Claim of creating genetically-edited babies prompts ethics dispute

November 27, 2018 by  
Filed under newsletter-lead

Washington D.C., November 27, 2018: A Chinese scientist says he has created the first genetically edited babies, a claim that has led members of the scientific community to raise serious ethical concerns.

Chinese researcher He Jiankui claims that he altered embryos for seven couples, resulting in one twin pregnancy so far. There is no independent confirmation of this claim, the Associated Press noted.

He says his goal was to edit embryos to give them the ability to resist HIV infection, by disabling the CCR5 gene, which allows HIV to enter a cell.

The researcher says he used a technology known as CRISPR to edit sections of the human genome, performing the procedure on embryonic humans. The technology, which selectively “snips” and trims areas of the genome and replaces it with strands of desired DNA, has previously been used on adult humans and other species. CRISPR technology has only recently been used to treat deadly diseases in adults, and limited experiments have been performed on animals.

Scientists have been divided in their response to the claims, with some praising the goal of eliminating HIV and others warning that such human experimentation is risky and unethical.

Dr. Kiran Musunuru, an expert on gene editing at the University of Pennsylvania, called the reported procedure “an experiment on human beings that is not morally or ethically defensible,” according to the Associated Press.

Musunuru noted that if the procedure successfully disabled the CCR5 gene, it would leave the individual at increased risk of other medical complications, including contracting West Nile virus and dying from the flu.

Critics have also questioned whether participants fully understood what they were agreeing to, and have noted that He did not give official notice of his work until long after he had begun.

He, however, said he told participants that the procedure was experimental and carried risks. He said he would provide insurance for the children created through the project. The researcher said he believes the technology can help families, and that it is his duty to develop the technology and then let society decide what to do with it.

Early last year, CNA spoke to John DiCamillo, an ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, about the ethics surrounding CRISPR technology in general. He stressed that Catholics do not need to automatically consider all gene editing to be problematic, but “need to be attentive to where the dangers are.”

Gene editing may be morally legitimate, DiCamillo said, when used for “a directly therapeutic purpose for a particular patient in question, and if we’re sure we’re going to limit whatever changes to this person.” He pointed to gene therapy trials for disorders such as sickle cell disease and cancer that show promise for treating difficult disorders.

Editing sperm, eggs, or early embryos, however, presents serious concerns, he said. Manipulating sperm and ova requires removing them from a person’s body; if conception is achieved with these cells, it is nearly always through in vitro methods. This practice of in vitro fertilization is held by the Church to be ethically unacceptable because it dissociates procreation from the integrally personal context of the conjugal act.

In addition, for research on embryos to be ethical, therapies should be ordered to treating and benefitting “that particular embryo, not just for garnering scientific knowledge or seeing what’s going to happen,” DiCamillo said. He condemned policies that see destruction of embryonic persons as a back-up if research does not go as planned, as well as current U.S. policies that require destruction of human embryos as standard procedure.

Another potential problem is editing genes for non-medical reasons, for example to enhance vision or intelligence.

“There’s any number of things that we could do to change the qualities of human beings themselves and make them, in a sense, super-humans … this is something that would also be an ethical problem on the horizon,” he warned.

Since the technology is so new, patients or their descendants could experience a range of “unintended, perhaps harmful, side effects that can now be transmitted, inherited by other individuals down the line,” DiCamillo said. An embryo who experiences gene modification – such as those the Chinese researcher He claims to have altered – could also carry and pass on edited genes.

Last summer, researchers in Oregon announced that they had successfully altered genes in a human embryo for the first time in the United States.

Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, warned at the time that the experiment was contrary to the dignity of the human person.

“Very young humans have been created in vitro and treated not as ends, but as mere means or research fodder to achieve particular investigative goals,” he said.

– cna

Hindu extremist mob tries to burn Pastor alive in Odisha state

November 27, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

Odisha, November 26, 2018: Pastor John Lakra was taking his 18-month-old baby to the hospital for emergency treatment in Odisha state, India when hundreds of Hindu extremists surrounded his car.

The pastor, his wife and their three children were on the way to the hospital in Sundargarh at about 7 p.m. on Oct. 23 when the mob began hurling stones at them and hitting the windows with rods as they shouted curses at him, he said.

