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Indian martyrs

Present-day martyrs in India and Pakistan

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 Contents - Feb 2010AD2000 February 2010 - Buy a copy now
Editorial: A new decade but the same challenges remain - Michael Gilchrist
St Mary Mackillop: Canonisation: about holiness, not miracles - Fr Paul Gardiner SJ
News: The Church Around the World
Preparation time: New Missal translation nears completion: a window of opportunity - Michael Gilchrist
Letters: New priests for the Sydney Archdiocese - Fr Michael De Stoop
Climate change: which Catholic response? - William Kininmonth
Priest denounces 'deniers' of man-made climate change - Michael Gilchrist
Catholic Culture: 'A small brave initiative': Campion College's second graduation - Br Barry Coldrey
Indian martyrs: Present-day martyrs in India and Pakistan - Babette Francis
Foundations of Faith: Celebrating the Eucharist during the early Christian centuries - Br Barry Coldrey
Letters: Climate change - Ron Blackstock
Letters: World government - Emidio Restall
Letters: Climate change: facts - J. Holder
Letters: Overpopulation - George Simpson
Letters: Green religion - Deric Davidson
Letters: Vale Brian Mullins - Ken Bayliss
Letters: Faith alone - Rex Dale
Letters: Greetings from India - Fr S. John Joseph PP, VF
Letters: Crucifixes - Arnold Jago
Books: FIRES OF FAITH: Catholic England Under Mary Tudor, by Eamonn Duffy - Bishop Peter J. Elliott (reviewer)
Books: SECULAR SABOTAGE, by Bill Donahue - Fr Martin Durham (reviewer)
Books: Order books from
Reflection: Accepting the reality of death: Christ's message of hope and consolation - Andrew Kania

An annual celebration, to take place on the last Sunday of August as a 'National Day for Indian Martyrs', has been proposed by the Commission for Ecumenism of the Bishops Conference of India. This followed a meeting with regional secretariats held in the town of Jhansi.

A bishops' representative told Fides, the press agency of the Vatican, the proposal is expected to establish a special day to remember all priests, religious and laity who 'have sacrificed their lives for their faith in Christ' and who are the 'modern martyrs' of India today.

In particular, the date was chosen to commemorate the Christians who died in massacres in Orissa in late August 2009, events whose victims still seek justice with the perpetrators likely to remain unpunished.

The proposal found unanimous agreement among all of India's Christian denominations and would be celebrated - if it were to receive final approval - on an ecumenical level, thus receiving more strength and visibility.

The Commission noted that 'Christians have a common martyrology, which includes all the martyrs of the 20th century and the present.' In a note sent to Fides, Bishop Anil Cuto of Jalandhar, President of the Commission for Ecumenism, emphasised: 'Martyrdom is the highest form of love. I consider making an effort to remember those who died in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a memory that we want to confirm and continue, for the benefit of future generations.

'Moreover, celebrating it at the ecumenical level means strengthening the unity among Christian churches in India. Establishing it as a celebration would be a historic decision that we hope will come true soon.' The proposal drawn up by the Commission will now be examined by the respective Bishops' Conferences, which will decide on the feasibility of the project.

In the meantime, more than a dozen of India's Catholic bishops, including the secretary-general of the episcopal conference, joined 3,000 dalit Christian activists in a sit-in demonstration near the national parliament in New Delhi on 18 November 2009 demanding an end to discrimination against Christian dalits.

The word 'dalit' literally means 'trampled upon'. It is the term referring to the lowest castes of traditional Indian society, also known as 'untouchables.' In the past dalits were forced to eke out a living by doing the most menial of work. More recently the government has offered free education and quota placement in government posts to dalits in a bid to improve their socio-economic status.

However, while these programs have been available to Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist dalits, they have not been offered to Christian dalits - although all of the dalits suffer from the same history of abuse and discrimination. And Christians account for about two-thirds of India's dalit population.

The National Dalit Christian Council, in a memo to federal government leaders, has called for legislation to end the policy of discrimination against Christian dalits. The sit-in demonstration, which lasted four hours, was intended to call extra attention to that plea. 'We are hopeful that the government would act on this at last,' said Father A. X. J. Bosco, who travelled from the southern Andhra Pradesh to New Delhi for the demonstration. He reported that federal ministers had given the activists 'positive assurance' that they would act.

Pakistan threats

On the other hand, there are no such assurances in Pakistan where the Daughters of the Cross nuns cancelled celebrations to close the jubilee year marking the order's 175th anniversary because of threats from Islamist militants.

The news agency Eglises d'Asie of the Paris Foreign Missions Society has reported that the sisters cancelled events planned for 25 November due to threats from the Taliban and a general climate of insecurity in Pakistan.

The Congregation of the Daughters of the Cross was founded in Li¸ge, Belgium, in 1833, by Mother Marie Therese (Jeanne Haze). The sisters have worked in Pakistan since the second half of the 19th century, and currently run eleven convents, six schools and three homes for young girls. The sisters also run St Joseph's Convent School, founded in Karachi in 1862, which educates women from the country's elite families.

'There was a bomb alert in one of our schools at the beginning of November,' Sister Parveen Dildar Jacob, the congregation's first provincial of Pakistani origin, told UCA News. 'Because of the growing insecurity in the country, we have cancelled the meetings in all the cities.'

The sisters have also reported that some of their girls' schools have received threatening letters that demand their closure, otherwise they will be attacked with explosives.

Agence France Press reported in November that Taliban militants blew up three girls' schools in Pakistan's Khyber district during the month. Since 2007, hundreds of such attacks have been carried out on girls' schools by militants seeking to enforce sharia law.

Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore visited the sisters on 25 November to celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving on the day the sisters would have hosted a larger celebration.

During his homily he underlined the importance of the congregation's name: 'The Cross has a special meaning in Pakistan, that of sufferings and difficulties that we must face every day in this climate of terror that reigns in the country ... Let us not be overtaken by discouragement.'

While Australians have been enjoying the Christmas and summer holiday season, spare time to pray for our fellow Christians in India and Pakistan.

Babette Francis, National & Overseas Co- ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc., was born in India and is a distant cousin of Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore, Pakistan.

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Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 23 No 1 (February 2010), p. 11

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