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Stewardship and Trusteesh
  By A.J. Philip  
  I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasi  
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Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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Back to infancy -- they n
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
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Church, apologise
  By Rajendra Prabhu  
  THE report from Chandigarh that 14-year old Ruchika Girhotra, who was a victim of molestation by a high-ranking police officer, was expelled from a Christian school on the pretext of delay in payment of fees was shocking to Christians with a conscience.

As I write this, the TV channels quote Father Thomas of the Sacred Heart School claiming that the expulsion was not due to external pressure. If we place that event in the context of the way the police officer harassed the members of the Girhotra family for lodging a complaint on the attempt to molest a minor girl and how false cases were instituted against her brother to compel the family to withdraw the complaint, the least one can say about Father Thomas' claim is that it is less than true.

It stands to reason that her expulsion from the school in the context of what the police officer was doing, must have also added to her frustration and helplessness that ultimately drove her to suicide. If that is so, Father Thomas and his school are party to a greater crime.

It cannot be that the school was oblivious of the circumstances of the case and of how their student was being subjected to harassment by a DGP-rank police officer. In the circumstances, we should have expected the school to stand by its student and go out of the way to help her overcome the emotional and physical trauma that she and her family were undergoing. The true Christian spirit demanded it.

Even if she was amiss in paying the fees -- that allegation does not seem to be true -- the school had the duty as a Christian institution to care for the child, share her trauma and seek to heal her. Instead, the school tried to be unsympathetic and heartless towards the victim of molestation. There is no excuse for what the school did.

As of now we do not know what the Church authorities did at the time the girl was expelled. Surely, they should have known as the case was on the front burner all along. Did they care to find out from the school why a wholly un-Christian attitude was adopted by this Christian, especially Catholic, school? If not, why not?

The result is that such a well-known Christian institution is facing flak from the media, the authorities and has brought the entire Christian community to hang its head in shame. The church authorities should take action at least now.

More than that, they should apologise publicly, and ask the school authorities to make amends. Christian leaders, Church dignitaries and Christian associations must put pressure on the school for this. Perhaps, this would serve the interests of all Christians in India if the Church declares one day of penance for all Christians asking Jesus for forgiveness at the shameful action of a school that goes by his sacred name.
Rajendra Prabhu, senior journalist and Christian by choice, is author of 'Understanding Jesus'. He wrote this exclusively for The Herald of India.
Nothing sacred
  By Balvinder Singh  
  RUCHIKA'S sad story is taking weird turns. The well-orchestrated media hype has led to, apart from a number of revelations about the criminal-natured lapses on many a count, some 'tamasha'- kind rituals also.

Holding of ritualistic and meaningless candle marches that too only at those prominent places where media arches reach easily may perhaps be justified.

But what about the following one?

A local Dance Institute reportedly held a competition at a local government college to 'honour' the couple that pursued relentlessly the Ruchika case for decades. The function was presided over by a high-level bureaucrat, allegedly facing charges of corruption in a big job scam of the Chandigarh Administration. (Chandigarh Newsline, December 26)

Seemingly, all this hype has helped in knitting a noose to be put around the neck of one of the real culprits, as quite a few are being projected, apart from the convicted molester.

Not so strangely, the noose has been knit of a set small size as was being done, as a routine, in the fabled Andher Nagari of Chaupat Raja!

However, it won't fit any of the big and fat neck of the real culprits, from the actual molester to a corrupt administration (both police and civil) to lackadaisical and insensitive judiciary.

This leaves one with only one convenient option; the thin neck of the then Principal, a nun, of the Sacred Heart School where the unfortunate victim studied, and from where the victim was reportedly ousted, seems to be the most convenient bait to be hanged. While a PIL has already been filed against the school, the Chandigarh Administration has also instituted an enquiry into the involvement of the school.

It is another matter that the victim committed suicide years after leaving the school and there was not even a whimper in the media about the school's involvement in the case. Maybe, the media, too, was as callous as it now projects the school to be.
Ignored Ruchikas
  By Balvinder Singh  
  IT is sad that our media, in general and with few exceptions, reacts mainly to those 'crispy' or titillating stories, howsoever tragic they may be, that involve high-profile people.

Here my reference is to the unfortunate Ruchika molestation case which is being highlighted extensively even after conviction, although delayed and with an award of a mild punishment to the high-profile convict.

Have a look at another case which needed much more attention than Ruchika's case as two young boys from a Punjab village lost their lives due to the negligence of a dubious sports body of Himachal Pradesh in 2006 while they were participating in a so-called national-level competition.

Maybe because the boys belonged to a poor family, the story did not have any 'exciting' angle.

Thus I made an individual effort and filed a PIL in the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

The High Court admitted the PIL in regard to the negligent death of two young boys of DAV College, Chandigarh (UT), who were residents of Punjab and representing a Sports Association of Himachal Pradesh.

Almost all Sports "organisations are there, more to provide certificates for getting back-door entries to professional colleges through sports quotas than sincerely promoting players or games. Otherwise, how come that most of the players who earn distinctions of playing at State/National or International (by collaborating with a couple of similar dubious organisations of small countries) tournaments, show no further interest in those very games after they get admitted to professional institutes".

I am not much optimistic about the outcome of the case as the culprits can, perhaps, wriggle out of the case easily by stating that the case involving, apart from Punjab and Chandigarh, the State of Himachal Pradesh, which is out of the Punjab and Haryana High Court's jurisdiction.

That is why I took the matter to almost all the prominent local dailies for its vigorous perusal but none showed any interest in this seemingly stale story that would have put many a local high-ups in trouble.

Since our judicial system is callously slow and the amount of punishment that it rarely awards to the culprits, as has been done in the infamous Ruchika case, there is an urgent need to streamline all our sports organisations that seemingly are havens of corruption of every kind.
It's all about Jesus!
  By James Chacko  
  THIS may have been a difficult, even discouraging year for you. But now is the season to grab hold of great hope. Christmas reminds us once again that God has not forgotten you -- Jesus has come! He feels your every pain, identifies with your every tear, and forever takes away your every sin.

God is passionately committed to ensuring that His Son will be known, followed and worshiped by every tribe, people and nation. That is what Christmas is all about -- a Son has been given, a Savior has come. His rule will continue to expand until it drenches the entire earth. It's all about Jesus!

Jesus Christ is the light of the world! "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light" (Isa. 9:2).

Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world! "He tasted death for everyone" (Heb. 2:9).

For all who turn from sin and believe in Him, He makes all things new.

Jesus Christ is the hope of the world! "Christ in you, bringing with Him the hope of all the glorious things to come" (Colossians 1:27, Phillips).

In the midst of a broken world full of heartache, this is a season for us to rejoice. God has come to us in His Son! Jesus has redeemed us by His blood, and He has commissioned us to take His love to everyone, everywhere. It's all about Jesus!

We have every reason to rejoice. Jesus invaded a world much like ours. The world was blanketed in repression, despair, and darkness. But then -- "the people who sat in darkness [saw] a great light" (Isa. 9:2).

Everything surrounding the Incarnation bubbles over with joy. When the angel Gabriel brought his annunciation to Mary, he said, "Rejoice, highly favored one" (Luke 1:28). When Mary extolled the Lord in her Magnificat she said, "My spirit has rejoiced in God, my Savior" (Luke 1:47). When the pre-natal John the Baptist encountered the pre-natal Christ, his mother said, "The babe leaped in my womb for joy" (Luke 1:44). When the wise men saw Jesus, "they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy" (Matt. 2:10). The angels said to the shepherds, "I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people" (Luke 2:10).

Why all this joy? "For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). We were doomed -- but God has come to save us!

No religion in the world comes even close to the Christian faith when it comes to music. No religion has reason to rejoice as we do. We know God is with us. We know our sins are paid for. We know our Redeemer lives. The only rational response to this Good News is to rejoice, praise God, and worship.

Do you know what a "carol" is? It is a song or dance of joy and praise. Listen to those old Christmas carol lyrics again (all the verses). You have something to sing about!

Isaac Watts was the Matt Redman of his time. He called on all creation to rejoice -- because God has come to us in Jesus Christ. God is with us! God is for us!

Let all humanity rejoice in the Incarnation!

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing.

Let the creation rejoice in Jesus, our Savior and Lord!

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

Rejoice that sin's curse is broken by our almighty Christ!

No more let sin and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessing known
Far as the curse is found.

Rejoice that Jesus reigns supreme!
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.

It's time to sing! It's time to dance! Rejoice -- the Lord has come! Not only is Jesus "the reason for the season," He is the reason for everything. "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together" (Col. 1:17, NASB). It's all about Jesus!
Rev. James Chacko is the senior pastor of LifeBridge Worship Centre, Chandigarh and a Ph.D. research candidate at Punjabi University, Patiala.
The Good Shepherd
  By Shaheen Chander  
  THE HERALD OF INDIA published on its home page a striking picture on December 8. The photograph, beautifully shot by well-known photo journalist Amin War, depicted a shepherd holding his sheep in his hands while crossing a river near Srinagar.

