Card Telesphore Toppo, chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India - condemns attacks on Christians

India, Jan.11, 2008 ( – A “man-made tsunami” seems to have swept over the Christian community of the north-eastern Indian state of Orissa, said the chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, Card Telesphore Toppo, after he visited Bubhaneshwar, an area touched by a wave of anti-Christian violence led by the Hindu fundamentalist group Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP).

Over Christmas holidays, more precisely from 24 to 27 December, Hindu extremists attacked properties owned by Christians, Dalits and Tribals. After their rampage they left on their trail six people dead. They attacked, destroyed or set on fire 70 churches and other religious facilities. Some 600 homes suffered damages or were destroyed. Altogether about 5,000 people were negatively impacted.

Card Telesphore Toppo, who was a guest of Archbishop Raphael Cheenath from 2 to 4 January, was prevented from visiting victims in their homes by local authorities.  He was never the less able to talk to some of them at the Bishop’s residence and was able to visit some of the affected areas where “people are still under shock, living in great fear and anxiety.”

The cardinal later met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and brought him up-to-date as to the situation in the state. In a letter he gave the prime minister, the prelate called the series of “unwarranted attacks” against Christians in Kandhamal district “truly tragic,” acts that were undoubtedly premeditated and carried out by sectarian forces.

Last Monday the cardinal issued another letter, this one to Catholic dioceses and institutions urging them to offer the affected areas material and economic assistance and help them rebuild.

Following charges by local human rights groups that the authorities’ response was inadequate and apathetic, the National Commission on Minorities sent a delegation to Kandhamal district.

The two-member team arrived in the area last Monday, ten days after the incidents, with the task of ascertaining the causes of the violence and suggesting steps in favour of the victims.

The delegation is also set to meet Orissa’s chief minister before handing in its report to the Commission.

Source: asianews

Dangerous situation in Kenya, Bishops to appeal for peace and reconciliation

Nairobi,Kenya, Dec.02,2008 ( - Today, the Bishops of Kenya will make an appeal to peace and reconciliation in the country, where they spoke of an increasingly tragic humanitarian situation and concern for Christians living in some areas as well. The contents of a declaration of the Bishops Conference of Kenya, which will be announced today, has been previewed to SIR today by father Martin Wanyoike, director of the Catholic radio station Waumini. “The situation is really nasty and risks getting worse, especially in some areas of the country – says father Wanyoike -. The dioceses are sending news that a huge number of people have been killed, even if the Kenyan media gave no figures and are covering very little of what is going on. In downtown Nairobi, the situation is fairly quiet, but in the slums it is really very dangerous, because people of the kikuyo ethnic group (he most endangered because they are of the same ethnic group as Kibaki, the president who was challenged by the opposition for having won the election again, editor’s note) are the worst affected by the riots”. According to the international media, Kenya is in danger of an ethnic war as it happened in Rwanda in the Nineties: the fights about the results of the presidential election, which would have been won by the outgoing president, Kibaki, eventually turned into massacres between the tribal groups. Kibaki, leader of the Pnu, is a member of the Kikuyo dynasty, while the opposition leader, Odinga, of the Orange democratic movement (Odm) is a Luo.

“A huge number of people took shelter near the police stations and parish churches – goes on the spokesman of the Kenyan bishops –. I have just received a call from a parish church which had to accommodate and feed thousands of people. They say there is no food, there are no necessaries in the shops, there is no fuel, there are very long queues at the petrol stations, the telephone lines do not work properly, the roads are blocked. The situation is getting really tragic”. In the declaration, the bishops will ask “to give food, water, drugs for the refugees and will make an appeal to the politicians, to the government and the opposition, to meet, speak and make their peace. At the same time, they will ask the leaders of the African Union to negotiate for the sake of the country”. The latest figures from the hospitals speak of 316 people killed and 70 thousand refugees, including the massacre of about fifty Kikuyu women and children who were burnt alive in a church in Eldoret, 300 kilometres from Nairobi.

“We do not want to repeat the experience of Rwanda – states the spokesman of the Kenyan Bishops Conference -. The situation is different, but worrying facts have happened, for instance the burning of Christians in a church. In some areas, Catholics are endangered too. The worst violence happened In the Kisumu area, where one of the nominees comes from. The Catholic Church in Kenya is very scared and worried and fears a humanitarian catastrophe. We are worried because we do not know what such violence might lead to. That’s why the Bishops make an appeal to the presidency and the opposition to make their peace and find a solution”. The international community too, he concludes, “can do a lot to mediate in the crisis and intervene in the disastrous humanitarian situation, by helping find foodstuffs”.

Source: SIR

Australia's Catholic Bishops listen to reasons for Mass exodus

Sydney, Australia, Dec.17,2007 (CINS/Cathnews) - Australia's Catholic Bishops have discussed a survey that reveals many Catholics have stopped attending Mass because they feel the Church is irrelevant to their lives.

News of discussion of the research project was included in the news briefing that followed the Bishops' plenary meeting in Sydney earlier this month. The briefing was released on Friday.

The research project on Catholics Who Have Stopped Attending Mass reached its conclusion with a final report to the Bishops, outlining four key recommendations for pastoral focus.

The Bishops commissioned the research in 2004 in an effort to explore some of the reasons why people who had been active in Church life are ceasing to attend Mass and engage in parish life.

The qualitative research project, undertaken by the ACBC Pastoral Projects Office, under the direction of Mr Bob Dixon, was based on interviews with 41 people who had stopped attending Mass.

