Bangkok, Thailand, Sep 6, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Responding to a humanitarian crisis pushing tens of thousands of a minority ethnic group in Burma from their homes, Caritas Thailand is caring for refugees who have fled violence in their home country.
“Caritas Thailand has especially dedicated this year to address refugee issues as one of its priority concerns,” Fr. Pairat Sriparasert, secretary general of Caritas Thailand, told CNA last month.
The Rohingya people are minority group who live in Burma's Rakhine state and practice Islam. They have long been persecuted by the country's Buddhist majority, and in 2012, riots in Rakhine displaced some 125,000 Rohingya.
“The Rohingya crisis is a major and crucial burning issue for Thailand and for its Southeast Asian neighbors,” Fr. Sriparasert explained.
Many Rohingya flee to Bangladesh or to Thailand, where they seek to make their way to Malaysia.
Fr. Sriparasert said “it is estimated that about 2,000 Rohingya are detained in various detentions centers of Thailand.”
He fears that “the numbers may further increase once the monsoon season stops and the sea calms down in next few months.”
Many Rohingya flee Burma by boat, paying traffickers to escape discrimination in their home country.
“They are vulnerable to risks of abuse, harassment, exploitation, and human trafficking, which keeps them under constant fear and distress,” lamented Fr. Sriparasert.
When they arrive in Thailand, Rohingya refugees are put into separate detention centers. Men are detained in southern Thailand, whereas women and children are confined in overcrowded temporary shelters which do not meet the minimum standards of detainees living condition, located in the country's northern provinces.
Fr. Sriparasert noted that Caritas is partnering with the Catholic Office for Emergency Relief and Services as well as various diocesan social action centers to provide social and health services to the refugees at the government detention centers.
In collaboration with the government and non-governmental organizations, crisis relief services are established to investigate cases of abuse, especially among children and women.
“At times of vulnerably, women, children, and also men are lured to human trafficking, resulting in degrading, inhumane and dangerous working conditions.” Rohingya refugees in Thailand, he said, are not given work permits and as a result are underpaid.
Fr. Anucha Chaowpraeknoi, chaplain for the Catholic Office for Emergency Relief and Services, told CNA Sept. 3 that the group's volunteers “have been doing tremendous work, offering counseling, medical assistance, and supplying basic health care and hygiene products.”
“We are trying to improve their dignity of life in the detention centers,” he explained.
“These efforts reinforce…our Catholic faith's call to love, to serve the needy, to be peace builders, and to facilitate an inter-religious dialogue.”
The Rohingya have suffered decades of discrimination under Burmese law since the nation gained independence in 1948. Both the Muslim and Christian minorities have reported persecution in the country, whose population is nearly 90 percent Buddhist.
Burma was ruled by a military junta from 1962 to 2011, when reforms were introduced. Despite this, the nation remains one of the world's most corrupt. Transparency International's 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index ranked it at 172 out of 174, ahead of only Sudan, Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia.
Burmese law effectively denies citizenship to the Rohingya, and both the government and society consider them to be illegal immigrants.
According to the BBC, Rohingya in Burma must get permission to marry, which typically involves extortion by government officials. Once married, they are required to sign an agreement stating they will have no more than two children.
Jerusalem, Israel, Sep 6, 2013 (CNA) - Joining in Pope Francis' call to make Sept. 7 a day of fasting and prayer for the people of Syria, the Catholic Patriarchate of Jerusalem will hold a Holy Hour at the Basilica of Gethsemane.
“The Latin Parish in Jerusalem has the honor to invite all Christians of the Holy Land to pray for peace in the Middle East, Syria and Egypt,” the patriarchate said in a Sept. 5 release.
Following the 8:30 p.m. Holy Hour, a candlelight procession will be held in the Garden of Olives.
The whole evening – from 7:00 p.m. until midnight – the crypt of the Armenian Catholic Church at the fourth station of the Cross, where Christ met his mother, will be open for silent prayer.
In his Sept. 1 Angelus address, Pope Francis urged the Church, and all people of good will, to join him in fasting and prayer for peace in Syria.
The country is in the midst of a civil war that has killed over 100,000 people and forced more than two million to become refugees, and 4.25 million to become internally displaced.
The U.S. and French governments are considering a military intervention, charging that the Bashar al-Assad regime has used chemical weapons on its own people. The regime has denied responsibility for the weapons, blaming their use on the rebels.
In his address, Pope Francis said that “with all my strength, I ask each party in this conflict to listen to the voice of their own conscience, not to close themselves in solely on their own interests, but rather to look at each other as brothers and decisively and courageously to follow the path of encounter and negotiation, and so overcome blind conflict.”
