543 - April 2014
February 26th, 2014 - March 28th, 2014



Oblate JPIC promoter arrested and then released

Two human rights defenders, Ruki Fernando and Fr. Praveen MAHESAN were detained by police of the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Ruki Fernando is currently serving as Human Rights adviser to the INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre based in Colombo. Fr.Praveen is Director of the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation (CPR) based in Jaffna. Fr Praveen is also the parish priest of the Amaithipuran Church at Akkarayan in the Kilinochchi district. Both have been actively involved in human rights issues in general and those affecting the victims of war in particular.

The arrest took place in on Sunday evening, 16 March, in Kilinochchi district. Before the two were transferred to Colombo for further “interrogation,” the provincial of the Jaffna Province, Fr. Paul NADCHETHIRAM was able to see Fr. Praveen for a brief time. Fr. Paul has also met with the Oblate lawyer from the Colombo Province and with Malcom Cardinal Ranjith. The Cardinal has promised to do whatever he can. Also offering much support is the provincial of the Colombo Province, Fr. Rohan SILVA.

AsiaNews.it published the following report on 18 March:

The Christians Solidarity Movement (CSM) and the National Catholic Commission for Justice, Peace and Human Development strongly condemn the arrest of the two men. “We condemn this unlawful arrest. We call upon the government, which boasts about securing the rights of oppressed people, to release them immediately and show that the freedom it speaks about actually exists,” said the CSM in a statement released at a press conference held at the Centre for Society and Religion in Maradana.

In its communiqué, the CSM calls for the release of the Catholic priest and a human rights activist who were arrested two days ago on terrorism charges.

The Christian group was joined by the Catholic National Commission for Justice, Peace and Human Development, which, in a separate statement, called their arrest “inhuman and arbitrary.”

“Fr Praveen Maneshan and Ruki Fernando did not do anything illegal or criminal,” the CSM said. “They only gave a voice to those who have none. Theirs is a humanitarian commitment. For many years, they have worked for the rights of the people, without distinction of race, creed or origin.”

“We call on the authorities to provide them with free access to lawyers and to carry out transparent investigations,” said Fr George Sigamoney, executive secretary of the Catholic National Commission for Justice, Peace and Human Development.

Other people involved in human rights and members of the local Catholic clergy also spoke out at the press conference organised by the CSM.

“By acting this way, the government is trying to tell the world that Tamil terrorists still exist and that they still have supporters” said Fr Marimuttu Sathivel, one of the participants.

“In doing so, they are saying that the military must still be present in the northern and eastern provinces.”

Then, on 19 March, AsiaNews.it announced

This morning at dawn Fr. Praveen Maheshan, Tamil priest, and Ruki Fernando, a Catholic activist Sri Lankan, were released. The two had been arrested for “terrorism” on March 16 in Kilinochchi in northern Sri Lanka. The magistrate Aluthkade Columbus ordered their release without charges against them. Ajith Rohana, a police spokesman, announced, however, that the investigation that led to their arrests continue. Contacted shortly after the liberation, Ruki Fernando told AsiaNews: “I truly believe that only the prayers of so many friends and colleagues here and around the world have guaranteed my safety and that of Fr. Praveen. Thank God, who has heard and has granted our prayers.”(www.dbsjeyaraj.com and www.AsiaNews.it)

Tamil clergy write to the UNO

In a letter to the United Nations Council on Human Rights, Tamil priests in the North and East of Sri Lanka state that there is an urgent need for an international investigation into violations of human rights and international humanitarian law that occurred during the Civil War and which continue even today on the island. The letter, sent to Fides Agency, is signed by 205 priests and religious, including Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Jesuits, other religious and more than 100 nuns. The first signatory, Bishop Rayappu Joseph of Mannar has endangered himself by calling for a UN intervention. As learned from Fides, the bishop, described as “the Romero in Sri Lanka,” is receiving pressure and death threats.

“Almost five years after the war ended, we have not seen any truth and justice emerge from the national mechanisms,” the text insists, noting that “part of the Tamil population is discriminated against and assaulted. Disappearances, sexual abuse, arrests, detentions and torture on the basis of the anti-terror law, restrictions on freedom of assembly, of expression, of association and of movement continue today,” charge the religious. “You cannot collectively commemorate the dead and the disappeared. Those who criticize the policies and practices of the government and defenders of human rights are branded as traitors or supporters of terrorism.”

Among these, there are also several Catholic priests who were “interrogated, threatened and intimidated. … The army continues its interference in civil and economic activities, especially in the North and East, undermining the civil and economic empowerment of local people,” they continue. At the same time, they say, “we are concerned about the intensification of systematic efforts and measures to destroy the identity of the Tamil community. Military centers and institutions are grabbing the land of the Tamils, while development projects and an organized settlement of Sinhalese settlers continue at a rapid pace in the North and East of the island, where the Tamils ??have historically been the majority.”

The clergy also denounces “the imposition of the Singhalese language and Buddhist religion in the North and East. … There has been no genuine political process to address the root causes of the conflict, which are being aggravated.” For this reason, it is urgent that the international community, through the United Nations, find concrete forms of assistance for the Tamil population. They ask, therefore, that the UN investigate allegations of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the war; that it clearly identify the units and individuals responsible; that it monitor human rights violations in Sri Lanka, through teams of UN experts; that it provide protection programs for victims and witnesses; that unrestricted access to all the important places, people and documents be ensured for the experts. (www.radiovaticana.va)

On a mission with Pope Francis

The mission in Quetta in the Baluchistan region, inaccessible land where Taliban militants groups are hiding, continues “in the company of Pope Francis”. This is what Fr. Renald LAWRENCE, of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Procurator of the Apostolic Vicariate of Quetta, told Fides Agency.

A year after his election, the missionary explains: “The encouragement pronounced by the Pope: go, do not be afraid and serve your neighbor, has touched us deeply. Today they work with zeal and courage in this land, to share the same mission of the Pope and witness to Christ.” “Pope Francis,” he explains, “is a man of God and his vision is to give Christ to the world. As missionaries in this borderland, and as workers in God’s vineyard, we share with him, in often difficult circumstances, the mission of bringing Christ in this part of the world.”

The Oblate missionaries think that “Pope Francis appears to be a true bridge between God and the people, between the Church and today’s humanity.” What strikes Fr. Lawrence is, in particular, the first encyclical, “Lumen fidei”, written with Benedict XVI. It is a text that “invites us to shine the light of faith in our lives and in our land. It teaches us that faith is not arrogant, it strengthens the ties between the people and is at the service of justice and peace.” In Pakistan, the Pope’s speeches and actions are much appreciated, said the missionary, such as his “basing a reform of the Curia on the criteria of simplification and transparency.”

Pope Francis also impresses with his simplicity and sense of what is essential. Fr. Inayat Bernard, a priest of the Diocese of Lahore, told Fides that “his choice to stay in a simple place, not in the papal apartment is an example.” Struck by this witness, Fr. Bernard says that he “refused a smartphone as a birthday gift from his friends”, and donated that amount of money for the poor.

The Executive Secretary of the Biblical Commission of Pakistan, Fr. Emmanuel Asi, in an interview with Fides, believes that “Pope Francis’ election was good news for the universal Church.” He added that the Commission has decided to translate the papal encyclical “Evangelii Gaudium” into Urdu, “so as to spread the text among the common people”. He shares the Pope's lifestyle and his ecumenical and interfaith approach.

According to Fr. Bonnie Mendes, a priest in Faisalabad, “The Holy Father’s gesture of the washing of the feet of children and disabled prisoners earned him respect in the hearts and minds of people of all religions in the world.”

Fr. Francis Nadeem, OFM Cap, the national coordinator of the “Interreligious Council” in Lahore, told Fides that Muslim leaders also expressed their appreciation for Pope Francis and identify him with Pope John Paul II, who visited Pakistan in 1981, hoping that “he will visit Pakistan to encourage and strengthen interreligious dialogue.” (13/03/14: Fides Agency)

Houses for those displaced by war

Twenty three newly built houses were handed over on 29 November 2013 to families who were displaced by the war of 2009. Up to now these families were living in makeshift shelters.

Fr. Jeevendra PAUL, Grant Director of the OMI General Administration, kindly graced the occasion. This is an OMI-LEBARA partnership project where the financing is done by the LEBARA Foundation while the Oblates take care of the logistics. Already fifty houses in Paranthan and fifty houses in Maniamthotam, Jaffna, were handed over to displaced families by this project in 2012.

From the LEBARA website: Aged 15, Lebara co-founder and CEO Ratheesan Yoganathan sought refuge in the UK from the Sri Lankan Civil War. In 2001, he and friends Leon Ranjith and Baskaran Kandiah co-founded the Lebara Group.

Their vision was to help migrant communities keep in touch with loved ones back home by providing high-quality, low-cost products and services.

But when Ratheesan witnessed the impact of the 2004 Tsunami in Asia that vision widened, because he saw first-hand what happens to young children when denied basic needs such as water, food, shelter and education. It was then that the idea for the Foundation was first conceived. In 2008, the Lebara Foundation was registered with the aim of providing housing, health measures and schooling for displaced communities around the world.

