Saturday, October 25, 2008

Nun Meena Lalita Barwa tells of brutal rape by Hindu mob in India

October 25, 2008

A Roman Catholic nun who says that she was raped and paraded half-naked through the streets by a Hindu mob in eastern India emerged from hiding yesterday for the first time to make an emotional public appeal for justice.

With her head and face covered by a black scarf, Meena Lalita Barwa, 29, described how she was attacked at a prayer hall in the eastern state of Orissa in August during the worst anti-Christian riots in India in decades.

The violence — which the Catholic Church says killed 60 Christians and left 50,000 homeless — has drawn international criticism from the Pope and President Bush and prompted calls for a ban on India's powerful Hindu nationalist movement.

Sister Meena said that a mob of up to 50 men armed with sticks, axes, spades, crowbars, iron rods and sickles dragged her and a Catholic priest from the house where they were sheltering on August 25.

One of the mob raped her, while two more held her down, and then a fourth tried to rape her again, before they paraded the priest and her, minus her blouse and underwear, along a road, she said.

When the crowd passed a group of a dozen policemen she begged for help, but they ignored her and talked in a “very friendly” manner to her attackers, she said. “State police failed to stop the crimes, failed to protect me from the attackers,” she said. “I was raped and I don't want to be victimise[d] by the Orissa police. God Bless India, God bless you all.”

She demanded that her case be handled by the Central Bureau of Investigation — India's FBI — rather than the Orissa police, who have been criticised for their inaction during the violence.

Sister Meena went into hiding after the attack to protect herself from Hindu extremists but decided to come forward after the Supreme Court turned down her initial request for a CBI inquiry earlier this week.

Her public appeal comes as pressure mounts on the Indian Government to ban Bajrang Dal, one of India's Hindu extremist groups, for their alleged role in violence in Orissa and elsewhere.

The Government fears that such a move would provoke a backlash from other Hindu extremists and mobilise votes for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of national elections, due in May.

The accused groups deny any involvement in the Orissa violence, saying that it was a spontaneous reaction to the murder of Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati, a local Hindu nationalist leader, on August 23.

They blame Christians for the murder, although Maoist rebels have claimed responsibility and accuse Christian missionaries of bribing and coercing poor Hindus to convert.

However, victims in Orissa, church leaders and rights groups accuse Hindu extremists of executing the attacks to stir up their supporters ahead of next year's elections.

Father Thomas Chellan, the priest who was with Sister Meena when she was allegedly raped, told The Times that many of the mob were chanting Hindu slogans and were wearing the trademark saffron bandannas of the Hindu nationalist movement.

He said that they forced him to kneel on the ground and doused him in kerosene. One man brought out a box of matches and fumbled with it. “I thought, my God, now I will die.”

Another member of the mob interrupted and said that they should “burn him where others could see”, prompting the crowd to parade him and Sister Meena along the road.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Synod: Anglican bishop is a star of the show

Synod: Anglican bishop is a star of the show

Created Oct 16 2008 - 00:29


In any Synod of Bishops, the real star is, of course, the pope. In second place typically come high-profile Catholic prelates from around the world, as well as the bishops of dioceses of particular interest – such as Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly of Iraq – and, of course, powerful Vatican officials.

At this synod on the Bible, however, one of the “fraternal delegates," meaning a representative of another Christian confession, has more star power than most Catholic prelates in the hall: Anglican Bishop N.T. “Tom” Wright, the bishop of Durham in England, and one of the world’s best-known New Testament scholars.

In a room full of people who devour Biblical commentaries the way others churn through spy novels, heads turn when Wright walks in the room.

Though a committed member of the Church of England, Wright belongs to that wing of the Anglican Communion that stresses the grand tradition of Christian orthodoxy shared with Rome. He’s known for respectful, but firm, clashes with liberal Biblical scholars such as Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan on matters such as the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection.

Especially among English-speaking bishops and experts at the synod, Wright has been one fraternal delegate who needs no introduction. Several bishops who know Wright only by name have asked to have him pointed out, or to be introduced to him, because of their esteem for his work. In some cases, bishops have said that meeting Wright has been a highlight of the synod.

During the first meeting of the circoli minors, or small groups, several members of the group in which Wright is participating said afterwards how excited they had been to see and to hear the legendary New Testament expert.

On Tuesday, Wright finally took the floor in the synod hall. On a day when Pope Benedict XVI stressed the need to press beyond a purely secular and scientific reading of the Bible towards a theological exegesis, Wright struck much the same note – providing additional reason to believe this will be a key theme in the synod’s final recommendations.

In his remarks, Wright called for a “four-fold” reading of scripture understood as the love of God, which he said should involve:
• The heart (Lectio Divina, liturgical reading);
• The mind (historical/critical study);
• The soul (church life, tradition, teaching);
• Strength (mission, kingdom of God).

In words that would certainly be music to Benedict XVI’s ears, Wright placed special emphasis upon mission – including the church’s mission to the field of Biblical studies itself.

“In particular, we need fresh mission-oriented engagement with our own culture,” Wright said.

“Paragraph 57 of the Instrumentum Laboris implies that Paul’s engagement merely purifies and elevates what is there in the culture,” Wright said. “But Paul also confronts pagan idolatry, and so must we.”

“In particular, we must engage critically with the tools and methods of historical/critical scholarship themselves,” he said.

Indirectly, Wright also endorsed what Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec, the synod’s relator, referred to as a new “Marian paradigm” for reading the Bible in the opening address of the assembly.

Referring to “Mary as model,” Wright said she is the classic example of “waiting patiently in the soul,” which is also the posture of “the tradition and expectation of the church.” The church always awaits, Wright said, “the new, unexpected and perhaps unwelcome, but yet saving, revelation.”

Among other things, Wright’s presentation underscores a “mega-truth” about ecumenism these days, which is that on some issues, and in some cases, the fault lines that truly matter in Christianity no longer run between denominations but within them. When it comes to the Bible, Wright and the Catholic bishops gathered in Rome are arguably closer to one another than they would be to more liberal members of their own churches inclined to adopt revisionist readings and to challenge the historical veracity of key Biblical claims.

The Synod of Bishops on the Bible runs Oct. 5-26.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Should abortion be the litmus test for political support?

Editors Note: This articles is to be read with the article below, which fulfills this Blogs promise to post both sides of the discussion.

