The Catholic Church and the Persecution of Christians in the Middle East: Can the Vatican help?

Source: http://nationalinterest.org/ feature/the-catholic-church- the-persecution-christians- the-middle-10371?page=show

Cheryl Benard,  May 6, 2014

“……In Iraq, Syria and Egypt, Christians face a relentless campaign of murder, kidnapping, arson, bombings and persecution. In Turkey, Lebanon and Palestine, the anti-Christian violence is less overt, but there, too, intimidation and discrimination have fueled a huge exodus. Islamic extremists and fundamentalists are determined to drive Christianity out of its birthplace in the Middle East—and they are succeeding. A few decades ago, 20 percent of the Middle East was Christian; today that is down to 4 percent. Iraq alone has lost 80 percent of its Christians during just the last ten years. By any standard, this is ethnic cleansing.

But the numbers, however dramatic, can’t express the human cost. The sectarian war and the random violence in Iraq and Syria are bad enough, but Christians face special targeting. Their churches are regularly mortared and firebombed, congregants killed by suicide bombers or assassins just for attending mass. In Iraq, I met priests who had been kidnapped, tortured and beaten. Their teeth had been knocked out with revolver handles and their spines broken with hammer blows, until finally, a ransom was scraped together and they were dumped on the street half-dead.

And what is Rome doing about all of this? Not very much. One almost gets the impression that religious persecution is too messy for today’s modern, ecumenical church……”

With great fanfare, before a crowd of 800,000, with 1,000 bishops and 150 cardinals in attendance and a TV audience of several millions, the Vatican recently added two new saints to its pantheon. Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II were canonized for having effected medical miracles that saved the lives of three women who had begged their intercession for, respectively, Parkinson’s, internal hemorrhages, and a brain disease.

Those were, obviously, marvelous outcomes for these three individuals. But pull back the lens just a bit and the mood of jubilation appears ill placed. In light of what is happening to Catholics in the Middle East, the crowd should have been praying for miracles on an entirely different scale.

In Iraq, Syria and Egypt, Christians face a relentless campaign of murder, kidnapping, arson, bombings and persecution. In Turkey, Lebanon and Palestine, the anti-Christian violence is less overt, but there, too, intimidation and discrimination have fueled a huge exodus. Islamic extremists and fundamentalists are determined to drive Christianity out of its birthplace in the Middle East—and they are succeeding. A few decades ago, 20 percent of the Middle East was Christian; today that is down to 4 percent. Iraq alone has lost 80 percent of its Christians during just the last ten years. By any standard, this is ethnic cleansing.

But the numbers, however dramatic, can’t express the human cost. The sectarian war and the random violence in Iraq and Syria are bad enough, but Christians face special targeting. Their churches are regularly mortared and firebombed, congregants killed by suicide bombers or assassins just for attending mass. In Iraq, I met priests who had been kidnapped, tortured and beaten. Their teeth had been knocked out with revolver handles and their spines broken with hammer blows, until finally, a ransom was scraped together and they were dumped on the street half-dead.

And what is Rome doing about all of this? Not very much. One almost gets the impression that religious persecution is too messy for today’s modern, ecumenical church. Consider how it has sanitized sainthood. Formerly, the path to sainthood was martyrdom—you became a saint by enduring agonizing trials and torments before being killed in horrific ways, all the while holding firm to your faith. Today you can live out your life in comfort, die a natural death, then heal an ailing person from beyond the grave, and be declared a saint. That’s much more civilized, but it obscures the harsh fact that Christians are still being hunted, tormented and killed in horrific ways, yet are heroically holding steadfast to the faith. Instead of being an inspiration, one feels that they are seen as a sort of embarrassing blemish on the pretty contemporary face of interfaith dialogue.

Consider, for instance, the statement by the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries, in which they finally ventured to address the issue at all. Well yes, they acknowledge therein, Christians are being persecuted…although maybe the word persecuted is too strong…True, they are being murdered and driven from their homes…but they can take comfort from the words of Jesus, “happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”…which is not to say, of course, that Christians are necessarily righteous! …waffle, waffle, waffle.

