Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Lent calendar prayer and reflection for 22 March

Do not forget the things your eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your heart all the days of your life; rather, tell them to your children and to your children’s children.

Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9
Today’s readings refer to the establishment of the basic principles of how God wishes us to live well and wisely. Moses leads the people of Israel to the promised land, and then in the Gospel, Jesus affirms the commandments (Matthew 5:17-19).

We often consider the ten commandments as a guide to how we should live as individuals, but Moses and Jesus were setting the foundations for whole communities, so they also speak of how as societies we should interact.

Indigenous peoples in Laudato Si'

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis refers to the plight of indigenous peoples around the world whose homelands are being damaged by developments in global industry and agriculture, and by extension by our consumer choices.  As their lands are affected, so are they.  “For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values” (#146).

Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, a Yanomami indigenous leader in Brazil and CAFOD partner, reflects on the impact of illegal mining on his people in the Amazon over many years. He says, “40,000 illegal miners entered Yanomami land in the 1980s. The illegal miners destroyed the water streams, the river. They brought in diseases. They left [mercury] in Yanomami land. And you cannot get rid of the diseases. After, we managed to have the Yanomami land officially recognised [in 1992]. But illegal miners continue to invade the land that has been recognised as ours.”

Pray

Spirit of God, inspire us to speak from our hearts and proclaim your goodness to the ends of the earth. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

March - Prayer to St Joseph


O St. Joseph whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the Throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires.

O St. Joseph do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your Heavenly power I may offer my Thanksgiving and Homage to the most Loving of Fathers.

O St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart.

Press him in my name and kiss His fine Head for me, and ask Him to return the Kiss when I draw my dying breath.

St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls, pray for us.

IRL : Bishop Casey, Annie Murphy... and TV moment that changed Ireland forever

http://cdn-02.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/life/features/article35542222.ece/daf7b/AUTOCROP/h342/2017-03-18_lif_29534792_I2.JPGAnnie Murphy was tough, unrepentant and fought her corner... Damian Corless reflects on the woman who had a son, Peter with Bishop Eamonn Casey, who died this past week, and who gave the Republic a massive shock to the system from which it never recovered. 

There's one soundbite that invariably gets trotted out whenever the Bishop Eamonn Casey affair resurfaces. 

It's from an infamous episode of RTE's Late Late Show of April 1993 when Casey's former lover Annie Murphy was subjected to a relentless Spanish Inquisition by the studio audience and the host, Gay Byrne.

Attempting to close a harsh interrogation on a fluffy note, Gaybo put it to his wearied guest: "If your son is half as good a man as is his father, he won't be doing too bad."

"I'm not so bad either, Mr Byrne," she countered with an icy glare, before walking off the set.

That's the bit everyone remembers, but minutes earlier there was another exchange which revealed even more about where Catholic Ireland's head was at as the secular world threatened to swallow it up.

As her Late Late ordeal ground on, Murphy had been accused of spinning a web of mistruths by friends and supporters of the popular Bishop Casey, a fun-loving Flash Harry who was the living embodiment of a people person.

The long-estranged mother of his adult son Peter came across as anything but a people person, and towards the end of a mostly hostile cross-examination by Gay and the audience, she had become understandably surly. 

When a contributor stated that Murphy's account of one liaison was contradicted by diocesan records, she pointed out that the written records could easily be "doctored". 

The very suggestion drew gasps of indignation.

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Some of the more outlandish criticisms reflected a desperate grasping at straws. 

One contributor remarked: "You did wash your hair a lot." 

 Another had gone to the trouble of checking Met Eireann's records to establish that there had not been a full moon on a particular night some 20 years earlier, when Murphy's new tell-all book said there had been. 

Fighting her corner, Murphy reminded her inquisitors that "every man has a dark side". 

She told them: "Don't forget, Eamonn harangued me and bothered me" to give up her child for adoption.