“There were so many people that we could not even try get out there,” Pastor Lakra said. “We could not even see through the windows. My children and wife were crying. I did not know what to do.”

Earlier he had received word that Hindu extremists were looking for him regarding a text message and photo insulting the Hindu goddess Durga that a hacker had sent from his phone. He thought they only meant to talk with him.

“Soon, they pulled me out of the car, slapped and beat me black and blue,” Pastor Lakra told Morning Star News. “They ripped off my clothes. Not a single part of my body was left unstruck.”

After throwing him onto the road and kicking him, they picked him up and forced him onto a motorcycle, he said. With hundreds following, they took him to a Durga idol and forced him to kneel before it even as they continued beating him, he said.

“Then they poured a gallon of petrol on me,” he said. “Right there, I was praying in my heart. I said, ‘Lord! I submit myself to you. May this bring Glory only to you.’ While I was praying, I was so moved by the Holy Spirit. There was so much pain that I have not done enough, that I must share about my Lord’s love to so many, my journey is not over yet. These words rumbled in my heart.”

Hindus shouted that he should be given as a live sacrifice to the goddess, the pastor said.

“After they poured petrol on me, miraculously there was a blackout [power out],” Pastor Lakra told Morning Star News. “And within minutes, police reached the spot and rescued me.”

Christians in Odisha practice their faith with awareness of how Hindu extremists burned to death Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, 10-year-old Philip and 6-year-old Timothy, in their car in the state’s Manoharpur village on Jan. 23, 1999.

Jailed and Charged

At the police station, church members informed Pastor Lakra that hospital staff members managed to pull his wife and children from the mob, he said. They also brought him some clothes.

Local Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to the police station and demanded that he render an apology, he said.

“I agreed to it since the text had been forwarded by my number,” Pastor Lakra said. “I apologized for it and for hurting their feelings. But their leaders refused to forgive me and had put pressure on police that they must lodge an FIR [First Information Report] against me.”

Sundargarh police booked him for “deliberate and malicious acts to outrage religious feelings” (Section 295-A of the Indian Penal Code), “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion” (Section 153-A) and “criminal intimidation” (Section 506).

A judge rejected his plea for bail, and he spent 10 days in jail. The pastor received bail only after an inspector from the Central Bureau of Investigation found that a hacker had forwarded the derogatory message from another source using Pastor Lakra’s WhatsApp account. The pastor was released on Nov. 1.

He told Morning Star News he did not send the message insulting the Hindu goddess and did not know how it got sent from his phone to the 200 people in his WhatsApp group.

“The post in Odiya language is a widely believed mythological theory about the birth and life of goddess Durga,” he said. “I did not know it until I received screenshots from friends with my name and number as the one who circulated it.”

The message was sent on Oct. 21, a Sunday, he said.

“It was a Sunday, and we gather in thousands for worship services in Sundargarh, and I was very busy,” he said. “I received so many calls from my school and college friends, and I told them that I do not know how the message got forwarded from my number.”

Pastor Lakra, formerly a Hindu known as Shankar Kumar Lakra, on Oct. 23 had set out for Bagdi, 36 miles far from Sundargarh, on an errand to enable orphans to receive funding from the state government for their education.

“When I was in Bagdi, I received information that they are on the look-out for me, but I thought it must be only to talk about the post,” he said. “I was totally oblivious of their plans to attack me. After I came back home, my 18-month-old baby fell sick, and we had to take him to the hospital. While we were packing up to leave for the hospital, one of my schoolmate’s brother called me and asked, “Hey Shankar! Where are you man? We want to meet you.” I told him, ‘Brother, I am at home. The baby fell sick, so we are going to the hospital.’”

The baby has since been treated at the hospital.

Prior False Charge

Pastor Lakra has faced opposition before.

After graduating from a Bible college in 2011, he built a prayer center for healing the sick. About 15,000 people from all religions and classes of society came for prayer, and many who were healed put their faith in Christ and attended worship services, he said.

“I have seen opposition when the high-caste Hindus and family members of RSS and Bajrang Dal activists came to know Jesus,” he said. “They hurled stones at the building, and I received threats. But the Lord helped us establish churches in six districts in Odisha state. And in Sundargarh, we now have several such prayer centers assembling on weekends and praying for the sick.”

