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  Buddhist Bhutan bans clergy from voting in elections
  By Vishal Arora

Officials in Buddhist-majority Bhutan have barred Hindu and Buddhist clergy from voting in upcoming elections in order to keep a clear distinction between religion and politics.

The landlocked Himalayan nation considers Mahayana Buddhism the state religion and funds a large monastic community, but also requires religion to be above politics.

The country's regulatory authority on religious organizations is now busy identifying Buddhist and Hindu clergy who should be barred from voting.

Phurpa Dorji, the senior coordinator for the eight-member chhoedey lhentshog regulatory body, said the list of religious figures who should be above politics was yet to be finalized. The members have met four times since April 2009, and more meetings are being planned.

Dorji said the ban existed in Bhutan's first democratic elections two years ago, but there was ambiguity at the time on who could vote and who could not.

The Bhutan Youth Development Fund, a non-profit group that sponsors monks who do not receive government assistance, estimates that almost 10 percent of the population is part of the monastic system.

Around 75 per cent of the less than 700,000 Bhutanese are Buddhist.

Another 22 per cent are Hindus, the only other officially recognized religion.

Since the 17th century, Bhutan has followed a dual system of governance, known as the Chhoe-sid-nyi, which splits the government powers into a religious branch headed by a chief abbot (known as Je Khenpo), and an administrative branch headed by the king (now headed by the prime minister).

Until now, the clergy had the right to vote. The Chhoe-sid-nyi is "unified in the person of" and upheld by the sacrosanct but impeachable king, who has to be a Buddhist, according to the 2008 constitution.

The constitution also mandates that parliament conclude all sessions with Buddhist prayers, and requires religious institutions and figures to promote the Buddhist spiritual heritage "while also ensuring that religion remains separate from politics in Bhutan."

Courtesy: Huffington Post
  Give grains to poor, not allow it to rot, campaigns Jesuit body
  A JESUIT action group has joined a union of farm laborers in demanding that West Bengal open its granaries to feed the hungry poor.

Some 3,000 laborers demonstrated before a government granary in the South 24 Parganas yesterday as part of the feed the hungry campaign, which ran from Sept 22-28.

The West Bengal farm laborers' union called Paschimbanga Khet Majoor Samiti and the Jesuit-run Udayani Social Action Forum helped organize the demonstration.

Media reports have said that grain, enough to feed some 100 million people, rot each year in inadequately maintained government warehouses.

This has sparked public outcry.

The Supreme Court of India on Aug. 12 ordered the government to distribute the food grain to the poor free of charge instead of allowing it to rot.

The government responded on Sept. 2 saying that such free distribution is not possible but that it would distribute 1.2 million tons of grain over the next six months.

Astobala Maiti, a leader of a women’s self-Help group, who came with 200 women to demonstrate, said they aim to pressure local government bodies to distribute grain to the poor.

The recent campaign was part of Udayani's Right to Food campaign, said its director, Jesuit Father Irudaya Jothi. The government has welfare schemes for poor people but "they seldom reach the needy," he said.

On Sept. 27, about 800 men and women, assisted by Udayani, demonstrated before the government granary in Burdwan district.

  'Maoism, Ayodhya force to work for peace'
  THE social disquiet in the country resulting from Maoism and religious fanaticism should be seen as an opportunity to work for a better society, says the national executive of Conference of Religious India.

"It is an opportunity" for Indians to assert the secular values of the Indian constitution and affirm "a society of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity" said the meeting.

The Sept. 24-26 meeting in Bangalore reflected on the ongoing conflicts in the country in relation to the Maoists violence, pending verdict on the ownership of disputed land in Ayodhya and the ongoing violence in Kashmir.

The Relgious said they were "pained to witness a systematic destabilization of these poor tribal people" happening because of Maoism.

It displaces them from their ancestral habitat, create an internal conflict among them and deprive them of any possible future and mislead their young people.

The Religious said they "are painfully aware of the sufferings of ordinary people in this conflict" and sympathized with them.

They also discussed about the long awaited court verdict on the ownership of the disputed land in Ayodya and the fears of disquiet it might generate.

The Ayodhya event has become "a symbolic event of hidden suspicion, deep division and subtle forms of hatred that we nurture towards our brothers and sisters who differ from us," they said.

The legal verdict should be an opportunity for India "to beat back the forces of violence and hatred, and build a harmonious India of unconditional love, mutual appreciation and unity of heart," they said.

Discussing violence in Kashmir, they expressed agony at the harm being done to the young minds by mislead leaders. They expressed solidarity with those affected by the closure of schools and sorry for displaced Hindus. They also sympathized with those people who have lost their livelihood because of destabilized tourism industry.

They noted religious divide as the root cause of the conflict and said the majority community in India has a lot to offer in creating a climate of trust and confidence.

Source: CRIB
  AICC doubts Karnataka probe commission
  THE commission probing the anti-Christian violence in Karnataka is seeking ways to help introduce anti-conversion law in the state, alleges All India Christian Council.

The one-man Justice B.K. Somasekhara Commission is "allegedly trying to find 10 to 15 weak cases and use them as a tool to strengthen the move to introduce anti-conversation bill in the state," the council said in its website.

The BJP-ruled state appointed the commission to look into all the issues related to the 2008 violence on Pastors, churches and Christians.

However, the commission is "seriously looking into hundreds of cases filed by anti-Christian elements" in the state, said the council.

As an example, it said a 

pastor named Gangadhar "has been suffering at the hands of the commission." The pastor is being called for questioning whenever a case is taken up, the council said.

"The same is happening to around 100 Pastors in the state," the council said adding that it has "taken up the issue with the higher officials."

The Karnataka government extended the term the commission for a ninth time early this month, giving it two months time till October end to complete the probe.

It had in February this year submitted to the government a 500-page interim report, which indicted Hindu radical groups for the attacks.

The commission set up in 2008 was asked to complete the task in six months, but got the term extended nine times with the last extension ending on October end.

The commission's officials told media the extensions became necessary because of the numerous complaints. The commission has received 1,019 petitions, said a report, quoting N. Vidyashankar, secretary of the commission.

Source: AICC
  Church welcomes Bhopal waste verdict
  By Saji Thomas, Bhopal

PROTESTS including that of priests and nuns have forced the government to stop a move to dispose toxic waste from the Bhopal gas tragedy site in their locality.

The federal government agreed not to incinerate the waste in Pithampur, at the outskirts of Indore in Madhya Pradesh state. This decision was made by the Group of empowered Ministers (GoM) that met in New Delhi on Sept. 27.

It is a welcome step, said Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal. "It is a great relief, especially for those residing in and around Indore," he said.

The government wanted to dispose of 346 tons of poisonous material from the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal.

The factory was the source of infamous Bhopal gas tragedy that happened on Dec. 2-3, 1984. Poisonous gas leak killed 5,295 people immediately and some 15,000 people within few months. Some 560,000 people were left partially or fully disabled.

Two Catholic priests, who spearheaded protests against disposal of waste at Pithampur, have also welcomed the decision.

One of them, Father Prasad Kuzhivelil, said he was happy about the resolution. But the state must ensure that waste should be chemically neutralized before disposal.

The Divine Word priest said waste from the pesticide factory can pollute water resources, farm lands and the entire environment.

He said they would organize awareness programs to protest if the government plans to dump the waste without neutralization.

Father George Payatikat, another protesting priest, agreed, saying the Church is "concerned about people's welfare." He added that they will oppose unsafe disposal of the waste.
  Omar promises govt help to rebuild Christian shools
  By Vishal Arora

CHIEF MINISTER Omar Abdullah has given his assurances that his government will help rebuild the Tyndale Biscoe and Mallinson School in Tangmarg, which was burnt to the ground in the attack on September 13.

The Rt Revd Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy, Bishop of the Amritsar Diocese of the Church of North India which runs the school, was among a group of Christians who met Mr Abdullah a few days after the burning.

He told Lapido: "We do not know what the assistance will be and when it will be provided, but the Chief Minister was kind to us."

All the 550 students at the private school 45km from the Jammu and Kashmir state capital, Srinagar, are Muslim and come from 150 villages in the predominantly Sunni Muslim area. Mr Abdullah's father, Farooq Abdullah, is president of the ruling Jammu and Kashmir National Conference party, and an alumnus of the main branch of the school in Srinagar. He is married to a British Christian.

The school's Principal, Parvez Samuel Kaul, explained: "We need to re-build the school in Tangmarg soon, but we do not have the funds.

"We were the first to start a school in Tangmarg in 1996. The government schools were established after we showed the way. The school has had the best results in Tangmarg every year."

Mr Kaul stated that whilst Christians in Kashmir were used to dealing with challenges, the school burning was the worst he'd been forced to face.

"There are only a few hundred Christians in the Kashmir Valley [the Muslim-majority region in India's northernmost state of Jammu and Kashmir], but they have had cordial relations with the Muslims," he said.

Mr Kaul recalled how the wooden structure of the school -- comprising 24 rooms, staff quarters, laboratories and a large auditorium -- was burnt to the ground in minutes.

While no one was hurt in the arson attack, at least five Muslim protesters were killed and over 50 injured as security personnel opened fire to control the mob. The mob also set fire to six government buildings.

The principal was distressed that the school was attacked even though the threat by an American pastor to burn the Quran to mark the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks had been withdrawn. Unlike other international channels which decided not to broadcast any coverage of the few scattered incidents involving anti-Muslim activists, Iran's Press TV channel repeatedly showed pictures of a different man destroying a Quran in Tennessee.

The government has now banned local cable operators from carrying Press TV. However, it is still available via internet services or direct broadcast satellites.

Lapido has learned that although local mosques played a role in mobilising local Muslims, the instigators were from secessionist and political groups.

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz, a Srinagar-based journalist, said: "The Quran burning issue was exploited as an excuse to cause unrest". Courtesy: Lapido Media
  Christians ask Manipur to compensate
  All India Christian Council has urged Manipur Chief Minister O Ibobi Singh to ensure freedom of faith to Christians and pay compensation to a church demolished in a village near Imphal.

Council leaders John Dayal and Reverend Madhu Chandra have met state officials and briefed them on the communal situation in the state as documented by the council.

"It is a great shame" that not only is a church demolished in the Chingmeiron Kabui village in Imphal, but also several obnoxious billboards have been allowed to be put up targeting Christians, they said in a statement.

These billboards violate the Indian Penal Code and spread communal hatred against the minority Christian groups, the leaders said.

