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30 May 2019 -  "On behalf of the Catholic Church in India, I offer my sincere congratulations to you and to the Bharatiya Janata Party. I want to assure you of our prayers and best wishes for you and your team as you lead our country in building a strong and inclusive India": this is what Cardinal Oswald Gracias states in a letter addressed to the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, winner of the recent general election. As Fides learns, Cardinal Gracias, president of the Indian Bishops' Conference, Archbishop of Bombay, the largest diocese in India, sent the letter on May 25, pointing out that the Indian people gave "a clear mandate for a stable and effective government".

The Cardinal also congratulated Amit Shah, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, who played the key role in the electoral victory, ensuring the prayer of the Catholic community "for health, wisdom and strength to carry out the great responsibilities entrusted to him".

The Church, the text adds, intends to collaborate with the government to create "a new India": "We are all eager to work together for the vision of a new India which gives hope and energy to our youth, empowers our women especially in rural areas, opens new and sustainable opportunities for our farmers and strengthens our economy while leaving no one behind: a new India that enjoys peace and prosperity and continues to make progress".

The results of the Indian general elections, held in seven phases from 11 April to 19 May, were announced on 23 May. Modi's alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party won 353 seats out of the 543 of Lok Sabha, the lower House of parliament. Modi's commitments include "liberating India from poverty, dirt, corruption, terrorism, casteism and communalism by 2022". (Fides, SD-PA)

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27 April 2019 - The Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, presides over the beatification in Argentina of Bishop Enrique Angelelli, Fr Carlos Murias, Fr Gabriel Longueville, and lay catechist Wenceslao Pedernera. All were assassinated in 1976 during Argentina’s “dirty war”.

The first person to call them “martyrs” was the then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio, when he celebrated a memorial Mass for them in the Cathedral of La Rioja. Bishop Angelelli “shed his blood” for preaching the Gospel, said the future Pope Francis in his homily, and “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”.

The meaning of martyrdom

On Saturday morning, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, returned to the meaning of martyrdom when he celebrated their Beatification Mass in La Rioja City Park. “Their witness frustrates the claim to live selfishly or to build a model of society that is closed and without reference to moral and spiritual values”, he said. “The Martyrs exhort us…to be heralds of peace, agents of justice, and witnesses of solidarity”.

Who are these modern martyrs?

Bishop Enrique Angelelli was the son of Italian immigrants. His pastoral work, first in Córdoba and later in La Rioja, always focused on the poor and the oppressed.

This was Argentina in the mid-1970’s, the start of what came to be known as the “dirty war”, when right-wing death squads kidnapped, tortured and assassinated anyone suspected of being a political or ideological threat. 30,000 people disappeared, mostly students, trade unionists, journalists, artists, and sometimes priests.

Conventual Franciscan, Fr Carlos de Dios Murias, and French missionary, Fr Gabriel Longueville, worked together in the same rural parish, championing issues of social justice. In July 1976, they were tortured to death and their bodies left mutilated. A week later, a lay catechist, Wenceslao Pedernera, was shot to death in front of his wife and three daughters.

“It’s my turn next”

Bishop Angelelli understood he was on a death squad list and would often say: “It’s my turn next”. On 4 August 1976, he was driving back home after celebrating Mass for the two murdered priests, when his truck was overturned and he was murdered at the side of the road. In 2014 an Argentine Court confirmed that his assassination was a “premeditated act” and the result of “State-sponsored terrorism”. 

In his homily at the Beatification Mass, Cardinal Becciu added that all four men were killed “because of their active efforts to promote Christian justice”. At the time of their murder, he continued, civil authorities did all they could to obstruct “commitment to social justice and to promoting the dignity of the human person”.

Models of Christian life

The Cardinal called these four Blesseds “models of Christian life”. The example of Bishop Angelelli, he said, “teaches today's pastors to exercise their ministry with burning charity, remaining strong in faith”. The example of the two priests, he added, “exhorts today's priests not to compromise, to remain faithful at all costs”. The father of the family, he concluded, “teaches the laity to distinguish themselves by the transparency of their faith, letting themselves be guided by it”.

By Seàn-Patrick Lovett, Vatican Radio

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11 April 2019 - The next general elections will start 11 April: India's Christians are praying that a peaceful and transparent vote may bring "well-being and harmony" for the future of the country. Involved as citizens, at least 5,000 Indian Christians, including bishops, clergy and Christian faithful of various confessions joined recently in the capital Delhi to pray for the nation .

Fides was informed that addressing those present Catholic archbishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto, who leads the archdiocese of Delhi, urged the faithful "to fast and pray for the good of the country ", and expressed the hope that the people "will choose leaders with great vision for the development of society and the nation and asked them to work for good of humanity". "We pray to God that peace and harmony may prevail in India", said the archbishop.

In recent weeks hundreds of intellectuals, journalists, artists and activists spoke in public urging citizens to "put aside the policy of hatred", promoted by the prime minister Mr Narendra Modi, running for a second five year mandate. Under his government, Christians and Muslims all over the country have experienced attacks of violence often organised by nationalist Hindus.

Expressing his concern Catholic lay leader John Dayal, and also human rights activist, told Fides: "In five years (2014-2019), this government has succeeded in nullifying the progress achieved in India, regarding the struggle for freedom and human rights over the past 100 years. This has affected the principles of equality and above all brotherhood".

Some 900 million Indians are called to the polls to elect 543 members of the Federal Government in a process articulated in 7 stages, beginning on 11 April and closing on 19 May. Among its population of 1.3 billion India has 966 million Hindus, equal to 80%. Muslims constitute 15% and India's Christians comprise 2.3% ( about 28 million). (SD) (Agenzia Fides 10/4/2019)

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2 November 2018 - The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue issued a statement for Diwali, noting that “Attentiveness and cooperation are needed, not only to defend the legitimate place and rights of the vulnerable in society, but also to cultivate a culture of care and concern in their regard.”

The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue issued a statement today titled ‘Christians and Hindus: In Defence of the Vulnerable of Society’ to mark the Hindu festival of Diwali.

Celebrated by Hindus around the world, the festival is also known as Deepavali or Diwapali, i.e. "row of oil lamps". Symbolically founded on an ancient mythology, it represents the victory of truth over untruth, light over darkness, life over death, good over evil.

The statement, signed by Bishop Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, MCCJ Secretary, says: “We know from news bulletins and web portals, as well as from direct experience, the daily hardships endured by the vulnerable members of our society: the poor, infirm, elderly, disabled, destitute, abandoned, migrants; those socially, religiously, culturally and linguistically marginalized and excluded; and the victims of abuse and violence, especially women and children. Largely helpless and defenceless, discarded and ignored by a society increasingly indifferent and even callous in the face of human needs and sufferings, the vulnerable everywhere in our time suffer greatly. It is in this troubling context that we wish to share with you a reflection on how we, Hindus and Christians alike, can engage in efforts to defend, protect and assist them.

“The moral duty to care for the vulnerable springs from our shared belief that we are all God's creatures and, as a result, brothers and sisters, equal in dignity, with responsibility for one another. It also stems from the realization that we too at times feel vulnerable, looking for someone to offer us a helping hand. A healthy awareness of our common human condition and our moral duty towards others inspires us to promote their cause by doing all that we can to alleviate their sufferings, defend their rights and restore their dignity.

“There is no doubt that, in this regard, many praiseworthy efforts are being made by individuals, groups and communities in different parts of the world. Yet given the great numbers of the vulnerable, and the complexities often involved in meeting their needs, those efforts can appear no more than a few drops in a great ocean. Still, opportunities for service are all around us, since the vulnerable can be found in every community and society. Greater efforts, inspired by a sense of solidarity, are needed so that they can feel "the presence of brothers and sisters who are concerned for them, and, by opening the doors of their hearts and lives, make them feel like friends and family'' (Pope Francis, Message for the Second World Day of the Poor, 18 November, 2018) In the end, the true measure of civilization of any society is the way it treats its most vulnerable members.