In 2015 Hindu relatives of Lakra joined RSS leaders and other hard-line Hindus to file a case against him alleging that he had mixed poison into water served during Christmas season services. Police charged him with attempted murder, and he was in jail for 13 days before he was released for lack of evidence.

“Police could not find any evidence against me, but the case is still on and I have to go to the court whenever they call,” he said.

Since his release following the Oct. 23 attack, unknown people have knocked on his doors, broken light bulbs and damaged flower pots, he said. Also, a woman recently came to his home saying she knew many key BJP leaders and demanded 200,000 rupees (US$2,835) to close the cases against him, Pastor Lakra said.

The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist BJP, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.

India ranked 11th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians experience the most persecution.

– morning star news

Tribal group in poll-bound Mizoram calls for support to Congress CM

November 27, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

Guwahati, November 27, 2018: A tribal organisation has appealed to Mizoram’s powerful Presbyterian Church to support Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla in the Assembly election, describing him as a “prominent Christian leader” in the country.

The Kuki Organisation for Human Rights Trust (KOHRT) — a Manipur-based organisation of the Kuki tribe — has alleged that the current political climate was promoting religious intolerance and affecting the Christians.

In his letter to Rev. Lalrinnunga, the moderator of Mizoram synod of the Presbyterian Church of India, KOHRT chairman T Lunkim said he considered Thanhawla as a prominent Christian leader in the country.

Thanhawla is also considered to be a conscientious and inclusive leader for all the Kuki, Chin, Mizo people across the globe, Lunkim said.

He alleged that money power was being used in the northeastern states, terming it a great shame to any state where the larger population follows Christianity.”

The Kuki leader, however, did not say who was promoting religious intolerance or using money power in the northeastern region.

When contacted, state Congress spokesperson Lallian Chhunga alleged that the religious factor was a major issue in this election because of a “secret understanding” between the main opposition Mizo National Front (MNF) and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

“They (KOHRT) have rightly said that Thanhawla is a good Christian leader. We can even say that the church is now supporting us at the last moment of the campaigning,” Chhunga said.

Mizoram goes to polls on Wednesday.

– news18

India gets into the habit of making the internet ‘disappear’

November 27, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

Srinagar, November 26, 2018: India leads the world in terms of choking cyberspace by shutting off access to the internet when controversial information, or misinformation, that risks fomenting unrest surfaces amid a rise in religion-based hate crime, raising concern about censorship among Catholic bishops and rights activists.

A Nov. 12 report on internet and digital media freedom in 65 countries by the U.S.-based non-profit Freedom House ranked India the worst offender after it blocked access to the web on at least 100 occasions this year alone. While China still tops the table in terms of internet surveillance, censorship, content control and blocked websites, India rules the roost when it comes to simply making the internet temporarily “disappear.”

The Freedom House report said the federal government has been increasingly restricting people’s access to information online since 2010.

This sparked rallies by Hindu nationalists in Mumbai in August 2012 after their pro-Hindu solidarity web portal was shut down just a week after the government ordered internet service providers to block 309 web pages, images and links on sites including Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, news channel ABC of Australia and Qatar-based Al-Jazeera.

The government also temporarily shuts down telecom networks during riots and protests, claiming the measures are needed to stop the spread of rumors and disinformation that could incite violence against minorities.

“The frequency, geographic distribution, and duration of those shutdowns have increased significantly in the past four years, since the Narendra Modi-led government came to power in 2014,” the report said.

Indian Catholic bishops’ conference spokesperson Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas told ucanews.com the government must understand that trying to seal off information online to prevent riots and protests cannot be seen as a long-term solution.

“It is hatred that is causing problem in the country. If the government stops people from spreading hate, it wouldn’t need to choke off the internet,” he said.

Local Catholic leader Joseph Dias said the report, which highlights the frequency of these so-called internet gags, should worry the government, too.

“If they don’t act now and take remedial measures, the [positive] image of India as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies will be compromised,” he said.

“The time will come when the world won’t pay any attention to India’s development claims at all.”

Meanwhile, as many countries rush to adopt 5G systems, many Indians still struggle to gain access to slower speeds of connectivity.

“This trend is not good for the country and there seems to be a move afoot to control the internet and suit vested interests as far as speed and reach is concerned,” Joseph said.

For Sanjeev Sharma, a Mumbai-based blogger, this heavy-handed approach to internet freedom violates international laws and conventions.

