New rules on religion threaten Vietnam house churches

February 15, 2013 by admin  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia, Persecution

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Hill-tribe Christians from the CentralVietnam, February 13, 2013: Christian leaders in Vietnam have warned that new rules on religion that came into force at the start of the year threaten the future of the country’s house church movement.

Decree 92, which replaces Decree 22 of 2005 as the guideline governing religious practice inVietnam, increases restrictions and makes it almost impossible for unregistered groups to obtain legal status.

Nguyen Van Dai, a Protestant lawyer who has served jail time for his human rights activism inVietnam, said:

The decree is intended to provide the tools to end the house-church movement entirely.

The Vietnam Evangelical Fellowship, an association of around 30 unregistered house church organisations, has raised similar concerns, saying that Decree 92 makes house churches illegal. The “underground” Christian gatherings have not been recognised by the government since 1975.

Under the new criteria for registration, a church must have a legal place of worship. House churches, which by definition do not have an official building, clearly do not fulfil this criterion. And as unregistered groups, they would not be able to obtain such premises before gaining legal status, and would thus find themselves in a vicious cycle of illegality.

Another extremely difficult criterion for a church to fulfil is that it must be free of both civil and criminal violations for 20 years before it may be considered eligible for registration. But the fact that it is unregistered makes it highly vulnerable to arbitrary charges, such as “infringing national security”, which the Vietnamese authorities often apply to any activity they want to suppress.

Decree 92 introduces a new distinction between “religious meetings” and “religious activities”, both of which must be registered before an organisation can be considered for full legal recognition. “Religious meetings” refers to communal worship and prayer, while “religious activities” covers broader matters including the preaching and practice of a religion’s tenets, principles and rites, and organisational management.

Leaders of religious meetings must, according to the new rules, have “a spirit of national unity and reconciliation”, while religious activities and ceremonies must not “contradict fine national traditions and customs”. This may require churches to perform actions that are incompatible with Christian faith, such as worshipping national heroes and ancestors.

If a church does somehow manage to fulfil all of the complex criteria, the application process takes three years, making a minimum of 23 years that a church has to wait for legal recognition.

It would then have to comply with extremely strict controls. A full annual plan must be submitted to the authorities every October; no changes are allowed without a complicated appeals process.

- morning star news

No death for rapists: Church group

January 10, 2013 by admin  
Filed under Delhi, India, newsletter-india

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It has demanded introduction of gender-sensitive curriculum at the school level.

make India a gender sensitive nationNew Delhi,  January 08, 2013:  Caritas India, the social service wing of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), sent its suggestions to make India a gender sensitive nation but said it cannot support death penalty as punishment for rape.

In its eleven-point recommendation made last Saturday to the Verma Committee set up by the federal government, Caritas asked to introduce gender-sensitive curriculum from school level onward to promote and foster a balanced gender perspective in India.

The government set up the committee after massive crowds lay siege to the national capital for almost two weeks in December and the first week of January 2013 calling for justice for the 23 year old physiotherapy student victim of gang rape.

Six men raped her in a moving bus and male companion who sought to defend her was also attacked. Both were dumped on a roadside by their attackers presuming them to be dead. The woman died 13-days after the incident in a Singapore hospital of her injures.

Several groups have demanded revise laws to award death penalty for rapists. Although, justifying public rage and protests, Caritas said it does not support death penalty as a punishment to rape.

The official teachings of the Church also do not support death penalty on the ground that God alone is the owner of life and no one could legitimately interfere with life.

Caritas also noted with concern the failure of the country to protect girl-children and women.

Other recommendation of the Caritas include setting up of special fast track courts with women lawyers, women welfare committees at district levels, anti-sexual harassment task force with 60% women at Panchayat levels, higher rank of police officers for handling rape and sexual crimes, national toll free women helpline, CCTV cameras with announcement facilities in public spaces.

While strict and effective enforcement of the law is required for the safety of women, Caritas has also cautioned the government against appropriate safeguards to prevent misuse or taking any undue advantage of such laws.

The Verma Committee’s recommendations would be placed before the government in less than a month which is expected to pave the way to amendment of existing laws to deal with rape and other crimes against women so as to provide speedier justice and enhanced punishment in sexual assault cases in India.