Although the area comes within the Imphal municipal limits, some villagers are running the affairs in a feudal and illegal manner. Goaded by the village leadership, people raided the compound of a Christian and demolished the Church and damaged his house in December 2008.

They also imposed heavy penalty on the person and ordered him to leave the village. The family remains under threat and their house is stoned periodically.

The National Commission for Minorities recently summoned the State Chief Secretary to New Delhi on the complaints of the council.

They said the Minority Commission urged the State to compensate the Christian community but the state is refusing to pay damages.

"We demand of the chief minister that the State government pay the entire amount" of some 250,000 rupees to the Christian community, the other state governments compensate victims of communal violence and rebuild places.

The council has also asked the government to check human trafficking from the state and the northeast region.

The Council, which is working on this issue in several parts of the country, including Andhra Pradesh and New Delhi, has offered its expertise to the State authorities in this matter.

  Christians fearful as Hindu festival nears
  By Saji Thomas, Jabalpur

CHRISTIANS in a tribal district of Madhya Pradesh state say they are worried about their safety in the run-up to a major Hindu gathering on the banks of a river.

"We are worried about the security of the Christians" in Mandla district, Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur told

He said Christian families are under pressure from some Hindu groups to contribute toward a three-day religious gathering, called Narmada Kumbh, scheduled for February next year.

Some Hindu groups have jointly planned the event in which people take ritual baths in rivers, perceived to be holy, to wash away their sins.

Hundreds of thousands of Hindus are expected to attend such gatherings.

Some Church leaders said a major concern is that the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, which rules the state, is backing the religious program.

Bishop Almeida said he, along with a delegation of bishops, met state Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, to voice their concerns.

"The chief minister has assured us that no harm would be done to Christians, still the fear is on the rise as the program approaches," he said.

The bishop added that the Church "cannot do much other than apprise the administration about the situation. It is the duty of the state to ensure law and order."

Father George Thomas, who works in the area, said the situation "is quite tense" as people from "some unknown groups are camping and mobilizing support" for the religious program.
  Christians, Muslims wary of Hindu drive
  By Saji Thomas, Bhopal

A GROUP in Madhya Pradesh state has launched a campaign to recruit young people to protect Hinduism, a development which worries Christians and Muslims.

The newly formed "Bhagawa [translated as saffron] Brigade has put up posters across the major cities about its "Hindu Yoddha Bharti Abhiyan" or warrior recruitment drive.

The posters urge "young and energetic" Hindus to join the outfit.

It plans to recruit at least 10,000 young people at the start with the aim of protecting Hindu ideologies from getting "diluted," the organization's coordinator Rajesh Bidkar told

The outfit plans to fight the conversion of Hindus, terrorism, and Muslims marrying Hindus allegedly to convert them, Bidkar said.

Christian and Muslim leaders say the campaign, being organized openly in the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled state, would worsen the situation of minority religious followers.

Ever since the party came to power in December 2003, the state has witnessed several cases of violence against Muslims and Christians, the religious leaders say.

Divine Word Father Prasad Kuzhivelil said the new campaign would harm peace-building efforts.

Joshi Kurishungal, president of the Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh, an ecumenical forum of Christians, said the recruitment drive should be treated as a "law and order problem" and the administration should ensure that peace is maintained.

Christians must be "cautious of the harsh reality ahead" warned Daniel John, president of the state unit of the All India Catholic Union.

Mazood Ahammad Khan, a Muslim, said activities such as the new drive are aimed at opposing religious minorities such as Muslims and Christians.

The state should apply the law in this case, he said.
  Geelani meets a group of all-party delegation
  SRINAGAR: Hardline Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani on Monday met a small group of the all-party team after he refused to talk to the delegation from New Delhi that was led by Home Minister P. Chidambaram.

Five leaders, including Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Sitaram Yechury and Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen's Asaduddin Owaisi, met Geelani at his residence in the curfew-bound city.

T.R. Baalu of the DMK, Rattan Singh Ajnala of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Namanageshwara Rao of the Telegu Desam Party (TDP) were also present in the meeting with the separatist leader who is known to be spearheading the current wave of street protests in the Kashmir Valley.

The meeting assumes significance as Geelani had refused to meet the all-party delegation that is currently in Srinagar.

The details of the meeting were not available immediately.

Sources said two similar small groups are likely to meet moderate Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chairman Yasin Malik also.
  Christian medical schools to dismiss 'favored' students
  THE Kerala High Court has favored the dismissal of some 80 students from four Christian-managed medical schools in the state, saying they were admitted bypassing national regulations.

The court on Thursday gave a go-ahead to the Medical Council of India's (MCI) decision to dismiss 79 students, who didn't have 50 per cent marks in higher secondary, the qualifying examination.

Petitions were submitted by some students in the 2007-08 batch of MBBS course in the Jubilee Medical Mission College and Research Institute, Thrissur, Amala Institute of Medical Sciences, Thrissur, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church Medical College, Kolenchery, and Pushpagiri College of Dental Sciences, Tiruvalla, against the MCI decision to expel them.

The MCI regulations say students admitted for the basic medical degree should have secured at least 50 per cent marks in qualifying exams as well as the entrance test.

The students, who were admitted without such marks, challenged the regulation in the Supreme Court, when MCI sought their dismissal. The highest court directed the petition to the state court.

Media discussions alleged that these institutions admitted the students after taking unspecified amounts of money.

The state court said "consistency in the matter of application of regulations to higher education, including medical education, is a matter that is salutary."

Any dilution to that will adversely affect the fundamental needs of society for quality in health sector and would undermine the purpose of such regulation," the court observed.

The counsel for the petitioners contended that the students had obtained more than 50 per cent in the entrance for admissions in different institutions -- Christian Medical College, Ludhiana, and Karnataka Common Entrance Examinations for private colleges -- and, therefore, could be considered to be eligible along with those who had obtained 50 per cent marks in the entrance examinations conducted for self-financing colleges in Kerala.

"However, by any means, none of the petitioners had obtained 50 per cent marks in the entrance examinations," the court said.

"The judgment of the Supreme Court that the binding nature of the MCI regulation requiring 50 per cent marks in the entrance examination is beyond challenge," the court said.

Source: expressbuzz.
  Murder allegation a 'lie,' says Orissa prelate
  ARCHBISHOP Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar has angrily denied a politician's allegation that he plotted the murder of a Hindu religious leader in Orissa.

"It is a big flat lie. What can I do if people speak lies like this," the archbishop told

Ashok Sahu, vice-president of Orissa state's pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, accused the archbishop along with Catholic lay leader John Dayal and one Radhakant Nayak of planning the murder of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, in a recent website blog.

The Hindu leader's murder on Aug. 23, 2008 sparked anti-Christian riots in Orissa state's tribal dominated district of Kandhamal.

"There is strong suspicion" that Dayal and the archbishop along with Nayak "conspired to eliminate" the swami, Sahu wrote in the blog published by Uday

"All three of them" left Bhubaneswar on Aug. 22, 2008, the day before Swami Saraswati was gunned down, he wrote.

"It's simply not true," Archbishop Cheenath said in response to the allegation.

"I was in Kerala for the death anniversary of my brother when the incident happened."

Sahu, a former police officer said Saraswati was the "main obstacle" to a planned "conversion spree" in Kandhamal.

Sahu contested parliamentary elections in Kandhamal in 2009 but lost. He was arrested on April 14 that year for an alleged hate speech during the campaign in which he blamed Christians for killing the swami.

Swami Saraswati, founder of a monastery in nearby Jalespate, was killed by suspected Maoists.

Hindu fanatics are accused of blaming the crime on Christians to orchestrate the anti-Christian violence that killed about 90 people and displaced more than 50,000.

  Colombo cathedral enforces dress code
  By reporter, Colombo

PRIESTS at St Lucia's Cathedral in Colombo are insisting that young women cover their heads while at Mass.

The move is part of a drive to have church-goers dress appropriately during religious ceremonies.

Many Catholics have complained that church-goers in Colombo turn up for services in short skirts, halter tops, low cut blouses and shorts.

In a recent Sunday homily, Father John Paul Vinoth, an assistant parish priest at the cathedral, said that modest dressing would help create an atmosphere that is more "conducive to a spiritual experience."

Appropriate dress in church is as important as flowers, decorations and incense in creating the right setting, he said. "It is essentially preparing a devotee for coming to church," Father Vinoth added.

Meanwhile, the administrator of the Madhu Marian shrine has also appealed to pilgrims to dress modestly.

"Modest dress is beginning to disappear," said Father Anthony Victor Sosai, who is also vicar general of Mannar diocese.

The shrine follows traditional Catholic norms and customs on dress, Father Sosai said, noting that Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim places of worship have enforced a strict dress code for centuries.

Laypeople have also expressed concern over declining dress standards.

"Who is going stop these abuses in churches?" asked Lawrance Gonsalvaz Coonghe, a senior Catholic reporter.
  Indian youths 'make noise' against poverty
  By Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

CATHOLIC youths in India have joined a global campaign to fight poverty and accelerate progress toward achieving the UN-declared Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Members of Youth Activ8, a Church-run NGO of young people, joined college students on Sept. 18 to "make noise" about poverty in India.

They whistled, hooted and used hand-drums in malls and market places, attracting the attention of the crowds before shouting out short messages on the need to fight poverty.

They were taking part in a Sept. 17-19 campaign that urged people across the world to "stand up, take action, make noise" for the MDGs.

The young people also presented a street play depicting the sufferings of the poor and the insensitivity of the rich toward them. They also distributed T-shirts and caps with a campaign message written on them.

One of the UN MDGs is to end poverty by 2015.

The campaign is set just prior to world leaders' Sept. 20-22 review summit of the MDGs at the UN.

Youth Activ8, part of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India's nation-wide youth organization, led the recent campaign in New Delhi.

The group's effort will help some 30 million Indians living below the poverty line, John, a campaign coordinator, told

Bhavya George, a member, said she has not done "big things" to fight poverty. But sparing some time and doing something for the poor will make a difference, she said.

Jashleen Kaur, another activist, said she wanted more such initiatives.

The World Bank estimates 42 per cent of some 1 billion Indians live below the poverty line, getting by on less than US$1.25 a day.
  Another church attacked in Pakistan
  By reporter, Karachi

A PENTECOSTAL church in Karachi has been attacked and vandalized by militants still angry over a threat to burn Qurans in the United States earlier this month.

Nine copies of the Bible, three hymn books and three wooden crosses were found burnt on Sept. 18 at the Nasri Pentecostal Church in Shah Latif Town, Karachi.

The area is home to about 120 Christian families.

