MAY 25, 2007 THE CATHOLIC HERALD
Pakistan’s Christians face rising intolerance
CHRISTIANS in Pakistan are facing unprecedented levels of persecution as fundamentalist Islamism increasingly takes hold of the country, according to a leading legal aid group. The Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) reports that 2007 has been “a terrible time” for Pakistani Christians who face more and more violent threats and bogus accusations of blasphemy against the Koran. The Catholic Bishop of Islamabad this month announced that his flock was “very frightened” after Christians in northern Pakistan were told that they must convert or die. A menacing letter distributed throughout the towns of Charsada and Mardan informed the faithful that they had 10 days to embrace Islam and close down all churches. If this order was not obeyed, the letter said that “all Christians will be executed”. The warning comes amid a growing number of trumped-up blasphemy charges being brought against Christians
in Pakistan’s courts. “There is a prevailing hate against Christians in Pakistan and it is growing all the time,” said Nasir Saeed, Claas’s coordinator. “Religious intolerance and fundamentalism are spreading.” Mr Saeed said that the Pakistani government was guilty of “duplicity” over religious persecution. “There is an increasing Talibanisation in Pakistan and the government is not doing enough to stop it,” he said. “President Musharraf will go to Europe and say he is trying to promote moderation and enlightenment, but when he goes back to Pakistan he does not challenge the intolerance.” This month there has been controversy over the case of Walter Fazal Khan, who was charged with desecrating the Koran. The accusation had no sound basis and it is widely thought that the complainant conspired against Mr Khan in order to buy his home cheaply. CLAAS believes that local fundamentalist clerics wanted to turn the house into a madrassah.
Pakistan’s Christian minority is now facing ‘unprecedented’ levels of persecution
After Mr Khan was charged his wife was forcibly converted to Islam. Last month Satter Masih, another Christian, was arrested under the blasphemy laws on his wedding day. CLAAS claims he was tortured into accepting the charges, which led to him being sentenced to death. “As usual there were no eye-witnesses of the incident,” said Nasir Saeed, CLAAS’s coordinator. CLAAS has written to
Dr Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Britain, to express concerns over the decline of religious freedom in the Asian country. The legal aid group is campaigning to reform the blasphemy law in Pakistan so that it is not used to torment Christians or exploited to vent personal grudges against nonMuslims. “The accuser should be punished if the accusation is patently false,” said Mr Saeed.
“We hope to persuade people that it could be argued in Islamic law that by falsely accusing somebody of desecrating the Koran, the accuser is also desecrating the Koran.” Mr Saeed also said that innocent Christians should be awarded damages after charges of blasphemy are proven to be false. “There should be considerable compensation, because an accusation usually ruins the life of the accused,” he said. “But unfortunately the
government is afraid of challenging the fundamentalist elements.” On May 8 an appeal to amend the blasphemy laws was thrown out of Pakistan’s parliament. Dr Sher Afgan, parliamentary affairs minister, said that the proposal should never have even been presented because Pakistan is not a secular state. “Islam is our religion and such bills hurt our feelings,” he said.
Editorial comment: Page 11
Amazon jungle has 30 years left, says bishop
FROMBARBARAFRASER INAPARECIDA , BRAZIL
INAPLEA for all countries to join forces to stop the destruction of the rain forest, a bishop from Brazil has claimed “it’s five minutes to midnight” for the Amazon jungle. German-born Bishop Erwin Krautler of Xingu, in northern Para state, told a press conference that when he arrived in the region 42 years ago the Amazon was more or less intact. “Now it is threatened with destruction,” he said. Clearing and burning the rain forest to plant soy and sugar cane “will be a fatal blow for the Amazon”, he said. “If things continue as they are, in another
30 years the Amazon will not exist any more.” Destruction of the rain forest has accelerated since the 1970s with the construction of highways that have given ranchers, loggers and miners access to untouched land. Environmental issues have been high on the Brazilian Catholic Church’s agenda in recent years. Many activists, including Bishop Krautler, have reportedly received death threats for their campaigns to save the rain forest. Some campaigners, such as American Sister Dorothy Stang, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, have been killed. Bishop Krautler’s plea to save
the rain forest came less than a week after a rancher was sentenced to 30 years in prison for hiring gunmen to kill Sister Dorothy in 2005. The rain forest is home to indigenous peoples, rubber tappers and settlers who moved there in the 1970s “in search of a place where they could plant and harvest and make a living with their families”, Bishop Krautler said. Defence of the Amazon “is not only defence of the flora and fauna”, he explained. “From the standpoint of creation theology, when we defend the Amazon, we are defending the home of future generations. We are defending creation as a whole.”
