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.

US Bishops Set Feast Day For St. Teresa Of Kolkata

The U.S. bishops have assigned a feast date to St. Teresa of Kolkata. The date would be Sept. 5, the death date in 1997 for the founder of the Missionaries of Charity. It will be an optional memorial on the U.S. calendar.

The vote was 213-0 with one abstention. Two-thirds of Latin-rite bishops’ approval is needed, followed by a “confirmatio” by the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

According to a report from Archbishop Leonard P. Blair of Hartford, Connecticut, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship, Minnesota dioceses petitioned the committee in October 2020 to “inscribe” St. Teresa’s name on the “proper” calendar.

“The committee voted unanimously to support this petition at its January 2021 meeting, noting the widespread devotion to St. Teresa and the inspiring example of her life and ministry,” Archbishop Blair said.

Committee policy, established in 1992, requires four conditions for the inscription of saints and blesseds on the U.S. calendar: They should have been inscribed on diocesan proper calendars for at least five years; the “cultus” of the candidate “should exist in a significant number of dioceses, broader than the area or region of the country”; the candidate should have served in the United States; and a new inscription would ordinarily have the rank of an optional memorial.

Archbishop Blair noted how the Missionaries of Charity serve in about 30 U.S. dioceses currently, and St. Teresa’s feast is ranked as a solemnity in the sisters’ chapels. St. Teresa has also been inscribed on the Archdiocese of New York’s proper calendar for “a number of years,” he said.

Liturgical texts have already been written in anticipation of the feast being declared. Archbishop Blair told the bishops Nov. 17 the Missionaries of Charity are working to finalize a new text for the Office of Readings for such a feast, and the texts for the U.S. edition of the Liturgy of the Hours would likely be presented sometime in 2023 for a future vote by the bishops.

He added the Vatican has chosen to use the previous spelling of Calcutta, the saint’s adopted home, for the feast. In response to a question posed by Bishop Earl A. Boyea Jr. of Lansing, Michigan, he said the U.S. bishops’ practice is to add feasts on the national calendar as optional memorials.

“She is an incredible example of encounter,” said Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay, Wisconsin, who advocated for the feast. “Very powerful and effective in moving the heart. … I think we would be deeply served by including her on our calendar.”

Keralite Priest Appointed Bishop Of Loughborough In England

An Anglican priest, who was brought up in a leprosy hospital in Bengaluru where his mother was a nurse at the hospital, will be the next Bishop of Loughborough in the UK.

Reverend Malayil Lukose Varghese Muthalaly, 42, who will be consecrated a Bishop in January 2022, will be the youngest Bishop of the Church of England. A 10, Downing Street announcement on November 12 stated that Queen Elizabeth II has approved his appointment.

Known as Saju among friends and family, Rev Muthalaly is currently the Vicar of St Mark’s, Gillingham in the diocese of Rochester in England. Ordained in the Church of England in 2008, he has served at St. Marks for six years after curacies in the dioceses of Blackburn and Carlisle.

Speaking to the media, Rev Muthalaly said: “It is an honor and joy to be invited to become the next Bishop of Loughborough and I am looking forward to getting to know the people of Leicestershire. My priorities in ministry are profoundly relational. If I have felt anointed anything, it is informing friendships, gathering God’s people, and creating hospitable and loving spaces in which people can grow in faith, hope, justice, and love.”

The Bishop-designee also said: “I have a deep desire for the flourishing of all people particularly the poor, those at the margins of our world.” He said that poor people are not just poor people but mothers, artists, gifted leaders, and friends who are passionate about the environment.

The Bishop-designee was brought up in a Syrian Orthodox Church in Kerala that traces its root to St Thomas the Apostle who is believed to have brought the gospel to the region in the first century.

He studied at the Southern Asia Bible college in Bengaluru and trained for the ministry at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.

An avid cricketer, he is currently the captain of the Rochester and Canterbury diocesan cricket team. Married to Katy, he has four children.

Culture, Religion At Stake In Tibet Under Chinese Regime

Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh–Culture, religion, and the way of life which is based on Buddhism are at the stake in Tibet under the Chinese regime, said Deputy Speaker of Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile Dolma Tsering.

Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama says China’s leaders “don’t understand the variety of different cultures” and that the ruling Communist Party’s penchant for tight social control can be harmful. The 86-year-old Buddhist monk on Wednesday also said he wished to remain home in India, where he has lived since 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet, rather than get involved in the “complicated politics” between China, run by the officially atheist Communist Party, and strongly Buddhist Taiwan.

She also said that the Chinese want everything to be melted into the communist style. “So be it Buddhism or anything they want everything to be changed into them.” Speaking over the so-called freedom in Tibet, the Deputy Speaker said: “If there is any freedom in Tibet, why don’t the Chinese let world media go there and see for themselves. “When they shy away from world media that shows that they are hiding something. Why do they have to give all the time white paper on Tibet? This shows that all is not well there,” she said.

Tenzin Lekshay, spokesperson of Tibetan government-in-exile said that China oppressed many nationalists including Tibetian, Uyghurs, and Mongolians, over the 60-70 years under the party regime. “Chinese leaders always believe that the hunt rules, and then all the other people (minorities) are the ones who should serve, therefore they look at Tibentian as well,” he said.

Talking about the leadership for the Tibetans, he said: “If you see, all the official websites do not even have Tibetan language scripts. All are written in Chinese, so for whom they are working. Are they working for Tibetan?”

He added that the Chinese need to be more compassionate, they need to look into the aspirations of those people. “It is the issue of six million Tibetan, therefore the China-Tibet conflict needs to be resolved pending for over 50 60 years,” he said.

China exercises rigid control over all religions and in recent years has stepped up a campaign of cultural assimilation targeting Tibetans, Turkic Muslim Uyghurs and other minority groups.

The Dalai Lama said he did not want to become involved in “local and political difficulties,” but was dedicated to making contributions to “brothers and sisters” in both Taiwan and mainland China. “This situation is quite complicated,” he said. “Sometimes I really feel this simple Buddhist monk (does) not want to (become involved) in complicated politics,” he said, chuckling.

The Dalai Lama retired from politics in 2011 but remains a major force for the preservation of Tibetan traditions. China castigates him as an advocate for Tibetan independence and has not had direct contacts with his representatives in more than a decade. The Dalai Lama says he merely advocates for Tibet’s substantial autonomy and protection for its native Buddhist culture.

The Dalai Lama, along with his followers, fled to India from Tibet in 1959 during an invasion by the Chinese forces. China calls the Buddhist monk a ‘separatist’, seeking to secede Tibet from China.

900,000 Earthen Lamps Light Up Ayodhya, Celebrating Lord Ram’s Triumphant Return

Millions of people across Asia are celebrating the Hindu festival of Diwali, which symbolizes new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness.

The festival is celebrated mainly in India, but Hindus across the world, particularly in other parts of Asia, also gather with family members and friends to socialize, visit temples and decorate houses with small oil lamps made from clay. The festival is also marked by raucous parties and fireworks displays, often throughout the night.

Indians across the country began celebrating Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, the triumphant return of Lord ram to Ayodhya after rescuing Sita from Sri Lanka. Diwali is typically celebrated by socializing and exchanging gifts with family and friends. Many light oil lamps or candles to symbolize a victory of light over darkness, and fireworks are set off as part of the celebrations.

As dusk fell on Nov. 3, over 900,000 earthen lamps were lit and kept burning for 45 minutes in the northern city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh state, retaining the Guinness World Record it set last year. As part of the Diwali celebrations, the city last year lit 606,569 oil lamps.

The lamps were lit at Ram ki Pauri, at the banks of Saryu River, a stunning spectacle for thousands of visitors who thronged its shores while ignoring coronavirus social distancing norms. A laser and fireworks show followed, illuminating the city’s lanes and river banks. Thousands of city residents also lit lamps at their houses and temples.

The festival is being celebrated at a time when India’s pandemic crisis has largely subsided.  On Diwali night, people also lit up the sky with firecrackers — their smoke causing pollution that takes days to clear.

While there is no nationwide ban on bursting firecrackers, a number of states have imposed restrictions to stem the pollution, with some allowing their residents to light green crackers for a certain number of hours. Green crackers produce lesser emissions than normal firecrackers. In the past, similar bans have often been flouted.

Diwali marks Hindu god Ram’s return to his kingdom after 14 years in exile. Hindus believe that during Diwali the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, will visit their homes if they are illuminated and decorated.

The Diwali festival is also observed among Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists. While each religion marks the festival with different historical events and legends, they all represent the victory of good over evil. (Associated Press writer Biswajeet Banerjee in Lucknow, India, contributed to this report

How Religious Is Your Average 22-Year-Old?

I’m a quantitative scholar of American religion and politics, so I am used to everyone from religion scholars unused to working with data to anxious parents asking me random questions.

“Are Latter-day Saints attending church with less frequency in the last few years?”

“How similar are Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu Americans in their political views?”

“Are young Southern Baptists less conservative on abortion than their parents?”

Those questions and many more like them are completely valid and worthwhile to ask. But until about 10 years ago, my answer was something like, “It is statistically difficult, if not impossible, to answer with any degree of accuracy.” (This is how quantitative scholars talk.) Until the mid-2000s, the data that most researchers had available was limited in ways that made many potential areas of inquiry problematic.

For instance, the General Social Survey is the gold standard for any researcher who is interested in how American life has changed since 1972. The GSS contains a wealth of questions focused on a variety of topics, including sexuality, drug use, social connections, religious behavior and views of politics and government.

And it is what we call longitudinal: Every year or two, the team at NORC at the University of Chicago conducts face-to-face surveys with about 2,200 respondents and makes the data publicly available. The GSS is therefore an unbelievably valuable resource and has been the foundation for thousands of articles, books and lectures over the last four decades.

The GSS has one major drawback, however: its small sample size. The total number of people ever interviewed by the NORC team is 64,814.

So, let’s say that I wanted to understand the religious attendance patterns of of Latter-day Saints between 2008 and 2018. If I were to use the GSS data, there are a total of 147 LDS identifiers in the data during that 10-year span. But if broken down in individual years, it’s about 20 respondents each year. It’s difficult to learn much about any group by only analyzing the behavior of 20 of them. Thus, it’s statistically impossible to understand how Mormon religious behavior has changed using the GSS.

However, beginning in 2006 a new survey became publicly available that opened up an entirely new world to social scientists — the Cooperative Election Study. In the 2006 version of the CES, there were 36,421 respondents. There were 32,800 in 2008. In total, the CES boasts a sample size of nearly 447,000 respondents. That’s nearly seven times the size of the entire 46 years of the GSS.

To return to our example of Latter-day Saints, there were 764 LDS members in the 46 years of the GSS. In the 2018 wave of the CES, there were 823 Mormons, but in total there are nearly 7,000. That means that a social scientist can now trace the church attendance of just LDS members under the age of 35, say, or nonwhite Latter-day Saints. It’s also possible to have some reasonable level of statistical certainty surrounding how they have voted in presidential elections dating back to 2008.

Questions about the composition of small religious groups like Hindus or Buddhists were difficult to answer before the advent of large surveys like the CES. It was statistically impossible to trace the religiosity of just 18- to 22-year-old people in college before the introduction of these large-scale surveys. Trying to explore combinations, like people who make six figures a year but have only a high school diploma, was unrealistic when a sample only contained five people who fit those criteria. In the CES and other new instruments, those people number in the hundreds.

I can’t count the number of times people have asked me if there is any time in American history that the country has had lower levels of religiosity than it does right now. Unfortunately, we can’t answer that with any degree of certainty. High-quality data doesn’t really exist prior to the 1970s. And, to be honest, we only have limited statistical ability between the 1970s and the mid-2000s.

I think about these issues quite a lot and am of two minds about it.

The first emotion is one of deep sadness for how much we will never know about the contours of American society just a few decades ago. A religious picture of the United States in the 1940s is incredibly blurry, if not entirely opaque, when seen through the lens of quantitative data.

But I have a great sense of excitement when I consider how much better we will understand American society from this point forward. The questions that social science can ask and answer have never been greater and are expanding by the day as social scientists gather new data and compare what we find to what has come before.

The possibility of knowing more things with a greater sense of certainty should be a thrilling opportunity for all of us.

Diwali Celebrations Light Up Capitol Hill

United States’ lawmakers and top officials of the White House celebrated Diwali with Indian diaspora on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, October 27th, 2021, honoring some of the top Indian Americans in the US President Joe Biden’s administration. The top Indian Americans who were honored included Vice Admiral Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and Neera Tanden, Senior Advisor and Staff Secretary to President Biden. 

During the celebration, the traditional ‘Diya’ was lit and several high ranking officials made their remarks. “There has been a lot of darkness in the last 1.5 years. To be able to celebrate and talk about the meaning of Diwali, it’s incredibly important,” said Vice Admiral Surgeon Gen Vivek Murthy. “Diwali is about light overcoming darkness, and there has been a lot of darkness in the last year and a half. To be able to celebrate Diwali, to talk about the meaning, to talk about the light in oneself and the light in others in these tough times, means a lot and I’m grateful to be here,” the Surgeon General added.

“But one of the things that concern me most about the last few years is another type of pandemic, the invisible pandemic that we are in the midst of. That’s a pandemic of polarization where it feels increasingly people have turned against each other, where they have demonized one another, called each other evil and treated each other as so. That’s a particular kind of darkness,” he said.

Congressman Ami Bera, Pramila Jayapal, Congressman Ro Khanna and Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi addressed the community members. Ami Bera highlighted that the Diwali celebration is not only about Indian Americans but also the members of the Congress, which includes both Republicans and Democrats. The event also witnessed an interfaith prayer service that was attended by members of Congress.

Congressman James Clyburn, Steve Chabot, Congresswoman Judy Chu and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney praised the contribution of Indian Americans in the development of the US and stressed the significance of Diwali in a post-Covid-19 world.

“The Congressmen at the gathering are not just Indian Americans, we have African American, Chinese American, mainstream American Congressman. It’s historic that such a diverse group of congressmen are supporting us,” Rangaswami, founder, Indiaspora told ANI.

“We are honored to celebrate Diwali at Capitol Hill and share our traditions with the leaders who have dedicated themselves to serving the public. The Indian diaspora has had a profound impact on American society, and their diverse contributions continue to strengthen our nation,” said Sanjeev Joshipura, executive director of Indiaspora.

American actress and singer Mary Millben was also present to celebrate Diwali at Capitol Hill. The singer performed the ‘Om Jai Jagdish Hare‘ rendition for the expats and community members too crooned the hymn with the singer. “To see folks come all over the country to celebrate Diwali is so beautiful and meaningful to me. I have a strong relationship with the people of India. It’s a very full-circle moment for me to be with people whom I love and a culture that I love, I am delighted to be here,” Mary Millben said.

Hindu Dharma, Hindutva and Hindudvesha Discussed At Virtual Conference

The second set of panels of the “Hindu Dharma, Hindutva and Hindudvesha” conference series were held last month, in coordination with and in celebration of Hindu Heritage Month. Four sessions held over the weekend focussed on issues like Colonialism and Hinduism and challenges faced by Hindus in the Islamic world.

The virtual conference showcased the diversity of views within the Hindu world, feature friends of the Hindu community, and address a troubling trend of anti-Hindu sentiment (Hindudvesha or Hinduphobia) which has more recently plagued the Hindu diaspora in the United States, Canada and other parts of the world.

The Hindudvesha conference is being jointly organized by American Hindus Against Defamation (AHAD), an initiative of the World Hindu Council of America (VHPA), and Dharma Civilization Foundation.

The conference began on Saturday, October 23, 2021, from 11AM-1PM. The first session, “Coloniality and the Hindutva Movement,” delved deeper into understanding the Hindutva movement within the context of Coloniality, while the second session, “The Post-Colonial Hindu Hangover,” discussed how Colonialism has impacted the Hindu intellectual condition.

The second day of the conference took place on Sunday, October 24, between 11AM-1PM and the focus was on the impact of Islam on the Hindu culture and psyche. The entire conference was held every consecutive Saturday and Sunday over the course of four weeks.

In a joint statement, Kalyan Viswanathan, President of the Hindu University of America and VHPA Vice President Dr. Jai Bansal said: “Hindus are a deeply spiritual and peace-loving community. At one billion strong globally and roughly four million in the US, they represent a growing immigrant minority community in the United States. Historically, Hindus have never invaded, conquered, or enslaved others nor confiscated land or property. On the contrary, Hindus have repeatedly been victims of colonization and invasions. Perhaps their greatest characteristic is that they live and let live.

At the core of Hinduism is a certain foundational embrace of plurality which honors diversity and fosters co-existence. Unfortunately, as they are being repeatedly and increasingly maligned in unprecedented ways, it is important that Hindus speak up to set the record straight to contest the lies and misinformation circulated by those seeking to undermine them.” VHVA President Dr. Ajay Shah said, “it is high time to educate the world about the essence of Sanatana Vedic Dharma and it’s positive contributions to civil society, at all levels, and the world.”

American Hindus Against Defamation (AHAD) is the first and the most prominent Hindu organization against defamation in the USA.  AHAD has been actively monitoring mass media, products, public places etc. to ensure respectful and accurate representation of Hindu dharma, culture, images and icons. Active since 1997, hundreds of thousands of Hindus have participated in various advocacy activities led by AHAD. Hindudvesha project is partnership between AHAD and Dharma Civilization Foundation (DCF).

World Hindu Council of America (VHPA) is the most prominent organization of Hindus in the USA. Founded in 1970, it has chapters across the country.   VHPA runs educational programs for Hindu children and youth in addition to community service (Seva) activities, and initiatives such as Hindu Mandir Executives’ Conference (HMEC), Hindu Womens’ Network, in addition to AHAD and HinduPACT. To learn about the conference, visit Hindu Dvesha – HHMConference

Narendra Modi Invites Pope Francis To Visit India During Meeting With Pope At The Vatican

Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Pope Francis at the Vatican Saturday in his first meeting with the head of the sovereign of the Vatican City State on Saturday, October 30, 2021. The meeting between the Hindu nationalist party leader and Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, assumes significance as it comes at a time when Christians in many parts of India have been complaining of harassment and attacks on the community and its institutions.

The two leaders discussed with Pope Francis issues covering a range of areas of interest, including COVID-19, general global perspectives and maintaining peace and tranquility. After the meeting, Modi tweeted, with pictures of him embracing the Pope, “Had a very warm meeting with Pope Francis. I had the opportunity to discuss a wide range of issues with him and also invited him to visit India.”

A Vatican source has told the media that Vatican officials were “happily surprised” by the invitation, as they had no advance notice from either the government or from the Catholic Church in India that Mr. Modi would invite the pope to visit the country. Because Pope Francis and the Catholic Church and Christians in India consider the visit very important, it is likely to be given priority in Vatican scheduling; it could even take place in the second half of next year, according to reports.

The meeting took place in the pope’s private library on the second floor of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. Pope Francis, the leader of more than 1.3 billion Catholics worldwide, and Mr. Modi, who governs the world’s largest democracy of almost 1.4 billion people, sat at a table and talked together with the aid of interpreters for 55 minutes.

The meeting was long by Vatican standards. The Vatican issued a very brief statement that revealed almost nothing of the content of their conversation except to say that they acknowledged the good relations that exist between India and the Holy See. The Holy See and India established diplomatic relations in 1948, soon after the country gained its independence.

After their private conversation, Mr. Modi presented his five-person delegation, including the Minister for Foreign Affairs, S. J. Jaishanakar, the National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, and India’s Ambassador to the Holy See, Jaideep Mazumdar.

Pope Francis and the Prime Minister then exchanged gifts. Modi gave the Pope a silver candlestick and a copy of The Climate Climb. Pope Francis gave Modi a bronze plaque with the inscription “the desert will become a garden,” and copies of the pope’s writings, including his encyclicals “Laudato Si’” and “Fratelli Tutti,” as well as the “Document on Human Fraternity” and his message for the 2021 World Day of Peace.

Pope Francis would be the third pope to visit India. Paul IV traveled to Mumbai in 1964 to attend the International Eucharistic Congress, while John Paul II visited India in February 1986 and again in November 1999, the latter time for the presentation of his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in Asia.”

Modi is the fifth Indian Prime Minister to have visited the head of Roman Catholics, the largest religious denomination in the world. Before Modi, Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, I K Gujral, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee had met the then Popes in the Vatican. It is not just Prime Ministers who have paid a visit to the Holy See. Communist veteran and former Chief Minister of Kerala E K Nayanar presented a Bhagavad Gita to Pope John Paul II in 1997 and he kept a rosary presented by the Pope throughout his life. Nayanar was accompanied by current Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who was then a minister in his government. When he visited Pope Francis in October 2019, Union Minister V Muraleedharan also gifted a Bhagavad Gita to him.

The Prime Minister’s meeting with the Pope has been welcomed by the Church. Major Archbishop Baselios Cardinal Cleemis, who was the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) and who had requested Modi to invite the Pope to India in 2014, saw it as a fresh opportunity for dialogue between the government and the community. “This has a historical importance,” Cardinal Cleemis said.

“The meeting should not be seen merely as the one between two country heads, rather it was the head of the largest democracy and an ancient culture of the world meeting the head of the largest religious community in the world. This brings in hope for enhancing human fraternity and caring for the poor, because that’s what Christianity stands for. It would bring in positive efforts in India for a mutual trust and collaboration between people of different religious groups. It would also contribute to the very need for dialogues. We are very delighted that the Prime Minister has opened ways for a Papal visit to India,” the Cardinal Cleemis told the media.

Modi’s visit has been excitedly welcomed by the Catholic Church. Even before the government officially announced the visit, the president of the Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference, Cardinal George Alenchery, issued a statement that it would “add more energy and warmth to the relations between our country and the Vatican and the Catholic Church”. According to media reports, the welcome note by Cardinal Cleemis and earlier by Cardinal George Alencherry, President of the Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference (KCBC), have rekindled the BJP’s hopes on building confidence in the community towards the party, leaders said.

Christians account for some 2.3 percent of India’s population, behind Hindus who make up 79.8%, and Muslims are 14.2%. of the total Indian population. With over 28 million Christians living across India, including 20 million Catholics, the Catholic Church plays a significant social role in India—especially in the fields of education and health care.

One contentious issue between Christians and Modi’s political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, is Christian proselytization in India, which Hindu fundamentalists and some politicians in the BJP have accused Christians and the Catholic Church of in the past. Pope Francis has stated clearly that the church has no intention of proselytizing in India.

A joint fact-finding team of non-governmental organisations, including the Association for the Protection of Civil Rights, United Against Hate and United Christian Forum, recently presented a report – after visiting Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand – which pointed out a series of attacks against Christians and churches in these states. Sources in the Catholic Church in the national capital said the influential Kerala Church has been ignoring the attacks against the community in northern parts of the country.

With Christians being a community that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants to establish as its support base to retain power in poll-bound Goa and Manipur and to emerge as a formidable electoral force in Kerala,  Modi’s meeting with Pope Francis, and his invitation to the Pontiff to visit India assumes much significance, sources in the BJP said.

While Christians in Kerala comprise 18.38 per cent of its population, in Goa it is 25.1 per cent while the figure is 41.2 per cent in Manipur. Both Manipur and Goa are headed for polls early next year. Despite its desperate attempts, the BJP’s vote share has gone down from 15.53 per cent (2019) to 12.47 per cent in the Assembly elections held on April 6 this year. Political observers pointed out that the fall in vote share indicated that there was no overwhelming support for the party’s candidates from the Christian community.

Pointing out that minorities, both Christians and Muslims, have been the “subject of consistent attacks” by right-wing forces since the BJP came into power in 2014, Father Suresh Mathew, editor of church publication Indian Currents said, “BJP has spared no efforts and even supported every attack and hate speech against Christians. Several states have enacted anti-conversion laws which are in violation of the Constitution. Time has come for the Church leadership in India to shed diplomacy and express their concern for religious freedom and human rights protection,” Fr Mathew said.

The Prime Minister, who is in Italy to attend the G20 Summit, briefed the Pope about the ambitious initiatives taken by India in combating climate change as well as India’s success in administering one billion Covid-19 vaccination doses. Prime Minister Modi will also attend the Climate Summit to be held in Glasgow from Sunday. His Holiness appreciated India’s assistance to countries in need during the pandemic, the release said. At the end of the audience, Pope Francis escorted Modi to the door and said, “I am happy, very happy. Pray for me!” Mr. Modi responded, “I hope to see you in India.”

Indonesian Former President’s Daughter Embraces Hinduism

A daughter of Indonesia’s first president, Soekarno, has converted from Islam to Hinduism during a ceremony in the predominantly Hindu province of Bali. Diah Mutiara Sukmawati Soekarnoputri, Soekarno’s third daughter, officially became a Hindu on Oct. 26 during the ceremony called a Sudhi Wadani at the Soekarno Center in Buleleng district.

It took place amid tight security on what was her 70th birthday and was attended by only around 50 guests — mostly family members — due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It was reported that Sukmawati, the founder of the Indonesian National Party and sister of the country’s fifth president, Megawati Soekarnoputri, decided to become a Hindu because her Balinese grandmother had been a devotee.

Her conversion also comes a couple of years after she was accused of making “blasphemous” remarks about Islam.

In 2018, she was reported to police by several groups over a poem she wrote and read out at a fashion event. She allegedly mocked Sharia law, the niqab face veil and the Muslim call to prayer.

In 2019, she was reported to the police again over a speech she gave to mark National Heroes Day in which she supposedly compared her father with the Prophet Muhammad.

“Who fought for [Indonesia’s] independence in the 20th century, the Prophet Muhammad or Soekarno?” she said.

Prior to this, she was also overheard asking “Which one is better, Pancasila or the Quran?” referring to the national state ideology and Islam’s holy book. Police, however, dropped the cases, citing a lack of evidence.

Novel Chaidir Hasan Bamukmin, a lawyer who filed one of the complaints in 2019, said he was not surprised by her conversion.

“I should be grateful, though, that she finally has made her religious feelings clear. I was so confused about her religion before. It was said she was a Muslim, but she insulted Islam,” he told UCA News.

Abdul Mu’ti, general secretary of Muhammadiyah, the second-largest Islamic organization in Indonesia, said he respected Sukmawati’s conversion. “It is her decision. She has chosen Hinduism. I hope she will feel at peace and find joy,” he told UCA News.

The Golden Temple Goes Solar Powered

With the financial assistance of the US-based United Sikh Mission, a 525 KW capacity solar power plant was commissioned in the holiest of Sikh shrines, Harmandir Sahib, popularly known as Golden Temple, in Amritsar on Tuesday.

“Our mission is to ensure clean power supply round the clock at Sri Darbar Sahib, saving 33 per cent of its annual electricity bill,” United Sikh Mission President Rashpal Singh Dhindsa told the media here.

He said this was an effort towards sustainability and reducing global warming that would help save 2,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (C02) emission.

The work was completed in five months. Expressing gratitude to the United Sikh Mission, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee President Bibi Jagir Kaur said that a 78 KW solar power plant would be installed soon in Gurdwara Baba Deep Singh and 700 KW in Gurdwara Bir Baba Budha Sahib.

Noting that the monthly electricity budget of Darbar Sahib is around Rs 50-60 lakh, she urged the global Sikh community to contribute towards the initiative of empowering Darbar Sahib with renewable energy.

The Golden Temple Amritsar India (Sri Harimandir Sahib Amritsar) is not only a central religious place of the Sikhs, but also a symbol of human brotherhood and equality. Everybody, irrespective of cast, creed or race can seek spiritual solace and religious fulfilment without any hindrance. It also represents the distinct identity, glory and heritage of the Sikhs.

As advised by Sri Guru Amar Dass Ji (3rd Sikh Guru), Sri Guru Ram Dass Ji (4th Sikh Guru) started the digging of Amrit Sarovar (Holy Tank) of Sri Harmandir Sahib in 1577 A.D., which was later on brick-lined by Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji (5th Sikh Guru) on December 15, 1588 and He also started the construction of Sri Harmandir Sahib. Sri Guru Granth Sahib (scripture of the Sikhs), after its compilation, was first installed at Sri Harmandir Sahib on August 16, 1604 A.D. A devout Sikh, Baba Budha Ji was appointed its first Head Priest.

Sri Harmandir Sahib, also known as Sri Darbar Sahib or Golden Temple, (on account of its scenic beauty and golden coating for English speaking world), is named after Hari (God) the temple of God. The Sikhs all over the world, daily wish to pay visit to Sri Amritsar and to pay obeisance at Sri Harmandir Sahib in their Ardas.

Guru Arjan Sahib, the Fifth Nanak, conceived the idea of creating a central place of worship for the Sikhs and he himself designed the architecture of Sri Harmandir Sahib. Earlier the planning to excavate the holy tank (Amritsar or Amrit Sarovar) was chalked out by Guru Amardas Sahib, the Third Nanak, but it was executed by Guru Ramdas Sahib under the supervision of Baba Budha ji. The land for the site was acquired by the earlier Guru Sahibs on payment or free of cost from the Zamindars (landlords) of native villages. The plan to establish a town settlement was also made. Therefore, the construction work on the Sarovar (the tank) and the town started simultaneously in 1570. The work on both projects completed in 1577 A.D.

The shrine has a unique Sikh architecture. Built at a level lower than the surrounding land level, The Gurudwara teaches the lesson of egalitarianism and humility. The four entrances of this holy shrine from all four directions, signify that people belonging to every walk of life are equally welcome.

The History Of US Presidential Visits To The Vatican

On Friday (Oct. 29), Pope Francis is set to hold a highly anticipated private audience with President Joe Biden at the Vatican. It will be the first in-person meeting between the pontiff and the Catholic head of state since Biden’s election.

Biden is the 14th U.S. president to meet a pontiff at the Vatican, and the Eternal City is bubbling with speculation over what the two are likely to discuss. The meeting is expected to be cordial, focusing on what the two have in common, but historically the relationship between the Vatican and the Oval Office has often been tense — even occasionally hostile.

From public reprimands to diplomatic faux pas, Religion News Service takes a look back at the history of meetings between popes and U.S. presidents.

More than a hundred years ago, on Jan. 4, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson became the first American head of state to meet with a pope at the Vatican, during a European tour in the aftermath of World War I, which had left the continent in shambles and rife with tensions.

The pontiff at the time, Pope Benedict XV, had spoken fervently against war and in 1917 wrote a letter “to the Heads of State of the Belligerent Peoples,” which outlined a plan for peace and reconstruction for Europe and beyond. In January of 1918, Wilson pronounced his 14 points for the establishment of a new postwar world. Some observers at the time suggested Wilson felt as if the frail Italian pontiff had stolen his thunder by releasing his vision first.

The first encounter between a U.S. president and a pope was also a meeting of two global visions for peace, at times opposing and sometimes aligned. The evolving contours of these visions would go on to define the relationship for a century.

Eisenhower and Pope John XXIII: ‘That was a beaut!’

President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Pope John XXIII met at the Vatican in December 1959. John XXIII, known as “the good pope” for his affable and gregarious attitude, tried to learn a few words in English to put the president at ease. Despite his efforts, the elderly pope stumbled through his English and at the end of the speech ironically quipped “that was a beaut!” in Italian. The president, accompanied by his family, burst out laughing along with everyone present, blessing the papal annals with some rather playful pictures of the historic event.

Kennedy and Pope Paul VI: To kiss the ring or to not kiss the ring?

The first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy faced significant scrutiny back home for how he would handle his July 1963 meeting with Pope Paul VI. Anti-Catholic sentiment remained strong in the U.S., and even before his visit, cartoons popped up showing Kennedy bowing to the pope in Rome. The media at the time questioned whether the U.S. president would follow Catholic protocol and bow to kiss the pope’s ring.

Instead, Kennedy and Pope Paul VI exchanged a firm handshake during their meeting and spoke in English. Five months after the visit, Kennedy was fatally shot. People close to the pope said he “wept uncontrollably” at the news and later publicly condemned Kennedy’s assassination.

Johnson and Pope Paul VI: American egos and Vietnam

President Lyndon B. Johnson’s visit to the Vatican on Dec. 23, 1967, came as the Catholic Church prepared to celebrate Christmas, but according to witnesses, it was less than jolly. Paul VI made his objection to the Vietnam War heard during the meeting, with some claiming he slammed his fist on the table in anger. Johnson made sure to leave a lasting impression — literally — gifting the pope a bronze bust of himself.

Nixon and Pope Paul VI: From amicable to acrimonious

President Richard Nixon met with Pope Paul VI at the Vatican twice. The first time, in March 1969, the two discussed the ongoing war in Vietnam and the possibility for peace. Nixon praised the pope for his words, stating they were “a source of profound inspiration” and promising to make do on his peace-building efforts.

When they met again on Sept. 28, 1970, as the Vietnam War continued to escalate, the encounter was “less than pleasant, even acrimonious,” according to Peter Hebblethwaite’s biography of Pope Paul VI.

Ford and Pope Paul VI: A divided Europe, a divided world

With Europe increasingly divided by the Cold War, the meeting between President Gerald Ford and Pope Paul VI focused on how to promote unity. The two met at the Vatican on June 3, 1975. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was also in attendance.

During the brief encounter, the pope encouraged the U.S. to leverage its now established position of leadership for unity. They also addressed the rising tension between Israel and Egypt, with the pope promoting a “peaceful coexistence” between Christians and Muslims. The Middle East would increasingly became a point of contention in U.S.-Vatican diplomacy.

Carter and Pope John Paul II: Bookish alliances

In 1979, Pope John Paul II became the first pope to visit the White House. A year later, on June 21, 1980, he met with President Jimmy Carter in the papal library at the Vatican.

During the meeting, Carter condemned the Soviet Union’s expansion in the Middle East, especially its invasion of Afghanistan. John Paul II directed the president’s attention to finding a resolution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

At the end of the meeting, the pope gifted Carter with a leather-bound copy of the Bible for the president to read. Seeing that the text was in Latin, Carter jokingly told the pope, “It would be easier for you than me!”

Reagan and Pope John Paul II: The ‘bromance’ that defeated communism

A number of books and films have been made documenting the synergy between President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, a relationship many argue contributed to the defeat of communism and the Soviet Union. The two met twice at the Vatican and twice in the United States.

When Reagan and John Paul II met for the first time at the Vatican on June 7, 1982, they already had much in common. In 1981, they both survived assassination attempts, and they viewed their meeting as a divine sign that they had a purpose to fulfill. “God saved us both,” John Paul II reportedly said, “so that we can do what we are about to do. How else can it be explained?”

The meeting, which lasted 50 minutes, marked the first time a pope and a president spoke alone behind closed doors. The two had exchanged a flurry of letters in the months leading up to the meeting, addressing the future of Europe and an end to the escalating nuclear tensions.

For the next six years, the Reagan and John Paul II partnership reshaped Europe amid the tumult of the Cold War, revealing the potential of a union between two global and moral superpowers. Two years after the meeting, the Holy See and the United States established official diplomatic relations.

H.W. Bush and Pope John Paul II: Failing papal appeals for peace

President George H.W. Bush met with Pope John Paul II twice at the Vatican — in 1989 and 1991 — but both times the shadow of war hung over the encounters. John Paul II’s appeals for peace had become louder after the U.S. engaged in the First Gulf War, which the pope had described as “an adventure with no turning back.”

“The dignity of America,” the pope said before the cameras at their second Vatican meeting, “the reason she exists, the condition for her survival; yes, the ultimate test of her greatness: to respect every human person, especially the weakest and most defenseless ones, those as yet unborn.”

Clinton and Pope John Paul II: Roast beef and culture wars

President Bill Clinton met with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican on June 2, 1994. The two had met three times before in the United States, where the contentious question of abortion hung over the meetings. The pope called on the “responsibility of the great American nation, which always upheld the ethical values at the base of every society.” Clinton gifted the pope artwork representing an olive branch, promising “joint efforts to promote the central role of the family in society.”

Bush, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI: Failure to launch

No president has visited the Vatican more often than President George W. Bush, who made four trips to the Eternal City, plus a fifth meeting with the pope just outside Rome.

On May 28, 2002, Bush had his first encounter with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, just months after the attacks on the World Trade Center. The pope failed in convincing Bush to halt the U.S. invasion in Iraq and chastised the war in a following meeting in June 2004.

Despite the tensions, Bush praised the pope and said “being in his presence is an awesome experience.” On their last meeting at the Vatican, Bush awarded Pope John Paul II the Medal of Freedom.

Bush also met with Pope John Paul II’s successor, Benedict XVI, at the Vatican in both 2007 and 2009. Their conversations centered mostly on tensions in the Middle East, and their differing views on Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict overshadowed common agreement on abortion.

Obama and Pope Benedict XVI: Lessons on star quality and bioethics

The meeting between President Barack Obama and Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on March 27, 2014, lasted roughly 40 minutes. As cameras flashed furiously before them, Obama told the pope, “Your holiness, I’m sure you’re used to having your picture taken,” adding that he was “getting used to it.”

To underline his opposition to abortion and contraception, Benedict XVI gifted Obama with a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Benedict once headed, on bioethics titled “Dignitatis Personae” or “The Dignity of Persons.”

The two met again in March 2014, where they discussed “the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection,” according to the official Vatican statement on the meeting.

Trump and Pope Francis: The walls, the bridges and the frown

Tensions had already formed before Pope Francis and President Donald Trump met at the Vatican on May 24, 2017. Only a year before, the bridge-building pope had seemed to criticize Trump’s intentions to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, stating “a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”

Trump pushed back against the papal jab on Twitter, describing the pontiff’s remarks as “disgraceful.” The Vatican meeting culminated with a photo capturing one of the pope’s most infamous frowns.

After the short meeting, the mood seemed to lighten slightly, with Trump thanking the pope and telling him, “I won’t forget what you said.” Pope Francis gifted the president a copy of his “green” encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’.” But in 2020, Trump announced the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate agreements.

Pope Francis Calls For Greater Female Leadership Ahead Of G-20 Summit

(RNS) — In a message read by his secretary of state to a women’s advocacy group meeting ahead of the G-20 summit, Pope Francis called for greater female leadership in world affairs on Monday (Oct. 18), telling the Women’s Forum G-20 that “our world needs the collaboration of women, their leadership and their abilities, as well as their intuition and their dedication.”

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, read the pontiff’s message by video to a special two-day gathering in Milan of the Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society, founded by Publicis public relations to highlight women’s voices in government and diplomacy. The forum is taking place days before the summit in Rome of the heads of state of the world’s largest economies. Before the event, Francis is scheduled to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden for the first time since his election.

The Catholic Church has a complicated track record on the question of women’s participation and leadership. While there is no shortage of strong female figures in the church, some lament the lack of women’s involvement in decision-making in an institution that doesn’t allow them to become priests, bishops, cardinals or popes. In the message, Francis quoted his predecessor St. John Paul II, who in 1995 wrote a letter to women, “Mulieris Dignitatem,” that was interpreted by many as a manifesto for further female inclusion in the church. (John Paul II was also responsible for answering with a definitive “no” the question of female ordination.)

Francis opened two commissions, one in 2016 and another in 2020, to study the possibility of allowing women to become deacons — clergy who can preach but cannot perform the sacraments. Since becoming pope, he has appointed more than a dozen women to positions of influence and leadership in the Vatican. In early October, the pope launched a two-year synodal process, in which the faithful will be called to discuss, debate and express their views on the most pressing issues facing the Catholic Church. When the world’s Catholic bishops convene in Rome in 2023 to vote on the issues raised in the process, only one woman, Sister Nathalie Becquart, whom Pope Francis appointed as undersecretary to the synod of bishops, will be allowed to vote.

The message Parolin read quoted some of Francis’ earlier speeches praising “the irreplaceable contribution of women in building a world that can be a home for all” and their ability to be “concrete and know how to weave life’s threads with quiet patience.” It is with this constant weaving, it said, that women promote a sense of “selflessness” that is capable of looking beyond the myopic approach solely centered on immediate profit. The contribution of women is essential “in the efforts for the care of our common home.”

While the pope noted men’s and women’s “respective characteristics,” his message said both sexes are “called to embrace their common vocation to be active builders of society.” The pope’s speech ended with an emphatic appeal calling for the education of every girl in the world: “I would like to seize this opportunity to reiterate a strong encouragement that every girl and young woman in every country may have access to quality education so that each of them may flourish, expand their own potential and talents, and dedicate themselves to the development and progress of cohesive societies.”

Catholicism Growing Everywhere Except In Europe

(RNS) — A Vatican census released ahead of World Mission Day reveals growing numbers of Catholics in what Pope Francis often refers to as “the global peripheries,” even as the number of believers continues to diminish in Europe.

The number of Catholics in the world grew by more than 15 million from 2018 to 2019, according to a census by the Vatican news agency Fides published on Thursday (Oct. 21). “The increase applies to all continents, except Europe,” which saw the number of Catholic faithful decrease by almost 300,000, the survey found.

The data was released ahead of the 95th World Mission Day, which will be celebrated on Sunday in dioceses around the globe following the one-year hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the census, conducted annually among Catholic faithful, Catholics represented 17.7% of the global population in 2019. As Catholicism gained followers in Africa, the Americas and Asia, the church’s numbers waned in Europe, the historic basin of Catholicism that is now increasingly becoming a mission territory.

While the number of Catholic priests has grown overall, Europe has seen a consistent decrease in clergy, where the number of faithful per priest grew to more than 3,245-to-1. For the seventh year in a row, the number of religious brothers and sisters has declined everywhere, with Africa as the only exception. Religious sisters experienced the sharpest decline, losing 11,562 members.

Seminarians studying to become priests also shrunk globally, especially in minor seminaries for people between 11 and 18 years old. Bishops diminished by 13, now totaling 5,364 globally.

While clergy members experienced a steep fall worldwide, the number of lay missionaries grew significantly, especially in the Americas and Africa, with only a small decrease in Asia. Catechists saw their numbers reduced by 2,590, with the Americas and Europe registering the highest drops.

The Fides data accounts for all Catholics until Dec. 31, 2019. Given the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent church closures and deaths, experts at a Vatican news conference on Thursday admitted the numbers may have changed substantially during 2020.

Archbishop Giovanni Pietro Dal Toso, president of the Pontifical Mission Societies, addressed the challenges of putting together all the data, especially during the pandemic. While admitting “the de-Christianization is evident,” Dal Toso added that beneath the surface there are new and lively Christian communities that are thriving, even in Europe.

“I think it will be necessary to implement courses for Christian formation” to help the faithful better understand Catholicism, he said.

In a message shown at the news conference and written in January, Pope Francis said “the pandemic has brought to the fore and amplified the pain, the solitude, the poverty and the injustices experienced by so many people. It has unmasked our false sense of security and revealed the brokenness and polarization quietly growing in our midst.”

The most frail and vulnerable took the brunt of the pandemic, the pope said, as the world witnesses a “growing negativity that stifles hope.” Despite these challenges, Francis said “the call to mission is not a thing of the past,” and the world needs missionaries willing “to go forth to the peripheries of our world as messengers and agents of compassion.”

Speaking at the news conference, Cardinal Luis Tagle of the Philippines encouraged the faithful to become “missionaries fueled by compassion and hope.” Mentioning his experience living in Asia, where Catholics represent a minority of the population, the cardinal warned that “if we keep the faith to ourselves, we will become weak, and if we keep the faith to a small group, it might become an elite group.” Instead, he continued, Christians and missionaries are called “to reach all the nations, the geographical and existential spaces.”

Tagle has headed the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of People since 2019 and holds several important positions at the Vatican that have led many observers to consider the cardinal “papabile,” meaning a possible candidate to be elected pope at the next conclave.

U.S. Bishops Silent On Moral Issue Of Climate Change

Newswise — According to a new study by professors and an alumna from Creighton University, the vast majority of U.S. Catholic bishops were silent about climate change around Pope Francis’s 2015 ecological encyclical Laudato Si’. The study also found bishops were denialist and biased about climate change in ways that correlate with conservative political identity/ideology.

The study, “U.S. Catholic bishops’ silence and denialism on climate change,” was published Oct. 19, in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Letters. The authors examined more than 12,000 columns published from June 2014 to June 2019 by bishops in official publications for 171 of the 178 U.S. Catholic dioceses (representing 96% of all U.S. dioceses). Among the study’s findings:

Less than 1% of columns in the study (0.8%, or 93 columns out of 12,077) mentioned “climate change,” “global warming,” or variations.

Less than 1% of columns in the study (0.46%, or 56 columns out of 12,077) described climate change as something that is real or currently happening.

Less than 1% of columns in the study (0.24%, or 29 columns out of 12,077) discussed climate change as something that is urgent.

74% of the 201 bishops in the study did not once mention climate change.

69% of the 171 dioceses studied did not publish a bishop’s column that mentioned climate change.

The study was conducted by Sabrina Danielsen, MA, PhD, an assistant professor of sociology; Daniel R. DiLeo, PhD, a Catholic theologian, associate professor, and director of the Justice and Peace Studies Program; and Emily E. Burke, BS, a 2021 undergraduate and current doctoral student in the joint Sociology and Community & Environmental Sociology Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“The research shows U.S. Catholic bishops’ diocesan communications largely ignored Catholic teachings on climate change,” says Danielsen. “This is surprising given the climate crisis we’re in and indicates that the top U.S. Catholic leaders have not capitalized on the spark of Laudato Si’.”

When bishops did address climate change, they often downplayed parts of Laudato Si’ that conflict with a conservative political identity/ideology. The encyclical repeatedly calls for public policies to address climate change, while U.S. political conservatives often oppose climate policies. Among the 93 bishops’ columns that do mention climate change, only 14 columns (15%) reference climate change politics.

“Our data suggest that as individuals, U.S. bishops failed their duty to teach the fullness of Catholic faith that includes Church teaching on climate change,” says DiLeo. “Our findings also raise questions about whether U.S. bishops will support Vatican advocacy at the 2021 U.N. Climate Change Conference in November. The U.S. Catholic Church has tremendous potential to shape climate policy, but this requires bishops’ commitment to justice as essential to the Church’s mission.”

The bishops also disproportionately prioritized social issues that correspond to conservative political identity/ideology. Laudato Si’ mentions climate change 24 times and mentions abortion once, but bishop columns addressed them with equal frequency when discussing the encyclical. Among the 211 columns that reference Laudato Si’, 59 mention climate change and 59 mention abortion or pro-life.

