Philippines exports priests for Christmas Masses

December 18, 2018 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

Manila, December 18, 2018: Filipino priests are being “exported” this month for the “Misa de Gallo,” the traditional nine-day early morning Masses that usher in Christmas in the Philippines.

Father Roy Bellen of the Office of Communications in Manila Archdiocese said some parishes abroad, especially in the Middle East, “borrow” priests from Manila for the celebrations.

“Because they know that we have this tradition, they request a Filipino priest,” said Father Bellen, adding that foreign priests working with Filipino migrants “don’t understand our culture.”

He said that in several parishes abroad, Filipino priests officiate at the early morning Masses during the Christmas season.

Father Bellen said parishes in other countries where there are many Filipinos would usually write to priests back in the Philippines months before December conveying the request.

In Malaysia, a local church hosted the “Misa de Gallo” by inviting priests from Manila.

The idea for hosting the traditional Filipino Masses came from a local parish priest who wanted to express gratitude to Filipino workers and students in the country.

The Misa de Gallo, which became a Filipino tradition after the arrival of Spanish colonizers about 500 years ago, is a novena of Masses from Dec. 16 to Christmas Eve.

The celebration is held as early as 3 a.m. in several provinces.

Pope Sixtus V ordered that the Mass be heard before sunrise because it used to be the harvest season in the Philippines, and farmers needed to be in the fields immediately after the celebration.

During the nine-day celebration Filipinos adorn their homes with star-shaped lanterns called parol, which were believed to help parishioners before electricity was invented make their way to church in the early morning.

After Mass, Filipino families share rice cakes, pastries, and other delicacies and drink hot chocolate.

The Christmas season in the Philippines officially begins with the start of the Misa de Gallo and ends on the first Sunday of January on the feast of the Three Kings.

Father Bellen, however, warned those inviting priests to lead the traditional Filipino celebration to be wary of fake priests.

“The protocol is for the priest to present his celebret or identification card to make sure that he is not fake,” he said.

Earlier this month, Manila Archdiocese warned the public about a person who has been posing as a Catholic priest and an exorcist.

The archdiocese received reports that a certain Father Cheeno Lledo was performing “exorcisms” around the capital.

In a circular, Bishop Francisco de Leon of Antipolo also issued the same warning about Lledo.

“He should not be allowed to celebrate Mass or perform religious rites in our chapels, churches or other places for our Catholic faithful,” read the prelate’s letter.

– ucan

Another church vandalized in Assam

December 18, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

Assam, December 16, 2018: Unidentified miscreants have vandalized St Thomas Catholic Church and its grotto in Chapatoli village near Duliajan in Assam.

The incident came to light on the morning of December 15 when villagers were going for their works through the church area. They noticed the church door open and spotted the statue of Mother Mary dislodged from the grotto.

The miscreants also damaged a crucifix after resorting to vandalism inside the church, Johan Lugun, a local resident said.

As the news spread, thousands of people flocked to the village from nearby areas. Police immediately picked up two suspects from the area for questioning.

Local legislator Terosh Gowala, who visited the area, has expressed solidarity with the Christian community. He promised to reinstate the damaged crucifix, Marian statue and other damages in the church.

Meanwhile, Bishop Joseph Aind of Dibrugarh while condemning the attack demanded a high-level inquiry into the incident. The Salesian prelate lamented that certain forces with ulterior motives were seeking to sow seeds of hatred and discord among the peace loving people living in the tea garden enclaves and its periphery areas.

The bishop also said people of all religions have co-existed in peace and harmony in the plantations from pre-independence era. “Only outside forces with vested interests can perpetrate such anti-social acts inside the tea garden area,” he added.

The prelate also demanded that the government set up a high-level inquiry into the incident and guarantee that the culprits, particularly the mastermind, is booked and punished and that peace is restored in the area.

“The government must also ensure security for the Christians especially during the Christmas season,” he demanded.

