Pope urges respect for right to dignified life and religious freedom in Middle East

November 26, 2013 by  
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Vatican City, November 21, 2013: Francis meets with the participants in the assembly of the Congregation of Eastern Catholic Churches . “We should never resign ourselves to a Middle East without Christians.” The whole Church is called to prayer that “disarms foolishness and generates dialogue where there is open conflict. If it is sincere and persevering , it will make our voice gentle and firm, capable of being heard even by the leaders of nations .”

Pope FrancisConcerned about the situation of Christians in the Middle East, ” the Bishop of Rome will not rest as long as there are men and women, of any religion , affected in their dignity , deprived of the necessary for survival , robbed of their future, forced into the status of refugees and displaced persons”.

This was the appeal launched by Pope Francis “together with the pastors of the Churches of the East”, that “everyone’s right to a dignified life and to freely profess their faith be respected. We should never resign ourselves to thinking of the Middle East without the Christians, who for two thousand years confess the name of Jesus, as full citizens in social, cultural and religious life of the nations to which they belong”.

Francis’ appeal follows his double appointment this morning: First with the patriarchs and major archbishops of the Eastern Catholic churches, received this morning in the Vatican Consistory Hall, followed by an audience with all the participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches , in the course of carrying on the theme “The Eastern Catholic Churches 50 years after the Second Vatican Council”.

“The pain of the smallest and the weakest – said Francis to the assembly participants – along with the silence of the victims, pose an insistent question: “How much is left of the night? “(Is 21:11) . Continue to be vigilant, to the biblical watchman certain that the Lord will not be lacking in coming to our aid. I turn , therefore, to the whole Church to urge prayer, which can evoke from the merciful heart of God, reconciliation and peace. Prayer disarms foolishness and generates dialogue where there is open conflict. If it is sincere and persevering , it will make our voice gentle and firm, capable of being heard even by the leaders of nations”.

In the previous meeting with the 11 patriarchs, the Pope indicated what characterizes the leaders of the Eastern Churches, “guardians” of unity. Pope Francis went on to say, “In order that our witness be credible, we are called ever to seek justice, mercy, faith, charity, patience and meekness” and with a ” sober lifestyle in the image of Christ , who stripped himself to enrich us with his poverty . “

“The union, which you are called to realize in your Churches, finds natural and full expression in the ‘indefectible union with the Bishop of Rome”(ibid.). “A union and fidelity, he added in his subsequent address to participants in the Assembly “that demands a high price , not infrequently even martyrdom . The whole Church is very grateful for this”.

The Pope also said that he “has been able to learn firsthand from the Patriarchs and Major Archbishops the situation of the various Eastern Churches: the flourishing vitality of those long oppressed under communist regimes , the missionary dynamism of those that refer to the preaching of the Apostle Thomas , and the perseverance of those who live in the Middle East , often in the position of ‘being a  little flock ‘ in environments marked by hostility and conflict . “

“In order for our testimony to be credible, we are called to always seek ” justice, godliness, faith , love, patience and gentleness “(ibid. ; cf. 1 Tim 6:11 ), to a sober lifestyle in the image of Christ , who stripped himself to enrich us with his poverty (cf. 2 Cor 8:9) ; untiring zeal and that charity , fraternal and paternal, that the bishops , priests and faithful , especially if they live alone and marginalized , expect from us. I think, above all, of our priests in need of understanding and support, even on a personal level. They are entitled to our good example in things pertaining to God, as in any other activity of the Church. They are asking us for transparency in management of assets and concern for every weakness and need.  All of this while observing that authentic synodal praxis, which is distinctive of the Eastern Churches . “

A thought, finally, for “Jerusalem, where we are all spiritually born (cf. Ps 87.4 ) . I wish every consolation, so it can truly realize the prophecy of Gods final call, from east to west”.

– asianews

 

Barnabas Editorial: Persecution of Christians “a global crisis” says UK Govt

November 26, 2013 by  
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Baroness Warsi, UK Minister for Faith

Baroness Warsi, UK Minister for Faith

November 21, 2013: The UK’s first Minister for Faith, Baroness Warsi, a Muslim, has become the most senior British politician to speak out against the persecution of Christians.

