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  Increasing detention of Christians in Madhya Pradesh worries Church leaders
  JABALPUR, SEPT 30 (UCAN) -- Church leaders have expressed concern over the increasing number of Christians being detained in Madhya Pradesh on suspicion of engaging in religious conversion.

The latest incident occurred on Sept. 27 when police detained a group of 45 Catholic pilgrims in Jabalpur, a major town in the central Indian state.

The group comprising men, women, children, nuns and a priest were traveling on pilgrimage to Ghoreghat in Mandla district.

Carmelite of Mary Immaculate (CMI) Father Anto Mundamany, who led the group, said they had stopped for dinner at a CMI seminary in Jabalpur. When they returned to their bus parked outside the seminary, they found the police waiting for them. After interrogating them, the police released the group.

Police have said that such actions are to ensure that a state law regulating religious conversion is not violated.

However, Church leaders such as Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur see such incidents as part of radial Hindu groups' "continuous campaign to insult the Christian community."

They say the police have tacit support of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, which has ruled the state from 2003. Since then, the state has witnessed scores of attacks on Christians and other minority groups.

The extremist groups, who want India to be a Hindu theocratic state, oppose Christian missionary work. The BJP is considered their political arm.

The latest detention is a "warning signal" for Christians "to initiate a sustained legal battle to protect our dignity and constitutional rights," Bishop Almeida told UCA News.

He said the detention was "not an isolated incident" and that several other Christians had been picked up for questioning at Jabalpur's rail and bus stations in September.

He added that police, collaborating with right-wing Hindu groups, have registered over 65 cases against Christians in his diocese in the past six years on the trumped up charges of religious conversion.

Although "none of the cases has been brought to its logical conclusion," nevertheless the "stigma of allegation continues to haunt Christians through no fault of theirs," the prelate said. The Church will take "all legal measures to maintain its dignity in all spheres of life," he asserted.

On the recent incident, Father Mundamany said that the police did not enter the seminary but asked pilgrims if they were Christians or Hindus whom the priest and the nuns want to convert to Christianity. The police left only after all had asserted their Christian identity.

The priest said he suspected some groups closely monitor Christians' movements and inform police. "They also alerted the media because police came accompanied by media people." He charged that the Hindu radicals' "only aim" was to harass Christians and tarnish their image by showing them as law breakers.

Christians are a tiny minority in the state, forming less then 1 per cent of the state's 60 million people, 91 per cent of whom are Hindus.
 
   
   
  Pakistan: Church workers stress urgent response to anti-Christian violence
  KARACHI, SEPT 30 (UCAN) -- Catholic priests, nuns and laypeople have urged greater ecumenical unity and urgent action to counter violence against Christians.

They expressed their concerns at a seminar, "Importance of human rights in the current scenario," organized by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Major Superiors Leadership Conference of Pakistan at the Franciscan friary in Karachi Sept. 26.

Sixty-two priests, nuns, novices and eight lay Catholics attended the event, which was held against the backdrop of the recent deadly attacks against Christians in Punjab province.

Joint protests by Church and civil society followed the Sept. 15 death in custody of a Christian man accused of blasphemy against Islam. Police say 24-year-old Fanish Masih, who used the surname Robert, hanged himself, but rights activists and Christians claim authorities tortured and killed him.

Robert was arrested on Sept. 11 in Jatekhe village on charges of blasphemy after allegedly throwing part of a Qur'an into a gutter. This incensed Muslims who that afternoon set the nearby Calvary Church ablaze.

Just a month earlier, 10 Catholics died in rioting in the Punjab city of Gojra and the nearby village of Korian. A Muslim mob vandalized and looted 113 Christian houses and damaged four Protestant churches in these areas.

The recent seminar in Karachi started with a slideshow of photos showing the destruction left in the wake of such attacks. Alvin Murad, executive secretary of the major superiors' conference, then divided participants into eight groups to discuss ways of responding to these attacks.

Participants said an adherence to international standards of human rights, education, tolerance, and freedom of thought, speech and religion, were essential in combating such attacks. They also suggested the need for an unbiased school syllabus greater unity among Christian denominations, good Church leadership, timely reporting of incidents, and prayers and protests as a response to anti-Christian attacks.

Murad also urged the holding of peace seminars in villages and suburbs to fight injustice to religious minority groups. "The government should include chapters on human rights in the school curriculum to counter religious extremism, bigotry and communal riots," he said.

Earlier, Shahbaz Bhatti, federal minister for minority affairs, announced that the government would work to amend the country's blasphemy laws "so they will not remain a tool in the hands of extremists." He was addressing on Sept. 17 members of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom that awarded him a medal for championing the rights of minorities in Pakistan.

Pakistan, a Muslim-majority country, has strict blasphemy laws that make an insult to the Qur'an punishable by up to life imprisonment, while conviction for insulting Prophet Muhammad brings an automatic death sentence. Church leaders have long charged that these blasphemy laws are being abused for personal gain and to stoke communal hatred.

Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, director of the Catholic Bishop's National Commission for Justice and Peace welcomed the minister's statement. "The majority have developed an idea of burning Churches in the wake of blasphemy allegations against a Christian," he said. "An urgent repeal of the discriminatory laws is needed to prevent any judicial support for the culprits," he told UCA News during a visit to Jatekhe.

Christian families who had fled the village following the violence there are slowly returning. "We are still awaiting funds for the repair of the church which will remain closed till then," Father Mani said.

Meanwhile, Christian families are helping government workers to construct new homes in Gojra and Korian villages. The families are presently living in tents set up in the streets of Gojra and in a graveyard in Korian.
 
   
   
  Nepal: 23 Christians killed in accident during convention
  KATHMANDU, SEPT 30 (UCAN) -- A major Christian gathering in eastern Nepal ended in tragedy when the convention center collapsed.

At least 23 Christians died and 100 were injured when a bamboo structure housing participants collapsed in Dharan on Sept 29.

Around 1,800 Christians of the El Shaddai group had gathered for a 10-day convention that began on Sept 28. The gathering was organized by the Zion El Shaddai Church.

"A three-story makeshift bamboo structure where women and children had been housed in collapsed at 11:30 p.m.," Salesian priest Father Augusty Pulickal told UCA News.

He said that participants at the convention included people from Bhutan, and Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Siliguri in India.

Father Pulickal, who is based in Dharan and who is the parish priest of St. John Bosco Parish there, is helping with relief work with a team of youths from his church.

UCA News was unable to contact members of the El Shaddai group in Dharan.

Christians at this time of the year organize conventions to take advantage of the 15-day holiday for Dashain, a Hindu festival.

According to Protestant pastor Laxmi Prasad Neupaney, members of Protestant Churches usually gather at this time of the year to "renew their faith."

"Christians belonging to the El Shaddai community from all areas in east and west Nepal and some from Kathmandu had gathered for the important convention in Dharan," Neupaney told UCA News in Kathmandu.

"Such conventions are important as representatives from all member churches, spread across regions, gather and share their experiences and annual reports and make plans for the future," he added.

Loreto Sister Sushila Kerketta, who is also based in Dharan, said the injured have been rushed to a hospital.

"Almost all the dead were among those sleeping on the ground floor and they included women and children," said Sister Kerketta, who also helped with the rescue work.

According to media reports, at least 1,500 participants were sleeping in the bamboo structure when it collapsed. The injured are being treated at the BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences in Dharan.
 
   
   
  Hong Kong: Bishop Tong to attend Beijing national day celebrations
  HONG KONG, SEPT 30 (UCAN) -- Bishop John Tong Hon of Hong Kong, who has been invited to the Chinese national day celebrations in Beijing, has reiterated his call for the release of imprisoned clergy in the country.

He made a similar plea in August 2008, after he was invited to the Olympic Games' opening in Beijing, in an article he wrote for "L'Osservatore Romano," the Vatican newspaper. In it, he called for greater religious freedom and release of imprisoned clergy on the mainland.

Speaking to UCA News recently, the 70-year-old bishop said he hopes the Chinese authorities would start to trust the Church and religion in general.

Just as in the past, he called for greater religious freedom and released of the jailed clergy, and said he hopes the Chinese authorities could do more to close the rich-poor gap in the country.

He joined 200 dignitaries from Hong Kong who have arrived in Beijing to attend the 60th National Day of the People's Republic of China (PRC) celebrations from Sept. 30-Oct. 2.

It is the second time Bishop Tong has attended China's national day celebration in Beijing. In 2004, while an auxiliary bishop, he and two priests from Hong Kong diocese were invited to the PRC's 55th anniversary celebration.

Other Hong Kong Church leaders attending the celebration are Vicar General Father Dominic Chan Chi-ming, Fathers Edward Khong Kin-cheung and Edward Chau King-fun, both from the Diocesan Commission for Interreligious Dialogue, and Father John Baptist Tsang Hin-man, Beijing's former Hong Kong Affairs Advisor.

Anthony Lam Sui-ki, senior researcher of Hong Kong diocese's Holy Spirit Study Centre, told UCA News that China has again expressed "goodwill" to the Catholic Church, as it had at the time of the Beijing Olympics last year.

However, he said, the choice of Catholic delegates seemed "regressive." He added that the Chinese government should have included nuns and laypeople to "broaden the delegates' representativeness, as such visits carry symbolic significance."

Bishop Tong, speaking to UCA News, recalled his primary school days in Guangzhou, southern China, 60 years ago when the PRC was founded. He said he was chosen to be on the school team to perform yangge folk dances in school and street processions to celebrate the occasion.

The bishop's family had moved from Hong Kong to Guangzhou and Macau and later back to Hong Kong.

"Sixty years ago, I was a participant at the national day galas, and today I'm a guest invited to the celebration in Beijing," the prelate said.

He said he would not try to meet Beijing Church leaders on this visit. In August 2008 when he visited Beijing, Bishop Joseph Li Shan of Beijing reportedly said it was "not convenient" to receive Bishop Tong during the games.

Bishop Tong said he believes this time the local Church leaders might be busy and security heightened. The prelate also said he had informed the Vatican of his Beijing visit.

On Sept. 22, the religious community in Hong Kong hosted a national day celebration which drew about 30 Catholics and 500 members of other religions. Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, a Catholic, and Chinese officials attended.

Buddhist, Confucian, Muslim, Protestant and Taoist leaders gave speeches and reviewed China's history over the past 60 years, as well as that of Hong Kong since the end of British colonial rule in 1997.

Anglican Bishop Thomas Soo Yee-po, chairperson of the organizing committee, told participants that China has experienced many changes over the past 60 years. He added that many would recognize the nation's advancements which stand in stark contrast to the extreme poverty it experienced before independence.

However, Father Chan, speaking to UCA News, said that though China's economy has progressed rapidly, more progress needs to be made in terms of religious freedom and democracy. Hong Kong diocese is praying for "wisdom and love" for Chinese people to build a better country, and for the promotion of justice and freedom, he said.

Other prominent Catholics also shared their hopes with UCA News.

Teresa Yiu Sau-hing, president of the Hong Kong Central Council of Catholic Laity, said she hopes to see reconciliation between the "open" and "underground" Church communities in mainland China, as well as the normalization of China-Vatican relations soon.

Father Chau, the Catholic delegate on the secretariat of the Colloquium of Six Religious Leaders of Hong Kong, said he hopes that the mainland would be able to keep religion and state separate and observe religious freedom fully.

William Yip Kam-yuen, chairperson of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocesan Schools Council, told UCA News that the celebrations should motivate local students to know more about the country's history and learn how to be responsible citizens.
 
   
   
  The Philippines: Miracle at the height of Typhoon Ondoy
  From Ben Cal

MANILA, Sept. 29 -- Cringing to dear life, a couple related how God's Almighty power had unfolded right before their eyes as they prayed loudly for a miracle when rising flood waters that slammed into their house in Cainta, Rizal receded instantly at the height of powerful Typhoon "Ondoy" last Saturday.

"It was a miracle. God heard our prayers right away when we fervently asked for His divine intervention at the most crucial moment we needed it," said Mrs. Linda Cal Gamus and her husband, Francis during a chance interview with the Philippines News Agency today.

The couple who lives in the Country Home subdivision in Cainta, Rizal some 25 kilometers east of Manila, was one of tens of thousands who had to climb to the rooftop of their homes when rampaging flood waters swamped many areas in Luzon at the height of Typhoon "Ondoy."

"It happened so fast that before we knew it, flood water accompanied by mud entered our house," Francis said.

The surging water turned upside down the couple's refrigerator and all appliances inside their home.

They tried to lock the front door to no avail. As the water rose steadily, the couple's only alternative was to go to the rooftop.

But still they were not safe as the flood caught up with them as they held on to a protruding post for dear life.

"We thought that was the end of us. We were scared as death was imminent, just a matter of minutes," Francis recalled.

The Gamus couple, both devout Catholics as members of Home for Christ group, prayed aloud.

"Lord God, please show your Almighty power right now. Save us!" Linda said.

"Just after we prayed, we saw before our eyes the rising flood water receding at an instant. It was indeed a miracle. I have no doubt about that!" she said with tears in her eyes.

"God, indeed heard our prayers. We thank him for saving our lives. Praise the Lord, our God!" Mrs. Gamus said.

During the heavy downpour while the couple was trembling in fear, a giant python passed by near them, but the snake did not hurt them as it apparently was also scared of the rampaging flood waters.

The python vanished from their sight as it entered one of the flooded houses nearby.

Mr. Gamus said it could be the same snake that coiled round the engine of his car one morning several years ago.

Typhoon "Ondoy" (international name Ketsana) was the most destructive storm to hit the Philippines in more than 40 years, claiming the lives of 240 and still counting and left 375,000 people abandoned their homes and damaged infrastructure amounting to P2.34 billion.

The Philippine government has already asked for international help for the typhoon victims.
 
   
   
  Pentecostal Church provides clean water to slum dwellers
  KARACHI, SEPT 29 (UCAN) -- Daniel Gharibo is relieved that his children can now get clean drinking water from a Church-run water filtration plant.

"I had concerns for the health of my newborn daughter, but the water plant has come as a blessing," said Gharibo.

His household is one of 11 Christian families who get clean drinking water from Kim Crystal Water, a water filtration plant run by the Trinity Pentecostal Church in Francis Town, a slum in Karachi. The area is home to about 5,000 Christian families, 500 of them Catholics. Another Pentecostal church is running a similar project in the seaport city.

Trinity Pentecostal Church started the project in June. It uses a 7,000-foot (2,133-meter) long pipe to supply water at 120 rupees (US$1.50) an hour. However, a litre of water is sold for five rupees to anyone who comes to the plant with buckets or cans.

"A Korean Christian donated the machinery to serve local Christians, including Catholics. We named the project after her," said Pastor Bashir Dewan, who is in charge of the operation. Commercial water tankers charge 200 rupees an hour, he noted.

The slum, in the Korangi suburb of Karachi, has no water connection and commercial suppliers are the only source of water. According to the provincial slum authority, there are 539 slum settlements in Karachi and all of them suffer from a lack of basic facilities. These include a lack of access to drinking water, healthcare, state-run schools, electricity and natural gas connections, and an effective sanitation system.

Shahbaz Masih, another Korangi resident said that two of his family members acquired skin diseases from drinking unclean water. "Although the government has laid water pipes in the area, there are no connections," he lamented.

Financial challenges and load shedding, or the intentional cutting of power in response to a shortage of available electricity in the area, are the greatest threats to Kim Crystal Water. "We are running at a loss at present," said Pastor Dewan. "Monthly expenses stand at about 4,5000 rupees, which includes the rent of the building where the plant is based, the salaries of three employees as well as utility bills and maintenance."

He added that daily church donations and tithes are the main sources of financial support for the project.

Catholic Father Tony D'Cruz commends the project. The 72-year-old priest, from the Good Shepherd Parish which administers Francis Town, said: "Water supply is a major problem in this bustling city. Slum dwellers have been accessing water for their daily needs by illegally tapping it from the mains for over 16 years."

He added that "the Church-run water plant could be a model for Catholic parishes."

Karachi, Pakistan's largest city and an industrial hub which is home to about 18 million people, is one of the world's 12 mega cities that do not have their own reservoirs. The World Health Organization says water contamination in Karachi claims about 32,000 lives every year, the majority of whom are children.
 
   
   
  Pope prays for families at Holy Infant of Prague shrine
  By Gerard O'Connell, Special Correspondent in Rome

PRAGUE, SEPT 28 (UCAN) -- Visiting the Czech Republic two decades after the fall of communism in central and eastern Europe, Pope Benedict XVI continued his effort to roll back secularism on the continent. At the same time he also embraced the devotion to the Holy Infant of Prague, a devotion popular in Asia.

On his arrival at Prague's international airport for his Sept. 26-28 visit, he hailed the collapse of communism as "a watershed in world history" and called upon Czechs to rediscover their Christian roots.

He drove directly from the airport through streets that -- unusually for a papal visit, had no flags, banners or crowds to greet him -- to the famous shrine of the Holy Infant of Prague.

Crowds lined the street outside the Church of Our Lady of Victories in central Prague, where the miraculous statue that came from Spain has been venerated since 1675.

The church is administered by the Carmelite order. Two of the five priests there come from India -- Father Victor Fernandez from Goa and Father Lancy Lewis from Mangalore.

Before the pontiff's arrival, Father Lewis, told UCA News that in his native India, there are shrines to the Holy Infant in Bangalore, Mangalore, Mysore where he worked, and also in Mumbai and Kerala. The devotion attracts many devotees, including Hindus, he said.

There are also shrines in China, Korea, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam, he added, and Catholics from all these countries have come here to Prague to pray for favors.

Devotees from many lands have also donated ornate dresses for the statue, including Catholics from Shanghai, China, in 1894, Vietnamese Catholics in 1958, and a Filipino Catholic in the second half of the 20th century.

Fathers Lewis said Pope Benedict was the first Pope to come and venerate the statue of the Holy Infant of Prague.

A great cheer went up as Pope Benedict entered the church, crowded with families and many children. He blessed children and then knelt in prayer in front of the statue. When he finished, he stepped forward and placed a golden crown on the altar as a symbol of recognition of the Infant King of the universe.

Afterward, in a brief homily, he said the image of the Holy Infant of Prague "calls to mind the mystery of the incarnation of the all powerful God who became man and who lived for 30 years in the lowly family of Nazareth."

He prayed to the Holy Infant for "the gift of unity and harmony" for "all the families of the world," and for parents, "who have to work so hard to offer their children security and a decent future."

He prayed too for "families in difficulty, struggling with illness and suffering, for those in crisis, divided or torn apart by strife or infidelity" and entrusted them all to the Holy Infant.

Moreover, he remembered the many children worldwide who are "neither loved, nor welcomed nor respected" as well as those "who suffer violence and every form of exploitation by the unscrupulous."

He prayed that children may always be given "the respect and attention that are due to them" and reminded everyone that "they are the future and the hope of humanity."

In front of international media, he concluded by reminding people worldwide that "every human being is a child of God and, therefore, our brother and sister to be welcomed and respected."

During this trip, the Pope, in a lecture at Charles University in Prague, noted how "in 1989, the world witnessed in dramatic ways the overthrow of a failed totalitarian ideology and the triumph of the human spirit."

"The yearning for freedom and truth is inalienably part of our common humanity," he said, "It can never be eliminated; and, as history has shown, it is denied at humanity's own peril."

While he joined Czechs in celebrating the regained freedom for other peoples of this region, the main purpose of his visit here -- as he explained on his arrival -- was to encourage the 3.1 million Catholics and other Christians in this land.

Many here are finding it difficult to witness to the Gospel where a harsh communist regime repressed religious practices for 41 years (1948-1989), and silenced the voice of the Church, and where secularism is now widespread.

He addressed this situation during a religious service at the Gothic Cathedral of St. Vitus, when he reminded Czech bishops, priests, Religious and lay faithful that, even though "the long winter of communist dictatorship is over," Czech society today "continues to suffer from the wounds caused by an atheist ideology."

Moreover, he added, "it is often seduced by the modern mentality of hedonistic consumerism amid a dangerous crisis of human and religious values and a growing drift towards ethical and cultural relativism."

The Czech Republic is the second most secularized country in Europe. More than 60 percent of its people are agnostic or atheist. In this context, it was highly significant that his very first act on arrival, immediately after the welcome ceremony at Prague's international airport, was linked to popular Catholic devotion.
 
   
   
  Catholic community radio aims to fight sectarianism
  MANGALORE, SEPT 28 (UCAN) -- A Jesuit college in Mangalore has started community radio broadcasts to promote sectarian harmony in the southern Indian town that in the past year had been hit with communal violence.

The FM station Sarang (harmony of colors) will address various issues affecting local people, said its director Jesuit Father Richard Rego.

State Governor H.R. Bharadwaj, who launched the radio at a function on Sept. 23, said the radio station could play a powerful role in bringing about harmony and justice in society.

He urged the Catholic institution, St. Aloysius College Mangalore, to ensure the radio station maintain truthfulness in its broadcasts.

Bishop Aloysius Paul D'Souza of Mangalore, who blessed the project, said he hoped the radio station would become a channel of peace, harmony and justice. "The common people, specially the youth, needed a platform to raise their issues," the prelate added.

Father Rego told UCA News Sarang was the second community radio in India managed by an educational institution. The college started test transmissions in June and received positive responses from the local people.

The radio station broadcasts twice a day, three hours in the morning from 6.30 a.m. and for four hours in the evening from 5.30 p.m. Its signals can be received within a 25-kilometer radius, and programs cover topics such as religion, communal harmony, health and hygiene and issues related to farmers, fishermen, daily-wage earners and youths.

Father Rego said most listeners are young people. Thus, radio would also carry messages against drugs and warnings against contracting HIV/AIDS, as well as offering leadership training and career guidance.

College principal Father Swebert D'Silva told UCA News the college's Department of Journalism and Mass Media took the initiative to start the radio station. Students produce most of its programs, he added.

The college has nearly 14,000 students.

Ursuline Sister Mini Sheethal, a student, said the radio is doing a good job discussing various problems affecting students such as physical abuse, alcoholism, depression and study stress.

Santhosh D'Souza, another student, who listens to Sarang, said the station "gives many tips" for successful living.

Father D'Silva said the radio station has not received any assistance from the government except subsidies for air time.
 
   
   
  HRD Minister Kapil Sibal salutes Catholic Religious for quality education
  NEW DELHI, SEPT 28 (UCAN) -- India's education minister has praised Catholic Religious for bringing quality education to the country's poor and asked them to be partners in raising general teaching standards in the country.

"We salute you for making quality education accessible to the poor and marginalized. We want more people like you," said Human Resources Development Minister Kapil Sibal while opening the national assembly of the Conference of Religious (CRI) on Sept. 28 in New Delhi.

The CRI represents India's more than 125,000 Catholic Religious brothers, priests and nuns. Some 550 CRI members are attending the Sept. 27-Oct. 2 leadership conference with the theme, "Harmonious India."

In his speech, Sibal urged the Catholic Religious to contribute to the government's new education policy that aims for expansion, inclusion and excellence.

He described educators as artists and children their "natural canvas."

Later, interacting with the participants, the minister dispelled apprehension among Christians that the new education policy would take away the rights of the religious minority groups to manage educational institutions without government interference. The participants applauded loudly when Sibal said he would introduce a clause in the law to protect minority rights.

The minister also said the government wants partners to implement its education policy and asked the Catholic Religious to offer him such a model for public-private partnership.

In his speech, Sibal, an alumnus of New Delhi's St. Columba's School where the assembly is being held, said people engaged in education in the country have a choice either to form young minds with a fixed view of the world or help bring out their creativity to help create a harmonious India.

But the biggest challenge in bringing harmony to the country was making education accessible to all sections of society, he said.

India's literacy rate has increased from 14 per cent in 1947 when it won independence to 64 per cent in 2001. However, the actual number of illiterate people is now more than the population in 1947 and India has more illiterate people than the total population of the United States, he said.

Most of these are women and people from low caste and tribal communities. Harmony was not possible without their participation and the education system must cater to all people and all needs, the minister said.

Sibal said the federal government has passed a law to make education a fundamental right for all Indians. It plans to set up sufficient schools to serve all children in the 6-14 age group. At present, 88 percent of children who start school do not complete the 12th grade, the minimum qualification to join a university.

All the same, some 950,000 students have joined engineering courses this year in India in contrast to 75,000 engineering students in the United States. However, the minister quoted multinational companies as saying some 75 per cent of Indians students are unemployable as the quality of their education is inadequate.

The CRI national assembly takes place every three years. The event this year began on Sept. 27 with a Mass led by Archbishop Vincent M. Concessao of Delhi.
 
   
   
  Blast near Orissa relief camp kills one, injures four
  BHUBANESWAR, SEPT 28 (UCAN) -- At least one person was killed and four injured on Sept. 27 when a bomb exploded near a camp that houses Christian victims of last year's riots in Orissa state.

Church people in the state capital, Bhubaneswar, said they suspected Hindu extremists were behind the blast and that it was designed to destabilize the Christian community that had begun to recover from their trauma.

The explosion happened just outside the Nandamaha refugee camp in Kandhamal district. The camp, situated in a forest, is home to 21 families, comprising about 100 Christians from violence-affected Betticola parish in Kandhamal district.

There were few details available about the deceased who did not live in the camp. The four injured are Christians, however.

Police detained for questioning the four Christians who reported the blast, Church sources said.

Those living in the camp are unable to return to their homes as Hindu extremists have threatened to kill them if they return without converting to Hinduism.

The state administration had offered them alternative land inside the forest to re-settle.

The Christians in the camp, including Catholics and Protestants, were busy clearing up the forest and building homes for each family, Church people said.

Sources in Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese, which covers Kandhamal district, said they suspect the extremists do not want to see Christians "live in peace" even inside the forest.

A Church source said the Christians were just beginning to settle down a year after the violence.

Police in G. Udayagiri town, which covers the area, have reportedly begun an investigation. Church sources said police have recovered guns near the camp.

Tribal-dominated Kandhamal district was the focus of the violence that began after Maoists gunned down Hindu leader Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 23, 2008. Hindu radicals had blamed Christians for the murder.

The four-month long riots that began a day after Saraswati's murder left 90 people dead and displaced some 50,000. As many as 5,000 Christian homes were burned and 294 churches, chapels and prayer halls, eight convents, eight presbyteries and 12 hostels were destroyed.

As the Hindu extremists continue to force the displaced to convert to Hinduism, hundreds of them have either left the state or moved to other districts in Orissa.

Betticola parish had witnessed tension for several years before last year's violence and was severely affected in last year's flare-up.
 
   
   
  Delhi CM launches Deepalaya-FADA programme
  From A Correspondent

New Delhi, Sept 28 -- September 26 marked a new initiative to help girls in Delhi. It was on that day that Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit launched the Father & Daughter Alliance (FADA) programme.

The Deepalaya-FADA (Father and Daughter Alliance) and the Government of Delhi joint initiative is to bring girls out of schools into the fold of non-formal education and then mainstream them into formal education.

The first batch of 20 such girls (who have been identified from Sanjay Colony, Okhla Phase-II after various surveys) and their fathers were present on the occasion. The target is to reach 1,000 girls in the following year. For this, door-to-door survey is being conducted.

Although the project is to educate illiterate girls, it shall also focus on girl child-related issues, namely foeticide, infanticide, child marriage, child labour, child trafficking and dowry, thus making it a composite programme to save the girl child.

The Chief Minister applauded Deepalaya's efforts to help the society and said the organization had been constructively responding to the society's needs for several years. The present initiative, she said, was also one such example, because it addressed the issue of the girl child. It tackled the problem at the root -- at the level of her relationship with her father. She emphasised that the concept of the daughter as 'Paraya Dhan' -- her future husband's property -- had to change, and this change could take place only with education.

She pointed out that daughters were a life-long support and help to their families, and equally adept outside the domestic sphere. From being pilots to astronauts, to administrative officials, they can achieve everything through education. She congratulated Deepalaya and the parents and their daughters for being part of something that would bring about a positive change in the society, promising the Delhi’s Government's full support to the campaign. The CM has opened the doors of Government Schools to these girls in the coming academic session.

The Chief Minister presented each of the girls with a school bag. Also present on the occasion were Dr Kiran Walia, Minister of Social Welfare and Child Development, Delhi Government and other government officials.

FADA is committed to the simple observation that girls have a far better chance of getting education if they have the support of their fathers. Pedro Moreno, with international expertise in social policy and economic mobility, and founder president of FADA, has been in touch with Deepalaya for over a year now. Deepalaya's long experience in the field of development and education, especially girl child education, is what brought the two organisations together.

Over the past eight months, the partnership has held extensive meetings in India with beneficiary communities, fathers, daughters, students, teachers, NGOs and government officials, including Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and Social Welfare Minister Kiran Walia. The CM later announced the government's commitment to partner with FADA and Deepalaya.

In July this year, the movement grew strong with the first Father's Association taking shape. Surveys in Deepalaya Program Areas of South Delhi identified hundreds of out-of-school girls. Intense counselling convinced the first 20 families to respond positively. The girls, in the age group of 5-14 years, have been enrolled into non-formal education classes and will be provided with all school facilities, thus encouraging them and their families to be serious learners.
 
   
   
  Three-day Global Martha Mariam meet begins at Indirapuram, near Delhi
  By Joji Ninan

NEW DELHI, SEPT 26 -- Today Indirapuram literally turned to be the center of the globe for the women of the Malankara Orthodox Church. The chief guest, Mrs Meira Kumar, Speaker, Lok Sabha inaugurated the long-awaited MMS Global meet by lighting the lamb today at St. Thomas School, Indirapuram, U.P., one of the best educational institutions of the Church.

Metropolitan Paulos Mar Milithios the Catholicos elect, presided over the function. Rev. Sr. Jessy Kurien Member, NCMEI, New Delhi was the Guest of Honor of the function. Metropolitan of Delhi Job Mar Philexinos, Dr. Zachariah Mar Theophilos, President of Marth Mariam Vanitha Samajam and Dr. Joseph Mar Dionysius, Metropolitan, Diocese of Calcutta and Asst. Metropolitan, Diocese of Delhi spoke on the occasion.

The theme of the three-day conference is “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things”.

On Sunday after the Holy Qurbana classes on different topics will be led by Jiji Thomson, lAS, Fr. Dr. O. Thomas, Dr. Jaya Lal and Rev. Dr. Valson Thampu.

On Monday, Fr. John Sankarathil, Metropolitan Dr. Zachariah Mar Theophilos, Fr. Dr. O. Thomas and Metropolitan Dr. Joseph Mar Dionysius will lead the classes.

On Tuesday, 2009 Delhi Darshan program will take place.

Thereafter a Musical Concert followed by a Cultural Show will be the culmination of the three-day event.

The Akhila Malankara Marth Mariam Samajam Conference is held once in two years bringing together active women leaders from different parts of the world. It is a great opportunity to come together and share experiences of good work happening in the Church, share time in prayer.

This global meet is hosted by St. Thomas Orthodox Church, Ghaziabad, a parish under the diocese of Delhi.

The leaders of the conference are Paulos Mar Milithios, the Catholicose elect, Dr. Zachariah Mar Theophilos, President of Marth Mariam Vanitha Samajam, Dr. Joseph Mar Dionysius, Metropolitan, Diocese of Calcutta & Asst. Metropolitan, Diocese of Delhi, Fr. Dr. O. Thomas, Professor of Counseling, Orthodox Theological Seminary, Kottayam, Jiji Thomson lAS, Ministry of Agriculture,GOVI. of India, Rev. Dr. ValsonThampu, Principal, St. Stephen's College, Delhi, Dr. Jaya Lal, Consultant, World Health Organization, Fr. John Sankarathil, Vice President, Marth Mariam VanithaSamajam and Mrs. Accamma Paul, General Secretary, Marth Mariam Vanitha samajam.(Courtesy: Indian Orthodox Herald)
 
   
   
  SCIENCE WATCH: A revolution to combat world hunger
  The world recently mourned the loss of Norman Borlaug, the agronomist credited with saving as many as a billion people from starvation. Borlaug's success in establishing food security -- dubbed the Green Revolution -- came at a time when the planet was far less populated. When he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971, the world's population was 3.7 billion. By 2010 it will reach 7 billion.