“What we are seeing in India is a violation of people’s human rights that has no justification. This is going to be detrimental to democracy,” Sharma said. The trend is rampant in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab, Rajasthan, Maharashtra , Gujarat, Nagaland and Haryana.

According to another report titled “Living in Digital Darkness in India,” compiled by the Software Freedom Law Center, between 2012 and 2018 India heavily restricted internet access no fewer than 172 times in 19 states.

The number of sites shut down almost doubled each year during this period, it found.

The center said that 47 of these cases lasted fewer than 24 hours, 38 ran between one and three days, and 37 lasted longer than this.

Another report by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, which quantitatively assessed the economic impact of internet shutdowns across India, projects an economic loss of US$3.04 billion as a result of this from 2012-17.

A separate report by Deloitte and the Global Network Initiative found that any country with a relatively high level of internet connectivity stands to lose at least 1.9 percent of its daily GDP on average each day it closes down a significant number of internet services.

The federal government launched its Digital India campaign in 2015, encouraging businesses to rapidly adopt online business models, which has made the shutdowns even more frustrating and costly.

“A majority of the business houses in India are directly or indirectly dependent on the internet. Disruptions affect the entire economic existence of these businesses,” said e-commerce website owner Aamir Kanth.

Government figures show that India has 460 million internet users, representing 26 percent of its 1.2 billion people. This makes it the world’s second-largest online market after China.

Estimates show that by 2022 India is expected to have some 635.8 million internet users.

– ucan

Muslims fret as India’s BJP ‘Hinduizes’ cities

November 25, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

New Delhi, November 23, 2018: India’s ruling pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has embarked on a name-changing spree as it attempts to re-label famous places associated with Muslims and adopt Hindu names instead, in line with its Hindu nationalist ideology.

The BJP government in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, renamed the city of Allahabad as Prayagraj on Oct. 24.

The new appellation is linked to the city’s ancient name, Prayag, which means “a place of sacrifice.” The Hindi word raj, which denotes a king or regime, was added.

The city, which lies on the banks of the Ganges, among the holiest rivers in Hinduism, got its former name from the Mughal emperor Akbar in the 17th century.

Meanwhile, a train station in the same city formerly known as Mughalserai, which translates as “a Mughal inn,” has now been renamed Pandit Deendayal Upadhaya Station, adopting the name of the co-founder of the BJP.

Dinesh Sharma, the deputy chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, told the media on Nov. 15 that the government is also considering changing the name of Allahabad University to Prayagraj University.

“Since the name of Allahabad has been changed to Prayagraj, it’s obvious there would be demands to rename other institutions in the district. We will be taking a decision on this after due consideration,” Sharma said.

On Nov. 13, Faizabad, another city in the state, was renamed Ayodhya — the ancient city where the Hindu lord Ram is believed to have been born.

Ayodhya is also the name of a tiny town in the state where Hindu groups are pressing to build a temple in tribute to Ram after they demolished a controversial mosque there in 1992.

Hindus claim the Mughal ruler Baber built the mosque in the 16th century after demolishing a Ram temple that had formerly stood in its place.

Faizabad got its name are after the Muslim ruler Sadat Ali Khan was made regional governor by the Mughals in the 17th century.

Now BJP leaders are demanding other cities and towns like Muzzafarnagar and Agra, which also have strong Muslim connections, also be renamed. They want Agra to be called Harigarh, which means “the place of Hari.” Hari is another name of the Hindu god Vishnu.

The sweeping move to “Hinduize” key geographical locations on the Indian map has come directly from the state cabinet headed by Yogi Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister and a Hindu priest-turned-politician.

Projected as the BJP’s new face in India, he also serves as chief priest of the state’s famous Gorakhnath (Shiva) temple in Gorakhpur.

Adityanath is known for his hard-line views. In 2005 he was accused of being an active member of a re-conversion drive known as “Ghar Wapsi” where 1,800 Christians were reportedly converted to Hinduism in the town of Etah in Uttar Pradesh.

He is also known to make inflammatory speeches and has gone on record several times urging young Hindus to avenge the “insult of Muslims” marrying Hindu women.

But rights activists have upped the ante and say that if the name-changing trend is allowed to continue unchallenged, it will create chaos in the country.

