Catholic News in Asia

Orissa, India, Aug 17, 2017 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Nine years ago, Christians in the Kandhamal district of Odisha, India suffered the worst attacks against Christians in modern times in the country.

Around 100 people lost their lives and more than 56,000 lost their homes and places of worship in a series of violent riots by Hindu militants that lasted for several months.

But since the devastation, the local area has seen an “unprecedented” increase in religious vocations, including Sr. Alanza Nayak, who became the first woman from her area to join the order of the Sisters of the Destitute.  

Sr. Nayak told Matters India that she decided to dedicate her life to God through the poor and needy after she heard “how a herd of elephants meted out justice to the victims of Kandhamal anti-Christian violence.”

A tenth-grader at the time of the attacks, Sr. Nayak said she remembers escaping to the nearby forest so she wouldn’t be killed.

A year after the attacks, a herd of elephants came back to the village and destroyed the farms and houses of those who had persecuted the Christians.

“I was convinced it was the powerful hand of God toward helpless Christians,” Sister Nayak told Matters India. The animals were later referred to as “Christian elephants,” she added.

After completing her candidacy, postulancy and novitiate with the order, Sr. Nayak took her first profession on October 5, 2016, at Jagadhri, a village in Haryana. She is now a member in the Provincial House, Delhi.

On January 26, more than 3,000 people from Sr. Nayak’s village of Mandubadi, honored her with a special Mass and festivities.

Her mother told Matters India that she was “extremely fortunate” that God has called her daughter for “His purpose.”

Sister Janet, who accompanied Sister Alanza at the thanksgiving Mass, said that while materially poor, the people of the area are “rich in faith, brotherhood and unity.”

The congregation of Sisters of Destitute was founded on March 19, 1927, by Fr. Varghese Payyapilly, a priest of Ernakulum archdiocese. It has 1,700 members who live in 200 communities spread over six provinces.

The violence against Christians in the Kandhamal district has been religiously motivated. It started after the August 2008 killing of a highly revered Hindu monk and World Hindu Council leader, Laxshmanananda Saraswati, and four of his aides.

Despite evidence that Maoists, not Christians, were responsible for Saraswati's murder, Hindu militants seeking revenge used swords, firearms, kerosene, and even acid against the Christians in the area in a series of riots that continued for several months.

While the intensity of the violence has subsided since the 2008 attacks, violence against Christians in Kandhamal has continued.

In July 2015, Crux reported on two unconfirmed reports of two Christians who were shot to death by local police in the district while they were on a hilltop, seeking out a better mobile phone signal to call their children, just one example of the ongoing hatred of Christians in the district.  

Rev. Ajaya Kumar Singh, a Catholic priest who heads the Odisha Forum for Social Action, told Crux that such violence is common in a place where the social elites are upper-caste Hindus and the Christians are largely lower-class “untouchables” and members of indigenous tribes.

“There’s a double hatred,” Singh said. “Because Christians are from the lowest caste, they’re untouchable, and because they’re Christians they’re seen as anti-national … they’re treated worse than dogs.”


This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 7, 2017.

Posted: August 17, 2017, 6:02 am

Karachi, Pakistan, Aug 11, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Sr. Ruth Pfau, a German-born Catholic missionary who devoted her life to eradicating leprosy in Pakistan, died Thursday at the age of 87.

A few days prior, she had been hospitalized in Karachi due to complications related to old age.

Pakistani leaders mourned the Aug. 10 loss of the doctor and religious sister, and praised her contributions in fighting the disfiguring disease that usually leads to the ostracization of its victims.

"Pfau may have been born in Germany, her heart was always in Pakistan," Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said in a statement.  

Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussein said Sr. Ruth’s dedication to ending leprosy in Pakistan “cannot be forgotten. She left her homeland and made Pakistan her home to serve humanity. Pakistani nation salutes Dr. Pfau and her great tradition to serve humanity will be continued.”

Harald Meyer-Porzky from the Ruth Pfau Foundation in Würzburg said Sr. Pfau had "given hundreds of thousands of people a life of dignity".

Sr. Pfau was born in Leipzig in 1929, but her childhood home was destroyed by bombing during World War II. After the war, her family escaped the communist regime in East Germany and moved to West Germany, where Sr. Pfau studied medicine.

After joining the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, Sr. Pfau was sent to India to join a mission in 1960. On her way there, she was held up due to visa issues for some time in Karachi, where she first encountered leprosy, an infectious disease that causes severe, disfiguring skin sores and nerve damage in the arms, legs, and skin areas around the body.

In 1961, Sr. Pfau travelled to India where she was trained in the treatment and management of leprosy. Afterwards, she returned to Karachi to organize and expand the Leprosy Control Program.   She founded the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre in Karachi, Pakistan's first hospital dedicated to treating the disease, which today has 157 branches across the country.

"Well if it doesn't hit you the first time, I don't think it will ever hit you," she told the BBC in 2010 about her first encounter with leprosy.

"Actually the first patient who really made me decide was a young Pathan. He crawled on hands and feet into this dispensary, acting as if this was quite normal, as if someone has to crawl there through that slime and dirt on hands and feet, like a dog."

"The most important thing is that we give them their dignity back," she told the BBC at the time.

She was also known for rescuing children with leprosy, who had been banished to caves and cattle pens for years by their parents, who were afraid of contracting the disease themselves.

Sr. Pfau trained numerous doctors in the treatment of leprosy, and in 1996 the World Health Organization declared that leprosy had been controlled in the country. Last year, the number of patients under treatment for leprosy in Pakistan fell to 531, down from 19,398 in the 1980s, according to the Karachi daily Dawn.

"It was due to her endless struggle that Pakistan defeated leprosy," the German Consulate Karachi posted on Facebook after learning of Sr. Pfau’s death.

The nun won many honors and awards for her work, both from Pakistan and Germany. In 1979, the Pakistani government appointed her Federal Advisor on Leprosy to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.

The Pakistani government also honored her with the Hilal-e-Imtiaz, one of the highest awards available to citizens, in 1979, and the Hilal-e-Pakistan in 1989. She was granted Pakistani citizenship in 1988. In 2002 she won the Ramon Magsaysay Award, regarded as Asia’s Nobel prize.

She also authored several books about her experiences, including To Light A Candle, which has been translated into English. Another book by Sr. Pfau, titled The Last Word is Love: Adventure, Medicine, War and God, will be available in November.

Sr. Pfau’s funderal is scheduled for Aug. 19 at St Patrick's Cathedral in Karachi, and she will be buried at the Christian cemetery in the city.

Posted: August 11, 2017, 12:01 pm

Shanghai, China, Aug 10, 2017 / 05:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A cardinal who helped change Catholic missionary work in China is now a possible candidate for beatification. 

Cardinal Celso Costantini became the first apostolic delegate to China in 1922.

The situation in China was particularly complex in the wake of European colonialism and the end of the opium trade. Christian missionaries were suspected of being foreign agents. Tens of thousands of Christian civilians, predominantly Chinese Catholics, were killed in the Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1901.