‘Persecuted’ is too strong a term? Tell that to the parents who lost their children when a convoy of school buses, ferrying students from the Christian area of Nineveh to their classes in Mosul, was ambushed. Tell that to the survivors of the massacre at Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad, who—with the words “you are all infidels”—were taken hostage by armed gunmen who went on to execute fifty-eight of the worshipers, including small children. Tell that to the hospital director in Mosul who was told that her position is too high for a Christian and she and her family would be killed if she did not voluntarily resign. Tell that to the Christians in the rebel-held Syrian city of Raqqa, who have been informed that they are now “dhimmis” and must pay a special tax for the privilege of staying alive in “Muslim lands”, though they may not maintain churches or give any public sign of Christian observance.

The situation in Syria and Iraq is volatile, explosive and tragic, and remedies are not readily at hand. Still, there is much that Rome could and must do for its own.

Before we begin that discussion, though, we must remember that the Vatican is not just a prayerful, spiritual place—it is a political powerhouse of the first order. It commands an army of top-notch analysts and diplomats. Its diplomatic corps officially goes back to the year 1500, but its experience at navigating even the most Machiavellian corridors of worldly power predates that by centuries. Popes were not just moral authorities and observers of secular happenings, they were weighty players, shaping events in Europe, the colonies, and the world. Certainly, this formidable institution could come up with some effective strategies if it wanted to and hardly needs our advice. But here goes, anyway:

First, and beyond a doubt, Catholics are currently the victims of ethnic cleansing and religious persecution in the core historic region of the faith, and it is essential that Rome raise awareness about the issue. If nothing else, this would boost the morale of the afflicted, whose sense of abandonment and isolation is extreme. Visit Christian enclaves in these places, and you will constantly be asked: don’t other Christians know? Don’t they care? Why isn’t anyone helping us?

Secondly, this elevated attention would likely produce some helpful action, over time. It took years for the international community to take steps against the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, but without consistent media attention and moral outrage, the Bosnians would have had no chance at all.

Third, the Vatican maintains powerful networks of influence. Its humanitarian organizations and NGOs are among the most effective in the world. Its legates are respected mediators. Though—by its own choice—it restricted itself to observer status at the United Nations, still its influence there is significant. Its emissaries could act on multiple levels to protect, resettle, and otherwise assist and advise the flock.

Fourth, Rome should reach out to moderate Muslim opinion leaders and political figures, who generally take pride in their region’s long history of religious and ethnic diversity and tolerance. Most Muslims regret the loss of their Jewish communities, and do not wish the Christian minority to experience the same fate. They will forcefully tell you that Christians and Christianity are part of the fabric of their societies, which they do not want replaced with some radical Islamist vision of a Caliphate. These are natural allies and should be consulted for tactical, strategic and moral counsel and help.

Indeed, some Muslim leaders have stepped forward to push back against the ethnic cleansing of Christians. This is most dramatically the case in Iraqi Kurdistan, which has become a safe haven for that country’s Christians. In Erbil, the local Christian community—one of the oldest Christian settlements in the world and a bishop’s seat since the year AD 100—can count on the protection of the Kurdish Regional Government, but more than that, the government has welcomed Arab Christians fleeing from Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk. The Kurdistan Regional Government funded a beautiful, modern Catholic primary and secondary school and has given land for a Catholic University. They provided a new home for the Baghdad Seminary after that facility was destroyed. They have stood up, armed, trained and are paying the salaries of a Christian volunteer self-defense force in embattled neighboring Nineveh. They are hosting an order of Indian nuns, come to set up a nursing program. They have refurbished villages for displaced Arab Christian farmers. Bashar Warda, formerly Archbishop of Baghdad and now Archbishop of Erbil, is free to build as many churches and erect as many crosses and statues of the Virgin Mary as he likes; it is his decision to build apartments for refugees and young families instead and make do with the large, splendid, highly visible St. Joseph Cathedral, smack in the middle of Erbil. And why are the Kurds doing this? Not for good PR, apparently, as their efforts are going unremarked and unheralded, and they do not boast of them. Prime Minister Nichervan Barzani says tersely, of course he protects Kurdish Christians. “They are our citizens like everyone else.” OK, and the non-Kurdish Arab refugees? His Minister Ashti Hawrami has a simple, compelling answer. “As Kurds we know what it means to be persecuted,” he says, apparently having less trouble reaching a diagnosis of persecution than the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries.

Fifth, the Church should appreciate and encourage remarkable—and courageous—policies like the one in Kurdistan. With advice from moderate Muslim leaders, it should identify other potential Middle Eastern footholds for displaced Catholics, and support their efforts to take root there. It should assist the Erbil School of Nursing and the planned Catholic University and similar institutions that are useful to the public, regardless of faith, and thus help solidify positive social bonds.

