Karachi, November 26, 2015: Pakistan is close to achieving a notorious new milestone of becoming one of the world’s top executioners, with almost 300 inmates already put to death this year and thousands more waiting.
According to figures from Pakistan’s independent Human Rights Commission, 295 people have been hanged in the country — a new record — since December last year.
Amnesty International, however, puts the toll of executed inmates at 299.
Abdul Basit, a paraplegic man who was convicted of murder, could have become the 300th, but his Nov. 25 execution was delayed at the eleventh hour after the Pakistani president intervened.
This was the third time that an execution warrant had been issued for Abdul Basit, who was first scheduled to be hanged on July 29.
Despite being unable to stand and being reliant on a wheelchair, jail authorities are adamant about carrying out his inhuman and unlawful hanging.
“The hanging of a wheelchair-bound prisoner simply cannot be conducted in a humane and dignified manner as required by Pakistani and international law. Proceeding with Abdul Basit’s execution in the circumstances will offend against all norms of civilized justice,” the rights group’s chairwoman, Zohra Yusuf, said in a statement.
The outspoken group has taken a principled approach to defending the rights of Pakistan’s death row prisoners. If only the local church would do the same.
Pakistan lifts moratorium
Pakistan’s record on executions this year is all the more astounding given that prior to December 2014, the country had not carried out any executions in six years.
But Islamabad lifted its moratorium on the death penalty shortly after Taliban militants stormed a school in Peshawar, killing 150 people — including 130 schoolchildren.
The horrific attack shocked the nation and triggered countrywide protests and demands to rein in the Taliban’s campaign of terror and violence.
As media and public pressure grew, the Pakistani military and political leadership rushed to restore capital punishment and announced the establishment of controversial military courts to fast-track the trials of terror suspects.
Initially, the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif opted to execute only terror convicts, but pressure from Islamist parties and clergy convinced authorities to order executions for all kinds of death row convicts — a move that drew condemnation from the United Nations, the European Union, Amnesty International and other groups.
Rights watchdogs say the government is ignoring its responsibilities to reform the legal system. They say that the circumstances that prompted the suspension of capital punishment in the first place have not changed after six years, and that the deeply flawed criminal justice system continues to pose the threat of wrongful convictions.
Rights groups also argue that there is no evidence to suggest any correlation between the death penalty and reducing crime rates.
When compared to 2014 statistics, Pakistan’s nearly 300 executions this year would put it near the top of an unfortunate list. This year, Saudi Arabia has executed at least 151 people, while Iran has put to death almost 700, according to Amnesty.
According to the Justice Project Pakistan, a Lahore-based nonprofit law firm that helps marginalized people in the legal system, more than 8,000 people are currently on death row. Pakistan’s government, on the other hand, says there are 6,000.
Asia Bibi, a Catholic mother of four, is among those who have been handed the death sentence after her disputed conviction for blasphemy. Bibi’s final appeal is pending before the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Among those who have already been executed are Aftab Bahadur Masih, a Christian man who was arrested in 1992 in a case involving the murder of a woman and her two sons.
According to the Justice Project Pakistan, Bahadur was only 15 years old at the time of his arrest — too young to face the death penalty. The Catholic Church in Pakistan had made an unsuccessful appeal for clemency to Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain.
In August, Pakistan executed Shafqat Hussain, convicted of killing a child in 2004. His lawyers claimed he was 14 when found guilty and his confession was extracted by torture, but officials say there is no proof he was a minor when convicted.
Church response disappointing
In September this year, Pope Francis called for the global abolition of the death penalty in his address to a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress.
“The golden rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development,” Francis said in his speech to Congress.
“This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred.”
Despite Pope Francis’ clear and unambiguous stance on capital punishment, the Catholic Church in Pakistan has failed to take a stand against the record numbers of executions in the country this year.
Apart from an appeal for clemency for Bahadur, neither the church nor the human rights arm of its bishops’ conference, the National Commission for Justice and Peace, has issued even a single statement on the death penalty.
In fact, two senior officials from the commission told ucanews.com that they personally supported the government’s move to resume capital punishment, reasoning it would help solve the country’s long-standing terrorism woes. The two officials, however, asked not to be named.
Although some clergymen individually opposed the executions in media interviews, there has been a muted and disappointing official response from the church, to say the least.
It is high time that the Catholic Church in Pakistan took a principled stance against capital punishment. It would be in line with international laws, and indeed in line with the views of Pope Francis himself.
