Beleaguered Syrian Christians fear future

October 30, 2013 by  
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Beleaguered Syrian Christians fear futureSyria, October 29, 2013: Almost all the 50,000 Christians in the mixed city of Homs have fled, and another 200,000 have fled the northern city of Aleppo.

Sami Amir is used to the deep echoing rumble of the Syrian army artillery pounding rebel positions on the outskirts of Damascus. It’s the thump of mortars launched from an Islamist-controlled neighborhood that scares him to death.

The mortars have repeatedly hit in his mainly Christian district of Damascus, al-Qassaa, reportedly killing at least 32 people and injuring dozens of others the past two weeks.

“You don’t know when and you don’t know where they hit,” says Amir, a 55-year-old Christian merchant. “Life here is often too difficult.”

Rebel shelling into the capital has increasingly hit several majority-Christian districts, particularly al-Qassaa, with its wide avenues, middle class apartment blocks, leafy parks, popular restaurants and shopping streets busy with pedestrians.

The shelling and recent rebel assaults on predominantly Christian towns have fueled fears among Syria’s religious minorities about the growing role of Islamic extremists and foreign fighters among the rebels fighting against President Bashar Assad’s rule. Christians believe they are being targeted — in part because of the anti-Christian sentiment among extremists and in part as punishment for what is seen as their support for Assad.

Though some Christians oppose Assad’s brutal crackdown on the opposition and the community has tried to stay on the sidelines in the civil war, the rebellion’s increasingly outspoken Islamist rhetoric and the prominent role of Islamic extremist fighters have pushed them toward support of the government. Christians make up about 10 percent of Syria’s 23 million people.

“When you bring a Christian and make him choose between Assad and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, the answer is clear,” said Hilal Khashan, a political scientist professor at the American University of Beirut, referring to the al-Qaida branch fighting alongside the rebels. “It doesn’t need much thinking.”

The rebels have targeted other Syrian minorities, particularly Alawites, the Shiite offshoot sect to which Assad belongs and which is his main support base. Altogether, ethnic and religious minorities — also including Kurds and Druze — make up a quarter of Syria’s population. The majority, and most rebels, are Sunni Muslim.

Christian areas – the focus of fighting:

A week ago, rebels from the al-Qaida-linked group Jabhat al-Nusra attacked the Christian town of Sadad, north of Damascus, seizing control until they were driven out Monday after fierce fighting with government forces. The rebels appear to have targeted the town because of its strategic location near the main highway north of Damascus, rather than because it is Christian.

Still, SANA reported Monday that the rebels in Sadad vandalized the town’s Saint Theodore Church, along with much of Sadad’s infrastructure.

Similarly, thousands fled the ancient Christian-majority town of Maaloula when rebels took control of it last month, holding it for several days until government forces retook it. With rebels in the hills around the town, those who fled are still too afraid to return.

Two bishops were abducted in rebel-held areas in April, and an Italian Jesuit priest, Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, went missing in July after traveling to meet al-Qaida militants in the rebel-held northeastern city of Raqqa. None has been heard from since.

In August, rebel gunmen killed 11 people in a drive-by shooting in central Syria as Christians celebrated a feast day. Activists said at the time that many of those killed were pro-government militiamen manning checkpoints.

Al-Qaida-linked fighters have damaged and desecrated churches in areas they have seized. In Raqqa, militants set fires in two churches and knocked the crosses off them, replacing them with the group’s black Islamic banner. Jihadis also torched an Armenian church in the northern town of Tel Abyad on Sunday, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad group that tracks the war through a network of activists on the ground.

Christians specially targeted

The apparent deliberate campaign against Christians and other minorities have stoked worries in Washington and many European capitals over providing advanced weaponry to the mainstream opposition Free Syria Army, amid fears the arms will end up in the hands of extremists.

Christians in Damascus are convinced that extremists are deliberately targeting their neighborhoods as rebels battle government forces trying to uproot them from the towns they control outside the capital. Al-Qassaa is close to besieged rebel-held suburbs where Muslim residents have pleaded for international help to save them from starvation and constant government bombardment.

“Recently I noticed that every Sunday, they launch more than 15 mortars a day,” Amir said. “They are targeting specifically Christian areas.”