The incident has revived memories of earlier attacks on the community.

On Jun 20 this year, unidentified miscreants vandalized the Catholic Cathedral Church at Chapaguri in Chirang district and decamped with some valuables.

In June 2016, a parish priest and principal of a missionary school, Fr Sushil John Soren, was attacked by an unidentified person with a machete in Udalguri district’s Bhairabkunda village.

In August 2015, a statue Saint John Bosco, which was to be unveiled by then Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi at the Bharalumukh riverfront, was partially damaged and pushed into the Bharalu by a mob.

According to the Assam religious census of 2011, Christians make up 3.74 percent of the state’s population.

– assam tribune and telegraph kolkata

Mumbai: BJP makes overtures to Christians

December 18, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

Mumbai, December 18, 2018: To woo the Christian community in the run-up to the elections next year, the BJP minority morcha has reached out to the members of the religious minority in the city ahead of Christmas.

At a meeting attended by around 200 community members on Saturday, the BJP assured the group that its grievances would be addressed.

“There is a misconception that the BJP is anti-minorities,” said Waseem Khan, BJP minority morcha chief. “Our governments, both at the Centre and state, have created many schemes for the welfare of the minorities. Christians form an important group among the minorities and our leaders like MLA and Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar and Maulana Azad Minorities Financial Development Corporation chairman Haji Haider Azam assured them that injustice would not be done to the Christians or any other minority.”

Christian leader Alexander D’Souza said the community in the city might think of backing the BJP if its grievances are addressed. “We will hold meetings with senior clerics and community leaders. The BJP is not harassing us and the time has come to show our solidarity with the party,” said D’Souza.

– times of india

Intolerance a temporary phase: Mukherjee

December 18, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

New Delhi, December 17, 2018: Indians will protect the nation’s religious and cultural diversity against intolerance, former Indian president Pranab Kumar Mukherjee told a Christmas gathering organized by Catholic bishops.

There were more than 500 invited guests at the Dec. 13 program in the capital, New Deli, including ministers from incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, parliamentarians, bureaucrats and Christian leaders.

“We are definitely going through troubled times,” the former president said in a veiled reference to allegations that Modi’s pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tacitly supports violent Hindu fanatics.

“Divisive tendencies, intolerance and prejudiced ‘fear of the other’ seem to be defining us today, but it is a temporary phase and the idea of India will prevail.”

He noted that an historically composite and yet diverse nation had emerged during 5,000 years of co-existence, acceptance, adaptation and assimilation.

“Indians will tenaciously fight this in order to once again establish our unique national identity, which has emerged out of our civilizational values and remains etched ever so clearly in our Magna Carta – the Constitution of India,” said the 13th president of India.

Mukherjee, whose five-year term ended 2017, noted that aberrations such as crusades, jihads and violent struggles between sects would always be defeated in the favor of brotherhood, peace and prosperity.

He expressed appreciation for the Catholic Church’s good work in the fields of education, health care and social services.

The most enduring image of the Catholic Church in India were the millions of children, irrespective of religion, educated in Church institutions as well as millions who received medical help in Catholic hospitals.

Mukherjee also said that the Church in India was personified by Missionaries of Charity nuns, founded by St. Mother Teresa, tending to the most marginalized of society.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, said conflicts between people and nations arose “because we don’t practice peace, love and fellowship.”

Christmas was an appropriate time for Christians and non-Christians alike to reflect on such issues, Cardinal Gracias said.

Hindu spiritual Guru Goswami Sushil Ji Maharaj agreed with Mukherjee that an atmosphere of hate and intolerance now exists in India.

“There is no doubt that we are in a bit of a difficult situation, but soon that will vanish because our age-old tradition of co-existence still exists in our country,” he said.

India has been witnessing increased incidents of violence against religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims since Modi’s BJP came to power nationally in 2014.

At least 10 Muslim men have been lynched and many injured by Hindu vigilante cow protection groups.

