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Martyr’s impending sainthood cheers Indian Catholics

The Indian Church will see its first lay Catholic martyr become a saint next May. In other parts of Asia, Christians have joined other groups in calling for justice and an end to oppression.

Published: November 12, 2021 11:13 AM GMT

Updated: November 12, 2021 03:31 PM GMT

Catholics in India have welcomed a Vatican announcement that Pope Francis will canonize the country's first lay Catholic martyr, Blessed Lazarus, popularly known as Devasahayam Pillai, and six others next year.

The Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints said on Tuesday that canonization will take place at St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on May 15. The pope had cleared the Indian martyr to be declared a saint on May 3.

Bishop Soosai Nazarene of Kottar in Tamil Nadu state said local Catholics are very happy with the good news, adding the sainthood comes at a time when Christians face increasing persecution.

Pillai was born in an upper-caste Hindu family on April 23, 1712. A member of the royal court in Travancore, he and his wife converted to Christianity, which enraged the Hindu king. He was arrested, tortured and killed for refusing to renounce his faith in 1752. 

Martyr’s impending sainthood cheers Indian Catholics

Indian martyr Devasahayam Pillai was shot dead in 1752 after converting to the Catholic faith. (Photo: YouTube)

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Catholic priests and nuns in Sri Lanka joined hundreds of fishermen, women and victims of the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings in a street demonstration to denounce a government gazette notification to acquire land around the ecologically sensitive Muthurajawela wetlands.

The street protest in Negombo on Tuesday came three days after Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo filed a writ petition with the Supreme Court seeking cancellation of the gazette notification.

A street demonstration by fishermen, women and Easter attack victims against a new gazette notification to acquire their lands for protection of wetlands in Negombo, Sri Lanka, on Nov. 9. (Photo: UCA News reporter)

The Church has strongly opposed the Urban Development Authority’s move to acquire 3,863 hectares of land in the wetlands zone. Muthurajawela is among 41 internationally significant water bodies in Sri Lanka with a highly diverse ecosystem. It is a home to endangered species of birds, animals, reptiles and trees.

The government move also poses a grave threat to hundreds of fishermen who rely on the wetlands for their livelihood.

A state in Muslim-majority Malaysia has implemented a new set of Sharia laws that criminalize 24 offenses including conversion from Islam, triggering concerns from Christian and rights groups.

Authorities in Kelantan state enacted the Kelantan Sharia Criminal Code on November 1. The enactment allows Sharia courts to deliver verdicts on cases relating to a specific list of offenses.

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

The punishments include a jail term of up to three years, a fine of 5,000 ringgit which is around 1,200 US dollars or six strokes of the cane. State officials said the laws aim at educating and bringing offenders back to the right path of Islam, not just merely punishing them.

Earlier, Malaysia's federal officials said Islamic laws including the Sharia Penal Code would not affect non-Muslims in the country. Rights groups say the laws would contribute to “exclusive and intolerant Islam” in a country with creeping radicalism.   

Chinese authorities in Beijing shut down a popular Christian school amid a crackdown on religious groups and affiliated organizations in the communist state. Officials of Tongzhou district in Beijing closed Golden Reed Kindergarten & Primary School Learning Center in September which only came to light in early November.

More than 100 mostly Christian students, including those with special needs like autism, studied in the school established by the Golden Lampstand Church, an evangelical house church.

Students from Golden Reed Kindergarten & Primary School Learning Center in Beijing participate in a program in 2020. The school, established by Golden Lampstand Church, was reportedly shut down by Chinese authorities in September. (Photo: China Aid)

Besides a kindergarten and an elementary section, the school also provided facilities including a daycare center, kitchen, gym, playground and library. Rights groups see the closure as part of the persecution of Christians that has intensified since the Chinese Communist Party adopted repressive new regulations on religious affairs in 2018.

Since then, dozens of churches, schools and orphanages have been shut and Christians detained, jailed and tortured. 

Catholic groups in the Philippines reacted with disbelief after a recent opinion poll projected the son of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos as the frontrunner in the upcoming presidential election.

A poll conducted by Manila Times daily released on Tuesday showed Marcos Junior was far ahead of his rivals with 68 percent respondents backing him. His longtime adversary and Vice President Leni Robredo ranked second with 10.8 percent, while Manila mayor Isko Domagoso ranked third with 7.9 percent. Former boxing icon Manny Pacquiao followed with 7.2 percent.

Former senator and vice-presidential candidate Ferdinand 'Bongbong' Marcos Jr., son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, greets supporters in this Oct. 18, 2016, file photo. (Photo: AFP)

Two other media polls showed similar results. In earlier polls, voters heavily backed Sara Duterte, daughter of President Rodrigo Duterte, before she announced she would not be running in the election.

Catholic groups like the Catholic Lay Alliance have expressed disappointment that Filipinos appeared to have forgotten the martial law era of Ferdinand Marcos when billions of dollars were embezzled, basic freedoms suppressed and hundreds brutally killed. Marcos was ousted by a popular church-based movement and his family fled to the US.

Cambodia's King Norodom Sihamoni has signed on the legislation which will enable the historic, UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal to wind down and finalize its mission within the next three years.

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Since its inception in 2006, the tribunal has prosecuted those most responsible for the brutal deaths of about two million Cambodians during the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot from 1975 to 1979.

Ex-Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan at the ECCC in Phnom Penh on Aug. 19 during his appeal against life imprisonment for his role in the genocide committed by the regime. (Photo: AFP)

The tribunal convicted senior leaders Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, but others died behind bars before a verdict could be reached. Pol Pot died in 1998 as Cambodia's 30-year war came to an end.

Khmer Rouge history is now written into the school curriculum and their atrocities recorded into international law. The ruthless ultra-Maoist regime also exterminated a vibrant Cambodian Church with a ban on religious activities and brutal persecution of Christians. Foreign missionaries returned in 1992 and rebuilt the local Church from the ashes.

Myanmar's military junta has amended the country's broadcasting law in a move that rights groups say will intensify the suppression of journalists and media while eroding press freedom.

Military chief Min Aung Hlaing approved the amendments last week by including tough penalties for violators. It increases penalties for prison time for violations such as broadcasting without a license, including via the internet and reporting after a license has been revoked.

A protester holds a portrait of detained Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi as Myanmar migrants in Thailand protest against the military coup in February. (Photo: AFP)

Critics say the overt amendment applies to the internet including YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, media websites and other digital platforms used to publish videos and podcasts among others. Since the February military coup, at least 126 journalists have been arrested and 20 independent stations have suspended operations, while nine media companies have been raided.

Dozens of journalists remain in hiding to escape arrest. More than 1,200 people have been killed and thousands arrested since the coup. The United Nations say three million people here urgently need humanitarian aid.

Thailand has stepped up a crackdown on human traffickers smuggling migrants from neighboring countries. Labor Minister Suchart Chomklin said arrest warrants have been issued for people smugglers whose assets will be seized if they are convicted of human trafficking, money laundering and other crimes.

Thai government has decided to welcome migrant workers with the easing of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Labor Ministry is seeking to make it easier for migrant workers to enter Thailand legally instead of relying on people smugglers.

Myanmar migrants are apprehended by Thai military personnel in Kanchanaburi province bordering Myanmar on Oct. 26. (Photo: AFP)

Thailand recently signed agreements with Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia to allow 80,000 migrants to work in the country. However, media reports said illegal border crossings have spiked, with up to 3,000 people entering Thailand illegally last week.

Thailand and Malaysia came to the global spotlight during the Asian boat people crisis in 2015 when people smugglers left thousands of trafficking victims adrift in overcrowded boats in the sea following a clampdown.

A new report from civil society alliance CIVICUS found that environmentalists are facing rising levels of threats, criminalization, violence and being silenced across the globe from 2018 to 2021. The main perpetrators were state authorities and private companies.

The study revealed that Latin America was the deadliest region for environmental defenders, with countries like Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru recording frequent targeted killings.

Rights defenders including advocates of environmental, land and indigenous rights are facing rising levels of threats, criminalization and violence in Asia. (Photo: CIVICUS Monitor) 

Similar trends have been found in the Asia-Pacific region, with the Philippines, India and Indonesia being among the worst oppressors of environmental activists.

In the Philippines, environmental and land rights defenders, indigenous leaders, anti-mining activists and lawyers advocating for rural workers have been brutally murdered with impunity since 2018. 

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