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CRS provides relief to Bangladeshis affected by Cyclone Bulbul

November 13, 2019 CNA Daily News 0

Dhaka, Bangladesh, Nov 13, 2019 / 11:01 pm (CNA).- After the dissipation of Cyclone Bulbul, Catholic organizations have provided aid to the victims in Bangladesh, and assessed the immediate and long term needs of those recovering from the storm.

The cyclone made landfall in India’s West Bengal state Nov. 9. It has heavily affected the coastal areas of Bangladesh and India, claiming at least 20 lives, according to the Guardian.

Authorities said more deaths would have occurred if it was not for the sake of increased evacuation efforts, the BBC reported.

Snigdha Chakraborty, Catholic Relief Services’ manager for Bangladesh, commended the efforts but said victims are still in need of more aid.

“While there are many people who will need significant support following this storm, the government’s robust preparedness activities have paid off. Most people were able to get into evacuation shelters and out of harm’s way,” she said Nov. 10.

The storm has damaged thousands of homes and nearly 500,000 acres of crops, Al Jazeera reported. It had also shut down the Kolkata airport in India and Bangladesh’s two largest ports, Mongla and Chittagong.

After evacuation efforts, more than 2 million people were forced to spend a night in a shelter.

Chakraborty expressed concern that the shelters will not be a sufficient fix for the long run, noting that some of these places do not have a safe water source. CRS said people need shelter repair support and farmers will need compensation for their damaged crops.

“We are concerned that the cyclone shelters are not sufficient for anything more than a very short stay. People are eating snack food and bread as the shelters have no facilities to cook,” Chakraborty said.

“Families will be in the shelters at minimum another two days under heavy rains, and for the people who return to find their homes damaged or destroyed, they are looking at even longer displacement … Caritas Bangladesh has provided their shelters with water jars sufficient through today, but this will be a critical need for the next few days.”

CRS has partnered with Caritas Bangladesh, both of which helped with evacuations. Among the 300 operational shelters, Caritas Bangladesh opened 40 cyclone shelters.

Chakraborty said that while CRS has continued efforts along the coasts, there are territories that are hard to reach inland. She said some damages have yet to be assessed.

“Right now, we are very focused on the badly affected Sathkhira and Khulna districts on the coast, which continue to experience heavy rain and high winds,” she said.

“Staff have not yet been able to reach some of the remotest locations due to ongoing rains, heavy winds and damaged roads. Initial reports in Khulna indicate significant crop losses and partial or total damage to poorly constructed houses. And we have early information about significant seas surges in remote areas of Sathkhira, but hope to get confirmation tomorrow.”

Chakraborty applauded the evacuation efforts on behalf of the government and volunteers. She said more needs to be done to support victims but lives were saved by following the evacuation protocol.


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Hong Kong protesters arrested at Catholic church

November 13, 2019 CNA Daily News 1

Hong Kong, China, Nov 13, 2019 / 04:39 pm (CNA).- Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong have continued to escalate into violence, with many apparent incidents of forceful police tactics, including at a Catholic church, caught on camera and uploaded to social media.

A bystander video widely circulated on social media shows at least four riot police officers entering what appear to be offices at Holy Cross Church in Hong Kong and violently subduing a protestor.

Another angle of the incident seems to show a police officer planting a hammer in the backpack of the prostrate protester. The police arrested several protesters at the church.

Some social media users implicated Deacon Simon Chan, who works at Holy Cross Church, as having called the police to come and arrest the protesters, or at least having allowed the police to enter the church compound.

The Diocese of Hong Kong released a statement Nov. 11 countering this narrative, saying that Deacon Chan hurried to the scene as soon as the police began making their arrests.

“On his arrival, however, those protesters were already under arrest and shortly later they were escorted to the police car and taken away. Therefore, it was in fact not Deacon Simon Chan himself who allowed the police to enter the church compound,” the diocese said.

In response to queries as to why the church allowed the police to enter to arrest the protesters, the diocese stated “there is no way for a church to guarantee that those who enter it will not be arrested according to the law. We deeply regret that the above incident has taken place.”

