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Stewardship and Trusteesh
  By A.J. Philip  
  I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasi  
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Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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Back to infancy -- they n
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
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  Catholic youths strive for spiritual growth in Hindu environment
  KATHMANDU, OCT 31 (UCAN) -- Kathmandu is awash with Hindu and Buddhist temples. The air is often thick with incense smoke and many people's foreheads are marked red with tika, a paste of rice and vermillion, after prayers.

For Catholic youths in this Himalayan Hindu country, living out their faith can often be a socially daunting task.

Mhendo Tamang, 18, a parishioner of the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, the main parish in Kathmandu, says she often joins friends whenever they visit Hindu temples to make offerings.

However, she feels hesitant when it comes to talking about her own faith.

"The last time I told my friends about my faith, they smiled and looked at me as if I were an alien," she said.

Manaisha Shakya, 19, has the same problem. She says she would like to talk about her faith with her Hindu and Buddhist friends, but thinks twice before doing so. "They don't seem interested in what I have to say," she said.

"I feel Christianity is non-existent in Nepal; it is always Hinduism that people talk and hear about."

With these youths in mind, the Church organized a retreat from Oct 23 to 25 to help boost their spiritual formation.

"It has been over two years since the last retreat," Kishore Shrestha, the leader of the National Catholic Youth Movement (NCYM) in Kathmandu, said. "The youth movement in Nepal is beset with several problems like funding, and it didn't have a facilitator for almost two years," he said.

"However, this year we managed to generate funds and organize the retreat."

The retreat in Ishalaya parish in Godavari saw 51 young people from the three parishes in Kathmandu watching movies on the lives of saints, making confessions and taking part in meditation sessions.

Participants said they enjoyed the retreat. "I liked the way we got together, prayed and shared ideas," said Muna Ghale from Baniyatar, adding he learned how to get closer to Jesus.

Priyanka Dawadi, another participant, told UCA News, "I love retreats and the feel of being with Jesus in silence."

Father Robin Rai, parochial vicar at the Assumption Church, explained the long gap between the two retreats.

"The youths have to take the initiative, and for the past two years they haven't," said the priest, the main facilitator of the recent program.

Young people in Nepal face many challenges. Lack of educational and employment opportunities are compounded by a political and religious climate not conducive to openness about one's faith, especially if you are a Christian.

A bomb blast at Assumption Church on May 23 was a reminder of the threat posed by Hindu extremists like the Nepal Defense Army (NDA), who claimed responsibility for the attack that killed three people. NDA then ordered Christians to leave Nepal or face dire consequences.

Father Rai admits it is not easy being a Catholic in Nepal today. However, in spite of the challenges they face, Catholic youths still "need to be able to talk about things that may seem peculiar to people of other faiths and this is a challenge for all of us."

"They need spiritual formation and getting this is again tough; most of them don't seem serious about it," he said.

He expressed hope that the retreat helped them realize their duties.

For youth leader Shrestha, this retreat was "more fruitful and spiritual" than the last one. "It feels good to be back with God after a long time," he said.
  Science Watch: Mothers' health needs targeted science
Maternal health needs a new, pragmatic, research-led approach targeted specifically for developing countries, says Priya Shetty.

Few dispute that pregnant women and their babies should get the best healthcare possible.

Indeed, the Millennium Development Goals include two targets for 2015 under maternal health -- to reduce, by three quarters, the maternal mortality ratio, and achieve universal access to reproductive health.

Yet maternal health in the developing world has languished for decades -- half a million women die every year from pregnancy and childbirth problems.

Maternal health is never a neutral issue; it is either completely disregarded by cultures that do not value women's wellbeing, or hailed as one of the world's most pressing human rights issues.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the 1994 Cairo declaration that called on governments to urgently tackle sexual and reproductive health. Its core premise was that if women are not informed about family planning, allowed to refuse unprotected sex with an HIV-positive man, or protected from practices such as female circumcision, their health will never improve.

To read the full article use this link:

India should make its national climate plans global

Fast-developing countries such as India should offer up their domestic action plans as part of global efforts when the world gathers for the UN climate talks in Copenhagen this December, says Rajendra K. Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

India's priority is not simply reducing global emissions as quickly as possible but also accessing adaptation technologies to cope with the inevitable impacts of climate change, which will likely include rising sea levels, more frequent and intense cyclones and water scarcity.

Access will depend on partnerships between developing and developed countries, built on well-defined intellectual property rights.

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China calls for developed countries to lead the way

China expects developed countries to show leadership in the Copenhagen climate negotiations and commit to greater emissions reductions, says Jiahua Pan from the Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies, China.

The developing world is unlikely to take serious action against climate change unless developed nations agree to cut their emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2020, says Pan.

This means decarbonising at twice the rate needed to meet the G8's target cuts of 50 per cent by 2050. But China is already investing in low-carbon energy at a higher rate than most rich nations.

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Surge in vaccine research fails to reach the neediest

A research renaissance has yielded a record number of new vaccines -- but a failure of delivery systems means 24 million children are still missing out on life-saving immunisation, says a report.

According to 'The State of the World's Vaccines and Immunisation', an assessment by the WHO, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank, a record 106 million children were vaccinated in 2008. But 24 million children, most of them in remote or war-torn regions, are yet to be reached.

"This [call to action] is about saving lives in places you may never have heard of; about remote, hard-to-reach places," said Daisy Mafubelu, WHO assistant director-general of family and community health, at the report's launch on October 21.

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Thai HIV trial shines light on research mystery

PARIS: The first successful trial of an HIV vaccine -- announced to wide publicity last month -- has shed crucial light on what happens in the body when the virus invades it, a conference has heard.

The vaccine, tested on 16,000 volunteers in Thailand , cut the rate of HIV infection by just under a third (see Breakthrough HIV vaccine first to cut infection rates).

Experts at the Aids Vaccine 2009 conference in Paris yesterday (20 October) pointed out that the vaccine only works in the Thai region and that, even there, a useable AIDS vaccine is still years away. But they are excited that the trial has revealed for the first time how the human body fights HIV infection.

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Financial crisis squeezes African science funding

DURBAN: The African Union (AU) will have to prioritise its projects next year as funds for supporting continent-specific science programmes are running low.

Jean-Pierre Ezin, AU commissioner for science, technology and human resources, told delegates at the 11th TWAS congress in Durban, South Africa, last week (20–23 October) that the global financial crisis has led to a reduction in some funding sources.

"The future is worrying for all," he said, adding that "the only financial resource consists of 53 member countries, philanthropists, and rich country aid agencies". A decline in direct investment and possible cuts in overseas aid pose a serious challenge for African governments.

Ezin said the future lies in focusing on Africa–Africa cooperation and said that the Pan-African University (see Pan-African University could launch early next year) will be one of the surviving projects.

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  As first passenger bus rides into Inshan, people turn ecstatic
  From Afsana Rashid

Srinagar, October 31: The villagers stood in awe as the first passenger bus rolled into Inshan on October 26, turning their dreams into reality. The bus travelled from Anantnag in south Kashmir through Mati Gowren and Margan top before finally reaching Inshan, a remotely connected village in Kishtiwar. A jubilant crowd was waiting for it.

Highlighting the problems they faced, village elder Mohammad Shariq said, "Our travel plans were always restricted due to lack of adequate conveyance. Moreover, we faced a lot of problems in emergency situations, especially when immediate medical care was required for those sick in our village. Several people have lost their lives due to lack of conveyance. We hope our dark days are finally over."

"It's hard to believe our eyes. For ages, we faced severe conveyance problem. Now, our woes are hopefully over," the village residents jubilantly told The Herald of India.

Briefing mediapersons after inaugurating the bus service, Minister for Roads and Buildings G M Saroori said the service would not only reduce the time locals took to reach nearby connected villages, but would also help improve their economy. He said the people had to purchase basic commodities at exorbitant rates, as the goods had to be brought on ponies.

Saroori added that several ailing people had lost their lives on the way to hospital. "Pregnant women suffered the most," he said.
Work on the road began in 2003. "It will be upgraded in a phased manner and funds for the same will be sought from the Centre under the Prime Minister's Reconstruction Programme (PMRP)," the minister stated.

The minister said a rope way project for Sarkoat-Pochhal and Thakrai-Kishtwar would be introduced on trial basis. "If it is successful, the same would be introduced at Kupwara-Machal and other hilly areas of the state, as an alternate means of connectivity."

Saroori, while applauding the efforts of the engineers who made the bus service a reality, in particular Superintending Engineer Sheikh Abdul Hameed, said they deserved appreciation for their hard work. He requested the engineers to accelerate the work on other projects, keeping the forthcoming weather constraints into consideration.
  Rev Mathew Thomas dies in road mishap, body to be taken to Kumbanad on Sunday
  From Our Correspondent

NEW DELHI, OCT 30 -- Rev Mathew Thomas, Vicar of the St. James Marthoma Church, Dwarka, New Delhi, passed away here this evening. He was 34.

He died at Chanan Devi Hospital, Janakpuri, where he was admitted to following a road accident in the afternoon.

The priest was driving his motorcycle with his wife Leena Mathew on the pillion when he was hit by a speeding tempo van. He came under one of the wheels of the van and many of his internal organs were badly damaged.

His wife pleaded with the passersby who took him to the nearest hospital. But the doctors could not do much as his condition was very bad. Very soon, he had a cardiac arrest and he was put on the ventilator.

Specialists from Ganga Ram Hospital were brought but they too could not do much. Efforts were on to send the body by air to his home near Kumbanad in Kerala on Sunday for burial there.

The entire Christian community in Delhi was saddened by the tragic death of Rev Mathew Thomas, who had been tirelessly raising funds for the St. James Marthoma Church, which was under construction at Dwarka.

A cultural programme, to be staged by Kochi Kala Bhavan, at the Pragati Maidan Open Air Theatre, was to be held tomorrow for raising funds. The programme has been cancelled in view of the accident.

Rev Mathew Thomas was a member of the faculty of Dharma Jyoti Vidyapeeth, near Faridabad. He did his M.Th in Old Testament from Marthoma Seminary, Kottayam. One of his teachers described him as the best student he ever taught.

The priest belonged to the Vattakottan Marthoma Church, near Kumbanad in Kerala. Before doing his M.Th, he served as priests at Edaman, near Punalur and Kalliseri, near Kunnamkulam.

Rev Mathew Thomas had an excellent command of the English language and was a voracious reader. He loved Malayalam literature and could speak with authority on many of the writers like N.S. Madhavan and Sacaria, not to mention Thakazhy, P. Kesavdev and O.V. Vijayan.

A well-wisher of The Herald of India, he reviewed a book on the Bible by Karen Armstrong at a short notice for the fledgling newspaper. He had authored two books, one of them on the book of Judges.

He leaves behind his wife, mother, two sisters and a large number of relatives and friends. In his death the Marthoma Church has lost a promising priest and The Herald of India a great friend.
  Dwarka Marthoma Church Vicar seriously injured, Kala Bhavan programme cancelled
  From Our Correspondent

NEW DELHI, OCT 30 -- Rev Mathew Thomas, Vicar of St. James Mar Thoma Church, Dwarka, New Delhi, met with an accident and has been admitted to Chanan Devi Hospital, Janakpuri, in a serious condition. He is also a member of the faculty of Dharma Jyoti Vidya Peeth, near Faridabad.

The priest was driving a motorcycle this afternoon when he was knocked down by a speeding tempo van. His wife, Leena Mathew, who was on the pillion, escaped with minor injuries.

The cultural programme the church was planning to organize at the Pragati Maidan open air theatre on Saturday has been cancelled. Kochi Kala Bhavan was to stage the programme.
Doctors and church members attending on him have asked for prayers.
  Vatican: Celibacy issue hinders publication of Anglican document
  By Gerard O'Connell, Special Correspondent in Rome

VATICAN CITY, OCT 30 (UCAN) -- The matter of priestly celibacy is apparently an issue delaying publication of a Vatican document that would make it possible for Anglican groups to enter into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) intended to publish the apostolic constitution -- a document to enact or promulgate laws -- at a Vatican press briefing on Oct. 20.

However, Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the congregation, said then that several issues needed to be resolved before that could be achieved. He envisaged its publication in a few weeks.

Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, formerly under-secretary of the CDF and now Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, told UCA News after the press briefing that "a number of canon law problems had yet to be resolved" before it could be published.

It now appears that one of those problems relates to celibacy. Under the new provisions, which would establish "personal ordinariates" similar to dioceses, married Anglican priests can become married Catholic priests.

There are already more than 100 married former-Anglican priests serving in the Catholic Church in England and Wales as Catholic priests.

But the question arises as to what happens after the "transitional phase," after the Anglicans have been incorporated into the Catholic Church. Can seminarians or young men who belong to the new canonical structure become Catholic priests too without having to accept celibacy? In other words, can they become married priests in the Catholic Church?

At the Oct. 20 Vatican press briefing, Cardinal Levada appeared to leave open that possibility. He even suggested the matter could be resolved on "a case-by-case basis."

Since then, several bishops -- including some who spoke with UCA News -- have expressed concern at this. They believe this would eventually open the door to having married priests in the Latin-rite Church too.

It now appears that Pope Benedict XVI was also not happy with this possibility, according to an Oct. 29 report in the Italian daily, "Il Giornale."

Under the headline "Married priests: The Pope does not like the agreement with the Anglicans," the paper revealed that the text of the apostolic constitution was examined by the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts. As a result, it seems that seminarians of the new "personal ordinariates" will have to accept celibacy, just as Latin-rite seminarians must if they wish to become Roman Catholic priests.

UCA News has learned that discussions for the new papal provision for Anglicans to join the Catholic Church had been going on for at least 18 months before the press briefing.

The CDF, however, did not consult any of the bishops' conferences as such, though it did involve one member from three different conferences -- England and Wales, the USA and Australia -- in its deliberations, "but only in their personal capacity."

On the eve of the Oct 20. press conference, Cardinal Levada flew to England to brief the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales on the contents of the apostolic constitution. He also briefed the Anglican primate, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury.

It now appears many in the Vatican and -- according to "Il Giornale" -- also Pope Benedict, preferred that the news not be made public until the apostolic constitution was finalized.

The document will be published together with another document that lays out the practical arrangements for its implementation.

Meanwhile, dissident Swiss theologian, Father Hans Kung, attacked the pope over his decision regarding the Anglicans.

In an article published in the UK daily, "The Guardian" and the Italian daily, "La Repubblica," Kung charged that "the Roman action is a dramatic change of course."

He said it moves away from "the well-proven ecumenical strategy of eye-level dialogue and honest understanding' and steers toward "an un-ecumenical luring away of Anglican priests, even dispensing with the medieval celibacy law to enable them to come back to Rome."

The Vatican responded with a front page editorial in its daily, "L'Osservatore Romano," lamenting "the falsehoods" in Father Kung's article and accused him of distorting and misrepresenting the Pope's action which was aimed at "reconstituting the unity wished by Christ" while 'recognizing the long and exhausting ecumenical journey in this sense."

The Vatican editorial denounced the article as "a gratuitous attack on the Church of Rome and its unquestionable ecumenical commitment."
  Hundreds attend rededication of Malabar's oldest church
  KOZHIKODE, OCT 30 (UCAN) -- Religious and political leaders joined 2,000 people recently to rededicate a church building that a Hindu king helped build nearly five centuries ago.

Mother of God Cathedral in Kozhikode (formerly Calicut) "is the oldest church in Malabar and it has boosted evangelization in the region," said Bishop Joseph Kalathiparambil of Calicut during the Oct. 29 rededication Mass.

The rededication was held after the completion of the church's latest restoration work which took 18 months and cost around Rs 17 million (US$360,000).

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, a private Portuguese organization that supports art and culture, contributed the lion's share of funding for the renovation. Calicut diocese collected some Rs 2 million through various fundraising schemes.

Malabar, the northern region of Kerala state, was made up of several princely states when Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama landed here after discovering the sea route from Europe to Asia in 1498.

The present cathedral now stands on the site of a chapel that Hindu king Bharanithirunnal Shaktan Thampuran, Zamorin of Calicut, had permitted European missioners to build in 1513. The chapel was attached to the first factory the Portuguese built in Asia as part of a treaty they signed with the Zamorin, the title given to the local ruler.

Church records show the king had donated land and funds for the chapel construction.

The present cathedral used to be known as "Parangi Palli" or "church of the Portuguese." It has preserved the images of the Virgin Mary, a crucifix and a painting of the Madonna and Child brought from Portugal.

In 1725, the Zamorin helped renovate the church with stone and mortar.

The "historic church stands as a landmark of history and church architecture of Malabar,”" Bishop Kalathiparambil said.

K.V. Thomas, a junior federal minister who officiated at a public function after the Mass, hailed the church as the sign of religious harmony in the Malabar region and the "goodness of a Hindu king."

P.K.S Raja, the present Zamorin who attended the function, expressed happiness that his forefathers had built the church.

Imbichi Ahmmed Haji, the top Muslim cleric in Kozhikode, told the function that the church has played a significant role in uniting the region's various religious communities. He had studied in a school attached to the church.
  New, more dangerous Hindu extremist groups emerge in India
By Vishal Arora

PUNE, OCT 29 (Compass Direct News) -- After more than a decade of suffering, India's Christian minority is growing increasingly concerned over the mushrooming of newer and deadlier Hindu extremist groups.

Gone are the days when Christians had to watch out only for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and its youth wing, Bajrang Dal, which are closely linked with the most influential Hindu extremist umbrella organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). With voter support faltering for the RSS's political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), moderate and extremist sections within the Hindu nationalist movement are blaming each other, and militant splinter groups have emerged.

Claiming to be breakaway factions of the RSS, new groups with even more extreme ideology are surfacing. The Abhinav Bharat (Pride of India), the Rashtriya Jagran Manch (National Revival Forum), the Sri Ram Sene (Army of god Rama), the Hindu Dharam Sena (Army for Hindu Religion) and the Sanatan Sanstha (Eternal Organization) have launched numerous violent attacks on Christian and Muslim minorities.

The Sri Ram Sene was one of the most active groups that launched a series of attacks on Christians and their property in and around Mangalore city in the southern state of Karnataka in August-September 2008, according to a report, "The Ugly Face of Sangh Parivar," published by the People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), in March 2009. In Jabalpur city in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, suspected extremists from the Abhinav Bharat attacked the Rhema Gospel Church on Sept. 28, according to the Global Council of Indian Christians. They had earlier attacked Pastor Sam Oommen and his family in the same city on Aug. 3.

The Hindu Dharam Sena has become especially terrifying for Christians in Jabalpur. Between 2006 and 2008, Jabalpur was plagued by at least three anti-Christian attacks every month, according to The Caravan magazine. In the western state of Gujarat and other parts of the country, the Rashtriya Jagran Manch has also violently attacked Christians, according to news website Counter Currents.

At an ecumenical meeting held in New Delhi on Saturday (Oct. 24), the secretary general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, Archbishop Stanislaus Fernandes, said the rise of fundamentalism was "seriously worrying" the church in India. The meeting was held to discuss prospects for immediate enactment of federal legislation to counter religious extremism with the proposed Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill of 2005.

The new groups, formed mostly by former members of RSS-connected outfits, find the Hindu nationalist conglomerate too "mild" to be able to create a nation with Hindu supremacy.

The Sri Ram Sene, mainly active in south India, was started by Pramod Muthalik after he was expelled in 2007 from the Bajrang Dal, one of the most radical groups in the RSS family, for being an extremist, according to the daily newspaper DNA. The Hindu Dharam Sena was started by Yogesh Agarwal, former worker of the Dharam Jagran Vibhag (Religion Revival Department) of the RSS, also in 2007, as he felt "the RSS did not believe in violence," according to The Caravan. He had earlier launched the Dharam Sena, an offshoot of the RSS, in Madhya Pradesh and neighboring Chhattisgarh state in 2006.

The founding members of the Abhinav Bharat, which was started in Pune in 2006, also believe that the RSS is not militant enough. Outlook magazine notes that its members were planning to kill top leaders of the RSS for their inability to implement Hindu extremist ideology. The Rashtriya Jagran Manch, also a breakaway group of the RSS founded in 2007, has close links with the Abhinav Bharat.

Based out of Goa, a western state with a substantial number of Christians, the Sanatan Sanstha provides the ideological base for Hindu militant groups. It has close links with the Sri Ram Sene and publishes a periodical, Sanatan Prabhat, which occasionally spews hate against Christians.

Media reports warn of tensions due to the recent spurt in activity of the splinter groups.

"The hardliners are now getting into more extreme activities," The Times of India daily quoted V.N. Deshmukh, former joint director of India's Intelligence Bureau, as saying on Oct. 21.

The most extremist sections are disillusioned with the way the RSS is functioning, said Mumbai-based Irfan Engineer, Director of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. Most RSS cadres were mobilized with an ideology that called for elimination of minorities, mainly Muslims and Christians, he told Compass, adding that many of them were highly disappointed with the way the movement was being led.

He said the BJP was restricted when it led a coalition government at the federal level from 1998 to 2004, keeping it from effectively working towards a Hindu nation. A majority of the BJP's allies in the National Democratic Alliance were not Hindu nationalists.

"One section of the [Hindu nationalist] movement believes in acquiring state power by participating in parliamentary democracy, and the other wants to create a Hindu nation by violent means," Engineer said.

It is believed that the divide within the RSS family may deepen even further.

Analysts believe that Hindu nationalism is losing relevance in national politics, as was evident in the two successive defeats of the BJP in the 2004 and 2009 general elections. Consequently, the RSS and the BJP may distance themselves from the hard-line ideology or make it sound more inclusive and less militant.

After this year's elections, the RSS increasingly has begun to talk about the threat China poses to India and the need for development in rural areas, instead of its pet issues like Islamist terrorism and Christian conversions. This has disappointed sections of the highly charged cadres even more, and the splintering may accelerate.

For the next few years, "we will see more new names and new faces but with the same ideology and inspiration," said Anwar Rajan, secretary of the PUCL in Pune.

Whether the new groups truly have no connection with the RSS is not fully known -- that appearance may be an RSS strategy to evade legal action, said Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer, chairman of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai.

He said relations between the RSS and the new groups can be compared with the ones between Maoist (extreme Marxist) rebels and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) in India. While the CPI-M distances itself from Maoist violence, it speaks for the rebels whenever security forces crack down on them.

At base, the newer rightwing groups surely have the sympathy of the RSS, said Pune-based S.M. Mushrif, former Inspector General of Police in Maharashtra, who has been observing Hindu extremist groups for years.
  Governor lauds Orthodox Church for its marriage assistance programme
  From Our Correspondent

PARUMALA (KERALA), OCT 29 -- The marriage assistance programme of the Malankara Orthodox Church was a great service to society, said Kerala Governor R.S. Gavai.

He was inaugurating the distribution of the marriage assistance fund and the 89th birthday celebrations of the head of the church Baselios Didymos 1, known as the Catholicos of the East and Malankara.

The programme, under which Rs 1.60 crore was distributed among 1,400 poor families, was a model for the entire society, he said.

The Governor said he was very happy that he could visit the tomb of Saint Bishop of Parumela and pay tributes to him on the birthday of the Catholicos.

In his Benedictory address, Marthoma Didymos 1 said a true Christian was one who followed the teachings of Christ. But smoking, drinking and financial profligacy were fast spreading among the youth. It was time we assessed whether our church and our life were on the right path.

In his Presidential address, Senior Metropolitan Geevarghese Mar Osthathios said at a time when the rich and the scholarly were too many, it was difficult to find those leading a saintly life. The Bishop of Parumala and the Bishop of Vattasseri were the only saints of the Malankara Orthodox Church.

He said though there were many belief systems, love was the only religion.

Among those who spoke on the occasion were the Leader of the Opposition in the Kerala Assembly Oommen Chandy, former MLA Shobhana George, former Vice-Chancellor Alexander Karackal, Church Secretary George Joseph and Advocate Biju Oommen.

Many MPs and MLAs cutting across the political divide greeted the Catholicos on the occasion and received his blessings in turn.
  Vatican hosts Matteo Ricci exhibition, a tribute to an extraordinary missioner
  By Gerard O'Connell, Special Correspondent in Rome

VATICAN CITY, OCT 29 (UCAN) -- The Vatican is hosting a major exhibition on Father Matteo Ricci, the famous Italian Jesuit missioner to China, as part of celebrations marking the 400th anniversary of his death.

Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, president of the Governorate of Vatican City State, will open the exhibition on Oct. 29 in the Charlemagne Wing of the colonnade in St. Peter's Square in Rome.

The Chinese ambassador to Italy, Sun Yuxi, is among
  Malayalee Samajam celebrates Kerala Foundation Day
  From A Correspondent

MOHALI, OCT 29 -- Malayalee Samajam, Mohali, celebrated Kerala Piravi day at Kerala Bhawan, Sector 65, here, on October 25. 'Kerala Piravi' means the 'Birth of Kerala'. Kerala became a state on November 1, 1956, when the princely states of Travancore and Cochin merged with the Malabar province on linguistic basis.

Several cultural programmes, including traditional dances, songs and games were organised on the occasion. Local MP Ravneet Singh Bittu, who was the chief guest, inaugurated the programme by lighting the traditional lamp. MLA Balbir Singh Sidhu and DGP (Prisons) Haryana Dr. John V. George were the guests of honour.

Malayalee Samajam Mohali is a registered voluntary, non-profit, socio-cultural organisation that represents the Malayalee fraternity in the tricity of Mohali, Chandigarh and Panchkula. In his address, MP Bittu applauded the Samajam’s dedication in setting up the Kerala Bhawan, the construction of which is still underway. He also gifted Rs 1 lakh for further work. Bittu also talked about the electricity problem the state was facing, highlighting the urgent need to tackle the issue.

MLA Sidhu, in his speech, noted that Malayalees have made their presence felt in all major industrial and service segments in the tricity. He also assured help in the construction of the Bhawan.

The programme was followed by the 10th Annual General Meeting of the Samajam, in which new office bearers were elected. The event was organised at the same venue and attended by representatives of other Keralite socio-cultural organisations in and around Mohali.

In his address, president of the Samajam Benny Thomas, also an Advocate with the Punjab & Haryana High Court, reiterated the need for sustained efforts in setting up of the Kerala Bhawan. He spoke of the need to organise innovative programmes and interactive sessions for young children and highlighted the role and contribution of voluntary organisations like the Malayalee Samajam in community building.

It may be noted that the first phase of construction of the Kerala Bhawan is almost complete. The ground floor has a stage and hall with a seating capacity of 500. In the second phase, classrooms for dance, music and other literary activities, as well as a library and conference hall, will be constructed. Punjab Urban Development Authority (PUDA) allotted the land for the construction of the Bhawan, the foundation stone of which was laid by TKA Nair, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister.
  Philippines: Negotiations for priest's release 'set to begin'
  PAGADIAN CITY, OCT 28 (UCAN) -- The Church spokesman for the crisis committee handling the kidnapping of Columban Father Michael Sinnott says negotiations for the priest's release are about to begin.

It is the first glimmer of hope in the case since Father Sinnott was abducted more than two weeks ago.

"After 15 days of looming darkness, our prayers have been heard," Pagadian diocese's vicar general, Father Gilbert Hingone, told members of the Interfaith Forum for Solidarity and Peace during their meeting.

"Finally, negotiation is about to start, so let's pray intensively at least for the next three to five days for the negotiation to prosper."

Armed men snatched the 79-year-old Irish missioner from the Columban Fathers' house in Pagadian City, 800 kilometers southeast of Manila on Oct. 11 evening.

Father Hingone refused to give further details for fear of hampering efforts to free Father Sinnott but said the crisis committee has been "given hope to believe that Father Mick is alive."

He reported, however, that earlier efforts to send medicine to the priest through a messenger and get proof he is alive had failed.

"We are very sad to say" the man in the photo sent to the committee was not Father Sinnott, the vicar general said.

Muslims and Christians in Pagadian have vowed to gather each day at 3 p.m. in their own places of worship to pray for the safe release of Father Sinnott.

Catholic parishioners in Pagadian have started to include a petition for Father Sinnott's safe release when they recite together the prayer to the Divine Mercy. Muslims are also doing the same when they recite the "Azhar prayer" in their mosques.

Subanen tribal people have also started performing rituals "to pray for Father Mick's freedom," indigenous spiritual leader Joe Marical told UCA News. Tribal leaders and bailan (spiritual leaders) will gather with family members at 6 p.m. each day until the priest is freed.

Around the city and the rest of Zamboanga del Sur province, members of the interfaith forum are tying ribbons of blue, Father Sinnott's favorite color, around trees, posts and other objects.

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro, Jr., earlier told reporters that a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels are holding Father Sinnott, but the crisis committee would not confirm that.

The MILF leadership has denied involvement in the kidnapping and has offered to help recover Father Sinnott.

In a separate press briefing, military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Romeo Brawner said reports indicated that MILF rebels were holding Father Sinnott at the boundaries of Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte provinces, east of Pagadian.

He said a group of pirates led by one Guingona Samal snatched the priest before turning him over to the rebels. He said the MILF offered to help in the rescue of Father Sinnott, but the military had appealed to them not to deploy troops.

"If possible, they (MILF) should not operate as combat units on the ground because the (army's) 104th Brigade is already there and ready to move any time the Crisis Management Committee says so," Brawner said.
  Archdiocese's child 'parliamentarians' fight for their rights
  By Dini Philip

NEW DELHI, OCT 28 (UCAN) -- The archdiocese here is giving children hands-on experience of the legislative system to encourage them to fight for their rights.

The Church's social action arm Chetanalaya (awakening) has formed more than 100 bal sansad, or "children's parliaments," throughout the capital where children discuss various issues confronting them and decide on action.

Chetanalaya helps provide access to lawyers and government officials where needed.

The program has delivered concrete results, in one instance managing to stop child marriages in one area by convincing the brides' parents of the harmful effects of such marriages on their daughters.

Joseph John, who coordinates the children's "parliament" for Chetanalaya, said some 3,000 children have joined the movement.

Chetanalaya brought all its "parliaments" together on Oct. 23 to form a "state level parliament" of 200 child delegates and different "ministries" to handle different issues.

Most local "parliaments" are in areas where the government has resettled Delhi's slum people and 90 percent of members are not Christians, Chetanalaya director Father Susai Sebastian said.

"That is the beauty of it. These initiatives are purely beyond religions."

Kavita Saroj is only 15, but was made "deputy prime minister" of the state bal sansad.

The 11th grade Hindu girl was among 30 children, aged six to 15, sworn in to the council of ministers.

Saroj said the experience has boosted her self confidence and helped her gain practical knowledge in social work. "We help children to fight for their rights," Saroj said.

She said that while her local parliament's greatest victory was putting a stop to child marriages, it has also taken up problems such as lack of proper toilet and water supply in schools.

"In many instances we have been able to resolve those issues," she said.

Pradeep, "prime minister" of the state parliament, said the Chetanalaya volunteers arrange "our meetings with government officials and lawyers, if needed."

The Hindu boy said his parliament has helped several school drop-outs to restart their education. "We also organize campaigns, rallies, street plays" to building social awareness among people, he added.
  Religious learn to manage conflicts, violence
  By Bijay Kumar Minj

NEW DELHI, OCT 28 (UCAN) -- Catholic Religious in India have been organizing a series of training programs to help improve their people's leadership qualities and manage conflicts and violence.

"The time has come for our leaders to get better equipped to manage conflicts because every other day we have sectarian violence in the country," said Montfort Brother Mani Mekkunnel, national secretary of Conference of Religious India (CRI).

The conference is the national association of India's 822 major superiors of 334 Religious congregations.

Some 450 Religious have attended CRI training programs over the past three years. Each program, entitled "Call to leadership," runs for five days.

The latest training program was held Oct 20-25 in New Delhi where 22 people attended. The program proposes that Religious could lead villages and communities to start interreligious dialogues through programs involving all religions.

"What we want today are action leaders, not mute spectators," Brother Mekkunnel told UCA News. The Religious, he added, should take leadership in finding solutions to problems such as sectarianism and violence.

Brother Mekkunnel said growing religious fanaticism demanded not "good school principals, good doctors or nurses" from the Religious, but "good leaders."

He said the Church had "many educated and qualified people" but in times of need, "we miserably failed to deliver."

