Catholic News in Asia

Manila, Philippines, Mar 20, 2017 / 08:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Remember what Jesus' cross stands for, and don't misuse the Bible to justify the death penalty, the Philippines' Catholic bishops have said.

“To the people who use the Bible to defend the death penalty, need we point out how many other crimes against humanity have been justified, using the same Bible?” the country’s bishops asked.

“We humbly enjoin them to interpret the Scriptures properly, to read them as a progressive revelation of God’s will to humankind, with its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ, God’s definitive Word to the world.”

Their words came in a March 19 pastoral statement on the death penalty signed by Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas of Lingayen Dagupan, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. The statement was read at all Masses in the country on Sunday.

Jesus came not to abolish the law, but fulfill it, the bishops explained: “Jesus was never an advocate of any form of ‘legal killing’. He defended the adulterous woman against those who demanded her blood and challenged those who were without sin among them to be the first to cast a stone on her.”

The letter opened with a quotation from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “God proved his love for us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

The death penalty was abolished in the Philippines in 2006. At present President Rodrigo Duterte, who is also leading a brutal crackdown on drugs, has advocated its restoration.

In their letter, the Catholic bishops recounted the passage of a House of Representatives bill that would restore the death penalty.

“It was Ash Wednesday when members of the lower House, on the second reading of the death penalty bill, outvoted by voice-voting the nays with their ayes. Ironically, they were captured on television shouting in favor of death with their foreheads marked with crosses made of ashes,” the bishops said.

“Could they have forgotten what that cross meant?”

They questioned whether the legislators had missed that the crosses on their foreheads “were supposed to serve as a loud statement of faith in the God who, for love of us, chose to give up his life for our salvation, rather than see us perish.”

According to the bishops, the saying of the Bible, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” was challenged by Jesus, who advocated non-retaliation of evil for evil and justice founded on mercy.

“Even with the best of intentions, capital punishment has never been proven effective as a deterrent to crime,” they continued. “Obviously it is easier to eliminate criminals than to get rid of the root causes of criminality in society. Capital punishment and a flawed legal system are always a lethal mix. “

The statement also spoke about the victims.

“We are not deaf to the cries of the victims of heinous crimes. The victims and their victimizers are both our brothers and sisters. The victim and the opressor are both children of God,” they said.

They said the guilty should repent and make reparation for their sins. The bishops offered love, compassion and hope to crime victims.

The death penalty will be applied more to the poor, who cannot afford adequate legal defenses, the bishops said.

“As a law, death penalty directly contradicts the principle of inalienability of the basic human right to life, which is enshrined in most constitutions of countries that signed the universal declaration of human rights,” they said.

The Philippines bishops called for prayers for the country’s legislators.

“Let us offer all our Masses for them, asking our Crucified Lord who offered his whole life, body and blood, for the salvation of sinners, to touch their consciences and lead them to abolish capital punishment once and for all,” they said.

Posted: March 21, 2017, 2:01 am

Hagatna, Guam, Mar 18, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The practices of the Neocatechumenal Way in Guam have drawn attention from the island's coadjutor archbishop, who has said its members are to stop forming new communities for a year, in the interest of healing divisions in the archdiocese.

Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Byrnes of Agaña cited “a growing sense of distress about the multiplication of small communities in some parishes and about some of the differences in the way the Mass is celebrated among the small communities of the Neocatechumenal Way.”

The movement must celebrate Mass at a consecrated altar and members of the congregation who receive the Blessed Sacrament must consume it as soon as they receive it, the archbishop said in a March 15 pastoral letter to his flock on the northwestern Pacific island, a U.S. territory.

The Neocatechumenal Way is a new ecclesial movement that focuses on post-baptismal adult formation in small parish-based groups. It is estimated that the movement contains about 1 million members, in some 40,000 parish-based communities around the world.

Archbishop Byrnes was appointed as Coadjutor Archbishop of Agaña in October 2016 to replace Archbishop Anthony Apuron, who was relieved of his pastoral and administrative authority in June 2016 after allegations surfaced that he had sexually abused minors.

Archbishop Apuron is a member of the Neocatechumenal Way. He has also been accused of mishandling control over Guam's seminary, reportedly using it as a Neocatechumenal seminary rather than a diocesan seminary, which led to the withdrawal of all Samoan students.

At his appointment, Archbishop Byrnes was given all the faculties, rights, and obligations of the Archbishop of Agaña.

“In the conversation with Pope Francis last October, he appealed to me in a particular way to do what I can to bring some healing to the divisions existing in the Archdiocese of Agaña,” he wrote in his pastoral letter.

“I realize that a number of factors have contributed toward the divisions. I cannot deal with them all at once hence what I outline below represents a beginning.”

He presented his decisions regarding the Neocatechumenal Way “in the context of the pastoral change entrusted to me by the Holy Father.”

Archbishop Byrnes will appoint a priest delegate to to review the Neocatechumenal Way's catechetical directory and to ensure its catechists  are sufficiently formed.  

He is also regulating the liturgies of the Neocatechumenal Way in his local Church, to foster clarity and unity.

“The sooner we have unity and universal adherence as an archdiocese to the norms established by the Church in celebrating the body of Christ during the sacred celebration of the Mass, the sooner we shall be on the path to reconciling with one another and bring healing to our divided diocese,” Archbishop Byrnes said.

Since the Neocatechumenal Way says Mass on Saturday evenings, the coadjutor archbishop stipulated that all Masses on Saturday evenings be said at a consecrated altar. This norm will go into effect April 2.

He also directed that if the Neocatechumenal Way's Mass is one of a parish's regularly scheduled Masses, its special character be noted in the bulletin; if the Mass is in addition to a regularly scheduled Mass on Saturday evening, a portion of its collection should go to the parish; and that the pastor has the authority to direct how many additional Masses may be said.