“It is our earnest hope that the current turmoil in Hong Kong will come to an end and that the local situation will be back to normal as soon as possible,” the diocese concluded.

The protests in Hong Kong began earlier this year as mostly peaceful, large scale demonstrations against a proposal in the Hong Kong legislature that would have allowed mainland China to extradite alleged criminals from Hong Kong.

The impetus for the bill was a case involving a young Hong Kong man whom Taiwan requested be extradited for an alleged murder. Hong Kong previously has no formal extradition agreements with mainland China or Taiwan.

Christians and advocates widely opposed the bill, fearing that the Chinese government, which already seeks to control and suppress Chistianity on the mainland, would use it to further tighten its grip on free exercise of religion in Hong Kong.

Beijing has for years sought to control religion in China, leading to widespread persecution. The U.S. Commission on International Religion wrote in its 2018 report that last year China “advanced its so-called ‘sinicization’ of religion, a far-reaching strategy to control, govern, and manipulate all aspects of faith into a socialist mold infused with ‘Chinese characteristics.’”

Christians, Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners have all been affected. In September, reports emerged that churches belonging to the state-run “Three-Self Patriotic Movement” ecclesial community have been ordered to replace displays of the Ten Commandments with sayings of Chinese president Xi Xinping.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. Hong Kongers enjoy freedom of worship and evangelization, while in mainland China, by contrast, there is a long history of persecution for Christians who run afoul of the government.

An estimated 1 million protesters turned out at the first major demonstration June 6. Catholics have played a major role in the protests since then.

Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, an auxiliary bishop of Hong Kong, has called for prayer, asking that the faithful pray the rosary.

Bishop Ha has taken part in ecumenical prayer rallies with protesters in the past, urged an increase in prayer and said he is concerned for the safety of the many young people involved in the protests. He told CNA in September that he urges “Friday fasting” as part of the prayer for peace in Hong Kong.

Though Chief Executive Carrie Lam in October withdrew the extradition bill, protests have continued, with the most recent violent clashes taking place around the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

An unidentified protester recently told the National Catholic Register that protesters have become divided into two camps, “the so-called ‘peaceful group’ and the so-called ‘fighting group,’” noting that the extradition bill was first suspended only after the fighting group engaged the police in a major conflict June 12.

Another young Hong Konger told the Register that his decision to join the protests was guided by his Catholic faith and his sense of civic duty as a Chinese citizen in Hong Kong.

“The most fundamental concern for me is the freedom of religion, followed by the freedom of thought and speech,” he said.

“We protest because we do not trust the Chinese Communist Party. The CCP has a pretty nasty history of suppressing Christianity and other religions in China. Also, there is virtually no freedom of speech in China.”

Since the protests have gone on, Beijing has instituted a travel ban for some Catholics seeking to enter the island, and Chinese officials are reportedly concerned that Catholics on the mainland could work with the Catholic Church in Hong Kong to inspire similar resistance.

Protesters are demanding that Lam resign for her failure to respond to their demands, as well as an independent inquiry into police tactics and universal suffrage throughout the island territory.

Late into Tuesday evening, protesters at several locations around Hong Kong hurled Molotov cocktails at police who fired back volleys of tear gas, the Financial Times reports.

Another video released Nov. 10 showed a police officer shooting a masked protester in the chest at point-blank range in the street while grappling with another protester. Authorities reported that the protester who was shot is in hospital in critical condition.

Another video seems to show a masked assailant dousing a man on the street in flammable liquid and setting him on fire.

Last Friday, a 22-year-old protester died from injuries related to a fall.

Catholic leaders have continued to echo protesters’ calls for an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality.

“I ask the Lord to move the government of the special administrative region to respond to the public opinion, and set up an ‘Independent Commission of inquiry’ so that the community can begin with the truth and begin the path of real reconciliation,” Bishop Ha wrote on Facebook Oct. 21.