He cited the example of last year's anti-Christian violence in Orissa, where some 90 Christians were killed and 50,000 displaced. "We had no one to guide or to defend us even," he said.

Sacred Heart of Jesus Brother R. Amaldas, who attended the latest program, told UCA News it gave him "an insight into modern religious spirituality."

He said the training convinced him that "spiritual growth" also means not leaving people in their misery. "We have to be with them in their happiness and sadness. We have to even adopt their way of praying," he added.

The training program offers an opportunity to discuses the present scenario, exchange ideas or borrow ideas, Brother Amaldas said.

Sister Lilly Kuriakose, another participant, said most often in formation houses "we go with the ready-made formula." Instead of giving the new candidates "freedom to express themselves, we push them with what we have."

The Saint Charles Borromeo nun said the program stressed the need to let people explore.

What Sister Kuriakose liked most was classes on legal matters that gave her more knowledge about human rights. "At least now I know where and who to contact in case of rights violation," she added.

Brother Mekkunnel says the program has increased the participants' confidence and made them enthusiastic to solve the problems they face in their field of work.
  Church dumps Karnataka government as flood-relief partner
  By T.S. Thomas

MANGALORE, OCT 28 (UCAN) -- The Catholic Church in Karnataka has dropped its plan to collaborate with the state government in flood relief, saying the effort has become politicized.

After rains and floods ravaged the southern Indian state in early October, the Church had announced it would cooperate with the government's relief and rehabilitation works to avoid duplication.

But Bishop Peter Machado of Belgaum, who heads one of the five affected dioceses, told UCA News the Church has decided to work independently as the government has given no direction for collaboration.

The Church was open to cooperate with the government "but it seems to be not working," he said.

Floods from Sep. 30 to Oct. 2 killed 226 people and destroyed about 500,000 houses in Karnataka's northern region. Nearly 8,000 heads of cattle drowned as water inundated 4,290 villages, damaging around 1.13 million hectares of crops and washing away roads and bridges.

The state government has estimated the loss at around 185 billion rupees (US$3.9 billion).

Father Faustine Lobo, spokesperson for the Church in Karnataka and a consultant to Caritas-India, the Church's social service arm, alleged the state government seemed "busy collecting funds and making announcements" but has offered no strategies to help the victims.

He said there was a widespread apprehension over the way political parties fought each other to raise millions of rupees for flood relief. He said Karnataka's pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people's party) was "more concerned about taking political mileage out of the situation than planning steps" to rehabilitate the victims.

The Karnataka Regional Organization for Social Service will now coordinate the Church's relief works instead.

Bellary diocese, which covers most of the affected regions, has worked out a strategy to help the victims through NGOs. "We have initiated an NGO forum for flood relief to avoid duplication and enhance effectiveness," Bishop Henry D'Souza of Bellary told UCA News.

Bishop D'Souza said the forum has Christian, Hindu and Muslim organizations as members. "We have already spent around 6 million rupees in immediate relief activities," he said and added the forum has fed 15,000 people for 15 days.

Bishop D'Souza also said working with NGOs is "more practical and less political than working with" government departments.

Diocesan social service societies in the affected dioceses have formed self help groups to implement the Church's plan in villages. The Church also tries to educate people about the government's various welfare schemes, Bishop Machado said.
  Tribal Christians fear land seizure in the name of industrialisation
  By F.M. Britto

RAIPUR, OCT 28 (UCAN) -- Thousands of tribal people in Chhattisgarh state say they fear losing their homes and lands as the central Indian state pushes ahead with industrialization plans.

Potentially the worst affected are tribal Catholics in Jashpur and Raigarh dioceses.

Jashpur's 190,000 Oraon tribal people form 23.5 per cent of the state's Catholic population. Raigarh has some 60,000 Catholics.

According to the Chhattisgarh government's website, the main objective of the new industrial policy is to "add maximum value to the state's abundant natural resources" and create "maximum employment opportunities by setting up industries" across the state.

The website adds that "for setting up industries, particularly large and mega industrial units, outside the industrial areas and parks, government revenue land and private land will be acquired and made available to investors."

However, Benedict Minj, a former government worker, says the industrialization plan is a government plot to disband Christian pockets in the state and weaken the Church. The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People's Party) now heads the government.

Minj, a Catholic, warned the move would be "a disaster for the Church" which draws its strength from its tribal members. With their land and forestry taken, tribal people would become dependent on industrialists, he said.

Petrus Minj (no relation), another tribal Catholic, said the government has completed aerial and land surveys it started five years ago to set up various industries. The collector of Jashpur, the top bureaucrat in the district, has informed villagers about the move to take over their land, after side stepping village councils' objections.

The Church has been helping the locals in their fight. For the past few years, Jashpur diocese has held classes encouraging the villagers not to sell their land.

Jesuit Father Zacharias Lakra said the government has taken and sold hundreds of hectares of land in Raigarh diocese to a firm to set up a steel plant there. Many displaced tribal people have yet to receive adequate compensation, he added.

The priest said political parties support the new projects and some of them had initially tried to convince people that only Christians would be moved. "But now Hindus have realized they too will lose their land," the tribal priest said. The politicians now accuse the Church of fomenting trouble, he added.

Tribal leaders, however, accuse the government of "militarizing" the state since it forcibly removes people from their ancestral land.

Exasperated with the government plans, some 3,000 tribal people from across the state earlier this month demonstrated in the state capital, Raipur, but they say the protest fell on deaf ears.

A memorandum the protesters, including Catholics from Jashpur some 300 kilometers away, submitted to the state governor rejected plans to establish Special Economic Zones.

Instead, they demanded the government boost the agricultural sector by providing irrigation and drinking water as stipulated in the National Agricultural Act the federal government enacted in 2002.
  Thailand: Seminarians learn about how priests should respect nuns
  SAM PHRAN, OCT 27 (UCAN) -- Final-year seminarians have been told they must show greater respect for nuns and women co-workers after a report revealed simmering tensions between the two groups.

Priests are accused of being high-handed and disrespectful in some cases and of inappropriate behavior in others, according to Sister Kanlaya Trisopha, former chaplain of the Catholic Commission for Women.

Sister Kanlaya was speaking on the issue at a seminar and workshop for about 20 final-year seminarians and nuns about to take their final vows. The event, held in Ban Phu Wan pastoral training center in Sam Phran, west of Bangkok, aimed at helping participants avoid such tensions in the future.

Referring to a report on the matter during the Oct. 12-15 meeting, Sister Kanlaya highlighted a case "where a priest, who had a problem with a nun, brought up the issue in his homily and wrote about it in the weekly newsletter."

"Even though the priest didn't name the nun, the nun knew he was referring to her and she didn't have the chance to respond."

Sister Kanlaya told the seminar that the behavior of clergy sometimes raised eyebrows among the laity, citing a case involving a nun and a priest who worked together daily. "Instead of going home, the priest would take the nun to a recreational spot for dinner and only return to his church late at night. This was questioned by laypeople," Sister Kanlaya said.

She said another source of tension came from the way instructions were sometimes given. Her report reveals that some priests do not discuss instructions with nuns and other women co-workers, simply handing them written orders.

"From a woman's perspective, this shows disrespect, while men don't see it as an issue," Sister Kanlaya said.

Father Chaiyo Kitsakul, rector of Saeng Tham College, the national major seminary in Sam Phran, told participants, "There have been problems between priests and nuns because men and women see things from different perspectives."

Priests often use their status, consciously or unconsciously, to dominate others, he said. He called on the seminarians to "listen to others, especially women and nuns."

Father Miguel Garaizabal, a resource person for the workshop, told UCA News problems arise when priests feel that it is the duty of nuns to serve them.

"This training is aimed at both men and women to respect and fully support each other and build a model of friendship and collaboration," said the Spanish Jesuit priest.

Nun participants also shared experiences of inappropriate behavior by seminarians. Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Alicesara Suripa admitted she has "warned" seminarians who "touch us or try to hold our hands."

Sornchai Dhipo, a seminarian from Chiang Mai diocese, said he would now be more sensitive toward women co-workers. He recalled an incident in which a new priest, upon arriving at a parish, asked a nun to vacate her office for him. This act soured the relationship between the two.

The recent workshop is the eighth in a series of annual dialogue sessions between final-year seminarians and nuns. In future, "we plan to invite lay women Church workers to attend as well," said Father Chaiyo.
  Lay missioner leads 72-hour prayer vigil
  INDORE, OCT 27 (UCAN) -- Hundreds of priests, nuns and lay people have joined a lay missioner in a 72-hour adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Fifty-eight-year-old Sahodaran Aniyan (translated as "little brother"), has for the past 11 years traveled around India promoting devotion to the Eucharist.

"My mission is to bring people closer to the Eucharist and draw from its power," Aniyan told UCA News on Oct. 24, after praying silently for 72 hours before the Blessed Sacrament in Indore, central India.

Aniyan's adoration began at midnight on Oct. 20 at Indore's St. Francis Assisi Cathedral. He fasted throughout the entire program.

The bearded, bare-footed man noted that people enjoy spending time with their loved ones but are not as interested "to know and enjoy the beauty and power of the Eucharist." He said he wants people to engage in "long conversations" with God in the Eucharist.

"If we spend as much as we can before the Eucharist we will find lasting joy and happiness in life," he said.

Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal of Indore welcomed Aniyan's efforts. The Divine Word Church leader told UCA News the program has inspired his people and strengthened their faith.

"Prayer in any form is always good. It keeps a person pure, simple and loving," he said, noting that praying and fasting for 72 hours, like what Aniyan did, was a challenging task. The bishop has asked the layman to conduct similar programs in other parts of the diocese.

V.J. Varkey and his wife Janet prayed with Aniyan on one of the nights of the program. "Normally we get tired after an hour of adoration, but this man has encouraged us to spend more time in prayers and conversation with God," Varkey shared.

Aniyan said he was inspired to promote Eucharistic adoration during a visit to a shrine dedicated to Saint Thomas the Apostle in Kerala in 1998.

Since then, he has conducted his 72-hour adoration program at 19 places in seven dioceses in India. He carries with him only a copy of the Bible, a rosary and a few prayers books.
  PHILIPPINES: Reward, prayers offered for priest's release
  PAGADIAN CITY, OCT 26 (UCAN) -- Hundreds marched through Pagadian City recently to show solidarity with kidnapped priest Father Michael Sinnott as local authorities offered a reward of 200,000 pesos (US$4,255) for information on him.

Church officials told UCA News they had not heard back from messengers sent to deliver heart medication to the 79-year-old priest on Oct. 21.

More than 100 people in the crowd were children with special needs from the Hangop Kabataan (care for youth) rehabilitation center Father Sinnott founded.

The priest was snatched by an unknown group from the Columban house grounds in Pagadian City in southern Philippines on Oct. 11 and has not been heard of since.

The crisis committee in charge of finding the Irish priest on Oct. 23 approved the city council's resolution to offer a reward to anyone with information as to his whereabouts.

Information must include a "proof of life" and the crisis committee would pay the reward if the information pointed to his exact location, it said.

The city council is also reportedly appealing to civic organizations for funds to add to the reward.

Governor Aurora Cerilles of Zamboanga del Sur has reportedly appealed to "anybody who has essential information regarding the whereabouts of Father Sinnott, as well as the delivery of medicines to him," to contact the task force.

The three-hour prayer rally on Oct. 24, calling for Father Sinnott's release was organized by the Interfaith Forum for Solidarity and Peace to which the priest belongs.

Most participants wore white shirts printed with Father Sinnott's face and a ribbon pin in blue, the priest's favorite color.

Some of the children he had helped addressed the crowd, speaking of their sorrow at the much-loved priest's kidnapping.

Carleen Lafuente, 14, who was born with deformed legs but can now walk thanks to Father Sinnott's foundation, made an emotional plea to the priest's captors.

"From my heart, I beg those who took Father Mick Sinnott -- please, please have mercy on him. Have mercy on us special children under his care," she said in the local Cebuano language.

Bishop Emmanuel Cabajar of Pagadian Diocese read from his pastoral letter on Father Sinnott's kidnapping.

"We are hoping and praying that Father Mick will remain strong and zealous despite the difficulty he is experiencing right now," the bishop told the crowd.

Although no group has claimed responsibility, police suspect a splinter group from either the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group or from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, may be responsible.

Sultan Maguid Maruhom, a Muslim convener of the interfaith forum, said the kidnapping hurt Muslims who are friends of the priest, especially when reports referred to the abductors as "Muslims."

Immediate concerns are for the priest's health. He underwent heart bypass surgery in 2007 and must take medicine every day.
  Christians accuse Albania of troublemaking over Blessed Teresa
  KOLKATA, OCT 26 (UCAN) -- A Christian group in Kolkata has accused the Albanian government of creating an "unnecessary controversy" by requesting for Blessed Teresa's remains.

"Mother Teresa might have been born an Albanian but she was an Indian citizen by choice so there should not be any controversy over the matter," the Bangiya Christiya Pariseba (BCP or Bengal Christian welfare forum), said.

BCP state secretary Herod Mullick, a Protestant called the request "ridiculous, absurd" and designed merely for publicity.

Blessed Teresa was buried at the headquarters of her Missionaries of Charity congregation in Kolkata after her death in 1997.

The Indian government has ruled out the return of her remains to Albania, on the grounds that she was an Indian citizen.

BCP, an ecumenical forum that claims to have a million members from various Christian denominations, met in Kolkata on Oct. 23 and issued a statement saying the request raised "unnecessary controversy."

Media reported on Oct. 13 that Albanian Prime Minister had asked the Indian government to return Blessed Teresa's remains before her birth centenary in August 2010, a request it first made in 2003.

BCP sent its statement to Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK and the United States as well as Pope Benedict XVI, in a bid for "silent" global condemnation of the Albanian request.

"It is also an occasion to help people remember Mother Teresa, especially the young generation," said Mullick.

Blessed Teresa was born on Aug. 10, 1910, to Albanian parents in Skopje, in the former Ottoman Empire, now part of Macedonia. She became an Indian citizen in 1947 when India became an independent nation.
  Church leaders, politicians mourn Kerala Catholic leader
  THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, OCT 26 (UCAN) -- Political and religious leaders have paid tribute to Archbishop Daniel Acharuparambil of Verapoly, the first non-European to head Rome's Pontifical Urban University. He died on Oct. 26 at the age of 70 after a brief illness.

The Order of Discalced Carmelite priest has been president of the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council (KCBC) for the past two years.

He was admitted to Lourdes Hospital in Kochi, Kerala, on Oct. 24 with a severe infection and was put on life support system after his conditions worsened on Oct. 25.

KCBC spokesperson Father Stephen Alathara told UCA News that Archbishop Acharuparambil died at 11.30 a.m. He said the prelate's body would be displayed for people to pay their respects on Oct. 27, with the funeral scheduled the next day.

Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan said the late prelate had helped foster inter-religious harmony in the state and his intervention had helped resolved several social issues.

Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, said the deceased prelate had led the Kerala Church with dedication and conviction.

"He never compromised on Church teachings and was very much concerned about the poor," the cardinal's condolence message said.

Major Archbishop Moran Mor Baselios Cleemis of Trivandrum, who heads the Syro-Malankara Church, said that Archbishop Acharuparambil led the Church through difficult times.

There were serious differences with the state's Marxist-led government over educational policies and attempts to interfere with the rights of religious minorities, he recalled.

Archbishop Acharuparambil was ordained a priest in 1966 and was an expert on Indian philosophy and Hinduism, having taught those subjects in at least six Western universities over three decades.

Archbishop Acharuparambil was the first non-European vice chancellor of Rome's Pontifical Urban University, a post he occupied for six years.

In 1996, Pope John Paul II appointed him the metropolitan archbishop of Verapoly, the mother diocese of Kerala's Latin Church in Kerala.

Since 2007, he has headed the state's 5.5 million Catholics from the Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites which make up the Catholic Church in India.
  Hundreds mourn passing of Kerala's 'exorcist' priest
  THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, OCT 26 (UCAN) -- Hundreds of people attended the funeral of an "exorcist priest," whose controversial treatments for mental illness combined religion and psychology.

Father Geo Kappalumakal, who directed the Georgian Counseling Centre in Palai, Kerala, died on Oct. 22 at the age of 78 after a prolonged illness.

Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt of Palai conducted his funeral on Oct. 24.

Father Paul Thelakat, editor of Church weekly "Satyadeepam" (light of truth), told UCA News the deceased priest had helped thousands said to be tormented by the devil.

"He has freed many persons ... but strangely, he was an exorcist who never believed in the existence of Satan, but only in God and his Son Jesus Christ," said the priest.

Father Thelakat said the late priest had told him that some people imagined they were being possessed by the devil when fears and other diseases afflict them.

"He said it was useless to tell them they were not possessed so he treated them to give them courage to face their fears," Thelakat said.

Jose Thekkerikunnel, who has worked with Father Kappalumakal for 24 years, said the Church at first misunderstood the priest's work. Palai diocese had investigated his work and had asked him to stop. He then took leave of absence to set up the counseling center in 1982.

Many psychiatrists and neurologists have challenged the priests' methods.
However, Thekkerikunnel said: "I've seen him cure thousands of people. Later the Church recognized his work."

According to the layman, Father Kappalumakal said he practiced psycho-religious therapy which diffuses tension. He used hypnotism to understand the root cause of mental disorders, Thekkerikunnel said, adding that the late priest prescribed only herbs and minerals as medicines.

Carmelite Father Mathew Mariyankel, who has assisted the priest for the past nine months, said he believed Father Kappalumakal had a "divine power to perform things ordinary priests could not."

He noted that some people traveled miles to attend the funeral.

In February, Father Kappalumakal handed over his center to Father Mariyankel's Congregation of Mary Immaculate, a Kerala-based religious congregation for men.
  Asia: Climate change concerns are about justice, Caritas head says
  BANGKOK, OCT 26 (UCAN) -- Churches in Asia need to respond quickly to climate-change issues, says regional coordinator of Caritas Asia Father Bonnie Mendes. "They must not remain on the sidelines but take the challenge seriously."

The priest, who is based in Bangkok, says that Churches can become part of the solution if they help farmers and others:

Avoid chemical fertilizers and pesticides

Use water resources more cleverly

Stop cutting down trees, and

Plant more trees"

The Church can take the lead," he says in a commentary on the recent UN Bangkok Climate Change Talks - 2009 held as part of the UN Framework for the Convention on Climate Change, leading to the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December.

Caritas, the social action arm of the Catholic Church, has many practical environmental programs around the world.

Father Mendes, in the following commentary, says climate problems raise ethical challenges for everyone: "Our lifestyle has to change ... Time is running out. All realize that."

'Set aside excesses of the past'

For 15 days at the end of September and the beginning of October 2009, Bangkok was buzzing with the theme of climate. Some said we were making progress, others that we were going backwards.

Nature launched one disaster after another, killing many in neighboring countries and giving a sense of urgency to all at the UN Conference Center in Bangkok.

Scientists gave their theories.

Economists agreed that money was needed.

Politicians said they agreed that something had to be done but some seemed to lack conviction, more concerned about how their voters might react.

In churches, many prayed for the success of the talks while various NGO forums and interest groups including students, farmers, tribal people, fisher folk, miners and many more aired their concerns.

On the streets people demonstrated, demanding climate justice, demanding that the poor not bear an unfair burden.

The biggest protest was the indigenous people's walk of Oct. 5, 2009 -- one day after the feast of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the environment.

While the government kept them well away from the venue, more than 7,000 sang, danced and shouted slogans while peacefully moving toward the UN building.

The demonstrators urged decision-makers not to let the burden of coping with changing climate fall disproportionately on the world's most vulnerable.

One banner said it all.
"For us there is no option. It is climate justice or death."

They seemed to have gathered from every corner of the globe -- from the heights of Nepal to the cold of the Arctic Circle, from the tribes of the Amazon to the islands of the Pacific.

As a Catholic priest watching events, and with Saint Francis in mind, I had many questions. The most obvious was: "What does my faith teach me?"

Saint Francis' was a spirituality that stressed God becoming Human. Jesus Christ was born in our midst not only 2,000 years ago but is re-born in our actions, especially when we are building the reign of God here and now.

Given that climate is a justice issue, then there must be an ethical response.

We must be ready always to reflect and act. The excesses of the past must be set aside and all of us have to live a lifestyle that can allow everybody to develop.

Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical "Caritas in Veritate" (charity in truth), calls for all to work for the common good. We have to do it right here and now and also save the earth for future generations.

It is the right time for local churches in Asia to get involved. They must not remain on the sidelines but take the challenge seriously and act.

Some practical steps of saving the earth must be taken immediately, whether it is avoiding chemical fertilizers and pesticides for crops or making proper use of water resources. We have to protest cutting down our forests and must plant many more trees.

The Church can take the lead.

All these things demand that we live a value-filled life.

We have to be convinced of this and make changes in our own thinking and our behavior in keeping with the common good.

Our lifestyle has to change to simple living.

Time is running out. All realize that but few are willing to make necessary changes.

In the best-case scenario, there will be much progress between now and December when, hopefully, the world's heads of states will clinch a fair international climate change in Copenhagen.

People are praying and hoping. It is now up to the governments.
  Formation of 350 on Dal Lake to warn world of global warming
  From Afsana Rashid

Srinagar, October 24 -- Scores of shikaras lined up to form the figure '350' on the placid waters of Dal Lake, as world observed International Day of Climate Action on Saturday.

The scene, amidst the lofty trees near Nehru Park, opposite the Shankaracharya hill and the Kohi Suleman hill, was breath-taking. Live pictures of this historical formation were taken and transmitted worldwide. (See picture alongside).

The programme was organized by the Indian Youth Climate Network [IYCN] in collaboration with Lakes and Waterways Development Authority [LAWDA] to generate awareness among masses that carbon dioxide (CO2) level crossing normal limit has lethal effects.

"Three hundred fifty (350) parts per million [ppm] is a safe limit in atmosphere as given by NASA scientists. Over the last 16 years it has reached 387 ppm. The same is increasing by 2 per cent every year. This leads to global warming, melting of glaciers and other environmental hazards," says Ritu Asrani, Project coordinator IYCN and 350 organisation, Mumbai.

'350' is an international campaign "dedicated for uniting people on environmental issues confronting people living around the world and provides solutions to climate crisis".

Ritu said that after a few years the ppm level would reach 400, which according to her, is alarming. The programme, according to her, was being organized at 4617 places in 177 countries, simultaneously.

"Because of the significance of Dal Lake, the programme here would be the best. The photograph of Shikara formation in Dal Lake would be projected on the giant screen at Times Square, New York. This would prove to the world that Kashmir too is concerned about environment and climate change crisis."

Ritu said that the ppm level could be brought down by controlling industrialization, coal mining, reducing carbon monoxide, saving electricity and using solar and wind energy.

Owaise Raheem, Regional Project Director-IYCN said that the symbolic depiction of 350 by shikaras at Dal Lake was done since Dal had a history and its area had, over the years, been encroached upon. He said "in future we would be organizing awareness programmes. Our main focus would be on the younger generation."

Owaise said that they wanted the people to come forward and know more about 350. "The purpose of celebrating 350 worldwide is to make people aware about the dangers of global warming."

However, the shikarawallas were not aware of the purpose behind the formation of 350. "We don't know why they've asked us to form the shape of 350. We were simply asked to provide shikaras. Probably, it has to do something with the conservation of Dal."

The event was flagged off by Director, Information, Farooq Ahmad Renzu and Vice-Chairman, LAWDA, Irfan Yasin.

Renzu said, "the Russian popular trees are extracting water from the earth and rendering the place infertile and thereby causing pollution. If the 350-level is to be maintained, Kashmir should be kept popular-free-zone."

According to a press release, '350' was celebrated in Maldives where the President of the country held an underwater cabinet meeting. "On Hindu Kush mountain of Afghanistan, youth painted 350 on summit of the mountain. In China, the same formation was made on the Great Wall of China, followed by 300 actions in China. On the banks of Dead Sea, bordering Israel, Jordan and Palestine 350 formation was made as a symbol of unanimity towards 350. A flag of 350 has been mounted by members of 350 on Mount Everest."
  FABC official proposes North-South bishops' meeting in 2010
By Gerard O'Connell, Special Correspondent in Rome

VATICAN CITY, OCT 23 (UCAN) -- A Filipino archbishop has proposed that the Vatican convene a meeting of bishops from developed and developing countries -- the so-called North-South divide -- to develop concrete faith-based responses to issues of reconciliation, justice and peace

Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, secretary general of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC), made the proposal when he spoke for a second time at the Synod for Africa at the Vatican.

"As in Asia, so in Africa many issues of reconciliation, justice and peace have global dimensions," he said and proposed that a Vatican agency "convoke a gathering of bishops from North and South in 2010."

The prelate suggested that bishops participating in this proposed meeting could be assisted by experts and Church-aid agencies to "plan and put flesh into a project of communion and solidarity among bishops." The fruit of such joint action would be "charity in truth," he said.

The problems facing the developing countries of the South include the arms trade, trafficking of women and children, the destruction of the environment, corruption, dictatorial regimes, population control, migration, poverty, economic globalization, global warming and climate change, he said.

His list echoed many of the issues raised by the 200 bishops from Africa's 53 countries attending the three-week synod, which concludes on Oct. 24.

These issues have "a global dimension" because "decisions impacting the peoples of the South are made by powers in the North," Archbishop Quevedo told the synod. "Problems with global characteristics require a response with a global dimension."

The Catholic Church with its worldwide presence and universal vision is well-positioned to contribute to such a global response but from "a distinctive faith" perspective, he stressed.

"We do have such a response with a very distinctive faith dimension. We have a faith-vision of ... all humanity, and of the whole of creation," he stated.

Participants at the synod are focusing on the theme, "The Church in Africa at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace." They are looking for a strategy to achieve these ideals in the world's second largest and second most populous continent after Asia.

Archbishop Quevedo, along with Indian Cardinal Ivan Dias, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, is one of the two Asians at the synod. The Filipino prelate reminded participants that bishops in Asia and Africa alike "believe that Jesus our Lord and Savior is the ultimate Reconciler, our Justice and our Peace."

A number of participants told UCA News they liked Archbishop Quevedo's proposal and hoped it would be included in the final propositions. They will find out whether it is or not on Oct. 24, when the more than 50 propositions approved by the synod are expected to be made public.

Pope Benedict XVI will close this second synod for Africa on Sunday morning, Oct. 25, when he concelebrates a solemn, sung Latin Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, together with the synod participants.
  Denial of church burial for suicide victims sparks controversy
  THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, OCT 23 (UCAN) -- A Catholic Oriental Church's decision to deny church burial to suicide victims has generated controversy in Kerala, southern India.

The Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Church (SMC) came up with the ruling in August but it came to light only on Oct. 13 when a local newspaper reported on it.

This and subsequent media reports have prompted people to question the Church's decision.

According to SMC spokesperson Father Paul Thelakat, his Church has decided to deny burial only for those who have created a scandal through their suicidal acts. The priest also noted the Church's synod had taken the decision way back in 2003, but it was formally incorporated into its rules only in August.

The Church made the rule to stress its opposition to the sinful act of committing suicide, the priest said. According to him, the Church will neither allow the body of a "scandalous suicide victim" to enter the church building, nor will the priest be allowed to accompany the funeral procession with prayers.

The Church offers three types of funeral services. In the first, "ceremonial burial," several priests or a bishop celebrate a Mass as well as give a homily. The second, "simple burial," has no homily or Mass although a priest will accompany the funeral procession with prayers.

In the case of a suicide that has caused scandal, mourners can bring the body up to the church's main gate for prayers and then take it to cemetery without the priest accompanying them. The Church's new law allows the priest to bless the grave but he cannot lead the funeral service, Father Thelakat clarified.

"It doesn't mean that all suicides are scandalous. It's for the parish council and the priest together to decide on the merits of each case," he added.

The SMC, the larger of two Catholic Oriental rites in India, has some 4 million members in 26 dioceses in India and abroad.

The priest clarified the Church is sympathetic toward suicide victims, but cannot approve of "their act of sin." The Indian criminal law punishes suicide attempts with imprisonment, he noted.

Several people, including Catholics, criticized the Church decision as "insensitive."

Thomas Varghese, an SMC member, says the Church is "unsympathetic to the unfortunate" victims. "God taught us to love our enemies and not discriminate anyone. But we are setting up laws to discriminate people after death," he charged.

Joseph Pulikunnel, editor of "Osana," a monthly magazine for laypeople, dismissed the Church's decision as arbitrary. "How can a man judge on this matter?" he asked. "It's not fair on the part of the Church to discriminate against someone who commits suicide in his agony."

Other Churches in Kerala have different rules for burying suicide victims.

The Latin Church, the largest of the three Catholic rites in India, does not discriminate against suicide victims, according to Father Ronald M. Varghese of Punalur diocese.

The Syrian Orthodox Church amended its laws some years ago to offer "decent burial" to suicide victims, said Father T.J. Joshua, a senior priest of the Church. Earlier, the body was taken to the vault and the priest visited only the victim's home, without wearing his customary black overcoat.
  Church rules out action against Hindu blast suspects
  By Bosco de Souza Eremita

PANAJI, OCT 23 (UCAN) -- The Church in Goa has refused to back calls for a ban on a Hindu group suspected of setting off a bomb that killed two people.

Police said they believe Sanatan Sanstha (eternal foundation), a Hindu spiritual organization, was behind a recent blast that was apparently targeted at other Hindus.

The multi-faith Citizens for Secularism and Communal harmony has demanded the government ban the organization and freeze its assets.

But Goa archdiocesan spokesperson Father Francis Caldeira said the Church cannot demand the Hindu group's ban unless its involvement "is proved beyond doubt."

One person died instantly and another four days after a bomb went off on Oct. 16, the eve of the Diwali festival of lights. Police say the toll would be worse, except that the bomb exploded before a Diwali parade reached the spot.

Sanatan Sanstha, which has denied responsibility, reportedly opposes the glorification of the effigy of Narkasur, a demon in Hindu mythology, during Diwali.

Shambhu Gaware, who works for the group's media wing in Goa, told reporters his organization promotes spirituality and does not support unlawful activities. He wants police to punish the "real culprits."

Commenting on the blast, Blessed Sacrament Father Bismarck Dias said it was a wake-up call for the Church to engage more seriously in dialogue with other sectors of society. "We cannot continue with our laid back or narrow attitude," he said.

Pilar Father Peter Raposo, a media expert, says the blast casualty would have been larger if the bomb had exploded as planned. He urged the government to step up its monitoring of spiritual groups, irrespective of religion.

Lilia Francisca Toscano, a Catholic activist, said the blast was an attack on "our traditional culture of communal amity, non-violence and all that goes in making up Goan culture."
  Don't stop the presses but be ready for the funeral
  By Maryknoll Father William Grimm

TOKYO, OCT 23 (UCAN) -- Throughout the world, newspapers appear to be on the verge of extinction. Electronic media, beginning with radio and television, but now especially the Internet, have drawn readers away from the printed page as a means of distributing news.

The result has been a loss in subscription and advertising revenue for newspaper companies and, consequently, the possibility of their financial collapse.

Several newspapers have given up print altogether and publish solely on the Internet. It remains to be seen if such a move will stave off extinction for organizations that have relied upon print and are hesitantly and sadly turning toward other media.

Young people, especially, do not look to newspapers for information. The situation is exemplified by a recent cartoon that shows two young people reading news on their computers. One youth says to the other, "Hey, you know what's cool? If your batteries run out you can go down to the store and they have the news all printed out on paper!"

In many places, the same problem faces the Catholic press. Not only is information available through non-print media, but people who have lost the habit of picking up newspapers to get information are unlikely to make an exception for Church news. Young people, the Church of the future, may never even think to pick up a Catholic newspaper, or even know that such things exist. The demise of the Catholic press is inevitable.

But, at least in Asia, it may still be a bit early to make funeral arrangements.

News and other information that can be acquired from the Internet require access to a computer and the ability to use it. Many of Asia's Catholics are too poor to afford such luxuries even if they are available. In some countries such as Japan, an ageing Catholic population is less likely than younger generations to use computers.

For another few decades (two to four?), Catholic journalism will rely to some decreasing extent upon the printing press to turn out local-language news of the Church at home and around the world. But, even so, every editor's desk should have on it a picture of a tombstone with the name of his or her publication on it.