It is a subject that finally seems to be gathering some momentum after having been ignored for many years.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how moderateMuslims have been risking their safety in speaking out against Islamic extremism and condemning acts of violence against Christians and other non-Muslims.

Last week I focused on debates in the House of Commons and House of Lords on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

And this week, I am pleased to be able to continue the theme thanks to Lady Warsi’s speech, which, because of the seniority of her position, has attracted a considerable amount of media attention.

Speaking at Georgetown University in Washington DC on Saturday (16 November), Britain’s first Muslim cabinet minister said that the persecution of Christians “has become a global crisis” that requires an international response. She described it as “the biggest challenge we face in this young century”.

Lady Warsi focused on the plight of Christians in the Middle East, noting how militant violence is driving them out of their homelands in droves. She said:

These communities have lived in these regions for centuries, in places where their faith was born. Yet some are portrayed as newcomers … are increasingly treated as outsiders. These minority populations have co-existed with the majority for generations. Yet a mass exodus is taking place, on a Biblical scale. In some places, there is real danger that Christianity will become extinct.

DIAGNOSING THE PROBLEM

Lady Warsi’s assessment of the underlying cause of anti-Christian persecution was insightful and accurate but, I would argue, only part of the picture.

US drone strikes in Pakistan were used by militants to justify a church bombing

US drone strikes in Pakistan were used by militants to justify a church bombing

She said that faith is now “forming the fault lines” in which “my ally and my enemy are determined not by geography or politics or colour, but more and more so by religion”.

Lady Warsi identified the perpetrators of anti-Christian violence as ranging from states to militant groups, and even to a person’s own family, with the concept of “collective punishment” as the link in many different cases. This happens when a person or group of people is held responsible for the actions of their co-religionists, sometimes elsewhere in the world.

Lady Warsi referred to the example of the suicide bombing at All Saints Church in Pakistan, the worst-ever attack on the country’s Christians:

The attackers’ illogical logic being that America is a Christian nation, to attack local Christians is somehow retaliation.

Indeed, the Pakistani Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the attack, said that they would continue to “strike foreigners and non-Muslims” until US drone attacks in the north-west province of Pakistan stopped.

We have seen similar retaliatory violence against Christians elsewhere, for example in Iraq following the US-led invasion of 2003. Iraqi Christians were associated with the Western invaders because of their faith and suffered merciless and brutal attacks by Islamic extremists, which forced hundreds of thousands to flee.

So “collective punishment” is undoubtedly a factor, and it is a side-effect that Western governments must be aware of when considering intervention in countries with vulnerable Christian minorities.

But Christians are often attacked, especially in Muslim-majority contexts, simply because they are Christians. And this is not always retaliation, either for the actions of Christians elsewhere or for those of local Christians. It is often driven by a particular interpretation of Islam that views Christian and other non-Muslims as infidels who must, in accordance with sharia, convert to Islam or else be expelled, killed or subjugated as second-class citizens.

We are seeing this in places such as Nigeria, where Islamist militant group Boko Haram are killing Christians in their fight to create an Islamic state in the North, and Somalia, where al-Shabaab has vowed to rid the country of Christianity and is tracking down and murdering converts from Islam.

A desire to uphold a particular brand of Islamic theology likewise underpins the actions of states such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, which doggedly impose their strict values on every citizen, denying basic rights and freedoms.

TREATING THE PROBLEM

Lady Warsi’s approach to overcoming the problem of anti-Christian hostility is one that I would advocate: tackling the ideology that drives it. But as with any problem, if one does not fully diagnose its root cause(s), one cannot fully treat it. So in as much as Lady Warsi’s diagnosis does not go far enough, neither does her proposed treatment. She did nevertheless make a number of constructive points.

The minister recognised that laws are often inadequate, citing the fact that many of the countries that protect freedom of religion in their constitution or other legislation do not do so in practice.

Calling for a cross-faith and cross-continent response, Lady Warsi said that the argument needed to be won on a number of fronts:

Firstly, making clear the facts of history to overcome people who distort it for divisive ends, “like those who try to portray Christianity as a Western import in the Middle East”.