BJP critics like Christian leader A. C. Michael suggest the move is line with the party’s accepted ideology of turning India into a Hindu nation, where people of other religions would be relegated to the status of second-class citizens.

“What is wrong with this move is that it’s being done based on hatred. It’s being done to deliberately hurt the followers of one religion and appease another,” Michael told ucanews.

“The government, instead of acting as a champion of one religious group, must act as a neutral body and take care of people who hail from various ideologies and faiths,” he added.

Khalid Ahmad, who studies medieval history at Islamic University in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, told ucanews.com that various reports indicate the BJP-led federal government plans to authorize the renaming of 25 cities and towns that have strong Muslim ties before the national election next year.

“There is a high chance the government will rename the southern Indian state Hyderabad as Bhagyanagar, and Ahmadabad as Karnavati. All this is being done to appease the majority Hindus and make Muslims feel more insecure,” said Khalid.

Ishika Gupta, a blogger who writes mainly on history, said that, “a lot of tax payers’ money is being wasted on changing the names of these cities. The government could have used those funds for the betterment of the poor.”

For Sameer Yasin, a rights activist based in New Delhi, this is just another political tactic aimed at diverting people’s attention from more pressing economic, social or political issues.

“The national elections are just five months away and instead of talking about development and the economy, we are debating changing the names of our cities. This is nothing but a government plank to divert attention away from the real issues,” Yasin said.

Half of India’s 1.2 billion people are younger than 25, with two-thirds under 35, and many are struggling to find jobs.

A recent report by the International Labor organization indicates that 399 million of India’s 535-million-strong labor force next year will only be able to land a menial or low-grade position.

“The government wants to run away from such issues and it has found an escape route in the politics of appeasement,” Yasin told ucanews.

Hindus make up 80 percent of India’s population. Muslims account for 14 percent and Christians just 2.3 percent.

– ucan

How to stop watching… and start living your life

November 22, 2018 by  
Filed under Miscellaneous, newsletter-miscellaneous

Watching the Wind

“I’ll start Monday.”

“Once work slows down, I’ll have more time.”

“Too much going on with the holidays. I’ll start when they’re over and kids are back in school.”

Let’s face it, we are busy people. There are always things going on and there are no signs of life slowing down.

Kids. Work. Sports. Church. Spouse. Friends. School…

This ever-growing list is the perfect excuse for not taking action.

I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news first: there is no perfect time. Your calendar isn’t likely to suddenly unschedule itself, like the parting of the Red Sea.

Now for some good news: there is no perfect time.

Why is that good news? Because it frees you from searching for something that doesn’t exist. It removes the excuses you’ve been telling yourself to avoid taking action. It brings honesty front and center and forces you to deal with it.

And you know what else? It’s Biblical. Solomon talks about facing the uncertainties in life in Ecclesiastes.

“Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.”
– Ecclesiastes 11:4 (NIV)

When you wait for everything to line up just so, you’ll be waiting forever. The Living Bible translation puts that same passage this way: “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.”

As a personal trainer, I hear the time excuse maybe more than any other excuse. I get it. We all have a lot going on in life.

Yet just because I understand the excuse doesn’t mean I agree with it. I have a maxim that you may not want to hear: We do the things we most want to do.

If it’s important enough to you, you make time for it. That’s why I don’t ever say, “I don’t have time for _______.” Instead, I’ll say, “I won’t make time for ________.”

The time excuse certainly isn’t limited to fitness. Perhaps you’ve put off daily quiet times because you can’t create the ideal schedule for them. Maybe you’re not having regular date nights with your spouse because the calendar is packed with other stuff. Or maybe you’re not in church regularly because you’re too tired on the weekends from all your activities during the week.

Keep in mind, this is part of the enemy’s strategy, to keep us “busy,” too busy for things that matter most.

He’ll even deceive us into wearing our busyness as a badge of honor. It’s as if activities equals productivity and productivity equals worth.

He will also trick us into thinking that if your fitness (or quiet times, date nights, weekend worship, or ___________) isn’t happening every day without fail, it’s not worth doing.

And to top it all off, when you do skip it, he’ll heap some guilt on you for caving. Insult to injury.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We serve the Great Redeemer. Our God is the God who put the hands of time in motion. He has the power to slow the clock on our behalf so that we can honor Him mind, body, and soul.

If you truly want the things you say you want, the things He wants for you, stop watching the wind.

Don’t stare at the sky or wait on the weather.

To reap you must plant.

The day has come.

There is no better time to live life than to live it today… by His strength… for His glory.

– cross walk

Mosul begins reconstruction of churches destroyed by ISIS

November 22, 2018 by  
Filed under newsletter-world, World

Iraq, November 9, 2018: Iraqi churches destroyed in the three year occupation of Mosul by the terror group Islamic state are now being rebuilt and restored by the govenrment of Iraq .

The governor of the historically strongly Christian region of Nineveh said that the reconstruction of dozens of churches was beginning. Around 40 churches were damaged and 15 of these were completely destroyed.

Christians living in the region continue to face danger in this northern section of Iraw due to the proximity of Kurdish militia.Christians have begun cautiously returning to the western district of the city. As they start to rebuild their homes and lives, the Iraqi government has taken on the responsibility to repair Christian places of worship. Nineveh Municipality has announced that work is “soon” to begin on the ancient church of al-Tahira, the largest in the city.

More than 75 per cent of Iraq’s Christian population left the country due to anti-Christian violence after the Gulf War, which intensified after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. A mass exodus also took place after the IS conquest of the historically-Christian region in 2014.

The continuing presence of Iran-backed Shia militias in northern Iraq, the ongoing threat of terrorism and the refusal of many local Iraqi Muslims to coexist peacefully means returning Christians do not feel safe.

– global christian news

Christians fear dystopian “social scoring” experiment in China

November 22, 2018 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

China, November 22, 2018: Could China’s ‘social scoring’ experiment which brings new surveillance and supervision to an already restricted society, also lead to further persecution of Christians.

Under the slogan, “once untrustworthy, always restricted” China’s planned AI (artificial intelligence) controlled “social credit” system will bring a new depth of intervention into the lives of Chinese citizens, including Christians.

The Chinese government pilot schemes, in cities including Beijing and Shanghai, are underpinned by a vast network of advanced surveillance technology which uses face recognition to monitor location and track movement. Individuals’ social “scores” are updated in live CCTV streams as they are going about their daily lives.

Those who break government rules or do not conform will be subject to a variety of punishments that range from the inconvenient – internet throttling and slower hotel checkouts – to the life changing, including flight bans and restrictions on loans and rent. Chinese Christians, who have seen a government crackdown on “house churches” and online Bible sales in the past year, could be facing an increasingly Orwellian future.

Based around a structure of reward and punishment, this system of “algorithmic governance” is a new, experimental means that a government can use to “regulate” its society. It is planned that all Chinese citizens will be scored on the system by 2020.

A points system grades citizens through an AI which monitors their purchases, internet activity and social media interactions. A swiftly expanding network of 300 million AI powered CCTV cameras observes movements, minor misdemeanours such as jaywalking or smoking in public and even facial expressions and body language.

Those found wanting are awarded lower scores alongside their family and known associates. The impact this could have on the social fabric is considerable. With one line of code, an individual could face the risk of being cut off from all their friends, colleagues and family.

In 2017 eleven million citizens were already placed on no fly lists with four million blocked from buying train tickets. Other punishments proposed as the scheme rolls out include bars on getting loans, renting a home and access to certain schools or jobs. Meanwhile high scorers will enjoy discounts on energy bills, fast-track checkouts and visa applications and enhanced matches on dating sites.

The expanding Social Credit system has the potential to severely affect the day-to-day existence of Christians and other minorities, especially if they are deemed to demonstrate “dissent”. In September of 2018 the largest “house church” (unregistered church group) in Beijing was shut down by authorities as they refused the governments imposition of security cameras in their meeting place.

Authorities’ heightened crackdown on Christians led 344 Chinese pastors to release a declaration on 12 September calling on authorities to allow full religious freedom. Their statement closed saying, “For the sake of the gospel, we are prepared to bear all losses – even the loss of our freedom and of our lives.”

– global christian news

Venice illuminated in red for Asia Bibi, persecuted Christians

November 22, 2018 by  
Filed under newsletter-lead

Italy, November 21, 2018: To express solidarity with persecuted Christians, including Asia Bibi, a Pakistani woman recently acquitted of blasphemy, the city of Venice was illuminated in red light Tuesday night.

