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Kidnapped Filipino priest pleads for help in video

May 30, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Marawi, Philippines, May 30, 2017 / 11:49 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A week after Islamist militants kidnapped some 240 Catholics in the Philippines, a video has surfaced online showing one of the hostages, Fr. Chito Suganob, calling for the government to halt their military offensive in the city.

Shown wearing a black polo and jeans, Fr. Suganob at the beginning of the 5-minute video lists the other “prisoners of war” taken hostage with him, including several Catholic college students and professors, as well as some 200 others, including women and children.

He speaks directly to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, asking him to withdraw his army from the city and “to stop the airstrikes, and to stop the cannons.”

With a cracked voice, the priest, who is vicar general of the Marawi territorial prelature, asks the president to “please consider us,” saying that “it’s hard” for the hostages to bear, because they can hear gunfire and cannons going off around them.  

The militants, he said, “don’t ask for anything…they just ask that you leave this place peacefully.”

Militants of the Maute group stormed the city of Marawi, on the southern Philippines island Mindanao, May 23. The group, formed in 2012, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2015.

The militants’ violence began after a failed army and police raid to capture Isnilon Hapilon, a local Islamist leader.

The Maute militants have burned several buildings, including the Catholic cathedral and the bishop’s residence. They are also said to have freed more than 100 inmates from prisons in the city. The fighting has reportedly killed at least 20 people in the city.

The group was blamed for a September 2016 bombing that killed 15 people in southern Davao, the president’s hometown. A military raid on their jungle camp last month reportedly found homemade bombs, grenades, combat uniforms, and passports of suspected Indonesian militants.

The militants have threatened to kill their hostages if the nation’s military fails to cease its current offensive against them.

Bishop Edwin de la Peña y Angot, Prelate of Marawi, told CBCP News that he was not home at the time of the attack, but his secretary is reportedly among the hostages.

The bishop said he received a phone call from a militant who used his secretary’s phone. On the other end of the line was a militant who introduced himself as a member of the Islamic State, and demanded a unilateral ceasefire.

Bishop Peña said he was allowed to speak with Fr. Suganob at the time in order to help make their demands clear.

“Mr. President, if you want me to kneel before you just to knock your heart in favor of our families who are crying out there in different places, for our relatives … we will do that,” the priest said.

He warned that the use of violence by the army will only put the lives of the hostages at further risk, since the militants are “ready to die for their religion.”

Speaking directly to Duterte, he stressed that “you can’t use force and violence because they have the commitment they will die for this.”

“Please consider us, we are victims,” he said, explaining that if needed, he would beg for their release and for the army to withdraw.

The video, according to CBCP News, first surfaced on the Facebook account of a user named “Datumasa Khalid.” Although it’s still unclear where the video was filmed, Fr. Suganob is seen standing in front of houses and vehicles that have been destroyed.

According to Philippines station ABS-DBN News, the death toll from fighting in Marawi has risen to 104, including some 65 militants, 20 government forces, and 19 civilians.

Much of the city’s population of more than 200,000 has fled the city, though officials believe as many as 2,000 have been trapped by the fighting.

In response, the area’s Caritas branch on May 29 launched a solidarity appeal asking dioceses to contribute what they can to help the displaced. As a start, the charitable organization has offered an initial 300,000 Philippine pesos ($6,000) for relief efforts in nearby Diocese of Iligan.

In the wake of the kidnapping, the Filipino bishops have urged prayers for Fr. Suganob and the other hostages.

While the majority of Filipinos are Catholic, they make up only five percent of the population in Marawi, a mostly Muslim city.

Archbishop Socrates Buenaventura Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the Filipino bishops’ conference, last week urged prayers for peace and asked the militants to show mercy.

“We call on the Maute group that claims to bear arms in the name of a Merciful and Benevolent God – the very same God we Christians worship and adore – to do the One God true honor by the mercy and benevolence that are two of our God’s most exalted attributes,” he said May 24.

The archbishop also addressed the response of government forces, saying, “We beg of them to make the safety of the hostages a primordial consideration.”

Duterte, who has been heavily criticized for a brutal crackdown on illegal drugs, has placed all of Mindanao under martial law.

The president has sought peace talks with two large Muslim rebel groups in the country’s south but has ordered the military to destroy smaller extremist groups like the Maute.

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Cardinal pleads for Islamist militants to release Philippines hostages

May 25, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Cotabato, Philippines, May 25, 2017 / 01:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Filipino cardinal has prayed for the release of Catholic hostages held by Islamist militants who have seized parts of a city on Mindanao, appealing to Muslim leaders to help secure their release.

