509 - March 2011
February 7th, 2011 - March 6th, 2011



SRI LANKA: Tamil war widows seek justice

The government must recognize all the war widows as a group in need of special attention, because civil society cannot escape responsibility towards them. Otherwise, “their stories remain buried in the sands of history, blown away by the winds of time.” These are the demands of Fr. Oswald B. FIRTH, president of the Association for Peace and Development (papd), in a meeting with the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) held on 20 January in Colombo. The PAPD is a nongovernmental organization founded during the war in 2001 to promote inter-ethnic harmony and a spirit of understanding among all major communities in the east, directly affected by war.

Addressing the LLRC members, Fr. Firth said that “many of them have studied and passed the General Certificate of Education with good grades, but because of the war, they could not continue their studies. Some speak Tamil and Sinhalese.”

The PAPD President, speaking of his experience working with war widows, said that these women live daily humiliation and social rejection. Another major problem concerns their economic survival, made difficult because of low-paid and temporary jobs. The priest said: “The types of work available to them hardly ever matched their skills. They were never made permanent in their employment, and were therefore deprived of employee benefits. On quitting these temporary sources of income, they were often empty-handed, carrying with them the same feeling of financial insecurity that has been the lot of nearly all war widows.”

The marginalization of Tamil widows is a real social stigma. “They cannot marry,” continues Fr Firth, “because social mores find it deplorable. These women are often alone and insecure, and are treated as a symbol of bad luck in their own circles. Widows of war are certainly among the most vulnerable groups of society.”

The meeting was also attended by three widows of the eastern district of Batticaloa: Suresh Kumar Maheswari, 52; Shiwanthi Manoharan, 43; Jayaseelan Loretta, 40. In presenting their testimony to the LLRC, the three women stated categorically that they can no longer tolerate any form of violence and war, since they have been among the hardest hit victims. “The violence,” they said, “leaves invisible and incalculable damage in the lives of those innocents who have no voice.”

Fr. Firth ended his speech by saying that their condition must be compensated by the State, as a matter of justice. (by Melani Manel Perera in AsiaNews.it)

LAOS: After 40 years, the first priestly ordination in the North

On January 25, AsiaNews.it and the Vatican radio made this announcement.

The first priestly ordination in forty years in northern Laos will be celebrated on January 29. It should have taken place on December 12 last year, but it was delayed by almost two months. The new priest, Pierre Buntha Silaphet, is thirty years old and was born in Phnom Van (Sayaboury in northern Laos). He belongs to the K'Hmù ethnic group.

Something which the Catholic community in Laos considers providential is that the name of Pierre in Laotian is “Buntha,” the same as that of the last ethnic K'Hmù priest, ordained in Luang Prabang on February 22, 1970, 41 years ago, by the Oblate, Bishop Alessandro STACCIOLI, Vicar Apostolic from February 1968 to 1975. In that year, the government decided to expel all foreign missionaries, without the possibility of re-entering the country. Since then, Father Tito Banchong has been alone in the Vicariate, and it is with understandable joy that that he announced this new ordination.

The post-ordination festivities, the first in 40 years in the Vicariate of Luang Prabang, will be held in the village of Phnom Van. The small Catholic community will rejoice with Pierre Buntha when he returns to his native village of Phnom Van, after his ordination which will take place in Takhek, 800 kilometers to the south. The ordaining bishop is Msgr. Marie-Louis Ling, Vicar Apostolic of Paksé, an ethnic K'hmù like Buntha. The new diocesan priest belongs to one of the families evangelized between 1960 and 1975 by the Oblate, Father Piero Maria BONOMETTI, at Ban Houei Thong in the province of Luang Prabang.

The apostolic administrator, Msgr. Tito Banchong, had all the necessary permits from the authorities to celebrate this event. In a non-official way, it has been made clear to those involved that the ceremony of ordination should not be stressed too much, and assume the character of a village celebration. Since 1975, the Vicariate of Luang Prabang has no cathedral, but only small chapels throughout the countryside. The government closely monitors the life and activity of the Church and the Christian minorities. The Catholic Church is present across the four Apostolic Vicariates: Luang Prabang, Paksé, Savannakhet and Vientiane. There are 39,725 Catholics, representing 0.65% of the population.

PAKISTAN: 40 years of missionary service

The whole world celebrates St. Valentine’s Day on February 14, but for the Oblate delegation of Pakistan, this day has a significance of its own. It was on February 14, 1971, that the Oblates arrived in Pakistan.