-  press release

Help Christians affected by worsening crisis in Syria

November 16, 2011 by admin  
Filed under Asia, Christian Contribution, newsletter-asia, Syria

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Barnabas Fund is helping to feed Iraqi Christian refugees in Syria

Barnabas Fund is helping to feed Iraqi Christian refugees in Syria

Syria, November 15, 2011: Christian leaders in Syria and neighbouring countries have expressed growing concern about the deteriorating situation in Syria, and in particular what it means for the vulnerable Christian minority.

The Arab League on Saturday suspended Syria over its crackdown on protestors in a move that highlights how far conditions in the country have worsened since anti-government demonstrations broke out in March. The UN says that at least 3,500 people have been killed.

The EU is also increasingly concerned about the unrest in Syria. European foreign ministers have agreed a preliminary deal on tightening sanctions against the country, and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said it was time to look at increased protection for Syria’s civilians.

As the Assad regime comes under mounting international pressure, Christians, who comprise around ten per cent of the population, are particularly concerned about what the future holds for them and Iraqi Christian refugees living in the country.

Should Assad fall, it is feared that Syria could go the way of Iraq post-Saddam Hussein. Saddam, like Assad, restrained the influence of militant Islamists, but after his fall they were free to wreak havoc on the Christian community; hundreds of thousands of Christians were consequently forced to flee the violence. Many of them went to Syria. 

A Syrian church leader, who coordinates food programmes for Iraqi Christian refugees in Syria, said:

Most of the Iraqi Christians living in Syria are worried because they do not want to see Syrian Christians passing through the same path as happened with them in Iraq. They are lifting their prayers for a safe and secure Syria and for it [to] continue to be a safe haven.

Christians have mostly stayed away from the protests in Syria, having been well treated and afforded a considerable amount of religious freedom under President Assad’s regime. In September, an influential sheik issued an implicit threat to the country’s Christians, saying that all those who oppose the revolution will be “torn apart, chopped up and fed to the dogs”.

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, said:

Syria has been very much a safe haven for Christians in the Middle East, one of the few Arab countries where they were treated with respect and had equality with the Muslim majority. Syria also has a history of welcoming in persecuted Christians from other countries. But I greatly fear that within the near future we will see a new Iraq developing in Syria. Barnabas Fund is standing with our brothers and sisters during this tumultuous time.

Please Pray

* That the actions of the international community will help to restore peace and stability for all Syrian citizens.
* For Christians in Syria, especially those who are concerned about their future in the country. Pray that the Lord will keep them safe, grant them His peace and reassure them of His sovereignty amid this turmoil.

- barnabas team

ROOT CAUSE – The barefoot doctors of Pen-Panvel

November 7, 2011 by admin  
Filed under Christian Contribution, India, newsletter-india, Persecution

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GetimageMaharashtra, November 07, 2011: The area around Karnala Bird Sanctuary in Panvel has lately been drawing in customers shopping not so much for a view of the threetoed kingfisher as for the rareprince story plant. Impute this to nurseries along the old Bombay-Goa highway through villages like Barapada and Tara that have more to interest the eye by way of botanic curiosities than avian sightings in a near-barren sanctuary. Among those invested in horticulture here is a nondescript Jesuit Mission in Tara that has been trying to cultivate not so much a hothouse as a habit.

    The priests—all of two—of the Janahitha Vikas Trust (JVT) have, for the last four years, been rooting for villagers to return to herbal and ayurvedic forms of therapy. Among the several development projects they run for the Katkari adivasis here is a herbal programme that shows villagers how to identify and utilise medicinal herbs as curatives.

    Set back from the highway, on an eight-acre plot across from the rather dodgy landmark of Narayan Rane’s weekend getaway, JVT is where the adivasis from Pen-Panvel come to learn about their rights: to have panchayati laws broken down; to get a grip on ration rules; to identify useful government schemes; and avail of vocational training like sewing, carpentry and masonry. The herbal programme, which was founded four years ago, sets out to show the adivasis how to be
resourceful and self-reliant in matters of health. It invites two ayurveda specialists to hold sessions on phytotherapy, where they acquaint the class with different medicinal plants, teach them how to extract their juices and knock together remedial recipes for minor ailments like colds, diarrhea, scabies and fever. With primary health centres few and far between, andcommercial doctors charging over Rs 50, the mission hopes to ease the financial burden on poor adivasis by teaching them to find recourse in Nature.