Zahid Hussain is a Pakistani journalist covering human rights and issues affecting minorities.
Seoul Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, who serves as apostolic administrator of Pyongyang, North Korea, said the people there “have always been in my prayers.”
Before a Mass at Myeongdong Cathedral Nov. 24, the cardinal said: “Pope Francis has announced the Jubilee of Mercy; I believe the Korean Peninsula is one of the regions that need most the mercy of God. I invite everyone to join me in this prayer movement, to bear in mind the Catholic Church of North Korea, and to show our love and concern with continuous prayers.”
After the liberation of Korea, there were 57 parishes and about 5,200 Catholics in North Korea. After the Korean War, however, the Catholic Church of North Korea faced persecution by the government. Only a few hidden Catholics are believed to be in North Korea now.
The archdiocese said “North Korean church in my heart” is open to anyone who wants to pray for the North Korean church.
Pakistan, November 19, 2015: According to the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) 187 Christians have been accused under Pakistan’s various “blasphemy” laws since 1987. The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has vigorously condemned these cruel laws, trials and punishments in a 60-page report published in early November.
The report calls on the Pakistan government to “repeal all blasphemy laws … or amend them substantially so that they are consistent with international standards on freedom of expression; freedom of thought, conscience or religion; and equal protection of the law”.
This table put together by the ICJ includes all of the offences related to religion in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), popularly known as the “blasphemy” laws.
Abusing the blasphemy laws to falsely accuse
The “blasphemy laws” have frequently been misused to abuse the country’s Christians, who are often falsely accused of blasphemy by enemies who use it as a way of settling a personal grudge or to grab property. In a high-profile trial, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said on 27 October that, “It is an unfortunate fact which cannot be disputed that in many cases registered in respect of the offence of blasphemy, false allegations are levelled for extraneous purposes.”
The NCJP reports that, as well as nearly 200 Christians, 633 Muslims, 494 Ahmadis and 21 Hindus have also been accused of ”blasphemy” offences since 1987. Given that the religious minorities account for an extremely small percentage of the Muslim-majority population, the number of Christians and members of other minority religions accused is massively disproportionate to the number of Muslims accused, although the number of accused Muslims is higher.
The ICJ vehemently urges the abolition of the mandatory death penalty that is included in Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code for “defiling the name” of Muhammad. Although the Code itself dictates two possible punishments for this offence (namely, life imprisonment or death), the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) in 1990 ruled that the government should remove the option for life imprisonment from 295-C. The government did not do so and the “life imprisonment” option remained in ink on the statute book. However, the influence and status of FSC rulings in Pakistan is such that this option ceased to be legally valid and since then everyone found guilty under Section 295-C has been sentenced to death. On the other hand, no one has actually been executed for this crime but are normally left languishing in prison as they await an appeal; their conviction is eventually overturned or their sentence commuted. So a kind of legal limbo has existed, in which the FSC’s 1990 ruling is followed in practice but not added to the statute books.
No deliberate intent to blaspheme necessary for a conviction
Another recommendation listed in the ICJ report is that the government “expressly include the requirement of proof of deliberate and malicious intent in all offences related to religion … particularly 295-C”.
Section 295-C excludes the need for mens rea (literally, “guilty mind”). This means that someone can commit an offence without any intention and without realising what they are doing.
The ICJ reviewed 25 cases of high court appeals for Section 295-C and discovered that in the majority of these cases (60%), the appellants were acquitted after the courts ruled that the accusations made against them had been “either fabricated, or made maliciously for personal or political reasons”.
Even after the acquittal of the accused, the ICJ discovered that no charges were made against those who made the false allegations, despite the fact that there are laws to criminalise perjury.
Extrajudicial murders common
A simple accusation is enough to make anyone accused of “blasphemy” vulnerable to extrajudicial murder as zealous Muslims take the law into their own hands: 53 people have been subject to such unlawful killings since 1986.
A Christian couple, Shehzad Masih and his pregnant wife Shama Bibi, were beaten and burned alive in a brick kiln by a Muslim mob in November 2014 after Shama was accused of burning pages of the Quran and throwing them in a rubbish bin. However, local reports said that Shama was illiterate and had no way of knowing what she was burning.
The ICJ noted that in many cases, those accused of “blasphemy” were attacked while being held, some of them killed. In some instances, it was the police themselves who were responsible for the attacks.