Should abortion be the litmus test for political support?
George Weigel

In an election cycle filled with its share of quirks, oddities, and surprises, the emergence of Roman Catholic pro-lifers as leading supporters of Sen. Barack Obama—himself a favorite of the National Reproductive Rights Action League—must rank as one of the strangest of twists and turns. Whatever its effect on the election, this unexpected development may also portend a new hardening of the battle lines within the Catholic Church, no matter who is inaugurated president in January.

The most visible of the pro-Obama Catholic pro-lifers has been Pepperdine University law professor Douglas Kmiec, formerly dean of the law school at the Catholic University of America and a minor official in the Justice Departments of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Kmiec began the 2008 cycle as co-chairman of Mitt Romney's campaign, but recently told the Chicago Tribune that, as the campaign unfolded, "I kept discovering that Obama was sounding more Catholic than most Catholics I know" on issues like the family wages, health-care costs and the war in Iraq. With Romney out of the race, Kmiec announced his support for Obama on Easter Sunday, arguing that "Senator Obama comes reasonably close" to embodying "an alternative way to be pro-life." Kmiec develops that arresting claim in a new book, "Can a Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Questions About Barack Obama," published in mid-September.

Other pro-Obama Catholic intellectuals include Notre Dame professor M. Cathleen Kaveny, whose Obamapologetics are frequently found on the Commonweal blog, and Duquesne University law professor Nicholas Cafardi, one of the original members of the U.S. bishops' National Review Board to study problems of clerical sexual abuse. In a recent statement, "Senator Obama: A Moral Choice for Catholics," Cafardi summarized the three most frequently deployed arguments of self-declared pro-life Catholics who support Barack Obama for president.

First, according to Cafardi, Catholics have, as a matter of law, "lost the abortion battle ... and I believe that we have lost it permanently." Second, abortion is not the only "intrinsic evil" of the day; the Bush administration has been guilty of committing acts that are "intrinsically evil" in its policies on interrogation of terrorist suspects, in its failures after Hurricane Katrina and in its detention of terrorism suspects at Guantánamo Bay. Third, Senator Obama "supports government action that would reduce the number of abortions," including an "adequate social safety net for poor women who might otherwise have abortions."

The argument, in sum: the constitutional and legal arguments that have raged since Roe vs. Wade are over, and Catholics have lost; there are many other "intrinsic evils" that Catholics are morally bound to oppose, and Republicans tend to ignore those evils; liberalized social-welfare policies will drive down the absolute numbers of abortions and Senator Obama is an unabashed liberal on these matters. Therefore, a vote for Obama is the "real" pro-life vote.

The argument is, some might contend, a bold one. Yet it is also counterintuitive, running up against the fact that, by most measures and despite his rhetoric about reducing the incidence of abortion, Barack Obama has an unalloyed record of support for abortion on demand. Moreover, he seems to understand Roe vs. Wade and subsequent Supreme Court decisions as having defined abortion as a fundamental liberty right essential for women's equality, meaning that government must guarantee access to abortion in law and by financial assistance—a moral judgment and a policy prescription the pro-life Catholic Obama boosters say they reject.

According to his own Web site, Obama supports the federal Freedom of Choice Act [FOCA], which would eliminate all state and federal regulation of abortion (such as informed consent and parental notification in the case of minors seeking an abortion); these regulations have demonstrably reduced the absolute number of abortions in the jurisdictions in which they are in effect. FOCA would also eliminate, by federal statute, state laws providing "conscience clause" protection for pro-life doctors who decline to provide abortions. Obama (along with the Democratic Party platform) supports federal funding for abortion, opposes the Hyde amendment (which restricts the use of taxpayer monies for abortion) and has pledged to repeal the "Mexico City policy" (initiated by Ronald Reagan and reinstated by George W. Bush, which bans federal foreign-aid funding for organizations that perform and promote abortion as a means of family planning). According to the pro-choice Web site, Obama also opposes continued federal funding for crisis pregnancy centers.

Then there is the continuing controversy over Obama's role in the Illinois state legislature when that body was considering an "infants born alive" protection act that would extend full legal protection to infants who survive a late-term abortion. According to the Annenberg Political Fact Check, Obama opposed the 2001 and 2002 Illinois "born alive" bills on the grounds that they were attempts to undermine Roe vs. Wade but said he would have supported an Illinois bill similar to the federal "born alive" legislation signed by President Bush in 2002. Yet, according to Annenberg, "Obama voted in committee against the 2003 state bill that was nearly identical to the federal bill he says he would have supported." However one sorts out the conflicting claims in this often-bitter debate, in which charges of infanticide and lying have been hurled, there can be no doubt that Barack Obama did not make his own the cause of legal protection for infants who survive an abortion.

The "social safety net" component of the pro-life, pro-Obama argument may seem, at first blush, to make sense. Yet it, too, runs up against stubborn facts: for example, Sweden, with a much thicker social safety net than the United States, has precisely the same rate (25 percent) of abortions per pregnancy as America. As for the claim, often repeated by pro-life, pro-Obama Catholics, that more financially generous welfare policies would drive down abortion rates because financial pressure is a predominant cause of abortion, another stubborn fact intrudes: according to a survey conducted by the research arm of Planned Parenthood, the Guttmacher Institute, a mere 23 percent of abortions in the United States are performed primarily because of alleged financial need. There is also what some would consider the insuperable problem of squaring a concern for fostering alternatives to abortion with Senator Obama's opposition to federal funding of crisis pregnancy centers that provide precisely those alternatives. Moreover, the Freedom of Choice Act Obama has pledged to sign forbids publicly supported programs helping pregnant women from "discriminating" against abortion. Thus a federal Pregnant Women Support Act—a key plank in the platform of pro-life congressional Democrats—would, in Orwellian fashion, be legally bound by FOCA to include support for abortion.

As for the claim that the legal argument is over, and lost, that, too, seems belied by the evidence. Roe vs. Wade remains deeply controversial, in the culture and among legal scholars. Since 1989, the Supreme Court has shown a willingness, on occasion, to uphold laws regulating abortion clinics or banning certain forms of abortion. No Clinton-appointed justice contributed to that trend; it seems very unlikely that Obama nominees would extend the trend. In that respect, a pro-life, pro-Catholic Obama vote is not so much a recognition that the legal argument is over but, de facto, a vote to repeal the legal protections for the unborn that have been laboriously crafted in the 35 years since Roe eliminated the abortion law of all 50 states.