“Attentiveness and cooperation are needed, not only to defend the legitimate place and rights of the vulnerable in society, but also to cultivate a culture of care and concern in their regard. In our families too, every effort should be made to ensure that no one feels unwanted, unloved, ignored or left out. Every level of society - especially political and government leaders, and those best equipped to provide practical assistance - needs to display a human face and heart to the vulnerable of our society and to reach out to all those suffering marginalization and oppression. Such generosity should not appear as a token gesture, but as one divinely inspired and aimed at the true emancipation and welfare of the vulnerable and the defence of their cause.

“As believers grounded in our own respective spiritual traditions, and as individuals with shared concerns for the wellbeing of all, may we join hands with the adherents of other religious traditions and all people of good will, and make collective and concerted efforts to secure a joyful present and a hopeful future for our vulnerable brothers and sisters!”


Published in News
Wednesday, 22 August 2018 10:17

INDIA Floods in Kerala: a direct witness

21 August 2018 - With nearly 400 deaths and 800,000 people displaced, the flood that hit Kerala is the Indian state’s biggest natural disaster in the last 100 years. Torrential rains in the past few months and reckless human activities are largely to blame. As water levels reached their maximum in some 80 dams, water had to be released, thus flooding the surrounding areas.

Days before the flood, Fr Shanthi Chacko Puthussery, a PIME missionary in Papua New Guinea and later in the US, returned to Kerala, to Chalakudy (41 km north of Cochin), to visit his sick parents, and has been a direct witness to the disaster: dead people, flooded houses, his own family scattered among different refugee camps. Here are his impressions:

"Our house is under water up to the first floor. My parents went to stay with my cousin, who is hosting a dozen elderly and sick people. My younger brother, his wife and children are in another place, with hundreds of displaced people.

“My other brother, his wife and children had come from Dubai (where they work) for two weeks. They went to Trivandrum for a wedding and were caught by the flood. Now they are somewhere in a field near Ernakulam, along with another 500 people.

“In Cochin alone, at least 60,000 people are crammed in fields. I recently came to Thamarassery, but (because of the flood) I could not go back and I'm still here at the bishop's residence.

“There has not been any power in my town of Chalakudy for four days, so it is very difficult to get information about my family. Last night my brother told me on the phone that the water is still very high and maybe they will have to move to another place. This morning I tried with the phone to dial several numbers, but I could not get through to anyone.

“My neighbour's house collapsed and his mother, 80, and son, 30 died. Their bodies have been recovered, but the tragedy remains because water is everywhere."

“Chalakudy's problems began when the dams of Mullaperiyar, Peringalkuth and Sholayar were opened. The river overflowed, flooding an area of 7-10 km on either side.

I have never experienced such a disaster in my life. Nothing can be done because our area has no highlands or hills. Helicopters and boats are constantly going back and forth, doing their best to rescue people.

“The area between Chalakudy and Cochin (about 40 km) and Trichur (30 km) is very much affected. The Barathapuzha River is overflowing and the bridge is under water. The pontifical seminary in Alway is safe because it is located on a hill, but from there you can move only by boat because the whole city below is flooded.

Cochin International Airport, in Nedumbassery, is under water and will remain closed until the end of August, but TV reports say it will be back in operation only in the first week of September.”

“Please, I call on all of you to remember us in your prayers."


Published in News
Sunday, 24 June 2018 20:13

INDIA 'Ending hunger by 2030'

24 June 2018 - The Caritas Asia program for small farmers. The project is entitled " Smallholder Adaptive Farming and Biodiversity Network". The goal is to defeat hunger for 7,500 families and 40 thousand people. In India, the program will be implemented in Madhya Pradesh by two local Church organizations.

New Delhi (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Safbin is the name and the goal is a bold one: Ending hunger in South Asia by 2030. It is the new program launched by the Caritas Asia Regional Conference meeting held in Bangkok. The acronym stands for "Smallholder Adaptive Farming and Biodiversity Network" and the initiative is aimed at the development of agriculture and the improvement of the conditions of rural populations. The final aim, the promoters maintain, is to eliminate hunger for 7,500 families and 40,000 people.

The project was launched last 11 June and involves four countries of the Indian subcontinent: Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan. It will be coordinated by Caritas Austria, with the strategic partnership of Caritas Switzerland and Caritas Asia, which will provide the necessary resources for the whole project. It wants to transmit "good practices" and support small landowners.

Speaking at the presentation, Christoph Schweifer, general secretary of Caritas Asia, said: "Safbin is a one-of-a-kind program. This is really challenging but it is achievable, through hard work, cooperation and collaboration of all actors together. We all need to focus on a partnership of shared responsibility for a big goal and we all will have to act as enablers in the service of farmers".

With this program, Caritas Asia adheres to the second version of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 2) set out by the United Nations for the period 2015-2030. It is a series of policies to be applied throughout the world to achieve some fundamental results by 2030. Among these: to defeat hunger and poverty; guarantee a healthy life and promote the well-being of all; provide quality education; ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation.

"Safbin" will tend to obtain some goals in the States in which it will be applied: double the agricultural production and harvests; guarantee access to a balanced diet and self-sufficiency of nutrition; control of land and ensure the obtainment of subsidies; increase the resilience in case of environmental disasters. The program also wants to involve students and researchers from all over the world; encourage the sharing of knowledge and local "eco-friendly" solutions.

As for India, the program will be applied by two organizations operating in three districts of Madhya Pradesh: the first is Manav Vikas Seva Sangh (Mvsss), the Society for Human Development of the diocese of Sagar, founded 27 years ago and present in 286 villages; the second, Jabalpur Diocesan Social Service Society (Jdsss), the social service society of the diocese of Jabalpur, active since 1993 in support of the educational, health, agricultural and environmental sectors.


Published in News
Thursday, 15 February 2018 22:33

INDIA New health system: not very feasible

14 February 2018 - The recent announcement of the federal government on the new health system for 2018 - the largest health insurance project ever proposed in the world - could be "just a big announcement, but not really feasible": says to Agenzia Fides Fr. Mathew Perumpil, MI, Secretary of the Indian Bishops' Conference (CBCI) health care Office.

"Although the media hailed it as a great move in favor of the poor to improve the health of millions of Indians, from a more accurate analysis of the details of the budget and the implementation plan, we understand that it is a big announcement, but that in truth there is not much to hope for a normal citizen", he explains.

It was announced that in the national budget, the health policy will cover more than 500 million Indians and will allocate 500,000 annual rupees (US $ 7.825) of medical coverage for each family.

The plan, according to government estimates, should cost US $ 1.7 billion, between federal and state funds.

The insurance plan aims to cover the poorest Indians - about 29% of Indians live below the poverty line - and the most vulnerable: those who have an irregular job or are unemployed, or are burdened by debts with high interest, as well as paying for one’s health care.

According to observers, it is not at all easy to put this plan into practice. The priest notes: "As a well-known public health specialist believes, T. Sundararaman, the funds allocated in reality will not allow the plan to be applied massively. And recent experiences with similar plans indicate that this will generate an increase in profits for the private healthcare industry. Is it a way to protect the interests of the health and pharmaceutical industry in the name of the poor?", asks Father Perumpil.

India has a bad reputation with regards to public health spending, which is 1% of GDP, one of the lowest levels in the world. Poor assistance is one of the reasons that pushes over 3% of the population below the poverty line. State quality hospitals are few and far between, primary care facilities are scarce and private clinics are prohibitively expensive.

The Indian Church is heavily involved in the field of healthcare in India. The Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI), promoted by the Catholic Episcopal Conference, is the largest non-governmental health organization in India and is committed, according to its motto, to bringing "good health for all". Thanks to CHAI, 21 million people are assisted at a health level. The network has 76,000 healthcare professionals, three universities, five Doctors' colleges, 3500 institutions and over 1,000 nuns who are doctors, mostly engaged in rural areas. "The Church – he observes - more than ever, has the role of being prophetic and creative to help poor Indians access a reasonable and dignified healthcare, in a compassionate way". (SD) (Agenzia Fides, 13/2/2018)

Published in News
Saturday, 27 January 2018 21:41

PAKISTAN Peace between India and Pakistan

27 January 2018 - Christians united in prayer. A prayer addressed to God, a prayerful silence, a common song to invoke the gift of peace, calling for "mutual respect and the promotion of harmony and development between Pakistan and India": is the initiative promoted by the National Commission for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism, in the Episcopal Conference of Pakistan. As Fr. Francis Nadeem OFM Capp, Secretary of the Commission reported to Agenzia Fides, the ecumenical prayer meeting on the theme "Peace between India and Pakistan" was held at the border between the two nations, in Ganda Singhwala, near Kasur. "We prayed, we held hands together, we lit candles as a sign of the heartfelt request to God but also of a personal commitment", says the Franciscan friar to Agenzia Fides, explaining that the initiative was carried out during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, involving leaders and faithful of other Christian communities in the country.

The delegation visited the Catholic Church of Kasur, led by Fr. Bashart Exupare, missionary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, near the Indo-Pakistani border. Protestant Christian Pastors of the Presbyterian Church, the Salvation Army, the Anglican Church of Pakistan and representatives of the Catholic Church were present.

Christians in Pakistan recalled that in 2017 India and Pakistan celebrated 70 years of independence from the British Empire (August 15, 1947) and since then have been suffering the negative effects of a long conflict, given the developments regarding the last decades. It has become a risky confrontation between two nuclear powers.

The "partition" between the two states was a traumatic event and India and Pakistan, from the first day of their existence, were the scene of killings and violence that in the following years became an authentic war when the armies of the two nations met in the Kashmir valley, a mountainous area that both countries claim as their own. In 1965 and 1971, India and Pakistan clashed again in Kashmir and since then the tension has remained latent. In the area, from the mid-1980s to today, Pakistani guerrillas and Indian repression have caused more than 40 thousand deaths, official sources report. The presence on the political scene of the two countries of nationalist forces (such as the Barathya Janata Party in government in India) fuels hostility, in a confrontation that also exploits the religious factor (Hindus towards Muslims).

"70 years after the beginning of their rivalry, reconciliation is possible", the Commission of the Bishops' Conference notes to Fides. The spokesman of the Commission, Catholic Paskitani priest Fr. Inayat Bernard tells Fides: "India and Pakistan have much in common and can reach an agreement that brings mutual benefits to their respective populations. Peace is the greatest gift. We will continue to work and pray for peace". (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 26/1/2018)

Published in News
Saturday, 11 November 2017 19:10

INDONESIA Christians are "a creative minority"

11th November  2017 - "As Christians in Indonesia we are a minority, but we must be a creative minority capable of promoting the Pancasila (the five basic principles of the nation), as well as correctly presenting our identity of good Catholic citizens": said Fr. Felix Supranto, priest of the Congregation for the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (SS CC), introducing the general reflection in front of the Plenary Assembly of Indonesian Bishops, in Jakarta from 6 to 16 November, focusing on the theme "To become a relevant and significant Church: the Church's call to purify the world".

As Fides learns, Fr. Supranto, engaged in the documentation department of the Bishops' Conference, introduced the first three days of study, dedicated to the current state of the nation, to the challenges of the present political momentum, projected towards the 2018 administrative elections, with a view to understanding and promoting the participation of Catholics in public life. Among other speakers, there were also Christian leader Jeirry Sumampaw, representative of the Communion of Indonesian Churches, and Alisa Rahman Wahid, the eldest daughter of former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid (called "Gus Dur"), and today active in the "Wahid Foundation".

According to Sumampaw, an attempt is being made in the Indonesian nation to weaken the Pancasila by some parties and social groups. That is why he invited Catholic Bishops to help members of their respective communities so that they "are not only spectators of this process but are active supporters of the values of the Charter".

Alisa Rahman noted that in the last 12 years there has been an increasing number of incidents and violent episodes, a sign of religious intolerance, and factors such as discrimination, exclusivity, religious extremism and terrorism have become more visible in society, at the expense of coexistence. In this context, "we need the stronger role of religious leaders, especially in responding to predictable unexpected situations", said the Muslim leader.

The Bishops therefore discussed the role of the Catholic community in the application of the Pancasila. And, as observed by Franciscan Fr. Peter C. Aman, director of the "Justice and Peace" Commission of Friars Minor and professor of Christian Moral at the Philosophy School of Driyarkara, Jakarta, "the Catholic Church in Indonesia does not lose hope and the idea of promoting unity, justice, integrity and religious social harmony of the nation". "The Church - he said - must remain 'lumen gentium' and live its role in the modern world by integrating the joys and hopes, pains and anxieties of Indonesian society", said Fr. Aman citing the conciliar document "Gaudium et spes".

To give an effective contribution to the respect and promotion of the Pancasila, according to Fr. Aman, the Church is called to engage with all men of good will, in public areas and institutions. "To be significant in the world, especially in Indonesia", the Franciscan affirmed, "the Church must seek to purify and optimize its mission of sanctifying the world, also contributing to the values embodied in the Pancasila".

Inviting Pastors to "have the smell of sheep" - according to Pope Francis’ expression - Fr. Aman recalled the mission of Indonesian Catholics "to engage in sincere dialogue and sharing in a pluralistic society, without wanting to dominate or assert oneself, but trusting in the realization of unity". That is why it is useful to encourage Christian laity to enter politics, economy and government structures, he said. (PP-PA) (Agenzia Fides, 10/11/2017) 

Published in News
Sunday, 22 October 2017 07:24

INDIA “No more child brides”

21st October 2017 - Supreme Court’s verdict on women's rights. "The attitude of the Baratiya Janata Party (BJP) government and the Sangh Parivar on the issue of women indicates a tacit approval of discrimination against women": says to Agenzia Fides Father Jacob Peenicaparambil, CMI (Carmelites of Mary Immaculate), while in India the debate on the status of women in society has reopened.

With a ruling of October 11, the Supreme Court annulled a 77-year-old law, stating that a man is

committing rape if he engages in sexual intercourse with his wife who is under 18 years of age. The Court established a 10-year jail sentence to life imprisonment, according to the code of child protection for sexual offenses. Although prohibited by law, sexual intercourse with someone under the age of 18 was considered, by the Penal Code, for married couples. The exception has now been canceled because it "violates Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution", established the verdict.

The sentence is revolutionary and can be a deterrent for weddings with girls, a practice that is already forbidden in India (with a law of 2006), which is still widely spread: according to estimates by the Supreme Court, there are 23 million girl brides in the country, which means that one marriage out of five violates the law. According to a recent survey conducted by the National Health Survey, in fact, 39.1% of women aged 20 to 24 were married before 18 years of age. The phenomenon of child marriage varies from state to state.

The Supreme Court has asked the central government to adopt "proactive measures to ban child marriage", expressing concern for thousands of younger girls who get married in "mass marriage" ceremonies traditionally organized during the Hindu religious celebration of Akshaya Tritiya, in spring.

But the government appears to have a different position and has filed a petition which, although claims "taking note of the Indian socio-economic reality", calls for "an exception to protect the marriage institution".

The “Sangh Parivar”, a forum that welcomes many Hindu extremist and nationalist organizations, "is committed to safeguarding Indian culture polluted by Western influence rather than defending women in India", notes to Fides Fr. Peenicaparambil. "Why did Sangh Parivar, who launched a violent movement for the protection of cows at a national level, did not initiate such a mobilization against child marriage or atrocities on Dalits?", asks the Carmelite, noting that "this is a silent approval of discrimination against women, as indicated in the sacred Hindu texts of the Manusmriti", which justify marriage with minors.

"Women in India cannot expect justice and freedom from a government led and controlled by the ideology of Hindutva. The liberation of women requires liberation from the ideology of Hindutva, which is exclusive and discriminatory towards women and Dalits", continues the priest.

"If the BJP were really interested in promoting women, it should approve the bill promoting women's rights which has been blocked in Parliament for 21 years and publicly condemn the disgraceful statements against women contained in the Manumriti Code", concludes the Carmelite to Fides. (PN-PA) (Agenzia Fides, 21/10/2017)

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