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Christian shrines attacked in India, Myanmar

Attack on Marian shrines in India and Myanmar shocked Catholics, while grief continued over the results of the Philippine elections amid the joy of sainthood for India’s first lay Catholic.

Published: May 20, 2022 11:10 AM GMT

Updated: May 20, 2022 11:15 AM GMT

This week we start with a few attacks on Marian shrines. First to southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh where statues of Mother Mary, Infant Jesus and the Sacred Heart of Jesus was destroyed on May 15.

The Guntur located shrine’s in-charge, Father Bala Subash Chandra Bose, said the local Christians marched on the streets as police failed to arrest the attackers three days after the incident.

Another rally is to be held on this Sunday protesting the slow pace of the investigation. The assault came as a shock as the recently built shrine complex was being readied for inauguration. A pro-Hindu Bhartiya Janata Party leader claimed the shrine complex was being illegally built on a spot sacred for Hindus.

He claimed a carving of the Hindu deity and footprints of Hindu goddess Sita originally existed on the hillock. However, police dismissed the claim saying the two spots are located on two different hillocks around half a kilometer away from each other. 

Christian shrines attacked in India, Myanmar

Christians protest against vandals attacking the statues of Mother Mary, Infant Jesus and the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Guntur Diocese in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh on May 15. (Photo supplied)

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In neighboring Myanmar it was the soldiers who destroyed a statue of Mother Mary inside a Catholic chapel and carried out raids in Tadaku village in Shan state. It was the latest assault on Christian places of worship in the conflict-torn country.

The violence-hit village falls under the Pekhon Diocese in the Christian-majority southern state. The destroyed statue was erected three years ago near the village populated by the ethnic Kayah community.

In this picture taken on May 13, 2018, an internally displaced woman and a child look on at a temporary shelter at a church compound in Myitkyina, Kachin state. More people have been displaced since the military coup in February 2021.  (Photo by Ye Aung THU / AFP)

The attack was part of a military offensive against a local militia group. Pekhon Diocese and neighboring Loikaw Diocese have been among the worst affected since fighting erupted last May, forcing thousands to flee their homes. The military conducted regular airstrikes and artillery shelling amid an escalating conflict.

Soldiers regularly raid churches and other institutions under the pretext of hunting for suspected rebels and hidden weapons. About 1,800 people have died and 13,000 arrested in crackdowns since the military coup 15 months ago.

Back to India, Christians celebrated as Pope Francis declared the country’s first lay Catholic, Blessed Lazarus Devasahayam, as a saint in the Vatican.

Devasahayam was canonized along with nine others on Sunday. 

Indian Catholic Saint Devasahayam Pillai. (Photo: YouTube)

Churches across India, especially in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, organized celebrations to mark the occasion.

The saintly lay man was martyred by a Hindu king for refusing to renounce his faith in 1752. The Vatican declared him a blessed in 2012 and cleared him for sainthood in 2020.

In neighboring Bangladesh, the nuns from the Contemplative Missionary Movement of Charles De Foucauld, locally known as the "blue sisters," celebrated the sainthood of their French patron.

The nuns along with local Catholics joined a special Mass on Sunday.

The blue sisters in Bangladesh celebrate the proclamation of their founder Blessed Charles De Foucauld as a saint at a Mass in Khulna on May 15. (Photo: Nicolas Halder)

The blue sisters have been working in improving healthcare, education and developing handicrafts for poor people in Bangladesh since 1978.

Charles de Foucauld was a French explorer, priest, geographer and hermit. He led a contemplative and missionary life until death in 1916.

In crisis-ridden Sri Lanka, ethnic minority Tamils have called for justice for those who were killed and went missing during the nation’s three-decades of civil war. Tamils in northern part of the country joined religious observances to mark the 13th remembrance on Wednesday.

The day marks the official declaration of an end to the civil war in 2009 after the Sri Lankan military shot dead Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the Liberation of Tamil Tigers Ealam or LTTE. The call for justice comes at a time when nationwide protests have engulfed Sri Lanka due to the worsening economic crisis.

Children light candles in Mullaitivu, where thousands were killed in the final days of the 26-year Sri Lankan Civil War that ended in 2009. (Photo: UCA News)

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned the previous week, and his elder brother and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is facing intense pressure to quit. The Rajapaksas were hailed as heroes by majority Sinhalese Buddhists for their role in defeating Tamil separatists.

At least 100,000 people were killed, and thousands went missing during the war. At least 10 Catholic priests died and three disappeared during the conflict that lasted three-decades.

Catholic priests in the Philippines are offering counseling sessions for Filipinos experiencing psychological stress after the May 9 presidential polls. Thousands complained of stress after the son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos Senior won by a landslide.