Archbishop Byrnes also directed that, in accord with the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the celebrant of a Mass must consume the Body and Blood of Christ prior to distributing Communion, and that communicants are to consume the Body and Blood as soon as they receive the host or chalice, without any delay. These norms take effect March 26.

The archbishop recognized the good that the movement has brought to many people’s lives and he noted that it is recognized and approved by the Holy See.

However, it is imperative that it adhere to liturgical norms, he said, and this adherence “will only enrich the fruits of the Neocatechumenal movement.”

Fr. Paul A.M. Gofigan, rector of Dulce Nombre De Maria Cathedral-Basilica, told the Pacific Daily News that when the movement aims to start a new community, it offers testimonials at churches.

“Many have been very offended that the non-Neos have become a captive audience because these testimonials have been inserted into the Mass,” he said.

Since the Neocatechumenal Way was founded, the group has sometimes been cautioned by the Vatican for inserting various novel practices into the Masses it organizes. These include practices such as lay preaching, the reception of Holy Communion while sitting, and the passing of the Most Precious Blood from person to person.

Posted: March 18, 2017, 10:02 pm

Rajshahi, Bangladesh, Mar 11, 2017 / 06:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A man acting as a guard outside a Catholic church in Bangladesh was injured in a knife attack on Friday. Local authorities attribute it to a private feud, and not terrorism.

According to local reports, Gilbert Costa, 65, was guarding Saint Rita parish in the Chatmohar upazila of the Pabna district, about 55 miles southeast of Rajshahi, when he was attacked in the early hours of March 10 by several young men from his village wielding knives.

“He was hacked randomly by sharp knives and was left severely injured. He was shifted to a hospital where his condition is now stable,” local police chief Ahsan Habib told AFP.

Officials have ruled out a link to Islamic terrorism, and have said that the attack was motivated by “personal enmity.”

“Costa and his relatives have identified the attackers with whom they had personal feud in the village. We have found no extremist connection whatsoever,” Habib told AFP.

Three young men from Costa's village have been arrested in connection with the attack.

Christians have suffered numerous attacks in the country, where they make up approximately 0.2 percent of the population in the Muslim-majority nation.

While the country has a history of violence against Christians, violence has spiked in the wake of the rise of extreme Islamic terrorism. In November 2015, an Italian missionary priest working at a hospital in Bangladesh, was shot and critically injured an attack claimed by the Islamic State. In summer 2016, several attacks left dozens dead, including a Catholic man coming home from Sunday prayers in June and 28 people who died in a hostage situation in July.

Pope Francis recently met with families of the victims of the 2016 hostage scenario, most of whom were foreigners from Italy and Japan. During his visit with the families, he offered his prayers and encouraged forgiveness.

“It's easy to take the road from love that leads to hatred, while it is difficult to do the opposite: from bitterness and hatred to go towards love,” he said.

Despite the persecution, the Catholic population in Bangladesh is reportedly on the rise. In 2015, Pope Francis established a new diocese in the south-central region of the country, due to an increase of Catholics in the region.

Posted: March 11, 2017, 1:08 pm

Seoul, South Korea, Mar 9, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The first Bishop of Pyongyang, an American born-bishop, and numerous priests and laity are among the 213 who could be beatified and advanced on the process to sainthood under a process begun in South Korea.

Bishop Lazarus You Heung-sik of Daejon predicted it will take at least ten years before any beatification or canonization, “but for our people, these people are already holy.”

The bishop heads the Korean bishops’ committee considering the beatifications. He told Asia News that important parts of the path to beatification are the Catholic faithful’s prayer and “desire to follow the spirit of the martyrs.”

One group under consideration for beatification includes Servant of God Bishop Francis Borgia Hong Yong-ho and 80 companions. This broad group ranges from the martyrs of the 1901 Jeju massacre, in which about 300 Catholics were killed, to the victims of persecution following the division of Korea following the Second World War.

Bishop Hong, born in 1906, was ordained a priest in 1933 under Japanese occupation. He was named the first native Bishop of Pyongyang in 1944. He was an apostolic vicar to a region considered mission territory by the Church. With the rise of communism, he was imprisoned in 1949. His fate is unknown, but he is believed to have died in a concentration camp in North Korea.

Until 2013, when he would have been 107, the Vatican considered him missing. Acknowledgment of his death opened the path to possible beatification.

Bishop Patrick James Byrne, a native of Washington, D.C., is also among the group. The Maryknoll missionary was born in 1888. He was ordained a priest in 1915, then served in Korea and Japan before the Second World War. In April 1949 he was named the first apostolic delegate to Korea, and ordained a bishop at the age of 60 in 1949.

In July 1950 he was arrested by communists and put on trial. He and other priests were put on forced marches. During a four-month-long forced march, suffering from bad weather and a lack of food and shelter, he died Nov. 25, 1950.

Altogether, the group associated with Bishop Hong includes two bishops, 48 priests, three seminarians, seven religious sisters, and 21 lay people.

The second group, Servant of God John Baptist Yi Byeok and his 132 companions, were all lay people killed for their faith between 1785 and 1879. Yi was from a family of court dignitaries who under the Joseon dynasty converted to Catholicism and helped evangelize Korea. He was martyred at the age of 33.

One of their number, Alexius Hwang Sa-yeong, died by martyrdom when his arms and legs were tied to four animals which were then driven away in opposite directions, dismembering him.

Another in the group died in exile and his martyrdom must be verified.

The Korean bishops' conference has set up a special committee for the causes of saints with a Vatican mandate to consider martyrs who belong to different dioceses.

Posted: March 9, 2017, 1:02 pm

Beijing, China, Mar 5, 2017 / 05:31 am (CNA).- For some 35 years, the population of China was strictly controlled by the Communist government’s one-child policy.

