Catholic News in Asia

Marawi, Philippines, Jun 27, 2017 / 09:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Captured priest Father Teresito “Chito” Suganob was seen alive on Sunday in a part of a Philippines city under Islamist militant control, Agence France Presse reports.

“We don’t have details of his health. We were just told that he was sighted alive,” military spokesman Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera told reporters in Marawi, citing reports from rescued civilians.

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.

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

Father Suganob, who is vicar general of the Marawi territorial prelature, was featured in a video released one week after his capture. He appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte to withdraw the army and stop the airstrikes.

Several bishops, including Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, have appealed for the hostages’ release.

Most of the city’s 200,000 people have fled since its occupation. Nearly 400 people have been killed in the fighting in Marawi.

The city is mostly Muslim. An eight-hour truce on Sunday allowed residents to celebrate the end of Ramadan, but military air and artillery bombardment of militant enclaves resumed with the truce’s end.

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

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

Posted: June 27, 2017, 3:04 pm

Manila, Philippines, Jun 27, 2017 / 12:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Last week, members of a terrorist group destroyed a Catholic chapel, desecrating consecrated hosts and religious icons, during a nine-hour long attack on the town of Malagakit in southern Philippines.

The June 21 attack was reportedly carried out by about 300 gunmen of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, known as BIFF, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. In the siege they also robbed houses and stores at gunpoint, causing the displacement of hundreds of residents.

Residents were also forced to flee after being caught in a fire-fight between BIFF and government forces, according to Realan Mamon, the police chief of Pigkawayan town, where Malagakit is located.

He told the Associated Press that he had a report that gunmen were occupying a school as well, although it wasn’t immediately apparent if people were trapped inside by the fighting or taken hostage.

In the chapel, which is nearby a school also destroyed in the attack, the militants used hammers to destroy religious icons and vital fixtures. They also desecrated consecrated hosts.

Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato decried the act Saturday, saying that he condemns “in the strongest terms possible the wicked desecration of the Catholic Chapel of Malagakit in the parish of Pigcawayan…”

“If the BIFF wants to have an image as a 'respecter' of all religions, it must punish its members who perpetrated the odious desecration in Malagakit and educate all its members in strictly respecting other religions,” he continued.

Cardinal Quevedo urged the Catholic faithful of Malagakit to restore the sacred space of their chapel, asking for the prayers of the entire Archdiocese for peace and harmony among all believers of all religions.

Some leaders of the town, such as Salvador Almonia, Jr., a chairman of Malagakit, have hypothesized that the attack on the chapel was intended to create division between the town’s Catholics and Muslims, who currently live together peacefully.

“That was meant to sow anger among us. We will not respond the way the BIFF want us to respond to that despicable act,” he said.

The vice governor of North Cotabato, Shirlyn Macasarte-Villanueva, urged Muslim and Christian residents to disregard attempts to sow division between them.

“Let us be sober and continue with the friendship and solidarity that we have. We just have to be vigilant and we need to help each other prevent a repeat of the incident,” Macasarte-Villanueva said Thursday.

The attack follows a May 22 siege on parts of a city on Mindanao in the Philippines, where militants burned several buildings, including the Catholic cathedral and the bishop's residence.

At the cathedral, they took hostages including a Catholic priest and a group of church-goers, threatening to kill them if the nation’s military does not cease its current offensive against them.

They are also said to have freed more than 100 inmates from prisons in the city. The fighting has reportedly killed at least 20 people in the city.

The attack was carried out by militants of the Maute group, which was formed in 2012 and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2015. The militants' violence began after a failed army and police raid to capture Isnilon Hapilon, a local Islamist leader.

 

Posted: June 27, 2017, 6:05 am

Manila, Philippines, Jun 23, 2017 / 12:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Fake news is a problem everywhere, including in the island nation of the Philippines.

So much so that the bishops of the Catholic-majority country have released a first-of-its-kind pastoral letter to their people imploring them: Please stop sharing fake news.  

“At (Jesus’) trial, the question of truth figured prominently. ‘What is truth?’ asked a bewildered Pilate, because he failed to recognize in Jesus, THE TRUTH!” the bishops said.

Therefore, they said, Christians are called to recognize truth in all forms, and to not participate in deceit for falsehoods in any way.

“A fact,” the bishops helpfully explain, “is anything that is or that happens.”

“If one man kills another, it cannot but be a fact that the deed was done, and any 'alternative fact' that would have it so that no killing was done is simply false, and, when meant to deceive, a lie!”