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Among those stressed out are people who experienced repression during the martial law years and others who are struggling to accept the huge victory of Ferdinand Marcos Junior. Many of them fear that history could repeat itself.

Supporters of Philippine presidential runner-up and Vice President Leni Robredo flash the 'Laban' (fight) sign during a thanksgiving rally inside a university campus in Manila on May 13. (Photo:AFP)

Marcos Junior bagged more than 31 million votes or double the votes the Church-backed candidate Leni Robredo secured. Poll analysts said majority of Marcos supporters were too young to remember the corruption and rights abuses committed by his father’s regime.

The group of priests called Clergy for the Moral Choice opened the free online counseling service on Monday. The service is available to anyone seeking help to address post-election mental distress.

This week Buddhists across the world celebrated Vesak, the largest Buddhist festival commemorating the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha.

Catholic leaders in Vietnam visited Buddhist leaders at their pagodas during the festival to promote social harmony and inter-religious dialogue. Last Friday, Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Nang of Ho Chi Minh City and members of the archdiocesan Interfaith Dialogue Committee visited the Vietnam National Pagoda.

Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Nang (left) offers flowers to the Venerable Most Venerable Thich Tri Quang (yellow) at the Vietnam National Pagoda on May 13. (Photo: tgpsaigon.net)

It is the headquarters of the Buddhist Sangha executive committee based in the city. At the national pagoda, the Catholic delegates were welcomed by Most Venerable Thich Tri Quang, head of the executive committee, and seven other pagoda officials.

This year the Vesak was celebrated with much fanfare after a two-year gap due to the Covid pandemic. Archbishop Nang said Catholics and Buddhists came closer during the crisis by joining hands to support affected communities.

Two recent suicide cases have put the spotlight on the alarming rise in suicide rates in Thailand. A 14-year-old schoolgirl hanged herself after she was expelled from school by a teacher for failing to pay the fees. The girl who had previously complained about dire financial situation said she wanted her suicide to serve as a warning to her family and teachers.

In another case last week, a 31-year-old deliveryman jumped to his death in the Chao Phraya River from a bridge in Bangkok. The man had been suffering from depression over his precarious financial situation.

This picture from the DailyNews taken on April 25, 2017 shows family and friends picking up the body of a man, who killed his 11-month-old daughter before committing suicide, at the morgue in Phuket.(Photo: DAILYNEWS / AFP)

Financial and emotional problems from the impact of Covid-19 are blamed for the worsening suicide rates in Thailand. The Department of Mental Health says the suicide rate has increased 5.9 times in Thailand after the pandemic.

A new survey revealed that one out of every 10 Thai is at the risk of developing depression and about 5.5 respondents reported having suicidal thoughts.

The Catholic University of America has conferred an honorary degree on Hong Kong’s jailed Catholic media tycoon, philanthropist, and pro-democracy supporter Jimmy Lai. The institute honored Lai during its commencement ceremony on Saturday. Sebastian Lai accepted the degree on behalf of his jailed father.

The honor comes only days after Hong Kong’s national security police arrested and later released on bail the outspoken Cardinal Joseph Zen on charges of “collusion with foreign forces.”

Catholic media tycoon Jimmy Lai was jailed for 14 months on April 16 over one of Hong Kong's biggest-ever pro-democracy protests in 2019. (Photo: AFP)

Cardinal Zen baptized Lai when he was the bishop of Hong Kong and since then collaborated in the struggle for freedom, human rights and democracy in the former British colony.

The 74-year-old Catholic made his fortunes through fashion and media business. His is the founder of the now-defunct popular pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily. Lai faces a series of charges under Hong Kong’s draconian national security law and was jailed for 14 months last year.

Singapore government has denied entry to an Indonesian Muslim cleric for his extremist teachings and hate speech against other religions, including Christianity. Abdul Somad Batubara was banned from entering Singapore with his family on Monday. They were sent back home the same day.

Somad has a large online following in Indonesia and after the deportation he posted a video on YouTube to express his frustrations. Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs said Somad was turned away as he posed a security risk to the multi-racial and multi-religious society.

In this file photo, protestors carry a banner reading “Tangkap dan Adili Abdul Somad” (arrest and bring Abdul Somad to justice) during a protest against the Muslim cleric in Maumere, East Nusa Tenggara province, in August 2019. (Photo courtesy of the Maumere chapter of the Indonesian Catholic Students Association)

In 2019, Somad came under fire over a video uploaded on social media in which he referred to Christ as an “infidel on a cross” and called the cross a “symbol of the devil.” The video angered Christians in Indonesia with many calling for his arrest.

This comes against the backdrop of several Christians being arrested and convicted for allegedly defaming Islam in Indonesia in recent years.

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