Another line of critique against the pro-life, pro-Catholic Obama activists has been mounted by, among others, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who holds a doctorate in political philosophy and currently serves as president of the U.S. bishops' conference. In a September letter to the people of the archdiocese of Chicago, the cardinal laid down what he described as a basic principle of justice: in a just society, innocent human life, especially when incapable of self-defense, deserves the protection of the laws. No one who denies that, the cardinal argued, can claim to be advancing the common good. And, as Roe vs. Wade does indeed deny the protection of the laws to the unborn, no one can, with any moral or logical consistence, claim to support both Roe vs. Wade and the common good. It's one or the other.

Similarly, two New York bishops, William Murphy of Rockville Centre and Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, the present and immediate past chairmen of the U.S. bishops' committee on domestic policy, implicitly challenged the position of Kmiec, Kaveny, Cafardi and others in a Sept. 24 letter to The New York Times. According to a Sept. 18 Times article, the U.S. bishops' statement on the 2008 election, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," had been crafted so as to "explicitly allow Catholics to vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights if they do so for other reasons." That was simply not true, according to DiMarzio and Murphy, who said that "Faithful Citizenship" states that a Catholic can support a pro-abortion candidate "only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences...." Moreover, the bishops concluded, "this standard of 'grave moral reasons' is a very high standard to meet."

The pro-Obama, pro-life Catholics would doubtless reply that that standard has been met in this instance. But that claim still leaves them with a problem. As Cardinal George's letter indicated, the Catholic Church's teaching on the intrinsic evil of abortion involves a first principle of justice that can be known by reason, that's one of the building blocks of a just society, and that ought never be compromised—which is why, for example, Catholic legislators were morally obliged to oppose legal segregation (another practice once upheld by a Supreme Court decision that denied human beings the full protection of the laws). Questions of war and peace, social-welfare policy, environmental policy and economic policy, on the other hand, are matters of prudential judgment on which people who affirm the same principles of Catholic social doctrine can reasonably differ. The pro-life, pro-Obama Catholics are thus putting the full weigh of their moral argument on contingent prudential judgments that, by definition, cannot bear that weight.

One of the most interesting facets of the intra-Catholic furor over Kmiec, Kaveny, Cafardi and other pro-life, pro-Obama Catholics is the way this argument seems to have displaced the struggle between bishops and pro-choice Catholic politicians that was so prominent in 1984 (when the contest was between Geraldine Ferraro and New York's Cardinal John O'Connor) and 2004 (when the candidacy of John Kerry embroiled the entire U.S. bishops conference in a dispute over whether pro-choice Catholic politicians ought to be permitted to receive holy communion). That displacement, however, is likely to be temporary.

In the wake of ill-advised (and nationally televised) ventures into theology by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, several bishops—including Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, Madison Bishop Robert Morlino and Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl—issued statements underscoring the Catholic Church's unswerving moral opposition to abortion from the very beginnings of Christianity; the morality of abortion was not an open question for serious Catholics, as Pelosi in particular had suggested. (After receiving what seems to have been an avalanche of protest over the Speaker's misstatement on "Meet the Press," Pelosi's own archbishop, George Niederauer of San Francisco, announced publicly that he would invite Mrs. Pelosi in for a conversation.) Moreover, in the wake of both the Pelosi and Biden incidents, the chairmen of the bishops' pro-life and doctrine committees, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia and Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., issued sharp statements deploring the misrepresentation of Catholic teaching by the Speaker and the senator.

Many U.S. bishops, in other words, seem exasperated with Catholic politicians who present themselves as ardent Catholics and yet consistently oppose the Church on what the bishops consider the premier civil-rights issue of the day. It seems unlikely that the bishops, having found their voices after discovering the limits of their patience, will back off in an Obama administration—which could raise some interesting questions for, and about, a Vice President Joe Biden, whose fitness to receive holy communion may well be discussed in executive session at the bishops' annual meeting in mid-November.

Biden is not the only Catholic who will be seriously challenged by an Obama administration bent on reversing what its pro-choice allies regard as eight years of defeat; pro-life Catholics will face different, if equally grave, dilemmas. The bishops already find themselves defending the Catholic integrity of Catholic hospitals under pressures from state governments; those pressures, as well as pressures on doctors and other Catholic health-care professionals, will increase in an Obama administration, especially if FOCA succeeds in knocking down state conscience-clause protections for Catholic health-care providers and institutions. And should an Obama administration reintroduce large-scale federal funding of abortion, the bishops will have to confront a grave moral question they have managed to avoid for decades, thanks to the Hyde amendment: does the payment of federal taxes that go to support abortion constitute a form of moral complicity in an "intrinsic evil"? And if so, what should the conscientious Catholic citizen do?

About which, it will be very interesting to hear what professors Kmiec, Kaveny and Cafardi have to say.

George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow Of Washington’s Ethics And Public Policy Center, Is A Newsweek Contributor.

Why the faithful can in good conscience back the Democrat

Editors Note: I have published this article because I found the arguments interesting. NB, this blog does not endorse either candidate or party. I will find and publish the Weigal article in the next day or two in the interests of fairness.

Why the faithful can in good conscience back the Democrat

Nicholas P. Cafardi, M. Cathleen Kaveny and Douglas W. Kmiec

This article is a rebuttal to a previously published essay by George Weigel arguing that Barack Obama ' s views on abortion are fundamentally at odds with Catholic doctrine. To read the original article.

George Weigel and his fellow McCain advisers are growing frustrated at the state of the campaign, and they should be. This election rightly continues to focus on the millions of Americans at risk of losing their jobs and their homes. The issue of abortion, of course, is tied to the nation's economic fortunes. In part, we endorsed Senator Obama because his tax-reduction plan focuses on the betterment of average families and those living at the margins. Center for Disease Control statistics reveal that prosperity directly affects the abortion rate far more significantly than Republican rhetoric pledging to outlaw abortion—a feat John McCain has failed to accomplish with nearly three decades in Congress.

Mr. Weigel predicts that the emergence of serious pro-life Catholics supporting Obama in this election portends "a new hardening of the battle lines. Not on our part. To us, endorsing Barack Obama was not only about who would make the best president, but also about erasing many of these old battle lines, which, frankly, have been drawn on the wrong battlefield and have served no one well—especially women and the unborn, to say nothing of our political discourse.

