Category Archives: Religion

After Vatican-China deal, Chinese bishop imprisoned for 23 years is not yet released

Flag_of ChinaFlag of China. Credit: Tomas Roggero via Flickr CC BY 20 12 10 15.

 The nephew of a Chinese bishop who was arrested 23 years ago has said he does not know where his uncle is incarcerated, or even whether he is still alive. “His whereabouts are unknown and I don’t even know if he is alive or not. I am upset with tears every time I think of this 87-year-old man. Please pray for him,” Su Tianyou told UCANews recently.

His uncle is Bishop James Su Zhimin of Baoding, in China’s Hebei province, southwest of Beijing.

In 1996, the bishop was arrested during a procession, and charged with conducting “unregistered” religious activities: Su had refused to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the government recognized Catholic Church in China, and was instead a member of the “underground” Church- in communion with Rome, and appointed a bishop by Pope St. John Paul II, but unrecognized by the Chinese government as a bishop.

It was not the first time Su was arrested. According to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Human Rights Commission, Su has spent 40 years in prison, “without charge, without trial.”

“Before being arrested in 1996, Bishop Su Zhimin was held off and on for 26 years either in prison or forced labor camps.  The Chinese government deemed him as ‘counterrevolutionary’ because, since the 1950s, he has refused to join the Patriotic Association,” the Human Rights Commission says.

Su reportedly escaped Chinese detention in 1997, but was rearrested.

“In November 2003, his family discovered him by chance at a hospital in Baoding, surrounded by police and public security.  He has not been heard or seen from since, despite repeated international inquiries,” according to the Human Rights Commission.

Su’s nephew, Su Tianyou, told UCANews that he met in 2015 with Guo Wei, a Chinese official who told him that the bishop might be released if there were an improvement in Vatican-China relations.

In September 2018, Beijing and Vatican officials signed a provisional agreement on bishop appointments, that was intended to unify the underground Church and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

According to Su Tianyou, neither Vatican nor Chinese officials have indicated whether Su might now be released. In October 2018, Hong Kong’s Bishop Michael Yeung said that his diocese continued to pray for Su, and hope for his release.

“Whether he is in prison, or kept secret in some other place, or whether he has already died, nobody really knows,” Yueng told Reuters.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom’s latest report, issued April 29, noted that despite last year’s Vatican-China deal on the appointment of bishops, “repression of the underground Catholic Church increased during the latter half of the year.” The commission, known as the USCIRF, is a bipartisan group that advises the President, Congress, and the Secretary of State on international religious freedom issues.

Among the report’s inclusion of commissioners’ “individual views” were those of Johnnie Moore, who called the deal “one of the most alarming incidents as it relates to religious freedom in the entire year.”

“Within days of the Vatican negotiating its deal, the Chinese used it as cover to embark upon the closure of several of the nation’s largest and most prominent unregistered church communities,” Moore wrote.

Moore believes the Vatican “now bears a significant moral and legal responsibility to help solve the problem which it helped created—albeit inadvertently—by providing China license to viciously crack down on Christian communities (as cited in this report), and by providing the Chinese government further cover to continue its incomprehensible, inexcusable and inhumane abuses of Muslim citizens in the western part of the country.”

“While I am entirely for direct engagement on these issues, including with the most severe violators in the world, that engagement must not result in these types of unintended consequences, as has been the case in China. The Vatican made a terrible mistake, which it must take seriously. This debacle must be dealt with urgently and seriously.”

April’s USCIRF report also highlighted the plight of the Uyghur Muslim minority in China. To date, between 800,000 to 2 million Uyghurs— or about 10% of their population— have been detained and sent to “re-education camps” to be subjected to abuse and political indoctrination.

The report calls on the US government to sanction those in the Chinese government responsible for the detention of the Uyghurs.

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/after-vatican-china-deal-chinese-bishop-imprisoned-for-23-years-is-not-yet-released-87066

Aasia Bibi: Christian acquitted of blasphemy leaves Pakistan

Aasi
Bibi was convicted and sentenced to death for blasphemy by a trial court in November 2010 [File: AP]
by Asad Hashim

Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy by Pakistan’s Supreme Court last year in a case that has become emblematic of fair trial concerns in such cases, has been granted asylum in Canada, her lawyer says.

Bibi, 53, flew out of Pakistan after being held for months in protective custody by Pakistani authorities following her acquittal, Saif-ul-Malook told Al Jazeera by telephone on Wednesday.

She joins her husband and two daughters, Malook said. “She has gone to Canada, she will live there now as she has been granted asylum by them,” he said.

Canadian authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the case.