The report published by the ICJ condemns the lack of fair trial offered to those accused of “blasphemy”. It urges Pakistani authorities to allow anyone accused of a blasphemy offence to be able to apply for bail pending a trial. It also asks that the offences be made non-cognisable, meaning that instead of having free reign to arrest and investigate, police would need a warrant to arrest someone suspected of offending against the laws and that court permission would be required for an investigation.
The ICJ found that judges often show “demonstrable bias and prejudice against defendants”. According to the prevailing Pakistan Code of Criminal Procedure, “only a Muslim Presiding judge shall hear cases registered under Section 295-C of the Penal Code in the court of first instance”.
It also found that judges and lawyers acting in blasphemy cases face intimidation and harassment, hindering the process of fair trial for the accused.
Criticising the “blasphemy laws”
In a landmark statement for freedom of religion in Pakistan, the Pakistan Supreme Court said on Monday (5 October) that criticising the country’s notoriously harsh blasphemy laws is not blasphemy. Political figures in Pakistan’s recent history who opposed or attempted to amend the blasphemy laws have been violently pressured into backtracking, and several have been killed.
- barnabas team
According to a preliminary police report, hundreds of people, acting on unfounded rumours that a copy of the Qur‘an had been burnt in the factory, stormed the site and set it on fire. They later did the same to three Ahmadi mosques.
“We live in difficult times in terms of intolerance. We must unite to combat the scourge of racism, discrimination, and terrorism,” said Fr Arif John, from the Diocese of Rawalpindi.
The Catholic Church and other Christian denominations agreed to hold a special prayer in Rawalpindi as well as Jhelum, where the incident took place, to show solidarity with the people attacked “in the name of religion”.
The first attack took place last Friday. A mob of hundreds of Muslims stormed a chipboard factory owned by Qamar Ahmed Tahir, an Ahmadi, who was also responsible for the factory’s security.
Following the violence, police arrested him on blasphemy charges. However, what actually happened remains unclear.
According to some, Mr Tahir ordered an employee to burn a copy of the Qur‘an. The day after the plant attack, a crowd stormed Ahmadi places of worship, torching three of them. Chaos spread across Jhelum and police were able to restore law and order in the city with great difficulty.
Investigation eventually showed that the allegations against the owner were false. It was determined that Tahir only supervised the burning of waste material. Nothing closely related to the Qur‘an, or religious material, was found in what was left of the site.
“Torching a place based on false information only leads to the loss of property,” said Fr John. “False charges like this one leads to complete chaos in the city.” For this reason, “we call on everyone to join hands to pray. We must pray more to send a message of peace in such sad times.”
Pakistan’s Ahmadi Muslim community has about four million members. Founded in the late 19th century by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in what was then British India, the Ahmadi faith is considered heretical by most Sunnis and Shias. Whilst claiming to be Islamic, it draws on the beliefs of other religions as well.
Within Pakistan, Ahmadis are not allowed to Islamic greetings and prayers, and cannot refer to their places of worship as mosques. However, like Pakistan’s Christians, they have often been victimised by the country’s blasphemy laws, which are used to persecute minorities.
Bangladesh, November 21, 2015: Some 200 people, from different faith groups, gathered in protest in front of the National Press Club in Dhaka, to demand justice for Fr Piero Parolari, a missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) who was badly wounded in an attack last Wednesday and is now recuperating in a military hospital in the capital.
Christians, Muslims and Hindus came together for the event. “Today I am very sad,” said Rana Dasgupta, a Hindu community leader who is also an International Crimes Tribunal Prosecutor.
“A priest who dedicated his whole life to charity was hurt by extremists,” he said. “It is a shame for us to be Bangladeshi.”
“I also heard that 12 other pastors received death threats,” he added. “If this situation goes on, democracy in our country will be destroyed soon.”
The protest was organised by the Bangladesh Christian Association (BCA) and other Christian groups. Some protesters carried banners saying ‘Do not kill for religion’, and ‘Foreigners are our friends’.
“We are persecuted more and more,” said BCA general secretary Nirmal Rozario. “The government is not paying attention to our situation. This emboldens the criminals who attack us.”
In fact, this is part of a broader problem. “Christians have been victims many times in the past. Yet, none of them has seen any justice. We want justice in Fr Piero’s case now!” the BCA secretary insisted.
And Catholics are not alone. A dozen Protestant clergymen received death threats via text messages in the last two weeks, Rozario noted.