In the closing weeks of this election, abortion is among the crucial issues for Catholic voters, but promoting a culture of life is necessarily interconnected with a family wage, universal health care and, yes, better parenting and education of our youth. This greater appreciation for the totality of Catholic teaching is at the very heart of the Obama campaign; it is scarcely a McCain footnote.

In a perfect world, the pro-life argumentation of George Weigel is unassailable. He counsels having constitutional law align absolutely with the defense of innocent human life; to which we say, "Amen." The problem for Weigel is that even our collective "Amen" will not make it so. In the meantime, millions of children are being aborted.

Mr. Weigel is an intellectual and for him it's a simple matter of accessing the objective truth of the human person as explicated in Catholic natural law and saying, "Follow me." For 35 years, however, pro-lifers have followed that intellectual siren call, asking the Supreme Court on multiple occasions to reverse Roe v. Wade. We have no objection to pursuing this legal avenue, which does not depend on who occupies the White House—though we have no illusions about it, either. The legal path has not worked to date, and it may never work.

The church asks its faithful to find meaningful—not hypothetical—ways to promote human life. While getting the law and philosophy right might eventually do that, it does bring up the question: What are you doing for the cause of life now? The McCain answer: not much.

Besides being prepared to nominate justices like Samuel Alito and John Roberts, who in keeping with their judicial oath are certainly not on record as having a predetermined view on the reversal of Roe, McCain's planning has all the narrow, in-built affluent bias of the near-identical Bush ideas. In terms of health care, McCain makes no provision for the uninsured and proposes that the insured pay more, in all likelihood dumping people into a private insurance market that is more expensive and less responsive to those with pre-existing conditions.

By contrast, Obama does make provision for universal health care and recognizes abortion for what it is: a tragic moral choice often confronted by a woman in adverse economic and social circumstances (without spouse, without steady income, without employment prospects, and a particularly stigmatic and cumbersome adoption procedure). Obama proposes to reduce the incidence of abortion by helping pregnant women overcome the ill effects of poverty that block a choice of life. A range of new studies–using U.S. rather than Swedish data–affirm this approach.

We're happy to continue to debate abortion, but the well-worn battlefield Mr. Weigel occupies should not distract voters from tangible policies that would actually reduce abortions. Before unwarranted Republican indenture, Catholic thinking gave proportionate consideration to how well a candidate addressed such important matters as a just economy, a living or family wage, access to health care, stewardship of the environment, fair treatment of immigrants and, not to be overlooked, the just or unjust conduct of a war. This is basic Catholic social teaching. It also just happens to be Barack Obama's policy agenda.

Is Obama the perfect pro-life candidate? No. Is he preferable to the self-proclaimed "pro-lifer" McCain? Yes, because promoting life in actuality beats McCain's label and all of Weigel's elegant theorizing and hand-wringing. The Republican alternative familiar to Weigel is simultaneously self-righteous, easy and ineffective. The Democratic path is practical, anything but easy—as no act of bona fide love of neighbor ever is—but inviting of a life-affirming outcome.

Weigel may also wish to stay tied up in knots over the fitness of Catholic politicians to receive holy communion, rather than practically asking how to be of help to a woman facing an unwanted pregnancy. But as we read the American bishops, they have invited Catholic officeholders to promote life as much as is politically possible (never conceding any life as expendable). The notion of using the sacrament as a political tool we find divisive, deeply offensive and contrary to the Gospel.

Weigel may also wish to engage in a theoretical debate about hypothetical public support for the funding of abortion, and whether that results in improper moral complicity with an evil act. That is a worthy seminar topic, but we recommend he start by asking the same question of himself in terms of coerced taxpayer support for an unjust and unjustifiable war in Iraq costing over $10 billion a month and thousands of Iraqi and American lives, which Weigel aided and abetted with his vocal support, contrary to the express prayers of the Holy Father he called "a witness to hope."

There is no more audacious embrace of hope than faith-based action that honors all of life.

from: Newsweek 19/10/08.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Poll: Most Americans Want Abortion Restricted

Over 90% Favor Limits

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut, OCT. 17, 2008 ( A U.S. nationwide poll shows that almost all Americans think abortion should be restricted.

The poll was conducted for the Knights of Columbus by the Marist College Institute of Public Opinion between Sept. 24 and Oct. 3. It aimed to enable comparisons of the views of Catholic voters with those of the general electorate.

The poll asked respondents to state which of six statements came closest to describing their opinion on abortion.

Only 8% of U.S. residents chose the statement saying abortion should be available to a woman any time she wants during her entire pregnancy.

That same percentage said abortion should be allowed only during the first six months of pregnancy. Twenty-four percent moved the abortion limit to the first three months of pregnancy.

The largest percentage -- 32% -- chose the statement saying abortion should be allowed only in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

Fifteen percent chose the fifth option: that abortion should be allowed only to save the life of the mother.

And 13% affirmed that abortion should never be permitted under any circumstance.

The poll also indicated that even among those who describe themselves as pro-choice, 71% favored restricting abortions. Of these, 43% would restrict abortion to the first trimester and 23% would restrict abortion only to cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said the poll results are "indicative of the fact that the term 'pro-choice' -- when applied broadly -- needlessly polarizes the discussion of abortion and masks the fact that there is broad consensus among Americans that abortion should be significantly restricted."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hindu Threat to Christians: Convert or Flee

BOREPANGA, India — The family of Solomon Digal was summoned by neighbors to what serves as a public square in front of the village tea shop.

They were ordered to get on their knees and bow before the portrait of a Hindu preacher. They were told to turn over their Bibles, hymnals and the two brightly colored calendar images of Christ that hung on their wall. Then, Mr. Digal, 45, a Christian since childhood, was forced to watch his Hindu neighbors set the items on fire.

“ ‘Embrace Hinduism, and your house will not be demolished,’ ” Mr. Digal recalled being told on that Wednesday afternoon in September. “ ‘Otherwise, you will be killed, or you will be thrown out of the village.’ ”

India, the world’s most populous democracy and officially a secular nation, is today haunted by a stark assault on one of its fundamental freedoms. Here in eastern Orissa State, riven by six weeks of religious clashes, Christian families like the Digals say they are being forced to abandon their faith in exchange for their safety.

The forced conversions come amid widening attacks on Christians here and in at least five other states across the country, as India prepares for national elections next spring.

