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Philippine Catholics lead AIDS memorial event

May 20, 2019 CNA Daily News 0

Iloilo City, Philippines, May 20, 2019 / 07:06 pm (CNA).- Filipino Catholic leaders in the central province of Iloilo held an AIDS memorial event over the weekend, to raise awareness and support for those affected by HIV/AIDS.

The International AIDS C… […]

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As Australian Catholic school abandons tests and grades, critics are concerned

May 19, 2019 CNA Daily News 0

Sydney, Australia, May 19, 2019 / 04:17 pm (CNA).- A Catholic school in west Sydney has done away with grades, class levels, and tests to promote a more personalized school experience – but educational experts are skeptical.

St. Luke’s Catholic College in Marsden Park is now offering a curriculum personalized to each student, as well as life coaches and staff to build a broader range of skills.

The high school students study essential curriculum, like math, science, and english, three days a week. During the rest of the week, they can pursue their own interests, like music, graphic design, and sports.

“The current model of schooling was designed in the 1800s for a world that was built for manufacturing,” Principal Greg Miller told ABC News.

Because the world has changed, he said, the students benefit from different lessons with life coaches to focus on a student’s strengths and passions. This system is called inquiry-based learning.

“Studying for a test where content changes dramatically, in today’s world, will not help the students to respond to real-world challenges and problems as they arise,” said Miller, according to ABC News.

“Their ability and capability to ask and pose questions to collaboratively work with each other is what’s needed.”

According to The Conversation, a review panel of the government released a report last year that reinforced the idea of personalized curriculum and levels based on progress.

However, some experts have expressed concern that inquiry-based learning is an extremely experimental model where students could miss out on key parts of the core curriculum.

Jennifer Buckingham, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies, said there was not enough evidence to back the new model.

“It is an experiment that isn’t based on the evidence that we have about what is effective instruction and what are effective models of schooling,” she said, according to ABC News.

“There have been a few schools around Australia adopting this style of teaching, this style of schooling, and at the moment the evidence is suggesting it’s not been as successful in things like literacy and numeracy. And therefore for the children at that school there is a great risk that this experiment will fail.”


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Sri Lanka holds first public Masses since Easter attacks

May 13, 2019 CNA Daily News 0

Colombo, Sri Lanka, May 13, 2019 / 04:13 pm (CNA).- The Sri Lankan Catholic Church on May 12 held its first public Sunday Masses since suicide bombers claimed more than 250 lives and injured hundreds of others on Easter.

Attendees at the Masses saw heightened safety precautions, including full-body searches, ID checks, and street patrols by military and police forces, according to The Guardian. At the churches’ gates, volunteers kept an eye out for suspicious people.

Last week, President Maithripala Sirisena told the Associated Press that “99%” of suspects related to the bombings have been arrested and explosive material has been seized.

Church leaders are considering reopening Catholic schools on Tuesday, the AP reported.

As a security measure, all public Masses had been cancelled for the two weeks following attacks by eight suicide bombers on two Catholic churches, a protestant church, three hotels, a residence, and a zoo on April 21.

On the Sunday following the attacks, a televised Mass was held at the private residential chapel of Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo. A private ordination Mass quietly went ahead as planned April 30 in the village of Thannamunai, with attendance lower than had originally been anticipated.

On Monday, several social media platforms were banned indefinitely by the government amid concerns surrounding hateful speech and fake news. Facebook, Whatsapp, and Youtube among those sites blocked, according to CNN.

Other safety precautions undertaken by the government include enforcement of curfews and banning face veils. The government has also sought to suppress the jiihadist group National Thowheeth Jama’ath, whom the police say was responsible for the attacks. ISIS leaders have also claimed responsbility for the bombings, saying the local jihadists had pledged loyalty to the Islamic State.

According to The Guardian, 56 people have been arrested in connection with the attacks, 13 safe-houses have been discovered, and 41 bank accounts belonging to the bombers have been found. However, police officials have continued to caution people about potential threats.

Since the attacks, Catholic charity groups have provided aid to the victims and their families. UCA News reported that Caritas Sethsarana has been funding medical services, transportation assistance, legal support, and home repair.

“We have identified those who have been heavily traumatized, and counseling by professionals is underway,” said Father Claude Nonis, an organizer for these church-run operations.

“I was inspired by what I saw Caritas doing,” a policeman at one of the hospitals told UCA News.

“They were right there with the families, helping them to identify the bodies, and they stayed with them until all the necessary arrangements had been made.”


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After Vatican-China deal, Chinese bishop imprisoned for 23 years is not yet released

May 8, 2019 CNA Daily News 0

Beijing, China, May 8, 2019 / 11:30 am (CNA).- The nephew of a Chinese bishop who was arrested 23 years ago has said he does not know where his uncle is incarcerated, or even whether he is still alive.

“His whereabouts are unknown and I don’t even know if he is alive or not. I am upset with tears every time I think of this 87-year-old man. Please pray for him,” Su Tianyou told UCANews recently.

His uncle is Bishop James Su Zhimin of Baoding, in China’s Hebei province, southwest of Beijing.

In 1996, the bishop was arrested during a procession, and charged with conducting “unregistered” religious activities: Su had refused to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the government recognized Catholic Church in China, and was instead a member of the “underground” Church- in communion with Rome, and appointed a bishop by Pope St. John Paul II, but unrecognized by the Chinese government as a bishop.

It was not the first time Su was arrested. According to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Human Rights Commission, Su has spent 40 years in prison, “without charge, without trial.”

“Before being arrested in 1996, Bishop Su Zhimin was held off and on for 26 years either in prison or forced labor camps.  The Chinese government deemed him as ‘counterrevolutionary’ because, since the 1950s, he has refused to join the Patriotic Association,” the Human Rights Commission says.

Su reportedly escaped Chinese detention in 1997, but was rearrested.

“In November 2003, his family discovered him by chance at a hospital in Baoding, surrounded by police and public security.  He has not been heard or seen from since, despite repeated international inquiries,” according to the Human Rights Commission.

Su’s nephew, Su Tianyou, told UCANews that he met in 2015 with Guo Wei, a Chinese official who told him that the bishop might be released if there were an improvement in Vatican-China relations.

In September 2018, Beijing and Vatican officials signed a provisional agreement on bishop appointments, that was intended to unify the underground Church and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

According to Su Tianyou, neither Vatican nor Chinese officials have indicated whether Su might now be released.

In October 2018, Hong Kong’s Bishop Michael Yeung said that his diocese continued to pray for Su, and hope for his release.

“Whether he is in prison, or kept secret in some other place, or whether he has already died, nobody really knows,” Yueng told Reuters.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom’s latest report, issued April 29, noted that despite last year’s Vatican-China deal on the appointment of bishops, “repression of the underground Catholic Church increased during the latter half of the year.”
The commission, known as the USCIRF, is a bipartisan group that advises the President, Congress, and the Secretary of State on international religious freedom issues.

Among the report’s inclusion of commissioners’ “individual views” were those of Johnnie Moore, who called the deal “one of the most alarming incidents as it relates to religious freedom in the entire year.”

“Within days of the Vatican negotiating its deal, the Chinese used it as cover to embark upon the closure of several of the nation’s largest and most prominent unregistered church communities,” Moore wrote.

Moore believes the Vatican “now bears a significant moral and legal responsibility to help solve the problem which it helped created—albeit inadvertently—by providing China license to viciously crack down on Christian communities (as cited in this report), and by providing the Chinese government further cover to continue its incomprehensible, inexcusable and inhumane abuses of Muslim citizens in the western part of the country.”

“While I am entirely for direct engagement on these issues, including with the most severe violators in the world, that engagement must not result in these types of unintended consequences, as has been the case in China. The Vatican made a terrible mistake, which it must take seriously. This debacle must be dealt with urgently and seriously.”

April’s USCIRF report also highlighted the plight of the Uyghur Muslim minority in China. To date, between 800,000 to 2 million Uyghurs— or about 10% of their population— have been detained and sent to “re-education camps” to be subjected to abuse and political indoctrination.

The report calls on the US government to sanction those in the Chinese government responsible for the detention of the Uyghurs.


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‘Bodies were everywhere’: Sri Lanka priests recount the horror of Easter attacks

May 7, 2019 CNA Daily News 0

Colombo, Sri Lanka, May 7, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- As Fr. Eranga De-Silva finished celebrating Easter Sunday Mass at his parish in Sri Lanka, he noticed policemen guarding the three entrances to the church.

He was celebrating the 8 a.m. Mass, and had just given the final blessing at Our Lady of Lourdes, the parish where De-Silva is a parochial vicar, when his pastor approached the altar, and whispered to him that he had “sad news.”

De-Silva’s pastor, who had just come from celebrating Mass at a different parish, then took to the pulpit, interrupting the final hymn.

The pastor announced the news to the congregation: bombs had been detonated at two different Catholic Churches, St. Sebastian’s in Negombo and St. Anthony’s in Colombo. Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Raddolugama, where De-Silva was finishing Mass, is just nine miles to the south of Negombo.

“People had no clue and were instructed to move quickly to their residences safely,” De-Silva told CNA. “Then the police asked (us) to close all the gates of the church. All were wondering what was happening and what (they) were to do.”

Around noon, De-Silva decided to head to Colombo to offer his assistance as a priest, despite the risk to his safety. He heard several more blasts by the time he reached the city, he told CNA.

The next day, he headed to Negombo, where priests were needed for help with prayer services and burials. “I saw hundreds of priests gathering, despite the prevailing risk, to help the flock,” he said.

Fr. Sachitra Perera was another priest who rushed toward danger after he heard of the attacks. He was heading to visit his parents on Easter when another priest told him of the bombs.

“My parish priest Fr. Manjula Fernando called me and said that there had been a blast so let’s rush to Katuwapitiya (St. Sebastian’s in Negombo),” he told CNA. It was about 8:45 on Easter morning.

When the priests arrived, they couldn’t believe what they saw, Perera said.

“Bodies were everywhere. People were dumbfounded, scared. Police had rushed to the place…I couldn’t believe my eyes,” he said. “(I) felt so sad and for a while I felt numb and speechless.” Perera said he helped clear paths for ambulances and emergency workers to reach the victims. He said he knew one family personally who lost their father, mother, and youngest son in the attacks. The two older children were away in Japan.

The family were faithful, daily Mass goers, Perera said. “And this son who died is very innocent, always with a bright smile. Even though he (was in 10th grade), he is so loving and innocent.”

De-Silva said that while he didn’t know any of the people who were injured or killed, he had heard of a family in which the father and his youngest daughter, Fathima Azla, were Muslim, while the mother and eldest sibling were Catholic.

“Although Fathima Azla was not baptized, she used to come for the Sunday Mass. Prior to this Easter, she had seen Jesus and some angels in dreams, and once very recently she had told the family members that she saw Jesus sprinkling some water on her,” De-Silva recalled. “Her mother has told her may be Jesus wants her to be baptized…and she had drawn some pictures of Jesus. However, Fathima Azla was one of the innocent victims of the terror attack.”

An evangelical church, three hotels, and a private residence were also struck by suicide bombers during the Easter attacks.

Both priests said the attacks have rocked a country that was just getting used to peaceful times, after war and terrorism reigned in the country from 1983 to 2009.

Sri Lanka is a majority-Buddhist country; the small minority of Christians in the country (fewer that 8%) are mostly Catholics. Roughly 10% of the population are Muslims.