Sixth and finally, the emphasis on interfaith dialogue is important but that does not negate the Church’s first obligation to its own faith and faithful. It should speak out consistently and with clarity against the abuse and persecution of its followers wherever that occurs.

It is not to the benefit of the Catholic Church to show itself indifferent, or powerless, in the face of the mortal peril of entire communities of its followers, or to stand idly by while Christianity is erased from whole geographic regions. In addition to its two new saints, it might invoke Saint Thomas More, patron of statesmen, or Saint Qardagh, the fourth century martyr and patron saint of Erbil. Or better still, it might bring its massive intellectual, spiritual and material resources to bear on behalf of its flock.

Cheryl Benard is the Director of Metis Analytics and the author of Civil Democratic Islam. She is currently researching the situation of Christians in Iraq.

Advertisements

Indonesia shrugs at rising religious violence: report Michael Bachelard

Indonesia has experienced a “sharp uptick” in religiously motivated violence, with Islamic gangs regularly attacking Christian churches as well as “deviant sects” of their own faith, a strongly worded new report has warned.

The report by Human Rights Watch warns that the Indonesian Government, police and military are “passively, and sometimes actively” condoning these new extremists, in contrast to the way they “wrestled to the ground” the terrorists of Jemaah Islamiah in the past decade.

The organisation accuses Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of responding “weakly” to the threat, with “lofty but empty rhetoric”.

“With JI they saw a clear and present danger,” said Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director, Phelim Kine.

“Now, the government is failing to recognise this less spectacular but equally corrosive and dangerous strain of religious intolerance.” Mr Kine said there were “worrying echoes” of Pakistan’s state of siege against minority Islamic sects, and if intolerance and violence continued to increase in Indonesia, “the confidence of investors in the country . . . might not hold”.

The report, In Religion’s Name, says there were 264 violent attacks on religious minorities in 2012, a 20 per cent increase on 2010. It documents violence against the Ahmadiya, a minority sect of Islam which Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Ministry has declared “heretical”, and Shiite Muslims, as well as atheists and moderate Muslims. Since 2005, more than 430 churches have been forced to close.

But Wahyu, a spokesman for Indonesia’s Religious Affairs minister, Suryadharma Ali, denied the thrust of the report, saying Indonesia was “the example, or the laboratory of religious harmony”.

“It has the best religious harmony in the world. We can judge that because . . . we make all big days of the recognised religions in Indonesian holidays,” Wahyu said.

Neither Mr Yudhoyono’s office nor the police would comment before the report was released.

Many acts of violence were committed by a number of hardline groups such as the aggressive Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), which emerged from the Sunni Islam majority after the fall of former president Suharto in 1998, the report says.

FPI recruits among the poor and disenfranchised and might be able to field 100,000 supporters. It was allegedly set up by police during unrest in 1998 to attack protesting students. Its official events have since been attended by the former governor of Jakarta, the national police chief and the religious affairs minister.

The country guarantees religious freedom in the constitution, but 156 statutes, regulations, decrees and by-laws subject “minority religions to official discrimination”, They include the 1965 blasphemy law, the 2006 ministerial decree on building houses of worship and the 2008 anti-Ahmadiyah decree.

In recent years the judicial system has often taken a harder line against minorities who are the victims of religious violence than against the perpetrators.

In 2011, when five Ahmadiyah followers were injured and three killed by an Islamist mob, police stood by, smoking and watching. The killers were not charged with murder, but “assault causing death” and were given sentences of six months or less. An Ahmadiya survivor and witness in their prosecution was later charged with provoking the attack and also given a six-month jail sentence.

A professed atheist, Alexander Aan, was last year sentenced to prison after being attacked by a mob, none of whom was punished.

But Wahyu, the spokesman from the Religious Affairs Ministry, one of the best-funded and most powerful ministries in the government, denied that recent controversies signalled a problem.

A Christian church barred by local officials from opening despite a Supreme Court ruling was “not about religious tolerance, it’s a land dispute”; violence against Ahmadiyah was not a religious problem because, “it’s not a religion, it’s a sect”; and a violent attack on a Shiite group in East Java was simply “a personal problem, it’s not about religion”, Wahyu said.

(“The Sydney Morning Herald,” February 28, 2013)

Churches Can’t Be Built in Streets with Islamic

Bogor’s controversial mayor says he has a new reason not to allow the GKI Yasmin church to open — the name of the street on which it is built has an Islamic name.

Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi said Bogor Mayor Diani Budiarto — who continues to defy rulings from the Supreme Court and Ombudsman Commission to open the church — had told him that a church should not be built on a street with an Islamic name.

“[Diani] said that it is a fact that the street is named after a noted Islamic Ulama,” Gamawan said at the Vice Presidential Palace on Friday.

GKI Yasmin is located on Jalan Abdullah bin Nuh, an Islamic leader from Cianjur in West Java.Local cleric Muhammad Mustofa, whose father is the street’s namesake, has previously stated that he has no objection to the church.

Mustofa, who said that Islam was a religion that promoted peace, said differences between religions were not new and similar problems had occurred since the time of Prophet Mohammad.

“Mecca is an example of pluralism during the prophet’s time. Every problem has its solution and hopefully the problem [surrounding the church] will be settled immediately,” he said.

Gamawan also indicated on Friday that he was siding with Diani in the dispute with the church.“This is the political reality in the field and it could cause disturbances to security and peace,” Gamawan said.

“It would not be healthy in the long run, even for the congregation members themselves. [Diani] told me that he has offered an alternative location with the same [dimensions].”

Gamawan said he would summon Diani next week to discuss possible solutions to the conflict.

“We need to mediate … but we also need to maintain security and peace,” Gamawan said.

Church spokesman Bona Sigalingging said Diani’s reasoning was unacceptable given that a number of churches were built on streets with Islamic names and mosques were built on streets with Christian names.

Bona said the church would refuse to accept any offer of alternative premises.

“The problem is it against the law, against the court ruling and against the recommendation of Ombudsman. It also breaches legal certainty.”

Ombudsman Commission chairman Danang Girindrawardana told the Jakarta Globe on Friday that the street name issue was a “made-up excuse.”

He said the Ombudsman’s recommendation was legally binding, with the Regional Representative Council (DPRD) and Home Affairs minister having the power to enforce sanctions.

He said he hoped the Home Affairs Ministry would uphold the law and impose serious sanctions.

Diani is supported by a coalition of political parties that includes the Golkar Party, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).

(Jakarta Globe)

Life can begin at 60

Life can begin at 60, it is all in your hands!Many More Good , Healthy , Fun-Filled Years Too….

Many people feel unhappy, health-wise and security-wise, after 60 years of age owing to the diminishing importance given to them and their opinion. But it need not be so, if only we understand the basic principles of life and follow them scrupulously.

Here are ten mantras to age gracefully and make life after retirement pleasant.  

1. Never say ‘I am aged’:

There are three ages, chronological, biological, and psychological. The first is calculated based on our date of birth; the second is determined by the health conditions and the third is how old you feel you are. While we don’t have control over the first, we can take care of our health with good diet, exercise and a cheerful attitude. A positive attitude and optimistic thinking can reverse the third age.

2. Health is wealth: 

If you really love your kith and kin, taking care of your health should be your priority. Thus, you will not be a burden to them. Have an annual health check-up and take the prescribed medicines regularly. Do take health insurance cover.

3. Money is important: 

Money is essential for meeting the basic necessities of life, keeping good health and earning family respect and security. Don’t spend beyond your means even for your children. You have lived for them all through and it is time you enjoyed a harmonious life with your spouse. If your children are grateful and they take care of you, you are blessed. But never take it for granted.

4. Relaxation and recreation: 

The most relaxing and recreating forces are a healthy religious attitude, good sleep, music and laughter. Have faith in God, learn to sleep well, love good music and see the funny side of life.

5. Time is precious:

It is almost like holding a horse’s reins. When they are in your hands, you can control them. Imagine that everyday you are born again. Yesterday is a cancelled cheque. Tomorrow is a promissory note. Today is ready cash — use it profitably. Live this moment.

6. Change is the only permanent thing:

We should accept change — it is inevitable. The only way to make sense out of change is to join the dance. Change has brought about many pleasant things. We should be happy that our children are blessed.

7. Enlightened selfishness:

All of us are basically selfish. Whatever we do, we expect something in return. We should definitely be grateful to those who stood by us. But our focus should be on the internal satisfaction and happiness we derive by doing good to others, without expecting anything in return.

8. Forget and forgive: 

Don’t be bothered too much about others’ mistakes. We are not spiritual enough to show our other cheek when we are slapped in one. But for the sake of our own health and happiness, let us forgive and forget them. Otherwise, we will be only increasing our BP.

9. Everything has a purpose: 

Take life as it comes. Accept yourself as you are and also accept others for what they are. Everybody is unique and right in his own way.

10. Overcome the fear of death: 

We all know that one day we have to leave this world. Still we are afraid of death. We think that our spouse and children will be unable to withstand our loss. But the truth is no one is going to die for you; they may be depressed for some time. Time heals everything and they will carry on

(From a mailing list)

SBY Threatened to be Overthrown by FPI

Islamic Defence Front (FPI) criticized the firm statement of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono over his order to disband anarchist mass organizations.

Besides judging the president’s statement as unqualified, FPI even threatened to overthrow him such as what Tunisians did to President Ben Ali should SBY keep on making sort of statement. “If the president insists on exposing the statement on the disband, Islamic mass organisations and followers are ready to overthrow him since he is going to be considered of being in position of evil” said Advocate Chief of FPI Munawarman to Kompas.com, Friday.

Munarman judged the president’s statement as the most unqualified conveyed by a president as he blamed that Ahmadiyah was behind the violent mob in Cikeusik, Pandenglang. “He addressed the statement to the wrong addressee. Ahmadiyah caused all of the problem, how mass organisations could be blamed for that.” (LIN)
(Kompas.com)

Churches destroyed after blasphemy sentence handed down

Three Christian churches in Indonesia were destroyed by an angry mob during clashes with police Tuesday that erupted after a local court handed down a verdict against a Christian man accused of blasphemy against Islam, authorities said. The man was given a five-year sentence, said national police spokesman Col. Boy Rafli Amar, but the protesters wanted him to face a stiffer penalty.

The destroyed churches were in Temanggung, Central Java, Amar said. “The scene is now under police control,” he said. “It’s calm but security is high.” Security personnel are searching for those responsible for the attack on the churches, and authorities are “asking local religious leaders to stay calm and find diplomatic ways to solve the problem.”

The attacks were the second violent incident against minority religious groups in Indonesia in the past three days. On Sunday, a mob of about 1,000 people, wielding knives and stones, attacked about 25 members of the Muslim minority sect, Ahmadiyah, in Cikeusik village in West Java’s Banten province.

Three people were killed and six others injured. The crowd opposed the presence of the Ahmadiyah in the village and demanded the group stop its activities. Amateur video of the incident obtained by Human Rights Watch showed people pummeling what looked like lifeless bodies with sticks and rocks. The video has been posted on the internet, fueling public outrage.

In a televised statement Monday, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono condemned the violence against Ahmadiyah and ordered a thorough investigation. Human rights activists, however, are calling for the government to revoke a ministerial decree issued in 2008 that bans the community’s religious activities.

“How many Ahmadiyah have to die at the hands of mobs before the police step in?” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Indonesian government should end this wave of hate crimes and immediately revoke the 2008 anti-Ahmadiyah decree, which encourages these vicious attacks.”

The Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy, a local think tank, noted in a recent report a marked increase in the number of attacks against Ahmadiyah and other minority religions in Indonesia in recent years.

The most populous Muslim country in the world, Indonesia has previously been touted as an example of tolerance and democracy in the Islamic world. But a 2009 study from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life in Washington suggested it was actually among the most restrictive countries when it comes to religion.

(CNN.com)

Buddhist extremists in India have burnt 20 churches

FALSE/HOAX:: Buddhist extremists in India have burnt 20 churches

This news = FALSA/HOAX: according to snopes.com: Buddhist Extremists = http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/india.asp

http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/india.asp

P. Samuel M. Chetcuti OFM Conv.P. Provincial of the Franciscans Conventual
Republic Street, Valletta VLT 1110, Malt Tef. (356) 21241167Fax (356) 21223556

I forward to you the message received from the provincial superior of the Franciscans in India.

“Pray for the Church in India. Buddhist extremists in India have burnt 20 churches last night.This evening they plan to destroy 200 churches in the province of Olisabang.

They plan to kill 200 missionaries during the next 24 hours. Right now, all Christians are hiding in the villages. Pray for them and send this email to all Christians you know.

Ask God to have mercy on our brothers and sisters of India. When you receive this message, please send it urgently to others. Pray for them to our Almighty and Victorious Lord.

P. Samuel M. Chetcuti OFM Conv.P. Provincial of the Franciscans ConventualRepublic Street, Valletta VLT 1110, Malt Tef. (356) 21241167Fax (356) 21223556Mob (336) 99865668