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Catholics welcome exit of Eastern Church’s leaders in southern India

A group of Catholics in an Indian archdiocese hailed the resignations of two senior leaders of their Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church amid an ongoing crisis over a liturgy dispute and land scams

Published: December 15, 2023 11:21 AM GMT

Updated: December 15, 2023 11:22 AM GMT

A section of Catholics in the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese in southern India’s Kerala state have welcomed the resignations of two senior leaders of their Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church.

Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the Church and major archbishop and Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese, resigned on last Thursday amid a crisis linked to a protracted liturgy dispute and land sale scandal.

Some Catholics alleged the liturgy dispute was brought to the fore to divert of people from the land scams in which Alencherry faces multiple police probes and civil cases. He is charged with selling off Church lands, incurring a loss of about 10 million US Dollars. The Synod of Bishops introduced a uniform mode of Mass in 1999. However, it was shelved due to opposition.

In 2021, the synod ordered all the 25 dioceses to adopt the uniform mode of Mass. The crisis intensified as a large section of priests and lay people in the archdiocese refused to follow the order. The Vatican’s appointment of Thazhath as the apostolic administrator in 2022 and Jesuit Archbishop Cyril Vasil from Slovakia as a papal delegate this year failed to end the dispute, leading to street protests, physical and verbal assaults, police intervention and closure of the Cathedral and minor seminaries.

Prominent rights defender and Catholic priest Father Sarath Iddamalgoda speaks during a reception honoring Catholic journalist and rights activist Freddy Gamage in Negombo, Sri Lanka on Dec. 9.

The Archbishop's House of Ernakulam-Angamaly in Kerala's commercial capital Kochi. (Photo: UCA News)

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Sri Lankan religious leaders and rights activists have honored prominent Catholic journalist and human rights defender Fredy Gamage who recently received Timor-Leste’s top civilian award for his remarkable contributions to its struggle for independence from Indonesia.

Gamage was hailed as a fearless human rights defender in Timor-Leste and in his home country during a reception at the Cardinal Cooray Center in Negombo, last Saturday.

Prominent rights defender and Catholic priest Father Sarath Iddamalgoda speaks during a reception honoring Catholic journalist and rights activist Freddy Gamage in Negombo, Sri Lanka on Dec. 9. (Photo supplied)

Rights activists said Gamage’s commitment has persisted through decades of war, political crises, and social injustices that have plagued the island nation. Gamage received the Order of Timor-Leste from President Ramos Horta at a ceremony in Timor-Leste's capital, Dili, on Nov. 27.

The Timorese government said the nation recognized Gamage’s important role in advocating for Timor Leste's independence including global campaigns and advocacy in his home country.

United States senators have sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging him to prioritize the release of Cambodian-American activist and Khmer Bible Editor Theary Seng held as a political prisoner.

The 52-year-old was sentenced to six years for treason and social disorder in 2022. She had been expected to appear before an appeal court in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. The hearing was delayed after she was hospitalized following a hunger strike.

Theary Seng (R), a US-Cambodian lawyer and activist walks in the street in front of Phnom Penh municipal court ahead of a court hearing in Phnom Penh on May 3, 2022. (Photo: AFP)

The senators said they are “disturbed by the wrongful and unlawful imprisonment of Theary Seng” for criticizing long-ruling Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and urging him to allow opposition leader Sam Rainsy to return to the country.

Theary Seng was jailed as part of a country-wide crackdown on dissent after Sam Rainsy, leader-in-exile of the outlawed Cambodian National Rescue Party, threatened to return to Cambodia in November 2019 and oust then prime minister Hun Sen. Human Rights groups say Cambodia is holding about 60 political prisoners.

A new survey found most Catholic South Korean women support reforms in the Church, including the end of clericalism, and favor more freedom regarding sexuality, gender equality and pregnancy.

About 87.2 percent of 149 respondents said they support Church reforms, according to a study conducted in November by Ye Yeo Gong, a Catholic group that studies Jesus and women rights.

Catholics pray outside Myeongdong Cathedral during a Mass by Pope Francis, in Seoul, South Korea, on Aug 18, 2014. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

The study was based on a global survey by the International Survey of Catholic Women conducted between March and April last year by researchers from Newcastle University in Australia at the request of the international women’s group, Catholic Women Speak.

A total of 17,200 female Catholics from 104 countries participated in the survey conducted ahead of the Synod on Synodality held at the Vatican in October. About 94 percent of Korean respondents said they see their Catholic identity as “important” but most said they have “weak faith” in the institutional Church, terming it as “a high wall.”

About 1,000 Catholics in Bahrain attended a special Mass last Sunday to mark the third anniversary of the opening of Our Lady of Arabia cathedral and welcomed the relics of Christian martyrs and saints.

The cathedral serves as the seat of the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia, covering Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia with estimated 2.7 million Catholics, mostly migrants from about 100 countries.

Catholics in Bahrain attend a Mass at Our Lady of Arabia Cathedral in this file image. (Photo: The Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia)

Bishop Aldo Berardi blessed two sets of relics of Christian martyrs and saints presented by a group of Catholics. The relics were then placed at the altar of the cathedral. The first set contained relics of Saint Arethas and his companions who were martyred in 523.

They were Arab Christians from the ancient city of Najran in ancient Yemen which is now located in Saudi Arabia. The second set of relics included that of Saint John of Matha and Saint Josephine Bakhita.

Activists have paid tributes to a Chinese doctor and human rights campaigner who exposed the AIDS epidemic in rural communities. Retired gynecologist and medical professor Doctor Gao Yaojie died in New York last Sunday at the age of 95. Gao openly criticized the Chinese authorities after large numbers of people were getting infected through illegal blood transfusions.

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In the 1990s, blood-selling clinics in poverty-stricken rural areas in Henan would inject donors with untreated plasma after each paid-for donation. This practice left entire villages infected with the disease, along with a growing number of AIDS orphans.

Gao Yaojie (center) seen having lunch with AIDS patients in Zhengzhou, Henan province in 2002. (AFP)

The communist regime claimed it cracked down on the blood-selling practice and shuttered all government-run clinics that engaged in the trade. However, Gao argued that trade had continued unhindered secretly, and the authorities placed her under arrest.

She also fought hard for orphaned children whose parents died of AIDS. Gao later fled to US to escape state purge, wrote acclaimed books and received numerous awards including the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service in 2003.

The Catholic Church and local faith-based groups in the Philippines have joined global calls for climate justice and reparations as global leaders joined in COP28 conference in Dubai.

Thousands of members of grassroots movements, faith-based groups, non-government organizations, and multi-sectoral alliances joined streets rallies held simultaneously in 55 places across the country last Saturday. The organizers said they aim to contribute to the "chorus of global voices" putting pressure on governments and decision-makers at the COP28.

Members of Filipino faith-based groups, non-government organizations, and multi-sectoral alliances joined in a mass action for climate justice held simultaneously in 55 places across the country on Dec. 9. (Photo: Jimmy Domingo)

Activists say climate justice is vital issue for a vulnerable country like the Philippines. In 2022 alone, tropical cyclones in the Philippines caused around 25.03 billion pesos of damages, while environmental defenders and indigenous people fighting against development aggression are subjected to persecution, harassment, red-tagging and sometimes even killed.

The faith-based groups emphasized actions in tackling global warming and urged that the Philippine government and global leaders must be called to uphold the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement.

Vietnam has repatriated 1,020 of its citizens including victims of alleged human trafficking, from conflict-scarred Myanmar this week. Vietnamese Embassies and consulates in Myanmar organized nine flights to repatriate the trapped citizens.

Most of the Vietnamese were stranded in the northern areas of Shan state, where fighting between the junta and ethnic armed groups has intensified, with anti-junta forces making significant gains in recent months. The expenses for all repatriation flights from Myanmar were paid by the Vietnamese government.

Vietnamese nationals are repatriated home from war zones in northern Myanmar on Dec. 4. (Photo: Vietnam News Agency)

The returnees include Vietnamese citizens who had been allegedly trafficked to northern Myanmar by online scammers but were rescued by authorities and remained stranded in a war zone.

A number of Vietnamese still remain stranded in northern Myanmar due to the ongoing fighting. Since the military coup in 2021, more than 4,200 civilians have been killed and over 25,000 have been arrested in Myanmar.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said his government suspects a human trafficking network is behind the rising number of Rohingya refugees reaching the country by boat. Widodo made the remarks during a press conference last Friday.

More than one million mostly Muslim Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh and also to other countries including India, Indonesia and Malaysia to escape persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo addresses the Transforming Food Systems in the Face of Climate Change event on the sidelines of the COP28 climate summit at the Dubai Expo on Dec. 1. (Photo: AFP)

The brutal military crackdown in Rakhine state that triggered exodus of more than 700,000 Rohingya is subject to a genocide probe by the International Court of Justice.

Media reports say thousands of Rohingya from overcrowded Bangladeshi camps risk their lives each year on dangerous and expensive sea journeys to try to reach Malaysia or Indonesia. Last month, more than 1,000 Rohingya refugees landed in Indonesia's westernmost province of Aceh, in the largest such wave since 2015.

Sebastien Lai, the son of jailed Catholic media mogul Jimmy Lai has urged the government of the United Kingdom to press Hong Kong and Chinese authorities strongly regarding his father’s release.

Lai reacted after the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office issued a statement on Wednesday expressing concerns about abuses of Hong Kong’s draconian national security law but stopped short of calling for Jimmy Lai’s release from prison.

Britain's Foreign Secretary David Cameron meets with Sebastien Lai, Jimmy Lai’s son, in London on Wednesday, Dec. 13. (Photo: UK Government)

The US, European Parliament, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur have appealed for his release.

Jimmy Lai is the founder of the now-defunct pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper and faces two charges of "conspiracy to collude with foreign forces" and one charge of "collusion with foreign forces."

Jimmy Lai has been detained since August 2020 and was convicted of two charges of fraud for allegedly violating the lease contract of the office space of his media company, Next Digital.

He was handed down five years and nine months jail for fraud.

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