“Climate change is a deep concern for so many young people because it threatens every aspect of our future,” says Burke. “As a young Catholic, I want leaders who understand these hopes and anxieties and are willing to faithfully embrace Church climate change teaching.”

HinduPACT Condemns Pakistan’s Rejection of Forced Conversion Bill

Pakistan’s decision to reject a bill that would have banned forced conversions to Islam is the latest blow to the Islamic Republic’s religious minority population. This exasperates the need to ensure the country becomes secular and HinduPACT is calling on the international community to unify and ensure this comes to fruition.

The fragility of the democratic process, that is still non-existent in Pakistan, is on full display with this latest failure to protect the most vulnerable members of Pakistan’s society, especially Christians, Hindus and other minorities in Sindh and Punjab.

“Democracy in Pakistan is weak and even in that system there is no willingness to help the country’s religious minorities,” said HinduPACT Executive Director Utsav Chakrabarti. “True democracy cannot take place unless Pakistan becomes a secular State and it is incumbent on the international community to make sure Pakistan becomes a secular State.”

“The rejection of a bill that expressly prohibits forced conversions of religious minorities, and even more important, criminalizes the forced conversion of underage non-Muslim girls in Pakistan is truly tragic, but for the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interreligious Harmony to term a bill that aims to protect the basic rights of minority citizens as non-Islamic is clear evidence of how systemic the religious intolerance is in the Pakistani establishment,” said Rakhi Israni, who leads HinduPACT’s  CHINGARI, a project that deals with this issue.

The bill, which was signed by nearly 40 human rights groups and included signatures by known human rights activists like Irfan Mufti, Mohammad Tahseen, Peter Jacob, Rubina Jamil, and Syeda Ghulam Fatima, among others, was rejected by Pakistan’s Parliamentary Committee. It sought to make 18 years the minimum legal age for conversion.

For Pakistan’s Minister of Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri to suggest that there should be no age limit for conversion is egregious. And for him to reason that a potential law meant to protect minority rights would “create further problems” for them and would make them “more vulnerable” is counterintuitive.

True democracy is defined by a nation’s ability to protect its most vulnerable citizens. Until Pakistan becomes a secular state, the fate of its non-Muslim minority population continues to hang in the balances. For media inquiries, contact [email protected]

Governor Kathy Hochu Leads Diwali Celebrations In New York

Kathy Hochul, Governor of New York, joined by Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, kick started Diwali celebrations in the state of New York while joining the South Asian community at the World’s Fair Marina Restaurant in Corona, Queens on October 11, 2021.

Governor Hochul delivered remarks and presented a Proclamation to celebrate the Indian festival of Diwali, one of the most significant festivals is Diwali, or the Festival of Lights. It’s a five-day celebration that includes good food, fireworks, colored sand, and special candles and lamps.

In her remarks, Governor Hochul said: “Thank you for allowing me the chance to share in the tradition of lighting the candles, to participate here tonight, to meet so many of you who have been my friends a long time on this journey, and your support means the world to me and I’ll never take that for granted.”

The first female governor of the great state of New York thanbked the organiZers and leaders of the Indian American community: “I want to just thank Uma SenGupta for all you’ve done for us, and to your family, your mother, and the influence of your late father – you are the reason why we celebrate today, people like you who came to this country humbly, not sure of what the future would bring, but you always had that deep rooted faith in your traditions and to know that Diwali followed you to this country, that you had this light within your heart that you could bring to America and let shine and let all of us gather here in honor of the Goddess Lakshmi. Many of the traditions honor the male gods but this is one that’s dedicated to women so I think this is particularly special as well. Dr. Sumita Sengupta, I want to thank you as well. Randhir Jaiswal, the Consul General, is here as well. Dr. Hari Shukla, I want to thank him for making me feel so welcome, the founder of South Asians of New York.”

“New beginnings, new endeavors and an opportunity to renew ties with family and friends” is what Diwali brings to people around the world who celebrate the Festival. Like food, fashion, and faith, Indians carry with them their beloved festivals wherever their livelihood takes them. It’s no different in the US where people of Indian origin have been living since the 1820s.

Governor Kathy Hochulm, who is seeking to be elected as the Governor in the polls next years, is leading in a new poll of likely Democratic candidates for the state’s top seat ahead of next year’s primary and election season, and the vast majority of New Yorkers don’t want disgraced ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo to run again. Hochul got 44% support from New York State residents, with State Attorney General Letitia James coming in second at 28% and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams at 15%, with 13% unsure, according to the Marist Poll released Tuesday, Oct. 12.

Hochul added, “This occasion celebrates the eternal hope of human kind that guides all of our communities, and as Diwali inspires a spirit of festivity, New Yorkers extend appreciation to our Indian and South Asian communities for their contributions and commitment to upholding and sharing our wonderfully rich heritage story and time-honored traditions, and we extend the warmest wishes for joy and peace and prosperity in the future.”

Over the years, a growing Indian immigrant population has been celebrating Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, going all out to replicate the massive festivities from their motherland. The scale of celebrations has become such that popular US tourist spots like Disneyland in California and New York’s Times Square get painted in vibrant Indian colours. Even the White House has been celebrating the festival for many years. After all, the 3.1 million Indian-Americans form one of the most successful immigrant communities in the US.

Pope Francis Welcomes US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi At The Vatican Biden To Meet The Pontiff on October 29th

Pope Francis granted a private audience in the Vatican to U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) Saturday, October 9th during her recent visit to Italy.

It has been reported that President Biden will meet with Francis on October 29th. While serving as the U.S. Vice President, Biden had met with Pope Francis for the first time in September 2015, when the pope visited the United States to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

The following year, on April 29, 2016, Biden went to the Vatican for a summit on regenerative medicine, where he praised Pope Francis and advocated for a global push to cure cancer. Biden had opened his speech at the Vatican by recalling how, while visiting the United States the previous September, Pope Francis had comforted him after the loss of his eldest son Beau, who passed away the previous summer at the age of 46 from brain cancer.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Rome for a gathering of legislative leaders of G20 countries ahead of the U.N. Climate Change Summit in Scotland later this month. “It was a spiritual, personal and official honor to have an audience with His Holiness Pope Francis this morning,” the speaker said in a statement.

Francis’ private meeting with Pelosi, a Catholic and a defender of abortion rights, came as American Catholic bishops consider how to press the church’s teaching against abortion while the country’s second Catholic president, Joe Biden, heads an avowedly pro-choice Democratic administration

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But Francis has cautioned the American bishops — who have debated whether to deny Communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians — not to move too quickly and has repeatedly signaled he does not want the Eucharist to become a political weapon. Flying home from his papal visit to central Europe on Sept. 15, he noted that he has never denied the Eucharist to anyone and that bishops risk becoming embroiled in “political problems” when they don’t act “like shepherds.”

The issue, which dominated the bishops’ national meeting in June, was spurred in part by criticism of pro-choice Catholic leaders by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who has advocated denying Communion to pro-choice elected officials based in his archdiocese — which would include Pelosi. On Sept. 29, after a bill aimed at overcoming a Texas law severely restricting abortion passed the House, Cordileone asked Catholics to pray for a “conversion of heart” for Pelosi and other Democratic representatives.

The speaker, in her statement on the meeting, emphasized the pontiff’s support for measures to combat climate change. “His Holiness’s encyclical Laudato Si’ is a powerful challenge to the global community to act decisively on the climate crisis with special attention to the most vulnerable communities.”  She went on to praise “the immense moral clarity and urgency that His Holiness continues to bring to the climate crisis.”

Pelosi also met with the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, a department created by Francis five years ago to oversee the church’s efforts on issues such as migrants, prisoners, the unemployed and other marginalized people, as well as victims of armed conflict, natural disasters, slavery and torture. The meetings came as President Joe Biden announced his intention to nominate former lawmaker and anti-abortion Democrat Joseph Donnelly to serve as his Vatican ambassador.

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Thursday, October 7th with Pope Francis and Italian Premier Mario Draghi, who paid tribute to her “calm, determined” leadership even during difficult years for Europe and the common currency. Merkel herself has called this her farewell bilateral trip to Italy as chancellor, and her unusually long 45-minute papal audience and glowing tribute from Draghi indicated her Roman counterparts wanted to pay their respects, too. Merkel and her outgoing government will stay in office on a caretaker basis until a new administration is in place, a process that could take weeks or months.

Hindu Heritage Month Goes Into US Congressional Record

Illinois Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi has submitted a statement in the House of Representatives Sept. 30, 2021, on recognizing October as Hindu Heritage Month. The statement is now part of the U.S. Congressional Record, the official daily record of proceedings in Congress. (His statement can be found in the Congressional Record Vol. 167, No. 172 of Oct. 1.)

Rep. Krishnamoorthi, said he joins the many Hindu faithful in the United States in recognizing October as Hindu Heritage Month. Several Hindu organizations in the U.S., including Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA), have declared October as Hindu Heritage Month, and several states including New Jersey, Delaware, Ohio, Texas, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Minnesota, Virginia and Massachusetts have proclaimed October as Hindu Heritage Month, according to the website hindumonth.org, as have several cities like Dallas, TX, and  La Palma, CA.

The Congressman, who represents the 8th Congressional District in Illinois, said his constituency “is home to many followers of this uniquely pluralistic religion, and I wish to celebrate the Hindu community’s valuable contributions to my district and to our state and country.”

“I believe this acknowledgment is especially timely, given the disturbing rise of prejudice and racism in the country,” the Congressman said, “including Hinduphobia as manifested in hateful speech and violent acts perpetrated against Indian-Americans and Hindu houses of worship.”

Noting how Hinduism dates back millennia and may have ‘profoundly’ influenced both ancient and modern cultures, Krishnamoorthi said “It’s message of religious tolerance, non-violence, and the universality of the human experience was introduced to this country in 1893 by Swami Vivekanand in his landmark address at the World Parliament of Religions,” in Chicago.

Vivekananda’s spiritual influence on Mahatma Gandhi was profound, the Congressman said, and Gandhi “inspired the important work of one of our nation’s most revered leaders, Martin Luther King, Jr., to advance the cause of civil rights in the United States.”

Rep. Krishnamoorthi went on to say, “The Hindu faithful in our country include physicians, lawyers, scientists, economists, philosophers, artists, academics, business leaders, government officials – and Members of Congress,” who are inspired by Vivekananda’s call to service and respect for all religions and people.

“Madame Speaker, I know all Americans of goodwill share these beliefs, and today I would like to celebrate the work of the Hindu faithful in building bridges of understanding between all Americans, fo their important contributions to our economy and our cultural and civil life, and for the part they play in creating our wonderful and distinctively diverse American experience,” Krishnamoorthi said.

On Sept. 5, 2021, the ‘Hindu Heritage Month’ which has an eponymous organization (hindumonth.org) announced, “Today, Dharma-based organizations including those of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain traditions from around the world, are pleased to announce the addition of another major festival, indeed an entire month of festivals,in October as the Hindu Heritage Month.”

It goes on to say, “Hindus represent one of the newest and the fastest growing immigrant communities in the United States and Canada. Backed by a rock-solid family structure and love for education, they are fully integrated into every aspect of their adopted society, enriching it with not only outstanding professional contributions but also rich cultural heritage. From the elegant ethnic wear to delicious food to festivals like Holi and Diwali, their diverse and rich culture has impressed all in the Western world.” Various Indian organizations of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain traditions announced Oct. 3 that the month of October has been designated as “Hindu Heritage Month.”

Thee celebration of Hindu Heritage Month will be a showcase for the diversity that is so fundamental to Hindu civilization, said a press release, adding that each participating organization will decide the manner as well as the schedule of their events. Celebrations can take many forms: cultural programs, fashion shows, webinars, multi-day conferences, walkathons and more. Some events may be conducted in-person but the majority will be virtual, given the Covid-19 situation.

Mission Bindi and the Hindu Student Council are the first organizations to announce their first event for Hindu Heritage Month. They will be observing “World Bindi Day” on the first day of Navratri, Oct. 7, 2021. Dr. Jai Bansal, Indian American vice president of the World Hindu Council of America, and one of the organizers of the event, noted that with second and third generations now making their mark in their adopted lands, the time has come for the Hindu community to talk about its rich cultural heritage and important role in making the multitude of contributions to every aspect of the fabric of the adopted lands.

Young People Make Their Mark At Religions For Peace Conference

(RNS) — The 2021 Religions for Peace conference, which closed on Thursday (Oct. 7), will be remembered as the first hybrid meeting, with most observers looking in via internet as 130 participated in person. It was also the most youth-oriented gathering in the 51-year-old interfaith organization’s history. Nearly a quarter of those who came to this year’s conference, held in Lindau, Germany, were aged 35 or younger, and the numbers were representative of the larger role young people are playing in the Regions for Peace’s programs, from political campaigns to climate negotiations.

“We are recognizing the importance of the role of young people,” the group’s secretary-general, Azza Karam, said in an interview with Religion News Service earlier this week. “It’s essential that they have a voice.” Founded in 1970 as a forum for fostering dialogue between members of different faiths, Religions for Peace normally draws more than 1,000 delegates from around the world. This year, coronavirus restrictions restricted the gathering to just 130 in-person participants at the event. Organizers said that more than 1,700 tuned in via video link.

But the reduced numbers of people on hand put into relief the fact that Religions for Peace is evolving into one that also promotes dialogue between generations. Activists in their 20s and early 30s were part of almost every one of the dozens of panels, dialogues and roundtables held virtually and in-person at the four-day conference, contributing their views on topics such as human trafficking, environmental protection, social media, the coronavirus and humanitarianism.

A series of intergenerational dialogues were planned and run by Gen Z and Gen Y participants. “In these unique times, the conference provided the opportunity to work together to address this unprecedented pandemic, the issue of youth engagement and the role of religious leaders in diplomacy,” said Imam Mohamed Magid, Religions for Peace co-president and chair of the Islamic Society of North America.

The conference’s final declaration also recorded that this year’s gathering “involved young people in discussions on global peace processes and put them on an equal footing with experienced religious leaders and diplomats.” The final declaration, signed by the more than 60 religious leaders from various faiths that make up the World Council, also called for “global respect for human rights and global justice in the distribution of vaccines.” The religious leaders also called on the world’s political leaders to work with them to confront the world’s most pressing challenges.

Some youth activists at the conference cautioned that their significance will depend on whether religious leaders follow up on the concepts discussed in Lindau. “This conference opened a space where the voices of young people were heard by the right people,” said Christian Lupemba, chair of the Inter-faith Youth Network in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “Young people have shown that they are acting today to take over tomorrow. With love, respect and consideration, we say to our elders: ‘We are ready, give us some space at the table, we will be able to support you by working alongside you to contribute to the emergence of a new world civilization.’” Philbert Aganyo, a Kenya-based activist at the talks, told RNS youth activists helped put the problems Religions for Peace is addressing into perspective.

“The young people have the innovation and the energy to help find solutions and the time to see things through,” Aganyo said. “But the most important thing is that we are the ones who will eventually inhabit the world we are all talking about.”

Youtube Star Gurdeep Pandher Draws On Sikh Faith As He Dances For Joy

(RNS) — During a time of global despair brought on by pandemic, one grinning man charmed millions with his exuberant performance of a Punjabi folk dance set against majestic Yukon backdrops. Gurdeep Pandher, a Sikh-Punjabi Canadian, first went viral in 2016 when he shared a video of himself dancing Bhangra for Canada Day. “I just posted the video on my social media to show to my friends, but around 300,000 people watched it,” said Pandher. “That was the first time I experienced the shock and surprise of social media magic.”

Since then, Pandher, who lives in a remote cabin in the Yukon, has become an international YouTube sensation. He views the dance videos as a way to spread positivity and cross-cultural understanding — a calling he’s especially taken seriously since March 2020. A March 2, 2021, video of Pandher, with his signature animated grin, dancing on a frozen lake after getting his first dose of the COVID vaccine has more than 3 million views on Twitter. Collectively, his videos have been watched more than 50 million times. In September, he was featured on YouTube billboards across Canada that read, “Taught people to dance. Moved the whole country.”

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Pandher is also a published author, dance instructor and former IT specialist. He spoke with Religion News Service about his Sikh faith, love of Bhangra and desire to bring joy to all humanity. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell me about your childhood in Punjab. What are some of your most significant early memories?

I was born in a farming village called Siahar in Punjab. My family has been doing farming for many, many generations. I have memories of running in the village streets, and in barns of wheat, rice or sugar cane. It was a very sweet time, being away from the modern lifestyle with all those materials or technologies. These days, although I live in Canada, I’m still pursuing a lifestyle that was inspired by my childhood. Right now, I live in a cabin in the wilderness of the Yukon without running water. Although I have electricity and internet, I still do not have very many facilities which we normally have in a household.

What is Bhangra?

It’s a Punjabi traditional folk dance created by farmers a long time ago, when farming was manual. Some farmers came up with an idea that if they could do their farming tasks in a more rhythmic way, it could be joyful and positive, because their work was very tiring. For example, there’s a move for sowing seeds in the land. People started doing this with a dhol drum and started creating more moves, all inspired by different farming activities, like crops swaying with wind. Nowadays it has become a very popular dance. After harvesting crops, farmers dance Bhangra to celebrate. It’s also in music videos and movies, and a lot of people take Bhangra lessons to get a good workout

Is Bhangra connected to Sikhism?

People dance Bhangra at the Vaisakhi festival because it happens right after harvesting time. Vaisakhi does have a connection with the Sikh faith. In 1699, Sikhism was in danger. Our 10th guru, Guru Gobind Singh, decided to prevent mass religious conversions. He created Khalsa, a martial wing of Sikhism. People learned martial arts and were required to carry swords. On that day in April, Khalsa was created to defend the nation and protect people from forced religious conversions. That’s the religious significance of Vaisakhi. So Bhangra is more connected with Sikh culture and folklore, but isn’t directly related to Sikhism as a religion.

When did you first learn the Bhangra?

I’ve been dancing it since my childhood, but when I was a teenager I also went to a professional coach to advance my Bhangra skills. When I was living in Squamish, a little town close to Vancouver, I joined classes on tap dancing and ballet dancing. Although I didn’t become a great tap dancer or a great ballet dancer, I did end up performing these two dances on stage in front of an audience.

 How did you end up in the Yukon?

In the year 2011, I became a Canadian citizen. I decided to travel across Canada to learn about this country and to educate myself about its different cultures. When I came to the Yukon, I instantly fell in love with the land, the natural beauty of this side of country where you have vast open land and amazing wilderness. Only 40,000 people live in the Yukon. It’s like my village where I grew up, the sense of community here. It felt like home to me, so I decided to stay. Now, it’s been 10 years.

Why did you decide to share videos of yourself dancing Bhangra during COVID?

Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve been making videos just to spread positivity, joy, happiness and hope. And it’s working. A lot of people who have been going through different kinds of mental health crises, they wrote me that they watch my videos every day to feel good. I started feeling that the work I’ve been doing to make these videos, it’s not just entertainment. It’s more like a social service, helping people when they are going through challenging, dark and depressing times. I’m honored to bring joy to the hearts and souls of people through my videos.

What does your faith have to do with these videos? Does it inspire your work in any way?

In Sikhism, there’s a very important philosophy called the philosophy of Chardi Kala. Chardi Kala means keeping your spirits high, staying positive and optimistic even if you’re going through really challenging times. So when I dance Bhangra, I keep that spirit of Chardi Kala and transmit that spirit through my videos.

How has dancing the Bhangra allowed you to build cross-cultural relations?

I made a video with the mayor of Whitehouse, teaching him how to wear a Sikh turban and how to dance Bhangra. I’ve danced the Bhangra to the beat of my neighbor’s Scottish bagpipes, and I also made a video with the First Nation chief from Old Crow, called Vuntut Gwitchin — First Nation (is) a very northern community in the Yukon. It doesn’t matter where we come from. I think it’s very important to remind people again and again about the importance of treating everybody as a fellow human.

 What’s something you would like our readers to know about Sikhism, that they may not know already?

I find that people do not know much about Sikhism. When 9/11 happened in the U.S., a lot of people practicing Sikhism were targeted because they were wearing turbans. I would like people just to educate themselves about this faith. Sikhism is about love, harmony, peace and helping people. Sikhism is all about recognizing the human race as one. There’s an emphasis on equality in Sikhism — gender equality, social equality, economic equality, treating everybody the same. I would like people to learn more about this side of the faith.

Thomas Jefferson’s Quran To Be Displayed At Dubai Expo

A copy of the Quran once owned by former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson will be displayed in the Unites States’ pavilion at the Dubai Expo 2020, the world’s fair currently underway in the United Arab Emirates after being delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. The historic English-language Quran, translated with a preface by George Sale, has never traveled outside the United States since it arrived in what was then colonial America. The two-volume set was printed in London in 1764.

According to the Library of Congress, Jefferson’s Quran will be the “first object on display after guests emerge from a sound and light experience that showcases the U.S. founding principles, particularly its innovations. Jefferson and the Quran are the first example of those goals.” The pavilion will also feature a SpaceX rocket and rock taken from the Moon during a NASA mission.

Holy Quran … which has been in the possession of one of the founding Fathers of the United States, is being displayed to the world as a symbol of America’s respect for religious plurality,” said Anila Ali, the founder of the American Muslim & Multifaith Empowerment Council, who will be traveling to Dubai as part of an interfaith delegation.

The Dubai Expo 2020 is the latest world’s fair of “the works of industry of all nations” that began in London in 1851 and has taken place at varying intervals ever since. More than 192 countries have pavilions at this year’s event, which began on October 1 under strict COVID-19 protocols. More than 25 million visitors from around the world are set to visit the event.

Though the event will run until next March, Jefferson’s Quran will only be on display for the first three months of the Expo. According to the Library of Congress, the stay is “unusual,” as its holdings are normally only loaned to museums or other cultural institutions. The Library of Congress speculates that Jefferson, due to his large holdings of enslaved Africans and their descendants, “may well have had firsthand experience with members of the faith.”

Yet, Jefferson, as the United States’ first secretary of state as well as its third president, was also interested in the Muslim world for geopolitical reasons. The Kingdom of the Morocco was the first country to recognize American independence in 1777. During the First Barbary War in 1805, Jefferson entertained a Tunisian envoy at the White House during Ramadan. The dinner was held at sunset to accommodate the religious needs of Jefferson’s Muslim guest. When Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison became the first Muslim to be elected to Congress in 2006, he chose to be sworn into office using Jefferson’s copy of the Quran.

The theme of the USA Pavilion at the Dubai 2020 Expo will be “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of the Future,” a take on Jefferson’s phrase from the Declaration of Independence championing “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” itself Jefferson’s improvement on philosopher John Locke’s “life, liberty and property.”

Pope Francis Retains High Marks Among US Catholics

A new survey finds that Pope Francis retains high levels of support among U.S. Catholics across the board, and most church members either aren’t aware of or have no opinion about recent controversial changes the pope has made to rules about the Latin Mass. But researchers pointed to persistent partisan divides in how the U.S. faithful view the pontiff, another signal Catholicism is not immune to domestic polarization trends.

According to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center last month (Sept. 20-26), the vast majority of Catholics (83%) hold a favorable view of Francis, compared with just 14% who view him unfavorably. Those views are virtually unchanged since March, when 82% viewed the pope favorably. In fact, Francis’ current favorability rating among Catholics is almost identical to when Pew first polled on the subject in March 2013 (84%), although, researchers were careful to note, Pew shifted to an online surveying method in 2020 — a departure from their accustomed telephone calls.