The bishops lamented that there are those “who have given themselves to the service of reporting what never happened, concealing what really happened, and distorting what should be presented in a straightforward manner.”

They also observed that social media “has become the unfortunate site of 'alternative facts' and 'fake news'. Not only does this offend against the orientation of the human intellect to the truth. It is, more fundamentally, a sin against charity because it hinders persons from making right and sound decisions and induces them, instead, to make faulty ones!”

The letter, issued by Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the Filipino bishops' conference, includes four obligations for Catholics regarding the truth.

“Catholic faith obliges us to: 1. To refrain from patronizing, popularizing and supporting identified sources of ‘alternative facts’ or ‘fake news,’” they said, referencing a phrase from a media faux pas made by Kellyanne Conway, counselor to U.S. President Donald Trump, earlier this year.

Secondly, Catholics are obliged “To rebut and refute falsehood whenever they are in possession of facts and of data.”

Catholics also must “refuse to be themselves purveyors of fake news and to desist from disseminating this whether on social media or by word of mouth or through any other form of public expression.”

And finally, Catholics must “identify the sources of fake news so that our brothers and sisters may be duly alerted and may know which media and which sites to shun,” they said.

The letter comes during the same month that a “fake news blocker” was launched in the country by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility. Their newly-created Google Chrome plug-in “Fakeblok” flags fake news and misinformation on Facebook.

A recent study found that Filipinos spend the most time online and on social media of any country in the world.

The pastoral letter also comes at a time when opposing political camps in the Philippines are using fake news to advance their agenda, including controversial President Rodrigo Duterte, according to Philippine news source Rappler.

“A number of officials and agencies of the Duterte administration, such as Communications Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson, have also been accused of spreading fake news. Uson and many pro-Duterte bloggers have also discredited legitimate journalists as ‘presstitutes,’” Rappler reported.

The bishops of the country went so far as to say that sharing fake news is not only an offense against human intellect, but a “sin against charity” because “it hinders persons from making right and sound decisions and induces them, instead, to make faulty ones!”

“We your bishops join the Lord Jesus in His prayer that we all be consecrated in the truth, because the Word of the Lord is truth!”

Posted: June 23, 2017, 6:01 am

Yokohama, Japan, Jun 22, 2017 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday the Archbishop for Military Services, USA offered his prayers and condolences for the sailors who perished on USS Fitzgerald after colliding with a container ship off the coast of south east Japan last week.

“Deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life on the USS Fitzgerald, I ask all of the faithful to remember in prayer the victims and their families,” Archbishop Timothy Broglio said in a June 21 statement.

“I express my heartfelt sympathy to the families whose loved ones perished in this unfortunate incident,” he added.

Twenty-five minutes after a Filipino container ship, the ACX Crystal, made a sudden U-turn, it crashed into the starboard side of the USS Fitzgerald, a destroyer, in the early hours of June 17 near Shimoda, Japan.

The hull of the destroyer was penetrated below the waterline, causing water to flood into the radio room, machinery, and two sleeping quarters for the crew. The captain’s cabin was also damaged.

Seven sailers died in the collision. Three men were also injured; they were quickly evacuated by helicopter.

Archbishop Broglio also expressed his sympathy for the survivors of the collision, saying: “My heart also goes out to all of the members of the crew who not only lost their esteemed shipmates, but also all of the personal belongings they had on board with them.”

“The Naval community at Yokosuka has responded with great care in attempting to meet the physical, psychological, and spiritual needs of those who survived the collision,” he added. “May Almighty God give them continued fortitude in the days ahead.”

Most men out of the 350 person crew on the USS Fitzgerald were asleep, but sailors still acted heroically according to Seventh Fleet Commander Joseph Aucoin. He said the ship could have taken on more water and potentially sunk, but the crew worked well to keep the water from spreading.  

The ACX Crystal sustained lighter damage to its port bow, and none of its crew of 20 were injured.

The USS Fitzgerald was first commissioned in 1995, and in 2005 it was deployed to counteract missile crises around the globe.

Posted: June 22, 2017, 9:00 pm

Shangqiu, China, Jun 14, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Local authorities in China’s Henan province reportedly destroyed a Christian church building last month, beating parishioners who tried to stop the demolition and detaining 40, the group China Aid says.

“The church was completely razed, and a church member likened the scene to the Japanese invasion of China during World War II,” China Aid said.

China Aid, an international non-profit dedicated to promoting religious freedom and human rights for Christians in China, reported that Shuangmiao Christian Church in Shangqiu, which was still under construction, was destroyed May 5 by 300 police officers and inspectors.

