC) nuns in Dhaka are still at it after 10 years -- feeding and educating local street and slum children.

Joy, 12, who works as a "scavenger" eagerly waits for each Saturday when the sisters offer him a good meal at their Home of Compassion at Tejgaon Church, the largest Catholic parish in the country.

"The sisters feed us nicely with rice, eggs and lentils. They make us behave well so I feel happy to see them," said the Muslim boy, who has never met his father and whose mother is a beggar at a local railway station.

Several hundred children like Joy, all under 14 years, gather each week to receive food from the sisters as they have done since 2000.

The sisters also try to teach the children to read and write, Morjina, 11, a Muslim girl from the nearby Kobikhet slum of Tejkunipara, told

As well as herself, she is also responsible for feeding her three siblings who accompany her.

"My father ran away and my poorly paid house-maid mother can hardly maintain the family with four of us," Morjina said.

As well as offering food and medical treatment, the sisters teach the children to read and write at twice-weekly classes, which also include lessons on morality.

"They tell us to be honest, not to steal," Morjina explained.

The sisters' service gives a positive image to Christians, said Mohammad Barkat, a railway porter 18.

"They also teach Christian values to lower-level people in the society," he said.

"I used to go the sisters' house for food. Now when they visit slums and serve people I try to help them. I like the way they serve," Barkat continued.

However, the sisters know that they face an ongoing battle to look after the children.

"There are lots of children in Dhaka who can't afford their basic human needs. We feel pity for them and try to help at least some of them," explained local superior, Sister Mary Laura.

The Missionaries of Charity founded by Blessed Teresa of Kolkata run 13 centers across the country to serve needy and vulnerable people.
  Long-imprisoned underground bishop dies
  By reporter, Fuzhou

RETIRED Bishop John Yang Shudao of Fuzhou who spent at least 30 years in prison life because of his faith has died at the age of 91.

The late bishop who headed the underground Catholic community in Fuzhou suffered a stroke and became unconscious several days before his death on Aug. 28. He died at St. Teresa's Church in his hometown in Liangjiang county shortly after being discharged from hospital.

His funeral, to be presided by underground Bishop Peter Lin Jiashan, is scheduled for Sept. 1 at the same church which has a capacity of 3,000. Bishop Lin was a former coadjutor bishop of Fuzhou diocese but now apostolic prefect of Jianou, according to a Church source close to the Holy See.

Several Church sources told that many government officers came to the church on hearing of the bishop's death. "They are concerned about security issues and have restricted the number of people paying tribute," one said.

Fuzhou diocese currently has about 250,000 Catholics, with 81 "underground" and 27 "open" priests. The government recognizes the "open" Catholic community but not the "underground" one.

Father Joseph Li Ronghua, coordinator of the open community, told that he heard of Bishop Yang's death but has received no further information from the underground side. He and many of the "open" priests had never met the bishop, he said.

Bishop Yang told in 2004 that reconciliation with the open Church would mean "a betrayal of faith."

In addition to the spilt between the open and underground communities since 1980s, the "underground" Catholics have in the past decade themselves split into two factions, one led by Bishops Yang and Lin and another led by Father Lin Yuntuan.

Currently, "underground" Bishop Vincent Huang Zhoucheng of neighboring Mindong diocese is the administrator of Fuzhou diocese, according to a Church source close to the Holy See.

Church sources are concerned about the diocese's future. They agreed the funeral is a testing case for reconciliation. "If factions cooperate for the funeral, there can be room for communications. Otherwise, reconciliation will be distant," a source said.

Bishop Yang was born on April 16, 1919 and was ordained a priest in 1947. The then Father Yang was arrested with other priests and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1955 for refusing to denounce the Pope and to join the government-sanctioned independent church.

Bishop Yang was released in 1981 after 26 years in prison. He was clandestinely ordained a bishop in 1987. He was rearrested in 1988 and jailed for another three years. Since then, he has been arrested several times and was under surveillance.
  President joins chorus of praise for Mother Teresa
  By Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

SEVERAL top ranking Indian leaders including President Pratibha Patil paid glowing tribute to Mother Teresa at a seminar in New Delhi marking her birth centenary.

"Mother Teresa was one of the noblest souls of our times," said the president. "All through her life she served selflessly to spread the message of love and compassion through her work," Patil said during the Aug. 28 function.

She "was truly the embodiment of the word mother in its fullest, truest and complete sense," Patil told the seminar that was organized jointly by Church groups.

Margaret Alva, a Catholic, and governor of Uttaranchal state, shared some of her experiences with Mother Teresa.

She was "a woman of God, who was in love with humanity," Alva said.

Vyalar Ravi, the federal minister for Overseas Indian Affairs said Mother Teresa influenced everyone around her with her life and message.

Mother Teresa was born Aug. 26, 1910. She based her work for the "poorest of the poor" largely in Kolkata. She died in 1997 and was beatified by the Vatican in 2003.
  Lawyer says talks can stop priests being sued
  A CATHOLIC lay leader and lawyer have urged priests to set up mediation groups in dioceses to avoid laypeople rushing to civil courts to sue Church officials.

Auxilia Peter said the Church hierarchy should set up such forums to mediate and solve differences "arising between laity and parish administrators and avoid litigation."

Peter, 37, said laypeople in various dioceses file court cases against parish priests challenging their decisions on administrative and financial running of parishes.

For example, in Madras-Mylapore archdiocese that is based in Chennai, at least 10 parish priests have been challenged in local courts over different administrative issues, she said adding that such litigation is more commonplace in city parishes than in villages.

Peter, secretary of the women's commission of Madras-Mylapore archdiocese, said such cases can be "avoided easily" if there are systems to mediate at the parish and diocesan levels.

She said most court cases arise due to misunderstanding and lack of knowledge of Church laws and systems. Sometimes the litigants leave the Catholic Church in anger to join some other sects, she said.

She wanted Church authorities to set up a separate sub-committees from the diocesan pastoral council to tackle differences. Such committees should have representations from laypeople and parish priests, Religious and commissions of the diocese, she said.

  Mother Teresa gets special 'exhibition train'
  RAILWAY Minister Mamata Banerjee and head of the Missionaries of Charity congregation has launched a train with a photo exhibition on Mother Teresa to mark the nun's birth centenary on Aug. 26.

Banerjee and Sister Maria Prema opened the "train exhibition" for public viewing at Sealdah railway station in Kolkata, capital of West Bengal state.

Sister Prema said she was "grateful" to Banerjee for starting the exhibition train. The congregation founded by Mother Teresa in 1950, has always enjoyed the support of the Indian railways, she said.

The train with three air-conditioned coaches showcases Mother Teresa's life, work and message through photographs and short write-ups provided by the Missionaries of Charity.

The train will travel to 10 major railways stations in the next two weeks, halting for two days at each station, and then move to other parts of the country in the next six months.

Banerjee said people in West Bengal were proud that Mother Teresa belonged to their state and the Railways organized the exhibition train as a tribute to the nun.

Dinesh Trivedi, the federal Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare said that "all of us require the healing touch of Mother Teresa" who he described as God’s "messenger."

Mother Teresa came to Kolkata in 1929, at the age of 19, to become a Loreto nun. She later left that congregation and started her own Missionaries of Charity congregation to work for the "poorest of the poor" in the slums of the city.

She based her work largely in Kolkata and was buried there in 1997 after she died at the age of 87.

  Bhopal to remember Christian martyrs
  By Saji Thomas, Bhopal

BHOPAL archdiocese will observe the last Sunday of August as "Indian Martyrs Day" to remember Christians killed for their faith in India.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal, who heads the Church in Madhya Pradesh state, sent the message through mobile phone to his priests, Religious and lay leaders.

"Observe coming Sunday as Indian Christian Martyrs Day. Keep Sunday reading the same," said the Aug. 26 message from the archbishop.

The prelate's move echos the demand of a lay movement to observe a Sunday in August to remember Christians killed because of their faith throughout India.

The Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh, a Christian confederation, began the demand after some 100 people, mostly Christians, were killed in Orissa state in violence that started in August 2008.

Madhya Pradesh itself has witnessed several anti-Christian attacks that Christian leaders say have increased after the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2003.

The confederation has appealed to all bishops to observe a Sunday in August as martyrs' day.

Archbishop Cornelio told that "it is, no doubt, a good idea to remember" those who have died for their faith. "Their life should become a model for every faithful," he said.

He dismissed allegation that Church leaders are not taking seriously the demand to observe the day because those killed are laypeople.

"It is not true," he said. The Church may "take some time to complete the process before declaring any program for the whole of the Church in the country," he added.

Father Anand Muttungal, coordinator of the confederation, said they hope the entire country and the Church will observe the day "sooner or later, as the blood of those died will never go waste."
  Pakistan bishops deliver aid to flood victims
  By Kamran Chaudhry, Khan Bela

CATHOLIC and Protestant leaders in Pakistan have joined forces to deliver in person much needed aid supplies to flood victims.

Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan and Anglican Bishop Alexander John Malik of Lahore led a convoy containing food items and bottled water on Aug. 26 to the southern Punjab where five districts lie submerged under flood waters.

Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti also joined the convoy with an additional six trucks of relief items.

The Christian leaders began their mercy mission with a prayer at the Cathedral of the Holy Redeemer, Multan before traveling 190 kilometers to a camp for survivors in Khan Bela.

"This is our diocese. We have seen death with our own eyes in visits to flood hit areas. We came through these deadly waters to bring you food and show you that we care," Bishop Francis told flood victims on their arrival.

"We are all Pakistanis and stand together amid this crisis," Bishop Malik said.

The two bishops then went among the many tents to give out relief packages to survivors.

Several survivors shared harrowing stories of personal loss.

Muhammad Ashraf lost his 18-year-old son.

"He was returning from work when a giant wave took him. A woman saw him struggling in the water but he quickly disappeared," Ashraf said.

"Do not be afraid, thank God you are saved", Bishop Francis told a group of young children.

Earlier, Caritas Pakistan Multan CPM provided treatment for the sick at an aid station and managed to distribute tents to survivors cut off by three-meter high flood waters.

"We are coordinating our work with the army. Soldiers are helping us access areas where relief is most needed," said Izhaque Bulanda CPM disaster management coordinator.
  More celebrations for Mother Teresa
  CELEBRATIONS of Blessed Teresa hit one of the first of many high points with a Mass in the house where she lived in Kolkata. It was attended by around 1,000 people and held on Aug. 26, the centenary of her birth.

Following Mass on the ground floor which houses her tomb, a congratulatory message from Pope Benedict was read out. Blessed Teresa "truly lived her life drawing closer to the person of Jesus, especially in the poorest of the poor, the sick, the lonely and abandoned," it said.

Sister Nirmala, Blessed Teresa's successor as head of the Missionaries of Charity congregation and Sister Prema, the present Superior General, both released balloons and a white dove. Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi lit a centennial candle and placed it on the beautifully decorated tomb.

The Cardinal said that in this centenary year we must listen to her message that "we have been created for greater things, to love and be loved."

"We could reflect on how Mother lived, how she became first a religious in Loreto, then founded her own congregation dedicated to the poorest of the poor," he added.

Cardinal Toppo also led the Mass, joined by Archbishop Lucas Sircar of Calcutta, retired Archbishop Henry D'Souza of Calcutta, Bishop Salvadore Lobo of Baruipur and Missionaries of Charity Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, postulator of causes for Blessed Teresa's canonization.

Children with roses in their hands, the elderly, the poor, tourists, visitors and co-workers waited in line to pay their respects. Novices from the Missionaries of Charity flocked around the tomb and sang Happy Birthday, ending with the added refrain "may you soon be a saint."

On the same day, as part of the government's celebrations, a statue of the nun, which has been freshly refurbished with lights and flowers, was garlanded by city officials. The road where it stands has been renamed Mother Teresa Sarani (Street).

  Politician asked to apologize to Christians
  THE Karnataka politician who asked to "weed out" Christians from the state should apologize, state Chief Minister B. S. Yeddyurappa said on Wednesday.

The senior BJP leader said he has already directed party legislator Prahlad Remani to apologize for the anti-Christian statements made in an Independence Day speech.

"If he does not tender an apology to the Christian community for his statements, action will be taken against him," Yeddyurappa told reporters in Belgaum.

Remani, member of the assembly from Khanapur in Belguam district, is reported to have said that Christians must be weeded out from society.

Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore had taken up the issue with Yeddyurappa and Governor H.R. Bhardwaj seeking action against the politician.

Remane reportedly said that when the British left India in 1947 they did two wrong things. They allowed the partition of India for the creation of Pakistan and left the "seeds of Christianity" in the country. He asked people to "weed out" Christians from society.

Remani is reported to have stood by his statements when media persons asked him about it at Belgaum.

The legislator told reporters that 'Christians under the guise of social service are luring villagers in Khanapur taluk and are engaged in conversions'.

  Stop Quran burning, faithful beg the Pope
  By Saji Thomas, Bhopal

WORRIED Catholics and Muslims in Madhya Pradesh are to appeal to the Pope and other world leaders to try and prevent a US church holding a "Burn a Quran Day" next month.

We signed a resolution demanding positive action from world leaders to block the burnings, said Mazood Ahammad Khan.

The letter will be sent to the "leaders shortly," the secretary of the co-ordination committee for Indian Muslims said yesterday.

"We want action against such hate campaigners so that no one will do it again," Khan said.

The Dove World Outreach Center in Florida plans to host the controversial event on Sept. 11 to mark the ninth anniversary of 9/11 terror attacks in New York.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal, and a delegation of Muslim leaders met earlier on Aug. 24 to condemn the plan and discuss the impact the burnings could have in the state.

Some Muslim leaders would feel a "strong sense of anger" and Church people suspect it would be directed at them, said Quazi Muhammad Faisal, the top Muslim leader in Bhopal.

At the meeting the archbishop and Muslim leaders decided to write to Pope Benedict, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and US President Barack Obama asking them to help prevent the church from carrying out its plan.

The Catholic Church "fully shares the sentiments of Muslims that no one should be allowed to burn the holy Qur’an," Archbishop Cornelio said.

"Such an act violates the established traditions for peaceful co-existence," he told

Christian and Muslim leaders have stressed the need to respect every religion, every religious book and each other's right to follow a religion, he said.
  Communists join New Delhi rally for Orissa
  By Bijay Kumar Minj, New Delhi

LEADING communists joined church people and activists from around 50 organizations at a rally in New Delhi on Aug.25, to mark the second anniversary of the anti-Christian violence in Orissa.

Ardhendu Bhushan Bardhan, the party's general secretary in India, addressed the rally near the Indian parliament, saying his party "condemns the heinous crime" committed by Hindu fanatics.

He cited Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an umbrella body of Hindu organizations, as the orchestrators of the violence in Orissa's Kandhamal district.

Brinda Karat, another senior communist, said "the violence in Kandhamal is a shame on India and the Indian people."

Around 300 people gathered for the "Kandhamal Day" rally, to commemorate the start of the seven-week rampage in the district.

The violence erupted after a Hindu leader was killed on Aug. 23. Radicals blamed the murder on Christians although Maoists have claimed responsibility for it.

Annie Raja, a social activist and member of the National Federation of Indian Women said "even after two years, justice is not done," referring to a Catholic nun who was raped during the riots.

She said the fanatics are against the socio-economic advancement of tribal and dalit people. "If these poor people get a chance for development, who will serve?" she asked.

Other speakers demanded adequate compensation for the survivors to re-build their homes and lives and resettlement of victims with full land rights. Reports say that thousands of people displaced by the unrest are still in temporary shelters.

The violence killed about 100 people with 6,500 houses, 350 churches and 45 health and educational institutes destroyed, burnt or looted.
  Mother Teresa's nuns give street kids a home
  By Sumon Corraya, Dhaka

THE Missionaries of Charity (MC) nuns in Dhaka are still at it after 10 years -- feeding and educating local street and slum children.

Joy, 12, who works as a "scavenger" eagerly waits for each Saturday when the sisters offer him a good meal at their Home of Compassion at Tejgaon Church, the largest Catholic parish in the country.

"The sisters feed us nicely with rice, eggs and lentils. They make us behave well so I feel happy to see them," said the Muslim boy, who has never met his father and whose mother is a beggar at a local railway station.

Several hundred children like Joy, all under 14 years, gather each week to receive food from the sisters as they have done since 2000.

The sisters also try to teach the children to read and write, Morjina, 11, a Muslim girl from the nearby Kobikhet slum of Tejkunipara, told

As well as herself, she is also responsible for feeding her three siblings who accompany her.

"My father ran away and my poorly paid house-maid mother can hardly maintain the family with four of us," Morjina said.

As well as offering food and medical treatment, the sisters teach the children to read and write at twice-weekly classes, which also include lessons on morality.

"They tell us to be honest, not to steal," Morjina explained.

The sisters' service gives a positive image to Christians, said Mohammad Barkat, a railway porter 18.

"They also teach Christian values to lower-level people in the society," he said.

"I used to go the sisters' house for food. Now when they visit slums and serve people I try to help them. I like the way they serve," Barkat continued.

However, the sisters know that they face an ongoing battle to look after the children.

"There are lots of children in Dhaka who can't afford their basic human needs. We feel pity for them and try to help at least some of them," explained local superior, Sister Mary Laura.

The Missionaries of Charity founded by Blessed Teresa of Kolkata run 13 centers across the country to serve needy and vulnerable people.
  US envoy commemorates Mother Teresa's birth centenary
  A Correspondent

NEW DELHI, AUGUST 26 -- On the 100th anniversary of the birth of Mother Teresa, US Ambassador to India Timothy J. Roemer said, "I join with Indians, Americans and many millions around the world who today honor the memory of one of the most extraordinary women of the 20th century.

"My family and I have had the privilege of visiting the Mother House of the Sisters of Charity in Kolkata and many of the orphanages
founded by Mother Teresa across India.

On each of these occasions, I
have been moved by the supreme humanity of this woman who dedicated her life to bringing love and dignity to each human being. Mother Teresa's work in India is an inspiration for us all."
  Tribunal sees state complicity in Orissa violence
  A PEOPLE'S tribunal on Orissa riots concluded today in Delhi holding the state and Hindu radicals responsible for the violence and the continued miseries of the victims of the anti-Christian violence.

The three-day National People's Tribunal(NPT)on Kandhamal was an initiative of National Solidarity Forum, a nationwide platform of NOGs and social activists across India.

The tribunal sought ways to ensure justice for the victims of violence in Kandhamal, which witnessed an upsurge of violence against the minority Christians in 2008.

The tribunal heard testimonies of murder, torture and sexual assault from 43 victim-survivors. Many of them also spoke about how they have been forced to disown their faith as the price for returning to the villages.

On the basis of the testimonies, the tribunal concluded the state of Orissa was responsible for the continued violence. The violence "was the consequence of the subversion of constitutional governance in which state agencies were complicit," the tribunal said in its interim report.

The jury panel, which included senior judges such as retired Delhi High Court Justice A. P. Shah, recorded with "shock and deep concern" the "brutal manner" in which Christians were attacked.

It found evidence of "a shocking level of institutional bias" on the part of the state agencies, leading to their collusion in the violence and connivance in efforts to block the subsequent processes of justice and accountability.

The tribunal recommended that officials who held positions of in the district during the violence, be scrutinized and strict disciplinary action taken if they were found aiding the crime.

It noted trial procedures have been compromised by weak and ineffective prosecution and willfully recording crimes of lesser magnitude in the First Information Reports (FIRs).

The tribunal recommended special investigation to verify the accuracy of the FIRs that have already been filed. It also wanted Legal aid procedures be strengthened to help the victims get justice.

The tribunal wanted the state government "greatly increase the scope of the compensation" packages offered to accelerate rehabilitation of victims.
  BJP tries for Catholic votes in Goa
  BHARATIYA JANATA PARTY (BJP) says increasing its percentage of Catholic votes is part of its preparations for the Goa state assembly polls in 2012.

The new BJP national secretary Arti Mehra, said this on Sunday while addressing a press conference in Panaji.

She said the prime task is to get rid of BJP's image as a communal party. Goa's Christians, almost all of them Catholics, form only less some 26 per cent of its 1.1 million people.

"In Goa, the Christians are important to us," said Mehra, the new central in-charge of the BJP. She said she and other officials plan to visit Fr Agnelo ashram soon.

She also said when she visits the state next time, the BJP leadership also would meet the archbishop. "Yes, that will be during my next trip here," she said when asked about when she plans to meet the prelate.

She estimated that BJP targets to have 5-7 per cent of Catholic votes. However, she said it was difficult to provide any statistics on the percentage of Catholic votes that the party currently has.

Source: Times of India
  Church wants nominee on minority commission
  By Saji Thomas, Bhopal

CHRISTIANS continue to press the Madhya Pradesh government to let them have a greater role in selecting the Christian member of the state minority commission.

A four-member delegation, headed by Church's spokesperson Father Anand Muttungal, met Sushma Swaraj, a senior leader of pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party that runs the state government.

The delegation in a Aug. 21 memorandum sought Swaraj's support for inducting a Church nominee as member of state minority commission.

The commission is designed to protect the interest of religious minorities in the state. But Christian leaders say its Christian member, appointed by the government, pays no attention to their interests.

The Christians represent less than one per cent of the 60 million population. Other minorities include Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains. Each religion has a member representing it in the commission, who is often picked for political considerations.

"Unless the government consults the Church before appointing the Christian member, the commission cannot reflect the aspirations of the Christians," Father Muttungal told

He said state's bishops raised the issue in talks with Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan on Aug. 12.