Letting his duty to play Devil's Advocate get the better of his obligations as moderator, Gay responded: "He would say he was doing that, Murphy, because he didn't have faith in your capacity to look after the child. That's what he would say."

"And so I should never have another child?" she replied evenly.

"I'm only telling you what he would say."

"And how do you know that?"

"I just know that."

Momentarily wrong-footed, Gay then asked the defining question of the entire shooting gallery.

"Is he Eamonn's child?"

It was an incredible thing to even think of asking, given that almost a year earlier, after the scandal first broke in May 1992, Casey had admitted that Peter was his son, together with the fact that he'd siphoned off some $100,000 of church funds to pay for Peter's upkeep and education.

The truth was that Gaybo - following his famed intuition for tapping into the mood of his audience - was reflecting a conservative Catholic Middle Ireland in crisis and in deep denial.

The early 1990s were an in-between time. 

We all know how that decade turned into arguably the most magical, progressive and fun-filled period in all of Irish history. 

But a quarter-century ago, the Celtic Tiger was just one possible (and highly unlikely) future that had yet to be written.

The signs were there, however. 

From the outside, it really did look as if the Republic of Ireland was finally taking its place amongst the mature and modern nations of the earth. 

U2 was its pride and joy, straddling the globe as the biggest band in the world.

 That roving carnival known as Jack's Army were the toast of Europe, making new friends everywhere as the best goodwill ambassadors money couldn't buy. 

All across the Republic, urban district councillors were falling over themselves to propose the freedom of their cities, towns and hamlets for Bono, Jack Charlton, Roddy Doyle or the with-it President Mary Robinson.

But that was only half the picture. 

Buoyed by resounding victories in the abortion and divorce referenda of the previous decade, Catholic Ireland was beginning to feel that while it had won two notable battles, it was in danger of losing the war of attrition with the forces of liberalism. 

Through a matter of timing, and her determination to stand up for herself, Annie Murphy found herself cast as the bete noire of Catholic Middle Ireland.

Weeks before the Casey scandal exploded, traditionalists were knocked back by the X Case, when the Supreme Court rolled back part of the absolute ban on abortion which had seemed locked down by the referendum of 1983. 

The court ruled that an underage rape victim could travel to England to have an abortion, overturning a High Court ruling that the girl must be detained in Ireland until the birth of her child. 

For many conservatives, this was the thin edge of the wedge, and the ruling brought rival groups on to the streets.

Vowing to turn back the liberal tide, a new hardline group styling themselves Youth Defence made name-calling and scuffling a regular feature of Saturday afternoons in Dublin's city centre in the year between Murphy's shock revelation and her Late Late appearance. 

Despite the vigorous and often shrill protests of Youth Defence, the Society For The Protection Of Unborn Children (SPUC) and the short-lived Christian Principles Party, new acts decriminalising homosexuality and liberalising condom sales would pass into law during Murphy's time in the spotlight.

The little victories for the traditionalists became ever smaller. 

There was some satisfaction when, after In Dublin magazine ran a feature on the pubs and nightclubs with condom vending machines, every single machine was ripped out in garda raids, but with the new law soon in place, the machines multiplied tenfold.

It wasn't just in Ireland that Murphy became a hate figure. A torrid reception on The Phil Donahue Show sparked a campaign of vilification across Catholic Irish-America. 

There, as here, she kicked down the façade of a spotless Church. She was by her own admission a crazy mixed-up fortysomething driven by anger, but she had a strong sense of what she was doing. 

She even admitted later that she'd hoped her tell-all book would have sold much better than it did. 

She was also acting, at least partly, under the influence of a second strong-minded lover, Arthur Pennell, who pushed her to chase Casey for money and to write her story.

Whatever the outside influences, it's clear from her conduct at the time and her later reflections, that Murphy did what she did to be truthful to herself. 

Just months after the American drove a stake into the heart of Church immunity, Sinead O'Connor racked things up several notches by ripping up a photo of the Pope on US TV and laying grave allegations of clerical child abuse cover-ups. 