“I pray for the safety of all the hostages. I appeal to the consciences of the hostage takers not to harm the innocent as the Islamic faith teaches. I appeal to religious leaders of Islam to influence the hostage takers to release the hostages unharmed,” Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato told Radio Veritas.

“For God’s will is the safety of innocent people. May the loving God protect the people of Marawi,” said the cardinal, whose see is also on Mindanao.

Militants of the Maute group stormed the city of Marawi, on the southern Philippines island Mindanao, on Tuesday. The group, formed in 2012, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2015.

The militants’ violence began after a failed army and police raid to capture Isnilon Hapilon, a local Islamist leader.

The Maute militants have burned several buildings, including the Catholic cathedral and the bishop’s residence. They are also said to have freed more than 100 inmates from prisons in the city. The fighting has reportedly killed at least 20 people in the city.

At the cathedral, they took hostages including a Catholic priest and a group of church-goers, threatening to kill them if the nation’s military does not cease its current offensive against them.

The captive priest, Fr. Chito Suganob, is vicar general of the Territorial Prelature of Marawi, which has a very small Catholic population. Bishop Edwin de la Peña y Angot, Prelate of Marawi, was on a return trip home at the time of the attack.

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has cut short a trip to Russia, and placed all of Mindanao under martial law for 60 days. He has also proposed that martial law be extended across the country. Duterte’s presidency has drawn controversy for his brutal crackdown on drugs.

Another Mindanao prelate, Archbishop Martin Jumoad of Ozamiz, has said he backs martial law, but with an important caveat.

“I am for the imposition of martial law provided a mechanism has to be established so that human rights will not be violated,” he said, according to CBCP News.

Archbishop Jumoad warned the people to be “extra-careful” and to cooperate with the military, particularly those in Marawi.

“If the people will not cooperate with the armed forces, things could get more complicated,” he said.

According to the archbishop, an attack by another Islamist group, Abu Sayyaf, in the province of Bohol was foiled because the people cooperated with authorities.

Local media reported that nine Christians stopped at a checkpoint run by the militants in Marawi were captured and executed after they were identified as Christian.

Thousands of people have fled Marawi, where the attackers also beheaded the police chief and burned the city jail and Dansalan College, the Philippines’ ABS-CBN News reports.

The college is run by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. Its staff is about 80 percent Christian, wth a student body that is about 95 percent Muslim. Marawi itself is predominantly Muslim.

The United Church of Christ in the Philippines said the Maute group must be held accountable, but warned against “portraying these tragic events as a religious war.”

“This will only increase tensions, and may further fan the flames of Islamophobia,” the ecclesial community said May 24.

The statement was critical of martial law imposed across all of Mindanao and said military solutions to the problems had repeatedly failed. The community prayed that martial law will not be used as a pretext to undermine peace talks with other movements.

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Ban on religious icons in cars sparks Catholic outcry in Philippines

May 22, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Manila, Philippines, May 22, 2017 / 03:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In the most recent clash between the government and the Catholic Church in the Philippines, authorities have banned hanging rosaries and religious icons in vehicles, citing safety concerns.

According to reports from the AFP, the ban is part of a new law that will take effect Friday aimed at eliminating distractions for drivers, including talking or texting on mobile phones, applying makeup, or eating or drinking.

The ban, announced last week, sparked outcry in the majority-Catholic country, where roughly 80 percent of the population identifies as Catholic.

“This is an overreaction, insensitive and lacks common sense,” Father Jerome Secillano, executive secretary for public affairs at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, told the AFP.

He said that most drivers feel safer with religious icons in their vehicles, because they give them a sense of divine intervention and protection.

In a statement on the website for the Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines, Fr. Secillano said he believed the ban on religious icons was an over-extension of a law initially meant to cut down on drivers distracted by their cellphones.

“I agree with banning the use of phones while driving but they are absolutely missing the point by prohibiting the display of small religious images in cars,” he said.

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, which issued the ban, has said that religious icons may still be attached to the dashboard or rearview mirror if they do not swing around or block a driver’s line of vision.

Piston, an association of jeepney drivers and owners, a common form of public transportation in the Philippines, said there was no evidence that rosaries and religious icons caused accidents.

“Do not meddle with the drivers’ faith in God,” said its president, George San Mateo.

The ban is just the latest clash of government authorities with the Catholic Church in the country.

The Catholic Church has been one of the most outspoken opponents of President Rodrigo Duterte’s violent and unrelenting war on drugs, as well as his policies on the death penalty and reproductive health that go against the social teaching of the Catholic Church.

President Duterte in turn does not lose much love on the Catholic Church, hurling shocking insults at Church officials who cross him.

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Russians fight ransomware virus with holy water

May 16, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Moscow, Russia, May 16, 2017 / 04:17 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After malware hacked as many as 200,000 computers throughout the world, the Russians have an idea: blessing the computers with holy water.

The most recent attacks have been through a form of ransomware called “WannaCry”, which is malicious software that locks up a person’s data and demands, either through a pop-up window or e-mail, that a ransom be paid or else the data will be destroyed.

The cyberattacks have largely targeted hospitals, academic institutions and large businesses like blue chip companies or movie theaters in more than 150 countries throughout the world, including in China, Japan, India and the U.K.  

Russia was among one of the worst-hit countries in the attack.

Part of their solution? Invite Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church to bless computers and servers with holy water.

In a photo shared by @EnglishRussia1 on Twitter, Patriarch Kirill can be seen blessing the computers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in hopes to protect them from the WannaCry virus. The Russian Orthodox Church has close political ties with the Russian government, making Patriarch Kirill as strong a political figurehead as a religious one in the country.  

Like the Catholic Church, the Russian Orthodox Church has a blessing for just about anything, including horses, spaceships and swimming pools.

The Catholic Book of Blessings includes the Order for the Blessing of Technical Installations or Equipment, or the Order for the Blessing of Tools or Other Equipment for Work. Either could be used as a blessing for a computer.

St. Isidore of Seville is often invoked in the Catholic Church as the patron saint of computers, computer users and the internet, because during his life he created the ‘Etymologies’ (a type of dictionary), and gave his work a structure similar to that of the database.

Aside from prayer and holy water, tech experts recommend avoiding cyberattacks by keeping computer software up to date, installing anti-virus software, and avoiding suspicious e-mails or pop-ups. 

Patriarch of Russian Orthodox church making sure that the Ministry of Internal Affairs computers won’t get affected by WannaCry virus attack pic.twitter.com/m2S7rP2iHU

— English Russia (@EnglishRussia1) May 15, 2017

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South Korean Catholics rally against use of nuclear power

May 16, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Seoul, South Korea, May 15, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- South Korean Catholics are opposing both the country’s reliance on nuclear power and the U.S. missile defense system recently established to pressure the North out of future weapon tests.

A major leader of the anti-nuclear movement, Father Moon Paul Kyu-Hyn, said “getting rid of nuclear power is the only way to survive, to save ourselves, and save the world,” according to Public Radio International.

A missile defense system has caused tensions between the U.S. and China as well as between China and South Korea. The country’s new president, Moon Jae-in, has emphasized his goal to solve the issues in the Korean Peninsula.

Father Moon expressed his disappointed in the new Terminal High Altitude Area Defense or THAAD, which became operational on May 2 in the Korean Peninsula. An agreement to install the system was established between the United States and South Korea’s former president, recently incarcerated for political corruption.

“THAAD is a weapon of war. You can’t be for peace if you’re preparing for war,” said Father Moon, an activist who spent three years in jail for illegally crossing over into North Korea in 1989.

He is now leading the charge on the anti-nuclear demonstrations participated by the clergy and lay people, who are opposed the expansion of nuclear power in all of Korea and the rest of the world. The group recently gathered in downtown Seoul to collect a million signatures for support against nuclear energy.

Nearly a third of the country’s electrical consumption relies on nuclear power from over 20 nuclear reactors. Moon Jae-in, who was confirmed president this week, promised to halt expansion of nuclear power and focus on clean energy during a campaign speech in April.

The push to remove nuclear power has increased in South Korea since three plants in Fukushima had a meltdown in 2011 caused by a Tsunami along the shores of Japan. The meltdown forced over 100,000 people to be evacuated from their homes, and the government is still cautious to allow everyone to return due to fears of radiation poison.

In an interview with Public Radio International, Father Cho Hyun-chul, a theology professor at Sogang University in Seoul, said if there is a similar accident revolving South Korea’s power plants then there would be “no room for us to live here. There is no more safe land.”

He continued to say that the destruction nuclear power can cause is “directly against God’s intention,” and the movement is stressing the need to care for the environment – a need heavily emphasized by Pope Francis especially in his encyclical Laudato Si.

The Pope recognized the “tremendous power” nuclear energy has gifted to humanity, but he also spoke against its dangers to the environment and the risk of being used improperly. He said a global consensus to focus on clean and renewable energy is essential for sustaining the earth.

“Such a consensus could lead, for example, to planning a sustainable and diversified agriculture, developing renewable and less polluting forms of energy,” Pope Francis wrote in Laudato Si.

According to Reuters, President Moon promised to ease away from nuclear energy in a campaign speech in April. The head for the president’s team on energy policy said South Korea “should move away from coal and nuclear power, and shift to clean or renewable energy-based platforms,” and that he would stop the plans to construct two new reactors in the south of the country.

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