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23 October 2019 - Demonstrations continue throughout the country. Reforms proposed by Hariri rejected. Muslims, Christians, Druze, men and women are united by wanting to expel "the thieving and unpunished government

The spontaneous uprising of the Lebanese people continues, which broke out a week ago on 17 October. All attempts by politicians, including the reform package proposed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, have been futile. The Lebanese people are now immune to the morphine of false promises and are determined to go all the way: to the fall of the government, to the arrest of politicians and to the recovery of the money they have stolen for decades: a figure calculated at 360 billion dollars.

The number of protesters of all denominations, age and sex grew steadily throughout the night. The absence of quarrels, fights or any other type of similar episodes that usually occur among heterogeneous masses gathered in the midst of confusion is astonishing many. The people are all united, "one hand"; they all have one goal: to expel "the thieving and unpunished government"; everyone wants the same thing: "dignity, social justice, a new secular country" and above all "normality".

The Land of the Cedars has never experienced such an evolution, the children of this country have finally become a people, no longer divided by confessional psychoses sown for decades by those who govern them. These people are looking beyond, even towards an absolute sovereignty for the new Lebanon.

The timid criticism of Hassan Nasrallah and Nabih Berri, or criticism of Iran, is getting stronger even in Baalbek, which has always been a Shiite feud. A Hezbollah militant, who fought against Daesh in the mountains on the border with Syria, broadcast his words against the Hezbollah general secretary on live television saying: "Nasrallah, you are not God!".

This taboo also shattered in the square of Tripoli, where a protester burned the Hezbollah flag. The man was immediately stopped by the majority of protesters - Sunnis - who despite being opposed to Hezbollah - condemned the gesture because it could be interpreted as an insult to the Shiites and provoke a confessional division.

Iran is not the only one to lose, but also the US and those that the protesters define their "puppets" in Beirut.

Sources - who wish to remain anonymous - revealed to AsiaNews that yesterday, despite the banks being closed, some employees of the Central Bank worked for four hours, transferring large deposits of many politicians to foreign accounts.

The demonstrations in central Beirut were concentrated yesterday around the headquarters of the government and on the way to the banks.

For the first time since the beginning of what is now called the "Intifada of the Lebanese people", slogans have been launched against Riad Salameh, the Central Bank governor, shouting "In jail!" America!".

Salameh is considered by protesters "the manager of US policy" in Lebanon, the "maneuverer and protector of politicians", "accomplice to all financial flaws and corruption", "responsible for the cash crisis, the fluctuation and disappearance of US dollars on the market ".

"No corrupt politician can make any economic transaction without the endorsement and knowledge of the central bank," Shiite demonstrator Beirut Ali told AsiaNews.

Asianews

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17 October 2019 - The Middle East Council of Churches followed with deep sorrow and pain the martyrdom and wounding of hundreds of Iraqis last week, and is currently following with greater pain the Turkish attacks on northeastern Syria, which would potentially have "serious repercussions on its territorial integrity", and thus exacerbate the humanitarian situation of refugees and displaced persons. Therefore, the MECC raises its prayers for the "end of all forms of violence and for the protection of human dignity which is the pillar of any peace or stability, while affirming the right of peoples to self-determination, in line with Arab and international instruments, and upon values of love, justice, human rights and common responsibility in peacebuilding". The MECC calls upon the consciences of stakeholders to stop "the cycle of war and violence in the blessed region of the East".

The Middle East Council of Churches, founded in 1974 in Nicosia and currently based in Beirut, aims to facilitate the convergence of Middle Eastern Christian communities on topics of common interest and to favor the overcoming of contrasts of a confessional nature.

Professor Souraya Bechealany, Christian Maronite, professor of theology at the Université Saint-Joseph de Beyrouth, was elected Secretary General of the MECC in January 2018, and together with her collaborators undertook a process of restructuring the departments of the ecumenical body (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 16/10/2019)

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Friday, 04 October 2019 21:35

LEBANON The first Human Fraternity Day

5 October 2019 - The first “Tripoli Human Fraternity Day” on The Future of Christian-Muslim Relations after Pope Francis’ Mission to Abu Dhabi will take place at the St. Francis Convent in Tripoli-Mina, on Sunday, October 6, under the auspices of the Pontifical Missionary Union, the Pontifical Mission Societies-Lebanon, and the Custody of the Land. The event is organized in cooperation with the Religion & Security Council, Dialogue for Life and Reconciliation, and the Sustainable Network of Religious Leaders in the North of Lebanon.

Numerous other bodies and NGOs are also featured as partners in this major interreligious initiative, such as Caritas Lebanon, Tripoli Chamber of Commerce, North Lebanon Local Economic Development Agency, Tripoli Entrepreneurs Club, Maronite Youth Committee of Tripoli’s Archeparchy, Melkite Youth Patriarchal Committee, Maronite Youth Pastoral Ehden Zgharta, Middle East Institute for Research and Strategic Studies, Fly for the Lebanese Youth, Mousawat Association, Utopia.

The proceedings will consist of a Youth Interreligious Forum and a Leaders Interreligious Forum. The Youth Interreligious Forum will engage a delegation of 50 university students and young professionals from the Sunni, Alawi, and Christian communities in Tripoli and North Lebanon. The Leaders Interreligious Forum will feature prominent Christian and Muslim religious figures, including Tripoli’s Grand Mufti and Archbishop Joseph Spiteri, Apostolic Nuncio in Lebanon .

In the spirit of the Document on “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” signed in Abu Dhabi by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Sh. Ahmad El Tayyeb, the “Tripoli Human Fraternity Day” aims to promote interreligious dialogue and cooperation between Christians and Muslims as the way forward to advance peaceful coexistence and societal harmony in Tripoli and throughout northern Lebanon.

The event will be held within the ongoing Formation Program on “The Mission of Young Christians in Tripoli and North Lebanon”, hosted by the St. Francis Convent and promoted by the Pontifical Missionary Union and the Pontifical Mission Societies-Lebanon. The Formation Program is part of the initiatives being held by the Pontifical Mission Society-Lebanon to celebrate the Extraordinary Missionary Month October 2019 announced by Pope Francis on the theme “Baptized and Sent: The Church of Christ on Mission in the World”, which will culminate in the “World Mission Day” on Sunday, October 20, when the closing ceremony of the Formation Program will take place.

To meet Pope Francis’ call to revive the missio ad gentes and renew the evangelizing efforts of Christians across the world, the Formation Program aims to strengthen the missionary identity, awareness, and skills of the young Christian participants, preparing them to actively engage the civil society and the community life in Tripoli’s cross-religious environment and cross-cultural. In this context, the Formation Program is examining the specific role of Christians and of their mission facing local major issues, such as labor and unemployment, poverty and charity endeavors, the protection of the environment, women’s rights, ecumenism, peace-building and conflicts resolution. Interreligious dialogue and Christian-Muslim relations will be addressed during the “Tripoli Human Fraternity Day”. (Agenzia Fides, 3/10/2019)

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25 June 2019 - The Greek-Melkite Catholic Church is preparing to dedicate ample space to its pastoral planning to the dissemination and deepening of the Document on Human Brotherhood for World Peace and Common Coexistence, signed on 4 February in Abu Dhabi by Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmed al Tayyeb, Great Imam of Al Azhar.

This was established by the synodal assembly of Greek-Melkite Bishops, who met last week at the patriarchal see of Ain Traz, in Lebanon, under the presidency of Patriarch Youssef Absi. The declared intention is to foster the growth of new generations able to reconstruct the coexistence between different social and religious components in the countries where the Melkite Church is present, often distorted by conflicts and sectarian extremism. The program outlined by the Melkite Bishops - as reported by the report of the Synodal Assembly, sent to Agenzia Fides - is laid down in concrete provisions, which involve both academic and more specifically pastoral activities. The Document on Human Brotherhood will become the object of study in the schools of the Patriarchate and in theological institutes. The text will be disseminated widely among the lay faithful, and its contents will be deepened in diocesan and parish meetings, as well as becoming the subject of articles and interviews on the media of the Patriarchate and on the bulletins of the dioceses and parishes. Even priests will be urged to make known the contents and intents of the Abu Dhabi document through their ordinary preaching.

During the Synodal Assembly, the Bishops present (who were 24, besides the Patriarch) also outlined the steps to be taken to implement the measures related to the protection of minors from the abuses set forth in the Apostolic Letter of Pope Francis Vos estis lux mundi (7 May 2019). Furthermore, the process was also started to establish a preparatory committee that will take care of the participation and contribution of the Melkite Church to the future World Congress dedicated to the liturgical life in the Eastern Catholic Churches, scheduled in Rome from 18 to 20 February 2022, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the instruction for the application of the liturgical prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, published by the Congregation for Oriental Churches in January 1996. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 24/6/2019)

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17 May 2019 - Caritas Europa is urging candidates contesting in the European Parliament elections this month to defend family values and interests.

As the United Nations marks the International Day of Families on Wednesday, Caritas Europa is calling on future Members of the European Parliament (MEP) standing for election in less than ten days’ time, to defend family values and the interests of families.

“Family is the basic cell and an essential pillar of any fair society, along with an inclusive labour market and adequate social protection mechanisms,” says a statement by Caritas Europa on the occasion of the May 15 International Day of Families. 

Caritas Europa, which is a member of Caritas Internationalis, the global federation of over 160 national Catholic charities, is urging the European Union and its members to produce family-friendly policies that benefit all,” saying it is a “necessity for the future of Europe”.

“It is imperative that European leaders deliver on their commitment to the European Pillar of Social Rights and ensure the protection of families,” says the network of 49 national Caritas units of 46 European countries. 

The European Parliament (EP) elections which take place every five years, is scheduled from May  23 to 26, this year.  Each of the 28 member states has a fixed number of  MEPs.  

 

Poverty and social exclusion

Caritas Europa notes that across Europe, families are facing poverty or social exclusion in terms of access to housing, education, health care and decent work and they are struggling to ensure a better future for their children.” 

Emphasizing that “investing in the family is investing in our societies,” it is calling for urgent policies that can "address Europe’s ongoing demographic decline and that can tackle the increasing levels of poverty and inequalities."  

Caritas Europa recommends the future MEPs help improve the living conditions of the most deprived families, build on and further develop the achievements of the previous parliament, such as in reducing child poverty and the work-life balance directive.  In this way, it says, they can contribute to ensuring that nobody is left behind and all children can enjoy a bright future. 

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Wednesday, 01 May 2019 21:27

THAILAND 95% of Thai workers indebted

30 April 2019 - Among the causes: the high cost of living and easy loans. The average income of the workforce is around € 419 per month. The average debt per family is 4,437 euros: + 15% compared to last year. The country's economic slowdown is weighing. Usury debt accounts for 41.8% of the money owed. The phenomenon often also affects Thai workers abroad.

95% of Thai workers drown in debt. Their liabilities rose to the highest level in the last 11 years, driven by higher living costs and easier access to loans: this is what emerges from the latest survey conducted by the University of the Chamber of Commerce of Thailand (Utcc) .

The study states that the average income of the workforce is around 15,000 baht (419 euros) per month and estimates that the average household debt is 158,855 baht (4,437 euros). The figure recorded almost 15% growth compared to last year. Almost 86% of the people who participated in the research cannot count on savings, due to the increase in expenses, product prices and greater loans for housing and cars. The majority claims to be rather cautious about purchases.

Thanavath Phonvichai, vice president of research for UTCC, told the Bangkok Post that most workers are worried about the country's economic slowdown. Moreover, the uncertainty that has emerged after the recent general elections does not alleviate the widespread feeling of distrust. "About 80.3% of respondents said they defaulted in the previous 12 months because they spent more than they earned," says Thanavath. "The workers want the daily minimum wage to increase in line with the increases in utilities, transport and food products".

The expert attributes the increases to the slowdown in the national economy. "If this remains weak, we expect workers to demand even more disorganized loans," says Thanavath. The study reveals that this year debt from usury accounts for 41.8% of the debt contracted by the families of workers; in 2018 it was 34.6%.

The debt phenomenon often also affects Thai workers abroad. Pipat Traichan, project manager of the Catholic National Commission on Migration (NCCM) - an organization under the aegis of Caritas Thailand - explains to AsiaNews that in recent years the Thai world of work has changed considerably, but debt seems to be a constant .

"In the past - he says -, until about 10 years ago, many Thais used to leave as migrant workers for countries like Taiwan, South Korea and Malaysia in search of better salaries. Once in the destination country, they found themselves forced to borrow from the agencies that recruited them. To return these sums, the same agencies or employers kept part of their salary. The migrants took years, before returning all the money due ".

In recent times, Traichan emphasizes, departures are diminishing, thanks also to the better living conditions that Thailand can offer its citizens. However, another phenomenon is emerging. "Many of the Thai migrants have returned home. Among these there are those who squander in a few years the amount earned abroad. Without money or work or something to do in Thailand, they find themselves forced to leave again to seek fortune again overseas. Some choose to remain in South-East Asia (Malaysia or Singapore), others leave for the Middle East convinced that they will spend two or three years there. However, these people sometimes do not think about their future and fall victim to forced labor or even human trafficking ". "The sad thing - concludes Traichan - is that the same fate awaits many migrants who come to Thailand from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia".

Asianews

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28 March 2019 - A television channel born to serve "the glory of God and the growth of the Holy Church". This is the challenging and high-sounding business card with which Suboro TV was presented, the television channel of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, whose Lebanese headquarters was inaugurated on Monday 25 March, on the day of the Marian liturgical solemnity of the Annunciation of Lord. "Suboro" is the Syriac word which also indicates the Annunciation of the Angel to Mary. And the Christian solemnity of the Annunciation is celebrated in the Middle East - especially in Lebanon - even by many Muslims.

The inauguration of the TV network site culminated with the blessing of the television studios by Ignatios Aphrem II, Patriarch of Antioch of the Syro-Orthodox. The inaugural ceremony was also attended by Aram I, the Armenian Apostolic Catholicos of the Grand House of Cilicia, and Ignace Youssif III Younan, Patriarch of Antioch of the Syro-Catholics. The inauguration ceremony also included a presentation of the show schedules of the new television network.

Patriarch Ignatios Aphrem II, in his inaugural speech, emphasized that Suboro TV "Voice of Antioch", will have the task of "spreading the good news that the Lord Jesus called his disciples to bring to the whole world, the good news of salvation of men", and may also express "the authenticity of our spiritual heritage", proper to the "apostolic see established by St. Peter in Antioch". Suboro TV will dedicate particular space to news on the activities of the Churches around the world.

The first proposal to create a television network connected to the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate had already emerged during the Synod of the Syro-Orthodox Church in 2009, and was re-launched during the Synod of 2015. The Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate, while acknowledging that many Syriac television networks already exist, wanted to inspire the birth of a new TV channel as a broadcaster directly connected with the Church, and not attributable to partial political visions or agendas of single groups and Syriac acronyms. The initial project of Suboro TV includes the opening of television studios also in Germany, the presence of correspondents in Syria, Iraq, Turkey and at the most substantial communities of the Syro-Orthodox diaspora scattered in the West. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 27/3/2019)

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Sunday, 24 February 2019 21:08

LEBANON The debate on civil marriage

23 February 2019 - The debate on civil marriage has stirred tensions in Lebanon after the newly appointed interior minister, Raya Hassan, reignited the issue for its recognition by religious authorities.

Current Prime Minister Hariri lent his support to the cause since 2013 when he said, “I personally would not want my daughter to get a civil marriage but I cannot oppose it, in my capacity as prime minister.”

However, several politicians, Druze leader Walid Junblatt and former president Amin Gemayel, have backed Ms Hassan’s proposal to reopen the confrontation on civil marriage. But several religious and political leaders have already expressed their opposition to the prospect of a legal recognition of civil marriage. Lebanon’s highest Sunni authority, Dar Al Fatwa, published a statement to express its “absolute rejection” of the idea saying that it contradicts Islamic law. Also Father Abdo Abou Kassem, the Catholic Church's spokesman, argued that an optional civil marriage is “wrong” and “confusing” and reaffirmed that on this point Lebanese Christians and Muslims are united, and that the Catholic Church does not support civil marriage because it contradicts the concept of the ‘sacrament of marriage. Similar considerations were expressed during a homily by the Maronite Archbishop of Beirut, Boulos Matar. And even some representatives of the Hezbollah Shiite party, like parliamentarian Ehab Hamadeh, rejected the hypothesis of the legalization of civil marriage as contrary to the legal criteria based on the Sharia. Along the same lines, the President of Parliament, the Shiite Nabih Berri, said there is no space for this campaign and that the matter was not even up for negotiation.

Much of Lebanese civil law, including personal status matters such as marriage, divorce and inheritance, is applied according to the relevant religious sect and in some cases treats women differently to men. Lebanon has 18 recognized Muslim and Christian sects.

A previous phase of confrontation on the issue of civil marriage took place in Lebanon between the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013. Then, as reported by Fides, the public discussion had rekindled when a couple, belonging to Shiite Muslim families, had signed their civil marriage contract before a lawyer and not before a religious court.

So far, Lebanese couples who want to celebrate their civil marriage resort to the stratagem of civilly marrying in Cyprus and then registering their union in Lebanon. At that time, the Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, the highest authority of Lebanese Shiite Islam, issued a fatwa to distrust all Muslim politicians and ministers from supporting any legal form of civil marriage if they did not want to be considered as "apostates". The Maronite Bishops, had reiterated in an official statement that the eventual approval of civil marriage in Lebanon would necessarily entail an amendment to Article 9 of the Constitution, and that in any case "marriage is one of the sacraments of the Church, and civil marriage cannot replace this sacrament". (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 21/2/2019)

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Tuesday, 05 February 2019 12:05

INDIA The day of the sacred bath

4 February 2019 -  At least 40 million Hindus, including holy men, pilgrims and foreign tourists, immersed themselves today in the sacred waters of Indian rivers to cleanse themselves of their sins.