It's a sign of those times that Rolling Stone rounded on the singer for "insulting the beliefs of her audience", while an interviewer from Time dismissed her allegations of clerical abuse and moved swiftly on to the next topic.

Despised by some, admired by others, Murphy delivered a shock to the system from which it would never recover.

IRL : Casey's real legacy is a society freed from dogma

Image result for Bishop CaseyEvery avalanche starts with a single stone. 

So it was with the Catholic Church in Ireland and Eamonn Casey was that stone.

Though his transgression - fathering a child and covering up the birth - was minor in the context of the many subsequent, horrifying, scandals that have rocked the church, it was no less significant in its impact.

The revelation that Casey - at the time the best known and most popular cleric in Ireland - had a child shook Catholic Ireland to its very core.

Younger readers - brought up in a world where Father Ted is a comedy staple - may find it hard to comprehend the impact the scandal had on Irish society.

While it is only 25 years ago, Ireland in 1992 was a very different place. 

Divorce wouldn't be legalised for another three years, homosexuality was still a criminal offence and there were still strict restrictions on contraception. 

This was all largely due to the omnipresent and overbearing influence of the church who still maintained their centuries old stranglehold over Irish society.

All that changed with the Casey revelations. 

The hypocrisy of the church was exposed in the full glare of the media and no longer could the clergy force themselves on the people as guardians of all that was right and proper. 

For the first time the people and the press began to openly question the church, its inner workings and the policies it espoused that had helped keep Irish society in the dark ages compared to the rest of the western world.

The Casey scandal - which seems utterly inconsequential in the context of clerical child rape and dead babies in slurry pits - transformed how we think about the church in Ireland.

For that, perhaps, we owe Bishop Casey a debt of gratitude. 

It may not be the legacy he would have desired but it is a legacy that helped change Irish society for the better.

IRL : Diarmaid Ferriter: Bishop Casey – activist and sexist hypocrite

Bishop Eamonn Casey at the papal youth Mass in Galway in 1979. Photograph: Peter ThursfieldAlong with his mitre, Bishop Eamonn Casey wore many other hats during his career. 

He was said to have been perturbed when appointed a young bishop of Kerry in 1969, probably worried about how he would combine what was expected of a prince of the Catholic Church with his favoured style of the broth of a boy. 

He found a way to manage that, toeing the line when needed – “One cannot pick and choose when it comes to the church’s teaching,” he insisted – but also becoming a political thorn in many sides by consistently giving meaning to one of his favourite contentions: “One powerful single voice is more important and effective than a number of voices, each of which is in competition with the other for both the public purse and public attention.” 

Much good came of that voice. In 1971, he masterminded a national collection in support of Irish welfare centres in Britain that raised £280,000 in a single day. 

This type of fundraising was convenient for governments that were reluctant to take any responsibility for the Irish abroad, it being noted in 1975 by the minister for foreign affairs that emigrant welfare work was “mainly a Catholic Church effort”. 

It was thus decided State funding was not justified and, in response, Casey excoriated the government.

Social justice

When not championing emigrant welfare he was vocal about poverty, suggesting in 1971 that “even a respectable church” had to speak out on social justice. 

As chairman of Trocáire from 1973, he was again a frequent critic of governments. He insisted in 1977 that the government “was not genuinely committed to aiding the development of the third world” and that official aid was “paltry”.

In 1978, Alex Tarbett, the executive director of Concern, wrote a private letter to taoiseach Jack Lynch expressing concern at Casey’s “rather intemperate attack on your government... I presume that you do know that Bishop Casey’s political feelings would not be disposed towards Fianna Fáil. ” 

In 1979, Casey denounced the government’s “meagre” response to the Indo-Chinese crisis and its slowness to act, calling on it to accept more refugees.

Such was his profile and ego that he was often lampooned. 

Hibernia magazine reported in 1974 that “since being made Bishop of Kerry, Casey has built up a reputation for fast cars and frequent absences from his diocese; a child in catechism class once said that the difference between God and Bishop Casey is that while God is everywhere, Bishop Casey is everywhere except in Kerry”.

By that stage, of course, he had other things on his mind; he had met Annie Murphy the previous year. In the 1993 book Forbidden Fruit, Murphy recalled their lovemaking: “There stood the bishop, my love, without clerical collar or crucifix or ring, without covering of any kind. The great showman had unwrapped himself . . . He stood before me, his only uniform the common flesh of humanity . . . I witnessed a great hunger. This was an Irish famine of the flesh.” 

More importantly, he subsequently fathered a son, Peter, with Murphy and tried unsuccessfully to pressure her into giving him up for adoption: “He is not my son. He’s entirely yours now,” he told her. 

Murphy was forced to spend time at the St Patrick’s mother-and-baby home in Dublin. 

Murphy remembered “there were smirking pictures of Mary who had got a child without you-know-what and life-sized bleeding statues of the Sacred Heart . . . One heavily pregnant girl was on her knees shining the already shiny corridor tiles . . . Eamonn began again with his demand that I give Peter up.”

Compartmentalised

Casey had a remarkable ability to compartmentalise, and alongside his noble and productive social agitation, his sexism and profound hypocrisy persisted. 

In 1975 he was vocal about the importance of Cherish, the organisation established to support unmarried mothers whose chairperson, Maura O’Dea, estimated there was a 60 per cent rejection rate by the families of Irish women who were pregnant outside of marriage. 

Casey became a patron of Cherish, and had this to say about the problem of rejected unmarried mothers in his address to the organisation’s 1975 conference: “If the parents could only be got to act in a sympathetic and responsible manner, the hurt to many an unmarried mother and her child could be greatly lessened. The bitterness resulting from rejection has caused permanent damage to many a girl. 

“It is difficult to understand how the total rejection of their child . . . could be reconciled with Christian love and forgiveness . . . Instead of discriminating negatively against such an innocent person ought we not to consider the real handicap in the child’s life where the natural father is not there to fulfil his vital role in his child’s development in every level? Ought we not immediately agree that a child with such a disadvantage to be the ideal subject of positive discrimination? Ought it not be cherished more than the others?”

That was the busy Bishop Casey of the 1970s. 

You couldn’t make him up.

IRL : Why fifteen centuries after St Patrick first walked the earth, Christianity is still worth believing in (Opinion)

Image result for CHRISTIAN IRELANDBishop Eamonn Casey has received mostly positive coverage since his death earlier this week.

Part of the reason is the undoubted good work he did during most of his years in active ministry. 

But I think another reason is that his scandal pales when compared with what was to come. 

His scandal involved a consenting adult. 

The scandal was that he broke his vows and used diocesan funds to help his son.

I wonder what would happen if a similar scandal came to light today? 

It is the view of Pope Francis that if a priest fathers a child, he ought to leave his ministry and help raise his child. 

Would he have done that?

The scandals that later came to light were vastly worse than the one involving Bishop Eamonn Casey. 

They were crimes. 

Bishop Casey's hypocrisy didn't compare with the horror of sexually abusing a child.

There is no question, however, that the Bishop Casey scandal put a large crack in the previously pristine image many faithful Catholics had of priests.

The child abuse scandals shattered that image completely for lots of them. 

They entirely and completely toppled the priests, the religious, and the Church as a whole, from their pedestal. 

Now, we have the outcry over the Tuam Mother and Babies Home.

Earlier this week, I gave a talk at Curraheen parish in Cork. 

I spoke about why those of us who are still practising Catholics hang on despite everything.

I said that when people believe in something in itself, they will hang in there despite the scandals that might engulf it.

No one who likes football stops playing it, or supporting it, because of betting scandals, drug scandals, or sex scandals, including the recent revelations of the sex abuse of minors by football coaches in England. 