A dholki or hand-held drum used in gospel music was also found damaged.

"The church gates were open and the locks broken. The attackers broke open a cupboard and vandalized religious items at around midnight," said Pastor Peter Shahzad.

He was speaking to after a Sept. 19 Sunday service in which he urged the government to punish the culprits under the country's blasphemy laws.

Pastor Shahzad later led his congregation to a protest rally at the Karachi Press Club, a popular venue for demonstrations.

It was the second church attack within a week as countrywide protests continue against American Pastor Terry Jones, who withdrew his threat to burn copies of the Islamic holy book on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

A Lutheran church was attacked with grenades on Sept. 12 in Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

"Muslims want the US government to hand Jones over to them. There are many people poorly educated in Islamic teachings that are still causing tension," said Father Thomas Gulfam, general secretary of the Heralds of Peace, an interreligious group.

Father Aftab James Paul, director of Faisalabad diocese's Commission for Interfaith Dialogue, said more attacks were likely.

"It makes no difference whether the perpetrators of recent church attacks are arrested or not, nothing will happen. There may be more attacks," he said.
  World meet pledges to protect Christian families
  AN international meeting supporting Christian families concluded in Goa with a resolution to fight initiatives that promote alternative models to Christian marriages.

The resolution came at the conclusion of the XI World Assembly of Families and the XV General Assembly of International Confederation of Christian Family Movements (ICCM). An estimated 150 delegates attended from Africa, North and South America and Europe apart from Asian nations.

The conference Sept. 10-14 also expressed concerns over increased efforts at eliminating the concept of Christian marriage. The meeting held in the state capital of Panaji discussed the challenges to the family in the emerging global reality.

The meeting vowed to protect Christian marriages worldwide at political and social levels, apart from protecting the right to live.

The conclave declared that though the Christian family Movement was in the formation stage for many years, it is now accepted by church authorities in several nations.

The meeting featured presentations on emerging trends in the Sacrament of Matrimony in Europe and Latin America, as well as reports from Asia.

Reports from Sri Lanka said the Christian Family Movement's "biggest achievement" was the abolition of a proposed bill initiated by a Catholic minister, which sought to legalize abortion.

Father Sunil Gunanardana, director of Family Apostolate in Sri Lanka, said mixed marriages with Muslims and Buddhists continue to challenge Christians as their children are not baptized.

Meanwhile, in Singapore, the marriage rate is declining despite government incentives due to social issues and the high cost of living, the report added.

In Thailand, Catholic-Buddhist couples attend Mass together and some of these couples are the church's biggest donors.

On the other hand, The Philippines group claimed that their biggest achievement was collaborating with national movements to ensure fair elections.

Gary and Kay Aitchison from United States were elected as the new ICCM presidential couple for the next three years. The next ICCM general assembly is scheduled in 2013 in Columbia.

  Muslims step in to repair damaged Punjab church
  By Christopher Joseph, New Delhi

IN a rare gesture of religious co-existence, a group of Muslims repainted and repaired the church attacked in Punjab amid rumors of Quran desecration in the United States.

"The Muslim community themselves c
ame and whitewashed the church, repairing everything that was burned," says an official of the Catholic Church in Punjab.

The group also replaced the doors, ceiling fans and bought new benches for the church, according to Father Peter Kavumpuram, public relations officer of Jalandhar diocese.

The Protestant Church of North India in Malerkotla was attacked Sunday night following reports of desecration of the Quran in the US on Sept. 11, marking the ninth anniversary of terrorist attacks in New York.

"Some 150 'hooligans' opened the church, collected all the pews and burned them completely," said Father Kavumpuram.

The priest commended the town administration for doing a good job in controlling the mob, securing the church and protecting Christians all over Punjab.

On Tuesday Catholic Father Maria Selva Dass also organized a prayer service in the same church with Muslim leaders present, Father Kavumpuram added.

He reported that three policemen were injured in the attack and the department's motorcycle's were burned. One police man was injured as he collected Bibles to save them from being burned.

Police have registered cases against five people who allegedly sent short messages on mobile phones to gather the attackers near a mosque.

The priest said that the Church is doubting as to whether the act was done by the Muslims. "Are there some political motives behind it? That is the question," he asked.

Malerkotla, the only Muslim majority town in the Sikh majority state, has a rare history of religious co-existence. While the whole of northern India witnessed hysterical Hindu-Muslim riots following the partition of India in 1947, no Muslim was attacked in Malerkotla, according to history books.

Moreover, records show that Sikhs in the region protected Muslims as a sign of respect for the Muslim king of erstwhile principality Malerkotla, who protected a Sikh guru against assassination attempts by religious fanatics.
  Indian diocese joins state plan to fight TB
  By C.J. Varghese, Kurnool

AN Indian diocese has joined the government in a program to fight tuberculosis, which kills some 1,000 people daily in the country.

The Kurnool diocesan social service wing trained some 40 volunteers on Sept. 13 to be part of the Directly Observed Treatment program that aims to eradicate TB.

The Andhra Pradesh state government hopes to train hundreds of such volunteers in villages, said Naga Prasad Babu, the medical officer overseeing the program in the Kurnool area.

The program is needed, he said, as patients in villages often stop taking their medicine when they feel better. This often results in a relapse of the disease.

In the Directly Observed Treatment method, volunteers in the neighborhood administer medication to patients till the treatment is completed.

"So this is a guaranteed method of cure" with the patient's neighbors taking on the responsibility of eradicating the disease, Babu explained.

Volunteers who attended the recent training workshop "are leaders" and the purpose of the program was "to eradicate TB from our neighborhood," Father Joseph Kochuparampil, who directs the diocesan social service organization, told participants.

An infected person, if not treated, can infect some 20 people in a year, said state TB Control Coordinator V. Goutham Ambedkar.

"The poor and the weak are more vulnerable to TB," said Sreenivasa Rao, the region's medical officer, during the workshop. Some 5,000 people get infected with TB in India daily and "some 1,000, people, including children, die every day," he said.

The Directly Observed Treatment is "easy... with a guaranteed cure," said one participant, Teresian Carmelite Sister Alda. The nun said she plans to "organize a good group of volunteers" in her locality.
  Priests slam Indian college's dismissal of professor
  By Mathew Philip, Bangalore, and Emmanuel Pathrose, Indore

CATHOLIC priests are among those criticizing a Church-run college for dismissing a professor, months after extremists cut off his hand for allegedly making insulting references to Prophet Muhammad.

"It is the most un-Christian and inhuman action taken against the professor by the Church," said Father Varghese Alengaden, national coordinator of the Universal Solidarity Movement Indore, Madhya Pradesh.

Professor T. J. Joseph was dismissed from Newman College Sept. 4, for the allegedly derogatory remarks in an exam paper. The dismissal came two months after Islamic extremists chopped off his right hand for the alleged incident.

In a circular read out in parishes last Sunday, Kothamangalam diocese in Kerala, which manages the college, justified the dismissal, saying Joseph deliberately set a question to malign the reputation of the Church and the institution.

Father Alengaden, however, questioned the diocesan position. "Is there a sin that cannot be forgiven and is this what Jesus taught us and asked to do?" he asked.

He suggested that Church leaders in Kerala "do not have the spine to face the fanatics" and the suspension was "a move to appease the fundamentalists."

The dismissal attacks "the freedom of thought and expression, the very foundation on which universities and colleges are premised," Jesuit Father Ambrose Pinto, principal of Saint Joseph's College in Bangalore, wrote in the Deccan Herald English daily on Sept. 9.

Another who criticized the decision was Sister Tessa, general councilor of education of her Carmelite Sisters of St. Teresa congregation.

The dismissal is "shocking," she told, adding that the professor "hasn't done any unpardonable sin against anyone."

P.N. Benjamin, a member of the Karnataka Minority Commission said the dismissal was "inhuman" and the Church seems to be trying to "please some radicals."
  South Asia still paying for Quran threat
  By Ritu Sharma, Priscilla Pinto in India and reporter in Pakistan

CATHOLICS in India and Pakistan have been hit by violence as tension continues in the wake of last week's threatened burning of the Quran in the United States.

Schools and churches have been destroyed or damaged in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir states in India and in Kyber-Pakhtunkhwa province in northern Pakistan.

Violent mobs of Muslims torched a Christian school in Kashmir's Tangmarg on Sept. 13 after an Iranian television channel reported that the Quran was torn in several parts of the US.

Angry mobs of Muslims also attacked a Church in Malerkotla town of Punjab state forcing police to clamp curfew in the only Muslim-dominated town in the western Indian Punjab state.

"It is a tense situation in areas, especially in places like Gurudaspur, Amirtsar and Jalandhar where sizable number of Christians live," say Father Peter Kavumpuram.

The priest, public relation officer of Jalandhar diocese, told today that Christian and Muslim leaders have joined in pacifying their people.

The attack on the colonial-era church owned by the Protestant Church of North India has infuriated Christians in several pockets, creating tension, Father Kavumpuram said.

Malerkotla, which is "99 per cent a Muslim town," has only one church and Christians must be less than 100 families, he added.

Christian leaders across India have condemned the attack on the church as well as the threatened desecration of Quran.

In neighboring Pakistan, Christians have linked a blast at a Lutheran church in Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to the threats of burning the Quran.

A grenade attack on the night of Sept. 12 ripped off the lower half of the front gate of Sarhadi Lutheran Church. Two police guards and a watchman on duty were injured.

The church and a school inside its compound have been closed since the attack.

"It was a very strong blast and was heard throughout the city. A window of the Church building was also damaged. We are now conducting meetings with police officials for providing better security," Church of Pakistan Bishop Peter Majeed told

Anti-American demonstrations were held around the country as Pakistani news channels highlighted the news last week.

Thousands burnt their television sets on Sept. 13 as a protest in Nowshera, northern province, after a local imam (prayer leader) urged Muslims to do so.

"Burn everything invented by foreign hands. We shall defeat the plans of Satan," said Maulvi Sardar Ali Hqani.

The incident occurred about two kilometers away from Holy Name Catholic Church.

"Christians in the vicinity have fled the area. The protest diminished at midnight. Police has also warned us to be careful. We can stop people, but can't stop a possible rocket attack," said Father Amir Yaqub, the parish priest, quoting the security officers.

"People here don't calm down only until there is a loss of life and property," he told
  Church people hail nun's 'ashram life'
  CHURCH leaders have hailed a Catholic nun's life and work in the Hindu temple town of Rishikesh as a shining example of evangelization in India.

