Carry on goal to protect minorities’ freedom, punish perpetrators – US commission to Sri Lanka gov’t.

Sri Lanka's new President Maithripala Sirisena screenshot Sri Lanka Mirror Facebook

Sri Lanka’s new President Maithripala Sirisena screenshot Sri Lanka Mirror Facebook

A US delegation, which visited Sri Lanka to assess the climate for religious freedom, other human rights, and tolerance, have noted progress on the issues in Sri Lanka since the country’s 2015 election. It cited the importance of punishing perpetrators of attacks and stopping harassment of religious groups trying to build houses of worship.

Commissioner Eric P. Schwartz of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said he met with Minister of Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera, Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapaksa, Minister of Buddha Sasana Karu Jayasuriya, and Minister of Muslim Religious Affairs Abdel Halim Mohamed Hasheem, as well as representatives from Sri Lanka’s diverse religious communities during the March 15-17 visit.

“We are encouraged by statements made by officials with whom we met,” Schwartz said in a statement posted on the commission’s website.

He cited  among “welcome” developments comments he heard supporting national reconciliation among all Sri Lanka’s religious and ethnic communities. 

“After a devastating war and reports that religious minority communities were increasingly subjected to attacks in recent years, the new government’s engagement with religious minorities is an important step forward in the effort to promote national unity and increased space for all religious groups,” the commissioner pointed out.

He also cited government’s measures in the areas of freedom of expression and association noting these “tend to create a climate conducive to religious freedom.”

Buddhism is the official religion in the country where Buddhists reportedly comprise more than 69 percent of the 21.87 million people. Most of the rest are Muslims (7.6 percent) or Hindu (7.1 percent). Christians make up about 6.2 percent of the population.

Expressing pleasure in hearing that reports of abuses against minority religious communities have diminished over the last few months, Schwartz encouraged the government to hold perpetrators of such crimes accountable. “We believe accountability will encourage a critical sense of security and well-being among affected communities,” he stressed.

He also said representatives of civil society at meetings reported “continued concerns about the ability of religious communities to practice their chosen faiths without restriction,” citing experiences of intimidation or harassment when trying to build houses of worship. 

“We hope and trust Sri Lankan officials will address these issues in the weeks and months to come,” Schwartz said.

The U.S. Congress created USCIRF in the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) as an independent, bipartisan, federal government entity to monitor the status of freedom of religion or belief abroad and provide policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress.

Maithripala Sirisena won as president in the Jan. 8 polls set by incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the latter’s bid to seek a third term. Sirisena has pledged to abolish the executive presidency within 100 days of being elected, and repeal the controversial eighteenth amendment and restore the 17th amendment that limits the president’s rule to two terms and sets other restraints on the presidency.

 

Gov’t agency to repatriate workers from ‘tense’ Yemen – OWWA

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) is ready to extend airport assistance to returning OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) from Yemen, who registered for the mandatory repatriation offered by the government as tension escalated in the said country.

“OWWA is part of the Crisis Management Team (CMT) composed of officials from the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). The CMT continuously monitors the situation of countries experiencing crisis to ensure that our OFWs working there are safe. If immediate action is needed, the CMT automatically activates its committees to respond to the situation,“ OWWA Administrator Rebecca J. Calzado explained.

Calzado disclosed that as of 26 January 2015, there are a total of 2,391 OFWs working in Yemen as nurses, household service workers (HSWs), supervisors, technicians, mechanics, engineers, among others.

The continued occupation of the capital city of Sana’a by Houthi rebels and the recent suspension of many embassies in the Yemeni capital was the basis for the DFA’s heightened alert level.

OWWA appeals to the relatives of OFWs working in Yemen to convince their loved ones to come home to safety. In 2011, OWWA extended assistance to about 1,000 OFWs who returned from Yemen due to the political instability in the said country.