The most recent shells in al-Qassaa hit Thursday on the doorstep of a fashion clothing shop and next to a wall of a local hospital, killing three young men and damaging a church and several cars, which were left riddled by shrapnel.

Hundreds of Christians have fled al-Qassaa to other areas of the capital or into neighboring Lebanon. Nationwide, some 450,000 Christians have fled their homes, part of an exodus of some 7 million during the 2 year civil war, according to Church officials.

Almost all the 50,000 Christians in the mixed city of Homs have fled, and another 200,000 have fled the northern city of Aleppo, both battleground cities. When insurgents occupied the strategic central town of Qusair in 2012, about 7,000 Catholics were forced out and their homes were looted.

Language of Jesus in Bible land threatened

Thousands who fled Maaloula have found refuge in the al-Qassaa and other Christian districts of Damascus. Maaloula was a major tourist attraction before the civil war, home to two of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria. Some of the residents still speak a version of Aramaic, the language of biblical times believed to have been used by Jesus.

Youssef Naame and his wife Norma, an elderly Christian couple from Maaloula, described how bearded extremist Islamists stormed the northeastern village early last month chanting “God is Great!”

“The jihadis shouted: Convert to Islam, or you will be crucified like Jesus,” Youssef said with a shaky voice in his daughter’s al-Qassaa apartment.

He said they were trapped with other Christians for three days in a small house next to the town church, without food or electricity.

“There were snipers shooting everywhere, we were not able to move,” he recalled. “We were so scared. I lost my speech.”

Syrian Church leaders fear that Assad’s fall would lead to an Islamist state that would spell the end to the centuries-old existence of Christians on Syrian soil.

“We are not taking any sides in the conflict,” Bishop Luka, deputy leader of the Syriac Orthodox Church, said at his headquarters in the historic Damascus Old Town.

“We are standing alongside the country, because this country is ours,” he said. “If the country is gone, we have nothing left. Nothing will remain of us. ”

– associated press / abcnews.go.com

Kenya: Church Leaders Murdered

October 30, 2013 by  
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Christians are especially vulnerable in Kenya’s coastal region

Christians are especially vulnerable in Kenya’s coastal region

Kenya, October 23, 2013: Two pastors have been murdered in separate attacks in Kenya’s coastal region: one was shot dead in his church building; the other appeared to have been strangled.

The body of Charles Matole was found at Vikwantani Redeemed Gospel Church in Mombasa on the night of 19 October. He was slumped in a chair with a Bible on his lap; he had been shot in the head from behind.

Charles, who went by the nickname Patrick, had gone to the church building to pray and prepare for the following morning’s service. His wife, Claris, raised the alarm when he failed to return home.

The pastor had been receiving death threats by text message, but these had apparently been dismissed by police as hoaxes from prisoners. They started around a week before his murder, after he had led several evangelistic meetings in the city at which many people had become Christians. Police have arrested two people in connection with the incident.

Ebrahim Kidata of East African Pentecostal Church was killed the night after Charles’ murder. He was left in some bushes in Kilifi, around 30 miles north of Mombasa, having apparently been strangled. The pastor, in his mid-fifties, had been appointed just a few weeks earlier. He was said to have been planning to plant churches in the Vitengeni area.

The murders have heightened the threat to Christians in the area following the torching of the Salvation Army church building in Mombasa on 4 October. It was targeted by Muslims protesting against the assassination of hard-line cleric, Sheikh Ibrahim Ismail. The same building had also been set ablaze in August 2012 in Muslim riots over the killing of another extremist preacher that saw five churches attacked.

The Mombasa Church Forum, a group of influential Christian leaders, issued a statement condemning the “senseless killings” and called on the Kenyan government to protect their right to meet for worship, stressing their determination to continue their activities:

The Mombasa Church Forum categorically states that no attack on Christians will deter us from our way of worship and our freedom of religion. To the perpetrators of these heinous attacks, we hereby state that we will not be intimated and will continue to worship our Lord in our churches.

Christians are especially vulnerable in the coastal region, because many al-Shabaab militants have taken refuge there, having been driven out of Somalia by Kenyan-led African Union forces. The group has been connected with a number of attacks on churches and Christians in Kenya.