The clash of faiths has cut a wide swath of panic and destruction through these once quiet hamlets fed by paddy fields and jackfruit trees. Here in Kandhamal, the district that has seen the greatest violence, more than 30 people have been killed, 3,000 homes burned and over 130 churches destroyed, including the tin-roofed Baptist prayer hall where the Digals worshiped. Today it is a heap of rubble on an empty field, where cows blithely graze.

Across this ghastly terrain lie the singed remains of mud-and-thatch homes. Christian-owned businesses have been systematically attacked. Orange flags (orange is the sacred color of Hinduism) flutter triumphantly above the rooftops of houses and storefronts.

India is no stranger to religious violence between Christians, who make up about 2 percent of the population, and India’s Hindu-majority of 1.1 billion people. But this most recent spasm is the most intense in years.

It was set off, people here say, by the killing on Aug. 23 of a charismatic Hindu preacher known as Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, who for 40 years had rallied the area’s people to choose Hinduism over Christianity.

The police have blamed Maoist guerrillas for the swami’s killing. But Hindu radicals continue to hold Christians responsible.

In recent weeks, they have plastered these villages with gruesome posters of the swami’s hacked corpse. “Who killed him?” the posters ask. “What is the solution?”

Behind the clashes are long-simmering tensions between equally impoverished groups: the Panas and Kandhas. Both original inhabitants of the land, the two groups for ages worshiped the same gods. Over the past several decades, the Panas for the most part became Christian, as Roman Catholic and Baptist missionaries arrived here more than 60 years ago, followed more recently by Pentecostals, who have proselytized more aggressively.

Meanwhile, the Kandhas, in part through the teachings of Swami Laxmanananda, embraced Hinduism. The men tied the sacred Hindu white thread around their torsos; their wives daubed their foreheads with bright red vermilion. Temples sprouted.

Hate has been fed by economic tensions as well, as the government has categorized each group differently and given them different privileges.

The Kandhas accused the Panas of cheating to obtain coveted quotas for government jobs. The Christian Panas, in turn, say their neighbors have become resentful as they have educated themselves and prospered.

Their grievances have erupted in sporadic clashes over the past 15 years, but they have exploded with a fury since the killing of Swami Laxmanananda.

Two nights after his death, a Hindu mob in the village of Nuagaon dragged a Catholic priest and a nun from their residence, tore off much of their clothing and paraded them through the streets.

The nun told the police that she had been raped by four men, a charge the police say was borne out by a medical examination. Yet no one was arrested in the case until five weeks later, after a storm of media coverage. Today, five men are under arrest in connection with inciting the riots. The police say they are trying to find the nun and bring her back here to identify her attackers.

Given a chance to explain the recent violence, Subash Chauhan, the state’s highest-ranking leader of Bajrang Dal, a Hindu radical group, described much of it as “a spontaneous reaction.”

He said in an interview that the nun had not been raped but had had regular consensual sex.

On Sunday evening, as much of Kandhamal remained under curfew, Mr. Chauhan sat in the hall of a Hindu school in the state capital, Bhubaneshwar, beneath a huge portrait of the swami. A state police officer was assigned to protect him round the clock. He cupped a trilling Blackberry in his hand.

Mr. Chauhan denied that his group was responsible for forced conversions and in turn accused Christian missionaries of luring villagers with incentives of schools and social services.

He was asked repeatedly whether Christians in Orissa should be left free to worship the god of their choice. “Why not?” he finally said, but he warned that it was unrealistic to expect the Kandhas to politely let their Pana enemies live among them as followers of Jesus.

“Who am I to give assurance?” he snapped. “Those who have exploited the Kandhas say they want to live together?”

Besides, he said, “they are Hindus by birth.”

Hindu extremists have held ceremonies in the country’s indigenous belt for the past several years intended to purge tribal communities of Christian influence.

It is impossible to know how many have been reconverted here, in the wake of the latest violence, though a three-day journey through the villages of Kandhamal turned up plenty of anecdotal evidence.

A few steps from where the nun had been attacked in Nuagaon, five men, their heads freshly shorn, emerged from a soggy tent in a relief camp for Christians fleeing their homes.

The men had also been summoned to a village meeting in late August, where hundreds of their neighbors stood with machetes in hand and issued a firm order: Get your heads shaved and bow down before our gods, or leave this place.

Trembling with fear, Daud Nayak, 56, submitted to a shaving, a Hindu sign of sacrifice. He drank, as instructed, a tumbler of diluted cow dung, considered to be purifying.

In the eyes of his neighbors, he reckoned, he became a Hindu.

In his heart, he said, he could not bear it.

All five men said they fled the next day with their families. They refuse to return.

In another village, Birachakka, a man named Balkrishna Digal and his son, Saroj, said they had been summoned to a similar meeting and told by Hindu leaders who came from nearby villages that they, too, would have to convert. In their case, the ceremony was deferred because of rumors of Christian-Hindu clashes nearby.

For the time being, the family had placed an orange flag on their mud home. Their Hindu neighbors promised to protect them.

Here in Borepanga, the family of Solomon Digal was not so lucky. Shortly after they recounted their Sept. 10 Hindu conversion story to a reporter in the dark of night, the Digals were again summoned by their neighbors. They were scolded and fined 501 rupees, or about $12, a pinching sum here.

The next morning, calmly clearing his cauliflower field, Lisura Paricha, one of the Hindu men who had summoned the Digals, confirmed that they had been penalized. Their crime, he said, was to talk to outsiders.

from The New York Times October 13, 2008.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Greek Orthodox reach across ancient divide

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 12, 2008 ( A representative of the Orthodox Church who addressed the world Synod of Bishops spoke of the Bishop of Rome as a sign of unity among Christians.

Archimandrite Ignatios Sotiriadis, fraternal delegate from the Orthodox Church of Greece, spoke Saturday to the synod, which is focusing on the Word of God in the life and mission of the Church.

His address brought more applause than any other intervention in the first week of the synod.

"Your Holiness," he said, "our society is tired and sick. It seeks but does not find! It drinks but its thirst is not quenched. Our society demands of us Christians -- Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Anglicans -- a common witness, a unified voice. Here lies our responsibility as pastors of the Churches in the 21st Century."