Today is in fact the most auspicious day of the Kumbh Mela, the world’s largest Hindu pilgrimage, currently underway in Allahabad. This most favourable day for the gods is called Mauni Amavasya and corresponds to the no moon day.

The ritual of the so-called festival (mela) of the pot (kumbha) involves people immersing themselves in the sacred waters at the confluence of three rivers – the Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati – to expiate their sins.

The immersion is led by quasi naked holy men with their bodies covered in ashes, accompanied by songs and dances.

The city of Allahabad is located in the State of Uttar Pradesh (northern India) and was recently renamed Prayagraj because its traditional name was deemed "too Islamic".

The pilgrimage began on 15 January and is set to end on 4 March. Organisers expect at least 120 million people to take part in the event.

To accommodate such numbers, the authorities set up a mega tent city covering some 32 square kilometres, three times the size of Manhattan, with hospitals, banks, mobile kitchens and 120,000 chemical toilets. The huge waste collection apparatus includes special boats to skim the surface of the rivers.

Thousands of posters and giant pictures of India’s prime minister are visible in the tent city, strategically positioned near immersion points.

This is an election year (April-May) for the Indian parliament. The pilgrimage thus gives the ruling party “free advertising”.

Indeed, according to the traditional rotation between the four sacred cities (Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik), the Kumbh Mela was supposed to take place in 2020. Instead, it was anticipated by one year to attract Hindu voters to Uttar Pradesh and the nationalists.

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10 January 2019 - Accredited international scientific studies on the demographic changes in Lebanon show that the decline of the Christian component will stop in the coming decades. These scientific projections were welcomed with relief in Lebanese ecclesial circles.

The reassuring statistics regarding the demographic size of Christians in Lebanon are contained in the yearbook of International Religious Demography 2018, so much so that the Minister of Provisional Government Municipalities, Nihad al-Mashnuq – reports Lebanon Debate - wanted to bring the gift of the volume to Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Rai, on the occasion of Christmas.

The last official census carried out in Lebanon is that of 1932. At that time, there were 875,252 inhabitants in the Land of Cedars, and 53% of them were Christians. All subsequent statistics on the composition of the Lebanese population from a religious point of view are based on studies and reports considered unofficial, even when they were drawn up on the basis of research with a high level of scientific reliability.

Every year the Yearbook of International Religious Statistics provides a global overview on the composition of the populations of the countries from the point of view of the different religious affiliations of the inhabitants, attaching in some cases also contributions and statistics with projections on future foreseeable changes in percentage ratios between the different religious components in the individual nations.

The Yearbook 2018, regarding Lebanon, takes into account the changes in the percentage consistency of the different Lebanese religious components on the basis of the emigration/immigration flows and on the changes in the fertility rate in the individual faith communities.

With regard to Lebanon, the figures reported in the 2018 yearbook show that the Country has been marked by strong processes of emigration of the Lebanese population in the last 35 years, both due to economic reasons, and internal and regional conflicts that have involved the Lebanese nation. In the period 1975-2011, the expatriates from Lebanon were more than 1 million 567 thousand, and of these 46.6% were Christians and 53.4% Muslims.

According to the data provided, between 1971 and 2004 there was a decline in the fertility rate also in the Muslim population. Moreover, since the beginning of the Lebanon war in 1975 and until the mid-1980s, the rate of the emigration of Christians was much higher, but this trend stopped between 1984 and 2011. As a consequence, the division of immigrants on a religious basis, from 1975 to 2011, was found to be 46% Christian and 54% Muslim. Based on these findings, currently Christians - Maronites and others - represent 38% of those entitled to vote in parliamentary elections in Lebanon. But according to scholars of demographic trends this will stop and there will even be a slight inversion. Reports show that the Christian population has remained stable over the last two years, and is expected to increase from 38% to 40% in the next 19 years, reaching 41% in the next 34 years.

The data are based on the data according to which the Lebanese population had reached quota

3 million 334,691 inhabitants in 2011, with 38.22% of Christians and 61.62% of Muslims. It is expected that in 2030 the Lebanese population will be able to exceed 4 million 486 thousand inhabitants, with 40.18% of Christians and 59.71% of Muslims. In the year 2045, it is estimated that the Lebanese population could exceed 5 million 386 inhabitants, 41.12% of Christians and 58.87% of Muslims (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 10/1/2019)

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