Secondly, demonstrating that “the presence of other faiths does not threaten the identity of a religion or a state or a culture”. She said that in some Muslim-majority countries, extremists turn on their minorities “because they think it makes them stronger and more powerful in their Islamic identity to reject the other”.

Thirdly, making the case for the benefits of religious freedom by proving the link between religious freedom and a society’s ability to flourish socially, economically and politically.

These are important points to make, but what was lacking in her war on ideas  – because lacking in her diagnosis – is the need also to confront the kind of Islamic ideology that drives extremists to commit acts of violence against Christians and states to restrict their rights.

Until and unless this is tackled head on, Christians and other non-Muslims will continue to suffer.

In the New Year, Lady Warsi will host an international summit to draw up a plan to end violence against Christians. I commend her for this initiative and am extremely grateful that this escalating problem is being taken up at the highest level; I hope that Barnabas Fund may be able to be involved.

But I would urge her and others who may be participating to address the root causes in full. It is very difficult in this politically correct age to challenge controversial Islamic teaching, but the lives of Christians and future of the Church in its ancient lands depend on it.

– dr patrick sookhdeo

Congress not serious, only using communal violence bill as poll plank: Vrinda Grover

November 24, 2013 by  
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Using communal violence bill as poll plankDelhi, November 23, 2013: Advocate and civil rights activist Vrinda Grover lamented on little or no debate on the Communal Violence Bill and said that the UPA government does not appear serious in its intent and is only using it as a poll plank.

Advocate Grover was speaking at the 3rd professor Iqbal Ansari memorial lecture on ‘Communal Violence and the Question of Justice: Notes from the Field and the Courtroom’ at Jamia Millia Islamia FTK-CIT Hall that saw a huge attendance from students, activists and academic community on November 22.

Ms. Grover said that the Communal Violence bill issue is getting faded away from mainstream discussion. “There is no healthy debate going on this issue. Media is not giving an active or positive coverage. At times it is playing the role to polarize opinion on the bill,” she said.

Earlier Tanveer Fazal of Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association made the preliminary remarks, and introduced speaker Advocate Vrinda Grover as ‘most appropriate person to deliver the lecture’. The session was chaired by Prof. Farida Abdullah Khan, Member of the National Commission of Minorities.

Prof. Iqbal Ansari was a pioneering minority rights’ activist, who passed away on 13th October 2009. He was one of the most visible civil liberties’ activists in India, taking up a variety issues, from communalism, religious freedom and communal harmony to minority rights. A teacher of English literature turned into a whole time human rights’ activist, Prof. Iqbal Ansari along with another well-known civil libertarians like V M Tarkunde and Justice Rajendra Sachchar championed the protection of civil rights in India. He was also author of several books.

This lecture is instituted by the friends, comrades and students of late Professor Iqbal Ansari and the last two lectures were delivered by former Civil Servant turned Activist, Harsh Mander and the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL)’s national general secretary, Adv. V Suresh.

Ms. Vrinda Grover, the eminent human rights lawyer in the Supreme Court of India, who is currently a Fellow at the Teen Murti Library, starting this 3rd annual lecture stressing on Communal and targeted violence said, “The victims of recent communal violence in Muzaffarnagar have only joined the victims of Delhi anti-Sikh massacres, Hashimpura, Maliana and Gujarat 2002 pogrom in waiting for the ‘due course of justice’ to prevail.”

While the Indian constitution is a watershed in upholding equality before law and justice to the victims of individual or collective violence, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) lags behind the spirit of the constitution. While there are provisions against citizens if they turn against the state, there is nothing state committing crime against its citizens. Public servants can be prosecuted for individual crimes or misconduct, but the state doesn’t lend itself to be questioned and prosecuted. This is evidently in discordance with the Article 3 of the Constitution which ensures fundamental rights against abuse of power. Therefore, the criminal legal system runs contrary to the kernel of the fundamental ethos of the republic.

Seen in this light, the rampant impunity does not really come across as some surprise. Cases like that of Bilkis Bano are at best exceptions and not a case of best practice. It took many efforts on part of the activists to ensure justice. So I don’t hail it as a success of the judicial system.