For its part, France considered the Catholic missions in the land to be under its direct protection, despite its recently approved constitution rigidly separating Church and State.

Then-Bishop Costantini was called not only to navigate the complex political situation, but also to work for a change in the mentality with which the missionary work was being carried out. 

His appointment to China came not long after Pope Benedict XV’s 1919 apostolic letter “Maximum Illud,” which many believe changed forever the idea of Catholic missions.

The novelty of the apostolic letter was that “Benedict XV underscored that mission territory was not about a place or a religion to be conquered, but rather a place to proclaim the Gospel in order to give all the people a chance to hear the Word of God,” Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of People, told CNA.

Cardinal Costantini implemented this vision in China.

In his apostolic letter, Benedict XV asked bishops and superiors in charge of Catholic missions to train, educate and ordain local clergy, and reminded missionaries that they have no other goal than the spiritual one.

Then-Bishop Costantini called the first Chinese National Council, which took place in the Xuijaui Cathedral in Shanghai from May 14 to June 12, 1924.

The council gathered 44 ordinary bishops coming from all over China. No political matters were discussed during that meeting.

The gathering approved a final document with 861 canons (paragraphs) that addressed the need to train a local Church with a local clergy. It voiced hope that Chinese-born bishops would be appointed soon, and recognized that missionaries were just transients. The document noted the importance for missionaries to learn the Chinese language and the need to respect the Chinese tradition.

Although it received little attention elsewhere, the Chinese National Council paved the way to a renewed organization of the Church in China.

According to Cardinal Costantini’s postulators, if the Church in China was able to go underground after the Communist revolution and remain strong until now, is mostly due to the work of the missionary bishop.

The opening of the diocesan phase for his beatification has consequences today: it is reviving the discussion around the difficult current situation between China and the Holy See.

The cardinal was born in 1876 and ordained a priest in 1899. He led an ordinary priestly ministry in his native region of Veneto for 14 years. Then in 1920 he was sent as apostolic delegate to Fiume, a former Italian city that came under Yugoslavia administration after the First World War.

Ordained a bishop in 1921, he was appointed the first apostolic delegate to China the next year.

His time in China witnessed continued changes.

In June 15, 1926, Pope Pius XI sent to the Church of China the letter “Ab Ipsia,” in which he emphasized that missionaries did not serve the interest of foreign nations. He announced that soon native-born bishops would be ordained. The new bishop, the Pope said, had the task to cooperate with apostolic vicars in China for the prosperity of their country.

Pius XI ordained the first six Chinese bishops Oct. 28, 1926, at St. Peter’s Basilica.

The ordination of Chinese-born bishops drew varied reactions among missionaries in China. Some of them, like Bishop Costantini, welcomed the move, while others showed some hostility to the Pope’s decision. Parts of the Diocese of China were directly entrusted to missionary orders, some of which felt they were losing “territory.”

As for the Church’s missionary vision, in February 1926, Pius XI issued the encyclical “Rerum Ecclesiae,” which confirmed the guidelines established by “Maximum Illud.”

Bishop Costantini returned to Italy in 1933, but he kept on working for the cause of the Church in China.

Appointed secretary of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, he backed the translation of the missal into Chinese in order to help faithful to understand the Mass, which at the time was said only in Latin.

After a few years, he saw the fruits of his work.

In 1941 and 1942 came two decrees of the Holy Office, now known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. These approved the use of the local language to celebrate the sacraments in New Guinea, China, Japan, Indochina, India and Africa. Then in 1949 the Holy Office approved the use of Chinese language in the celebration of the Mass.

The Holy See established the ordinary ecclesiastical hierarchy in China in 1946. The Chinese territory was divided in 20 archdioceses, 85 dioceses and 34 apostolic prefectures.

In 1953, Celso Costantini was made a cardinal by Pius XII. He passed away in 1958.

Posted: August 10, 2017, 11:08 pm

Washington D.C., Aug 9, 2017 / 06:17 am (CNA/EWTN News).- What can a missionary in North Korea do to preach the Gospel in a Communist dictatorship? Simply care for the sick patients he is there to help, says one priest in that situation.

“We are the message of the Gospel, and we try to imitate it,” Fr. Gerard Hammond, M.M. of the Maryknoll Missionaries told CNA of his work in North Korea ministering to multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis patients.

“How did people recognize the first Christians?” he asked. “Well they recognized them because they saw their love and concern for themselves and the small, tiny community.”

“If you can just show a little love and concern, say, for the multi-drug-resistant TB patients in North Korea, you are fulfilling what the early Christians did.”

Fr. Hammond was honored by the Knights of Columbus with the Gaudium et Spes Award last week for his missionary work in North Korea treating those suffering from multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis.

The Knights of Columbus is an international Catholic men’s organization with over 1.9 million members worldwide. The Gaudium et Spes Award, named after one of the four constitutions of the Second Vatican Council “on the church in the modern world,” is the highest honor given by the Knights and is “awarded only in special circumstances and only to individuals of exceptional merit.”

St. Teresa of Calcutta was the first person to receive the Gaudium et Spes Award in 1992. The award includes an honorarium of $100,000.

Fr. Hammond entered the seminary for the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers in 1947 and was ordained a priest in 1960. “I had always wanted to become a priest,” he told CNA.

He was assigned to Korea as a young missionary. “It was never said in my mission assignment ‘north’ or ‘south,’” he said, adding that same is true of assignments given to “the nuncios that come to Korea,…the Church is always thinking…not North or South, it’s Korea, or the Korean people.”

However, when he first received his assignment to Korea, Fr. Hammond realized the challenges that awaited him.

“My spiritual director said to me two things. One, he said your trust in God is weak, which is true. Another thing is to know your limitations.”

He recalled his father telling him, “Well, I don’t know what you’re going to do over there, but you can hardly screw in a lightbulb. I don’t know how you’re going to live there.”

“Thanks for the affirmation, it makes me feel good!” he laughed.

He boarded a cargo ship at San Francisco, which made the trek across the Pacific Ocean to Korea. “But as I went up to the top deck and I kept looking at San Francisco. The lights got dimmer and dimmer and I got more panic-stricken, turned around (and) there’s nothing but darkness in front of me,” he said.

“So as a human I had a lot of tears in my eyes. ‘Well, I guess I’m in involved, I guess it’s too late, I can’t swim back’.”

Yet when he arrived, he experienced the aspects of mission life in a foreign culture that can be overwhelming. “You really know your limitations when you’re in a foreign environment. You have to get used to the food, the way people think – it’s everything, it’s different. Especially in Asia,” he said.

Yet, he also felt “the romance of a mission.”

“When people are in love you notice it right away,” he said.  “And a missionary has to fall in love somehow with the people he came to serve. And one way to be able to do that is learning the language.”

Learning the language takes time, Fr. Hammond said, with a few humorous anecdotes of when he mixed up words that sound very similar to each other but have vastly different meanings.

Once in the confessional, he said he told one young person after another to pray a decade of the rosary as their penance. Yet because of how he pronounced his words, their literal translation was to go have a beer.