“I make a forceful and urgent call to the entire Catholic Church, and also to every Christian of other confessions, as well as to followers of every religion and to those brothers and sisters who do not believe: peace is a good which overcomes every barrier, because it belongs all of humanity.”
“There are so many conflicts in this world which cause me great suffering and worry, but in these days my heart is deeply wounded in particular by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments which are looming,” he concluded.
“For this reason, brothers and sisters, I have decided to call for a vigil for the whole Church.”
Vatican City, Sep 6, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Vatican City's secretary for relations with states, told a group of ambassadors that stakeholders in the Syrian civil war should distance themselves from extremism.
Vatican City is concerned with “the growing presence in Syria of extremist groups, often coming from other countries,” he said Sept. 5 during a meeting with 71 ambassadors accredited to the Holy See.
“Emphasis should be placed on exhorting the population, and also opposition groups, to distance themselves from such extremists, to isolate themselves from such extremists, to isolate them and to oppose terrorism openly and clearly.”
Archbishop Mamberti stressed that the Vatican has long been attentive to the Syrian civil war, saying that “since the beginning of the conflict, the Holy See has been sensitive to the cry for help that came from the Syrian people, especially by Christians.”
“The violence that continues to sow death and destruction is likely to involve not only other countries in the region, but also to have unpredictable consequences in various parts of the world,” he lamented.
He told the ambassadors that the Vatican had not failed “immediately to express clearly its position characterized, as in other cases, by the consideration of the centrality of the human person regardless of his ethnicity or religion, and the pursuit of the common good of society.”
Archbishop Mamberti noted Pope Francis' desire to promote Sept. 7 as a world-wide day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria.
“The heartfelt plea of the Pope interprets the desire for peace that comes from every corner of the earth, from the heart of every man of good will.”
“In the concrete historical situation marked by violence and wars in many places, the voice of the Pope stands at a particularly grave … Syrian conflict, which has already seen too much suffering, devastation and pain,” he added.
The archbishop underscored that Pope Francis’ firmness shows “there is a judgment of God, and also a judgment of history on our actions to which one can not escape.”
Archbishop Mamberti appealed to the parties involved in the conflict to “not to be closed in on their own interests but to take with courage and with determination on the path of meeting and negotiation.”
He also appealed to the international community “to make every effort to promote, without further delay, clear initiatives for peace in that nation, always based on dialogue and negotiation.”
The Syrian civil war, now in its 29th month, began with demonstrations in March, 2011 protesting the rule of Bashar al-Assad. In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters. Since then more than 100,000 people have died in the war.
Refugees from Syria number 2 million, and another 4.25 million are internally displaced.
The war is being fought among the Assad regime; rebels, who include both secularists and Islamists; and Kurds.
Denver, Colo., Sep 6, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Putting a unique spin on a typical charity fundraiser, the young missionaries of Christ in the City recently hosted an “un-gala” to raise awareness of efforts to serve the Denver homeless.
“For an “un-gala” gala, we wanted people to know first that we're going to ask for money, that's why we really used the term gala,” said project director Yvonne Noggle in a Sept. 5 interview with CNA.
“But we also wanted to make it clear to come as you are, because that's what the homeless do, they come as they are.”
Christ in the City, a project founded in 2010 by Catholic Charities of Denver, seeks to “love until it hurts” in order to serve those most in need. It offers resources and assistance to Denver's poor and homeless through the service of college-aged youth who commit to spending a summer, a semester, or a year in various ministries.
Participants receive spiritual and intellectual formation and partner with local homeless shelters, schools, Hispanic ministry centers, elderly homes and crisis pregnancy centers. They also perform street ministry, working directly with the homeless on the streets of Denver to provide for their material, spiritual and emotional needs.
During their Sept. 4 fundraiser, the missionaries served their guests the same way that they typically serve the homeless, offering a simple, homemade meal of grilled chicken, potatoes and salad.
“We wanted them to be served by the missionaries with the same love and care that we serve the poor,” Noggle said. “It wouldn't feel right having a big gala where we're eating steak, and salmon and shrimp, when we are called to serve and live a simple life.”
“We wanted it to be in the Christ in the City style, which is more of a humble nature,” she said.
Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver, who was also present at the event, shared in the spirit of humble service, taking up an apron and salad tongs to help to serve the other guests along with the missionaries.