Sister Vandana, whom Hindus affectionately called Mataji (mother), "was a great evangelist as she chose to live among orthodox Hindus in the foothills of the Himalayas," said Bishop Thomas Dabre of Poona.

He was speaking at the release of a 12 hymn CD on the nun composed in Hindi on Sept. 12. The release was to mark her 86th birthday today.

The nun was born a Zoroastrian and became a Catholic at the age of 20 while studying at Sophia College, Mumbai, run by the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus congregation. She later became the congregation's provincial in India.

She is now bedridden with Alzheimer's disease.

She was brought to Pune for medical care in 2004 from the Jeveen Dhara Ashram or life flowing monastery that she founded in the late 1970s in the foothills of the Himalayas.

She was unable to attend the thanksgiving Holy Mass at the Church on Sept. 12.

Sister Vandana is among the leaders of Indian Ashram movement that began in the 1970s and inspired by the renewal of Second Vatican Council.

What inspired me was her "way of life among the Hindu religious leaders and ascetics" and her "heart-rending bhajans [hymns] she composed to spread the message of Christ," said Bishop Dabre.

Sister Vandana was an ardent promoter of Indian culture and spirituality in the Church, said Sister Pratibha, the congregation’s present provincial in India.

Anand Modak, a Hindu musician and a consultant to publish the CD, said Sister Vandana's compositions have "a rare devotional sweetness, showcasing her sweet surrender to the Lord."

  Catholics angry at letter blaming exam professor
  By reporter, Kochi

CATHOLICS are angry with a diocese there for dismissing a professor.

Police have arrested seven people in Kerala during a protest against a Church circular justifying the dismissal of a college lecturer for allegedly insulting Islam in an exam question paper.

Church officials are enacting and "endorsing Taliban justice practiced by Islamic fanatics," Felix J Pullooden, general secretary of the Joint Christian Council, said.

The arrests came after 300 members of the Council, an ecumenical lay organization, marched to the residence of Bishop George Punnakottil of Kothamangalam on Sept. 11 to protest the prelate's letter.

The Church's letter and reaction has "shocked" Catholics, said Pullooden.

The circular which was read in all the diocese's 116 churches during Sunday Mass said Professor T. J. Joseph of Newman College deliberately set a question to malign the reputation of the Church and institution.

The Catholic diocese-run college dismissed Professor Joseph on Sept. 4, two months after Muslim hardliners chopped off his hand for allegedly making insulting references against Prophet Mohammed.

The college management suspended Professor Joseph after the question paper controversy erupted in March.

Following the controversy, the college "was accused of being an accomplice in hurting the religious feelings of the Muslim community," the bishop's letter said. "So management had to take a decision to distance itself from the lecturer's act," it added.

The lecturer "never admitted" his mistake or apologized for the "grave crime," the letter pointed out.

The dismissal of Professor Joseph has caused a public outcry against the college.

Mahatma Gandhi University, under which the college functions, had directed management to reinstate the professor. But the college has yet to back down.

Professor Joseph said the Church circular was "unfortunate" because he has apologized to the college management. He did not do anything to "deliberately" insult Islam, he said adding that he will seek justice in the courts.
  Bishops disagree with standard priest pay plan
  By Saji Thomas, Bhopal

CATHOLIC bishops in Madhya Pradesh have disagreed with proposals to introduce standardised procedures for the transfer and remuneration of cash-strapped priests across the state.

The regional bishops' council has decided to leave these issues in the hands of individual bishops, council chairman Archbishop Leo Cornelio told today.

The regional priests' conference in its Aug. 5-6 meeting had sought for a standard policy on the transfer of priests, as well as for their maintenance allowance and other benefits.

It also wanted a clergy personnel board for more effective mission work especially in remote areas.

But bishops from the state's nine dioceses have failed to reach common ground to find a standard policy.

"We cannot have standard policies for priests as bishops have autonomy in running their own dioceses," Archbishop Cornelio said.

Rather than uniformity, each bishop will deal with his own priests," he said.

The bishops have to consider the "financial health of each diocese" but they agreed to meet all priests in their respective diocese to address these issues, the archbishop said.

He said he was "in total agreement" with the priests' demands for better facilities.

However, some priests requesting anonymity expressed disappointment at the bishops' decision.

Their "allowances" decided years ago have become "paltry" as the cost of living has spiraled, they told

Individually, the bishops already know the issues but do not want to act upon them, they said.

Several priests manage to get money through different sources to fulfill their basic requirements.

Some priests are demanding to be able to do part-time jobs in the event their dioceses are unable to pay them an adequate living, they said.

Priests will meet with their bishops before deciding any course of action, said Father Francis Scaria, president of the regional priests' conference. "We hope the bishops respond effectively," he said.
  South Asian fears linger despite Quran reprieve
  THE "suspension" of a Quran burning event by a small Florida Church was welcomed by Christians in South Asia yesterday but anger at the man who made the threat and concerns over a Muslim backlash still run high.

Terry Jones, the pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center initially cancelled the plan to mark the anniversary of the 9/ll attacks in the US on Sept 9.

He later said the burnings were suspended because he was "lied" to over a deal to move an Islamic center in New York.

"Jones is a deranged person who single handedly disrupted struggles for world peace. He needs a psychiatrist," said Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, who is the national director of Pakistan's Catholic bishops' National Commission for Justice and Peace NCJP.

He was speaking at a Sept. 9 demonstration at the press club in Lahore, which was part of a countrywide protest by Christians in Pakistan.

"An angry majority can target us... Our lives are at risk," said Aslam Pervaiz, president of the Catholic Social Services in Pakistan.

In India's Madhya Pradesh state, security for Christian churches was stepped up, despite news of the suspension of the plan.
Pakistani Christians protesting the plan to burn Qurans.

The "administration has decided to step up security around Christian worship places," inspector general of police A. K. Soni said.

The security measures come in the wake of a threat to destroy a church belonging to the Church of North India in Bhopal, the state capital.

The government "will do everything possible to ensure peace and harmony in the state," the police chief said.

In Bangladesh, Christians expressed relief at the suspension of the Quran burning event but attacked Jones for making the threat.

"Every religion teaches people goodness. But there are some who don't get the real teaching and turn into extremists. All of them need to be stopped and punished," said Sergeant Amol Gomes, a Catholic in the Rapid Action Battalion, Bangladesh's special national security force.

"Terry Jones is also an extremist and needs to be punished for it," he added.

In Nepal yesterday, Poor Servant Brother Rakesh Rai said he had only just heard the event had been suspended. "I'm greatly relieved,' he said.

"We had new Christian converts wondering how an educated pastor could call for such a thing. It would have given the wrong impression that Christianity is an intolerant religion," he said.

  College slammed for dismissing attacked professor
  MAHATMA GANDHI University has criticized the Church-run Newman College in Kerala for 'illegally' dismissing a lecturer, two months after Muslim extremists cut off his hand.

The Syndicate, the top decision making body of the university, on Thursday said the college should "rethink" the decision, reported

"The college failed to follow procedures" in dismissing lecturer T. J. Joseph. It should "rethink about his ouster," said the Syndicate according to the report.

The college run by Kerala's powerful Syro-Malabar Church dismissed Joseph from his job on Sept. 4 for insulting Islam in a question paper he prepared.

The dismissal came when Joseph was still in hospital after Muslim fanatics chopped off his hand for the alleged derogatory remarks against Prophet Mohammed. Police has arrested more than 20 people for attacking the professor.

Father Thomas Malekudy, college manager, said last week that the senior Malayalam lecturer was removed from service following an in-house inquiry.

The college said that Joseph had hurt religious sentiments of Muslims and irreparably damaged the reputation of the Church and the college by preparing the question paper.

Soon after the question paper controversy erupted in last March, the management had suspended Joseph from service pending an inquiry.

The professor's sister Maria Stella, a Catholic nun in Kerala, said that the university's decision was a victory for his brother's family.

  HIV-affected to serve others in like situation
  A GROUP of Catholic nuns in Andhra Pradesh has trained people living with HIV/AIDS to work among families affected by the dreaded condition.

The Sept. 9 program in Kurnool conducted by the nuns of Deena Sevana Sabha (translated as "sisters working for the poor"), trained 32 people to work among some 2,000 families.

"This is the first-ever venture of its kind," said project director Sister Deepti Kochuparampil.

There are some 3,700 children in the families being served, she said. Some of these children “are already infected and others live with a high risk of infection."

One advantage of having people living with HIV/AIDS serve others in a similar situation is that the volunteers would be more readily accepted, said program coordinator Sister P.I. Saranga. "So rapport building becomes easy," she said.

However, there are still areas that volunteers should be sensitive to, Varalaxmi Reddy, an expert on HIV-affected families, told the trainees, most of them widows or young wives.

People living with HIV/AIDS would never admit their situation and those working among such families should respect the "affected, win their confidence and identify the patients by their signs and symptoms," Reddy said.

During the program, experts explained how to provide care and prevent children from getting infected by other family members.

Ratna Rao, a 25-year-old trainee, said her husband died of AIDS and her child is also infected. "Thanks to this program, I can help myself and others."

K. Nirmala, another trainee, said she contemplated suicide when she, her two children and husband tested positive for the virus.

"The thought of my children kept me alive," she said adding that when everyone in society despised her, "these sisters counted me as one of them."

  Security to MP churches stepped up
  MADHYA PRADESH state government has stepped up security for Christian churches despite news of the suspension of a plan to burn Quran in Florida.

The "administration has decided to step up security around Christian worship places," inspector general of police A. K. Soni said.

Reports said worldwide condemnation forced the tiny Dove World Outreach Centre in Florida to put on hold its controversial plan to burn Quran on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attack in New York.

However security continued to be concern for Christians in Madhya Pradesh. The police have collected the details of churches in their attempt to provide security, said Father Francis Scaria, a priest of Bhopal archdiocese.

He said the police have also given special telephone numbers to contact them in case they sense trouble or see suspicious movements in their area.

Officer Soni said the government "will do everything possible to ensure peace and harmony in the state."

The security measures come in the wake of a threat to destroy a church belonging to the Church of North India in Bhopal, the state capital.

Pastor of the threatened Bethlehem Church Sanjay Solomon told that four police personnel are guarding the church since Sept. 2. The parishioners are also "keeping vigil," he said.

  Christian student numbers rising in Bangladesh
  By Raphael Palma, Dhaka

THE number of Bangladeshi Christian students entering higher education both at home and abroad has risen sharply thanks to support from Church authorities and Church-oriented organizations.

Despite coming from poor families, hundreds of students are enrolled in various institutions in Bangladesh and overseas.

One year ago Milton Costa, 26, left Bangladesh to study for an MBA at a university in London.

"I had a long cherished dream to study abroad to build a better future for myself and my family," he said.

Costa comes from a poor Catholic family from Borni parish in Rajshahi diocese. His father once worked as a cook in Dhaka and is now a poor farmer. His parents are semi-literate.

The much-needed funds which allowed Costa to secure a university place and a visa for the UK came through a higher education loan from the Christian Co-operative Credit Union Limited (CCCUL), a Church-oriented financial institution.

Founded by late American Holy Cross missioner Father Charles J. Young in 1953, the CCCUL is the largest credit union in the country.

"We introduced higher education loans ranging from 50,000 to 300,000 taka (US$ 720-4,300) with affordable repayment conditions in 1986," said Dipak Peris, a CCCUL board member.

So far CCCUL has helped 294 Christian students to study overseas.

Uzzol Paul Costa, 25, is waiting for a visa to go and study in London.

His financial support comes through family and friends, but another Christian organization is helping him overcome various official hurdles.

"There's a lot of paperwork and official red-tape to wade through which complicates things," Costa said.

Achievers International, a Christian student visa processing agency is assisting him.

Jyoti F. Gomes, director of Caritas Bangladesh's Formal Education Program said the Church is also supporting more poor Christians at home too.

"Eight hundred ethnic indigenous students from grade six-10 from different areas are receiving financial support to achieve formal education through Education Support Program funded by Caritas Japan," he said.

The competition for places in Bangladesh universities is fierce with hundreds of thousands competing for only 34,000 places. As a result, many students from poor families miss out.
  BJP MLA sentenced to six years' jail term in Kandhamal case
  SITTING BJP MLA Manoj Pradhan was on Thursday sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for six years by a fast track court for a murder during the 2008 communal riots in Orissa's Kandhamal district.

Fast track court-II judge C.R. Das convicted Pradhan for the murder of Bikram Nayak from Budedipada of Tiangia village under Raikia police station limits on August 26, 2008. He was convicted under section 304 (punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the IPC.

The judge also slapped a fine of Rs. 15,500 on the convict, representing the communally sensitive G Udayagiri assembly constituency, for setting ablaze houses of people belonging to the minority community and inciting communal violence.

Though Pradhan's name was initially not in the FIR filed at Raikia police station, his involvement in the killing came to light during the investigation.

At least 12 cases were registered against Pradhan for his alleged involvement in the riots in Kandhamal which claimed at least 38 lives in the aftermath of the killing of VHP leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati.

Of the 12 cases, Pradhan has been convicted in two murder cases and acquitted in seven others relating to arson and rioting. Three more cases are pending against him.

Pradhan was a close disciple of Saraswati, whose killing on August 23, 2008, had sparked off large-scale violence in Kandhamal and other parts of Orissa.

Pradhan said he would move a higher court against the sentence.

This was the second case in which Pradhan, arrested from Berhampur in December 2008, has been convicted.
  Christians condemn Pakistan militant attacks
  CHURCH workers have condemned an armed attack on a lay Catholic in Karachi, saying that militants have now broadened their targets to include ordinary citizens.

Asghar Bhatti, 61, was shot on Sept. 6 evening in front of St. Paul's Church where he serves as president of the church committee.

"We were waiting in the car for our daughter-in-law who was practicing for a performance for the feast of the Blessed Mother's birth when a taxi stopped behind our car and three bearded men emerged," Surraiya Asghar, Bhatti's wife, told

"They knocked at our window and failing to open the door, they shot him. We are still confused as to whether they wanted to take the vehicle or kill him."

Bhatti underwent a two-hour operation on his left shoulder and is presently in hospital.

A dead body was found that same night in a street a few kilometers from the church building, opposite the excise and taxation office.

Father Saleh Diego, pastor of St. Paul's Church, has condemned the violence.

"Militants want to spread fear and disrupt law and order in a city where targeted killings have become an almost daily routine," said the priest, who is director of the Catholic bishops' National Commission for Justice and Peace.

"Until recently, victims were political party workers but now ordinary citizens are no longer safe."

The violence shows the corruption within the political system, says Riaz Nawab, a Caritas worker.

"Opposing political parties have become blind in their pursuit of power and control," he said. "All of them have their own strongholds in the metropolitan area and are engaged in settling scores. The Church urges peace but is helpless amid the failed security situation."

  Obama calls Koran-burning a "stunt" that will harm Americans
  WASHINGTON -- President Obama sharply criticized a Florida pastor's plan to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, calling it a "stunt" that threatens the lives of American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and violates American principles of religious tolerance.

"If he's listening, I just hope he understands that what he's proposing to do is completely contrary to our values as Americans," Mr. Obama said in an interview that aired on ABC's Good Morning America Thursday, referring to Terry Jones, a pastor from Gainesville, Fla.

"As a practical matter, as commander in chief of the armed forces of the United States, I just want him to understand that this stunt that he is pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women in uniform who are in Iraq, who are in Afghanistan."

Mr. Obama said that the Koran burning would be a "recruitment bonanza for Al Qaeda" and other terrorist groups looking for people willing to "blow themselves up" in American or European cities.

Mr. Obama is the strongest voice so far among a long list of prominent political and religious leaders who have condemned Mr. Jones's plan. General David Petraeus, the American commander in Afghanistan, earlier this week said that the burning would put American troops there directly in harm's way, a warning echoed by the F.B.I., which has said that Islamic extremists would likely retaliate.

The reaction in the Muslim world, many Islamic experts said, could be as bad as, or perhaps even worse than, the reaction after a Danish newspaper published a cartoon in 2005 depicting the prophet Mohammad with his turban turning into a bomb. The cartoon ignited huge protests around the Muslim world. The United States stayed largely out of that, with riots and burnings directed toward Danish and European entities. But a burning of the Koran -- Islam's most sacred text -- in Florida would unleash that anger directly at the United States, Muslim scholars warned.

The pastor, who heads the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville has said he is still praying about his plan, but has not indicated any willingness to back down so far. He has also said that he won't be responsible for any deaths that may occur as a result of his church's actions.

"He says he's someone who is motivated by his faith," Mr. Obama said. "I hope he listens to those better angels and understands that this is a destructive act that he's engaging in." (Courtesy: The New York Times)
  Late Spanish missioner who served in Andhra nominated for a Nobel
  A LATE Spanish missioner, who had worked for villagers, has been nominated for the Nobel peace prize.

Vincent Ferrer was nominated by the Spanish government for promoting avenues for employment and triggering land development on a massive scale in Andhra Pradesh state.

The former Jesuit founded the Rural Development Trust (RDT) in the southern state in 1969. He died at the age of 89 on June 19, 2009.

His widow, Anne, told that the European Journalists Union gave a presentation in Oslo University, Norway, on Ferrer's work in the RDT.

The Spanish government decided to nominate her late husband for the Nobel peace prize, she said.

The news has been greeted with jubilation by those he served.

This "is good news to us dalit people", says Nirmala Devi.

Dalit are former untouchables in the caste system.

Ferrer "worked day and night for us and he is our God always," Devi said.

Ferrer arrived in Mumbai in 1952 and became a Jesuit priest in 1956. He left the society in 1969, but "not the poor, particularly dalit people," said Bishop Moses Doraboina Prakasam of Nellore.

He built thousands of homes for the majority dalit people as well as bridges, schools, health centers and hospitals for them, triggering a social change.

His work for dalit people was "genuine" and it is something the international community should "recognize" said Jesuit Father John Bosco, secretary of the regional bishops' office for dalit and tribal people.

As Ferrer is now deceased, some people feel his organization may be eligible to receive the award.

However, others have noted that the Nobel Foundation altered its statutes in 1974 to discourage the giving of posthumous awards.

  Catholics don saffron for Marian feast
  SOME Catholics preparing for the feast of the Blessed Mother's birth in Calcutta archdiocese are donning saffron clothing, following an age-old Indian tradition.

This practice originated from Catholics who migrated from Tamil Nadu state in southern India but now local people are also following it, Church people say.

Alexander Anthony said he has been wearing saffron clothing on the nine days preceding the Sept. 8 feast ever since childhood.

The saffron color "is not particular to any religion but part of the Indian culture, signifying solemnity and renunciation," said the general secretary of the Catholic Association of Bengal, who is in his early 40s.

His mother, Vailankanni, said she picked up the practice from her family who lived in Tamil Nadu's Vailankanni area, where the popular Basilica of Our Lady of Vailankanni is located.

The practice is a form of prayer "to Our Lady for healing of sickness or brokenness," said Father Francis Alphonse, parish priest of St. Ignatius Church in Kidderpore.

"This is part of inculturation," he said.

His parish is the second largest in the archdiocese with 9,000 people, more than 80 per cent of whom are migrants from Tamil Nadu.

A Calcutta archdiocesan priest, who requested anonymity, said only "a minority group" wears saffron clothes for the Marian feast.

He said he wants the practice stopped as the color is associated with Hinduism. Catholics should not using Hindu traditions and symbols in their spiritual practices, he added.

  Newborn 'sacrifice' prompts priest appeal for girls
  A CATHOLIC priest in Gujarat has appealed religious leaders to help people protect girl children following the news of a father scarifying his own newborn girl to propitiate family deity.

"Religious leaders, be it Christian, Muslim, Hindu or others," must provide their followers "with the necessary attitude and courage to save and celebrate the girl child," says Jesuit right activist Father Cedric Prakash.

His appeal came after news reports said police on Sept. 7 arrested a man in Gujarat for scarifying his newborn girl to propitiate his family deity.

Reports said Narottam Devipujak, a vegetable vender in a slum near Gandhidham, had vowed that he would offer a male goat to his family deity if a son was born to him, but would sacrifice the child, if a girl was born.

On Sept. 2, a day after the child was born, he took the sleeping child and threw her in a gutter close to the temple of the deity.

"This is surely not a one-off incident to highlight the negative attitude that exists in society towards the girl child," said the e-mail appeal of the priest based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's commercial capital.

He said child sex ratio in Gujarat is 883 for 1000 males against the national ratio of 920 for 1000 and the news "did raise alarm bells in the state."

He said despite efforts, social attitude continues to be against girl children with many families preferring boys. In Hindu religious practice, a son is preferred to do the last rites of a man. While sons inherit family wealth, girls are considered a burden because they need to be married off with dowry.

"Discrimination of the girl child often stems from so-called religious sanctions," Father Prakash said, asking religious leaders to make efforts to check the negative trend.