“So you go through the anger and frustration, all the things that any human person does, and then all of the sudden a Korean comes along and they help you say a few words, you gradually work into it,” he said.

To be a missionary is “to be like the bamboo tree,” he said, “because what’s important about the bamboo tree is they put their roots down deeply and they’re usually in a grove together. And that’s what I think a missionary is – we must put our roots in deeply, but it takes time. You can’t do it overnight.”

There are two languages missionaries must learn, he said – the language of the people they serve, and “the language of the heart.”

“I have to say this prayer every day when I get up: ‘Lord, make my heart be like a Korean’,” he said.

For decades, Fr. Hammond has served in Korea. He makes trips twice a year, in the fall and in the spring, into North Korea with the Eugene Bell Foundation to treat persons suffering from multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis. Over the course of three weeks, the staff visits 12 tuberculosis centers in four provinces in the western half of the country.

Since 1995, Fr. Hammond has made 50 trips into North Korea to treat patients. “Not one of them [the trips] has ever been the same,” he said. “There’s always some difficulty or something that you don’t expect. But I like to think of them sometimes in a more spiritual way, God loves to send us surprises.”

Many people in the area test positive for tuberculosis, which is contagious through the air and can lie dormant for decades and attack when a person’s immune system is weak, Dr. Stephen Linton, founder and president of the Eugene Bell Foundation, said.

In North Korea, “virtually everyone over 20 has had a brush with TB,” he said, and several hundred thousand people per year are treated for it by the United Nations.

However, a particularly serious strain of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis is able to withstand the normal six-month drug treatments, and around 4-5,000 people develop this disease per year in North Korea. Those suffering from it have “failed treatment multiple times” and are “critically ill,” Dr. Linton said, and will die within five years unless they receive the medication necessary to treat it. The international cure rate is only 48 percent.

The foundation treats around 1,200 patients per year for 18 months, at a cost 100 times that of treating regular tuberculosis, Dr. Linton said. The work must be done outside to prevent the airborne spread of the disease within an enclosed space, which means the work is sometimes done in the rain or in the North Korean winter.

“I just happened to be with people who, as our Holy Father Francis is saying, go to the peripheries,” Fr. Hammond said of his mission work. “And I think that’s where we should be, simply where suffering is.”

“That doesn’t mean everyone should or must go to North Korea,” he said. “To me, it’s very practical that anybody can be a missionary, as long as you’re not centered on yourself, but centered on ‘how can I make myself better and spiritually strong’.”

He cannot proselytize in a country where freedom of religion is ruthlessly suppressed. Yet Fr. Hammond shows the love of Christ simply through risking his own health to treat seriously ill patients.

The Korean War of 1950-53 never technically ended, but only stopped with a truce. A 2.5 mile-wide de-militarized zone separates North and South Korea, heavily armed and manned with soldiers. “Peace” between the two countries, and not just a truce, is “desperately needed,” he said.

“The result of not having peace is a catastrophe,” he said. The capital city of Seoul, South Korea, has 10 million inhabitants and stands within artillery range of the DMZ. Any military conflict between the two countries would result in a “horrendous” number of civilian casualties.

“What are the ingredients, in one sense, for peace?” the priest reflected. “Reconciliation between the peoples of the North and the South. That the people come together.” Both countries, he said, have “the same language, the same culture” and the peninsula “was never divided as a country” until the 20th century.

Families are divided as well. “There are (family members) that they’ve never heard about,” he said, “there’s no communication.”

“Dialogue” between the countries is also key, he said. “They use the word ‘dialogue’ often, but also it means people-to-people contact. So that it can be done with sports, young people meeting up, professors on a non-political area, history teachers, teachers themselves, the young people meeting each other.”

Although he has served in Korea for decades, he does not plan to stop soon. “I hope in the remaining years of my life to be, in a sense, an apostle of peace, an apostle of hope to the people who have no voice,” he said.

“I’d like to be able to die there, because these are the people I baptized,” he said of South Korea. “These are the people I’ve buried, so why shouldn’t I be part of that?”


Posted: August 9, 2017, 12:17 pm

Hagatna, Guam, Aug 8, 2017 / 04:55 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Nearly 100 lawsuits have accused Catholic clergy in Guam of sex abuse over a 50 year timespan, alleging assault, manipulation and intimidation of the alleged victims, according to a new report.

The accused include Archbishop Anthony Apuron, 13 Guam priests, a Catholic schoolteacher, a Catholic school janitor and a Boy Scout leader. The Archdiocese of Agana is a defendant in 96 lawsuits, which concern claims from 1955 to 1994, reports the USA Today Network’s Pacific Daily News.

“We care deeply about every person who steps forward and we look forward to a full resolution of all cases,” the archdiocese said July 28, saying it takes all allegations “very seriously.”

The large number of lawsuits is in part due to the actions of lawmakers in September 2016, when they retroactively eliminated the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits involving child sexual abuse. The criminal statute of limitations, which cannot be applied retroactively, was lifted in 2011.

About 85 percent of Guam’s population of 163,000 people is Catholic, served by 26 parishes. The island is only 30 miles long and about one-fifth the size of Rhode Island. All eight of Guam’s trial judges have recused themselves because they have family or business ties with either the plaintiffs or the defendants in the suits.

The charges against the archbishop allege sexual abuse of four altar boys in the 1970s. Archbishop Apuron, 71, has denied the charges and his attorney has filed motions to dismiss the lawsuits.

In June 2016, Pope Francis stripped the archbishop of his authority and named a temporary apostolic administrator, reportedly at Archbishop Apuron’s request.

The archbishop is facing a church trial that could dismiss him from the clergy. The presiding judge at the tribunal was Cardinal Raymond Burke, former prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.

In October 2016 the Pope named Archbishop Michael Byrnes of Detroit to run the archdiocese. He is designated to succeed Archbishop Apuron eventually.

The archdiocese responded to abuse charges in a November 2016 statement, saying “The Church on Guam has a duty and desire to render pastoral care to all of its faithful, most especially those who have been severely wounded by those holding trusted positions in our Archdiocese. We are strengthening our work in this area and pledge to provide a safe environment for all children and all people entrusted in our care.”

The Boy Scouts of America is a co-defendant in 52 lawsuits. One accused priest served as a scoutmaster. Altar boys were sometimes required to join the Boy Scouts, and scouts were encouraged to serve in the church. The organization is accused of ignoring abuse and enabling clergy to exploit boys.

The elimination of the statute of limitations for lawsuits is facing challenge from attorneys representing  the archdiocese, Archbishop Apuron, the Boy Scouts, retired Bishop Thomas Camacho of Saipan, and Rev. David Anderson. The attorneys have argued the law is unconstitutional.

A federal judge temporarily halted most of the clergy abuse lawsuits to allow for a process for out-of-court settlements. Church-owned properties could be sold to finance any settlements.

Fr. Louis Brouillard, 96, now living in Minnesota, is accused of abuse in 55 lawsuits. He served on Guam from 1948 to 1981, including time as a scoutmaster. In October 2016, he admitted to sexually abusing 20 or more boys in an affidavit obtained by an investigator employed by attorney David Lujan. Lujan is representing 75 plaintiffs in the lawsuits.

