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.

Key Findings About Christians In India

Some say Christianity in India dates back to the earliest followers of Jesus in the first century C.E. Today, there are millions of Christians in the country, although they make up just 2.4% of India’s massive population. South India is home to about half of the Christians in the country, and Christians make up a relatively large share of people in India’s more sparsely populated Northeast, where the vast majority of Christians belong to tribal communities.

Here are eight key findings about Christians in India, according to a recent Pew Research Center report. Among Indians, 0.4% of adults are Hindu converts to Christianity. Conversion is a contentious issue in India, and nine states have enacted laws against proselytism as of early 2021. While Christianity is a proselytizing religion, many other religions in India are non-proselytizing, and religious conversion is rare in the country.

Overall, just 2% of respondents report a different religion than the one in which they were raised, including 0.4% who are converts to Christianity. Christian converts in India mostly are former Hindus, but the survey also finds that Hindus tend to gain as many people as they lose through religious switching (0.7% of respondents were raised Hindu and now identify as something else, while 0.8% were raised as something else but now identify as Hindu). Christian converts in India are disproportionately located in the South, while some are also located in the East. Most converts say they belong to lower castes – that is, they identify with Scheduled Castes (sometimes known as Dalits), Scheduled Tribes or Other Backward Classes. Most converts also come from poor backgrounds – i.e., they report recently struggling to pay for food or other necessities.

There is no clear majority denomination among Indian Christians. While many Indian Christians identify as Catholic (37%), a variety of other denominations are present in India. For example, 13% of Indian Christians are Baptists, 7% identify with the Church of North India and another 7% identify with the Church of South India.

Three-quarters of Indian Christians (76%) say religion is very important in their lives, and Indian Christians engage in a variety of traditional beliefs and practices. Nearly all Indian Christians (98%) say they believe in God, and Christians in India are more likely than most other religious communities to say they pray daily (77%). Most Indian Christians also attend church weekly (55%), and an overwhelming share give money to a church (89%). At the same time, even though 78% of Indian Christians say they read or listen to the Bible at least weekly, smaller shares say they hold several traditional beliefs rooted in the Bible, including belief in Judgment Day (49%) and miracles (48%).


Substantial shares of Indian Christians follow religious practices and beliefs not traditionally associated with Christianity. Most Indian Christians say they believe in karma (54%), which is not rooted in the Christian religion. And many Indian Christians also believe in reincarnation (29%) and that the Ganges River has the power to purify (32%), both of which are core teachings in Hinduism. It is also somewhat common for Indian Christians to observe customs tied to other religions, like celebrating Diwali (31%) or wearing a forehead marking called a bindi (22%), most often worn by Hindu, Buddhist and Jain women.

Indian Christians disproportionally identify with lower castes (74%), including 57% with Scheduled Castes (SC) or Scheduled Tribes (ST). India’s caste system is a social hierarchy that can dictate class and social life, including whom a person can marry. Today, regardless of their religion, Indians nearly universally identify with a caste category. Among Christians, 33% identify as SC, while 24% identify as ST. And Christians are somewhat more likely than the Indian population overall to say there is widespread caste discrimination in India. For example, among Indians overall, 20% say there is widespread discrimination against SCs in India, compared with 31% among Christians who say the same. A smaller share of Christians (18%) say there is a lot of discrimination against Christians in India, and even fewer say they have personally faced recent discrimination based on their caste (11%) or religion (10%).

Lower-caste Indian Christians are much more likely than upper-caste (also called General Category) Christians to hold both Christian and non-Christian beliefs. Indian Christians who belong to SCs, STs and other lower castes tend to believe in angels and demons at significantly higher rates than upper-caste Christians. For example, roughly half of lower-caste Christians (51%) believe in demons or evil spirits, while just 12% of higher-caste Christians hold this belief. Lower-caste Christians also are more likely than General Category Christians to believe in spiritual forces not generally associated with Christianity, like karma (58% vs. 44%) and the evil eye (33% vs. 12%).

Overall, Indian Christians are less prone toward religious segregation than some other groups. For instance, Christians are less likely than other religious groups to say that stopping interreligious marriage is “very important.”Among Christians, 37% say stopping the interreligious marriage of Christian women is very important, while 35% say the same about Christian men. In contrast, roughly two-thirds of Hindus and an even greater share of Muslims say it is crucial to stop such marriages by men and women in their respective communities. In addition, fewer Christians (22%) than Hindus (47%) and Muslims (45%) say all of their close friends share their religion. In part, these attitudes may reflect Christians’ regional concentration in the South, where opposition to interreligious marriage is generally less widespread and religious segregation overall is less pronounced.

Politically, Christians favor the opposing Indian National Congress (INC) over the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and is often described as promoting a Hindu nationalist ideology. A plurality of Christian voters (30%) say they voted for the INC in the 2019 parliamentary elections, which roughly matches the shares of Muslims and Sikhs who voted for the INC. Just one-in-ten Indian Christian voters say they voted for the BJP in 2019, the lowest share among all of India’s major religious groups. Once again, the voting patterns of Christians in India mirror the political preferences of Southern Indians more generally. In the 2019 parliamentary elections, the BJP received its lowest vote share in the South, including among Hindus; many people in the South, including Christians, voted for regional parties.

2021 Had 154 Incidents Of Violence Against Christians In India

This year, 2021, hasn’t been any difference to Indian Christians in practicing their faith in their own country except that Indian Christians across globe came together to establish an exclusive day for themselves on July 3rd and launched a decade of celebrations (2021-2030) to honour 2000th anniversary of the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ.

One hundred and fifty-four (154) incidents of violence were reported on UCF toll-free helpline number: 1-800-208-4545 against Christians across India. January witnessed the highest number of incidents with 34 followed by 28 in June, 27 in March, 26 in April, 21 in February and 16 in the month of May.

Two North Indian states Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have recorded 22 incidents of violence against Christians in these six months followed by 19 in Uttar Pradesh and 17 in Karnataka. Other states which are witnessing violence against Christians for their faith are: Madhya Pradesh (15), Odisha (12), Maharashtra (9), Tamil Nadu (6), Punjab (6), Bihar (6), Andhra Pradesh (4), Uttarakhand (3), Delhi (3), Haryana (2), Gujarat (2), Telangana (1), West Bengal (1), Assam (1) and Rajasthan (1).  Over one thousand (1137) calls were attended to at UCF helpline number and provided much needed solace to them through advocacy and assisting in reaching their grievances to the concerned authorities. Through these interventions the team could manage to obtain release of 84 persons from detention. Also 29 places of worship were reopened or continue to have prayer services. But, sadly, as always 18 FIRs could only be registered against the violence perpetrators.

Mob violence led by a crowd of a-hundred-two-hundred accompanied by a police team arriving at a place of worship disrupting the prayer or church service beating up faithful and pastors including women and children have become a culture. This is despite slew of directions to the government from the Supreme Court of India led by then CJI, Dipak Misra to stop the horrendous acts of mobocracy.

Over six hundred (603) women were injured in these incidents and over four hundred Tribals (223) and Dalits (202). One hundred and fifty-two (152) incidents of mob attacks/violence were reported in these six months. Eighteen (18) incidents of causing damage to the places of worship/ churches too were reported. Police or/and other concerned authorities disallowed the assembly of people for religious activities under one pretext or the other.

Seven (7) fresh cases were filed under the Freedom of Religion Act in this year. Though such laws in certain states have been in force since 1967 – over 50 years now – but till today, no one, not a single Christian have 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 136.64 Crores (2019).

UCF toll-free helpline number: 1-800-208-4545 was launched on 19th January 2015 with the aim of upholding fundamental freedom and promotion of values of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity of India. The helpline helps people in distress, especially those who are not aware of the law of the land and the system by guiding them how to reach out to the public authorities and by providing the way to legal remedies.

“In Death, Fr. Stan Swamy’s Voice Is Even Stronger”

“Living Stan was a nobleman, but the departed Stan is unstoppable and his voice on behalf of the poor and the downtrodden is even stronger and will resonate it throughout history,” said Father Noby Ayyaneth of the Malankara Catholic Diocese of North America condoling the death of Father Stan Swamy at a remembrance meeting organized under the banner of Indo-US Democracy Foundation in Floral Park, New York. Jesus Christ was a master humanitarian, and Fr. Stan was following in his master’s footsteps. For him, suffering was not a tragedy in the face of injustice and as he could not be a silent spectator”.

Mr. George Abraham, Executive Director of the India-US Democracy Foundation, welcomed the gathering and stated ‘it is a dark day for democracy in India and Father Stan Swamy’s detention, treatment in prison and death is a blot on the nation’s consciousness and a travesty of justice. He expressed his disappointment that in today’s India, the presumption of innocence is becoming a thing of the past. India is about to celebrate its 75th Independence Day, and our founding fathers built democratic institutions that stood the test of time and protected democracy, freedom, individual liberty, and equal justice under law. However, these institutions are increasingly under attack and are being diminished. Today, anyone who dares to criticize the authorities is in danger of being termed anti-national.

Professor Indrajit Saluja, Publisher of Indian Panorama Newspaper, said Father Stan Swamy was a frail and weak man physically but strong morally and spiritually to carry on with his work on behalf of the weaker sections of society. As Indian Americans, we must demand our politicos to speak out when authorities target the poor and downtrodden in India. UAPA is a draconian law that the Supreme Court should have reviewed, and it is a shame that an innocent man had to pay with his life this way.

Pastor Wilson Jose, Pastor of the Grace International Church in Mineola, said while we have gathered here to celebrate Father Stan’s life, we would like to express our indignation as Pravasis, the way the political leaders and the judiciary treated him in India. Father Stan represented Christ’s teachings to its core and did his best to uplift the neglected ones by a caste system that is in place over centuries. Jesus said, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, and Fr. Stan’s life exemplified those principles. During the freedom struggle, Mahatma Gandhi was jailed many times by the British authorities. However, they respected his ideals and made sure no harm happened to him. Sadly today, the Government of India lacks even that basic level of humanity in the treatment of its own citizens!

Father John Thomas of Orthodox Church pondered what it would be like if any one of us would be in Fr. Stan’s shoes. Will we get intimidated or pull back? Father Stan’s life is a testament to all of us and should inspire us to stand up and fight for what is right. Father P.M. Thomas, Vicar-in-charge of Marthoma Church in Queens Village, said Father Stan’s passing had created a big void, and each of us has a role to play in continuing his work. He asked not to be discouraged but to continue the fight until the truth is revealed.

Mr. Amir Rashid, Director at NYPD who hails from Bihar, described the hardships the marginalized people suffer at the powerful hands in States like Jharkhand. Father Stan Swamy was the voice for the voiceless, and as long as this same power structure exists, these injustices will continue to be tolerated. Pastor Babu Thomas of IPC Hebron in Queens Village reiterated the old saying that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Father Stan Swamy was not a terrorist. The government knew that. His only crime was he loved the poor and served them. Unless we stand up and fight for our freedom and rights, our world will be a diminished place to live.

Dr. Surinder Malhotra, former President of the Indian Overseas Congress described the pathetic situation in India as far as caste and religion is concerned. Unlike the United States, even for a job application, they want to know your religion. Even in our Diaspora here, they tend to ask whether he is a Hindu or a Christian, north Indian or south Indian, and such intolerance is so evident and has become part of our mindset. He condoled the death of a man who dedicated his entire life to doing good but ended up dying in custody.

Mr. Mohinder Singh Gilzian, President of the Indian Overseas Congress, USA, said it is outrageous that a man who is working on behalf of the poor dies in Government custody. The people who are responsible for foisting false charges to imprison him should be held accountable. The UAPA act is being misused and used against people for political reasons. Dr. Anna George, President of the Indian Nurses’ Association in New York, called Father Stan Swamy’s imprisonment and death cruel and unusual punishment. She asked for raising our collective voices to stop this from happening again.

Mr. Koshy Thomas, who ran for the NYC Council from District 23, expressed his sorrow, and asked authorities to protect  activists such as Father Stan while respecting the human rights of every citizen in India regardless of their religion or caste. Mr. John Joseph, the Vice-President of the Indian overseas Congress, urged not to be silent on these ongoing atrocities by the authorities. Is India a real democracy? He asked the participants to be more vigilant in guarding against these Human Rights abuses.

Mr. Shaji Karackal, National news coordinator, Harvest TV said ‘forgive us father, I am guilty and many of us are for not seeing the truth on time to come to your defense”. Father Stan Swamy will be remembered as a nobleman who stood up for the poor and marginalized. Mr. George Chacko also spoke. Mr. Varhgese Abraham thanked everyone for their attendance and paid tribute to the memory of this great soul, Father Stan Swamy. Mr.Shaji Ennasseril (solidactionstudio.com) provided the logistics.

Death Of Indian Jesuit Stan Swamy Throws Light On Abuse Of India’s Anti-Terrorism Laws

The body of 84-year-old Indian Jesuit priest Stan Swamy, who died under detention, was cremated on July 6 after a court asked Jesuit officials to follow prison rules. Father Stan Swamy was championing the rights of indigenous and marginalized people in eastern India’s Jharkhand state, breathed his last at the Holy Family Hospital in Bandra, Mumbai, where he was admitted for treatment over a month ago. Father Swamy was a Jesuit for 64 years, and a priest for 51 years.

The body of Father Swamy, who died of post-Covid-19 complications on July 5 in church-run Holy Family Hospital in Mumbai, was taken to a government crematorium after a requiem Mass. “Although he was free from Covid-19, we have been asked by the court to follow prison rules,” Jesuit Father Joseph Xavier said at the end of the July 6 funeral service after announcing the decision to cremate the priest’s body.  Father Swamy’s body was cremated in an electric crematorium at around 6.30pm after the funeral Mass, Father Joseph told UCA News on July 7.

Dr. Stanislaus D’Souza SJ, the Jesuit Provincial of India, said: “With a deep sense of pain, anguish and hope we have surrendered Fr Stan Swamy, aged 84, to his eternal abode.”The funeral service and Mass was led by Father Arun De Souza, Jesuit provincial of Mumbai, at St. Peter’s Church in Bandra, a Mumbai suburb. Only some 20 people attended the service because of Covid-19 restrictions.  Jesuits said the ashes will be carried to Ranchi town in eastern India where the missionary priest was based and to Jamshedpur town, the base of his Jesuit province. Father Stanislaus Arulswamy, known popularly as Stan Swamy had Parkinson’s disease, developed a pulmonary infection, post-Covid-19 complications in the lungs and pneumonia, according to the hospital’s medical director Ian D’Souza.  India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) that is tasked with fighting terrorism and sedition under the controversial Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), arrested Father Swamy on October 8 from Bagaicha, a Jesuit social action center on the outskirts of Ranchi, the capital of the eastern state of Jharkhand.

The following day, he was lodged in Taloja Jail, near Mumbai.  He was arrested for alleged links with Maoist insurgents who were said to have been behind the caste-based violence in BhimaKoregaon village in Maharashtra state in January 2018, in which one person was killed and many others injured.  Fifteen others, including scholars, lawyers, academicians, cultural activists and an ageing radical poet, have also been implicated in the same case. Father Swamy who suffered from Parkinson’s disease had difficulty in even sipping water from a glass and depended on co-prisoners for his other basic needs.  Besides, he also had hearing impairment and other age-related ailments.

The NIA court denied him bail twice, forcing him to twice move the Bombay High Court for bail. In the second week of May, the priest’s family members sought his release on grounds that he had contracted Covid-19 and was unable to even speak to his lawyers.  While hearing his bail plea on health grounds on May 21 through a video linkup, the Bombay High Court sensed Fr. Swamy’s failing health, and offered him treatment in a government or private hospital.  But the Jesuit turned down the offer, saying all he wanted was bail to go back to his home.  “I would rather suffer, possibly die very shortly if this were to go on,” he said.  He explained that when he arrived at the prison, his bodily systems “were very functional”, but in the over 7 months in prison, “there has been a steady, slow regression” of his health.

JCSA said “the Bombay High Court was hearing some petitions, seeking bail and a constitutional challenge to a section of UAPA, on July 5 when his lawyer announced Stan Swamy’s death.” “He suffered a cardiac arrest at 4.30 am on Saturday, and deteriorated thereafter,” JCSA said. The Archdiocese of Ranchi where Father Swamy served hailed him as  “a champion of tribal rights, a fighter for justice and a symbol of courage”.  “The fact that this sick man suffering with Parkinson disease was arrested at the age of 84, refused bail for over 7 months, not even allowed a sipper and finally contracted COVID in jail, itself is a sad reflection on those who got the innocent man arrested and the courts that refused to give him bail,” said a statement signed by

Archbishop Felix Toppo of Ranchi and Auxiliary Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas.  “The ‘caged parrot’ now sings in heaven but its blood is on our hands,” they wrote,   “May the hand of God intervene to bring justice to all innocent victims of insensitivity, vindictiveness and injustice. We have lost Fr. Stan Swamy but we still hope in the God of justice,” they added.The Jamshedpur Jesuit Province, to which Father Swamy belonged, also expressed “a deep sense of pain, anguish and hope” at the death of the “servant in mission of justice and reconciliation”. In a Facebook post, Father Jerome Cutinha noted that the “author of life” had given Father Swamy “a mission to work among the Advasis [indigenous], Dalits [downtrodden] and other marginalized communities so that the poor may have life and life to the full, with dignity and honour”. “The Society of Jesus [Jesuits], at this moment, recommits itself to take forward the legacy of Fr. Stan in hits mission of justice and reconciliation,” Father Cutinha wrote.

“We are deeply saddened at the passing away of Fr. Stan Swamy. We give thanks to God for Fr. Stan’s life and commitment to the poor indigenous people and their struggles,” wrote Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay in a brief statement.  “Fr. Stan’s arrest was very painful,” lamented the cardinal who is President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI).   “Under the Indian criminal law, one is innocent until proved guilty,” he wrote. “Fr. Stan’s case did not even come up for hearing. We were eagerly waiting for the case to be taken up and the truth to come out,” the cardinal wrote.

Fr. Swamy’s commitment

Father Swamy has denied all charges against him saying BhimaKoregaon is “a place that I have never been to in all my life.” However, sensing his imminent arrest, he had released a video message explaining his situation.  He said that what was happening to him was not something unique or happening to him alone. “It’s a broader process that is taking place over the country.”  Prominent intellectuals, lawyers, writers, poets, activists and student leaders, he said, “are all put into jail just because they have expressed dissent…”.

This however did not dim his resolve to pursue his convictions.  “I am happy to be part of this process because I am not a silent spectator,” he said in the video.  He explained that with the creation of Jharkhand state in 2000, there were issues, such as displacement and land alienation because of mining, factories townships and dams”, in which the people who owned that land were not consulted.  He engaged young activists to resort to the country rulings or laws that empowered the indigenous people in issues regarding their lands and territories.

The death in India of an octogenarian human rights activist who was denied bail even as his health deteriorated in prison has sparked anger across the country, with critics decrying the government’s alleged misuse of anti-terrorism laws. For decades, he fought for the human rights of India’s marginalized and indigenous groups, speaking and writing in depth about caste-based injustices.

India’s caste system was officially abolished in 1950, but the 2,000-year-old social hierarchy imposed on people by birth still exists in many aspects of life. The caste system categorizes Hindus at birth, defining their place in society, what jobs they can do and who they can marry. In October last year, Swamy was arrested and charged under the country’s anti-terrorism laws, which critics have described as draconian.

Stan Swamy was among 16 renowned activists, academics and lawyers who were charged under a draconian anti-terror law in what came to be known as the BhimaKoregaon case.  Prison authorities were criticized for denying him access to basic amenities such as a straw and sipper – a plastic drinking beaker with a spout or straw – which he needed to drink water because of hand tremors caused by Parkinson’s. The Elgar Parishad case is related to inflammatory speeches made at a conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017, which, the police claimed, triggered violence the next day near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial located on the outskirts of the western Maharashtra city. The police had claimed the conclave was organized by people with alleged Maoist links.

Human Rights Violated: Modi Regime Abuses Power

Stan Swamy’s arrest sparked outrage worldwide, prompting several opposition politicians, national and international rights groups to demand his release. The others accused in the case termed Stan Swamy’s death an “institutional murder” and held the “negligent jails, indifferent courts and malicious investigating agencies” responsible for it. As a mark of protest, 10 of the co-accused in the case – Rona Wilson, SurendraGadling, SudhirDhawale, Mahesh Raut, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, GautamNavlakha, AnandTeltumbde, Ramesh Gaichor and SagarGorkhe – went on a one-day fast in the Taloja jail on Wednesday.

They informed about the protest to their family members, who released a statement saying all Elgar case prisoners have blamed the NIA and the Taloja jail’s former superintendent KaustubhKurlekar for the death of Father Stan Swamy. They believe that “the separation of Stan Swamy from them is a deliberate institutional murder,” the release said. The statement alleged that the NIA and Kurlekar never missed a single opportunity to “harass” Stan Swamy, whether it was the “ghastly treatment” inside the jail, the haste to transfer him back from hospital to jail or even protesting against trivial things like a sipper (which Stan Swamy required due to his medical conditions).

“It is these that have caused the death of Stan Swamy and therefore, for this institutional murder, NIA officials and Kurlekar should be tried under Section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code,” the statement said, while demanding a judicial inquiry into his death.

The statement said the family members of the accused will submit these demands to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray through the Taloja jail administration. It also said that though these accused were lodged in different barracks, they met on Tuesday and shared their memories of Father Stan Swamy, and also observed a two-minute silence as a mark of tribute to him. Three women accused in the case- SudhaBharadwaj, Shoma Sen and JyotiJagtap – are currently lodged at the Byculla prison in Mumbai.

