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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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7 December 2018 – At the monthly meeting on December 5th, the Maronite Church attacks a selfish political class. Too many personal interests hinder the emergence of an executive, instead of looking at the common good. Refugee crisis "even more complicated" who, together with humanitarian support, need plans for a "return to their land".

The lack of a government because of the personal interests and selfishness of the various political actors and the refugee crisis that is becoming increasingly complicated. These are the priorities that need to be addresssed according to the Lebanese bishops at their monthly meeting on December 5th at the patriarchal headquarters in Bkerke, under the leadership of Cardinal Beshara Raï. At the center of the meeting was the recent visit to the Vatican and the meeting with Pope Francis, the problems of the local Church and the problems that cast more than a shadow on the future of the country.

Since last May Lebanon has been waiting for the creation of a strong and united government, able to overcome the many threats and challenges that await the country: from economic difficulties to the immigration crisis; from growing poverty to the employment problem that affects young people with greater incidence. A situation, denounces the Lebanese Church, of serious difficulty, exacerbated by the war in neighboring Syria, which has triggered an unprecedented humanitarian emergency.

In the final declaration the Maronite bishops do not hide their concern for the "absence" of any "hope" of shortly forming an executive. A stalemate that exacerbates the already serious financial, economic and social difficulties of the Land of Cedars. Hence the appeal to political leaders and faction leaders, because "it is up to them" to save the nation from an even more serious crisis.

Secondly, the Maronite Church calls the already precarious situation of Syrian refugees "even more complicated". Without neglecting the duty of "humanitarian" support, the bishops say that the country can no longer bear the weight of this migration. It affects "the economy and security" of all Lebanese and it is the duty of the international community to intervene to try to resolve the emergency. The hope is that the refugees can return "to their land, to their homeland" to preserve their rights and history.

Looking towards the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is being celebrated today, the prelates invite prayers to the mother of Jesus to strengthen the task of witness. And in this time of preparation for Christmas they ask to provide for the needs of children in difficulty, especially as "they are deprived of the joy of the Nativity". (Asianews)

Published in News
Thursday, 04 October 2018 20:48

LEBANON Churches call for a new government

4 octobre 2018 - An urgent appeal to political forces to accelerate the process of formation of a new government, to eradicate the instability in which they are dragging the country to pursue their own interests, in the face of increasing internal and regional challenges: this is the appeal issued this morning by the superior council of the Melkite Greek Catholic community, presided over by Patriarch Yusuf Al-Absi, in the presence of the various ministers and deputies received at the Patriarchal See in Rabwe.

As Fides learns, the Council appeals to political forces to make national institutions work instead of resorting to "unhealthy options" such as those sponsored by those who invoke a government of transition and management of current affairs.

The Council noted the existence of an economic crisis that is reflected in various sectors, the lack of liquidity and the high interest of loans, together with the increase in taxes that paralyze investments and afflict mortgage loans. Patriarch Absi joins the numerous appeals already released by the Maronite Church to draw attention to the crisis in Catholic schools, a "hot topic", once again neglected by Parliament in its meetings.

The voice of Absi joins that of the Cardinal and Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Rai, who concluded yesterday his pastoral trip in Canada. In recent trips abroad, both Patriarchs spoke to the Lebanese diaspora, hoping for urgent government formation. In reference to the nation's structural and environmental problems, Patriarch Rai said that "the current government has failed to achieve anything in the electricity sector or in waste management. We need people who are committed to re-launch the Country's economy".

Lebanon has been without a government for five months and this uncertainty has an impact on fundamental policies regarding the future of the Country and on the basic needs of the population. (PR) (Agenzia Fides, 02/10/2018)

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Monday, 23 July 2018 21:19

LEBANON "A government is needed!"

22 July 2018 - National appeals are repeated asking the Lebanese political forces to urgently form a government to allow the country to concentrate its efforts and allow it to face the economic and regional challenges and therefore to give life to a new government. In an interview released yesterday to the newspaper "The Future", Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Raie said aloud: "We want a government, I will repeat this appeal every day, I say today and I will say it tomorrow and every day and I hope everyone hears me".

The Patriarch referred to the consequences due to the delay in the formation of a future government, underlining the irregularities of this situation also from a juridical point of view. The situation of the country in general, and the economic situation in particular, make it essential to speed up the formation of the government, "May God help prime minister Saad Hariri who must please everyone!", said the Patriarch. The current government is considered a government of transition and management of current affairs, as the request formulated on May 24, 2018 by the President to the Prime Minister to form the government following the elections of May 8, with the official results of May 10, has still not brought fruit.

The Maronite Patriarch attended the meeting yesterday at the headquarters of the Economic and Social Council of Beirut (a government body that deals with socio-economic policies). In that context, the Patriarch urged political parties to respond to national emergencies concerning the growth of the economy that translates into development, work for young people, progress and production. The Patriarch expressed his displeasure on how politics has lived and how power groups protect their particular interests by neglecting the common good. "Let us see how they are delaying the formation of the government, showing absolute disinterest in the economic and social suffering of the people. The formation of the government by the representatives of parliament belonging to all the current political currents does not end in starting a government for the simple management of current affairs, but must aim at creating a genuine government that reflects the balance between the various parties present in parliament, underlined Boutros. We must return to the Constitution, the Patriarch said, because "abandoning it" means not finding a solution to the crises afflicting Lebanon at all levels.

Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai had received, at his summer residence in Diman last week, the leaders of the reconciliation, which took place on January 18, 2016 and recognized as "the agreement of Maarab" between the Free Patriotic Movement of General Aoun (currently President of the Republic) and the Lebanese Forces. In the meeting, which lasted 3 hours, the Patriarch invited Christian parties to work together for the good of the Country and not to fall into the polemics unleashed by the various media apparatus. The patriarch insisted on the urgency of the formation of the government without producing artificial delays, respecting the Constitution and safeguarding the functioning of public institutions. (PR) (Agenzia Fides, 20/07/2018)

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