Parishioners tried to stop the demolition but many suffered beatings as a result, and were “pushed to the ground,” the report stated. 40 were detained, although no one has yet been formally arrested.

The government had reportedly deemed the church an “illegal structure” and ordered it removed. Church property, as well as that of parishioners and construction workers, was confiscated. The Chinese Communist Party also claimed that the church had failed to pay a “road usage fee” that villagers wanted imposed.

The church’s pastor had previously tried to discuss the matter with officials and was detained for “false charges of assaulting the police station, limiting the freedom of others, and attacking a village representative.” After the attack, he is still in detention but has not yet been formally arrested.

Persecution of Christians in China varies by province, but Henan has seen an uptick in recent years.

In April 2016 Li Jiangong, a pastor in Zhumadian, another city of Henan province, lost his wife when the couple tried to save their house church from being bulldozed in a government-ordered destruction of the church. He “barely escaped” death, according to the most recent annual refport from the Us Commission on International Religious Freedom.

And in Zhejiang province, more than 1,500 churches have been desecrated or demolished. Churches in Zhejiang have been ordered to stop displaying crosses, and Christians there have been detained.

Overall, the situation of religious freedom in China has deteriorated even more in recent years, USCIRF has noted in its 2017 annual report, as the country’s leader Xi Jingping has “further consolidated power” and worked to promote the “sinicization” of religion.

Religious leaders and human rights activists have reportedly been harassed and detained, and churches, especially Christian house churches, have been targeted for destruction or vandalism.

Posted: June 14, 2017, 12:02 pm

Mumbai, India, Jun 7, 2017 / 12:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A cloistered nun in India came out of her convent for an extraordinary reason: to attend a graduation ceremony for her doctorate in Aerospace Engineering.

“I had joined the religious order after my final oral exam last year, and this was the first time I came out after that. The rules of our order forbid us from going out of the convent, but I was given special permission to attend the convocation,” Sister Benedicta of the Holy Face told Matters India last summer.

The 32-year-old nun lives in a cloistered convent Carmelite Monastery in Pune, India.

Born in Kuwait before the Gulf War, Sister Benedicta studied at St Xavier’s College in Mumbai and then earned a Master’s degree in space science from Pune University, located 90 miles from Mumbai.

She earned her PhD from the Defense Institute of Advanced Technology in Pune. According to Matters India, her doctoral work in the field of aerospace engineering involved scramjet engines, which are used mainly for hyper-sonic vehicles and space vehicles.

Sister Benedicta had always felt a call to the consecrated life, but made the decision to become a nun after attending a spiritual retreat in Pune. She finished her doctorate studies before telling her family that she wanted to enter a cloistered convent.

 

This article was originally published on CNA Dec. 7, 2016.

Posted: June 7, 2017, 6:05 pm

New Delhi, India, May 31, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A member of India’s Legislative Assembly is encouraging the Church to raise money for the release of kidnapped priest Father Tom Uzhunnalil, claiming a need for concrete action beyond prayer.

Legislative member P.C. George expressed concern that prayer and words are the only action taken to release Fr. Tom, and said the terrorists only “want money.”

“The Catholic Church should take initiative to raise the fund to pay as ransom to them,” he said, according to Manorama on May 27.

The legislator said he would be willing to donate money, and suggested local churches set aside a particular collection to raise the money necessary for the freedom of priest, who was kidnapped last year by terrorists while serving the poor in Yemen.

George’s words followed a similar call to action from Kerela chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan a day before. Vijayan emphasized the serious nature of kidnapping and the need to speed up the process of his rescue.

“I will directly request Prime Minister to speed up efforts for his rescue during our next meeting in New Delhi,” he said, according to the Deccan Chronicle, adding that little interest has been shown so far to hasten the process.

Fr. Tom is an Indian priest who was kidnapped last year during a raid on a house of the Missionaries of Charity in Yemen, which left four nuns dead. The attack was carried out by unknown militants, making it difficult for Indian officials to broker an agreement.

In ransom videos, Fr. Tom has said that the government’s response to his abduction has been poor.

The most recent video was posted last month. It shows the priest sitting cross-legged with a cardboard sign dated April 15, 2017 and speaking slowly to the camera. Similar to previous videos, he expressed a need to be hospitalized soon and that his health was deteriorating. Fr. Tom appears to be thin with an unkempt beard.

George and Vijayan insisted that serious steps be taken, and called on the government and Church to be more responsive.

Vijayan, however, explained the difficulty in intervening within Yemen’s affairs, currently characterized by violence, and said it may be necessary to involve the United Nations.

The Yemen civil war began in March 2015 when Sunni-led government was challenged by Shia rebels. Creating a power vacuum, the war allowed Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State to have a greater foothold in the country. Military factions from Saudi Arabia have also been involved. According to the United Nations, more than 6,000 people have been killed.

 

 

Posted: May 31, 2017, 9:02 am

Marawi, Philippines, May 30, 2017 / 11:49 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A week after Islamist militants kidnapped some 240 Catholics in the Philippines, a video has surfaced online showing one of the hostages, Fr. Chito Suganob, calling for the government to halt their military offensive in the city.

Shown wearing a black polo and jeans, Fr. Suganob at the beginning of the 5-minute video lists the other “prisoners of war” taken hostage with him, including several Catholic college students and professors, as well as some 200 others, including women and children.

He speaks directly to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, asking him to withdraw his army from the city and “to stop the airstrikes, and to stop the cannons.”

With a cracked voice, the priest, who is vicar general of the Marawi territorial prelature, asks the president to “please consider us,” saying that “it’s hard” for the hostages to bear, because they can hear gunfire and cannons going off around them.  

The militants, he said, “don’t ask for anything...they just ask that you leave this place peacefully.”

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

The militants' violence began after a failed army and police raid to capture Isnilon Hapilon, a local Islamist leader.

The Maute militants have burned several buildings, including the Catholic cathedral and the bishop’s residence. They are also said to have freed more than 100 inmates from prisons in the city. The fighting has reportedly killed at least 20 people in the city.

The group was blamed for a September 2016 bombing that killed 15 people in southern Davao, the president’s hometown. A military raid on their jungle camp last month reportedly found homemade bombs, grenades, combat uniforms, and passports of suspected Indonesian militants.

The militants have threatened to kill their hostages if the nation's military fails to cease its current offensive against them.

Bishop Edwin de la Peña y Angot, Prelate of Marawi, told CBCP News that he was not home at the time of the attack, but his secretary is reportedly among the hostages.

The bishop said he received a phone call from a militant who used his secretary’s phone. On the other end of the line was a militant who introduced himself as a member of the Islamic State, and demanded a unilateral ceasefire.

Bishop Peña said he was allowed to speak with Fr. Suganob at the time in order to help make their demands clear.

“Mr. President, if you want me to kneel before you just to knock your heart in favor of our families who are crying out there in different places, for our relatives … we will do that,” the priest said.

He warned that the use of violence by the army will only put the lives of the hostages at further risk, since the militants are “ready to die for their religion.”

Speaking directly to Duterte, he stressed that “you can’t use force and violence because they have the commitment they will die for this.”

“Please consider us, we are victims,” he said, explaining that if needed, he would beg for their release and for the army to withdraw.

The video, according to CBCP News, first surfaced on the Facebook account of a user named “Datumasa Khalid.” Although it’s still unclear where the video was filmed, Fr. Suganob is seen standing in front of houses and vehicles that have been destroyed.

According to Philippines station ABS-DBN News, the death toll from fighting in Marawi has risen to 104, including some 65 militants, 20 government forces, and 19 civilians.

Much of the city's population of more than 200,000 has fled the city, though officials believe as many as 2,000 have been trapped by the fighting.

In response, the area’s Caritas branch on May 29 launched a solidarity appeal asking dioceses to contribute what they can to help the displaced. As a start, the charitable organization has offered an initial 300,000 Philippine pesos ($6,000) for relief efforts in nearby Diocese of Iligan.

In the wake of the kidnapping, the Filipino bishops have urged prayers for Fr. Suganob and the other hostages.

While the majority of Filipinos are Catholic, they make up only five percent of the population in Marawi, a mostly Muslim city.

Archbishop Socrates Buenaventura Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the Filipino bishops’ conference, last week urged prayers for peace and asked the militants to show mercy.

“We call on the Maute group that claims to bear arms in the name of a Merciful and Benevolent God – the very same God we Christians worship and adore – to do the One God true honor by the mercy and benevolence that are two of our God’s most exalted attributes,” he said May 24.

The archbishop also addressed the response of government forces, saying, “We beg of them to make the safety of the hostages a primordial consideration.”

Duterte, who has been heavily criticized for a brutal crackdown on illegal drugs, has placed all of Mindanao under martial law.

The president has sought peace talks with two large Muslim rebel groups in the country’s south but has ordered the military to destroy smaller extremist groups like the Maute.

Posted: May 30, 2017, 5:49 pm

Cotabato, Philippines, May 25, 2017 / 01:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Filipino cardinal has prayed for the release of Catholic hostages held by Islamist militants who have seized parts of a city on Mindanao, appealing to Muslim leaders to help secure their release.

“I pray for the safety of all the hostages. I appeal to the consciences of the hostage takers not to harm the innocent as the Islamic faith teaches. I appeal to religious leaders of Islam to influence the hostage takers to release the hostages unharmed,” Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato told Radio Veritas.

“For God’s will is the safety of innocent people. May the loving God protect the people of Marawi,” said the cardinal, whose see is also on Mindanao.

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

The militants' violence began after a failed army and police raid to capture Isnilon Hapilon, a local Islamist leader.

The Maute militants have burned several buildings, including the Catholic cathedral and the bishop’s residence. They are also said to have freed more than 100 inmates from prisons in the city. The fighting has reportedly killed at least 20 people in the city.

At the cathedral, they took hostages including a Catholic priest and a group of church-goers, threatening to kill them if the nation’s military does not cease its current offensive against them.

The captive priest, Fr. Chito Suganob, is vicar general of the Territorial Prelature of Marawi, which has a very small Catholic population. Bishop Edwin de la Peña y Angot, Prelate of Marawi, was on a return trip home at the time of the attack.

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has cut short a trip to Russia, and placed all of Mindanao under martial law for 60 days. He has also proposed that martial law be extended across the country. Duterte's presidency has drawn controversy for his brutal crackdown on drugs.

Another Mindanao prelate, Archbishop Martin Jumoad of Ozamiz, has said he backs martial law, but with an important caveat.

“I am for the imposition of martial law provided a mechanism has to be established so that human rights will not be violated,” he said, according to CBCP News.

Archbishop Jumoad warned the people to be “extra-careful” and to cooperate with the military, particularly those in Marawi.

“If the people will not cooperate with the armed forces, things could get more complicated,” he said.

According to the archbishop, an attack by another Islamist group, Abu Sayyaf, in the province of Bohol was foiled because the people cooperated with authorities.

Local media reported that nine Christians stopped at a checkpoint run by the militants in Marawi were captured and executed after they were identified as Christian.

Thousands of people have fled Marawi, where the attackers also beheaded the police chief and burned the city jail and Dansalan College, the Philippines’ ABS-CBN News reports.

The college is run by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. Its staff is about 80 percent Christian, wth a student body that is about 95 percent Muslim. Marawi itself is predominantly Muslim.

The United Church of Christ in the Philippines said the Maute group must be held accountable, but warned against “portraying these tragic events as a religious war.”

“This will only increase tensions, and may further fan the flames of Islamophobia,” the ecclesial community said May 24.

The statement was critical of martial law imposed across all of Mindanao and said military solutions to the problems had repeatedly failed. The community prayed that martial law will not be used as a pretext to undermine peace talks with other movements.

Posted: May 25, 2017, 7:27 pm

Marawi, Philippines, May 24, 2017 / 11:48 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Islamic State-allied militants in the Philippines have taken a Catholic priest and a group of church-goers hostage, threatening to kill them if the nation’s military does not cease its current offensive against them.

The hostages were taken during a militant siege in the southern Philippines city of Marawi on Tuesday and Wednesday. Militants also burned the Catholic cathedral of Marawi.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, denounced the hostage-taking. He said the priest and the hostages had no involvement in the conflict between the military and the militants.

“He was not a combatant. He was not bearing arms. He was a threat to none,” the archbishop said. “His capture and that of his companions violates every norm of civilized conflict.”

The country’s Catholic bishops have urged prayers for the captured priest and the other hostages in the area. While the majority of the Philippines is Catholic, they make up only a small percentage of the population in Marawi, a mostly Muslim city of about 200,000 people, located on the island of Mindanao.

About 100 armed militants moved through Marawi on Tuesday, the Associated Press reports. They beheaded a police chief and burned buildings, including the bishop’s residence. They raised the black flag of the Islamic State group while also taking the hostages.

Responsible for the attack is the Maute group, a clan-based group with members in Marawi. It is one of under a dozen new armed Muslim groups that have pledged allegiance to ISIS. The groups have formed a loose alliance, reportedly led by Isnilon Hapilon, a commander of the Abu Sayyaf militant group.

The militants’ siege of Marawi followed an army raid on the hideout of Hapilon. The militant leader has pledged allegiance to ISIS and the United States has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture.

Bishop Edwin de la Peña of Marawi was not at home at the time of the attack, but his secretary is reportedly among the hostages. He received a phone call from a militant who used his secretary’s phone. The militant introduced himself as a member of ISIS and demanded a unilateral ceasefire.

“They want a ceasefire and for the military to give them access out of Marawi. Otherwise, they will kill the hostages,” Bishop de la Peña told CBCP News.

The bishop reported that he was allowed to speak with Fr. Chito Suganob, the captive priest who is the vicar general of the Territorial Prelature of Marawi, in order to make their demands clear.

In addition to the priest, hostages include three church staffers and ten worshipers, the Associated Press said.

Bishop de la Peña himself barely missed being taken hostage.

“I was supposed to go to Marawi yesterday but I was asked to cancel my trip because of the siege,” he said.

Archbishop Villegas, the Catholic bishops’ conference president, urged prayers for peace and asked the militants to show mercy.

“We call on the Maute group that claims to bear arms in the name of a Merciful and Benevolent God – the very same God we Christians worship and adore – to do the One God true honor by the mercy and benevolence that are two of our God’s most exalted attributes,” he said.

The archbishop also addressed the response of government forces, saying, “We beg of them to make the safety of the hostages a primordial consideration.”

President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been heavily criticized for a brutal crackdown on illegal drugs, has cut short his trip to Russia and placed all of Mindanao island under martial law. The president has sought peace talks with two large Muslim rebel groups in the country’s south but has ordered the military to destroy smaller extremist groups like the Maute.

“It is difficult to root out because they are from there,” political analyst Ramon Casiple told the Associated Press. “The Mautes are embedded in the population.”

The group was blamed for a September 2016 bombing that killed 15 people in southern Davao city, the president’s hometown. A military raid on their jungle camp last month reportedly found homemade bombs, grenades, combat uniforms, and passports of suspected Indonesian militants.

 

Posted: May 24, 2017, 5:48 pm

Manila, Philippines, May 22, 2017 / 03:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In the most recent clash between the government and the Catholic Church in the Philippines, authorities have banned hanging rosaries and religious icons in vehicles, citing safety concerns.

According to reports from the AFP, the ban is part of a new law that will take effect Friday aimed at eliminating distractions for drivers, including talking or texting on mobile phones, applying makeup, or eating or drinking.

The ban, announced last week, sparked outcry in the majority-Catholic country, where roughly 80 percent of the population identifies as Catholic.

“This is an overreaction, insensitive and lacks common sense," Father Jerome Secillano, executive secretary for public affairs at the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, told the AFP.

He said that most drivers feel safer with religious icons in their vehicles, because they give them a sense of divine intervention and protection.

In a statement on the website for the Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines, Fr. Secillano said he believed the ban on religious icons was an over-extension of a law initially meant to cut down on drivers distracted by their cellphones.

“I agree with banning the use of phones while driving but they are absolutely missing the point by prohibiting the display of small religious images in cars,” he said.

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, which issued the ban, has said that religious icons may still be attached to the dashboard or rearview mirror if they do not swing around or block a driver’s line of vision.

Piston, an association of jeepney drivers and owners, a common form of public transportation in the Philippines, said there was no evidence that rosaries and religious icons caused accidents.

“Do not meddle with the drivers’ faith in God,” said its president, George San Mateo.

The ban is just the latest clash of government authorities with the Catholic Church in the country.

The Catholic Church has been one of the most outspoken opponents of President Rodrigo Duterte’s violent and unrelenting war on drugs, as well as his policies on the death penalty and reproductive health that go against the social teaching of the Catholic Church.

President Duterte in turn does not lose much love on the Catholic Church, hurling shocking insults at Church officials who cross him.

Posted: May 22, 2017, 9:07 pm

Seoul, South Korea, May 15, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- South Korean Catholics are opposing both the country's reliance on nuclear power and the U.S. missile defense system recently established to pressure the North out of future weapon tests.

A major leader of the anti-nuclear movement, Father Moon Paul Kyu-Hyn, said “getting rid of nuclear power is the only way to survive, to save ourselves, and save the world,” according to Public Radio International.

A missile defense system has caused tensions between the U.S. and China as well as between China and South Korea. The country's new president, Moon Jae-in, has emphasized his goal to solve the issues in the Korean Peninsula.

Father Moon expressed his disappointed in the new Terminal High Altitude Area Defense or THAAD, which became operational on May 2 in the Korean Peninsula. An agreement to install the system was established between the United States and South Korea’s former president, recently incarcerated for political corruption.

“THAAD is a weapon of war. You can't be for peace if you're preparing for war,” said Father Moon, an activist who spent three years in jail for illegally crossing over into North Korea in 1989.