Legislation has been introduced in the US Senate to support the protesters, drawing veiled threats from a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman that passing such a measure “will seriously harm the United States’ own interests.”

The “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act” has 37 Republican and Democratic co-sponsors in the 100-member Senate, and backers say it is expected to pass easily if Majority Leader Mitch McConnell schedules a vote, CNBC reports.


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New Zealand to hold referendum on euthanasia, assisted suicide

November 13, 2019 CNA Daily News 0

Wellington, New Zealand, Nov 13, 2019 / 10:52 am (CNA).- The New Zealand Parliament voted in favor of legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide Wednesday, sending the bill to a referendum next year.

The End of Life Choice Bill was passed Nov. 13 by a vote of 69-51.

It would allow terminally ill persons who have six months or fewer to live to be euthanized or to themselves take a lethal dose of prescribed drugs, on the condition that two doctors agree the person is well-informed.

An earlier version of the bill would have allowed those with severe or incurable conditions to seek euthanasia or assisted as well.

The bill was introduced by David Seymour of ACT New Zealand, a crossbench, libertarian party.

It is supported by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of the New Zealand Labour Party.

Maggie Barry, a member of parliament of the opposition New Zealand National Party, said the bill is “dangerous and permissive,” according to Reuters.

A 2017 inquiry prepared by the health committee of the 51st New Zealand Parliament (which was controlled by the National Party) did not recommend the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia.

“We’ve tried to distil all the arguments and our recommendation to both the Parliament and the people of New Zealand is to read this report and come to a deeper understanding of what’s been asked around assisted suicide and euthanasia,” Simon O’Connor, then-chair of the health committee, said in August 2017.

When the National Party was governing, it concluded that “the public would be endangered” by legalization of the practices.

Submissions “cited concern for vulnerable people, such as the elderly and the disabled, those with mental illnesses, and those susceptible to coercion. Others argued that life has an innate value and that introducing assisted dying and euthanasia would explicitly undermine that idea. To do so would suggest that some lives are worth more than others. There were also concerns that, once introduced, eligibility for assisted dying would rapidly expand well beyond what was first intended,” the report of the health committee of the 51st parliament read.


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Former Melbourne cathedral workers doubt Pell abuse could have occurred

November 6, 2019 CNA Daily News 2

Melbourne, Australia, Nov 6, 2019 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Two former employees of the cathedral school in Melbourne, Australia are expressing strong doubts about the charges that landed Cardinal George Pell— the most senior member of the hierarchy ever convicted of sexual abuse— in prison.

The former employees, Lil Sinozic and Jean Corish, have also expressed disappointment that Pell’s defence team did not call them as witnesses in the trial.

Pell, 78, was convicted of exposing himself and forcing two choir boys to commit sex acts while fully vested in his Sunday Mass garb, almost immediately after Mass in the priests’ sacristy at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996. Pell was at that time Archbishop of Melbourne.

He was also convicted of fondling one of the boys in a corridor in 1997.

Pell has maintained his innocence, with his defense making central the argument that the alleged crimes would have been, under the circumstances, “simply impossible.”

Both Cornish and Sinozic were on duty nearly every Sunday morning at the cathedral in late 1996. 

Sinozic, a former teacher and executive assistant to then Father— now Monsignor— Charles Portelli, who was Pell’s master of ceremonies, echoed the defense, insisting that the circumstances of the alleged crimes as presented to the jury simply did not add up.

“I just know for a fact that what they’re describing could not have happened, given the situation in the sacristy after Mass…to say that there was this five minute interval where these acts were performed, and nobody saw or heard anything is ridiculous. I don’t know why the jury was led to believe otherwise,” she told CNA in an interview. 

Pell was convicted Dec. 11, 2018 on five charges of sexual abuse. CNA reported last year that his initial trial, bound by a gag order, ended in a mistrial; this fact was confirmed by one of the judges in the Aug. 21 proceeding.

