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  Nepal: Church bomb-blast mastermind says he's sorry
 
KATHMANDU, NOV 30 (UCAN) -- The leader of the Hindu extremist group behind the bombing of Our Lady of the Church of the Assumption, as well as threats to Christians, has apologized.

In a handwritten letter sent to Reverend Lokmani Dhakal, managing director of the Protestant monthly news magazine "Hamro Ashish" (Our Blessing), Ram Prasad Mainali says he is currently repenting for his deeds in prison.

Mainali, chief of the Nepal Defense Army (NDA), was arrested on Sept. 5, three months after claiming responsibility for the bombing that killed three Catholics and left many others injured.

NDA is fighting for Nepal to be restored to a Hindu nation. Mainali is currently awaiting trial in Nakkhu jail in Kathmandu.

"I am the leader of the armed Hindu organization, Nepal Defense Army, and I took up arms vowing to throw all Christians out of the country, thereby leading thousands of youths on the path of violence," Mainali said in his letter dated Nov. 22.

"I am currently spending my life in prison. Many heart-wrenching incidents have taken place in my name, but I am now leading a peaceful life," he said.

He went on to add: "I will consider myself blessed if I can devote the rest of my life to social service. While staying away from religious war, I am praying to God that I may one day see all religions live in harmony."

"I request all communities not to look upon me with disdain ... and forgive me, love me, have pity on me and pray for me always," he added.

Reverend Dhakal, who vouched for the authenticity of the letter, told UCA News that if Mainali is actually repenting for his misdeeds, then it is a "good thing for all of us."

"The letter means our prayers have been answered; this is a big achievement for the Christian community in Nepal," he added.

He rejected the idea that Mainali could have written the letter to gain sympathy before his trial since the law will have to take its own course.

"We have no hand in deciding his future as such. I don't think Mainali's letter is a ploy to gain sympathy from the Christian community to shorten his prison term," he said.

Protestant Pastor Bishal Subba, who runs a prison ministry at Nakkhu jail, said that Mainali is attending prayer services and Bible classes. However, this does not necessarily mean he has changed altogether, he warned.

Father George Kalapurackal, parish priest of the Assumption church, was also cautious. "We are not sure if the letter is authentic," he said. "However, if Mainali is repenting and attending prayer services in jail then it is a good thing, as we are always praying for him and his transformation."

The president of the Nepal Catholic Society, Binod Gurung, welcomed the letter.

"We Catholics have to forgive him whatever his intentions," he said. "He at least says 'sorry' and is repenting. This is good news, so let us not take it negatively, but encourage him to mend his ways by accepting his apology."

The NDA has been blamed for the murder of Salesian Father John Prakash Moyalan in June 2008. It also claimed responsibility for several bombings in recent years including a mosque blast in eastern Nepal in April last year which killed three people.
 
   
   
  Asia: Humpty Dumpty in the Vatican
 
By Maryknoll Father William Grimm

TOKYO, NOV 30 (UCAN) -- In "Through the Looking Glass," Lewis Carroll's sequel to "Alice in Wonderland," Alice meets Humpty Dumpty.

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master -- that's all."

The egg-man is convinced that whatever nonsense he utters makes sense because he says it does.

The Pope's offer to allow Anglicans who enter into communion with the Catholic Church to continue to use many of their liturgical traditions reminded me of this scene.

Commenting on the offer, Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said, "Insofar as these traditions express in a distinctive way the faith that is held in common, they are a gift to be shared in the wider Church. The unity of the Church does not require a uniformity that ignores cultural diversity, as the history of Christianity shows."

As I read those words, I had a vision of Humpty Dumpty wearing a galero, the traditional headdress of a cardinal, and jostling other egg-men as they waddled through curial corridors at the Vatican.

Despite what the cardinal says, the recent history of Catholic Christianity shows that for the Vatican, "the unity of the Church" precisely "require(s) a uniformity that ignores cultural diversity."

The Church in Japan and the rest of Asia is preparing new Mass translations. The rule that Rome has issued for this work is that Asian Catholics must celebrate a Western liturgy using literal translations of a Latin text as well as gestures that come from a Mediterranean cultural context.

So, Japanese bishops have had to argue repeatedly against re-inserting the kissing of the altar into the liturgy here. In Japan, the kiss is a sexual gesture, not one of reverence as it sometimes is in European countries. Yet, the Roman insistence on uniformity has made even that little recognition of cultural diversity a struggle. It appears that since sex enters the picture, the curial officials involved have finally agreed to back down and allow some form of bow instead.

The response to the greeting, "The Lord be with you," presents another difficulty. The Latin text that must be translated literally is, "Et cum spiritu tuo" (And with your spirit).

However, there is no Japanese equivalent to the Latin word, spiritus. The only words that come remotely close mean "spook" or a word that is usually used in a hyper-nationalistic way about "the Japanese spirit." The curial response to native-Japanese-speakers who try to point out that difficulty has been that they just do not know their own language well enough.

The problems are not limited to Japan. The Church in India, for example, faces the same frustrations in trying to develop a way for Indian Catholics to actually experience that "the unity of the Church does not require a uniformity that ignores cultural diversity."

In 1659, the predecessor to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples issued an instruction for mission in Asia.

"Make no endeavor and in no way persuade these people to change their rites, habits and mores as long as these are not very manifestly contrary to religion and good mores. Indeed, what would be more absurd than to introduce Gaul, Spain, Italy or some other part of Europe to China? Bring not these things but the faith, which neither rejects nor harms the rites and customs of any nation provided they are not perverse but which rather desires them to remain intact.

"And because it is almost the nature of men to prefer in estimation and love their own things, and especially their own nation, to things that belong to others, there exists no cause of hatred and alienation more poignant than the tampering with native customs, above all, of those which men have grown accustomed to from the memory of their forefathers. Especially is this true when you substitute and bring in the mores of your own country in place of those you have removed. Therefore never interchange the practices of these people with European practices; rather with great diligence become accustomed to their practices."

It appears that the curia in "the bad old days" was more open-minded than it is today.

However, it does no good to simply gripe about curial officials. After all, they are bureaucrats, and so perhaps it is natural for them to be as insensitive as Humpty Dumpty toward those who seem to misunderstand "which is to be master."

The bigger problem, perhaps, is right here in Asia, with our bishops, our clergy and our laypeople. Are we too willing to defer to those bureaucrats?

There is a myth in the Churches of Asia that confrontation is not the Asian style. Only people who do not pay attention to the daily news can believe such nonsense. When Asian people feel aggrieved they are fully capable of fighting back.

In the matter of liturgy as in much else, might it be time for us to nudge Humpty Dumpty off his wall?
----
Maryknoll Father William Grimm is the former editor-in-chief of "Katorikku Shimbun," Japan's Catholic weekly
 
   
   
  Pakistan: Violence leaves nuns with little to celebrate
 
KARACHI, NOV 30 (UCAN) -- Celebrations marking the 175th anniversary of the Daughters of the Cross congregation have been scaled down drastically amid threats of violence.

All celebrations in Karachi to mark the end of the nuns' jubilee year celebrations were canceled, with only a small thanksgiving Mass held in Lahore.

The cancellation of events in Karachi was especially upsetting for the nuns as it was here that the six pioneering nuns from Belgium arrived in 1862 and established St. Joseph's convent, their first provincialate in Pakistan.

The congregation was founded in 1833 in Liege, Belgium.

"There was a bomb scare in one of our schools in early November," said Sister Parveen Dildar, the first Pakistani provincial based in Karachi. "Children were stepping on each other in trying to escape. In view of the ongoing insecurity in the country, we canceled large gatherings in all cities."

Some of the girls' schools run by the congregation have also received threatening letters recently demanding their closure. The letters stated that the schools would be bombed if they did not close. The nuns are running 11 convents, six schools and three hostels in the country.

A wave of militant attacks since early October has claimed more than 300 lives across the country as government forces wage a battle against Taliban militants. The Islamic hardliners regularly target girls' schools since they oppose education for females.

UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) says about 230 schools have been destroyed and another 410 damaged amid fighting between the army and the Taliban in the North West Frontier Province.

"The cross has a special meaning in Pakistan. It is related to the every day sufferings and difficulties we face in this terror hit-country," Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha of Lahore said in his homily during the Mass at Bahar Convent on Nov. 25. "Do not be disappointed or discouraged," he added.

Speaking to UCA News, Sister Surraya Joseph, who heads the nuns' community here, said celebrations were originally scheduled to take place in St. Francis Church next door.

"We had made arrangements for about 300 guests but scaled everything back due to the extraordinary circumstances," she said. Only 40 people, including the nuns and novices, attended the Mass.
 
   
   
  American priest's visit galvanizes opposition to nuclear plant
 
HARIPUR, NOV 30 (UCAN) -- Villagers in eastern India say a recent visit by an American priest has strengthened their fight against a proposed nuclear project.

Father Charles Peter Dougherty visited Haripur, a village in West Bengal state on Nov. 10, where local people are resisting a government proposal to set up a nuclear plant with Russian aid.

The Michigan-based priest's visit was "timely" and "gave much needed momentum and support to our protest," said Ajay Shyamal, a farmer in the coastal village.

Father Dougherty was in India to receive an award from an Indian industrial firm based in Pune, western India, for promoting the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi outside the country. He then traveled across India to spend a day with Haripur's mostly Hindu farmers and fisher folk.

After touring the village and the surrounding countryside, Father Dougherty told the farmers he supported them because the project would force many of them off their land.

Father Dougherty's interest in their struggle greatly influenced the villagers. "We did not believe our protest was known on the other side of the world," said Shyamal.

People began to protest after the government-owned Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) announced plans for the power plant in October 2007. The Haripur project is one of 24 new power plants NPCIL plans to build, adding to its 23 existing plants around the country.

Media repots say the company plans to begin construction work by 2010.

NPCIL says it aims to develop nuclear power as a safe, environmentally friendly and economically viable source of energy, meeting the nation's increasing electricity needs.

Sidhartha Jana, 68, said people's resistance to the project had weakened over the years. "With the priest's visit, we have realized we must strengthen our protest before the government forces the project on us," he added.

Jana said Haripur has some 270 families who all depend on agriculture and fishing for survival. He added that Father Dougherty wanted to see for himself what the villagers stood to lose if the project goes ahead.

"We are not after compensation," Jana told UCA News. He said the villagers want the government to introduce schemes that would help them improve farming techniques and sell the fish they catch.

Suddhangshu Shekhar Bhuiya, another farmer, said the priest urged the villagers to unite if they want to achieve their goal. Outsiders will try to divide the villagers on the basis of political party affiliations and caste groups, he told them.

Rakhahari Pal, a fisherman, thanked the priest for his visit. He also accused the government of trying to cheat the villagers by promising jobs. "What sort of job can the government give to illiterate, unskilled youths?" he asked.
 
   
   
  MKSS protests suspension of social audit in Rajasthan
  From A Correspondent

JAIPUR, NOV 28 -- Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) has strongly condemned the decision to suspend the social audit of the employment guarantee scheme in 16 districts of Rajasthan.

In a statement, it said, "We wish to express our objection and dismay at the sudden termination of Social Audits in 16 Districts in Rajasthan through government orders issued yesterday. This has come on the heels of a series of attempts from vested interests to somehow stop this process. The social audit is itself a vital process for fighting both corruption and the arbitrary use of power that is rampant in the government and all systems. There can be no justifiable opposition to the democratic participation by anyone in the social audit process.

The real reason for opposition to social audits by various vested interest groups is obvious to the people, and this attempt to hide the truth from the people and escape responsibility will be consistently opposed by the people of Rajasthan.

The first attempts at the political and bureaucratic mobilisation at the grassroots of the Sarpanches and the Gram Sewaks should have been strongly negated by the government, and action should have been taken -- particularly against the Gram Sewaks who are civil servants and therefore, cannot go on strike or disobey government orders without the concomitant reality of losing their jobs. Gaining strength from the overt display of helplessness, more mobilisation has taken place.

It was a Government decision that Social Audits must take place in all the 16 Panchayats in 16 Districts. However, despite flagrant opposition to the social audit process, in Alwar, Barmer, Jaisalmer, Chittorgarh, Rajsamand, Udaipur, and some opposition in certain other districts the government failed to impress that strong action would be taken against those who prevent government from implementing the law. The Government acceded to the demands to disallow any one other than the Gram Sabha members to speak or participate at the Gram Sabha to be held today (November 28) by removing even those members from the social audit team, that the government had itself nominated. Government and the CM made statements from all platforms re-assuring the people that there would be zero tolerance to corruption. But members of the State cabinet and other important leaders and government officials, were seen working against this process, which was a live example of zero tolerance to corruption. It is clear that there is a gap between statement and action.

The social audit directorate was set up in Rajasthan with the announcement that it would be based on the "Andhra Model". This process succeeded in AP because Ministers, MLAs and others were exposed to Social Audit and were told categorically that this process could not be stopped."
 
   
   
  Chhattisgarh concede Christian demand, civic body election dates changed
  From Anand Muttungal

BHOPAL, NOV 28 -- Considering Christmas and Muharam, the Chhattisgarh State Election Commission today re-scheduled the local body elections in the state.

The demand was raised by the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum. State Election Commissioner Shivraj Singh announced the new dates for the local body elections. Under the new schedule, polling will take place on December 21 and 23 and the counting on December 27. He also gave exemption to Christians from poll duties.

The Christian Forum had approached the commission on November 25 to seek a re-schedule of the elections. The second phase of the election was falling on December 24.

Forum General Secretary Panna Lal said, "Our delegation met the State Election officer to seek a change in the date. We appraised the commission of the special meal given to the poor and the needy on the eve of Christmas. It is a family festival and many Christians who are government employees will not be able to celebrate the festival."

The memorandum also highlighted that it will prevent many Christians from voting. Christian candidates and voters will find it difficult to exercise their right.

In a hurriedly called press conference, the State Election Commissioner told newsmen that on November 25, representatives from both Christian and Muslim communities sought a change in the polling schedule in view of their major festivals, Christmas and Moharum, clashing with the election dates. The decision was taken on November 26 after consultations with major political parties.

He said, "all political parties have agreed to change the dates."

The Christian and Muslim communities have welcomed the decision. CCF General Secretary said, "It is clear that we are still governed by the secular constitution of our country. Christians have shown unity in this process." Isai Mahasangh Chhattisgarh In-charge Christy Abraham expressed hope that this achievement of the Christians will also unite them."
 
   
   
  Insurgency in Bohol crushed, claims provincial govt
  From Ben Cal

CARMEN, BOHOL, NOV. 28 -- Communist insurgency in Bohol has been crushed, making Bohol the first province in the entire country to meet the deadline set by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to defeat the New People's Army (NPA) before she steps down next year.

This was declared by Bohol Gov. Erico B. Aumentado and Col. Allan Luga, commander of the 802nd Brigade of the Philippine Army based on the island province some 600 kilometers south of Manila.

Aumentado made the announcement during its regular session at the Bohol Tropics Resort here last Tuesday.

The session was attended by a delegation from Columbia from the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace led by Alejandro Eder, political advisor of the Office of the High Presidential Counselor for Reintegration.

Other members of the Columbian delegation were Miguel Suarez, Ms. Maria Lucia Uepigue and Ms. Andrea Salazar.

While in Bohol they interviewed former rebels and local officials from the towns of Danao, Sagbayan and Carmen where they were briefed on the Social Integration of the Program (SIP) of the government being implemented by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) under Secretary Annabelle T. Abaya.

They were also given an overview of the Philippine experience in containing insurgency through its highly-tested clear-hold-consolidate and develop strategy.

When Aumentado was elected governor in 2001, he ordered a sustained development effort, particularly in the countryside to bring the government closer to the people.

With the help of the military and police in clearing rebel-infested areas, the program proved to be a very successful strategy that eventually broke the backbone of the NPA operating in the province.

The national government through the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) activated the Social Integration Program (SIP) ensuring rebel returnees of livelihood.

A rebel who surrenders will be granted a P20,000 cash to start a small business for the sustenance of his family.

Under the SIP, a rebel who yields an M16 or M14 rifle will be given P50,000 and another P50,000 in kind such as water buffalo, hand tractor, tricycle or the like if a returnee qualifies after undergoing skills training conducted by government agencies.

Col. Luga also briefed the Columbian visitors how the communist movement had grown in the province of Bohol in the early 80s and how it was crushed over a nine-year anti-insurgency drive launched in 2001 using the clear-hold-consolidate and develop strategy.

From a high of 436 rebels operating in Bohol in 2001, the NPA strength was down to zero at the end of October 2009.

"There are no more armed NPA rebels in Bohol. We have not monitored any rebel movement either," Luga said.

He also said that all the 115 barangays under the influence of the NPA in 2001have also been cleared.

Aside from conducting security operations, the military also helped the construction of 24 school buildings in far-flung areas in Bohol that enabled thousands of children to go to school.

Luga cited the program of Gov. Aumentado that focused on the eradication of poverty incidence in the province.

"Poverty incidence was lowered from 53.6 percent to 23.2 percent in a matter of five years and continues to improve," Luga said in his briefing.

"Bohol's success story on counterinsurgency is attributed to sincere and good governance and the strong political will of Boholano leaders to curb poverty," he said.

Luga likewise cited the booming tourism industry in Bohol "is also attributed to good governance and the improving peace/security situation in the province."

Another big factor that helped the government crush the communist insurgency in the province was the activation of the Bohol Local Integrated Security System (BLISS) and social integration grants ordered by Aumentado to "negate enemy resurgence in the province".

"There is definitely no military solution to an insurgency. The key is the partnership of the local government and other stakeholders," Luga said.

Terminating hostilities with rebel groups is one of the "Beat the Odds" program enunciated by President Arroyo before she steps down in office in 2010.
 
   
   
  Five Christians arrested on coversion charge, released
 
BANGALORE, NOV 27 -- Five evangelists belonging to Friends Missionary Prayer Band were arrested allegedly for engaging in activities aiming to forcibly convert people in Kolar district, southern Karnataka.

The Christians were arrested from Nangali village of Kolar's Mulabagilu Taluk, according to All India Christian Council (AICC). It said the the missioners were at a church construction site Nov. 24 afternoon, when the arrest took place.

AICC quoting its officials said a 30-strong group of Hindu activists surrounded the church construction site and dragged the five preachers to a local police station, accusing them of engaging in conversion activities.

AICC's southern India general secretary Kumar Swami led a team of people to tell the police that the charges on the five were false. The missionaries were released the next day without any charges registered against them, according to SAR News.

In an another incident, Hindu fanatics numbering 30-35 caught hold of four Bible school students belonging to the International Cultural College of Studies, who were at a cultural exposure program in Madhugiri, Karnataka, Nov. 24.

According to sources, they were first threatened to leave the place or face dire consequences. Later, the miscreants dragged the four students to the local police station. The police provided protection to the students but they detained them at the police station for 24 hours for interrogation.

According to AICC around 30 people protested against the media team at Madhugiri. They surrounded the team and questioned them about their activities in the area. They also asked the team to leave the place immediately and threatened to harm them if they chose to continue in the area.
 
   
   
  Sonamarg-Gumri road closed after succeesful rescue mission
 
Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, NOV 27 -- After rescuing all the stranded passengers, the authorities have closed Sonamarg-Gumri road for all kinds of vehicular traffic. Section 144 has also been imposed and anyone trying to violate the order will be dealt with sternly.

"These measures have been taken to prevent any untoward incident from taking place," said Aamir Ali Officer on Special Duty (OSD), Divisional Commissioner's Office, Kashmir.

The OSD said that the Kargil district administration allowed 174 vehicles to pass from Drass to Sonamarg after being stranded on the narrow road.

"A truck developed some technical fault late on November 25 and got stranded at India Gate on Zojilla. Around 30 vehicles that were behind couldn't overtake it, as the road was narrow and slippery," he said.

Rescue efforts were put in place immediately to help the stranded passengers. The situation was grim as it had started snowing and the temperature had dropped to -20 degrees C. "On the instructions of Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, Deputy Commissioner Ganderbal, and Superintendent of Police, Ganderbal, along with Additional DC, Ganderbal, DYSP and Tehsildar, Kangan and SHO, Kangan, rushed to the spot and initiated rescue operations," the OSD said.

Two policemen were injured in the process. "Constable Parvez Ahmed broke his wrist and Constable Abdul Rehman his leg. Both were taken to the Bone and Joint Hospital, Srinagar," he said.

The OSD added that 17 trucks that were stranded at Zojilla were later rescued in the morning. No loss of life has been reported.
 
   
   
  Srinagar turns a shoppers' paradise as people throng markets for Eid purchases
  Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, NOV 27 -- Srinagar is abuzz with excitement as Eid-ul-Azha will be celebrated on November 28.

The market was crowded with people scrambling for last-minute shopping. Shoppers swarmed the local markets to buy bakery goods, gifts, greeting cards, dresses and almost everything they could find.

Long queues were seen outside every shop in the market. There was a huge rush at banks and outside Automated Teller Machines (ATMs).

It was interesting to see children jumping with delight while choosing colourful toys and clothes with their parents. "Despite such a rush, we are having a good time," said Rakshanda Akther, while helping her children shop.

Farooq Ahmad, who runs a garment shop at Goni Khan was happy to see such a crowd. "People usually throng the market a couple of days before Eid. This is great business for us," he said.

However, this rush also caused several traffic jams, especially across the Dalgate-Batamaloo stretch. "Travelling during this season is strenuous, as it takes hours to reach from one place to the other," lamented Sakina Bano, a local resident.

Hundreds of vendors added to the pandemonium by setting up stalls along footpaths on Hari Singh High Street, Amira Kadal, Lal Chowk and Residency Road, leaving no room for pedestrians.

Gujjars and Bakwerwals also stationed themselves at several places across the city. People were seen buying sheep and goats for sacrifice.
 
   
   
  Jesuits look back on 150 years of Bengal mission
 
KOLKATA, NOV 27 (UCAN) -- Belgian Jesuits are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the establishment of their Bengal mission in eastern India.

The order has had a big impact on lives in the region through education, literary contributions and a translation of the Bible into Bengali.

Father Andre Bruylants, 83, former headmaster of the Jesuit-run St. Xavier's College in Kolkata, has been working in the mission for 60 years. He is one of seven remaining Belgian Jesuits in the religious society's Calcutta province.

Jesuit teachers had educated thousands of people and become icons of Catholic education in the region, he says.

Others have influenced the region's socio-cultural leaders through scholarly interreligious exchanges, and reached out to Indians through the study of Hindu scriptures and engagement with Hindu intellectuals.

Jesuits have influenced literary thinking through publishing and translating Western Christian classics into Bengali, and also helped locals use their own language in worship.

Father Christian Mignon, 85, came to the mission at the age of 25. He was to make a unique contribution to religious life in Bengal, translating the Bible into Bengali over 40 years. The job, in which he was helped by Hindu poet and teacher, Sajal Banerjea, was completed in 2003.

He had previously translated liturgical texts after the Second Vatican Council, which opened the way to the use of local languages in the Mass.

English Jesuits first came to Kolkata in 1833 and started St. Xavier's but left the country in 1849 after a conflict with the local bishop.

The Belgian Jesuits, who arrived in the city in 1859, were invited to restart the school, which they did within two months in January 1860.

Belgian Jesuit Father Albert Huart, 85, who translated a book on the Jesuits' Bengal-mission history, is former vice-principal of St. Xavier's College.

He said that the Belgians expanded from the English educational base to probe further the possibilities of village missions.

Initially the Jesuits' focus was on the Chotanagpur area, in the present state of Jharkhand. This was where Jesuit Father Constant Lievens (1856-1893), whom the tribal Church reveres as the "apostle of Chotanagpur," had worked to restore tribal dignity.

By 1869 the Jesuits were entrusted with the Bengal mission, at the time consisting of the present Indian states of West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa.
 
   
   
  Jesuit program breaks culture of violence in refugee camps
 
DAMAK (NEPAL), NOV 27 (UCAN) -- The Jesuit Refugee Service has stepped in to break a cycle of violence, drug and sexual abuse that had been plaguing thousands of ethnic Nepali youths from Bhutan living in refugee camps in East Nepal.

"All kinds of evils were plaguing the camps," says Jesuit Father Peter Jong Lepcha, program coordinator of Youth Friendly Centres (YFC).

"We realized that there are so many programs being implemented for the refugees in general but nothing for the youth as such."

The YFC program is part of the Jesuit Refugee Service's (JRS) Bhutanese Refugee Education Program, supported by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and Caritas Nepal.

Ganesh Pradhan, 37, in charge of the YFC program in Sanischare refugee camp told UCA that the initiative has given the youths a platform to develop their skills and overall personality.

"The various programs under the YFC have changed the lives of the youths here. Instances of violence that existed earlier, the drug abuse, the sexual abuse and other problems have gone down dramatically," he said.

The Bhutanese of Nepali origin -- known as Lhotsampas -- are caught in a no man's land.

Thousands fled Bhutan fearing for their lives after new citizenship rules were introduced about two decades ago. The government says the refugees are migrants and have no right to live in Bhutan.

The refugees believe their only options are settling down in foreign countries or repatriation to the homeland they still love.

Sun Maya Tamang, 39, wants to go back to her homeland in Bhutan, but she says she still has not made up her mind if she will opt for a third-country resettlement.

"I may just opt for it, I am not sure," she said. "I still feel bad about leaving behind, 18 years ago, the home, the farmland we had, and the happy memories."

According to the JRS, there are now more than 108,000 refugees living in the seven camps in East Nepal.

JRS field director Father PS Amalraj, told UCA News that young people are vital to conditions in the camps.

"The power of the youth can either build or destroy the refugee camps. Keeping this in mind, we established one youth friendly center in each camp and we now have 14,000 members," Father Amalraj said.

The YFC initiative consists of education in journalism, television presenting, sports, music and awareness of HIV/AIDS and other social issues.

An online education program has recently been added to address the growing school drop-out rate in the camps, Father Lepcha says.

The UNHCR reported in September that more than 20,000 Bhutanese refugees had been resettled overseas -- mostly in the US -- with a further 5,000 expected to leave Nepal by the end of 2009.
 
   
   
  Macau: Plenary indulgence given for visits to World Heritage churches
 
MACAU, NOV 27 (UCAN) -- Catholic visitors to two World Heritage churches in one of Asia's oldest dioceses can now gain plenary indulgences.

St. Anthony's Church and the Chapel of St. Joseph's Seminary are the first two churches granted this privilege since Bishop Jose Lai Hung-seng headed the 433-year-old Macau diocese six years ago.

The "Catechism of the Catholic Church" defines a plenary indulgence as full "remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven."

To gain a plenary indulgence, one must fulfill certain conditions such as making a sacramental confession, receiving Communion and praying for the Pope's intentions.

Bishop Lai told UCA News that both St. Anthony's Church and the seminary chapel keep relics of saints and attract many pilgrims and visitors every year. Both buildings are part of what is known as the "Historic Centre of Macau" and have been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2005.

"I hope pilgrims can obtain an indulgence for their spiritual benefit, and not just sightsee, take photos and then leave," Bishop Lai said.

The prelate has made the request twice to the Holy See's Apostolic Penitentiary, which is in charge of the issuance and governance of indulgences. The diocesan Chinese weekly, "Aurora," recently announced Pope Benedict XVI's granting of the indulgences.

Visitors to these churches will be able to obtain the plenary indulgences for the next seven years.

Anna Leong Yung-keng of the diocesan pilgrimage service office told UCA News Nov. 24 her staff will be planning how to serve the needs of pilgrims who wish to obtain the plenary indulgence. Her office offers tour services and guides for pilgrimage groups.

The seminary chapel was first built in 1758 and has been repaired twice. It holds relics of Saint Francis Xavier (1506-1552), a co-founder of the Society of Jesus and a pioneering Jesuit missioner to Asia.

Though the saint did not go to Macau, Jesuits after him established the seminary to nurture missioners to China and Southeast Asia, Bishop Lai noted.

Saint Anthony's Church was built in 1638 and then rebuilt twice in the 19th century. It contains the relics of Saint Andrew Kim Tae-gon (1821-1846), the first Korean-born Catholic priest, and Saint Magdalene of Canossa (1774-1835), founder of the Canossian Daughters of Charity.

Saint Andrew Kim studied in the seminary in the former Portuguese colony before he was ordained a priest in Shanghai in 1845. He then returned to Korea to preach the Gospel and was beheaded the following year.
 
   
   
  Hajjis from Kashmir complain about accommodation facilities
 
From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, NOV 26 -- Relatives of Hajj pilgrims allege that they are being offered "inferior" services than what they have subscribed for.

Bashir Ahmad, resident of Zangeer in Sopore, while speaking to The Herald of India said that his brother and mother left for the annual pilgrimage on November 1.