The United Nations Human Rights on Tuesday issued a statement on his death and detention, criticising India. The international body tweeted, “We are saddened and disturbed by the death of 84-year-old human rights defender Father Stan Swamy, after prolonged pre-trial detention. With Covid-19, it is even more urgent that states release every person detained without sufficient legal basis.” In its statement, the UN Human Rights’ office of the high commissioner had said that Father Stan had been held in pre-trial detention without bail since his arrest, charged with terrorism-related offences in relation to demonstrations that date back to 2018.

“High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet and the UN’s independent experts have repeatedly raised the cases of Father Stan and 15 other human rights defenders associated with the same events with the Government of India over the past three years and urged their release from pre-trial detention. The High Commissioner has also raised concerns over the use of the UAPA in relation to human rights defenders, a law Father Stan was challenging before the Indian courts days before he died,” the UN statement said. “We stress, once again, the High Commissioner’s call on the Government of India to ensure that no one is detained for exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly and of association,” Bachelet said in her statement.

An international alliance of civil rights groups has blamed the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the death of an 84-year-old Jesuit social activist who died under detention. Human rights defender Father Stan Swamy’s death on July 5 while awaiting trial has deeply shocked and outraged global civil society alliance CIVICUS. A slew of opposition politicians, rights groups and academics, have expressed sadness for his death — as well as anger for the laws under which he was arrested and denied bail. Critics have long accused India’s government of increasingly using anti-terrorism laws as a means to quell any form of dissent.

Harsh Mander, a prominent Indian rights activist called Swamy’s death a “tragedy for the nation.” “A cruel state jailed him to silence his voice, the judiciary did nothing to secure his freedom,” he said on Twitter. International figures have spoken out as well — the European Union’s special representative for human rights said the EU had been “raising his case repeatedly with authorities,” calling Swamy a “defender of indigenous people’s rights.”

MeenakshiGanguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said Swamy’s arrest highlights “a degree of cruelty and callousness that is shameful.” “The counter terror law is draconian. We see it is being used rampantly to jail peaceful critics without bail,” Ganguly said. “It was for the courts to decide if Swamy was guilty, but in repeatedly stifling bail, the authorities chose not to protect,” the “fragile, ailing” activist, she added.

The priest’s death “is a result of the persecution he has faced by the Modi government after revealing abuses by the state,” the group said in a press statement. “Swamy’s death is a tragic loss for civil society and highlights the dangerous situation for other human rights defenders currently in jail in India,” said Lysa John, CIVICUS secretary-general. “Human rights activism and criticism of the state should not amount to the equivalent of a death sentence.”

Thousands of activists, political leaders and Indian citizens have taken to social media to pay tributes to Stan Swamy.  Many also expressed anger at the way he was jailed during Covid-19 and repeatedly denied bail. The government said Swamy’s arrest followed “due process under law”. Historian Ramachandra Guha called his death “a case of judicial murder“.  Leader of the main opposition Congress party Rahul Gandhi tweeted that “he deserved justice and humaneness”:

Indian American organizations have condemned the death of Father Stan Swamy, the 84-year-old defender of indigenous peoples’ rights in India, calling it a blot on India’s consciousness. “It is a dark day for democracy in India, and the national leadership and members of the judiciary should hang their heads in shame” questioning the failure of freedom of expression in a democratic nation,” George Abraham, vice-chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress, said in a statement.

In his last bail hearing in May, Swamy had predicted his death. “I would rather suffer, possibly die here very shortly if this were to go on,” he told the judges. The Indian Express newspaper said Swamy’s death had “left the highest institutions of India’s justice system diminished”.”In the nearly nine months of his incarceration, till his death, the ailing activist came up – again and again – against the heavy hand of the state, an unresponsive judiciary and a broken prison system,” the newspaper said in an editorial. Chief Minister Hemant Soren of the eastern state of Jharkhand – where Swamy lived and worked – said the federal government “should be answerable for absolute apathy and non provision of timely medical services, leading to his death”.

Reflections On The Demise Of Fr. Stan Swamy

I don’t know if Fr. Stan Swamy’s soul will rest in peace. Given his sincerity to the cause of Dalit and adivasi rights, it is unlikely that it would, so long as the present situation continue. One thing, however, is certain. The present dispensation can now rest in peace. An octogenarian, enfeebled by Parkinson’s disease, unable even to hold a spoon with steady hands, will not destabilize the mighty Indian State anymore. Mera Bharat Mahan!

Why don’t I mourn Fr. Stan’s death, though it is ‘untimely’? His death is ‘untimely’ because senseless imprisonment expedited it. If so, the plain truth is that he is killed. But, if you ask me, ‘Who killed Fr. Stan?’ I will have to refer to Count Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy says that the State is able to perpetrate atrocities through a division of labour. Now if a judge, for example, had to not only condemn but also to take Fr. Stan personally to a prison and shut him up there, he would not be able to do it. If the NIA lawyers were to do it, their conscience too would revolt against it. Even the policemen involved, if they were to, on their own responsibility, throw Fr. Stan into the jail, they would have trembled at the abhorrence of it. But break this atrocity into many pieces and make different agencies carry out the fragments by way of discharging their ‘duties’, it can then be done with sincerity and national fervour. I too am part of this callous system. So, how can I mourn the death of this saintly man, having kept quiet about it for nearly a year?

Secondly, I feel happy for him because Fr. Stan is now in a better state than he was, while alive in circumstances such were inflicted on him for reasons he could not understand. There is a school of thought that it is easier for an innocent man to suffer. They think so because they have never suffered, innocently or otherwise. The anguish in guilt-less suffering is that one’s suffering makes no sense. It is absurd. What is absurd is unendurable. If you are punished for your wrongdoings, then you can reconcile yourself to your plight. Think, if you dare, of the plight of an old and chronically ill man in a prison. Prison-life conditions, including the psychological poison that goes with it, being what they are, even individuals much younger than Fr. Stan and in better states of health disintegrate fast. Fr. Stan himself said that it is better to die than to be in prison the way he was. So, why shouldn’t we celebrate his release from misery through the mercy of death, for neither mercy nor justice was likely to reach him in any other way?

Oh, no! It is not Fr Stan that we need to mourn. It is ourselves. Given the miasma of fear that is enveloping the country –of which the plight of Fr. Stan is a clear warning- the difference between being inside the jail and being outside of it is becoming merely notional. A story from Hitler’s Germany is relevant here. Pastor Martin Niemoller was visited in jail by some of his sympathisers who wondered why he had to be in jail. He quipped, ‘Why are you not in jail?’ That is to say, at what cost are you keeping yourself out of it?

What intrigues me most is not the efficiency and zealous patriotism of NIA that rids India of extreme threats like Fr. Stan, but the crass indifference of the Catholic Church. No one is in the dark about the communication lines between the church hierarchy and the Modi dispensation. We are also aware of the extent to which the church goes, covertly, if not overtly, to save worthies like Franko of the nun-rape fame. We have seen, over three decades, bow the accused in the Abhya nun murder case were sheltered from the arm of the law. The humongous financial investment made for their sake is also not unknown. The one thing we do not know is if anything comparable has ever been attempted by the same Church arms or agencies for the sake of Fr. Stan. He was abandoned, it seems, like an illicit baby by its unwed mother.

A couple of issues stare at us from the Fr. Stan tragedy, which is the tragedy of humanity as a whole. First, Fr. Stan has died condemned, without the due process of law. Under the UAPA, the accused is guilty until proven innocent. Fr. Stan was not proved innocent. He was ‘the accused’ at the time of his death. The accused is, under the UAPA, guilty. So, I suggest that his case be tried on an urgent basis and the truth or otherwise of the allegations against him established. This is a matter of larger significance. It is likely that many more will suffer Fr. Stan’s plight, given the increasing number of people booked under the UAPA and the inordinate in trying them as well as the protracted nature of their trials.

There is, besides, a humanitarian issue involved here. The State tends to mistake the cry of the poor for justice as a war-cry against peace and stability. Since Fr. Stan was booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, we cannot but ask: Is it ‘unlawful’ to empathise with those who struggle for their rights: both human and constitutional? The Pathalgadi movement, with which Fr. Stan was in solidarity, is a tribal movement to realize the tribal rights enshrined in the Constitution of India. From Fr. Stan’s point of view, it is a spiritual and humanitarian duty to stand with those who struggle and suffer for justice. In itself it is a humane and laudable thing. But, under the law, it has become subversive and anti-national. It has become, that is to say, dangerous to do good, if the good you do seems to go against the interests of the ruling elite. But, the right and duty of human beings to express their conscience through humanitarian activities is not subject to the charity of a State; it is a God-given duty. It is reprehensible for the State to trespass into this domain of practical spirituality.

Let’s not forget that Fr. Stan is the victim not only of callous State action but also of the even more reprehensible indifference of the people at large. Today what is done to fellow human beings doesn’t matter to us, so long as it has either the tang of ideology or the veneer of legality. So long as our own skin remains intact, we sail along without any pang of conscience. Let me, yet again, borrow the words of Pastor Niermoller: today it is Fr. Stan. Tomorrow it will be your neighbor. The day after . . . ?

Religion In India: Tolerance And Segregation

Indians say it is important to respect all religions, but major religious groups see little in common and want to live separately. More than 70 years after India became free from colonial rule, Indians generally feel their country has lived up to one of its post-independence ideals: a society where followers of many religions can live and practice freely. India’s massive population is diverse as well as devout. Not only do most of the world’s Hindus, Jains and Sikhs live in India, but it also is home to one of the world’s largest Muslim populations and to millions of Christians and Buddhists.

A major new Pew Research Center survey of religion across India, based on nearly 30,000 face-to-face interviews of adults conducted in 17 languages between late 2019 and early 2020 (before the COVID-19 pandemic), finds that Indians of all these religious backgrounds overwhelmingly say they are very free to practice their faiths. Indians see religious tolerance as a central part of who they are as a nation. Across the major religious groups, most people say it is very important to respect all religions to be “truly Indian.” And tolerance is a religious as well as civic value: Indians are united in the view that respecting other religions is a very important part of what it means to be a member of their own religious community.

These shared values are accompanied by a number of beliefs that cross religious lines. Not only do a majority of Hindus in India (77%) believe in karma, but an identical percentage of Muslims do, too. A third of Christians in India (32%) – together with 81% of Hindus – say they believe in the purifying power of the Ganges River, a central belief in Hinduism. In Northern India, 12% of Hindus and 10% of Sikhs, along with 37% of Muslims, identity with Sufism, a mystical tradition most closely associated with Islam. And the vast majority of Indians of all major religious backgrounds say that respecting elders is very important to their faith.

Yet, despite sharing certain values and religious beliefs – as well as living in the same country, under the same constitution – members of India’s major religious communities often don’t feel they have much in common with one another. The majority of Hindus see themselves as very different from Muslims (66%), and most Muslims return the sentiment, saying they are very different from Hindus (64%). There are a few exceptions: Two-thirds of Jains and about half of Sikhs say they have a lot in common with Hindus. But generally, people in India’s major religious communities tend to see themselves as very different from others.

This perception of difference is reflected in traditions and habits that maintain the separation of India’s religious groups. For example, marriages across religious lines – and, relatedly, religious conversions – are exceedingly rare (see Chapter 3). Many Indians, across a range of religious groups, say it is very important to stop people in their community from marrying into other religious groups. Roughly two-thirds of Hindus in India want to prevent interreligious marriages of Hindu women (67%) or Hindu men (65%). Even larger shares of Muslims feel similarly: 80% say it is very important to stop Muslim women from marrying outside their religion, and 76% say it is very important to stop Muslim men from doing so.

Moreover, Indians generally stick to their own religious group when it comes to their friends. Hindus overwhelmingly say that most or all of their close friends are also Hindu. Of course, Hindus make up the majority of the population, and as a result of sheer numbers, may be more likely to interact with fellow Hindus than with people of other religions. But even among Sikhs and Jains, who each form a sliver of the national population, a large majority say their friends come mainly or entirely from their small religious community.

Fewer Indians go so far as to say that their neighborhoods should consist only of people from their own religious group. Still, many would prefer to keep people of certain religions out of their residential areas or villages. For example, many Hindus (45%) say they are fine with having neighbors of all other religions – be they Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist or Jain – but an identical share (45%) say they would not be willing to accept followers of at least one of these groups, including more than one-in-three Hindus (36%) who do not want a Muslim as a neighbor. Among Jains, a majority (61%) say they are unwilling to have neighbors from at least one of these groups, including 54% who would not accept a Muslim neighbor, although nearly all Jains (92%) say they would be willing to accept a Hindu neighbor.

Indians, then, simultaneously express enthusiasm for religious tolerance and a consistent preference for keeping their religious communities in segregated spheres – they live together separately. These two sentiments may seem paradoxical, but for many Indians they are not.

Indeed, many take both positions, saying it is important to be tolerant of others and expressing a desire to limit personal connections across religious lines. Indians who favor a religiously segregated society also overwhelmingly emphasize religious tolerance as a core value. For example, among Hindus who say it is very important to stop the interreligious marriage of Hindu women, 82% also say that respecting other religions is very important to what it means to be Hindu. This figure is nearly identical to the 85% who strongly value religious tolerance among those who are not at all concerned with stopping interreligious marriage.

In other words, Indians’ concept of religious tolerance does not necessarily involve the mixing of religious communities. While people in some countries may aspire to create a “melting pot” of different religious identities, many Indians seem to prefer a country more like a patchwork fabric, with clear lines between groups.

The dimensions of Hindu nationalism in India

One of these religious fault lines – the relationship between India’s Hindu majority and the country’s smaller religious communities – has particular relevance in public life, especially in recent years under the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP is often described as promoting a Hindu nationalist ideology. The survey finds that Hindus tend to see their religious identity and Indian national identity as closely intertwined: Nearly two-thirds of Hindus (64%) say it is very important to be Hindu to be “truly” Indian.

Most Hindus (59%) also link Indian identity with being able to speak Hindi – one of dozens of languages that are widely spoken in India. And these two dimensions of national identity – being able to speak Hindi and being a Hindu – are closely connected. Among Hindus who say it is very important to be Hindu to be truly Indian, fully 80% also say it is very important to speak Hindi to be truly Indian.

The BJP’s appeal is greater among Hindus who closely associate their religious identity and the Hindi language with being “truly Indian.” In the 2019 national elections, 60% of Hindu voters who think it is very important to be Hindu and to speak Hindi to be truly Indian cast their vote for the BJP, compared with only a third among Hindu voters who feel less strongly about both these aspects of national identity.

Overall, among those who voted in the 2019 elections, three-in-ten Hindus take all three positions: saying it is very important to be Hindu to be truly Indian; saying the same about speaking Hindi; and casting their ballot for the BJP. These views are considerably more common among Hindus in the largely Hindi-speaking Northern and Central regions of the country, where roughly half of all Hindu voters fall into this category, compared with just 5% in the South. Whether Hindus who meet all three of these criteria qualify as “Hindu nationalists” may be debated, but they do express a heightened desire for maintaining clear lines between Hindus and other religious groups when it comes to whom they marry, who their friends are and whom they live among. For example, among Hindu BJP voters who link national identity with both religion and language, 83% say it is very important to stop Hindu women from marrying into another religion, compared with 61% among other Hindu voters.

This group also tends to be more religiously observant: 95% say religion is very important in their lives, and roughly three-quarters say they pray daily (73%). By comparison, among other Hindu voters, a smaller majority (80%) say religion is very important in their lives, and about half (53%) pray daily.

Even though Hindu BJP voters who link national identity with religion and language are more inclined to support a religiously segregated India, they also are more likely than other Hindu voters to express positive opinions about India’s religious diversity. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of this group – Hindus who say that being a Hindu and being able to speak Hindi are very important to be truly Indian and who voted for the BJP in 2019 – say religious diversity benefits India, compared with about half (47%) of other Hindu voters. This finding suggests that for many Hindus, there is no contradiction between valuing religious diversity (at least in principle) and feeling that Hindus are somehow more authentically Indian than fellow citizens who follow other religions.

Among Indians overall, there is no overwhelming consensus on the benefits of religious diversity. On balance, more Indians see diversity as a benefit than view it as a liability for their country: Roughly half (53%) of Indian adults say India’s religious diversity benefits the country, while about a quarter (24%) see diversity as harmful, with similar figures among both Hindus and Muslims. But 24% of Indians do not take a clear position either way – they say diversity neither benefits nor harms the country, or they decline to answer the question. (See Chapter 2 for a discussion of attitudes toward diversity.)

India’s Muslims express pride in being Indian while identifying communal tensions, desiring segregation

India’s Muslim community, the second-largest religious group in the country, historically has had a complicated relationship with the Hindu majority. The two communities generally have lived peacefully side by side for centuries, but their shared history also is checkered by civil unrest and violence. Most recently, while the survey was being conducted, demonstrations broke out in parts of New Delhi and elsewhere over the government’s new citizenship law, which creates an expedited path to citizenship for immigrants from some neighboring countries – but not Muslims.

Today, India’s Muslims almost unanimously say they are very proud to be Indian (95%), and they express great enthusiasm for Indian culture: 85% agree with the statement that “Indian people are not perfect, but Indian culture is superior to others.” Relatively few Muslims say their community faces “a lot” of discrimination in India (24%). In fact, the share of Muslims who see widespread discrimination against their community is similar to the share of Hindus who say Hindus face widespread religious discrimination in India (21%). But personal experiences with discrimination among Muslims vary quite a bit regionally. Among Muslims in the North, 40% say they personally have faced religious discrimination in the last 12 months – much higher levels than reported in most other regions.

In addition, most Muslims across the country (65%), along with an identical share of Hindus (65%), see communal violence as a very big national problem. (See Chapter 1 for a discussion of Indians’ attitudes toward national problems.) Like Hindus, Muslims prefer to live religiously segregated lives – not just when it comes to marriage and friendships, but also in some elements of public life. In particular, three-quarters of Muslims in India (74%) support having access to the existing system of Islamic courts, which handle family disputes (such as inheritance or divorce cases), in addition to the secular court system. Muslims’ desire for religious segregation does not preclude tolerance of other groups – again similar to the pattern seen among Hindus. Indeed, a majority of Muslims who favor separate religious courts for their community say religious diversity benefits India (59%), compared with somewhat fewer of those who oppose religious courts for Muslims (50%).

Kathy Ireland To Be Honored For Work Advancing International Religious Freedom (IRF)

Kathy Ireland, Chair, CEO and Chief Designer of kathyireland Worldwide (kiWW), will receive the inaugural Business IRF Champion Award at the IRF Summit in Washington DC on July 15 for going above and beyond the call of duty in advancing religious freedom for everyone, everywhere, all the time.

“Kathy is known throughout the globe for her entrepreneurial success, rising from supermodel to super-mogul. She has been featured on the cover of Forbes more times than on Sports Illustrated, and she recently shattered glass ceilings with kathyireland Worldwide being named the 15th most powerful brand in the world, the highest ranking for a woman-owned and individually-owned company, ” said Dr. Brian Grim, chair of the business selection committee for the upcoming IRF Summit. “And now it is fitting that Kathy be recognized for her activism in support of all people persecuted for their faith and beliefs around the world,” adds Dr. Grim.

In August 2014, ISIS militants swept through the Sinjar region of northern Iraq in a deliberate attempt to annihilate the Yezidis and other religious minorities, employing brutal tactics including mass executions, rape, and sexual enslavement of young women. As this horrific genocide unfolded, Kathy not only lobbied Congress to respond, but responded herself by supporting women-led initiatives to rescue Yezidis and address the hatred and prejudices that created an environment where such atrocities could occur. To this day, almost 3,000 Yezidi women and children remain missing and almost 300,000 Yezidis still live in displacement camps in northern Iraq.

Kathy’s engagement did not stop when the genocide did. This August 22, Kathy is co-hosting with the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation a charity auction with all proceeds to directly provide business and livelihood opportunities for Yezidi women struggling to recover from the genocide.

“It is a tremendous honor and very humbling to receive this honor,” says Ms. Ireland. “It is our duty and responsibility, for all of us, to fight for everyone’s right to religious freedom, no matter what religion you choose to practice. It is basic human rights. Thank you Dr. Brian Grim and everyone at the IRF Summit for bringing attention to the plight of so many who are deprived of the basic right to religious freedom, and for working tirelessly to combat those who try to inflict this cruelty upon others.”

Kathy will receive Business IRF Hero Award at the Closing Dinner of the 2021 IRF Summit, which begins at 6:30 pm on Thursday, July 15, at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington D.C. The IRF Summit will bring together a bi-partisan and broad coalition that passionately supports religious freedom around the globe for a three day in-person event in Washington D.C., July 13-15, with a virtual option for participation. Kathy will also speak during the virtual event.

Religious Tolerance Central To Indians’ Identity, Pew Survey Finds

Indians see religious tolerance as the central plank of their national identity but stick to their own religious group when it comes to making friends or getting married, says a new Pew survey. The survey report released on July 28 was based on nearly 30,000 face-to-face interviews with adults conducted in 17 languages between late 2019 and early 2020 before Covid-19 struck. Indians do not see any contradiction in their preference to “live together, separately,” the report said. “Indeed, many take both positions, saying it is important to be tolerant of others and expressing a desire to limit personal connections across religious lines,” it said.

In other words, unlike people in some countries aspiring to create a “melting pot” of different religious identities, Indians seem to prefer a country more like a patchwork fabric, with clear lines between groups. The country of 1.4 billion people is on its way to becoming the most populous in the world and is home to diverse as well as devout people including most of the world’s Hindus, Jains and Sikhs. India houses the world’s largest Muslim population of some 200 million besides having about 24 million Christians and 8 million Buddhists.

Most Indians share some common values and beliefs across religious lines like karma, Sufism or respecting elders, which is considered very important to their faiths. The survey also found Indians tend to see religious ceremonies for the three rites of passage at birth (or infancy), marriage and death as highly important. “For example, the vast majority of Muslims (92 percent), Christians (86 percent) and Hindus (85 percent) say it is very important to have a religious burial or cremation for their loved ones.” And yet members of major religious communities also tend to see themselves as very different from others.