At the request of Bishop Benedict Cialeo, O.P, of Layllpur (present Faisalabad), three Oblates arrived in Pakistan. These Oblates started their mission in Gojra, Chak Jhumra and Okara in the Faisalabad diocese. The Oblates also served in the Pir Mahal parish of this diocese from 1996 until 2001. When the parish priest, Fr. Alfred RAYAPPU, died, the parish was handed back to the diocese.

In 1978, the Oblates moved to the diocese of Multan at the request of Bishop Ernest Boland, O.P., and took over the parish of Khanewal. In 1985, they took over the parish of Rungpur in the same diocese but later moved to Derekabad parish where they continue to serve. One must not forget to mention here the name of Fr. Temsey CROOS who was greatly instrumental in the development of this parish. He also built a beautiful grotto of Our Lady. This grotto is one of the most beautiful grottos in Pakistan.

In 1981 the Oblates were called to the parish in Quetta in the Hyderabad diocese which included almost the entire Province of Baluchistan. In 2001, Pope John Paul II established the Apostolic Prefecture of Quetta and entrusted it to the Oblates. Fr. Victor GNANAPRAGASAM was installed as its first Prefect. In July 2010, this Prefecture was raised to the status of Apostolic Vicariate with Fr. Victor being ordained bishop of the Quetta Vicariate.

Currently, the Oblates are serving in two parishes in the Archdiocese of Lahore, one parish in the Archdiocese of Karachi and one parish in the diocese of Multan. The whole of the Apostolic Vicariate of Quetta is also in the hands of the Oblates with eleven of them serving there. The Oblates have formation houses in Multan, Lahore and Karachi. During the last four years there has been a remarkable increase in the number of local Oblates. Thirteen local Oblates have been ordained to the priesthood in the last four years.

The past 40 years have certainly been grace-filled years for the Oblates in Pakistan. We have experienced the love of our gracious Lord through our ministries and through serving the poor. Today, the Oblates are very much part of the Pakistani local Church and can proudly say that we too have contributed our part in the building of the local church. As we enter the fifth decade of our presence in Pakistan, we bow our heads in thankfulness and gratitude to our Lord and ask for His perpetual graces and blessings to carry on His mission in this blessed land. (Scholastic Brother Anthony ADNAN)

AUSTRALIA: The young Irish of Sydney

At the request of the Irish Episcopal Commission for Emigrants, in 2002, Fr. Thomas MURPHY, then provincial of the Anglo-Irish Province, asked Father Thomas DEVEREUX to become the Irish Chaplain to young Irish immigrants in Sydney. Here is a glimpse at what he does for these young individuals and families who are far away from their homeland.

I have been very involved in the lives of many people, mainly in the sacramental situations such as births, marriages and funerals. Now that is not unusual in any way. It is in fact the normal life of any Oblate priest, but with this difference: I find myself performing such ministry in sometimes unusual situations. Perhaps the grandparents of a child are here only for a few weeks, and they ask me to perform the baptism at short notice. Recently I conducted a baptism using Skype, with the grandmother watching in Ireland whilst her grandchild was baptized in St Mary’s Cathedral. Another time, a young man’s mother could not attend her son’s wedding due to injury; we made a mobile call at the very moment the couple exchanged their vows. The wonder of modern technology!

The chaplaincy has been a point of contact for people when things have gone tragically wrong for them, such as at a time of deaths or accidents. We have been the ones to whom they can turn when such things happen, providing either accommodation or just the support that they need during such situations. I make the necessary contacts with families or the local clergy in Ireland to assure them that we are handling things, and that it is an Irish person who is dealing with the situation.

I believe that it is important to let people know that there is a place here where they can come in such cases. In the words of many people over the eight years that I am here: “my home has become their home.”

When we are dealing with so many young Irish people, the chaplaincy can meet them at very vulnerable times, such as the recent death of friends back home, or members of the their families, especially when it is the grandparents or loved ones at home. They come to have Mass said or they just come to light a candle in the church. Several times I have opened the church so that they could pray, because I realized how much the “tyranny of distance” touches them at this time, even with Internet, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and Skype at their disposal. Sometimes it is just a word spoken outside the church on the weekend that makes it is easier for them to deal with their loss in far-off Australia.

It is important to walk with these people in the many and various situations which life puts before us, and to do as Jesus did with the disciples and people on the roads of the Holy Land: to be the Christ-presence for them in a big and lovely country such as Australia. We come from a small country, the size of many the farms here in Australia. We come from a land which has a great history and culture. We are respected throughout the world for our music, humour and sense of fun and the ability to adapt to situations which have come our way. Thus l feel that the young Irish people who come as the new ambassadors at this hard time for Ireland will be fine examples of what Ireland has to offer the “Lucky Country,” as they call Australia. (Oblate Connections, 17 February 2011)

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