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Have you heard? A U.N. treaty, backed by Vatican and U.S. bishops, has banned nuclear weapons

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Catholic News Service

The passage of a United Nations treaty banning the possession of nuclear weapons comes at a time when the majority of world’s nations are frustrated with the slow pace of nuclear disarmament.

Even with such a pact, years in the making, there is no timeline for total disarmament, arms control experts told Catholic News Service. Read more »

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Church in Kerala, India, forms support group for transgender people

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COCHIN, India — The church in India’s Kerala state has formed a group of priests, nuns and laypeople to respond to the pastoral needs of transgender people, reported ucanews.com.

Formed in Cochin under the aegis of Pro-Life Support, a global social service movement within the church, the ministry is significant as it is one of the few outreach programs for the transgender community by the institutional church in India.

A member of the LGBT community attends a pride parade in Bangalore, India Nov. 20, 2016. The church in India's Kerala state has formed a group of priests, nuns and laypeople to respond to the pastoral needs of transgender people. (CNS photo/Jagadeesh Nv, EPA)

A member of the LGBT community attends a pride parade in Bangalore, India Nov. 20, 2016. The church in India’s Kerala state has formed a group of priests, nuns and laypeople to respond to the pastoral needs of transgender people. (CNS photo/Jagadeesh Nv, EPA)

“The whole church has a big role to play,” said Father Paul Madassey, who is in charge of pro-life support for the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council. He noted Pope Francis had talked about the need to give “pastoral care to the LGBT community.”

“There is an active sex racket from North India eyeing transgender people in Kerala. They are trying to exploit the discriminatory situation they face,” Father Madassey told ucanews.com.

India has an estimated 500,000 transgender people. They are often ostracized from their families and, without adequate state support in terms of employment, health and education, end up on the street begging for money or are exploited in the sex trade.

In mid-December, sisters of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel offered their buildings to form an exclusive school for dropouts among transgender people, considered the first of its kind in the country. The nuns offered their venue after at least 50 building owners declined to let out their buildings, indicating the discrimination prevalent in the society, Father Madassey told ucanews.com.

Earlier this year, Caritas India, the social service wing of the Catholic Church, announced a program to fight such discrimination.

Vijaya Raja Mallika, a leading transgender activist in Kerala, is pioneering a three-month pilot school for transgender school dropouts in Cochin. Mallika said the “church has been very supportive” of their struggles.

“Religion plays an important role in social and behavioral change at the grass-roots level,” said Mallika.

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Indians gather to celebrate birthday of Blessed Teresa, soon-to-be-saint

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Catholic News Service

KOLKATA, India — They came from all around to celebrate the birthday of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, the founder of the Missionaries of Charity who will be become a saint Sept. 4.

Kolkata Archbishop Thomas D’Souza celebrated Mass at the order’s motherhouse Aug. 26 for the woman “who knew everyone and touched many lives.” Hymns were sung in Hindi and English.

Members of the Missionaries of Charity pray Aug. 26 near the tomb of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, India, in celebration of her birthday. Mother Teresa, founder of the Missionaries of Charity, will be canonized at the Vatican Sept. 4. (CNS photo/Piyal Adhikary, EPA)

Members of the Missionaries of Charity pray Aug. 26 near the tomb of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, India, in celebration of her birthday. Mother Teresa, founder of the Missionaries of Charity, will be canonized at the Vatican Sept. 4. (CNS photo/Piyal Adhikary, EPA)

Sister Lysa, deputy head of the religious congregation, repeated Mother Teresa’s words: “We are not social workers; what we are doing for the people is, in fact, doing something for God, in the path of God.” Then the nuns, priests and faithful prayed for Mother Teresa and reiterated their commitment to carry forward her humanitarian work.

Missionaries of Charity Sister Mary Prema Pierick, who was in Rome to lead the celebrations for the canonization, sent a message, saying the canonization “will be a moment when, gathered around Mother, we shall have an experience of universal family of the children of the one heavenly Father. The difference of caste, creed, color, rich, poor will not prevent us from rejoicing together in the honor bestowed on Mother. Mother is with God and, as she promised us, she continues to light the light of hope and peace in everyone’s heart.”

All over the state, on what would have been Mother Teresa’s 106th birthday, churches held special prayers for her and also to commemorate her journey to sainthood.

The state-run multiplex began a four-day Mother Teresa International Film Festival, which included 23 films on her or inspired by her work.

A cathedral in the outskirts of Kolkata at nearby Baruipur will named St. Teresa, and statues have been erected around the area, including at the archbishop’s house.

“It is a moment of celebration, not just because she will be canonized as a saint, but that her work and philosophy will be propagated more now,” said Missionaries of Charity Sister Asharita.

Margaret Frank, a teacher, said she prayed to thank Mother Teresa.

“Mother had a healing touch,” she said. “For me I have been praying to her posthumously, but when she was alive, I was her regular visitor. She was a guide, friend and philosopher … she touched the lives of many.”

— Saadia Azim

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Indian police arrest suspect in threat against cardinal

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NEW DELHI — Police arrested a man in connection with a death threat against Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi.

Jaya Roy, superintendent of police in Ranchi, in the eastern state of Jharkhand, identified the suspect as Devesh Kumar.

