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30th September 2017 - Hamoudeh Sabbagh ied, 59, is the first Christian elected President of the People's Assembly (the Syrian Parliament) in decades. In the election, which took place on Thursday 28 September, Christian Sabbagh is a graduate in law and member of Baath party from Hasakeh province. He became the first Christian to hold the post since Fares Al Khoury who served multiple terms before and after the French mandate of 1920-1946.

Sabbagh takes the place of Hadiyeh Khalaf Abbas, who was removed from office last July with the unanimous vote of MPs accusing her of undemocratic behavior. Hadiyeh Khalaf Abbas was the first woman to be elected President of the People's Assembly in June 2016. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 29/9/2017)

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7th December 2016 - In India there are more than 200,000 children who are exploited in very poor conditions in the world of manufacturing jobs. Forced to work, deprived of education and their basic needs, these children suffer the consequences of a society that looks at them with indifference. "Child in a Box" campaign was launched to highlight this dramatic situation around the world.

The Child in a Box campaign features matchboxes that have pictures of smiling children on them, but when opened they reveal an image of a young boy working in terrible conditions for the matchbox industry. According to information sent to Fides, the boxes were put on sale in different parts of the Country, and the money raised will go towards improving the living conditions of these young victims. In South Asia the worst forms of child exploitation are registered, with more than 100 million children treated as beasts of burden. (AP) (Agenzia Fides)

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30th September 2016 - Religious minorities in India, in particular Christians and Muslims, invite the federal government not to "saffronize education", by imposing a new education policy with particular focus on cultural, religious and linguistic Hindu traditions, but to recognize the contribution of minorities regarding the emergence of India and, above all, to reach out to the poor, the Dalits (formerly untouchables), women and tribal: is what emerged from the meeting held yesterday, September 29, between a large delegation of Christian and Muslim representatives with the Federal Minister for human resources development (HRD), Prakash Javadekar. As Fides learns, the delegation included, among others, General Secretary of the Indian Bishops' Conference (CBCI), and other Bishops, as well as Muslim scholars who expressed their concerns and worries about the new education policy of the Federal Government .

Bishop Mascarenhas said that the Church would like to "be part of the formulation of an education policy", according to the constitutional criteria to ensure equal opportunities, access to education for all, to overcome inequalities, and ensure all citizens, starting from childhood, a fair education.

"The education policy - recalled the present leaders - should encourage and facilitate private institutes, according to the principles of autonomy and freedom".

In this context, "the crucial role that religious minorities have had and have in the Indian education system has to be revived". The schools of minorities "have historically played a crucial role in reaching the oppressed sections of society", creating "schools of excellence". It is no coincidence, it is noted, "if Maulana Azad, who first became Minister for Education, and Rajendra Prasad, the first President, were educated with the contribution of the Islamic education system. Similarly, 9 of the 15 Prime ministers and 11 out of 13 Presidents, received their formation in Christian institutions", which "contributed immensely to national life", absolving the general function of protecting the cultural and educational rights of all Indian citizens, not just minorities.

The delegation reiterated the need to preserve, in the field of education, principles such as "inclusion and quality". At the conclusion of the meeting, the Minister Javadekar assured to safeguard these principles. (PA-SD) (Agenzia Fides 30/09/2016)

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Thursday, 25 August 2016 17:10

INDIA Mercy, beyond borders and barriers

24th August 2016 – Interfaith meeting organized in recent days in Wadala, one of the main areas in Mumbai, in the Indian state of Maharashtra: to be merciful means going beyond borders and barriers, this is the meaning of the meeting. In the parish of Our Lady of Sorrows, speakers, intellectuals, experts, theologians of different religions gathered to reflect on "the wonderful theme of mercy that embraces the heart of every man and woman without distinction of any kind, religious, ethical, cultural", says to Fides Sr. Teresa Joseph FMA, Secretary of the Office for dialogue and ecumenism within the Bishops' Conference of India.

"The meeting started with the theme 'Merciful as the Father', which is the motto of this Holy Year", says Sr. Joseph, and found in Hinduism, as shown by Professor Harsha Badkar of Wilson College, how the faithful of that religion "must seek mercy and extend it to all". Professor Shilpa spoke instead of Jainism, highlighting how it unites "freedom and responsibility": "Everyone is encouraged to act with equanimity", and this is an aspect of mercy. Zuhair Nathani has the task of speaking of mercy in Islam, which "he relates to the love of the mother to a child", said Professor Rustom, speaking of Zoroastrianism, recalling that mercy in that worship "is an attribute of omniscient God. Mercy and justice are two sides of the same coin, remarked those present. "The mercy of God overcomes all boundaries", said Fr. Vivian D'Souza, parish priest at the Church of Sorrow, citing Pope Francis.

"The name of God is mercy. Jesus is the incarnation of the Father’s love and mercy. Love and mercy invite all of us to be inclusive and not to break relationships with anyone".

"Mercy goes beyond borders", said those present, noting that "the works of mercy are part of the lifestyle of believers of various religions". (PA) (Agenzia Fides 24/08/2016)

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5th June 2016 - Over 300 thousand children forced to beg on the streets every day. A recent survey, carried out by the Indian police along with some humanitarian organizations, revealed that more than 300,000 children suffer abuse by criminals involved in human trafficking, and force them to beg on the streets of some cities every day. Many of the children who beg are maimed or burned in order for passersby to have more compassion and earn more.

According to the National Commission of Human Rights, more than 40,000 children are kidnapped in India each year, 11,000 of them disappear for good. In cities like Bangalore the number of children who roam the streets and beg increases exponentially, especially immediately after a natural disaster. The Freedom Project India, an organization specialized in human trafficking, points out that every 50 children rescued about 10 are often the victims of trafficking. (AP) (Agence Fides)

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Friday, 22 April 2016 16:46

PAKISTAN – INDIA Pilgrimage of peace

22nd April 2016 - Lahore-Delhi to boost unity and mercy between the two peoples. Mgr Sebastian Francis Shaw, archbishop of Lahore, visited the Indian capital with 16 priests from his diocese, where they were “greeted so warmly”. Despite being divisions and conflicts since 1947, “A strong sense of brotherhood and communion binds our two peoples”, and this calls for “a new culture of mercy".

Mgr Sebastian Francis Shaw, archbishop of Lahore (Pakistan), and 16 priests from his diocese performed a pilgrimage for peace and reconciliation between Pakistan and India.

“For us, this is very significant and fruitful,” the prelate said. “It was a great joy to be greeted so warmly by the archbishop of Delhi. A strong sense of brotherhood and communion binds our two peoples.”

The archbishop stressed that the trip was undertaken in the spirit of the Jubilee of Mercy, a spark for a new culture of peace and harmony.

The pilgrims left Lahore last Tuesday and after a 13-hour bus ride reached Delhi, where they were welcomed by a delegation led by the city’s archbishop, Mgr Anil Couto.

When he met the visitors, Fr Joe Kalathil SJ, coordinator of the Pakistan-India peace mission, placed a garland of flowers on each.

For years, Fr Kalathil has been working with children from various schools, in India and Pakistan, to promote a culture of peace. Hundreds of students from both countries have exchanged letters of friendship.

The pilgrims from Pakistan left today.

In meeting his guests, Mgr Couto said, "We warmly welcomed the archbishop of Lahore. Together we discussed the history of the Church of Lahore and the Church of Delhi. Our mother Church was Agra* but after independence in 1947** things changed".

"Over the years, the [two] Churches have grown, developed, and taken a new turn,” he explained. “With Mgr Shaw we shared the joys of our faith and the challenges of the mission."

For his part, Mgr Shaw said, "It is clear from the generosity with which we were received in all the historic places we visited that there is a culture that binds us.”

“There is so much respect for one another, and this will lead to social harmony and peace,” added the archbishop of Lahore. "In this Jubilee of Mercy, our pilgrimage to India acquires even greater significance. The Father, who is merciful to us, invites us to be with others. This is a call for a new culture of mercy".

* Agra is a city located in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It is home to one of India’s oldest archdioceses.

** In 1947, British India was divided into two separate states, India proper and  Pakistan.

Nirmala Carvalho, Asianews

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20th February 2016 - "Unity in diversity" and "condemnation of all religious extremism". These are the themes that characterized the recent meeting of more than 500 young people of different religions, gathered in Mumbai for a meeting on the theme "Religious fundamentalism: a threat to humanity and creation", organized by the Daughters of St. Paul in collaboration with other institutions and schools, not only Christian.

As reported to Fides, what was highlighted during the annual interfaith meeting was the fact that "youth is the key to celebrate and promote unity in diversity and build peace and justice". The forum was intended to be a "platform to learn from each other, in a fruitful exchange of religious traditions, values, ideas and experiences". All to "build a better India, a better world".

Sister Ananda Amritmahal, Headmistress at Sophia College, explained the point of view of religious fundamentalism and its impact on society due to "a faith which is lived without reason". She said that "all human beings are equal in the eyes of the Master/Creator, even if they use different methods to communicate with the Creator", urging respect for each other and not to feel "in competition with other religions". Young people expressed their awareness of the threat posed by religious fundamentalism today, expressing the desire to go beyond religious differences, recognizing themselves in a pluralistic, multi-cultural and multi-religious India, where to live in peaceful coexistence and harmony. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 20/02/2016)

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Thursday, 14 January 2016 20:26

INDIA Dialogue between Vishnus and Christians

14th January 2016 - In India there is need to bear witness to the power of prayer combined with action to build a community of peace and harmony: this is the result of the recent session of dialogue between Christians and Vishnus, which was attended by the Office for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism in the Bishops' Conference of India.

"Vishnuism" is one of the three main branches of contemporary Hinduism. Its followers consider Vishnu as supreme divinity. An estimated 580 million of devout Hindus are Vishnus.

The dialogue session sponsored and organized in a Hindu temple in Tirupati, in Andhra Pradesh, was attended by 20 delegates among Christians of different denominations and Vishnu faithful. In the meeting, says to Fides Sister Teresa Joseph, Undersecretary of the Office for Interreligious Dialogue, we cited the "Nostra Aetate", the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on the Relationship of the Church with Non-Christian Religions, stressing opening character, dialogue and prayer. The meeting was marked by moments of song and silence that created a climate of peaceful coexistence and sharing among believers. The theme of prayer, explained in different forms was at the center of common reflection. "In an atmosphere of deep listening and in an attitude of genuine prayer, we were offered different views on prayer, which opened the possibility of further sharing, dialogue and reflection. Each of those present showed keen interest and participated actively in the dialogue and confrontation", says Sister Joseph.

"The experience of dialogue between Christians and Vishnus - concluded the religious - contributed to strengthening interreligious relations and spiritually enriched those present, and all agreed in the need to continue this path". (PA) (Agenzia Fides)

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Thursday, 12 November 2015 22:25

MALTA European fund, African criticism

12 November 2015 - “An insufficient financial commitment for all of Africa”, adopted “putting too much emphasis on repatriations, maybe due to public opinion”, said Senegal's President Macky Sall and acting chair of the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), criticizing the “emergency fund” created by the European Union Commission in a declared aim to “support stability and contribute to tackling the root causes of migration”.

Sall made his comments in Valletta, capital of Malta, which hosted a Europe-Africa summit called last April after the death in few weeks of over 800 migrants at sea after departing from Libya. During the meeting, Presidents, ministers and diplomats signed an action plan aimed at tackling the causes of migration, ranging from wars to poverty and climate change. The trust fund for Africa consists largely of 1.8 billion euros ($1.93 billion), but initial direct pledges from the member states amount to just 78 million euros.

The heart of the action plan is an exchange of aid to African governments for their repatriation of expelled migrants. A point that heightened polemics. Sall today stressed that “the matter is already regulated by the existent accords between the EU and African nations”. Other Sub-Saharan leaders in the past days accused Europe of using "double standards”, based on the fact that Europe admits people from the Middle East and central Asia as refugees fleeing conflict, while turning away Africans as economic migrants.

Based on UN estimates, over 800,000 migrants have arrived in Europe since the start of the year. The majority arrived from the Middle East, but around 150,000 from African nations such as Eritrea, Somalia and Nigeria. [VG/BO]

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22nd October 2015 — Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, co-president of the Ordinary Synod on the Family, said Tuesday that last year’s extraordinary session of the synod was “being pushed in a certain direction,” but African bishops have a “sense of optimism” at this year’s meeting.

During a midday press briefing on the synod, which ends Sunday, the Archbishop of Durban also clarified the nature of the private letter sent by 11 cardinals (and not 13, as originally believed) to Pope Francis, saying it was written in the spirit of what Pope Francis requested at the beginning of last year’s synod.

Cardinal Napier was asked, having endorsed a book that alleged last year’s meeting had been rigged, if he could point out what had changed in his mind to say he was now satisfied with the synod compared to last year’s assembly.

The cardinal replied:

I think that the first thing to say is that there were certain individual items that were of concern at the last Synod and one of them was the presentation of the interim report as if it had come from the Synod, as if it was part of the Synod’s deliberations. And that was not true because we received it about an hour after you guys received it in the media. And we only then started reading it. And that document was saying things which I know were only said in the synod hall by at most 2 or 3 people, but it was presented as if they were the reflection of the synod. Now that certainly gives you the impression that the synod is being pushed in a certain direction.