He also noted that Catholics world over observe Sept. 8 as the Nativity of the Virgin Mary and "because of this the Catholic Church in India has also deemed it important to celebrate it as the 'girl-child day."

Source: reported by Christopher Joseph
  Indian church faces threat over Quran burning
  By Saji Thomas, Bhopal

CHRISTIANS have sought protection for a church in Madhya Pradesh state after an anonymous letter threatened to blast it if a US Evangelical group went ahead with its plan to burn Qurans.

The threat came as the Dove World Outreach Center in Florida reportedly confirmed its plans to host the controversial event on Sept. 11 to mark the ninth anniversary of terror attacks in the United States.

The letter posted on Aug. 31 threatened to blast the Church of North India's 53-year-old Bethlehem Church situated in Bhopal, the state capital.

The church's pastor Reverend Sanjay Solomon told on Sept. 8 that the letter said it would hold the church "responsible" if a Quran was burned.

"Don't treat it as a mere threat," it said according to the priest.

He said church authorities "immediately approached" the police for protection who have strengthen their presence in the area, the pastor said.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal, who heads the Catholic Church in the state, said anonymous letters are normally a "ploy" to create sectarian discord.

He said he will talk to leaders of the Muslim community to avoid confusion. He had already met Muslim leaders in the city soon after media first reported about the Quran burning plan early last month.

The archbishop said Christian groups condemn the plan because burning a Holy Book "is a serious crime that cannot be pardoned."

Mazood Ahammad Khan, secretary of the co-ordination committee for Indian Muslims said the Quran burning plan "is a matter of serious concern for all of us and such an idea must be nipped in the bud."
  Poor Indian Christians 'tangled in red tape'
  By Priscilla Pinto, Pune

A CHURCH leader has urged the Indian government to help more poor Christians benefit from state welfare schemes by simplifying bureaucratic regulations.

Cumbersome procedures and time-consuming paper work have prevented many poor Christians from utilizing federal and state government schemes, ranging from loans for education to income generating programs, said Bishop Thomas Dabre of Poona.

The prelate was speaking at program organized by the Christian Legal Association in Pune on Sep. 5, titled Empowering the Poor Christians

He noted that the federal government has a series of education and employment programs for religious minorities such as Muslims and Christians.

The Church wants dalit Christians, former "untouchables" in the caste system who converted to Christianity, to be given their quotas of places in schools and government jobs on par with their Hindu counterparts, he said.

"We will approach the Maharashtra state government to simplify procedures," he said,

The Christian Legal Association "will now urge the government to accept letters of recommendation from the bishop" so that poor Christians can utilize government loans as well as grants, said its president, Vijayan Bhaskaran.

The Catholic lawyer told that his association is planning a rally on Oct. 1, under diocesan leadership, to stress Christians' demands.

Vijayan Bhaskaran, Catholic lawyer and president of Christian Legal Association, told UCA News, Sep. 6 that some people, who became Christians, could not benefit from the schemes because they could not produce certificates proving their religion before conversion.
  Police catch prank caller in Orissa flashpoint
  By Ajay Singh, Bhubaneswar

POLICE believe they have arrested the man responsible for making telephone calls threatening to kill managers of a Hindu monastery in a village that was the flashpoint for the 2008 anti-Christian violence.

Armed police have been deployed to keep the peace while a special investigation team tries to get to the bottom of the matter.

The murder of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, founder of the monastry in Jalespate village, by Maoists in August 2008 sparked the violence against Christians across the state that killed some 100 people and displaced more than 50,000.

It has just been revealed that police on Aug. 21 arrested two disciples of Laxmanananda Saraswati, former employees of the residential school, for making the threats.

The calls, reportedly made in mid-August, demanded the managers to run the monastery and its adjoining school "properly" or face "the fate" of Laxmanananda Saraswati.

Paul Pradhan, a Christian tribal leader in the area, said tensions had risen after reports of the calls were made public. He said Christians fear another another backlash.

"Christians have already suffered too much through no fault of theirs," Pradhan said recalling that Christians were attacked despite Maoists claiming responsibility for gunning down Laxmanananda Saraswati.

The government should take strict action against people "who spread rumors and hate, as well as those who use these to create enmity and cause violence," he said.

The investigator, Abhimanyu Nayak, described the incident as a "mischief call". He said there was no sectarian motive.

Swarupananda Patro, president of Orissa Minority Forum, said "there was panic among the minorities (Christians) following the threat calls. There is huge sense of relief as the conspiracy came to the light," he said.

Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak of Berhampur told Sept. 4 that the arrest has "averted yet another tragedy."

He wanted the state to "look beyond the disgruntlements and rivalries" among followers of Saraswati to ensure that "Christian community do not fall prey to fanatic designs."
  Quran-burning is "un-American", says US
  THE Obama administration has said the decision by a Florida Pastor to burn the holy Quran on September 11 is "un-American" and warned that such actions could endanger US' interests in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Hoping that the Florida Pastor would not commit the act which he had announced, State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said the US is aware of the adverse implication this would have on Americans overseas civilians, diplomats and military.

"We think that these are provocative acts, they are disrespectful, they're intolerant, they're divisive, and we're conscious that a number of voices have come out and rejected what this pastor and this community have proposed.

We would like to see more Americans stand up and say that this is inconsistent with our American values. In fact, these actions themselves are un-American," Crowley said.

"The pastor says that he's contemplating these actions to combat radicalism. In fact, these actions, if they take place -- we hope they don't -- will actually feed radicalism," he said.

At the same time, Crowley said, people around the world need to also understand that America is not represented by one pastor or his 50 followers.

"We are a nation of 300 million people. The vast majority of Americans are standing up this week and saying that these contemplative actions are inappropriate, they're abhorrent, and this should not happen," he said.

General David Petraeus, Commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has said that such as act potentially put soldiers at risk.

"For any American who is travelling, any diplomat in posts around the world, these actions, whatever their motivation, potentially put American interest and American lives at risk," Crowley said.

"This is a divisive potential act of disrespect of one of the world’s great religions. And while we support -- and those of us are who are constitutionally charged to defend our freedoms, including freedom of expression, this is an action that has potential serious ramifications.

It is a statement of intolerance that we believe is contrary to our values and how we conduct ourselves day in and day out here in the United States of America," he said.

Arguing that burning the Holy Quran is inconsistent with the values of religious tolerance and religious freedom that are innate to Americans, he said there are far better ways to commemorate 9/11 and the religious bigotry that that event represents than to commit yet another act of what he would consider to be religious radicalism.
  Kerala diocese goes digital for its birthday
  A KERALA diocese has computerized the records of its entire 107 parishes as part of its silver jubilee celebration.

With computers installed in every parish, the Thamarassery diocese wants to harness "the advantages of digital age in parish administration," says Father James Kuzhimattam, the head of the diocesan communication department.

Philip Nedumpuram, a teacher in the diocesem told that the computerization has made it much easier to obtain certificates or parish information.

Father Kurian Thannicakal, the assistant vicar of St. Antony's Forane parish, which numbers 800 families, agreed.

"We no longer need to scan dusty old registers to find the details of a parish member. We just enter his name and we can obtain all the information, including the person's blood group," the priest said.

"With the click of a mouse I can find out who are all celebrating their birthday, wedding anniversary on a specific day in my parish," Father Thannicakal enthused.

"Previously if we wanted to issue a marriage certificate, we had to thumb through all the pages of the register," he explained.

Father Kuzhimattom said that all priests in the diocese had taken part in two training sessions and a third one is being planned.

In the near future all the parishes will be connected through the internet, he said.

Father Jose Manimala Tharappel, an elderly priest, said he finds "nothing wrong" with computers but the "old system" of books was more stable.

"Now, if the computer fails, everything has to wait until it is repaired," he warned.

Thamarassery diocese was created on April 28, 1986 from the Tellicherry diocese.
  Thousands brave rain to honor Mother Teresa
  By Julian Das, Kolkata

THOUSANDS braved the rain and shared their memories of Mother Teresa during two events held in Kolkata to commemorate the revered nun's death.

Mother Teresa "bestrode the century like a colossus," said her biographer Nawin Chawla, during a Sept. 4 symposium held at the Assembly of God Church.

Chawla, who was former chief election commissioner of India, said he was privileged to be "in Mother Teresa's shadow" and do whatever he could to aid her mission to the poor during the time she was alive.

Chawla was one of several speakers, including two Hindus, who spoke on the eve of the 13th anniversary of Mother Teresa's death.

Some 800 people including about 300 Missionaries of Charity sisters, members of the congregation Mother Teresa founded, attended the symposium.

Barry O'Brien, a West Bengal Legislative Assembly member, described Mother Teresa as a person with a wonderful sense of humor, while Jesuit provincial Father George Pattery described her tireless efforts in crossing borders, searching for God in the poor and the suffering.

Some 3,000 people braved the rain the next day to attend a Mass in her honor at St. Xavier's College.

Mother Teresa was a great teacher, said Archbishop Lucas Sirkar of Calcutta, who led the Mass, together with Bishop Cyprian Monis of Asansol and Bishop Joseph Surin Gomes of Krishnagar.

Blessed Teresa was born Gonxha Bojaxhiu on Aug. 26, 1910, in what is now Macedonia. She came to Kolkata in 1929, at the age of 19, to become a Loreto nun. She later left that congregation and started her own Missionaries of Charity congregation to work for the "poorest of the poor" in Kolkata's slums.

She died at the age of 87 and was buried in the city.
  Church college sacks Islam-attack teacher
  By reporter, Kochi

KERALA professor whose hand was cut off by Muslim extremists after he allegedly insulted Islam in an exam paper question said he would take legal action after he was terminated by his employer.

The management of the Catholic church-run Newman College in Thodupuzha dismissed Professor T. J. Joseph on Sept. 4.

The college had earlier suspended Joseph, a professor of Malayalam, on March 25 for preparing a question paper that allegedly contained insulting references to the Prophet Muhammad.

"It's like frying me after chopping me," Professor Joseph told

"I have expressed my unconditional apology to the management, students and people about what happened. I have also forgiven the attackers," he added.

Professor Joseph said that he would fight the decision in court.

The college management, however, said that the mere tendering of an apology was insufficient to undo the damage Professor Joseph's action had caused to the community and the institution.

"Hence, we are constrained to terminate his services," manager of the college Father Thomas Melekkudy said.

Father Paul Thelakkat, spokesperson for the local Syro-Malabar church, said that the church would be considerate towards Professor Joseph.

However, this does not mean "we can leave his act against the Muslim community unpunished," Father Thelakkat insisted.

Meanwhile, several local organizations, including the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), condemned the dismissal of Professor Joseph and demanded his immediate reinstatement.

Social activist Swami Agnivesh described the decision by the college as "a shame".

Thodupuzha, the commercial center of Idukki district, witnessed angry protests by various Muslim organizations in March when the question paper outcry first broke out.

Joseph was arrested and granted bail over the incident in April.
  'More work needed to implement education policy'
  MORE efforts are needed to implement a pro-poor education policy that Indian bishops released three years ago, say Church educators.

Thirty-six delegates from across India, during a recent meeting in Hyderabad, evaluated the implementation of the All India Catholic Education Policy that the bishops released in 2007.

The document stressed that "all Catholics are admitted to our schools on the essential merit that they are Catholics" and that no Catholic child should be deprived of quality education because of lack of means.

Delegates, during their Aug. 26-29 meeting, sought ways to better implement the policy in Catholic schools across India.

"Though all the [Church] regions are keenly implementing the policy, the workshop decided to accelerate the implementation in a scientific manner," said a participant.

Delegates said they wanted "scientific and accurate reports" from regions presenting the achievements and challenges in implementing the policy.

They suggested that the bishops' Commission for Education and Culture, which organized the meeting, together with regional teams organize awareness programs on policy implementation.

An action plan to advance the implementation of the policy was also released during the meeting.

The Catholic Church runs more than 20,000 educational institutions serving more than 10 million students in the country.

Most schools, about 59 per cent, operate in villages and serve poor, rural people.

  Catholic priest quits to act in movie
  A CATHOLIC priest in Kerala has quit his clerical position after he faced objections from his Syro-Malanakara Church for acting in a Malayalam film released recently.

Johnson Karoor, 36, who acted in 'Nirakkazhcha' (waves of colour) directed by debutant Anish J. Karnad, claimed that he left the priesthood on his own to assert his creative freedom.

"It was my own decision to go out. I have been thinking about it for a long time before taking the decision," Karoor told news agency PTI over phone.

Karoor acted in a near-villain role, named Jackson, as a friend of the hero, played by Italian actor Vincenzo Bocciarelli.

Karoor said he plans to act in more films and had already been cast in the next film 'Criminal Love' by the same director. Another film-maker had also approached him, he said.

Karoor admitted that he quit priesthood because he could not do justice to it while acting. "I am now trying to pursue my education and acting," he said.

Anish, the director, said his film had got an Italian distributor who would release the film with subtitles in 600 theatres in that country.

It was shown in the Maratea film festival in Italy last month.

Source: PTI/NDTV
  Social workers learn about food rights
  By Julian Das, Kolkata

RELIGIOUS and social workers met recently to discuss how to help poor villagers fight for their "right to food," as guaranteed in various government schemes.

Many villagers do not know their rights and thus are unable to demand them from the administration, said Holy Cross of Chavanod Sister Gracy Sundar, one of 40 Religious and lay participants at a two-day workshop that ended on Sept. 1.

The Justice, Peace and Development Commission of the Catholic Bishop's Conference of India (CBCI) organised the event in Konchowki on the outskirts of Kolkata.

The workshop highlighted the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the Right to Information Act as means of claiming entitlements for the poor.

Eleven members from the Jesuit Udayani (awakening) Social Action Forum, from six districts of West Bengal state, also participated in the workshop.

West Bengal villagers, mostly illiterate people, are unaware of government schemes for their welfare, said Udayani director Jesuit Father Irudaya Jothi.

His organization will train youths, self-help groups, farmers and women groups on their entitlements and help them to claim these benefits from the government, he said.

The Justice, Peace and Development Commission has been advocating the rights-based approach for claiming benefits under at least eight schemes, said commission secretary, Capuchin Father Nithiya Sagayam.

The organization has conducted over 700 workshops in the past four years on people's right to food, said the priest, who is also secretary of the Office of Human Development of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences.
  Prelate requests new Bhopal victims survey
  By Saji Thomas, Bhopal

THE archbishop of Bhopal has asked for a new survey to identify all survivors of the 1984 gas tragedy, a day after the Supreme Court decided to reopen the case on the disaster.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal made the appeal on Sept. 1, saying such a survey would help ensure safe rehabilitation and proper medical care of victims.

His call came after the Supreme Court on Aug. 31 agreed to review the case following a government petition seeking harsher punishment against Union Carbide Corporation officials.

The tragedy of Dec. 3, 1984 occurred when 40 tons of poisonous gas leaked out of the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, capital of Madhya Pradesh.

The disaster has since claimed more than 25,000 lives. Some 550,000 people are engaged in legal battles for justice.

The top court's decision to review the case may lead to the quashing of its own 1996 verdict. The court said officials caused death through negligence, but did not charge them with culpable homicide.

Based on that verdict, a lower court in June this year gave a two-year jail term to seven Union Carbide employees, in the first ever conviction in the case after 25 years.

Though media analysts said the review may lead to harsher punishment, Archbishop Cornelio said the issues before the Church is not punishment, but people's suffering.

"We need a proper record of all the surviving victims," he told

Nearly 75 per cent of victims have already died without getting proper medical care. "Now let us think of helping those remaining instead of playing politics," he said.

The survivors "need proper housing, medical care, food, clothing and care," he said, adding that the state should not waste time in "lengthy legal battles."

The prelate also offered the Church's help and expertise in conducting a fresh survey.
  Leaders blast 'cowardly' Lahore attack on Shias
  By reporter, Lahore

CHURCH leaders in Pakistan have condemned the triple bombings at a Shia religious ceremony in Lahore, which killed 35 and injured more than 200.

Such an act, committed as "thousands of flood victims await international support [is] cowardly," said Archbishop Lawrence J. Saldanha of Lahore.

The prelate was speaking in the wake of two suicide bombings and one grenade attack on Shias marking the martyrdom of Prophet Ali, one of Shia Islam's most respected holy men, yesterday.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-Alami, a banned Taliban movement, has claimed responsibility. "Our purpose was to avenge the murder of one of our leaders murdered a year ago," says Qari Husain, the movement's leader.

"Police were removing the barriers toward the end of the religious procession when the first hand grenade was thrown," said Tajamul Abbas, an observer.

"Meanwhile two other explosions occurred at nearby crossroads."

In a separate incident yesterday, seven people were injured in Karachi when unidentified militants opened fire on Shia Muslims.

"It is unbelievable that terrorism continues at a time when people should desperately help and share all available resources," said Father Saleh Diego, diocesan director of the Catholic Bishop's National Commission for Justice and Peace.

"There is a remote threat to foreign Caritas workers presently visiting flood-hit areas. The situation here is like Afghanistan as extremists do not allow Christian influence and foreign aid to flood victims."
  Clergy meets Muslims to condemn Quran burning
  By Konradus Epa, Jakarta

CONCERNED religious leaders and the head of Indonesia's hard-line Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) have met to condemn plans by a Florida-based church group to burn Qurans later this month.

Sacred Heart Bishop Petrus Canisius Mandagi of Amboina and Bishop Johannes Pujasumarta of Bandung, from the Indonesian Bishops' Conference (KWI) met FPI chairman Habib Rizieq Shihab and 30 other of the group's official at the KWI's offices in Jakarta.

Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI) chairman Reverend Andreas A. Yewangoe and several Buddhist, Confucian and Hindu leaders also attended the one-hour meeting.

During the discussion, the leaders of each religious organization read out statements denouncing the Dove World Outreach Center's plan to burn Qur'ans on Sept. 11 to mark the 2001 terrorist attacks in the USA.

"We are deeply hurt by this group's plan to harm a religious symbol which is highly respected by Islam. We strongly denounce the plan and any similar action committed by any party elsewhere," the KWI statement said.

Reverend Yewangoe read out a letter the PGI had written to President Barack Obama.

"We are very worried, because the plan threatens relations between Christians and Muslims in various parts of the world and will stir hatred among Muslims against Christian congregations," it said.

Shihab said he welcomed the support from the KWI and PGI and thanked them for meeting him.

"This is an opportunity for us to build dialogue. The FPI appreciates this since it has done much to maintain harmony among religious communities, especially between Muslim and Christians in Indonesia," he said.

He also called on Muslims in Indonesia not to overreact to the Qur'an burning plan.

"There must be no burning of holy books of any religion. This is what we want to make clear," he said.
  Kerala Church shocked by sex allegations
  By reporter, Kochi

KERALA'S Syro-Malabar Church has been rocked by the release of a controversial book which accuses its clergy of a range of misdemeanours and abuses. An official has responded by describing the book as "an all-out attempt to malign the Church."

"Here Is The Heart Of The Priest", the autobiography of Shibu Kalaparamban, a former member of the Church's Vincentian congregation, was officially launched on September 2.

It alleges that Catholic priests and nuns have broken the vows of chastity and engaged in sexual sins including homosexuality, child abuse and illicit relations. The author narrates confessions he has heard, to substantiate his allegations.

Kalaparamban, who was a priest for 13 years, told that "homosexuality and blue films have become part of religious life."

"I have read the book and feel very sorry about what is written. It is unfortunate," said Father Paul Thelakat, spokesperson for the Syro-Malabar Church, who went on to say that the book "finds only perversions in the Church."

Father Thelakat also alleges that the Papal seminary in Pune, where the former priest was trained, advised his superiors not to ordain him but they did so out of compassion.

"It is a pity he was a priest throughout these years and he has heard confessions and given spiritual guidance. He has simply betrayed the trust of the faithful, divulging even confessional secrets to the public," said Father Thelakat said.

Kalapramban, who now lives in Qatar and was suspended when he left Kerala without permission, claimed that he wrote the book only after "detailed thought and discussions."

A similar controversy broke out in Kerala in 2009, when the autobiography of former nun Jesme alleged a prevalence of sexual abuse and lesbianism in Catholic convents.
  'Medical' nuns move into India's villages
  A GROUP of nuns, who have been trained to work in big hospitals, say they have found even more fulfillment serving poor Hindu villagers.

The Medical Mission Sisters' work in villages started in 1980 when three nuns from the south came to Selud village in central India and lived with a Hindu family.
Later the sisters bought a plot of land and built a cottage in the village.

"We felt our big hospitals don't serve the poor," says Sister Augustine, who has been working in the village for the last 10 years.

The nuns, who work among tribal people, former "untouchables" of the caste system and other underprivileged groups, have formed 135 self-help groups for women and farmers in 56 villages.

The villagers are able to manage the groups and "we can now move to other places," said another nun, Sister Annu Thomas.

The congregation owned nine major hospitals in India, but gave up the ownership and management of six of them. "Many of our sisters are now working in villages," said Sister Thomas.

After 30 years of "experimentation," the sisters have found that their mission is "rewarding," said one nun, Sister Theramma.

The idea for the village mission arose after the congregation in 1967 "rediscovered" their original charism "to be the active presence of Christ, the healer."

The nuns also work with other groups such as the Indian Network of Action Groups, the Delhi-based National Alliance of Women's Organization, the Catholic Health Association of India and the Raipur archdiocesan social work center.

The nuns, who began to wear the sari in 1967, are also among the first Religious in India to wear secular dress.

  Sri Lanka outrage at 'Hindu' sacrifices
  RELIGIOUS leaders and activists are up in arms at what they call the ritual slaughter of hundreds of animals at a temple where Hindus and Buddhists often worship together.

Hindu devotees sacrificed some 300 goats and hundreds more chickens on Aug. 25 at the popular Sri Badrakali Amman Kovil temple in Munneswaram, a farming village some 75 kilometers north of Colombo.

Many parents had taken their children to the temple to receive blessings and witnessed the slaughter, they said.

An appeal by monks to police and local authorities to end the killing fell on deaf ears, they said.

Demonstrators then attempted to march on the temple, but were stopped by police blocking the road.

"We urged the authorities to stop the illegal slaughter," said Venerable Haddigalle Wimalasara Thero.

"Buddhist-Hindu co-existence has been firm for years and Hindu culture doesn't accept this slaughter of animals," he said.

It seems there's been an underground business going on for some time where animals are sold to devotees for sacrifice at the temple, he said.

Many of the dead animals were later eaten at a large feast.

"Not only does Hindu culture condemn such slaughter of animals, our religion also rejects eating the meat," All Ceylon Hindu Congress leader Viswanathar Kailasapillai told

Catholics from neighboring villages were criticized for attending the feast.

They said they didn't want to cause offense by turning down an invitation to the feast.

"They attended as a gesture of respect and co-existence," said Oblate Father Jayanthan Pachchek. "But they are not expected to eat anything offered to any other deity," he said.

  Goa Church silent on island sale to hotel chain
  GOA and Daman archdiocese is staying tight-lipped over allegations that it collaborated with state officials to sell an island to a luxury hotel chain without consulting its inhabitants.

Maggie Silveira, lead campaigner against the alleged deal, claims seven cabinet ministers were behind the sale.

She also alleges a liquor baron has also shown interest in Vanxim Island, home to 55 families and a parish church.

Silveira along with several organizations supporting the campaign say Vanxim was sold for a "pittance."

They say they urged the Church in mid-August to scrap the deal to safeguard residents' interests.

Archdiocese spokesperson Father Francis Caldeira refused to comment.

The archdiocese "will issue a statement at the right time," he told on Aug. 23, a week after the controversy hit the headlines. It was still refusing to clarify the issue as of Aug. 31.

Vanxim was originally given to a group of Religious from Santa Monica convent in Old Goa during the Portuguese colonial period some 450 years ago. Families later took up residence on the island claiming to be tenants of the Church.

"I signed some papers in front of several government officials without understanding their contents", said Ermilinda Maitryes Fernandes.

The elderly woman refused to believe she would be evicted from her home. "We have faith in our priests," she said.

The archdiocese sold Vanxim because people "were grabbing property without showing any interest in buying it from the Church," said Manuel Furtado.

Father Victor Rodrigues, in-charge of Church property in the archdiocese has refused to speak to

However, local media reported him saying the Church had not sold any land.

Unoccupied land owned by the Church "has not been sold to anyone," he was quoted as saying.

  Mangalore Christians urged to face crises with unity
  LEADERS of Churches in coastal Karnataka region have stressed the importance of strengthening Christian unity two years after Hindu extremists attacked Christians in the state.

"Christian unity is a necessity for two reasons -- for our positive growth together and for a united defense in times of crisis," said Syro-Malabar Bishop Lawrence Mukkuzhy of Belthangady.

The prelate, convener of the newly formed Karnataka United Christian Forum for Human Rights in the region, was speaking to some 50 leaders of major Churches in the region on Aug. 31 in Mangalore.

The ecumenical meeting in the coastal region was the first of its kind after the forum was established in June 2009. The state-wide forum plans to have such such zonal forums for effective working.

Hindu extremists launched attacks on Christians and their institutions in September 2008. The Hindus alleged that some Christian leaflets had contained derogatory remarks about Hinduism and its gods.

Christians should "avoid any aggressiveness in the process of our sharing of the faith," Jesuit Father Ronnie Prabhu, secretary of the Karnataka Regional Commission for Ecumenism and Dialogue, warned meeting participants.

However, others felt some good had come out of the tragedy.

The attacks "have become blessings in disguise and brought us together," said Bishop Aloysius Paul D'Souza of Mangalore.

The anti-Christian violence occurred three months after the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in the state.

Christian leaders say sporadic violence and anti-Christian comments from politicians still continue.

The Karnataka United Christian Forum for Human Rights says it plans to set up seven "zones" in the state for better networking.

  Kim Jong-il visits church but 'remains hardline'
  By reporter, Jilin, and Paul Hwang, Seoul

A WHISTLE-STOP visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to a church in China is not a sign the secretive communist regime's stance towards religion is softening, South Korean Catholics say.

Kim visited a Catholic church in Jilin in northeastern China during his Aug. 26-30 trip to the country.

The church visit immediately sparked speculation North Korea might relax its rigid stance towards Catholicism and other religions.

"It could be some kind of message related toward religion including Catholicism," the Hankyoreh daily quoted an anonymous government official saying.

But Church people in South Korea were quick to dismiss such speculation.

It goes too far to say his visit has a hidden message, Father Baptist John Kim Hun-il told on Sept. 1

"It seems the visit was just part of his trip," the Korean Bishop's Conference official added.

"North Korea has not given any sign of improving its relationship not only with the Catholic Church but with other religions in South Korea."

Peter Park Chang-ho, secretary of Seoul Archdiocese's Korea Reconciliation Committee agreed.

"It's all guess work. His Church visit was a part of a personal 'pilgrimage," he said.

During this trip, Kim visited several places where his father and predecessor Kim Il-sung had stayed.

Church sources in Jilin told that Father Nicholas Liu Wenhui, the parish priest, escorted Kim around the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church on Aug. 26.

Kim only spent five minutes in the church but told the priest that his father had once stayed there during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45), they said.

Built in 1926, the Gothic church on the northern bank of the Songhua River was a former Jilin diocese cathedral.

It was declared a historical monument by the Jilin provincial government in 1999.
  Theologian Raimon Panikkar is no more
  PROFESSOR Raimon Panikkar, the world-renowned theologian of Indian origin, died in his home in Spain, Aug. 26. He was 91.

Panikkar, son of Indian Hindu father and a Spanish Catholic mother, is known for his theological scholarship in the areas of comparative religion and inter-religious dialogue.

His death was announced On a website dedicated to him

He was born Raimon Panikkar Alemany in Barcelona in 1918. He was ordained priest in 1946 in Rome. Stayed in Europe until 1955 and traveled to India for the first time in his life.

In 1958 he obtained a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Madrid, with a thesis entitled: Ontonomía of science. On the meaning of science and its relations with Philosophy, published in 1961.

He defended his doctoral thesis in theology at the Lateran University in Rome in 1961 with the title: The Unknown Christ of Hinduism.

Panikkar taught and lived in the United States from 1966-1987. In 1966 he was appointed professor at the Harvard Divinity School for twenty years and combined his time between India and the U.S.

In India he researched at the University of Mysore and at the Benaras Hindu University of Varanasi. These studies led to specialization in Indian Culture, history and Philosophy of Religions.

His thinking is a meeting point between East and West. His work is deep, equipped with richness of language and approaches to a multidimensional characteristic that distinguishes him from his detractors, said his biography on the website.

Panikkar said once on his life: "I left Europe [for India] as a Christian, I discovered I was a Hindu and returned as a Buddhist without ever having ceased to be a Christian."

  Catholics boycotted for ignoring Hindu practice
THE refusal of Catholics to follow Hindu practices in a village in Karnataka state has resulted in sanctions against them, says a bishop.

Following a cholera outbreak recently, Hindus in Magalawada village decided to appease a deity by not working on Tuesdays and Fridays, said Bishop Derek Fernandes of Karwar.

Local media reported that Christians refused to follow this practice after a parish priest told them not to do so.

The Hindu villagers are now boycotting Catholic-run businesses and newspaper distribution to Catholic homes has been stopped, said the bishop.

Hindus have stopped repairing Catholics' agricultural equipment and some people have warned against engaging Christians in work.

Hindu students have also been banned from attending Catholic-run schools, said Bishop Fernandes.

Hindu villagers should understand that Christians have their own way of worshipping and nobody can force a practice on them, he said.

The social sanctions are "a human rights violation against the Catholics," the bishop added.

He said he has urged the district administration to ensure that social rights of Christians are upheld and that the issue is settled amicably.

  British woman to be honored for social work
  By John Choi, Seoul

A CATHOLIC British missioner, who spent 50 years providing social services in South Korea, will be honored by a secular welfare foundation in October.

The Paradise Welfare Foundation announced Aug. 30 that it will confer its Social Welfare Award on Susannah Mary Younger, 74, on Oct. 19.

"Although she is a foreigner, her lifetime of sacrifice... in South Korea has become a model for our society," the foundation said.

"Also, in her book, Never Ending Flower, in 1967, she contributed much toward cultural exchange between Great Britain and Korea," the foundation added.

Younger came to Korea in 1959 at the age of 23 and worked for human rights and the welfare of people suffering from poverty and disease.

She established a school for women in Daegu, some 230 kilometers southeast of Seoul, now called the Catholic Green Glade, as well as a shelter for teenage girls. She also provided vocational skills such as hairdressing and embroidery.

She went to France in 1973 and worked as a formator at a center near the Marian shrine in Lourdes. While staying in France, she frequently visited Korea and returned in 2004 after her retirement.

Younger is now an adviser to Catholic Green Glade. She also teaches English and gives lectures on culture and philosophy.

"Younger frequently said that 'charity is a must for a Christian," said Veronica Lee Myong-sik, director of Catholic Green Glade.

Younger is presently on a business trip to Lourdes.

The award she will receive includes 50 million won (US$42,000) cash and a certificate.
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