    “A concoction of adulsa, tulsi, ginger and lemon grass cures colds; cactus oil is known to loosen stiffness from arthritis, and the sarpagandha or snakeroot is a natural anti-hypertensive and remedy for dysentery; the panphuti leaf with peppercorn is effective against kidney stones,” says Fr Diago D’Souza, director of JVT, cataloging the benefits of the herbs that grow on the grounds of the mission itself. Every year the mission distributes 15 new herbs, which it acquires from the Academy of Development Science at Kashele, to seven villages affiliated to the programme. This charity is made possible through funds raised by churches in Mumbai.

    Each village has two ‘health workers’ whose job it is to nurture herbal gardens in their village and help villagers prepare remedies. It is usually the women of the village’s self-help groups to whom the case for natural remedies is first made. A ‘herbal animator’ has the job of overseeing the entire project, hosting refresher courses and keeping interest (and the plants) alive.

    In the village of Banubaiwadi, Tulsa Hapse has attempted to maintain a herbal patch behind her house. But just like one’s medicine cabinet is forgotten until the time of illness, here too the herbs given by the mission are half-lost in a tangle of weeds. Fr D’Souza admits that erratic attention to the initiative is one of the challenges that bedevil the project. Although, Hapse says the patch is faithfully visited in times of minor maladies like colds and fever or for regenerative treatments. “I use tulsi and korphad (aloe vera) for coughs, and neem juice for stomach aches. Only when an illness persists for more than two days do we go three km down the hill to the doctor. He charges Rs 50 a visit,” she says. She points to a short green shrub with short needle leaves and identifies it as shatavari, a shrub that helps lactation. It turns out Himalaya, the herba-pharma company has a product by the same name with the same aim. (Incidentally, the Sanskrit word ‘shatavari’ means ‘She who possesses a hundred husbands’.)

    Kishni Borkya Hapse, who possessed one husband (who happened to be a vaidyaor ayurvedic physician), says villagers were not immediately won over to the profits of herbs. “They started asking for herbal concoctions only after witnessing our own cure by these,” she says. Hapse, who is Tulsa’s mother-in-law, was already familiar with the benefits of ayurveda through her husband, who taught her the formulas. “When you visit a doctor, his allopathic prescriptions usually cure one problem but give rise to another. That doesn’t happen with ayurveda,” she claims.

    Her neighbours took a long time to imbibe it. Fr D’Souza says it was initially difficult to wean villagers away from allopathy because its effects arrived fast while herbal cures sometimes took time. “They can’t afford to lose a day’s work, which is why they want a quick cure,” he says. If they didn’t have money to pay the allopath, they’d take credit from a neighbour. “It also turned into a matter of pride,” says Fr Brian D’Silva, “when the number of bottles of saline you were given indicated the gravity of your illness. It’s common knowledge that saline is indiscriminately used in healthcare here.”
    If the villagers have learnt well, and know what they’re doing with the herbs, they might just put the quacks out of business. Moreover they stand to restore to the village the ancient wisdom of well-being, and return to the soil old seeds of life.

GREEN COVER It is the job of health workers Tulsa Hapse (in red) and Kishni Borkya Hapse to nurture herbal gardens in Banubaiwadi (inset) the locally-prepared tooth powder, Nirgundi oil and hair oil

- joeanna rebello fernandes tnn

Church-run institutes win top award

November 4, 2011 by admin  
Filed under Asia, Bangladesh, Christian Contribution, newsletter-asia

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Bangladesh, Won a Prestigious Government AwardBangladesh, November 3, 2011: Four Church-run educational institutions in Dhaka, Bangladesh, won a prestigious government award on November 2 for their outstanding achievements this year.

Notre Dame College, St. Joseph Higher Secondary School, Holy Cross College, and Holy Cross Girls’ High School ranked 5th, 6th, 8th and 13th respectively in this year’s Top 20 Educational Institutes Awards given out by the Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board.

All four Church institutions are run by Holy Cross Congregation.

Education minister Nurul Islam Nahid handed out the prizes to the winning institutions’ headmasters and senior representatives at the board’s office in Dhaka.

He said teachers are playing a great role in implementing the government’s Vision 2021: Digital Bangladesh campaign and called on them to offer encouragement to other schools to improve their achievements.

He added that the nation can’t move forward if only a few institutions are doing well.

Vision 2021 is an ambitious campaign by the government to make Bangladesh fully digitized by 2021.

Board chairman professor Fahima Khatun said all the institutions met the necessary criteria needed to be eligible for the award which included: “study environment, academic performance, attendance and discipline.”