Parents were only allowed one child, and additional pregnancies meant forced abortions or hefty fines and penalties, such as the loss of a job. These additional children could be denied family household registration, which is the equivalent of denying them citizenship and basic services such as public transportation and education.

There have been recent relaxations of the one-child policy. Alarmed by an aging population, shrinking workforce and potentially stagnating economy, government officials announced in 2013 that couples could apply to have a second child if either partner was an only child themselves. In 2015, the rule relaxed even further, changing from a one-child policy to a two-child policy for everyone.

But what about the estimated 13 million unregistered second and third children, stuck in the cracks of a government policy that refused to recognize their existence?

A short documentary entitled “Invisible lives: The legacy of China’s family planning rules” from the Thomas Reuters Foundation explores the lives of these people.

“I don’t think the Chinese government has realized the human rights catastrophe caused by the family planning rules,” said Yang Zhizhu, an associate professor of civil law in Beijing.

“The family planning rules have always been a mistake. It’s not that we don’t need them now. It’s that we never needed them.”

In 2010, Zhizhu was suspended from teaching and fined $36,000 – nine times the average income in his district – for having a second child. Since then, Zhizhu has tried to come up with creative ways to fight the policy, including posting a photo of himself online trying to “sell himself” to come up with the money for the fine, and being careful to write and record his experiences of injustice with the policy.

In 2012, the university reinstated his salary, but he is still not allowed to teach.

It wasn’t Zhizhu’s plan to spend his life fighting the family planning rules, but because no one else seems to be doing it, “I have to do it,” he said.

Li Xue is another living casualty of the one-child policy. The second daughter to her parents, who couldn’t afford to pay the fines that would allow her to be registered, Xue has spent her entire life hidden at home, watching her older sister go to school and have friends and get a job.

“You can’t get married without registration,” Xue said. “Then, if you have a child, your child can’t be registered.”

When the one-child policy changed in 2015, it was unclear what that meant for unregistered people like Xue.

“Sometimes I want to travel. But I don’t have an ID, so I cannot. I cannot buy tickets,” she said.

Even though she was denied a public education, Xue has been studying law on her own to sue the police for her right to citizenship. In August 2016, she was granted registration, but has been unable to access state benefits, because she lacks records from the first 23 years of her life.

The policy has also penalized unmarried parents. Liu Chunyan, a single mother, had to choose between paying an exorbitant fine – about $120,000 – or having her daughter be unregistered, and therefore forgo state benefits.

“Unplanned children, if they disappear one day, we don’t even need to de-register them,” Chunyan said. “It’s sad. As if they had never been in this world.”

With the recent relaxation of the policy, it was announced in April last year that unregistered children could be registered without fines. Chunyan registered her daughter, who has since been attending school and struggling to catch up with the other students. So far, she has not been contacted about a fine.

Zhizhu’s family wants more children, but fears additional fines. When the policy changed to a two-child policy in 2015, several Chinese citizens told the New York Times that they weren’t sure the new policy would make them want to have second children, citing the high cost of raising children in China.

Another impact the one-child policy left in its wake is an imbalanced gender ratio. Poor and rural families often preferred boy children over girls, “sometimes even resorting to infanticide to ensure they have a son,” the New York Times reported.

So while many agreed that the one-child policy needed to change, they have viewed the new policies with trepidation. And it is unclear how long it will take culturally to change the minds of a generation who has been raised to believe that one child is best.

“There has been progress over the years, but it doesn’t live up to our hope,” said Mrs. Zhizhu.

“It takes many generations to create the society we wish for.”


Posted: March 5, 2017, 12:31 pm

Manila, Philippines, Feb 28, 2017 / 05:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Caught in the throes of a brutal war on drugs, the people of the Philippines are increasingly looking to the Catholic Church to provide refuge and resistance.

Since last summer, more than 7,000 people, usually suspected drug addicts or dealers, have been killed by law enforcement officers in President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs. The attacks are often carried out in hit-and-run nighttime shootings by gunmen on motorcycles.

As the death toll mounts, more Catholic leaders and laypeople are taking action.

This week, The Guardian reported that many Catholic priests have been offering their churches as sanctuaries for people on government “kill lists,” or to those who believe they will be targeted. The Catholic Church connects these people to an underground network of people who provide refuge and assistance, such as finding employment.

One priest, Father Gilbert Billena, told The Guardian that at first he favored the war on drugs, and even voted for President Duterte, “but I didn’t expect this outcome,” he said. Now he offers sanctuary to those in danger.

Still, some priests and Catholics have been afraid to speak out or offer assistance, fearing that they will become the next targets. Many Filipinos, the majority of whom are Catholic, also support the drug war, believing that it will make their neighborhoods safer.

Leaders in the Catholic Church have been increasingly outspoken against the violent drug war, calling it a “reign of terror” in a recent pastoral letter that was read at all the Sunday Masses in the country on February 5. The letter, from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, denounced the killings and offered prayers and solidarity to the families of those who have been killed.

Brother Jun Santiago, with the religious order the Redemptorists, has been resisting the drug war in another way. Most nights, when the most brutal attacks of the drug war take place, he is out on the streets with journalists, capturing the scenes on his camera.

“I’m trying to get out of the brutality,” he said in a recent interview with Quartz. “I want to capture the stench, the smell of the crime scene. The night is so powerful. The darkness is so powerful. Right now people are sleeping and they don’t know what’s happening.”

In December, his photos made headlines after they were blown up and displayed outside of the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Manila, also known as the Baclaran Church, where Br. Jun’s apostolate is based.

“It was a unique way of exposing reality,” Father Carlos Ronquillo, the rector of the Baclaran, told Quartz. “The power of images is something that I think can be harnessed if we as a church want to engage people to think deeply about what’s happening. Not only through words. Not only through preaching.”

Besides photography, the clergy and faithful of Baclaran Church also offer sanctuary and assistance to those whose lives are threatened by the drug wars. Through a program called the extra-judicial killing (EJK) response program, the church provides financial support, legal assistance, rehab programs and other aid to victims and families of the war on drugs. They also follow up with families of the victims photographed by Br. Jun.

“The concrete actions we are doing are really non-political,” Dennis Febre, who works for the program, told Quartz. “We respect [Duterte] as the president of the country, but at the same time the government needs to respect human rights.”

President Duterte and the Catholic leadership of the country have frequently clashed, with Duterte attacking the Church whenever they have spoken out against his leadership or his war on drugs.

In their recent pastoral letter, the Catholic bishops of the country called on the government to address the root causes of the drug problem, including poverty, family breakdown, and corruption. They said the government should address these problems through anti-poverty efforts to provide employment and living wages; family strengthening efforts; and reform in the country’s police forces, judicial systems and politics, rather than wholesale killings.

“To destroy one’s own life and the life of another, is a grave sin and does evil to society. The use of drugs is a sign that a person no longer values his own life, and endangers the lives of others. We must all work together to solve the drug problem and work for the rehabilitation of drug addicts,” they said.


Posted: March 1, 2017, 12:08 am

Hyderabad, Pakistan, Feb 17, 2017 / 11:46 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pakistanis are mourning those killed and wounded in a series of terrorist attacks which have taken place this week in the country, including one on a Sufi shrine that left more than 80 people dead.

“People in Pakistan are above all sad; they are also angry with the institutions that are not able to protect citizens. Finally they feel fragile, vulnerable, helpless in the face of [a] terrorist threat that spares no one,” Fr. Inayat Bernard, director of Santa Maria Seminary in Lahore, told Fides.

“We condemn this senseless violence against innocent human beings. Before any ethnic, cultural or religious connotation, the victims are human beings,” he continued.

A suicide bomber reportedly loyal to the Islamic State attacked devotees at a Sufi shrine in Sehwan, more than 90 miles northwest of Hyderabad, on Thursday. In addition to the more than 80 killed in the attack, some 250 were wounded. Sufism is a form of Islamic mysticism which the Islamic State opposes, in part because it reveres individuals it regards as saints. The shrine in Sehwan which was attacked is devoted to Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a Sufi poet and philosopher of the 13th century.

Since Monday, there have also been terrorist attacks or attempts in Lahore, Quetta, Peshawar, Mohmand, and Arawan.

In a security crackdown in response to the attacks, Pakistani forces have killed more than 100 militants. It has closed border crossings with Afghanistan, whence it claims the militants were based.

“Today we know that we are all potential targets,” Fr. Bernard commented. “Even us Christians – no one is excluded. The victims of these latest attacks are all Muslims, tomorrow it could be the turn of a Christian, a Hindu or a Sikh. This indiscriminate violence hits places of worship, such as the Sufi mosque in Karachi, or churches in the past.”

He lamented that “religious communities are forced to adopt their own security measures and cannot rely on the government. There should be more control, but it is very difficult when there is a great influx of faithful.”

“This violence profanes the name of God, profanes Islam and uses religion to try to overthrow the state. Public opinion strongly calls on the government to urgently implement the national action plan against terrorism, already outlined, but there is some hesitation on behalf of the government and this gives rise to many questions on the possible existing connections even in the institutional apparatus. We are in an impasse".

Catholics in Pakistan are called to “pray and show deep empathy and solidarity” to the Sufi victims in Sehwan, he said.

“We brought our condolences to the police, after the massacre in Lahore; we go to hospitals to offer assistance and solidarity to the injured,” he said.

He added that interreligious meetings are being organized “to reject, in the name of God, [the] terrorism that has bloodied our beloved nation, and say yes to peace and respect for life.”

Posted: February 17, 2017, 6:46 pm

Manila, Philippines, Feb 8, 2017 / 05:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Though the Philippines president has professed a willingness to go “to hell” to win his deadly war on drugs, the country’s bishops have said Catholics must speak out against its evils.

“This traffic in illegal drugs needs to be stopped and overcome. But the solution does not lie in the killing of suspected drug users and pushers,” they said.

“The life of every person comes from God. It is he who gives it, and it is he alone who can take it back. Not even the government has a right to kill life because it is only God's steward and not the owner of life.”

Silence in the face of evil means becoming an accomplice to it, they warned.

“If we neglect the drug addicts and pushers we have become part of the drug problem, if we consent or allow the killing of suspected drug addicts, we shall also be responsible for their deaths.”

The pastoral letter, dated Jan. 30, bears the signature of Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. It was read at all Sunday Masses Feb. 5. The letter comes soon after the bishops’ biannual plenary assembly held in Manila. It took its title from Ezekiel 32, in which God says “For I find no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies.”

President Rodrigo Duterte's violent crackdown on drug use has claimed more than 6,000 lives in the six months since he took office. At least 2,250 drug suspects have been reported killed by police, while at least 3,700 others were murdered by unknown suspects who sometimes accused their victims of being drug dealers or addicts, according to Agence France Presse.

Many priests and bishops have been afraid to speak out against the killings, Jerome Secillano, public affairs chief for the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, said in January.

The pastoral letter appeared aimed to break the silence.

“Let us not allow fear to reign and keep us silent. Let us put into practice not only our native inner strength but the strength that comes from our Christian faith,” the bishops said.

They warned of a “reign of terror” and the lack of justice against those who commit killings. They rebuked indifference to the killings and those claim the killings are “something that needs to be done.”

Those who murder drug dealers are also committing grave sins, the bishops said.