The term ‘riot’ as defined in the IPC is grossly inaccurate and does not capture the premeditated and organized killing of the minority communities. A corollary to amending it would also be to include the abatement of such violence in its purview and bringing such culprits to the book. We need a new language to describe the nature of communal violence and its dynamics. One does not really need to invent such language. Some part of it is evolving in the expanding contours of the judiciary, but importantly, a lot has to be incorporated from the international conventions and understanding on the issue.

The crisis in the Indian judicial system is self-evident. The fact that the Supreme Court is forced repeatedly to constitute SITs is an admission by the court that the present machinery is complicit and essentially unaccountable. Transferring cases outside the concerned state is also a pointer that in fact it is the law which is running like a refugee. It is a recognition that the present mechanism is not working. The crisis is also manifested in the non-existence of an independent investigating agency. CBI is not such an independent body. I appeared in a 1984 case in Karkardooma High Court some 3 years back, filed by a Sikh widow whose husband was killed by a mob being supervised by Jagdish Tytler himself. His name appeared in the CBI chargesheet in the column which indicates absence of evidence and hence non-feasibility of FIR. For every single witness in the case who saw he saw Jagdish Tytler instigating violence or people being killed by his goods, there were exactly three witnesses saying they did not see, in the same chargesheet. The point is, it is anyways possible for 3 people in the event of a riot to narrate different versions even if they were at the same place and the CBI should have followed up on the line which pointed at active instigation and organised violence. I saw no such diligence on part of the CBI in the case.

The burden of collecting and producing evidence falls in such cases squarely on the victims themselves. The power to do so lies with the CBI but is severely compromised. The recent letter by the Home Minister Sushil Shinde saying the Muslims should not be targeted might have been wrongly worded but it did reveal that there is an institutional bias against the minorities. JTSA has come up with empirical evidences of such bias in its reports. My plea to the National Commission on Minorities is that it should conduct independent research to bring out the truth of such systemic bias. Institutional bias emerged in England in Sir Mcpherson Commission appointed to deal with a black boy’s killing by a white boy. The parents insisted that it is not just an individual crime and reflects the systemic bias. In India, there is similar institutional bias against Muslims. And this bias goes much beyond the police. The government officials cannot be prosecuted until the complainant succeeds in getting their seniors’ approval to do so. This is called ‘sanction for public servants’ which is only the continuation of the colonial vintage ‘sanctions for the servants of the crown’ with just the title changed. Why this legal impunity? Why the people who are running the system have no faith in judiciary that if they have done no crime they will come out unscathed?

The prosecutor does not have institutional or functional autonomy in India. In the Hashimpura case, we got a special public prosecutor after much travail. 90 families filed 600 RTIs demanding the Annual Confidential Reports of the accused police officials and there was no mention in the ACRs of any ongoing murder case against them. Why the police is entirely insulated from accountability? In fact it is the activists who have made great contribution in expanding the justice system. Accountability of the command and control system must also be ensured. The heads of the system should be held accountable if they indulge in or are unable to stop targeted violence.

In the Kandhamal incident, the rioting followed the map of procession that the Hindutva groups organised with the dead body of Swami Lakhananand. The local officials must have sensed that it would provoke further violence but still allowed it to happen. The law isn’t faulty just because of the bias, but also because of the structure. It is interesting to note that a student’s witness in the case was accepted by the court as the lawyer said that the person studies Sanskrit and Sanskrit students have better memory!

The proposed Communal Violence Bill by the Congress party in 2004 has not been passed even in the UPA-II. The Bill creates ‘communally disturbed areas’ much like the AFSPA and gives more power to the same state machinery which has been found to be institutionally biased and complicit. I personally think the government is not serious really about the Bill hence it has brought a version which they know will be opposed by the BJP. Instead of protecting the minority group, let the law protect just anybody. We are asking for accountability in the system and that aspect should be strengthened.

She asked for a debate stress on accountability of public servants not on which community will get protected in the bill, then she mockingly said, “Let the bill be stress upon accountability and brought in for debate. Then we will see how BJP will oppose Government servant’s accountability.”