Bibi spent eight years on death row after her arrest in the central village of Ithan Wali after an argument with two Muslim women who refused to drink water from the same vessel as her, due to her religion.

The women and a local cleric accused Bibi of having insulted Islam’s Prophet Muhammad during the altercation, a charge that she has consistently denied.

Blasphemy is a sensitive subject in Pakistan, where the country’s strict laws prescribe a mandatory death penalty for some forms of the crime.

Increasingly, blasphemy allegations have led to murders and mob lynchings, with at least 74 people killed in such violence since 1990, according to an Al Jazeera tally.

Among those killed were Salman Taseer, then a provincial governor, and Shahbaz Bhatti, then a federal minister, in 2010. Both officials had stood up for Bibi when she was first accused of blasphemy.

Incendiary issue

In a landmark judgment acquitting Bibi, the Supreme Court noted in October that there were “glaring and stark” contradictions in the prosecution’s case against Bibi.

“[There is] the irresistible and unfortunate impression that all those concerned in the case with providing evidence and conducting investigation had taken upon themselves not to speak the truth of at least not to divulge the whole truth,” wrote Justice Asif Khosa, now Pakistan’s Supreme Court Chief Justice, in the verdict.

Bibi had been convicted and sentenced to death by a trial court in November 2010, with the Lahore High Court upholding her conviction on appeal four years later. Rights groups had long insisted there were numerous fair trial concerns in her case, as well as in blasphemy prosecutions generally.

The Supreme Court verdict prompted days of violent protests by the far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a hardline religious group with widespread support that has long pushed for those accused of blasphemy to be executed or murdered extrajudicially.

Led by firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the TLP blocked roads and major intersections across the country following Bibi’s acquittal in October.

Rizvi was arrested in November and charged with treason for leading the protests. Afzal Qadri, the cofounder of the TLP, released a statement last week apologising for the protests and promising not to engage in further political activity.

Rizvi, and scores of other TLP activists, remain in police custody, charged with hate speech and inciting violence.

Days after the verdict was announced, Bibi’s lawyer Malook sought refuge in the Netherlands, citing threats to his life for having represented her.

In February, Bibi told the Associated Press news agency through an intermediary that she was being held by Pakistani authorities in indefinite protective custody and that they would not let her leave the country.

On Tuesday, “the long running issue” of her departure from the country was resolved, her lawyer says, and Bibi is now safely in Canada and reunited with her family.

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/05/aasia-bibi-christian-acquitted-blasphemy-leaves-pakistan-190508072729494.html

Indonesian Buddhist woman’s blasphemy conviction upheld

Indonesia photoSibarani said there was insufficient evidence against Meiliana to warrant a custodial sentence [Antara Foto/Irsan Mulyadi via Reuters]

Medan, Indonesia – Indonesia’s Supreme Court has upheld an 18-month jail sentence for a 44-year-old Buddhist woman convicted last year on blasphemy charges.

Meiliana’s conviction last August stemmed from a complaint filed after she was accused of making remarks against mosque loudspeakers in the city of Tanjung Balai in North Sumatra nearly three years ago.

Her lawyer Ranto Sibarani said that his client was a “victim of a hoax,” denying she made those remarks.

“There is no evidence that she committed blasphemy. This hoax spread in the course of a week and ruined a woman’s life in the process,” Sibarani told Al Jazeera.

“Today’s decision is very dangerous because in the future it means that people can spread false information which will lead to wrongful convictions under the blasphemy law.”

The case is based on an incident on July 22, 2016 when Meiliana, an ethnic Chinese-Buddhist resident of Medan, purportedly made a complaint to her neighbour, Kasini, who like many Indonesians only goes by one name.

Kasini claimed that Meiliana asked for the azan, the Islamic call to prayer, to be turned down at the local al-Mashum mosque. Her version has been disputed and the ensuing blasphemy conviction widely criticised byhuman rights groups, including Amnesty International Indonesia.

In the days and weeks that followed the initial incident, comments were widely shared on social media stating that Meiliana, a mother of four, had tried to stop the mosque from broadcasting the call to prayer.

A mob in Tanjung Balai set fire to Meiliana’s front lawn while two of her four children were inside her home. They escaped with the help of a Muslim pedicab driver who happened to be passing at the time.

Members of the mob were then called as witnesses at the trial which took place in Medan District Court between June and August last year.

Sibarani said there was insufficient evidence against Meiliana to warrant a custodial sentence.

“The hoax was legitimised by the court. The judge allowed a statement letter to be submitted as evidence by three witnesses outside Meiliana’s house,” he said.

“They claimed she told them the prayer call hurt her ears while a gang confronted her and pelted her home with rocks and bottles. Yet there is no evidence that this conversation ever happened and the statement letter was written six months after the incident.”

Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population but it also is home to sizeable numbers of Buddhist and Christian minorities.

The alleged remarks also kicked off some of the worst race riots since the fall of Suharto in 1998. At least 11 Buddhist temples were torched in Tanjung Balai, where Buddhists number around 11,000 out of 185,000 residents.

There has been widespread criticism of Indonesia’s blasphemy law, which in recent years has been wielded against minority groups including the former governor of Jakarta, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama.

Ahok was sentenced to two years in prison for insulting Islam following comments he made about a verse from the Quran in 2016.

According to Sibarani, Meiliana’s legal team are now considering their final legal options.

“We believe that video evidence of the discussion outside Meiliana’s home exists and we plan to use it to file a judicial review,” he said. “If this case is not followed up then it means that anyone can now file a statement letter to a judge accusing someone of blasphemy without having to prove it.”

“This case shows that there is no legal certainty in Indonesia any more.”

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/04/indonesian-buddhist-woman-blasphemy-conviction-upheld-190408100321754.html

Pope in UAE: Reject wars in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya

UAE photoThe pope and the grand imam of Al-Azhar laid the cornerstones for a new church and a mosque to be built side by side [Andrew Medichini/AP]

In the first-ever papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula, Pope Francis has said that faith leaders have a duty to reject war as he called for religious freedom in the majority Muslim region.

“War cannot create anything but misery, weapons bring nothing but death,” the pope said on Monday, addressing an inter-religious meeting attended by hundreds of representatives from different faiths.

“I am thinking in particular of Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya,” he added.

He said: “Every form of violence must be condemned without hesitation… No violence can be justified in the name of religion.”

The gathering included imams, muftis, ministers, rabbis, swamis, Zoroastrians and Sikhs.

Francis, who has made outreach to Muslim communities a cornerstone of his papacy, is on an historic three-day visit to the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE is involved in the wars in Yemen, Syria and Libya.

‘Before our eyes’

The United Nations calls Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. It was triggered by the intervention of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their allies in a war between the government and Houthi rebels.

More than 10 million Yemenis now risk imminent starvation.

The pope said the consequences of the war in Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East “are before our eyes”.

Francis warned the future of humanity was at stake unless religions come together to resist the “logic of armed power … the arming of borders, the raising of walls”.

“There is no alternative: we will either build the future together or there will not be a future,” said Francis.

He also called for religious equality in the region.

“I look forward to societies where people of different beliefs have the same right of citizenship and where only in the case of violence in any of its forms is that right removed,” he said.

At the end of the interfaith meeting, Francis and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb – the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning in Sunni Islam – signed a joint statement on “human fraternity” and their hopes for world peace.

They then laid the cornerstones for a new church and mosque to be built side-by-side in the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi.

Red carpet welcome

The document describes itself as being in the name of “all victims of wars, persecution and injustice; and those tortured in any part of the world, without distinction”. It also decried modern “signs of a ‘third world war being fought piecemeal'”.

“We resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood.”

It added countries have a duty to establish a concept of “full citizenship”. The UAE relies heavily on foreign labourers who have no path to naturalisation.

Even for a nation known for excess, the Emiratis’ red-carpet welcome was remarkable, especially for a pope who prides himself on simplicity. It featured horse-mounted guards escorting the pontiff’s motorcade through the palace gardens, while a flyover trailed the yellow-and-white smoke of the Vatican flag.

Advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) had urged the pope to use his visit to the UAE to highlight abuses it said are currently being carried out in the Gulf state.

It sent a letter to Francis before his visit calling on him to lead international pressure to hold the UAE’s leadership accountable.

“Despite its assertions about tolerance, the UAE government has demonstrated no real interest in improving its human rights record,” the HRW said.

The New York-based watchdog said the UAE authorities have targeted critics, political dissidents and human rights activists with arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances.

The pope is scheduled to hold an open-air mass on Tuesday for 135,000 of the Muslim country’s estimated one million Catholic residents, set to be the largest ever public gathering in the Gulf state.

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/pope-uae-reject-wars-yemen-syria-iraq-libya-190204155801553.html

 

Pope Francis: Young people are the ‘now’ of God

youth photoPope Francis says Mass at Campo San Juan Pablo II for World Youth Day Panama Jan. 27, 2019. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

By Hannah Brockhaus

Panama City, Panama, (CNA/EWTN News) – Serving God and his mission is not a passing thing, but can and should be pursued in the present, with one’s entire life, Pope Francis said Sunday at the closing Mass for World Youth Day in Panama City.