In the affidavit the priest said that fellow clergy, including then-bishop Apollinaris Baumgarter, who passed away in 1970, knew of his actions. They told him to “try to do better” and to say prayers in penance, he claimed.

One of Fr. Brouillard’s accusers said that in 1975 the priest told him, “If you tell anyone, no one will believe you because I am a priest.”

According to some lawsuits, alleged victims said they were too scared to tell their parents, or reported the abuse to adults but weren’t believed. Two lawsuits said that accusers reported the abuse to police, but the Guam Police Department says it has no records of these reports.

Some lawsuits charge that alleged abusers told their victims the sexual acts were penance or needed to earn Boy Scout merit badges.

A Church-run counseling program, called “Hope and Healing Guam,” aims to provide help for victims.

Some lawsuits speak of the effect of the abuse on the alleged victims’ faith, with at least one victim reporting he has left the Church. Other alleged victims have not.

When the first group of former altar boys filed their lawsuit in 2016, their attorney Lujan said they “hope and pray that the Church flourishes for another 2,000 years.”

Guam resident Mae Reyes Ada, 74, told Pacific Daily News she sometimes feels embarrassed and guilty she did not speak out in the 1970s when she heard rumors of clergy abuse.

Ada has joined protests advocating Archbishop Apuron be permanently removed.

“The Church is going through purging and cleansing,” she said. “It takes somebody with a strong faith to fight this war.”

Another demonstrator at July 14 protests seeking the archbishop’s removal, 14-year-old Jaden Comon, said he was present “to help these people in their fight against the evils that have infiltrated our Church.”

Comon himself aspires to become a priest, saying, “It’s our responsibility, especially when we were baptized in the faith, to come and help.”


Posted: August 8, 2017, 10:55 pm

Vatican City, Aug 5, 2017 / 09:42 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Saturday, Pope Francis made several changes in the Syro-Malankara Church, found predominantly in India, establishing a new eparchy and naming several new bishops, as well as an apostolic visitor.

Announced in an Aug. 5 communique from the Vatican, the Pope has officially established the Eparchy of Parassala, a small village in the Kerala region of India, and named Bishop Thomas Mar Eusebios Naickamparambil as its bishop.

Bishop Naickamparambil was previously in charge of the Eparchy of Our Lady Queen of Peace for Syro-Malankara faithful in the United States and Canada.

Taking his place will be Bishop Stephanos Thottathil, who until now has served as auxiliary bishop of Tiruvalla, in India's southern state of Kerala, which is predominantly Christian.  

An eparchy is similar to a diocese for Eastern Churches. The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church itself is one of the 23 “sui iuris,” or “independent” Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the Catholic Church and the Bishop of Rome.

Cardinal Moran Mor Baselios Cleemis is the current Major Archbishop of the rite, and is also President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India.

In addition to the establishment of the Parassala eparchy and the nomination of its bishop, Pope Francis named Fr. George Kalayil as Bishop of the Eparchy of Puthur, also in Kerala. He had previously served as a priest in the same eparchy.

The Pope also named Fr. John Kuchuthundil as a Curial Bishop and Apostolic Visitor to the Syro-Malankara Church in Europe and Oceania, although no specific reason for the visitation was given.

Bishop Thottathil, who will be taking over the Our Lady Queen of Peace eparchy for the U.S. and Canada, was born in the Pathanamithitta district of Kerala May 9, 1952. He was ordained a priest in 1979, and after serving in various parish assignments, he obtained a doctorate in moral theology from the Alphonsian Academy in Rome.

He then returned to India, where between 2003-2005 he served in various roles, including Vice-Rector of his diocese's Minor Seminary, Head of the Mission to Delhi, Director of the Pushpagiri Hospital, Professor of Moral Theology, Dean of Theology and Rector of St. Mary's Malankara Major Seminary. He was consecrated auxiliary bishop of Tiruvalla March 13, 2010.

Bishop Naickamparambil, who will head the new eparchy in Parassala, was born June 6, 1961, in Mylapra, and was ordained a priest in 1986.

After completing his initial studies in philosophy and theology, he went on to earn his doctorate in philosophy in Rome. He speaks Malayalam, English, German, Italian and Hindi, and can read Syriac, Greek and French.

Following his priestly ordination and studies, Naickamparambil served in various roles, including: Vice Pastor and Pastor of several different parishes, Professor and then Dean of Philosophy at St. Mary's Malankara Major Seminary, Public Relations Officer, Coordinator for interreligious dialogue and Secretary of the presbyteral council, Director of the Sarvodaya Vidalaya school and Treasurer of the Mar Baselios College of Engineering and Technology.

He was named bishop in 2010 for the Syro-Malankara faithful in the United States, and, at the same time, named apostolic visitor of faithful living in Canada and Europe.

According to the Vatican communique, the new eparchy of Parassala that Bishop Naickamparambil will oversee has some 30,750 Syro-Malankara faithful in addition to 220,000 Christians of other rites in the area, which has a total population of roughly 952,500 people.

Overall, the pastoral care of the Syro-Malankara faithful is entrusted to some 22 eparchial priests in 95 parishes, in addition to various religious brothers and sisters, such as priests from the Order of the Imitation of Christ, the Franciscans, Daughters of Mary sisters, Sisters of Imitation of Christ and Sisters of the Sacred Heart.

In total, the Syro-Malankara Church manages more than 50 educational institutions, including 10 high schools.

Posted: August 5, 2017, 3:42 pm

Wellington, New Zealand, Aug 4, 2017 / 11:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A long-term inquiry submitted to New Zealand's parliament Wednesday did not recommend that assisted suicide and euthanasia be legalized in the country.

“We've tried to distil all the arguments and our recommendation to both the Parliament and the people of New Zealand is to read this report and come to a deeper understanding of what's been asked around assisted suicide and euthanasia,” Simon O’Connor, chair of the parliament's health committee, which prepared the report, said Aug. 2.

The report was an investigation of euthanasia and assisted suicide and attitudes toward them, prompted by a request from former New Zealand Labour Party MP and assisted suicide advocate Maryan Street.

A bill to legalize voluntary euthanasia has been introduced in the New Zealand parliament, but it is unlikely to be passed before the end of the legislature's term later this month, according to the New Zealand Herald.

Having faced moral opponents and concerns about safeguards in the past, euthanasia bills have previously failed in the country. The effort was renewed, however, in 2014 after a Wellington lawyer’s battle with brain cancer gained political and media attention.

Lecretia Seales had petitioned New Zealand's High Court for the right to assisted suicide, and died from her cancer. Street introduced a petition in favor of legalizing assisted suicide shortly thereafter.

The health committee's subsequent inquiry heard from some 22,000 submitters, 80 percent of whom were opposed to a change in legislation that would allow for assisted suicide and euthanasia.

“But I don't think this is simply a numbers game. It is about actually understanding the arguments for and against and making a decision about which ones are correct,” O'Connor said.

The primary argument against legalization, the report concluded, was that “the public would be endangered.”

“They cited concern for vulnerable people, such as the elderly and the disabled, those with mental illnesses, and those susceptible to coercion. Others argued that life has an innate value and that introducing assisted dying and euthanasia would explicitly undermine that idea. To do so would suggest that some lives are worth more than others. There were also concerns that, once introduced, eligibility for assisted dying would rapidly expand well beyond what was first intended.”

The report noted that “some of remain unconvinced that the models seen overseas provide adequate protection for vulnerable people.”

O'Connor commented that “it probably comes down to the simple question of 'How many errors would Parliament would be willing to accept in this space?'”

Other opponents, including the Care Alliance and Prime Minister Bill English, a practicing Catholic, have expressed concern that the bill would lead to the abuse of elderly, mentally ill, and disabled citizens, as well as undermine the dignity of the human person.

The health committee wrote in its report that “we were concerned to hear that there is a lack of awareness about the role of palliative care, that access to it is unequal, and that there are concerns about the sustainability of the workforce.”

They recommended that the government consider how “it can better communicate the excellent services that palliative carers provide, address the unequal access, consider how palliative care is funded, and address the workforce shortages.”

They also encouraged the government to improve access to grief counselling and similar services for those at risk of suicide.

The bill to legalize voluntary euthanasia was introduced by David Seymour, an MP of ACT New Zealand and the party's only MP. The bill would allow euthanasia for mentally sound adults suffering from grievous and incurable medical conditions who request it.

Voluntary euthanasia is supported by the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand.

The New Zealand National Party, which is the center of New Zealand's coalition government, has ruled out legalizing euthanasia.

The Labour party has said legalizing euthanasia is not among its priorities, and New Zealand First has said a change in the law should go through a referendum rather than parliament.

Posted: August 4, 2017, 5:39 pm

Melbourne, Australia, Aug 2, 2017 / 02:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholics and Christian leaders from several denominations have joined forces in the Australian state of Victoria to decry a bill in favor of assisted suicide, expected to be proposed and voted on later this year.

“Euthanasia and assisted suicide represent the abandonment of those who are in greatest need of our care and support,” read the letter, which was printed in The Herald Sun July 31.

The statement was written by leaders from the Greek and Coptic Orthodox churches, as well as Anglicans, Lutherans, and Catholics, including Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier, Orthodox Bishop Ezekiel of Dervis, and Catholic Archbishop Denis Hart.

The bill is expected to be introduced to Victoria's parliament later this year, and is among the more strict in terms of protocol.

An expert panel chaired by the former president of the Australian Medical Association, Brian Owler, included 68 safeguards in his recommendations for the bill, making it one of the most conservative proposals in the world.

If the legislation is passed, assisted suicide would be a three-step process in the state of Victoria, with at least 10 days between the initial and final request. It would begin with a vocal request, a written request, and end with a final verbal request.

Despite this, no “'safeguards' will ever guarantee that deaths under the proposed laws will be completely voluntary,” the Christian leaders said in their statement Monday. “There will always be a risk of error, fraud or coercion.”

“When euthanasia or assisted suicide is an ever-present – even if unspoken – option, how long will it be before the option becomes an expectation?”

In their letter, the leaders appealed to members of their faith, citing the 2.8 million Christians in Victoria, including 1.4 million Catholics and 530 thousand Anglicans, according to a 2016 statistic.

Last year, a cross-party committee of Victoria's Members of Parliament recommended that a law be drafted to legalize assisted suicide, and a debate is expected to follow the bills introduction later this year.

With an exception to the Victoria's Green party, all Victorian MP's will not have to vote along party lines, but may vote according to their conscience.

Posted: August 2, 2017, 8:11 pm

Manila, Philippines, Aug 2, 2017 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Brother Richie Fernando was a 26 year-old Jesuit seminarian from the Philippines when in 1996 he died protecting his Cambodian students from a hand grenade.

He is now on the road to sainthood, thanks to a norm issued by Pope Francis this summer that opens the door to canonization for those who have “voluntarily and freely offered their lives for others and have persevered until death in this regard.”

Father Antonio Moreno, head of the Jesuits in the Philippines, told Rappler July 30 that the order had received permission to begin the initial work of opening Brother Fernando’s cause for canonization.

Brother Richard (Richie) Fernando, S.J., arrived in Cambodia in 1995 to serve at a Jesuit mission which served people who had been disabled by polio, landmines, or other accidents.

According to the Jesuits of the Asia Pacific Conference, Richie quickly earned the trust of his young students as he learned their native language and took the time to listen to their stories of suffering.

One of his students was an orphan named Sarom, who became a soldier at 16 and was maimed by a landmine. Even while some at the mission found Sarom’s attitude troublesome, Richie wrote in letters to friends that Sarom still had a place in his heart.

On October 17, 1996, Sarom came to the mission school for a meeting with the school director and staff. While he had finished classes, he had asked to continue at the school, though his request was denied because school officials found him disruptive.

Angered, Sarom suddenly reached into his bag and pulled out a grenade, and moved towards a classroom full of students. The windows of the classroom were barred, so the students were trapped.

Brother Richie stepped behind Sarom and grabbed him to prevent him from throwing the grenade.

“Let me go, teacher; I do not want to kill you,” Sarom pleaded. But he dropped the grenade, and it fell behind him and Brother Richie, exploding and killing the Jesuit, who fell over Sarom, protecting him and everyone else in the school from the blast.

Just four days before he died, Riche had written a long letter to his friend and fellow Jesuit, Totet Banaynal SJ: “I know where my heart is. It is with Jesus Christ, who gave all for the poor, the sick, the orphan … I am confident that God never forgets his people: our disabled brothers and sisters. And I am glad that God has been using me to make sure that our brothers and sisters know this fact. I am convinced that this is my vocation.”

He had also once written about death in a retreat diary, in which he said: "I wish, when I die, people remember not how great, powerful, or talented I was, but that I served and spoke for the truth, I gave witness to what is right, I was sincere in all my works and actions, in other words, I loved and followed Christ,"

In 1997, Richie’s parents wrote to King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia, asking pardon for Sarom. Again, Sarom said he had never wanted to kill Richie, who he considered a friend.

While the Philippines is a Catholic-majority country, the island nation only claims two canonized saints thus far, both of whom died in the 17th century: St. Lorenzo Ruiz, a martyr of Nagasaki, and St. Pedro Calungsod, a martyr of Guam.

However, numerous causes have been opened in recent years, with many people in the various steps of the process of canonization.

On July 31, the feast of Jesuit founder St. Ignatius of Loyola, Fr. Moreno said Richie is among many Jesuits who have imitated Saint Ignatius, "offering themselves in the self-sacrificing service of God and his people."

In his memo to the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Moreno noted that "various expressions of devotion to Richie have sprung up and continued, not just in the Philippines and Cambodia but in other places as well."

This includes a Facebook group in his honor, named: "Friends of Bro. Richie R. Fernando SJ."

The next step for Brother Richie’s cause involves building a compelling case for his life of virtue through his writings, talks, and interviews with those who knew him, among other things.

"I ask the prayers of all in the Province to beg the Lord's gracious assistance in this process that, if he so wills, it may prosper for the benefit of his people," Fr. Moreno said.

Posted: August 2, 2017, 12:04 pm

New Delhi, India, Jul 22, 2017 / 06:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of India have offered their congratulations to the country's newly elected president, Ram Nath Kovind, urging him to live out the oath he will take to serve the well-being of the people.

India's presidency is largely a ceremonial role, while the prime minister is head of government and leader of the executive branch.

In a July 20 statement the Indian bishops congratulated Kovind, assuring him “of our prayers for his good health and for wisdom and strength that he might guide our beloved country towards peace, development and justice for all peoples.”

“We pray that God may assist him, that, as per the Oath of Office, he will strive 'to the best of his ability to preserve, protect and defend the constitution and the law, and that he will devote himself to the service and well-being of the people of the Republic of India.'”

The bishops closed their statement praying that under his leadership India would “march towards greater heights,” and again assured the president-elect of “our loyalty and support in the service of our country.”

India's presidential election was held July 17, with the final votes counted July 20. The term of the country's former president,  Pranab Mukherjee, is set to end July 24.

Kovind, part of India's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was backed by the governing National Democratic Alliance coalition, and ran against opposition candidate Meira Kumar of the Indian National Congress.

The president-elect is a Dalit and a lawyer, and has served in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament. Most recently he served in the largely ceremonial post of governor of Bihar state.

The election comes in wake of a recent uptick in the number of “mob lynchings” happening in India, in which members of the country's Hindu majority carry out acts of violence against those, typically from minority religions such as Islam, accused of killing cows, a sacred animal in the Hindu religion.

Attacks against minorities, particularly Christians and Muslims, are common in India. They include anything from jeering, violence, forced conversions, and the burning of property, and frequently go under-reported.

According to Al Jazeera, the mob lynching of Muslims began to gain wider public attention in 2015 when 52-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq was beat to death by an angry mob who accused the man of eating beef.

Since his death, attacks against Muslims related to the slaughtering of cows have increased, with multiple attacks against minorities reported in 2015 and 2016, and at least seven such incidents between March and May of this year.

The latest, Al Jazeera reports, was the June 22 murder of three Muslims in West Bengal who had been accused of smuggling cows, and the June 27 attack against a man accused of killing a cow. The man survived, but was rushed to the hospital in critical condition.

On July 16, around 40 religious leaders and intellectuals from across India gathered in Delhi to address the increase of violence,  a “disregard for the rule of law” and the spread of an “environment of hate” throughout the country.

Backed by the Indian bishops' conference, attendees urged the government to end “impunity which was at the root of the atmosphere of fear that stalks the land today” and threatens “not just secularism, but the Constitution and the democratic fabric of the country.”

They expressed their shock at the increased number of lynchings carried out on the pretext of protecting cows, stressing that in these cases, the state governments and police forces “acted against the guilty in an impartial manner.”

Past violence carried out against minorities in the country has largely been attributed to the radical Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, also referred to as the RSS.

They were established in 1925 with the goal of establishing “Hindutva,” or “Hindu-ness,” and have been banned three times in post-independence India, with all three bans eventually being lifted.

Critics of the group have often refered to them as a sectarian, militant group who believe in the supremacy of Hindus and who preach hate against Muslim and Christian minorities. Narendra Modi, elected India's prime minister in May 2014, was a full time worker with the RSS prior to his election.

As BJP spokesman in 2010, Kovind said that "Islam and Christianity are alien to the nation."

The RSS sits on the right-wing and has no official registration in India. However, they maintain strong ties with the BJP, of which president-elect Kovind is a part, raising questions as to how much action will be taken against minority violence in the future. Kovind is also close to the RSS.

Posted: July 22, 2017, 12:08 pm

Fuzhou, China, Jul 19, 2017 / 12:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the Catholic Church in China journeys toward a normalized relationship with the Holy See, one priest in dialogue with Chinese bishops has seen vast improvement in openness and dialogue on the part of leaders, both in the patriotic and underground Churches.

“That’s one very significant point, a growth in openness, a growth in the Christian churches. I think a second key change has been an openness of the Chinese to receive visitors to indeed dialogue with the Church here in Rome,” said Msgr. Anthony Figueiredo, who has been in personal contact with many Chinese bishops over the last decade.

“We know that in the last year there's been an official delegation that has gone to Beijing, and members have come here to Rome to talk about this openness in reaching some sort of accord.”

“And certainly that is the wish of the Chinese bishops; they wish openness, they wish dialogue, they wish help to come from the Church in Rome, the Church in the United States, to help them particularly in the area of formation,” he said.   

Msgr. Figueiredo holds a doctoral degree in theology and is a spiritual director at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He was formerly a staff member of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum.

At the invitation of the bishops in mainland China, he has been part of a small team helping to lead theological forums for the Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Conference in China for the last seven years.

The team, from the organization Caritas in Veritate International, includes Henry Cappello, the organization’s president, and Professor John Cavadini, director of the McGrath-Cavadini Institute for Church Life at Notre Dame University.

The 7th Theological Forum is taking place July 13-20 in Fuzhou. In 2016 the meetings included 24 bishops, apostolic administrators, rectors, and spiritual directors of seminaries.

One day was devoted to the theological and spiritual formation of about 120 lay faithful from both the patriotic and underground Churches.

Another day was a group lecture at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government think tank.

During the week they also met with lay Catholic leaders, such as those organizing various small group faith-based communities, doing missionary and charity work in Beijing, and one community that just opened a center for senior citizens.

“We're surprised when we go there that in our meetings, we're not simply meeting with members of the official Church, but also the underground Church,” Msgr. Figueiredo said.

According to the report on the 2016 meetings, the bishops said they took great encouragement from Pope Francis and from the Year of Mercy.

They also expressed “great hope” for the normalization of relations between the Church in China and the Holy See. “It was notable to observe the deep desire of the bishops for this normal relationship, and their sadness caused by the difficulties in the past,” the report stated.

Other observations noted in the report were the “great strides” of evangelical communities in mainland China, while the Catholic Church in the country appears to be growing much more slowly.

Part of the reason for this could be the visible disunity of the Church in China between the patriotic and underground Churches, as well as the struggle between the Vatican and the Chinese government over control of bishop appointments.

China and the Vatican have been in the midst of talks for some time now to reach an agreement on the appointment of bishops, which would be the first major step toward normalizing relations between the two.

It would also hopefully lead to the eventual unification of the patriotic Church and the underground Church, whose bishops are not recognized by the state.

This unity would be major for the impact of evangelization in China, Msgr. Figueiredo noted.

“It is certainly the wish of Jesus Christ that we all be one. He prayed for that at the Last Supper, so disunity is always a scandal. It's a scandal to those who do not believe. And certainly the underground Church coming together with the official Church – there are many, many things already happening.”

“There's so much that can be done; there's a thirst to hear the Christian message, there's a thirst for Jesus Christ. And the evangelization efforts of the Roman Catholic Church can certainly be helped by this unity.”