“I don’t go out after I got this threat,” said one clergyman who chose not to give his name. “Eat whatever you like the most. Only five days are left. Not more than that,” said another citing a message he received. Dhaka Police is investigating the situation.
“PIME missionaries and many other clergymen selflessly serve the people. They do humanitarian work for people of every religion, but they are often victimised and persecuted,” said Benedict Alo D’Rozario, executive director of Caritas Bangladesh, who took part in the protest.
“We love and respect PIME missionaries for their charity and good work,” he added. “We are sad that some extremists are trying to harm them. Today we have come to demand justice and security for the priests.”
Vietnam, November 22, 2015: It’s a Saturday night in Ho Chi Minh City, and the kids are starting to gather at the Tan Thuan evangelical church in District 7. They pull up on shiny motorbikes, clothes neat, hair slicked back. They cast shy looks at strangers, greet friends exuberantly, and sprawl across the pews.
“Here, the brotherhood is close, I have a lot of friends,” said Tin, 24, who attends the church’s Saturday youth services regularly with his 27-year-old brother Dinh.
One night a week, services are just for youth. One night, they’re for new members. One night: the elderly. There are early morning prayers every day and several services on Sundays. During the week, there are scheduled missions to spread the word of God.
The experience is vastly different to what the brothers grew up with in Quang Ngai province in central Vietnam, where authorities routinely blocked access to church and cut off evangelizing trips.
“In the past, the local government wouldn’t let us gather in a group and wouldn’t let us attend our house church. There used to be one there, but after 1975, the government took it and turned it into a community center,” recalled Dinh.
For decades, local authorities refused to return it and it wasn’t until 2009 that they returned the land and allowed the house church to be rebuilt.
“Here, it’s more free,” he said.
Protestantism is thriving in Vietnam. The government’s own census shows an increase from 410,000 in 1999 to 734,000 adherents a decade later. Today, the government puts that figure at around 1 million, while church officials insist it is closer to 2 million. Churches themselves report booming membership, with Sunday services often spilling out the doors as new members crowd in.
Despite the best efforts of the authorities, Protestantism has shown particular growth among Vietnam’s ethnic minorities. While reliable statistics don’t exist, the U.S. State Department wrote in its last religious freedom report that “based on adherents’ estimates, two-thirds of Protestants were members of ethnic minorities.”
But such growth has come in spite of major obstacles. While Protestantism is one of the 38 religions officially recognized by the Vietnamese government, its activities are frequently banned outright by local authorities. Most evangelism is considered illegal and members report their activities are monitored and curtailed. The government has put pressure to prevent a merger of the Northern and Southern evangelical churches, a move aimed at keeping the north (which is more heavily restricted and has not seen the growth of the south) under check.
In rural areas, particularly in the highlands, repression is rife. A report published in June by Human Rights Watch outlined a systemic persecution of ethnic minority Christians who “have been subjected to constant surveillance and other forms of intimidation, arbitrary arrest and mistreatment in security force custody.”
Even in the relatively open Ho Chi Minh City, Christians have faced pushback. Pastors and church members see their movements monitored and have been detained for handing out tracts. Those who are members of churches not officially recognized by the government have faced particular pressure. In January, a prominent Mennonite pastor who has long been a government target was brutally attacked and the perpetrators never arrested. The previous year, his Bible college was ransacked on seven different occasions.
Open Doors, a Christian nongovernmental organization monitoring persecution, has ranked Vietnam one of the worst countries to be Christian on its World Watch List. The country is ranked 16 among 50 and given the tag of “severe persecution.”
Hoang *, a house church pastor, said despite a general atmosphere of openness in Ho Chi Minh City, even he had been detained on numerous occasions.
“One time I was spreading religion in a nearby area and the police ‘invited me’ and gave me a speech for four hours. They say that you can’t spread religion and I said: people ask so I answer … This happened three times,” he said.
While the situation has generally improved, he said, government control remains omnipresent.
“There is less threat from the outside now but from the inside they still want to take action,” he said.
Quang*, who heads the Tan Thuan evangelical church, said movement was controlled to no small degree.
“We’re allowed to hold activities according to our registration papers that say: ‘in the next year, I want to do this or that.’ You have to let the government know in advance and you can only follow that paper,” he said.
But, he noted, “the magical thing is that the more the government puts pressure on Christian members, the more people want to join.”