“He will be presented in court today (June 16) and then brought to Ranchi,” Roy told the Asian Catholic news portal ucanews.com.

Cardinal Toppo received a letter early the week of June 8 demanding a payment of $780,000 and threatening death if the amount was not paid.

The letter was sent in the name of the People’s Liberation Front of India, a breakaway faction of the Communist Party of India, although Roy said the suspect has no connection with the organization.

The suspect sent the letter to settle a personal score with a man identified only as Amit, the police official said.

“Kumar mentioned Amit’s name and telephone number in the letter so that Amit would face police investigation and arrest,” Roy said.

He added that police are continuing their investigation.

Cardinal Toppo acknowledged receipt of the death threat, but said he had no idea why any organization would have cause to threaten him.

 

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Indian cardinal opposes criminalizing same-sex relationships

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BANGALORE, India — The head of the Catholic Church in India has reiterated its opposition to “criminalization” of homosexuality.

“It is for the government and the legislature to sort out the situation now,” Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai said after the Supreme Court declined to review its December ruling on an anti-sodomy law.

The December ruling served to reinstate Section 337 of India’s penal code, a law that outlawed homosexuality, making it a felony subject to fines and sentences of up to 10 years to life in prison.

Asked about the gay groups and human rights activists criticizing the court’s decision and even targeting the church, Cardinal Gracias told Catholic News Service that while the church was opposed to “criminalizing homosexuality, we are not supporting gay marriages.”

“The Catholic Church does not want homosexuals to be treated as criminals,” he said. “People with different sexual orientations also need pastoral care.”

“The church stand is, ‘Who am I to judge them?’ as the Holy Father has said,” Cardinal Gracias added, referring to Pope Francis’ July 28 remarks about homosexuality during a news conference with reporters flying with him from Brazil to Rome.

“I have told our priests to be sensitive when dealing with this subject,” said Cardinal Gracias, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and one of eight members of the Council of Cardinals appointed by Pope Francis to work on reform in the Roman Curia and advise him on church governance.

M.P. Raju, a Catholic who is a senior lawyer with the Supreme Court, told CNS the court’s stance effectively has “thrown the ball back to the government.”

“The government has to amend the archaic legislation. But the question is whether it will do it with the elections approaching,”  Raju said.

 

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Police beat Christian protesters in New Delhi, prime minister apologizes

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Catholic News Service

NEW DELHI — Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh apologized to church leaders for the police beating of protesters, including priests and nuns, during a march to Parliament advocating for rights for low-caste Christians.

Police surround Christian demonstrators during a Dec. 11 march advocating for rights for low-caste Christians in New Delhi. The following day, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh apologized to church leaders for police beating of protesters during the march advocating for rights for low-caste Christians. (CNS photo/Anto Akkara)

Singh apologized Dec. 12 when a 10-member delegation, led by Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto, called on him to press for the Christian demand for end to discrimination against Christian dalits, or members of the low castes.

Archbishop Couto was among six Catholic bishops and about a dozen of different denominations detained with 400 protesters during the march the previous day. Hundreds of the protesters from across India broke through police barricades and marched to Parliament shouting “We want justice.”

“Dalit,” which means “trampled upon” in Sanskrit, refers to people treated as untouchables under the caste system in India. In 1950 the Indian government established a quota system in education and government jobs as a type of affirmative action for Hindu dalits.

Though these statutory privileges were later extended to Sikh dalits in 1956 and Buddhist dalits in 1990, the repeated requests of the Christian dalits, who account for two-thirds of 27 million Christians in India, have gone unanswered.

During the Dec. 11 march, police with batons charged and beat up several protesters. Undeterred, the protesters, including Catholic priests in cassocks, knelt on the road with crosses in hand, and a police truck mounted with water cannons sprayed them with muddy water several times.

When the protesters would not move, police arrested more than 400 of them, including all the bishops, who remained in the police station for five hours until the prime minister’ office confirmed an audience for the delegation to present a memorandum on behalf of the dalits.

“We are not going to tolerate this injustice (to the dalits) any longer,” said Father Devasagayraj Zakarias, secretary of the Dalit Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India. “We have made our stand clear, and the prime minister has promised to try to build consensus on our demand.”

The priest said Catholic leaders were happy that the prime minister apologized.

“Even nuns were beaten up,” said the dalit priest, who had his cassock muddied by spray from the water cannons.

 

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Nun who worked for tribal rights killed in India

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NEW DELHI — A 53-year-old nun from Kerala who led campaigns to defend tribal rights was shot dead in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand.

Sister Valsa John, who belonged to the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary, was killed early Nov. 15 near her home near the city of Dumka, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News.

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Indian bishops want charges dropped against Christian protesters

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BANGALORE, India — Meeting with the top government leader of the Karnataka state, 14 Catholic bishops called for the withdrawal of dozens of “false cases” against Christians protesting a series of 2008 attacks on three dozen churches.

Led by Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore, the prelates urged Chief Minister Sadananda Gowda Oct. 28 to withdraw all pending cases against “innocent Christian youth, who are still made to suffer by going to the courts and are being harassed by the police investigations.”

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