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Christian homes, churches torched in Pakistan

Mobs of Muslims attacked some 21 churches and dozens of Christian homes after two Christians were accused of committing blasphemy by desecrating the Quran in Pakistan’s Punjab province

Published: August 18, 2023 11:10 AM GMT

Updated: August 18, 2023 11:24 AM GMT

Church leaders in Pakistan have demanded strong government action after a Muslim mob attacked a Christian neighborhood in Punjab province, leaving 21 churches and dozens of Christian homes vandalised and damaged over blasphemy allegations.

Following the attack on Wednesday, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Pakistan president Archbishop Joseph Arshad issued a statement calling for justice over the violence in Jaranwala area of Faisalabad district. He demanded a fair probe, justice and safety of Christians. Catholic bishops’ National Commission of Justice and Peace termed it “the worst" attacks on Christians in Pakistan's history.

The rampage came after three Muslims filed a police complaint accusing two Christian men of committing blasphemy by desecrating Quran. The accused Christians have dismissed it as fabricated.

However, Muslim clerics allegedly made announcements from mosques, asking Muslims to protest, triggering violence. The mob armed with sticks, stones and explosives raided churches and Christian homes, leaving doors and windows smashed and some portions gutted by fire.

Police officials and residents stand amid debris outside the torched Saint John Church in Jaranwala on the outskirts of Faisalabad on Aug 17, 2023, a day after an attack by Muslim men following the spread of allegations that Christians had desecrated the Koran

Police officials and residents stand amid debris outside the torched Saint John Church in Jaranwala on the outskirts of Faisalabad on Aug 17, 2023, a day after an attack by Muslim men following the spread of allegations that Christians had desecrated the Koran. (Photo: AFP)

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India's Eastern Rite Syro-Malabar Church has condemned violent protests against the visiting pontifical delegate, Archbishop Cyril Vasil, who has been tasked with finding a solution to the church’s decades-old liturgy dispute.

The Jesuit archbishop was denied entry to the St. Mary's Cathedral through its main door, forcing him to enter through a side door with a police escort to offer prayers. The crowd threw water bottles and eggs at Vasil.

Archbishop Cyril Vasil, the Pontifical Delegate appointed to the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese of India's Syro-Malabar Church walks to the St. Mary's Cathedral holding Eucharist in his hands on Aug. 14, amid protest from Catholics. (Photo: supplied)

The cathedral has been closed since last December following physical violence inside it over the liturgy dispute. Priests and Catholics in the archdiocese have rejected a liturgy approved by the Church's synod. It wants priests to face the altar during the Mass. Those opposing it call the liturgy archaic and against the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.

By November 2022, except Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese, all 35 dioceses of the Church implemented the synod-approved Mass.

Thousands of families are reeling from a lack of aid after devastating flash floods and landslides hit about one million people in five districts in south-eastern Bangladesh. Aid groups say people of Chattogram, Bandarban and Cox’s Bazar districts were most affected by flooding in the second week of August.

Chattogram division is home to more than half of the Bengali Muslim-majority country’s estimated three million ethnic minority communities. An official account of flood damage and losses is still not available.

Flood-affected people take shelter on a railway track after heavy rains in Satkania on Aug. 13. At least 55 people have been killed and more than a million affected by two weeks of torrential rains causing floods and landslides in southeast Bangladesh, officials said. (Photo by AFP)

However, volunteers and aid groups noted the disasters claimed 54 lives, displaced more than 50,000 and destroyed about 50,000 hectares of cropland. Catholic charity Caritas estimated that about 200,000 people from 60,000 households were affected as flooding hit 917 out of nearly 1,500 villagers in Bandarban.

Volunteers who visited affected remote villages reported that starvation and the imminent outbreak of water-borne diseases threaten many villagers. In neighboring India, flooding and landslides killed some 60 people this month and 90 people in July.

Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe unveiled a slew of development projects for ethnic Tamil people during the annual feast at a popular Marian shrine, a move viewed as a form of wooing Tamils left traumatized by the 26-year-old civil war.

The president made the announcement during the feast at the Our Lady of Madhu in Mannar diocese on Tuesday. He announced a new inter-city train service from their ' area to the capital Colombo and plans to develop Mannar as an energy hub. He also promised to set up a sugarcane processing factory in the area.

A woman holds an image of her family member who went missing during the height of the island’s Tamil separatist war that ended in May 2009, during a demonstration near the national parliament in Colombo on Dec 5, 2022. (Photo: AFP)

Catholic Church leaders welcomed the move but emphasized the importance of the reconciliation process.

Despite the war ending in 2009, unease and tension between Buddhist-majority Sinhalese and Tamils still persist amid unresolved issues like lack of justice and compensation. Tamils include both Christians and Hindus. The civil war left at least 100,000 civilians, soldiers and Tamil rebels killed and tens of thousands displaced.

Myanmar military’s airstrikes in predominantly Christian Kayah and Chin states have left three churches damaged in the latest bout of attack on Christian sites in the conflict-torn country.

