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Archive of August 9, 2011

Pakistan government reshuffle downgrades religious freedom concerns

Karachi, Pakistan, Aug 9, 2011 (CNA) - The Pakistan government’s new approach to national harmony is a “downgrade” for Christians and others concerned about religious freedom, Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad has said.

The government has decided to create a Minister for National Harmony who will look at the wider issue of social cohesion. It has appointed to the post Akram Masih Gill, a Catholic who is the former Minister for Minorities.

However, Bishop Coutts emphasized that Gill’s government rank is below that of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Minister for Minorities whom Muslim extremists assassinated in March. The bishop, who is president of the Pakistan Catholic bishops’ conference, noted that Bhatti’s cabinet-level post had specific responsibilities for promoting the interests of religious minorities while Gill’s non-cabinet position does not.

“For me, all this is a step down; it’s a certain downgrade concerning the representation of minorities,” Bishop Coutts told ACN News.

He said the loss of a cabinet-rank minister could not be outweighed by the appointment of Bhatti’s brother, Dr. Paul Bhatti, as minority affairs’ advisor to Pakistan’s Prime Minister.

“It is true that with Mr. Gill’s appointment and that of Dr. Bhatti there are two chances for the voice of minorities to be heard, but neither will probably have the same impact as that of Shahbaz Bhatti as federal minister,” the bishop said.
There is growing concern that the growth of extremism is silencing Pakistan’s three million Christians as well as Hindus, Sikhs and Shia Muslims.

One key issue is proposed changes to Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law. The law has been widely abused. It has helped inspire mob violence in response to alleged offenses against Islam such as disrespect to its Prophet Muhammad and to the defacing of paper containing Quran verses.

After Minister Bhatti was killed, his assassin claimed he acted in response to the official’s criticism of the blasphemy laws.

The alleged assassin of Punjab governor Salman Taseer gave a similar motive. The governor had called for changes to the blasphemy law after mounting outrage at the death sentence given to Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian mother of five.

Christians have been targeted for violence in Pakistan. In the latest suspected targeted killing, 38-year-old Arnold Archie Daas was gunned down Aug. 6 in the Drigh Road Christian colony in the city of Karachi. The Pakistan Christian Post reports that Muslim militants fled the scene after they confirmed Daas’ wounds were fatal.

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Catholic schools in Indiana kick off school year with voucher program

Evansville, Ind., Aug 9, 2011 (CNA) - Catholic schools in southern Indiana are set to welcome low-income students who are now able to attend non-public schools thanks to the state's recently approved voucher program.

So far, 137 vouchers have been guaranteed for students transferring to the Catholic Diocese of Evansville system, which includes 28 schools throughout southwestern Indiana.

“The Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Evansville have a proud tradition of contributing to the evangelizing mission of the Church that is distinguished by excellence and committed to educate the whole child,” diocesan superintendent Daryl C. Hagan wrote in the Message Online.

“Our schools are steeped in a Catholic worldview with administrators, faculty and staff who are sustained by the Gospel and know that we are all shaped by communion and community,” he added.

The diocese's theme for the new school year in light of the new voucher program is “All Are Welcome.”

The program allows public school students from low-income families to transfer to non-public schools at taxpayer expense beginning this academic year, reported the Evansville Courier Press.

Although the voucher program is facing a legal challenge from the Indiana State Teachers Association and other opponents, advocates say it serves to expand choices for families who otherwise could not afford non-public schools.

Depending on a family's income, a student wanting to switch from public to private school could receive tuition assistance at either 90 percent or 50 percent. The voucher program has accepted about 2,000 applications statewide and an unknown number are still pending.

“Certainly it should help us to increase enrollment. It gives students more of an opportunity to have a faith-based, high academic standards education,” Ron Pittman, principal of the local St. Wendel School told the Evansville paper.

“It's a historic and exciting time for all of us in Catholic education,” superintendent Hagan said, adding that there is still time for local families to apply for a voucher. 

“We ask you to join us in daily prayer for our priests, deacons, principals, religious, teachers, support staff, students, families and parishioners as we begin this new year with a welcoming spirit and genuine desire to strengthen the Catholic Church of Southwestern Indiana through Catholic education.”

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East Africa drought solution runs deep

Nairobi, Kenya, Aug 9, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Ethiopians remember keenly the devastating losses of the drought in 1984 and the more recent one in 2000. The numerous pastoralist communities in Ethiopia know that lack of access to water will kill their livestock and destroy the very fabric of their culture.

The East African drought of 2011 that is hitting Kenya and Somalia so hard is also proving to be one of the worst that Ethiopia has faced in 50 years. Currently more than 4.5 million people in Ethiopia alone are facing severe hunger due to the La Niña-induced rainfall shortage. The work that CRS has been carrying out in Ethiopia for more than 50 years is paying off in this drought.

One particularly hard-hit area is eastern Ethiopia near the lowlands of the Somali region. A common sight is pastoralists traveling across the barren landscape in search of water for their livestock. As the sources dry up, desperation is taking hold. Their animals, losing weight and producing less milk, are further weakened as the pastoralists are forced to move them up to 6 miles a day to find drinking water. In the worst cases, their herds die from thirst, starvation and exhaustion.

