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Hyper-surveillance of Catholic institutions in Indian state

A court in central India granted bail to a Catholic priest who was arrested amid a flurry of inspections of church-run schools over alleged religious conversion.

Published: March 31, 2023 11:29 AM GMT

Updated: March 31, 2023 11:30 AM GMT

A court in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh granted bail to Catholic priest Father R. B. Dionysius, four days after his arrest and detention following an inspection by a state-run child rights panel.

The principal of St. Mary’s School in Morena district was arrested amid an inspection spree of Church-run schools and institutions for alleged religious conversions.

The police in the state ruled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused Father Dionysius of multiple charges including disturbing the peace and using criminal force against a public servant.

Local sources said the priest was framed in a false case to tarnish the image of the Catholic school. The allegations of religious conversion are common in the state where Christians make up less than half percent of its 72 million population. Madhya Pradesh is among about a dozen states that passed stringent anti-conversion laws meant to appease radical Hindu groups. 

Catholics in Delhi archdiocese pray during an annual Palm Sunday gathering in this April 4, 2017 file photo

Catholics in Delhi archdiocese pray during an annual Palm Sunday gathering in this April 4, 2017 file photo. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/UCA News)

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The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences has suspended their pan-Asian Catholic radio, Radio Veritas Asia, allegedly following a dispute over its ownership.

The federation’s president Cardinal Charles Bo said on Tuesday all activities of the project based in the Philippine capital Manila would be suspended from March 29. He said “deep concerns” over “some kind of disorder and anomaly” compelled him to take the decision. This comes after the removal of program director Father Bernard Dashi Tang on Monday by RVA’s legal body in the Philippines known as Philippine Radio Educational and Information Center, Inc or PREIC.

A dance troupe kicks off Radio Veritas Asia’s 50th anniversary celebrations at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh (CBCB) center in Dhaka on Nov. 1, 2019 (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews)

Father Tang served as the program director for three years and he has been recently re-appointed by the FABC Office for Social Communication for another three years. However, PREIC chairman and Manila archbishop Cardinal Jose F. Advincula issued a letter to Father Tang on Monday, informing him of his removal from the post.

The crisis comes as the radio station is in the process of decentralization, cost reduction and possible relocation to Thailand amid ongoing financial crunch. RVA first went on air in 1969 and since then has provided services in 22 languages. In 1995, when it marked 50 years, Pope John Paul II called RVA “the missionary of Asia.”

Catholic Church in Bangladesh is in the process of forming a team to tackle increasing abuses women face in their homes, workstations, and other places.

Catholic bishops have verbally agreed to form the team for the purpose, according to the Women Desk’s convenor Rita Roselin Costa. The team is expected to start this year and it will cover all Christian denominations. Costa spoke to UCA News a day after Oxfam Bangladesh released a report that said majority of Bangladeshi women are subjected to abuses in the workplace.

Garment workers are busy at work at a factory in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka in this file image. About 72 percent of women face various forms of abuse at the workplace, says a report from Oxfam. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)

About 72 percent of women workers face mental violence, 74 percent verbal abuse, 31 percent physical violence, and six percent face sexual violence, the report revealed. The study covered 1,507 women from different parts of Bangladesh.

Women activists say in the socially and religiously conservative country a male-dominant family system fuels violence against women at home and other places.

Filipino bishops have clarified their position on a canonically banned fraternity called Freemasons after allegations surfaced that a growing number of its members participate in church activities. The bishops’ Commission on the Doctrine of Faith issued a statement last Friday to reiterate their stance on the Freemasons.

The Philippine hierarchy has always defended the Catholic magisterial position on “the unacceptability of Masonry, given its serious errors” both in its philosophical tenets and practices, the commission said. It came after several Catholics questioned the alleged participation of Masons in diocesan and national synodal consultations last year.

Freemasons are seen during a gathering in the Bicol region of the Philippines on Jan. 16, 2023. (Photo: Roel Deuda)

Church members claimed they assumed the church’s position on Freemasons changed when they found some participated in the synod process.

The bishops’ letter noted “nothing has changed” and referred to a 1983 declaration from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that prohibited Catholics from joining the fraternity and said those continuing in it are in “grave sin.”

Church leaders in Indonesia’s Papua province have urged a separatist group to release a New Zealand pilot, held hostage for nearly two months to garner international support for the Papuan independence movement.

In an open letter on Monday, Papua Church Council said the act of hostage-taking “cannot be justified by traditional norms and the Christian faith that we recognize as a guide in today's life."

Philip Mark Mehrtens has been held hostage by a Papuan rebel group since Feb. 7 to get international attention for its freedom struggle. (Photo: Youtube)

37 year old Philip Mark Mehrtens, a pilot for Indonesian aviation company Susi Air, has been held hostage by the West Papua Liberation National Army, an armed wing of the Free Papua Movement, since February 7 in Nduga Regency in Papua Highlands. The Church council said the delay in releasing Mehrtens will give the Indonesian government legitimacy to deploy more troops in Papua and to set up more security bases in the region.