“This perception of difference is reflected in traditions and habits that maintain the separation of India’s religious groups. For example, marriages across religious lines — and religious conversions — are exceedingly rare,” the report noted. Many Indians even prefer to keep people of certain religions out of their neighborhoods or villages, though few would go so far as to make their preferences public. “For example, many Hindus (45 percent) say they are fine with having neighbors of all other religions — be they Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist or Jain — but an identical share (45 percent) say they would not be willing to accept followers of at least one of these groups, including more than one in three Hindus (36 percent) who do not want a Muslim as a neighbor,” the report stated.

The survey also revealed that the majority of Hindus say it is very important to be Hindu and being able to speak Hindi to be “truly” Indian, and that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s appeal was greater among such Hindus. “In the 2019 national elections, 60 percent of Hindu voters who think it is very important to be Hindu and to speak Hindi to be truly Indian cast their vote for the BJP, compared with only a third among Hindu voters who feel less strongly about both these aspects of national identity,” the report said. But these sentiments were found to be considered common among Hindus in the largely Hindi-speaking northern and central regions of the country, where roughly half of all Hindu voters fall into this category, compared with just 5 percent in the south.

Religion is not the only fault line in Indian society. In some regions of the country, significant shares of people perceive widespread, caste-based discrimination.

The survey findings further suggest that for many Hindus, there is no contradiction between valuing religious diversity and feeling that Hindus are somehow more authentically Indian than fellow citizens who follow other religions. But 95 percent of Muslims, India’s largest minority, say they are very proud to be Indian and express great enthusiasm for Indian culture, most of them agreeing (85 percent) with the statement that “Indian people are not perfect, but Indian culture is superior to others.”

“Most Muslims across the country (65 percent), along with an identical share of Hindus (65 percent), see communal violence as a very big national problem,” the report said. “Religion is not the only fault line in Indian society. In some regions of the country, significant shares of people perceive widespread, caste-based discrimination,” the report said while noting that caste-based discrimination, as well as the government’s efforts to compensate for past discrimination, are politically charged topics in India. Religious conversion has had a minimal impact on the overall size of India’s religious groups.

For example, according to the survey, 82 percent of Indians say they were raised Hindu, and a nearly identical share say they are currently Hindu, “showing no net losses for the group through conversion to other religions. Other groups display similar levels of stability.” Changes in India’s religious landscape over time were largely a result of differences in fertility rates among religious groups, not conversion. “For Christians, however, there are some net gains from conversion: 0.4 percent of survey respondents are former Hindus who now identify as Christian, while 0.1 percent are former Christians,” the report noted.

Key Findings By Pew About Religion In India

India’s massive population is diverse as well as devout. Not only do most of the world’s Hindus, Jains and Sikhs live in India, but it also is home to one of the world’s largest Muslim populations and to millions of Christians and Buddhists. A new Pew Research Center report, based on a face-to-face survey of 29,999 Indian adults fielded between late 2019 and early 2020 – before the COVID-19 pandemic – takes a closer look at religious identity, nationalism and tolerance in Indian society. The survey was conducted by local interviewers in 17 languages and covered nearly all of India’s states and union territories. Here are key findings from the report.

Indians value religious tolerance, though they also live religiously segregated lives. Across the country, most people (84%) say that to be “truly Indian,” it is very important to respect all religions. Indians also are united in the view that respecting other religions is a very important part of what it means to be a member of their own religious community (80%). People in all six major religious groups overwhelmingly say they are very free to practice their faiths, and most say that people of other faiths also are very free to practice their own religion.

But Indians’ commitment to tolerance is accompanied by a strong preference for keeping religious communities segregated. For example, Indians generally say they do not have much in common with members of other religious groups, and large majorities in the six major groups say their close friends come mainly or entirely from their own religious community. That’s true not only for 86% of India’s large Hindu population, but also for smaller groups such as Sikhs (80%) and Jains (72%). Moreover, roughly two-thirds of Hindus say it is very important to stop Hindu women (67%) or Hindu men (65%) from marrying into other religious communities. Even larger shares of Muslims oppose interreligious marriage: 80% say it is very important to stop Muslim women from marrying outside their religion, and 76% say it is very important to stop Muslim men from doing so.

For many Hindus, national identity, religion and language are closely connected. Nearly two-thirds of Hindus (64%) say it is very important to be Hindu to be truly Indian. Among Hindus who say it is very important to be Hindu to be truly Indian, 80% also say it is very important to speak Hindi to be truly Indian. Hindus who strongly link Hindu and Indian identities express a keen desire for religious segregation. For instance, 76% of Hindus who say being Hindu is very important to being truly Indian feel it is very important to stop Hindu women from marrying into another religion. By comparison, 52% of Hindus who place less importance on Hinduism’s role in Indian identity hold this view about religious intermarriage.

Moreover, Hindus in the Northern (69%) and Central (83%) parts of the country are much more likely than those in the South (42%) to strongly link Hindu identity with national identity. Together, the Northern and Central regions cover the country’s “Hindi belt,” where Hindi, one of dozens of languages spoken in India, is most prevalent. The vast majority of Hindus in these regions strongly link Indian identity with being able to speak Hindi.

Among Hindus, views of national identity go hand-in-hand with politics. Support for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is greater among Hindus who closely associate their religious identity and the Hindi language with being truly Indian. In the 2019 national elections, 60% of Hindu voters who think it is very important to be Hindu and to speak Hindi to be truly Indian cast their vote for the BJP, compared with 33% among Hindu voters who feel less strongly about both these aspects of national identity. These views also map onto regional support for the BJP, which tends to be much higher in the Northern and Central parts of the country than in the South.

Dietary laws are central to Indians’ religious identity. Hindus traditionally view cows as sacred, and laws on cow slaughter have recently been a flashpoint in India. Nearly three-quarters of Hindus (72%) in India say a person cannot be Hindu if they eat beef. That is larger than the shares of Hindus who say a person cannot be Hindu if they do not believe in God (49%) or never go to a temple (48%). Similarly, three-quarters of Indian Muslims (77%) say that a person cannot be Muslim if they eat pork, which is greater than the share who say a person cannot be Muslim if they do not believe in God (60%) or never attend mosque (61%).

Muslims favor having access to their own religious courts. Since 1937, India’s Muslims have had the option of resolving family and inheritance-related cases in officially recognized Islamic courts, known as dar-ul-qaza. These courts are overseen by religious magistrates known as qazi and operate under Shariah principles, although their decisions are not legally binding. Whether or not Muslims should be allowed to go to their own religious courts remains a hotly debated topic. The survey finds that three-quarters of Muslims (74%) support having access to the existing system of Islamic courts, but followers of other religions are far less likely to support Muslim access to this separate court system.

Muslims are more likely than Hindus to say the 1947 partition establishing the separate states of India and Pakistan harmed Hindu-Muslim relations. More than seven decades after the Indian subcontinent was divided into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan at the end of British colonial rule, the predominant view among Indian Muslims is that the partition of the subcontinent was a bad thing for Hindu-Muslim relations (48%). Only three-in-ten Muslims say it was a good thing. Hindus, however, lean in the opposite direction: 43% of Hindus say Partition was beneficial for Hindu-Muslim relations, while 37% say it was harmful. Sikhs, whose historical homeland of Punjab was split by Partition, are even more likely than Muslims to say the event was bad for Hindu-Muslim relations: Two-thirds of Sikhs (66%) take this position.

India’s caste system, an ancient social hierarchy with origins in Hindu writings, continues to fracture society. Regardless of whether they are Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist or Jain, Indians nearly universally identify with a caste. Members of lower caste groups historically have faced discrimination and unequal economic opportunities, but the survey finds that most people – including most members of lower castes – say there is not a lot of caste discrimination in India. The Indian Constitution prohibits caste-based discrimination, including untouchability, and in recent decades the government has enacted economic advancement policies like reserved seats in universities and government jobs for members of some lower-caste communities.

Still, a large majority of Indians overall (70%) say that most or all of their close friends share their caste. Much as they object to interreligious marriages, a large share of Indians (64%) say it is very important to stop women in their community from marrying into other castes, and about the same share (62%) say it is very important to stop men in their community from marrying into other castes. These figures vary only modestly across different castes.

Religious conversion is rare in India; to the extent that it is occurring, Hindus gain as many people as they lose. Conversion of people belonging to lower castes away from Hinduism to other religions, especially Christianity, has been contentious in India, and some states have laws against proselytism. This survey, though, finds that religious switching has a minimal impact on the size of religious groups. Across India, 98% of survey respondents give the same answer when asked to identify their current religion and, separately, their childhood religion.

An overall pattern of stability in the share of religious groups is accompanied by little net change from movement into, or out of, most religious groups. Among Hindus, for instance, any conversion out of the group is matched by conversion into the group: 0.7% of respondents say they were raised Hindu but now identify as something else, and roughly the same share (0.8%) say they were not raised Hindu but now identify as Hindu. For Christians, however, there are some net gains from conversion: 0.4% of survey respondents are former Hindus who now identify as Christian, while 0.1% were raised Christian but have since left Christianity.

Most Indians believe in God and say religion is very important in their lives. Nearly all Indians say they believe in God (97%), and roughly 80% of people in most religious groups say they are absolutely certain that God exists. The main exception is Buddhists, one-third of whom say they do not believe in God. (Belief in God is not central to Buddhist teachings.)

Indians do not always agree about the nature of God: Most Hindus say there is one God with many manifestations, while Muslims and Christians are more likely to say, simply, “there is only one God.” But across all major faiths, the vast majority of Indians say that religion is very important in their lives, and significant portions of each religious group also pray daily and observe a range of other religious rituals.

India’s religious groups share several religious practices and beliefs. After living side by side for generations, India’s minority groups often engage in practices or hold beliefs that are more closely associated with Hindu traditions than with their own. For instance, many Sikh (29%), Christian (22%) and Muslim (18%) women in India say they wear a bindi – the forehead marking often worn by married women – even though the bindi has Hindu origins. Meanwhile, Muslims in India are just as likely as Hindus to say they believe in karma (77% each), as do 54% of Indian Christians. Some members of the majority Hindu community celebrate Muslim and Christian festivals: 7% of Indian Hindus say they celebrate the Muslim festival of Eid, and 17% celebrate Christmas.

After Being Rejected By Vatican, Indian Nun Seeks Solace From Indian Civil Court

A Catholic nun who has exhausted all avenues of appeal against her dismissal from her congregation stemming from her activism in a rape case involving a Catholic bishop says she will not leave her convent until an Indian court decides on her petition.The Vatican’s supreme tribunal has rejected the appeal of Indian nun Lucy Kalappura against dismissal, leaving her with no other option than to move out of her congregation. Kalappura, however, has told the media on June 14 that she will continue to live in her convent until an Indian court settles the case about her right to housing. The nun has challenged her congregation’s order to move out of her convent, where she lived for more than three decades.

The Franciscan Clarist Congregation on June 13 ordered Sr. Lucy Kalappura to vacate the convent in Kakkamala in the Wayanad district of Kerala after the Vatican’s Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura categorically dismissed her revision petition against her dismissal.”My case will come up in the Indian court in June or July this year,” Kalappura told the media.The tussle began after Kalappura’s Franciscan Clarist Congregation based in southern India’s Kerala state dismissed her on Aug. 5, 2019, for alleged charges of disobedience and breaking religious vows.

The congregation, however, followed church laws to give her an opportunity to appeal to the Vatican and continue in the convent. The nun appealed against the congregation’s dismissal order before the Vatican’s Congregation for Oriental Churches, which rejected her appeal on Oct. 11, 2019.But she refused to move out of the convent and within a fortnight appealed to the Supreme Tribunal, the Vatican’s highest appeal court, against her dismissal. The appeal now stands rejected and the Vatican has confirmed her dismissal, said Sister Ann Joseph, the congregation’s superior general, in a June 12 letter.

Informing the congregation of the rejection of Kalappura’s second appeal, the nun said: “Let us raise our hearts praising the Almighty for his unspeakable gift.” But the nun is unfazed. “I will continue to live in the convent until the court settles my case,” she told the media on June 14. Kalappura currently lives in her congregation’s convent in Wayanad district in Mananthavady Diocese of Kerala.“I have already challenged my eviction from the convent and the case is still pending in the court,” she said. “I will not move out from the convent until the court pronounces its verdict.”

Earlier Kalappura said her convent began to act against her after she backed the public protests of five nuns in September 2018 seeking the arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who was accused of raping the former superior general of Missionaries of Jesus, a diocesan congregation under him.Bishop Mulakkal of Jalandhar was arrested on Sept. 21, 2018 year following fortnight-long public protests and faces court proceedings on rape charges. The congregation, however, claims that the nun’s case has no links with the bishop’s case.

For the past several years, the nun has been defiantly disobeying her superiors and the rules of the congregation, neglecting warnings and opportunities to correct herself, it said. The dismissal came after several written warnings, her superiors maintain, quoting documents in their support

When ‘The Light OfAsia’ Impacted Tagore, Vivekananda

In late-February 1912, a play called Buddha was staged at the Royal Court Theatre in London. This was produced by William Poel, the noted theatre figure best known for his presentations of Shakespeare. The play was adapted for stage by S.C. Bose. It has been speculated that he was Sarat Chandra Bose, the elder brother of Subhas Chandra Bose, and later to become a prominent figure in the Indian freedom movement himself. Sarat Chandra Bose was indeed in London at that time studying law. The evidence, however, is not conclusive.5 Buddha was a significant success. The driving force behind it was KedarNath Das Gupta, who had come to London in 1907 fleeing possible police action against him in Calcutta for having been a revolutionary there. In 1912, Das Gupta would also set up the Indian Art and Dramatic Society, which organized an evening dedicated to the works of Rabindranath Tagore in his presence at the Royal Albert Hall. Tagore would win the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature for his collection of songs called Gitanjali.

Tagore, the poet of Indian nationalism, was India’s pre-eminent cultural and literary personality of the twentieth century. The influence of the Buddha on his poetry and his novels has been much studied and written about. This influence came about in diverse ways. His immediate family was steeped in Buddhist study. In 1859 his father Debendranath Tagore had been to Ceylon and had come back with not just knowledge of but keen interest in the Buddha’s life and his teachings. He wrote Sakya Muni O NirvanTattvai in 1882. Satyendranath Tagore, Rabindranath’s elder brother, who had accompanied their father to Ceylon, wrote Bauddha Dharma in 1901. The BrahmoSamaj, of which the Tagore family was an integral part, had also taken up the study of the Buddha’s teachings. A very early influence regarding the Buddha on Rabindranath Tagore was that of RajendralalaMitra, who has figured in this narrative earlier.

In January 1922, Rabindranath Tagore would visit Bodh Gaya and issue this statement:

I am sure it will be admitted by all Hindus who are true to their own ideals, that it is an intolerable wrong to allow the temple raised on the spot where Lord Buddha attained his enlightenment to remain under the control of a rival sect which can neither have the intimate knowledge of or sympathy for the Buddhist religion and its rites of worship. I consider it to be a sacred duty for all individuals believing in freedom and justice this great historical site to the community of people who still reverently carry on that particular current of history in their own living faith.

Rabindranath Tagore had taken The Light of Asia with him when he went to Bodh Gaya. While the imprint of the Buddha is very distinctive in many of his works, the influence of The Light of Asia specifically has been traced in the poem ‘Bidaye’ of KalpanaKavyagrantha. It has apparently never been translated into English before and is being done so for the first time here:

Let me now depart, It’s time to break the bonds. In your blissful sleep, You shudder in dreams of separation. At dawn your vacant eyes, Will search and brim with glistening tears. It’s time to break the bonds. Though Your ruby lips and sad eyes are yet to utter, So many words of endearment. The bird will fly across the seas Leaving the happy nest behind. From across the firmament I hear the call. It’s time to break the bonds.

Tagore’s stance on the Mahabodhi Temple at Buddha Gaya was completely different to the one his Japanese friend and admirer OkakuraKakuzo had taken years earlier. OkakuraKakuzo was an artist who had in 1895 ‘issued a call for a painting competition to represent scenes from the life of the Buddha in a new form’. There was an enthusiastic response and a number of works resulted, but these were ‘dogged by critics’ accusations of inauthenticity’. Okakura must have decided that he had to visit India to get a better sense of ‘historical authenticity’ to depict the life of the Buddha. In addition, he had been persuaded by a wealthy American woman, Josephine MacLeod, to join her on her journey to Calcutta to meet Vivekananda. MacLeod had been Vivekananda’s ardent admirer and benefactor since 1894. Okakura was planning to host another Chicago-like World Parliament of Religions in Japan and hence his visit to the man who had been the most charismatic presence at Chicago in 1893 was most welcome.

OkakuraKakuzo reached Calcutta in early January 1902 and struck an instant rapport with Vivekananda and invited him to Japan. The two were in Buddha Gaya together sometime in the last week of January 1902. Vivekananda had been there sixteen years earlier. On 7 February 1902 Vivekananda told Josephine MacLeod:

We [Okakura and he] have safely reached Benaras . . . I am rather better here than at Buddha Gaya. There was no hitch to our friend [Okakura] being admitted to the chief temple and [allowed to] touch the Sign of Shiva and to worship. The Buddhists, it seems are always admitted

A few weeks later Okakura made a second trip to Buddha Gaya with another Japanese Buddhist priest Tokuno Oda, who had come to Calcutta in April 1901 as Okakura’s emissary to Vivekananda. The two Japanese went to meet the Mahant to negotiate the purchase of land close to the Mahabodhi Temple. On his return to Calcutta, Okakura wrote to the Mahant on 26 April 1902 expressing his desire to ‘erect a rest house [close to the Mahabodhi Temple] for followers of Mahayana Buddhism in Japan’ and his willingness to purchase land at a ‘fair and reasonable price’ for this purpose. He had distanced himself from the ‘representatives of the Hinayana Buddhism of Ceylon, Siam or other places,’ who had been agitating for total Buddhist control over the Mahabodhi Temple. Okakura gave his Calcutta address as ‘c/o Swami Vivekananda, the Math, Belur, Howrah’. Obviously, Vivekananda would have been in the know about Okakura’s proposal, which, as it turned out, was acceptable to the Mahant as well. A few months later, on 4 July 1902, Vivekananda passed away. It is clear that Okakura was deeply influenced by Vivekananda in his views on Buddhism and its relationship with Hinduism which were at variance with Dharmapala’s. Later Okakura would become an important part of Tagore’s orbit for a while.

As for Sister Nivedita, born Margaret Noble, she would visit Bodh Gaya in early October 1904. Her entourage had included twenty men and women, among whom were the scientist Jagdish Chandra Bose and his wife, Rabindranath Tagore and his son, and the historian Jadunath Sarkar. She would write to MacLeod on 15 October 1904 from Rajgir:

We have been a party of 20 spending 4 days at Bodh-Gaya . . . and I think it has been an event in all our lives . . . In the mornings we had tea by 6 and then readings ‘Light of Asia’ Web of Indian Life [Nivedita’s own book] etc, and talks. All gathered together in the great verandeh. Our Mahant is like a King. Evenings ‘we went out after tea’ to the Temple and Tree …

Rabindranath Tagore was not the only member of the distinguished Tagore family on whom The Light of Asia would have a marked influence. His nephew Abanindranath Tagore, the first Indian artist to gain international recognition just as his uncle was earning a global name for himself, had painted Buddha and Sujata in 1902. ParthaMitter, the noted historian of Indian art, has written that:

Buddha and Sujata departed from Varma’s historicism [Raja Ravi Varma, who painted mythological figures]. Abanindranath chose an actual historical figure, though the Buddha here was the saviour imagined by the Orientalist Edwin Arnold. His description of the shy maiden who brought the Buddha his first nourishment was the inspiration here.

In Book the Sixth, of The Light of Asia, Arnold describes that transformative moment thus:

So,’thinking him divine,’ Sujata drew

Tremblingly nigh, and kissed the earth and said,

With sweet face bent, “Would that the Holy One

Inhabiting this grove,

Giver of Good,

Merciful unto me his handmaiden,

Vouchsafing now his presence, might accept These our poor gifts of snowy curds, fresh made,

With milk as white as new-carved ivory!”

Today, about a twenty-minute walk east from the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya stands Sujata Stupa or Sujata Ghar that honours this milkmaid who ended the seven years of self-mortification of Siddhartha Gautama paving the way for his enlightenment. (IANS)

Catholic Church Law Criminalizes Abuse Of Adults By Priests, Laity

Pope Francis has changed church law to explicitly criminalize the sexual abuse of adults by priests who abuse their authority and to say that laypeople who hold church office can be sanctioned for similar sex crimes.

The new provisions, released last week after 14 years of study, were contained in the revised criminal law section of the Vatican’s Code of Canon Law, the in-house legal system that covers the 1.3 billion-strong Catholic Church.It’s the first time church law has officially recognized as criminal the method used by sexual predators to build relationships with their victims to then sexually exploit them.

The most significant changes are contained in two articles, 1395 and 1398, which aim to address major shortcomings in the church’s handling of sexual abuse. The law recognizes that adults, too, can be victimized by priests who abuse their authority, and said that laypeople in church offices can be punished for abusing minors as well as adults.The Vatican also criminalized the “grooming” of minors or vulnerable adults by priests to compel them to engage in pornography. It’s the first time church law has officially recognized as criminal the method used by sexual predators to build relationships with their victims to then sexually exploit them.

The law also removes much of the discretion that had long allowed bishops and religious superiors to ignore or cover up abuse, making clear they can be held responsible for omissions and negligence in failing to properly investigate and sanction errant priests.Ever since the 1983 code was issued, lawyers and bishops have complained it was completely inadequate to deal with the sexual abuse of minors, since it required time-consuming trials. Victims and their advocates, meanwhile, have argued it left too much discretion in the hands of bishops who had an interest in covering up for their priests.

