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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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South Korean archbishop voices hope for new president

May 11, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Seoul, South Korea, May 10, 2017 / 09:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An archbishop in South Korea encouraged the country’s new president to bring unity to a nation struggling both from recent scandals and fears over North Korea’s weapons tests.  

“I would like him to promote balanced development of the nation, and to appoint his staff in a fair and impartial manner so that all selected competent persons may take part in the new government administration,” Archbishop Hyginus Hee-joong Kim of Gwangji said in a May 10 statement.

“We also would like him to propose a clear vision and governmental management philosophy for the future which can make all Korean people in the North and South Korea reconcile and coexist in peace.”

The statement congratulated President Moon Jae-in in his victory on Tuesday. He won with over 41 percent favor of South Korea’s population against two other candidates, according to the South Korea’s National Election Commission.

President Moon replaced the former president Park Geun-Hye who was ousted after a scandal broke last November, leading to her impeachment and ultimately her imprisonment this year. The scandal involved bribery and abuse of power with one of her close friends, Choi Soon-sil, who together used their positions to demand money from major companies in South Korea.

Geun-Hye has been accused of using her power to coerce companies in donating nearly 70 million dollars, which was funneled through two foundations run by the former president. The National Assembly began stripping her of power last December and prosecution began with 13 criminal charges in March. Since then the charges have increased to 18.

The archbishop acknowledged the difficult times surrounding the months of angry mobs demanding for the ex-president’s resignation, and expressed the need for a president capable of uniting South Korea.

“Now we are in urgent need of a credible leader who keeps principles and steps towards true peace and justice beyond today’s conflicts and confrontations. May the new president be a great leader who can make democracy take root in this country, and bring peace and prosperity to the Korean people.”

President Moon’s landslide victory still faces the aftermath of political corruption, but he is also challenged by the looming issue of North Korea’s recent missile and nuclear tests.

North Korea has continued to pursue nuclear and ballistic missile tests, despite a ban from the United Nations and trade restrictions from China. The country has so far conducted five missile tests in 2017, including a failed attempt on April 28. Most successful tests have landed missiles into the Sea of Japan, but spectators have agreed that the tests are steps to extend North Korea’s reach of nuclear weapons to other areas of the world.

South Korea’s new president has vowed to immediately tackle the issues regarding their northern neighbor. During his first speech as president, Moon said he would aim to sooth tensions between Beijing and Washington. He even said he would be willing to meet with the North’s leader Kim Jong-un if the conditions were right.

Controversy over a U.S. anti-missile defense system, which was recently implemented in Korean peninsula, has caused for skepticism from China, whose leaders say the system threatens the security of their country as well.

Along with his promises to tackle serious international issues, Moon said he would cut ties with South Korea’s conglomerates and leave the office uncorrupted.

“I take this office empty-handed, and I will leave the office empty-handed,” President Moon said during his May 10 inauguration speech, according to Reuters.

Archbishop Hyginus Hee-joong Kim further encouraged the new leader to attend to the dignity of all citizens: “the vulnerable and disadvantaged in the society can be treated with human dignity and respect, where everyone enjoys the right to freedom of thought and conscience.”

The archbishop ended his statement promising to pray for the good of Korea’s people under the leader’s service.

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Demolished cross in India sparks outrage among Catholics

May 3, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Mumbai, India, May 3, 2017 / 03:34 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Despite being located on private property, a 122 year-old cross was demolished late last month in a suburb of Mumbai, sparking legal action from the archdiocese.

“This is gross misuse of authority and the archdiocese, in collaboration with various representative bodies, will legally pursue the matter,” archdiocesan spokesperson Father Nigel Barrett told Matters India in an April 30 article.

Local civic officers had demolished the cross a day before, inciting an angry response from the Catholic community. A makeshift cross was established hours later.

In 2016 the Allahabad High Court issued a directive calling for the removal of all religious structures which infringe upon any public roads, ranging from highways to pathways. The ruling is meant to restrict religious activities hindering the flow of traffic on public roads.

The court ordered any religious structure raised before 2011 to be removed within two months, and those issued before would need to be moved to private land or removed in six months. However, the cross was already located on private property.

Assistant municipal commissioner Sharad Ughade had sent notice to the church on April 26 that the cross would be demolished, referring to the ruling. In response, the owner of the land that the cross was located on provided documents that proved the land was private.

Father Barrett said that legal action was on its way over the destruction of the cross, decrying that the proper documentation was seemingly ignored by civic authorities.

The representative for the area’s state legal assembly, Ashish Shelar, met with all affected parties on May 2. According to Mid-Day, he said the cross was included on a list of illegal structures which interfere with the development plan of the city.

He said the cross was mistakenly added to the list “without proper homework.”

Moving forward, he said the plan would be to reexamine the documents of the demolitions completed so far, to give all religious structures on the list a month to be relocated. Shelar also granted the request for a Christian cemetery to be built in Malad, a suburb on the other side of Mumbai.

Thirty-two temples and six crosses have also been removed since the court order, according to the Times of India.

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