– barnabas team

Iran: Christians face 80 whip lashes for drinking communion wine. Other six Christians’ appeal rejected

October 30, 2013 by  
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Iran, October 29, 2013: Men arrested in crackdown on church service in Iran.

Communion WineFour Iranian Christians were sentenced last week to 80 lashes each for drinking communion wine during a communion service at a house church.

The four men were charged in court with drinking alcohol and possessing a receiver and satellite antenna in Rasht, a city 200 miles northwest of Tehran, on Oct. 6. The verdict was delivered to the men Oct. 20, and they have been given ten days to appeal the sentence, the group Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports.

Iran is an Islamic Republic, and Islam forbids the consumption of alcohol. Non-Muslims account for less than one percent of Iran’s population.

The charged men are members of the Church of Iran, a Protestant ecclesiastic community. Two of the men were arrested Dec. 31, 2012, during the government’s crackdown on house churches.

Mervyn Thomas, head of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, criticized the sentence.

“The sentences handed down to these members of the Church of Iran effectively criminalize the Christian sacrament of sharing in the Lord’s Supper and constitute an unacceptable infringement on the right to practice faith freely and peaceably,” he said Oct. 23.

He urged the Iranian authorities to ensure Iran’s laws do not violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory. He said the government should guarantee “the full enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief by all its religious communities.”

Prison for six Christians confirmed

 

Homayoun Shokouhi has been jailed for three years and eight months

Homayoun Shokouhi has been jailed for three years and eight months

Iran, October 29, 2013: Six Christians have failed to get their prison sentences overturned on appeal and the ruling is now final.

Mojtaba Seyyed-Alaedin Hossein, Mohammad-Reza Partoei, Vahid Hakkani and Homayoun Shokouhi were each sentenced to three years and eight months in prison following their conviction in June. They were found guilty of attending a house church, spreading Christianity, having contact with foreign ministries, propaganda against the regime and disrupting national security.

Homayoun’s wife, Fariba Nazemian, and their 17-year-old son, Nima Shokouhi, had each received a two-year suspended prison sentence. She had been detained for eight months before being released on bail in October 2012; Nima spent 36 days in custody.

They were all arrested in a raid on a house church in February 2012. Vahid has been denied proper medical care for severe internal bleeding.

The treatment of these Christians underlines the points made in a new human rights report onIran by special UN rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed. Published on 23 October, it condemns widespread human rights abuses, saying that, although there had been “a number of positive signals” from new President Hassan Rouhani, there was “no sign of improvement” in areas previously raised as matters of “serious concern”.

Mr Shaheed welcomed the release of a number of political prisoners but said that much more needs to be done to remedy a long list of human rights violations, which include continuing restrictions on and harassment of Christians, especially converts from Islam who are involved in the house church movement.

Iran rejected the report as “unfair” and “politically motivated”. An Iranian official from the country’s UN mission said that Mr Shaheed “has not paid sufficient notice to Iran’s legal system and Islamic culture and considers whatever he sees in the West as an international standard for the entire world”.

– barnabas & cna

 

God truly is amazing. Amazing but true

October 28, 2013 by  
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God’s accuracy may be observed in the hatching of eggs… . For example:

  • Hatching of eggsthe eggs of the potato bug hatch in 7 days;
  • those of the canary in 14 days;
  • those of the barnyard hen in 21 days;
  • The eggs of ducks and geese hatch in 28 days;
  • those of the mallard in 35 days;
  • The eggs of the parrot and the ostrich hatch in 42 days.

(Notice, they are all divisible by seven, the number of days in a week!)

ElephantGod’s wisdom is seen in the making of an elephant.
The four legs of this great beast all bend forward in the same direction. No other quadruped is so made.
God planned that this animal would have a huge body, too large to live on two legs. For this reason He gave it four fulcrums so that it can rise from the ground easily.

The horse rises from the ground on its two front legs first.
A cow rises from the ground with its two hind legs first. How wise the Lord is in all His works of creation!

God’s wisdom is revealed in His arrangement of sections and segments, as well as in the number of grains.