Rights group Amnesty India said in a report early this year that many such extremist groups seemed to operate with the support of the BJP.

Persecution Relief, an ecumenical Christian forum that monitors persecution, says it recorded 600 incidents in 2017 of violence against Christians in India, including the destruction of churches, threats and harassment, social boycotts, hate campaigns, abductions and murders as well as other physical violence.

– ucan

3 ways to take criticism with grace

December 9, 2018 by  
Filed under Miscellaneous, newsletter-miscellaneous

Heat filled my cheeks as she spoke. Her words pressed harder and harder until my heart felt trapped beneath them. What had I done to deserve such criticism? I sat in silent astonishment without a clue how to respond. I just wanted the conversation to be over.

We have all experienced times when a friend, co-worker, or relative offered harsh judgments. But there are also times when the words spoken, though hurtful at first, are exactly what we need to hear. So how do you discern between the two? How do you know if this person is giving constructive feedback or condemning your actions?

“When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group” (Galatians 2:11-12 NIV).
In Paul’s instruction to the Galatian church, he tells about a time he corrected Cephas (also known as Peter.)

Paul noticed Peter acting one way around Jews and another way when he was only with the Gentiles. I can imagine how difficult it was for Paul to address this matter with Peter. After all, Peter was one of the twelve disciples. He was a bold proclaimer of the gospel before Paul became a believer. Yet Paul followed God’s instruction and tackled this difficult topic with Peter.

So how do we handle these situations when they come up? Paul’s story gives us valuable insight into these often uncomfortable moments. The following three tips will help us determine a course of action when someone we know offers opinions we don’t want to hear.

1. Listen up, and listen well.

I was stunned that day by the unexpected turn in the conversation with my friend. For that reason, I missed part of what was said. Certain phrases stood out louder than the rest. You hold on to control… let other people help… more communication. I focused on the negative and blocked out most everything else.

So often we miss the message in its entirety because we don’t hear everything. As the discussion begins, let’s determine to focus our attention. Ask questions. Create open dialogue and keep the exchange going. Above all, we must resist getting defensive. Like Peter, God uses people of like faith to teach us valuable lessons. But we could miss the opportunity if we don’t listen.

2. Consider the source.

After the exchange, let’s ask ourselves these questions. Is she coming to me with her concerns for the right reasons? Is she someone I trust to give wise counsel? If the answer to these two questions is yes, then we should allow our hearts to be open to her words.

Paul demonstrated his leadership ability and his devotion to God’s call on his life through years of commitment to ministry. No doubt he was someone Peter could trust. Peter knew Paul, and he knew the Holy Spirit guided Paul’s heart and actions. For this reason Peter could accept Paul’s concern with confidence.

3. Be receptive and appreciative.

As co-laborers for one cause, we must remain united with other believers. Whatever action steps you decide to take or not to take, reassure her. Renew your commitment to the common goal. Let her know you appreciate her. Gratitude eases tension and builds relationships.

The bold woman who challenged me to evaluate myself and seek God’s direction took a risk. She risked hurting my feelings to bring about change that would ultimately improve our relationship. She became a trusted voice and gentle admonisher. After taking the matter to God in prayer, I resolved to work toward bettering myself as a servant and a listener.

As women we are called to love. And let’s face it – confrontation creates discomfort! But we can find wisdom in Paul’s exchange with Peter today. Criticism can hurt if we allow ourselves to be offended, but we can grow in Christ by making the most of it. Paul and Peter worked through many obstacles in ministry, and we can too. Sometimes submitting to God’s plan means daring to listen.

– cross walk

Thousands of women burned alive in India, not recognized as humans: Ministry warns

December 9, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

India, December 8, 2018: Thousands of brides are being burned alive in India despite the practice being illegal, a Christian ministry has warned.