Reasons given for people ceasing to attend Mass included a perceived irrelevance of the Church to modern life, the quality of homilies, inter-personal problems with a parish priest, problems with Church teachings or personal faith, and disillusionment in the wake of sexual scandals. There were also cultural and societal factors which meant that Mass was no longer a priority.

However, half the respondents said they still attend Mass occasionally and almost one third of participants said they might return to weekly Mass attendance in the future.

Following the tabling of the findings of the research in November 2006, the Pastoral Projects Office undertook wide consultation within the Church community on possible pastoral strategies to help people to re-engage with their Parish.

The four primary recommendations put forward in the report and accepted by the Bishops are:

*Building community that resources for effective parish reviews be developed, distributed and engaged, such that local communities might better know and plan for their people.

* Personal identity that forums at every level be established for the purpose of greater listening to people, and for pastoral discernment.

* Leadership that on both diocesan and parish levels there be enhanced formation of lay and ordained people for collaborative leadership, for the sake of mission.

* Mission that there be renewed effort for the proclamation of the Good News, and for the development of faith formation, particularly using the resources of contemporary technology and the resources being developed by the National Office for Evangelisation.

U.S. bishops' Committee:'Theologian's book could easily confuse or mislead the faithful'

Washington, Dec.12,2007 (CINS /CNS) - A Vietnamese-American theologian's 2004 book on religious pluralism contains "pervading ambiguities and equivocations that could easily confuse or mislead the faithful," the U.S. bishops' Committee on Doctrine said in a Dec. 10 statement.

Father Peter C. Phan's "Being Religious Interreligiously: Asian Perspectives on Interfaith Dialogue," published by Orbis Books, also contains "statements that, unless properly clarified, are not in accord with Catholic teaching," the committee said.

In its 15-page statement, the committee said it undertook an evaluation of "Being Religious Interreligiously" at the request of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and "invited Father Phan to respond" to questions.

"Since Father Phan did not provide the needed clarifications, and since the ambiguities in the book concern matters that are central to the faith, the Committee on Doctrine decided to issue a statement that would both identify problematic aspects of the book and provide a positive restatement of Catholic teaching on the relevant points," the statement said.

The statement was signed by Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., chairman of the Committee on Doctrine, and the six other committee members.

Father Phan, a former Salesian and now a priest of the Dallas Diocese, holds the Ellacuria chair of Catholic social thought in the theology department at Jesuit-run Georgetown University in Washington.

The statement on "clarifications required" in Father Phan's book cited three areas of concern:

-- Christ's role as "the unique and universal savior of all humankind."

-- The "salvific significance of non-Christian religions."

-- The Catholic Church as "the unique and universal instrument of salvation."

Quoting frequently from the book, the documents of the Second Vatican Council and "Dominus Iesus," the 2000 declaration of the Vatican doctrinal congregation on the "unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the church," the committee said Father Phan's book "could leave readers in considerable confusion as to the proper understanding of the uniqueness of Christ."

Although "the uniqueness of Jesus Christ is affirmed at some points" in the book, it is presented at other times as "not exclusive or absolute," the committee said.

Father Phan says in the book that the terms "unique," "absolute" and "universal" in relation to Jesus' role as savior "have outlived their usefulness and should be jettisoned and replaced by other, theologically more adequate equivalents."

But "Dominus Iesus" declares that theological understandings of Jesus as just one of many historical figures who manifest "the infinite, the absolute, the ultimate mystery of God" are in "profound conflict with the Christian faith," the committee said.

Although the church finds "elements of goodness and truth" in other religions "as a preparation for the Gospel," Father Phan's book "rejects this teaching as an insufficient recognition of the salvific significance of non-Christian religions in themselves," the statement said.

By asserting that "God has positively willed non-Christian religions as alternative ways of salvation," the book calls into question "the very goal itself of universal conversion to Christianity" and implies that "to continue the Christian mission to members of non-Christian religions would be contrary to God's purpose in history," the committee said.

But the church sees its evangelizing mission not as "an imposition of power but an expression of love for the whole world," the statement added. "Thus there is no necessary conflict between showing respect for other religions and fulfilling Christ's command to proclaim the Gospel to all the nations."

Father Phan's book also says the church's claim "as the unique and universal instrument of salvation" should be "abandoned altogether," primarily because of "the humanness of the church and her historical entanglement with sin and injustice," the committee said.

"The book is certainly correct when it points out that members of the church, through the course of history, have sinned and that the credibility of Christian witness to the world has suffered greatly from this," it added. "Nevertheless, the holiness of the church is not simply defined by the holiness (or sinfulness) of her members but by the holiness of her head, the lord Jesus Christ."

As "Dominus Iesus" points out, "it would be contrary to the faith to consider the church as one way of salvation alongside those constituted by the other religions, seen as complementary to the church or substantially equivalent to her," the committee said.

Myanmar's bishops: Cut down on parties, focus on promoting peace

Yangon, Myanmar, Dec.07, 2007 (CINS /CNS) -- Bishops in Myanmar have called on Catholics to cut down on external celebrations of Advent and Christmas this year and focus on promoting peace and development. Archbishops Paul Zinghtung Grawng of Mandalay and Charles Bo of Yangon, president and general secretary, respectively, of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Myanmar, issued the message on behalf of Myanmar's bishops. The message was dated Dec. 3, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News. In September, the government cracked down on protests -- led by Buddhist monks -- against rising prices and corruption. Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country. In the message sent to all parishes, the bishops proposed that the church "observe the season of Advent and celebrate the feast of Christmas more in accordance with the spirit of prayer and penance." The bishops' conference issued the message after a meeting in Yangon Nov. 30.

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