OWWA NEWS RELEASE, Manila, March 3

Novena for Pope Francis’ safety and security, Papal Visit PH

 Paco, NJ Viehland

NJ Viehland Photos

January 2, 2015

First Friday of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Circular 2015-2

RE: Obligatory Novena Holy Hour for the Papal Visit 

My dear people of God:

As the Apostolic Visit of Pope Francis approaches, we are being asked to mobilize our Catholic faithful in our parishes to pray for the safety and security of the Holy Father while His Holiness is in the Philippines. Unable to use the regular security precautions like bullet proof vehicles and armed security men, we turn to the Lord and ask Him to keep the Holy Father safe from all harm. If we come together in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, we claim the Lord’s blessings of security and peace and order. God is our refuge; in His love we are secure.

The format Holy Hour that you are encouraged to use in all parishes, religious communities and schools may be downloaded from www. lingayen-dagupan.org

The novena for the safety of Pope Francis during his Apostolic Visit must be prayed in the entire Archdiocese of Lingayen Dagupan from January 6 to 14, 2015 at a time when most of the parishioners can participate. This is an OBLIGATORY NOVENA in the Archdiocese.

I trust that you understand the urgency of the situation and the invaluable recourse to simultaneous prayer nationwide.

Thank you in advance for this spiritual support.

 

Sincerely yours,

+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS

Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan

Opinion : Sri Lanka polls and papal visit 2015 – Fr. Reid Shelton Fernando

Update of Catholic In Asia blog Faith in God for papal visit security in Sri Lanka – priest 

Sri Lanka, screen shot

Sri Lanka, screen shot

Sri Lankan theologian Father Reid Shelton Fernando in online discussion shared his opinion posted below on why Pope Francis should not come to Sri Lanka as planned following announcement of the Jan. 8, 2015 schedule of presidential elections in the South Asian nation. 

“According to the situation of the presidential elections fixed for the 8th (of)* January and (whether) it is (or not) conducive to have his (pope’s) visit on the 13th (of) Jan.

a)  The politcians have already politicized this visit by having banners, cut (outs) and posters.

b) Must take (into consideration) the political culture during elections – It is very violent and more it will be that the Ex- Govt. party member/ex minister is contesting against the incumbent president and already (campaigning) had started which will end up in violence and election malpractices. After the elections on the 8th when the results (are) announced on the 9th there will be vilification actions conducted.  This had been the trend in the last few decades.

c) In this mood as the Sri Lankan Catholic Community is only 6% to 7 % they (may also) face violent reactions from the Extremists Groups.

d) If the incumbent president is defeated then the new person elected will not be able to monitor the organization process of the papal visit.

e) From the side of the Church, the preparations for the papal visit was only to have an external show or demonstration of power. There is spiritual preparations planned but had not simmered down yet to the faithful in the grass-root level. Even (the) canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz has not figured in the last few months. 

f) There can be alternative proposal as His Holiness is due to Philippines in Jan 2016 for the International Eucharistic Congress, he can make the visit then there is enough time to prepare spiritually and take cognizance of the life and works of Blessed Joseph Vaz. Therefore, we can wait for one more year as there is no urgency. (What) is needed (is) that we – all faithful – be imbibed with the spirit of Blessed Joseph Vaz.

*words in parentheses were provided by Catholic In Asia editor 

Interview : Sr. Maria Añanita Borbon, RGS, Part 2

NJ Viehland Photos

Counseling room at Ruhama Womens Center renovated for free by UP Diliman Interior Design department graduates for a “healing atmosphere” / NJ Viehland Photos

Q & A Sr. Borbon continued from Part 1

Part 2 – Program set up, sustainability,

    “We believe that if God wants our program, he will be the one to help us” – Sr. Maria Añanita Borbon, RGS

How have referring groups helped with resources ?

Parenting Foundation is an NGO that referred to us a girl. She had her own psychotherapist. We asked them please continue it because we have no capacity for psychotherapy. That’s why I’m networking with CICM hoping they can give it to us for free because residents cannot do without psychotherapy. A lot of issues come out. Every now and then the group gives food, money. We assume the expenses for the girl’s living. There are also lay friends and our people from own network who come and give voluntary services, like value formation, health care, help from mothers.  