The prosecution rested on the testimony of one of the alleged victims— the one reported to have suffered two instances of abuse by Pell. The other victim died in 2014 and was unable to testify, but had in 2001 denied to his mother that any abuse occurred while he was a member of the choir.

Although Sinozic was not present on the date of the alleged incidents, she said she was very familiar with the Sunday Mass routine within the cathedral, and the behavior of the people involved.

“Normally the archbishop would go out the front of the cathedral, and he would spend at least half an hour, if not an hour, meeting and greeting people,” she said.

“Particularly at that time, when he was new, everyone was curious about him and wanted to get to know him. So he would have spent quite a good deal of time out front just chatting to people. And then he was always followed by his entourage; he would have had his master of ceremonies, other people hanging on, and the sacristy was always busy as a beehive after Mass, as you might imagine.”

She also pointed out that Cornish, her colleague, would have been patrolling the area where the alleged incident occurred “all the time” because there was a problem with tourists coming in near the sacristy, and walking into the cathedral during Mass.

Though Cornish told CNA that her recollections of the months of Oct. 1996 to Christmas 1996 are “sketchy to say the least,” she confirmed Sinozic’s view that it would be highly unlikely for the archbishop to be totally alone minutes after the end of Mass.

“It could be up to an hour after the end of Mass before the area was clear of people who were in all the areas mentioned by the accuser, including the priests sacristy which was the busiest of all the sacristies at that time,” Cornish said in an emailed response to CNA’s questions.

Cornish is the former principal of Good Shepherd Catholic school in Melbourne. She said her office at the time in 1996 was in the presbytery, which was connected to the cathedral.

The archbishop had asked her to be the lead staffer for the forthcoming centenary celebrations of St Patrick’s Cathedral in addition to her regular job as the school principal.

She said the archbishop would always spend a great deal of time shaking hands and greeting people after Mass, even as protestors sometimes made their presence known with placards, shouting slogans like as “Pell go to hell” and ”We will get you Pell no matter what.”

Cornish also said she was in the habit of observing the activities and movement of people in the cathedral’s sacristy area.

“This was something I had learned to do even in the short 2 months I had been there, as the main sacristy corridor door was open to allow the altar servers, the assistant sacristan, Ralph [now deceased] and Alan the florist as well as others who attended to the sanctuary and sacred vessels to access the area freely.”

Cornish said she believes that the area where the abuse allegedly occurred was the “busiest and most open” of the sacristy areas, and reiterated that Pell was never alone before, during, or after a Sunday Mass.

To get to the vesting room, which did not have its own door, one would have had to go through the main sacristy, Sinozic said. She said the altar boys, who allegedly were drinking communion wine in the room where the alleged abuse occurred, would have had to go through several doors to get to the vesting room.

If the boys made their way back there, she said she finds it hard to believe that no one saw them.

“George is too smart to do something so stupid. Why would he do something like that? Knowing that anyone could walk in any second,” she commented. 

Someone would have asked what they were doing, Sinozic said, particularly an hour after Mass when all the other boys would have gone home, and their parents would be wondering where they were.

In addition, the cathedral had an evening Mass, so additional people would have already been in the cathedral preparing, she said. Cornish agreed, adding that it was “quite a major undertaking” to get the church ready again after a large concelebrated Mass.

“And they never mentioned anything for 22 years…why all of a sudden?” Sinozic wondered.

The incident is alleged to have occured when Pell was fully vested for Mass. Sinozic expressed doubt that one of the boys would not have run away while the abuse was taking place, or at least called out to the other people that would have surely been in the area.

Court documents report that “the two boys made some objections but did not quite yell. They were sobbing, in shock, and whimpering. During the offending, Cardinal Pell told them to be quiet, trying to stop them from crying.”

The Court of Appeals in Victoria upheld Pell’s conviction last summer. After an appellate panel announced its decision at a court proceeding Aug. 21, the cardinal was returned to prison. The Chief Justice ruled that Pell will be eligible to apply for parole after he has served three years and eight months of his six year sentence.