He is now leading the charge on the anti-nuclear demonstrations participated by the clergy and lay people, who are opposed the expansion of nuclear power in all of Korea and the rest of the world. The group recently gathered in downtown Seoul to collect a million signatures for support against nuclear energy.

Nearly a third of the country's electrical consumption relies on nuclear power from over 20 nuclear reactors. Moon Jae-in, who was confirmed president this week, promised to halt expansion of nuclear power and focus on clean energy during a campaign speech in April.

The push to remove nuclear power has increased in South Korea since three plants in Fukushima had a meltdown in 2011 caused by a Tsunami along the shores of Japan. The meltdown forced over 100,000 people to be evacuated from their homes, and the government is still cautious to allow everyone to return due to fears of radiation poison.

In an interview with Public Radio International, Father Cho Hyun-chul, a theology professor at Sogang University in Seoul, said if there is a similar accident revolving South Korea’s power plants then there would be “no room for us to live here. There is no more safe land.”

He continued to say that the destruction nuclear power can cause is “directly against God's intention,” and the movement is stressing the need to care for the environment – a need heavily emphasized by Pope Francis especially in his encyclical Laudato Si.

The Pope recognized the “tremendous power” nuclear energy has gifted to humanity, but he also spoke against its dangers to the environment and the risk of being used improperly. He said a global consensus to focus on clean and renewable energy is essential for sustaining the earth.

“Such a consensus could lead, for example, to planning a sustainable and diversified agriculture, developing renewable and less polluting forms of energy,” Pope Francis wrote in Laudato Si.

According to Reuters, President Moon promised to ease away from nuclear energy in a campaign speech in April. The head for the president’s team on energy policy said South Korea “should move away from coal and nuclear power, and shift to clean or renewable energy-based platforms,” and that he would stop the plans to construct two new reactors in the south of the country.

Posted: May 16, 2017, 2:02 am

Sydney, Australia, May 13, 2017 / 06:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholics in the Australian state of New South Wales applauded the rejection of bills in the upper house of the parliament that would have legalized abortion.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher, O.P. of Sydney called the defeat of “extreme” bills legalizing abortion in the state “great news” in a Facebook post on Thursday.

The proposed laws were voted down 25-14 in the New South Wales legislative council on Thursday.

Abortions had been listed as criminal acts, although previous court rulings determined that doctors could perform them in certain cases where the physical or emotional health of women were deemed to be at stake. Currently, there are between 25,000 and 35,000 abortions performed per year in the state, according to the group Right to Life NSW.

The bills, however, would have gone farther than decriminalizing abortion, the Archdiocese of Sydney explained.

They would also have forced objecting doctors to refer a patient seeking an abortion to an abortion provider, and would have prevented sidewalk counselors from coming within 150 meters of an abortion clinic, according to Archbishop Fisher.

That last mandate would have made “prayerful vigils like the popular 40 Days for Life punishable with fines and imprisonment,” he wrote. Archbishop Fisher issued a petition to Catholics to oppose the proposed law.

The bills “limit freedom of speech and freedom of assembly,” the petition said, and lack vital “safeguards” that protect the health of women. They discard “restrictions against unqualified persons performing an abortion including self-administered abortions.”

“Furthermore, (the legislation) fails to include safeguards to ensure women give fully informed consent and overrides any professional or conscientious objection that medical practitioners may have to abortion,” the petition said.

“This Bill disregards the reality that many women have abortions as a result of pressure, coercion, lack of support and/or domestic violence from others, particularly their male partners, and it removes protections for the health of women.”

Posted: May 14, 2017, 12:08 am

Seoul, South Korea, May 10, 2017 / 09:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An archbishop in South Korea encouraged the country's new president to bring unity to a nation struggling both from recent scandals and fears over North Korea's weapons tests.  

“I would like him to promote balanced development of the nation, and to appoint his staff in a fair and impartial manner so that all selected competent persons may take part in the new government administration,” Archbishop Hyginus Hee-joong Kim of Gwangji said in a May 10 statement.

“We also would like him to propose a clear vision and governmental management philosophy for the future which can make all Korean people in the North and South Korea reconcile and coexist in peace.”

The statement congratulated President Moon Jae-in in his victory on Tuesday. He won with over 41 percent favor of South Korea's population against two other candidates, according to the South Korea's National Election Commission.

