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Pakistan mourns victims of terrorist attacks

February 17, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Hyderabad, Pakistan, Feb 17, 2017 / 11:46 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pakistanis are mourning those killed and wounded in a series of terrorist attacks which have taken place this week in the country, including one on a Sufi shrine that left more than 80 people dead.

“People in Pakistan are above all sad; they are also angry with the institutions that are not able to protect citizens. Finally they feel fragile, vulnerable, helpless in the face of [a] terrorist threat that spares no one,” Fr. Inayat Bernard, director of Santa Maria Seminary in Lahore, told Fides.

“We condemn this senseless violence against innocent human beings. Before any ethnic, cultural or religious connotation, the victims are human beings,” he continued.

A suicide bomber reportedly loyal to the Islamic State attacked devotees at a Sufi shrine in Sehwan, more than 90 miles northwest of Hyderabad, on Thursday. In addition to the more than 80 killed in the attack, some 250 were wounded. Sufism is a form of Islamic mysticism which the Islamic State opposes, in part because it reveres individuals it regards as saints. The shrine in Sehwan which was attacked is devoted to Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a Sufi poet and philosopher of the 13th century.

Since Monday, there have also been terrorist attacks or attempts in Lahore, Quetta, Peshawar, Mohmand, and Arawan.

In a security crackdown in response to the attacks, Pakistani forces have killed more than 100 militants. It has closed border crossings with Afghanistan, whence it claims the militants were based.

“Today we know that we are all potential targets,” Fr. Bernard commented. “Even us Christians – no one is excluded. The victims of these latest attacks are all Muslims, tomorrow it could be the turn of a Christian, a Hindu or a Sikh. This indiscriminate violence hits places of worship, such as the Sufi mosque in Karachi, or churches in the past.”

He lamented that “religious communities are forced to adopt their own security measures and cannot rely on the government. There should be more control, but it is very difficult when there is a great influx of faithful.”

“This violence profanes the name of God, profanes Islam and uses religion to try to overthrow the state. Public opinion strongly calls on the government to urgently implement the national action plan against terrorism, already outlined, but there is some hesitation on behalf of the government and this gives rise to many questions on the possible existing connections even in the institutional apparatus. We are in an impasse”.

Catholics in Pakistan are called to “pray and show deep empathy and solidarity” to the Sufi victims in Sehwan, he said.

“We brought our condolences to the police, after the massacre in Lahore; we go to hospitals to offer assistance and solidarity to the injured,” he said.

He added that interreligious meetings are being organized “to reject, in the name of God, [the] terrorism that has bloodied our beloved nation, and say yes to peace and respect for life.”


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Philippines bishops: Trust in God, not Duterte’s deadly drug war

February 9, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Manila, Philippines, Feb 8, 2017 / 05:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Though the Philippines president has professed a willingness to go “to hell” to win his deadly war on drugs, the country’s bishops have said Catholics must speak out against its evils.

“This traffic in illegal drugs needs to be stopped and overcome. But the solution does not lie in the killing of suspected drug users and pushers,” they said.

“The life of every person comes from God. It is he who gives it, and it is he alone who can take it back. Not even the government has a right to kill life because it is only God’s steward and not the owner of life.”

Silence in the face of evil means becoming an accomplice to it, they warned.

“If we neglect the drug addicts and pushers we have become part of the drug problem, if we consent or allow the killing of suspected drug addicts, we shall also be responsible for their deaths.”

The pastoral letter, dated Jan. 30, bears the signature of Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. It was read at all Sunday Masses Feb. 5. The letter comes soon after the bishops’ biannual plenary assembly held in Manila. It took its title from Ezekiel 32, in which God says “For I find no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies.”

President Rodrigo Duterte’s violent crackdown on drug use has claimed more than 6,000 lives in the six months since he took office. At least 2,250 drug suspects have been reported killed by police, while at least 3,700 others were murdered by unknown suspects who sometimes accused their victims of being drug dealers or addicts, according to Agence France Presse.

Many priests and bishops have been afraid to speak out against the killings, Jerome Secillano, public affairs chief for the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, said in January.

The pastoral letter appeared aimed to break the silence.

“Let us not allow fear to reign and keep us silent. Let us put into practice not only our native inner strength but the strength that comes from our Christian faith,” the bishops said.

They warned of a “reign of terror” and the lack of justice against those who commit killings. They rebuked indifference to the killings and those claim the killings are “something that needs to be done.”

Those who murder drug dealers are also committing grave sins, the bishops said.

“We cannot correct a wrong by doing another wrong,” they explained. “A good purpose is not a justification for using evil means. It is good to remove the drug problem, but to kill in order to achieve this is also wrong.”

Duterte’s response to the pastoral letter was adamant.

“You Catholics, if you believe in your priests and bishops, you stay with them,” the president said Sunday. “If you want to go to heaven, then go to them. Now, if you want to end drugs … I will go to hell, come join me.”

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella, a former pastor of an evangelical Protestant church, said that the bishops’ conference appears “out of touch with the sentiments of the faithful who overwhelmingly support the changes in the Philippines,” Fox News reports.

For their part, the bishops stressed the importance of presuming an accused person is innocent. They said legal processes must be followed and society has processes to apprehend, convict and punish those who are guilty of crimes.

According to the bishops, there are several root causes of drug problems and criminality: poverty, family breakdown, and corruption. They said people should address these problems through anti-poverty efforts to provide employment and living wages; family strengthening efforts; and reform in the country’s police forces, judicial systems and politics.

Every person has the chance to change because of God’s mercy, the bishops said. The Catholic Church’s recently concluded Year of Mercy deepened awareness that Jesus Christ “offered his own life for sinners, to redeem them and give them a new future.”

“To destroy one’s own life and the life of another, is a grave sin and does evil to society. The use of drugs is a sign that a person no longer values his own life, and endangers the lives of others. We must all work together to solve the drug problem and work for the rehabilitation of drug addicts,” the bishops said.

“We in the Church will continue to speak against evil even as we acknowledge and repent of our own shortcomings. We will do this even if it will bring persecution upon us because we are all brothers and sisters responsible for each other. We will help drug addicts so that they may be healed and start a new life.”

The bishops said they will stand with the families of those who have been killed.


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Samurai martyr beatified in Japan

February 8, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Tokyo, Japan, Feb 8, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A 17th century Catholic Samurai and martyr was beatified during a Mass in ‎Osaka, Japan on Tuesday.

Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Vatican’s ‎Congregation for the Causes of Saints, presided over the Beatification Mass of Justo Takayama Ukon, who was declared a martyr by Pope Francis in January last year.

Takayama Ukon was born in 1552 in Japan during the time when Jesuit missionaries were being introduced within the country. By the time Takayama was 12, his father had converted to Catholicism and had his son baptized as “Justo” by the Jesuit Fr. Gaspare di Lella.

Takayama’s position in Japanese society as daimyo (a feudal lord) allowed him many benefits, such as owning grand estates and raising vast armies. As a Catholic, Takayama used his power to support and protect the short-lived missionary expansion within Japan, influencing the conversion of thousands of Japanese.

When a time of persecution set in within the country under the reign of Japan’s chancellor Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1587, many newly-converted Catholics abandoned their beliefs.

By the 1620s, most missionaries were either driven out of the country or into underground ministry. These missionary priests would have been of the same era as those featured in the recent movie “Silence” by director Martin Scorsese. Although the film is based on a fictional novel by the Japanese author Shusaku Endo, many of the events and people depicted in “Silence” are real.

Instead of denying their faith, Takayama and his father left their prestigious position in society and chose a life of poverty and exile. Although many of his friends tried to persuade Takayama to deny Catholicism, he remained strong in his beliefs.

Takayama “did not want to fight against other Christians, and this led him to live a poor life, because when a samurai does not obey his ‘chief,’ he loses everything he has,” Fr. Anton Witwer, a general postulator of the Society of Jesus, told CNA in 2014.

Ten years passed, and the chancellor became more fierce in his persecution against Christians. He eventually crucified 26 Catholics, and by 1614, Christianity in Japan was completely banned.
The new boycott on Christianity forced Takayama to leave Japan in exile with 300 other Catholics. They fled to the Philippines, but not long after his arrival, Takayama died on February 3, 1615.

In 2013, the Japanese bishops’ conference submitted the lengthy 400-page application for the beatification of Takayama to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. On Jan. 22, 2016, Takayama’s advancement in the cause for canonization was further promulgated when Pope Francis approved his decree of martyrdom.

“Since Takayama died in exile because of the weaknesses caused by the maltreatments he suffered in his homeland, the process for beatification is that of a martyr,” Fr. Witwer explained.
Takayama’s life exemplifies the Christian example of “a great fidelity to the Christian vocation, persevering despite all difficulties,” Fr. Witwer continued.

“As a Christian, as a leader, as a cultural person, as a pioneer of adaptation, Ukon is a ‎role model and ‎there ‎are many things we can learn from him,” ‎Father Renzo De Luca, and Argentinian Jesuit and the director of the 26 Martyrs Museum ‎in Nagasaki‎, told Vatican Radio.   

“In this era of political distrust, I think he ‎will be helpful ‎for ‎people other than Christians.”


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An Indian woman became a nun…because of elephants?

February 7, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Orissa, India, Feb 7, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Nine years ago, Christians in the Kandhamal district of Odisha, India suffered the worst attacks against Christians in modern times in the country.

Around 100 people lost their lives and more than 56,000 lost their homes and places of worship in a series of violent riots by Hindu militants that lasted for several months.

But since the devastation, the local area has seen an “unprecedented” increase in religious vocations, including Sr. Alanza Nayak, who became the first woman from her area to join the order of the Sisters of the Destitute.  

Sr. Nayak told Matters India that she decided to dedicate her life to God through the poor and needy after she heard “how a herd of elephants meted out justice to the victims of Kandhamal anti-Christian violence.”

A tenth-grader at the time of the attacks, Sr. Nayak said she remembers escaping to the nearby forest so she wouldn’t be killed.

A year after the attacks, a herd of elephants came back to the village and destroyed the farms and houses of those who had persecuted the Christians.

“I was convinced it was the powerful hand of God toward helpless Christians,” Sister Nayak told Matters India. The animals were later referred to as “Christian elephants,” she added.

After completing her candidacy, postulancy and novitiate with the order, Sr. Nayak took her first profession on October 5, 2016, at Jagadhri, a village in Haryana. She is now a member in the Provincial House, Delhi.

On January 26, more than 3,000 people from Sr. Nayak’s village of Mandubadi, honored her with a special Mass and festivities.

Her mother told Matters India that she was “extremely fortunate” that God has called her daughter for “His purpose.”

Sister Janet, who accompanied Sister Alanza at the thanksgiving Mass, said that while materially poor, the people of the area are “rich in faith, brotherhood and unity.”

The congregation of Sisters of Destitute was founded on March 19, 1927, by Fr. Varghese Payyapilly, a priest of Ernakulum archdiocese. It has 1,700 members who live in 200 communities spread over six provinces.

The violence against Christians in the Kandhamal district has been religiously motivated. It started after the August 2008 killing of a highly revered Hindu monk and World Hindu Council leader, Laxshmanananda Saraswati, and four of his aides.

Despite evidence that Maoists, not Christians, were responsible for Saraswati’s murder, Hindu militants seeking revenge used swords, firearms, kerosene, and even acid against the Christians in the area in a series of riots that continued for several months.

While the intensity of the violence has subsided since the 2008 attacks, violence against Christians in Kandhamal has continued.

In July 2015, Crux reported on two unconfirmed reports of two Christians who were shot to death by local police in the district while they were on a hilltop, seeking out a better mobile phone signal to call their children, just one example of the ongoing hatred of Christians in the district.  

Rev. Ajaya Kumar Singh, a Catholic priest who heads the Odisha Forum for Social Action, told Crux that such violence is common in a place where the social elites are upper-caste Hindus and the Christians are largely lower-class “untouchables” and members of indigenous tribes.

“There’s a double hatred,” Singh said. “Because Christians are from the lowest caste, they’re untouchable, and because they’re Christians they’re seen as anti-national … they’re treated worse than dogs.”


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Australian bishops apologize for Church’s failure in sex abuse crisis

February 6, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Sydney, Australia, Feb 6, 2017 / 10:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Days before Australia’s Royal Commission on institutional sex abuse begins their final hearing into the Church’s response to their abuse crisis, the country’s bishops have issued several statements expressing sorrow for past failures, and committing to do more to protect children.

“Deeply mindful of the hurt and pain caused by abuse, I once again offer my apology on behalf of the Catholic Church,” Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, president of the Australian Bishops’ Conference, said in a Feb. 5 letter to the faithful of Australia.

“I am sorry for the damage that has been done to the lives of victims of sexual abuse. As Pope Francis said recently, ‘it is a sin that shames us.’”

The archbishop made issued the statement as Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse begins its final three-week review of how the Catholic Church in Australia has responded to sex abuse allegations. The commission was established in 2013, and investigates the handling of child sex abuse allegations by religious groups, schools, government organizations, and sporting associations.

Australia’s sexual abuse crisis has been one of the most shocking and widely known in the Church.

In his statement, Archbishop Hart noted that during the coming hearing many of the country’s bishops and Catholic leaders will give their testimonies, explaining what the Church has done so far to change “the old culture” that had allowed abuse to continue for so long, as well as what is being done now to protect and safeguard children.

Again referring to a statement made by Pope Francis, the archbishop urged the entire Church to “find the courage needed to take all necessary measures and to protect in every way the lives of our children, so that such crimes may never be repeated.”

In a similar message Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney said he personally has felt “shaken and humiliated” by what the Royal Commission has uncovered.

“The Church is sorry and I am sorry for past failures that left so many so damaged,” he said. “I know that many of our priests, religious and lay faithful feel the same: as Catholics we hang our heads in shame.”

So far the findings have been “harrowing,” Fisher said, explaining that the commission has heard the “distressing and shameful cases” of sexual abuse recounted by “courageous survivors” dating back to the 1950s.

Numbers garnered from the various testimonies gathered show that claims of child sexual abuse have been made against 384 diocesan priests, 188 religious priests, 579 religious brothers, and as many as 96 religious sisters since 1950.

Claims have also been made against some 543 lay workers in the Church, as well as another 72 persons whose religious status “is unknown.”

Among religious institutes, 40 percent of the members of the St. John of God Brothers in Australia have been accused of child sexual abuse. More than 20 percent of the Christian Brothers, Salesians, and Marist Brothers have face accusations.

In March 2015 Cardinal George Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, testified before the commission for the third time after allegations resurfaced in 2014 claiming that he moved known pedophile Fr. Gerald Ridsdale, bribed a victim of the later-laicized priest, and failed to act on a victim’s complaint. Before his appointment to the Secretariat for the Economy, Cardinal Bell had been Archbishop of Sydney

Despite having testified before the commission twice before on the same charges with no guilty verdict, Cardinal Pell voluntarily offered to testify again and, not being able to make the long flight to Australia, participated in the hearing via video-conference in Rome.

On Feb. 7, the Royal Commission will resume its public hearing on the current policies and procedures the Catholic Church in Australia has put into place regarding child protection and safety standards, including how to respond to allegations of sexual abuse.

During the hearing, Archbishop Fisher and others will be participating in a panel to discuss not only what went wrong with the Church’s response in the past, but also what can be done better in the future.

In his statement, Archbishop Fisher noted that unlike previous hearings which focused primarily on individual cases, this one will address “the big picture” with the participation of “expert witnesses” alongside both Church leaders and lay people, some of whom hail from his own archdiocese.

The commission will now focus on two primary issues: the factors led to the all the abuse cases in the Church as well as the Church’s failures to respond adequately, as well as what the Church has done and plans to do to address the problem, including by changing her programs, policies and structures.

Part of the discussion will also be dedicated to a better discernment of priestly and religious vocations, as well as the formation and supervision of those already in active ministry.

Archbishop Fisher noted that both “claims and alleged perpetrators” are referred to in the commission’s report, and that no distinction is made between claims that have been proven and those that haven’t. Neither does the report distinguish between claims substantiated by the Church in an internal investigation from those accepted by the Church without any investigation.

While statistics show that “the overwhelming majority” of sexual abuse took place in the 1950s-70s, and that abuse accusations have “declined very considerably” since, Archbishop Fisher said, “we are not complacent when it comes to child safety and to ensuring a child safe environment in the Church.”

“We recognize our responsibility to ensure that all measures are in place to prevent this happening again. We also recognize that there are abuse victims who are yet to come forward and perhaps never will,” he said, noting that to date, claims have been made against seven percent of priests ministering in the three dioceses of greater Sydney since 1950.

Archbishop Fisher noted that the coming weeks of the commission’s final hearing on the Church’s response “will be traumatic for everyone involved, especially the survivors.”

However, “confronting as it will be, I remain determined to do all we can to assist those who have been harmed by the Church and to work toward a culture of greater transparency, accountability and safety for all children.”

The archbishop voiced his conviction that when “the humiliation and purgation through which we are presently passing” is over, the Church will be more humble and compassionate Church in the area of abuse.

Archbishop Fisher voiced his gratitude for the steps already taken and acknowledged the various parishes, schools and agencies working to make the Church “a safer place.”

With media attention on the hearing expected to be high, with some reports “confronting,” Archbishop Fisher welcomed those who feel “upset or demoralized” by the coverage to speak with their parish priest, and for priests to speak with their dean or bishop. He noted that counseling services will also be available for those who need it.

He urged anyone alleging abuse to contact the police, and asked for prayers “for all those involved in this hearing for wisdom and compassion. Above all, please pray for the survivors and their families at this most difficult time.”