The apron-laden archbishop gave a short address to the attendees, offering some personal reflections on what it means to be a missionary, particularly in light of the past three Popes and their emphasis on an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
“Pope Francis,” he said, “has explained that the most powerful tool to change the world is a new heart, a heart full of tenderness, a heart regenerated by Christ. And that is what Christ in the City is trying to do: to bring a change that reaches all aspects of life, but starts by the transformations of the hearts.”
Archbishop Aquila recounted a story that one of the Christ in the City missionaries had shared with him. The missionary had encountered one of the many homeless people in Denver, who was moved to tears, saying, “You are the first that told me that I am loved by God.”
“There are too many who live like this,” the archbishop said, “without knowing that they are being loved by God. And we as believers cannot accept this reality.”
“Jesus’ flesh suffers in all these existential peripheries. That’s why Pope Francis speaks of the need to go to such peripheries, to change poverty, all poverties, especially the ones that bite deep in the souls.”
Archbishop Aquila concluded his address with words of encouragement to the new missionaries, saying, “People may never understand what you are doing, but the joy of serving Christ among the poorest will never be taken away from you.”
Noggle noted that the program is growing rapidly. Although it is only in its fourth years of existence, it may soon be spreading to two other cities.
This growth, she said, “really is a testament that it is the Lord's work, and that He has just been the one breathing life into it, and inspiring the hearts of missionaries and of all of our donors and benefactors and friends.”
“We won't ever know the fruits of what Christ in the City is doing now until heaven, and that's ok,” she continued. “All I could ever ask for is that the Lord is 100 percent involved, and the Holy Spirit is breathing and moving in the organization.”
New York City, N.Y., Sep 6, 2013 (CNA) - Coca-Cola saw its stock value drop yesterday as the boycott against the soft-drink giant has spread across Spain and into Latin America over statements by its CEO in Spain, Marcos De Quinto.
In what has been labeled a direct attack on Christians, De Quinto, president of Coca-Cola Spain, hurled insults at life and family defense groups in response to a campaign by the religious liberty organization HazteOir.org to fight a controversial Spanish reality show.
During the program “Summer Camp,” a version of “Survivor,” one of the female contestants was made to strip to her underwear and jump into a pool of melted chocolate, while the host invited her fellow contestants to lick the chocolate off of her.
HazteOir.org successfully convinced several companies – including McDonald's and Burger King – to withdraw their ads from the show. However, Coca-Cola declined to pull its ads, and De Quinto responded to those who objected to the sponsorship by calling them “fanatics” and “intolerant,” and accusing them of launching a “guerrilla-style” attack against Coca-Cola.
“May God spare us from groups like ‘The Guardians of the Faith,’ who want to tell us what TV shows to watch, what books and newspapers to read, what party to vote for,” De Quinto said on Twitter.
He also used the social media site to tell HazteOir.org president, Ignacio Arsuaga, “If having to think like you is the price I have to pay for you to keep drinking Coca-Cola, I prefer you don’t drink it.”
The comments sparked outcry in the Spanish-speaking world, and the Twitter hashtag #BoikotCocacola became a trending topic in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Panama, as hundreds of Twitter users announced their decision to stop buying the products until De Quinto retracts his statements.
In an article yesterday for the website DailyFinance.com, Wall Street analyst Amanda Alix noted that “Coca-Cola has fallen into the red today, a somewhat surprising follow-up to its performance yesterday.”
Noting the possibility of a widespread boycott, she said that De Quito’s Twitter response will likely “only inflame the anti-Coke sentiment even further.”
Ben Bouckley of BeverageDaily.com said the growth of the boycott against Coca-Cola in the Spanish-speaking world is clearly “bad news for Coca-Cola.”
A Coca-Cola spokesman told Bouckley that “there has been a misunderstanding of Mr. De Quinto's earlier statements on Twitter. As one of the world's most inclusive brands, Coca-Cola has a long established reputation of respect for all people – regardless of race, religion or gender.”
However, HazteOir.org president Ignacio Arsuaga said his organization is considering filing a lawsuit over the Twitter comments. De Quinto accused Arsuaga of belonging to a “mafia sect” made up of “criminals” who “hack into websites” and are “outside the law.” Hazteoir.org denied that it has engaged in criminal actions.
Arsuaga told CNA that the group has “been initially told that there are sufficient grounds for suing for slander and libel” and added that HazteOir.org is “still looking over the messages Marcos De Quinto posted on Twitter.”
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Sep 6, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The bishops of the Dominican Republic have voiced support for the investigation launched into accusations of sexual misconduct against the former nuncio to the country, Archbishop Józef Wesolowski.