The Vatican issued piecemeal changes over the years to address the problems and loopholes, most significantly requiring all cases to be sent to the Holy See for review and allowing for a more streamlined administrative process to defrock a priest if the evidence against him was overwhelming.More recently, Francis passed new laws to punish bishops and religious superiors who failed to protect their flocks. The new criminal code incorporates those changes and goes beyond them.

According the new law, priests who engage in sexual acts with anyone — not just a minor or someone who lacks the use of reason — can bedefrocked if they used “force, threats or abuse of his authority” to engage in sexual acts.The law doesn’t explicitly define which adults are covered, saying only “one to whom the law recognizes equal protection.”The Vatican has long considered any sexual relations between a priest and an adult as sinful but consensual, believing that adults are able to offer or refuse consent purely by the nature of their age. But amid the #MeToo movement and scandals of seminarians and nuns being sexually abused by their superiors, the Vatican has come to realize that adults can be victimized too if they are in a relationship with a power imbalance.

That dynamic was most clearly recognized in the scandal over ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington. Even though the Vatican knew for years he slept with his seminarians, McCarrick was only put on trial after someone came forward saying he had abused him as a youth. Francis defrocked him in 2019.In a novelty aimed at addressing sex crimes committed by laypeople who hold church offices, such as founders of lay religious movements or even church administrators, the new law says laypeople can be similarly punished if they abuse their authority to engage in sexual crimes.Since these laypeople can’t be defrocked, penalties include losing their jobs, paying fines or being removed from their communities.

The need for such a provision was made clear in the scandal involving Luis Figari, the lay founder of the Peru-based conservative group SodalitiumChristianae Vitae, a conservative movement that has 20,000 members and chapters throughout South America and the U.S.An independent investigation concluded he was a paranoid narcissist obsessed with sex and watching his underlings endure pain and humiliation. But the Vatican dithered for years on how to sanction him, ultimately deciding to remove him from Peru and isolate him from the community. The new law takes effect on Dec. 8.

BAPS Temple In New Jersey Alleged To Have Exploited Workers

A lawsuit filed in federal court alleges that more than 200 workers — many or all of whom don’t speak English — were coerced into signing employment agreements in India to build expansion of the largest Hindu Temple by BAPS in the US on the 100-acre site in New Jersey

A lawsuit filed in federal court last week alleges the builders of a New Jersey Hindu temple — considered to be one the largest in the United States — lured workers from India, worked them nearly 90 hours per week and paid them around $1.20 per hour.

The lawsuit accuses the leaders of the Hindu organization known as BochasanwasiAksharPurushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, or a Hindu sect known as BAPS, and the leaders who run the Robbinsville temple and its construction. The temple opened in 2014 and is constructed entirely of Italian marble that was sculpted in India and completed on site off Route 130 in Robbinsville. The ongoing construction on the BAPS Temple in Robbinsville began in 2010, and the site has caught the attention of state and federal authorities in recent years.

BAPS has been accused of human trafficking and wage law violations. An FBI spokesperson confirmed that agents were at the temple on “court-authorized law enforcement activity,” but wouldn’t elaborate. One of the attorneys who filed the suit said some workers had been removed from the site May 11.The lawsuit has been filed a month after New Jersey labor authorities halted work by a contractor at the Robbinsville temple and at a BAPS temple in Edison. The new lawsuit is a proposed class action complaint, alleging around 200 workers on religious immigration visas endured forced manual labor for the ongoing construction and expansion of the religious property on the 100-acre site.

The lawsuit says more than 200 workers — many or all of whom don’t speak English — were coerced into signing employment agreements in India. They traveled to New Jersey under R-1 visas, which are meant for “those who minister, or work in religious vocations or occupations,” according to the lawsuit.When they arrived, the lawsuit says, their passports were taken away and they were forced to work at the temple from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. with few days off, for about $450 per month, a rate that the suit said came out to around $1.20 per hour. Of that, the workers allegedly only received $50 in cash per month, with the rest deposited into their accounts in India.

The lawsuit said workers lived in a fenced-in compound where their movements were monitored by cameras and guards. They were told that if they left, police would arrest them because they didn’t have their passports, the suit said. The lawsuit names Patel and several individuals described as having supervised the workers. It seeks unpaid wages and unspecified compensatory and punitive damages

According to the lawsuit, the exploited workers were Dalits — members of the lowest step of South Asia’s caste hierarchy. D.B. Sagar, president of the Washington-based International Commission for Dalit Rights, told The Associated Press that Dalits are an easy target for exploitation because they’re the poorest people in India. “They need something to survive, to protect their family,” Sagar — a Dalit himself — said, adding that if the allegations in the lawsuit are true, they amount to “modern-day slavery.”

BAPS CEO Kanu Patel, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, told The New York Times, “I respectfully disagree with the wage claim.” A spokesperson for the organization, Matthew Frankel, told The Associated Press that BAPS was first made aware of the accusations early Tuesday morning. “We are taking them very seriously and thoroughly reviewing the issues raised,” he said.

BAPS is a global sect of Hinduism founded in the early 20th century and aims to “preserve Indian culture and the Hindu ideals of faith, unity, and selfless service,” according to its website. The organization says it has built more than 1,100 mandirs — often large complexes that essentially function as community centers. BAPS is known for community service and philanthropy, taking an active role in the diaspora’s initiative to help India amid the current COVID-19 surge. According to the website for the Robbinsville mandir, its construction “is the epitome of volunteerism.”“Volunteers of all ages have devoted their time and resources from the beginning: assisting in the construction work, cleaning up around the site, preparing food for all the artisans on a daily basis and helping with other tasks,” the website says. “A total of 4.7 million man hours were required by craftsman and volunteers to complete the Mandir.”

The case was filed on behalf of five men described in the court papers as Dalits from Rajasthan, who had worked at the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Robbinsville.Their 42-page case document, alleges that they were made to work at the temple for more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week with days off only occasionally for which they were paid less than $1.20 an hour – an amount far less than the state minimum wage that was $10 in 2019 and $11 in 2020.Their court papers, however, say that they were instructed while applying for their visa to tell the U.S. embassy staff that they were going to the U.S. for “volunteer work at the temple” and “would be performing the work as a service to the deities” even though they assert that they were not members of BAPS.

According to the court document, although they came to the U.S. with an R-1 visa, which is granted to missionaries and religious workers, they did not perform any religious work and instead were made to do “dangerous” manual work at the temple. The men filing the case are Mukesh Kumar, Keshav Kumar, Devi Laal, Niranjan, Pappu, and Brajendra.The New York Times reported that BAPS spokesperson Lenin Joshi said, “We are naturally shaken by this turn of events and are sure that once the full facts come out, we will be able to provide answers and show that these accusations and allegations are without merit.”

Modi Government Accused Of Hampering Relief Efforts By Christian Charities With Mandating More Red Tape

Federation of Indian Christian Association of North America (FIACONA), an advocacy organization working to defend the religious freedom of Christians and other minorities in India accused the Government of India of hampering the efforts of non-governmental agencies (NGOs). The government of India implemented a set of bureaucratic regulations by amending a law called Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) in the middle of the pandemic. Christian charities and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) across India are required to have permission under this law to receive any donations from overseas.

The new amendment put in place last September mandates the charities to open a new bank account at a particular New Delhi branch of the State Bank of India before March 31, 2021, regardless of where the charity is located or operating from. Though many charities have managed to open this account in New Delhi, they have run into bottlenecks and red tape. As a result they are unable to receive much needed funds to help the suffering  people in the middle of this pandemic.

“The current stringent FCRA rules that were put in place by the Government are jeopardizing many donor’s plans to provide equipment like oxygen concentrators and other essential supplies from around the world in providing needed help to hospitals especially in rural areas” said Koshy George, President of FIACONA. “Unless the Modi Government shows more flexibility towards charitable donations from abroad by suspending some of these bureaucratic provisions of the FCRA, more lives would be lost as a result” Mr. George cautioned.

These FCRA regulations were put in place for the purpose of monitoring and controlling minority charitable and educational institutions as part of the Hindutva agenda to minimize their appeal and reduce their influence on the society at-large.  The secular NGOs who would not toe the government  line also paid a price.  However, NGOs affiliated with Hindu nationalist groups continue to collect money from unsuspecting donors in Western Countries and channel their funds mostly towards sectarian work without any hindrance from authorities.

FIACONA appeals to the Government to suspend these rules that created the current impediments and submit them later for a panel review to ease the restrictions on a permanent basis so that the needy will not suffer in a future crisis.

U.S. International Religious Freedom Report: India Encouraged to Consult Religious Communities

International Religious Freedom senior official Dan Nadel, speaking at a news conference to announce the annual International Religious Freedom Report at the State Department in Washington, DC, on May 12, 2021, said: “When laws are passed, when initiatives are undertaken that are done without effective consultation with these communities, it creates a sense of disempowerment…the best way to address that is to engage in that direct dialogue between government and civil society, including religious communities.” (Andrew Harnik/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

A senior State Department official dealing with religious freedom said the U.S. is regularly engaging with Indian officials on protecting the rights of minorities and the government has opportunities to address the concerns of civil society groups.Briefing reporters about the 2020 Report on International Religious Freedom May 12, Daniel Nadel said: “With respect to India, I think there’s genuine opportunities there for the government to address some of the concerns they hear from Indian civil society through greater dialogue and engagement.

“We do regularly engage with Indian government officials at all levels, encouraging them to uphold human rights obligations and commitments, including the protection of minorities, in keeping with India’s long tradition of democratic values and its history of tolerance.”The report said that among the issues discussed with officials were “the Muslim community’s concerns about the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), difficulties faced by faith-based (religious) NGOs in the wake of amendments to the FCRA (Foreign Contributions Regulation Act), and allegations that Muslims spread Covid-19.”

Nadel, the senior official in the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, said that the U.S. encourages the Indian government to consult “religious communities, these outside actors” on passing laws to avoid alienating them.”When laws are passed, when initiatives are undertaken that are done without effective consultation with these communities, it creates a sense of disempowerment; at times, of alienation. And the best way to address that is to engage in that direct dialogue between government and civil society, including religious communities.”

The annual report, which is mandated by Congress, did not grade India nor deliver an overall verdict on the state of religious freedom in the country.It listed incidents involving attacks on minorities taken from reports by the media and religious and civil society groups, and legislative actions.

Releasing the report, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “Our promise to the world is that the Biden-Harris administration will protect and defend religious freedom around the world. We will maintain America’s longstanding leadership on this issue.”He acknowledged that “anti-Muslim hatred is still widespread in many countries, and this, too, is a serious problem for the U.S.”

Among the incidents it lists were the protests in February 2020 against the CAA, which it said “became violent in New Delhi after counter-protesters attacked demonstrators. According to reports, religiously motivated attacks resulted in the deaths of 53 persons, most of whom were Muslim, and two security officials.”Another incident it mentions is the Islamic TablighiJamaat organization’s conference last year in New Delhi, which the report said the government and media initially blamed for some of the spread of the novel coronavirus.

But the report also said that “in an online address to the nation on April 26, Mohan Bhagwat, the leader of the RSS, called on Indians not to discriminate against anyone in the fight against Covid-19. In a reference to the March TablighiJamaat conference, he asked people not to target members of a ‘particular community’ (i.e., Muslims) ‘just because of the actions of a few’.”Some of the incidents listed in the report relate to actions taken against Muslim and Christian groups over alleged violation of Covid regulations in holding religious services.

However, the report also listed the deaths of two Christians, P. Jayaraj and his son Bennicks, in police custody after they were arrested for allegedly keeping their shop open in violation of a curfew as if those were religious violence.The report mentions two cases of Hindu women being killed for refusing to convert to Islam and of Christian women “forcibly” converted.It noted Amnesty International India ending operations in the country “after the government froze its bank accounts in response to a FCRA investigation that the NGO says was motivated by its critical reporting against the government.”

Dalai Lama Holds Dialogue With Russian Scientists On Research Into Buddhist Thukdam Meditation

His Holiness the Dalai Lama last week conducted an in-depth online dialogue with Russian neuroscientists to discuss their ongoing research into the Buddhist phenomenon and practice of thukdam meditation (Tib: ཐུགས་དམ་).

The term thukdam, derived from the Tibetan words thuk, meaning mind, and dam, meaning samadhi, describes an advanced type of tantric meditation in the Vajrayana tradition practiced by a Buddhist adept during the intermediate or transitional state of death known as bardo. During this period, when biological signs of life have ceased yet the body remains fresh and intact for several days, the master is described as being absorbed in the primordial “clear light stage,” a process of inner dissolution. In 2018, the Dalai Lama initiated a scientific inquiry into the neurophysiological mechanisms of thukdam.

“We need to undertake more research and investigate more cases of thukdam to establish whether the visions are associated with dissolution of the coarser elements,” His Holiness said during the dialogue on 5 May. “Since it is observed that the body of a person going through this process can remain warm, it may be that the dissolution of the earth, water, and fire elements do not coincide with the three visions.” (His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet)

Meanwhile, reports suggest, in a first scientific evidence, Russian scientists have demonstrated that the body of a person in the rare spiritual meditative state of ‘thukdam’ is in a quite different state from the body of someone undergoing the ordinary process of death.

The scientists have established research laboratories in the Tibetan settlements in Bylakuppe and Mundgod in Karnataka where they have examined 104 monks in meditation. They are carrying out a project of research into ‘thukdam’, the phenomenon that sometimes occurs when an accomplished meditator dies and their subtle consciousness remains in the body, even after clinical death.

Recently the scientists were able to observe a monk who was in ‘thukdam’ for 37 days at Gyuto Monastery. They invited a forensic physician to examine the physical body at various stages after death.

These facts came to light in a virtual conversation between Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and Professor Svyatoslav Medvedev of the Russian Academy of Sciences and founder of the Institute of the Human Brain on Wednesday.

On query of Professor Medvedev that what value the study of ‘thukdam’ could have for humanity in general. The spiritual leader replied Tibetan Buddhists believe that people go through a process of dissolution in the course of death.

Once some accomplished meditators cease breathing, the process of dissolution they go through includes three visions — whitish appearance, reddish increase and black near attainment.

In the course of these three stages 80 different conceptions dissolve, 33 during the vision of whitish appearance, 40 during reddish increase and finally seven during the stage of black near attainment.

“We need to undertake more research and investigate more cases of ‘thukdam’ to establish whether the visions are associated with dissolution of the coarser elements.

“Since it is observed that the body of a person going through this process can remain warm, it may be that the dissolution of the earth, water and fire elements do not coincide with the three visions.

“When an ordinary person dies, there is a dissolution of the elements. Buddhists believe that beings go through past and future lives, so there is some bearing on this too. My own senior tutor Ling Rinpoche remained in ‘thukdam’ for 13 days. Recently, a monk at Kirti Monastery remained in this state for 37 days. “This is an observable reality, which we need to be able to explain.

“There is evidence to see and measure. We can also find a detailed explanation of the inner subjective experience of the process of death in the Guhyasamaja Tantra texts. I hope scientists can take all this into account and come up with an explanation,” His Holiness said.

Professor Alexander Kaplan, Head of the Laboratory for Neurophysiology and Neuro-Computer Interfaces, Moscow State University (MSU), asked what Buddhist ideas could help Western scientists to understand the workings of the brain?

At this, the elderly Buddhist monk replied that in the past, modern science as it had developed in the West had tended to focus on external phenomena, things that can be seen and measured.

“Gradually people have begun to recognize that peace of mind has an important role to play in our day-to-day lives. Consequently, scientists have also begun to show an interest in how to develop peace of mind. Mental afflictions like anger, fear and frustration detract from our good health, so, never mind about our next life or our reaching enlightenment, all seven billion human beings alive today need peace of mind here and now.

“In order to achieve and maintain peace of mind, we need to understand the workings of the mind and the whole system of emotions. Buddhism outlines 51 mental factors in six categories: five ever-functioning mental factors; five ascertaining ones; 11 constructive emotions; six root disturbing emotions and attitudes; 20 auxiliary disturbing emotions and four changeable mental factors.

“On the basis of understanding these we can learn to tackle destructive emotions as they arise, even under difficult circumstances. Peace of mind is within our reach.” Konstantin Anokhin, Director of the Institute for Advanced Brain Studies, MSU, wanted to know about evidence for the existence of past lives.

The spiritual leader told him that he has heard of cases of children who belong to communities that give past and future lives no credence, who apparently describe memories of past lives. Among Indians and Tibetans, people who accept the idea of past and future lives, children with such recollections are not unusual.

“There was a boy born in Tibet, who, once he could talk, insisted to his parents ‘This isn’t where I belong, I want to go to India’. They brought him to India and came to Dharamsala. But even here he said, ‘This isn’t my place’. So, they took him to Mundgod Tibetan Settlement in South India.

“When they reached Ganden Monastery, the boy told them, ‘This is where I belong’ and led them to one of the houses. They went inside and pointing to a drawer, he said, ‘My glasses are in there’. They looked and they were.

“In my own case, as a small boy, I recognised monks in the party searching for the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation. I was able to remember their names. One of the principal procedures employed when seeking to recognize the reincarnation of a Lama is to show the candidate a number of possessions.

“If a child is able to recognize and select those items that had ‘belonged to them before’, it is taken as a positive indication. However, these memories fade as the children grow up.

“Something else that could be regarded as significant is that some children are able to study and learn much more readily than others. This is taken to imply that they are already familiar with the material from their studies in their previous lives.

“In my case I learned easily, which could be a sign of revising what I had learned before.” His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, describes himself as a simple Buddhist monk.

In 1989, the Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent struggle for Tibet. He was awarded the US Congressional Gold Medal in October 2007, even in the face of protests by China.

The Dalai Lama now lives in exile in this northern Indian hill station along with some 140,000 Tibetans, over 100,000 of them in different parts of India. Over six million Tibetans live in Tibet.

Pope Francis Decrees Strict Financial Rules For Church Leaders

Pope Francis has issued a decree aimed at financial transparency in the church, requiring a strict limit on the value of gifts that cardinals and managers can receive and requiring them to disclose their investments to ensure they are in line with Catholic doctrine.

The new mandate, which comes in the form of an apostolic letter, comes amid a major ongoing investigation into alleged financial corruption in the Vatican, something Francis has preached about cleaning up since becoming pontiff in 2013.

The new rules are aimed at ending what some refer to as the Vatican’s “envelope” culture.

“[A]ccording to Scripture, fidelity in small things is related to fidelity in important ones,” Francis wrote in the letter, referencing Luke 16:10 that “just as being dishonest in matters of little consequence is also related to being dishonest in important matters.”

Among the pope’s new provisions are a prohibition on Vatican employees receiving “work-related gifts” with a value of over 40 euros ($49) — a move aimed at limiting the practice of cardinals and Vatican monsignors receiving checks from fellow clerics to supplement their relatively modest salaries.

The National Catholic Register writes: “These gifts have been blamed for contributing to corruption in the Church when they were used between high-level Church officials to seek favors, most notably in cases like that of ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick.”

McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., was dismissed by Francis in 2019 after a church tribunal found him guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”

McCarrick was known for giving checks to Vatican officials, leading to speculation on whether it affected the handling of allegations against him, which were known at the top levels of the church for decades. However, an internal Vatican investigation in 2020 found that in the case of McCarrick, there was no evidence that “customary gift-giving and donations impacted significant decisions made by the Holy See.”

In another case, a 2019 investigation by the U.S. church found that Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of West Virginia — who had been the subject of “credible” accounts of sexual misconduct involving adults — sent checks totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars over more than a decade to fellow clerics, including two U.S. cardinals. He then repaid himself out of church funds. Bransfield later repaid the money and offered a public apology.

The latest Vatican regulations also stipulate that cardinals, as well as senior managers and administrators whose jobs require handling money, must affirm in writing that they have never been convicted of a crime and they are not under investigation for such offenses as money laundering, corruption, fraud, exploitation of minors or tax evasion.

In the declaration, managers and cardinals must also affirm that they are not holding funds in offshore tax havens nor have investments that run counter to church doctrine. The declaration must be reaffirmed every two years.

US Catholic Bishops May Ask Joe Biden Not to Receive Holy Communion

When U.S. Catholic bishops hold their next national meeting in June, they’ll be deciding whether to send a tougher-than-ever message to President Joe Biden and other Catholic politicians: Don’t receive Communion if you persist in public advocacy of abortion rights, Associated Press Reported last week.

At issue is a document that will be prepared for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops by its Committee on Doctrine, with the aim of clarifying the church’s stance on an issue that has repeatedly vexed the bishops in recent decades. It’s taken on new urgency now, in the eyes of many bishops, because Biden, only the second Catholic president, is the first to hold that office while espousing clear-cut support for abortion rights.

This month the Biden administration lifted restrictions on federal funding for research involving human fetal tissue. It also rescinded a Trump administration policy barring organizations such as Planned Parenthood from receiving federal family planning grants if they also refer women for abortions. And it said women seeking an abortion pill will not be required to visit a doctor’s office or clinic during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Because President Biden is Catholic, it presents a unique problem for us,” said Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, who chairs the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities. “It can create confusion. … How can he say he’s a devout Catholic and he’s doing these things that are contrary to the church’s teaching?”

The document, if approved, would make clear the USCCB’s view that Biden and other Catholic public figures with similar viewpoints should not present themselves for Communion, Naumann said.

In accordance with existing USCCB policy, it would still leave decisions on withholding Communion up to individual bishops. In Biden’s case, the top prelates of the jurisdictions where he frequently worships — Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington, Delaware, and Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. — have made clear that he may receive Communion at churches they oversee.

The document results from a decision in November by the USCCB’s president, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, to form a working group to address the “complex and difficult situation” posed by Biden’s stances on abortion and other issues that differ from official church teaching.

