Pope Francis Has Changed Climate Action

It was clear from day one that Pope Francis was going to shake things up in the climate world. On March 13, 2013, the newly elected Pope, then Argentinian cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, took the name Francis, after the 13th century saint of Assisi. Upon hearing the voice of Jesus instructing him to repair a collapsing chapel, St. Francis revitalized both the chapel and the Catholic Church while celebrating the natural world. It was like the new pope “heard the same message,” says Father Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam, coordinator of the ecology and creation department at the Vatican’s ministry for promoting integral human development. “It was ‘Francis, Go and repair my house, which is falling into ruin.’ And it’s not just the Church, but planet earth, which, as we know, is in a very bad state.”

The Pope’s reign, now entering its 10th year, carries a mixed legacy—celebrated for his efforts to protect refugees and broaden the Church’s reach, marred by finance scandals and sexual assault cover-up controversies. But from a climate perspective, his efforts to repair the house of planet earth may be his most enduring.

What started as a quasi-mystical nod to St. Francis, patron saint of ecology and animals, quickly morphed into a well-constructed strategy to bring the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics into alignment on climate change. On June 18, 2015, he published Laudato Si’: On Care For Our Common Home , a landmark encyclical, or pastoral letter, to the entire Catholic congregation. The 184-page document lamented environmental degradation and global warming, critiqued consumerism and irresponsible development, and warned of “serious consequences for all of us” if current trends continued. The timing of the encyclical, released six months ahead of the pivotal U.N. climate conference in Paris, was calculated, according to Kureethadam, with a goal of convincing world leaders to set clear targets to limit global warming

“The impact was tremendous,” says Ottmar Edenhofer, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, who served as co-chair of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in the eight years leading up to the 2015 negotiations. The document paved the way for an influential Vatican presence at the meetings, translating into strong climate commitments from the Polish and Latin American delegations. The Pope’s climate teachings, he says, were “a powerful symbol.”

Six years on, that influence is starting to wane. The controversies over the past 10 years—even if they don’t involve the Pope directly—have taken a toll. “When the Pope was elected, there was an enormous amount of goodwill,” says Edenhofer. “The world was ready for his message. But the Catholic Church is no longer a credible institution.” The Pope has repeatedly called on Catholic institutions worldwide to divest from fossil fuel investments, but not all have heeded his message.

Tomas Insua, the executive director of the Laudato Si’ Movement, a climate advocacy and activism network that sprung up in the wake of the encyclical, agrees that the Church as a whole could do much more in terms of divestment. But that doesn’t mean that the Pope’s climate message has faded. If anything, says Insua, he was the spark that launched a global climate movement that now counts nearly 1,000 Catholic organizations and parishes in 150 countries. “Care for the climate, care for the earth, this is now part of the Church teachings. People around the world are taking up the message and turning it into real action. That is his legacy, and it will endure.” (TIME.COM)

India’s Sinking Holy Town Faces Grim Future

(AP) — Inside a shrine overlooking snow-capped mountains, Hindu priests heaped spoonfuls of puffed rice and ghee into a crackling fire. They closed their eyes and chanted in Sanskrit, hoping their prayers would somehow turn back time and save their holy — and sinking — town.

For months, the roughly 20,000 residents in Joshimath, burrowed in the Himalayas and revered by Hindu and Sikh pilgrims, have watched the earth slowly swallow their community. They pleaded for help that never arrived, and in January their desperate plight made it into the international spotlight.

Picture : AP

But by then, Joshimath was already a disaster zone. Multistoried hotels slumped to one side; cracked roads gaped open. More than 860 homes were uninhabitable, splayed by deep fissures that snaked through ceilings, floors and walls. And instead of saviors they got bulldozers that razed whole lopsided swaths of the town.

The holy town was built on piles of debris left behind by years of landslides and earthquakes. Scientists have warned for decades, including in a 1976 report, that Joshimath could not withstand the level of heavy construction that has recently been taking place.

“Cracks are widening every day and people are in fear. We have been saying for years this is not just a disaster, but a disaster in the making… it’s a time bomb,” said Atul Sati, an activist with the Save Joshimath Committee.

Joshimath’s future is at risk, experts and activists say, due in part to a push backed by the prime minister’s political party to grow religious tourism in Uttarakhand, the holy town’s home state. On top of climate change, extensive new construction to accommodate more tourists and accelerate hydropower projects in the region is exacerbating subsidence — the sinking of land.

Located 1,890 meters (6,200 feet) above sea level, Joshimath is said to have special spiritual powers and believed to be where Hindu guru Adi Shankaracharya found enlightenment in the 8th century before going on to establish four monasteries across India, including one in Joshimath.

Visitors pass through the town on their way to the famous Sikh shrine, Hemkund Sahib, and the Hindu temple, Badrinath.

“It must be protected,” said Brahmachari Mukundanand, a local priest who called Joshimath the “brain of North India” and explained that “Our body can still function if some limbs are cut off. But if anything happens to our brain, we can’t function. … Its survival is extremely important.”

The town’s loose topsoil and soft rocks can only support so much and that limit, according to environmentalist Vimlendu Jha, may have already been breached.

“You can’t just construct anything anywhere just because it is allowed,” he said. “In the short term, you might think it’s development. But in the long term, it is actually devastation.”

At least 240 families have been forced to relocate without knowing if they would be able to return.

Prabha Sati, who fled Joshimath in a panic last month when her home began to crack and tilt, came back to grab the television, idols of Hindu gods and some shoes before state officials demolished her home.

Joshimath town is seen along side snow capped mountains, in India’s Himalayan mountain state of Uttarakhand, Jan. 21, 2023. For months, residents in Joshimath, a holy town burrowed high up in India’s Himalayan mountains, have seen their homes slowly sink. They pleaded for help, but it never arrived. In January however, their town made national headlines. Big, deep cracks had emerged in over 860 homes, making them unlivable. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

Pope Francis Meets Swami Vijay Kumar Durai

Pope Francis met privately with international media expert Swami Vijay Kumar Durai at the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican last week. During the meeting, the Pope advised Durai not to indulge in fake news and to determine the accuracy and legitimacy of the same.

A charismatic, self motivated and goal driven individual with the potential to positively influence and transform an organisation by employing key analytic and people management skills.

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Describing himself as a passionate, workaholic, honest and sincere yet a fervent person, Mr. Vijay embarked his journey in the media relations world as a sub editor and reporter at Central India’s leading English daily Central Chronicle. After polishing his reporting, editing and leadership skills for about a year, he went on to join INC, a division of ICFAI University, Hyderabad as the Media Relations Officer. Showcasing the different dimensions of his prowess in Media and Public Relations, Mr. Vijay added many feathers to his cap. He was nominated for the European Union Media in the year 2005-06 and was selected for the Media Fellowship Programme from FPA India.

A former investigative Journalist, Vijay has an instinctive understanding of how the media tick and what clients really want. His track record covers Education, Automobile, financial services, technology, event marketing and much more besides.

Can America Stop India’s Anti-Christian Crusade In Its Tracks

(Global Christian Relief) — The world’s largest democracy should be protecting the religious rights of all of its people. On Jan. 2, a mob of about 1,000 extremists — men and women, young and old — armed with rocks, wooden sticks and iron rods viciously attacked Sacred Heart Church in central India’s Narayanpur district. While this kind of anti-Christian violence may be shocking, it’s not altogether surprising. Attacks against Christians in India have been steadily rising for years, jumping 81% from 2020 to 2021 alone.

Picture : RNS

The mob in this case was reportedly protesting “illegal” conversions and church construction, but this was no mere protest. Videos captured by one of Global Christian Relief’s partners show the crowd throwing rocks and bashing in windows of the church building and church vehicles. Police officers are seen standing by and even falling back as they allowed the frenzied mob to vandalize the church. Footage of the aftermath shows a destroyed Nativity, broken chairs and scattered debris.

Stories like these have become sadly routine since 2014, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party rose to power. They have stoked attacks on Muslim and Christian minorities and spread their radical Hindutva ideology, claiming that being truly Indian means being Hindu. Reported incidents of violence against Christians have risen more than 220%.

The Modi regime has spent massive amounts of money to plant lobbyists in Washington to help hide the truth. As a result, you likely won’t hear this story inside the Beltway. American lawmakers are discouraged from confronting the truth because India is an important ally of the U.S. in South Asia. But Americans deserve to know it.

Publicly, the U.S. government has mysteriously remained silent about the events at Sacred Heart Church. Its lack of response to this horrific incident speaks volumes about our priorities. America currently does $102.3 billion in trade with India annually, and our economy would be negatively impacted if we fell out of India’s good graces. But will America be held hostage by economic power plays?

The Sacred Heart incident is only one sign of a larger problem. The Indian government has adopted anti-conversion laws and policies in more than 10 states, preventing people from choosing their own faith. These measures are leveraged by those in power to discriminate against religious minorities. This is not only in opposition to what we believe in America but is also in direct conflict with Article 25 of India’s own constitution: “ … all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.”

Media coverage of stories like Sacred Heart in India, which is scarce, also shows how Modi’s regime squashes stories of persecution. Only a handful of local outlets reported that five people were arrested that day. Since Modi’s rise to power, the Indian government has shut down news stations midbroadcast and has pressured advertisers as part of a wider assault on dissent. On Reporters Without Borders’ 2022 Press Freedom Index, India fell to 150th out of 180 countries—a journalistic crisis in “the world’s largest democracy.”

With Modi’s lobbyists deterring members of Congress from taking critical positions on India, using tactics such as intimidation and the spread of misinformation, the White House and State Department must hold the government of our largest trade partner accountable. We must demand that India uphold freedom of religion for all its citizens. It’s difficult to do business with people you can’t trust and don’t share common ideals with, especially if you don’t believe they provide basic human rights.

We have much common ground with India but cannot ignore its continued stunning slide into illiberal and radical religious intolerance. (David Curry is president and CEO of Global Christian Relief, America’s leading watchdog organization focused on the plight of persecuted Christians worldwide. In addition to equipping the Western church to advocate and pray for the persecuted, GCR works in the most restrictive countries to protect and encourage Christians threatened by faith-based discrimination and violence.

The above story was published in: Religion News Service.

(The views expressed in this sponsored commentary do not necessarily reflect those of www.theunn.com.)

Pope Francis Is Concerned About Climate Change. Do U.S. Catholics Care?

Pope Francis has frequently spoken about climate change during his decadelong leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. In 2015, he devoted an entire encyclical to the matter, citing scientific consensus that the Earth is warming due to human activity. He predicted “serious consequences for all of us” if current trends continue.

Despite Francis’ outspokenness on the subject, not all Catholics in the United States share his concerns, and their views vary by political affiliation, race and ethnicity, and age.

How we did this


While 82% of Catholics who are Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party say global climate change is an extremely or very serious problem, just a quarter of Republican or Republican-leaning Catholics say the same, according to a 2022 Pew Research Center survey.

When it comes to race and ethnicity, 71% of Hispanic Catholics see climate change as an extremely or very serious problem, compared with 49% of White, non-Hispanic Catholics. (There were not enough Black or Asian Catholics in the 2022 survey to analyze separately.)

In addition, Catholics ages 18 to 49 are somewhat more likely than Catholics ages 50 and older to express a high level of concern about climate change (61% vs. 53%).

Broadly speaking, Catholics are no more likely than Americans overall to view climate change as a serious problem. An identical share in each group say global climate change is either an extremely or very serious problem (57%).

But views among Catholics differ, reflecting similar splits in the wider U.S. population. U.S. adults who are 49 or younger, Democratic, or identify as a race or ethnicity other than non-Hispanic White are generally more likely than those who are 50 or older, Republican, or White to express concern about climate change.

Among U.S. adults overall, opinion about climate change is strongly tied to political partisanship. Democrats and Democratic leaners are far more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to say that global climate change is an extremely or very serious problem (83% vs. 25%). This gap underlies much of the apparent differences in views among religious groups, including Catholics. Generally speaking, U.S. Catholics are politically evenly divided. But Catholics who are White or older are far more likely than those who are Hispanic or younger to be Republican.

Partisan and demographic differences in Catholics’ views of climate change extend to other environment-related topics, too. For example, just over half of Catholics (54%) say the Earth is warming mostly due to human activity – in line with the pope’s stance. A quarter say it is mostly warming due to natural patterns, while 9% say there is no solid evidence the planet is getting warmer. Catholics who are Democratic, younger or Hispanic are far more likely than those who are Republican, older or White to say the Earth is mostly warming due to human activity.

In addition to asking Americans about their own views on climate change, the 2022 Center survey asked respondents how much they hear about the topic in sermons.

Among those who attend religious services at least monthly, U.S. Catholics indicate that climate change is not discussed frequently from the pulpit. About one-in-ten (8%) say there is a great deal or quite a bit of discussion on climate change in sermons, while 50% say there is either some or a little discussion of it. About four-in-ten (41%) regular Mass attenders say there is no discussion of climate change.

Overall, 58% of Catholic service attenders say there is at least a little discussion of climate change in sermons, similar to the share of mainline Protestant attenders (62%), and much higher than the share of evangelical Protestant attenders who report this (40%).

Among Catholics who attend Mass at least monthly, 36% say they have heard at least a little about climate change in sermons and that those sermons always or often express the view that “we have a duty to care for God’s creation.” Smaller shares say sermons at their congregation always or often express “support for actions to limit the effects of climate change” (23%); “concern that policies aimed at reducing climate change give too much power to the government” (9%); or “the view that we don’t need to worry about climate change” (8%).

World Watch List 2023 Reports, 360 Million Christians Suffer Persecution

(ZENIT News – ACN/Madrid)- Today, more than 360 million Christians experience high levels of persecution and discrimination, according to the Report presented by the Evangelical Christian organization Open Doors “World Watch List of Persecution 2023.” Moreover, throughout the world one out of every seven Christians is persecuted or discriminated because of his faith. According to Ted Blake, Director of Open Doors in Spain, “this figure is one out of five in Africa, two out of five in Asia and one out of 15 in Latin America.”

Picture : TheUNN

Another important conclusion of the study is that Sub-Saharan Africa is facing an enormous humanitarian disaster given the wave of religious violence, whose epicentre is in Nigeria, which has extended to the whole region and which is directed against Christian populations.

“For 30 years we have been presenting annually this World List of Persecution, and never before have we had such high levels of persecution as now,” said Ted Blake.

North Korea occupies the first place in the persecution of Christians, with the highest levels of persecution in its history. The increase is due to the new wave of arrests in virtue of its recent “Law Against Reactionary Thought.” The other countries occupying the first places in the Report are: Somalia, Yemen, Eritrea, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Sudan.

The Christian presence continues to decrease in the Middle East, according to Open Doors. It hasn’t been able to recover after the boom of the Islamic State, despite the slight decrease in the number of murdered Christians (with the exception of Syria, which has suffered a wave of violent incidents). “This is the cradle of Christianity and a great part of the Church is losing hope: the discrimination and poverty regime is too heavy to endure, especially for young people who don’t see a future here as believers,” according to Rami Abed Al-Masih, Regional Director of Open Doors’ Legal Defense for the Middle East and North Africa.

Nicaragua is yet another Latin American country to enter the list. Organized crime is being entrenched especially in rural areas where Christians denounce the activities of the cartels. Meanwhile, the Government’s direct oppression of Christians, considered to be the voice of opposition, is widespread in Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba, country where Evangelical Christian leaders were imprisoned without a trial for their participation in last year’s protests.

Improvement Data

Picture : TheUNN

The total number of murdered Christians due to their faith decreased slightly from 5,898 in the 2022 edition of the Report to 5,621 cases registered at present, with the clear exception of Sub-Saharan Africa, as pointed out earlier. The total number of attacked churches under different levels of violence decreased from 5,110 (LMP, 2022) to 2,110 registered cases (LMP, 2023). As the world returns to a degree ”to normality after the pandemic, there seems to be a certain stabilization of violence, although the exact reason for it is the object of discussion and it’s not considered very probable that it forms part of a continued tendency.

Greater tolerance has been promoted in certain countries of the Gulf. Persecution decreased in Bahrein, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. In Qatar persecution also has decreased this year, although this might be due to the massive closing of churches during 2022, which continue closed this year.

Pope Francis’ LGBTQ Comments Are Not Surprising But Sincere

An openly gay advisor to the Vatican says he’s not surprised by Pope Francis’ declaration that “being homosexual isn’t a crime.”

Juan Carlos Cruz, an internationally known Chilean advocate and survivor of clerical sexual abuse, told NPR the pope’s remarks made for an “incredible day.”

In his first interview since the death of former Pope Benedict XVI, Francis told the Associated Press that laws criminalizing homosexuality are “unjust” and that Catholic bishops should apply “tenderness” and help ease discrimination by welcoming LGBTQ people into the church.

On Tuesday, Cruz told Morning Edition’s Leila Fadel that anti-sodomy laws in dozens of countries, including some that impose the death penalty, are “horrifying,” but the pope’s moral leadership will help civil authorities, bishops, and cardinals to “change their heart” and join the pontiff in speaking out.

“The pope highlights that the LGBTQ community is not sinful and criminal,” said Cruz.

Cruz, who is a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, also dissents from Catholic teachings. Cruz says the church’s insistence that homosexuality is “sin,” a position embraced by the pope, is “shameful,” although Cruz says the pope appears to be trying to shift the church’s relationship with the LGBTQ community.

Interview highlights

On the impact of the pope’s message on LGBTQ criminalization

It’s been an incredible day with his statement, something that no pope has ever done in history. He’s taken great steps and they’re sincere and that I appreciate. In a moment where the LGBT community all over the world needs it because it’s being attacked, condemned, there’s laws that criminalize it.

This man does change and does acknowledge when he has made a mistake and he said it publicly. And I admire that in him. I mean, there’s a lot a lot still to do in terms of abuse in the church. By no means we’re done.

It doesn’t surprise me from Pope Francis. He’s a man that is open to everybody, who holds the dignity of the person in the highest standards. The LGBT community is very in his heart. I would not say this if I didn’t know it. I know this for a fact, and that makes me very happy.

On how Cruz has seen Pope Francis’ view change over the last decade

The pope that I knew and that I saw in 2017 versus the pope that that I met, and after a few meetings in 2018, it’s 180 degree difference. It’s surprising. You know, we normally say older people, you know, it’s hard to change their views or change.

This man does change and does acknowledge when he has made a mistake and he said it publicly. And I admire that in him. I mean, there’s a lot a lot still to do in terms of abuse in the church. By no means we’re done.

On the pope’s initiative to shift the church’s relationship with the LGBTQ community

The pope highlights that the LGBTQ community is not sinful and criminal. And he says harming one’s neighbor is most certainly both. So it’s the bedrock of Catholic teaching. And he shifts this, you know, wording, like you said it, Leila, but he highlights how important it is that it’s more sinful, you know, having things against your neighbor or being uncharitable, or criminal towards the gay community, that’s sinful.

Traditionalists, Reform And Women At “Vatican Three”

(RNS) — As the Catholic Synod on Synodality enters its “continental phase,” some have wondered if the church is moving toward Vatican Three.   Of course, there are still fights going on about Vatican Two.

Not long ago, Sister Nathalie Becquart, undersecretary of the General Secretariat of the Synod, said the current synod would lead “to a new reception of the Second Vatican Council,” allowing the reforms of the mid-1960s to finally take hold. A small but vocal cadre of Catholics fears that precise possibility, which they caricature as a church overrun with bad liturgy, bad moral theology and guitar music.

Lately these so-called traditionalists have lost two beacons of their truths. The recent deaths of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Australian Cardinal George Pell may serve to deflate the anti-synod underground, or at least weaken its intellectual base.

Picture : TheUNN

Benedict, a quintessential Vatican insider and brilliant theologian, was the architect of every notice and ruling against real participation by lay persons — an explicit goal of the synod — and especially by women. Some 40 years ago, as prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, he convinced the committee revising the Code of Canon Law to keep governance and ministry within the clerical caste.

Before then and since, he was behind every statement against the ordination of women, first as priests, then as deacons. With no means other than a passive-aggressive approach, he ensured the question of restoring women to the ordained diaconate remained unanswered.

In 1997, Benedict, still Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, refused to sign a 1997 International Theological Commission document allowing for women deacons and instead put then-professor-now-Cardinal Gerhard L. Mueller to the task of rewriting crucial passages, allowing John Paul II and later Benedict to ignore the issue.

Benedict’s good friend Pell made enemies in Rome while attempting to reconcile Vatican finances as prefect for the economy. (His term lapsed in 2019, while convicted on abuse charges overturned in 2020.) A former archbishop of Sydney, Pell was behind the scenes when the Australian bishops turned down the recommendation to make women deacons in August 2022, though it was later adopted. Pell is also said to be “Demos” (“people”), author of a memo to cardinals calling the pontificate of Pope Francis “a disaster.”

Pell, or at least the anonymous “Demos,” blames the synod process itself for the church’s ills, while acknowledging secularization and Western influences. The main problems: “We are weaker than 50 years ago and many factors are beyond our control, in the short term at least, e.g. the decline in the number of believers, the frequency of Mass attendance, the demise or extinction of many religious orders.”

Therein lies the rub. The factors noted have causes. Some argue there are two main streams of blame for the decline: the culture and the church itself. A more likely reason is that the changing culture exposed the facts and foibles of the church. Few if any Catholics in ethnic city neighborhoods or suburbia are willing to pray, pay and obey as they once did.

To a significant extent, it matters not whether they are so-called traditionalists or progressives. More Catholics in more cultures are better educated and less willing to put up with autocratic clerics, especially amid ongoing — even increasing — sex and money scandals.

That is where the Synod on Synodality, which presents all people with an opportunity to consider the church as church, is lancing boils the most conservative clerics have only bandaged over.

The broadest brush paints traditionalists in conservative shades of political reds. That same brush paints progressives in liberal blues. But red and blue Catholics are walking away in equal numbers, often led by the women of their families who have had enough. Neither Benedict nor Pell, with or without Latin, lace and incense, could stem the tide. But neither will Francis, alone, be able to push it back.

If truth be told, the women of the church are leading its reform. Only they can lead its rebirth.

(Phyllis Zagano is senior research associate-in-residence and adjunct professor of religion at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. Her recent books include “Elizabeth Visits the Abbey.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

World Leaders Mourn The Death Of Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI, the first pontiff to step down since the 15th century, died on Saturday,  December 31st, 2022 in Vatican City at age 95.

For several days, he had experienced declining health due to his advanced age, the Vatican press office said, with Pope Francis publicly sharing news of Benedict’s worsening condition earlier this week. Pope Francis will preside over Benedict’s funeral on Thursday at St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican said.

Born April 16, 1927, in Germany’s Bavaria, Joseph Ratzinger was a theologian by training. Following the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005, Ratzinger was elected his successor after serving for a quarter of a century as the Vatican’s top enforcer of orthodoxy. He was the first German pope since the 11th century.

Following the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, several international leaders expressed condolences to the Catholic Church.

Picture : Znith

Benedict broke centuries of tradition in which popes served until death, and the need to coexist with his predecessor has been a defining aspect of Francis’s tenure, coinciding with a period of growing polarization within the faith.

For traditionalists, Benedict became a symbol of opposition. Conservative figures in the church would seek audiences with him. Far-right politicians would quote him — or John Paul II — instead of Francis.

Intrigue about their relationship has been so intense that it even inspired a movie, “The Two Popes,” which imagined the two verbally sparring, and ultimately enjoying one another, in a period before Benedict’s abdication.

In a press release, the White House make known a statement from President Biden and his wife: “Jill and I join Catholics around the world, and so many others, in mourning the passing of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. I had the privilege of spending time with Pope Benedict at the Vatican in 2011 and will always remember his generosity and welcome as well as our meaningful conversation.

He will be remembered as a renowned theologian, with a lifetime of devotion to the Church, guided by his principles and faith. As he remarked during his 2008 visit to the White House, “the need for global solidarity is as urgent as ever, if all people are to live in a way worthy of their dignity.” May his focus on the ministry of charity continue to be an inspiration to us all.

The U.S. Department State said: “The United States mourns the passing of His Holiness Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus — a holy man, witness to faith, and once Shepherd of the Catholic faithful. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was a dedicated leader and was committed to interfaith dialogue.  He was an advocate for vulnerable persons, including refugees, internally displaced persons, and migrants.  He supported international legal measures to defend them.  He was a renowned theologian within the Catholic Church for decades. We offer our deepest condolences to the Catholic faithful around the world, the Holy See, and all those whose lives were enriched by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s spiritual guidance.”

French President Emmanuelle Macron said: “Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has left us, having marked the Church with the seal of his theological erudition and working tirelessly for a more fraternal world.

Born Joseph Ratzinger in 1927, he grew up in a modest Bavarian family which taught him a love of the piano, letters, history, and the fierce rejection of any form of fascism. His parents also transmitted their deep piety to him, so much so that at the age of 7, little Joseph asked for a Missal and a priest’s chasuble as a Christmas present. But while his mind turned to the priesthood, that of his contemporaries allowed itself to be plagued by Nazism. Like all his generation, he had to submit to the Hitler Youth at fourteen, then at sixteen to military service. Ulcerated by the ambient fanaticism, the young man refused to integrate the Waffen-SS, deserted his regiment in favour of the debacle, but was recaptured, and spent six weeks in prison before the German capitulation freed him.”

German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier wrote his condolences to Pope Francis on the death of Pope Benedict XVI: “We in Germany were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Pope Benedict XVI.  His faith, his intellect, his wisdom and his humility as a human being always profoundly impressed me.

“As a fellow countryman, this Pope bore a very special significance for us Germans also beyond the bounds of the universal Roman Catholic Church. For many people across the world, the election of a Pope from the home of the Reformation and of an intellectual who had made the dialogue between faith and reason his life’s work sent an important signal.

“The unity of Christendom, inter-faith dialogue and the coexistence of religion and society were matters particularly close to his heart. He sought dialogue with Jews and Muslims and with all Christian denominations throughout the world. High theological and philosophical concepts already combined with comprehensible language in the work of Professor Joseph Ratzinger. For this reason, many people, not only Roman Catholics, found clear orientation in his writings and addresses. He faced up to people’s searching and questioning.

The British Prime Minister said: “I am saddened by the news of the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. He was a great theologian whose visit to the United Kingdom in 2010 was a historic moment, both for Catholics as well as non-Catholics of our country. My thoughts today are with the Catholics of the United kingdom and of the whole world.

For his part, King Charles III, Successor of Queen Elizabeth II, wrote the following to Pope Francis: I received with profound sadness the news of the death of your Predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. I remember with fondness my meeting with His Holiness during my visit to the Vatican in 2009. His visit to the United Kingdom in 2010 was important in strengthening the relations between the Holy See and the United Kingdom.

I also recall his constant efforts to promote peace and goodwill to all people, and to strengthen the relationship between the global Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church.  My wife and I send you our continued good wishes for your own pontificate.”

Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of the Anglican Communion. In a press release, he said:  “Today I join with the Church throughout the world, and especially with the Holy Father, Pope Francis, and all in the Catholic Church, in mourning the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

In Pope Benedict’s long life and ministry of service to Christ in His Church he saw many profound changes in the Church and in the world. He lived through the Nazi regime in Germany and served briefly in the Second World War. As a younger theologian and priest he witnessed first-hand the discussions of the Second Vatican Council. As a professor and then as an Archbishop he lived in a divided Germany but saw, too, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of his homeland.”

Patriarch Kirill sent a message of condolences to Pope Francis. The gesture has been interpreted by the specialized press in the Vatican as a thawing in ecclesiastical relations given the war in Ukraine. “I received with sadness the news of the death of your Predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. The many years of life of His Holiness marked a whole period in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, which he led in a difficult historical period associated with numerous external and internal challenges.

Benedict XVI’s unquestionable authority as eminent theologian enabled him to contribute significantly to the development of inter-Christian cooperation, to the witness of Christ in face of a secularized world, and to the defense of traditional moral values.”

Church historian Massimo Faggioli said he believes that by approaching the world from a purely intellectual and theological perspective, Benedict’s papacy was ultimately a failure. “Because to be pope you are not the theologian-in-chief, you are the pastor-in-chief. That’s the magic of the papal office,” Faggioli said.

Yet the historian said the real legacy of Benedict’s papacy was how he ended it. “Benedict XVI’s decision to resign was a very radical interpretation of Vatican II,” Faggioli said. “Going beyond the letter of Vatican II, that was revolutionary.”

O’Connell of America magazine said that in Benedict’s final remarks to the cardinals before leaving the Vatican, he said his successor was among them. “He promised that he would give loyalty and obedience to his successor, and he respected that commitment in a total, absolute way,” the correspondent said. After Pope Francis was elected in March 2013, Benedict lived quietly in a residence on Vatican grounds.

Churchgoing And Belief In God Stand At Historic Lows, Despite A Megachurch Surge

Church membership, church attendance and belief in God all declined during the pandemic years, survey data suggest, accelerating decadeslong trends away from organized worship.

At least one-fifth of Americans today embrace no religion at all. Researchers call them “nones.”

A similar share tell pollsters they do not believe in God, an all-time high.

The lone, striking countertrend is a steep rise in nondenominational Protestants, who attend churches outside the “mainline” denominations — the once-ubiquitous Baptists, Methodists and Lutherans.

Nondenominational Protestants — “nons” — became a majority in 2021, signaling a new era of churches and clergies untethered from religious tradition.

In-person church attendance plummeted by 45 percent in the pandemic, according to an ABC News analysis. Most churches have reopened, but not all congregants have returned.

“People are not getting together much, generally speaking. Not just in church, but in the village,” said Thomas Groome, a professor in theology and religious education at Boston College. “People are staying home. They’re on their cellphones. They’re on the Internet.”

The share of Americans who belong to churches dipped below half in 2020, a historic low, according to Gallup polling.

Church membership held steady at around 70 percent of the U.S. population from the 1940s through the 1990s. Membership plummeted in the new millennium.

The decline is largely driven by a surging population of “nones,” or Americans who claim no religion, at 21 percent, as of 2021, according to Gallup.

It’s tempting, if not entirely accurate, to conflate “nones” with nonbelievers. Yet, one Pew analysis found that a significant share of “nones” consider religion important in their lives.

“Somebody who has no religious affiliation, they may well value religion,” said David Campbell, a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame. “And they may well believe in God.”

Belief in God was near-universal in previous generations. It’s a notion bound up in American identity, not to mention American currency.

In 1954, at the height of the Cold War, President Eisenhower signed a bill that added the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. The next year, he signed a bill that inscribed “In God We Trust” on currency.

“To be a communist was to be an atheist, and to be an American was to be a Christian, and a person of faith,” said Ryan Burge, a political scientist at Eastern Illinois University.

If the Cold War pushed religion into politics, the Republican Revolution of 1994 pushed religion into partisan politics. Republican leaders of that era increasingly identified Christianity and churchgoing with patriotism and republicanism, seeding a generational retreat from the church by Democrats and the Left.

Today, agnostics are three times as likely to identify as Democrat than Republican, Pew research shows, while only 15 percent of atheists count themselves as Republicans.

“Christian nationalism is a very potent force right now,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for atheists, agonistics and nontheists. “We’re at a great polarization, and we’re seeing such extremists at that religious end. That might tip people out: ‘I’m coming out of the closet as a nonbeliever, I’ve had it.’”

The rise in “nons,” “nones” and nonbelievers all come at the expense of a vanishing “moderate middle” of American faith, Campbell said.

Mainline Protestantism “is collapsing,” Burge wrote in a recent article tracking the decline of Christian denominations and the rise of nondenominational churches.

Since the 1970s, the share of Americans who identified as Baptists, Methodists and other Protestant denominations has slipped from more than 30 percent to around 10 percent. In the same span, the share of nondenominational Protestants has exploded. The 2020 U.S. Religion Census found 6.5 million more nondenominational congregants and thousands more churches than in 2010.

“If ‘nondenominational’ were a denomination, it would be the largest Protestant one, claiming more than 13 percent of churchgoers in America,” Daniel Silliman wrote in Christianity Today.

Nondenominational churches often start as, “literally, a guy in his basement,” Burge said.

“They’re real-estate brokers, they’re insurance agents, they’re farmers. And they start a church. You got famous because of your tweets or your YouTubes.”

Some nondenominational churches are large enough to seed new denominations. Willow Creek, an evangelical “megachurch” based in the Chicago suburbs, has claimed as many as 25,000 worshippers at several locations.

Multigenerational communities formed around the Baptist and Methodist churches that dominated town squares for generations. By contrast, nondenominational churches often thrive on their otherness, attracting congregants who mistrust ancient American institutions.

“What those churches try to do is to be as easy as possible,” Burge said. “They don’t have membership rolls. They don’t fill out contact cards. They make it really easy to get in, but that also makes it really easy to get out. That’s how they’re designed, is to be much more transitory. A lot of these churches don’t have membership. It’s not a thing.”

Not all socioeconomic groups are leaving the pews at the same rate. College-educated Americans are now markedly more likely to belong to a church than those without a college education, according to Gallup polling.

The statistic belies the long-held suspicion that college professors were killing religion.

“People who aren’t college-educated tend to be less likely to participate in civic institutions, to participate in politics, to get married,” said Melissa Deckman, CEO of the nonprofit Public Religion Research Institute.

Younger people are less religious than older generations. Gallup polls show 34 percent of Generation Z identify as “nones,” compared with 29 percent of Millennials and 25 percent of Generation X.

Some of this generational difference is, well, generational: Older people tend to be more religious, first as they settle down and have children, then as they approach a reunion with their creator, assuming they believe in one.

But the Gen-Z religious disconnect also stems from political divisions, some of which may not go away.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sponsors an annual essay contest for young people. Recent essays have focused on the LGBTQ movement and abortion rights, Gaylor said, both issues with entrenched opposition among a wide swath of conservative religious organizations.

Faith-based groups see hope in recent evidence of a rebound in churchgoing. Research from Barna Group, a Christian polling firm, suggests that the share of Millennials making weekly church outings nearly doubled to 39 percent in 2022 from 21 percent in pre-pandemic 2019. The group found smaller bumps in church attendance among Gen-X families and boomers.

Groome, of Boston College, takes heart in new data suggesting the “nones” population is leveling off in recent years, after two decades of steady rise.   “So, I don’t think it’s all over yet,” he said.

And while it may be socially acceptable these days to identify as a nonbeliever, some of the atheist stigma endures.   On Wednesday, Winter Solstice, Gaylor’s foundation plans to run an ad in The New York Times, a red-cheeked Santa framed by the message, “Yes Virginia. . . There is no God.”

The Times wouldn’t run it, Gaylor said, unless her organization added two more lines of clarification: “That’s what tens of millions of nonreligious Americans believe.”  (Thehill.com)

Was Jesus A Buddhist Monk, Who Lived In India & Tibet?

The life story of the most famous person who has ever lived is, in fact, filled with a mysterious gaping hole. Bible speaks about the disappearance and finding of Jesus at The Jerusalem Temple at age 12, and reconnects us with him at age 30 when he began his ministry with the Baptism by John the Baptist. From the age of 13 to 29 there is no Biblical, Western, or Middle Eastern record of Jesus‘s whereabouts or activities in Palestine.

There is talk of the missing years of Jesus, unmentioned in the gospels, when he was between the ages of 12 and 30. Some say he was in India, picking up Buddhist ideas. These aren’t notions that have entirely died out. Known as “The Lost Years,” this gaping hole remained a mystery until one explorer’s remarkable discovery in 1887.

In the late 19th century a Russian doctor named Nicolas Notovitch traveled extensively throughout India, Tibet, and Afghanistan. He chronicled his experiences and discoveries in his 1894 book The Unknown Life of Christ. At one point during his voyage, Notovitch broke his leg in 1887 and recuperated at the Tibetan Buddhist Monastery of Hemis in the city of Leh, at the very top of India. It was here where monks showed Notovitch two large yellowed volumes of a document written in Tibetan, entitled The Life of Saint Issa.

During his time at the monastery, Notovitch translated the document which tells the true story of a child named Jesus (i.e. Issa = “son of God”) born in the first century to a poor family in Israel. Jesus was referred to as “the son of God” by the Vedic scholars who tutored him in the sacred Buddhist texts from the age of 13 to 29. Notovitch translated 200 of the 224 verses from the document.

Picture : BBC

During his time at the monastery in 1887, one lama explained to Notovitch the full scope and extreme level of enlightenment that Jesus had reached. “Issa [Jesus] is a great prophet, one of the first after the twenty-two Buddhas,” the lama tells Notovitch. “He is greater than any one of all the Dalai Lamas, for he constitutes part of the spirituality of our Lord. It is he who has enlightened you, who has brought back within the pale of religion the souls of the frivolous, and who has allowed each human being to distinguish between good and evil. His name and his acts are recorded in our sacred writings. And in reading of his wondrous existence, passed in the midst of an erring and wayward people, we weep at the horrible sin of the pagans who, after having tortured him, put him to death.”

The discovery of Jesus’s time in India lines up perfectly with The Lost Years of Jesus, as well as with the degree of significance of his birth in the Middle East. When a great Buddhist, or Holy Man (i.e. Lama), dies, wise men consult the stars and other omens and set off — often on extraordinarily long journeys — to find the infant who is the reincarnation of the Lama. When the child is old enough he is taken away from his parents and educated in the Buddhist faith. Experts speculate that this is the foundational origin of the story of the Three Wise Men, and it is now believed Jesus was taken to India at 13 and taught as a Buddhist. At the time, Buddhism was already a 500-year-old religion and Christianity, of course, had not even begun.

“Jesus is said to have visited our land and Kashmir to study Buddhism. He was inspired by the laws and wisdom of Buddha,” a senior lama of the Hemis monastery told the IANS news agency. The head of the Drukpa Buddhist sect, Gwalyang Drukpa, who heads the Hemis monastery, is reported to have confirmed this narrative.

The 224 verses have since been documented by others, including Russian philosopher and scientist, Nicholas Roerich, who in 1952 recorded accounts of Jesus’s time at the monastery. “Jesus passed his time in several ancient cities of India such as Benares or Varanasi. Everyone loved him because Issa dwelt in peace with the Vaishyas and Shudras whom he instructed and helped,” writes Roerich.

Jesus spent some time teaching in the ancient holy cities of Jagannath (Puri), Benares (in Uttar Pradesh), and Rajagriha (in Bihar), which provoked the Brahmins to excommunicate him which forced him to flee to the Himalayas where he spent another six years studying Buddhism.

German scholar, Holger Kersten, also writes of the early years of Jesus in India in the book Jesus Lived In India. “The lad arrives in a region of the Sindh (along the river Indus) in the company of merchants,” writes Kersten. “He settled among the Aryans with the intention of perfecting himself and learning from the laws of the great Buddha. He travelled extensively through the land of the five rivers (Punjab), stayed briefly with the Jains before proceeding to Jagannath.”

And in the BBC documentary, Jesus Was A Buddhist Monk, experts theorize that Jesus escaped his crucifixion, and in his mid-late 30s he returned to the land he loved so much. He not only escaped death, but he also visited with the Jewish settlers in Afghanistan who had escaped similar tyranny of the Jewish emperor Nebuchadnezzar. Locals confirm that Jesus spent the next several years in the Kashmir Valley where he lived happily until his death at 80-years-old. With sixteen years of his youth spent in the region, as well as approximately his last 45, that means Jesus spent a total of roughy 61 to 65 years of his life in India, Tibet, and the neighboring area. Locals believe he is buried at the RozaBal shrine at Srinagar in India-controlled Kashmir.

Sam Miller, a BBC writer, who travelled to Srinagar, reports of having identified this tomb, reported and believed by some to be that of Jesus. Jesus is reputed to be buried in this run-down Rozabul shrine in the Kashmir capital. “The shrine, on a street corner, is a modest stone building with a traditional Kashmiri multi-tiered sloping roof,” Miller writes. “A watchman led me in and encouraged me to inspect the smaller wooden chamber within, with its trellis-like, perforated screen. Through the gaps I could see a gravestone covered with a green cloth.”

Miller writes, according to an eclectic combination of New Age Christians, unorthodox Muslims and fans of the Da Vinci Code, the grave contains the mortal remains of a candidate for the most important visitor of all time to India. Officially, the tomb is the burial site of Youza Asaph, a medieval Muslim preacher – but a growing number of people believe that it is in fact the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. They believe that Jesus survived the crucifixion almost 2,000 Easters ago, and went to live out his days in Kashmir.

As per local beliefs, Jesus was among the religious leaders who attended a famous Buddhist meeting here in AD80. “The stories of Jesus in India are not just aimed at gullible tourists – they date back to the 19th Century,” Miller writes.

They were part of attempts to explain the striking similarities between Christianity and Buddhism, a matter of great concern to 19th Century scholars – and also a desire among some Christians to root the story of Jesus in Indian soil.

The US-based Christian sect, known as the Church Universal and Triumphant, is the best-known modern supporter of the belief that Jesus lived in Kashmir, though they don’t believe he died there.

Many years of research by theologian, Holger Kersten, in his book, “Jesus Lived in India: His Unknown Life Before and After the Crucifixion” presents irrefutable evidence that Jesus did indeed live in India, dying there in old age. Kersten’s book takes the reader to all the historical sites connected with Jesus in Israel, the Middle East, Afghanistan and India. Kersten concludes: In his youth Jesus followed the ancient Silk Road to India. While there he studied Buddhism, adopting its tenets and becoming a spiritual master. Jesus survived the crucifixion. After the resurrection Jesus returned to India to die in old age. Jesus was buried in Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir, where he continues to be revered as a saintly man. The tomb of Jesus still exists in Kashmir.

And in Islam, in which Jesus is the penultimate prophet, there is also a minority tradition adopted by the controversial Ahmadiyya sect, that Rozabal does contain the grave of Jesus.

Professional historians tend to laugh out loud when you mention the notion that Jesus might have lived in Kashmir – but his tomb is now firmly on the tourist trail – and a growing number of credulous visitors believe that he was buried in the Rozabal shrine. (Courtesy: BBC News)

Those With “No Religion” In USA Aren’t Increasing

(ZENIT News)- A Gallup demoscopic group reflects that, although noticed in different reports over the last decades that the number of people with “no religion” has increased, that increase has halted over the last six years.

Although it’s true that in the decade of the 50s the number of those with “no religion” was 0, in 2022 one fifth of the American population say they have “no religion,” reflecting that from 2017 to 2022 the percentage has halted. Gallup polls of that period of years show that the stabilization has stayed around 20-21%, of those that state they have “no religion.” It’s evident that the increase from 1950 to 2022 contrasts with the stabilization of those with “no religion” over the last five-year period.

Picture : Guardian

This data is relevant as, in the opinion of Dr Frank Newport, a Gallup sociologist, “there are hundreds of academic articles, academic reviews and books that examine the phenomenon of religious identity. The majority of these operate under the supposition that the percentage of those “without any religion” increases constantly, as part of a general tendency to secularization in American society. Our tendency about religious identity suggests a certain caution when assuming that these tendencies are inexorable.”

However, the Gallup data shows that there was also a stabilization of those with “no religion” in 1980, when the percentage stayed at 10% up to 2000. Between 2000 and 2017 the tendency was stabilized even more.

According to Newport, “we don’t know what will happen with religious identity in the future. History tells us that the only constant, when it comes to American religion, is change. Hence, it’s not known when or if the “ascent of those with no religion” will be recovered again. An important consideration is age.” Newport stresses that already in a 2019 analysis, an important question pivoted around the probability that the young people of today and of tomorrow will continue to become more religious as they get older. “However, regardless of what happens in the future, I believe that a key conclusion of the Gallup data is the evidence that a constant increase, year after year, in the percentage of Americans that don’t have a religious identity is certainly not inevitable.”

Leela Prasad Elected VP, Academy Of Religion

Leela Prasad, professor of religious studies at Duke University, has been elected vice president of the American Academy of Religion (AAR).

The AAR is the flagship global organization of the academic study of religion and allied fields. Prasad will be the fourth Asian American woman and the third faculty member from Duke’s Department of Religious Studies to lead the AAR in its 113-year history. 

This leadership role puts Prasad in position to serve as president within two years. Prasad’s research focuses on the intersection of religious studies, anthropology, history and literature, with particular attention to South Asia. Prasad’s first book, “Poetics of Conduct: Narrative and Moral Being in a South Indian Town,” was awarded the “Best First Book in the History of Religions Prize” by the AAR.

Prasad’s research focuses on the intersection of religious studies, anthropology, history and literature, with particular attention to South Asia. Her first book, “Poetics of Conduct: Narrative and Moral Being in a South Indian Town,” explored how everyday stories, performance, and routine practices reveal ethical imagination and discourse. The book was awarded the “Best First Book in the History of Religions Prize” by the AAR.   

Her most recent book, “The Audacious Raconteur: Sovereignty and Storytelling in Colonial India” from Cornell University Press, used the oral narrations and writings of four Indians in colonial India to show how even under the most oppressive rule, storytellers and artists assert cultural independence and ultimately remain sovereign. 

The AAR is the flagship global organization of the academic study of religion and allied fields. Founded in 1909, it has more than 8,000 members from across North and South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. Prasad will be the fourth Asian American woman and the third faculty member from Duke’s Department of Religious Studies to lead this organization in its 113-year history.

Christians A Minority In England, Non-Religious Grow

(AP) — Fewer than half the people in England and Wales consider themselves Christian, according to the most recent census — the first time a minority of the population has followed the country’s official religion.

Fewer than half the people in England and Wales consider themselves Christian, according to the most recent census — the first time a minority of the population has followed the country’s official religion.

Britain has become less religious — and less white — in the decade since the last census, figures from the 2021 census released Tuesday by the Office for National Statistics revealed.