This does not mean the death of Catholic journalism. The Church's need for truly honest, relevant and useful sources of information for Asia's Catholics will grow even as the medium that distributed it in the past diminishes.

The Holy Spirit is active in Asia. Our vocation as Catholics is to know, give thanks for and proclaim that fact. The Spirit works through God's people, but for the most part, our parishes in Asia are small and scattered, and opportunities to know each other are limited. Catholic journalism provides one of the few tools to introduce us to Christians not only in our own countries, but around the world. When we see other Catholics' activities, we learn new ways to pray, to worship and to live and share our faith.

We are part of a world Church. Our brothers and sisters live in every land and time. Catholic journalists enable us to meet them and learn how they are a "light for the world." Scripture, history and the lives of the saints speak of what God has done for and through His people in the past. Journalism tells us what God is doing for and through His people today. We also learn how the Pope, bishops and other Church leaders guide us in our Christian life and proclamation.

Homilies, Scripture study and other parish, diocesan and national programs help adults deepen their faith. But, not all Catholics have the time or opportunity to join such groups even if they exist.

Catholic media, whether on paper or a screen, are tools for on-going formation as adult Catholics.

Finally, a truly responsive media is a place where we can share ideas and experience through columns, letters, comments on blogs, Facebook and other formats.

The time has already passed for those involved in Catholic media to prepare for the post-print age. The electronic age is upon us, and we have no choice but to move toward the death of the Catholic press. The role of Catholic journalism shall remain, even though the mode of delivery will change. This period of decline can and should be a time to develop the necessary journalistic skills for whatever media the future requires.
  European Union blocking medicines for the poor
  By Sanjay Suri

LONDON, OCT 22 (IPS) -- The European Union is intercepting big shipments of medicines on their way to poorer countries, according to a new report published Tuesday. The generic medicines, coming mostly from India and headed for Latin American countries, have been intercepted and blocked on the grounds of alleged infringement of intellectual property rights.

A report produced jointly by Oxfam and the independent Health Action International says the generic shipments are legitimate under WTO rules. India and Brazil are due to file a complaint against the Netherlands before the World Trade Organisation (WTO) after it seized a shipment of anti-HIV drugs headed from India via Europe to Brazil, Colombia and Nigeria. "Although in transit, the patent law of the EU member state was called on by the right holder, and this was also the basis of the detainment by Dutch customs," Sophie Bloemen from Health Action International told IPS by phone from Brussels.

Since late last year Germany and the Netherlands have made customs seizures of 19 shipments of generic medicines bound for developing countries, the report says. Of the last 17 shipments, 16 were from India and one from China.

Of these 17 shipments, five were headed for Peru, four for Colombia, two each for Ecuador and Mexico, and one each for Portugal, Spain, Brazil and Nigeria.

Many of these medicines are urgently needed to treat life-threatening conditions such as AIDS.

The medicines included 30,000 pills that are AIDS inhibitors,100,000 pills of cardiologic medicines, 500,000 pills to treat schizophrenia, and 94,000 pills to help treat dementia, according to customs information made available to IPS by Health Action International.

The seizures are dubious to begin with -- and may not serve the intended purpose either.

"The EU has argued it needs to check for counterfeits as these are dangerous for public health," Bloemen tells IPS. "But counterfeits actually relate to a trademark infringement, not a patent infringement.

"So these are two different things, and you check for them in a different way too. Actually customs officials are incapable of checking adequately for patent infringement as it requires lab tests."

The European Union is putting the interests of big drug companies before people who cannot access essential medicines, the report says. The EU's actions undermine its obligations to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), as well as World Trade Organisation agreements, it says.

"The EU is increasing pressure on developing country governments to surrender their rights to obtain affordable, generic medicines in order to protect public health, even though these rights are guaranteed under global trade rules," the report says.

The EU is also insisting on tough new intellectual property rules in bilateral free trade deals that go beyond the WTO's existing Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), the report says.

"The EU is pushing these measures that will result in higher medicine prices in developing countries at the same time it is trying to reduce domestic medicine prices," the report says. "Twenty-four out of 27 EU member states have taken steps to implement price controls for medicines."

Companies making the complaints leading to the seizure of generic drugs may not themselves have a clean record. "The European Commission is carrying out a high profile investigation into the pharmaceutical industry for intellectual property abuses in the European Union, and is contemplating action against these companies," the report says.

"The EU is guilty of double standards," says Elise Ford, Oxfam head of EU advocacy. "One rule for the rich and another for the poor. A crackdown on European pharmaceutical prices is happening alongside a concerted effort to further push intellectual property rules that prevent poor countries from buying affordable medicines."

The EU's policies are increasing the cost of medicines, according to the report. "This is hitting the poorest people in developing countries disproportionately hard, as 20-60 percent of their health budgets are spent on medicines."

"Millions of poor people have to pay for medicines out of their own pockets, so even a small price rise can make them unaffordable," says Ford. "Europe's policies are directly responsible for this scandal."

The EU's trade policies demand that developing countries protect the interests of drug companies above public health priorities, and the EU demands exceed even those made by the much-criticised U.S. administration of former president George W. Bush, the report says.

The report details a number of other EU policies that it says are damaging access to medicines in developing countries. These include:

- promotion of a new global framework to enforce intellectual property rules which delay access to generic medicines in developing countries, including through seizures of legitimate medicines;

- obstructing progress at the World Health Organisation towards new models of research and development that meet health needs in developing countries;

- spending on research and development for developing countries that remains insufficient in spite of increases in recent years.

While the EU is increasing funding to improve healthcare for European citizens, it is denying developing countries the affordable medicines they need to ensure good health, the report points out.

"It's time that the EU joins up its policies. Both the European Commission (the executive arm of the EU) and member states must promote access to healthcare in their development policies and access to affordable medicines through their trade policy," says Ford.
  Church not afraid to preach Gospel, declares mission congress
  MUMBAI, OCT 22 (UCAN) -- Catholics in India will not be afraid to proclaim what Jesus means for them, asserts a message from the Indian Church's first mission congress.

Some 1,200 delegates from 160 dioceses attended the Oct. 14-18 congress titled Prabhu Yesu Mahotsav (Lord Jesus grand festival) with the theme, "Let Your Light Shine."

Preaching the Gospel is a human right enshrined in the Indian constitution, the 1,405-word congress message noted."

No opposition, no fear of persecution will deter us," it asserted.

However, Indian Catholics will respect other people's beliefs and religious practices while preaching Jesus, the message explained. They will try to familiarize themselves with the country's national and religious traditions and discover "with joy and reverence the seeds of the Word hidden in these traditions."

The message also says the Indian Church sees the need to retell Jesus' story in a language and form that the multi-religious and multi-cultural nation can understand.

The message says the five-day congress has helped delegates celebrate their faith in Jesus, "the Light of the World," and experience being blessed to witness how the light shines in the Indian Church's 13 regions. Prayers, personal testimonies and cultural activities marked the five-day event.

The message also says that toward the end of the program, the delegates felt the need to share their experience at the congress with "our brothers and sisters in the faith."

Members of India's three Catholic Church rites -- the Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites -- attended the meeting.

The congress message follows:




1. "God is light in whom there is no darkness at all" (1 Jn. 1:5). At the dawn of creation, He issued the command: "'Let there be light' and there was light" (Gen 1:4). At the end of time, He will gather the nations into the New Jerusalem, the city that "has no need of sun or moon to shine on it for the glory of God is its light and its lamp is the Lamb" (Revelation 21:22). During this beautiful festival of Deepavali, the festival of lights, we 1,200 delegates from 160 dioceses, together with 107 bishops of all three Ritual Churches gathered at St. Pius College, Goregaon, from October 14-18, 2009 for the first Indian Mission Congress, Prabhu Yesu Mahotsav. Our theme was: "Let Your Light Shine" (Mt. 5:16)

2. Prabhu Yesu Mahotsav has been for us a festival, a celebration of our faith in Jesus the Light of the World (Jn, 8:12). We felt ourselves blessed during these days marked by prayer, inter-ritual worship, inputs, personal testimonies, discussions and cultural activities as each of 13 regions that make up the Catholic Church of India portrayed how the Light of Jesus has shone in its region. Towards the end of the Congress, we feel the need of addressing this message to you our brothers and sisters in the faith.

3. During these days, we first of all contemplated the Lord Jesus, who is the light which enlightens everyone coming onto the world. (Jn. 1:9). Jesus in the Gospel of Luke begins his ministry with the words: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor" (Lk 4:18). Jesus proclaimed the Good News that God, Our Father, loves us and has made us his children in Jesus Christ by pouring out his Spirit into our hearts (Rom. 8:14). Jesus assures us that whoever follows him will never walk in darkness (Jn. 8:12). We believe Jesus is the answer to the ancient prayer of the sages of our country: "Lead me from darkness to light".1 In mysterious ways, he has been at work in the hearts of so many in our country down the centuries.

4. The Church, under the impulse of the Spirit, has been continuing the mission of Jesus. The mandate of the Risen Lord to his Apostles was: "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation" (Mk. 16:15). The apostles did just that: "and they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it." (Mk. 16:20). Two Apostles, Thomas and Bartholomew brought the Good News to our own country.

5. The proclamation of the Good News is called "Evangelization". Pope John Paul II strongly affirmed: "The Church evangelizes in obedience to Christ's command, in the knowledge that every person has the right to hear the Good News of the God who reveals and gives himself in Christ"2. Jesus is not "our possession" he came for all. The present Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, reminds us that sharing the Good News is the greatest service we can render to humanity3.

6. The evangelizing mission of the Church has taken different forms: One is works of mercy and compassion. She does what Jesus himself did: he proclaimed the Good News by words and by deeds as he cared for the sick and the afflicted (Mk. 1:32). Mother Teresa and so many others like her make visible the Church's commitment to evangelization through compassion. Church-run hospitals and hospices, efforts to reach out to those in prison are examples of the Church continuing the work of Jesus who "went about doing good" (Acts 10:32)

7. The developmental work of the Church is another form of evangelization. The Church cares for human beings right from the womb to the tomb as she stands for life and all that would promote life. Her work in the field of education is evidence of her interest in the all round human development. This is linked with the Church's involvement in justice issues to liberate the downtrodden and the marginalized. Through all these, the Church has contributed to building up the nation.

8. Another form that evangelization has taken in today's world is inter-religious dialogue. Living in a pluralistic world, the Church seeks to appreciate the religious richness of the others because she "rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions."4 Such a dialogue, as Pope John Paul II reminds us "should result in collaboration, harmony and mutual enrichment"5. Through inter-religious dialogue initiatives, the Church has striven to promote peace and harmony in our country.

9. During the Congress, we prayed over and reflected on what our calling as disciples of the Lord Jesus entails. He has called us to be the light of the world as he himself is the light. "You are the light of the world" he says to us. (Mt. 5:14). Our mission is to radiate the light of Jesus so that all persons will be illumined by his divine light.

10. As we reflected and prayed, we became even more vividly aware of the need of ourselves being re-evangelized. We realized more clearly the role of all of us, especially the laity -- women and youth in particular -- in the task of evangelization. Jesus proclaimed the Good News by his life. We will do the same by the witness of our lives called as we are to be "holy and blameless before him in love" (Eph.1:4). We recall the words of Pope Paul VI: "Above all, the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness" which involves "presence, sharing, solidarity"6. Each of us is called to be both the messenger and the message.

11. We will proclaim the Good News by lives of humble service to all around us beginning with our homes and neighborhoods. We commit ourselves to fighting corruption in public life by the probity of our lives. To stem the tide of consumerism we will live lives marked by simplicity and contentment.

12. Finally, we will not be afraid to proclaim what Jesus means for us by word. Pope John Paul II forcefully reiterated what Pope Paul VI had said: "There is no evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, are not proclaimed"7. This is a human right enshrined in the Constitution of our nation. No opposition, no fear of persecution will deter us.

13. As we have done through art and other channels, we will find new avenues of proclaiming the Good News especially through the media which offers us tremendous possibilities of reaching out widely and effectively especially to the youth.

14. Surely, we will proclaim Jesus in a manner respectful of the beliefs and religious practices of others. We will seek to be familiar with the national and religious traditions of our country discovering "with joy and reverence the seeds of the Word hidden in these traditions"8. We see the need of retelling the story of Jesus in an "inculturated" form -- in a language and form which is meaningful to our country with its plurality of cultures and religions. In every way, proclaim we must: "Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel" (1 Cor. 9:16).

15. As we end our first Indian Mission Congress, we pray to the Holy Spirit who anointed us at Baptism asking him to empower us to bring the Good News to our beloved country. We turn in prayer to Mary, the Star of Evangelization. The Visitation shows her to us as the first evangelizer carrying Jesus within her (Lk. 1:39-45). Like her, we shall carry Jesus to a world eagerly awaiting the Good News.

1 Tamasoma jyotirgamaya, Brihadaraka Upanishad 1, 3.28
2 Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Ecclesia in Asia, 20
3 2009 Mission Sunday Message
4 Vatican II, Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate, 2.
5 Ecclesia in Asia, 31
6 Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nutiandi 21
7 Quoted by John Paul II, Ecclesia in Asia, 19
8. Vatican II, Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity, Ad Gentes, 11.
  Vatican: Pope makes it easier for Anglicans to join Catholic Church
  By Gerard O'Connell, Special Correspondent in Rome

VATICAN CITY, OCT 21 (UCAN) -- In a historic move, Pope Benedict XVI has made it easier for Anglican clergy and laypeople to enter into full unity with the Roman Catholic Church, while preserving elements of their Anglican heritage.

Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), announced this at a special international press briefing in the Vatican on Oct. 20. He revealed that the Pope would issue an apostolic constitution -- a document to enact or promulgates laws -- on this matter in a few weeks.

The papal decision is the most extraordinary effort since the Protestant Reformation. It makes it possible for groups of Anglicans, willing to accept the tenets of the Catholic faith, to achieve "corporate reunion" with Rome even before the whole Anglican Communion, with its 80 million members in 160 countries, and the Roman Catholic Church have reached full doctrinal agreement.

At the press conference, the cardinal read extracts from a two-page text prepared by the CDF which summarized the Pope's decision and rapidly traced the history of Catholic-Anglican relations from the 16th century when King Henry VIII declared the Church of England independent of papal authority to the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

It recalled too how that council paved the way for ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion that has been taking place over the past 40 years.

Both the cardinal and the CDF note recalled how serious divisions emerged in the worldwide Anglican Communion over the past half century as Anglican Churches, breaking with tradition, began to ordain women as priests and bishops. Some, more recently, have also started to ordain openly homosexual clergy and bless homosexual partnerships. All this sparked a very serious, ongoing crisis which risks developing into a schism in the Anglican Communion.

In this new situation, many Anglican groups started looking to Rome and requested full communion, the cardinal explained. This sparked the papal response.

Archbishop Augustine DiNoia, former under-secretary at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who was involved in the whole process, also spoke at the press briefing.

He said that while serious efforts to heal the Catholic-Anglican division has taken place over the past half century, "our prayers for unity are being answered in ways we did not anticipate."

"The Holy Spirit is at work here, and the Holy See cannot not respond to this movement of the Holy Spirit for those who wish communion and whose tradition is to be valued."

Cardinal Levada said that in the forthcoming apostolic constitution, the Pope would introduce "a canonical structure that provides for such corporate reunion by establishing Personal Ordinariates" -- similar to dioceses -- which "will allow former Anglicans to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony."

The constitution envisages that "pastoral oversight and guidance will be provided for groups of former Anglicans through a Personal Ordinariate." Such "ordinariates" will be established "as needed" in consultation with local bishops' conferences. Their structure will be "similar in some ways" to that of military ordinariates which have been established in some countries to provide pastoral care to members of the armed forces and their dependants.

"The ordinary," who heads an ordinariate, can be either a celibate priest or an unmarried bishop, and "will usually be appointed from among former Anglican clergy," the cardinal stated.

He said the apostolic constitution "provides a reasonable and even necessary response to a worldwide phenomenon, by offering a single canonical model for the universal Church which is adaptable to various local situations and equitable to former Anglicans in its universal application."

"It provides for the ordination as Catholic priests of married former Anglican clergy" but "precludes the ordination of married men as bishops," he added.

Cardinal Levada said the Pope decided to establish this special structure in response to "the many requests" that were submitted to the Holy See over the past three years or more "from groups of Anglican clergy and faithful in different parts of the world who wish to enter into visible communion."

He revealed that about "20 to 30 bishops" had submitted requests, while "hundreds of requests" had been received from large groups of people," and not just from the Traditional Anglican Community (which claims 500,000 members worldwide). He declined to provide an overall figure of the number of Anglicans involved.

UCA News has since learned that the exclusion of married men from becoming bishops greatly disappointed many of the Anglican bishops who sought union with Rome, who now appear to be having second thoughts about joining the Catholic Church.

At the press briefing, the cardinal rejected suggestions that the Pope's decision might be interpreted as a radical change in the Vatican's commitment to ecumenical dialogue with the Anglican Communion, and insisted that "the initiative" had actually come from "Anglican groups," not from Rome. The Holy See had merely responded to their legitimate requests, he said.

Over the years many individual Anglicans had entered into full communion with the Catholic Church, he added, but "sometimes," too, groups of Anglicans had joined while preserving some "corporate structure," as happened with the Anglican diocese of Amritsar in India, and some parishes in the United States.

The cardinal argued that the Pope's decision to provide this new structure "is consistent with the commitment to ecumenical dialogue, which continues to be a priority for the Catholic Church, particularly through the efforts of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity."

Asked why there was no official from that pontifical council at the press briefing, Cardinal Levada said he had invited Cardinal Walter Kasper and Archbishop Brian Farrell, the president and secretary respectively of that Vatican office, but neither could attend as they had previous engagements.

When questioned about the consultation process that led to the Pope's decision, the cardinal revealed that the CDF had set up a working group to see how the Holy See might best respond to requests from the Anglican groups seeking communion with Rome.

The whole process was conducted in secrecy, with limited outside consultation. Thus, for example, only one bishop from England and Wales was consulted, but only "in his personal capacity."

The working group reported to the CDF's monthly meeting of cardinals and bishops of which Cardinal Kasper is a member, and the CDF referred its conclusion to the Pope, he said.

On the eve of the Vatican briefing, Cardinal Levada flew to London where, on Oct. 19, he briefed the Anglican bishops of England and Wales on the apostolic constitution. These bishops had rejected a similar proposal in 1992.

In London, the cardinal also spoke with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was informed of the papal decision only two weeks earlier.

On Oct. 20, however, when the cardinal gave his press briefing in Rome, a simultaneous media briefing took place in London at which, significantly, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury joined Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster.

The Anglican leaders issued a joint statement saying the announcement of the apostolic constitution "brings to an end a period of uncertainty for such groups who have nurtured hopes of new ways of embracing unity with the Catholic Church."

The two archbishops interpreted the apostolic constitution as "further recognition of the substantial overlap in faith, doctrine and spirituality between the Catholic Church and the Anglican tradition," and said that "without the dialogues of the past 40 years, this recognition would not have been possible."

They viewed the apostolic constitution as "one consequence of ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion," and together affirmed that "the ongoing official dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion provides the basis for our continuing cooperation."

The Archbishop of Canterbury is expected in Rome next month for talks in the Vatican.
  Invoking religion against liberals in Egypt
  By Cam McGrath

CAIRO, Oct 21 (IPS) - Self-appointed guardians of public morality are invoking an ancient instrument of Islamic jurisprudence against those whose ideas they deem immoral or heretical -- or simply to gain fame. "We are concerned about the huge rise in the number of hisba cases in recent years," says Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).

Hisba is a lawsuit filed by an individual who volunteers to defend society from anyone whose words or deeds he considers harmful to Islam. Introduced to Egypt in the eighth century, this obscure legal instrument empowers Muslims to hold their fellow citizens, and even the state, accountable for upholding religious virtue. Egypt's constitution permits the application of hisba ostensibly to encourage civic engagement for the public good. Yet rights groups claim that in the past decade the government has permitted the abuse of hisba legislation to appease conservative factions and to put pressure on the regime's opponents.

"About 95 per cent of the cases that reach court are against writers, artists and journalists who are critical of the government," says Eid. "The consequence is a prevailing atmosphere of fear, where people are afraid to express their ideas and opinions."

Secular author Sayed El-Qimni, telecom mogul Naguib Sawiris and feminist writer Nawal El-Saadawi are the latest high-profile targets of hisba lawsuits.

Conservative lawyers and clerics have declared El-Qimni's writing on religion and mythology blasphemous, and have filed hisba suits calling for the government to revoke the author's state literary prize and strip him of his Egyptian nationality.

Sawiris enflamed the wrath of Islamist lawyer Nizar Ghorab when during an appearance on a television talk show last month he criticised the constitutional article that makes Sharia (Islamic law) the basis for the country's legal system. Ghorab accused the Christian businessman of publicly disparaging Islam, and demanded his imprisonment.

Another lawyer, Nabih El-Wahsh, filed a hisba lawsuit against El-Saadawi after she founded a civil organisation to promote the separation of state and religion. He charged her with inciting contempt of Islam, and is seeking a jail sentence.

It is not the first time that El-Wahsh has invoked hisba against the prominent feminist. In 2001, he failed in an attempt to have El-Saadawi and her husband, Sherif Hetata, forcibly divorced on the grounds that he deemed the secular author to be an atheist. Muslims are forbidden from marrying non- believers, he told the court.

El-Saadawi has also been named in hisba cases that sought to have her books banned and citizenship revoked. Despite the barrage of attacks, she insists there is nothing personal behind them.

"These are mediocre lawyers...sensationalists who have exploited the situation of the increasing power of Islamic fundamentalism and the weakening of the government in the face of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood," she told IPS. "They don't just take me to court, they take everybody to court."

The problem, she says, is the government's complicity in the legal action against its most vocal critics. Legislation introduced in 1996 requires that the public prosecutor alone must decide which cases are referred to the courts.

"The public prosecutor is very selective in that sometimes he refers a case and sometimes he doesn't," says El-Saadawi. "Clearly he gets a green light from above. The public prosecutor never refers hisba cases against ministers or powerful government officials to court, but he always refers cases of thinkers and writers who are critical of the government, like myself."

There are no official figures on the number of hisba lawsuits filed each year, but rights groups are certain the number is growing. ANHRI's legal department documented over 600 hisba cases last year before losing count.

"We hear about the famous cases, but there are hundreds more besides these, consuming the effort of judges," says Eid.

A handful of conservative lawyers and clerics are responsible for the majority of hisba lawsuits. Some have made careers out of it.

El-Wahsh has filed more than 1,000 hisba cases over the past decade. Other lawyers have risen to prominence by taking high-profile free thinkers to court.

"It doesn't cost a penny to file a hisba case, and when you file one against someone famous for sure you'll be interviewed and appear on TV," Eid says. "These lawyers earn money from this fame, so some of them are filing over 200 cases a year. They know the court will refuse most of them, but it's good propaganda."
  "Caste, creed and religion had no meaning for Sir Syed"
  From Andalib Akhter

ALIGARH, OCT 20 -- Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy Dr. Farooq Abdullah has reminded the AMU fraternity that Sir Syed was fully committed to the wellbeing of his countrymen and for him caste, creed and religion had no meaning.

He said that if Sir Syed's ideals of large-hearted tolerance and peaceful co-existence were adhered to, regional differences would have disappeared.

Speaking at the Sir Syed Commemoration Meeting here on the occasion of Sir Syed Day, the mistier asked the AMU students to concentrate on achieving excellence in every walk of life and work towards shaping the destiny of India.

He asked the students to zero in on what wass coming in their way and hoped that AMU would produce a Nobel-laureate. He also announced setting up of a separate Department of Renewable Energy at AMU campus.

"The government has decided to tape these natural resources and Aligarh Muslim University can play an important role in setting up renewable energy department" he said.

On this occasion, AMU Chancellor and former Chief Justice of India Justice A. M. Ahmadi conferred the prestigious Sir Syed Ahmad Khan International Award-2009 on Prof. Syed Zahoor Qasim and Prof. Obaid Siddiqi for their remarkable contributions in Marine Biology and Molecular Biology respectively.

Vice-Chancellor Prof. P. K. Abdul Azis said that the university was on a resurgent track. The university has been able to get Rs. 185 crore for various development initiatives during the XI Plan.

The Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College would be upgraded at a cost of Rs. 150 crore. The Government of India has sanctioned Rs. 50 Crore for starting two special Centres of AMU in West Bengal and Kerala.

A residential Civil Services Coaching Academy at a cost of Rs. 14 crore was to start soon. The Schools under the AMU were on a modernization drive. The university was expecting support to the tune of Rs. 85 crore for creating facilities including appointment of 120 teachers, badly needed at these schools.

He announced that the AM had the 8th rank among the Indian universities in terms of research publications. The Government of India had granted Rs. 9 crore for the promotion of advanced research in the university.

  India-Iran sufi musical ensemble enthrals audience
  From Afsana Rashid

SRINAGAR, OCT 20 -- A unique confluence of musical traditions of two ancient civilizations -- India and Iran -- enthralled the audience at Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Complex here on October 19.

Music maestros of both countries mesmerized the gathering, in a jam-packed hall, with their lively performance, along the banks of the world famous Dal Lake.

The musical confluence was organised by Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages [J&KAACL] in collaboration with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department and Rumi Foundation. The Foundation works to create mutual respect for cultures, religions and regions.

The programme -- Jahan-e-Khusru [the realm of heart] -- was conceived, designed and directed by famous film maker Muzaffar Ali, who has directed more than 20 Bollywood films, including Umrao Jan (1981).

The Sufi festival featured mind-blowing performances of Baran Music Ensemble-Iran, Malini Awasthi and Group-Awadh and Ghulam Nabi Namtahali and Group-Kashmir.

Artistes of all the three groups shared stage, which was illuminated by lamps. They presented various Sufi Qalaams [poetry]. The Kashmiri group had 10 artistes followed by six in the Iranian group and five in the group from Awadh.

Ghulam Nabi Namtahali and group were the first to enthrall the audience with Amir Khusroo's poetry. Ghulam Nabi's father Abdul Gani Namtahali was a famous Sufi singer.

The Iranian group comprising Zaveish, S. Habibi, Aryaan Rahman [singer], Farukh-u-din, Hussain and Massood presented a special Iranian Qalaam. The group also revolved around 'Qalaams' of Amir Khusroo and Maulana Rumi.

The programme presenter in between the programme segments traced history of Iran and Kashmir. "Kashmir also known as "Iran-e-Sageer" [minor Iran] had good connections with Iran since decades."

Malini mesmerized the gathering with her melodious voice. She and her group, too, presented 'Qalaam' of Amir Khusroo. Thumri, dadra and ghazal are Malini's specializations.

Welcoming guests, Dr. Karan Singh, ICCR president, said "Kashmir has remained a centre of Sufism and the tradition is still alive, here."

He said "we are celebrating Jahan-e-Khusroo and the credit goes to Muzaffar Ali, famous film maker. Three groups are participating in the festival."

Dr. Singh added that the programme was designed to co-relate the Sufi tradition of Kashmir, Iran and Awadh adding "Amir Khusroo is our common heritage. His poetry is popular in Iran as well."

Zaffar Iqbal Manhas, Secretary, J&KAACL, said that as a part of cultural conversation between India and Iran, two ancient cultural identities in the world share a chronological association.

"This cross-cultural and cross-civilizational event is being initiated with the purpose to promote, highlight and understand the cultural ethos and philosophy of both nations," says the Secretary.

He said that international and inter-state cultural exchanges would strengthen ties between the state of Jammu and Kashmir and other cultural identities. "In this connection ICCR-New Delhi and J&KAACL have devised many such events, in near future."

"As a part of Indo-Iran friendship move, a unique cultural event was held here. It was the first event in valley of Kashmir," says Dr. Javaid Rahi, chief editor of the Academy.

Rahi said that the main objective of such programme is to bring together artists, writers, musicians, theatre activists from India and other countries of world. He added that the joint musical event would create a bridge of friendship and brotherhood between the civilizations.

Dr. Farooq Abdullah, Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy, Nawang Rigzan Jora, Minister for Tourism, Abdul Gani Malik, Minister for Higher Education, Usha Vohra, the first lady and Prof. Riyaz Punjabi, Vice-Chancellor University of Kashmir were among the dignitaries who attended. A galaxy of artistes, music lovers and foreign and local tourists also witnessed the grand cultural extravaganza.
  New party wants fair deal for minorities
  By Andalib Akhter

NEW DELHI, OCT 20 -- The newly formed Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) head by E Abubacker of Kerala has pledged to restore true democracy, socialism and secularism in the country.

At the first national convention of the party here on Sunday the delegates also vowed to eradicate starvation, illiteracy, unemployment and homelessness from the country. It said that fascist groups and zionist-imperialist forces were rapidly taking roots and the new party would strive to free the society from hunger and fear.

The party would also struggle for the implementation of the Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission's recommendations on reservation for minorities and extension of SC benefits to those social groups among Christians and Muslims who were engaged in similar occupations. It also demanded full and proper implementation of the Right to Education Act and abolition of child labor to ensure the enrollment of all children in the school system. It has also decided to pressurize the government for cancellation of the new criteria for defining families living below poverty line and reversal of privatization of public sector undertakings in order to protect the plunder of public property by private business.

Talking to this correspondent, the chief of the party E Abubacker said that the 60 years of Independence could not turn the concepts of secularism and equality into practice. Rather the attitude of the government towards minorities had become biased and unfair. He said that the gap between the haves and the have-nots had been increasing rapidly. "Our society is witnessing various kinds of discrimination, mainly on the basis of religion. The situation was so bad that a person of minority community was not in a position to secure a flat in a posh area in the cities", he said adding that the sign of Muslim identity was being used to symbolize terrorism and treason. A Muslim had to carry the burden of producing evidence to prove that he was not a terrorist. "Muslim ministers and MPs are forced to distance from their community. They issue statements under compulsion against their own community as proof of their commitment to the nation".

Rebuffing suggestion that his party was South Indian and was trying to make inroads into the North, the SDPI leader said: "We are neither South Indians nor North Indians, we are only Indians. When Sonia Gandhi from Italy and L.K. Advani from Sindh were given political space, why not we," adding people had to reject such design.

In a resolution passed at the convention the party asked the government to re-investigate all encounter killings. It wanted the government give up its neo-liberal economic policies and return to the policy of non-alignment. It expressed solidarity with the Bhopal gas tragedy victims and decided to launch a national movement for reservation.
  Bangladesh: Catholic doctors struggle to practice Church teaching despite pressures
  DHAKA, OCT 20 (UCAN) -- Catholic doctors say a recent workshop for them provided welcome encouragement as they try their best to follow Church teachings in the face of societal pressures.

Doctor Sebastian Halder, who attended the 7th Annual Gathering of Catholic Doctors on Oct. 16, applauded the Church for organizing the event.

Coming together, he said, "helps strengthen our fraternity and commitment to the service."

The participants came from around the country to attend the workshop organized by the Episcopal Commission for Health Care.

One of them, Doctor Noel Charles Gomes, told UCA News his Catholic values sometimes clash with social expectations.

"The Church tells us to stand against contraception and unethical birth control methods," he noted. "Many of my colleagues do these for the money, but I never do so because of my Catholic faith."

Like others who attended, he said such a gathering boosts the doctors' morale and gives them "added courage to act on their Christian values."

Doctor Edward Pollob Rozario, a Church activist for HIV/AIDS awareness, pointed out that Catholic doctors also face other challenges in Bangladesh.

"It's difficult for Christians to enter this profession," he said, adding that Catholic doctors sometimes face discrimination for refusing to perform abortions.

Auxiliary Bishop Theotonius Gomes of Dhaka, chairman of the bishops' health commission, encouraged the doctors in their opposition to abortion. "Human life is holy. No one has the right to take away lives," he said.

The Holy Cross bishop also told them that although birth control is being promoted in the country, "you need to stand strong in practicing Christian values in your service to patients."

According to Catholic Church teaching, artificial contraception "is intrinsically immoral," he reminded them.