"When people hear the word drought, they automatically assume that there is no—or very little—water in an area. And while it is true that we're dealing with the aftermath of poor rain seasons, the truth is that there is water in Ethiopia," says Bekele Abaire, CRS water and sanitation program manager. "There is a solution to this problem of recurrent drought that has left millions to face severe hunger. The challenge is that the water runs below the surface in underground caverns as deep as 1,000 feet. This water is difficult but not impossible to access."

During the past 8 years, CRS—with generous funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, U.N. Office for the Coordination of International Affairs, and donations from concerned Catholics and others of goodwill—has helped fight the effects of recurrent drought in Ethiopia.

"We brought in rigs to drill wells 1,000 feet into the earth. A recent visit to the field revealed that 95 percent of 28 wells we've constructed are still operational," Abaire says. "These sites were built to serve up to 5,000 people in any given community, but we're finding that the need is so severe that up to 10,000 are now flocking to these water points."

Pastoralists travel in search of water. Drought, though, often forces them to stay in one place, their livestock dies off, or they move to cities to buy food. The strains of urban life are debilitating to them both psychologically and culturally. Taking these factors into account, a CRS water and sanitation team studied the migratory path of pastoralist communities to create a system that would meet their needs for water and help maintain their nomadic traditions.

"We've drilled wells along the route pastoralists often travel. The goal was to provide water without encouraging any given group to settle in one spot," Abaire says. "It's an approach that includes a drinking trough for livestock, water for human consumption, showers, and washbasins for women to do their laundry."

The difference between communities with water sources and those without is remarkable. The livestock are plumper and produce more milk, which, in turn, means that the people themselves are nourished better. People in these areas rely less on food aid and more on their own means. Water is prized here. It is never squandered.

"Most years our system works beautifully. Pastoralists migrate and access water easily." Abaire says. "A concern of ours now, however, is that, because of the current drought, many of them are settling near water points out of fear that they will not be able to access more. This puts a strain on the existing resources."

Much more work needs to be done. Water is there, but more wells need to be built. Yet, few rigs in Ethiopia have the capacity to drill deep enough to access the water. Abaire says that the solution won't come overnight, but, if planned right and with adequate resources, it can happen.

Bekele Abaire is a water and sanitation program manager with Catholic Relief Services. He is based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Sara A. Fajardo is CRS' regional information officer for eastern and southern Africa. She is based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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Human rights activist attacked in Cuba

Havana, Cuba, Aug 9, 2011 (CNA) - The Christian Liberation Movement in Cuba has reported that human rights activist Ernesto Cabrera Moreno was attacked Aug. 5 in the city of Caimanera.
 
News of the attack came after the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Paya, spoke via telephone with the president of the Resistance and Democracy Movement, Rogelio Tabio Lopez.
 
A group of men wielding clubs and machetes attacked Cabrera Moreno, who was left seriously wounded.  Police detained one suspect in the attack named William Valverde, who belongs to pro-Castro vigilante group in the city. 

The other assailants have yet to be detained.
 
Cabrera Moreno is currently recovering at the Agustino Neto Hospital in the province of Guantanamo.

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Madrid subway workers call for strike during papal visit

Madrid, Spain, Aug 9, 2011 (CNA) - Members of the General Workers’ Union of Spain employed by Madrid’s Metro subway system said they have been “forced” to call for strikes during World Youth Day over salary negotiations.

Union leaders told Europa Press that the strikes are taking place due to the “failure to implement salary raises agreed to in a collective agreement for 2011 and the breakdown of collective bargaining.” 

The strikes are scheduled to take place during the afternoon shifts on August 18 and the entire day on August 20 and 21, during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the Spanish capital.

Workers argued that the financial crisis that led to a decrease in pay last year “seems to have ended coincidentally with the visit by the Catholic Church’s highest authority” and that “there don’t appear to be any economic problems to prevent increasing service on the days of the visit by His Holiness.”
 
Despite the planned strikes, Ignacio Gonzalez Velayos, an official with the Madrid Metro, said the subways would be operating “normally” during the Holy Father’s visit.
 
“The Community of Madrid will ensure a minimum of transportation services are available during those days, and of course all those who come to visit the Pope are going to have public transportation and the Metro will be operating completely as normal,” he said.
 
He also said the plans being made to serve the thousands coming for World Youth Day would not cost the government “one euro.”

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Peruvian congressman credits guardian angel for daughter’s recovery from gunshot wound

Lima, Peru, Aug 9, 2011 (CNA) - A Peruvian congressman is crediting his daughter’s guardian angel and series of “miracles” for her recovery from a potentially fatal gunshot wound to the chest she suffered on Aug. 4 in Lima.
 
Congressman Renzo Reggiardo said on Sunday his 9 year-old daughter, Arianna, was shot while on a family outing on August 5.  She was rushed to a nearby clinic where doctors worked to save her life.
 