Saudi Arabia Includes Ramayana, Mahabharata In New Curriculum For Students

The students of Saudi Arabia will now learn the details of Hindu epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata under the new curriculum. As part of Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s new vision for the education sector in Saudi Arabia, Vision 2030, the history and culture of other countries are being studied to provide students with more knowledge about different cultures.

As part of this, it is reported that students will be taught Ramayana and Mahabharata. It is reported that the study will focus on globally significant Indian cultures such as yoga and Ayurveda, to expand the students’ cultural knowledge and exposure.

Apart from the introduction of Ramayana and Mahabharata in the curriculum of Saudi Arabian students, the English language has been made mandatory in the new Vision 2030.

Saudi’s Vision 2030 explained

To dismiss all the confusion regarding the changes in the education sector, Saudi users’ vision has been clarified by sharing a screenshot by a Twitter user named Nouf-al-Marwai.

He wrote, “Saudi Arabia’s new vision-2030 and syllabus will help build a future that is inclusive, liberal, and tolerant. “The Twitter user also shared a screenshot of his son’s syllabus, which contained a wide array of cultures.

“The screenshot of my son’s school exam today in the book of social studies includes concepts and history of Hinduism, Buddhism, Ramayana, Karma, Mahabharata, and Dharma. I enjoyed helping her study,” he added in his tweet.

India’s Coronavirus Tally Spikes As Millions Take Ritual Bath At Kumph

At one of the largest gatherings of people in the world continues in the northern Indian city, Haridwar, almost 3 million Hindu pilgrims bathed in the Ganges River as part of this year’s Kumbh Mela festival, raising concerns that the festival could become a super spreader event.

One of the largest gatherings of people in the world continues in the northern Indian city, Haridwar amid a sharp rise in coronavirus cases and a weakening supply of vaccines. Almost 3 million Hindu pilgrims have bathed in the Ganges River as part of this year’s Kumbh Mela festival, raising concerns that the festival could become a super spreader event. On Monday, the festival’s second-holiest day, India’s Health Ministry reported nearly 170,000 new coronavirus infections. India’s total caseload has become the second-highest in the world after the United States.

On the banks of the Ganges, Hindu prayer music is interrupted by whistles from police, trying unsuccessfully to enforce social distancing rules, as millions of devotees thronged the banks of the Ganges, a river many Hindus consider holy, to participate in the months-long ‘Kumbh Mela’ or pitcher festival.

Hindus believe the river is holy and bathing in it will cleanse them of their sins and bring salvation. The Kumbh Mela takes place every 12 years and the venue is chosen from amongst four cities, including Allahabad, Haridwar, Nasik and Ujjain. Haridwar’s turn to host the gathering came amid a sharp rise in the number of coronavirus infections, with India consistently reporting more than 100,000 cases daily in the past few weeks.

With a spike in new covid cases, India accounts for one in six of all new infections globally, although the figure is still well below the U.S. peak of nearly 300,000 new cases on Jan. 8. As India’s second wave of infections builds, with fewer than 4% estimated to have been vaccinated among a population of 1.4 billion, experts say the situation could have a long way to go before it starts getting better.
“After cases declined in January-February, we were very comfortable,” said a panel of high court judges in the western state of Gujarat, calling on authorities to take urgent steps to rein in the outbreak. “Almost everyone forgot that there was ever corona,” added the panel, headed by Chief Justice Vikram Nath.

A senior police official told ANI news agency that it was very difficult to ensure social distancing on the river banks.
“We are continuously appealing to people to follow Covid-appropriate behaviour. But due to the huge crowd, it is practically not possible to issue challans [fines],” inspector general of police Sanjay Gunjyal said.

He said that a “stampede-like situation” could arise if the police tried to enforce social distancing on the river banks.
Officials said by Monday evening more than 3.1 million devotees had bathed in the river, with many more expected to follow suit. Monday – Somvati Amavasya – marks the biggest bathing day during the two-month-long festival.

The government had earlier said that only people with Covid negative reports would be allowed at the festival and strict measures like social distancing would be followed. But a number of people, including top saints, have already tested positive.Even as the virus surges to its worst level, daily life remains unaffected in most parts of the country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other politicians have addressed massive campaign rallies in several states holding local elections. When Muslim scholars held a congregation in New Delhi last year, before India’s lockdown, politicians and many from India’s Hindu majority blamed Muslims for spreading the coronavirus.

Last month, when reporters asked Uttarakhand’s chief minister about COVID-19 concerns ahead of the Hindu Kumbh Mela festival, he said no one would be stopped from coming because of the pandemic. He said, “Pilgrims’ faith will overcome the fear of the virus.”

Indian Community In The US Mourns The Killing Of 4 Sikhs At Fedex Facility

The Indian American community is deeply saddened to share that at least four Sikhs are among those killed late Thursday night when a gunman stormed a FedEx facility in Indianapolis known to have a large Sikh workforce.

The deadly mass shooting last week at a FedEx Ground facility in Indianapolis struck deeply into the Indian American community at large and in particular, the area’s Sikh community after it suffered the loss of four members in the bloody onslaught.

Eight people were killed and several others wounded  on Thursday, April 15th night when a former FedEx employee opened fire at a facility near Indianapolis’ main airport before taking his own life. Investigators are still trying to determine the motive behind the shooting. Amarjeet Johal, 66; Jasvinder Kaur, 50; Jaswinder Singh, 68; Amarjit Sekhon, 48 were among the eight who lost their lives to yet another mass shooting as the nation struggles to limb back to several others preceding this. Matthew R. Alexander, 32; Samaria Blackwell, 19; Karli Smith, 19; and John Weisert, 74 were the others who succumbed to the bullets that traffic night.

“Our community has a long road of healing physically, mentally and spiritually to recover from this tragedy,” Maninder Singh Walia, a member of the Sikh community in Indianapolis, told the media. Officials, who said that a “significant” number of employees at the parcel and courier service company are Sikhs, reported that the gunman killed himself after murdering eight people Thursday night and wounding at least seven, five of whom were hospitalised.

WXIN-TV station quoted Parminder Singh, the uncle of one of the victims, as saying that his niece who worked at the facility near the airport phoned him shortly after the shooting and told him that she was shot while in her car and was being taken to the hospital.

President Joe Biden ordered the national flag to be flown at half-mast at all government facilities and US embassies abroad. “Gun violence is an epidemic in America,” Biden said in a statement. Just last month a White man killed eight people, six of them Asian women, at three massage parlors in Atlanta.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, 19,380 people were shot dead last year in the US, an increase of more than 25 per cent over the previous year’s deaths. “Our hearts bleed for all of the families of the victims of yet another senseless massacre that has become a daily occurrence in this country,” said AAPI Victory Alliance Executive Director Varun Nikore.

Nikore added: “To the families of Jasvinder Kaur, Amarjit Sekhon, Jaswinder Singh, and everybody else affected by this senseless tragedy, our hearts go out to you. The AAPI community stands with you. Justice must be served and we will not stop fighting until every single gutless person, politician, and lobbying group is held responsible for continuing to allow these tragedies to happen. Additionally, the AAPI Victory Alliance demands an immediate investigation into whether or not these shootings were racially biased.” Nikore said that enough is enough and that it’s time to come together and end hate and gun violence once and for all.

“We will invest significant resources into toppling those who seek to destroy our families, communities, and identity. The senseless gun violence that we’re seeing in this country is reflective of all of the spineless politicians who are beholden to the gun lobby. Period. End of story,” said Nikore. “They will be hearing from us — instead of offering thoughts and prayers, it’s time to mobilize for direct action and vote them out. That is what we’re doing today. We will end the violence, only when we have leaders who have the guts to do so.”

The Sikh Coalition said, it is deeply saddened to share that at least four Sikhs are among those killed late Thursday night when a gunman stormed a FedEx facility in Indianapolis known to have a large Sikh workforce.

The official in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Indianapolis office, Paul Keenan, said that he had been questioned by the agency after his mother had warned that he might try to commit suicide by provoking police to shoot him.

Sikhs have for long been victims of bias attacks in US, often being mistaken for Muslims because of their turbans. According to the FBI’s 2019 hate crime statistics — the latest available — there were 49 anti-Sikh attacks with 60 victims. In 2012 a gunman attacked a gurdwara in Oak Creek in Wisconsin State killing seven Sikhs and wounding four.

“While we don’t yet know the motive of the shooter, he targeted a facility known to be heavily populated by Sikh employees, and the attack is traumatic for our community as we continue to face senseless violence,” said Satjeet Kaur, Sikh Coalition executive director. “Further traumatizing is the reality that many of these community members, like Sikhs we have worked with in the past, will eventually have to return to the place where their lives were almost taken from them.”

The coalition says an estimated 500,000 Sikhs live in the U.S. Many practicing Sikhs are visually distinguishable by their articles of faith, which include unshorn hair and a turban.

“I have several family members who work at the particular facility and are traumatized,” Komal Chohan, who said Johal was her grandmother, said in a statement issued by the Sikh Coalition. “My nani, my family, and our families should not feel unsafe at work, at their place of worship, or anywhere. Enough is enough — our community has been through enough trauma.”

In a statement issued here, SAALYT stated: “Today, SAALT grieves the loss of life in the latest mass shooting in Indianapolis, Indiana. Our hearts are heavy and mourn with the victims’ families and community members, who are undoubtedly reeling from the trauma of losing their loved ones. Of particular note, four of the eight victims were our Sikh siblings and fellow community members. Such an act of mass violence sends reverberations across Sikh and South Asian communities, evoking past pain and grief rooted in decades of similar violent acts. We are struck by the trend of violence against immigrant workers, who have not only taken on essential work during a global pandemic, but have also been particularly vulnerable to its health and economic consequences as a result of their work. SAALT stands in solidarity with immigrant and essential workers, and honors the care they have poured into our community despite widespread bigotry.”

Pope Francis Hopes World Can ‘Begin Anew’ After The Pandemic

Pope Francis in a message for Easter said he hoped the pandemic would to come to an end and that the world could “begin anew.” Francis said that this year’s Easter season came with the hope of renewal.

Pope Francis on Saturday issued a message ahead of the Easter holiday during which he said he hoped the pandemic would to come to an end and that the world could “begin anew.” During an Easter vigil service at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, Francis said that this year’s Easter season came with the hope of renewal, according to Reuters.

The pared-down Easter service was the second of its kind due to the pandemic. All papal services were attended by about 200 people, according to the wire service. Usually, around 10,000 people fill the church.  “In these dark months of the pandemic, let us listen to the Risen Lord as he invites us to begin anew and never lose hope,” Francis said, according to Reuters.

Francis presided over the ninth Easter service of his pontificate in the secondary altar of St. Peter’s Basilica and began two hours ahead of the usual schedule in order for congregants to be able to return home in time for Italy’s 10 p.m. curfew. The country is currently under strict lockdown in order to curb the rise in coronavirus cases.

“[God] invites us to overcome barriers, banish prejudices and draw near to those around us every day in order to rediscover the grace of everyday life,” Francis said, according to the news outlet.

The Pope also encouraged those listening to his message to care for people who have been cast to the fringes of society, mentioning Jesus’s model of loving people who were “struggling to live from day to day.”

Pope Francis has urged countries in his Easter message to speed up the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, particularly to the world’s poor, and called armed conflict and military spending during a pandemic “scandalous”.

Coronavirus has meant this has been the second year in a row that Easter papal services have been attended by small gatherings at a secondary altar of St Peter’s Basilica, instead of crowds in the church or in the square outside.

After saying mass, Francis read his Urbi et Orbi, “to the city and the world” message, in which he traditionally reviews global problems and appeals for peace.

“The pandemic is still spreading, while the social and economic crisis remains severe, especially for the poor. Nonetheless, and this is scandalous, armed conflicts have not ended and military arsenals are being strengthened,” he said.

Francis, who would normally have given the address to as many as 100,000 people in St Peter’s Square, spoke to fewer than 200 in the church while the message was broadcast to tens of millions around the world.

The Truth About Christ Lies In Contradiction

While the quest to explain how Christ can be both fully human and fully divine enjoys a long, fascinating history, Jc Beall, the O’Neill Family Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, believes that the quest should end.

Newswise — While the quest to explain how Christ can be both fully human and fully divine enjoys a long, fascinating history, Jc Beall, the O’Neill Family Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, believes that the quest should end.

Beall is an expert in logic, the philosophy of logic and especially nonstandard (or “deviant”) logic, and his most recent work explores longstanding problems in philosophy of religion.

In his newest research, “The Contradictory Christ,” Beall argues that instead of trying to get around the apparent contradiction of the incarnation, Christian thinkers should accept what many thinkers have long charged: at the very crux of the Christian theory lies a contradiction.

“I believe that Christ is a contradictory being, and that all Christian thinkers should accept that Christ is a being of whom some claims are both true and false,” Beall said.

According to Beall, orthodox work on the incarnation begins with the standard doctrine that Christ is fully divine and fully human — having all properties that are essential to God but also all properties that are essential to being human, including all the essential limitations of being human. Philosophers and theologians have long struggled with this tension and, in a quest for logical consistency, have articulated theories that attempt to dissolve the apparent contradiction.

“The history of heresies, charitably interpreted, is really the history of Christians trying to get away from the contradiction of Christ,” Beall said. “They flee the contradiction because of an unfounded dogmatism about logic that requires rejecting contradictions, but in so doing, they are actually losing the radical truth of God incarnate.”

Beall said that logic-respecting Christians confront a choice: either stick with the mainstream story about logic and thereby lose a distinctive truth of Christian theology, or reject the mainstream story about logic and accept that the truth of Christ involves contradiction.

“Getting closer to a true account of Christ means dialing down the standard theory of logic, which tells us that every statement about the world is either true or false, and also that no statement about the world is both true and false,” he said.

US Secretary Of State To Look Into Case Of 83-Yr-Old Fr. Stan Swamy, Held In Custody

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that he would look into the case of an 83-year-old Catholic priest, Stan Swamy, held in custody in India on allegations he was linked to Maoists. Responding to a request from a member of the House of Representatives while he was testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Blinken asked for more information and said: “We’ll look into it.”

Juan Vargas, who is the vice chair of the House International Economic Policy and Migration Subcommittee, told Blinken while questioning him that it was “incredible injustice” that Swamy, who was arrested by the National Investigation Agency, has been in jail for over 130 days.

Swamy belongs to the Jesuit order of priests and Vargas said that he had himself been a member of that society. He was arrested in Ranchi and taken to Maharashtra and detained in a Pune jail under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) on allegations that he participated in the activities of the banned Communist Party of India-Maoist.

The case relates to a celebration by Dalits on January 1, 2018, in Koregaon-Bhima near Pune, which was followed by violence that left one person dead. Swamy has been an activist for tribal and Dalit rights.

Earlier in his testimony to the Committee on President Joe Biden’s Priorities for US Foreign Policy, Blinken said that in furtherance of its aims, “we held the first ministerial meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between us, Japan, Australia, and India, and we will hold a leader-level summit this week on Friday”.

China was the dominant theme during the hearing with Blinken declaring, “Our relationship with China, the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century”. Repeatedly questioned about Biden’s comment when asked on a CNN programme about Beijing treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority that “culturally, there are different norms that each country and their leaders are expected to follow”, Blinken reiterated that he considers there was a “genocide” of the Uighurs and the US would continue to speak out forcefully against it.

Vatican Denies Blessing Of Same-Sex Marriages

The Roman Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex marriages, no matter how stable or positive the couples’ relationships are, the Vatican said this week. The message, approved by Pope Francis, came in response to questions about whether the church should reflect the increasing social and legal acceptance of same-sex unions.

“Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” the question asked. “Negative,” replied the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is responsible for defending Catholic doctrine. The church says its answer regarding same-sex couples “declares illicit any form of blessing that tends to acknowledge their unions as such.”

The message underlines the church’s insistence that marriage should be limited to a union between a man and a woman, saying that same-sex unions involve “sexual activity outside of marriage.” In the Vatican’s view, same-sex marriages are not part of God’s plan for families and raising children.

“The presence in such relationships of positive elements, which are in themselves to be valued and appreciated, cannot justify these relationships and render them legitimate objects of an ecclesial blessing,” the statement said.

Bestowing a blessing on a same-sex couple’s relationship would also be an “imitation” of the nuptial blessing, the Vatican said. God, the Vatican said, “does not and cannot bless sin.”

Because of the Vatican’s stance on marriage, critics have accused the church of treating LGBTQ people as lesser members of its congregation. In an apparent response to those concerns, the Vatican said on Monday that its declaration is not meant to be “unjust discrimination.”

It called on Catholics “to welcome with respect and sensitivity persons with homosexual inclinations.”

The Vatican also said that its refusal to give religious approval to same-sex marriage does not preclude giving blessings to homosexual people. But it added that the church “does not have, and cannot have,” the power to bless same-sex relationships.

The message cited Francis’ own words from 2016, when he wrote, “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”

That line comes from “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love), the papal treatise on families that was widely seen as Pope Francis’ move to make the Catholic Church more inclusive. When it was published, the document set off disagreements within the church hierarchy over whether Catholics who have been divorced and remarried should receive sacraments.

Pope Francis has been viewed with cautious optimism by LGBTQ groups because of remarks like his statement, widely published in 2020, that homosexuals are “part of the family” and that same-sex and other nontraditional couples need a “civil union law.” But rights advocates also noted that the pope’s remarks didn’t promise a change within the church, saying the comment seemed to reflect his own opinions, rather than a shift in Catholic doctrine.

During Historic Visit To Iraq, Pope Francis Calls Extremism As ‘Betrayal Of Religion’

During Pope Francis’s four-day tour of Iraq across six cities is Francis’ first trip outside Italy since the coronavirus pandemic began, the Pontiff touched down in Baghdad on Friday, March 5th where he was met by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.  In a speech after being welcomed by Iraqi President Barham Salih, Pope Francis said he was very pleased to come to Iraq, which he described as the “cradle of civilization.” In his address to the nation, ravaged by two decades of war, violence and deaths, he said, “May the clash of arms be silenced… may there be an end to acts of violence and extremism, factions and intolerance!” he said.

“Iraq has suffered the disastrous effects of wars, the scourge of terrorism and sectarian conflicts often grounded in a fundamentalism incapable of accepting the peaceful coexistence of different ethnic and religious groups.”

Francis later met with clerics and other officials at a Baghdad church that was the site of a bloody 2010 massacre. He returned to Baghdad on Saturday afternoon and celebrated Mass at the Chaldean Cathedral of Saint Joseph.

About 10,000 Iraqi Security Forces personnel are being deployed to protect the Pope, while round-the-clock curfews are also being imposed to limit the spread of Covid. Iraq’s PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi greeted him at the airport, with a red carpet, Iraqis in national dress and songs from a largely unmasked choir. Hundreds of people lined the airport road as the Pope’s convoy, heavily chaperoned by police motorcycles, left for the city.

Visiting Ur, the ancient Iraqi city where Jews, Christians and Muslims believe their common patriarch Abraham was born, Pope Francis denounced extremism as a “betrayal of religion.” The Pope visited Ur on Saturday, the second day of the first ever papal visit to Iraq. Addressing a meeting of inter-faith leaders, Francis condemned the violence that has plagued Iraq in recent years and called for friendship and cooperation between religions.

“All its ethnic and religious communities have suffered. In particular, I would like to mention the Yazidi community, which has mourned the deaths of many men and witnessed thousands of women, girls and children kidnapped, sold as slaves, subjected to physical violence and forced conversions,” he said.

Covid and security fears have made this his riskiest visit yet, but the 84-year-old insisted he was “duty bound”. He also said Iraq’s dwindling Christian community should have a more prominent role as citizens with full rights, freedoms and responsibilities. He is hoping to foster inter-religious dialogue – meeting Iraq’s most revered Shia Muslim cleric – and will celebrate Mass at a stadium in Irbil in the north.

Francis also praised the recovery efforts in Northern Iraq, where ISIS terrorist destroyed historical sites, churches, monasteries and other places of worship. “I think of the young Muslim volunteers of Mosul, who helped to repair churches and monasteries, building fraternal friendships on the rubble of hatred, and those Christians and Muslims who today are restoring mosques and churches together,” he said.

Pope Francis delivered his speech at Our Lady of Salvation. “We are gathered in this Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation, hallowed by the blood of our brothers and sisters who here paid the ultimate price of their fidelity to the Lord and his Church,” the pontiff said.

The speech calling for cooperation between religions came just hours after the Pope held a historic meeting with revered Shia Muslim cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in the holy city of Najaf. The 45-minute papal meeting with the 90-year old al-Sistani — who rarely appears in public — represented one of the most significant summits between a pope and a leading Shia Muslim figure in recent years.

During the meeting, broadcast on al-Iraqiya state TV, al-Sistani thanked Francis for making an effort to travel to Najaf and told him that Christians in Iraq should live “like all Iraqis in security and peace, and with their full constitutional rights,” according to a statement released by the Grand Ayatollah’s office.

The Pope in turn thanked al-Sistani and the Shia Muslim community for “[raising] his voice in defense of the weakest and most persecuted, affirming the sacredness of human life and the importance of the unity of the Iraqi people,” according to a statement from the Holy See.

Iraq has imposed a total curfew for the entirety of the four-day papal visit to minimize health and security risks. Francis is scheduled to leave Iraq on Monday.

Francis has met with leading Sunni cleric Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb on several occasions in the past, famously co-signing a 2019 document pledging “human fraternity” between world religions.

Pope Francis, during his historic visit to Iraq, addressed an interfaith gathering of Iraq’s religious and ethnic groups in Ur, said to be the birthplace of Abraham, the common patriarch for Jews, Christians and Muslims. He drove home the need for respect and unity, and he used the opportunity to condemn violent religious extremism.

Pope Francis traveled to the ruins of the ancient city of Ur, considered the cradle of civilization, to remind people that what binds them is more powerful than what divides. Faithful from the Christian, Muslim, Yazidi and Mandean communities were present Saturday. The pope reinforced his call for inter-religious tolerance and fraternity during the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, where religious and ethnic divisions and conflict have torn apart the social fabric for decades.