Halder told UCA News that that the episcopal commission had inspired the doctors to set up the Association of Bangladesh Catholic Doctors (ABCD) last year. The association organizes services for poor patients whatever their caste or religion.

During its most recent outreach, held in Gazipur, near Dhaka, on Aug. 15, members provided free medical services for 33 poor patients.

It plans to organize a free medical camp next month in the northeastern area of Sylhet.

The Church health commission counts about 75 Catholic doctors in Bangladesh. Less than one-third attended the workshop.
  Cardinal assures Indians they have nothing to fear from the Church
  MUMBAI, OCT 20 (UCAN) -- Cardinal Oswald Gracias has reassured Indians that the Catholic Church is not like a political party that seeks to increase its numbers to wield greater power. Rather, its task is to serve society.

The Church "does not seek power and prestige," the cardinal-archbishop of Bombay said on Oct. 18 in his homily during the concluding Mass of the first Indian Mission Congress. "She does not seek an increase in numbers just for greater influence," he stressed.

Some 1,500 delegates from the country's 160 dioceses attended the five-day congress titled Prabhu Yesu Mahotsav (Lord Jesus grand festival) in Mumbai, formerly called Bombay.

Apart from Catholics, hundreds of people from various Christian denominations and some Hindus were among those present at the Mass, a public affair open to media. The Church leader's remarks were reported on the Internet, and several videos of the proceedings can be seen on YouTube.

Cardinal Gracias, president of the congress's organizing committee and First Vice President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, acknowledged that some Indians fear the Church aims to convert people to Christianity.

Some states in India want laws to stop "forced" conversions, he pointed out. "Our answer to them is that there is no need for your anti-conversion laws. The Catholic Church does not believe in forced conversions."

The prelate added that any "forced" conversion would be "meaningless, because conversion is a transformation of heart -- a turning to God, for us Christians a turning to Jesus Christ."

The Church official urged Hindus not to feel threatened by the Church or its activities. The Catholic Church, he explained, wants to make the world a better place as directed by Christ. "We tell you that we serve because we were told to do so by Jesus, who was sent by God to bring love, peace and harmony into the world."

Describing the anti-Christian violence in 2008 in the eastern Indian state of Orissa as "a bad dream," the cardinal commended the victims for forgiving their offenders, as Christ taught.

The entire Church supports the Christians in Orissa and feels edified by stories of their heroic martyrdom, he continued. "The Church of India is with you," he told the delegates from Orissa.

Cardinal Gracias urged the Orissa government and other states where Christians have faced violence not to forget their constitutional duty to protect all minorities.

Father Joaquim Fernandes, media convener for the congress, said the delegates joined Hindus to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, on Oct. 17.

That evening, the delegates "lit their candles from one big lamp, and the entire venue was filled beautifully with little lights," he shared.
  Christians, Muslims rally for release of kidnapped priest
  PAGADIAN CITY (PHILIPPINES), OCT 19 (UCAN) -- About 300 Muslims and Christians called for the release of Columban Father Michael Sinnott as they marched along the route the priest's armed kidnappers are believed to have taken.

As they walked, Christians prayed the rosary and Muslims carried candles. They brandished streamers and placards, one of which read: "Return to us Father Mick SAFE and SOUND."

Some people could be seen weeping during the Oct. 18 event in the southern Philippine province of Zamboanga del Sur.

The previous Sunday, armed men forced their way through the gate of St. Columban's Residence in Pagadian City, seized 79-year-old Father Sinnott and bundled him into a van. They later transferred him to a boat, which headed out to sea.

Police found the charred shell of the van in a suburb of Santa Lucia, a Zamboanga del Sur town. The provincial governor's office on Oct. 15 released sketches of three suspected kidnappers based on witnesses' accounts.

No group has yet claimed responsibility.

Mothers of children attending Hangop Kabataan (care for youth), a foundation the priest founded for children with special needs, helped organize the Oct. 18 prayer rally.

It began at 9 a.m. at the school the foundation runs, which Father Sinnott established in 1998. About 500 children, parents, Church workers, parishioners and members of interfaith and non-governmental groups gathered for the event.

Before the procession, deaf children of the school performed two dances expressing their "deep pain and sorrow" over the kidnapping of the cheerful Irish missioner they call tatay (father).

"Our children need him," one sobbing mother told UCA News as she watched.

Besides parents of the children the foundation serves, the Muslims and non-Christians who attended the rally were mostly the priest's co-members in the Interfaith Forum for Solidarity and Peace. That organization of Christians, Muslims and indigenous people with native beliefs was formed to build understanding and peace in Pagadian diocese.

Father Patrick O'Donoghue, director of Columbans in the Philippines, who was out of the city at the time of the rally, later expressed gratitude for the initiative.

"I wish I could have been there," he told UCA News. Earlier, he said his congregation remains most concerned about the health of their kidnapped confrere, who had a heart bypass in 2007.

Father O'Donoghue also said there was no truth to media reports that Columbans had sought US aid for the search and rescue of Father Sinnott. He acknowledged that Columbans in the US had written to the Philippine ambassador there and to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton expressing concern, but said this was their own initiative.

Columbans in the Philippines were pleased with efforts by local authorities, he added.

The Crisis Management Committee for the search and rescue of Father Sinnott, headed by Governor Aurora Cerilles of Zamboanga del Sur, reported on Oct. 17 that it had no leads but was focusing its operations on Zamboanga del Sur, and the adjoining provinces of Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte.

Pope Benedict XVI referred to the kidnapping when he addressed pilgrims in Rome Oct. 18, in St Peter's Square.

"On this World Mission Day, I wish to remember the men and women missionaries -- priests, religious men and women and lay volunteers -- who consecrate their total life to bringing the Gospel to the world, facing hardships and difficulties and at time even true and proper persecutions," he said.

"I am thinking, among others of Father Ruggero Ruvoletto, an (Italian) Fidei Donum priest, who was recently killed in Brazil, and of Father Michael Sinnott," who the Pope noted had been "kidnapped some days ago in the Philippines."

Father Ruvoletto, 52, was shot dead on Sept. 20 in Manaus, capital of Brazil's Amazonas state, in what appears to have been a robbery.

On Oct. 14, the bishops of Ireland called for their countryman's release in a press release ahead of World Mission Sunday.
  Holy See urges Hindus, Christians to work for human advancement
  VATICAN CITY, OCT 19 (UCAN) -- Greeting the world's 800,000 Hindus for the feast of Deepavali, or Diwali, the Vatican has asked them to work together with Christians "for integral human development."

This means "the advance towards the true good of every individual, community and society, in every single dimension of human life," explains the message from the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Everyone shares responsibility for "protection of human life and respect for the dignity and fundamental rights of the person," the council said in its annual letter for this major Hindu festival.

This respect for others "implies the recognition of their freedom: freedom of conscience, thought and religion," it added.

"When persons feel respected in their primary choice as religious beings, only then are they able to encounter others and cooperate for the progress of humanity."

The annual "festival of lights," which Hindus in most parts of the world celebrated on Oct. 17 this year, dates to the Vedic period, around 2,000 years before the birth of Christ. It commemorates the victory of light over darkness, and good over evil.

The pontifical council released the text of its message on Oct. 17 in English, French, Hindi and Italian. It has now sent such a greeting for 17 consecutive years.

Nunciatures around the world forwarded the message to Hindu organizations, Indian embassies and to the local Catholic bishops' conference in India and countries where there are large Hindu populations. These countries include Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Indonesia, Mauritius, Singapore and the United States.

The full English text follows:



Christians and Hindus: Committed to Integral Human Development

Dear Hindu Friends,

1. It is my joy to greet you all, once again, in the name of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue: a Happy Deepavali! Religious Festivals enable us to revitalize our relationship with God and one another. May this Festival of Lights, while elevating our minds and hearts towards God, the Supreme Light, strengthen fellowship among us and bless us all with happiness and peace.

2. Honoring the tradition of this Pontifical Council to share a thought on matters of common concern, I would like to propose this year that we reflect on the need to work together for integral human development.

3. Integral human development implies the advance towards the true good of every individual, community and society, in every single dimension of human life: social, economic, political, intellectual, spiritual and religious. Pope Paul VI described it as "development of the whole man and of all men" (Populorum Progressio, 1967, no. 42) "from less human conditions to those which are more human" (Ibid., no.20). And Pope Benedict XVI wrote recently that "integral human development presupposes the responsible freedom of the individual and of peoples" (Caritas in veritate, no. 17).

4. Such authentic human development can be achieved only by assuming a shared responsibility for one another and by seriously engaging in collaborative action. This springs from our very nature as human beings and our belonging to one human family.

5. In the process of integral development, protection of human life and respect for the dignity and fundamental rights of the person, are a responsibility of everyone, both individually and collectively.

6. Respect for others therefore implies the recognition of their freedom: freedom of conscience, thought and religion. When persons feel respected in their primary choice as religious beings, only then are they able to encounter others and cooperate for the progress of humanity. This shapes a more peaceful social order conducive to development.

7. Integral human development also requires the political will to work towards ensuring greater protection of human rights and peaceful co-existence. Development, freedom and peace are inextricably linked together, and they complete one another. Lasting peace and harmonious relations emerge in an atmosphere of freedom; so also, integral human development is accomplished in an environment of peace.

Let us all, as people of good will, join together to dispel every darkness that hinders a true vision of co-existence, religious harmony and integral development for each and every person.

May Deepavali be an occasion to celebrate our friendship and boldly proclaim the victory of good over evil, light over darkness, and work together to bring about an era of true freedom 'for all' and integral human development 'of all'.

My best wishes, once again, for a splendid and joyous Deepavali.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran

Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata
  Korea: Unusual 'parish' supports evictee families
  SEOUL, OCT 18 (UCAN) -- Catholic priests and laypeople are continuing to support former tenants of a building whose family members died during a police raid to evict them.

Six people died after a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) police unit stormed the four-story Namildang building at the Yongsan redevelopment site in central Seoul on Jan. 20. The operation aimed at removing over 40 tenants protesting a redevelopment project.

During the clash, a five-meter-high lookout post the protesters had set up on the roof of the building caught fire. The flames spread along the rooftop and the post collapsed killing five protesters and one SWAT team member. Twenty others were injured.

The protest has continued and families have refused to hold funerals for the victims, demanding the police take responsibility for the tragedy. The government, on the other hand, has denied that the police are to blame. In the meantime, the bodies of the five tenants are still lying in a morgue.

On March 28, retired Father Bartholomew Mun Jung-hyun of Jeonju began daily Masses for the deceased and the bereaved families at the building.

Father Peter Lee Kang-suh, director of the Catholic Urban Poor Pastoral Committee of Seoul archdiocese joined the protesters on Easter Sunday, April 12.

The priests are still there and have been living in a tent next to one housing the bereaved families. Here they share meals and discuss further plans.

"By staying together, we try to show that society hasn't forgotten the incident, nor has God," Father Lee said.

Their daily Masses are held in a street next to the building. Usually several priests from various dioceses and Religious congregations concelebrate the Mass with about 200 Religious and laypeople participating.

At least some 30 policemen are there everyday to keep an eye on them.

"As we are still residing in a tent in front of the site, visitors have started calling it a parish, so just like that, I became the 'parish priest of Namildang,'" Father Lee told UCA News.

Rosa Kim Jin-sook, a parishioner of Hwagokbon-dong Church, commented, "Although it is not a real parish, 'Namildang Church' is the place where the Church's spirit of helping poor people with love is realized."

The laywoman in her 60s tries to attend as many Masses at Yongsan as possible. "Attending Mass in the street is somewhat uncomfortable, especially if it rains. But, I wish more Catholics would join it," she added.

Yoo Young-sook, 50, whose husband was burned to death on Jan. 20, says she appreciates the priests' efforts very much.

"After the priests started giving their support, our situation has improved very much and the pressure from police has eased," she said. "They help us a lot to keep up our struggle against the police and the government.

Since June 15, the Catholic Priests' Association for Justice (CPAJ) has also been holding prayer rallies every Monday in various dioceses for a solution to the situation. Catholics from around the nation have also sent food daily to the evicted tenants.

Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk of Seoul, who sent Father Lee to console the bereaved families, said in an interview with the daily "Kyunghayng Shinmun" on Sept. 30 that he had asked for a swift resolution of the situation.

He said he had asked the government to provide sufficient compensation to the families of the dead and to reconsider a redevelopment policy which gives evicted tenants little compensation.

Meanwhile, new Prime Minister Chung Un-chan, visited the Namildang building on Oct. 3, becoming the first senior government official to visit the site. During a National Assembly session in September, Chung had promised to visit the bereaved families as his first task as prime minister.

During his visit, he said that he personally felt very sorry about the situation, and would try his best to resolve the situation.
  SCIENCE WATCH: Indian arsenic clean-up 'working well'
  NEW DELHI -- A new chemical-free method to remove arsenic from water is working well in pilot plants in India , scientists report.

The method, developed by a team of European and Indian scientists, was tested in six plants set up to supply safe arsenic-free water to Kasimpore village in India's West Bengal state, one of the most arsenic-contaminated sites in the world.

An estimated 140 million people in Asia are affected by arsenic contamination of groundwater. Chronic exposure can cause cancers of the skin, lungs, heart and kidneys.

To read the full story use this link:

Brown rice could aid diabetes control

COLOMBO -- Sri Lanka's traditional brown rice varieties are rich in a group of chemicals that could aid diabetes control, new research shows.

Scientists have found that bran -- the outer covering of brown rice grains -- contains chemicals that inhibit the enzyme responsible for the breakdown of complex sugars into glucose, and thus reduces the amount of sugar available to the body.

The scientists, from the Industrial Technology Institute (ITI) of Sri Lanka, Colombo, studied 23 traditional rice varieties between March 2008 and May 2009.

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Harvesting biofuel from solar panels

Genetically-altered algae housed within 'biological solar panels' could be the future of biofuel production -- but critics say it is early days yet.

Diatoms are a type of algae, typically found coating stones in rivers and lakes. They contain oil droplets within their cells that could be used as biofuel, say scientists at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). One hectare of diatom cultivation could produce 10–200 times the oil produced by equivalent soybean cultivation, says T. V. Ramachandra, a professor of ecological sciences at IISc.

Normally diatom oil is used as a reserve nutrient, like fat in humans, and there is no mechanism to secrete it. However, diatom cells secrete silica outside the cell walls. If they could be made to secrete oil in a similar way, say the researchers, it could be harvested easily.

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Concerns over herbal swine flu remedy

CAIRO -- Excitement about a potential herbal remedy for swine flu -- influenza A(H1N1) -- may be unfounded, according to an expert in pandemic preparedness.

There was wide publicity last month for the discovery that compounds in the roots of the plant Ferula assa-foetida -- used during the 1918 flu pandemic -- have "potent" activity against A(H1N1) viruses in laboratory tests and could be a cheap, traditional way of tackling infection.

But George Avery, of Purdue University in the United States , says the time needed to demonstrate effectiveness, along with proving its safety, rules it out as a treatment for this outbreak.

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Egypt to accept patent applications in Arabic

CAIRO -- Egypt is set to become the first country to accept patent applications in Arabic -- a move that could speed up the patenting process for Arabic speakers around the globe.

The Egyptian Patent Office (EGPO) was appointed as an International Searching Authority (ISA) and International Preliminary Examining Authority (IPEA) during the recent assemblies of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) member states (22 September–1 October).

EGPO has become the fifteenth international office to be approved by WIPO under the Patent Cooperation Treaty. It is the first African or Arab country to receive accreditation and the third in the developing world, joining Brazil and India .

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Benin farmers unite against effects of climate change

COTONOU -- Farmers in Benin are implementing their own research findings to boost the soil fertility and moisture retention of their plots.

The experiment is part of the project Strengthening the Capacity to Adapt to Climate Change in Rural Benin (PARBCC) -- established in late 2007 -- which aims to create a three-way conversation between farmers, meteorologists and the government, and help farmers make informed choices about when to sow and harvest crops.

Some 300 farmers are enrolled in sixty 'field schools' across the country, working with researchers to help Beninese farmers cope with droughts, tropical storms and other hazards related to climate change. The project's aim is to develop, test and implement farming strategies suited to local conditions. These include mulching, planting pits, adopting integrated crop management and using organic fertilisers.

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  Nepal: Catholics join Hindus in celebrating 'festival of lights'
  KATHMANDU, OCT 16 (UCAN) -- Catholics in Kathmandu are all set to join hands with their Hindu compatriots in celebrating their major festival, which commemorates the victory of light over darkness.

The five-day-long festival in Hindu-majority Nepal begins on Oct. 16, and is equivalent to India's Diwali, which starts Oct. 17.

"As the festival holds special cultural importance, all Nepalese, irrespective of their faiths join in the celebrations as one community," Father Robin Rai, parochial vicar at the Church of the Assumption, told UCA News.

"Though there will be no official statement from the Church wishing our Hindu brothers and sisters on the occasion, I personally would like to wish them a happy and safe Tihar," he said.

During the festival, houses are decorated with electric lamps, and candles and oil lamps are placed on windowsills and verandas. People celebrate by feasting on meat and sweets.

Father Rai said that officially, the Church does not light lamps or candles to mark the festival but parishioners do celebrate the festival in their homes and with relatives.

Rosemary Giri, a Catholic girl, says she will light candles and diyos (oil lamps) in her home "like our Hindu brothers and sisters."

"As we have always taken this festival to be a time of merry-making rather than the worshipping of gods and goddesses, I plan to celebrate it with gusto this year too," Giri told UCA News.

The course of the Nepalese festival follows a journey from darkness to light, with symbols of death in the form of crows on the first day and dogs, the traditional guards of the underworld on the second, giving way to the lighting of lamps on the third and main day of the festival.

The fourth day is dedicated to Yama, the god of death, to whom people pray for long life. On the final day, called Bhai Tika, women and girls place tika (a paste of rice and vermillion) on the foreheads of their brothers and wish them long life and happiness.

In Pokhara, a scenic town about 200 kilometers west of Kathmandu, male parishioners will gather at the Catholic church here to receive tika from nuns on Oct. 19.

"Though the celebration will not be exactly like our Hindu brothers' and sisters', nuns of congregations like the Missionaries of Charity and the Sisters of the Cross of Chavanod will put tika on the foreheads of male parishioners," said Simon Lama, a parishioner.

Annie Fitzpatrick, a parishioner of Assumption Church here, said she is eagerly waiting for Bhai Tika to come so that she can show her love and respect for her brothers.

"This is the time to make merry, enjoy the holidays and show our respect to my brothers by putting tika on their foreheads," said Fitzpatrick, a schoolteacher. "All this is part of our rich culture and we have been marking the occasion along with the Hindus for ages."

Ruben Shrestha, another Catholic, said he celebrates Tihar as all his family members are Hindus. "My Hindu parents celebrate the occasion, worshipping the various gods and goddesses and feasting on a variety of food and decorating our house. Except for the worshipping part, I join in the celebrations with them," said Shrestha.
  Mission congress participants urged to 'incarnate' Christ's message
  MUMBAI, OCT 16 (UCAN) -- The mission of the Church is to help Catholics "incarnate" their faith as part of their very identity, "and spread it without fearing any consequences," asserts an Indian prelate.

"When a Christian incarnates and lives his faith, all false charges of conversion by fraudulent means, enticement and force sound hollow" because these stem from misunderstanding and prejudice, said Bishop Thomas Dabre of Poona.

The prelate was speaking during his Oct. 14 keynote address at the ongoing Indian Mission Congress.

Some 1,500 delegates from India's 160 dioceses are attending the Oct. 14-18 event, called "Prabhu Yesu Mahotsav" (Lord Jesus grand festival) in Mumbai, the country's commercial capital.

The festival's theme is "Let Your Light Shine: Become the Message and the Messenger. The event is a follow-up to the Asian Mission Congress held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in 2006, in which one resolution was to hold similar national, regional and diocesan gatherings.

In his address, titled "Let the Messenger Become the Message," Bishop Dabre cited last year's attacks against Christians in Orissa, eastern India, as an example of Christians suffering courageously to carry out the mission of evangelization.

In his speech, Bishop Dabre stressed that it is only by living fully in Christ that Catholics can effectively become both Christ's "messenger" as well as his "message."

When the message and the messenger become one, a new bright path opens out whereby the light of Christ can be shared with everyone in India and around the world, said the prelate, who is chairman of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India's Commission for Doctrine and Theology.

Bishop Dabre said the Church's commitment to serve others is reflected in its extensive network of educational establishments, health services, relief and rehabilitation programs and other social services.

"We become true missionaries when we declare that we take care of the poorest of the poor for the sake of Christ," said the prelate, who is former professor of theology at Jnana-Peetha Vidyapeeth, Asia's largest Catholic seminary in Pune.

Bishop Dabre also emphasized that evangelization demands "we don't relativize or water down the necessity of the Church for salvation."

"It is not right to say 'yes' to Christ and 'no' to the Church, for Christ makes himself present in the Church," he explained.

The Church today, the prelate said, encourages the laity to be an effective and fruitful witness to Christian life in the temporal and secular sphere. "In the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural Indian society, the laity should be proactive in promoting the mission of the Church."

The prelate said he has always been impressed by Hindus who have expressed a desire to receive Holy Communion. "This I understand as a longing for Jesus Christ, the savior of the world", he said.

Many people, the prelate said, attend prayers and devotions in churches, prayer halls and pilgrimage shrines, which is indicative of India's spiritual hunger.

The prelate said the Church is basically missionary and Christians are urged to follow the examples of people like Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata, Saint Francis Xavier and Saint Alphonsa, India's first woman saint, to spread the light of Christ through deeds of love and service.

Many missioners carry out this mission amid suffering, atrocities and persecutions in India and elsewhere in the world, Bishop Dabre added.
  Return of India's traditional birth attendants urged to meet MDG 5
  By Ranjit Devraj

NEW DELHI, Oct 15 (IPS) -- As India struggles to lower one of the world's highest maternal mortality rates, activists and experts are calling for a revision of polices aimed at "institutionalising" deliveries in resource-poor rural settings and phasing out the 'dai' or traditional birth attendant (TBA).

According to a report released last week by Human Rights Watch (HRW), India's maternal mortality rate is 16 times higher than Russia's and 10 times higher than China's. Also, in several parts of the vast country, the rates have been worsening in spite of various government schemes and programmes -- and possibly because of them.

In 2005, the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) in India was 450 per 100,000 live births, slightly lower than the average ratio of South Asia (which comprises the country), estimated at 490, considered the second highest by region, next to African. According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), an estimated 80,000 Indian women, either pregnant or new mothers, die each year from preventable causes, including haemorrhage, eclampsia, sepsis and anaemia.

The HRW report, 'No Tally of the Anguish: Accountability in Maternal Health Care in India,' focuses on India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh to show persistent failures in providing care for pregnant women. It also identifies caste discrimination, lack of accountability and limited access to emergency care as chief causes of maternal deaths.

Annie Raja, general secretary of the Communist Part of India-affiliated National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), told IPS that the failures were at least partly driven by policies blindly designed to meet the fifth Millennium Development Goal (MDG5) of reducing MMR by three quarters by 2015.

MDGs are eight development goals to be achieved by 2015.

"There is a belief that MMR can be brought down by increasing skilled attendance at deliveries without considering realities on the ground such as non-functional or absent primary health centres as well as lack of personnel and funds," said Raja. A key MDG5 prescription is to maximise the number of births attended by skilled health personnel.

In India this has meant a gradual phasing out of the 'dai' or TBA, who is considered illiterate, unskilled and difficult to train in the handling of pharmaceutical drugs that may be required during a birth emergency.

Until 2005 when India launched its flagship National Rural Health Mission, some of the country's estimated one million 'dais' were also given training and had some recognition, but they have since then been steadily replaced by Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) whose main job is to register pregnant women and encourage them to seek institutionalised care at government facilities.

An ASHA (which translates as 'hope' in Hindi) must be literate and have received primary education until class eight. She acts as a primary health worker and receives incentives for providing referral and escort services for pregnant women to health care centres.

But there are real practical problems, said Raja. "An ASHA gets just Rs 600 (12.8 US dollars) per live delivery in a government facility and is expected to bear the costs of transporting the pregnant woman and other costs along the way. If the delivery takes place outside the hospital premises, she gets nothing and then she has no training in midwifery."

"Also, while the programme promised 'concrete service guarantees' such as free care before and during childbirth, emergency obstetric services and referral in case of complications, beneficiaries were limited to women classified as living below the poverty line or else belonged to tribal or 'dalit' (low caste) groups," Raja said.

While a few 'dais' turned into ASHAs, the literacy criterion ensured that the vast majority of them got excluded, along with skills gained through sheer experience.

"There is nothing wrong with the concept of 'skilled attendance at birth' as defined by the World Health Organization [WHO] and UNICEF except for the simple fact that basic health services are simply not available to the vast majority of people in India," said Raja.

Dr Usha Shrivastava, a former researcher at the prestigious All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, said the problem is one of resources. "'Dais' provided a real service by operating in areas far away from any centre where a skilled birth attendant (SBA) may be available and deal with pregnant women who are often anaemic, malnourished and have no access to safe drinking water and, therefore, already compromised," she said.

Shrivastava, editor of 'Health Positive,' a journal that specialises in 'best practices in clinical and public health,' said that even if qualified doctors or SBAs can be taken to remote rural areas, there is little that they can do in a birth emergency in a setting where there is no electricity, blood bank or sterile settings.

Usha and Raja are not alone in their view that 'dais' should be empowered rather than phased out, as envisaged under MDG5.

A team of researchers led by Anthony Costello at the department of child health at University College, London, reported in 2006 that while TBAs were not a substitute for trained midwives, they were the main provider of care during delivery of millions of women, especially in settings where mortality rates were high.

"Since 1990 international agencies and academics without robust evidence have persuaded governments to stop training programmes for traditional birth attendants," Costello commented in the British 'Lancet' journal.

Many national policies promoting institutionalisation of birth deliveries follow the ideals of the 'Safe Motherhood Initiative' launched in Nairobi in 1987 by the WHO, UNICEF, the United Nations Population Fund and the World Bank and by the International Conference on Population and Development in 1994. In September 2000, 189 world leaders committed their nations to the MDGs, which included improving maternal health.

Raja said that in India a medical elite and a bureaucracy anxious to tote up figures showing increasing institutionalisation of deliveries have forgotten the harsh realities of rural India. "It is not difficult to see why, in spite of various government policies, only 17 percent of all deliveries in this country take place in a hospital or are attended to by an SBA," she said.

Raja said the best way out is to develop alternate strategies that recognise the services and skills of TBAs, and incorporate them into the health system in such a way that women in the rural areas and those that belong to marginalised groups are adequately covered.

Gargi Chakravarthy, a Delhi University historian and an activist with the NFIW, said the marginalisation of TBAs or 'dais' stretches back to British colonial times and has continued into contemporary India through policies drawn up by a bureaucracy with colonial moorings. "We need firstly to reorient the bureaucracy to current realities," she said.

Chakravarthy pointed to copious documentation that shows the systematic devaluation of traditional health practitioners under colonial rule and the gradual replacement of the 'dai' by "lady health visitors" who promoted modern obstetric practices. The colonial period also saw the setting up of many hospitals where lying-in care was first made available for pregnant women.

"It was possible for Britain and other industrialised countries in the West to drastically reduce maternal mortality in the last century by providing professional midwifery care and by improving access to hospitals. This model was later followed by developing countries, but success depended crucially on the existence of a functioning health delivery system," Chakravarthy said.

Raja believes that the success of MDG5 lies in first implementing MDG3, which calls for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. "Too many of the decisions in public health are made by men while women's voices and concerns are routinely ignored."

"Last week's HRW report," said Raja, "comes as no great surprise when the cruel reality is that the public health system, which was once a mainstay of healthcare for more than 75 percent of the population, has fallen into neglect through the privatisation of health care and reduced budgetary allocations that now stands at slightly more than one percent of GDP."

"There is also the question of political will. Surely a country that calls itself an emerging power produces world-class doctors, has some of the finest medical facilities anywhere and promotes medical tourism can find a way to reach meet the MDGs," Raja said.
  St. Stephen's tussle continues to make headlines
  NEW DELHI, OCT 15 -- The tussle between the Church of North India and the principal-priest who manages its premier St. Stephen's College in New Delhi is making headlines once more.

The war of supremacy boils down to the issue of controlling appointments and admissions in the much sought after college that Protestant missioners began more than a century ago, the Pioneer daily newspaper reported.

The CNI, the newspaper said, is seeking an amendment to the college constitution to help it play a “significant role” in the administration. But the move has put college principal Reverend Valson Thampu and CNI Bishop Sunil Kumar Singh of Delhi at loggerheads.

The bishop is the chairperson of the college’s supreme council, which owns the college.

The CNI's "predatory move" to take over the college administration through the amendment and its attempt to have a say in the 35 per cent admissions under general quota has led to widespread resentment, especially among teachers, the newspaper said.

Already 50 per cent of the total admissions are reserved for Christians. Among them, 25 per cent are set apart for members of CNI or Churches in communion with it.

The amendment move, insiders say, aims to tap the huge demand for general quota seats, the paper alleged.

The amendment has not yet been passed. Currently the Church's role is limited to the selection of the principal according to the rules laid down by the University Grants Commission.

Traditionally, the CNI's role in administration has been limited to decisions related to maintaining the college's Christian character and not its daily affairs that the principal handles.

The college constitution states, "The supreme council shall have control of the religious and moral instruction of students of the college and of all matters affecting its religious character as a Christian college of CNI."

It further adds: "The supreme council shall have no jurisdiction over the college administration." However, there have been numerous instances of the Church directly interfering in administrative matters, the newspaper said.

SOURCE : Predator Church-out-to-smash-and-grab (Pioneer)
  Church appeals against order to provide information on property
  JABALPUR, OCT 15 (UCAN) -- Catholic officials in Madhya Pradesh say they are concerned about an order from a state commission that the Church disclose details of its properties.

The order, which appears to be directed solely at the Christian community, came from the education officer of Jhabua district on Sept. 24, say Church officials.

The officer had ordered Bishop Devaprasad Ganawa of Jhabua to furnish details of Church assets and quoted a Jan. 15 order of the state minority commission that sought details of Church land, churches and cemeteries.

Bishop Ganawa says the government move is "a cause of very serious concern for the Church." He said the district education officer issued another letter on Oct. 13 asking his diocese to furnish the details in three days.

"We have decided to approach the court against the education department's order since its compliance has far-reaching impact" on the Church all over the country, the prelate told UCA News.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal, who heads the Catholic Church in the central Indian state, also feels "there is a sinister motive behind this order."

"I cannot understand the wisdom behind the education department seeking details of our cemeteries and churches," he told UCA News.

The Church's major concern appears to be the demand for specific information on leased assets as well as donated assets it owns. Its many schools and charitable institutions stand on either leased or donated land.

Archbishop Cornelio said the minority commission was set up to protect minority religious communities and has no right to demand Church property details through the education department.

He said he fears the order paves the way to bring Church properties under state government control.

The Church in the state has taken up the matter with the state's Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan who denies any government plan to control Church property.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian people's party) has ruled the state since December 2003 and is seen as the political arm of Hindu radical groups that want to create a Hindu nation in India.

Christian groups complain that their people and institutions have faced attacks from Hindu radicals since the BJP came to power.

Archbishop Cornelio said the Church files tax returns every year and the registrar of companies and societies as well as other government offices have records of Church assets.

UCA News was unable to contact Anand Bernard, the Christian member of the commission, but Kulwant Singh Sachdeva, who represents Sikhism in the commission, said he was not aware of the order and refused to comment further.

Father Anand Muttungal, spokesperson of the Church in the state, says he views the development as "an attempt to gradually take control of Church properties" and monitor Church activities.

The government is using the minority commission to execute a "hidden agenda", the priest alleged, saying the move was part of an ongoing anti-Christian campaign in the state. If the government was "genuine" it would have issued similar orders to other minority communities. He said he has checked with their leaders and none of them has received such an order.
  Catholics urged to preach Gospel through service at mission congress
  MUMBAI, OCT 15 (UCAN) -- Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana opened the Indian Church's first mission congress on Oct. 14 urging Catholics to witness their faith through service.

The Church by its very nature is missionary and every Catholic has to become the light of Christ and live it daily, the papal representative told some 1,500 delegates from the country's 160 dioceses.

Cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, nuns and lay leaders are among the participants of the five-day Prabhu Yesu Mahtosav (Lord Jesus grand festival) in Mumbai.

The festival is a follow-up to the Asian Mission Congress held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in 2006, in which one of the resolutions was to hold similar national, regional and diocesan congresses.

Archbishop Lopez Quintana described the congress as "a remarkable event" in the Indian Church's history and said it would help spread "the Gospel of hope" to all, especially the suffering and the marginalized.

The Church always invites, but does not force, people to follow Jesus, the papal representative said, in an apparent reference to allegations that the Church's humanitarian works are a facade for converting people to Catholicism.

Observing that the event is taking place during Diwali, India's festival of lights, the archbishop said Christians have to help Christ's light shine in modern society. Diwali, which celebrates the victory of good over evil and light over darkness, falls on Oct. 17, the second last day of the congress.

The nuncio also commended the Indian Church for choosing a "fitting" theme for the congress: "Let Your Light Shine: Become the Message and the Messenger."

"We have to bring light to those ignorant of Christ, not only through our words, but particularly with our deeds of love and service," the nuncio said.

Another task for Catholics was to create a "cultural of peace and love" in a country beset with sectarian and ethnic conflicts, the archbishop said.

Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil of Ernakulam-Angamaly, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, hailed the congress as "a historic and unique" event that has united India's three Catholic Church rites -- the Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites.

"This intimate cooperation augurs well for the Catholic Church in India," said the cardinal, the head of the Syro-Malabar Church.

Cardinal Vithayathil urged Catholics to proclaim their faith courageously. "We should not be only messengers of Christ but also the message ourselves," he said while denying the charge that the Catholic Church engages in forced conversions.

"We believe in genuine conversion of heart and mind," he stressed.

Major Archbishop Moran Mar Baselios Cleemis of Trivandrum, head of the Syro-Malankara Church, said although the Church is "a miniscule minority" in India, its services to the poor, the oppressed and disadvantaged are deep and wide.

Methodist Bishop Elia Pradeep Samuel of Maharashtra and Gujarat, who was invited to speak at the event, expressed happiness to attend the Catholic Church's first mission congress. "We come from different denominations but we have one faith and one God in Jesus Christ," he said.
  Painting lessons for prisoners in Patna's Beur jail
  From Anuja Sipre

PATNA, OCT 14 -- The winds of change in Bihar have also brought a whiff of fresh air in the lives of the inmates of the only 'ideal' jail in the state -- Beur Central Jail, Patna.

In a step aimed at reforming the prisoners, the jail authorities have made arrangements to impart painting lessons to them. The painting classes are being managed by a teacher of the College of Arts and Crafts, Dinesh Kumar.

According to a Beur Jail official, altogether 24 prisoners evinced interest in learning painting but Dinesh Kumar selected only 12 of them. He said the main aim was to bring out the finer feelings among the prisoners so that they got reformed and left the jail as responsible citizens of society.

Expressing happiness, the official said that this was a big step in bringing about reforms in the jail. He said the jail authorities were providing all the materials required for painting and would ensure that there were no problems in holding the painting classes.

Dinesh Kumar was quite excited and happy about his new assignment. He said the classes were of three-hour duration and were held twice a week -- every Wednesday and Friday.

According to the teacher, the prisoners were very enthusiastic about their painting classes. Asked why he selected only 12 prisoners, Kumar explained that most of the prisoners he had chosen already knew the basics of painting and this had helped in making a good start.

Kumar said, they were not being given lessons in anything complicated, and added that to begin with, he was teaching them the meaning of colours, the basics of paintings, drawing the outlines of sketches and the language of art.

He said he hoped to cover these topics in about two months but much depended on the grasping power and application of the prisoners too. Unfolding his ambitious plans, Kumar said, if the prisoners did well he would try to get them enrolled in the correspondence course in painting offered by Punjab University, Chandigarh.

However, the Beur jail authorities are concerned about not just the aesthetic sense of the prisoners but also about their health which was evident from the change in the 'menu.'

Besides dal-roti, the non-vegetarian prisoners will now get mutton and chicken too; those who are vegetarian will get extra milk. According to the jail superintendent Omprakash Gupta, this change in the menu would be from November 1.

He said as per rules, a prisoner was entitled to eat 146 gms of meat once a week. Giving details of the food in the jail, he said even otherwise the prisoners are given a healthy diet.

In the morning they are given chana, gur and tea. The lunch consists of chawal, dal and sabzi. Tea is again served in the evening and for dinner they get roti, dal and sabzi. During festivals and special occasions sweets and other special dishes are provided, he added.
  Vatican: The evangelization of Taiwan: Past and future
By Gerard O'Connell, Special Correspondent in Rome

VATICAN CITY, OCT 14 (UCAN) -- How will relations between the Holy See and Taiwan develop in the future? Are the Holy See and Catholic Religious orders today approaching Taiwan mainly as "a stepping stone" or "bridge" to mainland China, or are they treating it as a reality in its own right?

Is it possible to envisage "a third way" between the present situation in which the Holy See has diplomatic relations with Taiwan but not a nuncio in Taipei, and the total breaking of relations between the two sides when the Holy See eventually establishes relations with Beijing?

These questions were left hanging in the air, with only partial answers, at the end of a symposium on "The Taiwan Story: The Second Wave of Evangelization," held at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome on Oct. 12.

Co-sponsored by the Dominican-run university and the embassy of the Republic of China (Taiwan) to the Holy See, the symposium brought together scholars, Vatican officials, members of the diplomatic corps, and men and women Religious.

Welcoming participants, Dominican Father Charles Morerod, the university's rector, said it is of "utmost importance" for the Church to foster relations between Christianity and the world's great cultures, such as the Chinese.

Taiwan's ambassador to the Holy See, Larry Wang Yu-yuan, traced his country's history and relations with the Catholic Church from 1590, when Portuguese sailors first landed on the island en route to Japan and called it "Ilha Formosa" (beautiful island).

He recounted the arrival of the Dutch in 1624, and the Spanish in 1626, with the first five Spanish Dominican priests, and noted how, motivated by business interests, the Dutch defeated the Spanish in 1642 and drove the Catholics from the island.

In 1662, the Chinese defeated the Dutch, took over the island and, over the next 200 years, millions of Chinese immigrated to Taiwan.

Wang recalled the arrival of 30 Spanish Dominican missioners from Manila with five Chinese lay catechists in 1859, and how they successfully established the Church in what is now called "the Second Wave of Evangelization."

Skipping over 50 years of Japanese rule after 1895, Wang recalled the founding of the Republic of China (ROC) in 1912 on the Chinese mainland, and noted how "the new republic has ever since maintained harmonious relations with the Church." Pope Pius XI appointed the first apostolic delegate to the ROC in 1922 and the Holy See and the ROC established relations at a ministerial level in 1943.

He recalled the relocation of the ROC government to Taiwan in 1949 and how the Communists, after taking power in China, expelled apostolic nuncio Archbishop Antonio Riberi in 1951 and broke relations with the Holy See. In 1954, the Holy See transferred its nunciature to Taiwan and in 1966 upgraded its relations to ambassadorial level.

Since then, he said, the Vatican has developed close links with Taiwan, "where the Church serves as a 'bridge' between the universal Church and the Church in mainland China."

The ambassador stated that "freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution" in Taiwan and today 26 religions are registered with the government.

Although Catholics in the ROC count for less than 2 per cent of the population, they play their part in building a humane, just society, marked by concern for weaker members, Wang said.

He said his embassy is "actively promoting exchanges between Taiwan and the Holy See in the academic, educational, cultural and humanitarian fields" as well as "exchanges between the pontifical universities and non-Catholic universities in Taiwan." He added that the Pontifical Lateran University has already signed an "Exchange and Cooperation Agreement" with the National Taiwan University.

He announced that since Sept. 28 this year, Vatican passport holders have been "eligible for visa-free entry to Taiwan."

Vatican-based Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, was unable to speak at the symposium as planned because he was attending the ongoing Synod of Bishops for Africa. Monsignor Melchor Jose Sanchez De Tocay Alameda, the council's undersecretary, read his text.

Archbishop Ravasi recalled that real mission work began in Taiwan only after 1859, and since then "the Catholic Church, though a small minority of 300,000 in a population of 23 million, has not looked back."

It now runs four universities and colleges, 10 formation centers, five technical institutes, 29 middle and high schools, 10 elementary schools, and 195 kindergartens. In addition, it manages 12 hospitals, 15 clinics, four orphanages, over 20 retirement homes, and 27 centers for the disabled, said the archbishop's message.

Looking to the future, the archbishop identified four challenges facing the Church and people of Taiwan.

The first, linked to "the limitations of capitalism," relates to the spread of poverty in the country. The second concerns the need for the inculturation of faith and the evangelization of cultures, and calls for a dialogue between the Gospel and cultures. The third challenge arises from materialism and globalization that pervades highly developed economies like Taiwan, while the fourth challenge is to construct a culture of solidarity, compassion and love.

Monsignor Luis Clavell, former rector of the Opus-Dei-run Santa Croce University, was the other Vatican speaker at the symposium. He represented Cardinal Ivan Dias, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples who was also at the African synod.

Monsignor Clavell said the congregation, founded in 1622, first got involved with the China missions in 1625, and by late 17th century had "a particular unit" dealing with China matters. He traced the evolution of Church structures in Taiwan from 1859 to the present day, in which it now has one archdiocese and six dioceses.

In a sometimes poetic, graphic presentation, Father Miguel Angel Sanroman from Saint Dominic's Priory in Kaohsiung, recounted Taiwan's evangelization. He paid special tribute to the role of catechists in the front line of evangelization: "They were a help sine qua non in the first contacts and in catechesis". He also praised the work of Dominican nuns.

Peter Chiang Kuo Hsioung of Vatican Radio reflected on the 350 years' history of the Catholic Church in Taiwan. Particularly striking was his recollection of the day in October 1971 when the Holy See downgraded its diplomatic presence in Taiwan by recalling its apostolic nuncio Archbishop Edward Idris Cassidy from Taipei to Rome.

This happened the day before the People's Republic of China occupied the seat of Taiwan at the United Nations. Ever since, the Holy See has "only" a charge d'affaires at its Taipei nunciature.

"The Catholics of Taiwan have accepted this with understanding, but also with a certain bitterness which persists to this very day from the moment that, to some extent, it causes the missionary activity in the island to oscillate", he commented.

Looking back over the past 38 years, Chiang noted that while the island's economy grew strong, the Catholic Church's numbers remained static and even decreased. He believes there is a need for the Church to give "stronger witness" to the people of Taiwan if the situation is to be reversed.

At the symposium, two speakers offered informative presentations on the work of two Religious congregations in Taiwan -- the Society of the Divine Word and the Ursulines.

Divine Word Father Paulino Belamide highlighted the difficulty of ensuring "a strong religious presence" in Taipei's Fu Jen Catholic University. He said his order is committed to working with migrants, but dismissed the idea that the Taiwan mission is merely "a stepping stone" to the mainland saying that to hold such a position "is to betray a less than wholehearted commitment to Taiwan."

Ursuline Sister Armida Veglio noted that her congregation is the only international religious order to have elected a Taiwanese superior general.

Both speakers highlighted the tremendous scope for mission in Taiwan, the importance of promoting a "values-based" program in education, the problems posed both by a declining number of vocations and a declining student body due to an aging Taiwanese population. They also emphasized the vital need to promote ever greater collaboration between clergy, Religious and laypeople in mission work.

At the symposium's end Dominican Father Carlos Rodriguez, an expert on the Church in Taiwan and mainland China, affirmed the need to rewrite the history of evangelization in Taiwan by focusing not merely on the role played by nuncios, bishops and priests on the island, but also by giving equal attention to the roles played by nuns and the laity.
Gerard O'Connell covers the Vatican as a correspondent for UCA News and other news organizations.
  China: Members of 'open' and 'underground' communities attend bishop's funeral
  WENZHOU (CHINA), OCT 14 (UCAN) -- More than 20,000 Catholics from both the government-approved and "underground" Church communities bade farewell to Bishop James Lin Xili of Wenzhou on Oct. 10.

Bishop Lin, who had been clandestinely ordained as the first bishop of Wenzhou, died on Oct. 4. at Qiliang church in Yueqing after a long illness. He was 91.

The late prelate was held in high regard by both communities for his tireless work in the diocese.

Following his death, Wenzhou diocese's open and underground Church communities celebrated separate requiem Masses from Oct. 5-10 at Qiliang church.

On Oct. 10, both open and underground Catholics joined together in the five-kilometer-long funeral procession and the internment of his ashes at the Catholic cemetery on Panyang Hill.

The diocese estimated more than 20,000 Catholics attended the Oct. 10 funeral at the small Qiliang church, managed by the open Church community. Government officials, however, put the figure at between 5,000 and 8,000.

About 1,000 uniform and plainclothes police were stationed outside the church while the liturgy was in process, but otherwise did not intervene.

Diocesan sources told UCA news that the Wenzhou underground Catholics were able to conduct their funeral Mass on Oct. 9 with "the greatest freedom and largest number of attendees ever." This was in sharp contrast to the funerals of other underground bishops in recent years that were held under strict government surveillance, they said.

The local government had designated Bishop Lin's funeral to be held at the Qiligang Church, which is managed by the open Church community and accommodates only 200 people. Officials helped to level and clean up a neighboring plot of land to allow the crowd to view the funeral proceedings via a TV screen.

Except for a few sick, elderly priests, most of the 19 open priests and 18 underground clergy of Wenzhou diocese attended the funeral Masses.

The sources also said local government officials forbade the use of the term zhujiao (bishop) on banners and wreaths, but a compromise was reached with the use of "Lin mu" (shepherd Lin). However, officials allowed the verbal use of "Lin zhujiao" during funeral Masses and other memorial services.

Authorities did not allow Bishop Lin's body to be clothed in bishop's garb, but his family members placed the zucchetto or bishop's skullcap on his head just before the cremation, sources said.

For the procession, a two-meter-high portrait of the late prelate in a claret cassock and zucchetto was placed on a vehicle which was decorated with flowers, while several laypersons carried his ashes. Government officials had disallowed the use of a photo of Bishop Lin wearing his miter and holding his crosier.

Many curious non-Catholic onlookers were attracted by the procession in which hundreds of wreaths, colorful flags and banners were carried to the sound of drums and pipes. The procession from the church to the cemetery lasted two and a half hours.

Bishop Lin was the fourth bishop in mainland China to die in 2009. The issue of his succession has aroused concern among local Catholics and government officials, say diocesan sources.

Wenzhou diocese has about 120,000 Catholics, including those who live and work in other parts of China.
  Blessed Teresa's tomb inspires prayers for priests
  By Julian Das

KOLKATA, OCT 14 (UCAN) -- At daybreak on Thursdays, visitors to Blessed Teresa's tomb in Kolkata will always find a few priests, some Missionaries of Charity (MC) nuns and laypeople adoring the Eucharist.

They pray for priests during the weekly adoration session that began in July, a month after Pope Benedict XVI launched the Year for Priests. Father Sunil Francis Rozario of Calcutta archdiocese, who initiated the practice along with the MC nuns, told UCA News they chose Blessed Teresa's tomb because she had a "tender love" for priests.

Another reason was that the tomb is at a central place in Kolkata and "easily accessible to all priests."

Blessed Teresa's remains are presently the subject of a controversy. According to media reports, India is refusing to yield to Albania's demand that it hand over the remains of the ethnic Albanian nun. The late nun was "an Indian citizen and she is resting in her own country, her own land," a federal government spokesperson was quoted as saying recently.

Blessed Teresa's tomb is in the headquarters of the MC congregation that she started nearly 60 years ago.

Father Rozario says an average of three priests join the weekly prayer sessions. MC superior general Sister Mary Prema says she believes only a few can join because of the demands on their time. In any case, "we are there to pray for them," she added.

Sister Prema says her nuns across the world also recite Blessed Teresa's special prayer for priests during the Year of Priests.

The German-born nun recalled that Blessed Teresa had a "special love and reverence for priests. "Mother met Jesus in the priest. Her face would shine whenever she met a priest."

Blessed Teresa began the Corpus Christi Movement (CCM) for diocesan priests in 1979 in which her nuns are encouraged to spiritually adopt priests and pray for them.

Each MC nun is given the name of a diocesan priest. The priest also gets the nun's name "so that he too can pray for her." However, "there is no direct link between the two," Sister Prema said.

An MC nun based in the United States coordinates this spiritual adoption program. According to Sister Prema, Pope John Paul II approved the CCM in 1989.

Father Rozario, one of those "adopted" by the MC nuns, told UCA News that several bishops had supported Blessed Teresa's program. Retired Archbishop Henry D'Souza of Calcutta had given Mother Teresa a list of his priests when she sought his blessings for the program, the priest added.

Father Rozario, one of two CCM members in Calcutta archdiocese, says members fulfill the tasks assigned by their bishops and support each other through prayers.

According to Sister Prema, the 300 CCM members are spread all over the world and her nuns have spiritually adopted all of them. She said Blessed Teresa had nursed “a deep pain” because diocesan priests were not getting sufficient spiritual support.
  India won't part with Blessed Teresa's remains
  KOLKATA, OCT 13 (UCAN) -- India will not yield to Albania's demand that it hand over the remains of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, a federal government spokesperson confirmed Oct. 12.

The late nun was "an Indian citizen and she is resting in her own country, her own land," the "Indian Express" newspaper quoted Vishnu Prakash, spokesperson of the Ministry for External Affairs, as saying. "The question of returning her remains does not arise at all," the paper reported on Oct. 13.

The government clarification follows reports in Indian and international media that Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha had asked the Indian government to hand over the remains of the ethnic Albanian nun for the 100th anniversary of her birth in August next year.

Sister Christy, a senior Missionaries of Charity (MC) nun, told UCA News her congregation has not heard anything about such a demand officially but has seen such reports in the media. She dismissed such reports as "speculations" and added that the nuns would not comment on them.

Blessed Teresa, more popularly known as Mother Teresa, was born to an ethnic Albanian family in Skopje, in former Yugoslavia, now part of Macedonia. She came to India in 1929 and became an Indian citizen in 1947.

The late nun based her life and work in Kolkata. Following her death in 1997 she was buried inside the headquarters of her MC congregation in this eastern Indian city.

Father Babu Joseph, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India told UCA News that if talks between the Indian and Albanian governments are going on at all, the final decision would depend on the MC nuns. The people of Mother Teresa's "native country may like to have the body. That is an understandable desire. But she was an Indian citizen," he said.

Maltese Jesuit Father George Camilleri, who goes to the MC headquarters to celebrate Mass and hear confessions, said the Missionaries of Charity "will not give Mother away."

"The idea is ridiculous," he said. "The bishops' conference should advise the Missionaries of Charity not to give" away her remains.

Some people in Kolkata recalled that the Albanian government claimed Mother Teresa as "their very own saint of Kolkata" even before her beatification in 2003.

Retired Archbishop Henry D'Souza of Kolkata told UCA News that the late nun "identified herself with the people of Kolkata." Blessed Teresa always attracted crowds wherever she traveled, he noted. Her tomb also attracts visitors and people would be deprived of making pilgrimages to her tomb if her remains are taken to Albania, he added.

The archbishop, who knew Blessed Teresa well, said she did not wish to be buried in any place other than Kolkata.

Horace Rodrigues, a Catholic layman said people in Kolkata would oppose the removal of the nun's remains from their city. "The answer is in the negative. Naturally we are not willing."

Rajesh Mittal, a Hindu lawyer, said that "Mother Teresa's soul should not be disturbed," noting that the nun freely chose to work and live in Kolkata. Blessed Teresa's "soul would be very happy to be here," he said, and added that if she wanted to be buried elsewhere she would have made it known.
  Bangladesh: Infrastructure a challenge to priests going fully 'digital'
  DHAKA, OCT 13 (UCAN) -- Even as the Vatican announced the theme for the next World Communications Day highlighting priests' use of digital media, Bangladeshi clergy say they face challenges using such technology.

"Availability of electricity in the remote parishes is a major problem for priests," Father Kamal Corraya, director of the bishops' Christian Communications Center (CCC) in Dhaka told UCA News.

"It is hard for them to operate computers, television and other digital media. Their geographical locations and workloads also limit the time they can find to use such equipment," Father Corraya said.

The diocesan priest was speaking shortly after the Vatican Information Service (VIS) announced that Pope Benedict XVI's theme for the 44th World Day for Social Communications would be "The Priest and Pastoral Ministry in a Digital World: New Media at the Service of the Word."

VIS reported a Vatican communique as saying, "The new communications media, if adequately understood and exploited, can offer priests and all pastoral care workers a wealth of data which was difficult to access before, and facilitate forms of collaboration and increased communion that were previously unthinkable."

One priest who finds it difficult to fully harness the power of the new media is Holy Cross Father Thaddeus Hembrom, 35, who oversees Radhanagar sub-center of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish. The parish comes under Dinajpur diocese.

"At the moment the only digital equipment I use is my mobile phone," he said. There are problems with electricity supply here, "so we cannot watch TV regularly and the use of the computer and email is far beyond our reach," Father Hembrom told UCA News.

He said that for much of the time he relies on solar power for electricity. He added that the elementary-level students of the hostel he runs can only watch TV on Saturday.

"If we had electricity here, I feel we would be able to use the computer and multimedia to show Church-related films and programs to children."

In the capital, there is more room to act on the Pope's World Communications Day theme.

Father Tapan Camillus De Rozario, parish priest of St. Christina Church in Dhaka, is able to use the Internet and has a printer attached to his computer.

The priest, who is also president of the Bangladesh Diocesan Priests' Fraternity, said he would love to use multimedia presentations in his parish but needs help in training and the provision of equipment.

He told UCA News that there is a lack of media production experts in the Bangladeshi Church and priests lack training even in computer skills.

Father Corraya is aware of the challenges to priests going fully digital in the country.

For priests and Religious who are able to use new technology, the CCC has been conducting training sessions on the role of media and the importance of the use of digital media in pastoral services. The sessions have also included how to give interviews to media.

Father Corraya said the CCC has also produced a documentary, "Pretty Brave Woman," which focuses on the plight of a physically disabled Catholic woman living in a nuns' convent. The documentary is to be shown during the upcoming SIGNIS World Congress to be held in Chiang Mai, Thailand from Oct. 17-21.

The Pope's World Communications Day message is expected to be published on Jan. 24, 2010, the feast of St. Francis of Sales, patron saint of journalists. In most countries, the Catholic Church celebrates World Communications Day on the Sunday before Pentecost. In 2010 it will be celebrated May 16.
  Church, state concerned about 'love jihad'
  THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, OCT 13 (UCAN) -- The Catholic Church in Kerala state has urged parents and teachers to be on the alert for an alleged extremist Islamic strategy to convert young women through marriage. A member of a Muslim group, however, has rejected such claims.

The allegations came to light in a recent Kerala High Court case. In early September, two female students of a Catholic business school, a Hindu and a Christian, said they fell prey to a ploy by Muslim youths, a ploy that is now popularly called "love jihad" in the state.

They said they were wooed by Muslim youths and fell in love with them. The women charged that the youths later forcibly converted them to Islam.

The women were produced in court after their parents complained about their disappearance. The women were then allowed to leave with their parents. Two Muslim men allegedly associated with Campus Front, a student outfit of the Popular Front of India (PFI), a Muslim organization, have been denied bail.

On Sept. 30, the court asked the state police and the federal government to investigate the phenomenon of "love jihad." The court asked the federal Home Ministry to find out the source of funding and the number of girls married through "love jihad" over the past three years.

According to Indian media, the court also directed the state government to provide information on its views of the alleged practice.

The Catholic Church in the state is watching developments closely.

"It's very important the Church should guard against such a movement," said Father Johny Kochuparambil, secretary of the Kerala Catholic bishops' commission for social harmony and vigilance. He said such a phenomenon would disturb the state's communal harmony and peace.

However, Naseeruddin Elamaram, a lawyer and member of PFI's topmost committee, has denied the charges against his organization. "Religious conversion is not a crime," he told UCA News.

"Conversion takes place in Hinduism and Christianity also. One cannot paint all love affairs as cases of forced conversions meant for extremist activity," he said.

Father Kochuparambil told UCA News that the alleged "love jihadi" (love warriors) are said to operate in campuses. They strive to win over young women's confidence before proposing marriage, he added. "When the girl accepts the marriage, they are taken for conversion."

Muslims account for 24 per cent of Kerala's 31.8 million people. Hindus, who form 56 per cent, are the largest religious group, and Christians, who form 19 per cent, come third.

While still awaiting developments on the High Court inquiry, the Church commission has circulated guidelines among all churches and Church-managed educational institutions to help parents and teachers protect female students.

It has urged parents and educational institutions to monitor their children's activities. It wants parents to discourage children using mobile phones or spending long hours on the Internet.

According to the "Times of India," High Court Judge K.T. Shankaran said that there are indications that several instances of "love jihad" had taken place in the state.

Police official K.S. Gopakumar, who heads the probe, said the "love jihad "is an organized movement with a wide network that aims to lure girls, make them pregnant and dump them."

He added, "It's a very dangerous movement aiming to destabilize communal harmony."

Estimates of the number of "love jihad" cases range from 4,000, the number suggested by the Hindu nationalist organization, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), to a police estimate of twice this figure.

Meanwhile, Sriram Sena (army of Lord Ram), a right-wing Hindu group, has launched a poster campaign against "love jihad." The Hindu Aikya Vedi (Hindu united front), another Hindu organization, has set up a helpline for women lured into "love jihad."
  Philippines: Christian, Muslim leaders call for kidnapped priest's release
PAGADIAN CITY (PHILIPPINES), OCT 12 (UCAN) -- Christian and Muslim leaders in southern Philippines have appealed to kidnappers to release Irish priest Father Michael Sinnott who was kidnapped on Oct. 11.

"As we urge the people to pray for his safety, we also appeal to his abductors to treat him with respect and release him as soon as possible," Bishop Emmanuel Cabajar of Pagadian said.

No group has claimed responsibility for the Oct. 11 kidnapping of the priest from his home in Pagadian City. However, police have told media they suspect the gunmen came either from the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group or from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, both of which are active in the area.

In his Oct. 12 statement, Bishop Cabajar said that Columban Father Sinnott "has worked for a long time in the diocese and is giving an invaluable service to the people, especially the children."

The prelate had earlier told Church-run Veritas 846 radio that the Church had not received any letter of demand from the kidnappers. He also said that Father Sinnott has a medical condition and needs daily medication. The priest had only one day's supply with him when he was taken.

A Columban lay missionary has revealed that Father Sinnott underwent a heart bypass surgery in 2007.

Father Sinnott, 79, was taking a customary walk after dinner on the lawn of the Columban Fathers' house in the city when armed men burst through the gate. They snatched the priest and bundled him into a vehicle that was later found burnt in the suburb of Santa Lucia near the sea, the Columban Fathers' incident report says.

Father Michael McGuire, the Columbans' Philippines Vice-Regional Director wrote that at Santa Lucia, Father Sinnott was put in a small boat that headed out into Pagadian Bay.

Western Mindanao police Commander Angel Sunglao told reporters a special task force has been formed to work for the release of the priest.

The Muslim community in Pagadian City also criticized the kidnapping, calling it an "act against the morality of Islam."

In a statement issued after their emergency meeting in Pagadian Oct. 12, the regional council of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society expressed "solidarity with our Christian brethren in strongly condemning this act." The society, a network of Moro Muslim civil society organizations in Mindanao, said it was praying for the priest's safety, and immediate and "unconditional" release.

Father Sinnott of Wexford County, southeast Ireland, was ordained in 1954 and assigned to Mindanao, southern Philippines in 1957 where he stayed until 1966. He returned to the Philippines in 1976.

In 1998, he established Hangop Kabataan (care for youth), a diocese-based rehabilitation program for children with special physical and other needs.

Pagadian diocese serves this city and 24 towns in the northern and eastern parts of Zamboanga del Sur. About 79 per cent of its 861,184 people are Catholics.

Father Sinnott is not the first priest to be kidnapped in the south.

In 2001, rebels kidnapped Father Luciano Benedetti and Sacred Heart Father Giuseppe Pierantoni in separate incidents. Father Benedetti was released, reportedly after ransom was paid, while Father Pierantoni was later picked up by police.

In 2007, gunmen kidnapped Italian missioner Father Giancarlo Bossi, from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions. He was freed more than a month later, reportedly after ransom payment. Police blamed rogue members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Abu Sayyaf extremists for the kidnap.
  India: First mission congress aims to inspire further mission work
  MUMBAI, OCT 12 (UCAN) -- The Indian Church's first Mission Congress aims to help people share publicly the joy of believing in Christ and inspire others to work for the Gospel, its organizers say.

About 1,500 Catholics from India's 160 dioceses are expected for the Oct. 14-18 Indian Mission Congress to be held at Mumbai.

Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana, apostolic nuncio to India, will open the congress titled, "Prabhu Yesu Mahotsav" (Lord Jesus grand festival).

The festival is a followup of the Asian Mission Congress held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, three years ago. One of its resolutions was that countries in the region would hold similar national, regional and diocesan congresses.

The Mumbai event aims "to joyfully share our faith in Jesus Christ, express the joy of believing in Him, exchange our experiences, and inspire others to continue to work in the spirit of the Gospel," Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, president of the organizing committee, told UCA News.

The cardinal also said the congress aims to bring about a deeper awareness among participants and the whole Church in India of what it means to be a Christian and a more sincere commitment to live as Christians.

In a statement issued on Oct. 7, the cardinal said the festival will highlight how the Indian Church has lived the Gospel's message of love and service in the country. "Inspired by this teaching of Jesus, we were privileged to have a Mother Teresa, and tens of thousands of Religious sisters and thousands of priests working all over the country," it added.

The cardinal also noted that the Catholic Church is the biggest provider of education after the Indian government. Catholic education aims to provide all-round formation to produce people who contribute to society, he added.

Anther major service the Church offers is in healthcare, the cardinal said. "Many of these are situated in the un-served rural areas."

Cardinal Gracias said that during the congress, delegates would share their experiences in these and other areas of work. Such sharing, he added, would inspire others to work for Christ.

Auxiliary Bishop Agnelo Gracias of Bombay and chairperson of the local organizing committee, told UCA News the festival significantly brings together India's three Catholic Church rites -- the Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites.

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

Bishop Gracias said the festival will also portray the life of the Indian Church in multi-religious and multi-cultural India. It will also seek ways to reach out to people of other religions.

"It was no accident," Bishop Gracias said, that the Church is hosting its first mission congress during the Diwali holidays. Diwali is the major Hindu festival commemorating the victory of light over darkness.

Bishop Gracias said besides the talks and the exchange of experiences, the various regions would present cultural items, displaying their experiences of the faith.
  Mary Ward nuns mark 400th anniversary, look forward to founder's beatification
  By Gerard O'Connell, Special Correspondent in Rome

VATICAN CITY, OCT 12 (UCAN) -- Hundreds of Mary Ward nuns recently celebrated in Rome the 400th anniversary of their institute, started by an English woman who was accused of heresy and imprisoned by the Inquisition but who now appears headed for sainthood.

Mary Ward founded her institute in 1609. Today it is divided into the Congregation of Jesus (CJ) and the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM), and has 3,000 sisters working worldwide including in Asia.

Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, as a young woman, joined the Irish community of Mary Ward nuns known as the Loreto sisters. She then came to India in 1929 but later left to found her own Missionaries of Charity.

In Asia, Mary Ward nuns work in Bangladesh, China, India, South Korea, Mongolia, Nepal and Vietnam. Sisters from these communities and lay people working with them were among 1,000 pilgrims who held celebrations in Rome Oct. 5-10.

Congregation of Jesus Sister Mariella Muthukulam was one of 26 Indian nuns at the festivities, all wearing saffron-colored saris. She is provincial of the Delhi community, one of the three communities of the congregation's Indian province. The others are in Patna, where the sisters first arrived in 1853, and in Allahabad. The Indian province has 400 sisters, while the Nepal province it helped found in 1955 has 35 nuns.