In a message of support for the initiative, Pope Francis said the event “will draw the due attention of all to the serious problem of discrimination that Christians suffer in many parts of the world.”

“There are countries where a religion is imposed, others where there is violent persecution or systematic cultural mockery towards the disciples of Jesus!” he said.

Starting after dark Nov. 20, eight historic Venetian buildings, as well as the Rialto Bridge and the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute, were lit up in the color red to bring awareness to the plight of persecuted Christians around the world.

The same evening, young people from the Archdiocese of Venice made a walking pilgrimage through the city to pray for persecuted Christians.

The event, sponsored by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), follows a similar initiative in February, when the Colosseum was illuminated.

In 2017, ACN also illuminated in red London’s Parliament building, as well as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris and the cathedral in Manila, Philippines. The year before, the famous Trevi Fountain in Rome was lit.

From Nov. 21-Nov. 28, other major landmarks in the cities of Montreal, Toronto, Paris, Barcelona, London, Sydney, and Washington, DC will also be illuminated in red for an evening.

This year’s initiative, organized in conjunction with the city of Venice and the Patriarch of Venice Francesco Moraglia, is being put on in a particular way for Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi.

The mother-of-five was acquitted of blasphemy charges by Pakistan’s Supreme Court Oct. 31. However, her life is still in danger, as the ruling is under government review as part of a deal to appease groups that were leading riots in the streets.

Bibi had spent eight years on death row in Pakistan after she was accused of blasphemy for making disparaging remarks about the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

Bibi’s family has asked that she be granted asylum in the United States, the United Kingdom, or in other countries around Europe. Italy has offered to help Bibi obtain asylum.

– cna

Indian Christian bodies told to tackle sexual harassment

November 22, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

New Delhi, November 22, 2018: Christian leaders and activists in India have made an impassioned plea to make their institutions free of sexual harassment and safer for children and women.

Catholic and Protestant leaders made the call at a panel discussion on gender justice and women’s safety in Christian institutions in New Delhi. The discussion was part of the Nov. 17 silver jubilee programs of United Christian Action (UCA), an ecumenical forum of Indian Christians.

“Sexual harassment and gender injustice are everywhere and the church institution is no exception. It has to be acknowledged first and then addressed accordingly before it is too late,” said Sister Tresa Paul, legal consultant at the Jesuit-run Indian Social Institute in New Delhi.

In September 2017, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India issued a set of guidelines to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace, but church institutions have not followed it up, she said.

The guidelines wanted every diocese to constitute an internal complaints committee “within six months, which did not happen,” the Holy Cross nun told the gathering of 200 invited leaders.

Catholic Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi and Protestant Bishop Waris Masih of the Church of North India’s Delhi Diocese were among the attendees. The prelates’ presence was a sign that church authorities are willing to listen to concerns of sexual abuse within Christian institutions, Sister Paul said.

UCA chairwoman Esther Kar said the program discussed sexual violations and gender justice because “it is the most pressing issue in society,” especially against the backdrop of the ongoing #MeToo movement.

The movement has gained momentum in India, with many women in the media, films and even the government claiming sexual harassment from prominent men in their workplaces.

Several speakers at the discussion said the first step for Christians is to accept that sexual harassment and gender injustice exist in Christian workplaces too. They also wanted church institutions to set up systems to embolden women to come out with complaints.

Karen Gabriel, a professor at St. Stephen’s College in New Delhi, said the issue can be collectively addressed.

“The positive sign is that we have leaders and institutions that now are ready to recognize and acknowledge sexual harassment and gender justice,” she said.

Kavita Krishnan, a politburo member of the Communist Party of India, said that “even political parties are far behind” in addressing gender inequality and sexual harassment. “Our patriarchal society never acknowledges that there is a problem, which is the biggest problem,” she said.

She said most cases of sexual harassment, including its worst form of rape, are often covered up because “it’s a social taboo” to speak out about such violations.

“Often victims are blamed as being of loose character and it’s feared to bring a bad name to families in a rigid society like India,” she said.

A study by Thomson Reuters Foundation in July ranked India as the most dangerous place for women because of high incidences of gender inequality and violence, including rape, child marriage, female feticide and human trafficking. Syria and Afghanistan were ranked second and third.

– ucan

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