The bishops called for a “purification of the Church and for the removal of those who unworthily exercise this ministry and do not deserve to be called priests,” in a letter signed by Cardinal Nicolás López Rodríguez of Santo Domingo and president of the Dominican bishops' conference.
This purification should take place with “the collaboration of authentic priests, who are the majority, and of the church community.”
Archbishop Wesolowski resigned from his post Aug. 21 in the wake of accusations of sexual misconduct that were reported in the media.
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said Sept. 4 that Archbishop Wesolowski had been “relieved of his duties and the Holy See has launched an investigation.”
Francisco Dominguez, attorney general of the Dominican Republic, has said that his office will also conduct an investigation.
“In recent weeks, the public has been shocked repeatedly by embarrassing behavior in different areas of the country by clergy members of the Catholic Church, who we expect and who ought to behave differently,” said Cardinal López.
The Church in the Dominican Republic was recently rocked by accusations of sexual abuse against Father Juan Manuel Mota de Jesus.
Without directly mentioning any specific case, the cardinal prayed, “Jesus, forgive them, because they do know what they are doing and they are hurting the heart of the Church and the faith of many people.”
The “root problem” of clergy abuse, Cardinal López said, is “an undetermined number” of candidates preparing for the priesthood who “do not have an authentic vocation” and who “during formation are able to feign something that they are not, and if formation directors are not careful, they sneak into the clergy, and later the bishops pay the consequences for their excesses and turmoil.”
As president of the Dominican bishops, he asked “forgiveness of the victims of the heartless men who have abused them and their families” as well as forgiveness “of the community of the Catholic Church, which is humiliated by this unspeakable abuse, and also of the entire Dominican nation which is witnessing this unfortunate spectacle.”
The cardinal pleaded with Dominican officials to “act with conviction and clarity” in their investigations and to impose the punishments established by law.
“May those who have done wrong assume responsibly the consequences of their actions.”
Washington D.C., Sep 6, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A ranking member of the U.S. House has proposed a war crimes tribunal as an alternative to military intervention in Syria so that perpetrators can be held accountable for the use of chemical weapons.
“There is a compelling, moral imperative to immediately establish a comprehensive way to hold accountable all those on either side, including Assad, who have slaughtered and raped in Syria,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) affirmed in a Sept. 5 statement.
Smith offered the plan as a way to enforce international standards prohibiting the use of chemical weapons while avoiding an escalation of violence in the war-torn country.
He suggested that a Syrian War Crimes Tribunal established through the United Nations would be “a nonlethal alternative to missiles and bombs that carry huge risks of killing or maiming innocent civilians and exacerbating the conflict—all while putting American servicemembers at risk.”
Smith is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and chairman of committee’s Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organization Subcommittee. His office confirmed in a press release that he has stated he will vote against U.S. military intervention in Syria.
Instead, he voiced his intent to propose immediate legislation to instruct the U.S. representative to the United Nations to work towards the establishment of a war crimes tribunal to deliver justice in a non-violent manner.
The congressman’s suggestion comes as Congress considers President Obama’s Sept. 1 call for the approval of military action against Syria, which has been caught in a violent civil war between government and rebel forces – both secular and Islamist – for more than two years.
In late August, reports indicated that chemical weapons had been used against civilians in the country, killing more than 1,400 people.
The Obama administration has said it has conclusive evidence that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is responsible for these attacks, though the Syrian government denies this charge and blames the rebels for the use of chemical weapons.
The possibility of a military strike against Syria has sparked strong opposition from Russia, whose leaders say they have compiled an extensive report with evidence that rebels used chemical weapons back in March.
Smith affirmed in his statement that those “guilty of war crimes, genocide and other atrocities – whether committed by members of the Syrian government or the rebels – must be investigated and brought to justice.”
He advocated for the use of a war crimes tribunal in order to bring the guilty parties to justice because unlike “air strikes, a war crime tribunal neither indirectly assists jihadist forces in Syria, nor does it foster anger against Christian and other communities in Syria.”
The congressman cautioned, though, that if the United States is to pursue a tribunal, the establishment “of a court has to be immediate, and a comprehensive collection of evidence must begin now,” to ensure the trial’s success.
Smith also noted that these sorts of trials have been used in the past, and their lessons can prepare the United States for addressing the crimes in Syria.
“We have learned lessons from the Special Court in Sierra Leone, we have learned lessons from the Rwandan Court and certainly we have learned lessons from the court in Yugoslavia,” he said.