Picture : The Hindu

Some 46.2% of the population of England and Wales described themselves as Christian on the day of the 2021 census, down from 59.3% a decade earlier. The Muslim population grew from 4.9% to 6.5% of the total, while 1.7% identified as Hindu, up from 1.5%.

More than 1 in 3 people — 37% — said they had no religion, up from 25% in 2011.

The other parts of the U.K., Scotland and Northern Ireland, report their census results separately.

Secularism campaigners said the shift should trigger a rethink of the way religion is entrenched in British society. The U.K. has state-funded Church of England schools, Anglican bishops sit in Parliament’s upper chamber, and the monarch is “defender of the faith” and supreme governor of the church.

Andrew Copson, chief executive of the charity Humanists U.K., said “the dramatic growth of the non-religious” had made the U.K. “almost certainly one of the least religious countries on Earth.”

“One of the most striking things about these results is how at odds the population is from the state itself,” he said. “No state in Europe has such a religious set-up as we do in terms of law and public policy, while at the same time having such a non-religious population.”

Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell, one of the most senior clerics in the Church of England, said the data was “not a great surprise,” but was a challenge to Christians to work harder to promote their faith.

“We have left behind the era when many people almost automatically identified as Christian, but other surveys consistently show how the same people still seek spiritual truth and wisdom and a set of values to live by,” he said.

Almost 82% of people in England and Wales identified as white in the census, down from 86% in 2011. Some 9% said they were Asian, 4% Black and 3% from “mixed or multiple” ethnic backgrounds, while 2% identified with another ethnic group.

The National Christmas Tree Turns 100

Though the tree has not been lit every single year across the century, it is the second-oldest White House tradition after the Easter egg roll.

(RNS) — It was Christmas Eve in 1923. A church choir sang, Marine band members played and the president of the United States pressed a button to light the first National Christmas Tree under the gaze of thousands of onlookers.

For 100 years, the tree has represented a symbol of civil religion as Americans mark the Christmas season.

On Wednesday (Nov. 30), President Joe Biden is set to do the honors just as President Calvin Coolidge did at that first lighting, and contemporary gospel singer Yolanda Adams is slated to sing for the crowds gathered on the Ellipse in the shadow of the White House.

Though the tree was not lit from 1942 to 1944 — due to the Second World War — it is the second-oldest White House tradition, after the Easter Egg Roll, which began in 1878.

“A hundred years is a fairly significant milestone to reach for consistently practicing a tradition,” said Matthew Costello, senior historian of the nonprofit White House Historical Association. “This is really part of the customs and the traditions of the White House and living in the White House.”

Picture : Share America

Whether the tree will continue as a symbol of civil religion — a Christian tradition, yes, but also a generic celebration of the holiday known for Santa and reindeer — is an open question, said Boston University professor of religion Stephen Prothero. In the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the tree’s intersection of politics and religion may be seen as too fraught.

“At this point, these Christian symbols in the public square feel very different to me and to many other Americans, than they have in the past,” he said. “And that’s precisely because of the increasing power of white Christian nationalism in American society.”

Already, the tree can seem like a relic of an America that is now past. “You would think, based on separation of church and state, that the federal government wouldn’t get into the Christmas tree business, but we have been doing these kinds of things for a long time,” Prothero said.

But the tree has always been part of America’s balancing act of alternately welcoming or rejecting religion in the public square. “It used to be that there was a kind of a gentleman’s agreement — and I say, gentleman on purpose, because it was men who were making this agreement — and the agreement was that you could have religious symbols in the public space, but that they would have to be generic, that they wouldn’t be explicitly Christian.”

Here are five faith facts related to the National Christmas Tree:

1. It’s been a place for God-talk by Democrats and Republicans.

In 1940, before the U.S. entered the conflict in Europe, Franklin D. Roosevelt used the tree lighting to condemn the war, referring to the Beatitudes of Christ, and urging “belligerent nations to read the Sermon on the Mount,” a National Park Service timeline notes.

In 1986, Ronald Reagan offered a different interpretation of the holiday. “For some Christmas just marks the birth of a great philosopher and prophet, a great and good man,” he said. “To others, it marks something still more: the pinnacle of all history, the moment when the God of all creation — in the words of the creed, God from God and light from light — humbled himself to become a baby crying in a manger.”

More recently, Barack Obama, referring to baby Jesus, said at a 2010 ceremony that “while this story may be a Christian one, its lesson is universal.”

Donald Trump said in 2017 that the “Christmas story begins 2,000 years ago with a mother, a father, their baby son, and the most extraordinary gift of all, the gift of God’s love for all of humanity.”

2. The Christmas tree was joined by other symbols of faith.

At times, there has been a Nativity with life-sized figures near the National Christmas Tree. An Islamic star-and-crescent symbol also made a 1997 appearance on the National Mall not far from the White House but it was vandalized, losing its star.

“This year for the first time, an Islamic symbol was displayed along with the National Christmas Tree and the menorah,” said President Bill Clinton that year in a statement. “The desecration of that symbol is the embodiment of intolerance that strikes at the heart of what it means to be an American.”

A public menorah first appeared near the White House in 1979, when President Jimmy Carter walked to the ceremony in Lafayette Park. The candelabra moved to a location on the Ellipse in 1987, and a 30-foot National Menorah has continued to be lit annually as a project of American Friends of Lubavitch.

3. Its lighting continued amid difficult times.

Roosevelt lit the tree weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill standing behind him.

After the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of President John F. Kennedy, his successor waited until a 30-day mourning period was over before lighting the tree. “Today we come to the end of a season of great national sorrow, and to the beginning of the season of great, eternal joy,” said Lyndon Johnson on Dec. 22 of that year.

A few months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush rode in a motorcade to the nearby Ellipse for the ceremony.

Costello contrasted these “people-oriented” instances to the more “policy-oriented” rhetoric of State of the Union speeches.

“We see after these moments of national catastrophe, disaster, tragedy, where this can be a really uplifting time for presidents to deliver a message directly to the American people, to remind them about what the season is all about, but also forward-looking,” he said.

4. While it’s kept its name, others have switched to “holiday.”

The neighboring Capitol Christmas Tree was a Capitol Holiday Tree for a time. It reverted back to the “Christmas” title in 2005.

“The speaker believes a Christmas tree is a Christmas tree, and it is as simple as that,” Ron Bonjean, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, told The Washington Times that year.

Matthew Evans, then landscape architect of the U.S. Capitol, told Religion News Service in 2001 that the tree is “intended for people of all faiths to gather round at a time of coming together and fellowship and celebration.”

Around that time, some state capitols and statehouses also opted to name their pines, firs and spruces “holiday trees” instead.

But the National Christmas Tree has retained its longtime imprimatur.

5. The tree ceremony is really about kids.

President Herbert Hoover and first lady Lou Hoover light the National Christmas Tree on Christmas Eve 1929. Photo courtesy of LOC/Creative Commons

An ailing 7-year-old girl asked that President Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan grant her “Make a Wish” program request that she join them for the tree lighting in 1983.

“The Christmas tree that lights up for our country must be seen all the way to heaven,” Amy Bentham wrote to the program, according to the NPS website. “I would wish so much to help the President turn on those Christmas lights.”

The Reagans granted her wish.

“The bottom line is what the president says and does, it matters; obviously, people listen,” Costello said. “But really, this is about kids, it’s about children and sort of the magical time of the year. And that was just one example, I think, that was especially poignant about why the ceremony matters.”

Thai Monks Fail Drug Tests Leaving Temple Empty

A small Buddhist temple in Thailand has been left without any monks after they were all dismissed for failing drug tests, local officials have said.

Four monks, including the abbot, tested positive for methamphetamine in the northern province of Phetchabun, an official told news agency AFP.

Boonlert Thintapthai said the monks were subsequently sent to a health clinic to undergo drug rehabilitation.

The raid comes amid a national campaign to tackle drug trafficking.

The monks were reportedly removed from the temple after police administered urine tests on Monday, which saw all four men fail. Officials did not say what had brought the temple to the attention of police.

Mr Thintapthai told AFP that the “temple is now empty of monks and nearby villagers are concerned they cannot do any merit-making”.

Merit-making is an important Buddhist practice where worshippers gain a protective force through good deeds – in this case by giving food to monks.

But Mr Thintapthai said that regional officials had sought the assistance of the local monastic chief, who had promised to assign some new monks to the temple in the Bung Sam Phan district in a bid to address the concerns of worshippers.

In recent years, methamphetamine has become a major issue in Thailand, with seizures of the drug reaching an all time high in 2021, according to the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime.

The country is a major transit point for methamphetamine. The drugs flood into the country from Myanmar – the world’s biggest producer of methamphetamine – via Laos.

The pills are then sold on the streets with a value of around 50 Baht ($1.40; £1.17).

Last month, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha ordered a clampdown on drugs after a former police officer who had been dismissed from the force for methamphetamine possession killed 37 people during a shooting at a nursery.

Politics Drives Religious Americans’ Views On The Environment

Religious people who lean Republican are less inclined to be concerned about global warming than people of the same religion who identify or lean to the Democratic Party.

(RNS) — Many reasons have been suggested as to why highly religious Americans are less likely to be worried about climate change or work to try to stem it. But in the end, a new Pew Research survey concludes, it’s all about politics.

“The main driver of U.S. public opinion about the climate is political party, not religion,” the survey of 10,156 Americans concludes.

Republicans are far less likely than Democrats to believe human activity is causing global warming or to consider climate change a serious problem. The same is true for the religious among them: Religious people who identify or lean Republican are less inclined to be concerned about global warming than people of the same religion who identify or lean to the Democratic Party.

Take evangelicals as an example — a group with a reputation for denying the dangers of climate change — 34% of evangelicals say climate change is an extremely or very serious problem. But if you break evangelicals down by political party, a bipolar picture emerges: 78% of evangelicals who lean Democratic say climate change is an extremely or very serious problem, compared with 17% who lean Republican.

The survey shows the same consistent pattern, if not quite as extreme, among other religious groups, including mainline Protestants, Catholics and even the religiously unaffiliated. In every group, the Democrats among them are significantly more likely to be concerned about climate change. The same is true when asked about the cause of climate change: Democrats in each group are much more likely than Republicans to lay the blame on human activity, regardless of religion.

These massive gaps in views among people claiming the same religion points to political partisanship as the crucial factor driving these opinions.

The study also shows a gap between those with high, medium and low religious commitments. The higher the religious commitment, the less likely to be concerned about climate change — and the more likely to identify with the Republican Party, according to the report.

While more than half of Americans believe the Earth is getting warmer because of human activity, only 39% of highly religious Americans — those who pray daily, attend religious services regularly and say religion is very important to their lives — agree. By comparison, 70% of those with a low religious commitment believe the Earth is getting warmer because of human activity, the survey found.

“Highly religious Americans are less concerned about climate change, less convinced human activity is causing warmer temperatures” Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

Other theories for why highly religious Americans are less concerned about the environment — there are much bigger problems in the world today; God is in control of the climate; the end times are near, why worry? — were not as salient.

The survey found only a modest relationship between end-times beliefs and concerns about climate change. Those who say the “end times” are coming soon are less likely to think climate change is an extremely or very serious problem compared with those who do not believe the end times are near (51% vs. 62%).

Overall, 57% of Americans believe climate change is an “extremely or very” serious problem.

Evangelicals are the only religious group in which a majority (66%) say stricter environmental laws and regulations will hurt the economy. It’s almost the reverse among unaffiliated Americans, 68% of whom don’t believe stricter environmental laws will hurt the economy.

The survey also found that climate change is not a topic discussed much in religious congregations. Only 8% said they heard a great deal about it in sermons; 70% say they hear little or nothing about it.

About half of Americans take steps to protect the environment, like reducing food waste, using fewer plastics, driving less or eating less meat. Here too, evangelicals scored lowest on these efforts, especially eating less meat.

“Within each major religious group, Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to say climate change is not a serious problem” Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

And, the survey found, religiously affiliated Americans are less likely to be civically engaged in combating climate change — donating money to environmental groups, volunteering with such groups or attending protests.

Among Americans who attend services at least once a month, 46% said their religious congregation has recycling bins; 43% said their congregation has taken efforts to be more energy efficient. Only 8% in this group said their congregation relies on solar energy.

Americans, regardless of religious affiliation, don’t view efforts to reduce carbon emissions in moral terms. Only 10% of U.S. adults — including 8% of those with a religious affiliation — say it is morally wrong to drive a car that gets poor gas mileage.

The margin of error for the survey was plus or minus 1.6 percentage points.

Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize 2022 Given To Punjabi Writer and Filmmaker

An author, researcher and filmmaker who has focused his work on the history and legacy of Sikhism was awarded Hofstra University’s 2022 Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize at a banquet Nov. 14 at the Crest Hollow Country Club.

Amardeep Singh, co-managing director and co-founder of Lost Heritage Productions in Singapore, recently completed a 24-episode documentary series retracing the 16th century travels of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion. The series, “Allegory: A Tapestry of Guru Nanak’s Travels” was filmed at more than 150 multi-faith sites in nine countries.

Singh has written several books, including “Lost Heritage: The Sikh Legacy In Pakistan” and “The Quest Continues: Lost Heritage – The Sikh Legacy” and produced two documentaries based on his experiences traveling in Pakistan, “Peering Warrior” and “Peering Soul”.

The $50,000 Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize is bestowed every two years to recognize significant work to increase interfaith understanding.

Picture : TheUNN

“Hofstra University is pleased to present the 2022 Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize to Amardeep Singh, for his work exploring and preserving Sikh heritage and culture,” Hofstra President Susan Poser said during the award ceremony. “As an author and independent filmmaker, Mr. Singh demonstrates a deep commitment to the values that Guru Nanak embodied and to the principles of religious understanding.”

Before the banquet, Singh and his wife, Vininder Kaur, who directed and wrote the Guru Nanak docuseries, discussed the project at Hofstra University. “Having the Guru Nanak prize at Hofstra provides our College of Liberal Arts & Sciences faculty and students with an extraordinary opportunity, and one that aligns with our mission as an educational institution,” President Poser said.

A committee of faculty and administrators unanimously chose Singh from among 18 nominees, said Daniel Seabold, acting dean of Hofstra College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“The committee was greatly impressed by Amardeep Singh’s examination of Guru Nanak’s interest in seeking universal fellowship among people of diverse faiths,” Seabold said. Members “considered several worthy organizations whose work is larger in scale but decided that an award to Mr. Singh would be more impactful.”

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, Tenzin Gyatso was the first winner of the Guru Nanak Prize in 2008. Since then, eight individuals and organizations have been recognized with the prize, including 2020 co-honorees author and scholar Dr. Karen Armstrong and her global Charter for Compassion movement, and the Interfaith Center of New York.

“To receive the Guru Nanak Prize from Hofstra University is a humbling recognition of our belief that the essence of existence is love for togetherness,” Singh said. “His message of unity in diversity was, is and will remain a ray of hope for a united world.”

The Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize was established in 2006 by Sardar Ishar Singh Bindra and family and named for the founder of the Sikh religion. It is meant to encourage understanding of various religions, and foster collaboration between faith communities. Guru Nanak believed that all humans are equal, regardless of color, ethnicity, nationality, or gender identity.

Picture : TheUNN

The Bindra family in 2000 endowed the Sardarni Kuljit Kaur Bindra Chair in Sikh Studies to honor its matriarch. Speaking on behalf of the Bindra family, businessman, philanthropist, and former member of Hofstra’s Board of Trustees Sardar Tejinder Singh Bindra said: “Guru Nanak spoke about love for humanity as well as respect for every religion. With that in mind, my parents established the Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize as a way to recognize as well as support the efforts of individuals/organizations that work to advance dialogue between religions to help minimize religious conflict, which all the recipients have strived to achieve, from the very first recipient, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, to the current recipient, Amardeep Singh. We are pleased that the award is being given this year a week after Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s birthday as honor to his vision and teachings.”

Why They Broke With Hindu Nationalism: Four Former Zealots Speak Out

Participants in the destruction of a historic mosque 30 years ago, a signal event that led to a surge in Hindu nationalism in India, talk about their transformed lives.

This story was supported by the Pulitzer Center

(RNS) — Mangala, a laboratory manager from Maharashtra, India, was 19 years old in December 1992, when she joined thousands of fellow Hindu zealots in chanting fiery slogans as they tore down the Babri Masjid, a 16th-century, three-domed mosque in Ayodhya, in northern India.

The crowd set upon the mosque with hammers, pickaxes and shovels before mounting barricades and swarming inside. Mangala, wearing a saffron scarf to indicate her Hindu allegiance, slammed her fist against a wall of the mosque and shouted, “My blood is boiling.”

Picture : RNS

Mangala felt proud, even “electrified” to be part of a “historic demolition” taking place on the ground considered by many Hindus as the birthplace of Rama, one of their faith’s most exalted deities. The Hindu nationalist crowd had consummated a six-year campaign already championed by the Bharatiya Janata Party, which now rules India, to demolish the mosque and replace it with a temple to Rama.

Thirty years later, Mangala, who calls herself a humanist, said, “I feel ashamed to say I was part of this. In a way I feel responsible for the damage and divisions across India that followed.”

The Babri Mosque’s demolition led to widespread rioting across India. More than 2,000 people were killed, most of them Muslims. India’s tradition of secular, tolerant politics was dealt a hard blow. The Hindu nationalist political movement, meanwhile, got a jump start.

“This was part of a strategy worked out by Hindu supremacists to gain political power,” said Mangala. “If you have to build a temple, why do you need to demolish a mosque for that?”

Looking back, Mangala said, “Thousands of us were hypnotized by the dream of a pure Hindu nation fueled by nationalist leaders. We believed Lord Ram would make our mission successful.”

The seeds of religious extremism were planted in Mangala as a young teenager, when she joined the Rashtra Sevika Samiti, the women’s wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist paramilitary voluntary organization and the ideological parent of BJP.

For 28 years, she regularly attended RSS military camps, underwent weapon-training and traveled to remote towns and villages to spread the Hindu nationalist ideology.

Mangala’s life revolved around discipline and organization. She valorized RSS slogans such as “One-nation, One-leader” and its insistence on a unified Indian subcontinent. She also developed a visceral hate toward Muslims, secularists and Mahatma Gandhi, who spearheaded the idea of India as a country for all faiths.

“As an upper-caste Hindu, I felt the country belongs to us,” she said. “I felt Muslims and other minorities must accept the idea of a Hindu nation or leave the country.”

Mangala’s ideas about caste, gender, identity and sexuality started changing when she ventured into working for children and disadvantaged groups infected with HIV. “Working at the grassroots level exposed me to an entirely different world of ideas, people and possibilities, it almost set me free,” she said. Much of what Mangala championed as a Hindu nationalist started to feel wrong.

“At one level I felt my past had shaped my identity,” she recalls, “but at another level I was feeling suffocated in this rigid patriarchal system.”

When the urge to break with her militant past started consuming her a few years ago, Mangala felt she could no longer remain tied to the RSS movement.

Abhijit Deshpande, an associate professor of Marathi at the KJ Somaiya College of Arts and Commerce in Mumbai, felt a similar need to break free of Hindu nationalism.

Deshpande, 48, grew up in an upper-caste Hindu family in Maharashtra amid religious gurus and preachers. He visited temples regularly and took part in festivals and ritual congregations, and well-known Hindu nationalist leaders would visit their home for meetings with his father, who was active in RSS. At home, they criticized Gandhi’s non-violent tenets and heaped praise on militant Hindus of the past.

But with the growing involvement with the RSS, said Deshpande, “I drifted away from everyday Hindu practices and rituals. Working for a homogenous Hindu nation became my new religion, something I could die for.”

Deshpande quickly rose through the RSS ranks as an intellectual head of his region. “I delivered fiery speeches at public events, schools and colleges and visited hundreds of families to rope them into the Ram temple movement,” he recalled.

Deshpande was in the crowd at Ayodhya when the nationalists gathered in front of the mosque. “Everyone knew the end-goal was to bring the mosque down at whatever cost,” he says.

But just four days after the mosque’s demolition, Deshpande slipped into a deep depression. “I stopped talking to everyone,” he said. “Riots had engulfed the country. I was thinking, ‘Can I raise any questions now? What should I speak about? Who should I speak with?’”

Realizing the criminality of the events at the mosque, Deshpande recognized that the demolition was no spontaneous act but a “carefully monitored and systematic process to dismantle the basis of Indian democracy,” he said.

In 1994, Deshpande moved to Mumbai to pursue a master’s degree in Marathi literature. Wrapped up in the debates of graduate school and exposed to new books and films, his attitudes and eventually his politics became more progressive. “I started questioning not just Hindu nationalism, but religion itself,” he said. Questions about caste and religious bigotry led him to question the basis of his beliefs.

Before long, Deshpande had embraced atheism and slowly cut ties with Hindu nationalism — though it wasn’t finished with him. He continued to receive threats long afterward from religious extremists online.

Leaving Hindu nationalism behind has been more difficult for Purnendu Goswami, who was raised in the holy city of Vrindavan, in northern India, in a renowned family of religious narrators, priests who recite and interpret stories from Hindu religious texts. His family’s prominence, and his own fame for pro-Hindu advocacy, has made extricating himself a more tortuous process.

Goswami, now 49, initially joined the Hindu nationalist movement to achieve political and financial success.

“I was looking to make religion profitable and gain followers,” he said.

He was among those who campaigned for the Ram temple in Ayodhya at rallies, meetings and religious gatherings. On Dec. 3, 1992, three days before the scene at the mosque, he set out for Ayodhya with a group of 50 other Hindu nationalists chanting inflammatory slogans, but was arrested and sent to jail.

After his release, Goswami’s Hindu nationalist zeal intensified. Along with his older brother Balendu, Goswami built a cave near the family’s ashram. Balendu retreated inside the cave for three years, 108 days to contemplate Hinduism.

“We felt it was a good career investment, something no one had tried before,” said Goswami, who kept an eye out for his brother’s daily needs from a room outside the cave.

When Balendu emerged from the cave in 2000, the Goswamis’ fame grew. They were invited to religious events in India and abroad.

It was about this time that the brothers’ sister died in a car accident. Goswami began to question his faith in a “kind and just god.” His Hindu practice felt hollow. “I felt religion and caste were just traps to divide people,” he said.

Goswami’s embrace of atheism irked the religious community in Vrindavan, and some of his neighbors boycotted the family after an atheist meeting was organized at their ashram in 2016. The threats and boycotts escalated over the next few years, even as Goswami started rethinking his strict atheism.

“I felt atheism was a cult just as religion was a business,” said Goswami, who now calls himself a humanist. He believes his fervent promotion of both paths made him arrogant and destroyed what’s most valuable to him — human relationships.

Indoctrination was a “gradual, almost imperceptible process” for Bhanwar Meghwanshi, a 47-year-old low-caste activist and author from Rajasthan. Meghwanshi was initiated into the RSS at the age of 13, thinking it would turn his life around. “I felt we are responsible for our lowly status,” he recalled. “The RSS filled me with a false sense of pride, and the Ram temple movement deepened that.”

A resolute Meghwanshi threw himself into the rising Hindu nationalist movement of the early 1990s. He learnt how to use weapons and make gasoline bombs. When he heard about the demolition, he said, “I wanted to free Ram from his shackles in Ayodhya and restore our Hindu identity. I felt when history would be rewritten I’d go down as a hero.”

Everything changed during one of the Ram temple mobilization campaigns, when upper-caste Hindus refused to eat at Meghwanshi’s house. “I was deeply hurt” he says. “I felt I was doing so much work for this great Hindu nation and was even ready to die for it, but upper-caste Hindus can’t so much as eat at my house!”

Meghwanshi felt in his heart there was no place for low-caste Hindus in the new India that nationalist leaders were spearheading.

The incident plunged him into “a terrible internal crisis,” and he considered ending his life.

But around this time, he came in touch with a Sufi saint in Rajasthan. “I had gone through life immersed in hate, fanaticism, bloodshed and bigotry,” he said. “I was thirsty for love, and he taught me how to love in a radical way.”

After meeting the Sufi saint, Meghwanshi was inspired to work for humanity. He made up his mind that he would mobilize communities across towns and villages for an inclusive India.

“Only humanism can heal the world,” says Mangala, who shares the same vision as Meghwanshi. “Hate propagates hate, while love allows you to transcend yourself to really understand the pains and sufferings of others — that is what we call radical love.”

Gateway Tower Of Sri Venkateswara Temple In North Carolina Unveiled

Adding on to the Diwali cheer among Hindu-Americans, a new 87-foot tower at the Sri Venkateswara Temple in Cary was inaugurated by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper in presence of hundreds of devotees.

The completion of the tower, which is named “Tower of Unity and Prosperity”, comes 13 years after the temple construction started in 2009, and is now the tallest of its kind in North America, according to temple leaders.

“What a wonderful day this is, especially in times of trouble… walking into this temple with reverence and leaving your worries on the outside for just a while… That’s something we all need to do, but then we can always leave the temple with even more determination than ever to address those worries, and to make sure we’re doing something about it,” Governor Cooper said addressing the community, CBS17 reported.

Approval for the tower was granted in 2019, and construction began in April 2020, “right at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic”, Lakshminarayanan Srinivasan, general secretary of the temple’s board of trustees, told Raleigh News & Observer.

According to Srinivasan, the “donate a brick” program, which invited Indian-Americans from across the country to donate whatever they could to help see through the tower’s completion, around $2.5 million from more than 5,000 donors.

Srinivasan said that there are additional plans for expansion, including an assembly hall that would be built next to the temple. He added that there are plans to build fountains and a “manicured landscape” to surround the temple.

The temple is modeled after the famous Sri Venkateswara Temple in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, and is known to be the largest Hindu temple in North America.

Sri Venkateswara Temple came into being after there was a growing demand in 1988 by Indians living in Triangle area of North Carolina, who wanted the grandeur and minutely detailed artwork of South Indian temples reproduced here.

Fourteen artisans were brought in from India to hand-carve the temple’s decorative Hindu idols out of cement.

The expansion of the temple comes at a time when the Indian population in the Triangle area, also known as Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, is growing.

According to Indian American Impact, 425,000 Asian Americans live in North Carolina with Indian-Americans making up the largest ethnic group.

According to 2021 census estimates, over 51,000 Indian-Americans lived in Wake County in North Carolina, and 57,000 in Wake, Durham and Orange counties combined. (IANS)

Pope Marks 60th Anniversary Of Second Vatican Council

ROME (AP) — Pope Francis is commemorating the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, the landmark meetings that brought the 2,000-year-old Catholic Church into the modern era, amid continued disagreement about what the council taught that divides the faithful today.

Francis is celebrating a Mass on Tuesday in honor of St. John XXIII, who convened the council and presided over its opening sessions. Tuesday’s commemoration opens with a reading of John’s inaugural speech and ends with a re-enactment of the candle-lit procession that lit up St. Peter’s Square on the night of Oct. 11, 1962.

On that night, the “good pope” came to the window of the Apostolic Palace and delivered his famous “moonlight speech” to the thousands of people who had gathered below. Whereas pre-Vatican II popes usually spoke in formal terms, John surprised the crowd with an impromptu, pastoral speech urging the faithful to go home to their children and give them a hug and tell them “this is the caress of the pope.”

The council would last for another three years and outlive John, who died in 1963 of stomach cancer. But when it was over, council fathers had agreed to major changes in the life of the church, such as allowing Mass to be celebrated in local languages rather than Latin and strengthening the role of laity in the everyday life of the church. The council also encouraged efforts to improve relations among Christians and revolutionized the church’s relations with Jews, including the step to remove the phrase “perfidious Jews” from the liturgy.

Francis, 85, is the first pope to have been ordained after the council, and his priorities are very much inspired by it.

“Above all peace, above all the poor church,” said Vatican II historian Alberto Melloni. In a telephone interview, Melloni also pointed to Francis’ insistence on a “synodal” or decentralized church, with an emphasis on laity. The latter is clearly evident in his decision to allow laypeople, including women, to head Vatican offices and in the the two-year “synod” process in which ordinary Catholic faithful have contributed their thoughts on the life and mission of the church.

But Vatican II still very much divides the church, with progressives seeing it as a break from the past and conservatives seeing it as fully in line with church tradition and chafing at the “spirit of Vatican II” progressive read of it. Francis has in some ways exacerbated those divisions by re-imposing restrictions on the celebration of the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass.

“John XXIII did not convoke Vatican II to reinvent Catholicism,” writes church historian George Weigel in his new book “To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II.”

“As he put it in his opening address, the council’s ‘greatest concern’ must be the more effective presentation of Catholic truth in full” through a new language and vocabulary that could be understood in the modern world, Weigel wrote in excerpts recently published in the Wall Street Journal.

Vatican II coincided with the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the United States and Russia came as close as they ever had to nuclear war. Looking ahead to Tuesday’s anniversary of Vatican II, Francis noted over the weekend that Russia is threatening to use its nuclear arsenal in its war in Ukraine.

“Why can’t we learn from history?” Francis asked. “Even in those times, there was grave conflict and tensions, but they chose the path of peace.”

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). India’s 1983 Cricket World Cup winning hero Roger Binny is likely to replace Sourav Ganguly as the BCCI president when the Board holds its annual general meeting on October 18. Binny filed his nomination for the presidential election on Tuesday. After hectic parleys and back-channel discussions over the past week, it was decided that the 67-year-old from Bengaluru would be the 36th Board president, a source familiar with the development said. Binny has previously served as a member of the BCCI selection committee. He is currently president of Karnataka State Cricket Association. Jay Shah, son of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, will continue as BCCI secretary for his second term. Shah is, however, expected to replace Ganguly as India’s representative at the ICC Board. Rajiv Shukla is likely to continue as the BCCI vice-president. Ganguly is tipped to be India’s representative for the 16-member International Cricket Council (ICC) Board chairman’s post, elections for which are slated to be held in November. More here

SGPC To Set Up International Advisory Board, Offices Overseas To Benefit Sikhs Worldwide

The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the apex Sikh institution in India, plans to establish an ‘International Sikh Advisory Board’ and its own sub offices in different countries to protect the religious sentiments of Sikhs overseas. 

According to an official statement, the board comprising of Sikh representatives from different countries will work towards resolving issues and grievances of Sikhs abroad while helping the local Gurdwara management committees in activities of Dharam Prachar (preaching of Sikh faith).

This board will make efforts to resolve issues and grievances of Sikhs living in foreign countries and support local gurdwara management committees in preaching the Sikh faith.

This decision was taken in the SGPC’s executive committee meeting held here under the leadership of its president Harjinder Singh Dhami.

During this meeting, an approval was also given to establish sub-offices of the Sikh body in different countries.

After the meeting, Dhami said a number of Sikhs are living across the world and this trend is accelerating. In view of this, the SGPC will establish an international Sikh advisory board.

He said the SGPC will also establish its offices in different countries for direct and easy contact with community members.

He said in the past, the SGPC had started this process in Yuba City of the United States of America, which will be expedited and necessary action will be taken to establish sub-offices in other countries as well. PTI JMS SUN RDK RDK

Why Ujjain’s Mahakal Mandir Holds Special Significance in Hinduism

The divinity associated with Ujjain is centred around ‘Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga’ placed inside Mahakaleshwar Temple, also known as Mahakal Mandir, dedicated to Hindu deity Shiva 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the first phase of Mahakaleshwar Corridor in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh last week, dedicating the ambitious Rs 856-crore project to the country.

Before he unveiled the large shivling covered in strands of sacred red threads, amid Vedic chants to mark the inauguration, the prime minister performed puja with rituals at the famous Mahakaleshwar Temple, which houses one of the 12 jyotirlingas of Hindu deity Shiva.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday inaugurated the first phase of Mahakaleshwar Corridor in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, dedicating the ambitious Rs 856-crore project to the country.

Before he unveiled the large shivling covered in strands of sacred red threads, amid Vedic chants to mark the inauguration, the prime minister performed puja with rituals at the famous Mahakaleshwar Temple, which houses one of the 12 jyotirlingas of Hindu deity Shiva.

The divinity associated with the holy city of Ujjain is centred around the Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga placed inside the temple also known as Mahakal Mandir. The temple is dedicated to Hindu deity Shiva, believed to be the god of time and death. He is called Mahakaleshwar, made up of the two meanings of the word kaal – time and death.

These jyotirlingas, or shrines, are believed to be the most sacred abodes of Shiva. According to the Puranas, the Hindu god pierced the world as an endless pillar of light called the jyotirlinga. Barring the the Mahakaleshwar jyotirlinga in Ujjain, the other 11 jyotirlinga sites are Somnath and Dwarka’s Nageswar in Gujarat; Mallikarjuna at Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh; Omkareshwar in Madhya Pradesh; Kedarnath in Uttarakhand; Bhimashankar, Triambakeshwar and Aurangabad’s Grishneshwar in Maharashtra; Viswanath at Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh; Baidyanath Temple in Jharkhand’s Deoghar; and Rameshwar at Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu.

Located on the banks of Shipra river, considered holy, this temple in Ujjain is among the most sacred Shiva temples in the country. Shiva, the Hindu god of time and death, is known to reign supreme in Ujjain, as per accounts of local legends that call him the city’s chief deity. Hence, the city’s life and its people are dominated by the essence of Mahakal signifying its bond with ancient Hindu traditions.

The city has other famous and ancient temples as well, and one of the oldest bathing ghats, Ram Ghat, is one of the venues for the Kumbh Mela, a Hindu pilgrimage held every 12 years.

Why is the ‘Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga’ most prominent?

The Puranas and other holy scriptures in Hinduism have a vivid description of the glory of this jyotirlinga and it is also mentioned in many ancient Indian texts, including a poetic text, Meghadutam, composed by Kalidasa in the 4th century.

Many believe that the lingam (another term used for shivling) in Ujjain is swayambhu, which means it is naturally occurring or even “self-manifested”. Also known as dakshinamukhi, this is the only jyotirlinga facing the south while the other 11 face east. This is known to be a unique feature linked to the tantric traditions of Shiva worship in Hinduism, and is found only in Mahakaleshwar.

According to a report in The Indian Express, the shivling faces south as the direction of death is believed to be the south. A local legend says an Ujjain king by the name of Chandrasena was a Shiva devotee and so strong was his devotion that the god appeared in his Mahakal form and destroyed his enemies, as per the report. Shiva then agreed to reside in the city, on request of his devotees, and became its chief deity.

What is the significance of Mahakal temple’s location?

Popularly known as the Greenwich of India, Ujjain is geographically located at a spot where the zero meridian of longitude (Madhyarekha) and Tropic of Cancer (Karkavrutta) intersect. Many religious places in the city are somehow connected to time. Ujjain’s connection to astronomy, hence, shows how the Shiva temple here is dedicated to Mahakal, the god of time.

It is, however, difficult to tell when the temple first came into existence. It may be assigned to the pre-historic period as the Puranas say it was first established by Prajapita Brahma. According to the official website of the Mahakaleshwar Temple, there is a reference to the appointment of Kumarasena, a prince, by king Chanda Pradyota in 6th century BC for looking after the law and order situation of Mahakal temple. References in several ancient Indian texts describe the temple as magnificent with its foundation and platform built of stone while the temple rested on wooden pillars, as per the website.

According to information available, the present five-storeyed form of the temple was built by Maratha general Ranoji Shinde in 1734.

What is the tradition of ‘Bhasm Aarti’?

Many who visit Ujjain and its sacred sites count the unique ritual of Bhasm Aarti in the Mahakaleshwar Temple as being one of the major attractions. The aarti begins at 4 am daily and can be attended by anyone. It is preceded by an elaborate hour-long process of bathing and decorating the idol, and drawing a face of “divinity” on it.

With chants of Har har Mahadev and Om namah shivaya ringing in the air accompanied by the clanging of bells, the aarti becomes a divine experience. According to the official website of the Madhya Pradesh tourism department, the Bhasm Aarti was performed with ash from the first

Durga Puja Inscribed By UNESCO As An Intangible Cultural Heritage Of Humanity

Durga Puja celebrated in Kolkata and around the world in the months of September/October has been added by UNESCO to the Lost of Intangible Cultural Heritage, giving international recognition to the biggest religious festival of the 332-year-old city, Kolkata and The state of West Bengal.

Durga Puja, also known as Durgotsava or Sharodotsava, is an annual Hindu Festival celebrated in the indian subcontinent that honors and reveres the Hindu Goddess Durga and commemorates Durga’s victory over Mahishasur.

As many as 36,946 community Durga pujas are organized in Bengal. Of these, around 2,500 are held in Kolkata. In recent years, several organizations had urged UNESCO to recognize the festival.

Traditional Yoga and the Kumbh Mela got the recognition in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Now, the Durga Puja is the only Indian festival to make it to the list of 20 events and traditional activities.

Durga Puja Is An Annual Festival Celebrated In September Or October, Most Notably In Kolkata, In West Bengal Of India, But Also In Other Parts Of India And Amongst The Bengali Diaspora. It Marks The Ten-Day Worship Of The Hindu Mother-Goddess Durga. 

In The Months Preceding The Festival, Small Artisanal Workshops Sculpt Images Of Durga And Her Family Using Unfired Clay Pulled From The Ganga River. The Worship Of The Goddess Then Begins On The Inaugural Day Of Mahalaya, When Eyes Are Painted Onto The Clay Images To Bring The Goddess To Life. It Ends On The Tenth Day, When The Images Are Immersed In The River From Where The Clay Came. 

Thus, The Festival Has Also Come To Signify ‘Home-Coming’ Or A Seasonal Return To One’s Roots. Durga Puja Is Seen As The Best Instance Of The Public Performance Of Religion And Art, And As A Thriving Ground For Collaborative Artists And Designers. The Festival Is Characterized By Large-Scale Installations And Pavilions In Urban Areas, As Well As By Traditional Bengali Drumming And Veneration Of The Goddess. During The Event, The Divides Of Class, Religion And Ethnicities Collapse As Crowds Of Spectators Walk Arou

The First Day Of Durga Puja Is Mahalaya, Which Marks The Arrival Of The Goddess. On The Sixth Day, Sasthi, Celebrations And Worship Begin. The Goddess Is Worshipped In Her Various Forms As Durga, Lakshmi, And Saraswati Over The Next Three Days.

The Celebrations Conclude With Vijaya Dashami (Tenth Day Of Victory), When Sacred Images Are Carried In Massive Processions To Local Rivers And Immersed Amid Loud Chants And Drumbeats “Dhaak.” This Custom Represents The Deity’s Return To Her Home And Husband, Shiva, In The Himalayas. At Various Pandals, Idols Of The Goddess Riding A Lion And Attacking The Demon King Mahishasura Can Be Found. This Year The Celebration Begins From October 1 And Lasts Till October 5.

The significance of Durga puja should be understood in order to enhance the beauty of the celebrations and to comprehend the devotion to Goddess Durga.

According to Hindu mythology, Lord Brahma granted the demon Mahishasura the boon of invincibility, which meant that no man or god could kill him. After receiving the blessing, Mahishasura attacked the gods and chased them out of heaven. To defeat the demon king, all the gods gathered to worship Adi Shakti. Maa Durga was created by the divine light that emanated from all the gods during the Puja.

Maa Durga’s battle with Mahishasura lasted ten days. On the tenth day, goddess Durga slew the demon king, and thus the day is celebrated as Vijaya Dashami, symbolizing the triumph of good over evil.

On the last day, devotees immerse goddess durga’s idol in the holy ganges water. It is referred to as Durga Visarjan. Worshippers march in procession before the immersion, accompanied by drumming, singing, and dancing.

Chrislam – Will It Ever Be A Reality?

Have you heard about “Chrislam”? It is not a new concept or ideology. Years back while reading  Arthur C. Clarke’s  fantasy novel, “The Hammer of God”, which describes the crisis caused by the imminent collision of an asteroid with planet Earth, this word “Chrislam” appeared somewhere in it.

 Of course,  now, I understand that Chrislam is the movement that earned momentum, which is evident while reading an old article from EMIRATES NEWS: The world religious leaders today adopted the Human Fraternity Document signed by His Eminence the Grand Imam of Al Azhar and Chairman of the Muslim Council of Elders, Dr. Ahmed el-Tayyeb, and His Holiness Pope Francis of the Catholic Church, in Abu Dhabi in 2019.(NUR-SULTAN, 15th September 2022 (WAM).

The pope and the grand imam of al-Azhar have signed a historic declaration of fraternity, calling for peace between nations, religions and races, in front of a global audience of religious leaders from Christianity, Islam, Judaism and other faiths.

Chrislam was derived as an attempt to syncretize Christianity with Islam. 

In the heartland of Islam that envelopes countries like Saudi ArabiaYemen, and Bahrain, frequent outbreaks of fanatic extremism create enough suffering for the Christian community. But amidst this turmoil, they are able to share the love of Christ in surprising ways.

Sometimes this hatred explodes beyond hostility to hidden interests or agendas or policies or even countries and becomes a rejection of Western civilization. Eventually, it questions the principles and values that it practices and professes. These are indeed seen as innately evil, and those who promote or accept them as the “enemies of God.”

Basically the Muslim and Christian views of their creator God has some similarities and resemblances. Christians believe in one eternal God Who created the universe. Muslims also believe these qualities to their Allah. Both view God as Omnipotent , all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present. 

Today, the descendants of Hagar, Ishmael, and Esau (Edom) are all Muslim nations (Islam). As we discussed, the “pure royal lineage” of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants, including Messiah, is Jewish (Israel). Again, although the nations are predominately Muslim, there are millions of Christian Arabs who love the Lord!

Religious leaders know very well that  Islam and Christianity cannot be reconciled, for the differences between the two religions are vast and the similarities are few.

Allah and Yahweh are different deities. Allah is unknowable and unapproachable; Yahweh is personal, knowable, and invites us to approach His throne of grace. Allah has never spoken directly to a human being; Yahweh has spoken to people throughout history and continues to do so today. Allah reveals his will but not himself; Yahweh reveals Himself in creation, conscience, the canon of Scripture, and Christ – the Word who became flesh. 

From a broader outlook the essential concept of Chrislam is that Christianity and Islam are interrelated and compatible. On the other hand it seems that anyone can be a Christian and a Muslim at the same time. Like Christianity or Islam Chrislam is not attributed as an actual religion of its own, but a diluting the differences and distinct views between Christians and Muslims.

Advocates of Chrislam points that Jesus is mentioned 25 times in the Qur’an. Christianity and Islam having similar teachings on morals and ethics. But the two largest monotheistic religions fight against each other gives the rise of atheism and other forms of spirituality. Chrislam is viewed as the solution for the ongoing conflict between the predominantly Christian Western world, and the Muslim dominated Middle East.

From the history, Chrislam refers to the assemblage of Islamic and Christian religious practices in Nigeria; in particular, the series of religious movements that merged Muslim and Christian religious practice during the 1970s in Lagos, Nigeria. The movement was pioneered by Yoruba peoples in south-west Nigeria.

The underlying religious concept of Chrislam is that “to be a Muslim or Christian alone is not enough to guarantee success in this world and the hereafter.” As a result, Chrislam combines both Muslim and Christian practices.

“Sources generally describe Chrislam as a new one-world syncretic religion, linking it to what is about to become its headquarters: the Abrahamic Family House, an interfaith complex in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, whose main attractions will be a synagogue, a church, and a mosque, according to a concept by architect Sir David Adjaye. Construction is underway and is expected to be completed in 2022”.(ST.NETWORK). So at least the world has a monumental infrastructure to link with the concept of Chrislam!

Chrislam – Will It Ever Be A Reality?

Have you heard about “Chrislam”? It is not a new concept or ideology. Years back while reading  Arthur C. Clarke’s  fantasy novel, “The Hammer of God”, which describes the crisis caused by the imminent collision of an asteroid with planet Earth, this word “Chrislam” appeared somewhere in it.

Of course,  now, I understand that Chrislam is the movement that earned momentum, which is evident while reading an old article from EMIRATES NEWS: The world religious leaders today adopted the Human Fraternity Document signed by His Eminence the Grand Imam of Al Azhar and Chairman of the Muslim Council of Elders, Dr. Ahmed el-Tayyeb, and His Holiness Pope Francis of the Catholic Church, in Abu Dhabi in 2019.(NUR-SULTAN, 15th September 2022 (WAM).

The pope and the grand imam of al-Azhar have signed a historic declaration of fraternity, calling for peace between nations, religions and races, in front of a global audience of religious leaders from Christianity, Islam, Judaism and other faiths.

Chrislam was derived as an attempt to syncretize Christianity with Islam.

In the heartland of Islam that envelopes countries like Saudi ArabiaYemen, and Bahrain, frequent outbreaks of fanatic extremism create enough suffering for the Christian community. But amidst this turmoil, they are able to share the love of Christ in surprising ways.

Sometimes this hatred explodes beyond hostility to hidden interests or agendas or policies or even countries and becomes a rejection of Western civilization. Eventually, it questions the principles and values that it practices and professes. These are indeed seen as innately evil, and those who promote or accept them as the “enemies of God.”

Basically the Muslim and Christian views of their creator God has some similarities and resemblances. Christians believe in one eternal God Who created the universe. Muslims also believe these qualities to their Allah. Both view God as Omnipotent , all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present.

Today, the descendants of Hagar, Ishmael, and Esau (Edom) are all Muslim nations (Islam). As we discussed, the “pure royal lineage” of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants, including Messiah, is Jewish (Israel). Again, although the nations are predominately Muslim, there are millions of Christian Arabs who love the Lord!

Religious leaders know very well that  Islam and Christianity cannot be reconciled, for the differences between the two religions are vast and the similarities are few.

Allah and Yahweh are different deities. Allah is unknowable and unapproachable; Yahweh is personal, knowable, and invites us to approach His throne of grace. Allah has never spoken directly to a human being; Yahweh has spoken to people throughout history and continues to do so today. Allah reveals his will but not himself; Yahweh reveals Himself in creation, conscience, the canon of Scripture, and Christ – the Word who became flesh.

From a broader outlook the essential concept of Chrislam is that Christianity and Islam are interrelated and compatible. On the other hand it seems that anyone can be a Christian and a Muslim at the same time. Like Christianity or Islam Chrislam is not attributed as an actual religion of its own, but a diluting the differences and distinct views between Christians and Muslims.

Advocates of Chrislam points that Jesus is mentioned 25 times in the Qur’an. Christianity and Islam having similar teachings on morals and ethics. But the two largest monotheistic religions fight against each other gives the rise of atheism and other forms of spirituality. Chrislam is viewed as the solution for the ongoing conflict between the predominantly Christian Western world, and the Muslim dominated Middle East.

From the history, Chrislam refers to the assemblage of Islamic and Christian religious practices in Nigeria; in particular, the series of religious movements that merged Muslim and Christian religious practice during the 1970s in Lagos, Nigeria. The movement was pioneered by Yoruba peoples in south-west Nigeria.

The underlying religious concept of Chrislam is that “to be a Muslim or Christian alone is not enough to guarantee success in this world and the hereafter.” As a result, Chrislam combines both Muslim and Christian practices.

“Sources generally describe Chrislam as a new one-world syncretic religion, linking it to what is about to become its headquarters: the Abrahamic Family House, an interfaith complex in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, whose main attractions will be a synagogue, a church, and a mosque, according to a concept by architect Sir David Adjaye. Construction is underway and is expected to be completed in 2022”.(ST.NETWORK). So at least the world has a monumental infrastructure to link with the concept of Chrislam!

How A Small Town In Wisconsin Became Home To Four Dharmic Houses Of Worship

(RNS) — Tucked away on a hill beyond a vast commercial landscape are the first two Dharmic temples to exist in the Midwestern state of Wisconsin.

The 22 acres that are home to the Hindu and Jain Temples of Wisconsin were situated in “the middle of nowhere” when they were built in 2001, according to Sarvesh Geddam, the secretary of the two congregations. Now, the area is laden with fast-food restaurants and surplus warehouses, and Pewaukee, a village next to Waukesha in Milwaukee’s far-west suburbs, has become home to two more groups: devotees of Shirdi Sai Baba, a 20th-century Hindu saint, and BAPS, or Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, a larger Hindu denomination that follows gurus, or swamis, and is often recognizable for its grand temples.

When the Hindu and Jain temples were finished 20 years ago, the community was decidedly unmarked by South Asian culture. Even today, outsiders might wonder that the Wisconsin suburbs — and a state known predominantly for its freezing temperatures (as well as its dairy farming and its importance in national elections) — would draw people from the homelands of Hinduism and Jainism.

In fact, the Indian population of Wisconsin is the second-largest minority Asian group after the Hmong and has grown in population by more than 80% since 2000-2010, according to Wisconsin’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Health Forum.

The midwest offered the members of the four temples what it has offered any immigrant: space to call their own.

Of the nearly 2 million Indians in the United States today, more than half identify as Hindu. The earliest immigrants to arrive worshipped at makeshift shrines in people’s homes, but with the expansion of immigration quotas from Asian countries in 1965, more than 1,450 temples now exist in the U.S. In New Jersey, California and Texas, where the majority of South Asian Americans live, there are enough adherents to populate temples dedicated to particular deities, as is common in India.

Although Jainism also contains multiple sects within it, the JAINA society now has more than 80 Jain centers nationwide and an estimated population of 30,000 worshippers.

“This is a pan-Indian umbrella,” said Geddam. “We are helping people who are struggling to cope with the change of coming here.” When the first worshippers came to the temple, said Geddam, they felt grateful and amazed to find a slice of home.

To cater to the nearly 1,000 Wisconsinites who attend the Pewaukee Hindu temple, the building was built to accommodate what Geddam calls an “arcade” of deities — a collection of marble statues depicting the many manifestations of God that Hindus worship, Krishna, Shiva and Ganesh being just the most widely recognized of dozens of forms of the divine known as deities or gods.

The Hindu temple initially offered to host Jain idols as well, but it soon became apparent that different sects had different needs. The Jain holiday Samvatsari and the Hindu one of Ganesh Chaturthi often fall on the same day, for instance. While the Jain holiday is about quiet meditation and reflection, the latter is an event of great jubilation and noise.

As the South Asian community continued to grow, the two other Indic faiths began to meet at the Hindu temple. The Sai Baba devotees and BAPS members used to schedule worship around each other at the Hindu temple, but soon they, too, wanted their own spaces.

In 2013, the Sai Baba devotees walked into a nondenominational church that had come up for sale in downtown Pewaukee and saw a great hall with no benches or pews to remove. The followers of Sai Baba, who also center themselves on serving others, raised $200,000 in just two days from the small surrounding community, many of whom had never stepped foot in an Indian house of worship.

The location, now the Wisconsin Shirdi Sai, has the feeling of visiting Baba’s home temple in Shirdi, India, say its new owners, who claim on their website that it was selected by their founder, Sai Baba himself.

“It was not magic, it was a miracle,” said Satya Karri, the temple’s main trustee. “We were waiting, and with Baba’s grace we got it.”

The BAPS’ Swaminarayan temple got its start in 2018 on the same street as the Hindu and Jain temples in what used to be a mattress warehouse. BAPS temples are nearly uniform wherever they are found, with a store offering Indian snacks and books, classrooms separated by gender and a large assembly hall.

The idea is to create continuity with not only the faith but the culture of western India, where BAPS originated. “When they come here, it gives them a feel of where they grew up,” said Mayur Brahmbatt, the teenage son of the temple’s head priest, about its elder members.

For larger events that cater to a wider audience, like Diwali, the Hindu temple is still the hub. Thousands of Indian Americans, young and old, flock to this little epicenter of Midwestern India.

The ornate entryway into the Hindu and Jain temples located next to each other in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. RNS photo by Richa Karmarkar

The surrounding community, more than 70% Christian and many of them evangelicals, responded with typical midwestern hospitality and practicality, mixed with curiosity. Teachers in the local school district attended seminars at the temple to learn more about their Indian students. The temples have given back to the community as well: In 2020, they hosted clinics that administered 5,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, more than 87% of them to non-Hindus.

“We believe we can attain “moksha” here in this lifetime,” said Geddam, referring to the devotion to service that characterizes Dharmic beliefs.

While the temples have helped anchor new South Asian American families in the U.S., Kamal Shah, president of the Jain Temple, said they also foster hope that basic Jain teachings, like vegetarianism and ahimsa, will pass down to following generations.

“When I first came here, people said, ‘When you come to this country, you can’t continue to be in the old religion,’” said Shah. “Though our belief is very, very ancient, we are able to keep this up in America. That is the biggest transformation.”

Hindu YUVA Hosts The Largest Hindu Student Leadership Event In North America

Hindu student leaders from 64 universities gathered for ‘Charaiveti: The Hindu YUVA National Summit’ from September 9-11 in Chicago as a celebration of 15 years of organizational growth and Hindu activism on campuses across North America. Hindu Youth for Unity, Virtues, and Action (YUVA) has 48 registered university chapters that practice, promote, protect, and preserve Hindu Dharma on campus. Amruta Houde, the Hindu YUVA National President, said, “Hindu YUVA has grown exponentially in the last few years and has created an indisputable footprint in the university space while bringing in new leadership across every level.

We saw our 15th anniversary as an opportunity to bring dynamic new leaders together for Charaiveti, the Hindu YUVA National Summit, which was attended by 208 yuvas (young leaders) from across North America.” The Summit Charaiveti, meaning “moving forward”, was the most vibrant gathering of Hindu student leaders to-date, and had the highest representation of universities in any Hindu student leadership event like this in North America.

The sessions were themed around the acronym YUVA: Youth for Unity, Virtues, and Action. There were panel discussions reflecting on the need for Hindu representation in all aspects of society and how to address growing Hinduphobia in university spaces. Speakers also discussed the relevance of Hindu Dharma, and how their experiences can shape the way young leaders create change in society.

Students participated in activities led by various regional and national Hindu YUVA leaders focused on strengthening campus-based activities to carry forward these themes in their local areas. Representatives from Hindu American Foundation, Understanding Hinduphobia, Sewa International USA, International Center for Cultural Studies, Samskrita Bharati USA, Bhumi Global, Hindu Education Foundation, Sewa Diwali, Hindu University of America, Dharma Internship Program, and Aum School presented opportunities for young leaders to engage with various Hindu initiatives. Professor Ved Prakash Nanda, North America Zone President of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, implored students and organization leaders to recognize that the “time is now that Hindus stand together and work in different facets of society towards the same vision.”

Leaders from six Hindu youth organizations BAPS Campus Fellowship, Hindu Students Council, National Hindu Students Forum (NHSF UK), Young Jains of America, Isha Foundation, and International Society for Krishna Consciousness discussed challenges Hindu students face on campus and how they could move forward together to address these challenges. Highlighting this energy, Kajol Desai, full-time voluntary worker of the NHSF (UK) said, “to move forward we must come together, each of us individually and organizationally come with our own experiences, when we begin to engage with one another as we are here at the Summit, we can bring those experiences together and enhance our collective experience.“ 

Energized by the atmosphere of the Summit and bolstered by the support of their peers, the Hindu student leaders returned more passionate than ever to represent the Hindu voice and contribute positively to their campus and community around them.

How A Small Town In Wisconsin Became Home To Four Dharmic Houses Of Worship

(RNS) — Tucked away on a hill beyond a vast commercial landscape are the first two Dharmic temples to exist in the Midwestern state of Wisconsin.

The 22 acres that are home to the Hindu and Jain Temples of Wisconsin were situated in “the middle of nowhere” when they were built in 2001, according to Sarvesh Geddam, the secretary of the two congregations. Now, the area is laden with fast-food restaurants and surplus warehouses, and Pewaukee, a village next to Waukesha in Milwaukee’s far-west suburbs, has become home to two more groups: devotees of Shirdi Sai Baba, a 20th-century Hindu saint, and BAPS, or Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, a larger Hindu denomination that follows gurus, or swamis, and is often recognizable for its grand temples.

When the Hindu and Jain temples were finished 20 years ago, the community was decidedly unmarked by South Asian culture. Even today, outsiders might wonder that the Wisconsin suburbs — and a state known predominantly for its freezing temperatures (as well as its dairy farming and its importance in national elections) — would draw people from the homelands of Hinduism and Jainism.

In fact, the Indian population of Wisconsin is the second-largest minority Asian group after the Hmong and has grown in population by more than 80% since 2000-2010, according to Wisconsin’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Health Forum.

The midwest offered the members of the four temples what it has offered any immigrant: space to call their own.

Of the nearly 2 million Indians in the United States today, more than half identify as Hindu. The earliest immigrants to arrive worshipped at makeshift shrines in people’s homes, but with the expansion of immigration quotas from Asian countries in 1965, more than 1,450 temples now exist in the U.S. In New Jersey, California and Texas, where the majority of South Asian Americans live, there are enough adherents to populate temples dedicated to particular deities, as is common in India.

Although Jainism also contains multiple sects within it, the JAINA society now has more than 80 Jain centers nationwide and an estimated population of 30,000 worshippers.

“This is a pan-Indian umbrella,” said Geddam. “We are helping people who are struggling to cope with the change of coming here.” When the first worshippers came to the temple, said Geddam, they felt grateful and amazed to find a slice of home.

To cater to the nearly 1,000 Wisconsinites who attend the Pewaukee Hindu temple, the building was built to accommodate what Geddam calls an “arcade” of deities — a collection of marble statues depicting the many manifestations of God that Hindus worship, Krishna, Shiva and Ganesh being just the most widely recognized of dozens of forms of the divine known as deities or gods.

The Hindu temple initially offered to host Jain idols as well, but it soon became apparent that different sects had different needs. The Jain holiday Samvatsari and the Hindu one of Ganesh Chaturthi often fall on the same day, for instance. While the Jain holiday is about quiet meditation and reflection, the latter is an event of great jubilation and noise.

As the South Asian community continued to grow, the two other Indic faiths began to meet at the Hindu temple. The Sai Baba devotees and BAPS members used to schedule worship around each other at the Hindu temple, but soon they, too, wanted their own spaces.

In 2013, the Sai Baba devotees walked into a nondenominational church that had come up for sale in downtown Pewaukee and saw a great hall with no benches or pews to remove. The followers of Sai Baba, who also center themselves on serving others, raised $200,000 in just two days from the small surrounding community, many of whom had never stepped foot in an Indian house of worship.

The location, now the Wisconsin Shirdi Sai, has the feeling of visiting Baba’s home temple in Shirdi, India, say its new owners, who claim on their website that it was selected by their founder, Sai Baba himself.

“It was not magic, it was a miracle,” said Satya Karri, the temple’s main trustee. “We were waiting, and with Baba’s grace we got it.”

The BAPS’ Swaminarayan temple got its start in 2018 on the same street as the Hindu and Jain temples in what used to be a mattress warehouse. BAPS temples are nearly uniform wherever they are found, with a store offering Indian snacks and books, classrooms separated by gender and a large assembly hall.

The idea is to create continuity with not only the faith but the culture of western India, where BAPS originated. “When they come here, it gives them a feel of where they grew up,” said Mayur Brahmbatt, the teenage son of the temple’s head priest, about its elder members.

For larger events that cater to a wider audience, like Diwali, the Hindu temple is still the hub. Thousands of Indian Americans, young and old, flock to this little epicenter of Midwestern India.

The ornate entryway into the Hindu and Jain temples located next to each other in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. RNS photo by Richa Karmarkar

The surrounding community, more than 70% Christian and many of them evangelicals, responded with typical midwestern hospitality and practicality, mixed with curiosity. Teachers in the local school district attended seminars at the temple to learn more about their Indian students. The temples have given back to the community as well: In 2020, they hosted clinics that administered 5,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, more than 87% of them to non-Hindus.

“We believe we can attain “moksha” here in this lifetime,” said Geddam, referring to the devotion to service that characterizes Dharmic beliefs.

While the temples have helped anchor new South Asian American families in the U.S., Kamal Shah, president of the Jain Temple, said they also foster hope that basic Jain teachings, like vegetarianism and ahimsa, will pass down to following generations.

“When I first came here, people said, ‘When you come to this country, you can’t continue to be in the old religion,’” said Shah. “Though our belief is very, very ancient, we are able to keep this up in America. That is the biggest transformation.”

Kerala Bishops Share Concerns About Love Seeds Planted By Terrorist Group Targeting Girls

A letter from the Catholic diocese at Thalassery has expressed deep concern about love seeds being planted by terrorist organizations that target Christian girls, stating that the need of the hour is all should pray for the hapless parents who turn helpless when their children fall to such baits.

Archbishop Mar Joseph Pamplani asked the laity to fervently pray for this during the eight days lent that is currently on and awareness should be there so the young minds do not fall into such traps.

The fresh call has come in the wake of increasing number of cases being registered in drug trafficking and also especially regarding students getting hooked to it.

The last time such a statement came out about was when the Pala Diocese Bishop Mar Joseph Kallarangat spoke about ‘Love Jihad’ and pointed out that the young generation is being misled by narcotic-loving jihadists.

And after that all hell broke loose in the state and came contrasting opinions to it, when many observed that no such thing exists in the state.

Incidentally, in the recently-concluded special Assembly session, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had informed the Assembly that the startling facts that showed a drastic increase of registering of cases related to drug cases when it jumped four times and sees he this as a very grave issue and will take strong measures to tackle this.

He pointed out that in 2020, there were 4,650 drugs related cases registered by the excise department and police, and in 2021 it reached 5,334 cases and till August 20 this yea, 16,128 cases were registered.

Likewise, in 2020, 5,674 people were arrested, in 2021 there were 6,704 arrests made and till August 29, 17,834 people have been arrested.

He went on to point out that this year so far, 1,340 kilograms of ganja, 6.7 kgs of MDMA and 23.4 kgs of hashish oil have been confiscated. (IANS)

Pope Francis Advises Humility For Newly Elevated ‘Princes Of The Church’

(RNS) — The day after convening more than 200 red-robed cardinals from around the world and elevating 20 new “princes of the church,” Pope Francis impressed on his audience at a Mass on Sunday (Aug. 28) the importance of humility. He stressed the value of selflessness and — in what was perhaps a tease to Catholic leaders who have heard rumors of his intent to retire — knowing when to step down.

“There is no other way to realize God’s will than by taking on the strength of the humble,” the pope said in his homily at the St. Mary in Collemaggio Basilica in Aquila, near Rome. “Because of the way they are, the humble are seen as weak and losers, but in reality, they are the real winners because they are the only ones who trust completely in the Lord and know his will.”

The pope had come to Aquila to perform, for the first time in 700 years, the dramatic opening of the Holy Door of the basilica, a tradition begun by Pope Celestine V, who first opened the door in 1294 A.D. to admit believers to enter through the gate to the basilica to seek forgiveness of their sins. The pardon, which usually lasts a few days, has been extend to last until late in August of next year.

Besides the Celestinian Pardon, Celestine is remembered for being among the small number of pontiffs who chose to retire instead of carrying out their ministry until their deaths. Francis also visited Celestine’s tomb below the basilica, which Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI famously visited four years before announcing his resignation in 2013.

With most of the men who will appoint his successor in Rome for the 2022 consistory, or meeting of the full College of Cardinals, Francis also had Vatican observers on pins and needles about his own plans. He has repeatedly denied that he will follow Benedict and resign his post, but the rumors persist.

In an aside at Sunday’s Mass, Francis criticized the poet Dante Alighieri’s choice to place Celestine close to the doors of hell in his epic “Inferno,” calling Celestine not “the man of the ‘no,’ but the man of the ‘yes.’”

“The strength of the humble is the Lord — not strategies, human means, the logic of this world, machinations,” the pope continued. “In this sense, Celestine V was a brave witness to the gospel because no logic of power was capable of imprisoning and limiting him.”

Humility, Francis said, is about adopting a “healthy realism” with ourselves and recognizing “our potential but also our miseries.” Only by experiencing suffering and misery can individuals truly find compassion and love for others, he added.

The pope is meeting behind closed doors at the Vatican on Monday and Tuesday with the cardinals. Among them is the newly elevated Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego, who in his homily on Sunday echoed Francis’ call for a humble church.

Christian humility, McElroy said, is two things: “It is putting aside the pretenses and facades we often erect to try to look better to others than we are and, secondly, challenging and facing the impulse all of us have to place our own interests ahead of those of others.”  McElroy emphatically dismissed reports that the pope would resign.

The 85-year-old pontiff has been struggling with knee pain, which confined him to a wheelchair and forced him to cancel important events, including a July trip to Africa. But Francis acknowledged in a news conference on the papal plane returning from Canada on July 30 that he might have to slow down in order to serve the church. On that occasion, he also said that his resignation “wouldn’t be a catastrophe.”

World Hindu Council of America (VHPA) to hold “[email protected]: Walking in Dharma” – a Virtual Conference

A unique, first of its kind, two-day online community event “[email protected]: Walking in Dharma” will be held on September 19 and 20, 2020. Organized by the World Hindu Council of America (VHPA), this virtual conference marks VHPA’s 50 years of continuous service to the Hindu community, and will serve as a curtain raiser for a major in-person event to be held in New Jersey in 2021.

[email protected]: Walking in Dharma comes in the wake of VHPA’s “Threads 2019” meet which last year effectively captured the multifaceted contributions of the community in the US in the present and projection on the future. Now, VHPA seeks through this conference, to gaze back to the pioneering spirit of first-generation Hindu Americans, who took the bold step of leaving the comfort of their motherland to come to the US in search of better opportunities. [email protected] will reprise this amazing journey of 50 years, to learn how Hindus have enriched and strengthened the strands of culture, knowledge, community engagement through their dharmic values and enterprise.

The conference will have four keynote speakers: Vyomesh Joshi, CEO,3D Systems; Vandana Tilak, CEO & Director, Akshaya Patra USA; Dr. Raj Vedam, Scholar, Indian History and Benny Tillman, President, Vedic Friends Association. They will speak from experience on leadership, service, identity and melding of tradition in modern society.

Eight panels featuring academicians, religious heads, charity organizations, elected officials, youth leaders and business people will hold discussions on a broad range of topics including on women, seniors, dharmic institutions, advocacy, youth and community service.  The conference is open to all who seek a deeper understanding of the contribution of Hindus in America. Please register at www.reflections-50.org

Turkey’s Historic Chora Church Turned Into Mosque

The Turkish government formally converted a former Byzantine church into a mosque Friday, a move that came a month after it drew condemnation from people around the world for similarly turning Istanbul’s landmark Hagia Sophia into a Muslim house of prayer. A report stated here that Istanbul’s Church of St. Saviour in Chora, known as Kariye in Turkish, was handed to Turkey’s religious authority, which would open up the structure for Muslim prayers.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan reconverted the historic Chora church, one of Istanbul’s most celebrated Byzantine buildings, into a mosque on Friday, a month after opening the famed Hagia Sophia to Muslim worship. The mediaeval Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, built near the ancient city walls of Constantinople, contains 14th century Byzantine mosaics and frescoes showing scenes from biblical stories.

They were plastered over after the city was conquered by the Muslim Ottomans in 1453, but brought to light again when – like Hagia Sophia – the building was converted to a museum by Turkey’s secular republic more than 70 years ago.Erdogan, whose AK Party is rooted in political Islam, has positioned himself as a champion of Turkey’s pious Muslims and last month joined tens of thousands of worshippers in the first prayers at Hagia Sophia in 86 years.

The move was sharply criticised by church leaders and some Western countries, who said that reconverting Hagia Sophia exclusively for Muslim worship risked deepening religious rifts.Last year a Turkish court annulled a 1945 government decision converting Chora – known as Kariye in Turkish – into a museum run by the Education Ministry.

On Friday, an edict signed by Erdogan and published in Turkey’s official gazette declared “the management of the Kariye Mosque be transferred to the Religious Affairs Directorate, and (the mosque) opened to worship.

The church was first built at the site in the 4th century, but most of the existing building dates to an 11th century church that was partly rebuilt 200 years later following an earthquake.

The church, situated near the ancient city walls, is famed for its elaborate mosaics and frescoes. It dates to the fourth century, although the edifice took on its current form in the 11th–12th centuries. The structure served as a mosque during the Ottoman rule before being transformed into a museum in 1945. A court decision last year canceled the building’s status as a museum, paving the way for Friday’s decision.

Erdogan’s edict on Friday did not say when the first Muslim prayers would be held at Chora, or what arrangements would be made for the Christian artworks there. At Hagia Sophia, curtains have been drawn in front of an image facing worshippers of Mary and the infant Jesus.

And as with the Hagia Sophia, the decision to transform the Chora church museum back into a mosque is seen as geared to consolidate the conservative and religious support base of Erdogan’s ruling party at a time when his popularity is sagging amid an economic downturn.

Greece’s Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the move, saying that Turkish authorities “are once again brutally insulting the character” of another UN-listed world heritage site.

“This is a provocation against all believers,” the Greek ministry said in a statement. “We urge Turkey to return to the 21st century, and the mutual respect, dialogue and understanding between civilizations.”

An Interfaith Discussion On The Role Of Religion In Mental Health

(The Conversation) — Religious leaders often try to support the people they serve during challenging times. This supportive role was especially important during the past few years as the nation dealt with a pandemic, social distancing and the loss of more than a million lives.

In a recent discussion sponsored by the Global Religion Journalism Initiative, academics and religious leaders discussed faith-based mental health counseling, including its benefits and limitations.

Academic panelists included Thema Bryant, a trauma psychologist, ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and professor at Pepperdine University and Rabbi Seth Winberg, senior chaplain at Brandeis Hillel at Brandeis University. Publisher and author David Morris also took part.

Below are some highlights from the discussion. Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Natasha Mikles: Are there times when religion can actually be a source of stress rather than comfort for someone who’s going through a difficult time?

Thema Bryant: Yes, religion can be used for healing and empowerment, and it also can be used to oppress, marginalize and shame. In psychology, there’s something called positive religious coping and negative religious coping. Positive religious coping is believing that God is loving and ultimately wants to help, and that’s associated with positive mental health outcomes. Fundamentally believing that God is harsh and trying to penalize me is associated with more negative religious outcomes, and more negative mental health outcomes.

Seth Winberg: Yes, depending on the person and the circumstances, the faith, traditions and the community that one is living in, faith can certainly be a burden, or a strain, or a source of trauma. But for many people, faith provides a community, a social network, a sense of shared values, a rhythm to life and a common culture that I think is very powerful.

David Morris: Yes, too often people are given simplistic platitudes about how their loved one is in heaven. But as grief continues, they might be shamed a little bit and be told that they should move on. But grieving takes time. There are plenty of examples in religious literature of people in tremendous grief and tremendous sorrow.

Natasha Mikles: What tools can religious professionals use to help people have a more balanced understanding of how their religious tradition thinks about mental health?

Seth Winberg: In a page of the Talmud, there’s an open dialogue that rabbis across generations and people of faith across generations are having with each other. And I sometimes encourage students to feel free to try to talk to me or with anyone in that kind of open way – to take the risk of asking questions that we might think we can’t ask and still be a person of faith. I think, because of our modern, maybe American, perception of clergy, people don’t expect contemporary faith leaders or rabbis to be open to that kind of discussion. But that’s where Rabbinic Judaism started.

Thema Bryant: Yes, I think there’s a wonderful role for ministers and other faith leaders to play in promoting and creating space for mental health. And one of the pieces is transparency. I have seen ministers from pulpits talk about mental health challenges, talk about their grief, or talk about themselves going to therapy. That can really open the door, letting our humanity show.

Natasha Mikles: In the past two years of the pandemic, have you seen a change in the types of things that young people are struggling with?

Seth Winberg: What I’ve observed personally is a kind of suspended animation of young adults’ social, emotional and spiritual development. I think they’ve really suffered from a lack of in-person interactions in a variety of aspects of their lives, but particularly their social spiritual development. It really does something to be physically distanced from people in such extreme ways.

It’s not so obvious what the right faith-based responses are. One of them is just being present with people and being with them as they try to figure it out – not trying to give them answers and biblical verses, but to just let them express that really uncertain feeling. And having them feel that there’s a slightly older adult in their lives that just nods and lets them express those doubts and those questions, I think, can be helpful.

Thema Bryant: I would definitely agree that a major challenge for young adults has been loneliness and disconnection. Another big piece is around injustice. Some sanctuaries have fought for these issues, but other sanctuaries have not only been silent but have actually promoted really oppressive [ideas]. And I like to say it’s healthy to be outraged about outrageous things. And there are some outrageous things that have been done and said, even in the name of faith and religion. Young people have a need not only for community and companionship, but [support in] addressing social injustices.

Watch the full webinar to hear the panelists discuss the impact of COVID-19 on in person religious traditions, clergy burnout and share more actionable advice for incorporating mental health discussions in faith.

(Emily Costello, Managing Editor, The Conversation US. Thalia Plata, Editor. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

Preserving Stories Of Hindu, Muslim And Sikh Friendships Through India’s Partition

(RNS) — Descendants of those who experienced the Partition of Punjab in 1947 come together to share stories of interfaith collaboration after 75 years of religious animosity in India and Pakistan.

In September of 1947, after Tarunjit Singh Butalia’s Sikh grandparents’ ancestral home in West Punjab was set afire by mobs from a neighboring village, they had no choice but to flee. A Muslim couple in present-day Pakistan swore on the Quran to give them shelter and protect them as if they were family.

They survived, and seven decades later, Butalia, now executive director of the interfaith advocacy organization Religions for Peace USA, tracked down the Muslim couple’s son. The man guided him to the village where his parents, Ahmed Bashir Virk and his wife, Amina Bibi, were buried. Butalia knelt and kissed their graves.

“There are angels that walk on the earth,” said Butalia, who chronicled his grandparents’ past in his 2020 book, “My Journey Home: Going Back to Lehnda Punjab.” “And for my family, they were indeed angels on earth.”

Butalia is only two generations removed from the Partition of South Asia in August 1947, when the British, as they ended their colonial rule in India, imposed a national boundary across northern India that created Pakistan. In so doing they split the religiously diverse province of Punjab into West, or Lehnda, Punjab, and East, or Charda, Punjab.

The border added a geographical quotient to the existing religious distinctions made between Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, Jains and Christians, resulting in nearly 15 million people being divided from their religious community. Many left their homes to seek wholeness again in the largest mass migration that the region has seen; others stayed and fought for their rights as minorities. More than half a million people died in revenge killings, riots and communal violence from all sides.

Butalia believes the kindness shown to his grandparents fostered his devotion to creating meaningful relationships and understanding between people of faith. The shared history of Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus at the time of Partition led him to his current position, as well as his work as a founding member of the Sikh Coalition for Interfaith Relations.

“The interfaith movement is very much who I am,” said Butalia. “It has been a critical factor in my formation of Sikh identity.”

The feuding that the Partition initiated between Indian and Pakistani Hindus and Muslims has not ceased. Increasingly it is fueled by governments on both sides that stoke religious nationalist feelings among their citizens.

But in this 75th anniversary year of the Partition, stories such as Butalia’s are the focus of many Indians and Pakistanis who are looking to oral history to preserve the memory of interfaith collaboration as an essential part of their two countries’ histories. Butalia himself said he hopes to use the past, when Hindus, Muslims and Sikh protected each other, to look forward past what he calls a pervasive “patriotism of hate.”

At a recent webinar about the Partition of Punjab held by the Sikh Council for Interfaith Relations, three scholars — one Hindu, one Muslim and one Sikh — related their families’ experiences.

One speaker lived through the trauma himself.

“The Partition of Punjab was a period of marked madness, massacres and lifelong misery,” said Ranbir Singh Sandhu, professor emeritus at the Ohio State University. “But goodness eventually prevails, and it did this time too.”

A practicing Sikh, Sandhu was an engineering college student in east Punjab in 1947. The neighborhood where he lived at the time was declared a Muslim refugee camp after the Partition, which had rendered his Sikh family the minority religious group. But that didn’t stop them from providing the refugees with halal food and temporary shelter.

“These were old neighbors and helpers,” said Sandhu. “We knew they were friends.”

When he and his brother were forced to leave what is now Lahore, Pakistan, it was a group of Muslim men that helped them find their way. And when heavy rains in Punjab damaged houses, Sandhu’s Muslim friends took charge of the rescue.

Like Butalia, Sandhu continued to maintain friendships with Muslims, Hindus and Christians, whether as colleagues or as Ph.D. students he advised.

“All this madness and misery was avoidable,” said Sandhu. “Both nations have wasted a lot of money on fighting.”

The webinar drew floods of comments from audience members that showcased the wide array of stories that Punjabis across the world still tell. The panelists agreed that the best way to share anecdotes and tales of the Partition is through social media, or what another panelist, Akhtar Hussain Sandhu, called “the new face of Punjab nationalism.”

The 1947 Partition Archive, founded in 2013, is dedicated to preserving stories from the South Asian community. Panelist Munish Singh is the moderator for the Punjab Heritage Facebook group, which has over 100,000 members.

We must use these tools to do what the government can’t provide,” said Singh. “Cross-border, people-to-people conversations.”

For the divisions to heal, Butalia said, people must separate neighbors from the actions of their governments, confront people in their own religious communities who are moving toward extremism and use compassion generously.

“What worries me is the line that people have drawn in their hearts,” said Butalia. “That is the border that needs to be erased.”

In his book, Butalia shares a story from his visit to the hometown of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, who was famously accompanied on his journeys by his Muslim friend Bhai Mardana. Butalia recalled seeing a group of Muslim schoolchildren visiting the gurdwara, as Sikh houses of worship are called.

The students told him they often come by for the langar — the free meals offered by gurdwaras as a service to their community. To his surprise and delight, the children told Butalia that they exchanged Facebook and Twitter accounts with the Sikh children from the other side.

“That is the future,” said Butalia. “This change is already happening. We just need to amplify it.”

Stolen Goddess Parvati Idol Discovered In New York After 50 Years

A statue of the Hindu goddess Parvati that vanished from the Nadanapureshwarar Sivan Temple at Thandanthottam, Kumbakonam, fifty years ago has been found in New York, according to the Tamil Nadu Idol Wing CID (Crime Investigation Department) on Monday. The idol was reportedly found in New York’s Bonhams Auction House, according to the CID. Despite a report being made to the local police in 1971 and an FIR being filed by the idol wing in 2019, the case had remained unresolved. Inspector M. Chitra of the Idol Wing took over the case and made the case public. She also started searching for Chola-era Parvati idols in overseas museums and auction houses.

Though a complaint was given to the local police in 1971 and an FIR registered by the idol wing on a complaint from an individual K Vasu in February 2019, the case was pending since then. It received attention only recently after the Idol Wing Inspector M Chitra took up the investigation, started browsing for the Parvati idols of the Chola period in various museums and auction houses abroad.

After a thorough search, she found the idol at the Bonhams Auction house. The copper-alloy idol of the Chola period circa 12 century measures about 52 cm in height and is valued at US$ 212,575 (about Rs 1,68,26,143), a release from the Idol Wing said.

Parvati or Uma as the Goddess is commonly known in South India is portrayed in standing position. She is seen wearing a crown, called a karanda mukuta of piled rings diminishing in size and culminating in a lotus bud.

Biden Denounces Wisconsin Gurdwara Shooting On Its Tenth Anniversary

Seven people died when a white supremacist opened fire at Oak Creek‘s Sikh Temple on Aug. 5, 2012, and the community continues to remember the victims a decade later. For some, the journey to mark the anniversary began thousands of miles away. Thousands of people from across the nation came together to remember and honor those who lost their lives on that tragic day in Wisconsin.

United States President Joe Biden on Friday observed the 10th anniversary of the Oak Creek shooting which is considered the most brutal attack on Sikh Americans in the US history by issuing a statement. Mourning the loss of the six individuals who lost their lives during the attack and one more who survived but died a few years after, the President said, “Jill and I know that days like today bring back the pain like it happened yesterday, and we mourn with the victims’ families, the survivors, and the community devastated by this heinous act.

“When generations of Sikh-Americans in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, constructed their own place of worship after years of renting local halls, it was a sacred place of their own and a connection shared with the broader community. That sense of peace and belonging was shattered on the morning of August 5, 2012, when a white supremacist wielding a semiautomatic handgun arrived at the Gurdwara and began shooting,” President Joe Biden stated in a statement issued by the White House.

“It’s a chance to reflect on the Sikh-American experience and how the Sikh community has responded to these sort of events,” said Tejpaul Singh Bainiwal, who was part of the Sikh Motorcycle Club left Stockton, California.

On the morning of Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012, the gurdwara (a Sikh house of worship) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, was attacked by a white supremacist and U.S. Army veteran. The gunman killed six worshippers and injured several others, including Baba Punjab Singh, a community elder who was paralyzed (and ultimately died from his injuries in 2020), and Lt. Brian Murphy, a heroic responding police officer who was shot some 15 times in an exchange of gunfire.

The assault remains the worst-ever attack on Sikhs in our country, and at the time, it was the deadliest attack on a U.S. house of worship of any kind in decades.

10 Years After Shooting, Wisconsin Sikhs Lead Interfaith Conversation On Safety

(Interfaith America) — On the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the fatal mass shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, more than 100 interfaith leaders, policymakers, White House officials, law enforcement officials and educators convened Thursday night (Aug. 4) at city hall in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, for an interfaith panel discussion on protecting places of worship from hate crimes.

The panel was a part of the Healing from Hate & Protecting Places of Worship Forum, a memorial of the tragedy at the gurdwara (as Sikhs call their houses of worship) organized by the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee in partnership with the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, Sikh Coalition and Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

The forum was a part of a series of events these groups are hosting this week to honor the victims of the shooting: Sita Singh, 41; Ranjit Singh, 49; Prakash Singh, 39; Paramjit Kaur, 41; Suveg Singh Khattra, 84; Satwant Singh Kaleka, 65; and Baba Punjab Singh, 72.

“Being here is incredibly moving because people have turned their pain into purpose in a way that none of us could have predicted,” Melissa Rogers, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said after the forum.

The interfaith panel, moderated by former U.S. attorney James Santelle, included Pardeep Kaleka, executive director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee; Walter Lanier, CEO of the African American Leadership Alliance of Milwaukee; Ahmed Quereshi, president of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee; and Ari Friedman, director of security and community properties at the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.

In the decade since the Oak Creek shooting, hate crimes against places of worship have been on the rise. Between 2018 and February 2020, mass shootings caused by religious hate increased by 17%.

As attacks have increased, synagogues, churches, mosques, gurdwaras and other places of worship have increased surveillance and security at their doors.

“We’ve developed an usher and greeters’ program where volunteers, who are not security people, but an extra set of eyes and ears, are trained to interact with the people as they come in, in a friendly manner,” Friedman said. The volunteers, he said, look out for nonverbal cues and other indicators to gauge if there is any need for concern.

In addition to securing their gates, the faith leaders said it’s important to include their congregations in conversations about safety and security.

Lanier said he uses biblical references to emphasize the importance of protecting oneself from harm.

“There’s a New Testament narrative where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead,” Lanier told the gathering. “Some religious leaders were mad … and they said we’re going to move off. We’re not going to put ourselves in the way of danger. But we’re going to use wisdom in this moment, and pull ourselves back. It was really important to frame up for the congregation that this is biblical, this is within the wheelhouse of our faith.”

Not every place of worship can afford to hire security, and, the Milwaukee Islamic Center’s Quereshi noted, in some cases it’s even illegal to do so. Quereshi added that many faith leaders face the challenge of balancing a fundamental belief that places of worship should welcome everyone with an urgent need to protect themselves and their community.

Lanier said it’s important for people to look out for not just their own but other communities as well. “It’s like being in a neighborhood. It can’t be that I’m just going to look out for my house and not worry about what’s happening at your house … let’s get together like this evening so that we can share resources, information, best practices, collaborate and have a narrative and have a critical mass of people who are on the same page and sharing similar messages.”

Kaleka, whose father was one of the seven victims at Oak Creek a decade ago, said one of the lessons the Sikh community learned that day was how everyone can keep moving forward with compassion while also learning to fortify their walls.

“In all communities who are targeted, we have been blessed to be surrounded by love, by compassion, by kindness,” Kaleka told the audience. “We could have left whatever happened as whatever happened, but you all made the conscious choice of being here because of seven people who died, but you would not let hope die. And we’re here 10 years later, simply because of that.”  (A version of this article originally appeared on Interfaith America magazine.)

Virginia Becomes First State to Declare October as Hindu Heritage Month

The Virginia State Legislature and Senate have both, unanimously passed a resolution declaring, in perpetuity, October as Hindu Heritage Month. The passing of resolution VA HJ141 which had been introduced by State Delegate Suhas Subramanyam was greeted with great excitement by the Indian American community.

The Hindu American Foundation which took the lead, on July 12 tweeted, “We thank the Virginia Hindu community and partners for helping make this happen,” while its Associate Director of Policy Research, Anita Joshi, credited Subramanyam and advocate Rajesh Gooty for the development.

Launched in 2021, Hindu Heritage Month is the global coming together of Hindus in October each year, to celebrate their rich heritage. October was chosen as it typically hosts an array of festivals like Navaratri, Dusshera, and Deepavali that are celebrated by the diverse communities per their Hindu calendars.

The President of the Vedic Friends Association, Balabhadra Bhattacarya Dasa, speaking on the importance of the initiative said, it would go toward dispelling misinformation and “provide a resource to educate, inform, and inspire not only non-Hindus but encourage Hindus, especially the younger Hindu generation.”

Thara Narasimhan, President, Hindus of Greater Houston also emphasized the importance of the event, pointing out that the synthesis of various languages and traditions that has happened through the ages has given shape to what is recognized as Indian culture today and HMM provides an avenue to showcase this unique openness and abidance of ‘unity in diversity.’

Dr. Jai Bansal, Vice President of Education at the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, coordinator for the Hindu Heritage Month movement, noted that the dream to make it a truly global event was slowly getting realized with organizations from Australia, Thailand, Indonesia, Nepal, South Africa, Germany, Norway and many other countries signing up as partners.

Pope Francis Wants To Slow Down As Health Declines

(RNS) — On his return flight from a six-day “penitential pilgrimage” to apologize to the Indigenous people of Canada on Friday, Pope Francis spoke about his health struggles and what their implications might be for the future of his papacy.

“I don’t think I can continue going on trips with the same pace I had in the past. At my age and with my limitations, I need to save energy in order to serve the church,” the pope told reporters aboard the papal plane, while being seated for the first time during the traditional inflight press conference.

“On the other hand, I might need to think about the possibility of stepping aside. It wouldn’t be a catastrophe. The pope can change, that is not a problem,” he added.

Francis traveled throughout the vast country July 24-29, meeting with First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities in on their own lands. From Edmonton to Quebec City to the far-northern island city of Iqaluit, the pope embarked and disembarked the plane by using a lift and met with Indigenous people on his wheelchair.

Despite the obvious toll the trip had on the pontiff, he appeared lively and energetic during the press conference aboard the papal plane, addressing a wide range of issues. Speaking to journalists, the pope reflected on the pressing issues of his trip by condemning as “evil and unjust” the papal justification for colonialism in the past, enshrined through the Doctrine of Discovery. He described the forceful assimilation of Indigenous people and the attempted erasure of their culture as genocide.

“It’s a genocide,” Francis said, referring to the state and church led practice of “taking away children, changing the culture, the mentality and the conditions and a race” of Indigenous people. The pope said he apologized and condemned the role the church played in the administration of residential schools, which often forcibly removed children from their families and traditions.

The pope said the papal bulls that in the past provided a justification for the colonization and forceful conversion of Indigenous lands were “grievous” and suggested the Vatican is working to amend the Doctrine of Discovery. He encouraged “going back and fixing the wrong that was done” but underlined that colonization continues today in new forms of homogenization and extinction of local diversity.

As an example, Francis spoke about the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar who “don’t have citizenship rights and are considered inferior.”

The papal trip to Canada focused especially on St. Anne, the grandmother of Jesus and a beloved figure in Catholic Indigenous communities. The pope underlined the important “role of women in the transmission and development of the faith.”

“The church is a woman. The church is a wife. The Church is not a man,” he said, adding that the vision of the church as a mother must prevail above any “macho power.”

As many women in the world fight for reproductive rights, Pope Francis weighed in on contraceptives, which were deemed “intrinsically wrong” by the church following Paul VI’s controversial 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, On Human Life, because they deny an openness to life.

“When dogma or morality develop it’s a good thing,” the pope said, before signaling some possibility of developing a revised Catholic doctrine on contraceptives, while insisting this must be done within the church and respecting tradition. “A church that doesn’t develop its thinking in an ecclesial sense is a church that goes backward,” he added.

He pointed to recent changes in Catholic teaching concerning the death penalty and the possession of nuclear weapons, which were once widely accepted within the church and later deemed “immoral” by Pope Francis.

The Vatican think-tank on bioethics, the Pontifical Academy for Life, recently published a book where some theologians argued in favor of developing the church’s teaching on contraceptives. Archival recordings show that Pope John Paul I had reservations regarding a total ban on artificial birth control.

“One cannot do theology with a ‘no’ in front of them,” the pope said, adding that “theological development must be open, because that’s what it’s for, and the magisterium serves to understand the limitations.”

He described as a “sin” the tendency of some “backwardists” who, while claiming to follow tradition, end up sustaining a “dead faith.” While encouraging the development of Catholic docrine, Francis said it must be done in line with tradition and with the church as a whole as enshrined by the early Christian monk Vincent of Lérins.

The pope also addressed a recent Vatican letter that pulled the brakes on a summit of bishops and lay faithful in Germany, which among other things was advocating for changes in Catholic teaching to be more welcoming toward LGBTQ couples and women. Francis said the letter was an “office mistake” because it was meant to be signed by the Vatican Secretariat of State and that he already said all he meant to say about the German synodal assembly in a 2021 letter.

Francis described his trip to Canada “as a bit of a test” to understand what future papal visits might be like. He said the effects of the anesthesia he underwent for his intestinal operation in July of last year led to a slow recovery. But the pope said he still intends to visit the embattled city of Kyiv in Ukraine once the logistics are determined.

He also said he is willing to go to Kazakhstan for an interreligious conference where Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill is scheduled to attend, adding “it would be a tranquil trip with little movement.”

He said he wishes to visit the African states of South Sudan and the Central African Republic of Congo, since he had to cancel his scheduled trip in early July due to his knee pain.

The pope spoke about the papacy as a “work, a function and a service” and did not exclude that God might one day ask him to retire.

“As an hypothesis, if the Lord tells me something I must discern what the Lord wants and it might be that the Lord wants me to take a step back,” he said. The pope’s decision to host a gathering of cardinals, or concistory, at the Vatican in the unusual month of August has spurred rumors Francis might be paving the road for the next pope. Asked about what he would like to see in his successor, Francis said it’s best to leave the decision to “the work of the Holy Spirit.”

Under Pope Francis, The College Of Cardinals Has Become Less European

By, Jeff Diamant

Unless his reign is short, a Roman Catholic pontiff typically appoints a majority of the men who vote for his successor. But Pope Francis’ additions to the College of Cardinals since his election in 2013 also have served another purpose – tilting the leadership structure of the Roman Catholic Church away from its historic European base and toward developing nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The pope recently announced that he will appoint 16 new voting cardinals (in addition to five other cardinals who are 80 or older and therefore ineligible to vote). After this latest group is officially installed at an Aug. 27 ceremony in Vatican City, the College of Cardinals will have 132 voting members, 40% of whom are European, down from 52% in 2013. 

How we did this

Francis’ appointments (including the recently announced future cardinals) have increased the overall representation of the Asia-Pacific region within the body of voting cardinals from 9% in 2013 to 17% in 2022, while increasing the representation of sub-Saharan Africa from 9% to 12%. These figures include cardinals who were named by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II.

Francis, an Argentinian who is the first pope from outside Europe since the eighth century, still has picked more cardinals from Europe than from any other region. Of the 83 newly appointed or currently eligible voting cardinals Francis has named so far during his papacy, 34% are from Europe, 22% from the Asia-Pacific region, 20% from Latin America and the Caribbean, 13% from sub-Saharan Africa, 8% from North America and 2% from the Middle East-North Africa region. Altogether, these cardinals appointed by Francis will make up a majority (63%) of the 132 voting members of the College of Cardinals after the Aug. 27 installation ceremony.

Among the 16 future cardinal electors Francis has chosen this year, four will represent Europe (Italy, Spain, France and the United Kingdom). Six will represent the Asia-Pacific region (two from India and one each from East Timor, Mongolia, Singapore and South Korea). Three other future cardinal electors are from Latin America and the Caribbean (two from Brazil and one from Paraguay). Two are from sub-Saharan Africa (Ghana and Nigeria) and one is from North America (U.S.-born Robert McElroy, archbishop of San Diego).

Given that, as of 2010, only about a quarter (24%) of the global Catholic population lives in Europe, the continent remains heavily overrepresented among voting cardinals. By this measure, the most underrepresented region within the church’s leadership – even with Francis’ new picks – is Latin America and the Caribbean, which is home to 39% of the worldwide Catholic population (again, as of 2010) but has only 18% of the cardinals.

Pope Francis Offers Historic Apology For ‘Devastating’ Abuses In Canada

Pope Francis issued a historic apology on July 25th for the Catholic Church’s cooperation with Canada’s “catastrophic” policy of Indigenous residential schools, saying the forced assimilation of Native peoples into Christian society destroyed their cultures, severed families and marginalized generations in ways still being felt today.

“I am sorry,” Francis said, to applause from school survivors and Indigenous community members gathered at a former residential school south of Edmonton, Alberta, the first event of Francis’ weeklong “penitential pilgrimage” to Canada.

The morning after he arrived in the country, Francis traveled to the lands of four Cree nations to pray at a cemetery. Four chiefs then escorted the pontiff in his wheelchair to powwow ceremonial grounds where he delivered the long-sought apology and was given a feathered headdress.

“I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples,” Francis said near the site of the former Ermineskin Indian Residential School, now largely torn down.

His words went beyond his earlier apology for the “deplorable” acts of missionaries and instead took responsibility for the church’s institutional cooperation with the “catastrophic” assimilation policy, which Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission said amounted to a “cultural genocide.”

More than 150,000 native children in Canada were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools from the 19th century until the 1970s in an effort to isolate them from the influence of their homes and culture. The aim was to Christianize and assimilate them into mainstream society, which previous Canadian governments considered superior.

The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse was rampant at the schools, with students beaten for speaking their native languages. That legacy of that abuse and isolation from family has been cited by Indigenous leaders as a root cause of the epidemic rates of alcohol and drug addiction now on Canadian reservations.

The discoveries of hundreds of potential burial sites at former schools in the past year drew international attention to the legacy of the schools in Canada and their counterparts in the United States. The discoveries prompted Francis to comply with the truth commission’s call for him to apologize on Canadian soil for the Catholic Church’s role; Catholic religious orders operated 66 of the 139 schools in Canada.

Many in the crowd Monday wore traditional dress, including colorful ribbon skirts and vests with Native motifs. Others donned orange shirts, which have become a symbol of residential school survivors, recalling the story of one woman whose favorite orange shirt, a gift from her grandmother, was confiscated when she arrived at a school and replaced with a uniform.

Despite the solemnity of the event, the atmosphere seemed at times joyful: Chiefs processed into the site venue to a hypnotic drumbeat, elders danced and the crowd cheered and chanted war songs, victory songs and finally a healing song.

One of the hosts of the event, Chief Randy Ermineskin of the Ermineskin Cree Nation, said some had chosen to stay away — and that that was understandable. But he said it was nevertheless a historic, important day for his people.

“My late family members are not here with us anymore, my parents went to residential school, I went to residential school,” he told The Associated Press as he waited for Francis to arrive. “I know they’re with me, they’re listening, they’re watching.”

Felisha Crier Hosein traveled from Florida to attend in the place of her mother, who helped create the museum for the nearby Samson Cree Nation and had planned to attend, but died in May.

“I came here to represent her and to be here for the elders and the community,” said Hosein, who wore one of her mother’s colorful ribbon skirts.

“Sorry is not going to make what happened go away,” she said. “But it means a lot to the elders.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who last year voiced an apology for the “incredibly harmful government policy” in organizing the residential school system, was also attending along with the governor general and other officials.

As part of a lawsuit settlement involving the government, churches and approximately 90,000 survivors, Canada paid reparations that amounted to billions of dollars being transferred to Indigenous communities. Canada’s Catholic Church says its dioceses and religious orders have provided more than $50 million in cash and in-kind contributions and hope to add $30 million more over the next five years.

While the pope acknowledged institutional blame, he also made clear that Catholic missionaries were merely cooperating with and implementing the government policy of assimilation, which he termed the “colonizing mentality of the powers.”

“I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the ways in which many members of the Church and of religious communities cooperated, not least through their indifference, in projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of that time, which culminated in the system of residential schools,” he said.

He said the policy marginalized generations, suppressed Indigenous languages, severed families, led to physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse and “indelibly affected relationships between parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren.” He called for further investigation, a possible reference to Indigenous demands for further access to church records and personnel files of the priests and nuns to identify who was responsible for the abuses.

“Although Christian charity was not absent, and there were many outstanding instances of devotion and care for children, the overall effects of the policies linked to the residential schools were catastrophic,” Francis said. ” What our Christian faith tells us is that this was a disastrous error, incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The first pope from the Americas was determined to make this trip, even though torn knee ligaments forced him to cancel a visit to Africa earlier this month.

The six-day visit — which will also include other former school sites in Alberta, Quebec City and Iqaluit, Nunavut, in the far north — follows meetings Francis held in the spring at the Vatican with delegations from the First Nations, Metis and Inuit. Those meetings culminated with an April 1 apology for the “deplorable” abuses committed by some Catholic missionaries in residential schools and Francis’ promise to deliver an apology in person on Canadian soil.

Francis recalled that during in April, one of the delegations gave him a set of beaded moccasins as a symbol of the children who never returned from the schools, and asked him to return them in Canada. Francis said in these months they had “kept alive my sense of sorrow, indignation and shame” but that in returning them he hoped they could also represent a path to walk together.

Event organizers said they would do everything possible to make sure survivors could attend the event, busing them in and offering mental health counselors to be on hand knowing that the event could be traumatic for some.

Francis acknowledged that the memories could trigger old wounds, and that even his mere presence there could be traumatic, but he said remembering was important to prevent indifference.

“It is necessary to remember how the policies of assimilation and enfranchisement, which also included the residential school system, were devastating for the people of these lands,” he said.

Later Monday, Francis was scheduled to visit Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, a Catholic parish in Edmonton oriented toward Indigenous people and culture. The church, whose sanctuary was dedicated last week after being restored from a fire, incorporates Indigenous language and customs in liturgy. 

(Courtesy: NPR: https://www.npr.org/2022/07/25/1113378991/pope-apology-canada-indigenous-schools)

Pope Francis Offers Historic Apology For ‘Devastating’ Abuses In Canada

“I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples,” Pope Francis said during a visit to Canada on July 25th

Pope Francis issued a historic apology on July 25th for the Catholic Church’s cooperation with Canada’s “catastrophic” policy of Indigenous residential schools, saying the forced assimilation of Native peoples into Christian society destroyed their cultures, severed families and marginalized generations in ways still being felt today.

“I am sorry,” Francis said, to applause from school survivors and Indigenous community members gathered at a former residential school south of Edmonton, Alberta, the first event of Francis’ weeklong “penitential pilgrimage” to Canada.

The morning after he arrived in the country, Francis traveled to the lands of four Cree nations to pray at a cemetery. Four chiefs then escorted the pontiff in his wheelchair to powwow ceremonial grounds where he delivered the long-sought apology and was given a feathered headdress.

“I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples,” Francis said near the site of the former Ermineskin Indian Residential School, now largely torn down.

His words went beyond his earlier apology for the “deplorable” acts of missionaries and instead took responsibility for the church’s institutional cooperation with the “catastrophic” assimilation policy, which Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission said amounted to a “cultural genocide.”

More than 150,000 native children in Canada were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools from the 19th century until the 1970s in an effort to isolate them from the influence of their homes and culture. The aim was to Christianize and assimilate them into mainstream society, which previous Canadian governments considered superior.

The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse was rampant at the schools, with students beaten for speaking their native languages. That legacy of that abuse and isolation from family has been cited by Indigenous leaders as a root cause of the epidemic rates of alcohol and drug addiction now on Canadian reservations.

The discoveries of hundreds of potential burial sites at former schools in the past year drew international attention to the legacy of the schools in Canada and their counterparts in the United States. The discoveries prompted Francis to comply with the truth commission’s call for him to apologize on Canadian soil for the Catholic Church’s role; Catholic religious orders operated 66 of the 139 schools in Canada.

Many in the crowd Monday wore traditional dress, including colorful ribbon skirts and vests with Native motifs. Others donned orange shirts, which have become a symbol of residential school survivors, recalling the story of one woman whose favorite orange shirt, a gift from her grandmother, was confiscated when she arrived at a school and replaced with a uniform.

Despite the solemnity of the event, the atmosphere seemed at times joyful: Chiefs processed into the site venue to a hypnotic drumbeat, elders danced and the crowd cheered and chanted war songs, victory songs and finally a healing song.

One of the hosts of the event, Chief Randy Ermineskin of the Ermineskin Cree Nation, said some had chosen to stay away — and that that was understandable. But he said it was nevertheless a historic, important day for his people.

“My late family members are not here with us anymore, my parents went to residential school, I went to residential school,” he told The Associated Press as he waited for Francis to arrive. “I know they’re with me, they’re listening, they’re watching.”

Felisha Crier Hosein traveled from Florida to attend in the place of her mother, who helped create the museum for the nearby Samson Cree Nation and had planned to attend, but died in May.

“I came here to represent her and to be here for the elders and the community,” said Hosein, who wore one of her mother’s colorful ribbon skirts.

“Sorry is not going to make what happened go away,” she said. “But it means a lot to the elders.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who last year voiced an apology for the “incredibly harmful government policy” in organizing the residential school system, was also attending along with the governor general and other officials.

As part of a lawsuit settlement involving the government, churches and approximately 90,000 survivors, Canada paid reparations that amounted to billions of dollars being transferred to Indigenous communities. Canada’s Catholic Church says its dioceses and religious orders have provided more than $50 million in cash and in-kind contributions and hope to add $30 million more over the next five years.

While the pope acknowledged institutional blame, he also made clear that Catholic missionaries were merely cooperating with and implementing the government policy of assimilation, which he termed the “colonizing mentality of the powers.”

“I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the ways in which many members of the Church and of religious communities cooperated, not least through their indifference, in projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of that time, which culminated in the system of residential schools,” he said.

He said the policy marginalized generations, suppressed Indigenous languages, severed families, led to physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse and “indelibly affected relationships between parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren.” He called for further investigation, a possible reference to Indigenous demands for further access to church records and personnel files of the priests and nuns to identify who was responsible for the abuses.

“Although Christian charity was not absent, and there were many outstanding instances of devotion and care for children, the overall effects of the policies linked to the residential schools were catastrophic,” Francis said. ” What our Christian faith tells us is that this was a disastrous error, incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The first pope from the Americas was determined to make this trip, even though torn knee ligaments forced him to cancel a visit to Africa earlier this month.

The six-day visit — which will also include other former school sites in Alberta, Quebec City and Iqaluit, Nunavut, in the far north — follows meetings Francis held in the spring at the Vatican with delegations from the First Nations, Metis and Inuit. Those meetings culminated with an April 1 apology for the “deplorable” abuses committed by some Catholic missionaries in residential schools and Francis’ promise to deliver an apology in person on Canadian soil.

Francis recalled that during in April, one of the delegations gave him a set of beaded moccasins as a symbol of the children who never returned from the schools, and asked him to return them in Canada. Francis said in these months they had “kept alive my sense of sorrow, indignation and shame” but that in returning them he hoped they could also represent a path to walk together.

Event organizers said they would do everything possible to make sure survivors could attend the event, busing them in and offering mental health counselors to be on hand knowing that the event could be traumatic for some.

Francis acknowledged that the memories could trigger old wounds, and that even his mere presence there could be traumatic, but he said remembering was important to prevent indifference.

“It is necessary to remember how the policies of assimilation and enfranchisement, which also included the residential school system, were devastating for the people of these lands,” he said.

Later Monday, Francis was scheduled to visit Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, a Catholic parish in Edmonton oriented toward Indigenous people and culture. The church, whose sanctuary was dedicated last week after being restored from a fire, incorporates Indigenous language and customs in liturgy.

(Courtesy: NPR: https://www.npr.org/2022/07/25/1113378991/pope-apology-canada-indigenous-schools)

Pope Francis Rejects Resignation Rumors

(RNS) — While Pope Francis said he has “no intention of resigning,” he laid out a broad view of what it would look like if he stepped down as pontiff in a long interview published on Tuesday (July 12). Francis also weighed in on many hot button topics in America, from abortion to mass shootings and drug trafficking.

The pope told the Mexican media outlet TelevisaUnivision that his knee troubles, which forced him to use a wheelchair for a short time, raised concerns he might not be able to perform his papal duties. “It’s getting better. Now I can walk,” he said. “But it never occurred to me to quit.”

Francis admitted his health struggles have “certainly limited” him in his role recently, namely in leading him to postpone a planned trip to two countries in Africa, but he insisted he has no intention of stepping down at the moment.

He did say that if he were no longer able to perform his duties, or if “I become a hindrance,” he would follow in the example of his predecessor Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, who in 2013 became the first pope to resign in 600 years.

“I hope that the strength of that example will help me make the decision,” he said. Pope Francis spoke highly of Benedict, who having added the title emeritus to his name continues to wear the white clothing of the pontiffs and lives in a monastery in the Vatican. “That man is supporting the church with his kindness and with his retirement,” he said.

According to Francis, the precedent set by Benedict does open the door for popes to resign — but with that possibility comes the need “to delineate things more” and create explicit guidelines for the role of the emeritus pope, he said, calling the initial framework created by Benedict a “first step.”

But Francis said if he were to retire, he would would not remain at the Vatican but would instead return to the retirement plan he’d laid out before being elected pope, spending the rest of his days as bishop emeritus in a home for priests in a Roman parish, living “in service to the people.”

“If I survive, I would like something like this: Confess and go see the sick,” Francis said.

In the two-hour interview, Francis also touched on a number of pressing issues concerning the United States, especially abortion, which has taken center stage after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, handing decisions around legalizing abortion back to the states.

While admitting he’s not knowledgeable on the U.S. legal system, Francis asked: “Is it fair to take a human life to solve a problem? Whatever it is? Is it fair to hire a hit man to eliminate a human life?” The pope referenced scientific research he said shows that “one month after conception, the DNA is already there,” while adding his position on this issue is “nonnegotiable.”

But the pontiff noted how polarizing the issue is and the risk of losing sight of the pastoral and human dimension, especially when clergy turn it into a “political problem.” Some conservative bishops in the United States have denied Communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, including President Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, while encouraging others to follow their lead.

Concerning whether a politician supporting abortion rights should take Communion, Francis said he leaves it “to your conscience,” and a politician should “speak with his bishop, with his pastor, with his parish priest, about that inconsistency.” The pope added that faithful are more confused by the political attitude of bishops who are “so focused on an issue they can’t see past their own nose.”

The pope also addressed the recent mass shootings in the United States, including the Independence Day parade shooting near Chicago, pointing to the “serious social problem” that led these young men to commit such acts of violence. Francis called such actions “diabolical” and questioned why “young people are so dissatisfied that they feel fulfilled only by destroying.”

The proliferation of weapons is tied to the culture of war, the pope said, and raises the question of how to monitor the sale of weapons. This culture of violence permeates all societies, he added, including the drug cartels in Mexico where many priests are killed every year.

While the war in Ukraine has garnered global attention, the pope said, “for years we have been living the Third World War in bits, in chapters, with wars everywhere.” Asked why he didn’t directly condemn Russia and its leader, President Vladimir Putin, for the aggression, the pope said he prefers “to talk about the victims rather than the perpetrators.”

Accusing Russia “is not a way to keep the door open to someone’s conscience,” he continued, adding that he “laughs” when detractors accuse him of being pro-Putin. “People’s ability to express their opinion has no limit,” he said, adding such pronouncements are more often than not a response to the latest message they saw on Twitter.

The pope said he still plans to visit the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv “soon” and plans to meet with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill during a religious meeting in Kazakhstan in September. Francis also said he plans to apologize to the Indigenous peoples when he visits Canada July 24-31 for the “cruelty” of those who tried to eliminate their culture, including Catholic clergy.

On the question of the inclusion of women in the Vatican offices that make up the Roman Curia, Francis said “the door is open” for a woman to one day occupy the second highest position at the Vatican as secretary of state. Francis’ new apostolic constitution, “Praedicate Evangelium” (Preach the Gospel), allows for lay individuals to lead Vatican offices and departments.

The pope also said “the pot has been uncovered” concerning the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults in the Catholic Church, but the problem will persist as long as we live in a society where people continue to be physically and psychologically abused.

Francis also touched on the subject of human traffiking and migration, urging people to show compassion and avoid generalizations. “Human dramas have a face,” the pope said. “Let’s make decisions by looking at the faces of those people.”

Vatican Names 3 Women To Office That Vets Bishop Nominations

Pope Francis on Wednesday named three women to serve as members of the Vatican office that vets bishop nominations, in another first for women to have a say in Catholic Church governance.

The new members are Sister Raffaella Petrini, who already holds a high-ranking Vatican position as the secretary general of the Vatican City State, which runs the Vatican Museums and other administrative parts of the territory.

Also named was Sister Yvonne Reungoat, former superior general of the Daughters of Mary the Helper, a religious order also known as the Salesian Sisters; as well as a laywoman, Maria Lia Zervino, president of a Catholic women’s umbrella group, the World Union of Female Catholic Organizations.

The dicastery’s members, who include cardinals, bishops and now women, meet periodically to evaluate proposed new bishops whose names are forwarded by Vatican ambassadors.

The Dicastery for Bishops oversees the work of most of the church’s 5,300 bishops, who run dioceses around the world. The dicastery’s members, who include cardinals, bishops and now women, meet periodically to evaluate proposed new bishops whose names are forwarded by Vatican ambassadors. The ambassadors usually come up with three candidates for each opening after consulting with local church members.

The pope still makes the final call and can bypass candidates proposed by his ambassadors and then vetted by the dicastery. But the addition of women into the consultation process is nevertheless significant and a response to calls to break up the all-male clerical hierarchy of the Holy See and demands that women have a greater say in church decision-making.

Church doctrine reserves the priesthood for men, given Christ’s apostles were male. Women have often complained they have a second-class status in the church, even though they do the lion’s share of its work running schools, hospitals and passing the faith from generation to generation.

Hindu Heritage Month 2022 Planned For October

Organizers of the second annual Hindu Heritage Month celebrations said the response they had received, after the announcement of the event being held in October, had been immensely supportive.

Rutvij Holay, California Coordinator, Hindu Policy Research and Advocacy Collective, and an organizer of HMM said with excitement, “We have Hindus all the way from Indonesia to Norway who are ready to participate, and I’m excited to see what the 2022 HMM will bring.”

Calling for the momentum to be kept up, Dr. Jai Bansal, Vice President of Education, World Hindu Council of America, said that the website www.hindumonth.org was now live and active for organizations to register themselves as partners.

Echoing Bansal’s sentiments, Amitabh Mittal, General Secretary, World Hindu Council of America said, “I encourage our brothers and sisters in Dharma to spread the message of Hindu Heritage Month around the world.”

The Hindu Heritage Month (HMM) event aims to facilitate the showcasing of the diversity and richness of Hindu civilization, and for this, has called on Dharmic organizations across the globe to join in the effort.

Among those signing on as partners is the Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA). Its President, Nikunj Trivedi said, “CoHNA is excited and honored to join the Hindu Heritage Month and looks forward to celebrating our beautiful heritage with Hindus from all walks of life. HHM is an excellent time to showcase our heritage and contributions to society and remove misconceptions about us as people.”

The McGill Dharma Society at McGill University in Montreal has also signed on as a partner. Its Co-Presidents, Nancy Kaul and Shreya Mahesenan, while echoing the sentiments of the others, said their hope was “to especially emphasize and promote inclusivity through the concept of family.”

The month-long festivities will be based on the “open source” model, with each participating organization free to do the programming of their choice. The event could be held in-person or online and could be in the form of theater, music, dance, fashion show, webinars, or walkathons – in short as diverse as Hindu civilization itself. 

Hindus are among the fastest-growing immigrant communities in the US and Canada. Known for their rock-solid family structure and love for education, they continue to enrich society with outstanding professional contributions and rich cultural heritage.

Any organization that wishes to participate in the HHM celebration is requested to register as a partner at: www.hindumonth.org.

After US Bishops Banned, Nancy Pelosi Receives Communion At The Vatican

(RNS) — In defiance of some U.S. bishops, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi reportedly received Communion during a Mass presided over by Pope Francis on Wednesday (June 29) for the celebration of the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone announced June 1 that the Catholic congresswoman is banned from receiving Communion in her home diocese of San Francisco due to her abortion rights stance. Since then, she has been barred from receiving the sacrament in four dioceses.

Pelosi called the recent pronouncement by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade an “outrageous and heart-wrenching” decision. The U.S. Catholic bishops lauded the court’s decision, which they said overturned “an unjust law that has permitted some to decide whether others can live or die.”

Pelosi met with Francis on Wednesday before the service and received a blessing, according to one of the Mass attendees.

Sitting in the VIP section during the traditional Mass at St. Peter’s to celebrate the patron saints of Rome, Pelosi listened to Pope Francis’ homily before receiving Communion from one of the many priests in the basilica, according to eyewitnesses. Francis has rarely distributed Communion, citing precisely the desire to prevent politicization of the sacrament.

Last year, President Joe Biden, another Catholic who also supports abortion rights, said after meeting with Francis that the pontiff told him to continue receiving the sacrament. Biden later received Communion during a Mass in a Rome church that is under the authority of Francis as bishop of Rome.

In his homily, Francis urged faithful to “Go to the crossroads and bring everyone: blind, deaf, lame, sick, righteous, sinful, everyone, everyone! This word of the Lord must resound, resound in the mind and heart: everyone! In the church there is room for everyone,” adding that “many times we become a church with open doors but to dismiss people, to condemn people.”

Last year, Pope Francis told reporters on his return flight from Central Europe that he has never denied Communion to anyone and criticized bishops who didn’t act as shepherds and “aligned themselves with political life, on political problems.” The Vatican’s doctrinal department, in a letter in May of last year, urged the U.S. bishops to engage in dialogue among themselves and with Catholic politicians before reaching any decision.

During the Mass on Wednesday, Pope Francis blessed the palliums, the liturgical vestments, of new metropolitan archbishops. He told the archbishops in attendance to “fight the good fight,” but to do so with the entirety of the faithful, without considering themselves superior.

After the Mass, Pelosi met with representatives of the Catholic charitable movement Sant’Egidio, where she spoke in support of Ukrainian refugees and made a donation of $25,000.

During his Angelus prayer before faithful at St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis also addressed the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, saying he prays “this senseless war may soon see an end” and hopes the Lord will “open those paths of dialogue that men are unwilling or unable to find.” He then encouraged aid to the Ukrainian people, “who are suffering so much.”

Pelosi was present at a diplomatic reception at the residence of the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See on Tuesday evening, marking America’s upcoming Independence Day.

Speaking to a crowd of ambassadors, Vatican officials and other Rome-based Americans, Pelosi spoke about the Catholic virtues of faith, hope and charity and the important roles they play in the U.S. Embassy’s mission.

“Faith is an important gift. Not everyone has it but it is the path to so many other things,” she told the crowd.

As Pelosi left the event, a demonstrator from the American Academy in front of the Embassy shone light on a banner reading “Abortion Rights are Human Rights.” (The Associated Press contributed to this story)

Pope Francis Purges Liturgy Of Ideology

(RNS) — Pope Francis issued a new document on Wednesday (June 29) aimed at promoting the “rediscovery” of the Catholic Church’s Eucharistic liturgy celebrated at Mass to protect it from ideological influences.

“With this letter I simply want to invite the whole Church to rediscover, to safeguard, and to live the truth and power of the Christian celebration,” Francis wrote, without it being “spoiled by a superficial and foreshortened understanding of its value or, worse yet,” he added, “exploited in service of some ideological vision, no matter what the hue.”

The document, titled “Desiderio Desideravi,” a Latin phrase meaning “Ardently Desire,” also pushes back against proponents of the Old Latin Mass, or Tridentine Rite, which was swapped in favor of the vernacular Mass instituted by the 1963-65 Second Vatican Council.

A year ago, Francis reintroduced the restrictions on celebrating the Old Latin Mass, which had been allowed by his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI in 2007. Unlike that document, which was aimed at bishops and priests, “Desiderio Desideravi” is addressed to all the Catholic faithful.  

The beauty of the liturgy, Francis wrote, is not about “the search for a ritual aesthetic” that focuses on “a careful exterior observance of a rite” or “a scrupulous observance of the rubrics.” Nor does the pontiff wish for the Catholic Mass to be reduced to “a careless banality” or “ignorant superficiality.”

Akin to an artistic performance, the liturgy must be rehearsed and carefully prepared, the pope wrote, so that faithful may participate in wonder at the sacrament in which, Catholics believe, the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Jesus.

“But even if the quality and the proper action of the celebration were guaranteed, that would not be enough to make our participation full,” the document states.

Some conservative prelates and lay people have championed the pre-Vatican II Latin rite to express dissent against Francis, who they believe is furthering secularization in the church. Proponents of the old rite claim that the incense-filled and shimmering-gold celebrations function as a pull toward the divine, dismissing today’s liturgy as too austere.

“If the reform has eliminated that vague ‘sense of mystery,’ then more than a cause for accusations, it is to its credit,” Francis wrote. “Beauty, just like truth, always engenders wonder, and when these are referred to the mystery of God, they lead to adoration.”


In this April 12, 2020, file photo, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone celebrates Easter Mass, which was livestreamed, at St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

The new document appeared just as several prominent conservative cardinals and bishops attended a conference on Catholic liturgy at St. Patrick’s Seminary in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, whose leader, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, has been at odds with Francis’ policy of giving Communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights. 

Participants at the June 28-July 1 meeting, titled “Sacred Liturgy,” include Cardinal Robert Sarah, a retired West African prelate who until last year headed the Vatican’s liturgy department, and Cardinal George Pell, an Australian who stepped down as the Vatican’s financial reform czar in 2020 to successfully defend himself against sexual abuse charges. Both have been critics of Francis.

The document released Wednesday directly addresses the factionalism over the Latin Mass. “Behind the battles concerning rite, in the end, are hidden differing views of the church,” wrote Andrea Tornielli, the head of the Vatican communications department, in an article accompanying the document.

Francis himself voices dismay in “Desiderio Desideravi” at the pushback that Vatican II still meets today. As pope he has cautiously but determinedly opened the church and the Eucharist to divorced and remarried couples, people who have had abortions and, most recently, politicians who support abortion rights.

“The world still does not know it, but everyone is invited to the supper of the wedding of the Lamb,” the pope said in the document, alluding to a passage in the New Testament’s Book of Revelation. “To be admitted to the feast all that is required is the wedding garment of faith which comes from the hearing of his Word.”

Francis underlined that the liturgy “has nothing to do with an ascetical moralism.” The phrase “ardently desire” is itself a quote from the Gospel of Luke describing Jesus’ wish to share Passover, one of the bases for the Mass, with his apostles.

The pope also offered some cautionary words for priests who put themselves at the center of the liturgy, cautioning them against “a heightened personalism of the celebrating style which at times expresses a poorly concealed mania to be the center of attention.”

This is especially the case when Masses are celebrated online, the pope wrote, a phenomenon that has grown in popularity since the onset of the pandemic.

The liturgy is about placing “the other” first, the pope wrote, and while it has been studied by scholars, Francis wrote, it should be offered “in an accessible way, so that each one of the faithful might grow in a knowledge of the theological sense of the Liturgy.”

The pope also reminded his readers that the Second Vatican Council moved with the full authority of the church. “We cannot go back to that ritual form which the Council fathers (…) felt the need to reform, approving, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and following their conscience as pastors, the principles from which was born the reform,” Pope Francis concluded.

“Let us abandon our polemics to listen together to what the Spirit is saying to the Church. Let us safeguard our communion. Let us continue to be astonished at the beauty of the Liturgy,” he added.

Indian Artisans Make Eco-Friendly Idols Of Hindu God Ganesh

Ganesh Chaturthi is just days away and like every year there are discussions about celebrating the festival popular in several parts of India with devotion and fervor. As people are busy preparing majestic idols for the festival, there are people trying to bring awareness about eco-friendly Ganeshas.

Joining them, BJP MP from Bengaluru and the Union Cabinet Minister for Chemicals, Fertilizers and Parliamentary Affairs Ananthkumar urged people to go for an environment friendly Ganesh Chaturthi with Eco-Ganesha.

He shared an image and an article by an NGO highlighting how Lord Ganesha is a god of nature representing natural elements, and mentioned that using artificial and harmful material used for the idol won’t please the god. His tweet was well received on social media as many going for the same last year were appreciated and even PM Modi urged people to use natural clay idols.

Asa per reports, artisans in the Indian city of Hyderabad have begun making eco-friendly idols of the Hindu god Ganesh ahead of a religious festival. The statues of the elephant-headed deity are being made from a special clay known as “Kolkata ganga”. The Ganesh Chaturthi festival, also known as Vinayaka Chaturti, celebrates the arrival of Ganesh to earth from Kailash Parvat with his mother Goddess Parvati/Gauri. This year the religious festival falls on September 10.

Ahead of Ganesha Chaturthi, an organisation based in Gujarat’s Vadodara has made eco-friendly ‘Vedic Ganesha idols’ for the occasion.

Mukesh Gupta, the Director of Kamdhenu Gau Amrita said that the eco-friendly Ganesha idols would benefit the environment as they can be dissolved in water or be used as fertilisers.

“With Ganesh Chaturthi coming up, we are making Ganesha idols using cow dung. The biggest advantage is that these idols can be dissolved in water at the time of visarjan (immersion) so one need not go to a river, they can immerse the idols in water tubs also, and they can be used as fertilisers. The second advantage is that this idol is cheaper than the idols made of plaster of Paris (POP) or clay,” he said. 

Meanwhile,m reports suggested, eco-friendly Ganesha idols made from cow dung by Kanta Yadav and her family in Bhopal are in great demand among people. “These Ganesha idols are made from cow dung. After the cow dung is dry, we add wood dust and maida powder to it. We pour the mixture into a mould and make an idol from it. We use natural ccolors In Hindu culture, cow dung is considered sacred and that is why we chose to make idols from it,” Kanta Yadav told ANI.

She further said, “These idols can be made in 15 minutes but it takes four to five days to dry them. After that, they are coloured and are ready in 8 days.”

These idols are inexpensive and can be bought by all Kanta said, and added “Apart from Bhopal, I get orders from other places, including Pune and Delhi. People are really keen on buying these idols. Many people want to learn how to make them too.”

Annual Rath Yatra Of Lord Jagannath Held In India And Around The World

One of India’s largest religious festivals, the Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra has now become part of religious celebrations for Hindus around the world. The biggest of these processions takes place in Puri in the eastern state of Orissa, while the other takes place in the western state of Gujarat. The Rath Yatra or chariot festival is traditionally celebrated by Hindus on the second day of Sukla Paksha of the month of Ashadh.

The festival is unique in that three Hindu gods are taken out of their temples in a colorful procession to meet their devotees. Believed to be the oldest Rath Yatra or chariot procession in the world, this festival marks the annual ceremonial procession of Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Balabhadra and younger sister Subhadra, from their home temple to another temple, located in what is believed to be their aunt’s home. This journey is documented in undated Hindu sacred texts known as the Puranas which are believed to have been written a few thousand years ago.

In Gujarat, the 145th Annual Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath is in progress in Ahmedabad amidst tight security arrangements. The Chariots of Lord Jagannath, Lord Baldev and their sister Devi Subhadra will travel during the day on 18 kilometres of its traditional route. Rath Yatra began on Friday, July 1, 2022 from 400 year- old historic Lord Jagannath Temple in Jamalpur area of old city. The  Rath Yatra or chariot festival is traditionally celebrated by Hindus on the second day of Sukla Paksha of the month of Ashadh.

As per reports, eighteen decorated elephants led the Rath Yatra- as according to century old traditions, the elephants have the first glimpse of Lord Jagannath ji. It is said that Lord Jagannath ji along with brother Baldev ji and Sister Devi Subhadra are taking a round of the city to see the well being of their devotees. Lakhs of devotees gathered on both sides of the entire route to get a glimpse of Lord Jagannath.

Apart from decorated elephants, 101 trucks, 30 religious congregations, 18 singing troupes and thousands of Sadhus and Saints are adding colors to the procession. Devotees’ along with the Rathyatra have halted at Saraspur- the maternal home of Lord Jagannath for Prasad and again started its return journey for the Temple.

Thousands of devotees gathered in Odisha’s Puri to participate in the Jagannath Rath Yatra festivities that begin today at the 12 century iconic shrine of Lord Jagannath. “Greatest festival of Supreme Lord is Rath Yatra which happens every year. For last 2 yrs devotees’ participation was barred due to pandemic but is allowed this year. Expecting huge public participation today,” Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb, the current titular Gajapati Maharaja and the King of Puri was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.

The annual Rath Yatra of the holy trinity – Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra and Lord Jagannath – is being held with full public participation after a hiatus of two years due to the pandemic. It will culminate next week on July 9. Tight security has been put in place for the mega event.

“We expect a large gathering of about 10 lakh on Ratha Yatra as people are allowed to participate in the festival after a gap of two years,” development commissioner, P K Jena, was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.

The Rath Yatra or the ‘Chariot Festival’ is believed to be as old as the iconic shrine. It’s also said to be a rare festival as deities are taken out of the temple premises. Also the idols are carved out of wood, and not metal. The deities set out for the Yatra along with the celestial wheel – Sudarshana Chakra, which is also removed from the temple during the ceremonial procession.

On their way back to the temple after more than a week, the deities stop for a while near the Mausi Maa Temple (Aunt’s abode). Here, they have an offering of the Poda Pitha, said to be a special type of pancake.

Though many think it’s a nine-day festival – the onward journey of the Holy Trinity to their maternal aunt Goddess Gundicha Devi’s Temple and culminates with the Return Journey after eight days. In reality the festival stretches from the day of AkhayaTrutiya (in April) and culminates with the Return Journey of the Holy Trinity to the Shree Mandir premises.

While the celebrations of Lord Jagannath has been ongoing for centuries in various parts of India, Hindus across the globe have brought with them these traditions. Sri Siddha Lalitha Peetham (Sree Vijaya Durga Temple) organized Sri Jagannath Rath Yatra on July 22nd in Burlington, MA.  The procession was  in a 14’ tall chariot specially for the purpose and decorated with various designs and colors and with flowers. Sree Vijaya Durga Temple has been conducting the event for several years.

The celebrations commenced with the head of the Ashram Sri. Bhavani Tejasvi Athmaram preparing Lord Jagannath (Lord Krishna), his sister Goddess Subhadra and his elder brother Lord Balabhadra ready for procession. With all the Vedic chants the procession began from the temple, proceeded on Wilmington Road towards Cambridge street, Burlington covering over 1.6 miles. Devotees sang Bhajans during the procession which was followed by Suna Besha Darshan, Maha Puja and Nritya Seva in Kuchipudi, Bharatanatyam and odissi to Lord Jagannath.

In New Jersey, a state with one of the largest number of Indian Americans, the Rath Yatra began on July 3rd and the Bahuda (Return Rath Rath) Yatra with cultural programs will be held on Sunday Jul 10th at Wayne Hindu Temple.

After a stay of seven days, the deities will return to their abode in Srimandira. Devotees, young and old, are expected to participate in this colorful festival and pull the beautifully decorated Rath. On this day Lord Jagannath  comes out of His sanctum sanctorum to give Darshan to all Devotees belonging to all sects and communities. lt is said that those who take part in the Car Festival earn their passage to the Heaven. “The sanctity of the festival is such that even a touch of the chariot or even the ropes with which these are pulled is considered enough to confer the results of several pious deeds or penance for ages,” organizers of the event stated in a press release.

Meanwhile, there are now efforts to make these celebrations eco-friendly. Sand artists from Odisha, Sudarsan Pattnaik and Manas Sahoo, have devoted their works to the Rath Yatra, or the car festival, celebrated every year in Puri.

Pattnaik has created 125 sand chariots and a sand sculpture of Lord Jagannath at Puri beach in Odisha. He has already a record of creating 100 sand chariots placed in Limca Books of World Records. Now he is attempting to create another record for the Limca Book of Records.

He says sand art is believed to have originated during Rath Yatra in the 16th century by Balaram Das, a staunch devotee of Jagannath and a famous poet who was once humiliated by servitors and not allowed to pull the chariots during Rath Yatra. He then went to the beach and sculpted chariots on the sand. Through his sand animation, Sahoo has depicted the construction of the Shree Jagannath Temple, the construction of the chariots, and how the Lord is coming out of the temple to give darshan to the devotees. He has beautifully animated the scene of the devotees being enthralled by the sight of the Lord in a chariot as they have not seen the Lord for the last two years due to the pandemic. It took Sahoo 10 hours to make this 1-minute and 16-second video. In it, he conveyed the message of “Happy Rath Yatra” to the whole world.


India’s Dark Turn From Model Of Religious Pluralism To Cautionary Tale

Born in India, I’ve spent most of my life in the United States, including 20 years in academia writing about religion in America. For years, I imagined a “someday” project to write a book comparing and contrasting my two home countries’ religious landscapes. Two of the world’s largest democracies, they are both officially secular while also being dominated by one faith group that wields almost all the legal and social power: Christians in the United States, Hindus in India.

India, I once thought, could offer Americans another model of religious pluralism. While far from having a perfect record on religious liberty, in its 75 years the Hindu-majority country has had a Sikh prime minister and multiple Muslim presidents, with popular movie and sports stars of all religious backgrounds. The U.S., in nearly 250 years, has had only Christian heads of state, all but two of them Protestant. You can almost count our minority-faith movie stars on one hand.

My dream of that study has faded in recent years, because India looks today less like a model than a cautionary tale. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist elected in 2014 and now in his second term, has made India an increasingly difficult place to be a religious minority.

At the institutional level, the Citizen Amendment Act challenges Muslims’ Indian citizenship; the government has also shown a clear pattern of staying silent when communal violence occurs. At the societal level, Hindu mobs have harassed religious minorities on holidays such as Eid al-Fitr and Maundy Thursday. At the individual level, there are attempts to control what people eat by enforcing Hinduism’s dietary standards on all Indians.

When one of my cousins in Mumbai attended a Catholic school in the 1970s and 1980s, his circle of friends included people of numerous religions — Hindus, Muslims and Parsis, among others. They would go to each other’s homes and to each other’s houses of worship — even to pray, if there was an exam coming up!

When this same group of friends gathers today, they talk about the fact that their children, who attend schools with just as much religious diversity, don’t hang out with kids of other religions. Today’s Hindu kids would not dream of going to a mosque; the Muslim kids never think of praying at a Hindu temple. “We all agree, it’s really sad,” my cousin tells me.

In Modi’s India, as in the U.S. political right, the culture is bound up in nationalism, and specifically in the manufacture of a national identity tied to religion. Instead of the model I envisioned years ago, India has become an object lesson in what could have happened if Donald Trump had been re-elected — and could still happen, if he or another leader from America’s theocratic right wing is elected in 2024.

Members of JK Awami Aawaz Party hold placards as they take part in a protest against minority killings, in Srinagar, Indian -ontrolled Kashmir, Thursday, June 2, 2022. Assailants fatally shot a Hindu bank manager in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Thursday, said police, who blamed militants fighting against Indian rule for the attack. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)

For somebody who writes about white Christian privilege, who has examined the historical and legal landscape of the U.S., the parallels are easy to see. India is Hindu like the United States is Christian: officially not so in its founding documents but with a history of state-sanctioned violence against religious minorities and the majority faith’s privilege embedded deeply in the laws, mores and culture.

I’m not arguing that Hindus in India never experience discrimination or that no one in the U.S. has ever been targeted for being Christian. But power lies with the majority and in the legal and social infrastructure it has built.

Indian American Hindus know what it feels like to be discriminated against. We’ve seen our mandirs vandalized. We’ve heard our faith ridiculed and trivialized. And we have suffered the indignities and marginalization that shape our everyday lives as non-white and non-Christian Americans. If you’ve been treated like you have divided loyalties because of your religion, you know what Indian Muslims, Sikhs and Christians are experiencing.

Given that experience, it’s incumbent on Indian Americans to take a clear-eyed look at what’s going on in India. We need to remove the blinders of nostalgia — stop seeing only the India we left in the 1970s, ’80s or ’90s. We need to act on the lessons of our experience in America and see ourselves in India’s religious minorities.

Many Indian American Hindus have strong transnational ties. We have family there, are involved in diasporic politics, have investments in India or stay connected through philanthropy and remittances. We all have a responsibility to exert our power in support of religious minorities in India.

If you’re against states like Georgia purging minority voters from the rolls, you have to be just as active when Assam purges 2 million Muslims from its national registry. If you won’t shop at Abercrombie & Fitch or Hobby Lobby because of their histories of religious discrimination, you’d better speak up when Indian schools force girls to choose between wearing hijab and going to class.

In short, if you’re someone in the Hindu diaspora who has economic or social power and you don’t speak up against state-sanctioned violence and discrimination in India, you might as well be participating in it. If you’re against discrimination here, then you’ve got to be against discrimination there.

These days, many of us worry about the loss of American democracy, and especially about the ways that white Christian nationalists feel emboldened to talk about going back to segregation, targeting immigrants and restoring an America where LGBTQ people were marginalized and women “knew their place.”

We need to worry as much about Hindu nationalism in Modi’s India. And we need to be just as involved in steering clear of that dark future — before it’s too late for both our democracies.

India Celebrates The Holy Legacy Of St. Devasahayam

KOTAR, India — Hundreds of thousands of Catholics, along with three dozen bishops from across the country, attended the June 5 thanksgiving ceremony for the canonization of India’s first lay-martyr saint in the Kanyakumari district at the southern tip of India.

The Catholic-convert soldier, Devasahayam Pillai, who had been executed in 1752 at the age of 40 for refusing to recant his faith, was beatified in 2012 and canonized by Pope Francis along with nine others at the Vatican on May 15.

“We thank and praise God for the life and example of Devasahayam [who] … greatly regarded his dedication to God and service to humanity,” Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, apostolic nuncio to India, said in his message during the public celebration of his canonization.

The celebration, including a solemn thanksgiving Mass, jointly hosted by the Dioceses of Kotar and Kuzhithurai, was held near the remote martyrdom spot of Devasahayam at Kattadimalai, where massive temporary housing had been erected on the slopes of the rocky mountain 11 miles from Kotar. Thousands of vehicles from all over Tamil Nadu parked near the venue reflected the massive crowd that came, highlighting the deep devotion of the faithful to the saint who has inspired some many.

The four-hour celebration started with a moving dance-drama, with hundreds of artists depicting the life and the martyrdom of the new saint, awing the crowd.

Indicating the esteem with which St. Devasahayam is revered, in attendance were four ministers of the Tamil Nadu state cabinet, led by the speaker of the state legislature, and Hindu leaders.

The name Devasahayam (in Tamil meaning “Lazarus, God has helped”) was given to the Hindu soldier Neelakandhan at the time of his baptism at the age of 33 by Italian Jesuit Father Giovanni Baptista Buttari.

The program included a solemn procession of the nuncio and three dozen bishops from across India, including Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, and Major Archbishop Cardinal George Alencherry of the Syro-Malabar Church, to the elaborately decorated altar.

“We are happy that, firstly, the canonization has ended the long wait we had,” Bishop Nazarene Soosai of Kotar told the Register.  “For me, the joy of the people about the canonization was incredible. The enthusiasm with which they turned up makes it a memorable day in the history of the Church here. It is going to have a tremendous impact on our people and life of the Church,” said Bishop Soosai

In addition to the crowd that gathered, millions of Catholics and other Christians watched the live telecast of the celebrations, according to the bishop. ers, and I am sure they have imbued the spirit of St. Devasahayam with this celebration. The witness and the way St. Devasahayam has inspired our people through decades gives us much hope, especially when freedom of religion is coming under increasing threats in the country,” Bishop Soosai explained.