Father Muttungal said Swaraj, who is also leader of the opposition in parliament, was "very courteous and agreed to take up" the issue with Chauhan.

The memorandum to Swaraj also demanded protection to the Christians from attacks by fanatics. Christian leaders say Hindu fundamentalist attacks have increased since BJP came to power in December 2003.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal said it is important to have a Church nominee as the member of the minority panel.

"Since we don't have our nominee there, our voice is not heard and in certain cases the member even acts against the interest of the community," he added.

The Church leaders also suggested state may pick up one person among a panel of three it puts forward.
  Cathedral launches year honoring Mother Teresa
  By C.M Paul, Baruipur

A YEAR of celebrations for the birth centenary of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata was launched at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and Blessed Teresa of Kolkata in Baruipur, eastern India, on Aug. 23.

The cathedral was appropriate for the occasion because it is the only one in the world to be co-dedicated in her name. Bishop Salvadore Lobo of Baruipur, who knew Blessed Teresa since 1968, opened festivities there with a Mass concelebrated with 13 priests.

"Mass was very central to Mother Teresa's life," he told around 500 Massgoers. "She attended every morning before going out to work."

He went on to urge the gathering to "become channels of peace, as Mother Teresa herself exhorted the Missionaries of Charity (MC) nuns to be." "Each one of you can be ambassadors of peace and stop violence in a world that is riddled with so much conflict," he said.

Blessed Teresa founded the MC congregation in 1950 to serve "the poorest of the poor."

The celebrations are set to continue with novenas and spiritual renewal programs in all the diocese's 22 parishes and 85 chapels.

Although Blessed Teresa's actual birth date is Aug.26, it was decided to bring the occasion forward to Aug. 23 so it could be synchronized with an event that takes place in eastern Indian Kolkata city on that date.

Bishop Lobo, along with Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi and Archbishop Lucas Sircar of Calcutta, are expected to join the event at the MC headquarters in Kolkata where she was buried after her death on Sept. 5, 1997. Pope John Paul II beatified her in 2003. Beatification, which bestows the title "blessed," is one step away from sainthood.
  Teachers launch rescue plan for tribal language
  By Sumon Nongmin, Mymensingh

CATHOLICS in Mymensingh diocese in northeastern Bangladesh say they need to help the tribal Garo language survive the onslaught of the predominantly local Bengali culture.

"The dominance of Western and Bengali language and culture and the serious lack of attention from Garo people has placed the survival of the language at risk," diocesan liturgical and cultural commission secretary Father Peter Rema, himself a Garo, told a local educators' workshop.

He was addressing 42 Garo teachers from 13 parish schools at a specialized Achik or Garo language training workshop in Mymensingh on Aug. 17-19.

Following a recent government decision to allow indigenous children to study in their mother tongue in primary school, the diocese will introduce the Garo language in schools across the diocese.

Previously, Bangladeshi children studied in English and Bengali since the time of colonial British rule.

"Historically, the Garo people were ruled by either British, Pakistani or Bengali people," said Torpon Ghagra, a Garo researcher and one of the trainers.

"These rulers never felt the necessity of preserving our language or to prescribe it in textbook format for children," he said. "We the Garo must also take the blame for not trying to preserve the language," Ghagra continued.

He said he is hopeful about the diocesan efforts but still has reservations about the government plan. "We ourselves have to preserve and practice our mother tongue," he insisted. "I'm afraid if we leave everything to the government they will try to use Bengali fonts for the language instead of traditional Roman fonts," he said.

However, Father Camillus Rema, secretary of diocesan education commission, expressed confidence in the program planned by the diocese.

"Introducing our mother tongue in the school education system will ensure the survival of our language and culture," he said.

"Now our children will be more interested to know about their roots and cultural heritage."

There are 45 ethnic indigenous groups making up about 3 million of total population of the country. There are about 130,000 Garo people, most of them Catholics.
  Orissa tribunal shows 'secular maturity'
  A PEOPLE'S tribunal probing anti-Christian violence in Orissa shows the readiness of "people of goodwill" to defend India's secular values, a local bishop says.

National Solidarity Forum (NSF), a coalition of various groups and movements began the three-day National People's Tribunal on Sunday.

"The tribunal shows the maturity of Indian secularism," said Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak of Berhampur, a native of Kandhamal, where most of the violence took place.

The violence erupted the day after Hindu leader Lakshmanananda Saraswati was gunned down on Aug. 23, 2008.

Hindu fanatics blamed Christians for the killing and orchestrated seven weeks of violence.

The efforts of secular agencies to make "victims' voices heard" at national level are a "positive sign," said the bishop.

He said the "hope of religious minorities" and the "strength of the Indian nation" are the vast majority Hindus who "will not accept" fanatic ideologies of any kind.

The concerns expressed on the tribunal's first day show "there is a feeling of oneness that binds Indians together to protect India's secular values," he said. It goes beyond religion, language and caste. And that is the maturity of our nation," he added.

Some 300 people including rights activists, social workers and victims, as well as the media, international observers and legislators are attending the tribunal.

Bishop Nayak, Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, Bishop John Barwa of Rourkela and scores of Religious are also attending proceedings.

The tribunal is hearing testimonies from survivors, witnesses, rights activists, social experts and government representatives. It's also reviewing relevant documents, reports and field studies.

It began with the start of an exhibition portraying the continuing hardships of the victims. Popular activist-lyricist Javed Akhtar opened the exhibition, saying the violence was a "matter of shame" for the nation.

  Indian film festival to cater to the disabled
  DISABLED people in Kolkata will get their own special screenings during the Mother Teresa International Film Festival which opens later this week.

"This is something that has never been done at any international film festival," said Sunil Lucas, director of the four-day event that begins on Aug. 26.

Facilities at the festival include ramp access in the government-run complex and space to accommodate wheelchairs.

The festival is among several programs organized to mark the birth centenary of Blessed Mother Teresa who spent most of her life and work in the city. The Missionaries of Charity (MC) congregation she founded in 1950 to serve "the poorest of the poor" is also based in Kolkata.

"We're looking to have residents from leading disabled centers as well as those from MC homes, in the audiences," Lucas said.

Film festivals cater for able bodied people, but "we are making the disabled the reason why the fully active should attend."

The festival is trying to reach out to everyone in society, he said.

It's a "brilliant idea," said Nilanjan Chatterjee, the director of the Kolkata International Film Festival.

We will "also do this at our next festival," he said.

Iona Kundu, director of Mentaid India, a Kolkata based NGO working for disabled people, is coordinator of the special screenings.

During the festival the Nandan cinema complex will be illuminated in white and blue, signifying the colors of Blessed Teresa's sari.

Mother Teresa was born to Albanian parents in Skopje, Macedonia. She came to Kolkata as an aspirant nun in 1929 and was buried at the MC headquarters in Kolkata after her death on Sept. 5, 1997. Pope John Paul II beatified her in 2003. Beatification, which bestows the title "blessed," is one step away from sainthood.

  Church team helps tea workers secure rights
  By Lissy Maruthanakuzhy, Guwahati

AN Indian Church team that has been helping poor people fight for their rights for years is now focusing on tea garden workers in Assam state.

"These laborers live in inhuman conditions and unfortunately their plight has not improved" even after the nation gained independence from the British in 1947, said rights activist and lawyer Jesuit Father Ravi Sagar.

The priest started the Legal Cell for Human Rights in Guwahati archdiocese in the state in 2007 to assist underprivileged people.

It works with a group of "socially conscious and committed lawyers" who spread legal knowledge among people to help them fight economic, social and political exploitation.

The cell is now focusing on tea garden workers in the hills of Assam, where the British began tea cultivation in 19th century.

Poor and tribal workers still continue their forefathers' work in the state.

Most of the time, the poor and vulnerable are denied their basic human rights because they "are not aware that they have a right" to adequate food and wages, said cell chairman Father Charles D'Souza.

The organization promotes "legal capacity building" among young workers so that they become trainers for their own people, he said.

The cell has so far conducted courses for some 12,000 villagers in 10 districts and taught 500 people advocacy skills.

Assam produces 55 per cent of India's annual output of 805,180 million tons of tea. This makes India the second largest tea producing nation after China.
  26 beggars die in Karnataka state home
  By reporter in Bangalore

CHURCH people in Karnataka have blamed poor management for a spate of food poisonings in a state-run rehab home that has killed 26 residents in one week.

The Karnataka State Rehabilitation Centre in Bangalore, popularly called the "beggars' colony," began reporting the deaths on Aug. 15. The state Social Welfare department runs the center through a Central Relief Committee.

The center's doctor G. Harimurthy said the victims died from acute diarrhea, caused by gastroenteritis.

The center is "overcrowded", said Catholic Sister Mary Mascarenhas, who worked at the center for 20 years until 1996. "Some 2,000 beggars live in a facility meant for 900," she told following the deaths of three more people on Aug. 21.

The nun, a member of St. Joseph of Tarbes congregation said she worked at the center as a member of the Local Relief Committee. She said the Church was later denied permission to serve the center after the formation of a new committee.

Several Religious congregations in Bangalore had sent their novices to work at the center, "where hundreds live amid unhygienic conditions," she said.

The center is in a bad state and was in much better condition when Church people were involved, said Claretian Father George Kannanthanam, who manages, a nearby leprosy Rehabilitation centre.

Several media reports quote residents as saying that they are severely malnourished and have low immunity levels. Hence minor food poisoning or other infections can become life-threatening, the reports said.
  Kandhamal testimonials highlight abject failure of state machinery

NEW DELHI, AUG 22 -- The three-day National People's Tribunal (NPT) on the Kandhamal communal violence began today at the Constitution Club here with some 400 people in attendance, including 95 survivors from Kandhamal.

The NPT is being organised by the National Solidarity Forum, a coalition of over 65 organisations and peoples' movements that have come together to highlight the plight of victims and survivors; and attempt to bring justice.

The NPT includes 15 jury panel having expertise in the field of housing, law, media, culture
and administration.

The NPT was preceded by the inauguration of an exhibition of
paintings, photographs and burnt remnants from the carnage of 2007 and 2008. Lyricist Javed Akhtar, while inaugurating the exhibition,
mentioned that it was shameful that incidents such as the Kandhamal carnage against religious minorities continue to happen with alarming frequency in India. "As citizens of this democracy, we should hang our
heads in shame", he said.

Father Ajay Kumar Singh from Kandhamal, himself a victim of the
violence, provided a historical view on the emergence of right-wing
forces in Orissa which showed that their rise has been part of a
systematic project by the Hindutva forces.

The first deposition was by Kanakalata Nayak whose husband was
brutally killed by goons from the Bajrang Dal led by local politicians. Despite filing a case with the police and deposing before
the court, she mentioned that the criminals were immediately given
bail and they continue to roam around the area, often intimidating her.

Jury members including Former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court AP Shah raised several clarificatory questions in order to understand the response of the police and the judiciary.

Among the people who deposed was the Archbishop of Cuttack Raphael
Cheenath who spoke about how the constitutional right to freedom of
religion has been violated in Kandhamal.

The other depositions by dalit and adivasi women and men from Kandhamal included several instances of killing, rape, destruction of churches and property. All of the varied depositions have one common
thread. They point to the abject failure of police, judiciary and the Orissa Government to protect its weakest and poorest citizens.

The tribunal hearings will conclude on August 24 when the jury is expected to issue a set of recommendations.
  BBC allows screening of Mother Teresa film
  THE BBC has granted permission for its 1969 documentary on Mother Teresa to be screened in an upcoming film festival on the nun.

Media reports in India last week said the BBC was silent about requests to include Something Beautiful for God, the first-ever documentary on Mother Teresa for the Mother Teresa International Film Festival (MTIFF).

The Aug. 26-29 festival will be held in Kolkata.

Correspondence manager James Holton from the BBC Director General's Office recently wrote to festival director Sunil Lucas saying that BBC "does not have any objection" to the screening.

However the BBC "has a duty to remain impartial and must not be seen to be endorsing" the festival, Holton said.

"This indeed is a great service to the people of Kolkata who have never had the opportunity to see the 1st film ever made on the 'mother' of the city," Lucas told

Although the official screening schedule has already been drawn up, "we will try to squeeze in a special screening of the film during the event for the media and the Missionaries of Charity Sisters," Lucas said.

The BBC production is said to have made Mother Teresa internationally known. After it was shown on television in England, donations poured in. Many viewers said it had a "profound effect" on their lives.

The BBC film crew came to Calcutta and spent five days with Mother Teresa for the 58-minute film.

  "Weed out" comment: Archbishop appeals
  ARCHBISHOP Bernard Moras of Bangalore has urged Karnataka governor and chief minister to direct ministers and legislators not to make inflammatory and derogatory statements.

The appeal to governor H. R. Bhardwaj and Chief Minister B. S. Yeddyurappa comes after the Aug. 15 remarks of BJP MLA Prahlad Remane, who asked to "weed out" Christians from the state.

Remane reportedly said this while addressing the Independence Day rally in Belgaum district.

The Archbishop, who is also the President of the Karnataka Region Catholic Bishops' Council (KRCBC), wanted specific directive to all officers to desist from inciting the people by making provocative statements against different religions.

He said Christians are "deeply sad" that Remane made false allegations of Christians converting people by unlawful means.

Remane reportedly said that when the British left India in 1947 they did two wrong things. They allowed the partition of India for the creation of Pakistan and left the "seeds of Christianity" in the country. He asked people to "weed out" Christians from society.

He made the comment at a gathering of people of all religions, who came together for "paying their respect to the National Flag during the Independence day Celebration," the archbishop said.

The "unjustified and unwarranted" remarks exhibited the mindset of some of the elected representatives, he said.

Archbishop Moras has also forwarded copies of his appeal to the Chairman of National Commission for Minorities Mohamed Shafi Qureshi and to the Chairman of National Commission of Human Rights Justice K G Balakrishnan.

Meanwhile, the local BJP leaders have disowned the controversial remarks of their party MLA and have made it clear that the party does not subscribe to such remarks.

The Belgaum BJP MP, Suresh Angardi, and local MLA, Sanjay Patil, and other BJP leaders have also dissociated themselves from the remarks.

  School finds new way to discipline students
  A PROTESTANT school in Kolkata, which had abolished corporal punishment over a year ago, has come up with a new way of disciplining unruly students.

The 146-year-old St. James School, managed by the Church of North India, plans to introduce a system of "reward and punishment" as part of its curriculum.

"There is a lot of violence on the campus and a certain amount of discipline is required," said school principal Terence Ireland.

Teachers have been under pressure to discipline students after corporal punishment was banned in the school, he said. "Many teachers felt insecure when they could not find a suitable way of disciplining the students."

Under the new method, the school will give extra marks to students who behave well and are involved in social service activities.

Those who misbehave would have marks deducted. The harshest punishment would be the denial of promotion to the next level, said Ireland.

Such a system was needed to show students and parents that the school was serious about discipline, he said, adding that "through this system, the school also hopes to inculcate social values."

Jacob Sarkar, a student, said the new system would help students score higher marks and assist mischief-makers in mending their ways.

The new method is a welcome step, said Ashok Ranjan Roy, a parent, adding that the school should also help parents impart social values in their families.

There have been increasing incidents of students resorting to extreme measures due to corporal punishment in schools.

A student of La Martiniere's school in the city committed suicide in June after being caned by the principal.

  Karnataka Hindu groups face conversion charges
  THE Meghalaya state government has sent an official team to Karnataka to study allegations of Hindu groups luring Christian students to Karnataka and converting them to Hinduism.

The fact-finding team, comprising senior government officials and representatives of various NGOs, has been visiting various Hindu maths and residential schools in Karnataka, reported Deccan Chornicle.

The team visited Hindu institutions located in Bengaluru, Mangalore, Shimoga, Mysore, Tumkur and Uttara Kannada districts to collect information on the issue.

The students were reportedly brought to Karnataka by organizations linked to RSS, promising to provide them education, said sources.

A senior officer of the women and child welfare department told the newspaper that Meghalaya-based NGOs and Christian organizations from the Northeastern states, had alleged that children were taken away forcibly in the name of education and were now being converted to Hinduism.

The officer said the team's visit has been "kept confidential as it might trigger communal tension with several Christian NGOs pressurizing the Meghalaya government to initiate criminal action" against Hindu groups under "the Juvenile Justice Act. This may not be possible as they are very powerful in the state," he said.

Recently "a minister from Manipur visited schools in Karnataka to get first hand information on the problem," he said.

Karnataka's BJP government had earlier faced charges of being soft on Hindu radical outfits like the Sri Rama Sene, which had allegedly engaged in moral policing.

  Bangladeshi nurse becomes first with PhD
  By Manik Joseph Costa

A CATHOLIC woman has become the first government nurse and only the second Bangladeshi to obtain a doctorate in the field of nursing.

Jacinta Olympia Gomes, 49, a Catholic from northwestern Bonpara parish recently obtained the PhD in June from Victoria University in the United States.

Gomes, an executive board member of the Nursing Association Bangladesh (NAB) was awarded the doctorate following her thesis on "Prevention and Control of Breast Cancer, an approach to develop nursing support."

Gomes is one of Bangladesh's top nurses and serves on the Bangladesh Catholic Nurses Guild (BCNG) and is a teacher at the Bangladesh Nursing School (BNS).

In those capacities she has helped train thousands of young nurses.

"She helped me survive the tough training with a lot of mental support and advice," said Pollobi Corraya, 28, a Catholic nurse. "I'm really happy for her," she said.

"She can make a huge contribution to Catholic health services and also in society, much more so than in the past," said Catherine Costa, secretary of BCNG.

Gomes says she wants to use what she learned during her studies to help promote breast cancer awareness in Bangladesh.

"Bangladesh is a developing country with an underdeveloped society. Women with breast cancer are often reluctant to get proper treatment" she told

According to one cancer specialist 20,000-22,000 Bangladeshi women seek breast cancer treatment each year but there's a larger number of women don't.

"Many women die unaware that hey could have been cured if only they had sought early treatment," Gomes said. "There are also many women who are unaware that they have the disease."

Women aged 35-55 are most at risk she said.
  Muslims sentenced for insulting Buddhism
  By staff, Colombo

A COLOMBO court has sentenced two Muslims to one year imprisonment suspended for two years for insulting Buddhism.

Police arrested Aboobucker Kaleel and Tuwan Rajabdeen in Pettah, the main business area in Colombo, for selling key chains bearing the image of Buddha.

Media reports say the two had committed an offence under section 290 of the penal code, which covers insults to Buddhism.

The accused pleaded guilty and chief magistrate Rashmika Singappulli sentenced them to one year imprisonment suspended for two years on Aug. 17.

The sentence has raised a few eyebrows.

"Images of saints on toys and key chains are on sale" in Sri Lanka, said Abdul Cader, a businessmen dealing in toys in Pettah.

"Are those not blasphemy also?"

A recent international survey has placed Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka as the country having the second highest proportion of citizens who say that religion is an important part of their lives.

Seventy per cent of the country's 20 million population are Buddhists. Hindus make up 14 per cent, Christian nine per cent and Muslims seven per cent.
  Mother Teresa gave me deeper experience of spirituality: Sister Joanne
  IT was Mother Teresa who gave her a profound insight into the spiritual life, says Sister Joanne, a Missionaries of Charity (MC) Councilor.

"I always remember her advice to me, to always say: 'Jesus whatever you want," says the Indian nun, who joined the MC congregation in the 1970s. This prayer, according to Mother Teresa, allows one a deeper experience of one's calling as a Christian, says Sister Joanne.

The 59-year-old nun shares how she came to join the MC congregation and her personal experiences of Mother Teresa ahead of the late nun’s birth centenary on Aug. 26.

Mother Teresa was born to Albanian parents in Skopje, Macedonia. She came to Kolkata, eastern India, as an aspirant nun in 1929. She made the city her base and began the MC congregation in 1950 to "work among the poorest of the poor." She was buried at the MC headquarters in Kolkata after her death on Sept. 5, 1997. Pope John Paul II beatified the Nobel Peace Prize-winning nun in October 2003, just six years after her death, the fastest beatification process in modern Church history. Beatification, which bestows the title "blessed," is one step away from sainthood.

"Sister, your vocation is not to go out to the poor but to belong to Jesus."

I remember Mother Teresa telling me this when I was struggling with the accounts in the Missionaries of Charity [MC] office in Kolkata.

It was tough work and prevented me from going out and serving the poor, which I really wanted to do.

Mother, however, said she understood my work and supported me in taking care of the congregation's accounts.

I always remember her advice to me, to always say: "Jesus whatever you want." This prayer, Mother said, takes one beyond the work one does, beyond how one lives -- to something much deeper.

It was Mother who led me to Jesus and taught me to trust and totally surrender to his will.

Being in the MC community with Mother has been a beautiful experience for she would joke and tell stories.

She also loved to hear our stories.

On Sundays, some nuns and I would go to a parish to teach Sunday school. When we returned, Mother would listen with great interest to all our experiences.

I think I was somehow extra special to Mother because I suffer from asthma. When I fell sick, Mother would look after me and even tuck me in bed.

I also remember her concern when my mother died in Delhi after suffering a stroke. As I had no relatives living near my mum, Mother told her MC sisters there to look after matters for me right until the burial.

She also arranged for my flight to Delhi from Kolkata.

Mother's personal touch is so beautiful.

I have been a companion to the present MC Superior General Sister Prema for six years now and it is beautiful to see the grace of God at work in our community.

It is God's work. He does it, not us. So surrender and trust are very important.

It does not matter if we feel we are not prepared. What is important is to allow God to work and everything else just flows.

How did I become an MC nun?

I have been attracted to the Religious life since I was 10 and used to visit the Delhi MC Shishu Bhawan (Children's Home) during my school days.

Though I was attracted to the work, I feared it would be too difficult for me.

It was in June 1974, when I was reading Psalm 16, which speaks of how God is our portion and cup, that I overcame all my apprehensions. I then decided to give myself totally to God by joining the MC congregation.

I had met Mother Teresa earlier in Bangalore and I phoned to tell her of my decision to join the congregation.

I came to Kolkata and spent my first year visiting families. In my second year, I was put in charge of accounts.

I took my first vows in 1977 and my final vows in 1982. I was later made regional superior until I moved to Delhi in 1992.

Six years later I moved back to the Kolkata motherhouse and have been elected Councilor twice.

As Councilor I travel to many countries to coordinate a course on early child development.

I also attend MC meetings on Religious appointments and assess the readiness of novices to take their vows.

I find the different MC communities vibrant and their work beautiful. They all have the same lifestyle and the openness of the sisters makes me feel at home in any of their houses around the world.

  Japanese students visit Tamil Nadu Marian shrine
  SOME students from a Catholic university in Japan are visiting a Marian shrine in Tamil Nadu to learn about Indian religiosity and culture.

Sixteen students from Nanzan University in Nagoya traveled from Chennai to the Marian shrine in Vadipatti village, located in Madurai archdiocese, on Aug. 17.

The mostly Shinto and Buddhist students want to "study and understand" the religious beliefs surrounding the shrine and village, said Divine Word Father Anthony Sahayaraj, who is coordinating the program.

During the 15-day trip, the students of anthropology and philosophy will also learn first hand what social relations in a multi-religious village are like, he said.

"They will experience how Christianity is practiced in India, especially in Tamil Nadu," said the priest.

Vadipatti village attracted attention when water began to gush out from the floor of its Our Lady of Health shrine in 2000.

A nun, who had a skin disease, was reportedly healed after she touched the water. Soon many other miracles were reported, said Father Sahayaraj, a native of Tamil Nadu.

Kasahara Chisako, 21, one of the two Catholic students in the group, said she would be focusing "on collecting stories related to local culture."

Nakajima Megumi, 22, a Buddhist, wants to "understand why non-Christians visit the Marian shrine, and the significance of the holy water in the shrine."

Another student, Misato Kondo, said she was "surprised to know that people in India go to religious places apart from their own."

  Kurnool honors Catholic relief efforts
  KURNOOL district in Andhra Pradesh has awarded the diocesan social service society for aiding victims of last year's flood in the state.

The district administration, at a function on Aug 15 awarded a Certificate of Commendation to the society's director, Father K.D. Joseph.

Though hundreds of NGOs had worked for the flood victims, only his organization received the "commendation," he said. He added that the "unique recognition" is a tribute to the “great work the Catholic minority community does for those in need."

The floods, which hit the Andhra Pradesh and neighboring Karnataka states in October 2009, killed some 300 people and washed away homes and schools.

Bishop Anthony Poola of Kurnool had assigned the entire flood relief work to the diocesan social service society, which sent teams of priests, nuns, seminarians and lay people to affected areas.

They provided immediate aid and after the water receded, worked to clean the roads and drains. The society also distributed 45,000 family relief packages, including uncooked food, stoves and clothing.

The society sent medical teams to prevent outbreaks of epidemics and worked on sanitation and rehabilitation of water sources.

It also started a cash-for-work program to make flood victims self-sufficient and is constructing 1,000 permanent houses for victims.

  Rights group welcomes Myanmar regime inquiry
  By Mike MacLachlan, London

CHRISTIAN Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has welcomed a US decision to back calls for a UN commission of inquiry into Myanmar's military regime.

The White House said in a statement on Aug. 18 that the commission, which would investigate alleged breaches of human rights and war crimes by the Myanmar junta, would "advance the cause of human rights" in the country.

The US is the fifth nation to call for an inquiry. Among the others are the UK and Australia. But such a move is fiercely opposed by China, a close ally of Myanmar.

After the White house announcement, CSW said it had written to the foreign ministers of EU states asking them to support the initiative and had congratulated British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Britain's stance.

Benedict Rogers, CSW's East Asia team leader, said the US move would give "significant momentum to the international campaign" against the regime, which "has one of the worst human rights records in the world."

CSW has consistently opposed the Myanmar regime, accusing it, among other things, of "the widespread and systematic use of rape as a weapon of war" and recruitment of child soldiers.

Other activists also welcomed the US move.

Aung Din, executive director of the Washington-based US Campaign for Burma, said it was a "right and timely action" following last week's announcement that Myanmar would hold its first election in two decades on Nov. 7.
  Indian villagers expelled for being Catholics
  By Thomson Kent, Kohima

THE Catholic Association of Nagaland has appealed to the state government to help two tribal men expelled from a predominantly Baptist village in the northeastern Indian state for embracing the Catholic faith.

The two Pochury tribesmen were ejected from Phokhungri village by the local council.

The village must only have Baptists, anyone joining other denominations must leave, a council resolution said.

Lay Catholic organizations in the state have taken the case to civil authorities.

Peter Lichamo, a senior government official, said his office will give its verdict by next month.

The village council, however, allowed the wives and children of the expelled men to stay in the village providing they remain Baptists.

The Pochury Catholic Union and the two men earlier asked civil organizations to help them return to the village.

The Phokhungri Area Public Organization, an influential citizens' forum in the locality, intervened and requested the village council to withdraw its expulsion order. It, however, refused.

The organization then suggested the men seek help from higher authorities and the courts.

"It's a very sad state of affairs when rules barring other denominations exist," said Chichutho Jose, the Catholic union's general secretary. "It is a fundamental breach of human rights."

Baptists demolished a Catholic church in Anatongre, Kiphire district, on July 9, apparently on the same grounds. The Catholic Church has also protested the closure of its schools in Nagaland.

Baptists constitute most of the people in Nagaland where Christians form more than 90 percent of its some 1.9 million people. The minority Catholics run several schools and institutions across the state.
  "Touring sisters" get refreshed
  SOME Catholic nuns, who keep touring northeastern villages as part of their ministry, were brought together for a refresher program by the regional unit of Conference of Religious India.

"You are playing a big role in keeping the Church alive through your missionary works," Salesian Father Ethelbert Minj told the 87 nuns gathered for the program.

Father Minj, vice-provincial of Salesian Guwahati province, opened the Aug. 11-12 course at the Guwahati Social Forum.

The participants came from 27 congregations working in dioceses across the region.

"We who are in the mission field are always happy because we are amidst people and become part of their life," he said, appreciating the work of the nuns.

These nuns have taken it as their ministry to walk from village to village in the hilly, inaccessible areas. They meet families, teach about faith, take care of the sick and offer other helps.

They also preach the Gospel to pre-dominantly tribal villages. Some sisters take months to reach back their convent.

"We can transform the North East by our mission," said Mary Concepta Dkhar of Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians, a resource person.

She said the main "source for a touring sister is the Bible. Our people need to interiorize the Bible," she said.

Citing examples of heroism and courage in missionary endeavors of touring sisters, Sister Dkhar said evangelization aims to bring Gospel to all strata of society.

"We have to be women filled with God in order to make our mission effective," she said and added that in the ministry of Touring Sisters, faith formation and social work go hand in hand.

"It is our duty to teach, to form, to lead and guide our Christian Communities to a mature faith," she said.

Source: CRI
  Beauty queen's refusal to go topless lauded
  By Joe Torres, Manila

A PHILIPPINES church official has praised a local candidate in the Miss Universe pageant for refusing to take part in a topless pictorial.

"We support the decision of the Philippine delegate, Father Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life told reporters.

"We encourage her to withdraw from the pageant itself as an expression of our common protest," Father Castro added.

Miss Philippines, Maria Venus Raj had earlier refused to join the pictorial in which participants had designs painted on their bodies.

"What our beauty candidate did was very inspiring," Father Castro stated, adding that her stance illustrates the "dignity and image" of Filipino women.

"This attitude should be emulated by the other candidates," he said.

A press statement from the Miss Universe pageant noted that candidates were not forced to pose topless.

"The contestants are diverse as they represent more than 82 countries around the globe. Many of their cultures embrace nudity," the statement said.

"These photos are a form of artistic expression for each contestant and we respect their desire to pose topless, or not," the organization said.

Raj, 22, was born in Doha, Qatar to a Catholic Filipino mother and an Indian father.

Inconsistencies in her birth certificate led to her dethronement as Miss Philippines. However, Philippine pageant officials reversed their decision and reinstated her in April after the discrepancies were ruled to be "clerical errors".

Devotees want feast focused on Mary, not parties and beauty pageants.
  Mob attacks Church school in central India
  By Saji Thomas, Bhopal

A SCHOOL in Madhya Pradesh was vandalized by a mob on Aug. 18.
About 60 people attacked a Catholic school in the central Indian Madhya Pradesh state this morning, destroying furniture, computers, windows and door, says an eye witness.

The slogan-shouting mob barged into St. Pius Higher Secondary School and vandalized the office in the administrative block, said Father Biju Thiruthanathil.

He said the attackers are suspected to be members of the student wing of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), regarded as the political arm of pro-Hindu groups.

Father Thiruthanathil, who works in the school, said the attackers arrived before school started and closed the gates, preventing students from entering.

The attack is believed to have been instigated by some staff members who were demanding a pay hike.

Khandwa diocese's education secretary Father Saji V. Kurian said salaries had recently been increased but some staff members had sought a further rise. "We had agreed to consider it but wanted some time as the bishop was out of country. We are really shocked over the development," Father Kurian said.

The attackers left when police arrived soon after the school management called for help. However, no one has been arrested yet.

The school has suspended classes for the day.

Church leaders have noted that attacks on Christians increased after the BJP came to power in December 2003. Christians have experienced a total of 184 attacks, including this latest one.

Catholic leaders last year filed a petition in the Madhya Pradesh High Court demanding protection for Christians and their institutions. A final verdict is still pending.
  Rights groups welcome plan to block mine
  By Ajay Kumar Singh, Bhubaneswar

CHURCH people and rights groups in India have welcomed a report from a federal government committee recommending the cancellation of a bauxite mining project in Orissa.

Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak of Berhampur and several other human rights activist say the committee's report vindicates the opposition of people in the eastern state's Niyamgiri Hills.

Mining would violate tribal rights and destroy forest areas, the Ministry of Environment and Forests committee said in its report, submitted on Aug. 16.

The committee said London-listed but Indian-controlled Vedanta Resources should not have been given clearances to mine without the agreement of tribal communities and village councils.

Local tribal people revere the Niyamgiri Hills as sacred.

Media reports allege senior government officials are pushing for the project at the mining firm’s behest, Bishop Nayak told

"This would erode people's faith in the government. If lawmakers become lawbreakers, it would be serious, alarming and damaging for civil society and politics," he said.

Father Nocholaus Barla, tribal and social activist, said the government should treat the committee report "as the people's verdict and cancel clearances" given to the mining firm.

Vedanta already has an alumina refinery at the foot of the Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa's Kalahandi district. The company was given the go-ahead for the bauxite mine but protests forced the government to set up the committee.

The government "should allow tribal people retain their social and cultural identities rather than have them begging on the roads," Father Barla said.

The report "exposes the real face of the government" which does not care for the poor and tribal people, said Prafulla Samantaray, who leads a people's campaign against the project.

Father Mihir Upasi, who directs social work in Berhampur diocese, said the whole of southern Orissa would be adversely affected if mining is allowed.
  Tribunal to 'give voice' to Orissa violence victims
  By Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

AN Indian forum is organizing a people's tribunal to highlight issues surrounding the anti-Christian violence in Orissa state two years ago.

National Solidarity Forum (NSF), a coalition of various groups and movements, says it will organize the National People's Tribunal in New Delhi from August 22-24 to "give voice to the unheard."

Anti-Christian violence in the tribal-dominated Kandhamal district began a day after Hindu leader Lakshmanananda Saraswati was gunned down on Aug. 23, 2008. Hindu fanatics blamed Christians for the incident and orchestrated seven weeks of violence.

The upcoming tribunal aims to mark the second anniversary of the attacks.

The violence and its aftermath showed that the government has failed to protect its citizens, says Father Ajay Singh, a priest from Orissa and an NSF member. The tribunal aims to make "the government realize its responsibility of protecting the common people," he said.

Organizers expect some 250 people to attend tribunal proceedings including 50 victims, experts, media persons, activists, researchers, international observers and legislators.

The public hearings are to include testimonies from survivors, witnesses, rights' activists, social experts and government representatives. The tribunal would also review relevant documents, reports and field studies.

The country's legal system appears unable to dispense justice, so "that is why the tribunal is formed to analyze the causes of the anti-Christian violence," said NSF national coordinator Dheerendra Panda.

"We want to put pressure on society, government and the media so that justice is served to the victims," said NSF member Ram Puniyani.

The violence killed 93 people and rendered some 50,000 people homeless. Judges dealing with riot cases have so far pronounced more acquittals than convictions.
  'Weed out' Christians remark sparks outrage
  By reporter, Belgaum

A BISHOP has slammed a remark reportedly made by a pro-Hindu politician, asking people to "to weed out" Christianity from Indian society.

Catholics are upset by the comments of Prahlad Remani, said Bishop Peter Machado of Belgaum who is based in southern Indian Karnataka state.

The member of the Karnataka legislative house reportedly made the comments while addressing a local celebration marking India's 64th Independence Day on Aug. 15.

Angry Christians demonstrated in front of the local government office on Aug. 16 protesting Remani's comments. They demanded an unconditional apology from him.

Remani, a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party, reportedly said that when the British left India in 1947 they did two wrong things. They allowed the partition of India for the creation of Pakistan and left the "seeds of Christianity" in the country.

These seeds are "being spread systematically" through Christian institutions, he reportedly said. "If these seeds spread, then our nation will be under danger," Remani was quoted as saying, and urged people "to weed out" Christianity from the region.

Bishop Machado said Remani's remarks created "sectarian tension" in the area, which had been "comparatively peaceful" compared to other parts of the state. He said he has made a police complaint to put a stop to such remarks. "Christians are afraid" that now they will face tension, the bishop added.

Christian leaders say anti-Christian incidents in the state rose after the BJP government came to power in 2008. Some regions such as Mangalore and Bangalore witnessed a spate of violence in 2008.

The remarks are "a threat to social unity and integrity," said Father Faustin Lobo, Karnataka Church spokesperson. He said the comments have "deeply hurt" Christians.

Remani has told media that he would continue his campaign against Christianity in the region.
  Rama Sene attacks another Karnataka pub
  SOME 10 men, suspected members of Hindu group Sri Rama Sene, attacked a pub in Mysore city and abused its occupants, including women, on Saturday night.

Karnataka state police reportedly arrested four Sen men, including the group's district convener.

The incident took place at the Hotel Adhi Manor near around midnight, reported

Hotel manager told reporters that the slogan-shouting gang barged into the hotel and started throwing things around indiscriminately. They also abused the visitors, including women, following which the occupants ran helter-skelter.

"From their slogans, we concluded that they belonged to Sri Rama Sene," he said.

"We have a valid license and permission to run the hotel and the pub. If we were doing anything wrong, they must have lodged a police complaint. They cannot take law into their hands," he said.

The sena members were responsible for attacking another pub in Mangalore some time ago. They also beating up women inside it. Their leaders said women enjoying drinks in public was against Indian custom.

Police sources said the group in Mysore tried to extort money from the hotel management. When they refused to give in, the attack was launched. "We have booked a case against those arrested and produced them in the Court," an investigative officer said.

  BBC film on Mother Teresa not part of festival
  THE film festival organised to mark the birth centenary of Mother Teresa in Kolkata will not screen the 1969 BBC documentary, the first film made on the saintly nun.

Organizers of the festival said the British Broadcasting Corporation has not responded to their requests to screen the film at Mother Teresa International Film Festival 2010.

"We were very keen on having the documentary as the opening film of the festival. I wrote to the BBC three times, including a letter to its Director-General Mark Thompson, but got no response," director of the Church-organized festival Sunil Lucas told The Hindu.

The film, Something Beautiful for God, made by Peter Chafer and anchored by journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, made Mother Teresa's work known internationally.

But what was the point of making a good film and merely keeping it in your archives, Lucas asked.

The organizers had tried to screen the film in the two earlier editions of the festival -- at the time of her beatification in 2003 and on her 10th death anniversary in 2007 -- but were unsuccessful.

In 2003, the BBC had agreed but had asked for £250 in screening charges. "We had declined on a matter of principle, as all screenings of the festival are free. However, this year being the centenary year, we may have looked for a sponsor for screening the film," Lucas said.

The organizers have decided to go with 'Mother Teresa,' made by Petrie sisters Ann and Jeanette, as the opening film of the festival that will be inaugurated on August 26, her birth anniversary. Released in 1986, the film documents Mother Teresa's work, as the Petrie sisters traveled with her across four continents over five years.

It is considered "the most authentic" of the films made on her life, Mr. Lucas said. The 1979 documentary, Mother Teresa and Her world, the second film to have been made on the subject and the feature films, In the Name of God's Poor and Madre Teresa are the other highlights of the festival that will showcase 15 films.

Source: The Hindu
  Prayers mark Independence Day in parishes
  PARISH communities across India said special prayers for nation on this Independence Day as hundreds of them hoisted national flag with their Sunday congregations.

As national Independence Day coincides with the feast of Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary, a feast day in several parishes, national falg hoisting and gatherings are normally part of parish program of Aug. 15.

As the day fell on Sunday this year, hundreds of parishes celebrated the day with special programs such as meetings, cultural programs and music bands.

Hundreds of parishes, especially in Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu held special meetings and prayer programs recalling the sacrifices of freedom fighters.

Kerala Catholic bishops' Pastoral Orientation Centre hosted a special musical worship concert named Free to Worship. Missions India and Friends of Missions India organized it in Greater Cochin.

In the program the members of the Revive Praise Band, a group of friends who are professionals in various fields, sang prayer songs based on the theme 'no one is beyond the love of God'.

All Christian denominations come together for singing songs of praise at 'Free to worship'. They together prayed for the peace and the unity of our motherland at the event.

Missions India is an indigenous, interdenominational Christian organization with a two-fold ministry namely, revival of the church and welfare of the underprivileged people of our country.

It was in 1989 that Missions India came into being in Navajeevodayam Tiruvalla, Kerala. Now its ministries have spread to 17 states of India with 535 missionaries serving in 300 mission stations.
  Burqa dumping woman gets police protection
  THE Kerala High Court has asked police to protect a Muslim woman, an engineering graduate, who complained that she was facing threats for wearing modern dress and abandoning burqa or headscarf.

In her petition, Rayana R Kazi has named one Muhammed Kavugoli as the respondent, a man who claims to be an activist of the Popular Front of India (PFI).

The front, considered a fanatic Muslim body, is accused in the case of chopping off the hand of a Catholic teacher last month.

Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan has accused the PFI of attempting to turn Kerala into a "Muslim state" in the next 20 years.
A division bench of Justices K M Joseph and M L Joseph Francis on Aug. 12 asked Kavugoli to appear before the court on August 18.

The court has also directed to police to provide protection to Rayana.

Rayana, who belongs to Muslim-stronghold Kasargod district, says she has been under pressure from orthodox Muslims in her community to wear a headscarf and observe purdah since June 2009, when she returned from Chennai after completing an engineering course.

Two weeks ago, she got a letter, allegedly from Kavugoli, which accused her of insulting Islam and warned her of dire consequences, reported.

"Seeing me in jeans and shirt, the local people of my community had unleashed a campaign that I had abandoned Islam. I strongly believe that I have the freedom to wear any dress of my choice," said Rayana.

  Korean Christians pray for Muslims in Ramadan
  By Paul Hwang, Seoul

A KOREAN Protestant group is once again urging Christians to offer prayers for the world's Muslims during their fasting month of Ramadan.

"Pray for the hundreds of thousands of muezzin around the world so that many of them will encounter the living God through Jesus, the Messiah," says a booklet published by the Youth with a Mission, Korea (YWAM).

Muezzin are mosque officials who call Muslims to prayer.

The Thirty Days of Prayers for the Muslim World booklet, published annually, is used by members of Korean Protestant groups including Global Operation, Worldwide Evangelization for Christ (WEC) Korea, Full Gospel Church and many others during Ramadan.

The booklet gives information on Muslims and how they pray, a WEC Korea coordinator told The publication also provides a special theme and focus of prayers for its Christian readers everyday during Ramadan.

YWAM is selling the booklet in some 20 cities in South Korea including Seoul and Busan.

The YWAM-led prayer campaign for Muslism in Korea started in 1993. Some 100,000 Protestants are believed to be participating in it. The booklet was originally written in English and published by an international organization called The 30-Days of Prayer Network.

The 52-page booklet has been translated into 42 languages, according to the organization.
  Orissa violence victim minor girl rescued from abusers
  From A Correspondent

JYOTHI (name changed), a victim of Orissa's Communal Violence 2008, was trafficked along with her 19-years-old elder sister and two other young girls to Delhi in December 2009.

They were sold off to a placement agent called "Sakhi Maid Bureau" located at Ratla village, Rohini, Delhi, where Jyothi and other girls were sexually abused and repeatedly attempted to be raped for six days by Mr. Monto, the owner of a placement agency.

Later she was sent to work as domestic help at one Suresh Kumar's house, a resident of House No. 121-122, D2, Rohini Sector 11, New Delhi with one year contract since January 2010.

Jyothi was sexually abused by a member of the family where she works as domestic help. She bears the marks of biting and nails on her body.

Jyothi was rescued from the house of Suresh Kumar at around 7 pm on August 9 with the help of Prasant Vihar Police Station, Rohini, Delhi.

As soon as Jyothi's mother, who had accompanied the rescue team saw her daughter sitting at the veranda of the house, she ran to hold her and broke down in tears. Jyothi narrated her story of how she was trafficked to Delhi and how she was abused, beaten, assaulted and threatened first at the placement agency house for six days and then by the members of the family where she was sent to work.

The police officer who was in charge of investigation was cooperative during the process, from filing the written complaint at midnight to taking the victim along with women police for medical examination at Bhagavan Mahavir Hospital, Pitampura, Delhi, which took six hours till the next morning.

The investigation officer, who stayed throughout the night, informed the rescue team to come back at 11 am on August 10 along with the victim and her mother for filing the First Information Report (FIR) and to proceed to arrest the accused.

Though the police was cooperative in the initial stage they changed their attitude later. When the rescue team arrived at the police station at 12 noon they were shocked and surprised when Sudhir Kumar, Station House Officer of Prasant Vihar Police station refused to register the complaint, saying that, "No rape took place as per the medical examination and there was no need for a case registration against anyone."

The matter was then taken to Additional Commissioner of Police Sukhvir Singh of South Rohini police station. He has assured to instruct his junior police officer on duty to register the complaint and action taken accordingly.

Until the filing of this report, no complaint was registered and no action taken.

Jyothi is still traumatized, while her mother wails for the second daughter who is still under the custody of the same placement agency. The All India Christian Council (aicc) and Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) will approach the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and seek intervention from the court to book the placement agent and also instruct the concerned police authority to take action as per the law of the land.

The rescue team was led by Karuna Dayal, Coordinator, Anti-Human Trafficking Initiatives of HRLN and Advocate Lansinglu Rongmei, aicc Legal Secretary, along with Madhu Chandra, aicc PROl, Afsar Ahmed from HRLN, Adv. Diviya Jyoti Jaipiria from HRLN, Sangram from HRLN and Ashis Kumar Subodh from aicc. Advocate Lansinglu who is a legal consultant for Kandhamal victims says, "Human trafficking agents who operate in the tribal belt of Orissa have targeted Christian girls who are displaced by the Kandhamal communal violence. We have been receiving complaints of missing girls from Kandhamal after the violence broken out in 2008." (Courtesy: Christian Secular Forum)
  Tamil newspaper gives voice to minorities in Sri Lanka
  By reporter, Colombo

CHRISTIANS have praised a Sri Lankan Tamil daily, which marks its 80th anniversary this year, for lending a voice to the minority community in the country.

Virakesari "tears off the shroud of ignorance and raises the consciousness of minorities, especially the people of Indian origin brought to work 200 years ago in the plantation sector," said Father Sritharan Sylvester, head of Caritas Trincomalee-Batticaloa, a Catholic social service agency. These people are surviving "without owning an inch of land," he said.

"Virakesari often spoke for the Church during difficult situations," said another Tamil priest.

Virakesari reports on Sri Lankan and world news in Tamil, a language spoken by about a quarter of Sri Lanka's 20 million people. Virakesari means "victorious lion" in the Tamil language.

Although the country is predominantly Buddhist, the paper covers most religious events with special supplements for major religious festivals. Hence, "it is our duty as Christians to pay tribute to the paper," said peace activist Jerome Fernando.

The paper, which has a readership of about 5 million, was founded in 1930 during the British colonial period.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, parliamentarians, as well as Muslim and Hindu religious leaders have also paid tribute to the country's oldest Tamil newspaper.

Meanwhile, Colombo archdiocese has announced plans to launch its own Tamil-language Catholic monthly.
  Indian bishops meet Madhya Pradesh chief minister
  By Saji Thomas, Bhopal

CATHOLIC bishops in Madhya Pradesh state met Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan today and suggested Church-state collaboration.

The meeting came after bishops of all the nine Catholic dioceses in the state gathered for their three-day regional council meeting that concluded in the morning of Aug. 12.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio who is based in Bhopal, the state capital, headed the nine-member delegation.

He told that the Church is willing to join hands with the state government in setting up educational and health services.

Such collaboration would help the Church dispel the wrong notion that Christian social services were a façade for conversion activities, he said.

"Let the government give land. We will set up quality educational institutions and health service facilities and provide our expertise to help people," he said.

The proposal for collaboration was part of a memorandum the delegation submitted to the chief minister. The memorandum mentioned continued harassment Christians face in the state.

Christians say the police have tacit support of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian people's party), which has ruled the state from 2003. Since then, the state has witnessed scores of attacks on Christians and other minority groups.

Father Anand Muttungal, spokesperson of the Catholic Church in the state said the chief minister was "very positive" and promised to consider the proposal for collaboration. Chauhan also promised to protect Christians from attacks by radical Hindus, he said.

Christians are a tiny minority in the state, forming less then 1 per cent of the Madhya Pradesh's 60 million people, 91 per cent of whom are Hindus.
  Pakistan flood relief gathers momentum
  By Eric Dayal, Nowshehra

CARITAS Pakistan's effort to aid the millions affected by the country's worst floods has stepped up a gear, as the charity starts distributing vitally needed supplies.

Cooking equipment, hygiene kits and bedding are being delivered to badly hit areas but workers say the continuing flood conditions are still hampering efforts.

"Access to a lot of the affected areas is still impossible and it's hard to organize distribution amid the panic," said John Joseph of Caritas'
Islamabad-Rawalpindi unit.

He was speaking in the compound of Holy Name church in Nowshehra, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where distribution began on Aug. 11 after prayers and blessings from Father Amir Yaqub, the parish priest.

The beneficiaries of the distribution are 230 families, both Christian and Muslim, who are sheltering in Catholic schools nearby.

The effort is gaining momentum, with Caritas Quetta starting distribution in Balochistan province on Aug. 12 and Caritas Faisalabad due to start on Aug. 13.

Pope Benedict XVI has expressed his condolences in a telegram to Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha, head of the Pakistan bishops' conference. "The Holy Father commends the deceased to the Almighty" and "prays for all involved in providing assistance to the victims," the telegram stated.

Meanwhile, more heavy rains are forecast for next week.
  Protesters want info on missing journalist
  By reporter, Colombo

SRI LANKAN protesters have demanded their government reveal information about a journalist who has gone missing for 200 days.

Prageeth Eknaligoda, a political columnist and cartoonist with Lankaenews, went missing on Jan. 24, two days before the election in which General Sarath Fonseka lost to President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Eknaligoda had supported Fonseka.

About 400 people including Christian clergy, journalists, politicians, artists, and Eknaligoda's relatives took part in a sit-in protest and march in Colombo on Aug 10 to mark 200 days since his disappearance.

"The person responsible for a crime cannot find the person who did the crime," S.G. Punchihewa, a prominent lawyer, told the crowd.

The police have consistently failed to find the journalist, he said.

Government investigations have been haphazard -- early hearings were adjourned and the police did not appear at the sixth and most recent hearing, he said.

"The government is responsible for the disappearance of Eknaligoda," Anglican pastor Marimuthupillai Sathivel told

"If the government is not responsible, they should produce him so we can see him. The government is silent," said the pastor of St. Michael's Church in Colombo.

The government succeeded in finding Tamil rebel leaders with the help of security forces and police, so "why can't they find Eknaligoda?" he asked.

The missing journalist's wife, Sandya, and several media representatives also addressed the protest.

Seetha Ranjani, secretary of the Free Media Movement, was one of them. "Eknaligoda was a journalist who stood for a just society," she said.
  'More died in floods than official estimates'
  By Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

FLASH floods have killed hundreds in Jammu and Kashmir state, more than the official count, says an Indian bishop.

"We have sent our director of social work to survey the area and help the victims. Our parish priest and nuns in Leh [district] are also helping those in need," said Capuchin Bishop Peter Celestine Elampassery of Jammu-Srinagar, whose diocese covers the entire northern Indian state that borders Pakistan on one side and China on the other.

The areas worst-affected by the Aug. 6 disaster were Leh city and Choglamasar village. Floodwaters, carrying rubble and boulders at speeds of 300 to 500 kilometers per hour, washed away people and their houses as they lay sleeping, the bishop said.

Organizations engaged in relief operations estimate that 500 people died in the floods, which also destroyed some 450 houses, rendering some 3,500 people homeless.

Official figures, however, said the disaster killed 166 people, including 23 foreigners, and injured 73 people.

Bishop Elampassery said the number of the dead is increasing as relief and rescue workers discover bodies buried under the debris. He lamented that victims are unable to get proper relief as roads and bridges have been destroyed.

The Indian Army has already set up camps sheltering the homeless and doing primary relief work, he said. "We are hoping to send some relief material to the affected areas," the bishop added.

Caritas India, the Church's official social service agency, said it is assessing the situation.

The agency would probably help to rehabilitate victims as the army and government agencies are providing immediate relief to them, said Sunil Mammen from Caritas' Emergency Department.
  New nuncio gets a warm welcome to India
  By Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

INDIA'S new apostolic nuncio Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio received a warm welcome from officials of India's three Catholic rites when he arrived in New Delhi.

"We are very happy to have him here," said Father Thomas d'Aquino Sequeira, deputy secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI).

"India needed a nuncio" as the previous one left seven months ago, he said.

Italian Archbishop Pennacchio, 57, was named on May 8 to succeed Archbishop Pedro López Quintana.

"I have come to India for the first time and will work in communion with the Churches in India," the nuncio said on his arrival on Aug. 9.

Archbishop Pennacchio was apostolic nuncio to Thailand, Singapore and Cambodia, and apostolic delegate to Myanmar, Laos, Malaysia and Brunei for the past seven years. He was based in Bangkok.

Major Archbishop Baselios Mar Cleemis of the Syro-Malankara Church, Bishop Gratian Mundadan, Apostolic Visitator for the Syro-Malabar Church and Latin-rite Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi met the new nuncio at the airport. Also present was Brother Mani Mekkunnel from the Conference of Religious India, the association for Relgious priests, brothers and sisters.

The Catholic Church in India comprises the Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites and all three are represented in the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India.

The Latin rite follows the Roman liturgy introduced by European missioners in the 15th century, while the two Oriental rites follow Syrian Church traditions and trace their origins to Saint Thomas the Apostle.

The nuncio will begin his official work as ambassador of the Holy See after presenting his credentials to Indian President Pratibha Patil.
  Christians observe 'Black Day' for dalits
  By Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

CHRISTIAN groups across India have declared Aug. 10 a "Black Day" to protest against a 60-year-old law which they say is prejudicial to Christian and Muslim dalit (former "untouchables" in the caste system).

Under the Indian quota system, lower castes are given "quota benefits" to provide more equal opportunities in aspects such as employment, education and political representation.

However, a presidential clause, signed on Aug. 10, 1950, restricted the benefits to Hindus only. Although it was later amended to include Buddhists and Sikhs, Christians and Muslims remain excluded.

"This protest is not about quotas. It's specifically about deleting the clause, which goes against the secular nature of this country," said Father Cosmon Arokiaraj, secretary of the Indian bishops' commission for dalit people.

In New Delhi, around 50 people gathered in front of the city's Sacred Heart Cathedral, wearing black badges and bearing black flags.

"This is clearly discrimination against poor people on the basis of religion," Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi told the gathering. "We are observing Aug. 10 as a 'Black Day' to express our disappointment and frustration.

"Most political parties and successive governments have agreed to extend quota benefits to dalit Christians. But no one has taken the decision in 60 years," he said.

Father Arokiaraj said Catholic and Protestant groups throughout the country have organized further meetings and marches to demand the clause's removal.
  Ethics and profits are 'not incompatible'
  By Vorapoj Singha, Bangkok

RUNNING a business ethically and making profits are in no way mutually exclusive, Thai Catholic business people learnt at a recent seminar.

"When you run your business in an ethical way, profits will come automatically," Kanok Abhiradee, former president of Thai Airways International, told some 40 Catholic business people at the Aug. 7 seminar in Bangkok.

The Catholic Business Executives Group (CBEG) organized the event.

Kanok, one of the speakers, acknowledged that any business needs to make a profit to survive.

However, if a company regards making profit as the only measure of its success, the result will be adverse effects on workers' spiritual wellbeing and the exploitation of natural resources.

Bishop Phibul Visitnonthachai of Nakhon Sawan agreed.

"Companies that stress ethics have survived comparatively well," said the bishop, who was special guest at the seminar.

"They may not be making huge profits but they are still profitable and not struggling," observed the prelate, who is secretary of the Thai bishops' Catholic Commission for Social-Pastoral Ministries.

He said Catholic businesses should be people-oriented and must not be places where the strong subdue the weak.

"Catholic business people should focus on ethics more than profits," said CBEG chairperson Prachuab Trinikorn. "Using money as the only measure [of success] is a surefire way to decadence."

He said he always advises his employees to respect the local communities and the environment in which the company operates.

Prachuab also advised participants to gather regularly in their own parishes "to share their faith experiences and discuss how to integrate religion in business."
  UN chief visits Nagasaki cathedral
  By special correspondent, Nagasaki

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has paid tribute to the victims of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack after meeting survivors and visiting the city's Urakami Cathedral.

Ban was in Nagasaki on Aug. 5, ahead of the 65th anniversaries of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. He attended the Peace Memorial Ceremony the next day in Hiroshima, the first UN secretary-general to do so.

During Ban's Nagasaki visit, Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki, gave him a tour of the cathedral and explained to him its history of struggle before and after the bombing.

The prelate, who had invited Ban to visit earlier this year, explained that the church was built by persecuted Christians and was left in smoldering ruins after the atomic bomb detonated just 500 meters away.

At a press conference held at the cathedral, Ban paid tribute to the survivors of the bombing, some of whom he had met at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.

"Their injuries were shocking. Their fortitude has been unimaginable," he said.

"Their devotion to using their experiences to promote peace and disarmament is inspiring and humbling," he added.

He also said his own commitment to the cause of disarmament was stronger as a result of the visit and thanked both Archbishop Takami and Nagasaki mayor Tomihisa Taue.
  Christian agency not leaving Afghanistan
  By Mike MacLachlan, London

THE Christian agency that employed 10 medical workers murdered in northern Afghanistan last week says it has no intention of pulling out of the country.

Dirk Frans, executive director of the International Assistance Mission, told the BBC it would be "almost unimaginable" for the group, which has worked in Afghanistan since 1966, to give up.

The dead -- six Americans, a German, a Briton and two Afghans -- were holding eye-care clinics in the province of Badakshan when they were killed. The Taliban and another militant group, Hezb-e-Islami, claimed responsibility.

The Taliban said the dead were spies and Christian missioners who were carrying Bibles translated into the local language, Dari.

But, speaking from Kabul, Frans told BBC radio the area's police chief had said they were killed during a robbery. "Nothing of value was left on the bodies -- passports, mobile phones, satellite phones -- nothing," he said.

He denied that his group was proselytizing. "The laws do not allow it and we adhere to that," he said.

Badakshan is regarded as a "safe" area. But the US-based organization Catholic Relief Services (CRS) told last week, only days before the killings: "Our experience is that 'peaceful' and 'conflict-affected' are too general terms for any province in Afghanistan."

From April to June, only five of the 34 Afghan provinces experienced fewer than 20 "armed opposition group" attacks, it said. Every other province had more. "Every province is conflict-affected to some degree," the group said.

CRS is the Afghan partner of Caritas' English arm, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD).

Lucy Morris, the Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Afghanistan program officer for CAFOD, recently visited Ghor province in western Afghanistan.

"CRS representatives there told us the quality of work was their best protection," she said.
  Church welcomes pilgrim-subsidy hearing
  By Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

CHURCH officials have welcomed a Supreme Court directive instructing a state court to hear a petition challenging subsidies for Christian pilgrims.

The Supreme Court on Aug. 2 also said that the Andhra Pradesh High Court's hearing of the case, to be done within four months, should not be "influenced" by "unwarranted" observations made in an interim order last year.

The interim order in July 2009 suspended the state subsidy scheme for Christians going to Jerusalem on pilgrimage.

The High Court said the subsidy was improper and that tax payers' money should not be used to promote any religion.

The Supreme Court's move "is a step in the right direction. We welcome it so far as it helps Christians obtain the subsidy," said Father Babu Joseph, spokesperson the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India.

The state court's interim order followed a petition from G. Mohan Rao who argued that state funding of Christian pilgrims discriminates against other religions.

The Supreme Court's "move is positive," said Reverend Enos Pradhan, general secretary of the Church of North India, adding that "the subsidy does not violate secular principles."

The subsidy is part of a state welfare package given to minorities, he said, adding that Muslims also get state help for their pilgrimages to Mecca.

"We will wait for the High Court to make a decision," said Catholic lay leader John Dayal.

The state subsidy, introduced in 2008, saw Andhra Pradesh spending about 10 million rupees (US$216,200) on Christian pilgrims going to Jerusalem in the scheme's first year.

The state had spent half that amount in the second year when the subsidy was suspended.

Brother Mani Mekkunnel of the Conference of Religious India says he would like to see the scheme extended nationwide by the federal government.
  Priestly vocations rising 'despite persecution'
  By Mike MacLachlan, London

VOCATIONS to the Syro-Malabar priesthood in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh are on the rise, although the state has one of the country's worst records of anti-Christian violence.

Bishop Anthony Chirayath of Sagar said that when the diocese was set up in 1968 as an exarchate, there were only 600 Catholics in the region and three priests.

Now there are 35 priests and 41 candidates to the priesthood despite "acts of persecution and discrimination," he told the international charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Madhya Pradesh is one of five states in India to have enacted anti-conversion laws and ACN quotes Ajay Maken, the Home Affairs Minister, as saying it had the country's second-highest number of religious-related incidents last year.

This June,, reporting on a Catholic move to foster communal harmony in the state, said the Church had "suffered a series of violent attacks on its people and institutions."

Bishop Chirayath told ACN, a charity that works on behalf of persecuted Christians, that in such circumstances "it took courage for young people to come forward to serve the Church."

Since he became bishop four years ago, he said, a minor seminary has been established in Bararu, near his home. There are currently 25 students there. ACN is supporting them by donating £15,000 to build a chapel that can hold a congregation of 60.

"A place of prayer is very important -- it is central to liturgical formation," the bishop said.
  South Indian archbishop convenes peace summit
  By reporter, Thiruvananthapuram

AN archbishop in southern India has brought together Hindu, Muslim and Christian leaders in a meeting to promote peace in Kerala state.

This comes in response to a recent incident in which Islamic radicals chopped off the hand of a Catholic professor, T.J. Joseph, for allegedly insulting Islam in an exam question paper.

"It's our duty to maintain harmony and mutual respect. That's why we organized this meeting," said Major Archbishop Baselios Mar Cleemis, head of the Kerala-based Syro-Malankara Church.

A statement issued after the meeting, which was held in the state capital Thiruvananthapuram on July 31, appealed to leaders of all religions to fight the "divisive forces" that aim to destabilize society.

"No religion preaches communal hatred, but the attack on the professor has led to a communal polarization," the statement said, adding that "no community should be isolated on the basis of stray incidents."

The prelate said he regretted the recent "unfortunate happening," which has proven the existence of "evil forces who scheme to divide and spread mutual hatred in the state."

"This initiative for peace is a welcome sign," said Imam Maulavi Jamaluddin, a local Muslim leader. "We have come together to say we deplore such violent criminal activities, which are against Islamic spirituality."

When asked to comment on media reports that Christians in the area were planning to boycott Muslim businesses, he said "it's a dangerous trend."
  Archdiocese silent on transparency debate
  By Bosco de Souza Eremita, Panaji

THE Church in Goa is refusing to comment over a recent government move that could allow public scrutiny of all Church activities, including its financial dealings.

"I have nothing to say," said Father Francis Caldeira, spokesperson of Goa and Daman archdiocese on July 30, three days after the media reported on the state move.

The state Legislative Law Committee on July 26 asked the Law Department to make a comprehensive study of the possibility of bringing the Office of the Archbishop Patriarch of Goa within the purview of the Right to Information Act.

The committee's request came after the Law Department recently expressed doubts whether the law could be applied to all the office's activities.

The law, passed in 2005, says all public and private authorities are bound to disclose information about their activities if they receive at least 10 per cent of their income from government subsidies.

The issue arose after Antonia Michelle Abel, a Catholic, wrote to the legislative committee suggesting all activities of the archbishop's office be covered under the law as is the case with any government department.

However, opposition Bharatiya Janata Party leader Manohar Parrikar said on July 29 that his party was not interested in bringing the archbishop's office under the Act.

Averthanus D'Souza, of the diocesan Commission for Social Justice and Peace, said the archdiocese already has a Social Communication Media Commission where individuals can seek information about the archdiocese.

"All Catholic dioceses worldwide are required by canon law to conform to the laws of respective countries," he said.

This would mean the Act would be applicable to all Indian dioceses, not just Goa archdiocese.

One local Catholic saw a more sinister motive behind the move.

It's an example of politicians using "people to target Catholics" in the state, said James Moraes.
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