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Indian lay Catholic cleared for sainthood

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic worsening in India, Catholics expressed joy after the Vatican cleared the way for an 18th century martyr to be declared a saint. Religious minorities including Christians continue to face repression in various Asian nations.

Published: May 07, 2021 11:45 AM GMT

Updated: May 10, 2021 10:56 AM GMT

Catholics in India cheered as Pope Francis cleared the way for an 18th century martyr to be declared a saint. Devasahayam Pillai will become the first Indian lay Catholic to achieve sainthood as the pope confirmed his canonization on Monday.

Pillai was born to an upper-caste Hindu family in 1712 and became a Christian in 1745. He was a trusted soldier of the Hindu king who was enraged over his embracing of Christianity.

Upon the king’s order, Pillai was brutally tortured and killed for refusing to renounce his faith. Catholic leaders hailed the impending sainthood of Pillai.

Bishop Nazarene Soosai of Kottar Diocese in Tamil Nadu state said the sainthood is a great honor and pride for the people of India, especially southern India where people see Pillai as a role model, messenger of peace and harmony.

Indian lay Catholic cleared for sainthood

The tomb of Blessed Devasahayam Pillai in India's Tamil Nadu state.  (Photo: UCA News) 

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Meanwhile, Indian Catholics are seeking spiritual comfort as the Covid-19 pandemic wreaks havoc in the country.

Catholics across India have started a month-long rosary recitation to seek divine intervention to save the country. The spiritual campaign is in response to Pope Francis’ call for a prayer marathon throughout the month of May, which is dedicated to Mother Mary.

Family members embrace amid the burning pyres of Covid-19 victims at a cremation ground in New Delhi on April 26. (Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP)

India has registered more than 21 million coronavirus cases and over 230,000 deaths, while infections and deaths continue to break records every day.

The Archdiocese of Ranchi in the eastern state of Jharkhand has been providing free lunches to the poor hit by the pandemic. It aims to increase the daily number of lunches from 300 to 2,000.

In Islamic Pakistan, Christian nurses are increasingly vulnerable to abuses by Muslims who exploit the country’s draconian blasphemy law to persecute them.

In the latest case on April 27, Muslim nurses at a mental hospital in Lahore city occupied a chapel used for Sunday liturgy and accused a Christian nurse of committing blasphemy by sending objectionable prayer videos on WhatsApp.

Christian staff nurse Maryam Lal (left) and Catholic nursing student Newsh Arooj were arrested on blasphemy charges in Faisalabad last month.(Photo supplied)

The nurse was forced to go on a month’s leave. It was the third case this year targeting Christian nurses for blasphemy in Pakistan.

The accusations have increased deep insecurity among nurses. Christian families have been urging their daughters to avoid talking about religion in hospitals to ensure they are not targeted. 

A tragic boat accident left 26 people dead, and several others injured in Bangladesh. A speedboat carrying 30 passengers overturned after hitting an anchored vessel laden with sand on the Padma River, one of the country’s largest rivers, early on Monday.

Despite Bangladesh being under a strict lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, speedboats were transporting passengers illegally.

Police officers inspect a speedboat that collided with a vessel transporting sand, killing at least 26 people, in Madaripur on May 3. (Photo: AFP)

A low-lying delta country, Bangladesh is crisscrossed by hundreds of rivers and waterways that provide for cheap mode of transport for people and goods.

However, fatal accidents and deaths are very common, largely due to lax rules, inadequate oversight, poor safety standards and overcrowding. More than 2,000 people have died in dozens of maritime accidents in Bangladesh in recent times.

A senior church leader in Indonesia has called for peace amid an escalation in deadly violence between the military and ethnic rebels in Christian-majority and conflict-torn Papua province.

A low-scale insurgency for independence from Indonesian rule has been going on for decades, triggering heavy-handed responses that have left thousands of civilians dead.

Police pallbearers carry the coffin of one of their officers in Mimika after he was killed in a gun battle in Indonesia's restive Papua region between police and separatist rebels. (Photo: Saldi Hermanto/AFP)

Amid a recent upsurge, the government declared two Papuan rebel groups — the West Papua National Liberation Army and the Free Papua Movement — as terrorists on April 29 following the killing of the Papua Intelligence Agency chief by rebels.