Americans overall rate Francis somewhat lower, though still favorably: 60% view him favorably, down slightly from 64% earlier this year. Around a quarter of the country — 28% — views him unfavorably, and 11% did not respond to the question. No recent change in share of U.S. Catholics who view Pope Francis favorably. Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

There are partisan differences, however. While 71% of Catholic Republicans view Francis favorably, Catholic Democrats are 20 percentage points more likely to say the same. Catholic Republicans are also far more likely to say the pope is “too liberal” (49%) than are Democrats (16%). In addition, GOP Catholics are more likely to cast Francis as “naive” (34%) than Catholic Democrats (16%).

There are also slight differences regarding how Catholics view the health of the pontiff, who recently underwent surgery. Most Democrats (57%) say the pope is “in good physical health,” whereas fewer than half of Republicans (45%) say the same.

And when asked about Francis’ recent decision to reverse a move by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, and reimpose restrictions on Mass conducted in Latin, Republican Catholics were more likely to say they disagreed with the shift (20%) than Democrats in the faith (6%). Two-thirds of U.S. Catholics have heard ‘nothing at all’ about pope’s new restrictions on traditional Latin Mass. Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

But among Catholics overall, a sizable majority (65%) said they had not even heard about the restrictions, and an additional 14% said they had no opinion on the matter. Catholics who attend Mass at least weekly were the only subgroup where a majority had heard about the issue: 29% said they disapproved, 11% said they approved, and 17% had no opinion. The poll had a margin of error of 1.9 percentage points overall, and 4.3 percentage points for Catholic respondents.

Book Illustrates The Turbulent Connection Between Religion And Terrorism

A recently divorced doctor looking for seclusion relocates to an isolated house on a riverbank. The following summer, dead bodies start turning up in the river, on the roads, in trains and on city crossings. Everybody calls it the ‘Punjab Problem’, as if it was a stubborn crossword puzzle. The doctor is kidnapped and nearly killed, once by terrorists for helping the police and once by the police for helping the terrorists.

A young Dalit girl, with the dream of becoming a dancer in her eyes, and her soul mate Bheem leave their caste-ridden existence behind and relocate to Bombay. They have learnt the hard way that the preaching of oneness by their religion does not work in the real world. Drawing its title, “Two and a half Rivers” (Niyogi Books), from the historicity of the Partition which has left in its wake only half the rivers to India from the land of the five rivers, Anirudh Kala’s novel offers a poignant commentary on the turbulent connection between religion and terrorism.

Reflecting on the telling of this story, Kala said: “Since I was writing about Punjab militancy, the worst large-scale violence perpetrated on the people of Punjab since the Partition of India, I felt a sense of responsibility. I, along with friends, neighbours and many others, including my patients, lived through that dark decade and a half. The other main narrative of the novel is that of caste – one more unpleasant fact about Punjab that people outside know little of. What I attempted to write was truth in essence, but fiction in details.”

Anirudh Kala is a Ludhiana-based psychiatrist whose experience shows in how he sketches out his characters and their personality traits. This is his second book as a fiction writer, the first being “The Unsafe Asylum: Stories of Partition and Madness” (2018).

His focus is always to educate people about mental health and mental illness, focussing on eradicating stigma, labels, and prejudice. Besides his professional passions, Kala also likes reading Urdu poetry, hiking, and listening to Indian semi-classical music.

Pope Francis Condemns Greed And The Ruthless Pursuit Of Profit

Pope Francis condemned greed and the ruthless pursuit of profit in a message sent to a Vatican conference on poverty Sunday (Oct. 3), offering his spiritual take on economic issues to a group of economists and faith leaders that included prominent U.S. activist the Rev. William Barber II.

“We can be very attached to money, possess many things, but in the end we will not take them with us,” the pope wrote, according to a Spanish-language version of his written message. “I always remember what my grandmother taught me: ‘The shroud has no pockets.’”

Francis sent the remarks to those assembled at the Vatican for the two-day conference on “Caritas, Social Friendship, and the End of Poverty,” organized by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

In his message, the pope railed against global economic inequality between countries and within national borders, saying the ultimate effect “has a negative economic, political, cultural and even spiritual impact.” In order to counter such trends, he invoked the biblical declaration “blessed are the poor in spirit,” explaining the true “spirit of poverty” should lead believers to use wealth and resources for “the common good, social justice and the care and protection of our common home.”

“The possessors of goods must use them in a spirit of poverty, reserving the best part for the guest, the sick, the poor, the old, the helpless, the excluded; who are the face, so often forgotten, of Jesus, who we look for when we seek the common good,” Francis wrote. “The development of a society is measured by the ability to urgently help the sufferer.”

The Bishop of Rome concluded by calling for a global movement to “limit all those activities and institutions that, by their own inclination, tend only to profit, especially those Saint John Paul II called ‘structures of sin.’”

Francis’ message was well-received by Barber, a prominent activist who co-chairs the faith-led Poor People’s Campaign and has challenged Republican and Democratic lawmakers to do more to address poverty in the U.S.

The Rev. William Barber II, standing, addresses the poverty conference titled “Caritas, Social Friendship, and the End of Poverty,” organized by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, at the Vatican, Monday, Oct. 4, 2021. Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino

Barber referenced the pope — particularly his 2020 encyclical “Fratelli tutti” — in his own address to the conference on Monday. Barber’s speech, which was titled “Coalition-building and bridging religious communities for poverty mitigation,” also alluded to the pontiff’s namesake St. Francis, whose Catholic feast day coincided with Barber’s speech.

“As Francis once walked this land proclaiming good news to the poor, the poor and rejected of my country march and sit-in today to declare the good news that a moral economy is possible in our time,” Barber said, according to his prepared remarks.

Poor People’s Campaign activists have spent years protesting in support of legislation they argue would help poor and low-wealth families but intensified their efforts in 2021. The group staged a series of demonstrations in Texas, Arizona, Washington, D.C. and other locations throughout the summer. They aimed to put pressure on Democratic lawmakers to pass a slate of liberal-leaning proposals pertaining to voting rights and raising the federal minimum wage, among other issues. One peaceful protest outside the U.S. Capitol resulted in hundreds of arrests, including Barber and civil rights icon the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

In a separate interview with Religion News Service, Barber said Vatican conference attendees were aware of pushback from the Poor People’s Campaign and others against Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, the two Democratic lawmakers currently blocking many liberal economic proposals.

He said: “People are looking at the actions of Sinema and Manchin and thinking, ‘What in the world?’” In his speech, Barber also appeared to echo Francis’ call for a global movement to end poverty.

“The church must have a prophetic moral outcry and must help foster another way of seeing the world,” said the Disciples of Christ minister. “A movement with poor and low-wealth people, moral religious servant leaders, and academic social advocates must push a penetrating moral imagination.”

Barber said his plans for a mass poverty-focused march in Washington, D.C. next June sparked a burst of excitement among conference attendees, whom he cited as repeatedly referring to the current state of global poverty as sinful. After mentioning the march in his speech, Barber said participants from other parts of the world expressed interest in organizing similar events in their countries.

The conference attendees also plan to release a letter addressed to the G20 summit scheduled to take place in Rome at the end of October.

“What’s good about being at a world table is while I may have been from the United States, what we find is that around the world poor people face some of the same obstacles, the same challenges, the same kind of regressive political actions,” he told RNS. “Which is why there’s such a need for low wealth people around the world to have solidarity, to have a movement and, if you will, a worldwide Poor People’s Campaign.”

Barber was invited to the Vatican by economist and conference co-host Jeffrey Sachs, whom the activist described as a “great supporter” of the Poor People’s Campaign. Sachs has heaped praise on the movement in recent months, describing as “the Lord’s work” a poverty-focused U.S. House of Representatives resolution the campaign helped introduce with lawmakers in May.

The North Carolina pastor tweeted a picture of himself alongside Sachs on Sunday under the caption: “As the church celebrates the Feast of St. Francis, I’m grateful to be at the Vatican with my brother Jeffrey Sachs to talk about the prophetic role of religious leaders in God’s work to end poverty.”

Sachs, who serves as director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, has been a recurring speaker at Vatican events under Francis, especially at the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, where he has led discussions on climate change and sustainability. While long popular in many liberal circles, his vocal concerns about overpopulation — combined with his warnings of the “absolutely dangerous” repercussions of a Trump re-election — have made him a controversial figure among conservative Catholics.

Sachs, a onetime U.N. climate adviser, was also present when Sen. Bernie Sanders met with the pope while running for president in 2016.

In addition to Barber’s efforts to convince members of Congress to embrace an anti-poverty agenda (particularly Manchin, himself a Catholic), last week the faith-led activist and other Poor People’s Campaign officials publicly requested a meeting on the subject with another prominent Catholic Democrat: President Joe Biden.

It remains to be seen whether Biden, who has endorsed the Poor People’s Campaign in the past, will take the meeting with Barber, who preached at the president’s inaugural prayer service. But even if Biden passes, he may not be able to avoid discussion of faith and poverty this month: he is rumored to be planning a meeting at the end of October with Pope Francis.

Deepti Navaratna To Perform At Parliament Of World’s Religions

Deepti Navaratna, a former Boston resident and now the current Regional Director of Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, has been invited to perform at the prestigious Parliament of the World’s Religions scheduled to be held on Oct 18.

She is a trained Carnatic singer from Bengaluru who is set to become the first female artist from India bestowed with the honour of performing at an event at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. She will be staging aspects of her concert “The Dialogues with the Divine” — a specially curated musical experience that amalgamates sacred music from various faiths.

Navaratna, trained as a neuro-scientist, came up with the concept of this concert to explore the similarity of the cognitive effect of sacred music on a varied audience. She wanted to explore the idea of introducing unfamiliar religious identities to an uninformed audience while basing it on common denominators of prayers and mindfulness.

“The Dialogues with the Divine” project was created for the greater goal of cultural diplomacy. It will combine sacred music from seven major religions across the world with sacred text to create this experience,” she says.

“It will include the following — The Yin Factor: Shakti — Shekinah (Hinduism- Judaism), Praying for Transcendence: Piyut and Prarthana — (Judaism-Hinduism), Unforming Godliness: Shabad and Kriti (Sikhism-Hinduism), Unboxing the Heart: Heart Sutra and Chant (Buddhism and Christianity), Inner Guru: Antaratama and Assisi – (Christianity and Hinduism), Zikr and Zen — (Sufi Islam and Shinto faith),” Navaratna added.

All sacred music from around the world has the power to rewire the human brain towards universal love chemically and structurally. Instead of shying away from sacred texts and music, they are being used to encourage and negotiate better inter-cultural understanding among inter-religious identities. It showcases the commons of our relations with a higher power, she says.

Owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, the conference will be conducted virtually this year. Navaratna and her artists will be telecasting their performance from Bengaluru.

Navaratna has travelled to multiple places for her concert and the experience has been unparalleled for the audience. The scheduled programme is an amalgamation of cultures — five Hindu children will sing a Yiddish song in a Jewish temple accompanied by the south Indian drum and north Indian Sarod.

An African American gospel singer wrapped in a sari teaches ‘Amazing Grace’ to more than 20 Hindu men and women. A Jewish cantor and a Hindu singer are accompanied by a violinist from Libya and a drummer from Palestine as they sing in Sanskrit which is part of the concert. (IANS)

‘Some Wanted Me Dead:’ Pope Acknowledges Right-Wing Critics

Pope Francis has acknowledged his increasingly vocal conservative critics, saying their “nasty comments” were the work of the devil and adding that “some wanted me dead” after his recent intestinal surgery.

Francis made the comments during a Sept. 12 private meeting with Slovakian Jesuits soon after he arrived in the Slovak capital of Bratislava during his just-finished visit. A transcript of the encounter was published by the Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica, which often provides after-the-fact accounts of Francis’ closed-door meetings with his fellow Jesuits when he’s on the road.

When a Jesuit in Slovakia asked Pope Francis “How are you?,”the pope stunned them with his answer: “Still alive, even though some people wanted me to die. There were even meetings between prelates who thought the pope’s condition was more serious than the official version. They were preparing for the conclave,” Pope Francis said.

Francis showed his dark sense of humor throughout the encounter, particularly when a priest asked him how he was feeling. The Sept. 12-15 Hungary-Slovakia trip was Francis’ first international outing since undergoing surgery in July to remove a 33-centimeter (13-inch) chunk of his large intestine.

“Still alive,” Francis quipped. “Even though some wanted me dead. I know there were even meetings among priests who thought the pope was in worse shape than what was being said. They were preparing the conclave.”

“Patience! Thank God I’m well,” he added.

The comment was a reflection of the intense interest in the pope’s health, and the speculation about what would happen if he were to fail, that always accompanies a pontiff but is perhaps more acute with a pope who has attracted vocal opposition from part of the church. After his 10-day hospital stay, Italian media began speculating that Francis might resign and pointed out the need for norms to regulate a second retired pope. Francis has previously said resigning “didn’t even cross my mind.”

Francis was also asked about how he deals with divisions and with people who view him with suspicion. It was a reference to Catholic conservatives who have long criticized Francis’ critiques of capitalism and his focus on the environment and migrants.

Their criticism turned to outrage after Francis in July cracked down on the celebration of the old Latin Mass. Francis reversed Emeritus Benedict XVI and re-imposed restrictions on celebrating the old rite, saying the move was necessary because the Latin Mass had become a source of division in the church and been exploited on ideological grounds.

In his response, Francis referred to the Latin Mass outcry and noted that there was a “big Catholic television station that continually speaks poorly about the pope.” He didn’t name it but it could have been a reference to the EWTN media conglomerate, which has been critical of the papacy and in particular Francis’ new restrictions on the old Latin Mass.

“I personally might merit attacks and insults because I’m a sinner, but the church doesn’t deserve this; it’s the work of the devil,” he said. “Yes there are priests even who make nasty comments about me. Sometimes I lose my patience, especially when they make judgments without entering into a real dialogue. You can’t do anything with that.” But Francis said his reaction is to just preach. “I just go forward without entering into their world of ideas and fantasies,” he said.

Pope Francis remarked, “There is, for example, a large Catholic television channel that has no hesitation in continually speaking ill of the pope.” He said: “I personally deserve attacks and insults because I am a sinner, but the church does not deserve them. They are the work of the devil. I have also said this to some of them.”

While Francis did not name the “large Catholic television channel” in his answer, his remark “I have also said this to some of them” offers a clue as to which station he was referring to. America, a news magazine has learned from three different Vatican officials, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak, that the pope touched on this same topic on his flight from Rome to Baghdad on March 5, when he greeted each of the journalists on the flight.

Pope Francis told the Slovak Jesuits, it is not only a Catholic television channel that speaks badly about him. “There are also clerics who make nasty comments about me,” he said. “I sometimes lose patience, especially when they make judgments without entering into a real dialogue. I can’t do anything there. However, I go on without entering their world of ideas and fantasies. I don’t want to enter it, and that’s why I prefer to preach.”

Francis added, “Some people accuse me of not talking about holiness. They say I always talk about social issues and that I’m a Communist. Yet I wrote an entire apostolic exhortation on holiness, ‘Gaudete et Exsultate.’”

Another Jesuit who had lived in both Slovakia and Switzerland told the pope that he had experienced “pastoral creativity” while the church was repressed under Communist rule in Slovakia, but that more recently he had seen “that many people want to go back or seek certainties in the past…. What vision of church can we follow?”

Pope Francis responded: “Life scares us…. Freedom scares us. In a world that is so conditioned by addictions and virtual experiences, it frightens us to be free.” He cited a passage from “The Grand Inquisitor” scene from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, in which the inquisitor approaches Christ and “reproaches Jesus for having given us freedom: a bit of bread would have been enough and nothing more.”

When Love Is Called As A Conspiracy The ‘Love Jihad’ Bogey Targeting Interfaith Couples In India

When Ali (name changed) proposed to his best friend, little did he know that her parents would take six years to agree to their alliance because he was born into a Muslim family, and they were Hindus. “Everything they had heard all their life pointed to Muslims being violent, conservative, forceful etc. The idea of me being Muslim and marrying their Hindu daughter was too much to fathom despite them thinking of me highly,” he said in an interview with IPS.

This story is one of the few where the end was ‘happy’, and the family did not bow to societal pressure. However, if one looks at recent propaganda and the increase of Islamophobia in India, one concept which has added fuel to this fire is the fictitious propaganda of ‘Love Jihad’. Love Jihad is a term propagated by religious fundamentalist groups, alleging a conspiracy by Muslim men to convert non-Muslim girls in the guise of love.

The propagation of this concept is perhaps one reason why Ali had to struggle to convince his wife’s parents that his religion had nothing to do with his love for their daughter. While it may be easy to counter such a narrative, socially, with more awareness, what has made this term popular and the hate associated with it resulting, in some cases, in violence is the support it has garnered from right-wing political parties and their success at turning such marriages into a criminal offence.

“Social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, host hundreds of pages and handles which post unverified incidents as ‘real news’ of Hindu women being deceived by Muslim men into marrying them and ending up either dead or as captives forced to convert and live in the homes of their supposedly violent Muslim husbands,” says Ashwini KP, an academic and rights activist based in Bangalore.

Challenging the provisions of one such draconian state law passed in the state of Gujarat as Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021, Advocate Isa Hakim, one of the petitioners’ lawyers, argued: “Amendments (in the Act), read with the discourse around Love Jihad, it is clear that the impugned Act is enacted with nothing but a communal objective and is thereby opposed to the constitutional morality, basic features and fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19, 21, 25, and 26 of the Constitution.”

The Gujarat High Court, through an order on August 19, 2021, put a stay on the operation of several sections of the Act, including a provision that termed interfaith marriages as a means for forceful conversion. The order, the court stated, was being passed “to protect the parties solemnising inter-faith marriage from being unnecessarily harassed”. The state government soon after decided to challenge this order in the Supreme Court of India.

Addressing a rally last year in Uttar Pradesh, the chief minister Yogi Adityanath openly proclaimed: “Govt will work to curb ‘Love-Jihad’, we’ll make a law. I warn all those who conceal their identities and play with the respect of our sisters if you do not mend your ways, your ‘Ram naam satya’ journey (a phase associated with people being taken to be cremated) will begin”. Therefore, it is not surprising that in a state whose chief minister makes such open threats, right-wing groups have used love Jihad to stoke communal tensions and rioting. A total of five states in India, where the BJP is in power, have laws based on the conspiracy theory of Love Jihad, without actually using the phrase.

“It is also to undermine the agency of 21st-century Hindu women. We are a society that is afraid of its own daughters, and to keep a check on them prohibiting them from making their own choices, they (current regime) have brought out very Islamophobic and communal legislation under the garb of a safety and security issue for ‘their’ women,” says Sheeba Aslam Fehmi, research scholar and journalist in an exclusive interview with IPS.

Fehmi, also the president of Dhanak, works to protect the couples’ right to choose marriage or relationship partners. The organisation supports couples in inter-faith and inter-caste marriages. She told IPS they also try to assist interfaith couples with safe houses to ensure they do not become targets of right-wing attacks. Popular Indian jewellery brand Tanishq withdrew this advert with a depiction of an inter-faith marriage. It said while the campaign was to celebrate diversity it had prompted reactions “contrary to its objective”.

It is perturbing that couples who want to marry under the ‘Special Marriage Act’ (an Act passed by the Indian Parliament allowing interfaith marriages without conversion) have a section, which is now being challenged, where a 30-day notice is publicly displayed, inviting objections, before the marriage is registered.

Shital (name changed), shared with IPS how she received threatening calls from some right-wing groups once she and her Muslim partner decided to register under the Act.

“My Aadhar card (national ID) details were made public on a Facebook group. My parents, who approved of our alliance, received calls where they were threatened with ‘dire consequences’ if they did not stop our marriage,” Shital said. She called the marriage off because of these security concerns.

Asif Iqbal, the co-founder of Dhanak, said in an exclusive interview to IPS that they started the organisation because there was no support system for interfaith couples trying to marry using the Special Marriage Act. The objective was to organise people against religious fanaticism.

“I was made to sit for six hours in a police station in Delhi. The investigating officer was trying to enquire about a possible conspiracy as I was the last person an interfaith couple spoke to before they eloped. The boy was Muslim, and the girl Hindu,” said Iqbal.

The fear of vigilante groups, in the online and in actual physical spaces, is so prevalent that even brands advertising using the idea of inter-faith marriages, particularly where the boy is Muslim, are targeted as promoters of Love Jihad. A recent example was a popular jewellery brand depicting a Hindu woman and a Muslim man getting married. The advert was trolled on social media, that the company removed the advertisement from all forums.

For couples looking to challenge the draconian laws, the only recourse is the courts. However, the worrying feature is that Love Jihad targets Muslims and criminalises its men in a society with frequent incidences of Islamophobia.

Shree Jalaram Mandir Raas Garba Ramzat Turns Chicagoland Devotional

Chicagoland couldn’t have asked for a better post-pandemic celebration after almost two years of pause to any public gathering than the beautiful religious and musical extravaganza organized by Shri Jalaram Mandir with Kirtidan Gadhvi and group. The grand program of “Ras-Garba Ramzat” was organized by Shri Jalaram Mandir, 425 Illinois Blvd, Hoffman Estate, IL on Friday September 17, 2021 from 6:00 pm to 1:00 am at Renaissance Convention Center, 1551, Thoreau, Schaumburg, IL with the internationally acclaimed vocalist Kirtidan Gadhvi” and his fellow artists who entertained thousands of devotees at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel at Schaumburg, IL.  The event was attended by over 2500 people.

 “The best karma is not the one that has a good result, the best karma is the one that has the best purpose.” Shri Jalaram Mandir follows the similar path of public service, with all its revenue from such programs going to the contribution of the temple. The selfless and free service of Shri Jalaram Mandir, its managing committee and all the volunteers was as excellent as ever with beautiful sound system lighting, security, photography, videography and booths for different businesses.  There was free entry for children below 10 years of age, free parking, tea and snacks at reasonable prices, provision of water, cold drinks and free covid testing. The contribution of donors from different fields as sponsors was commendable. All the devotees who came were also very supportive and co-operative.

Jalaram Mandir has been organizing events in mind boggling fashion depicting unique examples of teamwork and credit goes not only to Board Members but to every individual that participates with zeal be it an executive or volunteer. The entire venue was overcrowded and the spectacular audience danced and enjoyed Raas Garba with enthusiasm and fervor. This annual holy event is celebrated in honor of Goddess Durga Mataji. “Navali Nortani Raat Maa Amba Garbe Ghumta (Nisarya) Pavagadhthi. Ne Chicagona Khailaiya Raas Garba Khub Ghumta Sang Kirtidan Gadhvi”

Garba and Raas, performed by Kirtidan Gadhvi and Group, transformed the whole center into a huge dance floor to accommodate thousands of bare feet moving into thunderous drum beats in swirling circles around deity Hindu Goddess “Durga”. There was overwhelming participation from the audience enjoying the memorable evening. Many in the audience, especially ladies and children wore very colorful and dazzling traditional dresses for this special juncture with appropriately matching ornaments and extravagant hairstyles. Navaratri Garba is very special as it honors Shakti in very rhythmic ways. Western dress is replaced by Lengha-choli, matching jewelry and foot wear. “Some prefer to wear traditional outfit while others go for modern look”

Kirtidan Gadhvi and Group started the program by offering a prayer to invoke divine grace. This was followed by mesmerizing rhythmic conventional Garba music with equally passionate and energetic performance by the audience of traditional swirling dance around Mataji’s heavenly symbolic presence turned into a shrine adorn with flowers and decorations. After the brief break and Aarti, the festive music of Dandiya-Raas commenced with an enthusiastic participation by the audience that lasted into the early hours of the morning.