“We cannot correct a wrong by doing another wrong,” they explained. “A good purpose is not a justification for using evil means. It is good to remove the drug problem, but to kill in order to achieve this is also wrong.”

Duterte’s response to the pastoral letter was adamant.

“You Catholics, if you believe in your priests and bishops, you stay with them,” the president said Sunday. “If you want to go to heaven, then go to them. Now, if you want to end drugs ... I will go to hell, come join me.”

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella, a former pastor of an evangelical Protestant church, said that the bishops’ conference appears “out of touch with the sentiments of the faithful who overwhelmingly support the changes in the Philippines,” Fox News reports.

For their part, the bishops stressed the importance of presuming an accused person is innocent. They said legal processes must be followed and society has processes to apprehend, convict and punish those who are guilty of crimes.

According to the bishops, there are several root causes of drug problems and criminality: poverty, family breakdown, and corruption. They said people should address these problems through anti-poverty efforts to provide employment and living wages; family strengthening efforts; and reform in the country’s police forces, judicial systems and politics.

Every person has the chance to change because of God’s mercy, the bishops said. The Catholic Church’s recently concluded Year of Mercy deepened awareness that Jesus Christ “offered his own life for sinners, to redeem them and give them a new future.”

“To destroy one’s own life and the life of another, is a grave sin and does evil to society. The use of drugs is a sign that a person no longer values his own life, and endangers the lives of others. We must all work together to solve the drug problem and work for the rehabilitation of drug addicts,” the bishops said.

“We in the Church will continue to speak against evil even as we acknowledge and repent of our own shortcomings. We will do this even if it will bring persecution upon us because we are all brothers and sisters responsible for each other. We will help drug addicts so that they may be healed and start a new life.”

The bishops said they will stand with the families of those who have been killed.

Posted: February 9, 2017, 12:02 am

Tokyo, Japan, Feb 8, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A 17th century Catholic Samurai and martyr was beatified during a Mass in ‎Osaka, Japan on Tuesday.

Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Vatican’s ‎Congregation for the Causes of Saints, presided over the Beatification Mass of Justo Takayama Ukon, who was declared a martyr by Pope Francis in January last year.

Takayama Ukon was born in 1552 in Japan during the time when Jesuit missionaries were being introduced within the country. By the time Takayama was 12, his father had converted to Catholicism and had his son baptized as “Justo” by the Jesuit Fr. Gaspare di Lella.

Takayama's position in Japanese society as daimyo (a feudal lord) allowed him many benefits, such as owning grand estates and raising vast armies. As a Catholic, Takayama used his power to support and protect the short-lived missionary expansion within Japan, influencing the conversion of thousands of Japanese.

When a time of persecution set in within the country under the reign of Japan's chancellor Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1587, many newly-converted Catholics abandoned their beliefs.

By the 1620s, most missionaries were either driven out of the country or into underground ministry. These missionary priests would have been of the same era as those featured in the recent movie “Silence” by director Martin Scorsese. Although the film is based on a fictional novel by the Japanese author Shusaku Endo, many of the events and people depicted in “Silence” are real.

Instead of denying their faith, Takayama and his father left their prestigious position in society and chose a life of poverty and exile. Although many of his friends tried to persuade Takayama to deny Catholicism, he remained strong in his beliefs.

Takayama “did not want to fight against other Christians, and this led him to live a poor life, because when a samurai does not obey his 'chief,' he loses everything he has,” Fr. Anton Witwer, a general postulator of the Society of Jesus, told CNA in 2014.

Ten years passed, and the chancellor became more fierce in his persecution against Christians. He eventually crucified 26 Catholics, and by 1614, Christianity in Japan was completely banned.
The new boycott on Christianity forced Takayama to leave Japan in exile with 300 other Catholics. They fled to the Philippines, but not long after his arrival, Takayama died on February 3, 1615.

In 2013, the Japanese bishops' conference submitted the lengthy 400-page application for the beatification of Takayama to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. On Jan. 22, 2016, Takayama's advancement in the cause for canonization was further promulgated when Pope Francis approved his decree of martyrdom.

“Since Takayama died in exile because of the weaknesses caused by the maltreatments he suffered in his homeland, the process for beatification is that of a martyr,” Fr. Witwer explained.
Takayama's life exemplifies the Christian example of "a great fidelity to the Christian vocation, persevering despite all difficulties," Fr. Witwer continued.

"As a Christian, as a leader, as a cultural person, as a pioneer of adaptation, Ukon is a ‎role model and ‎there ‎are many things we can learn from him,” ‎Father Renzo De Luca, and Argentinian Jesuit and the director of the 26 Martyrs Museum ‎in Nagasaki‎, told Vatican Radio.   

“In this era of political distrust, I think he ‎will be helpful ‎for ‎people other than Christians.”

Posted: February 8, 2017, 10:02 am

Orissa, India, Feb 7, 2017 / 03:02 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.”

Posted: February 7, 2017, 10:02 am

Sydney, Australia, Feb 6, 2017 / 10:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Days before Australia’s Royal Commission on institutional sex abuse begins their final hearing into the Church’s response to their abuse crisis, the country’s bishops have issued several statements expressing sorrow for past failures, and committing to do more to protect children.

“Deeply mindful of the hurt and pain caused by abuse, I once again offer my apology on behalf of the Catholic Church,” Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, president of the Australian Bishops' Conference, said in a Feb. 5 letter to the faithful of Australia.

“I am sorry for the damage that has been done to the lives of victims of sexual abuse. As Pope Francis said recently, ‘it is a sin that shames us.’”

The archbishop made issued the statement as Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse begins its final three-week review of how the Catholic Church in Australia has responded to sex abuse allegations. The commission was established in 2013, and investigates the handling of child sex abuse allegations by religious groups, schools, government organizations, and sporting associations.