The Church school heads said the award will inspire everyone at their institutions and also is a wake-up call to move forward.

“It will encourage us to work better. I believe those places that are not doing well will follow our example and eventually the standard of education in the country will go up,” said Notre Dame College principal Father Benjamin Costa after receiving the award.

- ucan

Bengal Church to educate youth in “sensitive areas”

November 2, 2011 by admin  
Filed under Christian Contribution, India, newsletter-india, West Bengal

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Nun's from BengalWest Bengal, October 31, 2011: Catholic bishops and Religious of West Bengal have decided to promote education among youths living in the eastern Indian state’s “sensitive areas.”

A four-day joint meeting of the prelates with priests and nuns that ended on October 28 decided to open four high schools and two technical schools in the eastern Indian state’s Maoist-affected areas and tea estates.

The regional unit of Conference of Religious India (CRI) and the state’s bishops would soon meet to work out the formalities, Sister Gracy Sunder, an organizer of the meet, told ucanews.com.

The Holy Cross of Chavanod nun, who is CRI’s regional president, recalled that a similar meet last year had decided to study the plight of tribal people in Midnapore district because of Maoist infiltration and those living in tea estates at the foothills of Darjeeling.

That meet had formed two teams to study the problems and propose suggestions.

Some 75 people, including six bishops, attended the latest meeting at Our Lady of Happy Voyage Basilica, Bandel, 45 kilometers east of Kolkata, the state capital, that discussed the theme, “Working towards justice, peace and reconciliation/ harmony in the context of struggle of our people in West Bengal and Sikkim.”

Claretian Father Michael Pandian, who coordinated the committee to study the problems in Maoist areas, said people there need qualitative higher education to stop the youth joining the ultras. He wants the Church to train the young in leadership skills through its educational institutions.

Father Pandian also noted that many people suffer from lack of medicare facilities and malnutrition.

The joint forum of bishops and Religious has gone ahead with schools with hostels even if it does not get government aid.

Jesuit Father Joe Victor, who coordinated the other study, noted that many people have lost jobs because of the closure of tea estates. The Midnapore district has some 360 tea estates.

He wants the Church to educate the workers about their rights, while continuing with its pastoral, educational and healthcare works.

Most workers in these estates are tribal and Nepali people.

The joint forum has decided to open an office with full time staff to coordinate Church intervention in the area.

- julian s das, bandel

Colorful tribute to Mother Teresa

October 25, 2011 by admin  
Filed under Christian Contribution, India, newsletter-india, Services, West Bengal

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A painting of Mother Teresa by Ritu SinghWest Bengal, October 25, 2011: A Kolkata-based painter held a week-long solo exhibition on Mother Teresa in the City of Joy.

Ritu Singh documented Mother Teresa’s selfless work for the poorest of the poor through her 45 paintings executed over a period of almost 50 years. An artist and a long-time associate of Mother Teresa, Singh organized the exhibition to mark her 101st birth anniversary. Though the entire exhibition, which concluded yesterday, was a ‘shraddhanjali’ to Blessed Teresa, one of her paintings has an offering of flowers at Mother’s feet as she enters Singh’s home.

Viewers at the gallery were surprised to see Mother Teresa in a series of 12 paintings depicting the zodiac signs. Another painting has Mother Teresa amidst clouds to signify that she is leaving the world and going to heaven. A painting titled ‘Prarthana’ (prayer) captures Mother in a meditative mood wearing a crown of thorns.

“It is symbolic to show that she was surrounded by agony,” Singh said.

One of the paintings (Come Be My Light) was presented to Pope John Paul II at the Vatican on October 19, 2003, on the occasion of Mother’s beatification. Another painting shows the transformation of Mother Teresa from a stern sister running a school to an ever-smiling mother. All paintings are done in mixed media – ink, acrylic, pastel, charcoal and thin oil and make portraits of Mother come with a glaze finish.

“I grew up with Mother right from when I was a nine-year-old. It is a special mother-daughter relationship. Every day with the Mother was like a miracle,” Singh said.

“My mother would often accompany Mother Teresa to slums and I would be left behind at the Mother House, under the supervision of the sisters. I was always looked upon as Mother’s daughter. As I waited for my mother to return, I would sketch Mother and the sisters. That’s how I developed a passion for art and later took it up as a profession,” she added.

- cm paul