Borlaug was among the first to recognise that new strategies will be needed to combat a huge rise in pressure on food resources.

One networking organisation that should be pivotal to addressing world hunger is poised to make far-reaching changes to the way it works.

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) has already been the backbone of food security research for the poor. But without radical reform -- to link research with its applications; eliminate inefficiency and raise the funding bar -- insiders fear that CGIAR might not be fit for the purpose. Its plan for a new way to coordinate agricultural research is not without controversy.

More than 3,000 scientists work in CGIAR member organisations. Ren Wang, director of CGIAR says: "We have done a tremendous job in contributing to global food security and alleviation of poverty. But certainly the centres can do much more to address global challenges."Those challenges include reversing cuts in funding. Public backing for agricultural research, which had been growing at a rate of 2.7 per cent annually in the 1980s, dropped to 1.1 per cent growth in the following decade.

Meanwhile, good science is increasingly left "sitting in books and research papers" rather than reaching producers and the poor, according to George Rothschild, former director of the International Rice Research Institute, and now chair of the UK Forum for Agricultural Research for Development.

To read more click on:
http://www.scidev.net/en/features/a-revolution-to-combat-world-hunger.html

BREAKTHROUGH HIV VACCINE FIRST TO CUT INFECTION RATE

A trial HIV vaccine that cuts infection rates by almost a third has provided the research community with some hope following years of setbacks.

The vaccine, a combination of two earlier experimental vaccines that had not reduced infection rates individually, is the first to prevent infection. It was given to 16,000 Thai volunteers in the world's largest HIV/AIDS vaccine trial, carried out by the government of Thailand and the United States army.

The male and female volunteers, all HIV negative and aged between 18 and 30, were split into two groups -- half were given a placebo, and half given the vaccine. All were provided with condoms and counselling on HIV/AIDS prevention.Over the course of the trial, 74 people from the placebo group and 51 in the vaccine group became infected.

To read more click on:
ough-hiv-vaccine-first-to-cut-infection-rates.html



UNESCO MUST RECLAIM SCIENCE LEADERSHIP

The greatest challenge in the coming months for Irina Bokova, the new director general of UNESCO (elected September 22) will be to give new purpose and coherence to UNESCO. Too often, internal and external political wrangling has undermined its effectiveness and prevented the agency from achieving its full potential.

Nowhere has this been more true than in the UNESCO's science programmes, which did not figure prominently in the election. The only candidate who emphasised science in his campaign -- Sospeter Muhongo from Tanzania -- received just one vote in the first round and promptly dropped out, apparently in favour of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. And while Bokova stressed the importance of education and meeting the needs of Africa in her campaign, she said virtually nothing about science.

To read more click on:
http://www.scidev.net/en/editorials/unesco-must-reclaim-science-leadership.html



HIMALAYAN GLACIERS GREW DURING WARMER PERIOD

A small group of Himalayan glaciers grew in size when the earth became hotter 9,000 years ago, new research shows.

Summer Rupper, professor of geology at Brigham Young University in the United States, reports in the September issue of Quaternary Research that a small group of Himalayan glaciers grew by several kilometres -- during an 'inter-glacial' period when central Asia grew hotter by six degrees Celsius.

Rupper reports that shifting weather patterns at the time brought more clouds and winds to the area, making it cooler and helping ice formation. Her team is now extrapolating the findings to a new project to predict future water changes in the area -- now under threat as glaciers melt because of global warming.

The report helps us better understand how a rise in temperature affects the height at which snow accumulates, Anil Kulkarni, coordinator of the snow and glacier project at the Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad, told SciDev.Net.

To read more click on:
http://www.scidev.net/en/south-asia/news/himalayan-glaciers-grew-during-warmer-period.html
PAKISTANI RESEARCH CULTURE STILL OUT OF REACH

Pakistan's higher education reforms have boosted the number of research papers published and PhDs awarded but whether they are creating a genuine research culture remains to be seen, say Athar Osama and colleagues.

The reforms -- which began in 2002 -- came out of recommendations from a public–private task force analysis that concluded the country's higher education system was suffering from chronic underfunding, ineffective governance, weak institutional leadership and poor performance.

To read more click on:
http://www.scidev.net/en/south-asia/opinions/pakistani-research-culture-still-out-of-reach-1.html
 
   
   
  Archbishop of Canterbury, Nazir-Ali meets Pakistan President Asif Zardari
 
LONDON, SEPT 26 -- Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams met with the President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, His Eminence Asif Ali Zardari. Williams was accompanied by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali of the Diocese of Rochester.

In a constructive discussion they agreed on the fundamental importance of mutual respect between religions and the responsibility of governments to ensure the safety of all citizens and especially of vulnerable groups.

Williams spoke of his deep concern for persecuted Christian minorities in Pakistan, particularly in the light of the serious Gojra attacks -- during which at least seven Christians were murdered -- and other such incidents in recent years.

Williams commended the Government of Pakistan for its condemnation of the incident and for its provision of compensation for the families of those affected. He urged exemplary action against the perpetrators of the crime against humanity.

The archbishop spoke of his sadness at the violence which had claimed the lives of so many Pakistani citizens and offered his deep condolences at the murder of Benazir Bhutto, the president's wife. "I pray that her death will not be in vain and that Pakistan will emerge from the present troubles to take its place as an example of a nation in which all are safe and respected," he said.

In a discussion relating to Pakistan's blasphemy law, Williams spoke of the ways in which abuse of the law and the criminal action against innocent people at Gojra was a serious problem for Christians and also for other Pakistani citizens. He called for reform and amendment of the legislation as a matter of great importance and hoped it would receive the urgent attention of the democratically elected government.

According to the Pakistan penal code, the law forbids damaging or defiling a place of worship or the Quran, the Muslim holy book, and forbids defaming Prophet Mohammed. These "offences relating to religion," as they're cited in the penal code, are punishable by life imprisonment or death.

The president expressed awareness of the perception about the blasphemy law being exploited. The government was conscious of the need urgently to address the issue in consultation with other political parties, civil society and religious communities in Pakistan with a view to preventing the misuse of the blasphemy law in future, he said, confirming that the government was endeavoring to seek a broad political consensus on the issue through consultation.

The president highlighted that the government has allocated a quota for the minorities in the government service, Senate, National and Provincial Assembly and appointed a Christian as minister for minorities to ensure appropriate representative of minorities.

Nazir-Ali commended these measures and also the unprecedented recent appointment of a minority member as High Court judge.

Williams proposed that there should be further discussions about ways in which the Christian and Muslim communities in the United Kingdom and in Pakistan could engage with each other's experience and commended the work of the Christian Muslim Forum. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi spoke warmly of such initiatives.

Williams also recommended a visit to Pakistan of a senior delegation of his representatives. The president welcomed this and also extended an invitation for the archbishop himself to visit Pakistan.

The archbishop drew to the attention of the president the Office of the Anglican Observer to the United Nations in New York. (Courtesy: Virtune Online)
 
   
   
  INDIA: 'Religious hope to create new identity in changing India'
 
NEW DELHI, SEPT 26 (UCAN) -- India's Catholic Religious are trying to forge a new role for themselves by getting more involved in national issues, says the national secretary of the Conference of Religious India (CRI).

According to Montfort Brother Mani Mekkunnel, how Religious can be active participants in India's socio-economic life is on the agenda for Religious major superiors to discuss at the upcoming CRI national assembly, held once every three years.

CRI represents more than 125,000 Catholic Religious brothers, priests and nuns in India. More than 500 major superiors from around the country are expected for the scheduled Sept. 26-Oct. 2 meeting in New Delhi.

The interview with Brother Mekkunnel follows:

UCA NEWS: How will this meeting impact the CRI?

BROTHER MANI MEKKUNNEL: The CRI is having its assembly in New Delhi for the first time in its 47-year history. That in itself aims at making a difference. Earlier meetings focused mostly on Religious and Church life, and activities of Religious. But this assembly will try to showcase the CRI as an organization that is more concerned with national issues.

In recent years, Christians have experienced turmoil in various degrees. Some groups have attacked Christians. So it is time we met with society on broader terms. We cannot remain mere spectators and the good guys of society. We have to become active agents in nation building.

Do you feel Catholic Religious were not really part of society until now?

Yes, in a sense. Earlier we used to gather and talk about Religious life and issues related to it, and then go back happy thinking we had done something good. We were not connected with national life. A change of heart is required to establish this connection. We are hoping this meeting will turn us around a bit.

The assembly is an attempt to place ourselves on the national scene and decide what we should do to create a new identity. We also want others to look at us not merely as a religious society but as a voluntary organization involved in the country's socio-economic life.

Will a new face to the CRI emerge after the meeting?

Yes, we are trying for one. We want to portray the assembly not as a religious gathering but as a national event. The program is titled "Leadership Conference" and its logo reflects a harmonious India. It is a theme that goes beyond Church circles. India is changing, so the Religious should also have to change.

Do you foresee any challenges?

The first challenge is to change the way we look at society. There has been a kind of unseen wall built between Religious life and secular society. On many occasions we have behaved as disinterested onlookers. The secular-Religious divide is too strong in many Religious. But it is breaking down and this meeting indicates that.

The conference will help the Church to assert its voice in the modern world as decreed by Vatican II. So far, we have been quite comfortable among ourselves. The problem is with us, not with the outside world. We are not courageous enough -- or have not realized the need -- to make changes from within.

For example, we consider someone a Christian only if he or she is baptized. That ritual takes only a few minutes. After that we do not bother about how that person lives the faith. At the same time, we are not willing to accept as Christians thousands who follow Christ in spirit.

Today in Europe, only 10 per cent of the population are baptized Christians, but we have no problem calling it a Christian continent. But if you say this of India, there would be a hue and cry. There are thousands of Indians brought up in the Christian tradition who live with Christian values, perhaps more than the number of Christians in Europe. In Varanasi (northern India), many people call themselves Christu bhakta (Christ devotees). They are not baptized, but live like Christians. Yet we don't accept them as Christians.

But how is this a challenge for the Religious?

Religious are supposed to be the Church's missioners and pioneers. They are the prophets in the Church. However, social factors are acting as hindrances. The Church needs a quantum movement for change. If an individual suddenly tries for change, he or she may not survive long.

But some, like Mother Teresa, have thrived.

Mother Teresa couldn't change her original congregation. Today that congregation is one of the dying congregations, although it was among the first to come to India. Change can happen from anywhere, not only from Religious. Major changes in the Church during the 13th century happened because of Saint Francis of Assisi, who was a layperson, not a monk.

Religious life started as a contestation against certain Church practices, but it gradually became part of the Church. The Religious are now busy attending to the Church's ordinary needs such as maintenance of institutions.

The CRI is considered the second most powerful group in the Catholic Church in India. Why doesn't it assert itself more?

If you speak in democratic terms, more than 125,000 members and institutions make the CRI a much larger force than any other Church body in the country. However, in terms of authority or hierarchy, the CRI is nothing. It belongs to another order of things. Its power comes from its charismatic nature or commitment, not its position. There is no position for the Religious in the Church hierarchy.

What are some of the problems with the Indian Religious?

Education, mainly. A large number of the Religious, mostly nuns, are mere matriculates (having a 10th-grade education). Nuns are the largest CRI group, so it is also a gender problem.

The women Religious are not able to play their role. Our present concern is to make the Indian Religious communicate. Many Religious superiors still think using the Internet or educating the nuns could lead to abuse. How to break that mindset and make our women communicators is a big challenge. It will happen, but if you ask me when, my answer is: "Not in our life time." Because the structure is so strong, changes can happen soon only if something out of the way happens.

I have told women leaders that nothing will happen if they leave it to bishops and priests to talk about change. The day women start talking about changes, things will start happening.

Do women get a chance to say what they want?

They are given forums, but they remain silent. It's a cultural factor. They come from homes where they are not allowed to raise their voices. The way they've been brought up also does not permit them to speak out. Even the highly qualified and Western educated become part of a silent group.
 
   
   
  Church helps flood-affected Karachi Christians
 
KARACHI, SEPT 26 (UCAN) -- Church workers have been distributing cash, cooking utensils, food and building materials to Christians in this city who were affected by flooding.

On Sept. 19 and 20, Father Richard D'Souza, head of St Jude's Parish in Karachi, accompanied Caritas Karachi workers to slum areas, where he handed over 10,000 rupees (US$125) to 50 Catholic families.

"The locals came to the church asking for help and Archbishop Evarist Pinto of Karachi donated the amount for their rehabilitation," Father D'Souza told UCA News.

Caritas workers visited 10 Christian slums to distribute essential items and housing supplies. Riaz Nawab, disaster management coordinator for the archdiocese, said 150 Christian families received cooking sets and 220 received cement, gravel and concrete blocks to rebuild their houses.

The people have yet to recover from flooding on July 18 and 19 that claimed 50 lives and injured another 100. According to the meteorological department, torrential rains had produced 245 millimeters of rainfall in just four hours.

That rainfall broke a 32-year record, but the flooding problem for poor people who crowd into slum areas is perennial. And in Pakistan, most Christians are poor, often relegated to menial jobs or cleaning work others disdain.

Mubarak Masih, a Catholic sanitation worker, was among those the Church team assisted. His mud house, with a galvanized iron roof, is among a cluster of other similar dwellings near a monsoon drain.

"I have been living here for 10 years and three times our locality has been flooded," he said, adding that the water damaged all his furniture.

Father Victor John heads St. Philip's Parish, where the July flooding killed 10 parishioners and demolished the small St. Francis of Assisi Church.

"More than 80 percent of Catholics in my parish live in slums crisscrossed by drains," he told UCA News.

"Every year, water levels rise by up to almost five feet (1.5 meters), inundating the surrounding houses. Many Christians are poor and cannot afford to build houses on higher ground," he said.

Father D'Souza detailed the problem further: "There are 41 open monsoon drains that crisscross different towns. People treat these as garbage dumps, leading to blockages."

He said, "The local government needs to focus on these problems in the city's infrastructure."

According to the provincial slum authority, there are 539 slum settlements in Karachi, comprising about 60 percent of the total area of the city. The United Nations Development Program says Karachi, home to more than 18 million people, is also home to the largest slum in Asia.
 
   
   
  Patna gears up for Durga Puja; Muslims too chip in
 
From Anuja Sipre

PATNA, SEPT 26 -- Come Durga Puja, and Patna gets transformed, leaving aside all social, economic and religious factors. Be it the common man or powerful politicians; everyone seems to get a makeover.

While Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's elder brother Satish Kumar performs the puja at the CM's residence, Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi devotes an hour daily for prayer and recites the 'Durga Saptashati.' Another BJP minister Ashwani Kumar also performs the puja everyday. He is planning a visit to the Kamakhya temple in Guwahati for a special havan.

RJD supremo Lalu Prasad is organising a puja at his Delhi residence. He and his wife Rabri Devi plan to visit the Durga temple in his native village Phulwariya. LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan, who relishes fish delicacies, doesn't touch non-vegetarian food during the Navratra. In fact, he even avoids eating onions and garlic during this festive period.

Several Congress leaders like Shyam Sundar Singh Dheeraj, Ashok Chaudhary and Sameer Kumar Singh have stopped eating cereals during the Navratra and consume only fruits till the puja is over. State Congress president Anil Sharma has gone on a pilgrimage to the temples of Jwala Devi, Kangra Devi, Naina Devi and Vaishno Devi. Sadanand Singh is performing the puja at his village in Kahalgaon.

Meanwhile, Muslims are also lending a helping hand to the festivities. While Jamaluddin and Sanahul of Giridih are helping erect a pandal (tent) at Mahaveer Nagar, Jakhir Miyan and Batam Miyan are doing the same at Vikas Nagar and Arya Samaj Road. "On Eid, we invited Hindu pandal makers to our house. Here, people celebrate festivals together. This is what makes Patna so special," Batam Miyan said.

Muslim workers are also helping in creating Ravan's effigy. This year, the effigy is going to be unique with the 10-faced demon king closing and opening his mouth, and even laughing from time to time. The 15-member team of artists that is giving finishing touches to the effigy comprises Muslims from Rajasthan.
 
   
   
  Diether Ocampo delights 400 kid evacuees with peace story
 
From Ben Cal

TALAYAN, MAGUINDANAO, Sept 25 -- For some 400 internally displaced children in this war-torn area of Central Mindanao, their long wait paid off when their favorite actor Diether Ocampo appeared in person before them on September 24 for a storytelling session.

The kids, some as young as three, shrugged off the enervating heat at their temporary shelters, which were constructed by the government.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and the Kids for Peace Foundation, Inc. (KFPI), requested Ocampo to conduct a peace storytelling session for children displaced in the fighting in Central Mindanao to imbue in their young minds the importance of peace and the need for people to live in harmony.

These Muslim and Christian children, who have been living with limited food and water supply at the evacuation centre, were elated to see their hero in person.

Over 5,00,000 people in Central Mindanao have been displaced since fighting broke out between wayward elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) led by Commanders Bravo and Umbra Kato, and government forces last year after the Supreme Court declared the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) unconstitutional.

Ocampo, the second celebrity storyteller of the OPAPP-led Kids for Peace workshop project since veteran comedienne-actress Nova Villa, read the story of 'Ang Dalawang Haring Siga,' which is about a battle between two kingdoms over petty grounds. The book is written by Rene O. Villanueva and published by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

In the story, King Emong's loud snoring annoys King Porong while the latter's loud burping infuriates the former. Both kings refuse to resolve their conflict and declare war against each other. However, the warfare, which went on for several decades, was a complete irony to King Emong and King Porong's great grandchildren who became good friends. The young ones then convince their great grandfathers to talk their issues over, as their countries were being greatly damaged by the senseless war. Out of love for their great grandchildren, the two kings eventually agreed to resolve their conflict by signing a peace agreement.

Spearheaded by OPAPP, the Kids for Peace workshops aim to promote a 'culture of peace' among children and complement school-based storytelling sessions. The workshops have been conducted all over Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao in partnership with various local government units, non-government organizations, academe and civil society groups.

For this particular affair, OPAPP collaborated with the municipal government of Talayan and the KFPFI, a children's foundation based in Cotabato City. The workshops are also highlighted by sharing of lessons learned among participants, reciting the Pledge of a Young Peace Advocate and doing the Dance for Peace.

Dubbed, "Kuwentong Pangkapayapaan: Mga kuwentong binasa mo, natutunan ng puso," the storytelling session endeavours to increase awareness among children on basic peace concepts and conflict resolution.

During the processing of the story, Ocampo, who enjoyed himself despite the noisy crowd and the smothering heat, asked the children what moral lessons they had gained from the story.

The storytelling session was held simultaneously with World Food Programme's (WFP) relief operation, wherein sacks of rice and litres of cooking oil were handed over to the evacuees. Shortly after the session, the children were given pairs of slippers, courtesy Ocampo, light snacks, notebooks and pencils.

Deputy Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Nabil Tan, who represented Secretary Avelino I. Razon Jr., said the activity was an opportunity for the children to have fun amid their predicament. "Sana ito ay makapagbigay sa inyo ng kaunting saya dahil alam namin ang kalagayan niyo dito sa evacuation center, lalo na ang kalagayan ng peace and order (I hope this will make you happy because we know how your condition is at the evacuation centre, as well as the peace and order situation)."

Also present on the occasion was OPAPP Undersecretary Salick Pandaand, Dir Rolly Asuncion of the OPAPP Peace Institutions Development Office.
 
   
   
  Delhi CM to launch Deepalaya-FADA programme on Sept 26
  By A Correspondent

New Delhi, Sept 25 -- "If you did not have to manage the resources, if you had an opportunity to and absolutely no restrictions, would you want to secure your daughter's future by sending her to school?"

This question was posed to fathers of girls who were not attending school. And the question was asked by fathers who send their girls to school and celebrate every success they achieve.

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit will launch the Deepalaya-FADA (Father and Daughter Alliance) programme, which is now part of the Delhi Government's Bhagidhari programme, on September 26 at 10 am. On the occasion, she will also witness the response of the first group of 20 fathers and their daughters.

The joint initiative is to bring girls out of schools into the fold of non-formal education and then mainstream them into formal education.

The first batch of 20 such girls (who have been identified from Sanjay Colony, Okhla Phase-II after various surveys) and their fathers will be present on the occasion. The target is to reach 1,000 girls in the following year. For this, door-to-door survey is being conducted. Although the project is to educate illiterate girls, it shall also focus on girl-child related issues, namely foeticide, infanticide, child marriage, child labour, child trafficking and dowry, thus making it a composite programme to save the girl child.

FADA is committed to the simple observation that girls have a far better chance of getting an education if they have the support of their fathers. Pedro Moreno, with international expertise in social policy and economic mobility, and founder president of FADA, has been in touch with Deepalaya for over a year now. Deepalaya's long experience in the field of development and education, especially girl child education, is what brought the two organisations together.

Over the past eight months, the partnership has held extensive meetings in India with beneficiary communities, fathers, daughters, students, teachers, NGOs and government officials, including Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and Social Welfare Minister Kiran Walia. The CM later announced the government's commitment to partner with FADA and Deepalaya.

In July this year, the movement grew strong with the first Father's Association taking shape. Surveys in Deepalaya Program Areas of South Delhi identified hundreds of out-of-school girls. Intense counselling convinced the first 20 families to respond positively. The girls, in the age group of 5-14 years, have been enrolled into non-formal education classes and will be provided with all school facilities, thus encouraging them and their families to be serious learners.
For more information on Deepalaya, visit www.deepalaya.org or contact tkmathew@deepalaya.org (9868144844), sudhaps@deepalaya.org (9871112152) and varghese@deepalaya.org (9818406778).
 
   
   
  This time it's a Green Ramleela in Fazilka
  From A Correspondent

FAZILKA, SEPT 24 -- In what can be termed a "green initiative", the Graduates Welfare Association Fazilka (GWAF), with support from the Sri Bala Ji Northern Railway Ramleela Samiti, Fazilka, has decided to encourage environment preservation by means of the Ramleela.

The idea is to put into art form the teachings given in our holy books regarding conservation of the environment.

In the relevant episode, Lord Hanuman is asked to look for the Sanjeevani herb to treat Lakshman who lay unconscious on the battlefield. The herb was said to have magical curative properties. It was even believed to bring the dead back to life. Unable to identify the herb, Hanuman uproots an entire Himalayan mountain and delivers it in time to revive the wounded Lakshman.

"Our society needs to learn to preserve and conserve the environment; a thought every religion propagates," said Laxman, director of the Ramleela Samiti.

"Each tree is like Sanjeevani to us. Protecting nature through a blend of faith and religion is the best way to do so," said GWAF President Balbir Singh, who initiated a campaign last year to alert Fazilka residents regarding the harmful effects of global warming through teachings given in the Shri Guru Granth Sahib.

Fazilka residents welcome the initiative. "We hope the same method will be adopted by other Ramleela troupes as well," said Navdeep Asija, GWAF Secretary.
The play will be enacted on September 25, 2009 at Nai Abadi, Fazilka.

Locally available tree saplings, including Neem, Arjun, Sukhchain, Alestonia, Gulmohar and Kachnar, will be distributed to the audience free of cost, with the help of the Ferozpur Forest Department.
 
   
   
  Women in conflict zones and the common thread of tragedy
  From A Correspondent

NEW DELHI, SEPT 24 -- The one-and-a-half day seminar held in the Capital on the theme, 'Women In Conflict Zones: Survivors and Peace Makers', ended with a discussion on how women's voices could be brought into peace-making. The discussion was chaired by senior security analyst, General V.R. Raghavan.

Anuradha Chenoy, professor of international relations, Jawaharlal Nehru University, began by raising some important questions involving women and peacemaking. “What, for instance, are the perceptions about women's voices? What are the realities of women's voices? What are the experiences of women?”
It is important to answer such questions to understand why women have never been brought into peace-keeping although they are sometimes eminently qualified to play important roles in such processes. "In order to achieve more involvement of women, we also need to engage with civil society and people's movements," Dr Chenoy observed.

Mohuya Chaudhury, a senior correspondent with NDTV, shared with the participants her own experiences while reporting from the ground. She said that all women affected by violence and conflict have a clear idea of what they want for themselves and their families. "So if these women are brought on to the negotiating table, they will play an important and useful role," she said.

The next speaker, Sanjoy Hazarika, senior commentator and social activist, recalled how the pressure put by women in Manipur agitating against the killing of Manorama Devi, forced the government to change its view and set up a process of publicly reviewing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. He referred to several Indian women politicians who had spearheaded peace initiatives and recalled how Mrs Indira Gandhi had negotiated with the Nagas at Hyderabad House in New Delhi.

General Raghavan, in his concluding observations as chair, highlighted the need for credible data, which he believed was a major instrument for changing policy. Women, as the first to be affected by conflict, should be an integral part of any initiative to usher in peace, he believed.

Earlier in the morning, Papri Sri Raman, senior Chennai-based journalist, recalled the realities of the Tamil camps in Tamil Nadu. She reminded participants that while Sri Lanka claims that the Tamil conflict is over, the trauma of ordinary people, especially women, continues, as it has for over 25 years.
Poongkothai Chandrahasan, a human rights filmmaker, who sees herself as a refugee because her family was forced to flee when violence first broke out in Sri Lanka, took the participants through the terrible reality of camp life among the internally displaced people of the island country. She did this through a beautifully mounted visual presentation.
She then talked about the efforts of the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in Tamil Nadu to rebuild their lives. Today there is 100 per cent literacy among this community and there is a strong desire among the women there to lead independent, useful lives. "They say they will go back to Sri Lanka only if they are given a legal status, relocated in their own areas and given back their land," she revealed.

Deepti Priya Mehrotra, who has just written a book on Irom Sharmila, talked about the Gujarat pogrom. While lauding the efforts of organisations like Samaerth, which is developing peace modules as teaching aids for Ahmedabad schools, she felt that it is only by delivering justice to the victims of the pogrom, will Gujarat be able to leave the legacy of 2002 behind.
Sukhmani Singh then presented the story of Asma Khan, a caregiver in a home run for Gujarat's orphans by the Zakat Foundation. Asma Khan's example of love and care were crucial in giving hope back to these children who were badly affected by the riots. Asma Khan herself spoke a few words on her experiences with the children.

The next area of focus was the border regions of Punjab where many people have been grievously wounded and handicapped by anti-personnel landmines planted by the army to secure the area. Tripti Nath, who had recently reported on this, touchingly highlighted the tragedies of women who have lost their limbs and their ability to earn a livelihood or lead a normal life.
These are people who have been left without any support worth the name, she said. Two social activists, Sandeep Singh and Vinay Gandhi, working in the Fazilka area of Punjab, talked about their experiences of working with landmine victims.

Many indeed are the neglected and forgotten women victims of violence. Yogesh Vajpeyi spoke about the widows of Behmai, who are languishing in anonymity. Munni Devi's was one of the cases he referred to. The infamous Behmai massacre made her a widow at 13, and she has been living an impoverished and neglected life ever since.

As Mr Vajpeyi put it, "While politicians were keen to cash in on the Behmai massacre for political gains, they conveniently look the other way when it comes to securing the lives of those who have suffered and continue to suffer because of such massacres."
 
   
   
  Hindu festival restores bonds between religions in Mangalore
 
MANGALORE, SEPT 24 (UCAN) -- A Hindu festival here has done much to rebuild good relations between religions in the city, with Catholic nuns who joined the celebration saying they experienced a "beautiful blend of communal harmony."

Officials of Sree Gokarnanatheswara Temple invited people of all religious communities to its recent Dusshera celebrations. The temple hosts the festival in Mangalore, a major port in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, each year.

The 10-day festival, known in some places as Durga Puja (worship of Durga), began on Sept. 19. It concludes with a commemoration of the Hindu goddess Durga slaying a demon king.

Seven Bethany nuns were among the Catholics who attended the official inauguration of the festival on Sept. 22 by Karnataka Governor H.R. Bharadwaj.

Sister Prema told UCA News they found Hindus, Christians and Muslims "moving around freely, talking to each other, shaking hands and renewing their bonds."

The nun also said the illuminated temple premises looked elegant with park areas, fountains, resting places and an open theater to entertain visitors.

She admitted the nuns were initially a "bit scared" to enter the premises, since they remembered how churches were attacked last year.

"We were in our religious dress, and anyone could recognize us," she pointed out.

At least 24 churches were attacked by radical Hindu groups from Sept. 14, 2008. Many Catholics, including nuns, also suffered wounds when police caned them for protesting the attacks.

But Sister Prema said some Hindu friends showed them around and explained the festival's communitarian aspect. "Then we felt at home."

The secretary of the temple committee, Madhava Suvarna, said temple trustees had personally invited Christian and Muslim leaders, and members of their institutions. He noted that the temple had hosted the Mangalore Dusshera for the past 65 years.

According to Suvarna, their inspiration comes from Sree Narayana Guru, a 19th-century Hindu reformer from neighboring Kerala state who "believed in one God, one religion and one humanity."

The official said the temple leaders want to make the venue "a meeting place for all common people, irrespective of their religion, caste or background."

Ravishankar Mijar, another trustee, said the temple is surrounded by Muslims who took shelter in it during Hindu-Muslim riots. "Here, we don't have any caste system, no communal tension, no barriers," he added.

Abdul Rauf Puthige, a Muslim leader, confirmed the welcome his community feels. "This is the only temple where we can go without any feeling of being an outsider," he said.

Even the state governor hailed the Mangalore Dusshera as a meeting place for people. He remarked that the purpose of all religions is to help people triumph over evil and that Dusshera means exactly this.

Denis D'Silva, a Catholic youth leader who joined the celebrations with his friends, said his group has always found the Dusshera the only Hindu festival in which "we feel quite comfortable."

His group plans to join the grand final procession on Sept. 28.

"Even last year, when we were all quite upset over the church attacks, we attended this festival as a group," he recalled.
 
   
   
  Interreligious organization warns against politicizing religion
 
KATHMANDU (UCAN) -- Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim representatives have warned that people forcing political goals on religion are hampering the already fragile peace process in Nepal.

The representatives, including a Catholic priest, discussed the role religions could play in fostering harmony in Nepal. Peace has remained an unrealized hope here since Maoists who waged a decade-long armed insurgency joined mainstream politics in 2006.

Religion and Peace Academy Nepal (RAPAN) conducted the forum to mark World Peace Day, Sept. 21, in Kathmandu.

Indira Manandhar, the organization's president and a Buddhist, charged that too much interference by political interests in religious affairs is "destroying" religion and having a negative effect on Nepal's people.

The Nepali government that forced Gyanendra Shah, Nepal's last king, from power in 2006 declared the country secular soon after. The Maoists joined mainstream politics the same year after signing a peace accord with the government.

However, political instability, the inability of the Constituent Assembly to start writing a new constitution and a rise in criminal activity have provoked concern at home and among the international community.

These concerns have grown in recent months as the Maoists threatened to go back to war and Hindu extremist groups used violence to back their demand that Nepal be restored as a Hindu nation. Churches and mosques have been bombed.

On May 23, a bomb at Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Kathmandu killed three Catholics and injured 14 others. A shadowy Hindu group, Nepal Defense Army (NDA), claimed responsibility.

Father Robin Rai, from the church, told participants at the RAPAN forum that every human craves peace.

"Peace is not the absence of war but the presence of God. There is a challenge in front of us to spread love and brotherhood among different religious communities in Nepal," he said.

Chintamani Yogi, principal of Hindu Vidyapeeth (school), warned that communalism is on the rise. "Different ethnic groups are trying to divide the country and create their own states," he said.

He decried that "mobs led by political parties are beating up priests."

Yogi was referring to a row at Nepal's biggest Hindu temple, Pashupatinath, in Kathmandu.

The temple has traditionally recruited priests from southern India, but after two arrived recently, people demanding that Nepalese priests replace them stirred unrest.

A protesting mob, allegedly led by Maoists, beat up the Indian priests and paraded them naked.

Yogi also said religious leaders must play an active role in the peace process and not restrict themselves to talking about it.

Muslim speaker Allaudin Ansari said political and even religious leaders have been using religion to pursue their own ends when they should be using it to establish lasting peace in Nepal.