"I spoke to them on phone and it was disheartening to know that they are not being provided the facilities they paid for. They booked "A" class accommodation but are offered services of "C" class. This is strange and pathetic," said Ahmad.

He said that they are putting up in building No. 234. "Whatever has been done to them is sheer injustice. There are many people like them who suffer, likewise."

Ahmad said that their relatives are facing innumerable problems. "We paid for our convenience, but what has happened is quite contrary. Such a problem is usually faced by people from rural areas."

He added that the authorities concerned accompanying them have failed to look into the matter. "We were told that the deputed officials are untraceable and no one is helping them out. So I thought the best way is to approach the media, here."

Over 7,500 pilgrims have headed for the annual Hajj pilgrimage [holy journey to Mecca and Madina] this year, from here, in 38 flights. Two flights operated per day since the first batch of Hajjis left on October 20.

Dr. Abdul Salaam, Executive Officer, State Hajj Committee, said that 7,658 pilgrims are performing the Hajj this year. "Out of these, three are infants.

Dr. Salaam said, "Over 4000 passports were issued, this year for the Hajjis. As passport is necessary for performing the Hajj now, special arrangements were made to provide passports for eight months."
 
   
   
  Summit on traditional medicine and practices seeks government support to create database
 
Our Correspondent

NEW DELHI, NOV 26 -- The national summit of Bharatha Parambarya Vaidya Sangam (BPVS) was organised in Faridabad and Delhi from November 23-25 by Darsanalaya Society. The society is involved in the promotion of herbs and traditional medicines.

The opening ceremony was held at Darsanalaya Ashram, Chandpur Village, Faridabad. It was presided over by Secretary of the Sangam Swami Krishnan.

Thirty-four representatives of various arogyalayas, scholars and renowned vaidyas attended the summit from all over the country. There were discussions on the traditional vaidya system. Dr Aji Sebastian, General Secretary of the National Coordination Committee, BPVS, presented a paper on the 'Existential crisis and the importance of traditional systems of medicine in the prevailing health scenario'.

The Summit saw the formulation of six resolutions. The Sangam resolved to submit a memorandum to the government for a new policy to be adopted to accept, encourage and develop the potential of the traditional system of medicine.

The Sangam also proposed that the government ensure the quality, effectiveness and safety of the products and practices of traditional medicine. They requested the government to create an experts' forum that would analyze the quality of traditional vaidyas' service. It was also requested that the government prepare a database of traditional vaidyas in the country, so that the knowledge of these indigenous health practitioners was preserved for future generations. Finally, the Summit requested the government to organise support training programmes for traditional healers and barefoot doctors.

The programme concluded with a press conference at Kerala House in the evening. Members of Parliament P.T Thomas, K.P Dhanapalan and Anto Antony were present on the occasion. They assured that they would take up these issues in Parliament.
 
   
   
  Sri Lanka: Leaders agree the environment is religions' business
 
COLOMBO, NOV 26 (UCAN) -- A multi-faith gathering that included environmentalists, students and diplomats has outlined the personal and religious responsibilities that people all have to protect the natural world.

The four-day workshop on the theme "Saving Planet Earth," held on the outskirts of Colombo, covered the main issues to be raised at the world leaders' Climate Change Conference to be held in Copenhagen next month.

Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and Hindu leaders all said environmental protection is close to the heart of their religious principles.

Father Noel Dias of Colombo archdiocese said that the Bible's book of Genesis taught that God gave Adam and Eve "dominion" over the natural world. But this means people are stewards and trustees of the earth and its resources, not its owners, he said.

Anglican Bishop Duleep de Chickera agreed.

"The world's religions in their wisdom and humanity support the concept of earth trusteeship. That should be understood by the entire community," he said.

Swami Shanker Kamalanathan, a Hindu priest, said: "Hinduism is very near to nature and it sees God in every object in the universe." He called on people to shun rampant consumerism.

Buddhism, meanwhile, holds dire warnings of what happens when the relations between man and the natural world degenerate due to greed, Olande Ananda Thero, a monk, said.

Muslim cleric Moulawi Nilam said Islamic views on ecology are similar to those of Christianity. He also called on students to use their skills for a better world. "Your science, technology and professionalism must subdue our fears and cynicism," he said.

US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Patricia A. Butenis echoed the religious leaders' faith-based views, saying each individual is a caretaker of the environment and must take positive actions for the benefit of generations to come.

Participants in the meeting that ended Nov. 22, agreed on a range of practical steps that could be taken to protect the environment. These included avoiding rampant consumerism, preserving water, planting trees and reducing fuel usage.

Environment and Natural Resources Minister Patali Champika said that the Earth's resources, just like people's cultural heritage, are meant to be preserved.
 
   
   
  Muslim leaders welcome Vatican cardinal to grand mosque in Indonesia
 
JAKARTA, NOV 26 (UCAN) -- President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran has paid a visit to the national Istiqlal mosque, the largest in Southeast Asia, during his first official trip to the country.

Cardinal Tauran, walking barefoot, was accompanied by Jesuit Cardinal Julius Darmaatmadja of Jakarta, Coadjutor Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo of Jakarta and Bandung Bishop Johannes Maria Trilaksyanta Pujasumarta, a member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Several officials of the Indonesian Bishops' Conference also took part in the Nov. 25 visit.

The mosque's imam Kiai Hajj Syarifuddin Muhammad warmly welcomed the Catholics. "This mosque does not belong only to Muslims but all religious followers. They all are welcome here," he said.

The national mosque of Indonesia, which can hold more than 100,000 people, stands across the road from the Assumption Cathedral Church in Central Jakarta. The mosque's main rectangular prayer hall building is topped by a 45-meter-diameter spherical dome supported by 12 columns.

"This is the first time I feel a sincere atmosphere of neighborhood. It seems there is no gap between Muslims and Catholics," Cardinal Tauran said.

In an earlier visit to the cathedral, the cardinal said Muslims had lessons for Christians. "Muslims have a very strong spirituality. They wake up early in the morning to pray," he said. "Our young priests should follow this example... waking up early in the morning to pray to start their daily activities."

He said it was vital for Catholics to take part in the lives of other communities.

"We, Catholics, must be witnesses to the surrounding communities. This is one of the meanings of interreligious dialogue. And to be witnesses, we need to have a deep spirituality," he said.

Nasaruddin Umar, director of the Religious Affairs Ministry's Directorate General for Muslim Community Guidance, told UCA News that he was impressed with Cardinal Tauran's visit to this mosque. "It means Christians can be at peace with Muslims," he said.

The mosque was designed by Protestant architect Frederich Silaban to celebrate independence. Istiqlal means "independence" in Arabic. The country's first president Soekarno broke ground on the site on Aug. 24, 1961. It took 17 years to build and was opened by the country's second president Soeharto on Feb. 22, 1978.

Cardinal Tauran arrived in Indonesia on Nov. 24 and is expected to depart on Dec. 1.

According to organizers, the trip aims to give the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue a better understanding of the religious situation in the country as well as help the Church forge better ties with other religious communities here.

On Nov. 26, the cardinal met with leaders of the Wahid Institute. The institute, founded by former president Abdurrahman Wahid, works to bring about a just and peaceful world by espousing a moderate and tolerant view of Islam.

On the same day, the cardinal met with leaders of Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, the two largest Islamic organizations in Indonesia. He is also expected to meet with Hindu leaders in Bali and Muslim leaders in Makassar and Yogyakarta.
 
   
   
  Indonesia: How a Muslim became a 'co-worker' of Blessed Teresa
 
JAKARTA, NOV 26 (UCAN) -- A Muslim woman has told how she answered the misgivings of friends when she joined a group of Catholics in caring for the poor and elderly sick in the Indonesian capital.

"My intention was to help those in need," said Delly, 63, who joined the Kerabat Kerja Ibu Teresa (Co-workers of Mother Teresa) in 2004.

Her decision raised some eyebrows among Muslims she knew. "They worried about proselytism but I just told them to come and see what we were doing," she told a Nov. 21 meeting at St. John the Evangelist Church in south Jakarta to celebrate Blessed Teresa of Kolkata's life.

The group is "pure" in its intentions, Delly said.

Kerabat Kerja Ibu Teresa is part of the International Association of the Co-workers of Mother Teresa. A co-worker makes a commitment to pray daily and work for the poor at least once a week.

The Indonesian group, with 206 mainly lay Catholic members, began its mission in 1985 with volunteers visiting the sick, poor and elderly.

In 1992, the group added a home, called Wisma Sahabat Baru, which serves as a temporary shelter for the sick who cannot afford other alternatives.

One resident of the home, Benediktus Bejo, 37, was paralyzed in a car accident 18 months ago. He said his friend took him to a hospital but he could not afford the cost of 12 million rupiah (US$1,260) a month.

That was when he met a member of the Mother Teresa group who took him to their West Jakarta home.

"I feel so lucky and thankful to be staying here," he told UCA News.

"The volunteers are so friendly. They bathe and feed me along with the other patients," Bejo, a parishioner of St. Anthony of Padua Church in East Jakarta, told UCA News.

"I have never been visited by any members of my family, but every week young Catholics and members of the Legion of Mary come to see me. They give me strength," he smiled.

Maria Theresia Soewadji, who coordinates the group, said it was established following a request from Blessed Teresa, who was concerned about poverty in Indonesia.

Blessed Teresa's Missionaries of Charity nuns are not present in the country.

Nine members of the lay group now care for six patients suffering from paralysis, stroke and diabetes, as well as 11 elderly people. Several doctors provide medical treatment.

"We treat them and meet their daily needs. We send them back to their families when they are healthy enough," said Soewadji.

Jesuit Father Telephorus Krispurwana Cahyadi, the group's spiritual adviser, praises the work of the group. "It is an opportunity for lay people to actualize their faith," he told UCA News.
 
   
   
  Lay-owned institute completes 25 years, helps hundreds get jobs
  From T.S. Thomas

MANGALORE, NOV 25 -- Prakash was too poor even to dream of a decent job. But today he works with Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), thanks to an initiative of lay Catholics in Mangalore.

The Xavier Industrial Training Centre (XITC) that lay Catholics founded 25 years ago has helped Praksh and hundreds of others get trained in technical skills, and secure jobs.

"I was from a very poor family and was not good at studies as well," Prakash told a gathering that celebrated 25 years of the institute. After training, ISRO selected Prakash from among 600 apprentices as he proved his skills.

Joseph Peter Tauro from Chikmagalur, another former student said, the training helped get job in a renowned electrical company in Dubai.

"This is what we intended to achieve," said J.J.V. Fernandes, the founder Chairman of the Xavier Educational Trust, which runs XITC.

He told UCA News that the project was conceived at a 1984 seminar of the Catholic Association of South Kanara. "If the priests and nuns can, why can't we?" was a question that brought lay people together for the project, he said.

When the project was proposed they had no space or money to start it. But several lay people contributed and Jesuit priests offered land for the project.

"Ever since, we never looked back," said Fernandes. With an objective of helping poor villagers the institute has trained more than 2,000 people of different religions "with 100 percent job placement," he said.

Bishop Aloysius Paul D'Souza, who chaired jubilee celebrations in the campus of the institute in Assaigoli, near Mangalore, said lay people "can perform wonders if they think differently."

He projected the institute as a "model for lay initiatives, it's a monument of goodwill of laity and their and capacities," he said, pledging his continued support for the project.

Frank Martin Lobo, a trustee of the institute, told UCA News that the lay initiative received much support from the official church authorities. He said it was "rather a collective initiative where priests and lay people worked hand in hand."

"Many lay people have contributed liberally and some courses and its buildings are fully sponsored by them," he said. Some families sponsor courses and buildings to perpetuate memory of their family members.

Two more such courses were opened Nov. 22. Michael Fernandes, who sponsored a course for his family, said they have "decided to sponsor a technical course" because it will help some poor people "to stand on their own."
Fernandes, whose brother George was a former defense minister of India, said if every family set apart a portion of their earnings for "something like this, our community will progress."
 
   
   
  Stranded passengers airlifted as Srinagar-Kargil road reopens
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, NOV 24 -- The Srinagar-Kargil road was thrown open on Tuesday after it remained closed for two weeks. 1255 stranded passengers were airlifted from Leh to Srinagar and vice versa.

"As many as 970 stranded passengers were airlifted in four sorties of IL-76 Air Force planes from Leh to Srinagar and 285 passengers from Srinagar to Leh in two sorties," said Aamir Ali, Officer on Special Duty, Divisional Commissioner's office, Kashmir.

According to the OSD, stranded passengers who couldn't afford the airfare of Indian Airlines had requested Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to make arrangements for their evacuation.

"The matter was taken up with the Ministry of Defence by the Chief Minister. Special air force IL-76 flights between Leh and Srinagar were arranged for stranded passengers," he said adding, “the passengers were carried in buses from Kargil to Leh by the district administration".

The stranded passengers were received at the Srinagar airport by Director, Airport Authority and SSP, Airport. Special arrangements for ferrying the stranded passengers from the airport to Srinagar city were made.
 
   
   
  Sangh Parivar involved in Khandamal riots: Patnaik
 
From Anand Muttungal

BHUBANESWAR, NOV 24 -- In response to a question by MLA Adikanda Sethy regarding the 2008 Khandamal riots, Chief Minister Navin Patnaik categorically stated that the RSS was directly involved in the carnage.

The MLA had asked for the names of organisations involved in the riot and the number of Vishwa Hindu Parisad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal workers who had been arrested. He also wanted to know the number of persons who were in jail as of now.

In reply, the Chief Minister stated that the enquiry of cases showed that the RSS/VHP/Bajrang Dal workers were involved in the riot. "Eighty five RSS persons, 321 Vishwa Hindu Parisad men and 118 Bajrang Dal workers were arrested for the riots," he stated, adding that Phulbani, Gochhapada, Khajuripada, Phulbani Sadar, Tikabali, G.Udayagiri, Raikia, Phiringia, Sarangagarh, Baliguda, Tumudibandha, Kotagarh and Daringibadi bore the brunt of the carnage.

"Twenty seven persons involved in the riots are still in jail," the CM added.
 
   
   
  Folk theatre mesmerises the Valley in week-long festival
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, NOV 24 -- Folk theatre groups mesmerised the Valley with live performances during the week-long folk theatre festival that concluded at Tagore Hall, here yesterday. Twenty-one plays were enacted by almost the same number of theatre groups during the festival that was organised by the Academy of Art, Culture and Languages.

National band theatre (Wathora) and Wular theatre (Bomai) performed on the inaugural day. 'Gousain Pather' and 'Bakerwal Pather', staged by Kashmir Bhagat theatre, Akingam-Anantnag and Bulbul Folk theatre, Gulgam-Kupwara, respectively, were staged on the last day.

People of all age groups enjoyed the plays that depicted humour, tragedy, satire and love.

Munshi Ali Mohammad, director of 'Gousain Pather' said 'baand pather' comprised music, drama and dance. "It is an ancient form of theatre," said Mohammad Ashraf Tak, Chief Editor (Urdu), Academy of Art Culture and Languages. He said the Academy provided a platform for artistes to showcase their talent. "Festivals are organised every two years."

"Baand pather is our identity. There are about 200 households and four baand groups in our community," says Ghulam Hassan Betab, a baand pather artiste and president of Bomai baand theatre (Sopore).

Betab added that it was difficult to rely on folk art to sustain them. "Twenty years ago, we used to perform at marriages, but that does not happen now," he rued.

Mubarak Gul, political advisor to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, was the chief guest and noted writer Ghulam Nabi Khayal chaired the first session.

"Folk theatre is relevant in reaching out to villages, particularly in far-flung areas. Festivals like these carry messages to people living in other parts of the Valley," said Fayaz Ahmad, a folk theatre lover.

While speaking at the inaugural function, former Jammu and Kashmir Public Service Commission chairman Mohammad Shafi Pandit said baand pather was deeply knit with the social fabric of the society.

"Folk theatre has disintegrated over the years. Despite this, people associated with it have rendered a yeoman service," he said.

Renowned theatre director Bhawani Bashir Yasir stressed on the importance of reviving folk theatre. "We have to own the art and possess it as a rich heritage. Only then can it flourish. Most of the artistes are not serious about the art and not well-versed in it," he stated.

Yasir believed that simply holding such festivals didn't guarantee its revival. "It requires professional guidance, full-time involvement and concentration."

Betab, however, demanded representation in the Legislative Assembly, Doordarshan and Academy of Art, Culture and Languages so that their performance is noticed and problems highlighted.

"The aid provided by the Academy should be enhanced. We do not have sufficient funds to purchase costumes and other required things. Doordarshan and Radio should also provide platforms for the promotion of folk art," he said.

Producer Mushtaque Ali Ahmad Khan and historian Farooq Fayaz were the judges at the festival. Theatre clubs including Baba Reshi folk theatre (Lalpora-Tangmarg), Luke Pather centre (Ichgam-Budgam), Manishah folk theatre (Wathora) and Gulistan Bagat theatre (Hatmulla-Kupwara) participated in the festival.
 
   
   
  Young delegates energized by Asian Youth Day
 
NIMUS (PHILIPPINES), NOV 24 (UCAN) -- Asian Youth Day (AYD) participants say they are being invigorated by the event that has brought together more than 1,500 people from across the region.

"We youth workers need to be re-energized to work with more zeal," Ezekiel Raj of Malaysia said. He hopes to gain inspiration in his work with the youth office and campus ministry of Penang diocese.

Sandra Lin, a high school teacher from Taiwan, stayed with a family in Antipolo diocese east of Manila.

She told UCA News she gained new appreciation of the Philippines and her work with young people after joining Bible sessions with children in squatter areas.

"Poor people are forced to live in a garbage infested area but I enjoyed my four hours of sharing the Word of God with them," she said.

The fifth AYD, launched on Nov. 23, is being held in Cavite province just southwest of Manila. The eight-day event focuses on the Eucharist.

Bishop Luis Antonio Tagle of Imus opened the AYD calling on delegates to imitate young people who "fearlessly spread the Word of God and serve unselfishly people in need."

He praised Efren Penaflorida, who was voted CNN's hero for 2009 on Nov. 21 in recognition of his work using a "pushcart classroom" to educate street children.

"Isn't that what the Eucharist is about?" Bishop Tagle asked during a Mass he celebrated with Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales of Manila, Archbishop Murphy Pakiam of Kuala Lumpur, 25 archbishops and bishops and 200 priests.

AYD is organized by the Youth Desk of the of Asian Bishops' Conferences Office of Laity. This year's theme is "YAsia Fiesta! Young Asians: Come Together, Share the Word, Live the Eucharist."

Delegates come from Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, South Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor Leste and Vietnam.

From Nov. 20-22, some delegates stayed in the homes of local Catholics and joined activities in 10 dioceses around Imus.
 
   
   
  Police break Bible racket in Kerala, one arrested
 
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, NOV 24 (UCAN) -- Kerala police say they have broken a Bible-smuggling racket that has been selling copies of the book on the black market.

"They stole Bibles from the printer and sold them at knocked-down prices," senior police official Vinson Paul told UCA News. "It was a thriving business."

Police arrested and charged Selva Raj, 36, on Nov. 23 following a complaint from the Kerala Catholic Bishop's Council (KCBC). The council had been tipped off by Church people that the Bible KCBC was selling for Rs 100 (US$2.15) was available on the streets for Rs 70.

But Raj, who had 30 Bibles on him, was "only a salesman who may be getting Rs 10 a copy," Paul said. "He is only the end of long chain" in which hundreds may be involved, he added.

Police suspect the racket has been going on for years and that some of the printer's employees are involved. "The investigation is progressing," Paul said.

The bishops have a standing contract with Divine Printing Press to print copies of the Malayalam-language Bible. Each print order is for a minimum of 100,000 copies, and some years they had ordered two extra print-runs.

The press is owned and managed by Divine Retreat Center, run by Vincentian priests. KCBC spokesman Father Stephen Alathara said he suspects some managers and workers helped print more copies and smuggle them out.

The KCBC Bible Commission, headed by Bishop George Punnakottil of Kothamangalam, has been campaigning to make the Bible available in every Catholic family.

He said the Church has no means to identify the smuggled Bibles because they and the official ones look the same in every respect.
 
   
   
  Archbishop defends peace talks in wake of Assam blasts
 
GUWAHATI, NOV 24 (UCAN) -- The archbishop of Guwahati has defended his peace initiative from critics who say it has failed after two bombs killed seven people and wounded more than 50 over the weekend.

Some people had "cynically" asked him what his Joint Peace Team of Northeast India, an ecumenical initiative, had achieved. But Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil said he would not give up.

"When we go for peace meetings we are going with the readiness to fail," said the archbishop, who launched the group more than a decade ago.

"But we will never give up our efforts if we can save even a few lives, or if we can instill hope into even a small section of people."

The blasts on Nov. 22 are believed to be the work of the banned secessionist group, the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFP), one of several ethnic groups in the state seeking autonomy. It has denied responsibility.

The bombs were placed on bicycles near the police station at Nalbari, 70 kilometers northwest of Guwahati. The first blast occurred at 9:30 a.m. and the second 45 minutes later as people gathered to help the injured.

The attack tells the world that there are unresolved problems in Assam, said Salesian Archbishop Menamparampil, who heads the Catholic Church in the state. "I feel deeply pained and profoundly distressed at these instances of violence rocking our state."

Other Christians also condemned the blasts.

Reverend Michael Henry, a pastor of the Church of North India and a member of the archbishop's peace team, said: "Any kind of violence has to be condemned. We have to join together and fight violence as a society."

Reverend Aziz Haque, a pastor of the Lutheran Church in Guwahati, described the attack as an "inhuman" act.
 
   
   
  BJP leader praises Catholic contribution to India
 
NEW DELHI, NOV 24 (UCAN) -- Federal opposition leader Lal Krishna Advani, the guest of honor at Delhi archdiocese's golden jubilee celebrations, says he values Catholicism's contribution to Indian society.

The Hindu nationalist leader, who opened the civic reception, said he was surprised to be invited to address the function.

Advani dismissed as "motivated propaganda" claims that his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was against Christians and other religious minority groups. The BJP is widely seen as the political arm of rightwing Hindu groups responsible for anti-Christian violence in several parts of India.

The Catholic Church in India has carried out "commendable and extensive" service to society, he noted.

Advani said he had studied in a Catholic school and respects Christ's message of peace, love and brotherhood. "I deeply value the contribution of our Christian brethren both to India's freedom struggle and to India's nation-building in the post-independence era," he said.

The civic reception followed a Mass on Nov. 22 to mark the end of year-long jubilee celebrations. Representatives from various religions joined some 50,000 Catholics for the festivities.

Apostolic nuncio Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana celebrated the Mass together with five bishops and some 150 priests. In his homily, he commended the archdiocese for its growth and influence in the national capital.

The archdiocese that started with 10 parishes now has 82 parishes belonging to all three Catholic Church rites in India, the nuncio said.

The Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites make up the Catholic Church in the country.

Bishop Jacob Mar Barnabas of the Syro-Malankara Church commended the archdiocese for accommodating people from all over India. The archdiocese is the "leader" of the Catholic Church in the nation, added the Oriental prelate who is based in New Delhi.

During the Mass, people wearing traditional dress from 27 states offered various gifts, including a book on Kandhamal, a district in the eastern Indian Orissa state that witnessed anti-Christian violence in 2008.

The archdiocese was established on June 4, 1959, from the former Delhi and Simla archdiocese.
 
   
   
  Pakistan: Nuns' center shows way to a better life
 
LAHORE, NOV 24 (UCAN) -- A sewing center run by Daughters of the Cross nuns has for the past 20 years been helping illiterate slum dwellers gain the skills to support their families.

"We started crochet classes in the compound of a local Christian's house," said Wazira Mariam, the oldest teacher of St. Anne's Gharelu (Household) center, now located in Lahore's St. Francis parish. "There was no roof" and classes were conducted that way for three years, she recalled.

Most of the men in the slums are unemployed and the women work as house maids.

"We are trying to help the children from broken families and those who don't go to schools. The skills can help them earn a respectable living," said Sister Shamim Tariq, supervisor of the center.

Mariam says in the early days the nuns went door-to-door to persuade women of the value of learning sewing skills.

"We visited houses and urged both house maids and their children, wandering in the streets, to learn sewing. We showed them it was a way to an extra source of income and a respectable living," she said.

German Sister Anna Xaveria started the center in 1989. "She first conducted a survey of the area and taught poor Christians about hygiene and the importance of education or learning a skill" Mariam said. "Everybody used to call her baji (elder sister)."

Sister Xaveria died in Lahore at the age of 71.

Now 40 students including six Muslims attend the sewing classes in the double-story building. The one-year course also teaches skills such as painting, knitting and recycling. Students pay 100 rupees (US$1.19) a month.

The staff of two nuns and two laywomen teach the teenage girls how to produce sweaters, caps, cushion covers, flower pots and priests' stoles.

Naseem Bibi, one of the center's past students, now runs her own sewing center and a beauty parlor. "Customers see our sewing machines and they make their orders," she said, adding that she is able to make a comfortable living, thanks to the skills she learnt at the center.

The center, however, is struggling financially.

"We don't have enough wool for teaching purposes," Sister Tariq says. She said the center's monthly income of 2,000 rupees from fees only goes to pay electricity bills and wages.

The center's 20th anniversary celebrations also had to be canceled because of security concerns in violence-plagued Pakistan.
 
   
   
  Lay group honors Catholic widows who say faith sustains them
 
MANGALORE, NOV 23 (UCAN) -- The Catholic Association of South Kanara declared its 95th annual meeting on Nov. 22 "Widows' Day" in honor of "real heroines" who have sacrificed their lives to bring up their children.

President of the lay association Michael Saldanha, a judge of the Karnataka High Court, said the idea came about while his group was documenting the history of Catholic families in Mangalore.

There were some 100 women and a few men who opted to remain single to raise their children after their spouses' death, he noted.

One widower and 77 widows attended the event. Saldanha presented each with a citation, a book on heroic women and a flower.

Bishop Aloysius Paul D'Souza of Mangalore told the meeting that widows have a prominent place in the Bible and Jesus is close to them. "Do not be afraid. God who knows all about you is with you," he said.

Several awardees told UCA News their Catholic faith has sustained them in their loneliness and struggles.

Dorothy Correa, 52, said she would have been lost "completely" if it was not for her faith in God. "Jesus saved me from many dangers and helped me survive," said the mother of two sons who became a widow 28 years ago.

Marietta Mascarenhas, 69, who lost her husband when she was 29, says prayers and spiritual exercises keep her young and energetic. "I draw my strength from the Eucharist, which I try to attend almost daily," said the mother of four.

Gladys D'Souza, 91, the oldest at the meeting, said when her husband died in 1956 she had five children. She said God gave her enough courage to fight her own battle as a widow. "Age is in the mind," she told the gathering.

Francis Veigas, a widower in his 40s, said he lost his wife in 1995 and had struggled hard to bring up his two daughters. He added that now his daughters are grown up, and he would like to see them happily married.
 
   
   
  Anglican head: Vatican's overture not a 'dawn raid'
 
By Gerard O'Connell, Special Correspondent in Rome

VATICAN CITY, NOV 23 (UCAN) -- "I was very happy with the outcome of the meeting. It was as good as I could have hoped," said Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury after his first talk with Pope Benedict XVI since the latter made it easier for Anglicans to enter the Catholic Church.

The head of the Anglican Communion was satisfied for several reasons, as he told the BBC and UCA News at the Anglican Centre in Rome before returning to London, hours after his 30-minute meeting with the Pope on Nov. 21.

Firstly, "I was able to express some of the concerns that many of us as Anglicans feel about the way in which the apostolic constitution was handled in terms of it being made public."

Even more importantly, he added, "I was very glad to hear the Pope repeat his commitment to the continuing process of official dialogue between our two Churches as Churches."

In the apostolic constitution "Anglicanorum Coetibus" (Anglican groups), issued by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Nov. 9, "personal ordinariates," similar to dioceses, will be created for Anglicans wanting to join the Catholic Church.

Describing the apostolic constitution as "a pastoral measure for some people and groups," the archbishop -- who was not consulted on the new Catholic Church provisions -- said it is not "a new style of ecumenism as some people are saying; there isn't a new agenda."

Moreover, he added, "there was nothing about the apostolic constitution that Anglicans could interpret as a kind of dawn raid." He revealed that he and the Pope "talked that through very thoroughly."

The archbishop said he and the Pope also talked about "more positive matters of cooperation" and revealed that the Pope "was extremely enthusiastic" about Phase Three of the official dialogue between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church, for which informal talks begin this week.

Official dialogue between the two Churches started in 1967 with the establishment of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission. Phase One of the dialogue ended in 1981 while Phase Two lasted from 1983 to 2004.

Archbishop Williams described "the mood" of his meeting with the Pope as "very much" the same as previous encounters. They talked about several issues including the ecumenical situation and the Pope's visit to the United Kingdom next year.

The Vatican, in a statement, described the talk as "cordial." It confirmed that the two Church leaders had focused on "recent events affecting relations between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion," and had reiterated "the shared will to continue and consolidate the ecumenical relationship between Catholics and Anglicans."

Archbishop Williams arrived in Rome on Nov. 19 and delivered a keynote lecture at the Pontifical Gregorian University for the centenary celebrations of the birth of Dutch Cardinal Jan Willebrands, a Catholic pioneer in ecumenism.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, also in a keynote talk at the celebrations, insisted that the recent papal provision for Anglicans is not "a new ecumenism."

On the contrary, this has happened "exactly in conformity with the Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism, which clearly distinguishes between conversion of individuals or groups of persons on the one hand, and on the other, ecumenism as dialogue with other Churches with the goal of full communion."
 
   
   
  Archbishop stresses culture-sensitive evangelization
 
KOLKATA, NOV 23 (UCAN) -- Missioners must understand tribal people better, and new ways of evangelizing them without hurting their cultural heritage must be a priority, a top prelate has told Church officials.

Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati was addressing 36 bishops, priests and nuns from various states at a meeting in Kolkata on Nov. 17-19. Participants from Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Manipur, Meghalaya, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tripura and West Bengal discussed their experiences working with various tribal groups and the problems they encountered.

In his keynote address, Archbishop Menamparampil stressed the need to give priority and attention to tribal people, and helping them get closer to Christ without losing their culture and traditions.

"We have to work toward understanding tribal people who are often misunderstood," said the Salesian prelate, who is chairperson of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences' Office of Evangelization.

The prelate who worked for several decades among various tribal groups in northeastern India, reminded Church workers to treat tribal people with respect, unlike government workers who treat them as downtrodden people or even as criminals.

Any work of evangelization should start with building relationships, and giving attention to people, families and tribal fellowship, Archbishop Menamparampil told the missioners.

He urged them to find creative ways to approach people and devise strategies so that Christian tribal people can maintain their own tribal culture whilst receiving support in their struggles.

He told participants to take the initiative to meet people instead of relying on formal Church structures.

This was the sixth meeting since 1989 when Archbishop Menamparampil and Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi first brought together Church workers from tribal regions.

Participants at the recent meeting resolved to empower lay people to live the Gospel values without forfeiting their cultural identity or disturbing their relations with their neighbors from other religions.

Archbishop Menamparampil later told UCA News that industrial encroachment has meant many displaced tribal people have begun to lose their identity. The challenge for the Church now is to preach the Gospel of hope to such people, he said.
 
   
   
  Pakistan: Muslims denounce violence, abuse of blasphemy laws
 
LAHORE, NOV 23 (UCAN) -- Muslim clerics have condemned ongoing violence in Pakistan and acknowledged Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws have been misused in the past.

"Islam does not approve of terrorism in the cloak of jihad," Allama Rjee Allah Khan, a Muslim cleric, told a Nov. 20 peace conference. "We do not want the Taliban's version of Islam. A terrorist has no religion."

More than 150 Christians, Muslims and Sikhs attended the conference, titled "I promote peace. Do you?" organized by the HAC Alliance, a coalition of three NGOs -- Human Friends Organization, Awaz-e-Niswan (Voice of Women), and CATHE Foundation.

Conference program manager Neena Noreen said the blasphemy laws, which prescribe the death penalty for insults to the Prophet Muhammad and up to life imprisonment for acts against the Qur'an were discussed.

"The clerics, in their speeches, mentioned that blasphemy laws are being misused. This is progress in the struggle toward recognition of the multi-religious situation in Pakistan," she said.

The blasphemy laws are the biggest cause for concern among Christians in Pakistan and the Pakistani Catholic bishops' National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) has been among those at the forefront of the fight against these laws.

Recently, NCJP chairperson Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha and executive secretary Peter Jacob lobbied the parliamentary Committee for Constitutional Reforms seeking to delete articles in the country’s constitution that discriminate on the basis of religion. They also said that "Pakistan would be better represented by an image of a republic."

The Nov. 20 conference started with the recitation of the Qur'an; the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book; and the Bible. It concluded with a slide show of anti-Christian violence and messages of peace.

Earlier this year, rioting in the Punjab province by Muslims resulted in the deaths of 10 Catholics in Gojra and Korian.
 
   
   
  Archbishop tells Pope: there will be no turning back on women priests
  By Ruth Gledhill and Richard Owen

ROME, NOV 21 -- The Archbishop of Canterbury on Nov 20 made his most outspoken challenge to the Roman Catholic Church since the Pope invited disaffected Anglicans to switch to Rome.

Speaking before he meets Benedict XVI tomorrow, Dr Rowan Williams told a conference in Rome that the Catholic Church's refusal to ordain women was a bar to Christian unity.

"For many Anglicans, not ordaining women has a possible unwelcome implication about the difference between baptised men and baptised women," he said.

The Anglican provinces that ordain women had retained rather than lost their Catholic holiness and sacramentalism, he said.

Addressing an ecumenical conference at the Gregorian Pontifical University, the Archbishop said that the way Anglican leaders dealt with internal arguments offered lessons for senior Catholics.

"Is it nonsense to think that holding on to a limited but real common life might be worth working for within the Anglican family? And if it can be managed within the Anglican family, is this a possible model for the wider ecumenical scene?"

The ordination of women priests -- and the prospect of women bishops -- is one of the main reasons why disaffected Anglicans may take up the Pope's offer of a "Church within a Church" that would enable them to retain traditional Anglican practices within the Catholic faith.

But yesterday the Archbishop made clear that there would be no turning back the clock on women priests in order to appease critics. He dismissed the Pope's offer to disaffected Anglicans as barely more than a "pastoral response", which broke little new ground in relations between the two Churches.

Dr Williams said: "It does not build in any formal recognition of existing ministries or methods of independent decision-making, but remains at the level of spiritual and liturgical culture.

"As such, it is an imaginative pastoral response to the needs of some; but it does not break any fresh ecclesiological ground," he told the meeting of senior priests, bishops and cardinals.

Dr Williams put the row over the apostolic constitution, as the Pope's plan is known, into the context of a centuries-old debate about reuniting the Christian Churches. He questioned whether unity talks should even continue if disagreements over issues such as papal primacy had no hope ever of being resolved.

"I want to propose that we now need urgent clarification of whether these continuing points of tension imply in any way that the substantive theological convergence is less solid than it appears, so that we must still hold back from fuller levels of recognition of ministries or fuller sacramental fellowship," he said.

But he went on to argue that if there was hope that such issues could be resolved, the Churches could begin to talk about converging their structures of administration and governance, and seeking "sacramental" fellowship.

The speech laid the ground for a frank encounter behind closed doors with the Pope, the highlight of Dr Williams's Rome trip.

With tensions surfacing behind the scenes at the Holy See, Dr Williams is expected to discuss the Pope's visit to Britain next autumn, including whether it should be accorded the status of a pastoral or State visit. If it were the latter, it would be the first state visit by a Pope to Britain and he would be the guest of the Queen, who is Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

The Archbishop's private audience today will be preceded by meetings with the senior Vatican officials Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue. He will also attend a dinner in his honour given by Francis Campbell, the British Ambassador to the Holy See.

Dr Williams will preside at vespers this evening at the Oratory of St Frances Xavier, known as the Caravita church, in the centre of Rome.

Cardinal Kasper was not involved in the formulation of the Pope's opening to disaffected Anglicans, which was drawn up by the more hardline Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and some of his staff have been dismayed by its impact on ecumenical dialogue.
---
To read the story in full, use the following link:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article6923807.ece
 
   
   
  Episcopal priest praises Mohammed, Vishnu, Buddha, Confucius in liturgy
 
By David W. Virtue
www.virtueonline.org

WHEN parishioners filed into St. John's Episcopal Church in Harrison, Arkansas, on All Saints Sunday, November 1, they were handed a bulletin that sent shivers down the spines of many of the congregants. It was a case of inclusion gone wild.

The "Litany of all the Saints of God" part of their Sunday liturgy read as follows:

CELEBRANT: Blessed are all you holy ones, the saints, you who have done the will of God, and now rejoice in the reward of Eternal joy.

Holy men and women who worshipped the All Holy One as Rama, Vishnu or the Lord Krishna, forest hermits, ascetics and wise ones whose lives were incarnations of the holy books the Vedas, Upanishads and Gita.

ALL: All you Hindu saints; we praise you for holy are you.

CELEBRANT: Monks, nuns and all holy followers of the blessed Buddha, who, in the peace of Zen, created peace in others; All who sought the bliss of Nirvana with dedication and practiced justice and compassion toward all.

ALL: All you Buddhist saints, we praise you for holy are you.

CELEBRANT: Chosen people of God, children of Abraham and Sara, saints Moses, Ruth, and Rebeccas, holy prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, all prophets and prophetesses, all you martyrs of Dachau and Buchenwald,

ALL: All you Jewish saints we praise you for holy are you.

CELEBRANT: Saints Confucius, Lao Tzu and Chaung Tzu of China, all holy men and women of the Orient, you who lived lives balancing the yin and the yang, and all who found wisdom and grace in the Tao.

ALL: All you Chinese saints, we praise you for holy are you.

CELEBRANT: Holy prophet Mohammed and all holy saints of Islam, all who surrender to the will of Allah: Holy Martyrs of Islam, who with your lives declared the Allah is One and only One, all you whirling dervishes and mystic Sufis, you ecstatic lovers of the divine Beloved.

ALL: All you saints of the Koran, we praise you, for holy are you.

CELEBRANT: All you Incas of Peru, holy Mayans and Aztecs of Mexico, all you Native children of the sun and stars, you who with creative love and sacrifice raised up wondrous temples to your God, holy followers of Lord Khonvum, God of the Pygmies, holy ones of Tane, god of the Polynesians

ALL: All you saints of all tribes, we praise you for holy are you

CELEBRANT: Saints of the Iroquois, Delaware, Dakotas, Hopi and Sioux, holy ones of the Cheyenne, Navajo and Pawnee, Medicine men and women, visionaries and healers, all to whom the animals, fish and trees spoke

ALL: All you Native saints; we praise you, for holy are you

CELEBRANT: All saints of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Gospel, holy husbands and wives, nuns and monks, clergy and missionaries and people of God, all you who lived gospel lives serving others, caring for the poor, the abandoned, and the sick; All you reformers, preachers and teachers, all you holy hermits and mystics. All you Christian saints, we praise you, for holy are you.

All you saints in heaven, we praise you; all you saints on earth we praise you; all you canonized and uncanonized saints, we praise you; all you struggling to be saints, we praise you; all who are unaware that you are saints we praise you; Blessed be all you inside-out saints who are presently sinners, And blessed are all you who believe in the Communion of saints.

Contacted by VirtueOnline, the rector of the parish, Seamus Doyle said that he had been using the liturgy for about 10 years. "I have never thought of sending it to the bishop for his approval or non- approval. I saw no reason to send it to him; it is not contrary to our beliefs."

Asked if he had written it, Doyle said no. He said he believes that a Roman Catholic priest Fr. Edward Hays, a longtime teacher, founder of a house of prayer, and author may have written it, but he wasn't sure.

VOL contacted Arkansas Bishop Larry R. Benfield to ask if this liturgy had been approved. Through his communications officer Micah McConnell the bishop issued the following statement:

"I am a supporter of interfaith dialogue. I look forward to the day when the many barriers that now separate us can be removed. But interfaith dialogue works best when we are confident of our own Christian faith and can articulate it clearly."

McConnell said the bishop would be in touch with the Rev. Seamus Doyle.

However, a former Episcopalian who is now a bishop in the Reformed Episcopal Church, the Rt. Rev Sam Seamans who received a copy of the bulletin incredulously asked, "Can you believe this? I really am at a loss, even coming from a TEC parish. It is truly unbelievable.

"I could not believe my eyes: In the litany praised are the "saints" of Islam and Allah, Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tzu, Lord Khodvum and all the Native tribes and that's just some of them. Christian Saints were finally mentioned but only in the final portion of the litany."

Asked why he forwarded this to VOL, the bishop said, "I do think that we need to expose these kinds of things because they are leading so many people astray. When a parishioner hands me something like this from an "Anglican" church in my own state I am going to respond -- part of what we promise to do as bishops is to drive out strange and erroneous doctrines.

"In light of Ephesians 4 (one faith, one Lord, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all....), I don't know how anyone who takes the Bible seriously could recite something like this in a Christian church," said Bishop Seamans.

Doyle told VOL that he had received no flack over the years for using the liturgy and said he saw no contradiction in using it.
 
   
   
  Bihar's meals on wheels catches people's imagination
 
From Anuja Sipre

PATNA, NOV 21 -- The innovative Meals-on-Wheels scheme is the Bihar Government's latest gift to its capital city Patna. The scheme that was launched by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been specially designed to cater to the needs of the common man.

The main meal comprises five makke ki roti and ol ka chokha. The rotis weighing 250 gm are available for Rs 10 while 50 to 75 gm of chokha is free. The other food items are a packet of Dilkhush instant kheer for Rs 20, a packet of protino-H instant kadhi for Rs 6 and 50 gm of Pusa shakti bhoonja for Rs 5.

Explaining the initiative, Cooperative Minister Giriraj Singh said people would now not have to roam about in search of inexpensive and healthy food. A roti-making machine has been imported from Mexico for the purpose. It churns out 3,500 rotis in an hour, he said, adding that special care has been taken to prepare the food hygienically.

According to Rajendra Agriculture University senior research scientist Dr Usha Singh, the QPM maize flour that is used to make the rotis has double the amount of protein (8gm) than normal maize flour. Kheer, bhoonja and kadhi are also full of protein, calcium and iron.

The food will be served at five centrally located stalls in the state capital. Plans are on to set up stalls at 60 venues across the city.

"It is difficult to find healthy, tasty and reasonably priced food in the city. This scheme has come as a big relief for me," said Saumya Verma of Bhagalpur, who attends medical coaching classes in Patna.

Even local students felt the same. "It's not possible to carry tiffin to college. Moreover, you can't eat samosas and chaat every day. This scheme is a good initiative," said college
student Vineet Chaudhary.
 
   
   
  All work, no play: Kashmiri children work to feed families
 
From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, NOV 21 -- Faced with numerous problems, several Kashmiri children have dropped out of school to work and feed their families.

Fourteen-year-old Hilal Khan, a resident of Khansahib-Budgam, is one such youngster. He was forced to drop out of school, as his teachers beat him daily. "They would hit me mercilessly. At least I have learnt a skill now and can earn for my family. School was of no use to me," the young boy says.

Although Hilal earns just Rs 300 per month as a painting boy, he is satisfied. He has been working for the past three years.

Sixteen-year-old Shazia, however, is not happy with the work she does. She weaves carpets and considers it a 'trap'. "Parents weave traps for us and we make carpets for them," she remarks, adding that she would never have worked, had it not been for parental compulsion.

For Rafiqa, another young girl from Budgam district, carpet weaving is her only source of livelihood. After losing her father at an early age, she took to the profession to feed her family.

"I have to support my family financially," says Rafiqa, who earns Rs 20 daily (for 11 hours of work). "My employer is very cooperative. He never ill-treats me. I receive my wages on time and am able to keep the pot boiling at home. This gives me a lot of satisfaction. My community also respects me," she says.

Afroza (15) is another young girl who was forced to work due to situations at home. She couldn't go to school, as her father was seriously ill and the family had to spend a huge amount of money on hospital bills. "There was no money to spare for my education, although my elder brother managed to study up to Class X," she says. Afroza works five days a week and earns Rs 35 per day.

Nine-year-old Sakina doesn't even know how much she earns as a carpet weaver. She has two younger sisters, who like her, haven't gone to school. Her 15-year-old brother, however, studies in Class IX. Her mother is a housewife and father does needle work. She has been working for the past one year.

Sakina recalls receiving Rs 50 from her employer on Eid-ul-fitr. She promptly gave the money to her father, who was so happy that he gave her Rs 10. She bought grapes with it.

Although Sakina says she would love to go to school, she confesses that economic compulsions do not allow it. She hates to be a carpet weaver as she has to work from dawn to dusk. "I hate sitting in one place for such a long time."

"I want to be a doctor, but cannot do that, as I have never been to school. I will always remain a carpet weaver; one who is often looked down upon by the society," she says.
 
   
   
  India needs Christ, not Christianity, says author
 
From A Special Correspondent

KOTTAYAM, NOV 20 -- A book titled "An Indian Face of the Christian Faith", written by Swami Sachidananda Bharathi, was released here today by Justice K. T. Thomas by giving a copy of the book to Dr. K.S. Radhakrishnan, former Vice-Chancellor of Sri Shankara University, Kalady.

The book deals with five concepts: Unbound Christ, Open Christianity, Christu Dharma, Christu Marga and Christu Shanti.

Unbound Christ means a Christ who is not bound by or limited to the Christian churches and Christians. Also, a Christ who is understood as the Sadguru who leads humanity from falsehood to truth, from darkness to light and from death to eternal life in answer to the eternal prayer of India, "Asathoma Sadgamaya, Tamasoma Jyothirgamaya, Mrit..."

Open Christianity implies Christianity, not as a religion with its hierarchy, dogmas, doctrines and sacraments, but as a way of life based on the Christhu Dharma as propounded by Sadguru Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount and following Christu Marga as shown by Sadguru through his forgiving, enduring and self- sacrificing love that found its perfection in his death on the cross, and enjoying Christu Shanti as offered by Sad Guru to his disciples.

A culture of 'interiority' is the hallmark of Indian spirituality. Silent meditation is central to India's spiritual quest. Swami says India needs Christ, not Christianity.

Christianity took its birth in Israel in a Jewish background. Thus, it first acquired a Jewish face (Jesus of Nazereth). It then received a Roman face which projected him as a savior. However, it was the Greek face that made him Christ. "Now we have discovered an Indian face to the Christ phenomenon, characterized by spirituality, which is India's long-standing tradition. The Indian concept of spirituality rests upon an integrated vision of life and reality, a holistic ecological worldview, an ethic of enough and a culture of 'interiority'.

Rt. Rev. Dr. Peter Thuruthikonam, Prof. V. Abraham, Rev. Dr. M. J Joseph, Rev. Dr. James Gurudas, Sr. Linda and Mr. T.D Chacko spoke on the occasion.

Earlier in the day, a seminar on the same topic was also held. A number of speakers and theologians spoke on the theme covering various aspects. They include: Rev. Dr. Abraham Kuruvilla , Rev Dr. Mathew Varkey , Rev. Prof. Dr. Mathew Manakattu and Prof. K. M Mathew. The seminar was moderated by Swami Yohanas Snehananda, DCP.

Swami is the founder of Dharma Bharathi Ashram and Dharma Bharathi Mission. He also organized and founded a community called Disciples of Christ for Peace (DCP). He was one of the spiritual leaders who represented India in the 'Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders' organized by the United Nations.
 
   
   
  Karnataka Church denounces 'moral policing'
 
MANGALORE, NOV 20 (UCAN) -- The Catholic Church in Karnataka state has condemned recurrent attacks by Hindu extremists on youths from different religions socializing together.

"Why can't boys and girls from different religious communities have healthy interaction?" asks a statement the Karnataka Regional Catholic Bishops' Council (KRCBC) issued on Nov. 20.

The statement, signed by council secretary Father Faustine Lobo, "unequivocally" condemns "moral policing" by "fundamentalist outfits," which it says has frightened people in the southern state.

The statement accuses Karnataka's pro-Hindu government of "misguiding" the assailants to impose their own outdated moral principles on others. The Bharatiya Janata Party has governed the state since May 2008.

The attackers, many identified with the group Bajrang Dal (party of the strong and stout), have created fear and hatred among people, especially on the state's western coast, according to the KRCBC.

Karnataka has witnessed 12 such incidents in the past year, eight of them reported from Mangalore, a major coastal town.

In the latest incident on Nov. 15, a mob assaulted three Muslim youths traveling on a bus with two Hindu girls. The five had traveled to Mangalore to attend a sports selection camp, but the attackers accused the boys of "moving closely" with the girls.

This "moral policing" came to the fore last Jan. 25, when members of Sri Ram Sene (army of Lord Ram), another Hindu radical group, attacked eight women having lunch in a Mangalore pub. Women in India traditionally stay away from bars and liquor shops, and the attackers accused their victims of corrupting Hindu culture.

Just two weeks later on Feb. 11, a 16-year-old Hindu girl committed suicide the day after extremists publicly humiliated her for being "friendly" with a Muslim boy and handed the pair to police.

"Who has given them power to safeguard girls from interacting with boys from minority communities?" the Catholic bishops ask.

Their statement says the Hindu groups want only to divide people on the basis of religion for political gain.

Karnataka has close to 53 million people, and nearly 84 percent are Hindus. Muslims constitute about 12 percent, while Christians make up less than 2 percent.

The KRCBC said the world is watching as the majority group rides roughshod over the rights of minorities, while "the police and the government are apathetic to the victims' pleas."

The bishops also approved the forming of people's vigilant committees to prevent such moral policing. "The Church is ready to join such initiatives to establish peace and harmony in society," they said.

Denis D'Silva, a former state president of the Indian Catholic Youth Movement, welcomed the bishops' move. "If we do not react against moral policing we would be promoting it," he told UCA News.
 
   
   
  Goa: Catholics upset over Church-blast acquittals
 
PANAJI, NOV 20 (UCAN) -- Outraged Church people in Goa blame a "half-hearted" investigation for the acquittal of two Muslims accused of a bomb attack on a church nine years ago.

Mirasab Kaujalgi and Mohammad Farook Ali were charged with planting a bomb at St. Andrew's Church in the port town of Vasco da Gama. It exploded on June 8, 2000, damaging church windows.

The prosecution claimed the blast was aimed at insulting Catholics, besides destroying the church building.

On Nov. 18, Judge Desmond D'Costa dismissed the case. "There's no proof linking the accused with the crime. Also, there's no evidence of either of them having planted explosives," he ruled.

Sixteen people gave evidence at the trial, none of whom were eyewitnesses.

Despite the acquittal, Kaujalgi and Ali remain in jail serving life sentences for other crimes.

Father Jose Costa, the St. Andrew's parish priest, said the verdict has "outraged" local Catholics. "Who will come forward as eyewitness? Even if there was an eyewitness, he would be scared to come forward. We are disappointed," he told UCA News.

Father Heniencio de Souza, from the diocesan seminary, also expressed disappointment. He blamed the turn of events on "half-hearted investigations carried out by the investigating agencies."

Cyril D'Cunha, editor of "Vishal Jagruti" (great awakening), a monthly publication of the All India Catholic Union, slammed the acquittal as "very wrong." He expressed concern over an increasing number of acquittals and wondered whether police are properly trained to present evidence in court.

However, the official Church was more restrained. "The experts have done what is right. There's nothing much I can say," Father Francis Caldeira, spokesperson for Goa archdiocese, told UCA News.
 
   
   
  Indian professor's digital camera invention simplifies complex concepts for children
 
From A Correspondent

NEW YORK, NOV 17 -- Columbia University professor Shree Nayar has blended technology, innovation and art into a new digital camera designed to teach science to children around the world. The camera, called the Bigshot, comes as a kit of parts which kids as young as eight years old can assemble by themselves. In the process, they learn basic concepts of physics and engineering. Free, after-school programs for children to assemble and use the cameras are being scheduled now in New York.

Though the camera is simple to build, it features sophisticated technology, including an LED flash and three lenses: standard, panoramic and 3-D. Its color palette is inspired by M&Ms candies, a hand crank provides power even when there are no batteries, and a transparent back panel shows the camera's inner workings.

Nayar worked with a group of engineering students, led by Guru Krishnan, An Tran and Brian Smith, to create a website, bigshotcamera.org, that walks children, teachers and parents through the assembly process. It uses flash animation to explain complex concepts like how a camera measures light and converts it into a digital image. The site will eventually serve as a kind of Flickr for kids, allowing young photographers from around the world to share their pictures.

"The idea here was not to create a device that was an inexpensive toy," says Nayar. "The idea was to create something that could be used as a platform for education across many societies."

Nayar, the T.C. Chang Professor of Computer Science and chair of that department at Columbia's Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science on Bigshot for two years. The project is an extension of his work as director of the school's Computer Vision Lab, where he has expertise in highly sensitive cameras. Among his inventions is the Omnicam, a video camera that shoots seamless 360-degree images, and a technology -- developed recently in collaboration with Sony -- that extends the range of brightness and color that cameras can capture.

But, as the father of two young children, he wanted his work to have an impact beyond the high-tech sector, on a more humanitarian level. He was inspired by the 2005 Oscar-winning documentary "Born Into Brothels" which depicts the lives of children growing up in Calcutta's red-light district. The filmmaker, British photographer Zana Briski, gave 35 mm film cameras to eight children and watched as those cameras transformed their lives.

"The film reaffirmed something I've believed for a long time, which is that the camera, as a piece of technology, has a very special place in society," says Nayar, who grew up in New Delhi. "It allows us to express ourselves and to communicate with each other in a very powerful way."

With the Bigshot, Nayar wants to not only empower children and encourage their creative vision, but also to get them excited about science. Each building block of the camera is designed to teach a basic concept of physics: why light bends when it passes through a transparent object, how mechanical energy is converted into electrical energy, how a gear
train works.

"In modern society, we use technology without understanding it," says Lisbeth Uribe, a science teacher at the School at Columbia, a private primary school in New York.

"I love that [Nayar] has built such sophisticated and advanced technology into this camera yet made it so accessible and transparent. It's a great educational tool."

Nayar would like to roll out the camera, now in prototype form, internationally, with a large number being donated to underprivileged schools in the United States and abroad. He will soon begin looking for a partner -- a company or nonprofit -- to help put Bigshot into production.

In the meantime, Nayar, Krishnan, Tran and Smith have been field-testing the camera with children around the world. Over the summer, Krishnan and Tran took several Bigshot prototypes to their hometowns: Bangalore, India, and Vung Tau, Vietnam, respectively. In addition to the School at Columbia, Nayar also brought the camera to Mott Hall School, a public school in Harlem. Each scientist spent a morning teaching several small groups of children how to assemble the cameras; after lunch, their charges went out to take pictures. The kids responded with overwhelming enthusiasm.

"They were ready to buy the camera then and there," says Krishnan. "One offered me RS 10,000 ($200)." More importantly, tests that Nayar and his team gave out two days later showed that the students had retained the concepts that Bigshot was expected to teach.

"Bigshot helped me make use of the science I learned in school," said Hong Linh, 14, a student who tried the camera at Vietnam's Nguyen An Ninh Secondary School.

Eveangelista Muheto, 10, a student at the School at Columbia, said she was nervous at first about building a camera from scratch. But, after the lesson, she felt proud of her accomplishments. "I could tell everyone I had made a camera," she says. "I thought the camera was really, really cool, especially the three lenses, but it was even cooler to help build it."

Nayar is now rolling out a regular, biweekly after-school program for kids across New York City. For him, the best part of this experience has been looking at the children's pictures.

"I am addicted to the pictures; I can't get enough of them," he says. "The fact that some of the kids were using a camera for the first time, and they were able to frame what they thought was important and capture that moment so beautifully, was really remarkable." (Courtesy: SAJAForum)
 
   
   
  Hong Kong: Young man charged with blackmailing priest
 
HONG KONG, NOV 19 (UCAN) -- A 27-year-old man has appeared in court charged with attempting to blackmail a priest by threatening to release a video that suggests the pair had an intimate relationship.

The video allegedly shows the man, Cheung Ka-wo, and the priest naked, according to media reports.

Cheung, a doctoral student, was accused of conspiring with Li Dora Kay, a laywoman, to extort HK$6.3 million (US$826,000) from the priest and a layperson that the priest had sought help from. The identity of the priest and the layperson were not revealed.

Cheung was granted bail by magistrates on Nov. 18 and will appear before the district court next month.

According to the prosecution, the young man made the demand in letters sent in April and May this year and the priest has so far paid him HK$920,000.

Dominic Yung Yeuk-yu, director of the Hong Kong Catholic Social Communications Office, told UCA News the diocese is aware of the case, but would not make any comment while legal proceedings are underway.
 
   
   
  Korea: Marriage issue drives Catholic priests to join Anglicans
 
SEOUL, NOV 19 (UCAN) -- The Catholic Church in Korea has lost four priests to the Anglicans in recent years, with marriage cited as the most important reason.

"They want to marry and at the same time serve as pastors," said Anglican Father Peter Lee Kyong-nae, himself a former Catholic seminarian. Two more Catholic priests are currently preparing to become Anglican priests, he added.

While the buzz in the Church around the world concerns Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to make it easier for Anglicans to become Catholics, here in Korea there is some movement in the opposite direction.

"The priests made an honest and courageous decision to leave the Catholic Church in order to build a family, and they gave up all the privileges they enjoyed in the Catholic Church," Father Lee told UCA News.

Father Abraham Kim Gwang-joon, secretary general of the Provincial Office of the Anglican Church of Korea, confirmed that the Catholic Church's requirement of celibacy was a major factor in the priests' decision.

"There are various personal reasons, but marriage is the most important," he said.

UCA News contacted two of the former Catholic priests but they did not wish to comment on their decision.

It is not difficult for Catholic priests to join the Anglican clergy although they must pass a screening process and study Anglican theology for a year.

"The Anglican Church sees the Catholic Church as a brother Church inherited from the Apostles, so we recognize Catholic priestly ordination as valid as ours," Father Lee explained. He added that the former Catholic priests enjoy a good reputation in his Church.

Priestly celibacy was a hot discussion topic after Pope Benedict XVI recently made it easier for Anglicans to join the Catholic Church.

In the apostolic constitution "Anglicanorum Coetibus" (Anglican groups), issued by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Nov. 9, married Anglican priests are allowed to be ordained Catholic priests on "a case by case basis." Only celibate bishops will be allowed to be consecrated as Catholic bishops.

According to the "Complementary Norms" accompanying the apostolic constitution, Catholic priests who had become Anglicans will not be allowed to join the "personal ordinariates" -- the new Church jurisdictions for Anglicans wishing to enter the Catholic Church -- as priests.

It is generally known that many of those priests making the move from Anglicanism to Catholicism are doing so because they disagree with the ordination of women and the recognition of homosexual priests in the Anglican Church.

The Korean Anglican Church is relatively liberal on such matters, particularly the ordination of women, Father Lee says. It has ordained 14 women priests since 2001.

"Lots of elderly people are skeptical about the leadership of women priests, but as time goes by, the situation becomes better," he said. "But on homosexual priests, we do not recognize them yet."

The Anglican Church of Korea says it has 195 priests and three bishops tending to 50,000 laypeople in three dioceses.
 
   
   
  Aman ka Karwan, YMCA's tribute to the martyrs of 26/11, flagged off
  From Our Correspondent

NEW DELHI, NOV 19 -- Mr Mohammed Shafi Qureshi, Chairman of the National Minorities Commission, today flagged off the "Aman ka Karwan" organized by the New Delhi YMCA this morning.

Eight motorcyclists led by Mr Rajeev Tyagi are part of the New Delhi-Mumbai 'Karwan', which is to commemorate the sacrifices made by the people during the November 26 attack on Mumbai.

The Karwan will reach Mumbai in time to take part in the programmes to observe the first anniversary of the Mumbai attack in which boat-borne terrorists from Pakistan attacked the Chhatrapati Shivaji terminus, Hotel Taj and a Jewish centre.

Dubbed a "journey for peace and harmony", the 'Karwan' will spread the message of peace as it winds its way to the business capital of India through the states of Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra.

The motorcycle riders represent diverse walks of life and are themselves examples of unity for the cause of peace. The Mumbai YMCA will be the host of the Karwan when it reaches the city.

Backing up the riders are a team of five young budding media professionals from the New Delhi YMCA Institute of Media Studies and Information Technology. These youngsters will stage street theatres in different cities enroute.

Functions will be held at Jaipur, Ajmer, Udaipur, Ahmedabad and Nadiadad to receive the Karwan and flag it off from there.

The flag-off ceremony began with a prayer by Archbhishop Vincent M. Concessao. A brochure on the Karwan was released by Mr Quereshi. Among those who spoke on the occasion included Mr Vijay Kumar Sewak, President, New Delhi YMCA, Mr Arnold James, Chairman, Programmes Committee, YMCA, and Mr Pushpender Singh, Member, Delhi Minorities Commission. Mr Servjeet Singh, Organising Secretary, New Delhi YMCA, conducted the programme.
 
   
   
  New air pollution norms both challenge and opportunity, says CSE
  NEW DELHI, Nov 18 -- Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has welcomed the newly notified Revised National Ambient Air Quality Standards, which were announced here today by Jairam Ramesh, the minister of state (independent charge) for environment and forests.

"CSE has been demanding these norms, proposals for which have been languishing with the ministry for over three years. It has been a long and protracted battle, and we have fought very hard for them," said Anumita Roychoudhury, associate director, CSE and head of its Right to Clean Air Campaign.

She added: "With pollution levels going up in almost every Indian city, this was urgently needed to raise the bar of protection for public health."

What is most important, point out CSE's researchers, is that India will now have -- for the first time -- a uniform health-based standard. Says Roychoudhury: "We will now discontinue the old practice of setting air quality standards for different land use classes like residential and industrial and keeping the standards lenient for the industrial areas. The government has finally attached priority to health over protecting industrial interests."

The key changes

The standards have brought two new deadly pollutants -- PM 2.5 and ozone -- within the ambit of regulation. Both of these have begun to raise their ugly heads in our cities. Delhi, particularly, has already begun to experience ozone pollution. However, while the proposed air quality norms had suggested a standard of 90 microgramme per cubic metre for ozone, the notified standard (eight hourly) is 100 microgramme per cubic metre. For PM 2.5, the standard has been fixed at what had been proposed -- 40 microgramme per cubic metre.

The standard for nitrogen oxide (NOx) has been made more stringent: from the existing 60 microgramme per cubic metre, it has been tightened down to 40 microgramme per cubic metre.

Standards for short duration -- just one to a few hours -- have been set to reduce peak exposure to some deadly gases like ozone and carbon monoxide. Normally, nearly all pollutants have time average standards for a year and a day or for 24 hours. Additionally shorter duration standards of an hour or few hours will help avert immediate impacts of peak levels on people with respiratory and cardiac problems during smoggy days.

In some cases, tighter standards for 'sensitive areas' have been notified. Several major agricultural crops are very sensitive to air pollutants. Therefore, a tighter air quality standard is now in place for forests and natural vegetation.

CSE has reassessed the air quality data in Indian cities in relation to the proposed standards to understand the change in air quality status of the cities. The macro view that emerges from this analysis is that in 80 per cent of cities monitored under the National Air Quality Monitoring Plan, at least one criteria pollutant exceeds the annual average ambient air quality standards. This has serious public health implications, say CSE researchers, and the new standards may go some way in addressing that concern.

The next step

Overall, say CSE researchers, the standards are tighter now, and offer a huge challenge as well as opportunity for India's state and city governments in terms of controlling the increasing numbers and dieselisation of their car fleets. "We need measures that will restrain the use of cars and encourage the use of public transport," says CSE director Sunita Narain.

Delhi, for instance, adds over 1,000 new personal vehicles each day on its roads. And a considerable number of these vehicles run on diesel. According to the Society for Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), market share of diesel cars is expected to be 50 per cent of total car sales by 2010.

Diesel vehicles are known to emit higher smoke, particles and NOx than their petrol counterparts. According to WHO and other international regulatory and scientific agencies, diesel particulates are carcinogens. Even the so-called 'clean' diesel running on fuel with 350 ppm of sulphur, allows higher limits for NOx and particulate emissions compared to petrol cars.

CSE has also urged that the ministry of environment and forests should now put in place a system to fulfill the objectives of the 11th Five Year Plan, already underway, that mandates the Central government to set a monitorable target of air quality -- achieve the standards of air quality in all major cities by 2011-12.
 
   
   
  Haer Bouch residents long for basic amenities
 
From Afsana Bhat

HAER BOUCH, NOV 18: A muddy path leads to Haer Bouch, a far-flung village in South Kashmir's Tral. It is one of 52 villages that have recently been included in the 'backward list of villages'.

The village falls on the way to Shikaar Gah (hunting spot), a place known for its beauty.

"It is good that the village has been included in the backward list. What remains to be seen is how the status will help improve the condition of the village," the villagers state, hoping that the development of their village would be among the government's top priorities.

Local youth Imtiyaz Ahmad adds to this. "We have always been ignored and lack proper roads, adequate power supply and clean drinking water," he tells The Herald of India.

The village has two schools; a government-run primary school (eight students and three teachers) and a private school with 95 students.

Farming is the primary occupation here. Paddy is the main crop with apple farming also taking place. "Hailstorms destroyed our paddy and apples this year. We didn't have a good crop," rues Fatima Begum, a village woman.

Young girls are seen carrying cow dung to the nearby fields. "The harvesting season is coming to an end. This cow dung serves as manure and enriches the soil," they tell us. The girls are hurrying to finish their work, as they had a wedding to attend later in the day. "This is the marriage season," they say joyfully.

At a distance from the field, some young men discuss the current political scenario in the valley. "Our village lacks a bus service. We have to walk for miles before we can actually board a bus. In rough weather, the mud road gets worse and it is very difficult to walk through."
 
   
   
  Christians, Muslims rally for reservation benefits
  NEW DELHI, NOV 18 -- Some 2,000 Christians and Muslims marched through the streets of New Delhi on Nov. 18 to pressure the Indian government to grant quota benefits to socially poor Christians and Muslims.

Several leaders who addressed the gathering spoke of realigning political support Christians and Muslims have given to ruling Congress party and its alliances over the years.

The Indian Constitution promulgated in 1950 has granted special benefits to Hindu religion. However, a presidential order in 1955 extended the favor to the Dalits of Sikh religion. The government through an amendment granted the same favor to the Dalits of Buddhist origin.

The government, however, refused to extend the same benefits to Christian and Muslim Dalits on the ground that their religions do not recognize casteism.

The rally found such an argument unreasonable since Sikhism and Buddhism reject caste distinctions.

The Congress party ruled India for more than 50 years since its independence in 1947 and successive governments have promised to undo the clause, a promise yet be materialized.

"It is time Christians and Muslims reconsidered their blind support to the Congress party and its allies," said Father M. Mary John, chairperson of the National Council of Dalit Christians (NCDS) that organized the march.

While addressing the gathering after the march, Father John said the two communities should reconsider their support to the congress party and begin supporting other pro-Dalit political parties.

The Sanskrit term Dalit meaning oppressed is used to denote people outside the top four castes of India.

While abolishing caste practices, the Indian Constitution allowed special concessions such as quota in government jobs and educational institutions to help Dalit people's socio-economic advancement.

Christian leaders say mere change of religions does not guarantee improvement in people's social and economic situation. Their decades-long struggles resulted in the federal government appointing a commission to study the issue.

The government appointed the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities for a nationwide study. The study concluded denying Dalit Christians and Muslims the reservation benefits amounts to "discrimination based on religion."

But the government has shelved this report forcing millions of poor Christians and Muslims suffer discrimination unjustly, an NCDS press release said.

The leaders also demanded tabling the report of the national commission's study in Parliament and responding appropriately to the Supreme Court on a petition demanding the rights of Christians and Muslims.

Source: UCAN
 
   
   
  Hindu terror link 'wider than we thought': former top cop
  By Vishal Arora

PUNE, NOV 18 -- A former police official in India says there are reasons to suspect the role of right wing Hindu outfits behind many terrorist attacks that have been blamed on Islamist outfits.

India's Intelligence Bureau (IB) has been protecting right wing Hindu groups, vis-à-vis their role in terrorist attacks, for several years, alleged S.M. Mushrif, former inspector general of police.

"This is why even before the reverberations of a blast die down, investigation agencies blame it on some Muslim outfits," said Mushrif while speaking to Lapido in Pune city in the western state of Maharashtra.

Before retiring in 2005, Mushrif served for decades in Maharashtra, which is now being seen as hub of right wing organisations' terror activities.

The Times of India daily reported on October 21 that Maharashtra's investigation agencies had arrested members of right wing outfits in at least five cases related to bomb explosions during the last one and a half years.

These outfits include the Abhinav Bharat (Pride of India) and the Sanatan Sanstha (Eternal Organisation), both based in Maharashtra.

'The IB does not allow any bomb blast investigation to run its logical course as it interferes and forces local investigation agencies to accept readymade evidence furnished by it', said Mushrif.

Even when the local police begin to investigate a case correctly, he added, the IB abruptly intervenes and imposes its own theory under the pretext of 'assistance'.

'There are sudden shifts in the versions of investigation agencies, as can be seen in newspaper reports, in numerous cases' he adds.

The IB is India's internal intelligence agency that garners intelligence from within the country besides executing counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism tasks.

The IB comprises employees mostly from the Indian Police Service and the military.

Mushrif went on to say that the IB was one of India's most 'Brahminist' organisations, 'even more Brahminist than the Hindu nationalist conglomerate Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)'.

'By Brahminist, I mean a very small section among the Brahmins and also some highly indoctrinated non-Brahmins', he added.

According to the traditional caste hierarchy, mainly in the Hindu society, Brahmins are considered to be the the highest -- priestly -- caste.

As one of its strategies to create a Hindu nation, 'read Brahminist nation', the RSS infiltrated the IB with its supporters.

Mushrif said Professor S. A. R. Geelani of Delhi University, an accused in the 2001 parliament attack case who was later acquitted by the Supreme Court, had experienced how Brahminist the IB was.

The Tehelka weekly (November 22, 2008 issue) quoted Geelani as saying: 'I have seen the intelligence agency very closely. Sitting with them, I never felt I was in a government office of a democratic country. Instead, it felt like the RSS headquarters.'

'Though theoretically, the government has the prerogative of appointing the IB chief, in practice, the government has hardly any choice in the selection', said Mushrif.

It has become a convention, he added, that the outgoing IB director nominates his successor and the government accepts it without questioning.

Given that the IB director briefs the prime minister and the home minister on a daily basis, its word is accepted as final by most government agencies, including the police, he pointed out.

'This proximity to the top leaders in the government is often exploited by IB chiefs, who insulate themselves against the rest of the government and administrative leaders under the pretext of their "right to secrecy".

Mushrif identified several terror attacks in which the IB may have interfered to falsely implicate Muslims.

These included the 11 July 2006 Mumbai suburban train bombings killing over 200 and injuring 700, and the 26 July 2008 serial blasts in Ahmedabad and Surat in the western state of Gujarat that killed over 50 and injured around 200.

He also called for reinvestigation of the 13 September 2008 Delhi blasts that killed at least 30 and injured over 100; the 23 November 2007 blasts in courts in the cities of Lucknow, Varanasi and Faizabad in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh killing 13 people; and the 13 May 2008 blasts in Jaipur in the northern state of Rajasthan that killed over 60 and injured around 150.

Hindu nationalist ideology, which sees India as a land of Hindus, is the brain child of Brahminists, said Mushrif.

The Hindu nationalist movement was started in Maharashtra in the late 19th century to counter the movement of social justice for the Dalits (people who are considered casteless and formerly known as 'untouchables') and other lower castes in the state which challenged the Brahmin hegemony, he explained.

The Brahminists created an enemy out of Indian Muslims by misrepresenting the 700-year rule of Muslim kings in India as an Islamic 'invasion', to divert the attention of the Dalits, he added.

This is why, he said, there were no anti-Muslim riots until 1893.

Lapido spoke to former director general of police of Maharashtra, OP Bali, about Mushrif's theory.

'There is no conclusive evidence yet on the involvement of right wing groups in bomb blasts other than the known cases. However, there are reasons for suspicion', he said.

Dr. Suresh Khairnar, a renowned civil activist from Nagpur, Maharashtra, told Lapido that he took Mushrif's theory very seriously.

Khairnar has conducted fact-finding missions on nearly 100 incidents of blasts and communal violence.

Mushrif's theory goes even further.

He has come out with an explosive book, 'Who Killed Karkare? The Real Face of Terrorism', to present an alternative theory on the killing of former chief of Mumbai's Anti-terrorism Squad, Hemant Karkare.

Karkare was the first official to have arrested members of a right wing outfit for bomb explosions.

Mushrif says in his book that Karkare was killed by right-wing Hindu groups in an attack that was distinct from the ones launched by Pakistani terrorists on November 26, 2008.

Mumbai police, however, claim that Karkare was killed by the Pakistani terrorists.

'I know my book will invite severe criticism,' said Mushrif, a Muslim by faith.

'After all, Brahminists are very powerful and it is very easy to target Muslims. But in order to save the nation and its Constitution, somebody had to bell the cat. I am prepared to face any consequences.' (Courtesy: Lapido Media)
 
   
   
  Religious take critical look at Church 'contradictions'
  HUA HIN (THAILAND), MAY -- The Church often chooses to protect its own institutions at the expense of the rights of people working within its own walls, a Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC) symposium has been told.

The Church "has been among the great advocates of human rights in our times" but certain practices within its own institutions do not promote "freedom of conscience, gender equality and equal rights for all," Indian Montfort Brother Varghese Theckanath told the Nov. 16-21 symposium.

He was speaking on "Human Rights -- Challenges for Religious Life in Asia Today." About 60 men and women Religious attended the meeting, which has the theme, "The Impact of Today's Culture on the Church, especially as regards Consecrated Life in Asia Today."

"The Church leadership is rather selective when it comes to taking a political stand on issues," Brother Theckanath noted.

He cited as an example the firm anti-abortion stance taken by the Church in the Philippines compared with its failure to raise a voice for the right to food for the 3.3 million hungry households in that country.

Similarly in India, the Church has fought long battles for "freedom of religion" but has not protested against violence unleashed by the state on tribal people, mostly Christians, fighting for their survival and their land.

Brother Theckanath said the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's (CDF) current investigation into the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) of the United States raised questions on freedom of conscience and gender equality in the Church.

The LCWR has locked horns with the Vatican several times since 1979 when a leading member protested against Pope John Paul II's rejection of the ordination of women. LCWR's understanding of certain sensitive Church issues, such as women's ordination and homosexuality, is the subject of the current CDF probe.

"Do nuns have rights? What are they?" Brother Theckanath asked.

Some priests, speaking on the sidelines of the symposium, agreed with Brother Thekanath.

Indonesian Father Antonius Subianto Bunyamin said Church workers in his country are paid low salaries and receive few benefits such as health insurance.

Father Emil Moraes, superior of the Oblates in Bangladesh, agreed. He said the Church as an institution has also not spoken out against severe human rights violations in the country, such as land-grabbing from the tribal people, who are mostly Christians.

On the other hand, individual Catholics -- priests and laypeople -- have made large sacrifices in defending the rights of oppressed people.

Father Moraes believes the answer to the apparent contradictions in the Church lies in conscientization, or raising awareness of the issues and challenging preconceived ideas, in seminaries and among clergy.

FABC secretary general Oblate Archbishop Orlando Quevedo opened the symposium. Other speakers included Sri Lankan Redemptorist Father Vimal Tirimanna, who spoke on moral relativism, and Maryknoll Father Robert Astorino, founder and former executive director of the Union of Catholic Asian News, who spoke on social communication.
 
   
   
  Sri Lanka: All faiths go in to bat for national cricket team
 
COLOMBO, NOV 18 (UCAN) -- The Sri Lankan Cricket Board has for the first time allowed leaders of various faiths to conduct prayer and blessing ceremonies for the national team, currently on tour in India.

In the past, the ceremonies had been exclusively Buddhist.

"It's the dawn of an era," remarked Suraj Dandeniya, Sri Lankan tournament director for the International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup 2011, which will be held in Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) said the prayer services, held in the exclusive SLC headquarters in Colombo on Nov. 9 and 11, were to strengthen the players' spirits and to bless the new secretariat for the World cup 2011.

Sri Lankan cricketers were attacked by gunmen in Pakistan in March as they were on their way to play in the Pakistani city of Lahore. Six Pakistan security personnel and two civilians died while eight Sri Lankan players were injured.

The national cricket team, like the country, is a mixture of Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims.

Christians were represented by Father Nirmal Malaka Silva of Colombo Catholic school St Joseph's College at the blessing ceremonies. "The objectives are clear. Defeat or success all depend on God," Father Silva said.

He praised the new interreligious format. "It is a good approach," he told UCA News.

Some argue cricket itself is a religion in Sri Lanka and the rest of the subcontinent.

The Sri Lankan team transformed itself from underdog to major contender during the 1990s, sealing its position in 1996 when it defeated Australia in the ICC World Cup.

Sri Lanka dominated in the second day of the first test match in Ahmedabad on Nov. 17, dismissing India for 426 before reaching 275-3 at stumps. Sri Lanka opening batsman Tillakaratne Dilshan scored 112 runs in partnerships with fellow opener Tharanga Paranavitana and captain Kumar Sangakkara.
 
   
   
  European envoys' visit cheers Orissa church
 
BHUBANESWAR, NOV 18 (UCAN) -- Church leaders say victims of anti-Christian violence in Orissa have been encouraged by a five-member European delegation's visit.

The diplomats promised to step up pressure on the Indian government to provide security and justice for the victims. They also promised to brief their own governments about their findings.

"The concern and solidarity shown by the international community will encourage and strengthen the victims in their quest for justice and dignity," Father Ajay Singh, who directs the social service society of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese, told UCA News Nov. 17.

Archbishop Raphael Cheenath said he hoped the visit would lead to an improvement of conditions in the eastern state. "It will bring international pressure to bear on the Orissa government to provide security and justice to the victims."

Envoys from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden met 12 riot victims the previous day at Archbishop Cheenath's residence.

Father Singh said his society arranged to bring the victims to Bhubaneswar, the state capital, as the envoys could not get permission to visit Kandhamal district, where most of the violence was focused.

Most of the eight victims told how their relatives were attacked and killed in front of them for refusing the attackers' demand to become Hindus.

One victim, Kommita Nayak, the widow of a soldier who died during the riots said her family had been told to become Hindus or face death. "Out of fear we agreed," she said.

Nayak said she had suspected the attackers had poisoned her husband. "The fanatics gave my husband some liquid to drink saying it would 'purify' our family. He fell ill and died three days later," she said, adding that she had been too scared until now to reveal this.

The anti-Christian violence in Orissa began on Aug. 24, 2008, a day after Maoists killed a Hindu religious leader and his four associates in Kandhamal. Christians were blamed for the incident, sparking seven weeks of anti-Christian riots that killed some 90 people and displaced 50,000 others.

Archbishop Cheenath told the delegation it would take "a long time" for peace to return to Kandhamal "unless the government takes special efforts."

The Europeans later met the state's police chief to take stock of the law and order situation in Kandhamal and other districts where Maoists are active.
 
   
   
  Movement helps 'unbaptized' celebrate their faith
 
By Nicholas Lakra

VARANASI, NOV 18 (UCAN) -- Nirmala Devi was born into a Hindu family but for the past seven years she has been a "Khrist Bakta" (Christ devotee).

Now, "the Word of God and love for the Lord inspire my life," the 50-year-old told UCA News.

Devi was among 15,000 people from various religions and castes who attended the annual convention of the "Khrist Bhakta" Movement at Varanasi, a Hindu temple town in the northern Uttar Pradesh state.

Like Devi, most participants are not baptized, and the Nov. 13-15 convention helped them celebrate their faith in Christ.

The Varanasi-based Indian Missionary Society, a Catholic Religious congregation, started the movement 13 years ago. The movement aims to help people, who may face ostracism from society and family if they were to be baptized, live out their Christian beliefs as fully as possible.

The movement has now spread to most of the northern Indian states.

According to Father Anil Dev, the movement's founder, the movement does not register its members, but thy are growing not only in numbers but also in Christian maturity.

He notes that many of them could face trouble from family members and their castes, including acts of violence, if they were to become Christians formally.

The priest said the movement has helped people move from "shallow superstitious" rituals to a "deeper faith" based on the Word of God.

Devi says she looks to Christ during moments of trial. "He takes care of me and my family," she said.

Another devotee, 23-year-old Binu Devi, concurs. "I have full faith in Jesus. He is with me through every difficulty."

The recent convention included film screenings on the life and teachings of Christ, Bible preaching and the sharing of faith experiences.

"For the devotees, it was a time to pray and share meals together although they belong to various castes," said Father Dev. They also attended Mass without receiving Holy Communion. "We try to bring every part of the Eucharist alive for the unbaptized devotees" through prayers and singing, he explained.

Leaders representing Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism and Kabir Panth, a religious community comprising people from Hindu and Muslim backgrounds, also attended an interreligious prayer meeting during the convention. The prayer meeting focused on global warming and ecological imbalances.

About 5 per cent of the convention participants were baptized Christians from Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa states.

One of them, Devnis Kerketta, 60, from Orissa, said the unbaptized devotees impressed him with their faith. "I need to be a 'Christ devotee' like them," he said.
 
   
   
  Church centre to hold seminar on peace in the Northeast
  GUWAHATI, NOV 17 -- A Church center in northeastern India plans to bring together anthropologists, administrators, writers, activists and government officials to seek ways to end social unrest and bring peace in the region.

The center run-by Divine Word priest plans a three-day national seminar on "social unrest and peace initiatives in Northeast India" from Nov. 20. The seminar is organized by Sanskriti, the North Eastern Institute of Culture and Religion, the anthropological research wing of the congregation in Guwahati.

The seminar would offer a platform to participants to share their experiences and ideas, a note from the center said adding that organizers hope the exercise would generate "a fruitful debate on the ground realities and the process of nurturing peace."

It would also help the participants understand people's aspirations in a broader frame work, and learn vital lessons in accepting cultural differences, it said.

Since Indian independence in 1947 the ethnically divergent region comprising seven states have witnessed several upheavals. Insurgency, secessionism, tribal war for supremacy and self rule, and army attempts to crush them have killed more than 100,000 people in the past six decades, reports show.

The Church seminar would focus on issues of youth, culture, identity, ethnicity, social exploitation, political participation, mass media and activism. It would also discuss impact of globalization and industrialization on the people.

Role of leaders in brokering peace and bringing peace through adherence to religious tenets will also be topic of the seminar, the note said.

It also said "a fresh look" at the social unrest and peace initiatives has become "imperative" to understand northeastern India. The seminar, it added, is an attempt to initiate dialogue on various issues affecting the region.

Source: UCAN Report by Lissy Maruthanakuzhy
 
   
   
  Catholic journalists say no to guild but to uphold Christian values
  MANGALORE, NOV 17 -- Mangalore diocese gathered Catholic media workers on the occasion of World Media Day but most journalists disapproved a proposal to form a Catholic journalists' guild.

Some 60 Catholic journalists shared their experiences and reiterated their Christian commitment at the Nov. 15 meeting.

"We are Christians first and we will stand for Christian values in our journalistic profession" said Gabriel Vaz, editor of the Economic Times and chief gust at the function. The senior journalist however cautioned against labeling Christians in media as Christian journalists.

"A journalist must have a vision, mission and a goal in his life," said Vaz, who has worked for English and Kannada dailies for 37 years. He said threats would not stop true journalists from exposing truth to society.

Canara Communication Centre, communication center of the Karnataka regional bishops' council, and Raknno, a Mangalore diocesan weekly in Konkani, hosted the meeting for journalists in print, Internet and television media.

Bishop Aloysius Paul D'Souza of Mangalore, who chaired the function, proposed setting up a diocesan network of Christian journalists called "Catholic Journalists Guild." He said such a forum is needed in the context of growing threats against the minorities such as Christians.

Karnataka, particularly Mangalore, witnessed several incidents of violence against Christians and churches allegedly orchestrated by Hindu radicals. Christian leaders say Hindu radical groups are targeting Christians with the state government's tacit help.

Bishop D'Souza said he "strongly" felt the need for Christian journalists having "a united stand, vision and mission." His diocese successfully formed a Catholic Lawyers Guild and "could bring about some positive impact" on people engaged in legal profession.

However, the journalists gathering could not decide on the need for such a guild as many felt their Christian identity was inborn and it was not proper to identify journalists by their religion in a secular country like India.

Vaz was the first to oppose the move, saying mixing religion with journalism is not good. "Such a move will instead, reduce our credibility as professionals," he argued.

William Pais, a writer and promoter of an art gallery in the city, said Christian journalists will never compromise their Christian principles and will "stand united" whenever it is needed. But there was no need for labeling them.

The gathering also honored three Catholic journalists with awards for their services in media.

The awardees are Ronald Fernandes of the Deccan Herald, Florine Roche and Concepta Alva of All India Radio. They were honored with a shawl, a memento, fruits and flowers.

Source: UCAN Report by T.S. Thomas
 
   
   
  European envoys visit Orissa but denied permission to go to Kandhamal
  BHUBANESWAR, NOV 17 -- Ambassadors of five European nations in India met with the head of Catholic Church in Orissa in the wake of last year's ant-Christian violence but returned without visiting Kandhamal, where the violence was focused.

The ambassadors of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden met Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar.

As the delegation did not get permission to travel to the tribal-dominated Kandhamal district, 12 victims were invited to Bhubaneswar, the state capital.

The victims and the ambassadors met Nov. 16 in the archbishop's residence. Archbishop Cheenath told the delegation the situation in Kandhamal is far from normal.

"It will take a long time to bring normalcy in Kandhamal unless and until the government takes special effort," the prelate said, dismissing government claims that situation is normal in the tribal-dominated district.

The seven week-long anti-Christian riots that began on Aug. 24, 2008 killed some 90 people and displaced 50,000, mostly Christians. Church people say Hindu fanatics orchestrated the violence with tacit government support.

"The situation in Kandhamal has improved. But still there is lots of intimidation and threat" to Christians, especially to people who are listed to testify in the court against the culprits, the archbishop said.

He said hundreds of victims continue to live as refugees in their own land without houses and proper clothing.

The ambassadors heard from some victims, who narrated how their relatives were attacked and killed in front of them for not yielding to warnings of changing religion to Hinduism.

The delegates evinced interest to visit Kandhamal to assess the situation at ground zero. But they did not get permission from the federal government to visit the riot-torn district.

The delegates also met police officials to take stock of the law and order situation in Kandhamal and other districts where Maoists are active.

Father Ajay Singh, director of the Archdiocesan Social Service Society, said the violence against the innocent Christians is crime against humanity.

He expressed hope the ambassadors' visit and expressions of solidarity would help raise the issue at international forums for justice.

Source: UCAN Report by Dibakar Parichha
 
   
   
  International film festival mesmerises the Valley
 
From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, NOV 17 -- More than a dozen films were screened at Tagore Hall, here, during the three-day international film festival that was organized by the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages in collaboration with the Experimental Moving Images and Theatre Association (XMITA) from November 13 to15.

'We received 60 films and shortlisted 13 for the festival. We had to keep in mind the sensibilities of the state while choosing the films. Besides, this is a sensitive place," said XMITA Film Division Artistic Director Ali Emran Qureshi.

Qureshi said the association had been initiating such annual programmes for the past two years. "Our aim is to bring intelligent cinema, documentaries and fiction to the Valley."

He said only one Kashmiri language film was shown at the festival. 'The film is based on 'shruks' (sayings of Sheikh-ul-Alam) with no voice over. It was screened on the concluding day," he said.

Qureshi added that they received one film from the US. Last year, they had one from South Africa. "We lack adequate funding and proper public awareness. We are planning to organise one such festival in June next year and are trying to conduct this same festival in Jammu in the last week of January."

'Khayal Darpan' a film by Yousuf Saeed on Indian classical music's evolution in Pakistan was screened on the inaugural day. It showcased renowned classical music artistes and included interviews of Fateh Ali Khan from Islamabad, Lahore attorney Raza Kasim, music critic from Lahore Sarwat Ali, and singers Sharafat Ali, Sarah Zaman, Naseer-ud-din Sami and Mohammad Hafiz Khan.

Mohammad Asif, a local resident, while lauding the initiative, said more local documentaries needed to be screened in a bid to encourage youngsters to share their innovative ideas.
 
   
   
  Nepal: Salesians fulfill murdered priest's dream
  SIRSIYA, NOV 17 (UCAN) -- Less than a year and a half after the shocking murder of an Indian priest working in Nepal, his parish has celebrated the continuation of his life's work ministering to poor tribal and lower-caste Hindu people.

Salesian Father Johnson Prakash Moyalan was murdered in July 2008 at his residence in the Mary Help of Christians parish in Sirsiya, eastern Nepal.

Since then, his fellow Salesian priests working in the region have been continuing to develop 15 poor Santhal tribal villages in the area.

"Father Moyalan wanted to see the poor villagers have at least basic amenities and live a dignified life, and that their voices be heard by society and the government," Salesian Father Augusty Pulickal, the parish priest of St John Bosco Parish in nearby Dharan, told UCA News.

Father Moyalan began a development project for villages in Sirsiya about 10 years ago.

"This dream of Father Moyalan is fast coming true," Father Pulickal said.

Catholics gathered in Sirsiya on Nov. 7 to celebrate an early Christ the King feast, which falls on Nov. 22 this year.

More than 1,200 people, 300 from Sirsiya and more than 900 from three parishes in Dharan, Deoniya and Damank, took part in a procession through the village to mark the occasion.

Salesian Father Jacob Punneliparampil, the parish priest at Sirsiya, says the social work in the district is mostly to "empower people, the women, children and the elderly."

"We help the people in their all-round formation, beginning from childhood to family life," he said.

The parish runs centers for infants and children aged between three and five, as well as the Don Bosco School for children older than five.

The Salesians started the Don Bosco Nepali-language school in 2000 with 80 children of various faiths studying in the first grade. A new school building was constructed and inaugurated in 2006.

Celebrating the Mass on Nov. 7, Bishop Anthony Sharma, apostolic vicar of Nepal, said: "There was darkness in Sirsiya 24 years ago. The lives of people here were challenging. This place where we are gathering now did not exist, but the sun has risen here now."

He continued: "Somebody's selfless devotion and dedication has given us this place we now have. Father John's dream has come true."
 
   
   
  Vatican: Pope calls for action on world hunger
 
By Gerard O'Connell, Special Correspondent in Vatican
ROME, NOV 17 (UCAN) -- Pope Benedict XVI has urged world leaders to combat hunger affecting 1 billion people -- more than half in the Asia-Pacific region -- by rethinking the way they conduct international relations.

"Hunger is the most cruel and concrete sign of poverty. Opulence and waste are no longer acceptable when the tragedy of hunger is assuming ever greater proportions," he told the World Summit on Food Security in Rome.

The world needs "a public conscience that considers food and access to water as universal rights of all human beings," he said on Nov. 16.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) annual report says that of the 1.02 billion people in the world who are hungry or malnourished, 642 million live in Asia and the Pacific, including 251.5 million in India, 127.4 million in China, 40.2 million in Bangladesh and 36.5 million in Pakistan.

The FAO, which is running the Nov. 16-18 summit, says 25 per cent of Cambodia's population, 29 per cent of Mongolia's and 32 per cent of North Korea's 23.6 million people are undernourished.

The Pope, addressing delegates from 192 states at the summit including 60 world leaders, said "the dramatic growth in world hunger" has nothing to do with population. "Sufficient food is produced on a global scale to satisfy both current demands and those in the foreseeable future," he said.

The root causes of the problem include a lack of "a network of economic institutions capable of guaranteeing regular access to sufficient food and water."

The global economic and financial crisis had made the problems worse, driving up food prices and slashing economic resources available to the poor, he added.

The Pope stressed that it was necessary not only to promote sustainable economic growth and political stability but also to seek out ways of building "a relationship of parity between countries at different stages of development."

He urged the leaders to open international markets to products from poor countries.

The Catholic Church "is committed to support, by word and deed" every reasonable action by the international community to eliminate hunger. "This is the most immediate and concrete sign of solidarity inspired by charity, and it brooks neither delay nor compromise," the Pope stressed.
 
   
   
  Bangladesh: Program helps youths face life's challenges
 
MYMENSINGH, NOV 16 (UCAN) -- The Episcopal Commission for Youth (ECY) has hosted the country's largest annual gathering of young Catholics, designed to strengthen their faith and give them support as they face the pressures of life.

"The Church has confidence in the power of youths and wants to help them to stay close to each other to overcome challenges," ECY chairman Holy Cross Bishop Moses M. Costa of Dinajpur told the gathering.

"Consider this national gathering as a pilgrimage of renewal, a time to be hopeful and find the motivation to serve society, the country and the Church."

The 24th National Youth Day 2009 was held at St. Elizabeth Parish, Biroidakuni, in the northeastern Mymensingh diocese, from Nov. 5 to 9. It took Pope Benedict XI's theme for World Youth Day this year: "We have set our hope on the living God." (1 Tim 4:10).

About 300 Catholic youths attended from the country's six dioceses. They included members of the majority Bengali community as well as tribal Santal, Oraon, Garo, Paharia, and Tripura youths.

The participants said the discussions with bishops, priests and nuns helped them gain the confidence to overcome their challenges, including such issues as education, employment, financial instability and problems in finding a suitable marriage partner.

For some, such as Dipali Tudu, 22, it was a chance to mix with other Christian young people, which she is unable to do in her home town.

"I live in a place where my family is the only Christian family and I'm the only Christian student in my educational institution," said Tudu, a Santal Catholic, who is studying for a diploma in textile engineering.

"In the past it was difficult for me to find Christian friends," she said. "When I decided to apply for higher education, my relatives strongly opposed it," warning her that she would face a non-Christian environment.

Another participant, Jony Thomas Pereira, 21, said that a major challenge facing young Christians is the lack of higher education and employment opportunities in non-Christian institutions.

"This year I was forced to scrap my plans to be admitted into a college in Dhaka for an honors course as a politician asked for a bribe from me," said Pereira.

The recent national youth day program included worship as well as group discussions on how to overcome life's challenges. There were also traditional songs, dance, drama and poetry recitations.

ECY office secretary, Missionary Sister of the Immaculate Christina Murmu, told UCA News that her organization supports youths by organizing about 22 programs each year for them.
 
   
   
  News-Analysis by Meetu Tewari: One opportunist calls another opportunist
 

LUCKNOW, NOV 16 -- THE teaming up in early 2009 of Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Kalyan Singh who formerly endorsed Hindutva was not much of a surprise.

Kalyan Singh stated in public that he took moral responsibility for the demolition of Babri Masjid, due to which he had resigned as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh when the incident took place.

Mulayam Singh said Kalyan Singh was not completely absolved of his guilt regarding the demolition. Having thus expressed their views, they stepped into an alliance, with Kalyan Singh vociferously decrying the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its rightist policies.

What seemed to be an association steeped in bonhomie received a rude jolt when Mulayam Singh declared that Kalyan Singh could not be a member of his party.

This came after a post-election analysis, which blamed Kalyan's entry for the loss of votes, especially of Muslims, which led to Samajwadi Party's defeat in the recently concluded by-elections in Firozabad, Etawah and Bharthana. These regions were traditionally considered a stronghold of the SP and the loss is a huge setback for the party.

In the meantime, Rajbir Singh, Kalyan Singh's son, resigned from his post as national general secretary of the SP and from the primary membership of the party on November 15.

It was hardly 10 months ago that Kalyan Singh was seen spewing venom against the BJP and within this short period, he befriended the SP, turned against it and returned to the Hindutva fold. Kalyan Singh is at pains now emphasizing the importance of the Hindutva ideology and the need for a party like the BJP. His words and reconciliatory tone, thus, signals a possible return to the BJP's fold in the near future.

It is not surprising that many are terming his allegiance with the SP as opportunistic; a mutually beneficial alliance. It is amazing that the people's choice in leaders is now becoming limited to persons who are so fickle-minded, especially those politicians whose choices in ideology are so vastly different that there seems to be no common ground at all.

Mulayam Singh, too, is not guiltless. Rather than stick to the beliefs he proclaims to hold, he chose to cohort with a far-right politician. And when his ends were not served, he did not think twice before ending the association.

All political leaders who claim to represent the public sentiment have the moral responsibility to think beyond vote bank politics and to stand by all that they proclaim to be.

When alliances can be forged between people who represent two opposite spheres of thought, with both of them willing to accommodate each other for the sake of votes, it does not bode well.

When our politicians can swing between different political spectrums, what hinders them from doing so once in power? How is the general public meant to place their trust in them when there is ample evidence that their policies and decisions are influenced only through consideration for a larger vote share?

Such agreements are not unknown in Indian politics. Take the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) alliance in the past. Or the support the SP extends to the Congress. Such changing of ideologies is troublesome, especially as these alliances rarely stand the test of time and its leaders keep switching between ideas.

What Mulayam and Kalyan did is politically old. It does make the voters wonder about the kind of people they place their trust in and those they allow to be in power. However, it will be interesting to track this rift and see what happens if and when Kalyan Singh is inducted back into the BJP.
 
   
   
  New cathedral unites Christians, Hindus, Muslims
  BARUIPUR, NOV 16 (UCAN) -- A new cathedral has opened in the eastern city of Baruipur, thanks to contributions from Christians, Muslims and Hindus in the region.

"It was a sign of goodwill that helped promote harmony among various faiths," Bishop Salvadore Lobo of Baruipur told UCA News.

Sister Mary Prema, superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, opened the Immaculate Heart of Mary Cathedral, located 40 kilometers south of Kolkata, on Nov. 12.

Blessed Teresa of Kolkata has been declared a patron of the cathedral as well, and it was "appropriate" that the nun's successor should open it, said Bishop Lobo.

Archbishop Lucas Sirkar of Calcutta blessed the new church before a congregation of some 2,000 people and five bishops.

Mohammed Inul Khan, a Muslim who manages a stationery shop near the new cathedral, donated toward the building costs as a symbol of unity. "God is the same although he is called by different names, and God will bless me and my family," he told UCA News.

Ranjit Ghosh, a Hindu, said he had contributed to the building fund as a goodwill gesture to show how people of different religions can support each other.

He said many local Christians donate money during popular Hindu festivals and he was keen to reciprocate.

The cathedral cost 10 million rupees (US$218,000) to build, and features 24 paintings and 32 stained glass windows produced by local artists.

Bishop Lobo said the artworks help explain various aspects of the Catholic faith.

Paul D'Rozario, a Catholic lay leader, said he found the paintings "simple and appealing."

"They help visitors journey through the history of salvation" in their depictions of the parables and miracles of Jesus, he said.

Bishop Lobo, who took over the diocese in 1994, said the diocese has grown with the establishment of eight parishes in the past 15 years.

"Now is the opportune time for the diocese to have a cathedral," he said.
 
   
   
  Youths sweep street to instill civic pride in Kolkata
  KOLKATA, NOV 16 (UCAN) -- Students, arming themselves with brooms, swept a busy street in Kolkata on Nov. 15 to highlight the need for civic consciousness.

"We are responsible for the dirt and muck on the streets, so we need to take steps to keep the city clean," said Tanay Saigal of St. Joseph's College. Saigal was among some 160 young people from 20 educational institutions who cleaned a 200-meter stretch of Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road that day.

The Jesuit-initiated Leadership Training Service (LTS) organized the initiative to mark national Children's Day.

Students across India usually observe Children's Day on Nov. 14, the anniversary of the birth of Jawaharlal Nehru, the country's first prime minister, who loved children.

Jimmy Tangerine, a former LTS member who organized the event, said the group decided to hold the street clean-up a day late since most schools had their own programs on Nov. 14.

The LTS was introduced by the Jesuits of South Asia some 50 years ago to encourage leadership among students. The Kolkata-based service has thousands of members from various religions.

Saigal, 16, said he found the cleanliness drive useful. "At least it made us aware of the conditions of our city's roads. Often the dirt on the road does not bother us because we are so used to it," he told UCA News.

Radhika Kishore Puria of Loreto College said the clean-up helped her empathize better with those forced to live on the streets. She said prior to participating in the program, she had simply overlooked the dirt and filth.

Her friend, Upasana Rohia, said she was encouraged to see many bystanders volunteering to help the students. "I was fascinated by the people's positive response," she added.

Launching the event, Sushmita Chatterjee, who represents the area in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, said the students have set an example for their elders whose lack of civic pride had spoilt the environment.

Chatterjee, a former teacher at Kolkata's Don Bosco School, expressed regret at the lack of civic consciousness in the city and how people accept dirty streets as part of life. "We should be happy" if a few people "follow your example," she told the students after symbolically sweeping part of the road with Calcutta Jesuit provincial Father George Pattery.

Tangerine, who owns a local shortwave radio station, said he hopes the "experimental drive" would become a movement with more schools joining in. The LTS has "great potential" to mobilize students, he said. His group plans to get more institutions to conduct similar initiatives regularly, he added.
 
   
   
  Poverty, early wedding keep Gujjar girls away from schools, finds study
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, NOV 15 -- Poverty, child labour and early marriages force Gujjar children to drop out of educational institutions, says a study conducted by the Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation (TRCF), an organization working for Gujjars at the national level.

According to the study, few girls from the Ajjhari (shepherds) and Manjhi (buffalo keepers) sub-tribes of Gujjars make it to schools. "Compelling economic or domestic reasons and early marriages result in high dropout percentage," says Dr Javaid Rahi, national secretary, TRCF.

The study further said, "Extreme poverty, child labour and early marriage push the future of Gujjar children into darkness."

Gujjars, a nomadic tribe, mainly live on cattle rearing. During summer, Gujjars live in the higher reaches of the state and come down to the plains during winter.

Dr. Rahi said that the facilities provided to girl-children from this community are inadequate. "The state has only two Government Gujjar Girls' Hostels in Srinagar and Jammu."

He added that the community also feels the pinch of insufficient educational opportunities for Gujjar girl students. "Only eight girl students could make it to the university this year for postgraduate studies."

Dr. Rahi said that the survey shows “'out of 100 Gujjar children within the age-group of 7 to 15, about 75 are engaged in physical labour. They are being exploited due to lack of resources and poverty."

According to the survey, "the worst condition is of the children belonging to Ajjhari and Manjhi Gujjars, 83 per cent of whom have not even seen a school while 17 per cent are getting education in religious institutions."

Dr. Rahi said that a large number of these children are working as domestic help in the households of rich families. "At least 17 per cent of Gujjar children turn bonded labour like their parents."

Dr. Rahi added, "the system of early marriages prevalent among the tribe is also one of the reasons why girl children are unable to study and progress".

"Out of 2.5 million Gujjars in the state, 1.2 million are women. Gujjar women are more in number than men, as their birthrate is high and mortality rate is low," he said, adding, "Gujjars constitute 20 per cent of the state’s population."

The study says that over 5 lakh Gujjar tribal children live in utter deprivation in the state "due to neglect and physical exploitation because of limited resources. Besides, their parents forcibly put them to labour due to poverty."

Dr. Rahi said that the parents of children of the "most neglected Ajhari and Manjhi sub-tribes are unaware of the schemes offered by the government for their education and social uplift as they live in far-flung areas and are nomads."

He added that the Foundation would shortly come out with a survey on the conditions of Muslim Gujjars here.
 
   
   
  Rowan Williams: Anglican future looks 'chaotic and uncertain'
  By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
The Times, London

LONDON, NOV 14 -- The future of the Anglican Communion looks "more than usually chaotic and uncertain", the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has admitted.

In what amounted to a plea to the Church of England's Anglo-Catholics to resist the temptation to convert to Roman Catholicism over the issue of women bishops, he said: "God knows what the future holds for any of us..." He insisted, however, that it remained possible to be at once holy, Catholic and Anglican.

Dr Williams did not refer directly to the Pope's response to requests from some Church of England bishops and traditional Anglicans around the world for a means of admission to the Catholic Church. He said that it was still possible "to lead lives of Catholic holiness even in the Communion of the See of Canterbury".

The Catholic Church's Holy See published the Apostolic Constitution or Papal decree this week, setting out the norms for the new Anglican Ordinariate, which will allow Anglo-Catholics to become Roman Catholics while still retaining their liturgies and other aspects of their Anglican heritage.

The new ordinariate is likely to be named after Cardinal John Henry Newman, the Catholic convert from Anglicanism who is to be beatified next year when the Pope visits Britain.

Dozens of members of the traditionalist group Forward in Faith could opt to move to the ordinariate if the Church of England General Synod proceeds with the consecration of women bishops without making some kind of statutory provision.

Dr Williams was preaching on All Saints' Day at All Saints, Central London, at a service to mark the 150th anniversary of the church's consecration. All Saints is a prominent centre of Catholic Anglican worship in Britain. In the sermon, published yesterday on his website, Dr Williams, whose own background is from the Church of England's catholic wing, paid tribute to the Catholics and Anglicans who went to see the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux during their recent tour of Britain.

He added: "God knows what the future holds for any of us, for any of our ecclesiastical institutions, but we can at least begin with what we can be sure of -- that God has graced us with the lives of saints, that God has been credible in this fellowship with these people."

He added: "This church with its very particular place in the history of the Church of England is one small but significant facet of that great mystery and that great gift. And at times when the future seems more than usually chaotic and uncertain, it doesn't hurt simply to give thanks."

Dr Williams will go to Rome next week, when he will have an audience with the Pope and deliver a public address at an ecumenical conference at the Gregorian University.

Last night, delivering the final Tony Blair Faith Foundation seminar on faith and development at the Royal Society of the Arts, he said that those coming from a faith perspective needed to develop "literacy in the discourse of human rights".

The Bishop of Southwark, Dr Tom Butler, has also spoken out on the Pope's offer to receive the Anglican Communion's disaffected traditionalists. Dr Butler said that the initiative had "put the cat among the pigeons".

Addressing his diocesan synod, he said that he had sought legal advice, and warned those thinking of going: "No priest or group of laity has the right to take church property with them when they change denominations, for a diocese holds such property in trust for the mission and ministry of the Church of England to all the people of its parishes and this duty of care would continue. I don't myself see how a parish could legally take the parish church and other assets without specific statutory authority."

The issue was brought to a head by the decision by the Church of England's General Synod last year to consecrate women bishops with no statutory provision for opponents.

This week, in a debate at Westminster Hall at the House of Commons, the Tory MP Robert Key, a member of the Synod and of Parliament's Ecclesiastical Committee, said: "The fact is that most Anglicans who go to church want to see women ordained as bishops." He added: "Most Christians believe that God is above gender. Jesus surrounded himself with both women and men as his disciples."

For the full version: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article6914223.ece
 
   
   
  Ecumenical body to pursue last Sunday of August as 'Indian Christian Martyrs' Day'
 
From A Correspondent

JHANSI, NOV 13 -- The Ecumenical Commission of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India, (CCBI), concluded its regional secretaries' meeting in Jhansi with a call to honour those who sacrificed their lives for faith.

The three-day meeting held in Jhansi proposed the last Sunday of August as the Indian Christian Martyrs' Day. A statement issued after the conference states that "we want to remember all Christians who sacrificed their lives since St. Thomas, the Apostle, was martyred". The last Sunday of August will be the most fitting since it was in that month that many Christians had to sacrifice their lives in Orissa.

The final statement of the meeting says that Pope John Paul II in his encyclical letter 'Ut Unum Sint' clearly writes about the importance of persons who sacrificed their lives for faith in all denominations. We are trying to uphold the teachings of Pope John Paul II.

He writes in his encyclical that "in a theocentric vision, we Christians already have a common "martyrology". This also includes the martyrs of our own century, more numerous than one might think, and it shows how, at a profound level, God preserves communion among the baptized in the supreme demand of faith, manifested in the sacrifice of life itself."

Bishop Dr. Anil Cuto, (Bishop of Jalandhar), the Ecumenism Commission Chairman, said, "we are making an effort to remember those who died for Lord Jesus Christ. Martyrdom is the highest form of love expressed. Making a Day as Indian Christian Martyrs' Day is not making somebody a canonized saint but remembering their sacrifice to witness Christ. Their brave life is a heritage of the Church we want to save for the coming generation. It is not meant just for the Catholic Church but for all churches and ecclesial communities."

The meeting decided to write to the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, the National Council of Churches of India and the Evangelical Fellowship of India. Bishop Dr. Anil Cuto says, "It must be an ecumenical effort to honour those Christians who died for faith. It would also unite the churches in the Country. If the CBCI General Body accepts our proposals then it will be a historic decision in the history of the church towards ecumenical unity."

Fr. Anbu, SVD, National Secretary to the Ecumenical Commission, said, "the Church is standing on the Blood of the Martyrs and we want to honour them. The Christians who sacrificed their lives are from different denominations and ecclesial communities, so it could be an ecumenical effort to unite the Christians towards their great sacrifice. I will pursue this as secretary to the commission."

The proposal was mooted by the Madhya Pradesh Region. Fr. Anand Muttungal, the Regional Secretary for the Commission for Ecumenism and Dialogue, said, "Indian Christian Martyrs' Day is a day to remember those heroic acts of the Indian Christians. It will create history like that of the Acts of the Apostles. It will inspire the Christians in the years to come. We have been celebrating the 25th August as Indian Christian Martyrs' Day in Madhya Pradesh. I feel happy that the ecumenical commission has understood our vision."

The meeting was attended by the Regional Secretaries of the country. It was a unanimous decision to forward this concept to other ecclesiastical bodies to consider it. Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasngh (an ecumenical organization) has welcomed the proposal.

Dr. Manis Mathew, General Secretary, said, "We are happy that our vision for the Christian community is being seen as a factor to unite and honour the Christian personalities who offered their lives for Christ. We will continue to pursue this cause till we achieve the objective."
 
   
   
  Pakistan: For Christians it is a question of whom to trust
 
UCAN Commentary

Jesuit Father Frank Brennan has just returned from Lahore, where he found a country on edge and Christians with special cause for concern over the notorious blasphemy laws.

LAHORE, NOV 13 (UCAN) -- Last Sunday I attended a church service presided over by the Archbishop of Lahore, Lawrence Saldanha. There were armed guards at the entrance to the church plus nine plainclothes police placed in the congregation.

Pakistanis do not know whom to trust at this time.


Christians, who are less than 2 per cent of the population, have cause to be on edge, for their fears are compounded by ongoing discrimination and a blasphemy law which has had catastrophic consequences.

With coups and increasing Muslim fundamentalism, Pakistan has strayed long past the declaration of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, its founding father. Jinnah proclaimed in 1947: "You may belong to any religion or caste or creed -- that has nothing to do with the business of the state."

The notorious blasphemy law in this Islamic state makes any derogatory remark about Prophet Muhammad, even indirectly or by innuendo, punishable by death.

This law has given license to Pakistanis seeking revenge against each other in the name of religion. On Sept. 16 a young Christian man arrested for blasphemy was killed in police custody. His family had to flee their home and the police claimed that he committed suicide in his cell.

In the run-up to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent charm-offensive in the country, the Pakistan Christian Action Forum, which represents all major Christian Churches in Pakistan, issued a statement calling for immediate repeal of the blasphemy law:

"Several incidents in the current year have perturbed the nation where the minority communities were victimized under the false accusation of having desecrated the Holy Qur'an. Such acts of violence have grown sharply under the pretext of the Blasphemy Law, which is blatantly abused to cause harassment and marginalization of religious minorities, especially the Christians."

Christians are still terrified by the events of August 2009, sparked by alleged sacrilege against the Qur'an by an illiterate Christian man in the village of Korian, in Punjab province. About 3,000 Muslims went on a rampage through the nearby township of Gojra. They destroyed the homes of 140 Christian families. Seven people were burned alive and another two died later.

Archbishop Saldanha told me: "The blasphemy law is the root cause of our problems. It is a law that can be misused at any time. If you are a 'good Muslim,' you cannot be seen to oppose this law."

Anecdotally one hears stories of the blasphemy law being invoked in all manner of petty feuds and disagreements. Recently, a Christian who had upset a Muslim in a gambling game found himself subject to a blasphemy complaint.

A group called Minorities Concern of Pakistan have a newsletter which reported in September an interview with some of the Gojra Christians.

One man told them: "They killed us because we are Christians and we are poor. They were calling us dogs and American agents."

Most Pakistanis, meanwhile, are very wary about the United States, and not just because US administrations have chopped and changed allegiances to militant groups in Pakistan. Muslim Pakistanis especially are very mistrustful of those who sponsored the Iraq War and who committed the atrocities at Abu Ghraib.

If things start to improve in Pakistan, greater cooperation between the United States, the civilian government and the Pakistani military may ensure that the Taliban militants and Al Qaeda are more contained. But military hardware alone is not going to be the answer.

While some of the best schools in the country have been told they are on hit lists, and ordinary schools have to close periodically and then expend precious resources on armed guards and security devices, there was a report during the week of Hillary Clinton's visit that enrollment in madrassah, Islamic boarding schools, had increased by 40 per cent in the last academic year.

Madrassah graduates do not tend to have much sympathy for those campaigning against blasphemy laws. They know nothing of Jinnah's original vision for Pakistan.

This past weekend the Jesuit school in Lahore celebrated its silver jubilee.

Inside the school walls, and under the watchful eye of the armed guard and security personnel, Christian and Muslim children learn and play together, daily espousing the school motto, "Unity and Integrity."

Ordinary Pakistanis are crying out for both. But whom do you trust once you walk outside the school gate?
---
Jesuit Father Frank Brennan is a professor of law in the Institute of Legal Studies at Australian Catholic University. This is an abridged version of an article that original appeared on the website Eureka Street.
 
   
   
  Inculcate values among youth to save Kashmiri culture, says VC
 
From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, NOV 13 – There is a need to inculcate the values of Kashmir among the youth to overcome the disconnect that exists between the old and the new, said Prof Riyaz Punjabi, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kashmir. He was speaking at a seminar on "Kashmir Culture: Change, Continuity" organised by the Institute of Kashmir Studies (IKS), University of Kashmir, here, from November 10 to 12.

The VC said, "We have failed miserably in packaging our culture to the younger generation. That is why there is a disconnect between the two. We need to present our younger generation with something that defines their personality."
He advocated the need for a trans-disciplinary approach to study Kashmiri language and literature.

Describing the Kashmiri language as a core component of Kashmiri culture, the VC said it comprised both traditions and values, adding that textbook knowledge was not enough in this modern-day world. "We need to work among people to understand them."

'Dialogue is necessary for survival," said noted broadcaster and poet Farooq Nazki, while advocating the need for a dialogue and interaction between different cultures.

He said Srinagar, the heritage city of Kashmir, was being ruined by its own beneficiaries. "We have spoiled its historical monuments and open spaces. We have to save Kashmir."

Noted educationist Professor Manzoor Fazli added: "The evolution of Kashmiri culture from the ancient days to the contemporary times has been one of struggle for change and continuity.' He added that continuity and change were essential for the growth of any political, social and religious organism.

"Scholars are expected to address issues and problems concerning the dynamics of our culture, shifting models and requirements for the preservation of important expressions of our culture and language," he said.

While describing the aims and objectives of IKS, Prof Meem Hi Zaffar said the institute would provide a platform for scholars interested in Kashmir studies to debate and discuss various issues, in addition to creating a space for critical re-evaluation and re-assessment of literature on subjects related to Kashmir.

"Creating an environment for the interaction between local intelligentsia, scholars and intellectuals at the national and international levels is one of the objectives of the centre," he said.
 
   
   
  Kerala Church aims to counter TV's negative influence
 
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, NOV 12 (UCAN) -- Television's undue influence on families and the young is worrying the Catholic Church in Kerala, southern India.

On Nov. 9, the family commission of the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council issued a circular to alert Catholic parishes in the state about television channels resorting to sex and violence to attract viewers.

"The media are controlling people with programs of inferior quality," bemoans the circular, titled "Family and media." Commission chairperson Bishop Mathew Anikuzhikattil of Idukki signed it.

The circular notes a "serious danger" of television controlling a family's daily schedule, including prayer time. "People should control the media, but what is happening here is the reverse."

Speaking with UCA News on Nov. 10, Bishop Anikuzhikattil expressed dismay that sex and violence dominate "trash series" during prime time on all channels. "Society will experience far-reaching consequences as people become addicted to these programs that convey nothing," he warned.

Kerala has nine channels in the local Malayalam language, while hundreds of national and international channels also are available. Studies have shown that most families here own at least one TV set. Christians account for 19 per cent of the state's 31.8 million people.

"We are very much concerned about the undue influence of visual and infotain media on families," Bishop Anikuzhikattil wrote. "The time has come to address these issues."

The prelate alleged that TV programs convey messages at odds with Christianity by depicting life as full of tragedies with no solution and showing extramarital affairs as normal. "It is the Church's duty to safeguard its people against such traps," he added.

The circular wants parents to determine when their children should watch television and to lock channels that telecast programs with sex and violence. It insists parents should not watch television during times of family prayer or children's study.

The family commission also wants parents, teachers and parish priests to educate families not to watch "inferior programs" that influence the young. It plans to organize a series of seminars on the media and families in 2010 to educate the faithful on the judicious use of television.

James Varghese, a Kerala government official, welcomed the Church initiative. "Many parents are not really bothered about television's influence on children," he told UCA News. According to him, what children see on TV can change their lives. "The Church campaign will help the channels broadcast quality programs," he added.

Prime-time series on Malayalam channels have very similar storylines, noted A. Jayashanker, a Hindu lawyer and media critic. When a woman in distress doesn't get support from society, she commits suicide, he said, as an example. Such storylines glorify suicides or suggest suicide is an option to escape tragedy, he continued.

Technological advances can make matters worse, Jayashanker said. Three girls recently committed suicide after their classmates sexually abused them and taped the act on their mobile phones.

Kerala has the highest number of suicide cases in India, with 27 incidents recorded daily. A recent study concluded that some television series have driven young people to suicide.

Siby Mathews, a senior police official who examined suicides in Kerala as part of his doctoral studies, agrees the Church can play "a positive role" in "taming" television, the Internet and mobile phones. "Technology has become more a villain in families than a friendly tool," he said.
 
   
   
  Philippines: Freed Father Sinnott wants to resume ministry
 
PASAY CITY, (PHILIPPINES), NOV 12(UCAN) -- Irish Columban Father Michael Sinnott hopes to resume his ministry after being released by kidnappers who had held him for a month.

The priest said he was kept in "very primitive" conditions in two areas, one a swampy area "with mud all around us." He said he could not move about and was forced to sit in a hammock all day with his guard.

He had also been kept in the jungle and at one point was forced to march for around eight hours through the mountains.

Father Sinnott said he did not think anyone would want to kidnap him again, as he had slowed his captors down.

"I'm an old man, and I had a hard time walking," the priest said, laughing.

He said he would like to continue working in Pagadian diocese where he has served most of his 42 years in the Philippines.

Father Sinnott was released before dawn on Nov. 12 in Zamboanga City, 850 kilometers southeast of Manila. He was later flown to Pasay City, south of Manila, where he met reporters.

Mohagher Iqbal, chief peace negotiator of the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), handed over the 79 year-old missioner to Rafael Seguis, his counterpart in the government peace panel.

The priest rejects the idea of seeking retribution.

"I have no plan to file any charges," he said.

Father Sinnott was abducted from the Columban Father's residence in Pagadian City on Oct. 11 by a group of men who bundled him in a van and then onto a boat, before handing him over to a second group.

The priest said the first group was a bit rough with him, but his captors treated him well and food was "adequate" considering the spartan conditions.

Father Sinnott said he has no idea who his kidnappers were but is "very sure" they were not MILF.

The second group of captors "knew nothing about me," he recounted, adding that they oppose the MILF for condemning kidnapping for ransom.

"They said it is alright for the MILF to say kidnapping is forbidden in the Qur'an," because the MILF gets international support. His captors said they had no other way to raise funds for weapons, the priest continued.

The missioner described his captors in the mountains as "very well organized." Supplies arrived regularly, and he was given food "specially for me" twice a day.

Earlier, while he was held in the forest, his captors said attempts to free him had been foiled by bad weather.

Father Sinnott explained that his kidnappers had scripted the message he read on a video made on Oct. 24 and sent to the crisis management committee five days later.

"It was written in Bisaya (or Cebuano, a dialect used in central and southern Philippines), and I had to translate it into English," the priest said. The group had also lectured him about their ideology.

They told him they were freeing him so he could tell the international community they are lumad, indigenous Filipinos of Mindanao, the southern Philippine region, and would fight until Mindanao was "independent" with the Qur'an as its constitution.

Father Sinnott, speaking in both in English and Bisaya, thanked "every one of my friends that I know prayed for me while I was in captivity."

The MILF has not disclosed where they found Father Sinnott, nor any details about his abductors. However, Iqbal said MILF task force members had spoken with relatives of the kidnappers and "applied moral pressure" to release the priest without ransom.

"Kidnapping is illegal in Islam," he said, "and Father Sinott's recovery did not involve any money."
 
   
   
  Bihar: Seek information under RTI and land up in jail
  From Anuja Sipre

PATNA, NOV 11 -- The Right to Information (RTI) Act has become more of a bane than a boon for the people of Bihar. Most of those who try to seek information under the Act end up landing in trouble for their 'daring act.'

The situation is such that the Hum Log Trust and the Bihar Right to Information Forum -- the bodies fighting for the cause of information-seekers under the RTI Act -- had to organize a 'people's court' to provide justice to the harassed people.

There were as many as 49 cases of harassment of people all across the state for seeking information under the RTI Act.

They narrated their tales of woes in the presence of Parveen Amanullah, joint convener of the Hum Log Trust and the Bihar Right to Information Forum, Arvind Kejriwal, Magsaysay award winner and activist, Prashant Bhushan, Supreme Court lawyer and civil rights activist, and Justice (retd) S N Jha, chairman of the Bihar State Human Rights Commission.

Kanchan Sahani, a BPL card holder belonging to an extremely backward class, had to spend 26 days in prison after he sought information about the construction of a house for his family under the Indira Awas Yojana.

A resident of Panapur village in Muzaffarpur district Sahani sought information about his house on November 6, 2006. But the police suddenly arrested him on August 6, 2007 and put him behind the bars in connection with a case of attempt to murder.

Sahni said he was later released on bail but only after being in prison for no reason at all. Similarly, Akalu of Bhabhua district was rendered homeless when he sought information about the Indira Awas Yojana from the BDO concerned. Amlesh Mahto of Raghopur also lost his house while trying to seek information about the Yojana.

A physically challenged Birendra Kumar Sah, 40, of Pir Maker village in Saran district, suddenly found himself being implicated in a murder case. His 'crime' was that he had dared to seek information about the proposed appointment of 50 teachers from the officials concerned under the Right to Information Act.

Birendra said he had submitted an application seeking information about the appointment of 50 teachers in his block on July 10, 2007. But instead of providing information, the mukhiya named him in a murder case in August last year. It was only after the intervention of the Hum Log Trust that the district magistrate of Saran stayed the 'false' case against him.

Arvind Kejriwal said that Bihar had earned laurels for implementing the Right to Information Act ahead of many other states but it is unfortunate that the information-seekers are being harassed in the state which became a pioneer in arming the people with the right to information.

S N Jha stated that the commission had asked the chief secretary to take action against the officials who are harassing people for seeking information and submit his report within four weeks.

Prashant Bhushan was of the opinion that the 'dominance' of the bureaucracy in the state information commission has played a negative role in the implementation of the RTI Act.
 
   
   
  Gujjars write to PM to extend Forest Rights Act to J&K
  From Afsana Rashid

SRINAGAR, NOV 11 -- The Gujjars of Jammu and Kashmir have demanded dwelling rights on forest land they have been using as traditional inhabitants for decades.

Seeking the intervention of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over the issue of extending the Forest Rights Act 2006 to the state, the Gujjars have demanded identical rights.

In a 10-page letter addressed to the Prime Minister, the Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation [TRCF] states that more than 95 per cent of 'nomadic Gujjars' here are landless and shelterless.

Dr. Javaid Rahi, national secretary of the Foundation, said "equitable growth in the state and the country can't be achieved without guaranteeing legitimate rights to the marginalized and isolated sections of society, mainly Gujjars".

Dr. Rahi advocated empowerment of the nomadic community. "This can be achieved only by way of giving them forest rights."

He said "to give the benefits to the Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest-dwellers, the Recognition of Forest Rights Act, 2006 was passed by Parliament on December 18, 2006, and was subsequently implemented in all major states of India except Jammu and Kashmir."

The letter reads, "due to Article 370, this Act can't be extended to the state of Jammu and Kashmir without legislation." It urged the Prime Minister to intervene and direct the state government to immediately issue an SRO in this regard "so as to provide rights on forests to dwelling communities over land and other resources."

The letter added, "the extension of the Act to the state, will have multiple, far-reaching and positive impact on the economy of the state and would address the issue of injustices committed against Gujjars."

It said, "Gujjars have been protecting forests against mafias and land-grabbers." The letter added "systematic exploitation and social and economic abuse of tribal Gujjars must end and their energies must be mobilized towards controlling and protecting natural resources of state, including forests."
 
   
   
  Philippines: Bishop calls for justice in beheading case
 
MANILA, NOV 11 (UCAN) -- Bishop Martin Jumoad of Isabela in the violence-torn southern Philippines has called for justice for a school teacher, beheaded by his kidnappers, and said a long-term solution to the region's problems must be found.

The bishop ruled out negotiations with those responsible. "If we dialogue with them, then it is as if we are saying it's partly okay to do what you did," he said over Church-run Radio Veritas 846.

Criminals must be "arrested right away," the Church leader insisted. "Here in Basilan and in Sulu, the justice system is not that clear but the rule of law must prevail."

Gabriel Canizares, principal of Kanague Elementary School in Patikul, Sulu, south of Basilan, was kidnapped on Oct. 19. His severed head was found in a truck at a gas station in Jolo town on Nov. 9. Abu Sayyaf extremists are believed responsible.

"We condemn the act because this is inhuman," Bishop Jumoad said.

While favoring a tough response to the bandits, the bishop said he opposes the "all out war" that some military and public officials have suggested because many innocent people would be hurt.

He said police needed to be "more visible" in Basilan and Sulu where the Abu Sayyaf thrives. Villagers, whether Muslim or Christian, must play a role too and cooperate with the authorities. "We must be vigilant and help detect unusual groups of people," the bishop said.

But longer term solutions to the root causes of the violence need to be found.

The national government has to "give more livelihood programs ... in rural areas," he stressed. Many youths "have no desire to go to school because there are no opportunities."

Money appears to have been the motive in the Canizares case. His kidnappers had demanded a 2 million-peso (US$42,600) ransom, but had reduced this to 1 million after negotiating with the principal's relatives, military spokesperson Major General Ben Dolorfino said.

Meanwhile, kidnappers are still holding Irish Columban Father Michael Sinnott.

He was snatched by armed men from his order's house in Pagadian City, northeast of Sulu. The kidnappers, who have demanded US$2 million in ransom, are believed to be holding the priest between Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur provinces further northeast from Sulu.

A splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has been accused of the crime.

In Jolo, Christian and Muslim teachers in public and Catholic schools plan to demonstrate on Nov. 11 at the memorial service for Canizares.

Jeff Sampang, of the Catholic radio station DXMM, says many more kidnappings have gone unreported in the province. Families simply paid the ransom demanded.
 
   
   
  Catholic youths march for peace in Mangalore
 
MANGALORE, NOV 11 (UCAN) -- Some 500 Catholic youths from all over India danced and sang as they marched for peace in Mangalore, a city that witnessed anti-Christian violence a year ago.

The march concluded the Nov. 3-7 national conference of the Indian Catholic Youth Movement (ICYM), with the theme, "Youth in emerging India."

The organization comes under the youth commission of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) and the participants represented all its 13 regions.

"We are one in Jesus, all of us are one," sang one group while others chanted "Jai Bharat mata!" ("hail, mother India!") during the two-kilometer march that ended with a ceremony in which 26 people received national youth awards.

Bishop Aloysius Paul D'Souza of Mangalore, who handed out the awards, said the young are "the future" of the Church and the nation. He congratulated the award recipients for their dedicated service to society, and stressed the importance of holding on to religious values.

During the ceremony, Archbishop Abraham Viruthakulangara of Nagpur handed over ownership documents for six hectares of land he donated to the ICYM to set up a special village for youths.

"Investing in youth is investing for the nation and the Church in India," said Archbishop Viruthakulangara, founder of the CBCI youth commission.

ICYM national president Sajish Jose said his movement has nearly 1 million members aged between 15 and 30 in some 600 districts in the country.

During the conference, the participants held talks and group discussions on various issues affecting young people.

A major topic was reaching out to rural youths who have migrated to cities in search of jobs. Another was how to cater to the spiritual needs of young people in call centers who work odd hours.

The meeting was also a preparation for the next CBCI meeting in February 2010, which would discuss youth and their problems.

Gopalakrishna Kamat, a Hindu who watched the peace march, commended the Catholic youths for their discipline and unity. Such values are rarely seen in other communities, he told UCA News.

Referring to anti-Christian violence in Mangalore in September 2008, during which extremist Hindu groups damaged more than 20 churches here, Kamat said the attacks were led by misguided youngsters. "If led properly, young people can become peacemakers," he asserted.

Anitha Andrew, an award recipient, said she plans to dedicate her life to serving the Church and young. Sony Pavelil, another participant, said he was happy to be part of a network of people from various cultures. "We speak different languages, dress differently, eat different food, but cherish the same Christian values."
 
   
   
  Bishop sees lessons from 'Nineveh' in eco-crisis
 
ASANSOL, NOV 10 (UCAN) -- The modern world faces the dilemma of the biblical city of Nineveh and must abandon its wicked ways with the environment if it is to survive, Bishop Cyprian Monis of Asansol in West Bengal says.

"We are all called to do something urgently to save the earth because humans may not survive too long if the world continues in the way it is doing today," Bishop Monis said after the Nov. 4-7 workshop on "Eco-spirituality for global peace and human liberation."

According to the Bible, Jonah was sent by God to the Assyrian city of Nineveh to warn the people there to repent or face destruction. They did and God spared the city.

In the same way, "we are called to change our attitudes toward the earth, and do what is possible within our capacity to protect nature and the eco-system," Bishop Monis said.

Seven prelates and 51 heads of Religious congregations attended the program organized by the Bengal Regional Bishops' Council and the Conference of Religious India's units in Sikkim and West Bengal states.

Bishop Monis told UCA News the workshop was "an eye-opener." He said he would encourage his people to conserve water and avoid plastic, and would ask each family to plant at least one tree a year.

Bishop Joseph Suren Gomes of Krishnagar also plans to encourage his people to plant trees and use energy-saving lamps. He told UCA News he now has a greater awareness of how closely humans and nature are linked.

Bishop Salvadore Lobo of Baruipur says he is most worried that farmers' preference for chemical fertilizers could destroy the ecosystem.

Archbishop Lucas Sirkar of Calcutta, meanwhile, wants respect for the earth to become part of evangelization efforts.
 
   
   
  Vatican: See migrants as resource, Pope urges
  By Gerard O'Connell, Special Correspondent in Rome

VATICAN CITY, NOV 10 (UCAN) -- Migrants are a "resource" and not a "problem," Pope Benedict XVI told the Sixth World Congress on the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees.

"Migrations invite us to focus on the unity of the human family, the value of acceptance, hospitality and love for others", which must find expression in daily gestures of sharing, he said.

Today's worldwide phenomenon of migration should be seen "as a situation favorable to understanding between peoples, and to the building of peace and a form of development that involves every nation."

Pope Benedict was greeting 300 participants from five continents, including 28 from 12 Asian countries, in a special audience in the Vatican's Clementine Hall on Nov. 9, the start of the congress.

During the meeting, which will end on Nov. 12, congress delegates will discuss how best to respond pastorally to migrants and refugees in the face of globalization.

"Many migrants abandon their own countries to flee from humanly unacceptable living conditions, yet without finding elsewhere the welcome they were hoping for," the Pope said. "The economic divide between poor countries and industrialized countries is growing ever wider" in today's globalized world, he added.

The global economic crisis has also worsened their plight, reducing even the most precarious work opportunities and sending unemployment skyrocketing. "How can we not stop and reflect on the consequences of a society founded exclusively on material development?" Pope Benedict asked.

More than 200 million people worldwide live in a country other than the land of their birth, while 33 million people are refugees, asylum seekers, exiles, or internally displaced, said congress host Archbishop Antonio Maria Veglio.

The president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People noted that at least 15 per cent of all migrants "are estimated to be involved in illegal immigration which unfortunately is often fed by a 'parallel market' of human trafficking and smuggling."

"The protection and promotion of human rights" of migrants and refugees is an urgent task given "the persistence of exploitation, discrimination and abuse," he said.

Congress participants will hear proposals on how to address migrant and refugee issues in 14 speeches and an open debate over the coming days.

Participants are expected to agree on a concluding document, including fundamental recommendations, before the meeting ends.
 
   
   
  Archbishop accuses police of apathy over church attacks
  MANGALORE, NOV 9 (UCAN) -- Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore has accused the government and police of apathy in the wake of the vandalisation of another church in his diocese.

Vandals broke into St. Anthony's church in Bangalore on Saturday evening, strewed Communion hosts around the church and stole a gold-plated chalice and two ciboria.

Karnataka state has witnessed "so many church attacks" but no "culprit has been booked despite the assurances given to me by top police officers," Archbishop Moras told the media Nov. 8.

St. Anthony's parish priest Father Arockiadoss discovered the damage when he opened the church, in the suburb of Kavalbysandra, at 4:30 a.m. Sunday morning.

The bishop said he was "upset" at government apathy toward catching culprits and was losing confidence in police investigations.

"I am hurt because of the desecration of the Blessed Sacrament which is so central to our faith," he said.

He called for calm from the 1,000 parishioners who had gathered at the church to pray. Several police officers visited the parish along with a dog squad and fingerprint experts.

Another church in Bangalore was vandalized on Sept. 10, as Christians in Karnataka were preparing to observe the first anniversary of the start of four months of church attacks by radical Hindu groups late last year.

St. Anthony's caters to some 5,000 parishioners. It was expanded this year, and Archbishop Moras reopened it on Sept. 11.
 
   
   
  Thailand: Ex-addict helps other young men recover
 
CHOMBUNG (THAILAND), NOV 9 (UCAN) -- One young man whose life was transformed by a Church-run drug rehabilitation center is now working with the organization to help others in the same predicament.

"I took heroin and amphetamines," said Teeradech, 37, a helper at the Rebirth Therapeutic Community Center (Soon Kert Mai) for Men run by the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. The center is in Chombung, Ratchaburi province, west of Bangkok.

Teeradech's story is all too typical of drug addiction. He not only took drugs, he also stole money to buy them as well as engaged in trafficking for a year.

His brother brought him to the center about 10 years ago when he was given bail after being arrested on drug offenses. It changed his life.

He now lectures at Thailand's Narcotics Control Board and is in charge of the detoxification program at Soon Kert Mai.

"Now I am using the lessons I learned in life to help others," he said.

Father Sathit Sriwanchai, the center's director, says rehabilitation involves two stages. "The first stage is a detoxification period of 10 days."

After that, the men receive psychological and spiritual support through group therapy and lessons, as well as undergo a physical exercise program for about 18 months.

The entire program is designed to help the men develop a positive attitude to life, healthy relationships, sound values and mature judgment, Father Sathit says.

"Most drug addicts start to walk on the wrong path when young. We try to help them rediscover their own way of life free from drugs," he added.

Sister Sumalee Arunyakanont, 68, an assistant to Father Sathit, said the young drug addicts at the center mostly come from rich or middle class families who, despite their wealth, "live lives that are empty and very lonely."

The center was founded in 1979 and has more than 250 male residents aged 13-26. Most are Buddhist but there are six Catholics and three Muslims.

In the early 1990s the congregation opened a similar center for women in Bangkla, Chachoengsao province, eastern Thailand. It has more than 50 residents.

Drug addiction is a growing problem in Thailand. According to Thailand's Narcotics Control Board, the number of drug users rose from 460,000 in 2003 to 605,000 people in 2008.

The Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity was founded in 1958 by Father James Flanagan in the United States. It has missions in 16 countries, including China and the Philippines.
 
   
   
  Sufi festival a big draw in Srinagar
  From Afsana Rashid

SRINAGAR, NOV 9 -- The much-awaited three-day Sufi festival was inaugurated at Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC), here, on November 7. It is being organised by the Academy of Art, Culture and Languages, in collaboration with the Kashmir Sufi Society, Departments of Tourism and Information and Doordarshan Kendra, Srinagar.

The atmosphere was thick with emotion as Shahi Qawals of the Khawaja Gareeb Nawaz Dargah Ajmeer, headed by Amjad Hussain Asrar and Aslam Hussain Asrar, recited a Sufi Qawali. Qaiser Nazimi and Mir Muneer also enthralled the audience through 'manqabats' and 'Sufi kalams' of Amir Khusroo.

Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy Dr Farooq Abdullah, while inaugurating the festival, said he was delighted that the function was dedicated to Sufi saints, as the valley existed as a result of their blessings.

He congratulated Doordarshan, radio and the Academy for their efforts in promoting art and culture and said he was happy to see Mufti and Imams of various shrines at the function, besides a large number of people.

Secretary of Academy of Art, Culture and Languages Zaffar Iqbal Manhas said the initiative to conduct the festival was taken as a majority of people in Kashmir believed in Sufi saints.

Director Information Farooq Renzu added to this: "There are 1,111 shrines in every nook and corner of the valley."

"Kashmir is the name of a civilization that has, since time immemorial, been the centre of knowledge. History is witness to the fact that when China was being considered as a source of knowledge, Kashmir was above it," he said.

Renzu's video-cassette, "Kashmir Civilization" was also released on the occasion. He thanked Director Doordarshan for ensuring that the festival's live coverage was broadcast in 162 countries.

Mufti Azam, Mufti Mohammad Bashir-ud-Din, Wakaf Board Vice Chairman, Professor M.Y. Qadiri, former Chairman of Public Service Commission, Mohammad Shafi Pandit, renowned educationist Aga Ashraf Ali and Imams of the Bulbul Shah mosque were also present on the occasion.

In connection with the same, District Information Centre-Baramulla organised another Sufi festival at Government Degree College, Baramulla, on the same day. Scholars, educationists, poets and writers attended the function.
 
   
   
  Christians demand release of banned Malay bibles
 
KOTA KINABALU (MALAYSIA), NOV 9 (UCAN) -- Malaysian Christians are demanding the release of 15,000 Malay-language bibles, confiscated by the government because they use the word "Allah" for God.

The Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) says everyone has the constitutional right to use the national language to practice his or her religion.

"It is baseless to withhold the bibles in Bahasa Malaysia (the national language) on the grounds that they are 'prejudicial to public order,'" the CFM said in a Nov. 4 statement.

The use of the word "Allah" in Christian publications is also likely to confuse Muslims and draw them to Christianity, the government has said, although repeated media requests for further comment have failed.

"Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia have been used since before independence ... and have never been the cause of any public disorder," the CFM statement says.

Despite the government ban, "Allah" remains the commonly used word for God in the Malay language.

The constitution "gives every Malaysian the right to profess his or her faith as well as to practice it," says the CFM statement, signed by its chairman, Bishop Ng Moon Hing. The bishop is head of the Anglican Diocese of West Malaysia.

Most of the seized bibles are destined for the eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak, where Malay is the most widely used language.

The CFM, based in Petaling Jaya, just outside Kuala Lumpur, represents the Catholic Church, the Council of Churches of Malaysia, and the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship Malaysia.

It demands the authorities "resolve this matter promptly and release these bibles for the use of Christians without further delay or excuse."

The CFM also raised the ban issue at an Oct. 29 meeting with the Sabah Council of Churches in Kota Kinabalu, capital of the easternmost state.

The seizures have added to fears among minority groups that Islamic fundamentalism is gaining a grip in the predominantly Muslim but multi-racial country.

There are around 2 million Christians -- 9 per cent of the population -- in Malaysia. Around a third of them live in Sabah, another third in Sarawak and another third in peninsular Malaysia.
 
   
   
  Vatican: Pope talks religious harmony with Kazakh president
 
By Gerard O'Connell, Special Correspondent in Rome

VATICAN CITY, NOV 9 (UCAN) -- Pope Benedict XVI met Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev in a private audience in the Vatican on Nov. 6.

The men discussed dialogue between religions and noted the harmonious relations between the different faiths in the predominantly-Muslim central Asian Republic.

The Pope said he hoped "that believers may have an ever more active role in the life of the nation" for the common good, according to a Vatican statement released afterward.

The Vatican said the two men also discussed the current global economic crisis in light of the Pope's recent social encyclical "Caritas in Veritate" (Charity in Truth), as well as the contribution the Church can make to Kazakhstan.

The communique said the Pope and the Kazakh leader noted "with satisfaction, the good relations that exist between the Holy See and the Republic of Kazakhstan."

Pope Benedict received Nazarbayev, a Muslim and former secretary general of the country's Communist Party, in his private library at the end of a two-day trade and cooperation visit to Italy.

The two leaders spoke in private for about 20 minutes. Nazarbayev then spoke with the Pope's right hand man, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and the Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Dominque Mamberti.

Kazakhstan will assume the presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2010. The OSCE, with 56 participating states, is the world's largest regional security organization.

Catholics constitute a tiny minority of Kazakhstan's 16-million-strong population, numbering only 250,000. About 60 percent of the population is Muslim. Russian Orthodox Christians comprise 34 percent while the Oriental-rite Ukrainian Catholic Church has 7,000 members.

Catholics in Kazakhstan are mainly of German, Lithuanian, Polish and Ukrainian descent. Their forebears were deported there under former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's rule.

Pope John Paul II made a historic visit to the country in 2001 when he met President Nazarbayev.

Today, the Church here has one archdiocese, two dioceses and the apostolic administration of Atyrau.
 
   
   
  The Herald of India's services lauded at marketplace conference
  From A Correspondent

CHANDIGARH, NOV 8 -- The Herald of India was described as one of the best online newspapers at the Second Marketplace Impact Conference which concluded here yesterday.

The two-day conference was attended by businessmen from the North West India region. It was organised by Global Advance and New and Living Way.

Mr Kevi Pate, Marketplace Missions Director of Global Advance, Ms Lisa Sooter, a successful businessperson from Texas, Mr Brian Mallar, president of the Mallard Group, and Prof Sushil Mathew, an academic from the US, were the resource persons. Mr James Chacko, president, New and Living Way, was the chief organizer.

The following persons were honoured on the occasion: Mr Shaji Peter, an industrialist of Chandigarh, Mr Mathew Alexander and Mrs Lini Mathew, academics, Dr John V. George, DGP, Haryana Police, Mr Harold Carver, principal, St. Stephen's School, Mr Charles Samuel and Mrs Annie Charles, co-founders of Mount Carmel School, Chandigah, Mr Jasmail Singh, photographer, Mr L.M.S. Salin and Mrs Angel Salin and Mr A.J. Philip, Editor, The Herald of India.
 
   
   
  Delhi fast becoming the most polluted city in the world
  By A Correspondent

NEW DELHI, NOV 8 -- Delhi has finally lost the gains of its CNG programme. Its air is increasingly becoming more polluted and unbreathable, bringing back the pre-CNG days when diesel-driven buses and autos had made it one of the most polluted cities on earth: says the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in its latest analysis of recent air quality data in Delhi .

And today's (Nov 7) unprecedented smog is a clear indicator of this, says the CSE analysis.

In 2001, when the CNG programme was on, the annual average level of respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM, or PM10) in residential areas stood at 149 microgram per cubic metre. After registering a drop in 2005, the level has shot up to 209 microgram per cubic metre in 2008. The concentration is, thus, around three times higher than the safe levels.

Eight-hourly maximum current level of carbon monoxide (CO) is touching 6,000 microgram per cubic metre -- way above the safe level of 2,000 microgram per cubic metre -- though the annual levels have registered a drop.

Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), though lower than the standard in most areas as yet, have also been increasing marginally (especially at the Town Hall, Chandni Chowk, monitoring point of the CPCB).

"Way back in 2007 we had said Delhi would wake up every winter to more smog and pollution; more wheeze and asthma. Air pollution is on its way back up. It is high time our regulators sat up and set new nation-wide air quality targets," says Anumita Roychoudhury, head of CSE's Right to Clean Air campaign.

Pollution control: need to build on past actions

In the past five years, the city has done all it can to reduce pollution. It has advanced emission norms of vehicles; strengthened its 'pollution under control' system with new equipment; capped the number of its autorickshaws; converted buses to CNG; made it mandatory for new light commercial vehicles to run on CNG; and restricted commercial vehicles from entering the city.

But in spite of all these actions, pollution levels are on the rise. Delhi has more than four million registered vehicles. Currently, the city adds over 1,000 new personal vehicles each day on its roads. This is almost double what was added in the city in pre-CNG days. And a considerable number of these vehicles run on diesel.

According to the Society for Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), market share of diesel cars is expected to be 50 per cent of total car sales by 2010. This growth in personal diesel vehicle numbers will undo all the efforts to reduce pollution by phasing out diesel buses and converting them to CNG. According to CSE's estimates, the total number of diesel cars presently in Delhi is equivalent to adding particulate emissions from nearly 30,000 diesel buses.

Diesel vehicles are known to emit higher smoke, particles and NOx than their petrol counterparts. According to WHO and other international regulatory and scientific agencies, diesel particulates are carcinogens. Even the so-called 'clean' diesel running on fuel with 350 ppm of sulphur, allows higher limits for NOx and particulate emissions compared to petrol cars.

The most worrying trend is a decreasing ridership of Delhi's buses -- according to a 2008 study done by RITES, between 2001 to 2007-08, the bus's share in the modal split has fallen from 60 per cent to 41 per cent.

Delhi's second generation reforms needed to combat air pollution will need to address these new challenges -- the exponential growth of private vehicles and in particular, diesel vehicles in the city, and the need to devote more attention to a viable public transport system.

Official apathy needs to be replaced by proactive steps

It is in this context that the proposed -- but not yet notified -- new air quality norms acquire significance. Says Roychoudhury: "If the health implications of emerging pollution data were taken seriously, the ministry of environment and forests would have rushed to set new nation-wide air quality targets. After all, the 11th Five Year Plan, already underway, mandates the Central government to set monitorable targets of air quality -- achieve the standards of air quality in all major cities by 2011-12. But somehow the will to tighten the targets has been spirited away."

The health ministry has warned that India is experiencing a rapid epidemiological transition, with a large and rising burden of chronic diseases, estimated to be more than half of all deaths and 44 per cent of the disability adjusted life years lost. Non-communicable diseases, especially cancer, strokes, and chronic lung diseases are now major public health problems.

Points out Roychoudhury: "The government's inability to prioritize air pollution hazards and its incapacity to act on the health information has slowed down clean technology and sustainable mobility pathways in India. This is clearly not acceptable."
 
   
   
  SCIENCE WATCH: Clean technology as public good
 
'Clean technologies must support poor communities' needs, says Director, Scidev.net David Dickson.

Clean technology to meet poor communities' needs must lie at the heart of any sustainable strategy to combat climate change.

A widely-held myth among climate change activists is that discussing the need for improved technology to mitigate or adapt to climate change detracts from political debates on who is to blame for unsustainable lifestyles -- and who should pay for their consequences.

Like many myths, this one contains an element of truth. Purely technological responses to climate change have, on occasion, been proposed to avoid difficult political choices.

The United States' approach to the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate four years ago is a notable example.

But the myth is also a dangerous one. It ignores the fact that any effort to combat climate change will only succeed if it can draw on technologies that do not, in the long run, add to the global burden of carbon emissions.

The first political challenge -- due to emerge at next month's UN Climate Change Convention (COP-15) in Copenhagen -- is to ensure sufficient funding to urgently develop clean technologies.

The second is to guarantee that equal effort is devoted to ensuring that such technologies do not hinder the world's poorest communities from improving their standards of living through economic development.

To read more use this link:

http://www.scidev.net/en/editorials/clean-technology-as-a-public-good.html

Climate change's tech transfer challenge

NEW DELHI: From fuel-efficient cooking stoves and solar lanterns to low-emission power plants, technology lies at the heart of the war on climate change for developed and developing countries alike.

Affordable and accessible technologies are needed to achieve low carbon livelihoods and adapt to the new climate order.

And technology transfer has become a pivotal issue in the run-up to the summit in Copenhagen next month, where the world hopes to hammer out a new global climate deal.

To read more use this link:

http://www.scidev.net/en/features/climate-change-s-tech-transfer-challenge.html

16 countries to get swine flu vaccine in coming weeks

At least 16 of the world's poorest countries will receive batches of the H1N1 swine flu vaccine within the next few weeks, the WHO says.

Marie-Paule Kieny, the WHO's director of vaccine research, told a press briefing last week (30 October) that 156 million vaccine doses have been secured, largely through donations, and these will be distributed to 95 developing nations.

In line with recommendations from SAGE (Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization), health care workers will be vaccinated first.

To read the update on H1N1 vaccine use this link:

http://www.scidev.net/en/news/swine-flu-science-update-5-november-2009.html

Thinking big -- and expensive -- in the Saudi desert

Saudi Arabia's new flagship university is hoping to attract and retain scientists with generous funding and luxury living conditions. But critics are concerned that its corporate mentality may hinder research.

The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), which opened last month aims to rival the California Institute of Technology in both size and prestige.

"We want people with big ideas and big ambitions. Timid people need not apply," says KAUST president Chon Fong Shih.

To keep the scientists flocking to its doors, KAUST promises luxury both in and outside the laboratory, with full professors receiving US$800,000 a year.

To read more use this link:

http://www.scidev.net/en/features/thinking-big-and-expensive-in-the-saudi-desert.html

'Global community must urgently tackle undernutrition'

The international community must act now to deliver nutritious food to the billion people that are undernourished, says an editorial in The Lancet, as governments prepare for the World Summit on Food Security later this month.

The world currently produces enough food to feed everyone. But inequitable food distribution means that one sixth of the world's population -- mostly in Africa and Asia -- remain undernourished.

The editorial argues that the problem arises partly because food distribution is complex, involving economics, trade, agriculture and climate change.

To read more use this link

http://www.scidev.net/en/opinions/global-community-must-urgently-tackle-undernutrition-2.html
 
   
   
  KU youth festival helps students express hidden talents
  Afsana Rashid

SRINAGAR, NOV 8 -- A week-long Kashmir University Youth Festival, Sonzal 2009, was held on the campus of University of Kashmir last week.

The festival, third in succession, was organized by the Cultural Wing of the Department of Students Welfare, University of Kashmir.

Overwhelmed to see the performance of students, Prof. Riyaz Punjabi, Vice-Chancellor of the University, said, "Our students are highly talented and we need to care about their talent and help them to face new challenges of life."

"Sonazal gives recreation for mind and prepares youth for future challenges," he said asking the students "to open up new vistas of creative activities to face the challenges of life."

The Vice-Chancellor said, "fields associated with creative works have become alternative fields of career avenues."

Prof. Nilofar Khan, Dean, Students Welfare, said "the festival will provide the best opportunities for young students to manifest their hidden talent and potentialities."

She informed the Herald of India that 15 events in various genres of art, culture and literature were held during the festival including debate, poetry, recitation, elocution, clay modeling, cartoon, poster makers, painting, quiz, light vocal, western vocal, classical vocal, semi classical and group song.

"About 300 students from various affiliated colleges and post-graduate departments of the university participated in the event," she said.

Farooq Ahmad Renzu, Director, Information, said, "we would be able to create secure economic future for new generation."

Dr. Rafeeq Masoodi, Director, Doordarshan, while terming the event "a great success" said that providing a platform to the youth to exhibit their talent is the need of the hour.

Prof. Syed Fayaz, Registrar, University of Kashmir said, "The University of Kashmir is on the path of development and growth."

Many students tried their hands at clay modeling and painting competition. Noted artists like Niyaz Ahmad, Shaiqa Mohi, Principal, Institute of Music and Fine Arts (IMFA), and Shabir Mirza, former principal, IMFA, evaluated the works of art by students that were displayed during the latter half of festival.

In the poetry section, students contributed poems on various themes and later recited them in the presence of subject experts. Prof. Gulshan Majeed, noted literary figure and former Director, Centre for Central Asian Studies, University of Kashmir, supervised the event.

A candle-lighting event was also organized on the occasion by Big 92.7 FM. Farah Khan, the content head of Big 92.7 FM, conducted the event aimed at having peace with self, family and friends.

Altogether 75 participants were awarded by the Vice-Chancellor for their performance.
 
   
   
  SAP Business One, a software for small and medium enterprises, unveiled at seminar
 
From A Correspondent

KOCHI, NOV 6 -- CCS Technologies and SAP India jointly conducted a Seminar on Enterprise Resource Planning software -- SAP Business One -- at Hotel Avenue Regent here yesterday.

SAP Business One is the industry-leading ERP solution for small and medium enterprises with more than one lakh satisfied users the world over. CCS Technologies, a leading IT solution provider from Kerala, is a SAP Channel Partner and has rights to sell, implement and support SAP Business One in India.

CCS has been providing implementation and support services to companies in India and overseas for the high-end ERP product MySAP ERP for many years and so is uniquely qualified to provide the same services to SAP B1 also.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Vinod Bansal of SAP India said that SAP Business One will help companies make better informed decisions with the help of its unique features. He invited companies to benefit from the low price and superior features of SAP B1.

Mr. C P Mammen, Managing Director of CCS Technologies, welcomed the gathering and offered complete customer satisfaction for companies selecting CCS Technologies for their implementation, customization and support for SAP B1. He informed the gathering that a standard implementation can be completed in a very short time of about three months or even less.

A large number of eminent personalities from end user companies, chartered accountants and management professionals attended the seminar.
 
   
   
  Saffron festival concludes, government's bid to promote cultivation
  Afsana Rashid

PAMPORE, NOV 6 -- Vast fields blooming with saffron flowers here are picturesque. The scene became all the more fascinating as a large number of people thronged the fields during the three-day saffron festival that concluded today.

The festival was organized by the Directorate of Tourism in the vast fields in and around Pampore.

"We want to tap the same for attracting tourists and motivating locals to promote the cultivation of saffron," said G M Pampori, president, Saffron Growers Association.

The flowering season of saffron extends from the last week of October to the first week of November.

"Sprinkle irrigation is a must for the cultivation of saffron as is done in Iran. But the same isn't followed despite the nod given by the government," says Pampori.

He said that the saffron production has declined over the last 15 years. "From 45,000 kg it has come down to 7000-9000 kg. Last year, the production was the lowest -- 4000 to 5000 kg. We are expecting better production this year."

He said that the drought-like conditions over the last few years, disease and pollution had resulted in the decline of saffron production. He added such a festival was organized for two-days in 2007.

"To save the saffron industry, the government ought to make sprinkle irrigation facilities available to us and take necessary measures to stop constructions on the land meant for saffron," says a group of saffron growers.

Saffron is cultivated in Spain, Iran, Italy, France and Jammu and Kashmir. "Saffron is our identity. It enjoys the status, next to fruit industry, here," says Pampori.

"Our family has been involved with saffron cultivation for ages. I assist my parents in its cultivation. But I've my own dreams and want to pursue higher studies," says Mehnaz Shafi, a resident of Krencho-Pampore, 14 kms from Srinagar city.

Mehnaz said, "Though morning is the best time for collecting saffron flowers, it can be done throughout the day. Its carpels [inner reddish part of saffron flowers] are costlier, compared to stamens [yellow portion] and outer purple petals."

After plucking flowers, its parts are sifted, dried [for a day] and then sold. "Dried form of saffron is collected by middlemen from saffron growers, who in turn sell it at exorbitant prices. We sell it at the rate of Rs. 2,500 per tola [10 gram] to middlemen," says Mehnaz adding, flowers are picked in three turns a year.

Imtiyaz Ahmad, a saffron grower, owns four kanal of land. "We get six kg of saffron flowers from a kanal of land, every season," says Ahmad, while sifting various parts of saffron.

Saffron bulbs are sown in August and it blooms in October–November. "Fertility of bulbs remains for 5-10 years and we need not re-plant. However, if the bulbs are spoiled, they have to be replaced."

Saffron is cultivated on beds in vast fields "so that rainfall doesn't get collected. Too much rainfall can also create problems."

Ahmad said, "we collect flowers after every three days during this season. Flowering depends on the amount of rainfall. Flowers should be in full bloom once they are to be plucked. Proper sunlight determines the length of flower that is important for determining its quality."

He added that saffron is used in medicines and cosmetics. "Our elders say saffron petals are used for treating frost bite."

His grandparents, Abdul Rehman and Mala Begum, sitting at a distance while sifting parts of saffron flowers says, "We've been associated with saffron cultivation for decades. It has always been a profitable business. But lack of interest among youngsters towards its cultivation is one of the reasons responsible for its decline."

The duo said that constructions going on saffron land and role of middlemen are other reasons responsible for the decline in its production.

Bashir Ahmad Dar, a resident at Lethpora-Pampore says, "counseling by the agriculture department would help them to increase its production. But they've never visited us."

Dar said that sprinkle irrigation was a must for saffron cultivation. "There is neither any nearby water source here nor any irrigation facility. The cultivation is simply dependant on rainfall."

He said that farmers sell saffron to middlemen, who in turn mix inferior quality of saffron with superior quality. "They also colour the stamens to make them look superior. Consequently, its rate goes down and ultimately growers suffer."

While Dar was collecting flowers together with his children, he left small flowers behind. "They are small in size. We will pick them after a couple of days, when they bloom, completely."

He said despite cultivating saffron since ages, they don't know where from their ancestors brought the bulbs.
 
   
   
  Sri Lanka: Damaged churches provide shelter as refugees trickle home
  MENIK FARM, NOV 6 (UCAN) -- Tamil refugees are slowly returning to their villages six months after fighting ended in the country's 26-year civil war. But many are returning to find their homes ruined and are seeking refuge in damaged churches.

The government says it is finally speeding up the resettlement process.

Refugees are gradually being released from detention camps in Menik Farm, about 30 kilometers southwest of Vavuniya city in the north, to their villages in the former war zone.

Many face months of hardship.

Father Santhia Joy Peppi Sosai, director of Caritas "Valvuthayam" Mannar diocese, who visited villages on Nov. 6, said "99 percent" of houses in the area are damaged or destroyed, the rubble overgrown with weeds.

Refugees are finding shelter from heavy rain in six damaged churches or in temporary sheds in the churchyards, he added. "Essential services are woefully underdeveloped. The refugees have no access to Church relief efforts and are heavily dependent on state aid."

Caritas has applied for permission from the government Special Task Force but so far only United Nation's agencies have been allowed into the villages.

Father Sosai said that there is an urgent need for tarpaulins. One returnee, Vincent Pathinathar, 44, a father of four, and his wife, say they face an uncertain future.

"We are not sure what's going to happen but it couldn't be any worse than what we have been through," he said, adding that he puts his faith in his patron saint.

Some 60 buses escorted by military vehicles delivered the refugees to Alkattiveli, Manthai, Adampan, and six other farming villages, some six kilometers to the southeast of Mannar city. Media and the public have been barred from entering the area.

Oblate priest Father Celestine Mascringe, parish priest of St Anthony's church in Cheddikulam village, five kilometers away from the Menik Farm, is one of the priests providing pastoral care for the resettled refugees.

He said they are coping with the difficult conditions.

"Vincent and others are managing to pull their lives together," he said. The villagers are starting to rebuild their houses while sheltering at the parish church.

Father Surenthiran Ravel Leenus, secretary to Bishop Rayappu Joseph of Mannar, said that some 1,500 families, mostly Catholics, had been resettled in 10 villages since mid-October.

On Nov. 2, Bishop Joseph celebrated Mass in an open area for the resettled refugees in Nedunkandal village. A temporary altar was arranged under a tree, as St. Anthony's Church in the village had been destroyed.

Speaking to UCA News over the phone, he said that donations of tarpaulins and bicycles would be greatly welcomed. He said there are no transport facilities for villagers who live away from the main road.

He added that he had asked the military to allow priests to enter villages to repair churches.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa visited the region on Nov. 4 and tried to reach out to the villagers. "You can trust me that the government is committed to providing you with necessary facilities," he said, in a TV broadcast.

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama briefing the diplomatic community in Colombo on Nov. 5, said about 158,990 will be resettled in the coming weeks.
 
   
   
  Archdiocese honors catechists during jubilee
  GUWAHATI, NOV 6 (UCAN) -- Shillong archdiocese in northeastern India honored 1,000 catechists on Nov. 5 as part of week-long celebrations marking its 75th anniversary.

The archdiocese, based in the Meghalaya state capital of Shillong, is considered the "mother diocese" -- the first diocese in India's northeastern region -- for more than 1.2 million Catholics who live in seven states here.

Father John Madur, archdiocesan chancellor, said the archdiocese decided to honor the catechists in recognition of their contribution to the Church. "They are the mainstay of the Church's mission in our towns and villages," he said.

The awardees included 93 retired and 900 active catechists who work in more than 140 parishes and mission stations in the archdiocese. They received gifts and a citation at a public function where speaker of the state legislative assembly Charles Bongarope was guest of honor. Three Catholic members of the legislative assembly also attended.

The citations read: "The Church honors you for the hard work you have done for the people of God with love and commitment and much sacrifice."

The archdiocese opened its jubilee celebrations on Nov. 1 with a performance of a Catholic youth band, Rexband 4 Peace, which is touring the northeast for a month from their home base in the south of the country.

The celebrations will conclude on Nov. 8 with the annual Eucharistic procession, a major event in Shillong.

Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati, president of the Northeast Bishops' Council, will lead the concluding jubilee Mass. Bishops and hundreds of priests from all the 15 dioceses in the region are expected to take part in the program.

Father Madur, writing on a Salesian news website, said the Catholic Church has grown tremendously in the region over the past 75 years.

Shillong was made a diocese in 1934 with Salesian Bishop Louis Mathias as its first prelate, although German Salvatorian missioners brought the Catholic faith to region in 1890.

Jesuits looked after the mission in 1915 when the pioneers had to leave India because of the First World War. The Salesians took over the mission from the Jesuits in 1922.
 
   
   
  Nuns depend on lay volunteers for elderly care
  KOLKATA, NOV 1 (UCAN) -- Subir Chatterjee, 72, says he has found "heaven." By "heaven," he means the St. Joseph's Home for the Aged in Kolkata, run by the Little Sisters of the Poor and assisted by lay volunteers.

Chatterjee, a former foundry worker, moved into the home in early October after his son, to whom he had earlier given his home, promptly sold it and kicked him out.

Other residents, like Chatterjee, are also all praise for the care they receive at the home.

Shyamapada Karmakar, 83, who joined six months ago, said the young men and women volunteers who visit the residents give them what they miss in their own families.

On Nov. 5, the residents presented a skit for their friends, volunteers and benefactors to mark the canonization of LSP founder, Saint Jeanne Jugan, at the Vatican the previous month.

According to Sister Josephine Therese, assistant superior of the home, lay volunteers have become vital to the care of the elderly here. "Life would be different for our elderly if no volunteers and associates lent a helping hand regularly," she said.

The home, which houses 80 women and 70 men, is the first center the Little Sisters of the Poor founded in Asia.

Sister Therese said her congregation set up the home in 1882, 43 years after Saint Jugan founded the congregation in France to serve the elderly poor. The congregation now has 13 houses in various parts of India.

Sister Therese said the nuns depend greatly on volunteers and lay associates as fewer people are opting for the Religious life. "Their services are not only essential for the ministry to the aged, but also important for continuing our work efficiently," she told UCA News.

Bruno Souza and his wife, Bertha, who do volunteer work at the home, say caring for the elderly has become a family affair for them for over 10 years.

The couple helped found the Association of Jeanne Jugan (AJJ) in Kolkata in 1998. They also help the elderly during meals and spend time chatting with them. Bertha also teaches them songs and plays the organ during Masses held at the home twice a week.

Bertha said their two daughters used to visit the home regularly before their marriages.

Kolkata has 17 AJJ members who take a simple vow every May 1 to serve the elderly on a regular basis. This includes celebrating the birthday of each resident of the home.

"We make it a point to give time to the elderly people because they have plenty to share with us," says Lolita Perez, an AJJ member who spends an average of two hours a day in the home. She teaches them songs, washes cutlery and feeds those who are sick and disabled.

One resident, Mary Andrews, said she and her husband eagerly await the visits of volunteers, saying that they remind the couple of their only son who died of cancer some time ago.
 
   
   
  Bangus Valley to be developed as a major tourist destination
  From Afsana Rashid

SRINAGAR, NOV 5 -- Bangus valley in district Kupwara is all set to be developed as an eco-tourism spot. To tap its tourism potential efforts are being made to develop tourism-related infrastructure, here, worth crores of rupees.

Spread over 300 sq km and locally known as Bodha Bangas (big Bangus), the valley is said to have "immense potential for becoming Asia's biggest golf course."

The valley is surrounded by Jawar and Mawar in east, Shamusbarry and Daglungun mountains in Chokibal and Karnah galli in the north and Leepa mountains in west. On the north side of the valley lie Lokut Bangus (small Bangus).

Nawang Rigzin Jora, minister for tourism during his visit to the valley on Tuesday said that government has accorded top priority to development of Bangus valley so that it becomes permanent fixture on tourism map of state.

"Efforts would be made to provide better road connectivity to the valley as well as creation of tourism related infrastructure," said Jora adding that tourism potential of the district offer avenues of employment generation for educated jobless youth.

The minister said that project worth Rs. 2.32 crore has already been released for development of Bangus valley in the first phase to provide basic infrastructure. "A comprehensive project worth Rs. 4.77 crore has also been formulated for the second phase."

Jora said that the department of tourism would develop "the valley as a biosphere tourist destination to maintain its ecological balance and natural beauty. There would be no construction within 300 sq. km of the Bangus Valley."

Tracking paths, according to the minister, would be constructed from Wader Bala via Zachaldara side and Nildoori via Nowgam Langate side. "Foot bridges would also be constructed on this track."

Jora was accompanied by Nasir Aslam Wani, minister of state for tourism. "Identification of new scenic spots like Bangus is a step towards development of tourism," says Wani adding the "government has launched an ambitious project of tourism development in state."

He assured that the government would augment resources and develop areas like Bangus and Lolab in a phased manner. "We'll discuss formulation of a strategy with the concerned MLAs so that Bangus valley comes on tourism map of the state and the world."

Wani said that the government would soon coordinate with connected sectors like Roads and Buildings, Telecommunication, Public Health Engineering, Power Development Department and district administration to provide a fillip to development of tourism in the border district.

He added that the government would soon promote expedition package tours to attract tourists to Bangus and Lolab valley.

Later the foundation stone of a tourist guest house was laid at Chandigam-Sogam by the ministers. The guest house, comprising nine bedrooms and a conference hall, is being constructed at a cost of Rs. 98 lakh, during the first phase. During the second phase, camping sites and indoor games would also be developed in the area for adventure tourism.

MLA Handwara Chowdhary Mohammad Ramzan, MLA Langate, Er. Abdul Rashid, MLA Kupwara Mir Saifullah, MLA Lolab Abdul Haq Khan, Farooq Ahmad, Director Tourism Kashmir, Uttam Chand, SSP Kupwara and other senior officers of the district were also present.
 
   
   
  Religious leaders follow Gandhi in fasting for peace
 
KOLKATA, NOV 5 (UCAN) -- Hundreds of people from various religions have followed in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi, fasting in protest against violence across India.

"This is just the beginning of our search for peace and protest against violence," said Om Prakash Shah who organized a nine-hour fast on Nov. 4.

A Protestant bishop and a Catholic priest were among some 30 religious leaders and 300 lay people who gathered at a Mahatma Gandhi statue in Kolkata for the program.

The immediate focus of the fast was the unrest in West Bengal's Lalgarh province, the scene of ongoing operations against Maoists who back tribal people against alleged government land grabs and police atrocities.

The Kolkata fast was held two days after the first anniversary of a Maoist landmine blast targeting West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's convoy at Salboni in Paschim Medinipur district. The minister was unharmed but six policemen were seriously injured and the incident triggered a state crackdown.

Since then, there have been several arrests of Maoist-supported tribal leaders and the deaths of more than 150 Communist Party of India (Marxist) supporters, according to Indian media.

Shah said the Lalgarh controversy was "only part of the bigger problem that we seek to address."

"We want to create a climate of peace and harmony. Gandhi is the universal symbol of non-violent protest and we wished to emulate his example to protest violence," said Shah, who heads the Centre for Peace and Progress, a Kolkata-based NGO.

Father Sunil Francis Rozario, who coordinates Calcutta Catholic archdiocese's Dialogue and Ecumenism Committee, told UCA News the Church must reach out to people of other religions to foster positive understanding among various groups.

He said that Church people felt encouraged by the "positive steps" taken by secular groups to promote peace and harmony.

Bishop Parimi Samuel Pavana Raju of Calcutta, the retired bishop of the Protestant Church of North India who joined the program, said people should not stop at fasting, but address the root causes of violence such as poverty, hunger and privation.

Peace was possible only if people have "enough to eat and live with dignity," he said.

Abdul Aziz, secretary of West Bengal Milli Ittehad Parishad, a Muslim umbrella organization, agreed that peace is not possible without first fighting for justice.

Gandhi, who led India's freedom struggle, fasted 17 times from 1918 to 1948, the year he died at the age of 78. His two fasts in 1924 and 1943 lasted as long as three weeks.
 
   
   
  China: Muslims visit cathedral, learn about Church's social outreach
  NANNING (CHINA), NOV 5 (UCAN) -- Muslims and Catholics in the southeastern city of Nanning have been urged to recognize the common roots of their religions and respect each other, during an interreligious exchange program.

Nanning's Islamic Association initiated the exchange, which took place during the recent Chongyang festival. The event saw dozens of elderly Muslims visiting the Our Lady of China Cathedral in the capital of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

For most it was their first time in a Catholic church.

Chongyang is a traditional festival during which Chinese people believe they would be able to avoid dangers and illnesses if they go hiking on this day. Others spend the day cleaning the graves of their ancestors. The festival fell on Oct. 26 this year.

In mainland China, Chongyang is not a public holiday but the government has declared it a day for honoring the elderly.

Bishop John Baptist Tan Yanquan of Nanning showed the Muslims, led by their president Ma Anlu, around the new cathedral which was consecrated in 2008.

Catholics and Muslims have the same religious origins as they believe in the same God and regard Abraham as their patriarch, he told his guests. "So we should respect each other and work together to build a harmonious society."

Cao Poying, head of the local religious affairs bureau who accompanied the Muslim group, encouraged the Catholic hosts and their guests to have more interreligious exchanges to foster mutual understanding.

The bishop also spoke to them about the social services of the Catholic Church. He told his guests that Nanning diocese plans to build a 17-story home for the aged behind the cathedral. The facility, which will have 1,000 beds, will be open to all regardless of religion.