Indeed, the Christian population in the Middle East has been falling: The Christian share of the overall population in Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories decreased from 10% in 1900 to 5% in 2010, according to a Pew Research Center estimate published in 2014. Christians in the region tend to be older than Muslims, have fewer children and are more likely to emigrate — and that was before widespread persecution of Christians in northern Iraq and Syria between 2014 and 2017 by the group that calls itself the Islamic State.

In Iraq specifically, Christians made up less than 1% of the population as of 2010, according to Pew Research Center estimates. Among Christians in Iraq at that time, an estimated 41% were Catholic, 41% were Protestant and 17% identified with Orthodox Christianity.

Pope Francis’ trip to Iraq this weekend has been described by the Vatican as an effort to encourage the Arab country’s dwindling Christian community and strengthen ties with Muslims.

India’s Top Court Favors Indian Nuns’ Struggle For Tax Exemption

India’s Supreme Court has ended the long-running litigation of a congregation of nuns against the Kerala government by ruling that Catholic nuns should not pay tax for their residential buildings.

The March 1 ruling that favored the Sisters of the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (SABS) applies to the convent buildings of more than 35,000 nuns living in Kerala, officials said. “The order benefits not only us but also other religious congregations in the state,” said Sister Grace Kochupaliyathil, the congregation’s Kothamangalam provincial superior.

The dispute began after a revenue officer refused to grant tax exemption to a newly built convent in Thodupuzha town in Idduki district. The officer refused to accept the nuns’ argument that they are exempted from paying building tax as the Kerala Building Tax Act of 1975 says those not involved in any profiteering business are exempted from paying tax.

The higher officials of the state revenue department also refused to agree to tax exemption, forcing the nuns to move Kerala High Court in 2004. The state High Court asked the government to reconsider its decision, but the government refused. The nuns then moved Supreme Court in 2012, resulting in the present verdict. “It was a very long legal battle and finally God blessed us and we won the case,” Sister Kochupaliyathil told UCA News on March 3.

Some 35,000 of India’s more than 104,500 nuns live and work in the southern state of Kerala. The SABS congregation began litigation after several other convents faced the same situation.

A section of the law says buildings that are used for religious, charitable or educational purposes are exempted from building tax.  “So clearly, convents very well come within the definition of the law and are liable to get its benefit because we are involved only in education and no profiteering business,” Sister Kochupaliyathil said.

The state government contended that no exemption was possible as residential accommodation for nuns and hostels for students are used for residential purposes, not for educational and charitable purposes. The Supreme Court verdict asked the state to follow the spirit of the law.

“If nuns are living in a neighboring building to a convent so that they may receive religious instruction there, or if students are living in a hostel close to the school or college in which they are imparted instruction, it is obvious that the purpose of such residence is not to earn profit but residence that is integrally connected with the religious or educational activity,” the court noted.

If the activities in the convent are predominantly religious, then buildings of the convent used for that purpose also should qualify for an exemption, the court said.

The Catholic Church in India runs some 55,000 educational institutions, including at least one-third of them in Kerala, mostly managed by women religious.

Hundreds of convents and hostels are built attached to these institutions for the education of children. “The top court order will immensely benefit all those nuns,” said Sister Kochupaliyathil.

Re-dedication Puno-Pratistha Puja Celebration of Ghosh-Dastidar Family

On the auspicious hour of 10 AM in the spring morning of 20 Falgun of the Bengali year 1427, Friday March 5, 2021, a celebration began among the evergreen beauty of rural interior of Barisal district, Bangladesh. The event of re-dedication puja service of Sri Bishnu was conducted by monk Rev. Swami Jiban Maharaj, monk Rev. Swami Dayamoy Sadhu, pujarini (priestess) Mrs. Karmakar and by local village residents. Sri Bishnu or Sri Vishnu is the Lord of Creation. It seems that from the late First Millennia to mid-Second Millennia it became a tradition in Bengal in India to dedicate villages to Lord Bishnu.

As deltaic and plains Bengal is devoid of mountains and stones, the deities must either have been built in mountainous northern or northeastern India and transported to Bengal, or the stones and artisans were brought in Bengal via Ganga or Brahmaputra Rivers, much like the stone structures in ancient Egyptian civilization based on transportation of stones via Nile River. The black granite statue of Sri Bishnu (Vishnu) Murti (Deity) was dedicated by Ghosh-Dastidar Family ancestors in the 15th Century at Lakhsmankathi Village of Barisal District, in coastal east Bengal in India, now Bangladesh. The shrine was established in the 15th Century by the “Ghosh-Dastidar Family” when they established the village. The murti (statue) was erected in the Sri Bishnu Bari Mandir (Temple). Incidentally, the term Dastidar, a word of Persian origin, was given by the non-native Muslim ruler of Bengal region of India as an honorific title by foreign Islamic rulers who used Persian as the official language during their rule from the 14th Century. They depended on the family for governing the region. Islamic rulers were a small non-native minority ruling over a vast non-Muslim population.

Many locals called this Puno-Pratistha Re-dedication Ceremony as an unparalleled and ground breaking event since the Partition of India and Partition of Bengal in 1947. The temple was repaired in 2019 through 2020, but the celebration of re-dedication was postponed because of Covid crisis. Only after Bangladesh removed restriction on travel, the celebration took place.

The March 5, 2021 celebration started during the auspicious moment according to Hindu calendar, with glorious Surya, the Sun God showed the event with His blessing. Men, women and children were dressed in their best to make the event joyous and celebratory. Vast majority of the people were from poor and oppressed groups in the Muslim-majority nation. After the end of the first puja service, a reading from the Holy Bhagabat Gita was conducted by Monk Dayamoy Sadhu, with a question and answer session. This was followed by a second puja offering and arati – service with lit pradip (lamp) – by Monk Jiban Maharaj, followed by puja by pujarini (priestess) Karmakar.

The service was followed by a music session conducted by monk Jiban Maharaj, joined by attendees, followed by a philosophical homily. Rev. Jiban Maharaj said in his sermon, “I especially thank Baba (Father, Sabyasachi), Ma (Mother, Shefali), Shuvo, Sumedha, Shriya-Lakshmi and Joyeeta Ghosh-Dastidars of America for their dedication to improve the life of all Bangladeshis. I also thank Anirban of Singapore for helping us. I wish them a very long and productive life and of others all over the world. Om Shanti.” At the end of puja-arati prayer-lite-lamp service keynote speech was given by Mr. Swapan Kumar Mondol, a local luminary, followed by congratulatory addresses by other individuals. At the end of the service Prasad, blessed fruits and sweets offered to God, and bhog, the blessed cooked food offered to Lord Bishnu, were distributed to all the attendees, between 100 and 150 guests, both Hindu minority and Muslim majority. This follows a long tradition of joint celebration during peaceful times.

The process of reconstruction of the mandir (temple) began after this writer’s visit in early 2019 when the poor, oppressed villagers requested visitors’ help to repair the structure. In 1987 the new mandir was built by Amitabha Ghosh Dastidar of Kolkata (Calcutta). The original temple structure was destroyed during 1950s pogrom, when terrorists also demolished the other 18th Century mandir (temple) of Black Mother Kali, called Kali Bari or the Home of Mother Kali.

It is worth mentioning that after partition of India in 1947 into secular India and Islamic Pakistan, today’s Bangladesh became East Pakistan, and immediately began attacks on Hindu minorities, their shrines, ashrams, schools, libraries, homes and businesses. Dastidars, like other Hindus, especially educated families, wanted to stay in their homes, but after successive pogroms they were forced to flee from their homeland becoming homeless refugees in India. Since early 1980s Dastidars have been going back to their homeland regularly, though they were unable to enter their home. They have established many schools and hostels (dormitories) for the poor and the orphaned in Bangladesh, and in the Indian States of West Bengal, Assam and Mizoram, with the help of many Americans – Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, white, black, brown, yellow and of other colors.

I thank Mr. Mithun Biswas of Madaripur, Bangladesh for providing live video coverage through Facebook page. At times live broadcast was difficult because of WI-Fi connection in that remote rural corner of Bangladesh. In 2021 it takes between six to eight hours to cover a distance of 160 to 250 kilometers, from the Bangladesh capital Dhaka to Lakshmankati in the south depending on which ferry one takes to cross either mighty Padma or Meghna Rivers.

We welcome you to visit the shrine. On your way please visit Mahilara Mott, a historic place with a 350-year old shrine included in a book by UNESCO of historic mandirs of Bangladesh. This writer’s effort saved the historic 110 feet tall shrine. Check https://empireslastcasualty.blogspot.com/2019/01/mahilara-gour-nodi-barisal-bangladesh.html. It is just 400 meters north of Lakshmankathi on the main Dhaka-Barisal National Highway. Please email us for direction. If one wants, one can rent a room at Guest House of Madaripur Ashram, in Pathak-kandi neighborhood of Madaripur City for overnight stay, a short distance from both Mahilara and Lakshmankathi villages. One can use various modes of transportation to visit those sites.

If one wants to contact us, please email either at [email protected] or at [email protected].  If one wants to donate for our work, please donate via Facebook page of the Indian Subcontinent Partition Documentation Project, or donate via www.ispad1947.org web. Any donation is greatly appreciated.

In Pope Francis, Biden Has A Potential Ally — Who Shares The Same Catholic Detractors

The second Roman Catholic president in American history is a devout man who makes no secret of the importance of faith in his life. President Joe Biden is a regular churchgoer, often quotes St. Augustine and carries a rosary that belonged to his late son Beau. In one of the first images released of him in the Oval Office, a photo was visible behind his desk showing him with Pope Francis.

The Argentine-born pope and the new American president have both staked out liberal stances on issues like climate change and economic disparity, and have taken different positions from their “culture warrior” predecessors.

Biden diametrically differs from former President Donald Trump in his support for a more inclusive society, on issues ranging from immigration and health care to LGBTQ equality. Francis has moved away from Pope John Paul II’s and Benedict XVI’s emphasis on sexual morality, preferring to focus on social justice and the rights of the poor and marginalized. He has repeatedly lashed out at what he describes as the destructive effects of laissez-faire capitalism on society and the environment.

The pope and the president have a lot in common, says Paul Elie, a scholar of Catholicism at Georgetown University.

“Their informality, the fact that they were elected late in life, the fact that they seem to take issues as they come, listening, discerning and then acting,” he says. “And both of them, I think, have surprised their people by turning out to be more progressive than was expected.”

In the November election, just over half of American Catholics voted against Biden, in great part because of his support for laws such as those guaranteeing abortion rights that run contrary to Church doctrine.

Nevertheless, the new president has a friend — and potential ally — at the Vatican. On Inauguration Day, Pope Francis sent Biden a warm note saying, “Grave crises facing our human family call for farsighted and united responses.”

Relations between Pope Francis and Trump were at best chilly. When Trump was still a candidate in 2016, Pope Francis suggested he was “not a Christian” for his campaign vow to deport more immigrants and build a wall along the border with Mexico. A year later, the pope wondered how Trump could claim to be “pro-life” while ordering policies that broke up the families of immigrants and asylum seekers.

Biden’s election was welcomed by the Vatican — but without mention of his support for abortion rights, says Villanova University theology professor Massimo Faggioli.

“It’s clear that they see this moment as a return to some sanity. This is what the Vatican really holds dear,” says Faggioli, “so that that there is a predictability in the relations between countries and leaders.”

Faggioli, the author of Joe Biden and Catholicism in the United States, argues that under the influence of the previous two papacies, the U.S. Catholic Church leadership became increasingly traditionalist, ignoring any discourse on racism, rule of law or voting rights — and has thus become more closely allied with the political right.

He points out that Biden and the pope share the same detractors among American Catholic leaders — the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which he says “is dominated by ultraconservative Catholic bishops whose political sympathies lie very clearly with the Republican Party, and not just on the abortion issue.”

The Vatican was reportedly annoyed by a bishops’ conference statement on Inauguration Day. Signed by the group’s leader, Archbishop José H. Gomez, the statement lamented that “our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender.” It added that “for the nation’s bishops, the continued injustice of abortion remains the preeminent priority.”

An unnamed senior Vatican official told the Catholic publication America, “It is most unfortunate and is likely to create even greater divisions within the Church in the United States.”

“So, there is an extremist wing of the Catholic Church,” says Faggioli, “which is a handful of bishops, but a bigger chunk of the clergy.”

For example, last August, the Rev. James Altman of La Crosse, Wisc., posted a video to YouTube in which he proclaimed, “You cannot be Catholic and be a Democrat, period. Their party platform absolutely is against everything the Catholic Church teaches. Repent of your support of that party and its platform or face the fires of hell.” It has been viewed more than a million times.

Not all conservative Catholics strike such an apocalyptic tone toward Democrats. But many share a message of condemnation.

In a podcast last month with the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank, George Weigel, an author and political analyst who has written extensively about the Catholic Church, said the new president seems quite sincere in his personal piety. But he went on to attack Biden, saying he “facilitates grave moral evils. Mr. Biden is an incoherent Catholic and incoherent Catholics should not be presenting themselves for Holy Communion as if they were living in full communion with the church.”

As both Francis and Biden ignore their Catholic critics, presidential historian Timothy Naftali sees potential parallels now with a period at the peak of the Cold War six decades ago.

Six months after the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the precipice of nuclear annihilation in 1962, Pope John XXIII issued the Pacem in Terris encyclical. Addressed not just to Catholics but to all people “of good will,” it called for peacemaking through negotiation.

A week later, President John F. Kennedy cited the document in a major speech, and was subsequently able to win domestic support for a nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviet Union.

Naftali believes the pope and Biden could join forces against climate change — the great threat facing humanity today.

“Given the prominence of Pope Francis on this issue, the fact that he has identified climate change as an existential threat,” says Naftali, “there is a natural partnership with a secular leader who has also identified climate change as an existential threat. These are two leaders powerful in different realms. That’s an opportunity. And it’s not an opportunity that comes every generation.”

Naftali is convinced that amid so much disinformation on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines, these two prominent Catholics could also work together to convince more people that science and faith are not mutually exclusive.

Why Christo-Racist Nationalism and Anti-Muslim Rhetoric Are Gaining Ground in Kerala

The solo Indian flag that made an appearance among the vast swathe of Trump supporters storming the Capitol building in Washington D.C. recently, caught the attention of many. It was even more of a surprise when it was revealed that a Malayali Christian named Vinson Palathingal was responsible for it.

However, truth be told, Palathingal is just one of the many Malayali Christians who are fervent advocates of the Christo-racist nationalism represented and championed by Donald Trump and his band of supporters. For those wondering how an exclusivist White supremacist anti-Muslim ideology and rhetoric that underpins Trumpian politics appeals to these migrants and their ilk from the Global South, the answer may be found in the latter’s own social location within the Kerala society in India.

Syrian Christians and Kerala’s caste hierarchy

Beyond the general term Christian, there lies a more nuanced identifier for the community that people like Palathingal hail from – Syrian Christians. A traditionally privileged and landed community, they claim their origin from the proselytisation mission of Jesus Christ’s disciple St. Thomas in the first century CE. There are visible tendencies among the Syrians, who are also called St. Thomas Christians, to go back and revive what they imagine to be their Syriac liturgical tradition.

The most popular myth about their origin is that they hail from Brahmins who were proselytised by St. Thomas. While inquiring into the veracity of these claims is not what I intend to do in this article, I think it is indeed an indication of the “superior” status that they seek to utilise to distinguish themselves from their fellow Christians who are mostly from “lower” castes.

Cambridge historian Susan Bayly, in her book, Saints, Goddesses and Kings, points out that in the pre-colonial era, Syrian Christians were very much incorporated into the savarna sections of the caste hierarchy within the Kerala society. Although the tectonic changes brought into the social organisation of Kerala by the colonialists altered this position, and Syrian Christians switched from being mostly a martial and trading group to one of land-owning agriculturalists, they were still able to retain their traditional privileges.

  1. C. Zachariah points out in his book, The Syrian Christians of Kerala: Demographic and Socio-Economic Transition in the 20th Century (2006), that the community is the largest per household landholder in the state. They also lead other prominent groups in terms of housing. They also do relatively well in terms of access to both government jobs and educational institutions. Citing the Kerala Migration Study (1998) conducted by the Centre for Development Studies, Zachariah concludes that “Syrian Christians are the most advanced community in Kerala (p197)” with respect to overall socio-economic indices.

A simplistic application of the category of caste in the case of Syrian Christians might blunt the analytical edge. However, for the purposes of this article, I will stick to the notion of caste, for want of a better terminology, as it is still used as a method of social stratification.

For instance, Syrian Christians practice strict endogamy, which is central to preserving hereditary socio-economic capital. This practice is so strongly adhered to that Syrian denominations that are in communion with the Catholic Church still do not enter into matrimonial relationships with their fellow Latin Catholics who are mostly considered “lower” castes, belonging to fisherman or Dalit communities.

The tropes of ‘love jihad’, halal food, and minority benefits

However, despite being amongst the most privileged in Kerala society, recently, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church (the largest denomination among the Syrians) kicked up a public frenzy claiming that ‘Christians’ are being systematically discriminated against, by the two mainstream political parties who come to power in Kerala alternatively. The major accusation is that the state governments favour Muslims over Christians, when it comes to resource allocation through minority benefits.

This rhetoric is clearly based on a reductionist understanding of ‘minority’ as a purely numerical category, rather than as one referring to a community that is vulnerable or threatened by the majority power structure. This tendency is also witnessed in the hype over the imagined ‘love jihad’ campaigns by Muslims to ‘snatch’ (Syrian) Christian women, even after central and state law enforcement agencies repeatedly found no evidence to prove the same. Priests and laity leaders constantly issue advisories to parents to protect their daughters from falling for such non-existent ‘love jihad’ traps.

As surprising as it would seem, this has also spilt into campaigns various Syrian Christian groups calling for a boycott of restaurants and shops selling halal food items. The recent decision by Turkish President Erdogan to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque is portrayed as another instance of a global Muslim scheme against Christians, conveniently hiding the fact that 13th-century crusaders were the first to ransack Hagia Sophia. The Orthodox Patriarch had to run for his life while the marauding Catholics converted Hagia Sofia into a Catholic place of worship.

Just like Vinson Palathingal in the US, there were community groups in Kerala that put up billboards professing their unflinching support for Trump and prayed for his return to power. Moreover, Syrian Christian family WhatsApp groups and social media are teeming with conspiracy theories targeting Muslims. In many of the cases, this communal vitriol is led by Syrian Catholic priests themselves, like Noble Parackal, who is also a popular face on social media. It suffices to say that these conspiracy theories and victim narratives have found legitimacy and a life independent of reality.

Mainstream political parties in Kerala are all wary of this reality, especially with state assembly elections just around the corner. Through various ways, the community has also started publicly positioning BJP as a potential ally and political alternative. On its part, the BJP, which is struggling to establish a foothold in the state with 47% of the population comprising minorities, has been trying to woo Syrian Christians in a major way. The fact also remains that the first and last MP to win for NDA from Kerala was P. C. Thomas from the Syrian Catholic community, in 2004.

Syrian Christians’ appropriation of ‘Christianity’

Among all the various Syrian Christian denominations, why is it that the Syrian Catholic church is expressly, and almost exclusively, the proponent of this anti-Islam campaign? Further, what are the repressed insecurities of the community that has manifested in such a phenomenon?

Most importantly, at a time when Hindu majoritarianism is extending its grip over India, why is it that the Kerala Christian group has chosen to target another fellow minority group, instead of the Hindu nationalists? Studies need to address this deep-seated insecurity of the community to unpack the unconscious and underlying reasons manifesting in the current public outburst of anger aimed at Muslims.

Antagonism towards Muslims is not new and has been a popular, but private, sentiment among the members of the community majorly in the erstwhile central Travancore region. As such, one needs to ask why, suddenly, this made its entry into the public sphere with such fervour. For one, it is clear that ‘love jihad’, the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, halal food controversy, terrorism etc, have been used instrumentally to plug the local antagonism towards Muslims into the global discourse, adding much-needed legitimacy to the anti-Muslim social imagination. This also helps in rhetorically translating the antagonism in such popularly recognised ‘common sense’ terms that would look normal and legitimate.

‘Entirety of Christianity’

One last and most important facet of this phenomenon I wish to highlight is how the Syrian Christians, championing this narrative, always mobilise the entirety of ‘Christianity’ in their rhetoric. This is contradictory. This calls for critical attention, considering how Syrians have always fervently tried to distinguish themselves from the rest of the Christians in everything else that matters. Their exceptionalism and savarna mindset clearly point to a Christianity-caste nexus that actively facilitates the maintenance of caste privileges.

Even their origin stories, related to the first century CE proselytisation mission of St. Thomas, is itself used to distinguish them from those mostly ‘lower’ caste faithful, who are pejoratively called ‘converted Christians’ referring to their more recent turn to the faith. The extent of this caste distinction and discrimination becomes amply clear while considering the fact that Syrian Catholics, with full approval and encouragement of the clergy, refuse to even marry Latin Catholics.

To avoid appearing explicitly casteist, myths like family ‘cultural differences’ which are pitched as monolithic and hereditary, are cited. Moreover, this caste blinded-ness is also a reason why the self-proclaimed protectors of ‘Christianity’, fighting against a so-called global Muslim conspiracy, choose to ignore the long history of violence inflicted by Hindutva organisations on Dalit and other ‘lower’ caste Christians in other parts of India. As such, it is imperative that we need to make visible the caste violence being furthered by ‘savarna‘ Syrian Christians, as they pitch the fiction of unified Christianity in their rhetoric against Muslims.

Bipin Sebastian is a PhD student at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. He studies discursive formations on religion, caste and secularism in India and can be reached at [email protected]

Indian Culture Vs. Same Sex Marriage

“It is against Indian culture” that is what the Supreme Court says now, when activists are debating that it is the right time to push for legalizing homosexuality. Two years back, the government ruled out that same-sex marriages cannot be legalized. But Indian government affirms that according to our culture, “Marriage is the unity of a man and woman.”

Now the question is, what is so specific about Indian culture.

Hinduism is against Homosexuality and is unacceptable to most Hindus. Hinduism teaches that the ‘natural’ thing is for men and women to marry and have children. On the contrary, those who go against this natural relationship are violating their own dharma.Joys

In Sikhism, The Guru Granth Sahib only mentions marriage in relation to a man and a woman forming a spiritual union.

The Quran mentions sex between men several times, in the context of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, in which some city inhabitants demand sexual access to the messengers sent by God to the prophet Lot. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their sin and perversions; hence it is ‘Haram,’ Islam has for centuries been much more tolerant than Christianity.

The biblical emphasis upon the loving union of male and female, as an integral part of God’s creation ordinance, establishing family only by a man and woman.

Even Rituparna Borah, co-director of Nazariya Queer Feminist Resource Group, remarked, “There are so many differences in how people live across the country.”

Indian Supreme Court has made it clear that it is neither possible nor practical to call one person a husband and the other a wife in same-sex marriage. India’s solicitor general is staunchly against the legalization of same-sex marriage. As per Delhi High Court in September, “our laws, our legal system, our society, and our values do not recognize the marriage, which is a sacrament, between same-sex couples.”

When the Indian government talks about our culture, they are definitely referring to the good old Hindu upper-caste culture. This particular petition is not challenging Hinduism. In fact, it helps to glorify the fact that Hinduism allows so many weird relationships according to Hindu mythology. The sculptures at Ellora caves, Khajuraho, and Konarak temples may be exceptions, but they reveal so much of the erotic relationships of Indian community in the ancestral days!

On the issue of same sex marriages Wikipedia clarifies with a bit of history “Same-sex marriages are not legally recognized in India nor are same-sex couples offered limited rights such as a civil union or a domestic partnership. On the contrary in 2011, a Haryana court granted legal recognition to a same-sex marriage involving two women. After marrying, the couple began to receive threats from friends and relatives in their village. The couple eventually won family approval”.


Off late in October 2020, two women, Kavita Arora and Ankita Khanna submitted a petition in a Delhi court for their constitutional right to marry. They arguing that without official recognition, they are “strangers in law.”

Several same-sex marriage petitions are pending with different levels of judiciary courts. Whereas On 12 June 2020, the Uttarakhand High Court acknowledged that even though same-sex marriage may be illegal, cohabitation and “live-in relationships” are protected by the law.

Yet in approval to a petition filed in the Delhi High Court by a same sex couple requesting to legalize gay marriage, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta representing the Indian Government affirmed that same sex marriage is against Indian culture – that is the latest update on the same sex marriage issues in India.


The government has affirmed that it is neither possible nor practical to call one person a husband and the other a wife in same-sex marriage. The affidavit states that this will lead to many legal issues.


The affidavit was filed by the Central Government in a High Court notice seeking permission for same-sex marriage under the Hindu Marriage Act. The court will reconsider the petition in April. “Living together as partners and having sex with a person of the same sex cannot be compared to the Indian family concept of husband, wife and children, ”the Center said.


Plaintiffs cannot claim same-sex marriage as a fundamental right. The Center also said that registering same-sex marriages violates existing legal provisions .’ Parliament has designed and framed marriage laws in a country governed by individual laws relating to different religions’ customs. These laws only acknowledge a man’s unity with a woman that provides legal permission through religious permission. Any intervention in this regard will completely upset the delicate balance of individual laws in the country,” the affidavit said. India’s solicitor general has taken a stance against the legalization of same-sex marriage.

“There are so many notable LGBTQ personalities in India. The acronym LGBTQ describes the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer community.

India’s LGBTQ community is not focused on marriage equality right now. What they want is acceptance from their families, communities, and society. It is not their fault or decision, but they are born like that; others should not discriminate against them.

Hence the case and the counter affidavit by the government attracted much relevance now. The plaintiffs cannot claim same-sex marriage as a fundamental right. The Center also said that registering same-sex marriages violates existing legal provisions .’’Indian Parliament has designed and framed marriage laws in a country governed by individual laws relating to different religions’ customs. Any intervention in this regard will completely upset the delicate balance of particular rules in the country,” the affidavit said.

In a country with so many religions of very conservative customs and faith prevail, the court has a Herculean task to manage the already sensitive issue of same-sex marriage and redressing the grievances of the LGBTQ activists in the long run.

India’s Three Cardinals’ Meet Prime Minister of India

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi met the three Cardinals – Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Cardinal George Alencherry and Cardinal Baselios Cleemis last week in New Delhi. When the Cardinals emerged from the meeting, they all commented that it was a very cordial and a fruitful meeting and the Prime Minister was very much relaxed. This meeting was more of a dialogue and a conversation on wide ranging issues. 

 After the meeting, at the Press Conference held at Mizoram House, His Eminence Oswald Cardinal Gracias in his opening remarks said that the Prime Minister had invited them for a conversation where they reviewed different works in the Church in India, at the national scene and particularly how the Church is working in different fields of education, medical and social welfare and how we can in the future even more collaborate with the Government. His Eminence then invited the press reporters to ask any questions.  

 In reply to a question whether the Cardinals had asked the Prime Minister about the proposal of inviting the Holy Father to India, Cardinal Oswald said that this was always in the mind of the Prime Minister. He is positive about this and has shared his eagerness to get the Holy Father to India. The Prime Minister has to find an appropriate time when the Holy Father can be invited.  Cardinal Oswald Gracias commented that the present health and safety conditions in India do not warrant a visit of the Holy Father. 

 Cardinal Oswald Gracias raised the issue of the farmers and hoped that a just solution be found. The Prime Minister stated that the government was making every effort for this. With regard to the release of Fr. Stan Swamy, Cardinal Oswald Gracias said that the Prime Minister is aware of the situation and is sympathetic. But this is taken care of by an independent agency and the Government does not want to interfere in the matter. 

 Cardinal Baselios Cleemis shared with the Press what Cardinal Oswald Gracias had shared with the Prime Minister of the massive work and efforts done by the Catholic Church during the Covid pandemic. Rs 152 crores had been spent by the Church to take care of the poor during this pandemic. The different Caritas agencies in India reached out to over 2 crores population. Cardinal Gracias assured the Prime Minister that the Catholic Church will continue to engage in the emergency care for the people of India. 

 Speaking about the minorities in India, Cardinal George Alencherry shared with the Prime Minister that there should be equitable distribution of goods and services. He also spoke about the new Education Policy with the Prime Minister. Cardinal Alencherry insisted with the Prime Minister on religious harmony.  The Prime Minister is open to all that was shared. He shared that much discussion had gone into before the formulation of the policy.

With regard to FCRA, the Prime Minister said that there were so many agencies getting foreign money and not maintaining proper accounts. Therefore, the Prime Minister had to be strict about that, to which Cardinal Alencherry said that we support that. Due to the misdeeds of some people, the others must not suffer. 


With regard to the equitable distribution of funds, a reporter asked whether there was discrimination on the basis of religion and minorities. Cardinal Alencherry said that neither the Prime Minister nor the Cardinals spoke of any discrimination. Cardinal Cleemis said that this is the fund given by the Central Government to be distributed among the poor.  What the Cardinals asked the Prime Minister was to make a point of justice so that the funds are fairly distributed. No one should be ignored and this distribution should be done in an equitable manner. The Prime Minister assured the Cardinals that he will look into the matter.

 Cardinal Alencherry spoke to the Prime Minister about certain difficulties faced in the Kerala Church. Cardinal Cleemis shared how the issue of poorest of the poor was raised with the Prime Minister. Mention of the promotion of the Dalit people was made with particular reference to the Christians of Dalit community. These are groups of people who need to be treated and brought to the mainstream of society. The Prime Minister was very positive about this and we have assured our support to this where the Dalits can be brought to the mainstream of the society. How and what means to be followed, they were not clear about that but an appropriate study needs to be made about this, to make provisions for them so that justice can be given to them. 

 Cardinal Cleemis thanked the efforts made by the Honourable Governor of Mizoram for facilitating this meeting. Unfortunately, the Governor could not be present because he is under quarantine in Kerala. It was a very refreshing experience for the Government to invite the three Cardinals and to listen to them. The Governor of Mizoram is very open to all communities and not just the Christians. Since he is the Governor of Mizoram, he understands the Christians very well as there are more than 80% Christians in Mizoram.  Therefore, he has learnt to appreciate the work of the Christian community. We appreciate the many efforts the Governor had taken for today’s meeting. The invitation for this meeting came from the Prime Minister, which was very important for us. 

 The Cardinals were asked if any constitutional amendment was suggested to the Prime Minister to allow the Dalit to come to the reservation category. It was suggested to the Prime Minister that the criteria for assistance should be economic and not religion. 

 Cardinal Oswald Gracias said that he had previously clarified to the Prime Minister that the Church is not political by nature. The Church is not for any political party; it is always apolitical. What we always look for is good governance. We look for the care for the poor, economic growth and development of the people, justice and progress of the country.  

 Cardinal Alencherry said that the Church is a reality in society and always in dialogue with the Government for the betterment of the poor. Cardinal Oswald Gracias thanked all the press reporters that came for this press conference.  The meeting ended with the mutual thanksgiving and the Prime Minister inviting the Cardinals to approach him if they have any issue to discuss.

Dalai Lama: ‘We Can No Longer Say “My Nation” … We Should Say “My Planet”

In this time of COVID-19 and civil unrest in America, happiness often seems increasingly elusive. Yet that may not have to be so, and, in fact, such turmoil can offer opportunities for both personal and professional fulfillment.

That was the theme of an online conversation Saturday night between the Dalai Lama and Professor Arthur C. Brooks of Harvard Business School (HBS) and Harvard Kennedy School (HKS). Speaking from his home in Dharamshala, India, the Dalai Lama, longtime leader of Tibetan Buddhism, spoke with Brooks, HKS professor of the practice of public leadership and HBS professor of management practice, for 90 minutes in a live segment of Brooks’ HBS class called “Leadership and Happiness.” The Dalai Lama answered questions from students about their concerns and their duties in a troubled world.

Connection — even as people are usually now forced to work and study separately — is the key to happiness, he said. “We need a sense of oneness. We are each one of 7 billion human beings.” Occasionally aided by an interpreter, the 85-year-old religious leader stressed that point repeatedly. Especially when faced with global crises such as the pandemic and climate change, he said, people must engage as a global community.

“We can no longer say ‘my nation, my country,’ ” he said. “We should say ‘my planet.’ We have to live on this planet together.”

The potential for happiness is in that connectivity. “Happiness is in the mind,” the Dalai Lama said. As individuals and as leaders, when we reach out to others, lifting them up, we experience that connection, and the resulting fulfillment brings us happiness.

Even during a pandemic, he advised, we can find peace. Science and intellectual analysis, he stressed, are vital. If health professionals advise that it is not safe to gather, we need to respect that. He said he personally has found solitude useful for meditation. But being alone should be a choice: “With technology, the oneness of people becomes more clear,” he added. “We can communicate with each other.”

Isolation, he pointed out, can be largely a state of mind. “Tibet, in ancient times, was lonely but happy.” Even in the sparsely populated, mountainous country, “When one family needed some help, they could ask,” he said, relying on a strong sense of community.

Now, people are clustered in big cities but often without a sense of their interdependency.  “Instead of trust, there is fear and distrust,” he said. Focusing on material wealth or competition rather than on interdependency and the general good “eventually creates anger, so the person will not be happy.”

Countering this outlook is within our power. He described his own travels and how, as a stateless person, he could have felt isolated and alone. Instead, wherever he was, he saw himself as part of a larger community, anywhere in the world.

Pushing further for being in the world, the Dalai Lama promoted what Brooks called “the sanctity of the intellectual life.” He repeatedly returned to the need for academic rigor, even at the expense of religious doctrine. Following discussions with scientists, for example, he has let go of centuries-old Buddhist concepts, “like Mount Meru and the sun and the moon being the same size,” he said, referring to the sacred peak considered the center of the universe. “You must be realistic and analyze,” he said.

“What kind of future depends on the present, the younger generation — you are the key people who can create a happier future,” the Dalai Lama told a Harvard Business School class on Saturday night.

“We’re not like other animals,” he said, simply seeking sustenance or safety. “A lot of our problems are our own mental creations.” The solution, he stressed, comes in improving our educational systems to teach community and equality rather than division and difference. Science, he added, can further our understanding of our emotions and the human mind. “A lot of problems were created by the human mind itself, so the remedy also, you see, lies within the human mind. Investigate.”

He concluded his talk by speaking directly to the student audience. Referring to his own status as a refugee and to the problems that his generation has left the world, he became, once again, philosophical. “Time is always moving,” he said. “We cannot change the past. The future is not yet come. What kind of future depends on the present, the younger generation — you are the key people who can create a happier future. So, please, you should not just copy what has happened. New thinking is very necessary. Please think more.”

(Courtesy: the Harvard Gazette)

Jesuit Fr. Leo O’Donovan to deliver invocation at Biden inauguration

Jesuit Fr. Leo O’Donovan, former president of Georgetown University, will deliver the invocation at Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration on Jan. 20.

O’Donovan confirmed to NCR that Biden had personally called him and invited him to offer the prayer at the inauguration, which will mark the election of the nation’s second Catholic president, and that he had accepted.

O’Donovan is a longtime friend of the Biden family. In 2015, he presided at the funeral Mass for Biden’s oldest son, Beau, after he died of brain cancer at the age of 46.

Biden is known to be close with a number of Jesuit priests, and while he was vice president, he occasionally attended Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown. In 1992, when Biden’s son Hunter was a senior at Georgetown, O’Donovan invited the then-senator from Delaware to give a lecture at the Jesuit university on his faith and public life. Biden told O’Donovan at the time it was the “toughest assignment he’s ever had.”

More recently, just days after his presidential election, on Nov. 12, Biden appeared at a virtual fundraiser for Jesuit Refugee Service, where O’Donovan now serves as director of mission. On that occasion, Biden announced that he would raise the annual admission target of new refugees into the United States to 125,000, marking a sharp increase to the Trump administration’s cap of 15,000 individuals. 

Previously, in 2018, Biden penned the foreward to O’Donovan’s book Blessed Are the Refugees: Beatitudes of Immigrant Children.

Catholics have a long history of participating in prayers for inaugural events. In 1937, Fr. John Ryan offered the benediction at President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inauguration. Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston offered the invocation at the inauguration of the nation’s first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, in 1961. More recently, in 2017, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan provided a Scripture reading at the inauguration for President Donald Trump.

While other specific details of the inauguration lineup of speakers have yet to be announced, the Biden-Harris transition team announced last month that on the eve of the inauguration, there will be a memorial to honor lives lost to COVID-19, which will include the ringing of church bells throughout Washington, D.C.

The Devil Is A Better Loser Than Donald Trump

US bishops who pandered to Trump have failed to guide Catholics to be a discerning, peaceful, loving community. 

The legendary Faust’s desire for power led him into a pact with Mephistopheles, the agent of Satan. The deal was straightforward. In exchange for the fulfillment of all his desires in this life, hell would get Faust’s soul after death.

There are variations on the story. Goethe’s version differs from the tradition in having Faust saved in the end.

An American variation, Stephen Vincent Benét’s The Devil and Daniel Webster, has the devil bested in a trial over the contract. The devil is a better loser than Donald Trump.

But overall, those who contract with the devil are eventually told, “Go to hell!”

The attack by Trump’s partisans upon the verification of the American presidential election was no surprise to those who had paid attention to that man’s actions, the manipulation of his followers and the enabling by the Republican Party over four years. The only surprise for me was that the mob did not burn down the Capitol building.


This is the fruition of a pact with the devil that the Republican Party made in the 1960s. As civil rights legislation empowered Black Americans and threatened the political supremacy of Whites, especially in the South, the Republicans played upon the prejudices of those people to wean them from the Democratic Party. It was called the Southern Strategy.

Had that strategy included plans for guiding new supporters to openness toward other races and ethnic groups, it might have been good for the party and the nation. Instead, prejudices were nurtured and encouraged. In 2005, the chairman of the Republican National Committee finally apologized to Blacks in a de facto admission of his party’s use of racism as a means to draw voters.

But it was too late. Increasingly, the racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic stream that had been channeled into the Republican Party took control. The presidency of Donald Trump is the result. His rallies are festivals of racism and anti-Semitism with Confederate flags, swastikas and sweatshirts emblazoned with anti-Semitic slogans like 6MWNE (six million was not enough) or Camp Auschwitz.

The attack on the Capitol and democracy may mark the beginning of a “Go to hell!” period for Republicans as their pact with evil bears fruit.

The Republican Party must repent, reform and recover from that pact. But that is not the only institution that succumbed to the Faustian allure of power.

What of the American Catholic Church?

Traditionally, Catholics tended to support the Democratic Party. They were often city dwellers, immigrants and industrial workers. Their concerns differed from those of the business-oriented Republicans. However, their children and grandchildren prospered and began to find the Republicans attractive, overlooking the Faustian bargain the party had made.

But there is more to the Catholic story than a semi-natural migration to the Republicans. There has been a Faustian bargain on the part of some in the Church who for their own ends have allied themselves within the larger bargain with racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, though they might not admit that they have become fellows of those attitudes.

Their situation is like that of Germans who did not like what the Nazis were doing but went along for the sake of what that party might do for them. However, guilt by association is real and saying one does not like the way a ship is going does not change the fact that one has booked passage or even become a crew member.

Can we see that in the US Catholic Church? Yes.

Half of Catholics who voted in the November presidential election voted for Trump even after four years of blatant lies, hypocrisy, racism, nepotism, corruption, narcissism, bullying, boorishness, sexual abuse, defiance of the law, divisiveness, pettiness, general incompetence and childish petulance. Is there nothing in that list that repels those Catholics? Why not?

One reason may be that men who are supposed to guide Catholics in their lives as Christians told them to overlook those failings. Bishop Joseph Strickland said, “As the bishop of Tyler [Texas] I endorse” a priest’s message that said, “Repent of your support of that [Democratic] party and its platform or face the fires of hell.”

Bishop Strickland later took part virtually in one of the “Stop the Steal” rallies that denied Trump’s loss and was a precursor to the invasion of the Capitol. After that terrorist attack, he spoke of “a sad day” and that “we have to turn to God.” He did not say that the turn to God would include repentance for his part in laying the groundwork, nor anything about hell for terrorists.

He is only one of several bishops and priests who pandered to Trump and Trumpism. The question is, where are the US bishops who disagree? The episcopal code of omertà that allowed the scandal of Theodore McCarrick to fester remains an indictment of the whole pack.

The bishops and their clerical underlings have failed to guide America’s Catholics to be a discerning, peaceful, loving community shaped by the Gospel. But that’s their job!

They are failures who have decided to rely upon the political system to do what they failed to do, for example, regarding abortion. If they had done their job and led society to a vision of life that would make abortion as unthinkable as public hanging, drawing and quartering, they might not have resorted to supporting a fascist movement marked by racism, anti-Semitism and injustice.

Calling the bishops and not a few pastors of the Catholic Church in the United States “leaders” is a violation of truth and language. And so, to the managers of the United States Catholic Church: “Go to hell!”

(Father William Grimm is the publisher of UCA News based in Tokyo, Japan. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.)