Quang’s church is considered midsize, with about 400 regular members and an unknown number of “casual visitors.” In Vietnam, the term house church is something of a misnomer. While some are erected in converted shop houses, many are built specifically as churches and nearly all are registered with the government. One of the biggest “house churches” boasts a congregation of 4,000, is half a city block and has been located on prime downtown real estate for seven decades.
Though groups like Open Doors have listed Vietnam as a dire nation in which to be Christian, one has the sense the government is fighting a losing battle.
“Every year, from central Vietnam to the southern tip, there’s at least 20,000 new Christian converts,” said Hoang An, a young pastor who works with several churches in Ho Chi Minh City.
“God has helped Vietnam to develop Christianity really well.”
*Names have been changed for those who spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing a backlash from the government
The latest to do so is the former military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who told a leading Pakistani news channel on Oct. 27 that Pakistan gave training to Taliban militants starting in 1979, before sending them in to Afghanistan to fight the invading Russians. Pakistan again helped religious militant groups in the 1990s against India in disputed Kashmir.
Early on, Musharraf said, groups such as the Taliban and Haqqani, as well as al-Qaida personalities Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, were glorified as heroes because they brought jihadis from all over the world to fight the Russians.
Musharraf was quick to add that people need to understand this policy of state-sponsored militancy in the context of the Cold War. But the militants, once viewed as heroes by some in Pakistan, have turned into villains, killing their own people in Pakistan and across the world.
This was not the first time that Musharraf has admitted to Pakistan’s role in what the West has been quick to call a policy of state-sponsored terrorism. He’s not even the first former Pakistani leader to do so — the then-president, Asif Zardari, in 2009 told a conference in Islamabad that Pakistan had created terrorist groups as a tool for its own geostrategic agenda.
For some, these confessions may be a revelation. But for an ordinary Pakistani who grew up here in the 1980s and 1990s, I can tell you how jihadi organizations were created, nurtured and trained while being given a free hand to raise funds and recruit militants.
Stalls containing jihadi literature and cassettes of sermons were a common sight outside mosques everywhere in Pakistan.
Mullahs, or clerics, would give lengthy sermons at Friday prayers to propagate the state narrative of jihad and mobilize support among the masses to join in the wars in Afghanistan and Kashmir.
Wealthy Persian Gulf states pumped billions of dollars into Islamic seminaries.
Pakistan’s most underdeveloped areas, such as the southern Punjab and the North West Frontier Province, now called Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, became breeding grounds for terrorists.
The United States and its allies shut their eyes, as it was serving their interests during the Cold War.
Meanwhile, however, Pakistan’s minority Shia Muslims and other religious minorities became a regular target for extremist groups, such as Sipah Sahaba Pakistan (Army of Caliphs). At the same time, “Islamization” became the central policy of the government of Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, ruler of Pakistan from 1977 until his death in 1988.
Zia is largely responsible for turning a moderate and progressive Pakistan into a global hub of militancy through his Islamization drive.
His administration added new criminal offenses for adultery, fornication and blasphemy to Pakistani laws. Authorities overhauled school textbooks and libraries to remove un-Islamic material. Female TV anchors were ordered to wear a headscarf.
This went on for two decades until the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States. Anticipating a potential backlash, Musharraf put a ban on many militant outfits, who changed their names but continued their terror campaigns.
It was too little too late for Pakistan and the world community, as the jihadi mindset became well entrenched in society. Pakistan’s first attempt to rein in jihadi groups in the wake of post-Sept. 11 pressure mounted by the U.S. was met with violence, as many of the Taliban turned their guns toward Pakistan.
A deadly campaign of terrorism ensued, leaving some 50,000 Pakistanis dead in a decade as militants targeted civilians, religious minorities and security forces with impunity.
Shift in policy
However, the despicable December 2014 massacre of schoolchildren in Peshawar enacted a clear shift in government policy to deal with the scourge of terrorism.
Some 150 people — 132 of them schoolchildren — were murdered when Taliban gunmen, disguised as troops, stormed a military-run school.
The gruesome nature of the attack drew strong criticism of the country’s terror policy, prompting civil and military leaders to chalk out a national action plan against terrorism.
While doubts remain, Pakistan’s recent military campaign against terrorism in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan has reduced the number of attacks dramatically, according to analysts.
“At least all those groups who were challenging the writ of the Pakistani state are being dealt with strictly at this stage,” said Imtiaz Gul, a security analyst and director of the Islamabad-based think tank Center for Research and Security Studies.
Traditional enemies Afghanistan and India are not convinced, with both countries continuing to accuse Pakistan of sponsoring militants in Afghanistan and Kashmir.
The big question today, given Pakistan’s previously acknowledged support of militant groups, is what foothold the Islamic State group may have in the country. Pakistan’s top diplomatic official, Aizaz Chaudhry, has said the terrorist group has no presence in the country.
“Our policy is clear. Daish is a terrorist organization and we treat it this way,” Chaudhry told media in Islamabad, using another term for the group. “Pakistan is capable of confronting any threat from the group.”
Still, Chaudhry’s remarks are nothing more than a denial, considering the group claimed responsibility for a deadly gun attack on a bus of minority Ismailis in Karachi in May this year. Nearly 50 people were killed in the attack.
“I don’t know what made Aizaz Chaudhry make such a sweeping statement,” said Gul, who believes the group has a presence in Pakistan, although its strength or ability to strike is debatable.
Gul, however, ruled out a Paris-like attack by Islamic State militants in Pakistan.
“The Islamic State controls large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, where they get money, training and resources. The [group] doesn’t have any organized network in Pakistan,” he said.
‘We are all feeling it’
Still, many Christians in Muslim-majority Pakistan fear they may be next.
“The alarm is sounding again. We are all feeling it,” said Father Morris Jalal, founder and program director of the Lahore-based Catholic TV.
Father Jalal held a condolence Mass for victims of the Paris attacks at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Lahore on Nov. 15.
In August, Pakistan banned the Islamic State group and it has since repeatedly denied the group’s presence in the country. But ordinary Pakistanis are not convinced — given our history and background with militancy.
After years of violence and neglect for religious minorities in Pakistan, people like Father Nasir William of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Sargodha have a right to be wary.
“We are asking parishioners to avoid talking about any religion,” he told ucanews.com. “We never know what will happen next.”
Zahid Hussain is a Pakistani journalist covering human rights and issues affecting minorities.
Vatican City, November 19, 2015: Pope Francis will be in the Central African Republic, “the program is confirmed with all its appointments, including a visit to the refugee camp, the mosque and the opening of the Holy Door that will anticipate the start of the Jubilee Africa” confirmed Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, during a briefing of the visit that November 25 to 30 that will bring the Pope to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic.
“I would not say – said Father Lombardi – that the facts in Paris have specifically affected the problems in Central Africa, and Africa in general, where, unfortunately, we violence has been ongoing for some time prior to the Paris attacks which have affected us here as very serious and significant “.
Father Lombardi also confirmed that the Pope will use an open top car in all stages of the trip. Answering another question, he said: “I have not heard that the Vatican has asked for a bulletproof vest for the Pope, and do not believe it, it would seem curious that someone who uses the open top popemobile would then wear a bulletproof vest “.
Asked if it is possible that there could be a last minute decision against the trip, Father Lombardi said that “as every wise person he will evaluate what is happening at that moment. Dr. Giani (head of the Vatican Gendarmerie -ed) will travel a little before the Pope and we hope he will find a good situation. ”
During the trip, finally, Francis will deliver speeches in English, French, Spanish and Italian. As a result the Pope will be accompanied by both the Secretary of State and the substitute, Cardinal Pietro Parolin. and Archbishop Angelo Becciu, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of Justice and Peace. Cardinal Parolin will not follow, however, the Pope to Central Africa, as will have to go to Paris for the climate conference.
Dhaka, November 19, 2015: Whilst Fr Piero Parolari, a missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), recuperates following his attempted murder yesterday, the Islamic State Group in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for the attack.
In view of the situation, PIME issued a statement today to account for the attack, citing the Italian ambassador to Bangladesh, Mario Palma, who said he “did not to believe in the possibility of a series of attacks organised by ISIS but saw the incident more as an attempt to sow chaos ahead of a verdict against two opposition politicians accused of crimes against humanity.”
Catholic sources interviewed by AsiaNews share the ambassador’s opinion. Here is the press release.
Yesterday morning (18 November 2015), Father Piero Parolari, a medical missionary with PIME in Bangladesh, was seriously wounded in Dinajpur, about 350 km from the capital Dhaka. He was on his way by bicycle to the Dinajpur Medical College to visit some patients and conduct some medical tests.
What happened to him remains unclear. It appears he was struck by a passenger travelling on a motorcycle that had come up to him. Fr Piero, who was moving at a fast pace, fell hard on the road.
After passers-by came to his aid, he was taken to the Dinajpur Medical College Hospital by an auto-rickshaw driver. When they heard the news, his confreres rushed to the hospital.
Father Piero was conscious and responsive. After being quickly patched up, he underwent a CT scan that showed injuries to face bones.
After intense consultations among doctors, the bishop and some confreres, the head of the hospital decided to send him to Dhaka.
With the Italian Embassy and the Nunciature stepping in, he was brought to the capital by an Air Force helicopter to avoid the 8 to 9 hours of travel on busy and bumpy roads.
In the afternoon, he was taken to Combined Military Hospital, one of the best hospitals in Dhaka. Regional Superior Father Michele Brambilla was with him.
The doctors who examined him found three broken ribs; however, they said he was out of danger. He is still in pain due from falling with his bicycle and is taking antibiotics to prevent infections.
This attack follows that of Italian humanitarian worker Cesare Tavella and Japanese agriculturalist Hoshi Kunio.
For his part, the Italian ambassador to Bangladesh, Mario Palma, said he did not to believe in the possibility of a series of attacks organised by ISIS but saw the incident more as an attempt to sow chaos ahead of a verdict against two opposition politicians accused of crimes against humanity.
From Bangladesh, Father Franco Cagnasso said that all the other missionaries are doing fine. In Dinajpur, police have been deployed at the mission’s main entrance. The authorities told the missionaries that they can come and go as they please but with a police escort.
In other missions, some of the faithful have offered to provide missionaries protection, night and day, and go along with them during visits to neighbouring villages.
On behalf of the Institute, PIME’s Directorate General of PIME, extends its sympathy and solidarity to Father Piero and his family.
Vietnam, November 17, 2015: Communist authorities and a local religious institution are once again in open conflict in Vietnam over land ownership. The local administration wants to expropriate three schools which have been run by the Congregation of the Lovers of the Holy Cross in Thu Thiem, a district of Ho Chi Minh City since the 1960’s.
According to Fr. Vincent Pham Trung Thanh, former provincial superior of the Redemptorists ”the crux of the problem is that the authorities of the city and, in particular, those of District 2 must be honest and transparent when deciding on new urban areas”.
The nuns have been in Vietnam since their foundation in 1840. After the fall of the former Saigon, with the unification of the country and the seizure of power by the Communists in the North, the sisters have given – in a signed accord dating to December 5 1975 – the use of primary schools for the benefit of the Department of Education of Ho Chi Minh City.
The document clearly states that the archdiocese of Saigon grants the government the use of the premises for the 1975-76 school year for educational purposes only, while the property remains in the hands of the Catholic Church. When being used for purposes other than this, the agreement also states, “both sides must make clear their consent.”
Since September 5, 2011 the schools have been closed and in one of these (the elementary school Thu Thiem in District 2) local authorities have allocated government offices and a local police station. In October this year the district communist leaders have started the paperwork for the transfer of ownership which amounts to expropriation of structures from the religious. However, the reaction of the sisters and of the Church leaders and the Catholic community has blocked the operation.
This is confirmed by Sister Maria Nguyen Thi Ngoan, superior of the Congregation, who says that “the local government has halted demolition operations of the buildings”, which once were school complexes. The nun says that they have launched legal action in defense of property and the situation is “temporarily stabilized”, although it is only the “first step” in an intricate and difficult case.
Priests and Catholic leaders say the authorities should “discuss any possible change of use with the congregation” and, if necessary, pay an “adequate compensation”. In recent days, Vietnamese Church leaders have spoken out in support of the nuns, including Msgr. Michael Hoàng Duc Oanh of Kontum and the superior of the Redemptorists Fr. Pham Trung Thanh.
Sister Maria expressed their thanks for this support in a letter to the cardinal, bishops, priests, lay people and many organizations. “Since our congregation began this battle against the local government last October -she said – we have felt God’s love and providence over us” as well the encouragement and prayers of all.
As reported on several occasions not only by the Vietnamese Catholic Church, but also by authoritative international financial institutions, the vexed question of land ownership in Vietnam is not only a legal and constitutional issue, but it is a drag on economic development of the country. In just three years there have been about 700 thousand disputes over land, most of which concerned compensation issues. Data from the World Bank reports that from 2001 to 2010 about one million hectares of agricultural land has been converted for different purposes; especially tourism. . Last year, the Vietnamese authorities have forcibly expropriated a Catholic neighborhood in Con Dau, including the cemetery.