Immaculate planning and a well-organized team effort by Board of Trustees, executive committee members and volunteers was very well evident in the excellent security, safety and parking arrangement. Kirtidan Gadhvi and all his fellow artists made the event a very successful with heartfelt, devotional performance. All the artists from India came to Chicago Shri Jalaram Mandir. All the artists, promoters and attendees heartily applauded all the excellent arrangements. This multidimensional celebration of such a festive day of Navaratri would not have been possible without many sponsors, donors, and advertisers. With divine blessing from Jalarambapa and Mataji combined with devotional hard work and enthusiastic support and participation by the community made the event a grand success.

FIACONA Is Grateful to Biden, Harris For Emphasizing Need For Democratic Values In India

The Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations (FIACONA) has expressed gratitude to Vice President Harris for telling Prime Minister Modi, “I know from personal experience and from my family, of the commitment of the Indian people to democracy and to freedom, and to the work that may be done and can be done, to imagine and then actually achieve our vision for democratic principles and institutions”. “While we greatly applaud the Vice President’s powerful testimony and her heartfelt remarks, we also feel that Mr. Modi may not have understood the gravity of what she was trying to convey to him,” a statement issued by FIACONA said. “It is not the first time that Mr. Modi and his team have completely missed the point of suggestions coming from American leaders, including the then Vice-President Biden and President Obama on past occasions,” FIACONA pointed out.

FIACONA has urged the President Biden and Vice President Harris “to be more direct and explicit in expressing that India should not and could not afford to go down the path of religious nationalism at the expense of pluralist democratic principles that values Christian and other religious segments of the population. Should Modi and his party choose to continue down this path of religious nationalism despite warnings from leaders of the free world, there is no reason to assume that India would end up any better than Pakistan, Sri Lanka, or Myanmar in that region, thus jeopardizing the stability and commerce in the Indo-Pacific region.”

In a statement issued here, FIACONA pointed out that, India is going through unprecedented challenges under Prime Minister Modi’s watch. “We are concerned that some of those challenges have the potential to cause civil unrest in many parts of the Union where it has seriously undermined the democratic values and institutions in the name of religious majoritarianism.” Reports indicate that Modi’s hardline Hindu nationalist policies have seriously threatened the fundamentals of a multi-faith, multi-linguistic, and multi-racial equilibrium among different sections/regions of the Union. These aggressive domestic policies of the government of the Union of India headed by Modi are already stifling growth and threaten stability in many parts of India. Only those who are aligned with the hardcore Hindu nationalism, both in India and abroad refuse to acknowledge this fact, FIACONA stated.

“A continued push for aggressive domestic policies by the Hindu nationalists would have far-reaching implications not only within the Union of India but also across the region. It has the potential to adversely impact the US business interests in the region as well,” FIACONA cautioned. “The United States cannot afford to make similar strategic mistakes over and over. Ignoring the tell-tale signs of an increasingly radicalized society, or the deterioration of liberal democratic values in a country like India just to achieve short-term strategic goals will only turn out to be an expensive mistake for the US in the long run,” FIACONA warned.

Urging the US policymakers “to take serious cognizance of the style of functioning and perceived goals of the governments in member countries instead of just accepting their talking points however rationale it may sound,” FIACONA stated,  “The safety and security of over 100 million Christians and their continued existence in the Union of India without daily harassment from Hindu nationalist vigilante groups (supported and encouraged by Mr. Modi’s party officials) are inextricably tied to the respect for democratic values by successive governments there.”

FIACONA urged “the Biden Administration is direct and honest with their Indian counterparts in saying that the Union of India must stop sliding down its current path. Measures need to be taken to ensure that. The Hindu nationalist leaders must be told publicly in unambiguous terms that there will be consequences for continuing to encourage and lead India down the path of religious radicalism and vigilantism. They need to be told that all kinds of rationale and false narratives offered to the International community by the Modi government must stop.”

Hindu Groups To Observe October As Hindu Heritage Month

Some Hindu dharma-based organizations from around the world, announced the addition of another major festival, an entire month of festivals, in October as the Hindu Heritage Month. Hindus represent one of the newest and the fastest growing immigrant communities in the United States and Canada. Backed by a rock-solid family structure and love for education, they are fully integrated into every aspect of their adopted society, enriching it with not only outstanding professional contributions but also rich cultural heritage, organizers said in a statement. From the elegant ethnic wear to delicious food to festivals like Holi and Diwali, their diverse and rich culture has impressed all in the Western world.

Based on the “open source” model, the celebration of Hindu Heritage Month will be a showcase for the diversity that is so fundamental to Hindu civilization. Each participating organization will decide the manner as well as the schedule of their event(s). On a given day, there may be several events taking place in different parts of the United States and Canada. Celebrations may take many forms – cultural programs, fashion shows, webinars, multi-day conferences, walkathons and more, the choices being limited only by our imagination. Some events may be conducted in- person but the majority will be virtual, given the Covid-19 situation.

Participation is open to all organizations, businesses and individuals that identify with the Sanatan (everlasting) values embodied in Hindu dharma. More than 30 organizations have already joined hands in this exciting celebration of our shared heritage; many more are expected to join in the near future. Sanjay Kaul, Vice President – World Hindu Council of America, one of the organizers of this event said, “Hindu heritage and culture is thousands of years old, it is our duty to share it with the world and pass it on to our next generations for them so that they take pride in their roots.

Dr. Jai Bansal, Vice President – World Hindu Council of America, and one of the organizers of this event, underscores the fact that the Hindu community is, by nature, rather unassuming. However, with second and third generations now making their mark in their adopted lands, the time has come for the Hindu community to come out of their shell and talk about its rich cultural heritage and important role in making the multitude of contributions to every aspect of the fabric of the adopted lands.

Welcoming the decision of the organizers to hold this month-long event, President of the Hindu Student Council (HSC) Arnav Kejriwal said, “HSC is extremely excited about the Hindu Heritage Month. The American experience is all about sharing and learning each of our unique cultures, traditions and histories. We will get to see so many communities graciously tell their unique stories in the course of a dedicated history and awareness month, and I am ecstatic about the prospect of seeing the Hindu American community offering our own stories in return.”

Putting the celebration in perspective, General Secretary of the World Hindu Council of America (VHPA) Amitabh VW Mittal said, “The Vedic Sanatan Dharma — which is, with a limited capacity of understanding, referred to as Hinduism — represents the only continuous civilization that has survived the test of time for tens of thousands of years. There is no single book that one can consult to get what the Hindu philosophy is, as it is constantly evolving and its contribution to the human civilization is unmeasurable; its vibrance in fact runs the risk of being misinterpreted. The Hindu Heritage Month will give an opportunity to the world to understand how open and free this philosophy is, which is quite often limited misrepresented by the tag ‘religion’.”

Seeing this as the community’s chance to communicate to the world in general and the United States and Canada in particular, President of Hindu University of America Kalyan Viswanathan said, “The Hindu Heritage Month is a great opportunity for the Hindu community to remember our collective journey so far — from the ancient Vedic times, our own golden eras, through the trials and tribulations of conquests and colonization — and look optimistically forward at the opportunity we have for recovering and rearticulating the Hindu worldview for future generations. Amidst the celebrations, I hope we can reflect on what it means to be Hindu in the modern world: whether it is just a matter of being of a certain ethnicity or we have something to say, something to contribute that may just be of immeasurable value to all of humanity.”

General Secretary of Coalition of Hindus of North America (COHNA) Shobha Swami made a point about the diversity of the culture that is going to be celebrated the whole of October. “Multi- generational Hindus from different parts of the world who call the US their home add to the color of the ethnic tapestry here. They would like to showcase their vibrance in arts, dance, music, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, Ayurveda and food in all its richness for this month-long celebration in October,” she said.

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

Hindutva Is Not Hindu Religion

Dismantling Global Hindutva, a series of virtual conferences, seeks to analyze and educate the public as to how Hindutva is destroying India, undermining India’s secular and democratic traditions and threatening to stifle academic freedom in India.

Dismantling Global Hindutva, a series of virtual conferences, supported by over 50 leading academic institutions and groups in the US, which began on Sept. 10, seeks to analyze and educate the public as to how Hindutva has destroyed a nation that is known for its tolerance and diversity. The organizers of the conference claim that a far-right Hindu ideology is undermining India’s secular and democratic traditions and threatening to stifle academic freedom in India, the U.S. and around the globe. The series of events include nine panels, with topics such as “Caste and Hindutva” and “Islamophobia, White Supremacy and Hindutva.”

The organizers claim, Hindutva Is Not Hinduism. In a statement signed by nearly 1,000 leading professionals and academicians stated: “As scholars and members of academic communities around the world, we strongly condemn the campaign of harassment and intimidation against the Dismantling Global Hindutva conference, and stand in solidarity with the 49+ universities and 60+ departments and centers sponsoring the event.” They opposed the “besieging of cosponsoring institutions by political extremists who have disingenuously sought to smear the conference as “Hinduphobic” or “anti-Hindu.” We firmly reject these misleading attempts to conflate Hindutva and Hinduism.”

Organizers say more than 50 groups representing journalists, activists and universities from the U.S. and Canada, including Harvard, Princeton and the University of California are part of the conference, who want everyone to understand that the Hindu faith is distinct from Hindutva ideology.

However, to the opponents of the conference, it is an exercise in Hinduphobia. Hindu supremacists have made a concerted effort over several decades to equate their manufactured term “Hindutva” with Hinduism. From the early twentieth century onwards, they have worked hard to shield themselves from legitimate critique for their extremism by claiming to speak for a persecuted Hindu community, despite Hindus being a sizable majority in India. Most recently, they have been leveraging the language of being a religious minority in the United States to evade criticism of their supremacist ideologies.

The distinction between “Hindutva” and Hinduism has been stark: Hindutva is a political philosophy styled after European fascism of the early twentieth century, an ideology that privileges a cult of personality and authoritarian leadership. By contrast, Hinduism is a term used to describe a wide range of religious practices and beliefs that are heterodox, and like the practices and beliefs of any major religion with hundreds of millions of followers, continuously under contestation, and often contradictory. Hinduism has rightly been critiqued for the deep inequities in Indian society, most importantly for the caste system. Many Hindu reformers have also offered these critiques.

Hundreds of leading thought leaders claim: “The purpose of the Dismantling Global Hindutva conference is to bring together leading scholars in South Asian studies and public commentators on Indian society and politics from around the world in order to discuss the global phenomenon of Hindutva. The conference is guided by an ethical commitment to protecting the rights of minorities, dissidents, and ordinary people whose very existence is under attack by Hindutva’s proponents. This agenda epitomizes the vital social and intellectual work that universities are designed to foster, and it must be protected by the principles of academic freedom. The campaign of intimidation carried out by Hindutva affiliates cannot be allowed to take root in the academy in the US, Europe, or around the world. Free speech must be protected. The attacks on academics, students, professors, and all conference participants must stop.”

In the Indian subcontinent, Hindusim has also been shaped by syncretic faiths such as Sufism, which is a form of mysticism that broke away from orthodox Islam, and by poets and visionaries who adopted it into local idioms. The Bhakti movement which spread from South India to the North and East is one example—its most famous poet, Kabir, was venerated by Muslims and Hindus alike.  Hindus, Muslims, and Christians have a history of praying at Sufi shrines, as well as in temples, mosques, and gurudwaras and other shrines. There is also much borrowing from Hinduism into other religions practiced in India. These are the rich histories of Hinduism that Hindutva seeks to obliterate and disavow.

Hindutva refuses these critiques, as well as such syncretic faiths, and instead doubles down on using supremacist tools in the service of a toxic and genocidal unifying theory of a “Hindu Rashtra” or Hindu nation. In other words, instead of recognizing the plurality and the changes and debates within Hinduism, Hindutva demands an unquestioned allegiance to a myth-oriented, hate-mongering dogma that reifies and sanctions its violent modes of operation.

To equate Hinduism and Hindutva is to fall into the narrow, bigoted, and reductionist fiction that instrumentalizes Hinduism by erasing the diverse ppractices of the religion, the debates within the fold, as well as its conversations with other faiths. If the poet A. K. Ramanujan reminds us about the importance of acknowledging “three hundred Ramayanas,” then Hindutva seeks to obliterate that complexity into a monolithic fascism.

According to Suhag Shukla, executive director of the Hindu American Foundation, which has condemned the conference, the term Hindutva still means different things to Hindus, from the spiritual to the political. “Yet, by some activists, the term is being misused as a pejorative against the Indian and Hindu ways of life and is focused on political ideology,” said Shukla.  HAF and other Hindu American advocacy groups worry that the conference blurs the lines between legitimate criticism of India’s policies and anti-Hindu hate. Shukla compares the critiques of Hindutva to criticisms of Israel that veer into antisemitism.

“Hindutva” was first used in the 1890s by Bengali writer Chandranath Basu, who championed a strongly scripture-based, conservative Hinduism. A 1923 pamphlet, “Hindutva: Who Is a Hindu?” by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, framed Hinduism as a political and cultural identity as well as a religious one. Since the mid-20th century, the chief proponent of this vision of Hindutva has been the Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, known as RSS or the Sangh, which has been banned repeatedly for hard-line militant activities throughout its history.

“Hindutva is not the same as Hinduism at all; Hindutva is an authoritarian and majoritarian ideology that insists that Hindus and Hinduism define India,” said Rohit Chopra, an associate professor of communication at Santa Clara University in California and one of the organizers of the conference. “In this view Muslims, Christians and members of other faiths are outsiders.” In the seven years since Modi, a former member of RSS, has been prime minister, there has been a resurgence of Hindu nationalism, and minority groups have come under pressure, drawing criticism that he has a Hindutva agenda.

In recent years, debates over Hindutva have erupted among Hindu American communities, as Hindus in the United States and in India have defended or attacked Modi’s politics. In 2018, American academia became a battleground after Audrey Truschke, a historian of South Asia at Rutgers University, made what many Hindus call offensive comments about the depiction of deities from Hindu scripture. Truschke and other academics have received death threats in the ensuing social media tussle. In April, Rutgers hosted an Understanding Hinduphobia conference, attended by the university’s president that led the university’s student association to adopt a working definition of Hinduphobia.

In recent months, a group of academics who call themselves the South Asia Scholar Activist Collective and who include Truschke issued a “Hindutva Harassment Field Manual” aimed at helping academics fend off attacks on their scholarship. In response, other Hindu groups claimed the authors were attempting to silence academic freedom on campuses. Now, organizers of the Dismantling Global Hindutva conference say they have been victims of a smear campaign.  “The internet is being used to silence critics of the Hindutva ideology who are involved in this conference,” said Chopra. “This has ranged from organized petitions to letter campaigns and petitions that claim falsely that this conference will lead to genocide. Some of those involved in the conference have received death and other vile threats.”

In a statement posted on the website, the organizers stated: “We are aware of an ongoing campaign against this conference by the Hindu Right which includes the use of troll armies to mimic a grassroots response. As members of the South Asian diaspora, we would like to contest their claims of “Hinduphobia”, and offer an important clarification: We understand “Hinduism” to refer to the religion, while “Hindutva” refers to a violent political ideology that promotes an exclusionary vision of India as a Hindu homeland where non-Hindu minorities and caste-oppressed communities can only be second-class citizens. We consider the Hindu Right’s attempt to conflate Hindutva with Hinduism to be in bad faith, designed to manipulate religious sensitivities in order to shield themselves from criticism. As South Asians, we would like to underline that a critique of Hindutva does not constitute an attack on Hinduism, nor is it Hinduphobia.”

‘Hollywood to the Himalayas: A Journey of Healing and Transformation,’ Book Released

“Through the powerful, totally unexpected experience of Oneness with the divine that I had on the banks of the Ganga river, I realized that I am part of the sacred perfection of the universe, that I am One with all,” says Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati.

During a solemn ceremony on Sept. 9, 2021 at the Indian Consulate in New York, an enlightening memoir of a reluctant spiritual seeker who finds much more than she bargained for when she travels to India, was released. In her address during the release of the much acclaimed bookk, “Hollywood to the Himalayas: A Journey of Healing and Transformation’ by Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati shared with the audience her experiences and perceptions and how the power of faith had transformed her life: “Having grown up in Hollywood with all the opportunity and all the privilege, what I didn’t have was faith or a connection to God.  Through the powerful, totally unexpected experience of Oneness with the divine that I had on the banks of the Ganga river, I realized that I am part of the sacred perfection of the universe, that I am One with all,” she told the audience.

The event was attended, among others, by the Secretary-General, Religions for Peace Prof. Azza Karam; secretary-general, Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, Parmarth Niketan; Special Adviser to the Secretary-General of the UN and head of the United Nations Office of Genocide Prevention, Alice Nderitu; President of Parmarth Niketan and founder and chair of Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, Swami Chidanand Saraswati; India’s Minister of State for External Affairs & Culture, Meenakshi Lekhi; Consul General of India to New York Randhir Jaiswal; President/Founder of the International Academy for Multicultural Cooperation, President of the Light of Awareness International Spiritual Family Audrey Kitagawa, JD; Padma Shri Dr. Sudhir Parikh, chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media and ITV Gold; and Jonathan Granoff, president, Global Security Institute.

Described as “a special confluence of faith, culture and leadership, where leaders from the United Nations, from Government and from Interfaith came together to celebrate the power of faith to heal and transform ourselves, our communities and our world,” the event was organized jointly by Religions for Peace, Indian Consulate and American Indian Public Affairs Committee with Global Interfaith WASH Alliance and Divine Shakti Foundation, Parmarth Niketan.

The book describes the journey of American-born Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati and the unexpected way her life was transformed when, twenty-five years ago, she traveled to India with a backpack, “and had an experience of the Divine on the sacred river Ganga. Faith, and a connection to God, became that which freed her from personal suffering and that which has led to her meaningful international work as a faith leader in the development sector, planting and nourishing seeds for peace, focusing on world health, water, sanitation and hygiene, and the rights and empowerment of women and girls.”

After the ceremonial lighting of the lamp and recitation of auspicious prayers, Sadhvi Bhagawatiji presented each of the dignitaries on the dais a copy of Hollywood to the Himalayas. Minister of State for External Affairs and Culture Meenakshi Lekhi praised the Indian-American community for its devotion to the well-being of India. “Let me say at the outset how proud I am of all of you. We, in India, are extremely grateful to our diaspora which carries on all the traditional functions and are the ‘Ambassadors of India’ while the formal Ambassadors have formal jobs to do. But the ‘informal ambassadors’ carry the job far, far, far better and reach out to people,” Lekhi said. “The values that India stands for are exhibited by people who are away from their homes, but carry their hearts on their sleeves and always believe in and stand up for Mother India,,” she added.

Swami Chidanand Saraswati, in his speech, said he had seen how faith can harm people but also heal them.  “Faith can (also) divide or unite. The choice is ours – how we use it!” He highlighted how the power of faith had been used for practical purposes. “We used the power of faith to make people know that open defecation is total devastation. We used the power of faith to help people understand they need to build toilets, not only temples. We used the power of faith to keep our rivers and river banks clean,” Swami Saraswatiji added, calling it fitting that the East and the West have come together at the meeting to celebrate Sadhviji’s new book. “For 25 years she has been a bridge of the East and the West, of science and spirituality and now of the United Nations and United Creations!”

Alice Nderitu praised Sadhvi Bhagawati saying she “represents those religious leaders and actors who are taking a strong stand on the protection and promotion of human rights and on the prevention of atrocity crimes at international and local levels. Sadhvi Bhagawati embodies the quintessence of the local peacebuilders.   As United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, I will continue to partner with Sadhvi Bhagawati and other women religious actors to advance the prevention of atrocity crimes globally.” Nderitu said, offering the full support of her office.

As a Stanford grad, in the midst of getting a PhD in psychology, Sadhvi Saraswati was comfortable with her life. Despite years of grappling with an eating disorder and trauma from her early childhood, she felt as if she was successfully navigating her way through early adulthood. When she agreed to travel to India to appease her husband—and because she loved the food—Sadhvi would have never imagined that she would be embarking on a journey of healing and awakening.

Hollywood to the Himalayas describes Sadhvi’s odyssey towards divine enlightenment and inspiration through her extraordinary connection with her guru and renewed confidence in the pleasure and joy that life can bring. Now one of the preeminent female spiritual teachers in the world, Sadhvi recounts her journey with wit, honesty, and clarity and, along the way, offers teachings to help us all step onto our own path of awakening and discover the truth of who we really are—embodiments of the Divine.

In her response, Sadhvi Bhagawati said that her experience and awareness transformed her life. She said, “Now, I’ve been so blessed to be able to share the power of faith with so many others and to use it for so much good, ranging from women’s empowerment and equality to environmental protection to water preservation.”

Christian Leaders Unite To Issue Stark Warning Over Climate Crisis

Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, call on the world population – “whatever their beliefs or worldview” – to “listen to the cry of the Earth and of people who are poor.”

Global Christian leaders have joined forces to warn that the world is facing a critical moment as the climate crisis threatens the future of the planet. In an unprecedented joint declaration, Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic church, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the Orthodox church, and the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who is the leader of the global Anglican communion, call on the world population – “whatever their beliefs or worldview” – to “listen to the cry of the Earth and of people who are poor”.

Their statement says: “Today, we are paying the price [of the climate emergency] … Tomorrow could be worse.” It concludes: “This is a critical moment. Our children’s future and the future of our common home depend on it.” The faith leaders have asked people to pray for world leaders ahead of Cop26, the global environment summit in Glasgow this autumn, and for individuals to make “meaningful sacrifices for the sake of the planet, working together and taking responsibility for how we use our resources”.

People with “far-reaching responsibilities” should lead the transition to just and sustainable economies. They said: “We stand before a harsh justice: biodiversity loss, environmental degradation and climate change are the inevitable consequences of our actions, since we have greedily consumed more of the Earth’s resources than the planet can endure. But we also face a profound injustice: the people bearing the most catastrophic consequences of these abuses are the poorest on the planet and have been the least responsible for causing them.”

The world is “already witnessing the consequences of our refusal to protect and preserve [the planet]. Now, in this moment, we have an opportunity to repent, to turn around in resolve, to head in the opposite direction. We must pursue generosity and fairness in the ways that we live, work and use money, instead of selfish gain.”

For the sake of today’s children, “we must choose to eat, travel, spend, invest and live differently, thinking not only of immediate interest and gains but also of future benefits. We repent of our generation’s sin.” They said this was the first time the three faith leaders “feel compelled to address together the urgency of environmental sustainability”. The pope, who is planning to make a brief appearance at the Cop26 summit in November, has highlighted the problem of climate breakdown and environmental sustainability since becoming pope in 2013. In 2015, he issued a powerful encyclical, Laudato Si’, which emphasized overconsumption, corporate greed and individual responsibility.

Ravindra Joshi Creates 3D Printed Scale Model Of Chicago Downtown

The Ganesh festival this year was like no other. A complete mind boggling 1:1600 3D printed scale model of Chicago downtown created over 9 months,  a work of art with amazing attention to detail and superb execution, done by our Ravindra Joshi was unveiled. If the breath-taking design wasn’t enough, the seamlessly integrated light fixtures weaved throughout the buildings produce a stunning visual in the night.

First, Mr. Joshi looked through Google Earth block by block. Then, he downloaded each block and with various software’s, reconstructed each block for it to be printed. On average, each block required 20+ hours of work. This model featured the Willis Tower, the tallest building in Chicago downtown, requiring 27+ hours of 3D printing. In addition, the model included other Chicago land favorites like the John Hancock building, Solder Field, and the Chicago River. This relentless work day and night through these past 9 months left all Chicagoans speechless. We all can’t wait to see the project he creates next!

HAF On A Campaign To Dismantle Negative Image Of Hinduism

An Indian American advocacy group is keen on spreading awareness on the raising ‘Hinduphobia’, that has been scaring the community across the world. One of the main perpetrators of this new fear is the popularity of Narendra Modi-led BJP party, which has been force-feeding the idea of Hinduism. In order to clear this negative image of the Hindus, Hindu American Foundation (HAF) is heading a campaign targeting universities across the US inviting them for a virtual conference titled Dismantling Global Hindutva (DGH), scheduled for September 10–12.

The petition to university and college authorities raises concerns over Hinduphobia. “The DGH organizers trade on the prestige of your institution’s name to host, not an academic conference, but a partisan event related to politics in India. The event platforms activists with extensive histories of amplifying Hinduphobic discourse even while denying the existence of Hinduphobia,” the petition states.A prominent Indian American state senator from Ohio, Niraj Antani, has thanked HAF for leading the charge against this bigotry, in a statement. He has himself strongly condemned hosting the ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva’ conference.

HAF’s executive director, Suhag Shukla told reports that while the organization was not asking that the event be canceled or that scholar-activists from the institutions not be allowed to participate; but institutionally, there was a duty to encourage a diversity of viewpoints alongside academic freedom and free speech. “We need to be sure that Hindu students, staff, and faculty at each of these institutions are supported through all of this. The recent example of Rashmi Samant, a student from India in the UK, being stripped of her position as the student union president at Oxford University is an overt example of the harm this kind of political activism promulgated by scholar-activists can result in,” Shukla said.

The initial effort by HAF to send emails to university presidents delivered slightly more than 928,000 emails in the span of 48 hours. The response was so robust that HAF was forced to move to collect signatures for a petition to be delivered to the same group of university administrators. “We support the rights of academics in their individual capacity to engage in political activism concerning India. But leave universities, and by extension university departments, centers, and institutes out because, aside from potentially violating tax-exempt status, it stifles open enquiry,” said Shukla. “Students and faculty must have the freedom to explore questions, posit ideas, and express opinions without being viewpoint policed or fear of being labeled a “supremacist” or “extremist” by the loudest amongst them and then paying a professional price.” Four universities responded to HAF’s campaign and confirmed their name and logo was used in an unauthorized manner and that event organizer were requested to remove the logos. These include Boston College, Dalhousie University, Princeton University, and the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

According to HAF: “What was alarming about this event, was the way in which they try to mask the latent Hinduphobia of the stated purpose of the event, the speakers, and the topics. The Hindutva harassment manual actively denies Hinduphobia when there is incontrovertible evidence of anti-Hindu hatred.” The organization has launched a multi-pronged effort on this issue, both national and local in America, which includes an unprecedented response through letter-writing campaigns, petitions and individual stakeholder outreach to students, faculty, alumni and donors of the universities. “We urge universities to take this entire episode seriously and understand that their faculty irresponsibly and falsely labeling tens of thousands of people exercising their own right to free speech and assembly as “fascists” and “supremacists” is endangering an ethno-religious minority in the US,” Shukla said.

Today, Dharma-based organizations including those of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain traditions from around the world, are pleased to announce the addition of another major festival, indeed an entire month of festivals, in October as the Hindu Heritage Month. Hindus represent one of the newest and the fastest growing immigrant communities in the United States and Canada. Backed by a rock-solid family structure and love for education, they are fully integrated into every aspect of their adopted society, enriching it with not only outstanding professional contributions but also rich cultural heritage. From the elegant ethnic wear to delicious food to festivals like Holi and Diwali, their diverse and rich culture has impressed all in the Western world.

Based on the “open source” model, the celebration of Hindu Heritage Month will be a showcase for the diversity that is so fundamental to Hindu civilization. Each participating organization will decide the manner as well as the schedule of their event(s). On a given day, there may be several events taking place in different parts of the United States and Canada. Celebrations may take many forms – cultural programs, fashion shows, webinars, multi-day conferences, walkathons and more, the choices being limited only by our imagination. Some events may be conducted in-person but the majority will be virtual, given the Covid-19 situation. Participation is open to all organizations, businesses and individuals that identify with the Sanatan (everlasting) values embodied in Hindu dharma. More than 30 organizations have already joined hands in this exciting celebration of our shared heritage; many more are expected to join in the near future.

Dr. Jai Bansal, Vice President – World Hindu Council of America, and one of the organizers of this event, underscores the fact that the Hindu community is, by nature, rather unassuming. However, with second and third generations now making their mark in their adopted lands, the time has come for the Hindu community to come out of their shell and talk about its rich cultural heritage and important role in making the multitude of contributions to every aspect of the fabric of the adopted lands. Welcoming the decision of the organizers to hold this month-long event, President of the Hindu Student Council (HSC) Arnav Kejriwal said, “HSC is extremely excited about the Hindu Heritage Month. The American experience is all about sharing and learning each of our unique cultures, traditions and histories. We will get to see so many communities graciously tell their unique stories in the course of a dedicated history and awareness month, and I am ecstatic about the prospect of seeing the Hindu American community offering our own stories in return.”

Putting the celebration in perspective, General Secretary of the World Hindu Council of America (VHPA) Amitabh VW Mittal said, “The Vedic Sanatan Dharma — which is, with a limited capacity of understanding, referred to as Hinduism — represents the only continuous civilization that has survived the test of time for tens of thousands of years. There is no single book that one can consult to get what the Hindu philosophy is, as it is constantly evolving and its contribution to the human civilization is unmeasurable; its vibrance in fact runs the risk of being misinterpreted. The Hindu Heritage Month will give an opportunity to the world to understand how open and free this philosophy is, which is quite often limited misrepresented by the tag ‘religion’.”

Seeing this as the community’s chance to communicate to the world in general and the United States and Canada in particular, President of Hindu University of America Kalyan Viswanathan said, “The Hindu Heritage Month is a great opportunity for the Hindu community to remember our collective  journey so far — from the ancient Vedic times, our own golden eras, through the trials and tribulations of conquests and colonization — and look optimistically forward at the opportunity we have for recovering and rearticulating the Hindu worldview for future generations. Amidst the celebrations, I hope we can reflect on what it means to be Hindu in the modern world: whether it is just a matter of being of a certain ethnicity or we have something to say, something to contribute that may just be of immeasurable value to all of humanity.”

General Secretary of Coalition of Hindus of North America (COHNA) Shobha Swami made a point about the diversity of the culture that is going to be celebrated the whole of October. “Multi- generational Hindus from different parts of the world who call the US their home add to the color of the ethnic tapestry here. They would like to showcase their vibrance in arts, dance, music, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, Ayurveda and food in all its richness for this month-long celebration in October,” she said. Any organization that wishes to participate in the HHM celebration is requested to register as a partner on our website: www.hindumonth.org.

Dismantling Global Hindutva Conference Planned at Over 50 Universities Creates Controversy

An international conference entitled “Dismantling Global Hindutva: Multidisciplinary Perspective,” which is co-sponsored by over 70 centers and departments at more than 50 universities, forced Hindus groups to urge it supporters to sign a letter to request sponsoring universities to disavow the “Anti-Hindu Conference” scheduled for Sept. 10-12, 2021. “The organizers of the Dismantling Global Hindutva conference are proud to announce that, despite a massive campaign of disinformation, support for this timely conference on Hindutva ideology has only grown,” organizers of the Dismantling Global Hindutva Conference said on their website. “When the attack began, the conference was backed by 45+ departments and centers from 41 universities. Now, we have the support of 70+ cosponsoring entities from 53 universities. More cosponsors are expected to join.” For a list of all cosponsors see: www.dismantlinghindutva.com.

Meanwhile, Hindu Mandir Executives’ Conference, known as HMEC, is continuing with its campaign to stop the conference. “Hindutva is Hindu + Tattva, or essence of Hindu dharma.  It is a manifestation of Hindu dharma in our daily lives inspiring us to reach out in compassion to all creatures beyond our individual selves.  There is, however, a concerted effort to malign this term and under its guise to attack Hindus,” HMEC said. “For example, the previous attempt in this series was, “Holi Against Hindutva” on campuses two years ago.  The same group is already contemplating, “Diwali Against Hindutva”.  This attack on Hindutva is along the lines of various attempts to divide American Hindus based on “caste”. Conference organizers are hosting panels on a number of topics, including Caste, Gender and Sexuality, Political Economy and Propaganda, among others. “Trolls belonging to extremist groups have openly threatened violence against speakers and their families. We unilaterally condemn all such efforts to intimidate and harass individuals,” conference organizers have said.

“Given that so much misinformation has been spread, we want to reiterate: No speaker is being paid to take part in the conference. Speakers have been invited on the strength of their scholarly research or their work as public intellectuals.” “All speakers are experts on South Asia. Within that framework, the conference program covers a range of topics and questions, as can be seen on our website. This conference is an entirely academic endeavor, organized by professors who study India and are based at the various North American and European universities listed on our website.” Cosponsoring faculty include: Gyanendra Pandey (Emory), Partha Chatterjee (Columbia), Sudipta Kaviraj (Columbia), Ashley Cohen (USC), Anustup Basu (UIUC), Zahid R. Chaudhary (Princeton), Ben Conisbee Baer (Princeton), Anjali Arondekar (UC Santa Cruz), Poulomi Saha (UC Berkeley), Suchitra Vijayan (Polis Project), Gyan Prakash (Princeton), Chandrima Chakraborty (McMaster), Ajay Parasram (Dalhousie).

“The conference aims to examine the beliefs and actions that constitute Hindutva, a political ideology that originated in the early twentieth century. Hindutva seeks to reduce the myriad practices of Hinduism to a singular notion of Hindu power in a putatively Hindu motherland. The conference will highlight the transnational and global implications of Hindutva, including its growing reach in the Indian diaspora. Panels (listed on our website) will explore a variety of interlinked topics that address the phenomenon of Hindutva,” conference organizers said.  “Scholars, journalists, and activists will examine the historical development of Hindutva, the fascist dimensions of the ideology, its alignment with other supremacist movements, and its stakes across a range of political, socio-cultural, and economic issues. The conference will also examine histories of dissent against Hindutva. Dalit and Feminist traditions have long resisted the singular narrative of Hinduism adopted by Hindutva ideologues. A broader coalition of activists from progressive communities have mobilized to enable both material and ideological divestment from Hindutva. Drawing inspiration from such collectivities, we expect to discuss resources for anti-Hindutva pedagogy.”

Conference organizers said that nearly 1,000 academics and intellectuals have declared their support for the conference, including Partha Chatterjee, Thomas Blom Hansen, Veena Das, Arjun Appadurai, Sheldon Pollock, Judith Butler, Angela Davis, Cornel West, and Arundhati Roy.

“The conference has also received letters of support from over 40 community organizations in the global Indian diaspora, as well as letters of support from scholars of genocide, mass violence, and human rights. All letters of support are available on the conference website. Not a single serious scholar has opposed the conference, or indeed supported the canard that Hinduism is under attack.” Hindu group HMEC said that it is shocking that the “Dismantling Global Hindutva” event is supposedly sponsored by forty-five Universities and/or various departments or institutes within these universities. “The Universities are supposed to be space spaces for Hindu youth.  However, there is no question that this conference will make it much less safe for them,” HMEC said, urging it supporters and followers to sign a  collective letter on behalf of temple or as a temple leader.  The letter is available at: https://hmec.info/hmecletter

Pope Francis Rules Out Early Resignation

“Whenever a pope is ill, there is always a breeze or a hurricane of conclave,” the 84-year-old Francis quipped during the interview with Carlos Herrera of the Spanish radio COPE that aired Wednesday (Sept. 1). Later in the interview, the pope acknowledged that “the danger is always there” for his words to be interpreted mistakenly. “I don’t know where they got it from last week that I was going to resign!” Francis said, adding that the thought “didn’t even cross my mind.” Still, the pope voiced gratitude for the health professionals who treated him during his surgery and recovery. “Thank God it was taken in time, and here I am,” Francis said, noting that it was a Vatican nurse who first diagnosed the ailment that required surgery. “It is the second time in my life that a nurse has saved my life,” he said, recalling that a nurse in Argentina administered antibiotics for him when he was sick with the flu in 1957.

In an hour-long, wide-ranging interview, Pope Francis addressed the consequences of the U.S. retreat from Afghanistan, relations with China and his ongoing efforts to reform the Catholic Church, while dismissing rumors that he would be the second pope in eight years to resign. The rumors began circling in Italian and Latin American media outlets after a planned surgery on July 6 to remove part of his left colon and the following hospital stay of a total of 11 days. The pope will be traveling to Hungary and Slovakia Sept. 12-15 and is scheduled to visit Glasgow, Scotland, for the COP26 summit on the environment. Francis said he hopes the meeting of world leaders “will now raise its sights a bit and bring us more in line” with environmental goals, after the tepid reception of the Paris Agreement signed in 2016.

The pope also addressed the “difficult situation” in Afghanistan, which has spiraled into chaos after the retreat of U.S. troops in mid-August. Since then, the Catholic Church has been active in providing charitable aid and humanitarian corridors to help Afghans seeking a safe haven elsewhere. “Not all eventualities were taken into account here … or it seems, I don’t want to judge,” Francis said, suggesting that there may have been “a lot of deception perhaps on the part of the new authorities” in the war-torn country. The pope repeated his call for Catholic faithful to commit to “prayer, penance and fasting, which is what is asked for in moments of crisis.”

The pope quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin, though he mistakenly attributed his words to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, stating that “it is necessary to put an end to the irresponsible policy of intervening from outside and building democracy in other countries, ignoring the traditions of the peoples.” The misquoted words were “concise and conclusive,” the pope said, and rang with “wisdom.” A large part of the interview was dedicated to Francis’ financial and administrative reforms at the Vatican. His efforts, and those of his predecessors, will be enshrined in a long awaited apostolic constitution, “Praedicate Evangelium” (Preach the Gospel).“It’s nearly finished, but it got delayed with this thing about my illness,” the pope said, adding that people mustn’t hold their breath in the hopes of something new.

Asked whether the devil is responsible for the corruption being investigated at the Vatican, Francis said that “the devil runs around everywhere, but I’m most afraid of the polite devils.” On July 27, the Vatican began a trial against 10 individuals accused of fraud, money laundering and embezzlement, among other crimes. Among them is Cardinal Angelo Becciu, once the third-highest-ranking prelate at the Vatican.   “I hope with all my heart that he is innocent,” Francis said of Becciu, whom he stripped of his cardinal rights but not his title in September of last year. The pope said that he has regard for Becciu personally and views him as a collaborator, but that ultimately “justice will decide.” “I am not afraid of transparency or the truth. Sometimes it hurts, and a lot, but the truth is what sets us free,” the pope said about his decision to proceed in the trial. “Let’s hope that these steps we are taking in Vatican justice will help to make these events happen less and less,” he added.

He addressed the tensions surrounding his latest decree, “Traditionis Custodes,” which greatly restricted the celebration of the pre-Vatican II Mass in Latin. Explaining the process of discernment that preceded the document, the pope said that bishops found that the traditional Mass was being transformed “from a pastoral thing to ideology.” According to the pontiff, the old Latin rite was no longer serving communities in transition from an old way of doing things to the modern liturgy that emerged from the Second Vatican Council, but to indoctrinate young priests. “We had to react with clear norms,” Francis said, “clear norms that put a limit to those who had not lived that experience.”

The pope also briefly addressed the diplomatic relationship between the Vatican and China, which recently renewed a provisional agreement that also tackles the controversial issue of bishop appointments. “China is not easy, but I am convinced that we should not give up dialogue,” the pope said, while admitting that “you can be deceived in dialogue, you can make mistakes, all that … but it is the way.” Francis said that “slowly” progress has been made in the tense relationship with Beijing, “but these are also steps that can be questionable and the results on one side or the other.”

Mother Teresa’s Birth Anniversary Celebrated

Millions of people around the globe celebrated the birth anniversary of Mother Teresa. Sister Mary Prema, Superior General of Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by Saint Teresa, lit candles as members of the Congregation prayed by her tomb in Kolkata, India, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. Thursday marked the birth anniversary of Nobel laureate Mother Teresa, a Catholic nun who spent 45-years serving the poor, the sick, the orphaned, and the dying. Founder of Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa was born on August 26, 1910. She left her home when she was mere 18 and devoted most part of life working for poor and downtrodden. The missionary founded by her looks after people who are dying of HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis. In 1950, she started her own order, “The Missionaries of Charity” after receiving nod from the Holy See. The primary task of the society was to care for those persons nobody wanted to look after. Fifteen years later, the society became an International Religious Family.

Mother Teresa also known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta, but her original name was Anjeze Gonxhe Bojaxhiu. The word “Anjeze” means “a little flower” in Albanian. In 1928, when Mother Teresa was just 18 years old, she left her family to devote her life into social service. She had joined the Sisters of Loreto at Loreto Abbey in Rathfarnhan, Ireland to learn English with the view of becoming a missionary. She never saw her mother or sister after leaving home. Mother Teresa arrived in India in 1929, when she was mere 19. She spent most of her life in India. Mother Teresa was baptized in Skopje a day after her birth. She later started to consider the day of her baptised, August 27, as her “true birthday”.

After arriving in India, Mother Teresa began her novitiate (the period of training and preparation that a Christian novice or member of a religious order undergoes prior to taking vows in order to discern whether he or she is called to vowed religious life) in Darjeeling. Mother Teresa learned Bengali and taught at St. Teresa’s School near her convent. She took her religious vows on May 24, 1931 and chose to be named after Therese de Lisieux, the patron saint of missionaries. Though a nun in the convent had already chosen the name, Agnes opted for its Spanish spelling – Teresa. Mother Teresa was disturbed by the poverty surrounding her in Calcutta. On September 10, 1946, Mother Teresa experienced what she later described as “the call within the call” when she travelled by train to the Loreto Convent in Darjeeling from Calcutta for her annual retreat.

Mother Teresa began missionary work with the poor in 1948. She replaced her traditional Loreto habit with a simple white cotton sari that had a blue border. Mother Teresa adopted Indian citizenship. She also spent several months in Patna to attain basic medical training at Holy Family Hospital and ventured to slums. In 1950, Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity, a religious congregation. While teaching poor children in Calcutta, Mother Teresa did not have any supplies or equipment to impart knowledge, yet she managed to teach the children to read and write by writing in the dirt with wooden stick

Mother Teresa rescued 37 children trapped in a front line hospital by brokering a temporary cease-fire between Israel and Palestine. Accompanied by Red Cross workers, she traveled through the war zone to the destroyed hospital to evacuate the young patients. She was fluent in 5 languages – English, Hindi, Bengali, Albanian, and Serbian. During her humanitarian missions, Mother Teresa suffered from numerous diseases and injuries. She had pneumonia, malaria, suffered two heart attacks, and even broke her collar bone. She worked for orphans, AIDS patients, refugees, blind, disabled, alcoholics, poor, homeless, victims of floods and epidemics and famine. Mother Teresa received more than 120 honors and awards during her lifetime including the Ramon Magsaysay Peace Prize in 1962 and Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. Mother Teresa was canonized at a ceremony on September 4, 2016 in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican City.

6 Facts About Jainism In India

Jainism is one of the world’s oldest religions, originating in India at least 2,500 years ago. The spiritual goal of Jainism is to become liberated from the endless cycle of rebirth and to achieve an all-knowing state called moksha. This can be attained by living a nonviolent life, or ahimsa, with as little negative impact on other life forms as possible.

The traditions of Jainism were largely carried forward by a succession of 24 tirthankaras, or teachers, most notably Vardhamana Mahavira, the last of the tirthankaras and likely a contemporary of Gautama Buddha. Both Mahavira and Buddha emphasized the importance of self-discipline, meditation and ascetic life as the key to salvation. Their teachings often stood in contrast to those of Vedic priests of the time who emphasized ritual practices and their own role as intermediaries between humanity and the gods.

Today, a sliver of India’s population (0.4%) identifies as Jain, making it the smallest of the country’s six major religious groups after Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism and Buddhism. Indians overall know very little about this ancient religion and its practices, according to a June 2021 Pew Research Center report based on a survey of nearly 30,000 Indians. Here are six facts about Jains in India, from the report.

Jains are concentrated in India’s West, largely in Maharashtra. Despite Jainism’s historic origins in India’s Eastern region, few Jains remain in the East. The changes in the regional concentration of Jains are believed to have started around 300 B.C.E. when Jains began migrating to the West, possibly in search of more favorable kingdoms. Today, 4% of the population of Mumbai – the capital of Maharashtra and the commercial and business center of India – identifies as Jain.

Jains are more highly educated and wealthier than Indians overall, and few identify as lower caste. Roughly a third (34%) of Jain adults have at least a college degree, compared with 9% of the general public, according to India’s 2011 census. Moreover, the vast majority of Jains fall into India’s top wealth quintiles, according to India’s National Family and Health Survey.

Wealth and education in India are inextricably linked with caste. Jains are the only religious group in India where a majority say they are members of a higher General Category caste. Most Indians (68%) are members of lower castes (Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes or Other Backwards Classes), compared with 20% of Jains who identify with these communities.

Almost all Jains are vegetarian, in line with guidance to pursue ahimsa (not harming other life). Roughly nine-in-ten Indian Jains (92%) identify as vegetarian, and two-thirds of Jains (67%) go further by abstaining from root vegetables such as garlic and onion. Eating root vegetables is seen as a form of violence in Jain teachings because consuming the root of a plant destroys the plant in its entirety. These dietary practices extend outside the home; more than eight-in-ten Jain vegetarians also say they would not eat food in the home of a friend or neighbor who was non-vegetarian (84%) or in a restaurant that served non-vegetarian food (91%).

Jains feel they have a lot in common with Indian Hindus. Despite theological differences between Jain and Hindu teachings – for instance, Hinduism teaches that the universe was created, but Jainism does not – the two religions share many similarities in their teachings and practices. For example, both religions teach about karma, and roughly three-quarters of both Jains (75%) and Hindus (77%) say they believe in karma. (Karma is often understood as the idea that humans will eventually reap the benefits of their good deeds and pay the price for their bad deeds, often in their next life, though survey respondents were not offered a definition.)

Moreover, when asked whether Jains and Hindus in India have a lot in common or are very different, about two-thirds of Jains (66%) say that the two communities have a lot in common.