(picture courtesy: Tulsa World)

“A Culture of Care as a Path to Peace:” Pope’s 54th World Day of Peace Message

In his message for the 54th World Day of Peace, which will be celebrated on Jan. 1, 2021, Pope Francis offers the Church’s social doctrine as a compass to foster a culture of care for peace in the world.
Pope Francis appeals to the international community and every individual to foster a “culture of care” by advancing on the “path of fraternity, justice and peace between individuals, communities, peoples and nations.”
“There can be no peace without a culture of care,” the pope stresses in his message for World Day of Peace, which will be held on Jan. 1, 2021. The message was released by the Vatican on Dec. 17.
The Holy Father calls for “a common, supportive and inclusive commitment to protecting and promoting the dignity and good of all, a willingness to show care and compassion, to work for reconciliation and healing, and to advance mutual respect and acceptance.” In this task, Pope Francis offers the principles of the Church’s social doctrine as a compass on the path to peace.
Established by Pope St. Paul VI in 1967, the first World Day of Peace was observed on Jan. 1, 1968. On New Year’s Day, the Church also celebrates the solemn feast of Mary, Mother of God.
“A Culture of Care as a Path to Peace” is the theme of the Pope Francis’ message, addressed to heads of state and government, leaders of international organizations, spiritual leaders and followers of the different religions, and to men and women of good will.
Lessons from the pandemic
Pope Francis begins his message noting how the “massive COVID-19 health crisis” has aggravated deeply interrelated crises such as those of the climate, food, the economy and migration, causing great sorrow and suffering to many. He makes it an occasion to appeal to political leaders and the private sector to spare no effort to ensure access to Covid-19 vaccines and to the essential technologies needed to care for the sick, the poor and those who are most vulnerable.
Alongside the pandemic, the pope also notes a surge in various forms of nationalism, racism and xenophobia, and wars and conflicts that bring only death and destruction in their wake. These and other events of 2020, he says, have underscored the importance of caring for one another and for creation in our efforts to build a more fraternal society. Hence, “A Culture of Care as a Path to Peace” is a “way to combat the culture of indifference, waste and confrontation so prevalent in our time,” he states.
Evolution of the Church’s ‘Culture of Care’
The Holy Father traces the evolution of the Church’s Culture of Care from the first book of the Bible to Jesus, through the early Church down to our times.
After the creation of the world, God entrusts it to Adam to “till it and keep it”. Cain’s response to God – “Am I my brother’s keeper?” – after killing his brother, Abel, is a reminder that all of us are keepers of one another. God’s protection of Cain, despite his crime, confirms the inviolable dignity of the person created in God’s image and likeness. Later, the institution of the Sabbath aimed to restore the social order and concern for the poor, while the Jubilee year provided a respite for the land, slaves and those in debt. All this, the pope says, shows that “everything is interconnected, and that genuine care for our own lives and our relationship with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others.”
The Father’s love for humanity, the pope says, finds its supreme revelation in Jesus, who asks His disciples to do likewise. The early Christians followed Jesus by sharing what they had and caring for the needy, thus making their community a welcoming home.
Today, the Church has “many institutions for the relief of every human need: hospitals, poor houses, orphanages, foundling homes, shelters for travellers” and more.
Church’s social doctrine – a ‘grammar’ of care
This culture of care of the Church, enriched by the reflection of the Fathers and the charity of luminous witnesses to the faith, Pope Francis continues, became the “beating heart of the Church’s social doctrine.” This, he says, can serve as a “grammar’ of care: commitment to promoting the dignity of each human person, solidarity with the poor and vulnerable, the pursuit of the common good and concern for the protection of creation.”
The Christian concept of the person, the pontiff says, fosters the pursuit of a fully human development. “Person always signifies relationship, not individualism; it affirms inclusion, not exclusion; unique and inviolable dignity, not exploitation. … Each human person is an end in himself or herself, and never simply a means to be valued only for his or her usefulness.”
According to the “compass” of social principles of the Church, every aspect of social, political and economic life achieves its fullest end when placed at the service of the common good, which allows people to reach their fulfilment more fully and easily.
In this regard, the pope says, the pandemic has revealed that all of us, fragile and disoriented, are in the same boat. “All of us are called to row together [since] no one reaches salvation by themselves.”
The Church’s social principles also urge us to concrete solidarity for others because we are all responsible for all. It also stresses the interconnectedness of all creation, as his Encyclical Laudato si’ points out.
This highlights the need to listen to the cry of our brothers and sisters in need, and the cry of the earth, our common home, and care for them.
“A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be authentic if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings,” Pope Francis states, citing his encyclical.
“Peace, justice and care for creation are three inherently connected questions, which cannot be separated.”
Church’s social doctrine – a “compass” 
In the face of our throw-away culture, with its growing inequalities both within and between nations, Pope Francis urges government leaders, and those of international organizations, business leaders, scientists, communicators and educators, to take up the principles of the Church’s social doctrine as a “compass”. It is capable of pointing out a common direction and ensuring “a more humane future” in the process of globalization. He also calls on everyone to take this compass in hand and work to overcome the many existing social inequalities.
Humanitarian law needs to be respected, especially in situations of conflict and war, which cause enormous suffering to children, men and women. Instead of regarding conflicts as something normal, the pope says, we need to convert our hearts and ways of thinking in order to work for true peace in solidarity and fraternity.
Weapons and peace
In this regard, Pope Francis calls for resources spent on arms, especially nuclear weapons, to be used for priorities such as safety of individuals, the promotion of peace and integral human development, the fight against poverty, and the provision of health care.
He says it would be a courageous decision to “establish a ‘Global Fund’ with the money spent on weapons and other military expenditures, in order to permanently eliminate hunger and contribute to the development of the poorest countries!”
Educating to peace
The promotion of a culture of care also calls for a process of education, the pontiff says.
This begins in the family where we learn how to live and relate to others in a spirit of mutual respect. Schools and universities, the communications media, and also religions and religious leaders are called to pass on a system of values based on the recognition of the dignity of each person, each linguistic, ethnic and religious community, and each people.
“At a time like this, when the barque of humanity, tossed by the storm of the current crisis, struggles to advance towards a calmer and more serene horizon,” he says, “the rudder of human dignity and the compass of fundamental social principles can enable us together to steer a sure course.”
Pope Francis concludes his message, urging “We never yield to the temptation to disregard others, especially those in greatest need, and to look the other way … Instead, may we strive daily, in concrete and practical ways, to form a community composed of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another.”

Pope Urges Coronavirus Vaccine Access For All

Pope Francis has called on world leaders to ensure unfettered access to coronavirus vaccines for everyone. In a Christmas Day address delivered online for the first time, the pontiff warned against putting up “walls” to treatments.
The pandemic meant this year the annual Urbi et Orbi message was not presented from the balcony at St Peter’s Basilica to huge crowds, as is tradition. Instead the Pope spoke from a lectern in a chamber inside the Vatican.
Pope Francis’ warning comes amid concerns that wealthier countries are buying up disproportionate doses of vaccines to the detriment of poorer ones.
“May the Son of God renew in political and government leaders a spirit of international cooperation, starting with health care, so that all will be ensured access to vaccines and treatment,” he said.
“In the face of a challenge that knows no borders, we cannot erect walls. All of us are in the same boat.” Coronavirus vaccines: Will any countries get left out?
The Pope said the effects of the health crisis showed the need for global unity was greater than ever. “At this moment in history, marked by the ecological crisis and grave economic and social imbalances only worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, it is all the more important for us to acknowledge one another as brothers and sisters.”
The pontiff called for generosity and support to victims of the pandemic, singling out women suffering domestic violence during lockdown.
Turning to other troubles in the world, the Pope called for peace and reconciliation in Syria, Yemen, Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Sudan, Nigeria, Cameroon and Iraq.
He is due to visit Iraq in March in what would be the first such trip to the war-torn country by a pontiff.

Endowed Chair in Hindu and Jain Studies Established at University of California

Since antiquity, according to religious studies scholars, two of the world’s oldest traditions, Hinduism and Jainism, co-existed on the Indian subcontinent. They share many spiritual practices, philosophical paradigms and ethical principles while simultaneously maintaining their unique, independent identities.
Over two dozen families, individuals and foundations have come together to create the Endowed Chair in Jain and Hindu Dharma at Fresno State. The groundbreaking partnership between the Jain and Hindu communities and the University underscores a mutual commitment to educating current and future generations of students about the principles of nonviolence, dharma (virtue, duty), justice, pluralist philosophy, the interconnectedness of all beings and care for the environment through Hindu-Jain texts, philosophies and traditions.
Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro called the partnership historic. “The California State University has never seen a partnership like this one with the Jain and Hindu communities. I’m very pleased that this has happened at Fresno State. It establishes a model for other campuses in the CSU and around the country to do the same.”
“Because of the beautiful Peace Garden and what it represents here, we feel California State University, Fresno is the rightful place for this endowed chair. How beautiful and remarkable it is that both traditions will now be represented, taught and researched at Fresno State,” said Dr. Sulekh Jain, of Las Vegas, who has a prominent role in developing Jain education in the United States. “This is the first joint chair in the two traditions, not only in North America, but most probably in the whole world. This is historic.”
“Like two rivers running parallel and at times intertwined create a rich ecosystem, Hinduism (traditionally known as Sanatana Dharma) and Jainism (Jain Dharma), originated on the Indian subcontinent, for over three millennia serve as a model to building pluralistic and peaceful relations,” explained Dr. Veena Howard, a Fresno State religious studies professor. “Mahatma Gandhi was a product of both Jain and Hindu traditions and teachings. Gandhi was born in a Hindu family but was strongly influenced and molded by Jain friends, monks and Jain vows.”
Dr. Jasvant Modi, of Los Angeles, a prominent Jain philanthropist and supporter of this chair, added, “We hope that the younger generation, when they come to the college, they’re exposed to this philosophy as we know that Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and others followed a nonviolent way of solving the countries and the world’s problems.”
Monika Joshi, of Clovis, who collaborated with other local Hindu community members, expressed her enthusiasm. “In today’s world with conflict, fear and division, it becomes essential to explore and share the teachings of Hindu Dharma that have existed for thousands of years. Mutual respect, truth within and working towards eternal happiness are the core values of Hinduism that can pave the way for unity as a common goal for all.”
Dr. Harsh Saigal, a Hindu leader in Fresno, added, “We are proud to give back to the Valley that has given us so much.”
The Endowed Chair in Jain and Hindu Dharma will be housed in the Department of Philosophy in the College of Arts and Humanities and will be an integral part of the University’s religious studies program. A professor who is an expert in both the Jain and Hindu Dharma traditions will be appointed as interim chair in 2021.
“The chair will teach Jainism and Hinduism, furthering Fresno State’s efforts to promote understanding of religions and communities. The teaching of these ancient traditions reflects our community’s diversity and our donors’ trust in the value and impact of Fresno State’s programs,” said Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, Fresno State provost and vice president for Academic Affairs.
Additionally, the endowed chair also will support Jain and Hindu scholarly endeavors for students, including scholarships, stipends and research funds. For the professor who holds the chair, the funds may support research and academic publications, conference travel and campus-sponsored events.
“We are so grateful to the unprecedented number of generous donors who have collaborated to create this remarkable gift,” said Dr. Honora Chapman, interim dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. “This new chair represents an enhanced opportunity for Fresno State’s students to learn how they can change their own lives and the world through pursuing Jain and Hindu enlightenment in their studies while putting nonviolence and peace into action.”
The Jain and Hindu community leaders and organizations that generously donated include J.P. Sethi, the Ravi & Naina Patel Foundation, Dr. Harsh Saigal, Anil Mehta, Dr. Vinod K. Gupta, Dina Bahl, Bankim Dalal, Dr. Girish Patel, Vardhaman Charitable Foundation, Andy Chhikara, Dr. Prem Kamboj, Dr. Madhav Suri, Dr. Krish Rajani, Monika Joshi, Ela and Bhavesh Muni, Rama Ambati, Dr. Shashi Sharma, Dr. Dinesh Sharma, Dilbagh Ghilawat, Sangita and Yogesh Shah, Rita and Narendra Parson, Komal and Prashant Desai, Kala and Surendra Jain, the Wadher Family Foundation, Dr. Sulekh Jain, Ronak and Mitul Shah, and Pinal and Hardik Modi.

‘Christmas Star’ Brightens Up The Sky As Jupiter And Saturn Come Closer Than They Have In Centuries

If popular culture has taught us anything about the holidays, it’s that this is a season of reunions: a time when people conquer great distances and lengthy separations just to be together again. Usually, though, such stories involve cross-country trips — not the orbits of the two largest planets in our solar system.

This year is different.

On Dec. 21, Jupiter and Saturn — which are actually separated by more than 400 million miles —appeared closer to each other in the night sky than they have for centuries. Seen at the right hour, whether by telescope or the naked eye, the gas giants are separated by roughly a fifth of the diameter of the typical full moon. At this proximity, the planets will appear to touch or even form one large, brilliant star in the sky.

The spectacle is a curious effect of their orbits. Since Jupiter takes a little less than 12 years to circle the sun and Saturn takes more than 29, the planets appear to earthlings to meet roughly every 20 years, in what astronomers call a “great conjunction.” The last great conjunction occurred in May 2000, though its position in the sky at the time meant the average stargazer likely lost it in the glare of the sun.

But you’ll need to reach much further into the past to find the last instance such a conjunction was this close and this visible to stargazers. The Perth Observatory in Australia says that Jupiter and Saturn last approached this closely to each other in July 1623, but as with the conjunction in 2000, it was hard to spot.

“You’d have to go all the way back to just before dawn on March 4, 1226, to see a closer alignment between these objects visible in the night sky,” Patrick Hartigan, an astronomer at Rice University, explained in a statement last month.

There’s still another holiday connection at work here, beyond a simple coincidence of timing. Some astronomers, dating back to Johannes Kepler in the 17th century, have conjectured that the Star of Bethlehem that guided the three wise men to Jesus Christ’s birthplace in the Bible was a conjunction like the one set to appear later this month — although likely one involving different planets.

“Alignments between these two planets are rather rare, occurring once every 20 years or so, but this conjunction is exceptionally rare because of how close the planets will appear to one another,” said astronomer Patrick Hartigan, a professor of physics and astronomy at Rice University in Houston, in a statement.

Saturn and Jupiter began appearing close to each other this past summer, but this spectacle of proximity will be clearest beginning in mid-December.

“Look for them low in the southwest in the hour after sunset. And on December 21st, the two giant planets will appear just a tenth of a degree apart — that’s about the thickness of a dime held at arm’s length!” NASA explained earlier this month. “This means the two planets and their moons will be visible in the same field of view through binoculars or a small telescope. In fact, Saturn will appear as close to Jupiter as some of Jupiter’s moons.”

After the winter solstice, the two planets will appear to begin moving apart again.
Now, this sentimental holiday reunion is no Hallmark movie; if you miss it this year, don’t expect to see it again next December. Astronomers say there won’t be another great conjunction this close until 2080. (Courtesy: NPR.COM)

Pope Francis Reflects on Threefold Impact of Art at Critical Time in History

Pope Francis pointed to three characteristics of art that can play an important role during this challenging Christmas season in which “the somewhat dimmed Christmas lights invite us to keep in mind and to pray for all those suffering from the pandemic.”

His comments came when he received the musicians who participated in this year’s Vatican Christmas Concert, gather in a meeting room adjacent to the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall. Artists everyone would no doubt appreciate his presentation of three artistic impacts:

“A first movement has to do with the senses, which are struck with wonder and amazement.  This initial, outer movement then leads to others, more profound.

“A second movement touches the depths of our heart and soul.  A composition of colors, words, or sounds has the power to evoke within us memories, images, and emotions…

“There is a third movement, in which the perception and contemplation of beauty generates a sense of hope that can light up our world.”

In light of the pandemic, the Holy Father praised the hope that art brings and thanked the musicians for their participation in the concert.

Following are the Holy Father’s full remarks, provided by the Vatican.

Dear artists and dear friends,

I greet all of you most cordially and I thank you for your presence.  This year, the somewhat dimmed Christmas lights invite us to keep in mind and to pray for all those suffering from the pandemic.  In this situation, we have come to realize even more powerfully how dependent we are on one another.  Our gathering today gives me an opportunity to share with you a few thoughts on art and its role at this critical moment in our history.

We can speak of artistic creation in terms of three “movements”.  A first movement has to do with the senses, which are struck with wonder and amazement.  This initial, outer movement then leads to others, more profound.

A second movement touches the depths of our heart and soul.  A composition of colors, words, or sounds has the power to evoke within us memories, images, and emotions…

Yet artistic creation does not stop here.  There is a third movement, in which the perception and contemplation of beauty generates a sense of hope that can light up our world.  The outer and inner movements merge and in turn affect our way of relating to those all around us.  They generate empathy, the ability to understand others, with whom we have so much in common.  We sense a bond with them, a bond no longer vague, but real and shared.

This threefold movement of wonder, personal discovery, and sharing produces a feeling of peace, which – as the example of Saint Francis shows – frees us from the desire to dominate others, makes us sensitive to their difficulties, and prompts us to live in harmony with all.[1]  A harmony deeply associated with beauty and goodness.

That association is very much a part of the Jewish and Christian tradition.  The Book of Genesis – in speaking of God’s creative work – emphasizes that he contemplated his creation and “saw that it was good” (Gen 1:12.18.25).  In Hebrew, that word “good” has a wide range of meanings, and can also be translated as “harmonious”.[2]  Creation amazes us by its magnificence and variety, while at the same time making us realize, in the face of that grandeur, our own place in the world.

Artists know this. As Saint John Paul II wrote, they “perceive in themselves a kind of divine spark which is the artistic vocation”, and are called “not to waste this talent but to develop it, in order to put it at the service of their neighbor and of humanity as a whole”.[3]

In his famous Message to Artists on 8 December 1965, at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, Saint Paul VI described them as being “in love with beauty”.[4]  He noted, too, that our world “needs beauty in order not to sink into despair”.[5]  Amid the anxiety provoked by the pandemic, your creativity can be a source of light.  The crisis has made even denser the “dark clouds over a closed world” (cf. Fratelli Tutti, 9-55), and this might seem to obscure the light of the divine, the eternal.  Let us not yield to that illusion, but seek the light of Christmas, which dispels the darkness of sorrow and pain.

Dear artists, in a special way you are “guardians of beauty in our world”.[6]  I thank you for your spirit of solidarity, which is all the more evident in these days.  Yours is a lofty and demanding calling, one that requires “pure and dispassionate hands”[7] capable of transmitting truth and beauty.  For these instill joy in human hearts and are, in fact, “a precious fruit that endures through time, unites generations and makes them share in a sense of wonder”.[8]  Today, as always, that beauty appears to us in the lowliness of the Christmas crèche.  Today, as always, we celebrate that beauty with hearts full of hope.

I am deeply grateful to Don Bosco Missions and Scholas Occurrentes for the commitment and spirit of service with which they are responding to the educational and health emergency through their projects inspired by the Global Compact on Education. Again, thank you, best wishes and enjoy the concert!

Pope Francis Makes the College of Cardinals More Universal

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

The pope recently announced that he will appoint nine new voting cardinals (in addition to four other cardinals who are over 80 and therefore ineligible to vote). After this latest group is elevated at a Nov. 28 ceremony in Vatican City, the College of Cardinals will have 128 voting members, 42% of whom are European, down from 52% in 2013.

Francis’ appointments have increased the overall representation of the Asia-Pacific region within the body of voting cardinals from 9% in 2013 to 15% in 2020, while increasing the representation of sub-Saharan Africa from 9% to 13%. These figures include cardinals who were named by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II.

Francis, an Argentinian who is the first pope from outside Europe since the eighth century, still has picked more cardinals from Europe than from any other region. Of the 73 newly appointed or currently eligible voting cardinals Francis has named so far during his papacy, 38% are from Europe, 21% from Latin America and the Caribbean, 18% from the Asia-Pacific region, 14% from sub-Saharan Africa, 7% from North America and 3% from the Middle East-North Africa region.

Among the nine cardinals Francis has chosen this year, four are from Europe, with three from Italy and one from Malta. Two were born in the Asia-Pacific region (Brunei and the Philippines), one is from Latin America and the Caribbean (Chile), one is from sub-Saharan Africa (Rwanda), and one is from North America (the United States). The American is Wilton D. Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, who will become the first African American cardinal.

Given that, as of 2010, only about a quarter (24%) of the global Catholic population is from Europe, the continent remains heavily overrepresented among voting cardinals. By this measure, the most underrepresented continent within the church’s leadership – even with Francis’ new picks – is Latin America and the Caribbean, which is home to 39% of the worldwide Catholic population (again, as of 2010) and has 19% of the cardinals.

First Ever ‘Decolonized’ English Translation Of Famous Ancient Indian Scripture

Ten years in the making, a new English version of the world’s most translated – and mistranslated – ancient Indian scripture could be the purest because it does not include colonial, western or Christian distortions.

Written more than 5,000 years ago – some calculate 7,500 years ago – the Bhagavad Gita is considered the ultimate guide on how to navigate life’s struggles and dilemmas and find meaning within existence. It is the central and enduring sacred text of Hindu and other eastern cultures that can be found in households worldwide.

The book also has prevailing global influence as a “leading book of yoga,” and a following that includes Arianna Huffington who recently wrote: “The Bhagavad Gita is a source of wisdom in this crucible time.”

Translated hundreds of times

Considered a literary masterpiece with universal appeal, the Gita has been translated hundreds of times in 75 languages since 1785. It even provided the premise of the multi-star Hollywood movie, The Legend of Bagger Vance.

When local Vedic (Hindu) scholar and linguist Jeffrey Armstrong embarked on being the first Canadian to translate the Gita into English, he thought he was doing a straight Sanskrit-to-English translation. Through his research, he discovered that previous western versions had distorted the Gita with concepts, words and theories that do not exist in Sanskrit or Indian cultures.

Armstrong spent 10 years “decolonizing” the text to capture it accurately. The Bhagavad Gita Comes Alive: A Radical Translation released this week on Amazon, timed with Diwali celebrations. Armstrong says the book’s teachings are more relevant than ever.

“As we navigate a changing world amidst a global pandemic, climate change, and universal calls for social justice, the Gita offers guidance and lessons that are timely, including about ethical and moral dilemmas, politics, and cooperating with nature,” said Armstrong, vice-chair of the Vedic Friends Association and scholar with the British Board of Dharmic Scholars.

A few of the Christian words and concepts that Armstrong avoids in his translation include: God, heaven, hell, soul, and sin. “These words and concepts cannot be used as synonyms for Vedic and yogic words and philosophies. I offer the Gita in its true essence where I keep key Sanskrit words and use English to support their true meaning and intent.”

For example, the word “soul” originated with the Greeks and is defined as the essence of a human being who has one lifetime followed by consequences. The Bhagavad Gita Comes Alive replaces “soul” with the correct and intended Sanskrit word, “atma,” which means “the invisible, immortal being with no beginning or end.”


Dr. David Frawley – American Hindu scholar who was awarded India’s third highest civilian honour, Padma Bhushan, by the Indian government:

“There has long been demand for a version of the Gita that corrects distortions. With this translation by Jeffrey Armstrong, who deeply understands the connotations and subtle connections of the Sanskrit terms around which the Gita revolves, we finally have an extensive and profound English version of the Bhagavad Gita.”

Professor Ved P. Nanda: Head of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), a North American non-profit organization that aims to preserve and promote Hindu ideals and values. The University of Denver’s international law department is named after Nanda, who is an awarded adjunct professor at the university. The Indian government awarded Nanda its third highest civilian honour, Padma Bhushan:

“Jeffrey Armstrong has produced a master translation, carefully preserving its intended meaning. The Bhagavad Gita Comes Alive: A Radical Translation enables the reader to unlock the profound messages which are obscured by other versions.”

\Jeffrey Armstrong is an award-winning author, linguist, and poet. He has been teaching the Vedas for more than 40 years. He also had a successful 15-year career as an executive in Silicon Valley and public speaker addressing Fortune 500 companies. His other books include Spiritual Teachings of the Avatar, and Karma: The Ancient Secret of Cause & Effect.

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