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

India, Jan.11, 2008 (www.vaticans.org) – 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


Prayer vigil by Vietnamese Catholics for the seized Church land

Hanoi, Vietnam, Dec.06, 2008 (vaticans.org) — Hundreds of Vietnamese Catholic Christians held prayer vigils in the capital at the weekend, the latest in a series asking for the return of church land seized by the communists half a century ago.

Priests and Catholic followers lit candles, placed flowers and sang at the iron fence around a property near Hanoi's central St Joseph's Cathedral after Saturday prayers and Sunday masses.

They say the large French-colonial villa and the 1.1 hectares (2.7 acre) it sits on are the former office of the Vatican's delegate to Hanoi, confiscated by the state when he was expelled in the late 1950s.

Hanoi authorities have kept the building intact but used it as a sometime discotheque while local officials have also used the garden area, shaded by an enormous banyan tree, as a motorcycle carpark, the Christians say.

"It's the land and the property of the church. We have the certificate of ownership of the property since 1933," one priest from the Hanoi archdiocese told AFP, speaking on condition he not be named.

Catholics are now hopeful the dispute will be resolved after Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung met Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet during a prayer meeting with thousands of followers in late December, pledging to consider the issue.

Vietnam, a former French colony and a unified, communist country since the war ended in 1975, has Southeast Asia's largest Catholic community after the Philippines -- about six million out of a population of 84 million.

Its officially atheist communist rulers have long worried that religious groups, both Christian and Buddhist, could undermine their authority, but conditions have improved, especially for Catholics, in recent years.

While all religious activity remains under state control, the government started a dialogue with Catholics in the 1990s which led to a milestone visit to the Vatican almost a year ago by Prime Minister Dung.

Hanoi had tense relations with pope John Paul II, deemed a contributor to the defeat of Soviet communism, but congratulated his successor Benedict XVI soon after he became pontiff in 2005, saying it wanted closer relations.

Christian festivals such as Christmas have become popular, with thousands of followers and curious now crowding Vietnam's cathedrals and churches.

Still, religious issues remain sensitive, and the state-controlled media has refrained from covering the mass prayer meetings.

Undercover police have milled in the crowds, taking video and photographs, the priest said.

"Some Catholic followers were questioned by security officials, and some say they were pressured not to attend the prayers," said the Priest, who stressed he was not speaking on behalf of the Catholic church.

Asked how he rated religious freedom in Vietnam, the Priest said Catholics still cannot study to become diplomats or police officers, and that the church remains barred from operating its own newspapers, schools and hospitals.

Source: AFP


Hope for historic dialogue between Catholics and Muslims

Los Angeles,U.S.A, Dec.03,2008(vaticans.org) – Relying on a weekend report in ‘L'Osservatore Romano’, the Associated press is reporting that Catholic and Muslim representatives have agreed to a Spring meeting in Rome to begin what many hope will develop into an historic “dialogue” between the Catholic Church and significant leaders from the broader Islamic community.

Pope Benedict XVI proposed such a dialogue in his response to the now famous letter sent to the Holy See by 138 Muslim scholars from throughout the world.

The Holy Father’s response was criticized by some, even within the broader Christian community, for not having been more immediate. Some of the same people had also criticized his September 12, 2006 speech to an academic community in Regensburg on faith and reason without having read the full text.

Certain reports concerning his now famous scholarly presentation failed to identify the fact that that Benedict XVI was actually quoting from a medieval text which referred to some of the teachings of the Muslim prophet Muhammad on the use of “the sword” to advance Islam as "evil and inhuman."

In other words, Pope Benedict never even made the comment.

Unfortunately, these reports invited a global reaction within some segments of the Islamic community which simply was not justified by the text. Worse yet, subsequent reports, equally deficient in checking the facts, fanned the flames of rage.

The Holy Father later stated, in a conciliatory gesture, that he was "deeply sorry" about the reactions. He clarified the fact that he was citing from a medieval text in a much broader talk concerning the proper and indispensable role of faith and reason on the path toward dialogue between major religions.

This conciliatory tone prompted Thirty-eight Muslim scholars to send the Pope a letter expressing gratitude for his clarifications and inviting dialogue. The Holy See did not immediately respond to this letter.

Again, there were some quick to criticize.

However, this measured approach now seems to have assisted the growing momentum toward dialogue. The number of Muslim signatories grew to over 138 scholars and represented several schools within the diverse religious traditions within global Islam.

These 138 scholars proposed that the two religious traditions work to find some common ground toward peaceful dialogue and cooperation. One of their suggestions was to focus upon the mutual emphasis between Christianity and Islam on the call to the love of God and neighbor as integral to religious faith and practice.

These Islamic scholars and leaders who signed the letter noted that Christians and Muslims comprise 55 percent of the global population and called for a peaceful path toward dialogue.

Many observers of this Pontificate see this Islamic overture and the ongoing dialogue which followed the now famous University of Regensburg address, as a sign that the deliberate and measured nature of the Papal response has produced a favorable result.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran gave this interview to L'Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican paper cited by the associated press. In this same interview he indicated that these three Islamic representatives would work with Catholic representatives to prepare the formal framework for a larger meeting intended to begin an ongoing dialogue between Islam and Christianity.