"Here," the Orthodox pastor continued, "is the primary mission of the First Bishop of Christianity, of him who presides in charity, and, above all, of a Pope who is Magister Theologiae: to be the visible and paternal sign of unity and to lead under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and according to Sacred Tradition, with wisdom, humility and dynamism, together with all the bishops of the world, fellow successors of the apostles, all humanity to Christ the redeemer."

"This is the profound desire of those who have the painful longing in their heart for the undivided Church, 'Una, Sancta, Catholica et Apostolica,'" he concluded. "But it is also the desire of those who, again today, in a world without Christ, fervently, but also with filial trust and faith, repeat the words of the apostles: 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!'"

China denies Bishops trip to Rome: Vatican

VATICAN CITY: China has denied permission for Catholic bishops to travel to Rome for a Church meeting, a Vatican spokesman said on Friday, in a sign of new strains between Beijing's communist government and the Vatican.

Chief Vatican spokesman Rev Federico Lombardi said Beijing, which has had difficult relations with the Vatican over the years, had made it clear in preliminary contacts that travel requests would be denied. Bishops from Macao and Hong Kong, regions with a degree of autonomy from Beijing, will attend the month-long synod, which starts on Sunday.

"(There were) talks with the Chinese authorities to see if other bishops from mainland China could come. It was clear that there would be no agreement and they won't come," Lombardi said. China's communist government does not allow its Catholics to recognise the Pope's authority and forces them to be members of a state-backed Catholic organisation.

China's 8 to 12 million Catholics are split between the officially approved church and an "underground" one loyal to the Pope. The lack of participation by the mainland bishops came as a surprise because there had been signs of an improvement in relations this year. A bishop from Hong Kong represented Pope Benedict at the opening ceremony of the Olympics in August and in May China's national orchestra played for the Pope at an unprecedented concert in the Vatican.

Benedict has made improving relations with China a main goal of his pontificate and hopes diplomatic ties can be restored. China says before restoring ties, broken off two years after the 1949 Communist takeover, the Vatican must sever relations with Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.

3 Oct 2008, 1806 hrs IST,REUTERS

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Some Electoral Guidance from the USCCB

The following is an excerpt of some points on voting given by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.I have gone to some effort of reading the whole document and setting out the sections I thought relevant to Catholics in the upcoming election.

29. The second is the misuse of these necessary moral distinctions as a way of dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity. Racism and other unjust discrimination, the use of the death penalty, resorting to unjust war, the use of torture, war crimes, the failure to respond to those who are suffering from hunger or a lack of health care, or an unjust immigration policy are all serious moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act. These are not optional concerns which can be dismissed. Catholics are urged to seriously consider Church teaching on these issues. Although choices about how best to respond
to these and other compelling threats to human life and dignity are matters for principled debate and decision, this does not make them optional concerns or permit Catholics to dismiss or ignore Church teaching on these important issues. Clearly not every Catholic can be actively involved on each of these concerns, but we need to support one another as our community of faith defends human life and dignity wherever it is threatened. We are not factions, but one family of faith fulfilling the mission of Jesus Christ.

30. The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith made a similar point: It must be noted also that a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals. The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine. A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility towards the common good. (Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life, no. 4)

Making Moral Choices
31. Decisions about political life are complex and require the exercise of a well formed conscience aided by prudence. This exercise of conscience begins with outright opposition to laws and other policies that violate human life or weaken its protection. Those who knowingly, willingly, and directly support public policies or
legislation that undermine fundamental moral principles cooperate with evil.

32. Sometimes morally flawed laws already exist. In this situation, the process of framing legislation to protect life is subject to prudential judgment and “the art of the possible.” At times this process may restore justice only partially or gradually. For example, Pope John Paul II taught that when a government official who fully
opposes abortion cannot succeed in completely overturning a pro-abortion law, he or she may work to improve protection for unborn human life, “limiting the harm done by such a law” and lessening its negative impact as much as possible (Evangelium Vitae, no. 73). Such incremental improvements in the law are acceptable as steps toward the full restoration of justice. However, Catholics must never abandon the moral requirement to seek full protection for all human life from the moment of conception until natural death.

33. Prudential judgment is also needed in applying moral principles to specific
policy choices in areas such as the war in Iraq, housing, health care, immigration, and others. This does not mean that all choices are equally valid, or that our
guidance and that of other Church leaders is just another political opinion or policy preference among many others. Rather, we urge Catholics to listen carefully to the Church’s teachers when we apply Catholic social teaching to specific proposals and situations. The judgments and recommendations that we make as bishops on specific issues do not carry the same moral authority as statements of universal moral teachings. Nevertheless, the Church’s guidance on these matters is an essential resource for Catholics as they determine whether their own moral judgments are consistent with the Gospel and with Catholic teaching.

34. Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well-formed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral goods. A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.

35. There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.

36. When all candidates hold a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.

37. In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching.

38. It is important to be clear that the political choices faced by citizens not only have an impact on general peace and prosperity but also may affect the individual’s salvation. Similarly, the kinds of laws and policies supported by public officials
affect their spiritual well-being. Pope Benedict XVI, in his recent reflection on the Eucharist as “the sacrament of charity,” challenged all of us to adopt what he calls “a Eucharistic form of life.” This means that the redeeming love we encounter in
the Eucharist should shape our thoughts, our words, and our decisions, including those that pertain to the social order. The Holy Father called for “Eucharistic consistency” on the part of every member of the Church: It is important to consider what the Synod Fathers described as eucharistic consistency, a quality which our lives are objectively called to embody. Worship pleasing to God can never be a purely private matter, without consequences for our relationships with others: it demands a public witness to our faith. Evidently, this is true for all the baptized, yet it is especially incumbent upon those who, by virtue of their social or political position, must make decisions regarding fundamental values, such as respect for human life, its defense from conception to natural death, the family built upon marriage between a an and a woman, the freedom to educate one’s children and the promotion of the common good in all its forms. . . . (Sacramentum Caritatis, no. 83)

39. The Holy Father, in a particular way, called on Catholic politicians and legislators to recognize their grave responsibility in society to support laws shaped by these fundamental human values, and urged them to oppose laws and policies that violate life and dignity at any stage from conception to natural death. He affirmed the responsibility of bishops to teach these values consistently to all of their people.

See Full Text:

Anthony Murphy

Christians flee northern Iraq city

Attacks in the Iraqi city of Mosul have forced nearly 1,000 Christians, including 500 families, from their homes in just the past week, the governor of the northern Ninawa province says.