Reports say diplomatic efforts of Indonesian government involving New Zealand failed to secure the release of the pilot. Christian-majority Papua has experienced bloody insurgency for independence since Indonesia annexed the region in 1960s. Violence left hundreds for civilians, soldiers and separatists killed, and thousands displaced.

Kon Tum diocese in Vietnam’s Central Highlands strongly condemned government authorities for breaking up a Mass held in a house last week.

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In an official letter to Kon Tum provincial and Ngoc Hoi district officials, the church officials called the action “heinous offense against the sanctity of the Mass.” The diocese said the actions were “deeply distressing and hurting our brothers and sisters.”

A Mass in progress at Ling La Church in Kon Tum province on March 5. (Photo: Father Peter Nguyen Van Dong)

Local government officials, accompanied by security staff, stormed a house where Father Francis Xavier Le Tien was celebrating a Mass attended by many Catholics last Wednesday. The officials accused Tien, pastor of Dak Giac parish, of celebrating religious services at an unrecognized chapel.

Religious activities are restricted in the mountainous province of Kon Tum, home to tens of ethnic groups. Many in the province, bordering Laos and Cambodia, live in poverty and far away from parish churches. Most churches in the area were ruined during the Vietnam War. The church officials called on the authorities to recognize temporary chapels in the province.

A human rights group reported thousands of women who fled North Korea have been trafficked into a multi-million-dollar sex trade industry in China.

Seoul-based Database Center for North Korean Human Rights documented more than 82,000 cases of violation of the rights of North Koreans including thousands of women. The report made global headlines last week.

A North Korean girl is seen at the border fence in this file image. Thousands of North Korean women and girls have been trafficked into sex trade in a red zone in northern China, rights groups say. (Photo: Ed Jones/AFP)

North Korean women became victims of a human trafficking mafia active in the “red zone” in the Yanbian Korea Autonomous Prefecture in Jilin Province of northern China. The industry mints about 105 million US dollars a year for Chinese and North Korean crime networks.

Rights group say that the female defectors fleeing from North Korea are trafficked into China’s notorious “red zone” border region and face a flurry of abuses including systematic rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage, pregnancy, forced labor, and cybersex trafficking. About 70-80 percent of female North Korean refugees in China are condemned to the sex trade with no hope of escape.

Catholics in communist-ruled China have engaged in various acts of charity including free medical care for elderly and disabled people and scholarships for students from poor families during the Season of Lent. Churches and lay associations in various dioceses have participated in corporal and spiritual works of mercy for needy people.

The Saint Francis Foundation in Beijing jointly with parishioners of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church is offering support to those in urgent need and facing a cash crunch. This year’s Lenten alms collections – which include financial aid among others – will go to the communities in the Miao Autonomous County of Pingbian in Honghe Prefecture, Yunnan Province.

A Catholic worshipper holds a rosary during an Ash Wednesday mass, which marks the beginning of Lent, at Beijing's government-sanctioned South Cathedral on Feb. 14, 2018. (Photo: Greg Baker/AFP)

The Catholic community in Shanghai and Zhejiang assisted those in need of healthcare. The Association of Catholic Intellectuals in Shanghai provided free medical examinations to intellectually disabled people in the region.

The Provincial Catholic Charitable Health Counseling Service Team in Zhejiang Province provided free medical services to Catholics and non-Catholics at Fenghua Parish in Ningbo Diocese. The team also distributed free medicines to poor sick people.

In strife-torn Myanmar, three civilians were killed and six others wounded after the military attacked several villages in Christian-majority Kayah state last week. Karenni Human Rights Group reported the casualties occurred when the army’s fighter jets bombed villages in Bawlake township last Thursday.

The state has seen a deployment of increasing number of soldiers as the military and rebel groups intensified battles in recent times. Fresh violence has prompted hundreds of mostly Christian villagers to flee their homes and take shelter in churches, convents and forests.

This handout photo from Amnesty International taken between June 27 and July 4, 2022, and released on July 20 shows a civilian building destroyed after being landmined and burned down by the Myanmar military, according to the rights group, in Daw Ngay Ku village in Hparuso township, in eastern Myanmar's Kayah state. Myanmar junta troops continue to attack villages in the predominantly Christian area. (Photo: Amnesty International / AFP)

According to a Church source from Loikaw, the capital of Kayah State, the Church authorities have been providing food and shelter for hundreds who are sheltering in churches.

An estimated 700 people are said to have taken refuge in two churches. At least 150,000 civilians, including Catholics, have been displaced since fighting erupted in Kayah State in May 2021. At least nine churches in the state have been hit and 16 parishes have been affected.

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