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Selfless heroes ease pain of oppression

The prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award has honored the role of individuals in transforming lives and societies across Asia. In other parts of Asia, calls continue for an end to oppression, injustice and corruption.

Published: September 03, 2021 11:32 AM GMT

Updated: September 03, 2021 04:21 PM GMT

The Ramon Magsaysay Foundation announced the five winners of this year’s award on Monday.

Roberto Ballon, a Filipino fisherman and community environmentalist, has been recognized for leading his fellow fisherfolk to revive a dying fishing industry by creating a sustainable marine environment. Dr. Firdausi Qadri, a prominent Bangladeshi scientist, has spent more than four decades in the development of affordable vaccines that saved millions of lives.

Steven Muncy, a 64-year-old American, has supported refugees and displaced communities in Southeast Asia since 1989 though his NGO, Community and Family Service International.  Muhammad Amjad Saqib, a Pakistani social entrepreneur and founder of Akhuwat, the world’s largest Islamic microfinance organization, has supported millions of families to eradicate poverty.

Watchdoc Indonesia has been recognized for crusading journalism and documentary films that exposed institutional corruption and attempted to transform Indonesia’s media landscape.

Selfless heroes ease pain of oppression

Roberto Ballon, a fisherman and community environmentalist in the Philippines, is among five winners of this year's Ramon Magsaysay Award. (Photo: Ramon Magsaysay Foundation)

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A Catholic diocese in Timor-Leste has suspended a priest from all clerical duties over his intention to run for president in the election next year.

In a letter on Monday, Bishop Dom Basílio do Nascimento of Baucau Diocese said he had terminated all sacramental services of diocesan priest Father Martinho Germano da Silva Gusmao. Bishop Nascinamento said the priest submitted a resignation letter to him in January last year and a letter to Pope Francis in February this year relinquishing his priesthood status.

Father Martinho Germano da Silva Gusmao wants to run for president next year. (Photo supplied)

Father Gusmao, a lecturer at the church-run Philosophy and Theology Institute in capital Dili, said his resignation was related to his determination to get involved in the Catholic-majority country's sociopolitical affairs, including his plan to run in the presidential election.

The Catholic Church does not bar priests from talking about politics but prohibits them from running for public office or holding public posts. 

A court in southern India's Karnataka state has summoned a Catholic bishop and a priest on charges of conspiring to sell prime plots of diocesan land.

Chikkamagaluru District Court ordered Bishop Anthony Swamy Thomasappa of Chikmagalur Diocese and his former vicar general Father Shantha Raj to appear before it on September 24 on charges of criminal breach of trust and conspiracy. Both are accused of conspiring to take ownership of two church-owned land plots worth 2.4 million US dollars and sell them off at a cheaper value.

Bishop Anthony Swamy Thomasappa of Chikmagalur denies the allegations. (Photo supplied)

The diocese’s legal adviser V.T. Thomas said the case stems from ethnic rivalry and the allegations aim to tarnish the bishop and the priest, who are ethnic Kannadigas, adding that those who complained against them come from the dominant Konkani Catholics in the diocese.

The case comes as Cardinal George Alencherry, major archbishop of the Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church in India, faces criminal charges in court for allegedly selling off church land plots, causing losses of more than 10 million US dollars.

Christian leaders from various denomination have re-consecrated a Baptist church in western Myanmar following its occupation by the military. Soldiers who camped in the church in Falam township in Chin state in July and early August threw away Bibles and hymn books and left behind rubbish and food.

On August 28, Christians took part in a prayer service to cleanse the church after soldiers corrupted it with disrespectful acts. In other parts of Christian-majority Chin state, Catholic and Baptist churches are still facing the brunt of conflicts between the military, resistance groups and ethnic rebels.

Sacred Heart Church in Loikaw in Kayah state was shelled by the military, leading to the deaths of four people taking refuge in the building on May 24. (Photo: Kantarawaddy Times/AFP)

In Mindat township, soldiers occupied St. John Catholic Church and reportedly took away the consecrated host, opened a tabernacle, destroyed locked cabinets and scattered clothes and other items on the floor.

Christians in ethnic minority areas such as Kachin, Kayah and Chin states have historically faced oppression and persecution under more than five decades of military rule.

About 200 mostly Christian ethnic Santal people marched on the streets in northern Bangladesh on August 29 to demand cancellation of a government plan for a special economic zone on their ancestral land.

During the protest in Govindaganj in Gaibandha district, the Santals called for the return of their land, justice and compensation for deadly attacks by thugs on the community in November 2016 that left three dead and dozens injured. Santal leaders said that if the government establishes an export processing zone, about 2,500 families will lose their homes and agricultural land.

Hundreds of ethnic Santals take to the streets in the Gobindaganj area of Gaibandha district on Aug. 29 to demand cancellation of a government plan for a special economic zone on their ancestral land. (Photo supplied)

The government says the zone will be established after the community is consulted and it aims to offer employment and development to Santals. The dispute has its origins in a state-run project in the 1950s when villagers’ land was acquired for sugarcane farming by a sugar mill.

After the mill closed many years ago, villagers demanded the return of their land in line with an agreement with the government, leading to disputes and clashes.

As Covid-19 continues to surge in Vietnam, the Catholic Church is offering spiritual care to those infected by the pandemic.

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The Vietnam bishops’ Liturgy Commission recently provided guidance to priests, religious and volunteers who wish to serve Covid-19 patients, especially to administer the sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick.

Religious volunteers work at a field hospital for Covid-19 patients in Ho Chi Minh City. (Photo courtesy of tgpsaigon.net)

Commission chairman Bishop Emmanuel Nguyen Hong Son called on Catholics to help hospital patients prepare for the sacraments and administer them when priests are not allowed to visit. They can also conduct funeral rites when necessary.

Vietnam earned global praise for successfully tackling Covid-19 last year but has struggled against the more lethal Delta variant in recent months. Vietnam has recorded about 474,000 infections and some 11,868 deaths from the pandemic.

Health workers at 10 private hospitals in Philippine capital Manila staged a one-hour work abstention on Monday to protest poor salaries, benefits and what they say is a lack of government support.

The walkout occurred while President Rodrigo Duterte was calling the health workers modern-day heroes in an address to mark the country’s National Heroes’ Day. A nurse in the Philippines has an entry salary of 22,000 pesos or around 440 US dollars per month while a policeman receives a monthly salary of 30,000 pesos.

Health workers in protective suits call on the government to release their allowances amid rising Covid-19 infections in a protest in front of a hospital in Manila on Aug. 30. (Photo: AFP)

Despite health workers risking their lives and providing great services during the pandemic, they have been denied desired adequate salaries and benefits, forcing hundreds to quit their jobs.

Earlier, health groups threatened to tender mass resignations if their demands were not met and called for action against Health Department officials accused of a massive scam involving 1.35 billion US dollars of public funds.

Seven Buddhist monks have been expelled from the ranks of the clergy after they were found to be partying in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai. Locals reported the monks to police for violation of Covid-19 regulations that prohibit large gatherings.

The monks were dining on roast pork and drinking beer during a party on August 29. Monastic vows prohibit monks from eating anytime between noon and dawn and from drinking alcoholic beverages. A court also sentenced the monks to 15 days in jail and fine of 310 US dollars.

Thai Buddhist monks collect free food donated by people before blessing them. (Photo: YouTube)

Buddhist monks in Thailand have recently been implicated in criminal acts and misbehavior. Last month a monk shot and killed a layman.

Several monks have been accused of engaging in the sexual exploitation of minors, illicit affairs with women and drug trafficking. Senior monks have also been arrested for embezzling their monasteries’ funds.

Christian activists in Pakistan have called on Western nations to help minority communities including Christians in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover and withdrawal of US forces.

Sabir Michael, a human rights activist and professor at the University of Karachi, said he condemns the “dual standards” of the West as there was no statement about non-Muslims in Afghanistan who remain extremely vulnerable to persecution by Islamist extremists.

Taliban fighters near Zanbaq Square in Kabul on Aug. 16 after a stunningly swift takeover of Afghanistan's capital. (Photo: AFP)

Protestant pastor Irfan James, who visited Afghan capital Kabul last December, said most Christians have fled the main cities to escape persecution. Some 10,000 to 12,000 Christians live in Afghanistan and most are converts from Islam.

For decades, Christians have kept a low profile and practiced their faith in secret as conversion in a serious offense punishable by death under Sharia law. Meanwhile, the World Sikh Organization estimates about 200 Sikhs remain in Afghanistan. 

A Catholic diocese in South Korea has recovered the remains of the first three Korean Catholic martyrs two centuries after their deaths.

Bishop John Kim Son-tae of Jeonju Diocese said on Wednesday that following historical research and DNA tests, it has been confirmed that the remains are of Paul Yun Ji-chung and James Kwon Sang-yeon, both beheaded in 1791, and Yun’s brother Francis Yun Ji-heon, who was martyred in 1801. During his visit to South Korea in 2014, Pope Francis beatified the three along with 120 martyrs who were killed during the rule of the Joseon dynasty.

A painting of Korean Catholic martyrs who were killed for their faith during the late 19th century. (Photo: Research Foundation of Korean Church History)

Christianity first came to Korea in the late 16th century, but it started as a strong indigenous lay movement in the late 18th century. Catholics faced persecution as Korean rulers began to see Catholicism as a false religion that denied Confucian ethics and invited Western imperialism to the country.

Thousands of Catholics were martyred in the 18th and 19th centuries for refusing to renounce their faith.

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