India Partners, a Christian organization that works alonside indigenous Christian grassroots agencies in India, told Mission Network News on Thursday that there are still as many as 8,000 bride burning cases a year in the Hindu-majority country.

A representative with India Partners, identified only as John, said the low view of women is spread through parts of India’s society.

“This is true both of men and women. It’s not just of men itself. Most women see the other woman as in an inferior position and not able to recognize her rights as a human being,” he said.

The burning attacks, some of which have resulted in deaths, are tied to dowry and marriage disputes in rural districts.

“Horrible things like this happen, and many times they happen because of dowry deaths. Before marriage, the families will agree upon a dowry that the bride’s family generally will pay to the groom’s family,” John explained.

“After marriage, the groom’s family sees the leverage of threatening the girl and asking for more money. So they will begin threats, they will begin beatings, and the rule of thumb is something like the more money you want, the more you need to beat her.”

Women are often beaten when the groom’s family demands more money, which then sometimes escalates in dousing them with flammable liquid and setting them on fire.

John said that bride burning is more common in rural districts like Uttar Pradesh because the perpetrators are less likely to be prosecuted.

“But the harassment happens everywhere. In the harassment of women, your caste doesn’t make any difference. How much education you have doesn’t make any difference,” he added.

Women in India continue to suffer from a widespread rape epidemic, with many stories of extreme violence, sexual assaults, and murder making international news.

Dalits, members of the so-called “untouchables” lowest caste class in India, are also subject to discrimination, especially those who choose to convert to Christianity.

Earlier this week, some 2,000 Christian Dalits marched in New Delhi, demanding that the government does not stop their social benefits due to their new faith.

The fears are based on government regulations that argue that Dalit Christians and Muslims who leave the Hindu faith can no longer be considered part of the caste, UCA News.com reported.

“Government comes and goes, and we get only false promises. Several protest rallies and marches in the past were useless. Now we play our drums to wake up the sleeping government,” said Father A. Arputharaj, a protest organizer in the march.

– christian post

Indian state’s move on tribal people vexes church leaders

December 9, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

Ranchi, December 9, 2018: Catholic tribal leaders in India are worried over a move by Jharkhand’s government to take away tribal status from people who have left their traditional Sarna religion to join other faiths.

The eastern state’s move will deprive thousands of tribal people of social benefits meant for their advancement.

“It is a deliberate attempt to divide tribal people on grounds of religion ahead of the state and national elections next year,” said Bishop Vincent Barwa of Simdega, who is based in a tribal Christian stronghold.

A state election is due at the end of next year, while national elections are due in April.

The state government, run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), wants the BJP-led federal government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to declassify the tribal status of tribal people who have adopted other religions, media reports said.

“The government move is disastrous and we are keeping a close watch on all developments,” Bishop Barva, chairman of the Indian bishops’ office for indigenous people, told ucanews.

Secular leaders like Dev Kumar Dhan, who leads a pan-India group of tribal people following the Sarna religion, told ucanews that the government is looking for political gains.

On Dec. 3, he presented a memorandum to state governor Draupadi Murmu, a representative the of the federal government, asking her to stop the move “to divide tribal people on religious grounds.”

Dhan said the declassification of tribal people would help non-tribal people to contest and win elections in tribal-majority constituencies that are now reserved for tribal candidates.

The state has 28 constituencies reserved for tribal candidates based on the population of tribal voters. If the proposed declassification happens, the number of seats will come down to 10 as tribal people in the other 18 seats will become non-tribal people overnight, he said.

Officially, 26 percent of Jharkhand’s 32 million people are tribal people, but declassification would reduce the tribal population to 12 percent, Dhan said.

Since the move needs federal approval and would have to be effective across the country, the representation of tribal people in India’s parliament would also be reduced.

Currently 47 of 543 parliamentary constituencies are reserved for tribal people.

Jharkhand has some 8.6 million tribal people, of whom 3.24 million have become Hindus and 1.33 million have become Christians, according to census records. Much smaller numbers have become Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains.