The picture left me astounded -- not only was the scenic beauty captivating but the way a shepherd so cautiously took his sheep to the other side of the river was intriguing.

I found a hidden meaning in this picture. Maybe, I could relate it to the painting that I have seen so many times at home, in the church -- Jesus holding a lamb in his hands.

Yes! The picture surely has a hidden Christmas message for all of us that the good shepherd 'Jesus Christ' cares for all his sheep -- his children.

There can be times when we are overwhelmed with fears, with no strength left to cross the tide but wait; there is a Good Shepherd who will safely take you to the other side. He will never betray you nor forsake you (Joshua 1:5).

Look at the sheep. They have faith in their shepherd that he will take them to safer places and will not abandon them. The sheep can trust him and depend on him for its food, shelter and all other needs. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want (Psalm 23).

If these creations of God can put all their trust in their shepherd, then why can't WE?

After all, He loves us the most. He created us in HIS own image.

Another striking feature of this shot is the place around which it has been taken -- the place also known as the 'Paradise on Earth'. Surely, God resides there.

But the terror attacks and the bloodshed has painted God's heaven in red. The mass destruction and the killings that the people have witnessed here go against its name.

God's home on earth has to be pure and it has to be painted with the colours of peace and happiness.

Christmas season brings a message of peace, joy and happiness for everyone. The season is meant to spread prosperity among all the people on earth.

So this Christmas, the Good Shepherd calls all his sheep -- he loves each of them equally no matter what place, colour or faith they belong to. The Good Shepherd is there to help them. He surely will. They just need to put all their trust in him.

So this Christmas, let the Good Shepherd take charge of our life.
Black Sunday
  By Ashish Alexander  
  IN 1992, just like this year, December 6 was a Sunday. We got up early morning to claim a cricket pitch before some rival teams came and denied us the chance to have a game on a much-awaited weekly holiday. We won the spot but I think we lost the match; and, when we got back home in the evening we heard the news that Babri Masjid has been pulled down.

The news did not have much meaning for me. I was neither a Hindu nor a Muslim and lived in a largely non-politicized city. There weren't any Muslims among our playmates and, in hindsight, we were saved the exchange of uncomfortable glances. Most guys I played with were Hindus and Sikhs but they seemed not too interested in this news-item either.

Those were the days when Sikh terrorism was still palpable in our parts; Hindu-Muslim conflict belonged to the Partition era. In any case, all of us teenagers loved our cricket more than anything else and were more interested in India playing the first one-day international cricket match against South Africa the next day.

I was fascinated by the fact that they were no minnows, though they had just started playing international cricket. I had fallen in love with that electrifying fielder at backward point, Jonty Rhodes and worshipped White Lightning Allan Donald. The historic match was played on December 7, 1992, at New Lands, the first ODI to be played in South Africa.

India lost that match, much like our team the previous day. India's best fielder and captain, Mohammad Azharuddin, another of my idols, dropped not one but two catches. Catastrophic as it was, it was a sort of thing that happened on a cricket field and an Indian fan had learnt to make peace with such debacles.

Meanwhile, the reports of Babri demolition and subsequent analyses were multiplying every single day. For a brief moment, next day, I listened to a panel discussion on the same. What caught my attention was what one panelist said.

If my memory serves me correct, he very categorically declaimed that the demolition had disconcerted each and every Muslim in this country; how else could one explain Azhar missing those straightforward chances. Is this true? Or is it just a fantastic conjecturing -- I asked myself but could not decide.

This was something far more disturbing than India's capitulation in Cape Town could ever have been. In fact, it was at that moment the name Mohammad Azharuddin began signifying the notion of Muslim to me. Before that it only meant a dashing middle-order batsman and a supremely agile fielder to me, whose feats I secretly wished to emulate.

As a child, after Indira Gandhi's assassination, I had learnt to neatly divide humanity into three -- Christians, Sikhs and Hindus. After Post-Mandal agitation, as a pre-teen, I became aware of another set of categories to divide my friends and acquaintances -- General, SC and OBC. While I was knocking at the gates of adulthood, in December 1992, humanity further splintered.

These divisions were real as I once found a younger man explaining to me the difference between Hindus and Muslims. We are so different -- he said to me -- We worship full moon and they worship new moon; we pray with our palms joined together but they keep them apart; we pay obeisance to the rising sun looking east, they turn towards west to pray.