In his view, the only solution is to conduct a "comparative study" of all religions and promote the ideals they have in common while discarding differences.

Kul Chandra Gautam, former assistant secretary-general of the United Nations and chief guest at the forum, stated: "Nepal used to be known to the world as the land of peace. Peace was the religion here, but now violence has gripped the country and has institutionalized itself."

RAPAN secretary, Chirendra Satyal, a Catholic, told UCA News he has invited Yogi to the Assumption church to talk about Hinduism in the near future.

RAPAN, the national chapter of the World Conference for Religion and Peace, was established after the fourth Asian Conference for Religion and Peace assembly was inaugurated by King Birendra Shah in October 1991.
 
   
   
  Five sentenced to life for murder during Orissa violence
 
NEW DELHI, SEPT 24 (UCAN) -- Christian leaders in India say sentences of life imprisonment imposed on five people involved in killing a pastor in Orissa last year has rekindled their faith in the country's judicial system.

On Sept. 23, a fast-track court in the eastern state sentenced the five people it convicted of killing Baptist Pastor Akbar Digal in Tatamaha village on Aug. 26, 2008.

Father Babu Joseph, spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, said the judgment not only "restored our faith in the judicial system" but also brought "hope for the other pending cases" related to last year's violence in Orissa state.

The special court based in Phulbani, administrative center of Kandhamal district, had the previous day sentenced six others to three years' imprisonment for an arson attack on a journalist's house in Kandhamal's Phiringia village on Dec. 12, 2007.

Police had arrested 11 people in that case, but the court acquitted five for "lack of evidence."

In 2008, predominantly tribal Kandhamal was the center of seven weeks of violence unleashed by Hindu extremists that left about 90 people dead and 50,000 displaced.

The attacks began on Aug. 24, a day after Maoists gunned down a Hindu religious leader based in the district. Hindu radicals blamed Christians for the murder and led rampaging mobs that destroyed houses, churches and convents. They also killed people who refused to convert to Hinduism. State police have registered 831 cases stemming from the violence.

On top of the life sentences, the court also fined the five convicted of the pastor's murder Rs 5,000 (US$104) each.

Father Joseph told UCA News the convictions show that victims are receiving justice. "We earnestly hope these convictions will be an effective deterrent to those who take the law into their own hands."

Sister Suma, a Missionaries of Charity nun who worked among the riot victims in Orissa, says normalcy is slowly being restored and Christians are grateful to the government for taking action.

Reverend Enos Pradhan, general secretary of the Church of North India, commented that his Church is very pleased to hear of the convictions and sentences, and happy that justice, although delayed, is being meted out.

He also said the convictions have given victims faith in the judicial system. The Protestant official reported that the Church is engaged in rehabilitation and reconstruction works in Orissa.

Father Joseph, on the other hand, criticized the government's reconstruction work as "very tardy." He noted that, with winter approaching, people may face more severe problems if the work does not go faster.

"They don't have any alternative places for shelter, as some (relief) camps have been closed and the houses are under construction," the priest said.
 
   
   
  Data from Chandrayaan-1 suggests availability of water on the moon
  A Correspondent

New Delhi, Sept 24 -- Data from the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft suggests water is still being formed on its surface.

It is believed that the water is concentrated at the poles and possibly formed by the solar wind.

The finding was made after researchers examined data from three separate missions to the moon.

The reports, to be published in the journal Science on Friday, show that the water may be moving around, forming and reforming as particles become mixed up in the dust on the surface of the moon.

Dr Mylswamy Annadurai, the mission's project director at the Indian Space Research Organisation in Bangalore, told The Times: "It's very satisfying. This was one of the main objectives of Chandrayaan-1, to find evidence of water on the Moon."

The unmanned craft was equipped with Nasa's Moon Mineralogy Mapper, designed specifically to search for water by picking up the electromagnetic radiation emitted by minerals.

The M3, an imaging spectrometer, was designed to search for water by detecting the electromagnetic radiation given off by different minerals on and just below the surface of the Moon.

Unlike previous lunar spectrometers, it was sensitive enough to detect the presence of small amounts of water.

M3 was one of two Nasa instruments among 11 pieces of equipment from around the world on Chandrayaan-1, which was launched into orbit around the Moon in October last year.

Carle Pieters of Brown University in Rhode Island and colleagues reviewed data from Chandrayaan-1 and found spectrographic evidence of water. The water seems thicker closer to the poles, they reported.

"When we say 'water on the moon,' we are not talking about lakes, oceans or even puddles. Water on the moon means molecules of water and hydroxyl (hydrogen and oxygen) that interact with molecules of rock and dust specifically in the top millimetres of the moon's surface," Pieters said in a statement.

Scientists said the breakthrough would change the face of lunar exploration.
 
   
   
  Catholic and Muslim leaders discuss cooperation during Id ul-Fitr visits
 
JAKARTA, SEPT 23 (UCAN) -- Catholic Church officials recently visited Muslim leaders and discussed with them how members of the two faiths can work together to serve society and advance interreligious dialogue.

Bishop Johannes Maria Trilaksyanta Pujasumarta of Bandung, a member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, executive secretary of the Catholic bishops' commission for interreligious affairs, made their visits around Id ul-Fitr. The festival marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month when Muslims fast daily from dawn until dusk.

One topic discussed was how Catholic and Muslim organizations could jointly help the poor through programs such as credit unions. The leaders also agreed to fight against terrorism and attempts to use religion to justify violence.

Bishop Pujasumarta and Father Benny said the Muslim leaders made them feel welcome during the friendly get-togethers, called silaturahmi.

"Their warm welcome makes us believe that true brotherhood is not just a daydream," the bishop said.

Indonesia celebrated Id ul-Fitr on Sept. 20 and 21. On the first day, Bishop Pujasumarta visited the mayor of Bandung, capital of the predominantly Muslim province of West Java, as well as West Java's governor and vice governor. He also visited social and religious leaders including Hajj Dedem Ruchlia, head of the West Java Islamic Center.

Father Susetyo was in East Java province Sept. 20-22 to visit various Muslim leaders. They included Hasyim Muzadi, who heads Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), and Ahmad Syafi'i Maarif, former leader of Muhammadiyah and founder of the Maarif Institute for Culture and Humanity. The priest also visited four pesantren (Islamic boarding school).

NU and Muhammadiyah are the largest and second-largest Muslim organizations in Indonesia respectively. Maarif received the 2008 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Peace and International Understanding.

During the visits, the Catholic and Muslim leaders discussed poverty, religious radicalism and the plan of Cardinal Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, to visit Indonesia on Nov. 26.

Bishop Pujasumarta said Ruchlia had arranged lunch in a garden for the 90-minute visit. "He invited his friends to welcome me and join our discussion about the need to establish interreligious communications."

Father Susetyo said he hoped to foster brotherhood through the silaturahmi and "talked with Muzadi, Maarif and pesantren (Islamic boarding school) leaders on how to work together to solve poverty."

NU already has established good relations with some parishes in Java, he noted. "But we must improve cooperation in addressing poverty ... such as through credit unions and other economic development programs."

The priest said he and pesantren leaders also discussed the issue of increasing religious radicalism in the country. "We identified a need to jointly fight against terrorism, because terrorism has hijacked religious teachings in order to justify violence."

He added that one special topic discussed was preparation for Cardinal Tauran's visit, which "NU and Muhammadiyah warmly welcome."
 
   
   
  South Asian Couples for Christ meeting inspires Nepalese members
  KATHMANDU, SEPT 23 (UCAN) -- Leaders of the international Couples for Christ (CFC) lay group in Nepal say a recent regional meeting here was a great boost to their ministry.

The Sept. 18-19 "First CFC South Asia Regional Leaders' Conference" was very enriching, uplifting and a "bonding" experience, enthused Gyan Prakash Rai, CFC head in country the country.

"This meeting helped our CFC leaders here in Nepal to learn a lot from the visiting leaders."

The conference, held at Godavari, on the southern outskirts of Kathmandu, brought together 30 local CFC leaders and 17 foreign delegates. The latter included CFC leaders and members serving in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

Participants discussed ways to strengthen CFC work in the region.

The Couples for Christ movement, which originated in the Philippines, aims to renew and strengthen Catholic families. Apart from attending movement activities such as prayer, and praise and worship sessions, members also serve the local Church.

CFC has made rapid progress in Nepal since being established here in 2003 and now has more than 100 members divided into various groups.

Dhirendra Evan Sitling, a CFC leader, expressed his joy at being a part of the conference.

"The visiting couples and leaders were simply amazing. The way they have led CFC in their respective countries and the accounts of their experiences were awe-inspiring," Sitling told UCA News.

"Someday, I too hope to become a leader like them," he added.

Ramon Santiago, CFC coordinator for the South Asia region, explained to UCA News that a recent CFC global leaders' summit held in Maryland, in the United States, discussed setting up the new region.

"The summit felt the need of regionalizing the work of CFC instead of just being based in Manila; and it was decided that the regional center for South Asia would be Nepal," he said.

The main objective of the Kathmandu conference was to "gather and strengthen the personal and fraternal relationship of the region's country coordinators and leaders, and for them to have a unified mission for the work of renewing Christian families in the region," added Santiago, who is based in Manila.

"This conference also helped us share our own challenges, as Christians are a minority in the region," he said.

Bishop Anthony Sharma, apostolic vicar of Nepal, opened the conference at the St. John Vianney Pastoral Center.

"CFC will grow in Nepal, because what I have seen is that CFC has been chosen for Nepal, for renewing Christian families here," the Jesuit prelate told the group.

CFC in Nepal is divided into nine units called "households." There are four households comprising married couples; four of single women called Handmaids of the Lord and one household for single men called Servants of the Lord.

There are also groups for children and youths.
 
   
   
  Jesuit brought about winds of change for rural Indians
 
By Jose Kavi
NEW DELHI, SEPT 23 (UCAN) -- The people of Karamchedu knew where their hopes lay.

The dalit, former "untouchable" people, in Andhra Pradesh's Prakasam district refused help even from the state government when a caste feud left them homeless and desperate in 1985.

Instead, they turned to Father Michael Anthony Windey's Village Reconstruction Organization (VRO) for help. The village leaders said they had found the Jesuit priest's team inspiring.

Father Windey, who died on Sept. 20 at age 88, was a figure of hope for thousands of villagers across India.

Karamchedu villagers had already seen what the VRO had done for neighboring Kangadapada and Bapadlal villages in the wake of devastation wreaked by a cyclone.

Thanks to the organization's work there, the dalit villagers were able to abandon their mud huts and move into concrete buildings. New drainage systems improved hygiene, while newly planted trees brightened the villages.

Child and adult education improved, and job skills taught by VRO volunteers fired youngsters with ambition.

"We'll help, yes, but on our terms," Father Windey had replied when Karamchedu villagers approached him. He then shot them a question. "What have you done together?"

"Nothing much," they said. Then came the next question: "What do you think you can do?"

The slightly built Belgian missioner with a goatee put these questions to thousands of landless laborers, fishermen with little fishing equipment, craftsmen with little security and tribal people displaced by mega-projects. Repeated over four decades, they worked wonders in hundreds of villages across India.

For Father Windey, all crises were God-given opportunities for people's development and growth. He used to say he hated providing cosmetic relief that kept people dependent and poor.

The Jesuit also cited a chance meeting with Mahatma Gandhi and a later association with Gandhi disciple Jayaprakash Narayan as having convinced him of the need to make Indian villages more viable, complementing urban development.

According to the priest's analysis, about 2,700 urban centers in India draw the best from the country's more than 575,000 villages. The result -- villagers flood towns and slums mushroom. In 1962, more than 82 per cent of Indians lived in villages. Within 20 years, this figure had fallen to 77 per cent.

To check this trend, Father Windey tried to make villages more livable, seeking to bring changes from within while rebuilding them.

He insisted on people's participation in rebuilding disaster-hit villages in new areas. This helped villagers overcome caste differences, he said, because people considered having a home more important than sticking to their caste. Over the decades, VRO villages have become symbols of equality and security.

Social work might have been the last thing on his mind when his superiors sent him to India in 1946 to continue his priestly studies and work in the Chotanagpur region of eastern India. But he was at the forefront of Church relief work when famines hit Bihar and Madhya Pradesh in the 1960s.

The late Cardinal Valerian Gracias of Bombay had noted his dynamism and, as head of the Indian Catholic Church, requested the young Jesuit's help in Andhra Pradesh when it was devastated by a cyclone in 1969.

Father Windey arrived in the southern Indian state with a single volunteer and little else. But he soon gathered voluntary groups, individuals and Church workers into a common relief effort to help cyclone victims.

They started work in 10 villages, which eventually became models for others.

Father Windey always chose the most isolated and least known villages to work in. Now, hundreds of such villages in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Tamil Nadu states have become beacons of hope for those suffering from illiteracy and oppression.

The VRO has also brought about changes in the way NGOs approach village work. "He turned job seekers into volunteers, teachers into learners and officials into activists," says Jose Vincent, who had worked with the Jesuit for decades.

Bureaucrats and Church leaders also became listeners and sympathized with the Jesuit's way of conducting interreligious dialogue at the grassroots level.

The Andhra Pradesh government itself often turned to Father Windey for ideas and help in crises, such as during the caste feud in Karamchedu that claimed 15 lives 24 years ago.
 
   
   
  Bihar girls win laurels in karate
  From Anuja Sipre

PATNA, SEPT 23 -- Female empowerment has taken a big leap in Bihar with schoolgirls now leaving their mark not just in education, but in sports as well. Recently two schoolgirls from Patna and Nalanda reached the quarterfinals of the 29th Gozkai International Karate Championship held in Singapore.

Four Patna girls -- Sapna Rani of Government Middle School, Golghar, Neha Kumari of Government Middle School, Gardanibagh, Rajani Kumari of Government Middle School, Rajapur, and Priyanka Kumari of Government Middle School, Shekhpura -- and two Nalanda girls -- Shweta Singh and Pooja Kumari of Government Middle School, Powarpur, were selected to be part of the Indian team that participated in the international event. Of these, Sapna Rani and Shweta Singh reached the quarterfinals.

What makes this achievement even more laudable is the fact that these girls hail from poor families. Pooja's father Upendra Singh is a farmer, Neha's and Rajani's fathers -- Mriyank Shekhar and Krishna Kumar -- are auto drivers, Sapna's father Alok Kushal is a TV mechanic and Priyanka's father Arvind Kumar is an electrician. But thanks to initiatives taken by the government in the last three years, these girls are now not only being imparted proper education, but also being trained in judo and karate.

According to Anjani Kumar Singh, principal secretary, Human Resource Development, over one lakh girls have been trained in judo and karate so far by the Bihar Education Project Council (BEPC) under the National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level (NPEGEL). "Earlier, it was natural for girls to drop out of school. They hardly completed their primary education. To tackle this, the Government launched this programme. Besides training in judo and karate, these girls are also taught cycling to increase their self-confidence. Girls who are yellow belts can now become trainers. Plans are afoot to give them red belt training," he added.

BEPC State Project Director Rajesh Bhushan said schools in 34 districts of the state now impart karate training, adding that students train daily for two hours.
 
   
   
  Catholics upset over slow progress in priest-attack case
  RAIPUR, SEPT 22 (UCAN) -- Church people in a central Indian archdiocese are upset that police have not arrested a Catholic priest's attackers even after two weeks.

"The police have not taken any interest," alleged Father Suklal Pankaj, mission partner of Father Varghese Thekkekut, the priest two youths assaulted on Sept. 5 for unknown reasons.

The two priests reside at Raipur archdiocese's Jairam Nagar mission in Chhattisgarh state.

"How can we arrest anyone without proof?" countered local police official Sadhana Singh. She told UCA News the police had rounded up all known criminals and suspects in the area, but the priest could not identify his attackers among them. "Maybe someone who has enmity against the priest or somebody from outside the state attacked him," Singh suggested.

But Father Thekkekut told UCA News he has no "personal enemies." He suspects that local liquor sellers, Hindu radicals or agents of some teachers of the mission school are behind the incident.

Narrating events, Father Thekkekut said someone knocked on his door around 11.30 p.m. He opened the door presuming the visitor was either Father Pankaj or a hostel boy. "I was shocked when the two men in their 20s held my neck tightly and kicked me about," he recounted.

As he struggled and the intruders pointed guns at him, he said, "I shouted and cried at the top of my voice." At this they fled.

Father Pankaj, principal of St. Joseph's Higher Secondary School and warden of the boys' hostel there, stays in a nearby building. He arrived on the scene with the cook and some senior hostel boys after Father Thekkekut rang him up. He said no one answered their call to the nearby police post, so they could lodge a complaint only the next morning.

Father Thekkekut said he had not seen his attackers before and ruled out theft as a motive. "They uttered no word. Since they wore no masks, I am sure they had come to finish me. I am afraid now."

The owners of two shops that sell illicit liquor in the village might want to silence him, he said, noting that he had asked the shops to close a few days before the incident. "Since many of our youths have become addicts, I used to speak out against the liquor shops in my sermons," he added. One shop was closed after a police raid.

The priest also said some radical Hindu groups had held a meeting several weeks ago after some Pentecostal groups tried to convert some of the villagers to Christianity. The meeting resolved not to allow Christian missioners to work in the village, he added.

The mission's school is also experiencing problems. Father Thekkekut said teachers at St. Joseph's Higher Secondary School have threatened to stop work if the management fails to pay them salaries comparable with government rates.

Father Thekkekut said the school had recently decided to increased student fees as a result, but archdiocesan officials had asked them not to do so.

The mission, started 104 years ago, is the oldest Catholic parish of the archdiocese. The mission's current members are mainly migrant tribal people, earlier converts from low-caste Hindu communities having mostly abandoned their practice of the faith.
 
   
   
  Sri Lanka: Archbishop appeals to EU to continue trade privileges
  COLOMBO, SEPT 22 (UCAN) -- The archbishop of Colombo has urged the European Union (EU) to continue giving special trade concessions to Sri Lanka.

"I appeal to our friends in the European Community to help us bring about true peace and justice to all our citizens by continuing to accord the GSP (Generalized System of Preferences) Plus facility and all other possible assistance to the country," Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith said in a press statement.

"Such would also be the best way in which the European Community can help the speedy resettlement of internally displaced people, whose sufferings originated largely due to the destructive war foisted on this country by racial extremism," the Sept. 21 statement continued.

The prelate made his appeal at a time when the European Union is considering whether it should renew Sri Lanka's GSP Plus status in light of the human rights situation in the country.

The GSP is a trade arrangement through which the EU provides preferential access to its market to 176 developing countries and territories in the form of reduced tariffs.

More concessions are given under the GSP Plus scheme. However, beneficiaries must have ratified and effectively implemented 27 specified international conventions in the fields of human rights, core labor standards, sustainable development and good governance.

Sri Lanka was awarded GSP Plus status following the 2004 tsunami. This is renewable every three years, with the next renewal date coming up in October. The Sri Lankan apparel and shoe industries, which have generated millions of jobs, have benefited much from the trade concessions over the years.

However, a report prepared by a panel of independent experts appointed by the European Commission concluded last August that Sri Lanka has not effectively implemented various conventions on human rights.

Now about 2 million jobs are in jeopardy as a result.

Human rights lawyer Kishali Pinto Jayawardena commented: "Problems may have arisen due to lack of commitment on the part of the government regarding the failure to implement the rule of law and Sri Lanka's constitutional institutions."

The present concern over the GSP Plus status comes in the wake of the government's proclaiming the end of decades of civil conflict in mid-May, when its troops overran the last Tamil Tiger rebel enclave. However, about 280,000 Tamil civilians are still languishing in government-run camps that they are not free to leave.

Archbishop Ranjith said in his statement: "We need to experience your hand of friendship and help not only in the de-mining of the areas affected and relief and humanitarian assistance for the displaced, but also their speedy resettlement, development of vital infrastructure in the different towns and villages of the north and east and means of employment and economic activity for those affected."
 
   
   
  Seminar on women in conflict zones begin with victims narrating their tales of woe
  From A Correspondent

NEW DELHI, SEPT 22 -- A one-and-a-half day seminar entitled "Women in Conflict Zones: Survivors and Peacemakers" began in the Capital today.

The seminar brought together writers and women impacted by violence from all over the country. Speakers evaluated the effect that conflict has had on the daily lives of ordinary women and described their traumas, coping strategies and attempts to usher in peace.

Among the speakers was Kavita Karkare, whose husband -- ATS Chief Hemant Karkare -- was killed in the line of duty in the November 26, 2008, attack on Mumbai. Mrs Karkare highlighted the trauma that family members of police officers and constables are still undergoing, ten months after that tragic and horrific event.

Others who spoke included Lakhbir Kaur, who lost almost all family members in the riots of 1984 but not her sense of humanity. Pratima Engheepi provided a glimpse of how women in the remote and conflict-prone North Cachar hills region of Assam are helping out those affected by violence and working for peace in the area. There was also a presentation on the situation of children in Chhattisgarh.

The seminar, which is being jointly organized by Women's Feature Service (WFS) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) began with Francois Stamm, Head of Delegation, ICRC, welcoming the participants.

Syeda Hameed, Member, Planning Commission, chaired the inaugural session in which former Union Minister of Panchayati Raj and the Ministry of for the Development of the Northeast Region Mani Shankar Aiyar delivered the inaugural address. Head of Mission, Medecin Sans Frontieres, the Nobel Prize winning organization, Pierangelo Gandini and the Former Foreign Secretary, Muchkund Dubey, also spoke.

The last session of the day looked at building legal support structures for women caught in the crossfire.

Tomorrow there will be testimonies from the Tamil camps of Tamil Nadu/Sri Lanka, as well as presentations on initiatives to reach out to those affected by Gujarat riots, the situation of landmine victims in Punjab's border villages and the continuing trauma of forgotten women like Behmai's widows.
 
   
   
  Church mourns Jesuit village reformer
  HYDERABAD, SEPT 21 (UCAN) -- Church people and social workers in India are mourning the death of a Belgian Jesuit missioner who used Gandhian methods to revolutionize village life in India.

Father Michael Anthony Windey, founder of the Village Reconstruction Organization (VRO), died on Sept. 20 at Heverle in Belgium, where he had been undergoing treatment for liver cancer since January. He was 88.

Sabien Arnaut, Father Windey's niece, told UCA News from Belgium that her uncle's last wish was to return to India, but doctors ruled it out, saying he would not survive a flight back.

"He was very weak and could barely walk. Though the doctors gave him only a few weeks to live, his sudden death was unexpected," she said. His funeral is scheduled for Sept. 26 in Belgium.

Father Windey was born in 1921, the fourth of 12 children. He joined the Jesuits in 1938, traveled to India in 1946 and was ordained a priest in 1950. Until 1969 he worked in Ranchi, eastern India, where he began social work in 1967 when a famine hit Bihar state.

He shifted to the southern state of Andhra Pradesh in 1969 to work among cyclone victims and later set up VRO, following Mahatma Gandhi's call to reconstruct village life as the way to bring about India's advancement.

Father Windey "believed in the Gandhian way of developing villages, and understood the Indian ethos and culture," said Father Anthoniraj Thumma, secretary of the ecumenical Andhra Pradesh Federation of Churches. "He was more Indian than Belgian, and we will miss him and his social service."

According to Father Peter Raj, a Jesuit from Andhra Pradesh and secretary to the Jesuit provincial of South Asia, Father Windey succeeded in transforming village life.

"He made ordinary people self-reliant and dignified," the priest told UCA News.

Father Xavier Jeyaraj, secretary for the social department of the Jesuits' South Asia region, noted that Father Windey developed contacts with people of all religions. "His simplicity, openness and friendly approach toward the poor was wonderful," he said.

Nagender Swamy, a Hindu and secretary of the VRO governing body, eulogized the missioner as "a great proponent" of village development and renewal.

"His loss is difficult to replace, but his hard work has a tremendous future for village development," he added.

Sister Martin Maliekal, another long-term associate, said that even though Father Windey wanted to die in India, he resigned himself to God's will when his superiors asked him to go to Belgium for treatment.

"When I met him in Belgium, he was always talking about how to help villagers and make them happy," recalled the Jesus, Mary and Joseph nun.

Father Arulanandam Elango, another Jesuit priest based in Andhra Pradesh, described Father Windey as an adventurous and enterprising social worker who ventured where other NGOs did not dare to go.

In the words of Jose Vincent, who worked with Father Windey for three decades, the priest was a perfectionist "who was always in a hurry to get things done."

Father Windey was "never bothered about the religion of the person he helped," added Father A.X.J. Bosco, a former head of the Jesuits' Andhra Pradesh province who has worked as VRO's operational director. "While selecting villages, he always chose to help the poorest village."

Jesuit Father Peter Daniel, currently in charge of Jesuit projects in the state, said the foreign missioner's death had saddened his confreres in India.

"We will hold a Mass for Father Windey on the day of his funeral in Belgium," he told UCA News. The Andhra Pradesh Jesuits also plan to conduct a 30th-day memorial service and to erect a memorial at the VRO headquarters in Guntur.

Father Daniel said donors have expressed their willingness to support VRO's future projects.
 
   
   
  Comeback or not, the spotlight in Bihar is on Lalu Yadav
  By Anuja Sipre

PATNA, SEPT 20 -- The spotlight is suddenly turning on to maverick Lalu Prasad Yadav who in the past weathered many a political storm and is now strongly positioning himself for a comeback trail following the spectacular victory of the RJD in the just concluded by-elections to 18 Assembly seats.

Mauled by the drubbing of the Lok Sabha elections, the RJD had faced political decimation winning just four out of the 40 Lok Sabha seats. The LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan who tied up with the RJD for the Lok Sabha polls also suffered the ignominy of losing all the seats the party contested. Worse still, even Paswan could not retain his traditional Hajipur seat.

Small wonder that political pundits predicted hard days ahead for the Lalu-Paswan duo and some of them were even prepared to write their political obituaries.

But defying all odds, the duo has now managed to pull it off in the Assembly by-polls with the RJD-LJP combine winning nine Assembly seats. And what is surprising, they have turned the tide in their favour just when everything seemed lost for them after their defeat in the Lok Sabha elections.

"We are back at the centre stage of politics. We have retrieved the lost ground. The by-election was only a semifinal which we have comfortably won without facing any credible resistance from the communal NDA.

"The finals will be played next year when the state goes to Assembly polls in October and we are sure we will have the last laugh. As for the NDA, the countdown has already started and there is no way it will return to power next year," thundered Lalu.

Ever since the 2005 November Assembly elections which led to his exit from the centre stage of Bihar politics, Lalu has been desperately trying to reclaim his lost ground. He tried all the political tricks under his sleeve but the electorate would not oblige him. He kept on losing all the by-elections -be it to the Lok Sabha or the Assembly.

And this year's Lok Sabha election proved to be another nemesis for Lalu who as a result even lost the ministerial position he was occupying at the Centre. Lalu was both gone from the state and the Centre after remaining in power for 20 long years. His political credibility was being doubted as never before and staging a smart recovery -- as has now been done -- is something which has surprised one and all.

"Our alliance with the LJP failed to click in the Lok Sabha elections because we in the past worked at cross-purposes. But the people are now willing to bet on our alliance and the result of the by-polls is for the showing. And what is more significant, the people have become disenchanted with the Nitish Kumar Government which must be now counting its last days" maintained an emboldened Lalu who is also advocating for an alliance with the Congress in both Jharkhand and Bihar.

Truly, barring the die-hard supporters of the RJD, no one was willing to give any outside chance to Lalu who has upset all the political calculations to revive his political fortunes.

 
   
   
  India lagging in infrastructure, IT and basic education, says report
  By Papri Sri Raman

CHENNAI, SEPT 19 -- India is ranked 49th among 133 nations and is desperately clinging on to the middle wrung of the development ladder, like most other Asian countries, going by their rankings in the Global Competitiveness Report 2009-2010.

The city state of Singapore is the only exception, having moved up two notches for transparent institutions and good governance and placed third among the top 10 best countries.

Health, primary education, infrastructure and macro-economic stability are among 12 growth indices used by the World Economic Forum to compare emerging economies like Brazil, Russia, India, China, Chile, Venezuela, Malaysia, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

India is also paying heavily in terms of "business costs of terrorism" -- it occupies 117th place -- and in "public trust of politicians" it is again down the ladder to 79.

Pakistan maintains a status quo (overall 101 rank), having failed to improve basic (128th place) and higher education (118th) and "the threat of terrorism bears heavily on the business community", the GC report says. Pakistan ranks 81st and Bangladesh 108th in the quality of their science research institutions. Pakistan holds 83rd place in terms of scientists and engineers.

India holds 4th place in the availability of scientists and engineers but in terms of secondary and tertiary education, it is positioned way back at 107 and 100th place. China lags at the 36th place and Pakistan at the 83rd place. On scientists and engineers, Bangladesh is better on this index, at the 69th place.

China and Brazil's R&D spending is higher than India's. The quality of Indian research institutions is better than those in Latin America, the index shows. India figures 25th here and 35th in its capacity for innovation. China does better on the innovation front but its research institutions make it only to the 35th position.

There are new challenges to China's (overall ranking 29th) rapid progress, "...its competitive edge can no longer be based on the use of cheap factors of production alone and increasingly must be based on efficiency improvements." China's future growth can slow due to lack of sophistication of its financial markets, shortcomings in higher education and technological readiness, the report says.

Malaysia has dropped three places in the GCI, to the 24th position, here again "security" being a concern.

Among the Latin American countries, Chile with good infrastructure and efficient and transparent governance ranks 30th, 19 places above India, even Puerto Rico (42) ranks higher. Brazil has gained eight places, and though ranked below India, its expanding domestic market and its "significant potential for innovation" have helped its growth. Brazil holds the 28th place in capacity for innovation while the top economy in Latin America, Chile has been given 60th place for innovation. Mexico remains at 60th position overall while bad healthcare and poor macro-economic environment place Venezuela at the 113th position.

India is not significantly better than Venezuela and Peru in macroeconomic management and occupies the 101st position as far as health care and primary education goes.

A recent Unicef report has bracketed India with Nigeria and DR Congo to account for "40 per cent of the world's under-five deaths".

"India has more than 300 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births. In Sri Lanka, the corresponding figure is 56, in China it is 45, in Namibia, 210 and in Egypt, 130", a recent meeting in New Delhi to discuss Maternal Health, Human Rights and Law, as a part of the nationwide ICPD +15 (International Conference on Population and Development) Gains and Gaps review process disclosed.

The rural-urban divide is huge in India. The per capita income at just about $1,000 is three times less than China's and a tenth of Russia's.

In infrastructure, India is simply appalling, at 76th place. In electricity supply it ranks 106, quite near the bottom of the development ladder, in roads and overall infrastructure it ranks 89.

"In addition, penetration rates for mobile telephony (116th), the Internet (104th), and personal computers (96th) remain among the lowest in the world", the GC report says, pointing out that in broadband connectivity India occupies the 91st place. A KPMG-CII report on India's IT sector says that by the end of 2010, India will have 75 million computers (at present there are 15 million, with two million old PCs). If one thought India is IT savvy, one would be mistaken.

"Inefficiencies in the labour market (83rd) prevent an optimal allocation of human capital. Improvements in these areas would place India on a stronger growth trajectory going into the future", the GCI report says.

Education, employment, healthcare, infrastructure, even in computers India seems to have a long way to go.
 
   
   
  BBC's Trevor Barnes interviews Bishop Michael Nazir Ali as he steps down
  From the BBC's The Sunday Programme
www.anglican-mainstream.net

TB: Earlier this week I spoke to Bishop Nazir Ali, and wondered whether his recent comments and actions were not themselves contributing to an ever-widening split in the Anglican Communion. His call on homosexuals to repent and change, for example.

MNA: Look, I am a priest. Every time I celebrate the Eucharist I call on everyone to repent, including myself. What I was saying at the time was that the Church should repent of capitulating to culture and that it should repent of neglecting its mission, and I said that repentance was for everyone. I was then asked if that was also for homosexuals, and I said yes, it was for everyone. Each one of us needs to repent, to walk with Christ, and as we walk with Christ our desires and inclinations, the whole of our lives, are transformed. And that is for everyone.

TB: On areas of sexuality and ordination of gay priests and the consecration of gay bishops and women bishops, there is a de facto split right down the middle, isn't there?

MNA: There may be a de facto split, but the Church continues to uphold and to teach what it always has done, and I certainly see it as my responsibility make sure that the church continues to do this.

TB: The trouble is that by publicly endorsing the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and going to its alternative synod in Jerusalem, aren't you paving the way for a formal split within the church?

MNA: Schism is caused by those who depart from the faith, not by those who continue to adhere to the faith. GAFCON, or the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, is not a schismatic movement - it is a movement precisely to renew.

TB: But isn't it your intention to give the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans your continued and high profile support?

MNA: My support has been very low profile, actually - I was only in Jerusalem only for 3 days ...

TB: But by virtue of your being a senior bishop with some pull?

MNA: There are senior archbishops and many other senior bishops involved, but I do my bit because I want the Church to remain faithful, and to be renewed in its life.

TB: Was your decision to step down from Rochester at all influenced by disillusionment or dissatisfaction with the mainstream direction of the church?

MNA: Not at all. For some time I have been asked repeatedly by Church leaders in Churches under pressure to help them with the development of leadership in their churches. I think it is vital for the health of our Church that these Churches should be strengthened and supported.

TB: To what degree do you think your recent comments about no-go areas in certain parts of the North are going to hinder your work?

MNA: What I was saying was that at the very period when Britain was challenged by a new kind of diversity - people of different cultures and different faiths arriving here - it began to lose its Christian discourse in the public sphere, and this was replaced by this new fangled idea of multiculturalism. It is well known and well documented that that has resulted in separate communities. These parallel communities gave an opportunity to extremists. As far as Christian work is concerned, what it has meant is that extremists have made it difficult for Christian workers in some parts of this country. I myself have experienced intimidation in a northern city. That is the sort of thing I was drawing attention to.

TB: A convert to Christianity, albeit a second generation one, will not be a popular figure in Muslim countries.

MNA: Muslims, like Christians, are different, different, different. I have wonderful Muslim relatives whom I love and who love me. If I am unpopular because of my faith in Jesus Christ, then so be it.

TB: You are a conservative evangelical. Evangelicals are on the lookout for conversions. Will you be looking to convert the Muslims whom you encounter?

MNA: I have always described myself as an evangelical catholic. But yes, I believe that we have a duty to bear witness to what God has done in Jesus Christ to everyone.
 
   
   
  City not so beautiful when it comes to art and culture
  From Balvinder Singh

CHANDIGARH, SEPT 19 -- In 1954 the Punjab Government decided to construct a memorial to honour those who laid down their lives in the freedom struggle.

Le Corbusier made a rough-design for this memorial, to be constructed between the Assembly Hall and the High Court building, two of his well-known architectural attempts in 1956.

Though it could not materialise during Corbusier's lifetime, an attempt was made in this direction in 1971 which, too, failed to fetch any positive result.

The Chandigarh Administration then invited some known and unknown sculptors to execute the memorial. Since Corbusier's paper design was of sketchy nature, the sculptors were asked to make small three-dimensional models on its basis.

Obviously, as per our 'babuised' bureaucratic functioning, the final order was given to an unknown city sculptor, not for being the best sculptor but for being the 'lowest' bidder.

The climax of my story is the fact that one of the invited sculptors was Ram Kinkar Baij. A daring Ram Kinkar rejected Corbusier's design, and rightly so, and presented his own Indianised version that would have gone well with both its theme and the environment.

Surprisingly, I have not seen those sketchy drawings either in the museum that has recently been established in Corbusier's memory or any of his shows. And what would have happened to the model that Ram Kinkar had made shortly prior to his death for a petty remuneration of Rs 2000 can well be imagined.

The insensitivity of the local administration towards art and culture can well be gauged from the fact that the Chandigarh Museum, which houses invaluable treasures of past and present art, has been without a professional head and a technical curator for several years.

No wonder that this museum, which is supposedly there to collect and preserve artifacts, has earned a distinction of writing off quite a few sculptures from its permanent collection like old furniture.

Can this region ever boast of its rich cultural heritage? Surprisingly shrieks, in fits and starts, are often heard to get the city of Chandigarh a 'heritage' status, whatever it means, from the UN!
----
The writer is an art critic.





 
   
   
  News Analysis by Anuja Sipre: Overconfidence cost the NDA dearly in byelections
  PATNA, SEPT 19 -- Clearly something went horribly wrong for the ruling NDA in the by- elections to the 18 Assembly seats. That the JD (U)-BJP combine could win only five Assembly seats has indeed come as a rude shock for the alliance leadership which only a few months back had pulled off a spectacular victory in the Lok Sabha elections by winning 32 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats.

But suddenly the euphoria of the resounding victory in the Lok Sabha elections has evaporated into thin air due to the drubbing the NDA has received in the by-elections.

There are those who believe that the NDA was done in by the political arrogance of its own leaders who took victory for granted in the by-elections. The others might also be inclined to believe that saboteurs within the NDA camp had actually worked on their strategy to defeat the official nominees.

There might be so many other factors which accounted for the NDA's poor performance which has rejuvenated the RJD-LJP opposition camp and now they may fancy their chances of upsetting the applecart of the NDA in the next year's Assembly elections.

"We erred in the selection of candidates and fielded those who till the other day had been part and parcel of the RJD outfit for more than 15 years. The electorate was in no mood to back them," said a JD (U) leader insisting that the party should re-visit its strategy of awarding party tickets to the RJD rebels.

The Congress' decision to fight the by-elections on its own had also badly hurt the electoral prospect of the NDA candidates. "The forward caste voters found an alternative option in the Congress and deserted the NDA which somehow could not create an impression that it was also doing its bit to take care of their interest.

"The forward caste voters probably thought Lalu Prasad had become a spent force and there was no way he would stage a comeback. Therefore, they rallied around the Congress hoping the RJD will not return to power," opined Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

The results have come as a surprise for the both 'victor' RJD-LJP combine, and 'virtually vanquished' NDA. Confident of his 'sushasan' (good governance) the Chief Minister is finding it difficult to digest that people have not preferred to vote for development and good law and order.

On the other hand, RJD supremo Lalu Prasad and LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan are gung ho that their victory has exposed the truth about the 'so-called development' plank of Nitish Kumar.

Even common people are surprised by the results. Neeta Mishra who owns a petrol pump is shocked. "The results are simply shocking. My husband was murdered in 2003 December and after that I started looking after the business. I had a harrowing time managing the business but when Nitish Kumar took over the reins of Bihar things improved so fast that there were almost no business related problems.

"The atmosphere has been very congenial for business and I was feeling very relaxed. But the by-poll results have made me apprehensive. I just hope the Assembly election results next year are positive and Nitish Kumar returns to power".

Dr Amit Kumar, a physician, felt the same. "There was a time when I was seriously thinking of shifting from Bihar. I was doing well but the demand for 'protection money' by the local goons was making me jittery. I even feared for the safety of my family. However, the law and order improved dramatically once the RJD was removed from power. I will have to reconsider my decision of staying in Bihar if this party again comes to power".

Even those with roots in Bihar and staying in other places are disappointed as well as apprehensive. "Besides the improvement in law and order I was happy about the pace of development too. I come here to meet my parents three-four times a year and whenever I come I am amazed to see so much development work, especially construction of roads.

"I feel relaxed about my parents' safety also. It's really surprising that people have not voted for development and safety of their lives. What do they want -- murders, kidnappings and a backward Bihar?" asks an angry Renu Vahal who stays in Lucknow.

Says Satyendra, a paanwallah, "Nitishji kaam to achcha kar rahe hain. Ab log raat raat tak bahar ghoomte hain. Mera paan ka achcha bikri hota hai. Unko to chief minister bane rahna chahiye."(Nitishji is doing good work. Now people stay out till late in the night. The sale of paan is also good. He should remain the Chief Minister).
 
   
   
  Remote jungle regions test priests' mission spirit
  MYITKYINA (MYANMAR), SEPT 18 (UCAN) -- Jungle, rivers and mountains thwart travel in this eastern tail of the Himalayas, making it more than a challenge for priests to keep in contact with remote parishioners, let alone visit them.

Communications and travel have not improved greatly in Kachin state since combined American and Chinese forces drove the Japanese army from Myitkyina, the capital, almost 65 years ago as the tide turned in World War II.

This northernmost area of Myanmar remains frontier, a place where motorcycles and boats can take travelers only so far before feet become the only means of transportation.

Father Paul Nbau Zau Lat, an ethnic Kachin born in Putao, is one of 34 Catholic priests working in Myitkyina diocese. He is based in Shingbwi Yang parish, about 250 kilometers northwest of Myitkyina and not far from the border with India.

It can take the 44-year-old parish priest a month to reach some of the more remote villages among the 22 in his care, many of which he visits only once a year. But even though he can administer sacraments and provide pastoral care only at long intervals, he says, these parishioners maintain a deep faith.

"Some villagers hear the Good News of Christ and get general information only when the parish priest comes," Father Zau Lat told UCA News.

Shingbwi Yang parishioners number more than 1,000 in 500 households. The majority are Naga people and the rest Kachin, except for a few Burman. They mostly live by fishing and hunting, although some work on plantations.

The Naga hills region, home to the Naga tribe, extends into India and is one of the parish's most inaccessible areas, but Father Zau Lat sees it as his duty to reach them. He also believes in "offering (his) daily priestly life" as a prayer for the success of the Church's mission.

The priest, who teaches tribal children at a Church-run boarding school, sees education as another crucial element in that mission. Accordingly, he plans to send five teachers to live and teach in places with the greatest need.

Healthcare also suffers from the lack of transportation and communications in remote areas, where serious diseases present a threat. Father Zau Lat responds by trying to get malaria and tuberculosis medicine from NGOs to support to his far-flung villagers.

Father John Kumbu La Seng, 29, from Myitkyina, faces similar challenges as parish priest in Putao, Father Zau Lat's home parish, more than 350 kilometers north of Myitkyina.

Also an ethnic Kachin, he can make pastoral visits to the most remote villages only in December and January, when the weather is good enough for him to travel.

Among the people he tries to reach during these coldest months of the year are the roughly 100 households of Catholics living near the ice-capped mountains close to the Chinese border. These members of the Lisu and Rawon hilltribes work on plantations there.

The priest has 47 catechists who help him serve about 3,000 parishioners in 600 households. Members of Assemblies of God and Baptist congregations also live in the 30 villages the parish covers. Most of the people are farmers and a few run small grocery stores.

Father La Seng described the people out in the villages as uneducated and shy to speak with others. But he said they try to live their faith firmly despite a tough life that for most is a cycle of debt, using one year's produce to pay off the previous year's bills. They also face food shortages annually, especially in the rainy season.

"It's tiresome to work in the hilly mission, full of hardship and trials, but it's also a pleasure for me to have the opportunity to give baptism, listen to confession and distribute Communion," Father La Seng remarked.

"Knowing the difficulties and weakness of the villagers, we need to upgrade the children's educational qualifications in order to get more vocations, because we still need more priests in our diocese," he added.

Bishop Francis Daw Tang of Myitkyina told UCA News that "with Catholics' tithes and support from the some generous donors, the Church will be able to support all the struggling villagers, and in the future the parishioners will try to work for themselves."

The bishop nonetheless acknowledges that conditions are tough, and he said he encourages his priests to go to other parishes as pilgrims in order to renew their spiritual strength. He added that the diocese plans to conduct training and a pilgrimage program for its priests.
 
   
   
  Jesuit campaign targets trafficking of women in eastern India
  By Julian S. Das

KOLKATA, SEPT 18 UCAN) -- A Jesuit center's campaign against human trafficking in eastern India has been buoyed by its first success.

Father Probal Gomes says a 30-year-old woman has been rescued from a human traffickers' racket in the region. But the woman "is still in shock and guilt, and it will take a few months for us to bring her back to her normal self."

The Jesuit priest directs Udayani (awakening) Social Action Forum (USAF). It launched an anti-human trafficking and safe migration program in June in West Bengal state's 24 Parganas (South) district after getting progressively more involved in the issue of trafficking in the region for three years.

The forum works with the Association for Bengal Collaborators for Development (ABCD), which coordinates Catholic diocesan social services in the state.

Father Gomes said Church NGOs do not take on the traffickers directly but work through women's self-help groups, village youths and others.

"If we do not create awareness among the people of this district, many would be lost forever, not only to the sex trade but also through cheap labor rackets."

ABCD director Father Ignatius Philo Sarto describes West Bengal as one of the most disaster-prone states in India. "Human trafficking has been one of the most common problems in the area for the past 20-30 years," he said, adding that his association wants to tackle the problem with help from other Christian groups.

According to data from the National Crime Records Bureau, West Bengal accounted for 61 of the 149 cases of trafficking in women registered at the national level in 2005. But local media say the official data are only the tip of an iceberg.

Father Gomes said USAF plans a comprehensive survey to gauge the true scale of the problem in the district, but it "may take about six months before we get the results."

Meanwhile, the Jesuit center has launched awareness campaigns in Christian schools on the issue of human trafficking.

"Even children in the 9-14 age group are fully aware of what is happening in their locality," the priest said.

USAF field officer Sorodindu Biswas played a key role in the group's first rescue. He said a police officer had offered the woman a check for Rs 25,000(US$525) if she volunteered to work outside the state.

She was saved "in the nick of time" only because she had no bank account or means to cash the check, Biswas told UCA News. "That is how we came to know about the human trafficking racket," in which a senior police official also was involved, he said.

After being rescued, the woman told USAF staff she has an 11-year-old son and was desperately looking for funds to pay back money her husband had borrowed to set up a snack shop in their village.

Biswas explained that gangs generally look for women in the 15-30 age group, especially those with family and financial problems.

He added that the Jesuit center had sought the help of the local village body to save the woman. The incident has given USAF "some leverage to take up similar cases in future," he said.

As a further measure to prevent trafficking, the Jesuit center has set up local "vigilance committees" in the four areas where it operates.

Each committee comprises self-help group leaders, youth club members, school headmasters and heads of local government bodies.

Father Sarto says they have also organized youths who watch for signs among peers that might indicate they are getting involved with or are vulnerable to traffickers. One behavior that Church NGOs have advised people to watch for is excessive time spent using mobile phones, which can mean someone is working for the racket.

"Our efforts are fruitful when we get support and help from political and police forces," the priest said.
 
   
   
  Indonesia: Church gives unwed mothers-to-be a pro-life choice
 
JAKARTA, SEPT 17 (UCAN) -- As Indonesia moves to loosen its total prohibition on abortion, Church workers continue to offer pro-life solutions to the problem of unwanted pregnancies, as they have for decades.

These include specialized ministries of Religious such as the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, whose Villa Shalom shelters have been operating since 1948, to determined Catholic laypeople with the desire to make a difference.

Just ahead of the scheduled end of the current legislative session on Oct. 1, the Indonesian House of Representatives has passed a health bill that has been debated for nine years, according to "The Jakarta Post."

One of the provisions allows abortion in cases of rape or if the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother. For rape cases, the abortion must be approved by an official body.

While some women's rights groups have campaigned for decades for a change in the law, Catholic groups have steadfastly encouraged unwed young women to have their babies, providing support for them and their family.

The challenges and rewards of this approach were discussed recently at a workshop in the southern Jakarta suburb of Bintaro. Around 70 participants from 12 of Indonesia's 37 dioceses attended the Aug. 28-30 event. The Communication Forum of Life Lovers (FKPK), Catholic Women of the Republic of Indonesia (WKRI) and Bishops' Commission for Family, jointly organized it.

One of the speakers, Franciscan Bishop Michael Angkur of Bogor, chairperson of the bishops' commission, told how one woman's personal commitment outlived his skepticism.

"A young Catholic woman came to me in 1994 asking for permission to start an initiative to assist unmarried pregnant women, care for unwanted children and look after children from poor families," he recounted.

The bishop admitted he was skeptical of the project's prospects for success, but said he gave his consent anyway.

The woman set up a foundation, Awam Bina Amal Sejati (development of true charity among laypeople), that has steadily grown. It currently looks after 35 children and has expanded to accept elderly people into its care.

"That initiative is a proven example of how the pro-life movement can grow," Bishop Angkur said. He added that he "appreciates and supports all groups or institutions" that promote the movement.

Participants at the workshop recommended that sex education be taught in schools as well as within families. They agreed to promote faith formation for children and teenagers, and to provide pro-life counseling to teenagers and families.

Nonetheless, practical help such as that offered by the lay foundation and Good Shepherd Sisters remains vital.

The nuns' two Villa Shalom shelters, one in the Jakarta suburb of Jatinegara and another in Yogyakarta, provide a home, support and counseling, both spiritual and psychological, to unmarried mothers-to-be.

Sister Katarina Sri Pamulatsih told UCA news after the recent workshop that the shelter near Jakarta, which she runs, was caring for 15 Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Muslim and Protestant women between the ages of 16 and 30. Some had been raped.

By her count, 915 unmarried mothers-to-be have passed through the facility's doors since it opened 61 years ago. A third shelter is planned in Batam, Riau Islands province.

"Our mission is reconciliation," the nun stated, explaining that the women need to reconcile with God and forgive themselves, and their families need help too.

"We want to help the parents understand that their daughters' pregnancy is not a family shame," Sister Pamulatsih said.

Poor women can stay at the shelters for free, while those with the resources pay 750,000 rupiah, about US$80, to stay until after their babies are born.

The nuns and staff of Catholic hospitals provide the counseling, and priests celebrate Mass, hear confessions and provide other pastoral services for Catholic residents. Meanwhile, the women take part in physical exercise, help cook and clean, and join in other tasks.

"After leaving the shelter, some continued their studies and some have gone on to work as teachers or babysitters," Sister Pamulatsih reported.

She told about a 16-year-old Catholic schoolgirl whose distressed parents brought her to Villa Shalom after she became pregnant but refused to marry her boyfriend and instead wanted an abortion.

After giving birth, being welcomed back home with her baby and resuming her studies, she came back to thank the nuns for saving her and her baby.

Such stories encourage the nuns in their mission, Sister Pamulatsih said. "I hope more people will respect life."
 
   
   
  Sri Lanka: Priests, youths look to combat suicide
 
COLOMBO, SEPT 17 (UCAN) -- Suicide is a problem in Sri Lanka, especially among young people, who raised money for as well as attended a recent program the cathedral parish in Colombo ran to address the issue.

About 60 parishioners aged between 17 and 30 took part in the event, which youth counselors conducted at the cathedral's St. John Paul Centre. It included meditation and prayers as well as talks.

Youths had raised 26,000 rupees (US$260) for the program by washing cars.

One story recounted during the program was that of a Catholic father who disapproved of his 20-year-old son being in love with a 14-year-old-girl.

The father disparaged the relationship and told his son: "How bad -- a little girl for a jobless boy." The next day the couple's bodies were found at the foot of the cliff they had jumped off.

This and other stories confirmed the potential for tragedy amid the stresses and strains of modern life. But they also highlighted how suicide affects the family, Church and society as a whole, and presenters encouraged young people to love their life and learn to live with difficulties.

Other presentations reinforced this encouragement, such as the story of Oscar Pistorius, the "fastest man on no legs." With the help of state-of-the-art artificial legs, he has become one of the fastest disabled runners, challenging even able-bodied athletes.

The program also included geetha bavana, or meditation music. These classical compositions, some written by Buddhist monks, stressed the value of human life, how to live a beautiful life and the responsibility of youths in carrying forward this tradition.

Sahana Tilakaratne, 26, an unemployed young woman who had experienced trouble with fraudulent job agents, said afterward: "I learnt that defeat is a lesson, and helpful."

Father Dewshan Asanka Fernando, assistant parish priest of St. Lucia's Cathedral told UCA News that youths can easily crack under today's pressures, and the Church has to understand youngsters well in order to help. Young people are particularly vulnerable to inferiority complexes caused by a competitive lifestyle, he added.

Mahesh Trevor Selvaratnam, 28, president of St. Lucia's Youth Committee, said the Church must do more for young people and pointed to the dwindling number of youths taking part in Church activities as further evidence.

Nonetheless Father Tony Martyn, the cathedral's parish priest, encouraged the organizers of the program and youths who took part in it.

"Your endeavor in bringing youths to church, collecting funds, home visits, and meditation is like a little bit of yeast. It will expand like bread."

Sumithrayo, a government-sponsored welfare association set up to help reduce the suicide rate, reports that most people committing suicide in the country are between 14-30 years.

According to the World Health Organization's "WHO Country Cooperation Strategy 2006-2011, Sri Lanka," the country has one of the world's highest suicide rates among adolescents and young adults, and is also very high among those over 70. It says suicide accounts for an average of 6,000 deaths a year in a population of 20 million and is the leading cause of hospital mortality in some places. Research shows as many as 100,000 more people attempt suicide each year, it adds.
 
   
   
  Bangladesh: Church day-care center raises hopes for more tribal students
 
NATORE (BANGLADESH), SEPT 16 (UCAN) -- The number of new first-graders has tripled since nuns began a day-care center a year ago in a largely tribal parish in northwestern Bangladesh that now plans to set up student hostels.

Meanwhile, the number of youngsters at the center Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate run in Queen Assumed into Heaven Parish has more than doubled too. The nuns are popularly known as the PIME sisters.

The 60 children aged 1-7, all of them Catholics and most of them members of the Paharia tribal group, stay at the center daily from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. The nuns teach education fundamentals and moral values, provide art lessons and arrange sports activities.

"We also provide healthy and nutritious food for the children, which is essential for their growth," says Sister Golapi Gomes, the director.

Shilpi Biswas, a Catholic Paharia mother, is grateful for those services and more. Her daughter, Jacinta, attends the nearby St. Don Bosco Primary School, also run by the PIME sisters.

"Just one year ago I had to push my daughter to go to school. She disliked it, because most of the time we could not help her do homework at home," Biswas recalled. She and her husband are agricultural laborers who work all day in the fields.

Nowadays, Jacinta goes to school willingly, and even gets ready on her own. After school she goes to the day-care center, where the nuns help her with homework.

The Paharia make up 60 per cent of the people in the parish territory. The government operates one high school and one primary school to serve local residents. The Church-run primary school, the only other school in the area, has long had relatively low attendance, but that is changing.

"This year we have expanded our primary school building to allot space for the increased number of students," Father Julian Rozario, the parish priest, told UCA News. "We plan to set up two boarding hostels for poor boys and girls who live in distant villages and can't afford education."

Sister Baby Gomes, the St. Don Bosco headmistress, credits the rise in the number of those seeking admission to the first grade this year chiefly to the day-care center.

"Last year we had only 21 new students, but this year the number is 61," she reported, adding that new students "do better in class and tutorials."

According to the nun, local Paharia embraced Christianity in 1907, but only 14 students have passed the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examination, equivalent to graduating from high school to date.

PIME sisters have been working in the parish since 1978, but the day-care center reflects a more recent understanding of the link between poverty and the low rate of literacy among the Paharia.

Sister Golapi Gomes recounted: "We found very few Paharia kids went to school, and those who did go didn't do well in examinations. We first thought maybe their parents don't encourage them to go to school."

Later on they "realized that children who don't like school and can't score well in examinations are deprived of proper care and nutritious food at home."

In 2007, Brazilian Sister Eli Miranda Sexias proposed the day-care center as a way of getting more tribal children to attend school.

Parents pay 40 taka, about US$0.60, a month for each child they send. "We take this money to pay the maids we employ to look after the children," the director explained. "It's a great pleasure to see little kids studying and playing together."

The arrangement also benefits the parents directly, especially mothers who work at the parish sewing center.

"In the past some working women used to bring their children to the sewing center," said its director, Sister Philomena Gomes. "The kids disturbed their mothers, making noise and messing up the clothes. It was a serious problem for us, because it hampered us from delivering orders in time."

She added that she is happy these women now can work attentively, knowing their children are taken care of at the day-care center.

 
   
   
  Pakistan: Church protests follow death of Catholic in custody
 
SIALKOT (PAKISTAN) SEPT 16 (UCAN) -- Communal tension is rising yet again in Punjab province, where crowds of Christians took to the streets following the death in custody of a Catholic man accused of blasphemy against Islam.

Police say 24-year-old Fanish Masih, who used the surname Robert, hanged himself, but rights activists and Christians claim authorities tortured and killed him.

A group of 10 priests led about 2,000 Christians in a protest rally on Sept. 15 in Sialkot, where Robert reportedly was found dead in his cell that morning.

The protest march began at a cinema and ended five kilometers away at Catholic-run Bethania Hospital, where the body is being held.

"Stop religious extremism and the massacre of Christians," the crowd chanted.

One of the Catholic priests leading the rally, Father Shehzada Khurram, parish priest in Robert's hometown of Jatekhe, promised the crowd that the funeral would not be held until the police filed a case on the "murder".

Robert was arrested on Sept. 11 in Jatekhe on charges of blasphemy after allegedly throwing part of a Qur'an into a gutter.

Other accounts said he had pulled the hand of a Muslim girl, and the girl's parents were quoted in early reports as saying they had seen the pages from the Qur'an "soaked with dirty water."

Those comments sparked inflammatory speeches broadcast over the local mosque's loudspeakers, and that afternoon a mob set the nearby Calvary Church ablaze. It is now under heavy police guard.

Robert was shifted to a jail in Sialkot, where police claim he hanged himself during the night of Sept. 14 with the cord used to tie the pants Pakistani men usually wear. But family members claim Robert's body bore torture marks and his ribs were broken, according to media reports.

Those claims were backed up by at least one report, in the "Daily Times," which quoted Punjab Minister for Minority Affairs Kamran Michael as saying he had seen signs of torture. Other reports, however, cited police officials as saying an investigating team that included doctors found no such marks on the body.

Arshad Mahmood Malik, regional director for the government's Ministry of Human Rights, told UCA News the case was suspicious.

"One cannot understand suicide in jail. It seems illiterate people are easy to exploit in the name of religion by those who then take the law into their own hands," he said.

Protests also erupted in Lahore, the Punjab capital, on the afternoon of Sept. 15. About 400 Christians gathered in front of the Lahore press club, blocking the road for a time.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Catholic bishops' National Commission for Justice and Peace issued a press release.

"We demand a credible investigation and registration of a case under a murder charge," it said. "The persons responsible for the death of innocent youth ... should be brought to justice," Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha of Lahore, the commission's chairperson, and Peter Jacob, its executive secretary, wrote in the release.

The Church officials pointed to the country's controversial blasphemy laws as part of the problem, reiterating a long-held Church concern. They urged once again that these be repealed.

"For religious minorities these laws have proven to be a catastrophe which can surface anytime anywhere," they said. "We consider this a failure on the part of the Punjab provincial government and Federal government."

The blasphemy laws, introduced in 1986 under a military-led government, make an insult to the Qur'an punishable by up to life imprisonment, while conviction for insulting Prophet Muhammad brings an automatic death sentence.

The arson of Calvary Church attracted the condemnation of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. Both leaders on Sept. 12 called for restraint and ordered authorities to investigate the matter.

Zardari promised the government would pay for the reconstruction of the damaged church.

Just a month earlier, 10 Catholics were killed in rioting in the Punjab city of Gojra and the nearby village of Korian. A Muslim mob vandalized and looted 113 Christian houses and damaged four Protestant churches in these areas.

That and an attack in January on a Catholic church in the Punjab village of Kot Lakha Singh are among at least seven incidents of anti-Christian violence in Pakistan this year.
 
   
   
  Abhaya interrogation broadcasts shock Kerala Church
 
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, SEPT 15 (UCAN) -- Church officials in Kerala state have expressed shock and dismay after private TV channels broadcast videos of two priests and a nun under interrogation by police, who drugged them.

The broadcasts on Sept. 14 showed Father Thomas Kottoor, 62, Father Jose Poothrukayil, 57, and Sister Sephy, 47, apparently admitting that they murdered another Sister Abhaya inside a convent more than 17 years ago.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India's top investigating agency, conducted the so-called narcoanalysis on the three after they were arrested in November 2008.

Church leaders in Kerala as well as lawyers have accused the TV channels of violating media ethics by airing matters related to a case that is still under trial.

"There is a hidden agenda and conspiracy behind the issue," says Father Paul Thelakat, spokesperson of the Syro-Malabar Church, a Catholic Oriental-rite Church based in the southern state. The three accused belong to its Kottayam archdiocese, as did Sister Abhaya.

Father Thelakat said the broadcasts were "most unfortunate" and accused the media of conducting its own trial of the case.

"There is an attempt from certain quarters to malign the Church's image in the Abhaya case," the priest told UCA News. The accused, he asserted, have a right to dignity and "the media have no reason to violate it."

Archbishop Mathew Moolekkatt of Kottayam likewise deplored the broadcasts as "irresponsible media action that violated basic human rights."

The archbishop's statement said the Kerala High Court had earlier ordered a probe into alleged tampering of the narcoanalysis video CDs.

"The court should investigate and punish the culprits who are responsible for leaking the tampered CDs, because the court is monitoring the case," the archbishop's statement added.

Sister Abhaya's body was found on March 27, 1992, inside the well of Pius X Convent in Kottayam.

The two accused priests were teachers in a college where Sister Abhaya, 21 at the time, was a student. She and Sister Sephy belonged to the locally founded Sisters of St. Joseph's Congregation and lived in the convent.

The CBI claims the two priests and the accused nun murdered Sister Abhaya to conceal a sexual escapade. Its investigators allege Sister Sephy hit the younger nun with an axe, after which the three accused dumped the body in the well.

A vigilance committee that Kottayam laypeople set up, with official backing, to monitor conduct of the trial also condemned the media action and demanded an investigation.

Charlie Paul, a Kerala High Court lawyer and Catholic youth leader, believes the media action infringed on the rights of the accused. He pointed out that the broadcasts occurred soon after the magistrate conducting the case handed an investigation report over to the lawyer for the accused.

The media action is "sub judice and a clear violation of human rights," Paul told UCA News, referring to the law concerning coverage of a matter under court judgment. "It's a matter of concern, as the media continue Church baiting in the Abhaya case."

Soon after the broadcasts began around noon, Father Poothrukayil and Sister Sephy complained to the magistrate, who ordered the channels to stop immediately. However, some channels continued to air the program until 6 p.m.

"By then the damage was already done. We are all in a shock," remarked John Joseph, a Catholic layman. He regretted that the media, which should act as a guardian of human rights, had reneged on its duty.

Joseph said the Church's image has suffered for a long time because of the Indian media sensationalizing the case.
 
   
   
  Catholic Church aims for women's political empowerment
 
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, SEPT 15 (UCAN) -- The Catholic Church in Kerala plans to launch an aggressive strategy for the political empowerment of women.

Beena Sebastian, secretary for the women's commission of the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council, says the immediate reason for the move is to prepare Catholic women ahead of local elections scheduled for 2010 in the state.

The bishops recently released a gender policy that sets aside 33 percent of seats for women in Church bodies.

Kerala's Marxist-led coalition government plans to go further than that and reserve 50 percent of seats in local government bodies for women. On Sept. 8, the state government convened a special session of the legislative assembly to pass the necessary legislation. Media reports say passage is expected on Sept. 16.

The new law would entitle women to head half the state's 999 village, 152 block and 14 district councils, besides the 52 municipalities and five municipal corporations. Together these have 20,554 seats.

Sebastian calls the bill "a blessing in disguise" for the Church, which plans to train Catholic women to contest local elections. The training includes setting up parish women's groups for social action.

"Creating awareness about women's conditions in general is also part of our program. We aim for women's overall development, including political empowerment," the 52-year-old sociologist told UCA News.

According to Sebastian, such training is necessary because Kerala's on-the-ground reality is different from what has been projected.

The state's female literacy rate is 88 percent, well above the national average of 54 percent. Additionally, the life expectancy of women in the state is 72.4 percent, compared to the national average of 60.4 percent.

However, Kerala has a "darker side," because it also ranks high in domestic violence and harassment of women in their workplace, the Catholic woman leader said.

The Church is also concerned about the shift in Kerala's gender ratio. Even though this stands at 1,058 women to 1,000 men, the state only had 963 girls for every 1,000 boys, according to the 2001 census.

"We fear the fall in juvenile sex ratio is due to selective abortion of females," Sebastian said. The Church wants to educate families about gender equality to remedy the situation, she added.

Sebastian also said the Church decided to work toward women's political empowerment after it noticed Catholic women generally stay away from politics.

In 1996, Kerala reserved 33.3 percent of seats in local bodies for women, but few Catholic women have fought those elections. "Without women's political empowerment, neither the Church nor society can march forward," Sebastian said.

She predicts "revolutionary changes in our Church" after the Church implements its gender policy, beginning with the move to ensure women have 33.33 percent representation in its decision-making bodies.

"It's true the Catholic Church has not provided platforms for women to express their views, but the new gender policy will help the Church to become gender-sensitive and gender-friendly," she added.

However, some political parties have criticized the Church for trying to empower women in the name of religion.

K.K. Shailaja, a legislator who heads the Marxist women's wing, says the Church move smacks of sectarianism.

"I'm not against the Church sensitizing women to social issues or creating awareness about their rights. But organizing them on religious lines will divide society," she warned.

Hindu Aikyavedi (united front) leader K.K. Sashikala charges that the Church hopes to assert its political clout in the state in the name of women's empowerment.

Such allegations do not keep Jane Mary, a Catholic housewife, from welcoming the Church move.

"It's very much needed. We don't have a platform to address our issues. When the Church offers a platform, more women will come forward to join it," she said.
 
   
   
  Mangalore Catholics pray for persecutors on anniversary of church attacks
 
MANGALORE, SEPT 15 (UCAN) -- The attacks "deeply hurt us and the scars will never disappear," says Carmine D'Souza, who came to pray at Adoration chapel on the first anniversary of the outbreak of anti-Christian violence in Mangalore.

Tears rolled down the elderly woman's cheeks as she knelt before a broken crucifix at the chapel's entrance. The time of the attack, 10:20 a.m., is engraved on the crucifix, which she said has become the symbol of the anti-Christian violence in Karnataka state.

"Now I am a regular visitor to this chapel. The attacks have helped strengthen my faith," D'Souza, clad in a blue sari, told UCA News.

Even though local Christians were greatly upset by the attacks, they never resorted to violence, she added.

Throughout the region, Catholics fasted and prayed on the Sept. 14 anniversary.

Bishop Aloysius Paul D'Souza of Mangalore, who celebrated Mass that day in Adoration chapel, said he had told his people not to hold protests on the anniversary but rather to pray for their persecutors and for victims of the violence.

The prelate also asked Catholics to organize prayer meetings and join in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in each parish.

Adoration chapel, which belongs to the cloistered Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration nuns, was the first Christian building targeted in the violence. As the Hindu radicals who broke the crucifix vandalized the chapel, a stone hit and seriously wounded a nun's right eye.

Before the day ended, radicals attacked 24 churches across Mangalore and Udupi districts, accusing Christians of trying to convert Hindus.

Police intervened only after Catholics blocked roads, using tear gas and canes against hundreds of Catholics, including women and children sheltering in some churches. Police also arrested several Catholics.

A judicial enquiry into the day's events is underway.

Father Peter Noronha, pastor of St. Sebastian's Church in Bendorewell, told UCA News the anniversary at the diocese's largest church began with a morning Mass and ended with an oath-taking ceremony that evening.

The church was full the whole time, the priest said, adding that the parish would use the day's collection to fight around 145 criminal cases lodged against Christians for protesting the attacks.

Some members of the Indian Catholic Youth Movement spent the day repairing public roads that were damaged during the rainy season.

Dharma Samanwaya, a Church-initiated interreligious harmony movement, had celebrated a harvest festival a day earlier, timed to coincide with the anniversary. Leaders from Christian, Hindu and Muslim communities attended the event, titled Souhardha Habba (festival of brotherhood).

Bishop D'Souza told the gathering that festivals should foster unity in a community. He recalled that earlier people celebrated such occasions without fear.

"But today, we need police protection to celebrate them," the prelate added.
 
   
   
  Court forces Catholic school to readmit Muslim boy with beard
 
JABALPUR, SEPT 15 (UCAN) -- A Muslim boy returned to his studies at a Catholic school in central India on Sept. 14, two years after he was suspended for sporting a beard.

On Sept. 11, the Supreme Court ordered Nirmala Convent Higher Secondary School in Sagar, Madhya Pradesh state, to readmit Mohammed Salim.

The youth, now 16, had discontinued his studies in 2007 after the school, which comes under Sagar diocese, said he must follow its rule that boys attend classes clean-shaven. Salim insisted his beard was a symbol of his religion.

The Supreme Court's interim order directed the school to let the boy resume studies immediately and report back that it had done so. In doing so, the court overturned its previous order supporting the school's position.

Salim told UCA News he was happy and would complete 12th grade at the school where he began in the 10th grade. He said he foresees some initial difficulties, but "everything will settle down gradually."

The youth predicted that time would heal the wounds of the legal battle and the distrust it created. "We will forget and forgive everything" gradually, and life will go back to normal, he said.

Wahid Ali, Salim's elder brother, described the court order as "really comforting," since his family was worried over the boy's future.

"Now he can continue his studies in the same school, because there is no other good school nearby," explained Ali, who teaches in a Muslim religious school.

Salim's lawyer, Abdul Kareem Ansari, also welcomed the decision. He said the only motive for the action was to get the boy back to the school.

Father Abhilash Illimoottil, who manages the Church school, told UCA News Sept. 14 Salim came to the school with his lawyer and handed over the court order. "We are complying with the court order," he said.

The priest said the boy would restart classes on Sept. 22, after the school completes the quarterly examinations now underway. "There is no need for fresh admission, as the school had not issued his transfer certificate," he said.

He also pointed out the court order was interim and the school would take future action in consultation with Church authorities.

On July 6, the Supreme Court withdrew its March 30 ruling that upheld the school's decision to suspend the Muslim boy. It based the earlier ruling on the ground that no one can breach the statutory rights of a minority institution to have its own rules.

A Supreme Court justice had instructed Salim to join another school if he could not follow the school's rules. The Madhya Pradesh High Court had also ruled in the school's favor.
 
   
   
  News Analysis: Supreme Court order a body blow for Mayawati
 
By Meetu Tewari

THE latest warning by the Supreme Court seems to have finally ended the building spree of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati.

The court does not usually consider media reports but in this case it took a serious view of the matter. A bench comprising Justices B N Agrawal and Aftab Alam issued a serious warning to Mayawati telling her that "you are playing with fire".

By Friday evening construction sites finally fell silent. Mayawati has maintained that, contrary to reports that she was indulging in self-glorification, her aim was to uplift the status of the lowest castes and celebrate Dalit leaders.

She countered that the memorials built to honor the Nehru family are never criticised and that had the Congress government given due importance to Dalit leaders, she would not have had to take such measures.

Former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Mulayam Singh Yadav has proclaimed that if he is voted back to power, he will demolish all the statues and buildings constructed by Mayawati.

The residents of Lucknow point out the wastage of funds, first by Mayawati to create these memorials and then their destruction if Mulayam Singh is voted back to power. The people protesting against the construction have been pointing out how this money could have gone towards building schools, hospitals and initiating other schemes in poverty-ridden Uttar Pradesh.

Promoting Dalit leaders may be a noble idea but if the Chief Minister does not undertake schemes to uplift Dalits through economic and educational measures, she would easily lose their support. If she is able to improve the lot of the poor, that will be a true memorial to the Dalit heroes.

Already, her orders to raze to the ground many houses and public utilities has caused resentment among all citizens, regardless of their economic status.

Though Mayawati finally decided to adhere to the six-hour deadline given by the court, it remains to be seen if the halt in construction activity will be maintained. The Chief Minister has drawn criticism for her extravagance and for destroying the green cover of Lucknow and other areas. People draw comparisons between Mulayam Singh who built parks and Mayawati who is setting up stone monuments.

When the construction sites fell silent, the government was quick in allowing media coverage of the same, unlike earlier when press persons were not allowed to even enter the sites. However, having to hear the angry words of the Supreme Court judges has also been a cause of embarrassment for the Mayawati government.

Furthermore, the huge expenditure will probably haunt her government for days to come and will influence the BSP's political ambitions negatively. What happens next to the sites remains to be seen but if given a choice the public would like the silence to continue for ever.
 
   
   
  Archdiocese issues austerity code for priests
 
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, SEPT 14 (UCAN) -- A southern Indian archdiocese has issued a code of conduct for priests and seminarians encouraging them to lead simple and austere lives.

"It is time for introspection," says Auxiliary Bishop Sebastian Adayanthrath of Ernakulam-Angamaly who issued the guidelines on September 13 as part of the archdiocese's observation of the Year for Priests.

The Syro-Malabar prelate told UCA News he prepared the code after consulting priests and lay people.

"It's an attempt to remind priests what is expected of them. They have to be role models for the faithful and should not succumb to worldly pleasures," he said.

The code appeals to priests to base their lives on the Bible and observe simplicity and transparency. It bars them from receiving expensive gifts from parishioners for services.

Father Paul Thelakat, spokesperson of the Syro-Malabar Church, told UCA News that some priests had received expensive cars from parishes.

"The Church wants to curb such lavishness," the priest said.

The guidelines ask priests and seminarians not to use expensive consumer goods and to be simple in their food habits, dress code and travel.

The code insists that all priests set apart a day a month for prayer. It also wants parishes to observe a day in a year as the priest day. The day will be set aside to honor the parish priest and conduct special prayers for priests who have served the parish.

The guidelines also direct priests to create a platform in every parish for interaction with laypeople. They have to prepare sermons based on the Bible and take people's feedback to improve their content and delivery.

The archdiocese, based in Kerala state, also plans to set up a tribunal to resolve disputes among priests.

Several lay people have welcomed the code.

"I'm happy the Church has come up with the guidelines because some recent scandals involving priests and nuns have damaged the image in Kerala," Merlyn Thomas, a housewife, told UCA News. The 35-year-old Catholic woman wants the Church to issue guidelines for lay people as well. "Many things we follow in our private life are anti-Christian," she added.

Augustine Joseph, retired college professor, blamed Church leaders for priests' extravagant lifestyle. "Many parishes have built churches worth billions of rupees. If Church is sincere about its guidelines, it should bar all such practices," he said.

The archdiocese move coincides with the Central government's recent austerity drive. It has banned ministers traveling in business class and lavishly furnishing their offices and residences saying such excess was inappropriate in view of the drought in many parts of the country.
 
   
   
  Asian Muslims and Christians challenged to build peace, end poverty
 
By Gerard O'Connell, Special Correspondent in Rome

VATICAN, SEPT 14 (UCAN) -- Collaboration between Christians and Muslims in Asia to combat poverty "is still sporadic and limited," and much more needs to be done, says the Vatican's desk officer for relations with Muslims in Asia.

Indonesian Father Markus Solo admits that such efforts have usually not gained much support from mainstream Muslim and Christian communities in Asia.

"So far most interreligious dialogue initiatives have not gone beyond the limit of discourses and conferences," Father Solo, whose desk comes under the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, told UCA News in Rome.

His comments came as the Vatican prepared to release its message to the world's billion Muslims for the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of prayer and fasting. The message, which the interreligious dialogue council issues annually, calls on Christians and Muslims to cooperate together to overcome poverty in the world in this era of globalization.

Father Solo suggested three possible reasons for what he sees as the lack of progress in practical cooperation until now:

• People tend to think in categorical and exclusive terms. "Religion has become a border where people look rather into their own area and seek to help their own people first," he said.

• Prejudices lead people of one religion to think that when followers of another religion engage in acts of charity, they are actually trying to gain converts.

• Where there is goodwill on the part of Christians and Muslims to join in charitable initiatives, they come up against a lack of funds.

Even though Christians are a tiny minority in Asia, home to most of the world's Muslims, the Vatican official has confidence that the two communities can collaborate more in various fields.

In particular, he sees the possibility of greater collaboration "to combat poverty" and "to promote and establish peace and harmony."

Father Solo noted that this same conviction underpins this year's Vatican message to Muslims as they prepare to celebrate the feast of Id-ul-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.

"Poverty needs to be combated by Christians and Muslims together, and Ramadan is the appropriate moment to express this desire", he said.

The priest explained that Ramadan is a time when Muslims reflect more deeply on the real meaning of life by being close to God and their neighbors. As part of this, they heighten their awareness of the needs of others, especially the poor, and practice charity.

The Vatican message noted a link between poverty and extremism or violence, a theme Father Solo echoed. He quoted the English proverb: "A hungry man is an angry man."

"Simple and poor people" are sometimes manipulated, mobilized and paid "by rich masterminds" to engage in acts of violence "in the name of religion," he continued.

"This is a problem that must be taken seriously into consideration by Muslims and Christians in order to create a better world where people can share prosperity and live in peace and harmony."

Around the world, poverty "is getting worse after the recent economic and financial crisis," he noted.

"Everybody knows that poverty is a real and bitter challenge for people living in the developing countries, which also happen to be religious ones."

In Father Solo's view, this disturbing global reality underscores the Vatican's call in this year's message for Muslims to join hands with Christians to overcome poverty, and promote human dignity, harmony and peace. From the highest levels to the grassroots, the followers of both religions should work together to ensure that the poor "are not discriminated (against) or humiliated," but "are treated as human beings with equal dignity," he said.

Options in this "dialogue of action" are many and include "official and non-official ways," he continued. As an example, he suggested that Muslims and Christians could establish institutions and agencies to provide humanitarian aid to people in need and education for children of poor families.

They could also "cultivate and intensify actions in the neighborhood" to help each other. Moreover, he said, governmental support could be of great help in these efforts.
 
   
   
  Scholars hail Jesuit's success at world Sanskrit conference
 
PUNE, SEPT 14 (UCAN) -- Christian and Hindu leaders in India as well as scholars from around the world have praised the performance of a Jesuit priest in convening the History of Religion section of the recent 14th World Sanskrit Conference.

Father Noel Sheth, a professor of Indian religions served as chief convener of the History of Religion section at the meeting in Kyoto, Japan, the first Catholic priest so honored. The International Association of Sanskrit Studies had invited the University of Kyoto to host the triennial conference this year, held from Sept 1 to 5.

The Jesuit "did an excellent job as the convener," acknowledged Muneo Tokunaga, head of the university's Sanskrit department. He selected "top-rate research papers" and appointed the best person to chair each session, the Japanese scholar told UCA News by e-mail.

Tokunaga, a Buddhist and chairperson of the conference's organizing committee, added that the priest's "deep insight" into Indian culture helped promote better understanding between Hinduism and other religions.

In India, Father Job Kozhamthadam likewise credited his fellow Jesuit's lectures and writings with linking various religions. In the process, said the president of Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth (university of knowledge light), a Jesuit-run seminary in Pune, Father Sheth has introduced Catholic insights and beliefs into Indian culture and traditions.

The priest's selection as chief convener is "a great honor to the Catholic Church in India," remarked Bishop Thomas Dabre of Poona (Pune), an expert on Indian religions.

Father Sheth's scholarship in Sanskrit symbolises the Catholic Church's commitment to preserve authentic Indian ancient culture, tradition and heritage, the prelate said.

Sanskrit provided Father Sheth a gateway to understand Hindu culture, the way of life and thought that helped him promote interfaith dialogue and intercultural relations, Bishop Dabre continued.

The bishop once taught Indian spirituality and traditions at Jnana Deepa, Asia's largest seminary, where Father Sheth currently teaches.

Mohan Dhadphale, former head of the Sanskrit department at Fergusson College in Pune, revealed that Father Sheth had convinced him Christianity is an Eastern religion, not a Western one as propagated by some Hindu radicals.

The Hindu scholar and Father Sheth's former teacher said the Rig-Veda, the first of the ancient Hindu Veda texts, mentions the origins of Jesus Christ.

"Therefore, the study of Sanskrit helps scholars such as Father Sheth to promote an enriching interfaith dialogue," said Dhadphale, who attended the Kyoto meet.

Some 500 scholars of Sanskrit and Prakrit, another ancient Indian language, presented research papers in 15 subject sections.

Each of the sections, which included the Vedas, Poetry, Drama and Aesthetics, Scientific Literature, Buddhist Studies, Jain Studies, Philosophy and Ritual Studies, had a chief convener.

Father Sheth told UCA News on Sept. 9 that his work as convener had given him the opportunity to demonstrate that the Catholic Church is "very much engaged" in preserving ancient Indian culture, tradition and heritage.

He noted that in India, Sanskrit and Prakrit are considered the preserve of Hindus, Buddhists and Jains.

"Christians in India are often considered as foreigners who are not in the mainstream of Indian life and culture," he explained. On the contrary, his selection dispels that notion and convinces people that the Church "is very much in the mainstream of Indian life."

He also observed that Sanskrit and Prakrit had played crucial roles in Indian art's profound influence on Asian countries, where Hinduism and Buddhism testify to the spread of Indian culture and religion.
 
   
   
  Juhanon Mar Thoma Memorial Lecture: Chawla says electronic voting machines tamper-proof
  By A.J. Philip

NEW DELHI, SEPT 13 -- Chief Election Commissioner Naveen B. Chawla said he was ready to prove to anyone that the electronic voting machines used by the Election Commission were tamper-proof.

He said they were manufactured by public sector companies. These companies make components for the Defence and Atomic Energy establishments which enjoy the highest degree of credibility in the country.

These machines have been used in successive elections. Nobody in the commission knew which machine would be used in which state and in which constituency and in which booth. Machines were always chosen on random basis. "Randomisation is an article of faith for the commission". Often, things were decided just hours before the polling started.

Mr Chawla said the doubting Thomases were once called to the commission. They were asked to pick up 10 machines at random and prove how they could be tampered with. They failed in the test. He was ready to disprove the fears of anyone who had doubts about the credibility of the voting machines.

The Chief Election Commissioner was answering questions after delivering the annual Juhanon Mar Thoma Memorial Lecture entitled "Elections and social justice in democratic India" here this afternoon.

Mr Chawla said the voters who did not want to vote for any candidates and yet wanted to take part in the elections could do so by expressing their opinion in a register kept in every polling booth. One drawback of this provision was that the voter's identity would not remain a secret. But once Parliament decided to make a provision in the electronic voting machine to vote for "none of the above", the Election Commission would be happy to make the necessary changes in the system.

In his lecture, Mr Chawla said many people had hailed the May elections to the Lok Sabha as the cleanest and the fairest. For him the greatest disappointment in the elections was the low turnout of voters in places like Mumbai. He hoped in the coming Maharashtra state elections, the voters would make up for their lapse and vote in large numbers.

Mr Chawla said India had 814 million voters, out of which 582 million had been given the voters' identity cards. The number of voters was much more than the combined population of North and South America and the whole of the European continent. He described how the Election Commission managed the seemingly impossible task of holding elections with a total staff strength of less than 300.

He said the returning officers who were selected at random from central and state governments were the eyes and ears of the Election Commission. It was their responsibility to ensure that the model code of conduct that came into force once elections were announced was not violated by anyone.

They were assisted by other government employees and teachers, again, selected at random for manning the polling booths. "Before every election, the election commissioners visit the states concerned and hold meetings with the election staff. What we tell them is the need to uphold impartiality in the conduct of elections. It does not matter which party wins or loses. We want democracy to win".

Mr Chawla said the Commission had taken a number of steps to provide a level playing field to all the political parties and even Independents, who did not have the resources available to a political party. The commission has introduced a system known as "vulnerability mapping".

There were areas where people had not taken part in successive elections. We tried to find out why. In some cases it was found that the low-caste voters were scared of the upper castes as they had to pass through the latter's area to exercise their franchise. "We made provision for polling booths in their own areas".

Mr Chawla met a family in UP which had 17 voters' identity cards. The menfolk took part in the elections while the women remained at home. Asked why they did so, he was told that they practiced the purdah system. When he told them that they could continue the purdah system and yet take part in elections, they said they did not know and would take part in the next elections.

The Chief Election Commissioner hoped that in the next elections the voting percentage would be a respectable 68 to 70 per cent. It was a different matter that in the US and Britain, which had an older tradition of elections, the voting percentage was less than 50 per cent.

Mr Chawla paid handsome tributes to Juhanon Mar Thoma who provided able leadership to the Mar Thoma Church. He said the memorial lectures in honour of the late Bishop that were held regularly in various parts of the country helped the people to remember his services and rededicate themselves to the causes he found dear.

Inaugurating the lecture, Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor complimented the Chief Election Commissioner for his competence, impartiality and integrity. While praising the commission for conducting a fair and free parliamentary election early this year, he recalled how the impartiality of the Returning Officer in Thiruvananthapuram saved him from a threat.

His rivals had found two Shashis, one from Tharoor and another from Aroor, whom they wanted to put up as Shashi Tharoor and Sashi Aroor respectively to confuse the voters. But the Returning Officer who verified their nomination forms refused to accept these names and they were asked to provide proof that they ever used the names in that style. Finally, they were allowed to contest with the names mentioned in their school leaving certificates. Eventually, the two Shashis got a little over 1000 votes each, though they never campaigned even for a single day.

What he narrated was not a joke as in the previous elections, his friend and Congress leader V.M. Sudheeran lost the elections because an Independent with the same name got 8,000 votes which should have gone to the Congress candidate.

Mr Tharoor said he was no stranger to the Mar Thoma Church and knew the role it played in the social and educational development of Kerala. Some might contest the belief that St. Thomas arrived in Kerala in 52 AD but he was inclined to believe it. Kerala was home to different cultures and belief systems. As the story went, when St. Thomas reached the shores of Kerala, he found to his amazement a flute-playing Jewish girl welcoming him.

He said the Mar Thoma Church had "deep and abiding roots" in Kerala. The church played a major role in ensuring social justice by making education within the reach of one and all in the schools and colleges promoted by it. He also complimented the church for the social work it has been undertaking within and without Kerala.

In his presidential remarks, Bishop Abraham Mar Paulos of the Delhi Diocese of the Mar Thoma Church recalled the various contributions of Juhanon Mar Thoma, particularly his call for "home for the homeless" like Vinobha Bhave's "land for the landless" campaign. The bishop showed remarkable courage in writing to then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi against the Emergency imposed on the country.

The bishop stressed the need for freeing elections from the influence of money power and muscle power. He said every citizen had the democratic right to cast his vote and he should exercise it fearlessly. Democracy would become meaningful only when every citizen considered that he had a stake in it.

Earlier welcoming the guests, Diocesan Secretary Rev Jayan Thomas said Juhanon Mar Thoma was a great Metropolitan who served society and the church with dedication. He had a great concern for the poor and was fearless to the core. The best memorial to the late Bishop was our own life. At a time when we lacked role models, Juhanon Marthoma who exemplified the slogan "lighted to lighten" was a beacon of hope.

The meeting began with a prayer by the former Bishop of the Church of North India, Rt. Rev Karm Masih. Rev Aby T. Mammen, Convenor of the Programme Committee proposed a vote of thanks. Advocate K. Thomas, Diocesan Treasurer, presented a memento to Mr Chawla. The choirs of St. James Mar Thoma Church, Dwarka, and St. Peter's Church, Patparganj, presented two songs while the concluding prayer was by Rev P.G. George, Principal of Dharma Jyoti Vidyapeeth.
 
   
   
  Hywind can help India solve energy crisis says study
  By Papri Sri Raman

A STUDY released in India on September 9 said, "technological improvements and the exploitation of a vast offshore wind resource could significantly increase" India's wind power potential.

"One cannot play down the 7,000 kilometers (4,350 miles) of coastline", the Indian Wind Energy Outlook 2009, a study done by the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) and the Indian Wind Turbine Manufacturers Association (IWTMA), added.

The study comes on the heels of a report from Norway of a pilot project where a windmill has been placed offshore, floating on the North Sea, that is expected to provide a "reasonable, environmentally-friendly and economically feasible alternative to standard energy generation processes.

The concept, of course, is almost 40 years old, and came from MIT professor William E. Heronemus. However, it is only this September that a floating windmill has become a reality. The mill is known as Hywind.

The design is by Norsk Hydro, a Norweigian energy company, which uses a three-cable tethered system, similar to the ones used in oil rigs, that holds a 200- meter tall steel tube with an attached turbine and three 60-meter-long blades. The mill was assembled in the calmer waters of Amoy Fjord near Stavanger. The 120-meter-tall tower with a 2.3 MW turbine was then towed 10 km offshore into 220-meter-deep water, 10 km southwest of Karmoey in June 2009 for a two-year trial.

The floating structure consists of a steel cylinder filled with a ballast of water and rocks. It extends 100 metres beneath the sea's surface and is attached to the seabed by a three-point mooring spread. The turbine was manufactured by Siemens. Technip built the floater and was responsible for the installation work offshore. Nexans Norway laid the submarine powerline which joins a local grid when it comes ashore near Skudeneshavn, where the power generated is gathered.

Head of Hydro's new energy division Alexandra Beck Gjorv says, "Norsk Hydro expects to be able to use this technology on sites located 50-100 miles off shore, and with a depth of up to 500 meters, away from bird migration routes." The company expects a fully operational windmill by 2012. "Taking wind turbines to sea presents new opportunities. The wind is stronger and more consistent [and] areas are large", the official says.

Floating wind farms could later be established off both coasts of North America and off the Iberian peninsula and the coasts of Norway and the United Kingdom, she told the media recently.

China uses up to 24.7 petawatt hours (24.7 quadrillion watt hours) of energy per year and almost 80 per cent of its electricity is now generated from coal. Chinese and US scientists from Tsinghua and Harvard universities, writing in 'Science' (September 11) say that by 2030 China could produce all its electricity from windmills. Now less than one per cent comes from windmills.

For the next ten years China has guaranteed a price of 7.6 US cents per kilowatt hour of electricity, if it is renewable energy. It has already dedicated 0.5 million sq km to wind farms and is now looking at offshore generation too.

The GWEC India study says windmills can supply about 25 per cent of the country's energy needs by 2030 and capacity can climb to as much as 231,000 megawatts against the government's forecast of 48,000 megawatts from 216 potential sites.

India's total installed wind power generation capacity now is 10,464 megawatts and the government plans to add 10,500 megawatts by March 2012.

India is the fifth largest wind power producer in the world. However, only four states out of 28 and 7 Union Territories produce significant amount (more than a thousand megawatt each) of wind power. Tamil Nadu's generating capacity for wind power now stands at nearly 5,000 MW.

Most of India's wind power comes from turbines in and around a small village called Muppandal, in Kanyakumari district. The village is well known as the place where the Sangam-era savant Avvai had invited three kings from the Chola, Chera and Pandian kingdoms to a function. The kings came and pegged their tents where the wind from the seas gush through mountain passes, supposedly at higher velocity, than anywhere else in the land.

Today Asia's largest wind farm thrives here. The village has been selected as the showcase for India's $2 billion clean energy program which provides foreign companies with tax breaks for establishing fields of wind turbines in the area.

In February this year, Shriram EPC bagged a Rs 700 million contract for setting up of 60 units of 250 KW wind turbines in Tirunelveli district, next door. Muppandal and its surroundings' wind energy generation capacity is estimated to be around 1,500 MW.

The question is, in a few years time, will India be able draw a lesson from Norway and take the technological leap necessary to set up a string of cost-effective floating turbines all around its tip, from Kollam to Toothukudi, so that wind power capacity from this region can cross the 50,000 MW mark by 2020?
 
   
   
  100 Hindu students pass madrasa exams in Bihar
 
From Anuja Sipre

PATNA, SEPT 12 -- FOR the doubting Thomases who may have a different opinion about the madrasas and will even look at them with suspicion, this could be a real teaser.

Incredibly true, the madrasas in Bihar are now fast becoming an attractive proposition for the non-Muslim students. No less than 100 students have passed this year from the Madrasa Board negating the commonly held view that only students belonging to the Muslim community accept the education imparted by the madrasas.

"The results of the Madrasa Board for Maulvi (intermediate level), Fauqania (matric) and Wastania (middle) were declared on Monday and many will be surprised that over 100 non-Muslim students have passed the different examinations conducted by the Board.

"There are many things said against us and what we teach in the madarsas but the guardians of the non-Muslim students have had no grouse on any count. In fact, some of them even appreciated our teaching pattern and the discipline code we enforce in our institutions," according to the Chairman of the Bihar State Madrasa Examination Board (BSMEB), Maulana Ejaz Ahmad.

The names of the successful students include Anita Kumari of Madrasa Faiyazul Uloom, Chapra, Sanjay Kumar of Madrasa Islamia, Khardaur, Sanam Kumari and Sandhya Kumari of Madrasa Rahmania, Joktia, West Champaran, Pooja Kumari, Preetam Kumari. Priyanka Kumari and Surya Narayan Shah of Madrasa Islamia, Sandalpur, Araria, and Rupa Bharti of Madrasa Munamia, Balia, Begusarai.

There could be over 1000 madrasas in Bihar, which are funded by the BSMEB, besides over 2000 other madrasas which are not dependent on government funding.

A large number of them are located in far-flung rural areas. Non-Muslims are no longer wary of getting their wards admitted to the madrasas in the absence of government schools.

"Now even those parents who may be illiterate value the importance of education and would like their children admitted to madrasas if there are no other schools around," according to a BSMEB official.

Welcoming the new trend, Imtiaz Ahmad, Director, Khuda Baksh Library, Patna, said that it is a good beginning in every sense of the word. "Madrasas are situated in even the remotest areas of the state where there are no other schools. Hence they play a big role in spreading literacy.
Besides, the studying together of Muslim and non-Muslim students helps in spreading communal harmony. Children learn to understand each other's religion from a very tender age. The government should encourage this trend and help the madrasas improve their functioning," he said.

Mr Ahmad said that during Emperor Akbar's rule, madrasas also imparted temporal knowledge, not just religious or spiritual. Similarly, even now the government can help the madrasas in providing modern education too, he added.
 
   
   
  Bishop welcomes Catholic-Orthodox interaction
 
QIQIHAR (CHINA), SEPT 12 (UCAN) -- A Catholic bishop in northeastern China says he is looking forward to more dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox Christians following the consecration of a Russian Orthodox church in a remote city.

Bishop Joseph Wei Jingyi of Qiqihar in Heilongjiang province noted there has been little contact between the two Churches in E'erguna, near the Russian border.

He said he hopes this will change following the consecration of St. Innocent of Irkutsk Church in the city, located in the Hulunbuir region, on Aug. 30.

The current number of Russian Orthodox Christians in E'erguna is not known but their ancestors arrived here more than a century ago, the bishop said.

There are about 20 Han Chinese Catholics living in E'erguna without a church or resident priest, while about 7,000 Catholics live scattered in the 264,000-kilometer-square Hulunbuir region.

The Orthodox church, which comes under the Diocese of Chita and Transbaikal in Russia, is believed to be the first such church to be consecrated in mainland China in over 50 years. The St. Innocent of Irkutsk Church is one of four Orthodox churches that enjoy official status in China.

Father Mikhail Wang Quansheng, an elderly Chinese Orthodox priest from Shanghai, performed the consecration rites as the new church does not have a priest yet.

Orthodox Christians from the Hailar district of Hulunbuir, Harbin in Heilongjiang, Shanghai, Beijing and the ethnic Russian villages of Tryokhrechye, located near E'erguna, attended the consecration.

Orthodox Archpriest Dionisy Pozdnyaev, who is in charge of the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Hong Kong, and Wang Yanming of China's State Administration for Religious Affairs attended the ceremony and had a meeting afterward.

E'erguna was formerly called Labdarin or Labudalin. The original St. Innocent Church was built in 1967. In 1999, a new church was constructed with funds from the Chinese government. However, it was not until 2008 that it received the long awaited iconostasis -- the screen partitioning the sanctuary from the rest of the church -- held by China's customs department since 2000.

According to the Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church arrived in China in 1685 but failed to attract many followers until the second half of the 19th century.

The anti-Western and anti-missionary Boxer Rebellion (1898-1900) in China saw violent attacks on converts to Christianity, including Orthodox believers who numbered about 6,000 by 1902.

By 1949, the year the People's Republic of China was founded, there were 106 Orthodox churches in China. Most parishioners were Russian refugees while their Chinese counterparts numbered about 10,000. However, the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) almost destroyed the fledging Orthodox Church in China.

The Orthodox revival in China started in the middle of the 1980s. The church in Harbin was opened first and a few Russian refugees and Orthodox Chinese were allowed to pray there since 1986.

For years, the Chinese government and the Russian Orthodox Church have been discussing matters relating to the Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church. These include the sending of mainland seminarians to Russia for religious education, the lack of Orthodox clergy to serve in China and the return of Church properties by the government.
 
   
   
  Archbishop calls for calm after attack on church in Bangalore
 
MANGALORE, SEPT 11 (UCAN) -- Archbishop Bernard Moras has urged calm after vandals attacked a Catholic church in Bangalore.

Scores of angry Catholics took to the streets on Sept. 10 soon after hearing about the attack on St. Francis De Sales Church, Hebbagodi, on the outskirts of the city.

The vandals broke windowpanes, a crucifix and statues of the Blessed Mother and Saint John the Apostle.

Protesters blocked a national highway and demanded an investigation of the incident.

Archbishop Moras visited the church and urged people not to be provoked by such attacks. But he said the Church would not surrender to forces trying to divide religious communities.

Later in the day, the prelate met the state's governor and chief minister to demand the arrest of the culprits.

The incident occurred a day after several Christian denominations in Karnataka state, of which Bangalore is the capital, founded the United Christian Forum to oppose attacks on religious minorities.

Parish priest Father Aloysius Kuzhuppallil regretted the attack happened even after many peace efforts by Christian groups. The priest told UCA News that he noticed the damage when he went to the church to celebrate Mass at 6:10 a.m.

He said it was the second attack on the church and estimated the damage to be around Rs 250,000 (US$5,210). The real damage, he said, was not in terms of money but on community goodwill.

The parish belongs to the Society of Francis de Sales, known as the Fransalians. The society's compound includes a hospital, a formation house and two colleges, in addition to the church.

Father Faustine Lobo, spokesperson of Catholic Church in the state, told UCA News that recurring attacks on churches are quite "disturbing."

Chief Minister B. Yeddyurappa told the state legislative assembly that his government would not spare any effort to find the vandals, and said the incident was part of a plan to discredit his government.

Yeddyurappa heads the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian people's party) that came to power in May 2008.

The incident occurred as Christians in Karnataka were preparing to observe the first anniversary of attacks on churches in the state. For about four months from Sept. 14, 2008, the state witnessed attacks on Christians and 24 churches by radical Hindu groups.

The United Christian Forum formed Sept. 9 includes the Catholic, Jacobite Lutheran, Mar Thoma and Methodist Churches, the Church of South India, the Believers Church, Karnataka Baptist Church, Assemblies of God, Federation of Christian Churches Organization, Seventh-Day Adventist Church and the Salvation Army.

"It is an irony that the incident happened a day after the Catholic Church took the initiative to form a forum to fight such attacks," said Jimmy Mathew, regional manager of Caritas India, the Church's social action arm.
 
   
   
  Muslim mob burns Church after blasphemy allegations
 
JAYTIKE (PAKISTAN), SEPT 11 (UCAN) -- Hundreds of Muslims set ablaze a Protestant church on September 11 in this town of Punjab province after a Christian youth was accused of tearing the Qur’an.

The attack took place after torn pages of the Muslim holy book were found in front of a Christian house. Mobs have blocked access to the town and raised slogans calling for the severe punishment of the "blasphemer."

Tension built in the area and police have been trying to control the situation. Security forces have asked Christians to remain in their homes. Jaytike town has about 60 Christian homes.

Father Shehzada Khurram of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church is heading a team to the town.

According to initial information from Church sources, a love affair between a Christian youth and a local Muslim girl led to the assault. "The concerned Muslim family discovered the secret affair today and accused the Christian of tearing the Qur'an. We fear attacks on local Christians," Francis Azad, a catechist in Jaytike told UCA News.

The latest anti-Christian violence is the seventh such incident this year.

Just over a month ago, 10 Catholics were killed in rioting in the Punjab city of Gojra and in the nearby village of Korian. A Muslim mob vandalized and looted 113 Christian houses and damaged four Protestant churches in these areas on July 30 and August 1.

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

In another incident, suspected Muslim militants shot six Christians and injured seven more in Quetta city, Baluchistan on August 28 after threats of "Convert to Islam or Die," media reported.
 
   
   
  Priests divided over government move for inclusive Hindu festival
 
By T.S. Thomas

MYSORE, SEPT 11 (UCAN) -- A southern state's plan to include minority faiths in a Hindu festival has evoked mixed reactions from some members of the Catholic Church hierarchy.

On Aug. 30, Karnataka state's Minority Welfare Minister Mumtaz Ali Khan proposed inviting Christians and Muslims to celebrate Dusshera, a 10-day festival marking the triumph of good over evil.

Khan, the only Muslim minister in the Karnataka cabinet, says Dusshera is not just for Hindus. "Religious minority communities should take part in it," he added.

Dusshera, also known as Durga Puja (worship of Durga), begins on Sept. 19 and concludes with the commemoration of the slaying of a demon king by the Hindu goddess Durga.

The day also marks the triumphant return of the deity, Lord Ram, to his kingdom of Ayodhya after killing the demon Ravana, who had abducted Ram's consort, Sita, the story that forms the core of the famous Hindu epic, the Ramayana.

Central to the celebrations in Karnataka is a colorful procession in Mysore, attended by hundreds of thousands of people from round the world. Ancient royal palaces and temples are illuminated during the celebrations.

To give the festival what he calls a "secular" touch, the minister suggested illuminating churches and mosques at the government's expense. In India, "secularism" is regarded as the equal treatment of all religions by the government.

One church selected for illumination is Mysore's St. Philomena's Cathedral. Parish priest Father William Pinto said Bishop Thomas Vazhappilly of Mysore have welcomed the proposal and given permission for the cathedral's illumination.

Father Pinto told UCA News that local people celebrate Dusshera as a cultural festival. "We have no objection to Catholics joining the festival or our church looking elegant," he said.

The cathedral was built on land provided by a Hindu king in 1799 and claims to hold a relic of Saint Philomena, a third-century saint, brought by a Hindu king from France.

However, not everyone is happy with the government proposal.

Father Faustine Lobo, spokesperson of the Catholic Church in Karnataka, says he sees "no good intention" in it, especially since the government does not recognize the festivals of other communities.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people's party), which governs the state, is considered the political arm of radical groups that want to establish a Hindu nation in India.

"Will the state government illuminate the cathedral when it celebrates Saint Philomena's feast?" the priest asked.

He said the proposal was part of a plan to promote Hindu nationalist polices, and urged the government "to show the same kind of zeal" in celebrating the festivals of other communities.

The Church official said a Marian shrine in Bangalore, the state capital, attracts many Hindus and Muslims on Sept. 8, the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

"Why doesn't the government think it proper to support this ... festival?" he asked.

The Church official also alleged that since the government took over in May 2008, its "main agenda" was to renovate temples, celebrate Hindu festivals and promote Hindu nationalist policies among secular institutions including educational ones.

Attacks on Christians have also increased since the BJP came to power, Father Lobo noted.

But Father John Fernandes, a senior priest who has given talks to Hindu groups, finds "nothing threatening" in the government proposal, which he said aims to draw in more tourists.

Dusshera "is more a people's festival, a cultural extravaganza," said the priest, who heads an interreligious forum in Mangalore.

Father Fernandes, however, said he wants the government to organize interreligious meetings and intercultural programs if it is serious about secularizing Dusshera.
 
   
   
  Sheer chai, bakarkhani spice up Patna's Ramzan
 
From Anuja Sipre

PATNA, SEPT 10 -- For the people of Patna, the month of Ramzan has a special extra flavor in the form of 'sheer chai' and 'bakarkhani'.

Sheer chai is a special tea that is uniquely brewed and available only in Patna. Interestingly, it is available only during Ramzan.

The reason for its huge demand is that the drink is highly energetic and acts as a tonic to sustain rozedars during their month-long fast. In fact, it is so rich and hot that it is not given to children below 14 years of age.

Mohammad Pappu of Sabzibagh who sells 'sheer chai' told The Herald of India (www.heraldofindia.com) that about 60,000 cups of tea were sold every day during Ramzan.

Describing its elaborate preparation, he said it took about seven hours to prepare the tea. First, Kashmiri tea leaves are boiled in water for three hours. The liquid is then churned for an hour till it turns pink. It is then strained and boiled again. A paste of cashew nuts, almonds, raisins, cardamom powder and milk is then added. After another three hours, when the liquor becomes thick, kewra essence is added to it.

"When RJD supremo Lalu Prasad had gone for campaigning in Phulwarisharif, he also drank this tea," Pappu said, adding that the delicacy is sold at only five or six places in Patna.

The popularity of this drink can be gauged from the fact that people come to relish it not only from all over Bihar, but also from Jharkhand, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

Asif Yusuf of Jabalpur travels all the way to Patna just to have this special tea. Rana Parveen of Lucknow echoed similar views and felt that sheer chai added to the beauty of Ramzan in Patna.

The 'bakarkhani' (special flavoured bread) of Patna is another unique delicacy, according to Shireen Jamal. "It tastes very good and makes the iftar (evening meal) so special," she said.

RJD leader Abdul Bari Siddiqui felt the same. "There is no doubt that the sheer chai and bakarkhani make Ramzan and Eid a unique experience."

Shahzad and Aslam who make bakarkhani said a lot of effort went into preparing it. "Earlier, the demand for Patna bakarkhani was such that it was sent not only to Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, but also to Pakistan, Dubai and England. But now, the number of bakarkhani makers has reduced, as not many people are able to master its elaborate preparation.

However, Patna's bakarkhani is still very much in demand in Bihar and Jharkhand," they said.
 
   
   
  Catholic community organises fast breaking for poor Muslims
  JAKARTA, SEPT 10 (UCAN) -- Tari, a 34-year-old Muslim woman who daily scavenges for food in Central Jakarta, says she is grateful to a Catholic lay association for organizing a fast-breaking program for poor and marginalized Muslims.

"I am very happy that there is a religious community which really cares for little people like us," the mother of three told UCA News.

Tari was among 200 poor Muslims, including street vendors, cobblers, parking attendants and motorcycle taxi drivers, invited by the international Community of Sant'Egidio to break their fast in its compound in West Jakarta on Sept. 6.

After the program, each participant received a package containing milk, biscuits, syrup, instant noodles, soap, toothpaste and shampoo.

Eveline Winarko, coordinator of the Sant'Egidio community in Jakarta, told UCA News the program "aims to promote respect for poor people and an appreciation for those fasting" during the Islamic month of Ramadan.

She said funds for the program came from the community members who also prepared food for the occasion.

The Sant'Egidio community was founded in Rome in 1968 following the Second Vatican Council as a movement of Catholic laypeople dedicated to evangelization and charity. Today it has more than 50,000 members in Italy and more than 70 countries throughout the world.

It also believes that dialogue between religions, as recommended by the Second Vatican Council, is the best way to achieve peace and cooperation between religions.

Winarko said that the Sant'Egidio community in Jakarta has held similar programs each Ramadan since 2007. This year it also invited a lay Muslim leader, Muhammad Said, who gave a talk prior to the fast breaking.

"We thank this community for caring for us and gathering us here for our fast breaking," Said told participants. "This community invites all of us to practice our religion. We should speak in a good way, have respect for others and promote tolerance," he said.

Said told UCA News that "this program is charitable in nature since it gathers and helps poor Muslim people," and did not aim at proselytizing.

Commenting on rumors that such a program might have such an agenda, he said these were only rumors. "The community does care for poor people," he stressed.

Kholid, a cobbler with five children, agreed, saying he felt the program was "a manifestation of tolerance and concern for small people."

Sant'Egidio has around 500 members and 16 communities across Indonesia.

It holds many events throughout the year including Christmas celebrations with poor people, prayer meetings several times a week and visits to the elderly and street children.
 
   
   
  Like water on stone: Asian women's strategies for peace
 

HUA HIN (THAILAND) SEPT 9 (UCAN) -- An Asian women theologians' conference held recently in Thailand explored how women, through purposeful and sustained action, can bring about peace in situations of conflict.

Twenty-eight women theologians from 11 Asian countries and two collaborators from the West gathered in Hua Hin, Thailand, Aug. 26-30 to discuss "Practicing Peace: Toward an Asian Feminist Theology of Liberation."

Gemma Tulud Cruz, 39, a Filipino theologian who is currently a visiting assistant professor in the Catholic Studies program at DePaul University in Chicago, the United States, attended the meeting.

In the following commentary, she shares the insights of participants of how women bring a much-needed "soft power" in a world defined by aggression:

In recognition of the fact that our world is increasingly marked by violence and conflict, over two dozen Asian women theologians recently gathered in Thailand.

For these women theologians, the conference is made even more important and urgent by the fact that in Asia today there is an increasing feminization of conflict and confrontation where women and girls are differently and disproportionately impacted.

In the Philippines, for example, a study by the Center for Women's Resources under the auspices of UNICEF revealed that 80 per cent of persons displaced by armed conflict, particularly in the southern part of the country, are women and children. This disproportionate impact of conflicts on women could also be seen in Asian conflicts that have recently been raging, especially in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The conference was organized by Ecclesia of Women in Asia whose inception and first conference took place in 2002. The papers presented ranged from the idea of peacemaking in the Bible and the role of the feminine, interculturality, everyday acts of resistance, narratives, and rituals of liberation in practicing peace.

Highlights of the conference include the presentation by Sophie Lizares-Bodegon from the Christian Conference of Asia, a guest speaker. She spoke about Asian Protestant women's hermeneutics of peace. World-renown Thai bhikkuni (Buddhist nun) Venerable Dhammananda spoke of what women bring or could bring in the work for peace from a Buddhist perspective.

Sister Ushani Perrera from Sri Lanka offered anecdotal examples of how women had been negatively affected by the recently-ended civil war. She recounted the sharing of a grief-stricken woman, Mrs. Renuka, a young mother of two children:

"I have nothing more to lose in my life. I have lost my husband, child and belongings while crossing the border. We were walking through the sea. The water level was above our chest. The baby was with me while he was carrying the elder one with a bag of clothes. Suddenly a loud blast made me turn back to my husband. Alas! He was floating in the red colored water and my child at his side ... I could do nothing but leave my dead child behind. The heavy shelling and firing forced me to move with the crowd to this camp where there is no help."

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the role of mothers or the qualities of motherhood in peace-building came out significantly in the papers and discussions. More specifically, a number of the participants believed that the feminine qualities of women could be instrumental in resolving conflicts. This was palpable not only in the academic paper presentations but also in the more creative ones which included a dance, a mural, and a quilt.

Venerable Dhammananda echoed this belief by saying that women's natural ability to give, nurture, care, and give life puts them in a strategic position to be agents of peace.

Woven, indeed, into the whole conference from its liturgies to the presentations as well as reflections and discussions is the conviction that women bring some kind of much-needed "soft power" in a world defined by aggression. For the participants, Asian women's strategies for peace are, in many ways, like water on stone. These are defined by purposeful, sustained, and indomitable action in the face of hard-core or deeply embedded conflict or violence.

In a continent where patriarchy is deeply entrenched, Asian women are no strangers to this approach. They themselves have been slowly but surely cracking at the rock-solid and centuries old discrimination against women in Asian cultures and religions.

Moreover, they are well aware that the work for peace is not easy. They also know that there is a vast difference between peace-building and peace-keeping. But whether they are LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) or dalit, Sri Lankans or Indonesians, conservatives or progressives, academic or grassroots theologians, eco-feminists or just ordinary passionate citizens, they unwaveringly work for peace.

Some of the fruits of their struggle could already be seen in their own lives and in the lives of Asian women in their researches, in their movements, in their organizations, in their families, communities, and countries whose stories they have made visible throughout the conference. But, again, like water on stone, these women never rest; they never become complacent. For them, as long as violence plagues families, communities and countries, the struggle continues, the work goes on, the hope for peace lives on.

The text from Habakkuk which was read over and over again during the conference provides them with much-needed inspiration: "Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late." (Habakkuk 2: 2-3).

 
   
   
  Buddhists, Catholics draw inspiration from Blessed Teresa in Sri Lanka
 
COLOMBO, SEPT 9 (UCAN) -- Blessed Teresa of Kolkata's work and belief in non-violence have become an inspiration for Buddhists and Christians in this country as it recovers from decades of civil war.

Representatives of both faiths took part in a Sept. 5 commemoration of the 12th anniversary of the death of the nun, known as the "saint of the gutters."

The memorial lecture was organized by the Christian Alliance for Social Action (CASA), a Catholic group, at the Caritas Sri Lanka auditorium.

A. T. Ariyaratne, a Buddhist and a strong believer in Blessed Teresa's principles of non-violence, told the gathering that Mother Teresa, as she was known during her life, served many Hindus and Muslims. She used to say she wanted them to practice their religion better.

"I have a picture of Mother Teresa at my office. I stand in front of her picture at least 30 minutes every day, because I am inspired by her," said Ariyaratne. He is the founder of the Sarvodaya Shramadana movement, Sri Lanka's largest grassroots organization working for social and economic justice.

"Spiritual motivation, total awakening of one's human personality through selfless service, practicing non-sectarianism in one's relationship with others ... and experiencing the joy of living every moment are the lessons we can learn from Mother Teresa," said Ariyaratne, the key speaker at the event.

Ariyaratne has won awards such as the Ramon Magsaysay award for Community Leadership in 1969 and the Gandhi Peace Prize in 1996 for his work in peacemaking and village development.

He also addressed the controversial subject of religious conversions. He pointed out that Blessed Teresa was very clear about this and quoted her as saying, "Faith is a gift of God. Therefore, nobody can convert anyone."

He recalled that when some people accused her of converting people to Christianity, she had said, "Yes I convert Hindus to be better Hindus; Muslims to be better Muslims."

Christians and Buddhists shared their experience at the event of how they were touched by Blessed Teresa's non-violent principles.

"Buddhist army officers in the north appreciate the work of Mother Teresa's congregation, that's because of her vision and non-violent action," said Father J B Devarajah.

Ajith Weerakoon, 45, a social worker told UCA News that even though he was Buddhist he respected Blessed Teresa because of her service to others.

Blessed Teresa was born on Aug. 26, 1910 and took her final vows as a nun in 1939. She received Vatican permission in 1950 to start the diocesan congregation that would later become the Missionaries of Charity. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and died on Sept. 5, 1997.

Her nuns serve in seven of the 11 dioceses in Sri Lanka.
 
   
   
  Children take the lead in improving Catholic-Hindu relations
 
By T. S. Thomas

MANGALORE, SEPT 9 (UCAN) -- Catholic children are leading the way in healing the rift between Christians and Hindus in Mangalore, some parents and priests say.

"Thanks to our children, our neighborhood relations have improved," says Jesuit Father Stany Miranda, a local retreat preacher.

Father Faustine Lobo, the Catholic Church spokesperson in Karnataka state, lamented the recent discord between the two communities saying that for centuries, Christians and Hindus had enjoyed very cordial relations.

The two communities historically have depended on each other socially and economically. In the past, each has participated in the others' festivals, said Father Lobo, the secretary of the regional bishops' council and a native of the city.

The priest said suspicions between the two communities began after Hindu radicals vandalized several churches in the region last year.

But now, the tide may be turning back again. This was observed during the recent novena (nine days of prayers) period that Christians conduct annually in preparation for the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Sept. 8.

The period coincides with the harvest festival and many use the occasion for family reunions.

Catholic children at this time roamed the area with wicker baskets, collecting flowers as offerings to the Blessed Mother.

The flowers grow mainly on fields owned by Hindus but during the novena days, Neha Monis, 11, said she never faced any hostility or resistance from her Hindu neighbors when she went to collect flowers in the morning before school.

"They gladly allowed me to pick flowers and some even kept some ready for me," she said.

Neha Monis said some Hindu children also joined her when she went to offer flowers after school in the evening.

Her mother, Nirmala, said her daughter has "helped" her family regain their earlier closeness to their Hindu neighbors. She said that until now she has had uneasy relations with them due to last year's incidents. So great has been the rapprochement that the Monis family invited their three Hindu neighbors for the festival lunch this year also.

Another Catholic girl, Maria Pinto, 8, said she had maintained her ties with her Hindu neighbors, but her father, Neri Wilfred Pinto, had not. He did not give Christmas sweets to his Hindu neighbors last year, a custom he had previously followed for years.

"I was very much pained at the attacks on churches and the police action last September," he told UCA News. "Now my daughter has bridged that gap and I hope to maintain good relations with them again," he said.

Sunil Kumar Shetty, a Hindu grocer, said he had distanced himself from his Christian neighbors after the church attacks, but the children were not affected by the animosity.

"They came as usual for flowers and we were only too happy to help them," he said.

Father Miranda said that the children have succeeded where their elders failed because they do not know division. "Children can spread the Christian message of love and fraternity more powerfully than others," the priest said.
 
   
   
  YSR death: Bihar politicians get 'pilot-friendly'
 
From Anuja Sipre

Patna, September 8 -- Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy's tragic death in a chopper crash has considerably chopped the 'wings' of Bihar's politicians as they are now wary of flying against the instructions of their pilots.

Up till now, politicians have bullied pilots in not only taking off in bad weather conditions, but also landing wherever they wanted to. Now, taking a cue from what happened in AP, Bihar's VIPs are willing to follow aviation norms.

RJD supremo Lalu Prasad is, perhaps, the best example. During an aerial survey of flood-affected districts in Bihar, he forced the pilot of his chopper to land on the national highway near Muzaffarpur, as he had to 'attend to the call of nature'!

Given the decrepit condition of roads in Bihar, choppers are the most preferred mode of transport, especially during election campaigns.

A prominent politician often asked his pilot to keep the chopper hovering over election meeting venues till a large crowd gathered. Here again, Lalu Prasad takes the cake, as he has often landed unexpectedly near people working in fields, in order to speak to them.

Now, things have changed drastically and Lalu Prasad has taken to listening to pilots before boarding a chopper. Last week, the minister, along with LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan, flew to 18 assembly constituencies for by-poll campaigning.

Before boarding the chopper, he sought the pilot's advice. "Sab theek hai na pilot sahab? Aap kahiyega to chadenge," he told the pilot. (Is everything fine? We will board only if you say so). He admitted that politicians, several times, make pilots fly against their wishes.

The Bihar government has also decided to buy a new helicopter to replace an existing 23-year-old one. The state boasts of two Dauphin 365 choppers, but only one of them is in 'serviceable' condition.

"The state will soon buy a new helicopter. The civil aviation department will float a tender for the purpose," said state cabinet secretary Girish Shankar. He, however, maintained that the existing chopper was fully fit and had got the required airworthiness certificate from the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

"The chopper's engine, head, tail, and other instruments are closely examined after flying for a requisite number of hours," Shankar added. However, official sources confirmed that Bihar's fleet of a helicopter and three fixed wing planes were not equipped with emergency locator transmitters (ELT).
 
   
   
  Students celebrate St. Mary's Day with old age home inmates
 
Our Correspondent

Chandigarh, September 8 -- It was indeed a memorable day for the residents of the old age home in Sector 15. The teachers and students of St. Mary's School, Sector 46, visited the elderly as part of St. Mary's Day celebrations, here, on Tuesday morning.

The students of Classes IX and X spent some memorable moments with the aged and lit up their lives. The visit was aimed at building a bond between the old and the young.

Cultural programmes were organized on the occasion and the elderly danced to the vibrant beats of the bhangra. Everyone was amazed at the talents showcased by the students.

The children also distributed fruits, vegetables, pulses and other gifts to the aged. The visit, which was the initiative of Principal Dr. Manjeet Kochhar and Vice Principal Reeja Ninan, taught the students a lot about the realities of life.

The programme ended with the students imparting a few words of wisdom to their seniors: "Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but giving up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul."

 
   
   
  Resool Pukkutty's next after Ocsar winning Slumdog Millionnaire
 
MUMBAI, SEPTEMBER 8 -- The Oscar winning sound designer Resool Pukkuty, who won hearts of millions for his work in the Oscar winning movie 'Slumdog Millionaire', is now back with his first Indian movie after Slumdogs' success.

The movie titled 'Pazhassi Raja' will be released in five different languages, including Hindi and English. The movie features stalwarts like Mammoothy, Sarath Kumar and many others. The story is by M T Vasudevan, and music is graced by the great Illayaraja.

The movie, Pazhassi Raja dates back to 1797 and is about a king who probably is one of the first ones to ignite the light of freedom movement in our country and even before the revolt of 1857. Interestingly, the movie will be Resool's first movie in his mother tongue -- Malayalam for which he is designing the sound.

He was so impressed with the movie that he decided to be a part of the movie at any cost even while the movie was at its post production stage! He says, "I got Pazhassi Raja when the shooting of the movie was complete. And like most movies in the south, Pazhassi Raja was shot entirely without music. It came to me as a challenge to create music for a movie that doesn't belong to this era".

Understanding the grandeur of this epic, Resool decided to recreate the sound of the 18th century era using all natural elements. "It is a period film and we live in the contemporary world. It was difficult to recreate every detail of the sound for scenes from the battlefields and for the footsteps of the Brahmins who didn't wear leather footwear. So I took a team of 200 men to the actual locations of the movie and recreated the sounds", says Resool.

39-year-old Resul Pookutty is an Academy Award and BAFTA Award winning Indian film sound designer, sound engineer and sound editor and mixer. He won the Academy Award for Best Sound Mixing for the film 'Slumdog Millionaire'.

A 1995 graduate from Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, he has previously worked in some of the most high profile Indian films such as 'Black', 'Saawariya', 'Gandhi, my father' and 'Ghajini'.
 
   
   
  Riot case conviction emboldens Orissa Christians
 
BHUBANESWAR, SEPTEMBER 8 (UCAN) -- Church leaders in Orissa state say the conviction of six more people for offences committed during last year's anti-Christian violence has strengthened their people's resolve.

On September 7, a fast-track court sentenced six people to four years in jail and fined each of them 2,000 rupees (US$41) on charges of riot and arson. The court ordered they be jailed for a further three months should they not pay the fine.

The court based in Phulbani, headquarters of Kandhamal district, acquitted five others due to lack of evidence.

The predominantly tribal district was at the center of four months of violence unleashed by Hindu extremists that left about 90 people dead and 50,000 displaced.

The attacks began on August 24, 2008, a day after Maoists gunned down a Hindu religious leader in Kandhamal. Hindu radicals blamed Christians for the murder and led rampaging mobs that destroyed houses, churches and convents, and killed people who refused to convert to Hinduism.

The state police have registered 831 cases based on the violence.

A Church official clarified, however, that police have filed charges in only 310 cases, but are investigating the remainder.

The administration handed over 84 cases to the fast-track court, which has disposed of 12 so far, only three of which resulted in convictions. Church people blame tardy police investigation for the acquittals in the other cases.

The first conviction came on June 30, when the court jailed an arsonist for four years and fined him Rs 2,000. The court sentenced five more people on July 27.

These convictions have "strengthened our people's morale," asserts Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, head of the Catholic Church in the state.

The latest convictions have convinced Christians that justice is within their reach, he says.

"They have become quite confident," the Divine Word prelate told UCA News. His archdiocese's territory includes Kandhamal.

Father Ajay Singh, a social activist working among riot victims, agrees the court verdicts have "emboldened" Christians to pursue their actions against their attackers.

"However, they have lots more challenges to face," the priest told UCA News.

Christian lawyers and social workers say witnesses have become uncooperative in court following threats to their lives. They report that gunmen comb villages for people named as witnesses in cases related to the anti-Christian violence.
 
   
   
  Catholics break fast with Muslim students on campus
 
SINGAPORE, SEPTEMBER 8 (UCAN) -- Fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday is nothing new to Deanna Koh, but the 20-year-old Catholic just fasted a whole day for the first time, in connection with the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.

The second-year National University of Singapore (NUS) medical undergraduate and five other student representatives from the NUS Catholic Students' Society joined hundreds of Muslim students to break fast on September 3 on the campus grounds.

The spread included bread, rice, prata, a fried flat bread, curries and colorful traditional Malay cakes. During Ramadan, Muslims refrain from all food and drink, even water, from dawn to dusk.

Koh, who had a sandwich for breakfast and drank only water during the day, was initially worried she might not be able to keep the fast.

"I've never done this before. I guess it wasn't so bad apart from the lethargy," she said. "In fact, I was able to accompany my friends for meals and watch them eat without being tempted, because the hunger goes away after a while."

In her view, fasting the whole day requires more willpower than the Catholic practice on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

"It's not about not eating, per se, but knowing from the start that you can't (eat)," she explained, pointing out that as part of the Muslims' nightly Ramadan prayers they make a promise to keep the fast the next day.

Damien Poon, 22, a second year arts undergraduate also fasted from food and drink except water. He treated the effort as a "Catholic fast, but with the consciousness that I was expressing solidarity with the Muslims."

"We're not foreign to fasting," Poon added.

The NUS Muslim Society invited the non-Muslim students to join them in fasting in order to have an experience of Islamic culture and better understand the religion. It also hoped to encourage and promote inter-religious harmony.

Song Xiuhua Shafiqah Nadizah, 22, a fourth-year arts undergraduate who helps the Muslim students' society on an ad-hoc basis, invited the Catholic students to break fast with her group. It was, she said, "a good way to establish a connection between the two groups on campus, keeping in mind any collaborative events that we might want to host in the future."

Rafi Rashid, 27, a doctoral student in engineering, told the guests that Muslims typically break the daily fast with dates and water before the maghrib prayers that Muslims recite every day at sunset.

He explained that the goal of fasting is to contain one's desires and, as such, one's desire to sin.

"The basic role of fasting is to instill discipline and to attain a shield against evil," he said. "We spend the year eating to our fill. Why can't we fast one month for God?"

But Rashid added that fasting is a matter between oneself and God, and no one else need know.

The Catholic students saw similarities between the two faiths with regard to fasting.

Poon noted that both faiths regarded fasting "as a means towards strengthening our relationship with God".

Koh remarked: "We both believe that fasting sharpens our ability to reject our desires. It is not so much a ritual or tradition, but rather in choosing not to satisfy our hunger, we may be less inclined to satisfy sinful desires."

She added that both faiths believe fasting was instituted and encouraged by God and the virtues extolled in the Qur'an and the Bible.

Following the meal, the Catholic students joined the Muslim students in their nightly prayers.

"It wasn't just an observational exercise, but a fully participative one in which we fasted together and offered praise and supplication to God by joining in reciting the salat after the evening meal," Koh said.

She described the experience of praising God along with the Muslim students as wonderful, calling it especially beautiful to prostrate oneself before God and offer one's service.

"For me it was a reminder of the awesome nature of God," she said.

Koh also said she had an opportunity that day to share with some Muslim girls on Catholic beliefs, especially the concept of the Holy Trinity. She hopes she can faithfully represent Catholics and the belief that one "needs to love one another as Christ has loved us," regardless of religion.
 
   
   
  Catholics pray for persecutors during Marian festival
 
MARIAMABAD(PAKISTAN), SEPT 8(UCAN) -- About a million Catholics prayed for terrorists' change of heart during Pakistan's most popular Marian pilgrimage.

"We place the rehabilitation work for attacked Christians at the feet of Mother Mary. Let us pray and fast for the transformation of terrorists involved in the recent anti-Christian violence," Father Emmanuel Asi said in his address to Marian devotees. "We are a complete part of this country and want to become instruments of peace," added the priest, executive secretary of the Catholic Bible Commission of Pakistan.

More than a million people attended the September 4-6 program, the 60th annual pilgrimage to the National Marian Shrine in the Christian village of Mariamabad, literally the "city of Mary." The Marian shrine in Lahore archdiocese traditionally draws several hundred thousand of Pakistan's 1.6 million Catholics, as well as some Muslims. The event is keyed to the September 8 feast of the birth of the Blessed Mother.

Archbishop Lawrence J. Saldanha of Lahore celebrated morning Mass on the first two days of the pilgrimage, while his assistant, Auxiliary Bishop Sebastian Shah, took over on the last day.

Father Asi, who spoke during the September 5 Mass, also demanded the repeal of the country's controversial blasphemy laws. "The laws deserve to be changed to prevent persecution of innocent Pakistanis, half of the victims poor Christians," he later told UCA News.

Capuchin Father Mehboob Evarist, who spoke on September 4, also addressed Christians' plight. "You may be weak and poor, but persecution cannot deter your faith. Pray for those who hurt you," he said.

Blasphemy laws make an insult to the Qur'an an offense punishable by up to life imprisonment, while conviction on a charge of insulting Prophet Muhammad brings an automatic death sentence. Church leaders have long charged the laws are being abused for personal gain and to stoke communal hatred.

In a recent incident, 10 Catholics were killed in rioting in Gojra and the nearby village of Korian. A Muslim mob vandalized and looted 113 Christian houses and damaged four Protestant churches in these Punjab province areas on July 30 and August 1. Pages containing Islamic inscriptions had been found in front of a Christian home in Korian, and some Muslims accused the family of blasphemy, triggering the violence.

In Mariamabad, young priests kept the congregation animated. People sang and clapped to hymns in praise of the Blessed Mother in the evenings and during intervals between Masses. Prayer sessions for the sick were also conducted.

Meanwhile, pilgrims kept arriving on foot, in bullock carts, or on bicycles, buses and trucks. The compound of the Church of St. Mary and St. Joseph, where the shrine is located, was packed with people staying there, while stalls outside bustled with customers.

Archbishop Saldanha inaugurated the festival by leading a procession of 20 priests that followed a palanquin bearing a statue of the Blessed Mother. People kept showering rose petals and money on the palanquin as it made its way through the streets of Mariamabad before returning to the church.

According to Father Mushtaq Pyara, secretary of the pilgrimage committee, local police cooperation made the event possible.

"Some pastors received threatening phone calls from unidentified persons who warned of attacking the annual gathering and reducing it to a pile of ashes," he said.

"We, therefore, asked the Punjab government to provide security and held continual meetings with police officials, which resulted in a three-day ban on using loudspeakers in mosques in villages surrounding Mariamabad."

Mosque loudspeakers have sometimes been used to broadcast calls for violence against religious minorities.
 
   
   
  Hindi scholars launch Jesuit linguist's birth centenary
 
By Ajit Paul
RANCHI, SEPTEMBER 8 (UCAN) -- Hindus outnumbered Christians to celebrate the birth anniversary of Father Camille Bulcke, a Jesuit missioner who gave common people easier access to religious texts of both communities.

File photo of Jesuit Father
Father Bulcke made Bible stories and the great Hindu epic Ramayana easy for common people to understand, Nalini Purohit, a scholar in the Hindi language, told a function on September 1. The date marked 100 years since the missioner's birth.

Around 2,000 people, mostly Hindus, attended two functions in Ranchi, capital of Jharkhand state, to mark the occasion.

St. Xavier's College and the Camille Bulcke Research Centre, both based in Ranchi, jointly organized the events.

Father Bulcke, a Hindi scholar, died in New Delhi in 1982 at the age of 73. He was born at Ramskappelle in what is now West Flanders, Belgium, but spent most of life in Ranchi after arriving in India as a Jesuit seminarian in 1935. He became an Indian citizen in 1951.

His doctoral thesis "Ram katha utpati aur vikas" (Ram's story: origin and development) is considered one of the best commentaries on the Sanskrit-language Ramayana. Other popular works include a Hindi translation of the Bible that Churches in northern India still use and a 40,000-word English-Hindi dictionary published in 1968.

Purohit, a Hindu and one of the Catholic priest's former research students, pointed out that Hindus revere Father Bulcke's "Ram katha" in the same way Christians respect his Hindi Bible.

Another speaker, Bhupendra Kalasi of Magadh University, hailed Father Bulcke as a maharishi (great sage) whose scholarship brought him international recognition. Although born in Belgium, he was a "jewel of India," she said.

Pramod Kumar Singh of Bihar University, chief guest at the September 2 seminar, said generations would remember Father Bulcke for promoting the Hindi language. The missioner gave a "new definition" to the story of Ram and taught people to become ethically upright, he added.

Hindi novelist Mahua Manjhi told UCA News many embassies today use the priest's Hindi-English dictionary, which has become the "most authentic" reference book for people dealing with the two languages.

According to Jesuit Father Mathias Dungdung, director of the research center named after Father Bulcke, the scholarly priest respected and studied all religions. He acknowledged that the missioner's contributions to Hindi made him more popular among Hindus than among Christians.

"For Christians he is just another great missionary, whereas Hindus keep his name alive," the researcher told UCA News on September 4. He noted that Father Bulcke's popularity among Hindus has increased greatly since his death.

Father Dungdung said Father Bulcke's works have reached millions of people in India and overseas. Four editions of his "Ram katha" have been published since it first appeared in 1950.

"It is out of print at present and people want a fifth edition," he added.

The priest, 83, explained that the Ranchi-based Jesuits opened the research center with 8,000 books they found in Father Bulcke's personal library after his death. Since then its collection of books has reached 15,000.

The center's director said it plans to conduct essay and poetry competitions, seminars, cultural programs and other activities to honor Father Bulcke's birth centenary.
 
   
   
  Church opposes state's proposed title for teachers
 
JABALPUR, SEPTEMBER 7 (UCAN) -- A Catholic archbishop has objected to Madhya Pradesh's move to call teachers "sages," which he sees as part of an attempt to promote Hindu nationalism.

The Madhya Pradesh government denies this, saying its plan to designate teachers as rashtra rishi (national sages) is aimed at recapturing the reverence ancient Indian culture had for the guru.

The state administration launched the initiative on September 5, the national Teacher's Day. However, most teachers stayed away from the ceremony to highlight their demand for higher salaries.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal, who heads the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh, says the government decision to honor teachers as rishi was not thought through properly.

A rishi, he explained, symbolizes perfection and high moral values. According to Hinduism, a rishi can see beyond the narrow or selfish, and the good and bad of the moment. Nothing in the present, past or future is beyond his vision.

Archbishop Cornelio says proclaiming teachers, who are professionals, as rishi would denigrate the dignity attached to the title. Educational institutions in a secular country should not be used to propagate a particular religion's ideas, he added.

The prelate told UCA News the Church considers the move a violation of the country's secular constitution that also will divide students and teachers on religious grounds.

He pointed out that the state government has tried to impose several Hindu practices. The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people's party) has ruled the state since 2003.

When it tried to enforce surya namaskar (sun worship), a Hindu ritual, in all state schools, the state's High Court ruled against this and said the practice should not be made compulsory. The government has also tried to introduce bhojan mantra, a form of Hindu prayer, before the midday meal in schools.

A Catholic primary school teacher said he rejects the government's new title for him.

"Being a Catholic, I cannot identify myself with a rishi. It is as good as becoming a Hindu," he said. Those in the profession of teaching, he added, should be called teachers -- "nothing less or nothing more."

Some Hindu officers of the Madhya Pradesh teachers' forum also object.

Himmat Singh Jain, its general secretary, says the move lowers the "dignity of our venerable rishi." He added: "I am not worthy of such a title."

Ramkrishna Nawal, a 70-year-old Hindu teacher, agreed that the government plan devalues the "pious name of rishi."

Jain also said the teachers view the government plan as a tactic to divert attention from their demand for higher salaries.

Meanwhile, a delegation of people advocating secularism met Madhya Pradesh Governor Rameshwar Thakur on September 4 to demand the scrapping of the new labels. The governor is the Indian president's representative in a state and must endorse all legislation.

Some Muslim organisations in the state have also opposed the move.
 
   
   
  Slain priest in Philippines received death threats, bishop says
 

QUEZON CITY, Philippines (UCAN) -- Bishop Emmanuel Trance of Catarman says the priest who directed his central diocese's human rights desk received death threats for some time before he was shot dead on September 6.

Eastern Visayas police reported that about 30 armed men shot at the vehicle of Father Cecilio "Pete" Lucero of St. Joseph the Worker Church in Catubig town. The parish priest was traveling along the national highway in Layuhan, San Jose, in Northern Samar province, at the time.

The priest, 48, reportedly died on the spot. His lay companion, Isidro Miras, was wounded in the incident.

Bishop Trance condemned the murder and demanded justice. He told UCA News that Father Lucero had just returned to San Jose from a family wedding on a nearby island when he and his companions were ambushed.

"After being wounded by several rifle shots, one man walked up to his (Father Lucero's) window and put a bullet in his head to be sure he was dead," Bishop Trance said quoting police reports from witnesses.

No one has claimed responsibility for the killing, and the police and military said they have no leads. Bishop Trance says it could be any of several groups who may have been threatening his priest.

"Since he was in human rights work, and traveled all over to investigate crimes ... he had angered the military and insurgents," the prelate explained.

Additionally, the slain priest's older brother, Wilmar Lucero, had served as congressman and is running in the 2010 elections, so Samar clergy cannot rule out a political motive either, the bishop said. Many political killings have occurred in the province, where unauthorized firearms reportedly are rife.

"Many murders are never solved, and that was Father Lucero's work -- to demand justice for those killed," the bishop added.

The prelate said Father Lucero had reported receiving death threats. He added that Father Lucero said he had no idea who was threatening him in the letters that started arriving last February, when the mayor of Catubig was murdered.

Father Lucero asked for police protection. A security escort, Eugene Bation, was traveling with him when he was shot and reportedly fired back at the gunmen, prompting them to flee.

"We feel Father Lucero was being tailed, because when he arrived at San Jose, the assassins were waiting for him," Bishop Trance said.

The slain priest was originally expected to arrive in San Jose the night before, but waited because of rough seas and took the first launch in the morning.

Police in the Eastern Visayas region have organized an investigative body that will look into Father Lucero's murder, the Philippine National Police (PNP) announced on Sept. 7.

Chief Superintendent Mario San Diego, Regional Director of Police Regional Office 8, which serves Samar, said a Special Investigation Task Group named SITG Lucero has been created to coordinate all investigative efforts of different PNP units involved in the probe of Father Lucero's killing.

San Diego said the investigation seeks not only to identify the persons involved in the murder but also to establish a strong case in court against those responsible.

Father Lucero's body will be brought to San Roque Parish, were he earlier served as parish priest. From San Roque it will be taken to his parish in Catubig, and then on to his hometown of Gamay, Northern Samar.

Sister Maria Clare Dabuet of the Catarman Diocesan Center told UCA News that priests would accompany the body from parish to parish. According to the Missionaries of the Child Jesus nun, burial plans have yet to be made.
 
   
   
  Swine flu forces low-key Marian feast in Pune
 
PUNE, SEPTEMBER 7 (UCAN) -- Fear of swine flu, which has killed 34 in this western Indian city has forced the local diocese to celebrate the Blessed Mother's birthday in a low key.

The diocese of Poona traditionally celebrates the September 8 feast with a large open-air event at a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Vailankanni in Pune's Wanowrie section.

As a precaution, this year's celebrations have been shifted to St. Patrick's Cathedral.

"We want to minimise the crowds," Father Malcolm Sequeira explained to UCA News on September 7. The Poona spokesperson acknowledged the diocese has a tradition of celebrating the feast "in a big way," but does not want to take a chance on spreading the swine flu virus among the thousands who would come for a large-scale event.

Poona diocese, which retains the city's old name, began a nine-day novena on August 30 in preparation for the feast.

As of September 2, Pune had recorded 34 deaths from swine flue. The total number of deaths countrywide stood at 131 on September 7.

Father Sequeira, who is also cathedral parish priest, said the Marian chapel two kilometers from the cathedral began the celebrations in a small way about 35 years ago. It held novena prayers and a feast Mass. As the number of devotees increased and the chapel became more of a shrine, the diocese shifted the services to the open air.

Bishop Thomas Dabre of Poona wrote to all churches in Pune on August 16 instructing them not to erect tents and sweets stalls in parish compounds during the novena period and the feast day. He also urged people to conduct prayers and Masses without festivities such as distribution of food and sweets.

Nevertheless, hundreds had flocked to the cathedral by August 30 for the opening of the novena and other days also saw huge crowds.

Father Sequeira said they shifted the venue "with a heavy heart." The focus this year is to "persistently pray to God through the intercession of Mother Mary to protect all from this deadly disease," he added.

Janice Fernandez, chairperson of the cathedral parish council, said her pastor also advised people to receive Communion in the hand to prevent the swine flue virus from spreading.

Diago Almeida, president of the Catholic Association of Poona and a regular at novenas for years, said the diocese followed the civic administration's advice to minimize crowds. He has observed a more devotional and prayerful atmosphere than in other years.

Helen Colaco, another regular at the novena, agreed the curbs had not affected the "spiritual aspect".

Jesuit Father Denis Borges, parish priest of St. Xavier's Church, said churches in the diocese now keep holy water at their entrances instead of at the baptismal font.

"Many, including people from other religions, sometimes drink the holy water from the font in good faith," he added.
 
   
   
  Nepal church bomb blast 'mastermind' arrested
 
KATHMANDU, SEPTEMBER 7 (UCAN) -- Police on September 5 arrested the head of the Hindu militant organisation believed responsible for the bombing of the Church of Our Lady of Assumption in Kathmandu more than three months ago.

Ram Prasad Mainali, whose Nepal Defense Army (NDA) has reportedly owned up to the bombing, and three of his accomplices were arrested in southeastern Nepal. The May 23 blast at Kathmandu's main church killed three Massgoers and left many others injured.

"There are several cases of bombing of churches and mosques, kidnappings, extortion and killings against him (Mainali)," Bhishma Prasain, Deputy Inspector General of Police at the Eastern Regional Police Office told UCA News over the telephone on September 6.

The NDA, whose ranks include former soldiers, former policemen and victims of Maoist guerrillas, advocates Nepal's restoration as a Hindu nation.

The government, formed after King Gyanendra Shah was forced to relinquish power in 2006, declared the former Hindu country secular as one of its first moves. The Maoists, who led a decade-long insurgency to establish a communist republic, joined mainstream politics the same year after signing a peace accord with the government. However, several Hindu groups have demanded Nepal be re-established as a Hindu nation.

The NDA has also been blamed for the murder of Salesian Father John Prakash Moyalan in June 2008. It has claimed responsibility for a mosque bomb blast in eastern Nepal in April last year that killed three people as well as a number of bombings in 2007, including that of a Maoist office in Kathmandu.

According to media reports, police organised a press conference on September 6 in the eastern town of Biratnagar to make public the arrests.

Catholics in Kathmandu have cautiously welcomed this development.

Father Robin Rai of Assumption Church pointed out that even though Mainali has been arrested, "his network still remains and we still have to tread cautiously."

The priest commented: "We Catholics don't have vengeance on our mind, and we cannot be happy at the thought of Mainali being punished. However, the government has to do its duty and law has to take its own course."

Sun Bahadur Tamang, a Catholic whose wife was seriously injured in the church bomb blast, said he has no ill feelings against Mainali. "Let the law take its course and let justice prevail," he told UCA News.

Shyam Kumar Rai, who was seriously injured in the blast, echoed similar sentiments. "Let there be justice, and let the courts decide on what has to be done with him," he said. "Mainali has to be treated justly so that there will be no future bombing of churches and mosques and no suffering for people like us," added the Catholic, who is still undergoing treatment at a hospital in Kathmandu.

The NDA, through telephone calls and letters, has asked Christians to leave Nepal or face dire consequences.

Soon after the Assumption Church blast, police arrested a woman, Seeta Thapa Shrestha, who allegedly planted the bomb at the behest of the NDA. She has been charged with murder. However, Mainali, believed to be the mastermind behind the attack, had been at large, reportedly threatening Catholic priests and Protestant pastors, and making extortion calls.

Kavita Shakya, a Catholic whose teenage daughter was injured in the church blast, said the government must be "firm" this time around and not set Mainali free. The NDA chief was arrested last year on charges of possessing illegal arms but was soon released on bail, despite a court sentencing him to two years in jail.
 
   
   
  Pneumonia watch may reduce swine flu deaths
  By Papri Sri Raman

WORLDWIDE, the healthcare community has already sounded the alert on the connection between the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria and the A(H1NI) flu virus even as India reports 131 deaths from the flu and China has begun commercially producing a single-dose vaccine known as Panflu.1. The pharma company Sinovac hopes to have five million Panflu.1 vaccine doses ready by October.

Researchers think A(H1N1) flu may be especially dangerous for young adults because the A(H1N1) virus may cause what is medically known as a "cytokine storm" -- a sudden release of inflammatory chemicals that prevent the lungs from functioning properly. The deaths are happening due to flooding of the lungs, which happens due to "co-infection" or associated infections and can be contained, health workers say.

"Scientists, in reviewing cytokine storms in literature, wonder if high levels of cytokines cause so much inflammation -- when the H1N1 virus activates the immune system -- that fluid and inflammation occur at the site of the infection, leading to pneumonia and death", medical journals are now reporting.

The Los Angeles Times has reported that the CDC (the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention) has recommended that at least 70 million Americans receive a vaccination for pneumonia. This includes about 22 million Americans between ages 2 to 64 with "chronic underlying conditions", such as diabetes and heart disease; about 3.5 million with asthma; about 30 million smokers; and all people over the age of 65, which is about 15 million. No such advisory in India.

Experts say "most of the serious consequences linked to the virus A(H1N1) virus are the result of pneumonia", and an underused vaccine called Pneumovax can prevent, "or at least limit", such complications in many patients.

The vaccine, made by Merck & Co and costing about $33 a dose (about Rs 1,500), is said to stimulate "the body's ability to neutralize the bacteria responsible for many cases of pneumonia, and it has the potential to prevent an estimated one-third of pneumonia deaths linked to swine flu."

The paper quoted Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the preventive medicine department at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and president-elect of the (US) National Foundation for Infectious Diseases to say: "We would certainly like to see the vaccine used more extensively." This, public health authorities believe, can "reduce hospitalization and death".

Schaffner was a member of the CDC advisory committee on vaccines that in early June recommended who should receive the pneumonia vaccine. Worldwide, the belief is "normal target population" for the pneumonia vaccine "is a microcosm of those groups most likely to die or suffer serious complications from flu"; so most experts say that eligible people should receive Pneumovax, "independent of its ability to affect the current pandemic".

Pneumonia can develop about 5 days after the flu symptoms of fever, cough, and muscle aches start. There is swelling (inflammation) in the lungs, and the patient has trouble breathing that gets worse and worse until he or she dies.

The vaccine is said to be "relatively harmless", available year round, protects again 23 strains of S. pneumoniae and is effective for ten years.

There are many causes of pneumonia. The H1N1 virus itself can cause pneumonia, as can many others. Or the lungs can be invaded by Streptococcus pneumoniae or Staphylococcus aureus bacteria when the patient is weakened by a viral infection.

American experts are already saying "...too much emphasis has been placed on inappropriate administration of [the antiviral drug] Tamiflu, which has its own side effects and, aside from that, may create resistance". A patient in Denmark, taking Tamiflu, has demonstrated such resistance.

"Tests in several animals confirmed other studies that have shown the new swine flu strain can spread beyond the upper respiratory tract -- to go deep into the lungs -- making it more likely to cause pneumonia" an international team led by Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin, said. "The H1N1 virus replicates significantly better in the lungs", the expert told MSNBC.com recently.

The primary symptoms of a "cytokine storm" are high fever, swelling and redness, extreme fatigue and nausea, the immune reaction may be fatal -- as seen in the Indian deaths.

When healthy adults die of the flu, it has usually become pneumonia, health authorities are saying worldwide, and this is an advisory India's medicare community needs to be especially alert on.

President Barack Obama, last week, had the last word on swine flue when he said, "I don't want anybody to be alarmed, but I do want everyone to be prepared."
 
   
   
  An old murder case haunts Bihar CM as rivals cry for his blood
 
From Anuja Sipre

PATNA, SEPTEMBER 6 -- For a man haunted by legal worries due to his involvement in the multi-crore fodder scam, former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav had for years become the whipping boy of his political rivals.

It is now Lalu's turn to take on his bête noire Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who is now in the eye of a controversy following a Bihar court summon seeking his personal appearance in connection with an old murder case of 1991.

Seizing the opportunity, political rivals of the Chief Minister, including Lalu and Ramvilas Paswan, have now launched a full-scale war against him and even sought his resignation.

Unlike most of his political peers, the Chief Minister has had an impeccable track record in his political life. But this time, he is being dragged into a controversy which could be a cause of worry for him.

For Nitish Kumar, development is the keyword to success in all spheres of life. However, 'development' (summon) of a new kind has taken the Chief Minister and his supporters by surprise.

The additional Chief Judicial Magistrate of Barh subdivision in Patna district, Ranjan Kumar, 'issued' summon orders on August 31 this year against the Chief Minister and another accused Dularchand Yadav directing them to appear in the court on September 9 in connection with the murder of a Congress worker Sitaram Singh during the by-poll of Barh parliamentary constituency in 1991.

Sitaram Singh was killed on November 16, 1991, when a repoll was being held in the Barh Lok Sabha constituency. An FIR was filed the next day by Ashok Singh, a relative of Sitaram. In his FIR he had named Nitish Kumar as the main accused along with four others, Dilip Singh, Dularchand Yadav, Yogendra Yadav and Bodhu Yadanv.

Nitish Kumar who was then the candidate of the Janata Dal eventually won the election defeating the Congress candidate, Sidheshwar Prasad. It may be pointed out that the Janata Dal's Lalu Prasad was then the Chief Minister and of the other accused, Dilip Kumar was a minister.

However, the police after carrying out the investigation found the charges to be untrue against Nitish Kumar and Dularchand. The police submitted its final report to the Barh court in 1993 which accepted it only in 2008.

But on January 20, 2009, Ashok Singh again filed a protest-cum-complaint petition in the court of Barh additional CJM against the final report submitted by the police in 1993 giving a clean chit to Kumar.

Taking cognizance of the complaint petition, the court has issued the summon orders.

On the other hand, the state JD-U president Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lallan Singh has stated that the party will move the Patna High Court against the summon order in a murder case in which proceedings have already been stayed by the High Court.

He said that after hearing the appeal of one of the accused Yogendra Yadav, Justice Ajay Kumar Tripathi of the Patna High Court had ordered on April 22, 2009, that further proceedings in the case would remain stayed.

The JD-U president said that despite the High Court order, the Barh ACJM court entertained the petition filed by Ashok Singh. "What is more significant, the Barh court had accepted the final police report and so the case against Nitish Kumar and Dulcharchand Yadav should have been closed," he added.
 
   
   
  New research brings hope for swine flu victims
 
By Papri Sri Raman

Even as good news is pouring in on the swine flu front, in the USA and the UK, pneumonia is now definitely being linked to the 2009 pandemic.

The good news is from two universities, one in the UK and another in the USA.

A pilot study, run by the University of Leicester and Leicester Hospitals (with 100 healthy volunteers, aged between 18 and 50 who went through the trial) has found that just one shot of a vaccination may be good enough to keep people immune to the flu virus. The vaccine is Novartis MF59.

The expert who led the trial, Dr Iain Stephenson, said: "The clinical trial of Novartis MF59-adjuvanted cell-based A(H1N1) vaccine indicates that the swine flu vaccine elicits a strong immune response and is well-tolerated", reports the journal Medical News Today (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/162926.php).

The trial evaluated the tolerability and immunogenicity of the vaccine, and tested different schedules of vaccination, in terms of time between vaccinations. Stephenson said: "The aim of the trial was to find out how many doses and what type of vaccine is needed to give protection."

He added that the initial results "should help to plan vaccination campaigns" in the coming winter including doses and timings. His team concluded from the study "that the MF59-adjuvanted A(H1N1) vaccine of low antigen content was well tolerated and generated antibody responses associated with protection against influenza, even after a single dose."

The Leicester team said, "results suggest that one vaccine dose may be sufficient to protect against the A(H1N1) swine flu, rather than two." The worst that can happen, the team said, was the pain at the injection site.

Director of the Indian Council of Medical Research Dr V M Katoch has told the media Novartis has agreed to supply India with the vaccine, and as many as 2.4 million health workers will be vaccinated with the imports by next January.

The World Health Organisation has, meanwhile, asked scientists at the Pune-based Serum Institute of India to work on developing a swine flu vaccine. The 16-member experts team here hope to have a vaccine ready by September end and phase I trials on 25 volunteers to begin month end. It will take six more months for this vaccine to reach the public. The New Delhi-based Panacea Biotec and the Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech are also conducting A H1N1 vaccine research.

The second good news is from the University of Maryland, where a study funded by the US National Institutes of Health, showed that the swine flu strain A(H1N1) may not mutate but it was definitely the dominant strain among various strains of flu (like the H1 or H3 strain) that naturally affect people seasonally.

The virologist who led the study, Daniel Perez and his team conclude from the study that the A(H1N1) virus is "not under evolutionary pressure right now to mix and mutate while it has a clear biological advantage over other kinds of flu."

The American team said: "Our studies show that the pandemic Ca/04 virus (the strain of the A/H1N1 virus under study) has a clear biological advantage in replication, transmission, tropism and pathogenesis when compared to both seasonal H1 and H3 representative strains."

The study said, "It is important to determine whether co-infections have been associated in some of the lethal human cases."

The team advised, "Surveillance should consider careful examination of clinical cases and determine whether co-infections are related to the morbidity and mortality associated with the pandemic strain... strong emphasis should be placed on determining whether underlying H3 infections are associated with co-infections with the pandemic strain." (http://knol.google.com/k/daniel-perez/fitness-of-pandemic-h1n1-and-seasonal/2e4ii3cnzi06d/2?collectionId=28qm4w0q65e4w.1&position=9#)

India needs to take note of how many deaths here have been due to complications which are demonstratively pneumonia-like and because of accompanying infections -- what is medically called "co-infection".

The Indian Council of Medical Research is tracking cases of mutations in the AH1N1 virus as we in India know it.

The first outbreak thought to be associated with the A (H1N1) strain occurred in La Gloria, Veracruz, Mexico in February 2009. It is now sweeping through 175 countries. In India, the toll, said to be due to this strain of viral flu, is 111 while in Brazil 557 have died. WHO puts the worldwide toll to have crossed 1200.

Pandemic is an epidemic -- which is a milder word -- for certain infectious disease that sweep through large populations across the world.
 
   
   
  Priest-governor exits presidential race in favor of Aquino
  MANILA, SEPTEMBER 5 (UCAN) -- Father Eddie Panlilio announced at a press conference near Manila he will not run for president in 2010 and will instead throw his support behind Senator Benigno Aquino III.

"After much prayer, contemplation, and consultations, we have decided to respond to the call for love of country, sacrifice and unity initiated by Senator Mar Roxas on Tuesday," Father Panlilio told the media September 4 at the Club Filipino in San Juan, northeast of Manila.

"We have decided not to pursue our plan to run for president in the upcoming elections," Father Panlilio said. He was reading from a joint statement with Governor Grace Padaca of Isabela with whom the priest had forged a partnership in which either would run as president or vice president.

Father Panlilio had announced in July that he was ready to seek dispensation from his priestly duties to run for president.

In the recent press conference, he urged other opposition and reformist presidential hopefuls to stand aside for Aquino, whose party wants to field him as their presidential bet.

Aquino, on a retreat given by Carmelite nuns in southern Philippines at the time of the press conference, has not yet announced his decision to run for president.

Asked about his next move, Father Panlilio said he might resume his ministry or run for a second term as governor of Pampanga.

The priest said he is also considering running for other government posts.

Church leaders welcomed Father Panlilio's decision to abandon presidential plans.

"I am happy that Governor Ed Panlilio has decided to withdraw from the presidential race," Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines president Archbishop Angel Lagdameo of Jaro told Manila reporters.

Auxiliary Bishop Pablo David of San Fernando, Pampanga, however, is hoping that his confrere will totally abandon politics.

"While we are happy with this (announcement), we hope he will no longer run for any position in 2010 and go back to his priestly ministry," Bishop David said over Church-run Radio Veritas.

Father Panlilio took leave from his priestly ministry when he ran for governor in Pampanga in 2007.

In the latest national survey conducted by the Pulse Asia independent survey group on July 28-August 10, only 0.4 per cent of 1,800 respondents said they would vote for Father Panlilio while 11 per cent said they would vote for Roxas. Senator Manuel Villar topped the list of preferred choices, followed by former president Joseph Estrada and Vice President Noli de Castro.

Aquino was not among the choices then.

Jesus Is Lord evangelical movement leader Eduardo Villanueva, who is also running on a platform of moral transformation, has declared he would push through with his presidential candidacy even if Aquino runs. Only 1 per cent of survey respondents backed him for president.
 
   
   
  People grieve over YSR's death, concerns raised over help for dalits
  NEW DELHI, SEPTEMBER 4 (UCAN) -- India is witnessing a rare outpouring of sorrow over the death of Andhra Pradesh's Christian chief minister, Yeduguri Sandinti Rajasekhara Reddy.

Newspaper editorials highlighted his demise, while leaders of various political parties and people across the country mourned the death of the 60-year-old leader. Reddy was found dead on September 3, a day after he was reported missing on a helicopter flight to launch a drought relief program in a remote village.

Central and state governments have declared a period of mourning and political parties flew flags at half mast as a sign of respect.

In Andhra Pradesh, grieving people reportedly paid homage to Reddy's portraits placed 500 meters apart on major roads in the state.

Reddy was a "man of the masses who championed the cause of the farmer and the economically backward, the underprivileged and (religious) minorities," said an obituary in "The Asian Age" newspaper on September 4.

The newspaper's editorial hailed Reddy as a "people's man who delivered." It noted pervading grief across the country after Reddy's death. "The extraordinarily sympathetic reaction" to the "tragic and untimely death" says a great deal, it added.

"The Hindu," another national newspaper, said Reddy's "heart-rending tragedy" had cost Andhra Pradesh its most charismatic leader and his Congress party a politically talented and resourceful chief minister.

To cite Reddy's "broadmindedness" the newspaper recalled the "devout Christian" used to make "pilgrimages to Bethlehem and Tirumala (the state's most popular Hindu temple) with equal piety." Reddy tirelessly tried to transform agriculture and end agrarian distress that had driven several farmers to suicide, it added.

The "Mail Today" credited Reddy with helping the Congress party retain power in New Delhi. The party won 33 of the state's 42 parliamentary seats, the largest percentage in any large state.

Meanwhile Church leaders across India are also mourning the loss of Reddy, a member of the Protestant Church of South India.

A Catholic Church official in New Delhi said Reddy's tragic death was a big setback for the campaign to fight for equal rights for dalit Christians. Dalit are the former "untouchables" in the Indian caste system.

Father G. Cosmon Arokiaraj, secretary of the Indian bishops' commission that looks after the interests of tribal and low-caste people recalled that Reddy used to say that his mission and vision was to support the dalit Christians.

"Unlike other chief ministers he was very much connected with poor people, because he himself had seen their plight," the priest said.

Under Reddy's leadership, the Andhra Pradesh state legislature in August passed a resolution urging the Central government to include dalit Christians and dalit Muslims in a welfare scheme. The government has ruled that these groups are excluded from the scheme as their religions do not recognize the caste system.

For decades, Christian leaders have demanded the government end such religion-based discrimination.

Father Arokiaraj said if Reddy had continued his campaign it would have forced the Central government to change the policy.

The National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), an association of Protestant and Orthodox Churches, said Reddy also wanted the Central and state governments to deal firmly with those responsible for attacking Christians in various parts of the country.
 
   
   
  Activists to appeal journalist's sentence in Sri Lanka
  COLOMBO, SEPTEMBER 4 (UCAN) -- Rights activists, including priests, have expressed concern over the decision by a Colombo high court to sentence a Tamil journalist to 20 years' imprisonment.

"This unexpected verdict comes at a time when our country needs determined journalists who can present all sides of the truth," said Father Marimuthupillai Sathivel of St Michael Church in Colombo.