Duraid Mohammed Kashmoula on Saturday said most have taken shelter over the past 24 hours in schools, churches, monasteries and the homes of relatives in the northern and eastern fringes of Ninawa.

The flight came as Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako said Iraq's Christians were facing a campaign of "liquidation" and called on the US military to do more to protect them.

A wave of attacks religiously targeted killings have left at least 11 Christians dead since September 28.
Major displacement

In a telephone interview with The Associated Press news agency, Kashmoula described the last seven days as a period of "major displacement".

He said provincial security officials were meeting with Christian leaders to protect the community "from the terrorists, the killers".

The violence in Mosul is occurring despite US-Iraqi operations launched over the summer aimed at routing al-Qaeda in Iraq and other fighters from remaining strongholds north of the capital.

A convoy carrying an official from Iraq's largest Sunni political party was targeted on Saturday while travelling through Mosul, but no one was hurt, police said.

Mosul killings

A civilian and an armed man were killed in random gunfire in a Mosul market, a policeman said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to media.

Iraqi police in the city located 360km northwest of Baghdad have reported finding the bullet-riddled bodies of seven Christians in separate attacks so far this month, the latest a day labourer found on Wednesday.

The Christian community has been estimated at three per cent of Iraq's 26 million people, or about 800,000 Christians, and has a significant presence in the northern Ninawa.

from Al Jazeera

Friday, October 10, 2008

Doctors flag legal action over abortion bill

An unborn Baby at 18 weeks.
A group of doctors is considering challenging the decriminalisation of abortion in Victoria.
The State's Upper House took a final vote on the contentious bill last night, and passed it 23 votes to 17.

Abortion will now be removed from the Crimes Act and a woman can freely choose to terminate a pregnancy up to 24 weeks gestation. Late term abortions will require the consent of two doctors.

The Doctors in Conscience Against Abortion Bill coalition fears some could be forced to move interstate or leave the profession altogether, because of their opposition to the reforms.

Spokesperson Eamonn Mathieson says the doctors are waiting for the Government to draw up guidelines before they decide their next step.

"We're awaiting legal advice and discussions to see where it goes from here," he said.

"We believe that it has clearly breached both the charter and international human rights treaties. This is certainly challengeable in courts, both nationally and internationally."

from ABC Online Australia

Electoral Food for thought

Thursday, October 9, 2008

India celebrates new Saint

Indian Catholics celebrate first woman saint

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A young Roman Catholic nun who once disfigured herself to avoid marriage will become India’s first woman saint on Sunday when she is canonised by Pope Benedict XVI. A large number of Indian clergy and pilgrims are expected to attend the special mass at the Vatican for Sister Alphonsa Muttathupadathu, who died in 1946 at the age of 36.

She is only the second Indian to be elevated to sainthood after the 16th century martyr, Gonsalo Garcia, who was canonised in 1862. Albanian-born Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who died in 1997, was beatified in 2003 – the first step to sainthood. Sister Alphonsa’s pending canonisation has caused great excitement among Catholics in India and comes at a time when the Christian community here has been feeling under considerable threat.

Hardline Hindu groups have long accused missionaries of bribing poor tribes people and low-caste Hindus to convert to Christianity by offering free education and health care. “In these times, the canonisation is an encouraging moment for those suffering in the name of Jesus,” said Father Alphonse Arokiam, who heads one of the churches dedicated to the popular saint-elect. Christians account for 2.3 percent of India’s billion-plus Hindu majority population.

Such is the importance attached to Sunday’s ceremony that the Communist government in Sister Alphonsa’s home state of Kerala in southern India has despatched a cabinet minister to the Vatican. Thousands are expected to crowd the site of her tomb in the small Kerelan town of Bharananganam on Sunday for their own celebrations.

Born in 1910, Sister Alphonsa was so determined to enter a convent that she deliberately stepped into a burning fire to disfigure her feet so that her aunt would stop pressuring her to marry. “She was not famous, she led an uneventful life. But she was able to see God’s hand in her suffering and receive it with joy,” said Arokiam.

The main miracle attributed to her intercession and approved by the Vatican involved the reported cure in 1999 of a one-year-old boy, Jinil Joseph, who was born with a birth defect affecting his lower limbs. afp

from The Daily Times (Pakistan)

Cardinal Pell weighs in to Abortion Debate

THE Catholic Church has warned that Victoria's contentious abortion legislation could create a dangerous precedent for the rest of the country.

Cardinal George Pell released a stattement yesterday showing his solidarity with the MPs who were "currently confronted by the significant difficulties associated with the Victorian Abortion Law Reform Bill".

Cardinal Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, shared the concerns being expressed in the Victorian upper house that the Bill had the potential to create a "dangerous precedent" for legislators across Australia.

"Every human being has the inherent right to life. There is no right to the destruction of innocent persons and that our community should be offering vulnerable pregnant women much more than simply an increasing number of ever more accessible ways in which their unborn children can be killed," he said.

The Bill seeks to decriminalise abortion up to 24 weeks, after which a termination can proceed with the permission of two doctors.

Cardinal Pell also expressed concern about the conscientious objection clause in the Bill, which says doctors who have an objection to abortion must refer a patient to another practitioner who does not have that objection.

He said every person had the rights of freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief and if the Bill was enacted, human rights may be broken.

The Anglican Church also stepped into the debate.

In a speech last night at Melbourne's St Paul's Cathedral, Archbishop Philip Freier expressed concern about the conscientious objection provision and about the state of childhood in Australia.

As the lengthy debate in the upper house continued last night, Democratic Labor Party MP Peter Kavanagh, who had spoken for just under three hours when the upper house rose for a dinner break, received applause and congratulations from people in the public gallery.

Abortion "kills lives", he said, and the Bill would breach people's human rights.

from The Australian Online.

More on anti-Catholic violence in India

Bhubaneswar, October 9: : The catholic nun, who was allegedly raped in Orissa's Kandhamal district, has been under "treatment" at a hospital outside Delhi and is reluctant to surface as she "does not have faith" in the police probing the case, a senior Catholic church leader claimed.

The state government as well as police remained in the dark on the whereabouts of the 29-year-old nun, who had lodged an FIR at Baliguda police station in Kandhamal on August 26.