Observers have said that the newest threat to the region is the widespread planting of sugar cane to produce ethanol. Brazil is already a leading producer of ethanol, and President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has said he wants to increase production and help African countries follow Brazil’s example. US President George W Bush and Mr da Silva signed an agreement to promote ethanol production in March. The Brazilian bishops expressed concern about the plan in a statement earlier this month. Noting that in today’s world “business takes precedence, without concern for its social and ecological costs”, the bish
ops said that this push “cannot be done to the detriment of the ecological balance, agrarian reform and food security,” or in violation of human rights. Bishop Krautler said: “We may as well chant a requiem for the Amazon if we don’t take a stand against this threat.” He said that Brazil ran the risk of “becoming a huge sugar cane field because of ethanol”. Because rain forest soil is poor in nutrients, when the trees are cleared and the ecological balance is destroyed it turns into a vast, relatively infertile plain, Bishop Krautler said. This has already happened because of the clearing of forest for ranching and soy farming, he said.
Should the Pope spin like Blair?
For some time now journalists and pundits have been discussing whether Pope Benedict XVI would benefit from receiving some media-savvy advice. On at least three high-profile occasions the Holy Father has ruffled the feathers of non-Catholics: the first was when a minority of Jews felt offended when he said Christians as well as Jews were victims at Auschwitz; the second when many Muslims famously reacted badly after he quoted a medieval emperor in Regensburg; and lastly, in Brazil this month, native Indians claimed to be incensed when the Pope failed to recall the many indigenous people who died at the hands of empire-building Christians. “[He] needs work on his communications skills”, the respected Vatican commentator John Allen wrote last week. The Pope, Allen argued, should be advised on how to meet nonCatholics half way, and to recognise more that he is the Church’s chief ambassador to the outside world. Without succumbing to political correctness, Benedict XVI must take into account cultural and political sensitivities, he wrote. Mr Allen’s view is shared by Santiago de la Cierva, a professor of crisis communications at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. The Pope, he said, is “constantly isolated” from advisers so he needs to ask for advice. Mr de la Cierva believes that prevention is better than cure because no one can correct the Pope after he’s spoken. There needs to be a greater awareness that Catholics also read these controversial remarks. “Often the more intelligent Catholics read the secular rather than the Catholic press,” Mr de la Cierva says, “so the Holy Father must try to minimise turbulence in that area.” But would the Holy Father heed such advice? One of the Holy Father’s great strengths is to be a very daring academic, unafraid to proclaim the truth of what he thinks. The last thing he would want, say those close to him, is to be forced into political correctness or to pander to political expediency. Furthermore, it’s in his character to trust people to interpret his words thoughtfully and benevolently. As a senior Vatican official remarked in this column last week, the Pope is “too kind”; he doesn’t have a “hermeneutics of suspicion”. He even tends to see journalists as part of a noble profession rather than as hungry hacks looking for scoops. That may seem naïve, but it’s naturally a very Catholic approach aimed at raising public discourse to a higher level. “In the end, people can always find fault with what a pope says or does not say, especially if they have ulterior motives,” says Patrick Nold, professor of medieval history at the University of Albany, New York. “This has always been the case.” As far back as the 13th century, Mr Nold says, Pope Boniface VIII faced a similar, though more extreme, problem: his French political opponents turned a couple of his ironic dinner-party remarks into charges of heresy. There’s not much danger of that happening with Pope Benedict, but there’ll always be people ready to manipulate his words. Advice might lessen the chances of that happening, but it won’t prevent it entirely. The first conviction last week for drug possession within the Vatican walls was interesting not so much because of the case but because of the archaic juridical nature of the Vatican. The Vatican tribunal in charge of the case, in which a former employee was caught with 87 grams of cocaine, had to draw on a law dating from the 1929 Lateran Accords and international anti-drug treaties to which the Holy See is a signatory. That’s because the penal code it normally relies on has no provision for drug possession, having been drawn up under Italy’s King Victor Emmanuel II in 1865. So does the Vatican’s legal system need updating to bring it in line with today’s society, one markedly different from a monarchical Italy. “The legal tools the Vatican uses are actually working well,” says Professor Davide Cito, a canon lawyer at the Pontifical University of Santa Croce. “And by being able to draw on international accords, it can deal with those crimes that are international and a little more diffuse, such as drugs and sexual tourism.” A long-running urban myth here is that you could commit a crime in Italy and escape punishment by entering any Vatican building. But although Italian police cannot freely pass into Vatican territory, all they need is permission. It seems that the convicted offender in this case, given a four-month suspended sentence, too readily believed that myth.
Rome Correspondent: Edward Pentin E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
HELPP LITTLEE WAYY TOO FEED HUNGRYY SCHOOLL CHILDREN INN TANZANIA “It is the little things done for love which charm the heart of the good God.”
