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Jesuit becomes bishop of troubled Hong Kong

Pope Francis has appointed a fellow Jesuit as the new bishop of politically volatile Hong Kong in an attempt to unite the city’s divided Catholic community. In other parts of Asia, people struggle for peace and tolerance amid an onslaught of violence and repression.

Published: May 21, 2021 12:09 PM GMT

Updated: May 21, 2021 03:37 PM GMT

We start this week with Hong Kong where Pope Francis has appointed Father Stephen Chow Sau-yan, the Jesuit provincial superior of the Chinese Province, as its new bishop. The appointment on Monday was delayed for more than two years due to diplomatic sensibilities over China’s communist regime.

Father Chow succeeds Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung, who died in January 2019. The 82-year-old Cardinal John Tong Hon, retired bishop of Hong Kong, has been leading the diocese as its apostolic administrator.

The Vatican has overlooked Hong Kong’s Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing for the post after he openly criticized Beijing and supported the pro-democracy movement in the city that began in 2019.

Observers say Father Chow is the right choice as Hong Kong urgently needed a leader who will be able to take on long-term leadership for a community that is going through the most difficult time in its history. During his first media briefing after the new appointment, Bishop-elect Chow said he aims to unite Hong Kong’s Catholics and urged them not to regard Beijing as an enemy. 

Jesuit becomes bishop of troubled Hong Kong

Father Stephen Chow Sau-yan was obviously trained for a role of leadership in high academic education. (Photo courtesy of the Chinese Province of the Society of Jesus)

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In India, deadly Cyclone Tauktae killed more than 50 people in the western coastal state of Gujarat and left a trail of destruction, damaging thousands of homes and several buildings including church institutions.

High winds of up to 100 kilometers per hour battered 12 districts of the state on Tuesday, uprooting trees, electrical and telecommunication polls and blowing roofs off several houses. Officials said at least 50 people died and some 40 are missing.

Villagers try to cross fallen down electricity cables on a bridge near Diu on May 18 after Cyclone Tauktae blasted ashore in western India with fierce winds and drenching rains that turned streets into rivers. (Photo: AFP) 

Most people died of electrocution or when the walls of their homes collapsed. The natural disaster hit a region reeling under the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Gujarat hospitals were already reporting a lack of beds and essential medicines.

Initial reports said the winds damaged more than 31000 private houses and killed scores of livestock. More than 30,000 of the damaged houses were village mud houses.

Meanwhile, Covid-19 continue to ravage India with more than 300,000 cases and about 4,000 deaths each day on average. Medical facilities continue to be overstretched amid an acute shortage of beds, oxygen, medicines and medical staff.

Funeral grounds and crematoriums have been overwhelmed by the number of bodies. The pandemic has hit the Catholic Church hard as more than 120 priests, or an average of four per day died in just one month.

Health workers wearing personal protection equipment help patients at a banquet hall turned into a Covid-19 care center in New Delhi on May 18 after a surge in coronavirus cases. (Photo: AFP) 

Among the dead, 48 were from different religious orders, with Jesuits topping the list with 19 deaths. Church leaders fear the death toll might rise further when data from all dioceses is added.

Bishops across India are worried and shocked over the deaths of so many priests in an age when priestly vocation is on the decline in India and across the world.

In Pakistan, a Muslim mob attacked and injured Christian villagers in Okara district of Punjab province. More than 200 Muslims raided dwellings of about 80 Christian families last Saturday.

The mob, armed with glass bottles, stones, axes, batons and bricks, beat up Christians. Some of the attackers used stepladders to climb to roofs and vandalized furniture. The attack continued for half an hour, leaving eight Christians with fractured bones.

A police van patrols Chak 5 village on May 15 following a mob attack on Christian villagers.  (Photo supplied)

The violence followed an attack the previous day on Catholic youngsters at St. Thomas Catholic Church in Chak 5 covered by Faisalabad Diocese. The boys were cleaning the church when a Muslim accused them of throwing dust on him.

The boys were beaten and the houses of Christians were raided the next day. Father Khalid Rashid Asi, director of the Diocesan Commission for Harmony and Interfaith Dialogue in Faisalabad Diocese, termed the attack as an act of terrorism. In Islamic Pakistan, attacks on minority groups including Christians are common.

More than 12 years after the end of a civil war, distrust remain among ethnic groups in Sri Lanka. Ethnic minority Tamils in northern parts of the country paid tribute on Tuesday to relatives including priests who went missing or were killed during the war.

On May 18 in 2009, the government declared the end of a war with the LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers, after killing LTTE supremo. Tamils have called on the government to build trust among minorities as they struggle to commemorate their loved ones.

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)

The war began in 1983 when some Tamil groups fought to carve out a separate homeland in the country’s north and east. According to the UN, the war claimed the lives of at least 40,000 civilians in its final days alone, while other independent reports estimated the number of civilian deaths exceeded 100,000.