Another important aspect which bill didn’t touch, which was raised by Ms. Grover is internally displaced person protection, “During riots thousands of people get internally displaced, but there is no provision in the constitution or any law to guarantee them their rights. The new draft communal violence bill should include rights for internally displaced persons.”

A robust victim-witness protection is of more importance. The second pillar of the Bill is reparation where it again fails to address the grossly arbitrary system of state government deciding relief and compensation on its own whims. Even in a road accident, the compensation is fixed. Why cannot it be done in case of communal violence?

-tcn

UK Girls still sent to Kashmir for forced weddings

November 24, 2013 by  
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Forced WeddingsKashmir, 18 November 2013: From a distance, Jalila Ahmed* and Nabila Ahmed* look like ordinary village girls in their late teens, shopping at the local bazaar in a suburb of Mirpur, in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

But move in a little closer, and the differences are more obvious: they struggle to communicate with the vendors, sometimes giggling between themselves as they try to find a name for a particular vegetable or herb. When they speak to each other, they do so in English, with an accent closer to Bradford than Bahawalpur. But they are careful, because they have been told not to talk to each other.

The two teenagers, distant cousins, say they were both forced into marriages a year ago, after being brought to Mirpur from the UK to “attend a family wedding.” It was only after they arrived in the city that they discovered the marriages they were attending were their own, both to distant relatives.

Hundreds of cases of forced marriage are thought to take place annually, involving British nationals married against their will in Kashmir, particularly in and around the industrial town of Mirpur. Since the late 19th century, Kashmir has had a large diaspora – estimated to be around one million – with many communities concentrating in British cities like Bradford, Glasgow and London. To preserve their culture and traditions, some families favour sending their children – particularly daughters – back to Kashmir.

Campaigners say such marriages are cruel, leading to “murders and chaos”, either as couples fail to get along or when young women resist. Shafilea Ahmed, 17 years old at the time of her murder nine years ago in the UK, was the victim of one such crime, which made headlines when her parents were brought to trial.

“We hear of around 300 cases of such marriages annually, though many more may actually take place,” Khalida Salimi, executive director of the Islamabad-based NGO Struggle for Change (SACH), told IRIN. She said most “but not all” cases involved girls. Thousands of those forced to marry remain in Kashmir, she said.

“This is a cultural practice. Families want to marry their children to the offspring of relatives as they believe they will prove to be good partners for them,” said Salimi.

She said that economic factors were also involved, either to keep wealth within families or because once a Pakistani man marries a UK national he can go to Britain to get a well-paid job. “This is the most common reason for such marriages,” she said.

“Ceaseless nightmares”

“I was a victim 25 years ago,” said Uzma Bibi, who lives with her adult son in Lahore, but travels frequently to the UK. “It was a terrible experience. I was only 15 years old. I was told we were going on a family holiday to Kashmir, and instead was married there to a cousin far older to me.”

Uzma’s husband died a year ago. “While he was not a bad man, the years in ‘captivity’ have scarred me for life,” she said. She regularly see a psychiatrist to help cope with what she says are her “ceaseless nightmares.” She also knows at least a dozen women who face similar situations today.

Other women have made dramatic escapes, using the internet to seek help from the British High Commission or hiding spoons in their underwear to set off airport metal detectors, giving them an opportunity to speak to authorities.

Staff at the UK’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) say they dealt with 1,485 cases of possible forced marriage in 2012, with 47.1 percent of these involving Pakistan. FMU officials have been quoted as saying most of these were from Mirpur.

Illegal

Laws in Pakistan bar forced marriage, said Salimi, while the practice is also regarded as a form of slavery by organizations dealing with such abuses.

Anti-slavery Australia defines “forced marriage” as one “where a marriage is entered into without the full and free consent of one or both parties, as a result of physical or psychological pressure or abuse.”

As awareness grows, attempts to dissuade parents from forcing children into marriage have grown, with a delegation led by senior Islamic cleric Hafiz Nazir Ahmed visiting the UK last year to speak out against such practices.

“Marriages of this kind are totally against Islam,” said Maulana Shafiq Salim, a cleric in Mirpur. “But we all know they continue to take place, and it is saddening to see these young girls, some mere children, deluded by their own parents.” He said he himself refused to formalize such marriages, but said “other clerics did.”

“Changing attitudes is not easy,” Aziz Butt, a banker in Mirpur, told IRIN. “My brother, based in Manchester, wants me to find a match for his 16-year-old daughter here, in Kashmir, even though I keep telling him it is no longer the custom to marry off girls so young, that she should be studying and should have a say in her own marriage.” He said his brother wanted to “prevent my niece from moving away into an alien culture by marrying her to someone here.”

Some legal support is available in Pakistan, but campaigners say only a minority get support.

“Only a small percentage of the many cases of forced marriage that take place are reported to us,” said Asma Ali Shan, a law officer at the government-run Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Women’s Development Centre, Mirpur.

“We offer legal support, shelter and counselling if required, but what we need is raised awareness to prevent such marriages in the first place.”

*not their real names

– irin news

 

Karnataka: Thousands of youngsters ‘walk with Christ ‘ for Year of Faith

November 24, 2013 by  
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thousands young people 'walk with Christ ' to celebrate the Year of FaithKarnataka, November 20 2013: Mangalore Catholic youth took part in a pilgrimage to the Cathedral of the Rosary. Their bishop , Msgr. D’Souza , invites them to ” spread the message of Jesus in everyday life.” More than 25 thousand faithful expected for closing ceremony of the Year proclaimed by Benedict XVI.

“Let yourselves be gripped by the spirit of faith, to continue to spread the message of Jesus in everyday life ” is the invitation launched by Mgr . Aloysius Paul D’ Souza , Bishop of Mangalore ( Karnataka ) , to more than 5 thousand young people who participated in the pilgrimage ” Walking with Christ.” The event took place on November 17 last, during the celebrations of the Year of Faith : the young people started out from the church of Milagres , walking to the cathedral of the Rosary. Immediately after, they attended Mass together .

The young people belong to five different local Catholic organizations : The Indian Catholic Youth Movement (Icym), the Young Christian Students (Ycs), the All India Catholic University Federation (Aicuf), the Jesus Youth and Youth United to Christ. Starting the pilgrimage , the bishop waved the flags of associations.

Along the way, the young people carried a series of banners written by them : ” Come on … we live for each other”, ” Forgive and forget “, ” build a peaceful society “, ” Say no to corruption .”

On November 24 the Year of Faith proclaimed by Benedict XVI will conclude. For the occasion , the diocese of Mangalore is planning a three day event, alternating moments of prayer, worship and liturgy. The local Church expects more than 25 thousand faithful to participate.

– asianews

November 24, 2013 by  
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Vatican frescoes re-ignite debate on women priests

November 24, 2013 by  
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debate on women priestsVatican City, November 21, 2013: Some claim women priests are depicted in restored wall paintings.

The Vatican on Tuesday unveiled newly restored frescoes in the Catacombs of Priscilla, known for housing the earliest known image of the Madonna with Child and frescoes said by some to show women priests in the early Christian church.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the Vatican’s culture minister, presided over the opening of the “Cubicle of Lazzaro,” a tiny burial chamber featuring 4th century images of biblical scenes, the Apostles Peter and Paul, and one of the early Romans buried there in bunk-bed-like stacks as was common in antiquity.

The labyrinthine cemetery complex stretching for kilometers (miles) underneath northern Rome is known as the “Queen of the catacombs” because it features burial chambers of popes and a tiny, delicate fresco of the Madonna nursing Jesus dating from around 230-240 A.D., the earliest known image of the Madonna and Child.

More controversially, the catacomb tour features two scenes said by proponents of the women’s ordination movement to show women priests: One in the ochre-hued Greek Chapel features a group of women celebrating a banquet, said to be the banquet of the Eucharist. Another fresco in a richly decorated burial chamber features a woman, dressed in a dalmatic a cassock-like robe with her hands up in the position used by priests for public worship.

The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, which includes women who have been excommunicated by the Vatican for participating in purported ordination ceremonies, holds the images up as evidence that there were women priests in the early Christian church and that therefore there should be women priests today.