What’s your strategy for funding support?

My ambition is to get donations given by major benefactors. If I can just get one more regular substantial benefactor and then get psychotherapy for 15 people, that would be very sustainable. Our own Good Shepherd lay affiliates give food or host a Christmas party. Those help too. Eventually I would need to exert more effort to ensure sustainability of our program.

Do you rescue women and children from nightclubs, cybersex dens or abusive homes?

We do not go ourselves because we do not have personnel for this so we work with agencies that do this and provide the shelter and services for the victims they rescue. We also do not go into bars and nightclubs because of lack of personnel and because we do not have room for any more clients. If we did, we would probably go out and do this. 

Who comprise Ruhama’s staff ?

We have a live-in social worker, live-in house parent/cook and I’m acting as program coordinator. I have a consultant social worker also, and volunteers on a daily basis.

The only male volunteers I accepted are seminarians of Congregation of Jesus and Mary because it was founded by Jean Eudes -the same founder as ours, so they know our charism, they know our apostolate for the sexually abused.

It’s hard to accept just any volunteer especially the males. We have to watch against physical contact. I screen strictly who can be there as volunteers if they are male. I talk to their formators to make it clear that the girls are sexually abused and are sometimes longing for sex. I ask them if a girl embraces you, what would you do?

Contributed by Ed Gerlock

Woman keeps eyes on the street for possible customers outside her motel room in Manila – Contributed by Ed Gerlock contact: edgerlock@yahoo.com.ph

How do you select your clients?

We have an intake procedure. When the girls and young women come, they are asked to fill out forms and our social worker interviews them. If she is referred and not a walk-in client, we ask the referring institution or person to give us a case study report. 

Where do the walk-in clients come from?

Priests, government agencies, and other people know us. One of our girls came to our center after a priest saw her wandering around outside their school. He was concerned that she could be trafficked so he called us. We couldn’t expect the priest to give us a case study so our own social worker interviewed her and researched her background, where she came from. We have many of such “at-risk” cases. We have 3 sisters in the group. Two of them were abused by the father. If we take the two sisters, the one left behind could be abused too.

Are relatives of clients allowed to visit?

Yes, but we make sure first that the contact with family members promotes the residents’ healing. If they will not help in the healing we don’t allow it. For example if the father is the perpetrator of abuse, of course we don’t allow him to visit. If the mother does not believe the girl’s report that the father is the perpetrator, we also do not allow the mother to visit.

We don’t immediately allow communication with family among clients who are referred to us. We research and validate information first and try to know as much as we can about their history, especially of their case. Our social worker goes to find out and puts in her recommendation.

What about spiritual formation programs?

We also have spiritual formation programs or catechism. Non-Catholics are not obliged to join, but in our experience, other Christian clients want to join. We welcome them into the classes and sessions. They’re not allowed to receive Communion, but if they say they want to be baptized, we assist in their preparation.

Do you accept donations from other faith groups?

Yes. We don’t accept from those who are giving funds from mining, gambling, of course we don’t want to accept from PDAF (pork barrel funds) because we have to be consistent in our stand. We have to be very clear about upholding our values and not sacrifice them just to carry out the program. We believe that if God wants our program, he will be the one to help us and we have proven that. We came up with that guideline on unacceptable funds only about three years ago. 

What more needs to be done in terms of managing the Province’s ministries?

We just finished our planning for the next six years and one of our thrusts is to consolidate the Province’s efforts in terms of trafficking, migration, and related ministries so that our response will be a corporate response based on stronger networking. 

We could also streamline all these existing projects and programs, maybe prioritize them in terms of our resources, especially human resources. We are strengthening our lay partners as we have fewer active nuns today.

Part 3 Religious Life

 

Filipino soldiers evacuated from Golan Heights – video conference with Manila

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Gregorio Catapang and journalists listened to the head of Philippines troops tell via video conference their story of how they escaped from Syrian rebels who tried to seize their firearms at their post in Position 68, the Golan Heights, and possibly hold them hostage.

Read the inside story of what Catapang has called the “great escape” from Golan of troops led by Captain Nilo Ramones.