China, with 1.4 billion people, isn’t just a huge country, he said, it’s also “a country that needs to be evangelized.”

He noted that we usually think of China as a country of Buddhists or of Taoists, as it has been historically, but in recent years there has been a huge growth in Christianity, mainly in evangelical ecclesial communities. Numbers of Catholics are growing as well, but at a much slower rate.

There are currently around 100 million Christians in China, he explained, and about 12 million Catholics, half of whom belong to the patriotic Church and half to the underground Church.

The bishops who participated in the 2016 forum, according to the report, identified the main underlying problems of the Church in China as a rapid decrease in priestly vocations and the lack of adequate formation for priests, seminary rectors, spiritual directors, and bishops.

The lack of adequate preparation for marriage and the lack of ongoing spiritual support and formation material for young married couples were also considered to be ongoing difficulties for the Church.

“Imagine if we got Catholics (in China) to unite in formation, and providing that formation to even one Church our evangelization efforts would be much, much greater,” Msgr. Figueiredo said.

The reason the group goes to China each year is to communicate with the bishops about what has been happening in the Vatican, “and really, to answer their questions, what they specifically need.”

He wanted to emphasize that the Chinese bishops want outside help from the Vatican and the U.S., “they desire for us to help them.”

He concluded by quoting Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State: “We wish the good of Chinese Catholics, both of the underground and the official Church, we wish the good of Chinese society, and we wish the good of the whole of society, particularly as we look for peace.’”

“Unity can only help those three different levels.”


Alexey Gotovskiy contributed to this report.

Posted: July 19, 2017, 6:08 pm

Manila, Philippines, Jul 17, 2017 / 04:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Philippines is one of the most populous Catholic countries in the world. About 80 percent of the country's 100 million people belong to the faith.

Now, the country's Catholic bishops' conference has elected a new president: Archbishop Romulo Valles.

Since 2012 Archbishop Valles, 66, has headed the Archdiocese of Davao, on the southern Philippines island of Mindanao. Davao is the largest city in the region.

Over 60 percent of Mindanao’s total population is Catholic, while Muslims make up 20 percent. In the past the island has suffered a communist insurgency and an armed Moro separatist movement, Vatican Radio reports. The region is currently suffering an insurgency of Islamic insurgents who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and have captured Marawi City, burning the Catholic cathedral and taking hostage a Catholic priest and several church workers.

Archbishop Valles served as the most recent vice-president of the bishops’ conference. He has chaired the conference’s Commission on Liturgy.

His election took place at the beginning of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines' July 8-10 plenary assembly at the Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila.

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of the Manila-area Diocese of Caloocan was elected the conference vice-president.

The newly elected leaders will take office Dec. 1. The Philippines bishops' conference covers 86 ecclesiastical jurisdictions.

Archbishop Valles' archdiocese is the home base of controversial President Rodrigo Duterte, a past mayor of Davao City. The president has vocally insulted the bishops who criticized his harsh crackdown on drugs.

In his final keynote as conference president, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan stressed the need to reach out to society with an open hand.

“Closed fists do not love; they hurt. Closed fists do not touch, they strike and injure. Closed fists and prayer do not match,” he said.

Without mentioning by name President Duterte, Archbishop Villegas alluded to how the bishops had been “calumniated and slandered.”

“We have been cursed and ridiculed but you our shepherds have chosen to fly high when the mockers of the Church chose to go so low,” he said.

“I know that the values of an open hands, fortitude and listening will be same pastoral tools that we will use to serve and guide the flock of God,” he added.

Archbishop Villegas’ tenure included a massive earthquake in Bohol province and a major typhoon in the Visayas. Pope Francis visited in 2015. The country also hosted the 51st International Eucharistic Congress.

Politically, during the archbishop’s tenure the Philippines bishops clashed with previous president Benigno Aquino over a population control bill and over issues of corruption, Vatican Radio reports.

Posted: July 17, 2017, 10:23 pm

Kolkata, India, Jul 11, 2017 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Missionaries of Charity have patented the white and blue sari designed by Saint Teresa of Calcutta, obtaining a legal copyright recognizing the pattern as the intellectual property of the order.

Although it was never officially announced, the copyright had been granted the same day as Mother Teresa's Sept. 4, 2016 canonization as the culmination of a three year legal process.

According to the Press Trust of India, intellectual property attorney Biswajit Sarkar said that “the blue-designed border on the sari worn by nuns of Missionaries of Charity was recognized as Intellectual Property for the organization on September four, 2016, the day the Mother was canonized.”

“The Missionaries of Charity does not believe in publicity and as such it was not publicized,” he said, while stressing that “we are witnessing unscrupulous and unfair usage of the design across the globe” and so are trying “to spread awareness among people about the trademark.”

The sari, which is the habit of the Missionaries of Charity sisters, was designed by Mother Teresa when she went to the streets in 1948 to serve the poor. It is white with three blue stripes, the outer stripe being larger than the inner two.

Mother Teresa's blue border pattern “is a distinctive symbolic identity of (the) Missionaries of Charity under the concept of color trade mark protection,” Sarkar said.

The sisters sent their application to the Trade Marks Registry of the Indian government in December 2013, and after a three-year “stringent test of legal proceedings” the copyright registration was granted to coincide with the same day as Mother Teresa's canonization, despite the fact that it was a Sunday.

According to Sarkar, the copyright of the pattern of the saris worn by the Missionaries of Charity is unique, and marks the first time a uniform has been protected under intellectual property rights.

In an explanation of the meaning of the saris on the Missionaries of Charity website, Sr. Gertrude, the second nun to join the Missionaries of Charity after their foundation and who is since deceased, reflected on the symbolism of the design and how it came about.

She wrote that when she joined Mother Teresa April 26, 1949, “it was then that for the very first time in my life I saw her in her white sari with three blue borders.”

“And what a shock it was for me – Mother Teresa, a Loreto nun, my Headmistress was now dressed like a poor Bengali woman in a simple white cotton sari with three blue borders!” she said.

The shops where the nuns bought their first habits sold the white sari with either red, green or blue borders, and “Mother selected the blue border, for we associate the color blue with Mother Mary. It stands for purity.”

“Also in those days women who swept the streets used to wear a similar kind of a sari,” she said. “So Mother adopted a religious dress that was both symbolic and practical – it not only helped to identify ourselves with the poor, but was also suitable to Calcutta's searing climate.”

The sisters initially paid about 2.50 rupees ($0.04) for their saris, but once the order began to grow, it became hard to get them in large numbers.

Because of this, when the sisters in 1958 started the Gandhiji Prem Niwas project for leprosy patients, they noticed that many were out of work, and so bought looms and began paying the lepers to weave the saris for the order.

Since leprosy can't survive outside of human flesh, there was no danger of the nuns getting infected. The patients continue to work under strict medical supervision, and are paid by the sisters, who provide them with food, clothing, and medical care.

Regarding the significance of the colors chosen for the sari, the white stands for truth and purity, while the three blue stripes on the border signify the vows that the nuns take: the first represents poverty, the second obedience, and the third, broader band, represents the vows of chastity and wholehearted service to the poorest of the poor.