The Cardinal is the head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue and, as such, is delegated with the authority to pursue such dialogue.

Catholic theology properly makes use of the term “ecumenism” only to refer to dialogue between Christians. It has been extended, due to the special relationship with the Jewish people as elder brothers and sons of the covenant with Abraham, to include Catholic and Jewish dialogue within its definitional embrace.

The term “Inter-religious dialogue” properly refers to dialogue between Catholics, as Christians, and other major religious traditions, including Islam.

The Cardinal did not give a specific date as to when this formal dialogue would begin. He simply indicated that it would occur during the spring and will include a number of subjects; the obligation to a mutual respect for the dignity of the human person, reciprocal understanding between all religions, and an appropriate tolerance which lies at the heart of an authentic vision of religious freedom.

The Cardinal told the official Vatican newspaper: "The meeting with a delegation of some of the 138 Muslims, planned for Rome next spring, is in a certain sense historic.”

Source: Catholic Online


Vicariate of Arabia - One Diocese, 12 Countries, 3 Million Catholics

By C. M. Paul

Two and half million Catholic youths in their late teens, others in their twenties, live alone in desert work camps, on oil pipelines or platforms. For lack of means of transport or permission from employers (female domestic helps in very large Islamic families) cannot attend Mass even on Christmas and Easter. Some faithful fall easy prey to evangelical sects and Islam. Add to that another half a million Catholics hailing from South India, the Philippines, Egypt and Lebanon living with families.

Welcome to the Vicariate of Arabia, territorially the largest diocese in the world, comprising 12 Islamic countries (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Yemen and the seven countries of the United Arab Emirates).

No Statistics for Migrants:

“On my arrival, in 1976, Catholics in the vicariate were about two lakhs. Today they number at least three million,” says Bishop Emeritus Giovanni Bernardo Gremoli, in an interview to Italian magazine ‘30Giorni’, Jan-Feb, 2006.

“At Sunday Mass in St. Mary’s Cathedral Dubai, once we conducted a census to find where the faithful hail from. We registered 93 nationalities. However, a large part is Indians and Filipinos. The latter number about a million in Saudi Arabia alone,” recalls Bishop Gremoli who has witnessed the Gulf migrant worker explosion since mid-1970s.

“There are no statistics neither regarding the number of Catholics nor about those fallen victims to the evangelical sects or become Muslims,” says new the bishop of the vicariate, Swiss national Paul Hinder OFM Cap.

Two months ago, ten evangelical house churches and Kerala Catholic Association Centre were closed in Bahrain for violation of government regulations.

“To my mind the problem is less the sects than a growing materialistic practice of life. We should not forget that people came to the Gulf – and are still coming – with only one purpose: to make money for themselves, for their families, for their future.

“There is the risk that a certain number of people are willing to sacrifice everything – even their religion – for money. However, I would not exaggerate their number,” insists former Definitor General of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchins, Bishop Hinder.

What pushes a Christian to embrace Islam? “Not so much conviction,” says the bishop, “as a desire to get a job, a promotion, a higher salary, or even to marry a Muslim woman. When that happens it becomes front page news.”

He further adds, “At parish level we hold faith formation programmes for youth according to the needs of the many nationalities. The different associations and prayer groups help people in their faith formation and faith practice.”

There are 20 parishes in the vicariate with 45 priests (nine diocesans and 36

religious) and 64 Sisters.

Eight Catholic Schools in 12 Countries:

The vicariate established in 1888 and entrusted to the OFM Capuchins have eight schools (seven in UAE and one in Bahrain) all directed by nuns (Indian Carmelites, Italian Combonians, Baghdad Chaldees, Sisters of the Rosary of Jerusalem).

More than 60 per cent of over 16,500 students in the Catholic schools are Muslim. There is a government obligation to impart religious instruction for three hours weekly to all students. The schools therefore give lessons in Islam to all the Muslim children, lessons in Christianity to all Christian children, moral principles based on natural law to all the non-Christian and non- Muslim children.

“At the present time for new schools, even if we got the permission, we would have difficulties to have the necessary funds,” says Bishop Hinder.

“I have already invited a religious institution to open a school provided that they have the financial resources, and they respect the general rules of the Canon Law and, of course, the rules of the respective country,” says Bishop Hinder.

Four Salesian Presences in the Gulf:

In the UAE, the Chennai province has a presence in Fujairah started in 2007 and Kolkata province has an unofficial presence in Sharjah since 1993.

“I am running a full-fledged music institute in Sharjah catering to about 1,000 students. It is officially recognised by the Ministry of Education, Dubai (UAE) with approved certificate courses. The activities include learning of musical instruments, drawing, painting, sketching, coloring, dancing and singing, personality development and time management.

“There are other possibilities like computer, leadership training, spoken English, management courses and many other courses useful for the younger

generation,” says founder director of Rhythm Music Institute, Father Tomy Kuruvilla.

“There have been questions about our presence in Kuwait. Why should Salesians go to a rich country? Only a very small percentage of the expats can be considered 'rich'. Ours is an evangelising presence - mostly by way of witness. Don Bosco reaches where the name of Christ cannot be taken, as former Rector Major Vigano' used to say,” recalls Mumbai provincial Father Ivo Coelho under whose six-year tenure DB School (2001) in neighbouring Kuwait diocese expanded.

From 1988, Bangalore province has four centres in Yemen. Meanwhile, the Varkey Group from Kerala runs 25 schools in the Gulf States catering to over 50,000 students and the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate opened Rajagiri School in Dubai (2007).

Twenty Parishes in 12 Countries:

“Broadly speaking, in most of the Gulf states,” Bishop Hinder explains, “religious freedom is guaranteed within a well-defined framework. Currently, we have a parish in Bahrain, another in Qatar, two in Abu Dhabi and Alain (over 100,000 Catholics), two in Dubai & Jebelai Free Zone (over 100,000 Catholics) and one in Sharjah (65,000 Catholics). This year we have already initiated a registration (census) mandatory for all in Sharjah before the 15th of January 2008. There are two parishes in the emirates of Fujairah and Rasalkhaimah with about 5,000 Catholics each. We also have four in Oman (two in the capital Muscat), plus four communities in Yemen.”

“The pressure on our church premises, particularly in the big centres like Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Sharjah, is enormous and we can barely cater for the worship and pastoral needs of the community. As soon as I get land and necessary permissions – generally a very long procedure – we can think of building new centres,” vows Bishop Hinder.

In Yemen, White Missionary nuns ran first-aid centres till they abandoned work for lack of vocations. Since 1973, MC Sisters administer four institutes for handicapped children and abandoned old people. Four Salesians from Bangalore province serve as chaplains to MC Sisters as well as to local Catholics since 1988 taking the place of White Fathers who left for lack of vocations.

“It is time that the Gulf Church invites religious congregations of men and women to run schools and parishes in collaboration with the local Church,” says parish priest of St Joseph’s Parish Fujairah, Father Mike Cardoz.

One Million Catholics with no Parish:

About half the Catholics in the vicariate, over one million live in Saudi Arabia. Priests are neither officially admitted, nor public celebration of Mass is allowed, except in the embassies.

Catholics can pray only in their own house, without gatherings of other people, even if they are relatives or friends. Many Christians, while praying together, were discovered, arrested, imprisoned and expelled. There is the ‘mutawa’, a very efficient religious police force, which intervenes immediately on suspicion of any non-Islamic religious meeting.

The Sunnites belonging to the Wahabi group reserve custody of the sacred places of Mecca and Medina and consider all Arabia a holy Islamic place in which no other cult can be admitted. In contrast, there is a mosque in Rome financed by Saudi Arabia in early 1990s.

It is a laypeople’s church in Saudi Arabia that takes care of catechism for the little ones in private houses. The “parish” of Riyadh is entrusted to a layman who, helped by others, scrupulously looks after what is essential, including the parish registers of the sacraments administered by the priests periodically “in transit”.

This Article is taken from SAR News


Malyasian Catholic weekly permitted to use the word ‘Allah’

Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, Dec.30,2007 (vaticans.org) – The Catholic Weekly Herald can continue publication in 2008 using the term ‘Allah’ when referring to ‘God.’  Malaysia’s Ministry of Internal Security has decided to reverse its early position and is allowing the Herald to continue unhindered, including its Bahasa Malaysia segment, which was supposed to be eliminated.

Fr Lawrence Andrew, the Herald’s editor, told AsiaNews that Sunday morning, 30 December, at 10 am, he received a letter dated 28 December from the Ministry of Internal Security renewing the paper’s permit for 2008.

“This letter places no restrictions whatsoever and includes the permit for all the languages, including the Bahasa Malaysia Segment,” he said.

On 10 December the same ministry, which is responsible for issuing media permits, had banned the Herald’s Bahasa Malaysia (Malay language) segment, warning the paper against using ‘Allah’ to refer to the Christian God, claiming that its use was reserved only for Muslims.

Father Andrew was forced to submit but did so under duress, slamming the government for denying his publication a right guaranteed under the constitution.

Some Protestant Churches had also been forced to submit to the same directive.

The Ministry’s position was anti-historical. According to a great many scholars and academics the term ‘Allah’ has been used by Arab Christians in the Middle East long before the birth of Islam and that the latter received the word from Christians. Christians in Malaysia began using in the 19th century.

The Herald prints about 12,000 copies and has readership of about 50,000 people. It is the only means of communication for Malaysia’s 850,000 Catholics (out of a population of 23 million). In addition to an English-Language segment, it also publishes in Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese and Tamil.

Father Andrew thanked the government “for this gesture of goodwill” and “various news agencies and other media groups for supporting us with their wide coverage.”

In particular, the Herald’s editor expressed his special gratitude to Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, a Christian in service at the Prime Minister’s Office, “for his assistance” and defence of the Catholic Weekly.

Source:Asia News


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