“Brothers and sisters, the Lord and his mission are not a ‘meantime’ in our life, something temporary; they are our life!” the pope said Jan. 27. “Not tomorrow but now, for wherever your treasure is, there will your heart also be.”

Jesus “wants to be our treasure, because he is not a ‘meantime,’ an interval in life or a passing fad; he is generous love that invites us to entrust ourselves,” he continued. “You, dear young people, are not the future but the now of God.”
At the end of the Mass, which officially closed World Youth Day 2019 in Panama, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, announced that the next international youth gathering will be in Lisbon, Portugal in 2022.

“At the conclusion of this celebration,” Pope Francis said, “I thank God for having given us the opportunity to share these days together and to experience once more this World Youth Day,” adding that the “faith and joy” of the young people present “made Panama, America and the entire world shake!”

“I ask you not to let the fervor of these days grow cold. Go back to your parishes and communities, to your families and your friends, and share this experience, so that others can resonate with the strength and enthusiasm that is yours.”

In his homily at Mass in Campo San Juan Pablo II, the pope reflected on the day’s Gospel passage, which speaks of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, when he returned to Nazareth where he had grown up and preached in the synagogue.

Not everyone in the synagogue was ready to listen to Jesus, Francis said, and the same can happen to Catholics today, when people do not believe that God can be “that close and real.”
He said, “You too, dear young people, can experience this whenever you think that your mission, your vocation, even your life itself, is a promise far off in the future, having nothing to do with the present.”

“We do not always believe that the Lord can invite us to work and soil our hands with him in his Kingdom in that simple and blunt a way,” he continued. So instead, people prefer “a distant God: nice, good, generous, but far-off, a God who does not inconvenience us.”

But that is not who God is, he said, “He is concrete, close, real love. Indeed, this ‘concrete manifestation of love is one of the essential elements in the life of Christians,” he said, quoting a 2006 homily of Benedict XVI.

Jesus “invites you and calls you in your communities and cities to go out and find your grandparents, your elders; to stand up and with them to speak out and realize the dream that the Lord has dreamed for you,” he said.

“Do you want to live out your love in a practical way? May your ‘yes’ continue to be the gateway for the Holy Spirit to give us a new Pentecost for the Church and for the world,” he concluded.

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-francis-young-people-are-the-now-of-god-72051

Senate passes ‘religious test’ resolution on Knights of Columbus

senate photoSenator Ben Sasse, who introduced the resolution in the Senate, pictured at the National Press Club, Oct. 2018. Credit: Albert H. Teich / Shutterstock

By Ed Condon

Washington D.C.- The Senate yesterday passed a resolution saying it would be “unconstitutional” to consider membership in the Knights of Columbus a disqualifying criteria for public office. The resolution passed by unanimous consent, meaning it went unopposed by senators of either party.

The Jan. 16 resolution was drafted and introduced by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) in response to recent questions put to a judicial nominee, which suggested membership in the Knights could prevent someone serving impartially as a judge.

Citing the protection of religious liberty in the Constitution, the resolution noted that past candidates, including President John F. Kennedy, had suffered from “significant anti Catholic bigotry.”

“It is the sense of the Senate that disqualifying a nominee to Federal office on the basis of membership in the Knights of Columbus violates clause 3 of article VI of the Constitution of the United States,” the resolution states.

Article VI includes the provision that “no religious test shall ever be required as qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

On Dec. 5, Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) raised concerns about membership in the Knights of Columbus while the Senate Judiciary Committee reviewed the candidacy of Brian C. Buescher, an Omaha-based lawyer nominated by President Trump to sit on the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska.

In her questions to Buescher, Hirono said that the Knights have “taken a number of extreme positions.” Harris used her questions to label the organization as “opposed a woman’s right to choose” and against “marriage equality,” and suggested that Buescher could be unable to give a fair hearing to cases on these issues.

In his speech introducing the resolution, Sasse said that the anti-Catholic lines of questioning were “the same kind of garbage” which faced President Kennedy in 1960.

At least six other judicial nominees have faced scrutiny from Democratic senators over their Christian faith or membership in the Knights of Columbus since the 2016 election.

The Knights of Columbus are a Catholic fraternal organization with approximately 2 million members. Last year they carried out more than 75 million hours of volunteer work and raised more than $185 million for charitable purposes. As a Catholic organization, it holds views that are in line with Church teaching.

A recent Marist Poll survey, commissioned by the Knights of Columbus, found high levels of support for religiously committed candidates for the federal bench.

The poll found that 59 percent of Democrats supported people for whom “religion is important” serving as federal judges. The same poll found 60 percent of independents and more than 7 in 10 Republicans (73 percent) also supported religiously committed judges.

“Americans rightly support religious freedom and reject religious tests for public office,” said Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson in a statement.

Anderson said that the Constitutional bar against religious tests “continues to strongly resonate with the overwhelming majority of Americans” and that the Marist Poll results showed a clear majority for those who “believe that faith should not be a barrier to someone’s appointment to public service.”

The resolution was passed by the Senate the day after William Barr went before the Senate Judiciary Committee for confirmation hearings on his nomination for the post of Attorney General.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) asked Barr, who is a member of the Knights of Columbus, if he thought his religion disqualified him from serving in office, observing that “some of my colleagues think it might.”

Spokesperson for the Knights of Columbus Kathleen Blomquist welcomed the passage of the Senate resolution.

“The Knights of Columbus is grateful that the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed that membership in a religious organization does not make a person unfit for public office,” she told CNA.

“We have also been gratified by the reaction of people of different faiths—including Senator Sasse — who never want to see a litmus test imposed on individuals based of their faith, a position that the vast majority of Americans support.”
https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/senate-passes-religious-test-resolution-on-knights-of-columbus-97937

Two Indian women enter Sabarimala temple in Kerala amid protests

India photo
The temple was briefly shut down for a ‘purification ritual’  following the announcement of the women entering [File: Sivaram V/Reuters]

by Zeenat Saberin

New Delhi, India – Two women in India’s southern Kerala state
have breached a centuries-old ban on entering an ancient Hindu
temple, despite strong protests by right-wing conservative
groups.

Bindu and Kanakadurga, who were in their forties, walked into
the Sabarimala Temple at 3:45am on Wednesday, according to the
ANI news agency.

The temple had been closed off to women of menstruating age
until India’s Supreme Court overturned the ban in September.
However, opponents of the ruling continued to block women
between the ages of 10 and 50 from entering the shrine.

“Today, two women entered Sabarimala Temple. We had issued
standing orders to police to provide all possible protection
to any woman who wants to enter the temple,” Chief Minister
Pinarayi Vijayan told reporters in Kerala’s capital city,
Trivandrum.

A video posted online by ANI showed the two women, clothed in
black, hurriedly walking into the temple. They offered prayers
there, ANI said.

The temple was briefly shut down following the move for a
“purification ritual” by priests.

According to the Sabarimala temple’s website, women of
menstruating age were not allowed to enter the shrine because
its deity, Lord Ayyappa, was celibate.

Since the top court’s verdict, Hindu hardliners, opposed to
the decision, have attacked female pilgrims, threatened
journalists and pelted police with stones.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of women in Kerala formed a 620
-km human chain “in support of gender equality” from Kasargod
in the north to the capital, Trivandrum.

Manithi Selvi, who attempted to enter Sabarimala last month
but had to back down after being hounded by violent
protesters, hailed the two women’s entry to Sabarimala as a
“brave feat”.

“This is a massive victory for the women of India. These two
women have protected India’s constitutional rights and smashed
the walls of patriarchy. But this is only the first step, we
need to guard our rights in the family, in the home, in the
workplace,” Selvi told Al Jazeera.

“Those who have tried to purify the temple today after the
women entered are standing against the constitution of this
country. We have to reject these ideas,” she added.

Bindu, one of the women who entered the temple on Wednesday,
was threatened by right-wing protesters earlier and her house
was vandalised, according to Selvi.

Conservative Hindu groups said they will continue to oppose
women entering the temple.

“The temple has now been closed for cleaning ritual following
this incident where the women forcefully entered the temple.
We will definitely go back to the top court to fight this
battle out. It’s not over yet and we will win,” Rahul Easwar,
president of the Ayyappa Dharma Sena (Ayyappa Religious Army),
that claims to protect the interests of the Lord Ayyappa told
Al Jazeera.

KK Shailaja, minister for social justice in Kerala, said her
government stands for “gender equality”. She had also
participated in the “women’s human wall” on Tuesday.

“We are upholding the top court orders and our government here
will continue to strongly back all women. We stand for gender
equality. Those saying that women are impure should be ashamed
of themselves. How can they say women are impure in front of
God?” Shailaja said.

“There is no logical reason to stop women from entering any
temple,” she said.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has backed
the anti-women protesters despite the court order, in what
critics say is a move to fan Hindu religious sentiment to make
inroads into the region.

Menstruation is rarely discussed openly in India and menstrual
blood is considered impure by many communities.

Across cities and towns, menstruating girls and women are not
allowed to prepare food, enter a temple or touch an idol.

An estimated one million Hindu pilgrims travel to the
Sabarimala temple in the southern state of Kerala annually.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS