Concern grows as Mother Teresa nun remains in Indian jail

Those accused of terrorism and bomb explosions are out on bail and sit inside parliament, but “an innocent nun is jailed based on an allegation.”

Political influence and sectarian hate suspected over repeated refusal of bail for 62-year-old sister.

A Missionaries of Charity nun receives a National Commission for Protection of Child Rights delegation that visited a home run by the congregation in Ranchi on July 24, 2018, as part of a probe following allegations of child trafficking. (IANS photo)

 

New Delhi: Church activists suspect political interference and sectarian hate in the continued incarceration of a Missionaries of Charity nun who was arrested a year ago accused of child trafficking in eastern India’s Jharkhand state.

Sister Concelia Baxla filed a fresh bail application in the state’s High Court on July 12. Her bail was rejected by several courts including India’s Supreme Court early this year.

The nun, now 62 and a diabetic, was arrested on July 4 last year along with Anima Indwar, a staff member of the home for unwed mothers that the Missionaries Charity managed in state capital Ranchi.

The arrest followed a complaint that Indwar took money to provide a baby but failed to keep the promise. They were accused of having already sold three babies from the home.

The Supreme Court rejected her bail application on Jan. 29 on grounds that police had not yet completed the investigation of the case.

The nun was initially remanded for 14 days and was expected to get bail on July 20 last year, but was denied by the district court. Later, the state court denied her bail on Oct. 30 before the top court’s denial early this year.

“I feel there is some strong element of political pressure in the case. Otherwise, the court has always granted bail in such cases,” said A.C. Michael, a Christian leader and former member of the Delhi Minorities Commission.

Michael said police in the state, run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have already completed the investigation and charges are filed in the court.

“One wonders what stops the court from granting bail,” said Michael, adding that church people expect the nun to get bail when the fresh bail application is heard this month.

However, Jenis Francis, a Christian activist and lawyer, suggested sectarian hate was keeping the nun in the jail. “A person is innocent until proven guilty. Why the nun continues to languish in person is beyond one’s reach of reason,” Jenis said.

The police delay in filing the charges for more than six months was a reflection of how the state and its law enforcement agencies worked in tandem to fulfill the agenda of Hindu groups, the lawyer-activist said.

“The prejudice against Mother Teresa is deeply rooted in the minds of Hindu fanatics. The name of Mother Teresa is deliberately being dragged into the case to defame her name and the work of her nuns among the poor,” Jenis told ucaews.com.

St. Teresa of Kolkata, popularly known as Mother Teresa, founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 to work among the poorest people in the slums of Kolkata city. It grew to become a global organization with about 5,000 members working in 139 countries. It has 244 homes in India.

However, right-wing Hindu groups have opposed the work of Mother Teresa and her nuns, accusing them of working to convert poor Hindus to Christianity in the guise of social service.

For example, Yogi Adityanath, a BJP leader and chief minister of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, has in a public speech said that the saintly nun was part of a conspiracy to Christianize India.

“The witch-hunting of Mother Teresa sisters” could be a way of gaining global attention, according to Joseph Dias, a Christian leader based in Mumbai.

“On the one hand, Christians are targeted with impunity and on the other hand, in order to gain world attention, nuns of Mother Teresa are targeted,” said Joseph.

Those accused of terrorism and bomb explosions are out on bail and sit inside parliament, but “an innocent nun is jailed based on an allegation.”

Joseph was referring to Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, who won recent parliamentary polls on the BJP’s ticket. She is accused of terrorist activities linked to a deadly bomb blast targeting Muslims in 2008. She is currently free on bail.

Adil Ahmad, a social and rights activist based in New Delhi, said the norm is for courts to grant bail. “However, in this case, Sister Concelia is treated exceptionally because of her Catholic faith. She is guilty for the establishment until proven innocent; while for others it is the other way around,” Ahmed said.

Source: UCAN

Catholic politicians strengthen pro-Hindu party in Goa

Members of the Congress party who switched to the ruling BJP have been branded turncoats and opportunists.

Panaji: Eight Catholic politicians were among 10 legislators in India’s Goa state who deserted the opposition Congress party to join the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The July 10 defections boosted the pro-Hindu party’s hold on power in the 40-seat state legislature by giving it 27 seats in all.

The opposition Congress, which won 17 seats in 2017 elections, was thereby reduced to five seats. Two of them had earlier also joined the BJP.

“This is a crisis not for Congress but for Goa as the Congress legislators have broken the trust that the voters reposed in them and joined the BJP,” said Father Victor Ferrao, a seminary teacher. “Sometimes principles are dumped for pragmatism. Today politics kills democracy in the very name of democracy.”

Catholics play a crucial political role in the state, a former Portuguese colony on India’s west coast. Some 25 percent of its 1.4 million people are Christians, almost all of them Catholics.

The defecting legislators told media that the switch was to ensure there are development projects for their local areas such as improved roads and water supplies.

Father Eremito Rebelo, a social activist, admitted that jobs and welfare programs were being “dished out” predominantly to constituents from the ruling party. The constituencies of Congress legislators were being ignored, he complained.

However, he questioned the logic of changing their party allegiance for this reason alone. The former Congress members should have instead fought against “political favoritism” as opposition members of Goa’s legislature. After all, tax was collected from everyone, irrespective of their party loyalties, Father Rebelo said.

“If they were Christians by faith, they would not have done this,” the priest added. “It shows the shallowness of the Christian values within them.”

The BJP won only 15 seats in the house against 17 for Congress. Yet the BJP in a post-poll alliance joined with a local party with three seats as well as with three independent candidates to form government with a 21-seat simple majority.

“We need another political system,” said parishioner Shirley Peres. “Now, even if you elect a non-BJP member, the BJP makes him their own.”

However, political observers say the move will not augur well for the BJP because it has upset original BJP legislative members aspiring to rise through the ranks to obtain ministerial positions.

BJP leaders indicated there will be a reshuffle in the state cabinet to offer ministerial roles to some of the newcomers, something that could anger sitting ministers who consequently lose their jobs.

An anti-defection law allows for mergers if two-thirds of the elected members of a party join with another party.

Source: UCAN

http://india.ucanews.com/news/catholic-politicians-strengthen-prohindu-party-in-goa/40794/daily

 

Church land probe sparks anger in Jharkhand

Christians in Jharkhand say they are being targeted for protests against proposed changes to laws protecting tribal domains.

 

Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das speaks to IANS media agency in Ranchi on Sept. 16. He accused Christian missioners of working to sabotage development work in the state. (Photo by IANS)

Bhopal: Christians in India’s Jharkhand state have claimed that a government plan to probe church land holdings amounts to persecution.

The state government is controlled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which also rules nationally and has been accused of having an anti-Christian agenda.

“This is surely a vindictive action,” Kuldeep Tirkey, leader of the ecumenical Christian Youth Association, told ucanews.com. “It is the latest in a series of such probes and actions taken deliberately to target minority Christians.”

Tirkey said that since early July state chief minister Raghubar Das has been talking publicly about the need for a probe to determine whether or not church groups legally own all the land they are occupying.

At issue is the implications of two state laws called the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act of 1908 and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act of 1949 that prohibit outsiders buying traditional tribal land.

Most of the state’s 1.5 million Christians are tribal people and many Christian institutions and parish churches stand on land said to have been donated by them.

If an investigation showed that some church-occupied lands were actually sold by tribal people to non-tribal missionaries, the state could initiate a legal proceeding, church sources said.

Father Anand David Xalxo, the spokesman for the archdiocese covering state capital Ranchi, said the Church had not received any official communications from the government about the investigation. “We have been hearing about such a probe from media,” the priest said.

If and when there is an official notification of the government’s intentions, church officials would respond, he added.

Christian leaders see the threat as part of what they regard as a vendetta.

A year ago, church groups led tribal protests that forced the withdrawal of proposed legislative amendments that critics said would have made it easier for the state government and commercial interests to deprive tribal people of ancestral land.

Some 26 percent of the state’s 32 million people come from indigenous groups.

In July last year, the state ordered a probe into whether 88 Christian non-government organizations were involved in illegal proselytization through the offering of inducements to would-be converts.

In April this year, the government recommended a federal probe into 31 of these 88 organizations to see if they used overseas funds for conversion activities.

Tribal leader and Christian Albin Lakra said the state government was misusing its powers to target minority Christians in order to gain the political support of Hindu nationalists.

Lakra said Christian missionaries worked tirelessly to assist impoverished tribal communities, not least through the provision of educational and health care facilities. “Now they are being persecuted by the government for their work to help tribal people assert their rights,” he said.

Lakra said Christian groups would fight against arbitrary decisions of the state. “If its motive is genuinely to help tribal people, it should probe all properties owned by religious communities and business establishments,” he said.

Source: UCAN

Indian Church seeks monsoon precautions

Weather warnings and mandatory building inspections could help save lives.

Rescue personnel where the wall of a school in Mumbai, India, collapsed on adjoining dwellings killing more than 21 people on July 2. (IANS photo)

New Delhi: The Catholic Church in India has sought pre-emptive government measures to combat future monsoon tragedies amid a loss of lives from storms in western Maharashtra state.

Some 50 people have died and many others were injured during torrential monsoon rains in the past week.

In a major mishap, the Tiware Dam in Ratnagiri district breached late July 3, flooding at least seven villages and washing away 12 houses with the confirmed loss of 20 lives.

Many more are feared to have died.

Local residents said the dam’s wall, that started overflowing the previous day, had already developed cracks.

In another incident, at least 21 people died in the early hours of July 2 when a wall collapsed on shanties in a western suburb of Mumbai, India’s business capital.

Bishop Joshua Mar Ignathios, vice president of Catholic bishops’ conference, said the tragedy was a wake-up call for the government to take precautions, especially as more heavy rains are expected.

“The government must take steps to safeguard lives,” the bishop told ucanews.com.