Pell has been held in solitary confinement, and is not permitted to celebrate Mass in prison. He has recently obtained a prison job weeding a courtyard.

Cornish said Paul Galbally, Pell’s solicitor, contacted her prior to his first trial, and they talked at length and then again later. She said she had to think through the dates at first, and then called him and told him she was not actually in an office in the sacristies at that time, but later had a full-time job and an office diagonally across the corridor from the archbishop’s sacristy. 

“I think Paul did not think my testimony would be helpful,” she said.

Sinozic also spoke to Pell’s solicitor at the beginning of the trial, but says she was never contacted after that. She said she’d agreed to testify, but said she suspects that she was not called as a witness because she wasn’t there on those actual dates.

“I think maybe they thought it wasn’t necessary, but I thought it would have given the jury a different perspective of the man if two laypeople got up, particularly women, and particularly teachers,” she commented.

“We know how to spot children who are out of place, because we did yard duty for many years and we can tell if something’s amiss. And we would have given a different side of view for the jury to perhaps reflect on. Because they were saying it’s just priests sticking up for each other— a men’s club.”

Cornish echoed Sinozic, saying that both of them dealt with every aspect of cathedral life, with Lil having been a vice principal and Jean having been a principal of a school of 1,000 children, and having dealt with pedophile cases before.

“I just think that Lillian Sinozic and I would have perhaps been able to give an overall picture long term of the workings of the cathedral from a female perspective…However I accept that at the time the lawyers probably thought we could not add anything to the picture.”

Pell’s attorneys did not respond to a CNA request for comment.

Pell’s appeal was presented on three grounds, two of which were procedural and dismissed by all three appeal judges.

The judges were divided on Pell’s primary ground of appeal, that the decision of the jury was “unreasonable.”

At particular issue was the question of whether the jury which convicted Pell had properly weighed all of the evidence presented in his defense, or reached the determination of guilt despite the demonstration of clear “reasonable doubt” that he committed the crimes with which he was charged.

Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and Court President Chris Maxwell formed the majority in favor of rejecting Pell’s appeal that the jury verdict was unreasonable on the evidence presented, finding that it was open to the jury to find beyond “reasonable doubt about the truth of the complainant’s account.”

In an extensive dissent from the majority finding, Justice Mark Weinberg noted that the entirety of the evidence against Pell consisted of the testimony of a single accuser, whereas more than 20 witnesses were produced to testify against his narrative.

Pell will appeal his conviction to the Australian High Court, exercising his last legal avenue to overturn his conviction.

“Pell comes across on TV as a bit arrogant and cold, but that’s not what he’s really like,” Sinozic said.

“And people get the wrong idea of him and just dislike him for some reason. So they were happy to blame him and use him as a scapegoat for all the other people that did something.”

Cornish also defended Pell’s character.

“Nothing will convince me that the Cardinal was capable or had tendencies towards committing this crime. A finer, more upstanding man I have never met,” she said.

“He is a man of black and white. He says what he believes, always taught what is right and is no man’s fool…He is a family man, equally at home in the presence of women, men and children.”



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Tokyo archbishop: It is ‘difficult to find success’ on evangelization in Japan

November 4, 2019 CNA Daily News 2

Tokyo, Japan, Nov 4, 2019 / 05:05 pm (CNA).- Efforts by the Catholic Church to evangelize the Japanese population have frequently collided with roadblocks, according to Archbishop of Tokyo Isao Kikuchi, but the Church is still finding some ways to proclaim the Gospel.

The archbishop answered question from Catholic News Agency on Japan, evangelization, and why breaking through into mainstream Japanese society is so difficult for a religion that has survived persecution and genocide in the country since 1549.

The interview came just weeks before Pope Francis visits the country Nov. 23-26.

“In Japanese society, it is difficult to find tangible success in missionary activities.”

According to the most recent available data, approximately 35% of Japanese claim Buddhism as their religion, while around 3-4% claim an adherence to Shinto or associated Japanese folk religions. Only 1-2% of Japanese claim Christianity as their faith, and only around half of Japanese Christians are Catholic.