President Moon replaced the former president Park Geun-Hye who was ousted after a scandal broke last November, leading to her impeachment and ultimately her imprisonment this year. The scandal involved bribery and abuse of power with one of her close friends, Choi Soon-sil, who together used their positions to demand money from major companies in South Korea.

Geun-Hye has been accused of using her power to coerce companies in donating nearly 70 million dollars, which was funneled through two foundations run by the former president. The National Assembly began stripping her of power last December and prosecution began with 13 criminal charges in March. Since then the charges have increased to 18.

The archbishop acknowledged the difficult times surrounding the months of angry mobs demanding for the ex-president’s resignation, and expressed the need for a president capable of uniting South Korea.

“Now we are in urgent need of a credible leader who keeps principles and steps towards true peace and justice beyond today’s conflicts and confrontations. May the new president be a great leader who can make democracy take root in this country, and bring peace and prosperity to the Korean people.”

President Moon’s landslide victory still faces the aftermath of political corruption, but he is also challenged by the looming issue of North Korea’s recent missile and nuclear tests.

North Korea has continued to pursue nuclear and ballistic missile tests, despite a ban from the United Nations and trade restrictions from China. The country has so far conducted five missile tests in 2017, including a failed attempt on April 28. Most successful tests have landed missiles into the Sea of Japan, but spectators have agreed that the tests are steps to extend North Korea’s reach of nuclear weapons to other areas of the world.

South Korea's new president has vowed to immediately tackle the issues regarding their northern neighbor. During his first speech as president, Moon said he would aim to sooth tensions between Beijing and Washington. He even said he would be willing to meet with the North’s leader Kim Jong-un if the conditions were right.

Controversy over a U.S. anti-missile defense system, which was recently implemented in Korean peninsula, has caused for skepticism from China, whose leaders say the system threatens the security of their country as well.

Along with his promises to tackle serious international issues, Moon said he would cut ties with South Korea's conglomerates and leave the office uncorrupted.

“I take this office empty-handed, and I will leave the office empty-handed,” President Moon said during his May 10 inauguration speech, according to Reuters.

Archbishop Hyginus Hee-joong Kim further encouraged the new leader to attend to the dignity of all citizens: “the vulnerable and disadvantaged in the society can be treated with human dignity and respect, where everyone enjoys the right to freedom of thought and conscience.”

The archbishop ended his statement promising to pray for the good of Korea's people under the leader’s service.

Posted: May 11, 2017, 3:01 am

Lingayen, Philippines, May 10, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic bishops of the Philippines have praised a cross-country march showing opposition to the restoration of the death penalty.

The bishops voiced their support of the “commendable” initiative in a recent statement addressed to the laity and all members of the civil group taking part in the march.

The march is “most deserving of support from all who want to make a clear unequivocal stand for life,” Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said in a statement.

The 21-day march is being organized by Fr. Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of the CBCP’s committee for social action. It began last week in Cagayan de Oro City, and is expected to reach the Senate in Pasay City by May 24, the feast day of Our Lady, Help of Christians. The CBCP’s Episcopal Commission for the Laity is among the organizers of the march.

It is the latest move in the majority-Catholic country that protests the revival of a harsh death penalty in the country.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the death penalty may be used “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” However, it adds, such cases today “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” The three most recent Popes have been vocally opposed to the death penalty.

In 2006, under the administration of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Philippines repealed legislation that imposed the death penalty for certain “heinous” crimes.

But a bill seeking to revive the death penalty is one of the priorities of current President Rodrigo Duterte, who has frequently clashed with Church authorities over his violent and unrelenting war on drugs.

Despite opposition from the Church, to which more than 80 percent of Filipinos belong, as well as the United Nations and other human rights groups, the House of Representatives approved a third and final reading on the bill in March. However, the measure is not expected to do as well in the Senate.

Reviving death penalty laws is against international law, according to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which the Philippines is a signatory.

The bishops of the country have been outspoken in their opposition to the death penalty revival for months.

In January, Archbishop Villegas said the bishops “unequivocally oppose proposals and moves to return the death penalty into the Philippine legal system.”

“We urge the government to champion life for all!” he said at the time.

The opposition march will pass various through the dioceses of Cebu, Palo, Caceres, Lipa, Legaspi, and Lucena, and will eventually lead to the Senate of the Philippines.

Throughout the march, the pilgrims are planning stops to raise awareness of their opposition to the bill, and to inform citizens of how the bill would further a culture of death.

The highlight of the pilgrimage is a gathering in the Rizal Park on May 19, which is expected to draw 30,000 anti-death penalty advocates, including students from Catholic universities.

Posted: May 10, 2017, 12:02 pm
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