In a message Catapang read to the troops, who he described as “warrior peacekeepers”, the AFP chief thanked the United Nations, governments of Israel and Syria and “God almighty” for their role in keeping the troops safe during the crisis.

 Following is the full text of Catapang’s prepared message:

 Magandang umaga sa inyong lahat dyan. (Good morning to all of you there!)

At the onset, let me say w are proud of your service to global peace.

As the eyes of the world and the Philippines were focused on what happening to our Philippine contingent in Golan Heights you have shown to the world and the Filipino people that you can hold on to your sworn duties to maintain the peace in Golan Heights and pursue your mandate – peace amidst adversary.

It was never easy but the calming courage and resolve you have displayed was undeniably world class and this will be forever remembered. Under the guidance and concern of our commander-in-chief along with the Secretary of National Defense and Secretary of Foreign Affairs, the AFP ventured to collectively do everything possible to bring all of you to safety.

With the United Nations at the forefront we also thank the host nations, Israel and Syria, for your support and unwavering commitment during that critical period of the crisis. Certainly the spirit of global “bayanihan” in the itnernational front was working.

Most of all we thank God almight for the successful effort to bring all of you out of harms way. I commend all of the Filipino warrior peacekeepers of the 7th Philippines contingent to Golan Heights for showing to the world what we are made of and for showing them what we can do in the service of peace.

We watched as you stood your ground against groups that seek to destroy the peace in this world. Indeed you have shown so much competence and professionalism during this crisis.

I join the Filipino nation, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and your respective families in congratulating all of you for a job well done.

Mabuhay kayoing lahat! Mabuhay ang Armed Forces of the Philippines!

You are a source of national pride. Aas your Chief of Staff, I salute you all!

 

UN officials hail role of cultural, religious dialogue in advancing peace, development

Muslim contestant delivers her speech during the elocution contest on peace on Jan. 30, 2014 as part of Zamboanga City's observance of 3rd World Interfaith harmony Week. - screen grab from video by Silsilah Dialogue Center on YouTube http://youtu.be/jIappGJ3V3k

Muslim contestant delivers her speech during the elocution contest on peace on Jan. 30, 2014 as part of Zamboanga City’s observance of 3rd World Interfaith Harmony Week. – screen grab from video by Silsilah Dialogue Center on YouTube

United Nations officials yesterday highlighted the important role played by the initiative known as the Alliance of Civilizations in building bridges to peace, especially amid the current instability in many parts of the world, as they kicked off a global forum in Bali, Indonesia.

The Forum hosted this past week for the first time in the Asia-Pacific region focused on the theme “Unity in Diversity: Celebrating Diversity for Common and Shared Values.” Discussions ran along the lines of  the UN’s post-2015 development agenda.

Launched in 2005 through the initiative of Spain and Turkey, under the auspices of the UN, the Alliance seeks to promote better cross-cultural relations worldwide.

“The Alliance is here for you to serve as a soft power tool for conflict prevention, reconciliation, and to advance sustainable development,” said the High Representative of the Alliance of Civilizations, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser.

“Globally, there is a persistent need for the work of the Alliance if we really want to pursue the future we want,” he told the gathering of government officials, business representatives, faith leaders, media professionals and young people from around the world.

Nasser noted that the Alliance retains a strong commitment to innovative approaches. For example, it is working with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to promote digital games and apps as avenues for cross-cultural dialogue and conflict resolution.

It is also working with private sector organizations such as the BMW Group and others to promote dialogue and intercultural understanding, while making vital contributions to prosperity and peace.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his remarks noted that too many of the world’s worst crises are driven by those who exploit fear for power. “Too many societies are fracturing along cultural, religious or ethnic lines,” he stated, adding “We have much work ahead of us across a landscape of tension.”

In this context, the the alliance has supported grassroots initiatives, including encouraging Muslim-Christian volunteerism in Mindanao and helping Pakistani university students take the lead in healing sectarian divisions. 

Read the full report here

View video of Nasser’s speech here