Instead, they seek to reform the running of football and make it better.

Naturally, you expect a higher standard of religion. 

But if religion means more than football, and obviously it does to its own adherents, that is all the more reason to hang on in there and seek reforms.

A better comparison might be with the UN. 

For its strongest supporters, the UN represents the dream of eventual peace and unity in the world, the universal reach of human rights law. 

The UN is every bit as universalist in its ambitions as Christianity.

But it has been beset by every possible scandal, including the sexual abuse of children by so-called 'peacekeepers'.

Do those people who believe in what the UN stands for walk away from it because of its many (and under-publicised) scandals? 

They don't. 

The best of them seek to reform it and make it better. The worst of them cover up the scandals, just like in the Church.

So, is there anything in the Church worth hanging in there for? 

Yes. And it can be summed up in two words: Jesus Christ.

In the final analysis, Christianity is only worthless if Jesus is worthless. And almost no one believes that.

The Church runs into trouble when it departs from his teachings and example. For example, why did it take to throwing stones at unmarried mothers with such gusto when Jesus said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone"?

In a way, the very word 'Church' has become a problem. When people hear that word, they think of the institution, of the bishops and the priests and religious. Jesus is not the first thing that comes into their minds.

When people think of the institution first when they think of the Church, that is a major issue.

In the final analysis, what is the Church? It's not the institution. It is the community of the followers of Jesus. There are many such communities. That's why there are so many different churches, ranging from the Catholic Church to the Presbyterian Church and everything in between.

But they have something very important in common - whether they do it well, badly, or indifferently, they are all trying to follow Jesus.

To put it another way, Christians are hanging on in there because they can see the bigger picture.

They know what Christianity is supposed to be about - and it's not about the institution first and foremost, it's about a person, and that person is Jesus, who is admired even by many people who don't have a religious bone in their body.

Christianity has often taken a very authoritarian turn and succumbed to the punitive morality of the Pharisees, which Jesus forthrightly and repeatedly condemned.

It's not the only idea that has sometimes been hideously twisted out of shape. Think of socialism, for example.

At the same time, Christianity has inspired many people to live lives of great and heroic service to others, usually quietly and without notice.

This why, 15 centuries after St Patrick brought the faith to the whole of Ireland, it is still worth hanging on to.

It is why those of us who still remain Christian keep going - despite the scandals.

IRL : Pat Flanagan: Bonking Bishop scandal exposed the hypocrisy of Church which hated women

Bishop Casey’s sexual escapades “profoundly upset the Church”, his funeral Mass was told on Thursday.

It’s just a pity the organisation to which he belonged was less upset by decades of clerical sex abuse and the horrors of the mother and baby homes and Magdalene Laundries.

Rampant sex abuse had been covered up since the foundation of the State but a bonking bishop who fathered a son was a step too far for the Church.

Whereas the paedophile priests could be moved on to another parish Eamon Casey had to be sent to the ends of the earth and he ended up in darkest Ecuador via the US and Mexico.

What would the unfortunates in the mother and baby home up the road in Tuam have made of the news that a Prince of the Church no less had got a young woman pregnant in the Bishop’s palace.

It should also be remembered that when Eamon Casey was having sex with Annie Murphy some of the mother and baby homes were still in existence and young women were being sent there for the same “crimes” committed by an Irish bishop.

Sure enough his sexual adventures are insignificant compared to the child abuse horrors that were to come but they exposed the glaring hypocrisy of the Irish Church and State.
If a young man stole money from his employer to cover the costs incurred by his pregnant girlfriend he would end up in Mountjoy.

When Bishop Casey plundered Church funds to pay off Annie Murphy this larceny was overlooked and the cash was paid back by anonymous donors.

Be it crooked bankers or randy bishops, there’s a light-touch law for the rich and powerful in this country.

