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ACN Feature – Colours and consolation in India during Covid19

09.04.2020 in Contemplative Sisters, COVID19, India

 

India

COLOUR AND CONSOLATION IN THE TIME OF COVID 19

By Maria Lozano, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

Published on the web April 9, 2020

 

India is currently under a total lockdown as a result of COVID-19. Millions of low-paid migrant workers have suddenly found themselves unemployed as a result of the total shutdown of the country for a period of 21 days, following the announcement by the Indian government on Wednesday March 25. It is a measure that has prompted a mass exodus from the cities on a scale never seen before.

Sister Christin Joseph SCSC. Sister Christine is responsible for supporting the Small Christian Communities (SCCs) in India. We count 85 000 of them in the country.

An Indian religious, Sister Christin Joseph of the Sisters of Charity of the Holy Cross (SCSC), spoke to the international Catholic pastoral charity ACN, describing the situation. “There is an endless stream of tens of thousands of people trying to return on foot to their home villages, some of which are over 1000 km away, carrying their children and their belongings with them. All transport has been stopped, except for essential services, as the authorities struggle to contain the virus, which has already infected over 1000 people.”

According to Sister Christin, the situation is being made still worse by the exceptionally high temperatures of 39 to 40°C and because the people are obliged to walk, with little in the way of money or food, while at the same time all the eating places and guesthouses are closed.

In India the lack of work, particularly in the poorest states of the North such as Jharkhand, Odisha, Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, has forced thousands of people to emigrate to the major cities of the southern states, which are wealthier and have more opportunities for employment. “Thousands of them are simple day labourers, living in cramped apartments, working long hours for a few dollars a day in conditions that are often unsafe and without any social security network. What little is left over in the way of money after covering their basic expenses, they try to save for their families. Now because of the lockdown, they want to go back,” Sister Christin explains.

 

At the foot of the Cross

Sister Christin helps to run some of the Small Christian Communities (SCC), the small groups of Christians formed in places where the priests can rarely get and who gather together with a catechist to pray and celebrate Liturgies of the Word instead. There are something like 85,000 of these small Christian communities scattered across the whole of India. Indian Catholics very often belong to the lowest classes of society and are today facing a situation of increasingly violent discrimination. In normal circumstances Sister Christin would be travelling thousands of kilometres to instruct and encourage them.

But with the arrival of COVID-19 the situation has changed completely. Her voice suddenly trembling, she speaks to ACN: “I am over 65 years old and my health is delicate, so they won’t let me go out to do anything. Having to stay inside, under a total lockdown, and listen to what is happening to our poor people, I feel as though I am staying beneath the Cross, helpless and unable to reach and help others. This is extremely painful to me. I can do nothing but gaze with anguish at the Cross and entrust everything to the Lord, who understands better than anyone our human suffering.”

Small Christian Communities (SCCs) helping the population affected by Corona Virus in India – March 2020: People receiving relief supplies by the Church.

The SCCs coming to the aid of their needy neighbours

Her voice changes completely when she starts to speak about the SCCs, the small Christian communities. “What consoles me is the fact that many of our small Christian communities are responding to this situation with thousands of simple initiatives. While still adhering to the measures imposed, for example in Bangalore, Chandigarh, Calcutta and Poona, they are seeking out those in need and giving them food. They are helping everyone – Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, Muslims – without any discrimination whatsoever.

Many of these simple initiatives would not be possible however “without the support of the police and the government”, Sister Christin acknowledges. In Sikkim Sikkim, the local SCC is helping “with the distribution of disinfectant and cleansers and face masks in the rural areas, together with members of the state government work group.”

The SCCs are also informing people about the virus and the protective measures they need to take, and in addition to this, “they are constantly supporting each other via Whatsapp and text messages with advice and suggestions for prayers, especially for the situation of the pandemic and its consequences. We have to adapt to this new way of being Church, of how to be love in action during the lockdown,” says this Indian religious, speaking principally about the work of the SCC in Jharkhand in the northeast of the country, the home region of many of the tribal communities. Another example of this love is the initiative of one of the leaders of the community in Calcutta who is praying the Way of the Cross from his home over a loudspeaker, so that the other Christian families in the neighbourhood can join in from their own homes.