The prelate said he was told the average age of the local Muslims are higher than the Catholics, most of whom are newly baptized. Some of the Muslim visitors also showed interest in applying to live in the diocese's home for the aged, he said.

There is only one mosque in Nanning city serving 3,000 Muslims while there are 2,000 Catholics spread out between the two churches in the city.
 
   
   
  Sri Lanka: Priests join protest against police brutality
  COLOMBO, NOV 5 (UCAN) -- Priests have joined civic groups in demonstrating against police brutality after video footage was released apparently showing a policeman assaulting a mentally challenged youth, resulting in his death by drowning.

"People are tired and scared of the immunity enjoyed by the police force," said Father Terrence Fernando of Colombo archdiocese.

The video, released on television and the Internet, showed the youth chased into the sea by policemen wielding sticks, with one policeman actually hitting him.

Media reports say the youth was depressed following a failed love affair and was undergoing treatment. He was throwing stones at trains and vehicles when the police made their move.

Some 700 human rights activists, Christian priests, nuns, laypeople and politicians demonstrated in front of the harbor railway station in Colombo on Nov. 4 in the incident's aftermath.

They held placards with messages such as "Khaki-uniform killers" and "Bring all to book."

Sri Lanka has been under emergency rule for decades due to the civil war with Tamil separatists in the north. Critics say this has led to an authoritarian culture with extended police powers and the suspension of constitutional rights that provides immunity for the police.

Father Fernando said there are thousands of cases of human rights violations by the country's security forces, including police, in which no one has been prosecuted.

"It is a total misuse of power by police. It is the time for religious leaders to raise their voices for the people," he said.

"Now that the war mania is over, (police) should be trained on how to deal with the people," says Sister Noel Christine from Shramabimani center, an NGO.

Anglican Father Marimuthupillai Sathivel, parish priest of St. Michael's Church, also joined the demonstration and condemned the incident.

Catholic Father Sarath Iddamalgoda told UCA News that the elected government is responsible for "murders" because of its "continued neglect in dealing with police criminality."

Incidents of alleged police brutality are growing.

In August, two youths, Danushka Aponso and Dinesh Tharanga Dernando, died in Angulana village on the outskirts of Colombo after being arrested on a minor offense. Their bullet-ridden bodies were discovered a short distance from the police station.

Later the same month, Nipuna Ramanayake, a student of Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) was allegedly abducted and tortured for several hours by police constables. The student claims they beat him with cricket stumps until they broke and kicked him in the face.

Anglican Bishop Duleep de Chickera of Colombo condemned the most recent killing and said that "public confidence in our law enforcement authorities must be maintained under all circumstances otherwise the country can quickly descend into a state of lawlessness."

Police Inspector General Mahinda Balasuriya has promised "the police will look into the problem."
 
   
   
  CHINA: Nuns run to help keep kids in school
  JILIN, MAY 4 (UCAN) -- Driven by a desire to help underprivileged kids get an education, two nuns put on their running shoes, took to the streets and ran in a marathon to raise funds.

Sister Shi Yanhui and Sister Liu Shuling were among the 20,000 who took part in the 2009 Beijing International Marathon last month to raise funds for kids seeking to further their education.

People could take part in the marathon under different sections -- the full 42-kilometer run, the half-distance 21-kilometer event, the nine-kilometer run or the 4.2-kilometer mini marathon.

Both nuns, from the Tianji Social Service Center in Jilin city in the northwest, took part in the nine-kilometer event. They completed the race in about an hour to cheers from Catholics from Jilin and Beijing, their superior general and other supporters.

Sister Shi said she decided to participate in the annual sporting event, held on Oct. 18, after seeing the look of yearning in children who come to the center seeking financial help for their education.

The center, opened in 2006, aims to promote education, health and rural development. It also seeks to provide a platform for the young to learn about and participate in social work.

Sister Shi, from Jilin diocese's Holy Family Convent, wrote in an Oct. 30 article on the center's website that the center is not well funded. She said there are many students studying in high schools and colleges applying for scholarships from the center.

The nun said she felt the urgent need to appeal to people to help academically bright children continue their education.

Center director Father Joseph Wang Guosheng said that fund-raising events prior to the nuns' efforts had raised more than 10,000 yuan (US$1,465) in Jilin diocese. But after the center's consultant told staff that "everyone, everywhere should look at ways of fund-raising," the nuns decided to go to Beijing and take part in the marathon.

The amount they raised in Beijing is still being toted up, he added.

Sister Shi said she was worried about whether she would be able to complete the race when she saw the number of participants -- young and old, locals and foreigners -- taking part in the event. However, she said the prayers from supporters boosted her morale.

"I feel proud" to have taken part in the race, she beamed.
 
   
   
  VATICAN: Congress seeks response on migration, refugee issues
  By Gerard O'Connell, Special Correspondent in Rome

VATICAN CITY, MAY 4 (UCAN) -- Delegates from 12 Asian countries arrive in Rome this week for the World Congress on the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees, which begins on Nov. 9.

The meeting will focus on the effects of globalization on migration and seek concrete guidelines on the Church's response to the issue.

Among the more than 300 delegates from around the world will be 28 from the Church in China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.

Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Ho Chi Minh City is among the 14 keynote speakers and will speak on pastoral responses to urbanization and internal migrations, a big issue in many growing Asian economies.

According to the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, which is organizing this congress, there are at least 200 million migrants in the world today, 11 million refugees, 20 million in forced labor and five to six million stateless people.

"Globalization has created a new labor market and consequently pushed many to emigrate," Archbishop Antonio Maria Veglio, the new president of the pontifical council told a press conference Nov. 3.

Many have also been forced to flee from poverty, misery, natural catastrophes, local and international conflicts, and political or religious persecution, he added.

Globalization may have opened markets to international intervention but "it has not torn down the walls of national boundaries to allow the free circulation of people, with due respect for the sovereignty of states."

The issue "raises a truly ethical question: the search for a new international economic order for a more equitable distribution of the goods of the earth," the archbishop said.

There is a risk that the whole discussion on globalization is seen "almost exclusively with reference to the economic-financial sphere, characterized by the amount of international aid and the degree of trade liberalization."

"We know, as Christians, that life's core is fundamentally spiritual and that the challenge is how to promote and safeguard every human person," he said.

For the Church to care effectively for migrants, there must be effective "cooperation between the migrants' Churches of origin, transit and arrival," the archbishop noted.

An ecumenical response was also essential, he added, stressing the need for cooperation among the different Christian Churches in this regard as well as between Catholics and followers of other religions.

This is the sixth congress since Pope Paul VI established the pontifical council in 1970.

In 2004, this Vatican office, then headed by the Japanese Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao, published a document on the Church's response toward the pastoral needs of migrants.

The document, titled "The love of Christ towards migrants," had called for the setting up of Church offices to deal with migration but not all bishops' conferences had responded, said Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, secretary of the pontifical council.

Governments are also taking a more restrictive approach to migrants, he noted. Lay Christians had also sometimes ignored the instructions laid out in the document.

Archbishop Marchetto said the upcoming congress will evaluate the changes in the world that have taken place since the document was first issued.
 
   
   
  BCTI to conduct one-day parenting seminars, world-renowned counselor Dr Tedd Tripp to lead
  By Our Correspondent

NEW DELHI, NOV 3 -- Does it feel like there is a constant struggle between what you want for your child and what your child wants? Do you get frustrated when your child does not want to complete his homework and does not obey you, even after being told several times?

Does it seem like your teenage child is a stranger in his own home? Do you feel inadequate to face the challenge of parenting? If you say yes to any of the above questions, here is one seminar you must not miss.

The Biblical Counseling Trust of India (BCTI), New Delhi, is organising five one-day parenting seminars at Delhi, Varanasi, Kochi, Lucknow and Ludhiana. Renowned counselor Dr Tedd Tripp will be the resource person at the seminars. Pastors, counselors, and teachers are also encouraged to attend the programme. It is advisable that husbands and wives come together.

The seminar aims to identify the Biblical goal for parenting and compare this with popular views on parenting; enable parents, as well as pastors, counsellors and teachers to apply Scripture to issues of parenting; help parents commit themselves to change and equip them for Christ-centred parenting.

Following is the schedule: Delhi - November 7 (Saturday), Varanasi - November 10 (Tuesday), Kochi - November 14 (Saturday), Lucknow - November 16 (Monday), Ludhiana - November 18 (Wednesday).

The seminars will be conducted both in English and Hindi (Malayalam in Kochi). There will also be books on sale, including THE English and Hindi versions of Dr Tripp's 'Shepherding a Child's Heart'.

Dr Tedd Tripp's bestselling book, 'Shepherding a Child's Heart' has been translated into over 25 languages. He draws on 34 years of experience as a pastor, counselor, school administrator and father in giving this valuable help to parents, teachers and pastors.

Biblical Counselling Trust of India is a movement established in 2005 to support the Church in Hindi-speaking North India (including English-speaking churches in this area) to respond to the challenge of Christian living in the 21st century. They do this by building the capacity of the church to become a caring community through Biblically based training and resources on issues of everyday living.

To register or for further information, contact BCTI on 011 2689 7869 or events.bcti@gmail.com.
 
   
   
  Home for elderly celebrates nun's canonization, new building
  PENANG (MALAYSIA), NOV 3 (UCAN) -- The Little Sisters of the Poor have completed a new building at their home for the elderly here in time to celebrate the canonization of the congregation's founder.

The home's 40 or so residents are reveling in their more comfortable rooms and surroundings.

"It is like paradise here. I have shelter, food and they take care of my medical fees too. If I were still outside, I don't know what would happen to me," said Lee Yung Kuan, 85, a resident.

The old building had been in service for almost 60 years since the home was founded. The new building can accommodate 70 residents in double bedrooms.

The residents completed their move to the new wing on Oct. 24, less than two weeks after Pope Benedict XVI canonized Jeanne Jugan, the congregation's founder, at the Vatican.

The sisters in Penang combined the celebrations of both events with a thanksgiving Mass led by Bishop Antony Selvanayagam of Penang at Holy Spirit Cathedral.

Sister Charlotte Mary, who heads the nuns here, says there are 12 nuns working at the Penang home along with 21 lay staff members and many volunteers.

Volunteer doctors visit the home every week to treat the residents. The elderly people also take part in singing sessions, the game of Lotto twice a month, outings and visits to church.

The residents are mostly poor people introduced to the home by Catholics, or who come to the home themselves. They pay no fees.

There had been an earlier celebration of the canonization in the sisters' second Malaysian facility, the St. Francis Xavier Home for the Elderly, in the capital, Kuala Lumpur on Oct. 17.

"The universal Church celebrates the canonization of Jeanne Jugan," said Archbishop Murphy Pakiam of Kuala Lumpur during a special Mass. "Millions of people have been inspired (by the nun)," Archbishop Pakiam was reported by "Herald," the Malaysian Catholic newspaper as saying.

"The sisters have spent 170 years dedicating themselves to the elderly -- there is peace and serenity in their homes. These are the fruits of this redemption."

The Little Sisters of the Poor congregation was founded after Sister Jeanne Jugan took an elderly, blind and paralyzed woman into her own home in France in 1839. "Jeanne adopted her as her own mother," Archbishop Pakiam said during the celebratory Mass.

"This was the humble start and inspiration that still draws thousands to join her in the mission" of serving the less fortunate, he said.

The congregation first came to Malaysia in 1952, setting up the home in Penang. It established the Kuala Lumpur home in 1965.
 
   
   
  Catholic youth band rocks northeast for peace
  GUWAHATI, NOV 3 (UCAN) -- A 20-member Catholic youth band is using music and dance to spread a message of peace in strife-torn northeastern India.

Members of Rexband 4 Peace have taken a month off work to tour the region and are pulling in big crowds.

Some 20,000 flocked to a show in Shillong, capital of Meghalaya state, on Nov. 1. The day before, 3,000 people were at a performance in Guwahati, the commercial capital of neighboring Assam state, where their message was timely.

Guwahati archdiocese had just concluded a program of special prayers to mark the first anniversary of serial bomb blasts that claimed 90 lives and injured 500 in Guwahati and three other towns of Assam state on Oct. 30 last year.

The northeast region is home to more than 200 ethnic groups who are often in conflict. Investigators believe the attacks last year were the work of the outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland, a predominantly Christian separatist movement seeking a sovereign land for the ethnic Bodo people of Assam.

During their Oct. 30 performance, Rexband 4 Peace communicated the need for forgiveness and respect for life in a 150-minute show. This comprised ethnic Indian music, hymns, slow rock, hip hop and various combinations of contemporary popular music, as well as dance, skits and faith sharing.

Many in the audience were spellbound.

Willie Mathews, a Catholic and manager of the "Assam Tribune" newspaper, said the band "rocked us to the full" and "very powerfully." The performance was "very convincing" and the message penetrated "our minds and hearts."

"Some times we feel shy to proclaim Jesus, but here they were proclaiming him in public," he told UCA News.

Pauline Sister Carolyn Duia, a local musician, found the program "an authentic prayer, worship and praise in the language of young people." She added that the band's message has great significance for troubled northeastern India.

Naomi Ngade, 25, felt the concert "was a moving and prayerful experience." She added, "I found the sharing of their personal experiences genuine and very enriching."

For Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati, the band's "excellent" performance helped the audience to appreciate the value of peace, love and reconciliation.

The Salesian prelate said band members were committed Catholic youngsters who use art as a medium to convey their message. "We have to be open to receive the message they communicate."

Rexband 4 Peace comprises three women and 17 men from the south of the country. They came together in the early 1990s after experiencing Christ through the Jesus Youth charismatic movement which started in Kerala state.

The band began its current tour with a performance in Kolkata on Oct. 25. It will be moving on to Nagaland and Manipur states next.
 
   
   
  Tribal Christians, Hindus pay tribute on cathedral centenary
  By Ajit Paul

RANCHI, NOV 3 (UCAN) -- Tribal Christians, including Protestants, credit a Catholic cathedral for fostering their faith for a century in the eastern Chotanagpur region.

Even Hindus respect St. Mary's Cathedral in Ranchi, says Father Lucas Tirkey, the cathedral's former parish priest. Many come to pray in the church regularly, while others stand outside, or on the road, joining their hands and bowing their heads, he added.

Various Church figures shared their views on the cathedral in the wake of its centennial celebrations held last month.

The cathedral "has become a shrine for the tribal church," said Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo of Ranchi, who celebrated the special jubilee Mass on Oct. 4.

The Church in the region, which comprises largely tribal people, has grown "enormously" and 11 dioceses in the region now trace their roots to the cathedral, Cardinal Toppo told UCA News.

Tribal Catholics from Chotanagpur now play "a key role in the Church in India," he said. Cardinal Toppo, Asia's first tribal cardinal, said the Chotanagpur Church had produced thousands of priests and nuns who now work in various parts of the world.

Jesuit missioners from Belgium built the cathedral in Ranchi, capital of Jharkhand state, as the region's first Catholic church. It was consecrated in 1909. Cultural programs were also held to mark the occasion.

Bishop Nelson Lakra, the chief executive of the Gossner Evangelical Lutheran Church, also paid tribute to the cathedral's position in the community.

"St. Mary's Cathedral is not simply a structure of bricks and sand but a milestone of Christian faith journey," he told UCA News, adding that it "is a door of salvation for many."

Auxiliary Bishop Binay Kandulna of Ranchi says the cathedral has become "the symbol of our faith, evangelization and identity of the Catholic Church in the region." The church has played "a very important role" not only in the local Catholics' spiritual growth but also in the socioeconomic and intellectual advancement of the region, he said.

The cathedral holds the remains of Belgian Father Constant Lievens (1856-1893), a Jesuit missioner whom the tribal Church reveres as the "apostle of Chotanagpur."

Father Lievens worked more than seven years in Chotanagpur and left India for his homeland in 1893. When he left, the region had 36,000 Catholics. During his stay in India he visited hundreds of villages around Ranchi and evangelized thousands of tribal people.

The first Christian group to arrive in the region, however, were Lutheran missioners in the 1840s. The region now has 10 major Christian denominations with more than 1.2 million Catholics and 300,000 Protestants.
 
   
   
  Hindu electoral defeat a 'snub' to radicalism
  PANAJI, NOV 3 (UCAN) -- Electoral defeats for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian people's party) in three states was "a clear thumbs down to (Hindu) fundamentalist forces," according to the head of an inter-religious forum in Goa.

The BJP lost at the polls in Arunachal Pradesh, Haryana and Maharashtra states that elected their legislative assemblies in October. The Congress party, which is also the leading party in the national government, won in these states.

The BJP defeats at the hands of its own community augurs well for India, M. K. Jos, spokesperson of the All Goa Citizens Committee for Social Justice and Action, said.

The BJP is generally considered the political arm of Hindu radicals who have launched violent attacks on Christians and other minorities in the past.

Goa itself has experienced Hindu extremist violence. On Oct. 16, the eve of the Diwali festival of lights, a bomb went off killing two persons. Police said they believe Sanatan Sanstha (eternal foundation), a Hindu spiritual organization, was behind the blast.

Jos alleges that Hindu radicals work under the umbrella of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, national volunteers' corps) and their main agenda is to capture political power and convert India into a Hindu state.

Other people in Goa agree with Jos' views.

Hindu journalist Prassana Shirodkar said that the BJP's losses were a reaction by the people against human rights abuse by some of the party's supporters. "People want peace," he said.

Father Eremito Rebello, rector of Blessed Joseph Vaz Sanctuary, said Hindus have shown they oppose fanaticism committed against minorities. "This augurs well for society. The BJP should read the writing on the wall," he said.

However, political commentator and consultant C.S. Radhakrishnan cautioned against equating the election results with a simple rejection of extremist policy, saying that the situation is more complicated than that.

Nevertheless, he agreed that "the community as a whole is never going to accept any totalitarian approach to dictate what all Hindus should do."
 
   
   
  Discussion on Federal Democratic Agenda for Kerala
  From Our Correspondent

KOCHI, NOV 2 -- A workshop on Federal Democratic Agenda for Kerala was organised by Dharma Rajya Vethi (DRV) at the Chavara Cultural Center, here, on November 1. A draft agenda for the same was presented by DRV convenor P Sherfudeen.

Swami Sachidananda Bharati inaugurated the workshop by lighting the traditional lamp. He also delivered the keynote address.

Representatives of 30 organisations were present on the occasion. The morning session comprised short presentations on the draft agenda. Those who spoke were: K P Joseph (Former Advisor to the UN), Fr. Antony Romance (Ex-Director, KSSF), Alice Lukose (Founder Director, WIN), V V Mathew, (Viswa Vidya Matt), Dr P Koshy, (Samdhan Foundation), Dr James Kottoor, (Journalist and Author), C.R. Neelakantan (Leader, AMJV), Adv. E X Joseph (President, V K Krishna Menon Educational Society) and Professor V P G Marar (Secretary, Gandhi Bhavan).

Acharya R S Varma from Himachal Pradesh and former justice Shamsudeen also participated in the discussions, which were moderated by P C Cyriac (IAS retd). Professor George Kaniapplly and Madhavan Namboodiri also spoke on the occasion.

The afternoon session saw a group discussion on the same agenda, followed by the formation of a plan of action for preparation, adoption and promotion of the agenda and a Public Campaign/Public Interest Litigation to find out how the tsunami funds were utilised.

Dharma Rajya Vethi (DRV), which was formed in 1990, is a common political platform of NGOs, social movements, institutions, charitable bodies, business and industrial houses and like-minded people who share a common goal of a hunger-free, caste-free and corruption-free India. On January 30, 2009, DRV took the lead in inaugurating the Second Freedom Struggle -- a national-level movement aimed at building a better India.
 
   
   
  Tearful farewell to Rev Mathew Thomas as his body is laid to rest
  From Our Correspondent

KUMBANAD (KERALA), NOV 2 -- The mortal remains of Rev Mathew Thomas, Vicar, St. James Mar Thoma Church, Dwarka, New Delhi, was laid to rest at Vattakottan Mar Thoma Church cemetery here this morning.

The funeral service was led by Joseph Mar Thoma, Metropolitan of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church, Zacharias Mar Theophilos, Suffragan Metropolitan, Thomas Mar Thimotheos and Abraham Mar Poulos, Bishop of the Delhi and Mumbai dioceses of the church. A large number of priests were present on the occasion.

Rev Mathew Thomas died in a hospital in Delhi where he was admitted to following a road accident on Friday last. His body was brought here by air on Sunday afternoon. From Thiruvalla, the headquarters of the church, the body was taken to his native place Vattakottan in Kumbanad in a carcade consisting of at least 200 cars. A large number of priests and laypeople visited his house and offered condolences to his wife Leena Mathew.

While thanking the general public for sharing her grief, Mrs Mathew spoke at length about the prayerful life he led as a priest. Soon after getting up early in the morning, he would spend time praying alone. After bath, he would again pray with the family. Whenever he got an opportunity to spend time in prayers, he never missed it.

He spent every Saturday evening preparing the next day's sermon. He was not happy at the prospect of doing anything other than preparing the sermon on Saturday evenings. Though he had been a priest for many years, he was as fearful of leading the Holy Communion service as he was when he wore the cassock for the first time. This was because he was fearful in the presence of God.

Leena Kochamma, as Mrs Mathew is affectionately called, recalled a recent instance when he heard a particular Christian song. He was so impressed by the rendering that he wondered, what an impact it would have made had it been sung as part of the heavenly worship. Salvation was a constant theme for his meditations, she said.

During the seven and a half years of married life they had, she got love an ordinary woman would have got in seventy years.

Mrs Mathew's reminiscences brought most of those present at the funeral to tears.

Binu Alex, Secretary of the Dwarka Church, recalled on the occasion that every time the priest received his monthly salary from the parish, he would immediately contribute his tithe.

Other speakers on the occasion recalled the saintly life Rev Mathew Thomas led. Among those present were MPs P.J. Kurian and Anto Antony, MLAs Shivdasan Nair and Joseph M. Puthusseri, other political and religious leaders and a large number of people.
 
   
   
  Vatican clarifies celibacy issue for Anglican seminarians, priests
  By Gerard O'Connell, Special Correspondent in Rome

VATICAN CITY, NOV 2 (UCAN) -- Seminarians from Anglican communities who join the Catholic Church under new papal provisions would be required to be celibate as a rule, said the head of the Vatican's doctrinal office.

However, Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, left open the possibility that there could be exceptions to this requirement in a statement issued by the Holy See Press Office on Oct. 31.

"With regard to future seminarians, it was considered purely speculative whether there might be some cases in which a dispensation from the celibacy rule might be petitioned," the cardinal stated.

"For this reason," he said, "objective criteria about any such possibilities (e.g. married seminarians already in preparation) are to be developed jointly by the Personal Ordinariate and the Episcopal Conference, and submitted for approval of the Holy See."

The cardinal was responding to media speculation concerning the issue of celibacy in the forthcoming Vatican document on the creation of "personal ordinariates" -- similar to dioceses -- for Anglicans entering into full communion with the Catholic Church.

The American-born cardinal said there was "no substance" to press speculation that the delay in publishing the apostolic constitution was due to "disagreement about whether celibacy will be the norm for the future clergy of the Provision."

Married Anglican ministers may be allowed to become Catholic priests "on a case by case basis," as is the current practice, said the cardinal.

The Vatican cardinal said the delay in publishing the apostolic constitution "is purely technical in the sense of ensuring consistency in canonical language and references."

He anticipated that the technical work on the document and the "norms" that will accompany it "will be completed by the end of the first week of November" but did not give a date for actual publication.

It is not clear whether the document will be published before Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, head of the 80-million strong Anglican Communion, meets Pope Benedict XVI in a private audience in the Vatican on Nov. 21.

Archbishop Williams was "informed" of the Pope's decision in relation to the Anglicans, some two to three weeks prior to the Vatican's Oct. 20 press announcement on the apostolic constitution. However, the Anglican leader has made clear that he was "not consulted" by the Vatican on this matter.

Nevertheless, in a surprisingly ecumenical gesture that subsequently led to calls for his resignation, he issued a joint statement with Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster on Oct. 20 for the presentation of the new papal provisions.

Archbishop Williams is coming to Rome for a Nov. 19 symposium to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of the great figures of the Catholic ecumenical movement, the Dutch-born Cardinal Jan Willebrands. He was president of what is today known as the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity from 1969 to 1988.

Many in Rome are waiting to see what the Anglican leader will have to say on the new papal provisions and, in particular, what he and the Pope will say to each other when they meet in the Vatican.
 
   
   
  Jesuit leaders pray at Hindu shrine in Kolkata
  KOLKATA, NOV 2 (UCAN) -- Senior Jesuit leaders from South Asia who prayed inside a shrine dedicated to a Hindu ascetic say the visit and prayers have "enriched" them.

About 20 provincials and regional superiors of the Jesuit Conference of South Asia spent 15 minutes at the shrine in Belur on Oct. 29, during an event designed to foster interreligious relations.

The Religious conference comprises provincials and regional superiors from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

The shrine, which sits on the banks of the Ganges, north of Kolkata, is dedicated to Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, a 19th century Indian mystic, who claimed to have had visions of Jesus Christ. Swami Vivekananda, the mystic's most famous disciple, founded the shrine in 1886.

Calcutta Jesuit provincial Father George Pattery, who organized the visit, said the monks at Ramkrishna Mission, who manage the shrine, promote interfaith dialogue. The Jesuit priest has close ties with the monks.

Father Anthony da Silva, provincial of Goa, told UCA News the visit was "an enriching experience" and added the shrine's mystical atmosphere "greatly impressed" him.

Gujarat provincial superior Father Keith Abranches commented that the visit was "inspiring and enriching. It was another way of God-realization."

Dipankar Basu, a Hindu teacher at Kolkata's Jesuit-managed St Xavier's School, guided the group during their visit.

He said it was remarkable to see Catholic priests praying in their own way in a Hindu shrine. An event like this "is sure to have greater effects in creating goodwill, and help people of all faiths to have a change in attitude toward other religions," Basu told UCA News.

Swami Shantanu Maharaj, from the Sri Ramkrishna Mission headquarters, said Swami Vivekananda founded his religious order on Christmas night in 1886, after he and his friends spent an evening meditating on Christ.

He said Sri Ramkrishna had a vision of Jesus, after which he could not think of anything else for three days. Two of his disciples, Swami Brahmananda and Swami Shivananda, too had a vision of Jesus on Christmas eve 1903 at the Belur shrine.

Earlier in the day, the Jesuit superiors celebrated Mass at the tomb of Blessed Teresa in Kolkata and met Missionaries of Charity superior general, Sister Mary Prema.

The Jesuit provincial and regional superiors are attending their twice-a-year meeting at Konchowki, south of Kolkata.
 
   
   
  Schools for farmers under learning by doing programme of Bihar Govt
  From Anuja Sipre

PATNA, NOV 1 -- To give a new direction to agriculture in Bihar, the State Government has decided to open schools for farmers on their farmlands where agriculture scientists will teach them the skills of farming and techniques to increase production.

The government has launched this unique venture under the 'Learning by Doing' programme to augment the rabi yield in the wake of the drought which has not only adversely affected the kharif crops this season and but is also threatening to cause a crisis of food grains in the state.

The farm schools aim at achieving the escalated target of rabi production to compensate for the loss of the kharif crops

There will be two schools in each block. Thus altogether 1078 farms schools will be opened in the whole state. Set up on 2.5 acres of land, each school will have 25 farmers as students. Besides lessons on agriculture, the farmers will also get to know about the modern techniques adopted in fisheries, animal husbandry and gardening.

Sources in the agriculture department said that the government has already prepared a list of 25 farmers from each block and the names of agriculture scientists who will teach them. On completion of their training, each of the trained farmers will educate 20 other farmers of their villages and blocks, sources said. Altogether 5.39 lakh farmers will be trained at these schools.

The director of the agriculture department, R K Sohane, said that the agriculture scientists and farmers will also conduct experiments by sowing the crops. A sum of Rs 10,000 will be spent on this experiment. The ownership of the crops will, however, remain with the landholders. The farmers will be taught everything, right from sowing to storage of crops.

According to the agriculture department officials, each farm school will incur an estimated expenditure of Rs 50,000. The cost includes the expenditure on mattresses, black boards and chairs for the teachers. "The amount has already been sanctioned by the state cabinet," an agriculture department official said.

Agriculture Commissioner K C Saha has already instructed all the district magistrates to begin the farm schools in their respective areas in November. The delay in starting the schools will defeat the whole purpose as the wheat sowing time lasts only from November 15 to December 15, it is learnt.

The opening of the farm schools are in tandem with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's declaration of 2009 as the 'agriculture year' to emphasise the growth of agriculture in the state.

Earlier, the Agriculture Department had taken out a farmers' consciousness rath on October and also organised agriculture development camps and agriculture fairs in all the districts of the state.
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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