“At the very heart of Lebara’s culture is the desire to give back and make a difference to the communities of our customers and their families and friends,” says Ratheesan. (www.lebarafoundation.org)

Waiting for Pope Francis

11/03/14: Vatican Radio interview with Fr. Vincenzo BORDO.

There’s great excitement in the Republic of Korea following the announcement of the pastoral visit of Pope Francis to this Asian country in mid-August. The Korean bishops wrote in their message: “This visit by Francis is a visit to all of Asia.” Especially among the poor and disadvantaged people of the big cities, the joy is spreading and they are abuzz with preparations for August. At Song-nam, on the outskirts of Seoul, there is one of the more important Caritas centres in the country. Founded by Father Vincenzo Bordo, a Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate, it is home to around 500 homeless people a day. David Dionisi asked the priest how the news was received by his guests.

V.B. - With great enthusiasm and great joy, especially where we are, a centre for homeless people, beggars and street people. On hearing the news, everyone was elated. In fact, when the Pope celebrated his birthday and invited three homeless men, along with a dog, I related the news to all my guests who, thinking then that the Pope might come to Korea, said: “Then he will come to see us too! If he invites the homeless to his home, then he will come to be with us, all five to six hundred of us.” So, there is great anticipation and expectation by our friends on the street to see him, because of his gestures of appreciation and recognition of street people.

D.D. - How will you get yourselves ready?

V.B. - First of all by teaching them who the Pope is. Here, we are in a non-Catholic and non-Christian setting; they know very little about the Pope and the Catholic Church. The first thing to do is to tell them who this person is, what he does and what the Catholic Church is. Therefore, we will prepare some catechesis for these people, a first proclamation, because they know neither Jesus nor the Church, and much less, the Pope. Consequently, it will be an opportunity to evangelize.

D.D. - So as not to get used to the situations of deprivation and misery we encounter walking the streets of our cities, you have a daily relationship with these things and have made your own this message of Pope Francis since the start of the Caritas Centre. What are the feelings of a missionary who has given voice to such a challenge on the periphery of Seoul?

V.B. Great joy when I heard these words of the Pope, because for the 20 years -- 22 years that I am in this ministry -- a few times I have felt myself ridiculed, abandoned, even outraged. The Pope, who recognizes this work, which says that these are brothers who are suffering, gives me much courage and gives so much courage to the street people. They say: “But the Pope who is such an important person, does he remember us?” These are situations of suffering that people do not often see, do not know about or do not want to see. The fact that the Pope has taken notice and has brought it to the attention of everyone gives consolation, hope and joy to all our friends who live on the street.

D.D. - How has Korea changed since 1989, the year of John Paul’s second visit, until today? What are the new pastoral challenges of the local Church?

V.B. The Church has changed a lot in recent years; society has changed a lot and therefore, the Church too has changed. I arrived in Korea in 1990 and the attendance of Korean Catholics at Sunday Mass was 80%; you saw not only a lot of people going to Church, but you also so many young people. It’s been 20 years and the percentage of those who attend Sunday Mass is around 25-30%, and they are mainly the elderly. Therefore, the problem of secularization is very great and there is need for a new evangelization and a new image of the Church. There is great need of new ways for a reality that has changed.

Sacrifice also through saving

To emphasize the importance of sacrifice during Lent, this year too, after the Ash Wednesday Masses, the churches of Bangladesh gave to their own faithful little terracotta “piggy banks”, inviting the Catholics “to save during the 40 days that separate us from Easter” and “to use the money raised for charitable and social activities.” This practice, very common among Bangladeshi Catholics, has been going on for five years now.

Fr. Ajit COSTA, Oblate of Mary Immaculate and pastor of De Mazenod Parish in Dhaka, told AsiaNews: “This gift is intended to teach the meaning of sacrifice. We give a “piggy bank” to each family, so that the Catholics can save money together. This year we have distributed 1,500 of them, compared to 1,200 last year. With the collection of 2013, we raised approximately $2,150: the money is used for the social and spiritual development of the community.”

Last year, continues Fr. Costa, the proceeds “were assigned to St. Thomas Church in the diocese of Sylhet, which needed urgent repair. But part of it was given to a Christian cooperative which used it to build houses. This year we hope to collect enough to draw up plans for the construction of a new church.”

During Lent, Catholics do not eat meat and many of them are content with only one full meal per day. Nirmal Gomes explains: “From the beginning of this period, we eat less and thus save a lot, compared to the normal daily expenses. It is also a good way to teach my daughter the value and the meaning of sacrifice.” (by Sumon Corraya in www.AsiaNews.it)

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