In Delhi the restrictions imposed by the government are extremely strict. Emmanuel Johnson, a leader of the local SCC in the Indian capital, explains that it is not easy to even move about, but that they are helping to distribute food rations to the day labourers and other needy families. “Additionally, we have started up a Family Prayer initiative for the next 21 days, at 7 PM prompt every evening, when we gather in our own homes with the members of our family and pray the Rosary in solidarity with those infected by the virus. Since the laity can now no longer participate in Holy Mass, we have begun a daily reading of a prayer of Spiritual Communion, which many of our people did not know before.”

“I for my part am trying to encourage and motivate them by means of constant messaging via Whatsapp, text messages and emails,” says Sister Christin, though not without first expressing her gratitude for those who have helped make possible these Small Christian communities which are now such a source of consolation for thousands of people in India currently suffering from the consequences of the epidemic. “I am extremely grateful to ACN for the help they have given us over so many years in supporting and sustaining our basic Christian communities. I’m quite sure that the benefactors of ACN could never have imagined that their help would now be such a source of consolation during the coronavirus crisis. But the tragedy is a grave one. India needs your prayers. Please don’t forget us! And may God bless you all!”

 

Let us united to support our Christian brothers and sisters living in India!

ACN News – India – Christian released on bail after 11 years in jail

02.03.2020 in Aid to the Church in Need Canada, India, Persecution of Christians, Religious freedom

 

India

Christian released on bail after 11 years in jail

Accusations were false

by Anto Akkara, for ACN USA
Adapted by ACN Canada
Published online March 2, 2020

 

BHASKAR SUNAMAJHI (43) is one of seven Christians falsely accused and convicted of the August 2008 murder of a Hindu leader in the Kandhamal district of India’s Odisha State. The killing triggered the worst eruption of Christian persecution in modern Indian history. Almost 100 Christians were killed, while 300 churches and 6,000 homes were destroyed. In December 2019, after 11 years in jail, Bhaskar, along with six fellow Christian defendants, was released on bail.

 

Bhaskar and son, Daud

Bhaskar, who belongs to a Pentecostal Church, gave this account to Aid to the Church in Need:

“I was playing cards with my friends in Kutiguda village when the police came to my mud-thatched house around noontime on December 13, 2008. I was not surprised. Being a gram rakhi (village protector), I was used to police dropping in even at odd hours to fetch me to accompany them for crime investigation and sundry works.

“Come now. You can return tomorrow,” police told me. Without any hesitation, I got ready. However, I was surprised when they told me to take money for my expenses. That was 11 years ago. Today I am happy and thrilled to be back home.

 

Prayer, the only comfort

In the beginning, I had no idea why I was put in jail. It was like complete darkness surrounded me. Gradually, I came to know the six other Christians who had been arrested like me. We decided to pray together, trusting in the Lord as we had done no wrong.

“Initially, other (Hindu) prisoners treated us as murderers and they were hostile toward us. It was a hopeless situation. When the mind was so distressed, prayer was the only solace for us. Besides our common prayers, I would start every day in prayer and end with prayer.

“Some nights I was so distraught and tearful. Then I kept on praying late into the night until I fell asleep. But for the prayers, I would have been a mental wreck.

“The one positive thing that happened to me while in the jail was that I learned to write properly. I had never been to school—like most people in our remote area, I used the spare time in jail to learn to write.

“Besides reading the Bible, I used to write down hymns we used during prayers in a notebook. I would write each stanza of the hymns prayerfully in different colors.

 

Finally free and happy!

A long road woven by acts of solidarity

“My big relief was when my wife Debaki would visit me every month. She had to travel the whole day from our village to reach the jail in Phulbani, a 100 miles from home, changing several buses on the way. She would reach the jail gate in the morning and would wait for ‘visiting time’ , often in the afternoon.

“When our only son Daud was four years old, Debaki decided to leave him with a pastor in Phulbani who was sheltering several other children. As there was no school anywhere near our village, we did not want our son to be illiterate like us. Sometimes, she would bring Daud along to jail. I was thrilled on those days. Daud was only six months old when I was put behind bars.

“During the visits, Debaki often broke down in tears, as she was lonely and depressed. As years passed, she started telling me how good Samaritans were extending help to our families. From 2014 onward, she began to sound more hopeful. She recounted enthusiastically about social workers and others visiting our villages and documenting testimonies of even Hindu neighbours.

“In 2015, I was thrilled when some of these people dedicated to helping me visited me in jail. I was very happy and started earnestly praying for those who were working for our release.

“Months later, Debaki came with the good news that she was going to New Delhi in March 2016, along with the wives of the six others, for the launch of the online campaign demanding our release.

“All of us became excited and very hopeful. We intensified our prayers and were waiting for the big day. We knew freedom was on its way. But we had to wait for three more years.

“When Gornath Chalenseth was released in May 2019, we were thrilled. We knew God was working for us. Finally, on December 5, I walked out to freedom on bail—granted by the Supreme Court of India.

“I felt thrilled when all seven of us stood together in freedom, holding the Bible, on Christmas Eve in our native village of Kotagarh. Equally thrilling for me was that my son had become taller than me in 11 years.  I am happy to be back with my wife Debaki, relatives and village people. I thank God for my freedom.

“I urge everyone to pray for us seven. We are only out on bail. We still stand convicted of a murder we did not commit. We pray that the Odisha High Court will quash the conviction verdict so that we can live in peace.”

ACN Feature: Stopping India becoming a confessional state

07.02.2020 in by Doreen Abi Raad, Dalits, India

India

The battle to stop the country becoming a confessional state

by Doreen Abi Raad, for ACN International
Adapted by ACN Canada
Published on the web February 7, 2020

 

Millions of demonstrators all over India have been protesting the country’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which essentially fast-tracks citizenship for non-Muslim refugees. Critics charge that the CAA sets a dangerous precedent for the country in using religion as a criterion for citizenship.

 

The Indian government also plans to roll out two other citizenship measures—the National Population Register and the National Register of Citizenship—that could negatively affect India’s Christian community. Because most Indian Christians don’t have the required birth certificate to prove their citizenship, they might feel pressured to identify themselves as Hindus.

Driver and passengers on the tuk-tuk in Bihar State.

Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash is the founder of Prashant, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Center for Human Rights, Justice and Peace. He is part of a national campaign of citizens, “We the People of India,” which is demanding that the CAA, the National Register of Citizenship (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR) be withdrawn immediately and unconditionally. Father Prakash spoke with Aid to the Church in Need:

 

“The CAA, in assuring citizenship for all undocumented persons, except for Muslims risks tearing the country apart, reopening the wounds of partition (between India and Pakistan), and ultimately destroying the secular and democratic tenets of the Constitution. Furthermore, the Act is blatantly discriminatory, divisive and draconian. It is also clearly unconstitutional and goes against the grain and spirit of India’s secular, democratic framework.

 

“The cry of the people is for a more just, humane and egalitarian society in which their dignity and rights are respected. As a human being, a Christian and a Jesuit, I have no option but to listen and respond to these cries, above all, by trying to accompany those who suffer in whatever way I can. My driving force is the person and message of Jesus himself.

 

“The citizenship laws are particularly troublesome for Christians, since the majority of Indian citizens do not have a government-issued official birth certificate. Previously, identity documents such as a driving license, passport or certificate from secondary school were accepted as proof of birth.  And for Christians, particularly Catholics, a Baptism certificate sufficed.  This is no longer the case. In order to prove that you are a citizen of India today you have to produce a birth certificate from an official Government agency.

India, February 2017
A gate of metallic spikes and a cross on top of the convent chapel in the background in Bihar State.

“A considerable number of India’s Christians are from the lower castes and from indigenous peoples, most of whom had come from remote and backward areas of the country.  For them, obtaining the mandatory birth certificate is impossible.”

 

“If they say that they are Hindus, [their lack of paperwork] may be overlooked; however, if they insist on saying that they are Christians and are unable to produce the required documentation, they risk being rendered stateless; they could be sent to detention camps and even deported.  But God knows where? There are going be very serious implications for the future of the Christians.”

 

“These are extremely bad times for Christians in India. We have had consistent attacks on pastors, priests and lay Christians.  Church property is targeted. Intimidation, harassment and denigration of Christians by Hindu nationalists which conform to the Hindutva ideology continue with frightening regularity.

 

Hindutva has nothing to do with mainstream Hinduism, which is by and large rather tolerant. There is a very small percentage of Indians who subscribe to the Hindutva ideology, but today they control the reins of power in the central government and in some states in India. Hindutva adherents believe in the fascist dictum of one nation, one religion, and one language. All the rest are meant to be subservient and minorities—particularly Christians and Muslims—who are treated as second class citizens.”