The faithful remained, even as the thanksgiving Mass went beyond the 7pm hour.  “It was an unforgettable day in my life taking, part in this celebration,” Maria Devasahayam, a Hindu convert and teacher who shares the saint’s name, told the Register. The pilgrim traveled more than 25 miles to attend.

“My name had been included by the Church in the delegation to Vatican for the canonization. But my visa application was rejected, and I could not go,” the principal of a Catholic secondary school said, expressing regret at not being able to attend the May Mass in Rome.

“I was healed and baptized here,” said T. Krishnan, who had what he calls a miraculous healing in 1990 after being comatose for months at the age of 15, following months of failed treatment at several prominent hospitals.

Since his father, who died suddenly, was a Hindu priest, his mother rejected family members’ proposal to take him to the Devasahayam shrine at the martyrdom spot; this location is where dozens of sick people come, seeking cure from their maladies.

He recalled, “Finally seeing my pitiable condition of being carried around like a baby, my mother relented. It was after weeks of stay and prayer at the care center [at the martyrdom spot] I had a vision of a man in a beard coming and asking me for water. I told him, ‘I cannot walk.’ He said, ‘You can walk’ — and, amazingly, I walked, after months, to bring water for him. But he was gone. Only then I realized it was the saint.”

After weeks of catechism, Krishnan, his mother and two brothers received the sacrament of baptism. “More than 100 people, including my uncles and their families and neighbors, have become Christians after my miraculous healing,” said the teacher, who changed his name to Maria Devasahayam to honor the healing.

Elango Raja, a devoted Catholic who guided this correspondent to half a dozen key Devasahayam shrines spread out across 100 miles, said that his great-grandfather’s name was also Devasahayam.

“The devotion to the saint here is so deep-rooted that many families here will have one or more Devasahayam in them,” Raja said as we visited the popular shrine of Muttidichanpara at Puliyoorkurichi, which commemorates where water was said to have gushed out when a bleeding St. Devasahayam knelt and prayed for water during his torture. He was forced to travel on buffalo back — in chains — to humiliate him for his refusal to forsake the Christian faith.

Dozens of devotees could be seen coming to the rock stream to drink and take home the holy water from the rock that now has a grand church erected behind it.

“St. Devasahayam heals, inspires and blesses his devotees,” said Kanakraj Cangan, a Catholic architect who designed one of the most popular Devasahayam sculptures around the beatification in 2012.

“Since I did that work, my life has bloomed with fame and invitations for designing churches and statues,” said Cangan, standing near the statue of Devasahayam he made at Muttidichanpara. In fact, Cangan also designed the shrine church; in addition, he has designed a dozen churches in the decade since the beatification.

Each of the key shrines dedicated to St. Devasahayam has a trademark symbol: a plain black granite cross labeling the spot.

Scores of pilgrims flock to popular shrines linked to the life of this lay saint. His house in Nattalam is a popular tourist center, containing a museum along with a chapel and parish church across the road.

A huge portrait of Devasahayam stands near the entrance of the old Holy Family Church at Vattankulam, where Father Buttari baptized him in 1745.

A large statue depicting Devasahayam in chains is present in the middle of Holy Family Church at Ramanputhoor; the church is said to have been built upon one of the imprisonment spots of Devasahayam. The saint had a vision of the Holy Family while in detention there.

Devasahayam had been repeatedly moved to new locations to avoid the crowds coming to see him during the three years of his detention; throughout his imprisonment, he was always in chains, as embodied by his depiction in statues.

Devasahayam was executed in secret, due to his popularity, his body dumped from the rocks of Kattadimalai for the wild animals to eat.

The saint’s remains were buried after his followers discovered his body days after his death. His tomb is housed at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Kotar and draws a steady stream of devotees daily.

“In India’s first lay saint and martyr Devasahayam, the faith sparkles, as seen in his eyes,” remarked Cardinal Gracias, while recording a tribute to the saint while standing before his tomb on June 6.

As his name suggests, “God has helped” and blessed the southern tip of India.

The seed of Christianity was first sowed by St. Thomas the Apostle, supplemented by St. Francis Xavier in the 16th century, and enriched and flourished by the heroic witness and martyrdom of Devasahayam in the 18th century.

Said Joseph Robert, who runs a printing business comprised of books, audio-visual productions and memorabilia of the saint in Kotar, where more than 50% of the population is Christian, “St. Devasahayam is certainly the focal point of Christian life here.”

Is Pope Francis Resigning?

Pope Francis added fuel to rumors about the future of his pontificate by announcing he would visit the central Italian city of L’Aquila in August for a feast initiated by Pope Celestine V, one of the few pontiffs who resigned before Pope Benedict XVI stepped down in 2013.

Italian and Catholic media have been rife with unsourced speculation that the 85-year-old Francis might be planning to follow in Benedict’s footsteps, given his increased mobility problems that have forced him to use a wheelchair for the last month.

Those rumors gained steam last week when Francis announced a consistory to create 21 new cardinals scheduled for Aug. 27. Sixteen of those cardinals are under age 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave to elect Francis’ successor.

Once they are added to the ranks of princes of the church, Francis will have stacked the College of Cardinals with 83 of the 132 voting-age cardinals. While there is no guarantee how the cardinals might vote, the chances that they will tap a successor who shares Francis’ pastoral priorities become ever greater.

In announcing the Aug. 27 consistory, Francis also announced he would host two days of talks the following week to brief the cardinals about his recent apostolic constitution reforming the Vatican bureaucracy. That document, which goes into effect Sunday, allows women to head Vatican offices, imposes term limits on priestly Vatican employees and positions the Holy See as an institution at the service of local churches, rather than vice versa.

Francis was elected pope in 2013 on a mandate to reform the Roman Curia. Now that the nine-year project has been rolled out and at least partially implemented, Francis’ main task as pope has in some ways been accomplished.

All of which made Saturday’s otherwise routine announcement of a pastoral visit to L’Aquila carry more speculative weight than it might otherwise have.

Notable was the timing: The Vatican and the rest of Italy are usually on holiday in August to mid-September, with all but essential business closed. Calling a major consistory in late August to create new cardinals, gathering churchmen for two days of talks on implementing his reform and making a symbolically significant pastoral visit suggests Francis might have out-of-the-ordinary business in mind.

“With today’s news that @Pontifex will go to L’Aquila in the very middle of the August consistory, it all got even more intriguing,” tweeted Vatican commentator Robert Mickens, linking to an essay he had published in La Croix International about the rumors swirling around the future of the pontificate.

The basilica in L’Aquila hosts the tomb of Celestine V, a hermit pope who resigned after five months in 1294, overwhelmed by the job. In 2009, Benedict visited L’Aquila, which had been devastated by a recent earthquake and prayed at Celestine’s tomb, leaving his pallium stole on it.

No one at the time appreciated the significance of the gesture. But four years later, the 85-year-old Benedict would follow in Celestine’s footsteps and resign, saying he no longer had the strength of body and mind to carry on the rigors of the papacy.

Pope Benedict XVI kisses a baby being held up to him, in Coppito, near L’Aquila, Italy, in 2009. Four years later, the 85-year-old Benedict announced he no longer had the strength of body and mind to carry on the rigors of the papacy.

The Vatican announced Saturday Francis would visit L’Aquila to celebrate Mass on Aug. 28 and open the “Holy Door” at the basilica hosting Celestine’s tomb. The timing coincides with the L’Aquila church’s celebration of the Feast of Forgiveness, which was created by Celestine in a papal bull.

No pope has travelled to L’Aquila since to close out the annual feast, which celebrates the sacrament of forgiveness so dear to Francis, noted the current archbishop of L’Aquila, Cardinal Giuseppe Petrocchi.

“We hope that all people, especially those harmed by conflicts and internal divisions, might (come) and find the path of solidarity and peace,” he said in a statement announcing the visit.

Francis has praised Benedict’s decision to retire as “opening the door” for future popes to do the same, and he had originally predicted a short papacy for himself of two to five years.

Nine years later, Francis has shown no signs he wants to step down, and he has major projects still on the horizon.

In addition to upcoming trips this year to Congo, South Sudan, Canada and Kazakhstan, in 2023 he has scheduled a major meeting of the world’s bishops to debate the increasing decentralization of the Catholic Church, as well as the continued implementation of his reforms.

But Francis has been hobbled by the strained ligaments in his right knee that have made walking painful and difficult. He has told friends he doesn’t want to undergo surgery, reportedly because of his reaction to anesthesia last July when he had 33 centimeters (13 inches) of his large intestine removed.

This week, one of his closest advisers and friends, Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, said talk of a papal resignation or the end of Francis’ pontificate was unfounded.

“I think these are optical illusions, cerebral illusions,” Maradiaga told Religion Digital, a Spanish-language Catholic site.

Christopher Bellitto, a church historian at Kean University in Union, New Jersey, noted that most Vatican watchers expect Francis will eventually resign, but not before Benedict dies. The 95-year-old retired pope is physically frail but still alert and receiving occasional visitors in his home in the Vatican gardens.

“He’s not going to have two former popes floating around,” Bellitto said in an email. Referring to Francis’ planned visit to L’Aquila, he suggested not reading too much into it, noting that Benedict’s gesture in 2009 was missed by most everyone.

“I don’t recall a lot of stories at the time saying that Benedict’s visit in 2009 made us think he was going to resign,” he said, suggesting that Francis’ pastoral visit to l’Aquila might be just that: a pastoral visit.

Elizabeth II’s 70 Years As Queen Of England And Head Of The Church Of England

If you want to understand a nation, listen to its national anthem. “The Star-Spangled Banner” urges Americans to look out for the flag that waves over “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” “La Marseillaise,” the anthem of republican France, calls its citizens to arms. But the UK’s national anthem is a prayer, urging God to “save” — grant long life to — the queen.

It’s a clear sign that in Britain, the head of state, the country and faith are inextricably linked. This week “God Save the Queen” has been ringing out across Britain as the country has marked the 70th anniversary of the accession of Elizabeth II, the longest-serving English monarch.

When Elizabeth came to the throne in 1952, Britain was still being rebuilt after the end of World War II and its heavy bombing campaigns; Winston Churchill was prime minister and the country still had an empire. The young queen’s coronation suggested a new era — as the millions of television sets purchased to watch the live broadcast of the ceremony from London’s Westminster Abbey signaled.

But the coronation itself was steeped in tradition and confirmed the continuing intertwining of the monarchy and religion. The ceremony can be traced back more than 1,000 years and involves the anointing of the monarch who commits his or herself to a life of service to God and the people through sacred promises. One of those, to uphold the Protestant religion, is also a reminder of the religious divisions of the past.

The queen’s two titles of Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England, given to her at her accession, also owe their existence to Reformation history. Defender of the Faith was first bestowed on Henry VIII by a grateful pope for the English king’s rebuttal of the teachings of Martin Luther, a title that Henry defiantly held onto even after breaking with Rome to found the Church of England. He made himself head, while his daughter, the first Elizabeth, called herself Supreme Governor of the Church of England, saying Jesus Christ was its head.

Today, the role of Supreme Governor indicates the British monarch retains a constitutional role regarding the established Church of England but does not govern or manage it. The modern Elizabeth has left that to the bishops, although she addresses general synods and has a role as a listener and guide to her primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

But while Defender of the Faith has been over the years an inherited title and little more, Elizabeth II appears to have embraced it and made it her own, speaking out very openly in recent years about her own Christian faith and explaining how it has provided the framework of her life.

She has done this mostly through the medium of her annual Christmas message, a tradition begun by her grandfather, George V, in 1932, and continued by her father, George VI. Her early Christmas Day broadcasts were platitudinous — the holidays as an occasion for family was a frequent theme. In 2000, however, she spoke of the Millennium as the 2,000-year anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ, “who was destined to change the course of our history.”

She went on to speak very personally and frankly about her faith: “For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ’s words and example.” Similar sentiments have been aired at Christmas ever since.

God did get significant mention along the way. In 1947, when she was 21 and six years from becoming queen, Elizabeth broadcast a public commitment, saying: “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service … God help me to make good my vow.”

As she planned her coronation with dress fittings, selecting music and getting the crown jewels from their display in the Tower of London, there were also sessions with then-Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher, who provided her with a book of special prayers — a volume she keeps to this day among her most treasured possessions.

The spiritual foundations of the British monarchy are to be found in Scripture’s ideas about humility and wisdom being the great virtues of kings. Then there are the Gospels, with accounts of Jesus, the servant king, who has come to serve others. Key passages on this theme, from the Gospels of John and Matthew, are read at a Maundy Thursday service where the queen distributes gifts to elderly people, an ancient ceremony meant to imitate Christ serving his disciples by washing their feet.

The queen also leads the nation at regular services honoring the war dead, or offering thanksgiving for her jubilees, but worship is not, for her, only a public show. She has attended church regularly throughout her life and is said to have an uncomplicated, Bible and prayer-book based faith.

That love of the Bible was something she shared with the American evangelist Billy Graham, whom she invited to preach for her on several occasions (though the close friendship the Netflix series “The Crown” suggested between them seems far-fetched). She relies on the deans of Windsor — the clerics who run St George’s Chapel, at Windsor Castle, where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle married — for spiritual solace.

Her husband, the late Duke of Edinburgh, and her son, Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, always displayed a more intellectual curiosity about religion, including a great interest in both other Christian denominations and other faiths. Over the years, as Britain has become increasingly diverse, Elizabeth has expressed an increasing openness as well. She has encouraged members of all faiths to be present at great church occasions during her reign and in the annual Commonwealth Day service held at Westminster Abbey. She regularly meets different faith leaders, including five popes — a remarkable turnaround for a monarchy that once broke so spectacularly from Rome — though she has not gone so far as to ask other religious leaders to play any sort of role for her, such as be a chaplain.

There has been talk of disestablishment of the Church of England, even in Anglican circles, with some concern it privileges one religious group above others in an increasingly diverse nation. Disestablishment would unravel the connection between the monarch, the Church of England and the state, which survives in Britain since the time of the Reformation. Change would mean the removal of Church of England bishops from the House of Lords, although there has been little call for this from other faiths. Rather, they prefer representation of faith at the highest levels of the British Parliament.

But that issue of privileging seemed apparent when the queen spoke at Lambeth Palace in 2012, suggesting the Church of England might act as a sort of umbrella under which other faiths might shelter, by saying Anglicanism “has a duty to protect the free practice of all other faiths in this country.”

The importance of other faiths was expressed Friday morning at the Platinum Jubilee thanksgiving service at St Paul’s Cathedral, in London, where not only leaders of Christian denominations but of other faiths were present, including Buddhists and Jews.

One major difference at today’s thanksgiving service compared to previous ones for her reign’s major anniversaries was the frequent references to looking after God’s creation. In the twilight years of her reign, she is coming to share Prince Charles’ interest in the environment, but placing it firmly within her Christian concerns.

Attention is inevitably turning now to the next reign, with speculation about how much of an Anglican ceremony the next coronation will be. The Church of England will undoubtedly take the lead, but just as Princess Diana’s Westminster Abbey funeral combined tradition and innovation, as Commonwealth Day services have done for years, the next coronation will most likely offer that blend, too.

Charles once said he would become Defender of Faith, rather than Defender of the Faith, expressing concern that he needed to recognize the changing religious nature of Britain. He has since retracted this, indicating he will adopt the traditional title. Even so, he has engaged frequently with other faiths, particularly Judaism and Islam.

His interest in Islam has in part been aesthetic, with a particular appreciation for Islamic art and architecture, but he has also commented on its metaphysical, holistic view of the world and humanity’s place in it, even as he has also expressed concerns about the radicalization of young people. While this interest in Islam and an awareness of the growing population of Muslims in Britain has led to his support for Islamic organizations, such as the Centre for Islamic Studies at the University of Oxford, in more recent years he has reined back on it a little and instead become far more outspoken about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

The Prince of Wales has undoubtedly been innovative in his work, creating charities that work with young people, and championing the environment. But he likes tradition, too, be it church music or the Book of Common Prayer. All signs are that his coronation will be like the man, with an innovative sheen on ancient tradition and a sincere regard for faith in diverse Britain.

 Catherine Pepinster is the author of “Defenders of the Faith – the British Monarchy, Religion and the Next Coronation,” published by Hodder and Stoughton.

First Indian-American Heritage Bishop In U.S. Installed

The Diocese of Columbus welcomed its new shepherd Tuesday, May 31 with the ordination and installation of Bishop Earl Fernandes — a U.S.-born son of immigrant parents from India. The ordination and installation rites were held at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Westerville, about 15 miles northeast of Columbus, the state capital.

As the diocese’s 13th bishop, he succeeds Bishop Robert Brennan of the Diocese of Brooklyn, who returned to Ohio to conduct the consecration with Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. At 49, he is the first of Indian-American heritage.

Bishop Robert Brennan lays hands on the head of his successor in the Diocese of Columbus, Bishop Earl Fernandes. Participating in the May 31 ordination and installation were Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the U.S. (left) and Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. (Photo: Courtesy of The Catholic Times/Ken Snow)

Throughout these ceremonies, Bishop Fernandes beamed his trademark smile, but he took a serious tone as he addressed the congregation, stressing the urgency to bring more men into the priesthood.

“I promise to work hard for you, to spill my blood for you,” he pledged. “But I bring to your attention that this year, in the Diocese of Columbus, there will be more bishops than priests ordained.

“We need a new Pentecost to set the world on fire,” he said. “We need missionaries and priests willing to make a gift to themselves in the service of the Gospel. I ask every man, woman, and child to pray for vocations to the priesthood, especially for our diocese.”

Family, friends, priests, religious men and women, and prelates from around the U.S. filled the church to celebrate the new bishop.

Three former bishops of the diocese attended: Bishop Brennan, and Bishops Emeritus James Griffin and Frederick Campbell.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, read the special letter from Pope Francis, informing everyone that the new bishop is eminently qualified and thus chosen by him, the Holy Father, to lead the Diocese of Columbus.

Bishop Fernandes followed Church tradition by proudly holding the apostolic letter aloft and parading it around the congregation for all to see. Thunderous applause ensued.

Bishop Fernandes was born Sept. 21, 1972, in Toledo, Ohio — the fourth of five sons of Sydney and Thelma Fernandes.

His late father was a physician, and Fernandes also entered medical school. But after two years, he chose the seminary and was ordained a priest in 2002.

Bishop Fernandes worked in numerous pastoral ministries, but he later became secretary of the Apostolic Nuncio staff from 2016 to 2019.

Immediately after his installation, his old boss, Archbishop Pierre, reached over and adjusted the new bishop’s distinctive headgear.

“I’m grateful for his paternal affection shown to me over the course of many years,” Bishop Fernandes said of Archbishop Pierre. “I am also grateful that he fixed my miter!”

On Monday evening, Bishop Brennan led the solemn vespers prayer service for his soon-to-be successor. “I want to thank Bishop Brennan and welcome him back to Ohio,” Bishop Fernandes said Tuesday. “I have big shoes to fill. He was here only briefly, but he lifted the morale of both the people and the clergy, and we are happy to have him back, if only for a few days.”

Pope Francis announced on April 2 that Bishop Fernandes would be the successor. At the time, Bishop Brennan called the announcement “great news indeed.”

“I couldn’t be happier for him and the Church in Columbus,” he said. On Tuesday, Bishop Brennan stated on social media that he was thankful to God to be back in Ohio for his successor’s installation.

“Knowing the faithful of this diocese, I am confident he will be a wonderful shepherd for God’s people in Columbus,” Bishop Brennan said. “With great joy and prayers, I congratulate Bishop Fernandes as he begins his episcopal ministry.”

Frail health prevented Bishop Fernandes’ mother from attending the ceremonies. He recalled breaking the news to her that Pope Francis chose him to be a bishop.

“She said, ‘That is good news. This will be a blessing. It will be a blessing for our family. It will be a blessing for everyone,’” Bishop Fernandes shared. “Let us hope and pray that she was being prophetic.”

The Diocese of Columbus covers 23 counties in central and southern Ohio — about 11,310 square miles, with a Catholic population of about 207,000.

More than 2.8 million total people live there, a statistic underlining the new bishop’s call for more priests. Meanwhile, Bishop Fernandes addressed his already-ordained clergymen.

“I am so happy to be your shepherd and your brother, and I look forward to listening to you and to working with you in the Lord’s vineyard,” he said. “I want to work for you, though, so that you may exercise your ministry with joy. “I promise, I will be close to you.”

Two Indians Among 21 New Cardinals Appointed By Pope Francis

Pope Francis named 21 new cardinals on Sunday May 30th, most of them from continents other than Europe — which dominated Catholic hierarchy for most of the church’s history — and further putting his mark on the group of people who might someday elect the next pontiff.

Among those tapped by the pontiff to receive the prestigious red hat will be two prelates from India and one each from Ghana, Nigeria, Singapore, East Timor, Paraguay, and Brazil, in keeping with Francis’ determination to have church leaders reflect the global face of the Catholic church.

Archbishop of Goa and Daman Filipe Neri Ferrao and Archbishop of Hyderabad Anthony Poola are among the 21 bishops announced by the Vatican to the college of cardinals. These high-ranking officials elect the next Pope from among themselves after Francis’ death or resignation.

The cardinal-elects from India, along with the other 19 bishops will be elevated by Pope Francis to the rank of cardinal in a ceremony at the Vatican in August, it was announced on Sunday, May 30th. Archbishop of Goa and Daman Filipe Neri Ferrao and Archbishop of Hyderabad Anthony Poola will receive the “red hat” in August.

Sixteen of those who will receive the prestigious red cardinal’s hat from Francis in a consistory ceremony at the Vatican on Aug. 27 are younger than 80 and thus would be eligible to vote for his successor if a conclave — in which pontiffs are secretly elected — were to be held.

Francis read out the names of his choices after delivering traditional Sunday remarks from an open window of the Apostolic Palace to the public in St. Peter’s Square. These are the churchmen named by Francis:

— Jean-Marc Aveline, archbishop of Marseille, France; Peter Okpaleke, bishop of Ekwulobia, Nigeria; Leonardo Ulrich Steiner, archbishop of Manaus, Brazil; Filipe Neri Antonio Sebastao di Rosario Ferrao, archbishop of Goa and Damao, India; Robert Walter McElroy, bishop of San Diego, California; Virgilio Do Carmo Da Silva, archbishop of Dili, East Timor; Oscar Cantoni, bishop of Como, Italy; Anthony Poola. archbishop of Hyderabad, India; Paulo Cezar Costa, archbishop of Brasilia, Brazil; Richard Kuuia Baawobr, bishop of Wa, Ghana; William Goh Seng Chye, archbishop of Singapore; Adalberto Martinez Flores, archbishop of Asuncion, Paraquay; and Giorgio Marengo, apostolic prefect of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

The Vatican News website reported that Pope Francis will hold a consistory on August 27th for the creation of new cardinals. The Pope will meet on August 29 and 30 with all the cardinals to reflect on the new Apostolic Constitution Predicate Evangelium.

With church growth largely stagnant or at best sluggish in much of Europe and North America, the Vatican has been attentive to its flock to developing countries, including in Africa, where the number of faithful has been growing in recent decades. Only one new cardinal was named from the United States: Robert Walter McElroy, bishop of San Diego, California.

Pope Francis in his choices kept up a tradition of naming some who are too old to vote in a conclave, but whose long decades of dedication to the Catholic church is honored by bestowing cardinal’s rank on them.

Almost as significant as those chosen to be cardinals are those who were not chosen, despite holding posts that in the past would have traditionally earned them the red hat.

In Francis’ selection on Sunday, he passed over the prominent archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone. Earlier this month, Cordileone said he will no longer allow U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to receive Communion because of her support for abortion rights. While Francis hasn’t publicly weighed in on the soon-expected U.S. Supreme Court ruling on abortion rights, in the past he has decried the political weaponizing of Communion.

The new U.S. cardinal, McElroy, holds very different views from Cordileone. He was among the relatively few U.S. bishops who several years ago called for U.S. church policy to better reflect Francis’ concerns for the global poor. He also signed a statement last year expressing support for LGBTQ youth and denouncing the bullying directed at them.

This is the eighth batch of cardinals that Francis has named since becoming pontiff in 2013. A sizeable majority of those who are eligible to vote in a conclave were appointed by him, increasing the likelihood that they will choose as his successor someone who shares his papacy’s priorities, including attention to those living on society’s margins and to environmental crises.

Who is a cardinal?

Cardinals rank second only to the Pope in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church and serve as his closest advisors at home and around the world. The term “cardinal” comes from the Latin word “cardinalis,” from the word “cardo,” or “hinge.” They are considered “the hinges on which the Church revolves”.

Due to their historical power and influence, they are still called the “Princes of the Church”. It is a reference to those who held the equivalent role of a royal prince and in feudal times ruled a principality. However, Pope Francis has told his cardinals not to live like royalty. He had said that his cardinals are not to be called “princes of the church,” but they are to serve the people of God and tackle the sins of the world.

Cardinals receive the symbolic red biretta and ring from the Pope when they are created at consistories. The ring signifies their marriage to the church. The prelates are also known for their distinctive red attire – the colour expressing the cardinals’ willingness to die for their faith, according to a report in The Indian Express.

The collection of cardinals is called the College of Cardinals. There are three ranks of cardinals – cardinal bishop, cardinal deacon, and cardinal priest. Only six cardinals hold the title of cardinal bishop. Cardinal priests are the most in number.

The College of Cardinals currently consists of 208 cardinals, of whom 117 are electors and 91 are non-electors. As of 27 August, the number will grow to 229 Cardinals, of whom 131 will be electors.

What do electors do?

As the name suggests, the electors elect the new Pope when he dies or abdicates the papacy. At the papal conclave, they pick from among themselves the head of the Roman Catholic Church. However, to be able to cast this defining vote, cardinals need to be below the age of 80 at the start of the papal vacancy. The senior cardinal deacon ceremoniously announces the newly elected pope from the balcony of the Vatican.

Among the 21 new cardinals, 16 are cardinal electors under 80 and are eligible to elect Pope Francis’ successor. After the August 27 ceremony to officially install them he will have appointed about 82 of about 132 cardinal electors, increasing the possibility that his successor will be a man reflecting his positions on key issues.

What are their other duties?

But it’s not like a new Pope is elected every year. The cardinals, who are elected for life, have a lot of other duties they need to perform.

Cardinals form the Roman Curia, which is a group of administrators, who look into the functioning of the church. It is often called the “Pope’s Cabinet”.

There’s a Cardinal Secretary of State who is the representative of the Vatican to foreign governments. The other cardinals have different responsibilities, called congregations. There’s a cardinal who oversees all the bishops around the world, one who looks into Catholic education, and so on.

Only six cardinals hold the title of cardinal bishop and each holds jurisdiction over a church in a suburb of Rome. Cardinal priests are bishops who serve in dioceses outside Rome, according to a report in The Slate.

How Pope Francis has changed the College?

Europeans have largely dominated the College of Cardinals. However, Pope Francis expanded the effort to diversify the College to reflect the church’s global reach. He appointed cardinals from Asia, Africa and Latin America, and from countries that never had a cardinal, including Bangladesh, Lesotho and Malaysia, reports the Catholic News Herald.

The upcoming consistory will be the eight since Francis was elected in 2013. With each, he has continued what one diplomat on Sunday called “a tilt towards Asia”, increasing the likelihood that the next Pope could be from the region.

By appointing cardinals in Singapore, Mongolia, India and East Timor, Francis appears to be seeking to increase the Church’s prestige and clout in Asia, a growing economic and political powerhouse, according to news agency Reuters.

How many cardinals does India have?

There are four cardinals from India —Baselios Cleemis Catholicos, Major Archbishop of Trivandrum (Syro-Malankara); Telesphore P Toppo, Archbishop Of Ranchi; Oswald Cardinal Gracias, Archbishop Of Bombay; George Alencherry, Major Archbishop Of Ernakulam-Angamaly (Major Archdiocese – Syro-Malabar), reports The Indian Express. That number will increase to six with the appointment of Archbishop Ferrao and Archbishop Poola.

Other than Cardinal Toppo, all others are cardinal electors. This means they will play a key part to elect the next Pope. Poola is the first Dalit from India to get the title.

San Francisco Archbishop Bars Pelosi From Communion For Her Support For Abortion

Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, who oversees the Archdiocese of San Francisco, announced on Friday (May 20) he is barring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from taking Communion in churches he oversees, citing her support for abortion rights.

“After numerous attempts to speak with her to help her understand the grave evil she is perpetrating, the scandal she is causing, and the danger to her own soul she is risking, I have determined that the point has come in which I must make a public declaration that she is not to be admitted to Holy Communion unless and until she publicly repudiate her support for abortion ‘rights’ and confess and receive absolution for her cooperation in this evil in the sacrament of Penance,” Cordileone wrote in a letter sent to churchgoers in his archdiocese.

In his letter and in a separate interview with America Magazine, Cordileone accused Pelosi of “scandal” — a term used in Catholic theological parlance to signify actions that can lead believers to sin. ‘She is not to be admitted to Holy Communion unless and until she publicly repudiate her support for abortion ‘rights’ and confess and receive absolution for her cooperation in this evil in the sacrament of Penance,’ Cordileone wrote.

In his letter, Cordileone insisted he still considers Pelosi, who speaks often of her Catholic faith, to be a “sister in Christ.” Her “advocacy for the care of the poor and vulnerable,” he said, “elicits my admiration. I assure you that my action here is purely pastoral, not political,” he added.

But recent debates over the issue of Communion and abortion raise doubts as to whether Catholics and non-Catholics alike will see Cordileone’s actions — the censure of one of the highest-ranking politicians in the country amid a national debate over abortion — as wholly divorced from politics.

While crafting a document on the Eucharist in 2021, Catholic bishops openly feuded over whether to deny Communion to President Joe Biden — a Catholic who, like Pelosi, has voiced support for abortion rights. Biden was reportedly denied Communion at a parish in South Carolina while running for president in 2019, with the priest citing his stance on abortion.

Cordileone has long been one of the most strident Catholic voices challenging politicians who support abortion rights. Other bishops, however, have expressed opposition to denying elected officials the Eucharist because of their views. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, who oversees the Archdiocese of Washington, told Religion News Service in December 2020 that he did not support denying Communion to Biden over abortion, saying, “I don’t want to go to the table with a gun on the table first.”

As the debate over the issue raged last summer, a group of 60 Catholic House Democrats, led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro and including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, released a “statement of principles” in June urging U.S. Catholic bishops to avoid “weaponizing” the Eucharist.

Hindu’s Classical Texts Strictly Forbid Abortion. Here’s Why Many Hindus Don’t.

Since the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the U.S., legal abortions across the country have declined steadily. Public support for abortion has remained consistent, currently around 61%. And yet, a recent leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court suggests that a majority of justices are considering overturning this decision and turning over abortion regulation to the states.

The opinion, in which its author, Justice Samuel Alito, makes room for some bizarre allusions to 13th-century British jurisprudence, suggests that abortion rights are the purview of the states’ legislatures and the court should not be involved. It also hints at the issue of religious freedom.

Alito’s draft opinion, of course, implicitly rebuts the notion that termination of a pregnancy is a fundamental right that must be recognized, not legislated. It means that anyone who becomes pregnant has fewer rights over their bodies than are proffered to a corpse or brain-dead person. In these situations, one cannot harvest an organ or remove tissue without prior written consent.

But Alito also overlooks the actual issue at stake. If Roe were overturned, it would abrogate the religious freedom and individual rights of several minority religious communities, including U.S. Jews, Muslims and Hindus. These communities support abortion rights in some or all cases in numbers equivalent to or much greater than the general public. That support is often rooted in their faith and the ethics of individual choice.

In many American Jewish communities, when the life of the mother is threatened, abortion isn’t just acceptable, it’s required.

Between 2017 – 2020, support for abortion rights among Black communities rose sharply, particularly among Black Protestants, of which 66% support abortion under most circumstances.

U.S. Muslims support abortion rights as well, though by a slimmer margin — 56%. While Catholic support for abortion rights shows a slim majority in favor, at 47%, among Catholic women that number jumps to 55%. But in the largest religious community in the U.S. — white Protestants — support for abortion rights reaches 63%, exceeding the nation as a whole.

Hindu traditions are more complicated. While U.S. Hindu communities express strong support for abortion rights at 68%, mirroring the numbers Pew Research catalogs for all Asian Americans, classical Hindu texts such as the Vedas and Shastras forbid abortion except when the life of the pregnant person is threatened or there are fetal abnormalities. Though the Garbha Upanishad suggests the soul doesn’t attach itself to the fetus until the seventh month, this interpretation is contested.

How does India, the largest country with a Hindu majority, view abortion rights? Abortion has been legal with limitations since 1971 through the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, which has been updated four times, most recently in 2021. Currently, abortions are permitted up to 20 weeks after conception with the approval of a certified health care provider.

Failed contraception is considered an acceptable reason for approving an abortion. Women may seek abortions at up to 24 weeks’ gestation in cases of sexual abuse, incest, fetal abnormalities, rape, disability or if the pregnant person is a minor. All abortions are covered by government health care and are performed in public and private facilities.

But the broad support for abortion rights among American Hindus seems to speak to an important aspect of Hindu faith: Individual ethical choice cannot be imposed on others. Although abortion may violate classical Hindu law, most Hindus believe such a position should not be legislated for the population at large.

It may also be an indicator of the social and religious preference for sons, which grounds India’s ban on amniocentesis to determine the sex of the baby. What is clear is that for Hindus, the freedom to make this choice is paramount.

What does all this tell us? People who identify as religious, by and large, support abortion rights as individual choice, even when it may violate tenets of their faith. It also suggests that Jews, Muslims and Hindus see abortion rights as a matter of personal ethics, even if it’s incompatible with their beliefs — a fact represented in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court by a diverse range of religious organizations supporting abortion rights.

So whose religious freedom is at stake for the court? White evangelical Christians, 77% of whom oppose abortion, have been the most active advocates for religious freedom in recent years. What’s more, they see this (and other issues) as a collective matter and a religious imperative that necessitates imposing their views on everyone, even those who don’t share them.

Now it’s evangelicals’ turn to take a back seat to religious freedom claims of others. Overturning Roe v. Wade would violate the religious freedom of the majority of Christians, Jews, Hindus and Muslims as well as of those who identify as religious “nones.”

Religious freedom means more than the freedom to practice one’s religion; it also affirms the right to be free from the imposition of religion. Removing the constitutional right to an abortion would not only deliver a devastating blow to gender equity, it would, in effect, center white evangelical Christian morality as a governing principle for everyone, fundamentally altering the meaning and impact of the First Amendment.

Devasahayam Pillai, Who Fought Scourge Of Casteism Made Saint By Vatican

Devasahayam Pillai, who converted from Hinduism to Christianity in the 18th century in the then kingdom of Travancore in what is now Kerala, was declared a saint by Pope Francis at the Vatican Sunday, the first Indian layman to be so venerated by the Catholic Church. Devasahayam, also known as Lazarus, was canonized at a ceremony for what the Vatican calls “enduring increasing hardships”.

“This sainthood is an invitation for us to live and lead a life free of discrimination,” said Father John Kulandai, who attended the canonisation at the Vatican as a key member of the team in Kanyakumari that worked on this matter. The original invitation from the Vatican had mentioned Devasahayam’s former caste “Pillai”. However, following protests that adding the caste name defeats the purpose of what Devasahayam stood for, the Vatican removed it, NDTV said.

“Saint Devasahayam stood for equality and fought against casteism and communalism. His sainthood comes at a time India is facing a surge in communalism,” said retired Indian civil servant M G Devasahayam, who had written to the Vatican, seeking removal of Devasahayam’s caste name.

“This canonization is a great opportunity for the Church to stand against the prevailing communal poison. The church should have made this a people’s movement, but they failed and made it a clergy-centric event,” he added.

The announcement comes at a time when the Christian community has been under assault in parts of southern India from Hindu chauvinists who have been accusing the Church of using their missionary work to convert poor and vulnerable Hindus and have attacked many churches.

Born Neelakandan Pillai in Hindu upper caste family in present-day Kanyakumari, he worked at Travancore palace. In 1745, he converted to Christianity and took the names of Devasahayam and Lazarus. He went on to fight against caste discrimination among Hindus and was persecuted and then killed.

In 2012, the Vatican recognized his martyrdom after a rigorous process. Devasahayam was chosen for the sainthood after a woman in her seventh month of pregnancy testified to a “miracle” after praying to him in 2013.

The woman said that her foetus had been declared “medically dead” and that there was no movement. However, she said, she experienced movement “after praying to the martyr”. The Vatican accepted this and recognized Devasahayam for sainthood, NDTV said quoting Church sources.

India Is Committed To Spread Teachings Of Buddha Across World

The India government is committed to spread the teaching of Lord Buddha in every corner of the world, said Union Culture Minister G. Kishan Reddy on Monday. He was speaking at an event to celebrate Vaishakh Buddha Poornima here.

On the occasion of the 2,566th Vaishakh Buddha Poornima, also called the Triple Day of Vesak to mark the day of Lord Buddha’s birth, enlightenment & passing, the Ministry of Culture with its grantee body ‘International Buddhist Confederation’ organised the function in New Delhi. The programme showcased the life and teachings of Gautam Buddha.

“Buddha’s followers are spread across the world, but around 90 per cent of them are from Southeast Asia and East Asia. Buddhists visit India as pilgrimage from every corner of the world. We are working to bring 25 lakh Buddhists every year in India,” said Reddy.

He said that Indian government is working on mission mode with state governments to develop Buddha Circuit.

Under this circuit, different types of activities like connectivity, infrastructure development, logistics, cultural research centre, heritage, communications are being undertaken on mission mode, he added.

“During the US visit in September 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi brought 157 artefacts and antiquities. Out of total artefacts brought back, 16 relate to Buddhism. We want to bring all artefacts and antiquities related to Buddhism India from wherever they are,” said the Culture Minister.

Talking about the teachings of Buddha, Reddy said that it teaches us to respect the nature.

“His teachings show the path that goes beyond sorrow and grief and inspire to be an ideal man,” he added.

“Any country, small or big, aspires to become a powerful nation, only path is to follow the teachings of Buddha. Buddha’s path is universal path which is middle path,” said Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju, who was also present on the occasion. (IANS)

People Of All Faiths Celebrate Eid- Ul-Fitr

Chicago IL: The Chicago community, belonging to all faiths, came together to celebrate Eid ul Fitr, with great enthusiasm and reverence, at Falak Banquets. The event was attended by large number of ‘who is who’, representing public offices at the City and State level. Mr. Iftekhar Shareef, Mr. Altaf Bukhari, Mr. Rezwan-ul-Haq, Dr. Tajamul Hussain, Mr. Asad Khan, Mr. Khaja Moinuddin, Mr. Ashfaq Hussain Syed, Mr. Kader Sakkaria and Mr. Khurram Syed hosted the colorful Eid event.

Speaking on this occasion, Mr. Iftekhar Shareef, Community leader said, with a sense of pride, that America is unique and exceptional in its equal respect for all religions. He said that understanding different religions and respecting them has been the hallmark of American culture.

Dr. Tajamul Hussain, said all religions teach love and empathy and we have to build bridges and spread love. He opined that practicing these values is the need of the hour for giving a big boost to mutual co- existence, especially in the present times, which are characterized by increasing distances among people professing different faiths. “My hometown is Hyderabad in India, which is known for “Ganga Jamuni Tahzeeb’, that is, a fusion of elements of different religions”, he added.

Asad Khan, Community leader, said that Chicago is well-known for exceptionally good relations among people belonging to different religions, regions, and nations. “This unique characteristic has mainly contributed for the emergence of Chicago as the best place to live.

Rezwan-ul-Haq, said that all human beings belong to one race and, therefore, love is the single language, which even blind can speak and deaf can hear. He stated that Eid ul Fitr celebrates the value of unity. Khaja Moinuddin, Community leader, emphasized the beauty of the US in general and Chicago in particular which is grounded in principles of diversity and acceptance of fellow Americans.

Ashfaq Syed underlined the importance of building better understanding among people belonging to different backgrounds and thereby contributing to the continuous development of the US on all fronts. Kader Sakkaria, Community leader, said that India believes in the traditional values of giving utmost respect for the religions of others. “The Indian Americans, by practicing this great value, have been enriching the social fabric of the US”, he added.

Altaf Bukhari, Community leader who was dressed in the unique Indian attire said it is important to have interfaith events for all communities. Khurram Syed, Community leader, welcomed the guests for joining the Eid al Fitr celebrations during a busy mother day weekend, when many have family commitments and plans.

The Chicago Eid Committee presented awards to the community leaders for their excellent service to the community of Chicago and Dr. Suresh Reddy, Dr Rajiv Kandala, Rezwanul Haque, Saima Azfar, Shalini Gupta and Rajendra Singh Mago were awarded. The book release of A.Q. Siddiqui was also done by the Chicago Eid Committee and Mr. Siddiqui signed the copies for the community.

An array of eminent persons from different walks of life, including elected officials and many community leaders spoke on the occasion and underlined the need for more and more such occasions for enabling people, belonging to different backgrounds, to interact and understand others’ faiths in their true and total frame of reference. Samreen Khan & Sariq Bukhari were the MC’s and thanked all the guests who attended the Eid celebration. The Live band and singers were outstanding.

Eid-Ul-Fitr Celebrations Held In Naperville

On Monday May 2nd,2022 Muslims from all over the Naperville and suburb areas joyfully bustled into the Embassy suites and two locations of ICN to join the celebrations of Eid Ul-Fitr. While there were various venues that held Eid prayers throughout the region, the largest turnouts were at the Naperville where arrangements for Eid prayers were made by the Islamic Center of Naperville (ICN) in five spells, at 7:30 am, at 8:30 am, 9:00 am,10: 00 am, and at 11:30 am. The Imam for the first session of the Eid prayers was Shayakh Ismail Al-Qadhi, Shayakh Omar Hedroug, for second session, Dr. Abdullah Ansari for the Third session, Shayakh Rizwan Ali for the fourth session and Wali Khan for the fifth session. Over 8000 devout Muslims, including prominent Businessmen, Professionals, and Community Leaders, attended the Eid prayers.


Women in vibrant colored dresses, men in ethnic outfits and children, smiling and laughing, filled the parking lots and poured into all the three locations. Volunteers of the Eid Committee of the ICN open-heartedly welcomed the incoming persons so as to ensure that every one of them was able to partake in the Eid prayers, without any inconvenience. Despite the large numbers, the volunteers of the ICN and board members were able to direct the crowds effortlessly and efficiently.


Imam and Residential Scholar of the ICN, Rizwan Ali, delivered an inspiring talk the peace and tranquility people achieved during the month of Ramadan. This happiness was due to many factors, but he emphasized the importance of leaving sin and being consistent, sincere, and dedicated to continuing the good deeds established during Ramadan. He gave practical ways that people can make fasting, attending the Mosques, reciting the Quran, and giving charity part of their lives even after Ramadan. He also prayed for the volunteers that made Ramadan possible in the community and those who were sick and unable to attend, and those facing difficulties and hardships locally and abroad. He ended by encouraging the congregation to rejoice and celebrate the day of Eid by giving gifts and having fun. 


Mr. Kashif Fakhruddin, President, ICN, stated that the month of Ramadan is a blessed month in which the Holy Quran was revealed. He stated that the month of Ramadan is an occasion for spiritual uplifting, softening the heart and humbling oneself, sharing and caring, seeking forgiveness from Allah SWT, extending forgiveness to others, and seeking mercy of Allah SWT and praying for the same to others. “The ICN community, which comprises over 4,500 families, representing heritages from many different countries, addresses the needs of Muslims as well as those who belong to other religions. ICN works very closely with people of other faiths to serve humanity and encourages its members to follow the principles of Tolerance, Justice, Peace and Progress”, added Kashif Fakhruddin.


“The sacred month of Ramadan is a time of sacrifice and reflection. Ramadan offers an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to peace and justice through the power of faith. Ramadan reminds us that our common bonds far outweigh our differences. I wish everyone a blessed and meaningful Eid-ul-Fitr.  We extend our warmest wishes to the Muslim community of Illinois on this occasion”, said Board members of ICN.

Inter-faith Iftar Held In Chicago, Brings Together Leaders of South Asian Origin, Representing Major Religions, Seeking Unity

“At the core of all the faith systems and traditions is the recognition that we are all in this together and that we need to love and support one another to live in harmony and peace in an environmentally sustainable world,” said Dr. Suresh Reddy, past President of American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, and current Town Trustee Member of Oak Brook in Illinois. Quoting the United Nations, the Hyderabad-born physician and community leader said, “Our world continues to be beset by conflict and intolerance with an increasing number of violent spots in a hostile and unwelcoming world around us. The need for spiritual guidance has never been greater.”

Recognizing the imperative need for dialogue and appreciation among different faiths and religions to enhance mutual understanding, harmony and cooperation among people, an Interfaith Iftar was hosted by Dr. Suresh Reddy, Dr. Anuja Gupta, and Shri Ashfaq Hussain Syed, under the auspices of Verandah Community Outreach on April 25th in Hanover Park, near Chicago, in Illinois. Dr. Suresh Reddy, born and grew up in from Hyderabad, India, a city of many religions, shared his own experiences of Iftar celebrations while growing up in Hyderabad.

Dozens of community leaders and friends of South Asian Origin came together with the hope of fostering unity amongst the people of diverse communities and to help foster fellowship and oneness, said Ashfaq Syed, while underlining the importance of unity and one community & humanity. “The purpose was to celebrate Iftar together and reflect on how we can unifying and support our community to heal after this long and difficult pandemic. Our hope is to continue these thoughtful conversations throughout the year to build bridges that are long lasting.”

Dr. Anuja Gupta welcomed the guests and shared her experience of Ramadan back in Mumbai, India. “It is imperative that we double our efforts to spread the message of good neighborliness based on our common humanity, a message shared by all faith traditions,” she said.

Iftar is the fast-breaking meal observed each evening at sundown during the holy month of Ramadan.  The Interfaith Iftar Dinner is an opportunity for the community to join our Muslim friends for an evening meal as they break their Ramadan fast, added Ashfaq Syed.  Ramadan is a time of revelation and a time of disruption, he said, in which Muslims draw near to God by breaking away from the distractions of the world.

The participants had Iftar, prayer and enjoyed the dinner together, a traditional meal, along with presentations by community peacemakers.

Swami Ishatmanada, Vivekananda Vedanta Society of Chicago,  community leaders from Palatine Gurudwara, Pastor Larry Bullock and Azam Nizamuddin spoke about the need for fostering unity, harmony and understanding each other’s culture and faith.

“We fast from all the things that are getting in our way,” they said. “We fast from our own sense of egocentric centrality in the universe. We fast from the habits of mind and habits of being that get in our way — or in other people’s way — in terms of the spiritual life.”

They stressed the importance of interfaith cooperation and compassion and shared about their  work in supporting peoples of all faiths around the world. We need to be grounded in our own faith. To listen to them and be compassionate. “We need to have self-care and keep our spirits high, have a positive attitude and we can overcome violence and hatred in the name of religion,” they underscored.

Plan To Digitally Connect Temples With Devotees Launched

Through its ‘India Spiritual Journey’ initiative, Koo, a Made-in-India social media platform, has enabled devotees to connect digitally with temples and spiritual centers across India. The first leg of the Journey, covering 4000 kilometers, will bring prominent temples and spiritual centers from Uttarakhand closer to devotees digitally. This is a first-of-its-kind initiative by an Indian social media platform.

Over the last two years, e-darshans have increased significantly on social media as a result of pandemic-induced lockdowns and temporary closures of temples. With spirituality and related topics being among the most searched topics on the internet, this campaign will enable spiritual leaders and temple trusts to connect with devotees across India, share updates, and engage with followers in their native language – all in real time.

Pratik Khedkar, an avid biker and Koo employee, will ride 4000 kilometres from Madhya Pradesh to Uttarakhand. Pratik will visit key pilgrimage sites in the Himalayan state, including Haridwar, Rishikesh, Uttarkashi, Gangotri, Yamunotri, and Badrinath, as part of Koo’s Operations Team. The journey will come to an end at Gaurikund, the base camp for the Kedarnath trek. This campaign, which has the support of Uttarakhand Tourism, aims to assist temple trusts and spiritual centres across the state in harnessing the social media revolution that is currently transforming the world. The ‘India Spiritual Journey’ will be gradually expanded to pilgrimage sites throughout India.

Pratik said as he rode his bike around the region, “I am grateful to Koo for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this campaign.” ‘India Spiritual Journey’ has helped me rediscover myself and connect with spiritually inclined people. We hope to bring this experience to millions of Koo users through this campaign. The experience of travelling through some of India’s most remote areas, surrounded by majestic snow-capped mountains, pine forests, and ancient temples, has been nothing short of divine.”

On the platform, Koo has over 100 verified spiritual accounts, including those of prominent gurus such as Swami Avdheshanand Giri, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. In the last quarter, the platform saw a 50 per cent increase in verified spiritual accounts. By utilising the platform’s unique multi-lingual feature, spiritual leaders actively koo and interact with their followers in local languages. The feature enables real-time translation of messages across the platform’s current slew of languages, thereby broadening reach. Chat Rooms and Live features contribute to a stronger digital connection between temples and devotees, with over 47 per cent of spiritual accounts gaining more followers on Koo than on any other microblogging platform in India.

India Deemed A ‘Country Of Particular Concern’ Over Religious Freedom Violations

A US watchdog has for the second year running recommended that the State Department should designate India as a “country of particular concern”, a category it uses for countries whose governments engage in “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations” of religious freedoms.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended this designation for 15 countries in its annual report for 2022 released on April 25.

Ten of them were declared countries of particular concern by the State Department in 2021 — Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. The rest were Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, Syria and Vietnam.

The USCIRF report also recommended in the case of India that the US should impose “targeted sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ or entities’ assets and/or barring their entry into the United States”.

In 2021, the report said in its key findings, “The Indian government escalated its promotion and enforcement of policies — including those promoting a Hindu-nationalist agenda — that negatively affected Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, and other religious minorities. The government continued to systemize its ideological vision of a Hindu state at both the national and state levels through the use of both existing and new laws and structural changes hostile to the country’s religious minorities”.

The report added: “In 2021, the Indian government repressed critical voices — especially religious minorities and those reporting on and advocating for them — through harassment, investigation, detention, and prosecution under laws such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the Sedition Law.”

The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan US federal government agency created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. It monitors the state of religious freedom around the world and makes policy recommendations to the president, secretary of state and congress.

The USCIRF had made the same recommendation for India — to be declared a country of particular concern — in 2021 as well, but it was not accepted. The commission’s recommendations are not binding on the US government or the Congress. The State Department compiles its own international religious freedom report every year.

“We are disheartened by the deterioration of freedom of religion or belief in some countries, especially Afghanistan under the Taliban’s de facto government since August. Religious minorities have faced harassment, detention, and even death due to their faith or beliefs, and years of progress toward more equitable access to education and representation of women and girls have disappeared,” USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza said in a statement announcing the release of the 2022 report.

Indian American Named Bishop Of Columbus, OH

An Indian-American priest, Rev. Earl Kenneth Fernandes, 49, will have the distinction of becoming the first Indian-American bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, after he was named bishop-elect of Columbus, Ohio. He will also be the first person of color to serve as the bishop of the Diocese of Columbus, as well the youngest diocesan bishop in the United States.

The announcement on April 2, 2022, was made by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Papal Nuncio to the United States. The new Bishop will be consecrated and installed as the 13th bishop of Columbus (Ohio) on May 31, 2022. Rev. Fernandes has roots in Mangalore, Goa, and Mumbai.

Born on September 21, 1972, in Toledo in Ohio to Sidney Oswald Fernandes and Thelma Fernandes nee’ Noronha, who migrated to the USA from the western Indian metropolis of  Bombay (now Mumbai) in the early 1970s. Fr Earl has four brothers: Karl, Trevor (who is a Catholic deacon), Ashley, and Eustace – Trevor is a Magistrate and others are medical doctors.

Rev. Fernandes obtained his bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Toledo in 1994 and went on to study physiology at the University of Salford. It was in his second year of medical studies at the University of Cincinnati that he felt the call of the Lord to serve Him. The bishop-elect, did his priestly formation at Mount Saint Mary’s of the West in Cincinnati and bagged a master’s in Theology in 2002. He attributes his deep faith and vocation to the exemplary prayer life of his mother, a teacher, and his father, a physician.

Rev. Fernandes was ordained a priest on May 18, 2002, for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and two years later he went to Rome to earn a licentiate and doctoral degree in moral theology from the Alphonsian Academy.  Fr Earl served as vicar of Holy Angels parish and was a religious teacher at Lehman Catholic High School from 2002 to 2004.

He has also served as the dean and assistant professor of moral theology at Mount Saint Mary’s of the West seminary from 2008 to 2016. He served as a member of the executive committee for the National Association of Catholic Theological Schools and was appointed a Missionary of Mercy during the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy from 2015 to 2016. He served on the staff of the nunciature for three and a half years.

A board of trustees member of the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Fr Earl is fluent in Spanish, Italian and French apart from having a reading knowledge of Latin – both his parents have an old Konkani Catholic background.

The diocese, spread across 11,310 square miles in the state of Ohio, has 207,041 Catholics out of a population of 2,828,514.  He will be the first Indian-American bishop of the Latin Church in the United States, and will be the first person of color to serve as the Bishop of the Diocese of Columbus, aged 49 years, he is the youngest diocesan Bishop in the United States, upon ordination.

In his first public speech Bishop-elect Rev, Fernandes said,  “This America is the land of opportunity, there is a great deal of pride (in being the first Indian-American bishop).”

The fourth of five sons born to Indian immigrants in Toledo, young Earnest remembers celebrating the U.S. bicentennial on July 4, 1976, holding signs with his four brothers. His father, who memorized the Constitution before taking his citizenship test, had fashioned together his own version of the Liberty Bell. Rev Fernandes is a self-described “young and happy priest”.

News of Fernandes’ appointment as a Bishop comes months after Pope Francis reassigned former Columbus Bishop Robert Brennan to lead the Diocese of Brooklyn.

Pope Francis Makes Plea For Ukraine Peace, Cites Nuclear Risk

On what is supposed to be Christianity’s most joyful day, Pope Francis made an anguished Easter Sunday plea for peace in the “senseless” war in Ukraine and in other armed conflicts raging in the world, and voiced worry about the risk of nuclear warfare.

“May there be peace for war-torn Ukraine, so sorely tried by the violence and destruction of this cruel and senseless war into which it was dragged,” Francis said, speaking from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Square.

The pontiff had just finished celebrating Easter Mass in the square packed by faithful for the holiday for the first time since the pandemic began in early 2020. Applause erupted from many of the crowd, estimated by the Vatican to number 100,000 in the square and on a nearby avenue, when he mentioned Ukraine.

“Please, please, let us not get used to war,″ Francis pleaded, after denouncing ”the flexing of muscles while people are suffering.” Yet again, the pontiff didn’t cite Russian President Vladimir Putin for the decision to launch the invasion and attacks against Ukraine on Feb. 24.

People’s hearts are filled with “fear and anguish, as so many of our brothers and sisters have had to lock themselves away in order to be safe from bombing,” the pontiff said.

“Let us all commit ourselves to imploring peace, from our balconies and in our streets,″ Francis said. ”May the leaders of nations hear people’s plea for peace.”

In a clear reference to the threat of nuclear warfare, Francis quoted from a noted declaration of 1955: “‘Shall we put an end to the human race, or shall mankind renounce war?’”

He was quoting from a manifesto written by philosopher Bertrand Russell and physicist Albert Einstein. The manifesto’s text, sounding a grim warning against the consequences of nuclear warfare, was issued a few months after Einstein died.

Meanwhile, in Britain, the leader of the Anglican church, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, called for Russia to declare a cease-fire and withdraw from Ukraine.

Noting that in the Eastern Orthodox church followed by many in Russia and Ukraine Sunday marks the start of Holy Week — with Easter coming on April 24 — Welby exhorted Russia to withdraw from Ukraine and commit to talks.

Francis also drew attention to other wars in the speech known by its Latin name “Urbi et Orbi” — to the city and to the world.

“May the conflict in Europe also make us more concerned about other situations of conflict, suffering and sorrow, situations that affect all too many areas of our world, situations that we cannot overlook and do not want to forget,″ Francis said.

Two days after Palestinians and Israeli police clashed in Jerusalem, Francis prayed that “Israelis, Palestinians and all the inhabitants of the Holy City, together with pilgrims, experience the beauty of peace, of living in brotherhood and of accessing Holy Places” in reciprocal respect.

He called for peace and reconciliation for the peoples of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Libya.

Francis spoke plaintively about Yemen, “which suffers from a conflict forgotten by all, with continuous victims.” He expressed hope that a recent truce would restore hope to that country’s people.

He also prayed that God grant “reconciliation for Myanmar, where a dramatic scenario of hatred and violence persists,” and for Afghanistan, which is gripped by a humanitarian crisis, including food shortages.

Francis denounced the exploitation of the African continent and “terrorist attacks — particularly in the Sahel region,” as well as the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia and violence in Congo.

In Latin America, many have seen their plight worsen during the coronavirus pandemic, aggravating social problems stemming from corruption, violence and drug trafficking, the pontiff said.

But Francis found hope in the “open doors of all those families and communities that are welcoming migrants and refugees throughout Europe,″ referring to the some 10 million people who have either fled Ukraine or are internally displaced by the war.

At the Polish border station of Medyka, a paramedic from Warsaw helped set out a traditional Easter breakfast with ham, cheese and Easter cakes for some of the latest refugees from Ukraine, the majority of whom have streamed into neighboring Poland.

“They lost their homes. They are seeking refuge in our country,” said volunteer Agnieszka Kuszaj. She hoped that the meal would help them “forget for a moment about all the terrible things” that have happened.

Maria Dontsova, 31, who is from Kharviv, the heavily bombed city in eastern Ukraine said: “I wish all families peace who are suffering in Ukraine at this great holiday Easter.” Speaking in English, she expressed hope that war will end “as soon as possible, and people stop suffering, and we can prevent the war (from) spreading to Europe”

Earlier, the pontiff, who has a knee ligament problem, limped badly as he made his way to an altar set up in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. After Easter morning Mass, Francis boarded the white popemobile for a whirl through the square among the cheering ranks of the crowd.

In Spain, believers and secular enthusiasts flocked back in large numbers to Holy Week processions this week for the first time since the start of the pandemic after most health restrictions were lifted.

U.S. Monitoring Rise In Rights Abuses In India

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was monitoring what he described as a rise in human rights abuses in India by some officials, in a rare direct rebuke by Washington of the Asian nation’s rights record.

“We regularly engage with our Indian partners on these shared values (of human rights) and to that end, we are monitoring some recent concerning developments in India including a rise in human rights abuses by some government, police and prison officials,” Blinken said on Monday in a joint press briefing with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh.

Blinken did not elaborate. Singh and Jaishankar, who spoke after Blinken at the briefing, did not comment on the human rights issue. Blinken’s remarks came days after U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar questioned the alleged reluctance of the U.S. government to criticize Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government on human rights.

“What does Modi need to do to India’s Muslim population before we will stop considering them a partner in peace?” Omar, who belongs to President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party, said last week.

Modi’s critics say his Hindu nationalist ruling party has fostered religious polarization since coming to power in 2014. Since Modi came to power, right-wing Hindu groups have launched attacks on minorities claiming they are trying to prevent religious conversions. Several Indian states have passed or are considering anti-conversion laws that challenge the constitutionally protected right to freedom of belief.

In 2019, the government passed a citizenship law that critics said undermined India’s secular constitution by excluding Muslim migrants from neighboring countries. The law was meant to grant Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan before 2015.

In the same year, soon after his 2019 re-election win, Modi’s government revoked the special status of Kashmir in a bid to fully integrate the Muslim-majority region with the rest of the country. To keep a lid on protests, the administration detained many Kashmir political leaders and sent many more paramilitary police and soldiers to the Himalayan region also claimed by Pakistan.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) recently banned wearing the hijab in classrooms in Karnataka state. Hardline Hindu groups later demanded such restrictions in more Indian states.

What Is The Sikh Festival Of Baisakhi And Why Is It So Sacred?

Originally a spring harvest festival, Baisakhi acquired religious significance after the10th Sikh guru created the Khalsa, a distinctive Sikh identity, on this day.

Sikhs all over the world celebrate the festival of Baisakhi, a holiday with a special religious significance, observed each year on April 13 or 14. In 2022, Baisakhi falls on April 14.

As a sociologist of religion studying Sikhs in the West and as someone who was raised Sikh, I know that Baisakhi is one of Sikhism’s most widely celebrated holidays. I remember attending celebratory Baisakhi processions in Amritsar in northern India where large crowds gathered, many wearing traditional Sikh clothing, and danced and practiced Sikh martial arts.

Originally a spring harvest festival celebrated in the northern Indian state of Punjab, the festival gained religious significance for Sikhs when Guru Gobind Singh – the 10th and final living guru for Sikhs – created the Khalsa in 1699.

What is the Khalsa?

Sikhs see the creation of the Khalsa, which is commonly translated as “pure,” as creating a distinctive Sikh identity.

Guru Gobind Singh established the Khalsa with the intention that Sikhs who joined the order be set apart from those around them. Sikhs initiated as members of the Khalsa are known as “amritdhari” Sikhs. Sikhs who have not been “initiated” are known as “sahejdhari” Sikhs. The precise size of each group is not known, but amritdhari Sikhs are a significant minority.

Sikhs are initiated into this order through the “amrit pahul.” It is a rite that involves drinking a nectar called amrit, prepared using a mixture of sugar and water that has been stirred with a double-edged sword. The initiates read from the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh scripture that is seen as the embodiment of the guru, recite a formal prayer, and agree to adhere to guidelines for behavior and practice.

All those initiated wear symbols with religious significance, known as the five K’s: kesh (uncut hair), kanga (wooden comb), kachera (cotton undershorts), kirpan (a steel blade), and kara (a steel bracelet). Each has its own symbolic meaning. The kirpan, for example, symbolizes one’s commitment to protect the defenseless and defend their faith. The five K’s also set the Khalsa apart from all others, serving as an outward expression of commitment to the Sikh faith.

Amritdhari Sikhs are all expected to wear the five K’s. Although sahejdhari Sikhs may wear some or all of the five K’s, most Sikhs today do not expect them to do so.

Although scholars debate when exactly a separate Sikh identity was formed, for many Sikhs today Baisakhi is seen as formative turning point in the Sikh faith.

Sikhs mark the occasion by going to Gurdwara, a Sikh place of worship, for a service, followed by a procession. There is singing, bhangra dancing and Sikh martial arts called gatka. In addition, for Sikhs in the diaspora, such public celebrations are also an opportunity to help the non-Sikh public better understand Sikh beliefs and practice.

Sikhs see Sikhism as a tradition that has been fundamentally concerned with equality from its outset. They believe in equality among men and women and reject caste distinctions.

With the creation of the Khalsa, Guru Gobind Singh called for men initiated into the Khalsa to discard their last names and take the last name Singh and women to take the last name Kaur as a rejection of caste. This is because in India, last names are indicators of caste. When Sikhs communicate to non-Sikhs about their faith, they often emphasize this egalitarian vision of Sikhism.

Sikhs have been living in the U.S. since the late 1800s. Today, the Sikh population in the U.S. is estimated at around 500,000. However, they are a group that most Americans know little about. Sikhs in the U.S. are often subject to Islamophobia and have been targets of violent attacks, in large part because they are commonly mistaken for Muslims.

A resolution was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on March 28, 2022, that, if passed, would make April 14 National Sikh Day.

Establishing a National Sikh Day would have a symbolic meaning for Sikhs who have faced discrimination in the U.S, and it would acknowledge their contributions to American society.

Persecution Of Christians In India As World Observes Good Friday

Today, over two thousand years ago Jesus Christ was persecuted or believed to be crucified on this day. Followers of Jesus are even today being persecuted in certain parts of the world including in India wherein vested groups of people are spreading hatred against minorities for their political gains.

2014          127
2015          142
2016          226
2017          248
2018          292
2019          328
2020          279
2021          502
2022          127

(till April 13)

The persecution of Christians in India is intensifying which is leading to a systemic and carefully orchestrated violence against Christians, including use of social media to spread disinformation and stir up hatred.

The strong infiltration of hatred against Christians, have witnessed 127 incidents of violence in 2014 which increased to five hundred fold in 2021 as 502 incidents of violence was reported in 2021 on UCF toll-free helpline number 1800-208-4545.

Most church leaders are men, and being a pastor is understood to be one of the riskiest vocations in India. Pastors and their families are targeted to instill fear among them.

In the first 103 days of 2022 we have already witnessed 127 incidents of violence against Christians. January saw 40 incidents, 35 incidents in February, 34 incidents in March and just in 13 days of April 18 incidents of violence were reported on UCF helpline. In which 89 Pastors were beaten up and threatened from conducting prayers for which they became pastors. 68 Churches were attacked in which 367 women and 366 children received injuries. Out of 127 incidents 82 incidents were mob violence.

There are 42 cases pending in various courts challenging the constitutional validity of the so-called “Freedom of Religion Act against” which have been framed with a malafide intention to harass the Christian community who are falsely accused of forceful conversion. Whereas, till today, not a single Christian has been convicted for forcing any one to convert. Moreover, census after census have shown that Christian population remained 2.3 percent of India’s population of 1.2 billion.

There are many false cases that were filed against Christians which the courts have found untrue and pulled up the police and the authorities for misusing the poser. One example is in May 2017, 72 Christian children going for Christian camp from Madhya Pradesh to Nagpur accompanied by six elders were detained on charges of being “kidnapped to be converted’. The Madhya Pradesh High Court granting bail to children and elders directed the police to come back with evidence to prove their claim that children are not Christians and that they were being kidnapped to be converted. Till today, the police have not come back to Court.

In another judgement, beginning of 2019, the Delhi High Court while restoring the status of Overseas Citizen of India said that the government could not show any proof whatsoever of having forcefully or fraudulently converting even a single person. Under similar charges, there were over 40 Churches in Jaunpur District of Uttar Pradesh that were shut down in 2018. Even though pastors and other Christian leaders are out on bail, the police are yet to file the charge sheets against any of them as they do not have any evidence to prove fraud or forceful conversions. There are hundreds of such cases, if not in thousands, that are lying in front of various courts across India due to the absence of proof of fraud or forceful conversions.

The various courts in India in the last 15 months – January 2021 to March 2022 have acquitted Christians of false allegations of conversions in 59 cases (41 in 2021 and 18 till March 2022).

There are racial and ethnic differences in college graduation patterns, as well as in the reasons for not completing a degree. Among adults ages 25 and older, 61% of Asian Americans have a bachelor’s degree or more education, along with 42% of White adults, 28% of Black adults and 21% of Hispanic adults, according to 2021 Current Population Survey data. The share of bachelor’s degree holders in each group has increased since 2010. That year, 52% of Asian Americans had a four-year degree or more, compared with a third of White adults, 20% of Black adults and 14% of Hispanic adults.

The October 2021 Center survey found that among adults without a bachelor’s degree, Hispanic adults (52%) were more likely than those who are White (39%) or Black (41%) to say a major reason they didn’t graduate from a four-year college is that they couldn’t afford it. Hispanic and Black adults were more likely than their White counterparts to say needing to work to support their family was a major reason.

While a third of White adults said not wanting to go to school was a major reason they didn’t complete a four-year degree, smaller shares of Black (22%) and Hispanic (23%) adults said the same. White adults were also more likely to cite not needing more education for the job or career they wanted. (There weren’t enough Asian adults without a bachelor’s degree in the sample to analyze separately.)

Only 62% of students who start a degree or certificate program finish their program within six years, according to the most recent data from the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit verification and research organization that tracked first-time college students who enrolled in fall 2015 with the intent of pursuing a degree or certificate. The degree completion rate for this group was highest among students who started at four-year, private, nonprofit schools (78.3%), and lowest among those who started at two-year public institutions (42.2%).

Business is the most commonly held bachelor’s degree, followed by health professions. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about a fifth (19%) of the roughly 2 million bachelor’s degrees conferred in 2019-20 were in business. Health professions and related programs were the second most-popular field, making up 12.6% of degrees conferred that year. Business has been the single most common major since 1980-81; before that, education led the way.

The least common bachelor’s degrees in 2019-20 were in military technologies and applied sciences (1,156 degrees conferred in 2019-20), library science (118), and precision production (39).

There is a growing earnings gap between young college graduates and their counterparts without degrees. In 2021, full-time workers ages 22 to 27 who held a bachelor’s degree, but no further education, made a median annual wage of $52,000, compared with $30,000 for full-time workers of the same age with a high school diploma and no degree, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This gap has widened over time. Young bachelor’s degree holders earned a median annual wage of $48,481 in 1990, compared with $35,257 for full-time workers ages 22 to 27 with a high school diploma.

The unemployment rate is lower for college graduates than for workers without a bachelor’s degree, and that gap widened as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In February 2020, just before the COVID-19 outbreak began in the U.S., only 1.9% of college graduates ages 25 and older were unemployed, compared with 3.1% of workers who completed some college but not a four-year degree, and 3.7% of workers with only a high school diploma. By June 2020, after the pandemic hit, 6.8% of college grads, 10.8% of workers with some college, and 12.2% of high school grads were unemployed.

By March 2022, the unemployment rate had nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels for college graduates (2%) while dropping to 3% among those with some college education but no four-year degree, and 4% among those with only a high school diploma.

Recent college graduates are more likely than graduates overall to be underemployed – that is, working in jobs that typically do not require a college degree, according to an analysis of Census Bureau and BLS data by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. As of December 2021, 41% of college graduates ages 22 to 27 were underemployed, compared with 34% among all college graduates. The underemployment rates for recent college grads rose in 2020 as the COVID-19 outbreak strained the job market, but have since returned to pre-pandemic levels.

As of the end of 2021, only 34% of underemployed graduates ages 22 to 27 worked what the Fed defines as “good non-college jobs” – those paying at least $45,000 a year – down from around half in the 1990s. The share of underemployed graduates ages 22 to 27 in low-wage jobs – those earning less than $25,000 annually – rose from about 9% in 1990 to 11% last year.

When it comes to income and wealth accumulation, first-generation college graduates lag substantially behind those with college-educated parents, according to a May 2021 Pew Research Center analysis. Households headed by a first-generation college graduate – that is, someone who has completed at least a bachelor’s degree but does not have a parent with a college degree – had a median annual income of $99,600 in 2019, compared with $135,800 for households headed by those with at least one parent who graduated from college. The median wealth of households headed by first-generation college graduates ($152,000) also trailed that of households headed by someone with a parent who graduated from college ($244,500). The higher household income of the latter facilitates saving and wealth accumulation.

The gap also reflects differences in how individuals finance their education. Second-generation college graduates tend to come from more affluent families, while first-generation college graduates are more likely to incur education debt than those with a college-educated parent.

Most Americans with college degrees see value in their experience. In the Center’s October 2021 survey, majorities of graduates said their college education was extremely or very useful when it came to helping them grow personally and intellectually (79%), opening doors to job opportunities (70%) and developing specific skills and knowledge that could be used in the workplace (65%).

Younger college graduates were less likely than older ones to see value in their college education. For example, only a third of college graduates younger than 50 said their college experience was extremely useful in helping them develop skills and knowledge that could be used in the workplace. Among college graduates ages 50 and older, 45% said this.

During Easter Week, Pope Francis Pushes For Peace In Ukraine

Pope Francis opened Holy Week Sunday with a call for an Easter truce in Ukraine to make room for a negotiated peace, highlighting the need for leaders to “make some sacrifices for the good of the people.”

Celebrating Palm Sunday Mass before crowds in St. Peter’s Square for the first time since the pandemic, Pope Francis called for “weapons to be laid down to begin an Easter truce, not to reload weapons and resume fighting, no! A truce to reach peace through real negotiations.”

Francis did not refer directly to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but the reference was clear, and he has repeatedly denounced the war and the suffering brought to innocent civilians. During the traditional Sunday blessing following Palm Sunday Mass, the pontiff said leaders should be “willing to make some sacrifices for the good of the people.”

“In fact, what a victory would that be, who plants a flag under a pile of rubble?” During his Palm Sunday homily, the pontiff denounced “the folly of war” that leads people to commit “senseless acts of cruelty.”

“When we resort to violence  we lose sight of why we are in the world and even end up committing senseless acts of cruelty. We see this in the folly of war, where Christ is crucified yet another time,” he said. Francis lamented “the unjust death of husbands and sons” “refugees fleeing bombs” “young people deprived of a future”  and “soldiers sent to kill their brothers and sisters.”

After two years of celebrating Palm Sunday Mass inside St. Peter’s Basilica without a crowd due to pandemic distancing measures, the solemn celebration returned to the square outside. Tens of thousands pilgrims and tourists clutched olive branches and braided palms emblematic of the ceremony that recalls Jesus’ return to Jerusalem.

Traditionally, the pope leads a Palm Sunday procession through St. Peter’s Square before celebrating Mass. Francis has been suffering from a strained ligament in his right knee that has caused him to limp, and he was driven in a black car to the altar, which he then reached with the help of an aide. He left the Mass on the open-top popemobile, waving to the faithful in the piazza and along part of the via della Conciliazione.

Palm Sunday opens Holy Week leading up to Easter, which this year falls on April 17, and features the Good Friday Way of the Cross Procession.

With Religious Tensions Worsening in India, Understanding Caste Is More Urgent Than Ever

A new Bollywood movie is galvanizing Hindu audiences and stirring up a fresh wave of anti-Muslim bigotry. In the name of India’s Hindu majority, hijabs are banned in one Indian state and Muslims attacked for praying publicly in New Delhi. A hardline Hindu supremacist, infamous for his anti-Muslim comments and for policies that demonize or exclude Muslims, wins a second term as chief minister of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh. His victory is seen as a ringing endorsement of the ideology of Hindutva.

The belief that India is not a secular nation, or even multi-religious, but an intrinsically Hindu country, is the central platform of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But the “Hindu majority” invoked by supporters of Hindutva, in their agitation against Muslims and other minorities, is not a monolithic bloc. In fact, it is highly stratified, with elite groups of Hindus exploiting the vulnerability of marginalized communities for their own political ends.

If Hindu unity is a facade, it also follows that the Hindu-Muslim binary, while a common framing for the discussion of Indian politics, cannot be as straightforward as it appears.

To understand the nuances of Indian politics, one needs to understand the complex caste system. At three thousand years old, this system of organizing Hindus by their professions and obligations is the world’s longest running hierarchy and probably the most rigid. By some estimates, there are 3,000 main castes and as many as 25,000 sub-castes, with Brahmins (intellectuals) at the top and Shudras (menials) at the bottom.

Lying outside this system are the Dalits (formerly called “untouchables”) and the Adivasi (indigenous tribes), together totaling 350 million people, or just over a quarter of India’s population. They are the most socio-economically marginalized groups in the country, but they are also contested over by Hindu nationalists, who see them as useful foot soldiers in the struggle against Islam.

“Hindu nationalism is led by the upper castes and their incitement of all Hindus against the Muslim minority is a ploy that enables them to keep their grip on Hindu society,” says the welfare economist Jean Drèze. “It makes it all the more difficult for Dalits and other exploited groups to question their own oppression by the upper castes and revolt against it.”

Some 200 members of Dalit and other castes attend a religious program to convert to Buddhism in Ahmedabad, India, on Sept. 30, 2017.

At the same time, there is a fear that other religions will prove more attractive to the disadvantaged communities who, being outside the caste system, need not have any particular loyalty to Hinduism. Dalits are not even allowed to enter many Hindu temples. Small wonder that Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956), a revered Dalit leader and the head of the committee that drafted Indian constitution, urged every Dalit to convert to Buddhism.

If the 25% of the population represented by such communities were to become Buddhists or Christians, the idea of Hindutva would be seriously weakened. Mass Dalit conversions have already taken place. In response, legal moves have been made in several Indian states to prevent people from leaving the Hindu religion.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu Nationalist group and the parent organization of the BJP, is also making strenuous if belated efforts to include Dalits and the Adivasis in the Hindu fold. Mohan Bhagwat, the head of the RSS, told a gathering in January that the caste system was “an obstacle to Hindu unity.” Last year, he also said “we consider every Indian a Hindu.”

Using such language, the RSS is able to appeal to emotionally vulnerable Dalits, helping them feel accepted in a society that has historically excluded them. Dalits are told that they are “the real warriors of Hinduism.”

The next step is conversion “into active anti-Muslim sentiments,” says Bhanwar Meghwanshi. Today a Dalit-rights activist, Meghwanshi formerly served in the organization and wrote a book about his experiences entitled I Could Not Be Hindu: The Story of a Dalit in the RSS.

“We were trained to hate Muslims,” he says, “so we could be [RSS] foot soldiers in anti-Muslim riots.” (Tellingly, the great majority of those arrested in the 2002 Gujurat riots were from Dalit and other disadvantaged groups.)

Ironically, its middle initial stands for swayamsevak or “self-reliance,” when the RSS is heavily reliant on Dalits and Adivasis to do its dirty work during periods of communal violence.

Compounding the issue is the fact that the Muslim community is also stratified on caste lines, in ways that mirror the Hindu system. Indian Islam has its ashrafs (nobles), ajlafs (commoners), and arzals (“despicables”).

The political manipulation of disadvantaged castes will continue so long as they refuse to see that they are “simply pawns in the middle,” being led by “oppressor castes,” says Suraj Kumar Bauddh, an anti-caste activist and the founder of Mission Ambedkar. “Whether they are Hindu lower-caste communities, or Muslim lower-caste communities, they are only told to kill and die, to gain acceptance within either fold.”

The existence of a ready supply of expendable fighters can only exacerbate India’s spiraling religious tensions. Now more than ever, Dalits, Adivasis—and disadvantaged Muslims—must reframe the political debate.

Pope Francis Condemns ‘Sacrilegious War’ In Ukraine, While Biden Calls Putin A War Criminal

Pope Francis has denounced Russia’s “repugnant war” against Ukraine as “cruel and sacrilegious inhumanity.” In some of his strongest words yet since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, Francis on Sunday told thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square that every day brings more atrocities in what is a “senseless massacre.”

Pope Francis who has always been in the forefront denouncing violence, said, “Sadly, the violent aggression against Ukraine does not stop, a senseless massacre where each day slaughter and atrocities are repeated,” the pope said March 20th after reciting the midday Angelus prayer with visitors in St. Peter’s Square.

“There is no justification for this!” he told an estimated 30,000 people who had come to the square to pray with him. Pope Francis once again urged international leaders to work together to put an end “to this repugnant war.”

Meanwhile, in the strongest of criticisms mounted on Russian President Vladimir Putin, American President Joe Biden called Putin a “war criminal,” a rhetorical leap that came as civilian deaths mount in Ukraine. Speaking with reporters last week, Biden affixed the designation on the Russian leader. “I think he is a war criminal,” the President said during remarks at the White House.

It was the harshest condemnation of Putin’s actions from any US official since the war in Ukraine began three weeks ago. Previously, Biden had stopped short of labeling atrocities being documented on the ground in Ukraine as “war crimes,” citing ongoing international and US investigations.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine Feb. 24, missiles and bombs have continued to fall “on civilians, the elderly, children and pregnant mothers,” he said. “I went to see the wounded children here in Rome. One of them is missing an arm, the other has a head wound,” he said. That happened to “innocent children.”

While Biden had traveled to Europe to solidify a united front against Russian aggression and devastation on Ukraine, Pope Francis had gone on March 19 to the Vatican-owned Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital where some 50 Ukrainian children had been cared for since the war began. Initially, the Vatican said, most of the young Ukrainian patients were brought to Rome for treatment for cancer, neurological or other diseases. Pope Francis also drew attention to the almost 3.4 million people who have fled Ukraine, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.

“And I feel great sorrow for those who don’t even have the chance to escape,” he said. “So many grandparents, sick and poor, are separated from their families,” the pope said; “so many children and fragile people are left to die under the bombs without receiving help and without finding safety even in air-raid shelters,” some of which have been bombed.

“All this is inhuman,” he said. “Indeed, it is even sacrilegious, because it goes against the sanctity of human life, especially against defenseless human life, which must be respected and protected, not eliminated, and which comes before any strategy!”

Pope Francis also expressed his gratitude for the bishops, priests and religious who have stayed with their people, living “under the bombs.” They are “living the Gospel of charity and fraternity.” “Thank you, dear brothers and sisters, for this witness and for the concrete support you are courageously offering to so many desperate people,” the pope said.

He specifically mentioned Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, the Lithuania-born nuncio to Ukraine, “who since the beginning of the war has remained in Kyiv” and is a sign of the pope’s closeness “to the tormented Ukrainian people.”

Pope Francis urged everyone to continue to pray for peace, to pray for the people of Ukraine and to offer concrete assistance to them. “And, please, let’s not get used to war and violence,” he said. “Let’s not tire of welcoming them (the refugees) with generosity, as we are doing.”

The assistance will need to continue for “weeks and months to come,” especially for the women and children forced to flee without their husbands and fathers and without work, which makes them targets of human traffickers, whom the pope called “vultures.”

While reminding the world, “Do not forget,” the pope said, “it is cruel, inhuman and sacrilegious!” He urged “every community and every believer to join me on Friday, March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, in making a solemn act of consecration of humanity, especially of Russia and Ukraine, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, so that she, the Queen of Peace, may obtain peace for the world.”

Om Sri Balaji Temple Organizes Awareness And Fund Raising Event

Om Sri Balaji Temple organized a temple awareness and fund raising event at the newly built campus located at 285 Rhode Hall Road, Monroe, NJ on Saturday, April 2nd. The first phase of the temple building “Sai Jnana Mandir” (center for cultural and spiritual education).

The event included live performances, recitation of Vedic hymns, inspiring speeches by the founder and trustees speeches, and a charity show. The event was a grand success, attended by over 400 guests. Many local community members came forward showing their appreciation and support towards the temple.

The founder, Suryanarayana Maddula, in his opening speech shared his childhood dream about building a temple for the almighty and a center for community education. Together with his team have acquired 12 acres of land near Monroe about 10 years back and started building the temple. The first phase is completed and a grand inauguration “Prana Prathistha” (installation of the deities) event is planned for the week of June 13-19th.

The temple will welcome the community with its large granite structure, serve the community with multiple faiths with a common goal of spreading goodness, love and oneness. Phase-1 includes 10 class rooms, a profession kitchen, dining hall and a large prayer hall.

Their goal for the event last week was to bring awareness of the newly constructed temple, bring the communities together, importantly the next generation. For more information about the event, volunteer opportunities, and donations visit https://omsrisaibalajitemple.org/

Youth Gathering Promotes Interfaith Harmony In India

A Catholic initiative has brought together university students from different religions to help them deepen their respect for other faiths amid the growing intolerance of religious minorities in India.

Some 60 young people from Hindu, Christian and Sikh backgrounds attended the youth program called Yuva Sadbhav (Youth Harmony) organized by the Pilar Pilgrim Centre in Goa, southwest India, on March 26-27.

“The program enabled us to build friendship and understanding,” said Elaine Coelho, a Catholic from Nirmala Institute of Education in Goan capital Panjim.

Such initiatives “will certainly create a society where there is trust, respect and cooperation between people from different faiths and beliefs,” she said.

The participants came from colleges in Goa, which was a Portuguese colony for 451 years until 1961. Catholic leaders in Goa, once the center of the mission in Asia, say the sociocultural dominance of Catholics in the area has faded.

India’s pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) runs the state government, supported by groups that have vowed to make India a nation of Hindu dominance.

“I did not know what it had to offer. However, in two days, I have become a different person”

Hindu groups are blamed for increasing attacks on religious minorities such as Muslims and Christians in several other states, although Goa has not witnessed such violence.

The youth program seeks to create “interreligious awareness and help them overcome prejudices” about religions, said Father Lawrence Fernandes, director of Pilar Pilgrim Centre.

Sanket Yadav, a Hindu participant from Padre Conceicao College, said the program has been a valuable experience.

Yadav said he was hesitant to attend the program. “I did not know what it had to offer. However, in two days, I have become a different person.”

Father Elvis Fernandes, the program convenor, led the participants through group activities of sharing their positive experiences with people from other religions.

He also invited them to list at least five close friends they had since childhood and to what faith they belonged. “It was to help them think about the conscious and unconscious choices they make when it comes to having friends,” he said.

As part of the program, the 2009 documentary film The Imam and the Pastor was screened. Produced by the United States Institute of Peace, the documentary shows Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye working with Muslim and Christian clergy, helping them with conflict prevention, mediation and reconciliation.

Swarnjeet Singh a participant from another Panjim college, said “people who perpetrate interreligious violence can also become agents of peace.”

The program concluded with a prayer meeting participated by representatives from six different religious traditions: Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Muslim, Jain, and Buddhist.

Muslim Family In India Donates Land To Build ‘World’s Largest Hindu Temple’, Taller Than Angkor Vat

Amid the media hype about the growing communal divide in India, a Muslim family in Bihar has quietly donated land worth over 2.5 crore rupees (over US $300,000) for the construction of what is being billed as “the world’s largest Hindu temple”.

The Virat Ramayan Mandir is supposed to come up in the Kaithwalia area of East Champaran district in the state, about 150 km from state capital Patna.

Acharya Kishore Kunal, chief of the Patna-based Mahavir Mandir Trust, that has undertaken the project, said that Ishtiyaq Ahmad Khan, who has donated the land, is a businessman from East Champaran based in Guwahati.

“He recently completed all formalities pertaining to the donation of land belonging to his family for the construction of the temple at the registrar office of the Kesharia sub-division (East Chanmparan),” Kunal, a former police officer, told reporters.

He said that this donation by Khan and his family was a great example of social harmony and brotherhood between two communities. Without the help of Muslims, it would have been difficult to realise this dream project for Hindus, he added.

The Mahavir Mandir Trust has so far obtained 125 acres of land for construction of this temple. The trust will soon obtain another 25 acres of land too in the area. The exact amount of land donated by the Khan family to the temple trust was not disclosed. And Khan has not so far spoken publicly on the issue.

The Virat Ramayan Mandir – whose total cost is expected to be 500 crore rupees – nearly 80 million dollars – is slated to be taller than the world-famous 12th century Angkor Wat complex in Cambodia, which is 215 feet high. The complex in East Champaran will comprise 18 temples with high spires and its Shiv temple will have the world’s largest Shivling.

How Americans Have Adopted — And Adapted — The Indian Festival Of Holi

The arrival of spring always brings sweet memories from my childhood in India of Holi: the sound of drumbeats and people dancing merrily in the streets, bodies smeared with a multitude of colors. In our home, buckets filled with wet colors would be kept ready to be poured on friends, family and neighbors, who would walk in with their own fistfuls of colors. The visitors were served freshly prepared sweets and savories from my mother’s kitchen along with a delightful almond drink, suffused with saffron.

Traditionally celebrated on the last full moon in the lunar month of Phalguna, which falls this year on Friday (March 18), Holi commemorates the triumph of good over evil. In Hindu mythology the demon king Hiranyakashipu commands his subjects to acknowledge him as the supreme God, but his son Prahalada, a devotee of the god Vishnu, refuses. In a rage Hiranyakashipu gives his sister, Holika, a protective cloak and instructs her to take Prahalada in her lap and sit on a burning pyre.

As Prahalada chants Vishnu’s name, the cloak flies off Holika and wraps around him. Holika is charred to death, while Prahalada remains unharmed.

In different regions of India, it comes with different rituals and meanings. Some light a bonfire on the evening before, while elsewhere Holi is a celebration of love honoring the divine love of Lord Krishna and Radha. With its fun and brightness, the festival has long since become a secular celebration — not unlike the West’s Christmas.

But with the Indian diaspora, Holi has gone global, adapting to local conditions and sensibilities. Deep in Mormon Utah, Salt Lake City’s Holi celebration, organized by ISKCON — the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (more familiarly known as the Hare Krishnas) — draws a crowd of around 25,000 people for a ticketed event held over two days (March 26 and 27 this year.) Holi celebrations in other cities have become highly commercialized, with food, yoga classes and rock bands.

“When I was a child growing up in Boise, Idaho, my parents organized the Holi festival,” said Ravi Gupta, a scholar of religious studies at Utah State University, “About 25 Indian families and a couple of other friends would turn up. But in past one or two decades, Holi has gone beyond that demographic. It has been an opportunity to involve and engage other communities.”

Caru Das, director of the Krishna Temple, said that after the first celebrations started at the temple in 1995, festivities soon moved outdoors to accommodate a rock band, and more people started to come as word got around.

The ritual of the burning of Holika was soon deemed too risky to be incorporated into an American environment and was eventually dropped. And unlike celebrations in India, color is not thrown on unsuspecting people in the street. In Salt Lake City, “color throws,” which may not be appreciated by unsuspecting passersby, are tightly scheduled for noon and 4 p.m., and no wet colors are allowed. “The play gets more choreographed,” said Gupta.

But the adaptations are seen by many as very much in keeping with the richness of the Hindu tradition, in which adherents may hold multiple beliefs and interpretations. The Salt Lake City event aims to appeal to all, irrespective of their religious, atheistic or spiritual but not religious beliefs.

Certainly, there is a loss of the cultural legacy of Holi. The singing of “kirtans,” Das told me, is unlike anything that I would be familiar with. In the Hindu tradition, a kirtan involves chanting a religious text, usually accompanied by a harmonium or a mridangam, instruments with a mellow beat. Salt Lake’s “kirtan” is a high energy rock song that the crowd greets with Bollywood-style dancing.

“It’s a way of introducing people to kirtan who have never experienced it before. Even atheists have a good time. Everyone enjoys friendliness and being in a community,” said Das. About half, he reckons, are Mormons.

Indians too are adapting Holi. Until a few decades ago, the celebration was limited to the northern states. Now, it’s becoming a pan-Indian festival.

Said Vasudha Narayanan, scholar of Hinduism at University of Florida, “When I was growing up, no one in southern India knew about Holi.” Now, with more people moving south and the flow of information through the internet, she said, Holi celebrations are common in southern India as well. “The thing about India is this: If one story is good, another is better,” Narayanan said.

Hindu social justice activists and organizations have come to use the occasion to condemn misogyny and caste system, in which, they say the Holika story is rooted. Sadhana, a coalition of progressive Hindus, organizes the “Holi against Hindutva,” an event to protest persecution of religious minorities in India.

As more people adopt Holi, it has become a moveable feast. At some U.S. Hindu temples, a religious ritual may be celebrated on Holi proper, but larger festivities may take place over a weekend; the Indian diaspora comes together to worship all the deities in the temple, and any differences of beliefs are put aside, said Balaji Sudabattula, an official of the Ganesha Hindu Temple in Salt Lake.

Other cities may decide to have celebrations even later, when the weather gets warmer. Las Vegas will be celebrating on April 16, Gupta’s temple on June 11.

Religious practices go through change and transformation. Unanchored from its Indian context, Holi has become a way for one community to reach out to another. The American festival of colors has captured something essential to the Hindu original: a time to burn one’s inner demons and find joy with everyone, without any barriers or distinctions.

Rev. Thomas J. Netto Consecrated As Archbishop Of Trivandrum Latin Archdiocese

Rev. Fr. Thomas J. Netto, born on December 29th, 1964 was installed as the Archbishop of the Latin Archdiocese of Trivandrum during a solemn episcopal ordination ceremony, attended by tens of thousands of devotees, religious, community, and political leaders at St Sebastian’s Church Grounds, Chreuvettukadu, Thiruvanathapuram, Kerala on Saturday, March 19th, 2022.

Archbishop  Netto, 58, is the second Archbishop of the Latin Archdiocese of Thiruvananthapuram. Addressing the attendees at the conclusion of the ceremony, Archbishop Netto said the responsibility bestowed upon him was challenging but one he accepted with utmost humility.

Known among his priest friends and the larger Catholic community in Kerala, the state with the maximum number of Christians in the country, having as many as 20% of the state’s population being Christian, the newly consecrated Archbishop Netto is known for his simplicity, goodness at heart, down to earth approach and cordial relationship with one and all.

Archbishop Thomas J Netto was appointed as the archbishop of Latin Archdiocese of Thiruvananthapuram during the Holy Mass at St Joseph’s Cathedral at Palayam over two months ago. He is known for his oratory and writing skills and had a key role in the publication of diocesan mouthpiece Jeevanum Velichavum.

The nearly four hours long liturgical and felicitation ceremony began with a reception accorded to the Archbishop-designate who was led to the venue in the accompaniment of nearly 20 Metropolitans representing various dioceses and denominations and several clergy members. M. Soosa Pakiam, the Apostolic Administrator of the Thiruvananthapuram Archbishop, was the chief celebrant for the episcopal ordination. He presented the episcopal ring along with the staff and miter to the newly-ordained Archbishop.

Both the Latin and the Malayalam translation of the Papal order appointing Msgr. Netto as the Archbishop of Thiruvananthapuram was read out at the ceremony that was attended by Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, the Vatican’s Apostolic Envoy to India. In his message, the Vatican ecclesiastical diplomat said he viewed Kerala to be known for its religious places of worship, Carnatic music that combines both Indian and Dravidian culture, the Periyar river that is its ‘lifeline’ and its highest literacy level in the country, among other unique features.

The archbishop was anointed with the oil of sacred chrism, ring placed on his finger, the miter on his head, and given the pastoral staff. Thereafter, the ‘Laying on of Hands’ ceremony was held followed by the Prayer of Ordination. Earlier, the installation commenced with the Archdiocesan Chancellor Monsignor C. Joseph making the customary request to ordain Monsignor Netto. The co-celebrants included Varappuzha Archbishop Joseph Kalathiparambil and Neyyattinkara Bishop Vincent Samuel.

Delivering the benediction, Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Catholicos, Major Archbishop-Catholicos of Malankara Syrian Catholic Church, called upon the new Archbishop to lead the coastal population from the front for their rights and betterment. The benefactors of such efforts must not be the parishioners alone, but the entire community in the region. He also recounted the selfless deeds of the fisher-folks in rescuing those stranded in the floods of 2018.

Elected representatives from the Kerala state, including Transport Minister Antony Raju, Shashi Tharoor, MP, Kadakampally Surendran, M. Vincent, several MLAs, were among those who turned up to witness the ceremony.

The new archbishop was appointed, after the retiring Archbishop Soosapakiam, who turned 75 last March, 2021, had submitted his resignation as per the Canon Law. His Holiness Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Most Rev. Maria Callist Soosa Pakiam (75) on February 2nd, 2022. Archbishop Pakiam, who was born on March 11th, 1946 at Marthandumthurai, Tamilnadu was ordained a priest on December 20th, 1969. At the age of 43, he was appointed Coadjutor Bishop of Trivandrum Diocese and ordained Bishop on February 2nd, 1990. He was succeeded Bishop of Trivandrum on January 31st, 1991 at the age of 44. When the Trivandrum diocese was elevated as the Archdiocese on  June 17, 2004 he became the first Metropolitan Archbishop and was installed as the Archbishop of Trivandrum on August 23rd, 2004.

Rev. Fr. Thomas J. Netto was born to Jessayan Netto and Isabella Netto on December 29, 1964.An alumnus of St. Xavier’s College, Thumba, he attended the St. Vincent’s Minor Seminary at Palayam. After attending St. Vincent’s Minor Seminary in Trivandrum (1980-1983), he studied Philosophy at St. Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary, Carmelgiri, followed by Theology at St. Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary, Mangalapuzha, Alwaye.  Archbishop Netto holds a M. A. Degree in Sociology from the University of Kerala and, in 1999, he obtained a Doctorate in Dogmatic Theology (Ecclesiology) from the Pontificia Università Urbaniana.

During his long pastoral ministry, serving the Church, Archbishop Netto has held the following offices: He was the parish vicar in Peringamala (1990-1991) and of the Cathedral of Palayam (1991-1995) and executive secretary for ecumenism and interreligious dialogue (1994-1995).  He then served as parish priest in Pettah (1999-2003), and executive secretary for the Basic Christian Communities (2000-2004) and rector of Saint Vincent’s Minor Seminary in Trivandrum (2003-2010).

Since 2007, he has served as a member of the College of Consultors, director of the Board for Clergy and Religious Life (2008-2010), chargé at Saint Anthony’s Forane Church in Valiayathura (2009-2010), parish priest in Thope, coordinator (2010-2014) and episcopal vicar of Ministers (2014-2018).  From 2018 to the present, he served as parish priest of Saint Augustine’s Church, Murukumpuzha, vicar forane of Kazhakkuttom and editor of the diocesan journal Jeevanum Velichavum.

Christianity claims its presence in Kerala since the 1st century itself. Its inception was supposed to be by 52 AD with the arrival of St. Thomas, the Apostle, in this land. However, Christianity in the Latin archdiocese of Trivandrum dates back to the time of the arrival of the Portuguese in India and perhaps earlier. With the arrival of the Portuguese but especially with the advent of the pioneer missionary, St Francis Xavier, Christianity spread far and wide in these parts with the result that by the close of the sixteenth century there were well-established Christian communities along the Trivandrum coast.

The saintly Bishop Benziger who became coadjutor Bishop of Quilon in 1900 and Bishop in 1905 was the apostle who propagated Christianity in the Diocese through the fragrance of his saintly life, wise leadership and unceasing assistance to his missionary priests. In 1931 when he retired to the Carmel Hill Monastery, Trivandrum, there were Christian communities established in almost all places of the interior region .As early as 1919, Bishop Benziger recommended the establishment of the Diocese of Trivandrum, but it materialized only after his retirement.

The diocese of Trivandrum was established by His Holiness Pope Pius XI on July 1, 1937 through the Bull “In Ora Malabarica” with the four taluks of Neyyantinkara, Nedumangad, Trivandrum and Chirayinkeezh bifurcated from the diocese of Quilon.

The Diocese is bounded on the north by the Diocese of Quilon, on the east by the Ghats, on the west by the Arabian Sea and on the south by the Dioceses of Kottar and Kuzhithurai. The Archdiocese of Trivandrum is one of the largest dioceses of Kerala, having a Catholic population of over 250,000 Catholics, with a majority of the 90 percent of the faithful belonging to the traditional fishing community, who are among the lowest ranks of the ladder of the social strata in India, but are rich in faith and customs/traditions.

In the year 2004 Pope John Paul II was pleased to elevate Trivandrum diocese as an Archdiocese with Alappuzha, Kollam, Punalur and Neyyatinkara as its suffragent dioceses. Bishop Soosa Pakiam was elevated as the first Archbishop of this ecclesiastical region.

The Archdiocese celebrated its platinum jubilee in 2012, marking the entry into the adult age of diocesan activities. A new diocese of Neyyattinkara was bifurcated from Trivandrum on June 14th, 1996 by His Holiness Pope John Paul II through the Apostolic Bull ‘Ad Aptius Provehendum.’  Trivandrum was raised to the status of Archdiocese on June 17th, 2004 by His Holiness Pope John Paul II. The archdiocese now comprises of a large part of the Trivandrum district and a section of the costal parishes in the district of Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu.

Previous Ordinaries, who had led the strong Latin Catholic community of Trivandrum archdiocese were:  Archbishop Maria Calist Soosa Pakiam (31 Jan 1991 Succeeded – 2 Feb 2022 Retired); Archbishop Jacob Acharuparambil OFM Cap (1979-1991); Archbishop Peter Bernard Pereira (1966-1978); and, Bishop Vincent Dereira OCD (1937-1966).  On February 2nd, 2016 Rev. Fr. Christudas Rajappan was appointed as the auxiliary bishop of the diocese and will continue to serve as the auxiliary bishop under the dynamic and talented leadership of the newly ordained Archbishop Thomas J. Netto.

At Vatican Women’s Day Event, A Call For Female Voices In Peace Talks

As European nations attempt to defend Ukraine without being pulled into a war, an ecumenical group of women representing charitable organizations around the world called for more female representation in peace talks and negotiations.

The occasion was an event called “Church and Society: Women as Builders of Dialogue,” organized by Caritas Internationalis, a global network of Catholic humanitarian organizations, and hosted by the British Embassy to the Holy See for International Women’s Day.

In a conflict shaping up as a face-off between Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, known for posing shirtless and riding bears, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has captivated the world with his sometimes swaggering rhetoric, several of the women at Tuesday’s event noted the absence of women in the peace negotiations. 

Advocating for a peace process that is more diverse, Susana Raffalli, a nutrition adviser at Caritas Venezuela, who appeared via Zoom, was one of several speakers who praised women’s emphasis on dialogue. Women tend to be more concerned with “actually bringing commitments and agreements toward peace,” Raffalli said. In Venezuela, she said, women are more conscious of vulnerable populations’ stake in the peace process.

Tetiana Stawnychy, the president of Caritas in Ukraine, highlighted the tremendous efforts made by women on the front lines in Ukraine and in other conflict zones, including those working as first responders and as civilians to help the most vulnerable.

When war breaks out women are often portrayed chiefly as victims, said Rita Rhayem, a health and HIV adviser for Caritas Internationalis, and that obscures their role as first responders. To maximize women’s contribution to conflict resolution, she added, leaders need to “remove the barriers that confine women” and allow them to take public roles in responding to war.

Maria Immonen, director of the Department for World Service of the Lutheran World Federation, urged institutions and governments to uphold their commitments to promote female leadership, “ensuring that they have equal access to the tables where discussions are had and decisions are made.”

Aloysius John, the secretary-general of Caritas Internationalis and one of the few men to address the conference, said it is essential to reevaluate “the place and role of women in our societies,” not only at negotiation tables but wherever war has touched people’s lives.  

In this Feb. 15, 2021, file photo, Rohingya refugees headed to the Bhasan Char island prepare to board navy vessels from the southeastern port city of Chattogram, Bangladesh. (AP Photo, File)

Just returned from camps in Bangladesh, where Rohingya Muslims, forced from their homes in Myanmar, live in challenging conditions, John said he witnessed firsthand “the important role the women in these camps are playing to be constructors of dialogue and harmony.”

The Catholic Church is reexamining the role of women in its own institutions. Pope Francis has begun an ambitious project known as the Synod on Synodality aimed at reorienting the church’s power structures to focus on the needs of marginalized people, including women. The three-year consultations will result in a 2023 summit of bishops at the Vatican.

“If you really want to listen to the poorest then you have to listen to the women,” said Sister Nathalie Becquart, the undersecretary overseeing the synod and the first woman to hold such a post. Becquart described the synod as “a sandbox for women,” where new models for female inclusion can be developed and put into action.

In Reforming Catholic Priesthood, Pope Francis Insists On Middle Ground

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — With broad strokes and a balancing act, Pope Francis weighed in on the polarizing tensions in the Catholic Church concerning the future of the priesthood. While upholding priestly celibacy as “a gift,” the pope distanced himself from the “perversion” of rigidity while speaking at a Vatican conference on Thursday (Feb. 17).

As Catholic bishops and laypeople in Germany call for a reevaluation of official doctrine on priestly celibacy, female ordination and sexuality, conservatives look at the emerging discussions on the future of the priesthood with a mixture of practical and theological concern.

The sexual abuse crisis has crippled the church’s credibility worldwide and the number of men entering the priesthood continues to dwindle, contributing to what Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the head of the Vatican’s department overseeing bishops, called “today’s priestly crisis.”

Pope Francis insisted on the importance of viewing the facts “with the Lord’s own eyes” and not trying to avoid “the realities that our people are experiencing,” while at the same time not resorting to “a quick and quiet solution provided by the ideology of the moment or prefabricated answers.”

Speaking about “the fundamental theology of the priesthood”  at the conference, which was organized by the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops and the Center for the Research and Anthropology of Vocations, Pope Francis identified “mercenary” attitudes that emerge during crisis.

While one side favors “established ways of doing things,” grasping at the past as if “this determined order could quell the conflicts that history sets before us,” the other pushes to raise “the latest novelty as the ultimate reality” and casts aside “the wisdom of the years,” the pope said.

“Both are a kind of flight,” Francis said. “They are the response of the mercenary who sees the wolf coming and runs away: either toward the past or toward the future. Neither can lead to mature solutions.”

Pope Francis “is always looking for a balance — no extremism from the right wing or the left wing — he is very much a man of the middle,” Ouellet told Religion News Service. The pope’s speech is “conveying this wisdom of balance in his spirituality and teaching,” Ouellet added.

During Ouellet’s opening address, he said the conference aims to be honest about the challenges facing the priesthood today, “where sexual abuse is only the tip of the iceberg, visible and perverted, that emerges from deeper deviations that must be identified and unmasked.”

He suggested a renewed appreciation of lay ministry, which could lead to a reconsideration of the role of women in the church “in a more open and sensitive way to the charismatic dimension of the community.”

The pope upheld priestly celibacy as “a gift” in the lengthy speech at the Paul VI Hall but warned that “without friends and without prayer, celibacy can become an unbearable burden and a counter-witness to the very beauty of the priesthood.”

Francis’ comments follow those of German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the archbishop of Munich, who told reporters Feb. 3 that he supported a renewed study of priestly celibacy and that for some priests “it would be better if they were married,” not only because of sexual desires but also to combat loneliness.

Marx is considered among the most outspoken supporters of the Synodal Path in Germany, where Catholic clergy, laypeople and employees are airing their hopes and expectations for the future of the local church and beyond.

Francis’ address highlighted his pastoral approach to the struggles facing the church and the priesthood today. Against the “perversion of clericalism and rigidity” the pope said he desired team “closeness,” seeking to live out the faith together in community, in acknowledgment of people’s real experiences and suffering.

“The people of God want shepherds” who offer compassion and concern, with Jesus as the model, Francis said. They do not want “clerical functionaries” or “professionals of the sacred,” he said. In offering practical tips to achieve this, the pope drew from his 50 years of experience as a priest and laid out a four-pillared approach.

Closeness to God is the first prerequisite, Francis said, and essential to “learning not to be scandalized by whatever befalls us” and to protecting ourselves from “stumbling blocks.” Second is closeness to the bishop, which while centered on obedience, includes “discussion, attentive listening and in some cases tension,” he said.

Pope Francis’ loosening of the Vatican’s hierarchical structures that bridled bishops has led to a vibrant uproar of opinionated bishops taking to the pulpit and social media to voice their views — sometimes in opposition to the pope. Priests should “feel free to express their opinions with respect and sincerity,” Francis said, but for their part bishops must “demonstrate humility, an ability to listen, to be self-critical and to let themselves be helped.”

The pope’s final tip was to seek fraternity with other priests, which he said requires patience and setting aside arrogance and envy. For those seeking a quick fix or fast results in the quest to reform the struggling Catholic priesthood, Pope Francis counseled caution.

“Sometimes it seems that the church is slow, and that is true,” Francis said, “yet I like to think of it as the slowness of those who have chosen to walk in fraternity.”

In India, Head Coverings Are Worn By Most Women, Including Roughly Six-In-Ten Hindus

In recent weeks, protests in India over Muslim headscarves in schools have gained international attention. The controversy began when a high school in the Southern state of Karnataka banned hijabs in classrooms, and demonstrations have since spread to other states. The Karnataka High Court has been deliberating the legality of the school ban and is due to issue a verdict soon.

Head coverings are relatively common among Indian women. About six-in-ten women in India (61%) say they keep the practice of covering their heads outside of their homes, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2019-2020. That includes a majority of Hindu women (59%), and roughly equal shares of Muslim (89%) and Sikh women (86%) – although the exact type of head covering can vary significantly among and within religious groups.

India’s adult population is 81% Hindu and 13% Muslim, according to the latest census conducted in 2011. Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains account for most of the remaining 6%. The Center’s survey only included adults ages 18 and older and does not show what share of school-aged girls wear head coverings.

How we did this

There are regional differences among Indian women when it comes to head coverings. The practice is especially common in the largely Hindi-speaking regions in the Northern, Central and Eastern parts of the country. In the states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, roughly nine-in-ten women say they wear head coverings in public. In stark contrast, fewer women in the South say they cover their heads in public, including just 16% in the state of Tamil Nadu.

These regional differences are largely driven by Hindu women, as Muslim women tend to keep the practice of covering their heads in public regardless of what region they live in. This leads to large differences between Muslims and Hindus in the South in particular.

In the South, 83% of Muslim women say they cover their heads, compared with 22% of Hindu women. In the Northern region, meanwhile, roughly equal shares of Muslim (85%) and Hindu (82%) women say they cover their heads in public.

Within the South, the state of Karnataka stands out for its relatively high share of women who wear head coverings. More than four-in-ten women in Karnataka (44%) say they wear one, compared with 26% in neighboring Andhra Pradesh, 29% in Telangana and even fewer in the states of Kerala (17%) and Tamil Nadu (16%).

A majority of Muslim women in Karnataka say they cover their heads (71%), compared with 42% of Hindu women who say this.

Nationally, head coverings tend to be more common among women who are older, married, more religious and who have less formal educational attainment. The practice is also more prevalent in rural areas.

But in the South, age, education and other demographic differences are less of a factor in whether or not women cover their heads. Religion, however, does make a difference: Muslim women and women who are more devout are likelier to cover their heads in public. Among women in the South who say religion is very important in their lives, 29% say they cover their heads in public, compared with 18% who say religion is less important in their lives.

Headscarf wearing also varies by political affiliation. Even though some proponents of the hijab ban have been described as supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), women with favorable attitudes toward India’s ruling party are actually more inclined to wear head coverings in public than women who do not favor the governing party. This is true nationally, and in the South. Among Indians overall, 66% of women who have a positive view of the ruling BJP party say they cover their heads outside their home, compared with 53% among those who view the party unfavorably. This correlation may – at least in part – be tied to the fact that BJP supporters tend to be more religious.

A Nightmare 2021: The Year of Targeted Hate, Violence, Coercion, and Fear

Soon after midnight on 25 December in the old military town of Ambala Cantonment in Haryana, two miscreants entered the Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, a landmark first built in 1848 and rebuilt in 1905. They shattered a statue of Jesus Christ at the entrance gate, throwing the head on the lawns, and damaged the lights they could reach. In a final act of hate and contempt, they urinated at the doors of the historic building that has stood through wars and the partition of India.

This terrible act of vandalism and desecration was one of sixteen acts of violence against the Christian church and community in India on Christmas day. By the time the year 2021 ended six days later, the Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India had recorded 505 individual incidents of violence including three murders, across India. Some other agencies that document violence totaled a larger figure.

No denomination whether organized or a lonely independent worshipping family or neighborhood group, none has been spared targeted violence and intense, chilling hate, the worst seen since the general election campaign of 2014. The year 2021 saw calls for genocide and threats of mass violence made from public platforms, and important political and religious figures on the stage.

Uttar Pradesh, which was to go to the polls to elect a legislative assembly, topped the 2021 list with a record 129 cases, with Chhattisgarh at 74, neighboring Madhya Pradesh with 66 and Karnataka in South India at 48. West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, now a Union Territory, documented one case each. The North-eastern states as well as Kerala and Goa on the west coast did not record any case. All of them have sizable populations of Christians.

This was perhaps the third most violent Christmas the community has faced in India. On Christmas eve of 1998, 36 rural log churches were burnt and destroyed in the Dangs forested district of the state of Gujarat. The incidents were dubbed a “laboratory for right wing religious and nationalist fanatics.” On Christmas eve of 2007, another forest district, this time Kandhamal in the state of Orissa [now called Odisha] became the laboratory. Villages, houses, small prayer halls, large churches, and institutions were burnt, and people forced to flee for their lives into the forest. The violence was repeated a few months later. More than 100 were killed, many women, including a Catholic Nun raped, and close to 400 Churches and institutions destroyed. The Orissa government had identified the attackers as belonging to an arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh which had launched a massive hate campaign targeting the Christian community.

An analysis of the aggregated data shows that Christians were most vulnerable to attacks in the second half of the year, particularly in the months from August to December, the Christmas season. While October topped the list with 74 incidents followed by December with 64 incidents, August and September saw 52 and 50 cases respectively. The hot summer months of May and June were the most pacific (13 and 26 cases).

While three persons were murdered, in terms of other crimes enunciated in the Indian Penal Code, Coercion, Intimidation, Threats of violence and harassment of Christians was the most “common” crime with 137 cases, with arrest by police on fabricated cases close behind sat 81 cases. Of these, 17 persons were jailed by the police. Physical violence took place in 84 cases, while in 7 cases attacks on women were seen. Worship in churches of various sizes was interrupted or forced to stop in 65 incidents and 5 churches were destroyed. Critically for the communities in tribal and ~ 2 ~ other rural areas, there were recorded 36 cases of social boycott and ostracization, and 7 cases of forced conversion to Hinduism.

Karnataka’s Hoysala Temples Nominated For UNESCO World Heritage Sites

The Hoysala temples of Belur, Halebid and Somnathapura in Karnataka have been selected as India’s nomination for UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites for the year 2022-23.

The Hoysala temples of Belur, Halebid and Somnathapura in Karnataka have been selected as India’s nomination for UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites for the year 2022-23.

On Monday, Permanent Representative of India to UNESCO Vishal V Sharma formally submitted the nomination of Hoysala Temples to UNESCO Director of World Heritage Lazare Eloundou.

The ‘Sacred Ensembles of the Hoysala’ have been on UNESCO’s Tentative list since 15 April, 2014, and stand testimony to the rich historical and cultural heritage of this country.

G Kishan Reddy, the Union Minister of Culture, Tourism and Development of Northeastern Region, said,

“This is a great moment for India to see the Sacred Ensembles of the Hoysalas temples being submitted for inscription in the World Heritage List.”

“Our efforts in protecting our heritage is evident from the work the government has been putting in inscribing both our tangible and intangible heritage and also repatriating the cultural heritage that was stolen or taken away from India,” the minister added.

All the three Hoysala temples are protected monuments of the Archaeological Survey of India and therefore their conservation and maintenance will be done by it, the culture ministry said.

What are World Heritage Sites, how they are chosen by UNESCO and how many of them are in India, let’s find out:

What are World Heritage Sites

– A World Heritage Site is a landmark or area with legal protection by an international convention administered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

– World Heritage Sites are designated by UNESCO for having cultural, historical, scientific or other forms of significance.

– As per an international treaty adopted by UNESCO in 1972 called the ‘Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage’, UNESCO seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.

– As of July 2021, a total of 1,154 World Heritage Sites (897 cultural, 218 natural, and 39 mixed properties) exist across 167 countries. With 58 selected areas, Italy is the country with the most sites on the list.

– A World Heritage Site can be either cultural or natural areas or objects which are inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List for having “outstanding universal value”.

– These sites are usually considered to have cultural significance to all the people in the world, including future generations.

How are they selected

– According to The Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, a country must first list its significant cultural and natural sites into a document known as the Tentative List.

– The sites selected from that list move onto the Nomination File, which is then evaluated by the International Council on Monuments and Sites and the World Conservation Union.

– Any site that wasn’t first included in the Tentative List cannot be nominated.

– The two bodies then make their recommendations to the World Heritage Committee, which consists of diplomatic representatives from 21 countries.

– The committee meets each year to decide whether a nominated property can be inscribed on the World Heritage List.

– The committee makes the final decision if a site meets at least one of the ten selection criteria.

Does a site lose its designation

– A site may lose its designation when the World Heritage Committee determines if it is not properly maintained or protected.

– It is first placed in the list of World Heritage in Danger as the Committee attempts to find a remedy involving the local authorities. If any remedies fail, the designation is revoked.

– A country can also request the Committee to partially or fully delist a property, generally in such cases when its condition has seriously deteriorated.

How many World Heritage Sites are in India

– There are currently 32 cultural, seven natural and one mixed World Heritage Sites in India.

– Agra Fort, Ajanta Caves, Ellora Caves, and Taj Mahal made it to the list in 1983.

– The latest sites to be added to the list Dholavira in Gujarat, Kakatiya Rudreshwara (Ramappa) Temple in Telangana in 2021.

– There are 46 sites in the Tentative List including a group of monuments at Mandu and the historic ensemble of Orchha in Madhya Pradesh, Satpura tiger reserve, temples of Kanchipuram, temples at Bishnupur in West Bengal, and Sri Harimandir Sahib in Amritsar, Punjab.

Pope Francis Denounces Fake News About COVID, Vaccines, Urges Truth

Pope Francis denounced fake news about COVID-19 and vaccines Friday, blasting the “distortion of reality based on fear” but also urging that people who believe such lies are helped to understand true scientific facts.

Francis met with Catholic journalists who have formed a fact-checking network to try to combat misinformation about the pandemic. Francis has frequently called for responsible journalism that searches for the truth and respects individuals, and his meeting with the “Catholic fact-checking” media consortium furthered that message.

“We can hardly fail to see that these days, in addition to the pandemic, an ‘infodemic’ is spreading: a distortion of reality based on fear, which in our global society leads to an explosion of commentary on falsified if not invented news,” Francis said.

He said access to accurate information, based on scientific data, is a human right that must be especially guaranteed for those who are less equipped to separate out the morass of misinformation and commentary masquerading as fact that is available online.

At the same time, Francis asked for a merciful, missionary approach to those who fall prey to such distortions so they are helped to understand the truth.

“Fake news has to be refuted, but individual persons must always be respected, for they believe it often without full awareness or responsibility,” he said. “Reality is always more complex than we think and we must respect the doubts, the concerns and the questions that people raise, seeking to accompany them without ever dismissing them.”

Some Catholics, including some conservative U.S. bishops and cardinals, have claimed that vaccines based on research that used cells derived from aborted fetuses were immoral, and have refused to get the jabs.

The Vatican’s doctrine office, however, has said it is “morally acceptable” for Catholics to receive COVID-19 vaccines, including those based on research that used cells derived from aborted fetuses. Francis and Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI have both been fully vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech shots.

Francis has been one of the most vocal religious leaders speaking out in favor of vaccines and respect for measures to fight the pandemic. He has implied that people have a “moral obligation” to ensure the health care of themselves and others, and the Vatican recently required all staff to either be vaccinated or show proof of having had COVID-19 to access their workplaces.

Thích Nhất Hạnh, Zen Master Who Preached Compassion And Nonviolence, Dies

Thích Nhất Hạnh, the Zen monk and long-time Vietnamese political exile who was a prominent global Buddhist spiritual leader renowned for his advocacy of individual responsibility for such worldly concerns as the environment and nonviolence, has died.

Called Thay, “teacher,” by his followers, he died Saturday (Jan. 22, Vietnam time) in his room, at his temple. He was 95. His death was announced by Plum Village, his organization of monasteries. 

He had been in declining health and returned to Vietnam three years ago, expressing a wish to spend his remaining days at his root temple, Tu Hiếu Temple, in Hue.

“I would describe him as the second most famous Buddhist in the world, after the Dalai Lama,” said Donald S. Lopez Jr., a University of Michigan scholar of Buddhism.

China’s occupation of Tibet gave the Himalayan nation outsized geopolitical importance. virtually guaranteeing the Dalai Lama global fame, Lopez explained. Thích Nhất Hạnh “was an obscure monk … (making) his achievements, and his fame, all the more remarkable.” 

Melvin MacLeod, editor of the leading Buddhist magazine “Lion’s Roar,” added: “He was thoughtful and wise, yet in person came across as an ordinary person. That in itself is extraordinary when talking about an extraordinary spiritual being and leader.”

(In English, Thích Nhất Hạnh is pronounced “Tik · N’yat · Hawn,” according to his official website. Thay is pronounced “Tay” or “Tie.”)

Thích Nhất Hạnh suffered a massive stroke in 2014 that left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak. In late September 2020, rumors circulated that he was in rapidly declining health and near death; there were even reports he had died. 

Top aides countered the rumors but admitted he was notably weaker. In 2018, Thích Nhất Hạnh returned to Tu Hiếu Temple where, at age 16, he had become a novice monk. He called it his “final homecoming.”

He spent 39 years in exile from Vietnam because of his pro-peace advocacy that put him in conflict with the policies of both the Vietnam War’s North and South Vietnam governments. He also criticized United States involvement in the war. 

Not until 2005 did the Vietnamese government allow him to return to his homeland for a visit. When he did, he said, “There is no religion, no doctrine higher than brotherhood and sisterhood.”

In exile, Thích Nhất Hạnh established the Plum Village network of monastic centers, the largest of which is in southwest France, near Bordeaux. He spent much of his time there when not traveling the world for lectures, conferences and other public engagements. 

Today, Plum Village France is the largest Buddhist retreat center in Europe and home to some 200 monks and nuns. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, it also hosted tens of thousands of visitors annually who came for retreats, workshops and other short stays.

Seven other Plum Village centers (not all named Plum Village) are in Germany, Australia, Thailand, Hong Kong and the United States (in Escondido, California; Batesville, Mississippi; and Pine Bush, New York). Plum Village is reportedly the world’s largest global Buddhist monastic network, according to its website.

Trained in the Vietnamese Thien (Zen) tradition, Thích Nhất Hạnh’s approach to Buddhism was eclectic. He combined several Mahayana, or north Indian-Tibetan schools of Buddhist thought, with elements of Western psychology.

The author of more than 130 books of prose and poetry, 100 or so in English, his approach dovetailed nicely with what is now known in the West as mindfulness — the popular, self help-oriented Buddhist meditation practice that has gained broad mainstream acceptance, from corporate boardrooms to church basements.

“Mindfulness,” he said, “is above all the capacity to simply recognize an object (thought pattern) without taking sides, without judging and without craving or despising that object.”

In 2011, he addressed more than 500 Google workers at the internet giant’s California headquarters. He was invited back in 2013 to lead A Day of Mindfulness, which was attended by more than 700 employees, his official biography notes.

However, he was perhaps best known as a contemporary advocate of the now-widespread activist movement he named Engaged Buddhism.

While credited with coining the term, Thích Nhất Hạnh was quick to note that the concept promoting individual action to create positive social change was traceable to a 13th-century Vietnamese king who abdicated his throne to become a monk.

Historically, for many ethnic Buddhists the religion has traditionally been about gaining personal merit to ensure a favorable rebirth, or reincarnation. Engaged Buddhism, by contrast, seeks to apply meditative insights and other teachings about how to act toward others and the world in ways that reduce social, political, environmental and economic suffering.

“Meditation is not to escape from society, but to come back to ourselves and see what is going on,” Thích Nhất Hạnh said. “Once there is seeing, there must be acting. With mindfulness we know what to do and what not to do to help.”

For example, a traditional Southeast Asian Buddhist might be inclined to donate money for construction of a village temple to house monks and for ritual functions to gain personal merit. Engaged Buddhism instead might favor contributing to a soup kitchen to feed a hungry general population.

For many contemporary Westerners disenchanted with their birth religions but still steeped in the Abrahamic faiths’ association of “justice” with the social good, Engaged Buddhism was a natural psychological and political fit, lifting its popularity.

Born Nguyen Xuan Bao in central Vietnam in 1926, as a young bhikshu, or monk, in the early 1950s Thích Nhất Hạnh became active in a reform effort to renew Vietnamese Buddhism for a modern age.

He was one of his tradition’s first monks to study a secular subject at a Saigon university. He was also one of the very first monks, according to his official biography, to ride a bicycle publicly — at the time a revolutionary act for a renunciate in his tradition.

When war came to Vietnam, monks and nuns were confronted with deciding whether to adhere to their traditional, strictly contemplative and monastic lifestyle or to help those suffering in the war.

Thích Nhất Hạnh chose to do both, founding the Engaged Buddhism movement, a term he first used in his book, “Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire” (1967). Thomas Merton, the late Roman Catholic monastic, wrote the book’s foreword.

Thích Nhất Hạnh also studied and lectured at Princeton Theological Seminary (1961) and, later, at Columbia University. Over the years, he also led retreats for members of the U.S. Congress and their families and addressed the parliaments of the United Kingdom and India.

Lopez, the Buddhism scholar, said that Thích Nhất Hạnh’s time at Princeton and Columbia in the early 1960s was “crucial” to his activism because it allowed him to experience the civil rights movement firsthand, before returning to Vietnam, “which was bursting into flames,” Lopez wrote in an email exchange with Religion News Service. “His political activism, and Engaged Buddhism, began then,” Lopez wrote.

Thích Nhất Hạnh returned to his homeland in 1963, plunging into the nation’s anti-war movement. He also taught Buddhist psychology at Vạn Hanh Buddhist University in Vietnam.

In 1966 he again traveled to the U.S. to lead a symposium in Vietnamese Buddhism at Cornell University. It was during this visit that he met Merton at his home at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. When the South Vietnamese regime threatened to block his reentry to the country, Merton published an essay of solidarity, “Nhat Hanh is my Brother.”

That same year Thích Nhất Hạnh also met with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and urged him to publicly denounce the Vietnam War, which King later did. 

King nominated Thích Nhất Hạnh for the 1967 Nobel Peace Prize. In his nomination, King said, “I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of (this prize) than this gentle monk from Vietnam. His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.” The Nobel committee did not award a Peace Prize that year.

“Thay was a highly educated modern person,” MacLeod told Religion News Service. “His teachings were very deep and also very wide, and his own life was a great example. He was one of the great spiritual teachers of his time.”

On his 80th birthday, Thích Nhất Hạnh was asked if he might ever retire. He replied: “Teaching is not done by talking alone. It is done by how you live your life. My life is my teaching. My life is my message.”

As A Controversial Verdict Acquits Bishop Franco, Groups Vouch To Take The Case To High Court

A Kerala court on Friday acquitted former Jalandhar bishop Franco Mulakkal, who is accused of raping a nun 13 times over three years in a convent, citing lack of evidence in a case that shone a spotlight on violence against women in religious institutions.

Stating that  “in-fight and rivalry and group fights of the nuns, and the desire for power, position and control over the congregation” were evident in the case, a trial court in Kerala Friday acquitted Franco Mulakkal, the former Jalandhar Bishop of the Catholic Church, of all charges in the alleged rape of a nun. The high-profile case had led to an unprecedented public protest in Kerala more than three years ago by other nuns in support of the complainant.

Bishop Mulakkal, who became the first Indian Catholic bishop to be arrested for rape in 2018, was accused by a 50-year old nun of raping her 13 times between 2014 and 2016. Mulakkal faced a slew of charges, including wrongful confinement, unnatural sex, rape of a woman incapable of giving consent and criminal intimidation.

The Court order last week said that “This court is unable to place reliance on the solitary testimony of PW1 and to hold the accused guilty of the offences charged against him”. Mulakkal was present in the courtroom when the verdict was pronounced. He later broke down in the corridor outside, hugged his lawyers, and told reporters before leaving the premises: “Daivathinu sthuthi’ (Praise the Lord).”

According to the Kottayam Additional Sessions Judge G Gopakumar, “This is a case in which the grain and chaff are inextricably mixed up. It is impossible to separate the grain from the chaff. There are exaggerations and embellishments in the version of the victim. She has also made every attempt to hide certain facts. It is also evident that the victim was swayed under the influence of others who had other vested interest in the matter,” Gopakumar wrote in a 289-page order.

However, one of the nuns who had spearheaded the protest against Mulakkal, Sister Anupama, expressed disbelief at the verdict. Speaking to reporters with tears in her eyes, she said: “We cannot believe this verdict. We will continue this fight until the day our fellow sister gets justice, even if it means we have to die. All the testimonies were in our favour so we don’t know what happened in court. We will definitely appeal in the higher court.”

S Harisankar, the former Kottayam district police chief under whose leadership the investigation was conducted, described the verdict as “extremely unfortunate”. He added, “We had fully expected a conviction. This verdict will be a surprise for the entire Indian legal system. it was after suffering huge psychological pressure that the survivor disclosed the assault to her fellow nuns” and that the verdict would “send a wrong message to society”.

The allegations against Mulakkal (57) came to light in June 2018 when a senior nun, belonging to the order of Missionaries of Jesus, submitted a complaint to the Kottayam police chief, accusing the bishop of raping her and subjecting her to unnatural sex 13 times between 2014 and 2016 at a convent in the district.

Subsequently, an FIR was filed against Mulakkal on charges of rape at the police station in Kuravilangad, where the convent is located. Mulakkal denied the charges and described the complaint as a “retaliatory act” for disciplinary action taken earlier against the complainant in an unrelated incident.

In September that year, a public square in front of the Kerala High Court premises in Kochi saw unprecedented scenes as five Catholic nuns, who were close to the complainant, sat on an indefinite hunger strike demanding the arrest of the bishop.

On September 21, 2018, the police arrested Mulakkal and booked him on rape charges, in the first such action against a Catholic bishop in the country. Mulakkal was released on bail nearly a month later, and divested of his responsibilities as bishop in the Jalandhar diocese.

In April 2019, a Special Investigation Team of the Kerala Police filed a 2,000-page chargesheet against Mulakkal. The trial commenced in November 2019, with the prosecution listing 83 witnesses of whom 39 were examined during the trial. A number of senior figures from the Church, including Major Archbishop of Syro-Malabar Church Cardinal George Alencherry, and 11 priests and 25 nuns were among the witnesses.

Mulakkal, who had first applied to the sessions court for a discharge without facing trial by alleging that the charges were fabricated, also saw his petition challenging the sessions court’s dismissal of his discharge plea being dismissed by both the Kerala High Court and the Supreme Court, which said it was devoid of merits.

He also sought the High Court’s intervention in deferring the trial due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which was also rejected on the grounds that adjournments in a trial need to be restricted.

The nun alleged that she had first approached the church’s senior officials, including the Pope but had not received any response, though the Vatican removed him from the diocese’s administrative roles.

The nun has also been at the receiving end of threats from powerful figures within the Catholic establishment who even came down hard on her supporters including one — Sister Lucy Kalappura — who was not only evicted from her convent but also had her membership of the congregation revoked.

A group of nuns of the Kuravilangad Convent in Kerala, who helped the victim, said they couldn’t believe the verdict.  “We will fight it out till the end. We are ready to die to uphold our cause. Till the end, everything was fine and we have no idea what happened later. We will stay at the convent as we are not scared of our death,” said a teary-eyed Sister Anupama, who was the public face of the years-long battle. She alleged that the trial court refused to hear hapless wails of a victim who can’t even speak loud.

Tools For Peace: Pope Francis Presents Three Points To Ponder

Every year on the New Year’s Day, the Church celebrates the World Day of Peace. Each year the Holy Father sends a message for the celebration of this day. This year, on the 55th World Day of Peace, Pope Francis had this message for us: “Dialogue Between Generations; Education; and Work: Tools for Building Lasting Peace.”

In his introductory remarks, Pope Francis expresses his sadness over the fact that the path of peace which St. Pope Paul VI called by a new name of integral development, “remains sadly distant from the real lives of many men and women and thus from our human family, which is now entirely interconnected.” Despite numerous efforts, wars and armed conflicts, diseases of pandemic, effects of climate change and environmental degradation, hunger and economic slowdown add up to disruption of peace in the world.

The Pope reminds us that peace is both a gift from high and the fruit of a shared commitment. All of us, therefore, must contribute our mite towards peace beginning with our own individual hearts and families, then within the society and all working up to relationships between peoples and nations.

Pope Francis proposes three paths for building lasting peace. First, Dialogue between Generations, second, Education and third Work. A word on each:

Dialogue Between Generations to Build Peace: In a world beset with untold problems, two common reactions of people are, either to flee from reality or to react with destructive violence. But the Pope says that there is another possible option: “Yet between selfish indifference and violent protest there is always another possible option: that of dialogue. Dialogue between generations”. He goes on to explain: “Dialogue entails listening to one another, sharing different views, coming to agreement and walking together.” This sounds very much like the way we are to be involved in the current synodal process on Synodality.

We must note here that the Pope does not merely preach but works to promote peace. We recall with great admiration how a couple of years ago the Pope brought leaders of two warring factions of South Sudan together and even knelt down and kissed their feet to broker peace.

Stressing the urgent need for an inter-generational partnership, Pope Francis affirms: “Young people need the wisdom and experience of the elderly, while those who are older need the support, affection, creativity and dynamism of the young.” The Pope is of the opinion that “the global crisis we are experiencing makes it clear that encounter and dialogue between generations should be the driving force behind a healthy politics, that is not content to manage the present with piecemeal solutions or quick fixes, but views itself as an outstanding form of love for others, in the search for shared and sustainable projects for the future”.

For such lasting endeavours, dialogue between the elderly (“keepers of memory”) and the young (“those who move history forward”) is necessary. Each must be willing to make room for others and not to insist on monopolizing the entire scene for pursuing their own immediate interests.

Such inter-generational dialogue is also necessary when we think of care for our common home. The environment, the Pope reminds us, “is on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next.”

Teaching and Education as Drivers of Peace: To build paths of peace together we cannot ignore education which is a privileged setting and context for integral development. “Education provides the grammar for dialogue between generations,” observes the Holy Father.

However, the Supreme Pontiff laments that “In recent years, there has been a significant reduction worldwide in funding for education and training; these have been seen more as expenditures than investments. Yet they are the primary means of promoting integral human development; they make individuals free and responsible, and they are essential for the defence and promotion of peace. In a word, teaching and education are the foundations of a cohesive civil society capable of generating hope, prosperity and progress”.

While there is a significant reduction in the funds for education, on the other hand, military expenditures have increased and they seem certain to grow exorbitantly, says the Holy Father. He goes on to call governments to “develop economic policies aimed at inverting the proportion of public funds spent on education and on weaponry”.

The Pope hopes that “investment in education will also be accompanied by greater efforts to promote the culture of care…. A country flourishes when constructive dialogue occurs between its many rich cultural components: popular culture, university culture, youth culture, artistic culture, technological culture, economic culture, family culture and media culture”.

Pope Francis says that it is essential then “to forge a new cultural paradigm” through “a global pact on education for and with future generations, one that commits families, communities, schools, universities, institutions, religions, governments and the entire human family to the training of mature men and women”.

It is by investing in the education and training of younger generations, we can help them, through a focused programme of formation, to take their rightful place in the labour market, affirms the Pope.

Creating and Ensuring Labour Builds Peace: “Labour is an indispensable factor in building and keeping peace”. Humans are social animals. We always work with or for someone. Hence the work place enables us to learn to make our contribution towards a more habitable and beautiful world.

The Pope is well aware that the Covid-19 pandemic has negatively affected the labour market. Millions of economic and productive activities have failed. Migrant workers have suffered particularly with no system of welfare or social security for them. Violence and organized crimes are on the increase in many countries. The only answer to this is “an expansion of dignified employment opportunities” according to the Holy Father.

“Labour, in fact, is the foundation on which to build justice and solidarity in every community. Peace is not possible without justice and solidarity. Efforts must be made to encourage a renewed sense of social responsibility, so that profit will not be the sole guiding criteria.” The fundamental human rights of the workers must be respected. When justice is ensured and human rights are respected, the workers will themselves contribute to building peace.

Holy Father concludes his World Day of Peace Message with the following appeal to government leaders, those with political and social responsibilities, priests and pastoral workers, and to all men and women of good will: “Let us walk together with courage and creativity on the path of intergenerational dialogue, education, and work.

May more and more men and women strive daily, with quiet humility and courage, to be artisans of peace. And may they be ever inspired and accompanied by the blessings of the God of peace”. Let us pay heed to the Holy Father’s appeal and to his peace message. Let us use the three tools proposed by him and contribute our share in building world peace. Peace be with you!

“Be Humble” Is Pope Francis’ Christmas Message

Amid structural, financial and liturgical reform at the Vatican, Pope Francis preached his yearly address to the Roman Curia, urging humility among the top cardinals as they work to reconcile tradition with the demands of the present.

Pope Francis urged Vatican cardinals, bishops and bureaucrats Thursday to embrace humility this Christmas season, saying their pride, self-interest and the “glitter of our armor” was perverting their spiritual lives and corrupting the church’s mission.

As he has in the past, Francis used his annual Christmas address to take Vatican administrators to task for their perceived moral and personal failings, denouncing in particular those pride-filled clerics who “rigidly” hide behind Catholic Church traditions rather than seek out the neediest with humility.

“This day and age seems to have forgotten humility, or to have merely relegated it to a form of moralism, emptied of the disruptive energy that it contains,” Pope Francis said Thursday (Dec. 23), during the private audience with cardinal heads of Vatican departments that make up the Roman Curia.

“But if we were to express the entire mystery of Christmas in one word, I think that the word ‘humility’ is the one that can help us the most,” he added.

In the lengthy address, Pope Francis said participation, communion and mission are three ingredients necessary as they work to bring about essential reform at the Vatican and to create a “humble church that can listen to the Spirit and does not center itself.”