Jayaprakash Sittampalam Tissanayagam, a Christian, was arrested on March 7, 2008, but only charged and sentenced on August 31. He was a reporter for "The Sunday Times" newspaper and chief editor of "Outreach Multimedia," an online magazine. He was also editor of the "North Eastern Monthly" magazine where he wrote articles about the plight of the country's minority Tamil ethnic group.

There were scenes of chaos outside the High Court in Colombo during the court hearing, with some 50 civic activists, including Christian priests, waving placards.

"It is fitting to criticize the court verdict," said an Anglican priest after the verdict was read out.

Prelates, rights activists, journalists and priests who campaign for media freedom and human rights say they will press Tissanayagam's lawyers to appeal the verdict.

Tissanayagam is convicted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) for attempting to cause acts of violence or racial or communal disharmony, and for attempting to cause disrepute to the government. He is also charged with collecting and obtaining information and funds for the purpose of terrorism through his "North Eastern Monthly" magazine in 2006 and 2007.

Speaking about the verdict as he left the court, Father Nandana Saparamadu of Colombo archdiocese said, "It is a threat to democracy as well as freedom of expression."

Lawyer Anil Silva who defended Tissanayagam, told UCA News that the verdict was an apparent "warning to all the journalists of this country" that they may "face the same fate."

"Tissanayagam was not a person who fought for himself but for workers, youths, and mothers and fathers whose children had gone missing. He even wrote against the LTTE's (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) recruitment of child solders," Silva said.

A senior journalist, who asked not to be named, said Tissanayagam's sentence "is a major attack on democratic rights and media freedom."

Seven journalists have been killed since 2006 and about a dozen more have fled the country in the wake of threats.

In January, a prominent critic of corruption in the upper echelons of government, Lasantha Wickrematunge, the editor of the "Sunday Leader," was stabbed and beaten to death by a gang of thugs.

"We respect the law and the court decision but this sentence is shocking as we have seen that sometimes even murderers and convicts of grave crimes have not been given anything so harsh," Father Sathivel told UCA News.

The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has named Tissanayagam as the first winner of the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism, and US President Barack Obama has also described Tissanayagam as an "emblematic example" of an unjustly persecuted news reporter.
 
   
   
  A helping hand in a hostile land: The case of immigrants in Italy
  By Matteo Fracassi

UNITED NATIONS, SEPTEMBER 3 (IPS) -- Italy is in many ways a country of contradictions, known for its beautiful beaches and vulnerable coasts, its staunch Catholicism and growing intolerance towards immigrants.

Italy has struggled with the issue of migration for a long time. It ranks first in Europe, alongside Spain, for the annual growth rate of immigrants, and regular immigrants now number more than 3.6 million -- 6.2 per cent of the population.

Italy's position in the Mediterranean Sea makes a strategic route for migration. On August 20, 73 migrants from North Africa perished off the coast of Sicily. Earlier that month, the Italian Parliament passed a new "security law" that formally made clandestine status a crime, punishable by fines of up to 10,000 euro and six months detention.

The new policy allows the government to intercept boats at sea and forcibly return migrants to their point of departure.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, this practice violates international law.

"We are obviously worried about the government's attitude towards immigration," Tana Anglana, project manager of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Rome, told IPS. "But we still have -- and want -- to cooperate with it to achieve our goals." The IOM works to raise awareness about migration patterns, as well as providing assistance to migrants, conducting research, and promoting dialogue and activities between different ethnic communities.

Now the IOM is preparing to launch a new project called MIDLA -- Migration for Development in Latin America -- that focuses on immigrants coming from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru who are living and working in Italy.

The number of people currently residing in Italy from these four countries totals about 280,000. The Ecuadorian community is the largest, with almost 74,000 people.

MIDLA is based on the experience gained from another IOM project in Italy called Migration for Development in Africa (MIDA).

Cesar Estrella of IOM Peru told IPS that the project is still in the initial stage of gathering information and data "to have a better picture of the situation".

For example, not all migrants stay temporarily. According to data gathered by the IOM and the Peruvian government, one Peruvian in 10 among those working in Italy decides to remain in the country instead of going home.

A key aspect is analysing remittance flows to determine the economic impact these migrants are having in their home countries, how the money is being used, and the mechanisms for transmitting it, Isabel Cruz from IOM Ecuador told IPS.

While the exact numbers for Latin America are still being compiled, in 2008, migrants in Italy sent home more than nine billion dollars, with about 12 per cent going to the Americas.

The next step is to figure out "which are the plans and priority sectors for the development of the [home] country," Anglana told IPS.

One of MIDLA's key concepts is "co-development".

"We will promote the creation of territorial partnerships among Italian actors and migrants' associations for setting up socioeconomic development initiatives in Latin America, and at improving potential migrant entrepreneurs' professional skills," Anglana said.

"In this way we will be able to identify interlocutors, set up partnerships and develop projects and initiatives for specific countries of origin of Latin American migrants in Italy. MIDLA will then continue to look for resources and promote support to migrants' initiatives for the development of their origin communities," she concluded.

It remains to be seen whether this collaborative spirit will be embraced by the Italian government, whose defence minister, Ignazio La Russa, earlier this year attacked UNHCR, saying "I accuse this so-called agency, which isn't worth a damn, of being either inhuman or an accomplice of those who want to break the law."

However, some of the country's Catholic bishops have protested the tough migration policy, and one opposition leader Antonio, Di Pietro, compared the current anti-immigrant climate to racist laws during Italy's fascist dictatorship.
 
   
   
  Death of Andhra Chief Minister YSR Reddy a national loss: News Analysis by Meetu Tewari
  WHEN Home Minister P. Chidambaram confirmed the untimely demise of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Dr Yeduguri Sandinti Rajasekhara Reddy or YSR, as he was known, it instantly set the nation on a mourning mode.

The helicopter in which he was travelling crashed into Nallamala Hills yesterday, an hour after take off from Begumpet Airport in Hyderabad. He was on his way to Chittoor.

On September 3 morning, the twisted remains of the Bell 430 Chopper were found on Rudrakonda Hill and so were the bodies of 60-year old YSR, his Special Secretary P. Subramanyam, Chief Security Officer A S C Wesley, pilot Group Captain S K Bhatia and co-pilot M S Reddy.

The dense Nallamala forest is roughly spread across 6,000 sq km. The terrain is inhospitable, abounding in wild animals. To make matters worse, the rescue teams had to face inclement weather as well. Grey Hounds commandos were also called in to help with the search, as the forest had housed Maoists till two years ago. They are now restricted to just a few areas.

Rumors that the chopper was shot down by Naxalites have been denied. Although the cause of the crash is not yet known, it is not believed to be a deliberate attack. However, the truth will emerge once the rescue teams are able to retrieve the bodies and search the wreckage. It is also alleged that the chopper was not in good condition. However, the A.P. Aviation Corporation, which was operating the chopper, denied the allegations, insisting that the aircraft was in proper condition and that they had a certificate to prove the same.

What has surprised most people is the non-functioning of the Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT), which automatically transmits radio signals in case of a crash or forced landing and which can be sensed by aircraft 100-200 km away. No such signals were picked up by the aircraft deployed by the IAF.

A member of the Indian National Congress, YRS was a senior and well-respected politician, who had ensured the party's rule in his state. This was his second term as Chief Minister. After surviving a similar situation in 2006, it seems almost unreal that YSR's life ended because of another crash.

As Chief Minister, YRS undertook several measures to help boost the economy while also trying to uplift the weaker sections of the society. He initiated novel schemes, including free power supply to farmers. He also took steps to speed up construction projects that would facilitate irrigation in the state. Arogya Shree was an innovative plan introduced by the State Government, whereby the poor could avail of health insurance, including complete cover for any surgery.

To encourage entrepreneurship and home ownership, YSR implemented a scheme offering loans at 3 per cent, rice at Rs 2 and reimbursement of fees for students hailing from backward sections of the society.

However, YRS attracted criticism from his opponents, including Telugu Desam Party's (TDP) Chandrababu Naidu. The TDP alleged corruption in the implementation of several schemes. YSR and his family were accused of illegally gaining wealth through their companies. It was also alleged that his son was involved in the recent Satyam Scandal and that the government was partial to firm Maytas and had allotted projects to it.

Despite these controversies, YSR was loved by the people. His death is a huge loss to the people of his state and to the Congress government. Now, the Congress has a lot to ponder about, regarding their hold in Andhra Pradesh, which has now been clearly weakened.

While the Congress Working Committee met to pay their respects to YRS, senior leaders of the party must now plan a new strategy to maintain their hold over the state.

The sense of loss and disbelief runs deep. Shwetha, a resident of Hyderabad, expressed her sadness at the CM's death, "It is unbelievable. He was a dynamic leader who came up with innovative schemes to help the people. He was liked by everyone. My friends and family are saddened by the tragedy," she said.

The loss is felt even by those outside Andhra Pradesh. Nidhi, a student in Lucknow, expressed her grief, "I still cannot believe this has happened. He was a good leader and tried to do a lot for his state. He genuinely cared for the people."

Clearly, YRS's death will be deeply mourned. His loss will be felt keenly and he will be missed, not just by the people of his state, but also by others across the country. YSR is survived by his wife Vijaya Lakshmi, son Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy and daughter Sharmila.
 
   
   
  Inclusive governance must for inclusive growth: Mani Shankar Aiyar
  Our Correspondent

NEW DELHI, SEPTEMBER 3 -- Twenty five years after former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi said that only 15 paise of every rupee the government spent on poverty eradication reached the intended beneficiaries, his statement appears to be an understatement.

This was stated by former Union Minister of Panchayati Raj Mani Shankar Aiyar while releasing a book, "A Global Dialogue on Federalism: Local Government and Metropolitan Regions in Federal Systems" (McGill-Queen's University Press) at the Institute of Social Sciences here this morning.

Mr Aiyar said the actual amount reaching the poor could be anywhere between 5 paise and 15 paise per every rupee the government spent.

He pooh-poohed fears that the sarpanchas and others heading the Panchayati Raj institutions would pocket a substantial portion of the allocations. Even if they pocketed 15 per cent of the amount, it was far better than when the money was routed through the bureaucratic set-up.

Mr Aiyar said the real benefit accruing to the common people was not commensurate with the huge allocations made for poverty eradication programmes. From Rs 7600 crore 15 years ago, the allocation for such programmes now stood at Rs 2 lakh crore.

But in terms of the quality of life of the poor, there was very little improvement. Mr Aiyar lambasted the Non-Government Organisations most of which, he said, were after money. When he visited Dhaka a few years ago, he learnt to his dismay that all the Mercedes cars in the city belonged to those who ran NGOs.

He said poverty eradication programmes did not get adequate support from those entrusted with planning. It was horrifying to find that a Planning Commission document began with the assertion that the "district rural development" agencies had failed in their task. Hence a new "national rural development agency" was being set up. Worse, the voluminous draft Eleventh Plan document did not even mention the words "Panchayati Raj".

Mr Aiyar said without inclusive governance, inclusive growth was not possible. In this context he mentioned that in Karnataka, the best beneficiaries of the affirmative action were the tribals, whose condition was worse than that of any other community.

He said the Federal system in India was not comparable to the one in the United States. In the US, the states came together to form the Centre. The states were so powerful that they could even put the clause of secession in the US constitution.

On the other hand, in India, the Centre came into being first and it used different stratagems to bring as many as 600 native states under its control. Small wonder that states did not enjoy the right to secede.

In the most "secessionist state" -- Tamil Nadu -- secession lost its appeal once and all when the Chinese attacked India in 1962. Forget the right to secede; the states did not even enjoy the right to change their boundaries. All that they could do was pass a resolution on the proposed boundary changes and send it to the Centre for its approval.

Mr Aiyar, who reviewed Jaswant Singh's book on Jinnah for the 'Outlook' magazine, said the most fascinating chapter in the book was on the Gandhi-Jinnah dialogue. Jinnah who dreamed of Pakistan as a perfect democracy and who, as Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani quoted him as saying, would also be a "secular nation" had been proved wrong on both counts.

Earlier, Dr George Mathew, Director, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, welcomed the guests while Dr Rupak Chattopadhyay, Vice-President, Forum of Federations, which jointly organized the dialogue, introduced the theme.

Among those who participated in the dialogue included Prof Balveer Arora, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Prof Akhtar Majeed, Director, Centre for Federal Studies, Jamia Hamdard, Dr M.P. Singh, Former Professor, Delhi University, Dr Rekha Saxena, Associate Professor, Dept of Political Science, Delhi University and Mr Rakesh Hooja, Chairman, Revenue Board, Government of Rajasthan, took part in the dialogue, moderated by Mr K.C. Sivaramakrishnan, Chairman of the Centre for Policy Research.

Dr Ash Narain Roy, Associate Director, Institute of Social Sciences, proposed a vote of thanks.
 
   
   
  Dalai Lama, cardinal urge greater emphasis on moral education
 
KAOHSIUNG (TAIWAN), SEPTEMBER 3 Taiwan (UCAN) -- Moral education, interreligious dialogue and global warming were some of the topics that the Dalai Lama and a Catholic cardinal discussed during a recent dialogue session.

Love and compassion are necessary for inner peace and happiness, said the Tibetan spiritual leader and Cardinal Paul Shan Kuo-hsi during the September 2 session, "Heaven's Law and Natural Law: Dialogue on Humanity and Nature."

However, the erosion of moral values and materialism has caused distrust among people and damaged relationships in society, the two religious leaders concurred during the event held in Kaohsiung.

Cardinal Shan, retired bishop of Kaohsiung, is the only religious figure the Dalai Lama met during his August 30-September 3 visit to Taiwan. The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader was invited by seven counties and cities in the south, which was devastated by Typhoon Morakot on August 8.

More than 1,000 people, including Buddhists and Christians, attended the September 2 dialogue held in a hall inside the Hanshin Arena shopping complex. The event was organized by a Tibetan religious foundation in Taiwan.

The Dalai Lama said that school education these days focused too much on the material aspects of life rather than moral values. Worldwide, there is a general lack of emphasis on virtues such as love and compassion, he added. He noted that in the West, it was Churches that provided moral education in the past.

Cardinal Shan agreed there is a need to boost moral education, saying human development depends not only on the physical and material, but also on spiritual, ethical and religious values. Taiwan's emphasis on economic and technological advancements has hurt society, he contended.

Both leaders also highlighted the importance of mutual respect in interreligious dialogue. The Dalai Lama said religious believers must show others the meaning of life and the importance of having good values. Cardinal Shan said that in such dialogue, one should not attempt to convert the other person or imply that one's religion is superior to others.

On global warming, Cardinal Shan urged those present to take measures to protect the environment. He led the gathering in praying for God's forgiveness for mankind's exploitation of the Earth.

Before the Buddhist-Catholic dialogue ended, the two leaders took turns to lead the gathering in praying for typhoon victims in Taiwan and world peace.

A 20-member choir from Kaohsiung diocese accompanied Cardinal Shan's prayer with hymns focusing on peace and encouragement of those who are suffering.

Choir leader Tu Kuo-chu told UCA News she hoped the hymns would go some way toward comforting flood victims and boosting the Church's evangelization work in society.

Li Kwun-chen, a catechist, said he believes the Buddhist-Catholic dialogue would boost the image of the Catholic Church.
 
   
   
  Church mourns after Christian chief minister dies in air crash
 
HYDERABAD, SEPTEMBER 3 (UCAN) -- Church people in Andhra Pradesh have expressed shock and dismay over the death of Andhra Pradesh's chief minister in a helicopter crash.

The office of the Indian prime minister announced the death of Yeduguri Sandinti Rajasekhara Reddy on September 3, a day after he was reported missing. He was 60.

Reddy, a Protestant, was on his way from Hyderabad to the remote village of Chittoor to launch a new program in villages and to check on the progress of other development programs.

He was traveling with two bureaucrats when communication with his helicopter broke off an hour after take-off.

Search teams recovered five bodies, including the pilot and co-pilot, from the wreckage.

"It is a very sad moment for the Church," said Archbishop Marampudi Joji of Hyderabad who heads the Catholic Church in the state. The prelate said the entire Christian community in the state "deeply grieves" over the tragic death of Reddy, who he said had worked hard for the poor.

"On behalf of the Andhra Pradesh Bishops' Council, I express my condolences to the Chief Minister's family," he said.

The archbishop told UCA News that all churches and religious houses in the state would hold special prayers for "the repose of his soul."

Archbishop Joji also recalled his long association with the late politician. In May, Reddy and the archbishop traveled to New Delhi to press the Central government to grant statutory benefits to dalit (former "untouchables" in the Indian caste system) Christians.

Christian groups have pressed successive governments to grant rights to Christians of low-caste origin.

Father Anthoniraj Thumma, director of the ecumenical Andhra Pradesh Churches Federation, said the news of Reddy's death had shocked him and other Christian leaders in the state.

"It is a big loss for the Church and the state," he told UCA News, and added that Reddy had introduced various schemes to empower women and the poor in the state. "He had a great vision for the development of the state and the Church," Father Thumma added.

Reddy had also helped Christians by subsidizing pilgrimages to Jerusalem, a scheme that the state's High Court later scrapped.

After Reddy's disappearance, the administration launched a huge search operation, deploying more than 10,000 security personnel and thousands of civilians as well as helicopters and fighter planes.

The other victims included Reddy's secretary and chief security officer.

Reddy had led the Congress party to victory in the state legislative assembly elections held in April this year.
 
   
   
  Radicals slam government for seeking Church help, burn cardinal's effigy
 
RANCHI, SEPTEMBER 3 (UCAN) -- Rightwing Hindu groups in Jharkhand have condemned a government plan to use the Catholic Church's network of organizations to distribute grain to drought-hit people in the state.

On August 31, some people burnt an effigy of Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo of Ranchi and shouted slogans against the Church and the state government.

The previous day, Cardinal Toppo had responded positively when T.P. Sinha, adviser to the Jharkhand state Governor K. Shankaranarayanan, met him to formally request the Church's help.

Cardinal Toppo, who heads the Catholic Church in the state, said the government wants to use the Church's vast infrastructure in the state to bring relief to the people suffering from a severe drought.

However, Hindu radical groups said they fear the government move would help the Church convert the state's poor tribal people to Christianity.

On September 1, a tribal outfit attached to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announced it would not allow the Church to distribute grain. The BJP is the political arm of rightwing Hindu groups.

The government plan "is a conspiracy to make Jharkhand a Christian state and help the Congress party in the coming state assembly elections," said Ajay Tirkey, president of Kendriya Sarna Samiti, the central committee of tribal people who adhere to traditional beliefs.

The state, which is now directly ruled by the Indian president through the governor, is scheduled to elect its new legislative assembly soon. The BJP and the Congress party are the two main contending parties.

Tirkey threatened to seal off all grains storage centers if the government goes ahead with its plan. "It is ridiculous that the governor's adviser sought Cardinal Toppo's help" to distribute grain, he said.

According to him, the state has several NGOs involved in social service. "Why didn't the government ask any of them?" he remarked.

Pramod Jaiswal, spokesperson of the Hindu Jagran Manch (forum to awaken Hindus), says Sinha's visit to the cardinal's residence "is part of a long drawn-out conspiracy to proselytize the vulnerable tribal people of Jharkhand."

The government "is bent on helping the Church carry out its nefarious designs," but local people would neither allow the Church to distribute grain nor accept the grain it distributes, he told media persons in Ranchi on September 1.

Another Hindu leader, Mithilesh Narayan, claims the entire plan is to appease Sonia Gandhi, an Italian-born woman who heads the alliance that now rules the federal government. Gandhi, a baptized Catholic, is president of the Congress party, the main partner in the alliance.

Narayan, president of the state unit of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), says the Congress party wants to help the Church please Gandhi. The RSS is the umbrella body of radical Hindu groups.

Narayan said his organization suspects the Congress party wants to influence tribal Christians through Christian missioners, who have "a strong network in Jharkhand." Such a sectarian plan would be dangerous for local people, he charged.

Raghuwar Das, president of the BJP in the state, said the government should have sought help from other groups also instead of approaching only the Church.

Cardinal Toppo, however, says the allegations stems from jealousy. He asserted that the Church would not use grain distribution to entice people to convert to Christianity.

The cardinal noted that the Church has educated people for centuries and many Hindu leaders, including BJP president L K Advani, had studied in its schools. "Was he forced to convert to Christianity?" he asked, and added that "the allegation that the Church uses force, fraud or allurement to convert people stands nowhere."

He asserted that tribal people whom the Hindu groups describe as hapless and illiterate can easily distinguish between right and wrong.

Cardinal Toppo justified the government's move to seek Church help. "We have good infrastructure and network. So what is wrong if the government seeks our help, especially when the state is facing drought?"
 
   
   
  Church in Pakistan dissatisfied over slow prosecution of rioters
 
HYDERABAD (PAKISTAN), SEPTEMBER 2 (UCAN) -- Church leaders have expressed disappointment over the lack of progress in legal action against perpetrators of anti-Christian rioting in Punjab province.

"We are very much disappointed with the legal proceedings," said Archbishop Lawrence J. Saldanha, head of the Catholic Church in Pakistan. "A month has passed since the massacre and yet none of the accused has been punished. I am afraid the culprits will go scot-free and the case will be put in cold storage."

Christians in the Muslim-majority country are continuing to hold protest rallies and press conferences after 10 Catholics were killed in rioting in the Punjab city of Gojra and in the nearby village of Korian. A Muslim mob vandalised and looted 113 Christian houses and damaged four Protestant churches in these areas on July 30 and August 1.

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

Police have detained 103 Muslims for attacking the Christians. Hearings are taking place at a special anti-terrorism court in Faisalabad, which has turned down all bail applications to date.

On August 29, Catholic and Protestant Churches in Hyderabad jointly organized an iftar (evening meal breaking Muslims' daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan) program at St. Thomas Cathedral Church.

The event was attended by about 200 people including Muslim clerics, and Christian, Hindu and Bahai religious scholars.

In a seminar prior to the meal, entitled "Partners in Peace," both Muslim and Christian speakers condemned the recent anti-Christian incidents and abuse of blasphemy laws.

Allama Mohammad Abbas Komeli, a Muslim cleric, condemned the violence. "Religion is a personal matter," he told the audience. "Every person has a right to observe his religious doctrine or teachings. Nobody has the right to persecute another in the name of religion."

Badar Soomro, a Muslim university professor and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan member suggested theological studies of all religions be included in the university syllabus. "This will promote interreligious dialogue," he suggested.

According to Father John Murad, vicar general of Hyderabad diocese and one of the participants at the event, the Church is still waiting for justice. "The early development is very slow and none of the terrorists have been condemned. It is not a good sign and seems that the struggle against the blasphemy laws will be a long one," he later told UCA News.

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

According to data collected by the Catholic bishops' National Commission for Justice and Peace, at least 964 persons were charged under these laws from 1986 to August 2009. They include 479 Muslims, 119 Christians, 340 Ahmadis (a sect that many Muslims consider heretical) and 14 Hindus. Church leaders have long charged the laws are being abused for personal gain and to harass non-Muslims.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had hinted at a review of the blasphemy laws during his August 7 visit to a Christian colony in Gojra. "A committee... will discuss laws detrimental to religious harmony to sort out how they could be improved," Gilani had said. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who accompanied the prime minister, also called the recent incidents a "test case."

According to Archbishop Saldanha, "words alone" cannot guarantee the safety of Christians who constitute a tiny religious minority in the country.

"The Church initiated a signature campaign last month for the repeal of the blasphemy laws. We are expecting more than 200,000 signatures," he said. "We shall keep asking the authorities. However, it seems the government is under pressure from religious conservatives. It is a difficult situation and only God can help us."

Christians make up 1.6 per cent of Pakistan's 160 million people, 95 per cent of whom are Muslims.
 
   
   
  Catholics' visit to Hindu leader expected to boost relations
 
NEW DELHI, SEPTEMBER 2 (UCAN) -- Members of a Catholic delegation who called on an ailing Hindu religious leader recently say they expect their visit to help boost Christian-Hindu relations in their central India region.

On August 31, Bishop Joseph Pathalil of Udaipur led a four-member delegation to visit Mahant Murali Manohar Shastri, head of an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Krishna in the city.

Mahant Shastri broke his leg in a fall a month ago. Bishop Pathalil told UCA News that he conveyed to the octogenarian Hindu leader the Christian community's concern for his health.

Udaipur in Rajasthan state, known as the city of palaces, is a popular tourist destination. However, the city and surrounding areas have witnessed Hindu-Christian tension during the past few years.

Father Norbert Herman, director of Udaipur diocese's Dialogue and Communication Centre and part of the delegation, told UCA News that Mahant Shastri is a revered religious leader and a great promoter of interreligious understanding.

"He is considered the pope of Udaipur," the Divine Word priest said.

He said Mahant Shastri had always protested about attacks on Christians and in December 2008 joined a peace rally to protest against anti-Christian violence in the eastern state of Orissa.

"He walked the whole distance unmindful of his age and health," he recalled.

Bishop Pathalil said he expected the Catholic delegation's gesture to help give "a new direction to inter-religious dialogue" in the region and create a platform for all religious communities to address various issues.

"This is not the first time we are meeting with the seer, who is open to all religions and who is approachable," he said.

Mahant Shastri thanked the delegation for their visit and said he appreciated the gesture.

Others in the group were Father Thomas Remigius, principal of St. Paul's School and Sister Anita, provincial of the Prabhudasi Sisters of Ajmer.

 
   
   
  Protestant prelate's consecration sparks hopes for better
  MANGALORE, SEPTEMBER 1 (UCAN) -- A newly consecrated bishop of the Church of South India says his top priority is to promote ecumenical and interreligious harmony in the region.

"Strengthening ecumenical relations and fighting fundamentalism are my top priorities," said Bishop John Stephen Sadananda, who was installed bishop of the Protestant Church's Karnataka South diocese on August 28.

The diocese, based in Mangalore, covers eight civil districts of Karnataka state and one district each in neighboring Kerala and Tamil Nadu states.

Mangalore and surrounding districts in Karnataka witnessed increased violence against Christians after the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people's party) came to power in May 2008. From September 14-21 that year, Hindu radicals attacked at least 24 churches and prayer halls in the state.

The violence, most of which occurred in the Christian stronghold of Mangalore, had forced Christian denominations to work together.

Bishop Sadananda, who assumed duty on Aug. 31, told UCA News that for him ecumenism means harmony among all religions or cultures. "Jesus came not only for Christians," he said, and added that Christians, "as followers of Christ ... have to give a collective witness."

The bishop stated that real Christian ecumenism is possible only when "all denominations preach and witness the same Christ in the same way."

Bishop Sadananda said he has a "universal" outlook on Christianity, while acknowledging that different Churches preach different ways of following Christ. "I feel one with the Catholics," said the Protestant prelate who has spoken at several meetings organized by Catholics in the past.

Bishop Sadananda, a seminary professor who has encouraged common priestly training for all Christian denominations, said he opposes all sorts of religious extremism. "The only way to fight fundamentalism is to create space for other people in our philosophy and develop a give-and-take attitude," he stressed.

Several Catholics, including Bishop Aloysius Paul D'Souza of Mangalore, attended Bishop Sadananda's consecration.

"A new era has begun in Mangalore" said Bishop D'Souza, at a celebratory function later. He expressed hope that the new prelate would help improve relations between Catholics and Protestants by opening up new areas for cooperation.

Father Francis Rodrigues, editor of "Raknno" (guardian), a Catholic diocesan weekly, agreed that Bishop Sadananda is a popular proponent of ecumenism. The new bishop can foster harmony, not only among Christians, but also among other religious groups, the Mangalore diocesan priest told UCA News.

He noted that relations between local Catholic and Protestant seminaries "improved substantially" during Bishop Sadananda's tenure as principal of Mangalore-based Karnataka Theological College (KTC) from 1992 until the time of his episcopal appointment.

Bishop Sadananda, who turns 60 on September 24, was ordained a priest in 1969. He was serving as secretary of the Karnataka Christian Educational Society until recently.

Karnataka South diocese has about 35,000 members.
 
   
   
  Cleanliness drive to be relaunched as illnesses plague
 
THAMARASSERY (KERALA), SEPTEMBER 1 (UCAN) -- Few people responded when a southern Indian diocese launched a cleanliness drive last year. However, things changed this year after hundreds came down with various sicknesses.

With the onset of the monsoon season in June, ailments such as Chikungunya disease, viral fever, swine flu, dengue fever and leptospirosis, known as "rat fever," have rattled Thamarassery diocese that covers Kozhikode (formerly Calicut) district in Kerala state.

More than 20,000 people were reportedly affected in the district in July alone, with nearly 70 per cent of them hit by Chikungunya disease, a mosquito-induced illness characterized by fever, rashes and severe joint pains.

"The various forms of fever have paralyzed Church life in the diocese and many people were unable to go to work even after two months," says Bishop Paul Chittilappilly of Thamarassery.

The prelate told UCA News that the diocese will relaunch a campaign to educate its people about keeping their environment clean.

"Although the campaign started in 2008, it did not receive sufficient response from the laity," he said, adding that now people have realized the importance of a clean environment.

"We will give the campaign a new thrust after our people regain their health."

Since June, Chikungunya disease has "spread like wildfire and soon one or two members in every family became bedridden," the bishop noted. In some families, all members came down with the illness.

Layman Santhosh Kunnath welcomes the diocesan plan to relaunch the campaign. "The Church has to teach ... its people to keep their surroundings and common places free of garbage," he said. He added that people in Kerala are "very much conscious about personal hygiene but care little for social hygiene."

Jerish Kocheril, a Catholic youth, says he believes everyone will join the campaign now in the wake of the outbreak of illnesses.

Manoj Kumar, a Hindu and a Chikungunya victim, said he wants people to forget their religious differences and work together to clear mosquito breeding areas. "Otherwise, each monsoon will see our health and wealth being affected," warned Kumar, who is suffering from severe pains in his legs and joints.

On August 21, the diocese's 116 parishes observed a day of prayer for deliverance from sickness. People fasted, prayed special prayers and visited the Blessed Sacrament.

"Medicine could not remove the pain. So we decided to observe a prayer day to invoke God's grace for each family," Bishop Chittilappilly explained. "It was a call for spiritual resistance and all the parishes responded well."

He observed that most people started to attend church again toward the end of August, as they got better.

"Mass attendance was very low for the past two months," said Father Thomas Vattottutharappel, parish priest of St. Mary's Church in Marudonkara, where Chikungunya disease was first reported in the diocese. The church was full during the special day for prayer, the priest observed.

Father Jose Manimala Tharappil, pastor of St. Antony's Church Paroppady, said the fevers affected 90 per cent of his parish's 600 families. "No effective medicine was available ... so we resorted to prayer."
 
   
   
  18 years on, justice for Kamala Saikia still awaited
  Our Correspondent

Guwahati, September 1: Eighteen years after his murder, the family of slain journalist Kamala Saikia still waits for justice.

Saikia, the first martyr journalist of Assam, a freedom fighter and social activist, was killed by the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) militants in 1991.

Journalist Kamala Saikia Memorial Trust, formed in 2002, has been organising a memorial lecture on August 9 every year, with support from the Guwahati Press Club. The first lecture was delivered by The Herald of India editor A.J. Philip. This year, Editors Guild of India President Rajdeep Sardesai was invited to deliver the eighth memorial lecture.

On the occasion, the Trust submitted a memorandum, urging him to take up the matter with the Central Government.

On August 14, Sardesai met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi, and briefed him on the professional hazards mediapersons face in Assam, where more than 20 editors and journalists have lost their lives to anti-social activities during the last two decades. The Prime Minster, who represents Assam in the Rajya Sabha, assured him that the matter would be taken up with Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi.

"It is a matter of grave concern that the family of a journalist, who was killed for his critical writings against the banned outfit, has to wait so long for justice. Even today, his family and Assam's media community are unsure if they will see any justice soon," says JKSM Trust Secretary Deepjyoti Goswami.

The police submitted its final report on the case twice, without any conclusion as to who was responsible for the killing, citing insufficient evidence and witness. In 2008, Special Judge, Guwahati, ordered the reopening of the case, the progress of which is so far unknown.
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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