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Chinese bishop denies government has plans to demolish cathedral

August 4, 2020 CNA Daily News 1

CNA Staff, Aug 4, 2020 / 02:10 pm (CNA).- A Catholic bishop in China has denied that the government plans to tear down his cathedral, after local Catholics expressed concern at Communist authorities taking over land belonging to the diocese.

Bishop Anthony Dang Minyan of the Diocese of Xi’an, which is located in the province of Shaanxi, reassured local Catholics this week that there are no plans to demolish St. Francis Cathedral, and that the building is in fact a “provincial heritage.”

The cathedral dates back to the early 18th century, when it was constructed by Italian missionaries. 

Reports of plans to destroy the historic church circulated on Chinese social media after it emerged that local government officials intend to seize Church lands on either side of the cathedral. Houses rented on the land, purchased by the previous bishop, Anthony Li Du’an, are key source of income for the local Church. The houses are set to be demolished to create a public park.

UCA News reported August 4 that Bishop Dang issued the clarification to stop Catholics protesting against a non-existent plan to demolish the cathedral.

“We are in contact with the government. They want to beautify the streets to upgrade the city’s image. We are negotiating with the government to see how we can cooperate with the move,” the bishop told UCA.

In response to the rumors, some Catholics had gathered to protest in front of the cathedral with signs begging the government not tear the building down. 

Bishop Dang has led the Diocese of Xi’an since 2006. He previously served as auxiliary bishop in the diocese, having been consecrated a bishop in 2005 with both Communist and Vatican approval.

Throughout China, churches have been instructed to remove crosses and other religious symbols from both the inside and outside of the buildings. Other churches have been seized by the government and transformed into secular community centers. 

The expected seizure of Church lands in Xi’an come as the Holy See continues talks with the Chinese government to renew the controversial 2018 provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops in China. More than 50 mainland dioceses are currently without a leader.

Last week, a congressional hearing in Washington highlighted the unknown fate of another Catholic bishop in China: Bishop James Su Zhimin of the Diocese of Baoding, in China’s Hebei province, who was arrested by Chinese authorities in 1997. He was last seen by family at a hospital in 2003 while he was in government custody.

According to Bishop Su’s nephew, Chinese officials have reportedly asked the Vatican to appoint a new bishop of Baoding, fueling fears that Su may have died in government custody. 

The government’s preferred candidate is the diocesan coadjutor Bishop Francis An Shuxi, a member of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the state-sanctioned church.

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Lebanese priest: ‘We need your prayers’ after Beirut explosions

August 4, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

CNA Staff, Aug 4, 2020 / 01:15 pm (CNA).-  

A Lebanese Catholic priest has asked believers around the world to pray for the people of his country, after two explosions in Beirut injured hundreds of people and are reported to have left at least 10 people dead.

“We ask your nation to carry Lebanon in its hearts at this difficult stage and we place great trust in you and in your prayers, and that the Lord will protect Lebanon from evil through your prayers,” Fr. Miled el-Skayyem of the Chapel of St. John Paul II in Keserwan, Lebanon, said in a statement to EWTN News Aug. 4.
 
“We are currently going through a difficult phase in Lebanon, as you can see on TV and on the news,” the priest added.

Raymond Nader, a Maronite Catholic living in Lebanon, echoed the priest’s call.

“I just ask for prayers now from everyone around the world. We badly need prayers,” Nader told CNA Tuesday.

Explosions in the port area of Lebanon’s capital overturned cars, shattered windows, set fires, and damaged buildings across Beirut, a city of more than 350,000, with a metro area of more than 2 million people.

“It was a huge disaster over here and the whole city was almost ruined because of this explosion and they’re saying it’s kind of a combination of elements that made this explosion,” Antoine Tannous, a Lebanese journalist, told CNA Tuesday.

Officials have not yet determined the cause of the explosions, but investigators believe they may have started with a fire in a warehouse that stored explosive materials. Lebanon’s security service warned against speculations of terrorism before investigators could assess the situation.

According to Lebanon’s state-run media, hundreds of injured people have flooded hospital emergency rooms in the city.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab has declared that Wednesday will be a national day of mourning. The country is almost evenly divided between Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, and Chrsitians, most of whom are Maronite Catholics. Lebanon also has a small Jewish population, as well as Druze and other religious communities.

 

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American on trial for blasphemy killed at court hearing in Pakistan

July 31, 2020 CNA Daily News 1

CNA Staff, Jul 31, 2020 / 03:13 pm (CNA).- A U.S. citizen on trial for blasphemy in Pakistan was killed at a court hearing Wednesday, drawing strong objections to the country’s blasphemy laws from the U.S. State Department.

Tahir Ahmad Naseem was charged with claiming to be a prophet. He was being escorted by police in a courtroom in Peshawar, more than 100 miles west of Islamabad, when he was attacked and killed July 29.

Video shared on social media showed his body slumped over the seats in court, BBC News reports.

His attacker was arrested at the scene, and video shows him handcuffed and accusing Naseem of being “an enemy of Islam.”

Police are unsure how the attacker, named only as Khalid, acquired a gun in the courtroom. A police spokesman said he may have pulled the gun from a policeman’s holster, Agence France Prese reports.

The U.S. State Department said it was “shocked, saddened and outraged” by the killing.

“The U.S. government has been providing consular assistance to Mr. Naseem and his family since his detention in 2018 and has called the attention of senior Pakistani officials to his case to prevent the type of shameful tragedy that eventually occurred,” said State Department spokesman Cale Brown.

The State Department said he had been lured to Pakistan from Illinois.

Naseem was born into the Ahmadi sect, a marginalized group which faces persecution in Pakistan. However, an Ahmadi community spokesman said Naseem had left the sect and now describes himself as a prophet. The man in his YouTube videos claimed to be a messiah. The spokesman suggested he had been mentally ill, Agence France Presse reports.

In 2018 a Peshawar teenager named Awais Malik accused Naseem of blasphemy. Naseem, while living in the U.S., had begun speaking with him online.

Malik told BBC News he met Naseem in a shopping mall in Peshawar to discuss religion, and he then filed a case with police. Malik said he was not present at court and had no knowledge of the shooting.

The country’s blasphemy laws impose strict punishment on those who desecrate the Quran or who defame or insult Muhammad. Although the government has never executed a person under the blasphemy laws, accusations alone have inspired mob and vigilante violence.

The State Department urged Pakistan “to immediately reform its often abused blasphemy laws and its court system, which allow such abuses to occur.” It urged prosecution of the suspect in Naseem’s killing to the full extent of the law.

The Centre for Research and Security Studies reported that at least 65 people have been killed by anti-blasphemy vigilantes since 1990. According to the U.S. Commission on Interreligious Freedom, up to 80 people are imprisoned on blasphemy charges in Pakistan, and half of them face life in prison or the death penalty.

In 2018, the Supreme Court of Pakistan overturned the blasphemy conviction of Asia Bibi, a Catholic woman who was accused in 2009. Her initial conviction had also been upheld by the Lahore High Court.

The Ahmadi religious group self-identifies as Muslim, but many Muslims do not identify them as Muslim. The movement was founded in 1889 in British-ruled India. They consider their founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad a “subordinate prophet.” Other Muslims see this as a violation of the tenet that Muhammad was the last prophet.

There are about 500,000 Ahmadis in Pakistan and up to 20 million adherents worldwide. Some observers estimate the Ahmadi population in Pakistan is higher, but persecution encourages Ahmadis to hide their identity.

Both government authorities and mobs have targeted their places of worship. In October 2019, police in Punjab partially demolished a 70-year-old Ahmadiyya mosque, according to the 2020 report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

In May Pakistan’s government declined to include the Ahmadi religious group in its National Commission for Minorities.

In January 2020, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia wrote to Pakistan’s prime minister on behalf of Philadelphia’s Pakistani Catholic community, encouraging him to shape a culture of religious freedom in the country.

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