It used to be that people saw churches as a place of refuge, Perera said.

“This is a major blow,” he said. “When something happens, people run to the church. In 2004 when the tsunami struck, they ran to church for safety. But now…”

“As a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country Sri Lankans could be identified as a relatively rich country. It is well known for hospitality,” De-Silva said.
“But, after these attacks, there is an unnecessary tension. After that day full of surprises, people today are full of (suspicion). The friendly way of approaching has faded away for the past two weeks. I hope this will end soon,” he added.  

Perera said that he wanted to credit Catholics in the country for their peaceful and faithful response to the attacks amidst so much tragedy.

“I must appreciate our faithful,” he said. “Sometimes as pastors we think people are not practicing what they believe, but this is a good example to show how strong we are because no one reacted to the Muslim community with violence.”

“I visited few houses of the affected people, they still have deep faith but they are in trauma. They have not lost their faith,” he noted.

Still, “the fear and uncertainty will slowly fade away but the scars will remain,” he added.

On May 5, for the second weekend in a row, Sri Lankan Catholics stayed in their homes and watched Mass on T.V. instead of going to church, due to ongoing security threats.

Although public schools in the country reopened after the attacks as of May 6, Catholic schools will remain closed until at least May 13. The risk, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith decided, is still too great.

De-Silva said he is not sure when churches will reopen for public Masses, but he and Perera both said they support Cardinal Ranjith’s decisions. Ranjith is the Archbishop of Colombo, and has been thrust into the spotlight as the leader of the Catholic Church in the country since the attacks.

Only on Monday, May 6, did the police chief of Sri Lanka announce that all suspects linked to the bombings were either arrested or dead, according to Reuters, which could effect whether or not Catholic churches open for Mass next weekend.

“It is said, ‘once bitten, twice shy.’ So I totally agree with my shepherd Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith who officially announced about not having Sunday Masses in our parishes in the Archdiocese,” De-Silva said. “His Eminence postponed the starting date of Catholuc Schools till May 13. Again, in my opinion, a very brave and a great idea.”

“The way he led his flock and the way he instructed us was amazing,” De-Silva added about the leadership of Cardinal Ranjith. “Buddhists appreciate his approach and all are amazed with the grace shared by his thoughts. May God continue to guide us through him.”

De-Silva, while a priest of Sri Lanka, has United States ties. He and several other priests from Sri Lanka spent several years studying in U.S. seminaries, through a partnership with the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, where they were affectionately called the “Sri-Lincolns.”

De-Silva said he was grateful for Bishop Emeritus Fabian Bruskewitz, who started the program, and was touched to hear from Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, who called each of the “Sri-Lincoln” priests to check on them after the attacks.

“Thanks for all who called and checked how we were doing,” he said. “I know that there are many still praying so hard. Please continue!”

Besides prayer, De-Silva asked that Catholics not forget what happened in the Easter attacks.

“Please do not forget what happened. We, as humans have the tendency to forget things easily. But (we’ll) not forget, especially for the sake of our future. Most of all – pray!”


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Catholics assist those impacted by Cyclone Fani in India, Bangladesh

May 3, 2019 CNA Daily News 1

Bhubaneswar, India, May 3, 2019 / 02:10 pm (CNA).- A category four cyclone struck India’s Odisha state Friday morning, but humanitarian groups and government forces are better prepared than in previous years.

Cyclone Fani made landfall in Puri, about 40 miles south of Bhubaneswar, May 3. According to Al Jazeera, three deaths connected to the storm have been reported on so far.

In a May 2 statement, Catholic Relief Services explained that preparations were being made to ensure the safety of residents in Odisha and in Bangladesh, whither Cylcone Fani is heading. CRS had distributed supplies to Cox’s Bazaar refugee camp in Bangladesh, where almost 1 million Rohingya refugees reside.

“Our teams on the ground are making last-minute preparations so we can respond as soon as the storm moves on,” said Caroline Brennan, communications director for CRS’ humanitarian response team.

“We are working closely with our Church partners in both India and Bangladesh who are best placed to assess the damage and respond quickly.”

Quartz India reported that the government has taken tremendous strides in preparatory storm programs since a cyclone in 1999 claimed over 15,000 lives. After improvements to forecast and mitigation systems, over 1 million people were evacuated before May 2.

According to WSBT 22, more than 800 shelters were opened and 100,000 dry food packets were airdropped. The government also used the India Coast Guard to distribute supplies, including water and other necessities.

While in the Bay of Bengal May 1-2, the cyclone was measured to have winds more than 150 mph and was considered to be “extremely severe.” It has since weakened and authorities have claimed it to be “very severe,” according to the India Meteorological Department

The department reported that the storm made landfall with about 100 mph winds, which has continued to decrease. It also cautioned that ocean levels could rise to an estimated 1.5 to 3 feet above the astronomical tide, affecting lower areas like Kendrapara, Balasore, and Bhadrak districts.

The storm continues to move northeast toward Bengal, which it is expected to hit some time later today. Forecasters said wind speeds will likely drop to around 40 mph by the time the storm arrives in Bangladesh May 4.


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Public Masses suspended for second week in Sri Lanka

May 2, 2019 CNA Daily News 0

Colombo, Sri Lanka, May 2, 2019 / 02:09 pm (CNA).- Following terrorist attacks and ongoing threats to safety, Masses will be suspended in the Archdiocese of Colombo for a second week, Catholic leaders have said.

Fr. Edmund Tillakaratne, a spokesperson for the archdiocese, told journalists Thursday that Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith had decided to suspend weekend Masses for a second weekend, according to the AP.

Two weekends ago, on Easter Sunday, bombs detonated at two Catholic churches, an evangelical church, three hotels, and a private residence, killing at least 257 people and injuring at least 500 others. Of the injured, 47 are still hospitalized for their injuries, the AP reported.

Last weekend, Cardinal Ranjith celebrated a televised Mass at his residence in lieu of the cancelled public Masses. A funeral service was held April 23 for many of the victims of the attacks.

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks, and Sri Lankan officials believe that nine suicide bombers were involved in the attacks, according to the AP. Multiple arrests have also been made as officials search for additional suspects connected to the attacks, but officials have warned that some suspects are still at large.

Even though Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war ended in 2009, the island nation has suffered periodic bouts of violence ever since. Sri Lanka is a majority-Buddhist country; the small minority of Christians in the country (fewer that 8%) are mostly Catholics. Roughly 10% of the population are Muslims.

Cardinal Ranjith criticized the government for “absolutely unacceptable” behavior, in ignoring intelligence that may have led to the prevention of the attacks. The country’s chief of police and defense minister have both resigned following criticisms of mishandling intelligence related to the attacks.

Sri Lankan officials have taken several safety precautions in the wake of the attacks, including banning face veils, and banning the Islamist group National Thowheeth Jama’ath which was reportedly behind the attacks.

Ranjith has also warned that failure to provide sufficient security in the aftermath of the attacks may lead to more violence.

In his April 28 sermon Ranjith reflected on the mercy of God: “The finest expression of God’s love is God’s mercy. Therefore we must love and respect each other,” he said.

He also prayed for a greater respect for human life, and for the victims of the Easter attacks.

“We feel truly sorry for all the families that have lost their loved ones and their dear ones. And I ask you dear brothers and sisters, please pray for them. They were the treasure of our lives, of our faith, of our existence. We pray for them; Lord receive them into your care and your love.”

“We will help all those who are left destitute,” he added. “Let’s think of this today as we commemorate one week of (the loss of these people). I ask you please do something good today to another person, and (offer it) for the wellbeing of these people. May the Good Lord bless and keep each and everyone of them always in his love.”