However, that feeling is not fully reciprocated. Just 19% of Hindus see a lot of commonality with Jains. One reason for this mismatch may be that Jains tend to know more about Hindus – who make up 81% of the Indian population – than vice versa. Three-in-ten Jains say they know “a great deal” about the Hindu religion and its practices, while just 3% of Hindus say they know a lot about Jainism.

Like many Indians, Jains tend to prefer living separately from other religious and caste groups. While nearly all Jains (92%) say they would be willing to accept a Hindu neighbor, significantly fewer say they would be willing to accept a Muslim (38%), Christian (46%), Sikh (55%) or Buddhist (58%) in the area where they live. Moreover, large majorities of Indian Jains say it is important to stop both women (82%) and men (81%) from marrying into other religious groups. And despite making up a small share of the national population, nearly three-quarters of Jains say that all or most of their close friends are also Jain (72%).

These attitudes are not uncommon in India – majorities of Hindus also oppose religious intermarriage – and may in part be tied to Jains’ particular demographic makeup. For example, while a majority of Jains identify as members of the higher General Category castes, Buddhists in India overwhelmingly identify as Dalits, or members of the lower Scheduled Castes. In fact, Jains are much more likely than other Indians to say that they would not accept a member of a Scheduled Caste as a neighbor (41% vs. 21% nationally). Moreover, large majorities of Jains say it is important to stop both women (79%) and men (74%) in their community from marrying into other castes.

Dietary preferences may also play a role in Jain attitudes about other groups; unlike Jains, most Muslims and Christians in India, for example, say they are not vegetarian.

Politically, Jains lean toward the country’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Seven-in-ten Jains say they feel closest to the BJP, while just 8% say they feel closest to the Indian National Congress (INC), the main opposition party. In fact, Jains are more likely than other religious communities in India, including Hindus, to feel political affinity with the BJP: Fewer than half of Hindus (44%) say they feel closest to the BJP, a party that some say promotes a Hindu nationalist agenda.

Jains’ political preference for the BJP may in part be tied to their views on religion and national identity, which in some ways reflect Hindu nationalist sentiments more akin to their Hindu compatriots than other minority communities in India. A significant share of Jains (44%) say being Hindu is very important to truly being Indian, as do a majority of Hindus (64%). Among other religious groups, far fewer people share this view, including just 21% of Sikhs. A slim majority of Jains (54%) also tie authentic Indian identity with speaking the Hindi language, one of the dozens of languages spoken in India. Among Hindus, these sentiments are closely associated with support for the BJP.

 

Pope Francis Calls COVID-19 Vaccine ‘Act Of Love’

Pope Francis issued a message on Wednesday (Aug. 18) encouraging Catholics to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, calling it “an act of love,” as part of a global effort to reduce the onslaught of the pandemic and convince vaccine skeptics.

“Thanks to God and to the work of many, we now have vaccines to protect us from COVID-19. They grant us the hope of ending the pandemic, but only if they are available to all and if we work together,” the pope wrote in the message addressed to all people on the vaccination campaign against COVID-19.

“Being vaccinated with vaccines authorised by the competent authorities is an act of love. And contributing to ensure the majority of people are vaccinated is an act of love,” he added.

He added that the vaccine has political and social value as well. “Vaccination is a simple but profound way of promoting the common good and caring for each other, especially the most vulnerable,” the pope wrote, voicing his hope that “everyone may contribute their own small grain of sand, their own small gesture of love.”

Francis’ vaccine promotion comes amid a growing debate among U.S. Catholics over vaccines. In late July, the Archdiocese of New York sent a letter to area priests telling them that “there is no basis for a priest to issue a religious exemption to the vaccine,” and that doing so anyway amounts to “acting in contradiction to the directives of the pope” and “participating in an act that could have serious consequences to others.”

Shortly thereafter, the Colorado Catholic Conference produced a template for Catholics who seek a religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination, with a group of area clerics arguing that “in the case of the COVID-19 vaccine, we are convicted that the government should not impose medical interventions on an individual or group of persons.”

San Diego Catholic Bishop Robert McElroy, in turn, railed against the idea a few days later in a letter to clergy under his purview, similarly arguing that there is no basis in Catholic teaching to offer such an exemption.

“I ask that you not venture down this pathway that merges personal choice with doctrinal authenticity, and to caringly decline such requests from your parishioners to sign the Colorado statement or other public declarations concerning the actions of specific individuals rejecting vaccine mandates on religious grounds,” McElroy wrote.

Other dioceses have since followed suit. Last week the Diocese of Honolulu announced it “will not be granting religious exemptions from vaccine mandates imposed by others,” and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles — overseen by U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops President Archbishop Jose Gomez — reportedly told priests it also does not intend to back such religious exemptions.

On Tuesday, Bishop John Stowe of the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky, went further, declaring  in a statement that diocesan staff will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 “as a condition of their employment” beginning Sept. 1.

“This is an urgent matter of public health and safety. There is no religious exemption for Catholics to being vaccinated, and Pope Francis has repeatedly called this a moral obligation,” Stowe wrote. “The health care system is now overwhelmed by a crisis caused primarily by those who refuse to protect themselves and others by getting vaccinated. This is unacceptable, and our diocese now joins those employers who have already made this basic commitment to the common good a requirement.”

The pope’s message, which was translated into several languages, was prompted by the “It’s Up To You” campaign, organized by the nonprofit organization Ad Council and COVID Collaborative, a U.S. panel of experts created to promote vaccine compliance.

In addition to Gomez, five other prelates are taking part in the initiative: Archbishop José Horacio Gómez Velasco of Los Angeles, Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes of Mexico City, Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Cardinal Cláudio Hummes of Sao Paolo, Brasil, Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez of San Salvador, El Salvador and Archbishop Héctor Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte of Trujillo, Perú.

“To the world’s billion-plus Catholics, the Pope is one of the most trusted messengers and holds unparalleled influence,” wrote Lisa Sherman, president and CEO of the Ad Council, in a press release published on Wednesday. “We are extremely grateful to him and the Cardinals and Archbishops for lending their voices and platforms to help people across the globe feel more confident in the vaccines.” The project was created in collaboration with the Vatican’s Department for Integral Human Development, led by Cardinal Peter Turkson

Shri Shirdi Sai Mandir To Help In Psychological And Spiritual Needs Of The Community

Dwarkamai Inc is a recognized non-profit, tax-exempt organization under IRS code section 501(c)(3) of USA. Dwarkamai is dedicated to organizing events and conducting activities directed towards personal spiritual development of the community by following the teachings of Shri Sainath, a saint from Shirdi.

The Guiding Principle behind opening Dwarkamai’s “Centers of Spiritual Excellence” was to take the worship center closer to devotee’s homes based on request from devotees in an area rather than make devotees drive for hours to visit a worship center.

The same principle has brought us to the Northwest suburbs of Chicago, IL where a group of 60 devotee families felt the need for a worship center nearby and requested Dwarkamai to open a Spiritual Center on the lines of those started in Massachusetts.

Under the guidance of our mentor, Shri Anil Naik, Support from the members of the community who wished to have a location in the Northwest suburbs and a Landlord willing to go the extra mile, Dwarkamai’s newest “Center of Spiritual Excellence”, Shri Shirdi Sai Mandir, Rolling Meadows, IL opened its doors to the community on Dussehra Day, Oct 25, 2020 and has been providing volunteer driven services to the community since then.

Shri Shirdi Sai Mandir, Rolling Meadows celebrated the month-long Shri Venkateswara and Navagraha Praana Prathistha Mahotsavam- July 2021 with the Prana Prathisthan event held between Thursday, July 29th, 2021 and Saturday, July 31, 2021.

The 3-day grand finale began with Shri Ganesh Pooja and Shri Mahalakshmi Pooja on day 1, followed by Vaastu Pooja homam, in large outdoor tent specially set up for this event, Pushpadhivasam(flowers) and Shri Venkateswara Netromilanam & Navratna Bimba Sthapana on day 2 of the event.

Day 3 began with vedic chanting by 5 world renowned priests led by Priest Srinivasa Bhattar, Kalasha procession by the devotees carrying water for Prathama Abhishekam of Lord Balaji culminating in the Praana Prathistha of Lord Balaji and Nava grahas. Lord Balaji was adorned with flowers and jewels specially flown in for this occasion and chants of Govinda, Govinda reverberated throughout the whole temple. Local Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi also graced the occasion with his presence and the community thanked him for sparing a few minutes from his busy schedule to visit us on this historic day.

This 3-day celebration wrapped up with Shri Venkateswara & Shri Mahakshmi Kalyanam for which a custom palanquin was built to carry the Utsav deities around the temple. Devotees, both men and women, enthusiastically volunteered their shoulders to carry this palanquin around for this event. Finally, a big thank you to all the Volunteers of the temple who helped pull off this month-long event by putting in their personal time for the benefit of the community!! Om Namo Venkatesaya!! Shri Shirdi Sai Mandir, 5999 S New Wilke Rd, Building # 3, Suite 309, Rolling Meadows, IL 60008

HPD’s Young Cadets Get An Introduction To Hinduism

On a warm sunny afternoon of 23rd July, about 60 young cadets of the Houston Police Department (HPD) were introduced to the core principles of Hinduism through a series of presentations and lectures at Vallabh Priti Seva Samaj.(VPSS) As the  Greater Houston area is one of the most culturally diverse communities in the US, it was a much needed introduction to the Hindu faith and a huge step forward to help understand and support the members of the community they serve. This unique engagement with the HPD was initiated by the Hindus of Greater Houston (HGH).  HGH Director Manisha Gandhi led the initiative with the keen involvement of Senior HPD Officer Danish Hussain.

 

After welcoming the cadets and inviting the distinguished guests to the dais, VPSS Trustee and HGH Advisor Rasesh Dalal kicked off the day’s proceedings with a presentation that covered many aspects of Hinduism including the customs and rationale behind each of those customs. Observing the fact that Hinduism is better defined “as a way of life than a religion,” Rasesh also explained the Hindu philosophy of karma – one’s life being an eternal circle with good deeds in the current life that lead to a better re-birth in the next life. He also highlighted how Hindus receive and treat guests at home; how people respect the premises by leaving the shoes outside the home before entering and the practice of wearing gold jewelry on social and religious occasions. The essence of Hinduism, he added, is the same of all true religions – Bhakti and genuine compassion for all beings.

HGH President Thara Narasimhan congratulated the cadets on joining such a noble profession and noted that over the last 40 years, the community has become very diverse. She also emphasized the fact that India itself is very diverse with people following different customs including dressing styles. This, in turn, makes it the very nature of Indians to respect other cultures and customs. She offered the services of HGH to the cadets at any point should there be such a need and concluded her address by requesting HGH and its members to pray for the cadets’ success in their careers.

Manisha Gandhi wrapped up the event with the vote of thanks. She thanked HPD for taking the time to learn more about Hinduism and Hindus in Houston and VPSS for providing the venue for such an initiative. She also thanked Officer Danish Hussain for playing an active role in arranging the event and closed out the day’s proceedings with a brief explanation of the meaning of Namaste – the gesture is an acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another.

Several interesting questions came up at the Q&A session. HGH Director Somansh Agarwal remarked that in case of any doubt, HPD officers can contact the HGH President at [email protected] or through Manisha Gandhi, to help them out with any issues, as and when needed. ” The cadets who attended the presentation at VPSS will be graduating in October 2021.

Hindu Policy Research and Advocacy Collective (HinduPACT), an initiative of World Hindu Council of America (VHPA) and  Global Kashmiri Pandit Diaspora (GKPD) co-hosted members of the Kashmiri and Afghan Diaspora communities on Capitol Hill in an event titled “Kashmir: Moving Forward in a Dangerous Zone,” on July 29, 2021 to kick off the two-week initiative – #KashmirForward. The event coincided with the historic visit to India by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who held consultations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar.

Congressional staffers, NGO leaders, and media personalities heard first-hand accounts of the detrimental impacts of terrorism felt in the region, due solely to the growing presence of radical Islamist occupiers supported by Pakistan’s military and intelligence apparatus.

Not all was doom and gloom. The event primarily commemorated the second anniversary of the removal of the temporary provisions of Article 370 and 35A, dating back to 1954. This monumental act of Parliament on August 5, 2019, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, enabled the Government of India to apply the full scope of its Constitution to the entirety of the country for the first time since the founding of the modern-day Republic.

For the first time in India’s almost 75 years of existence, the people of Jammu and Kashmir have the right to free and compulsory education. This action upheld equal-opportunity employment to members of the LGBTQ+ community. The repeal of Article 370, opened up the ability of all women, irrespective of their ethnic background, equal inheritance rights in marriage, as is guaranteed by the Constitution of India, in the rest of the country.

This action thus guaranteed equal rights to all citizens of India while freeing the state from the clutches of terrorist warlords. It finally empowered the poorest and marginalized sections of society (namely minority non-Muslim communities) in the state with job restitution and whistleblower protection, which they had been long been denied.

Over the past two years there has been a 40% decrease in cases of terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir. Speakers at the event provided their real-life experiences to contrast this with the situation in the broader region, as the conflict between the US-backed government of Afghanistan and the Pakistan-supported Taliban has escalated dramatically after our withdrawal just in the last two weeks.

There was a flurry of social media activity as the event progressed under the hashtag #KashmirForward, with members of the audience, popular influencers, and the Kashmiri and Afghan diaspora communities posting about the event and their own lived experiences

Should President Biden Receive Holy Communion? Cardinal Tobin & Bishop Rhoades Discuss

Catholic bishops meeting in regional cohorts have until the end of next month to submit their thoughts on what should be included in a forthcoming document on the Eucharist, which some Catholics fear may further divide the church over political support for abortion rights, the bishop heading the committee drafting the document said last week.

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, who leads the doctrine committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishops, reiterated that the document will not bar any individuals from receiving Communion and said it is “going to be addressed to all Catholics, not a particular person or a single issue in the part on Eucharistic consistency.”

“The document will not be establishing national norms or a national policy,” he said. “That’s really beyond the scope of the document; it’s really beyond our competence.” Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, who leads the doctrine committee of the U.S. bishops, reiterated that the document will not bar any individuals from receiving Communion.

“We’re striving to write a document that will contribute to a real eucharistic revival in the church in our nation by highlighting the truth about the amazing gift that Jesus gave us on the night before he died,” Bishop Rhoades said.

But Bishop Rhoades also suggested that Catholics who do not accept the totality of church teaching are not prepared to receive Communion.

“In order to be properly disposed to receive the Eucharist, we need to be in communion with the church, and we need to assent to the deposit of faith that’s contained in Scripture and tradition that the apostles entrusted to the church,” Bishop Rhoades said. “This is our perennial tradition.”

The comments came during a panel hosted by the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University.

Bishop Rhoades also suggested that Catholics who do not accept the totality of church teaching are not prepared to receive Communion.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin, the archbishop of Newark who spoke last month against moving ahead with drafting a statement, said during the panel that the perception around that document is that it is political in nature and is thus unlikely to achieve the goal of broadening understanding about the Eucharist.

​“One thing I’ve learned in 43 years as a priest is that preaching has two essential dynamics,” he said. “One is what you say and second is what they hear.”

He applied that dynamic to the forthcoming document, which follows statements from individual bishops condemning Mr. Biden’s support for abortion rights and an unusual working group formed by the U.S.C.C.B. president in the wake of Mr. Biden’s election.

“This document was born in some confusion,” Cardinal Tobin said. “This document was born in some confusion,” Cardinal Tobin said.

Cardinal Tobin suggested that U.S. bishops look to other nations that have dealt with similar situations for guidance. He noted that bishops in Argentina did not threaten to deny Communion to political leaders who sought to legalize abortion there.“Are they slacking or do they have a different pastoral sense?” he asked.

A Catholic commentator said she feared the document could reduce reflection about worthiness to receive the Eucharist to one’s views on abortion, which she called “simplistic.” “It does seem to me simplistic to say that abortion is the preeminent priority for Catholics politically, not just in a sense of ranking moral issues but also when it comes to making specific decisions about voting and about elections,” said Mollie Wilson O’Reilly, an editor at large at Commonweal. “Insisting on that has led the Catholic Church and the Catholic hierarchy into a de facto alliance with the G.O.P. over the last several decades.”

Mollie O’Reilly lamented that U.S. bishops have “come out on what looks like a kind of a war footing” against President Biden. Ms. O’Reilly lamented that U.S. bishops have “come out on what looks like a kind of a war footing” against President Biden. “I think this is an opportunity when the church could really be a fruitful partner in addressing a lot of those other issues that so badly need to be addressed and where I think there is a lot of common ground and common language,” she said.

John Carr, a longtime staffer of the U.S.C.C.B. and now the co-director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, called the debate over whether Catholic politicians are eligible to receive Communion “terrible timing.”

“In the midst of a pandemic racial reckoning, let’s have a fight about whether the president ought to be able to receive Communion?” he questioned.

“We ought to be saying to people, the Eucharist brings us together, we need you as part of our family and faith,” he said. “We’ve got to read the signs of the times. We’re in a particular moment, and we ought to do everything we can to make sure the Eucharist doesn’t get used or misused for political or ideological purposes.”

“In the midst of a pandemic racial reckoning, let’s have a fight about whether the president ought to be able to receive Communion?” John Carr questioned.

Mr. Carr said he is “bitterly disappointed” in the president’s support for abortion rights, “but what’s different is he continues to be a part of our community. He attends Mass every Sunday.”

“We need not to discipline politicians but to engage our politicians and to pull them back in, so they see the richness of our tradition in its everyday forms,” he said.

Some Catholics have lamented that the debate over the document—which lasted for more than two hours when bishops met virtually last month—highlights divisions in the church.

But Gretchen Crowe, the editor of the Catholic newspaper Our Sunday Visitor, said on the panel that fears over divisions should not deter bishops from talking about “eucharistic coherence.”

“A fear of division, or really a fear of anything else, really never should prevent the church from teaching what it professes about anything,”  Gretchen Crowe said.

“A fear of division, or really a fear of anything else, really never should prevent the church from teaching what it professes about anything, much less what it teaches about the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist,” she said.

A number of bishops have pointed to a 2019 poll from the Pew Research Center that found significant numbers of U.S. Catholics either disagree with or do not understand the church’s teaching that the Eucharist is the real body and blood of Christ. That poll helped prompt bishops to adopt a strategic plan that highlighted church teaching on the Eucharist. Those backing the statement on “eucharistic coherence” said the document fits in with that plan.

Cardinal Tobin said on Wednesday’s panel that perhaps church leaders trying to inspire Catholics about the Eucharist might look to Rome for inspiration. “If Pope Francis’ great encyclicals were quoted as often as that Pew statistic, I think we might be better off as a church,” he said.

Sunday Mass: Obligation Or Opportunity?

When I was a boy in the United States, pillows, mattresses, upholstered furniture and other stuffed items (but not teddy bears) came with a tag on them that said, “Do not remove this tag under penalty of law.”

The closest I ever came to a life of crime was at about age nine when I pulled the tag off my pillow. I was pretty sure government agents would not raid my bedroom, but it felt deliciously wicked to run the risk.

Since it did not fall under the “I disobeyed my parents and fought with my siblings” script of kids’ confessions, I never brought it up in confession. (What does an orphaned only child confess?)

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Decades later, the tags were reworded to make it clear that the sanction, meant to guarantee the safety of the filling, was on producers and retailers, not consumers who could legally remove the tags. So, my life of crime was not criminal after all.

I recall those tags as I hear of announcements that the “dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass in person” in effect during the pandemic will be lifted and the “obligation” reinstated. “Do not miss Sunday Mass under penalty of law.”

We can be confident that anyone who violates the “obligation” is no more likely to find a halberd-bearing Swiss Guard at their door than I was to find an FBI agent under my bed.

While not so good as in-person celebrations of the liturgy, in a sad number of cases it may be better than what is on offer at local churches

Researchers in the United States found that before the pandemic more than one-quarter of Catholics who went to Mass on Sunday did so out of habit. In some, maybe most, cases, what lay behind the habit was a sense of being under an obligation to attend.

Though the statistics may vary in other countries, the situation is probably not very different.

Now that people have formed a new habit of not going to church on Sunday, how likely are they to revert to their old habit?

Will reinstating an “obligation” be effective at helping people reactivate that old habit? Even from a marketing point of view, it is likely to provoke resistance, liturgical tag tearing.

Instead of emphasizing obligation, why don’t bishops emphasize opportunity?

“After more than a year and a half of being unable to come together in worship, we now have the opportunity to do so again!” is more attractive than, “Your dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass is hereby cancelled.”

Of course, if people’s pre-pandemic experience was of uninspiring preaching that insulted the spirits and intelligence of its victims, sloppy liturgy and a crowd rather than a community, no amount of enthusiastic sales pitches will bring them back.

Something else may complicate drawing people back into church buildings. Those with internet access and an interest in maintaining whatever liturgical connection they could during pandemic shutdowns have had almost two years to shop around among streamed offerings. They have found preaching, music and a liturgical style that helps their religious life.

While not so good as in-person celebrations of the liturgy, in a sad number of cases it may be better than what is on offer at local churches. Given the choice between un-involving in-person liturgy and moderately involving remote liturgy, people may opt for virtual participation, even if that precludes receiving the Eucharist.

Perhaps that is the reason for emphasizing reinstatement of an obligation. Since so much of people’s Sunday experience has been uninspiring or even repelling, and since many have found more satisfactory alternatives including total non-engagement, bishops feel they must resort to probably futile coercion.

In preparation for the reopening of churches, bishops have an opportunity to raise the quality of liturgical service

What might bishops do instead? Or better, what have we a right to expect from them?

A bishop is responsible for the liturgy in the diocese. For the most part, they seem satisfied so long as there are no egregious violations of rubrics. We rarely hear of a bishop taking action because a preacher is unprofessional or because the liturgy is sloppily performed.

For the most part, so long as the rules are more or less followed, bishops seldom concern themselves with what is actually the core of liturgical worship, bringing the People of God together in the Spirit to offer fitting worship to the Father through the Son.

In preparation for the reopening of churches, bishops have an opportunity to raise the quality of liturgical service. Workshops for clergy on preaching and liturgy can be done remotely while waiting for the resumption of normal activities.

Other professionals are expected and required to engage in updating and continuing education. Why not liturgical ministers?

I served in an area where pastors agreed to videotape our Sunday Masses and then sit on uncomfortable chairs to experience what our parishioners saw and heard. (And felt — are pews designed to keep congregations from falling asleep?) Even that simple exercise made a difference.

If people know that the pandemic period was used to prepare an opportunity for their better return to liturgy, they will be more likely to return. Or at least “check it out.”

Otherwise, we may see Mass attendance go the way of my pillow tag.

William Grimm is a missioner and presbyter in Tokyo and is the publisher of the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News). The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

Indian-American Nominated By Biden As Envoy For Religious Freedom

President Joe Biden has nominated an Indian-American, Rashad Hussain, as the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, and if approved by the Senate he will be the first Muslim to head US diplomacy for advancing religious liberties.

Making the announcement on Friday, the White House said that Biden is appointing a Pakistani American Khizr Khan to be a member of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USICRF), along with two others.

The USICRF publishes the annual report of religious freedom around the world as it advocates for religious freedom around the world and designates violators of religious liberties.

Hussain is the Director for Partnerships and Global Engagement at the National Security Council has worked as a Senior Counsel in the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

Like many Biden appointees, Hussain is an alumnus of President Barack Obama’s administration in which he served as the US special envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the US special envoy for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications.

“Rashad also spearheaded efforts on countering antisemitism and protecting religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries,” the White House said.

Hussain, who has a law degree from Yale University and a master’s in Arabic and Islamic Studies from Harvard University, has also worked with the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

The position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom was set up by the Congress within the State Department with the mandate to “advance the right to freedom of religion abroad, to denounce the violation of that right, and to recommend appropriate responses by the US Government when this right is violated.”

Khan is a lawyer who is the founder of the Constitution Literacy and National Unity Project. His son, US Army Captain Humayun Khan, was killed in action in Iraq.

As one of the speakers at the Democratic Party’s National Convention that nominated Hillary Clinton as the party’s nominee for president in 2016, Khan criticised the Republican Party candidate Donald Trump saying he “consistently smears the character of Muslims.”

Trump made a snide comment suggesting that because of that religion, the captain’s mother did not speak at the convention and it evoked strong criticism for attacking “Gold Star” parents � as the parents of military personnel killed in action are reverentially called in the US.

An Indian American, Anurima Bhargava, is a member of the USICRF as one of the three members appointed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Three others are appointed by the leader of the Senate.

The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), a Washington, D.C. based advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos today commended President Biden’s administration for nominating Mr. Rashad Hussain to serve in key religious freedom role at the U.S. Department of State. “IAMC also welcomes the appointment of Mr. Khizr Khan and Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)” a statement issued by the group stated.

Welcoming the nomination and new appointments, Syed Afzal Ali, President of IAMC said: “The deep experience of Mr. Rashad Hussain and Mr. Khizr Khan in advocating for rights of minorities will further bolster religious freedom for all people, especially in India, where Muslims and Christians are facing continuous persecution due to their faith.”

“While IAMC welcomes the latest nominations and appointments,  more needs to be done by President Biden’s administration to ensure that  human rights and religious freedom is part of its broader diplomacy. It is in the US interest to have geopolitical stability around the world, and especially in South Asia. IAMC is eager to help the incoming Ambassador and the two USCIRF appointees in addressing the issues of minorities in India.”

In $412m Vatican Fraud Case, Cardinal Becciu Stands On Trial

A Roman Catholic cardinal who was once a close ally of Pope Francis has gone on trial in the Vatican, accused of misusing Church funds in a ruinous London property venture.Cardinal Angelo Becciu, 73, is the most senior cleric in modern times to face trial for alleged financial crimes. He is charged with spending €350m (£299m; $412m) of church money on a botched deal to buy a property in Chelsea that incurred huge losses. He denies wrongdoing. Cardinal Becciu was sacked by the Pope in September, as reports of financial misdeeds emerged.

A two-year investigation exposed how the Vatican lost millions of euros, including donations from worshippers, after buying a former Harrods warehouse in Sloane Avenue, Chelsea, in 2014. The cardinal was formerly in charge of donations at the secretariat which handles Vatican funds. The charges against him include allegedly channeling money to businesses run by his brothers in their native Sardinia. Nine other defendants are also accused of crimes including extortion, embezzlement, money-laundering and abuse of office.

The Vatican’s new finance chief, Juan Antonio Guerrero, says it is now being more transparent about its affairs. The special courtroom is in the Vatican Museums – not the usual courtroom, as more space was required because of Covid rules and the numbers attending. The trial is expected to last for months. The two hearings this week – on technical matters – are likely to be adjourned until October. The nine others accused include:

  • Swiss lawyer René Brülhart, who previously headed the Vatican’s financial regulation body, the former Financial Information Authority, and his ex-deputy Tomasso di Ruzza
  • Monsignor Mauro Carlino, who was Cardinal Becciu’s private secretary
  • Enrico Crasso, a former Vatican investment manager
  • Cecilia Marogna, accused of buying luxury goods with funds authorised by the cardinal for Vatican intelligence work, including efforts to free clergy held hostage in various countries.

The defendants deny wrongdoing. If found guilty, they could face jail terms or fines, or both. Prosecutors allege that a London-based broker, Gianluigi Torzi, defrauded the Vatican while using its money to buy shares in the Chelsea building, which was to be converted into luxury apartments. MrTorzi calls the allegations a misunderstanding.  Last week, the Vatican published details of its holdings, including more than 4,000 properties in Italy and 1,120 in other European cities.

Telangana’s Ramappa Temple Is On UNESCO’s World Heritage List

Ramappa temple, a 13th century Hindu temple named after its architect, Ramappa, was proposed by the government as its only nomination for the UNESCO World Heritage site tag for the year 2019. Even so, the temple has been in UNESCO’s tentative list since 2014.

Rudreswara Temple also known as Ramappa temple, located at Palampet, Mulugu district, near Warangal in the state of Telangana has made it to UNESCO’s World Heritage list. The decision was taken at the 44th session of the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO held on Sunday in China. Apart from the Ramappa temple, the World Heritage Committee inscribed Quanzhou: Emporium of the World in Song-Yuan China (China), the Trans-Iranian Railway (Iran), and Paseo del Prado and BuenRetiro, a landscape of Arts and Sciences (Spain), on UNESCO’s World Heritage.

What is a World Heritage Site tag?

A World Heritage Site is a location with an “outstanding universal value”. This signifies “cultural and/or natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity”. To be included, sites must meet at least one of the ten selection criteria.

These include the site representing a masterpiece of human creative genius, exhibiting an important interchange of human values over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, bearing a unique or exceptional testimony to cultural tradition or to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement. The UNESCO website notes that until the end of 2004, World Heritage sites were selected on the basis of six cultural and four natural criteria. But with the adoption of the revised Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, only one set of ten criteria exists.

After UNESCO’s announcement, prime minister Narendra Modi tweeted, “Excellent! Congratulations to everyone, specially the people of Telangana. The iconic Ramappa Temple showcases the outstanding craftsmanship of great Kakatiya dynasty. I would urge you all to visit this majestic Temple complex and get a first-hand experience of it’s grandness.”

How are sites recognized?

Ramappa temple, a 13th century temple named after its architect, Ramappa, was proposed by the government as its only nomination for the UNESCO World Heritage site tag for the year 2019. Even so, the temple has been in UNESCO’s tentative list since 2014.

The World Heritage Convention’s operational guidelines say that a tentative list is like an inventory of properties a country thinks should be on the World Heritage Site. After UNESCO includes a property in the Tentative List, the country prepares a nomination document that will be considered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. The temple is located in the village of Palampet, which is about 200 km north of Telangana’s capital Hyderabad. (Twitter/@narendramodi)

In May, the Maharashtra government submitted a tentative “serial” nomination seeking the World Heritage Site tag for 14 forts from the era of 17th century Maratha king ChhatrapatiShivajiMaharaj on the theme of Maratha Military Architecture in Maharashtra. The serial nomination was forwarded by the Archaeological Survey of India to UNESCO through the Ministry of Culture. UNESCO accepted the nomination and added the proposed sites in its Tentative Lists.

Why is the Ramappa temple special?

On Sunday, over 17 of the 21 member nations supported the inscription. With this, India now has 39 sites on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List, and Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is now the custodian of 23 world heritage sites. The temple is located in the village of Palampet, which is about 200 km north of Telangana’s capital Hyderabad. The temple complex was built by RacherlaRudra Reddy during the period of the Kakatiya ruler Ganapati Deva. It was built using sandstone and its construction, which began in 1213 CE, is believed to have continued for over four decades.

UNESCO notes on its website that, “The building features decorated beams and pillars of carved granite and dolerite with a distinctive and pyramidal Vimana (horizontally stepped tower) made of lightweight porous bricks, so-called ‘floating bricks’, which reduced the weight of the roof structures. The temple’s sculptures of high artistic quality illustrate regional dance customs and Kakatiyan culture.”

Persecutions Against Christians Continue Under Modi

Before the year 2021 had reached its halfway mark, some of the most powerful forces in modern India prepared to counter the Christian – and Muslim – presence in India, with discussions and statements on how to rid the country of “padri” [Hindi of the Latin Padre, father or Christian priest, pastor or clergy], pushing a massive 145 incidents of religious persecution against Christians, including three murders, into the background. That the incidents, and the threats, took place even as the country, still reeling from the impact of the first wave of the Corona Virus pandemic, was struck anew by the second wave, which struck the country, particularly the metropolitan cities including the national capital New Delhi, the worst hit.

In the hill town of Chitrakoot on the border of the states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, held holy according to the epic Ramayana, the top echelons of the RashtriyaSwayamSewakSangh [RSS], the ideological mother of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the main grassroots force behind the government of the Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, met in a secret conclave. The main agenda, according to the authoritative Hindi newspaper and TV group DainikBhaskar, was to launch a campaign with the slogan “Chadaraur Father Mukt Bharat” (An India liberated from Chadar (Cloth Sheet symbolizing Muslims) and Father (Christian Priests).

The threat of such campaigns has accompanied promises — or threats – of bringing in legislation in Parliament against conversion. One such Bill listed in Parliament is moved by RSS spokesman and member of the Upper House [Rajya Sabha] Mr Rakesh Sinha. Indeed, as reported by other news outlets, one of the other things that the Sangh spoke about was to propose to the Modi government to bring a nationwide anti-conversion law. The violence, detailed in the report, itself was vicious, widespread and ranged from murder to attacks on church, false cases, police immunity and connivance, and the now normalised social exclusion or boycott which is becoming viral.

An analysis of the 145 cases recorded by the Evangelical Fellowship of India’s Religious Liberty Commission and its associate Helplines and activists, documents three murders, attacks or desertion of 22 churches / places of worship, and 20 cases of ostracization or social boycott in rural areas of families which had refused to renege on their Christian faith and had stood up to mobs and political leaders of the local majority community.

True to the pattern of previous years, Madhya Pradesh topped the list with 30 cases. The state, which has large pockets of forest lands where Adivasis, or Tribals live, was amongst the earliest to enact anti-conversion laws, which it has periodically applied on the ground with increasing viciousness. The neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh, continued to be a dangerous place for Christians too with 22 cases. Karnataka and Chhattisgarh, also polarised by a decade of religiously divisive political campaigns, documented 14 and 13 cases each. Violence against Christians by non-state actors in India stems from an environment of targeted hate. The translation of the hate into violence is sparked by a sense of impunity generated in India’s administrative apparatus.

COVID-19, which has severely impacted data collection, grassroots investigations and even a measure of solidarity with victims in distant villages, seems to have given the police a ruse not to register cases – police have generally been loath to register cases. Access to courts for relief was restricted too. The violence was also facilitated by the absence of civil society on streets as activists were unable to travel because of lockdowns restrictions and because of the collapse of the media.

The most alarming development has been the expansion and scope of the notorious Freedom of Religion Acts, which are popularly known as the anti-conversion laws, earlier enforced in 7 states, to more states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Once targeting only Christians, they are now armed also against Muslims in the guise of curbing ‘Love Jihad’. This is an Islamophobic term coined some years ago to demonise marriages between Muslim men and non-Muslim women, particularly those belonging to the Hindu upper castes. The laws ostensibly punish forced or fraudulent religious conversions. But in practice, they are used to criminalise all conversions, especially in non-urban settings.

Uttar Pradesh has become the eighth state in India to enforce an anti-conversion law. Similar laws are in force in the states of Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand. The states of Arunachal Pradesh and Rajasthan have passed anti-conversion laws that are not in force for various reasons, and Tamil Nadu has passed and repealed its anti- conversion law. Christian activists fear that the expanding footprint of the anti-conversion laws bring a step closer the BJP’s manifesto promising a nation-wide law to check evangelisation by “missionaries”, a term designed to impute western conspiracy to Christianise Dalits, Tribals and others in rural areas, small towns and urban slums.

The most bizarre incident which caught the eyes of the international media took place on 19 March 2021 in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, when four nuns from the Delhi Province of the Sacred Heart Society (SH) were arrested while on their way to Odisha from Delhi. The incident occurred while the train in which they were traveling stopped at 6.30 pm at Jhansi railway station. A group of religious extremists, who were returning from a pilgrimage, unjustifiably accused them of religious conversion and caused trouble. They challenged the faith of the women and raised religious slogans. Subsequently police arrived at the spot and arrested the women without paying any heed to their side of the story. Around 150 religious radicals accompanied the women in procession to the police station. The terrified nuns were released at 11.30 pm after the intervention from advocacy groups convinced police that the nuns were innocent and had credible documents to prove their story.

There was perhaps some consolation for religious minorities in recent pronouncements by various courts of law in the land. A Haryana court held that “hate speech is violence,” as other courts said reiterated that the health of the Indian democracy depended much on the health of its minorities. Helping the judicial sentiment was the national outrage over the custodial death of Jesuit priest and social activist Fr Stan Swami who’d been detained und the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevent Act in which the arrested can be held for long periods without bail pending trial which may begin years later. Responding to several writ petitions, the Supreme Court of India has agreed to examine the constitutional validity of laws enacted by Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand but has said that the laws need to be first challenged in the respective high courts.

EFIRLC appeals to the Government of India and the respective State Governments of the States named in the report to ensure the rule of law and the security of religious minorities in India. We especially appeal to the State Governments of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Chhattisgarh to deal stringently with the various right-wing organizations operating in these states whose primary agenda is to create an atmosphere of fear among the Christian community and other religious minorities. For further information, please write to [email protected]

RathYatra, Celebrating Lord Jagannath’s ‘Unfinished Hands’ At Puri Temple

Much like last year, this time around too administration has taken caution to ensure safety measures are in place. It is a 15-day long affair that is attended by millions of devotees who throng the temple town of Puri, Odisha to seek the blessings of the Lord. However, due to the second wave of deadly novel coronavirus pandemic, the temple is not open for devotees.  JagannathPuriRathYatra, world’s most revered Chariot festival, dedicated to Lord Jagannath is being held this week amid COVID-19 restrictions, without any devotees being present in person to worship and honor Lord Jagannath.

JagannathRathYatra, the Hindu festival dedicated to Lord Jagannath has been celebrated for centuries in Puri, Odisha. It falls during Shukla Paksha of Ashada month (June-July) every year. Said to be the oldest chariot festival of the world, the yatra began on July 12th amid the coronavirus pandemic. This year, the yatra is being held exclusively around Puri in a small radius, as per Supreme Court’s ruling. Every year the festival is being celebrated with Temple chariot procession where millions of people come together to pull the temple chariots with the belief that the act earns them a passage to heaven. This spectacular event takes place at the Jagannatha temple in Puri in the eastern Indian state of Odisha, which is considered to be one of the Hindu pilgrimage centers called as Char Dham.

At the JagannathPuri shrine, Shri Jagannathji, Subhadraji, and Balabhadraji are revered and they ride in separate chariots during the RathYatra to their aunt’s residence, the Gundicha temple. After an eight-day visit, they return to Puri temple. For the unversed, the distance between Jagannath temple and Gundicha temple is around three kilometres. The idols of Lord Jagannath depict the Lord embodying features of a large, square-shaped head, big eyes, and unfinished limbs. Considered as a unique type and are not made out of any metal or stone, the idols are made of Neem wood this special material is used to carve the idols beautifully.

The Jagannath Temple holds huge religious importance and is among the four most important pilgrimages of Hinduism. In the 12th century, King Chodagan Dev erected the current temple in Kalinga style. There are several legends related to the origin of how the lord came to reside at the Puri temple in Bhubaneswar. One of the popular stories which is associated with it reveals why the hands and limbs of the lord’s idols are unfinished. It is believed that once there was a King named Indradyumna, who wanted to build a temple of god Vishnu but wasn’t certain about the shape of the idol that would represent the Lord. He was then asked by Lord Brahma to meditate and pray to Lord Vishnu himself as to what form would he like to embody.

After deep meditation, God appeared in his dream and spoke about a particular floating wood log near Bankamuhana in Puri and his image would be made out of that log. After this dream, Indradyumna rushed to the spot and found the wooden log. However, to his surprise, he couldn’t get his artists to make the idols out of it – no matter what. The tools of the artisans broke every time when they tried to cut the log. This was the point when Ananta Maharana (carpenter Bishwakarma/Vishwakarma) appeared and offered to help.

However, Bishwakarma had one condition.  He said that he shouldn’t be disturbed while carving out the idol until it is finished. So, for two weeks, he employed himself in the divine task in locked podium without anyone’s interruption. But after two weeks, suddenly the sound of work stopped coming from inside the podium to which the wife of Indradyumna – Gundicha said that they must go in and check if he is fine. Although the King didn’t want it, he had no option but to enter inside. However, to their surprise, when they got in, they found no carpenter and only unfinished idols. He immediately repented his act. But a divine voice – probably of Lord Vishnu himself, told the King that he shouldn’t regret and install the unfinished idols as it is and Lord shall make himself visible to the devotees in this form.

Ever since, the idols of Lord Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra are worshipped in unfinished form. In the month of Asadha (June or July), the idols are brought out onto the BadaDanda and travel all the way to the Shri Gundicha Temple in huge chariots. Devotees in lakhs throng the streets to get a glimpse of the lord and seek their blessings. The temple town of Puri is adorned beautifully during this festive time as thousands of devotees turn out to visit the divine abode of the lord and seek the blessings of god Jagannath, Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra. The event is considered to be a living example of unity in diversity, where people from all parts of the society come together, through devotion to their faith, celebrating art forms that proclaims the socio-cultural-religious ethos of the Indian civilization.

Widespread Persecution Of Religious Minorities In India Highlighted At International Religious Freedom Summit

Speakers at the International Religious Freedom summit here this week detailed how the Indian government is intentionally stoking Hindu nationalism, which has caused widespread persecution of religious minorities, enactment or reactivation of laws designed to curtail or deny citizenship, control or prohibit interfaith marriages, silence NGOs by freezing their bank accounts, and state-sponsored Islamophobia campaigns that encourage mob violence against non-Hindus.

They were speaking at a panel discussion on “Religious Freedom in India: Challenges & Opportunities,” organized by the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that advocates for human rights, religious freedom and civil liberties in both the US and India.Click here to see their presentations. (Note: Presentations by U.S. Senator Markey and Reps. Newman and Levin were the subject of a separate news release.) Anurima Bhargava, a commissioner with theU.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said that for the past two years, the commission has recommended the U.S. State Department designate India as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), like Pakistan and Burma, because of the systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom in India.

IAMC this week led an initiative to have a Joint Resolution approved at the summit that also calls for the State Department to designate India a CPC. The resolution was supported by more than 30 signatories and is being transmitted to the office of Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Ms. Bhargava pointed out that the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens are limiting or eliminating pathways for Muslims to be able to demonstrate their citizenship, which can lead to them being wrongfully detained, deported, or worse, rendered stateless. With those laws, India is acting much like Myanmar, in how the latter systematically discriminated against the Rohingyas leading up to their genocide.

Further, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act is designed to limit or eliminate dissent, while the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act can freeze the bank accounts of NGOs and religious organizations that traditionally have worked to promote unity, harmony and understanding in India. “The other area that is of concern, which we have documented in our reports, are the anti-conversion laws,” she said. “Essentially how I describe this is an attack on any kind of interfaith, interreligious engagement. A third of Indian states have these kinds of laws that limit or prohibit religious conversion to protect the dominant religion from any perceived threats from religious communities and religious minorities.”

“And so we’re seeing a situation the UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) doesn’t really allow dissent and it is very high standard for someone to get bail or to be able to come out of being incarcerated, so people can be detained and held for quite a long time without being charged, as in the case of 84-year-oldFather Stan Swamy, who lost his life last week in an Indian prison because of Parkinson’s and COVID,” she said. In addition to naming India a CPC, the USCIRF has also recommended that individuals at the state and the national level who have fomented hate, but also have implemented policies that are targeting religious communities, be sanctioned, whether in economic or in visa actions.

Joanne Lin, National Director ofAmnesty International USA, detailed how the Indian government used the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act and other means to essentially shut down Amnesty International’s offices in India by freezing its bank account. “The shuttering of Amnesty India is just one example of the Indian government activating an overbroad legal framework to crush human rights defenders who dare to challenge grave abuses of state authorities,” she declared. “The Indian government has leveraged financial and other institutions to strip human rights from religious minorities, to crush dissent and to silence advocates for freedom of religion and expression.

“The U.S. government should call for the release of human rights defenders and other critics, many of whom have been held for over a year without being charged,” she said. “In addition, Amnesty calls for the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for attacks carried out by vigilante mobs, and police officers against Muslims during the February March 2020 violence in Delhi, which occurred in the context of protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.  These steps are necessary to ensure that religious freedom is a reality for all people in India regardless of their religion.”

State-sponsored Islamophobia in India is anti-Muslim racism and a tool of oppression, declared Tabassum Haleem, CEO,Islamic Networks Group. In her presentation, Ms. Haleem pointed out tropes used to denigrate and motivate hatred of Muslims include, “Muslims don’t belong” in India, and “Muslims are terrorists,” with some Hindu nationalists calling for a Trump-like Muslim ban, and others declaring “Muslims did no favor by staying here,” and “very few Muslims are patriotic.” It was even widely alleged that Muslims were intentionally spreading COVID-19, an enormous lie that resulted in discrimination, repression, persecution and violence against Muslims. And sadly, interfaith marriages have been criminalized clearly as a means of ensuring racial and ethnic “purity,” of the majority.

The Rev. Evangeline Anderson-Rajkumar of theEvangelical Lutheran Church in America, who is a Dalit (the lowest class), referring to the ruling Hindu class, declared, “In this class hierarchy, to consider oneself upper class is such a myth. There is nothing upper about the upper class.” She lamented that because freedoms for religious minorities are being so eroded, and in many cases eliminated, the Indian Constitution is becoming increasingly irrelevant. “We know that for people to have dignity and worth is a God-given reality. But we have a situation in India where the prominent Hindutva forces can actually challenge that and deny whole peoples of their ability to reflect the image of God, and the possibility of them even being considered as a worthy human, of being human. And this is the crux of the whole problem of caste consciousness.”

Explained AnantanandRambachan, professor of religion,St. Olaf Collegein Minnesota, “Because the Hindu condition is so internally diverse, it generally exemplifies an open and hospitable attitude toward religious diversity. One of the pillars of Hinduism is the belief in the unity of the oneness of God, even though this God is spoken of in many ways. God’s oneness implies the oneness of the human community.”

He also made these salient points:

  • “All beings are part of a single human community, and must be treated with dignity, justice and compassion, and be accorded equal rights.”
  • “Hindutva betrays the core theological commitment of Hinduism by ascribing unequal worth on the basis of religious identity and by seeking to deprive them of equal rights in the civic sphere.”
  • “There is an ancient and a powerful tradition of hospitality to religious diversity in the Hindu tradition, which made it possible to accommodate a wide diversity of religious beliefs and practices, and to offer shelter to persecuted religious groups for centuries.”
  • “There are teachings in the Hindu tradition that offer solid ground for diversity, for justice, for dignity, and for the equal worth of all human beings. We must lift up these Hindu teachings.”

The Indian American Muslim Council has welcomed the news about the Biden administration’s imminent announcement of an ambassador-at-large of international religious freedom. The post has been vacant since January 20 of this year, and is a requirement of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act.