The sight of Eamon Casey, who had one son, and Fr Michael Cleary, who had two, on the podium with Pope John Paul II in Galway in 1979 for many people summed up the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church.

It’s not that these men were bad people, it’s just they were telling other people they would go to hell if they had sex and had children outside marriage.

It was such a sin that the produce of these shameful pairings were not seen as legitimate children and so didn’t deserve a burial that might be afforded a beloved family pet.

No, for these little ones conceived in sin it was the old septic tank in Tuam or an anonymous grave in unconsecrated ground.

Bishop Casey’s lover Annie Murphy also found out fairly quickly that Ireland was, and to a certain extent still is, a dreadful place for women who have children outside marriage. 

That latent resentment was on show when she got a frosty reception from Gay Byrne when she appeared on The Late Late Show.

The faithful refused to believe they had a bonking bishop and if it was true it must have been an American divorcee who led him astray. Don’t they always?

At his funeral on Thursday, the Bishop of Achonry Brendan Kelly told mourners Bishop Casey “did much good” during his life and ministry and he’s not wrong there.
Bishop Kelly spoke of Bishop Casey’s courage in looking after dozens of stricken people when up to 50 were massacred at the funeral of his murdered friend Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador in 1980.

There is little doubt Bishop Casey was a good man, who like most other blokes liked women, cars and a few drinks.

But he was the leader of an organisation that controlled peoples’ lives and made life miserable for women who found themselves in the same position as Annie Murphy.

Bishop Casey wanted the best of both worlds but when it came to the crunch he chose the Church that sent him into exile instead of standing by his son and his mother.
While it was totally unintentional, the scandal he created marked the beginning of the end for the Catholic Church’s grip on Ireland.

On the lighter side there would be no Bishop Brennan without Bishop Casey or money resting in Father Ted’s account.

AUS : Eradicating slavery a "papal priority"

John McCarthy with the PopeEradicating slavery is a priority for Pope Francis, former Australian ambassador to the Holy See John McCarthy told Catholic Outlook.

The embassy, which was headed by Mr McCarthy from 2012-2016, represents the Australian government in vital areas such as human rights – including slavery and human trafficking – religious freedom, cultural exchanges and bilateral relations.

An important moment for Australia and for the worldwide campaign against slavery and human trafficking came about in December 2014, when Pope Francis and global leaders of other major religions met in Rome and signed the historic Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders Against Modern Slavery.

Those who joined the Pope and signed the declaration included other important leaders representing the Anglican and Orthodox communions, Shia and Sunni Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism.

Mr McCarthy assisted Australian mining magnate Andrew Forrest, and his Walk Free Foundation, which has become a major anti-slavery organisation based in Australia and a principal partner with the Vatican in sponsoring the Rome meeting.

In 2016, then Ambassador McCarthy was centrally involved with submissions to the Holy See which led to the announcement by Cardinal Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, that the Holy See would slavery proof its supply lines.

“Other good news is that many of the world’s largest food providers have also committed to slavery proofing their supply chains,” Mr McCarthy said.

"Conferences and programs for the eradication of modern slavery and human trafficking were central parts of my work as Ambassador to the Holy See.

“The eradication of slavery has been a constant demand by Pope Francis since the start of his pontificate. He has made this a priority international objective.

“There is widespread recognition of the central role of Pope Francis in having this crucial objective embedded in the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015,” Mr McCarthy said.

Since his return to Australia, Mr McCarthy has continued working to eradicate slavery and human trafficking.

AUS : Scrap Anti-Discrimination Act amendments: Archbishop Porteous

Archbishop Julian Porteous"Difficulties" may arise if proposed amendments to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 are passed, writes Hobart Archbishop Julian Porteous in The Mercury.

The Legislative Council will soon consider the issue of whether to endorse the amendments to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998, which were passed last year by the House of Assembly.

The government undertook these changes in order to achieve a better balance between protecting Tasmanians from discrimination but also protecting their right to respectful free speech. 