  • WatermelonEach watermelon has an even number of stripes on the rind.
  • Each orange has an even number of segments.
  • Each ear of corn has an even number of rows.
  • Each stalk of wheat has an even number of grains.
  • Every bunch of bananas has on its lowest row an even number of bananas, and each row decreases by one,so that one row has an even number and the next row an odd number.

The waves of the sea roll in on shore twenty-six to the minute in all kinds of weather.

All grains are found in even numbers on the stalks, and the Lord specified thirty fold, sixty fold, and a hundred fold all even numbers.

GrainsGod has caused the flowers to blossom at certain specified times during the day.

Linnaeus, the great botanist, once said that if he had a conservatory containing the right kind of soil, moisture and temperature, he could tell the time of day or night by the flowers that were open and those that were closed!

The lives of each of you may be ordered by the Lord in a beautiful way for His glory, if you will only entrust Him with your life. If you try to regulate your own life, it will only be a mess and a failure. Only the One Who made the brain and the heart can successfully guide them to a profitable end.

“Life without God is like an un-sharpened pencil – it has no point.”

– vc mathews

Training needed as Islam grows in U.S.

October 28, 2013 by  
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Islam's influence in the United StatesUSA, October 25, 2013: Islam’s influence in the United States is growing. According to U.S. census numbers, today there are more Muslims, more mosques, and according to one expert, more tolerance. Why is Islam growing in the U.S.? According to the Pew Research Center, 39% of all adult Muslims living in America are immigrants, having arrived in the United States since 1990. That growth is changing the face of the U.S.

According to a New York School District, Muslim students now account for about 10% of the total number of students there. Some school districts are even changing their calendars to observe Muslim holidays. Dearborn, Michigan schools actually reschedule athletic events around Ramadan, when it falls during the school year.

President and founder of the Crescent Project Fouad Masri says this should be a wake-up call for Christians. That’s why the Crescent Project is offering the Oasis Conference beginning Thursday, October 31 in the Dallas, Texas area.

However, knowing that not everyone can go to the conference to learn how to reach out to Muslims, Masri has written a book to help you. “The book Ambassadors to Muslims is designed to help Christians build bridges with the Muslim friends, contacts, and acquaintances. It explains the situation in the Muslim world.”

Masri says, “The first five chapters are specifically about Islam and Muslims. I think it would be great for Christians to read this so they understand where Muslims are coming from. The other part of the book is to help you take the initiative and share the Gospel.”

Ambassadors to Muslims is basically a “how to” book. Masri says, “It has something called Bridges 101. Basically, it tells you how to begin a conversation, how to end it, and what to focus on. And, it includes key tools on how to use the Word of God in a way to explain the Gospel.”

– mnn

The 19-year-old who opened an orphanage in Nepal

October 28, 2013 by  
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Maggie DoyneNepal, October 25, 2013: Plight of Nepali children inspired her to take action.
One morning at the age of 18, fresh out of high school, Maggie Doyne awoke with the feeling that she was not yet ready to move into her freshman dorm. Instead, she wanted to defer college for a year to travel and discover her “inner-self.” It was a decision that would change her life in ways she could never imagine.

Four countries in and thousands of miles later, Maggie found herself in the midst of a remote, war-torn village in Nepal. She watched in despair as the Nepalese children would break down rocks into gravel and then sell them for one dollar a day just to buy food. Maggie was compelled to take action. One young girl in particular had touched her heart, so Maggie paid seven dollars to enroll her in school. That was the beginning.

One child quickly became two and then two turned into five. Soon, simply enrolling the children didn’t feel like enough. With a lack of resources but a huge sense of hope, Maggie was determined to provide these young refugees with stability, and a real foundation for life. At age 19, she convinced her parents to wire her entire savings of $5,000, in order to buy a piece of land in Nepal. With the help of the local community, Maggie spearheaded the creation of the Kopila Valley Children’s Home for Orphans. At age 23, Maggie also opened a school, which today (three years later) serves more than 300 students from Surkhet and surrounding regions.

Maggie was only 19 years old (and 8,000 miles away from home) when she launched this project, but she never let her age impede her from reaching goals. In fact, Maggie believes that it’s essential to maintain a youthful, idealistic, and optimistic attitude in order to accomplish something seemingly impossible. In a presentation three years ago for Do It Lectures, Maggie pointed out that people have the tendency to become doubtful as they age, and focus on things they don’t have. People might say, ‘I could do this if I had more money or if I had my Master’s Degree.’” Maggie assures her audience that you don’t need to be comforted by those things. “You already have everything you need,” she says.

– mercator.net

Thane: 5 Bajrang Dal men arrested & released on bail. Assault on pastor & converts

October 28, 2013 by  
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5 Bajrang Dal men arrested

Pastor Kasbe & Christians targeted

Maharashtra, October 28, 2013: The CSF has taken strong exception to the attack on a Christian Faith Centre (Assembly of God) Sunday worship conducted at Kalwa, by Bajrang Dal fundamentalists at around 11.30 am. According to the pastors and believers who contacted The CSF, pastor Ajay Kasbe was officiating at the prayer service being held at Bhaskar Nagar in Kalwa East of Thane district in Maharashtra, when the goons attacked the gathering. The CSF and community leaders contacted the police, who were forced to act and arrested five Bajrang Dal sympathizers.

Earlier at the same prayer hall, Pastor Arul Raj, who has been conducting prayer services was severely beaten on 6th October 2013 and dragged to the police station on false complaints. After The CSF general secretary, Joseph Dias and others complained to the police, though initially reluctant, Sunday prayer service for the next two Sundays was held under police protection. Pastor Kasbe said, “They attacked us, accusing us of illegal conversions. They punched and kicked us and forcibly took me to the police station, while the congregation of about a hundred followed.

On Sunday morning (27th October), seeing police presence as good as non-existent, a mob of around 40 Bajrang Dal fundamentalists attacked the believers, while prayer service was on and mercilessly beat the pastor Kasbe, who was deputed by senior AG pastor Sunil Mantode and at least four church workers – Rajesh Vishwakarma, Ajay Vishwakarma, Shambhunath Yadav and Gulab Vishwakarma. Once again, the Bajrang Dal anti-social elements took the believers to the Kalwa Police Station, where they were insisting on a false case of conversions to be filed. However, the community leaders had already kept the police briefed of the persecution. The CSF had also earlier kept the Deputy Commissioner of Police informed and the police were compelled to register an FIR and 5 Bajrang Dal men were arrested.

The CR. No 531 / 13 was reportedly filed under various Sections of the IPC, such as 295 A, 298, 452, 323, 324, 142, 143, 146, 147, 148 and 149, which includes crimes such as hurting the religious sentiments, assault, rioting and unlawful assembly. The police gave The CSF name of the accused as Suraj Tiwari (21), Vivek Dubey (24), Yogesh Yadav (23), Ravi Singh (20) and Pawan Singh (25), who were identified by the believers.

The CSF has taken up the issue with the authorities, especially since the real culprits – one ‘Dr’ Dube, his son and Santosh of the neighbouring Krishna Society – were not arrested. Even those arrested were under bailable offences and the Bajrang Dal youth could easily get bail. According to latest reports reaching The CSF, all of these anti-social elements are now threatening the hundred odd who had converted and a social boycott is in place.

Pastor Arul Raj’s life is in danger, as they have warned him of dire consequences, if he returns to his place, which is being used as a worship center. The CSF is thankful to the pastors and Christian activists, who are praying and keeping watch. We will do our best too.

Joseph Dias said that the believers complained that in spite of the police constables being present, the Bajrang Dal fundamentalist were abusing the Christians and falsely accusing them, with the police taking no action. ” This is an attempt to polarize voters on communal lines, with elections being forthcoming and the Christian community fears and increase in such attacks. We therefore call upon the State Home Minister, Mr. RR Patil to give protection to Christian prayer halls and deal firmly with the culprits, who were trying to vitiate the atmosphere for political gains.

Model code applicable on social media content: EC

October 28, 2013 by  
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Model code applicable on social media contentNew Delhi, October 25, 2013: All candidates will have to provide email and social media account details.

The Election Commission Friday said its model code of conduct will also apply to social media content.

According to an Election Commission order to officials and political parties, all candidates will have to provide email and social media account details, get social media political advertisements certified and keep record of the new media expenditure.

The model code of conduct, in force from Oct 4, the day elections were announced in Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram and Rajasthan, will also apply to print and TV content, said the election panel.

However, as far as content posted by people other than candidates and political parties was concerned, the commission said it was consulting the ministry of communications and IT to find ways to deal with the issue.

The commission’s order came after its attention was drawn to the use of social media for election campaign and also certain violations of the electoral law in the media, “which needs to be regulated in the interest of transparency and level playing field in the elections”.

According to the Election Commission, “prevalence of web and social media has increased over the years and there have been demands from political and social groups to regulate the social media during elections as other media is regulated”.

– ians

Karnataka: Over 222 attacks in 3 years – MHA

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Persecution in karnatakaKarnataka, October 25, 2013: Karnataka’s image of a peace-loving state has taken a beating because of a series of church attacks and other communal incidents in the recent past. Statistics with the ministry of home affairs (MHA) seem to validate that.

With 222 incidents of communal violence over the past three years, Karnataka is fourth in India and tops in south India. Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra precede Karnataka. Information collected by MHA shows reveals that between January 2010 and March 2013, the state Karnataka recorded 222 communal incidents.

It recorded close to 10% of the country’s total of 2,120 cases. Figures in UP, MP and Maharashtra stand at 347, 299 and 326, respectively.

Among south Indian states, Karnataka is followed by Kerala (126), Andhra Pradesh (114) and Tamil Nadu (86). The state reported 71 incidents in 2010, 70 in 2011, 69 in 2012 and 12 in the first three months of this year as against the all-India figures of 701, 580, 668 and 171 in the said period.

Sources, while unable to point to actual figures, however, say most incidents were reported in coastal Karnataka. Clifton Rozario of the Alternative Law Forum, which has taken up several such cases, said: “Mere registering of cases does not guarantee conviction. Take the previous government. Scores of cases against organizations like RSS, VHP or Sri Rama Sene were withdrawn.”

“What governments need to do is to create an environment free from communal sentiments that result in such incidents. While the government’s initiatives to economically uplift certain communities are welcome, we need to have a state that is secular, which I believe has not happened in Karnataka. For a few years now, several parts of the state have seen dangerous communal sentiments influence people. This needs to be addressed,” he said.

KL Ashok, general secretary, Karnataka Communal Harmony Force, feels that the numbers are under-reported and that several cases go unreported daily.

“I am not exaggerating when I say there are at least 10 incidents every day. But only one or two get reported in a month. The government should put in place systems that ensure a secular environment, not just indulge in actions that have no long-term solution.”

Senior police officials in Karnataka claim that the statistics only reflect the efficiency of the department. “Because other states have fewer cases registered does not mean fewer cases occur there. We have been able to register more cases, which is reflecting in the documents you have,” one of them said.

Speaking to TOI, Lalrokhuma Pachau, DG&IGP, said: “I can only tell you that we have been working very efficiently. We take up cases on priority and see that action is taken every time such an incident occurs.”

He also said that the department is vigilant and does a lot of preventive work based on intelligence. “We did a good job during Dasara, Bakrid and other important occasions. We also use intelligence provided by central agencies and have been able to prevent many cases,” he said.

– times of india

EU bid for abortion as right

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EU bid for abortion as rightEurope, October 22, 2013: Church leaders have condemned a European Parliament resolution calling for “legal, safe and accessible” abortions to be recognized as a “fundamental right” in all European Union member-states.

The resolution, which the Parliament in Strasbourg voted to refer back for further committee work by 351 votes to 319 today, follows a report drafted by Portuguese MEP Edite Estrela, a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, which recommended that abortion should be accessible as a human rights and public health concern.

The European Parliament’s Women’s Right and Gender Equality Committee has adopted the report.

The debate comes after the “One of Us” campaign gathered more than a million signatories in support of its European Citizen’s Initiative to stop the EU financing activities that entail the destruction of human embryos.

The Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, Comece, condemned the resolution and said that the EU had no competence in the matter.

“In many EU member states abortion is illegal. Out of consideration for human dignity and the conviction that right to life is absolute, abortion is banned by law. The EU should respect and not interfere with decisions that do not fall within its sphere of competence,” it said.

Polish Bishop Henryk Tomasik of Radom said the draft resolution was “another attempt to eliminate God from the public sphere” and urged his government to ignore it.

– tablet

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