"I do not know where the nun is. But I can say, she is not in Delhi," Bhubaneswar-Cuttack Archbishop Raphael Cheenath told PTI over phone from Delhi.

Earlier there were reports that the nun was in the national capital.

Refusing to give details of the nun's condition who had undergone "terrible experience" of her life during the Orissa 'Bandh' on August 25, two days after killing of VHP leader Laxamananda Saraswati and four others, the Archbishop said the victim was yet to recover from the trauma.

Archbishop Raphael also said he did not have any contact with the nun though he was informed that she was under treatment.

As B Radhika, an IGP rank officer returned empty handed after camping at Delhi for three days to trace the nun, the state government was meanwhile, planning to send teams to Kerala and Bangalore.

The state government's appeal to the nun to cooperate in the investigation, seemed to have little impact.

"She lacks confidence in Orissa Police as she feels it did not come to her rescue when miscreants dragged her by hair on the road," said a senior catholic church leader adding the nun may not at all respond to Orissa government's appeal.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Rabbi Cohen Addresses Catholic Synod

Catholic Synod Features Jewish Rabbi, Scripture Readings
By John P. Connolly, The Bulletin

For the first time in history, a Jewish rabbi addressed a synod, a gathering of Roman Catholic bishops.

The synod, which is being held in Rome, was called to discuss Scripture and its importance to Catholicism. Shear-Yashuv Cohen, a chief rabbi in the Israeli city of Haifa, became the first Jew to address a synod, speaking of the relevance of the Bible for Judaism. Rabbi Cohen was selected to address the synod by Pope Benedict XVI.

"I deeply feel that standing here before you is very meaningful," Rabbi Cohen told the 253 bishops at the synod. "It brings with it a signal of hope and a message of love, co-existence and peace for our generation, and for generations to come."

In his speech, Rabbi Cohen denounced "the terrible and vicious words" spoken by "the president of a certain state in the Middle East" at the U.N. General Assembly last month. He was most likely referring to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has been outspoken in his opposition to the state of Israel.

Rabbi Cohen spoke of the "long, hard and painful history" of Jewish-Catholic relations, calling it "a history of blood and tears."

Rabbi Cohen's address was only one feature of a synod that will last most of October. Various efforts to increase appreciation of the Bible are being discussed, and a few are being tried. This week, a marathon-style reading of the Bible began with Pope Benedict XVI reading the book of Genesis. Various other Church leaders and Italian politicians will take part in the weeklong scripture reading, reciting portions of the Bible live on Italian television. Catholics, Protestants and Jews will all take part in the reading.

John P. Connolly can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

Massacre Imminent in India?

Hindu zealots wage war on Catholic India


RITE AND REASON: The killing of Christians and destruction of churches has intensified in India's Orissa state over recent weeks yet the world remains silent

HINDUISM, ONE of the most ancient of world religions, is also one of the most tolerant. In that spirit, Gandhi - inspired by the Irish achievement of independence but rejecting the violence used to win it - brought the independent nation of India into existence by peaceful, non-violent means.

The violence that is now breaking out throughout India would seem to be in clear contradiction to that spirit of tolerance.

The paradox is that such violence is now justified by those extremists who claim to be Hindu nationalists - nationalism itself being a foreign notion to a subcontinent that for most of its history only knew of more or less autonomous princely states.

They are otherwise described as Hindu fundamentalists - again a contradiction, considering the profundity and sophistication of Hindu philosophy and mysticism.

Unfortunately, these extremists have found political expression in such parties as Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal, without mentioning the BJP (Baharatiya Janatha Party), which formed the previous government of India.

They are collectively known as Sangh Parivar. Their aim is to establish a Hindu nation of India. To achieve their aim, they must get rid of all minorities, including Christians, if necessary by forced conversion to Hinduism.

While attacks on Christians have taken place in various parts of India over the past 10 years, Orissa state on the east coast of India (almost twice the size of Ireland), has, in the last few weeks, been the scene of what appears to be a concerted plan to rid the entire state of Christians, mostly Catholic.

This, at least, is what Raphael Cheeneth SVD, Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, the capital of Orissa, claims in a recent letter to his fellow Divine Word Missionaries. He is a man not given to exaggeration - and his facts are confirmed by the Times of India.

The recent attacks began on the night of August 23rd, 2008, with the murder of Swami Laxmananananda Saraswati, leader of VHP. According to the Times of India , police suspect Maoist rebels killed Saraswati but "some Hindu groups" blamed Christians for the murder and went on the rampage.

According to the archbishop, the murder provided Sangh Parivar with an excuse to achieve their aim of cleansing Orissa of all Christians. Already in December 2007, Christians there were subject to violent attacks. No one was punished, and no compensation was made, giving the perpetrators the impression that they could attack with impunity.

Archbishop Cheenath states: "The frightening memories of attacks in December 2007 are still on the minds of priests, religious women and people. So, when even the rumours of attacks were in the air, they hid themselves in the neighbouring forests or managed to get shelter in a helpful (Hindu) family . . . The director of our Pastoral Centre at Konjamonde and a sister working with him had taken shelter in a family; but they were pulled out . . ., beaten up and paraded in front of 10 policemen . . ."

Within four days, 101 churches, five convents, five presbyteries, seven hostels, two dispensaries, 126 shops and 58 vehicles of various kinds were destroyed. The primary focus of the attacks was directed against priests, religious and lay leaders.

From August 24th to 31st some 27 people were killed (including one or two Hindus), six priests were hospitalised with serious injuries (one is semi-conscious), one woman was burned to death, two priests were kidnapped, 4,300 houses were demolished in 160 villages.

"The Central Government," writes Archbishop Cheenath, "has sent the Rapid Action Force and two helicopters . . . The force has come. Despite their presence, the destruction is taking place in remote villages and thick forests." The difficulties faced by the police, when they happen to intervene to protect Christians, were dramatically illustrated on Monday of last week (September 15th) when, according to the Times of India , fresh violence broke out in Orissa's troubled Kandhamal district; a policeman was killed as an armed mob of about 500 torched a police station and set fire to several vehicles.

In the meantime, violence against Christians has increased in other parts of India, such as Mangalore, when, also on September 15th last, 15 churches were destroyed. What is deafening is the silence of the rest of the world in the face of such atrocities.

• Rev Fr Vincent Twomey, SVD, is Professor Emeritus of Moral Theology, at St Patrick's College, Maynooth

© 2008 The Irish Times