The government was particularly concerned about the way in which section 17(1) of the Act, which allows complaints to be made with regard to public acts felt to “offend, humiliate, intimidate, insult or ridicule” could be used to unjustly limit the freedom of speech and expression.

Rather than seek to repeal this section it decided to provide an exception to it for those acting for a “religious” purpose. 

Section 55 of the Act already provided exceptions for those acting for an academic, artistic, scientific and research purpose, so it was seeking to add to this list.

Two key difficulties have been identified with this change. First, the section 55 exceptions apply not only to section 17(1) but to section 19 of the Act, the latter of which concerns “hate speech”. 

This means the amendment passed in the Lower House would provide a religious exception from hate speech. Second, while the religious purpose exception would provide protection for those expressing a religious position, no further protection is offered for those simply expressing a deeply held belief in a respectful way.

I would like to first recognise the work of the government to try and achieve a better balance in the law between preventing unjust discrimination and protecting freedom of respectful speech. But there is a better way to achieve this balance.

The proposal I have outlined will strengthen the prohibition against “hate speech” while at the same time strengthening protections for respectful free speech. This, I believe, would be an outcome welcomed by Tasmanians.

INDIA : Orissa, 3 thousand faithful attend Lenten retreat for spiritual renewal

http://www.asianews.it/files/img/INDIA_-_0318_-_Ritiro_spirituale_3.JPGAbout 3 thousand Catholics attended a spiritual retreat to renew their faith during the period of Lent. 

The retreat was held from March 11 to 14 in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Cuttack, Orissa.
 
The closing ceremony was officiated by Msgr. John Barwa, Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar. 

To those present, he said: "In the Lord everything is possible. If we are not with the Lord we will be empty in life. The strength, the energy, the faith, the knowledge and wisdom we get if God is with us. It is only possible through prayer”.

Fr. Chitoranjan Nayak, pastor of the cathedral, says that Fr. Anil Dev, the priest who led the retreat, has "focused attention on the Word of God,His love and His sacrifice. He also stressed spiritual and physical healing".

His words were an inspiration to many. Martin Kujur, secretary of the parish and one of the participants, says: "Thanks to this charismatic retreat I renewed my relationship with God and neighbor. I had the great opportunity for introspection on my spiritual path during the holy season of Lent. "

“I was more interested to spend time in film than in prayer, more interested in cell phone than reading Bible. I brought cell phone even to the church, so much attached but after attending this charismatic retreat I knew the value of prayer and the grace of God that accompanied throughout my life,” said Snehakruti Baxla a college student.

The spiritual exercises were led by Fr. Anil Dev, a member of the Indian Missionary Society (IMS) and president of the Regional Pastoral Team for Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand Varanasi. His presence was strongly supported by the parish priest. Fr. Anil is an esteemed preacher and is also the head of Matridham Ashram ( "House of Mother") of Varanasi, the spiritual and contemplative IMS center dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

The ashram is a perfect example of spiritual coexistence between Christians and Hindus. About the center, Fr. Anil says that "it is a place open to all who are searching for something in a genuine way, irrespective of any caste or creed. We sincerely welcome all people of good will.'

RUSSIA Jehovah's Witnesses' presence at risk across Russia

On March 15 the Ministry of Justice presented a lawsuit at the Supreme Court seeking that the Jehovah's Witnesses administrative center be declared an "extremist organization". 

If the cause is successful, the religious activities of Jehovah's Witnesses will be prohibited throughout Russia and the property of the administrative center will be confiscated by the state. 

The JW community will be forbidden to gather and violators will be prosecuted as involved in "extremist activity".
 
The problems date back to years ago. 

The JWs have always been viewed with suspicion: their encounters have suffered police raids; their publications have been confiscated; they are forbidden to go from door to door. 

The anti-terrorism laws, very general, have branded least 90 publications of Jehovah's Witnesses as "extremist" because they have "negative" judgments towards other religions and urge members not to do military service.

The cause will be followed by the judge Nikolai Romanenkov. 

"Once they have examined the case - said a secretary of the Court - the judge will determine when the hearing will begin and whether it will be open to the public. All information will be available on the Court's web site. "

On 27 February, the Ministry of Justice has completed an inspection of the structure and activities of the administrative center of Jehovah's Witnesses. 

On completion of the inspection, Svetlana Borisova, Filatova and Izmaylova Galina, the department officials for religious organizations of the Ministry of Justice, have drafted a 32-page report on the current condition of the religious group.

The report concludes that despite the warnings of the Prosecutor of the Russian Federation, "the structural subdivisions of the administrative center are engaged in extremist activities, which violate the rights and freedoms of man and citizen and harm people, public order and "national security. 

According to the report, the administrative center of the JW is responsible for providing "inaccurate" information on "extremist" literature that arrived in Russia in 2014 despite being declared illegal.

The Supreme Court has included 95 religious texts of Jehovah's Witnesses on the national list of extremist materials. Many of the members were fined and prosecuted for possession of these texts. 

 According to Forum 18, since 2007 there were a total of 39 warnings and official information on the "inadmissibility of extremist activity" in 29 regions of the country. 

In March 2016, the administrative center of Jehovah's Witnesses in St. Petersburg also received an official warning.

The Jehovah's Witnesses are not the only group affected. 

The Supreme Court has upheld the causes for the dissolution of the Central Conference of the Russian United Methodist Church [in January 2016] and of the United Russian Islamic Conference the [April 2016]. 

The dissolution of these bodies, however, was not motivated by accusations of "extremism", but only by having failed to submit annual reports to the authorities and for the "inaccurate" information given on federal tax records. 

In Russia 58 organizations are already banned, these inlcude seven of the JW community in Taganrog, Samara, Abinsk, Stary Oskol, Belgorod, Elista and Oryol.

In the country, the JWs have at least 172 thousand members. 

During the commemoration of Jesus' death, the most important event of the year, the number of believers grows to about 300 thousand. 

At present, in Russia there are 397 registered organizations; more than 2500 are not approved by the government.

SAUDI ARABIA/IRAN : Deal with Riyadh: green light for Iranian pilgrimages to Mecca

http://www.asianews.it/files/img/IRAN_-_ARABIA_SAUDITA_-_pellegrinaggio_2017.jpgHaving overcome last year’s crisis, which effectively blocked the travel of Iranian pilgrims to the holy places of Islam, Tehran is ready to seal a deal with Riyadh to send Iranian citizens to Mecca for the Hajj. 

The Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaking on the sidelines of a cabinet meeting, confirmed the willingness of the Islamic Republic to establish "constructive" relations with the countries of the region, including Saudi Arabia.
 
The head of Tehran's diplomacy stressed that, thanks to the efforts by the Organization for the Hajj pilgrimage, Iran is in favor of sending compatriots to the nation considered its greatest rival in the Middle East. 

The decision is the result of the diplomatic work and mediation undertaken by representatives from Tehran and Riyadh in the body that regulates the trips to Mecca, visited each year by millions of believers from around the world.

Following the agreements reached, Iran hopes that this year the faithful departing from the Islamic Republic can enjoy a "calm, perfect and dignified" atmosphere during their pilgrimage. 

On 23 February a Tehran delegation went to Saudi Arabia at the invitation of the kingdom for further talks to iron out the remaining details.

Last year more than 1.8 million faithful attended Hajj minus the Iranian faithful, following a harsh verbal and diplomatic row between Riyadh and Tehran, exacerbated by regional political events that have overlapping religious and spiritual elements.

According to forecasts, this year "at least" 80 thousand faithful Iranians could participate in the great pilgrimage to Mecca. 

In addition to Iran, the preparatory meetings of the Saudi organizers – to discuss the issue of visas and accommodation of pilgrims on site - involve delegates from more than 80 Muslim majority countries.