 

Christians in India number approx. 30-35 million, some 70 percent of whom are Catholic. Though this number seems large, Christians comprise solely an estimated 2.3 percent of the Indian population.

ACN Feature Story: Religious Sister and sexual assault survivor rebounds to ‘bring her people hope’

15.01.2020 in ACN Canada, ACN International, India, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Persecution of Christians, Religious freedom, Sisters

India

Religious Sister and sexual assault survivor rebounds to ‘bring her people hope’

by Anto Akkara, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin for ACN Canada

Posted to the web January 15, 2020

 

In August 2008, the Odisha state’s Kandhamal district witnessed the worst eruption of Christian persecution in modern Indian history. It was sparked by the murder of a local Hindu leader. Hindu radicals labeled the killing “an international Christian conspiracy,” blaming the Pope, Europe, and the United States. They called for revenge on Christians, which led to the deaths of 100 people and the destruction of 300 churches and 6,000 homes. Seven Christians, falsely accused of the murder of the *Swami, spent 9 years in jail. In early December, the remaining five Christians were finally released on bail.

 

Courage alongside trauma

Kandhamal district in Odisha where in 2008 riots by radical Hindus took place against Christians.

During the wave of violence that swept through the Kandhamal district, Sister Meena Barwa was raped and paraded half-naked through the streets. After years of trauma and legal proceedings—which are still ongoing—Sister Barwa decided to enroll in law school and work on behalf of the marginalized. She recently spoke with Aid to the Church in Need:

“The trauma was nearly unbearable, and I moved several times for my own safety, sometimes to places where I could not speak the language. I even wore disguises. For years, I was separated from my family. And the nights were especially bad. I dreamt of the assault often. The knowledge that Kandhamal’s Christians were suffering only added to my pain.

“From time to time, I returned to Odisha for court proceedings. The first trial traumatized me all over again. I couldn’t sleep for days afterwards; I was humiliated, offended, and mentally tortured. I developed a serious aversion to India’s legal system.

“But this did not keep me down. I decided to act on behalf of the people who suffered with me, to pursue justice for them. In 2009, I anonymously enrolled in a college outside of Odisha; I was just one of the girls living in a convent hostel. In 2015, I began a three-year law program, while continuing to attend to my duties as a nun.

 

 

Strength born of suffering and God’s blessings

“Many things have changed in the last decade. Today I lead a normal life, and I have become much stronger. The people I’ve met have helped me forget my pain; I consider them blessings from God. They were angels sent to guide me, so that I did not wallow in misery. Instead, I rose from my trauma and found a way to bring my people hope. I’ve become more humble, more patient, and more human.

“I pray the Lord’s prayer every day. The prayer is only meaningful when I forgive. How can I pray Our Lord’s Prayer if I do not forgive? By forgiving my attackers I have become free of my trauma, fear, shame, humiliation and anger. I feel I am living normal life and am happy because I forgave them. Otherwise, I would have gone mad. I have no ill feeling towards my attackers. I only wish that they become good people.

 

Tribal Catholics in Kandhamal district in Odisha where in 2008 riots by radical Hindus took place against Christians. These villagers have been expelled from their lands, losing all their goods, and have been resettled, often after living for months in the forest or in refugee camps, in another part of the district.

“He has empowered me to serve others”

“I am grateful for my life, my strength, and my sense of purpose, all of which were given to me by God. He is my strength, even as my trial drags on. And He has empowered me to serve others.

“The people of Kandhamal have suffered so much, but they are putting all their trust in the Lord. Suffering in itself is a grace. I see it as a challenge to grow out of it. The Christian community’s attitude towards what happened in Kandhamal in 2008 is not negative. They are hopeful and have a deeper faith. The tragedy has made them stronger. He words of St. Paul come to mind: ‘Who can separate us from the Love of Christ?’ The people of Kandhamal are living this.

* Meaning of ‘Swami’ – a teacher – in Sanskrit language: “One who knows.”

 


Aid to the Church in Need Canada (ACN) published a book called ‘God’s Initiative’ co-authored by Marie-Claude Lalonde and Robert Lalonde, made-up of interviews conducted in 2015 of religious Sisters around the world.  Among them can be found Sister Meena’s story.

Please contact ACN Canada if you would like a copy: suggested donation is $20.  Please call (514) 659-4041 x227 or write to info@acn-canada.org.  All proceeds go to supporting pastoral projects supported by ACN in 140 countries around the world.

ACN Project of the Week – India

18.10.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Holy Cross, India, Religious men, SEMINARIANS, Youth Apostolate

ACN Project of the Week – India

Help for the formation of 23 seminarians

The Congregation of the Holy Cross was officially founded in Mans, France, in 1837. Born of a fusion between the Brothers of Saint Joseph—founded in 1820 by Father Jacques Dujarie and auxiliary priests of Mans, founded by the canon Basile Moreau in 1835. During this post-revolution era, an entire generation of young people grew up without practically any Christian or Catholic education. This community of men was thus born of a group of young men who wanted to educate youth in rural areas. The resulting religious congregation spread swiftly over 20 or 30 years, as far as Algeria, the United States, Italy and East Bengal (which now includes parts of India and Bangladesh).

Today, the congregation is present and active in 16 countries. Its religious brothers and priests are devoted to the religious instruction and general education of young people and run many schools, as they see the formation of the spirit as the essential foundation for treating pressing present-day problems.  Canadians know them well, for one thaumaturge priest, Brother André Bessette, who founded Saint Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal in 1904. This place of pilgrimage receives approximately 2 million visitors every year.

 

Families First

The congregation is particularly active in four Indian provinces where it enjoys numerous new vocations. Indian priests of the Holy Cross Congregation are present not only in India but offer themselves at the service of the Universal Church in other countries.

These days, helping families and young people to become more deeply rooted in the Christian faith as they face consumerism and many other challenges brought about by the phenomenon of globalization. But in order to achieve this, the priests themselves must have a sound formation.

In the southern Indian province of the congregation 23 young men are currently studying for the priesthood. ACN is proposing to help them, with a contribution of $10,350. The seminarians pray for all those who are helping them. Thank you to all of you who can help monetarily, and thank you for praying for them as well.

ACN News: Religious Freedom in India

04.10.2019 in ACN Canada, India, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Religious freedom

Religious Freedom in India

“We are not going to give up the fight for equality, justice and fraternity”

by Matthias Böhnke, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Griffin for ACN Canada

 

“The circumstances are difficult for the Christians in our diocese – we often come up against restrictions in the practice of our faith,” Dr Stephen Antony explained. The 67-year-old bishop of the diocese of Tuticorin in southern India and 53 other Indian bishops recently met with Pope Francis during an ad limina visit to Rome.

According to the bishop, the Indian government is working to transform this immense, primarily Hindu, country into a homogenous country with one language and one set of policies. A difficult to impossible undertaking in a heterogeneous country with 29 federal states and the second most populous country in the world at 1.37 billion inhabitants. Some forecasts even predict that India may already overtake top-ranking China next year.

 

Policies favouring the wealthy

The situation has worsened after this year’s parliamentary elections, which the nationalist governing party BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi won with a surprising majority. “Our situation at the moment isn’t very encouraging. The government makes a lot of rash decisions, which makes things unpredictable. Politics only benefits the wealthy part of the population. The poor are left with nothing,” Bishop Antony deplored.

 

Project supported by ACN – Transportation for pastoral & social work, Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo at St. Charles Convent, Vilathikulam, Tutcorin Dist. – Eastern Province.

The bishop explained that about 450,000 Catholics live in the diocese of Tuticorin, which is equivalent to about 17 per cent of the population. Besides the attacks targeting the faithful and groups of pilgrims, he reported that the circumstances were becoming more and more difficult in his diocese, particularly for the hospitals and the more than 200 schools operated by the church. According to the bishop, high unemployment is a problem not only affecting teachers, but the lack of support from the government has led many of the small farmers and factory workers to feel its effects as well. In fact, Bishop Antony said, many people in the region were so desperate that they felt that suicide was the only option left open to them.

 

However, he does believe that there are signs of hope, one of which being the visit to Pope Francis in Rome. “We are not going to give up the fight for equality, justice and fraternity,” said Stephen Antony. “We hope that Hindus and Christians will soon become more tolerant of each other and that the readiness to use violence will decline throughout the country. I am deeply grateful to ACN and all the benefactors who help us meet our needs in all areas of pastoral care and accompany us in their prayers.”

India – ACN Success Story  A well for a boarding school run by Sisters

19.06.2019 in ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, India

 

India – ACN Success Story

 A well for a boarding school run by Sisters

 

The Daughters of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple are an Italian congregation, founded in the 19th century. Their particular mission is the care of children and young girls. The congregation is present today in Italy, India, Djibouti and Somalia running:  schools, boarding schools, orphanages and leprosy centres. The Sisters also provide care for the elderly.

Published on the web, June 19, 2019

The town of Dhabhagudam in the diocese of Eluru (central part of the country), India, has a boarding school run by these Sisters where they teach between 140 to 150 children who live in the remote villages of the jungle region. This is the only way these kids can possibly attend school, for the people of the region are extremely poor, often working as day labourers and living precariously from hand to mouth. Very few of them can read or write. Alcohol abuse is widespread and causes devastation in the lives of many families.

These children would be condemned to an equally precarious existence were it not for the presence of the Sisters who have given them the opportunity to attend school and to learn. The fruits of their apostolate are quite evident: falling illiteracy rates, less child labour, and a decrease in the number of child marriages. All in all, awareness is gaining ground among the people that education is the key to a better future, at least for their children.

A well for all – thanks to you!

In early days, the one and only well was supplying not only the Sisters and the boarding school with clean water, but the surrounding population as well! Above all, by the elderly in the neighbourhood who were reliant on the Sisters‘ water supply, which was becoming increasingly problematic.

Now, thanks to our generous benefactors, we were able to give $11,500 to provide the Sisters with an additional water supply. They send their heartfelt thanks to you all.

ACN News – Electoral results in India, worrying

30.05.2019 in ACN International, By Maria Lozano, India, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need

ACN News – Electoral results in India, worrying

Elections in India

The recent victory of Narendra Modi is worrying to religious minorities

The parliamentary elections in India ended a few days ago. The nationalist ruling party BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi surprisingly won the world’s largest democratic election – with nearly 900 million voters. According to a source close to the Church, “the victory of Modi is a source of frustration and fear to the minorities in India.”

 

“The five years with Narendra Modi in power have brought many concerns and been extremely difficult for us. We are fearful that the next five years to come will be even worse.” This was the reaction of one source who spoke to the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation ACN, but who prefers to remain anonymous for reasons of security.

 

“The fact that the Hindu nationalist BJP party has won so overwhelmingly is a warning signal for us, since it shows that Hindu nationalism is growing and the minorities – both Christian and Muslim – often find ourselves abandoned in the face of social injustice and discriminated against even quite openly for religious reasons. But also because the Indian economy has been going downhill in recent years and the poor are now even poorer than before. The poorest classes are being overlooked and the rich are the only ones who have benefited,” the same source explained.

Manipulation of the vote

“Hindu nationalism does not want to see any changes in the social structures,” the source told the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), “and many people in India are currently living in a state of semi-slavery. Those belonging to the lowest classes are used and exploited like slave labour.” One of the few institutions striving to change this situation is the Catholic Church, “and this why we are the target of discrimination and oppression.”

 

According to the same source, many people in India are in a state of shock. “We cannot quite believe what has happened. Even in those states and districts where surveys suggested the outlook was less favourable for Modi, in the end his party gained many more seats than had been predicted.” In addition to reports in some of the media which have spoken of manipulation of the electronic voting system, there have also been allegations of vote buying. This was also confirmed by the contact who spoke to ACN. “I also saw how hundreds of destitute day labourers were called together just a few days before the elections and how they were each given 3,000 Rupees (close to $60) on behalf of the Nationalist People’s Party.”

 

ACN’s contact concluded with an appeal for prayers for his country and added, “It is very dangerous to speak against the government; almost nobody dares to do so nowadays, since they have converted themselves into an authoritarian party. But I want people to know what things are like for us, since the world needs to know that the situation is a bad one and that we are afraid. These have already been five years filled with fear, and now we are asking ourselves what the future is going to hold for us?”

 

We would like to invite you to pray for the peoples of India, for the religious minorities threatened by discrimination and persecution in certain States, and to pray for our sisters and brothers in the faith.  Amen.