“The state has facilities to forecast weather and can take measures to avoid loss of lives.”

Retired auxiliary Bishop Agnelo Rufino Gracias of Bombay said both tragedies could have been avoided had government officials conducted mandatory inspections and taken other pre-emptive measures.

“The government ought to foresee the outcome of incessant rains that can continue for days,” Bishop Gracias said.

There was adequate technologies available to predict many natural calamities, he added.

Father Nigel Barrett, spokesperson for the Bombay Archdiocese termed the latest loss of lives as “tragic and sorrowful”.

The monsoon season witnessed a series of calamities during recent years in the nation of 1.2 billion people.

The monsoon begins when rains hit southern India in June, with rain clouds moving across the mainland throughout July and August.

During the 2017 monsoon, considered the worst since 2007, more than 1,000 people died and over 30 million were displaced by flooding.

It is estimated that 300,000 hectares of crops were destroyed in the deluges.

Incessant rains in August 2018 caused heavy landslides and flooding in southern Kerala, killing close to 500 people.

More than 800,000 families were rendered homeless when flash flood and landslides affected a dozen states, mostly in the nation’s east.

Drastic climate change in the country has been partly attributed to rapid urbanization and shrinking forest cover.

Source: UCAN

Priests oppose reinstating of Indian cardinal, call for papal intervention

Papal intervention has been sought over disputed Vatican reinstatement of controversy-plagued Cardinal George Alencherry.

File photo.

Kochi: Pope Francis’ intervention has been sought to end a deepening crisis in India’s Eastern Rite Syro-Malabar Catholic Church.

This came as more than 250 priests defied a decision of the Vatican’s Oriental Congregation to reinstate Cardinal George Alencherry as their archbishop.

The priests of Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese, the seat of the major archbishop of the Kerala state-based Church, gathered July 2 and refused to accept his return.

“From Pope Francis, who takes a firm stand for truth and justice, we expect a lasting solution for the issues facing the archdiocese,” they said a statement.

The cardinal was removed from administrative responsibilities of the archdioceses a year ago following a public allegation by priests that he sold off land that incurred a loss of US$10 million for the archdiocese.

The priests now say that a crisis of faith emerged in the Church when on June 26 the Oriental Congregation reinstated the cardinal without providing any explanation for what they regarded as “moral decadence” linked to the land deal.

The clerics said “even ordinary faithful” doubt the morality of reinstating the cardinal.

The Oriental Congregation also suspended his two assistants; Bishops Sebastian Adayanthrath and Jose Puthenveetil from their auxiliary bishop posts, without publicly giving any reasons for doing so.

This lack of a reason has been “condemned” by the priests.

Church sources said the suspension punishes the two bishops for being supportive of the priests, rather than of the cardinal.

The Oriental Congregation asked that the next synod of the local Church decide on their future roles.

Vatican faked document?

Father Jose Vailikodath, a spokesperson for the priests, told ucanews.com that the Oriental congregation “faked the documents” without the knowledge of Pope Francis and there had been no direct official announcement from the Vatican yet on reinstating the cardinal or of the suspension of the auxilliary bishops.

The official announcement from national bishops’ conference had referred only to Pope Francis asking Apostolic Administrator Bishop Jacob Manathodath of Palghat to go back to his diocese as his term of office had ended.

“We have no other information,” said Bishop Joshua Mar Ignathios, the vice-president of the national bishops’ conference. Other decisions were left to the synod of the Syro-Malabar Church, he added.

The Vatican need not issue an announcement on the cardinal taking back the administrative responsibilities as his powers were not suspended last year, according to an explanatory note from the synod. It was only that an administrator was appointed “sede plena”, or temporarily, the note stated.

When the administrator’s term ends, the cardinal automatically became the administrator of the archdiocese, the synod maintained.

The Vatican suspended the bishops based on studies, reports, and probes using sources and other means available to it, said the synod explanatory note.

A Catholic canon law expert on the Latin rite in Kerala commented: “The message is very simple but strong. The Church will not tolerate public dissent from its people, more so from priests and a bishop.”

He said the Oriental Congregation was “fully competent” in suspending the auxiliary bishops in consultation with the pope.

He also noted that Congregation’s letter clearly projects the decisions as being of Pope Francis by stating that “these decisions of the Roman Pontiff were taken” after the congregation had studied a report submitted by the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese.

However, Vailikodath said the priests are not convinced Pope Francis was aware of the moral issues involved and that the announced decisions effectively bypassed him.

He said most of the 450 priests are opposed to the decision and 251 of them attending the meeting sought Vatican intervention. He said they have communicated their grievances to all levels of the hierarchy, including Pope Francis.

Of the 450 priests, 60 are in old-age homes, another 100 are working outside the archdiocese and about 30 could not attend the meeting because of urgent other engagements, he said.

Another priest, who did not want to be named, said there was no trust in the capacity of the synod to decide outstanding issues, adding that the Vatican intervened after the synod failed to resolve the local divisions for more than a year.

Source: UCAN

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