Australia’s sexual abuse crisis has been one of the most shocking and widely known in the Church.

In his statement, Archbishop Hart noted that during the coming hearing many of the country’s bishops and Catholic leaders will give their testimonies, explaining what the Church has done so far to change “the old culture” that had allowed abuse to continue for so long, as well as what is being done now to protect and safeguard children.

Again referring to a statement made by Pope Francis, the archbishop urged the entire Church to “find the courage needed to take all necessary measures and to protect in every way the lives of our children, so that such crimes may never be repeated.”

In a similar message Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney said he personally has felt “shaken and humiliated” by what the Royal Commission has uncovered.

“The Church is sorry and I am sorry for past failures that left so many so damaged,” he said. “I know that many of our priests, religious and lay faithful feel the same: as Catholics we hang our heads in shame.”

So far the findings have been “harrowing,” Fisher said, explaining that the commission has heard the “distressing and shameful cases” of sexual abuse recounted by “courageous survivors” dating back to the 1950s.

Numbers garnered from the various testimonies gathered show that claims of child sexual abuse have been made against 384 diocesan priests, 188 religious priests, 579 religious brothers, and as many as 96 religious sisters since 1950.

Claims have also been made against some 543 lay workers in the Church, as well as another 72 persons whose religious status “is unknown.”

Among religious institutes, 40 percent of the members of the St. John of God Brothers in Australia have been accused of child sexual abuse. More than 20 percent of the Christian Brothers, Salesians, and Marist Brothers have face accusations.

In March 2015 Cardinal George Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, testified before the commission for the third time after allegations resurfaced in 2014 claiming that he moved known pedophile Fr. Gerald Ridsdale, bribed a victim of the later-laicized priest, and failed to act on a victim’s complaint. Before his appointment to the Secretariat for the Economy, Cardinal Bell had been Archbishop of Sydney

Despite having testified before the commission twice before on the same charges with no guilty verdict, Cardinal Pell voluntarily offered to testify again and, not being able to make the long flight to Australia, participated in the hearing via video-conference in Rome.

On Feb. 7, the Royal Commission will resume its public hearing on the current policies and procedures the Catholic Church in Australia has put into place regarding child protection and safety standards, including how to respond to allegations of sexual abuse.

During the hearing, Archbishop Fisher and others will be participating in a panel to discuss not only what went wrong with the Church’s response in the past, but also what can be done better in the future.

In his statement, Archbishop Fisher noted that unlike previous hearings which focused primarily on individual cases, this one will address “the big picture” with the participation of “expert witnesses” alongside both Church leaders and lay people, some of whom hail from his own archdiocese.

The commission will now focus on two primary issues: the factors led to the all the abuse cases in the Church as well as the Church’s failures to respond adequately, as well as what the Church has done and plans to do to address the problem, including by changing her programs, policies and structures.

Part of the discussion will also be dedicated to a better discernment of priestly and religious vocations, as well as the formation and supervision of those already in active ministry.

Archbishop Fisher noted that both “claims and alleged perpetrators” are referred to in the commission’s report, and that no distinction is made between claims that have been proven and those that haven’t. Neither does the report distinguish between claims substantiated by the Church in an internal investigation from those accepted by the Church without any investigation.

While statistics show that “the overwhelming majority” of sexual abuse took place in the 1950s-70s, and that abuse accusations have “declined very considerably” since, Archbishop Fisher said, “we are not complacent when it comes to child safety and to ensuring a child safe environment in the Church.”

“We recognize our responsibility to ensure that all measures are in place to prevent this happening again. We also recognize that there are abuse victims who are yet to come forward and perhaps never will,” he said, noting that to date, claims have been made against seven percent of priests ministering in the three dioceses of greater Sydney since 1950.

Archbishop Fisher noted that the coming weeks of the commission’s final hearing on the Church’s response “will be traumatic for everyone involved, especially the survivors.”

However, “confronting as it will be, I remain determined to do all we can to assist those who have been harmed by the Church and to work toward a culture of greater transparency, accountability and safety for all children.”

The archbishop voiced his conviction that when “the humiliation and purgation through which we are presently passing” is over, the Church will be more humble and compassionate Church in the area of abuse.

Archbishop Fisher voiced his gratitude for the steps already taken and acknowledged the various parishes, schools and agencies working to make the Church “a safer place.”

With media attention on the hearing expected to be high, with some reports “confronting,” Archbishop Fisher welcomed those who feel “upset or demoralized” by the coverage to speak with their parish priest, and for priests to speak with their dean or bishop. He noted that counseling services will also be available for those who need it.

He urged anyone alleging abuse to contact the police, and asked for prayers “for all those involved in this hearing for wisdom and compassion. Above all, please pray for the survivors and their families at this most difficult time.”

Posted: February 6, 2017, 5:32 pm

Manila, Philippines, Jan 31, 2017 / 07:37 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic bishops of the Philippines voiced strong objections to proposals intended to reinstate the death penalty in the country.

“The Gospel of the Lord Jesus is the Gospel of Life. It is this Gospel we must preach. It is this Gospel that we must uphold,” Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said Jan. 30.

“We therefore unequivocally oppose proposals and moves to return the death penalty into the Philippine legal system,” he added. “We urge the government to champion life for all!”

Speaking on behalf of the national bishops’ conference, Archbishop Villegas pointed to the 2006 repeal of legislation that imposed the death penalty for heinous crimes, calling this repeal “a considerable stride in the defense of life.” He said there is an “unmistakable” global trend against the death penalty and international agreements oblige the country not to impose it.

The Philippines legislature is considering a bill that would restore the death penalty for 21 crimes categorized as “heinous.” These include treason, some forms of murder and rape, violent car thefts, and nine drug offenses, the New York Times reports. Some drug crimes involving as little as 10 grams of methamphetamines or marijuana oil result in capital punishment.

Archbishop Villegas voiced regret over the “strident efforts” to revive the death penalty.

“Though the crime be heinous, no person is ever beyond redemption, and we have no right ever giving up on any person,” he said.

“When we condemn violence, we cannot ourselves be its perpetrators, and when we decry murder, we cannot ourselves participate in murder, no matter that it may be accompanied by the trappings of judicial and legal process.”

The country’s bishops have previously clashed with the government of President Rodrigo Duterte, charging that his drug war violates legal process and moral norms.

At least 2,250 drug suspects have been reported killed by police, while at least 3,700 others were murdered by unknown suspects who sometimes accused their victims of being drug dealers or addicts, according to Agence France Presse.

Some churches have put up banners denouncing the extrajudicial killings, while some priests and bishops are afraid to speak out against the killings, Jerome Secillano, public affairs chief for the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, said last week.


Posted: February 1, 2017, 2:37 am

Manila, Philippines, Jan 25, 2017 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic leaders have spoken out against a drug war that has left thousands dead, and the Philippines' new president is not taking the criticism well.

President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war is “not any more in accord with the legal processes, and the moral norms are being violated and so now is the time for the Church to speak up,” Jerome Secillano, public affairs chief for the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, told Agence France Presse last week.

He added that many priests and bishops are afraid to speak out against the killings, as well as the laity.

Baclaran church put on an exhibit of poster-size pictures of Filipinos dying in pools of blood in a campaign against the killings of the war on drugs. Some churches have put up banners denouncing the extrajudicial killings.

“When you speak to people on the ground, there is a lot of fear...many people, especially the urban poor, feel that anybody can be tagged and killed,” Auxiliary Bishop of Manila Broderick Pabillo said.

Duterte's violent crackdown on drug use has claimed more than 6,000 lives in the six months since he took office. At least 2,250 drug suspects have been reported killed by police, while at least 3,700 others were murdered by unknown suspects who sometimes accused their victims of being drug dealers or addicts, according to AFP.

“I am ashamed of the things I read about the Philippines in the international media and more ashamed of what I hear from our leaders,” the bishops' conference president, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, said.

For his part, President Duterte called on the Church to rebuke drug users. “Most people here are Catholic. If you are a good priest, make them understand that they will die,” he said.

The president also engaged in polemical attacks against the clergy. “You criticize the police, you criticize me. For what? You have the money. You are all crazy,” the president continued, making insinuations about sexual abuse by clergy.

The president challenged the Church to a “showdown” and threatened to expose abuse and corruption in the Church, Reuters reports.

One of the president's top advisers, Jesus Dureza, met Pope Francis the day previously to deliver a letter that thanked the Pope for his 2015 visit to the Philippines. The Pope had said he would bless the country and “also bless your president.”

One Catholic bishop responded to his controversial comments, defending the Church's right to criticize the president’s wrongdoing even if some clergy are corrupt.

“Even a sick doctor must still try to cure ailments of others, and, of course, his too,” Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa said Jan. 20.

He said the Church is also determined to counter internal corruption.

“Bishops and priests, who hide serious misdeeds, are harming the Church by their infidelities. If anyone has concrete evidence of misdeed, the authorities better know it and clean the ranks,” Archbishop Arguelles said.

“Churchmen are not perfect. Nevertheless, they are supposed to proclaim what is right and proper even if they themselves fall short of what they teach.”

“The fault of some should not be blamed on all,” he added.

The controversy over the drug war killings had also surfaced over the holidays, when Cardinal Luis Tagle's Christmas message was taken as an implicit criticism of the killings.

“Why is there room for destroying lives but minute space for saving them?” he asked.

Posted: January 25, 2017, 7:02 am

Manila, Philippines, Jan 16, 2017 / 11:36 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Philippines government has blocked several commonly accessed pornography websites, on both desktop and portable devices, citing child pornography laws.

The country’s National Telecommunications Commission told CNN that it had ordered all ISPs in the nation to block access to the sites, beginning January 14.

While Smart and Sun Cellular customers said the sites were inaccessible, the BBC suggested – based on social media reports – that other ISPs were still allowing access to the sites.

The news comes amid studies continuing to show a staggering increase in pornography viewing, as well as many harmful effects of pornography use, including decreased gray matter in the brain, addiction to pornography, violent sexual behaviors, and a decrease in virility .  

In recent years, several major restaurant chains – including McDonalds, Starbucks, Panera and Chick-fil-A – have introduced pornography filtering to their internet.

Hotel chains including Hyatt, Marriott and Omni have also removed on-demand pornography from their hotel rooms, citing the connection between pornography and human trafficking.


Posted: January 16, 2017, 6:36 pm

Bhubaneswar, India, Jan 14, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- India is a country of more than 1.2 billion people, with Christians accounting for only some three percent of the population, including close to 19 million Catholics. Despite its relatively small size, the Indian Church has a disproportionate impact on Indian society through education and social services. With the ascension to power of the Hindu nationalist BJP party, there has been a rising tide of violent attacks on Christians as well as Muslims.

Growing intolerance of religions considered to be foreign imports adds to the wounds of both Christian and Muslims of low caste background – known as dalits – who are denied government benefits awarded to low-caste Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhist to compensate for centuries of discrimination by the dominant Hindu culture.

To address the needs of dalits within the Church – where low-caste faithful have also suffered various forms of discrimination, despite the fact that 12 million of India’s Catholics are dalits – the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India has released a document which proclaims that “if there are any dual practices based on caste discrimination, such practices should be stopped forthwith.” It also says that dalit Christians keep alive the vision of God’s reign for justice and love.

Recently, representatives of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the international Catholic charity, returned from a fact-finding mission to India, where it met with four of the six bishops of Odisha state. In 2008, Hindu mob violence in the community of Kandhamal in Odisha State killed some 100 Christians. The case is slowly making its way through the court system, as Christian defendants are gradually being exonerated from the charge of having provoked the rampage. On Dec. 13, 2016, Pinarayi Vijayan, the Chief Minister of Kerala, asked for a new investigation of the massacre.

Please find below the full text of ACN's conversation with the bishops in Odisha:

ACN: What are the prospects for Christian and Muslim dalits being granted the same benefits as low-caste members of the Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh communities?

Bishop Aplinar Senapati of Rayagada: Since 1950 we are fighting for the rights and benefits of the dalit Christians but right now I do not see the brighter perspectives. However, our fight continues on the national, CBCI and state level. I hope and pray our government will grand these benefits to the dalit Christians.

Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak  of Berhampur: This a clear-cut violation of the constitutional provisions of equality before the law. Christian and Muslim dalits are denied affirmative action benefits purely on the basis of religion – the Constitution forbids this. We have been fighting for these rights for the past 60 years; the case is presently before the Supreme Court. The current government does not want to amend the 1950 Presidential Order which excluded dalit Christians and Muslims from the provision. Our hope is that the Supreme Court will respond to this injustice, which has been suffered by millions of dalits for decades.The Church will continue to raise its voice in demanding justice be done.

Bishop Niranjan Sual Singh of Sambalpur: The primary, hidden reason the government opposes benefits for Christian dalits is a concern that once low-caste Christian can take advantage of affirmative action with regard to education and access to civil service jobs, many Hindu dalits will convert to Christianity.

ACN: How is the Indian Church dealing with the challenge of itself fully welcoming dalits?

Bishop Singh: The Church must welcome these new believers; it is dalits in particular who accept Christianity; they find there a sense of brotherhood, equality and love; in Hinduism they stil face discrimination, being barred from entering the temple by the high castes. Dalit Christians like the Church’s universal nature and its egalitarian ethos. The Church must invite these people, the poorest, most neglected, whom the Gospel invites us to work for most.

Unfortunately, in many places, dalit Christians are not given equal opportunities. For instance, dalit children are barred from being altar servers or dalits cannot be lectors; Mass is segregated and there are separate cemeteries for dalits and cemeteries for high castes. Dalits are often not considered for leadership positions in the Church; and some communities oppose marriage of dalits with high-caste Catholics. This is a big concern. Dalits account for more than half of all Indian Catholics.

The future of the Church will be with the dalit community – it is high time the Church abolish all segregation and discrimination. The Church needs to develop its own program of affirmative action to help both the dalits and tribals among the faithful.

Bishop Senapati: We make no distinction between high and low-caste Christians in Odisha. We fully welcome dalits. We are all baptized in one faith – we have one God. We welcome all the people.

ACN: Does the Church see genuine opportunities for dialogue with moderate Hindus as a tool to combat Hindu extremism?

Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar: We are all children of God and one day we will all understand that. Hate campaigns do not build up society. There is an openness among the Hindu population at large; they are drawn by the example of Christian love, as witnessed in a particular way by St. Mother Teresa. All kinds of “dialogues of life” are taken place – being together, getting to know each other. This is leading to unity and solidarity.

Of course, we need dialogue more than the Hindu majority. We have to take the initiative and demonstrate our willingness to dialogue. The Church presents itself as being at the service of everybody. We are making progress. A great majority of the Indian people are good-hearted; not all are extremists.

India is a land of Hindus where we are a tiny minority. But we should be proud that we are able to do so much through our dedication and commitment – let us make this more visible and vibrant. The Church can become like a lamp on top of a mountain, a light for all to see.

Bishop Singh: We are seen as a Church that creates harmony among faiths. For example, in the wake of the 2008 killings, Christians did not take revenge. That was very significant. The Church belongs to the powerless of society, people who naturally do not choose violence; they respond to violence with acts of reconciliation and a message of peace. Non-violence is also a witness to Jesus; it shows Hindus the power of our faith, the power and freedom not to meet violence with violence; the Church is an agent of love, forgiveness. That is our identity and it makes the Church a powerful witness.

Bishop Senapati: We push for peace, reconciliation and the emancipation of the poor, irrespective of caste, creed or religion. All deserve the opportunity to develop themselves and become self-sufficient. We must be a genuine religion of love and brotherhood. Nothing is more important. There are Hindu leaders who are very good and appreciate the real message Jesus has for India – such as forgiveness, peace, love for the poor, etc. With them we can have the dialogue.

ACN: What areas of the Church’s life and ministry need the most strengthening in India?

Bishop Singh: We need to stress the notion of catholicity – the Church’s oneness. Our Church is too much divided according to language, ethnicity and geography. Our dialogue with other faiths has to go deeper – we need to reach out, to better understand others, and thus move toward brotherhood. We need to intensify our activity among the poor; our concern for the poor has to be more visible. We risk being too much of an institutional Church that does not hear the cry of the poor – we need to elevate the poor! Mother Teresa’s canonization was a spur to action.

Bishop Nayak: The formation of the laity is crucial; we must help raise a generation of great Catholic leaders who will assume the responsibility proper to them in all aspects of society – social, political, economic, and environmental. We want to build up an enlightened laity.

ACN: Does the Church have confidence that, in the end, justice will be done in Odisha?

Archbishop Barwa: There is nothing impossible for God. Justice is slowly being done. There will be success and there will a growth of the Christian community in Odisha. The scars will take a long time to heal and evaporate. Prior to the massacre in Kandhamal, there was peace in this region; now trust has been broken; our people cannot trust those who burned down our houses and churches. Building up trust and confidence will take much longer than the reconstruction of homes and churches.

Posted: January 14, 2017, 11:02 pm
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