“The move has far-reaching implications because it will affect not only the social benefits of the people but also the policy decisions of governments in the use of natural resources like land, water and forests,” Dhan said.

Supporters of the move are shortsighted, he said.

Megha Oraon, who leads Sarna Vikas Samiti (forum for Sarna development), supported the plan and said it would end conversion to other religions and bring back those who had left the Sarna religion.

Tribal leader Babulal Munda agreed that government benefits meant for tribal people such as financial assistance for education and reservations in jobs should not be given to people who joined other religions.

However, tribal leaders maintain that those who converted to Hinduism should not be deprived benefits as the Sarna religion is broadly part of Hinduism.

Declassification of tribal people would violate the constitutional stipulation that citizens should not face discrimination over religion, said Catholic priest and lawyer Father Peter Martin.

In a federal system, a state alone cannot decide on something that could be applied across India, he said, as the consensus of other states is necessary. “That would not be an easy task,” he said.

The move will result in a massive uprising in the state as it will adversely affect millions, Father Martin said.

– ucan

 

Indonesian “heresy app” to report “misguided” beliefs

December 9, 2018 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

Indonesia, December 6, 2018: Misguided or “heretical” beliefs can be reported instantly in a new mobile phone app, “Smart Pakam”, created by the Indonesia government.

The App is described as a tool to educate Muslims on misguided beliefs and enable them to instantly report possible violations. Users are encouraged to report beliefs ambiguously described as “harmful,” and can upload photos as evidence.

The app was created by the government body Bakor Pakem – The Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society – a powerful influence in the Indonesian legal system. According to Human Rights Watch, 100 per cent of those reported to the body have been convicted of “blasphemy”, “defamation” or other charges.

The country’s minority faith communities, particularly Christians and Ahmadiyyah Muslims have raised concerns that the app could violate religious freedoms and cause profound divisions in society.

­Amiruddin Al-Rahab, a commissioner at Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights commented in local news sources, “It is contradictory to the government’s desire to create a culture of mutual respect and tolerance, which is why I have asked the government and the attorney general to take it down.”

Mr ­Al-Rahab warned of serious potential consequences including social disintegration, persecution, violence and discrimination.

Christians make up at least 15 per cent of the population of Indonesia. Until a generation ago, Muslims and Christians lived peaceably as equals, but since the 1980s the role of Islam in public life has dramatically increased. The Christian former governor of Jakarta, “Ahok” Tjahaha Purnama, was sentenced to two years in jail for blasphemy following accusations by Islamists in 2016.

– global christian news

Prince Charles praises persecuted Middle Eastern Christians

December 9, 2018 by  
Filed under newsletter-world, World

U.K., December 5, 2018: Prince Charles has praised the “extraordinary grace and capacity for forgiveness” of Middle Eastern Christians enduring persecution.

Speaking at a special Advent service for persecuted Christians at Westminster Abbey on 4 December, the Prince said he had been “deeply humbled” by meeting Christians from the Middle East “who, with such inspiring faith and courage, are battling oppression and persecution.”

He claimed that, “Coexistence and understanding are not just possible … they are confirmed by hundreds of years of shared experience. Extremism and division are by no means inevitable …

“In this season of Advent, as we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, who himself knew exile, injustice and suffering, I can only assure you of our steadfast support and most heartfelt prayers as you take forward your works of restoration, justice and healing, so that God’s will might be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

His words of encouragement for Middle Eastern Christians came days after the Archbishop of Canterbury called on the UK government to do more to aid Christian communities in the region facing “imminent extinction”.

– global christian news

Ayodhya still unsafe for Muslims after riots

December 9, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

New Delhi, December 9, 2018: Mohammad Shafiq, 55, remembers hurriedly packing his bags on Nov. 26 and dragging his children from their home in Ayodhya town in India’s Uttar Pradesh as they sought safe refuge while fearing for their lives.

Trouble was brewing in his hometown as the days fast approached the 26-year anniversary on Dec. 6 of the demolition of a mosque there by Hindu hardliners, sparking Hindu-Muslim riots.

Expecting a repeat of the violence seen after the demolition, Shafiq and his wife and three children raced away in a rickshaw bound for the nearest interstate bus station as they began making their way to West Bengal state.

He said he plans to “stay away for at least a month” fearing more riots as thousands of Hindus began to converge there on Nov. 25 reviving their demand the government build a Hindu temple on the controversial site. Hundreds of Muslims have already moved out of the town.

In the end, Dec. 6 passed peacefully. But Muslims in Ayodhya say they still feel unsafe as communal tensions between them and the thousands of Hindus who live there remain precarious.

The tearing down of the mosque triggered month-long riots across India that claimed an estimated 1,000 lives, driving a wedge between communities and instilling a strong sense of fear among Muslims, as Shafiq can attest.

Its demolition capped a nationwide campaign by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which claimed the mosque had been built in the 15th century by the Muslim invader Babur after he had ordered the destruction of a Hindu temple in the same spot.

Hindus consider Ayodhya the birthplace of their lord Ram. Scholars are still debating which century this took place in.

The BJP’s campaign presented the mosque as an affront to Hindu pride and exhorted the party’s followers to regain their “lost honor” by reversing this historical wrong and slight to their religion by resurrecting the former temple.

In the ensuing riots, Shafiq’s brother and several relatives and friends were killed.

For the BJP, the campaign was a resounding success as it propelled the party to political prominence and finally helped it rise to power in New Delhi.

However, the new temple has still not been built as litigation drags on over who owns the land.

Shafiq believes the BJP used the temple issue as “a live wire to electrify” the Hindu masses and attract more votes at the expense of Muslims like himself.

As India faces national elections in May 2019, Hindu groups have begun to revive their calls for the temple to be established.

But many Muslims, who make up just 6 percent of Ayodhya’s population of 55,000, have already fled in search of safer abodes elsewhere until things cool down.

No one knows exactly how many have upped and left as they do not report their departure to the police.

“We have nothing to tell you except that we are moving to Kolkata, where my sister lives. We hope a state of normalcy returns soon so that we can go home. If not, we may never go back,” said Shafiq, an electrician by trade.

Idrees Hussain, a university student in Ayodhya, recalls the terror that struck the heart of the community when the riots broke out. At the time, Idrees was just 5 years old.

He remembers seeing angry mobs of Muslims attack Hindu homes and bludgeon people to death as both sides went on the rampage.

“When these large mobs gather, anything can happen,” he said. “Rumors of a Muslim attack can easily trigger clashes. And we don’t want to die for no reason. It would be insane to live here any longer. Better to stay away until the issue gets resolved amicably and we can restart our loves afresh.”

Fatima Bano, 43, remains haunted by the violence, death and pillaging that tore through the town when the mosque was demolished.

“I haven’t seen this level of suffering that we Muslims face anywhere else in the world, even on TV,” she said.

“Our family spent days without food and water locked down inside our houses. I lost my uncle in the riots but no one has ever been arrested for his murder,” she told ucanews.com, adding that she is taking her two sons and moving to stay with some relatives in New Delhi as tensions resurface.

“We won’t come back here until this mess gets sorted out,” she said.

Meanwhile, some Hindu organizations are asking Muslims not to leave and saying their fears are overblown.

Sharad Sharma serves as a spokesman for the Vishwa Hindu Parshad, or World Hindu Council, which is spearheading the calls to rebuild the temple honoring Rama. He said Muslims have nothing to fear.

He even invited local Muslims to move to Hindu temples temporarily if they feel unsafe in their own homes.

The crowds are not angry mobs but “just a congregation” of Hindus who have assembled to “discuss the construction of the temple. Muslims have no reason to feel scared,” Sharma said.

– ucan

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