Peruvian Bishops calling government to negotiate with indigenous organizations

Peru, Sep 4, 2008 - Catholic bishops in Peru's jungle dioceses have thrown their support behind indigenous organizations, calling on the government to negotiate with native peoples before passing laws that affect their lives and livelihoods.

In an open letter released Sept. 2, bishops from six dioceses called on the government "to foster effective participation of the interested parties in the design and implementation of the country's development policies. If this is not the case, we warn that the physical and sociocultural survival of indigenous people will be threatened."

The bishops expressed support of indigenous peoples in their fight against laws that change the way native or peasant community lands can be sold or leased, as well as a series of other decrees dealing with farmland, protected areas and water rights. The decrees form part of a package of 99 laws the government passed between March and June as part of its process to implement the free-trade agreement signed last year with the United States.

"An issue as delicate as land needs to be addressed through dialogue with the indigenous peoples. The government simply made a decision and this is the wrong way to do things," Bishop Francisco Gonzalez Hernandez of Puerto Maldonado told CNS
 in a telephone interview after the letter was released. "We are not making a utopian environmental demand or one that sees native peoples as needing protection but a call to the government for fairness."

Native federations, led by the umbrella group Indigenous Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon, started a protest Aug. 8 against the two decrees that changed land tenure laws. Deeming their action "peaceful indigenous insurgency," protesters occupied oil and gas installations in the northern and southern jungle.

The government made an effort to negotiate but declared the decrees were not up for debate. In place of negotiation, Peruvian President Alan Garcia ordered a 30-day state of emergency Aug. 18 in four jungle provinces.

The standoff between the government and the indigenous association was ended by Congress, which repealed the two most contentious decrees. However, Bishop Gonzalez expressed fear that the problem is not over and that there are tensions just below the surface.

"President Garcia has said that he will insist on these decrees, which has everyone on guard. The government seems to have a strategy of rushing headfirst into things without contemplating the consequences," he said.

Bishop Gonzalez, whose diocese is in the southern jungle, said he and bishops from central and northern jungle dioceses are willing to facilitate debate and negotiation.

"We are not ideological or tied to one position. We are reasonable and want to find solutions, but we also demand that the rights of indigenous peoples be respected. The government has confused this with opposition," he said.

The government, while toning down its public commentary, continued its hard-line push against indigenous organizations, particularly the indigenous umbrella group.

The Peruvian Institute for International Cooperation, an agency that oversees nongovernmental organizations that receive donations from abroad, ordered an audit of the finances of the Indigenous Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon. But after the Sept. 2-3 investigation, the agency announced it found nothing wrong with the organization's books.

Pro-government media also weighed in, accusing international agencies, such as the British aid agency Oxfam, of encouraging the protests.

Oxfam published a lengthy examination of the 99 decrees, finding that dozens are illegal because they violate constitutional norms or have nothing to do with the free-trade agreement, so should not have been passed as part of the package.

Edson Rosales, a spokesman for the Indigenous Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon, said the government is trying to cover its mistakes by demonizing his organization and its supporters.

"We are only demanding that the government respect our rights that are in the constitutional and international conventions signed by Peru. We do not think that this is too much to ask for, but the government does not want to admit it was wrong," he said.


Chinese Catholic bishop was arrested after Olympic

Beijing, Aug. 25, 2008 - China's most prominent "underground" Catholic bishop was arrested on Sunday, August 24: the day that also saw the closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Beijing.

Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo of Zhengding was taken into custody by several police officers at Wuqiu cathedral. No immediate reason was given for his arrest, and authorities have not disclosed where the aging bishop is being held.

The 73-year-old Bishop Jia, who heads an active diocese of over 100,000 Catholics in the Hebei diocese, spent 15 years in prison, from 1963 to 1978. Since his release he has been re-arrested at least 12 times; ordinarily he has been detained for a few days of interrogation each time. He has been living under house arrest since 1989.

During the Olympic Games, Chinese Christians had been warned not to organize public worship. About 1,000 Catholics in Zhengding defied those orders to join Bishop Jia for a Mass celebrating the feast of the Assumption at Wuqiu cathedral on August 15. Chinese officials-- particularly in the Hebei diocese, where the underground Catholic Church is strong-- have a history of arresting Christian leaders just before and after major public events such as Communist party congresses. The Olympic Games brought a series of warnings against "unauthorized" religious activity, and AsiaNews has noted that some members of the underground Church predicted a crackdown immediately after the Olympics, when media attention decreased.