“From Tanzania Sr Giovanna Tosi, the Provincial Superior of the Daughters of Charity, writes to The Little Way Association: “We are running a kindergarten with 250 infants, a primary school with 450 children, and a secondary school for 200 girls which was opened last year. Some children are orphans, many come from broken families; they arrive here in the morning with empty stomachs, not having had any breakfast at home, and not bringing any food with them. It costs 24p to provide a lunch for one child “Seeing that so many children had nothing to eat all day, we began to provide food for them, but now we have so many children turning up for food, we just don’t know where to turn. Will The Little Way Association help us to feed some of these hungry children? It costs 24p to provide a lunch for one child. May the good Lord bless you all for your support.” Every penny you donate will be sent WITHOUT DEDUCTION to Sr Giovanna to help feed a hungry school child.
Crossed POs and cheques should be sent and made payable to: THE LITTLE WAY ASSOCIATION,CH/05/28 119 Cedars Rd, Clapham Common, London SW4 0PR (Registered Charity No. 235703) Tel. 020-7622 0466 I enclose £ ...............to be allocated for: £........LUNCH FOR A HUNGRY CHILD - Sr Giovanna Tosi £........MISSION CHAPELS / £.........WELLS & WATER
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MASS OFFERINGS Your Mass offerings will help maintain missionaries and to assist them to spread the Gospel. A minimum stipend of £5 is recommended for each Mass.
LISIEUX PILGRIMAGE 5th to 8th October 4 days by coach from London Cost: £225 (full board) Telephone Maria on 020 7622 0466 for details and booking forms
LITTLE WAY THERESIAN GUEST HOUSES Pilgrims and visitors are welcome at The Little Way Theresian Centres in Walsingham and Knock which offer homely B&B accommodation. WALSINGHAM: 01328 820222 KNOCK: (00353) 94 9388406
All Little Way benefactors share in a DAILY MASS offered for their intentions in the Missions.
US congressman deplores Amnesty abortion policies
Family congress attracts thousands
AN AMERICAN Catholic politician has called Amnesty International’s new position on abortion “outrageous” and said it creates a “major credibility gap” for the widely respected human rights organisation. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, said Amnesty’s new position makes it “just another pro-abortion organisation”. Amnesty’s claim that it takes no position on whether abortion should be legalised, when it calls for complete decriminalisation of abortion, is “totally contradictory”, he said. “When you decriminalise, you legalise... If there is no sanction, there is no law,” said Mr Smith, one of the leading opponents of abortion in Congress and also one of Congress’ leading human rights advocates. In policy papers distributed to members in April, Amnesty International spelled out a position calling for decriminalisation of abortion in all countries. The organisation’s International Executive Committee adopted the new position at its April meeting in London. Amnesty said it supports some regulation of abortion, including limits on how late into a pregnancy abortions can be performed. It also said it supports legal access to abortion only in cases of
rape or incest or when a woman’s life or health is at grave risk. However, it opposes legislation specifying rape or incest as a condition for obtaining an abortion, arguing that rape victims “face daunting and sometimes insurmountable challenges” if they must prove rape to get an abortion. “I’m outraged about their disinformation campaign on such issues,” said Mr Smith, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Global Human Rights and International Relations and the architect of American human rights legislation against child labour, human trafficking, torture and religious discrimination. Last November he and more than 70 other House members wrote to Amnesty urging it not to change its stance on abortion. At a press conference he quoted from the letter: “The killing of an unborn child by abortion can never be construed to be a human right. Every child, born or unborn, deserves protection and to have his or her human rights secured and protected.” Mr Smith noted that in one of the pieces circulated among members and meant only for them, Amnesty said it opposes the US PartialBirth Abortion Ban Act recently affirmed by the US Supreme Court.
THE LARGEST ever World Congress of Families was held in the Polish capital, Warsaw, from May 11 to May 13. More than 3,000 delegates from 60 different countries and many different faiths attended the World Congress of Families IV, with a strong representation of Polish Catholics. The Congress was not a religious event, but it was clear that faith holds fast among those who campaign for the family. The World Congress heard from Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, head of the Pontifical Council on the Family, and Margarita Zabala Gomez Del Campo, First Lady of Mexico. In comments particularly relevant to Poland, the cardinal said: “The history of the 20th century demonstrates that those citizens were right who recognised the falsehood of relativism.” In the final hours of the Congress, delegates adopted the Warsaw Declaration of the World Congress of Families IV, described as a pro-family credo for the 21st century. The declaration stated thar “the natural family, creation of God, is the fundamental human community, based on the life-long marriage between a man and a woman, in which new individuals are conceived, born and raised.”
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