Father Marthen Kuayo, apostolic administrator of Timika Diocese in Papua, has urged the military and rebels “to show restraint and observe a ceasefire in order to find a dignified, humane, open and respectful solution together.” 

The Catholic Church and Caritas in Timor-Leste have joined hands to build houses for victims of recent flash flood and landslides.

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The tiny Catholic-majority country was hit by heavy storms and torrential rain starting from Easter Sunday that left at least 30 dead and thousands displaced.

Church officials including Father Leandro Maria Alves, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Timor, monitor the condition of a flood-stricken area in Dili. (Photo: Father Leandro Maria Alves)

The government said 25,000 families need home repairs out of around 33,000 families affected by the disaster.

A budget of 55 million US dollars has been approved for repairs. Father Leandro Maria Alves, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Timor, said the Church has allocated about 50,000 US dollars to help about 15,000 people.

In Muslim-majority Malaysia, anti-Christian sentiment continues to rear its ugly head.

A controversial book, Pendedahan Agenda Kristian loosely translated into Exposing the Christian Agenda, first published in 2014 and now available in digital format, labels Christians as “the enemies of Islam who always have malicious intentions and are the bearers of lies.”

Malaysian Islamic Party supporters wave party flags on the eve of the country's 14th general election in Alor Setar on May 8, 2018.

It accuses Christians of a grand conspiracy that seeks to undermine the mainstream Muslim nature of Malaysian society. Last week a fake and nefarious video was uploaded on Facebook accusing Archbishop Julian Leow of Kuala Lumpur of spreading anti-Muslim propaganda.

Facebook page Hud Hud Crew published the four-minute video, which claimed Archbishop Leow had described a 25-year plan against Muslims in Malaysia and had used the analogy of “a boiling frog” to detail the plan to put pressure on Muslims. Christians make up about 10 percent of Malaysia’s 32 million citizens. 

The Catholic Church in the Philippines has started a sainthood cause for a Claretian missionary priest murdered by Muslim extremists in the south of the country more than 20 years ago.

The Territorial Prelature of Isabela in Basilan province in the Mindanao region launched the process to have Father Rhoel Gallardo declared a saint.

The Territorial Prelature of Isabela in the Philippines has begun the formal process to have Father Rhoel Gallardo declared a saint. (Photo courtesy of the Territorial Prelature of Isabela)

Father Gallardo was killed by the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group on May 3, 2000, after he was taken hostage along with teachers and students of a Catholic school run by the Claretians. Abu Sayyaf is a jihadist organisation affiliated with the Islamic State terror group seeking a caliphate in the southern Philippines.

It has become notorious for taking and executing hostages, including several foreigners.

Three environmental activists were jailed in Cambodia in what appears to be a fresh attack on free speech, dissent and human rights by the increasingly authoritarian government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The three were detained last September while planning a protest over the filling in of one of the last large lakes in Phnom Penh to create a military base.

Environmental activist Phuon Keoreaksmey during a cycling campaign in 2020. (Photo: Mother Nature Cambodia

They were charged with incitement to commit felony or cause social unrest under the Cambodian Criminal Code, placed in pre-trial detention and denied bail and were jailed for 18-20 months.

Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, the group’s co-founder who has been deported from Cambodia, and Chea Kunthin, a youth activist, were tried in absentia and handed jail sentences of 18-20 months and fines of 1,000 US dollars. Rights activists slammed the sentences and accused the authorities of weakening and dismantling the human rights movement in Cambodia.

Communist China has continued its crackdown on religious groups after accusing them of association with banned religious entities and practices.

The authorities have been using three draconian policies —the Sinicization of religion, regulations on religious affairs and the Beautiful Villages policy. Sinicization aims to impose strict rules on societies and institutions based on the core values of socialism, autonomy and supporting the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.

Hundreds of churches and crosses have been demolished under the pretext of Sinicization. Meanwhile, regulations on religious affairs introduced in 2018 are being used to shut down dozens of churches and church-based charities including orphanages across China.

Members of the Church of Almighty God meet outdoors in China to avoid police surveillance. (Photo: Bitter Winter)

The Beautiful Villages policy requires villages to eradicate religious groups and practices deemed illegal by the state.

The Church of Almighty God, a Christian cult movement, has been one of the worst victims of China’s repression. In March, some 750 members of the group were detained and harassed across China.

The group reported that 5,587 members faced various forms of persecution from Chinese authorities last year.

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UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia