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Thursday, 08 October 2015 21:13

EUROPE Welcoming refugees the JRS way

8th October 2015 - When Pope Francis called on “every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary of Europe” to take in one refugee family, his appeal did not fall on deaf ears.

The Pope was speaking at the beginning of September as thousands of refugees and forced migrants arrived in Europe amid an escalating debate within the EU about how to handle the crisis.

Since then hundreds of religious communities (including two Vatican parishes) as well as ordinary families across Europe have opened their doors to people fleeing violence and poverty.

Meanwhile, even before the Pope’s appeal, the French Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) had launched its “Communities of Hospitality” project which provides short stay hospitality to asylum seekers.

As Fr. Jean-Marie Carriere, Director of JRS Europe explains to Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni, his aim is to extend the project to other countries offering advice and guidelines that are fundamental in making sure the “welcome” experience is a positive one for all,

 Fr. Carriere says the project is based on first-hand experience and the desire to extend the project to other countries stems from JRS’s conviction that there are some indications to take into consideration if the experience is to be successful.

“This, he says, is the most important thing”.

“Our experience tells us that the first welcome (the first time a family welcomes a refugee) must be for a short period” he says.

Fr. Carriere says this period should not last for more than about a month because in this way the family will have a good experience, and even perhaps go on to repeat it with other refugees.

The second bit of advice would be: “never welcome a refugee alone” he says.

Fr. Carriere point out that it is essential that an organization in the parish or a network of people be there to offer support and coordination to the host family.

“The question is not only to ‘match’ the refugees with the places of accommodation (…) the main thing is that there is a human encounter” he says.

Fr Carriere says that after the first welcome that lasts about a month the refugee can move on to another place or family of welcome.

All in all, he says, this kind of accommodation lasts only for about six or seven months, afterwards it becomes a concern of the State.

He stresses that it is not only a basic need such as shelter which is offered in these cases, but “much more important: the encounter between the family and the refugee”.

Welcome he says “is the first step of integration”.

“The fact you welcome someone into your house and you speak to him” and understand his story is the first step of integration.

Fr. Carriere says the refugees also appreciate this aspect very much.

Finally they say: “we used to look through the windows of the houses from outside, now we know what is going on inside as well”.

And the JRS Director says, it is equally important to take care of the families or communities who are hosting the refugees: “This is our third advice”.

He is adamant that it is important not to leave the family alone.

Fr Carriere tells the story of a family who offered the absent son’s room to a refugee. The son came home earlier than planned and was angry because there was someone occupying his bedroom. The family didn’t call the coordination, but took the decision to have the refugee out of the house by the next morning.

“The point here, says Fr. Carriere, is not the decision, but the fact they did not speak to coordination” who would have found a solution, both for the family and for the refugee.

The generous attitude of families must be supported and accompanied.

“We need to have successful – that means joyful – experiences of hospitality. Why? Because the public opinion has been favourable up to this moment and now,  it seems it could be changing” he says.

The idea of hosting refugees in families and communities, he says,    “is a very good idea, a Christian idea”.

But, Fr. Carriere concludes, it must be successful. That is why the guidelines are so useful.

Published in News
Thursday, 27 August 2015 20:00

INDIA Census on religions

27th August 2015 - Muslims increas, Christians stable, hindu population drops under 80%. The government has revealed the results of a 2011 religion-based census, a year after it was ready for release, after it was blocked to avoid orchestrations ahead of the general elections.

The data shows a drop in the Hindu population by 0.7 percent and 0.8% growth in the Muslim community. No significant variations are seen in the Christian community, while the Sikh and Buddhists are in slight decrease. The Hindus today count 79.8% of the overall population of an estimated over 1.2 million: Muslims count 14.2%, Christians 2.3%, Sikh 1.7% and Buddhists 0.7%.

The growth rate of population in the decade 2001-2011 was 17.7 per cent. The growth rate of population of the different religious communities in the same period was as Hindus: 16.8 per cent; Muslim: 24.6 per cent (especially in Assan and West Bengal probably due to strong migration from Bangladesh); Christian: 15.5 per cent; Sikh: 8.4 per cent; Buddhist: 6.1 per cent and Jain: 5.4 per cent.

Despite the quota of Muslims increased, their rate has dropped significantly over the past decade. The same is the case for all the communities, which means a tendency of stabilization in fertility rates due to rapid economic, social and cultural changes in the country.

The census however doesn’t provide any further details on the social-economic state of the various communities, such as literacy for example, employment and wealth distribution. (Misna)

Published in News

22nd August 2015 - A study conducted by the NGO, Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, across 10 states has found that 92.1% Muslim women want the discriminating practice of oral triple talaq (when a man pronounces talaq or divorce three times against a woman formally ends a marriage) to be banned.

According to the Indian media, the study also found that people have advanced to using mediums such as Skype, Whatsapp and emails for delivering the triple talaq.

Tension over the issue of verbal divorce also emerges from the finding that 88.5% of interviewed women also want punishment for the Muslim clerics who on payment send notice of oral divorce. Also based on the study, 93% of the women favoured some process of binding mediation before divorce.

The data - collected from 10 states including Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Karnataka, interviewing 5,000 women – indicates that 91.7% are against polygamy, saying that Muslim men should not be allowed to have a second wife while still married to the first. According to the study, 88.3% of women said codification of Muslim family law will help Muslim women get justice on issues such as marriage age, divorce, polygamy and child custody. (Misna)

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4 August 2015 – The number of children working in cotton fields continues to rise. According to a survey by the Indo-Dutch Committee and the private body Stop Child Labour Coalition, in India this activity involves some 200,000 minors age 14, minimum legal age for labour in the country.

This year India is expected to become the world’s largest cotton producing country. Already one of the main exporters of this prime material, it expects to produce 6.63 million tons of cotton.

About half a million children work in cotton fields including those of legal working age, between 14 and 18. Of the total number 25% are under the age of 14 and 35% are aged 14 to 18 years. It is to be noted that the number of children working in the cotton industry in India today is 100,000 higher than in 2010, the survey said, adding that working conditions in the fields are still dangerous and the children are exploited. (AP) (4/8/2015 Agenzia Fides)

Published in News
Sunday, 26 July 2015 23:41

INDIA Year of Consecrated Life

27 July 2015 - Rediscovering the beauty of the liturgy in the Year of Consecrated Life. Over 100 men and women religious participated in the catechesis organized by the Indian Conference of Religious. The Indian Bishops' Conference call for renewed liturgical devotion. Salesian priest: "honoring God through common prayer." The importance of music and song in the liturgy, so that "the union of hearts can be more deeply experienced with the union of voices"

 "When we gather as a community during public prayer, we meet the Lord Jesus Christ in communion with the Holy Spirit, which transcends all human, racial, cultural and social affinities to form one family united in the Lord, that gives glory to God and we experience the sanctification of our lives". This were the words of greeting with which Fr. Joji Reddy, Franciscan, opened the meeting organized last week at the Andhra Loyola College in Vijayawada, in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

 The occasion was a day of catechesis on liturgical renewal to rediscover the beauty of the celebrations of the Catholic Church. The Conference of Religious of India (CRI) of the diocese of Vijayawada organized the meeting, as part of the initiatives for the Year of Consecrated life. It was attended by more than 100 men and women of faith.

 The day was organized in response to the Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) call for the renewal of liturgical devotion. Fr. Reddy, a Salesian, urged those present to experience the redeeming presence of Christ in the recollections of prayer. "The purpose of the liturgy is to give glory and honour to God through public communal prayer, to build up faith of the people, to teach the faithful the meaning Christ’s words through the sacred mysteries", he said.

 Benedictine Fr. Showraiah celebrated Mass at the beginning of the meeting. He invited all those present to have compassion for the people they meet in their ministry, as Jesus did during his life on earth. Quoting the Gospel of the day, he recalled that mercy and compassion are the true characteristics of the Good Shepherd. So he invited the religious to follow Christ's example and take care of others, to care "about the welfare of the people around us."

Sister Benigna, Nirmala Sister, Benigna, the LCRI President spoke of music and singing in the liturgy. The sister explained that "the musical tradition of the universal Church is a necessary part of full solemn prayer." Through sung prayer - she said - "the liturgy is expressed in a more attractive way, the mystery of the liturgy with its hierarchical and community nature is more openly shown, the unity of hearts is more profoundly achieved by the union of voices, minds are more easily raised to heavenly things by the beauty of the sacred rites and the whole celebration more clearly prefigures that heavenly liturgy which is enacted in the holy city of Jerusalem".

 Sister Benigna has also insisted on the urgency to become expert musicians and singers to serve prayer so it involve us in the paschal mystery, deepening our understanding of the pattern of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection to new life.

 Finally, the Assembly paid tribute to Benedict XVI, pope emeritus, who received two honorary degrees to for his great respect for the musical traditions of the Church and for his sensitivity to liturgical music. (Asianews)

 * Missionary of Charity, Congregation of women associated with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME)

Published in News

24 March 2015 - "We demand the closure of the schools of the Archdiocese of Mumbai on March 25, to protest against the attacks on Christian institutions": this is what Catholics of the state of Maharashtra say, after the last episode in which St. George Catholic Church was targeted by unknown people and the statue of the Saint was damaged. The note sent to Fides by a platform of associations, such as "Catholic Secular Forum", "Maharashtra Christian Youth Forum", "Association of Concerned Catholics" and others, states: "Christian communities have been attacked since the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power. The statue of the Saint has been damaged and the police have not been able to find the culprits. We presented a document to the Diocesan Council for Education demanding that Catholic schools remain closed on March 25 in order to send a strong message to politics".

Joseph Dias, representative of the CSF, will meet with representatives of the Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI). The NGOs believe that, despite the reassurances of Ministers, at all levels, the attacks against Christian communities continue, giving the impression that "fundamentalists are given the green light". The platform of NGOs called on the Prime Minister of Maharashtra, to increase the safety of places of worship as "there seems to be a sinister plan to disrupt the secular and pluralist fabric of the state". (PA) (Agenzia Fides 24/03/2015) 

Published in News

12 March 2015 - Delhi Police has launched a Facebook page to address grievances of Christian institutions and individuals in the wake of a series of attacks on Christian institutions in the city. 

On the new Facebook page 'Delhi Police Minority Brethren' the police wrote: "Dear Christian brothers and sisters, this page has been designed by Delhi Police to add a forum for all Christian people in Delhi to put across their views regarding law and order situation in Delhi with special reference to the security of our churches and educational institutions". An official has been nominated to look into the problems of minority communities.

Last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also said that his government will not allow any religious group to incite hatred and will strongly act against any religious violence. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 12/03/2015)

Published in News

14 February 2015 - In India "the situation of freedom of expression and thought is worsening day by day. And the worst thing is that those responsible for this decline are the security forces, and academic institutions, that should protect it. The pressure from the government, which even wants to 'Hinduize'  education, has become unsustainable", denounces I Arun Ferreira, a Dalits and tribals activist to AsiaNews. The activist was prevented from presenting his book in a University of Mumbai.

Imprisoned for four years on false charges, from 2007 to 2011, he was repeatedly the victim of torture in prison. Released and cleared of all charges, he has written a book - ["Colours of the Cage", which can be found here ed] - which tells the story of a prisoner sentenced to life imprisonment who has spent several decades in prison.

The text is a denunciation of the prison and legal system, and the general climate of political intolerance of contemporary India. The story is that of a fellow prisoner, a Muslim serving a life sentence. Ferreira highlights the discrimination suffered by religious minorities, the ideological abuse and violence not only from guards, but also of the other prisoners. All themes, he tells AsiaNews, "unwelcome to the current government."

Invited by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai to present the book in the afternoon of 11 February, Ferreira was warned at the last minute of the cancellation of the event. The students who had contacted him explained that the police had entered the campus that morning and said that the activist "is under investigation on suspicion of being a Maoist" and therefore could not speak in public. Accusations, the man emphasizes, that are "completely false."

What happened, he says, "is unfortunately not an isolated case. Directors and Deans of prestigious academic institutions throughout the country are being forced by the various wings of the State to tow a totalitarian line which crushes dissent, freedom of speech etc. Much of this is linked to the new government at the center and in Maharashtra. For this government changing the syllabii in education, sankritisation, etc are extremely important parts of their agenda. "

The Catholic Church is in the forefront in trying to curb this trend. Catholic educational institutions are among the best in the country, and although they are a small minority Catholics manage a huge number of schools. The renowned activist John Dayal, member of the National Integration Council and former president of the All India Catholic Union, told AsiaNews that he is calling on the population to "not to hand education over to to Hindu fundamentalists." (NC)

Published in News

31 December 2014 - The Archbishop of Goa, Monsignor Filipe Nery Ferrao appealed to political leaders to take steps to “protect” people of all faiths saying there are certain signs which are a “cause of grave concern”.

Addressing a select group of invitees at his reception function for Christmas in Panaji, Msgr. Ferrao said that people should be seen as “persons” and not merely as “religion”. He also expressed concern over the “not-so-good” relationship between the Indian Church and States in some parts of country, excluding Goa.

“In recent times, however, we are observing certain signs which are causing grave concern, particularly to the minorities, and which threaten to break down the fibre of our nation. One of the worst internal enemies of a nation is communal discord. It can disintegrate a nation”, added Monsignor Ferrao.

“Whenever humans are degraded, God is insulted. We must see people as persons and not as a religion”, he stressed, without elaborating. In his short speech, the Archbishop said there should not be discrimination of people on any grounds and that the Church will continue it’s “mission of liberation”.

Calling communalism a “hydra” (a many-headed serpent in Greek mythology), Ferrao hoped that “our political leaders, both at the state and the national level, commit themselves to create an environment where everyone is respected and protected, irrespective of social, cultural or religious affiliations or differences”. [PL/BO] © 2014 MISNA

Published in News

13 December 2014  - Catholics: "We call on the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, to look on Hindu extremist groups and to stop the incitement to violence among communities". This is what is said in a note from the "Catholic Secular Forum" (CSF), one of the organizations of Indian civil society. "Hindu fundamentalists seem to be encouraged by the new government, which is giving a bad image of India abroad", said the statement sent to Fides.

The NGO noted with concern the campaign promoted by the Hindu extremist group RSS that has promised to "reconvert" - according to a program called "Back home" - more than 4,000 Christian dalit families (untouchables) to Hinduism. To carry out this ceremony on Christmas Day, note the Catholics, is a strong provocation. "We accept conversions from one religion to another, but we ask you not to do this through economic incentives", says the note sent to Fides. Such "forced conversions" are those that Hindu activists condemn strongly, attributing them to Christian missionaries.

"At Christmas we will pray so that all Indian citizens can enjoy full freedom of religion. The danger is that the activities promoted by militant groups fuel polarization and intolerance in Indian society", said the CSF. This is why a strong stance and an intervention of the central government is required, in the commitment to "protect human rights and minorities". (PA) (Agenzia Fides)

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