Pope Francis’ reform efforts at the Vatican and in the Catholic Church have been met with both enthusiasm and criticism. In March, the pope issued pay cuts for cardinals and Vatican employees to address the financial deficit of the institution. This summer saw the beginning of an unprecedented trial of Vatican employees, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, on numerous charges, including corruption, abuse of office and money laundering.

“We cannot go forward without humility, and we cannot go forward in humility without humiliation,” the pope said, adding that St. Ignatius, the founder of the pope’s religious order of the Jesuits, “tells us to ask for humiliations.”

Drawing from the biblical story of Naaman, a man who hid his leprosy behind a shining armor only to be healed by the prophet Elisha after bathing in the River Jordan, the pope reminded curial members that “life cannot be lived by hiding behind armor, a role or social recognition,” which “in the end, is harmful.”

“Without our garments, our prerogatives, our roles, our titles, we are all lepers, all of us, in need to be healed,” Francis said. “Christmas is the living reminder of this awareness and helps us understand it more deeply.”

The pope warned against pride, calling it “the most valuable elixir of the devil.” The prideful person, he said, is walled in his own world and “no longer has a past and a future, no longer has roots or buds and lives with the sour taste of sterile sadness.”

In contrast, those who are humble are constantly guided by their memory of the past and the promise of the future, the pope said. The tension between tradition and progress has been especially felt this Christmas season in the Catholic Church, since the pope issued restrictions to the celebration of the Latin Mass in a decree last July.

The Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments answered questions raised from all corners of the Catholic world  on the restrictions to the Latin Mass in a document Dec. 18, which was met with hostility by those who viewed it as an attack on their faith life.

“The vital memory we have of tradition, our roots, is not a cult of the past,” the pope told members of the Curia, adding that those who are prideful are easily prone to “rigidity,” a “modern-day perversion” that leads people to be unsettled by what is new.

In October, Pope Francis launched a three-year consultation of the entire Catholic Church leading up to the summit of bishops at the Vatican in 2023. The process, or synod, is on the theme “For a synodal Church — Communion, Participation and Mission” and is poised to address some of the most critical issues facing the church while reversing the top-to-bottom approach that has characterized the institution for centuries.

The pope stressed that “only humility can put us in the right condition to meet and listen, to dialogue and discern, to pray together,” and that the reforming spirit of the synod will fail “if everyone remains enclosed in their convictions.”

Clericalism — treating clergy members as superior and untouchable — has led some to believe that “God speaks only to some, while others must only listen and follow,” the pope said. For synodality to really work, he continued, the Roman Curia must be a witness and lead the way.

“For this reason, if the Word of God reminds the entire world about the value of poverty, we, members of the Curia, must be the first to commit to a conversion to sobriety. If the gospel announces justice, we must be the first to try and live with transparency, without favoritism and cliques,” the pope said.

“If the church walks the way of synodality, we must be the first to convert to a different style of work, of collaboration, of communion,” Francis added. The pope urged the members of the Curia to embrace a shared responsibility and participation instead of hoarding their authority. Communion is also essential, he said, in placing Christ at the center so people of differing views are able to work together. Finally, mission helps the church not to focus only on itself, but to feel compassion for “those who are missing” both spiritually and physically, Francis said.

“Only by serving and by thinking of our work as a service can we truly be useful for all,” the pope said. “We are here — myself first — to learn to kneel and adore the Lord in his humility, and not other lords in their empty opulence.”

Francis this year took his biggest step yet to rein in the traditionalist wing of the church, reimposing restrictions on celebrating the old Latin Mass that Pope Benedict XVI had relaxed in 2007. He intensified those restrictions last weekend with a new set of rules that forbids even the publication of Tridentine Mass times in parish bulletins.

Francis said the proud who remain stuck in the past, “enclosed in their little world, have neither past nor future, roots or branches, and live with the bitter taste of a melancholy that weighs on their hearts as the most precious of the devil’s potions.”

“All of us are called to humility, because all of us are called to remember and to give life. We are called to find a right relationship with our roots and our branches. Without those two things, we become sick, destined to disappear.”

Blasphemy Cases On The Rise In Pakistan

Recent killing of Priyantha Kumara, the Sri Lankan general manager of a garment factory in Sialkot city of Pakistan has again brought focus on infamous blasphemy laws of Pakistan.   The charred body of a factory manager who was lynched by a mob in Pakistan for alleged blasphemy was brought back to Sri Lanka on December 7, 2021. Sri Lankan national Priyantha Kumara was assaulted by a mob of hundreds of people before being dragged into the streets and set on fire on December 3, 2021, in Sialkot, Pakistan, where he helped run a sports equipment factory. Workers at the factory accused him of desecrating posters bearing the name of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

Pakistan, an Islamic state, has notoriously draconian laws against blasphemy, which carry the death sentence. The laws are often used against religious minorities and those accused are sometimes lynched before they are proven guilty in a court. The culture of fear around blasphemy cases means judges are often too afraid to find the accused anything other than guilty. A 2019 report in Dawn, quoting the Centre for Social Justice said that at least 62 men and women have been killed on mere suspicion of blasphemy between 1987 and 2015.  A report titled “As Good As Dead” released by Amnesty International in 2016 said that a total of 633 Muslims, 494 Ahmadis, 187 Christians and 21 Hindus have been accused under various provisions on offences related to religion since 1987.

Evolution of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws Offences relating to religion in Pakistan were introduced in the colonial era in British India – which included the territory that is now Pakistan – to prevent and curb religious violence between Hindus and Muslims. Under the military government of General Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988), who set the process of Islamization in Pakistan, additional laws were introduced against blasphemy that were specific to Islam.

The most frequently invoked blasphemy laws in Pakistan’s Penal Code are Sections 295-A (outraging religious feelings), 295-B (desecrating the Quran), 295-C (defiling the name of the Prophet Muhammad) and 298-A (defiling the names of the family of the Prophet Muhammad, his companion or any of the caliphs). When charges are levelled under most of these laws, the police have the authority to arrest the alleged offender without a warrant and can commence their investigation without orders from the magistrate’s court. In 1990, the Federal Shariat Court, responding to a petition, ruled that the death penalty was mandatory under 295-C. Since then, the law is bending on all courts.

The successive governments in Pakistan have yielded to Islamic radicalism and fundamentalism. The Blasphemy laws are used as tool by the extremist elements to harass and target minority communities in Pakistan. These laws are also used to settle property issues or vendettas as observed by Supreme Court of Pakistan in Malik Muhammad Mumtaz Qadri vs The State, “The majority of blasphemy cases are based on false accusations stemming from property issues or other personal or family vendettas rather than genuine instances of blasphemy and they inevitably lead to mob violence against the entire community.”

This Pakistan’s blasphemy laws violate human rights, both in their substance and their application – whether this is violations of human rights by the state, or abuses of the laws by non-state actors. The laws do not meet human rights standards and lack essential safeguards to minimize the risk of additional violations and abuses.

The infamous Asia Bibi Case:

One of Pakistan’s most infamous blasphemy cases is that of the Christian woman Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian farmhand and a woman with responsibility for five young children from the village of Ittan Wali, near the Punjabi city of Sheikhupura. She was sentenced to death in 2010 after being accused of blasphemy by her co-workers. Almost a decade later she was acquitted after heavy international pressure. Speaking to BBC, she said,”My husband was at work, my kids were in school, I had gone to pick fruit in the orchard,” she said. “A mob came and dragged me away. They made fun of me, I was very helpless.” In her book, Ms. Asia Bibi tells how she feared for her life in prison, with other inmates calling for her to be hanged. She also recalled mistreatment at the hands of the prison guards.

Former Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, who supported Asia Bibi, was shot dead by one of his bodyguards Mumtaz Qadri in Islamabad on January 4, 2011. Qadri later told media that Salmaan Taseer was a blasphemer, and this is the punishment for a blasphemer. Salmaan Taseer had sought a presidential pardon for Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian farmhand. Salmaan Taseer’s support for her, and his view that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws were “black laws”, were also cast as an act of blasphemy by supporters of the laws. The incident shows the reduced space for minority rights and liberal practices in Pakistan.

Recent Blasphemy cases:  Despite international criticism of these laws, blasphemy accusations are on the rise in Pakistan under the Imran Khan Government. 2020 saw the highest number to date – 200- but 2021 has already surpassed that record, according to the South Asian Media Research Institute, a civil society initiative that has counted 234 accusations as of mid-October 2021. Some of the recent cases involving blasphemy are as follows:

On the night of November 29, 2021, thousands of protesters stormed the police station in Charsadda, a district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and burned the facility along with several nearby security outposts after police refused to hand over the blasphemy suspect. The mob attack forced police officers to abandon the installation and flee to safety along with the detainee. Authorities arrested around 30 people in connection with the assault on a police station aimed at grabbing and lynching a mentally unstable detainee accused of insulting Islam.

On 21 October 2021, UN human rights experts urgently appealed to Pakistan to release Stephen Masih, a Pakistani Christian from Sialkot District, who has been detained for over two years awaiting trial for allegedly committing blasphemy. “We are seriously concerned by the persecution and ongoing detention of Mr. Masih on blasphemy grounds, and by his treatment at the hands of the judicial and prison authorities who are aware of his psychosocial disability and health condition,” the experts said. “We call on the authorities to urgently review Mr. Masih’s case, and to release and drop all charges against him, and to ensure protection for him and his family.”

In August 2021, an eight-year-old Hindu boy became the youngest person charged with blasphemy in Pakistan. He is being held in protective police custody in east Pakistan . The boy’s family is in hiding and many of the Hindu community in the conservative district of Rahim Yar Khan, in Punjab, have fled their homes after a Muslim crowd attacked a Hindu temple after the boy’s release on bail last week. Troops were deployed to the area to quell any further unrest.

The Pakistani social structure has become so much radicalized that even simple marches by women on International Day of Woman this year was not tolerated.  Pakistani police registered a blasphemy case against organizers of the feminist Aurat Azadi (Women’s Freedom) March in a northwestern city, Peshawar, on the occasion of International Day of Woman earlier this year on March 8.

As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Pakistan must respect and protect freedom of opinion and expression; freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief; the right to life; equality before the law and freedom from discrimination; right to fair trial; and the prohibition on arbitrary detention. It must ensure that all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction are protected against violations of these rights by its own agents as well as against acts committed by non-state actors (bodies or individuals) that would impair the enjoyment of those rights. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws violate its international legal obligations. The real test of democracy is how it safeguards its minority communities and its institutions. The record so far shows that Pakistan has miserably failed to protect rights of its own citizens and nor it has political will to bring a meaningful change.

Can Pope Francis Make Real Change For Women? Vatican Women Leaders Assess His Chances

A panel of women who have attained leadership positions in the Catholic Church met on Thursday (Dec. 16) to discuss Pope Francis’ ambitious plan to reform the power structures in the church, raising questions about female ordination, the role of bishops and the need for women theologians.

In October, Francis launched a churchwide consultation process titled “For a synodal Church — Communion, Participation and Mission,” commonly known as the Synod on Synodality. The three-year process, which will conclude with a summit of bishops at the Vatican in 2023, is intended to engage every level of the Catholic Church, from parishes to bishops’ conferences.

The pope’s project, if successful, is poised to increase the participation of the most marginalized groups in the church, including women.

“Our role is to invite more and more women in, into the process, into the conversation and reflection,” said Sr. Patricia Murray, executive secretary of the International Union of Superiors General and a member of the spirituality commission of the Synod. “Particularly those who feel very much neglected, or that the church has forgotten about them or feel estranged from the church.”

Hosted by the Australian embassy to the Holy See, Georgetown University and the Jesuit magazine Civiltà Cattolica, Thursday’s “Women in Synodality” event also included Sr. Nathalie Bequart, the first female undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops; Myriam Wijlens, one of the church’s few female canon lawyers and a consultant to the Synod of Bishops.

At the meeting there were also Sr. Béatrice Faye, a member of the Theological Commission of the synod and member of the Groupe Africain de Recherche en Philosophie Interculturelle, and Susan Pascoe, who works on the Methodology Commission of the Synod and is the President of the Australian Council for International Development.

Many of those following the event via Zoom voiced doubts about how much women will be heard in the synodal process, and particularly whether bishops will accept the shared decision-making that Francis envisions.

“These are very important questions,” replied Wijlens. “What does it meant to be a bishop in a synod?” She noted that when bishops convene at the Vatican, they express not their own views, she added, but they have a responsibility to give voice to the joys and the challenges of the faithful in their community.

“Theologically the idea would be that the bishop would be a witness to the faith of his own church and not speak of his own faith,” Wijlens said. “I do hope the bishops have the courage and the braveness to say: ‘This is what the people in my church believe and what they want to share with the rest of the community.’”

In 2018, America magazine published a groundbreaking study by the Georgetown University Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, or CARA, which showed that more than 70% of young women in the United States were drifting away from the Catholic Church, and at a much higher rate than men.

The report found that 38% of the respondents left because they disagreed with church teaching, while 23% objected to the status of women in the church.

More than four years after America’s report, many more women occupy leadership roles in the church and at the Vatican, but little has changed in terms of linking the traditions of the faith into the concerns of modern-day women.

Wijlens said that the church can do more than listen; she suggested that promoting female theologians and canon lawyers might deepen the understanding of traditional Catholic beliefs about gender.

“I think we are losing in the church a high number of highly trained women, and it’s because they feel that they are not being heard,” she said, suggesting that canon law faculties should reach out to women and help them achieve this expensive and specialized training.

Murray talked about recent reports of physical, sexual and psychological abuse of religious sisters, reports that have also undermined the credibility of the church’s commitment to women. “If we do not listen to the pain that has been suffered, we won’t see where we are individually called to change and called to conversion,” she said. “I think if we fail to do that, the synodal journey will seem to be incomplete.”

Murray also said that it’s important for the synod to address female ordination and the diaconate for women, topics usually set aside when discussing the role of women in the church.

While Francis has said that the ordination of women to the priesthood is out of the question, he created two commissions to study the possibility of women becoming deacons, who may not perform the sacraments but serve at Mass and preach the homily.

“We are looking at a reevaluation of all the roles in the Catholic Church,” Murray said, especially when it comes to different forms of ministry in various parts of the world. “It’s a long journey,” she added, and “this is not for the faint hearted, it’s not for quick and easy answers.”

The Temple Economy Of Goa, Famous For Its Churches

When Pune’s D.S. Pai visited Goa four years ago for an official conference, he took out time early one morning to visit his Kuldev, family deity, Ramnathi temple at Bandivade. “My colleagues were interested and came along with me. They said they did not even know of the existence of such a beautiful temple,” Pai, who is India Meteorological Department’s (IMD) head, Long-Range Forecast, told IANS on phone.

Pai’s family migrated to Kerala in the 17th century when the Portuguese took over Goa. Like him, several others chose to make Kerala their home, but almost all of them have retained ties with the family deity even now. The trips have increased since he was posted to Pune, he said.

Pai is not the only example. Not all visitors to this sunshine state go to the beach first but a bulk of them are actually temple goers. In fact, even when for the majority of tourists visiting Goa, the equation is simple: ‘Goa = Sun, Sand & Sea’, over a dozen major temples and several smaller ones attract regular and annual crowds that have a sizable contribution to Goa’s economy.

According to India Tourism Statistics 2019, a government of India publication, in 2017, Goa had 68,95,234 domestic and 8,42,220 foreign tourists while in 2018, the respective number of 70,81,559 and 9,33,841 showing a growth rate of 2.70 per cent and 10.88 per cent, respectively. Of course, the pandemic changed the situation, and the tourism sector was the hardest hit. In 2021, even when the domestic sector has picked up slowly, foreign tourists’ numbers are no match.

But even before the pandemic and lockdown, tourists in general were unaware of Goa’s rich tradition of multiple temples for centuries, and it would only be the niche tourists who would opt for it or those like Pai, who came for their deities.

Amongst the 50-odd main temples across Goa, about a dozen stand out for various reasons, their distinct architecture being one of them. Brick and mortar structures, most of these big temples are 400-year-old, have unique tiled, sloping roofs and almost all of them have ‘deep maal’, a vertical decorative pillar with niches to keep earthen oil lamps. Each temple compulsorily has a tank / water body next to it.

Mangeshi temple is amongst the most famous, but there are scores of others. Shantadurga at Kawale, Mhalsa Narayani at Mhardol, Lakshmi Nrusinha at Veling, Ramnathi and Mahalakshmi at Bandivade, Kamakashi at Shiroda, Santeri at Kelshi are amongst the bigger temples. Many of them are listed on the official website of Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC).

And then there are temples with even older vintage. The 1000-year-old Mahadev temple at Tambdi Surla near the border with Maharashtra and about 700-year-old Rudreshwar temple at Harale are the stone temples. When the Portuguese conquered Goa, devotees of several temples lining the coastal areas took the deities away to either deep inside the forests and undulating landscape of Goan territory, which now comprises the area between Panaji and Fonda, or further away to coastal Karnataka. With it, a lot of community members — all Konkani speakers — too migrated away to almost the entire coastal belt from south Gujarat to Kerala. Konkani speaking Gaud Saraswat Brahmins (GSBs), scores of Marathi speaking families from across Maharashtra and of course, many from Goa itself, all have their family deities in Goa.

Shanta Durga at Amone is the family deity, the Kuldevi, of senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai’s family that hails from Madgaon. Not much into religious rituals — “God resides in my heart” — Sardesai said, “but I visit Goa for family functions regularly”.

Sardesai agreed that outsiders are unaware of the rich temple traditions. “Goa lives by the river and not by the sea. Once you start discovering the river, you discover the real Goa. There is nothing wrong in promoting beaches but there is more to Goa than the beaches,” he said.

Over the decades, especially after Independence, the diaspora spread to other states and even abroad. Many families make it a point to annually visit their family deities, many visit when there is a special occasion such as a marriage in the family and likewise. “The Goan temples are unique by the fact that the deities are identified not just as Brahminical, but those belonging to all types of communities. The temples had a land of their own, they supported the economy of the area around them,” said Padmashree Vinayak Khedikar, author who has documented the folk arts and literary traditions of Goa.

Families and villages from ‘thal’, a local term meaning the catchment for that temple, were dependent on the temple as a central institution and in turn they donated to the temple. “Each of the temples is an independent Sansthan institution. Till a few decades ago, anyone from the thal getting married would get a saree and dhoti from the temple. Also, some minor repairs or such chores to be carried out at people’s homes were supported by the temple,” said Khedikar, who has authored a book ‘Goa Dev Mandal: Unnayan aani Sthalantar’ (Goa temple boards: upgradation and migration). e

“Except for the law & order, the temples reigned over their respective thal even in the Portuguese era. There was a Mahajan system — which led to a Mahajani Act in the late 18thecentury — who were responsible for the maintenance of the temples and all its real estate. There were separate families identified for daily puja. Much of it has changed later,” he said. But he was non-committal about the popularity of these temples. Sardesai said, “Temples would have to be promoted by the local community.”

“Last 6-8 years, lots of people who read my blogs budget a day or two for temples and inform me or ping me or ask for information. Sometimes, they also put out a thread on social media and tag me to say, it was because of my blog,” said Anuradha Goyal, author, columnist and blogger based in Goa and who has extensively written about Goa temples.

There has been no active promotion of temples by the state either. The BJP government for the last 10 years has had no promotional schemes for popularising temples to domestic tourists. However, given the political mileage that ‘pilgrimage’ is yielding — Delhi Chief Minister has announced trains to pilgrim places from Goa; West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said Trinamool Congress stood for the temple, mosque and church; the Congress seems to have slowly woken up to the opportunity.

Former Deputy Chief Minister Ramakant Khalap agreed that temple tourism has been neglected and also acknowledged the contribution of temples in Goa’s economy. “Ahead of the Assembly elections, we are preparing the Congress manifesto. It will prominently feature dev ghar (temple) promotion and planning to celebrate Goa as ‘God’s Own Abode’,” Khalap said.

However, his idea of places of worship is not restricted to Hindu temples. “We plan to promote all places of worship. Puranas tell us this is a place reclaimed by Parshuram. Parvati did her penance here, we have Shanta Durga. Then much later came the Buddhists and Jain, there are a lot of remnants. Jews were here, Muslims were here and last were the Portuguese. Goa is a good example of how all religions have a syncretic existence. The temples, churches, and mosques, we have all of them,” he said.

“Our manifesto will demand to have designated state festivals from each religion,” Khalap added.

Christians, Religiously Unaffiliated Differ On Whether Most Things In Society Can Be Divided Into Good, Evil

Many major religions have clear teachings about good and evil in the world. For example, the Abrahamic traditions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – use concepts such as God and the devil or heaven and hell to illustrate this dichotomy.

It may be somewhat unsurprising, then, that highly religious Americans are much more likely to see society in those terms, while nonreligious people tend to see more ambiguity, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.

Overall, about half of U.S. adults (48%) say that most things in society can be clearly divided into good and evil, while the other half (50%) say that most things in society are too complicated to be categorized this way. However, there are stark differences in opinion based on respondents’ religious affiliation and how religious they are.

How we did this

For example, U.S. Christians are much more likely than religiously unaffiliated Americans to say that most things in society can be clearly divided into good and evil (54% vs. 37%). Nearly two-thirds of White evangelical Protestants (64%) say this, as do 57% of Black Protestants. Members of these two groups also attend religious services and pray at higher rates than other U.S. adults.

By comparison, only around half of U.S. Catholics (49%) and White Protestants who do not identify as evangelical (47%) say that most things in society can be clearly divided into good and evil.

Among those who identify their religion as “nothing in particular,” 43% say that most things in society can be clearly divided into good and evil. But far fewer atheists (22%) and agnostics (29%) say the same. Combined, these three groups make up the nation’s religiously unaffiliated population, also known as religious “nones”; overall, a majority of these unaffiliated Americans (62%) say most things in society are too complicated to be divided into good and evil.

Due to sample size limitations, this analysis does not include some smaller religious groups who were asked this question, such as Jewish and Muslim Americans.

Differences over whether most things in society can be divided into good and evil also are apparent when looking at various measures of religious observance. Highly religious Americans – regardless of their religious affiliation – are more likely to see society in terms of good and evil. For instance, U.S. adults who say they attend religious services at least once a week are more likely than those who seldom or never attend services to give this response (59% vs. 42%). And there are similar patterns when it comes to the self-professed importance of religion in people’s lives and their prayer habits.

Previous Pew Research Center surveys have found that many highly religious people look to God as a marker of good and evil and say that it is necessary to believe in God in order to be a moral person. Even within religious groups, Democrats and Republicans have different attitudes about good and evil

Views about good and evil also vary by political party. Roughly six-in-ten Republicans and independents who lean toward the Republican Party (59%) say that most things in society can be clearly divided into good and evil, compared with 38% of Democrats and Democratic leaners.

Religious groups differ from one another in their political makeup. For example, White evangelical Protestants are more likely to be Republicans, while atheists and agnostics tend to align with the Democratic Party. Still, party identification does not fully explain the religious differences described in this analysis; within both parties, there are large differences across religious groups.

For instance, Republican Christians are more likely than Republican “nones” to say that most things in society can be clearly divided into good and evil (63% vs. 48%). Similarly, Democratic Christians are more likely than Democratic “nones” to give that response (43% vs. 31%).

The reverse pattern is also true: Religious differences do not entirely account for the political gaps in views of good and evil. This is evidenced by the fact that Catholic Republicans are more likely than Catholic Democrats to see clear distinctions between good and evil (57% vs. 43%), a pattern that also holds true among Protestants.

Kashi Vishwanath Project, Described As India’s Spiritual Soul Launched

While dedicating the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor Project on Dec 13th, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described that the Project was a symbol of India’s spiritual soul. “Today, a new chapter is being written in the history of Kashi Vishwanath. Kashi Vishwanath Dham premises is not just a grand building but a symbol of India’s culture and traditions. Kashi shows how inspirations of the ancient are giving direction to the future,” Modi said.

The Prime Minister said that Kashi is a beautiful amalgam of antiquity and novelty that come alive together. He said that the glory of the past is coming alive again, showcasing India’s antiquity, traditions, energy, and mobility. Quoting extensively from scriptures, the Prime minister also spoke in Bhojpuri and established a connection with the local people.

‘Kashi and Ganga belong to all. The invaders attacked this city, tried to destroy it. The history of Aurangzeb’s atrocities, his terror tried to change civilization by the sword.

But the soil of this country is different from the rest of the world. If Aurangzeb comes here, Shivaji stands up. If any Salar Masood moves here, then brave warriors like King Suheldev make him realize the power of our unity,” he said.

He said that when the temple was attacked, Ahilyabai Holkar helped in its reconstruction. The Prime Minister said that earlier the temple area was only 3,000 square feet, it has now become about 5 lakh square feet. “Around 50 to 75 thousand devotees can now be accommodated in the temple premises,” he said.

Modi further said that Kashi is the city of eternity where awakening is life and even death is a celebration. He termed it as the religious and spiritual capital of the country. He said that new India was developing alongside and listed the achievements of his government in changing the lives of people for the better.

The Prime Minister also expressed his gratitude towards every laborer who has worked for the construction of this complex and did not stop work even during the pandemic. The Prime Minister asked people to make three promises to him. He said that people must promise cleanliness, innovation, and self-reliance.

“India is moving towards a new tomorrow but we need to work harder on cleanliness. We also need to stress innovation. Startups are changing the face of the country and we need to carry it forward. We also have to emphasize ‘Atmanirbhar’ which is essential to make the country strong,” he said.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, BJP president J.P. Nadda, Deputy Chief Ministers Dinesh Sharma and Keshav Maurya, Union Ministers Dharmendra Pradhan, Mahendra Pandey, and state BJP president Swatantra Dev Singh were present on the occasion.

In Hinduism, women create spaces for their own leadership

Hindu Women Globally Lead By Building Communities, Taking On Positions In Organizations And Passing On Knowledge

When Sushma Dwivedi started seriously thinking about performing wedding rites and other Hindu religious blessings in New York City and elsewhere, she knew who she needed to talk to — her grandmother.

Together, they went through the mantras that are recited by pandits, the priests who perform Hindu religious rituals, to find the ones that resonated with what Dwivedi was trying to do — offer Hindu blessings and services that were welcoming of all, irrespective of gender identity, sexual orientation, race, any of it.

Her grandmother isn’t a pandit — in India, as well as in Indian diaspora communities, that’s been a domain that is largely populated by men, with cultural mores at play. But she had a wealth of religious knowledge, of ritual, of proper pronunciation, to share with her granddaughter.

And that her grandmother played an integral role in Dwivedi’s understanding and practice of Hinduism reflects a larger religious reality. Those who study the religion and its traditions say that while there aren’t a lot of women priests (although that is changing in India and in other places), women in Hinduism globally continue to take on leadership roles in other ways — building communities, taking on positions in organizations, passing on knowledge.

“We just jammed together and sort of went through scriptures. … And in that sense, that’s the ‘old school’-est Hindu way on Earth, right? You pass it down,” Dwivedi said.

After all, it was through her grandparents, immigrants from India, that Dwivedi had been exposed to Hinduism while growing up in Canada. They helped build a Hindu mandir, or temple, in their Montreal community, and made the religion an integral part of her life from childhood.

Hinduism encompasses a range of practices and philosophies, and has a pantheon of divine figures encompassing both male and female. People can call themselves Hindus and yet practice in different ways from each other. There is no central authority, like an equivalent to the role the pope plays in Catholicism.

So leadership, in India as well as Indian immigrant communities, is decentralized and diverse, encompassing religious scholars, Hindu temple boards and more, said Vasudha Narayanan, a religion professor at the University of Florida who studies Hinduism in India and in the Indian diaspora. “I would also say that women sometimes create the spaces where they can be leaders in all these other ways,” she said.

Dr. Uma Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, poses for a portrait at their offices in New York City on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021. Mysorekar got involved with the temple in the mid-1980s and has been part of its administration for years, as it expanded its facilities as well as its programming. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

They’re women like Dr. Uma Mysorekar, who serves as president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America. It runs one of the oldest Hindu temples in the United States in the Flushing section of New York City’s Queens borough.

Mysorekar, trained as a physician, got involved with the temple in the mid-1980s, and has been part of its administration for years, as it expanded its facilities as well as its programming. There are programs for seniors as well as young adults; the temple kitchen is available on food delivery apps.

Being an administrator wasn’t her intention when she started, Mysorekar said. “I didn’t get involved to become a president. But when the circumstances were forced in, I did accept that challenge.” She’s convinced that in Hinduism, women can be leaders simply by virtue of their ability to communicate the faith to others, notably to children.

“How many women have led … going back to times immemorial, and what they have contributed, it should give you that exemplary feeling,” she said. “It’s not that women have to be priests to be leaders, women have to be able to spread the teachings.”

And in this modern age, when so much vital activity occurs online, women are making a difference there, too, said Dheepa Sundaram, assistant professor of Hindu studies, critical theory and digital religion at the University of Denver (and a contributor to Religion News Service).

“If you look at social media spaces, you see a lot of women leading different kinds of groups now,” she said.

She pointed to shubhpuja.com as an example, a site co-founded by a woman, Saumya Vardhan, that allows people all over the world to connect with pandits in India, who perform pujas, the religious rituals, that can be seen via videoconferencing.

“We’re seeing women carve out different spaces in the spirituality ecosystem to find a way to actually gain power in that ecosystem,” she said.

And there are examples of women making inroads even when it comes to being pandits, of pushing back against patriarchal restraints.

Manisha Shete, a practicing Hindu priest, smiles as she performs posthumous rituals for her client’s mother at a residence in Pune, India, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. Shete, who first began to officiate at religious ceremonies in 2008, said demand is growing and “people have started accepting women priests.” (AP Photo/Abhijit Bhatlekar)

Manisha Shete, 51, a female priest who has been working as the coordinator at Jnana Prabodhini, a Hindu reformist school in Pune in western India that trains men and women to perform rituals, first began to officiate at religious ceremonies in 2008.

Her aspirations stemmed in part from an interest in India’s ancient scriptures; after getting married, she studied “After my wedding, I studied Indology — the history, culture, languages and literature of India. During my research work at the Sanskrit language department in Jnana Prabodhini … I felt that I can do this and I should do it. It was my favorite subject,” Shete told The Associated Press.

Shete said at her school in Pune, where the course for the priesthood can extend up to 18 months, 80% of the students were women, including many who had been housewives and many others who voluntarily their jobs to enter the school.

She said the demand for female priests is growing in urban areas, especially among young women, and she often gets requests even from Indian families overseas to conduct rituals. “People have started accepting women priests. Every reform comes with some obstacles. But it is happening.”

PBS Documentary Broadcast Part Of Sikh Awareness Campaign

PBS stations across the United States are set to air a documentary about the founder of the Sikh faith this weekend. “Guru Nanak: Life & Legacy” will be shown on December 9th and 10th on 100 different PBS stations in over 40 states.

“Although Guru Nanak’s teachings of equality and tolerance resonate with American audiences and are foundational values for American society, very few of our neighbors and Western society at large know anything about Guru Nanak Dev Ji,” said Gurwin Ahuja, the executive director of the National Sikh Campaign, in a statement to RNS.

The documentary, which will air in the early evening, is one piece of a campaign launched by NSC to bring more awareness to the Sikh faith, the world’s fifth-largest religion, and to garner acknowledgement of key dates in the life of the faith’s founder. The film is set to be broadcast in 15 of America’s largest metropolitan areas including Houston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

An early 19th-century mural depicting Guru Nanak at the Gurdwara Baba Atal in Amritsar, India. Image courtesy of Creative Commons

The 90-minute documentary is biographical and also includes views from a variety of Sikh experts and American interfaith leaders. These include Bishop Chane, a Christian leader and former head of the Washington National Cathedral, and Bob Thurman, a Buddhist scholar who was named one of Time magazine’s 50 most influential people.

Sikh Americans began arriving in the United States in the late 19th century, and as early as World War I, Sikh Americans were joining the U.S. military. However, despite more than half a million Sikhs living in the United States today, a 2016 poll conducted by a Sikh organization found that less than 1% of Americans were familiar with the faith. The documentary also portrays Sikh Americans in every aspect of society, including farmers, truck drivers and doctors.

This will be the third time the film will be aired on PBS. The film was first developed under a contract between PBS Connecticut and Auter Productions for a release in 2019 to mark the 550th anniversary of Guru Nanak’s life and was aired again last December. Yet, organizers believe this year is important, as the easing of coronavirus-related protocols means in-person screenings of the film can take place next year.

“We hope to hold screenings of the film at the Library of Congress on Capitol Hill. That isn’t confirmed yet, but, since so many congressional leaders are elected from districts with significant Sikh constituents, it won’t be a problem,” said Sikh American activist Rajwant Singh, who is involved with the campaign.

This year, the film will also be distributed to educational institutions and libraries, and the NSC has worked to develop a supporting lesson plan. As a secondary goal, the organizers hope to get a major university to introduce a course on the life of the guru.

“In 2022, we will be scaling up our efforts to spread awareness and knowledge of Guru Nanak Dev Ji in American educational institutions,” said Ahuja.

America Growing More Secular By The Year

Christmas is just 10 days away, and most Americans will celebrate the birth of Jesus. But a new poll from Pew shows the share of U.S. adults who consider themselves Christian is falling. Only 63% of Americans self-identify as Christian this year, a marked drop from 75% 10 years ago.

The declining number of Americans who say they are Christian is offset by a growing number of people who call themselves atheist, agnostic or people of no particular faith. These unaffiliated Americans make up a full 29% of the U.S. population, up from 19% in 2011.

“The secularizing shifts evident in American society so far in the 21st century show no signs of slowing,” the Pew researchers concluded. “The religiously unaffiliated share of the public is 6 percentage points higher than it was five years ago and 10 points higher than a decade ago.” “In U.S., roughly three-in-ten adults now religiously unaffiliated” Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

Though Christians are still a healthy majority, their decline is perhaps best reflected in two questions from the poll: how often people pray and how important religion is in their lives. Only 45% of U.S. adults said they pray on a daily basis (down from 58% in a similar 2007 survey). And the number of Americans who say religion is “very important” in their lives is also falling: 41% of Americans consider religion “very important” in their lives, down from 56% in 2007.

Protestants account for most of the decline — down 4 percentage points from five years ago and 10 percentage points since a decade ago, with both evangelical and nonevangelical Protestants declining overall to 40% of U.S. adults. Catholics held relatively steady at 21%.

“This is at least in part a reaction to the political environment,” said David Campbell, professor of American democracy at the University of Notre Dame who has written about American secularization. “Many people turning away from religion do so because they think of religion as an expression of political conservatism, or as a wing of the Republican Party. That’s especially true of white Americans. The more religion is wrapped up in a political view, the more people who don’t share that political view say, ‘That’s not for me.’”

There was no corresponding rise in the number of Americans adhering to other faiths. A total of 6% of Americans identify with non-Christian faiths, including 1% who describe themselves as Jewish, 1% Muslim, 1% Buddhist, 1% who are Hindu and 2% who identify with a wide variety of other faiths.

But notably, the number of atheists and agnostics in the survey roughly doubled in the past decade to 4% and 5% respectively, up from 2% and 3% in 2011.  Some scholars said this doubling may not be as big a shift numerically as it is culturally.

“There’s less stigma attached to being an atheist,” said Ryan Burge, assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University and the author of a book about the “nones,” or the religiously unaffiliated. “It’s revealing of what’s been there for a long time, rather than a big shift. People may not have answered honestly 20, 30 years ago.”

But Burge said the decline of Protestant Christianity from 52% in 2007 to 40% today is very significant.“It’s more evidence that America is going to be much different,” Burge said. “Think of American history. For a plurality of Americans to say religion is not important, that’s a big shift in how we think about ourselves.”

A survey released by PRRI during the summer found that the religiously unaffiliated had lost ground, making up just 23% of the country. But the Pew poll found little to support that conclusion. The number of people with no religion grew steadily from 16% in 2007 to 29% in 2021, Pew indicated.

Despite the growth of secular Americans, shifts in American culture and politics have not caught up, said Hemant Mehta, a popular atheist blogger who has reported on issues important to the atheist community.

“All these numbers are meaningless unless we convert them into political power,” he said, speaking of the 29% of people with no religious affiliation. “Conservative Christians do that really well. They still have all the power. We’re growing in numbers but we have no political power. Unless we can figure out how to get politicians to care about issues that matter to most of us, what’s the point?”

The poll was part of the National Public Opinion Reference Survey conducted by Pew online and by mail between May and August. The survey was conducted among 3,937 respondents, who took the poll on their own . It has a margin of error of 2.1 percentage points.

Congressional Briefing Exposes Widespread Christian Persecution In India

After using most of an hour-long congressional briefing Wednesday to expose widespread and growing physical violence and persecution of Christians in India, including desecration of churches and beatings of clergy, presenters called on President Joseph Biden, the U.S. Congress and other nations enact sanctions on India and its political leaders to take steps to stop the violence.

“Without international pressure … it is not going to stop,” declared Sean Nelson, Legal Counsel for Global Religious Freedom, ADF International. “We need members of congress and people who have influence with the Indian national government who can say, ‘hey, we need this to stop, you have to quit it. Put a stop to these acts of violence that are happening all across the country.’”

“A week from now, on December 9 and 10, the Biden Administration will be hosting the Summit for Democracy, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as an advisor. The U.S. government must state to him clearly that it will not tolerate continued religious violence in India,” said Rasheed Ahmed, Executive Director of the Indian American Muslim Council.

A graphic video narrated by Jeff King, President International Christian Concern, was played during the webinar showing Christians being stoned and beaten for offering public prayers for Covid-19 victims.

“This is not just a Christian thing or a Muslim thing. We are seeing widespread persecution and discrimination happening against all minority religions in India at an alarming, increasing rate,” said Jeff King, president of the International Christian Concern. “The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has twice now recommended that India be designated a Country of Particular Concern, and that should show Congress that this is a very serious issue, something that is well-documented, and action should be taken.”

Webinar participants shared details of a recent report by the International Christian Concern naming Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi among the world’s worst persecutors.

The speakers provided a lengthy list of intentional acts of intimidation, violence, home invasions, church desecration and national laws enacted to discriminate against Christians and members of other minority religions, including but not limited to:

  • Anti-conversion laws designed to limit or prohibit people converting to Christianity, which have led to mob violence against Christian clergy wrongfully accused of forced conversions. Potential converts must be able to convince local authorities that they wish to convert to Christianity voluntarily and are often denied the right to do so.
  • Local governments are enacting ordinances outlawing Christianity.
  • Local regulations prohibiting Christians from gathering water at communal wells.
  • Social boycotts in which people stop buying from Christian businesses.
  • The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act that limits and can prohibit financial support for Christian organizations in India.
  • When police are called to stop mob violence at churches, the Christians are often arrested, and their churches padlocked.
  • Christian families are driven from their homes and often must live without shelter in jungles.

Ahmed urged Americans to initiate grass-roots movements at the local government level to begin to educate their elected officials about the escalating violence against all religious minorities in India, and then begin to put pressure on members of congress and the Biden Administration.

“We need to focus on the U.S. government and congressional representatives, yes, but we can start with your mayors and city councils. Talk to your civic leaders about what is happening in India. It won’t change things in a week or months, but it could be a very effective approach,” he said.

“You need to know who your member of Congress is, and you contact your member either at their local office or their D.C. office,” commented Matias Perttula, Advocacy Director for the International Christian Concern.

“Staff people dealing with Indian issues or matters should know the situation so they can act appropriately. When the U.S Congress speaks, everybody listens.”

Speakers strongly urged the Biden Administration to declare India a Country of Practical Concern for its state-sanctioned human rights abuses, a recommendation already made twice by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

The briefing is co-hosted by Amnesty International USA, 21 Wilberforce, Hindus for Human Rights, Indian American Muslim Council, International Christian Concern, Jubilee Campaign, Dalit Solidarity Forum, New York State Council of Churches, Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America, India Civil Watch International, Students Against Hindutva Ideology, Center for Pluralism, American Muslim Institution, International Society for Peace and Justice, Association of Indian Muslims of America and the Humanism Project.

Father Stan Samy’s Name Need To Be Cleared Of False Allegations, Jesuits Urge

Indian Jesuits plan to appeal to a court to clear the stigma attached to their activist colleague Father Stan Swamy, who died under detention after being arrested under a draconian anti-terror law.

“We are soon filing a petition in the Mumbai High Court seeking a direction to clear his name from alleged charges under the provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA),” said Father A. Santhanam, a Jesuit lawyer based in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

The top court in Maharashtra state had on Nov. 24 disposed of two appeals the late priest had filed for his bail, noting them as withdrawn.

Earlier, Father Frazer Mascarenhas, former principal of St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, through an interim application, had sought directions from the high court for a mandatory judicial inquiry into the circumstances that led to Father Swamy’s death while being lodged in Taloja prison on the outskirts of Mumbai.

The Jamshedpur Jesuit Province to which Father Swamy belonged has appointed Father Mascarenhas and the parish priest of St. Peter’s Church, Mumbai, as delegates and the next of kin of Father Swamy.

The 84-year-old Jesuit was arrested on Oct. 8, 2020, by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), a federal anti-terror combat unit, from his residence on the outskirts of Jharkhand’s state capital Ranchi in eastern India.

He was a hardcore activist who always stood for protecting the rights of indigenous and other ordinary humans. He was suspected of having a role along with 16 other arrested academics, lawyers and activists in instigating mob violence at Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra state on Jan. 1, 2018, that left one person dead and several injured.

He was accused of serious offenses such as sedition, having links with an outlawed Maoist group and being part of a conspiracy to kill Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, among others.

Father Swamy was remanded to judicial custody the following day by a special NIA court in Mumbai. He died following a heart attack on July 5 this year while undergoing treatment at a Catholic-run hospital where he was taken after his health deteriorated.

The priest suffered from Parkinson’s disease, hearing impairment and other age-related ailments and was also infected with the Covid-19 virus, but he was repeatedly denied bail due to the stringent provisions of the UAPA.

Father Swamy was an indigenous people’s rights activist who became an irritant to the political establishment, both in Jharkhand and Delhi, due to his consistent opposition to attempts to dilute the land rights laws that prevented the purchase of tribal land in the state by outsiders.

His protest along with other political parties and civil rights groups forced the state government to withdraw the proposed amendment. The elderly priest also filed a case against the then ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government for jailing close to 3,000 indigenous youths after accusing them of being supporters of Maoist rebels.

Father Swamy’s associates felt this action led to his false implication in the Bhima Koregaon case. “He was a hardcore activist who always stood for protecting the rights of indigenous and other ordinary humans,” said Father Santhanam, who is determined to clear Father Swamy’s name as a tribute to his departed soul.

Vijay Kumar Leads Drive To Repatriate Temple Gods Looted From India

The illicit trade in idols and other historical treasures looted from temples, archaeological digs and various sites globally has been estimated at $100 billion a year.

A more telling figure might be the nearly 18,000 villagers in India’s Tamil Nadu state who turned out to welcome home a god figure stolen from one of their temples. More revealing still is the image of a single villager who, seeing a stolen god displayed in a Singapore Museum, falls to the ground and starts to pray.

Vijay Kumar accompanied that villager to the museum, and has witnessed idols lovingly replaced to their ages-old spots in Tamil Nadu temples.

For 16 years he has been working to repatriate gods and goddesses looted from India over the years, and the challenges remain huge, he tells us in today’s episode. For example, in 2020, police seized 19,000 stolen artefacts in an international art trafficking crackdown. 101 suspects were arrested with treasures from around the world, including Colombian and Roman antiquities. One activist estimates that in France alone there are 116,000 African objects that should be returned.

But Vijay is encouraged by the successes of citizen-led movements like his own, which began with a blog, Poetry in Stone, then the launch of the group India Pride Project.

Success can be measured in the growing number of artefacts returned to India: 19, from 1970-2000; 0, from 2000-2013; but 300+ after 2013. That includes roughly 250 items valued at about $15 million, which were repatriated in October, among the treasures looted by disgraced art dealer Subhash Kapoor, the subject of Vijay’s book, The Idol Thief.

Today’s conversation is packed with information, including Vijay’s opinion that countries like India and Nepal, where idols are part of the living heritage and still prayed to daily, should be treated differently than countries whose artefacts are looted from buried remains. He also has advice for would-be activists — in the murky world of art repatriation, be very, very wary about accepting money from anyone.

Pope Urges Youth To Protect Environment

Pope Francis on Sunday praised young people for their efforts to protect the Earth’s environment and told them to “be the critical conscience of society.” Francis celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, filled with hundreds of young faithful, to mark a church day focused on youth in dioceses worldwide. “You have

Pope Francis on Sunday praised young people for their efforts to protect the Earth’s environment and told them to “be the critical conscience of society.”

Francis celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, filled with hundreds of young faithful, to mark a church day focused on youth in dioceses worldwide.

“You have been entrusted with an exciting but also challenging task,” the pontiff said, ”to stand tall while everything around us seems to be collapsing.”

Francis expressed thanks “for all those times when you cultivate the dream of fraternity, work to heal the wounds of God’s creation, fight to ensure respect for the dignity of the vulnerable and spread the spirit of solidarity and sharing.”

He noted that many young people have criticized environmental contamination.

“We need this,” Francis said.

The pontiff said that in a world that “thinks only of present gain, that tends to stifle grand ideals, you have not lost the ability to dream.”

“Be free and authentic, be the critical conscience of society,” Francis exhorted young people.

Social justice and care of the environment have been key messages of his papacy.

The pope is expected to meet with young people from all over the world at the Catholic church’s jamboree in Lisbon, Portugal, in August 2023.