The Vatican on Tuesday unveiled newly restored frescoes in the Catacombs of Priscilla, known for housing the earliest known image of the Madonna with Child and frescoes said by some to show women priests in the early Christian church.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the Vatican’s culture minister, presided over the opening of the “Cubicle of Lazzaro,” a tiny burial chamber featuring 4th century images of biblical scenes, the Apostles Peter and Paul, and one of the early Romans buried there in bunk-bed-like stacks as was common in antiquity.

The labyrinthine cemetery complex stretching for kilometers (miles) underneath northern Rome is known as the “Queen of the catacombs” because it features burial chambers of popes and a tiny, delicate fresco of the Madonna nursing Jesus dating from around 230-240 A.D., the earliest known image of the Madonna and Child.

More controversially, the catacomb tour features two scenes said by proponents of the women’s ordination movement to show women priests: One in the ochre-hued Greek Chapel features a group of women celebrating a banquet, said to be the banquet of the Eucharist. Another fresco in a richly decorated burial chamber features a woman, dressed in a dalmatic a cassock-like robe with her hands up in the position used by priests for public worship.

The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, which includes women who have been excommunicated by the Vatican for participating in purported ordination ceremonies, holds the images up as evidence that there were women priests in the early Christian church and that therefore there should be women priests today.

But Fabrizio Bisconti, the superintendent of the Vatican’s sacred archaeology commission, said such a reading of the frescoes was pure “fable, a legend.” Even though the catacombs’ official guide says there is “a clear reference to the banquet of the Holy Eucharist” in the fresco, Bisconti said the scene of the banquet wasn’t a Eucharistic banquet but a funeral banquet. He said that even though women were present they weren’t celebrating Mass.

– huffington post

Pakistan: Christian girl of 13 abducted, converted to Islam and forced to marry

November 24, 2013 by  
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Christian girl of 13 abductedPakistan, November 21, 2013: The kidnapper, a Muslim of 32 , acted out of revenge against her mother. There has been no trace if the child, Saba Waris, since June. A court has issued an arrest warrant against the torturer , who has disappeared.

For more than five months there has been no news of Saba Waris , a 13 year old Christian girl from Jameelabad . The little girl was abducted, forcibly converted to Islam and forced to marry Syed Munawar Hussain, a Muslim of 32 years . Naseem Bibi, the child’s mother asks AsiaNews for “any help possible. I want my daughter back and I want justice.” So far, the woman has gone to the police, but without success.

It all started on 20 June.  Saba ‘s family is poor and had to remove her from school because of economic difficulties. Usually she would accompany her mother to work, but that day she was not well and preferred to stay at home. In the few hours in which she was alone, Hussain broke into the house and abducted her. Naseem Bibi returned home in the afternoon and not being able to find her daughter was on her way to report her missing, when the Muslim kidnapper’s a mother, sister and a brother showed up and told her that Munawar Hussain had taken Saba .

Naseem wanted to go to the police, but  the others asked her to wait four days, during which they would try to find a way to bring back her daughter. A couple of days later , she received a phone call from Saba, who said: ” Munawar Hussain has kidnapped me and tried to force me convert to Islam”. Soon after, the call was cut off.

Once the four days were up, the man’s mother and sister returned to Naseem Bibi and said that Saba was married to Munawar and that she had converted to Islam. “Do not go to the police or court – they threatened her  – or you will be responsible for serious consequences. She is a Muslim now: stop thinking about her, forget her”.  As proof, the Christian woman received a marriage certificate, also signed by her daughter .

On June 28, Naseem went to the police to register an FIR (First Information Report) against Syed Munawar Hussain , under Article 365B (kidnapping a woman for forced marriage ) of the Criminal Code . To assist in her legal battle she turned for help to Human Rights Focus Pakistan ( Hrfp ), which provided proof of the kidnapping and forced conversion of the littkke girl to the court of Sargodha . On October 17 , the court issued an arrest warrant for Syed Munawar Hussain Since then, officials have not been able to track down the man.

According to Naseem Bibi , the Muslim kidnapped her daughter for revenge : ” My son Moon Waris worked with him, but was not paid . I told him not to work with Hussain, and they took my child.”

“Forced conversions to Islam – Christian activist Shazia George tells AsiaNews – have become a common practice in Pakistan. The main reason for this increase is the presence of a legal and judicial system that does not provide support for minorities”.