Both sides were accused of serious human rights violations. Critics accuse the government of failing to pursue an effective mechanism for national reconciliation while rights abuses continue against Tamils. 

Police in Indonesia have arrested 53 people in connection with a bomb attack this March on a Catholic cathedral in Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi province. Police said that 46 men and seven women had been detained as suspects for their roles in the attack on the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral on Palm Sunday.

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A newly married couple belonging to the Islamic State-affiliated JAD network carried out the attack, killing themselves and leaving at least 21 people injured. Indonesia has seen a rise of Islamic militancy in recent times targeting Christians.

The destroyed motorbike of the suicide bombers at the main gate of Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral in Makassar in Indonesia's South Sulawesi province on Palm Sunday. (Photo supplied)

On May 11, Islamic terrorists killed four Christians including a Catholic in Central Sulawesi province. In 2018, three churches in the city of Surabaya were attacked by suicide bombers from the JAD network, leaving 28 people dead.

In 2000, extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah carried out a spate of church bombings in capital Jakarta, Medan in Sumatra and Batam in the Riau Islands. 

Jesuits in Catholic-majority Philippines have begun a special year to mark the 500th anniversary of the conversion of their founder, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, by launching a series of events to support their mission.

Jesuit Communications will conduct a free screening of Ignacio de Loyola, a film about the life of the saint. They also launched a fundraising drive to help care for elderly and infirm Jesuits in the Philippines.

Jesuit Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro blesses 500 saplings at a tree nursery opened on May 20 to mark the 500th anniversary of the conversion of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  

On Thursday, Jesuits in Mindanao opened a nursery with 500 tree saplings to mark the 500th anniversary of the saint’s conversion and the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines. Saint Ignatius of Loyola converted to Christianity after being wounded in the Battle of Pamplona while fighting for the Spanish against the French in 1521.

He was seriously wounded when a cannonball shattered his leg. While recovering, Ignatius found religion in reading the Bible and about the lives of saints.

In the tiny Catholic nation of Timor-Leste, the government has launched a special scholarship program for more than 900 students from disadvantaged families as part of efforts to provide equal educational opportunities and promote higher education.

The program was launched on Monday through signing of a memorandum of understanding with the rectors of 15 public and private universities where the scholarship recipients will study. The government has allocated 1.5 million dollars for the program.

Canossian Sister Ervinia Martins Brito, rector of the Instituto Profissional de Canossa, signs an agreement for scholarships to be awarded to 20 students from disadvantaged families at her college. (Photo: Sister Brito)

The scholarships will be awarded by the Human Capital Development Fund in coordination with other related entities.

Timor-Leste is one of the poorest countries in the world and ranks 141 out of 187 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index 2020. Only about 13.7 percent of citizens aged 17 and above have higher education. 

The government of Thailand has come under fire from human rights groups after thousands of inmates in the country’s notoriously overcrowded prisons were infected with Covid-19. At least 10,000 prisoners were found to be infected with the virus in recent days.

On Monday, nearly 4,000 cases were reported among inmates at Chiang Mai Central Prison in northern Thailand. Close to 3000 inmates had tested positive at Bangkok Remand Prison and the Central Women’s Correctional Institution.

A field hospital set up to treat inmates with Covid-19 in Bangkok as Thailand battles its latest surge in infections partly due to outbreaks in prisons. (Photo: Department of Corrections/AFP)

Thailand’s prisons, which house some 380,000 inmates, have cells packed well beyond their intended capacity. Experts say chronic overcrowding makes any attempt at social distancing a futile effort.

New York-based Human Rights Watch slammed the Thai government over violating international laws by neglecting health protections and care even during the Covid-19 outbreak.

The military in conflict-torn Myanmar has released a Catholic priest after arresting and detaining him for four days after accusing him of involvement with an ethnic rebel group. Father Columban Labang Lar Di, a priest from Banmaw Diocese in Kachin state was released from military detention on Monday following appeals from church authorities.

The priest was arrested while traveling from Banmaw to Myitkyina for pastoral purposes. The soldiers checked his identity card and mobile phone and then detained him in military quarters for questioning.

An undated photo taken this month shows an anti-coup activist undergoing basic military training at a camp of the Karen National Union, an ethnic rebel group in Karen state, after people fled major Myanmar cities due to the military crackdown following the Feb. 1 coup. (Photo: AFP)

The soldiers allegedly found some photos of him with rebels of an ethnic insurgent group, the Kachin Independence Army, which were taken during his visits to camps for internally displaced persons.

Kachin, a Christian-majority state, has seen an escalation in fighting between the military and ethnic rebels since the military coup of February 1. Thousands of people have fled their homes and many have crossed the border into Thailand to escape the violence.

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