"I feel Mary Ward was a woman for all nations (as) she had a universal spirit," Sister Muthukulam told UCA News. "In India, we work for the empowerment of women and girl children, and also boys. We see ourselves as a Catholic presence in a land of many religions."

Sister Muthukulam said many Indian nuns are engaged in education, the first area of Mary Ward's involvement. They run schools in English, and also in Hindi for tribal and dalit (former low-caste) children. Others do social work aimed at uplifting and empowering women, run health-centers or participate in collaborative ministries in dioceses.

Some help child laborers working in the carpet making industry and have been threatened for this. A few are lawyers. "We want to be open to any type of ministry," said the nun.

Several sisters traveled from Korea for the celebrations, led by Congregation of Jesus Sister Bosco Lee, head of the congregation's Korean province. Sister Lee recounted how Mary Ward nuns first came to Korea in 1964 and today number 240.

In South Korea, they run private and diocesan schools. In Mongolia, four sisters run a centre in Ulaanbaatar which cares for young women university students from poor families, offers info-tech facilities to students and run an institute for ethical formation.

Sister Lee told UCA News, "Our Korean province is only 45 years old but we know we are part of a very long culture and tradition." She said that "in Korea, we try to share the spirit of Mary Ward with other people."

"As women in Korea we have our empowerment, we have our rights according to the law," she added. "Inspired by Mary Ward, we can be responsible in a different way and do more for society."

The Indian and Korean sisters said they were deeply moved by the opening celebration in Rome's Piazza del Popolo, not far from the Vatican, on Oct. 5.

They cheered when a group of nuns dressed in 17th-century costumes re-enacted Mary Ward's entry to Rome in 1609 through the Flaminian Gate to request papal approval for her institute.

That scene, followed by an hour-long liturgy in the piazza, marked the opening of the 400-year anniversary celebrations. During the week, participants held a symposium, reflections, liturgies and other events at which Indian nuns danced. They met with Pope Benedict XVI in the middle of the week.

Mary Ward was born in England in 1585. After trying her vocation as a cloistered nun in France, she decided to establish a different type of Religious community for women in 1609 when she and her companions took private vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Inspired by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, she wanted to make it possible for women to do various kinds of work, particularly in the field of education, just as the Jesuits were able to do.

A contemporary of Galileo, she encountered tremendous opposition within the Church, especially from Pope Urban VIII and Pope Benedict XIV, because the Council of Trent had decreed that no women could become Religious unless they were cloistered within the convent grounds. Her vocation challenged that ruling.

Jesuit Father Peter Gumpel, the investigating judge in Ward's beatification cause, told UCA News that equality of women with men at that time was not recognized, either by the Church or society. The possibility of nuns doing apostolic work -- as Ward wanted -- outside of the convent could not be accepted. "She is a pioneer in the field of Religious apostolic life for women," he said. "What is considered normal now was revolutionary in her day and she suffered as a result."

Sisters Muthukulam and Lee concur that "what Mary Ward saw then, others in the Church could not see."

After centuries of misunderstanding, Pope Pius XI allowed Ward's cause to be reviewed and the historical and theological commissions of the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of the Saints ruled that she lived the Christian life and the theological virtues to a heroic degree. They reached their verdicts on Oct. 3, 1995, and May 22, 2009, respectively.

By the end of this year or early 2010, the Vatican congregation's commission of cardinals and bishops is expected to examine her cause, Father Gumpel said. He is confident it will reach a positive verdict. Once this happens, the Pope will be able to declare her "Venerable."

After that, procedure requires the recognition of one miracle attributed to her intercession for the Pope to be able to beatify her.

The Mary Ward sisters are confident that this miracle too will come. They would very much like Pope Benedict XVI to beatify her, since their fellow nuns had cared for him in their kindergarten in Regensburg, Germany, when he was a little child.
  Center for blind, dying struggles to make ends meet
  LEEDS (ENGLAND), OCT 12 (UCAN) -- The economic crisis in Britain means that a thriving project in southern India which helps the blind, dying, mentally ill and handicapped, is having to find ways to become more self-sufficient.

Nevertheless, the Light for the Blind center in Tamil Nadu state is expanding thanks to one massive donation last year.

The project was launched in the Leeds diocese in northern England in 2000 with the original aim of working for the prevention of blindness, a common problem in India.

It came about when Father Thomas Rathappillil, a Kerala-born priest working in Chapeltown, Leeds, was forced to retire from parish work through ill health. He returned to India and, with the patronage of then Bishop David Konstant of Leeds, launched a rehabilitation centre for the blind and handicapped in Dindigul District near Madurai, an area of 6,000 square kilometers with a population of 2 million, mostly living in remote villages.

Five years later, the sight of a disabled and destitute man scrabbling for food in a hotel dustbin inspired Father Rathappillil to expand his Light for the Blind project and open the St Joseph's Hospice for the Blind, Destitute and Mentally Ill. The hospice gives shelter to local people who had been living on the streets.

The hospice and the rest of Light for the Blind's work -- including giving free eye tests to schoolchildren, funding 400 cataract operations a month at the Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai, and running a welfare centre providing skills training and work for young people disabled by blindness or polio -- is entirely funded by private donations, nearly all from Britain.

"We have no support from funding agencies," said the charity's treasurer, Barbara O'Donnell of Leeds.

She added: "Most of our donations come from the local area, Yorkshire, but there is quite a bit from the south of England. Most of our donations are in the form of sponsorship for beds in the hospice.

"The problem is that since the economic recession hit, our donations have dropped ... Most are from £5 to £20 but they used to be twice that."

"Fortunately the crisis did not stop one very generous donation late last year of £65,000 from one family which enabled us to begin a major expansion of the hospice, putting a second story on the building which at present has six wards of 25 beds each."

However, the expansion does mean that the charity is in need of funds, so it looked to self-sufficiency. The hospice keeps 150 pigs -- it started with 30 -- and grows vegetables to provide food for residents. Now it plans to use animal and vegetable waste matter to make methane gas, replacing the LPG used for cooking fuel. It is collecting rainwater for drinking and recycling sewage water for use on its vegetable plots.

It is also trying hard to increase donations from businesses and well-off people in Dindigul and Madurai. This usually comes in the form of goods and services rather than cash. The charity has also launched a drive to get local university students involved in its work.

It is presently building a poultry shed to house 100 chickens, with the sale of eggs and meat providing a regular income. The young people at the Light for the Blind training center, who have little prospect of finding work in the outside world, make church candles and communion hosts for sale to churches.

O'Donnell said: "As Father Thomas puts it, 'Broken bodies are making the hosts which become the broken body of Christ'."
  Muslims see victory at Al-Aqsa
From Mel Frykberg

EAST JERUSALEM, Oct 12 (IPS) -- Clashes between Israeli security forces and protesting Palestinians have subsided as several hundred Muslims agreed to evacuate Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque following a deal brokered by the Jordanian Embassy in Tel Aviv Saturday.

But the Islamic Movement, whose members sought to take over the mosque, is at the centre of intense controversy. In Israel demands have risen for the arrest of Islamic Movement leader Sheikh Raed Salah. Israeli police accuse Salah of waging a "religious war" and say he is guilty of "incitement and sedition".

Through weeks of unrest Salah encouraged Muslims to assemble in and around Al-Aqsa to "protect it from Jewish Zealots." Busloads of his supporters from around the country arrived in the disputed city, and together with locals faced off with soldiers and police.

During the subsequent clashes Israeli soldiers and police arrested hundreds of Palestinians. Dozens of security forces and protestors were injured. The violence spread to several refugee camps and towns in the West Bank as thousands of Arabs joined solidarity demonstrations in Gaza, Syria, Egypt and Jordan.

Muslim anger mounted as hundreds of Israeli extremists tried to enter the Haram compound, in which Al-Aqsa Mosque is situated, to celebrate the Yom Kippur and Sukkot Jewish holidays. Some of the extremists want to destroy the mosque and build a third Jewish Temple on its remains.

This anger was exacerbated by West Bankers and Gazans being denied entry to Jerusalem to worship at the mosque. East Jerusalem males under 50 were also denied entrance to the mosque, while women of all ages were permitted to enter.

The stand-off eased following intervention by the Jordanian Ambassador in Tel Aviv. The Israeli authorities agreed to allow several hundred Muslims holed up in the mosque to leave, and dropped arrest warrants against them. The authorities also promised that Muslims would be allowed free access to Al-Aqsa.

Ehab Jallad, coordinator of the Jerusalem Popular Committee for the Celebration of Jerusalem as the Capital of Arab Culture for 2009, which works in conjunction with the Islamic Waqf which administers Al-Aqsa mosque, sees this as a victory.

"This is the first time since Israel's 1967 occupation of East Jerusalem that Muslims have stayed in the mosque for an entire week and prevented the Jewish extremists from entering. We are planning to organise groups round the clock in the future to prevent any further attempts at a takeover," Jallad told IPS.

Muslim fears around Al-Aqsa mosque are based on Israeli efforts to Judaise East Jerusalem in order to keep the city under eternal Israeli sovereignty, thereby preventing the eastern sector becoming the capital of a future Palestinian state. Al-Aqsa Mosque is a part of East Jerusalem.

In an interview with IPS shortly before he was arrested and banned from Jerusalem for 30 days, Sheikh Raed Salah said that Israeli authorities had earlier informed some of his colleagues that the mosque would be divided.

The Israelis reportedly said that only the mosque itself was considered a Muslim site but that the other buildings in the compound and the other areas were public property and would fall under Israeli control.

"This is a red line. We will not allow the Israelis to take over the Haram compound. If we have to choose between martyrdom and losing the Haram, we choose the former," Salah told IPS.

Israeli archaeologists have been carrying out extensive digging around the mosque, with some admitting that the excavations were threatening the homes of Muslims living nearby.

Secret digging was carried out underneath the mosque in 1996. Clashes then led to the death of 75 Palestinians and 15 Israeli soldiers.

Raphael Greenberg, professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv university, says the current Israeli excavations are politically motivated.

"As usual during the Jewish holidays, the Israeli public has been inundated with reports of 'amazing discoveries' in excavations in Jerusalem," he says. "Most of the archaeological research in Jerusalem is being driven by pressure from politically interested groups and individuals with the aim of 'proving' our historical rights in the city or clearing an area for construction."

"Several East Jerusalem neighbourhoods are being targeted for Israeli settlements to prevent Palestinian neighbourhoods from expanding," Jallad told IPS.

In August the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha), reported that 475 Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood were at risk of forced eviction, while 540 new illegal housing units were being planned. This figure excludes other areas of East Jerusalem under threat.

The Jerusalem Municipality has limited building permits for Palestinians, despite East Jerusalem being densely overcrowded, and changed municipal boundaries to incorporate illegal Jewish settlements and the nearly 200,000 settlers residing in East Jerusalem.

Salah says he will not back down. "I'm not afraid of being arrested again. They can charge me with whatever they like. Al-Aqsa is a spark that could ignite the entire Muslim world and bring war if our rights are not respected."
  Deepalaya Choral Group celebrates 1st anniversary with scintillating performance
  By A Correspondent

New Delhi, October 11 -- Oscar winner Resul Pukutty said here today that the chorus singing tradition of the West was comparable to the Vedic singing tradition of the East. Dhrupad, the first traditional style of singing originated from the Vedic tradition. Indian music began from the primordial sound 'Om'.

Mr Pukutty was speaking on the occasion of the first anniversary of the Choral Group of Deepalaya, the largest "operating" NGO in the Capital. He said the singing was so good that the listeners felt like singing back. He complimented Deepalaya for organizing the Group, whose members came from the weaker sections of society.

Mr Pukutty said the Group's performance was scintillating and wished the Group all the best.

The Deepalaya Choral Group, comprising over 225 children from marginalized sections of society, was launched in October 2008 by Mr George Pulinkala, an authority on choral singing. Despite all odds, the children have achieved a certain level of professionalism, which has enabled them to win prizes facing stiff competition from experienced choir groups in the Capital.

A high watermark in the Group's career was the invitation to perform at the Delhi Government's Christmas celebrations at Dilli Haat on December 23, 2008.

Inaugurating the celebrations, Archbishop of Delhi Vincent M. Concessao said the preamble to the Constitution referred to the setting up of a "democratic, socialist and secular Republic. This is the secular version of what we call the Kingdom of God". He said children today were looking for opportunity and that was what Deepalaya was providing them by organizing this Group.

With the advent of modern technology, the Archbishop said, there was an explosion of information but wisdom was sadly lacking. He said there was lack of awareness about the environmental threats the world was facing and recalled what a delegate from Bangladesh had said while attending a conference: "Do you want us to sink or survive?"

He said when the Deepalaya children grew up, they would remember with gratitude the spirit with which they had been cared for by Deepalaya. He hoped there would be more and more Deepalayas to take care of the needs of those children, who are not the beneficiaries of India's economic growth.

Addressing the gathering, Mr Christy Fernandes, Secretary to the President of India, said India was a young nation with 55 per cent of the population below the age of 25. What the children needed were equal opportunities and Deepalaya was providing just the same. The discipline and the harmony that he found in the performance of the Choral Group would not have been possible but for the untiring efforts of those running Deepalaya.

He narrated two stories to buttress the point that if talents were stifled, the persons concerned would not be able to do well and hardships were sometimes stepping stones for success.

Ms Ananya Banerjee of Doordarshan said she was so impressed by the performance of the "little angels" that they would be given opportunities to showcase their talents on Doordarshan.

Welcoming the gathering, the Secretary and Chief Executive of Deepalaya, Mr T.K. Mathew, gave a brief introduction about the 30-year-old NGO which is renowned for its probity and concern for the weaker sections. A large gathering of patrons, parents, students and well-wishers of Deepalaya attended the performance where the choir presented such numbers as "Have You Heard?, All Through The Night, Grandfather's Clock, I Have A Dream and Taquat Watan Ki Humse Hein".

To see more pictures of the function, use the link given below:
  Interfaith leaders back climate Bill
  By Zach Rosenberg

WASHINGTON, Oct 10 (IPS) -- An interfaith group of religious leaders announced the launch of, an initiative aimed at influencing the passage of Senate legislation on climate change. The group hopes to motivate grassroots support among religious members of the U.S. public.

"DaySix is really focused on education, motivation, inspiration," said Katie Paris, programme director of Faith in Public Life, the founding organisation of, in a conference call announcing the launch.

The website for the campaign is designed to persuade young religious people to support climate change legislation, in particular calling for increased funding in the proposed Kerry-Boxer bill for assisting developing nations in adapting to the consequences of climate change.

"Adaptation is truly focused on those that are being hit first and worst, the poorest of the poor, those that have contributed least to this problem," said Paris. The campaign cited a recent World Bank study which calculated that between 70 and 80 percent of the financial costs of climate change would be borne by developing nations. Developing nations are responsible for an estimated 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
  Rural India set to ring in 3G mobile technology
  By Ranjit Devraj

NEW DELHI, OCT 10 (IPS) -- As India prepares to roll out third-generation (3G) mobile services in the world's fastest growing telecom market, there are high expectations that it will benefit people in the vast, impoverished rural hinterland most.

"In the same way that basic mobile services allowed India to leapfrog over the digital divide, 3G services with their video and picture features can transform life in the infrastructure-deficient rural areas," said Devendra Jalihal, a member of the Chennai-based Telecommunication and Computer Networking Group (TeNeT). Rural population in India is estimated at 7 per cent of its 1.1 billion population.

The actual rollout -- which will be carried out over a period of three years -- is expected to begin in December once the auctions to private operators are over. 3G services to date have been patchy and experimental in India. The state-owned telecommunications company Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd has launched a promotional drive in most of New Delhi, charging Rs 1.80 (3.8 U.S. cents) per minute for a video call within the company's network. Calls to private internal networks, when available, will cost Rs 3 (6.4 U.S. cents) per minute.

A specialised group drawn from several departments of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology-Madras, the TeNeT has been tasked with research and product development for the Indian telecom and networking industry as well as driving information technology policy.

Current TeNeT missions include building 50 million broadband connections over the next five years, helping to double the rural GDP of India, making high-quality distance education possible and driving the next generation of wireless standards.

"At TeNeT we are naturally very excited about the rollout of 3G services because video and pictures can help overcome language barriers. For example, very few farmers speak or understand English, and this limits their access to urban markets using voice alone," Jalihal told IPS in a telephone interview from Chennai.

"The possibilities are endless -- 3G will positively impact such areas as health services, education, agriculture and governance," said Jalihal. "There will naturally be an increase in public expectations in these areas, and this can dramatically stimulate social change."

Jalihal believes that the introduction of 3G-enabled mobile services will more than make up for the relatively poor penetration of the personal computer (PC) into India's rural areas.

Mobile 3G services can make Internet services more easily accessible compared to using a PC, which needs steady electricity supplies, maintenance, broadband services and other infrastructure which are missing in large swathes of rural India.

"While we are approaching a figure of 500 million mobile subscribers, PC penetration in India remains poor compared to countries like Russia, Brazil and China," Jalihal said.

Internet penetration in India is still seven percent of its population as against neighbouring China's 25.3 per cent of its 1.3 billion people. Within Asia, South Korea has the highest Internet penetration covering 77.3 per cent of the population, followed by Japan with 74 per cent, Singapore with 66 per cent, Malaysia and Taiwan, with 65 per cent each, according to Internet World Stats, a data-providing website on world Internet usage.

On the other hand, India is currently adding 10 million new mobile subscribers per month on average. The World Bank estimates that every extra 10 mobile phones per 100 people in a typical developing country can boost GDP growth by 0.8 percentage points.

According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), India added more than 30 million new mobile subscribers in the months of July and August. That contrasts with the pre-liberalised era of the 1980s when telephones were considered a luxury and the waiting list for new connections hovered around 20 million applicants.

Privatisation of telecom and mobile technology changed all that. Second-generation or 2G mobile services rapidly seeped down to the grassroots level. Today it is already common to see domestic workers, cab drivers, carpenters, plumbers, vegetable vendors and farmers using mobile phones.

With the advent of 3G, fishermen can negotiate prices for their catch before heading for shore by sending in pictures of the type of fish they have on board. Similarly, farmers and horticulturalists who have perishable produce can take advantage of 3G services to bargain for the best prices before harvesting, bypassing middlemen.

Deven Appiah, a Bangalore-based rose grower, prefers to wait till the last minute before putting shears to his blooms to maintain freshness. "It helps if florists in cities like New Delhi or Mumbai place major orders if they can actually see the colour and size of the flowers in real time.'' He knows this is possible with the use of 3G facilities.

Jalihal said TRAI policies are structured in such a way as to ensure that private mobile operators are compelled to take their services to millions of rural consumers because that is the only way they can recover the high costs of buying 3G spectrum at government auctions, which are due to be completed by November. One such policy requires the conduct of auctions.

The auctions were originally scheduled to take place in December 2008, but the government was unable to arrive at a reserve price, which has finally been set at Rs 34 billion (722 million U.S. dollars) for an all-India license. The government expects to make at least Rs 237 billion (five billion U.S. dollars) from license auctions.

While operators have been bickering over the high costs of licenses, Jalihal believes that the government can use the money to ensure that the necessary infrastructure gets built and a wider section of the population, particularly in the rural areas, benefits.

Statistics released by TRAI show that there are presently 38 million subscribers across India using Internet services through their mobile phones instead of landlines. This figure is bound to rise when 3G becomes available. TRAI expects that value-added services will drive bigger revenues for the telecom industry in India, and that these could cross 3.5 billion dollars annually by mid-2010.

All the prognoses are upbeat. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry estimates that there will be 90 million 3G mobile subscribers by 2013 and that annual sales of compatible handsets will reach 81.3 million units by 2013.

According to the International Market Assessment, mobile handset manufacturers are planning to launch 3G phones as cheap as Rs 2,800 (60 U.S. dollars) to tap into India's rural markets, where three million subscribers are being added each month.

Jalihal is confident that while there are challenges, 3G operators can take advantage of new opportunities in providing a mix of voice, data and video to generate additional revenue that can compensate for the high license fees and also participate in what could prove to be the single biggest step towards socio-economic transformation in India.
  Arab women scientists to the fore
  DUBAI -- Awards to recognise the contributions of Arab women scientists were announced last week (28-30 September) in Dubai .

They were launched, along with other initiatives, at the inaugural meeting of Arab Women in Science and Technology -- organised by the Arab Science and Technology Forum (ASTF) -- which enabled female researchers from Morocco in the west to Syria in the east to meet, many for the first time.

Maitha Al Shamsi, minister of state for the United Arab Emirates (UAE), reported at the meeting a "steady increase" in the number of female postgraduate science students in her region. She said the UAE was "a model for other countries to follow".

To read more use this link:

BioMed Analysis: Pooling patents for HIV drugs

A UNITAID patent pool could revolutionise HIV treatment and research in developing countries -- if payment can be agreed, says Priya Shetty. Journalist Shetty specialises in developing world issues including health, climate change and human rights.

WHEN GlaxoSmithKline set up a patent pool earlier this year to stimulate research into neglected diseases, it was little surprise that they excluded patents for their extremely lucrative HIV drugs.

But there is a strong humanitarian case -- now promoted by the health organisation UNITAID -- for pooling HIV drug patents. A UK parliamentary group on AIDS estimatesthat by 2030, 50 million people will need HIV drugs. Already, over six million people with HIV/AIDS are dying because they have no access to lifesaving medicine.

UNITAID's proposed patent pool could change all that. It would work by collecting patents held by companies, universities or research institutes and making them available to the developing world for drug production or research at the cost of an affordable licence fee or royalty.

This differs from the way drug patents usually work. When a company creates a new drug, the patent protection lasts about 20 years. It prohibits other companies from producing and selling the drug or using it for research. Occasionally, the patent-holder may give other organisations access to its protected knowledge, but usually only in an extremely restricted capacity and at high cost -- which puts low and middle income countries out of the running.

Patents ensure maximum profits and allow companies to recoup the millions of dollars they spend getting a drug to market. But they also mean that people who can only afford cheap 'generic' copies of drugs must wait decades. And researchers cannot develop new combination treatments -- recommended by the WHO as the best way to reduce the risk of drug resistance -- if one of the drugs is under patent.

The UNITAID HIV patent pool would mean generics could be made immediately, and research could begin into new drug combinations and child-friendly formulations.

To read the full article use this link:

First Chagas drug in 40 years

SANTIAGO -- A new drug for Chagas disease is set to enter clinical development, potentially ending four decades during which there have been just two drugs available.

Eight million people have Chagas disease in Latin America and the Caribbean and the disease threatens a further 100 million in the region.

Last month (29 September) the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) -- a non-profit independent foundation -- and Japanese pharmaceutical company Eisai announced a collaboration and licence agreement to assess the safety and efficacy of the antifungal drug ravuconazole.

To read the full auricle use this link:

Chinese science workers want to switch career

BEIJING -- The number of science and technology (S&T) workers in China has increased by 74 per cent since 2002, but almost one-third say they would like to switch to another job such as civil servant or manager.

Women now make up 40 per cent (up from 34 per cent in 2002) of the 52 million workers in S&T, the average age of researchers has fallen marginally to 38 and the percentage of those with Masters degrees or PhDs has risen from 11 per cent in 2002 to 25 per cent.

Although 49 per cent of respondents to the 30,000 questionnaires -- given to researchers, engineers, technicians affiliated to hospitals, and school science teachers -- say they are satisfied with their jobs, more than half are opposed to their children becoming scientific researchers.

Zhang Xiaomei, co-author of the report by the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST), attributes the dissatisfaction of a significant minority to low income, high pressure and poor career prospects.

To read the full story use this link:

Scientists use nanotech to 'upgrade' TB drugs

South African scientists have used nanotechnology to enhance the absorption of tuberculosis (TB) drugs in the body so that fewer, smaller doses are needed.

Clinical trials for the antibiotic, Rifanano -- a combination of the four main first-line TB drugs -- are scheduled for 2012 and the drug should be available in government clinics in 2016, Hulda Swai, principal researcher in biomaterials research told SciDev.Net.

The new drug is coated with nano-sized particles which are in turn coated with chemicals that make them stick to the intestine wall, enabling the drug to be far more easily absorbed.

Rifanano needs to be taken just once a week for two months and there are no adverse reactions. Most TB antibiotics must be taken daily for up to six months and often cause debilitating side effects, such as nausea and fatigue.

To read the full article use this link:
  Church to work with state government on flood rehabilitation
  MANGALORE, OCT 9 (UCAN) -- The Catholic Church in Karnataka state is to cooperate with the southern Indian state's pro-Hindu government to rehabilitate victims of recent floods.

Five bishops from the state's affected northern region met Oct. 8 and resolved to "collaborate with the government" rather than work in isolation.

The devastating floods in the first week of October killed more than 200 people and damaged properties worth 200 billion rupees (US$4.25 billion).

Caritas India, the social action wing of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, and its American counterpart Catholic Relief Services, are among scores of Christian agencies engaged in relief and rehabilitation work in the state.

Bishop Peter Machado of Belgaum, who hosted the prelates' meeting, told UCA News they have decided to cater to only those who have registered their damages with the government.

"It is both to avoid duplication and to enhance cooperation with the government," the prelate explained.

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

Christian groups say that since the BJP came to power their institutions and workers have come under increasing attack from Hindu radical groups.

The Church has joined the state government's efforts to raise funds for flood rehabilitation. Many dioceses and laypeople have donated to the state chief minister's relief fund that has already collected more than 50 million rupees locally.

Belgaum district's deputy commissioner, who attended the bishops' meeting, asked the Church to cooperate with the administration. Officials of other districts have made similar appeals to other dioceses in the state, Bishop Machado said.

Belgaum diocese, he said has already dispatched three medical teams to manage camps in remote villages. Another team of volunteers is involved in food distribution.

Jimmy Mathew, manager for Caritas India's Karnataka region, told UCA News his agency will serve 30,000 families in Karnataka and neighboring Andhra Pradesh in the first phase of the project. This involves providing medical aid and food besides repairing houses.

Father Peter Brank, who coordinates the Karnataka Regional Organization for Social Service, said the Church also will spread awareness on human rights and empower people to access government schemes and benefits.

"The government has shown much enthusiasm in collecting funds from the public. Our challenge is to see that it reaches deserving people," the priest said.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore, who heads the Church in the state, has appealed to Catholics to donate generously to help flood victims.

"It is the right time to show brotherly concern toward the victims of this natural calamity," he says in a circular to be read during Sunday Mass on Oct. 11 in all Catholic churches in the state.

"Let us all join hands with the government machinery in rendering our help in all ways," the circular added.
  Nun's death case hampers congregation's work, says superior
  NEW DELHI, OCT 9 (UCAN) -- Scandals and controversies surrounding the mysterious death of a nun 17 years ago is taking a heavy toll on her congregation, says the congregation's superior general.

"Much energy and time is being wasted fighting the case," said Sister Annie John of the Sister of St. Joseph Congregation (SJC).

The body of the late nun Sister Abhaya was found in the well of the congregation's Pius X Convent in Kottayam on March 28, 1992.

The Central Bureau of Investigation, India's top investigating agency, on Nov. 18, 2008, arrested an SJC nun, Sister Sephy, and two senior priests Fathers Thomas Kottoor and Jose Poothrukayil of Kottayam archdiocese, accusing them of murder.

Sister John says several investigating bodies have tried to solve the "mysterious death," but "we don't know the exact cause." The superior general says her congregation "strongly believes" Sister Sephy and the two priests are innocent.

The Central Bureau of Investigation says Sister Sephy hit Sister Abhaya with an axe and the priests helped her dump the body in the convent well.

The priests and nun, who are on bail, have denied the charges.

The SJC congregation was founded 81 years ago in Kerala, southern India.

Sister John said the protracted case has made her congregation known internationally, but it would have preferred to be left alone to use its time and resources to spread the Gospel and serve society.

She says the media have sensationalized the case and accused the Church of trying to protect the culprits.

The murder mystery has become a "never ending and tiring process" that has brought a "lot of mental torture" for her congregation, Sister John told UCA News.

She said her congregation's reputation was dented further when some television channels telecast on Sept. 14 alleged video footage of CBI interrogations of the accused.

Those video became mired in controversy amid questions of their authenticity. "No one has the original recordings," said Sister John.

The allegations and humiliations have affected "our work and vocations,' Sister John said. The congregation has more than 60 convents and institutions in India and overseas where 375 members are engaged in social work, especially serving the physically and mentally handicapped.

The nun says she is worried now as fewer girls opt to join her congregation since the scandal broke. "Only four have joined us this year."

The superior general said "anxious parents" often ask her nuns whether what appears in the media "really happens" in convents.

Despite the pain caused, the congregation views these travails as blessings in disguise.

"We have taken these humiliations and sufferings as opportunities to share in Christ's passion," Sister John said.

People who know the congregation or work with the nuns also support the congregation in this difficult time, she added. "They understand and sympathize with us but those who do not know us look on us with suspicion."
  Public opinion turns against Maoists in wake of murders
  By Ajit Paul

RANCHI, OCT 9 (UCAN) -- Thousands attended the Oct. 7 funeral of a Catholic policeman beheaded by Maoists in eastern India, the day before at least 17 other policemen were killed by the group in an ambush.

People of different religious affiliations watched from rooftops and roadsides as the three-kilometer funeral procession of Francis Indwar made its way from St. Francis Church in a Ranchi suburb to the graveyard.

Ranchi is the capital of Jharkhand state. Mourners carried placards denouncing the Maoists and demanding death for Indwar's killers.

The Maoists, or Naxalites, so called because their movement began in the West Bengal village of Naxalbari in 1967, are now a network of communist groups engaged in armed struggle.

They claim to be fighting to deliver power to the poor and now operate with impunity across nearly 40 per cent of India.

The beheading of Indwar has led to revulsion against the Maoist rebels. Indwar was killed after being abducted on Sept. 29. His body was found by villagers on Oct. 6.

The Maoists had ignored appeals from the Catholic Church and Indwar's wife to release the 50-year-old tribal police officer.

The captors had demanded the administration release three of their leaders, arrested earlier as part of a massive government crackdown on the rebels, in exchange for Indwar.

On Oct. 8, Maoists killed at least 17 policemen in an ambush and beheaded a police informer.

Church leaders in Ranchi have been reluctant to comment on Indwar's killing for fear of reprisals against the many priests and nuns working in remote villages where Maoists are active.

"We do not want to endanger their lives," a Church official told UCA News.

However, some laypeople had no such hesitation.

Indwar's widow, Sunita, who had remained silent since the abduction, told media after the funeral that she has pardoned her husband's killers. "I forgive those who killed my innocent husband. But I also appeal to them not to take any more innocent lives," she told UCA News.

Indwar's murder has prompted national media and others to call for even more stringent actions against the Maoists.

Belkhas Kujur, a Lutheran leader who attended Indwar's funeral, said the policeman's killing was "the worst crime" the Maoists had committed in Jharkhand. "There is widespread anger against them in the state," Kujur told UCA News.

After seeing the "heinous killing," people would not support Maoists who claim to work for the poor, he said.

Niel Tirkey, a Lutheran politician, described Indwar as an upright police officer and his killing showed Maoists had become "an ulcer" in the country.

"It is time the government took tough measures against the Naxalites, who have almost stopped development works in many parts of the country," he said.

Tirkey said he welcomed federal Home Minister P. Chidambaram's announcement on Oct. 7 to use the armed forces to deal with the Maoists. The minister also urged the outlaws to shun violence and engage in dialogue with the government to sort out their grievances.

"The Times of India" newspaper noted the "public revulsion" over Indwar's killing and said it had given the government a chance to project Maoists as "cold-blooded killers and not people's warriors" as they claim.

According to the "Mail Today" newspaper, Maoists have, through Indwar's execution, declared war on the state. The federal and state governments have been "talking tough" about dealing with Maoists for more than two years, the paper noted.

"With this cold blooded act, the Maoists have picked up the gauntlet," said the newspaper's Oct. 8 editorial.

Christopher Dispute, president of Ranchi archdiocese's Catholic Saba (council), says Maoists abducted Indwar despite knowing the government would not release their leaders to save a police officer.

He feared the lessons learnt from Indwar's death may be short-lived, however.

"The government may act now against the Maoists because of public pressure but it would soon forget everything, even Indwar's family," he said.

Dispute, however, noted the "unprecedented" turnout at Indwar's funeral. People forgot their differences to shower flowers and place garlands on Indwar's coffin, he said.
  Fear complex grips Muslims, finds national meet
  By A Correspondent

New Delhi, Oct 9 -- There was an intense, almost universal sentiment of fear and growing despair among Muslim citizens of the country. This was the finding of a national meet on the theme 'What it Means to be a Muslim in India Today' held in New Delhi from October 3 to 5. It was organised by Anhad, in collaboration with Siasat and other organisations.

Many of those who testified at the meet went so far as to declare that they felt reduced to second-class citizenship. It was repeatedly emphasised that this was a grave challenge to the basic values of the Indian Constitution, including democracy, secularism, fraternity and the rule of law.

It was discussed how the pervasive sense of insecurity was derived greatly from the prejudice, illegality and impunity with which police forces dealt with the challenges of terror. Testimonies from many states in the country outlined this pattern, of Muslims, mostly male youth, usually with no criminal records, being illegally picked up by men in plainclothes, and taken blindfolded in unmarked vehicles to illegal locations like farm houses, which were not police stations.

There they were tortured to coerce them to confess to terror crimes. Even if the legal justice system worked efficiently, it would take many years, sometimes decades, for these cases to be heard and concluded.

Many women and men who testified spoke of the importance to them of modern and high quality schooling and higher education, and sought much higher levels of public investment in their education. There were many testimonies about open prejudice and bias of public institutions towards Muslims, but it was confirmed that these prejudices were equally evident outside government as well.

People reported from many parts of India of difficulties in getting homes on rent or on sale in non-Muslim localities, or admissions in schools and institutions of higher education. People spoke of systematic efforts to destroy and boycott the livelihoods of Muslims.

A major recommendation the meet discussed was the appointing of a high-powered judicial commission, headed by a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, to examine all cases of terror across the country. Those that seemed doubtful should be handed over to a Special Investigation Team, appointed and supervised by the high-powered judicial commission. It should complete its task in one year, so that prolonged detention of persons against whom there was little convincing evidence was not prolonged further.

The meet also recommended that, in cases in which it was obvious that false cases were framed and evidence fabricated, the police officers should be prosecuted and victims who were ultimately found innocent should be paid compensation for the suffering.

The participants asked for a concerted drive to recruit much larger numbers of Muslims to all levels of the police, civil administration and judiciary. For this, all the recommendations of the Justice Rajendra Sachar Committee for affirmative action should be notified in six months, and implemented in three years.

The participants also proposed that the UPA government immediately redeem its pledge and enact the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, but not in its present form. It must incorporate provisions suggested by civil society groups.

Strong action should be taken under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code against organisations which indulged in hate campaigns and communal propaganda. The requirement of prior sanction of the state government before a complaint was registered under this Act should be waived.

Another proposal was that a law against communal discrimination on the lines of the SC/ST Act should be enacted to recognise specific crimes of discrimination against minorities and punish the guilty severely.
  Church lends support to death-penalty abolition bill
SEOUL, OCT 9 (UCAN) -- Church representatives have appealed to Korea's National Assembly for the abolition of the death penalty and submitted a petition signed by over 100,000 Catholics.

On Oct. 8, the Korean bishops' Subcommittee for the Abolition of Capital Punishment held a press conference in the National Assembly building, during which they urged lawmakers to end capital punishment.

After the conference, the bishops submitted the petition containing the signatures of 100,481 Catholics, including their own. The appeal came on the same day that 53 Korean lawmakers submitted a bill proposing the abolition of the death penalty.

Father John Bosco Byeon Seung-sik, undersecretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea (CBCK), said the Catholic Church's appeal was made based on respect for life and human rights.

He recognized that as violent crimes increase, there are those who would like to see executions resume in the country. But he insisted that the international trend is moving toward the abolition of capital punishment, and expressed his hope the 18th National Assembly would do so too.

On Dec. 30, 2007, South Korea marked 10 years since its last executions, when 23 people were hanged, thus becoming an abolitionist country "in practice" as defined by international human rights group Amnesty International.

Presently, there are 58 convicts awaiting execution by hanging.

Father Byeon said the petition was organized to fulfill the wishes of the late Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan of Seoul, who strongly supported abolition. Cardinal Kim died on Feb. 16 this year.

The petition, started in December last year, was conducted in all 1,543 parishes in South Korea over three months.

The subcommittee decided to wait for the 53 lawmakers to submit their bill before handing in their petition to the Legislative Counseling Office of the National Assembly in order to achieve more impact.

The bill calls for the abolition of the death penalty and its replacement with life imprisonment without parole or commutation. It argues that the death penalty does not deter violent crimes but its abolition would protect and respect human rights.

However, the bill looks likely to be rejected like other similar bills before it.

During the previous National Assembly, an anti-death penalty bill endorsed by 175 legislators -- more than half the assembly -- was submitted. However, conservative lawmakers in the Legislation and Judiciary Committee blocked discussion on it.

According to National Assembly regulations, any proposed bill must be discussed in that committee before being forwarded to the assembly.

In the present National Assembly, 167 lawmakers from the 290-seat house come from the conservative Grand National Party. President Lee Myung-bak, who is from this party, also favors keeping the death penalty.

According to a Ministry of Justice survey last February, 64.1 per cent of Koreans are also in favor of capital punishment, while only 18.5 per cent oppose it. Others were undecided.

However, Kim Boo-kyum, a main sponsor of the bill from the opposition Democratic Party, expects some progress. He told UCA News, "This time, I got a promise from the chairperson of the committee to discuss the bill."

"If committee members discuss the bill, it will become an issue and their understanding of it will deepen," he said.

The committee chairperson is Peter Lew Seon-ho from the Democratic Party, one of the co-signers of the bill.

Andrew Kim Duck-jin, secretary general of the Catholic Human Rights Committee, told UCA News, "The abolition of the death penalty should not be swayed by party interests since it deals with respecting human life and human rights."
  Online parish in Philippines attracts thousands to its virtual world
QUEZON CITY (PHILIPPINES), OCT 8 (UCAN) -- One "parish" here is not listed in the country's Catholic directory. It has no church or other buildings but still claims thousands of members.

Parokya sa Web (parish on the web) is a "virtual parish" where devotions and spiritual matters are discussed online, and which its organizer says demonstrates the potential and power of new technologies that have revolutionized the world.

Parokya sa Web (parish on the web) hosted in The Philippine Online Chronicles (POC) -- -- is the name of Father Roberto Reyes' blog.

In it the priest of Cubao diocese, well-known as the "Running Priest" for his social activism, shares daily reflections on the Gospel, his online homilies, news reports, photos and multimedia commentaries, and images on spiritual matters and social issues.

Some 13,000-15,000 visitors a month discuss or comment on Parokya material that deals mostly with spiritual reflections on life in a troubled world.

While some of these people from around the world seek advice, others put in prayer requests, reflections on the Bible and comments.

For example, one Parokya blog visitor identified as "Maribel of Hong Kong" wrote that the blog has been her companion in her journey through life.

Another blogger, Noemi Lardizabal-Dado, 52, who has 10 blog sites of her own, said the virtual parish gives much-needed "food for the soul."

She spoke with UCA News at a recent gathering of 40 bloggers in a Quezon City bar a year after Parokya was launched. At last these bloggers were able to meet in person the priest they had been talking with online for so long.

Most of them are "mom bloggers" -- mothers who blog about motherhood and issues they face. One is an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW).

Father Reyes' reflections are relevant to current conditions especially for OFWs who have no access to the Church, Dado noted.

She described the priest as a good blogger, noting his writings are "brief, but relevant" to the situation of OFW and other people who "hunger for spirituality online."

POC publisher Gaspar Vibal was among guests at the anniversary gathering. He told UCA News he supports Parokya because "we love this kind of advocacy." It is fruitful to "gather as a virtual community, as part of social networking," he said.

In his view, Father Reyes' blog, like a real parish, "connects thousands of people" even though they are not part of a physical church."

"It's a very powerful tool for OFWs because they can share things happening in places like Saudi Arabia, where they are not allowed to go to Mass," Vibal said.

Another guest, Edicio de la Torre, 66, and a former Society of the Divine World (SVD) priest, has his own blog dealing with socio-political and spiritual issues. "Father Reyes is very good because he touches many people" who want to discuss various issues but cannot meet physically, he told UCA News.

After the anniversary celebration, Father Reyes said that through the Internet and email, he is able to share what he thinks, feels, and plans, with a very wide spectrum of people. "I think this is what evangelization is all about," the priest told UCA News.

He said when he was a parish priest he did not spend a lot of time in a church but in the parokya sa kalye (parish in the street). He was referring to his prayer rallies, hunger strikes and other movements with farmers, urban poor and other sectors, to call attention to corruption, environmental degradation and various "social evils."

"The Church was defined by Vatican II as the 'people of God,' and where you find people then that is where the Church is, so I now use the Internet," Father Reyes said.

He believes Jesus is finding a way to talk to people today. "The Holy Spirit is working through cyberspace so we cannot say, 'No, that is not for me."

In his view, a cyber parish is no longer an option but an evolving reality.

He expressed hope that face-to-face meetings of Parokya sa Web bloggers would help in some way to improve the nation’s moral values.
  Vatican: 'Significant similarities' between Churches in Asia and Africa
  By Gerard O'Connell, Special Correspondent in Rome

VATICAN CITY, OCT 8 (UCAN) -- Despite differences, the Churches in Asia and Africa bear striking similarities, the secretary general of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC) told participants of the ongoing Synod of Bishops for Africa.

Filipino Archbishop Orlando Quevedo made this observation when he delivered one of five "continental" reports at the meeting which opened in the Vatican on Oct. 4 and which is set to conclude on Oct. 24. Other reports came from Latin America, North America, Europe and Oceania, presented by a bishop from each region.

The second Synod for Africa, which the African bishops requested, focuses on: "The Church in Africa at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace."

The synod’s theme "resonates deeply with Asian aspirations of the Church in Asia," Archbishop Quevedo told the assembly. It included some 200 bishops from Africa's 53 countries, representatives from other continental episcopal conferences and heads of 25 Roman Curia offices, including the only other Asian prelate -- Indian Cardinal Ivan Dias, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

Archbishop Quevedo began by listing some of the "similarities." For the most part, the Church in both continents "is young," he said. Christianity was introduced to countries in both continents mainly by foreign missioners during the colonial period, and especially in the l9th and 20th centuries.

Among other "significant and striking similarities" between Africa and Asia, Archbishop Quevedo listed "the richness of cultures, the trove of cherished, truly human traditional family values, the thousands of languages spoken, the encounter between Christianity, Islam, and indigenous traditional religions."

Both Africa and Asia "are continents of the poor and of the young," he observed.

The Asian prelate pointed to "striking similarities" in the apostolic exhortations "Ecclesia in Africa" (1995) and "Ecclesia in Asia" (1999), which Pope John Paul II issued after the 1994 African synod and the 1998 Asian synod.

He said both exhortations identified pastoral challenges facing the Church today. He cited inculturation and interreligious dialogue, an emerging relativistic and materialistic culture promoted by the instruments of social communication and the negative impact of economic globalization on the poor.

He said the exhortations also pointed to the decline of moral values in social, economic and political life and the continuing threats to the very nature of marriage and the family, and the various faces of injustice and violent conflict that ruin the harmony of African and Asian societies.

Archbishop Quevedo noted that both the Churches in Africa and Asia are raising similar questions: What are we as a community of disciples, as Church? How are we to be credible witnesses of the Lord Jesus and his Gospel? How should we respond to the many complex pastoral challenges that confront us in our mission to proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior?

While the Church in Africa "is exploring the theological and pastoral implications of the Church as the Family of God," he said, the Church in Asia has opted "to explore in the Asian context the theology of Church as communion and as humble servant of the Gospel and of Asian peoples." This approach has opened the possibility for an "ongoing radical renewal of the Church in Asia, an option more of being than of doing," he stated.

He informed synod participants that since its establishment 35 years ago, the FABC has sought to renew the Church in Asia through promotion of a deeper spiritual interiority, and of dialogue with Asia’s cultures, its ancient religious and philosophical traditions, and its peoples, especially with the poor.

Pointing to the frequency of typhoons, floods, droughts, earthquakes and tsunamis in Asia, Archbishop Quevedo said all these demand "our pastoral collective concern regarding global warming and climate change."

He said both the Churches in Africa and in Asia "experience great joy and hope" in the movements of justice and peace -- shown by the growing awareness of young people, women and civil society groups "pushing for integrity in public life and advocating the care and integrity of creation."

Pope Benedict XVI was present in the synod hall when Archbishop Quevedo spoke. The FABC official concluded his talk by turning to him and saying, "May we invite you, beloved Holy Father, to visit our region in the near future."
  New head of Indian Religious wants collaboration with Asia, Africa
  NEW DELHI, OCT 7 (UCAN) -- A Montfort Brother elected to head the Catholic Religious in India says he wants Religious to collaborate with their counterparts in other parts of the Church, particularly in Asia and Africa.

Brother K.M. Joseph, 60, was elected on Oct. 2 as the national president of the Conference of Religious India (CRI), the representative body of some 125,000 Religious priests, nuns and brothers.

The election took place on the concluding day of CRI's five-day national assembly in New Delhi, which made wide-ranging resolutions to help the Religious body face the challenges of a changing India.

Brother Joseph, a mathematics teacher who once coached former Indian cricket captain Mohammed Azharuddin, told UCA News that CRI has to become "a more vibrant body, with specific structures, which can face challenges and crises more definitively and more proactively."

The community of Religious in India appears quite "vibrant" already and the CRI therefore should look outward to "interact, collaborate and support Religious in other parts of the Church, particularly those in Asia and Africa," besides providing leadership to its members, he said.

The new CRI president, who heads the Montfort congregation's Hyderabad province, says he wants to see the national body "challenge and help individual Religious to live their calling as radically as possible."

Activities of Religious, he says, "can often degenerate into mere secular activities, unless they spring from a life of sincere commitment to walk in the footsteps of Jesus."

Brother Joseph says his status as a brother would prove a "great advantage" in leading the CRI to its goals. "I will not be weighed down by the tag of clericalism," he said.

"Today, more than ever, the sublimity of consecrated brotherhood is recognized in the Church as a whole and particularly in the Indian Church," he said. "The time has come for Religious Brothers to play a more definitive role in the administrative affairs of the Indian Church."

Brother Joseph, who became a Religious 42 years ago, said the recent national assembly was "a great success" primarily because of its "record number of participants." Some 550 major superiors attended.

The assembly also succeeded in addressing several national concerns such as social justice, good governance and gender equality, said the brother, who has a degree in psychology.

"As a hobby, I used to play cricket and coach young cricketers. I had the privilege of grooming many international cricketers including Azharuddin," he said.

Brother Joseph succeeded Carmelite of Mary Immaculate Father Antony Kariyil, who completed a three-year term. The new head of CRI's priests' section is Father Jose Panthaplamthottiyil, Father Kariyil's confrere.

Sister Prasanna Thattil, superior general of Congregation of Holy family, is the new president of the CRI women's section.
  India: Catholic chief's green vision protects land from drought
  By Ajit Paul

BERO, OCT 7 (UCAN) -- When drought led to the looting of government food stores in Jharkhand earlier this year, some villagers were thanking an illiterate Catholic tribal chieftain for helping them avoid the crisis.

For the past 50 years, Simon Oraon, 72, popularly known as "Baba" (father), has taught 51 villages in the Bero area to protect their environment using various means.

When this year's drought turned much of Jharkhand into a wasteland, the Bero area in the state's Ranchi district was an exception.

"Baba's 2,000 acres (809 hectares) of farmland stood in stark contrast," Vidya Bhushan Kumar, a local government official, told UCA News.

Elsewhere the drought forced many to commit suicide, but the Bero people enjoyed a "golden harvest," he said.

Oraon has no formal education or technical training but used his "great native intelligence" to tame rivers and streams and use water during the monsoon season, Kuma said.

Every year, the tribal chieftain plants more than 1,000 trees, a mission he began in 1960 on his 4,000 square meters of ancestral land. As time went on, neighbors saw how his methods had helped conserve rainwater and allowed him to plant trees on their lands.

"Baba has built three dams, five ponds and three canals that converted vast stretches of barren land into cultivable farm land," Kumar said.

Father Augustine Kerketta, a Bero native and a Ranchi archdiocesan priest, is another admirer of Oraon.

"Baba works selflessly to encourage people to live in harmony with nature," the priest told UCA News.

Oraon's knowledge of nature as well as his leadership skills have won him the respect of Hindus, Muslims and various tribal groups in the state, said Father Kerketta. Oraon has been elected Parha Raja (tribal chieftain) without interruption since 1964.

He is also the only Christian tribal chieftain in the state, Father Kerketta says, and his popularity has indirectly helped evangelization and earned goodwill for Christians.

Visitors to Oraon's house are first struck by the sight of a prominent crucifix. Pictures of Jesus, Mary, the Holy Family and Blessed Teresa of Kolkata also adorn his house along with certificates of honors he has received over the years.

Oraon says he inherited his environmental skills from his parents and elders.

"Big people come to see my work. They call me 'engineer,' but I am not an engineer. I am an illiterate man," he said.

He had launched a people's movement to fight deforestation as head of Khaski Toli village due to experiences in his childhood. "As a small boy I had seen trees in our forests cut and carted away in trucks. Later, I understood the importance of forests in our lives," he explained.

He said by 1960, vast areas of forest had disappeared and he decided to call a meeting in his village. He spread his movement to other villages after he became chieftain in the Bero area.

"With great struggle we managed to stop deforestation and launched the re-forestation movement," Oraon said.

He added that their biggest challenge came in 1978 when the forest department sold trees to a contractor and villagers fought back, using bows and arrows to protect the forest.

The contractor then tried another trick. He got permission to collect stones from the forest but clandestinely started felling trees. The vigilant villagers, however, caught them and punished them and the tree-fellers never returned.

These days, forest protection is a more organized affair and the villagers now have committees to protect forests.

Somra Oraon (no relation), who donated a plot of land for a dam, said he is happy to be part of the Catholic chieftain's mission.

"Thanks to our Parha Raja, we are living a happy life today," he told UCA News. He says the sacrifice of 8,000 square meters of land has made the rest of his land cultivable.

Luisa Kachhap, a Catholic tribal woman, donated 1.6 hectares of land. "We are happy thousands of acres of land are being irrigated today," she said.
  Former Hindus share their journey to Christianity
KOLKATA, OCT 7 (UCAN) -- Sujata Mary Das, Daniel Bor and Maharaj Ekka come from different ethnic groups but have one thing in common. The former Hindus are grateful to God for leading them to the Christian faith.

They shared their experiences during the Oct. 3-4 Prabhu Yesu Mahotsav (Lord Jesus mega festival) held here.

Calcutta archdiocese organized the celebration with the theme, "I am the Light of the World," with the sub-theme, "Let your light shine." The event was held in preparation for the Indian Mission Congress scheduled for Oct. 14-18 in Mumbai.

The Indian Mission Congress is the follow-up to the Asian Mission Congress held in Chiang Mai, Thailand two years ago. One of the resolutions made during the event was that similar national, regional and diocesan congresses would be held in future.

During the recent Kolkata program, various participants shared their faith stories. They included Catholics who rediscovered their faith and people of other faiths who came to know Christ. Liturgical and other issues were also discussed as during the Asian Mission Congress.

Das, who was born into a Brahmin (Hindu priestly caste) family, said her first encounter with Christianity was at the age of 9 when she saw a picture of the crucified Christ.

"That was the moment when I realized God's love for me," she told about 500 people on the festival's opening day.

The 38-year-old Catholic convert said she later met some Missionaries of Charity nuns who helped deepen her knowledge of Christ. She said her new faith has helped her through severe difficulties, such as when her husband became bedridden and the family had no money for food. She started praying to Jesus and soon her husband recovered and was able to resume his work.

Bor's entry to Catholicism was through Hindu scripture. The son of a Hindu priest said he had been hostile toward Christianity from childhood.

He recalled that about 20 years ago, someone gave him books on Christianity, including the New Testament. During an illness, he started reading the Bible and came across a verse in St. John's Gospel where Christ said he has come to give people "life in abundance."

Bor said these words were similar to a verse from the Hindu holy book, the Bhagavad Gita, which says that God comes to establish righteousness whenever there is moral degradation.

Bor later embraced Catholicism.

Ekka, 51, from Our Lady of Happy Voyage parish in Howrah, was a practicing Hindu until 1992 when he fell critically ill and planned to commit suicide.

"That was the time when I read the Bible and the words 'ask and you will be given, knock and it will be opened to you, search and you will find' became real to me," said the railway employee, as he described how he began to find his faith in Christ.

Father Santanam Irudaya Raj, who coordinated the festival, said seven members from the archdiocese, including four lay people, will attend the Indian Mission Congress.
  Social Audit finds chinks in NREGA armour
  From A Correspondent

BHILWARA, OCT 6 -- The Social Audit under the leadership of the Right to Employment campaign has picked up momentum. Today was the third day of the stay of the audit teams in various villages.

While the teams were analyzing the NREGA records, they were also collecting facts about the good work being done under the Act.

Participants of the Social Audit programme with their optimistic, suggestive and corrective viewpoints were trying to instill in the people the true spirit of NREGA. People from different walks of life, be them students, NREGA workers, farmers or elected representatives, were all highly charged up about the Social Audit Programme in Bhilwara, the parliamentary constituency of Central rural development minister C P Joshi.

Special Audit teams have begun their work in their respectively allotted panchayats and have started thoroughly analyzing the NREGA records along with establishing direct contact with the villagers so as to know the exact ground realities.

The team comprising 20 disabled members coming from nine different states of India reached the Govardhanpura Panchayat today for understanding the working methodology of Panchayats to explore their possible contribution in village development work through NREGA.

In Malnas village of Jindrass Panchayat of Asind block the social audit team led by Chandra Prakash Yadav (Pappu) found a very interesting fact. Thirty five Bhil Tribal families used to migrate every year in search of employment but after the coming up of NREGA, they have given up the life of caravans and have settled down permanently in the village.

Even after all the efforts, information boards have not been placed anywhere except for the selected special 11 grampanchayats. Looking at the gravity of the situation, a team from the campaign group met district collector Manju Rajpal and CEO of Bhilwara district Mohanlal Sharma. The team expressed its concerns and requested them to finish off the installation of information boards during the Social Audit period itself.

In Suvana, Mandal and Asind panchayats, the social audit teams found out that at the NREGA worksites information boards were displayed but no information regarding payment of wages, required materials etc was displayed thus rendering the boards useless. The S R Abhiyaan team brought this to the notice of the district administration.

In many grampanchayats of Mandal Block, complaints of delayed payments were received. Laxman Singh of Bhagwanpura village informed the team that his payments for the work done for the construction of Kishanpura bridge were still pending. Gujju Devi Gehlot of the same village also worked on the same worksite and was entitled to get Rs 1066 but her payment was yet to be credited to her bank account.

The team visiting Badlarkhan village of Banera block found out that for the NREGA work, the name of the person mentioned on the bill vouchers was clueless about the firm as well as the work done there.

In Arania Ghora panchayat of Shahpura block, the audit team found out that many of the labourers did not possess their job cards as they were with the Gram Panchayat. When the team reached the Panchayat office they were surprised to find hundreds of job cards kept in the office.
The state government has sent four representatives from each block and five representatives from each district who have been given the list of all the DRPs and BRPs who all are included in the social audit teams.

  Pakistan: Church officials criticize new education policy
  LAHORE, OCT 6 (UCAN) -- Catholic Church leaders have expressed concern over the country's new education policy, which they say imposes Islamic studies as a compulsory subject on minority students.

The Catholic bishops' National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) has demanded the government make provision for non-Muslim students to receive religious lessons in their own faith in lieu of Islamiat, which comprises courses on Islamic belief and practice.

Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha of Lahore, the commission's chairman, and Peter Jacob, its executive secretary, expressed their concern in a press release.

"If government thinks public education is not possible without a compulsory subject of Islamic Studies and Arabic, then we are forced to demand religious education for Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, etc. in their respective religions," it said.

They issued the statement on Sept. 25, two weeks after the government announced the National Education Policy 2009. Continuing the existing policy, the new guidelines maintain Islamic studies as a compulsory subject.

"Non-Muslim children" have the option of taking ethics and moral studies instead from third grade onwards, whereas the old policy allowed this only in grades nine and 10. But this ignores a fundamental objection that the provision means nothing in practice.

Catholic educators have long maintained the textbooks used for these alternative studies are written with "a biased mindset" by Muslim writers who do not make allowances for the teachings of religions other than Islam. They thus claim Muslim teachers cannot teach ethics effectively to children from religious-minority communities.

In practice, many Christian students have chosen Islamic studies anyway. Either they want to keep their Christian identity from being known to all or they claim teachers inflate grades for Islamiat students while marking those who choose ethics harshly.

The NCJP statement raised several of these points:

"The subject of Ethics proposed in the policy is hardly a choice as an alternative for non-Muslim students. Taking this option involves several difficulties including: non-availability of text books [some are still being written] and a syllabus that has chapters on different religions, yet only presents the Islamic point of view. Moreover non-Muslim students risk their grades and isolation from the rest of the class."

Christians have criticized the current syllabus for praising only Islamic personalities while presenting followers of other religions as infidels and depicting Christianity negatively. The commission statement regretted that no proper evaluation of the syllabus was conducted before extending it.

It also alluded to the long-standing objection that textbooks quote excessively from the Qur'an, even science texts. It raised the particular concern that minority students' unfamiliarity with these texts could leave them open to accusations by people exploiting the country's blasphemy laws.

According to Anjum James Paul, chairman of the Pakistan Minorities Teachers' Association, more than half the subject matter in textbooks for the compulsory study of Urdu, the national language, is based on Islamic teachings.

"The oppressed and suppressed minority students will be forcibly taught Islamic teachings in social and physical sciences subjects as well," the Catholic educator wrote in an open letter to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

The minority association's letter criticized the new policy as an "Islamic Education Policy."

The NCJP statement demanded a review of the proposed policy and action by the Supreme Court against infringement on the freedom of religion guaranteed in Pakistan's Constitution, which "bars any religious education other than the student's own."

The Catholic Church has been calling for the exclusion of religious education from the school syllabus, saying this should be the responsibility of the family and community religious institutions. "We were forced to use the option of religious education as the government doesn't seem to want to give up compulsory Islamic education," NCJP secretary Jacob told UCA News.

Church schools teach catechism to Christian students through grade 8, since schools set their own annual exams up to that point. A government education board sets exams from grade 9 onwards and offers exams only in Islamiat or ethics, not catechism.

According to the Catholic commission, Pakistan has about 1 million non-Muslim students. The Catholic Church runs 534 schools, 53 hostels, 8 colleges, 7 technical institutes and 8 catechetical centers, according to 2008 statistics.
  Sri Lanka: Gift of statues to Marian shrine a 'symbol of unity'
  COLOMBO, OCT 6 (UCAN) -- Catholics in Colombo have sent 43 life-size statues of the Way of the Cross to the war-damaged Our Lady of Madhu shrine in northern Sri Lanka.

The fiberglass figures, costing a million rupees (US$8,700) and donated by a group of Catholics, arrived at the shrine on Oct. 2, after making a five-day journey through cities and villages.

"It is refreshing to see help from the south," said Father Anthony Victor Sosai, vicar general of Mannar diocese, as he received the statues at an event attended by 30,000 Tamil and Sinhalese devotees.

The statues will be erected around the shrine, which suffered much damage and lost many of its religious images during the decades-long civil war between government troops and the Tamil Tiger rebels. The war ended in May.

Bishop Rayappu Joseph of Mannar diocese told media that the new statues for the Way of the Cross "will fulfill the long felt need of devotees who gather in the thousands."

He added that "they will be a symbol of unity for Catholics who have been separated" by the long war.

The 400-year-old Marian shrine is venerated by millions from all over the country. The war generated misunderstandings between the country's minority Tamils, who live mostly in the north, and the majority Sinhalese, who live in the south. Pilgrimages were stopped for many years on security grounds.

After the war ended in May, the shrine area was cleared of mines and some 300,000 devotees were allowed to attend the shrine's feast in August for the first time in many years.

Archbishop Joseph Spiteri, apostolic nuncio to Sri Lanka, Catholic priests, Buddhist monks, Christian parliamentarians and state officials attended a special ceremony at Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo's residence before the statues made their journey northward.

"We as Catholics have a responsibility toward our brothers" in the north, said Archbishop Ranjith. He praised the generosity of the statue donors and thanked everyone involved in the project.

Pratilal Fernando, who helped coordinate the project, told UCA News that people, both Tamils and Sinhalese, lined the highway during the five-day journey.

"The statues were a long felt need of the shrine," said Fernando.

Anthony Desmond Culas, administrator of the Marian shrine, said devotees are allowed to visit the shrine only during daylight hours on Saturdays and Sundays.
  Bangladesh: Pioneering Italian priest dies in car crash
  KHULNA (BANGLADESH) OCT 6 (UCAN) -- The Church in Bangladesh is mourning an Italian missioner who died following a car accident on the evening of Oct. 5.

Xaverian Father Abbiati Giovanni was driving his car when he collided head-on with a truck near Dhaka, sending his vehicle careering into a ditch.

The priest later died of excessive bleeding in a clinic in Savar, near Dhaka. He was 61.

Jacinta Baroi, 35, a Catholic handicraft worker who was in the car with the priest, suffered serious multiple fractures and is receiving treatment at the Christian Square Hospital in Dhaka.

Father Giovanni was well-known and much-loved in the country where he was a pioneer in development and women's empowerment in southern Khulna diocese.

His death was greeted with great sadness.

"We are shocked and deeply mourn the death of Father Giovanni who has contributed immensely to Khulna diocese since 1975," Oblate Bishop Bejoy N. D'Cruze of Khulna said in a condolence message.

The prelate was in Dhaka for a meeting and will return to Khulna to preside over the funeral Mass for Father Giovanni, which is scheduled on Oct. 6 at St. Mary's Church in Muzgunni parish.

Father Giovanni was born on April 30, 1948, in northern Italy. He joined the Society of St. Francis Xavier for Foreign Missions (SX) in 1966 and was ordained a priest on Sept. 30, 1973.

In 1975, he arrived in a newly independent but politically-troubled Bangladesh and began working in southern Khulna diocese.

The priest is credited with enormous contributions in the field of structural development and women empowerment for over 34 years.

"He built six churches in Khulna diocese and empowered 10,500 poor women through training and employing them in 17 handicrafts centers," said Father Noren J. Baidya, assistant parish priest of Muzgunni. "His death is a great loss for the local Church."

Xaverian superior general Father Rino, in his condolence message from Italy, described Father Giovanni as "a really intelligent and competent priest."

Father Rino approved Father Giovanni's burial in Bangladesh, his home for most of his life.

Father Giovanni's centers in Khulna produce mattresses, sacks and handicrafts materials for export to the United States, Italy and Japan through CORR-The Jute Works (CJW), a Caritas Bangladesh initiative.

There are presently 35 Xaverian missioner priests working in Khulna, Mymensingh and Dhaka.
  UNDP report released: Human mobility and development are co-related
  NEW DELHI, OCT 5 -- Human development is about putting people at the centre of development. It is about people realizing their potential, increasing their choices and enjoying the freedom to lead lives they value. Since 1990, annual Human Development Reports have explored challenges including poverty, gender, democracy, human rights, cultural liberty, globalization, water scarcity and climate change.

Migration, both within and beyond borders, has become an increasingly prominent theme in domestic and international debates, and is the topic of the 2009 Human Development Report (HDR09). The starting point is that the global distribution of capabilities is extraordinarily unequal, and that this is a major driver for movement of people. Migration can expand their choices -- in terms of incomes, accessing services and participation, for example -- but the opportunities open to people vary from those who are best endowed to those with limited skills and assets. These underlying inequalities, which can be compounded by policy distortions, is a theme of the report.

The report investigates migration in the context of demographic changes and trends in both growth and inequality. It also presents more detailed and nuanced individual, family and village experiences, and explores less visible movements typically pursued by disadvantaged groups such as short term and seasonal migration.

There is a range of evidence about the positive impacts of migration on human development, through such avenues as increased household incomes and improved access to education and health services. There is further evidence that migration can empower traditionally disadvantaged groups, in particular women. At the same time, risks to human development are also present where migration is a reaction to threats and denial of choice, and where regular opportunities for movement are constrained.

National and local policies play a critical role in enabling better human development outcomes for both those who choose to move in order to improve their circumstances, and those forced to relocate due to conflict, environmental degradation, or other reasons. Host country restrictions can raise both the costs and the risks of migration. Similarly, negative outcomes can arise at the country levels where basic civic rights, like voting, schooling and health care are denied to those who have moved across provincial lines to work and live. HDR09 shows how a human development approach can be a means to redress some of the underlying issues that erode the potential benefits of mobility and/or force migration.
  Vatican: Pope appeals for help to victims of natural disasters in Asia, Pacific
  By Gerard O'Connell, Special Correspondent in Rome

VATICAN CITY, OCT 5 (UCAN) -- Pope Benedict XVI has appealed to the Catholic Church worldwide and the international community to assist those suffering from the recent "violent natural calamities" in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

"I invite everyone to join me in prayer for the victims and their dear ones," the Pope told thousands of pilgrims from many countries, gathered at St. Peter's Square on Oct. 4 to receive his blessing.

"I am spiritually close to the displaced people and to all those who are put to the test (by these calamities), and I implore God to help them in their suffering," he said, speaking from his study window at the Vatican.

"I appeal so that our own solidarity and the support of the international community is not lacking for these people," the Pope said in a message that was carried by TV and Radio to an international audience.

"I am thinking in this moment of the populations of the Pacific and Southeast Asia who were hit by violent natural calamities in recent days," he said.

He began by mentioning those who suffered from "the tsunami in the islands of Samoa and Tonga" in the southern Pacific where at least 176 people were killed following a powerful 8.0-magnitude underwater earthquake on Sept. 29.

The Pope also drew attention to Southeast Asia, drawing attention to those who had suffered as a result of "the typhoon in the Philippines, which subsequently struck Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia."

Typhoon Ketsana caused devastation across Southeast Asia, killing nearly 300 people and forcing about half a million out of their homes in the Philippines alone on Sept. 27 before pummeling Vietnam where 162 people were killed and 13 others left missing. The typhoon also claimed 17 lives in Cambodia and 24 in Laos, international media reported. Storm-battered Philippines was hit again by Typhoon Parma Oct. 3-4 killing 16 people.

Next, the Pope highlighted the worst natural disaster of the past week: "the devastating earthquake in Indonesia." Sumatra island was hit by a 7.6 magnitude earthquake on Sept. 30 and several major aftershocks. There is no clear estimate as to the death toll. The United Nations put the figure at 1,100.

The government earlier reported 715 dead and 3,000 missing but revised the figure on Oct. 4 to 603 confirmed killed and 960 missing, presumably dead. Indonesia's port city of Padang with a population of 900,000 was the largest city closest to the quake's epicenter. It suffered enormous damage with half its buildings collapsed, according to media reports.

"These catastrophes have caused grave loss of human lives, displaced and made homeless very many people" and resulted in "enormous material damage," the Pope said.

Pope Benedict on Oct. 2 sent a telegram expressing solidarity with the suffering people of Sumatra. The telegram was signed on his behalf by the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and sent to Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, the apostolic nuncio in Indonesia.

It said the pope was "deeply saddened to learn of the recent devastating earthquakes affecting Indonesia" and "prays for the victims and their grieving families, invoking eternal rest upon the deceased and divine strength and consolation on all who are suffering."

The telegram went on to say that "His Holiness likewise encourages the rescue workers and all involved in providing emergency assistance to the victims of this disaster to persevere in their efforts to bring relief, comfort and support."

All these natural calamities have been widely reported by the Vatican media, and the Catholic press in Italy which has appealed for funds to support the relief effort.

Vatican Radio carried a moving appeal for help from Bishop Martinus Dogma Situmorang of Padang who emphasized the need for help from the international community.

Caritas Internationalis, the Catholic international federation of Church relief agencies, has appealed for assistance for people in all the affected areas. It is coordinating relief assistance with Caritas units in the countries hit by the natural calamities.

Pope Benedict also recalled another, though much smaller natural calamity nearer Rome, as he remembered 21 people who lost their lives and 400 made homeless as a result of recent flooding in the southern Italian town of Messina.
  India: Religious add "green" vow to consecrated life
NEW DELHI, OCT 5 (UCAN) -- Heads of Catholic Religious congregations in India have decided to let environmental concerns shape their lifestyle and activities.

They have resolved to examine the moral and religious imperatives in their lifestyle including "insensitive use of natural resources" and a tendency to destroy habitable lands in the name of development.

Based on this, they will strive for "a more habitable earth for all species of nature."

As practical steps, the Religious leaders, who just concluded their assembly in New Delhi, have committed to avoid consumerism and lead a simple, nature-friendly life. They want congregation members to speak out when they see the environment being destroyed and organize people to protest such destruction.

They have also urged their members to shun a focus on future rewards in heaven and encourage people to work together to change the world.

"Greening consecrated life is the most demanding theme, and it has to be incorporated into every aspect of religious life," the leaders said in a document issued on Oct. 1 by the Conference of Religious (CRI), the national association of Religious major superiors.

Some 550 general and provincial superiors attended CRI's Sept. 27-Oct. 2 national assembly on the theme, "Toward harmonious India."

The assembly, which is held every three years, noted that one-third of India's population of more than 1 billion now face water shortages, with this proportion expected to rise to two-thirds by 2025.

It cited soil contamination through non-degradable plastic and pesticides, air pollution and deforestation as serious threats to the environment.

The CRI wants to empower its more than 125,000 members to promote a consecrated life that "experiences the wholeness of cosmic reality and a mission that proclaims the integrity of creation."

The document acknowledges that spirituality of Catholic Religious used to be "other-worldly, uncomfortable with the earth and its temporal issues." It described the traditional Christian mindset as oriented toward fleeing a world mired in evil, with Christians being taught their reward lay in heaven and not on earth.

"Such spirituality viewed God as being far beyond the Earth," which it considered "a godless place, a fallen world that one has to transcend to attain union with God," the Religious leaders pointed out.

Conversely, the need today is to search for God dwelling "inside every reality of nature," they continued. Therefore, people who dedicate their life to God should be taught that religious activity includes environmental preservation and conservation.

"Ecological spirituality is religious spirituality," the document asserts.

The Religious leaders pledged their support for government environmental initiatives and their intention to get involved in projects such as reforestation.

They also want congregation members to reduce consumption of electricity, fuel and water, start nature walks and nature meditations, and give eco-friendly gifts to friends and benefactors.

Another recommendation is for Religious to spread awareness by introducing environmental studies in their schools ecological themes in camps and other special programs they run for students.

Meanwhile, the superiors want congregational properties to have at least 40 per cent green cover including gardens. They also want Religious to avoid the use of plastics, introduce solar energy systems, start harvesting rainwater and publish articles on ecology and eco-spirituality.

For their own part, the leaders plan to make ecology and eco-spirituality an important part of Religious formation programs, to include ecological concerns in their annual budgets and to actively safeguard indigenous groups' knowledge of the natural world.
  Church rushes relief to flood-hit southern India
  NEW DELHI, OCT 5 (UCAN) -- Church workers have joined rescue and relief efforts in two southern Indian states where floods and mudslides after torrential rains have claimed more than 200 lives and displaced nearly 750,000 people.

The government says 168 people have been killed in 11 districts of Karnataka and 38 in three districts of neighboring Andhra Pradesh.

According to Karnataka government sources, 204,270 houses in 12 districts have been destroyed and 17.8 million people have been affected.

In many places, desperate flood victims have reportedly destroyed government vehicles alleging slow relief work by the administration.

"Our people are badly affected. Many of them are still trapped in their villages," Bishop Henry D'Souza of Bellary told UCA News on Oct. 4. Most Catholics in Bellary, one of two Karnataka dioceses hit hard, are poor people who live in mud houses and have lost everything, he said.

Bishop D'Souza, who took over the diocese in June 2008, said the region, which just weeks ago was suffering from drought because of the failure of the monsoon, was ill-equipped to handle the heavy rain, which fell for five days. The dry land could not absorb it, leading to extreme flooding, he said.

The diocese has converted all church buildings into relief camps, and its social-service organization is supervising distribution of food and other essential supplies.

Jimmy Mathew, Karnataka region manager for Caritas India, the Catholic Church's national relief and development agency, toured the affected districts. He told UCA News the rains had eased on Oct. 4, but many places remained under water. Some towns, home to many Catholics, had been cut off for three days, he said, confirming that the people's mostly mud houses could not withstand such rain and flooding.

Mathew said Caritas India and Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. Catholic Church's overseas charity and development arm, will devise a joint strategy. The bishops of Karnataka's northern region have called for a meeting on Oct. 8 to assess the damage and plan strategies to rehabilitate people, he reported.

The Caritas worker said the region had not experienced such flooding for 50 years.

"Many people are not used to such calamities and were not prepared for it."

The floods washed away the cattle that local people depend on for their livelihood.

"The challenges ahead are innumerable and the immediate need is for rescue and relief works, then medical care and rehabilitation," Mathew said.

In Andhra Pradesh rain and water from the Krishna River inundated 400 villages in three districts. According to official sources, the floods there have forced some 477,000 people to evacuate.

Bishop Anthony Poola of Kurnool, the worst-affected diocese, told UCA News the diocesan social-service organization has distributed food packets to victims who have taken refuge in centers opened by the Church.

The Kurnool Diocese Social Service Society has distributed relief materials with the help of about 30 seminarians and other volunteers. All parishes in the diocese donated money and old clothes for the victims and Caritas India has promised Rs 400,000 US$8,335) in aid, Bishop Poola said.

The diocese is sheltering people in its Social Service Centre, pastoral center, Don Bosco House, Bishop's House, co-cathedral and a convent of the Jesus, Mary and Joseph congregation. Nearly 1,100 people have taken shelter in the Don Bosco House alone, the prelate said.

Bishop Poola added that Church people also have been distributing medical aid, because many people have fallen ill after the flood waters started to recede. "The animal carcasses have started to decompose, leading to health problems," he explained.

The bishop said Hyderabad archdiocese and the dioceses of Nellore and Cuddapah have promised help, but a flooded national highway is making it difficult to get aid to the victims.
  Macau: Local Church gets new seminarians after 17 years
MACAU, OCT 3 (UCAN) -- Thomas Aquinas Hoi Ka-tak's parents originally opposed his entering the seminary to become a priest. They were worried it could be a bad decision after reading international media reports of priests who sexually abused children.

However, they changed their minds after seeing how being a Catholic has changed him for the better, and after realizing that the seminary training would help him become a better person.

Hoi, 18, is the only Catholic in his family. He said he was impressed by the priests he knew during his years of study in a Salesian school in Macau, and longed to be one even before his baptism three years ago.

In late August, he and his 20-year-old friend Domingos Cheong Iau-chong, became the first two seminarians for Macau diocese in 17 years. The two have been studying at Holy Spirit Seminary in neighboring Hong Kong diocese since late August.

Macau diocese's St. Joseph's Seminary closed in 1994 due to a dearth of local seminarians. The last diocesan priest who studied at the seminary, Father Domingos Un Wai-meng who now chairs the Macau Diocesan Vocations Commission, was ordained in 1992.

Hoi and Cheong told UCA News they hope that their entering the seminary would encourage more young local Catholic men to take up the priestly vocation.

Cheong, whose family has been Catholic for the past three generations, said he was inspired to become a priest during a trip to South Korea in 2007. Macau diocese and Serra Club, a worldwide lay organization that promotes priestly and Religious vocations, organized the trip to expose Catholics to these vocations.

During the trip, Cheong learned that Macau diocesan priests are aging and that there had been no local seminarians since 1992. He said this inspired him to become a priest.

Hoi also went on this trip in which participants visited various churches, seminaries and Religious orders.

In early 2009, both wrote letters to Bishop Jose Lai Hung-seng of Macau asking to enter the seminary.

Hoi says he would like to serve in a parish as he feels that local Catholics are "devout and simple" in their faith, but do not fully put into practice Christ's command to "love one another." He said he strongly feels called to "nurture them to live according to the Gospel spirit."

Father Un says he is heartened to see new vocations, especially during the Year for Priests. He noted that Cheong has served as an altar boy since childhood, while Hoi joined Church-run voluntary services for the poor in Macau and mainland China.

Cheong and Hoi attribute the shortage of local priestly vocations to young Catholics preferring a materialistic life than the simple life of a priest. They added that for many people, the married life also seems more attractive than celibacy.

Hoi said he hopes his decision would encourage other hesitant young men, who feel called to the priesthood, to respond to the call.

Cheong said he knows of other young men who are considering the priesthood and believes they will enter the seminary in the coming years.

The two also say they hope laypeople would pray harder for priestly vocations and share in the task of promoting such vocations.

Macau currently has 22 diocesan and 40 Religious priests serving about 20,000 Catholics.
  Los Angeles episcopal bishop offers apology to Hindus over conversion attempts
  By David W. Virtue

THE ultra liberal Episcopal Bishop of Los Angeles J. Jon Bruno offered a formal apology to Hindus for centuries-old acts of religious discrimination including attempts by Christians to convert them.

He then authorized a joint Hindu-Anglican service at St John's Cathedral in Los Angeles permitting Hindu devotees to receive the consecrated elements.

According to a statement read on his behalf by suffragan Bishop Chester Talton, he vowed not to proselytize non-Christians. "I believe that the world cannot afford for us to repeat the errors of our past, in which we sought to dominate rather than to serve, in this spirit, and in order to take another step in building trust between our two great religious traditions, I offer a sincere apology to the Hindu religious community," said the bishop's statement reported by the Los Angeles Times.

A Hare Krishna provided music along with the St John's cathedral choirs. When the Eucharist was celebrated Hindus were invited to receive the consecrated elements. Some Hindus who abstain from alcohol received only the host, the Los Angeles Times reported.

An icon was venerated at the Communion service. While a Hindu band sang a hymn the Anglican celebrant anointed the icon with sandalwood paste, draped a garland of flowers over the icon and lit a lamp, "as a sign of Christ, the light in the darkness."

Hindu nun Pravrajika Saradeshaprana, dressed in a saffron robe, blew into a conch shell three times, calling to worship Hindu and Episcopal religious leaders who joined Saturday to celebrate an Indian Rite Mass at St. John's Cathedral near downtown.

The rare joint service included chants from the Temple Bhajan Band of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and a moving rendition of "Bless the Lord, O My Soul" sung by the St. John's choir.

"This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience in worship service," said Bob Bland, a member of St. Patrick's Episcopal Church of Thousand Oaks, who was among the 260 attendees. "There was something so holy -- so much symbolism and so many opportunities for meditation."

"I believe that the world cannot afford for us to repeat the errors of our past, in which we sought to dominate rather than to serve," Bruno said in a statement read by the Rt. Rev. Chester Talton at the service. "In this spirit, and in order to take another step in building trust between our two great religious traditions, I offer a sincere apology to the Hindu religious community."

The bishop also said he was committed to renouncing "proselytizing" of Hindus. Bruno had been scheduled to read the statement himself, but a death of a close family friend prevented him from attending the service.

Swami Sarvadevananda, of Vedanta Society of Southern California, was among about a dozen Hindu leaders honored during the service. He called Bruno's stance "a great and courageous step" that binds the two communities.

"By declaring that there will be no more proselytizing, the bishop has opened a new door of understanding," Sarvadevananda said. "The modern religious man must expand his understanding and love of religions and their practices."

All were invited to Holy Communion, after the Episcopal celebrant elevated a tray of consecrated Indian bread, and deacons raised wine-filled chalices.

In respect to Hindu tradition, a tray of flowers was also presented. Christians and Hindus lined up for communion, but since Orthodox Hindus shun alcohol, they consumed only the bread.

During the service, the two faiths also blended practices during the handling of an icon of Jesus.

The Rev. Karen MacQueen, an associate priest at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Pomona, who was the celebrant, carried the icon, a large painted image, during the procession. She placed it before the altar.

The Diocese of Los Angeles' ecumenical and interfaith officer called the service unprecedented for the Episcopal Church. American canon law forbids the distribution of the consecrated elements to the un-baptized, but no sanctions have been levied on those bishops and clergy who regularly violate these rules.

The diocese reported the Eucharist was celebrated according to the liturgy of the Church of South India and the "tradition of Bede Griffiths". It also incorporated an "Arati, the Service of Light, and Kirtan, congregational chanting of the Holy Names."

At the foundation’s sixth annual Capitol Hill banquet on September 23 the Hindu American Foundation honored two Los Angeles area priests with its 2009 Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Religious Pluralism.

Suhag Shukla, managing director of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), an advocacy group devoted to religious diversity, said: "Our shared message could not be clearer -- pluralism and human rights are universal concerns. Looking back on five years of bringing a loud and clear voice to our nation's leaders, we are optimistic that Hindu Americans across our nation see this foundation as a key stakeholder and an institution that reflects their own coming of age."

Bishop Bruno's views reflect those of Episcopal Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori who has repeatedly said that one should never attempt to convert Muslims. She has publicly argued that individual or personal (Christian) salvation is a "Western heresy" and "work".

Former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold argued vigorously for what he called pluriform theology and designated pluralism as the lynchpin of his Affirming Catholicism.

---ENS and the L.A. Times contributed to this story.
  Gandhi Jayanti in Bihar turns red, Maoists kill 16 CM's caste brethren
From Anuja Sipre
Herald of India News Service

PATNA, OCT 2 -- The massacre of 16 farmers in Amausi-Bahiar village in Khagaria district of Bihar by Maoists on the eve of Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary came as a rude shock for the people looking forward to celebrating the birthday of the apostle of peace.

According to Permanand Singh of the village, 10 Maoists armed with automatic weapons raided the village on October 1 at about 11 p.m. Then they dragged out 16 persons from their homes one by one.

After tying their hands and legs, the Maoists shot them from close range. He said that an old dispute over 150 acres of land between the Maoists and the farmers is the reason for this incident.

The fact that the deceased included 14 kurmis (castemen of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar) cannot be ignored.

Going into the details of the incident, some local people said that almost 25 years ago several farmers from Amba-Icharua village bought the land at Amausi-Bahiar from the upper caste people who migrated to the cities. The new owners of the land -- mainly Kurmis and Koeries -- have been farming on the land since then.

But the Maoists claimed that the farmers had fraudulently captured the land and even warned them against farming on it. Ranjit Singh, a farmer, said that the Maoists had threatened them many times against farming on the land in question and they had even informed the police but no preventive measures were taken.

The state Director-General of Police (DGP) Anand Shankar admitted the involvement of the Maoists in the incident but denied that the villagers had informed the police about their threat. He said that the police would nab the culprits soon.

The massacre in Khagaria district has jolted the administration as for the last ten years things had been peaceful on this front. The massacre at Miapur in 1999 in which 22 people were killed was the last such incident after several armed conflicts between the Ranvir Sena, an organisation of upper caste landlords, and the Naxalites claimed hundreds of lives in central and south Bihar in the 1980s and 1990s.

The state witnessed massacres at Bara, Shankar Bigha, Narayanpur, Senari, Laxmanpur Bathe and Miapur.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has condemned the incident and resolved to root out the menace of Maoists. He has also announced a compensation of Rs 1.5 lakh to each of the dependents of the deceased.

Meanwhile, the outlawed CPI (Maoists) has allegedly threatened to kill the Chief Minister if two of their leaders were not released from the jail. The Chief Minister has refused to comment on this saying that he would not even take notice of such threats but principal secretary, home department, Amir Subhani, said that the DGP Anand Shankar and IG (Operations) S K Bhardwaj were investigating the matter.
  Pope, Pakistani president discuss religious discrimination
By Gerard O'Connell, Special Correspondent in Rome

VATICAN CITY, OCT 2 (UCAN) -- When Pope Benedict and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari met on Oct. 1, they discussed the need "to overcome all forms of discrimination based on religious affiliation" in Muslim-majority Pakistan.

Zardari visited the Pope at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo near Rome at the end of the Pakistani president's official visit to Italy. The two talked in private for half an hour.

Afterward, Zardari presented his delegation and then, accompanied by Shahbaz Bhatti, his Catholic federal minister for minority affairs, held talks with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and Archbishop Dominque Mamberti, the Secretary for Relations with States.

In a statement after the visit, the Vatican said the Pope and his senior advisers had "cordial discussions" with Zardari during which they reviewed "the current situation in Pakistan, with particular reference to the fight against terrorism and the commitment to create a society more tolerant and harmonious in all its aspects."

They also talked about "the positive role" played by the Catholic Church in the country through its educational, healthcare and aid activities, the statement said.

Christians, including 1.3 million Catholics, account for less than 2 per cent of Pakistan's 160 million people, 95 per cent of whom are Muslims.

The Vatican said participants at the Oct. 1 meeting also discussed the "recent episodes of violence against Christian communities in some localities."

Commentators read this as referring to recent rioting in Punjab province where 10 Catholics were killed in Gojra and Korian. A Muslim mob vandalized and looted 113 Christian houses and damaged four Protestant churches in these areas on July 30 and Aug. 1, while on Sept. 15 a Christian man accused of blasphemy against Islam was found dead while in police custody.

The Vatican statement said Pope Benedict and Vatican officials emphasized "the need to overcome all forms of discrimination based on religious affiliation, with the aim of promoting respect for the rights of all citizens." Sources said Vatican officials stressed "the need" to repeal Pakistan's blasphemy laws.

Pakistani Catholic bishops have already called for their abolition.

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

According to data collected by the Pakistani bishops' National Commission for Justice and Peace, at least 964 persons were charged under these laws from 1986 to August 2009. They include 479 Muslims, 119 Christians, 340 Ahmadis (a sect that many Muslims consider heretical) and 14 Hindus. The commission said that since 1992, 33 people have died as a result of extra-judicial killings in the wake of blasphemy allegations.

Church leaders have long charged that the blasphemy laws are being abused for personal gain and to harass non-Muslims.

In his Vatican discussions and in earlier talks with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and top political leaders, the Pakistani president concurred on the need to ensure religious freedom, protect religious minorities and repeal the blasphemy laws.

The Vatican, however, is not just concerned about the blasphemy laws and the way they are open to abuse. It is also troubled about discrimination in the Pakistani civil service and other areas of employment, and raised this issue during the discussions, sources said.

After discussions, Zardari drove to Ciampino airport where he met a delegation from the Sant'Egidio Community. This international lay group has members in 70 countries, including Pakistan where it has 300 members. They work with the poor, promote peace and foster Christian-Muslim dialogue.

Marco Impagliazzo, the community's president, asked Zardari to modify the blasphemy laws.

Mario Giro, a member of the Sant'Egidio delegation, told UCA News in Rome that in their 25-minute talk, they spoke about coexistence between Christians and Muslims and dialogue between religious communities in Pakistan.

Zardari told them he wanted "to eliminate the causes of the tensions," but explained that Pakistan is "a complex country," Giro said. Zardari praised the community's work for peace and reconciliation, and invited them to help organize an international interfaith meeting in Pakistan in 2010.
  Science Watch: 'Smart' phone software helps remote scientists

MOBILE phone software that allows scientists to send, retrieve and map data from remote areas could benefit scientists in developing countries, but some barriers must be overcome first, a study finds.

The EpiCollect software runs on 'smartphones' -- mobile phones with additional features such as web connectivity and PC functionality -- and allows researchers or members of the public to collect, record, access and map data, photos and videos by connecting to a central online database.

UK-based researchers envisage the software being used largely by epidemiologists collecting public health information and ecologists recording data such as the location of species.

The phone's GPS system would record the location of the scientist so that data, sorted by topic, could be mapped globally using Google Maps.

To read more use this link:

Uniting drylands research could halt looming crisis

[BARILOCHE, ARGENTINA] Scientists urgently need to agree on universal criteria for monitoring and assessing land degradation around the world, according to a report.

Piecemeal research fails to show policymakers how best to deal with degradation, says the paper prepared for a scientific conference held to inform the ninth session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, which began last week (21 September) in Buenos Aires.

The imminent convergence of desertification, climate change and crises in food, biodiversity and population is creating a "perfect storm", said William Dar, director-general of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and chair of the scientific conference.

Almost 20 per cent of drylands have lost productive capacity in recent years because of human activity and climate change, the paper reports. Drylands make up more than 40 per cent of global land area and accommodate 35 per cent of the world's population.

To read more use this link:

Technology 'crucial' in China's climate fight

[BEIJING] China's top lawmaking body has approved its first climate change resolution, declaring that science and technology lie at the heart of the nation's fight against climate change.

Commentators say the passing of the resolution by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) last month (August 27) suggests climate change is being taken seriously in China, adding that it paves the way for climate change laws to be passed.

NPC resolutions are regarded as high-level documents stating or confirming the government's position on matters of national importance.

China hopes to strengthen its position at December's climate change negotiations in Copenhagen by staking out its position now, He Jiankun, deputy head of the State Council's expert panel on climate change policies, told SciDev.Net.

In 2007, China devised its first national plan for climate change, in which it committed to fighting greenhouse gases but not at the expense of economic development. The report stressed the importance of international cooperation in helping China secure a low-carbon economy, including the need to have access to climate change-related technology.

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Is the sun setting on jatropha's biofuel promise?

Jatropha curcus, once hailed as a green goldmine for developing countries, is failing to live up to the hype.

Only last year the shrub, whose seeds produce a diesel-like oil, was predicted to attract investments of up to US$1 billion a year.

But now critics are saying that the investment has already overshot research. "Over the past three years, the investment got way ahead of the plant science," says Rob Bailis, an environmental scientist at the US-based Yale University.

One of the biggest advantages of jatropha is that it can survive in extremely dry conditions. But bumper seed yields are not guaranteed. Additionally, it can take more than three years to reach maturity and may require more water than crops such as maize, according to a study from the Netherlands published in June.

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Thirsty eucalyptus trees get the chop in Kenya

[NAIROBI] Farmers in central Kenya are cutting down water-hungry eucalyptus tree species growing near water sources as a government directive aiming to save water takes effect.

Environment minister, John Michuki, issued the directive three months ago in an attempt to lessen the impact of the drought that is ravaging the country.

Eucalyptus has been popular with farmers because it grows fast and provides ample stocks of timber and firewood. But it is also a danger to water supplies.

Wangari Maathai, Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize winner and environmentalist, has recently spoken out about the threat, saying that the trees have been "overpromoted for commercial reasons" and threaten biodiversity.

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New fly offers hope for termite control

[KUALA LUMPUR] A new scuttle fly species that shows potential as a biological agent in the control of termite infestations has been discovered in Malaysia.

Neoh Kok-Boon, a PhD Student at the School of Biological Sciences of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), discovered the new species while excavating mounds of the termite species Macrotemes gilvus at the university's Minden campus in Penang state.

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Agricultural research 'should be open access'

[NEW DELHI] Providing open access to agricultural research in India will help drive development and reduce poverty, says Bruce Alberts, editor-in-chief of Science.

Alberts said information and communication technologies (ICTs) enable a new form of knowledge-sharing whose potential has not been "adequately exploited". He was speaking at a meeting on open access in agriculture, held at the International Centre for Crop Research for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Hyderabad , this month (September 7-8).

Given that agriculture is a "critical component" of India 's science sector and that the country has a tremendous advantage in terms of diversity in agricultural science and practice, providing open access to agricultural research results could improve in national and state policymaking, Alberts said.

To read more use this link:

South Asia News in brief: 17 September–1 October 2009

To read regional science stories use this link:
  Seminary rectors to tackle Hindu fundamentalism
  RANCHI, OCT 1 (UCAN) -- The Association of Rectors of Major Seminaries of India (ARMS) plans to tackle the problem of Hindu fundamentalism that its says is the biggest threat to the Church and India as a whole.

Father Joseph Prasad Pinto, ARMS' newly elected president and rector of Ranchi's St. Albert's College, told UCA News the rectors wanted to find a solution to growing sectarianism and attacks on religious minority groups, including Catholic priests working in remote areas in the country.

"We want to prepare our future priests to face" the problem before it catches them unawares, he said. Seminaries can play a "great role" in the fight against sectarianism as they prepare future priests who work among "Christians and others alike," he added.

He noted that Christians cannot accept Hindu fundamentalist ideology if it discriminates, separates and divides people on the basis of religion. Furthermore, Catholic priests should help people understand Hinduism's positive aspects and Hindu fundamentalism's negative teachings that threaten the nation, the priest stressed.

Rectors from 53 of 141 major seminaries belonging to the Latin-rite Church recently discussed how to bring about changes in seminary formation to respond effectively to various issues facing the Church and society, including sectarianism.

Their Sept. 25-28 meeting in Ranchi, eastern India, had as its theme: "Formation for Mission in Today's Context."

Father Pinto said the rectors realized the need to review major seminaries' training programs to effectively address sectarianism.

A statement from the meeting noted the rise of Hindu radicalism as "the most potent threat to the Church and society in India." It also said Hindu fundamentalism had attracted "fringe fascist elements" that use various "manipulative" and "insidious" ways to spread their ideology.

The rectors said the Hindu fundamentalists' sole aim is to establish a Hindu nation that allows tribal and dalit people (former "untouchables" in the Indian caste system) and religious communities to exist only as second-class citizens "subservient to the upper castes."

"We also realize the vital importance of upholding the Constitution of India and defending it from all attempts to destroy its secular character," the statement added.

The rectors want seminarians to study the way Hindu radicals spread propaganda that projects their target groups as villains. Their statement noted that these radicals influence the media, infiltrate the bureaucracy, police and judiciary, and introduce their ideology to the education system.

"Our seminarians should learn, early on in their formation, to empower the laity and assist them to take their rightful place in the Church and in civil society," the statement said.

The rectors said they would encourage their students to develop a spirituality that could deal with sectarian politics, study the phenomenon of Hindu fundamentalism, work for human rights and use the media in the fight against sectarianism.
  Priest's kidney donation inspires people
  KOZHIKODE, OCT 1 (UCAN) -- A Catholic priest has set a rare example by donating his kidney to a Hindu man and at the same time helping to launch a new organization that aims to help kidney patients.

On Sept. 30, doctors at a leading hospital in the southern Indian state of Kerala surgically transplanted one of Father Davis Chiramel's kidneys into Gopinathan Chakkamadathil, who has been ill for the past two years.

Father Chiramel is pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church Vadanappilly, a parish in Trichur archdiocese, where Chakkamadathil lives.

"I could not find a better way to celebrate the Year for Priests than this," the 49-year-old priest told UCA News two days before the operation.

He said his gesture was also aimed at promoting kidney donation among people, besides helping just one poor family.

The priest's organ donation helped launch the Kidney Federation of India that day. The organization aims to promote kidney donation and raise funds to help patients who cannot afford dialysis or transplants.

Chakkamadathil, an electrician, said the Catholic priest came to his rescue at a time when he was "unwillingly" awaiting death.

"I am a poor man and it was impossible for me to afford a kidney transplant," he told UCA News before the surgery.

The father of two sons, aged five and 11, said he was leading a "quite contented life" with his meager income when he contracted a fever in 2007. He received "a rude shock" when doctors at a Catholic hospital told him that both his kidneys had failed.

Since then, Catholics of the Vadanappilly parish have supported his three-times-a-week dialysis treatment.

Father Chiramel said he heard about Chakkamadathil's illness from his parishioners who were trying to raise funds for a kidney transplant. He recalled feeling dejected upon hearing the news and had prayed for many days. He finally decided to help the poor family by donating his kidney.

The priest said he did not want to leave the Hindu man to the mercy of racketeers who charged exorbitant prices for organs.

"But it was a painful decision and many people discouraged me," said the priest, who is also the general secretary of the Accident Care and Transport Services that helps road accident victims.

Nevertheless, he went ahead with his decision and "by the grace of God, all tests showed my kidney was suitable."

Father Chiramel says the kidney donation was a God-given chance to preach through deeds rather than words.

His decision worried parishioners, however, who organized special prayers for his well-being and Chakkamadathil's speedy recovery.

Father Chiramel "is a model for all of us," Lewis Francis Mangan, a parish trustee told UCA News. "The whole parish is behind him because he is doing a great thing."
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