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Asian Christians continue to fight power abuses

India’s Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church is in hot water again over a controversial land deal. In other parts of Asia, there are stories of people craving rights and freedom along with messages of hope and blessings.

Published: July 02, 2021 11:30 AM GMT

Updated: July 02, 2021 05:12 PM GMT

This week we start with India where a controversial land deal that rocked its Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church four years ago has resurfaced. A group of priests who are members of the college of consultors and finance body in Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese in Kerala have called a restitution decree of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Eastern Churches unjust and unethical.

They have also decided to appeal against the decree to Singatura Apostolica, the supreme judicial authority of the Catholic Church. The Vatican decree, which was leaked to media last Sunday, seeks to recover the archdiocese's losses by selling two plots of land.

The demand for restitution began in November 2019 after a group of priests publicly accused Cardinal George Alencherry, the major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church of a shoddy land deal. Cardinal Alencherry allegedly bypassed canonical bodies to sell off several plots of church land, incurring a loss of some 10 million US dollars.

Following an investigation, the Vatican removed the cardinal from all administrative duties in the archdiocese two years ago. More than 385 priests in the archdiocese also signed a petition to the Vatican rejecting the land sell-off proposal.

Asian Christians continue to fight power abuses

Catholic priests and devotees pray during a Good Friday procession at a beach in Chowara, a village of fishermen in Ernakulam district of Kerala state, on April 2. (Photo: AFP)

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Human rights activists in Pakistan have strongly rejected a bill that seeks to define religious minorities as non-Muslims. The bill’s new definition for minorities stems from a demand of a Hindu parliamentarian last month.

Keeso Mal Kheeal Das, a member of the National Assembly, urged the state to refrain from using the word "minority" when referring to non-Muslims. The bill recommends a constitutional amendment, stating that referring to a large part of the population as minorities is unconstitutional, discriminatory and negates the sacrifices of the communities, who face being treated as second-class citizens.

Peter Jacob, director of the Centre for Social Justice, speaks at a conference on minorities in Lahore on June 25. (Photo: Centre for Social Justice)

During a conference on June 25, Christian and Muslim leaders expressed frustrations as they termed it as “an imposition of negative or collective identity” instead of a preferred religious identity. Some argued that the move reflects a dangerous trend of self-exclusion and reverse discrimination. In Islamic Pakistan, religious minorities including Islamic sects like Ahmadis have struggled for religious freedom amid extremist threats and political disempowerment.

In 1974, Pakistan declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims, triggering unending bouts of oppression and violence against the community. National census data shows the minority population has been decreasing as abuses and persecution by radicals remain high.

In Bangladesh, an explosion in capital Dhaka left seven people dead and about 50 injured, highlighting failures by regulatory bodies in curbing such recurring accidents and loss of lives in the country. The blast destroyed one building and damaged seven nearby buildings in the Moghbazar area of central Dhaka last Sunday.

The strong impact set off an electric transformer and set ablaze three public buses full of passengers. A horrific scene descended on Dhaka Community Hospital as scores were rushed for treatment with bloodied bodies amid a frantic search for beds, blood and medical supplies.

Investigators inspect a building in the Moghbazar area of Bangladesh's capital Dhaka after it was badly damaged in a massive blast on June 27 that left seven people dead and about 50 injured. (Photo: Piyas Biswas)

The cause of the explosion is still unknown. Police investigators and firefighters are trying to find out the cause, with the primary suspicion a gas leak. Deadly blasts are nothing new in Bangladesh. Last September, some 26 Muslims died in a gas blast in a mosque in Narayanganj district near Dhaka.

In 2016 and 2017, boiler blasts in two factories near Dhaka left some 44 workers dead and scores injured. 

In Thailand, the Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a massive spike in child pornography. Police have made a series of raids and busted rackets that produce and distribute child pornography.

In the latest case, police arrested a 28-year-old man who admitted he ran a website on Russian social media and networking platform VK that had more than 100,000 followers and has a secret group where users can view pornographic content featuring underage girls and vulnerable young women for 300 baht which is around 10 US dollars.

Clothes and other evidence are displayed at a police press conference in Bangkok on Feb. 16 to announce the arrest of the owner of a modeling agency for child pornography and sexual abuse. (Photo: AFP)

In January, a 44-year-old Israeli man was arrested in capital Bangkok for illegal possession of pornographic material involving children. In February, a 28-year-old Thai man, who ran a child model agency in Pathum Thani near Bangkok, was arrested for producing and distributing pornographic content involving underage boys.

Last year Thai police received nearly 170,000 tip-offs from locals about online pornographic content featuring children, a rise of 40 percent from the previous year.

A leading Catholic bishop in the Philippines has slammed President Rodrigo Duterte for a gradual loss of good governance and decency in the nation. Archbishop Socrates Villegas and Bishop Pablo Virgilio David celebrated a requiem Mass for former President Benigno Aquino with several Jesuits and clergymen last Saturday in Quezon City of Manila.

Aquino died on June 24 from renal failure and diabetes complications and his body was quickly buried amid Covid-19 restrictions. Archbishop Villegas delivered a homily where he urged the nation to bring back good and decent governance that has been dying since Duterte came to power.

Kris Aquino (center) places the urn of her brother, the late president Benigno Aquino, inside a tomb during his funeral in Manila on June 26. (Photo: AFP)

He noted that leaders should be servants, not bosses. The prelate hailed the late Aquino as an icon who dreamed of making Philippines a better society. Many Catholics saw this as a political statement aimed at the country’s next election.

Duterte became the 16th president of the Philippines in 2016. His regime has faced criticism for failing to reduce poverty, human rights violations including thousands of extrajudicial killings during an anti-drug war, controversial remarks and verbal attacks on the opposition, rights advocates and the Church. 

Christians in Indonesia’s restive Papua province have dismissed the central government’s move to oust the native Papuan governor as a ploy to perpetuate unrest and push through unpopular policies.

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The Protestant Church Council, which includes the Indonesian Christian Church in Papua, the Kemah Injili Church and the Evangelical Church in Indonesia, issued a pastoral letter on Sunday that alleged that the move to replace Governor Lukas Enembe shows the government’s lack of commitment to resolve problems in Papua. It also claimed that he is being removed for his opposition to unpopular policies.

Papuans protest in Nabire district in September 2020 to oppose the extension of a special autonomy law and to demand a referendum. (Photo supplied)

Many see the action as a bid to divide Papuans as Indonesian authorities seek to advance controversial policies such as an extension of special autonomy laws and the creation of a new autonomous region while many Papuans demand a referendum on independence from Indonesian rule.

Christian-majority Papua has witnessed decades of bloodshed and displacement due to a deadly insurgency for independence since the region’s annexation by Indonesia in 1962. 

The Catholic Church in Singapore has joined a project in collaboration with the government and tech giants Facebook, Google, Twitter and TikTok to get training about using social media effectively to tackle online radicalism.

Singapore’s Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth launched the pilot project last Saturday with an aim to curb cyber indoctrination. From June to August, the technology companies will conduct three workshops to help community and religious organizations strengthen their online presence and guide users about sensitive and radical content.

A Muslim devotee arriving for Friday prayers walks past social distancing markers at Al-Istighfar Mosque after the government lifted restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic in Singapore on June 25. (Photo: AFP)

The Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore, the National Council of Churches in Singapore, the Taoist Foundation and the Hindu Endowments Board have joined the project, which is believed to have stemmed from recent cases of cyber-radicalism in Singapore.

A 16-year-old Christian student was arrested for plotting attacks on two mosques and killing worshippers on March 15, the second anniversary of the New Zealand terror attacks. And a 20-year-old Singaporean Muslim solider was arrested for planning a deadly stabbing spree against Jews. The man planned to ambush and kill at least three Jews as they left a synagogue after prayers.

Amid political turmoil and deadly violence in military-ruled Myanmar, the Catholic Church recently welcomed six new Salesian priests in what is seen a sign of hope and blessing. Archbishop Marco Tin Win of Mandalay and Bishop Lucas Dau Ze of Lashio concelebrated the ordination Mass of six priests at the Shrine of Mary Help of Christians in Mandalay on June 24.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, only parents and some faithful were allowed to participate in the event, which was livestreamed on YouTube.

Archbishop Marco Tin Win stands in front of Sacred Heart Cathedral holding a sign calling for the release of detained leaders while anti-coup protesters march in Mandalay on Feb. 8. (Photo: RVA Myanmar Service)

The new priests come from diverse ethnic backgrounds in Christian-majority Kachin, Chin and Kayah states where thousands of people have been displaced due to ongoing conflict. Many are in a desperate situation amid a shortage of food, medicines and shelter.

Salesians have played a vital role in the Church’s mission in Myanmar since their arrival in Mandalay, the country’s second largest city, in 1939. Today, Salesians are based in various regions and respond to the needs of children, youth and their families in crisis. They also run programs to address poverty through vocational training for young people. 

Seoul Archdiocese in South Korea has expanded its charitable services for vulnerable homeless people by offering free health care in addition to free meals. The archdiocese inaugurated Raphael Nanum Homeless Clinic within Myeongdong Babjib, a popular soup kitchen for homeless people, at historic Myeongdong Cathedral Church in capital Seoul in the second week of June.

The clinic is a joint collaboration between the archdiocese and One Body One Spirit, a faith-based organization focused on hope, life and love. In January, Myeongdong Babjib was launched as a joint venture with One Body One Spirit to provide free packed lunches to some 1,400 people three days a week.

Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, archbishop of Seoul, blesses a free health clinic for homeless people at Myeongdong Cathedral Church in Seoul on June 13. (Photo: Seoul Archdiocese)

The free health clinic is staffed and run by volunteers who are doctors, nurses, medical students and lay Catholics from the Lay Apostolate Society of South Korea. Every day about 80 patients, mostly homeless people, visit the clinic for free health check-ups and treatment.

About 16.7 percent people in South Korea live below the poverty line and thousands suffer from chronic hunger and homelessness despite the country being an economic powerhouse.

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