 

by Maria Lozano, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web: Thursday May 30, 2019

ACN Interview: Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, auxiliary bishop of Ranchi and Secretary General of the Indian Bishops’ Conference

18.04.2019 in ACN International, ACN PRESS, By Maria Lozano, Dalits, India, Peace, Persecution of Christians

INDIA

Rise in violent attacks against Christian minorities

 

India has just begun its electoral process, which will take place in seven separate stages between April 11 and 19 May this year. Fears that this, the most populous democracy in the world, might end up becoming a theocratic Hindu nation have strengthened recently, in light of the fact that the Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata (BJP) and its president Narendra Modi are seeking a second mandate. During its present term in office there has been an increase in interreligious violence, according to the report on Religious Freedom Worldwide by the international Catholic Pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International). The figures speak for themselves: in 2016 a total of 86 people were killed and 2371 injured in 703 separate incidents of sectarian (Hindu fundamentalist) violence; in 2017 the figures were 111 killed and 2384 wounded in 822 separate reported incidents.

 

The most recent attack –  March 26 – took place in Tamil Nadu against a Catholic school, the Little Flower Higher Secondary School in Chinnasalem, when a crowd of Hindu fundamentalists smashed up the school and even attempted to strangle the religious sisters who were running the school. ACN journalist Maria Lozano interviewed Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, auxiliary bishop of Ranchi and Secretary General of the Indian Bishops’ Conference and asked him about the elections and the gravity of this recent incident.

 

Interview with Msgr. Theodore Mascarenhas, 12.04.2019
by Maria Lozano
Published by ACN Canada April 18, 2019

ACN: We have heard of the increase in attacks by Hindu fundamentalists against religious minorities in other parts of India, especially in the north of the country, but the brutal violence of this recent incident has shocked us. Was there any particular reason for the attack?

Over the last year or so there has been a rise in fundamentalism in Tamil Nadu. Above all it has been the evangelical or Protestant so-called “house churches” that have complained of these attacks. There is an activist, who publishes on the web stories of groups of Christians being beaten up while praying in their house churches or some little church structure destroyed. But as the Catholic Church we have not had this type of open attack until this time, at least not such a big one, we have had small, small things. Two years ago there was a Good Friday incident; a mob did not allow us to worship in one place.  So we have had incidents here and there. But the Protestant churches or Protestant groups or these smaller denominations have had a lot of problems over the last two years. So it did not come to me as a surprise that eventually we would be attacked. But that it took place on such a large scale is really frightening.

 

ACN: It must also have been an enormous shock for the sisters of the Franciscan Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who have been running the school for 74 years now. What is the present situation in Chinnasalem? And how are the sisters faring?

 

It is a small town. And the sisters have been doing a lot of this work for very, very poor children. And in fact the hostel, the boarding school can take girls who come from very poor areas and poor families.

 

I spoke to the Sisters a few days ago and I spoke to the Archbishop also, and they say for the moment that some people have been arrested and we are waiting for some more people to be arrested. But for me it is not what happens after the incident. For me the whole thing we have to question is how such incidents can even come about in a civilized society.

 

ACN: But apart from the incident itself and notwithstanding the gravity of it, are you concerned about the social dimension that this kind of attack implies?

How is so much hatred being spread in society and how can we stop this hatred being propagated – that is exactly the question. There are groups that are promoting hatred and these groups are not being stopped, neither in social media nor in actual life, and they seem to be getting political privilege, patronage, and that is my worry, even political authorization, and that is my problem. It is not that these small groups make demands against us or make charges against us or accuse us. The problem is that political leaders are actually encouraging them.

 

ACN: Do you think this increase in incidents in the last year is also related to the elections?

It might be related to the elections but I think it is going long-term now. I have a very simple philosophy on this. Once you plant the seed of hatred, once you bring the beast, the animal of anger, hatred, violence, that animal cannot be controlled. And this is my worry. All those who are spreading this hatred must know what harm they are doing to society and that it will become difficult to bring back things under control; and if it cannot be brought back under control we will have a problem.

 

ACN: But this problem is already damaging especially to the minorities in India…

Yes, it is the minorities, but today I was just thinking of that beautiful poem attributed to a German Lutheran pastor: ‘First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out-because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.’ So we use this now today because first you start with one minority and then the second. the Muslims are under attack, the dalits are under attack and we are under attack, we don’t know who next.

 

ACN: Does that mean then that in the end this nationalist fundamentalism which the political leaders are promoting will actually damage the whole country?

We must say one thing in all fairness. A large Hindu majority, and a large Indian majority of whatever religion we belong to, we are tolerant, we accept each other, and we live with each other, we have been living for thousands of years together, this is a multi-cultural, multi-religious diverse society, and we’ve been living with each other and enriching each other. Now we suddenly come to a situation where certain groups are getting strong and spreading this hatred around and that is not acceptable, because eventually it is the nation that is going to suffer from this. Not just the minorities.

 

ACN: Is India heading towards becoming a theocratic nation like Pakistan?

In 1947 two countries were born, Pakistan and India. Pakistan decided that it would be a country founded on a religion, Islam; our founding fathers in India decided we would not be based on any religion or any one culture but we would be multi-cultural, pluri-religious and with diverse languages and regions. And the country has lived peacefully after that.

 

ACN: But who are these new people who want to change what the founding fathers decided, and why? 

These are certain fundamentalist groups which come up in every society and fundamentalist groups always damage society. But when they start getting overt or covert support from the others then they become dangerous.

ACN: What has been the reaction of the Christian community on hearing this news? Surely these incidents must make them feel very frightened?

We as Christians, we trust in the Lord, we are not afraid. When I asked the Sisters ‘Are you afraid?’ they said ‘No, we shall continue our work.’ I think that is our spirit, we shall continue our work, we will not be afraid of anyone. We think of Jesus who told us ‘Be afraid of the one who can take care of your soul rather than those who can destroy your body.’ So that is our basic principle. I don’t think anyone is frightened and we will go ahead with our work, we will continue serving the poorest of the poor. We know that this will bring us difficulties, this will bring us persecution, and this will bring us even hardships, but we will continue doing our work for the poor, for God and for Jesus.

 

ACN: One last question: do you believe that it is precisely the fact that you are working with the poorest and most socially discriminated against is one of the reason why some people don’t seem to like the work of the Church?

We have a saying in my own local language Konkani: ‘Stones are thrown only at a tree that bears fruit’. You don’t throw stones at a useless tree, only at a tree that bears fruit. So I think that one of the reasons we are under attack is that we are serving the poor, somebody does not like that we are serving the poor and this I believe is the real reason why the fundamentalists do not like us.

 

 

 

 

ACN Project of the Week – India

08.05.2018 in ACN Canada, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, India, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need

India

Financial aid for the formation of 31 aspiring priests

Good news has come to us from the diocese of Sambalpur in the eastern Indian state of Odisha: the number of vocations to the priesthood has seen continuous growth over the last few years! This is because the diocese has launched an active vocation apostolate in the schools, introducing young people  to the idea at an early age. As part of the program, the priests read them stories from the Holy Scriptures in which someone is called by God. After the tenth grade, any boys who feel called to the priesthood then enter what is known as the “minor seminary”. For three years, while working towards their university entrance diploma, they grow into the spiritual life and examine whether this is the right path for them before enrolling in seminary.

 

At the local seminary, 31 young men are currently preparing for ordination to the priesthood. Although it is a great joy to have so many vocations, it is also a daunting challenge for the diocese as the state of Odisha is one of the most impoverished regions in the country, and Christians are one of the poorest and most disadvantaged groups of peoples. This means that the aspiring priests come from destitute families and the other members of the parish are also too poor to support them during their formation.

 

Living within a spiritual community is something that first needs to be learned

Therefore, the diocese must pay for everything the seminarians need: housing, clothing, shoes, food, medical care, educational materials… The costs are rising and the seminary is dependent upon aid from outside of the country.

It is important that the seminarians receive a good education on all levels: they should have a solid foundation of knowledge, be well developed spiritually and in prayer and have achieved a certain level of maturity. Therefore, in addition to their studies, it becomes essential that they receive help in their spiritual development and are able to establish a dynamic prayer life. However, living within a spiritual community is also something that first needs to be learned.

To gain practical experience in pastoral care, the priests in training spend their summers in different parishes, in remote villages and in the slums. They visit the sick, pray with families, teach the children catechism, hold Bible studies with adolescents and lead devotionals. This teaches them about life in the communities and allows them to grow into pastoral ministry. They take part in retreats and religious exercises to strengthen them in their spiritual life and their vocations. Once a year, they spend three days with the bishop and the priests of the diocese.

ACN has donated $14,000 to allow the seminarians to continue their priestly formation for another year.

 

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