Mary, Mother of Mercy Church in Loikaw diocese in Kayah state was hit in an airstrike last Saturday. Its roof, ceiling and windows were devastated, though no human casualties were reported.

A file photo of a destroyed Baptist Church in Lay Wah village, in Myanmar's Karen state. (Photo: Karen Human Rights Group)

Two Baptist churches in Chin state were damaged in the airstrikes. The Chin Human Rights Organization reported that seven people were injured in military attacks in two villages.

Myanmar’s military has intensified attacks on rebel forces in Christian-majority areas of Kayah, Chin, Kachin and Karen states as well as the Bamar heartland in Sagaing and Magwe regions where the army faces strong resistance from rebels. At least 100 religious sites including 55 Christian buildings, have been destroyed since the February 2021 military coup.

Police in Indonesia’s Christian-majority Papua region attacked hundreds of protesters with batons, water cannon and tear gas as they joined rallies on the 61st anniversary of an agreement that made the region part of Indonesia.

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The police violence left at least 20 people injured in the restive province on Tuesday. The protest rallies called on the international community to review the US-brokered 1962 New York Agreement that allowed Indonesia to annex Papua after the end of Dutch colonial rule.

Students protest the Indonesian government's plan to develop new administrative areas in the country's easternmost Papua province on May 10, 2022. (Photo: AFP)

Human rights activists condemned police brutality at rallies organized by the West Papua National Committee. The Indonesian government considers this committee a separatist group. The Papuans said police action violated the constitutional rights of freedom of association.

Indonesia’s annexation of Papua and use to force to crush dissent sparked an armed separatist movement. The conflict left thousands of civilians, soldiers and rebels killed and tens of thousands displaced.

The communist authorities in Guangxi province in southern China detained a Christian house church pastor after accusing him of "disturbing social order" for allegedly not joining a state-sanctioned church body.

Pastor Park Kwang-Zhe of the New Life Christian Church was held in the second week of August. Park was detained on no specific charge, but local police officials accused him of violating the Public Security Law, which punishes those “disturbing social order… in the name of any religion.”

Chinese Christians join a religious procession in this undated image. Leaders and members of churches and Christian movements face routine harassment and persecution in the communist state. (Photo: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)

The law has been exploited to target and harass leaders and pastors of house churches that have not joined the state-run group of Protestant churches, overseen by the Three-Self Church.

Meanwhile, police in several provinces including Zhejiang, Fujian, and Jiangsu have continued a crackdown on the controversial Christian cult movement, the Church of Almighty God. Local sources say more than 1,000 members of the movement have been arrested since June. A 60-year-old member died in police custody allegedly due to torture.

A Hong Kong charity organization has called for enhanced fertility-related services and policies after a recent survey found the number of childless couples doubled in the past five years.

Some 43.2 percent of a total of 1,502 women surveyed by the Family Planning Association of Hong Kong had no children. It is a hundred percent increase in five years as the figure was some 20.6 percent in 2017. The surveyed women were either married or living with their partners between September to December 2022. Their spouses have also been surveyed.

Professor Paul Yip (middle), Dr. Mona Lam (right) and Sun Chan (left) are seen during the release of the 'Family Planning Knowledge, Attitude and Practice in Hong Kong Survey' 2022 on Aug. 15. (Photo: The Family Planning Association of Hong Kong)

The number of women with one child decreased from 38.3 percent to 27.4 percent. The fertility rate plunged to a record low of 0.9, according to the survey released on Tuesday. Health experts consider 2.1 as the replacement level of fertility.

Hong Kong recorded the world’s lowest fertility rate in April with 0.8 live births per woman in contrast to the global average of 2.3 live births per woman.

A coalition of Japanese and South Korean civic and religious groups has called for an end to military expansion in both nations for peace and reconciliation in the region. The Korea-Japan Reconciliation and Peace Platform issued a statement urging the governments in Japan and South Korea to return to the “path of peace.”

The statement was issued last Thursday during a press conference in Seoul ahead of the National Liberation Day on August 15th, which commemorates the end of Japan’s colonial rule in Korea that ended in 1945.

Japanese administration under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida aims militarization to tackle China and North Korea. (Photo: AFP)

The group criticized the militarization policies in South Korea and Japan allegedly to deter China and North Korea’s military expansionism.

South Korean administration of President Yoon Yuk-seol is accused of pursuing a confrontational policy with North Korea, while Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government is seeking to amend Article 9 of the constitution which prohibits militarization and warfare.

Among the Vietnam Catholic nuns few are joining convents, lack training programs, and finances are declining found a study conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

About 85 percent of women religious groups in the country reported a decline in new recruits as a major challenge. The Washington DC-based research organization is affiliated with the Jesuits-run Georgetown University. The study results present an overview of women's religious life in Vietnam and their main challenges and needs for support.

A Catholic nun visits a sick person in his house in Thua Thien Hue province on April 26, 2023 (Photo: UCA News)

About 70 percent of congregations face challenges related to formation training programs. Some 60 percent said they also face challenges related to their member’s mental and physical health.

About 54 percent of the responding institutes reported low income and financial issues as their main challenge. At least 20 percent of respondents reported challenges related to clericalism.

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