He added: “I also served on the commission that was drafting the final document and there were certain issues, where once again, they were being pushed in a certain direction. So that’s the sense in which a particular ideology or agenda—whatever you want to call it—seemed to be in operation.”

Concerning the private letter of the “13” cardinals, which expressed concerns in 3 areas with regard to the synod and which was sent to the Holy Father on the eve of the synod meeting, Cardinal Napier said:

The letter you’re referring to: It was by the way a private letter between the cardinals and bishops to the Pope and was also written in the spirit of what Pope Francis said at the beginning at last year’s synod, when he said: please speak openly and honestly but listen with humility. It was sent to him in that spirit. He immediately responded by coming out with a statement which he made on the day after he received the letter. And that made a huge difference in the scale of confidence and of trust, that the concerns had registered, that they were being taken care of, and that from then one, everyone was going to work at the synod with all they’ve got. And I think that’s what I’ve experienced. And that has been why I feel this Synod takes up where the first week of the last one had left off, when we were all optimistic and looking forward to really working together on the issues as a team with the synodality that the Pope is so fond of, walking together as colleagues in the direction of what is best for the Church.

“Ex Africa Semper Aliquid Novi”—Always Something New out of Africa

Cardinal Napier began the press briefing by recalling that the Roman saying “ex Africa semper aliquid novi” (i.e., always something new out of Africa) wasn’t “just something that happened a long time ago.”

The African bishops, he said, have “come out of the Synod most of all is a sense of optimism, an optimism because of the goodness of God, first of all, but also an optimism that comes from the witness of Pope Francis and the way he is leading the Church, and the other bishops that are sharing in the Synod are also giving a sense of optimism.”

The cardinal went on to express, on behalf of the African bishops, his appreciation “to the many millions of laypeople who are praying for the synod, for the success of the Synod. I can say with a certain degree of certainty that we feel those prayers are helping us through some difficult moments in the Synod.”

He also said the African bishops found the “process was very helpful, because it gave us so much more time in small groups.” That allowed them to “learn from each other” and discover “what was going on in the different parts of the Church.” They were therefore able to affirm “the good marriages, all the good families,” in the world and in the Church, and it is these which “help us to understand where we need to go as a Synod.”

The African bishops were also glad that so much attention was given to the vocation of the family and its mission in the world today. He emphasized 5 points that we stressed in particular:

Marriage preparation as a process to help “discern and to identify” their vocation; the need to “accompany spouses” throughout their marriage not just by the priest but by other couples and movements, too; the need to train priests and laity so they can assist tribunals in streamlining the annulments process; the need to care for single-parent families, child-headed households because HIV/AIDS have taken parents’ lives, drug and alcohol addictions, and problems regarding sexual orientation. The cardinal also spoke of the need to incorporate into marriage preparation and the Sacrament of Marriage the African phenomenon of a couple living as man and wife before they are sacramentally married as a step toward marriage.

On the last point the Cardinal explained that the word co-habitation “doesn’t really fit in that instance because it’s part of the process of marriage, by steps if you like.” He said sometimes people use the word “arranged marriage” but it is “actually negotiated” in that the bride’s family is “to say what the dowry should be.” Saving for the dowry can take a long time, the cardinal added, and in the meantime, “the families could agree that they can start living together as husband and wife, even though the marriage is not yet completed.”

He said it is therefore different from the Western concept of co-habitation, which means moving in together because it’s less expensive or for some other reasons, but not necessarily with marriage as an end.

“It’s mentioned in the Synod document but I think it’s one of those things that a statement from the Synod cannot solve,” the cardinal said. “It’s really up to the African bishops to get together and work through and make sure that that particular custom does get incorporated into the Sacrament of matrimony.”

What Are the Expectations?

Cardinal Napier closed his presentation by saying “first and foremost” he felt the synod is “going to give a great impetus to the local Churches to embark on ensuring we have more and more really good marriages, through good marriage preparation, but also through good, clear teaching on what the Church expects of marriage and how the sacrament of marriage is celebrated.”

He also recalled the emphasis for reform in the Church at the last conclave, and said reform of the Church will help reform the family structure. “By making sure it is strong you will have a Church that is built on good foundations and therefore a Church that has a strong impact on society.”

He concluded by saying African people often called on their synod fathers to make sure they remained “faithful to the Church’s teaching” and to let Jesus’ Word and his teaching guide them through the synod.

“I believe to a great extent we have allowed ourselves to be led by that spirit and word,” he said.

Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.

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