“In the past, foreign missionaries succeeded in opening classrooms, gathering the people through English and cultural classes. However, these have been replaced by the initiatives of business enterprises.”

Foreign language education proved to be a powerful tool for cross-cultural pollination after World War II. It was demanded for high-paying positions in international business and politics, and only natively spoken by a fraction of a percentage of the population.

However, English education has since become compulsory in most schools. English classes often start at first grade or even earlier and continue through high school.

Additionally, Japan is now overflowing with foreign-language cram schools known as eikaiwa.

Eikaiwa are staffed with foreigners, taught cheaply, and often stick to approved conversations and lessons. Their wages are not high, and they can be quite expensive for customers. There have been multiple scandals in Japan regarding national chains of eikaiwa withholding wages, cancelling contracts without notice, and generally mistreating their employees.

Combined with the increase in mandatory English education, eikaiwa have largely killed the community, amateur foreign language class, once a staple of Catholic missionary activity.

According to the archbishop, the country’s nominally Catholic schools are beginning to abandon the idea of cultural education through language instruction.

“Catholic school may be the place to meet many young people, but unfortunately, except for some, it has not become a place for missionary activities,” said Archbishop Kikuchi.

Schools have historically been seen as Catholicism’s last strong foothold in evangelizing to the Japanese. While parishes shrink with the rest of the population and clergy shortages are becoming more and more of a problem, the prestige of the Catholic high school and Catholic university have endured and even strengthened in Japan since as far back as the Meiji Reformation.

Once highly-regarded for their access to Western-style education and foreign-born instructors in a time that the country was just beginning to interact with the outside world, Catholic universities are still greatly respected today.

Sophia University is known as one of the best private universities in the nation, one of a handful of institutions that rival the National Universities, Japan’s equivalent to the Ivy League.

However, Archbishop Kikuchi says that this ongoing prestige has come with a hefty cost.

“While the schools should be independent from national politics, unfortunately they are tied up with subsidies from the country, and thus they are gradually losing their uniqueness, with only the name ‘Catholic’ remaining,” he said.

“Many priests, religious and the laity are completely losing their involvement with them.”

The Church in Japan has also spent time in recent years engaged in disaster relief projects.

“Immediately after the Great East Japan Earthquake on 11th March 2011, support activities by the Church which continues to date through the eight volunteer centers set up in the affected areas, has been widely accepted, and serve as a witness to the Gospel through works of mercy.”

Through these efforts, the archbishop says, “the Church gives priority to witnessing the Gospel in a visible way through these steadfast works of mercy. Certainly, these activities may not lead immediately to the reception of baptism, but there is hope that many people who were touched by the spirit of the Gospel would actually be led to the Church.”

The second most powerful evangelization tool, Kikuchi says, is the Catholics population that have come and made their lives in Japan from abroad.

“Secondly, the Gospel is preached through the presence of Catholics from abroad who have come to Japan. In particular, those who have settled in marriage and built their homes in the rural areas make it possible for the Gospel to be brought in areas where the Church had never had an opportunity to get involved.”

Immigrants from the Philippines make up a large portion of the incoming foreigners in recent years. Filipinos are being tapped for jobs as English educators in eikaiwa, kindergartens, assistant-teaching positions, and more.

They are the fourth largest foreign community in Japan. It is estimated that close to 250,000 Filipinos live and work across Japan.

The Philippines’ population is close to 90% Christian – 86% is specifically Catholic.

Filipinos and their families make up large portions of the laity in Japan, attending masses and integrating into religious communities in both rural and urban areas.

“Therefore, an important task that must be given priority is to encourage foreign nationals who have settled in Japan to become aware of their missionary vocation as Catholics.”

Kikuchi believes it’s up to the clergy to instill in foreigners this sense of missionary spirituality.

“Pastoral care for foreign nationals in the Japanese church is not merely a service to welcome [guests], but rather a duty to make them aware of their vocation as missionaries.”