– asianews

Pope looks East for possible Church reforms

November 24, 2013 by  
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Eastern Church leaders Kerala, November 22, 2013: Eastern Church leaders discuss self-governing synods with Pope Francis.

Church leaders of independent Catholic communities from Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe have spent the last week in Rome with Pope Francis and Vatican officials discussing the lives of their Church including a subject of high importance to the Pope the operation of their self-governing synods.

The Vatican says this meeting is an “opportunity” for the patriarchs and archbishops of Eastern Rite communities to present to the pope the situation of their Churches.

However, the November 19-22 meeting may also be another step for Pope Francis in re-shaping the way the Roman Catholic Church operates and decentralizing the Church government, adopting synod-based administrative systems of these churches.

The gathering follows Pope Francis’ suggestion that the universal Church should learn from Eastern and Orthodox Churches’ synodal approach to governance and decision-making when he and the Patriarch of Constantinople (Istanbul) Bartholomew met after he became Pope in March. The Patriarch was the first in 600 years to attend a Papal installation.

The formal purpose of the meeting in Rome this week is to consider “The Eastern Catholic Churches: Fifty years after Vatican II.” The meeting is not something Pope Francis inherited. It follows a similar event in 2009, when heads of the Eastern Churches met Pope Benedict for the first time.

Those meeting this week in Vatican include leaders of self-governing Catholic Churches 21 churches that are fully Catholic but operate independently of the Roman Curia in matters of their administration, including selection of their patriarchs, archbishops and bishops.

“Except in matters of faith and morals we are completely free from the Vatican,” said Bishop Bosco Puthur, known as the Curia bishop who overseas the Curia of Syro-Malabar Church based in Kerala in southern India.

This independence is restricted to a small population, as all the Oriental Churches together form only 17 million of the more than one billion Catholics globally. Most of these Churches are also numerically small with three major ones Ukrainian, Syro-Malabar and Maronite alone accounting for 12.5 million or 80 percent of the Catholic Orientals.

“Each of these Churches, including the Latin Church, has its own genius. The beauty is to learn from each other without destroying the uniqueness of each one,” said Bishop Puthur, emphasizing that the eastern syondal administrative system involves every section of the Church.

Bishop Puthur said religious, laity and clergy are directly or indirectly involved in “every decision” of their Church. “The head of the Church, the Major Archbishop, makes no decision on his own. He merely announces the decision of the synod.”

The synod of bishops has only bishops as members, “but our bishops have their ears to the ground, they know the pulse of their people and will not support decisions that will go against the interest of the people,” the Curia bishop said.

The synod, which came into effect in 1994, elected its Major Archbishop George Alencharry in 2011. “So the system is new. We earlier followed the system of the Latin Church,” he said. The election of the head of the Church now needs to be ratified only by the Vatican.

The elections of individual bishops are left to the synod, which periodically sends a list of people who could be elected bishops to synod members. When need arises, the synod elects one from the approved list.

Bishops prepare these lists and make other vital decisions in consultation with lay leaders, religious and laity, according to the Curia bishop. The Church also has Patriarchal Assembly, which has representatives from all sections of a diocese and meets once in five years to discuss issues affecting the community.

– ucanews

The Fatal Fortress

November 24, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-miscellaneous

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The Fatal FortressOnce upon a time, a king, who read in a remote pattern of the scattered stars that a great calamity would overtake him on a certain day and at a particular hour. He, therefore, ordered a rock stronghold to be constructed, and when it was completed he had numerous armed guards posted outside.

Furious KingOn the day that the stars foretold his fate, he entered his fortress. But when he got inside, he found that he could still see daylight. He located the gap in the wall and filled it immediately to prevent misfortune from entering.

He enclosed himself completely, but by blocking out the last opening against disaster, he also imprisoned himself without light or air. Needless to say, without air the king soon died.

There are countless building blocks that our minds use to construct our personal prisons: anger, resentment, hate, feelings of inferiority, guilt, impatience, prejudice, anticipation of calamities.…

And our spirits can be suffocated by the fortresses of fear that we build around ourselves.

– fwd: reuben tellis

Do not be afraid

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