30th anniversary of the U.S. bishops' pastoral statement

The 30th anniversary of the U.S. bishops' pastoral statement on people with disabilities offers an opportunity to acquaint a new generation of bishops and young people with the document's message, according to speakers at an Aug. 13 "Webinar."

"I'm not suggesting you take on a whole new line of work," said Peg Kolm, director of the Office for Ministry to Persons With Disabilities in the Archdiocese of Washington. "But you need to take this work to the next generation in a partnership year."

Janice Benton, executive director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability, said many in the disabilities community viewed the November 1978 pastoral statement as "our Declaration of Independence." The document said there "can be no separate church for people with disabilities" but only "one flock that follows a single shepherd."

The hourlong Web-based seminar sponsored by the National Catholic Partnership on Disability brought together catechists, parish advocates, directors of disability ministry and others at more than 200 sites across the United States. Co-sponsors included the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, Kolm's office, National Apostolate for Inclusion Ministry and National Catholic Office for the Deaf.

Noting that 30 years represents "a generation, the average period of time between human parents and their offspring," Kolm made a number of suggestions designed to expand awareness in a new generation of the gifts of those with disabilities and their role in the Catholic Church.

The mother of a now-17-year-old daughter with a "rare syndrome," Kolm said she once thought the church only had "the three B's" to offer her child -- "baptism, burial and back of the church." Instead she found that the bishops' pastoral became her "portal back into my church."

She said the Washington Archdiocese is planning "a full year of engagement" around the anniversary, from Nov. 16, 2008, to Nov. 15, 2009. Suggested activities for the Come a Little Closer Campaign range from speakers in classroom or youth ministry settings to film festivals or book clubs on disability-related themes to teen social events.

"Teens with and without disabilities need and want more social experiences," Kolm said. "Partner with a youth minister, special educators and other professionals in the field to have a 3-M event: Mass, meal, mission."

Benton's talk during the Webinar traced the history of disabilities ministry since the pastoral statement and outlined some emerging trends.

She said the 1978 pastoral -- portions of which were read on the Senate floor during debate on the Americans With Disabilities Act -- influenced passage of that legislation. In turn, the legislation enacted in 1990 influenced "people's expectations of access in all aspects of their lives, including access to worship," Benton said.

"While much has been done" in the past 30 years to bring the disabled into full participation in the church and society, she added, "exclusion continues to happen, and people sometimes leave the church in pain."

Describing disabilities as "a normal part of life," she said one person in five and one family in three is affected by a disability. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 41.3 million Americans -- 15 percent of the civilian, noninstitutionalized population 5 and older -- has some level of disability. This includes 6 percent of children 5 to 15, 12 percent of people 16 to 64 and 41 percent of adults 65 and older.

The recent past has seen "an ever-increasing range of disabilities" with which the ministry must be involved, including autism-spectrum disorders, celiac disease and mental illness, Benton said. Among other factors affecting disabilities ministry, she named budget cuts, the "changing face" of the U.S. Catholic Church -- including a greater percentage of Hispanic members and a growing elderly population -- and the "increasingly individualistic" American society.

During the Webinar, moderator Tom Grenchik, executive director of the bishops' pro-life secretariat, read an Aug. 15 letter from Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, episcopal moderator of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability.

"Today, a new generation of leaders must be recruited and trained so we can continue to advance in the 21st century our church's outreach, catechesis, advocacy and support in the important work of disabilities ministry," the cardinals said.

"We join the National Catholic Partnership on Disability in calling on all people of good will to find new pathways, develop new partnerships and bring new vitality to this ministry, ever mindful that we are one flock under the care of a single shepherd," they added.

To help participants in the Webinar follow up on the event, organizers posted a "disability ministry tool kit" on the Web site Among the more than two dozen items in the tool kit were bishops' documents, access and inclusion models, tips for reaching those with specific disabilities, a plan developed by the Diocese of Richmond, Va., for Inclusion Sunday, lists of disability-related films and books, and suggested prayers.

Archbishop of Kirkuk, held a joint prayer for peace

Kirkuk  – In the last two days attacks by suicide bombers and car bombs have sown death and destruction among the civilian population and targeted government and other political leaders. But there are also signs of hope, people who do not want to give in to the logic of violence perpetrated by terrorists.

Today at noon in the Sunni al-Rashid Mosque in Domez, Iraqi Kurdistan, more than 250 religious leaders, Sunnis, Shiites, Kurdish and Turkmen, as well as a ten-member Christian delegation led Mgr Louis Sako, archbishop of  Kirkuk, held a joint prayer “to promote peace and end the violence” in the country.

The initiative came from Imam Ali Iman, head of the local Sunni community, who called upon the leaders of the various faiths and ethnic groups in the region “to pray for peace and stability’ in Kirkuk and across Iraq.

During the ceremony the spiritual leaders of the various communities prayed for the victims of last month’s attacks.

This is a strong signal that reiterates a desire to work together for “the good” of the country and “isolate the terrorist cells that want to sow death and destruction.”

In addition to prayers each leader address those present stressing the meaning of today’s initiative and the joint willingness to cooperate to ensure stability and security.

Invited by the imam the first to speak was Mgr Louis Sako himself who began quoting from Psalm 133 which says “How good it is, how pleasant, where the people dwell as one!”

The initiative underscores the importance of making a joint effort on behalf of peace whilst not forgetting the differences that each community of faithful and each ethnic group possesses, differences which can instead be a precious source for development and growth.

“If we want to live in peace and freedom we must be able to leave the past behind us,” Monsignor Sako said; “turn the sad pages” that have been the cause of bloodshed in Iraq’s recent history; and “open together a new chapter” that brings prosperity.

“We have had enough violence, death and destruction,” the archbishop of Kirkuk said. “God created us to live in peace and joy.”

After his address a representative for Shia leader Muqtada al Sadr, the Sunni imam of the Al-Rashid Mosque, a Kurdish leader and a representative of the Arab community spoke.

This morning in Dyala province the local governor, Raad Rasheed Mulla Jawad, and his secretary were murdered.

In the afternoon in Ramadi, in western Iraq, a car bomb killed four police agents and a civilian.

Also in Ramadi, but yesterday, a suicide bomber blew himself up near a police checkpoint killing five agents.

Police sources report that six other agents as well as five civilians were seriously injured in the attack.

The latter came a day after another violent incident left 15 people dead in a Sunni area of Baghdad. In this case the suicide bomber blew himself up near a police roadblock.


16 Indian Priests on hunger strike against the Bishop

Trichy, India, Aug.07,2008 ( - Parading with a coffin marked "Tirchy diocese", priests from the Indian city of Tiruchirapalli have gone on a hunger strike against their local bishop.

Newindpress reports that 16 Catholic priests staged a hunger strike on Tuesday, keeping a coffin inscribed "Tiruchy diocese" in front of them, to condemn the alleged authoritarian acts of the diocesan bishop.

According to the priests, the bishop took arbitrary decisions and acted on them. They charged that the bishop was also acting on his own in the matter of the transfer of parish priests.

They accused the bishop of giving an interview to a bi-weekly which marred the reputation of the diocesan priests. Meanwhile, they have sent petitions to the Pope and his Indian Counsel, Cardinal Lopaz Quintana in Delhi.

Speaking to a newspaper, Father P. Thomas Paulsamy, the Vicar-General of Tiruchy Catholic Diocese, while admitting that it was "the right of any individual to send petition to the higher authority when the individual finds fault with the system", said that it was not fair to stage a hunger strike in the Bishop's House.

"They should have waited for the reply from the authority concerned," he said "The executive committee of Priests Council, which includes the Vicar-General, four other Vicars Ferona and nearly 34 priests, are scheduled to meet on August 16 and the priests could submit their appeals in that forum.

"Moreover, priests should be willing to work in urban as well as rural parishes because we are obliged to serve the common man. Such demonstrations would mar the reputation of the priests among the people," Father Paulsamy added.

When contacted, S Eronimus, layman president of Basic Christian Community of the diocese, said, "the dioceses entitles every priest to use a limited portion of the parish fund."

"When the amount exceeds the limit, it is the duty of every priest to get the consent of the Finance Committee of the Parish Council which is controlled by the laymen of the parish. When the bishop restricts luxurious expenditure priests find it difficult to accept it and hence resort to such agitations," Eronimus added.

Source: Cathnews

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