Police said a suspect in the shooting has been detained, and local officials are pledging to strengthen the penalties for such offenses, which are on the rise in the Peruvian capital.
 
Congressman Reggiardo told the television program Frecuencia Latina that the bullet pierced Arianna’s chest but only damaged the membrane that covers the lungs, called the pleura. For Reggiardo, it was proof that “her guardian angel did his job.”
 
A practicing Catholic, the congressman said his daughter’s recovery was also the result of “a series of miracles” that happened following the shooting. This included the help they received from an unknown couple who came upon the scene and offered to help bring Arianna to the hospital in their car.
 
Speaking on Peruvian radio, Reggiardo said the family has experienced an enormous outpouring of solidarity. “My daughter has recovered satisfactorily, and what has happened to her is a miracle,” he said, adding that she should be released from the hospital this weekend.
 
“She is a heroine. She is very mature. She told me she would have preferred that I went home to sleep so I wouldn’t be uncomfortable. These things move you, to see your daughter confined to bed because of an incident that in a second could rob her of her innocence,” Reggairdo said.
 
The congressman’s wife, Carla Davila, said the family prayed to the Virgin Mary and the angels for their daughter’s recovery. Davila thanked the public for their solidarity and prayers and said her family hopes to recover quickly from the incident.

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Archbishop of Westminster describes English riots as 'shocking'

Rome, Italy, Aug 9, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Widespread rioting across England has been condemned by the country’s most senior Catholic cleric.

“The scenes of the last few nights in parts of London and elsewhere are shocking. The criminal violence and theft that have been witnessed are to be condemned,” said Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster in a statement Aug. 9. 

“They are a callous disregard for the common good of our society and show how easily basic principles of respect and honesty are cast aside.”

Archbishop Nichols’ comments come as numerous English towns and cities begin a clear-up after another night of rioting, looting and arson. London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Nottingham and Bristol are among the areas most affected by the extreme disorder. Tonight there will be over 16,000 police officers on the streets of London in anticipation of another night of trouble. 

“We will do everything necessary to restore order to Britain’s streets and make them safe for the law-abiding,” said U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron who cut short his vacation in Italy to return to London. The U.K. Parliament has also been recalled from its summer break.

“In the face of these difficulties, a forthright common effort is needed to ensure that these times bring out the best in our society and not the worst,” said Archbishop Nichols.

“I am sure that, as Catholic citizens, we shall play our part with clear principles for living, both as individuals and as a society, with honesty, compassion and prayer.”

“May God grant us courage and determination to shape our lives with dignity, self respect and care for the common good,” concluded the archbishop asking for prayers for those affected by the violence and for “those whose parents are worried about the behavior of their youngsters and for those who, at this time, are being tempted into the ways of violence and theft.”

One of the worst affected areas has been Croydon in south London where police are treating the fatal shooting of a 26-year-old man as murder. Meanwhile numerous local businesses have been looted and set ablaze by gangs of youths.

“It’s incredibly sad,” said Provost Joseph Collins, the parish priest of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Croydon, to CNA Aug. 9.

“The store where I buy my furniture - a family firm that’s been in this area for generations – was simply burned to the ground. There doesn’t seem to be any concern that somebody could get killed.”

“And it’s not just the vandalism and torching - it’s the looting too. Youngsters just smashing into shops and stealing whatever they want. It’s awful.”

Provost Collins says one of his fellow priests was out in the community last night and was shocked by just how young the rioters were.

“Some people say the recession is to blame but these children are too young to even know what ‘a recession’ is.”

Instead, Provost Collins says a breakdown in family life as a key factor which has led to many youths, particularly boys, into a culture of gangs and violence. In fact, he has recently been exploring the possibility of the parish providing parenting classes for the local community.

“Sadly, many parents are finding it difficult to control their children and some don’t even seem to want to.”

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Military archbishop remembers ‘valiant’ servicemen killed in helicopter crash

Washington D.C., Aug 9, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services expressed his “heartfelt condolences” to the family and friends of the “valiant” service members killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.

“Their death is one more reminder of the terrible tragedy of war and its toll on all people. No person of good will is left unmoved by this loss,” he said in an Aug. 8 statement addressed to the family and friends of the U.S. servicemen and of the Afghani citizens who died.

“As we pray for the repose of their souls and the consolation of their families, we also raise our hearts and minds to Almighty God and beg for the elusive gift of peace on earth and harmony among all people,” Archbishop Broglio said.

Thirty U.S. troops, seven Afghan commandos and an Afghan interpreter died in the Tangi Valley on Aug. 6 when a Taliban insurgent shot down their helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade. Many of the Americans were members of the Navy’s SEAL Team Six, the elite unite that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

None of the SEALs killed in the crash took part in the bin Laden mission, the Associated Press reported.

Archbishop Broglio expressed his condolences on behalf of his archdiocese’s auxiliary bishops, its clergy and the 1.5 million Catholics in the U.S. Armed Forces.

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