Surface differences like these became creeds of separate nationalities. Those who wanted to begin a movement of one people only gave birth to unbridgeable differences between one individual and the other. Those who thought they had won that spot in Ayodhya on Sunday, December 6, 1992, lost their souls bit by bit, category by category.
Modern-day 'lepers'
  By Bobby Ross Jr.  
  CONVICTED of indecent liberties with a teenage girl when he was 20 and attempted second-degree rape years later, James Nichols served his prison time -- and then found himself back in police custody.

His offense: going to church.

Authorities said the 31-year-old Nichols violated a new North Carolina law that bars sex offenders from coming within 300 feet of any place intended primarily for use, care, or supervision of minors.

Nichols was arrested after worship at Moncure Baptist Church because the church has child-care facilities for families attending services. He is challenging the constitutionality of the law, claiming it violates his religious freedom.

Laws in 36 states establish where sex offenders can -- and cannot -- live or visit, an Associated Press survey found. Some states provide exemptions for churches, but many do not.

"One of the most vexing problems facing our society, and more particularly the church, is how to deal with sex offenders," said Pat Nolan, vice president of Prison Fellowship. "As one pastor expressed to me, 'Jesus taught us to be forgiving. However, he also has made me shepherd of my flock, and it is my responsibility to protect them from the wolves."

At the South Whidbey Assembly of God in Langley, Washington, church leaders try to balance grace and compassion with due diligence, said senior pastor Matt Chambers.

"We have always tried to act from the position of the damage that would be done if someone offended/re-offended and we had known about it and did nothing or told no one," said Chambers, whose rural congregation averages Sunday attendance between 250 and 300.

In the case of one woman convicted of sex crimes against boys and girls, the church laid out specific guidelines, he said: She'd arrive for the assembly, go directly to the sanctuary, and exit immediately when the service was over. If she needed to use the restroom, specific members were assigned to accompany her.

"She complied for a period of time," Chambers said, "but then began to bend/break our requirements, so we told her that she was no longer welcome and notified the church that she then tried to attend."

A major problem, in Nolan's view, is that many sex offender statutes are written so broadly that they "lump many people convicted of relatively minor offenses in with the hardcore sex offenders."

For example, teenagers who "moon" someone as a prank or a 17-year-old who has consensual sex with his girlfriend can be deemed sex offenders for the rest of their lives, he said.

Such "overly broad definitions" divert attention from pedophiles who truly pose a threat, Nolan said.
"I have heard it said that sex offenders are modern-day lepers," he said. "That is probably pretty accurate. And we know that Jesus didn't shun lepers. He loved them and healed them. He expects us to do the same."

But in some cases, Christians take their strong belief in redemption too far and fail to monitor offenders properly, said Deborah A. Ausburn, a Georgia attorney who defends day cares, camps, and churches against sex abuse claims.

"It's at the core of our spiritual identity. Most of us grew up on stories of sinners who accomplished great things for God, and very few of us have encountered true depravity in person," said Ausburn, who attends Church of Our Redeemer in Marietta, Georgia.

"So, the power of redemption is more real to us than the power of sin," she added. "So, we are apt to let our guard down more than we should."

Increasingly, however, liability insurance carriers demand that church leaders address the issue of registered sex offenders in their congregations, said Kim Estes, education and outreach director for peace of Mind, a Bellevue, Washington-based nonprofit.

For many churches, insurance mandates and lawsuits have sparked formal training on sex abuse prevention and even "contracts" that offenders must sign before attending, Estes said.

"Lack of background checks in the past, especially in situations where adults would be in contact with children, made churches magnets for sex offenders," Estes said. "Churches are now realizing that an organized plan in place... is a better, safer solution."

Winning Kids Inc., based in Richmond Hill, Ontario, produced Plan to Protect, a protection manual used in about 4,000 churches in the United States and Canada.

The manual advocates designating someone in the congregation to accompany a sex offender while at church. "Hopefully with an attitude of friendship rather than an obvious guard," said Diane Roblin-Lee, Winning Kids' director of communications, "thus protecting the children while encouraging the person who has already been punished by the justice system to strengthen his or her determination never to reoffend."

In the North Carolina case, attorney Glenn Gerding argues that the law is unconstitutional and takes away Nichols' "best hope for rehabilitation, healing, stability and redemption" -- and that of more than 11,000 other registered sex offenders.

"Given our state's strict residency and employment restrictions, as well as societal discrimination against and vilification of sex offenders," Gerding said in a court filing, "churches are often the last hope for many sex offenders who need the stability and guidance a church pastor and church family can provide."
(Courtesy: Christianity Today)
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