The cross sewn onto the left shoulder of the habit is symbolic of the fact that for the Missionaries of Charity, Christ on the Cross is the key to the heart.

Novices who join the order wear plain white saris with no stripes. Only after four years of formation, when they are ready to take their vows, do they receive the sari with the blue stripes. Each sister has only three saris.

Posted: July 11, 2017, 12:04 pm

Marawi, Philippines, Jul 10, 2017 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- As violent conflict unleashed by Islamic militants in the Filipino city of Marawi continues to rage, the nation's bishops have stressed that the problem is not a religious one, and have urged all faiths to work together for peace.

“We all cry from our hearts: War in Marawi, never again! War in Marawi, no more!” the Philippine bishops said in a July 10 statement.

They called for a return to peace and normalcy in Marawi as soon as possible, and questioned whether “the continued state of Martial Law, much more its extension, will bring this about.”

Furthermore, the bishops stressed their belief that the conflict, which has been raging since May, “is not religious.”

Despite the fact that Islamist militants incited the violence, the bishops pointed to “truly stunning stories of how Muslims have protected and helped Christians to escape from almost certain death.”

“Even now Christians are assisting thousands of Muslims who have fled from Marawi for safety. These are indisputable signs that there is no religious war,” they said, and condemned the militants “in the strongest terms possible, as did Islamic religious scholars in Mindanao.”

Militants of the Maute group stormed the city of Marawi, on the island of Mindanao, May 23. The group, formed in 2012, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2015.

Violence began after a failed army and police raid to capture Isnilon Hapilon, a local Islamist leader. The initial attack launched by Maute burned several buildings, including the Catholic cathedral and the bishop’s residence.

The militants still have about 100 civilian hostages, whom they use as human shields, ammunition carriers, and stretcher-barriers.

In a video released shortly after the attack, the vicar general of the Marawi territorial prelature, Fr. Teresito “Chito” Suganob, was featured in a video released one week after his capture appealing to President Rodrigo Duterte to withdraw the army and stop the airstrikes. Although he has yet to be released, he was seen alive a few days ago.

The majority of the city’s 200,000 people – mostly Muslim – have fled since its occupation. Nearly 400 people have been killed in the fighting in Marawi.

The government has said some of the militants appear to be from abroad, including countries like Russia, Indonesia, and Malaysia. However, according to officials there are indications other slain militants have come from the Middle East.

According to the Philippine bishops, the Maute group and its leaders, in pledging allegiance to ISIS, “have contradicted the fundamental tenets of Islam by abducting and hostaging, maiming and killing the innocent.”

The bishops urged Christians and all people of goodwill to be proactive in promoting interfaith dialogue “so that our various faiths may not be exploited and abused for the sake of terrorism or violent extremism.”

“Let parents, schools, churches and mosques ensure that none may be lured by the recruitment efforts of terrorists. Let us teach the young and the old that our faiths are meant for peace,” they said, adding that “no religion teaches the killing of innocent people simply because they belong to another religion.”

Quoting a 2007 letter on “the Common Word” issued by Islamic leaders throughout the world calling for peace between Muslims and Christians, the bishops said “the basis for peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God and love of neighbor.”

They then cited several biblical passages on love of God and neighbor before urging action in showing solidarity with those who have fled Marawi and those who have been taken hostage.

“Let us be vigilant and alert, helping our security forces thwart the threats of terrorism in other areas of Mindanao. Let us help the government rebuild the city of Marawi so that its citizens may return and restore their broken lives.”

The bishops then entrusted efforts for peace and religious harmony to the intercession of Mary, who is “praised and honored” not only by Christians, but also in the Quran.


Posted: July 10, 2017, 10:30 pm

Pakse, Laos, Jun 29, 2017 / 03:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- When selecting new cardinals, Pope Francis has often sought to go to the “peripheries” of the Church, which is particularly notable in his elevation of Cardinal Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun of Paksé.

Cardinal Ling's local Church is an apostolic vicariate in Laos, a communist country of southeast Asia where Catholics make up only about one percent of the population. He is the first cardinal to hail from the nation.

The newly-minted cardinal’s resume includes a number of issues of keen interest for Francis, including evangelization, pastoral aid for the faithful where the Church is persecuted, a use of dialogue in diplomatic relations, and a concern for the environment.

Born in Laos in 1944, Cardinal Ling attend a seminary of the Voluntas Dei Institute (associated with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate) in Canada, and was ordained a priest of the Vicariate Apostolic of Vientiane in 1972, three years before the communist takeover of the country.

He was appointed vicar apostolic of Paksé in 2000, and consecrated a bishop the following year. He was elevated to the cardinalate June 28.

Cardinal Ling’s ministry in the majority-Buddhist country has been greatly varied as he has responded to the unique challenges facing the Church and the people there. Catholics number just over a mere 45,000 in the country of 7 million, and are served by only 33 priests.

“We are in the minority as Catholics, but we understand each other always; whether you are a cardinal or not, you are the same, you have to be simple and really with the people,” he told CNA.

Given such a small Catholic population, Cardinal Ling, 73, has long placed importance on catechesis and evangelization. Many married missionaries, as well as the country’s seminarians, go into villages to minister to the Catholic flock there. He is also described as placing an emphasis on integrating Christianity into the local culture in order to promote harmony with the religious majority of the country.

The communist takeover in 1975 posed a great challenge for the Church in Laos, which, anticipating persecution, stopped or scaled back many of its public liturgies and catechetical programs. Foreign missionaries were expelled. However, a surprisingly tolerant government has since allowed for the re-growth of the Church. However, the Church still faces challenges from the powers that be.

“The Church is treated very poorly in Laos – probably the worst in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) save for Brunei,” a “well-place[d] diplomat source” told UCA News in May.

Cardinal Ling is noted for having good relationships with government authorities. Despite challenges, the cardinal holds out hope for the future of his flock. While Laos is one of the few countries lacking full diplomatic relations with the Vatican, progress has been made in the recent past, and the presence of a Laotian in the College of Cardinals will offer a prime opportunity for continued building of these relationships.

Fr. Raphael Tran Xuan Nhan of Vietnam, who has worked in Laos since 2005, described Bishop Ling to UCA News as a “kind, friendly, wise and open-minded man” who is “interested in evangelization work and welcomes all foreign missionaries to his country.” He describes the cardinal's diplomatic approach as “dialogue rather than confrontation.”

The beatification of 17 martyrs from the region, killed by communist forces in the second half of the twentieth century, was yet another sign of warming Church-state relations, as well as providing a sense of renewal for local Catholics.

The new cardinal has also spoken out of concern for the environment, responding to fast-paced deforestation in the region.

“Now we are starting to destroy ourselves,” he said, as reported by UCA News. “It’s not from climate change itself but [it is] coming from human beings and humans doing something very wrong to destroy the earth.”

The elevation of Ling to the College of Cardinals represents a peripheral perspective from a long-time pastor with broad experience in many of the challenges facing the Church today.

Alexey Gotovskiy contributed to this report.

Posted: June 29, 2017, 9:45 pm
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